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Dotty    Kathy    Lvblair    Mary Ellen    Ophelia    KAM    Ronnee    Kathy 'n Mary Ellen 




Conversations in Cascade

Envelope Series 1


By: Ronnee

Disclaimer: The guys from the Major Crimes Department are not mine. Henri Brown, Detective Rafe, Captain Banks, Joel Taggart, Megan Connor, and especially James Ellison and Blair Sandburg belong to Pet Fly, Paramount Productions and UPN. I just borrow them, let them play with my ideas and then return them. No money was made or even exchanged hands. I don't really own anything worth suing over.

Warnings: Spoilers for TS by BS. AU. (I think)

Thanks go to TACS for insisting that I watch Blind Man's Bluff and encouraging my becoming a 'JimBabe'. And to Mal for always telling me to write the **** ideas down already. And very special thanks go to Hazel and Toni Rae for betaing the story and putting up with my convoluted way of putting things. All errors left are due to my stubbornness.

First seen on the SentinelAngst List


Part 1 : Conversations in the Station -- Simon & Naomi

Naomi Sandburg stood quietly, barely moving enough to breathe. She studied the view from the window, wondering vaguely where she had gone so wrong. Nothing turned out quite the way she had intended it to; but somehow she thought it might actually be better this way. No one would suspect anything, not now. Her habitual calm facade cracked slightly as she watched the sun rise over the city. It was odd, but for all that she disliked cities, she thought she would miss this one.

He was early. The building was quiet at this hour. The only sound the faint squeak of rubber tires on the tile flooring as he wheeled himself into the bullpen. Since being released from the hospital, Captain Simon Banks had discovered that he really hated being on the wounded list. If he came to work at his normal hour everyone insisted on checking on him. They offered to push the wheelchair, to carry his briefcase, asked if he should be at the office. He could handle his son treating him like a fragile old man (barely and only through hard effort) but not his own officers! Arriving just after dawn was not his favorite thing to do, but he could manage for a little while longer.

The dim figure at his window made the hair on the back of his neck stand at attention. Silently he pulled out his pistol, wondering who had gotten into the station this time. Then she moved. Between the flowing gown and the distinctive way that she held herself, he recognized her. The question was; what was Naomi Sandburg doing in his office at 6:45am? He rolled into the open office wondering how she had gotten inside.

"Ms. Sandburg?" Simon knew his voice was a bit distant. Who could really blame him? This woman, with all of her good intentions, new age theories, and strange ideas about life, was a thorn in his side. She had ferreted out his private phone number just to leave messages for her son. Disrupted police investigation because she felt the 'need' to check on his officers' auras. How one fine-boned, sweet-intentioned, barely-in-touch-with-reality female, could with the flick of a computer key, cause more destruction to his office than Kincaid's commando raid was beyond him.

"Captain Banks!" Naomi's voice was delighted and surprised. "You are here much earlier than I thought you would be! Are you having trouble sleeping? I know the perfect tea..."

"Ms. Sandburg." Simon began to growl. He really didn't want to deal with her at this hour.

"Now, Simon. I thought I told you to call me Naomi." Her smile bright and unfazed, Sandburg's mother descended upon the captain.

Within moments he had a cup of fresh brewed coffee (don't you realize how many negative chemicals you are putting in your body?) in his hand and a slice of fresh (I took it out of the oven just before coming over) lemon-herb bread on a plate before him. Somehow, in less than ten minutes, the woman had taken control of the situation. Well, at least he knew that Blair came by it honestly.

"Simon, I came to talk to you about my son," she announced once she had him where she wanted him. (Did women teach their daughters that trick, he wondered. They had to; every single one he'd had the misfortune to really know knew it.)

"Ms. Sandburg, I can --" Simon tried to speak.

"No, Simon. You need to listen to me first. I need to tell where I stand. I can't keep this hidden any longer." She breezed right over his attempt to speak, as she refilled his coffee cup. "Eat, you need your strength."

Simon wanted to turn his wheelchair and race for the elevator. He had the feeling it was going to be a long morning. Maybe he shouldn't have pushed the doctor into releasing him early. A nice long stay in the hospital with nurses at his beck and call sounded really good right now.

"I understand that this is where he belongs now. I've seen how the police department rallied to his side. I've seen how the local D.A. convinced Rainier to accept his dissertation on Police Societal Structure. Even the local media have done everything they can to help my son recover from my actions." Naomi smiled, a long slow smile. Simon froze at the genuine happiness in that smile. "I know that what I did was misguided, but I had his best interests at heart. My Blair knows that and understands it. I know he'll be fine, even if I don't approve of what he is becoming."

"Um, Naomi, maybe you should be talking to Blair about this." He spoke uncomfortably. He really didn't know how Jim managed to survive her visits. The woman talked in tangents.

"Oh, no, Simon. You are the one I need to talk to." Naomi smiled again. "I'm placing Blair in your capable hands. He wants to be here, with Jim. They are so good for each other. Like two parts of a whole. And you keep an eye on both of them, you always have. I'm just making it ... official."

He choked on his coffee. Surely, Naomi wasn't saying what he thought she was saying. Jim Ellison was not... no he definitely misunderstood. Jim and Blair were two parts of the same coin, and he knew it was because of their sentinel/guide connection. Simon blinked and focused on Naomi, who had continued speaking.

"I wasn't sure until recently, but it's time for me to let go. My Blair has grown up and become a man. You and Jim are his friends and his chosen companions for this portion of his life's journey. I'm so proud of his choices, of his friends." Naomi placed a thick envelope on the table beside Simon's coffee cup. She waited for a moment, obviously gathering her thoughts. "This is Blair's life. It is everything he has ever accomplished. I want you to hold onto it. When the time comes, you can hand it over to him. You'll know when that is."

"Naomi..." Simon spoke to her back, as she gracefully stood and headed for the door. She froze at the doorway. "You can't just expect me to know ..."

"I trust your instincts, you wouldn't be my son's captain if you didn't have good instincts."

She spoke without looking back at him. Before he could answer she was gone. Simon stared at the plain brown envelope. Written in stark black letters were the words: Blair J Sandburg; Confidential Material. Thoughtfully, he stared at it before rolling across his office to the file cabinets. Carefully selecting a key, he opened the file where he kept sensitive files and placed the envelope inside. Later, when he was walking again, he would move it to his safe. Maybe when Sandburg came back from the academy he would ask him about it.

The ringing of his office phone distracted him from his thoughts. Grabbing the receiver, he barked into it, "Banks."

