Standard Disclaimer: Pet Fly owns these boys, I just borrowed them for a bit. I'll put them back when I'm done, none the worse for wear, I promise. Please don't sue, all I've got are four kids and a cat. The kids eat a ton, and the cat is afraid of heights (but I'll never have to worry about him getting stuck in a tree).
Warnings: Some h/c, most of it emotional. A fair amount of smarm.
Thanks to my beta readers, TAE and Daydreamer. They always seem to know when to push. Thanks guys.
This one is dedicated to my kids who were suitably impressed that their mother could write something beyond a grocery list.
Laundry day.... why does Jim always manage to be at the station on laundry day? Oh well.... you can come home now Jim, clothes are done. Let's see, set one basket down on the floor.... unlock the door.... in we go.
The energetic young man entered the loft and tossed his keys at the small basket on the nearby table. He managed to not only miss with the keys, but spill the basket of clean clothes in the process. Damn, damn, damn, at least those were my jeans that hit the floor and not his. He'd notice, somehow. OOPS, I hear the elevator, that's probably him now. Blair chuckled to himself as he stuffed the crumpled items back into the basket. If Jim thinks I talk a lot, he should hear what goes on inside my head. Well, whoever it was just got back on the elevator, wonder who it was? So....where was I.... oh yes.... get the other basket of laundry. Hello.... what's this? Can't count today, Sandburg. Where'd the third basket come from? Good thing I'm an anthropologist and not a mathematician. Damn, it's moving. Yeah I've seen dirty clothes that was ready to move on their own... but clean ones? Time to investigate. "Hello." Cute kid----- wait a minute, CUTE KID! ! ! ! ! ! There's a note.... Oh great, this just gets better and better! Wish I'd seen who was on that elevator.
Jim Ellison stretched and enjoyed the relative quiet of the afternoon in the bullpen. He should feel guilty about leaving all that laundry to his roommate, but Sandburg was sure to get even with him later. With a lopsided grin, he contemplated that notion. Yes, Blair would get back at him in spades. With that revelation firmly implanted in his mind, Jim reached for the phone. He snagged it on the first ring. "Ellison" he barked, trying to hide the amusement in his voice.
"Jim, you need to come home. Now, Jim."
What? Was the kid's revenge starting already? "Whoa now, Sandburg, slow down. What's wrong?"
"Just come home Jim. Just come home, right now, but you've got to stop at the store."
"Chief, don't tell me, this is one of those emergencies that require some chocolate, right?"
"No man, diapers and formula."
"WHAT!?!" That got the big man's attention. "What have you gotten yourself into this time Sandburg?"
"Not me this time. When you get home though, you'd better start checking your date book, big guy." A high pitched cry came over the phone line as Blair continued, "Gotta go, just hurry."
Ellison stared at the phone still in his hand. No way, no way this could be happening. This kind of thing don't happen to me Not zoned, but still lost in that thought, he didn't hear Simon come up behind him.
"Jim?" the captain's voice was quiet, "You okay Jim?"
"Simon, something's come up. I.... need to go home, Sir."
The bigger man could not keep from chuckling, "What's the kid done now?"
Jim raised one eyebrow. He didn't quite know how to answer that one yet. Simon continued, "After all, what else could it be? Oh, I suppose Cascade could be the landing sight for aliens, or an old girlfriend of yours could show up with a baby in tow, or......"
Jim's face color gave Simon the answer that Jim's voice could not.
Despite the stack of paperwork on his desk, there was no hesitation in Simon's voice, "Come on, I'll drive, you can explain on the way." Damn, I think the aliens would have been easier.
The car was pulling out of the department garage before anything else was said. Jim's voice was quiet and thoughtful. "Sandburg said to stop for diapers and formula."
"All right, what size diapers do you need?" At least this was territory Simon knew about. So often Captain Banks felt lost trying to understand what went on between Jim and Blair, between Sentinel and Guide, but parenting was where he could give these two men some real advice, not just some vague reassurances.
Jim stared blankly at Simon for a moment, then pulled out his cell phone and dialed the loft number. "Hey, what size?" A pause then he continued, "The diapers, Sandburg, what size diapers?" After another pause he continued, "I don't know, let me ask Simon." With a slight turn of his head he repeated the question to the older man. "Umm, do they have a size label in them or something?"
Back at the loft, Blair didn't need sentinel hearing to hear Simon choke on whatever retort he was trying to get out. Forgetting he was talking to Jim, and not the older man, he tried to salvage some dignity out of the situation. "Hey man, I've only used cloth diapers. They are soooo much better for the environment, but this is kind of an emergency, you know. Jim, hang on a sec, there is someone at the door. Maybe the mom's back, that would sure solve a lot of problems."
Yeah it would. Jim was still wracking his brain, trying to think who would be dropping a baby off on his doorstep. "Chief, check the peephole before you open the door."
The pieces began to fall into place. "Don't you know who the mother is?" His question made Jim wince. No, 'Mister Responsible' didn't have a clue. The captain's smile was well hidden. Jim Ellison was not perfect, only human. Somehow, that was comforting to know.
Blair set the phone down, and trundled over to check the door. He knew that Jim could hear what was happening, and he kept up a steady stream of chatter. "So, he wants me to check who's out there. Geez, maybe I should give him a description too, that way he can figure out who's responsible for this mess before he gets here." He cringed over the careless words, "Sorry, Big Guy, we'll figure this out together. Okay, lets see who's there. Crap, this is not what I want to see. Jim, there are two big ugly guys out there with guns, and I don't think they came to sell Avon."
"Sandburg?" Jim's voice cracked with horror, "Chief, what's going on? Who's got guns? What's happening?" The phone suddenly went dead in his hand. "Oh my Gawd, Simon, I heard shots."
Neither man spoke as the car raced to the loft.
