I'm supposed to be in bed with a bad back. The problem is, these stories just won't leave me alone. Sigh. The title is from my favourite retired LAPD sergeant. He was the head of the bomb squad. Maybe that's why Joel keeps nagging my imagination. You have to be sure to pronounce it just the way I wrote it. I know. I are one. :D Since canon has no information on Joel's family, I took it upon myself to give him one. Mable is purely from my imagination. I hope you like her. She reminds me of someone I once knew.

As usual, the normal disclaimers apply. I don't own any part of them. I make no profit at this. This is for fun (and gentle strokes from you who read this, hint, hint.) If you don't like it, tell me why but be specific. If you do like it, please tell me. I need all the strokes I can get (don't we all?) R.I. Eaton

A De-tec-a-tive, Trained In Observation


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There were times when he wished he'd followed his father's advice and become a plumber when he got out of the Army. The problem was, he just couldn't see wasting all the training he had gotten. So, when he mustered out after Viet Nam, he became a cop. His specialized skills with explosives made the bomb squad the logical choice for him. He'd been in charge, now for fifteen of his more than twenty years as a cop; and a captain for ten of them.

He was liked and respected by most of the cops in the department, close to only a few, however. His subordinates liked working for him. He didn't expect them to do anything that he wouldn't do. In fact, he took all the worst cases, himself. Confident that he knew more about explosives than the rest of his small, select, crew, combined.

This time, he wished he'd become a plumber. The device in question had been made by an amateur. Unfortunately, it was a very gifted amateur. Whoever the guy was, he had a lot of electronics background. There were more wires to this thing than an entire Con-Edison plant. He was getting that feeling he got every once in a while. 'Get out! Now!' He carefully crawled backwards, away from the device. Speaking softly into his headset: "Not good, guys. This one is a real mess. I hope you've got the building evacuated, 'cause I'm coming out. According to the timer, I've got about five minutes. Sorry, guys." Sometimes, you just had to cut your losses.

The timer was wrong.

Captain Simon Banks watched in horror as the four story office building collapsed. His friend and colleague still inside.

Fortunately, there was no fire. As soon as the dust settled, every policeman on the call ran toward the rubble, hoping against hope of finding Captain Joel Taggart, alive.

A blue and white Ford Pickup pulled up at the former electronics firm. It slid to a sudden stop next to the police barricade. The two men stepped slowly out of the truck, unable to come to terms with what they were seeing. The larger driver motioned to his smaller, younger passenger to stay where he was while he went to find out what had happened. He cautiously approached his superior.

"Simon? What happened? Where's Joel?"

Simon turned a horrified expression on his friend and best detective. "Jim. He..." he turned back to look at the rubble. "He's in there. Somewhere." Dispair.

"Where was he?" Jim asked, scanning the rubble. He looked back at his partner, who, for once, had obeyed instructions and remained by the truck. He waved the young man over, before turning back to the task at hand.

Simon shook his head. "The device was on the first floor. In one of those crawl spaces for electrical access. He said he was on his way out; that he had about five minutes, according to the timer. Less than a minute later, it...just..." He turned stricken eyes to his friends. Blair had come up in time to hear Simon's words.

"Oh, man. This really sucks." Turning to his partner, "OK, Jim. Concentrate on your hearing. If he's still alive..." he choked on the word. "If he's still alive, your best chance of locating him will be your hearing." He placed one hand on his friend's back, to centre him, keep him grounded. He began to speak in 'guide mode', the soft, low pitched voice which helped his Sentinel keep from zoning out. They started walking toward the rubble. Jim extending his hearing, filtering out the extraneous noise, concentrating on finding the one heartbeat that they wanted to hear.

They were cautious, climbing through the rubble. The odds of finding someone alive who had been on the first floor when the entire four story building had come down, were infinitesimal, and everyone knew it. But that wasn't going to stop them from looking.

It was dark. His entire world was darkness and pain. He knew what had happened. It hadn't been five minutes. It had been fifty seconds. He could barely breathe. He was surprised to still be alive. He wondered how long he'd been unconscious. Was anyone going to be looking for him? He couldn't move. The weight of the building on his back making every breath a struggle. He was surprised that he could hear. At least, he thought he was hearing something, someone.

"Concentrate, Jim. Extend your hearing. What do you hear?"

He knew that voice, Blair Sandburg. Must be talking to Jim Ellison. Extend his hearing? What could that mean? The voices were faint, far away sounding.

"I hear...the rubble settling, Chief. I...don't think I can filter it all out. Got any other ideas?"

Definitely Ellison's voice. He can hear the rubble settling? Must be hallucinating.

"OK, OK, What about smell? Joel smokes the same kind of cigars that Simon does, can you find that?"