By the time Simon finally managed to leave the station that day, he had forgotten all about the envelope and his odd conversation with Naomi Sandburg.


Part 2 : Conversations in the Station -- Simon and Jim

"Come on, Jim! You can't mean that!" Detective Sandburg, Ph.D. stared at his partner in complete shock. It wasn't often that his sentinel threw him for a complete loop like this. Mentally, Blair began counting to ten. "San, shi, go..."

"I'm serious about this, Chief." Ellison's quiet words disrupted his count. "You are going to the seminar and I'm staying in Cascade."

"Who do you think you are trying to bluff?"

"It's no bluff, Sandburg." Simon's voice carried quietly through the tense room. "Ellison is staying here to work on his caseload. You and Brown are going to Washington. The local FBI will meet you there."

Wide blue eyes narrowed in frustration but the newest detective of the Major Crimes department finally nodded. He knew when to yield to overwhelming opposition. The fact that his partner was just as frustrated by the situation didn't help him, either. They both had good reason to hate the Fed's.

Four days later, the safe now open, Simon sat at his desk looking at the heavy envelope that was resting in his hands. Gingerly he turned it over, noting the weight, the thickness, and the doomed feeling it gave him. Maybe he should have found the time to give this to the kid. But she had told him he would know the when the time had come, and it hadn't.

Tears marred his eyes as he shoved the cursed thing back into his safe. He slammed the door with far too much force. Now it was too late and he was stuck with it. Maybe, when things settled back down.

Damn! His thoughts scattered as the door swung open and slammed into his arm. He really didn't need this, not now. It wasn't as if he didn't have enough on his plate. The entire department was still in shock, watching the news on a TV brought in for that purpose. Only orders from above had kept them from leaving Cascade. And those orders weren't going to hold them back much longer.

"Sir?" Rafe's voice was broken. "Jim asked me to give you this."

The younger man held out a shield and a gun. Rafe's face was chalk white, his eyes torn between fear and admiration. Simon sighed to himself, as he watched Rafe place the items on the edge of the desk. A moment later, they were joined by several more as other members of the department filed in behind the young detective. He had known this was coming. He placed his own shield and gun on the desk beside those of his men and women.

"Rafe? Tell Jim I want him at the meeting at my house. Five sharp. Everyone needs to be there." Simon's words were met with a quick nod and then the other man was gone. Soon, the silence in the bullpen echoed eerily. Except for the days after Zeller's attack, he didn't think it had ever been this quiet. He counted the badges on his desk. Three full shifts worth laid there. He picked up the phone. "Rhonda, would you please ask the chief if he can come down here? Thanks. Yes, I'll tell them. You're leaving too? I'll see you there. Thank you."

It was sad to have it come to this, but in a way it was understandable. He opened his briefcase and quickly began placing maps and files inside. After a slight hesitation, he turned to the safe, still sitting open, and pulled out his private files. All of his notes on Ellison's abilities, weaknesses, and the way he used both to solve cases. Simon really didn't want anyone to see those.

He pulled out a heavy bound book. The title, stamped in gold letters, brought a smile to his lips. Sandburg had handed this to him the day he returned from the hospital. The wry, nearly broken smile had shocked him and so had the words that came with it. Why the kid thought that Simon needed to have access to this thing, he didn't understand. He had tried to read it but the words had been too much while he was in recovery and he hadn't had time since. The dissertation took up most of his briefcase.

He grabbed the envelope and shoved it in, slammed the briefcase closed and locked it. He did not want to know what was in that thing. Naomi had disappeared after handing it to him. No one knew where she had gone. Not even Sandburg had been able to find her in the intervening six months. Maybe he'd just hand the thing over to Ellison.

"Banks? Where are your men? I've never seen it so empty." The chief's voice made him look up. The older man's eyes widened at the sight of all of the badges and weapons on the desk. "What is going on?"

"My department has resigned, sir." He kept his voice low and controlled. A small crowd of civilian and police personnel had gathered behind the police chief. "We cannot follow the orders handed down by you and the governor."

As his superior stood shell shocked and uncomprehending, Simon stood. There was nothing left here that couldn't be replaced. With one last look around his office, he walked out into the bullpen. The crowd parted like the proverbial Red Sea and he walked to the elevator.

"Simon?" Jim's voice was confused as he opened the door. "I thought we were meeting at five."

"We are. I just wanted to give you some things that got left at the precinct." Simon allowed himself to be led into the loft. Several packed duffles lay on the floor. He grinned to himself, he bet Jim didn't realize that he would have company on his trip. He opened his briefcase. "I didn't think that leaving this in the office safe was a good idea."

"What is it?" Jim looked over the envelope. Taking a deep breath, he sneezed. "Naomi? You heard from her?"

"Not recently. She gave me this the day she left Cascade." Simon watched his old friend study the envelope before setting it down to look at the files. "She told me to give it to Sandburg when the time was right."

Jim shot a startled look at Simon. "And you're giving it to me? Why now?"

"The time never came and --"

"He's alive, Simon! All of this stuff, the envelope, the notes on my cases, Blair's dissertation... it's yours. If you can't keep it at the station, put it in your safe at home." Jim's words and voice were vehement, loud and angry.

"Easy, Jim. I believe you. I'm going with you to get Blair and Henri back." Again he had startled his friend. "If you don't want these here, I'll put them in my safe deposit box.... Jim, you might want to make sure all of Sandburg's notes are--"

"Already took care of that, Simon." Jim's wry smile and shrug said it all. The former covert ops man knew what they were going to face. "Are you sure you want to do this? It could cost you your career."

"You're my friend, Jim. So are Blair and Henri." Simon's words were quiet. "You and Blair risked your lives for me several times. I can't let you go after them alone."

Jim didn't answer. He simply picked up one of the duffles. "I'll escort you to the bank. Just to be sure you get there safely."


Part 3: Conversations in the Station -- Rafe & Jim

Rafe stared at his phone in confusion. That message made absolutely no sense at all. He looked around the bullpen and spotted the man he needed to speak to. "Hey, Jim! Could you come here a minute?"

Jim Ellison frowned slightly but he turned and headed for Rafe. "What's up, Rafe?"

"I just checked my voice mail and there's a message from Brown but it doesn't sound right." As he explained, he watched Jim stiffen and come to full attention. Since their partners were together at a conference in DC a message from one was likely to contain a message from both. "I thought you might like to hear it too."

At Ellison's nod, Rafe turned on the speaker phone and activated the message. "Rafe! It's Brown. We're doing fine. The convention's great. I'll call later and maybe you'll be there."

