The smell of C4...a timer counting down...the click as the detonator is activated. All the Sentinel has time to shout is a quick warning. BOMB!



Cascade Virtual Tales
Production No. CVT506

written by:

edited by: Josette, Deborah

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They were going to get it. With any luck, they would completely cripple the city. Teach them who was in control. Not the cops, that was for sure. Run him out of town and hunt him, would they? Not if he had anything to say about it. He checked out his remote control devices, comparing them to the drawings in the Anarchist's Handbook... perfect. He looked up as the door opened, to see the commander standing there.

"Is everything ready, Short?"

"Yes, ma'am," the man replied. "I've got everything set and ready to go. Fifteen hundred pounds of C4 on the stairwell by the elevator and another eighteen hundred on the central stairwell... when that baby blows, it's gonna leave a crater that will make Oklahoma City look like a firecracker," Short replied, proud of his accomplishment.

"What about the first one?"

"Two hundred pounds, set up to collapse the upper level of the parking structure, sealing the building. With the booby traps on the elevator and stairwells, we'll have them helpless. We've already tapped into the comm system, so we can warn them after we blow the first one." Pride obvious in the man's voice.

"Good. Whether we get Perkins and the others out is immaterial. The message is what's important, and if we can manage to off the little hippie much the better." Smiling vindictively, Commander Schofield patted the younger man on his shoulder, then turned and left the small room.

"Jim? Simon?" The voice was whisper-soft, strained. It was pitch black, wherever he was... Oh, yeah. The parking garage at the courthouse. He took a deep breath and winced at the discomfort it caused. OK, bruised ribs. Not too bad. Nothing broken. So, what about the rest of him? Fingers and toes... OK. Wrists and ankles... oops. Right wrist hurts some, but again, not too bad. A slight sprain, probably. OK, neck, arms, elbows, knees, shoulders... hips. All in working order. Bruised feeling, but nothing serious. What a relief. Now, as for what happened... Oh. Yeah. "Jim?" Voice a little louder. He felt around him through the rubble, searching for... THERE! Something warm, and alive. He shifted to his hands and knees, brushing the smaller pieces of concrete from the form beside him. Gentle, searching for some further reassurance that the figure was only unconscious. When his fingers brushed across the face, he felt the stickiness of coagulating blood. Lightening his touch, he found the source, -- a piece of concrete shrapnel had smacked into his companion's head just above the right temple. He could feel the swelling lump and the inch-long gash that had just about stopped oozing gore. Feeling the soft, short hair, he recognized the unconscious man as his roommate and partner, James Ellison. He sat back on his feet, sighing in relief. His fingers had strayed to the carotid artery at the side of the unconscious man's neck and his relief manifested with the sigh. The pulse was strong and steady. He patted his friend's cheek and continued his search for their captain and friend, Simon Banks.

It took him a while. Once again, just for a moment, he wished for his Sentinel's abilities. To be able to see in near lightless conditions, to be able to track and find someone by listening for their heartbeat and breathing. With a little chuckle of non-amusement and shaking his head, he continued his search.

They had been walking back to Simon's car after testifying, planning on going for lunch, when Jim had suddenly stopped, his head tilting at the angle that said his senses had kicked into overdrive and that something was out of kilter. His companions had stopped with him and waited. By the time he figured out what he had sensed, it was too late to do much about it. He'd had time to yell "BOMB!" and push his companions toward a support column, but the blast had struck immediately on the heels of his terror-stricken announcement.

So, Blair thought to himself, Jim was on my right and behind me, so Simon should be... his questing fingers found a shoe... and there was still a foot in it. A nice, warm, foot. Heaving another relieved sigh, he traced up the leg, discovering a dismaying lump in the middle of the femur, along with an odd angle. Wincing, he carefully traced up the leg, only to be interrupted by a gasp from the victim.

"Shit!" The injured man exclaimed as he abruptly tried to suck in air against spasming muscles reacting to the increased pain at even the gentle touch of the smaller man.

"Oh, man, Simon. I'm sorry," he exclaimed. "Are you OK?"

"Of course I'm not OK, Sandburg! What, you think a busted leg is OK?" Simon snarled.

Blair couldn't blame him. He had felt the swelling and the obvious dislocation of the broken ends of the bones, even with his lightest touch. "I'm sorry, Simon. I thought you were still out." He carefully made his way further up the larger man's body until he got to his shoulders. "Um, are you hurt anywhere else?" he tentatively asked.

There were a few moments of silence while Simon checked himself out. "Nah. Just bruised, I guess. What broke my leg?" he queried.

"I'm not sure. One of those big chunks of falling ceiling probably bounced off your leg when you fell." He paused, then continued, "Uh, Simon? Can you see anything?"

The silence was heavy, fraught with tension. Finally, "Yeah, Blair. I can see a little. It's pretty dark, though." He waited; wondering what new trial was coming.

"Oh. Uh, can you see Jim from here?" His tone rather hesitant.

"Uh, yeah. He's a couple of feet on the other side of you. Are you saying that you can't see?" Simon held his breath as he waited for an answer.

"Um, yeah. I guess I am. I can't see anything but a kind of brown darkness, with some light flashes occasionally. Like when you squeeze your eyes shut really tight?" There was a lost quality to his voice.

Simon recognized the fear and resignation in the younger man. "Hey, it's probably only temporary. Where did you hit your head?" He struggled to sit up as he finally realized that he was lying on a layer of rubble. He gratefully accepted the assistance of the smaller man, who helped him sit up, then brushed away the debris behind him and helped him shift to lean against the damaged pillar. Once he was more comfortable, he looked closely at the injured anthropologist, "Well, hell, Sandburg. Try opening your eyes." He snorted a brief laugh at the shocked look on the younger man's face.

Reaching up with his fingers, he checked. Sure enough, his eyes were closed, probably from the swelling he felt there. With an effort, he forced his swollen lids apart and blinked rather owlishly at the friend sitting beside him. "Oh," was all he managed to say as he blushed furiously, not that it could be seen beneath the dirt and bruises.

"How's Jim?" Simon asked, successfully turning the younger man's attention from his embarrassment to more important issues.

Blair looked over at his friend. "He's still out. I couldn't find anything except a cut just above his right temple." He turned to look at the larger man beside him, "And you have a broken right femur." He looked around the demolished parking structure. "I wonder why no one's come to investigate, yet?" he murmured.

"How long were we out?" Simon asked, reasonably.

"Well, long enough for the dust to settle and Jim's head to stop bleeding on its own." Blair replied distractedly. Standing, he tried to look around the damage and found the ramp from the next floor had collapsed, effectively blocking the way, but the stairwell should still be clear... "Uh, Simon? I'm going to go check out the stairs, OK?" Without waiting for a response, he made his way hesitantly through the debris to the nearest stairwell. When he got there and saw the enormous amount of C4 attached to the door and wrapped around the concrete stairwell like a second layer of cement, he paled and hurriedly made his way back to his friends.

Panting, partly from exertion, partly in fear, Blair returned to his friends. "Oh, man, Simon. There's another bomb set by the door. Oh, man. This is not good. This really sucks, man. You know?" He was taking short steps, pacing back and forth between his two injured friends. "I mean, there's probably enough C4 to blow this place into a crater and fill it with dust, man..."


"What am I supposed to do? I don't know how to defuse a bomb. I'm an anthropologist, not an explosives expert, for God's sake. What am..."

"Blair... Sandburg. Detective!" Simon had to shout to finally get the agitated younger man's attention.

"Huh? Yeah, Simon? You need something? Is your leg bothering you? Shit. Of course your leg's bothering you. What an idiot you can be, Sandburg. Duh. Of course it hurts. What..."

"Sandburg... Blair." Simon was torn between amusement and annoyance at the kid's babbling. When he again momentarily held the younger man's attention, he hurried to make his suggestion. "Why don't you use a cell phone and call Joel and ask him for help, Detective," he asked, reminding the younger man of his still new status. He was met by a blank stare.

"What? OH! Of course. What an idiot I am. Let's see, Cell phone, cell phone. Uh, I don't have my cell phone with me, Simon," he stated forlornly.

Grunting with the effort it took, the big man managed to worm his own cell phone from his pocket and hand it to the smaller man. "Here, use mine. Find out what's going on, tell Joel about the bomb. He may have given up working on the bomb squad, but he still knows more about explosives than anyone outside of the military." He watched closely as the slightly calmer grad- student- turned- detective took the cell phone and made the call.

"Hey, Rafe? It's Blair Sandburg... Yeah... Right... We are... well, we were in the parking garage... WHAT? He listened as the voice on the other end filled him in on what was happening. With a groan, he turned to his conscious companion with an expression of dismay. Cupping one hand over the mouthpiece, he repeated the information to the injured captain.

"There was a call in just after the bomb blew. Our buddy, Short, called. The Washington Freedom Fighters are claiming responsibility and said that they had placed other bombs in city buildings throughout the area. They've found three so far. Joel's at City Hall working on one and the bomb squad is scattered all over town searching for the others. Rafe also says that the courthouse is booby-trapped and that the people behind it said that if anyone tried to get in, they'd make Oklahoma City look like a firecracker." He looked over at the bomb on the stairwell door. "I guess so. I wonder how many more of those there are in here?" His desolate eyes met those of his injured friend and took comfort from the relaxed, confident expression he found there. "Um, Rafe?" he spoke again into the cell phone, "I can tell you from experience that the bad guys have booby-trapped this place. We're in the parking garage at the courthouse... Well, I'm a little banged up, Simon's got a broken leg, and Jim's still unconscious, with a huge goose-egg and a gash about an inch or so long just above his right temple. But about their claims? I can tell you from my own observations that there is at least one other bomb here. They've got C4 wrapped around the whole support area at the stairwell, with a control device that looks like it's probably activated by a remote... Right, Simon's got a broken femur and Jim's still out cold... no, no other signs of injury but the lump and cut on his head, but he's showing no sign of waking up yet. I'm OK, just a little bruised and maybe a sprained wrist, but we could really use some help here. I looked but I couldn't find a timer on the explosives. It's just a whole lot of C-4 wrapped around the stairwell, top and bottom, and wired to the doorknob, like if anyone tried to open the door, ka-boom." Now that he was talking to someone on the outside, and actions could be set in motion, he was feeling a lot better - still scared but no longer panicky. "No, unless Jim wakes up, I can't get us moved out of here. The exit is blocked by the collapsed ramps. If Jim was awake, we might be able to clear a path, but it would be hell moving Simon. It's a pretty bad break; not a compound fracture, but you should see the angle it's at... Yeah, it looks bad and it's swelling fast. He needs to get to a hospital."

Just at that moment, there was a soft moan from the unconscious Sentinel. Blair immediately turned to his friend. "Rafe? Jim's starting to come to. I'll call you back, OK? Or you can call us? I'm using Simon's cell phone." Not waiting for a reply, he disconnected and handed the phone back to Simon. He then hurried to his partner's side, kneeling beside him in the rubble. Picking up the unconscious man's hand, he gently smoothed his other hand across his friend's cheek, smiling when Jim leaned into the warmth.

"Jim? Hey, Jim? Wake up, man. I could really use your help. The shit's really hit the fan. Our favorite bunch of terrorists have set bombs all over the city. There's another one here, probably big enough to bring down the whole building. Simon's got a broken leg, and I'd really like your input on what to do. Jim? Come on, Jim. Open those baby blues for me."

With another groan, Jim finally squinted his eyes open. "Oh, man. What...?" He was disoriented, his vision blurred, and his ears were ringing.

