Before Bed, Bit of Normalcy & Briefing

Royal York Hotel - Blaze's Room

As Blaze and the rest stepped into the hall to head to their rooms Blaze held Winds and Patch back. "Guys, we need to talk." Not wanting their conversation to be overheard he said "Let's head to my room." The three entered his room a few moments later and Blaze closed the door.

"What's up?" Winds asked but already had a clue. The same thing was on his mind and the clouds were beginning to form.

Blaze walked to the window and stared out then said in an aggravated tone "The General. That is not the man we know. Not the man who had no regard for Blondie for the nearly six years he was with us. The man who kept assigning Blondie to work with other units, when he should have had down time. The man that refused us when we requested to look for Blondie when he was taken. Hell it just doesn't add up."

"I'm really struggling with it too" Patch put in. "The way he held Blondie at the SRU HQ. That can't be someone that is that cold and calculated. Holleran's words and the General's actions now just don't match to the bastard we know. Why would he care if there was a threat to Blondie now he certainly didn't care when he was tortured for months?"

"I only saw him visit once when Blondie was back from that, no emotion at all that day, just cold. Why would he do all this? Why would he care now? Which is the true man? Why are they so different?" he said tiredly trying to make his head clear enough to understand, to find a reasonable answer.

Winds said very bitterly "What got to me was something he was whispering to Blondie. Don't know if either of you caught it but it is overpowering me. I heard him say 'look terrible … like the first time in Kandahar'."

"How the hell could he know what Blondie looked like that first time? All he wanted to know was if he died. He never even bothered to come see him. We know that for sure because we were with Blondie the entire time. We never left him alone." Winds dropped down on the bed working very hard to rein in his emotions before he let loose words he would later regret.

Still looking out the window Blaze said glumly "I caught that too. Made me remember that day; miss Gary still. Still remember how badly Blondie felt when we told him Gary didn't make it. That he thought it was his fault. He wasn't assuaged by the fact that he saved us three and Mason."

"He kept telling me that Gary would be alive if he'd been faster, if he had seen the C4 sooner, if he avoided the bullet he would have gotten there sooner. I remember laughing at him when he said if he had avoided the bullet. Like that was something he could have prevented. At the time I just didn't get it and just accepted it as part of who he is. But after today I think I understand. Sadly I really think I do."

"No I didn't hear that, I was too focused on how he was holding him. The look on his face tonight was much like that damned photo. Maybe Holleran is right. Maybe Blondie mixed some things up in his head as a little boy. Something like seeing your little sister die in front of you would be very disturbing. But that still doesn't explain the other stuff. It just does not" Patch said unhappily.

"So what do we do about it right now? How do we proceed with our version of Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde?" Winds asked sharply with pent-up emotion.

Hearing that well known tone in Winds voice, Blaze turned quickly and studied Winds. Oh shit, he thought, the storm is gathering. The outburst at Holleran was a category three. He is definitely brewing again. If he lets loose this time it will likely cost him his career.

Most people thought Winds nickname was because of his job as communication specialist, 'like talking to the winds'. The unit let others think that, but the real reason was the hurricane force of words that he occasionally unleashed. Those 'winds' of words could be devastating to the target of them. But mostly it ended up costing Winds, reprimands and demotions. That's why he was still only a Master Corporal after so many years in service.

Blaze considered the question trying to figure a way to dissipate the storm before it developed fully "I think it's best for now to put it on the back burner. Focus on protecting Blondie while he is unable to do it for himself. It doesn't jive at all anymore. But even if the General was responsible for doing all those things to Blondie while he served, Blondie is no longer under his command. He's safe at the SRU."

Winds and Patch gave him a 'are kidding me' look. "Well at least safer than over in Kandahar" Blaze amended, seeing that Blondie's current condition was a result of activities with the SRU.

Blaze looked at Winds trying to judge if his words had any affect. He couldn't tell. He was so damned tired it was hard to tell. Maybe sleep would help all of them get a grip.

With no more words they just gave each other a one-armed hug before Winds and Patch left for their rooms. Blaze was so spent he didn't even bother to pull the covers down as he let himself fall onto the bed. He was asleep within seconds.

