Dean Masterson paced the Cascade airport restlessly. He checked his watch, but it gave him the same answer again and again.
Late. The light plane carrying Jim, Blair and Simon was late. Two hours now, getting later all the time.
A young woman in airport uniform jogged up to him. "Are you waiting for PBX9847?"
"Yes!" He froze. "What’s happened?”
She sighed. "PBX9847 vanished from our radar awhile ago."
He took her arm. "I'm ATF. Show me what you've got."
Simon? Where's Jim? What's...?
"Over here, Jim! I found him!"
"C'mon, Sandburg, open your eyes...."
Blair struggled to obey Simon, but it felt so hard... he was so tired....
Simon tapped his cheek and looked over at Jim, who was rapidly approaching. "Did you find--?"
Jim nodded, his face grim. "Pilot's dead. Blair?"
Simon sighed. "He seems okay, but he won't wake up."
Not okay, Simon. Leave me 'lone.
Jim crouched by him. "Blair? C'mon, Chief --" Then he smiled. "There you go, open your eyes.... that's it...."
Blair moaned something Sentinel-soft, and Jim cursed.
"What?" Simon asked.
"He can't move. Or see."
Dean pored over the air traffic controller's tapes and radar logs. He got a map and triangulated the co-ordinates. Seeing where they lined up, he breathed a curse and flipped open his cell.
"Yes, Major Crimes, please.... Rhonda? This is Dean...." Despite himself, he smiled. "I'm afraid the Cuban cigars will have to wait.... The plane never showed." He took a deep breath. "We think it went down in the Popcorn Islands."
Dean had to pull the phone away from his ear at the volume of the "WHAT?!?" that erupted.
Everyone in Cascade knew what that chain was -- Islands so small and tightly packed that they were compared to popcorn kernels. Prime hiding places for someone who didn't want to be found.
And hell on earth for someone unprepared who did.
Dean put the phone back to his ear and smiled to hear Rhonda already shouting orders to Major Crimes. He hung up, confident that the woman had it all under control
Now if he could just think of what to do next....
Silently, Jim felt carefully along each of Blair's legs and arms. Then, turning him over slowly, he skimmed his fingers carefully along Blair's spine. At each of Blair's whimpers, his face grew more troubled.
When he was done, Simon didn't mince words. "Well?"
"You want the full catalogue or just the high points?"
Jim sighed. "Well, he's hit the back of his head. I'd lay odds that's why he can't see. He's got a dislocated shoulder... and a hip on the other side's out too. My main worry is I think he's got a slightly dislocated vertebra."
Simon frowned. "And that's why he can't--?"
"I think so, yeah... if it's pressin' on the spinal cord."
Simon whistled softly. "Well, if it's dislocated, can't you just pop it into place?"
"I can," Jim conceded. "But I run the risk of severing his spine altogether if I try." He sat back on his heels. "There's another thing to consider, too."
"Oh, great," Simon sighed. "What's that?"
Jim met his eyes. "Sandy."
Dean walked into Major Crimes, his arms laden with charts and maps. He stopped short, staring open-mouthed.
The detectives and Rhonda were going over and over maps, relaying on cell phones with people not in the office. "What?" Dean whispered.
Rhonda walked over to him, smiling. "We're gonna find them."
"Well, of course, but...." He looked helplessly down at his laden arms.
Rhonda emptied them for him. "Masterson -- you've worked alone for so long, you've forgotten what true teamwork is like." She put her arm around him and drew him into the circle of friends.
"Sandy?" Simon asked, confused. "What does she have to do with this? She'll have the same injuries ---"
Simon looked at him strangely, and Jim struggled to find the words to explain.
Blair suddenly let out a low, pain-filled moan that pulled Jim's attention back to him.
"What's going on?" Simon asked, feeling very much like he'd been thrown in way over his head.
Jim's reply of "What time is it?" did nothing to ease that feeling.
"Uhm... three... why?"
"Twenty-four hours," Jim growled. "And he's unconscious... damn, it's involuntary!"
Simon shook his head in sympathy. "And you told me involuntary shifts hurt like hell."
As if to underscore his words, Blair's body tensed as he let out an ear-splitting scream.
"Well," Rafe sighed as he closed his phone. "The pilot's dirtier than a chimney."
"Oh? Do tell," Megan said as she walked over with Dean.
"Henri found bank records," Rafe said grimly. "His account showed a sudden deposit of ten thousand dollars yesterday -- then a withdrawal of all that money by his so-called uncle today -- while they were in the air. He brought the teller to look at photos, and she just ID'd an old friend of ours -- Tyler Anderson."