"There was a bomb, remember? You smelled it, or heard it, or something. You managed to push us out of the way of the worst of it. You saved our lives, Jim. Problem is, the ramp has collapsed and the stairwell has enough C4 to probably bring down the rest of the building. How are you feeling? You've got a huge goose egg and a gash about an inch long just above your right temple. Looks like you could use a couple of stitches. How are your senses?"

While Blair babbled, filling him in with all the information he had, Jim worked at blinking his eyes and struggling into a sitting position. He groaned and fell back, his spine arching up in pain, leaving him gasping. "Damn," he muttered, panting.

"Jim? What's wrong, man?" Blair's worry suddenly increased.

"I think I threw my back out, Chief." Lying still, he was able to bring his breathing back under control. He looked up into the concerned eyes of his Guide.

"Oh, man. That sucks," Blair succinctly declared. That left everything up to him. His older and more experienced companions could give advice, but he was going to have to actually do anything that needed doing from their end. Patting Jim's shoulder reassuringly, he looked over at Simon, his eyes asking 'Now what?'

Simon hit redial on his cell phone. When it was answered on the other end, he held the phone out to the only mobile member of their little group. He'd never seen the kid under this kind of stress and was a little worried about his ability to handle the situation. Unfortunately, they didn't have any choice. He certainly couldn't get up and move around and from the expression on Ellison's face, the detective wouldn't be moving any more than absolutely necessary either. The kid was right, this sucked, big time.

"Hello?" Blair said into the phone. "Oh, hi, H. Did... He did? Good. So, what should we do?... No, Jim's thrown his back out; he's hurting pretty bad. I'm the only one who's really mobile. So, what should we do? Awww, man, that doesn't sound good, H. How long?" He turned to stare at the explosives surrounding the stairwell. "That's not a real option, H. If they decide to blow that stairwell, we're history. I can't carry one of them, let alone both... No. I will not leave either of them behind. That's not an option at all. Where's Joel?" He listened, his worried eyes dividing their time between his two companions and the explosives at the stairwell. "H? When you hear from Joel, would you have him call us?... Thanks, H. No, I'm gonna look around and see if there's some way out." He rolled his eyes at what H was saying to him, "I promise, I'll be careful, H. The last thing I want is Jim to hurt himself even more by having to come and save me, man. Yeah. I'll be here." He disconnected the phone and handed it back to Simon. Heaving a sigh, he gave his report. "Well, Joel's still working on the bombs at City Hall, part of the bomb squad is at the Sports Arena, and part of them are checking the Hall of Records, so they're spread really thin. Of course, now that they know that the bomb threat here is for real..." He sat down between his friends and wrapped his arms around his knees and buried his face against his scuffed corduroy-covered knees.

"What is it, Chief?" Jim asked softly.

"The bomb Joel's working on. A cell phone could set it off. He's working without any backup, no radio contact, nothing. They won't know anything until either he comes out or the building blows up." He exchanged worried looks with his injured friends. "In the meantime," He stood back up, taking a deep, hopefully calming, breath. "I'm going to see how hard it would be to get some help in here, or us out. I'll be back in a few, guys. If you need me, just yell. I won't go very far..." He glanced at his friends, looking for reassurance. Seeing the confidence in their expressions, he nodded and headed over to the collapsed ramp.

"He's terrified," Jim said softly, once he was sure his partner was out of earshot.

"He's worried about us. He should be just as worried about himself," Simon replied.

Jim shook his head. "Not in him to worry about his own safety when someone else needs help. It's one of his biggest faults. The man just doesn't seem to have any sense of self-preservation," Jim agreed.

"That's not a fault, Jim. That's too big a heart," Simon softly chided. The two men exchanged gentle smiles.

"Yeah. Anything else wouldn't be Blair Sandburg," Jim said, a touch of pride in his voice that such a man was his friend.

Blair carefully climbed through the rubble of the collapsed ramp. He could see no outlet save for the huge hole above him, through which he could see some of the file room above the parking structure. There were a couple of bodies visible up there, obviously dead. He had to swallow back the bile that automatically rose in his throat and quickly looked away. The entire outer wall of the building seemed to have collapsed, as well as the ramps for the two parking levels. There was absolutely no exit up the ramp. No way down to the lower parking level without using the stairs. He scouted out the rest of the perimeter of the parking level, checking the other stairwell in one corner of the building, next to the elevators. It, too, was rigged with explosives, as were the elevator doors. Blanching at the sight, he scurried back to his friends.

"We're worse off than I thought. If the elevator is still working, if it comes down here, the opening doors will set off some more explosives. It looks even worse than the central stairwell." Looking at his friends, he asked, "So, what do we do?"

"We wait until we can talk to Joel or someone else from the bomb squad. Then we have to disarm at least one set of explosives, after which they can come in and help us out of here, Chief," Jim answered.

"Uh, we? You mean me, don't you? I can't see either of you standing up and going over to disarm a bomb."

The two older men exchanged glances. Simon shrugged, indicating his acceptance of the situation. Jim shook his head, wincing with the muscle spasm even that slight movement brought to his back.

"Well, if you help me, I can probably get up and over to work on it," he offered, trying to hide just how much his back was hurting him.

"Jim, you can't even lift your head without cringing in pain, man. I can do this." I have to, there's no one else who can, he added to himself as he took a deep, cleansing breath to control his fear. Just then, Simon's cell phone rang. Simon lifted his phone and pressed the button.

"Banks." He listened, his concerned frown increasing for a moment, only to be replaced by one of relief. "Joel, good to hear your voice, man. How'd it go?" He listened, his expression showing his concern as he listened to the older man's description of the job he'd just finished. "You're going to have to talk to Sandburg. He's the only one mobile enough to do anything. No. I've got a broken leg and Jim's back is out. He can't even sit up." He listened some more, chuckling humorlessly, "Yeah. Well, let me get Sandburg." He held out the phone. Glancing at his supine friend, he passed on Joel's admonishment, "Joel says to get up off your lazy ass and do something."

"Yeah, sure, Sir. Just as soon as I can." Jim replied wearily. His response told his captain and friend just how bad off he must be. He didn't usually allow a little pain to stop him, which meant that the injury might be more than just 'thrown out his back.' Exchanging concerned looks, Blair took the cell phone from Simon's suddenly lax fingers.

"Hey, Joel. Glad to hear you made it out OK," Blair said into the phone, turning to worriedly watch his partner's obvious pain and discomfort. He could see from the way Jim's body lay that there was some good sized rubble under his friend, probably the cause of and exacerbating the bigger man's pain. Joel's voice brought him back to the present.

"I'm sorry, Joel, what did you say?" He listened intently this time, shaking his head in automatic denial. "Oh, no, man. I don't think..." He paled at the distant voice's tone and words. He sought out his friends' faces, his fear quite evident in his expression. "OK. I guess I don't have much choice, do I?" he said resignedly into the phone. Picking up his backpack, he rummaged through one of the pockets until he found his Swiss Army knife. With a final, terrified look at his injured friends, he headed for the stairwell.

"Just try to relax, Blair. Tell me what you see." Joel's soft voice came over the phone. Blair took a deep breath to try to calm himself; not that it did any good, but still...

"OK, there's C4 wrapped around the entire stairwell, from the top to the bottom. There's also some going up alongside the hinge side of the door. There are three wires going from the C4 into a little metal box, and two wires going to the door. One to the jamb and one to the edge of the door. It looks like one of those window alarm things?" Blair's voice trailed up into a question at the end.

"Good. What color are the wires?" Joel asked.

"Um... they're all black. The little control box? It looks like it's welded to the door and there's no way to tell what goes where." Blair took several deep breaths while he waited for Joel's advice.

"OK. Tell me about the wires into the C4."

"Uh, well, they all go in right next to each other... let me get a closer look," He put his glasses on and peered closely at the nexus of C4 and wires. There was something about the way the C4 looked...

"Oh, shit. Joel? There's another control box buried in the C4. The wires go to that. There may be another wire going deeper into the C4 from there. What should I do?" There had to be close to a thousand pounds or more of the nasty stuff and he was terrified that it would explode just from his being so close to it.

"OK, Blair, just take it easy. What I want you do is, about a foot away from the wires? Very carefully, I want you to remove a bit of the C4. It's kind of like clay, so you should be able to dig through it. Do it real slow, you don't want to accidentally jar a wire. With any luck, you'll be able to dig all the way to the concrete. Dig a trench around the buried control box. Let me know when you've done that, OK? I'll stay right here with you the whole time," he promised.

"OK." Blair tucked the still open phone in his pocket and began to carefully do as he had been instructed. His relief was enormous when he found nothing but the putty-like substance all the way to the concrete. Pulling his shirt loose from his pants, he wiped the dripping sweat from his face before retrieving the cell phone. "OK, Joel. I got all the way through to the wall. Now what?"

"Now, I want you to do the same thing over by the door on the other side of the wires there. Can you do that?"

"Sure, man. Not a problem." Carefully placing the phone back in his pocket, he repeated his earlier actions on the other side of the door. Looking at the way the C4 was placed, he figured out what Joel was aiming for and repeated his actions on the strip of C4 between the two sets of wires. Then, without consulting the bomb expert on the phone, he carefully peeled the loose C4 from around the stairwell, finally leaving only a pound or two surrounding the controls and the wires. The rest he carefully piled behind another pillar a good twenty feet away.

Joel was sweating, wondering what was taking Blair so long. He could hear the rustle of clothing and soft sub-vocalizations as Blair talked to himself as he worked, but he was unable to comprehend any actual words. After nearly fifteen minutes, he began calling into the phone, trying to get the younger man's attention.

"Blair? Blair! Come on, man. Pick up the phone. Talk to me, kid. What's going on?"

When Blair had finished his self-appointed task, he stood back and looked at his handiwork. He smiled, pleased with himself. He pulled the phone from his pocket, finally acknowledging the voice pleading at the other end.

"OK, Joel. I got through the C4 by the wires. Then I did the same thing between the box and where the wires ended in a chunk of C4. The rest of the stuff, I peeled off the walls and carted over behind another pillar, about twenty feet away. So, now what?"

There were several seconds of silence.

"Uh, Joel?"


"Joel? You're scaring me, man. Talk to me. Did I screw up?" His heart started pounding like a trip-hammer, as he worried that he had made things worse.

"Sandburg?" There was something odd in Joel's voice, something that made Blair swallow hard before he was able to answer.

"Y-yeah, Joel?" his voice barely audible.

"If you ever decide to change careers to the bomb squad, I'll be more than happy to give you a recommendation, man."

Blair released the breath he was holding, "Oh. Then I did OK?" still unsure.

Joel chuckled. "You did better than OK, Blair. How much C4 is left around the door?"

"Uh, maybe a couple of pounds. The lump around the hidden box is about eight inches square and about two inches thick, but I think that most of that is the other control box. And there's only about four inches square, and maybe an inch thick at the other side. I know that if I try to open the door, it will go off, but it won't bring down the building, now."

"Good job, Blair. You said that they did the same thing at the other end? By the elevator?"

"Yeah. You want me to go over there and do the same thing?"

"See, I knew you were smart. I want you to do exactly the same thing, only if there's any C4 touching metal, I want you to leave it alone. It might be being used as a conductor. OK? You understand?"

"Yeah, Joel. I understand. You'll stay on the line with me?" There was a hopeful plea in the voice. He was making his way to the other bomb, making a slight detour to make sure that his friends were holding on all right. Simon was leaning against the wall, his eyes closed, his breathing even. Jim was still in the same position he had been in; his face screwed up in pain. "Hold on, Joel. I gotta check on Jim and Simon." He crouched beside his partner, gently touching his friend's cheek with the backs of the fingers of one hand.

