School Fieldtrip

Disclaimer: Without prejudice. The names of all recognizable characters from "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Sentinel" contained here are the property of MGM, Trilogy, etc. The Cub and Kit AU was created by Debra. There are original characters in here as well.
Universe: The Cub And The Kit
Rating: FRT (Fan Rated Suitable For Teens)
Author's Note: This is just something that came to mind. There are some coincidences that occur in the fic that may require suspension of disbelief. Yes, it is blatant plot manipulation rather than just letting the plot take care of itself, but I didn't want this to turn into a novel - which it easily could have had I gone with my original idea.
Feedback: MMW

School Fieldtrip

Vin Tanner scowled at his father. "You promised," Vin accused,crossing his arms across his chest, his eyes glaring at his father.

Chris looked into the blue eyes and sighed. He hated disappointing his son, but the truth was, he didn't have a choice. If there had been any other option, any way to keep his promise, he would have, especially given their recent discovery of Vin's sentinel status. The revelation had taken them all by surprise and it had been a difficult adjustment to make, especially in light of all the other changes their family was experiencing - the move to Cascade, setting up a new house and a new office and the discovery that Vin and Ezra would be attending different schools. This last revelation had caused both boys to protest. Vin didn't like the idea of Ezra being so far away and Ezra was very sensitive to Vin's worry.

It had taken Chris, Josiah, JD, Nathan, Buck, Blair and Jim to reassure the boys that they would be fine. Chris had followed Blair's advice and told the school that Vin had several allergies; that way if Vin ever had a zone out, one of them would be contacted to deal with it. That knowledge had settled Vin enough that the boy would attend school, but going on a field trip to a place he didn't know and without a family member had upset the delicate balance they had struck.

Thanks to some fancy manipulation and a stagnating case, Chris had managed to work it out so he would be able to attend Vin's class trip. This information had removed Vin's fear and the boy had actually begun to look forward to his tour of the toy factory.

Unfortunately, the case that had stalled had taken on new life as one of Buck's informants approached him with the promise of new information. Buck would be going to meet the man later that morning and the team was needed to back him up and check out the lead. This meant that Chris would no longer be able to go on the trip, but with a quick call to their friends at the Cascade Police Department, Simon Banks agreed to let Blair off for the day to attend with Vin.

"Blair will be going with you," Chris soothed, looking into the expressive blue eyes. Seeing that his words hadn't relieved the worry of the boy, he reached out and ran his hand over Vin's hair and down his cheek. "Hey," he said, catching Vin's attention."You're going to be fine. Nothing is going to happen and you can tell me all about it tonight at dinner. OK?"

Vin released a heavy sigh and nodded. "K, dad," he agreed, still not thrilled about missing out on a day with his dad.

Chris smiled and gave Vin a hug. Just then a still-sleepy Ezra entered the kitchen and they quickly included him in the embrace.

Pulling back from the comforting hug, Vin looked into his father's eyes and asked, "You sure Ez can't come instead? I might need him."

Chris saw the glint of humor in Vin's blue eyes and caught a twitch of a smile on Ezra's face. He allowed his own grin to show as he replied, "No; he has an algebra test. But he can be tickled with you!" Chris then wrapped his arms tighter around his sons and began tickling them.

Several minutes later a knock sounded on the door and a breathless Vin ran to answer it.

Throwing open the door, he grinned when he saw Blair Sandberg standing on the doorstep. "Hey, Blair," he greeted, stepping to the side to let the man enter.

"Hey, Vin," Blair returned. "You ready to have some fun today?" He watched a shadow pass over the boy's face, but then the brilliant smile returned A grin bloomed on the older Guides face as he assured. "We're going to have a great time."

Vin once again had the odd feeling that something wasn't right, but agreed anyway. Chris' voice sounded in his head telling him to trust his instincts. He heard Jim's voice repeating the same thing. But he hesitated about saying anything. What if he was just nervous about the trip? What if no one listened? Shaking off his thoughts, Vin turned to follow Blair down the hall and called out, "Dad! Blair's here!"


At the school, Vin's class was just preparing to board the bus that would take them to the toy factory. That morning as Blair drove them to school, Vin had gone over very specific instructions on what was expected from the chaperone.

The anthropologist smiled as he thought back on the long list of rules and restrictions recited by Vin as well as to the unspoken need. Though he had paid attention throughout, by the end, he felt he could sum up Vin's expectations as "be cool and don't make me look stupid" - instructions every youth in every culture give to their elders at some point. He didn't have much to worry about, though, when they showed up Vin had been swept to one side of the room where the kids were receiving last minute instructions while Blair had been directed to the other side of the room where the chaperones were receiving a slightly different set of instructions.

As Blair took his seat, he noticed the young, attractive woman head over toward them. Making eye contact, Blair thought he saw a spark of interest in her eyes.

"Good morning," she greeted. "I'm Miss Spencer, one of the children's teachers. I just wanted to go over a few things with you this morning since this trip will be combining several of our sixth grade classes."

Blair had found himself relaxing to the sound of her voice and was soon smiling at the pretty, young teacher.

As they boarded the bus, Blair scanned to see where Vin was sitting. The boy was about five seats back on the driver's side. Figuring lines of sight quickly, Blair decided that if he sat in the first seat on the door-side of the bus, he would be far enough away to abide by Vin's rules, but close enough to offer the comfort and security the young sentinel needed.

Settling into his seat, he hadn't counted on the precocious eleven year old girl sitting behind him who decided that Vin's friend was "too cute" and immediately set about trying to win him over.

It was only the arrival of Miss Spencer that saved Blair from having to disappoint a pre-teen heart.

Settling into the seat beside, Blair, Miss Spencer informed the bus driver that they were ready to go and then sat back. Glancing at Blair, she smiled. "I'm Amanda Spencer," she greeted, holding out her hand for Blair to shake.

Blair smiled into the warm, topaz eyes. "Blair Sandburg," he introduced, taking the lady's hand in his own.

"You came with Vin this morning. I hope nothing's wrong at home," she said, honest concern in her voice.

Blair shook his head. "No," he assured. "Chris had something suddenly come up at work and couldn't get out of it. I happened to be available, so he asked me to come along."

Amanda's smile held a hint of something more than just idle pleasantness. "I'm glad Mr. Larabee was so thoughtful," she replied, settling into the seat and a little closer to Blair.

Blair settled into the seat a little too, thinking he was every bit as pleased at Chris' thoughtfulness as Amanda. He didn't hear the huff of indignation from the sixth grade girl in the seat behind him.


JD sat in the surveillance van and glanced at his watch one more time.

Nathan sighed and said, "Checking your watch won't make the time pass any faster." He smiled to himself at the young agent's huff of indignation.

"It's just that he should have been here by now," JD complained.