Henri Brown's voice was rough, tired but jovial. Too jovial for anyone who really knew him. Brown hated traveling. He hated to fly. He hated leaving his wife and son for anything, especially a police convention. Behind him, an odd sound kept intruding into the tape.

"They're in trouble." Jim's voice was cold. "Let's go talk to Simon."

It hadn't taken Jim long to convince Simon that something was up. That led to Rafe's first experience watching Simon guide Jim to use his sentinel abilities.

"All right, Jim." Simon's voice was low, each word spoken carefully. "I want you to remember how Sandburg has taught you to focus. Focus past Brown's voice, past his words... what do you hear?"

"Blair's whispering." Jim's eyes were closed, his head tilted as he focused on the recorded message. "He says they're leaving DC in five minutes. Flight 223. Arriving 5pm in Cascade." Suddenly the Sentinel went still and his eyes flew open. "Brackett was in DC and he recognized Blair. They're running from him and the Feds."

Simon grabbed his phone and dialed, eyes glancing to his clock. "Rhonda, I need to know if Flight 223 into Cascade is running on time. It should be arriving in 40 minutes."

There was a brief pause and then Simon closed his eyes. The shocked look on his face made both Rafe and Ellison sit up. "Thank you. Rhonda, call the airline and get a passenger list. Brown and Sandburg were on that flight."

"What happened?" Ellison's voice was tight.

"The plane went down in the Rockies. Search and Rescue is already looking for it." Rafe felt his world crash around his ears as Simon's words finally made sense to his mind. He was still shaking his head in denial when he noticed Jim's shocked face.

"I'd know if he were dead. I think they're both alive." Jim stated it firmly. Firmly enough to make hope spring alive in Rafe's heart. After all, the sentinel would know if his guide were dead. He'd known before and brought the kid back.

"Listen to me," Simon began but the strident ringing of the phone caught his attention. "Banks. Oh, put her through, Rhonda. Yes, Governor, how can I help you?"

Rafe looked away, focusing his gaze on the Cascade skyline. Only when Banks raised his voice did he tune back into the conversation.

"I had men on that plane. Ellison, Rafe, and myself are heading out to the scene. . . . yes, Governor I understand. I'll tell them, ma'am." The disgusted fury in Banks' voice was enough to tell its own story. The captain crushed his unlit cigar and tossed it into the trash can. "This department is strictly forbidden to leave Cascade. The foreign dignitaries we are supposed to protect arrive tomorrow afternoon and the governor wants Major Crimes to handle it. She got the Chief of Police to sign off on the order for us to stay here."

"I'm going after Blair, sir." Ellison unclipped his detective shield and began to place it on the desk.

"Jim, wait a minute." Rafe knew his voice sounded as shocked as he was. It still didn't make sense. Their partners had to be alive. "We could give the locals a chance. It's bound to be on the news. They'll show search and rescue efforts. Our partners'll call as soon as they can get to a phone or they'll show their ugly mugs on the TV."

The sentinel looked at him, his pale eyes measuring him broodingly. Finally, he nodded. "I'll wait. But not for long."

Rafe nodded. It wasn't much, but the fact that Ellison had listened to him helped. He couldn't risk the hope that he had. Henri would be calling soon. He had to.

The next day.

"Rafe?" Jim's voice was quiet, trying not to disturb the others.

The entire Major Crimes department, all three shifts, was present. Most were focused on the television. The downed airplane had been found. The blackened wreckage was one of the worst sights Rafe had ever seen. Even from here he could see the burnt bodies. Maybe most of the viewers had no idea what they were looking at, but he knew. He had seen it before. According to the noon report there were no survivors.

"You're leaving?" Rafe asked, meeting the taller man's eyes. The worry and pain there made him want to curse. If he hadn't said anything, Jim could be there already.

"Yeah. Give these to Simon for me?" Jim handed him his badge and gun. "If the only way I can leave is to resign, I'll do it."

"Are we driving or flying?" Rafe found himself asking.

Jim grimaced. "The governor can have us picked up at the airport."

Rafe nodded as he watched Jim go pack up his desk. He stared thoughtfully at the badge in his hand. He had always wanted to be a cop. His family had never understood, but it had been his goal. He wanted to be the best police officer in Cascade. He was good at his job; he had the awards and citations to prove it. Until Sandburg had come along, he had been the youngest man to ever make Detective or the Major Crimes Unit. He still considered himself a good cop. But without his partner what was he? He couldn't let go... he couldn't let his friend, his partner just disappear. He had never lost a partner before.

He turned to face Simon's office. The door was open and he could see that Simon was working on something. His decision made, he knocked on the door.

"Sir?" Rafe's voice broke as he faced his commander for the last time. "Jim asked me to give you this."

Simon looked up. He looked haggard, worn.

Rafe gently placed Jim's badge and pistol on the desk. Then he pulled his own badge and the official pistol he carried. It had never left his stewardship from the day he'd graduated from the academy. It felt like he was leaving behind an old friend as he set it down.  He heard a quiet murmur as other detectives reacted to his actions.  A moment later, another badge was set down beside his. Not looking at anyone, he slipped through the crowd and headed out the door.

"Rafe?" Simon's voice made Rafe pause. He half turned, waiting for the rest of the words. They were not what he expected. "Tell Jim I want him at the meeting at my house. Five sharp. Everyone needs to be there."

Rafe nodded and left. He had things to get done. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Jim's. "Jim..."


Part 4 : Conversations in the Station -- Megan & Joel

Megan stared at the TV, disbelief warring with shock. The pictures she saw there were too hard to stomach. The dark mountains were lit with searchlights as slow moving helicopters crossed the terrain. A phone number scrolled across the screen, a hot line for family members of the passengers. The Red Cross woman was trying to give hope to reporters, but the grim faces of the rescue workers gave lie to her words. All of them shivered in the cold wind that stirred their hair.

"Oh, God! Sandy?" Megan heard her voice break as the meaning of the awful picture finally made it through the numbness of her mind. "Brown? They both..."

A warm cup of coffee was pressed into her hands. Joel's voice was rough as he spoke to her. "Take a drink, Megan."

She turned to see his sad, careworn face. "They can't be dead, Joel. After everything we've all been through, a plane crash just doesn't make sense."

Taggart opened his mouth but no words came out. His eyes were fixed on the TV screen. The searchers were calling it quits because of the rising winds. After a long moment he turned back to Megan. "They are alive. Look at Jim. He's still pacing and growling at every little thing. If ...if they weren't, no one would have been able to hold him here."

