Chapter 1: 12 Things Blair would never willingly share with anyone
12 Things Blair would never willingly share with anyone:
That he wasn’t always afraid of heights. At least, not that he remembers. During Blair's early nomadic life with Naomi (and a rotating cast of by-and-large friendly hippie extras), he recalls having had to climb onto various tall forms of transportation (trains, buses, trucks), or being hoisted to high windows that he alone was small enough to fit through for one purpose or another. He remembers experiencing a certain discomfort at those moments, but not an outright loathing, not an inability to function. The distaste used to help him focus, long ago. To truly concentrate on what he was climbing, or on what he was flying.
When Blair was 8 years old, a nice man from the CIA whom Blair had met through one of Naomi's past boyfriends contacted him, and paid for Blair to go to Germany, and hang around a certain wall, listening and making friends. Blair was good at making friends, and at learning languages. Naomi was off traveling with a boyfriend, and Blair wasn't excited about staying with Naomi's old highschool friend and her three rambunctious children. So off he'd gone to Germany.
Under the shadow cast by the Berlin Wall, Blair had befriended two other children, 12 year old Michaela Ginevra, and her cousin, 14 year old Fernando de los Dos Santos. Fernando was the nephew of the current Prince of Montepacido, a small European principality nestled between the mountains and the sea. Montepacido had made enemies in the U.S.S.R., and Fernando and Michaela had been recruited by Interpol to gather information in much the same way as Blair was being paid to do. Their mission was to observe, but they ended up helping an Interpol agent and his companions escape from being captured on the other side of the wall. Fernando froze, going over the wall, and Blair, who had just read Sir Richard Burton's "Sentinels of Paraguay," managed to bring Fernando (Ferdi) back to the present.
Interpol and the CIA pooled their child assets. Ferdi and Michaela coined the term "Los Ninos" for the group, and so they were known. After that first excursion in Germany, Blair, Fernando, and Michaela were friends, and Blair would go over almost any wall for them. Even before he learned that his grandfather had been the illegitimate son of Fernando's great-uncle, the former Prince.
So, for a long time, Blair could handle heights. The panic attacks didn’t come until after a few bad jumps, a few bad landings, and that Himalayan bridge he told Joel about, because Joel needed to hear. But Jim didn’t need to know it was real. Really, in all honesty, most of the time Blair himself thought of it as having happened to someone else. To Then-Blair, whom he more often than not referred to as ‘Belén,’ even in his own mind. A very distinct person from now-Blair, he rationalized, going along with the idea that most of us go through many different incarnations in a single lifetime, distinct enough to be different people, like Jackie Kozinski and Brother Marcus were more two different people than the same person. Sometimes Belen, or pieces of him, as small a piece as will sufficiently fill a hole, are necessarily incorporated into now-Blair. Mostly, they can be explained as accidents (like the vending machine incident during Kinkade’s siege) or luck (like disarming the bomb on the oil rig).
Much of Blair’s past –particularly the parts lived by Bélen- are surrounded by a comfortable haze of what he might have conceivably been doing or of what other people would have no reason not to believe that he had been doing- and Blair does not care to penetrate that fog.
That they weren’t all cool. Most of them didn’t call him “Naomi’s brat,” at least not to his face. Many of them were pretty cool, all things considered. Some of them genuinely enjoyed having a smart kid to play “father-and-son” with for awhile. Most at least appreciated that Blair usually didn’t behave like a brat or “act out” even though it was pretty obvious that they were screwing his Mom. But they weren’t all cool. One of them had introduced the CIA to young 7 year old Blair as a result of a PTSD freak-out (the uncle’s, not Blair’s).
Even if it happens to come up someday that Blair’s childhood had its downside, he’d never tell anyone that even at 7 years old, randomly almost being stabbed by some normally nice guy who just happened to think Blair was a Russian assassin at the moment wasn’t the worst thing that had happened to Blair. That was reserved for a pair of half remembered hands, touching him in the dark, years before, when he had been even smaller. It wasn’t til Blair's college expeditions to isolated areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, that night time began to mean something to him, beyond just fear. Now night makes Blair think of the smell of sun-baked grass and night blooming flowers and vegetation rather than a vague sense of paranoid fright.
Belén’s life had added to Blair’s justified unease with the darkness, but man, nothing ever beat those disembodied hands for down-right uncontrolled terror. At least Belén had known why he was being chased in the dark (spying or at least information gathering in Russia or certain other nations, leading Americans, Western Europeans, or refugees across Russian lines, taking messages across Russian lines, predicting where enemies would strike, etc.).
3. Not accidents.
That a lot of things that happen around Blair aren’t necessarily accidents, and that he isn’t quite as lucky as he seems. It is, for instance, very hard to unlearn being an excellent marksman. It went beyond unlearning. Marksmanship, like creatively stretching the truth, like finding patterns in chaos (or creating chaos), were skills Blair had been born with, rather than something he consciously learned. Certain situations that Belén had lived through….had honed a number of these skills, but the raw talent belongs to Blair as much as to Bélen, and that is something that Blair doesn’t like to think about.
Pushing the vending machine onto Kinkaid’s man was not an accident. Defusing the bomb on the oil rig was not luck. Surviving David Lash, on the other hand, Blair did put down to a lucky accident. It had been too many years since he had been in the practice of watching his back, too many years since people had wanted to harm him over anything more serious than disapproving of his hair or his clothes or his ideas. Cognizant of his danger only too late, but for Jim, Blair’s life would have been over and it would have been too bad. But that hadn’t been enough to make Blair break off his partnership … or whatever it was, with Jim. Blair had never been the best at knowing when to give up, and all of the people whom Belén had listened to about when to declare a cause lost, were themselves lost to him, through death or … prudence.
Belén and all of his surviving contemporaries have out of necessity become now-versions of themselves, like he is now-Blair, and for the most part, he has nothing to do with those old friends. The exceptions are James Wilson, Daniel Jackson, and to some extent Jack Kelso, who hadn’t known then-Blair, but Kelso and Belén had known of each other. Based o nthat, Kelso could, like an astronomer observing a black hole, deduce the past existence of then-Blair from now-Blair’s occasional flashes of insight and fear. If its ever necessary, which now-Blair devoutly hopes it will not be, he plans to ask Kelso to write a book about the niños, because he trusts Kelso to get it close to right.