The team had shown up at the meeting sight well before time to set up their microphones and surveillance. JD and Nathan were assigned to the van and had been cooped up in the back of it for almost two hours. Buck had received a phone call from his informant ten minutes before they were supposed to meet saying he'd be an hour late.

That had been an hour and twenty minutes ago and JD was tired of sitting. He didn't really want anything to happen, but what he wouldn't give for a chance to get out and stretch his legs for a few minutes.

"I think I see him," came Chris' voice over their headsets.

JD's attention settled back on the job at-hand.

Buck sat on the bench apparently reading a paper. When his informant had first suggested such a meeting he almost laughed, sure the man had seen too many old spy movies. Still, he had been surprised by the effectiveness of the method. No one ever disturbed them or questioned their presence.

Ruffling the pages of his paper, Buck soon found the second part of the story he'd been reading on the impact of the three percent increase on the import of foreign grain. Normally it was a story he would have skipped, but having almost memorized everything else in the paper, he wanted a change. He didn't look up when he felt a presence settle next to him. "Quiet morning," he greeted his informant.

"I wish," the informant grumbled.

"Anything interesting in the newspaper?" Buck asked, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He would never understand why he, the one with the paper, had to ask that question.

The sound of a bullet impacting flesh was his only reply. Throwing down his newspaper, he drew his gun and scanned the area. Josiah, Chris, and JD were also looking around for the shooter, but could find no sign of him.

Buck turned his attention to the quickly-fading man who lay on the ground beside him. Nathan arrived as the injured man scrabbled for Buck. Reaching out, Wilmington took the flailing hand in his own and leaned close as he saw the lips moving.

"Thirty... three... Cald... well... Ave," the man managed to gasp out before consciousness, and life, left him.

Buck looked up into Nathan's face, almost pleading for a positive answer. Nathan waited a moment longer, his fingers on the informant's neck, before looking up and shaking his head.


Jim tossed another folder onto the stack of completed reports. He smiled slightly as he noticed his "In" basket was finally shorter than his "Out" basket.

Leaning back in his chair, he took a deep breath and tried to relax. He should be enjoying this day: there was nothing going on; his life wasn't in danger; Blair was gone... So why couldn't he shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen?


As the bus pulled up in front of the toy factory, there was a momentary hush followed by excited chatter. The kids had been looking forward to this trip since the beginning of school. It was a trip that the sixth grade took every year so all the kids knew that it would be fun.

Miss Spencer stood up as the bus came to a final stop. Waiting until she had everyone's attention, she said, "We're going to be splitting up into groups of ten, each with an adult. If you'll sit quietly I'll read off your groupings."

Her pronouncement was met with a chorus of groans which caused Blair to smile slightly. He could remember the days of assigned groups. He hadn't really cared for them either. He knew Vin would be in his group and turned to see who else he would have. As Amanda read off a the names, Blair smiled at each student. Vin was the first name read, as expected. His name was followed by Travis Callahan (a blond boy sitting next to the young sentinel), Maddie Bronson (a brunette in a very bright pink shirt), Lara McPhearson (the brunette sitting next to Maddie), Dustin Jones (a small boy with curly brown hair), Sarah Sterling (a red-head with lots of frekles), Samantha Adamston (a blond with big brown eyes), Alexander Miller (a sandy-haired boy with glasses), MayBeth Williamson and Carter Vallant (a dapper looking blond). Blair took a deep breath as he watched the reactions of each child. Carter seemed less than thrilled, but Travis and Vin seemed pleased to be in the same group, as were Sarah and Samantha.

"Alright," Miss Spencer finished. "Let's get off the bus and into our groups." Smiling at Blair, she turned and disembarked.

The guide quickly followed.


Jim stared at the words on the screen. They didn't make any sense. Sighing, he deleted the last three sentences and decided to try again. As he sat staring at the monitor, waiting for the words to come, his phone rang. Almost smiling in relief at the distraction, he lifted the receiver and greeted, "Major Crimes, Ellison speaking."

"Mr. Ellison?" a young-sounding Southern voice asked.

"Ezra?" he asked, sitting straight in his chair, puzzled by why the young guide would be calling him. "What's wrong." He waited through the pause on the other end, hearing the sound of young teens changing classes. "Ezra?" he prompted again.

"I'm worried about Vin," he admitted reluctantly.

Jim frowned slightly. Had he not been worried about Blair and been fighting a feeling that something was off, he might have just assured the young man that it was just normal, brotherly concern. "Any reason why?" he asked.

Ezra hesitated a moment before saying, "Vin was nervous about this field trip. I know that some of it was just because it's somewhere new, but even when Chris was supposed to be going with him, he just seemed really nervous about it."

"Did he say anything to you, Ezra?" Ellison asked, carefully, even more worried by Ezra's comments than he had been before.

"No," Ezra admitted. "But I think he's still afraid to say anything. No one ever believed us before Chris..." he trailed off.

Jim heard Ezra's voice fade and felt his heart soften at the admission of his young friend. What kind of life had they had before Larabee? Maybe he would ask Chris. As he opened his mouth to respond, the sound of a bell ringing filled his hears.

"I've gotta run. I have class," Ezra said.

Before he could get another word out, he was met by the sound of a click and a dial tone. More worried about his friend than before, he settled the receiver in the cradle and sat back. If Vin had been worried too, what were they facing?

"Ellison!" Simon Banks called out.

Jim sighed and rose to speak to his boss.


Larabee thanked the officer and moved toward his men. As he saw them standing and watching his approach, he ran a hand through his hair. This could not have gone worse. Still, things were mostly under control now. "What do we have?" he asked the men.

JD looked perked up and offered, "I have the address he spoke at the end. Buck's mike picked it up."

"Well?" Chris demanded, his patience at a low. He felt the unease that had been bothering him all day grow as JD was unable to meet his eyes.

"It was 33 Caldwell Avenue," he said.

Chris glared harder at the young agent. That address tickled a memory at the back of his mind. "And?" he demanded.

"It's the toy factory Vin's at," Nathan said when JD seemed incapable of answering.

Buck reached out and rested a hand on Chris' shoulder as all color drained from the blond's face. "I'm sure it's just a coincidence," he said, not really believing it himself. That just didn't seem to be the way their luck ran today.

"He's on a school field trip," Josiah assured, trying to help calm all of them. "Nothing's going to happen with a bunch of school kids there."

Piercing green eyes turned toward the older man. "I hope you're right," Chris whispered tightly.


Blair walked behind his group as the guide led them around the large factory. He had to admit, he was learning a lot. He’d never actually given thought to what went into creating the toys that he saw. He was impressed not only with the automation, but also with the skill and care of the employees.

As they worked their way deeper into the plant, he found himself fascinated by all of the activity around him. They were just leaving the area where the plant manufactured doll bodies and headed into the area where gum ball machines were made when Blair noticed Vin suddenly looking around at the ceiling.

Feeling his instincts kick into high gear, he moved forward and placed a hand on Vin’s shoulder. “What is it?” he asked quietly.

