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The Auction, Gen Version, Part IV


Ran Jorgenson, the tall, blond Captain of the SWAT Unit arrived on the sixth floor, via the stairwell, just as they exited the elevator. Banks was already briefing him as they marched briskly through the bullpen. Rhonda jumped to her feet and hastened to intercept them. Cupping her hand over the cell phone's mouthpiece, she called, "Captain Banks!"

"Not now, Rhonda," he cut her off, as he pushed past.

"Sir, wait! It's Blair!"

The three men froze at her words. "What?" Simon demanded. "On the phone?"

"Not talking, but he must have made the connection without Gail knowing – they're headed toward the docks," she told them rapidly, handing over the phone to Jim when he abruptly held out his hand. "I've sent Cindy Lou to get all the information we have on Gail Baker. She should be back any minute."

"Good work, Rhonda," Simon acknowledged. "Bring in the file as soon as you have it."

"Yes, sir."

As they continued into Simon's office, she returned to her desk. Brown and Rafe immediately rose to loom over her, demanding to know what was going on.

"I don't know for sure," she replied anxiously. "But I think Blair is being taken to Kincaid."

"Ah, shit," Brown cursed as he picked up her phone and punched in Joel's number.

**

"Gail, what's going on here?" Blair asked calmly, or at least he hoped he sounded calm. Though he was fairly certain of their destination, he wanted to keep her talking, if only to relax her a little. He didn't like the way her gun-hand was shaking. If they hit a pothole, he could wind up being shot.

"You'll find out soon enough," she replied tautly, staring at him relentlessly, except for brief glances at the street to see where they were in order to give him directions when they needed to turn. He found it nerve-wracking to not anticipate her orders because she tended not to give him adequate time to brake slowly – and her hand was still shaking.

"Hey, c'mon," he cajoled, playing dumb. "What's the big secret, huh? I don't understand. If this is some kind of joke you ladies are playing on me, it's not funny, you know?"

"No joke, 'Mr. Natural'," she sneered.

He flicked a look at her and swallowed hard, pretending to be startled. "Wha ... I ... only Garrett Kincaid calls me that," he stammered.

She laughed, low and mocking.

"How do you know Kincaid?" he asked tensely, not having to fake it.

She didn't respond for so long that he began to think he wouldn't get an answer but, finally, she said, "He's my uncle."

"Oh, shit," he muttered, and shook his head. "Look," he began the obligatory spiel, though he was pretty sure she wouldn't buy it, "you don't have to do this. We can stop now before you get in any deeper. You won't get away with this, you know? We've taken Kincaid down twice – we'll do it again."

"Just keep driving," she commanded haughtily. "And, while you're at it, slide out your weapon and hand it to me – no tricks!"

Steering with his left hand, his eyes on the traffic, he reached under his jacket to pull his pistol from his shoulder holster and held it muzzle up toward the roof of the car. She yanked it savagely from his hand, and dropped it to the floor between her feet.

"Okay," he said then, pretending to be resigned to the inevitable – not that he had a lot of choice short of driving the car into a wall while attempting to wrestle the weapon from her. Not that the idea wasn't tempting, but he figured his odds of succeeding without getting shot weren't good, and he didn't think Kincaid would kill him before the cavalry arrived. "We're almost at the docks. Where do you want me to go?"

"To Hell, ultimately," she said vehemently. "But for now, turn left at the next corner and into the alley on the right."

"Man, what did I ever do to you?" he murmured, shaking his head.

"You helped put the man who is like a daddy to me in jail – twice," she growled. "I'm going to enjoy watching him take you apart, piece by piece."

"Great," he sighed as he slowed to make the turn. As if rambling nervously, he went on with the hope that someone – preferably Jim – was listening in, "Pretty desolate neighbourhood, isn't it? Just one empty, dilapidated warehouse after another. Not even any panhandlers or indigents around – you sure it's safe to leave those three vehicles parked around here? Somebody might steal them. Couldn't he find more comfortable accommodation? Or did he need a lot space – recruited a new army in the last couple weeks, maybe? I only see one guy down the alley there, by the side door. Oh, wait, there's another guy up on the roof. Pretty fancy automatic rifles."

"Shut up," she snapped, "and stop the car."

He got out and held his hands high. The guard grabbed his arm and shoved him inside the old warehouse. Inside, Garrett Kincaid was waiting for him.

"Well, if it ain't Mr. Natural," he drawled sardonically, sauntering closer. "Good to see you again, boy. I hear you're a liar and a fraud, and they still gave you a detective's shield. My, my – doesn't say much for the quality of law enforcement in this town, now does it?"