4. The Strangers he Trusts. That there Are About a Dozen Men and Women Blair would Trust with his life, or Jim's, even though he hasn't spoken to some of them in over a decade.
4 (a) Daniel Jackson, civilian consultant to the Airforce
Blair trusts that guy Daniel Jackson who won’t stop trying to convince him, from time to time, that it would be more interesting to be a civilian consultant for the military. Blair isn’t sure that Daniel recognizes him as having once been Belén. Belén had been younger when then-Daniel (called Danya) went off to college as Daniel, and stopped being one of the niños. Also, Danya had never been that observant when it came to anything without a few centuries of age or an interesting linguistic variance- one of the reasons that Danya hadn’t gotten to do that much field work, and Belén had done almost entirely fieldwork when Blair wasn’t with Naomi. Naomi had unknowingly done a fair amount of fieldwork as well- sneaking defectors’ kids and families over various eastern European and Latin American and Asian borders as members of that year’s group of hippies in search of enlightenment and practical communism.
Belén hadn’t worried about it at the time, to his 10 year old mind, it was o.k. because Naomi would’ve wanted to help, and because in return for that help, the CIA had looked out for Naomi, and continues to do so, to this day. Belén, like his fellow commanding niños, had greeted Danya’s departure for college with relief as well as regret – they had always worried about Danya- because although Danya could learn how to sound like he came from some obscure village in the Carpathians in the span of two hours, he would sometimes forget and start speaking another language- usually Arabic, French, Russian or English- upon seeing something interesting, such as a carving on a mountain passage way, or even graffiti on a boulder. But still, Blair trusts Daniel, because somehow absent-minded Daniel had always managed to be sound back-up, reliable in a crisis, only falling apart once everything was over.
4(b) Dr. Rodney McKay, also of the Stargate program
“Rory Kelso” didn’t join los niños until Belén was “14” (and then-Blair was 10). Rory was 11. Rory had been selected by Ferdí and Ilya, because he was almost never wrong about things like “how long do we have until this place blows up?” and “is this radioactive material safely contained?,” and the niños had already lost two of their members to radiation poisoning, and a greater number to accidental explosions. Belén didn’t know much about where Rory came from at first, except that he had a family he returned to every so often, and a fear of every medical procedure known to man.
Rory also didn’t talk. Not for years. Mostly, it wasn’t a problem – Ilya could almost read his mind, and he hardly ever needed more than one pair of hands to help him in his work. Rory could make Ilya laugh with one quirk of an eyebrow, a task that usually required effort even on Belén’s part. Ilya had always said “trust me, you like him better that he does not speak.” Then Ilya was incapacitated in the middle of what was supposed to be a milk-run, and Rory needed Belén to help him make a nuclear generator never work again (in an unspectacular, un-chernobyl like way) without showing any signs that it had been tampered with, and there was no other way to get his point across. Belén managed not to strangle Rory, and had had no problem working with him during future jobs, but he was impressed with how right Ilya had been – Rory was much more pleasant when he didn’t open his mouth..
Belén had asked Ferdí once what had happened to make Rory so difficult, but it was Ilya, recovering, who had answered “I think he had always been somewhat different, seeing technical details and not emotional nuance – but the Americans are not entirely unlike the Russians in finding out what makes the exceptional work, and what was done to him may have prevented him even more from perceiving what normal people perceive … it may even, in the beginning, have kept him from speaking, rather than his own choice.”
4(c) NCIS Agent Tony DiNozzo
Blair met Tony at a youth wilderness survival training program, which was also a CIA recruitment camp. Blair had been recuperating from an extraction gone bad, and Tony was “learning to be a man” while his father married stepmother # 2, and still getting over his own mother’s death. Tony was alone enough, and angry enough, to accept the offer to join los ninos. It was an added bonus that Tony had enhanced senses of sight and touch. Later, he became Belén’s Latin American double. Bélen and Dino didn’t work together often, but when they did, it was always with frighteningly effective results.
4(d & e) ATF Agents Ezra Standish and J.D. Dunne
Ezra P. Standish, or Eddy Jackson, had been another CIA recruit from the youth wilderness survival training program, although inititally his participation as a Nino had been compelled by a threat to his mother (until Ferdy, Su-lin and Belen found out about it, and used that incident and several others to wrest control of the Ninos program from the CIA and NATO, into Blair's and then Ferdy's own hands). Together, Ezra, Tony, and Blair (as well as several others) took turns acting as Bernard Belen, as Belen's roles grew too time consuming and complex for one teenager who also spent part of the with his Mom to handle (not even mentioning that the stints of hospital stays and physical therapy that Mr. Belen went through for his injuries would have precluded him from being at anywhere near the number of places he managed to be in time to help avert various disasters for NATO).
Eddy had quickly gained a reputation for being able to procure anything, anywhere. He was the man to see if you wanted to acquire AK-47s in the jungle, or lipstick in the tundra. Within a few weeks of getting to a city he'd never set foot in before, he could figure out who was who, both in terms of the area's legitimate power structure, and its underground. Blair had learned a lot from him, but sometimes worried not about what Eddy would do - once his loyalty was given, as it had been to Ferdi, it was absolute (although Eddy didn't understand what was wrong with side-line profit making enterprises). Rather, Belen worried about what would happen to Eddy, if he chose to surround himself with people who looked after number one first and foremost because he continued to be afraid to form real attachments, yet stayed the type of man who would step in front of a speeding locomotive to rescue the helpless.
Eddy's career as a part-time spy had ended abruptly after the wrong people, thinking Eddy was Belen, had tortured him for information he didn't have, over several weeks until a rescue team could be scrambled. It was one of the incidents that pushed Beje/Blair and Sunny into a reluctant alliance. Eddy healed, but didn't have it in him to continue. Additionally, he was nearly 16, so the military agreed to alter his year of birth in his records, and he went to college a few years early, with his memory altered by Belen such that he didn't remember his past activities (it was par for the course to hypnotize departing Ninos, the alternative option being a risky brain surgery to chemically burn out certain memories).