Guns drawn, the two officers raced up the stairs, not bothering to wait for the elevator. Please let them be all right. The door to the loft stood open, no sounds, no heartbeats. Inside, few clues were left to go on. A few bullet holes could be seen in the wall, a chair knocked over. The Sentinel let his practiced eye sweep over his home. A paper by the sofa and a blood smear on the doorjamb to Sandburg's room. He slowly approached the blood stain, braced himself, and let his senses open up. Yes it was blood. More to the point, it was Sandburg's blood.
Simon quietly walked up behind him. "Nobody's here Jim. Any ideas?"
"Sandburg's been shot, the baby's okay."
Damn, how do I say this? Jim, how can you know the baby's all right?"
Ellison walked back into the living room and picked up the paper off the floor. He read it and smiled gently to himself before turning to give his captain an answer. "Because Sandburg is with my daughter and he would do anything to keep her from harm."
Silently the paper passed from one man to the other. Simon took a deep breath before reading what was on that rumpled sheet of notepaper.
I promised myself that you would never find out about Jenny. But I'm in danger and now she is too. I know you will do the right thing for her. I should have told you about her, I'm sorry.'
"It's not signed Jim, any idea yet who the mother is?" Banks tried to keep any judgment out of his voice. That's the last thing Jim needs right now.
"No Simon, I don't know. What kind of man does that make me?" He sank into a chair, rubbing at his temples, the beginnings of a headache already starting to form. "Now Sandburg is suffering the consequences of it."
The older man sat down on the sofa, across from him and thought for a moment before he spoke. He was so very grateful that the presence of one Blair Sandburg had melted the ice that was once James Ellison, but at times he still didn't quite know what to say. This was one of those times. "It makes you the kind of man who's in the dark. Not even your eyesight can make you able to see everything."
"Thanks, Simon." The look on his face said volumes more. Those two words were enough, the rest didn't need to be said.
"Let's get a team in here and see if we can figure out what the hell happened in here tonight." As he spoke, he transformed from friend back to police captain, determined that every avenue, every possible explanation, would be investigated.
The back-up arrived moments later, having been summoned by Simon before even reaching the loft. The two uniformed officers were sent on a door-to-door search, looking for Sandburg and a baby. That part was easy, they didn't know Ellison and Sandburg well enough to ask any personal questions. Forensics arrived next, followed by Rafe and Brown. The situation was reviewed among the four men. Jim's discomfort was apparent and Brown tried to comfort him, "No judgments here, man." as he touched the older man's shoulder.
A terse nod was Ellison's only reply. The words he couldn't speak instead came from the captain. "Let's get Sandburg and Jenny home safe first, then there'll be time to sort out the rest."
A throat cleared behind them. "Let's have it," Captain Banks was all business.
"Two shooters, different guns, we have five slugs recovered so far. There's no blood splatter, only the smear on the doorjamb into Sandburg's room and a second one on the fire escape. Looks like he took the baby and went out that way." the forensetic's chief nodded his head toward the fire escape in Sandburg's room.
Jim Ellison's tone echoed that of his captain's. "What caliber slugs did you recover?"
The forensics chief continued with the findings. "Three .22 cal. slugs and two that are probably .454's. All the shots were high, there's a good chance the baby wasn't hit and I'm pretty sure that Sandburg was hit by one of the .22 rounds."
Rafe cocked his head and pondered that for a moment before asking the question on all their minds. "How can you tell Blair was hit by the .22?"
The answer chilled them to the bone, "The .454 Causall is the most powerful handgun that there is, even over a .44 magnum. If Sandburg had been hit by that, we'd know." Everyone in the room understood what that meant. A weapons demonstration the previous spring had shown what the new, rare gun was capable of. Even a flesh wound could cause massive shock.
The professional tone in Ellison's voice wavered slightly as the situation hit him. "What you're saying is that Blair is out there, hurt, bleeding, with a baby in tow and two men on his tail, trying to kill him, the baby, or both of them. How far could he have gotten like that?"
Brown spoke up then, reminding them of one obvious fact that had been overlooked. "Where's Hairboy's car?"
The car. Jim paused for a moment, a glimpse of hope on his face for the first time since he had gotten that first phone call. "There was a party at the neighbor's last night, he had to park down the street. He takes a shortcut through the alley - I'm always yelling at him that it's not safe..." The last of his words could barely be heard as Ellison rushed down to street level.
The other three men reached the alleyway only moments after Ellison. Ellison's practiced eye had already noticed something and he called the others over to see. "Look at the last rung of the fire escape, there's more blood. He made it this far."
"Good." Captain Banks could not keep the relief from his voice. "So, where's the car from here?"
A quick scouting found Sandburg's shortcut through the fence. "Look Simon, he did get through here." The men noted the snagged piece of fabric from Blair's favorite shirt. Even more noticeable were the scrape marks on the ground. Simon was the first to realize what it meant. "The basket, he shoved it through here." None of the men could fit through the gap in the fence that Blair had used in his escape.
"Damn, I didn't think he was that small." muttered Brown, after trying unsuccessfully to wedge into the small space.
"They couldn't fit either." A smile played across Ellison's face "They had to go around. He had time to get away from them." A quick glance past the fence showed no sign of Sandburg's car.
"Where would he go then? The hospital?" Rafe thought for a moment, then answered his own question "No, not the hospital, he hates the hospital."
A shrill sound, and the entire group jumped. Ellison grabbed at his cell phone. This had better be some news. "Ellison." Even Simon cringed at the tone of his voice. "Chief, where are you? Are you okay? We saw the blood. What about the baby?" A ghost of a smile crossed his face as he listened to the answers, then he continued, "We're on our way buddy." His smile widened slightly, never overshadowing the relief in his eyes. A long moment passed before he spoke to the men waiting in front of him. "They're at the station. The baby's fine and he was just winged. Oh, and he reminded me not to forget the formula."
"And the diapers." quipped Simon, letting the relief wash over him as well. "Now let's go see what kind of trouble Sandburg and our young lady have gotten themselves into." He laid his arm across Ellison's shoulder and guided him back to the car. The slight trembling could be felt quite obviously, but as to whom it originated from, Jim or himself, Simon couldn't be sure.