"Anderson?" Dean gasped. "He was working for someone when we ran up against him...."
"Still is, apparently," Rafe growled. "How many just-paroled cons get to leave the bank in a limo?"
Dean swore. "They were set up!"
"But why?" Megan asked the question plaguing them all.
There is no pain worse than watching a friend suffer and knowing there's nothing one can do to ease it. Jim and Simon had never felt so helpless as they watched the agonising shift.
The moan became a scream as the dislocated shoulder relocated. A second scream rang out as the hip did the same. There was a pause, where Blair was breathing hard -- then he arched backwards, howling in agony as an altering hand reached toward her upper back.
"There went the vertebra," Jim whispered, catching the reaching hand.
"Hey, she moved," Simon breathed as they eased a shaking Sandy onto her side. "Maybe it was merciful she was unconscious the whole time."
Jim could only nod as he watched the last tremors of transformation end and his partner sink back into senselessness.
Major Crimes was invaded by a red-haired whirlwind in the persona of Naomi Sandburg. "I need to see Blair!" she demanded, eyes huge and voice shrill in fright. "Where is my boy!"
Joel took her arm. "Ms. Sandburg, maybe you'd best--"
"He's not here, is he?" she half-wailed. Then she let out a scream and fell to her knees, sobbing.
"We don't need this right now," Megan growled, storming over to her. "Lady, we're up to our eyeballs in trying to find--"
"He said he's dead," Naomi sobbed.
Megan rolled her eyes. "We don't know that. You have to think positive--"
Naomi pressed a small tape into her hand. "This was on my hotel's voice mail."
Megan put it into the player and a man's voice rolled out:
Your son and his partner are dead. I want you, Naomi. Now you know I can strike at you anytime, anywhere. This is a message -- only a message. No matter where you go, I will find you.
Sandy opened her eyes to the scent and sound and feel of a burning fire. But darkness filled her vision. "Oooh, what...?"
"Welcome back, Sandy." Simon's voice, and gentle hands on her shoulders.
She blinked, looking around, trying to pierce the darkness. "Jim?"
"Right here, Sandy," came a welcomely familiar voice and a touch on her leg. "How are you doing?"
She blinked her eyes again and again, opening them wide. "Can't... see...."
"You've got a concussion, Chief. It's blocked your sight. What about your arms -- legs?"
Slowly, Sandy tested them. "Fine," she rasped out. "Sore as hell, but they move okay. Wh-Why?"
Jim's voice held a warm, relieved smile. "Blair had some dislocations. When you shifted, they slid back into joint."
Sandy's eyes widened again, and she shivered. "Good thing... slept through it." She licked her lips. "J'm?"
"When do we... get outta here?"
"Soon, Chief." His fingers touched her forehead. "You just rest, now."
"Kay." Her eyes closed and she returned to sleep.
Jim sighed and sat back on his heels.
Simon echoed his sigh and rubbed his eyes. "At least she's awake and aware." He laid his hand on Jim's shoulder. "You okay?"
"I hope I didn't just lie to her."
"You're underestimating Major Crimes again. They'll find us."
Jim looked up. "Yeah... Dean's got a plane..." Another sigh as he looked around. "Trouble is, we're somewhere on the Popcorns -- all rock and sand...."
Simon began to smile. "Leave that to me."
"To you?" was Jim's incredulous reply.
Simon gave a quick nod. "I did survival training in these islands. I know how to get noticed on rock and sand. You take care of the kid."
"Jim, if this were a jungle, I would have complete faith in you. Are you telling me you don't have the same faith in me?"
Jim stared at him for a long, tense moment.
Then, without a word, he carefully picked up Sandy and headed for easily defendable shelter.
No matter where you go, I will find you.
Joel reached over and snapped off the tape. All eyes were trained on Naomi.
Naomi just looked back at them.
The staring contest ended with Rafe's quiet observation, "He's not disguising his voice."
"Gambling Naomi would recognise it, I'll wager," Megan nodded.
"Or he's unconcerned about being caught," Brown said evenly.
Joel just looked at Naomi.
Naomi sighed and wiped a damp hand across her forehead. "I want to get him. I do. But I have no idea who that is."
"None?" Joel rumbled.
"None." Naomi pointed toward the recorder. "He obviously knows me, but I have no idea who he is, what he wants. None."
"Lovely," Megan sighed. "Bastard kills Sandy and she doesn't--"
"What?" Rafe asked.
"Blair. Isn't. Dead." When their eyes moved to the tape recorder, Naomi went on, "Now that I've calmed down and can think.... He can claim he's killed Blair till the cows come home, but Blair is. Not. Dead."