"Jim? Dial it down, man. Take it easy. We'll get you out real soon, now. I need to go over to the other bomb and see about getting it defused, OK?" He caught Simon's incredulous expression. "Well, there isn't anyone else who can do it." His tone was just a bit defensive.

"You're doing fine, Sandburg. I think that Jim and I just need you to get on it. I think we're both going into shock." The big man shivered slightly, emphasizing his statement.

"Oh. Sorry. I'll try to hurry." He stood to go, but Jim's hand reached out to snag him back.

"Be careful, Chief. I don't want you to blow yourself up, either. We can hang on until help can get to us. You just keep yourself safe, you hear me?" Jim's voice was whispery and showed his pain.

"I promise to be careful, Jim. But right now, Joel's waiting for me to get on with this. I think he's going to have me set it off somehow, once I get most of the C4 away from where it is now. I need to hurry, I think, and I don't know how much longer the battery's going to last in this phone." He patted his friend's hand, worried that Jim had never opened his eyes to look at him. Exchanging another worried look with the captain, he hurried on his way.

"OK, Joel. Jim and Simon are in shock. Jim's in a lot of pain, and he wouldn't even open his eyes to look at me. Simon's holding on pretty well, though."

"We'll get to you just as soon as we can, Blair. But we need you to peel off as much of that C4 from the other bomb site as you can. The less C4, the smaller the boom when we set it off to gain access." Joel explained.

"Yeah. That's what I figured. Well, it looks a lot like the other one, only the wires go to the middle of the doors, with the same set-up as the other door. In fact, it looks almost identical in design. Stick around and I'll let you know when I've got it done." Without waiting for acknowledgment, he put the phone in his pocket and began to cautiously probe the explosive putty, repeating his actions from the other stairwell.

It took him nearly forty minutes to remove as much of the explosives as he dared. He was left with two to three pounds of the stuff. He picked up the cell phone to announce the completion of his task.

"OK, Joel. I got most of the C4 away from here. I piled it behind another pillar about twenty feet from here. There's still two or three pounds of the stuff, though. Now what should I do?" He was met with silence. Pulling the phone away from his ear, he stared... The battery had died while he'd been busy removing the C4 from around the stairwell and elevator. With a catch in his throat, he folded the phone and put it back in his pocket, wondering what to do now.

Staring at the now-useless cell phone, he folded it and put it back in his pocket, wondering what he should do now. Deciding that his best chance was to see if Jim had his cell phone with him, he made his way back to his friends.

Both men were only semi-conscious, their minds reacting to the shock of their injuries. Speaking to Simon, he explained that the batteries on the cell phone had died and he needed to see if Jim's was working. Simon nodded his understanding, accepting his dead cell phone and putting it in his pocket.

"Jim? I know you're hurting, but do you have your cell phone with you? Jim?" He picked up his partner's hand, careful not to lift it so far as to pull on injured back muscles. Jim's eyes fluttered open and the Sentinel had to struggle to focus his eyes on his friend.

"Phone? Yeah. Should be in my jacket pocket."

"OK. Uh, Jim? You're lying on your jacket. I'm going to have to move you to be able to get to the phone. Can you manage that? I'll just help you roll over onto your side, get at your jacket, brush out some of the rubble from under you and roll you back. Can you handle that? Or is it too much?" He waited.

He'd never felt pain quite like this, before. It was pretty obvious that he'd done more than just throw out his back. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on trying to figure out where and what was injured. With Blair hovering over him, waiting for his response, he was able to trace his pain to... Well, part of it at least, was from the chunks of concrete he was lying on, sharp, jagged chunks, none of them very big, but it was like lying on a bed of nails. He might actually be better off if he moved.

"OK, Chief. Sounds like a plan." Blair positioned himself beside his friend. Carefully placing his hands on Jim's shoulder and hip, he prepared to move him.

"Chief? Can you brush some of the junk away first?" Jim softly asked.

"Oh. Yeah. Sure, Jim." Blair was glad that Jim had his eyes closed and couldn't see him blush. He backed up a few inches and used his hands to clear away the rubble from beside his friend, so that when he moved him, he would not just be rolling him onto more painful rubble. Ready once again, he carefully rolled Jim toward him, reaching over his body to brush away the rubble and pull Jim's suit coat from under him. Setting the coat aside, he gently rolled his friend back onto his back. Even though Jim had made no sound, Blair was able to tell that his friend was in horrific pain. As soon as Blair had gotten Jim's cell phone from the pocket of the coat, he carefully draped the fabric over his friend to provide a little protection from the cold. Not that it helped much, as the concrete was rapidly leaching all the warmth from both injured men, but it still made him feel better. Turning to Simon, he pulled off his own sports jacket and draped it across the larger man's chest and shoulders.

"Thanks, Blair," Simon murmured, then watched as Blair attempted to give him a smile of encouragement. "Make the call."

Blair headed back toward the elevator to make the call. The first time, the line was busy, but he immediately hit redial and heaved a sigh of relief when it rang. When it was answered, his first words were "Joel? There's about two or three pounds of C4 left. What should I do now?"

"Well, Blair. I'm right outside. We've cleared a path to the central stairwell and opened the door, but we can't go up until you finish clearing the explosives."

"OK, how do I do that?"

"Well, it's risky, but I figure that our best hope is for you to go over to the elevator and hit the call button. Then run like hell to shelter. I suspect that if one bomb goes off, the other one will, too. It's risky, but I can't really see any other way to do this. Are you game, Blair?"

Blair had paled as he listened to the instructions, but he also knew that there was little hope for them otherwise. "Got it. I'm on my way." He looked up at the indicator. The elevator was only up one level, which would give him less than a minute to get to shelter. "OK, Joel. The elevator is only up one floor. I'm going to push the button and run like hell. I'll call you back. I hope." With those parting words, he disconnected the phone, placed it securely in his pocket, took a deep breath to steady his nerves and pushed the call button. He spun and sprinted back toward his friends. If this didn't work, he wanted to be close to them. As he ran, he shouted "FIRE IN THE HOLE!" just like in the movies.

Outside, Joel Taggart checked to be sure that everyone was clear. It was a pretty paltry showing of police, but the fire department was ready and in force. There was a muffled WHUMP-whump! from the building, Everyone stared as dust rose from the various openings. Joel held his cell phone, ready to punch the button, praying that it would ring and Blair Sandburg would be there to tell him that they were OK.

Everyone waited, and prayed. Unless this worked, they would be unable to get to the injured and trapped on the upper floors, not to mention the three men in the garage.

Joel Taggart waited. It had been three minutes since the explosions had occurred. He was the center of attention for cops and firefighters alike, as he was the only one who had contact with the three men trapped in the garage. The underground level had been clear and they had been able to access the stairwells, but they had, thanks to Blair's first phone call, known that the stairwells were unsafe.

Four minutes. Joel was starting to seriously worry. It was too long. If Blair were all right, he should have called by now, shouldn't he? He exchanged gazes with the fire captain, who was shaking his head in commiseration.

Five minutes.

Six. The fire captain was shaking his head, casting pitying glances his way. But Joel was still confident. Well, hopeful, anyway.

Eight minutes. The rest of the firemen were fidgeting, wanting to get on with their jobs; afraid to head into the unknown.

~ring~ Joel jumped, nearly dropping the phone. Heaving a relieved sigh, he punched the button.

"Blair? Are you OK?" Relief tinged with panic.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just got the wind knocked out of me. You were right. Setting off one made the other one go off. There doesn't appear to be any structural damage, although the door is pretty well mangled." Blair chuckled dryly. "Jim and Simon are hoping you're gonna come in any minute now and haul our sorry butts out of here. Jim's back is really hurting him, and Simon's leg is swollen really bad."

"We're on our way, Blair. You just sit tight and holler when you see us, OK?"

"You got it, Joel. And Joel?" There was something in the observer's voice that made the big man pause.

"What do you need, Blair?"

"Just to say 'thanks'. For everything."

"You're welcome. I'll be there in just a couple of minutes with the firemen and paramedics. You hang in there." Suddenly thinking that the younger man might need a little more support, Joel asked, "Blair, do you want to stay on the line?"

"Thanks, Joel, but I'm OK. Just hurry, OK?"

"You got it. See you in a few."

It was quite dark in the parking garage. With the lights out, the only light available was what filtered in from outside. Joel and a team of paramedics with two gurneys made their way through the darkness and rubble, mag-lights providing some needed additional light.

"Joel! Over here!" Blair shouted, the relief obvious in his voice. He was standing about thirty feet from the stairwell, motioning them toward him. While the paramedics took the gurneys over to begin to prepare the two injured police officers for transport to the hospital, Joel took a few minutes to assess the damage to the structure. There was a good-sized chunk of concrete missing from the hinge side of the door, and the entire door was a crumpled mass of steel. Shaking his head in awe, he looked around and found the pillar that Blair had stacked the C4 behind. He smiled when he realized that Blair had managed to sculpt the putty-like explosive into what looked remarkably like a sandcastle. He shook his head, amused that even under the stress of handling high explosives, the observer had managed to make something so ugly and dangerous look less awful.

"I'm not sure what possessed me to do that." Blair's soft voice drew his attention. "I don't actually remember doing that. Only moving it from there to here. I wonder if I did the same thing at the other end?"

"Don't worry about it, Blair. You did a great job." He noticed the paramedics getting ready to move the two injured men out. "Come on, let's give them a hand getting Simon and Jim down the stairs and out to the ambulance. You look like you could use checking out, too."

"I'm OK, Joel. Just a little bruised, is all." Blair disagreed.

"Yeah, then why is your face swollen and you can barely keep your eyes open enough to see?" He gently patted the shorter man on the shoulder, "It's OK, Blair, I'm going to tag along."

"What about the explosives?" Blair asked in surprise.

"Well, technically, I'm no longer with the bomb squad. There's a couple of guys with the fire department who can take care of things here. My job is to take care of you and Simon and Jim." Joel insisted, drawing the smaller man after him toward the gurneys.

"You sure?" Still uncertain.

"Yeah, I'm sure. I managed to do my part. The rest of the bomb squad is still working on defusing the other bombs they found around the city. I think I can back off for now. If they need my help, they'll call."

"Oh." It hadn't occurred to Blair that Joel might have overstepped his bounds by helping out without authorization, but still... "You won't get into any trouble, will you?"

"No. I may be assigned to Major Crime, but I'm still an explosives expert. Besides, this was a citywide emergency. Anyone who could help, did. Now that the danger here is over, we can let the experts take over and go back to our regular jobs; which for me, at this moment, is to make sure you guys get to the hospital and taken care of." With one arm across the smaller man's shoulders, he had maneuvered them over to the paramedics. Taking up a stance at the end of Simon's gurney, he lifted and helped get the awkward device through the shattered stairwell door and down the stairs to the bottom level of the parking lot. Once they were on level ground again, he then stepped back to allow the paramedic to push the gurney the rest of the way out to the ambulance. Blair had struggled along right behind them, trying to keep his partner from being jarred too hard as they made their difficult way down the stairs to the lowest level where there was, remarkably, no apparent damage. They loaded Simon in the first ambulance, Joel reassuring Simon that everything was under control. He promised to be right behind him and to keep him apprised of what was going on. Backing away, he closed the ambulance doors and signaled the driver that she was clear to go. He turned away toward the second ambulance, where they had just lifted Jim into the rear. It was obvious from the injured man's clenched jaw that he was in considerable pain, despite their best efforts to be gentle. In the daylight, Sandburg's face looked rather like he'd been used as a punching bag. One cheek and his chin were scraped and both eyes were blackened and swollen. He was also holding his right wrist, rubbing absently at the pain as he concentrated on his partner. Joel gently grasped the younger man's elbow and urged him into the ambulance with Jim and the paramedic.

