Unspoken Fears

It was a sunny winter's morning in Los Angeles when the officers from the California Highway Patrol, Central Division, converged on the small chapel situated not far from the Raintree Apartment complex. It was a sober group who watched the dark haired officer arrive in the black limousine. He slowly emerged, his eyes hidden from sight by his Oakley sunglasses. He stood in silence for a moment, staring towards the red bricked chapel with its garden of barren rose bushes, and that was how he felt: barren, empty and wasted. He just wanted this day to be over so he could wallow in his self pity again.

He turned back to the car and helped the blonde haired woman out. She trembled and held onto his arm as she struggled to stay on her feet. Another woman, with similar features, appeared and took her place next to her grieving cousin. Together they supported one another as they made the painful walk towards the chapel and what awaited them.

They took their seats at the front of the room and waited while the rest of the congregation took theirs. The organist began playing but the sobbing coming from the first row could still be heard. She tried to contain herself but couldn't. Even with the comforting grip of her cousin's hand and the solid support of the man next to her, the tears flowed. His heart went out to her and he wished he could take away her pain and his too for that matter.

The music ceased as the funeral director took his place next to the closed casket. The casket, which the grieving officer couldn't bear to look at, was draped with the American flag, a huge bouquet of yellow roses and a CHP helmet up one end. The service began. 'We are gathered here today to pay homage for the life of Jonathan Andrew Baker...'

Ponch woke with a jolt. Rolling over he looked at the alarm clock and groaned. It was 4:50AM Sunday morning. Sitting up, he shook his head trying to remove the images from his mind as he gathered his senses. Jon's funeral? Why the hell would I be dreaming of that? He thought. He's gonna be fine, they're releasing him from hospital today. Getting out of bed, Ponch wandered into the kitchen and got himself a glass of juice. Sitting down on the couch, glass in hand he stared at the wall in front of him.

Officer Frank Poncherello of the California Highway Patrol was troubled.

**********

Later that morning, Ponch walked through the corridors of Valley General Hospital to room 32 on the second floor. He pushed open the door to the sound of giggling and couldn't help but grin at the sight he saw. His partner Jon Baker was sitting on the side of his hospital bed, fully dressed, with his wife Cassy next to him. Cassy was as close to Jon as she could possibly be without actually sitting on him, holding his hand and nuzzling his neck. She pulled back when Ponch entered the room, blushed but looked relieved at the same time.

"Couldn't you have waited till you got him home?" Ponch chuckled as he sat himself down on the other bed.

Cassy giggled and patted Jon on his knee. "No, he's been away too long."

"I'm irresistible Ponch, you know that," smiled Jon. "We've been waiting for the doctor to release me but he hasn't come in yet."

"You're feeling alright, aren't you?" Ponch asked anxiously.

Jon nodded. "Yeah, I've still got a headache and I'm a bit drowsy, but other than that I'm good." He looked closely at his partner and frowned. "Are you alright? You look tired."

"Don't worry about me Jon, I'm fine. I woke up early this morning, that's all."

"Are you sure? You don't have to hide anything from me you know."

"Jon, I'm fine. Relax, would ya and stop worrying about me." Ponch smiled, trying to reassure his partner. The last thing I'm gonna do is tell you what I was dreaming about last night.

The door opened and Dr. Allan Burke came in, smiling when he saw the three of them. "Ready to go home Jon?" he asked.

"Definitely," the blonde haired officer grinned, squeezing his wife's hand.

The doctor chuckled. "I thought you would be. How's that headache this morning?"

"Improving," Jon replied. "But it's still there."

"That's to be expected," Dr. Burke said as he took his light out and shone it in his patient's eyes. "After what you went through I'd be surprised if you didn't have a headache."

"Yeah I know," Jon smiled. "I'm lucky to be here, but I'll be able to go back to work on Tuesday or Wednesday, won't I?"

"No," answered the dark haired doctor. "I'm releasing you today to go home and rest. I'll see you in a week's time, and if all is good then I'll clear you for normal duties."

"A week?" groaned Jon. "I could go on light duties, couldn't I?"

"No, a week of rest. Anymore complaining and I'll make it two," the doctor warned, turning to Cassy with a grin on his face. "You can still take that trip you were planning, as long as you keep your promise that you'll do all the driving."

"You have my word," Cassy smiled as she picked up Jon's bag. "So, he's good to go, then?"

Dr. Burke was about to respond when his pager went off. Pulling it out of his pocket he frowned as he read the message. "I've got to run, but yes you're good to go. I'll see you in a week's time." He hurried out the door shaking his head as he went.

Jon stood up, confusion all over his face. "What trip? Do know anything about a trip Ponch?" he asked, sitting down in the wheelchair that was necessary for him to leave the hospital.

"Don't look at me partner I'm as much in the dark as you are."

Cassy laughed. "I knew you'd be moaning and groaning about resting at home for a week, so I spoke to the doctor about us going home to Mom and Dad's for a couple of days. He agreed as long as I did all the driving. So, what do you think?"

"You know I love spending time with your family, but I don't like the idea of you doing all the driving," Jon answered, concern evident in his voice as they left the room. With Ponch pushing the wheelchair they headed for the elevator.

"I've driven home before."

"Yeah I know, but that was before. Now you're..."

"Jonathan Baker!" Cassy interrupted, glaring at him. "Please don't tell me that because I'm pregnant, I'm incapable of driving the eight hours to Cedar City."

Ponch chuckled as he pressed the button for the elevator. "I think you've been told partner. Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Congratulations Cassy."

"Thanks Ponch. I'm sorry hon I didn't mean to snap at you. You've got the next seven and a half months to worry about me, so can't I look after you for the next week?"

Jon smiled warmly at her as the elevator doors closed. "I'm sorry too. You know us males, think we're invincible and have to take charge of everything. So when are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow morning. I spoke to your Mom last night and she's anxious to see for herself that you're alright. She's going to leave Rawlins early Tuesday morning and drive down." Her blue eyes sparkled as she took her husband's hand and they proceeded out of the elevator. "It'll be a good chance to tell them our news all together."

"You've got this all worked out, haven't you? But I'm surprised that Libby isn't coming with her, Mom doesn't like to drive too far on her own."

Cassy giggled. "Well... actually she's coming too. Your big sister wants to make sure you're in one piece."

Jon squeezed her hand as he turned towards his partner, rolling his eyes he grinned. "God help me Ponch. Between Mom, Libby and my lovely mother-in-law, I'm gonna be mollycoddled to death."

"And don't forget my sister," Cassy added. "You know Maddy thinks the world of you, and I'll bet she'll be lining up to pamper you as well."

"You've got no hope Jon, no hope at all," Ponch said, shaking his head in amusement.

"I think you're right partner," Jon chuckled. "I'm doomed. You can put that on my headstone. Here lies Jon Baker, mollycoddled to death."

Ponch suddenly stopped. The colour drained from his face as a vision from Thursday morning flooded his mind. A memory he wanted to keep locked away forever. "That's not remotely funny Jon," he muttered.

"Huh? What's not funny?" Jon asked, twisting his body to look at his partner now standing still, hands off the wheelchair.

Ponch placed a shaky hand on Jon's chest feeling for his heartbeat. Nothing. He leaned over and put his ear in the vicinity of Jon's heart. Still nothing. The ache in Ponch's head was making it hard for him to think clearly. Oh God, what do I do? What do I do? He nudged Jon trying to arouse him. Nothing. He took him by the shoulders and shook him as he pleaded. "Don't do this to me Jon. Do you hear me? Don't do this man..."

"Ponch," Jon frowned, his head starting to throb. "You okay? You look pale."

He shook his head slightly before answering. "Huh? Yeah I'm alright." Embarrassed, he grabbed the handles of the chair and continued on. "You spooked me Jon, that's all. Let's not mention headstones anymore, okay?"

"Yeah, whatever you want Ponch."

They stopped at the nurse's station where Jon left the wheelchair behind. Resuming they walked through the front doors heading towards the parking lot. Stopping at Cassy's yellow Corolla hatchback, Jon looked closely at his partner and best friend. "You wanna talk about what happened back there, Ponch?"

"Nothin' happened," he mumbled in reply.