In the end, Brown volunteered to stop for the baby supplies. Rafe offered to accompany him and Simon just shook his head and quietly slipped them some cash. "Hey, Uncle Henri knows all about this stuff, been baby-sitting for my sis and her husband for two years now."
Rafe reminded his friends that he was the oldest of six children. "Diapers and feedings - man, I can do that in my sleep, no problem."
A knowing grin on his face, the captain sent them off with a wave. Jim Ellison might not know what he was in for, but there were enough surrogate uncles around to give whatever help he would need. The captain paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. Jim's not in the mood to see me smiling right now Simon turned back to his best, although momentarily rattled, detective. "You ready?"
"Guess I have to be, sir."
Never before had Captain Banks heard Ellison sound this shaky and unsure of himself. He had no doubts that the younger man would make a great father.
The question was how to convince Jim Ellison of that. After starting the car Banks turned and stated what, to him, was so obvious. "Jim, this had to hit you pretty hard, but it's going to be all right. You were right, Sandburg kept her safe. She is going to stay safe. You leave that to us. For now you just concentrate on getting to know your little girl." Simon raised his hand to forestall what he knew was coming. "I know you're not ready. Hell, do you think I was ready when Daryl was born? Sometimes you just have to hit the ground running. We are all here, to give you whatever help you need. Taggart's got kids. Brown's an uncle. Rafe's got a whole slew of little brothers and sisters and I've got Daryl. Between all of us, I can't think of a question that we can't answer. We will get you through this. No judgments, no ridicule. You've got a lot of friends in the department, Jim. You have always been there for us, let us return the favor for a change."
"Thank you sir. I appreciate all of this, I really do. Especially since you're wrong about one thing. I haven't always been there for other people."
Simon finally allowed himself a slight smile. "Didn't you know? We don't hold any B.S. time against you."
That caught Ellison's attention. "B.S. time, sir?"
"Yeah, that stands for Before-Sandburg time. Now we're in A.S. time, After-Sandburg." Banks couldn't help but chuckle at Ellison's face as that sunk in. After a moment, the laughter of two good friends filled the car as they made their way to the station.
The car had barely come to a stop in the garage before Ellison was out and on his way to the elevator. Simon Banks was grateful for his long legs as he strode to catch up before the elevator door closed. Once inside, Banks started to say something, but before he could open his mouth he saw Ellison slip into sentinel mode. Head slightly cocked, he was listening. After a moment he smiled, eyes focusing again.
"You can hear them? From here?" Banks looked up at the progress of the elevator car. They were just passing the third floor.
"Sandburg's singing her to sleep." Jim Ellison, hard-nosed cop, couldn't help but grin at the thought of his free-spirited partner singing the little girl to sleep. My little girl, he corrected himself.
Taggart was at the elevator to greet them, that was if you consider a 'shush' to be a proper greeting. The two men quietly allowed themselves to be escorted into Simon's office. Simon was watching Jim and, well, Jim was enthralled with his first look at his baby girl. Without making a sound, he walked across the office and knelt by the chair.
With the practiced eye of a Sentinel, Ellison carefully examined the pair before him. Sandburg was pale, the pain evident in his face. His left arm was bandaged just above the elbow. A scrape was beginning to bruise on his right cheekbone. The little bundle he held in his arms seemed none the worse for wear. Ellison stared at her, feeling his heart melt at the sight. She was perfect. Her hair, golden brown ringlets, framed a round little face. Her mouth, a cupid's bow, even as she quietly sucked on one hand in her sleep. The other hand was grasping a handful of Sandburg's hair rather tightly.
Sandburg winced and tilted toward that strong little hand as he sat up. The new father smiled and gently removed the hair from the little girl's grasp without waking her up. He studied her tiny features, searching for a familiarity that eluded him. Still questioning himself, Ellison steadied his friend as he stood up. "You okay?"
"Fine, just a little stiff. Here, you sit down and I'll hand her to you." For once the Sentinel did not argue as he quickly settled himself into the chair that his Guide had just vacated. The new woman in Jim Ellison's life was settled into his arms without waking up. He couldn't help but smile as her hand, searching for hair to grasp, settled for his shirt instead. the mystery and unanswered questions were pushed to the far corner of his mind. He was quickly and deeply falling in love with this little angel asleep on his chest. At the same time his heart was breaking for the months of her life that he had already missed.
Blair Sandburg knew his partner well enough to know what was going through his mind. "We'll give you some privacy, Buddy." With that he squeezed the older man's shoulder, then ushered everyone out of the office.
Before Blair could leave, Jim caught his arm. "Thank you." The words may have been simple, but the younger man saw the full meaning of them in his friend's eyes. He smiled and nodded back. No words were necessary, their friendship had far exceeded the need for them.
As the office door closed Banks reached for the bruised and bloodied young man. "Sit down before you fall down." He turned his attention toward Taggart. "Why isn't he at the hospital?"
"Don't blame Joel, I wouldn't go." Blair sagged in the closest chair. "I'm all right, really sir. It's just been kind of a wild night." Big blue eyes looked up at the captain. "I didn't want some social worker to get her hands on Jenny. She needs to be with Jim and he needs her. Look at them Simon."
Not the puppy-dog eyes, Sandburg. That kid's got my number. Simon Banks admitted defeat silently as he looked over the young man's head, at the scene in his office. "All right, Sandburg, tell me everything that happened. Can you describe the men who broke into the loft?"
"There were three of them."
"Three! I thought there were only two!"
"No sir. There were three of them, but only two had guns. That one gun was big enough to be two, though. Okay, the first guy was kinda small, even shorter than me. He had dark hair, cut real short and real pale skin. He was ugly."
"Sandburg, when was the last time you saw a pretty crook?"
"Well, Simon, there was the one that...."
Banks cut him off "That was a rhetorical question, Sandburg."