Royal York Hotel - Spike and Lou's Room

Spike had just finished showering and changed into comfortable shorts for sleeping. He exited the bathroom and nodded to Lou. They had offered to room together so that Heather would have a room to herself. "So you pick your bed? Window or door? This room has an awesome view, city is all lit up. Do you find the coffee pot?" Spike rambled on.

Lou knew something was bothering him. He rambled like this when his emotions were frazzled. But he hadn't yet gotten to his point. He would continue listening until he heard what it was that had Spike concerned. It always eventually came out, just had to let him spew a bit first.

So he listened, ah there it is 'did I set up enough cameras, did I find all the blind spots'. Lou interrupted using a calming, smooth voice he said "Spike, you did good. No blind spots man. Sam is covered well. All will be just fine tonight. It's okay to sleep now. I'll get the light. You take the window bed." As Lou rose, Spike crawled into the bed and closed his weary eyes. Lou turned off the light and did likewise.

Royal York Hotel - Jules Room

Just as she reached her room Jules phone rang. She looked at the number and recognized it as Commander Holleran's. He called to inform her she was to meet with agent Stevens of SIU tomorrow eight am in the lobby for the interview regarding the bank lethal force.

Jules really did not want to be far from Sam and was glad the interview would take place here. As she hung up Jules thought, I'll just be glad to get that one over with. She was still mad at herself for having tears in her eyes and her blink had allowed Tom to shoot Sam. He had a fractured collarbone because she wasn't ready.

Tears started to flow yet again and turned to sobbing. She needed to pull herself together. Damn she was going to have to figure out what was going on in her head. This man was affecting her too much. Time to sleep she told herself, sleep will help.

Royal York Hotel - Main Suite

Hal was watching the security monitors from the station that had been set up in the corner of the main suite. He thought, the man that set this up is dammed good, not a single blind spot, impressive. Everything looked clear. He checked in with Angus, Daniel and Russ. All clear reports from each. He leaned back in the chair and looked over at the vast amount of food leftover. He was grabbing himself a sandwich when Heather walked out of Sam's room. "How is he?"

"Resting, fever is rising a bit. But I think it will peak soon and then drop afterwards" she replied. Heather helped herself to another sandwich hating to see it all go to waste. "How's everything on the security front? Do you think any of your guys might want a snack? I could pop out and run one to them" she offered lightly.

"No they're good. Wouldn't want them distracted. Something happens to Blondie on my watch I know eight guys and one gal that would have my head on a platter" he guffawed but was deadly serious as he swiftly returned to the monitors. That petite female SRU officer had a fierce look that scared him more than all the burly men put together. It clearly said 'you let one hair on his head be harmed and you'll have to deal with me'. A tremor went down his spine as he recalled it.

The night passed quietly for all.

Royal York Hotel - Gym

It was five am the next morning and Ed was on the treadmill in the hotel gym keeping a steady pace when Wordy walked in. "Wow, thought I'd beat everyone" he said as he sat on the bike. Creatures of habit Wordy knew the team would show up in the gym this morning at the usual time.

Just then Greg opened the door. A smile and a shake of his head "Ya know we gotta stop meeting like this" he said as he chose the elliptical machine.

"Meeting like how" piped in Spike as he and Lou entered. Lou went to the small selection of free weights, no weight machines or bench presses available. Spike sat on an exercise ball and bounced around enthusiastically since there were no more items to use. "Wow we need one of these, great workout" he said sarcastically but secretly thinking it would be fun to have one.

"He looks like an adult but acts like a kid. Can't take him anywhere" Ed snorted.

Spike was about to retort when Jules arrived. She smiled at Spike's antics. "Looks like I'm too late no more toys. I see Spike is playing with the best toy. You guys waitin your turn?"

"Nah, Spike won't share. Make him share. He always hogs the good toys. Never lets me play with babycakes either" Lou pouted.

They all chuckled. Today was starting out nice. There was a small sense of normalcy restored after a full night's sleep, even if the situation itself was not.