"Kincaid," Blair acknowledged cautiously, his hands still held high as he looked around. The place was caked with decades of grime and festooned with cobwebs. There were two floors, the one above open to view through the grilled metal flooring, and the section directly above had fallen away at some earlier time, creating a loft effect. "Can't say it's a pleasure to see you again. But man, I'd have to think prison was more comfortable than this hole." Returning his gaze to the escaped felon, he taunted, "Not much of an army, anymore, huh? You've got what? Ten, twelve guys here?"

"Don't need an army if a little bit of a thing like Gail can take you down," Kincaid observed sarcastically. "Good work, darlin'."

"I made him give me his weapon, Uncle Garrett," she bragged.

"Did you now?" he acknowledged with an approving smile, waving her further away from his captive. But he eyed Sandburg assessingly and reflected, "But if he's learned anything from that partner of his, he might well be carrying a backup." Flicking a look at one of his henchmen, a young muscle-man with a crew-cut, he ordered, "Mallory, search him."

Blair blinked slowly and took a steadying breath, knowing his ploy with the cell would soon be revealed. Wondering if Kincaid would order him to be summarily executed, he licked his lips and swallowed against the cramp of fear in his belly. He willed himself not to tense up as Mallory approached, and he held Kincaid's gaze coolly; planning to fight if it looked like things were going to go bad in a hurry, he wanted his muscles to stay loose. He couldn't beat the odds, but he'd be damned if he'd just stand still, waiting to be shot.

"So, what's the plan, Kincaid?" he asked as if only mildly curious, as Mallory patted down his back and sides.

"Revenge, boy. Sweet revenge."

Snorting, Sandburg replied, "You know, I always gave you credit for being smarter than that. When you got loose, you should have run in the opposite direction, and kept going. You're never going to get away with this."

"I see you're still a cocky bastard," Kincaid rejoined wryly, with a cold smile. "I always liked that about you."

"Sir!" Mallory called out urgently after he'd investigated the hard object in Blair's jacket pocket and found the phone. He held it out to his boss. "It's connected to someone."

Kincaid's eyes flashed as he grabbed the phone and glanced at the number. His expression hardened and his lip twisted in an ugly grimace of fury, as his gaze lifted to meet Sandburg's. Figuring he might as well live up to his reputation for cockiness – though he wasn't at all sure it was warranted as mostly he could only remember feeling terror in this man's presence – Blair cocked a brow and smirked. "I guess that kinda screws up your plan, huh?" he goaded, knowing he was playing a dangerous game, not sure whether a furious Kincaid was more of a threat than a cold and calculating Kincaid, but fury usually put a man off-balance.

Wordlessly, Kincaid stepped forward, grabbed the collar of his jacket and jerked him forward to glare furiously at him – and then he backhanded Sandburg viciously in one smooth motion, so hard that Blair grunted and staggered a step to the side. Blair rubbed his jaw gingerly as he watched Kincaid cover the mouthpiece and demand of Gail, "How much would they have heard? Could they follow you here?"

Gaping at the phone, she shook her head as she tried to think. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I didn't know."

"How much do they know?" he demanded again, his tone harsh, impatient.

"I didn't mention any street names," she replied anxiously. "Just a warehouse on the docks."

He nodded crisply and turned his flat, cold eyes back to Blair. Drawing his sidearm, he leveled it at Sandburg as he raised the phone to his ear. "Do I have the pleasure of speaking with Detective Ellison or Captain Banks?" he demanded, his voice brittle with rage.

**

"Ellison," Jim replied, his tone frigid and his gaze locked with Simon's, as he held up a hand to stop the discussion in the office.

"Your boy here thinks he's pretty smart," Kincaid snapped. "But he's about to learn how stupid it is to play games with me."

"Yeah, well, my partner's smart enough to have gotten you so riled that you're not thinking straight," Jim challenged levelly. "You wanted Sandburg for a reason, right? You must have been planning to issue us an invitation to your party anyway. He just expedited the process."


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While Jim kept Kincaid talking, across the room, Simon gave swift direction. "Okay, let's recap. The control point will be here," he said, just above a whisper, pointing to the agreed upon location on the map open on the conference table. "Patrol cars are already sealing off the area. Ran, you'll deploy your men, here and here, ready to move in on command. Brown, Rafe, you're coming in from the side alley. We'll evaluate the situation on the scene and go from there. Everyone clear?" He looked around at the other men in the room – Ran, and Joel, Henri and Rafe, who had joined them minutes earlier, and then Jim. When they all nodded, he said, "Let's roll." Brown quickly detoured to grab Ellison's jacket while, the phone still clamped to his ear, Jim followed the others out.