"I'll be right behind you, Blair. Make sure they take care of you, too." Blair nodded absently and settled down out of the way, but still close enough to be able to lay his injured hand on his partner's shoulder, providing comfort and reassurance to them both. Exchanging a look with the paramedic, Joel closed the door and signaled the driver to go. Turning away, he walked to his car, trying very hard to avoid looking back at the courthouse and the men and women working there. As he got to his car, however, he couldn't help but see the first of the survivors from the upper floors as they were escorted from the damaged building. Seeing so many of them uninjured, although shaken, brought a smile to his face. He was just unlocking his door when the media swooped down on him.

"Captain Taggart?" a voice called. He turned, recognizing the newscaster from Channel 3. "Can you tell us what happened in the courthouse? We saw you come out with three victims. Who were they? How did you manage to get past the booby traps? How many are dead?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm not in charge here. You should talk to Captain York with the Fire Department. He's overseeing the rescue efforts."

"But Captain Taggart, you used to be the head of the bomb squad. How did you disarm the explosives? We heard that the building was rigged to come down if you tried to access it," another voice called out.

"We got lucky. When the first bomb blew, three of our people were on the second parking level. Two of them were injured in the blast, but the third was able to dismantle most of the explosives and set off the rest, resulting in minor damage to the building's parking garage and giving us safe access to the rest of the building."

"Who was this hero? Is he an explosives expert?"

"No. He just followed instructions, more or less. He managed to remove most of the explosives from the bombs and place them out of reach of the detonators. He then simply activated one of the booby traps and ran like hell. When the first one blew, it initiated the second explosion, giving us access. As you can see, the fire department has it well under control now. You really should be talking to Captain York." Smiling, he opened his car door and got in. He watched with amusement as the horde of reporters surged over and converged on the unsuspecting fire captain. York turned and spotted him grimacing and shaking a finger at him in admonishment, but then the tall, balding, blond fire captain gave him a thumbs up to indicate his real feelings as he turned to start answering the reporters' questions. Joel smiled back at his old friend and started his car. Checking carefully, he pulled out into traffic and headed for the hospital.

By the time he got to the hospital, both Jim and Simon were down in x-ray. He checked on Sandburg's location and, after showing his badge, made his way back to the curtained-off room in the ER. He tapped on the metal curtain support and waited for Blair's "Come on in," before he entered.

"How's it going, Blair?"

"Well, Jim and Simon are getting x-rayed and I'm sitting here with my wrist packed in ice and waiting for them to come back and torture me some more. I swear that they were trying to flay the rest of the skin off my face. Do you think it'll scar?" Blair was sitting on the gurney, idly swinging his legs back and forth.

"No. It just looks like a little road rash, is all. If they hadn't cleaned it real good, then it might have gotten infected and scarred. Don't worry," Joel smiled, "You'll still have the same pretty face you've always had."

Blair's legs stopped swinging. "Pretty? Me?" He seemed startled at the words.

"Well, of course. Why do you think all the ladies fall all over themselves trying to get to you?" Joel seemed surprised that Blair didn't know he was pretty.

"Yeah, well, I figured I was cute, but pretty?"

"Well, maybe that's not quite the right word, but to quote my wife, you're adorable. Is that better?" Joel was having a hard time keeping from laughing.

"Much better." Blair grinned back. "So, your wife thinks I'm adorable?" His legs started swinging again.

"Yeah. But don't forget, she's my wife, so keep any ideas firmly away from her. Besides, we're old enough to have kids your age."

"Hey!" Blair suddenly realized that Joel was teasing him; but seeing the wide grin on the older man's face, he couldn't help but smile back. "Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to poach, anyway."

Both men looked up as a middle-aged woman entered, looking at a chart. "Mr. Sandburg?" She asked.

"Yes?" Blair replied, his expression expectant.

"I'm Dr. Collier. I see from your records that you seem to be rather... accident prone, shall we say?" She looked at the battered man before her, then rather accusingly at the large black man standing beside him. "Is this your domestic partner?"

Blair looked startled. Joel stifled a laugh. The doctor cast a scathing look on him. "I'm glad you find abuse so amusing, Mr...?"

"Joel Taggart, Cascade PD. Mr. Sandburg is one of our officers, and he is a little accident prone, but nobody beats up on him. Not if they have any sense, anyway."

"Oh?" Dr. Collier didn't sound convinced.

"Yeah. He's right. In fact, if you look through that file, you'll see that just about every injury was received on-the-job with the Cascade PD," Blair added, hoping to get the woman to back off.

She was unconvinced. "It says here that you are an observer. Why would you be getting hurt? Don't they protect you, keep you out of the line of fire?"

"Well, I'm not an observer, any more. I'm actually a detective." He managed to lift his backpack up and rummage around in it to find his wallet and badge case. "See?" He held out the items for her to examine. "My three and a half years as an observer and consultant allowed me to be partnered with the detective I was working with; he's down in x-ray. We were in court and headed out for lunch when that bomb went off. He and our Captain, Simon Banks, were injured. We were trapped in the courthouse until we could dismantle the bombs and then set the smaller charges off, which let the Rescue crews into the building." He smiled up at the still suspicious woman. "And nobody beats up on me," he added with an annoyed expression and tone of voice.

She looked from the battered young man to the large man beside him, still uncertain and suspicious. "Most battered domestic partners defend their abusers," she stated.

"Well, Joel isn't my 'domestic partner'. My roommate happens to be my partner on the force, but we're hardly domestic partners. And if you'd bother to check, you'll see he's injured his back from this little incident today, and I assure you, that I had nothing to do with his injuries, just as neither he nor our Captain had anything to do with them. In fact, the Captain has a broken leg. I suggest you find someone else to harass, because I'm not in the mood. Now, unless you're going to wrap my sprained wrist or put some kind of antibiotic cream on my face, I suggest you find somewhere else to be; because I'm going to go find my friends and make sure that someone more intelligent than you are is caring for them." With that, Blair slid off the gurney, grabbed his badge and ID from the doctor, stuffed them in his backpack, looked at Joel to see if he was going to follow him, and stormed out.

"I think you annoyed him," Joel said mildly, as he followed the angry young man from the room, shaking his head in dismayed amusement.

"I can't believe these people. Don't they have anything better to do than harass people? I mean, sheesh. How long have we been coming here? How many times have one or the other of us needed stitches, been shot, bruised ribs... Just where does she get off? 'Domestic partner' abuse? Good grief, what will they think of next? Where would she have gotten such an idea?" Blair stalked down the corridors, Joel close behind him, calmly listening to the smaller man's mumbled tirade. The agitated muttering continued all the way to the x-ray lab.

"Blair, she's obviously new to the ER," he finally managed to say during one of the brief gaps when Blair stopped speaking long enough to breathe. The smaller man stopped abruptly and spun to face him.

"That's no excuse! All she had to do was ask anyone in the ER. Most of them know us on a first-name basis. She should have asked before coming in and making accusations. I hate being so short. I know, I'm 'average' in height, but when you work with a bunch of behemoths, everyone seems to assume that I'm some little wimp who can't defend himself. I can take care of myself, though. I don't need to be 'protected' or coddled. I..."

"Blair, you're one of the smartest and toughest men I know. Don't forget, I was there when you took on Kincaid the first time. It may have been all bluster and bravado, but you did a great job. And you've never done anything to change that early opinion I had of you."

Blair stopped, turned and stared at the older man. Looking into the calm face of his friend, he suddenly deflated. "Thanks, Joel. That means a lot to me." He suddenly grinned. "Do you think Dr. Collier can learn from her mistake?"

"If she can't, I can think of several people who will be more than willing to set her straight, providing we keep Jim out of it. He's terminally protective of you."

"Yeah, well... it goes both ways, you know?" His grin turned sheepish.

"You're going to have to go back and get your wrist tended, you know."

"Yeah. Just as soon as we check on Jim and Simon, OK?"

"OK." Joel smiled and patted the smaller man on the shoulder, leaving his hand in place as they walked into the x-ray lab.

Simon had already been moved to the casting room, where they were setting his leg and packing it in ice to reduce the swelling preparatory to applying the cast. Jim was still in x-ray, so they sat in the waiting room for word. After nearly half an hour, Blair was paged over the loudspeaker, requesting he return to the ER. Scowling, he approached the nurse's station and asked to be patched through to the ER. After identifying himself, they allowed him to use the phone.

"This is Blair Sandburg. What do you want?" he asked, his voice sounding annoyed.

"Mr. Sandburg, we need you to return to the ER."

"Why?" He turned to watch as Jim was wheeled out of the x-ray room and left until they got the films developed.

"You aren't finished being treated."

"Who's going to do the treating? If it's that idiot you sent in before, I can take care of my sprained wrist myself."

"Dr. Collier was only doing her job..."

"Her job? Her job is making baseless accusations to people regarding their non-existent supposed home life? I am tired of being treated like some wimpy little boy who can't take care of himself. In case nobody's noticed, the two people I was with are far more seriously injured than I am. We had a building blow up on us, and that... that... overzealous, so-called doctor acts like the injuries I sustained from that were inflicted by my 'domestic partner'? All she had to do was ask and she would have known that I don't have a domestic partner. My roommate and I work together, but we're not involved in anything more than a really great friendship." He stopped to breathe and the nurse on the other end interrupted him.

"I'm sorry for the misunderstanding, Mr. Sandburg, but we really need you to come back to the ER now."

"Why?" Still seething.

"Well, to finish treatment of your injuries," she replied, sounding surprised.

"My injuries are doing just fine, thank you."

"But Dr. Williams is asking for you."

He knew Dr. Williams. Nice, older gentleman... "Oh." Slightly mollified. "OK. Just as soon as I know about Jim. We're waiting for his x-rays to come back, then we'll be back in the ER, OK?"

There were several seconds of silence while the nurse spoke to someone, probably Dr. Williams, then she said, "That will be fine, Mr. Sandburg."

It was another half hour before Jim's x-rays were ready, after which Blair followed Jim back to the ER, and Joel went to check on how Simon was doing. Jim was conscious, and they had given him something for the pain. Fortunately, the ER personnel who had treated him were aware of his difficult medical history, and had been careful with what they had given him.

Dr. Williams motioned for Blair to join Jim in the ER room, where he instructed a nurse to apply an antibiotic cream to Blair's scraped face and to wrap his sprained wrist. He didn't bother to defend or apologize for Dr. Collier's behavior, knowing that it would be a waste of time. He was wise enough to keep the partners together, which was just what was needed to calm the smaller of his two patients.

"Now, Detective Ellison. Let's take a look at these x-rays and see what the problem is, all right?" He placed the series of radiographs on the backlit viewer. When the nurse was finished wrapping Blair's wrist, he sent her for a consult on the diagnosis.

A second doctor entered and Blair immediately bristled. "I don't want her here," he declared. There was no way he was going to let Dr. Collier anywhere near his partner.

"She's an excellent orthopedist, Mr. Sandburg. I wouldn't ask her for a consultation, otherwise," Dr. Williams replied. The woman seemed surprised to see Blair there, but didn't say anything. She'd already gotten an earful from every ER nurse and doctor on the floor. She had certainly not made any friends there today and was wise enough and experienced enough not to compound her earlier mistakes.