Belén, in consultation with Ferdí, Sunny, and Mika, had actually selected J.D. to recruit to los niños, a scant year and a half before their mass retirement. “James "Jamie" Darton” had been chosen out of a pool containing several older and more qualified computer specialists, because he possessed qualities that the four commanding officers of los niños were looking for near the end – a need for the money that covert ops work would bring him (his mother’s hospital bills) coupled with an absence of legitimate ways of earning income (due to his age), and most importantly, a deadline after which he would be able to walk away from the life without regrets (the most optimistic doctors had only given his Mom ten years).
Blair is pretty sure that J.D. wouldn't recognize him as Belen - J.D. had still been relatively new to los ninos when they disbanded enmasse, and he had only ever known then-Blair in perfected Belen mode, whom he had regarded with (Blair hoped) a memory-distorting level of hero worship. Also, J.D. had worked primarily with the other techies - Rory and Ilya, rather than with the Ninos de facto second in command, then later commander, Bernard Anastasio Belen.
4(f) U.S. Airforce Major Su Lin Smith
Belén and Su Lin (Sunny) disagreed on just about every subject it was possible to have an opinion on, and some that Ferdí and Mika thought Belén had invented just to have more reasons to argue with Sunny. Sunny was the “closest in age” to Belén, 11 to his “12” when she had been added to los niños. Sunny had enhanced hearing and sight, and an impressive temper. She was annoyed by Belén’s fake stoicism, and by his often being right about what she needed to do to use her senses safely. She was most annoyed by his reluctance to kill. Eventually, with Ferdí and Mika out of commission for over a year and the commander of los niños temporarily replaced by a man who in a month had raised their casualty stats from 20% to 60%, Belén and Sunny had become formidable allies and tentative friends. The friendship had ended after Sunny approved Honey’s request to go in after a captured Belén and Miklos, and Honey and Miklos died in action. Still, Blair had gone to active status during the golf war under the name Brian Josephs because Lieutenant Smith had been MIA.
4(g) Dr. James Wilson
"Jerry Wallis" was one of a very few who had come to los ninos without an invitation, because he wanted to spend more time with his older brother, "Mitchell West," who had been another product of the CIA's secret recruitment camps. Mitchell had been smart, psychic, and empathic. Jerry was two out of three; he could never see flashes of the future like Mitchell. Mitchell burned out completely in the early '80s, and Jerry reluctantly took his place. Jerry was frequently put on field teams - for a child of the suburbs, he had an uncanny ability not to panic under fire, and was widely regarded as the best field medic amongst the ninos. Blair still sees Jerry - now Dr. James Wilson - for yearly cancer screenings, scheduled on days when Wilson's preternaturally observant friend House is at an annual Monster Truck Rally catered by Play Boy Bunnies.
4(h) A.D.A. Siena DeLaurente Jeffries
Moving through one of those countries that was in the Soviet sphere of influence but not actually part of the Republic with several rescued British soldiers, Blair had encountered a small girl who reminded him strongly of his Sandburg cousins. He had picked her up, and carried her with him over the border in his backpack, despite the British soldiers' vociferous disagreement and even Ferdi's initial objections. Siena, as they came to call the girl, grew up with Ferdi's family, and had joined Los Ninos to help Michaela rescue Ferdi and Blair, around the time she was approximately seven. Blair had been furious, but he could never stay angry with Mika or Sia. When Blair's wife Honey died, Sia had dogged his every step on his one subsequent mission before their mass retirement, making sure he didn't make a deadly mistake out of grief. As Sia was one of the least threatening Ninos, and willing, she was the current contact person for people who asked questions about Los Ninos.
That guns have in many ways been the bane of Blair’s existence. Blair doesn't handle hand-to-hand combat at all well anymore. His days as a Nino left him with too many bad associations, he just shuts down. But he can’t help being able to put a bullet exactly where he wants it to go. He’s never lied to Jim about this, not really. At first Blair had just said that he didn’t like guns- which is the absolute truth. It’s not Blair’s fault that Jim had then drawn certain conclusions which Blair had never disabused him of. That’s not lying, strictly speaking.
It was tough for Blair to get through the hand-to-hand combat portion of the police academy because it had been so long since he’d needed to fight, and because it brought back so many painful memories. Blair had truly had to work hard to qualify. On the other hand, it was tough for Blair to get through his firearms training because even though nearly 15 years had passed, it was too easy for him to requalify (and hard for him not to qualify at the trained sniper level).
That Blair's deadliest weapon was never a gun, even with his excellent aim. Belen had been extremely dangerous in part because he liked people, and he was willing to completely contort an objective in order to help even those he had just met. Sometimes he had failed fantastically and almost gotten everyone killed, but just as often, his introduction into a group of people was likely to stiffen their resolve and increase their organization, catalyzing a hopeful resistance out of despair and anger. Belen had been justly famous, within his small circle, for his proven ability to transform a disparate protest movement into a viable opposition government in a few months' time. Blair never saw enemies as inherently different from allies, and sometimes Belen had been able to convince reluctant but faithful (even ardent) supporters of corrupt regimes to cross the lines and join the opposition, and the opposing force to accept them as members, even leaders.
When Blair posed as a social worker after his apartment was blown up and ended up in the middle of a community group organizing to stop the gang violence, it felt like deja vu to him for a moment. Jim had just asked him to go in and protect a woman by getting her into custody. But Blair could see a look in the grandmother's eyes, a look he recognized. Better things than protecting just one woman could happen there, Blair had realized, if he just supported the dignified lady with the fire in her eyes. So he followed his instincts, and expected Jim to ream him out afterwards for not following the plan. When Jim didn't, instead giving him a quiet "good job, Chief," and offering him a temporary home, Blair realized for the first time that he was in real trouble of having found a friend and partner for whom he would have to risk exposing the scars on his soul.
Where he actually learned to weld. To stay warm while getting information from a disgraced Russian scientist in a Siberian gulag. He later got a legitimate job doing it during one of his summers away from Rainier, because he liked it well enough and the pay was decent.
8. . Firehose.
