This is my first Sentinel fanfic, written long before I discovered all the great writing resources about the show (I'm not sure there were as many as there are now, anyway. I remember the archive was rather small at the time) and I relied on my memory to help me through this fic. Needless to say, there are parts of this story that are not canon. I corrected some minor errors but I left some others because it would have required rewriting the whole story and quite frankly, I think the story is okay. If something really non-canon throws you off, just make-believe it's an AU.
This is the first time (01-04-99) that I've sat down and re-read this story since probably the week I wrote it and I discovered there are elements that I have since used in other stories. So I guess, in a strange way, you will find some of my own "canon" in this one.
Enough babbling. On with the story....
"Now, Detective Ellison, how can you be so certain that my client was the same man who robbed the jewelry store? Isn't it true that most of the streets lights in that neighborhood have been shot out? Isn't it possible that the man you chased from the crime scene got lost in the darkness and the defendant just happened to be in the area and you got confused?"
Detective Jim Ellison stared stone-faced at the attorney, allowing the jury to see the man's words caused him not a moment of doubt. "The defendant is the man who robbed the store. He is the one I chased."
"How can you be so certain?"
"My nose told me."
The defense attorney laughed snidely. "Your nose, detective?"
"Yes, sir. Your client was wearing a distinctive aftershave the night of the robbery. It made my nose itch. As long as I was sneezing I knew I was on the right trail. In fact, your client almost escaped after I caught up with him because I was sneezing so hard." Jim smiled then and he could hear some snickers from the jurors. Good. The district attorney's table was giving him a subtle high sign. Score one more for the good guys, he thought to himself.
He was waiting for the defense lawyer and the judge to dismiss him from the stand when he heard it, the distinct sound of a familiar heart. He glanced quickly to the back of the courtroom and saw his partner and roommate, Blair Sandburg, easing through the door. He looked at the clock above the door and knew either the time was wrong or Sandburg was cutting a class. Then he noticed the furious pace of the heartbeat and the quick, shallow breaths the man was taking. Maybe the elevators were out again. He opened his senses a little more. What was that he smelled? Fear.
By the time the judge said he was dismissed, Jim was across the room and following the younger man out the door. "What is it, Blair?" he asked as soon as the heavy door closed behind them.
Sandburg ran his fingers through long curly dark hair. "Ah, Jim. I don't know how to tell you this."
"Just spill it, Chief."
"It's Simon, man. He's been kidnapped or...something."
Or killed, Jim finished silently. Simon Banks was not only his police captain but a close friend. He and Blair were the only two men who knew about his special abilities, heightened senses that made him a Sentinel. "Give me the rundown," he urged his partner as they made their way to the basement garage.
"Simon didn't come in to work this morning. When the office couldn't get an answer at his place, they sent a couple of uniforms over to check on him. They found the door open and...."
"And?" Jim prompted impatiently.
"And blood, lots of it. But the captain was nowhere inside."
Jim swore and hopped into his pickup truck, heading toward Simon's house with sirens and lights. "How did you find out?"
"In the excitement, the office forgot you were scheduled to testify first thing this morning so they called the loft looking for you. I told them it would be quicker if I told you."
Jim looked at his partner. Quicker or less painful? Blair knew how close he and Simon were. Hell, they were even becoming a trio since Sandburg had signed on as Jim's partner two years ago. Technically, Sandburg was a police observer, not a cop. He was an anthropology grad student who was studying Jim's Sentinel skills, latent talents that had been observed for centuries in jungle tribes. But in reality, he was just as much a cop as Jim was and was accepted as such by most of the station, including Simon. "Thanks."
Sandburg shrugged, preparing himself for what was coming. He wasn't particularly fond of blood and traipsing around in a friend's didn't sound like a whole lot of fun, but he was Jim's Guide and he was going to have to stay by his side during the investigation. As a Sentinel's Guide, it was his duty to help his partner wade through a flood of sensory input, deleting the trivial and enhancing the important. It was a job he took seriously and this time he couldn't afford to make a mistake.
The crime scene unit was still onsite as well as several detectives from Simon's unit, Major Crimes. Captain Joel Taggert from the Bomb Unit was present too, although there was no evidence of explosives. Sometimes friendship outweighed the job. "Jim, thank God you're here."
"What have we got so far?"
"Not much. The lab's going to make this a priority but it's still going to take time."
Time that Simon may not have, Jim completed in his mind. He patted the large man on the shoulder and went into the house. Blair followed right on his heels, noting that it wasn't as bad as he expected. The blood was there yes, but the destruction of the room hit you first. Only after getting used to the upturned furniture, broken pottery and spilled bookshelves, did you notice the pool of blood on the hardwood floor and spotted about on the white leather sofa and chairs.
"He put up a hell of struggle, didn't he?" Taggert said as he came up behind them. "If it hadn't been for the gun, they wouldn't have gotten him."
"Gun?" Jim sniffed the air. Yes, he could detect the odor of gunpowder.
"Yeah. Forensics found a bloody bullet."
Jim went over to the forensics team and retrieved the small evidence bag containing the bullet. He opened it, took a sniff, then closed it and returned it to the team.