"Well, you're right about that, Detective Ellison," Kincaid replied, his tone more contained, and Jim could hear his breathing level out, indicating that he was calming down. "I want you and the good Captain Banks to come alone, or your little buddy here is going to die a swift if very painful death. Do I need to issue you directions, or can you find your own way?"

"I'm afraid we need the address," Jim responded evenly as he got on the elevator with the others. "We've only been able to figure out a general location from what we overheard."

Barking a laugh, the felon drawled, "Oh, you're smooth, I'll give you that. Now, listen up, Detective. I do mean that I don't want to see any other cops, you understand? You come alone or I promise you, the next time I'll have my people cut your families to ribbons. Are we clear about that?"

"Yeah, we're clear," Jim told him dryly. "You want Captain Banks and I to march in there alone so you can kill the three of us at your leisure. It's an interesting plan, Kincaid. Did you really think we'd go for it?"

"Ah, I see you need an incentive to get here quickly," he replied, and Jim winced, realizing belatedly he'd pushed too hard.

"Kincaid, wait!" he shouted. "You kill him now, and we've no reason to come at all, except to take you and your clowns down." Simon and the others looked at him with sharp alarm.

"Takes time to mount an operation, Detective, I know that," Kincaid drawled, and the evil in his voice made Jim's skin crawl. He strained to hear, frustrated to only be linked by sound – and what he heard scared him. Blair's heartbeat suddenly jumped, and he heard his partner say, "You don't want to do this, man," and then the sound of scuffling, a grunt and then a shot reverberated through his skull; he jerked the phone away from his ear in reflex, nearly doubled over by the pain.

Simon grabbed the phone and heard Kincaid say, "You hurry, and your boy might still be breathing by the time you get here. Take time to mount a SWAT operation, and he'll sure 'nuff be long dead before you get into this warehouse." And then the line went dead.

"Jim, what – ?"

"He shot him, Simon. The bastard just shot Blair!" Jim grated, through clenched teeth.

Fury flared on Simon's face, followed by icy determination. As the elevator doors opened and they raced along the corridor toward the garage, he called out, "As soon as we're in position, we go in. Ran, your sniper takes the man on the roof, and you and your team go up the back fire escape – your men are to take down any target they can get. Brown, Rafe, you have the alley. Once we know you are all in position, Jim, you and I will go in the front, to keep him distracted, while the others come in from the top and side. We'll tell him he's surrounded and order him to lay down his arms and surrender, not that he'll do much more than laugh at us. Joel, you're in the control van – call an ambulance to be at the perimeter, to come in as soon as we call the all clear."

They ran for their vehicles and, sirens blaring, roared out of the garage.

**

Sprawled on the filthy floor, Blair gritted his teeth and curled against the searing burn in his side as he pressed his hand down hard on his jacket, using his clothing to stem the rush of blood from the graze. He wasn't sure if Kincaid had meant to wound him more seriously or not, but decided to pretend he'd been hurt relatively badly. The odds were good that because he'd been wrestling with the nearest goon for his weapon, that he'd thrown Kincaid's aim off.

"Take him up to the next floor," Kincaid ordered. "No need to be gentle."

Sandburg moaned when hands grabbed him roughly under the arms and hauled him up. And then he forced himself to let all his muscles go lax, feigning semi-consciousness as they dragged him across the floor. Feeling weak and nauseated from the shock of the attack, he struggled to concentrate and listened as Kincaid deployed his men around the warehouse, and he ordered Gail into a back corner. If he hadn't been hurting so badly, he might have had to fight a slight smug smile as he realized that Kincaid was so arrogant that he actually appeared to believe Jim and Simon might come alone – and even if they didn't, he was utterly confident that they wouldn't have time to arrange much backup if they appeared, as ordered, within fifteen minutes, the time it would take to get there from downtown – so he was concentrating most of his force on the front of the building.

While Kincaid was deploying his men, Blair was dragged up metal steps that battered his body, and he didn't fight the urge to grunt and groan in protest, though he kept his eyes closed to keep up the illusion that he was oblivious to everything in the world around him except the pain he was experiencing. When they dumped him on the metal, cross-hatch grating of the second floor, he peered cautiously through his eyelashes, and could see that he was lying near the edge, with a clear view of the double wooden doors on the front of the building. Kincaid waved one of his men over to them, to open them a crack and keep watch on the street outside before turning to lope up the steps.

