Characters: All Seven. Also, there are additional original characters, the Wild Bunch, and the MCAT team. <Guest appearance by OW Chris and Vin>
Rating: Mystery/Action/Het - FRT, Het, some violence and profanity.
Disclaimer: This is entirely a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from "The Magnificent Seven." We don’t own them, but if we did we would run away with ‘em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘em away. We only play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended. This is strictly a piece of fiction. Any references to locations or people are only for story use and are not intended to depict any real place or person.
MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) Yes, it has action, and yes it's Het. Further background and information on the characters of MCAT and the Larabee 7 families can be found @ The Magnificent Seventh Heaven website.
MCAT: Turbulent Transitions is the foundation series for this AU is complete.
MCAT: Strength & Solidarity – Series of stories which center on the Seven's intrinsic bonds of friendship and brotherhood, forces which have no boundaries.
# 1 - Shades of Gray
# 2 -Vision Quest Summary* - Chris's perceptions of his beliefs are challenged as he seeks out the reason behind the vicious attacks against his family, JD, Hannah Sanchez, and the entire MCAT Unit. With a little help from the past and Tanner's Visions, seven men race against time to solve the mystery before it's too late. How far is Chris willing to go to stop the evil which destroyed his past and now threatens those he holds closest to his heart?
*Vision Quest makes several references to events that transpired in 'Shades of Gray' and concludes the mystery.
Acknowledgments: Our heartfelt thanks for the suggestions and feedback go to Sue, Jo, Jan, Sarai, and Tonny. They lent their eyes, ears, and their friendship to this project. Y'all are appreciated.
Special Thank You:
To Jan, for the long conversations working on plot strategies and her written contributions to this story.
To Tonny who shared her time to edit and beta while teaching a few lessons in the process.
To Bountyhunter'slady for the awesome collage she created for Shades of Gray/ Vision Quest.
Notes: Any mistakes are ours. The original characters created for this series belong to the authors who created them. Glossary of Law Enforcement Terms used in this series.
Kelli felt tension fill her. She watched her husband, her father, and the other MCAT agents move toward the rickety wooden structure in which the meet was suppose to have taken place. She couldn't help feeling just a bit perturbed that she was contained in the communications van, instead of taking her usual position as second sharpshooter.
She knew she was lucky Vin and Chris allowed her to come out on this mission in the first place. Especially since she had already agreed to no more field assignments until this whole horrid mess was over. Sitting on the sidelines wasn't her forte, any more than it was her husband's or father's. She was a Larabee by blood and a Tanner by marriage, and she was a woman of action.
With a sigh Kelli calmed her annoyance at the situation. Instead she focused her attention on the job at hand. She picked up a pair of specialized field binoculars so she could watch when the team despite the growing darkness. They were splitting up their individual assignments. Her heart fluttered a little when she watched Vin break away from the others and begin to scale what appeared to be a pegged ladder attached to one side of the barn, leading up to the open loft doors. He disappeared from her view and she held her breath, praying he didn't run into any interference inside.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard Vin's words come over the headset. "I'm set."
Chris, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra disappeared into the interior of the barn. She fought back a grin when she heard her father exclaim, 'shit', and then nothing but silence followed for several moments.
Kelli found herself beginning to relax when no muffled sounds indicating fighting or any gunshots were heard. Unexpectedly, Vin's panicked voice filled her earphone, "Get out! Run! This whole fuckin' barn is set to explode!"
Terror filled Kelli as she threw down the headset, bolted out of the van, and started running toward the barn. Her heart nearly stopped when she saw Vin leap out of the loft and plummet rapidly toward the ground below. The barn doors crashed open revealing Josiah and Ezra. Her father and Nathan had just cleared the door when an explosion rocked the foundation of the wooden structure and propelled all four men into the air.
"Oh God! No!" Kelli cried out as the shockwave from the blast threw her to the ground.
Excerpt from the end of Shades of Gray:
"Get out!" he yelled to the others, just as an ominous ticking sound filled the interior of the building. "Run! This whole fuckin' barn is set to explode!"
Vin's cry from above momentarily startled the men below, then they sprang into action. Chris grabbed Nathan by the arm and began hauling him toward the entrance. Ezra pushed Josiah toward the door, propelling him into a faster pace.
Four men rushed to clear the wooden structure before the explosives went off. Vin threw his rifle out ahead of him, and then took a running leap toward the loft door. He sailed through the air; tucking his body into an aerial somersault to help slow his body before it made impact with the ground below. Ezra and Josiah cleared the door first. Chris and Nathan were directly behind them when the barn exploded, propelling all four of them into the air. Shards of flaming splintered wood rained down all around them, while the night sky lit up like the fourth of July.
The gates of hell swung open, spewing up its destructive tentacles. Evil was primed to seek out and claim whichever souls were most vulnerable this day.
And now the Conclusion
Chapter 1 ~Vision Quest
Destiny speaks with many voices, which means we sometimes fail to pay attention to the sound of its call. Guardian spirits seldom appear to us with wings and halos. Often they are masked so well that unless we open our minds and widen our perceptions, we miss their presence entirely. That is why we should never ignore the visions of our soul or the soft whispers of our hearts.
Friday October 19th
Intense heat blistered exposed skin as a fireball erupted from the blast, raining blazing chunks of wood down on the MCAT agents as they impacted with the hard ground. The initial intake of air from the explosion sucked the breath from their lungs, then came roaring back as a shockwave that felt as if an eighteen-wheeler was driven over their bodies. A thunderous reverberation assaulted their eardrums, leaving a trickle of blood as the only evidence of its passing when the violent release of energy washed over them.
Raphael and Alex were the first to reach the fallen agents; Justin and Guy were hot on their heels. They immediately began to remove any burning debris that endangered their teammates to prevent further injury. Seeing the ball of fire light up the sky, Doctor 'Bones' Metfield wasted no time in driving the MAU to the scene. Bones, Kat, and Greg joined the others in tending to their injured. Bones quickly took charge of triage and began issuing orders to the agents.
Nathan Jackson was the closest to the site of the blast and the first man Bones examined. The blistering on the black man's face, as well as the multiple small abrasions in which slivers of wood were imbedded into skin, particularly around the eyes concerned him. He did what he could for the injured man and then called for assistance. "Kat, get over here and stay with Jackson. Hold this gauze over his eyes, while I see to the other agents. Alex, grab Nathan's hands and do not allow him to touch his injuries."
"Justin, when will the paramedics arrive?" he asked.
Justin had been on the phone with 9-1-1, calling for help the moment he had seen the explosion, "They're on their way, ETA is fifteen minutes."
"You better call Denver Memorial and give them a heads up. They might like to know that five MCAT agents are coming in as casualties." Bones was sure the hospital personnel would be thrilled. One injured MCAT agent was a handful, five would be a nightmare.
"Greg you've got Sanchez, and Raphael you take Standish. Nobody moves until I say so!"
Bones knelt down beside Larabee. "How many fingers am I holdin' up, Chris?"
"Damnit Bones, I'm fine," Chris protested.
"I'll be the judge of that."
Vin's use of his martial arts training during his descent from the loft allowed him to land on his feet, every bone in his body reverberating from the contact with the hard ground. He was immediately knocked to his knees from the wave of energy expelled from the blast. Sucking in air to fill his lungs, he attempted to rise. Pain ripped through his legs and back as his ears rang from the deafening noise, but he forced his body to move. Turning his head toward the front of the barn, he saw one of his visions come to life. *Chris!* A wall of flames surrounded the others. Vin was ready to enter the gates of hell and breech the fire that separated him them, but found that he was being held back by a firm hand.
*Sit your ass down, Tanner. Your Chris is fine.*
"I need to see for myself damnit," Vin yelled, not at all upset that he was seemingly shouting to empty space. "Go away!"
*The Texan is with him, and I'm in charge of you.*
"Vin!" Kelli reached her husband and dropped to her knees in front of him. "Tanner you scared the hell out of me when I saw you jump from that loft." She immediately began assessing him for injuries, running her hands over his arms and legs. "Does that hurt?"
"Nothin's broke, Kel," Vin snapped, not paying attention to the unshed tears in her eyes and still irritated about being held down. "Let go of me!"
Kelli looked sharply at Vin. "Excuse me?"
"Not you, him."
"Who are you talkin' about?" Kelli was afraid his injuries may be serious. "I thought you landed on your feet, not your head."
*Well, you gonna tell the lady?*
"I'm okay, Baby." Vin attempted to get up again, but the unseen hand on his shoulder held him down. "Aww Hell," he groaned when he couldn't move. "Kel, 'm gonna need your help to get over to where the others are." There was more than one way to counter an irritating Larabee.
Kelli was not sure what to think. "You don't sound okay and you really shouldn't move until the medics look at you."
*Don't push me, Tanner!*
"Just do it!" Vin snapped again.
Taking a deep breath, Vin realized he was being unfair to Kelli. Stroking her cheek, he forced his body to relax. He said softly, "I’m sorry, baby. I… I need to see the others to get rid of this knot in my stomach."
"Sure, whatever you say," Kelli snapped back, but the look of fear in his eyes broke her heart. She felt the same need to see everyone with her own eyes. She helped Vin up, slipping her arm around his waist. He groaned when he put his full weight on his left leg. Leaning on his wife's shoulder for support, they slowly walked over to where Bones was attempting to treat her father. The doctor was muttering something about a stubborn ass.
"What did you say, Doctor Medfield?" Chris demanded.
"I said even a stubborn ass has enough sense not to bray at the man who's trying to help it."
"I said I was fine!"
"You're fine when I say you are, Commander," Bones retorted.
*I didn't push your ornery ass out of the way for you to defy the doc, Larabee.*
"What do you mean? Who the hell are you?"
"Larabee, you will do what I say. You need medical attention and by God you're going to get it," Bones replied angrily.
*You tell him, Doc.*
"Shut the fuck up!"
"Just how hard did you hit your head?" Bones was concerned about the MCAT Commander's hostile attitude.
*Uh oh, here comes trouble.*
"I wasn't talking to you, Doc."
"Who were you taking to then?" Bones didn't expect an answer but watched Chris's reaction.
*This should be interestin'.*
Chris turned on his most intimidating glare and heard laughter in return.
*That's a good one, but 'm immune to the Larabee death glare.*
"Dad, why are you yellin' for Vin?" Kelli knelt down beside him and helped Vin to sit next to Chris. "He's right here and accordin' to him he's fine, not that I believe it." She gave her husband her own version of the Larabee glare.
"Yeah, explain it to her, Chris," Vin decided to let his friend try to explain the unexplainable for a change.
"I wasn't. …Aww hell, never mind." He couldn't clarify something he didn't understand and was probably not really happening anyway.
"Commander, you most likely have a concussion at the very least. Do not move from this spot until the paramedics see you. Tanner, I saw you limping, stay off the leg," Bones issued his orders and moved on to examine Josiah and Ezra, who were both insisting they were fine, too.
"I'm all right, Kel, really," Chris tried to assure her, but he was beginning to doubt his own words and his sanity.
"Uh huh, that's why you have blood splatters on your face from splinters of wood, and your hands are blistered," Kelli sighed. "Why is it so damn hard for you or Vin to admit you're not supermen?"
*Vin what the hell is going on?* Chris did have the start of a helluva headache.
*You wouldn't believe me if I told you.*
*Tell him, Cowboy, maybe he'll believe you.*
*Not quite, but close.*
*Chris, don't even try, it's…complicated.*
*He's right, son.*
Larabee had heard that recognizable voice before…in the barn when…"You hit me!"
Kelli was watching the byplay between her husband, her father and lord only knew who else. "That's it! Both of you stop it! I'm not sure what the hell is goin' on and I don't really give a damn what y'all are discussin'! In case you missed the fact y'all just about got blown to kingdom come and back, let me remind you! No more 'm fine's! You will sit here calmly and let the paramedics decide how fine you are and you will listen to what they tell you." She looked around at Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan. "That goes for all of you! No more arguin'. Is that clear?" By now she was yelling so loud that no one in the immediate area missed a word.
*Sounds like a Larabee,* the man in black grinned.
*Sounds like a Tanner,* the Texan countered.
Chris looked at Vin, who just shrugged a shoulder in response. "Cease-fire, Kel, we'll wait on the paramedics. You might want to call the ranch and let them know what's going on before it leaks out to the news." He had just seen a news van pull up behind the fire truck, and feared the worse.
*You will explain all of this later Vin.* Chris shot a message to his friend. In fact, he expected him to do a lot of explaining.
When the first ambulance pulled in, Bones directed the paramedics to examine Jackson first. Nathan seemed to be the most seriously injured, and in his opinion needed to be transported immediately. The medics agreed and after checking over the other injured men deemed Josiah and Ezra stable enough to sit in the ambulance with Nathan. Chris and Vin would be transported together in the second ambulance due to arrive on site in a couple of minutes.
Kelli called the ranch. Taking Bones' advice, she gave Rain a report on what had happened. "It could have been a lot worse, Rain, we were lucky this time." Confident that Rain would keep a level head. Kelli asked her to tell the other wives. "We'll meet y'all at the hospital."
Justin approached the redhead as soon as her call was completed. "Kel, we have it covered here, you go with Vin and Chris. Please tell Vin I secured his rifle and the other weapons. After we clear this scene and forensics recovers what's left of the body Chris said was in there, I'll start on the reports and send some agents to the hospital for extra security.
"Thanks, I won't let any of 'em out of my sight and Buck's there already. If you would, call him and tell him to meet us in the ER." Kelli hurried back to where Chris and Vin were being prepared for transport to the hospital. She had a feeling it was going to be a long night at Denver Memorial.
"That was too damn close." The Texan gazed at what was left of the barn. "We could have lost all of 'em."
"We didn't though and now we at least have Larabee curious enough to start asking questions." The gunman looked past the barn to where he had seen someone watching the MCAT team. "You do know they had an observer."
"Yep, but I reckon they were too busy dodgin' fireballs and debris to notice."
'We best hurry things along. The time for their confrontation is a lot closer than they think."
Denver Memorial Hospital
Emergency Room ~ 7:00 p.m.
As soon as Buck received the call from Justin, he slipped out of JD's room to alert Mark, Selena, and Brad. Then he took the elevator up a floor to inform Director Travis of what had happened. Travis was doing well and was expected to be released in a couple of days, but the nurses insisted he use a wheelchair if he planned to go down to the ER to wait for his agents. Buck pushed the chair to the waiting area and helped Travis fill out paperwork, while they anxiously kept watch for the injured members of MCAT to arrive.
The unmistakable sound of a vehicle backing into an ambulance bay had Buck on his feet. He hurried to the big double doors. Nathan was brought in first and rushed into a waiting exam room with an Ophthalmologist ready to examine his eyes. Josiah and Ezra were bruised, blistered, and displaying a multitude of small cuts. However, they were coherent and ambulatory. They were scheduled to be taken to the next available examination rooms for a precautionary assessment of their injuries based on the report from the paramedics, along with the initial evaluation of the triage nurse.
"Mister Standish, you can wait here with your friends until I can free up a room for you." The triage nurse directed him to a comfortable chair. Then she turned her attention to Josiah. "Mister Sanchez, if you will come with me we can get started."
"Certainly, let's get this over with," Josiah answered as he followed her to the treatment room.
"The way Chris talked this was the big break we’ve been waiting for," Buck said, "Ezra, what the hell happened out there?"
Ezra did not feel right about discussing the details in front of Director Travis, at least until Chris was ready to make his own report. "Perhaps it would be best for our esteemed Commander to communicate the difficulties we encountered. Suffice to say we were extremely fortunate to have emerged from the dreadful experience reasonably intact, although we appear to be moderately battered and worn in the process."
"Larabee and Tanner," Travis questioned, "How are they?"
"Injured, but according to our resident medical expert, Doctor Medfield, nothing life-threatening," Ezra answered. "They should be coming in momentarily. The second ambulance was arriving on the scene while we were leaving."
The opening of the double doors gained the men's attention. Instead of the expected missing team members, it was Rain, Mallory, and Barbara. Ezra rose immediately to meet his obviously distressed wife and simply pulled her into an embrace. Barbara found her hands roaming over her husband's body, to assure herself he was all right. Her relief was so great, tears filled her eyes and she wept unashamedly against Ezra's chest. Ezra held her close. His own emotions rose to the surface in response to seeing his usually calm and collected wife in such a state on his behalf.
Barbara worked to control her emotions and finally exclaimed, "Thank God, you're okay. How are the others?"
Ezra included all of the ladies with his answer. "Josiah looks about the same as I do, Mallory, but he should be fine. We are both being released. Nathan is in treatment room one with the doctor now and we expect to be apprised of his condition soon. Vin and Chris are on their way in by ambulance."
"We've been assured that none of the known injuries are life-threatening." Buck attempted to direct Mallory and Rain to chairs. "We can all wait together."
"You go ahead and sit down, Mal. I'm going to see what they can tell me as a professional courtesy." Rain motioned to Buck, indicating she would be okay. Then she went through the doors to the emergency treatment area.
Managing to get her emotions a little more under control, Barbara tilted her head up slightly to whisper in Ezra’s ear, "I plan to do a complete, personal examination of your body when we get home, Mister Standish, be prepared." A slight chuckle told her she had helped her beloved release a small bit of the tension he was carrying.
The next time the double doors opened it was to allow two gurneys to be pushed through. Chris and Vin were brought inside. Kelli held Vin's hand, while Chris ordered the paramedic to stop for a moment beside Buck and Travis.
"Damn, stud, you didn't have to go to this extreme. You could have just called," Buck commented to his old friend.
"You know me, never did do things the traditional way." Chris grimaced with pain. "Expect a visit from the Feebies, Orrin. Captain Standish can fill you in."
"Gentlemen you may talk later, right now I have work to do." Doctor Gilford had been watching for his other two patients and intervened. He ordered the medics, "Move 'em out." Patting Kelli on the shoulder he promised, "I'll take good care of them for you."
"I know you will, Doc, thanks." Kelli let go of her husband's hand, watching them being wheeled through the next set of double doors.
Buck steered her over to the waiting area, making her sit down. "We should be able to go in soon." He reached over to hold her hand and was surprised when she let him.
"Captain Standish, before they call you in I believe you should tell me just what happened. If I'm to expect a call from the FBI, I should know what I'm going to be facing." Travis made it plain he was not asking, but ordering Ezra to comply.
Ezra cleared his throat and began his narration, beginning with Agent Rush's unannounced visit to the MCAT office. He followed with Rush's threats, Agent Saunders' message from his informant, and finally what had transpired inside the barn. "I believe Commander Larabee still has the message we retrieved from the dead man in his possession. However, I did read it and it clearly was intended for the FBI."
The only thing that prevented Buck from cussing a blue streak was the presence of the ladies. "Of all the… they all could have been killed! Who set them up, Ezra? Was it Saunders or the FBI or both? What about the explosive? How was it set off?"
Before he could answer, Orrin asked, "What did the note say Standish?"
"The message said 'Die, die, FBI.' I am convinced it was intended for Agent Rush, and probably was sent by the same bastard responsible for all of the dreadful events occurring the past week. Apparently the timer for the bomb was activated when the note was removed from the body. Fortunately from his vantage point in the loft, Vin saw it and shouted a warning. I am still not certain how we all were able to clear the building." Ezra stopped. He felt foolish adding that it felt like someone had pushed him into a safe zone.
Travis had heard enough to know he would be having strong words with Agent Rush and his superiors. His first priority though was seeing to the welfare of his unit. "Standish, give me your phone." He held out his hand, "I am stepping outside to make a few calls. If the doctor comes I want to know immediately." Travis stood, ignoring the nurse's order about using the wheelchair.
"Yes, Sir," Buck knew Travis was as angry as he was, but he had confidence the Director could more than handle the FBI. Their Director might not be 100% fit, but he was the only one who had the privilege of threatening his men. He had earned that right. However no one else could threaten them without living to regret it.
Ezra chuckled, "I have a feeling Agent Rush's days are numbered at the bureau."
"You may be right," Josiah said as he joined them. He had been cleaned up, his cuts bandaged and his burns treated. He held out his arms to Mallory when she jumped up to meet him. Mallory cuddled close, savoring the feel of her husband's strong arms wrapped tightly around her in one of his infamous 'bear' hugs he usually reserved for the children. Both of them needed the close contact at the moment. Mallory blinked back the tears which threatened to fall, refusing to give into her emotions in front of everyone.
"It's your turn, Ezra. Nurse Teri said to send you in," Josiah told Standish over Mallory's head.
"I shall return shortly, love." Ezra kissed Barbara and headed for the treatment room
"Good to see you in one piece, Josiah," Buck said.
"Credit an unexpected intervention," Josiah said. "I think we had some extra help making it out, but before I say more I need to talk to Chris and Vin. Unless Kelli can explain it?" He had not missed the strange conversation Chris seemed to be having with Vin. If it was Vin.
"Not me." Kelli was shaking her head. "You talk to Vin or Dad, see what they have to say."
"I plan on it." Josiah grinned. He loved puzzles, and he had been handed one that captivated his interest. "I'm a patient man. I have a feeling the days ahead are going to prove very enlightening for all of us."
A lone figure stood in the shadows cast by the lights of the hospital emergency sign. Nothing had gone as planned. Shadowchaser had watched through an infrared scope as the disastrous event played out. It was supposed to be a trap to eliminate FBI agents, not MCAT and the blast should have caught them all inside. The death of the informant would have cut all ties to Rush and Spelling and get rid of their annoying presence at the same time. They had served their purpose well, but now their usefulness was unnecessary.
*Damn you, Larabee! Our game is not over yet. You have not paid nearly enough for your interference in my life! You had to go and stick your nose into things that do not concern you. This is my plan. I will not allow you to fuck it up. Now I need to clean up the mess you left me, if only to remind you that you are not in control. We will play the game my way by my rules! Rest well and heal fast. You will need all your strength for the days ahead. I promise you hell will look like paradise for you when I am done.*
Our personal demons and reservations are not confined to the depths of hell. They stealthily roam among us in anticipation of the chance to strike when we least expect it, eager to catch us off guard and defenseless.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Ezra returned from the treatment room to rejoin his family while they all waited for news on the conditions of Nathan, Chris, and Vin. Travis looked tired, but determined to stay. Josiah and Mallory sat together, while Buck alternated between sitting and pacing the small area. Kelli managed to separate herself from the others. She was now leaning against the windowsill. She had successfully locked away her feelings and raised her defenses. Ezra easily recognized the signs she was exhibiting. They were the same ones he often used in the past to protect himself from painful relationship entanglements. It was easier to rely on old patterns of staying isolated and distant than to risk the hurt of exposing one's emotions for all to see. *Standish, you know how it feels. Think of a way to help her get past it.* Before he had an opportunity to do anything however, Doctor Gilford arrived.
"Ladies, gentlemen," he addressed them. "You already know I have released Standish and Sanchez. Agents Larabee, Tanner, and Jackson though will be our guests tonight. All of you were fortunate your vests prevented serious damage to vital areas. Agent Jackson, however, has suffered damage to his face and eyes. We're treating the heat blistering on his face with antibiotic creams and it should only take a few days to heal. The injury to his eyes is more serious. "
"How serious, Doc?" Buck asked.
"Several miniscule slivers of wood were embedded in and around his eyelids. We had to extract a couple from each one of his eyes. There is some corneal swelling in reaction to the foreign objects scratching the surface of the cornea. We will be treating Agent Jackson's eyes with a combination of ocular irrigates and Hyperosmotics several times a day and he will be forced to wear bandages over them when we release him from the hospital. I have every confidence when the final treatment has been completed, Agent Jackson will have full use of his sight. Doctor Jackson is in with her husband and we will be moving him to a room shortly."
There was a collective sigh from the family members present. Director Travis spoke up. "For security purposes, Doctor, could you have him moved into the room with me?'"
"We can do that. I'll notify the nursing staff to make the arrangements. Commander Larabee has a concussion and several lacerations. I want him to stay for observation for a minimum of twenty-four hours. Captain Tanner was apparently far enough away not to suffer from the heat, but he did land hard on his left leg. It's not broken, but he did sustain some tendon stress. I figured the only way I can be certain he will stay off his leg is to keep him here, too." Gilford held up a hand to stall the question he was positive would be asked. "I have already approved for them to be in the same room. They are being moved now. I will work with whatever security measures you wish to make. Kel, if you're ready, I'll escort you up to see them." Kelli nodded, going with Doctor Gilford, leaving Orrin, Buck, Ezra, and Josiah to decide who stayed on watch for the night.
"I spoke with Justin earlier. Raphael and Alex volunteered to spend the night here. They should be arriving soon. We also need to get some vehicles from the office up here for the rest of you," Travis informed them.
"Mallory dropped me at the office on the way over here, so I could pick up Ezra's Jag." Barbara reached into her pocket, pulled out the keys and handed them to her husband.
"I am certain Rain will be staying with Nathan. Kel will have to go home at least long enough to feed the twins," Mallory said.
"Josiah, if you are up to staying, you should be with Chris and Vin. Buck, I assume you will go back to JD's room once you see the others. Alex and Raphael can swap watch on my room. Ezra, it will be up to you to see that Kelli goes home," Travis instructed.
"I can stay," Josiah agreed, squeezing his wife's hand. "Mal, you and Barbara should probably head back to the ranch."
Ezra knew Barbara wanted to argue against him doing anything but coming home with her, but she bit her tongue. He was proud of the valiant effort she made not to say anything. "It will take our combined efforts to keep all of our stubborn teammates here, so they can get the proper medical attention they need. You and Mallory will be needed for reinforcements tomorrow. Getting a good night's rest will be essential. I will be home later, after I persuade Kelli to leave using the same argument." He kissed his wife and smiled. "I love you."
"I love you, too." Barbara trailed her fingers over the small cuts on his handsome face. "I'll go, but you make sure you arrive home safe and sound."
Josiah walked them out to say good-bye, grabbing two books from the Suburban to read during the long night ahead. He watched to make certain the ladies were safely on the road and returned to join Travis and Buck.
Before going to see Chris and Vin, the trio of agents took Director Travis back to his room. Nathan had already been moved, and they wanted to see how he was doing. Rain stood beside her husband's bedside, holding his hand, speaking soothingly to him. She could practically feel the panic welling up within Nathan at the idea that he might be permanently blind, despite Doctor Gilford's assurance that he expected a full recovery. She wished she could do more to reassure him. Evie Travis stood beside the younger woman, rubbing her back. Rain was grateful for the motherly comfort. At the sound of the door opening, both women glanced over to it. Evie smiled when she caught sight of her husband and walked over to assist him back into his hospital bed.
Nathan stirred. "Who's there?" With his eyes wrapped in protective bandaging, he couldn't see anyone, but he heard the footsteps of at least three or more people.
"It's me, Buck, and Ezra returning the Director and checking in with you," Josiah answered.
"Well, I'm here. I can't see a damn thing, but I am still breathing," Nathan replied sullenly.
Rain cleared her throat, imploring them with her eyes to give him some time. "The nurse just gave him a shot to make him sleep. Maybe you should all come back in the morning."
"Sure, we can do that." Buck patted Jackson's leg. "You take care. Don't give this pretty lady a hard time."
Ezra touched Nathan's hand. "We’ll be back early." He leaned down to whisper, "I expect you to tell us if the Director snores."
Josiah hugged Rain and told Nathan, "I'll be in the hospital all night. You call if you need me."
Nathan didn't respond to any of the comments. He only nodded, not wanting them to know just how scared he was. He knew there was a chance his eyes wouldn't respond positively to the treatments the doctor had initiated. There was also the possibility he could have some allergic reaction to the eyewash solutions being used. He could end up permanently blind. He had a lot to think about. What if he didn't get his sight back completely? What if he had to retire from law enforcement and … do what?
Larabee and Tanner's Room
Kelli was having difficulty understanding how she felt. When she walked in and saw the two most important men in her life injured and lying in hospital beds side-by-side, she felt her anxiety increase. She came too close to losing both of them. She also spent too much time contemplating what ifs, while she was waiting for a report on their condition. She forced herself to relax, moving further into the room when Doctor Gilford finished with them. Kelli hoped Vin was too medicated to notice her apprehension.
"Hey, looks like you two get a short vacation," she smiled, while walking over to stand between their beds. "How are y'all feelin'?"
Chris growled, "Like I should be home."
"Behave for the next twenty-four hours and I might release you, Larabee," Dr Gilford said from where he looked over their charts. "You both will follow my orders or I'll find a reason to keep you in here for a week. Scheduling an assortment of tests I guarantee will make you miserable."
"I just bet you would, Doc," Vin said as he reached for Kelli's hand. "I plan on leavin' here tomorrow, so I reckon I’ll behave, but Larabee's another story. He just can't help bein' grouchy. It's his natural state."
Doctor Gilford laughed. "I know. Kel, I'll leave you with them, but only until visiting hours are over. You go home and take care of yourself."
"She will," Vin assured him. Before Doctor Gilford could make his exit from the room, Buck, Ezra and Josiah entered.
Buck grinned and said, "I can't leave you two alone for a minute without someone ending up in here."
"If you're all here, then who is staying with JD and Nathan?" Chris asked.
"Rain is with Nathan in Travis's room. Orrin said to tell you he would see you in the morning. Raphael relieved Selena and Brad for the night and Alex took over for Mark. "I'll be in JD's room tonight and Josiah will be babysitting you two," Buck explained.
Chris grunted, "We don't need a babysitter. Josiah, you and Ezra should be home resting."
"I'll rest just fine in here. Until we know who tried to incinerate his team, Travis insisted on one of us staying with you." Josiah disregarded Chris's bad mood. "If you're good, I'll read you a bedtime story."
Vin rolled his eyes. "What about you, Ez?"
"I have a special assignment, per Director Travis's orders. My job is to escort my partner home."
"Good luck." Chris knew his daughter too well to think she would leave without an argument.
"Actually, the boys will be givin' Max a fit if I miss their next feedin', but I'll be back as soon as they're done." She looked into Vin's eyes, hoping he would not see her inner turmoil.
Vin studied her for a moment, concern showing in his perceptive eyes. Something was wrong, but he was not going to discuss it here with everyone listening. He raised her hand to his lips, kissing her palm. "I'll be fine, Baby. You go home and take care of our kids. Tell 'em I’ll be home tomorrow."
"I really should come back…" Kelli protested.
"I'm fine, Chris is fine. Go home, Kel, no arguments." Vin squeezed her hand. "Hug the kids for me."
Kelli hesitated for a moment, knowing Vin expected her to argue, but then nodded. "I will, but I'll be here first thing in the mornin'." She leaned down and kissed him. "You get your rest. Give your leg a chance to heal."
Vin was suddenly reluctant to let her go. His gut said to make her stay, but his head told him he was letting the events of the day cloud his judgment. "Ez, you take care of her." He let go of her hand.
"Good night, Dad. I'll stop by to check on Grace and Cody before I come up tomorrow." She bent down, kissing him on the forehead. "Take care of the headache I know you have."
"Night, Missy, hug the kids for me, too." Chris had a strange feeling about her reactions as well, but thought it would be best if he let Vin deal with it. Ezra opened the door for Kelli, saying his own goodnights.
"I need to get back to JD. See you both in the morning." Buck patted the end of Chris's bed. "Get some rest."
Josiah offered to walk with Buck to the elevator. "I need to stop by the nurse's station to see where that rollaway bed is, but I won't be gone long."
When they were alone Chris asked Vin, "What the hell happened out there today?"
"It's kinda hard to explain, especially to a man who doesn't want to believe in what he can’t see."
"Try me," Chris snapped.
Vin took a deep breath. "Okay, you were hearin' the voices of a bounty huntin' Texan I believe is my great, great, grandfather and a Cowboy that 'm pretty sure is yours." He waited for Chris's reaction, smiling when he heard muttered curses.
"That's bull! You're gonna have to come up with something better than that. You think I was born yesterday?" Chris huffed, turning his back to Vin. "I only have room in my head for one Tanner. Trust me, one is enough."
"If you say so, Chris," Vin closed his eyes, wondering how long Chris would be able to stay in denial.
Looking over at the wall Chris couldn’t stop the thoughts racing through his head. He questioned if his stubborn refusal to be open to spirits among them would end up costing the life of someone dear to him. He hated to admit it, but Vin’s explanation made more sense than anything he had been able to come up with. He did feel strong hands pushing him out of the barn. He knew he was the last one out, too. No, the whole idea of his and Vin's great, great grandfathers helping them out was too ridiculous.
Buck slipped silently back into JD's hospital room. He felt weary all the way to his bones after the events of the last few hours. They had been so very lucky today. Granted, Nathan was considered in serious condition due to the injuries to his eyes, but things could have turned out far worse. He and JD could have been mourning the loss of five friends today. The enormity of that realization weighed heavily on him.
Moving over to JD's side, he paused beside the roll-a-way bed Casey currently slept on. He gazed down at her with concern, noting the dark circles under her eyes, and the pallor of her skin. She had worn herself out the last few days with her unwillingness to leave JD for any real length of time, unless coerced.
Buck continued on to the chair beside JD's bed, settling his weary frame into it. According to the doctors, JD was doing better. However, he tired easily and slept most of the time. When he was awake he had difficulty concentrating because of the medications he was on, becoming frustrated easily. Seeing both Dunne's so wiped out, Buck decided not to tell them about the days' events. They had enough to worry about and there was nothing either of them could do about it. Not wanting to give in just yet to the weariness beating at him, he picked up the book he had been reading earlier. The best thing for now was to watch and wait for the right time to tell them.
Ezra walked with Kelli to the parking lot. When he saw how carefully Barbara had parked his Jag, or rather the silver bullet as Kelli had named it, he smiled. She had taken extra care to make certain it was not too close to other vehicles and was clearly in view of a security camera. As much as his wife teased him about his love for a car, she did understand what the vehicle meant to him. This was Barbara's way of saying she loved him enough to care about what was important to him. He opened the passenger door for his partner and walked around to the driver's side to get in.
Starting the engine, Ezra glanced over at Kelli. She was unusually quiet and kept rubbing her fingers over the medallion she was wearing. While he drove, he debated with himself about whether or not he should venture an opinion or keep his mouth shut. "Kel, you do know Vin and Chris will be all right?"
Ezra's voice snapped her out of her thoughts. "Yes, of course I do. I … I'm just tired, Ez. I'm not very good company 'm afraid."
He sighed and made his decision. "I spent several years being the same kind of tired. It is difficult to break old habits, Kel. I love Barbara and my unique family of brothers, but I still find myself looking back on the days I chose to remain detached. Especially when we have a close call like we did today. In my early days here in Denver I found it hard to allow myself to show how much I cared. It was easier not to. Sometimes it still is, especially when I begin to think of all the times in the past I was disappointed when I allowed my feelings to slip out. When I think about what I missed out on during all those years of being alone, I realize it’s worth whatever the risks to share my life with my loved ones."
"Lord, am I that easy to read now?"
"Yes, but only to those of us who have been there and spent too much time alone. Vin saw it tonight at the hospital. I also recognized the signs all too well."
Kelli thought about the years she spent keeping her distance, resisting the need to form any type of permanent relationships. She had been alone, but then she never felt the deep pain she was feeling now. Linda was the one exception to her rule of not getting close to anyone. It was easier to do, because they spent so much time in different states. Vin though, just bulldozed his way through her wall of defenses, dragging her into a love which changed her life forever. Later, when she discovered Chris was her biological father, she refused at first to believe he would ever find a place in her heart, but he did.
"I thought Vin destroyed all my insecurities, but tonight I discovered a few of 'em have apparently been hidin'. When I saw y'all runnin' out of the barn and Vin jumpin' from the loft, it scared the hell out of me. I hate what ifs, but it's all I have been able to think about since we arrived at the hospital."
"We are both too deep into this Wild Bunch of a family we've acquired to go back to our old ways. However, if you ever need to talk to someone who understands I would be more than willing to listen."
"Thanks, Ezra. I think I'll be fine once 'm home and holdin' one of our babies. Tomorrow is Saturday. Before I go back to the hospital I'll spend time with Jason and Andi. Those two tend to help me keep things in perspective. "
Ezra turned onto the road leading to Larabee 7. "They are remarkable children who seem to possess wisdom beyond their years…"
The stillness of the night was shattered when the passenger side window imploded from a gunshot. Kelli screamed when shards of glass flew everywhere. Ezra reacted immediately, turning the steering wheel sharply to maneuver the Jag toward the shelter of the boulders on the side of the road. Both agents drew their weapons, throwing the doors open, using them to shield themselves while they scanned the area for the shooter.
"It came from up there somewhere." Kelli pointed toward the elevated tree line.
"This is too damn close to the same place Chris and Vin were shot at to be a coincidence. It has to be the same sniper."
"If it is you can be damn sure he has an exit planned."
"Then what do you say we make sure to cut the bastard off?" Ezra knew these roads. Unless the shooter planned to head to the ranch there were only two ways he could go. One was back down the route they had just come from, which would not be a smart move on the sniper's part. The other was an older road that led back to the highway. "The service road is the only other way out of here."
"Then let's do it," Kelli said in a tense voice.
The fully alert agents jumped back into the Ezra's silver bullet. They headed toward the crossroad which connected the two routes. If they were lucky they could get there before the sniper; if not then they would just have to chase the sonofabitch down.
Ezra pushed his Jag passed eighty, while Kelli radioed the county sheriff's office for assistance. As they approached the intersection, a black Porsche roared passed them. Ezra swore, "Damnit, no local police car will be able to keep up with him." He shifted gears, increasing his speed.
"If you can push him to take the 280, Deputies will lay down a spike strip. It might slow him down." She coordinated with the dispatcher, relaying a description of the car.
Ezra concentrated on his driving, but acknowledged what his partner said with a curt nod. The Jag and the Porsche were evenly matched for speed, but the sniper had an advantage. His only goal was to escape. Ezra wanted to catch the bastard, but he was not willing to risk getting himself or Kelli killed in the process. By now two patrol units had joined the pursuit, attempting to keep up with him. Two others tried to block the road that would take the driver away from the 280. The black car blurred around them without even slowing down. They hastily moved out of the way to allow the Jag to pass and then joined the chase.
The silver bullet was within twenty feet of the Porsche when they approached the next intersection. The speeding vehicle barely missed crashing into a van crossing in front of it. Ezra had to slow down to avoid a collision. The DPD monitored the pursuit and when the black car approached the city limits they came from the opposite direction to intercept the speeding vehicle. With police cars in front of it and the silver bullet coming from behind, the Porsche made a right into the parking lot of a closed gas station. It took out the hoses of the fuel pumps with a glancing blow, at a speed of over one hundred miles per hour, before moving on to the back exit of the parking lot.
Fuel sprayed into the air as the DPD cars raced after the black Porsche. Suddenly there was a spark and the pump caught fire. Officers scrambled to get their vehicles out of the way before the pump exploded. Ezra slammed on the brakes and his Jag slid to a stop just as a fireball erupted. The force of the explosion rocked the car.
Ezra pounded the steering wheel when he saw the Porsche race off on the other side of the flames. "Damnit all to hell, the fucking bastard got away!"
Kelli threw her head back against the seat, only now feeling the sting from the shattered glass which sprayed her before. "You think we can avoid tellin' Vin and Dad about this?"
"As Tanner would say, not likely," Ezra said, turning to look at his partner. "Jesus Kel, you didn't say you were hit!" Under the streetlight he could see the blood staining her shirt, trickling down from several cuts on her neck. He turned on the interior lights to get a better look at her injury. "You're a damn bloody mess."
"I wasn't hit exactly. Not by the shot"
"Let me see." Ezra examined her face and neck, inspecting the damage the glass had caused. He pulled out his handkerchief, placing it on the side of her throat. "Hold this while I call for a paramedic."
"Ez, please don't," Kelli pleaded. "It's not that bad. I don't want Vin to hear I was forced to go to the ER and not tell him."
"For God sake, Kel, he's bound to notice!" Ezra shouted. "Even if he didn't and that's about as likely as hell freezing over, we have to make a report about all this."
Kelli sighed. "Fine, Ezra, I'll have Max look at it. She was a nurse in the Navy. I'm sure she'll be able to take care of it. Get what information we need and let's go home."
Ezra quickly gathered information from the other officers on the scene and walked back to the car. "You, Lady, I am taking home to see Max. I will take care of our report."
"I reckon it’s too much to hope that you'll wait to file it until later next week."
"Don't worry. I'll leave out the part about you bleeding all over the interior of my car, but I have a feeling when our Commander and Captain read about the gunshot through the window, they might put two and two together."
"Their two plus two equals me bein' lucky to see daylight anytime in the near future." Kelli was sure that if Vin didn't lock her in the house, Chris would.
Once they arrived at the Tanner home, Ezra explained to Walter what had happened, while Max examined Kelli. She cleaned the cuts, removed as much of the glass as she could from Kelli's hair and then ordered her into the shower, promising to finish bandaging her wounds when she was done.
"I had to put a few stitches in two places on her neck and shoulder. She'll need a butterfly bandages for a couple of the deepest cuts," Max informed Ezra. "She'll be a little sore but fortunately she instinctively turned away when she heard the shot, allowing most of the glass to miss her face."
"We'll stay here tonight and take care of Missy. In the morning we can drive over to the office to pick up Vin's truck if you want, so you can put your baby in the shop," Walter told Ezra, "Go home, there's nothing else you can do tonight. Don't worry; Mother Hen Max will be on duty. Get some rest yourself, Standish."
"I will, but you call if you need any assistance." Ezra walked out the door to his beloved silver bullet, shaking his head at the broken window and the near miss on his and Kelli's life. He climbed inside hoping he would fare better than his car had when he reported to Chris and Vin about the latest encounter with Shadowchaser.
We continuously evolve and learn every day of our lives. While we may believe we change as we progress, the truth is we simply blend our past and our present to become who we are in this space and time. Our strengths become stronger as we endeavor to overcome our weaknesses. Occasionally the line between past and present blur, and we must reconcile our mental perceptions with actuality to move on.
Saturday October 20th
Denver Memorial Hospital
The nurse was in every two hours to wake Chris, asking him if he knew his name and where he was. Each time Chris grumbled a little more, rolling over to return to his slumber. After ending the annoying interruptions all night, by five he was unable to go back to sleep. He asked Josiah to find him some decent coffee, resigning himself to being awake for the duration of the day. He glanced over at Tanner's bed. He knew his injured friend was having a bad time of it too. Vin had been tossing and turning most of the night, obviously not resting.
Chris was unaware of the reason for Vin's restlessness. He was trapped in his visions, made worse by the fact that he knew something was not right with Kelli. He had not been able to get a call out last night through the switchboard. Since she took his cell phone home with her along with his ring, wallet, weapon, and badge, he had no way to reach her. The images in his mind replayed over and over, this time more vivid than before. He was still seeing an explosion, only it was not at the barn, but somewhere else. Caught between the medication and exhaustion he was having difficulty staying fully awake, so he could not escape the disturbing images inside his head.
Chris reached out with his mind,*Vin?* He was surprised when he received images instead of words as a response. They began slowly, steadily increasing the more he concentrated on reading Vin's thoughts. Neither had ever been able to actually visualize what the other was seeing. The medication Vin was taking might have been playing havoc with their 'connection' or it could have something to do with the nonsense Vin tried to sell him about old spirits before they went to sleep. Whatever was responsible, Chris was now receiving more than he expected.
Like a movie playing in his head, Chris saw a young woman dressed in late 1800 period clothing being shot. Another woman, dressed similarly, was accompanied by a small boy. Both were eerily familiar to him. Chris felt panic fill him when he watched them perish in a burning cabin. He was surprised by the intense pain, flooding through him in response to what he was seeing. He saw explosions, an avalanche taking Kelli's Tahoe over the side of a mountain and icy water covering a wide area. He could feel the death and destruction surrounding the visions playing out in his mind. When he witnessed his beautiful Sarah walk out of their home with Adam, he held his breath then he saw them head for the truck and the explosion he knew would take them away from him forever.
He had to warn them. "God no!"
Chris's shout jolted Vin awake, "What’s wrong?"
Chris made an effort to control his ragged breathing, attempting to quell the fear that washed over him while he watched his wife and son die…again. When his pulse slowed down and rational thought began to return, he realized he must have seen what Vin called his visions. Once was more than enough for him, but Vin said he had been having them for almost three weeks now.
"Jesus, you should have told me!"
"Told you what?"
"Sarah and Adam," Chris answered. "Damnit Vin, how could you be seeing their deaths? Who were all those other people? Why are you seeing Kelli die? How the hell can you stay sane if you're visualizing all of those traumatic experiences every night?"
Vin closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Somehow Chris managed to reach through his defenses, seeing the visions that had been haunting him day and night since Santa Fe. "I'm sorry, Chris. I didn't want you to know, not yet anyway. I don't understand it all myself and I damn sure can't explain to you why I see Sarah and Adam. I tried to block you, so you wouldn't have to relive the pain of watchin' them die again and I wasn't goin' to tell you unless I knew for certain what it meant."
Chris was still having a hard time believing in visions and spirits, but whatever he had just experienced was something he could not deny happened. Somehow he had to find a way to help Vin figure all this out. The problem was he had no idea how. "Does Kelli know about ... you know… what you see?"
"Visions, Chris. Yeah, she knows, at least about most of 'em. I had a new one last night. I reckon I'll have to tell her about it sooner or later. She tends to notice when 'm up roamin' through the house in the middle of the night 'cause I can't sleep."