"Jim?" Blair asked softly.
"It's Simon's blood, Chief," he confirmed sadly. He had been in enough situations with his captain to know the scent of his blood.
"Damn. What about the puddle?"
Jim walked over and kneeled beside the large spot which was still wet. "It's his too." He started to stand when his sensitive eyes noticed an odd pattern a few feet from the blood. Concentrating, he began to make out words drawn very lightly in blood, invisible to the normal human eye. But Simon knew the detective would be able to read it and so he had left a clue. P... R...O...V... S...E..L..F...W..O...R..T... Jim paled as he filled in the missing letters. No, Simon hadn't left a clue, but a warning.
"Jim?" Blair said, standing next to his friend. The detective looked as if he was in the middle of a zone out, which meant he had concentrated on one sense to the point of blocking out all others. A very dangerous thing for a cop and the reason why Blair, as his Guide, was often needed.
"I'm not zoning, Chief. I'm reading."
Blair stared at the spot on the floor that held Jim's attention but didn't see anything. "Simon left you a message?"
"Cool. How are you going to let the others know?"
"I'm not." He stood and walked over to Taggert. "Joel, get down to the station and tell them to start looking for a package. It should contain a photo and instructions for retrieving Simon."
Taggert had worked too long with Ellison and his partner to ask questions. "I'll get right on it. Does this mean Simon is still alive?" he asked hopefully.
Taggert left and Sandburg stood beside Ellison. "You know who took Simon?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah. A man I killed seventeen years ago."
"Come on, Jim. You're gonna make me beg, aren't you?" Sandburg fussed as he followed his partner to the truck. "What did the captain's message say?"
Ellison sighed. "'Prove Yourself Worthy'."
"And from that you figure out he's been kidnapped by a dead man?"
"Seventeen years ago Simon and I were working covert ops."
Sandburg nodded. He knew his friends' backgrounds even though neither of the men discussed what Blair thought of as the "dark years." After a couple of run-ins with the FBI and the CIA as Jim's partner, he was pretty sure that he didn't want to know the details of the past. "This is revenge for something that happened then?"
"Revenge or a continuation." Jim sighed and let his mind slip into the past. "Simon was scheduled to have his final debrief in two days. He was married, had a child on the way, and he figured it was time to move into the sunlight as it were. But first we had a simple mission to complete. There was an encampment in Montana."
"Don't tell me," Sandburg interrupted. "One of those survivalist things, right?"
"That's what the leader, Paul Aikman, wanted everyone to think. But we knew it to be an assassins' school. Hell, half of the Middle East were regulars. So we were doing a joint raid with the FBI, ATF and the INS. As I said, it was supposed to simple with that many agents. But something went wrong. They knew we were coming and the students got to apply what they had been taught. Every team was hit hard. When we finally got around to getting a count, our group was a body short."
"Not good, huh?" Now Blair was SURE he didn't want the details of this part of Jim's past. But if it would get Simon back...
"Not good, Chief. Our team captain had been taken. Back at headquarters we received a packet with his picture and a current newspaper. The instructions said we were to choose one person to rescue him. There was an obstacle course set up near the compound. If the chosen player made it through alive, both would be released unharmed. If the agent died, so would the captain. No money was asked for. No request for a prisoner exchange. It was all for the fun of the game."
Why do I get the feeling this story isn't going to have a happy ending, Blair thought as he looked at Jim. Maybe it was his friend's clenched jaw or unwillingness to end the narrative.
"We were all so young and cocky. Everyone volunteered to be the savior. Yeah, that's how we thought of ourselves- saviors," Jim said with self-loathing. "With that mentality and with the captain gone, we said screw chain of command. It became every man for himself, for his own glory. The last one standing became our man in the game. His name was Lorenzo Moffat and would have been a good candidate if he hadn't had a swollen eye, broken hand, and a couple of bad ribs due to our private contest. Needless to say, it was suicide and murder combined."
Blair was trying to figure out something comforting to say to his partner when Jim stopped the truck in front of Cascade Self-Storage. "Why are we here?" he asked curiously.
"Picking up supplies." Jim headed down a row of metal storage sheds, stopping at #210. The combination lock was quickly opened.
Blair looked at the arranged boxes and assorted containers in horror. "Gee, man. I knew you were neat, but packing up your past in labeled and alphabetized boxes is a bit much."
"Makes things easier to find, Chief." Jim grabbed a metal footlocker and hefted it to his shoulder. Blair followed as he locked the shed and placed the locker in the back of the pick-up.
"Can I have a peek?" Blair wheedled, knowing if he didn't ask he was liable to burst from curiosity.
Jim shrugged and flipped through his keys until he found a tiny one Blair had never noticed. He unlocked the footlocker and threw back the lid. Blair, being a student of anthropology (and what affected people more than war?) instantly recognized the green camouflage fatigues folded on top. Moving the clothes aside, he found a set of dogtags, a utility belt that held a compass, water bottle, other assorted items, and a wicked-looking knife in a leather sheath. Below the belt, light glinted off what appeared to be the muzzle of a gun... or two. He didn't investigate any further.