Vin looked around and saw that the other kids were ahead of them, Travis just turning back to see what was going on with his friend. “I heard something,” Vin said. Then straightening, he felt all the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end as his head shot upward and his eyes zoomed in on a particular steam pipe. He watched as the metal began to crack. He felt a surge of adrenalin course through him as the last threads of the pipe snapped.

Shouting out for his friend to run, Vin heard Travis’ retreating footsteps and the gasps of the rest of their class who were up ahead. His attention, however, was directed toward the swiftly falling pipe. Lunging backward, he tackled Blair as best he could; knocking them both out of the way seconds before the pipe hit the concrete floor below.

The fall of that pipe triggered a chain reaction. With the release of pressure, the room began filling with steam even as the rest of the system struggled to accommodate the breach.

As steam filled the room and Blair regained his feet, he looked around, helped Vin up and started to head toward the rest of the group, only to find their way blocked by scalding steam. “Run!” he commanded. “Get out of here.” Seeing them turn, he kept hold of Vin as he turned toward the other door. It was then that several other pipes broke loose from their supports and fell to the floor.

One of the pipes scraped along the wall on its way down, causing sparks to shower down. Some of the sparks fell on the bin of completed bubble gum machines and started them smoldering.

Thick, black smoke began filling the room as flames blocked their path to the door they had used to enter. Looking around, Blair spotted a third set of doors to the side. Grabbing the young sentinel, now almost overwhelmed by the sounds and smells, he made his way to this third door.

Reaching for the handle, he was relieved to find it unlocked. Throwing it open, he drew himself and Vin inside, slamming the door behind them, shutting out the worst of the smoke, steam, fumes and all of the light. As the almost pitch-blackness enveloped them, Blair shoved all other thoughts aside and focused on the suffering boy with him.


Ellison stepped out of Simon’s office, not happy at the instructions that had been passed down from on high. He knew Simon was only the conduit, but it still didn’t sit well. He was heading to the break room to get a cup of coffee when something on one of the scanners caught his attention.

Before he could make out what was being said, one of the guys asked, “Hey, Ellison, isn’t you partner down at the toy factory on Caldwell today? They’ve just called out the fire department to that address.”

The man never received an answer as Jim went flying down the hall to let Simon know he was leaving.

Less than a minute later, both Ellison and Banks were on their way to the cars.


The members of Larabee’s ATF team worked quickly and silently at their desks. An odd air of anticipation rested upon them. Ever since their meet went wrong, they had felt that something else wasn’t right. The fact that the address they’d been given was also that of the toy factory where Vin had his trip contributed to their unease.

After finishing at the scene, they had returned to their office and immediately begun the process that would allow them to watch the toy factory to determine if it was indeed a location where illegal weapons were being stored.

Chris had come back and gone directly to his office and gotten on the phone to their superiors. The others knew he was blaming himself for letting Vin go on the trip without him.

Suddenly Chris came tearing out of the office, keys dangling in his hand.

“Whoa, there, brother,” Josiah cautioned stepping in front of the agitated blond.

“Out of my way, Josiah,” Larabee growled, his eyes blazing. He tried to move around his friend.

“I’ll tell you what,” Josiah offered. “I won’t hinder you if you tell me what’s wrong and let me drive. In your current state you probably won’t get there in one piece.”

Feeling his anger flare, Chris glared at the other man before realizing Josiah was right. Shoving his keys at the man, he said, “The toy factory’s on fire.” Within seconds their office was cleared, the cars were loaded and they went tearing out of the parking lot headed toward the now-visible plume of smoke.


Ezra picked up his books and headed toward his locker. He usually enjoyed history, but this particular teacher took the description dry to whole new levels. As he passed a group of girls, he overheard them talking about a fire. Tuning into their conversation, he felt a thrill of panic as he realized they were discussing a fire at the toy factory where Vin was currently touring.

Feeling his heart beginning to pound in his chest, all thoughts of his next class left his mind, as he was overwhelmed with the desire to find Vin.

Walking swiftly to his locker, he deposited his books. Then, scanning the hallway for teachers, he sighed in relief when he didn’t see any. Making his way past the security cameras, he slipped out of the building and headed off toward Caldwell Avenue, which was only about a mile and a half away.


Blair pulled the young sentinel into a sitting position and leaned him against the wall. Speaking softly in soothing tones, Blair provided an anchor for Vin to cling to as he worked his way back from the near zone out.

Vin heard the gentle flow of a voice. After a few more words he identified it as Blair’s. Slowly coming back to himself, he looked around and nearly panicked when he could only see blackness. “Blair,” he said, his voice shaking with fear, “I can’t see.”

The guide smiled. “That’s because we’re in a room with no lights,” he assured the boy, squeezing Vin’s arm reassuringly. “Do you think you could use your sense of sight to find a light switch?” He wasn’t sure Vin would want to try using his senses this way, especially since he’d been so near a zone-out earlier, but he really needed to figure out where they were. “I’ll be right here,” he assured when Vin didn’t respond. He knew Vin would feel better working with Ezra, his own guide, but they didn’t have much choice.

Vin swallowed back his fear. “K,” he agreed as he tried to focus on pushing the fear away. As he listened to Blair’s instructions, he thought of Ezra telling him the same things. It somehow made him feel safer. As the room began to brighten around him, he scanned for a light switch. Finding one, he announced, “Got it!” and started to stand.

“Whoa, there, Vin,” Blair cautioned. “Why don’t you lead me to it and then we’ll dial your senses back down so you don’t get blinded.”

Vin froze. He didn’t want that to happen. He nodded his head before realizing Blair couldn’t see him. “OK,” he said. Taking the guide by the hand, he led Sandburg over to the wall and placed his hand over the light switch. Listening to the instructions the man gave him, Vin allowed the room to become dimmer until it was as dark as it had first been when he opened his eyes. “Ready,” he said.

Blair flipped the switch and blinked several times until his eyes adjusted to the suddenly brilliant light.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, his first thought was to check Vin. Scanning the boy with a detailed eye, he noticed a few smudges of dirt, but no bleeding. Releasing a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding, he asked, “Are you hurt anywhere?”

Vin shook his head. He wanted to answer Blair, but he was so scared right now he didn’t want to hear his own voice shaking. As Blair’s eyes examined him, Vin remembered the first aid that Nathan had taught him. Scanning the man for injuries, Vin was relieved when he didn’t see any obvious problems. It felt good to have something to do.

Blair smiled at the boy and stood, making sure to keep a hand resting on Vin’s shoulder, knowing that it would help calm him. Looking around, he silently cursed. There was smoke seeping under and around the door. It wasn’t bad yet, but it didn’t have to be for it to be a problem.

Vin was watching Blair’s face closely and felt fear begin to rise again as he saw the Guide's expression change. “It… It’s not good, is it?” he asked, his voice shaking.