"Ponch, I saw you. You looked like you'd seen a ghost and there was this...this vacant look on your face." He closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead as his headache intensified. "Talk to me. Please."

Ponch fought against the mental turmoil raging through his head. On one hand he wanted nothing more than to talk about how he was feeling. But what exactly was he feeling? Guilt, fear, anxiety, anger or a combination of all of them, he just didn't know. On the other hand he wasn't about to dump his issues on Jon, when his partner needed to concentrate on his recovery.

"I told ya Jon, you spooked me. The mere mention of a headstone just freaks me out. Don't know why, but I've been like that ever since I can remember."

Jon leaned against the car and shielded his eyes from the sun's glare. "That's news to me."

Cassy opened the passenger door and motioned for Jon to hop in. "You can discuss it later, hon. I need to get you home." She shut the door and turned to Ponch. Noting the fatigue radiating from his face she chose her words carefully. "Don't shut him out Ponch, that'll only worry him more." She paused briefly, placing her hand so lightly on his arm that he barely registered her touch. "Have you been sleeping?"

He flashed her one of his trademark grins, but the smile didn't carry through to his eyes. "Yeah, like a baby."

She doubted the truth in his words but let it pass for the moment. "You need to talk about what happened. What the two of you went through is not something to brush away as if it were nothing."

Ponch looked downwards and studied the cracks in the concrete. Cassy waited patiently until he finally lifted his head and looked at her. The smile was gone from his face and his brown eyes glistened with unshed tears. He sighed. "I know...I will talk about it. I just need a bit of time to get my head around what happened."

Cassy rubbed his arm in a soothing motion. "Good. Just make sure that you do. Okay?" She glanced down at Jon sitting in the passenger seat of her car and then back at Ponch. "When you're ready we're both here for you Ponch, you know that don't you?"

He smiled again. Not a flashy grin this time, but a warm one which softened his face and showed his vulnerability. "Yeah I know, Cassy. Thanks." He tilted his head towards the car. "You'd better get him home and away from this hospital before he starts complaining."

"I'm going." She walked around to the driver's side and looked at Ponch over the roof of the car. "Wanna join us for lunch?"

"Yeah, that'd be nice."

**********

"Smith, Mark Smith ya got a visitor," the guard shouted over the noise of the TV and cheering. It was Sunday afternoon, and most of the inmates in this particular section of the LA County Jail were absorbed in the football game on the small screen, and the noise and banter was quite deafening at times.

Smithie looked up in surprise from the game of cards he was engrossed in. His brown eyes narrowed as he ran his fingers through his sandy coloured hair. Standing up slowly, he stretched out to his full six feet. His partner in crime, Steven 'Butch' Williams, gave him a questioning look which Smithie answered with a shrug of his shoulders. Taking his time, he made his way past the other inmates and over to the guard who was getting impatient.

"Hurry up, would ya?" the guard snarled. "I haven't got all freakin' day."

"Yeah okay," Smithie held his tongue not wanting to make trouble on their third day back inside. There would be plenty of time for that later.

He followed the guard down the corridor and into the visitor's room. The room was plain and simple with cubicles running down the length of it. Each prisoner was separated from their visitor by a thick pane of glass with a speaker hole in the centre.

"You've got half an hour Smith, and not a minute more," the guard growled before turning away.

Smithie sat down and stared at the man opposite him. "You're the last person I expected to see here."

"I'm only here because Louise made me come."

"How is my sister-in-law?" asked Smithie smugly. "I haven't seen Lou in ages."

"Cut the crap Mark," Les Smith sneered. "Where the fuckin' hell is Jason?"

Leaning forward with hands clinched, Smithie struggled with his temper. His older brother always had that effect on him. "How the hell should I know? You're his damn father."

"Don't play dumb with me you asshole. I know Jason's been hanging out with you, much to our disgust. You rob a bank, get caught and Jase disappears. We haven't seen him since he left the house on Wednesday morning, and Louise is frantic."

Smithie leaned in closer. For all his brother's faults, he knew he only wanted the best for his son and would be worried sick over Jason's whereabouts. "Les," he said softly. "I honestly don't know where Jase is. We were hiding out in a shack near Fort Tejon when we were captured. Jase had gone for a walk when the cops burst in and got us. I haven't seen or heard from him since."

"Well, he hasn't been arrested or we would have heard. So where the hell is he?"

Smithie shook his head. "Don't know, still in the State Park maybe? I just don't know."

Les stared at his brother for a moment. The frown lines on his face making him look older than his thirty-nine years. "Did Jason have anything to do with the assault on those cops?"

"How'd you hear about that?"

"It was in the paper yesterday along with the death of Ricky Punter. You're lucky you're not in here on a murder charge, as it sounds like one cop was lucky to pull through." He paused and repeated his earlier question. "Did Jason have anything to do with it?"

Smithie smiled. "Relax. Jason didn't lay a finger on either of them. In fact he was pretty upset with what happened. He doesn't have a record and neither Butch nor I are going to mention him. Ricky's dead the little asshole, so Jase is in the clear."

"What about the two cops?"

"The one Butch clobbered wouldn't have seen him, but the other one..."

Les frowned. "The other one would be able to place him at the scene."

"Yeah probably...but in reality the pigs are gonna be happy with nailing me and Butch for this. I can't see them chasing down Jase as he didn't even set foot in the bank."

"Maybe, maybe not as you never know how those damn pigs think." He leaned back in his chair for a moment and then leaned forward, speaking in the quiet but menacing voice that Smithie knew too well. "I'm not taking any chances. My son is not taking the same road that we took, not if I can help it."

"So what are you planning to do? Take the cop out?" Smithie asked, guessing the answer by the steely look in his brother's eyes.

"Yeah, if I have to, could be a bit of fun making him squirm." He pushed his chair back and stood up. "But don't think for a minute that you're off the hook. I haven't forgiven you for taking Jase along in the first place. Remember that." He turned and walked away.

Smithie watched his brother leave, a sly smile playing on his lips. Yeah I won't forget. I never forget anything where you're involved. But taking that pig out? You're freakin nuts! But on the other hand if he wasn't around to give evidence, the prosecutors would have a harder time convicting us. Go get him big brother.

**********

Ponch settled down in his seat for his first briefing since returning to work. Around him his colleagues were smiling and laughing but no one seemed to notice him. He wished more than anything that Jon was sitting next to him today, but his partner wouldn't be back for another week. He started to fidget, but stopped and sat up straighter when the sergeant came in and briefing got underway.

Joe opened his folder and began. "I have some exciting news. Jon won't be coming back after the incident of last week as he's going to be opening his own dance studio."

Cheers erupted around him as Ponch sat there bewildered. What? Jon is opening a dance studio?What kinda dumb joke is that?

"But the best part is that Jon is going to come in here once a week and give us lessons." Joe stepped out from behind the podium to reveal the skin tight black pants he was wearing. "I'm going to learn how to tango."

"Ballet for me," Bonnie called out as she stepped into the middle of the room, and whirled around in her pink tutu.

Ponch rubbed his eyes.

"We'll learn Swan Lake," Grossie said as he joined her. His leotard was stretched tight around his middle but he didn't seem to mind.

Ponch rubbed his eyes once more, but nothing had changed. Joe was still prancing about in his black pants but now had a red rose in his mouth. Bonnie and Grossie were doing their version of Swan Lake. Bear and Jeb Turner were ballroom dancing together, the waltz Ponch thought as he watched them spin around. Jeb seemed quite taken with his bright yellow gown that he proudly showed off as he spun about.

Everywhere that he looked an officer was performing some sort of dance step: from the three belly dancers in one corner to Bruce on top of the table, tap dancing. The movement all around him was making his head spin. Ponch was ready to scream when the door opened and Jon whirled in. Dressed in jeans, a skin tight body shirt unbuttoned half way down his chest, and hair slicked back with gel he was nearly unrecognisable.

"Ponch, why aren't you dancing?" Jon asked in a voice several degrees higher than normal. He looked down at the clip board in his hand as he flitted over to where Ponch was sitting, mouth agape. "I've got you down for Jazz. So come on, let's get into it."

Joe danced past them with the rose still in his mouth. Jon forgot Ponch and headed after the sergeant. "Joe, how many times do I have to tell you? This is how you do it."