That the day when Blair knocked over two bad guys with a firehose, back when he was just Jim's ride-along, had been the first day he realized that Belén and Blair might not be entirely different. Belén had always been an adrenaline junkie, and adrenaline and Blair had usually resulted in nausea. After the firehose incident, Blair didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, because perhaps Belén wasn’t so dead after all, and maybe, just maybe there was room for a little bit of Belén in Blair, and maybe that wasn't entirely a bad thing.
That Blair only bluffs about important things when it is absolutely necessary. For instance, he had not been bluffing about being able to fly a helicopter when he wrested control of Kinkade's helicopter from its pilot with just a flare gun. That situation had not been nearly desperate enough for Blair to have threatened to shoot the pilot without a replacement pilot ready, because some of now-Blair’s fear of heights came from then-Blair’s having once been in a falling chopper. He would rather have taken his chances – and Jim’s- going with the madmen. If it had been necessary, if the pilot hadn’t turned back, Blair could have flown the helicopter back, and fallen apart afterwards. After all, he had considered fleetingly before the pilot folded, Jim (and the P.D.) would have had no reason not to believe that one of Blair's many “uncles” had been a free-lance chopper pilot in some unimportant regional area, and that he might have taught Naomi’s brat to fly, trying to impress Naomi.
That he cannot foresee a circumstance under which he will ever again take drugs willingly (although peyote and certain other natural substances don't count as drugs to his way of thinking). After nearly ten years as, in addition to being a member of Los Ninos, occasionally serving as one of the CIA’s remote viewers in the first Project Stargate (which had nothing to do with the actual stargate - it was a program which used psychedelic drugs to enhance the normal psychic abilities of people like Blair, enabling them to see possible futures, or look at a map and know where in a country captured soldiers were being held), Blair knows exactly what psychedelic drugs can do to the human body, and how lucky he is to have survived that time with as few permanent side effects as he carries. The whole golden thing brought back some of Blair’s worst “bad trips,” as well as too-clear memories of people burning to death. Those memories make Blair glad he does not have perfect sense recall like Jim’s- the sight memory is a terrible burden even blurred by time - the smell, the sound, in better-than-technicolor detail for life, would be too much.
That Blair drinks algae shakes every day not for his health, or because he likes the taste, but because something about the blue-green algae is the most effective natural substance he's ever found for suppressing his empathetic sense.
That he knows why he fell so hard for Maya. That it went beyond her being attractive. She reminded Blair of his dead wife La' ani (called Honey for work, and Lahi by her friends). Not her physical appearance necessarily, but something about the girl from a foreign culture burdened by a powerful father’s shady past, a girl who nonetheless still believed (or at least Blair had thought Maya had believed) in her ability to become her own person, and in love. Of course, La'ani’s father had ended up being a loyal CIA agent playing the rogue, who had smiled when La'ani told him she was going to marry Blair, remarking that his Lahi could “do much worse,” before signing the marriage license as Blair’s guardian, because Blair had only been 15 to Lahi’s 18, and Naomi had been off on a cleansing retreat, and Big Tamu Kona was a big Kahuna on his small Hawaiian island. But Blair tells himself he doesn’t know what it was about Maya, because thinking of La'ani is still just about the most painful thing he can do to himself, and when Blair wishes he knew his father, he thinks of his father as being somewhat like Tamu, but probably without a skull necklace. Probably.
Megan Connor reminds Blair of Lahi as well, although Megan is a fully realized, wonderfully multi-faceted, adult woman, something Lahi never had a chance to be. Blair doesn't know if he would be attracted to Meghan if he were to try thinking of her as other than a friend, and he doesn't want to risk their friendship by trying, but he treasures Meghan for being a constant assurance to him that strong, beautiful women sometimes have a chance to grow up, and kick bad guy ass in the light of day, with legal sanction.
12. That Blair won't leave Jim in part because Jim reminds Blair of Ferdí
Blair and Jim hadn't had the best start to their relationship. However, even back when they first met, Blair hadn't been taken aback at Jim's brusque lack of gratitude over Blair's saving Jim's life or Jim's violent response to Blair's helpfulness in explaining "sentinel senses 101" to the bewildered cop, in part because Blair had never found people with enhanced senses to be particularly grateful for his assistance, at least not at first. Ferdy had barely tolerated Blair in the beginning- and Blair had saved his life also, that first time they met in Berlin, by distracting the East German border guards, and then by working with Mika to figure out how to help Ferdy handle everything being too loud and too bright. And Sunny - well, Sunny and Blair's mutual antipathy was a whole 'nother story.
Even on Jim’s worst days, and Blair’s, working with Jim is worth it, not because it is like working with Ferdí again, although Blair recognizes that could be said, but because its doing something worthwhile with a friend he loves like a brother. Back in the days when Belén helped Ferdí to use his eyes and ears against the Soviets (and various dictators of the month), Belén hadn’t always been sure that they were doing something worthwhile, or even that they were always better than the other guy. But even then Belén could no more have left Ferdí then Blair could leave Jim, and hindsight is always 20/20.
Chapter 2: Missed Moments for Truth
"What's past is prologue." - Shakespeare
Blair’s thought, a few times, that the moment for these truths might have come.
He’s even rehearsed his explanation. 'Well, Jim, it's a funny story - I helped this guy go over one wall, and I accidentally became a spy … I was bizarrely good at it. And there were other people sort of like you – with enhanced senses, not all 5, but they still needed help, because even without zoning, bad things can happen to untrained people with hyper senses. And it was hard to just quit, because we were all friends, and my friends could have died or been hurt if I wasn't there.'
But somehow Blair has never needed to make that explanation. After the whole Colonel Oliver thing, Blair had thought that Simon would mention to Jim that Blair had pegged Jim’s kidnappers for black ops, or that Blair had managed to escape their first attempt to capture him by turning himself into the police, or any of a number of things that should have tipped Jim, a former special ops guy who, for God’s sake, had worked with Su-Lin, the hell off. But Simon never did. Simon merely said that Blair had handled himself pretty well, and gave Blair the credit for insisting that Jim was not missing of his own free will. Every so often, when Simon looks at Blair oddly, Blair wonders if Simon, like Jack Kelso, is pondering the past existence of Belén – but then Simon looks at Blair oddly pretty often, for reasons as mundane as occasionally drinking herbal tea rather than coffee, or liking the same music as Daryl.