Cigars? Smell them? He hadn't had a cigar since before the call came in for the bomb. The smell of cigars couldn't be that strong, could it? Must be dreaming. Wishing.

"Yeah. Yeah! I can!"

Jim started looking around, excitedly. Searching for the source of the odour.

"Jim!" Blair said, sharply. "Jim, c'mon now, man. You know the drill. Close your eyes. Find the smell." Jim complied.

"OK. Got it." He stood perfectly still.

"Good, good. Now, extend your hearing. Piggy-back your hearing to your sense of smell. What do you hear?"

"I..hear...." Jim's eyes snapped open. Turned to look at his guide. "A heartbeat, weak, and shallow breathing." Joy in his expression.

"OK. OK. OK...Close your eyes again. Smell. Sound. Now, piggy-back your sight to it. Where is he?" Bouncing in his excitement.

"There." Pointing.

Blair turned to Simon, yelling. "He's here! Come help, Simon!" Running behind his partner to catch up. Jim was already tearing at the rubble.

Smell the cigar? Hear my heartbeat and breathing? Under all this? I must be dreaming. There is no way this is real. No way I heard what I think I heard. I'm delirious. That's what it is. It hurt so much. The weight on his back was nearly unbearable. He couldn't have heard what he thought he'd heard. No way.

"Careful there, Chief. There's a lot of concrete to move." There were twenty cops working on moving the broken concrete of the demolished building. They were working around the edges of where Ellison had pinpointed as the location of the missing captain. They were working frantically, trying to get to the buried man in time. Before.....

Nearly an hour later, Jim called a halt. They had come to an enormous slab of concrete. He could still hear Joel's heart and breathing, but there was a strain in the breathing pattern.

"He's just under here." They all looked at one another. Wondering how to move the multi-ton piece of concrete.

Simon had been busy. While the others were moving the concrete, he had been on the phone. As everyone came to a stop, wondering how they were ever going to get the man out from under the last megalithic piece, the sound of heavy machinery caused everyone to look up. Coming down the street was a construction crane from a nearby site. Simon had called around to people he knew, tracking down the crane, getting it brought in to help. Just in case.

It was nearly another hour before they got the sheet of concrete lifted. As the crane swung the massive block away from the trapped police officer, the paramedics moved in. Not as fast as Jim Ellison, however.

He was using all his senses. Checking for injuries. Knowing that the moving of the weight may have signed Joel's death warrant, as the weight might have actually been keeping him alive, as pressure applied to an open wound can restrict the blood flow. Listening carefully, he realized that Joel was breathing easier. Jim was the first one to reach the captain.

Lightly running his hands over Joel's body, he detected a multitude of broken bones. But the man was breathing. Heart beating firmly.

"Joel? Can you hear me? Joel?" Running his fingers across Joel's head, searching for fractures, not finding any.

The weight being removed made everything hurt more, if that was possible. At least he could breathe, now. He could feel hands lightly going over his body, realized just how many broken bones he must have. Relieved to feel the hands on his legs, knowing that his spinal cord, at least, hadn't been severed. He moaned softly, trying to respond to Jim's voice.

The paramedics took over. They immobilized the injured man, placing a backboard on his back, immobilizing his neck with a brace, using inflatable splints on his arms and legs. Finally, they were ready to turn him over on his back and place him on a gurney. Within just a few more minutes he was placed in the ambulance and transported to the hospital.

Joel remained unconscious.

When Simon, Jim, Blair, and the other members of the bomb squad and major crimes arrived at the hospital, they were informed that Joel was in surgery and would be there for many hours to come. He had numerous fractures. Both legs and arms, most of his ribs. The only surprising thing was that there were no fractures of the spine, skull, hands or feet. The entire group heaved a relieved sigh at the news.

"What about internal injuries?" Jim asked. Knowing that there were some.

"Ruptured spleen. They'll know more when they get in."

The hospital staff was used to this particular group of visitors. It seemed strange to see both Jim and Blair in the waiting room, however. There were several comments made to the oddity of that fact.

It was after dawn before Joel came out of the OR. The doctor was a little nonplused by the large contingent of people waiting for word. He picked out Simon as the one in charge.

"He made it through surgery very well. We had to remove his spleen. He's in recovery, now. We'll be moving him to ICU when he wakes up." Seeing the worried expressions on the faces of the gathering, he hurried on, "We're putting him in ICU because of the extent of his injuries. It's just a precaution." He looked around, "Is there any next of kin?"

Simon nodded. "I spoke to his wife. Her van's in the shop, and she has no way to get here." At the doctor's puzzled look, "She's in a wheel chair. It's motorized, and her van is her only means of transportation." Simon explained. The doctor nodded his understanding.

"If I could have her phone number?"

"Certainly." Simon complied with the request, then made one of his own. "Could you wait an hour or so? I'd like to be there when you call." The doctor readily agreed. Jim and Blair agreed to stay at the hospital and await Joel's return to consciousness. It felt odd, not waiting for each other to wake up.