Before Ponch had time to blink his partner and sergeant were dancing past him cheek to cheek, the red rose now in Jon's mouth. They tangoed to the end of the room and were on their way back when Ponch decided enough was enough. Standing up with hands on hips he blocked their path and bellowed. "What the hell is going on here?"

Jon removed the rose before answering. "We're dancing, any idiot can see that Ponch."

"But why Jon?"

"I like dancing."

"But why leave the patrol? Can you answer that?"

"Yeah, that's easy. I don't trust you anymore Ponch. I could've died in that container after you made me stand up. I told you I couldn't stand up, I told you..."Jon chanted as the others closed in around them.

They linked hands and formed a circle with Ponch in the middle. Moving around him, slowly at first they began to chant. "I told you, I told you..." Gathering speed they moved faster and faster; the chanting got louder until Ponch could take it no longer.

"Stop!" he yelled out at the top of his voice.

Ponch opened his eyes in shock as he called out. It took a couple of seconds for him to realize that he was home in bed and this was another one of his strange dreams. Shaking his head to clear his mind he rolled over and looked at the bedside clock. 5:15AM Monday morning. In less than two hours he'd be back at Central getting ready to hit the bricks once again. Sighing he stared at the ceiling, wondering when he'd once again have an uninterrupted night's sleep.

**********

Pausing at the back entrance to the station, Ponch took a deep breath before pulling open the heavy door and stepping inside. Walking down the brightly lit corridor he headed for the second door on the left, hoping that he'd reach the locker room unnoticed. Fortune wasn't on his side today.

"Ponch!"

Upon hearing the voice Ponch moaned to himself. Damn. I'm not ready to face him just yet. Anybody but him. Turning slowly to give himself time, he faced Artie Grossman with his customary smile. "Grossie, how's it going?"

"Good Ponch. But more importantly how are you? Are you ready for the week ahead without Jon by your side?"

"Yeah, of course Grossie, why wouldn't I be? Don't you think I can handle it out there on my own?" His eyes narrowed as he glared at the stocky patrolman in front of him, who was now ever so slightly squirming under his gaze. "I'm not a damn rookie, ya know."

"Yeah I know, I wasn't insinuating that you were." Grossie immediately went on the defensive. "I didn't mean anything by it Ponch, but you and Jon have been partners for a long time, and you've gotta admit it'll be different out there on your own."

Ponch silently counted to three before flashing Grossie another grin. "Yeah it'll be different, but I'm gonna enjoy the peace and quiet while I can. Jon's nattering can be a bit much at times, ya know." He patted him on the shoulder before continuing down the corridor. "I've gotta go, don't want to be late."

Finally making it to the sanctuary of the locker room, Ponch slumped down on a bench. Head in hands he struggled to keep his composure. Who the hell am I kidding? I've been out there on my own before, God knows that, but this is different. This shouldn't have happened. Between me and those assholes we nearly killed Jon.

He stood up and punched the closest locker. "By God, I'm gonna make sure they rot in prison," he said through gritted teeth.

**********

Shifting in his seat, Ponch began to fidget. He'd had enough. He just wanted briefing to be over so he could get on his motor and get away from everyone. Oh he knew they were all genuine and cared about his welfare, but oh so many questions. 'How are you doing Ponch? How's Jon? When do you expect him back? Sure you're okay, you look tired?' It was enough to make a man scream out in frustration.

He doodled in his notebook to make out he was paying attention when in reality he wasn't. Becoming more and more restless, he breathed a sigh of relief when Sgt. Joe Getraer finally closed his folder. Briefing was over. Or so Ponch thought until Joe stepped away from the podium and continued to speak.

Joe looked in his direction as he thanked everyone for their efforts during the search on Thursday morning, and informed them that Jon would be absent for the rest of the week. Ponch was unusually silent as the sergeant answered questions about his partner, which Joe didn't fail to notice. He gazed at him intently as he finally finished briefing and sent everyone on their way.

Ponch was up in a flash anxious to get on his motor, and get out on the freeway where he could breathe those car fumes in again. Well maybe not exactly but anything was better than being cooped up in the briefing room. He headed for the back door hoping to get away before Joe noticed, but no such luck. He was only half way there when he heard the familiar voice calling him into his office. Ponch sighed as he nodded in response.

Walking down the corridor in no hurry for a conversation with his sergeant, Ponch was in a world of his own. Suddenly there was a collision of bodies, followed by a loud gasp which left him up against the wall entangled with someone in a hurry to leave the women's locker room.

"Oh God, I'm sorry," she quickly apologised, taking a step backwards. "I wasn't watching where I was going."

"Neither was I," Ponch said as he took in the woman standing before him. Dressed casually in jeans and a red sweater, her light brown hair fell in soft waves just past her shoulders and framed her oval shaped face. Warm hazel eyes with a touch of grey eyeliner gazed up at him.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she smiled. It was a smile which lit up her face and Ponch felt his loins tighten. She was different from the women he normally dated. Attractive yes, most certainly, but her beauty radiated from within and not from a makeup bottle. There was a quality about her that instantly attracted him and made him feel all man.

He held his hand out. "Frank. Frank Poncherello."

She took his hand. "Poncherello?" she queried, her smile fading.

"Yep, that's me." Ponch pointed to his name badge. "And you are?"

"Sorry, I've gotta go." She picked up her bag and hurried off, leaving Ponch standing there in astonishment.

My God, he thought. My reputation can't be that bad, can it? I would have enjoyed getting to know her better. Ah man, I shouldn't be thinking like that, Michelle is due back home tomorrow.

He got to Joe's office and sat down while he waited for the sergeant to arrive. Curious he wondered who the woman was as he'd never seen her before, but she must work here or else why was she coming out of the locker room? Perhaps she was one of the secretaries or a new officer? He'd find out one way or another. He ignored the little voice reminding him that his girlfriend, his hot air hostess girlfriend was arriving home tomorrow after a week away overseas.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, Frank," Joe said as he sat down at his desk. "How have you been the past couple of days? You were very quiet during briefing."

"I've been good. Worried about Jon but other than that I've been fine," Ponch replied, hoping that his answer would be enough to keep Joe's concerns at bay.

"We've all been concerned about Jon, but I guess you worry more than the rest of us." Joe picked up his pen, tapping it on the desk as he spoke. "But after seeing him last night my fears have been laid to rest. To look at him you wouldn't know he'd been beaten, locked up and close to death only five days ago."

Ponch wanted to scream. Yeah Sarge, I know, I was there remember? Instead he grinned. "Yeah he's done well. He was expecting to be back here tomorrow or Wednesday, ya know?"

Joe nodded. "Yeah, he told me. The trip away will do him the world of good, both of them actually. Cassy was under so much stress while the pair of you were missing. But enough about Jon, how are you coping with everything that happened? And don't give me that I'm fine line, cos I'm not buying it."

They stared at one another for a moment. Ponch knew that he needed to be extra convincing before Joe was going to let him off the hook. "I'm as fit as a fiddle, Sarge. Yeah I was quiet during briefing but I'd had enough of everyone asking how I was. That's all. What I went through was nothing compared to how Jon suffered."

Joe leaned forward in his chair. "Don't make light of what happened to you, Frank. In some ways Jon is going to get through this a lot easier than you will. His physical injuries will heal a lot quicker than your psychological ones, especially if you don't talk."

His eyes opened wide in surprise. "What are you saying? That you think I'm nuts?"

"No, of course not," Joe said quickly. "I didn't mean it like that. I've seen a lot of officer's bottle up their feelings and not talk about the trauma they've witnessed, and it eats away at them. You and Jon are so close that to see him like that has to effect you. You wouldn't be human if it didn't."

"Yeah it wasn't easy," Ponch admitted. "But Jon survived and he'll be back here as good as gold. So there's really nothing to talk about." He willed him to leave it there and not push any further.

Joe leant back and thought for a moment. He knew just by looking at his officer that something was amiss, but at the same time he also knew that he couldn't make him talk. So he let it go, for the time being. "Okay Frank, if you say you're fine I believe you, but you know my door is open if you need to talk about anything, don't you?"

"Yeah I do, thanks Sarge."

"Now before you go. Steven Williams and Mark Smith are going to be arraigned today, and I've got it on good authority that they're going to plead not guilty."