Instead, she chose to ignore him and concentrate on the task at hand. Looking closely at the x-rays, she pointed out the injuries to Dr. Williams, who nodded his agreement. Jim was nearly asleep from the pain medication he'd been given, so Blair was paying very close attention to the two doctors. He inched closer to be able to hear better, as well as to see what they were talking about.

"So, he's got a cracked vertebra and some torn ligaments? How bad is it? Why can't he move?" He waited for the doctors to acknowledge him. Collier stiffened at his questions, but Dr. Williams took it as par for the course.

"Basically, he's got a minor whiplash, but with some tendon and ligament damage along the rest of his spine. Frankly, he was fortunate that he didn't break his neck," the older man said softly.

"But he has a cracked vertebra!" Blair protested.

"Yes, but that's not the same as broken. There's no separation, no splintering of the bones, no damage to the disks or spinal cord. It isn't all that serious. Just a week or two of bed rest, followed by therapy and careful exercise. The sooner he starts working on it, the better off he'll be."

"I wouldn't prescribe more than a week's bed rest. Statistics show that the sooner a patient gets back to work, the fewer long-term problems they have," Dr. Collier added.

"Well, yes. However, Mr. Ellison is something of a special case. He is very sensitive to medications. Did you notice the minuscule amount of pain killer he was given?" Dr. Williams countered. "In his case, we need to take it day-to-day. Although he always does better after we release him into his roommate's care," he stated, smiling knowingly at Blair.

Dr. Collier cast a quick, puzzled glance at the younger man, wondering what the situation was here. Everyone else seemed to take the pair in stride; were, in fact, quite protective of them. It was odd to say the least. She decided to hold her own counsel and simply watch and wait, hoping that in doing so she would be able to figure them out.

"Well, I think we should probably keep him for a day or two until he's at least able to get about on his own, somewhat," Dr. Collier countered.

"You mean until he can get himself to the bathroom?" Blair asked, stifling a grin.

"Well, basically, yes," the woman agreed, almost smiling herself.

"So, when will you put him in a room?" Blair asked.

"Just as soon as Captain Banks is settled, we'll move him into the same room. That way we won't have to worry about one or the other of them wandering off and getting lost looking for the other," Dr. Williams explained.

Blair was surprised. "You're going to be keeping Simon?"

"At least for a few days," Dr. Collier explained. "We're putting him in traction to make sure his leg heals properly. There were a number of bone splinters, and we want to make sure that they all reattach properly. Once we're sure, we'll release him to his family to care for him for a couple of weeks and then release him back to limited duty."

"Oh." Blair stared at Jim's x-rays and contemplated the meaning of the doctor's words. "So, he's going to be OK?" He looked askance at Dr. Williams, ignoring Dr. Collier.

"He should be just fine in a few weeks. There's no permanent damage. In fact, considering the explosion you were all involved in, I'm surprised that there weren't more deaths," Dr. Williams said.

"Yeah, well, I know that some of the people in the file room died. There was a hole from the garage up into it, where the ramp support had been and I could see the bodies. Is there any more word on injuries and stuff?" Blair looked at the doctors, then past them as Joel Taggart came in, just in time to hear the last question.

"Reports say that there were three killed in the file room. There would have been more, but it was lunch time," Joel explained. "The elevator shaft you had just left was demolished, the explosives set on a timer. You just missed being vaporized, which would have happened if you had still been in the elevator. You were lucky, Blair. All of you were." Looking at the doctors, he added, "Simon's been moved into his room and is asking about you and Jim. I figured I'd tell you guys everything we know, once we get Jim settled in and he wakes up. That way I won't have to repeat everything."

"That's OK by me." Blair agreed, glancing at his still unconscious partner. "How soon do you think Jim will wake up?"

"Probably the minute we try to move him into a bed," Dr. Williams replied with a grin. He'd been through this often enough with the partners to know that his biggest problem was going to be convincing the injured one to stay in the hospital, at least overnight. Although this time, what with Captain Banks having to stay, it might just make it a little easier to convince Ellison...Well, maybe.

Jim and Simon were both sitting up; Jim wearing an expression of annoyance, while Simon just looked resigned. At least the medication kept the pain at bay. They were both going to be spending at least a couple of days in the hospital, although the way both men were behaving might just get them thrown out early. Their current surliness could be directly attributed to what the hospital laughingly called 'lunch'.

"What the hell is this stuff?" Simon asked, cautiously stirring the pale, mushy melange around with his fork. Jim glanced over and saw that Simon had been served the same weird looking mess that he had. Taking a cautious sniff, he hazarded his guess.

"Well, I think it might be chicken a la king... maybe." He grimaced in distaste and pushed the tray away, wincing as his back reminded him that it was in spasm.

"Oh," Simon replied, replacing the cover on the food and pushing it away. "So, how long did they say they were going to be keeping you?" he continued, attempting conversation to take his mind off of his hunger (and what the hospital attempted to pass off as food).

"With any luck, I'll be getting out of here tomorrow. They want to get me into therapy, starting with a massage and whirlpool. I think I can handle that." Jim almost smiled, anticipating the pleasure of a good massage.

"Oh, yeah. The torture chamber. Their idea of a massage is to throw you on the rack and see if they can make your joints bend backwards," Simon teased, knowing that it was probably closer to the truth than either man wanted to consider.

Jim started to reply, but instead turned his head toward the door, which opened to admit the rest of the members of Major Crime.

"Hi, guys," Blair called out cautiously, checking the two patients' expressions to see if it was safe. Seeing only welcoming smiles, he walked over and took a look at what Jim and Simon had on their trays. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he smiled at them. "You're in luck. We brought lunch." With that, Rafe pulled out two enormous pizza boxes. Brown cleared the discarded food from the trays, setting the serving trays outside the door, while Rafe set the pizzas on the bed-trays and Connor pulled out paper plates for everyone. Joel Taggart grinned and dragged in some extra chairs for them all, turning the hospital room into a party.

Simon tried to glare but, upon seeing the pizza, could only grin with a silly expression on his face. "Thank you," he said like a blessing. "This looks much better than that stuff they were trying to feed us." He sniffed appreciatively. They'd even remembered his favorite, combo with everything, including artichokes. He allowed Connor to serve him, "Thank you, Megan."

"No worries, Captain," the Australian replied with a smile. Blair served several slices of pizza to Jim, then took his own and settled on the foot of his partner's bed, being very careful not to bounce or jar his friend in any way. The hospital room was quite crowded with all of them in it, but no one seemed to mind. Soon they were all munching away on their pizza. Joel had even managed to smuggle in a case of various cold soft drinks, which went very nicely with the pizza. Soon they were comfortably full.

Simon finished his third slice with a sigh. It was excellent pizza, but he was full, already. Looking over his squad and wondering who was working if they were all here, he couldn't help asking, "So, who's minding the store?"

Joel held up a pager and his cell phone. "I am," he grinned. "We just figured you'd like to be filled in on what's been happening since yesterday." He glanced around at the others, "Besides, we need your statements. Blair wrote up his report and turned it in this morning, so now we need yours."

"That's OK with me," Jim agreed, with a smile at his partner. "But I want to know if you caught whoever was responsible for all that mess, yesterday."

The entire group looked grim. Joel, as acting supervisor, was spokesman. "Unfortunately, they got away." He looked pointedly at Blair for a moment, who blandly returned his gaze. "It was Schofield and friends. They were trying to spring Perkins, but he was well guarded and never had a chance to escape. The FBI has taken over since this falls under the domestic terrorism laws. As much trouble as they were in before, I'd sure hate to be one of them now. There's more than a million dollars worth of damage to the courthouse, but at least we got to all the other bombs in time to prevent a real disaster. That guy, Short, had also cut into the P.A. system at the courthouse. As soon as the first bomb went off, he was announcing to everyone in the building to remain where they were, that the stairs and elevators were booby-trapped and that if anyone tried to leave, the entire building would be reduced to rubble."

There were several seconds of silence as they considered the situation. Finally, Blair dug up the courage to make an observation. "I guess that's a point in their favor."

"How so?" Simon asked in surprise.

"They kept anyone else from setting off those explosives. Can you imagine what would have happened if someone had opened one of those doors before we got them stripped?" Everyone shuddered at what could have happened. "Not that I think the people who died were unimportant, but maybe the WFF deserves a couple of points for not just pulverizing the building first off... sure, they thought they might get their associates out, but they also made contingency plans, in case it didn't work out."

"Yeah, like the idea of killing close to a thousand people? Not a good thing," Megan pointed out.

"I don't know. I'm kind of thinking that they really just wanted to let us know that they're still around and in our faces." Joel added. "Yeah, they could have taken down the whole building, but maybe it was more of a warning to Perkins and company that there's no place safe for them, should they decide to talk."

"I hadn't thought of that," Simon agreed. "You could have a very good point there, Joel." There were several moments of silence as each one thought about what 'might' have happened, and how truly helpless everyone was when it came to terrorist activities.

"Why d'you suppose they didn't just blow up the building?" Megan asked, unable to comprehend the idea of terrorist attacks.

"Because, if they had, the Feds would have never stopped looking for them. This way, they can hope that things will cool down for them after a while, then they'll strike again," Jim explained.

"Personally, I just think that they're nuts," Brown grumbled. "Even if the Feds stop looking for them, we never will." There were murmurs of agreement from all present.

"Oh, hey!" Rafe interrupted them to change the subject, "Did you hear the latest?" At the puzzled looks he got, he continued, "Seems that our little rookie here, made quite an impression on the Mayor and the City Council. They've been sending out feelers about some sort of award for bravery or something. I even heard tell that some of the judges at the courthouse wanted to meet him and thank him personally for disarming the booby traps and letting in the rescue workers." Playfully ruffling Blair's just-over-the-collar curls, he then bowed and stated, "We stand in awe of our newest hero!" chuckling as Megan and Brown joined him in the mocking kowtowing.

Blair grinned. "Hey, just don't tell them that I didn't do it for them, OK?" He looked at his captain and partner and caught the expressions of pride on their faces, "But, I'd do it again, if I had to," he said softly, knowing that his partner at least, could hear him. Apparently, Simon could, as well.

"Hopefully, there won't ever be a next time, Sandburg." Simon said softly, as the others quieted down. His wish was answered with an "Amen to that," from Joel and nods from the others.

Just then, the door opened and a surprised intern tried to squeeze into the overcrowded room. "What the...?" he said, startled. The visitors crowded together to make room for him, "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to leave. I need to prepare the patients for rounds this afternoon." He was a bit nonplused by the lack of reaction from the group. He tried to glare at them, but most of them were so much bigger than he was that it only brought smiles of amusement to the stern faces. Finally, Joel sighed and turned to the two patients.

"I guess we'd better get going. We'll stop by later, maybe, tomorrow for sure," Joel promised. Then, turning to Blair, he added, "I'll see you tomorrow, Blair. You take it easy, OK?" He patted the younger man on the shoulder. Blair grinned and nodded; keeping his seat on his partner's bed as the others filed out with various calls of good-bye. The intern looked at him rather oddly as he checked out the patients, but didn't say anything. When he had gone, Blair hopped down from Jim's bed and began to gather up his coat and backpack.

"I wanted to stay and talk to you guys," he began. Looking at his friends, he swallowed once, hard, then continued. "Thanks for not telling them what a basket case I was. I..."

"Sandburg," Simon interrupted in his best 'I'm the Captain' voice.

Blair stopped and blinked in surprise, "Yes, sir?"

"You did above and beyond the call, Detective," Simon said insistently. "I doubt if even Joel could have handled it any better, and you can run faster than he can." He smiled, "You did good, kid. I'm proud of you."