"What's going on, Jim?"
"This time there's not going to be any arguing, Chief."
"I don't mean anything by this, guys," Blair said to the other detectives in Major Crimes after Jim left to run an errand or two. When they had reached the station, the unit had already gathered around the large table in Simon's office to discuss the packet that had mysteriously appeared in the mail room. "But I thought some of you would challenge Jim's assumption that he would be the one going after the captain."
"Why in hell would we do that, Sandburg?" Henri Brown asked. "Everyone knows Ellison is the best qualified. He knows the perp who set this up. And it's going to take a hell of a lot more than Academy training to make it through this thing. Besides, we all know Jim is...different." The other detectives nodded.
Blair laughed nervously. "Different how, man?"
"Don't play us, Sandburg," Reggie White said amicably. "We're detectives, remember? We notice things. Jim was a damn fine detective before you showed up, but now..." He shook his head. "Some of the things he does, the situations he gets himself or you out of, border on the range of the fantastic. You know, superhero stuff."
"That's really wild." Blair tried to add skepticism to the remark but failed miserably.
Brown smiled patiently. "Yeah, it is. But don't sweat it. We don't need the details. Whatever you and the Lone Ranger have up your sleeves, Tonto, is okay with us as long as it gets the bad guys off the streets or in this case, Captain Banks back."
"Time's wasting," White reminded them. "Jim wants us to get on the phones to our esteemed government officials and find out what we can about Paul Aikman. Our men in black are going to be quite stubborn about this and Jim says kick ass if and when necessary. So let's get to it. We gotta hold up our end of things too." The detectives began filing out. "And, Sandburg, whatever you and Jim need, just ask, okay?"
"Yeah, man." Blair couldn't believe his own stupidity. White was right; these were detectives. Of course they weren't going to believe sheer luck kept saving Jim and him over and over again.
"Ready to roll, Chief?" Jim asked, poking his head in the office. He didn't wait for a reply before turning back to the squad room. "The heat's gonna soar on this one. Don't let them push you around and under no circumstances, let them know where this is going down. One whiff of g-men involvement and Simon will be eliminated."
"We got it covered, Ellison," White said. "And just so you know we ain't as dumb as you think we are, we know you're making us do all the hard work. Hey, you get to go out and commune with nature while we fight the demonic forces of the U.S. government," he teased, lightening the atmosphere just a little.
Jim laughed. "I didn't think you guys would figure it out. Come on, Sandburg, before we get a mutiny here."
"Right behind you, Jim."
"Oh, Jim," Brown called out, signaling the detective over to his desk. "Hey, man, don't worry about Sandburg while you're gone," he whispered so Blair couldn't hear him. "We'll look out for him."
Jim squeezed his shoulder gratefully. "Thanks." His partner had a tendency to get into trouble. It was nice to know the guys would look out for him.
"Seems like I'm working with a better class of people this time," he told Blair as they stepped into the elevator.
"That's because they know, Jim."
"They know what?"
Blair looked at him steadily. "That you're different."
Jim thought about it for a minute, then shrugged. "They're detectives, Blair. They were bound to figure out something wasn't right."
Blair's mouth dropped open. "Man, were you all brainwashed into thinking alike at the police academy? That is the exact explanation they gave."
"So what's the reading on this?"
"You're one of them. That's all they need to know. Whatever else, they accept."
"Another hard concept for you, Chief?" he asked, hearing something in Blair's voice.
"Yeah. But I'm learning about this group-think mentality you policemen have and I'm starting to understand it a little bit. From what I can conclude is that if someone within the group is 'special', it's okay as long as you don't talk about it. Outside the group, on the other hand, is totally different. There's still talk about my hair."
"Not by Major Crimes. That's because you're within the group now."
"Yeah?" Blair asked eagerly.
Blair was quiet as he thought about the pride he was feeling. He had never been a joiner, preferring to have the freedom to do his own thing, go where he wanted when he wanted without questions or explanations. Even when he became part of Jim's world, he'd only sought Simon's acceptance because it was needed if he wanted to be Jim's partner. But to have the entire squad accept him into their "society" was never a consideration. In fact he hadn't realized he wanted acceptance-- until Jim just told him he had it.
"Don't let it go to your head, Sandburg."
Blair blushed at how accurately Jim had read him. Maybe it was time for a little payback. "You know, I've been pretty patient," he began, planning a calm assault.
"That you have."
Blair frowned. Surely Jim couldn't know where he was heading. "I understand your need for privacy."
"That helps since we live together."
"But you once told me--"
"That I could trust you, that I could tell you anything. So why haven't I told you how it came to be that I thought I killed Paul Aikman?" Jim laughed as he glanced at Blair's crestfallen face. The kid was just too predictable.
"How could you... how did you...?" Blair stammered wildly. "Jim, you can't.... Can you...? I knew your five main senses were enhanced, but I never...."
"Whoa, Chief," Jim said quickly, not wanting the situation to get out of hand. "There's nothing psychic going on. It's just that the subject was left hanging this morning and I was sure you'd get back to it."
"If you say so, Jim. But I was thinking we could run some tests..."