Two hours later as they were leaving the gym Jules pulled Greg to the side. "Boss, the Commander called last night. I'm meeting with agent Stevens at eight today. She offered to meet me here. So I'm going to clean up and meet her in the lobby. I'll join you all after I'm done" she said like she was carrying a great burden.

"Understood" Greg said. He'd heard her tone and saw a look in her eye so he ventured "You know Jules, you couldn't have prevented Tom from firing. It all just happened so fast. Sam wouldn't want you to beat yourself up over it."

Click that was it. The shift in her eyes told him he hit the target. Her look had told him there wasn't anything he could say to her to change her mind. She'd have to work it out herself. So he just smiled and put a reassuring arm around her shoulders and tugged her forward "Come on, let's go."

Royal York Hotel - Lobby

Promptly at eight am, Jules entered the lobby and found Stevens waiting in one of the chairs. Stevens got up and said "I've arranged for a small private room. If you would follow me we will see about getting this done as quickly as possible. I know you have somewhere else you need to be."

Jules had started to follow when she overheard a conversation at the front desk and halted.

A woman behind the desk said "No sir I cannot tell you that information."

The man replied "But I need to know if General Braddock is staying here it is important." That got her attention and she turned to look at the man. He was an Army Officer.

"I'm sorry sir. I can neither confirm nor deny whether he is staying here."

He looked really agitated as he said "This is a matter of high security, I need that information."

The woman wasn't daunted "Then I suppose you will have to go through military channels to locate this General you are looking for. Is there anything else I can help you with Major?"

Jules mind was churning. Odd that someone was trying to find the General. She assumed they would know how to get a hold of him. Jules was about to move to talk with the man when agent Stevens said "Coming?" Jules turned and went with Stevens as she mentally logged the information for later consideration.

Royal York Hotel - Main Suite

The interview with Stevens was efficient. Deemed an acceptable use of lethal force. She was surprised to be heading to the main suite just before nine am, the time they had set for all to meet. Glad she would not be late and miss anything of importance.

Jules entered the suite and noticed she was the last to arrive. She grabbed a cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll from the tray on the table then sat down. Wow the General was making sure no one went hungry. There was always so much food. "Sir, thank you for all this" Jules said while sweeping her arm towards the food.

"It's the least I can do" he replied noticing that the black circles under her eyes had abated a bit. "How's he doing?" he continued when Heather entered the room.

"His fever peaked then broke around four am. His color is looking better. Vitals are good. He's resting well now, body healing" Heather said smiling. There were small sighs of relief all around.

"I think it's best to keep him fully sedated all of today and then start to wean him tomorrow" Patch added.

Blaze stood up, taking a sip of coffee "Ed and I have worked out the security teams and rotation schedule. We will break into three teams of four. I will lead Alpha with Spike, Greg and Angus. Ed will lead Bravo with Jules, Hal and Daniel. Winds will lead Charlie with Wordy, Lou and Russ."

"We felt a mix of SRU and JTF2 on each team would be best, keep us all in the know. We will rotate on eight hour shifts. Alpha up first, then Bravo, followed by Charlie. The only exception is that Angus will get some rest now and join Alpha for our next shift. Ed will be covering for Angus this shift."

Patch interrupted "Whoa, where am I in all of this?"

"Always impatient, always. Patch you and Heather are responsible for Blondie's health. You get to pull twelve hour shifts. Satisfied" he grinned knowing that Patch would feel better being as close as possible to Blondie when he was out cold. It always unnerved him when he was like that. He said Blondie wasn't able to defend himself like that. "Any questions?" he asked looking at those around him.

It was then Jules remembered the front desk incident. "Not a question. Just something I observed in the lobby." She recounted the event and noticed the General stiffen. "General is that an issue?" she inquired.

Forcefully relaxing his tense body the General stated "I had hoped not to repeat the briefing. I would have preferred Samuel hear it at the same time. But yes I think it might be important and should not wait until Samuel can join. I'll brief you all now and then speak with Samuel when he awakens tomorrow."

He strode to the table to refresh his coffee and took a drink before continuing "Before I begin, I need to let you know the information I'm about to share is top secret. Therefore, I must ask Heather and Hal to exit the room because they have not been given appropriate clearance."