"Me, too, Chief," Jim said softly. "You did everything right."

"But I panicked," Blair complained, embarrassed.

"So?" Jim asked, "Hey, Chief, don't sweat it. If I hadn't been hurting so much, I would probably have been just as scared. I was just distracted."

"Me, too, Sandburg," Simon agreed. "Sure, you were a little panicky at the beginning, but you did what had to be done and no one else had to die. You are responsible for minimizing the damage to the courthouse and saving everyone inside, not just us."

"But I only did it to save you guys. You know that, don't you?" Blair looked up through his tousled curls to read the expressions of the two men.

"Yeah. I knew that, Blair," Jim said. "And I'm grateful," He glanced across at Simon, who smiled and nodded, "We both are. The fact that you only were worried about saving us doesn't make what you accomplished any less important, it only makes it simpler."

"Jim's right, Blair. It doesn't matter why you did it, only that you performed admirably in the face of overwhelming odds."

Blair hung his head, thinking; then, glancing mischievously up through his curls once more, he slyly asked, "So, Jim, think you're still gonna be policeman of the year?"

The two older men stared at him for a moment, then at each other, huge smiles stretching across their faces, "Not with any luck, Chief," Jim chortled.

"Won't do you any good though, Ellison," Simon chuckled. "He's still your partner, and if he wins, they're still gonna ask for you both for all those special little details you so love." Jim stopped laughing and stared, first at his captain, then at his partner, then he sighed.

"Well, maybe we can work this so that you can join us, sir," Jim mused, catching Blair's eye and winking. Blair caught it and nodded almost imperceptibly.

"Yeah, I can probably skew my report so that Simon gets all the credit. How does that sound, Jim?" Blair asked, all innocence.

"Sounds great to me, Chief."

"Oh, no. No way! You are not gonna push this off on me. Huh-uh. No. You can't possibly." Simon's voice rose in near panic at the thought. Jim and Blair stared at him for a moment, then looked at each other with wicked grins on their faces. Blair raised his eyebrows in question and was answered by a slight shrug by Jim.

Turning on his most innocent expression, with the big puppy-dog eyes, he said, "But, Simon. You're the captain; you were in charge. I only did as instructed."

He grinned, mischief sparkling in his eyes. Jim started laughing, long and hard, as the other two sparred over who should get the credit for disarming the bombs. Holding on to his sides, trying to control his nearly hysterical laughter, Jim had tears trickling down his cheeks, both from the laughter and the pain it brought to his back. When the doctor and the interns came in on their rounds a few minutes later, they found one hysterical sentinel, one grinning guide, and one laughing captain. While the doctor waited for the hilarity to quiet down, Jim suddenly sneezed, rather explosively, at which point everyone became quiet, wondering if he had managed to hurt his already aching back any more.

"Jim?" Blair asked as the doctor moved to check Jim out, "You OK there, man?" Jim had the oddest expression on his face. He turned his head, rolled his shoulders, and then looked up in surprise.

"Are you all right, Mr. Ellison?" the doctor asked, concerned.

"Yeah. I'm fine. In fact," Jim looked up, an expression of wonder on his face, "I feel fine. It doesn't hurt any more." He cautiously stretched and gently twisted from side to side. He smiled joyfully. "So, can I go home, now?"

"Well, let me check you out and run a few tests, then we'll see." The doctor cautiously replied. Simon glared.

"Don't you dare suddenly get better and leave me here all alone," he growled.

Blair leaned over to whisper in Simon's ear, "But just think, Simon, peace and quiet. No one to worry about. No grumpy Jim around to annoy you. And I promise that we'll bring you real food for lunch and dinner," he vowed. Simon just glared.

"Not good enough, Sandburg," Simon growled back. "I don't want to stay here any more than Jim does."

"But Simon, you've got a broken leg. You need to take it easy and give yourself some time to heal. Hey, it'll only be for about six weeks, man..."

"Followed with another six weeks of therapy," growled the annoyed captain.

The doctor interrupted, "I'm sure we'll have you out of here within a week, Mr. Banks. Now that the swelling's gone down and your cast has dried, you should be able to go home in a couple of days. Providing your family is able to take care of you." He didn't notice the expression of dismay that crossed his patient's face.

Jim and Blair, however, did. They looked at one another, the question in their expressions. Jim shrugged his acquiescence. With an enormous grin, Blair made his suggestion, "Hey, Simon? You can stay with us while you heal. I can sleep on the couch and you can take my room."

Simon looked from Blair to Jim, seeing the smug expression on Jim's face and the overly helpful expression on Blair's. He shook his head, an expression of horror on his face. "And let Ellison drive me to work? I don't think so. Not to mention all the weird stuff you cook and try to pass off as food. No way."

Jim grinned, "Well, I suppose you could get Daryl to come over and take care of you. I'm sure he'd be more than willing to drive you around town..." Jim let his voice trail off, allowing his captain to think about his limited options.

"Or you can stay here. That might work. That way, by the time you're back on light duty, say in a couple of weeks, you'll have managed to miss the nine-day wonder of this whole thing... and maybe we might even be able to catch Schofield and Short." Blair's expression turned grim, "I know that I'd certainly like to catch those two, and anyone else they've managed to pick up along the way."

Simon Banks looked at his former observer and noticed, for the very first time, just how dedicated and determined that young man could be. Shaking his head in wonder, he murmured, "I was joking when I told you that it was my office and to stop eyeing it... I think I may have been speaking more truth than I thought."

Blair's expression softened, "Don't worry, Simon. I do not want your job. There is no way I'd want to have to try to tell Jim what to do," he began, only to have Jim's pillow thwap him upside the head.

"I heard that, Sandburg," Jim groused good-naturedly. "There's no way you could tell me what to do, anyway."

"I could if I were your supervisor," Blair countered. The expression on Jim's face was priceless as he blankly stared from his partner to his captain.

"No way," Jim insisted.

"What, you don't think I have supervisory skills?" Blair asked, undaunted. "Hey, I've taught bunches of uninterested students. Compared to that, you'd be a piece of cake."

While they had been talking, the interns and doctor had examined Jim and were discussing his case.

"Mr. Ellison," the doctor interrupted, "Just as soon as I can get the paperwork filled out, you may go home. Take it easy for a couple of weeks, no lifting or bending. I'll give you a couple of prescriptions for muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories just to make sure, but your sneeze seems to have been just what you needed. You're sure you're not in any pain?"

"Well, I feel a little stiff, but no pain," Jim agreed, his expression and tone reflecting his hope of getting out of here and home.

"Then I see no reason not to release you," the doctor replied. Jim and Blair exchanged pleased smiles. Turning their attention to Simon, the residents and interns went over the chart and watched the examination. Satisfied, the doctor marked the chart, explaining his notations to his students.

Jim and Blair waited patiently until they were finished, then Jim asked, "So, when can he be released?"

"Well, I should think he can go home in a day or two, but he's going to need some special care for a couple of weeks, until the bone starts to knit together. After that, he can be on light duty, on crutches or in a wheelchair, but no walking cast. And nothing too strenuous. I don't want you straining or damaging anything else just because you don't like waiting to heal. Is that understood?"

"Yes, doctor," Simon said with a resigned sigh, knowing that if he wanted out of the hospital, he was going to have to agree... which didn't necessarily mean that he was actually going to follow through with the instructions.

"So, you have someone to take care of you for the next couple of weeks, until we can check and decide whether or not you can go back to work on light duty?" The doctor had dealt with dedicated people before and wanted to make sure his orders were followed, or else.

"Yeah. He'll be staying with us," Jim declared, meeting Simon's challenging gaze with a faint grin and a wink to let him know that getting him sprung from the hospital was near the top of his list of things to do. Simon scowled anyway, but settled back to accept the offer.

The doctor wasn't fooled, but decided that it was probably going to be his best offer. He well remembered the last time the captain had been there and did not look forward to a repeat performance. "Well, as long as all of you follow instructions, there should be no problems. Mr. Ellison, just as soon as I can get the paperwork ready, you may leave. As for you, Mr. Banks, at least two days. Then, if you behave yourself and your friends are up to it, you can leave as well... providing you follow all instructions. Is that clear, gentlemen?" He used his sternest expression... to no avail. He was dealing with experts when it came to intimidating behavior.

"I'll make sure they follow all your instructions, Dr. Eiser," Blair replied for them all, receiving scowls from the two very large patients. He merely smiled benignly. "If they don't behave themselves, I'll whip up one of my 'native' remedies." He grinned with his threat and his friends' expressions reflected the horror they felt, knowing that he was perfectly capable of following through on his promises.

Dr. Eiser, seeing their expressions, smiled. "That would be fine, Mr. Sandburg. I'm somehow confident that you will be able to keep them both in line. And now, I need to continue with rounds. Gentlemen." With a nod, he and his entourage were gone.

Blair looked at his friends. "Well, since you're feeling so much better, Jim, I guess we'll be going home in just a little while. I thought I'd make a chicken stir-fry for dinner. That OK with you?"

"That'll be just fine, Chief. Thanks." He looked over at Simon, who looked rather miserable with the knowledge that he'd be stuck there all alone with hospital food for dinner. "Maybe we can bring some back for Simon?" he suggested.

"Well, I probably can. You're supposed to go home and take it easy, remember? You can camp out on the couch and channel surf while I come back and sneak Simon in some real food. How does that sound, Simon?" Blair asked, realizing that his idea for dinner might not meet with his friend's approval.

"That would be just fine, Sandburg. Thank you," Simon said graciously, grateful to have something to look forward to besides being alone and eating horrible hospital food.

"You're welcome, Simon."

With Jim's prescriptions in hand, Blair headed to the pharmacy, stopping to make a phone call along the way. Grinning broadly afterwards, he picked up the meds and returned to the hospital room to wait to sign Jim out and go home, ignoring their captain's disgruntlement over having to remain behind. Once in the truck, Jim asked the question he'd been wanting the answer to ever since Blair had returned with his meds.

"OK, Sandburg. You look like the cat that ate the canary. What else did you do when you went to the pharmacy?" he growled.

"Who, me? Why do you ask that?" Blair asked, unable to keep the broad grin from his face.

"I recognize the signs. What did you do?"

"Nothing much. I just called Daryl and asked him to stop by and take his dad some decent dinner this evening. That way, he has an excuse to come and see him that his mom can't very well deny." Blair's teeth glittered with his self-satisfied grin.

"You can be a real sneaky SOB, you know that, Sandburg?" Jim smiled with real amusement at his partner.

"You're just mad because you didn't think of it first," Blair countered.

"Oh, I don't know. When they took Simon down to x-ray this afternoon, I gave Joan a call and told her to make sure that Daryl had wheels to get here this evening. She decided real quick not to give me any flack. I told her that if I had to, I'd send a patrol car to escort him to the hospital... and that her neighbors might not like it very much."

Blair glanced quickly at his friend, in shock at his words, turning his eyes immediately back to the road. They drove in silence for a few minutes, then Blair chuckled ruefully. "No wonder Daryl was in such a good mood at the idea of stopping by to pick up dinner and take it to his dad. He'd already gotten word that he could go." He glanced again at his friend. "So, do you think he's going to need any more help?"

"Nah. I reminded her that Daryl is nearly an adult and that she might not want to alienate him at this point in time." They glanced at each other and both broke into chuckles.

"So, you going to tell Simon?" Blair asked as he pulled into his parking slot in front of their building.