Knowing his partner and his boss, Blair was absolutely positive that his friends would be bringing a lot of other friends to the party, and that belief gave him hope that he might just survive this little adventure. What with them already having the lead on the warehouse address, he was sure the open phone line during the drive from headquarters to the docks would have given Simon more than enough time to organize an assault on the building. Best of all, now that Kincaid thought he was down for the count, all he had to do was watch for his chance to help when the time came. However, regrettably, he also knew that Jim and Simon no doubt thought he'd been badly hurt, but he had to trust that their discipline would keep them from making any stupid mistakes out of fear for him. So ... for the next fifteen minutes or so, all he had to do – all he could do – was play possum and wait.

Wait, and battle the fear that clutched at his chest and curdled in his belly.

Oh, and hope that the 'scratch' on his side hadn't taken out such a big hunk of flesh that he was in danger of passing out from blood loss. Closing his eyes, he focused on his breathing, marshalling his strength and energy for when he needed to act.

**

Jim's face was a rigid mask of control, and he sat with all the animation of a stone statue, his fists clenched on his knees, as he stared straight out the windshield. As soon as they hit the street, Simon's sedan in the lead, followed by Joel, Henri and Brian in the nondescript van that held a wealth of electronics, and the armoured black SWAT vehicle, he rasped, "What did Kincaid say?"

His lips thinning, Simon's features hardened. When he didn't answer, Jim turned his head with slow deliberation to stare at him. "What did he say?" he repeated, his tone hard, dangerous.

Swallowing, cutting him a fast glance before concentrating again on wheeling around vehicles too slow to get out of his way, Banks ground out, "We can't believe anything he says – you know that. For all we know, he shot the gun in the air."

"If you believed that, you wouldn't have told Joel to have an ambulance ready at the scene," Jim grated. Visibly struggling to maintain his hard-won control, he ground out, "I was deafened by the shot. Couldn't hear ...." His voice caught and he turned away to again stare out the window. "Is he dead?"

"I don't know," Simon admitted hollowly. "I don't think so."

Closing his eyes, Jim clenched his jaw and his fists tighter to stave off the shakes, and his body fairly vibrated with impotent fear and fury. He drew a ragged breath and opened his eyes to glare at the heavy, rush hour traffic that was slowing them down. "If I'd made the connection sooner –"

"Stop it," Banks commanded ruthlessly, his fists clenched on the wheel as he fought for every second of speed he could gain. "This isn't your fault. I need you in control, not mired in guilt or wild with rage. Get it together, now." Glancing again at Jim, his tone softened as he added, "And don't be buying grief. We'll know soon enough how bad it is."

Swallowing hard to dislodge the lump in his throat, Jim nodded bleakly.

As they approached the docks, they all killed their sirens and the SWAT vehicle peeled off, to come around the warehouse from the far side, closer to the fire escape in the far back corner. They passed the patrol cars cordoning off the area and, a block away and out of sight of the warehouse, Simon pulled over and Joel parked behind him. The two big men leapt out of the car and ran back to the van. Brown slid the side door open and held the Kevlar vests until they'd shucked their overcoats. Once they'd donned the vests and pulled their coats back on, he handed them the small earpieces and miniature microphones that would allow them to stay in touch with both the van and the SWAT team.

"The ambulance is on its way," Joel assured them soberly as Brown and Rafe climbed out of the van. With a hasty, solemn exchange of glances with Simon and Jim, they raced away to circle around the block and come into the alley from the back, where they would sneak to the side door while Jim and Simon drew the attention of the remnants of the Sunrise Patriots to the front of the building.

Banks and Ellison returned to the sedan and a long two minutes later, as soon as the others had radioed that they were in position, Simon drove around the corner, to park across the deserted street from the warehouse. Resolutely, they got out of the car and walked to the middle of the road. "Kincaid!" Simon shouted. "Police! This will be your only warning. Come out with your hands up!"

The right hand side of the wooden double doors in front of them creaked open, revealing only a dark interior.

Jim quirked a brow at his boss, who rolled his eyes. "We're going in," he said quietly for the benefit of those listening. "Give us ninety seconds, and then take them down."

And then, counting on Kincaid's need to gloat before he cut them down, weapons in hand but pointed at the ground, they strode across the street. Jim listened intently and then murmured into his own microphone as they neared the building, "One man on the roof, two in the back and four in the front on the second floor. One in or near the alley, six near the front on the first floor and one other near the back corner."

Simon glanced at him, surprised at the blatant release of information acquired through his enhanced hearing, but Jim just shrugged tightly. Blair was in there and he didn't care who knew about his senses if it helped get his partner out alive.