"Yeah of course they will, and they'll have some damn lawyer trying his hardest to get the assholes off."

"Everyone's entitled to a fair trial; it's the American way you know," Joe said ruefully.

"Yeah, I know." Ponch nodded. "But they could save the State a heap of money, and just plead guilty cos when I get on that stand it'll be all over for them. They'll be going down." He brought his fist down on Joe's desk, hard, making the sergeant jump in his chair.

"Settle down Frank. It'll be months before it gets to court. So, you've obviously been thinking about it?"

Ponch let out a slow breath. "You bet I have. The way I see it Sarge, I'm the only one who can place them in that yard. While we don't know exactly what happened to Jon, I can make sure they go down for the kidnapping, false imprisonment and the assault on me, and the DA will get them for the robbery."

Joe rubbed his temple. "You're probably right about that, as I doubt if Jon will even be called as a witness. But don't forget there's other evidence against them. The fingerprints on your revolvers and Jon's photo will connect them to you and..." Joe paused, his face turning a shade paler as he remembered something.

"What?" Ponch asked, alarmed by the look on his sergeant's face. He had a bad feeling that he wasn't going to like what he said next.

"Ricky Punter," Joe sighed.

It took a moment for Ponch to realize that Joe was talking about the third accomplice who died while trying to avoid capture. "Ah shit," he moaned as he smacked the desk again. "They'll pin this on him, won't they?"

Joe agreed. "Yep, most likely, with a smart lawyer they will. He's dead so they've got nothing to lose."

Ponch stood up, his brown eyes narrowing with a deadly look that Joe had never seen before. "No, I'm not letting them get away with this." Both hands clinched in tight fists he fought to control his anger as he paced around the room. "God damn it! They can't do that."

Joe wisely got up and closed the door. "Calm down Frank. They haven't done it yet. The only thing they could pin on him and get away with is the attack on Jon, and for all we know he could have been the one who did it."

Ponch shook his head. "No, I don't think it was him. It was the other two controlling the situation, Punter and the kid were just doing what they were told." His anger under control for the moment he sat down again. "Is LAPD looking for that kid? He couldn't have been much more than eighteen."

"They haven't got anything to follow up. They got his prints off the photo but there's no record to match them to, no name, nothing. They weren't even sure there was a fourth person until you mentioned it, but they do believe he's got some of the money. There's roughly a quarter of it missing."

"He took his share and got out of there? He'd have enough to start a new life anywhere he wanted, smart kid."

Joe chuckled. "Yeah smarter than the other three, that's for sure. Look Frank; don't worry about what's going to happen in the trial. With your testimony and the existing evidence there's enough to convict them for quite a few years."

"Yeah, I know," he sighed heavily. "But they'll get away with the one thing I want them to go down for, the attack on my partner." He stood up and paced around trying to dispel the anger he could feel building up in him again. "Jon's not gonna be happy with this either."

"Don't worry about Jon, I've got a feeling he's gonna have other matters on his mind over the next few months." Joe nodded towards the door. "How's about you get on that motor of yours and hit the bricks. Harlan's given it the once over and got it purring like a kitten."

"Yeah, alright Sarge." Having stopped pacing Ponch was now strangely subdued. Opening the door he left, leaving behind a worried sergeant.

**********

Dropping his keys on the coffee table, Ponch flopped down on the couch with a big sigh of relief. The day was finally over. After the revelations in Joe's office he'd felt tired and somewhat defeated. Getting on his motor had helped and in the end he'd had a decent day, but now he was physically worn out. Grabbing a cushion he stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes.

It was the knock on the door that woke him up an hour later. Struggling to focus his eyes, he slowly got up and wandered over to the front door.

"Surprise," she said. Flashing him a bright smile, she stepped in close and kissed him fiercely on the lips.

He pulled her inside, closing the door behind them. Lustfully he stared at her. With blue eyes, blonde hair that cascaded down her back in soft waves, and curves in all the right places, Michelle Lawson was a knock out.

"I wasn't expecting you back until tomorrow," he muttered in her ear after tasting the cherry flavored lip gloss she was wearing. "How was your trip? Not all work I hope."

"Oh no, we had plenty of time for the beach." She held her arm out. "I improved my tan. So, did you miss me?" she purred.

Ponch led her over to the couch before answering. "More than you know, sugar," he whispered taking her in his arms and breathing in the hint of Vanilla Musk that surrounded her.

Michelle sighed as her lover nuzzled her neck and his hands roamed unheeded over her body. "Mmmm you have missed me," she gasped several minutes later as Ponch paused to catch his breath.

"Yeah baby," he moaned, yearning to feel her, every part of her. "You're my girl." Looking into her eyes he had an overwhelming need to be loved, craving someone special in his life, so desperate was his need for release from the tension that engulfed him.

Heart pounding, he exploded with an overpowering passion for the woman next to him, trying desperately to rid himself of the emotion that had been building over the past few days. Freeing her blouse from the confines of her waistband, nearly popping the buttons off in the process, he abruptly had the offending item on the floor. Staring at her heaving breasts, thrusting against the confines of a pale blue lace bra, he couldn't control his desire any longer. Reaching behind her he unclipped the bra, pulling it off more roughly than he intended. Breathing heavily he couldn't help himself and pounced on her breasts.

"Easy there tiger," Michelle said, taken back by his enthusiasm. He usually took his time, in no hurry whatsoever. She pulled away and gazed at him noting the fatigue in his face. "You look tired, Frank. You haven't been out partying, have you?"

"No, of course not," he said, taken back by her question. "I promised you that I'd behave myself and after the week I've had, going out partying was the last thing on my mind."

Seemingly satisfied with his answer she snuggled in close as they continued where they'd left off. He sent shivers of delight throughout her entire body and she wiggled underneath him, needing him, aching for him as he lavished attention on her bare breasts. On the verge of crying out for him, her bliss was broken by the sharp sound of the phone ringing.

"Leave it," she hissed realizing that Ponch had shifted position to answer it.

"It might be important."

"Let the answering machine get it."

He reluctantly did as she requested and left it to the machine. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him close but the sound of his partner's voice made him sit up and grab the phone.

Michelle sat up as well, desire being replaced with anger as Ponch spent the next ten minutes in conversation with Jon.

"What was all that about?" she snapped when the phone call was finished. "Couldn't it have waited till tomorrow?"

Ponch stared at her, eyes wide with shock. "No, it couldn't have," he said trying to keep his temper intact. "Jon's in Utah."

"What's he doing in Utah?"

He sighed. "Didn't you take any notice of what I was saying?"

"Not really," she pouted. "I was thinking that once again I've come second to that damn partner of yours."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Oh think about it, Frank." Scowling she reached for her bra. "If it was anyone else on the phone you wouldn't have picked it up. Would you?"

Running his fingers through his dark hair, he stood still and stared at her, really looked at her. Oh Michelle was a stunner, there was no doubting that. But as they stared at one another Ponch saw something else, something he had never noticed before: the coldness in her blue eyes. It was if the haze had lifted and he was seeing the real woman behind the made up face.

Little incidents flashed through his mind. Jon and Cassy's wedding; she'd sulked because she couldn't sit at the bridal table with him and in the end she didn't even go. The 11-99 fund raising Ball the CHP held last September; he was late picking her up and she pouted for most of the night, refusing to hear why he was delayed.

"Well?" Michelle's voice broke into his thoughts, jarring him.

"No Michelle, I wouldn't have answered the phone if it were anyone else." He took a deep breath. "But this was important. There was an incident last week where Jon was hurt and I needed to know how he was, so I picked it up."

"Last week?"

"Yeah, on Wednesday."

"Today's Monday." She slipped her blouse on and began doing up the buttons. "Surely you know how he is by now, and if he's in Utah like you say he is he can't be too bad."

Ponch sank down on the couch, head in hands. He lifted his head and muttered. "He nearly died. Is that bad enough for you?"

She was silent for what seemed like forever, trying to comprehend his distress. Flicking her hair back she finally spoke. "I still don't understand why you couldn't have just called him back later, after we were finished." Standing up she straightened her clothes. "I'm not in the mood anymore, so I'm going home. Call me when you're ready to put me first."