Blair glanced down and knew he couldn’t lie as the full weight of his responsibility weighed upon him. He, Blair Sandburg, was responsible for Vin, for his life, for making sure the eleven-year-old stayed safe and got out of this OK. The entire situation suddenly became very personal. “We’ll make it out of this,” he assured, as he felt his resolve grow. They would make it out of this - somehow.

Vin saw the doubt leave Blair’s eyes and recognized the same resolve he’d seen in his father’s and his uncles’ when they’d made up their mind about something. His fear faded at that sight, believing Blair. “What should I do?” he asked, any shaking gone from his voice. Blair had said they would be fine and he believed it. Now they just needed to get out of the burning building and away from the smoke that was making his nose itch.

Blair smiled down, honored and terrified by Vin’s trust in him. Nodding at the blond, he said, “First we need to find something we can use to block the smoke that’s coming in – rags or blankets or something. I’ll to this way, you go the other and call out when you find something.”

“OK,” Vin agreed before heading off in the indicated direction. He had only gone a few steps when he spotted some blankets in a back corner. Calling out to Blair, he approached the pile only to stop a few steps short, puzzled.

“Great job, Vin,” Blair encouraged as he approached the boy. He frowned slightly as he noted Tanner had stopped a few feet shy of the pile and seemed to be focusing on something. “What is it?” he asked, trying to make sure Vin wasn’t about to zone on him.

“They smell like guns,” he said simply, his brow furrowing slightly as he turned his blue eyes to meet Blair’s. Seeing the questions on the Guide's face, he shrugged slightly. “It smells like my dad’s gun after he cleans it, but there’s lots of the smell, like there were a lot of guns.”

Blair cursed silently to himself, unwilling to display his rather broad vocabulary before the boy. When he turned he saw a smile tugging at Vin’s lips. “What?” he asked.

Vin allowed the smile to bloom, “You look just like Uncle Buck when he’s swearing to himself so he won’t get in trouble.”

Blair had to smile. “Caught me,” he admitted. Then, as his eyes fell on the blankets once more, he looked at the sentinel and narrowed his eyes in thought. They probably had a few more minutes before the smoke became a problem and he wasn’t sure he should use blankets coated with gun oil to keep smoke out. Still, making a decision he knelt before Vin and asked, “ Do you think you could ‘see’ the out line of the guns on there for me?”

Vin’s eyes widened at the question. Blair was asking him to use his senses again. The truth was, he was still scared to use them. Other than today, he had never used his senses without Ezra. True, Blair had walked him through using them to find the light switch, but Vin was still nervous.

“I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important,” Blair said, reading the fear in the expressive eyes. “I’ll talk you through it, but if don’t think you can, that’s OK too.” He waited while Vin processed the question and came to a decision, slowly releasing a breath when the boy nodded his agreement. Nodding his own encouragement, Blair smiled into the child’s eyes. Speaking softly, he walked Vin through increasing the sensitivity of his eyesight again until he could see the outline of the weapons. Asking the boy to trace the outline he saw, Sandburg watched closely. As he watched the outline being traced by the boy’s finger, he felt a different fear fill him. These were automatic weapons. When Vin was done, Blair smiled and congratulated him on doing so well as he talked him through returning his sight to normal. “Now the only question is, are there some blankets without gun oil on them that we can use?”

Vin smiled in relief at having successfully completed the task. Looking around, he spotted a couple uniforms hanging on the wall a few rows over. “There are some uniform shirts over there,” he said, pointing.

Turning his head, Blair smiled. “Let’s go get them,” he said.

The hooks were set fairly high on the wall. Blair could still easily reach the shirts to remove them, but they were just out of Vin’s reach. Taking some of the shirts down, he handed them to the boy, before taking the rest and heading for the door. As he approached, he could feel the temperature increase. This was not good. “OK. You block that side, I’ll take care of this one,” he ordered.

Vin nodded as he began stuffing the shirts down by the crack to stop the smoke, or at least lessen it. Finished with his task, he glanced up and saw smoke curling through the upper opening. He debated telling Blair, but wasn’t sure they could do anything about it. As he watched the slips of smoke creep in through the narrow cracks, he watched it dissipate and float toward the back of the room. Following it with his eyes, he lost sight of it as it wafted over the top of one of the shelves. Following the path he had tracked with his eyes, Vin moved to the aisle and started walking toward the back.

Blair saw Vin looking upward and glanced up himself. The young sentinel was following a trail of smoke and Sandburg worried he was getting lost in the swirl of particles. Following Vin back he called, “Vin!” He sighed in relief when Vin turned to look at him.

“Sorry,” he apologized, looking a little embarrassed. “Was just following the smoke.”

“That’s OK,” Blair reassured, relieved the boy was still with him. “We need to head back away from the heat anyway.”

Vin nodded and followed the man to the back of the room. As they settled down onto the floor, Vin glanced up and noticed that the smoke seemed to be collecting at the corner of the wall and the ceiling, but wasn’t coming lower, almost as if it was escaping. “Do you think there might be another way out of here?” he asked, still watching the smoke.

Blair frowned at the odd question. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Vin pointed upward. “The smoke isn’t coming lower.”

Glancing above, Blair felt a flicker of hope as he realized Vin was right. Rewarding the boy with a grin, he said, “I think you’re right. Let’s see if we can find the opening.”

Vin grinned and helped Blair begin their search.


The five ATF agents were within a block of the burning factory when they were stopped by a crowd milling about in the middle of the street. Abandoning the vehicle, they made their way through the crowd.

Upon reaching the police line, Larabee flashed his badge and marched past the busy officer, knowing one of the others would smooth any ruffled feathers. Scanning the area, Chris soon spotted a small knot of men, obviously the group in charge. Making his way over, he shouldered his way into the tight circle.

Conversation stopped as the fire chief looked at him and demanded, "Who are you?"

"Larabee, ATF," he snapped. "This warehouse is part of an active investigation. What's the situation." His statement was true, but it wasn't the reason Larabee was there.

The chief nodded his acknowledgment. A thought struck him then causing his face to pale. "What were you investigating?" he asked, trepidation in his voice.

Larabee paused and then looked at him. The same thought crossing his mind. He'd only been using the case as an excuse to find out about Vin, but the information they gathered that morning came flooding back. "Firearms," he stated tightly.

A string of curses slipped from the Fire Chief and two other of the men. The last thing they needed to deal with in this inferno was guns and ammunition. Turning toward one of the other me, he ordered, "Go tell the captains about this. The men need to know." Turning back to Larabee, he gave a quick and efficient run down of the situation. "A fire started in one of the production rooms when a steam pipe fell from the sealing, striking the wall which caused sparks. Those sparks then ignited some product. the fire is fairly well contained, but it's a battle."

Chris nodded as he assimilated the information. He was aware of Buck and Nathan's presence at his shoulder, but he had to ask. "Everybody get out?" He felt his insides turned to ice as the chief paused before answering.