On the top of a three-story building a block away, a SWAT sniper with a silenced weapon sighted the gunman on the roof, and brought him down before he could sound an alarm about the police closing in on the warehouse. Keeping to the shadows in the noisome alley, Brown and Rafe snaked in a crouched lope to the side door, the sentry there only partly visible behind the door that was half-way open behind him as he tensely watched the street out front. At the back of the warehouse, Captain Ran Jorgenson led his men soundlessly up the fire escape to the second floor. He checked the door stealthily and, finding it locked, laid a small charge to blow it open.

Simon pushed the left side of the double doors open, and he and Jim marched in side by side. Both men blinked to quickly adjust their vision to the gloomy interior. With a rapid scan, they'd placed six visible gunmen before the self-styled colonel called out with rich satisfaction, "Captain Banks and Detective Ellison, as I live and breathe. Welcome, gentlemen, to my humble abode."

They looked up at where he was standing close to the edge of the open second floor loft, his left arm locked around Sandburg's throat while he held a revolver to Blair's temple. Though his posture suggested he could barely stand, Blair met Jim's gaze steadily and, hardly moving his lips, he breathed, "I'm okay."

Jim gave a barely perceptible nod.

"What now, Kincaid?" Banks demanded.

"Well, first, I'd appreciate it if you dropped those weapons you're holding," the man drawled with a cold, empty smile. "Immediately, gentlemen," he added, his tone harder as he dug the barrel of his weapon into the skin of Blair's temple. "Or I'll blow your boy's brains out right here, right now."

"And then what?" Simon called back, buying a few more seconds of time. "You shoot all three of us?"

"Not before I have a little fun," Kincaid gloated. "I want some satisfaction for all the trouble you've given me. Now drop those weapons or, I swear, I will –"

An explosion erupted at the back of the building. The sound of Brown taking down the guard at the side door and Gail screaming in terror, added to the sudden confusion. Taking advantage of the split second of surprise, Blair elbowed Kincaid hard while simultaneously snapping his head back to smash into his captor's face, and then he twisted out of Kincaid's loosened grip. Even as rapid shots exploded at the back of the second floor, he grabbed for the gun, and they toppled to the floor, wrestling for dominance. Below, Simon and Jim dropped and rolled in separate directions, and came up firing. Rafe and Brown charged in from the side, low and fast, picking their targets with deadly aim. Above them, Kincaid squirmed out of Blair's weakened grip, but even as he rolled free and brought his revolver up, Sandburg scrambled for the gun in his ankle holster, leveling it and shouting, "Drop it!" When Kincaid continued to bring his weapon into line, Sandburg fired.

In less than a minute, it was over. The smell of cordite and wisps of gunsmoke filled the air and, for an infinite moment, there was only silence. Jim heard a low moan of pain from above, but all he could see was both Blair and Kincaid sprawled on the metal flooring; and then he was racing up the staircase, lunging forward two steps at a time, not sure what he'd find. But when he reached the top, he gulped a breath of relief. Kincaid, his expression livid with fury, was pressing a hand against a wound in his right shoulder, and Blair was braced on his side, half-raised on one elbow, both hands supporting the pistol he held trained on his erstwhile captor. His partner looked up at him and gave him a crooked smile. "Hey, Jim," he rasped, his voice thin with effort, "good to see you, man. You wanna take over here? I'm, uh, I'm kind of tired."

"Sure thing, Chief," he replied tautly, his glance taking in the blood soaking through his partner's jacket and the small crimson pool on the floor nearby. Ruthlessly, he stalked toward Kincaid and roughly flipped the man onto his stomach. Ignoring the cursing protests, he hauled the bastard's wrists together and cuffed him. Simon had just reached the top of the staircase when Jim swiveled to kneel beside Sandburg.

The pistol slipped from Blair's hands, and he barely managed to whisper huskily, "Really, man, I'm okay," before he passed out. Jim reached out quickly to cradle his head before it hit the floor, and he paled with sudden fear. Cocking his head unconsciously, he quickly homed in on Sandburg's heartbeat, and then his tension eased as he looked up at Banks and nodded.

"Joel, all clear," Simon called over his mike, striving to keep his alarm from his voice. Jim didn't seem to be panicking, so he figured Sandburg couldn't be in immediate danger of dying. "Blair's alive but hurt. Send in the ambulance." Looking around, he added dryly, "Actually, you better call for several more – and the coroner's wagon." Moving across the floor, he crouched beside Jim, who had swiftly checked Blair's wound before lifting his partner's head and shoulders gently to rest against his chest. "How bad?" Simon asked, his voice unsteady.

"Bullet gouged out a chunk of skin along his ribs, and it looks like he's lost about a pint of blood, but he'll be okay," Jim told him, his voice thick with relief.