They had worked together for only a few weeks the first time Blair thought Jim might notice he knew more than he should.
But Blair didn’t know much more about Brackett other than that Trev hadn’t liked him. Blair had known where to go to find out what they needed to know, but Jack Kelso was a logical source of information, one that Blair as a fellow instructor at Rainier legitimately had access to, and Jim didn’t seem suspicious, just grateful for the help. And, Blair had reflected, it wasn’t like Belén had received that much in the way of formal training that Blair had to forget … los niños would not have been as effective if they had moved or acted too much like soldiers. They were supposed to move and act like children – locals, refugees, tourists, travelers, whatever was expedient, not soldiers. If captured and interrogated, they were intended to believably insist that they had nothing to do with NATO, the CIA or the U.S. military. Whatever Blair had retained from Belén’s stints as not-a-soldier and his brief returns to the life, it just didn’t seem to be something that Jim recognized in his new ride-along. Which was just as well, because Blair, always an overachiever, had tried and succeeded in forgetting an amazing amount of what Belén had once known. What Blair had retained- keep your eye on the goal, look for allies in the enemy camp with an unprejudiced eye, that anything can be turned into a weapon, that its better to bring your opponent down from a distance – these were things that Jim, who hadn’t known Blair pre-Cascade P.D. Observer, or Belén the spy, had simply assumed were skills Blair had picked up in his admittedly varied early life and college expeditions.
Then there was when Jim met Ezra Standish in the wake of that Profiling Conference Disaster that ended as a Biological Weapons Hostage Situation.
Ezra had recognized Blair, no surprise - Ezra had not only known Belen, on occasion, he had been Belen, and the hypnosis patch didn't always hold. While he hadn't known of Blair Sandburg before they were introduced by Josiah (who had known Naomi), Blair had been pretty sure he could count on Ezra's discretion - after all, Ezra had left Los Ninos before their mass retirement, as a result of physical and psychological trauma from being repeatedly tortured - during which he had given up absolutely no useful information to the enemy. Ezra wanted to forget that part of his life as much as Blair did, and was a past expert at keeping his own counsel.
It was possible that Jim could have figured it out when that stupid movie, "The Lucky Dozen," premiered in 2005.
Although Blair hadn't thought it was likely - after all, the movie was about Belen, and Blair had been very careful, from age seven on through the present, to make sure that Belen and Blair had very little in common. The 12 kids portrayed in the movie (so far as Blair could tell from reading the Wikipedia summary and hearing about it from Daryl and Simon - he'd avoided seeing the movie himself), had been caricatures of (1) himself; (2) Fernando; (3) Michaela; (4) Su-lin, and (5) Tony DiNozzo, and then characters incorporating elements of (6) Daniel Jackson and a Russian turncoat named Miklos; (7) Blair's wife La'ani and another female agent, Lyssa; (8) Rodney McKay, Ilena Cervenka, J.D. Dunne, and several other scientists and techies; (9) Ezra Standish, Nikolai Chekov, and Arnie Camion (some of the other Belen impersonators); (10) The Wilson brothers and Nicholas Sheridan; (11) Michael Britt and several other male Ninos of the bruiser persuasion; and (12) Siena DeLaurente Jeffries, and a couple other 'little sister' types, Sylvie Jones and Dora Porter.
Blair found describing the group as "lucky" to have been in poor taste - out of that entire group, barely half had survived (only Blair, Su-lin, Daniel, Lyssa, Rodney, Anthony Dinozzo, J.D. Dunne, Ezra Standish, the Wilson Brothers, and Siena), and the last Blair had heard, Mitchell Wilson had escaped from a psychiatric facility and was living on the street as a homeless drug addict, and Nikolai Chekov was MIA, presumed dead. Additionally, James Wilson, J.D. Dunne, Nikolai Chekov, and Siena hadn't been members of Los Ninos when the events loosely depicted in the movie had taken place, but Blair supposed that at least was understandable artistic license - those four were worth mention in any list of the Ninos, even though J.D. and Sia especially hadn't been Ninos for very long before they disbanded. Unfortunately, the commercial success of the first movie (which was described by the popular press and critics alike as a gripping yet humorous and fast-paced blend of Harry Potter and Red Dawn) has inspired talk of two sequels, supposedly with the first to cover the Ninos' further adventures in Latin America, and the last chronicling their desperate struggles in Afghanistan, and their supposed death in a plane crash. Blair morosely hoped that they'd leave the death of his pregnant wife out of the Latin American movie, and the collapsing Himalayan Bridge and the deaths of Ferdi and Michaela, and the existence of their daughter Beatrice, and Rodney and Ilena's daughter Tatyana, out of the third movie.
Chapter 3: When the Time Came
The day began, like so many of Blair’s worst days, with a call from Su-Lin Smith. It was a Tuesday, half a dozen years after Blair intentionally misled Jim in order to clue him in on his Sentinel status.
“I need to talk to you.” insisted the unwelcome voice over the phone. Blair sighed, poured his algae shake from the blender, and stared at the fog of early morning Cascade regretfully. Several of his worst days had begun with phone calls from Su-Lin.
“What’s up?” Blair replied, flipping on the coffee and thinking to himself, 'this will not end well.' Still, he was proud of himself for not turning into a gibbering, panicked, wreck at the sound of Su-lin's voice - he'd obviously made progress reconciling Blair and Belen over the past few years he'd spent as a cop. Grinning wryly to himself, Blair thought that Jim probably deserved most of the credit for that, although the rest of the Major Crimes squad merited a mention as well.
Su-lin's strained voice continued “I have intel on an underground slave ring operating out of Latin America … the source is reliable. The children who are disappearing are from poor families ..” she explained.
“That is nothing new, Sunshine.” Blair interrupted. “It’s regrettable as hell, and I’d be happy to bring it to the attention of any authorities that I still have access to .. but I’m not a Nino anymore. There is nothing I can do for those kids or families that you or the U.S. military can’t do much better.”
“If you’d let me finish” she snapped “the kids who are disappearing are all either remarkably well-liked, or well-known for having abnormal responses to stimuli. With the well-liked children, the adults who know them describe being willing to take them to soccer games, or buy their families food, and later not knowing why. With the ‘sensitive’ kids, they are described as possibly autistic, or allergy ridden. And I think it is the U.S. military, Bé. It looks like the Pandora experiment, Part III.”