"The staff all made it out successfully. There was a school here on a field trip at the time the fire began." Taking a deep breath the Chief continued. "By all accounts, one of the groups was in the room where the fire started. It was one of the students who notified everyone as to the problem. He saved a lot of lives." The Chief was silent for a moment longer before clearing his throat and continuing. "That student and one of the parents are still missing. They were trapped in the room where the fire started."

Larabee couldn't breathe. He knew without needing to be told Vin and Blair had been trapped in the room. Glancing over his shoulder at the flames now leaping through the roof of the building, numbness began to spread through his body. Licking his lips nervously, he managed to rasp out, "Who?"

The Chief glanced down at a paper in his hand. "The parent was a Blair Sandburg and the student was Vin Tanner."

At this pronouncement Larabee's world came crashing down around him. Vin was in that fire, in that inferno. Fire had claimed another son because no one could survive that. His heart and soul were screaming their denial, but his vocal chords would not cooperate. It was only the strong hands resting on his shoulders that kept him from either running or collapsing. As he stood, his body began to tremble as the overwhelming emotion flooded through him.

"Thank you," Nathan said to the Chief before meeting Buck's eyes and indicating the need to get Larabee someplace quiet. Seeing Wilmington nod his agreement, the two men led the unresisting third off to one side where they settled him onto the back of a truck where they were joined by JD and Josiah only moments later.

"What...?" JD began to ask. He stopped when he caught sight of Chris and of the tears forming in Buck's eyes. Somehow he knew Vin was still in the factory. Turning to look over his shoulder, the young agent paled and then turned eyes back to the others. He knew that the chance of Vin surviving something like that were slim to none, but a part of him refused to believe that he had lost a member of his family.

Josiah rested a hand on the young agent's shoulder, needing the physical contact for comfort. He was unprepared for JD to pull away.

"No!" JD denied. "Vin and Blair are fine. I don't know how, but I do know that if there is any way for them to survive they will."

"He's right," another voice confirmed from a few feet away. All eyes turned and they saw it was Jim Ellison who had spoken. "Blair may be a trouble magnet, but he's a survivor. If there is any way for him to get out of there, he will and he'll make sure Vin gets out even if he doesn't," Jim finished, his voice fading at the end revealing more than anything else could, exactly how hard this was on him.

"I thought you could hear Blair's heartbeat?" Chris inquired, keeping his voice low so no one would overhear the comment.

Jim looked at Chris and nodded his agreement. "Normally I can," he replied, "even over distances. But there's a lot going on here in terms of noise. I could try filtering it all, but I'd be risking a zone-out."

The five ATF agents were grim. Due to the training they'd all received on how to deal with Vin when they knew how dangerous a zone-out could be. The six men had been sitting together quietly trying to think of something they could do to help their family when Jim suddenly cocked his head to the side. A moment late he looked at Larabee and then turned to go, Chris right on his heels.

Weaving their way through several small groups, the two men eventually found themselves approaching a small knot of people. By the time the group was in sight, Chris didn't need Jim's enhanced hearing to know the cause of the disturbance. "Ezra," he growled, trying to ignore the smirk on Ellison's face at the pronouncement.

Pushing his way through Chris moved aside several Cascade police officers and found himself face to face with the young man he thought of as his son. "Ezra," he said quietly, as he folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow in question.

The thirteen year old turned and suddenly found himself face to face with the man he thought of as his father. "Oh. Er. Hello," he stammered, unable to immediately overcome his shock. He suddenly thought about what a bad idea it was to leave the safety of his school and come down here. Not once had he thought that his leaving school might add to Chris' worries. Now, face to face with his guardian, he couldn't seem to stop thinking about it. Finally heaving a sigh and letting his shoulders slump, he looked up into the familiar hazel eyes and admitted, "I was worried about Vin."

Chris immediately relaxed his stance. He hadn't been expecting to see Ezra here, but he knew he should have. "C'mere," Chris said quietly, reaching out and waiting for Ezra to step closer. As the boy did, Chris drew him in for a tight hug.

Not one for showy displays of affection, especially in public, Ezra surprised himself not only by allowing the hug but by returning it every bit as fiercely. He might be thirteen and have the best poker face in the world, but right now he was terrified and needed Chris' strength. It was safe in this hug. Finally, though, he felt the arms loosen their hold, though not relinquish it entirely.

Releasing the hug, Chris moved so one arm remained draped around Ezra's shoulders. He needed the contact of one of his sons right now. He needed the assurance that while Vin was in danger, at least part of his family was safe. "He's with me," Larabee informed the men before turning and leaving the area. He shook his head slightly at the grin Jim was wearing. It was time to come up with a plan of action. "So, Jim," Chris asked as they walked, his mind already plotting out a plan of attack. "Since Ezra is a guide, do you think he might be able to keep you grounded enough to search for Blair and Vin."

Jim turned and narrowed his eyes slightly at Larabee before turning to look at Ezra. The boy was scared, that was obvious, but in working with Ezra and Vin, he knew that Standish had some guts. There was a long way for Ezra to go before he was really ready to take on his role as guide and working with someone else as a guide wasn't something Jim had ever really done. Still... "I think so," he replied. Then, with a smile at Ezra, he asked, "You willing to give it a shot?"

Ezra swallowed, took a deep breath and then nodded his agreement.


The storage room housing Blair and Vin became stifling as the fire continued to rage. The two were just about to give up hope of finding the catch that would allow them to escape the small room when Vin let out a yelp.

Turning and moving quickly to the boy's side, Blair couldn't stop the large smile that broke out on his face when a portion of the wall popped out slightly. "Great job, Vin!" he praised, reaching over and easily swinging the door open.

Behind the hidden door was a small landing at the top of a very narrow staircase. The man and boy exchanged looks. Blair read fear in Vin's eyes. It took him only a moment to remember the young sentinel's dislike of small spaces. Reaching out, he rested a hand on Vin's shoulder. "It's OK, Vin," he assured. "There's plenty of light and we'll be at the bottom in no time. Then it's just a case of making it to the outside and safety."

Vin bit his lower lip, not wanting to show how scared he was. He looked deeply into Blair's eyes and nodded. Taking as deep a breath as he dared, he stepped onto the landing and headed downward, pausing only to make sure Blair was behind him. When he was assured of the Guide's presence, he continued as quickly and silently as possible to the bottom of the stairs.

Blair reached the landing only step behind Vin. He stood next to the boy as they took in their surroundings. The truth was, he was probably every bit as nervous as Vin. The fact that there had been rags used for guns above and a secret passage most likely meant that there would be guns down here. The guns themselves didn't bother Blair so much as the idea of guns in the hands of criminals willing to use them.