Banks gripped his shoulder briefly, and then stood, hastily checking to ensure that no other officers were down or injured. SWAT team members were herding wounded men from the back of the warehouse. Below, Rafe hauled an hysterically weeping Gail from her dark corner, while Brown and two of Ran's men secured the first floor, kicking away weapons, and cuffing the wounded. Assured that everything was under control, Simon holstered his weapon and then moved to meet Ran, who was coming out of the shadows, his assault weapon slung over his shoulder. Simon shook hands with his colleague and said gratefully, "Good job – and thanks."

Ran nodded soberly and looked toward Sandburg. "How's your man?"

"He'll be fine," Banks replied warmly, with the ghost of a smile.

"I saw him take down Kincaid," Ran told him then. "He did good. Real good, especially for a rookie."

"Sandburg's got four years of experience, and he's a damned good cop," Simon rumbled staunchly, glancing toward Blair with an expression of warm approval.

Jorgenson grinned and clapped Banks on the shoulder. On his way to the stairs, he called jokingly over his shoulder, "Well, I'd hope a guy that's worth five thousand dollars would be more than just a pretty face."

Simon chuckled and nodded, and then he moved to the edge of the floor to wave the arriving EMTs up the steps.

**

"I seriously do not want to be stuck here overnight, man," Blair stated emphatically, giving no quarter to the fact that he was flat on his back on a treatment table in the Emergency Room of Cascade General receiving a blood transfusion, or that he looked like death warmed over and had about as much get up and go as an arthritic squirrel.

Jim scratched his ear as he eyed his partner bemusedly, noting with misgiving the stark pallor and deeply etched lines of pain around his eyes and mouth. "Chief, you were shot less than two hours ago."

"It's a scratch," he retorted with a huff. "Okay, so it was a deep scratch that required fifteen stitches, but it was still a scratch. As soon as I stop making like some kind of vampire, I'm good to go." When Jim just shrugged, he whined piteously, laying the pathos on thick, "C'mon, Jim. I hurt and I'm tired and I just want to sleep in my own bed. Is that so much to ask? Tell the doc that you were a medic and get him to sign me out in your care. Besides, once the shock and the medication they gave me for pain wears off, I think I may be a basket case, you know? And I'd really like to fall apart in the privacy of my own room, if you don't mind. God, this'll sure teach me to be cocky about being the big winning ticket item in an auction! I mean, I was feeling like pretty hot stuff, you know? And it turns out to all be a scam so Kincaid can kill me – oh, and you and Simon, too. Here I thought I was going dancing with nearly twenty really great women and I end up being smacked around, shot at and – well, man, the whole evening was a real bust, you know? And like that's just ... so wrong."

"Okay, okay," Jim acceded, holding up his hands in defeat and grinning despite himself. "Don't pout. I'll go see what I can do about getting you out of here."

"Good," he sighed and closed his eyes, only to open one and order, "So go!"

"I'm going, I'm gone."

"Just make sure you come back," Blair grumbled.

"That whole pathetic spiel was just an excuse to use the word 'bust', wasn't it, Sandburg?" he accused as he walked backwards toward the door. "Don't think I don't know that."

Blair snickered and waved at him weakly to go. Jim grinned, glad he'd caught the wordplay. Simon had told him earlier that, because Jorgenson had seen Blair take Kincaid down, despite being wounded, he was going to credit Blair for the bust. Banks had also shared Ran's comments on how Blair had handled himself. The Captain of the SWAT team wasn't an easy man to impress, and the fact that his partner had taken a monster like Kincaid down personally would go a long way toward establishing Sandburg's credibility as a cop with those who had a problem with him carrying a badge. When he'd relayed the message to his partner, Blair had looked surprised, and then well-pleased. But – his speech slightly slurred by the pain medication he'd just been given before he was stitched up – all he'd said was, "I couldn't've done it without a li'l help from my frien's, man. S'good to have such great frien's."

Jim's grin faded as he headed out into the corridor, in search of the physician. The kid looked like hell and probably should be kept in hospital overnight, but he had to admit, if only to himself, that he wanted to take Blair home as much or more as Sandburg wanted to go. Chewing on his lip as he tilted his head to listen for the doctor's voice, he tried not to think about how scared he'd been that Blair might never .... His gut twisted suddenly and a hollow ache ballooned in his chest. Determinedly, he shut down the thought before he could fully contemplate the idea of the loft without Blair ever being there again, because coming so close to losing his partner was just too damned hard to face head on. Sandburg was fine. Exhausted, irritable and whiny, but fine.

Thank God.

**

Not quite an hour later, his partner's arm around his waist and leaning heavily against him, and his arm around the kid's shoulders, he supported Blair into the loft. Though Jim fully intended to help him directly to his room after he'd slipped off the blood-encrusted jacket, Blair resisted and tugged weakly toward the living room. "Too early to go to bed," he complained, his tone fretful, a clear sign that he should go straight to bed but would be too stubborn to rest. "And I'm hungry."