"Okay, I'll tell you about Paul Aikman," Jim said to distract his partner. Having him delve into his five senses was bad enough, but to let him fiddle with his psyche, no way. "What happened to Moffat and the captain hit us like a ton of bricks. Some of us knew where the blame lay. Others didn't, and probably still don't, have a clue. Simon and I decided that the only way we could live with our actions was to make Aikman pay for his crimes. We ran everything we could find on the guy and after some questionable inquiries, we determined he was hiding out in Tennessee with a distant relative. Just before our plane east, I knocked Simon out and tied him up in a storage closet."
"Aw, man," Blair said with a laugh. "He must have pissed."
Jim shrugged. "He had his future mapped out and it didn't include a stint in military prison. Our investigation wasn't official. How we had found him was illegal. Going to Tennessee and confronting Aikman would probably destroy any case the government had on him. And what we planned on doing to him when we found him, may have landed us on death row. I couldn't let that happen to Simon. Me, on the other hand, I was willing to take anything the military could dish out if it meant I could get rid of the guilt I was carrying."
"Even before your Sentinel abilities manifested themselves, you had a strong sense of responsibility for your 'tribe'. Interesting." Blair jotted the note onto his mental notepad.
"Sandburg, I'm in the middle of relating a deeply personal incident here."
"Uh, sorry, Jim. I'm listening. So you flew to Tennessee to kill Aikman in cold blood."
"I wouldn't put it quite that way," Jim objected.
"But that was what you had planned, right? You got on that plane thinking an eye for an eye. But it's a long ride from Montana to Tennessee, isn't it? It gave you time to think."
Jim sighed. "Who's telling this story, Sandburg?"
His partner just looked at him. "I know you, Jim. Vengeance isn't in you. Sure sometimes you feel like strangling someone, mainly me, but you wouldn't do it unless it was a life or death situation. So what happened? Who did Aikman try to kill, you or someone else?"
"Damn it, Blair! If you know the story so well, why did you bother to ask me about it?"
"Because you need to tell it."
Jim started to protest but couldn't. Blair was right; he needed to get this off his chest before going after Simon. On the obstacle course, he needed to be entirely focused on the here and now. "In Tennessee, I did a surveillance run and spotted Aikman just where Simon and I thought we'd find him. I called in the Feds. Despite their spectacular raid, Aikman ran. I followed him. We ended up on a trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He shot at me. I shot at him. The last I saw of Paul Aikman he was falling back off a mile-high overlook. Months later, I received a message that his body had been found and taken care of."
"Apparently." Jim turned off into a small clearing. "This is the spot, Chief. Guess I better get ready." He got out of the truck and went to the back. Blair stayed in his seat and surveyed the area. It was an innocuous pasture in the middle of a forest, no "NO TRESPASSING" warnings, no electrified fences, no posts with skulls skewered to them to say, "Hey, you're not welcome here." What kind of secret starting point was this?
"You zoning on me, Chief?"
"Just trying to figure out how to keep out of trouble while you're gone," he said, stepping away from the truck.
"You don't have to stay here, you know. You can wait back in the city. I have six hours to get in and get out with Simon. Aikman will have timed it to within minutes. So if you come back at midnight--"
"I'm not going anywhere, Jim," Blair said firmly, turning around to look his partner in the eye. He took a slight step back when he saw him in full battle regalia: fatigue pants, green tank top, dog tags gleaming in the setting sun, a multitude of weapons around his waist, and black and green stripes streaking his face. "Damn, man. I thought you were scary before. Now you look downright lethal."
"Thanks for the compliment."
"That wasn't exactly what I meant."
"Listen, since you're going to hang around I had Joel authorized these." He held up a couple of headsets. "I don't know how long they'll work; Aikman's liable to have a dampening field set up in there. But I'm going to have to focus pretty tightly and I thought you may be able to keep me from zoning."
"Sure, Jim," Blair said eagerly. "You know I'd been concerned about that but I knew the rules said for you to go in alone and I didn't want you worrying about it prematurely. These will be great, man."
"For as long as they work."
"It'll be okay. I need them to hear you, but you don't to hear me. Even if Aikman knocks out the transmission, I'm going to keep on talking, okay?"
"Whatever you say, Chief." He looked down at his watch. Five till 6:00 P.M.. Not much time left. "Listen, Blair, if I'm not back by midnight, I want you to get out of here. The Feds will have tracked us down by then and they'll do the retrieval, okay? You don't have to be here for that."
Blair knew what Jim meant. Retrieval of his and Simon's bodies. "I'll be here when you get back, Jim. Aikman may think he's up against a former covert operative. I know he's up against a trained Sentinel. You know who my money's on."
"You wouldn't be saying that because you're the trainer, would you, Chief?"
"Only the Guide, Jim. And I'm not just betting on the Sentinel but on the man, James Ellison. He gives 110% when it comes to saving someone, especially a friend."
Jim put his hand on Blair's shoulder, a small squeeze saying everything he couldn't. "I just hope that's enough this time."
"Then you'll put it into second gear and come up with 120 or 150 or whatever percentage you need. Simon is counting on you. I'm counting on you."