Megan turned to see Jim Ellison, their resident hard case, pacing on one end of the room. He had a cell phone held to his ear, listening intently to the words on the other end. He growled something unintelligible into the receiver and turned off the phone.

Rafe stood nearby, quietly and pensively watching the other man. He silently offered him a cup of coffee. When it was accepted, he turned back to the television. At Jim's single growled word, the younger man nodded.

"What did Jim mean by 'noon'?" Megan asked curiously.

"You know about the governor's orders?" Joel asked quietly, as he began straightening his desk. All around the bull pen, detectives had suddenly attacked their stacks of paperwork. "Well, he's giving the rescue effort until noon. Then they're going after Blair and Henri."

Megan glanced at the quiet activity in the room. It looked like everyone in the department was planning on helping Jim and Rafe find their partners. She picked up a file from Joel's desk and headed her own desk. She did not plan on being left behind.

It was barely 10 am when the plane was found. The first reports were garbled, optimistic and cautious at the same time. Until the first cameras arrived on the scene, reporters kept hope alive by speculating there were survivors huddled in the remains of the plane, or near the wreckage. However, at the first images, even the reporters, veterans of disaster reporting, paused in shocked silence. There were going to be no survivors.

The melted aluminum skin of the airliner had burned through snow and ice to bare earth. Made of heavier weight metal, the plane's ribs arched into the air, marking the tomb of the passengers. The rest was a blur as Megan's eyes clouded and she sank to her chair.

Throughout the Major Crimes bullpen, conversations went silent as everyone turned to face the television. Phones were ignored as the department reeled from the obvious blow. Their men were gone.

"Rafe?" Megan heard Jim's quiet voice. Even if he was trying not to disturb the rest of the room, everyone could hear him over the quiet stillness.

"You're leaving?" Rafe's voice was harder to hear as the reporters finally began to speak again.

"Yeah. Give these to Simon for me?" Megan turned in time to see Jim hand his badge and weapon to Rafe. "If the only way I can leave is to resign, I'll do it."

"Are we driving or flying?" Rafe asked quietly.

Megan missed Jim's answer. Every man and woman in the bullpen, all three shifts, was coming to his or her feet. Awed by what she was witnessing, she followed the procession into Captain Banks' office. The array of badges and weapons on the captain's desk was startling.

"Connor?" Banks' voice was gruff, startling her from her muddled thoughts.

"Sir, before you join the resignees... could you give me a leave of absence?" Megan found herself whispering. "I'm not required to be at the trade meeting, but I'd rather not be the only one here. I was planning a ... hiking trip in the mountains."

The sadness left Banks' eyes for a brief moment. "Request approved, Connor. I have some maps that might be useful."

"I'll stop by your place at about 5?" She asked carefully.

"It'll be crowded, but we could use the company."

When Megan stepped out of the captain's office, the bullpen was nearly empty. Joel was waiting for her. "Want to go pick up a van with me?"

With a smile, Megan joined him. As they walked out the door, a very harried looking official rushed past them. He moved too fast for her to catch the name on the gleaming gold nametag.

"Who was that?"

"Chief of Police Warren." Taggart answered, pushing the elevator call button.


Part 5 : Conversations on the Run -- Blair and Brown

"Ready H?" Blair was not in the mood for this. He did not want to go to DC for a conference, even if it specialized in 'Intercultural relations: Police Officers and the Public'. The fact that he and Brown had been chosen to fulfill some kind of quota irked him even more. He didn't feel the need to push his status as both a new detective and special consultant to Major Crimes or his Jewish heritage for the right to go on this trip. He simply did not want to go to DC.

"Yeah, I'm ready, Hairboy." The big man grinned his amusement. "I thought you liked learning new things."

With a low snarl, Blair closed the file he was working on and tossed it into the 'finished' bin. "This is not about learning, Henri. It's about the PD having to fill some kind of quota and I don't like it. Diversity means we are all working together as equals, not being shuttled off for special training because we're different."

"Come on, Blair. The Feds aren't that bad... they've actually helped us out a few times. We might even like the stuff. It's a shoo-in that you will probably know more than the lecturers." Brown turned off his computer, still trying to cheer up the younger man. Everyone had noticed that from the outset, Sandburg had been surly about the thought of going. A few people, Rafe among them, had wondered when Jim and Blair switched personalities. It looked like it was going to be a long trip.

"Yeah, right." He wasn't sure why he was being so sarcastic. For some reason it felt wrong to be leaving Cascade. Blair grabbed his backpack, checked his weapon and was ready to go.

"Do you think Rafe and Jim'll get back in time?" H asked, as he stood.

"We could always wait for them," Blair commented hopefully.

"Get out of here and catch your plane, detectives." Simon's voice startled them. Their captain stood quietly in the doorway to his office. "If they get done with their interviews, they can meet you at the airport."

"Yes, sir." Both men spoke in unison as they grabbed their bags. On a normal day, all three would have cracked smiles. Today, there was enough tension and unease in the air that their faces remained grim.

Blair looked at Henri's pale, pained face and tried not to completely loose his cool. From the moment that he had recognized Brackett, they had been on the run. Henri hadn't argued. One garbled plea for them to run and the bigger man had sprung into action. Proving that he was still the linebacker he had been in college, Henri had plowed through the Federal agents who trying to stop them. Even breaking his arm hadn't slowed the man.

Only now that they were out of immediate danger did H pause and let the pain gain control. Blair was totally in awe of that kind of dedication. Before meeting Jim, that kind of behavior was something he only read about. "H? Do you think you handle it a little longer? We can stop by one of the clinics."

"We do that and we get picked up," Henri whispered, his words almost drowned out by the sound of the Metro on its glide through the cement tunnels. "Do you know where we're going?"

"Yeah." Blair licked his lips as he began to explain. "It's not exactly--"

"I trust you, Blair." He smiled, as Blair jumped guiltily. "As long as we don't hurt any civilians or break too many laws, just get us home."

"Umm, that may be a problem. It's not exactly 100% legal, at least I don't think it is."

"Do we have to do something illegal?" Henri spoke calmly, eyes closed.

"What we're going to do is legal, barely," Blair hedged.

"That's good enough for me. Just get us home."

Henri shifted nervously. Blair had left him hours earlier and he was getting worried. A smiling woman appeared in the doorway. She looked like someone his mother would introduce to him as one of her old college friends. Nothing at all seemed strange or out of place about her. "Henri? Is your arm bothering you? I can make you some more tea."