Ponch shook his head as he headed towards the door. Even though he was seething inside, he calmly opened the door and turned towards her. "Good-bye Michelle. Don't be expecting any calls from me."

"Whatever, it's your loss." She walked away, not once looking back at him.

He slammed the door and stormed into the kitchen. Looking in the fridge he didn't know what he wanted, so he went back to the living room and slumped down on the couch. "My God," he muttered out loud. "How in hell did I put up with her for five months?" He sighed, feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. No wonder Jon never warmed to her, he obviously knew her better than I did.

Frustrated both sexually and with life in general, Ponch went off to bed knowing that he'd probably have another restless night's sleep.

**********

"Ponch, are you okay?"

The gentle touch on his shoulder woke him, lifting his head off his arms he found himself looking into the concerned eyes of Bonnie Clark. Having arrived at Central earlier than normal the next morning, after yet another disturbed night's sleep, Ponch realized that he had fallen asleep in the briefing room.

He sat up straight and grinned at her, hoping to shake off her concerns with his usual charm. "Bonnie, of course I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"

She stared at him for a moment, taking in the heavy eyelids and the dullness of his skin. He just didn't look well. "You look tired, Ponch. Have you been sleeping?"

"Yeah"

"Properly?" she asked as they were joined by Barry Baricza and Jeb Turner.

"Give him a break, Bonnie," Bear said, grinning widely. "I heard that Michelle arrived home yesterday and umm I'm guessing that Ponch was rather busy last night."

Bonnie looked at each of them in turn, realizing she wasn't going to get past the unspoken male bravado she shrugged her shoulders and scowled. "Enough said. But you really don't look good, Ponch." She walked off and took a seat three rows up, concern evident in her blue eyes as she searched for her pen.

The three men exchanged grins as Joe stepped up to the podium and briefing got underway. Ponch breathed a sigh of relief as he pulled out his note book and tried to listen to his sergeant. Glancing over at Bonnie, he knew that it wouldn't be long before she worked out the real reason for his lack of sleep. Between her and her cousin Cassy, Ponch knew they'd be pushing him to talk about what happened and how he felt. All that stuff women were good at. But he just wasn't ready to talk, not yet.

Briefing finished and there was the usual shuffling of chairs as everyone stood up. Ponch slipped out the rear door and headed for the motor pool before Bonnie could quiz him again. Most importantly, before Bear and Jeb could slap him on the back and congratulate him on his prowess with Michelle. He'd tell them the truth later.

He mounted his motor and sat there for a moment before turning the key. God I'm exhausted, do I have the strength to get through the day? I guess only time will tell. He slipped his motor into gear and slowly rode off, missing the concerned look he was getting from Bonnie.

**********

Putting his pinch book away, Ponch glanced at his watch and frowned. Another two hours before I finish for the day. Yawning widely he flung his leg over the seat and sat down heavily. Wonder what Jon's doing today? Most likely he's celebrating after telling his family the good news about the baby.

Ponch smiled.

Adjusting his sun glasses, he reached for the key to turn his motor on but decided against it. Thoughts flooded his mind, thoughts of Jon and Cassy and the very different outcome that could so easily have occurred last Wednesday. An outcome that he would have played a part in, no matter what anyone else said. He just wasn't able to forget.

His smile faded.

Shoulders slumped, he sighed. He sat there for a while until a car horn startled him. Looking up, he glimpsed Bonnie waving as she drove past him. He returned the wave with one of his own and finally turned the key. The motor sprung to life and Ponch slowly pulled out into the road.

"Attention all units, be on the lookout for a reckless driver. Believed to be travelling in a green pickup truck, last seen travelling Eastbound on the Ventura Freeway near the Glendale overpass."

Ponch took the next on ramp, going east along the Ventura.

"LA 15 7 Charles, in pursuit of green pickup truck, California licence plate Robert Ida George 373, travelling Eastbound on the Ventura Freeway at the Pomona exit. Backup required."

"7 Mary 5 responding from the Northbound 5, Golden State Freeway just east of the San Fernando Road exit. ETA five minutes."

Ponch picked up his radio mic to respond that he was only minutes away when he realized exactly where he was. He fought with his inner self and lost. Putting the mic back he instead exited at San Rafael and headed west on Colorado Boulevard. He didn't really know why he was compelled to head towards the storage yard, but that was exactly what he was doing.

He travelled along Colorado and turned right into Figueroa Street which was a two lane road that wound back and forth into the hills.

"7 Charles, green pickup has exited Ventura at Broadway and is now going east on Colorado."

Ignoring the fact that the suspect was now heading in his direction, Ponch continued along Figueroa. A minute later he found himself outside the gates of Eagle Rock Storage. With shaking hands and a heart that felt like it was going to explode out of his chest, Ponch ventured forward.

Breathing deeply he rode into the yard, stopping he took the time to have a good look at the shipping containers which filled the lot. They varied in size and colour but Ponch knew one thing from experience; inside they'd all be dark and cold. Shivering as a sudden chill went through him, he was tempted to turn around and leave, but didn't. Riding on, he took the same course that he and Jon had taken that fateful Wednesday as they pursued their suspects.

It didn't take Ponch long to find the container he was looking for; an old container about eight foot wide and twenty foot long, red in colour with several holes in the roof and walls. One hole in particular stood out. It was the size of a football situated near the doorway, and it had been their salvation for a time, giving them some light to see by.

Parking his motor, Ponch turned the engine off, removed his helmet and stared.

"7 Mary 5, turning onto Colorado, about two minutes away."

He got off the bike and took two steps forward. Blinking away tears he paused...They stopped for a moment as Jon used the radio. Riding forward they stopped again, Ponch pointing in one direction while Jon went in another. He took another couple of steps. Ponch rode up the end of the laneway, turning at the last container he was surprised by the sound of a gunshot and a bullet whizzing past him. Before he had time to realize what was happening, a man sprung out of nowhere pointing a gun in his face. His accomplice turned up and together they pulled Ponch off his motor and yanked his sunglasses off. They led him around at gunpoint to where the others were waiting.

"7 Charles, suspect has turned right onto Townsend Avenue."

"7 Mary 5, passing Eagle Rock Boulevard. One minute away."

Trembling, Ponch inched closer to the container. A single tear slid down his cheek. They were now close enough for Ponch to see Jon lying on the ground. "Jon!" He wrenched his arm away and rushed to his partner's side, kneeling next to him. He was quickly dragged to his feet and received a kick to his ankle for his trouble. He gasped as he struggled to stay on his feet and a gun was shoved in his face.

"7 Charles, suspect has turned right onto Yosemite."

"7 Mary 5, now going west on Colorado, will intercept suspect on Eagle Rock Boulevard."

Eyes now blurry with tears, Ponch took the remaining steps to the door. Shaking like a leaf he reached for the handle. Ever so slowly he pulled it open, the loud squeak of the rusty door startling him. He felt the muzzle of the gun as it was poked in his back. Standing his ground Ponch refused to move, he heard the menacing sound of the gun being cocked and reluctantly took a step forward. His arm was gripped tightly as he was marched inside, laughter erupting from his assailant as he was shoved violently forward. Colliding with the far wall, the sudden impact made Ponch cry out in pain.

"7 Charles, suspect has turned right onto Eagle Rock. He should be coming towards you Grossie."

"10-4. I've turned onto Eagle Rock."

He stood still in the doorway, shivering. Holding his breath Ponch took one step and then another, his black boots clinking with the hard metal floor. The sound echoed throughout the empty container. Standing still in the middle he let his breath out, instantly regretting the action. The odour was overwhelming; stale air mixed with body fluids made for a pungent smell. Ponch covered his mouth, trying not to gag. He reached down and grabbed Jon's hands, pulling him into a standing position Ponch ignored his protests. Jon managed to stand and take a couple of shaky steps. He cried out, "Let me stop for a minute, Ponch." He leaned him against the wall and gingerly let go of him. Jon groaned, "Ponch... I'm not feeling very good..." His head rolled to one side as he collapsed in a heap, his head hitting the hard floor with a sickening thump. Ponch reached down and frantically tried to find a pulse.

"7 Charles, Mary 5 has joined pursuit, travelling north along Eagle Rock heading towards Colorado Boulevard. More backup required as suspect is not slowing down."