"Yeah, I know, but this guy was really ugly sir. His skin was oily and he had big pores. His teeth were crooked and stained and it looked like his nose had been broken at one time, it was really misshaped." Blair was gesturing with his good arm, "He was wearing brown pants and a dark green, button down shirt. He was the one with the big gun. Must have been compensating for something there." Blair grinned as he heard choked laughter from the corners of the bullpen. "I know, I know, don't go there. The other guy with a gun was real big, taller than you, Simon, but a lot heavier. He was blond. His hair was longer than mine, and he had it tied back. His eyes were really light, they almost glowed. He had a dark tan, the kind you get from a tanning booth, not from being out in the sun. He was wearing faded jeans and a black t-shirt." The young man paused and shuddered, lost in the memory for a moment. Banks squeezed his shoulder and waited for him to continue. "He had this look in his eyes, I've only seen it once, in a rabid dog that we had to put down."
"That's real good son, we'll get the police artist up here, do some sketches. Wish all of our witnesses were that observant. I guess that's why we call him a 'police observer'. Can you tell me anything about the third man, the one that didn't have a gun?"
"He, umm, he stayed in the hall, I didn't get a real good look at him but there was something familiar about him. I've seen him before. No, not him, a photo of him." Becoming excited, Blair stood up and began to pace. "Here, I saw it here."
"The mob surveillance photos." Taggart's voice was a calm contrast to Sandburg's. "Could you have seen him in those pictures, Blair? We looked through them yesterday. Remember?"
Simon nodded, it made sense. Who else but a mob heavy would have hired guns, but why go after a baby? "Joel get the photos, let Blair have a look at them." As he spoke, the captain stood up and cornered the wandering anthropologist. "Sit down Sandburg. If you collapse you will go to the hospital."
Taggart waited until Sandburg was settled back in the chair before he handed him a large packet of photos. "Take your time Blair. Set aside any that pop out at you."
As Blair bent over to study the pile of pictures in front of him, his hair spilled forward, obstructing his vision. He absentmindedly began to tie it back, but winced when he raised his damaged arm. Without a second thought, Simon took the hair tie from Blair's hand and tied the hair back for him. When he was done, a patented Banks' glare wiped the smirks off of the faces in the bullpen.
"We're onto something here." Sandburg's voice carried through the bullpen. "Look, here's the big blond in this photo and this one shows both of them!"
Banks picked up the photos that Sandburg had pointed out. The kid was right, these men were not attractive. But I'm not going to mention that to him. Simon didn't have to. Taggart did it for him.
"Man, talk about ugly, these guys wrote the book on it."
Banks shook his head as the police observer and Taggart traded adjectives in regards to the appearance of the two suspects. Then a thought struck him. Why hadn't Jim come out to look at these pictures. Sure, he could hear everything that was going on, but wouldn't he want to see who had broken into his home? He stole a glance over Blair's shoulder into his office. Jim's focus was entirely on the sleepy little girl on his chest. He wasn't zoned, as he was rubbing her back and rocking her ever so slightly. A silent smile crept over the captain's face as he watched his friend, whose whole world at that moment was in that small room. Taggart and Sandburg turned to follow his gaze.
"Who'd have thought it? She's got him wrapped around her little finger already." Joel's voice didn't sound as surprised as his words appeared to be.
"Are you kidding?" Sandburg grinned at the sight of his best friend. "We are talking about the guy who feeds every stray in the neighborhood and bought cookies from every Girl Scout who knocked at the door. The man is like, total mush. Just don't tell him I said that."
Still smiling, the men went back to the task at hand. A few moments later Blair handed Banks a photo. "That's him, that's the third man."
"Damn." Simon bit down on his cigar as he handed the photo to Taggart. The bigger man did not say a word as he studied it.
"What? Who is he?" Blair's inquisitive mind needed answers and he wanted them now. This was obviously bigger than the two captains had anticipated.
Simon took the cigar out of his mouth, and rubbed a hand over his face before he answered the question. "He's Cascade's version of a mob godfather. Nothing goes down that he doesn't have a hand in. They call him 'Il Demone Vivente', The Living Devil. No one knows his real name. No one still alive, that is."
"Shit, Simon, this kind of guy doesn't make house calls. What are we into here and why is he after Jim's little girl?" After a moment Blair asked the question no one wanted to hear. "Who's going to tell Jim?"
As if on cue, the elevator opened and out tumbled Brown and Rafe. They were too overloaded with bags and boxes to see where they were going. Banks grabbed Rafe before he ran into Blair, then he and Taggart began to unload the two younger detectives of their purchases.
"Are there any diapers left for the rest of the kids in town?" Blair shook his head at his two friends. "Just how much are you expecting her to, umm, produce?"
"We just got three boxes of diapers, small, medium, and large. No one told us what size, what we don't open, we can take back."
"And they're pink" chipped in Rafe.
"Pink? When did they start coming in colors?" Simon had to admit that it had been a few years since Daryl had been in diapers.
Rafe rolled his eyes, but wisely kept his mouth shut. Instead he began to open bags and unload items onto the surrounding desks. A car seat, portable crib, and a baby swing were soon joined by teddy bears, rattles and books. Then came the formula, jars of food, dishes, bottles, bibs, and blankets.
Captain Banks stared in amazement. In a matter of minutes, his organized, crime fighting unit had been turned into Babyland USA. What was even more amazing was that he didn't care, not really.
Taggart shook his head. "Do you really think all this was necessary?"
Rafe just beamed. "You can't expect Jim to just sit and hold her until we get all this straightened out, do you?"
Brown tapped him on the arm, and indicated towards Simon's office. "I don't know about that. Looks like he's off to a pretty good start."
For the first time since sitting down, Ellison looked up at his friends in the bullpen. Seeing the opportunity, Simon grabbed the portable crib and carried it into the office. "Here Jim, lay her down in this."
Apart from a slight disruption in the rhythm she was working on her thumb, little Jenny showed no reaction to being moved. After tucking a ruffled pink blanket around her, Simon eventually got the other man to move out of the office.
Ellison stopped short when he saw the stacks of baby things waiting for him in the bullpen. "Wow. No wonder we don't send you two out for food on poker nights. Give me the receipts and I'll pay you back for all this."