"Okay," Jim agreed reluctantly, but unwilling to fight about it. "But first, let's get you cleaned up a bit and into some clothes that aren't saturated with blood."

Wrinkling his nose, Blair looked up at him dolefully. "Guess I stink, huh?"

A fond smile flitted over Jim's lips as he lightly ruffled Blair's hair and said softly, "Yeah, Junior. You stink pretty bad."

"Okay, clean up first and then food," Sandburg agreed, once again leaning on Jim as they slowly made their way across the floor to the bathroom.

Settling Blair on the closed seat of the toilet, Jim helped him ease out of his shirt and T-shirt, and then steadied Sandburg to ease his jeans off his hips. The wincing eyes and muted hiss bore testament to the discomfort he was feeling from the ugly, stitched up wound that stretched for nearly three inches just under his ribs. Though he suspected Kincaid had been trying for a gut shot, Jim's throat went dry when he considered how close the bullet had come to plowing through Blair's heart. Sandburg shivered miserably, bringing his attention back to the matter at hand. He filled the basin with warm, not quite hot, water, and then carefully washed away the blood that had smeared over his friend's side, belly and hip. When he was done, he tossed the washcloth into the hamper and gently dried Blair's skin, taking care not to pull on the wound. And then he soaked another cloth and tilted Blair's chin up to wash the sweat and grime of the warehouse from his face, and then his hands.

Giving him a soft smile of indulgent understanding, Sandburg murmured, "I could've washed my own face and hands."

"I know," he replied as quietly, his gaze hooded. Finished, he said, "Stay here. I'll get you some sweats." Nodding, Blair leaned his shoulder against the sink for support.

A few minutes later, he helped Blair to the couch and eased him down. "Still hungry?" he asked.

"Yeah," Blair replied. "Something light. Comfort food. Soup, maybe? And tea?"

"You got it, partner."

Blair leaned his head back against the cushion and closed his eyes while Jim busied himself in the kitchen. When the soup was ready, he poured it and the tea into large, ceramic mugs and carried them, along with a mug of soup for himself, into the living room. Setting the tray on the coffee table, he handed Blair his soup, put the tea in easy reach, and then settled in his chair.

"Hmm, this is great," Sandburg sighed contentedly. "Thanks, Jim." After another sip, he reflected pointedly, "You know, I hope that this time the prison system manages to hold onto Kincaid like they're supposed to." He paused again, and then mused, "I was thinking that he's, I don't know, like a rite of passage for me, or something."

Jim frowned at that and looked at him askance.

Wincing as he shifted to sit a bit straighter, Blair continued, "Well, think about it. My first day working with you as an observer, he takes over the PD. Then, well, just before things went south at Rainier, leading me to become a cop, he takes over the stadium. And now, he's my first bust as a detective." Shaking his head, he observed, "Sometimes the universe is very strange and mysterious, you know? I never would have thought a fanatical white supremacist with pronounced terrorist tendencies would ever factor so often or so significantly in my life."

"Guess it comes with the territory when you hang around with a sentinel," Jim muttered with a grimace, thinking about how different, and how much safer, Blair's life would have probably been if they'd never met.

"Don't do that, man," Blair chided gently, easily able to guess the thoughts worrying his friend. "I'm not complaining, well, except for the fact that they keep letting him escape. I just think it's a bit odd, and I don't really believe in coincidences – he's like a metaphor or something. The antithesis of what we're about, about who we are and the kind of men we try to be – the difference we try to make." Sighing, he rubbed his forehead. "Guess I'm not making much sense. Must be the drugs."

"You shouldn't've had to deal with him, not this time," Jim finally confessed. "I screwed up, Chief."

Sandburg's gaze narrowed and a frown furrowed his brow. "What do you mean? Screwed up how? From my perspective, you and the others rode to my rescue ... and did a damned fine job of it, I might add."

Sighing, Jim sat forward, the half-drunk mug of soup cradled in both hands between his knees. "I, uh, I heard his voice on the phone that day Cindy Lou asked you to be in the auction," he said slowly, studying the floor intently. Giving his head a little shake, he looked up at Blair. "I just didn't recognize his voice – not consciously, anyway. And then it didn't twig for me until I heard Gail's last name and made the link with the warehouse rental. I should have put the pieces together a lot faster than I did."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, remind me to buy you a cape the next time I'm at the mall – every super hero should have one," he replied sarcastically. "C'mon, Jim, would you give yourself a break? That was days before we even knew he was on the loose. A distant, probably pretty unclear voice on the other end of the line of a phone that was down the corridor and in a huge room with nearly two dozen people talking on the phone or to one another? You're good; hell, you're great. But it's amazing you heard him at all, and then remembered it when you did. Let it go."