A look of 'what?' crossed Hal's face but he did not speak. The SRU team was wondering why they and Patch were allowed to stay for top secret information but Hal had to leave.

The General saw the looks and explained "When I knew I was coming, Holleran provided all your names including the paramedic, Patch. I rushed the proper clearances through the channels because I was aware you may need to be involved at some point. The other JTF2 men and Heather I was unaware of at the time and therefore they do not have the proper clearance."

Hal got the picture and quickly offered "General, I understand sir. Blaze, I suggest that Heather goes to her room to rest. Then Angus and I will take up positions in the hall near the elevator while Daniel and Russ get some shut eye. That way you can focus on the briefing without worrying about security at the moment. When you are done, you can relive us and we will get rest."

"Good plan, Hal" Blaze responded. So Hal and Heather headed out of the suite to their appointed locations.

Patch checked his watch "Hey sorry, can we hold a moment? I need to do a quick check on Blondie. It's about time for the sedative."

The General nodded and Patch hopped up from the chair. Everyone took the opportunity to grab coffee, a donut or piece of fruit and settled in.

It took Patch longer than he had planned. The IV site had become infiltrated and he had to change the IV location. It took him rather a long time to locate a good vein to use. He also had to elevate his arm to reduce the swelling caused by the infiltration. Damn it was never easy with Blondie.

When he was done with that he administered more sedative and pain meds and checked his vitals. When he returned to the room there were some worried looks. He explained and they relaxed as he apologized for taking so long.

The General cleared his throat "Alright then let's start. Shortly after Samuel was attacked by Donner, Norm called me to let me know what happened. When the investigator tried to take a picture of Samuel covered in Donner's blood he reacted instantly and would not allow it. It sparked a concern" the General began.

A chorus of "What?" and "Picture?" was emitted from several with confusion.

"Holleran didn't tell you about that?" All shook no.

"No we never got the briefing with Holleran. Inspector Davis showed up with the information on the suicide note. All hell broke loose after that" Winds supplied disgruntled.

"And the picture" Jules added getting a confused look from the General.

Before he could ask what she meant Greg interjected "Sir, we were briefed on some issues of a personal nature between yourself and Sam resulting from Sara's death. We were shown the photo taken of Sam that day." He rubbed his hands over his eyes to composed himself as the memory of it flooded in.

"We will respect your privacy there. That is a matter for the two of you to address as you see fit. Please just tell us of things that would be relevant to Sam's safety now" Greg concluded.

The General was a bit relieved they knew the history. It would be easier for them to understand having seen the photo. But how to start? How to make it make sense? He decided he had to give some history and details, not gonna be pretty he thought.

So he started "Okay. If something does not make sense please ask and I will do my best to explain. The new situation is connected to one I have been dealing with for years. I need to give you the history so bear with me through it."

"There are things that still do not make sense to me. Things my analysts cannot decipher. All I know is after years of the same something changed after Samuel left the Army. As a result of that change and information that came to light three months ago the potential source of the harassment was identified."

"Holleran's call made my gut wrench. I believe recent events have precipitated a credible threat to Samuel's life now. No longer just harassment of me." He stopped and looked at each of them gauging their comprehension so far.

Satisfied he continued "When the investigator tried to take a picture last night Holleran came up with a lame duck excuse to stop it. He knew I could never allow another picture of that nature to be taken or circulated again. I decked the idiot that took the one of Samuel as a boy" a satisfied smile played across followed by sorrow.

"As repayment he leaked it to the press. Damned newspaper actually printed it. How do they do that to a little boy? Anyway I digress. As you may or may not have noticed I was in that photo too and it showed my emotional reaction to Samuel's anguish."

Nods indicating yes they noticed, well at least Jules noticed and pointed it out.

The General continued "About ten years ago, I received a copy of that photo anonymously. It had the words 'soft spot' scrawled across Samuel's chest it in red marker. As a General I'm used to getting a certain amount of threats and harassment but nothing like that had happened before."

"It unnerved me. Samuel was eighteen and had just joined. In fact he was in boot camp at the time. There was no defined threat so there was nothing to do. After that first one I didn't get any more until Samuel was in Special Ops training years later."