"Hell, Sandburg, why don't I just give into the pressure now and get it over with," Jim said testily.
"Because Jim Ellison doesn't succumb to pressure, ever. Even when his senses go into overdrive and he thinks he's going completely insane. Simon and I are merely counting on you to give your best, man. That's not pressure. That's who you are."
Jim smiled. "Maybe you should give up this professional student gig and become a coach, Chief. You got the peptalk down pat." He glanced at his watch again and sobered. "It's time, Blair."
The Guide slipped on the headset. "Go get 'em, Big Guy."
Jim nodded and headed into the woods.
"Okay, Sandburg, I've been doing as you suggested-- setting off the trip wires after I've gotten past them so that I can concentrate on Simon on the way out. But now we have a problem."
"What's that, Jim?"
"I don't see any more wires. They've been pretty easy to spot so far. Maybe Aikman was setting me up, making them easy at the beginning to make me overconfident."
Blair shook his head. When would his Sentinel understand? "Jim, easy to you is not the same as easy to an ordinary person like me. It's dark out here, man. I would have to use a flashlight or night goggles just to see a few feet in front of me. So trust me-- Aikman did not make it easy."
"Okay, but why don't I see anything up ahead?"
"Maybe the trap isn't meant to be seen. Open up your other senses. Do you hear anything you wouldn't expect to hear in the woods?"
"What about smell? Maybe the scent of explosives?"
"No." A pause. "Wait a minute."
"You got something?" Blair asked excitedly. "What is it? C-4, dynamite, plastique?"
"Dirt. Freshly turned dirt."
In the middle of a forest, Jim smells dirt, Blair thought dryly. But, hey, maybe that was a clue after all. "Aikman may have buried something. Focus on the ground. Fresh dirt should be darker, smell richer."
"I got it, Blair. It's a covered pit. Some kind of thin material stretched above and covered over with soil. I'm going to remove the material so I can see how to get around the hole. Damn, Blair, that would have been quite a long drop."
The link was silent for a few minutes. "Jim?"
"I'm past the pit and now the trail... Damn. It splits into three. Which path do I choose?"
"The one that leads to Simon."
"Gee, thanks, Sandburg."
"No, I mean it, man. It's past 8:30. If you should reach Simon at 9:00, you should be close to him. Listen for his heartbeat."
"That's easy enough with you, Chief. But Simon's a different story."
"No he isn't. You could identify his blood just by scent this morning, Jim. That means a lot. You work with the man every day. Close your eyes and remember being in his office. Listen to the throb of his heart. Hear it, Jim. You know it. You can recognize the rhythm."
"Now find it. Concentrate. There are only two sounds you need to hear-- my voice to keep from zoning and Simon's heartbeat. Filter out everything else. Take each sound, each noise, recognize it then toss it aside. Can you hear me, Jim?"
"Can you hear Simon?"
"I think so."
"Follow the sound. That's the path you should take."
"Thanks, Chief. I--" The headset went dead.
"Damn!" Blair yelled, slinging the useless headset to the ground.
"What's wrong?" Brown asked, running over to where Ellison's partner stood.
Blair turned in surprise. "How long have you been here?"
"Maybe an hour or so. I sat over in my truck so I wouldn't get in your way. What happened?"
"The signal's been blocked. I've lost contact with Jim."
"Had he found the captain yet?"
"No, but he was close enough to know he's alive."
Brown sighed. "That's a relief, but..."
Blair felt his stomach sinking. "But what, Brown?"
"I was just talking to the station. It appears the NSA is close to tracking this place down."
"And they'll want to go busting in there," Blair divined. Before working with Jim, he'd known the government was prejudiced, sexist, racist, oppressive, and a myriad of other nasty things. But he had always assumed that when it came to security matters, the nation was right up there at the top, Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center notwithstanding. Then he had worked a couple of cases involving the FBI and the CIA... and had learned not to sleep so soundly at night.
"We can't let them jeopardize this, Brown. Not until Jim and Simon have the chance to get out of this playground hell."
The detective nodded. "Don't worry, Sandburg. Cascade's finest is on the job."
Blair nodded and watched the man lope back to his vehicle. Then he turned back to the dark copse of trees and began to speak.
Jim had hooked the useless headset to his belt and continued down the path that led to Simon. Something had interfered with his electronic connection to Sandburg, but if he focused he could still hear his Guide. Something about a Malaysian fertility rite?
He rounded a curve in the trail and saw a tiny metal hut sitting in the middle of a clearing. He stopped and opened his senses to full power. A second later he was sure of two things: 1) Simon was in the hut and 2) there were at least fifty land mines in the clearing surrounding said structure.
At first he thought the mines were emitting an electrical hum. But upon closer study, he realized he was picking up their soft vibrations through his sense of touch. Freeing his hearing of the hum left him with the ability to hear another ominous sound: tick, tick, tick. Great, just freaking great. Now he not only had to navigate around the mines, but Aikman had also thrown in a conventional bomb for good measure. Probably in the shack with Simon. Probably set to go off in-- he checked his watch-- eleven minutes. Apparently Aikman had one hell of a half-time show planned for this game.