"Start at the beginning. What happened in Santa Fe to set all this in motion?"
Josiah entered the room just in time to hear Chris's question. "Vin, you're awake, too, that's good. The nurse said you could both have coffee and I brought a little snack to hold you over until breakfast." He sat the tray he was carrying on the table between the two beds and handed them a cup of hot coffee. "I couldn't help overhearing your inquiry, Chris. I have a theory about it and I may be able to help answer your question, if Vin doesn't mind."
Vin gingerly moved until he was sitting up and propped a pillow behind his back so he could enjoy his coffee. He was curious to find out what Josiah thought he knew. "It doesn't look like we're goin' anywhere anytime soon. Fire away."
Josiah picked up the two books he had retrieved from his Suburban before Mallory left last night, settling into a chair between the two beds. "Mind you, Vin has not told me anything. He only requested that I find him a book. I did. I also searched for a second copy for myself. If I am correct, Vin, you wanted to know about one of the Forsyth daughters." He looked at Vin for confirmation.
"Yeah, the visions started with Anne's death."
Josiah handed the book to Chris. "Read the marked pages."
Vin sipped his coffee while he and Josiah waited. Chris read. Once he was finished reading the passages Josiah indicated, he handed the book back to the profiler. "I assume this has something to do with your strange questions about the Larabee family history."
"Kinda," Vin told him. "I believe the Texan was my great, great, grandfather and the woman was…"
Josiah finished his sentence, "Related to Kelli." He saw the surprise on Vin's face and hastened to explain. "I figured out what you were looking for after reading the Forsyth Family history. Then I dug around some more." He opened a second larger book. "This is the genealogy volume for the Forsyth family starting back in the 1600's. What was the most interesting to me were the events occurring after Anne's death in Santa Fe. Amanda Forsyth-Cain, the woman who put the family history together is a direct descendent of Meredith, Annie's sister. Amanda's sister was Jillian. She married a man named William Slade."
"Kelli's biological grandfather," Vin whispered. "Damn, so Anne is Kel's great, great, grand Aunt. That explains a lot. I knew we were both connected to the Texan and his Anne in some way, but I never thought about it bein' through Marissa's side of the family."
"His Anne?" Chris raised a questioning brow at Vin's words.
"Yes, his Anne, mine is Kelli. The first name she had in the foster system was Anne. Only we didn't know it until two years ago. Bein' in Santa Fe where it all happened back in 1868 is the connection. There is somethin' about her death that has to do with the other visions. I don't know what it is, but I do know it's why he's here."
"Now, Vin, I'll concede it's one hell of a coincidence your visions started with a woman who happens to be related to my daughter. But don't start with the spirits of our great, great, grandfather nonsense again. Besides, what would any of it have to do with my Sarah or for that matter with what's been going on the past week?"
"I don't know, but it is all linked together somehow."
"Then I guess we’ll have to work on it to find the answer."
"Whatever the reason, I have a stake in this now. Kelli may be your wife, but she's my daughter. With Sarah and Adam involved that makes it my business too. You don't think I can let this go, do you?"
Josiah was listening to the exchange between the two men and smiled. Chris had gone from total disbelief to the possibility of coincidence, to openly talking about spirits. Now he was finally agreeing to work with Vin to find an answer. That was progress. By the time the shift changed at seven, Chris and Josiah knew every detail there was to know about Vin's visions, his visits with the Texan and his ideas about the 'help' they received yesterday. Chris was not totally convinced, but he knew Vin would not lie about it. He had to admit it would explain Grace's Cowboy and how they had all escaped the blast without any major injuries. He was, however, having a problem reconciling his life long beliefs with what he heard. Josiah promised to do some more research. Vin felt better knowing that, in spite of his misgivings; Chris was sincere about helping him figure it all out.
Josiah set their breakfast trays on the side table when they were finished. The day shift nurse entered and introduced herself.
"Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Jo and I'll be your nurse today." She talked as she took blood pressure and temps. "Mister Larabee how is your headache?"
"I'm fine." Chris was short with his answer.
"Mister Tanner, do you need any pain medication for your leg?" Jo had been warned about her patients' habits of denying they were in pain, but asked anyway.
"'M good, thanks," Vin answered.
Jo smiled, "Great. I'll be back in ten minutes with my bath supplies and a razor. Mister Tanner, you need a shave." She was out the door before Vin had a chance to protest.
Chris was already out of his bed. "I'm headed to the shower."
Josiah grinned. "I think I'll have Alex come up to watch the door while I go see how Nathan and JD are doing."
"Hell, Josiah, get me some crutches and I’ll take my own shower," Vin pleaded. "Don't leave me stuck in this bed." He watched while Josiah hung up the phone and moved toward the door.
"Enjoy your bath, Vin."
"Aww hell," Vin cursed, "Damn deserters."
Kelli was awake at five. First to feed the twins, and then because she could not go back to sleep. It was impossible to believe that in a home filled with four children, a dog, a raccoon, a box turtle, and a tank full of fish she was lonely without Vin there, but she was. She had experienced loneliness many times in her life. This was different. She felt as if a part of her was missing, like she was in a dark void she could not fill or break away from on her own.
It was easier said than done for her to believe her once disciplined and detached lifestyle had taken such a turn, vanishing forever. Tanner had seen to that. Now she was so emotionally linked to him and her family, she could never find her way back to her old life. Even if she wanted to, which she didn't. However, it did not stop her old barriers from popping up to shield her emotions when she felt vulnerable. The last twenty-four hours had been challenging to say the least.
When Max arrived at six, Kelli asked Walter to drive her over to the MCAT office to pick up her Tahoe. She hoped to make it back to the house before Andi and Jason woke up. Her older two sleepily stumbled into the kitchen just as she arrived home. While they knew Vin was staying overnight in the hospital, they did not know about the shooting and police chase. Kelli wore a turtleneck sweater to hide the bandages covering her injuries. Closing the front door behind her, she hastily hung her coat on the rack, opening her arms to greet them.
"Mornin' kids," Kelli grinned when first Andi and then Jason's face lit up with a smile.
"Mama, did you bring Daddy home?" Andi asked, hugging Kelli's neck real hard. She did not notice when her mother tensed up.
"Not yet, baby girl. I'm goin' to the hospital in a little while though to see about bringin' him and Uncle Chris home."
Jason was more observant than Andi. He gave his mother a questioning look which reminded her of one of Vin's. He hugged her a little more gently than his sister, and whispered in her ear, Are you okay?"
Kelli whispered back, "Yes, I am. Thank you for askin'. "She pulled him closer to her, wondering how she and Vin had been so blessed to have these two amazing children in their lives.
"Breakfast is on the table, Tanners," Max informed them. "Come and get it while it's still hot." The older couple joined them.
The business of eating kept conversation at a minimum, for a while. Then the question Kelli had been dreading to hear finally came from Jason. "Mom, can we go with you when you get Dad?"
Walter came to her rescue. "You know, I thought maybe we could fix up a welcome home sign for your Dad. Max plans on cookin' his favorite meal, too. If you and Andi help me, I bet we could paint some real nice pictures." He saw the gratitude in Kelli's eyes. He knew after the shooting incident last night, taking the kids away from the ranch was not something she wanted to do.
"We bake a cake, too?" Andi thought it was a great idea.
"Only if you and Jason help me," Max answered.
"We need to feed the horses first. Then I should go over to Uncle Chris's and pick up a change of clothes for him." Kelli watched her son. "Maybe you and Andi could help me. We'll visit with Grace and Cody a bit and then stop by to see Daisy and Lilah."
Jason thought about it before answering, "I reckon Andi will need me to help her with her pictures. When we get back from visitin' we can start on them."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Kelli was relieved. She did not want to scare the kids, but she also did not want to risk having them with her if the sniper came back. When they returned from Chris's she would call Ezra. Then they could make plans about going to the hospital.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Josiah was concerned about Nathan. After spending thirty minutes with him, Jackson had not said more than three words. Rain walked out into the hall with him, telling him Nathan was not convinced the treatments for his eyes would be successful. He was afraid his sight would not return 100%. According to the doctor it would be at least a week to ten days before they would know for certain, but they were optimistic. Nathan, however, was not listening to what he was being told; he was going by what he was feeling. He didn't see how anyone expected him to be optimistic when he was lying in darkness in a hospital bed. Even the doctor couldn't guarantee his eyesight would be the same. All Doctor Carter, the ophthalmology specialist, told him was they would have to wait until the bandages were taken off to determine whether his eyes had sustained any permanent damage.
Josiah's next stop was to JD's room. When he entered, he saw concern on Buck's face and easily picked up that something was not right. He decided to take his lead from Wilmington, waiting to see what happened next.
"Morning, Casey. How's our boy doing today?" Josiah hugged the younger woman, turning to take a look at JD. "You're looking better."
"I'm feeling better. Biggest problem I have is staying awake."
"Enjoy it while you can, Son. Once you're out of here you'll be too busy to sleep."
"What happened to you?" JD had just noticed the small Band-Aids. He also thought Josiah's face looked too red.
Buck laughed. "Don't embarrass him, Kid. When a man's wife wants to shave him, he lets her, and then has to live with the consequences."
"Mallory did that?" Casey asked skeptically. "JD wouldn't let me do something like that."
"Leave him be, Casey, and yes, I would under the right circumstances," JD smiled. "We'll talk later about what those might be."
Josiah was relieved he was not going to be dragged into Buck's version of how he had acquired the cuts and burns to his face. Though he was not sure why Buck decided to withhold information about yesterday's explosion from JD. He would question him later about his choices, but for now Josiah was going to take time to visit.
Larabee and Tanner's Room
Vin was flipping through the television channels while he and Chris waited for the doctor to make his rounds or Kelli to arrive with their clothes, whichever came first. Their tempers were short. Their need to be out of confinement was growing. Chris tried to ignore the channel changing as he read more about the Forsyth family, but after five minutes he exploded. "Tanner, I'm trying to read here! Put it on the 24-hour news channel and give me the damn remote."
"Fine, you watch your news." Vin tossed Chris the remote. "Give me the damn book and I'll read."
The room door opened, but instead of the doctor, it was Travis. Chris turned the sound down, greeting the Director. "Orrin, it's good to see you up and around."
"It feels good to still be around, period." Travis said, pulling up a chair. "Are you both doing okay?"
Vin answered first, "A little sore, ears still ringin' and I'll have to stay off the leg a few days, other than that 'm fine." He knew better than to try and give Travis a line of bull.
"Same here, except instead of the leg I'll be having a headache on and off for a while." Chris appreciated Orrin's concern. "You didn’t come here though just to check on our health. What's up?"
"I have been on the phone most of the morning waking up some very important people. Actually, I have enjoyed doing it." Orrin handed Chris a picture. "Is this the man you found in the barn yesterday?"
"Yes, that's him." Chris handed the picture back to Travis. "Who was he?"
"He was the CI the special prosecutor was counting on to convict Agent Dunne. Without the man's testimony he has no case. The DOJ will be forced to drop the charges against JD. I only needed your confirmation he was the man you saw."
"That is good news, Sir," Vin replied when Chris didn't, "Right Chris?"
"Very good news," Chris agreed. "It's too bad the man's dead though. He was the only known connection we had to the person behind all of this."
"You will have to find another way, Chris, but this time stay the hell away from the FBI leads when you do it." Orrin held up his hand to silence Larabee's response. "I know how this one came to you and what Agent Rush did. I assure you, he will not be giving you any more problems. The special task force has been disbanded. Rush is on indefinite suspension without pay. Thanks to Rain's pictures, Washburn is under investigation for use of excessive force. Spelling is still on duty, but I have a feeling it won't last long. The FBI has also launched an internal investigation into how the original information against MCAT was obtained."
"Works for me," Chris retorted. "So when can we tell JD the good news?"
"The special prosecutor will be contacting Dunne's attorney personally sometime today. I also took care of Senator Green. There will be no more questions about CASSIE from him, any other Senator, or the Justice Department. The only things you have to worry about now, is to catch the SOB responsible for attacking my team, and following up on the mess from last night of course."
"Last night? What about last night?" Chris asked, already knowing he was not going to like the answer.
"You don't know? It's been all over the news this morning. Even if it wasn't I was certain someone had told you or Tanner, considering his wife was in the middle of it." Travis said.
"Hell no, we don't know!" Tanner sat up in bed and shouted. "Kelli damn sure didn't say anythin' about trouble when I talked to her earlier."
Orrin inhaled deeply, shaking his head. "Agents Standish and Coulter were shot at on their way home last night, probably by the same sniper that put me in here and tried to do the same to both of you. They began pursuit. Eventually they were joined by two other law enforcement agencies. It ended with an explosion at a gas station, three officers injured, two patrol cars totaled, three others damaged, and a news crew who covered it all by air."
"Shit," Chris cursed.
"Well put," Travis responded. "Not what I call low profile for MCAT at all, but see for yourself. Watch the news, it's a big story." He stood to leave. "I'll field off the reporters Larabee. You deal with your agents. Now I am going back to my room and tomorrow I will be released. Try to give me at least twenty-four hours at home before you have the next crisis."
"Turn on the damn news channel, Larabee, or give me the remote back so I can do it!" Vin snapped the moment the Director left their room. He was furious. To find out his wife had been in a life threatening experience the night before and hadn't bothered to tell him was unacceptable. Didn't Kelli understand he was barely hanging on to his sanity by a thread while he tried to interpret the meaning of his visions?
Chris didn't have to be asked a second time to turn on the local news. His head swirled with this latest attempt on the lives of members of his family, especially his eldest daughter. He was beginning to think this nightmare was never going to be over. The two injured men watched the news report about the events of the previous evening in tense silence. By the time it was over, Vin was considering chaining Kelli up in their house where she would be safe. Chris was planning on providing the chain.
Both men were so engrossed watching the chase on television, they did not notice when Josiah entered the room. He stood and observed not only the screen, but the reactions of Chris and Vin. Colorful curses filled the air as both Chris and Vin became more agitated by the minute.
"What about keeping a low profile for MCAT?" Chris yelled at the television. "Ezra should have known better!"
"Known better than what Chris, how to do his job?" Josiah commented, making his presence known. "I mean, the very idea that two Federal agents should pursue a sniper we think is responsible for maybe a dozen murders. The same person we believe shot Buck, Travis, and probably at you two. You're right he should have known better than to do what he has been trained to do."
Chris drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He counted to ten, and then to twenty, attempting to get his anger and fear under control. Josiah was right. Ezra and Kelli did what they had been trained to do. Whether he liked the idea of a night pursuit or not, he couldn't very well go off on them for doing something he and Vin would have done if they were in the same situation.
Vin couldn't stop the anger from coursing through his body. Underlining his anger was a very real fear that his vision about his wife dying was going to come true, and he wouldn't find a way to keep it from happening. "Bullshit! With all the shit goin' on around us, they should have called it in and waited for forensics to make the scene. Regardless, Kelli should have damn well told me!"
"Josiah's right, Vin," Larabee said softly, once he got his emotions under control. "We can't very well jump down Ezra and Kelli's throats for doing their jobs. You and I would have done the same thing if it had been us instead of them."
"Maybe you can't, but I can!" Vin was letting his personal demons speak for him. "They could have both been killed!"
"Vin, if you can't separate Kelli your wife from Agent Coulter anymore, maybe it's time for a change," Chris said reluctantly.
"Maybe it is."
The ties that bind us together are the same ones holding the power to tear us apart. Sometimes it takes the voice of reason from a friend or loved one to help us through the rough patches in our lives. Otherwise our fears, real or imagined can destroy relationships, steal our confidence, and shatter our optimism.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Larabee and Tanner's Room
*Maybe it is.* Vin replayed his words in his mind, *is that what you want Tanner? To live your life letting your fear rule your decisions?*
*Not the Tanner I know.* Chris could understand how Vin felt. He also knew it was not in his nature to let his emotions control him or push him into doing things he would regret.
*I don't recall askin' you for advice.*
Chris did have a point though. He never willingly allowed fear to direct his actions, and he certainly didn't want to start now. How many times had he told Kelli he knew she was capable of doing her job? How many times had she pulled back to appease him, when she knew she did not have to? He knew he was on the verge of being a male chauvinist bastard where his wife was concerned. He was letting his personal feelings direct him into making all kinds of irrational demands on her; something he would never do to anyone else. He sure as hell didn't make any of the other MCAT agents take desk duty when their lives were in danger, whether they were male or female. If he continued on this path of over protectiveness, he was going to succeed in doing the one thing he never wanted to do. Break Kelli's spirit.
The object of his thoughts entered the room with a smile on her face he knew was for him. He was not being fair to her. He was thinking with his heart and not his head. It irked him that it took Chris to point it out. Kelli was who she was, the woman he fell in love with, a loving wife, a good mother, and a damn good agent. *When did you forget that Vin?*
"Hi, has the Doc been in yet?" Kelli set a bag on Chris's bed and brought another one to Vin. "I brought y'all some clothes and stuff I figured you would need." She leaned down to kiss her husband.
Vin saw the concern and love in her eyes, along with apprehension. He suddenly realized she did not tell him about last night to hide it from him, but because she was unable to. She was anxious about how he was going to react. He met Kelli's lips, and continued to remain silent for a few moments longer while he studied his wife.
Kelli didn't appear to have any injuries he could see. The fact she was wearing the turtleneck sweater Linda gave her a few years ago, one he knew she detested, told him she was hiding something. He lifted his hand, giving her breast a caressing touch before slipping a finger into the neckline of the sweater. Tugging it down, he exposed the neat stitches she attempted to cover up.
"The Director filled us in on what happened last night," he told her softly. "He thought Chris and I already knew, but apparently you let that little bit of information slip your mind when we talked earlier."
Kelli let out an aggrieved sigh. Even though his tone was soft, she could tell Vin was upset with her. In all fairness, she reckoned he had a right to be. "I didn't have a chance to tell you last night. I also didn't want to do it over the phone earlier on the off chance that Andi or Jason would overhear me." She prepared herself for the reactions she expected. "Go ahead; tell me how dangerous it was. How we should have just let the bastard go. How I should have found a way to tell you sooner."
Vin took her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. "I probably would have done the same thing," he said quietly. "Well, I wouldn't have worn the sweater, but… Are you okay?"
"It's just a few small cuts and a couple of stitches from the window shatterin'. Max took good care of me." Kelli waited for the other shoe to drop. She was sure it was coming, but from Vin or Chris she didn't know. "The Silver Bullet has more damage than I do."
"Where's Ezra?" Chris asked.
"He took the Jag into the shop. Barbara followed him and then she was goin' to drop him at the MCAT office to pick up the Silverado so he could drive here." Chris and Vin's calm attitude was making her nervous. "Ezra is actin' Captain. With both of y'all in here, he made the call to go after the shooter. It was the right call to make."
"Relax, Kelli. I'm not goin' to blow," Vin told her. "I'll admit when I first heard about what happened from the Director, and then saw the news report on it, I went ballistic. It will never be an okay thing for me when you're in danger, but I reckon it's somethin' I'm goin' to have to learn to deal with as long as you work for MCAT."
Just when Kelli was beginning to relax, Vin's last words made her tense up again. "Don't be gettin' any ideas that I'm goin' to turn in my shield any time soon, Vin. I'm a damn good agent and I'm not goin' to let you..."
"Kel, that's not what I meant," Tanner tried to assure her, but she withdrew her hand from his and backed away from the bed.
"Then just what the hell did you mean? I'm gettin' real tired of havin' to convince you and him...," angrily Kelli jabbed a finger in Chris's direction before continuing, "... I'm capable of takin' care of myself."
"Missy, get a hold on your Larabee temper and calm the hell down!" Chris instructed his daughter with a firm voice. "No one's going to be firing you any time soon. Although I'd really love to, if it meant you weren't going to be in danger anymore." Chris took a deep breath to calm himself, ignoring the glare Kelli sent in his direction. "That response stems from me being your father and not wanting anything to happen to you, and not from your commanding officer."
"Dad....," Kelli began.
"No, let me finish," Chris interjected. "I won't let my fear of past events repeating themselves dictate how I live my life now."
"Nor will I," Vin added quietly.
Kelli turned her attention back to her husband. Vin held out a hand to her. She hesitated a moment before stepping closer to the bed, offering him hers.
"None of us knows what the next day, hour, or moment is goin' to hold for any of us, and I refuse to continue to allow my fear to get the best of me. If I promise to work harder on not bein' such an overprotective, chauvinistic SOB, will you promise to try and not scare the bejeezus out of me?" Vin pulled her down to sit beside him.
Ezra chose that moment to step into the room. "Good y'all are still here. I got tied up in traffic. Did I miss anything?"
Josiah grinned, slapping him on the back, "Not a thing, Brother. Glad you could make it."
Kelli had calmed down and looked at Vin questioningly. "You said somethin' about a news report. What news report?"
Vin used the remote to turn up the volume on the television where the news was recycling the story. "This one," he pointed to the screen.
"Damn," Kelli cursed.
"Good Lord," Ezra exclaimed.
"Standish, we already know. I expect to see your full report today, Captain." Chris said.
"Certainly," Ezra said. He then waited for the infamous Larabee temper to rain down all over him. When it didn't, he glanced over at Kelli with an unspoken question written on his face.
"You already missed the fireworks, Ez. They were mine, not theirs. You're in the clear."
Ezra had no idea how it happened, but he was not going to question fate. He cleared his throat before speaking, "Gentlemen, you should get dressed in more suitable attire for traveling. I saw the doctor down the hall as I was arriving. He should be in to release y'all shortly."
"Chris, you need any help?" Josiah asked.
"Thanks, but I think I can manage." Chris opened the bag Kelli brought for him and smiled when he saw a drawing of Grace's scribbles laying on top.
"Your youngest daughter asked me to give this picture to her Da. Jason, Andi and I visited with Grace and Cody for a while earlier. Then we stopped by to see Lilah and Daisy," Kelli said.
Chris tucked the artwork into his shirt pocked. "Thanks for spending time with my babies. It makes it easier when Grace knows where I am and things stay fairly normal when I'm gone."
"No problem, Dad. As long as we know where you are, she'll know," Kelli said. "Jason and Andi love bein' with the other kids. I wanted to spend some time with ours because I had to tell them no when they wanted to come up here with me. I just didn’t feel like it was safe enough to take a chance of havin' them in the truck if…." She hesitated. The last thing she wanted to do was remind Vin or Chris about the danger of another shooting attempt.
"I agree, better safe than sorry, Baby." Vin squeezed her hand, mentally chastising himself again. He was responsible for her hesitation; he took advantage of her love and need for him, trying to make her something she wasn't. Knowing his wife so well, he knew there was not much she feared facing. He had seen her stand up for what she felt was right too many times to count. Not just at work or for victims that could not speak for themselves, but to anyone who dared to say or do anything against her family.
However, she was afraid. *You asked her to open up her emotions to you Vin, and she did, unconditionally, but her fear of loss is still there. With you she is vulnerable and you're the only one who has the power to use those emotions to control her. To make her bend to your will, if it's what you want. Hell no! I don't want that! I want the spirited and sometimes exasperatin', stubborn to the bone redhead with the volatile temper who loves me with more passion than I ever believed was possible. Then protect her the best you can Vin, love her and give her a safe shelter to run to when she needs it, but give her the freedom to soar, to be who she is… just be there to catch her if she falls.*
Vin knew it would not be easy for him to back off. Though he was smart enough to know, the biggest threat to Kelli was being smothered by his need to protect her. That was unacceptable. Lifting her hand to his lips he kissed her fingers, drawling softly, "Larabee may not need any help gettin' dressed, but you can help me." Kelli recognized the twinkle in his eyes and smiled. She pulled the curtain closed to shield them from the others. She laughed when he drew her closer, taking his time to explore her injuries, gently kissing each one.
Whispering close to his ear she asked him, "We got maybe five minutes before Chris blows a gasket. Wanna make out?" She nipped at his neck and then stripped off the hospital gown he was wearing. Looking him over, she sighed deeply. "Clothes, Tanner, now, or I won't be responsible for what happens."
Vin chuckled. "Woman, you do like livin' dangerously." He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. With Kelli's assistance he was soon dressed. He reached out to grab his wife around the waist. She yelped in surprise.
Chris had heard enough and called out, "Remember this is a hospital room. You're not alone in here."
"Spoil sport," Vin called back. Kelli opened the curtain, giving Chris a mischievous grin. Vin was no sooner settled back on the bed to await the doctor's arrival, when Doctor Gilford entered carrying their release papers.
"About time you showed up, Doc," Chris told the physician irritably. "We've got places to go and things to do."
Doctor Gilford frowned at him. "I could easily leave and return later when you are in a much more agreeable mood, Chris."
Josiah snickered and Ezra cleared his throat. Vin and Kelli both looked on with wide smiles on their faces, waiting to see how Chris dealt with the doctor.
"Aw, hell, just give us our papers so we can get the hell out of here," Chris said finally.
*You want out of this place, you'd best be playin' nice.*
Chris's deep sigh echoed through the room and he looked at the doctor with resignation. "Please?"
*Pretty please with sugar on top?* Vin's mental intrusion earned him a dark glare.
Doctor Gilford shook his head and chuckled. "Damn, if you're desperate enough to say please, I suppose I should sign these release papers." He signed the forms, handing one to Chris and the other to Vin. "I know I am talking to two walls, but I have to try. Both of you will have some ringing in your ears for a while, but it should go away by the end of the week. Chris, take it easy for a couple of days. If the headaches get worse or you feel any weakness, call me."
"Vin…." Gilford sighed and then spoke to Kelli instead. "Kel, try to keep him off his leg for the next three days to give those tendons a chance to heal." He handed her a prescription. "I know hardhead here won't voluntarily take these pain pills, but have them on hand anyway, just in case he needs them." He handed Vin his crutches. "Use these, Tanner, or next time it may be torn tendons and surgery."
Doctor Gilford escorted the MCAT agents out into the hallway and then headed off to see to the rest of his patients, while the group made their way down to Nathan's room. Josiah warned them Nathan was not in the best of moods, but that did not prepare them for what they found.
Raphael was stationed outside the door of the room, trying not to overhear what was going on inside.
"I don't need any help. I can do it my damn self!" Everyone recognized Nathan's voice.
"Nathan, please, you are being unreasonable," they heard Rain answer him in a gentle voice. "Let me help you."
"I said I can do it!"
Chris bypassed Raphael and stepped inside, followed by the others. Nathan was standing beside the hospital bed, one hand stretched out in front of him, the other holding onto the IV pole next to him. Rain stood slightly in front of him, trying to help him, but Nathan batted her hands away. She turned her head toward the door when it opened. They were able to see the tears she was trying hard not to shed.
"Stop acting like a stubborn jackass, Nathan, and let your wife help you," Chris said quietly.
"Go to hell, Chris!" Nathan shouted.
Chris opened his mouth to respond, but closed it again when he heard another authoritative voice fill the room.
"Nathan, you've got one minute to decide which you would prefer. Your wife to help you take care of your hygienic needs, or a nurse," Travis said in a no-nonsense voice. He sympathized with the doubts and fear his agent must be going through, but he wasn't about to stand by and watch him take them out on his wife or anyone else.
The room fell silent for several minutes while everyone waited to see what Nathan would do. The injured MCAT agent knew he was making a fool of himself in front of everyone, and he was hurting Rain with his words and actions, but couldn't seem to make himself stop. He just kept thinking of all the things he wouldn't be able to do if he didn't get his sight back, and it was making him crazy.
"Rain?" That one softly spoken word was enough to propel Rain into stepping closer and placing her husband's free hand onto her arm. With slow steps she led him into the bathroom, closing the door behind them.
Josiah glanced over at Chris with an 'I told you so' look on his face. Chris shook his head. Nathan was usually the one who kept all of them on an even keel when they were injured. Now it was their turn to help him. The question was, how?
Travis saw the wordless byplay between his agents and ventured his opinion. "What Nathan needs is time and healing."
Nathan returned and Rain helped him back into bed. In addition to his vision problems he was sore all over and moving around was a bit painful. While he was in the bathroom taking care of business, he was aware of the quiet conversation going on outside the door. He hated the awkwardness his behavior had caused and searched for something to say.
"Rain, Baby, I'm sorry for yelling at you. Chris...." Nathan paused, licking his lips.
"Hell, Nathan, let it go... Remember the old adage 'sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me?" Larabee told him.
"I've said far worse to you on a bad day at the office."
For the first time since they had all entered the room, Nathan's lips creased into a smile. "Ain't that the truth?"
To Chris's chagrin, laughter filled the room in response to Nathan's words. He found himself chuckling as well. As soon as everyone settled down, Nathan became serious again. "Chris, I owe you. If you hadn’t kicked my butt to move me out of the way, I would have gone up in flames with that barn. Thanks for yelling at me to move my ass."
Chris shook his head. "I dragged you to the door but after that… I'm not sure how the hell either of us made it any further. I thought Vin pulled both of us out, except he was thirty feet away on the loft side of the barn. Josiah and Ezra were in front of us, but they were helping each other."
"No, it was you, Chris. You said, and I quote, 'move your ass, Healer, or you're a dead man'. Then you grabbed me by my belt loops, picked me up and practically threw me out of the way."
"I was knocked out cold, it wasn't me."
"Then who the hell was it?" Nathan asked.
No one had the answer to his question. Vin and Chris exchanged knowing looks. It was the first time Chris had mentioned aloud, let alone acknowledged to anyone, he had been aided in getting out of the barn. Josiah stepped forward, not wanting to have this discussion in front of the director.
"I'm certain we can work out the chain of events that put all of us in a safe zone. Why don't we wait until all the reports are in front of us?"
"That sounds like a good idea," Kelli said. "I really need to get Vin home and off of this leg before Doctor Gilford decides it's best that he stay in the hospital until it's healed. We also want to see JD before we leave."
"Excellent idea," Ezra said. "We still have to give JD the wonderful news. His days as a federal prisoner have come to a merciful end thanks to the successful persuasion of our esteemed Director."
"Him and the fact the only witness the prosecutor had is now a crispy critter," Vin smirked, earning himself an elbow in the ribs from Kelli. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"I wish I could see his face when you tell him…," Nathan sighed as he remembered his injury, "Guess I couldn’t, even if I was there."
Chris laid his hand on Jackson's arm. "This is only temporary, Nate. Do what the doctor says and listen to your beautiful wife."
Nathan nodded his head. "Tell JD I said for him to behave himself and take it easy when he gets home."
"Rain, you call if you need any of us." Chris hugged her, and then nodded to Travis, followed by the others. Saying their good-byes, the group of agents exited the room and headed to JD's.
Douglas Banks was exiting the elevator when Chris and the others were leaving Nathan and Travis's room. The fact that he was smiling, heartened the agents. Good news was something they all needed to hear after the events of the past ten days, especially the Dunnes.
"It's good to see you, Douglas. I hope you have somethin' good to tell us." Vin leaned on his crutch and extended his hand to the attorney.
"Damn, Tanner, what did you do to yourself this time?" Banks shook his hand. "You've been a walking trouble magnet for as long as I've known you."
"Nah, he's the trouble magnet," Vin grinned and pointed to Chris, saying, "'M just the adventurous type."
Banks chuckled." Yeah, right." He shifted his briefcase. "As much as I would love to share good news with all of you, I need to talk to my client first. If you will wait here, it will only take a few minutes."
"We'll be here. You take whatever time you need," Chris said as he pushed the door open for Douglas. "Send Buck out. If he gives you any lip, tell him I said it was an order."
He then turned to his agent, sitting before the door. "Alex, who does Justin have scheduled to relieve you and Raphael?"
"Saunders and Westin will be taking over at three, Sir. Cordova and Garrison will be here at midnight to relieve them," Sandoval answered.
"Good. After tomorrow we'll only have one room to cover. Travis is going home and Jackson will be moved in with Dunne." Chris grinned when Buck came out of JD's room grumbling.
"He threw me out! Said you ordered it, Chris. Why?" Buck questioned. "You guys aren't planning to go in to see JD, are you?"
"Actually we thought we'd just move our office up here, since we spend so much time in this place," Chris snapped. "Hell yes, we plan to see JD!"
"You can't," Buck said. "I mean, you could, but then JD might want to know why Vin's on crutches and you have the same shaving cuts as Josiah. Ezra you don't look so great either. Hell, I mean…."
"Shaving cuts? Hell, Buck, you did tell JD about yesterday didn't you?" Chris already knew the answer was no. He ran his hands over his face and counted to ten. "We are going to see JD and you can explain why you didn't tell him about the explosion!"
"Doesn't he have enough problems without worrying about all of you guys?"
"Not anymore. The only thing our boy has to do is heal, go home, love his wife, and be a great father to his kids. It's over for him, Buck. Douglas is in there now giving him and Casey the good news." Chris laughed at the look on Buck's face. "It's true, the charges have been dropped."
"Thank God," Buck finally found his voice.
"Travis pressed it. With the CI deceased and not capable of being a witness against him, the DOJ has no case," Ezra explained. "The money came from a Larabee7 account on which JD is named as one of the owners. There is no way to convict a man for accepting money either knowingly or unknowingly from an account he is authorized to co-sign on."
Josiah grinned and slapped Buck on the shoulder. "Guess you get to explain why Mallory was shaving me, Chris, and Ezra."
Banks walked out. "He's all yours, free as a bird," he smiled. "Gentlemen, Kelli, it's been a pleasure to see how this one turned out." Douglas acknowledged their thanks and moved to allow them in the room. He was still smiling as he entered the elevator.
Casey could not stop crying. JD looked like he had just won the lottery. It was really over, but he still did not understand why it had happened in the first place. Right now though, the only important thing was he did not have to worry about going back to lock-up.
"Buck, it's done. No more court, no more Agent Rush, I'm a free man again." JD told him as soon as he saw Wilmington walk in.
"Now that's the best news I've heard in a good while." Buck choked up, fighting the emotions he was feeling. "Damn good."
"Hey guys, I'm not sure how you did it, but thanks." JD looked over the group that filled his room. "Guess Mal's been giving shaving lessons, huh, Buck?"
"Well… no… you see…," Wilmington began an explanation.
"Forget it. I might not be all together yet, but I do know the difference between cutting yourself while shaving and obvious injuries. Plus after working with you for going on ten years several of which we were roommates, I know when you're passing out a load of BS."
"Always said the Kid was the smartest one in the bunch," Vin grinned.
Josiah said, "Observant too."
"Outstanding investigative abilities," Ezra said
"He's got your number, Buck," Chris stood at JD's beside. "We're not staying, because you need your rest. Tomorrow, Nathan will be moved in here when Travis is released. Hopefully you'll both be home in a few days." Chris leaned down and spoke low. "Send her home, JD. You're the only one she'll listen to at this point."
JD looked at Casey. "I plan to Chris. Him too," he nodded in Buck's direction. "I'm gonna be fine. We all are."
Chris gripped JD's shoulder. "Take care, Kid. I'll be up to see you Monday when I check in with Gilford."
"Casey, the kids and I visited with the girls this mornin' and I have a message for y'all," Kelli told her. "Lilah and Daisy send their love. They said to tell you both to 'come home really, really soonest'. I told 'em I'd make sure to deliver the message, so consider it done. Right now though, I need to get Dad and Vin home before I end up havin' to carry one of 'em. JD, you get better fast and y'all' take care."
"Bossy, ain't she?" Vin remarked with a grin as his fingertips caressed his wife's neck. "But I think I'll keep her anyway. See y'all later."
"Wonder where she gets it from?" Ezra muttered.
"Out, all of you, this young man needs his rest." Chris herded them all out the door. "Let's go home."
"It's time we take another run at Larabee," the gunfighter said. "He's as ready as he'll ever be."
"He's 'bout as ready as a rattler is for company, Cowboy," the Texan said sarcastically. "If it's all the same to you, I say we start with young Tanner. Then let him get your Larabee involved."
"Might be safer that way," the gunman agreed. "That boy does seem to be more open to us being here."
"No might about it." the younger man chuckled. "Course, yours does come by his mule-headed attitude honestly."
"You're one to talk. You've been known to be damn obstinate and ornery yourself."
"I reckon it's gonna be a right lively afternoon with two mule-headed Larabees and a couple of ornery obstinate Tanners in the same room."
Exhaling slowly, the man in black shook his head. "We don't have a choice."
Sunday October 21st
Sanchez Home - Noon
Mallory and Barbara sat in the kitchen talking over a cup of coffee, and listening to their children playing in the other room, while Ezra and Josiah worked to solve the mystery of Tanner's visions. Josiah enlisted Ezra's help for two reasons: One, because the negotiation specialist was nearly as skeptical as Chris about mystical beliefs. Two, next to JD, Ezra had the best computer skills. Josiah filled him in on the discussion he, Chris, and Vin had shared the day before about the Forsyth family, visions, and spirits. Earlier that morning Chris had given Josiah the Larabee family records, telling the profiler to search to his heart's content. Josiah also pulled several books on Native American spirituality, including recorded accounts of visions from his private library to aid them in their quest.
The two men settled into Josiah's study with all of the books and paperwork spread out before them. Ezra sighed deeply while he studied the assortment of items. "This is all very interesting. Still, I see nothing here that could remotely help us find who we are looking for, or even make a hell of a lot of sense. Just what is it you expect to find?"
"We need to help Vin. If in doing so we find a connection to what is happening around us, so much the better. I don't think it's a coincidence for his visions and our problems to begin at approximately the same time to discount a link between the two. JD may be a free man, but we still need answers about who set him up. Also, who tried to kill not only him, but Travis, Buck, Chris, Vin, Kelli, and you. I think solving the mystery of Tanner's visions could help us in doing that."
"I deal with facts, not happenstance," Ezra stated matter-of-factly. "While I acknowledge that Vin accepts his visions as true, how are we to ascertain validity to any of it, or understand why he is having them? I also have difficulty believing that we have acquired the spirits of his and Chris's ancestors as new members of our investigation team. Nor do I believe his dreams will tell us more about Shadowchaser."
"I'm not looking to convert you, Ezra," Josiah said with a smile. "Whether or not you stay a heathen for the rest of your life is between you and God."
"A debonair heathen, at that," Standish retorted, flashing Sanchez a return smile. "Despite my personal opinions regarding visions and dead ancestors, I will aide you in finding the information you desire." He went back to making notes on what he found surfing the genealogy sites on the web.
JD tactfully threw Buck and Casey out of his hospital room thirty minutes after Nathan was wheeled in. Rain was also asked to leave by her husband, once he was settled in. Buck took them home. He and Rain visited with Nettie, Lilah, and Daisy for a few minutes, before Buck dropped her off at her house, so she could get some much needed rest.
Finally it was time for Buck to go home, to see his own children and lovely wife. When he arrived, he found most of their kids gone except for Tannis. Inez was lying on the living room couch reading her latest Danielle Steele book. Buck seated himself on the edge of the couch to gaze down at her. She laid the book across her chest and listened while her husband filled her in on the latest news about their injured family members.
"It's a little quiet in here for this time of day. Where are the kids?" Buck asked.
Inez wrapped her arms around her husband's neck, enjoying the feel of having him home. "Caleb is with Jason over at the Tanners. Sarah and Maria are at Chris's with Grace, and Tannis is down for her afternoon nap. You'll have to settle for me."
Buck bent down to nuzzle his wife's neck, whispering, "Settle for you? Darlin', you are the woman I have aspired to find and waited for all of my life. You, Lady, make me a better man and if either of us was shortchanged it was you. I know how lucky I am and how many men would give a fortune to be in my shoes." He lowered his lips to taste the sweet essence she offered.
Arching her back under her husband's tender caresses, Inez asked, "Your shoulder is well?"
Buck's answer was to lift her into his arms. He grinned when she let out a surprised squeal. Carrying her to their bedroom, he laid her gently on the bed. There they began to undress one another. Later he would track down his children and give Chris a hospital report, but for now he had more important things to tend to.
Chris sat cross-legged on the living room floor, surrounded by three little girls. The Candyland board game lay in front of them with Sarah and Maria sprawled across from him while Grace sat on his lap. Sarah and Maria were old pros at the game, but they wanted to teach Grace, with her daddy's help, how to play. Being the oldest Sarah designated herself as the teacher.
"Your turn, Uncle Chris," she giggled.
Chris grinned and whispered to his daughter, "Okay, Grace, help me out here." He let her pick the next card and loved it when she squealed in delight at the pretty blue color.
Buck stood at the door and watched for a few minutes before making his presence known. Not many people had an opportunity to see this side of Chris Larabee and they would be shocked to see the big, tough MCAT Commander sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by little girls, playing a kid's game. He stepped forward and received an immediate response.
"Daddy!" Maria saw him first and the game was forgotten as she ran to him.
Sarah joined her sister, laughing in delight. Buck pulled them into a bear hug.
"Up, Da, air," Grace said. She smiled up at Chris, pointing one chubby, little finger toward her uncle. "See Unca Buck."
"All right, sweetheart," Chris agreed, uncurling his long frame and standing with Grace in his arms. He tossed her into the air, laughing along with Buck and his daughters when Grace giggled.
"Why don't you girls go see if Dottie has a snack for you?" Buck told them. "Uncle Chris and I need to discuss something."
"Okay, Daddy," Sarah agreed.
Chris set a still giggling Grace onto the floor and watched as the three little girls left the room, before turning his attention to Buck. "What's up?"
"Travis was released early this morning, so they moved Nathan in with JD. The kid has sure rallied since hearing the good news yesterday. At the rate he's going, he'll be coming home before you know it." Buck stretched out in the lounger next to the couch. "Anyway, JD insisted on Casey and me going home. Nathan told Rain to leave with us."
"Is Nathan's attitude any better?"
"I wouldn't say its better, but it hasn't gotten worse." Buck sighed, "I just don't understand why Nathan is focusing on the worse case scenario, when Doctor Carter has given us every reason to believe his eyesight is going to be fine."
Chris shrugged." I don't know either. I guess this injury has hit a little too close to one of Nathan's own personal fears. He's always been the one to take care of all of us, and now that the shoe's on the other foot, he's experiencing the same kind of co-dependency issues we've all dealt with from time to time. We've just got to support him and let him work things out for himself."
"He keeps saying something about not understanding why you said you didn't push him at the barn. What's all that about?"
Chris nodded. "I forgot. You haven't heard the story."
"So tell me, Stud."
Sighing deeply, Chris began to retell it all to Buck, starting with a question. "Do you believe in ghosts?"
Kelli spent the morning taking care of kids and trying to keep Vin off his leg. Once he finally agreed to stay put on the couch, Jason, Caleb, and Andi took turns telling him stories, while Kelli put the twins down for a nap. It was Andi's turn. All she talked about was the pony she expected to get for her birthday.
"I'm gonna name her Dora the Explorer and take care of her like Jason does Thor and feed her and…."
Vin laughed. "What makes you so sure you're gettin' a horse, little one?"
Andi put her hands on her hips and huffed, "Daddy, I just know! He told me, remember?"
"Sorry, I forgot." Amusement danced in Vin's eyes seeing his daughter taking the same stance Kelli had on so many occasions. "Guess if he says so it must me true."
Kelli heard enough to know an intervention was called for. "Hey gang. I just put a plate full of snacks on the table in the den and the 'Happy Feet' DVD is waiting for someone to push play."
"Yay!" Andi yelled. She took off running.
"Dad?" Jason hesitated, torn between staying with Vin and wanting to see the movie.
"You and Caleb go on, Mumbles is waitin' for you." Vin shooed them out of the room, then reached out his hand to his wife. "Come over here, woman."
Taking his hand, Kelli smiled. "You looked like you needed rescuin'."
"Andi is determined about her pony." He pulled her closer to the sofa. "Are the boys asleep?'
"Yep and Happy Feet should keep the other kids occupied for a while. Do you need anythin'?"
"Just you," Vin gave her a mischievous male grin. He was sitting with a pillow propped behind him, another one under his leg on the couch. Pulling her down across his lap, she yelped in protest.
"Vin! The doctor said you don't need to be puttin' any weight on your leg, and I am definitely weight." Kelli protested, as she struggled to get off of him.
"I'll risk more injury if it means gettin' to make out with you," Tanner replied, holding her even firmer in his arms, pressing his moist lips to her healing neck.
"That's not fair, Tanner." Kelli felt her resolve about getting off of his lap waver. Her husband continued to shower her neck with kisses.
"I know," Vin said huskily. When he lifted his head, he took a good look at the worse of the cuts his wife had received. Yesterday, after the kids' welcome home party, baths, betimes stories and tucking in four children, he and Kelli talked late into the night. They discussed her connection to the Forsyth family and Chris sharing Vin's visions yesterday morning. Vin overlooked her injuries due to the bandages Max used to cover them. Today, with the dressings gone, he saw just how bad the wounds looked. "Does it hurt much?"
It took a moment for Kelli to realize what he was talking about. Then it hit her. "No, just a little sore. Vin, it really isn't bad at all."
Vin took a deep breath, mentally counting to ten. He made her a promise not to overreact. Somehow he intended to keep it. "Kel, it's not goin' to be easy for me to ignore it when you find yourself in the middle of trouble. I'll try to be reasonable, but, God, I hate to see you hurt."
Kelli laughed. "You think it's easy for me to see you hurt? Let me tell you somethin', Tanner, it's not." She sighed. "Friday, after watchin' you jump out of the barn loft and waitin' for the doctor to tell me you were goin' to be okay, I didn't do too well myself. I tried to hide behind the few defenses I have left you haven't ripped to pieces. I know Ezra saw it, and I reckon you did too."