Blair Sandburg took a deep breath, poured his algae shake down the drain, and prepared to leave his life behind.
“I see.” He spoke into the phone, his tone quieter, more measured, and his accent slightly different. “With Trev passed on, I take it there’s no way to check on the previous offenders?” Blair went to his lap top, quickly buying plane tickets and requesting a cab.
"Hmm," Su-lin reviewed her mental notes, replying “I've got some new contacts - recommended by Trev when he knew the end was near. The prior loose screws are all dead or missing. A number of their civilian backers disappeared at the same time last year - following small but noticeable changes in their behavior, dating from several months to 3 or even 4 years previous. Spouses and intimates thought that that the backers were having affairs, or had developed a drug habit."
"You think the military component had something far enough along to have tested on them? How long have these kids been disappearing?" Blair demanded as he removed several floorboards from underneath his bed in his new house in a particularly bohemian neighborhood of Cascade, and revealing a shallow depression containing several duffle bags.
"No." Su-lin replied firmly. "By my worst estimate, the program has only been running again for 6 months. The first kid disappeared 5 months ago - and purchases of controlled substances necessary for the psychic enhancement began 6 months ago and have continued at intervals through the present day. There's no way - even piggybacking on their results from the 70, 80's and 90's- that they would have a viable product to enhance mental and psychic faculties in children, let alone full adults. I think something else is going on - that all of the backers and several of the key military have been compromised, brain-washed, by some foreign power."
"It doesn't have to be foreigners, Sunny," Blair pointed out gently as he activated a new untraceable cell phone, purchased three months ago with cash through a mail order service and sent to a P.O. box owned by a homeless man. Blair then checked the contents of an unremarkable black cloth computer bag, containing a newer laptop, and a variety of standard masculine hygiene products, in sizes small enough to comply with current FAA regulations.
"The Minutemen were always a home-grown organization, if you recall," he continued, adding a Coastal Indian Harvest Doll (complete with real poison tipped darts and blow gun) in a bright blue bag entitled Cascade Museum of Anthropology to the computer bag's side pocket, "They were pro-USA root to branch. Planning to save God's country by using the minds of our children to discern the intentions and locations of the Soviets, aid in the invasion, and possibly even kill enemies with a thought."
"I know what they were, hotshot," Su-lin replied in aggravation. "I've been watching them for the past 15 years while you've been living your delightfully post-modern anti-militaristic hippy life. They changed their name to the Trust a decade ago. The odd part is that the usual backers aren't even acting like they're being controlled by an American, this time. Whoever brainwashed them made sure that they knew random nonsense, like the Egyptian deities, backwards to forwards, but not that the American Civil War abolished slavery in the U.S."
Blair stilled, his attention arrested "Did the behavior changes date as far back as, say, billionaire industrialist Adrian Conrad's disappearance from public life?" he asked carefully.
"You're thinking this is connected with those alien-invasion attracting weirdos in the Stargate program?" Su-lin asked, suddenly thoughtful. "You know, that might fit."
"If it is connected, our problems could be much bigger. Those kids may not even be on Earth anymore." Blair said, resuming his departure routine by watering his plants one final time.
"Damnit. You could be right. I'll check in with my SGC contacts - they should be able to give me whatever the hell their best estimate is on "the Trust's" activities, and those of the alien Ba'al. Any of those parasitic aliens would have a motivation at least as strong as the Minutemen's during the Cold War - success with getting one of those kids to sustain psychic ability over a long period of time, and they wouldn't need to control the kid or distill an injection to give adults the same ability. They could just take over the new psychic."
"I almost hope they do - an empath, preferably when someone around them is in pain." Blair said, his voice betraying a thread of fierceness usually kept well-hidden. "Although they might not even feel it - my understanding is they're not supposed to share human emotions, only be aware of them. Look, I need to get started - I'll meet you at the restaurant where the monkey bit Dino after he gave it a beer, tomorrow for dinner." Blair was now pulling packages ready for mailing from under the floorboards, addressed to Jim and to his mother.
"O.k." Su-lin said with a sigh of relief. Reluctantly, she added "And thanks, Be".
Blair hung up the phone, sat down cross-legged on the middle of his floor, and breathed deeply for a few moments, then picked the phone back up and dialed Joel's number, glad for once that the new captain of Major Crimes was an early riser.
"This better be important, Blair," Joel answered distractedly, "part of what I count on is being able to get work done before you and Ellison show up."
"Sorry, man, can't be helped," Blair replied with a smile of amusement at Joel's fond exasperation, and a feeling of relief that he didn't need to deal with Simon, who was by nature more suspicious and protective. "I need to take a leave of absence, Joel, starting immediately. One of my Mom's friends who practically raised me has just passed away, in the highlands around Tibet, and her daughter, who was like a sister to me, needs my help getting her body back home for a proper burial."
Joel's tone immediately turned from exasperated to supportive. "I'm so sorry for your loss, Blair. I'll approve your time, its not like you don't have it saved up, but we're definitely going to miss you- Jim has needed your help with his senses more than usual working on this string of violent home robberies, with the new baby barely sleeping." Joel said, rubbing his forehead as he mentally re-shuffled current assignments. "Actually - would Lt. Ellison be going with you? He still doesn't work particularly well with anyone else..."
"Ah, I don't think so - I really don't think Jim helping me sweet-talk the Tibetans and the Chinese into letting us take a decaying body home will actually be that much, well, help. And the decaying body bit would probably drive Lt. "it just doesn't smell right here, I don't care if Maintenance has already cleaned your desk after you went undercover as a hobo!" crazy, which generally results in everyone else being driven crazy."
Joel chuckled, and Blair treasured the sound, aware that he might never hear it again. "O.k., Blair," Joel conceded. "You leaving today?"