"Once he was with JTF2 I got them fairly regularly mostly with some obscure words on them. The meaning of which I still don't understand. Some however had very clear taunts written on them" he said stopping to take a drink.

He was about to continue when Jules interjected "What kind of taunts?" hoping to profile the sender.

The General thought "There were several, but three that hit hardest were 'toy soldier fallen?', 'run Sammy run' and 'fly Sammy fly'. I have them all. If you think they might be useful I could have an aide send them" the General said flatly.

Jules saw the same type of mask falling into place that Sam wore. It struck her they were a lot alike. They hid their emotions. She hated to ask but she said "That would probably help if these are related to the current threat."

She did not quite know how a photo sent to him connected to Sam so she said "Sir, why did those hit the hardest?"

Blaze saw the General slightly shudder and sorrow glimpsed in his eyes before he answered Jules question. "Bec..ause …"

My god the General's voice actually cracked Patch noticed.

The General cleared his throat then continued firmly "I remember those ones because I received each of those after Samuel was severely injured. Whoever was sending those photos to harass me knew things that were not public knowledge. They had to be coming from someone within JTF2. Because injury reports are not known outside JTF2 due to the secrecy of missions. Hence the ongoing investigation."

"The messages were never direct threats, just unsettling words about events that happened to Samuel. The investigators had no leads and thought the person sending them was simply taunting me. Taking advantage of things that happened to Samuel to twist a virtual knife in me."

"I agreed with them until the last photo, but hold any questions about the last one. I'll get there. As I said the second photo I received was when Samuel was training for Special Ops. The message on that one was 'fly Sammy fly'. It was delivered shortly after Samuel nearly died in a training accident" his voice faltering a bit on the words nearly died.

Spike gasped "Sir, nearly died. How?" he asked softly surprised to hear this.

"Jumped off a mountain to save his teammate" the General sighed.

"What?" several voices rang out.

"Christ, he jumped off a mountain! I know the kid's reckless sometimes but what the hell happened? Why'd he do it?" Ed asked aghast.

The General looked at them, not really wanting to relive the experience but decided to tell them anyway. "The Commander contacted me directly after it happened because Samuel was in such bad shape the doctors didn't think he would make it through the night. He called as a courtesy to an old friend, wanted to give me the opportunity to say goodbye to Samuel. I demanded to know what happened and he eventually explained it all to me."

"Apparently Samuel had been put in charge of three men for an exercise. It was a new exercise not a standard part of training. One of the training officers wanted to try it. He said it was to test and develop leadership under pressure and would be conducted under open mics so the training officers could assess."

"Their task was to hike to the top of a mountain then rappel down the cliff face. Unbeknownst to Samuel the other three had been ordered to be as obnoxious and difficult as possible to see if they could rattle him on the hike up the mountain. For the rappelling part they were instructed to stop due to safety concerns."

"All the way up the men gave Samuel a hard time and tested his patience by questioning every order. The Commander said he made mistakes as to be expected. He lost his cool at one point and called a guy an asshat and told him he didn't belong in special ops. But the Commander said overall he handled it well in the three hours it took them to get to the rappelling location."

"When they got there Samuel directed them to prepare to rappel. He secured his line and was the only one ready. Unfortunately the men had really taken to harassing him and forgotten that it was supposed to stop at the top. They were completely out of line as they prepared to rappel, refusing to secure their lines properly."

"Samuel snapped at them hard about putting the unit at risk by their behavior. Two of the guys realized their error and quickly secured their lines. The third was face to face with Samuel when he yelled 'Back off Braddock, you're only here because daddy pulled strings. You're the one that doesn't belong. You're the asshat.' Then he shoved Samuel backwards."

"The guy then lost his footing and fell over the cliff. Samuel launched himself after the guy. Hurdling himself over the cliff in an attempt to grab him. Samuel was able to catch hold around the man's waist as they both fell."

"As Samuel's line reached its end they slammed hard into the cliff several times. Samuel took the brunt of it because he was between the man and the mountain side" he shook his head and stood to pace needing to move.