"I knew somethin' was wrong."
"Once I got home, I made an interestin' discovery. When you're not here a part of me is missin'. I get scared when I think about how fragile life is, how it could change in a second. I don't want to quit work, but I don't want to fight with you about it either."
Vin gazed deeply into her eyes, thinking about what she just said to him. "We will always worry about each other, which is natural I reckon, considerin' we are often caught up in dangerous situations. I get scared too. Hell, I could give you a long list of things I worry about when it comes to you and the kids. I don't know how to stop doing it either. The one thing I do know, is together we can accomplish anythin', including findin' a balance that works for both of us."
"I love you, Tanner."
"I love you, too, Sassy," Vin replied. "Now, how long did you say that movie was?" He didn't wait for an answer. Bending his head to her soft mouth, he captured her breath as she drew air into her lungs. Vin took hungry possession of what was his. Raising his head, he was staring into the vivid sapphire depths of her eyes. Forgetting where they were, his body reacted to the desire he read into them. Had it not been for the faint sound of a whimper they both heard coming from the baby monitor they would have soon been lost in one another.
"Damn, our kids have lousy timin'," Kelli grinned. "You really need to talk to them about that."
Vin exhaled, "That's at the top of my 'to do' list, Baby. Go. See what they need, but we'll put them all down early tonight and finish this." He claimed one more kiss before he released her. Watching her walk out of the room, he grinned.
*That's one fine lookin' woman,* the Texan commented close to Vin's ear. *I bet she's as feisty as my Anne was.*
Tanner jumped in reaction to the voice, jerking his injured leg in the process. Gritting his teeth when pain shot through his foot clear up to his thigh, he shouted, "Damnit! Warn a fellow when you're goin' to be poppin' in for a visit!"
The Gunfighter chuckled. *How do you expect us to do that?*
"Hell, I don't know." Vin realized it was rather silly for him to try and teach the two men from the past what proper 'visiting' etiquette was, when doing so could be considered strange, or even worse... brimming on insanity. Hell, maybe he was going insane, he didn't even know how to initiate contact with these…What were they exactly… visions, spirit guides, ghosts, relatives?
Thoughts about what he and Kelli were doing before they arrived popped into Vin's mind and he warily asked. "How long have you been here?"
*Here as in this form or here in your home?* the Texan questioned with a thread of amusement in his voice.
Exhaling loudly the gunslinger answered, *Relax, Son, we just got here.*
*Take the fun out of it, why don't you?* the Texan grumbled and then spoke to Vin,*When your Chris arrives we need to have a powwow.*
"Chris is not comin' over today …" Vin was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Reaching for the portable, he answered, "Tanner!"
"Josiah and Ezra have been digging around about your visions. We're on our way to your house to talk about what they've found."
"Might as well join the party," Vin mumbled to himself and then answered. "Bring it on, Chris, I ain't goin' anywhere." He dropped the phone as he attempted to hang it up. When he tried to retrieve it, his crutches, leaning on the end of the couch, fell. Cursing, Vin pushed himself up to a standing position, ignoring the pain which shot up his leg, intent on picking up the phone and his crutches.
"Vincent Jamison Tanner! What the hell are you doin'?" Kelli stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips and fire in her eyes. "Doc said for you to stay off your leg, and that is what you're gonna do!"
*Yep, just like my Anne.*
Paying no attention to the voice in his head, Vin cursed, "Damnit, we got enough problems without you goin' Larabee on me. Chris, Buck, Josiah, and Ezra are on their way over and we have guests."
Kelli moved over to where Vin was trying to balance on one foot. She put her arm around his waist, telling him, "I don't care if the President of the United States called and said he was comin' over! I am not goin' to let you screw up your leg because of Tanner stubbornness." She thought about what he said. "Since when do you call family guests?"
Vin winced as he sat back down and lifted his leg onto the sofa. He growled out in pain, "Since we have visitors in the room… the unseen kind."
She did not question who or why. "They can wait. You keep your sexy Tanner butt on the couch while I get you a pain pill and no arguin', or you'll see more of my Larabee temper than you're in shape to handle." Kelli started for the bedroom to get Vin's medicine.
"Fine," Vin retorted. "Don't say I didn't warn you though!" He continued to mutter to himself, punching his pillow a time of two just for the hell of it.
*Touchy, ain't he?* the Texan chuckled.*Course Larabees do tend to rile people without even tryin'.*
*Tanners aren't angels either.*
"Don't y'all have somethin' better to do than hang around here and make me crazy?" Vin groused.
*Nope,* two voices answered simultaneously.
Vin placed the pillow over his head to shut out his visitors and mumbled, "Aww hell."
Blood ties run deep, but the delicate threads binding families together from generation to generation are unfortunately sometimes lost or frayed. Once in a while we are given a second chance to recapture the fragile memories which manage to slip through the cracks of time. Those that have lived before me also live in me, as I shall live in the one yet to come.
The relaxing Sunday afternoon with Vin and the kids Kelli had expected now included her Dad, part of the Wild Bunch, plus two uninvited guests. She had to smile when she thought about it however, after all the years she longed for a real family she finally had one. They were Vin's family first, still they welcomed her when she married him and she loved the Wild Bunch. Granted, they were unconvertible by normal standards, but she would not trade one of them for anything in the world.
Chris and the others came in through the kitchen and ran into Kelli on her way to the bedroom. "Hi Dad, I need you to make sure Vin doesn't move from that couch before I get back with his meds."
"You got it Missy." Chris kissed her on the cheek and grinned after she walked off. "I don't know what you did Tanner. That is one pissed-off lady."
*It's her Larabee side showing, we tend to be a might touchy at times, but you already know that.*
Chris looked over to Vin when he realized the voice he was hearing was not Tanner's. "You want to explain?"
"Nope," Vin retorted, "You wanna explain this?" He nodded toward Ezra, Josiah and Buck.
"Nope," Chris said. "I'll let Josiah tell you."
The four men made themselves at home, sitting comfortably around the room. "Actually, Ezra and I felt this was necessary." Josiah started, "We want to help you figure out why you are having visions."
"Per Josiah's requests I have labored over a keyboard most of the day and I now believe I know more about the Larabee and Tanner histories than I do my own," Ezra explained. "Additionally I know more about precognitive visions and dreams than I ever wanted to know."
"Hell Vin, I'm just here for the entertainment and to support you of course." Buck grinned.
"Well, you may get more than you bargained for, Buck." Vin started to tell them about their ghostly visitors but stopped when he heard a voice drawl in his head,
*Not yet. Let's hear what they have to say.*
"It's y'all's show," Vin told Josiah and Ezra.
Kelli came back in the room with a glass of water and a pain pill. "I'm sorry to interrupt. Vin needs this before y'all do anythin' else." The redhead sat down next to her husband after making sure he took it. "Jason will keep Caleb and Andi entertained for a while. I hope I didn’t miss much."
Chris watched as Vin laid his arm across her shoulders. He knew Kelli was staying. "Josiah, tell us."
"Let's begin with your first vision." He waited for Tanner's nod before he continued, "We know it started in Santa Fe, so let's go with what we know. Vin, you saw a young woman shot to death at a time we now know was almost 140 years ago. Her name was Anne Forsyth, she was seventeen and pregnant when she died and Kelli is related to her…"
As Josiah repeated the facts they knew, Vin and Chris heard the Texan begin speaking softly. * Anne was not just pretty, she was beautiful. Her hair was the color of red wine, soft as corn silk. Her eyes were the deepest blue I had ever seen. She had a smile that could light up any room and her skin was as smooth as velvet. When she spoke, her voice was husky. Her laughter was musical. She was feisty, stubborn, and smart. The first time I laid eyes on her I knew I loved her, had loved her before.
It was in Santa Fe and the year was 1868…
Anne and Meredith Forsyth spent their morning at the dressmaker's while their father took care of business at the bank. "Enough of this," Anne snapped to her sister. "I don't know why I need to have a dress for an event I have no intention of attending."
"You know Father will make you go regardless if you want to or not. He wants you to meet Charles Langley, and his mind is set." Meredith blew out a breath of frustration. "I don't know why you think you can defy him Anne." She was speaking to thin air because her sister was already headed for the door.
"So is mine," Anne said as she pulled the door open and rushed outside. Not watching where she was going, she collided with a young man crossing the boardwalk. Strong arms caught her before she fell.
"Are you all right, Miss?" The man with a soft spoken drawl asked while he studied the beautiful woman he held in his arms. Inexplicably he felt he knew her, but having just arrived into town, he was aware that it was impossible.
"Yes…I think so." Anne should have protested the familiarly with which he held her. However she found she did not want to. She felt something stir inside her which she had never felt before. Instinctively she knew it would change her life. "Yes, I am."
"Anne, what are you doing?" Meredith was startled when she walked out the door and saw her younger sister being held so closely by a stranger. "Unhand her immediately!"
Reluctantly the young man released the redhead. "I only offered my assistance, Ma'am."
Anne smiled her thanks to him. "Meredith, Mister …" She looked at him
"Tanner," he supplied his name.
"Mister Tanner prevented me from falling. I am in his debt. Thank you, sir."
He touched the brim of his hat. "My pleasure Miss, I hope to see you again."
*We did see each other, every chance we got. I never regretted one minute of the time we spent together. She was the mother of my child, the woman I would have spent my life with, and the one I could never let go of. Anne thought she was protectin' me from her father's wrath when she took a bullet meant for me. I spent the rest of my life livin' with the pain of knowin' she died in my place.
Years later, I did take another woman as my wife, she was not my Anne, but we had a good life. Miakota was Apache and her name meant the power of the moon. Her people called me Tracker Hawk. She gave me one son before she died, Christopher James Tanner. He was your great-grandfather, Vin."
There it was. It was the first time he had heard his name, although Vin had sensed who he was. He had known when he read about the young Texan in the Forsyth family history, he had to be a Tanner. It was the closest Vin had come to knowing anything about his father's family. He would not admit it to most people, but he wanted to know more.
Josiah continued to talk. "We know the other woman Vin saw was from about the same time period and we started in the New Mexico territory with the records that were available from that general time…."
*The other woman you saw was my wife…Sarah,* the gunfighter took over the narration in Vin and Chris's head.
*How in God's name she loved a gunslinger like me I'll never know, but she did. We had one son. She was carrying again when I had to go to Mexico to sell some horses. While I was gone, the ranch was attacked. I returned too late. Riding over the last hill before reaching my land I smelled the smoke…
I spurred my horse, racing toward my home… there was nothing left of the house but ashes. I found my wife's body, close to what should have been the back door. She was huddled over our son. Even in death she tried to protect him. I dug their graves, said goodbye to the best part of my life and then rode away.
Later I found the man who killed them. Evidently he worked for a woman who was obsessed with me. She wrongly thought if my family was dead, I would make a life with her.
I spent a lot of years blaming myself for their deaths, almost joining them more than once. It took a scrawny assed Texan and a band of ragtag friends to convince me I could move on. It took me too damn long to realize I was not to blame for the death of my family. I remarried years later. Abby and I had a son, Colton Vincent Larabee, your great- grandfather, Chris.
Colton lost the love of his life, Maggie, when my grandson Cordell was born. He did the best he could alone with him, but never remarried.
His son, your grandfather, Cordell and daughter-in-law Katherine were killed in an accident two years after Colton died, leaving your father at age three to be raised in a series of foster homes. Clint raised you and Jack the only way he knew how after your mother died. Unfortunately he did not have enough experience with a parent's love to do right by you boys.
Larabees have not always had it easy with their women, but they do have the strength to get through anything. We also take care of our own*.
Chris sat still, thinking about what his…supposed great, great, grandfather was telling him. This was family the man was talking about. Not just his, but Kelli, Grace, and Cody's, too.
*Why are you here?*
*I'm here to help you find the truth, son, if you'll let me.*
Ezra was talking now. "That covers the Larabee family tree as best we could. The Tanners proved to be a bit more difficult to track down…"
Vin heard every word Chris's forefather said about the Larabees. He unconsciously tightened his arm around his redhead. *I reckon you're here to help him.*
*I'm here for you Vin, and for myself. I didn't protect my Anne. The guilt I carry has kept me from bein' with her, even now. I need to help you with your visions, if I ever hope to be reunited with her.* the Texan's voice was full of longing for the woman he had lost so long ago.
"So you're saying the dreams or whatever you call them Vin has been having are real?" Buck asked Ezra.
"We have found historical proof to verify the existence of the two women, and we know what happened to the present day Sarah and Adam Larabee, so…yes." Ezra conceded.
"As to the other visions, we are still trying to figure out a connection. Other than the obvious one about the explosion, the rest we have not uncovered or…"Josiah hesitated. "They have not happened yet."
"That is where the term precognitive visions apply…" Ezra began an explanation.
Chris had a number of questions, yet he was not certain he wanted to hear the answers * Let me get this straight. Only Vin and I can hear either of you. You are here to help me find out the truth about something. The Texan's here to help Vin solve his visions. All I have to do is consent to your offer of assistance and believe our great, great, grandfathers have traveled across time to do this?*
*That's pretty much right, except others can hear us if we allow them to. We generally cannot change anything ourselves, but we can guide you. It's up to you and Vin to make it happen. It would help if you just accepted our presence without doubts or questions. There may not be another opportunity to make things right. If we fail, you both will pay the price. That's something we aim to avoid,* the gunfighter explained
Chris met Vin's eyes, silently agreeing to go along with this strange arrangement, with a few rules.
*First off, I cannot have all four of us bouncing around in my head without some way to clarify, who's who." Chris thought for a moment. *Hell, the easiest thing would be to call you what Grace does … Cowboy."
*I ain't no cowboy.*
*Grace says you are.*
The Texan laughed. *He's got you on that one…Cowboy.*
*Fine, but only while we're here. What about him?*
*I reckon I'll call you Tracker,* Vin told the Texan.
Cowboy and Chris both chuckled as the Texan exclaimed, *the same as your dog?*
*Of course not, Tracker was your Indian name right?*
*Right, Tracker Hawk, but I reckon Tracker's fine.*
*Now that we have that settled, I'm in," Chris told them. "I'll do my best to believe. Just don't expect me to blindly do what you say, 'cause it's not going to happen. I also realize that whatever the explanation, it was the two of you who helped us at the barn and I appreciate it.
Cowboy said, *we couldn't let all of you get killed before we even got started, now could we? I know it won't be easy for you Chris, but the outcome is too important to wait for rational explanations. Trust me, being able to live without being weighted down by the past is well worth it.*
*Okay, 'm in too,* Vin told them, *just a few ground rules. First off, you're gonna have to quit sneakin' up on me and second quit tellin' my daughter about her pony. It was supposed to be a surprise for her birthday. Don't ask me to hide anythin' from Kel, because I won't and do not interfere with our private moments.*
Tracker replied. *Fair enough, but I ain't wearin' no bell around my neck just so you know 'm around. I reckon tellin' your eldest daughter about her first pony did cross the line. I'm sorry if it ruined your surprise. She was just so damn excited about it I couldn't stop myself. As to Kel, I would never expect you to hide anythin' from her and I will do everythin' in my power to keep her safe.*
"One correction, Andi is our only daughter, not our eldest.*
*Yet, Vin, only daughter yet.*
*You're not supposed to tell him that!*
*Why not? A man needs to know those kinda things so he can be prepared.*
*Excuse me. Can we get back to business? What do we need to do first?* Chris asked.
*Hell, he's as impatient as you are, Cowboy.*
Vin sat back with a smile on his face. Some things never changed, thank God. He was looking forward to getting to know these two better. He was convinced they would drive Chris crazy before this was over. He also couldn't wait to tell Kelli about their future daughter.
Josiah was finishing his report. "We keep looking for a connection and I am certain when we find it, Shadowchaser will be in the mix somewhere."
"Damnit all to hell, can't anything go right?" The phone sailed across the room and hit the wall with enough force to put a hole in it.
Two men rushed into the room, "You okay, boss?"
"Hell no, I'm not okay. My Porsche in a mess, the charges against Dunne have been dropped too soon, and my plans for the FBI to destroy MCAT were ruined! "
"Shut up! I don't pay you to think! It's time to put more pressure on Larabee. I want him to find out anyone is vulnerable if you push them hard enough. I'm about to push him so hard he's going to forget there even is a right and wrong. Mister Perfect will find out he's not the man he thought he was and when he charges across that moral line of his that he's so proud of, I plan to be there to watch him fall."
Our actions of today fashion the future of our tomorrows and complacency can overturn the good deeds of yesterday, leaving us at risk of losing all we have strived to accomplish. Yet we do not need to shout or change the masses to leave our mark either. Making the difference for only one child at a time or by being a loving parent will suffice as we leave our silent footprints on the path of this journey we call life.
Wednesday October 24th
MCAT Office ~ 8:00 a.m.
Vin stepped into the commander's office with a cup of coffee in each hand. He never was one who enjoyed enforced time-off. It felt good to be on a normal schedule again and back to work. In fact he felt so good about getting rid of the crutches; he had insisted that he and Kelli resume their regular morning work-out sessions at Camp Larabee. In addition to his responsibility of training coordinator for the unit Vin took on the role of his wife's personal trainer since the birth of their twins. Other than the fact he found martial arts enjoyable, a side benefit of doing it was the time it gave them to spend together in the early morning hours before kids' and the work world called them away.
Chris glanced up from the files he was perusing on his desk at the sound of Vin's voice and smiled when he saw the coffee mugs in Tanner's hand. "Welcome back. You thinking of a career change?"
Vin frowned at him. "Ha-ha, I told Gunny I would bring your coffee to you, since I was headin' in here anyway." He walked over to the desk and handed Chris one of the mugs.
Chris took a sip of the hot brew. "Gunny makes damn fine coffee."
"That she does. So, when are JD and Nate goin' to be released from the hospital?" Vin seated himself in one of the chairs across from Chris.
"Buck and Josiah are there now waiting for them to be released. I expect they'll be home before noon."
"Good. JD's goin' to be thrilled to be home with 'his' ladies. The twins will be climbin' all over him, while Nettie and Casey will be fussin' about makin' him comfortable. After all he's endured, if anyone ever doubted that JD wasn't a man of courage and inner strength before, they'll sure know it now."
"JD has always been stronger than most people give him credit for." Chris sat his cup on the desk. "What have you and Kelli decided to do about Andi's birthday?"
"Well since the actual date is tomorrow, we have a special dinner planned for her, but she wants her party on Saturday." Vin smiled. "She insists that we combine it with a welcome home party for her uncles."
"When do you want me to bring her mare down?"
"Keep her in your barn 'till Saturday. At least we can surprise her when Dora arrives. Even if she already knows she's gettin' a horse. Besides, she's waited this long, a couple more days won't hurt."
"All right," Larabee said, taking another sip of his coffee. "Vin I need to ask you something."
Vin raised an eyebrow knowing Chris well enough to recognize a problematic issue. "Fire away."
"How in the hell do you stand having Tracker shadowing you all the time?"
"If I can handle havin' your voice runnin' around in my head, what difference does one more make?" Vin realized by the expression on his face, Chris was looking for a more serious answer. "I know I should be mad about him tellin' Andi about her horse, but for some reason I can't be upset with him." He sighed. "You know I never knew much about my father or his people. I reckon havin' him around is a way for me to find out more about my family. Reckon I can put up with his surprises."
Chris shook his head. "I'm still having trouble accepting all this, but Grace loves her 'Cowboy'. If he's so good with her, why is it he seems to piss me off most of the time?"
"You're just not used to havin' to live with another Larabee as stubborn as you are. Hell, I can just imagine what it would have been like with you and Kel livin' under the same roof. Especially knowin' she was more than a handful as a kid. Your time is comin' with Grace and Cody." Vin laughed, thinking about the battles Chris and Kelli would have had if he could have raised her. "It does take a certain amount of patience with a Larabee and that's not exactly your best attribute."
Getting a far away look in his eyes, Chris tried to imagine how it might have been if Kelli had lived with him since she was a baby. Would their relationship be different? Easier maybe, but he already loved her as much as any father could love his daughter. She certainly would not have suffered the abuse she had as a child. Somehow he could not see Kel any less head strong than she was now. How much would both of their lives have changed? Would he have lost her when Sarah and Adam were killed or would he have even married Sarah? Does fate have a master plan which forces us down one path without a choice? Must you give up one beautiful part of your life in order to have another? What about Vin? Chris smiled to himself. He had no doubt Vin would have found Kelli no matter where she was.
"Chris, where did you go?"
"Down the road of what ifs," He sat up straighter and grinned. "I suppose we are where we need to be and whether I like it or not, Cowboy is a part of it. Hell, I guess if I have to hear voices, it's better to have one who's related to me in my head than a stranger."
Vin was pleased to hear the acceptance in Chris's words. Not that he understood any better than Chris why Cowboy and Tracker had appeared or how. He did know whatever the reason, it was important. "I reckon we're stuck with both of them for a while."
Chris felt like it was time to change the subject. "Where are we on Shadowchaser? Do we have anything new?"
"Josiah said he may have somethin' on the profile to give us. He should be here any minute. Other than that we have nothin'."
"I think at this point we need to keep this within our team. We know it's personal and no telling where that bastard will strike next. So, I'm pulling Mike off the investigation, in fact I'm meeting him for lunch today to tell him."
"I have to agree. As much as any outside information might help in our hunt, we need to tighten our defenses and stay within our unit. No sense in givin' Shadowchaser more targets."
The outer door opened and Josiah entered the room with a handful of papers. "Sorry, I'm running late." He settled into the chair to the right of Chris's desk, laying out the papers he was holding on top of it.
"What have you found Josiah?"
Josiah sighed, "I have the letters I sent to Hannah over the past two years. While rereading them I made a disturbing discovery."
Chris mentally kicked himself. With all that was going on, he had not even asked Josiah about Hannah. "I should have talked to you sooner about her. How is she Josiah?"
"She is still catatonic and in the isolation ward. There has not been much improvement, but Doctor Rivers has not given up. He believes there is a strong possibly she will come back to us, given enough time." Josiah held on to the belief that his sister would improve.
"You said you have her letters, why?" Chris asked.
"When they moved her, the doctor asked me to take her personal things, at least until she is ready to go back to a private room. The only item she kept was a doll I gave her. She refused to let go of it. Last night I pulled these letters out to begin rereading them. Even though Hannah did not always comprehend everything I wrote, I did give her details about my life. Not only mine, but I also shared with her most of the things that happened with our Wild Bunch."
"Did Hannah read them or did someone read them to her?" Vin asked.
"That's the problem. Usually the orderlies took time to read to her. If our Shadowchaser is the orderly who switched her meds and tried to kill JD, then he has more information about all of us than we would want anyone person to know," Josiah reluctantly told them. "I never considered what I wrote could be used against any of us. All of our children are mentioned, Ezra and Barbara's trip to Italy, Ronesha's adoption, all about Reins of Change, the birth of your twins, Vin, as well as Cody's birth and Grace's birthday party. Hell, I even told her about Kelli finding out you were her father, Chris. I'm really sorry, I just…"
"You only did what any of us would do with family. We all share with the ones we love. I know I'm not the only one who keeps a journal. In the wrong hands it could give as much or more information than your letters." Chris assured him.
"Hell, Kelli keeps a daily journal and she poured her heart out in letters to Walter when he was still in Texas. We even kept a pregnancy diary we made for the twins. We never thought about it bein' wrong." Vin grinned. "The only thing we won't do is videotape our more private moments. There are too many kids in our house to keep that kind of stuff around."
Chris shot Tanner what he hoped was a stern look. "Now that is something I never want to see used as blackmail…not with my daughter." He turned to Josiah. "No sense second guessing what we could have or should have done. However it does explain how this Shadowchaser knew when Ezra left for Italy, plus a few other things. We just move on assuming the sonofabitch can use the knowledge he has gained against us."
"I made copies of the letters for you Chris." Josiah handed them to his Commander. "Considering what we already know about our mystery suspect I feel confident he will try to use the information."
"So noted," Chris put the letters in a folder and locked them in the bottom drawer of his desk. "We might be working around the clock to catch this guy, and get the answers JD will want to know about his arrest. In the meantime, we still have a unit to run. Vin, now that you're back on your feet I want you to keep the training schedule going. Josiah, you need to put in some flying time to keep your license current. Get with Raphael and arrange some flight time for next week."
Josiah stood up to leave. "I just saw Raphael in the break room before I came in here. I'll do it now."
Once Josiah was gone, Vin told Chris, "I need to work on those trainin' schedules, so unless you have anythin' else, 'm out of here. I'm sure you have plenty to do before your lunch with Colonel Tai, too."
"Yeah I do, see you later Vin."
Reins of Change
Acres of rolling green pastures spanned out as far as the human eye could see. White and Red painted buildings dotted the landscape sporadically and included: three barns, a main house, a dormitory, and a large storage facility, as well as fenced in training arenas. Multi-hued horses of different breeds grazed and played in the fenced off pastures, or stood patiently awaiting their riders inside of corrals. Activity around the main barn in particular, drew attention away from the magnificent creatures, and toward the humans that owned them.
Doctor Caitlyn Broderick rode at a leisurely pace toward home, thinking about how a few months before, Reins of Change had been only a dream. This was something she had wanted to do for years. It took the combined efforts of a number of people to make it happen. It had been eight months since Barbara and Ezra convinced her it was time to make her dream a reality. There were too many children waiting for a place to help them heal to put it off. Thanks, due in large part to the Standish's putting out feelers to their friends and business associates, she soon had the means to start construction, but not a place to build. That was where Matt Dubois and Chris Larabee came into the picture. The two men contributed the strip of land between the Southern Breeze and Larabee 7. The Wild Bunch jumped in to help with the work.
Not wanting to continue working sixty hours a week, Barbara gave up her law practice as a successful children's rights attorney to be a full time advisor and legal representative for them. Rain Jackson became their resident doctor and made a presentation to the board of Denver Memorial for the hospital to sponsor their non-profit group. Inez Wilmington kept the books, and Casey Dunne was a full-time counselor, working with the younger children. Ezra handled the main fund raising operations and all of the Larabee clan donated part of their free time to Reins. They had been open only six weeks, but already had a full staff, several college students majoring in psychology as volunteers, twenty children coming on a regular basis for therapy, and two children assigned to them from Child Protective services. Hopefully after today there would be a third.
Once she arrived back at the barn and groomed Moon Shadow, Caitlyn walked to the back to her office. *Barbara should have called or come over by now.* Caitlyn thought to herself.
"Any news?" a deep male voice asked.
Caitlyn turned to see a tall, African-American man with kind brown eyes and close-cropped hair standing in the doorway.
"No," she replied.
"Cait, just because Jesse's case was scheduled for eight o'clock doesn't mean they got in first. If there were any cases held over from the afternoon before, it was probably pushed back an hour or so."
"I know, Will. I'm just impatient to find out whether or not the judge agrees the best place for Jesse right now is here. At Reins of Change he can get the emotional care and support he needs."
"Barbara doesn't strike me as someone who gives up very easily," Willard replied.
"You are right. She doesn't back down very easily. None of the Wild Bunch members do." Caitlyn agreed. "If it wasn't for them, I never would have gotten Reins of Change off the blueprints."
Willard frowned at her. "Now you are selling your own self short, Cait. If it wasn't for your inner strength, courage, and hard work, you'd still be trapped in a wheelchair, laid up in a convalescent home somewhere, or dead."
Caitlyn smiled softly at the older man before her, remembering other such gentle scolding's given to her over the years they had known each other. It was through a friend of a friend she met Willard Robard for the first time. It was about a year or two after her family died, and she was going through some grueling physical therapy treatments to recover the use of her legs. They were badly damaged in the same car accident which killed her husband and two children twenty years ago.
She spent time reading up on several different types of physical therapy, when a friend told her about a man who had been working miracles using horses to help with autistic and injured children. Caitlyn was intrigued, especially when she learned he had no medical training at all. He helped others using his natural talent of knowing animals, especially horses, and children.
Of course her doctors fervently tried to dissuade her from disrupting the grueling physical therapy they were providing for her to go seek out help from someone who they referred to as a 'flake'. Their resistance to the idea propelled her to seek out Willard even more. She liked his quiet, yet commanding presence right away. They discussed a potential training plan for her. She soon learned Willard had a brilliant mind. While he didn't have any doctorates behind his name, he certainly knew what he was talking about. He was a gentle man, but a hard taskmaster. He didn't let her get away with doing anything less than one hundred percent.
"Cait, are you okay?"
The sound of the familiar voice brought her out of her reverie. She smiled up at the man who was her personal angel in a time of great sorrow and hardship. She was blessed to have him in her life. "I'm fine, Will." she told him softly. "I was just reminding myself of what a truly remarkable man you are."
Willard flushed. "Don't be setting me up on any pedestals. I'm just an ordinary man who has the good fortune of being able to use the gifts God has bestowed on me to help others. If you are looking to praise anybody, praise HIM and not me."
Caitlyn started to respond when she heard the sound of a car pulling up to the barn. A quick glance out the window and she felt relief fill her when she saw who it was. "Barbara is here, and she has Jesse with her."
"Praise be," Willard exclaimed as Caitlyn jumped up from her chair and squeezed past him out of the office. He followed her quickly toward the front of the barn where Barbara and Jesse Hunter were just entering it.
"Good news, I hope?" Caitlyn asked.
"Great news, Judge Connor agreed that it was in Jesse's best interest for you to be granted full custody of him," Barbara told her. "There will be the standard court appointed visits periodically to see how he's progressing here, how his education his going, etc."
"Wonderful." Caitlyn exclaimed, her green eyes lighting up. A wide smile creased her lips when she glanced at the sullen teen standing beside Barbara. "Isn't it Jesse?"
"Whatever," Jesse replied. All three adults noted that just for a fraction of a second his lips attempted to betray his tough ass attitude with a smile.
"Jesse why don't you and I go ask Cordelia if lunch ready?" Willard suggested, knowing Caitlyn and Barbara wanted a few moments alone to talk.
"Okay." Jesse said.
"Thank you Barbara, I know you worked hard on preparing for Jesse's hearing. I think we can help him here."
"It was my pleasure. I like Jesse, he reminds me of someone I know. I am delighted he's been given a chance to stay permanently."
As the ladies were talking, three dark colored sedans pulled up. FBI Agent Frank Spelling emerged from the first one and strode over to face the women.
"Uh oh, here comes trouble," Barbara commented under her breath to Caitlyn. "What are you doing here, Agent Spelling?"
He waved a paper in front of Caitlyn, "This is a search warrant Ms. Broderick. Step out of my way."
Barbara grabbed the paper. After determining the warrant was indeed legal, she pulled out her phone to call Ezra.
Chris and Mike finished the main course and now lingered over coffee to talk. Mike understood Larabee's reason for asking him to drop the investigation. He still was concerned about the pressure building around his friend.
"You know I am available to talk, anytime, anywhere. All you have to do is make the call." Mike was more than just a sponsor to Larabee. He had come to like and respect the man a great deal. The way Chris had taken charge of his recovery was impressive and not something just anybody could do.
"Thanks. I know I've missed the last couple of meetings, but it doesn't mean I'm in trouble. Time has been limited for me the last two weeks and to tell you the truth, I forgot. However, if I think I need to, I will not hesitate to call you." Chris assured him.
"That's good to know. I would hate to have to kick your ass for not calling, if you needed the help." Col Mike grinned.
"You and what army?" Chris smirked. His phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. "Larabee." he listened to Standish. "I'll meet you and Vin there." Chris hung up the phone, pulling a twenty out of his pocket at the same time. "Mike, I need to go, this should cover lunch."
"Keep you money, lunch is on me. Go, take care of business. We'll talk soon."
Chris left the restaurant, quickly heading for his Ram, thankful to have it back again. Whatever was happening at Reins of Change, judging by the tone in Ezra's voice, it wasn't good news.
Reins of Change
The FBI agents had been searching for the last thirty minutes, without saying just what it was they were looking for. Spelling had been particularly unpleasant with both Barbara and Caitlyn. He knew they were connected to Larabee and his MCAT team. The team he felt was responsible for his demotion, the loss of Agent's Rush and Washburn, in addition to the disbandment of their task force.
The tip which led him here had to be accurate. He wanted to take down as many close to Larabee as possible. This seemed like a good place to start. "Sooner or later that high-falutin' MCAT team of hot shots are going to be exposed as the dirty federal agents they are, including your husband, Mrs. Standish."
"Why don't you try and intimidate someone else Agent Spelling." Barbara replied coolly. "I'm not the least bit impressed with your threats."
"What you think of me is irrelevant. I'm only interested in what I find." Spelling held his gun in a menacing way toward both women. He wanted to see them intimidated, so when they told their story everyone would know he was a mean sonofabitch and not one to be messed with.
"Put that thing away! You're scaring my kids!" Caitlyn was furious. They had already ransacked the daycare center. Sally Reeder, the caregiver for the pre-school -age children, held Adam Sanchez and Ronesha Jackson close, while Terrell clung to her. The children cried and Sally was afraid to move. Caitlyn was thankful the older children were not there. "You hurt one child because of your unprofessional attitude and I'll see you rot in prison!"
"You shut the hell up!" Spelling took a step closer to her and hissed, "Before I arrest you on charges of impeding an ongoing investigation."
"Try it and I will see to it you are brought up on charges of harassment, brutality, and impersonating a decent law enforcement officer." Barbara told him heatedly, side-stepping to place herself a little in front of her friend.
Ezra sped down the dirt road leading past the Larabee 7 toward Reins of Change. Barbara's voice had been calm, but urgent on the other end of the line when she had called. He pulled his car into the area where the main barn was located, and got out. He could just barely make out the shapely figure of his wife, standing beside Caitlyn. Both women were facing one of the suits, who he recognized with distaste as being Agent Frank Spelling. The FBI agent appeared to be in a highly agitated state of mind and was waving his service revolver rather erratically toward his wife and Caitlyn.
Standish's usually calm demeanor changed, striding angrily toward where the trio stood. He heard the screeching tires which indicated his backup had arrived, but he paid them no mind. Spelling was about to get a taste in manners he was never going to forget.
Ezra charged like a raging bull and tackled Frank Spelling, knocking his weapon out of his hand, and throwing him to the ground. "Don't you ever point a gun at my wife again, you sorry piece of shit!"
"Ezra!" Barbara exclaimed, fearful for her husband's life as the other FBI agents converged on the area, weapons drawn, and grim expressions on their faces. "Please, honey, I'm okay."
Her infuriated husband was beyond listening to her pleas, as he ruthlessly pounded his fists into Spelling's face, punctuating each word.
Vin grabbed Standish in a headlock and pulled him off the FBI agent while Chris and Kelli drew their own weapons to cover their teammates in a standoff with the other agents. "Stand down!" Larabee commanded, "NOW!" The FBI men lowered their weapons.
Ezra struggled against the hold Tanner held him in, hoping to get another chance at Spelling, stopping only when Vin applied more pressure to his throat. "Calm the hell down Ez, or I will put you out."
There was no mistaking the seriousness of Vin's warning. Standish knew better than to argue with Vin when his voice took on such a tone. Even though Tanner held him in choke hold, he knew Vin would never harm him. He would, however, put him to sleep if it meant stopping the hostile situation from escalating too far. With much reluctance and a heated glare in Spelling's direction, Ezra worked to get his anger under control.
Spelling, with blood dripping onto his white shirt from his bloodied nose and cut lip, drew himself shakily up onto one knee. He demanded, "Arrest that man for striking a Federal officer and interfering with a lawful search!"
"Not in this lifetime Spelling," Chris growled. "You had no business holding a gun on these ladies. Standish was only protecting his wife. Now, you have one minute to explain to me why you are attempting to terrorize women and children while supposedly doing your job!"
Pointing a finger toward Caitlyn he shouted, "That woman threatened me! I have every right to subdue anyone who tries to obstruct a legal court order!"
"You continue to scare my kids and I'll do more than threaten!" Caitlyn yelled back at him, her green eyes sparkling with barely contained anger.
Chris tried not to smile when he heard Caitlyn's words, but it was a challenge on his part. "He won’t be doing anything to your kids, I promise you. Barbara, let me see the warrant." She walked over to Chris, handing him the paper.
Vin had released his hold on Ezra. The two friends eyed each other for a moment, before Ezra held out his hand to Vin. Relief flooded through Tanner as he took the offered hand.
Vin left Barbara and Ezra together and moved to stand beside Kelli. They waited to see what Larabee's thoughts were on the warrant.
Chris was astounded. "You expect to find drugs here…you are out of your mind Spelling."
One of the other agents cautiously stepped forward. "Sir, we did find what appears to be several packets of some type of contraband, before our attention was directed elsewhere." The agent in question handed one of the packages to Spelling, who gave it a quick inspection before handing it to Tanner.
"It seems our warrant wasn't unfounded," Spelling gloated.
Vin used his knife to slit the top of the small bundle, dipping his finger in the white powder. He first sniffed the powdery substance to see if he could identify what it was by smell, before tasting it. His face wrinkled up in a grimace as he quickly spit it out and grunted, "Yuck!"
"See I told you!" Spelling exclaimed, "Drugs!"
Tanner grinned, "Not hardly, its baby powder, Chris. Trust me with two babies in the house; I know what 'm talkin' about."
"Check the rest of them." Chris watched while Vin repeated the process with four more packets giving them to Spelling once they were opened. When he slit the last one open he found a piece of paper inside. Shaking the powder off the note he saw Chris's name scrawled on the front of it and silently passed it to him.
Chris read it and then told Spelling, "I don’t know who tipped you off, but this is obviously some kind of a hoax." He picked up the last packet throwing it at Spelling. Baby powder sprayed all over the FBI agent. "Take the damn powder and get the hell off this property. If I ever see you again, do yourself a favor…turn around and run the other way! You have a problem with it, take it to a judge."
"You heard the man, get movin'," Vin said while he and Ezra helped them along.
"You should have made them clean up the mess they made searching," Caitlyn grumbled.
"We'll help with the cleanup and when I finish with his superior, you should be getting a letter of apology from the bureau." Chris told her. "Also let me know if there are any items that need to be replaced. I’ll see that they'll pay for them, too."
"I need to check on the children. When you do have it worked out, I would appreciate an explanation for all this." She accepted Larabee's curt nod as a yes and went to see about Sally and the little ones.
Chris waited until Caitlyn was out of sight and then turned to the others. "I am getting sick and tired of this Shadowchaser. This is going too damn far for some insane game." He opened the note, reading it aloud, "You ruined my fun at the barn and my Porsche is a mess thanks to your daughter and Standish. The game is back on Chris…see how close I can get. You can’t stop me. Next time I will leave someone in tears."
Time spent away may be short or long, and the path we take may be direct or winding. No matter how difficult the journey or the obstacles encountered along the way, as long as the road leads home, anything is possible.
Buck drove carefully, attempting to avoid hitting any rough spots or make any sudden stops on the drive to the Wells' Ranch. JD was much better, although he still suffered the aches and pains associated with his traumatic injuries. It had taken a lot of Wilmington charm to convince Casey to wait at home while he took care of getting JD released from the hospital. As he turned onto the long driveway leading the younger man back to his family Buck could feel JD's anticipation.
"We're almost there, Kid."
"Somehow I don't feel much like a kid, Buck. I feel more like an old man today."
"Well old man, three more minutes and you'll be holding that beautiful wife of yours and those baby girls."
JD watched the house come into view. Thirteen days, not even two full weeks since he had been here…it seemed more like a lifetime. There were moments during that time he believed he would never be home again. Now that he was, would he be forever changed by what had happened? How do you make-up for the lost days of your life? Only time would tell.
The two men got out of the truck and made their way slowly up to the front door. Buck hovered at JD's side, in case he faltered on his shaky legs. JD was determined to walk into his home on his own accord, wanting to reassure the two women and two little girls in his life he was the same man he'd always been, even if he didn't quite feel that way inside.
Lilah and Daisy ran to their father the moment he walked through the door, grasped hold of his legs, and promptly burst into tears. JD felt his heart turn over at the tear-jerking sounds they made while they clung to him. He was at a loss as to what to do, since he wasn't able to scoop them up into a bear hug like he normally would have done. Nettie and Casey rescued him, by lifting the two little girls into their arms. JD moved over to the couch. The moment he was settled, Nettie and Casey placed each one of his girls on either side of him. He didn't hesitate to draw them close.
"Shh…, darlings, daddy's all right." JD crooned softly to them. It was on that heartwarming scene that Wilmington made his departure.
What time Rain hadn't spent with Nathan during his hospital stay or with the children, she had spent at home rearranging everything to make it easier on her husband to move around once he released from the hospital. She left the task of getting Nathan home to Josiah. In spite of his best efforts to engage his friend in conversation Nathan had not said one word during the trip.
Nathan knew everyone was worried about him. He reckoned he was giving them some reason for it. Still, he couldn't help the way he felt. He had lived in a world of darkness for the last five days. Although the doctor was optimistic about his eyesight returning, he was beginning to resign himself to the fact it might not be a temporary situation.
Josiah cut the engine when they pulled up in front of the Jackson house. "We're here, welcome home."
"Looks the same as the hospital to me," Nathan replied cynically.
Josiah sighed. Nathan may be home physically, but mentally he was far, far, away, and he had a long trip to make it all the way back.
Rain was waiting in the open doorway, when Josiah and Nathan reached it. Together she and the profiler helped the injured man into the house and over to his favorite chair in the living room. Josiah was prepared to stay and visit for awhile with Nathan, until he asked if he could take a rain check on the visit. All he wanted to do was spend some time adjusting to the changes his wife had made to their home, before she went over to the Reins daycare to pick up their children. Rain threw Josiah an apologetic look over Nathan's head.
He placed a hand onto Nathan's shoulder and said, "If there is anything you need, don't hesitate to call."
Sanchez gave Rain a quick hug and let himself out of the Jackson home with a heavy heart.
"I'm going to go lay down," Nathan said
"You just got here," Rain protested. "I though while the kids were gone we could spend some time together."
No, I'm tired." Nathan felt his way to the bedroom. How could he make her understand how he was feeling? Living in a world of darkness scared the hell out of him. If he could never see again, how could he be any use to his family?
Reins of Change
Chris was anxious to find out more about the note Shadowchaser left for him. He had Bones pick up the message to take to the lab so he could compare it to the last one. He also wanted to finish at Reins so he could check in on JD and Nathan. Then he wanted to meet with the others to discuss the latest attempt from their nemesis to intimidate them He could not, however, in good conscience leave Caitlyn with the mess Spelling and his men made in their search. It took a joint effort, but by two o'clock most everything was back in its normal place.
"I appreciate all the assistance. I know you are a busy man, Chris. Your team has more important work to do. We can handle the rest of the cleanup from here," Caitlyn told him.
"I don't want you to hesitate in calling me or anyone else in the Wild Bunch if you ever need help," Larabee told her. "We take care of our own and it's time you realize we've adopted you into this hell raising family of ours."
"Is that right? I've always wondered what it would be like to belong to a large family. I just never expected to it to happen overnight." Caitlyn gave him a crooked smile
Chris chuckled. "It'll take some getting used to, but once you do, we'll grow on you."
Caitlyn burst out laughing. "I have a feeling you've all already done that. Now, go on, and take care of your business."
The Tanners called out their goodbyes to Caitlyn as they walked closely together toward Vin's truck. Chris noticed Kelli looked a bit under the weather and made a mental note to check on her. When he passed the Standish's, Chris paused in his tracks.
"Go home, get cleaned up, and then meet up with us at my house," he told Ezra. "You and I will discuss your actions today."
Ezra nodded, he expected a discussion concerning his unprofessional; behavior.
Chris turned his attention to Barbara and smiled softly at the worried look on her face. "Don't worry, Barb, Ezra will return to you in one piece."
Larabee continued on to his truck, meaning to stop and tell Vin he was headed to the house. However, Vin and Kelli were standing with the passenger door open and in the middle of a discussion he could not help but overhear.
"You're too tired Kel, and a little pale, I don't like it. Maybe we overdid our mornin' workout." Vin felt her forehead to see if she was running a fever. "I think we need to tone it down for a while."
"Vin, I'm fine." She protested. "You said we needed to practice technique and I admit since I haven't done it in a while my form is not in the best shape. It's just with all the thrusts, whips, and flicks, I'm usin' muscles that are not used to a lot of friction," Kelli answered.
Chris had heard enough. He did not want to hear details about his daughter's love life with Vin. "I hate to interrupt your intimate conversation. I wanted to tell you to meet me in an hour at my house," he huffed.
Tanner was a bit confused. "What are you talkin' about Chris?"
"Your workout…" Larabee cleared his throat. "The thrusts, sore muscles and," then he keyed in on what Kelli had said. "What the hell are you doing using a whip on my daughter Tanner?" Chris forgot his embarrassment and felt his temper rising.
Vin burst out laughing. "You shouldn't eavesdrop, but if you have to, at least raise your mind up out of the gutter when you do. We were talkin' about a personal workout, you know the kind, a little Tai Chi, Aikido, Kendo, and… fencin'. Kelli used to fence in college and wanted to get back into it so we’ve been practicin'…in the mornin's at Camp Larabee.'' Tanner grinned, "Thrust, whip, and flick, are terms used when you practice the art of fencin'...."
"I know the sport Tanner! Damnit I didn't know…Aww hell, never mind." Larabee continued on to his truck muttering to himself. He slid into the driver's seat, and a few moments later drove out of the yard.