Simon walked up the ramp to Joel's house. It was an old house, late Victorian in design. Simon knocked on the door. It took a couple of minutes before the door was opened. He smiled fondly at the woman in the wheel chair.

"Hey, Mable." Simon greeted her as she held the door for him.

"Well, Simon, that doesn't sound like the greeting of a man who's here to tell me my husband isn't coming home. How bad is it?" She let Simon close the door behind himself, leading the way to the living room. She looked at the nervous captain. "Come on, Simon. We've known each other for a lot of years, now. How bad is it?" She looked at him. The set of her jaw and determined set of her brow telling him that anything less than death, she could handle.

"They had to remove his spleen. Broken ribs, both arms and legs broken. There was just enough rubble around him to keep him from being totally crushed. He's still unconscious. But he's in recovery, now.

"What about his spine?" knowing how much trouble it was for her to get around, wondering how she would manage two of them in chairs.

"Fine. They were surprised. He's going to be a long time recovering, though. I just hope he can come back." That it hasn't scared him off.

"He'll be back, Simon. I know my husband." She looked up at him, "So do you."

Simon nodded. "I hope you're right. This one was pretty bad. I hope he hasn't lost his nerve." He bent down and gave his friend's wife a hug. The phone rang. "That'll be the doctor." He sat on the couch near her, providing support as the doctor listed her husband's injuries and prognosis. When the call was over, she just sat and looked at her husband's friend. "Well. Can I get you anything, Simon?" Ever the polite hostess.

He looked closely at her. "No, thanks. Is there anything you need?" Holding her hand, comforting, caring.

She smiled at him. "No. I'll be fine. My van will be out of the shop tomorrow. After that, you'll find me at the hospital with Joel."

"As if you would ever be anywhere else." He smiled at her. "If you need absolutely anything. You know to call, right?"

"I know. Who got stuck at the hospital?"

"Jim and Blair volunteered."

"Jim Ellison?" At Simon's nod, "Who is Blair? I know that I've heard Joel talk about him, but just who is he, exactly?"

"He's an Anthropologist working on his PHD. He's an observer with us. He's Jim's partner." Simon informed her.

"Jim Ellison? SuperCop? The man who makes an ice cube look like boiling water? That Jim Ellison?" It had been a few years since she had seen the man.

"Yeah. Jim's changed. A lot. Somehow, the kid seems to be good for him. Even lives with him, now. Has for the past couple of years."

"You're kidding. You're not, are you? I want to meet the person that could thaw out Jim Ellison. I didn't think it was possible." She smiled, then she looked up again. "I'll be fine, Simon. You look like you didn't get any sleep last night. Why don't you go home and get some sleep, now?" She encouraged. Simon agreed, promising to keep a close eye on her and her husband.

It was peaceful, there in the dark. Peaceful, but not quiet. He kept hearing voices, familiar ones. They were saying really strange things.

"Jim, why do you think you couldn't track Joel with your hearing, back there?"

Sandburg, again. Hear what? The weight on his back had kept him from being able to shout, or anything, except struggle for breath.

"I think it may have been because I couldn't imagine anyone being able to survive that explosion. I really expected to find him by the smell of blood. But there wasn't any blood."

Ellison sounded surprised. How can you smell blood? Except when there was a lot of it; and when there was that much blood, there was usually intestinal smells to go along with it. What could he be talking about? "But there wasn't any blood, Jim. You tracked him by the smell of cigars, then piggy-backing your hearing to it, and finally, your sight, piggy-backing on both smell and sound. The only problem was when you tried to rush it. You've got to remember to take things step by step. Eventually you'll be able to do it automatically."

The strange conversation was bringing Joel out of his drug induced sleep.

Jim turned to the man they had been waiting to wake up. He moved over closer to his friend.

"I think he's starting to come to, Chief." He informed his partner. "Joel? Joel?" gently touching the captain's face. "Can you hear me, Joel? Talk to me."

Joel moaned. Abruptly, he remembered. Everything. Then he suddenly felt the pain, and whimpered from it.

"Shhhh. I know, Joel. I know it hurts." Jim tried to soothe the injured man, "Blair, get..."

"I'm on it, man. Hang in there, Joel. I'll be right back." Blair called out, dashing from the room.

The doctor adjusted the pain medication. Increasing the IV dosage enough to alleviate the majority of his patient's discomfort. Pleased with Joel's coherent answers to his questions. Satisfied with the big captain's response to the knowledge of the damage to his body.

Jim and Blair had waited outside while the doctor examined their friend.

"So, what's he saying?" Blair whispered to his Sentinel.

"He's telling him about his injuries. Prognosis, all that." Jim replied.