"10-4 7 Charles. Attention all units, 7 Charles and 7 Mary 5 are in pursuit of green pickup, California licence plate Robert Ida George 373, north along Eagle Rock Boulevard towards Colorado. Responding units please identify. Suspect has warrants out for his arrest."

"7 David, responding from the Glendale Freeway south of the Golden State interchange. ETA four minutes."

Hand still covering his mouth, Ponch rushed outside and gulped in the fresh air. He paced around for a minute, breathing deeply, before striding towards his motor and turning off the radio. Sitting sideways on the seat he looked towards the heavens trying to make sense of his emotions. He wasn't some first year rookie, he'd been on the force long enough to handle an incident like this. And then it hit him like a ton of bricks, and it made perfect sense. They were more than partners, more than friends. Something like brothers, but even that wasn't quite right. He loved Jon and the thought of losing his best friend, confidant and partner was more than he could take, and it scared the hell out of him.

He shook his head in shock at this revelation and the more he thought about it the more it made sense. There was no one on this earth that he was closer to than Jon. Jon was always there for him, looked out for him, but most importantly Jon understood him. He was able to see past the shallow, woman chasing exterior he presented to the rest of the world, and see the real person inside.

The intensity of the emotions whirling inside of him was too much to bear, and the tears flowed unheeded for the next few minutes. Feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders, Ponch finally understood his feelings of the past week, and the relief was immense. Sniffing he wiped his eyes, turned the radio back on and organized himself. While he comprehended why he felt like he did, it didn't lessen the guilt that still had a hold on him. Head held high he rode away, without as much as a backward glance. There was still some way to go but the healing had commenced.

***********

Ponch leaned back in his chair and studied the report in front of him. It wasn't as neat as Jon would have done but it would have to do for now. It was time to go home. He pushed his chair back and stood up as Bonnie entered the room. She didn't look happy.

"What's up Bon Bon?"

Pulling out a chair she sat down heavily before answering. "That was you I saw today near the Ventura, wasn't it?"

"Yeah"

"Did you get an urgent call or something?"

"No"

"Then why didn't you-"

He held his hand up before she could say anymore. "I know what you're going to say Bonnie." He pulled out a chair and sat down next to the blonde, very annoyed officer. "I was only minutes away from your position and yes I should have backed you up, but there was somewhere I had to be."

"Somewhere you had to be? My God Ponch, not only do you look wasted today but now you're neglecting your job. You need to go home and get some sleep, damn girlfriend or not."

They stared at one another for a moment. Ponch knowing that everything she said was right, while Bonnie regretted her outburst the minute she saw the hurt in his eyes.

"I'm sorry Ponch. We got the suspect in the end so it doesn't matter. I'm sure wherever you had to be was important."

"I went to the storage yard," he said softly.

"Storage yard," she repeated, puzzled.

"You know, out at Eagle rock."

"Oh." She touched him lightly on the arm. "How'd it go?"

He was silent for a moment before answering. "It was hard, really hard Bonnie. I don't really know why I went out there."

"That's easy. You needed closure." She looked closely at him. "This has been rougher on you than we've realized, hasn't it?"

"Yeah," he agreed, running his fingers through his hair. "I haven't slept properly since it happened, and I've been having all these weird dreams. But going out there today has helped me come to terms with how I've been feeling."

"That's good, and I suppose Michelle has been helping too now that she's back home."

"Michelle," Ponch snorted. "She's the most self centred, shallow uncaring woman I've had the displeasure of knowing. We broke up last night."

Bonnie quickly covered her mouth to hide the grin on her face. "I'm sorry Ponch."

"Well I'm not."

She couldn't help herself as she giggled. "Me either, I never did like her."

"You know what Bonnie?" Ponch chuckled. "I don't think I did either."

They laughed together with a familiarity that came with being long time friends.

Ponch stood up. "Thanks Bonnie, that's helped a lot, but I've gotta go. I've got a date."

"Already?"

"Yeah, I've been hanging out for this one all day. Soft, warm and comfy... my bed," he grinned.

Bonnie laughed. "Well off you go then."

**********

Ponch woke up the next morning feeling like a new man. It was amazing what a good night's sleep did for one's mind and body. He headed off to Central with a spring in his step, wondering what this Wednesday would bring.

The morning was uneventful and Ponch was enjoying lunch at Bill's Burgers, a favourite haunt of his and Jon's. He bit into his triple cheese burger, savouring the extra spicy ketchup that made the burgers so tasty. He picked up his soda to have a drink and that was when he saw her; the woman whom he had collided with in the corridor two days ago.

He watched her as she walked across the parking lot. She was once again dressed casually in jeans and a sweater, a pale blue one this time. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail making her look younger than she probably was. Ponch thought she was in her late twenties, early thirties at the most. She seemed to be looking for someone as she paused, slipped her sunglasses off and looked around.

Having found who she was seeking she changed direction and headed towards the outside tables where Ponch was sitting. He continued to observe her, trying not to be too obvious.

She stopped at his table and nervously regarded him. "Officer Poncherello?" she asked with a quiver in her voice.

Ponch looked up. "Yeah, that's me," he answered with a grin.

She stood still looking like a deer caught in a spotlight and his heart immediately went out to her. There was a vulnerability about her that made him want to enclose her in his arms and take away the pain, as it was obvious that something was troubling her.

"I hope you don't mind me turning up here, they told me at the station where you were."

"Now that depends," Ponch chuckled. "Are you going to run off again without telling me your name?"

A telltale blush crept up her face. "No."

Ponch smiled. "Well that's a start." He indicated the empty seat. "Would you like to join me? I'd enjoy the company as I don't normally eat on my own."

She sat down. Picking up a napkin she screwed it up nervously before moving it from hand to hand. "How's your partner doing?" she asked after an awkward silence.

Ponch took a bite out of his burger as he pondered her. Just who was this woman? "He's alright," he answered, not wanting to give too much away.

"When do you expect him back?"

He drank the last of his soda. "How's about we start with your name?"

She couldn't put him off any longer as he deserved to know the truth. "Kellie Waugh," she sighed.

He stared at her, trying to remember where he'd heard that name before. It took a moment but it finally came to him. Cadet Kellie Waugh was the officer who didn't pass on the phone call the night they were locked in the container.

Kellie watched him. She saw the uncertainty flicker across his face and knew the instant he recognized her name. Feeling her heart pounding in her chest she felt compelled to run away, but she didn't. She couldn't bear the guilt any longer and needed him to yell at her, curse her, anything but be nice to her.

"Ah, it all makes sense now." Ponch crumbled up the wrapper from his burger. "Why you ran the other day when you found out who I was." He smiled. "Here I was worried that you'd heard about my reputation."

"I'm so sorry-"

"Hey." He stopped her. "There's no need to apologise, we all make mistakes."

"Please don't be nice to me, I don't deserve it. My mistake could have cost you your life."

Ponch knew she was right, at least in regard to Jon's life, but he'd never blamed her before and he wasn't going to start now. He'd been too busy dealing with his own guilt to point a finger at anyone else.

"But it didn't. I'm here as good as gold."

"Yeah, but your partner's not. I phoned the hospital last Friday morning to see how you two were doing and I know there were grave concerns about him."

There was something in her tone, in her eyes, that told him Cadet Kellie Waugh was not about to forgive herself anytime soon for what occurred that night, and he couldn't let her carry that guilt around. By the time she had become involved, the damage was well and truly done and he carried more than enough guilt for the both of them. He looked in her eyes again and felt the same physical reaction as he did on Monday, but this time his heart burned with compassion for the young officer. It suddenly became very important to him that she forgive herself, and more important that he was the vehicle that helped her do it.

"Yes, they were concerned about his head injury," Ponch conceded.

Kellie saw several emotions cross his face, none of which matched the light tone of the officer's voice. He seemed uncomfortable discussing the incident, and she felt worse for bringing it up. But his next statement was completely unexpected, and it both thrilled and terrified her.

"Look, I've got to get back on duty. Would you be available to have dinner with me tonight?"

"Dinner?" She looked at him in utter shock. This was the last thing she'd expected and she should be saying no, but to her surprise she heard herself accept his invitation. Without much ado time and place were arranged. She sat there as he rode away and realized that she was actually looking forward to seeing Frank Poncherello again. Yes, very much so.