Kelli and Vin entered the house through the back, running into Max when she came out of the laundry room. "Lands sake, you two scared ten years off my life, I thought it was just me and the boys here."
"Sorry, we had a situation out this way and I wanted to bring Kel home before I go meet Chris. She won't admit it, but I know she's not feelin' well," Vin explained.
Max reached out to feel Kelli's forehead. "No fever, however you do look a little pale."
"For cryin' out loud, 'm just a little tired. You two act as if 'm on death's door." Kelli complained. "The work day isn't over Captain Tanner and I can do my job."
Vin wrapped his arm around her waist. "Not today Agent Coulter, you are ordered off duty. The kids will be home from school soon, why don't you take a short nap before they get here?"
"I don't need a nap, but I will spend some time with the babies, if you insist I stay." Kelli answered. "I still say you're both overreactin'."
"Better to be safe than sorry, there's an awful flu bug going around. Vin, you get her settled in. I'll put on some hot tea." Max left Tanner to handle his wife.
"Come on Kel, I may be overreactin', but a little rest won't hurt you." He drew her to his side and they slowly walked to the nursery. The boys were sound asleep so they continued on to their bedroom. Vin took her weapon, locking it up while Kelli stripped out of her work clothes. It bothered him to know he was so intent on worrying about his wife's safety; he missed seeing the signs of a possible health issue. After thinking about it, Kelli had not been really feeling all that well for at least a week or more. He promised himself to keep a better eye on her in the days to come.
Kelli had to admit; at least to herself, she was tired. She supposed though, it was no different than any new mother trying to keep up with night feedings, taking care of her family and working. Of course most new moms didn't have their husbands up during the night suffering from disturbing visions, nor were they shot at during the course of doing their jobs, or have same husband and father almost blown to hell in an explosion. Come to think of it, the past two weeks had been rather demanding, maybe it had not been the best time to restart her morning training sessions with Vin.
However, there was one form of physical activity she was not willing to give up. "I'll lay down Tanner, only if you join me. You have forty-five minutes before you meet Chris. The boys will sleep a while, and the kids won't be home for at least another hour."
"Kel, trust me that is not a good idea." Seeing her wearing only his shirt, partially unbuttoned, revealing way too much skin, he knew if he did join her neither of them would get much rest. "Besides, Max is makin' you some tea and could come to the door any minute."
"Max won't come anywhere near the door as long as you're in here." Kelli stood next to the bed, holding out her hand as an invitation. "Besides, you know I 'rest' better when you're next to me."
Vin growled, knowing he was fighting a losing battle. How the hell one small, volatile redhead could crawl inside his heart and affect him as much as she did, he didn't understand. He heard after the first year of marriage most couples settled into a comfortable routine and once the honeymoon was over the excitement and attraction between them waned. For him and Kelli it had only intensified, growing stronger every day. *Hell Vin, at this rate, you'll still be chasing after her when you're seventy, but then that's not such an unpleasant thought is it?*
"You don't play fair Sassy," he grinned," but I reckon I wouldn't want it any other way." Vin took her hand and drew her into his arms. They both fell onto the bed. He tenderly explored the soft curves of her body, planning on making their time together a period of gentle lovemaking, expressing his deepest feeling, not just sating his physical desires. He brushed the soft wisps of red hair that had fallen on her face back with his fingertips, becoming lost when he looked into her eyes. Seizing the moment, Vin proceeded to show his redhead how much he loved her.
Afterwards he held her until she finally fell into a restful sleep. Vin covered her. Quietly he slipped out of bed knowing his life would by no means ever be routine when they were together.
Vin stepped out of the bedroom and silently closed the door; he wanted Kelli to sleep. He felt rather than heard Tracker's presence, *I know you're there. Why are you not talkin'?*
*You didn't want me sneakin' up on you anymore, remember?*
Vin sighed, * Forget it, 'm gettin' used to you bein' here. I'm headed over to Chris's. You comin', too?*
*No, I think I'll stay close around here. When you're gone, this Hawk will keep an eye on your woman for you.*
*Is she in danger?*
*She's safe, but until your visions are resolved I plan to stay close. Your Kel is a lot like my Anne, you know.*
*Both of 'em are strong willed women, but soft enough to bend when necessary. You never have to look further than beside you to find 'em, and when they're with you, you know you're home.*
*Yeah, home. It's a good way to describe the feelin'. I just want her safe, if anythin' happened….*
*You would go on Vin, but it could take a very long time before you figured out how to make it right again…A long time.*
*Is that why you're here? To make things right again and find your way home?*
*I hope so, we'll soon find out.*
Ezra stood in the shower and let the hot water pour over him. After the adrenaline rush he experienced earlier began to subside he felt the results of his actions against Spelling. All he could focus on was the gun aimed in his wife's direction. Standish knew over the course of a lifetime he was bound to at some point, inadvertently hurt Barbara with his words or by doing something equally as stupid. However, no man would ever lay a hand on his wife if he could help it and pointing a weapon anywhere near her direction was unacceptable.
"Honey, are you okay in there?" Barbara's soft voice filled with concern drew his attention.
"I'm fine love," Ezra answered. Sliding the shower door open he reached out and grabbed her, pulling her inside. Grinning he asked, "How about you?" His last coherent thought was something about being thankful for an endless supply of hot water.
Chris rocked Cody to sleep and then sat with Grace for the next thirty minutes reading her a story. When he saw her eyes blink, he knew she was fighting to stay awake. Listening to her daddy's deep timbered voice, she gave in to the sleep calling to her. Larabee carried her to bed, kissed her on the forehead before backing out of her room and softly closed the door.
Chris headed for his office and sat down at his desk to begin making phone calls. He decided to talk to Buck and Josiah before he attempted to call JD and Nathan.
He reached Buck first, he asked, "How did it go?"
"He's home. It may take a while, but I think JD will be fine once he spends some time with Casey and the girls."
"Maybe I'll wait to call him. Where are you now?"
Buck laughed, "I saw your truck at home. If you look out your front window, you'll see me pulling up beside it."
"I'm in the office, come on in. I'll fill you in on our latest crisis." While he waited, Chris called Josiah.
Buck joined Chris. "Ezra drove in while I was coming inside. I also saw Josiah headed in this direction."
"Sit down Buck. Vin, Walter, and Kelli should be on their way over too. I'll explain when we're all together." Larabee reached for the phone again. "I have one more call to make."
Within a few minutes, Buck, Ezra, and Josiah were settled in waiting for the Tanners and Walter to arrive. Vin and Walter let themselves into the house. Vin led the way to Chris's office.
Chris noticed Kelli's absence, "Where's my daughter?"
"Kel is not feelin' too hot so we'll go on without her. I'll tell her what she needs to know." Tanner was preoccupied and troubled about his last conversation with Tracker, but it was not something he was willing to share at this time.
Larabee's first task was to fill in Josiah and Buck about the events that happened at Reins of Change. He concluded his explanations with the additional information Bones gave him on the phone. "The note we found in the baby powder and the note left by our sniper were conclusively written by the same person. Not that we expected to find out differently, but it does help to have evidence which proves Shadowchaser is our sniper."
Chris continued, "I won't dwell on the obvious, Ezra. However, just because Spelling was felony stupid, it did not justify your reaction. Although we all understand your desire to protect the woman you love from harm, next time try using some of that Standish cool. Think before you leap. We may be good, but in case you missed it, we were outnumbered three to one and they were all armed."
"I acknowledge my momentary lapse of good sense; but given the same circumstances I cannot in all honesty promise that I would not do it again." Feeling Larabee's eyes drill into him he added, "I will nevertheless endeavor to seek out alternative solutions in the future."
Josiah asked," Do you have a copy of the note?"
Chris handed him a sheet of paper, "It's not a copy but I wrote down the message."
Reading the words, Josiah felt a sense of dread fall over him as he attempted to interpret the meaning of the latest play made by Shadowchaser. "Apparently our adversary is keeping score and does not like to lose. Today's activities were to show you how much power he thinks he has. He is confident however; he will ultimately prevail, and clearly has plans to challenge our abilities to stop him."
"Stop him? Hell, we're not even close to figuring out who it is. Much less predict what his next move could be." Buck expressed the frustration all of them were feeling.
Walter volunteered. "I'll make certain the appropriate precautions are taken for the ranch's security. No one will touch Larabee 7 land without me knowin' it. I will include Reins of Change, the Sanchez home and the Wells' place until you tell me differently Chris."
"I'll inform Matt Dubois so he can increase the security on the Southern Breeze," Chris said.
"This guy is smart enough to know the ranch itself is too difficult to target, but when he strikes again, it will be personal." Vin said thoughtfully. "That means we double check our vehicles anytime we have to leave them unattended, make certain no one in the family goes anywhere alone, and we should give school security a head's up."
"Those are all good guidelines, anything else?" Chris asked.
"At this point, it couldn't hurt to ask the man upstairs for a little assistance." Josiah added.
Vin rushed home after their meeting to see about Kelli. Walter immediately started to work on reviewing the ranch security measures, while the rest of the men scattered in different directions. Chris talked to Matt about the incident at Reins and Travis was already at work trying to get Spelling reprimanded for his unprofessional actions.
Larabee sat alone in his office, reading over previous reports, looking for the one thing they may have missed that could identify Shadowchaser.
*Too many ways for a man to hide today.*
"Damnit, don't do that!" Chris yelled. "If you have to be here, at least warn me before you jump into my head!"
*Sorry son,* Cowboy answered. Though he sounded more amused than apologetic.
"I just bet you are," Larabee muttered. "What now?"
*I was looking at all these books. In my day we didn't have all the rules you have to go by. Right was right and wrong was punished, period.*
"Wrong gets punished if we obey all the rules to do it. Hell, even then it's an uphill battle sometimes."
*Justice hasn't changed. They've just made it more difficult to find.*
"I suppose so, but it's still there. I'll admit we have to work a little harder to see it done sometimes," Chris said reluctantly. "Regardless, I'm not ready to give up and let the bad guys win."
*You're a Larabee. I wouldn't expect you to.*
Chris leaned back in his chair. He'd been thinking about his 'visitor' and had a few questions. The main one being, "You said it took you a lifetime to get rid of the guilt about losing your wife and son. How did you do it?"
*I said it took a lifetime to discover I was not to blame. There's a difference.* Cowboy wished he could tell the younger Larabee the truth and get it over with, but that was not how it worked. *All I can tell you now, is to be patient. There are some difficult days coming. You're going to have to trust me to guide you through them. Before I leave you though, you'll know how to let go.*
There was a surreal quality to being in his bed again. JD looked around at familiar things as he waited for Casey to come out of the bathroom. It had only been thirteen days since he had been forcibly removed from his home, it felt like forever. All day he found himself amazed at the normality of having dinner with his family, chatting over nonsensical things with Nettie and Casey, watching children's videos with the twins and reading bedtime stories to them before they went to sleep. It was a far cry from being locked in a cell at night, alone, with no hope of escape.
Casey stared at her reflection in the mirror over the sink and could not understand why she was anxious. JD was the man of her dreams, the love of her life, and they had shared far too many intimate moments together for her to be apprehensive about being alone with him. She was acting like a nervous virgin on her wedding night. *Get a grip woman, after what JD has been through, he'll be thrilled to learn he's going to be a father again.*
Concerned about his wife, JD yelled, "Casey, are you all right in there?"
Her eyes filled with moisture hearing the concerned note in her husband's voice. She took a deep breath and opened the door. It wasn't her imagination or a dream; JD was really here, home where he belonged. Casey's anxiety evaporated and she moved toward the bed to join her husband.
JD drew her into his arms, kissing her deeply, relishing the feel of her soft curves pressed against him. "I missed you. What took you so long?"
Gazing into his love filled hazel eyes Casey realized how foolish she was being to worry about his reaction. "There's something I need to tell you," she said softly.
"I'm listening sweetheart."
"You should have known sooner, but with everything that's happened there was never the right time to tell you." Casey blurted out the news. "It's a Dunne deal darling, we're pregnant again."
As the news began to sink in, JD rapidly replayed the past two weeks in his mind. The anger, despair, anxiety, and helplessness, he felt was swept away in an instant. Emotion filled him. He and Casey were being given another miracle and a second chance. Wrapping his arms around his wife he whispered hoarsely, "All the time I was locked up, I prayed for a sign that I had not lost my family. God answered my prayers and we have another precious life to care for. I love you Casey." This was the best homecoming JD could have asked for and for him, it was all the proof he needed to know that the worst was behind them.
Mayday! Mayday! ….white smoke…alarms blaring….Huge chunks of ice was tumbling down the mountainside, taking down everything in its path… bursting into an explosive ball of fire when it met with immovable solid rock… A wall of water rushed from the other direction to douse the inferno… Sarah, Adam and Anne were trapped in the path of the rolling wave and disappeared from sight…. Replaced by images of the old west flashing across the screen as the flames of hell consume a ranch house, while a woman and child screamed… In the distance a woman is crying…louder…
Saturday October 27th
Tanner Home ~ 3:00 a.m.
Vin woke up with a start. The visions were back with a vengeance and were making even less sense now than they had before. His heart was racing and every nerve in his body stood on end…crying…he still heard the crying. It took Tanner a minute to adjust to his surrounding, and then he realized it was Kelli, not someone in his vision that he heard.
"Kel, baby, wake up," Vin gently touched her shoulder. It had been a long time since she had suffered through one of her old nightmares and he did not understand why it was recurring now, after all this time. "Kelli…baby its okay, it's just a dream." He gathered her into his arms, speaking softly in her ear. "Talk to me Kel."
"It hurts so much Vin, and she's so sad, it's heartbreakin'." Kelli took a deep ragged breath, buried herself in his embrace and shivered. "Anne…Anne Forsyth…she's waited for him…all these years alone… waitin' to be reunited with her Texan."
Holding his wife, he could feel her anguish and heard the uncontrolled quiver in her voice. Wiping away the tears streaking down her cheeks, he felt helpless. It was bad enough the damn visions tormented him. Now they were spilling over into Kelli's dreams and he hated to see her so upset. "Baby, 'm sorry this mess is affectin' you."
"It's not your fault." Kelli hesitated and then lifted her head from his shoulder to see her husband's face. "Vin, somethin' is keepin' them apart. I know she loves him as much as I love you. I can't imagine…God, if we… if I thought I could never be with you again and had to spend eternity alone…What if we're wrong? What if now is all we'll ever have?"
Vin smoothed her hair back and cupped her cheek with the palm of his hand. "There are a number of things I don't understand the why or how of Kel. Still, I know they're true because I feel them. I don't need an explanation to know Chris and I have been brothers before and we have been gifted with an extraordinary way to communicate with one another. Or to know there is a special bond between the seven of us that just is. I sensed my Grandfather and my Mama were with us, when the boys were born. I also know somehow two men have crossed the boundaries of time to set right some kind of wrong. Tracker as much as told me he needed to complete somethin' before he can even hope to be reunited with his Anne."
"Yeah, he did. He's doin' the same thing for her that I would do for you." Vin kissed her brow. "I promise you we will never be separated for long, not now or anywhere beyond this existence. I found you in this lifetime and there is nowhere you can go, no matter how far that I can't find you again. It may take time, and I might have to break through some barriers to get to you, but whatever it takes, I would get back to you."
Kelli smiled. "I'd wait forever for you Vin." she lowered he head to nuzzle against his neck, feeling the heat of desire building deep within her.
Vin sensed immediately when her distress and trepidation transformed to desire and burning passion…for him. Only for him, and that was what it was all about for Vin. He would willingly walk through the fires of hell for this woman. Realistically he knew that ultimately they would be separated, at least temporarily, by either his death or hers. Hopefully it would be a long time in coming, and when it did, he would either wait for her to join him or seek her out. It was inconceivable for him to even consider it would not be that way.
"I figure we have at least two hours before one of our kids wake up and demand our attention." He wrapped his arms around her tighter. "No more dreams or visions Kel; no talk of yesterday or tomorrow, it’s just you and me, right here, right now."
Kelli could not ignore the huskiness in his voice and it sent shivers of anticipation down her spine. She now realized that before meeting Vin, she only existed, he had brought more light, love and passion into her life than she ever believed possible to experience. He had taught her to seize all the pleasure life had to offer and she loved him all the more for it.
Threading her fingers through his hair, a soft smile curved her mouth as she told him, "Here, now and always."
If he lived to be a hundred Vin figured he would never get used to the way she affected him. Kelli loved him, worried about him, trusted him implicitly, and gave herself to him unconditionally every time they made love, yet insisted that she needed him more than he needed her. She was wrong of course, but he had a lifetime to convince her otherwise.
Bren and Trey must have sensed their parents' need for extra rest and slept past their normal feeding schedule. However, Andi was too excited to sleep and burst through their bedroom door at six. "Today's the day!" she yelled as she bounced onto their bed.
Vin caught her on the second jump. "Whoa little one, another one like that and you'll be space bound."
"Today's my party day!" Andi giggled when he began to tickle her. "Daaaaddy stop!" She managed to get out between fits of laughter.
Kelli watched the two of them and grinned, "Okay kids, time out."
"Aw Mama, we're having fun." Andi gave her the big eyes pleading for more play time.
"You heard your Mama; besides I happen to know we have some decoratin' to do, and presents to put out. Why don't you go wake Jason, and I'll meet y'all in the kitchen to make breakfast in say…fifteen minutes? "
"Okay, Daddy," Andi quickly agreed, scrambling off the bed. She was out the door on a run. Kelli and Vin both chuckled as they watched their energetic daughter leave.
Vin stopped Kelli as he started to get out of bed. "Before you get up, I have somethin' for you."
"You already gave me all I need," Kelli grinned, thinking about their enjoyable 'morning workout."
"That, Baby, was as much for me as it was for you." He reached into the drawer of the nightstand by the bed and retrieved a small box, wrapped in blue paper. "This is just for you."
"Vin, it Andi's birthday not mine." She protested, while taking the box from him anyway.
"Aww hell, open it."
Kelli carefully unwrapped the box and raised the lid to find a beautiful silver and turquoise ankle bracelet. Obviously it was Vin's work, and it had all their children names etched on it along with another hawk. "I love it, but why today?"
Vin took it from her to place the chain on her left ankle. "By my way of reckonin', it was about this time a year ago the boys were conceived and I wanted to mark the occasion with somethin' special." Once he had clasped the anklet he slid his hand up her leg and gave her a mischievous grin, ignoring the tears she was trying to hide. "This will do until we have the other three or four babies you want." He pulled her to him to claim a kiss which threatened to make them forget the time.
A wail reached their ears from the baby monitor on the nightstand and Kelli let out a sigh. "Sounds like our alone time is definitely over for now." She told Vin as she reluctantly let go of him and climbed out of bed.
She pulled on her robe. Vin slid out of bed and dressed in a pair of sweats. The two of them exchanged kisses in the doorway leading out of their room. He headed toward the kitchen. She started toward the twins' nursery. Bren was awake and eager for his breakfast. Kelli lifted him out of the crib first, changed him and then settled herself into the rocking chair so he could nurse. She had barely finished feeding him, when Trey's cry announced he was awake.
Vin stopped to call Chris on his way to meet the kids. They would have to get Andi's horse to the Tanner barn without her knowing about it. Vin left the details up to Uncle Chris and hurried on to the kitchen. Jason and Andi were waiting for him and in a matter of a few minutes the Tanner 'uskeeteers' had breakfast well under way.
"What do we do first Daddy? Presents?" Andi asked hopefully.
"No, sugar, you have to wait until the party to open your presents." He finished cracking eggs into a glass bowl, using a fork to break the yolks, before dumping them into a hot skillet. Andi's face fell a little and Vin had to turn away for a moment. The sight of her bottom lip jutting out made him want to change his answer. His daughter's disappointment didn't last long. Jason called her over to the table to help him butter the toast he was making, and her unhappiness was forgotten.
By the time Kelli had both twins fed and dressed in clean outfits, breakfast was ready. While Jason and Andi worked on putting salt and pepper, milk, juice, and jelly onto the table, Vin headed off to the nursery to help his wife carry the twins to the kitchen so Kelli could join them for breakfast. Max and Walter would be arriving soon and by noon the house would be ready for a party.
Tanner Home - Noon
Andi greeted the family members as each one arrived and by twelve fifteen the house was filled with the Wild bunch and friends. It was too cold for the kids to play outside so the noise level steadily increased along with the brightly wrapped presents on the table.
Andi made herself the center of attention and all of the Larabee 7 kids joined in. Caleb, Jason, Sarah, Joanne, and Maria, followed by little Adam, tried to act as bossy as the older brothers and sisters. Active, almost two-year-olds, Lilah, Daisy, and Terrell were right in the middle of things. Grace, Ronesha, and Tannis toddled after the older children under the watchful eyes of their respective parents. Cody, Bren, and Trey of course, slept through the first hour. Once they were all in the playpen together they could at least hear familiar voices and watch the movements going on around them.
Chris smiled as he watched Andi. The confident, outgoing, child he saw today was a pleasure to see. It could have been so different for her and Jason if Jack had... *Don't go there Larabee, Jack didn't and you made the right decision for those kids. Right choice, right time. Lord, think of the damage Linda would have done if you had taken them instead of Vin.*
Caitlyn's attention had been on the three children who lived at Reins of Change under foster care. Jesse being the oldest did not think he should even be here and stayed aloof. The younger boy, Kyle, age eight, was slowing making friends with Jason and Caleb. Tara age seven, found Sarah and Joanne easy to talk to. Each of her kids had challenges, either physical or psychological. It made her feel good to see them fitting in with the Larabee 7 kids. The very fact that the Wild Bunch included them helped a lot.
She shifted her attention to the man sitting next to her. "I have been talking for a while now and you have not heard a word I've said." Caitlyn laughed, her green eyes studying Larabee's profile. "You must be a million miles away."
"Huh?" Chris asked, coming out of his reverie at the sound of Caitlyn's voice. "Sorry, I guess I'm not good company today. Just have a lot on my mind."
"I won't pry, Chris, but I'm a really good listener if you ever want to talk," Caitlyn told him softly
Chris smiled at her. Caitlyn was about as genuine a person as they came. She didn't ask questions he couldn't give answers too. She made herself available if they need any help, like she had done with Casey, and overall was someone he found to be a nice person to have around.
"Thanks for the offer. I just might take you up on it sometime." His attention was diverted away from her then, when he heard a child's cry. He recognized it as belonging to Grace. Chris was out of his chair in a flash and running over to the area where the younger children were playing together.
Caitlyn felt her heart contract, observing the gentle way Chris scooped up his youngest daughter and kissed away the booboo on the hand Grace tearfully held up for him to examine. Chris Larabee was a complex man who could be absolutely authoritative and lethal one moment, and amazingly tender and compassionate the next. There weren't too many men like him around anymore.
Rain finished feeding Ronesha and stood up. "Nathan, hold Ronesha so I can go help the other ladies."
"What? Rain, are you crazy? How am I supposed to hold her when I can't even see her?" Nathan protested a little too loudly.
His wife flushed as all adult eyes suddenly turned in their direction. "Nathan Jackson, I've had about all I'm going to take from you and your 'poor me' pity party. Sighted or sightless, you are Ronesha's father, and you will take your turn in holding her whether you like it or not." Rain had used her regular tone of voice so as not to frighten Ronesha when she transferred their daughter from her arms into Nathan's.
"Rain? Rain?" Nathan called out as he fumbled for a moment with the wriggling baby, before settling her into a comfortable hold in the crook of one arm.
Rain didn't respond, nor move away from where her husband sat until she was certain Nathan had a firm hold on their daughter. Then she walked away to join the other ladies. Admiring smiles and thumbs up hand signs were cast in her direction.
Nathan fumed for a few moments over what Rain had done; knowing the others had overheard and watched the whole scene play out. Slowly his anger faded, replaced by shame. Since he returned home he hadn't held or played with either of their children. He had been argumentative with Rain every time she applied another eye treatment, and overall made the current situation he found himself in a hellish one for his entire family.
Now as he held his young daughter close, Nathan realized what a fool he had been He knew he had some serious apologizing to be doing once he and Rain were alone. It was time he stopped feeding his insecurities and doubts about the outcome of his eyesight. Instead he should started concentrating on the positive. Regardless of whether he regained his sight or not, he had Rain, their children, and the Wild Bunch. With their love and support, he could get through anything.
Josiah watched Nathan for a few moments, taking in the almost serene look that passed over his face He knew Nathan had finally set himself straight. "A penny for your thoughts."
"My thoughts aren't worth much these days, Josiah." Nathan said honestly, "but they're changing."
Sanchez chuckled. "That's all that matters. When are you scheduled to have the bandages taken off permanently?"
"Monday at nine o'clock," Nathan said while he gently rocked Ronesha in his arms.
"Want some company?"
"Thanks, no. I think Rain and I need to do this alone."
Buck drew everyone's attention with his comments. "I can't believe we're down to only three baby babies in this bunch," he noted to the others who were standing or seated around him in the big living area. They were close enough to observe the children without interfering with their fun. "Damn they're growing too fast." He hoped his prodding would provoke a response.
"Funny that you should mention it Buck," JD said, exchanging a look with Casey. Seeing her nod of agreement he stood. "I need everyone's attention please." JD waited until it quieted down a bit. "First off, thanks for the great welcome home. I was concerned about it being hard to readjust after all that's happened, but… I'm okay. In fact, I'm more than okay." He took Casey's hand, drawing her to stand next to him. "All the time I was away from home, I was afraid life would never be the same for me. I guess in a way I was right because it won't." JD grinned, "It's going to be better than ever because Casey and I are going to welcome another Dunne into the family. We're pregnant."
Buck was the first one on his feet. "Hot damn, another baby!" He hugged them both.
After a round of congratulations, they were bombarded with questions from the others. "When's the baby due? Boy or girl? Is it twins again? Have you picked a name?"
"Hang on," JD laughed. "The baby's due in May, we don't know if it's a boy or girl yet. Maybe it'll be one of each, if history repeats. We haven't had time to even consider a name, either. We just wanted to share our news."
Josiah was happy for the young couple, and he knew the Wild Bunch was ready for some good news. The past two weeks had certainly taken a toll on all of them and today with Andi's party and the Dunne's new baby coming it was a start on relieving some of the stress they were carrying.
Vin moved to stand next to Chris when Kelli announced it was time for birthday cake before Andi opened her presents. "You know Andi will want to ride today, in spite of the fact it's in the forties out there. You ready for this?" He and Chris planned to take her out, if only for a short while.
"Dora is ready; I'm not so sure I am," Chris said. "Walter is going to sneak out and bring the mare up to the house when Andi starts opening her gifts."
"Did you hear from Travis yet?"
"Yeah, it turns out Spelling, Washburn and Rush were the only three agents who would volunteer to be on a task force against us out of all of the ones assigned to the Colorado Bureau of the FBI. Their 'men' were reluctantly drafted to be on the team. Apparently all their information was bogus to begin with. Spelling is on his way to Anchorage Alaska as we speak, he's been permanently assigned there." Larabee grinned, "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."
"Hell, the bastard's lucky he still has a job. If it hadn't been for the fact that Spelling's men were ready to shoot Ez, I say we should have let him finish him off."
Chris shook his head and disagreed. "The only thing separating us from people like him is the rule of law."
Vin huffed, "I think our great-great- grandfathers had an easier time of it in their day. Justice was swift and lethal, no bullshit. Then they just moved on. I could have lived like that and not lost a minute of sleep over it."
"It's a different world now Vin." Larabee thought about his conversation with Cowboy. "Justice may be harder to come by, but that's why there are men like us, Buck, Ezra, Nathan, Josiah and JD. As long as we keep fightin…"
"The bad guys don’t win." Vin grinned as Chris repeated his own words back to him. "Still, Cowboy and Tracker seemed to have done okay."
"It appears Tanners and Larabees have been standing side by side in the fight for justice for a long time." Chris placed his hand on Vin's shoulder. "No reason for it to change now."
"No reason at all. Before this weekend is over though, the four of us need to talk. I have some questions for Cowboy and Tracker. I think it's time we got some answers." Vin was ready to hear more and by the look of agreement on Chris's face, so was he.
Andi climbed onto a chair and after looking at all the presents yelled, "Daddy, you and Mama need to help me."
"Reckon, that's me," Tanner grinned, moving toward his wife and daughter.
"Jason first," Andi ordered. She remembered he always made her go first on his birthday.
Vin reached over to pick up a package with Jason's name on it. "Hmm, looks as if this one's for you, son."
Taking the gift from his dad, Jason reverently opened it. Inside was a hand tooled leather bridle Vin made for Jason's horse. "Thanks Dad," He threw his arms around his father's neck and then Kelli's. "Thanks Mom."
"You're welcome son." Vin kept his arm around Jason while Kelli helped Andi.
"My turn," Andi giggled. Her mama handed her the first gift. One after another the little blonde tore through paper and bows to find Dora the Explorer games, puzzles, dolls, backpacks, and videos. Dora was her hero at the moment and she was thrilled with all the explorer gear she received. However, when she got to the last gift she was beginning to have a small doubt about getting her pony.
"Last one baby," Vin set a very large box on the table.
It was a big box. Andi studied it, trying to decide if it was big enough to hold a pony. With a heavy sigh, she figured there was only one way to find out and began to pull at the paper. The box was so big she had to stand to look inside. She shrieked when she saw it was a saddle, "Yea! Where's my Dora?"
Tanner grinned and the other grown-ups laughed. "Guess there's no foolin' you, Sugar." He pulled the saddle out of the box, while Kelli was ready with Andi's coat, gloves and cap. Chris carried her through the front door. Walter was there holding the reins for Pony and Peso, while Dora stood patiently, waiting for Vin to saddle her.
"Okay Sugar, here you go." Chris lifted Andi onto her little mare, smiled, and took Pony's reins from Walter.
Andi's smile faded, "Uh oh, I forgot to say thank you."
"Honey, your smile already did that." Vin told her, mounting Peso.
"Let's ride, Tanners." Smiling, Chris took the lead. He did not know what tomorrow held for any of them, but today was a good day.
A north wind was blowing down from the mountains adding a nip to the morning air, making it seem colder than the forty degrees the outdoor thermometer showed. Heavy cloud cover indicated the possibility of snow falling within the next few hours.
"Hold still imp," Sarah said smiling at her son, while helping him button up his coat. "Grab your hat and gloves baby." She could not be with him all day, but she could make certain he was protected from the elements.
"Maybe it will snow enough to make a snowman." Adam danced on first one foot and then another trying to contain his excitement. "You think dad will be home in time to play in the snow?"
"Dad should be in before noon, in fact, he will be picking you up from school." Slipping on her own coat, Sarah grinned."
"Aww Mom, you know I run faster than you." Adam laughed, heading for the side door, "But, you're on!" He opened the door and took off. Laughing, he made a path to the truck sitting in the driveway.
Sarah gave her son a good head start and then followed him, mentally sending a message to her husband, *Thank you love, for giving me our delightful son, maybe this one will be a daughter just for you.*
Adam was giggling. He beat his mom to the vehicle and was still grinning when she opened the driver's side door to lift him inside. One minute later the truck exploded into a huge fireball.
Sunday October 28th
Larabee Home ~ 4:00 a.m.
Chris sat up in bed, gasping for breath, his body was drenched in a cold sweat and his heart felt as if it was going to explode. * Oh God, Sarah! No…no…no, Adam!* He could see it again. It was all there, the explosion, the burnt out shell of the truck, ashes…all that was left of what had been his family. Larabee tried to calm his racing heart and regain control of his trembling limbs. Why was it all coming back to him now? Why now after twelve years?
*Tanner's visions and the threats from Shadowchaser Remember Chris? First, you must relive the agony of losing another child.* Fear propelled him into motion. Chris threw the covers back and rolled out of bed, racing down the hallway to get to Grace and Cody.
*Please God, let them be all right.* He checked on Cody first and found his son sleeping peacefully in his crib. Grace's room was next. He wasn't prepared for what greeted him when he entered the room. Sitting at the end of his youngest daughter's bed was a shadowy form of a man. Larabee's heart about stopped, his mind was racing, trying to figure out how Shadowchaser managed to slip past the ranch's high tech security system and into his house without him knowing it.
Chris moved forward to deal with whoever it was threatening his child. He stopped abruptly when the figure's face turned toward him. He was confronted with the man who he could only assume was Cowboy. It was almost like looking into a mirror. There was a strong resemblance, but Cowboy's hair was a little longer and his features rougher than his own. Although Chris could not take issue with what the man was wearing, black suited him.
*Sorry to spook you, son,* Cowboy told the younger man. *Grace is fine.*
"What are you...?" Chris lowered his voice to a whisper so he wouldn't wake Grace. "What are you doing here?"
*Waiting for you, and think to me in your mind so you don't wake the baby.*
*How did you know I was coming?*
*When I sent you the dream, I figured you be along pretty soon.*
Chris felt his panic begin to give way to anger. His mind replayed the horrific images of Sarah and Adam's deaths. The one thing that he'd secretly been grateful for was he had not personally witnessed their final moments. So, why now, after twelve years was he forced to live through them?
*Tanner, get your ass over here now and bring your sidekick with you!*
Chris pointed a finger at the apparition in front of him. *We're going to talk, NOW, and you better have the answers I want to hear!* Larabee didn't wait for the Cowboy to respond to him. He whirled around and headed for the kitchen. What he really needed right then was a glass of whiskey. He was going to have to settle for strong coffee instead.
*Oh God, Sarah! No …no … no, Adam!* Vin was fully awake in an instant when he heard Chris screaming Sarah's name. Instinctively he knew it was not a dream or another vision he was having. He rolled out of bed and pulled on his sweats, ready to do battle with Chris's demons if necessary.
"Vin, are you okay?" Kellie knew the moment her husband left their bed.
"Go back to sleep, Baby. I'm fine, I just thought of somethin' I need to tend to." He leaned across the bed and kissed her brow. "Get some rest while you can, the boys will be up soon."
*Tanner, get your ass over here now and bring your sidekick with you!*
Vin heard that loud and clear. From the sound of the Larabee roar Chris was okay, pissed, but okay. "If I'm not here when you get up Kel, I'll be at Chris's."
"Okay, tell Dad I said hello," Kelli answered sleepily.
Tanner was relieved to see her roll over and go back to sleep. *On my way, Chris.* He finished dressing and left the bedroom. Grabbing his coat he looked longingly at the empty coffeepot. *You better have coffee on, Larabee!* Vin opened the back door and then stopped to send a message. *Tracker, wherever you are you've been summoned too. So get you butt into gear and let's roll.*
Chris was waiting at the door with a cup of coffee in his hand for Vin when he arrived. "What the hell's goin' on Larabee?" Vin asked, taking the mug from him.
"You said yesterday that the four of us need to talk. There's no better time than now." Chris sat down at the kitchen table. "Show yourselves."
Vin held his mug in midair and gave Larabee an incredulous look. "You got me up, out of my house into freezin' temperatures at four in the mornin' to talk?" He sat down opposite Chris. Suddenly he saw Cowboy and Tracker there, too.
Tanner was not easily thrown off balance, but seeing a man that looked so much like his best friend, materialize in front of him out of thin air was disconcerting. Seeing a scruffy, long haired man who looked like himself was just plain creepy. "Jesus, I thought hearin' y'all unexpectedly was bad; I think y'all need to wear a damn bell around your necks."
"I think these two need to start explaining a few things Vin." Chris eyed them both. "Did you know they can influence our dreams?"
Tanner's eyebrows narrowed. He turned a steely gaze on the two 'apparitions' standing before him and Chris. "No, I didn't. If y'all can do that, you can certainly tell us what the hell it is we're suppose to be learnin' from these visions I've been havin'."
"You aren't the only one that's having them now." Larabee confided. "I had one about Sarah and Adam tonight."
"Givin' me visions is bad enough. When you start sendin' them to Kelli, and now Chris, it's about time for the two of you to 'fess up and let us know what all of this is about."
*I confess about sending Chris his dreams, but not Kelli.* Cowboy answered. *Are you sure she had a visionary dream?*
"Yes damnit! Anne was in it and it upset my wife. That is unacceptable! Now you're tryin' to do the same to Chris!" Vin growled. "I thought y'all were here to help!"
*We are here to help.* Tracker snapped back. *Don't you understand how our lives are intertwined with one another's? If Cowboy and I don't help you see this through then we will never...*
*Tracker.* the one word warning came from Cowboy. It was enough to remind his friend they had to be careful about what they revealed to their present day descendants.
*I know, but what about Anne, damnit?*
"Enough of the goddamn games," Chris pounded the table with his fist. "You either tell us what the hell you know or get the hell of here!"
*Did I just hear you attempt to threaten us, Larabee?* Cowboy took a defensive stance.
"Damn straight I did!" Chris now stood facing the black clad gunslinger. "We have enough damn problems without you fucking with our dreams!"
*If you weren’t such a hard-headed, narrow-minded cynic, then we wouldn't have had to use Tanner to get you a message, or fuck with your dreams!* Cowboy yelled.
"Sonofabitch!" You used me. These damn visions from hell were from you!" Vin shouted. "I have been haunted seein' my wife, Sarah, Anne, and Adam's deaths because you wanted to get a message to Chris!" Tanner took a threatening step forward.
*Hold it!* Tracker yelled, *y'all need to take a deep breath and calm down!
"'M as calm as 'm gonna get 'til I get some damn answers!" Vin yelled back.
*Vin, your visions are real, except for the Sarah and Adam part. The gift has always been inside you. You instincts proved that. Visions are part of your heritage.*
"So why haven't I had them before?"
"You've said it yourself. Chris's spirit is the one which made you stronger. Kelli's sprit led you to your fate. Finding her reconnected the Tanners and the Larabees. It set your destiny into motion… the pathway to your future opened…with the seven reunited.... It was time. Being in Santa Fe triggered your visions. Maybe it was because it's where your family roots are, or because my feelin's are so connected to the area and you… are connected to me.*
"You were there?"
*I've always been close by. When the visions started, we realized there was a threat to our families. Our help was needed. I also saw a chance to set somethin' right which could lead to me reunitin' with Anne.*
Tanner relaxed a bit and sighed deeply. "I reckon I was aware of part of that… why torment me with visions about Sarah and Adam?"
Tracker hesitated to say more, but decided it was now or never. *We also needed to find a way to help Chris; however he was not receptive then to hear us so…yeah. We sent the visions of Sarah to you hopin' you could convince him to listen. You can be angry with us, just do not ignore what you have seen.*
"Why did it have to be Sarah and Adam? Why now?" Chris asked as his anger dropping a level.
Cowboy was the one who hesitated now. He looked over at Tracker. They seemed to be having a private conversation of some sort. Finally, he nodded. *It's important that you and Vin do the investigative work without too much interference from us, but…time is running short and you need to at least head in the right direction.*
"What can you tell us, damnit?" Larabee's patience was running short.
*The person paid to carry out Sarah and Adam's murder and your Shadowchaser are the same. We can show you where the killer watched for Sarah. The rest you'll have to discover for yourself.*
"That is not possible," Chris said in stunned disbelief and sank into a chair. It was too hard to believe, after all these years, there might be a chance to find Sarah's killer. "I went over every detail, followed every conceivable lead. If you're right, then I missed it. That means I let a killer get away to kill again. Now the bastard is threatening my family for a second time."
*All things are revealed in time, son. It was not in your hands to find the person responsible then, but fate has changed… now it is,* explained Cowboy. * Believe me, you were not the reason Sarah, Adam, and your unborn daughter were killed. You couldn't have prevented it, even if you had been standing next to them. It took me a lifetime to find the truth. I had to let go of the guilt I felt about the deaths of my own family or face eternity without ever seeing them again. I reckon its something you will have to discover yourself to really believe. It's a quest you and Vin will have to make to find the answers you both need.*.
Vin was listening, trying to piece together the facts he was hearing. He did not like the picture he saw forming. His visions still warned him about Kelli, even if seeing Sarah and Adam were not meant for him.
If Shadowchaser was Sarah's killer and it was not because of Chris she died, he must have crossed paths with this person since then. How did he change the course of fate? Did he do something to cause the killer to come after him personally through the people he cared about? There were still too many questions and not enough answers. Who hired this assassin? Where and when did Chris cross paths with Shadowchaser? If Cowboy had to absolve his guilt to reunite with his family, what did Tracker have to do to reunite with Anne? Vin thought about all the possibilities.
After silently conferring with Chris, they made a decision.
"Where do we start this damn quest?" asked Chris.
*It's the will of fate and your destiny to be allied by the timeless bond of friendships and brotherhood which ties us all to our past. You both began this journey centuries ago.*
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Chris demanded.
"It means that we're forever linked Chris," Vin said quietly, looking at Tracker and Cowboy." The bonds of friendship and brotherhood you, I, and the others have… we've had from the very beginning. We are all a present day rejoinin' of a group of men…"
*... first formed ages ago, and carried on by us. Now it's your turn.* Tracker finished his descendant's train of thought.
Chris listened to the words. He might not understand about spirits or ghosts… but the words he heard stirred his soul, carrying a truth he could believe in. "Our kids will be up soon. We need to tend to our families first. Then we'll all meet after daylight." He pointed his finger at Cowboy. "You are going to show me this place you were talking about."
The breakfast dishes were finished, the twins were down for a while and Andi and Jason watched out of the window for their Uncle Chris. Vin and Kelli took advantage of the few minutes of quiet time to talk about what he had learned earlier. He wanted Kelli to know everything that was going on so she could be prepared for anything strange that might occur.
"You sure you're up to takin' on Grace and Cody, along with ours this mornin'?" Dottie was away until Monday and when Kelli heard, she volunteered to take the kids.
"Tanner, you worry too much. I am perfectly capable of handlin' the children and you know it." Kelli sighed. "I am fine, Vin, it's just been a long week."
"We won't be far, we're gonna set up at Camp Larabee. Buck, Josiah and Ezra will be there to help go over the old case files. If you need…"
"I know how to find you. Do what you need to do and find the bastard that started all this so we can get back to a semi-normal life."
"They're here!" Jason yelled. He and Andi flew to the door to meet Chris and his kids.
Chris carried both children and set Grace down as soon as they were inside. He greeted Jason and Andi before setting Cody's carrier on the table. Vin took Grace's coat while Chris gave Kelli instructions about Cody. "He ate about six and I have two bottles here for later…"
"Dad, I can handle Cody and Grace. We'll be fine." Kelli assured him. "Besides, Jason and Andi are here to help me, too." She kissed Chris on the cheek. "I'm sorry all this has to be dragged up for you to deal with. Maybe it will work out for the best."
Chris looked at Grace as she toddled off with Andi, and Cody, who was being entertained by Jason and then, back to his eldest daughter, standing before him. Twelve years ago, he thought his life was over, buried with Sarah, Adam, and their unborn daughter. Yet, here he was, his heart filled with love again. Two beautiful babies, and a grown daughter he loved every bit as much as he had Adam, now blessed his life along with a unique Wild Bunch of a family.
"I was always secretly relieved I was not there to personally witness Sarah and Adam's deaths." He took a ragged breath. "Now that I have, I'm glad to know they never saw it coming. They were happy up to the last second."
Kelli placed a supportive hand on her Dad's shoulder. Even though she regretted she had not personally known Sarah or Adam, she learned through Chris how special they both were. She also knew how much he loved them and always would. "Remember them that way."
"I can do that. Now I have a second chance to get the bastard who killed them. This time he's not getting away."
"We gotta go, Chris." Vin said, wrapping his arms around his wife to kiss her. "Jason, keep an eye on your mother and help her with the children." He and Chris made their getaway before Kelli had an opportunity to chastise him for his last remark.
The men climbed into the Ram and drove the short distance to Camp Larabee. Josiah, Buck, and Ezra were summoned by Chris to meet with them to discuss a new lead. A couple of additional phone calls from Josiah and Buck insured that JD and Nathan, although on sick leave, were not excluded. Consequently, as Vin and Chris carried several boxes of old case files inside they were met by five men, instead of three.
"Before you say a word Chris, there's nothing wrong with just sitting." JD forestalled the anticipated question of why he was there.
"Seven minds are better than five." Nathan added. "My eyesight may be temporarily incapacitated, but there's nothing wrong with my thinking process."
Buck took a box from Chris. "We're all here, and ready to listen. What's going on?"
Vin handed off a box to Ezra. "We have reason to believe that Shadowchaser and the person responsible for Sarah and Adam's deaths are the same."
Buck felt like someone gut punched him. The color faded from his features and he stared at Tanner as if he had suddenly begun speaking in a foreign tongue. Emotive blue eyes turned to Chris and he asked, "What?"
"Like it or not, it appears to be true." Chris set the last carton on the table. "These boxes hold copies of the files dealing with Sarah and Adam's deaths. We are going to reopen the case and go over every detail, starting at the beginning."
"Do you think that's really necessary?" Josiah spoke up, concern etched into his features.
"Yes I do." The conviction in Chris's voice invited no argument. He flipped the lid on the box closest to him. "We need to set up a case board."
"I don't think I can do this," Buck whispered. "I followed you into that hell once, and it almost destroyed both of us."
Chris looked at his long time friend and saw the pain in his eyes. "I know what I put you through. I understand if you don't want to go back there, but I have no choice."