A cab became apparent through the winter-bare trees between the evergreens as it approached the turn into Blair's driveway. "This morning, actually. My flight is at 6:50 a.m., and the cab is almost here. I'm reluctant to call Jim- the baby usually falls back asleep only around 3:00 a.m., and that extra hour of sleep makes a big difference to Lt. Grump. He'll be best off with Megan, if you want my opinion - if he has real trouble with his senses call my Mom - ask Jim for her number. I should be back within two weeks, but if not, I think Jim would actually work decently well with Jessica Daley from Vice. We've worked cases with her before, and he said at the time that she's more than half a guide." Blair bent over his computer again, drafting a quick message to Jim, telling him the same story he had provided for Joel, including a promise to call when he could, and setting the email for a time delayed send later that morning.
"Take care, son." Joel said warmly "I'll certainly give Naomi a call if Jim has a bad reaction - and we've been needing another warm body for Major Crimes to bring us up to establishment - Detective Daley could well be a square peg into a square hole. But you leave Jim a voicemail or an email - I am NOT telling him I let you go off to Tibet alone to help one of Naomi's friends - YOU tell him. Even if Jim can't go with you himself, he might want to send one of his old military buddies wtih you - he said they really liked you after the last time you went camping with them. Are you sure you'll be o.k. by yourself? "
Blair lifted his non-descript laptop bag and his hiking backpack, saying regretfully "No time, Joel. I've been to Tibet twice. I also have friends in China from Naomi's trip to experience communism there in the mid '80's, I'm sure we'll be fine. Besides, Jim would feel bad about letting me go by myself, but he really shouldn't leave his family with the baby only 4 months old, and this way he doesn't have to feel bad."
"I'm sure he'd want to be consulted Blair" Joel replied in gentle rebuke. "After all ..."
"Hate to interrupt, Joel, but my cab is here" Blair said hurriedly as it parked in the driveway and honked twice.
"Call us if you run into any trouble, Blair, and be careful." Joel said warmly in farewell, already planning his request to the new Chief of Police, Simon Banks, for Det. Daley's transfer from Vice to Major Crimes.
"Sure, Joel. Thanks again for the leave." Blair said as he hurriedly hung up the cordless, picked up his bags and the packages, and left his house, whistling a tune he hadn't heard aloud in 20 years, a lullaby from Montepacido, the home of Ferdi and Mika, and of his own grandfather's kin.
Cascade Airport, 6:50
Blair boarded a small cargo plane, bearing the name "Pacific Island Transport," piloted by a grizzled man in his mid fifties.
"Thanks for the lift, Mike" Blair said gratefully as he shook the man's hand.
"No problem, man." Mike Tatsumi said with a grin. "Nice to finally be able to pay you back for saving me from the wrath of Tamu after that fiasco with the sea turtles. Stow your bags wherever, and you can co-pilot."
Blair took some anti-nausea meds, wishing for a mood-stabliizer or maybe even some valium. Then he braced himself and slid into the co-pilot's seat. Once they'd cleared the airport and gotten to their cruising altitude, he took out his cell phone and laptop, beginning to send messages to Jim and to his fellow survivors from the Los Ninos program, at least those in a position to help. Numb inside, Blair forced himself through the steps needed to pull this trip together. The last thing he did, was write the email to Jim. It was not going to go over well.
Sorry about the not having a chance to talk in person, but a friend of mine from way back called, her Mom just passed away, and she needs some help bringing the body home for burial. I've arranged for leave and for Det. Daley to come over and sub for me- I'll be mostly out of touch flying today and part of tomorrow, and I don't think my cell will get reception in Tibet, so call my Mom if you need help. Seriously, Dude. I'm emailing Jenny and Steve as well, so don't think you can play getting away with "Macho man Ellison doesn't need anybody."
I'll call as soon as I can after I get in, but don't worry if you don't hear from me for a couple of weeks - I remember phones being pretty scarce on the ground in that region of the world. My friend's name is Janey Clarewell, but I'm not giving you her soc., because the last time you did a background check on one of my friends, we had to go talk to those suits in the state department about what a paranoid ....guy, you are, and explain that Annie wasn't actually in trouble for anything, you just wanted to make sure any attractive girl visiting me (even one who I wasn't dating) wasn't a terrorist. That was fun.
Take care, Man. Really. If I come back and you're hurt, I'll be almost as mad as Jenny.'
Blair sighed as he finished that last email.
He'd never expected to have to leave his life as Blair to be Belen again. Part of him felt desolate at the thought of leaving Jim without more than an email; even more so since he knew that he may never see his best friend, big brother, and sentinel again. Another part of him felt guilty about going back on their agreement to keep eachother in the loop. But Blair felt like he had no choice. He could never forget the blank, tormented young faces he had seen the first time he left Blair's life to return to Belen's for a brief time. It had been when they found the second 'camp' the Minutemen had started in the U.S., to force and torture children with heightened sensitives and empathic or other unique talents to develop abilities that could be useful in war. Blair and the other members of Los Ninos had voluntarily taken some of the drugs, gone through some of the conditioning, to be able to enhance the natural 'edge' which some of them had possessed. But the 'camps' run by the Minutemen had been different, cruel and even deadly.
Blair had made a promise, that day. A promise to himself and to the survivors of the Minutemen camps and their sister facilities in the U.S.S.R, such as Rodney and Ilena. A promise, also, to the survivors of the Nazi experiments during the Holocaust, such as Blair's own grandfather Ephraim. A promise that nothing like that would ever happen again, not if Blair could help it. Jim would understand that, if only Blair could explain it.
Chapter 4: How Jim actually did find out
How Jim actually did find out. Or, at least how he found out that there was something to find out.
South America was, as Blair had entirely expected, a complete mess. The only brightside was that the children at the camp had still been relatively unharmed, at least most of them. They lost one little boy to a severe allergic reaction. Blair had to reach deep inside himself to find the energy to stop Su-lin from killing some of the staff who had let that happen.
The impetus behind this resurrection of the Minutemen's Pandora Project was, indeed, aliens from outer space. Fortunately for all of them, as Blair hadn't know quite what to do with parasitic space aliens, Su-lin had brought with her not just one airforce cadet, but two. The first, Tyler Harris, had been one of the few survivors of the second Minutemen camp, the one that Blair had left Rainier to help find and shut down. The second cadet, Jon O'Neil, had refused to let Su-lin Smith walk off with his classmate, even if Su-lin, a Major, outranked them by a number of degrees. Young Jon O'Neil apparently had some direct contact to the Stargate program, since he was able to get their teams on the ground less than an hour after Blair and the others had decamped with the surviving children. How Cadet O'Neil had explained the dead, drugged, and confined Go'auld and their Trust minions, Blair wasn't sure, beyond that he was grateful it hadn't been his problem.