"Somehow Samuel had the presence of mind to clip his safety harness to the other guy who was knocked out by the impact. It was a good thing he was able to do that because Samuel lost consciousness and his hold on the guy just before they were pulled to the top by the other men. If he had not clipped the man to him, the guy would have fallen to his death."

"The Commander said he wasn't sure how the hell Samuel was able to stay conscious so long and manage to clip the guy in. You see in the impact Samuel broke five ribs, punctured his lung, broke his right arm in two places, dislocated his right shoulder, broke his collarbone, cracked his skull and had internal bleeding due to a ruptured spleen."

"When I finally got there and saw him my heart broke. He looked so young and vulnerable in that ICU room. He was on that dammed ventilator for just over a week. A couple of times we thought we'd lost him as his vitals crashed. Thank god he was too stubborn to give up" the General finished and sat heavily back into the chair his eyes cloudy. He remained silent.

They were all shocked by the description of what Sam had done and his injuries. Jules's and Spike's faces had drained of all color. A few got up and shifted around the room unable to sit still. Both Ed and Blaze paced slowly, both having similar thoughts along the lines of 'damned crazy, to many unacceptable risks for others'.

"So, you got a photo after that and it said 'fly Sammy fly'. Right? When did you get the next one?" Greg prompted knowing the group needed to push forward to get through all the information the General needed to share.

They were beginning to wonder if the General was going to say more when he looked a Blaze and said "I got the next one about four months after Samuel joined your unit. That one that said 'run Sammy run'. It was about one week after Samuel got injured in the building explosion. I didn't understand the meaning of the words until after I read the report" he said as he looked to the three buddies.

"I came to see him every night. I was able to slip in the second night when your unit guy nodded off. His face now reminds me of then. Thank you for watching over him. I hated to be so cold on the phone."

"Why then? We thought you were a coldhearted bastard who only wanted to know when he was dead" Patch asked totally flabbergasted at the Generals words.

Team One just stared. There was so much they didn't know about the rookie. His past was too full of hurt for someone his age.

The General looked directly at Patch and stated "Samuel seemed to always pay for me being a General in one way or another. The photo messages had me worried. I figured if I distanced myself from him make it seem he was not a soft spot they would stop. I was wrong. They kept coming no matter how hard I tried to make it seem I did not care."

"If you don't mind, please what happened to Sam that time" Wordy asked. Patch regained his self-control and recounted the whole story about Blondie running to save his teammates from the rigged building. Blaze told them how Blondie blamed himself for Gary's death.

After hearing the first two accounts Spike was afraid to know the answer but had to ask "So what did 'toy soldier fallen?' refer too? That is just a bizarre message."

Spike was sorry he asked as he watched the General's reaction. Tears immediately welled up in the General's eyes as he turned quickly away from the group and walked to the window. The normal erect posture was slumped and his head dropped to his chest.

Stunned at the reaction most were still. Blaze realized which event it was tied to as tears welled in his eyes too. He rose and joined the General. "Sir would you like me to tell them. I think I know when you got that one. Was it at the beginning or end?" he inquired with a shaky voice.

"Both, twice" Braddock whispered in answer.

Blaze turned to the group taking a steadying breath said "The 'toy soldier fallen?' refers to when Blondie was captured and tortured for three months. The General received one when Blondie was taken and one after he was found." He knew he did not need to explain more, they all knew what happened then. There was a loud intake of breath from several.

Undetected by the others, hot and cold emotions were roiling deep and clashing within Winds as he sat not moving a single muscle, a storm was brewing.

"Whoever this person is, they are a freaking bastard!" exploded Spike. "We need to find him and put a stop to this" he continued slightly more controlled.

The General composed himself slightly drawing himself tall and taut. He turned to the group and said "We all need a break. I'm going to check on Samuel." With that he strode into the room and closed the door firmly behind him.

They started to discuss the meaning of the photos but needed more information. Was someone only provoking emotional hurt with those photos or was there something else behind it? If so what? It had gone on for years. They started to disperse a bit as Spike pulled out his laptop and began to search for information. He wasn't sure what he was looking for but he couldn't sit idle. So he tapped away.