Ezra could see Chris was determined to follow through with this. From the looks on the other's faces he knew they would support Chris without questioning how he gathered his information or why it had to be done now. He took the top folder out of the box. "This time, my friends, it is not just the two of you confronting the unthinkable. You have all of us here to help see to it y'all do not travel that dark path alone."
Josiah pulled out a display board and a container of tacks, while JD reached for the next folder. Vin handed a packet of crime scene photos to Josiah while Nathan felt his way to open the remaining cartons. They worked to put all the pieces back together, keeping a close watch on Chris.
Buck sat silently, watching them slowly recreate the events leading up to the final moments of Sarah and Adam Larabee's lives. He was still trying to come to terms with the idea Shadowchaser was the killer responsible for the death of a woman he loved like a sister and the boy he thought of as his own blood. He hated the idea of dredging up the past, revisiting the hell he and Chris had experienced. Still, he resigned himself to the fact they would need his help. After all, he was the only one other than Chris who was there when it happened, had witnessed the scene firsthand and taken part in the investigation.
Wilmington stood up and crossed the room to stand in front of the display board. "These crime scene photos are out of order. They should be laid out like this." Buck made the correction and then proceeded to explain what Josiah had put together to the others.
Chris stopped what he was doing and listened. Once Buck thought about it, Chris never doubted, he would come around and help. The possibility of finally finding the killer was too much to resist for either of them. It was long overdue and somehow the seven of them working together on this seemed right. *You have come full circle Larabee, only this time you have the strength of seven to lean on.* For the first time in twelve years, Chris believed he actually had a chance to find the peace he had been seeking for so long about Sarah's death.
JD fed information into CASSIE while the others poured over the information before them. It was becoming obvious it was going to take more than one day to cover all the investigative leads and interviews included in the Larabee case files. They did agree to keep this investigation in the family, perhaps later MCAT might become involved, but not now. Vin kept a close watch on Chris. He could see the strain of the day wearing on Larabee's features.
"Chris, we still have somethin' to check out and its way past lunchtime. It's time to take a break."
Larabee looked at his watch and saw that they had been at this for almost seven hours. "Damn, I didn't realize. Why didn't one of you say something sooner?"
"We're in for as long as you are, Chris." Josiah answered for all of them.
"Go home; we'll pick this up tomorrow after work. By then maybe CASSIE will have more for us to go on."
"If you don't mind, I can come out here in the morning and work while you guys are at MCAT." JD offered. "It's not going to hurt for me to sit here and feed info to CASSIE. Besides, I need to find some answers, too."
"I can be here," Buck added. "Doc isn't gonna release me to return to work 'til the middle of the week. I'll make sure the kid doesn't overdo it."
"My doctor's appointment is at nine, and the rest of my day is free." After today, Nathan was less worried about the result from his exam. He knew no matter what happened with his sight, he was a damn lucky man.
Chris felt the support his friends were giving him, "Thanks. Now get the hell out of here, hug your kids, and love your wives. I'll see you all tomorrow." He waited until everyone was gone, except Vin. "Okay Cowboy, your turn. Show us where the bastard watched and planned how to kill my family.
*This way.* Cowboy led them out the doors and showed them where they should look. It was not far from Camp Larabee and a short climb to reach a ledge that concealed a small opening leading to an old abandoned mine. Standing on the ledge in front of it gave a person a direct view of Chris's ranch house.
"Damn, I thought I knew almost every square inch of this land. Come spring I'll be doing some more explorin' 'cause I never knew this was here."
"Me neither. I knew there were some old mines around, but as much as it's grown over it's hard to see the entrance." Chris sighed. "The killer had all the time in the world to watch Sarah or me and learn our routines."
Vin entered the small opening with a flashlight. He was surprised to find evidence of the assassin's presence after all these years. "Chris, you need to see this."
Chris followed Vin's path inside. Once his eyes adjusted to the change in lighting he had to take a deep breath before speaking. There were weathered pictures of Sarah scattered on the floor of the old mine. Not one of them was of Chris, indicating she had been the intended target of the paid assassin. "Bag everything you can find Vin. Maybe we'll get lucky and get a fingerprint or something with DNA on it."
"I got it Chris, you get some fresh air." Vin was quick, but thorough. He carefully placed the pictures in an evidence bag along with three cigarette butts, and two empty coke cans he found. When he was done, he joined Chris, handing him everything he collected.
"I'll turn it all over to Bones and let him work his magic. It's time for you to go home Vin. I'll drop you off, and then I have one more thing I need to do." The two men made the short climb down the mountainside and Chris drove Vin to his house.
Vin hesitated before he got out of the truck. "I can…"
"I need to do this alone. Give Kelli an extra hug for me." He knew Vin would have stayed with him if he asked, but for what he planned to do, he did not want company.
Denver Pioneer Cemetery
In the beginning, Chris made this trek several times a year. As time passed he limited his visits. Today was special though. He needed to tell Sarah what was going on. He stopped to pick up her favorite flowers on the way over and now knelt in front of her headstone. "Sarah, I know it's been a while since I've been here, but you and our children are never far from my thoughts. A lot has happened over the past few weeks and I thought maybe I could sit here for a bit and tell you all about it …"
Larabee settled himself into a comfortable position on the ground, using his coat for a place to sit, pondering his next words. "It all started when I was sent to Washington, D.C to talk to a committee about CASSIE, the system I told you about before."
Chris sighed, "Anyway, Vin was away in Santa Fe, and Buck was holding down the fort until I returned. All hell broke loose before I even got back, because JD was arrested, the Fibbies did a raid on MCAT HQ and Josiah's sister took a turn for the worse. One thing after another has happened since then, and to top it all off, not only has Vin dreamed about several of these events, but he and I both have apparently are being visited by our great, great grandfathers who are now guiding us." He laughed, "If you can believe that," he smiled. "I guess you'd know better than me."
Pausing for a moment, and fighting back the emotion that was welling up inside of him, Chris continued. "Throughout our own investigation and with the aide of our ancestors, we've learned that someone going by the name of Shadowchaser has developed a personal vendetta against me and is the mastermind behind all the events that have been occurring. Today I discovered this person is the same one that took you, Adam, and our precious daughter away from me. Sarah, I made a promise a long time ago that I would find out who was responsible and I know I failed you the first time. I swear to you now, I won't fail again."
Standing in the eye of the hurricane gives one a false sense of security. Just when you believe the worst is over, the backside of the storm hits you in the ass with twice the force of the first glancing blow.
Monday October 29th
Tanner home ~ 5:00a.m.
Vin threw his arm over Kelli and drew her close when she came back to bed. She had been up and down all night with a fussy Trey. Evidently he had an earache and did not mind letting them both know he was miserable. Their challenge was to keep him comfortable while allowing Bren to continue to sleep peacefully. Vin did not mind staying up with either baby, but Kelli put her foot down, insisting that he at least try to get some sleep.
"Trey finally down?"
Kelli felt his breath close to her ear and snuggled into Vin's warm body. "Yep, he'll sleep for a while. I don't think it's anythin' serious. Just to be on the safe side, I want to take him in to the pediatrician later today."
"Why don't you stay home with him? Make the appointment. I'll pick y'all up when it's time, and we'll go together." Vin was still uneasy about Kelli's safety. More than that though, he was concerned about her lack of sleep on top of not feeling well the last few days. "Max will be here to help, so you can catch up on your sleep."
"I'll stay for our son, Tanner, not because I need the rest." Kelli scraped her teeth across his neck and nipped the skin. "In fact, rest is the last thing I was thinkin' about."
"Really? You were thinkin' about breakfast maybe?" Vin teased, the warm loving glint in his eyes giving away his true thoughts.
"Breakfast," she trailed kisses down his neck, "is the last thing," she nipped at his shoulder," I want. I had a special Tanner treat in mind."
Grinning, Vin rolled over, trapping her smaller body beneath his. "I reckon I need to help you out then." The woman he loved said she wanted him, a man could not ask for more than that.
Since returning to work there had been few opportunities for Kelli to take the kids to school, so she took advantage of her morning at home. Since the twins were born her time with her older children had been curtailed simply because of the demands of having two newborns, and she enjoyed every precious minute she could spend alone with Jason and Andi. However, they were running late, and any additional special time together would have to wait.
"Mom, do we have to go in? We could stay home and help you with Trey and Bren." Jason was reluctant to leave his mother for some reason he did not really understand.
"Yeah, we could be the 'uskeeteers today." Andi followed her brother's lead. "Daddy won't mind."
Kelli's heart melted and she almost gave in, but reason prevailed. "I wish we could baby. I promise, tonight we'll let Daddy tend to your brothers and we can make special time just for us. How does that sound?"
"I love you Mama," Andi said, throwing her arms around Kelli's neck and hugging her tight. "Tonight, we'll show you how to be an 'usketeer." Andi smiled and waited for her brother to open the passenger door. "Right, Jason?"
"I reckon," Jason grudgingly agreed and hugged Kelli. "Love you, Mom."
"It’s a date then, you me and Andi. You two have a great day. Remember I love you both." She watched until they reached the front door of the school and both were safely inside.
Vin hung up the phone, grabbed his coffee cup and headed for Chris's office. He entered without knocking and stretched his frame out on his usual chair waiting for him to get off the phone.
"Keep at it JD, somewhere in there is the answer we need." Chris placed the receiver back in the phone cradle, drew in a deep breath and spoke to Vin, "JD may not be fully recovered, but he has taken on Sarah's case with a vengeance."
"He might be free from prosecution, however he still needs to know why he was targeted and understand why this is happenin' as much as we do." Vin handed him a folder. "These are the trainin' assignments I worked up, plus a list of cases we've put on hold."
Taking the files, Chris said, "Travis may officially still be on leave, but he has been a busy man. In addition to taking on the Senator and the FBI, he sent me a message to get the team back to work. He also told me to do what was necessary to free up the rest of the unit. I've talked to Justin. I'm putting him in charge of MCAT, while you, Josiah, Ezra, and I work exclusively on finding Shadowchaser. Of course Buck, JD, and Nathan will be helping us."
"Sounds like the old days, the seven of us against God only knows what."
"Yeah, it does. Sometimes I miss the way it used to be. Yet, I know it's a different world we live in now. MCAT is where we need to be." Chris flipped through the file Vin had just given him. "After the team meeting this morning, we'll tie up all our loose ends and then move our operations to Camp Larabee."
Vin nodded. "I need to take off about eleven anyway. I talked to Kel a few minutes ago. She made an appointment for Trey to see the doctor at twelve-thirty."
"That will work out fine. Josiah wants to get his flying time in with Raphael after the team meets. Ezra and I will finish up some reports and we'll all be at the ranch by two, so take your time. By the way, I also gave Bones what we found yesterday. He's agreed to go over the forensics on Sarah's case again for me, strictly off the record."
"Sounds good to me, I'll see you in the conference room in an hour."
While Rain conversed with the receptionist handling his records, Nathan sat, listening to the sounds of chatter in the waiting room. Despite the change in his attitude concerning his current condition, he found himself being anxious about his upcoming examination. In a matter of minutes he would know if his condition was temporary or permanent. He felt someone settle onto the chair next to him and knew by her unique scent, it was Rain. Her soft hand reached out and grasped hold of his.
"For better or worse, we're in this together." Rain whispered in his ear reminding him of their wedding vows.
"We've had the worse, baby, I'm ready for the better."
The door across the room from where they were sitting opened, revealing a nurse, who was reading off the chart in her hand. "Mister Jackson, the doctor will see you now."
"Here we go," Nathan muttered as he stood. Keeping hold of his wife's hand they walked side by side to join the nurse. She escorted them to an exam room and took his vitals before Doctor Carter came in.
"The doctor will be right in to see you." The nurse set his chart on the counter on her way out of the door.
Within two minutes the door reopened and Doctor Carter walked in. "Nathan, how are you?"
"I'm ready to get this over with Doc."
"That's understandable," Doctor Carter responded and then turned to Rain. "There are a few things I need to know first. Has there been any discoloration in the runoff of the solution when you've done the treatments or any noticeable signs of infection around the irises?"
"No. The only excretion was clear."
"Good. Will you dim the lights please?"
Rain nodded and turned the light switch until the room was at the desired dimness Doctor Carter needed. She found herself holding her breath as she listened to the doctor give Nathan instructions.
"Now, Nathan, I want you to remain very still while I cut off the wrapping holding the pads in place over your eyes. It's important for you to keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them."
"Just do it," Nathan said impatiently.
Doctor Carter used a pair of surgical scissors to cut the bandages away. He removed the gauze pads underneath to examine Nathan's eyelids and the area around his eyes. He was pleased to see that all of the earlier swelling and bruises had disappeared.
"I want you to slowly open your eyes. It is going to take them a few minutes to adjust to not being covered any longer, so take your time. Tell me when you can see an outline or an image."
It seemed strange to have the weight of the gauze off his eyes and Nathan was almost afraid to open them, but he had to know. His vision was blurry and the moment light hit them, his eyes began to water. Rapidly he blinked to try and clear the liquid from them.
The beautiful features of his wife were the first thing he saw come into focus. Nathan felt his heart soar with the knowledge that he could see Rain. All the fear and doubts festering within him ever since the injury occurred faded away. His vision had been restored to him.
"Baby, you are a sight for sore eyes," he said softly.
Tears of relief and gratitude flowed when she heard her husband's words. They shared a kiss and a hug while Doctor Carter busied himself with marking down some things in the chart. When the Jackson's were finished with their celebratory embrace, the doctor examined Nathan's eyes more closely. After supplying his patient with a pair of plastic shades to wear for the next couple of hours and setting an appointment to see him in a week's time, the doctor cautioned Nathan to contact him immediately if he had any problems with his sight. Doctor Carter then sent the Jackson's on their way.
Rain went to work at Reins of Change and Nathan was anxious to join his teammates at Camp Larabee.
The agents were all seated and waiting for their Commander and Captain to join them. Most of them sensed a change in the air and had noticed the signs of tension radiating from Larabee since they arrived at the office. Selina, Mallory, and Pam were seated at one end of the table, while Justin, Raphael, Mark and Josiah sat to their left. To their right were Guy, Brad, Alex, and Ezra. Gunny made sure there was plenty of fresh coffee to go around, and prepared herself to take notes.
Larabee entered the room with Tanner and while Vin sat down, Chris remained standing. He began talking. "Director Travis, Agents' Dunne and Jackson are all home and doing well. Captain Wilmington will be on inactive duty until later in the week, Agent Coulter is out for the day, and our forensic team is on assignment."
Chris hesitated about his next statement. "I realize that the last two weeks have been hectic around here, and I want you to know I think all of you have gone above and beyond what was necessary. Beginning today, things will be running more normal for our unit. Justin will be reporting to me, but he will be in command of the team, while Josiah, Ezra, Vin, and I continue the investigation concerning Shadowchaser. We have several cases on hold needing MCAT's attention. Those will be assigned to you with an updated training schedule. Any questions?"
"Commander, I've always worked at a local level and I realize I'm not totally familiar Federal procedures yet." Brad hesitated for a moment. "Why is MCAT resented so much by other agencies? Aren’t we all supposed to be on the same side?"
Larabee hitched his hip onto the table and asked. "You ever watch westerns?"
"Westerns, Sir? Yeah, sure I have."
"MCAT is the best law enforcement team around with a badass reputation. Just like in the old west, someone always challenges the gunfighter who's the fastest to a gunfight to prove they're the best when they bring him down. The result is the gunslinger gets a bigger rep while the challengers fall by the wayside. That's why other agencies don't like us and will continue to come after us. We are the best and it galls them to have to admit it. Unless there are more questions Justin will be handing out your new assignments. If you need any assistance, you will go to him."
Vin raised an eyebrow after listening to Chris's explanation. He sounded more like Cowboy than the Chris he was used to hearing. Maybe he should suggest to their ancestors to knock off the old west dreams they had been sending Larabee.
Chris and Ezra were going over the reports on Sarah's case files, Ezra had managed to retrieve from the Denver Police Department archive earlier. Most of them Chris had seen before, but there were two of them he did not remember reading.
"The information is the same, how the hell I missed these I don't know." Chris had read over the files so much in the last twenty-four hours it was like the murders happened yesterday instead of twelve years ago.
Ezra realized the strain Chris was under reliving the tragic event again. "Perhaps we should wait. We can go over the rest when we reach Camp Larabee. I'm sure you have a few matters to conclude before we leave."
Vin walked in before Chris could answer. "I'm leavin' in five minutes. This came for you and I thought I'd save Gunny a trip." He handed him a large brown envelope. "It looks official."
Turning the envelope over Chris was puzzled. "It may look official Vin, but there's no return address and no postmark. How was it delivered?"
"Gunny said a messenger brought it. She had to sign for it. Spangler Messenger service, I think she said." Vin handed Chris his pocketknife. "It passed through the scanner, so there's nothin' in it but paper."
"May I suggest you open it?" Ezra was curious too.
Chris slit the end of the envelope, sliding the contents onto his desk. It was only a single paper with a message written on it. Picking it up, he read aloud, "Chicken Little warned the sky is falling. Alas, it was not the sky, but a great silver bird. Prepare yourself Chris, the ride we're on is headed for lethal waters. It's too late to get off now. It's signed by Shadowchaser."
*Mayday, Mayday.* Vin recalled part of his last vision and yelled. "Call flight ops. Get Raphael and Josiah down now!"
If Vin was alarmed there was a damn good reason. Without questioning why, Chris picked up the phone and gave the order to operations. The three men raced out of the office over to the airfield to watch for the helicopter's return. Plus have the mechanics go over the remaining MCAT aircraft.
Ezra had flight ops on the phone. "They're four minutes out. So far everything is fine."
"Maybe the message isn't about aircraft. It might just be that Shadowchaser has a very sick sense of humor and it's all a hoax," Chris said, watching the horizon.
"There they are." Not surprisingly it was Vin who first spotted the helicopter.
"Hang on…" Ezra was listening to the radio call via the phone. "Raphael just called in a Mayday, says there is white smoke filling the cockpit…Dear Lord!"
"Goddamnit," Chris swore. The three men were soon joined by the rest of the MCAT agents. All continued to watch the approaching helicopter.
Mallory felt fear thread through her like a fast acting poison, cutting off her throat and making her chest heavy. She stared in horror at the struggling craft with her husband on board.
Selina crossed herself and mumbled the 'Hail Mary' litany, praying for her father's safety. She watched the floundering helicopter begin its descent.
A short time earlier....On board
The flight began uneventfully and smoothly. Josiah was elated to be back at the controls again. He listened attentively to Raphael while the other man instructed him on the state of the art technology their helicopter was equipped with. He compared it to older the models Josiah flew when he was in the military.
They had just circled around and were heading back to the airstrip, when Raphael asked, "Josiah, do you smell that?"
"Something's burning," Raphael told him. He began checking over the instrument panel to see if there were any noticeable changes indicating there was a problem.
Josiah started to tell him no, stopping when his nose caught a whiff of smoke. "It smells like rubber, wiring, or fuel burning."
"That's because it is. We've got a leak in the fuel line." Smoke began to fill the cockpit.
"Send out a Mayday. We're going down," Josiah said grimly, tightening his hold on the controls of the Hughes 500. When the helicopter began to shake, the engine started to sputter.
Josiah felt perspiration gather in the middle of his forehead and trickle down the side of his face. The cockpit grew hotter. Raphael was containing the flames with the small fire extinguisher included in the onboard emergency kit.
"We've dumped more than half of our fuel," Raphael called out to Josiah, glancing at the control panel.
"Good. We're beginning to make our descent now, grab something to hold on to." Josiah eased the throttle forward and the shaking helicopter began to lose altitude.
"Come on, Josiah. You can do it," Vin muttered to himself.
It was a litany the other MCAT agents picked up when the craft came ever closer to the ground.
"Easy does it," Josiah pleaded as he fought with the throttle to keep the helicopter from descending too fast. Silence fell a moment later when first one, and then the other skid touched down on the ground. Josiah killed the engine. Both MCAT agents unfastened their safety harnesses, scrambled out of the smoky cockpit, setting their shaky legs onto solid ground.
"I never want to experience anything like that again," Raphael said, taking in large breaths of fresh air, "But if I do, I want you at the controls. That was damn good flying."
Josiah grinned at him." I wasn't flying alone up there. The good Lord had a hand in me getting the bird safely on the ground."
"Amen to that," Raphael said.
A chorus of relieved cheers went up from the MCAT agents who witnessed the frightening moments. Mallory bolted into a run across the airstrip in the direction of the downed helicopter, eager to be reunited with her husband.
Mallory threw herself into Josiah's embrace, and felt her husband's arms wrap around her. She wept against his chest while the couple held each other close.
"I'm all right," Josiah crooned in her ear.
"Don't you ever scare me like that again," Mallory mumbled against his shoulder.
Raphael braced himself when Selina launched herself into his arms, hugging his daughter close. At work the two of them usually kept a strictly professional relationship. In light of what had just occurred, he didn't think anyone would mind if they didn't just this once. Selina worked to control her emotions, but lost the battle the moment her father's arms wrapped around her.
"Mija, I'm fine," he whispered softly to her.
Commander Larabee approached them demanding to know. "What happened up there?"
"From what I saw, I'd say someone tampered with the oil and fuel lines. They looked fine on my pre-flight inspection. Evidently both were cut just enough to split when they heated up. It was not noticeable to the naked eye," Raphael reported, "And is not something that happens by accident."
Chris began issuing orders, "Justin, I want a command center set up in the flight hangar. Mark, you and Bandit make a sweep of the grounds in case we were left any other unwelcome presents. Ezra, see what the mechanics have to say about the rest of the aircraft. Then I want us to go over every inch of video footage from all the security cameras. Alex, call Bones and get forensics out here. If we have intruders coming onto the property I want to know what they did, how, when, and where they got in."
Vin's phone was ringing. One look at the number and he cursed, "Aww hell, I am so late!" He stepped away from the others, flipping the phone open to answer, "Hey, Baby."
"Vin, it's almost noon, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, but we had a situation develop. Kel, 'm sorry, I can't get there in time to make Trey's appointment. See if you can reschedule for later."
"They had to work him in today as it was. The next available appointment is not until Thursday. I'm already scheduled for my own appointment on Wednesday. That would mean taking three days off work," Kelli hesitated before speaking. "Vin, I would love havin' you with me, but I can take him on my own."
"Kel, I…" Tanner chastised himself for being overprotective again. *It's just a quick trip to the doctor's office, Tanner.* "Call me when you leave there okay?"
"I promise I will. By the way, I made a date with Jason and Andi for this evening, but 'm free for later if you're interested."
Vin laughed. "Where you're concerned Sassy, 'm always interested."
"I gotta run or I'll be late. Love you Tanner."
"Me too, you be careful on those roads." Shutting off the phone, Vin turned back to the investigation. The sooner they retrieved the video from the security cameras and viewed the tapes, the sooner they could find the breech and fix it. *Maybe this is the end of what those damn visions have been trying to tell me.*
Flight Hangar - MCAT Field
It was not long before MCAT set-up a complete investigative operation in the hangar. Sick leave or not, Buck came over when Chris called him. Nathan stayed at Camp Larabee to assist JD and to keep an eye on the young man's health while they plunged into more information about the explosion that killed Sarah and Adam. It seemed no matter how much Chris wanted to separate the Shadowchaser investigation from the team; someone was determined to pull them back into it.
It did not do anything to improve the Commander's state of mind when they discovered one of the agency jets had been tampered with. He was pissed off and frustrated, snapping at anyone and everyone he came in contact with. Reporting to Travis about the events of the day did not help either. Chris had to listen while the Director vented his anger over MCAT's location being compromised. He ordered Chris to have a fifteen foot high electric fence erected around the property with barbed wire on top. Although he hated the idea, Travis instructed his Commander to have security access gates installed that could only be opened by a coded card.
Chris hung up the phone and swore, "Damnit all to hell! The whole purpose of moving MCAT to a remote location was to prevent something like this from happening. To not have to deal with the kind of high tech security measures they thought they could leave behind in the city. He decided to let Ezra track down what they would need to implement the additions Travis wanted. "Standish, I have a job for you!" Larabee had to yell above the noise to be heard.
Kelli carried Trey to the Tahoe and secured him in the car seat before sliding into the front seat to start the engine. While waiting for the interior of the vehicle to warm up, she decided to call Vin to ease his mind about their safety. Trey whimpered softly from the back seat.
"Patience little one, it will be warm in here before you know it. I'm gonna call your daddy and give him a report on you." Kelli punched in the number one on her speed dial and waited for her husband to answer. All she got was his voicemail so she left a message. "We're out of the doctor's office; Trey has the start of an ear infection. Doctor Quentin said we caught it early enough and he should be fine in a couple of days. I'm goin' to stop at the pharmacy to fill his prescription, but I'll be home way before school is out. Love you Tanner, and 'm lookin' forward to our late night date."
She dropped the phone in the side pocket of the door and reached over the seat to make one more check on their son before leaving the parking lot. "I know you're miserable, love, but you'll be feelin' better real soon." When Kelli pulled into traffic, the first snowflake hit the windshield. *Damn, I was hoping it would hold off 'till we made it home.*
Flight Hangar - MCAT Field
Vin tried to concentrate on the video footage he was viewing, but his gut was nagging at him and he did not like the feeling. Kelli should have called by now. He pulled out his cell phone and saw the flashing envelope, indicating he had a voicemail. With all the noise in here, he apparently missed hearing the damn phone ring. Listening to his message he was relieved to hear Kelli's voice telling him about Trey. However, he still could not dismiss the annoying knot in his stomach.
"You okay Vin?" Chris could feel the tension he was radiating.
Vin was punching in his wife's number on speed dial. "Yes…no…hell, I don't know. I missed Kel's call and now she's not answerin' her phone." He dialed his home number. Max told him Kelli had not returned yet. "Thanks Max. Have her call me the minute she gets there."
"Relax. The weather probably slowed her down." Chris tried to sound convincing, even though Vin's anxiety was affecting him, too.
"Maybe," he said as he redialed Kelli's cell phone number. "Kel may be slowed down, but she would answer her phone, Chris. She called me over an hour ago. Even stoppin' to fill Trey's prescription; they should be home by now. It's only a forty minute drive for God's sake."
"Keep trying to call while I check the road conditions. She'd have to take Old River Road from Doctor Quentin's office to get to our side of Denver right? "
"Yeah, it's the only way home from there until they finish construction work on the by-pass." He kept redialing. His concern grew each time he received no answer.
*Where the hell are you, Kelli?*
Moving slightly to raise the high-powered scope, Shadowchaser was pleased to have a bird's eye view of the disaster below. Close enough to not miss the show, yet far enough away not to be caught, a camouflaged figure settled into concealment within the rocks to pass the time.
*Thanks to television news documenting practice drills, emergency response procedures were easy to find out .Excellent surveillance personnel provided the opportunity. Lets see, its locals first, then a call to Homeland Security, and then…a request to all area Federal law Enforcement Agencies for assistance. MCAT included, Chris. The gates of hell are now open and we're waiting for your entry Mister Larabee.*
Flight hangar -MCAT Field
Chris tried his cell and could not connect to any number. "My phone is not getting through either. It might be a cell tower down and nothing more. Don't borrow trouble." He knew Vin wasn't listening, not that he could blame him considering recent events.
"Commander Larabee, you need to take a look at this." Pam approached Chris with her laptop in hand.
Reading the information on the screen, he took a deep breath and willed himself to stay calm. *Don’t jump to any wrong conclusions Larabee. Keep things in perspective.* "Can you send a response back for me?"
"Yes, Sir," Pam waited for the message.
"Received and acknowledged. MCAT will initiate emergency procedures." Chris dictated the message while looking at Vin. "There's been an accident on the Old River Bridge".
"What kind of accident?"
"The bridge collapsed. Emergency response teams are all over the place. It would explain why the cells are not working. There are too many people trying to call out at the same time. MCAT has been asked to assist." Chris gave Vin a second to let his words sink in. "We need to move into emergency mode. See what we can do to help."
"When did it happen?"
"Thirty minutes ago."
Vin mentally calculated where Kelli should have been by then. He realized she would have been damn close to where it happened. "Did they say…?"
Chris could see where Vin's mind was going. "I'm sure Kelli and Trey are fine. She's probably caught in backed-up traffic."
His mind racing with possibilities, Vin knew there was only one way to put his fears to rest. "Let's get movin'. Standin' around here ain't helpin' anyone."
Chris picked up a wrench and banged on the work table in front of him to get everyone's attention. "People, this is not a drill. We're moving into emergency response mode as of this second. Old River Bridge has collapsed. Number of casualties is unknown at this time. Pam, Mallory, Selena, and Greg, stay here and secure this area. Everyone else, I want you to stop what you are doing and load up the rescue gear. Bones, you and Kat will be needed for medical assistance. Let's move it."
Training took over. Within a matter of minutes gear was loaded and the MCAT team was on the road. None of them knew exactly what to expect, however they were prepared to take on just about anything.
Old River Bridge
Controlled chaos was the best description Chris could think of as he approached the scene. A uniformed Colorado State Patrol officer directed the siege of rescue and federal vehicles into a roped off parking area, so there wouldn't be any traffic entanglements later. After showing the trooper his badge, he followed the officer's instructions and parked his Ram in the designated area.
Vin felt his heart clench. It felt like a strong vice was squeezing it the closer they came to the disaster area. He had certainly seen disasters before. Still, the sight before him affected him deeply. Maybe, because it was so close to home. Where the old concrete bridge once stood, there was nothing but giant colored jigsaw pieces of mangled metal, glass, vinyl, concrete, and iron, littering the riverbed for as far as the eye could see. Rescue workers from different Federal, State, and local organizations slid down crumbling embankments on both sides of the river, tottering on uneven pieces of concrete and metal, making their way down to the massive wreckage below. Each unit's members were delineated with matching lettering on identical jackets.
"Merciful God!" Josiah's deep voice exclaimed when he and the other MCAT agents joined their Commander and Captain, getting their first good view of the devastation below.
Chris sucked in his breath and wished he hadn't. His senses were assaulted by a myriad of distinct odors: burning rubber, oil, gasoline, excrement, and death. Once a man smelled that particular odor, he never forgot it. He worked to control the wave of sympathy and compassion, sweeping over him, for the loss of lives and for the families of the victims.
The first man to approach Chris was the FBI Agent in charge of the Denver office. "Larabee, I'm the incident commander for the scene. I need your men down by the water to help with the guide ropes."
Vin remained silent until the man mentioned the MCAT team was needed below, and then he moved into action. "Grab your gear and follow me," he told the rest of the agents.
He tied a length of rope to a nearby tree trunk, tossing the rest over the side. The line would serve as a steadying presence for him and the rest of their team moving up and down the embankment. He gave a curt nod to Chris before he began his descent. Thoughts of Kelli and Trey ran through his head. He worked hard to stay positive, thinking up any number of reasons why she hadn't returned his call yet. Still, his mind kept replaying the pieces of his visions yet to come true.
SAC Agent Charles "Chuck' Skylar sighed and placed his hand on Chris's arm to hold him back. "Just so you know, Larabee. Spelling and Rush don't represent how all us Feebies feel about you and your team. MCAT may be a pain in the ass, but that's only because your team belongs to the best damn unit around. It sticks in a man's craw from time to time. We're still all on the same side and I for one am damn glad of it."
Chris nodded. It was as closest to an apology he was going to get from anyone in the FBI. "Chuck, you and your guys could give lessons about being a pain in the ass," he grinned, "But then that's just your natural charm." The two men shook hands. Chris followed his agents down to the water's edge.
The wailing sirens of ambulances carrying the injured to a nearby trauma center ceased. There were only six live victims pulled from the icy waters of the river and hope was fading fast in the minds of the rescue workers about finding more survivors. Water rescue dive teams worked relentlessly, trying to locate someone, anyone still alive. Finally after two hours everyone had to accept they were now working a recovery operation. It was not a rescue anymore. The swift current and thirty degree water temperature robbed them of any optimism of a miracle waiting for them to discover.
Chris cautiously placed his foot onto a piece of concrete, shifted his weight onto it and was about to place his other foot on it, when the first one suddenly slipped out from beneath him. He would have taken a nasty fall if it hadn't been for the quick reflexes of Guy Saunders, who had been working alongside him for the last half hour or so.
"Bad place to be taking a tumble," Guy told his Commander lightly.
Chris looked at him for a moment and then said, "Thanks for the save."
"No problem," Saunders replied as he continued on searching the river banks for victims.
Agent Skylar appeared and pulled Larabee aside. "Chris, we've switched into recovery mode. I've ordered the State police to move back the spectators and the news crews. We'll work until dark, and then regroup in the morning."
"I’ll tell my men." As a former Seal, Chris had been anticipating the change over from rescue to recovery, and was glad he wasn't the one who had to make such a difficult decision. Hypothermia and time worked against them though. All they could do now was try to recover the dead and find the cause of this disaster. He was concerned about Vin and walked over to where he was working with Buck and Ezra. "You okay?"
"I'm about as okay as I can be in a situation like this. The only thing that would make any of this better is if my phone was to ring right now. I could hear Kel's sweet voice telling me she and Trey were safe."
"Hang in there. I'm sure when things get more organized the lines will be working properly again. She'll call you to let you know they are all right."
Ezra, who was nearby, turned his head in Vin and Chris's direction, overhearing their conversation. "What's wrong with Kelli?"
"Nothin'," Vin was quick to say. "She took Trey for a doctor's appointment and should have called me when she got home. She hasn't. Now all the cell lines are down because of what's happened here."
"I saw a satellite phone at the command center. Why don't you and I see if we can persuade them to allow us access to it?" Ezra suggested.
"Good idea. Vin, you and Ezra go make that call. Buck and I can handle this line." Chris wanted to know she was safe the same as Vin did. The sooner they knew the better. He watched the two men make the climb to the top.
Buck saw the concern in Chris's eyes. "You don't think…?"
"I don't know what to think. Kel would have to drive over the bridge to get home." He sighed. "I...she has to be at home."
"I'm sure she is." Buck looked around. "They're not gonna find anyone else alive, so I guess its all recovery now. Homeland security is all over topside. They think this was a terrorist act. There's too much damage to be anything else except explosives to cause it."
"I know," Chris said wearily. He motioned to Josiah to come over to inform him of the change to recovery mode. They would be working at a slower pace now, but it did not alter the horror of what happened here.
It was a slow climb to the top of the embankment for Vin and Ezra. Once they reached level ground, they took a couple of moments to catch their breath, before heading toward the command center. They passed the makeshift morgue area where all the victims who had been found were placed until identification could be made. Tanner's eyes caught sight of a tiny blanket covered bundle. He stumbled mid-step, reaching out to grab hold of Ezra for balance. His world rocked. Fear, hot and fast, coursed through his body until he thought he was going to hyperventilate."
"What's wrong?" Ezra asked with concern as he steadied the ashen faced man.
Vin struggled out of Ezra's hold on him and moved toward the small bundle on the ground. He fell to his knees beside it. With a shaking hand, he reached out to lift the corner of the blanket covering the small body. Relief came strong and fast when he saw the infant had dark skin. It wasn't Trey. Ezra moved to help him to his feet after Vin tenderly covered the infant.
"Oh God, I thought...."
"You don't have to explain what you thought. I assure you there's a reasonable explanation why Kelli hasn't been able to get through to you. Come on; let's continue to the command center so you can lay aside your concerns."
Vin had no trouble reaching Max, but Kelli was not home and had not called. He tried her cell phone again, receiving no answer. His fear for the safety of his wife and infant son grew stronger. Looking across the river to the large group of spectators watching the rescue and recovery efforts, he could only pray she was among them or sitting in her truck waiting for an opportunity to turn around and take the forty mile alternate route home.
The fall of night would force the recovery process to stop and was rapidly approaching. Chris, Ezra, and Josiah worked alongside Vin, each lost in their own thoughts. The more time passed without hearing from Kelli or home, the harder it became to not consider the unthinkable.
Chris was not prepared to consider it was possible to lose another child. Buck was worried about Chris's state of mind. Dredging up the past about Sarah and Adam was difficult enough. He was not sure what it would take for Chris to break.
Vin withdrew from the others and worked silently, non-stop, making every effort to keep his thoughts from taking a turn to the dark side. He could not believe Kelli and Trey were lost somewhere in the murky depths of the river. He would know if they were, wouldn't he?
Josiah wasn't sure which one to be more worried about, Vin or Chris. Both men seemed determined to run themselves ragged staying active so they didn't have to think too long or too hard about unimaginable possibilities. While he continued to help with the recovery, Josiah prayed for Kelli and Trey's safety. He also said a special prayer for the victims and their families.
The divers were calling it a night. When the last two followed the guideline to the surface, Buck reached to pull first one and then the other onto the bank. "Thanks," the last diver said when Buck offered his hand.
Buck saw the diver's slate the man had attached to his wetsuit. "You list what you found?"
"Yes, I took down as many license plate numbers and vehicle descriptions as I could get to. It'll help the ME when he tries to identify some of the victims."
"May I see it?" Buck really did not want to know, but he figured better him than Chris or Vin.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt." The diver detached the slate from the line, allowing him to look at it while he removed his gear.
Buck felt his throat tighten when he scanned down the list of license plate numbers on the slate and found one he recognized. Dear God, the Tahoe was on the list. "This one, where was it and did you see… Did you see anyone inside?"
"Sorry, it's a mess down there. All the vehicles are crushed and mixed in with pieces of the bridge. I couldn't tell you for sure about one in particular. All I know is the body count will be high. Tomorrow we'll get as many out as possible." The fatigued diver moved on to make the climb up the embankment.
Buck stood still, at a loss about how the hell to tell Vin and Chris. No matter how he handled it, it was going to be one of the hardest things he had ever had to do.
Chris observed the discussion between the diver and Buck. He recognized the change in his friend's features and knew something was going on. Walking over to him he asked, "What is it?"
Never one to hide his emotion well, Buck turned to Chris with a pained expression on his face and moisture in his eyes. "Chris I…he made a list of plate numbers and… hell, there ain't no easy way to tell you. He saw the Tahoe down there."
Chris' mind raced back twelve years to when Buck broke the news to him about Sarah and Adam. A feeling of numbness cascaded over him as his body began to shut down. He did not want to feel that excruciating ache in his soul he knew was coming. Vin's voice broke through the fog which threatened to drag him back to a black period in his life he did not want to return to.
"Kel and Trey are not dead!" Vin had been listening and his mind refused to accept the words he heard. "I can't explain what the diver saw, but she's not down there. I can still feel her. As long as I can do that, I know she's not gone."
"Vin…." Josiah reached out to put his arm around him.
He jerked away. "No! Leave me be! I don't know where they are, but my wife and son are not down there!"
"I think we all need to go home. We can come back in the morning at first light," Chris found his voice, trying to regain control of a situation that was taking a life of its own. "Captain Wilmington, release our agents for the night."
"I'll take care of our agents," Josiah said. "Buck, you go with Chris."
"I won't leave until Vin does." Chris tried to bury his own grief into a corner of his soul. He might have lost a daughter and grandchild, however at the moment he was most concerned about Vin. They had all suffered losses in their lives, but he was the only one of them who understood how it felt to bury a wife and son on the same day.
Vin could feel Chris reaching out to him. He just couldn't let him in, not now. His faith was standing on shaky ground as it was. He knew he needed time alone to get his bearings and steel his resolve if he was going to find Kelli and Trey. "You go on Chris. You need to be with Grace and Cody. I'll be fine."
Ezra was trying hard to control his emotions so he could help his friends. Ironically, for a man who had spent most of his life devising ways to hide them, he was finding it damn difficult. "It's getting dark, let me drive you home too, Vin. Jason, Andi, and Bren need their father."
"They need their mother too, damnit!" Vin took a deep breath, working to control his breathing. He took a last look at the raging river in front of them and knew with a certainty in his soul his wife and son had not been taken by it. Ezra was right; he needed to see his children and reassure them. Although it might take time, he would find their mother, wherever she was, and bring her and Trey home. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Josiah stayed behind and used the satellite phone to call ahead to Nathan at the ranch. He wanted to let him know what to expect. He asked him to call JD and the rest of the family to notify them making certain they understood Vin wanted to be alone for now, but to prepare for some rough days ahead. Josiah had always managed somehow to guide them all through the worst of times. At the moment he was at a loss for words to help them through this one. Sighing deeply he climbed into his Suburban; he needed to get home, wrap his arms around Mallory and let her know how much he loved her.
A shadowy figure made its way across the rugged slope of the mountain, unseen by the scores of emergency workers several hundred feet below. Revenge was sweet and anyone who thought otherwise had never had their life's work destroyed and been outcast form their chosen profession. Nevertheless, soon they would all understand the ultimate price of what they called justice and spend the rest of their lives regretting the cost.
"The real meaning of life is your family, the love you have, the respect, the traditional ways, carrying on with them." --Ethel Wilson, COWICHAN* "The family is the seed of the future and the fruits of our labors from the past."
Nathan had been waiting for this call since he and JD left Camp Larabee an hour ago. It was difficult to sit and wait when they knew their MCAT unit was in the middle of working a disaster area. With the cell phones down it was hard to get any information. Josiah filled him in and it was worse than either he or JD could ever have imagined. He hung up the phone and stood staring at it for a long time. They all confronted danger in their work often, and had experienced one or more of them getting hurt before. It was something they accepted happened in order for them to help rid the world of unsavory characters. In the past two years they had experienced quite a lot, but nothing compared to what the family had been subjected to since Shadowchaser came into their lives. It was a given that there was always the possibility at any time one of them could fall in the line of duty. How could they accept losing two members of their Wild Bunch from a random accident?
"Nathan?" Rain walked into the kitchen and was puzzled to see her husband staring at the phone mounted on the wall. "Who was on the phone?"
Nathan didn't speak for a moment. He gathered his thoughts together, before turning around to look at his wife. "Rain...I need to tell you something."
Rain felt fear spike through her heart when she got a good look at Nathan's face. His warm brown eyes were filled with moisture and his voice was thick with emotion. "Old River Bridge collapsed today. We believe Kelli was driving across it, on her way home from taking Trey to a doctor's appointment, when it fell."
"No, Nathan, no..." Tears flooded Rain's eyes as Nathan closed the distance between them, sweeping his wife into his arms.
JD's vision blurred as he closed his cell phone and turned toward Casey, who had been sitting anxiously by him, after overhearing his part in the one sided conversation. "It was Nathan on the phone. He said...," His voice broke. He had to clear his throat before he could continue speaking, "He said the divers found the license plate to Kelli's Tahoe in the wreckage of Old River Bridge. Casey, she and Trey are presumed dead."
"Oh my God," Casey exclaimed. She buried her head into JD's chest. He wrapped her in his arms and held her close while she cried, his own tears falling and mixing with hers. They grieved over the loss of two family members and what was in store for Vin and Chris.
Chris was silent on the drive home. Buck knew him well enough not to push him to talk. They had traveled this same road through hell before and it was not an easy ride. This time was different, Chris was not alone in his grief, Vin was there too. Instead of just Buck to hold them together, there were four others to stand with them no matter how rough it got.
Chris pulled in front of the Wilmington home and waited for Buck to get out. "I'll talk to you in the morning."
"You shouldn't be alone, Chris," Buck argued.
"I won't be. Cody and Grace are home waiting for me. I'll be fine."
Reluctantly Buck opened the passenger door and got out. "If you need me, I'm here."
Chris nodded, "I know Buck. You've always been there when I needed you. "He shifted into drive and pulled away.
Buck walked up the path to his front porch and saw Inez waiting for him by the door. Up until now he had managed to hold it together, but seeing the unshed tears in her eyes was his undoing. "You know don't you?"
Inez nodded. She held out her arms to her husband. Without a word he embraced his wife, holding on to the woman who held his heart. Tonight they would comfort one another. Tomorrow they would be there for the rest of the Wild Bunch, doing whatever was necessary to see everyone through the heartbreaking days ahead, especially Chris and the surviving Tanners.
Vin exited his truck the moment Ezra stopped the vehicle. He now stood staring at the front of his home. He didn't think his soul could take the loss of losing his lifemate, lover, friend, and the mother of his children. Even briefly considering the possibility Kelli could be dead; his heart felt as if someone had taken a razor blade to it and carved it into pieces that were slowly breaking away.
Somehow Vin knew he had to find the courage to go inside and talk to his children. He was not certain exactly what he would say to them, but he knew in his heart Kelli and Trey were alive. He, as well as their children needed to hold onto that belief. "Take my truck Ez, I'll get it tomorrow."
"You may run everyone else off, Vin, however I'm here to stay. Pretend I'm not here if it makes it easier for you, just don't even think about sending me away." Ezra did not give Vin an opportunity to argue with him. He had no intention of allowing him to shut them all out of his life and handle this alone. If space was what he needed then Ezra would make certain he got it, but he and Barbara would be close by not just for Vin, but for the children too. Once he could get Vin to go inside he would call his wife and fill her in on the tragedy. There would be time enough later for him to deal with his own emotions.
"Suit yourself," Vin absently answered. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Never would he have believed he could feel so hesitant about entering his own home. He squared his shoulders, cleared his head, and readied himself for all of his senses to be assaulted by a flood of memories when he walked in the door.
Without waiting any longer he headed for the house with Ezra following silently behind him. He was greeted at the door by a solemn looking Max and Walter. He knew they had been told about the bridge collapse and Kelli's Tahoe being at the bottom of the river.
"Vin, we're so..."Max began, but Tanner brushed past her and Walter without saying a word. He headed into the living room.