Too bad he and Simon were going to have to give up their front row seats. But first he was going to have to get past the mines in a hurry. Without thinking too much about it, he bent and removed his shoes and socks, figuring it would cut down on the communication time between his feet sensing the mines, his brain processing the information, and then sending orders back to his extremities. Surprisingly it seemed to work quite well and he made it to the door of the shack without an explosive incident. A quick scan of the metal panel showed no wiring so he went in and found Simon tied to a chair in the center of the small room, his head slumped to his chest.
"Simon," he called when he reassured himself his friend's heart was still beating. The only noticeable injury was a bandage on his left calf, the pants leg having been removed at the knee. "Come on, buddy! Wake up!" He shook his shoulder as he glanced at the timer on the bomb Aikman hadn't even tried to hide. Two minutes and thirty-four seconds. Man, it was going to be cutting it close.
Simon didn't move, so Jim pulled his knife and cut him free. He slung the big man over his shoulder and ran out of the hut, dancing nimbly around the mines despite his awkward load. When he was past the minefield he continued to run, knowing that when the bomb exploded so would the mines.
He had mentally been counting off the seconds and when he knew the bomb was going to explode, he dropped Simon to the ground and covered him with his body. One tick later, the world burst wide open.
"They're coming, Sandburg," Brown said unnecessarily as the rumbling of several approaching vehicles broke the silence of the clearing.
"Who is it?"
"And what army?" Blair asked as a number of vehicles converged on the site.
Blair did a doubletake as he realized most of the cars bore the Cascade Police Department logo. One car swerved around two dark unmarked sedans and pulled up next to Blair and Brown.
Captain Taggert got out of the passenger's seat. "How's it going, Blair?"
"Not too good," he said, indicating the four dark-suited men spilling out of the sedans.
"Nothing for you to worry about, son. Just a minor jurisdictional dispute, right, gentlemen?" he asked as he stepped in front of the man who was obviously in charge. "Captain Joel Taggert, Cascade's Bomb Unit."
"David Tradd, National Security Agency. I think you are mistaken, sir. This is not Cascade. You have no business here." The tall man started to walk around them.
Taggert smiled slowly and put out his arm to block him. "Hate to disagree with you, sir, but as the county decided not to fund its own bomb squad and thus contracted with Cascade's, I have every right to be here. Just as I have every right to inform you that you and your people can't go into these woods until I'm satisfied there isn't any danger of explosives. You may wait in your vehicles until I signal an all-clear."
"Captain, you have no evidence that this is a danger zone."
At that moment the ground shook, rocking the cars as well as the personnel, and a plume of smoke began towering into the moonlit sky.
Taggert smiled. "What were you saying, Mr. Tradd?"
"I've had enough of this!" Tradd shouted, stomping over to where Taggert stood in conversation with Blair. "We've done it your way long enough, Captain. Surely you're convinced it's safe by now."
"I told you there would be a three-hour waiting period, Mr. Tradd. I can't allow your people--"
"Stop with the lies."
"You calling me a liar, Mr. Tradd?" Taggert asked, his soft voice not quite as gentle as it usually was.
Or maybe that was the way it seemed to the NSA team as they faced the collective known as the Cascade P.D. As the hours whiled away, more and more off-shift officers had drifted to the site, lending strength to their own. The Major Crimes unit tended to be a bit elitist but they got the job done and in the end, that's what mattered. Besides, Captain Banks was an extremely fair man, to be a captain, and Detective Ellison, well, if you got into trouble, he was the one you wanted pulling your fat out of the fire. Even a couple of EMTs had volunteered to wait around with their friends in blue.
"I'm just trying to make you admit, Captain, that this is just a stall tactic to give Banks and Ellison a 'chance'. But isn't that unrealistic? That explosion was massive."
"But it doesn't mean Jim and Simon are dead," Blair asserted.
Tradd whipped his head around to face the shorter man. "What do you think it means, Mr. Sandburg?"
"It means Aikman wasted a lot of firepower. For a dead man."
Tradd frowned, his eyes narrowing. "You seem to know more than you should, Mr. Sandburg. In fact, I'm still trying to figure out why you're here. I studied your file. An anthropology student moonlighting as a police observer. Why aren't you studying wild African apes or some tribe in the Amazon?"
"Why aren't you out trying to catch killers like Aikman? By the way, how did Aikman get such a cache of explosives? I thought you people monitored stuff like that."
"Why is it, Mr. Sandburg, that for a mere police observer, you have been involved in a high number of violent cases? Even more so than the Major Crimes detectives, except for James Ellison. Do you and your lover have some kind of danger fetish?"
The only thing that kept Blair from decking him was that the argument was buying Jim much needed time. "You're the reason I flinch every time I have to pay taxes, Mr. Tradd. But I understand why you can't comprehend the concept of friendship and brotherhood. A person has to be a friend to have a friend; to be loved as a brother before he can love that way himself. You must have been a lonely child." Hurry up, Jim, he thought. This conversation was headed toward personal and ugly.
"So were you, Mr. Sandburg. Only baby born to an unwed flower child, I recall."