"No, it wasn't just us. A lot of us guys pitched in. Consider this your baby shower." The smiles were genuine and relaxed. Yes there was something to this B.S / A.S. time that Simon had talked about. Sandburg Jim turned and took a good look at his partner. The young man was looking even more tired than before, if that was possible.
"Hey Chief, how ya doing?" The Sentinel scanned his Guide, noting that his exhaustion was evident even in his heartrate and breathing. Not only that, but he seemed nervous.
Sandburg's voice was low, "I'll be okay Jim...." Jim could sense that his friend was struggling to tell him something. "We've ID'd the guys at the loft."
"Really? That was fast. Who were they?" Instead of answering, Sandburg handed over the photos of the three men. Ellison paled when he saw who they were dealing with. "Il Demone Vivente and his goons, but why? I'm not that close to the investigation. Why target me and why a baby that I didn't even know about?"
"Maybe you're not the target. The note said the mother was in trouble, could she have ties to him? Damn, we need more to go on." The frustration evident in his voice, Banks began to shake out the bedding from the basket that started the whole thing. A small black piece of plastic fell out, onto the table. "Bingo." The captain allowed himself to smile. A computer disc; now we're onto something. "Let's get some fingerprints off that thing, then see what's inside it."
The detectives of Major Crimes now had a plan. They fell into a comfortable pattern, following up leads, chasing down informants. Simon insisted on moving the potential targets to a safehouse. Of course, Ellison had argued. Simon had surprised everyone by agreeing with him. "By all means Jim, if you want to have a more active role in the investigation, then you should do so. I'm sure Brown and Rafe can handle protecting Jenny as well as you could. I'll even have them call you every day and tell you all about her." That settled the argument, as Simon Banks knew it would. He smiled. Age and deception win every time old friend.
Within a few hours the move to the safehouse had been completed. Rafe and Brown, accompanied by several uniforms, had retrieved enough clothing for a week for the two men, along with the necessary personal items and, of course, Sandburg's laptop computer. This joined the rather impressive array of baby items that had been brought over from the station. Word had gotten out that the young lady in question only had one change of clothes and half of Cascade's finest had gone baby shopping. The black-and-white assigned to patrol the area of the safehouse had already dropped off three loads, and the flow into Major Crimes had yet to stem.
Jim Ellison watched another load arrive. This one included dresses, shoes, dolls, food for young and old, and matching father and daughter Jags sweatshirts. He shook his head, barely able to grasp the magnitude of caring that surrounded his world at that moment, as he watched the golden-haired angel sleeping in her new portable crib. "We're pretty lucky, Sunshine. We have a lot of good people who are taking care of us."
A familiar heartbeat caught the Sentinel's attention and a few moments later, the owner of said heartbeat quietly entered the room. "Hey Chief, I thought you'd have been pounding the feathers by now. You've had one heck of a day."
"Guess I'm too wired to sleep, yet. You know me, too many questions in my head. I'm not trying to conduct an experiment here man, really." He waited, studying his partner's face for any sign as to how to proceed. "Can you tell anything about her, what do your senses tell you?"
"How? What would I look for? You're going to have to give me some clues here, Buddy."
"Okay, let's go through this logically. Could you sense a connection between me and Naomi? Was there anything that you could pick up that was similar about us?"
"Other than eating tongue?"
"Come on man, work with me here. I know it's scary."
"I'm not scared. I'm...."
"Yeah man, I know. It's okay, we don't have to do this right now. Just think about it. We can't use your senses to connect her with you, but maybe what you sense about her will bring up memories of her mother."
Why can't I connect her to me? Shouldn't that be the easiest way to do it?"
"Think about it. What do you smell like? What does your heartbeat sound like? You can identify me, Simon, Taggart, even my mom. You've never had to ID yourself. You are your own background noise, never identified, always there. It's like a subconscious ground - otherwise you'd be zoning all the time."
"I guess you're right. I never thought about it before."
"Of course I'm right, I'm the Guide." Ellison moved as if to cuff the younger man. Sandburg smiled as he raised his uninjured arm in defeat. "Seriously Jim, what about you? Man, talk about your life changing moments. This has to be right at the top of the list."
Jim thought about everything that had happened to him. He grasped his friend's shoulders and turned him so that they were facing each other. "Life changing, yes, but not a moment, more like a journey." One that started in that hospital examining room three years ago.
"No, let me finish. When it comes time to say the words, I usually clam up on you. You were right, it's part of that 'fear response' you are always talking about. Tonight I need to say the words, I need for you to understand what you have done to me."
"Done to you? I don't understand, Jim."
"If Jenny had been left on my doorstep three years ago, I would have been alone with her. Ellison and his 'doorstep baby' would have been a joke all over the station and I would have deserved it." Ellison swept his hand around the room, indicating not only the material things but the meaning behind them. "This would have never happened."
"Come on man, these people are your friends."
"They are now. Then, they weren't. It wasn't their fault. I was not capable of giving friendship, so I couldn't receive any back."
Blair studied the older man's face, "That's a hard, cold way to live, Jim."
"Yes, it was. You changed it, you know. You brought in the warmth. Otherwise, I'd still be that cold heartless bastard who couldn't be bothered with something as mundane as friendship. I do not ever want to go back there."
"Don't you see, Jim?" Blair graced his friend with a 'Sandburg Special', one of those smiles that could light up the gloomiest of days. "Those are memories and they only effect what you are now if you let them. Concentrate on the here and now and on the future. Look at what you have to look forward to - first steps, first words," he grinned even wider, "first boyfriends. There is no need to dwell on the past. Your future is too good and too full, Big Guy."
Ellison stole a glance down on the little angel who was beginning to stir in her sleep, and quietly nodded. "If it weren't for you today.... I would have lost her, without ever having held her. I hope you will be with us in the future too, Chief."
"There's no other place I'd rather be." Sometimes friendship can be found like that, so true and honest that the friends are bound together for life. These two were lucky enough to find it.
"What is that smell?"