Taking a deep breath, he turned what he hoped was a confident smile toward Vin. It was easy to tell from the boy's expression he'd failed. "We have to go through, Vin," he said quietly. "But before we do, I want you to concentrate on hearing what's on the other side of the door." When he saw Vin shift uncomfortably and about to say something, he continued, "I know it's not going to be easy with the fire above and everything else, but I'll be here to help you. We'll just need to filter out what doesn't belong."

Vin took a deep breath and blew it out, wishing fervently that Ezra was beside him. Swallowing, he nodded his understanding. "'Kay," he agreed, closing his eyes. As he forced himself to relax, he felt Blair's hand come to rest on his shoulder, an anchor for him.

"Alright, Vin," Blair began, "I want you to listen to my heartbeat just like you do Ezra's." He waited for Vin to nod that he heard. "Now, relax and let your hearing go out a little more. Tell me what you hear."

Vin licked his lips and slowly released a breath. As he did so, he allowed his hearing to pick up sounds further away without ever loosing track of Blair's heartbeat. "I hear the fire upstairs. Things are cracking and breaking. There are some explosions."

Blair nodded, he could dimly hear the fire as well. "Good," he encouraged. "Now extend your hearing a little further and tell me what you hear."

Vin took a deep breath and released it as he'd been taught. As his breath flowed out of him, he allowed his hearing to reach farther outward. "I hear hissing from the water hitting the flame. I can hear the sound of the radios. They're talking to each other... Wait. There're people closer talking. I can hear two, no three of them."

Blair shifted in his excitement. "Good, Vin," he praised. "You're hearing all around you. Now what I want you to do is tune out the noises that sound like they're from above us. Just ignore them and focus on the voices from down here." Sandburg squeezed Vin's shoulder. He knew that the more Vin focused, the greater the chance he would zone. "Do you have them?"

His brow furrowed in concentration, Vin struggled to do as Blair asked. Using his senses in this way was still new to the boy. Vin found it both exciting and terrifying. The gentle squeeze on his shoulder helped him relax as he was reminded he wasn't alone. Focusing on the sounds down below the fire, he was able to pick up conversation. He also heard the sound of motors running and feet shuffling. Things were being moved and they sounded heavy. As he relayed all this to Blair, he heard something else. It took a few seconds for him to identify the sound, but he eventually did. It was the sound of a mouse and several baby mice.

As Vin's voice trailed off reporting the activities in the room beyond, Blair noticed his voice began to face. Seeing the signs of a zone-out approaching, Blair squeezed Vin's shoulder and shook him. "Vin!" he called sharply. He was rewarded with a startled gasp and blue eyes blinking up at him. Scanning those eyes, Blair was relieved to discover that Vin wasn't worried. Smiling he assured, "Great job. It sounds like we should be able to get in there unnoticed."

Vin blushed under the praise and nodded his head. He walked up to the door and would have grabbed the knob, but Blair stopped him. Turning a puzzled expression toward the man, he waited for an explanation.

"Adults first," was all Blair said. He couldn't stop a small chuckle as Vin rolled his eyes, knowing that Vin's instinct was to protect others by facing danger himself. Stepping forward slightly, Blair rested his hand on the doorknob and twisted. The knob turned easily and the door swung silently into the room beyond.


As they met back up with the rest of the ATF team, Chris asked Jim, "What do you need from us?"

"I think the first thing we need is a layout of the building," Jim said. "It would help me know know where to search."

"How are you going to" JD began asking before he remembered Jim's sentinel abilities. "Oh. Never mind," he finished.

"Any luck?" Chris asked his team.

In a second there were blueprints of the building laid out on the trunk of a nearby car. As the six men and one teen gathered around, Chris explained, "The Chief told me that the fire started here in this room. From the witnesses, there is no report that Blair and Vin ever got out of it." His voice faltered as he stated this last. The thought of losing another son to fire entered his mind until a warm hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed. Looking over his shoulder, he found the understanding and encouraging blue eye of Buck Wilmington looking back. Nodding his thanks, Chris continued. "From what I can tell there are two ways out. One on either end of the room."

"What's this?" Nathan asked, pointing to a small rectangle to one side.

"Storage room," Josiah said, having scanned the prints earlier.

Buck frowned at the blueprints and moved to get a better look. "Something's off about this," he said. "It looks like there are two walls drawn here."

"Could just be a mistake in the drawing," JD said.

"Regardless," Chris overrode, "I don't believe Vin and Blair are dead. That means they could be in either direction from the room or in the storage closet. Now the fire departments can't get there because of the intensity of the fire and the way it's spreading. The plant manager assured him that if they were in the storage room, they should be fine for a while. It's cinder block and the door are fire doors."

The group absorbed this information.

Turning toward Jim, Chris asked, "Is that enough to begin? Can you find them?"

Everyone knew what Chris was really asking: Can you tell me if Vin's alive?

Jim looked at each face before settling on Ezra. He could hear the rapid heartbeat and the quickened breathing. The young teen was scared and Jim could understand that. Even with all the time he'd spent with Blair, it still shook him whenever his friend went missing. Setting aside his own concerns and fears, Jim looked directly into Ezra's eyes. "Ezra," he said softly, "I know you're scared and worried about Vin and Blair. I am too. But we need to put all that aside and I need you to help me. It won't be exactly like helping Vin, but I know you're a smart kid and remember what Blair taught you." As he was speaking, Jim could hear Ezra's heart and breathing slowing. "You've seen Blair work with me. I want you to think about what he does, what he says. Can you do that?"

Ezra took a deep breath and searched his mind for the memories. After a moment he could picture their last encounter where Blair had Jim show Vin a few things about their senses. He could recall how Blair made Jim listen to his heartbeat and then repeat out loud what he was seeing or hearing. When Jim's answers were slowing down, Blair had called for Jim to stop. Focusing on that memory, he remembered the look that came over Jim as he began to zone. Confident he remembered what Blair had done and that he would be able to repeat the actions as necessary, Ezra nodded and said, "Yes."

Chris rested a hand on Ezra's shoulder, aching for his older son, knowing how scared and nervous Ezra was by the simple one word answer. When the boy's eyes met his, Chris smiled and said so softly only Ezra and Jim heard, "I'm proud of you."

Ezra heard the soft words of his father and his heart swelled with pride. Squaring his shoulder and lifting his chin, Ezra turned toward Ellison and suggested, "You'll need to focus on my heartbeat as your ground. Perhaps the other gentlemen here would be so kind as to form a sort of circle around us so we won't be bothered or interrupted."

The ATF agents smiled at each other and did as Ezra recommended, willing to do whatever they had to in order to find their missing family.

Turning green eyes upward to meet blue, Ezra tilted his head in thought for a moment. "Would it be possible, perhaps even easier for you to pick out one particular sound among all the others?"

Jim blinked at the question, not having expected it and not sure what Standish had in mind. "I don't know about easier, but it should be possible. It would depend on how familiar the sound is. Why?"

Running his tongue over his suddenly dry lips, Ezra suggested, "Perhaps you should focus not only on my heartbeat, but on searching out Mr. Sandburg's as well."