Jules, Lou and Greg were now intently discussing what the possible motivation or profile of the subject might be.

Ed, Wordy, Blaze and Patch stood in a corner discussing Sam's real problem of putting himself at risk. It was gonna get him killed one day they all agreed. They pondered how or if they could ever change that behavior.

Winds continued to sit unmoving staring at nothing totally engulfed in the emotions warring within.

As he watch Samuel sleep the General thought to himself. Showing emotions shows your weaknesses. They can be used to harm the ones you love. That damned photo had been used for years against me, against you. Family is my one soft spot.

I've failed to protect Samuel so many times and he hates me for it. GET CONTROL NOW Braddock he yelled in his own mind. Now is not the time to try and sort this out. You are on the job.

Put the emotions way in your fortress. Bar the gates and lock them down. They will not help Samuel right now. Get Control. He started to put his General mask back on to rejoin the group.

He groaned a bit as he realized just how un-General Badass like he'd been in front of his JTF2 men for the past day. Might be some interesting repercussions from letting his guard drop so far down. But it was all about Samuel and it was so very hard to hide those emotions.

One last deep cleansing breath, saying to himself as he stood 'I'm not a coward, time to face this, repercussions be damned'. He opened the door and strode out more confident.

He'd seen the expressions on the group. They all cared and they were intelligent. He'd been trying with no success to resolve this for years. He had ideas and suspicions but no hard evidence. You cannot charge someone without evidence. He was pretty sure who, but still had no clue why. So he had been waiting, trying to find evidence.

But now if what he thought was right, Samuel was in danger and he needed help to end it once and for all. They would help. Time to lay the rest he knew and who he suspected out on the table.

As he strode back into the room the General asked "Everyone ready to continue?" Nods all around indicated yes. "Although those three burned the hottest, I received many, many more over years. Most not related to Samuel being hurt."

"They would just randomly show up. Always the same photo. The messages on the ones not related to injuries were always a variation of the same message. However my analysts couldn't figure out what it meant. It made no sense to them or to me."

"What was the message, the variations?" asked Spike hoping for something he could search on.

The General said "HL followed by a number and HB also followed by a number. The HL and HB were constant, just the numbers changed."

Heard shouted at once from three very angry JTF2 guys, no one able to distinguish who said which "FUCK", "SHIT" "DAMMIT."

All eyes pinned to them.

"Our code, our god damned code" Blaze expelled forcefully trying hard to get breath in.

"Your code?" the General asked alarmed, his gut was clenching, did he really want to know the answer.

A category five hurricane of words exploded from Winds "Every GOD DAMNED time YOU sent him out on a mission with another unit he came back out of it. They didn't care about him. It was our way to find out how bad it was physically and how many KILLS he had to make."

"HL the number of days he was out ALONE no one covering him. HB the number of targets he had to KILL. YOU FUCKING BASTARD, YOU NEARLY KILLED YOUR SON'S SOUL!"

"You are HEARTLESS. This, all this concern now doesn't wipe away what you did to him for nearly six years. HE NEVER HAD DOWN TIME. NEVER. WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING? He was in the field for SIX STRAIGHT YEARS. The ONLY breaks he got were when he was INJURED. Which happened way too damned often when with the other units."

"You never even punished the ASSHOLES that left him alone twenty kilometers away after seven days in his perch and thirty-two kills. They FORGOT him, JUST FORGOT HIM and went on their merry way. HE ALMOST FELL OFF THE EDGE THAT TIME. IT WAS TOO DAMNED CLOSE."

"He was your PERFECT SOLDIER. Always hit his target. So YOU USED AND ABUSED him for six long years. You have no idea how many times I WANTED TO KILL YOU FOR THAT. You had NO CONCERN for him. But he survived anyway."

"He coped with our help. He always did his job without fail. He always came back no matter what you threw at him UNTIL HE FINALLY BROKE AFTER KILLING MATT."


Slammed hard with the hurricane force of Winds rage the General braced himself and assumed a steel-backed stance. His face hardened stone cold with a look that would put fear in most men. He held his ground unmoved and meeting the diatribe was spewed forth head on.