Keeping a straight face, the young man began with his best 'teacher voice'. "That, my friend, is the signal that the diaper Rhonda put on her at the station has sacrificed itself for the cause and it is time for a decent burial and a fresh replacement to take it's place."
"Yep, she pooped her pants, Dad. Dial it down, waaaay down, and I'll give you your first lesson in diaper changing 101."
"Is it always going to smell this bad?"
"I don't know, man. Are you always going to feed her two jars of sweet potatoes at a time?"
"Now you tell me."
Nothing like a clean diaper and a warm bottle to soothe a baby back to sleep. Blair stood in the bathroom door, drying his hands, and watched his partner tuck the little girl back under her blankets. "See, that wasn't so bad. Next time you can do it."
Under his breath, the bigger man answered, "Yeah, as soon as the sweet potatoes are out of her system."
"I heard that."
Before Jim could come up with a clever come-back a sound outside caught his attention. "Come on Chief, Simon's here."
"How do you know that?" A raised eyebrow answered him. Biting down the urge to cuff the older man on the back of the head Blair continued, "I mean how did you know that it was Simon's car and not Joel's or one of the other guys?"
"Easy. Simon's car is going to need a muffler soon. Where it's starting to rust through it echoes."
"Man that is so cool. Can you recognize the sound of my car?" Jim started to laugh. Anyone not stone deaf could recognize the rattletrap that Sandburg called a car. "Oh, sorry, dumb question. Who else can you spot like that?"
Relaxed and enjoying the challenge, the Sentinel reviewed the various cars used by their friends in the department. "Well, all cars sound a little different, but yeah, Joel's is pretty easy. He has a bad speaker on one side of his car and it buzzes a little, but he has probably never noticed it. Rafe's car....he's running too rich of a mix in his carburetor. I can smell the unburned gas in his exhaust."
"Wow, if you ever wanted to quit being a detective you could open your own auto diagnostic company. We could call it 'No Tools Necessary'. All those people who are afraid to let a mechanic touch their car will love it."
By then the two men had reached the bottom of the stairs and had to change to more public topics. The officers who were not privy to the knowledge of the Sentinel and his Guide would not have understood this conversation.
"Hello to you too Jim." The captain shook his head. Jim's bluntness was totally understandable, but decorum must be maintained.
"I'm sorry Simon. I didn't mean to jump down your throat. It's just.... frustrating to not understand what's going on." He took a breath and turned to his obviously exhausted partner, "Sandburg would you sit down before you fall down. Please?"
Blair Sandburg knew when not to argue with his friend. Besides Jim was right, he was ready to crash. He managed a wry grin to cover how tired he really was. "No problem. I see a chair with my name on it."
Banks studied the younger man He looks exhausted, "How are you doing, Sandburg?"
"Do I need to check myself out in a mirror? Everyone acts as if I look like warmed-over death. Don't answer that, sir."
Simon cleared his throat. "Yes, well...." for once I had a great come-back for the kid, darn it. He ignored the smirks on the surrounding faces and smartly changed the subject. "We got some good prints off the disc, they belong to one Maxwell J. Groom. He's an accountant who went to prison for fraud a few years ago. I'd love to get a good look at what's on that disc. We've gotten the court order, but our people can't seem to get past the password protections."
That got Ellison's attention. "What about Marty, that new techno-geek that the department hired last month?"
"Techno-geek, oh for Pete's Sake, Jim, that is the most obvious stereotype that I have...."
"Chief, if the shoe fits.... "
"Boys!" The two men in question stopped bickering and looked at Simon. The younger one couldn't quite keep the smile off his face, while his older companion was slightly more successful. "You two always remind me why Daryl is an only child."
Blair started to bounce ever so slightly, in his seat. In a sing-song voice too soft for anyone but a Sentinel to hear he whispered, "I'm telling." That did it. Jim began to laugh. Banks didn't need a Sentinel's hearing. He knew that Sandburg had said something to start Ellison's laughter. He quickly thought of several retorts that the young man could have used and began laughing, himself. By the time they had regained their composure, the older man had tears in his eyes. "Thanks, I needed that."
Still chuckling and wiping his face, Banks sat on the sofa opposite Sandburg's chair and motioned the other man to join them. "Marty left the department last Friday." He took a deep breath and glared at Ellison before continuing, "I believe he said something about becoming 'One With The Net'."
The other officers at the safehouse wisely fled the room even though the Sentinel could hear the choked laughter as they quickly moved down the hall. As for the Sentinel, he kept his composure although his jaw muscle was working overtime.
"Could I give it a try?" The Guide dared not look at the Sentinel as he asked their captain, "I know a little about hacking into a system. But only in theory, of course." he hastened to add.
Finally he offers. I worked hard enough to set that up. "Sure Blair, I suppose you could give it a try. Just don't lose any of it this time."
"Hey, that computer virus was not my fault."
Banks and Sandburg moved to the table where the laptop computer was already set up and running. Ellison stayed on the sofa, replaying in his mind what had been said. Banks had played his young friend like a violin, had known that Blair would not stop until he saw what was on that disc. Of course, if Blair was a violin then he was one too. After all, Simon had gotten Jim to volunteer to stay at the safehouse instead of taking the lead on the investigation.
The hours passed as one back door after another was tried on the disc. The other officers had made a pot of coffee, using that as an excuse for their hasty departure earlier and even that was almost gone. Jim had fallen asleep on the sofa and Simon was chewing on his last cigar when the younger man let out a satisfied yelp, "I'm in!"
Screen after screen scrolled by as the men stared at the laptop. The cigar dropped, unnoticed by Captain Banks, as he realized what they were looking at. "My Gawd, this is like finding the holy grail. It's everything on Il Demone Vivente. Every pay off. Every hit. Every dirty politician. Everything. We've hit the mother lode with this, gentlemen.
A quick telephone call to a judge that had the captain's trust resulted in a very fast and quiet warrant for the arrest of a man whose real name was Francis Miller. Who, as it turned out, didn't speak a work of Italian and had never been any further east than New Jersey. Simon Banks just shook his head at that. Il Demone Vivente, my foot. What is the world coming to when the crooks have their own PR people.