"So, How's it look?"

Jim patted his friend on the shoulder. "He's going to be OK. It's just going to take some time. A lot of time. He's looking at six to eight weeks in the hospital, then several months of rehab. It's going to be a long process; but, at least he's still alive. And he will heal, eventually."

Blair nodded his understanding. "Simon mentioned he has a wife? I don't remember him ever talking about her, do they have any kids?" Curious about his friend.

"Mable's a pretty tough old broad. She ended up in a wheel chair about five, six years ago. I hadn't been here very long. I went to a couple of parties they threw, before it happened." he chuckled, dryly. "She was not impressed with me." He recalled.

"She didn't like you? Why not?" Blair's surprise was palpable.

Jim looked fondly at the younger man, smiling. "I've changed a lot since then, Chief. Thanks to you." Laying a hand on his friend's shoulder, ruffling the long curls with his other hand. He thought of how he'd been then, comparing that cold, lonely time to everything he had now. Remembering how Joel had been after the accident that had left his wife in that wheel chair and his youngest child, dead. How he simply hadn't given a damn about it. How much he had changed since then. How much he had learned to care, how he now had friends. Good friends, people he could trust, people he cared about. Realizing that he hadn't seen Joel's wife since before her accident. Oh, sure, he'd signed all the get well cards, but the weekly card game was no longer held at Joel's house. Joel never held parties, any more. Suddenly, Jim felt angry with himself. Wondering how to go about making amends.

Blair, sensing his friend's turmoil, touched his shoulder. "Tell me about it?" Soft-voiced. I'm here to listen, man.

Jim sighed. "It was five...six? years ago. I'd just joined Major Crimes. Joel used to have the weekly poker game at his house. Mable, that's Mrs. Taggart, always treated it like a party. She loved company, cooking...." he trailed off. Wondering how Joel coped. How Mable handled all the changes.

Blair just sat and listened. Waiting for Jim to continue. Knowing that this was important for Jim to work through.

"Their youngest kid, Michael. He was about eighteen. He'd gotten in with a bad crowd. Booze, drugs. Joel and Mable tried everything. They even put him through detox a couple of times. It was a cold, stormy night, sleet." Jim's voice became soft, introspective. "Michael was driving. Mable didn't know he was high. He'd gotten something new. She didn't recognize the symptoms." He looked at Blair. "They weren't the kind of parents who denied reality. They tried everything with that kid. Nothing worked." His voice just a little defensive. Blair nodded, encouragingly. "The rain was turning to sleet, he was going just a little too fast for conditions. He hit a patch of black ice on a curve, spun out. The car rolled, spun, and finally crashed through a fence and into a tree." His eyes were closed in memory. "I just happened to be on the same road, that night. I had had a lousy day." He opened his eyes and looked at his friend, smiling, gently. "I used to go for long drives whenever the anger and....whatever, got to be too much for me. It was one of those nights. I used to especially like to drive in lousy weather."

Blair didn't want to examine that particular psychological puzzle too closely. Besides, there was really no need to. Jim had changed a lot, since they had met.

"Anyway. I saw the spin-out. I called in the report and went to see if I could help. I didn't even recognize them, they were so badly hurt. Mable had a gash across her forehead, blood running down her face, I checked Michael........It was too late, he was gone. I concentrated on stopping the bleeding. The paramedics finally arrived, and I followed up with the uniforms in making out the report. That's when I found out who it was. I had to call Joel and tell him what had happened." He looked up, pain palpable in his eyes. "I was a pretty cold-hearted son of a bitch back then. I didn't handle it with any tact or finesse. I might as well have shot him." He turned away, remembering that night. "I'd busted Michael once, when I was still in vice. I'm surprised that Joel even talks to me, sometimes." He looked at his friend and confidante. "He's probably the most gentle and forgiving person I've ever met." He looked away, again. " I wonder If Mable can ever forgive me?"

"You've never spoken to her, since?" Blair asked, aghast.

Jim shook his head. "No. At first it was because I didn't care. Then I was too embarrassed."

"Oh, man. That's tough." Blair reached out to touch Jim's arm in sympathy.

Finally the doctor came out, smiled at them and indicated that they were welcome to go back in to see their friend.

"Chief? Give me a few minutes, would you?" Jim's eyes telling Blair what he planned to do.

"Sure, man. I'll be right here." He leaned against the wall, willing to wait patiently for his return.

"Hey, Joel?" Jim asked softly.

"Hey, Jim. How's it goin'?" Joel's voice was a little gravelly, probably due to the medication, Jim decided.

"I was going to ask you that." He came close to the bed and pulled up a chair to sit beside his injured friend.

"Better than I expected." Joel's voice was decidedly weak. "I gotta tell you. I never expected anyone to find me." Gratitude apparent in his voice.

"We got lucky."