When Jim just shrugged his shoulders, clearly not convinced, Sandburg growled, "I mean it. Let it go or I'll go over there and kick your ass."

The tone and the improbable threat from a man who could barely stand, startled Jim into a snort of laughter. His eyes crinkling with amusement, he drawled, "You really think you're up to that, short stuff?"

"Maybe not tonight," Blair allowed with a grin. "But, hey, tomorrow – no question."

"You're right, I think the drugs are messing with your head," Jim retorted sardonically, but he felt relieved of a burden he'd been carrying since late that afternoon. "Finish your soup and your tea, and we'll get you into bed before you flake out on the couch."

"Ah, you're going to tuck me in," he teased, the sparkle in his eyes triumphing over the dull haze of exhaustion.

"Yes, Sandburg, I'll tuck you in," Jim sighed with great forbearance. "C'mon. Drink up."

Having already practically inhaled the soup, Blair obligingly started to lean forward to exchange the empty mug for the full one on the table, but he gasped softly at the sharp pull in his side. Immediately, Jim was up and beside him, taking the mug and then handing him the tea. When Blair took it but focused on taking a couple, slow, deep breaths, Jim hunkered down and gripped his shoulder supportively. "You okay?" he asked anxiously.

Nodding, Blair blinked slowly; his voice was strained as he replied, "Yeah. I just forgot for a minute. Moving's a bit of a challenge tonight."

Jim's jaw tightened against the emotion that clogged his throat. "I was scared, you know?" he rasped. "When I heard that shot."

Looking into his eyes, Blair murmured, "I know. The blast must've nearly blown your eardrum."

Quirking a brow, Jim admitted wryly, "Yeah, it did. We were in the elevator with the SWAT guys, heading to the garage. If any of them had any doubts about my sense of hearing, well, I guess they probably don't anymore. I nearly hit my knees."

"I knew you'd be listening and, well, I heard what Kincaid said. He thought I was hurt worse than I was," Blair told him. "I felt bad – that you didn't know I was alright."

"Yeah, well, the important thing is that it wasn't anything that won't heal," Jim replied diffidently as he stood and put the empty soup mugs on the tray. "I'll just clean up the kitchen, and then I'll help you to your room."

His expression warm with affection, Blair watched him pick up the tray and stride to the kitchen. He sipped the tea while Jim washed the few dishes and utensils, and then gratefully accepted his partner's support to his room, where Jim pulled down the sheet and blankets and helped Blair ease into bed. And then, with a tiny smile, he firmly tucked the covers around Blair's shoulders.

"Sleep well, Chief," he murmured and then stood to leave, but paused in the doorway when Blair called softly, "Jim – I really am okay. You can relax."

He bowed his head and nodded, buying time to swallow the sudden lump in his throat. When he lifted his head, his gaze roamed the darkened room as he rasped, "A week ago, you asked me if I could name five things that make me happy. But I only gave you four. You want to know what the fifth one is?"

"Yeah, Jim, I'd like to know," he replied softly. "Like I said, we can pay more attention to doing stuff that you enjoy, if we know what those things are."

Jim sniffed and swiped at his nose. "Well, this'll be an easy one, 'cause it's something that I've already got every day," he said, his gaze still flitting around the room. But then, he took a breath and met Blair's eyes. "The fifth thing is you, Chief. Having you here. Having you as my partner." Shrugging uncomfortably, embarrassed, he turned to leave.

Behind him, his voice husky with emotion, Blair murmured, "I love you, too, man."

He smiled and nodded. "Good night, Chief."

"Good night, Jim. See you in the morning."

He was on his way upstairs when he heard the quiet snicker. "And, uh, Jim? That makes six things."

Grinning, he chuckled and continued up to bed. "And seven, and eight," he counted silently to himself, adding 'safe' and the sound of Blair's laughter. "And a whole lot more, Chief. A whole lot more."


finis

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
starwatcher307
Jul. 16th, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
.
*g* Looks like everyone has already read the slash version.

I just had an idea -- if this story (especially the slash version) makes the LMFA nominations, you'll have some readers who are uncomfortable with Live Journal. They may not know to go to the "front page" to find the part. It might be helpful to them to put the link to "part next" at the end of each section.

(click on the cut-link, copy the URL, then go to the 'edit' function of the previous part, and paste the URL at the bottom, with a suitable designation next to it.)
.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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