Every available officer was called in for the raid. Any desire that Ellison had to join them was stopped by the reminder that those goons had been after the disc and would kill anyone who stood in the way. That included little golden haired girls and wayward anthropologists.
After three years of working together, Blair Sandburg knew how much his partner hated to be out of the action. Automatically, he moved to stand next to the bigger man. As he did so all of what had happened in the last two days finally hit and his legs would no longer support his weight. He had barely begun to sag, before Jim grabbed his arm, and escorted him to the sofa. "Lie down and stay put." When Blair didn't ruffle at the older man's orders, Ellison and Banks became worried.
Simon snagged a blanket and handed it to Jim. The pale, dark haired anthropologist did not move as it was tucked in around him. "Jim, is he all right?"
Ellison just smiled and nodded. "He's asleep. He probably won't wake up for hours."
"We will get the bad guys. You just take good care of both of them."
"Don't worry sir, I will." Ellison's face became serious, "I want you to watch your back out there sir. They won't go down without a fight."
Banks nodded but didn't say anything as he moved out to join the rest of his men gathering in front of the house. Truth be told, he was a little uneasy about not having his best man with him on this one. Never in a million years would he have guessed that he'd have become so dependent on the skills of a Sentinel.
Four hours later and no word had come through about the bust. The two uniformed officers inside the house were playing cards to unwind, having been relieved by the two now on patrol. Ellison was in a chair near his sleeping partner. He had his hearing stretched to the limits, listening to the heartbeats of his best friend and his little girl along with all the police officers guarding them. Keeping his hearing extended like that he could even hear a cat hunting in the field behind the house and the scurry of the feet trying to escape it. The Sentinel protected his tribe, small as it was at the moment. Extended and unguarded like that, he should have zoned on the cat and it's prey.
Instead, his painfully confused thoughts kept the Sentinel grounded. He thought back to what his Guide had said earlier. Could he use his senses? Could he conduct his own paternity test from memory? Jenny was easy. Sentinel stood by his sleeping guide and smiled. Jenny's baby skin was satin to his touch. This wouldn't help, no woman could ever have skin this soft, who's touch went straight to his heart. Touch was out, what about sight? Ellison gladly let the image of the little girl's face fill his mind. Using what he knew Sandburg would tell him, he let that image grow and mature. Perhaps then he could see a resemblance, make the connection. This didn't work either. The image in his mind became brighter and more beautiful until it was too intense to see.
Man, you've got it bad. Ellison grimaced, remembering the times he had teased new fathers at the station. I'm worse than they ever were. His eyes locked on the still form on the sofa. I can't do this. You're right - I am afraid. Afraid of the answers. Hell, even afraid of the questions. My world's upside down and I can't see further that her big blue eyes.
Across town, one of the largest busts in the Cascade PD history was going down like clockwork. A co-ordinated effort by the SWAT team and 15 additional uniformed officers had apprehended all of the exterior guards at the compound, Once that was accomplished, the detectives from Major Crimes led the sweep of the main house. Along with teams from Homicide, Narcotics, and Vice, they filled three police vans with the wanted scum employed by Il Demone Vivente. The main prize eluded capture, however.
Jim would have been able to sniff him out. The captain shook his head in disgust. Damn it Banks, he's not a bloodhound. Of course being able to use a leash had its merits.
The SWAT team's continued sweeps of the property had paid off. Totally hidden in a grove of trees was a small building. It appeared at one time to have been a guest house, now it was the center of Il Demone Vivente's base of operations. The building was surrounded. Already knowing the answer, the SWAT leader asked Captain Banks if he would like the honor of leading the assault on the stronghold?
"Damn straight I would."
Il Demone Vivente, aka Francis Miller was caught totally unaware when the police charged in, led by Captain Banks. The SWAT team had done their job well and the outside guards never raised an alarm before their capture. So convinced of their invincibility, the men inside were too stunned to even draw their weapons.
Didn't need a bloodhound after all. Banks surveyed the scene in front of him. Miller and his inner circle were being led away in handcuffs. An apparent prisoner was being untied and tended to by the SWAT medic. Yes, this went well, if I do say so myself. He strode over to stand in front of the former prisoner. "And you might be?"
The man returned the stare. "I'm Maxwell Groom. Did Ellison keep her safe? Is Jenny.... all right?"
Realization hit Simon Banks. It tore a hole in his stomach as he understood who this man was. What he had done. Even worse, what he was about to do. The words were hissed through clenched teeth. "Put him in my car....now."
A nearby officer stepped forward and grabbed Groom's arm. He had heard about the legendary 'Banks temper' and had no intention of experiencing it first hand. "Let's go."
Groom struggled for a moment. "Wait, you've got to tell me... "
Banks cut him off. "She's fine. Get. In. The. Car. Now."
"My wife.... I've got to call.... tell her...."
"You can call her from the car. She can meet us at the safehouse." It was the hardest thing Simon Banks had ever had to say.
On their way out the door, Groom and his police escort were passed by two men in dark ill fitting suits. Banks muttered to himself as they approached Feds. Just what I need to deal with right now.
The taller of the two men spoke up. "Why weren't we informed of this operation?"
There were times when Simon Banks enjoyed his cigars. He especially enjoyed making pushy FBI agents wait while he lit his cigar. While he took that first slow puff on it. While he watched that first trail of smoke float up and away from him. Finally he spoke. "Gentlemen, I was not informed that the president has imposed martial law. Until then," he took another slow, lingering draw on his cigar, "the Cascade PD is conducting an investigation of crimes that occurred in the city of Cascade. Committed by citizens of Cascade. You may assist my officers if you so choose. Have a pleasant evening gentlemen."
Very few things pleased Simon more than a new cigar. The touch of a beautiful woman, a good brandy, putting feds in their place... Not necessarily in that order.
The next duty, unfortunately, was going to be unpleasant.
The squeal of brakes brought Ellison's focus back to the front street. Instinctively, he brought out his gun and waited. Not knowing what had brought it on the other two officers in the house did the same. The distance between them was unimportant as a voice came from the outside.