"Uh huh."

Silence, starting to become uncomfortable. Finally Joel broke it: "What is it, Jim?"

"I was thinking back to the accident." Jim started. Joel looked up at him, curious.

"What about it?"

Jim looked away. "I'm sorry."

"What? Why?" Confused.

"I was a real jerk, back then. I'm sorry." Looking up to meet Joel's eyes.

"Jim. There was nothing you could have done to prevent it. Hell. If it hadn't been for you, Mable would have bled to death before the paramedics arrived." Suddenly realizing, "You didn't know that, did you? I never told you. Oh, man, Jim. I'm sorry. It was such a terrible time. I swear, it just slipped my mind. I always thought you knew. You saved me, when you stopped and saved my Mable."

"Then, why...?"

"Why did we stop having the poker games at my house? Stop having parties with the guys?"

"Well, yeah."

"We stopped all that, because Mable was afraid that everyone would pity her, and she couldn't stand that."

Jim looked closely at his friend. "Maybe, it's time you stopped hiding. Both of you."

"Maybe you're right."

Joel's stay in the hospital was the most boring time of his entire life. Daytime TV was horrible. Even with 120 channels on cable, there was nothing on during the day. Fortunately, Mable came every day, read him journals, monographs, anything new on explosives. Blair kept him supplied with everything available.

"When do I get to meet this Blair?" Mable asked, wondering why she hadn't, yet. She'd seen Jim Ellison, he seemed...looser, somehow. Not as tightly wound as before. Simon had been his usual gracious self, as had all the other officers who had visited while she was there. But, not one of them had been the man who had turned Jim Ellison from a cold, hard, stand-offish man, into a warm, caring human being. She had to meet this miracle worker.

"How about Friday?" Jim asked from the doorway.

"Why Friday?"

"Because, Friday is poker night, and, since Joel can't come to the game. We're going to bring the game to Joel. That is, if you're willing to join us to help him play his hand?" Jim smiled.

"How can I resist an offer like that?" She reached over to hold her husband's hand. "I'd be happy to come. That is, if I won't be in the way?"

Joel laughed. "Hardly. I can't very well shuffle, deal, or even hold my cards with every arm and leg in traction, sweetheart. I can use all the help you want to give me."

Jim blushed a little at the suggestive tone of voice Joel had used. Then smothered a smile at Mable's reply.

"You keep talkin' like that, and I'll make sure you don't want to play.....cards."

Joel laughed. "Baby, I sure miss you." The love in his voice and expression saying volumes more.

"I would love to join you boys for your game." She smiled at Jim. "I'll bring the snacks."

"Are you sure this is OK, Jim? I mean, meeting Joel's wife? Oh man."

"Calm down, Blair. She's been wanting to meet you. She knows what you did for Joel that time, and she'd have to be blind to not notice how much I've changed. I wouldn't worry. You can out run her." Dodging the retaliatory punch from the younger man. Chuckling.

"Come on, Chief. Game's awaiting."

This was the person who had talked her husband through his fear? This was the person responsible for turning Jim Ellison, SuperCop into a warm, caring, gentle man who had even learned how to laugh? Absolutely amazing. This, this...long-haired hippie, not even a real cop, an academic. A teacher. Who would ever have believed it. Charming, intelligent, funny. And to top it all off, a consummate poker player.

After his initial shyness, Blair found himself really liking Mable Taggart. She took no guff from any of the guys, treating them all with the same, well, motherly manner, was the only term that fit. Keeping the peace.

Joel was a good poker player. He usually managed to break even in the weekly poker games with his colleagues. Tonight, with Mable's assistance, he was winning. Blair suspected that she was probably as good a player as he, himself was. Somehow, they never seemed to go head to head on even one hand. Blair wondered why? The game had to break up early. The nursing staff did not look fondly on the group continuing their game past visiting hours. The group of men escorted Mable to her van.

"Thanks for coming, Mable." Simon leaned down to give her a hug. "Drive safely."

"I always drive safely, Simon." She answered, with a smile. "It was good seeing you all again." bestowing her smile on the rest of the men. "And you," she pinned her gaze on a suddenly nervous Blair, "It was a delight to meet you." She looked as though she wanted to say more, but didn't.

"It was my pleasure, Mrs. Taggart." Taking her right hand and bending down to kiss it. The rest of the guys making the usual teasing comments.

Mable glared them to silence. "Never discourage a young man from displaying courteous manners, gentlemen." Making the word a warning. She was rewarded with a chorus of "Yes, Ma'am"s. Much to Blair's delight.

Blair was ecstatic over the game, and Mable Taggart in particular.

"Oh, man. That is one terrific lady, man. I can see why Joel keeps her hidden away." he enthused, bouncing in his seat. Jim just smiled, fondly, at the younger man. "Did you see how well she could bluff?"