**********

"Hmmm that was delicious," Kellie smiled, putting her napkin down.

Ponch had suggested going to The Pizza Cafe, a small intimate cafe which of course specialized in pizzas, as well as the usual Italian dishes. It was obvious he was well known there as they were given a cosy booth in the quietest section of the cafe.

"I swear they serve the best pizzas here," Ponch agreed. "I love this place, the food, the wine..." He lifted up his glass of red wine. "...and the atmosphere is so relaxed."

Kellie was relaxed and had almost forgotten why she was having dinner with him, almost but not quite. The evening had been pleasant so far, good food and charming company. The conversation with him flowed easily but they'd kept it safe; talking baseball and the LA Dodgers, the weather and Madonna's latest mishap. But she knew that eventually she'd have to talk about that night.

Ponch ordered another bottle of wine, and wondered how best to broach the subject. He was enjoying her company immensely and didn't want to upset her. He wasn't sure why, but he had an over whelming need to protect her. He was attracted to her, there was no doubt about that, but it was more than just wanting to take her to bed. This woman he could possibly take home to meet his mother.

Kellie took a sip of her wine, allowing it to linger in her mouth before swallowing. Holding the stem of the glass between both hands she finally found the courage to begin. "You didn't end up telling me when your partner was coming back," she said, hoping that Ponch wouldn't pick up on the anxiety which was behind the words.

He heard the apprehension in her voice but Ponch was just relieved that she had brought it up herself. "Jon should be back on Monday. He's recovered really well."

"You're sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Jon is in Utah at the moment, no doubt being spoiled by his wife and family." He looked directly into her eyes, noting how the touch of eyeliner she used enhanced the hazel colour in her eyes, and his heart softened even more. "Kellie, I promise you that I'll always tell you the truth about everything."

"Everything?"

"Yes."

She hated herself for what she was about to ask, but she had to know. "How much did the time delay hurt you both?"

Ponch knew this was coming. She was testing him on his honesty, and he was going to be honest with her even if it cost him in the end and scared her away.

"I was dehydrated and had mild hypothermia, and if I'd gotten out sooner maybe it wouldn't have been so bad, but it's hard to say for sure. It's a different story with Jon..." he hesitated, taking a deep breath. "...he'd been severely beaten before we were locked up, and every extra minute in there added to his pain-"

"I see," Kellie interrupted him. "Thank you for being honest with me. I've found out what I need to know." She slid out of the booth. "Thanks for dinner but it's time I went home."

"Kellie," Ponch pleaded. "Please don't go you haven't heard the whole story yet."

"I've heard enough. My mistake worsened your situation, end of story." She walked away, not once looking back as a tear trickled down her face. She knew she'd caused them pain, but to actually hear him say it was too much to bear.

"Damn it!" Ponch banged his fist down on the table as she walked away. He wanted to chase after her but decided against it, cursing himself for not answering her question in another way. He'd find her tomorrow and make her listen to what he had to say. He wasn't letting Kellie Waugh slip out of his life that easily.

**********

The next afternoon after finishing work it only took a little bit of Poncherello charm to get what he needed; Kellie's address. Ponch walked out of the secretary's room with a grin on his face and a yellow piece of paper in his hand. Changing out of his uniform in the locker room he was soon on his way.

Twenty minutes later he was parked in front of a dark brown, bricked apartment building. Neat flower beds with newly pruned rose bushes enhanced the well kept lawn area. The path which Ponch took to the front entrance was cracked in several places and in urgent need of repair.

He found the apartment he was looking for and knocked sharply on the door. Movement was heard from inside and shortly after the door opened. He gazed into her eyes and felt his heart pounding as Kellie stood there and stared at him.

Ponch was the first to speak. "Can we talk, please Kellie?"

He saw her hesitation and for a moment was afraid she was going to refuse him.

"Yeah alright," she said, finally. "But we can't talk in here as my roommate is home. There's a park around the corner, would that be okay?"

He smiled. "That'd be fine."

She left him in the corridor while she got her jacket. She'd done nothing but think of him since last night, ashamed of the way she'd run out on him and hoping that he'd call her. But that wasn't going to happen since Ponch didn't have her telephone number. So it was something of a shock to see him standing there, a pleasant shock but nevertheless a shock.

They walked the five minute distance to the park in silence. Kellie led them over to one of the park benches where they sat down. It was now late in the afternoon and there were only a handful of people in the park; several children playing on the swings and an older man out walking his dog.

"The guilt is really affecting you, isn't it?" Ponch asked softly.

"Yes"

"You have to let it go Kellie. It'll just eat away at you if you don't."

She stared at him, eyes cold. "That's easy for you to say, you don't know what it feels like."

He reached for her hand and held it between both of his where it fitted perfectly. "I do know. I've felt it all this past week; anger, anxiety, and fear but most of all guilt."

She looked down at their hands and then into his eyes, his dark, dark brown eyes. Something stirred inside of her, something she hadn't felt in some time. Not since she'd broken up with her fiancé over a year ago. She felt she could trust this man with her life. Her eyes softened and she smiled at him.

"Are you up to hearing about it?" Ponch asked.

"Yes," Kellie answered. "I'm ready."

Squeezing her hand gently for reassurance, he began to tell his story. She listened intently as Ponch replayed the events of that day. He began from the time he and Jon followed the suspects into the storage yard and ended with their release the next morning.

Kellie heard how Ponch was led at gunpoint to where Jon was lying unconscious on the ground and the brutal way in which they were locked up. It was another two hours before Jon regained conscious and was able to speak.

She was shocked. "What did they beat him with?"

Ponch shrugged his shoulders. "We don't actually know but the doctor suspected a metal pipe or a heavy piece of wood. Jon doesn't remember."

He continued, telling Kellie how he made his partner stand up against his wishes and the subsequent fall Jon had where his head hit the hard floor.

Ponch faltered. "I'll never forget that sound, ever. It was so sickening Kellie, I thought I'd killed him."

"But you didn't," she said gently. "And this happened before the phone call?"

"Yes. Around 5pm after we'd been in there for about five hours. About two hours later I realized that Jon was shivering as hypothermia set in. It was so cold in there."

She squeezed his hand for support as she knew Ponch was beginning to struggle. "What did you do?" she asked.

"The only thing I could do. Opened up his shirt, cut open his tee shirt and laid down next to him. He stopped shivering after a while and I dozed off. I woke up several times during the night but Jon never stirred. Then next thing I knew it was morning and they found us just after 8am."

"Oh Frank, I'm so sorry. The grief you must have felt seeing your partner like that."

He nodded. "I don't think I've ever felt more helpless as I did then. There was nothing I could do for him."

Kellie stared at him, confused. "But you did help him. Lying next to him kept him warm and saved his life."

"Yeah I know," he sighed. "But I can't let go of the fact that I made him stand up, and that the circumstances may have been different if I hadn't."

"And I can't let go of the fact that you should have been out of there hours earlier, and that would have changed the situation you were in," she said grimly.

"We should have been out of there hours before you picked up that damn phone," he countered.

She pulled her hand away. "You're just saying that to make me feel better but it's not going to work."

He desperately wanted to touch her again but the tone in her voice was telling him to keep his distance. "No, I'm not. Hear me out Kellie," he pleaded, afraid she was going to run off again. "There were events that could have changed everything."

She took a deep breath, wanting to believe him. "All right I'll listen."

"Thank you."

Ponch spent the next five minutes explaining the missing details. How his revolver and Jon's wedding photo turning up in the abandoned car had their searchers looking in a different area. The fact that the owner of the storage yard concealed that they were in one of his containers, and even the rain that day didn't help the situation by washing away their tire tracks. And it all started with the suspects getting out of there so quickly, that the yard looked deserted.

Kellie was silent as she absorbed the information. "Nothing went right that day, did it?" she finally said.

"No, it didn't." Ponch agreed.

"I do believe you, but I still did the wrong thing and it's going to take time to get past it."

"I've got plenty of time," Ponch said softly, taking her hand again.

She smiled.

They sat in a comfortable silence. The sun was about to set, turning the sky brilliant shades of red and orange. Kellie shivered as the night air descended on them. They were now the only ones left in the park.