He shook his head. The tea had killed the throbbing pain of his arm. Even when the bone was set, it hadn't bothered him except in an off-key way. He really didn't want to know what they had given him, but he had the feeling he didn't dare take any more. Not if he wanted to pass his next drug test.

"Your IDs are ready." She changed the subject, handing him a set of ID.

He stared in amazement. Henri had seen fake ID before, but he would swear these were real. He looked down at them, memorizing the details. He was Henri Smith, insurance salesman. Every single thing seemed to be in order. "Thank you."

"Mr. Smith. I hate to remind you, but..." Her words trailed off as the front door opened and they heard Blair's voice.

"I know, ma'am. I haven't seen a thing. You have my word." Henri smiled at the quiet relief on the woman's face.

Blair breezed into the room. "Em, everything ready? We really need to move on before someone notices us."

"Of course it is, Shadow." The woman pulled Blair into a big hug. "Jay is getting the car now. He'll drop you off at the station. You ride into Baltimore. At Union Station go from the Metro to the Amtrak train. Your tickets are waiting at the counter. The train will get you to New York. Plane reservations are in Mr. Smith's name."

"Thanks, Em. I hate to rush off, but the Feds are really hunting us." Blair helped Henri to his feet as he spoke.

"Did you forget something?" Em's voice was amused as she held out a Fedex envelope. "You can't travel with two sets of id or the weapons."

"Oh, yeah." Blair looked a bit embarrassed as he placed his wallet and Brown's into the envelope. Then he grabbed their badges, flipped them open and tossed them in too. "Did you get a box for our pistols?"

The woman handed him a heavy-duty box. The foam insulation had been cut to hold their weapons securely. Blair quickly removed the bullets from them. Then he carefully fit the pistols and holsters into the box. Once satisfied they wouldn't move during transport, he closed the box. Then reached up and grabbed a lock of his hair and pulled it tight. H watched, confused as Blair quickly cut the lock off and laid it across the closed edge of the box. He then wrapped the entire box in a layer of tape. It was only then that it made sense. If the box were tampered with, the lock of hair would be gone or mussed.

Em handed him another box. Blair wiped it down with a soft cloth and placed the first box inside it. He closed the box, placing his fingers firmly along the seam. That area was securely taped, trapping the prints in place. H began to grin as he recognized the address written on the label. Cassie Wells would examine the package very well before opening it. She'd notice any change in the packaging and note it down. But he did wonder why Blair had sent it to her instead of to Jim.

"I know what I'm doing, H." The quiet words broke into his thoughts.

"I trust you, kid." Henri spoke softly. Blair nodded before finishing his task. Moments later, they were out the door, package and envelope carefully tucked into Blair's new duffel bag.

They made it all the way to Washington state. They knew they needed to be met at the Cascade Airport. That was where the Feds would be waiting for them to make their reappearance. They had been careful, leaving a false message on Rafe's voice mail with Blair whispering the real message underneath it. But somehow, the men had found out and were waiting for them at their last transfer.

"Detective Brown? Detective Sandburg?" The pale man who spoke to them was unremarkable. His black jeans and T-shirt hadn't warned them. He smiled at them.

"I'm sorry, but you have the wrong people." Blair's voice was polite but cool.

"No, I don't, Mr. Sandburg. This is neither the place nor the time for this discussion." The man's smile was cold. "I don't think we need any trouble here. Too many innocent civilians."

Henri looked around and realized that they had been made. Several other men, all wearing the same intense look, were watching the man facing them. "Hairboy, look around."

Blair looked and bowed his head. There were at least six men between them and the gateway. Even if Henri were in any condition to run, they wouldn't make it. Not without someone else getting hurt. "We'll go, peacefully."

"Good choice." The man gestured for them to precede him. "We have a bit of a journey in front of us."

Brackett was waiting in the SUV. He smiled at the sight of them. "Hello, Dr. Sandburg. This must be Detective Brown. Get in the back."

"What are you doing loose, Brackett?" Blair asked, fairly amiably.

"Gathering allies, Blair. Congratulations on the dissertation. I can't wait until I get a chance to read it." As soon as they were seated, the door locks clicked into place. The young man who had met them at gate climbed into the front seat. "Did they give you any trouble?"

"No." The man shot them a quick look. "None at all."

"I told you they were smart. Blair, I would like you to meet my new partner." Lee Brackett smiled again. The delight on his face boded ill for the two men in the back seat and they knew it. "Alex, this is Blair Sandburg, detective of the Cascade Police Department, Major Crimes Division, Doctor of Anthropology, Rainier University. The quiet one is Henri Brown, detective of the Cascade Police Department, Bachelor of Arts, Criminology and Criminal Law, Washington State at Seattle. Detectives, my partner, Alexei."

"What, no last name?" Blair baited them.

"None that concerns you." Alexei turned to face the young man. For a split second the pain in those eyes was enough to make Blair back down, then it was gone. "Not if you want to stay alive Detective."

Blair remained silent at that comment. He had the feeling that Alexei was serious and he desperately wanted to live. He had so much still to do, he wasn't about to risk irritating the man any more than he already had.

The sudden sound made all four men look back. A sharp crisp boom was followed by a deep rumbling growl. The sight of a glowing streak of fire falling toward the mountain they had just crossed made them all pale.

"What the hell did you do, Alex???" Brackett was the first to respond as the SUV slid to the side of the road. Still yelling at his partner, he got out of the vehicle to watch the falling airliner.

Alex watched impassively, eyes flat. "I didn't go near the plane. What did you do?"

The words burned their way into Blair's brain. The flight had been full. That meant hundreds dead. He reacted instinctively. He vaulted from the back into the empty driver's seat. As he crossed through the center of the truck, his booted foot kicked out, catching Alexei's arm. The gun fired as it spun to the floor. He slammed the door shut and slammed the lock. Gunning the engine, he barely missed hitting Brackett as they sped away.

Henri reached forward and wrapped his arm around Alexei's throat, the plastic cast digging into the man's flesh. He growled menacingly. "I wouldn't try to reach it, my friend."

Alex froze, his hands wrapping around the cast.

Blair drove for a few minutes before coming to a stop. Alexei glared at him as he pointed the captured 9 mm pistol at its owner. If Blair thought they could control the other man, he would prefer to turn him over to Ellison and the rest of Major Crimes. Between them, they might be able to get some answers. But something about the eyes of the man and the tense feeling at the back of his neck warned against keeping their captive.

"Get out." Blair was surprised by the coldness of his own voice.

"We will meet again." Alexei smiled, as he climbed down from the SUV.