"Yeah, Chief. That's why she never played for herself. She's too good. Intimidates the rest of us." Swallowing a smile.

"You let me play, and I'm good." Confused.

"Yeah. But everyone keeps hoping that your luck will eventually run out. They don't know that you're really a card shark in disguise." Laughing at his friend.

The day the casts were removed was the beginning of the torture. Joel had suffered through the itching of the casts, the discomfort of traction. The indignity of catheters. Nothing had prepared him for the physical therapy. The manipulation of atrophied muscles and disused joints was pure agony. At the end of the first session, all he wanted was to sleep. Even Mable was unable to reach him. Now the worry began.

"I don't know what to do, Simon. He's in such pain. I know it's necessary, but they won't let me be there when he goes through it. I can't help wondering what's going on, you know?" She wrung her hands in consternation.

Simon tried to reassure her. "You know how doctors are. Why don't I have a talk with his doctor and therapist? At least get you in to encourage him, OK?" Just to placate her.

She knew it. "Don't you dare patronize me Simon Banks. Something is wrong. I want to know what they're doing to my husband. Are you going to help me? Or am I going to do this alone?"

Simon sighed. He knew Mable was a force to be reckoned with. "OK. You win. I'll check it out." I'll have Jim check it out. Use his hearing to find out if anything untoward was going on. He smiled at the thought. "Don't worry. I'll get to the bottom of this."

It turned out that it was Joel who didn't want Mable watching. He knew how much it was going to hurt, and didn't want to put her through it. Didn't want any pity, to tell the truth. Jim and Blair had waited outside the therapy room. Jim had extended his hearing to discover what was going on.

"So? What's going on, Jim?" Blair asked, concern evident in his voice.

"A therapy session. Joel wants to do more, faster than the therapist wants him to." He smiled at his Guide. "Trying to overdo it, so he can get out faster. He just wants to go home. Sound familiar?" Smiling and gently cuffing the back of the smaller man's head.

"Yeah. A couple of somebodys I know, actually." Smiling up at the other 'somebody' in reference. "So. What do we do?" Rocking on his heels.

"See if we can give him a hand, Chief. What else?"

"Come on Joel. You want to go home. They won't let you until you've regained some mobility and strength. You try too hard, you injure yourself. Work with me here. I know what I'm doing." Never trust anyone who says 'trust me'. Voice calm and soothing.

Almost sounds like Sandburg, there. Joel thought. His brow furrowed, as one of those recurring scenes suddenly flashed through his consciousness. It couldn't have happened. Could it? What if?..Nah. He'll think I'm nuts. But...what if?.......What if it had been real? If it was....Did Simon know? He'd have to. Wouldn't he? But........

"Joel? Joel? Joel!" Trying to get his attention. Was this how he was when he zoned out? He turned his concerned gaze to his partner.

Blair returned Jim's expression, "Joel? Can you hear me? Joel? C'mon, man. Come back, buddy. C'mon, Joel. What's wrong, man. Joel?" Reaching out and grasping the unresponsive man's shoulder.

Finally Joel's eyes came back in focus. He needed to talk about what was bothering him. He needed to talk to the people responsible for what was bothering him.

"I need to ask you guys something." He finally responded.

Jim and Blair exchanged puzzled looks, "Sure, Joel. What do you need?" Blair asked.

Joel hesitated. How to ask? Looking up at his friend's concerned gazes. Then, taking his courage to task, asked: "When I was trapped?"

"Yeah?" Jim and Blair in chorus.

"What were you talking about?" worried. He watched his friends. Saw them exchange worried looks of their own. "What did you mean?" The expressions on their faces telling him he hadn't been dreaming. He continued, "Blair saying 'What do you hear?' and Jim answering 'I hear the rubble settling." He watched as both men's faces paled. More worried, he continued, "You tracked my location by the scent of a cigar I had smoked four hours earlier. You could hear me breathe. You could hear my heart beating. You knew I was alive under a fourteen ton slab of concrete, and engineered my rescue without ever stepping over me." He looked away from the terror on his friend's faces. "Simon knows." It wasn't a question. He reached out to touch Blair's arm, as he looked as though he was about to lose his lunch. "What's going on?" He saw the two men he had called his friends communicating via the expressions on their faces.

Blair took a deep breath. His eyes asking permission of his Sentinel. Jim nodded slightly in agreement. He turned back to their worried friend.

"Have you ever read my Master's Thesis?.............................."

While Jim worked with Joel on light weight exercises to improve his strength and flexibility, Blair explained his real work with Jim. Over the next two weeks, they continued helping with his therapy, while he asked questions and made informed suggestions to his friends. As the time finally neared for Joel's release, "I suppose you don't want Simon to know that I know, do you?" He asked that afternoon.