Son of a bitch, Blair thought angrily, before he felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Only one thing caused that: a very pissed Sentinel. He turned toward the forest with relief. "Jim?"
"Yeah, it's me, Chief." Jim appeared out of the darkness supporting a groggy Simon. Their friends swarmed them, taking control of Simon and leaving Jim to Blair.
"You okay, Jim?"
"Fine. Why don't you introduce me to your friend over there?" He indicated where Tradd stood in conversation with his men.
"You heard, huh?"
"That doesn't matter now, Jim. I was buying you time."
"Besides, we got better things to talk about. Like why are you in your bare feet?"
Jim looked down in surprise, having forgotten that. It was the wrong thing to do. Suddenly the ground below him wasn't all that steady. Blair grabbed his waist and helped lower him to a stump. When he pulled his hand from Jim's back, he found it covered in blood. "Oh, God, Jim. Medic!" he yelled.
"I'm going to be okay, Chief," Jim said with a lopsided smile. "I just wish I'd gotten to Tradd."
Blair moved out of the way as the medtechs took care of Jim. He took a deep breath, walked over to Tradd and knocked him on his ass. Then he went back to his friend and helped him into the ambulance.
Taggert stopped by the fallen agent as he headed toward his car to follow his injured friends to the hospital. "A man might tolerate you questioning his manhood, but you ought to leave his mama alone. Happy hunting , Mr. Tradd."
Yeah, Jim thought to himself as he stared into darkness of his hospital room. It was definitely past time to let Professor Sandburg test his waning reaction to pain medications and anesthesia. During surgery to remove an eight inch piece of shrapnel from his back, he had to be put under four times and now the drugs which should have had him out until morning had worn off thirty minutes ago. Only the "turning down the pain dial" technique Blair had taught him was keeping him from sheer agony.
He looked over to where his partner was sleeping in the chair next to the bed. If he wanted, he could wake him and Blair would quote some mumbo jumbo that would probably have him feeling much better. But Jim had been on that side of the bed too many times. He knew how exhausting the waiting was-- waiting for surgery to be over, waiting for his partner to wake up, always scared the doctor was going to come in and say he was sorry, that there were complications... No. Blair needed this rest, even in the uncomfortable chair. When Jim had first regained consciousness, he'd thought about ordering Blair to leave. But how could he send him home to an empty loft? He couldn't even rely on Simon to watch his Guide this time because the big man himself was one floor down, recovering from the gunshot to his leg and the drugs that had been pumped into him.
Despite the drugs, Simon had been brought to consciousness by the blast and they had managed to limp out of the forest together, the trip relatively easy because all the traps had been sprung. Jim-- alternately damning his senses because they allowed him to know just how badly he'd been injured after the blast and thanking them because they gave him control over the pain-- had kept himself moving forward by listening to Sandburg's voice. Sometimes he'd been talking to the Sentinel, other times he was in conversation with someone else. His last conversation had been with that asshole from the NSA and Jim had literally seen red. Naomi Sandburg may be a flake, but she was a decent mother who loved her son. And as for the rest of it, Blair had done a good job of explaining. He'd also done a good job of decking Tradd.
As Jim was smiling at that, he suddenly knew something was wrong. Nothing specific, just a shift in awareness. His Guide joking referred to the sensation as a "tingling of his spider senses". "Chief," he called softly.
Although he was sleeping, Blair woke immediately. "What is it, Jim?" he whispered, knowing that a normal tone would only irritate his friend's senses. Besides, something in Jim's voice told him it was the Sentinel talking.
"I need you to check Simon for me."
"The NSA put guards on both of you. He should be safe."
Now he knew it was the Sentinel. "I'm on it, man." He hurried out.
A moment later Jim heard the door open and watched as a dark figure slipped into the room.
Blair didn't need extraordinary senses to know something was wrong. All he needed was to see there was no guard outside Jim's door. He started to go back into the room to warn his friend, but Jim seemed to think Simon was the one in danger. So he continued to the elevators, rocking back and forth on his heels as he waited, his eyes scanning the hallway for the missing guard.
Getting off on the lower floor, he immediately noted Simon's guard was missing too. He ran into the captain's room and breathed a sigh of relief when the man appeared to be in an undisturbed sleep. "Captain Banks? Simon?"
Simon jerked awake with a frown. "What do you want, Sandburg?" he said automatically. Then he looked at his watch and saw the time. "Why are you here waking me up?"
"Jim got a feeling. Your guards are gone."
Details weren't needed. "Hand me the phone." The first call went to hospital security, the second to the Cascade P.D. "It seems your Mr. Tradd is lucky that you punched him. Because he was incapacitated, he sent his three agents into the woods right after our people left the clearing. Five minutes later an electrical grid below the surface of the main path turn on for thirty seconds. Everyone was zapped. Dead."
Blair looked at Simon with shock. "But Tradd didn't say anything about that when he showed up at the hospital later. He talked with Joel in the waiting room, said the NSA would be responsible for security, but nothing about his men being killed."
Simon shrugged. "I guess it was on a need-to-know basis. About the guards, we can only guess that Tradd pulled them. Why? Another speculation."