"Do you wanna head back?" Ponch asked.

"No. Do you mind if we watch the sunset? It's so beautiful tonight."

"Yeah it is." He squeezed her hand and leaned towards her. "And so are you," he whispered.

Kellie felt her insides quiver as she moved towards him. Their lips brushed together for just a moment before pulling apart. She felt his hand on her knee and an overwhelming desire to be close to this man. Placing her hand over his, her eyes twinkled as she realized that everything, in time, was going to be alright. She smiled and reached for him.

**********

Ponch couldn't keep the smile off his face the next morning before briefing.

"Didn't take you long to get over Michelle," Bear remarked with a grin.

"And what makes you think it's a girl?" Ponch retorted good naturedly. "It's Friday today and I've got the next two days off, and then my trusted partner will be back by my side."

"Your trusted partner," Bear burst out laughing. "You're making Jon out to be The Lone Ranger to your Tonto." He raised his arm in the air. "Hi-yo, Silver, away."

"Jon would love that," Ponch chuckled.

"It's good to have you back, Ponch." Bear patted him on the shoulder as he made his way to his seat and briefing got underway.

Briefing finished ten minutes later and Joe called Ponch into his office.

He headed towards the sergeant's office wondering what he'd done wrong this time. Nothing came to mind so he had a puzzled look on his face by the time he arrived.

Joe smiled at him. "Relax Frank, you haven't done anything wrong... or at least I don't think you have. Have a seat."

"That's a relief Sarge," he grinned. "I couldn't think of anything either."

"I just wanted to see how you were getting on. I've been worried about you."

"Thanks. There were a couple of rough days but I've been talking about what happened, and it's helped a lot. Once Jon's back on Monday, things will be back to normal."

Joe leaned back in his chair. "Back to normal, huh? Good," he chortled. "Very good. So I guess I will be seeing you in here next week, because 'back to normal' means you have done something wrong?"

"You betcha," Ponch laughed.

**********

"Hey Smithie, you've got a visitor," the guard shouted.

Smithie looked up from his game of cards. "Is it my damn brother again?" he asked, annoyed that his brother was going to interrupt another Sunday afternoon of cards, especially since he was on a winning streak.

"Don't know, just hurry up would ya?"

"Yeah alright, keep your shirt on," he mumbled throwing his cards face down on the table.

He followed the guard into the visitor's room where he was pointed in the direction of the last cubicle. Sitting down he nearly fell off the chair when he saw the young man sitting opposite him.

He lowered his voice. "Jason, what the fuck are you doing here?"

Jason Smith grinned nervously as he stared at his uncle. The prison environment made the eighteen year old very uncomfortable and it could be heard in his voice. "I've come to see how you're doing."

"I'm fine," he answered abruptly. He glanced around before leaning in closer. "You're taking a big risk coming here."

"I know, but I've hidden the money away where the cops will never find it," Jason whispered. "I had to come cos I'm worried about Dad."

Eyes widening in shock Smithie gasped. "You've got some of the money?"

"Yeah, I've got my share," he said. "After the cops had finished looking around I went back and got it."

"Ya just waltzed back in there and got it?" Smithie smiled as Jason nodded. "You've got more balls than I would have given ya credit for. Tell me what happened after we were captured, but make it quick as we don't have much time."

"There's not much to tell. I heard all the shouting as I got closer to the shack so I hid behind a bush. After the cops left I stayed hidden for a while and then went inside. My money was still in the backpack where I'd left it in the cupboard, so I grabbed some supplies and went back to the lake. I stayed overnight in a cabin and walked out the next morning. I hitch hiked once I got back to the freeway."

"But you didn't go straight back home, did ya?" Smithie asked. "Your father was here last week ranting and raving about where you were."

"No, I stayed at a cheap hotel and read the papers to see if the cops were after me. It seemed safe so I went home two days ago, and that's why I'm here." Jason leaned forward his brown eyes narrowing. He had similar features to his uncle, including the same coloured hair and eyes. "Dad's hell bent on taking those cops out so they won't squeal on me."

"What's the problem?" Smithie asked, puzzled. "One less cop won't matter."

"He wants both of them."

"Why? Your father's an idiot. The cop that Butch clobbered would be lucky to know his own name, he's never gonna squeal. The other one yeah... maybe," he pondered. "Look Jase, just take your money and get the hell outta there. Go upstate or something for a few months."

"It's not that easy," Jason said. "I promised Mom I wouldn't leave." He shook his head. "She can't take much more of this."

"I'm not surprised," Smithie agreed. "Les has been in and out of trouble ever since they met, but he's stayed out of trouble for a while now."

"Yeah and now he wants back in and Mom's freakin out." He leaned in closer. "This is like a game. He knows full well that the cops are unlikely to find me but I think he just wants the thrill of the chase."

"What do ya mean Jase?"

"He's been plotting and making plans with..." Jason paused and Smithie saw the look of disgust that came over his nephew's face.

"With whom?" he asked.

"Nick Larson."

Smithie groaned. "What the fuck is he doing mixed up with that low life scum again? When he'd get out?"

"A month ago from what I can gather. Mom disappears when he comes to the house."

"And you do the same Jase. Stay away from him. He's the scum of the earth, nothing but a double crossing fink who preys on woman and the elderly. I'm no saint that's for sure but you've got to draw the line somewhere. What that prick does to woman makes me sick."

Jason turned pale. "Yeah I've heard some of his bragging, but what do I do? Dad and Nick found out where the cops are stationed and now they know their names. They're talking about staking them out to find out where they live, and they're in no hurry. It'll be months before you go to trial, so they figure they've got plenty of time to find the perfect way to get them."

"Do you think they're serious?"

"Yep, you know Dad. When he gets an idea in his head it stays there."

He nodded. "Yeah I know," Smithie said ruefully. "The best thing you can do Jase is keep your head down and your eyes and ears open. Keep me informed if ya can."

Their time was up and Jason had to leave. He stood up. "Yeah I will. I'll see ya later."

Smithie watched as his nephew walked away and a shiver ran down his back. Nick Larson was nothing but big trouble.

***********

Ponch was all smiles as he waited for his partner to arrive. Nothing could ruin this Monday morning for him after the great weekend he'd had. He'd spent most of it with Kellie getting to know her better and taking things slowly. It was a concept unfamiliar to him but one he found he was enjoying.

He pulled his cleaning rag out of the saddle bag and gave the windshield a quick polish. Jon still hadn't turned up and he was beginning to worry. He knew he'd picked up his motor yesterday and handed in his doctor's certificate, and Ponch assumed he would be eager to get out here. Perhaps he wasn't.

Jon finally pulled up five minutes later, and any doubts Ponch had about his partner's enthusiasm quickly vanished. Jon looked refreshed and rearing to go.

"Morning Ponch," he beamed, removing his helmet.

"It's nearly afternoon, Jon," Ponch grinned.

"I'm not that late," Jon countered. "And since when did you become a stickler for time?"

"Since you've finally rubbed off on me," Ponch laughed. "Or am I rubbing off on you?"

Jon chuckled. "Probably a bit of both partner, and seeing you're so particular these days I'll try not to make a habit of it."

"What did happen this morning?" Ponch asked, having a good idea as to why Jon was late but enjoying making his partner squirm. "Alarm didn't go off?"

"No"

"Kettle wouldn't boil?"

"No"

"You burnt the toast?"

"No"

"Cassy's still suffering from morning sickness?"

"No, not this morning."

"So what happened?" Ponch desperately tried to keep a straight face as he noticed the touch of red creeping up Jon's cheeks. "If the alarm went off, the kettle boiled and you didn't burn the toast that only leaves one thing..."

"Alright Ponch," Jon warned. "If you really want to know the details of my love life just ask and I'll tell you."

Ponch squirmed. "Ah no thanks Jon, I'll pass."

Jon turned his head to hide the grin on his face. "I thought so." He strapped up his helmet. "How's about we hit the bricks?"

"Good idea." Ponch slipped his motor into gear and slowly moved off. "Welcome back Jon."

"Thanks Ponch." He pulled alongside his partner. "And Ponch."

"Yeah"

"That was the reason I was late," Jon chuckled as he took off up the freeway.

Ponch shook his head and smiled. Everything was back to normal.

The End.