The gunshots as they pulled away surprised both men. Glass flew everywhere as the window beside H shattered. Blair floored the engine, barely noting the sound of the more bullets hitting the SUV's body. In the rear view mirror, Alexei crouched, weapon still pointing at them until they were out of range.

"H?" Blair glanced at his friend, worried. "Were you hit?"

"No, I don't think so. Just got cut by the glass, why?"

"Alex hit something important. We're going to be walking soon." He looked from the rising temperature gauge to the darkening woods. "We're still a long ways from Cascade."

"I can keep up with you, Hairboy." Henri grinned. "Too bad we don't have a tent and some fishing poles. I've been fishing around here. It's a good place."

"You know where we can hole up?" Blair perked up. If H knew the area, they might just be able to hold out until their partners arrived.

"Yeah, there's some places on the other side of the ridge."

"Henri?" Blair was worried. In the past few hours, the other detective had withdrawn into himself. He laid his hand on the other man's arm and flinched at the warmth radiating through his clothes. "Oh, man, don't do this to me."

Henri's eyes opened and met his. "Blair? I don't think I can keep up with you now."

"You don't have to keep up. You just have to hold on, H. Our partners are on their way. Jim will find us." Blair murmured, more of a prayer than anything else.


Part 6 : Conversations Between Friends -- Major Crimes

Simon stared at his front door. It was open -- wide open. Jim looked at him and as one they each pulled their personal weapon. (They may have turned in their official pistols but neither of them was about to go hunting Sandburg and Brown without a piece.) The sound of women's voices came from the open doorway.

"Um, Simon?" Jim's confusion showed as he focused his hearing on the house. With a resigned sigh he placed the safety on his weapon and holstered it. "You've got company. Lots of it"

Catching the sentinel's resigned look, Simon copied his old friend's actions. "Who is it?"

"Sounds like... all the wives, sir. AJ just whispered that if we come in with our guns out, she'll pour the coffee down the sink." The wry grimace as Jim spoke told its own story. Simon knew enough to know that the sentinel was probably editing the woman's words.

The two men silently entered the house. It was crowded. That was Simon's first thought. Women and men, all civilians, were busily preparing things under Rhonda's expert guidance. Several ice chests stood open in the middle of the living room, being packed with enough food for an army. Another knot of people were going through medical kits, making sure each of them had everything they might need.

"Simon?" Brown's wife approached them. Simon held out his arms and gave the young woman a hard hug. When she finally pulled away, tears were in her eyes. "You find him and bring him back to me. You hear me?"

"I hear you." Simon's voice was thick. He had known Henri and Sherri Brown a long time. He was their son's godfather. "Where's Lashon?"

"With Mama Brown." Rafe's voice came from behind them. Sherri moved to hug Brown's partner. "Pop's downstairs, if you're ready to go. You and Lashon are staying with them until we get Henri back home."

Sherri silently nodded and headed out the door. Her exit started a mass exodus of the civilians. Each and every one stopped to greet Simon and the other officers before leaving.

Rhonda grinned cheekily at the still dazed expression on Simon's face. As she slipped past them, she asked, "Forgot I had a key from when I baby-sat Daryl?"

"I think I need to change my locks." Simon groaned to his men's amusement.

AJ was the last to leave. She handed a police issue radio to Simon. "Daryl left his radio. It's set on the channel they're using for a special task force. The mayor has ordered the Major Crimes Department detained, quietly." She pointed out a bright red thermos "Mate-chai, Calim'a mix. Don't use it if you can help it. It's strong. I'm going to the crash site. I'll get all the information I can for you."

The sentinel nodded at her as she headed for the door with Rafe. The two said their good-byes quickly and then the young detective rejoined the rest of Major Crimes department.

"What's with the thermos?" Simon asked quietly.

"I've seen Chopec warriors use something similar before battle. With it they felt no pain, no fear and they didn't get tired." Jim answered quietly. "It's not something I'd use unless I had no choice. It has other uses too... mainly ceremonial."

Simon nodded. From the look that quickly crossed Jim's face, he had a feeling he really didn't want to know. "Let's get down to business, people."

The final plan had the department splitting into two groups. One to stay in Cascade, run interference and protect their families -- the other to find Brown and Sandburg.

Two large trucks headed up into the mountains. Both vehicles were loaded with supplies and equipment, each one carrying four silent detectives from the Major Crimes division. Jim drove the first vehicle, for once driving to rescue his partner in a sane, unremarkable manner. Only the fact they all knew he was avoiding the attention of the rest of the Cascade PD kept the others from commenting. The tension as they raced into the darkness was enhanced by the carefully worded words that passed from one radio to another. Somehow the patrol cars looking for them seemed to never to be in the same area as they were. And yet the manhunt was progressing under Sergeant Howard's direction. It was surprising how good Simon's people were, they kept vanishing at the last possible minute.

Once the trucks passed out of the Cascade city limits, they all breathed a little easier. No one wanted to fight their way past their brethren, even if none of them were cops any longer. The loss had yet to sink in, but its ache was still there. It would be dealt with once they found their missing comrades.

Blair shook with cold. He didn't really dare to risk a fire but with the dropping temperatures he was afraid he had no choice. If only he had his backpack, but he had left it in DC. It was too obvious, too distinctive, so it had been left behind. So they had only what was in their pockets, cash, ID, Swiss Army knife, chewing gum, a pen, and a picture of Brown's family.

He looked over at Henri. The big detective was curled in a ball, shuddering in the dim light. His fever had spiked again. It was too dark for Blair to hunt for more medicinal herbs. He needed to get H to a doctor or a hospital. At the sound of H's chattering teeth, he made his decision. Blair began hunting for a piece of flint. He had to keep them both alive through the night. He had enough dry wood for a fire, he could peel some bark for a pot... all he needed was the flint to start a fire.

A wolf howled, its mournful sound echoing off the ridge. Damn it! Blair's thoughts turned inward again. Where was Jim? Where was their rescue party? He had kept Brown moving for nearly twenty-four hours with this fever. He needed his sentinel and he needed him NOW!

Jim growled aloud, startling Simon.

"What is it, Jim?" Simon's words caught the attention of the others.

"Blair," was all the sentinel said as he pressed the accelerator to the floor.

Brackett glared at his companions. Only Alexei seemed immune to the look. From the amount of blood they had found in the SUV, they knew one of the two fugitives was hurt. Lee hadn't planned on losing Sandburg or wounding him. He wondered what Ellison's reaction would be... nothing nice he was certain.