"They've manipulated things for him before. I'm not sure who works for whom anymore." He closed his eyes for a second and when he opened them, he looked surprised that Blair was still with him. "Why are you here, Sandburg?"
"Security's on the way up. Go back to Jim."
He didn't have to say it twice.
Jim pretended to be sleep as the figure moved toward him but his senses kept him aware of the intruder's position. The person stopped next to the bed.
"Finally, I found someone worthy. Too bad you have to die."
Jim grabbed the wrist about to plunge a hypodermic needle into his arm. He twitched his hand slightly and felt bones break. "Sorry, Aikman, I have other plans."
The man was eerily thin and when he smiled at Jim, he looked like a grinning skull. "I always knew it would be you, Ellison. That's why I waited so long to come after you. You wouldn't disappoint like the others, those who pledge loyalty then fail to protect their leaders. Thank you for showing me that faithful men, men who are worthy of the trust others put in them, truly exist. But I can't allow you to live. I wouldn't be safe." Ignoring the broken wrist, he raised his other arm to reveal a gun.
Jim rolled quickly, knocking into Aikman as he fell to the floor. As Aikman tried to recover his balance, the Sentinel chopped him behind the knee and he toppled like a felled oak, the gun sliding out of his hand and under the bed to the other side of the room.
In a fairer world, Jim could have easily knocked the bony master assassin out, but the pain in his back had him struggling just to stay conscious. Aikman sensed his vulnerability and quickly punched the injury, smiling victoriously as Jim groaned and appeared to black out. He scrambled to his feet and the other side of the bed where the gun lay.
Jim, fighting the shadows that threatened to overwhelm him, forced himself to slither under the bed and reached for the gun at the exact same time as Aikman. Knowing he was bound to lose in a struggle for the weapon, Jim shoved the gun further toward the door, making Aikman change the direction of his reach. When he did so, the detective once again knocked the killer off balance and the man fell to his knees. In one quick move, Jim had the other man in a headlock.
"It's over, Aikman."
"Not quite, Ellison." Aikman reached out his arm and grabbed the gun, swinging it around in Jim's direction. Without a second thought, Jim increased the pressure on the man's head and felt the delicate bones of the upper vertebrae yield, then snap. This time he was sure Aikman wouldn't bother his friends again.
Odd points of light appeared before his eyes and Jim realized he couldn't hold on to consciousness much longer. Leaving the dead assassin alone on the cold floor, he tried to make it to the bed and the call button to the nurse's station. Bleeding to death was a very real danger and if he did so, he knew Sandburg would find a way to nag him about it all the way to hell and back. Guides were very persistent when pissed.
Damn, it was already starting.
"You're a very brave man," the pretty nurse pushing Jim's wheelchair said as they made their way to the spot where patients waited to be picked up.
"Well, someone has to do it," Blair said importantly. "Besides, I don't think I'll be in any physical danger, at least not initially."
"Yes, there is always a risk. But I'm a willing volunteer. If something goes wrong, it goes wrong," he said with a shrug.
"You're a courageous man with a heart of gold, Mr. Sandburg."
"Call me Blair."
"Call me when hazard duty is over," she said silkenly. "I work first shift which means I have the nights off."
"Will do--" he looked at her I.D. badge-- "Lois. I have to go get the car so you can park him here and get back to nursing. Thank you for your help."
Jim burst out laughing when she left. "What kind of bull are you spreading, Chief? Sounded like that nurse thinks you're a secret agent or something. 'You're a very brave man, Mr. Sandburg'," he mimicked in a falsetto voice.
"She knows exactly who I am and what I do, Jim."
"Then what's this crap about you volunteering for some dangerous mission? Simon," he called as the captain's wheelchair joined his just inside the exit doors. "Blair hasn't been assigned to a case without me, has he?"
Simon thanked the nurse who'd brought him down and then turned to skewer Sandburg with a look. "What are you up to now, Sandburg? And where is my ride? The department said they were sending someone over."
"You're looking at him, Captain."
"The three of us in your car or Jim's truck? Ain't gonna happen, Sandburg."
"That's why we're using your car."
"What!" Simon roared and raised himself from the chair. A concerned look from a passing doctor made him sit back down and take a calming breath. "Okay, Sandburg. Just take me home. We'll get this car thing straightened out later."
Jim heard his Guide's heart speed up and noticed the younger man inching toward the doors. "What's up, Chief?"
Blair smoothed his ponytail nervously. "Uh, Simon's doctor said he can't be alone for a few days. It seems the drugs he was given may cause periods of weakness for a while."
"Hogwash," Simon scoffed. "I'll be fine."
Blair smiled as he stood just outside the reach of the doors' electronic eye. "I know you will, Simon, because you're coming home with us. I've already rented a couple of hospital beds for the living room because neither of you should be climbing stairs and both of you couldn't fit in my room anyway. Oh, and I've loaded the fridge with all sorts of healthy items that will have you on your feet in no time and I've rented some great videos which you can watch right after your mid-morning naps..." The rest Simon didn't hear because the doors were closing behind Blair.
But Jim could have sworn he heard the Mission: Impossible theme song as his Guide made his getaway....