Momentarily startled by the suggestion, Jim thought it over, smiled and decided he liked this kid. "Good idea, kid," he replied, mostly because he knew Ezra hated being called kid. The expression on the teen's face was all the confirmation he needed. "Shall we get started?"

"We shall," Ezra agreed. Focusing his attention on Jim's face, he reached out and rested a hand on the man's arm as a second focus point. "Listen to my heartbeat. Do you have it?" When he received a nod, Ezra continued, "Now I want you to listen to the sounds around you. You're looking for one sound. Listen for Blair's heartbeat. Close your eyes and think about the layout of the building and where we believe Blair to be. Now, listen a bit further out. Filter out all the noise. You only want the sound that matches the one you know." He waited a moment while Jim focused and then instructed, "Tell me what you're hearing."

The ATF agents waited tensely as Ezra and Jim worked together to try and locate Vin and Blair.

"Crackling. Burning. I can hear the hiss as water hits," Jim informed.

"Heartbeats," Ezra said softly, hoping his insecurity and doubt didn't show in his voice.

"There are several in the building in groups of three to five. They're not Blair," Jim said, a slight note of frustration.

"You're doing well," Ezra encouraged. "Listen farther out," he suggested.

Jim's eyebrows drew down slightly as he extended his hearing. He suddenly jerked back and his eyes opened. "They're down," he said, his confusion evident.

"Down?" Larabee choked out as he spun around to face Jim.

Immediately Jim knew what Chris thought. "No. I mean below the building. Is there a basement?" Jim asked.

Chris felt a shudder of relief course through him. When Jim had said they were down, he had thought the worst.

"No," Josiah supplied. "There is no basement."

"There has to be," Buck denied. "There's no other way for them to..." his voice trailed off as he thought about that odd second line in the storage room. Walking over to the blueprints he pointed to it. "About how far apart are these lines in real terms?" he demanded.

JD looked at the scale and then at the lines Buck was showing. "Two and a half, three feet," he informed. "Why?"

"That would be just about wide enough for a staircase," Wilmington suggested.

"The informant," Nathan said softly. He startled when he realized everyone was looking at him. "This morning. This is the address he gave us. What if this leads to an underground room where they store the guns and ammunition?"

The men exchanged worried looks.

"If that' the case," Chris began, a sick feeling taking residence in the pit of his stomach, "then we've got a bigger problem than just a burining factory."

Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Leave it to Blair to go on a harmless school fieldtrip to a toy factory and end up in a compound with gun runners, guns and ammunition all housed beneath a burning building. "Would they be trying to take the stuff out?" Jim asked. He might work in Major Crimes, but this was Larabee's Team's area of expertise.

"That would seem reasonable," Josiah said thoughtfully.

"Which means all we have to do is find where the trucks or cars are leaving from and follow the trail to the entrance," JD concluded, feeling excitement and hope for the first time in a while. It would be good to do something.

Chris nodded. "Alright," he said falling into commander mode. "Here's what we're going to do. First we re-con the area and find where they might be moving the merchandise. When you find it, report back. Don't do anything foolish and don't try anything on your own. Jim, Josiah, Nathan and Buck will be doing that. JD, I want you to get a hold of whoever you need to and find out if there is any record of what's underneath this building. Ezra and I are going to inform the Fire Chief of this latest development and then get in touch with Travis. Even if you don't find anything I want everyone to report here in twenty minutes. Got it?" He received only nods. "Good." Lifting his hand to point in different directions he instructed, "Jim, there. Nathan. Josiah. Buck. Go."

As the men left, JD pulled out his phone and began dialing. Chris draped his arm around Ezra's shoulders and headed off toward the Fire Chief. He had news to share.


Blair moved silently through the door, keeping low. He scanned the area, but didn't find anyone within sight. Moving slightly to the side, he motioned Vin to follow him. The boy slipped through the door and immediately took hold of the hand Blair offered. A flare of compassion swept through Sandberg as Vin took his hand. He hadn't expected the boy to accept the comfort, and therefore it was an indication of exactly how unnerved Vin was by everything that he took it. Turning back, he smiled at the child. "We'll be OK," he whispered before tilting his head to indicate they should take some cover.

Vin heard the words and nodded. He was trying to be brave, but he was scared. The fire had been bad enough, but now, here, with the guns and everything, it was getting a little overwhelming. He despised himself for the weakness he was showing in accepting Blair's hand, but right now he needed the comfort and he was petty sure Sandburg wouldn't tell anyone.

The duo crept through the shadows of the large warehouse type room they had entered. There were sounds of men talking and moving things as well as the sounds of forklifts and trucks. The sounds were fairly distant, apparently coming from the opposite end of the structure.

Ducking behind a crate, Blair pulled Vin next to him and said in a low voice. "It seems like we're safe here for now. I'm not sure how long we're going to be able to stay. The doors out are most likely on the other end where all the noise is coming from. Do you think you'll be OK if I go to check it out?" Blair asked, having read the side of several of the crates and realized they were in just as much danger here as they had been in the storage room.

Vin swallowed and stared at Blair. He wanted to say he would be alright. He wanted to say it was fine for Blair to leave him and check out the lay of the land. The fear that he had done so well at hiding to this point wouldn't allow him to utter the words. Turning wide, frightened blue eyes toward the guide, Vin blinked, unable to say anything.

Aware that Vin usually didn't like to be touched, Blair took a chance and wrapped both arms around him, drawing him into a hug. He was surprised by the ferocity with which Vin returned the embrace. Loosening the hug, he rubbed one hand up and down the young sentinel's back while he looked into the blue eyes. "We will make it out of this safe and sound," Blair assured, injecting all the confidence he could into the statement. "I'm not going to let anything happen to you. I give you my word. I just need to go and take a look around."

"'Kay," Vin managed to choke out, his voice sounding small and scared.

Blair's heart ached for Vin. The boy had been so brave throughout everything, but it was catching up to him now and the fact he was eleven was coming to the fore. Looking around, Blair found what looked like a safe place for Vin to hid. "Look, Vin," he soothed, "we don't have a lot of time and I do need to go. Why don't you hide here and I'll be back in five minutes, promise."

Vin looked at his new hiding place and nodded. He knew they had to get out of this and that being scared now wouldn't help. Moving into the shadowed space, he watched as Blair looked back, smiled and then headed away. Settling further into the shadows, Vin sniffed slightly and tried to push away his fear. "Boy, you're a Tanner," he said softly to himself, repeating some of the last words his mother ever told him. Drawing some strength from the memory of his mother, Vin's mind then called up thoughts of Chris. "You're my son, Vin," he remembered Chris saying. Peace began to fill Vin, smothering the fear that had been eating at him.