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Blair shrugged, "I don't know. He'd probably like to have someone to complain to about us. What do you think, Jim?"

Jim chuckled. "Just as long as you don't start making movie deals or the talk show circuit, Cap."

"Talk show circuit?" Simon asked in surprise from the doorway.

All three men froze. Jim recovered first. "Yeah. Joel was demonstrating why he's a captain of detectives." He gave his superior a meaningful look. "He heard us when we were looking for him." I wasn't going to lie to him. His eyes added, jaw clenching, chin coming up belligerently.

Simon nodded. He looked at his fellow captain. "So. You OK with this?" Almost hopeful. He really could use someone to talk to about this, sometimes.

"Yeah. I'm OK. I'm just glad I wasn't imagining what I heard." Not explaining his gratitude that Jim and Blair had chosen not to lie to him. Knowing, perfectly well, that they easily could have, to protect their secret. Pleased that they trusted him enough to not convince him he had imagined the whole thing. He smiled. "I think you and I have a lot to talk about, don't you?" His eyes twinkling in mischief.

Simon laughed. "Oh, yeah." He looked at the Sentinel and his Guide. "I think that this will be a lot of fun. Now that I've got some back-up when it comes to dealing with the pair of you."

The four of them exchanged fond grins.

Mable was excited. She hadn't had this many people at her home since before the accident that put her in a wheel chair. If it hadn't been for a certain anthropologist, she wouldn't be doing this, now. She was excited. She was nervous. Fortunately, Simon had decided that it was his duty to bring Joel home, leaving her time to worry, but not enough time to do anything about it. Thankfully, Jim and Blair were the take charge type, helping her to organize and set up for Joel's welcome home party.

"Thanks for driving me home, Simon." Joel still tired easily, but had made dramatic improvement, already.

"My pleasure. I'm just glad that this trip was necessary. Especially considering the alternative." Simon responded, as he pulled his car into Joel's driveway. Good. The guys had parked far enough away to keep Joel from becoming suspicious. Considering that Joel had figured out about Jim and Blair, it was a good idea to keep it quiet here, in order to not arouse his suspicions.

"Come in for a visit, Simon?" Joel offered.

"Sure." Wouldn't miss this for anything.

"They're here!" Jim announced. Everyone scrambled for hiding places.

Joel and Simon were laughing when they came in the door. As they crossed the foyer to the parlor, the lights abruptly came on and everyone yelled: "Welcome Home, Joel!"

They were all there. All the guys from Major Crimes, his guys from the bomb squad, the forensics people, even some of the uniforms had come. And there she was, his Mable. Sitting in the middle of the group. The expression on her face that he had thought never to see again. She had always been at her best in a crowd. The consummate hostess, a lady incarnate. She was back in her element, and she was loving every moment of it.

The party was a rousing success. By the time it was finally over, it was nearly dawn. Joel was barely standing, he was so exhausted. Jim, Blair, and Simon had just closed the door behind the last of their guests. Returning to the parlor, the three of them began the clean up.

"You don't have to do that." Mable protested. She was positioned beside the sofa on which Joel was trying desperately to stay awake.

"You're right." Jim replied. Continuing his self-imposed collection of dirty dishes. He headed for the kitchen with his first load. Blair had found containers for the leftovers, and was clearing off the serving dishes. Simon was collecting trash.

"OK." Blair said. "I've color coded your leftovers." Everyone, except Jim stopped what they were doing and stared at him. "What?"

"Color coded leftovers?" Mable asked, amazed.

Simon snickered. "Looks like Jim's finally getting you housebroken."

Blair stared blankly at them. Then he realized what he had done. He hung his head. "Oh, no. I do not believe I did that. I cannot believe I actually color coded the leftovers."

Simon just laughed. At Joel and Mable's confused expressions, he explained. "It's an Ellison thing. He insists on color coding all their leftovers, so he doesn't accidentally grab something strange that Sandburg's made."

Blair just continued shaking his head. Shoulders vibrating from containing his own laughter. "Oh, man." He gasped. "This is just too much." He looked at the Taggarts. "OK. The dips and stuff like that are in the green containers. The vegetables are in the pink containers, the cheeses are in the yellow containers, and the meats are in the blue containers." He smiled ruefully at them. "At least I didn't color code the 'v is for violet and vegetables', like Jim would have." Making all of them laugh. Except Jim.

"And just what is wrong with color coding?" he asked, offended.

"Nothing. Absolutely nothing." Blair assured him. When Jim returned to the kitchen with another load of dirty dishes, he turned to the others. "He is just so, so anal some times." Conspiratorially.

"I heard that, Chief."

They all laughed. Joel could see how living together had changed both of his friends. Blair had started putting down roots; and Jim had loosened up considerably, turning from a cold, taciturn stoic, into a warm, considerate, caring, and, on occasion, amusing, man. Now knowing the reasons for these changes, the reason for the association of two such dissimilar men, Joel could appreciate his friends even more than he had previously. He reached over and held his wife's hand.