"No. He's got enough to worry about without increasing his chances of an ulcer by putting him at odds with Joan, or putting Daryl in the middle of one of their fights. I doubt that Daryl will say anything, so neither will we." Jim cautiously climbed from the Volvo, casting his senses out to check the area as had become his habit over the years. Something caught at the edge of his senses. Stopping and leaning on the top of the car, he scanned the area, searching for what had alerted him. Blair stopped, recognizing his partner's pose.

"Jim? What is it?" His hand reached automatically for his cell phone.

"Short," Jim answered, his gaze settling on his partner. "He's upstairs, waiting for us."

"Just hurry. This is one of the guys who blew up the courthouse yesterday. I need backup and I need it now!" Blair snarled into his cell phone. He listened for a moment, nodded sharply and snapped his phone closed. Looking up at his partner, he frowned. "They're sending units now. Can he see us from here?" They had stayed by Blair's car, which was partially hidden behind Jim's truck.

"No. He's kind of anxious though. I don't think he has any idea that I've been sprung from the hospital. If we went through the loft or up through the back stairs, we could probably surprise him." Jim was totally focused on their apartment, knowing that the enemy was waiting for them, or at least his partner.

"Not until the backup gets here, tough guy," Blair admonished. One of his classes at the academy had pushed long and hard on the necessity of always waiting for backup. Having already had three years of experience working with Jim, he had taken the lessons to heart... particularly since Jim was still just a bit under his peak in ability, despite the fact that he was currently in no pain.

Jim glared at his partner, who ignored him. "Fine, Sandburg. We wait. But what if he gets tired of waiting and decides to blow the building up?"

Blair glared at him, "Do you think that's what he's doing?"

Jim sighed, slumping just a bit. "No. I don't smell any explosives, but he's smoking in the loft," he said just a little petulantly.

"OK, so we get some odor-neutralizer and spray for it and open all the windows and doors to air it out. It'll be fine." Blair replied chidingly.

"Backup's here." Jim turned his attention to the approaching vehicles: three blue and silver Cascade PD patrol cars and two unmarked cars. Joel and Megan parked next to Blair's Volvo, while the uniformed officers took up their positions on the side street and the alley behind the buildings. Brown and Rafe parked in front of the building in a 'no parking' zone.

"What've you got, Jim?" Joel asked, scanning the building.

"Short's in the loft," Jim replied. Joel just nodded, accepting the information as gospel. He knew Jim well enough to know that if he said someone was there, they were. "I can smell that crap he wears as aftershave from here," Jim added. Joel grinned and gently patted the smaller man on the shoulder.

"I believe you, Jim. So, what's the best way to grab him? I sure don't want to just walk up to the front door and knock, if you know what I mean," the big man grinned.

"There are two ways in besides the front door," Blair explained as Jim turned his focus back to their intruder. "There's the back door, by my room, and the window through Jim's bedroom." The others, having been in the loft on numerous occasions, nodded their understanding.

"So, who gets the window and who gets the back door?" Megan asked, looking at the others.

"I'll take the window," volunteered Rafe.

"Gee, thanks, partner," Brown said, mockingly. "What if I don't want to back you up climbing the wall?"

"I'll go with Rafe," Megan offered. "I'm pretty agile, even if I do say so myself." She grinned at them.

"OK, Brown can come with me," Joel decreed. Knowing that he probably knew the answer, but needing to make the offer anyway, he asked, "Jim, do you want the back stairs or the front door?"

"We'll take the front door, Joel. Let me know when you're in position," Jim said, never taking his attention from his quarry.

"Only after everyone has a vest on, Jim. Come on. Let's get on with this," Joel insisted.

With the addition of two more patrol cars, they had the building surrounded. As soon as everyone was in place, Jim and Blair silently climbed the stairs to their home. "If he's messed up even one, single thing..." Blair threatened in a whisper.

"Shhh," Jim admonished, stepping into position. Using his borrowed radio, he hissed into the microphone, "In position." He received positive responses from the others. Jim unlocked the door, managing to be nearly silent. While Blair wrapped his left hand around the knob, preparatory to their charge, Jim whispered into his radio, "On three. One... two... three!"

On the count, the front and back doors were flung open and the two who had managed to sneak the window open swung through. Within seconds, they had their suspect surrounded and trapped.

Starring down the barrels of six loaded weapons, with grim, tense cops behind them, Short did the only intelligent thing he could -- he froze in place and slowly raised his hands, leaving his weapon in his lap.

Blair, keeping out of everyone's line of fire, circled around behind Short and gently relieved him of his gun. Once that was taken care of, Blair told him to lie face down on the floor. As the others looked on, Blair frisked their prisoner and found a second gun as well as a knife. When he was finished, he cuffed Short and then helped him back up and into the chair.

"What are you doing here?" Joel asked, taking charge. Jim's clenching jaw had his partner cautiously guiding him over to the couch, where he gently pushed him into a seated position from which he could keep an eye on their prisoner.

"Aren't you going to read me my rights?" Short sneered, trying bravado to cover his very genuine fear. He couldn't, for the life of him, figure out how they had known he was there. He'd taken the bus so no one would see his car. He'd gone in through the back, so no one would see him. He'd not touched anything so no one would realize he was there. He'd been listening closely for the elevator or footsteps on the stairs, only to be surprised when the six cops suddenly appeared. He hadn't even heard the key in the lock, or the knob turn... and he'd been listening for it!

"Why? I came home, found an armed intruder and reacted, shooting him dead. What's the problem?" Jim asked softly, his pale blue eyes glittering like cold, hard diamonds as he focused on the intruder. "Then I called for help, just like any normal citizen," he added blandly.

Short was shocked. He looked around at the others, noting their expressions of disinterest. "You c-can't be serious," he stuttered, his fear growing into terror. After all, he'd been one of those who'd tried to arrange for Sandburg's 'failure' at the academy, and looking at the punk's partner, he could well believe that the man was fully capable of murdering him... and then he remembered Ellison's history in Black Ops. They'd never find his body. "What do you want?" he asked, his voice cracking.

Like most bullies, Short, when confronted with genuine courage, determination, and conviction, crumbled like over-leavened cookies. None of the members of Major Crime showed any expression, although Megan couldn't suppress a smirk, but she was behind Short and he couldn't see her.

"Where's Schofield?" Joel asked.

"I can't tell you that!" Short replied, whining. He was screwed no matter what. If he didn't talk, Ellison would probably kill him, slowly and very painfully. If he did talk, Schofield would arrange for him to die... but it would probably be a quick death. He shook his head miserably. It was a no-win situation, no matter how he looked at it.

The men and woman of Major Crime glared at him. Rafe spoke up, "Jim's not the only one who knows how to hurt people, you know," his softly accented voice warned. "I think that even Sandburg would like to help, wouldn't you, Blair?" Rafe lifted his eyes to the smaller man, who was sitting on the arm of the couch next to his partner, one arm across the back of the couch barely touching Jim's shoulders, the other hand absently spinning his open Swiss Army knife in intricate patterns, the same way he would play with his pen when studying. His eyes shifted from Short to briefly connect with Rafe's, then he returned his attention to Short, remembering the hell he'd been through at the academy because of this man and his group of anencephlic cohorts.

"I could deal. I know where I can get some nice, big fire ants..." Still manipulating his knife, he smiled coldly at Short. Short couldn't seem to look anywhere but at the spinning blade. Blair abruptly realized that he had the man's full attention. With a fleeting grin at his companions, he started talking, using the same soft, low-pitched voice he used to calm his sentinel when he was agitated.

"You've got it figured out, don't you Short? If you don't talk, we're going to hurt you... a lot. You'll eventually break, no matter what. Or you might die first. Of course, if you do talk, Schofield will probably put a hit out on you, but at least that would most likely be a clean kill, nothing like what you might get from us." He could see from the expression on Short's face that he was only voicing what the other man had already figured out. "Of course, if you give us enough, we can catch Schofield and the rest of the WFF and they'll be in jail... then we could protect you. At least make sure you're not anywhere close to them anyway. So think about it for a couple of minutes. Let us know which way you want this to go. OK?" He flipped his knife one more time and snapped the blade closed. Short blinked as he came out of his near-trance state. His confusion showing on his face, he watched as Blair bounced to his feet and headed for the kitchen.

"So, who wants coffee, tea, juice, soft drinks?" he asked as he opened the door of the elderly refrigerator, "I'd offer beer, but technically we're still on duty." He smiled over his shoulder at his friends, winking conspiratorially.

Megan grinned and followed him into the kitchen area, "Let me give you a hand. I'm for something cold. What've you got?"

"Well... there's iced tea, Spiderleg to be exact, really a nice flavor. Then there's Pepsi, 7-Up, Cherry Coke... orange juice, apple juice and... cranberry juice. What's your pleasure, folks?" His colleagues called out their preferences, turning their attention from their prisoner. Jim simply settled back and closed his eyes. Even though most of the pain from his spasmed back was gone, he was still having little uncontrollable muscle twitches, not really painful but definitely annoying. Despite his appearance of relaxation, he was still focused on Short, just not obviously.

Short, with his hands cuffed behind his back, thought over his options. He didn't really see any way to survive. No matter what he did, he was going to end up dead. The prospect was enough to almost make him soil himself. Deciding that a quick death was the best he could hope for (and actually being committed to the precepts of the Washington Freedom Fighters), he lunged to his feet and headed for the balcony door, intending to break through the glass and throw himself off the building, hopefully to his death.

Jim heard the sudden pounding of Short's heart just before he flung himself up from the chair and lunged for the balcony. Reacting as fast as any cat, Jim was on him before he'd managed to go three steps, leaping up to press his hands on the restrained man's shoulders, letting his greater weight bear them to the floor. For just a moment, Short struggled futilely, then ceased, sobs of fear and frustration gasping with each breath.

The others were caught off guard; not expecting any resistance let alone an escape attempt. Brown was the first to reach them. He bent down and helped Jim to his feet. Seeing the taller man wince, he immediately asked, "Are you OK, Jim? You didn't hurt yourself, did you?" his tone showing the worry he felt.

"Nah, I'm fine, just stretched some already bruised muscles is all," Jim insisted, carefully stretching through the pain. He didn't resist when his partner started to knead the muscles at the base of his neck and down his shoulders, allowing his friend to guide him back to the sofa, where he again sat, as Blair continued to work the knots from his muscles.

"I guess you guys had better help yourselves to stuff to drink," he called out, keeping his attention focused on his friend. "If someone would pour me a glass of tea, I'd appreciate it." He lowered his voice to ask Jim, "What would you like, Jim?"

"Just water, thanks," Jim called out loudly enough to be heard. Joel brought them their drinks, then took over from Brown, watching Short to make sure he didn't try anything else.

"I won't make any promises, Short. Your bombs tied up the entire city for most of the afternoon and evening. There are three dead, dozens injured, and you made it kind of personal when Captain Banks was hurt." He glanced over at Jim and Blair. Jim's eyes were closed and there was an almost blissful expression on his face as Blair worked on his back, gently rubbing and kneading the tense and stiffened muscles, working the older man into a state of total relaxation.

"You have a choice here, Short. The Feds are all over this one. Domestic Terrorism is a big thing. Three dead? Easy death penalty. Life in prison at the very least. And you know what they do to cops who end up in prison. Even ex-cops. You're good looking enough to have problems anyway. But with the federal charges..." he allowed his voice to trail off, then added thoughtfully, "Of course, if you turn State's evidence, they'd probably put you in the Witness Protection Program. Start you and your family up in a new place, new names, new job. As long as you never get involved with anything like this again, you should be safe, especially if you give us enough to get the entire group. That way, there'd be no one to come looking for you." His tone was thoughtful, friendly even. The odds were excellent that the Feds would offer him immunity and the Witness Protection Program in exchange for the very dangerous WFF. "If you'd rather talk just to the Feds, that's fine. But it will be done here, in Cascade. With our representatives sitting in on the deal. It's up to you. But you'd better decide now. After all, we have your voice on the tape, claiming responsibility. Hell, for all we know, you might have done this all on your own."