When the gale force stopped General Braddock spoke in an icy and unyielding hard voice "Corporal, you will stand down now. These are not light accusations you make. Calm now or I will have you detained. When you can explain yourself calmly I will listen."

Then he just stood silent. Jaw set. Immobile. Eyes locked directly on Winds and waited.

Winds glared at the General as his body shook violently with rage and adrenaline.

Blaze looked to the General and said "I'm taking him out. We will be back." He placed a hand on Winds shoulder and said "Come, come now." The two left the room closely followed by Patch. The rest simply stared at each other unable to fathom what had just happened.

The General did a crisp about face, strode stiffly to the window and stared out. He thought this is worse than he ever imagined as fury thundered through him burning, searing, blistering and shredding his heart. The sick bastard had been hurting his son all along and he never knew, never knew.

Samuel was in the field for six years straight. How? Why? Left alone, forgotten? Who? Why?

Oh god the last photo and message made sense now. The image of every message was etched into his brain. He started adding up the HB numbers as hot, stinging, angry tears flowed silently down his cheeks unchecked no longer caring if anyone saw.

He wanted to kill the man. If he was in the room now he'd be dead. Oh god Samuel, I'm so sorry son. I didn't know. I truly failed you. I'm not worthy of you.

It took Blaze, Patch and a small amount of sedatives nearly an hour to get Winds to calm sufficiently to return to the room. He had flatly told Blaze he would never apologize for his outburst, even if it cost him what little was left of his career. He'd wanted to tell that man off for so long. So much for putting it aside to protect Blondie, Blaze thought as they finally walked back towards the suite.

General Braddock had made a decision in that hour. He must finish the briefing. They needed to know the rest. Rebuilding and righting wrongs would have to wait until Samuel was safe from this merciless bastard.

So he took charge of the conversation when they entered "I have sorted through your words and accusations. Harsh as they were to hear, I am at fault. As the Commanding Officer it is ultimately my responsibility. I accept that fully."

"However, I must inform you that these actions were taken without my knowledge nor my consent and are counter to all I value. I believe you have just given me the means to finally bring the sadistic bastard who has been pulling the strings to justice. There are however a few more things I need to share."

Looking Winds directly in the eyes General Braddock asked "Are you prepared to listen Corporal? Can you remain calm? I ask because what I am going to tell you next may be painful for you to hear. Painful for all to hear."

"Yes Sir. I will contain myself" Winds responded and sat slumped slightly, an effect of the sedative.

The General's gaze intently assess each person in the room then proceeded "There is one more photo I need to tell you about. It is the last one I received and it was just after Samuel finalized his separation paperwork."

"It is the catalyst to where we are today. The last one is actually the hardest. It came shortly after Matt died. It was different. The photo was different. It came with a note. Those coupled with the final report I received three months ago on the friendly fire incident pointed to one man."

"I have not deduced why he did it. But I now fully understand what he meant in the note and the messages on the photo thanks to the Corporal's outburst. Neither I nor my analysts knew what they meant before."

"Holleran was aware of the contents of the note. One element changes things and makes Samuel a direct target after the results of the gang war call" Braddock stopped and inhaled deeply to steady his nerves.

"So what are the details?" asked Blaze as his gut raged.

Bracing himself mentally first the General started "The note read: 'Nice long run with my toy soldier. He's innocent. Never hurt me. Fun watching you hurt. Couldn't knock him over. Always stood again. Wanted him to do it. Would hurt you most. Didn't work out the way I planned. To bad toy soldier gone now'."

"This time it was a photo of Sam and Matt smiling. They looked so happy they had their arms around each other's shoulders. Messages were also written on both Sam and Matt chest's in the photo."

The General's voice lost all its steel and audibly shook with emotion as he said "On Matt it was 'All clear 184' and on Sam it was 'Bite the bullet'."

Blaze seethed connection instantly made. Fury flared red hot as he exploded in a deafening roar "I'LL KILL THE BASTARD NOW! RIGHT FUCKING NOW! MAJOR PLOUFFE IS A DEAD MAN!

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