"Jim, it's Simon, it's over."
Reassured, the Sentinel holstered his gun and turned to the officers, who were still waiting for an assault. "It's Captain Banks." They too holstered their weapons, not asking the obvious questions, since they had not heard anything. There was something different about Ellison and his partner and it was something that you just didn't ask about.
The door opened and Banks walked through it. He was accompanied by a man that looked vaguely familiar. "Jim." The voice of the captain was subdued and sad, "Jim, I'm sorry, this is Maxwell Groom, Jenny's father."
"No." It was barely a whisper but it was enough to awaken the young man on the sofa. Blair had barely opened his eyes before he was standing next to Jim.
He reached out to his friend and began to talk in his best Guide voice. "Easy, Jim, what's going on, what's wrong?"
Before the Sentinel could answer his Guide, a young woman burst into the room. "Where's my baby?" She didn't wait for an answer as she began to search room by room. Jim Ellison could feel his heart breaking into tiny, baby sized pieces. He did not know this woman, had never met her, and certainly had never fathered a child by her. He sunk onto the sofa, taking Blair with him.
Happy baby sounds came from the doorway as the woman walked back in with Jenny in her arms. Held by someone she obviously recognized, the little girl was cooing and babbling. Mother and daughter walked to the man identified as Maxwell Groom and he gathered them into his arms.
"It's over. Thank you God, it's finally over." He began to cry as he embraced his family. He turned to the two men, "Thank you for keeping her safe."
"Wait a minute, the note said.... Damn you.... you let Jim think he was her father."
Groom looked saddened by the anger in Sandburg's voice. "I really am sorry for that, but we had to be sure that he would protect her. He was the one cop that I thought could do it. He's too honest to ever take a bribe and too honorable to turn his back on a kid he thought was his. Divorced, no steady girlfriend, lots of casual dating, it was perfect. I watched the apartment and waited for just the right moment to leave her. I didn't want it to go this far. The tape that you found was a copy. I had made a deal, I was going to the feds with the original one, but they caught me. They didn't even know about the disc in the basket with Jenny. They just wanted to kill her in front of me. It was to be a warning to keep the rest of the flunkies in line.
"You're right, he's a good cop, in fact, he's one of the best." Blair's voice was cold, even icy, as he spoke to the man responsible for his friend's pain. "He would have done anything to protect that little girl. Anything. How dare you hurt him like that? How dare you put him through the pain of wondering who her mother was? Why she didn't tell him? You hand him a child, tell him he's her father, put him through the guilt of missing the first months of her life and then you waltz in here and say that you are sorry? Well sorry doesn't even begin to cover it, man."
As the young man took in a deep breath, Simon Banks looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. Blair was protective of Ellison, yes, but never had the captain seen such anger from him. Banks silently vowed to never be the cause of such wrath. Deep down, he was grateful for Blair's outrage. The young man was giving voice to what he, himself was feeling. Unfortunately, a captain could not say such things to the lead witness in the biggest case to ever be broken by his unit.
Ellison seemed too shocked to protest how he had been treated by Groom and his wife. That worried Banks. He didn't want to see him shut down again, like before Sandburg had breezed into their lives.
Blair seemed worried too, but before he could launch into another tirade, four men walked into the room. More feds of course. They were not interested in listening to what Sandburg still had to say. Instead, with hardly a word spoken, they ushered the Groom family out into the waiting Sedan. Jim Ellison, a father for not quite 48 hours, was given the briefest of moments to say good-bye to the little girl. He couldn't speak, so he just kissed the top of her head before she was gone.
Banks knew when he was out of his league. Helping Jim deal with what was happening was Blair's specialty, not his. The rest of the officers made their escape and Banks nodded to Sandburg as he, too, quietly slipped away. Jim needs to talk to Blair alone, and I need....
"Hey, Simon," Blair's voice caught his attention, "tell Daryl 'hi' for me, all right?" Yes, that's what I need. Banks pulled out his cell phone as he walked away.
"Joan. Yes, I know what time it is, I need to speak to my son."
Alone now in the quiet house, Ellison collapsed in a chair. He sat facing away from the center of the room. Blair stood behind him and thought for a moment, before speaking. This was not the time for one of the famous Sandburg speeches. He reached down and put his hands on the bigger man's shoulders. "Jim, it's okay to mourn." The shoulders began to shake, ever so slightly, as Blair continued to stand there. Now it was time for the Guide to guard the Sentinel.
THREE DAYS LATER
Over his coffee cup Blair studied his friend. They had talked about everything that had happened. They had talked more than Blair had ever hoped they would. He was grateful that Jim had let him in, had shared the pain with him. But still he felt the other man needed closure.
Over his own coffee cup Jim studied his younger friend. He had been amazed by the depth of the friendship Blair had showed him since all this had started. Without a doubt, he could not have gotten through it without him.
As smoky blue eyes met sky blue eyes, both men smiled and nodded. Without a word Blair set the newspaper in front of Ellison and went to refill their coffee cups. The paper was opened to an article about a family who had lost their home in a fire the night Jenny's parents had returned. They too, had a little golden haired girl. She now had no clothes, no toys, no bed of her own. Sandburg had an idea, but Jim had to come to the same conclusion on his own. When Blair came back to the table with the coffee, Jim looked up at him, a slight smile on his face. "Chief...."
Blair smiled back at him. "Yeah." Nothing else needed to be said. Before noon, everything was loaded in the back of the truck. Everything, that was, except for one ruffled pink blanket that was quietly slipped into the dresser upstairs. The truck load was delivered to a run-down motel room that sheltered the now homeless young family. When asked where all this had come from, Ellison just smiled and said, "Major Crimes, sir." Then his voice softened as he added, "Take good care of her, she's precious."
As the two friends walked back to the truck, Sandburg reached out and squeezed the other man's arm. "Are you all right, man?"
Ellison looked at the young family behind them, then at the good friend beside him before he answered. "No, but I'm getting there."
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