Megan reached for her, and she jerked away. "No! Listen to me!" She stood up and paced nervously. "Blair is... very special--"
"Because he can become Sandra."
Naomi whirled to Joel, who had spoken the soft words. "So that's what she's-- H-how did you--?"
"We found out some time ago," Brown put in. "You were saying?"
"And you didn't expose him." Naomi slowly smiled, then it faded. "But because of that specialness -- and the wandering we had to do to hide it -- we became very close. I'd feel it if he were dead. He's alive."
Rafe's cell rang and he answered it curtly. Then he stood, grabbing his jacket. "I'm on my way."
"Rafe?" Joel asked.
He smiled. "Masterson's landing on the roof. He's got a helicopter to take us searching the Popcorns!"
Naomi stood, her jaw unhinging. "Masterson is--?"
"He's a pilot -- remember?" Rafe pulled on his jacket. "Joel, to save weight for four survivors, he wants just one other person aboard."
"Go," Joel smiled.
As Rafe left, he heard Naomi mutter, "Must be one large chopper...."
The helicopter turned out to be one similar to LifeFlight helicopters. Rafe grinned as he got in and Dean took off.
"I don't know how you swung it," Dean said once Rafe had his headset on, "but thanks! This's just right for a rescue mission!" As he spoke, he pointed the chopper's nose toward the Popcorns.
"I have connections," was Rafe's cryptic reply. Then he fell stubbornly silent.
Dean shot him a sideways glance and a smile. The rest of the flight was spent in companionable silence.
As the first of the Popcorn Islands neared, Rafe instructed Dean to pass low. "Jim or Simon would have left some kind of signal!"
"Right!" Obediently, Dean flew low. "You watch for the signs, I'll keep an eye on the fuel gauge and the mapped trajectory!"
"Right!" Rafe echoed and brought out some binoculars.
Ten islands later, Rafe let out a whoop.
"What? What is it?"
"Rocks! A perfect 9847 and after that three vertical lines and one diagonal one!"
Dean burst out grinning. "Their flight number!"
"Three survivors," Rafe finished deciphering, looking through the binoculars. "We found them, Dean! Look!"
Dean looked through his own binoculars and laughed aloud to see Simon clambering over the rocks, waving his arms wildly over his head.
Both men aboard -- and the one running to meet them -- laughed and cheered in triumph as Dean set the helicopter down on the beach.
Back in Cascade, Blair refused to go to the hospital. None of the voices of reason around him could move him from that decision, so they gave up and let him recover at home.
Upon condition that he go to the hospital if he worsened.
Major Crimes set up round-the-clock 'sits' with Blair, to help Jim out. When they weren't doing that, Dean was ferrying investigative teams back and forth to the island the plane had crashed on. When a second pilot volunteered his services -- Lieutenant Hays from Metro, who flew recreationally -- Dean gladly rotated flights with him.
Simon arrived at the Loft after a flight and walked right into the kitchen. "How's the kid doing?"
"She's sleeping," Jim said as he finished pouring homemade vegetable soup into bowls to freeze.
"So it's Sandy right now." Simon nodded. "Her eyes?"
"Recovering. She can see shapes and colours, but not much else. They get better as her headache goes away."
Simon opened the freezer door and nodded as the soup joined the casseroles, stews, lasagna and other meals frozen in there. "Concussion's healing well, then?" Simon asked as he noted the meals were enough for over a month.
Major Crimes, indeed, took care of its own.
"Yeah, it is." Jim put the soup pot in to soak and asked, "What did you find at the site?"
"Just like we thought, it was no accident. The autopsy showed the pilot had been poisoned -- probably at breakfast."
"Oh, that's not the good part," Simon grimaced. "Right under Blair's seat, we found a partially-detonated bomb."
"Partially-detonated?" Jim turned to face him.
"Only one-quarter of the explosives detonated."
Jim's eyes closed convulsively. "That's why the plane went up like it did."
Simon nodded. "And why he was hurt like he was. We were thrown clear, thank goodness..."
"Damn, Simon, if that had detonated all the way --"
And the phone rang. Jim let the machine pick it up.
Laughter rang into the Loft, then the voice from Naomi's tape growled, Well, played, detectives! You're alive and safe -- and thus you'll stay -- for now. You're not my goal, and thus I leave you be. But only because it suits me! More laughter, and he hung up.
"Crap!" Jim growled.
"She's gone, Jim," Simon said Sentinel-soft. When Jim turned to face him, he nodded. "Naomi skipped town this morning. No trace she was ever here."
“Except for this voice," Jim gestured at the phone. "Dammit, Simon -- what has that woman gotten into?"
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