Blair slipped from shadow to shadow as best he could, trying to ignore thoughts of the worried, scared boy he'd left behind him. Hugging the wall as much as he could, he slowed as the voices became clearer and more distinct. Soon he was able to find a stack of crates that provided shelter as well as allowing him to see what was going happening.

He saw four men on foot, one driving a fork-lift and another standing beside a large truck. Scanning the area, he thought that if they made their way forward on the far side of the building, they might be able to make their way out of the building unnoticed. It was a little difficult to tell what was at the entrance since to the bay since the smoke from the fire was blowing past, but Blair felt fairly confident they would be able to make it out.

Creeping back to where he'd left Vin, he was pleased to see his young charge hadn't moved. Crouching down next to the boy, Blair whispered, "If we're careful and we go quickly, we should be able to get by everyone. There are six of them and they're all busy loading the truck that's there with the guns. Once we get that far, there's an open area we'll have to cross, but the truck should give us some cover." Receiving a nod of confirmation that he understood the instructions, Blair reached out for Vin's hand. He felt the weight of responsibility rest on his shoulders as Vin took the offered hand.

With a nod, the two set off, crossing the warehouse and making their way through the shadows toward the opening.


Though he knew, logically, that time was constant, Ezra felt the next twenty minutes the longest of his life. He went with Chris over to speak with the Fire Chief and the others. To say the chief was concerned at the possibility of ammunition and guns in the hot zone would be an understatement. The man’s heightened worry and stress washed over Ezra increasing his anxiety. Had it not been for Chris’ arm around his shoulder, Ezra was certain he would have run and found a safe place to hide until this was over.

Finishing with the Fire Chief, Chris turned Ezra back toward their designated meeting place. He drew the boy closer to him, telling himself it was to further comfort his worried son, but knowing it was to comfort himself as he tried to deny the cloying fear of losing another son to fire. Reaching JD, they waited silently, as the young agent finished his conversation. The father and son found their eyes drawn to the burning building as they fought the urge to run inside and find Vin.

As always, time did move ahead and eventually JD finished his calls and the others returned from their reconnaissance. When the group was fully reassembled, Chris looked at JD and asked him to report what he’d found.

“I spoke to the city planner and he did some searching. He couldn’t find any other blueprints, but gave me the number of the construction company used,” JD informed. “The construction company is undergoing an investigation for fraud and I managed to speak to one of the agents. They found some papers that indicated a lot more dirt was removed than required by the formal plans and there was almost three times the amount of concrete used than what was actually needed. He hadn’t found any additional plans, but it doesn’t look good.”

Chris nodded and looked at the other faces around him. They looked grim. “Any luck?” he inquired of the four remaining four. Three nodded their head. Larabees gaze focused on Buck who seemed to hesitate. “Buck?” he asked, his voice letting the others know he would tolerate nothing.

Buck looked hesitantly at each face. He knew the concern, the fear and the need he’d find in Chris’, he was surprised to see the same mix of emotions in Jim’s face. “I might have found something, but I didn’t have a chance to recon it more closely,” he stated not wanting to offer false hope. Normally he would have been gung-ho about checking things out, but this was too important and he knew exactly how hard this was on his friend, because he knew how hard it was on him. “On the other side of the building, are the loading docks. There are four doors, three are open; one is closed. I noticed two men patrolling across the street keeping a close eye on things while trying to look like they’re only interested in the fire.”

“That’s it,” Chris said, his voice brooking no argument. “That’s our entry point. Let’s get geared up and head over. We’ll see if we can open a door.” The others nodded and turned to head back toward the car to get their gear. “Wait,” Larabee ordered. The other men stopped. “Jim, you go with me. We’re going to find these two men who Buck saw and see what information they want to share with us. Ezra you go with Nathan, JD, Buck and Josiah. Nate, hook him up with a headset. He’s going to be our eyes on the other side of the street.” Turning to look down into the green eyes of his older son, Chris said quietly, “It’s important Ezra. I’m going to need you to stay exactly where I put you. You’re going to be in charge of getting help if we need it, but you can’t move or follow us, understand?”

Ezra nodded, his face serious, his fear gone, or at least pushed aside. He wasn’t being left out.

Seeing understanding and receiving a short nod as confirmation, Chris drew Ezra in for a quick hug before nodding his head for Nathan to take Ezra. “Josiah,” Chris said before Sanchez could leave, “bring us headsets and extra clips.” Seeing the concerned question in his friend’s eyes, Chris assured, “Just in case.”

Josiah nodded and left, leaving Jim with Chris.

Turning toward the older sentinel, Chris stared into the blue eyes, now as hard as his own. These two, along with Ezra, had the most to lose. Ezra was still too young to be fully involved in what they planned, but Chris knew he could count on Jim to do whatever it took to get the job done. “You ready for this?” he asked.

Jim stared into the hazel eyes. “More than ready,” he assured.

The two men headed off in search of the guards Buck had seen.

As they disappeared around the corner of the building, Ezra turned his attention to Nathan.

“This will keep you tuned in to us, during the mission,” he instructed. “I’m giving you this special headset. If you need to talk to us, you’re going to have to press this button here. I’m also going to leave you with my cell phone. I’ve got Cascade PD and the Fire Chief programmed in and ready to dial for you. Don’t call unless we tell you to.”

Ezra took in all of the man’s words as he watched the others prepare for the upcoming assault. Josiah took the time to gather extra gear for Jim and Chris. As he watched the others get ready, he knew that he couldn’t follow them in as he had originally planned. Despite his need to find Vin and assure himself that his brother was fine, he realized that at thirteen, he was not ready to face these sorts of situations. Suddenly, he was pleased at being included at all.

Seeing that Ezra understood the instructions, and confident the boy would follow them, Nathan smiled and patted Ezra’s shoulder. “Good man,” he encouraged. Looking up, he saw the others were ready. Fitting his own headset in place, he turned it on and nodded.

“Okay, boys,” Buck said, seeing everyone was ready. “Let’s ride.”


Blair moved as silently as possible through the shadows. He found himself grateful for the contact with Vin. Even at such a young age, the boy seemed to have Jim’s ability to move almost silently. He made a mental not to investigate whether that stealth was part of being a sentinel or if it was, perhaps, a result of necessity.

Vin nodded and smiled a tight smile as Blair looked back to check on him. He was scared, but now that they were doing something, Vin’s fear retreated.

As they made their way forward, the noise increased, hiding the small sounds their feet made. When they were within sight of the men who were frantically loading the large box truck, Blair took cover behind a large box. He scanned the area to make sure he knew where all of the men were located. He spied the ones he had seen before. From this new vantage point, he could see that the door he had thought was open, was, in fact closed. The smoke he had seen had been inside the building. From here he could tell that the door was closed. There wasn’t any shelter up ahead for them to take while waiting for the door to open. The best they could hope for was to remain where they were and make a run for it when the door finally did open.

He turned and whispered to Vin in his lowest voice. The blue eyes continued to view him with such trust that it shook Blair to his core.

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