Max gripped Walter's hand even tighter. The older couple exchanged worried glances with Ezra. "I didn't mean to upset him."
"Of course you didn't," Ezra was quick to reassure her. Walter wrapped an arm around his wife's waist. "This whole tragic event is upsetting enough. I assure you Vin wasn't put out in the least by your gesture of condolence, only eager to see his children.
Tanner Living Room
"Daddy!" Andi cried out in delight. She jumped up from the floor and ran to him.
Vin swept her up into his arms and held her close. He motioned to Jason, who came toward him at a slower pace. He studied his eldest child's troubled expression and knew the young boy was picking up on the fact something was wrong. Sitting down on the couch while still holding Andi in his arms, he drew his son close. "We need to have a talk."
"It's Mom, isn't it?" Jason's voice quivered.
"I want you both to listen very carefully." Vin squeezed them a little tighter. He had never lied to them before and he was not going to start now. "You are goin' to hear a lot of different things over the next few days about your Mom and Trey…you're gonna have to trust me, though. Somethin' happened earlier today which has most people believin' your mama and brother are dead, but that's not true." Jason and Andi understood what death meant, they had experience too much of it in their young lives not to.
"Where is mama?" Andi asked
"I'm not sure, she and your brother are kinda lost right now, but I know we'll find 'em." Vin answered honestly. "I need y'all to be strong and give me time. I promise I will bring your Mom and Trey home. I don't imagine everyone thinks I can do that, but I need you two to believe it. Will y'all trust me?"
"Will it take long?" Andi met her Daddy's eyes with her own. "Longer than when you left?"
It took a moment for Vin to realize what Andi was talking about, suddenly it hit him. When he had gone undercover last year, all the children had to rely on was what Kelli told them and their faith in her to believe he was coming home. "I hope it's not that long, but I'm not sure."
Jason studied his father's face. He had always been able to count on Vin and Kelli to tell him the truth, even when they did not want to. They never lied or tried to sugarcoat the things they told him just to make him feel better. "It won't be easy will it?"
"No son, it won't, but then the best things we find in life rarely are."
"I trust you Dad." With four simple words Jason said all that needed saying.
Andi wiggled off Vin's lap and started to run off.
"Where are you goin', Sugar?"
"To get our pillows so we can sleep with you. We took care of Mama when you were gone and 'till she comes back we can take care of you." She continued on to their bedrooms to complete her mission.
Vin continued to hold Jason and thanked God for the wonderful gifts he had sent to him and Kelli when he placed Jason and Andi in their lives.
"He shouldn't be telling them that," Max said softly to Walter and Ezra. "He's settin' their hopes on something that isn't goin' to happen."
"Vin is their father and whether we agree or not with what he is tellin' them, he has the right to do so," Walter whispered back.
"But... the," she began, however Standish's words stopped her.
"Walter's right, Max. All we can do is be here to support him and the children the best we can. Hopefully Vin will do the right thing and tell them the truth before it's too late."
Ezra was worried though. He knew Vin was in denial about Kelli and Trey's deaths', but to purposely tell Jason and Andi their mother and baby brother were still alive was wrong. The two older Tanner children had experienced too much hardship and pain in their short lives already. He knew Vin wanted to believe his wife and son had not been killed. The divers' finding the Tahoe in the murky waters below it stated otherwise. Surely Vin understood the detrimental damage he would be causing in his relationship with Jason and Andi when he was unable to find Kelli and Trey?
Barbara silently entered the Tanner's kitchen from the back door and went directly to her husband. She had been waiting for his call since she heard the news from Nathan and Rain. Her only thought was to be there for Ezra while helped them work through the pain they were surely feeling.
The moment he heard the door open, Ezra caught a whiff of the expensive perfume his wife preferred and felt a wave of emotion sweep over him. He couldn't begin to imagine the torment of what Vin was going to go through when his period of denial ended and grief set in. He felt almost like he was being heartless or disloyal to Kelli when he realized that although he was grieving along with everyone else for her loss, he also felt relief it hadn't been his wife.
Chris parked his Ram in its usual spot outside his home. Turning off the ignition, he leaned wearily back in the driver's seat. He knew he should get out and go in the house but couldn't seem to find the energy. Regardless of Vin's insisting they were alive, all the evidence pointed to Kelli and Trey being killed on the bridge when it collapsed.
Feeling older than his years, Larabee found the strength to get out of the truck and head inside to look in on Grace and Cody. Seeing his babies always gave him a peace that filled his soul, somehow tonight he felt his grief was too much for his precious angels to fill.
Going first to Cody's room Chris was surprised to find that gazing on his sleeping son did help a little to lift the pain surrounding his heart. Reaching out a hand, Chris gently stroked Cody's hair and cheek until his vision clouded with tears. He longed to lift his youngest up to cuddle him close to his heart, but knew in his present shaky state it was not good idea. Placing a gentle kiss on Cody's forehead Chris turned to leave his son's room to go see Grace.
Chris reached for his gun when he saw the shadowy figure sitting on the foot of Grace's bed.
*Relax son, it's me,* Cowboy reassured him, concerned about the defeated look Chris wore. He did see Chris's hand drop from his gun. Even so, the tension was still there when he approached Grace, a small smile on his face for her alone.
"You were watching the wrong daughter," Chris whispered not wanting to wake Grace.
*Tracker's with Kelli and Trey. There's time to save 'em,* Cowboy replied.
Chris turned giving Cowboy the trademark Larabee glare before heading out of the room. Sighing Cowboy stood, looked at Grace and whispered, "Sometimes Larabee stubbornness is a curse," before heading to the living room.
*You going to offer me one?* Cowboy asked watching Chris pour himself a shot of whiskey.
Chris glanced over at Cowboy. *Spirits drink?* He hesitated for a few seconds before deciding he could always drink it himself if the pesky spirit was just trying to give him a bad time. Pulling down another glass Chris filled it with the rich amber whiskey. Picking up his own glass he tilted his head toward the other one. "Help yourself," he said before dropping wearily on the couch.
Cowboy was aware Chris was watching him carefully to see what he would do next. Truthfully, he wasn't sure he could drink, but figured tonight it would be worth the effort to try. Closing his hand around the glass he was pleasantly surprised to find he could lift it to him mouth and memories of how it tasted came to him.
"Smooth," Cowboy said aloud before sitting on the recliner closest to the couch.
"Ezra has good taste. This was a gift from him," Chris said taking another sip. "I figured Kelli and Trey deserved the good stuff."
"When I first met Tracker I quickly learned to trust his instincts, whether I understood them or not. He, and his gut feelings, never let me down." Cowboy paused and then looked at Chris. "It's the same for you and Vin ain't it?"
"Kelli's Tahoe is confirmed to be on the bottom of the damn river! If she made it out she would be home and we would not be having this discussion."
"Trust your spirit brother, Son."
"It's not about trusting Vin, he's in denial right now."
"I don't care about what you found in the river. Kelli and Trey are alive and Tracker is with them."
"Where are they then?"
"It doesn't work that way."
"Why the hell not? What are you here for if you can't do…whatever it is you do? I thought you wanted to help!"
"Calm down, we're doing what we can. There's more going on than you know yet. Don't give up on her, from what I've seen Kelli is a survivor."
"She shouldn't have had to survive so much," Chris said softly, his voice cracking with emotion.
"No she shouldn't have, but remember, this time she won't have to do it alone. She has Vin, you, and all of your family; and for now she has Tracker."
"Trey is only four months old."
"Trey has both Larabee and Tanner blood in him, a damn good combination if you ask me."
Chris's lips lifted in a slight smile and held up his glass in a toast before saying, "We agree on that one, it's a tough combination to beat."
Cowboy raised his glass saluting the thought. "Listen to Vin and join forces with him to bring his family home."
"Are they really alive?" Chris winced at the note of desperation in his voice.
"Yes, Son, they are. I wouldn't lie about that," Cowboy answered his voice thick with emotion.
Chris nodded. His eyes filled with tears. He couldn't explain why he felt free to let his emotions show to Cowboy. Usually he kept his inner feelings private except for the Wild Bunch.
The two men sat drinking their whiskeys in silence. After several moments passed, Chris set his glass down on the coffee table and rose to go to bed. Turning to Cowboy he said, "I'll think on what you said."
Cowboy nodded understandingly, hoping that by morning Chris would be ready to trust Vin's instincts. Lives depended on them not giving up hope.
Once he entered the sanctuary of his bedroom, Chris allowed his mind free rein to sort out all that had happened over the past two weeks. He was well aware family ties were important…could they be strong enough to transcend generations?
His emotions had taken a beating with the relentless onslaught of events hitting one after another and it was difficult for his mind to accept the facts he had been given. Was any of it real? Would he wake up from this nightmare and find out it had all been a damn illusion of some kind? Was a force of evil bent on revenge responsible for all the pain his family had suffered? A killer he had failed to catch? All tied to the deaths of Sarah and Adam? The pain of losing them was as hard to take today as it had been all those years ago. How could he help Vin escape the same denial which almost destroyed him twelve years ago?
*Trust your spirit brother, Son.* Is the answer that simple? *It was what It all came down to though, wasn't it? It doesn't matter what you believe or don't believe Larabee. Vin believes and it's the only truth important enough to really matter.*
Although he finally laid down after making numerous calls to his contacts, sleep was evasive for Vin, especially since Jason and Tornado Andi had joined him. He sat on the side of the bed thinking about Kelli's last phone call and her words, "Love you Tanner, and 'm lookin' forward to our late night date."
*Aw Kel, what have you done to me? I feel like I've been pushed off a cliff and 'm still fallin' tryin' to find some solid ground to land on, only it’s not there. The old me would already be out there tearin' up Denver lookin' for you, but then you'd probably kick my ass if I took off without makin' certain our children were okay first. I will do whatever is necessary to do right by all of y'all. I know you're waitin' for me to come and find you and Trey. I will, Baby, I promise.*
Then Tracker's words replayed in his head,*The visions are a gift of your heritage. You must rely on your senses to unmask the truth, and discover the path you should take. Do not be misled by diversions, trust your instincts, and do not let others dissuade you from the truth.* Vin did trust his instincts in spite of all the evidence that said he was wrong and he would not quit until he found the path to reunite his family.
Shadowchaser worked meticulously to accomplish the next phase of the plan. The huge arrangement of yellow roses sitting on the table only needed a card attached before they were to be delivered to the Larabee 7. Gloved hands slipped the pictures into an envelope and sealed the flap before addressing it, and with a few strokes of a pen it was finished.
*I'm still way ahead in this game Chris, better score some points soon or you'll end up with nothing.*
In order to experience this, we must be aware of how limited our senses are—eyes, ears, touch, smell, taste. These senses help us to function in the Seen World. What we see is interpreted by our minds and put inside our belief system, and this can become our reality. But there also exists an Unseen World. In this world we experience connectedness; we experience the mystery; and we experience another whole point of view. If we pay attention to both the Unseen World and the Seen World, our belief systems will print in our mind a new and wonderful reality. We will see and know we are a part of everything.
"In some mysterious and wonderful way you are part of everything. And in that same mysterious and wonderful way, everything is a part of you." Nippawanock, ARAPAHOE*
Tuesday October 30th
Tanner Home ~ 5:00 a.m.
Bren's night was almost as bad as his father's and he was awake again. Vin rolled off the bed quietly so he would not disturb the kids and headed for the kitchen first to warm up a bottle before going to the nursery. He quickly changed his son's diaper, before lifting the infant into his arms. He carefully avoided looking at Trey's empty crib, trying not to dwell on the reasons why Bren's twin wasn't in it. "Okay pard, it's time to eat."
Vin walked over to the rocker and settled himself into it. He pressed the nipple of the bottle to Bren's lips and felt a slight smile crease his own as his son latched quickly onto it to drink. Usually he resisted drinking from a bottle, preferring to have his breakfast right from the source which produced it. Vin's earlier attempts to feed him were hard on both of them, since the baby had been too worn out by fussing about the change to take more than a few swallows before falling into a restless sleep.
He traced his finger over Bren's small features while he drank. "I know you would rather have your Mama, son, so would I, but she's not here."
Flashes of his visions crossed his mind; the wall of water, the ice, the dark hole. Until now, sitting here in the predawn holding the life he and Kelli had created together, Vin had managed to fight off the doubts pounding on the wall of his emotions. Suddenly the damn burst and the wall came crashing down. All the pain, fear, and agony he had been holding back since he first discovered Kelli and Trey were missing, washed over him, nearly suffocated him with the intensity of it. In the silence of the nursery, holding his baby, Vin allowed himself to break down.
A few minutes later, he heard a timid voice ask, "Dad, can we come in?" Jason stood at the doorway holding Andi's hand, uncertain about entering the room.
Vin took a deep, ragged breath. "Y'all don't have to ask, come on." He made room for both of them to sit with him. It was all the invitation they needed. Jason scrambled onto the rocker, sitting close to his father, leaning into him. Vin wrapped one arm around his small shoulders. Andi carefully climbed onto his lap, sharing space with Bren, and laid her head on her daddy's chest.
Tanner wasn't aware of how long the four of them stayed huddled together, him drawing strength from their presence, and them receiving comfort from him. A sense of peace washed over him. It acted as a healing balm to his wounded spirit and helped him retain control of his emotions. While it did not change his longing for Kelli and Trey, it did give him what he needed to get through the day and the well meaning intentions he expected from his extended family members. Vin didn't know how he was going to deal with them. He alone believed his wife and son weren't dead. He couldn't stomach the thought of pretending otherwise, not even if it meant that the Wild Bunch thought he was crazy.
"Yesterday Tracker told me to give you a 'essage. He said he was goin' with Mama and would wait for you to come get them."
Vin took the words his daughter innocently offered and their meaning strengthened his resolve to stay the course he had set. Kelli and Trey were alive and Tracker was watching over them for him. Now all he had to do was figure out where in the hell they were.
"Thanks baby, 'm glad you told me." Bren finished his bottle. "Max and Walter stayed over last night; I want you to go tell 'em y'all will be stayin' home from school for awhile. Will you two be okay with them while I go look for your Mom?"
Jason answered for both of them. "You do what you need to Dad. We'll help Max with Bren and behave while you're gone." He hugged Vin's neck before he slipped off the rocker and took Andi with him to find Max.
Once he had rocked his son to sleep, Vin placed the baby gently back into his crib. He would be down at the river by first light. Maybe, he'd find the answers he desperately needed.
Vin was filling a thermos with hot coffee when he sensed someone watching him from the doorway, turning to see a rumpled looking Ezra. A slight smile curved his lips; taking in the sleep tousled dark hair, bare chest, and wrinkled silk pajama bottoms he wore. The concerned look in his green eyes stopped Vin from commenting though.
"Where are you going?" Ezra asked quietly.
"I'm a big boy, Ez. I've got some things to do today, startin' with goin' back to the river."
Ezra stifled a yawn and moved into the kitchen. "You don't need to. Let search and recovery do their jobs…."
"That's where you are wrong," Vin's voice held an edge to it. "I need to be there. If only to prove to everyone what I already know. Kelli and Trey are not there; in fact they were never anywhere near it."
"Give me five minutes to change. I am going with you." Ezra hurried back to the guest room to change and let Barbara know he was leaving.
Max reached into a cupboard for another thermos to fill for Ezra. "Vin, you know Walter and I will do anything we can for you and the kids. Barbara has offered to stay and help too." She hesitated momentarily and then asked, "Are you sure it's wise though to get their hopes up about Kelli coming come?"
"I appreciate what ya'll do Max. I need you to keep Jason and Andi close until I know it's safe for 'em. As for Kel, she is comin' home with Trey and I don't want anyone tellin' our kids any different."
"We'll keep a close watch on them and…I'll do what I can to stop anyone from saying anything to them you don't approve of."
"That's all I can expect." Vin grabbed the second thermos. "Tell Ezra I'll be warmin' up the truck." He detoured to tell Andi and Jason goodbye before he left.
When Josiah and Buck arrived, Chris was still in Grace's room, allowing his youngest daughter to console his wounded soul with her morning chatter. Dottie offered them a welcome cup of coffee in the den while they waited for Chris to join them. Both men were up early making calls and gathering as much information as they could about the investigation into the bridge collapse. That was secondary though to tending to the emotional well-being of their families.
Chris walked into his den, picking up the cup of coffee Dottie had left for him. He took a careful sip of the hot, aromatic liquid, seating himself in his favorite chair. He looked across the coffee table at Josiah and Buck, waiting for one of them to speak first.
Buck took the bull by the horns saying, "What are we going to do about Vin?"
"We're going to trust him," Chris said simply.
"Chris, he's not thinking straight right now." Josiah's rich voice was filled with concern. "We're all here, ready and willing to support you both. However feeding into Vin's denial is not helping him."
"It has to be faced sooner or later, you know that." Buck said. "We're all grieving too, but you're gonna have to let go before Vin will."
"Do you know he and Ezra left first thing this morning to go back to the disaster site? Vin also told the kids Kelli and Trey were alive and he was going to find them." Josiah said.
"Vin believes they're alive and so do I. What proof do we have that they're not?" Chris challenged them.
"Proof?" Buck roared, "The Tahoe is at the bottom of the damn river! That means they were on the bridge when it collapsed."
"That only proves the Tahoe was on the bridge, not that Kelli and Trey were in it," Chris countered. "Besides, since when do we need proof to validate a gut feeling?"
"Chris," Buck started only to stop at the look Larabee shot him. "JD and Mal are already at Camp Larabee this morning running info into CASSIE. They tracked the GPS signal from Kelli's cell. The co-ordinates say it's at the bottom of the river. I talked to the team investigating the cause of the collapse. They know it was taken down by planted explosives and from their collective past experiences they believe it was not on a timer. Someone was evidently waiting and watching for a particular vehicle to be on the bridge before they blew it up...."
"…and you two think it was Kelli they were waiting for?" Chris posed the question.
"While we cannot rule out it was a terrorist act, the recent threats you have received lead us to believe it's a good possibility," Josiah answered. "Unfortunately Shadowchaser has already proven he's capable of killing and has a total disregard for human life."
"It could also be a vindictive scheme to make us believe Kelli and Trey are lost to us. Until we have positive proof, we're helping Vin. We will not try to make him admit they're dead," Chris told them in a tone, leaving no doubt the discussion concerning death was over. He stood and headed out of the room.
"Where are you going?" Buck did not like the look Chris's gave him. It was the one that said he was done listening.
Chris stopped in mid-stride and turned around. "Travis put himself back on duty and is taking over at MCAT for me until we find Kel. He'll continue the investigation about the security breech and send part of the team to assist at the disaster site. I'm going back to the river. Vin needs to know Ezra is not the only one of us who will support him." He arched his brow and asked, "You two coming with me?"
"Yeah, JD and Mal will coordinate with us from Camp Larabee and we're gonna stop for Nathan. We'll be right behind you." Buck answered.
Old River Bridge
It was not an easy job to remove bridge debris, conduct an investigation, and work a recovery of bodies simultaneously. Inclement weather, swift currents, and cold water temperatures made it slow going. Word came about an hour earlier that one of the rescued victims had succumbed to their injuries at one of the area hospitals. The dismal news brought the toll to 20 confirmed deaths and more were expected as they continued the painstaking work of recovery.
Chris and Vin worked side-by-side all day without saying more than ten words to anyone. Buck and Mark worked closely with the bomb squad assigned to investigate the explosion while Josiah, Guy, Alex, and Raphael did whatever the incident commander needed them to. Nathan was still on medical leave but stuck close to Bones and the MAU to do what he could to help with the forensic unit. Ezra stayed close to the communication center picking up any information that might be useful to their goal of tracking Kelli and relayed it to JD.
By late afternoon they were all more than a little concerned about Chris and Vin. None of them succeeded with their attempts to get either man to go home. The stress was showing on both of them.
"Josiah, we have to do something," Buck implored. "This is not helping either of them come to terms with Kelli and Trey's death."
"What would you suggest we do? Draw our weapons and force them into their vehicles?" Josiah answered in frustration.
Nathan smirked, "Now that's something I would love to see you try."
"I talked to Barbara earlier. Apparently the media obtained a list of the license plate numbers somehow and are speculating about the identities of missing victims. They're saying one of them is a female MCAT agent. Dottie had been flooded with calls at Chris's. Max told her the phone has been ringing off the hook at Vin's house from reporters of several media franchises. They've tried to ascertain if the rumor is indeed true and find out any pertinent facts that could help them identify which MCAT agent it was. MCAT has had enough publicity over the last two years to make it newsworthy. Flower arrangements are already being delivered to the ranch." Ezra told them
"How did the reporters get access to their numbers?" Buck asked, angry about the whole situation.
"Hell Buck, reporters have better snitches than we do," Ezra answered, "and with modern technology, there no such thing as private anymore,"
"I'm inclined to believe neither, Chris or Vin, are ready to deal with condolences yet." Nathan said.
"I disagree." Josiah interjected. "Maybe a large dose of reality is just what they both need."
Vin stopped working and took a deep breath. Instantly regretting it as the stench made him gag behind the mask he was wearing. He used the back of his hand to wipe the perspiration from his forehead, and removed his thermos of coffee from the pack he wore on his back. He took a long sip of the fortifying liquid, staring out over the wreckage. He could only pray for all the families who had suffered loss from this disaster. His mind flashed back to the infant he had seen yesterday, suddenly wishing he was far, far, away from here, but he was not leaving until the Tahoe was recovered.
"Backbreaking work isn't it?" Chris commented softly.
"Heartbreakin' is more like it," Vin replied, his voice hoarse with emotion while he watched the crane lift another concrete column from the water.
One of the divers approached Vin. "I thought you would want to know. We're using the lift bags. Your Tahoe is the next vehicle we're gonna try to get out."
Vin nodded. "Thanks for tellin' me."
Chris stood shoulder to shoulder with Vin. Their teammates fanned out around them. The other MCAT agents stopped what they were doing and joined their Commander and Captain. Bones already had permission to take charge of any body retrieval and for his team to examine the Tahoe. They all watched this procedure repeat several times during the day, but this was different. Whatever was found in the next few minutes could dash the last hope Vin and Chris were holding on to.
"Maybe you should let us check first, Vin." Josiah offered, knowing how difficult it could be if he and Chris had to see tangible evidence which could prove they were both wrong.
"We can handle it, right Chris?" Tanner never took his eyes off the buoy, marking the spot where the divers were working.
"Not much we can't handle, Pard." Chris didn't understand why, but he was certain Cowboy would not lie to him. If his ancestor said Kelli and Trey were alive, then he chose to believe him. This whole process was just a necessary step to get through before moving their investigation in a different direction.
Even though he was convinced his wife and son were not inside the truck, Vin felt his knees begin to buckle when the Tahoe hit the surface of the water. It was a tangled mass of fiberglass and steel, partially crushed by the tons of concrete that had fallen on and around it. He felt the same reaction from Chris. Both men held their ground though, refusing to move or look away.
Behind them Josiah whispered a prayer and Ezra fought the rising emotion which threatened to overwhelm him.
"Lord, have mercy," Nathan whispered.
Buck did not even try to hide his tears. "Dear God." He ached for Chris and Vin and grieved for the young lives he feared were lost to them.
The Tahoe was towed to shore and Bones was immediately on it as soon as it rested on solid ground. Three of the doors were crushed and in his opinion there was no way anyone could have been thrown out, which meant whoever had been inside when it fell was still there. A crow bar was used to open the back door. The first thing he looked for was the infant car seat. It was securely locked into place and the straps were not torn or missing, but it was empty. He carefully climbed further inside and felt his heart skip a beat when he saw a body in the front seat.
Chris gripped Vin's arm, holding him back when he took a step toward the mangled vehicle. "Wait. Let Bones finish his preliminary inspection. He'll tell us what he finds."
Five minutes stretched to ten. Vin's patience was wearing thin by the time he saw Bones climb out of the Tahoe. The ME stripped off his gloves and walked toward the MCAT agents who were gathered around Chris and Vin.
Doctor Metfield stopped in front of Vin. "Captain Tanner, in my professional opinion there is no way anyone could have been thrown from the vehicle. The car seat was intact and secure, but it was empty."
"What else?" Vin wanted to hear it all.
Bones placed his hand on Tanner's shoulder. "I located one body in the front seat of the vehicle. It was a woman; however, unless Kelli's hair color has changed to black, it wasn't your wife. I have no idea who the woman was, but for some reason, she was driving your wife's truck. I can tell you more after I complete an autopsy, and my lab crew goes over the vehicle…"
Vin did not hear anything else Bones was saying or whatever Chris was telling him. Kelli and Trey were not in the truck. That was all he needed to know. There would be time to find out who the woman was and why she was driving his wife's vehicle. Whoever orchestrated this had gone to deadly lengths to make him believe Kelli and Trey were lost. It was time for Tanner to go on the hunt and he would not quit until he found them. God help the twisted soul to blame for this because when he found the person responsible Vin was giving no quarter.
"…I want to know what you find ASAP." Chris was telling Bones.
"I need to see my kids." Vin said, brushing past everyone to head for his truck.
"Vin…" Buck started after him, but Chris stopped him.
"Let him go. Give him some space." Chris looked the others. "Whatever it takes, the bastard responsible for this is history."
Vin was emotionally drained by the time he arrived home. Slowly he climbed out of his truck and went inside. He needed to hold his children and then plan his next move.
Max met him at the door. "Thank heavens you're here, I was just going to call you. Jason is terribly upset about something and won't talk to me or anyone else about it. He said he'd only talk to you."
"Where is he?"
"He and Andi are in your bedroom."
Hurrying past Max and Walter, Vin headed to his room. Reaching for the doorknob, he paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and then opened the door to go inside. The children sat in the middle of his and Kelli's bed. Jason was reading a book to his sister. Silently crossing the room, Vin sat down, leaned back against the pillows, and joined them. "Hey," he spoke softly. It bothered him to see his normally extrovert children so quiet.
"Dad," Jason laid the book aside, but kept his eyes cast downward. "I did somethin' you told me to never do."
"It wasn't his fault," Andi defended her brother, "Caleb made him do it."
"Jason," Vin placed his thumb under his son's chin and tiled his head upward. "Look a man in the eye when you talk to him." The unshed tears he saw in his son's eyes tore at his heart.
"I got mad and pushed Caleb. Told him I didn't want to be his friend anymore," Jason sniffed loudly. "He said you were in 'the Nile' and that Mom was dead."
"Trey, too," Andi added.
"He wouldn't take it back and I got mad…so I pushed him. I know you said no fightin', but Dad, he wouldn't listen and I…" Jason's voice trailed off.
*Denial, huh?* Vin wrapped his arms around Jason and hugged him closely. "Caleb was just repeatin' what he's heard. Heck, even some of my closest friends think the same thing. That doesn't mean they are being mean, they just don't understand."
"Are you mad at 'em?" Andi asked.
"Not mad exactly, a little frustrated maybe, but what they think doesn't change what I believe. Remember that, both of you, no matter what anyone says stick to your beliefs."
"Even when it's hard and it's your best friend who says you're wrong?" Jason asked.
"Especially when it's hard, son, and your best friend will come around if he sees you stand your ground." Vin thought hard about his next words. "I understand your anger, but pushin' Caleb was wrong. Being a friend works both ways. If you want him to trust you and accept that you can think different than him, you have to be willin' to let him have his beliefs and accept it when he sees things differently, too. You're gonna have to apologize to him Jason."
"Can I do it tomorrow? We just want to stay in here, if it's okay with you."
"Y'all can stay." Vin rolled off the bed and then turned on the television to the cartoon channel. "I need to tend to a few things" He kissed each child on the top of their heads. "Everythin' will be okay, I promise."
Vin left them watching Bugs Bunny and stopped by the nursery. Bren was sleeping soundly and Vin turned to leave. He stopped suddenly when he heard Cowboy's voice telling him to check Trey's bed.
* I can't, not yet.* Tanner knew his wife and son were alive, but he could not bring himself to look in Trey's baby bed and see it bare.
*Do it! I left you a message from Tracker.* Cowboy insisted. *It's the best I can do for now to ease your pain.*
Vin took a deep breath and moved toward the second crib. Seeing the empty bed ripped at his heart and only fueled the emotional storm he had been fighting all day. He reached into the crib and ran his hand lovingly across Trey's blanket. His fingers felt something. When he moved the covers his breath caught in his throat when he saw Kelli's mother's ring lying beneath them. The same ring she never took off, the one she had been wearing the day she disappeared.
* I can't tell you more, just hold on and don't give up.*
Vin instinctively knew when Cowboy left the room. Picking up the ring, he felt a new surge of strength rush through him. The ring may not give him all the answers, but it gave him a new burst of emotional energy. Kelli and Trey were out there somewhere. If he read the signs and held on to what his gut feelings were telling him, he could find his way to them.
Journal Entry -Midnight
Today has been one of the roughest in my life. Not only did I face the prospect of seeing my oldest daughter dead along with my grandson, I feared I could have lost my best friend too. I know I was supposed to have more faith, but this open-minded thinking is new to me. I want to believe, and I have even half-way convinced myself that all this unseen mysteries of the other world stuff is true. It's difficult to change a lifetime of beliefs in a few short weeks though. At least for me, it is. Yet, the more I experience it, the more I have begun to wonder how much I may have missed by not accepting even the possibility of a different reality than my limited views allowed.
I do know for whatever reason, a whole new plane of existence has opened to me and it does not matter if I understand it. It is enough just to know it is. I cannot count the times I've heard Tanner repeat his grandfather's words about how we are all connected in this world, how we are part of everything and everything is a part of us. I heard, but I guess I never really listened to what those words meant or understood they referred to more than just the 'everything' in front of me.
The first is the twelve year Anniversary of Sarah and Adam's deaths. Fate, destiny, or those unseen forces have been at work to mark this date as one of the most important ones I will ever have to experience. I know this time her killer is close enough to find and is probably the same one responsible for the hell our family has been through. The question is not if we find him, but who gets first shot when we do?
Tracker told us, "It's the will of fate and your destiny to be allied by the timeless bond of friendships and brotherhood which ties us all to our past." I reckon that is partly what Vin's grandfather was trying to teach him. Do I understand it? Hell no. However I do know the ring of truth when I hear it.
In the morning I plan to be at Vin's house bright and early. Together we will decide how to proceed from here. Our first goal will be the same as his, bring Kelli and Trey home, whatever it takes. This time we are seven strong, we will not fail, and we will see that the bastard responsible for our most recent trip to hell will experience our version of justice.
You feel like a candle in a hurricane, alone and helpless like you've lost your fight…Standing on the edge of a canyon with only one way down. Take what you're given before it's gone…Start holding on, keep holding on…You'll be all right…
Cause when push comes to shove, you taste what you're made of. You might bend, till you break, cause it's all you can take. On your knees you look up, decide you've had enough…You get mad you get strong, wipe your hands shake it off…Then you stand…*
Wednesday October 31
Tanner Home ~ 8:00 a.m.
Each lost in thought, Buck and Ezra sat at the kitchen table with cups of coffee in their hands. The back door opened allowing Chris and JD to enter the Tanner kitchen. Max reached for two more cups, while heading for the coffee pot.
"Morning," Chris said as he took his coat off, hanging it by the door.
Buck nodded at Larabee and then turned his attention to JD. "Hey kid, how you feeling today?"
"I'm good," JD answered, taking one of the steaming cups Max offered. "Thanks."
"Josiah and Nathan are right behind us. Where's Vin?" Chris took a sip of his coffee.
Ezra looked up and said, "I believe Bren demanded his attention."
Josiah entered the room with Nathan. "Morning Brothers, Max."
"Usually it's bedlam in here by this hour. Why is everyone so quiet?" Nathan asked, while reaching for the coffee Max held out for him.
"Jason and Andi are playing in the loft. Vin is in the nursery with the baby," Max responded with a sigh. "I'm afraid it's been very quiet around here since…since Kelli and Trey have been gone."
The gentle reminder of why they had all gathered struck a chord with Chris. It took him back to the eerie silence he experienced at home after Sarah and Adam were killed. "I guess we all take too many things for granted."
"Why don't you all move to the living room while you wait for Vin?" Max suggested. "There's more room and Walter is in there making a list of the deliveries."
Chris made the first move and the others followed his lead. He stopped in his tracks when he saw the array of flowers sitting around the room. "What the hell is all this?" he was astounded.
"They've been comin' since mid-afternoon yesterday," Walter told him. "I ran 'em past security checks. Max suggested we keep 'em all in one place until Vin decided what to do with them."
Ezra began looking at the flower arrangements, while the other men sat down. He could not mask his surprise. "One of these is from Linda. How did she find out so fast?"
"Word gets around quickly when tragedy strikes," JD answered.
Josiah shook his head sadly, "It must be hard on Vin to have to see all this."
Vin overheard his comment when he entered from the other side of the room carrying Bren. "They're just flowers Josiah. Well, except for Linda's. She sent a video eulogy she wants me to play at the service. I think I'll let you field that one Chris."
"Thanks loads," Chris smirked. "Hell, at least she remembers the address here, even if she doesn't contact our kids." He reached for Bren. "Hand him over, he obviously wants to visit."
"He sure as hell don't want to sleep," Vin told them, entrusting Chris with his son. "I've been rockin' him for thirty minutes. He's still wide awake."
Ezra picked up on Vin's words. "You certainly do not intend to have a service do you?"
"I'm thinkin' about it, Ez. By the way, Buck, our boys fought yesterday. Jason will be over later to apologize. I explained to him that even your best friend may not always agree with you, but respect runs both ways. You have to sometimes agree to disagree, no matter how hard it is to do."
"I knew something was up with those two, but Caleb wouldn't talk about it." Buck exhaled. "I reckon I know what they fought about. I'll take full responsibility for it. If it's all the same to you I'd like to handle it. I should be apologizing to both of them."
"It's fine by me, if Jason agrees. None of this has been easy on him or Andi."
"What do you mean you're thinking about it?" Ezra interrupted. "I thought yesterday proved you were right and the rest of us were idiots."
"Not idiots, Ezra, just human." Vin smiled when he saw Buck take Bren from Chris. "Lookin' at all this last night, it occurred to me someone went to a great deal of trouble to make me think Kelli and Trey were dead. I had to question why."
"I think we all know who that someone is."Nathan sighed. "It will be difficult to keep quiet about any of this. We'll have to involve Homeland Security in the Shadowchaser investigation now."
"This stays with us," Chris commanded. "Homeland can conduct their investigation. We'll handle ours."
"The obvious intent of this disaster was to mislead us. I want the bastard to believe it worked. At the very least, we need to have Kel and Trey listed as missin'." Vin had given it a lot of thought. "If I have to put up with condolence stuff, so be it, I know the truth. I want the freedom to move around without havin' to constantly defend what 'm doin'. If everyone believes I accept they're gone, then no one will expect me to be trackin'."
"That makes sense," Josiah concurred. "We're going to have to be aggressive in what we do. Whatever the reason Shadowchaser did this, he won't wait long before he acts on it."
"Bones called me with his report earlier." Chris told them. "He worked all night to ID the woman in Kel's truck. He got a hit on her fingerprints. She was Rita Morris, age 25, lived here in Denver. She had a long record of drug related and larceny crimes. He also found a red wig in the truck. Evidently she was supposed to make it appear like Kelli was the one drivin'. What's interesting is what he did not find, Kelli's bag, weapon or badge."
"I can run Rita Morris through CASSIE, for known associates. Maybe we can find someone who knew her. Then track her movements over the last week." JD said. "All it takes is one person we can connect her to."
"JD, I appreciate your help. I just don't want you to risk havin' a setback," Vin told him.
"I may not be able to climb or do all the active stuff, but I can run CASSIE. We're going to need her help," JD answered. "Besides, I want this Shadowchaser as much as you and Chris do."
"Travis is letting us run this as a shadow op. None of what we do will be official. This way we don't have the FBI missing person unit or Homeland Security on our ass. He also offered us the use of whatever we need from MCAT. I told him we would all be off duty until Kel and Trey are back where they belong," Chris said.
"Vin, you and Chris need to stay low profile until we have something solid to go on. I will retrace Kelli's movements from the doctor's office to see what turns up," Ezra offered.
"We will," Buck corrected him. "I'm going with you."
"I have a feeling tomorrow's date will be important to Shadowchaser. November first is the day Sarah and Adam died," Chris said.
They were all silent for a moment and then Vin remembered a strange card he had seen. He reached into the table drawer to retrieve it. "I went over most of the cards last night. This one came with yellow roses and had your name on it, Chris."
Chris took the envelope. It felt strangely weighted for just a sympathy card. Chris slit the top of it and several pictures spilled out. Some were of Sarah, apparently taken during her last minutes with Adam. "God!" The pictures brought back a rush of old feelings he was not prepared for.
Tanner took the pictures from Chris and swore, "Damnit." He thumbed through the rest. "I know it was a shock to see Sarah and Adam, but look at this. This one is of Kelli leavin' the doctor's office with Trey. Another one when she was leavin' the ranch. The sonofabitch had her under surveillance."
Chris looked at the card." It's from Shadowchaser. There's a new message. 'I'm still way ahead in this game Chris. Better score some points soon or you'll end up with nothing.' This sure as hell sets aside any speculation about who was responsible for that bridge coming down."
Vin said calmly, "Take a close look at this picture and tell me what you see."
Buck took it, glancing at the photo. "It shows Kelli and Trey leaving Doctor Quinlan's office. What does that prove?"
"Look at her right hand; she took off her gloves to put Trey in the car seat." Tanner patiently explained. "She's wearin' the mother's ring the kids gave her."
"Yeah she is, "Buck nosily exhaled. "Again, what does it prove?"
Vin reached into his pocket, extracting the ring he found in Trey's bed. "An old friend sent me this with a message not to give up." He gave the ring to Buck.
Buck looked at the picture and back to the ring. "That's…that's impossible."
"It's as possible as Vin's visions and our spirit guides." Larabee put aside his own feelings to concentrate on the here and now. "Whatever happened to Kelli and Trey transpired somewhere between the doctor's office and the river. I want to know what it was. I have a daughter and a grandson out there waiting for us to find out."
"Then we best get started." Buck stood. "Ez, I need to talk to Jason and Caleb before we leave."
"Of course, "Ezra replied. Buck went in search of Jason. "Vin, I suggest if you want to keep this charade going you allow Barbara and the other ladies to take over the details. Assuming you actually want to go through with a service."
"I want to stretch it as far as I can without doing that, but I think it would be easier if they're willin to help." Vin was relived. It was hard enough to have to pretend Kelli and Trey were dead. Planning a service and taking care of condolences was not something he wanted to do.
"I have no doubt our ladies can pull this off." Josiah stood to leave. "With your permission, I will counsel them on what should be done. It's time we played this sonofabitch the way he's been playing us. "Are you sure you can handle it?"
"I can do whatever is necessary to get my wife and son home safely," Vin assured him.
"Then I'll use the profile we have to plan this in a way, which might draw Shadowchaser out or at least convince him his plan is working. Let me get on it. I'll get back to you on the best way to handle it." Josiah said his goodbyes.
Nathan stood, "JD, you and I should get started on finding out more about Rita Morris."
"Ready when you are," JD said. "Whatever you need Vin, consider it done."
"Thanks JD." He took the baby when Ezra handed him over. "You made the rounds through six uncles, kid. You ready to sleep now?" Bren's only answer was a yawn.
"Better take that as a yes." Chris smiled down at the baby. "See you guys later," He told Nathan and JD.
"I too, shall depart." Ezra placed a hand on Vin's shoulder. "My partner is one of the most resourceful women I have ever met. She will find a way to survive until we find her."
Vin nodded. "Resourceful and stubborn, that's my Kel." After Ezra left he continued to stare out the window, watching the snow fall. He wondered if she and Trey were somewhere warm. Was she hurt? Was Trey getting his medicine?
We will find them," Chris's soft voice brought Vin back from his thoughts, "Tracker is with Kel and Trey. He'll make sure they stay safe until we get to them."
Tanner held on to Bren, whispering, "I know, but wish I knew how they were doing now."
Somewhere outside of Denver
Kelli paced, all the while muttering to herself. "How could I have been stupid enough to let this happen? I know better! I walked right into being ambushed by two idiots, who are dumber than a box of rocks." She was angry at herself more than anything. Walking out of the pharmacy, the only thing she had on her mind was getting Trey back into the warmth of the truck, she never saw her abductors coming. They had her and the baby pushed into a waiting van too quickly for her to even react properly. Of course she did manage to get in a few good kicks before they took her keys. Once they gave them to the woman who obviously was ready to steal her Tahoe, they blindfolded Kelli and took off.
Although Tracker made his presence known to her yesterday, he decided it was best for now to choose his words carefully when talking to the redhead. 'Convincing' her to give up her ring had not exactly produced an amicable rapport between them.
*It wasn't stupid, you had Trey to think about.*
Kelli huffed, "And we ended up locked in this room God only knows where! I'm just lucky they gave me Trey's prescription and the diapers I bought. What I don't understand is if they wanted my truck, why the hell didn't they release us once they had it? Maybe they want money? If I thought it would buy our freedom I'd give 'em my ATM card password. They could take it all."
*It's not the money.*
"Then why did you take my ring? If you know what they want just tell me. I'm not a helpless female!"
*I told you you'd have to be patient. Still, for a woman you're holdin' up better than I expected.*
"Your condescendin' attitude is startin' to annoy me. I don't need you to pacify me and pat my hand. If you can't help, what the hell are you doing here?"
*I'm with you to make sure you stay alive 'til Vin gets here.*
"If you think we're in danger and really want to do somethin', go tell him where we are."
*It doesn't work that way! I have to protect you. Like it or not, I am here for the duration!*
"I think you're just tryin' to make up for somethin' you feel guilty about. Is this supposed to be some kind of self-imposed penance for you thinkin' you let Anne die?"
*It's what I have to do. You just have to wait for Vin.*
"That's it isn't it? You've kept apart from her all these years because you feel guilty about her death. Well let me tell you a little secret. The only thing keepin' you two away from each other is pure Tanner stubbornness!"
*You don't know what you're talkin' about!*
"Bull, it's all about control. You've carried the guilt thinkin' you were the one who failed to protect her. You can’t accept the truth. Anne made a choice of her own free will to give her life, so you could live. The outcome of that mornin' was never in your hands, it was in hers. It's what she wanted. You do her a disservice to discount her feelin's all this time. You've punished her for lovin' you."
*I'm not punishin' her!*
"Really? You think makin' Anne wait for you all these years to rejoin you isn't punishment? If it was me and Vin made me wait 140 years while he moped around feelin' guilty about somethin' I chose to do, I would give him so much hell he'd wish he never found me!"
*I don't mope. Besides, Anne is my business. Right now dealin' with you is more than enough to try my patience.*
"I was the one Anne came cryin' to, not you. If you can't handle hearin' the truth then you're free to leave. I can take care of myself!"
*Damn, you're more of a Larabee than I gave you credit for, irritatin' and stubborn to the bone. It's a good thing Vin is a Tanner or he would never be able to handle you.*
"I take it back. You aren't startin' to annoy me. You're already there!"
Tracker stayed silent when the lock on the door rattled. He did take notice when Kelli moved over in front of the cot to stand between her son and whoever was about to come inside. She had grit, he'd give her that. He understood her striking out at him was her way of keeping her fear in check. Aside from the fact she hit a nerve when she said he was doing penance, he truthfully liked her spirit. He was pleased to see Vin had found a good match for himself. All he had to do now was keep her riled up enough not to give up before Vin could find her.
The door swung open. One of the men who abducted her and Trey entered the room. "Who are you talking to in here?"
"Myself, what's it to you?" Kelli snapped.
The man named Roger grinned. "I thought maybe you and I could get better acquainted."
"I think I'd rather get better acquainted with a rattlesnake."
Roger moved closer, "Most women enjoy my company. I'd bet you'd like what I can do for you." He reached out to stroke her cheek. Kelli turned her head to avoid his touch. "We can do this the easy way or…" he grabbed her arm, pulling her to him, "I can just take what I want."
It only took a second for Kelli to react. She kneed him in the groin, using her elbow to break his hold on her. In the process she grabbed his gun, pushing him away at the same time. "Not in this lifetime you won't." She aimed the weapon at him. "Now throw me your keys and get down on your knees."
He laughed nervously. "You and me both know a pretty little thing like you won't shoot. Give me my gun and we'll pretend like this never happened."
"You have no idea what 'm capable of doing. Hand over those keys or you'll do it the hard way." Kelli knew this could be her only opportunity to get out of here. She was not about to let it pass.
Roger was getting pissed. He was not going to let a woman get the better of him. "No deal sweetheart." He lunged toward Kelli. She did not hesitate to shoot.
Once he was down, Kelli moved carefully to take the ring of keys off his belt loop and turned to grab her baby.
"Put the gun down Agent Coulter or your son is next." A figure stood in the shadows of the doorway, holding a gun pointed at Trey.
Without hesitation, Kelli threw the gun down, moving in front of her baby. "Leave him out of this."
Roger struggled to sit up while holding his wounded shoulder. "Boss, that bitch shot me! She really shot me!"
"I hate to hear a grown man whine." The boss turned the gun and shot Roger in the heart. He was dead before his head hit the floor." Barnabas! Come drag this piece of garbage out of here. A second man appeared and took Roger's body away. "Now where were we?"