"We'll find them in the morning." Alexei's voice made Brackett look up. There was something in the cold eyes that made him wish he hadn't accepted the other man's offer of freedom.

"That's what you said last night." Brackett growled. "You were wrong."

"I said we would be able to track them. We're close." Alexei looked up as a wolf howled. He grinned, the light in his eyes more than amused. "Very close, Lee. We'll catch your guide in the morning. The sentinel will be ours by tomorrow night."

A deep gruff sound made Blair open his eyes. All he could see were teeth. Long, white, wet teeth. He froze, staring at the gaping mouth. A long pink tongue reached out and licked the teeth, as if it was preparing for the feast. Then the teeth withdrew and a brown nose snuffled his hair. With a satisfied snort, the beast turned around and curled up, its side pressed close to the young man.

Blair looked around at Brown. All he could see was a furry mass. He started to move and two pairs of eyes opened. After a long staring match, one of the animal's moved its head so he could see Henri's face. No longer shuddering with fever, the man seemed to be resting peacefully.

As the warmth at his side began to really register, Blair felt the exhaustion creep up on him again. Maybe he was suffering from fever dreams. He didn't have time to finish the thought before he was asleep again.

The first light of dawn brought Brackett awake. He started to move but at the feel of something resting lightly on his chest he froze. He opened his eyes. Coiled on his chest was a snake. A big, brown, gray, and tan coiled nest of scales. He focused on the pattern that he could see... His mind classified it as a diamondback rattler.

He knew that the snake was common in these mountains, but he had never heard of them getting big enough to make a nest that big. Then he realized that he saw two rattles. It really was a nest of them. Very slowly he looked over at his companions.

Every man in the party had at least one snake on him. His eyes met Alexei's. The wry amusement there made him pause. Why on earth would he find this situation amusing?

"What's so funny?" Lee hissed, praying he didn't disturb the snake on his chest.

"You could have told me we were chasing a shaman, partner." The younger man closed his eyes. "I knew you weren't telling me everything. We're stuck until they decide to move."

To Bracket's amazement, Alexei and his men all closed their eyes and relaxed. What made them so calm... were they used to bizarre situations? Resigned to the wait, Brackett closed his eyes; it was going to be a long morning.

The sound of a hawk woke Blair. He looked around. The animals were gone. There were tracks, lupine and feline tracks, all around them. He stretched, barely ready to be conscious. He needed to find food and medicine. Henri's fever was down, but still present.

As Blair stood, the hawk cried out again. It flew past, struggling to hold onto its prey. The rabbit kicked and managed to break free. It landed near the amazed man. As it tried to escape, Blair pounced, grabbing the wounded animal. He was not about to argue with a gift like this one. Henri needed protein and roast rabbit sounded perfect.

Two vehicles pulled into a rest area. Men and women poured out of the trucks, stretching to relieve cramped muscles. Silently they helped four of the group to prepare for a hike. Medical supplies, sleeping bags, spare weapons, bullets, fire starters, food, water, coffee, knives... all disappeared into heavy duty packs.

"We'll keep on the road. If we see anything, we'll radio you." Joel spoke softly.

"Be careful. They're being hunted." Jim's certainty was noted by everyone, but no one asked. They knew better. After all the rescues, all the news stories, all the evidence the entire division had come to the conclusion that what they didn't know for a fact couldn't be used against them by IA or anyone else.

Jim shouldered his pack and headed into the forest. Behind him, Rafe, Megan and Simon followed as quietly as they could. He carefully fixed their presence into the map his senses had formed and began scanning the area around them. He could feel Blair ahead. He could also feel Blair's worry for Henri. Jim fought the urge to run. He didn't want to leave his companions behind -- not yet. But if it was necessary he would.


Part 7 : Conversations in the Forest -- Major Crimes et al

"Blair?" Henri's whisper made the younger detective whirl. For the first time in hours Brown's eyes were open and he was coherent. "Why are you still here?"

"Hey, man, I couldn't leave you behind. It would seriously wreck my karma." Blair smiled at his friend. He pulled a rough bark pot from its place over the fire. "It's time for more tea."

Henri made a face. "I think I remember that tea."

"It's the only medicine we have, H." Blair's voice was somber. "I've got some soup for you, too."

"Soup?" Henri accepted Blair's help and sat up. He stared in confusion at the bark pots the young man set near them.

"Don't knock it. I didn't have much to work with." Blair's smile took the bite out of the words.

"I'm not arguing, Sandburg." H smiled weakly before sipping at the tea. It was all his friend could do to keep from chuckling at the site. "We need to keep moving."

"Jim's almost here, man. We can wait for him and the others." Blair looked around the clearing. Somehow he knew they were safe here. At least for now. He went back to braiding thin strips of bark together.

The closer they got to Blair, the faster Jim moved. Behind him, his companions struggled to keep up. He could feel his guide's unhappiness with Brown's condition. He could feel the worry that somehow their pursuers would arrive first.

"Jim!" Simon's voice startled the sentinel. He stopped and turned to face the captain. "Slow down, man. We can't all run at this pace."

He let his gaze flicker over the other three. Simon and Megan were winded. Only Rafe seemed unfazed by the pace. Jim nodded absently, letting his senses range outward. He caught a fragment of speech and focused on it. Ignoring the startled sounds of his companions, the sentinel went from standing still to a full out run. He no longer cared if they kept up or got left behind. He could always find them again. Right now, his guide was in danger.

They had lost most of the morning waiting for the rattlers to leave. All four men had been too cautious to move lest they disturb the dangerous snakes. Only when the sun had truly cleared the trees, had the lethargic reptiles stirred. It was not a sensation Brackett ever wanted to experience again. Alexei had refused to explain his comments about Sandburg being a shaman, so the ex-agent had filed them away for later study.

Now they were close. Their tracker had signaled that they should move silently. A quiet voice came from the trees ahead of them.

"Take it easy, Brown. You're not in any shape to..." The voice trailed off into silence as a wolf began to growl.

Blair looked up to see the wolf staring into the trees. Beyond the edge of the clearing stood Alexei and Brackett. He closed his eyes and whispered, "I'm sorry, Jim. I tried."

A man, dressed in camouflage stepped into the clearing, his weapon pointed at Henri.

"Hello, Dr. Sandburg." Lee Bracket's smile was wide as he surveyed the little camp. "You led us on quite a chase."

Blair looked over at Henri. The other man looked scared, eyes wide in shock. Blair whirled around in time to see a hawk, talons outspread land on the armed man. The growl of a wolf was followed by a muffled scream.