Blair arrived back at Cascade mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Just in time to get involved in stopping a series of particularly violent child murders. Since the empathic abilities Blair normally suppressed by drinking algae shakes were still fairly strong, he was able to bring that case to a quick close. Not that Jim - or Joel or Simon or anyone else, for that matter - seemed to appreciate it. It wasn't Blair's fault that he'd told them who the bad guy was, and they ignored him, such that he had to go take care of it himself. In any case, it had not been a good month for Blair Sandburg.
Jim Ellison hadn't had a good month either. First, his infant son was suffering from colic. Second, his guide - and best friend and surrogate younger brother - disappeared without more than a lame email that was an exercise in Sandburgian obfuscation at it's best. Jim had wrecked a computer keyboard by punching it, upon seeing the email.
And then when Blair got back...the levels upon which he had been lying to Jim were multiple and infuriating. But children's lives were at risk, so there was no time to talk about it. And then Blair went and pulled that stunt, which made Jim want to shake some sense into him and not let Blair out of his sight for the foreseeable future. But, fortunately for Blair, Simon and Joel both outranked Jim, so they got to lecture Blair first.
Which gave Jim time to think, and to reappraise this quieter, angrier, more strained version of his partner. Blair had come back from his mysterious trip, then he'd gone off on his own, on this case. True, Blair had tried to get the others on board with his crazy-but-ultimately-correct idea. But he'd only tried once. Then, instead of encouraging and nagging them the way he normally would have, he'd gone off and tried to take care of the matter on his own. That wasn't like Blair.
Jim frowned, wondering how it was he had never noticed -or at least never appreciated- that it had become Blair who normally got such disparate personalities as the sharp-edged Meghan and Jim and the easy-going Henri to put their skills to work with eachother instead of at opposite ends. The sentinel supposed part of it was that his guide appeared to do it so naturally, and with a light touch. Blair never ordered anyone to do anything - he just suggested, bundling his suggestions with a compliment and a complete faith that could not easily be rebuffed. To have made Blair act so out of character, something more important, or at least bigger, than almost getting himself killed must be going on.
Reluctantly, Jim put the attractive idea of yelling at Sandburg and getting him a leash aside. He was going to get to the bottom of this bigger issue, whatever it was, and help Blair with it, whether Blair wanted that help or not. Jim nodded to himself, finding that this idea seemed right. After all, its exactly what Blair would do for him if their circumstances were reversed.
A few words to Megan Connor, and a promise not to yell at Blair, and Jim had found his guide, standing on the roof of the police station, looking out towards the water.
"Where the hell were you, Chief?" Jim barked, before he could remind himself that he'd meant to be calm.
Blair ran a hand agitatedly through his short curls before replying, "First Joel, then Simon, now you. Look, why is it such a big deal, Jim? You make plans all the time without checking in with me. Why am I the only one who can't have any secrets - is there some reason that my life has to be some big damn open book to you people?"
As frustrated as Jim was with not knowing what was going on with his guide, the out of character (for Blair) response, and even more, his guide's racing heart, made him take a step back and lower his voice. "Chief, calm down. I don't know what's going through your head, why you're acting so off, or why you felt the need to lie to me. I know you didn't go to Tibet. You went somewhere in South America. I could tell by your sweat. I was planning to talk to you about it as soon as you got back, but I was so glad to see you back safe and whole, and then we were caught up immediately in the Weller case. You don't have to tell me what's going on right now - but you will damn well tell me where you're going next time, so that if something goes wrong, I know where to look for you."
Blair, looking taken aback, then chagrined, queried in a small voice "Did you tell anyone else?"
Jim shook his head "No. I wasn't 100% sure. If you hadn't called me when you did, I might've told Simon and started looking for you. But then you called me, and I could tell it was really you, even if you were in a funk, so I called off the search.
"Now," Jim finished, raising his voice agan as Blair's heart rate normalized, "what the hell is going on?"
Blair shook his head sadly and half-turned away from his partner, hugging himself and saying softly, "Its classified, Jim. The fact that anything might've happened itself, is classified. Nobody can know anything. You have to say I was in Tibet with Janey, if anyone ever asks you. Its important, Man."
"Blair," Jim began, shaking his head in disbelief, "what's going on? Classified? You're Mr. Anti-establishment - what are you involved in, that you'd have to leave like that, and not be able to tell anyone? I need to know, Chief. Because if you're involved, then sooner or later I'll be involved, too. I know that you came back from this one alive and basically unharmed, but you weren't sure about that going in, were you?" Jim paused his argument as Blair's breathing became harsher and his heart rate sped up. "Chief? You ok?"
Blair was doing his best to talk himself out of a panic attack. He'd never expected Belen's life to collide with his like this. He slowly became aware that Jim was talking to him softly, like he would talk to Jim trying to bring him to come out of a zone. Something about doctors caught his attention, and he shook his head. "No, Man. I'm ok - I almost had a panic attack, but I'm ok now."
Turning to his sentinel seriously, Blair tried to explain. "I can't tell you about this, Jim. I would if I could - believe me. If I need to go again, which is supremely unlikely, I promise I will tell you where I am really going, and an estimated time for me to be back, and if I miss that deadline, you can call the numbers I leave you and raise high holy hell. But I need you to trust me, and understand that promises I made a long time before we met, things I take seriously, bar me from telling you anything about this, unless it somehow gets declassified."
Jim looked back at him with an expression Blair couldn't read, and he wouldn't use his empathic senses to pry, even though they weren't completely dead yet, after only a few days back on the algae shake regimen.
Jim finally nodded, grabbing the back of his guide's neck and squeezing gently as Blair relaxed. "Ok, Chief." Jim said softly. "Now let's go back and rejoin the festivities before Meghan sends out a search party. She told me not to yell at you." Jim confessed, looking slightly abashed, but not really sorry that he'd lectured Blair.
Blair chuckled. "Well, I think its fair for you to say you didn't - I mean, for you, that was a really calm reaction."