"I know you!" Recognizing who the 'boss' was had Kelli feeling real fear for the first time since she had been taken. "It's been you all along. How the hell did you pull it off?"
"Tsk tsk, I was hoping it would take you longer to recognize me in this disguise. I must be losing my touch."
"You have no intention of lettin' me out of here alive. Probably never did. Why have you waited?"
"On the contrary, I am not going to kill you or your son. You're going to do that for me."
"Not likely," Kelli snapped
"Ah, but you will. That's the beauty of genius and the ultimate irony. You see Agent Coulter or should I say Mrs. Tanner? No, I think Kelli will do. As we speak, your husband and father are in mourning. Did I forget to tell you? You and your son died in a terrible bridge collapse on Monday. To the world you and your child are missing and presumed dead. While your family grieves, you will be locked away. Eventually, you'll have to make a choice. Kill your son before you die or leave him defenseless to die a horrible death alone. The irony is, when or if your husband finds you, he'll know he could have possibly saved you both. All the time he grieved, you were still alive. Imagine the enormous burden of guilt he and your father will carry when they find out how your death was miserable and slow in coming."
"You have a sick, twisted mind, but you will fail. My husband will come for me. When he does, you best be long gone."
"We'll see. Tonight is Halloween, so I'll be moving you both at the witching hour. See you at midnight." The door shut and the locked turned.
Kelli wiped away the tears, threatening to overflow. Images of Jason, Andi, and Bren flashed before her. God, what they must be going through, and Chris...hadn't he dealt with enough death in his life? Thinking of Vin was almost unbearable; she could not imagine what he must be feeling. The pain of missing him cut deep into her heart.
"Damn you Vin Tanner," she yelled frustrated. "I'm scared, and because of you I don't know how to turn these damn emotions off anymore."
Tracker started toward her, ready to do whatever it took to help her get through this ordeal. She might think she was struggling, but he was proud of her and how well she was holding up. He was getting ready to talk when Trey started to cry. He watched her quietly to see how she would react.
Kelli forgot everything except caring for her son. Cuddling him close, Kelli stroked his soft hair and cooed, "It's all right darlin'. Mama isn't mad at Daddy." Gently rocking Trey, who stopped crying, Kelli kept talking softly, "We need to be strong little one. Daddy will come for us. He'll never give up on us. He'll come to take us home to Jason, Andi, Bren, and the rest of the Wild Bunch."
Tracker smiled at the scene he was watching, content to sit back and let the littlest Tanner help his Mama work through her fears.
A small Halloween party had been set up at the Wilmington home for all the Larabee 7 children. It was a deliberate effort to distract them from the raw emotions their parents were experiencing. Jason and Andi were reluctant to go, but Vin assured them he would join them in two hours, tops. The men gathered at Chris's to go over what had been collected by their day's efforts.
Chris started with a few brief words. "I think the easiest way to do this is to just report what you've found. JD, you start."
"I have a complete background on Rita Morris. I made a copy for all of you. Two weeks ago Rita was arrested for prostitution. She was bailed out by someone named Barnabas. Five days ago her bank balance went from twenty-two dollars to 25,022 dollars."
Buck read his copy. "I'll take her last known address and talk to everyone I can find who might have known her."
"I will talk to the officials at her bank to see if the deposit is traceable," Ezra wrote a note on the file as he spoke.
"Moving on," Josiah began. "I crafted a statement for the media about Kelli and Trey missing, with the presumption they are no longer with us. I listed not only Vin and the children, but Chris, too, in the obituary. I added that we were holding a private memorial service here on the ranch next Saturday, asking in lieu of flowers a donation be made to Rein of Change. This way we can keep track of the donations and make sure the money is returned to the sender after this is over."
"I reckon it means Chris and I stay off the radar." Even knowing this was all fake information, Vin was uncomfortable listening to Josiah talk about it.
"Definitely under the radar," Nathan answered. "Fortunately you have five of us to do the leg work of the investigation without calling attention to either of you."
"Buck and I retraced Kelli's path when she left the doctor's office. She made a stop at the pharmacy. According to their records she picked up Trey's prescription, purchased an 80count pack of Huggies diapers and two boxes of something called wet wipes. The total was eighty-seven dollar and sixty-three cents. She paid by credit card. The time stamp on the story copy showed 2:02 p.m., which was approximately ten minutes before the bridge collapsed, three miles up the road. Whatever happened transpired within those ten minutes. Allowing time for Rita to take the Tahoe and drive to the bridge we can cut that to six and a half minutes." Ezra reported.
"The store had outside security cameras. We have obtained a copy of the video covering a time frame from eight in the morning until five in the afternoon. However, neither of us have had a chance to view it." Buck hesitated. "If you want to Vin, you and Chris can go in the other room. We'll watch it first."
Chris snapped, "Just put the damn thing on. It couldn't be worse than seeing Kel's truck pulled out of the river."
Wilmington waited for Vin to agree and when Tanner nodded, Buck reached for the tape, inserting it into the VCR. It took a few minutes for him to fast forward to two o'clock, and then he pushed play.
"There, this is Kelli exiting the store …" Chris watched with the others. She had Trey bundled up, holding him with one arm close to her with a bag strapped over her shoulder. She was carrying a large plastic sack, presumably holding her purchases. What appeared to be no more than ten or twelve steps from the door, a large man bumped into her, pushing her to the side of the building toward a white panel van. Then, she was off camera. Two minutes later a redheaded woman who they now knew to be Rita Morris wearing a wig, reappeared minus the bag and baby. The woman walked over to the Tahoe, used keys to open the door, got in and drove off, unknowingly to her own death.
"I want every visible license plate number on that tape ran. The owners tracked down. Someone in the parking lot had to see something." Chris ordered. "JD, can you enhance the footage and make some stills from it?"
"Sure …," JD stopped talking when Vin abruptly stood and headed for the door, mumbling something about fresh air.
Chris motioned for the others to carry on and followed Tanner outside. He found him at the corral, leaning against the railing. Silently, he walked up, standing next to his friend without speaking.
It was ten minutes before Vin said anything. "How in the hell did you make it after losin' Sarah?"
"Almost didn't. Buck did his best to keep me from the darkness which actively sought to drag me under. I didn't make it easy for him. Then when I thought I couldn't go one more day, I met this long-haired, scrawny assed Texan who quietly reached into my soul to pull me back from the edge." Chris sighed deeply. "You have three things going for you, Vin, which I didn’t have. One, we know Kelli and Trey are not dead. Two, you have three children depending on you to stay strong. Three, where I had one warrior brother fighting for me, you have six. We are not about to let you be dragged into the depths of hell without a fight."
Cowboy joined them.*Four, you have me and Tracker to kick your ass if you forget one, two or three.*
There are many kinds of prisons; some enclosed our bodies behind rigid barriers. Some imprison our minds with illness or loss of memories. The worst kinds trap our spirits, slowly crushing them until we lose the will to continue on.
Thursday November 1st
It was shortly after midnight. With Trey gathered in her arms Kelli tried to find a semi-comfortable spot on the cot left for her, the only piece of furniture in the bare room. Knowing her captors would be arriving soon to whisk them away to another hiding place, sleep eluded her. She passed the time by sorting through her precious book of memories. Taking her back to the time she first met Vin. She was only up to the moment of their first kiss when she heard the sound of heavy footsteps outside her prison's entrance. Coming to her feet, she protectively tucked her son closer, preparing to confront the unknown.
Barnabas unlocked the door and cautiously approached the woman who had shot Roger. "Boss says it's time to move you." He reached into his pocket to extract the blindfold Kelli dreaded. She instinctively took a step backwards. "Don't make this difficult. I have orders to produce both of you to the boss. If you want the kid's medicine and diapers, you won't fight me."
Not willing to risk losing Trey's medicine, Kelli took a deep breath. "Okay, we'll do it your way, but I want my bag, too."
"Done," Barnabas said and quickly stepped forward to secure the blindfold around her head. Kelli felt an involuntary shudder thread through her body as she felt the man's hands on her. There was an immediate vulnerability that came over her from being blinded, albeit temporarily, making her situation all the more frightening. She understood now why Nathan had reacted the way he did during his treatment for the injury to his eyes.
Tightening her hold around Trey, Kelli felt Barnabas's meaty fingers wrap around her left elbow. He led her outside where they were met by an icy chill in the air. She shivered, with no coat, the cold cut through her like a knife.
"Nippy isn't it?" Evidently the boss had been waiting for them and didn't expect an answer. "Barnabas, get her inside so we can go."
Kelli felt hands reach to take Trey from her arms. She instinctively tightened her hold on her son." No! He stays with me!"
"My patience is wearing thin, Kelli. It is not in your best interest to provoke me. Give him to me while Barnabas helps you into the van." The words spoken next to her ear carried a lethal tone. "Give me your son, now!"
Kelli fought down the panic flooding through her at the possibility her captor was going to use this opportunity to take Trey away, leave him behind or kill him. She felt the muzzle of a gun pressed against her back. Left with no choice but to obey, she took a deep breath, holding Trey out to the unseen boss. Her son let out a protesting wail at being removed from the warmth of his mother's embrace. Hands roughly grabbed her, hoisting her brutally into the stuffy interior of a vehicle.
She was forced down onto the hard floor of the van with enough force to jar her insides. Tears of relief dampened the cloth blindfold when an upset Trey was given back to her. Kelli cuddled her precious bundle close. The doors of the vehicle were slammed shut and a moment later she felt movement beneath her, indicating they were in motion. Although she had spent a good portion of her life alone, Kelli could not remember it being as agonizing as it was now. She desperately needed reassurance that Tracker was still with her, but could not make herself ask.
*Yes, 'm here.*
The man annoyed her to no end, however knowing he was close by was comforting. His soft drawl sounded so much like Vin's, she instantly felt better hearing it, even if it was only in her head. She reluctantly admitted to herself that whatever she and Trey may be facing, she was thankful Tracker had decided to stay with them. However, admitting that to him was a whole different matter.
The van moved for what seemed like forever, but Kelli figured it was probably closer to an hour, before it stopped. She lost track of the number of turns and directions they took, thinking the driver deliberately drove in circles for a while just to confuse her. When hands reached out again to take Trey from her, Kelli forced herself not to fight against them, relinquishing her son. She was still terrified her captor planned to separate Trey from her, but she didn't really have a choice. The second he left her arms, Kelli was grabbed again, roughly hauled out of the van, and settled onto the frozen ground.
Start walking," her captor told her, without handing Trey back to her. Kelli felt the fear for her son's safety multiply.
"Give me my son."
"You are not in a position to be demanding anything. Now, walk."
Kelli gnawed at her bottom lip to keep from demanding Trey be given back to her. With reluctant obedience, she started walking, allowing Barnabas to lead her. She stumbled over rocks or bricks of some sort, biting back the pain shooting up her legs. The only thing keeping her going was hearing Trey making protesting noises from time to time. It gave her hope that her captor intended to hand him back to her a second time.
Abruptly Kelli felt Barnabas come to a halt. She felt him leave her side and heard something very heavy being moved. Then she was being pulled forward, down a short flight of stairs into a cool, musky smelling space. She felt panic threatening to overcome her senses. *Where the hell are we?*
"This way," Barnabas told her, pulling her along. Suddenly he stopped. She heard the unnerving rattle of a chain. His hand grasped her right leg, unbalancing her to the point she almost fell over.
"Ouch," Kelli yelped. The sound of steel snapping, accompanied by some type of restrictive device wrapped painfully around her ankle caught her by surprise. Trey was shoved back into her arms and her blindfold was ripped off.
"Welcome to your new home Kelli," the boss began talking when Barnabas left the chamber. "I assure you there is no way out. It will be permanent"
It took a moment for Kelli's eyes to adjust, before they began to bring things into focus. The room was only about 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, most of the space taken up by large coffin shaped stones lining the wall. There were cobwebs hanging in every corner. Kelli was not certain, but she thought she heard the 'eep' of a mouse or rat. It took all of her resolve to hide the mounting fear she was feeling inside to show. She would not give her abductor the added satisfaction.
"I imagine it could use some sprucing up, but you won't be alive long enough to do any redecorating. Even though I am positive your husband or your father will not find you in time. I believe in giving a hunter a sporting chance. Accordingly, I am leaving you five bags of beef jerky, three bags of trail mix, and thirty-six bottles of water, which should last you five days, seven if you stretch it. You'll have one flashlight, no extra batteries, two blankets and a chamber pot."
Barnabas returned with the items, dumping them next to Kelli. He did include Trey's medicine, the diapers and her bag as he promised.
"Although I prefer to bag the kill myself, I think this is a fitting way for you to meet your end. It will assuredly be more excruciating for your father than allowing you the luxury of a quick death. Of course, you will have the option of ending this game at any time." Removing two items from an interior coat pocket the boss continued. "Your MCAT ID will insure that you are identified, when or if you are found. I am also leaving your weapon, however don't get your hopes up, it has only two bullets. When you finally realize no one is coming to your rescue and the end is near, I believe you will end your son's life before taking your own, to insure he is not left alone to starve."
"You're insane if you think I could do that," Kelli argued. "Vin will find us and then you'd better hide because if I can't kill you, he will."
"Oh, I hope he does find you both, eventually. The question is… what will he find?" Maniacal laughter filled the room. "Have a nice rest of your life, short though it may be." With those words the two captors backed out of the room taking the only light with them, plunging the room into darkness. The heavy door was shut and locked from the outside sealing their fate. Leaving Kelli and Trey essentially buried alive.
Larabee 7 – Noon
November first had always been a difficult day for Chris, at least since Sarah was gone. It was the twelve year anniversary of her death and it felt like it all happened yesterday. He stayed busy all morning with Grace and Cody, which helped make it more bearable, only taking short breaks to stay in phone contact with the others who were out there running down leads.
Chris was in the living room reading fairy tales to Cody and Grace when he heard the phone ring. He let Dottie answer it on the kitchen extension, waiting for her to tell him whether it was important or not.
Dottie appeared in the kitchen doorway and called out, "It's Agent Standish."
"Thanks." Chris reached over to pick up the cordless phone.
"Grace, you sit here and look at the pictures. Daddy is going to put Cody to bed, then talk to Uncle Ezra on the phone."
Chris settled his daughter on the couch. Once he had placed Cody in his crib, he headed into his den.
"Ezra, I'm sorry about putting you on hold. I had to tend to the kids. What did you find out?"
"I spoke to the bank president and had him do some research for us. The twenty-five thousand dollars deposited to Ms. Morris's account was sent from an off-shore bank account… the same one which sent money to JD's."
"Damn, are we missing any more from the Larabee 7 accounts?"
"No, I checked to be certain. This money came from somewhere else. I thought perhaps we could have JD attempt to track it further."
"Give JD the information he needs. Where are you going next?"
"I will be joining Buck to assist him with the interviews he is conducting."
"Fine, keep in touch." Chris returned to the living room where Grace was still looking at the pictures in her book.
He settled back on the couch, with his youngest daughter in his lap, and flipped the pages back to the story he had been reading to her when Ezra called.
"Shh… son," Vin crooned into Bren's ear. He patted him on the back in an attempt to get the infant to settle down enough to sleep. He was almost at his wit's end. He had no idea what to do to ease the separation anxiety Bren was feeling over Trey being gone. He also knew the infant was reacting to not having his mother's touch and missed nursing at her breasts. He had changed, fed, and burped him. Bouncing Bren on his knee, rubbing his stomach or patting his back, did nothing to ease his son's discomfort.
Tanner stood to pace back and forth with Bren in his arms, continuously rubbing his back and talking quietly to him when his eyes landed on a picture of the twins and Cody that Kelli had taken and framed. Cody wasn't Bren's twin, but maybe, just having another baby close to him would be enough for him to finally get the sleep he needed.
Vin reached for the phone punching in Chris's number. "I need your son," he started talking without even saying hello.
Chris laughed. "I'd give you my right arm if you needed it, but my son?"
"It's Bren. He misses Kel, breastfeeding, and his brother. I can't get him to settle down and I thought if Cody…."
"Say no more, it's worth a try. We'll be over in a few minutes."
Vin hung up the phone, continuing to pace, while Bren cried. He whispered to him softly. "I know son, I miss 'em, too."
Chris prepared Cody to go to the Tanner's. Grace fell asleep and he gave instructions to Dottie to call him when his youngest daughter woke up. Chris could hear the sounds of Bren's displeasure when entered through the Tanner's back door. Innocent children were being affected by Shadowchaser's vendetta against him and he tried to calm his enraged thoughts while he made his way into the living room.
"Good, y'all are here." Vin was relieved to see Chris and Cody. He walked over to meet them. Once the two babies were close, Bren stopped crying.
"I'll be damned." Chris grinned. "It worked."
"I have the playpen set-up; we can lay 'em in there." In no time at all, they had the babies laying side-by-side. It appeared they were both content with the new arrangement.
"Guess they already have that Larabee-Tanner connection working." Chris sat down across from Vin and propped his feet up. "Where are Jason and Andi?"
"They took off to the loft after about twenty minutes of hearin' Bren cryin'."
"It's a guaranteed way to clear a room, for sure."
"Yeah, but I'd give all that I own to hear Trey wailin' right along with him 'bout now." Tanner sighed. "Do we have anythin' new?"
"Nothing concrete," Chris watched a shadow of disappointment cross Vin's features, "but we will."
"This ain't workin' for me Chris, I need to do somethin'. I can't just sit around and wait." Vin stood up and started to pace the room. "I'm not sleepin'; the kid's are too damn quiet, hell the whole house is too damn quiet. I need…" He stopped. "I need Kel and Trey back home."
Chris closed his eyes and listened to the echoes of another time. Sarah's gentle laughter and Adam's giggles rang out in his mind. He knew exactly what Vin was talking about. It did not matter how much loving family surrounded you, nothing replaced the sound or presence of missing loved ones. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Larabee sighed and said softly, "I understand."
The ringing of Chris's cell phone broke the silence in the room. He answered, "Larabee."
JD's voice responded. "Chris, I played with the video and was able to isolate the plate number on the van."
"Good work JD. We have an owner's name?"
"Yeah, it's registered to a Melvin Valance, but he reported it stolen ten days ago, in Boulder. I already called it in to have a nationwide APB put on it."
"Great, maybe we'll get lucky." Chris snapped his phone shut. "Got a license number on the van and it's hot."
Vin nodded, "It's more than we had a few minutes ago." He looked over at the playpen and said quietly, "One step closer, son."
"I know we're probably under surveillance, but I need to go to the cemetery for a while." Chris stood up. "If it's okay with you, I'll leave Cody here."
"Sure, he and Bren are doin' fine. It will give me a reason to stay busy watchin' em."
Denver Pioneer Cemetery
Chris stopped by his house and explained to Grace he would be gone for a little while. Under different circumstances he would have taken her with him, but he was not willing to risk an encounter with Shadowchaser with her in the truck. He made one stop to pick up some flowers and then drove to the cemetery. Pulling up in the same spot he had so many times before, he cut the engine, took a deep breath, and got out of the Ram. Two visitations in less than a week's time, he hadn't been here that often since the first year they were gone.
Walking through the historic section of the cemetery which was founded in 1876 always made Chris wonder why Sarah had been so fascinated with it. She was into family geology and once she discovered some of her ancestors were interred here in a private section, she came often to tend to their gravesites. Many times she would come home and describe some of the beautiful monuments or mausoleums she had seen. It really did not matter now, but it was the reason he had arrange to have her and Adam buried near her relatives.
Right after his wife and oldest son were murdered he made daily trips to visit them in a desperate attempt to keep them close. Finally the gnawing numbness wore off and the reality that nothing he did would bring them back set in. He turned his attention to hunting down the person responsible for their deaths, becoming obsessed to the point nothing else mattered. If it hadn't been for Buck's intervention, Chris knew he would have certainly ended up buried six feet under too. All earlier leads ended up in dead ends. Now it appeared he was being given a second chance to catch Sarah and Adam's killer once and for all.
Larabee finally reached his destination. He gazed down at the names on the double marker and searched inside himself for the words he wanted to say. "The boys and I are getting closer to catching the person responsible for taking you away from me. He goes by the name of Shadowchaser and has been wreaking all kinds of havoc for the Wild Bunch the past couple of weeks. I won't let him slip through my fingers again. I promise you."
He brushed the snow off the headstone and knelt down to lay flowers first on her grave, and then Adam's. "Over the last few weeks, I've learned a few things that have given me a new point of view to consider. I reckon it would not surprise you to know I discovered my beliefs had a rather narrow scope. You always said I should just let go and allow myself to be more open to new ideas. Well, I guess you could say all my old ways of thinking have been blown to hell. You see there's this spirit, his name is Cowboy…"
Chris talked to Sarah for almost an hour telling her about all Cowboy and Tracker, ending with what had happened to Kelli and Trey. "…I don't know what you can do. If you have any influence maybe you could kinda see about some special help for them. Wherever they are I'm afraid for them. I lost you and Adam and I've learned I can survive, but Sarah, you would love both of them. I need my eldest daughter and our grandson back. Not just for me, but for Vin, Andi, Jason, and Bren, too. If that's not meant to be, then watch over them for me until I join all of you. I love you both and miss you every day." Chris stood up, took a last look and then turned to briskly walk back to his truck.
As Chris left the Spencer family section he passed by the small granite chapel belonging to the Hawks family. It dated back to the 1870's and had two statues which captured the pose of a hawk in flight set on each side of the old structure. Unfortunately he did not take time to really look at it. If he had, he might have discovered there was more to the old chapel than first met the eye.
Shadowchaser had searched for weeks for the perfect setting in Pioneer Cemetery to leave Kelli. Including Trey was a bonus which had not been expected. Nevertheless, it was an ironic twist of fate to discover the underground mausoleum beneath the old chapel located a scant twenty feet from the graves of Sarah and Adam Larabee. The statues of the hawks were the ultimate icing on the cake so to speak, considering that Tanner used Hawk for a codename while he was in the Rangers. After inspecting the site and finding out how easy it was to break the locked seal the Hawks family installed to permanently close the final resting place of their ancestors, the search was over.
*You ain't said a word in two hours, you okay?*
Kelli huddled with Trey beneath one of the blankets. "I've been better."
"Reckon you have.* Tracker was worried about his charge. When the heavy stone door closed the night before and Kelli's ties to the outside world disappeared, it was as if her spirit vanished with it. If he did not find a way soon to rile that Larabee temper of hers, he feared he may lose her. *Vin is comin', all you have to do is hold on.*
"Will you tell him where we are?"
*We've been over this before, you know I can't do that.*
"So you said."
*What happened to the Larabee grit you were spittin' out yesterday?*
"I'm tired and I have a baby who needs heat and time to heal. Instead we're locked in…in a damn crypt that's cold, damp, and musty, with a stubborn Tanner who says he wants to help, but won't do one little thing I ask him to do. I don't have much grit left. I damn sure won't waste what little I have left arguin' with you!"
*You know, 'm not exactly crazy about bein' here myself. Never did like bein' confined.*
"Then leave, I don't see a chain locked onto your ankle. Hell, I can’t even see you at all! Maybe you're not even here; maybe you're a figment of my imagination."
*I'm here, and I ain't leavin'.*
"Fine, just sit or stand or whatever you're doin' on the other side of the room and don't talk to me!"
Tracker leaned back against the wall, tilted his hat forward and smiled, pleased to hear she was angry with him again. She'd be all right for a while longer and when she lost all her grit, he'd give her some of his. He would do whatever he had to do to keep her going. Kelli and Trey Tanner were both going to survive. They had to; it was the only outcome he was willing to accept.
Huge chunks of Ice were mixed with the steadily falling snow. Tanner was fighting against the force of the wind trying to walk. For every step he took forward, the powerful gusts pushed him back two. Finally he felt he was making some progress, then the wind grew stronger, he tripped and fell. Instead of hitting the ground he found himself freefalling into a black hole. There was no bottom and while he was falling two hawks circled around his body calling to him.
Sunday November 4th
Tanner Home ~ 6:00 a.m.
Vin jerked awake. Evidently he dozed off and was having another damn vision. He looked over at the clock and saw it was only six. He was trying to hold himself together; however it was becoming more difficult. It was almost a week since Kelli and Trey disappeared. Getting through the days was hard enough, but the nights were almost impossible to endure. Instead of sleeping he slipped away from the ranch to cruise some of the worse parts of Denver. He talked to every sleazy bartender he could and reached out to his old contacts on the street. Vin was eager to get a lead on a man he knew only as Barnabas, who was the same man that bailed Rita Morris out of jail. And the only remote lead he had to find his wife and son.
"Dad, you okay?" Jason wasn't sleeping well either. He was awakened when his father left late last night.
"Nothin' for you to worry about, son," Vin answered softly. Gathering his eldest close to him, they both barely missed being kicked by Tornado Andi as she turned over in her sleep.
"Dang it Andi, watch what you're doin'!" Jason started to shove her leg over, but Vin stopped him.
"Easy, son, she's still asleep." A natural silence fell between them and for a few minutes Andi lay still.
Jason felt comforted by his father's presence and stared at the ceiling. A thought occurred to him. "How come y'all don't have pictures?"
"What kind of pictures?"
"On your ceilin', Dad," Jason told him. "Andi had clouds, the moon and a whole bunch of stars and you painted mine with wild horses runnin'."
"Hmm, well we do have skylights in here, and a glass dome over the bathroom and hot tub area. Reckon, I'll ask Mom when she gets home what she would like. You can help me and we'll paint whatever she wants."
"She's comin' home soon, right, Dad?"
Vin heard the worry in Jason's voice. His son was scared and trying his best not to show it. "You bet, pard, she and Trey will be here soon, real soon." Tanner tried to sound reassuring, but his own fears were attempting to surface, despite his efforts to dismiss them.
Casey watched her husband carefully as he read to the girls, looking for any sign he might be pushing himself too hard. She understood his need to help, but she was worried about his health.
Once the story was finished, Lilah and Daisy ran off to their rooms for a promised tea party with Nettie. "I'm fine baby." JD knew exactly what his lovely wife was doing. "Working with CASSIE is not all that strenuous. Besides, I’ll be going back to work in three weeks anyway."
"If that's all you did, I wouldn't be so concerned, but I know you JD.…"
"I love you Casey, and would do anything to make you happy. Just don't ask me not to do something you know I have to do." JD read the answer in her eyes before she said a word.
Wrapping her arms around his waist Casey laid her head on JD's chest. "Do what you have to; just make certain you come back to me safe and sound."
"I'm back Case, and I'm not gonna disappear on you, I promise." he placed a finger under her chin and lifted it upward so he could and kiss his wife. "Right now, I'm going over to check on Vin."
"Tell him…" Casey sighed. "Tell him if he needs help with the kids, I'm available." She handed JD his coat and watched him leave. There was no way she would interfere with the bond the seven of them had, not even if she could.
Chris stood at the window watching the snow fall. His daughter and grandson were out there somewhere and he was frustrated. He was used to confronting the enemy, yet Shadowchaser was damn good at hiding. All the old leads on Sarah and Adam's murders were stalled in the same place as before and new ones were slow in coming. Waiting was not something he was used to and he did not like it one bit. While Kelli and Trey were foremost in his thoughts, he worried about Vin too. Up until now, he was pretty much been keeping it all together, concentrating on Jason, Andi, and Bren. However, after the phony service yesterday, Chris noticed a marked change in Vin's attitude.
Buck came in the back door, stomped the snow off his boots and hug up his coat. "Morning Stud."
"Morning," Chris shook his head. It was becoming routine for them to gather every day at either his home or Vin's to offer their support. Although he did not feel it was necessary, it was just something they all did. Whenever one was hurting, they circled the wagons and combined their strength to weather the latest storm in their lives.
"Our boy went out again last night." Buck poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down.
"Does he know you and Ezra followed him?"
"Don't think so. Normally he would, except Vin is anything but normal now." Buck told him. "He's not being careless, just driven; he ended up in Purgatorio, back to his old haunts."
"Vin still has some good contacts down there," Chris said. "He can handle himself, so for now we'll let him run, just stay close. He's headed for a fall real soon. We're gonna be there when he does."
"Of course if we had even the smallest lead to go on he wouldn't feel like he has to go to this extreme. All I can be sure of after three days of interviews is Rita Morris did not expect to die. She evidently saw the chance of a windfall from the twenty-five thousand dollars, but she was tight-lipped about what she had to do to earn it." Buck was as frustrated as the rest of them. "There's nothing else there to find out, Chris."
"Okay, we forget Rita Morris; we still have this Barnabas guy. What do we know about him?"
Ezra spoke from the doorway. "Not much." He removed his coat and hung it next to Buck's. "We don't even know if that's a first or last name." Standish reached into the cupboard and removed three cups to fill with coffee.
"Are you thirsty, Ez?" Buck asked, "Or have you developed ESP?"
The door opened again allowing Josiah and Nathan entry to the Larabee home. "ESP, now that is a subject I find interesting." Josiah said as he took off his coat.
"Especially on this particular case," Nathan commented, taking the offered cup of coffee from Ezra.
"How is Hannah doing, Josiah?" Chris asked, not sure he wanted to discuss ESP, spirits or visions.
Josiah pulled out a chair and sat down. "Doctor Rivers is trying a new type of drug on her. He says she is showing small signs of improvement. As soon as we get Kelli and Trey home, I plan to visit her."
"What are we going to do about Vin?" Nathan asked. "If we don't get something soon…"
"We will damnit!" Chris snapped. "Vin will be okay. It might be a little rough for him right now, but once Kelli and Trey are found, he'll be fine."
Buck gave Nathan a chilly glare. "It's rough for all of us, but as long as we stick together we'll get through this."
Nathan mentally kicked himself. Chris was so in control of his emotions; he wasn't even thinking about how difficult all this was for him. Knowing that Sarah's killer now had his daughter and Trey had to be eating away at him. "Chris, I…"
"I'm okay, Nate." Larabee assured him. "I won't lie and say it's not hard because it is. Still, I feel confident we're going to catch a break soon. I can't change what happened to Sarah and Adam. I can however, get the bastard who killed them. That is what keeps me going. In the meantime, I plan to make sure Vin doesn't sink into a hole like I did. Buck was there for me, and all of us are here for him."
"Amen Brother," Josiah said.
Buck's cell phone rang, "Wilmington." He listened and then cursed, "Damnit! Don't touch a thing. Keep everyone away until our ME gets there with his forensic team."
"What now?" Larabee waited for a report.
"That was the DSP, they sighted the stolen van, attempted to stop it, the driver took off, and they gave chase. The pursuit ended when the van flipped and rolled. The driver was apparently the sole occupant of the vehicle and he's dead. ID on him says his name was Barnabas Lugar."
"Sonofabitch," Chris growled, pounding his fist on the table, "Another fucking dead end!" he took a deep breath. "Call Bones, give him the location. Nathan, you and Josiah meet him there." They were on their feet and out the door within two minutes.
Chris, Ezra, and Buck sat in silence for a few minutes.
"I'm been thinking Chris. This Shadowchaser is someone who knows weapons, is an expert sniper, and seems to have access to a helluva lot of information. The fact that as far as we know Kelli and Trey are still alive has me wondering. Why?"
"Your point is Buck?"
"What do we know about Raven, other than he settled an old debt with Vin?" Buck held up his hand. "Before you say anything, think about it. He has the resources, the skills and for all we know some twisted motive to present himself as Shadowchaser."
"You're not serious." Ezra was amazed. "The man works for a section of the CIA they won't even acknowledge exists. You can't possibly believe…"
"Check him out if you want, but I think you're on the wrong track Buck. It's highly unlikely he was the one who killed Sarah and Adam." Chris told him as the house phone began to ring. "Excuse me." he left the table to answer it.
"If you insist on following your line of thinking, I will of course assist you; however I agree with Chris. You are on the wrong trail." Ezra told Buck.
"You're probably right. I guess I'm just grasping at straws."
Chris returned. "That was JD; we have some work to do."
Since the mock memorial service for Kelli and Trey yesterday, things had gone downhill fast. In fact straight to hell was how it seemed to Tanner. Although everyone had worked tirelessly over the past week to follow every tiny lead they could gather, they still came up with nothing solid to go on. The stolen van had not turned up and evidently Rita Morris told no one who she was working for. Even CASSIE was failing to generate new information. Vin was on edge and desperate, not a good combination under normal circumstances, let alone in a time of crisis.
Bren had been crying for almost an hour. Vin rocked him in his arms while he paced the kitchen. JD, Max and Walter worked to prepare lunch and tried to stay out of his way.
"Daaaddy!" Andi yelled, running into the kitchen. "Jason won't let me play the game! He says I'm too little and I'm not!" She stomped her foot to emphasize her point.
Jason followed closely behind her. "She's just being a baby! She turned off my gameboy before I could save my game!"
Jason and Andi usually did not fight with one another much, but it was all they had been doing for the past two days. Between their bickering and Bren's crying, Vin had heard enough. "Stop it!" He yelled at the top of his lungs.
Silence immediately filled the room; even Bren halted his crying jag. The tone of his father's voice was not one he had heard before and wasn't sure what to make of it. Without a word, Vin handed the baby to Max, grabbed his coat and left the house. He was not sure where he was going, but he knew he needed to get away before he lost what little control he had left.
Inside Jason was the first to recover from his dad's outburst. "See what you did Andi! You made Dad yell!'
"Wasn't me, it was you!" she shouted.
Bren took up where he left off and joined his brother and sister in escalating the noise in the room.
Max looked at JD and told him, "Call Chris, tell him it's time." The kids she could handle. It was their father she was concerned about and Larabee had been waiting for Tanner to reach this point.
Vin found himself walking toward the barn. His first thought was to saddle Peso to ride as far and as long as he could. He did not have the heart however, to risk injury to his horse on the treacherous ice and snow just to temporarily escape his own demons. Instead, he grained the horses and picked up a brush. Peso received a vigorous grooming session while his master attempted to work off some of his anger. Midnight, Dreamer, Thor, and Dora each had their turn, but Vin avoided approaching Dancer. The sorrel mare was use to attention and did not understand why she was being left out. The soulful look she cast in Vin's direction was more than he could take.
"You win, Lady," he said, walking over to the mare. Dancer stretched out her neck so she could nuzzle his coat as he neared her. Vin felt shame fill him at his treatment of Kelli's horse. It wasn't the mare's fault her owner wasn't there to care for them both and Vin taking his turbulent emotions out on her wasn't going to change things. With a gentle touch, he began grooming the horse his redhead loved. Memories overwhelmed him when he thought about rides they had taken together, pleasure trips to the lake house, making love in a mountain meadow of wildflowers, racing across the pasture… what if memories were all he had left?
*Don't give into the darkness threatening to consume you Tanner.*
Vin stilled in his grooming of Dancer, hearing Cowboy's now familiar voice in his head. "Tell me where my wife and son are. Better yet, bring them back to me and you've got yourself a deal."
*It doesn't work that way,* Cowboy's voice was firm, but held remorse.
Tanner whirled around and saw Cowboy's figure leaning against a wall, just inside the doorway of the barn. "Why the hell not?"
*Tracker and I've already explained it to you. We can only guide you, not...*
"Change the fuckin' course of the events and how they play out, I know. Well then guide me to my wife and son damnit, before it's too late."
*They're still alive, hang on to that, and watch for the signs which will lead you to them.*
"You think 'm not? There are no fuckin' signs! All we have is one dead end after another and nothin' to move on! You say they're alive, prove it!" Vin furiously shouted.
"I ain't your son and you're not tellin' me shit! You know what signs I have? I have two kids who are fightin' like cats and dogs. I have a baby who is sufferin' from bein' separated from his twin. He hates the damn bottle I have to give him in place of his mother's breasts. I have a house full of damn flowers and condolence messages for my losses. I sat through a freakin' memorial service for my missin' wife and son for God's sake, havin' to pretend they're dead!" Tanner vehemently vented his anger, "That's all the signs I see!"
Chris waited almost an hour before hunting Vin down. He thought it would give him more than enough time to calm himself. Judging by the shouting he heard as he walked up to the barn, he was wrong. He cautiously entered, not sure just what he was walking into. "You look like hell, Vin, you okay?"
"Hell no, I ain't okay! I'm standin' here yellin' at a goddamn Cowboy spirit and losin' my mind!" Vin growled. "It's …. Aww hell." He willed himself to calm down and then said forlornly, "I yelled at my kids, Chris."
"They'll survive it a lot better than you." Chris hated to see Vin feeling so dejected. "Buck took Jason and Andi to his house, they're fine. I left Cody with Bren and both of them are sound asleep. Ezra and Walter loaded up all the flowers and took them to the children's ward at Denver Memorial." Larabee sat down on a bale of hay. "So tell me, what did Cowboy do now to piss you off?"
Tanner took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It's not what he said that pissed me off; it's what he hasn't said. All he keeps tellin' me is that I have to hold onto my beliefs, and not to give up. He don't want to tell us shit!"
*Can't, not won't, there's a difference.* Cowboy wanted to end it here and now. Tell them where Kelli and Trey were and hope the results weren’t catastrophic. *If I break the rules, there's a chance you could lose both of 'em. Are you willing to take the risk?"
Chris looked at Vin and knew the answer, "No, but there must be something more we can do."
*What the two of you have been doing is important.* Cowboy insisted. *I know it’s hard to stand back and wait, but don't think the time the two of you have spent with your other kids hasn't been necessary because it has.* He thought carefully about his next words. *Tracker is staying in touch with me, if it looks like we're running out of time; I promise I'll either tell you what you want to know or intervene, though only as a last resort. In the meantime, try a little patience.*
Larabee nodded, "Walter has been checking the perimeter of the ranch and can't find any evidence that we're under surveillance, so you can quit sneaking out. Barnabas has been found along with the stolen van, unfortunately he's dead. However, the forensic team is going over the vehicle now, and if there is anything to find, they'll find it. In fact, Bones said he may have something for us by in the morning."
It did not surprise Vin that Chris knew about his nocturnal trips out. "I reckon I can hold out another day or so, but if Kelli or Trey need out, I want your word, Cowboy, you'll tell me or intervene and damn the consequences."
*You have it.*
"Since we have that taken care of, let's go to my house and make some plans," Chris suggested.
"I'll meet you in a bit, I need to stop by Buck's house and hug my kids first."
"See you there." Chris stood up and asked, "You coming with me Cowboy?"
*Yeah, maybe I can piss you off next.*
Kelli laid her hand on the hawk pendent Vin gave her and thought about the irony of where they were. Shadowchaser, or whatever the hell that twisted soul called itself, had calculated every move, paying meticulous detail to planning everything. Sealing them into a crypt of Hawks family ancestors was just showing a sick sense of humor. She continued to pick at the lock attached to the blasted chain around her ankle as she had for the last five days.
*It ain't gonna budge.*
"I can try." Kelli was too exhausted to argue with Tracker any longer. She'd always felt she could handle most any situation she might come up against in her line of work, relying on her training to help her. However, never did she imagine Trey would be involved. Or being locked in a cold, dark, underground burial chamber would affect her as adversely as it seemed to be doing. It was increasingly difficult to hold on to her belief that Vin would fine them before it was too late. Physically, she ached all over, had numerous cut and bruises and felt like hell. Mentally she had taken a beating too. Concern for her son, being confined in the dark, worry about what Vin, Chris and her other children were going through, and plain old fear had worn her down.
*You need sleep.*
"Can't, I need to stay awake for my son." She could only sleep ten to fifteen minutes at a time and then would wake up to check on Trey. So far, she managed to keep the mice and spiders off of him, but she was also worried about his ear infection. The medicine was all gone, and the dampness in this hellhole was not helping his recovery.
*Lord you are a stubborn woman.*
The baby fussed in her arms, tired of being held, irritable from his earache, and not thrilled about being in the dark for the past five days. "He is so miserable and I can't do a damn thing to make him feel better." Kelli coughed uncontrollably. trying tried to shift into a more comfortable sitting position.
Since they weren’t constantly sniping at one another he and Kelli actually engaged in a few calm conversations. Most centered on Vin, and the children. Tracker told her about the Tanner family and she gave him a better understanding of his great, great, grandson. He was more than content to learn the Tanner code he had lived by was being carried on to another generation.
*Hand him over.* they discovered a few days ago if Tracker concentrated he could hold Trey for a short time
Kelli allowed him to take the baby and then shook her arms to get the blood circulating in them. She had been holding Trey for so long, her arms were partially numb. She attempted to stand and was hit by a wave of pain, almost causing her to fall. "Damnit," she swore.
*Sit down. You're half sick as it is and I don't know how much I can help you if you fall.*
Brushing a lone tear off her cheek, she took a deep breath to lessen the cramps assaulting her and eased down to a sitting position again. "I think you may be right. I really don't feel well."
*Drink some more water.*
"We only have a few bottles left . I want to make 'em last as long as possible." Another wave of cramps hit her and Kelli yelped, "Ouch."
* Try to rest.* Tracker was concerned. They were going on six days down here and Kelli was having a hard time. She was not well, and the normally feisty redhead's mental strength was slowly deteriorating. *I got your back.*
Although he was pleased to see her curl up under the blanket and close her eyes, he knew she would not sleep long. He reached over and tucked the blanket tighter around her. If something didn't happen real soon, he was going to have to seriously consider breaking a few rules.
Revenge consists primarily of retaliation against a person in response to a perceived wrongdoing. Although many aspects of revenge resemble or echo the concept of justice, revenge usually has a more injurious than harmonious goal.
Monday November 5th
Camp Larabee ~ 8:00 a.m.
It was almost the same as being in the MCAT HQ office. JD's head was buried in CASSIE data. Ezra and Josiah were working the phones, gathering information, while Nathan was going over every detail of a pile of old case folders stacked on the table in front of him.
The door opened and Vin walked in with Buck. "Man is it ever gettin' cold out there." Vin set two paper bags on the table and then rubbed his hands to warm them.
"Aww, it's just a little nip in the air. It's that thin Texas blood of yours complaining." Buck grinned, setting down the covered plate of breakfast burritos he was carrying. "Inez sent food."
"I take it you got everything squared away with Jason and Andi?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, we're all good." Vin poured a cup of hot coffee and grabbed a burrito.
Bones and his forensics team meticulously worked through all of the Old River Bridge crime scene evidence over the past week. How Travis arranged for MCAT forensics to take the lead on it he did not know and was not going to ask. It was a daunting task at best, but he was proud to say his team handled it with professional accuracy. Added to their heavy work load was the processing of evidence inside the van recovered yesterday. Another body was recovered from it and they were attempting to identify the second man.
Although he spent most of his time helping to identify the remains of the victims who died in the bridge explosion, Bones was also taking care of the private matter Chris requested of him. He now held the results in his hands. He had checked and double checked, and yet still found it hard to believe
"Greg, I'll be out of the office for a while." Bones told him. "You're in charge 'til I return. Kat, you keep workin' on those compounds, hopefully we can trace where they came from."
"We're getting close," Kat answered absentmindedly as she studied a slide in the microscope.
"Carry on then." Bones left Greg and Katrina to continue with their work and headed out to the parking lot to the MAU. He had already informed Larabee he wanted a face to face meeting. He hoped his commander was ready for a surprise.
Upon arriving at Camp Larabee, Bones gathered up his notes, and exited the vehicle. He shivered involuntarily as the chilly wind blew. He made his way to the entrance of the faux barn which housed the Camp Larabee office. Opening the door, he stepped inside. "It certainly is a blustery day," he said by way of a greeting.
"It certainly is," Josiah answered him. "You want some coffee or soda?"
"Coffee will do for me, thanks." Bones set his briefcase down, took off his coat and sat down. "First things first, Old River Bridge," He said, pulling some papers from his briefcase. "You already know Travis arranged for MCAT to work the forensics on the disaster to conceal the facts about Agent Coulter and her son. As of this mornin' the recovery efforts have ceased, the death toll officially stands at 29, with four persons still missin', Kelli and Trey included. My team is workin' to break down the components of the explosives used. I won't bore y'all with the scientific terms, but I do have a copy of my report for you to work with JD."
JD took the file passed around the table to him. "CASSIE and I will get on it now."
"You have anythin' for us on the stolen van?" Vin asked when Bones seemed to ignore the topic.
"I've told you about all I can tell you so far. I am waitin' on DNA results from a second body of a white male we recovered in the wheel well." Bones sought out Larabee with his eyes. "Commander, may I have a word with you in private?"
"You bet." Chris rose from his chair, leading the way into his office. Closing the door behind them, he continued." What do you have for me?"
"A quandary, I'm afraid." Bones said, sifting through his paperwork. "I was able to obtain DNA from the items you gave me. However, I was suspicious of the validity of those results until I did some more research."
"Cut the long explanations, either you got it or you didn't," Chris growled out his frustration. All he wanted was the identity of the bastard who killed Sarah and Adam.
"I'm gettin' to that, but in order to give you what you want, I had to resurrect the dead."
Larabee clenched his fists, counted to ten, took a deep breath and said, "Explain."
"Your unknown identity matched a deceased person by name, but the DNA was not the same, so your unknown, which we all believed was dead, isn't and the one we thought was dead is really alive."
"In plainer English please." Larabee had no idea what Bones was talking about.
Maybe this will help." Bones set two reports on Chris's desk. "This is definitely the DNA you collected, and the DNA from the arson case. Accordin' to our records, the second one is supposed to be the same person, at least by name, but it's not. I repeated the test for the second body and found the woman we all believed to be one Christina Adams was in fact someone else entirely," Bones said.