Short jerked upright from his slumped position in the chair. "No way. You're not hanging it all on me. Kathryn was in charge. I was just following orders!" He didn't mention how anxious he had been to participate; he'd reached his decision. The only question was whether he'd get a better deal from the Feds or from these guys. He thought about it for a few seconds, as Joel took a sip of his drink, "You'll work the deal with the Feds for me?"

"We'll make the suggestion," Joel countered, sensing victory. The others had quietly gathered around, striving to show no emotion.

"Jim? What do you think?" Megan asked, her intention obviously to put Short into a better frame of mind to cooperate.

Jim opened his eyes, his gaze lazily focusing on their prisoner. Short shivered as the pale blue orbs focused on his own. Shifting away from the warm hands still rubbing his shoulders, Jim blinked, still focused on the frightened ex-cop. "Well, I suppose," Jim tentatively agreed. "Getting the big fish is worth losing a little fish... providing the little fish understands that if he tries anything else, he's going to be fried right alongside the big fish?"

Short swallowed hard. There was something feral, almost feline about the way that Ellison was looking at him. Then his gaze glanced to Ellison's partner, and his breath caught in his throat; there was something... well lupine in Sandburg's grin. Definitely wolfish. Trembling, he nodded, "I-I-I understand. I'll give you everything if you'll get me the Witness Protection Program."

Joel pulled out his handheld radio. Thumbing the button, he contacted the patrol officers still outside. "We've got one for transport, Apartment 307." He listened to the reply and then turned back to the rest of the group, "Well, I guess we should be going. Jim, you and Blair take it easy. If you feel up to it, you could come in tomorrow or the next day and file your reports on this. Otherwise, we'll see you on Monday." Turning, he made his way into the kitchen, rinsed out his empty glass and placed it on the counter next to the sink. Motioning to the others to join him, he headed for the door, letting in a pair of uniformed officers.

"There he is, gentlemen. Please be so kind as to read him his rights," Joel said as he walked out the door with the rest of Major Crimes following close behind him. The two uniformed officers urged Short up. While one of them switched handcuffs, the other Mirandized him. Returning Blair's cuffs to him, they escorted the very subdued prisoner out.

The door to Major Crime opened, held by Detective James Ellison while his partner, Blair Sandburg pushed the wheelchair bearing their captain through the opening. There was a scowl on the captain's face, which softened into a smile as the rest of his team noticed his presence and gathered around to greet and welcome back their leader. Megan brought him a fresh cup of coffee and Brown offered a box of pastries, one of which Simon managed to get before the vultures who worked for him swooped down as well. After several minutes of being welcomed back, he made his way to his office. Joel followed him in, closing the door behind him and moving around the desk to help Simon transfer to his desk chair. Once settled in, with another chair acting as an ottoman to support his cast leg, the captain heaved a sigh of relief.

Looking up at his long-time friend, he grinned, a little ruefully. "I was about to go nuts, Joel."

Joel chuckled, "Too much Sandburg weirdness?" he asked..

"No. Too much hovering and smothering." Glancing through the window, he spotted the pair as they playfully sparred before settling down to work. Shaking his head, he looked up at his friend, "They're worse than my mama ever thought of being. Waited on me hand and foot. Hell, Ellison kept trying to carry me to the bathroom for the first three days."

Joel burst out laughing at the vision, "I bet that was a sight. How about Blair? Did he keep whipping up those weird concoctions of his?"

"Surprisingly, no. From hearing Ellison tell it, the kid constantly makes weird stuff. Although, come to think of it, Jim seems to think that anything not including fried red meat is strange." Both men laughed at that. "It was a lot of nice, healthy stuff. The kind of diet I've been trying to live with; for the high blood pressure, you know?"

"Oh, yeah. Lots of vegetables, light on the red meat. More chicken and fish. Cut out the fat. I know all about it. Remember, I've managed to lose nearly a hundred pounds. I haven't felt this good in years," Joel replied. "So, why did you look like you wanted to hit someone when you came in?"

"Oh, that. We came in Sandburg's car. Have you ever tried to maneuver a full-leg cast in and out of a two-door car? The back seat, no less? I thought they were trying to kill me," Simon groused.

"So, why didn't you use Jim's truck?" Joel asked, puzzled.

"Are you kidding? The only way I'd fit in the truck is if they laid me out in the back. No way am I going to be bounced around in the bed of Jim's pickup with him driving," Simon snorted in horrified amusement.

"OK, so what about your car? I know you can't drive with your leg in a cast, but surely... never mind. I just heard what I said. Forget it. Do you want me to pick you up and take you home until you get the cast off? I'd be more than happy to do that. And I have that nice, big four-door sedan..."

"Bless you, Joel. I'll take you up on that. So, what's been happening around here since I've been gone?"

"Well, we had to turn Short over to the Feds, of course. But not before he sang the prettiest little song about who, what, where, when, why, and how. It would appear that a number of other crimes can be laid at the feet of the Washington Freedom Fighters. Gun running, drugs, and hate crimes. More than two dozen in all. The round up went off well. Good thing Jim was back, though. Saved us from getting killed or badly injured. Seems one of the buildings Short told us about was nothing but a big booby trap. One we failed to fall into, thanks to Jim. The Feds sure wanted to know how he knew. When Jim asked them if they couldn't smell the C4, I nearly busted a gut, laughing. Other than that, I think we got everyone. Even Schofield. She was a real tigress. Kicking, biting and scratching all the way. Drove the poor Feds nuts trying to keep her restrained. They're adding our local charges to the Federal charges, since some of them are federal crimes in their own right. I rather doubt we'll see Schofield, Short, or any other members of the WFF any time soon."

"Thank God for that," Simon agreed. A loud crash from the bullpen drew their attention. The members of Major Crime were set in a tableau, staring at an overturned chair, a sprawled Detective Sandburg (who appeared to be laughing hysterically) and an equally hysterical Detective Ellison. Joel and Simon exchanged puzzled looks and Joel moved to open the door to find out just what on earth was going on.

"All right! What is going on here?" Joel bellowed in a fair imitation of Simon Banks' classic roar. All eyes turned from Ellison and Sandburg to the office, where Simon was peering around Joel's bulk to see what was happening.

Jim reached down and pulled his partner up off of the floor. Still giggling, Blair was unable to answer and nudged Jim, making motions for him to tell. Jim, also still laughing uncontrollably, tried.

"N-n-nothing, Sir. J-just Sandburg tripping over his own feet, is all." Both men were laughing so hard that tears were running down their faces.

"I ~gasp~ did not trip. That chair attacked me!" Blair managed to say through his hilarity.

"Looks to me as though the chair lost," Rafe said, starting to chuckle, himself.

"No, no," Brown laughed. "I saw it all. The chair leaped from behind the desk and tangled up with Sandburg's feet. Blair did a great martial arts move and knocked the chair out cold."

Megan was giggling as well, "Blair managed to almost subdue the chair when it attempted to escape, only to bounce off of Jim, at which time the poor, innocent 'irresistible force' collapsed in an unconscious heap on the floor."

Joel looked back at Simon, who had started grinning, then turned back to the laughing detectives, shaking his head. Never a dull moment in Major Crime... "So, is anybody hurt? Besides the unconscious chair, that is?" He felt the smile tugging at his own lips.

"Well, actually, sir," Rafe replied, getting his laughter under control, "I think the chair may have a mortal wound. It looks like one of the wheels has come off." At this news, the rest of them started laughing even harder and Jim had to put an arm across Blair's shoulders to remain upright. Blair was leaning heavily against Jim's desk while the other detectives continued to laugh.

There was a dry chuckle coming from behind him. Turning, he watched in amusement as Simon started laughing, not so much because there was anything actually funny; but simply because the laughter of the others was so contagious. Joel couldn't help but grin as well as the laughter lifted everyone's spirits.

"All right, you guys." Joel finally raised his voice over the jocularity, "Try and get yourselves under control. Jim, get that broken chair out of here. Rafe, find him a new one. Sandburg, chill out, OK? The rest of you get back to work, will you? You're starting to draw a crowd." The detectives all turned to look at the various uniformed officers who had paused outside, all staring through the glass walls at them. For a moment, they all laughed even harder, then did their best to control themselves, eventually succeeding. Shaking his head, he turned back into Simon's office. "So, have they been like that for the past two weeks, trying to take care of you?" he asked.

"Sometimes," Simon admitted. "When they weren't trying to stuff me full of food or something to drink, or asking me if I was comfortable, or did I want anything, or could they get me anything, was I sure... nearly drove me nuts. I never pictured Ellison as a mother hen, but when he's taking care of someone, he really takes care of them. There were several times I was ready to shoot one of them. And Sandburg! Constantly fluffing my pillows, cooking something and bringing me samples... although, the day they decided to bake cookies..."

"Wait a minute. They baked cookies for you! You've got to be kidding." Joel's expression of disbelief was priceless.

"Really. Toll House, with both pecans and walnuts. They were delicious." Simon smiled happily as he remembered.

"So, which one made the cookies, Jim or Blair?" Joel asked cautiously, his picture of his friends undergoing a tremendous upheaval at this revelation.

"Both of them. They argued and ended up in a shoving match which descended into, well, a food fight." Simon's voice trailed off in embarrassment.

"A food fight?" Joel asked, chuckling. "And I suppose you stayed out of it?" His tone was disbelieving.

"Well... I tried to, but when the cookie dough started landing on me, I had to retaliate." His grin widened.

"Are you saying that the austere, stern, fractious Simon Banks joined two of his subordinates in a food fight? While he was supposed to be recovering?"

"No. It was Simon Banks, friend of Jim and Blair, who was staying with them to avoid a prolonged hospital stay, who wavered between wanting to shoot one or the other or both of them, with laughing and kidding around. You should have been there for the towel fight the night before last." Simon abruptly shut his mouth, fearing he might have gone too far.

"Now, that I'd have liked to see," Joel admitted.

"Well, I admit that with this cast I had a decided advantage. Having that much area unavailable as a target, and able to use it as a shield." Simon laughed at Joel's expression. "OK, OK, so the stay at the loft wasn't all that bad. Daryl managed to come over several times, and they took good care of me. It was just getting jammed into Blair's back seat that put me in a bad mood this morning, I guess," Simon confessed.

"I'm glad. We missed you around here. I mean, Sandburg was in every day, but Jim's still on light duty and has only been back for a week. The others missed your bellowing, I think. I tried to fill in, but they know that my bite is so much less than my bark that they were disappointed. Of course, it's been pretty quiet. After rounding up all the WFF, it seems as if all the criminals in town decided to take a vacation. Not that any of us minded, of course."

"Well, it's good to be back," Simon concurred. At that moment, his telephone rang. Waving to Joel that he could go back to his own desk, he picked up his phone. "Banks," he nearly barked into the speaker. He listened for a few seconds and made a few monosyllabic responses. After he hung up, he looked up at Joel, who was hovering to see if anything was needed.

"Open the door, Joel," Simon said softly. The big man opened the door on his way out, not in the least surprised to hear the bellow from behind him.

"Sandburg and Ellison! My office, now!"

Simon Banks was back and, even with his leg in a cast, firmly and fully in control.



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