Brackett froze as his man fell to the ground and the hawk disappeared into the trees. He scanned the area, looking for the one who had screamed.

"Impressive, shaman." Alexei's words made everyone look at him. The thin man looked around the clearing, speculatively. After a long moment he smiled, and Blair shuddered at the sight. "You found yourself a bit of sacred land. Another time."

"How about now?" Jim's voice came from behind Blair. The sentinel stalked forward, his pistol aimed at the two men.

"You are a cop, Ellison. You can't kill us in cold blood." Brackett spoke calmly. He had studied the other man enough to believe he understood him.

"Don't be so sure of that." The words were growled, low and edged with venom.

"How about a deal?" Alexei interrupted the stalemate. "We leave and you can have your partner back, without any argument from us. Your companions aren't close enough to back you up, not yet."

Jim studied the man, memorizing the face as he read his intentions. Finally he nodded. Without another word, a leather-coated arm went up. He could hear the other men retreating. Brackett grimaced before he finally turned and followed the others. Silently, still listening to the retreating sounds, he handed Blair his backpack, knowing his guide would find everything he needed inside it.

Brackett stared at the men in front of him. "What do you mean we aren't going back?"

"You failed to acquire the guide. His sentinel and their friends are here. They've found him and will be hunting us." Alexei's voice was calm. Too calm for Bracket's tastes. "We are not equipped to take on a group of armed, angry policemen. They left everything behind for their friend. We're done here."

"I don't know about that. I am going after Sandburg." Brackett turned to leave.

Behind him, Alexei moved with the swiftness of a striking cat. Brackett ended up on the ground, a long thin knife across his throat. A thin smile crossed the man's face as he spoke, "I don't think so. You are coming with me. My employer wants to talk to you."

It occurred to Brackett that he had miscalculated badly in his choice of partners. He had the feeling that for once he had lost at the bargaining table.

"Damn it, Ellison!" Simon's growl made Sandburg look up from where he and Rafe were tending to Brown. "I thought I told you not to leave us behind."

"He was just in time to stop Brackett." Blair spoke softly, making the big captain freeze. He met the other man's eyes. "If he had been a few minutes later, we would have been gone. And I have the feeling that not even Jim would have been able to find us."

No one said anything for several long moments. Finally, Rafe broke the silence. "Henri needs to get to the hospital. The wound is infected."

"Can you walk?" Jim asked quietly.

"Just try me." Brown whispered. With the help of his friends he stood, leaning heavily on his partner. The first step he took brought him to his knees.

Jim frowned and then pulled out the small bright red thermos. He poured a little of the bitter liquid into a cup and filled the rest with lukewarm coffee. "Drink this, Henri. It'll help."

"Jim," Simon warned, only to be silenced by the glare he got in return.

"It's a long way back to the road and this will help kill his pain." The grim reply was enough. Everyone glanced at their wounded comrade and understood his worry. Jim may have made a deal with the enemy, but how long would Brackett hold off? They needed to move and the terrain was too rough for them to carry Henri out. He had to be mobile.

"Well, Mr. Brackett? You gave me the show you promised." The man in the shadows drew a deep drag on his cigarette. "I believe your story about sentinels. However, I don't think they would be useful to me. Too unpredictable, too troublesome."

"Ellison can be controlled. He'll do anything to protect Sandburg." Brackett spoke up vehemently. He didn't want to lose this man's interest.

"And your advice?" The man turned to face Alexei.

"Leave them alone, sir. We don't want to mess with another shaman." The young man sank into a chair, an insolent smile on his face. "The last time we nearly lost everything. This time we only lost two men."


"Sandburg was protected by a medicine wheel. An old one he 'found' in the dark while on the run. The only explanation is that Sandburg is a shaman." Alexei watched his employer. "If we push them, things could escalate enough to capture the FBI's attention."

"You're correct in that assessment. They have enough highly placed friends already asking questions. We don't want any more attention than we've already received." The man coughed quietly before taking another drag at his cigarette. "Mr. Brackett, I want you to keep an eye on Ellison and Sandburg. I want to know everything about them and their friends. I don't want anything to escape your attention. You," he pointed to Alexei, "go to Seattle and make sure that none of our projects affect Cascade. I don't want anyone to get interested in us at all."

Alexei nodded and stood. He followed Brackett to the cabin door before pausing. He cleared his throat. "They gave up their jobs to go after Sandburg."

"I'll take care of that personally." The man smiled, his face wrinkling in sardonic amusement as he contemplated the phone call he was about to make. It wasn't often that he ordered his opponents jobs to be restored. But there were times when it was easier to make sure that his opponents were too busy to notice his movements. He dialed the governor's private line.

Simon stared at Jack Kelso in confusion. It had been hard enough to swallow the idea that the mayor had quietly reinstated his division. It was as if everyone was denying the events that had occurred on Thursday. No one at the station seemed to care; they had just covered for the Major Crime department as if they were really escorting the foreign dignitaries around Cascade.

In fact, according to the rumor mill, the whole thing with Major Crimes resigning had been staged to cover up for the fact that a certain Sheik had refused to accept the Fed's offer of protection. Everyone, including the Chief of Police was refusing to comment about the rumor or the fact that for three days an entire department had been missing. According to the radio logs, Simon's people had been on duty for 72 hours straight.

"So, what exactly are you saying, Mr. Kelso?"

Kelso pointed to one of the photos lying on the conference table. It showed two men entering a helicopter. "The men in Fortaleza's picture are known to the Agency. I can't tell you who they are or why they were here, but it isn't good. Every time they show up, life becomes, shall we say, difficult. If we're very lucky, they decided that they don't want to move into the Cascade area."

Blair looked at the picture, not recognizing either of the men. He did recognize a man in another though. "We met him. Brackett introduced him as Alexei."

Kelso looked at Blair, a faint expression of wonder on his face. "You met him and he let you live to tell about it? That man used to go by the name of Alex Krycek. Supposedly he's died at least twice that I know of."

Blair swallowed at the thought. He knew death had been close, he just hadn't realized quite how close.

"Naomi?" The voice was gentle. She turned to look at the speaker. "He's safe, for now. Are you sure you really want to do this?"

"Yes, I am. He has others who can take care of him now. He doesn't need me and I'm only a liability like this." Naomi spoke softly as she stood. "I'll miss him but it really is for the best."

In a bank vault, a plain envelope sat. It was unremarkable. Only the name on it stood out, carefully and beautifully written: Blair J Sandburg, Confidential Material. Once again, it had been forgotten.

The End