"Have I told you lately just how much I love you, baby?"

She leaned close to him and whispered in his ear. "No. Have I told you how lonely I've been trying to sleep alone these past two months? What I'm planning for your homecoming when we finally get rid of these nice gentlemen?" They smiled lovingly at one another, kissing softly in promise.

Jim was washing, Simon was drying and Blair was putting the dishes away. It was full daylight by the time they were finished with their self-imposed chores. When they entered the parlor to say their good-byes, they found Joel asleep on the sofa, with Mable lying in his lap, also sound asleep.

"They're gonna be awful sore when they wake up if we leave them there like that." Blair whispered to the others. Simon took it upon himself to rouse the couple.

"Joel?" Gently touching the man's shoulder. Joel awoke immediately, looking up at his friend. He stretched, carefully, considerate of his wife's position.

"You guys through?"

"Yeah. It's even clean enough for Ellison, here, to be satisfied with." Simon smiled, almost laughing at the look of puzzlement on Jim's face. Blair snickered. "We'll be going now. Didn't want to leave you sleeping there, knowing how sore you'd be when you woke up. Welcome home." He patted his friend on the shoulder as he stood. "We'll let ourselves out." The three men waved good-bye and left.

"Baby?" Joel asked softly. Stroking his wife's hair. She stirred slightly, snuggling closer. "Baby, c'mon, wake up."

"Hmmmmm?" Snuggling closer.

"Baby. Please. Can't we go to bed now? The last of the guests are gone. It's almost eight o'clock in the morning, and I really am tired." And I ache all over. I want to lie down in my own bed, "Baby?"

She sighed, and awoke. Looking up into the exhausted face of her beloved husband. "Oh, sweetheart. I'm sorry. I should have shooed those boys out of here hours ago. Where are they, now?"

"They just left a few minutes ago. They said the kitchen was clean enough for Ellison." He smiled. Ellison was probably the only person he knew who insisted on things being cleaner than sterile. Even his precious Mable couldn't hold a candle to Ellison on clean. But she came a close second.

She smiled, remembering when he was still married to Carolyn, the party at his place. How surprised she had been at how clean and almost antiseptic they kept the place. Then finding out that it was Jim who did the cleaning, because she wasn't good enough at it for him. Remembered wondering at the time of their divorce if that had been part of the problem. Realizing now that it probably wasn't.

"OK. Time for bed?" Finally? Hopefully? "Yes." Exhausted. She sat up, but allowed him to lift her into her chair. They made their way to their bedroom on the ground floor, and thence to bed.

It felt so good. Being here in his own bed, Mable snuggled up close beside him, Hands softly touching, stroking. Reassuring one another of the reality of their presence. She pulled herself up to kiss him. He was physically exhausted, but his mind was still spinning. He'd had no idea he was so popular with the people he worked with. He knew he had their respect, but not their concern. It was a nice feeling. Although, not nearly as nice a feeling as having his baby back in his arms. Being able to hold her, touch her, kiss her.

She knew he was still processing everything. Still working through all that had happened. His touch on her body was wonderful after the forced two month separation. It was the longest time they had been apart since he was in the Army and in Viet Nam. Even when she had been hurt, it hadn't been this long. She'd been allowed to come home after only three weeks. She knew that the only reason her husband had ever slept at all was because they drugged him; leaving him groggy and unhappy. He turned to hold her closer, arms wrapped around her, nuzzling her throat, nibbling and kissing; hands reassuring him it was really her.

"I've missed you so much, baby" He murmured into her hair, kissing her temple. Hands stroking her body as she sought to pull him closer.

"I know. Me too. It was so hard, trying to sleep without hearing your heartbeat, your breathing," She giggled, "I even missed your snoring. I especially missed touching you. Holding you, being held by you." Matching actions to fit her words.

"I'm so tired, baby. I don't know if..." Her lips covered his to silence him.

"Not that I haven't missed that, as well. Right now, all I want is to check you out." Her hands roaming across his body. "Reassure myself that this really is you." Her lips following her fingers, "That you're real." Pulling her body across his, "That you're here." Grasping hold of him and rolling them both over so he was now laying on her. "If anything else happens..." Stroking all his most sensitive places, "Then that's just gravy" hands encouraging him, taking one of his hands and placing it where she wanted it on her body, "on top of everything else." Kissing him senseless. Knowing good and well, that physically exhausted or not, he was up for her own particular brand of 'welcome home'.

Sorry. To quote an episode of Simon and Simon. "My idea of spectator sports begins and ends with football." 'Nuff said; although my own personal favourite sport is Polo. I'll let your own imagination take it from here.

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