Chris felt a bolt of electricity spike through him in response to Bones' revelation. "Christina Adams was someone we knew as Lady Ice. Are you saying...?"
"Christina Adams, AKA Lady Ice is evidently alive and was not the woman who died in the fire. She is also definitely the person who drank from a can of coke in that mineshaft and presumably was the assassin hired to kill your family."
"Yes, that's why it took me so long to get back to you. I wanted to be positive." Bones continued, "Of course we need to find out how the dental records, as well as the DNA tests were switched, and with whom, in order to identify the woman who did die in the fire…"
Chris wasn't listening. Twelve years… it had taken twelve years… he finally had the name of the person who murdered his wife, son, and unborn daughter. Lady Ice was alive. She had murdered Sarah and Adam, she was the one who destroyed a huge part of his life, and she was Shadowchaser. .
The woman told him and he did not hear what she was saying. He thought back to their first MCAT case which centered on Lady Ice…*
"She was very attractive, maybe 5’6’, mid thirties, green eyes and blond hair."
"That picture came from Interpol, but when I saw her she had brown eyes and black hair. Of course, it was several years ago while I worked on one of my first cases with the DEA. She has a dozen different identities and disguises, but she is one of the best professional assassins out there. If she is involved, you can bet someone is paying the big bucks for her services. Playing games and diversionary activities is what she enjoys doing, almost as much as killing." Katrina sat down and waited for Larabee to say something….
"She is simply known as ‘Lady Ice’, which is her term, not mine. She has laid claim to over fifty kills and demands a very hefty fee for her services." Chris added, "Very few people have actually seen her, but she does have a reputation for playing games with her opponents….
"You may have me, but this city will pay dearly for it." The assassin hissed. "You are not as smart as you think." …"I want that guaranteed in writing from a federal attorney and immunity from prosecution of any alleged crimes that may come to light concerning my … profession." She gave an evil smile, "Do that and I will name all my employers, past and present"…
"You handled yourself well on this case, Kelli, and should be happy with the results. Why aren’t you?" Chris asked.
"Maybe because I know, once that woman gets through dealin’, she will most likely walk away with a slap on the wrist. The information she knows will be too good for the U.S. Attorney to pass up." Kelli sighed. "Just doesn’t seem fair."
"You’re right, its not, but we can’t change the entire system, only our part of it. With this unit, we have an opportunity to make a difference. We can cut through all the BS and red tape and do what we are good at. Sometimes it may not end up all fair, but with the authority we have been given we can level the playing field. The AG has given us the freedom to do what needs to be done without tying our hands in the process. Today, two men are alive because we did our job and who knows how many others could have died in an explosion. That is enough for me…" Chris explained.
His last encounter with her was six months later…*
"I knew you could not resist taking revenge for what they tried to do to you and your friend. You know Larabee; it is too bad that we could not have met under different circumstances. I think we have much in common and could have been very good together."
"YOU LARABEE ARE A FUCKING BASTARD!" Lady Ice was livid as the Marshals took her and began to read her rights.
Then there were the threats from Shadowchaser…
"YOU ARE NOT MISTER PERFECT AND OTHERS WILL SUFFER FROM THE FALLOUT OF YOUR SELF-RIGHTEOUS ATTITUDE."
"A sister holds the key to your salvation, but no one in your family is safe. First, you must relive the agony of losing another child."
Your youngest survived his fate, so far, and one captain's wing is clipped. The con man returned from across the pond, and for now the healer is well.
The oldest suffers the guilt of his neglect, while your leader lies in pain. As for the sharpshooter, his torment is yet to come, and then he faces hell.
Our score, Chris, is 4 to none and you trail in this deadly game. I would offer you more clues, but I promised not to tell.
"You ruined my fun at the barn and my Porsche is a mess thanks to your daughter and Standish. The game is back on Chris…see how close I can get. You can’t stop me. Next time I will leave someone in tears."
*I'm still way ahead in this game Chris, better score some points soon or you'll end up with nothing.*
"Chicken Little warned the sky is falling. Alas it was not the sky, but a great silver bird. Prepare yourself Chris, the ride we're on is headed for lethal waters. It's too late to get off now."
It was all beginning to make sense, this time she was out for revenge. He had her two years ago for murder, conspiracy, and the attempted murder of Director Travis. Except, because he believed in the rule of law he handed her over, knowing she would make a deal for herself. JD, Travis, Nathan, Hannah, and Buck, were her victims as well as the dozens she killed to set up her elaborate plan to get to him. Kelli and Trey were in her hands now and he could have stopped it all. Chris knew now he should have killed the bitch when he had the chance and because he didn't she was back to destroy more of his family. All the time he played by the rules she was getting away with murder. The rage unleashing inside him was irrepressible and only one thing could dispel it. This time she would not have an opportunity to make a deal.
"I appreciate you following through on this, but we'll take it from here, Bones." Chris stood up and helped the ME gather his papers.
Doctor Metfield knew a dismissal when he heard one. "Call me if you need anythin' more."
"I will." Chris quickly saw him out.
Vin recognized the change in Larabee's demeanor immediately. "What is it Chris?"
"We have a name and all the evidence we need to prove Lady Ice is alive. She is Shadowchaser. She's also the killer who murdered Sarah and Adam."
Chris's statement was met with stunned silence.
"Josiah, new profile, JD scrap what we had and change Christina Adams AKA Lady Ice's status from deceased to living, see what it gets us. Nathan, you and Josiah go over every transcript you can beg, borrow or steal from the Justice department concerning that woman. Buck, Ezra, we've been asking the wrong questions. Haul your butts out there and ask the right ones." Chris shouted orders. "No one is to refer to that bitch by any name but Ice from here on out, she's no lady."
Chris sat down next to Vin. "I know how badly you want to get your hands on Shadowchaser, however this changes everything. I let her get away once, not this time."
"Kelli would have recognized her, which means Ice will have to kill her." Tanner knew their time was running out.
"No! Not this time! Ice has taken all the family from me she's gonna get. Her days are numbered, but before I kill her, she will tell me who hired her to kill Sarah and Adam." Chris said heatedly. "The game Shadowchaser started is far from over Vin, and we will find Kelli and Trey."
"Shh…," Kelli crooned hoarsely to Trey while she rocked him. Crying was all the tired, cold baby had been doing the past couple of hours. It was breaking his mother's heart into a million little pieces to hear it. Stuck here in the dark, she had lost all track of the time or even what day it was. Also with the possibility of mice and spiders close by, she was afraid to lay Trey down for even a few minutes.
Kelli's head swam with a pounding headache induced by lack of food, illness, and alternate shouting and crying bouts. She didn't know how much longer she could hold on for Vin or Chris to find them. It was getting harder and harder for her to believe there was going to be a positive outcome to their perilous situation. She found herself more than once stroking the butt of her service revolver with her free hand.
Maybe if she could get Tracker to take Trey, then she would have the nerve to end her own suffering, but she knew she could not take her son's life. "Tracker?"
"You've got to take Trey." Kelli's voice broke, desperation overwhelming her. "He's a baby. He doesn't deserve to die like this. Please...take him to Vin."
*Vin and Chris are goin' to find y'all!* Tracker told her, fighting his own emotions seeing her in such a desperate state. *You've just got to hold on a little while longer.*
"Please." Kelli openly wept. "We're out of water now. Without drinkin' fluids, I can't keep producin' enough milk for him. I won't watch him suffer a terrible, painful death from starvation. Help him! Please..."
"You said Vin carried on your Tanner code of right and wrong. He wouldn't let this child suffer. How can you?"
Tracker was ready for this to end. He was almost persuaded by Kelli's tears but he knew Trey was the only thing keeping her going. *It won't be for much longer.*
"Trey was sick before we even got locked in here. He needs to go home to survive. Give Vin that much… Give him his son back."
*Vin needs both of you.*
"Well it doesn't look like he's gonna have both of us!" Kelli yelled at him, immediately regretting it when Trey jumped in her arms and began to wail even louder. "Oh baby, I'm sorry... Shh…, mama's sorry. Don't cry." She shifted him carefully in her arms, lifted her shirt and felt relief fill her momentarily as Trey latched onto her nipple and began to suckle.
*Kel, you're sick yourself, tired and desperate. Think about what you're sayin'. Don't let go!*
"Fine! I don't care what you have to do to accomplish it, but you better do somethin' to get my son out of here. One more day is all you get, after that it will be too late."
For the time being, a crisis had been averted, but Tracker knew it was only temporary. He needed to talk to Cowboy and together figure out something fast or he was going to lose Kelli and Trey. That was unacceptable.
Seven men gathered around the table to combine the information they had obtained during the day. Somewhere in the stacks of old files and new information they hoped to find a way to get to Shadowchaser, AKA Ice, and end this nightmare. Until now, she had managed to cover her tracks and stay one step ahead of them. Since they now had a name, the odds shifted to their favor.
Chris started the ball rolling. "JD, you go first."
"Interpol closed their file on Ice since she was declared deceased, but they did give me all they had. Believe it or not they still don't know her real name. She's used dozens of aliases and even disguised herself as a man more than once. The background on her is sketchy, though. As far as they know she lost her family at a young age, and probably saw them murdered during a rebel conflict of some kind. She was taken prisoner by the rebels and taught to kill. Evidently she was good at it because Interpol credits her with fifty or more paid executions. However, her career ended when she was forced to make a deal to stay out of prison."
Josiah took up the next part, the new information gathered filling in the holes in his initial profile." I missed the clue Ice gave us about Patrice Garner. Her death was meant to tell us this was personal, not just against MCAT. I also suspect she was the unnamed source who sent Senator Green on his mission to 'get us" with an FBI task force."
"We know what she did. Why did she do it?" JD asked.
"Apparently she blames, Chris, for ending her career. Killing is all she knows to do and she is good at it. After she talked to the Justice Department, naming names, no one would dare hire her. Although, we know she did not tell them everything. She needs to kill to validate her existence and has used her expertise to form an elaborate plan of revenge against you, Chris. Your refusal to cross the line and let her go has probably been eating away at her. Now she wants to prove you can be pushed hard enough to forget your principles and become a killer, the same as she is. I believe she expects you to kill her."
"Ice has been meticulous in every detail, and used her trademark diversion tactics to keep us off balance," Buck continued. "Personally, I think she's off her rocker. She has a sick sense of humor and loves the irony of her knowing about Sarah and Adam all the time she was playing you to turn her loose. Obviously the line we couldn’t figure out in her note about promising not to tell was not revealing who hired her to kill them."
"By taking away her thrill of killing, it may well have pushed her over the edge of sanity." Nathan added. "A professional assassin has to have a different mentality than normal people to begin with to do what they do and they thrive on making the kill. Their sense of right and wrong is very different than ours. Trying to make her conform to what we consider a normal life, as the Marshals did in witness protection, would most likely have devastated what was left of her mind."
"We need to try and think like she would." Ezra said. "She struck out at those around you, Chris, and tried to intimidate you with threats. However, she made certain that if we dug deep enough all her clues came back to you or the family. The money from the Larabee 7 accounts, the anagram 'Able Rae', the hits on people we have been in contact with at MCAT, using Hannah to get information on us, all these incidents were to mock you the same way she tried to use you before, knowing she was the 'hit man' used to kill your family. Shooting Director Travis was her way of telling you, she was going to finish the job you stopped her from completing two years ago."
"She attacked us at every level. Our strongest of course was through MCAT. She failed. Hannah was defenseless, which made her an ideal target. JD is our youngest. Killing him was to be a blow to the remaining six of us. The threat against the family, for her was no more than a game. Until her final blow, which was the elaborate ruse she pulled off to take Kelli and Trey." Josiah sighed. "I hate to say it, Chris, but the fact she was the one who killed Sarah and Adam was not important to her, it was strictly a business deal. Playing the game to push you beyond the boundaries of the law was her goal."
"So y'all are saying Kelli and Trey are in the hands of an insane bitch who wants to use them to ridicule Chris?" Vin did not like what he was hearing. He knew more than most about a sniper's mentality. He had seen firsthand men, who were trained to kill, begin to like their work too damn much.
Josiah nodded, "In a manor of speaking, yes. The reason she had Rita die in the bridge collapse was to make you think it was Kel. While you and Chris grieved, she had something else planned, something you were not suppose to discover until it was too late."
Chris listened to it all. He then drew on what he knew about Ice, his experience and a gut feeling. Attempting to think like Shadowchaser, he mulled over her options and came up with an idea. "She has to have a base of operation somewhere in or near Denver." Chris told them. "JD, run a search for any rentals or property purchases over the past year using the names, Larabee, Able Rae, Christina Adams, Coulter, or Spencer. Probably a house and secluded. Unless I miss my guess, it's not too far from Larabee 7. If you don't find anything under those names use Dunne, Wilmington, Standish, Tanner, Jackson, and Sanchez."
"You got it," JD said, turning back to the CASSIE terminal. "Give me fifteen minutes and if it's there, you'll have it."
"Very good Chris," Josiah said. "She does seem to go for sardonic twists and that makes good sense."
It only took twelve minutes before JD had a hit. "Chris, you nailed it. There's a house in the mountains just three and a half miles from here purchased a year ago by a Spencer Coulter and according to social security records that person does not exist. It was a cash buy, the real estate description says it's secluded on three acres, five bedrooms, bi-level, and partially built into the rock."
Ezra read over JD's shoulder. He was already dialing the number for the real estate agent listed for the sale. "I'll have a floor plan for us to work with as fast as the agent can fax it to us."
Vin was on his feet unlocking the door to their weapons room. "I'll pull the night gear and weapons we’ll need."
Nathan was busy checking off the gear Vin was passing to him. "We'll need infrared sensors, and sensitive listening devices, too."
JD jumped up. "I can handle that."
"Great JD, but you're sitting this one out," Buck told him.
"Like hell I am! I sat in a damn cell thinking I would never see home again because of her and then almost died at the hands of that bitch. I'm not asking permission Buck, I'm going! Besides, we can't be the magnificent six, you need me."
"Damnit JD, you're not healed from your last encounter with Ice," Buck argued.
"He's a grown man and it's not your decision Buck, it's his," Chris spoke softly. "All of us have been affected by this woman's need for revenge. I won't make him stay behind."
JD swallowed hard before saying, "Thanks Chris."
"Fine, but you make damn sure you don't get hurt Kid or Brother Buck is gonna kick your ass. You hear me JD Dunne?"
"Loud and clear," JD answered as he went to work on gathering the equipment he would be using.
Josiah grinned. "He's right Buck. The magnificent six just doesn't have the right ring to it."
Cowboy stood back and watched. Larabee had not issued any orders, but each man took charge and knew what they had to do. It was a testament to their bond that even without discussing it, their instincts led them in the same direction.
*It's good to see some things haven’t changed Chris. They're still the best group of men a man could ask for to have at his side.*
*That they are and I'm lucky to have them in my life.*
*Luck has nothing to do with it, son, it's your destiny, always has been.*
"The base of all things is love, respect."
--Vickie Downey, TEWA/Tesuque Pueblo *
The greatest weapon of any Spiritual Warrior is love. Love will change minds; love will forgive; love will let go; love will cause good luck; love will heal; love will cry; love will get rid of resentments; love will overcome fear. Any human who values love will be guaranteed respect. We need to love and respect ourselves.
Camp Larabee ~ 9:00 p.m.
Each man took time to go home, hug their kids and say good-bye to their respective wives. The seven MCAT Special Agents put their turbulent emotions aside, getting down to the business end of their mission. They dressed in black fatigues, painted their faces to blend in with the night and then reviewed the floor plan of the house, taking note of all openings.
Chris assigned their positions. Since Shadowchaser was the main suspect in the destruction of the Old River Bridge, she was classified as a terrorist and could be pursued under the Patriot Act. Larabee called Director Travis at home, asking him to obtain a FISA warrant. It would give them all the authority they needed to not only use surveillance equipment, but also to enter the premises when they could confirm Lady Ice was inside the residence. The rest of the MCAT unit was on stand-by, ready to back them up if needed, however the seven men had every intention of taking Ice down themselves.
Nathan was on the phone with the forensic lab attempting to gain information from Doctor Metfield's report on the stolen van to pass along to the team. "Bones finished his autopsy and his team covered the van. Lugar died from a head injury sustained in the crash. The soil he found on the tires of the van is consistent with the top soil found at higher mountain elevations so it could have come from the Lookout Mountain area where our target house is located." Jackson hesitated before he continued.
"When they took the van apart they found the second body wrapped in plastic and concealed in the spare tire well. Apparently Barnabas was transporting it for disposal. It was a male, mid thirties, dead approximately a week, shot twice at point blank range. After he ran the DNA and prints through IAFIS he came up with a name. Roger Twills and he had a long rap sheet."
Josiah read Nathan's body language, recognizing his unwillingness to elaborate on Twills' criminal record. He felt he needed a little push to provide more information. "What kind of crimes did he commit?"
Jackson sighed and then reluctantly filled them in on what he was hesitant to reveal. "The majority of his arrests involve different degrees of violence against women. The most grievous of the crimes listed were rape. He was charged twice, but never convicted because the charges were later dropped when the women refused to testify. He did a nickel in the state pen for beating a hooker in Boulder and has been out of jail for almost a year."
Chris did not need ESP to know what Tanner was thinking and wisely moved on. "I know I do not have to remind any of you that Kelli and Trey might be in the house and finding them is our top priority. What I do want you to remember is that I want Ice alive, at least until she tells me who paid her to kill Sarah and Adam." Chris told them.
"After that?" Vin questioned with a raised eyebrow. As soon as he found Kelli and Trey he had his own score to settle with the woman.
"She can rot in hell for all I care. What she won't get is another chance to make a deal." Chris stood. "The thirty plus victims of the bridge collapse are on her head, along with the death's of Marshall Ronald Jones, two FBI agents, their informant, Frank Pierce, and at minimum another dozen murders which we know about. That does not even include the attempts she made on Travis, me, Vin, Buck, JD, Ezra, and Kel or what she did to Hannah. Ice is extremely dangerous. She has no conscience and we have to deal with her accordingly."
"Ready to go when you are Chris." Buck slapped the table with the palms of his hands and stood to join Larabee. "JD, you and Nathan are riding with me."
"Let's do it. Ezra, with Vin, Josiah, you'll ride with me. "Chris headed for the door.
By ten o'clock they were in position. Their surveillance equipment was set-up and running. The infrared told them there was no movement inside the house, so they were forced to settle in to wait for Ice to show up, if she even did so.
Maintaining radio silence was difficult and the waiting was hell. Tanner was anxious to get inside to search for his wife and son. Larabee feared they were too late and Ice was gone, along with the information about his daughter and grandson's location. Nathan knew there was a high probability Kelli and Trey would be in need of medical attention. Every minute which passed was putting them in further jeopardy. JD finally felt back in control of his life and wanted to see the woman responsible for hurting his family meet justice. Josiah felt confident Ice would stick around, if for no other reason than to gloat to Chris about her achievements. Buck and Ezra only wanted this to be over. They all wanted the suffering to end for Chris and Vin.
An hour later, a late model black Porsche appeared on the winding road below them. The driver turned onto the long driveway leading to the mountain home they were watching.
"Heads up," Larabee whispered into his mike.
A lone figure exited the vehicle and entered the house. Chris decided not to wait until the suspect discovered the alarm system had been disarmed. He ordered the breech, "Move in."
Seven men moved stealthily through the darkness from their pre-assigned positions, making their entry into the residence. Josiah and Nathan took the back, while JD and Ezra covered the east side door. Vin made his way through the garage while Chris and Buck entered by the front door to confront the killer who had eluded capture twelve years ago and returned to throw all their lives into chaos.
Chris expected resistance. Instead Lady Ice stood next to the bar with a drink in her hand. She presented a slow smile to her 'guest'. Although she did not know when, she had been expecting Chris Larabee to show up since she started this game over a year ago. His presence now did not surprise her. Nor did the fact the rest of the so-called Magnificent Seven were in attendance with the weapons drawn.
"Hello Chris, we meet again and I see you've brought your meddling friends with you."
"This isn't a social call," Chris told her. "You're under arrest, but before we leave here you have some talking to do."
"Oh, but it's good to see all of you in one place." She set her drink on the bar and turned to Nathan. "Mister Jackson, glad your eyesight is better. I assure you, I did not expect to have my message to the FBI intercepted. I wanted them to pay for forcing me to deal for my freedom. I suppose that goes in the win column for you, Christopher."
"You're the only one keeping score," Chris snapped.
Ignoring Chris she spoke to Buck. "Captain Wilmington, you really should not risk your life for others. Travis was my only target. I hated to leave a job unfinished and you happened to be the fool who tried to protect him."
"I'd do it again in a heartbeat, too," Buck answered her vehemently, keeping his weapon trained on the woman.
"I imagine you would." She heaved an exaggerated sigh. "Mister Dunne, I hope there are no hard feelings about our playtime being interrupted. I assure you it was nothing personal, just a necessary play of the game."
JD scoffed, "I didn't miss you when you ran from the hospital."
"Maybe next time," She laughed. "Mister Standish, I believe you are responsible for damaging my Porsche."
"It was my pleasure. I only regret it could not have been worse." Ezra retorted.
"Lucky for you it wasn't. I would have been forced to kill you and you were not on my list." She replied with a hint of annoyance and then spoke to Josiah. "Mister Sanchez, how is your lovely sister?"
Josiah willed himself not to react to her taunt. "Hannah does not miss you at all."
"Indeed, however I bet she never forgets Shadowchaser." Ice grinned. "Such a sweet girl, it's a shame she is so ill."
"Enough of the bullshit," Chris brought her attention back to him. "Fuck your damn games!"
"Ahh, but thanks to you, games are all I have left. You could have turned your back for five minutes, Chris. I would have been out of your life… but no…you had your damn principles."
"Where are my daughter and her son?"
"Ahh, now we get to the heart of your visit." Ice shook her head. "You really should have let me go. The cost for your brand of justice is high." She looked over to Vin." My condolences, Mister Tanner, your beautiful wife and son are beyond your reach. Although if it makes you feel better to know, I assure you their deaths were slow in coming."
Vin tightened his grip on the weapon he held on Ice. As far as he was concerned, her knowledge of Kelli and Trey's location was the only reason she was still alive.
"You will tell us where they are. Then you and I have a score to settle." Chris was barely holding onto his control. "Sarah and Adam, I know you killed them, and I want to know who hired you."
"I was hoping you would figure it out. I wanted to tell you two years ago, but then I still thought you could be manipulated for my own purposes. You proved me wrong Christopher. What about now? Mister High and Mighty Larabee, have you been pushed far enough yet to cross the line of right and wrong you hold so dear?"
"Cut the crap and start giving me facts, or you'll die where you stand!" Chris growled.
"Ohhh, I guess you have. Excellent! I told you that under different circumstances you would find you and I were not so different. You want revenge as badly as I do, don't you? Yes, I can see it in your eyes." She sighed. "Okay, you want to know, I'll tell you why your wife and son died, but to find out who hired me you'll have to decipher the clues I already gave you."
"I know why they died!" Chris shouted.
"No, you don't. In your arrogance you think it was because someone was after you and your family got in the way. You overrate yourself, Larabee. You were never the real target, your wife was. Your son was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was hired to kill Sarah as a message to her father, Howard Spencer. Evidently the old man had pissed off the wrong people; some very important people who couldn't let his offense against them go unpunished. Your work had nothing to do with it. Still, because of your insistence that it did, Howard never realized he was responsible and six months later he had to be taken care of permanently."
"He died of a heart attack," Buck spoke up.
"No, he died of a fast acting; non-detectable poison which gave the appearance of a heart attack. It was one of my better kills, if I do say so myself."
Chris was stunned. All these years he had thought he was the real target; he never considered for a moment anyone would want Sarah dead. "Sarah died because of her father? Adam's death was only incidental? Who…who ordered the hit?"
"Yes, yes and I promised not to tell." Ice was giddy with excitement. This was the moment she had waited and planned for. Finally she would be able to witness it when Mister Law and Order Larabee forgot his precious principles and became one of the undesirable criminals he had spent a lifetime fighting to bring to justice. She walked behind the bar and poured herself another drink before continuing.
"You could have avoided all of this rehashing of lost love and saved many lives, including your daughter's. If you had only listened to me and made a deal. You would never have known about your wife and son and would not be agonizing over it now." She downed the bourbon in her glass. "All you had to do was to look the other way, let me take out Zimmerman, leave the country, and go on with my life. However, your sense of justice wouldn't let you do that would it? Instead you had me arrested and I lost everything!"
"I want to know about Sarah! Who paid to have her killed?" Larabee demanded.
"You ended my career, now it's my turn to end yours. I'm unarmed, but you want me dead don't you? You'll have to kill me in cold blood. When you do, what does that say about your precious principles? "
"The only thing you need to know is that I am the one who was paid to kill your wife." Ice thoroughly enjoyed seeing Larabee's obvious anguish. "I arranged for Dunne to be arrested and sit in jail. I paid to have him killed. When the attempt failed I injected him with Ketamine. I killed the others to discredit your MCAT team's revered and unsullied reputation and to keep you from ending my game too soon. I am the one who blew up the barn and the bridge. I watched all of you as you tried to save those pathetic people, hoping like hell you believed your daughter and grandson were in that river. You'll never find her body or that brat of hers. I am Shadowchaser, your worst nightmare, and I am not afraid to die!"
"That's good, because I am not afraid to kill you." Chris's hand shook with anger as he raised his weapon and took aim at the unarmed woman. Sarah and Adam were never coming back and now Kel and Trey were lost to them. He wanted the person responsible for so much pain and suffering for his family to die at his hands. His finger began to squeeze the trigger when images of Grace and Cody flashed in front of him. How could he teach his children the difference between right and wrong if he allowed this bitch to push him across the invisible line of justice he had held onto his entire life?
Chris knew whatever he did in the next few seconds would stay in this room. He knew his friends would back any decision he made. Yet, killing Ice would not make him feel better, only having his family back would do that. It would scar him forever and his children would ultimately pay the price for his transgression. He loved them too much to ask them to carry such a burden. Being a man of principle and a father they could respect was worth more to him than anything an act of revenge could offer.
Larabee lowered his weapon and exhaled, "Cuff her." He holstered his gun and turned away.
It was Ice's turn to be shocked. "You're a coward Chris Larabee, a fucking coward!" She reached under the bar and pulled a gun, intent on shooting Chris in the back.
"No!" Tanner shouted. As her finger touched the trigger and fired, Vin's 9mm barked. It was followed by the sound of five more shots from around the room. She dropped to the floor, taking with her the truth about the fate of his wife and son. Regardless of what could have been, Lady Ice was dead and Shadowchaser had lost the game.
Chris grabbed his arm. Her bullet missed its mark, but did graze him. Nathan rushed over shouting instructions, "Hold still, Chris, and let me see."
"It's nothing, just a scratch."
"A big scratch and bleeding like hell," Nathan argued. He began tending to the wound.
Ezra was one of the first to recover from the events which had just played out. He walked over to the body, removed the gun from her hand, and confirmed Lady Ice was really dead this time. Six bullets had found their target. Vin had actually killed her, but officially they all would claim credit for the kill shot. "Search the house, there has to be something here to help us find Kelli and Trey."
Buck placed a call to Bones, requesting the forensics team move in. JD and Josiah began a room to room search of the premises.
Chris's anguished green eyes met the tormented blue of Vin's. "I'm sorry." Both men knew the odds of finding Kelli and Trey had just dropped dramatically.
"Nothin' for you to be sorry about, Chris, you didn't take 'em she did," Vin told him. "The bitch planned to kill you too. Reckon she didn't think we'd stop her without knowin' where they were and she planned to deal her way out of it."
"I couldn't do it. I wanted to…"
"I reckon she knew that…counted on it in fact. She just didn't get it."
"Chris Larabee is too honorable to sink to her level. You are not a cold-blooded killer," Vin stated as a matter of fact. "Never have been, never will be."
"It's not life threatening, but you should go to the hospital, Chris," Nathan said while he cleaned and bandaged the injury.
"I've had worse. Just rig me up a sling, I'll go later," Chris said. The pain in his soul was far worse than the one in his arm. "I'm not leaving until we tear this place apart."
Bones and his team arrived. Vin and Chris joined in on the search of the house. They took the lower level and were surprised to find several rooms not shown on the original blueprints. Three of the rooms had locks on them. Tanner wasted no time trying to pick them. He kicked the first two doors open hoping against hope he would find Kelli and Trey inside. Chris took the third door. After busting the lock he entered the small concealed area only to find a bare cot and a baby blanket.
"Vin, you'd better come here."
Tanner followed Chris's voice, stopping in the doorway. His heart fell at the sight of the blanket, recognizing it as one belonging to his son. Vin reached out to take it from Chris's hand and hoarsely whispered, "It's Trey's."
"I'll get the forensic team down here ASAP." Chris gripped Vin's shoulder before he walked out. "We can't give up,"
Vin couldn't answer, the words just wouldn't come. He nodded instead as he held the blanket tightly in his hands. *God Kel, where are you?*
Tuesday November 6th
Tracker was never one who liked to talk much, but for the woman sitting next to him, he made an exception. He knew something was seriously wrong with Kelli; she was in pain, feverish, and had damn near given up the fight to survive. The only thing keeping her going was Trey. So, he continued to talk about what his life had been like as a young man, bounty hunter, peacekeeper, and family man. About his son, grandsons, and great grandson, Vin's father, James Wyatt Tanner.
*I already told you my Christopher had three boys, Wyatt was the oldest born in 1910, and I reckon he was more like me than the others. You would have liked him; he and your Vin have a lot in common. Anyway, Wyatt chased mustangs with Cordell Larabee for a while and then started his own ranch in Texas, married and raised a family. He had a good life and four great kids. He and his wife, Amanda, were married for forty years. His youngest son, James Wyatt joined the Military and when he returned to Texas went into law enforcement. He met Rebecca Hawk and like I did with Ann, and Vin did with you, he knew they were meant to be together. James and his partner were working undercover near the boarder on a smuggling operation when they both disappeared. Vin wasn't even two years old at the time. Rebecca was devastated and moved, refusing Wyatt's offer to take her and the boy in. He tried to find them, but lost track of her and he died two years later, never seein' her or Vin again.*
"You need tell to all this to Vin. He doesn't know much about his father or any of his family. He would like havin' stories to tell our children about them." Kelli said between coughs as she leaned against the wall. "Promise me you'll tell him."
*I promise you, Vin will know it all.* Tracker refused to accept any other outcome. He insisted,*we'll tell him together if you want.*
"Don't think that's gonna happen." Kelli inhaled quickly when a sharp pain hit her. "If I threatened to shoot you, would you take Trey to his father?" She said between taking ragged breaths. It was going on almost nine days, seven of those days spent in this hellhole. Their time had run out; she knew it, Tracker knew it, and she hoped Vin would forgive her for what she was about to do.
Tracker laughed as he brushed her hair back from her face. *Hell, woman, 'm already dead. Did you forget that?*
"No, but I was hopin' you might've." Kelli heaved a sigh as her thoughts rushed to her husband, of the wonderful memories they made from their love, to Jason, Andi, and Bren. The children would keep Vin sane and give him a future to focus on. Chris and all of the Wild Bunch would be there for him, too. Trey needed her and she could not leave him alone. She was ready to go on ahead and, as Anne did for Tracker, she would wait until Vin could rejoin her. "You win; if you won't take Trey to Vin, do the merciful thing and end this…so Trey and I can go with you." Kelli held out her weapon to him.
"Set us free from this prison."
A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky.
Chief Crazy Horse
Chris was dejected when he walked into his home, his movements automatic and defeated. At Nathan's insistence he did stop by the hospital to have his arm looked at and a new dressing applied along with a shot of antibiotics. A few days and he would be good as new, physically. He knew Cowboy would be in with Grace and he wasn't ready to see the spirit yet, so Larabee headed for Cody's room. The driving desire to hold his son, added speed to his steps and took him closer to the comfort he needed.
A half an hour later Chris sat slowly rocking his sleeping son, trying to find some peace. A soft voice interrupted his turbulent thoughts.
"Some things never change. You used to rock our Adam too, when you were looking for your balance."
Chris's green eyes filled with tears as he gazed at his beloved Sarah. "I failed you again, Sweetheart."
"No, my love, you never failed me," Sarah said brushing her hand across his cheek. "I am a very lucky lady, one who knows how much she is loved and cherished by her husband."
"Know not knew?" Chris heard himself ask.
"I'm with you in your heart all the time." Sarah smiled down at Cody before she added, "You have fine children Chris. I'm pleased you were able to let go of your grief. You know the one thing I've always wanted most was for you to be happy."
"Sarah, I never stopped loving you or Adam," Chris told her, needing his first wife to understand.
"Darling, when Cody was born did you love Grace or Kelli less?"
"No, nothing would change my love for them."
"The heart is a wonderful thing with the ability for unlimited love. A new person doesn't replace the old, there is room for both. I know we will always have a place in your heart, but your heart has room for another. Please don't let your misguided relationship with Linda discourage you from finding someone to love."
He nodded and then said, "I failed when it came time to extract revenge for your and Adam's death's and to find out who paid to have you killed. Now the mess I made will cost Kelli and Trey their lives," Chris whispered, his tired sounding voice exhibiting the strain of the last few weeks.
"Trust me love, you did the right thing. The only thing the Chris Larabee I know and love could do. I know the truth, my father knows and someday if fate decrees it, you will find the answers you seek. Don't give up hope. You found my killer and will only fail Kelli and Trey if you give up. You have always believed in what you can see and understand. I also know you have broadened you perspective the past few weeks. I'm asking you to keep your heart and mind open a little while longer. I want you to bring Vin and your other Wild Bunch brothers to visit me and Adam. I promise you all will be revealed in time. Trust your heart; it won't lead you astray."
"When do you want me to bring them?" Chris asked, smiling at her look of shock when he agreed without questions. "Hell, Sweetheart, after everything that's been going on lately you asking me to bring them to see you is easy."
Sarah laughed saying, "I hadn't thought of it like that, you're right. Bring all of them; especially Vin, as soon as you can, it's important." She gently stroked Cody's hair before placing a kiss on his forehead then turned to his father. Their eyes locked, each shining with a love which had never faded. Both leaned forward allowing their lips to meet in passion.
Tuesday November 6th
Chris jerked awake. Looking at the clock he realized two hours had passed. Dream or not he wasn't going to ignore Sarah's request. If she wanted the Wild Bunch brothers at the cemetery, then that was what she was going to get. After checking on Cody, he left the room. There was purpose in his stride as he headed for the den to make his calls.
Buck hung up the phone and took a deep breath. *Damn, Chris, what the hell's gotten into you?* The Larabee he had just talked to was not the same dejected man he'd left a couple of hours ago.
Inez placed her hand on her husband's shoulder. "Is Chris okay?"
"I don't know. He wants me to meet him at Sarah's gravesite at six-thirty." He sighed. "I'm worried about him, Baby. He took it hard when Ice refused to give up the name of the person who paid her to kill Sarah and then refused to tell us where Kelli and Trey are."
"All you can do is to be there for him and for Vin." Inez kissed the back of his neck. "I'll be here for you."
Taking her by the hand he drew her in front of him and then wrapped his arms around his wife. "I know you will, darlin', it's one of the reasons I love you."
Inez leaned into her husband's embrace and sighed, "When you get home, we'll talk about some of the other reasons."
"Yes, we will." Buck kissed the top of her head. "I told Chris I'd call JD and pick him up on my way to the cemetery, so I reckon I should go do it." He patted her backside as she slipped off to make some coffee, and then he reached for the phone.
JD replaced the handset to the phone cradle quietly, trying not to wake Casey. She fussed over him constantly about his health, but then he worried about her not getting enough rest for an expectant mom, too.
"Honey, who was on the phone?" Casey sleepily asked.
"It was Buck telling me Chris wants to see us in an hour." He kissed her brow. "You go back to sleep and yes I promise not to do anything too strenuous."
JD had already told her everything about last night. She knew he was concerned about both Chris and Vin. "Do what you need to, Sweetheart, and don’t worry about me."
"I'll always worry about you Casey, I love you." JD kissed her again and then rolled out of bed to get dressed.
"No problem, Chris, I'll pick up Nathan and meet you there." Josiah sighed, hanging up the phone. He thought he was prepared for just about any way Chris or Vin might react after Ice's death and no sign of Kelli or Trey. This reaction was one he was not expecting. However, if Larabee wanted all of them to meet at the cemetery, then that is what they would do.
Picking up the receiver again he punched in Jackson's number and waited for him to answer.
5: 25 a.m.
"He wants to go where?" Nathan asked. "Yeah, I'll be ready."
Rain poured her husband another cup of coffee. They had been sitting at the kitchen discussing actions they might be able to take to help Chris and Vin through the next few days. "What now?"
"It's Chris. He wants the seven of us to meet at Sarah's grave by six-thirty." He held up his hand. "Before you ask, I have no idea why, but I'll be there…we all will."
Ezra watched Vin talking on the phone with Chris. When they returned here after their mission, Barbara was asleep. He just could not leave Vin in such a tormented mental state to join her. They had not talked much. Ezra knew his friend found no satisfaction in knowing Ice was dead, just an empty numb feeling from the assault of emotions battering his soul.
"Yeah, I'll come. I need to feed Bren first and then make sure Max or Barbara is up for the kids and then I'll be there. Ez too 'm sure." Vin listened for another minute. "I don't doubt that it was. Hell, at this point I'd believe just about anythin'. See you there."
"I take it we are expected somewhere?"
"Yep. Chris wants us all to meet at Pioneer Cemetery by six-thirty. He said Sarah told him to tell us."
"Of course she did." Ezra was skeptical, however he was not about to start an argument. "You take care of Master Bren, while I wake Barbara to watch Jason and Andi."
"Thanks, Ez," Vin said, "Appreciate it."
Denver Pioneer Cemetery
The seven men headed across the shadowed cemetery, the first light of sunrise filtering through the trees. Shoes and boots made crunching noises in the snow as they walked. Chris led the way to Sarah and Adam's graves, not understanding why they were here, but grateful everyone came along without asking any questions.
Nathan and Josiah exchanged a look, saying nothing. Chris needed their support and if this was how they had to show it, so be it. Buck and JD walked in tandem, following Josiah, each one prepared to be there for either Chris or Vin, whoever needed them first.
It took a lot for Ezra to be awake and out before sunrise, but considering he had never gone to bed, it was not an issue. He wanted to tell Vin it would all be okay, however for the past three hours he had been sitting in the Tanner living room with him staring into the fire, not knowing what to say or how to offer Vin any hope.
Vin trusted his instincts, so when Chris called and his gut said to go, he didn't hesitate. He didn't consider himself to be a praying man but with each step he prayed that somehow being here with Chris could give him relief from the torment churning inside his soul. Disappointment filled him when they stopped at Sarah's grave and he felt nothing. Turning away to keep Chris from seeing his pain, something caught his eye. Two hawk statues guarded an entrance, the early morning light giving them a dreamlike appearance which seemed familiar to him.
Chris heard Vin mumble, "Hawks," while Tanner stared at the old stone chapel. Suddenly it all came together in his mind and Vin screamed, "Kelli!" He ran toward the old building. Without questioning Vin's actions, Larabee ran after him with the others following closely behind.
Hawk Family Chapel
Vin ran into the chapel and now stood in the middle of it looking over a small altar to the stained glass which covered the entire back side of the wall. *I know y'all are here, show me where damnit!*
*There's an old hidden door beneath the altar, break it open, Vin, and hurry!* Tracker's voice filled his head. *We're gonna need the doc, too.*
Relief and fear washed over Vin simultaneously. "Call 9-1-1 and give me some help movin' this thing!" Vin barked the orders as he and Buck heaved against the altar, moving it to reveal an old door sealed with a chain and lock.
"Kelli! Kelli can you hear me?" Vin shouted. "Hang on, Baby, we're here!"
"We need a crowbar or bolt cutters to get through the lock," Chris told him. "JD, run to my truck, there are some tools in the side hatch. Bring us some flashlights, too."
"I'll go with him and wait on the paramedics," Josiah offered, "I don't imagine they get too many calls from a cemetery and will need some directing." He and JD left together.
"I'm not waitin', stand back." Vin drew his gun, aiming at the lock. Not wanting to risk a bullet going through the door he shot at an angle, and watched the lock shatter.
After Chris pulled the chain clear, Vin and Buck lifted the heavy door. The first thing they heard was a baby crying. Vin tore down the steps into the darkness, trying not to think about the horrors Kelli had been through in the hellish place. Allowing only a moment to let his eyes adjust to the dark, he moved quickly toward the sound of his son's cries.
*Slow down son; she's sick, confused, and as skittish as a two-day old colt. My watch is over and 'm turnin' 'em over to you, tend to what needs tendin'. You and I will talk later.* Tracker then withdrew from the chamber. It was time for him to rejoin Cowboy. It was up to the younger hawk now to care for his wife and son.
As Tanner moved forward, he heard the ominous click of a weapon being cocked. He froze in his tracks, raising his hand to warn Chris and the others following him to stop. As soon as Vin issued his warning, Ezra, Nathan, and Buck halted their forward movement, waiting to see how things played out. JD returned with a crowbar and several flashlights. Unaware of what had transpired while he was gone, he started down the steps.
"Stop where you are," Buck whispered to him.
Not quite understanding what was going on, JD lowered his voice and said, "Paramedics are on their way, ETA five minutes." He passed the flashlights to Buck.
"If you come any closer, I'll shoot," Kelli issued a shaky warning.
"Kel it's me, Vin," he said soothingly. "You and Trey are safe now; everythin' is gonna be okay."
"No, Vin's not here!" She shouted hoarsely. "You came for my son and you can’t have him."
Vin searched for the right words to say that would get through to his wife. Suddenly he knew, "Aww Sassy," Tanner moved closer and said softly, "All I have is yours, as well as my love, my life, and my protection."
In her present state of mind Kelli found it difficult to believe her Vin was really here, but he'd called her Sassy. He also repeated the vow he made to her on their wedding day. "Vin?"
"Yeah, Baby it's me. I promised I'd come for you, remember?" In the narrow stream of sunlight penetrating through the open doorway, Vin was able to see the outline of Kelli's slender body propped against the cold wall of the tomb. Her legs were drawn, almost to her chest, to form a concave shelter for Trey. One arm was folded to support their son's head, while the other was stretched taut in front of her holding a weapon.
Vin dropped to one knee in front of his wife. Standing behind him, Chris spoke to draw her attention, "Kelli, stand down. We're here, you can let go now."
Slowly covering her hand with his, Vin took the gun from her, passing it to Chris. He leaned forward and without hesitation gathered his wife and son into his arms. Kelli began to cry. A wave of emotion washed over him making it hard to find his voice. "It's over," he huskily whispered, "No one is goin' to hurt you or Trey anymore." He removed his coat, placing it around her shivering shoulders.
"Hand Trey to me so Nathan can take a look at him," Chris said. He saw the look of doubt on Vin's face. "I have one good arm damnit, I can handle him."
Vin reached to lift his son from his wife's lap. Kelli's words stopped him. "No… He has to stay warm. Besides, there are spiders and mice in here. I have to protect him."
Whatever harrowing experiences Kelli had been subjected to over the past week had obviously taken both a mental and physical toll on her. Vin was not going to force her to do anything. However, he was determined to get her out of this tomb and to a doctor. "You've done a good job of it, Kel. Now it's my turn to stand watch."
"I'll wrap him in this." With Buck's help, Chris gingerly removed his coat. "Its sheepskin, lined in wool and guaranteed to keep Trey warm, I promise."
"All right, but cover his eyes, he's been in the dark for…" Kelli realized she had no idea how long they had been locked in the dark. "…For a long time..." Her voice trailed off and she moved her arm, allowing Vin to take their son, placing him securely into Chris's hands. After a coughing fit she asked, "Vin, how long has it been?"
"Only long enough to be a footnote in our lifetime together." Vin realized now was not the time to discuss details. His priority was getting her the hell out of here and not letting her out of his sight for the next hundred years or so. It was only when he attempted to help Kelli stand he realized they had another problem. "Damn," he muttered under his breath.
Chris handed Trey to Nathan, grabbed a flashlight from Buck and then heard Vin swear. "What's wrong?" He turned the light in Vin's direction.
Kelli groaned and hid her face against her husband's chest. "The light… it hurts my eyes."
"Sorry Kel." Chris moved the flashlight, but not before the saw a chain. *Damnit, being locked up in purgatory for a week wasn't enough?*
"Ezra, we need your expertise over here," Chris said softly. He waited until the southerner was closer and whispered, "I don't care how you do it, get that damn chain off of my daughter's leg."
Standish nodded and moved close to Kelli's position. Using a smaller light he examined the lock, careful to keep the beam away from her eyes. "Are you ready to get rid of this excess jewelry, partner?"
"I tried, the way you showed me, Ez, but… I reckon a nail file's not enough." Kelli leaned into Vin's arms, trying to mask the pain she was experiencing.
Pulling his keys out of his pocket, Ezra found the tool he was looking for, one he always kept on his keychain. "Lucky for us, I have something which will work a little better." Within a couple of minutes the lock was open and the chain hit the wall when he threw it aside. "Done, shall we depart this dreadful place?"
"I want to go home," she told Vin. "I need to see our kids."
"I'm on watch now, so it's my turn to make the decisions." Vin lifted her in his arms to carry her out, "Doctor first, then home, no arguments." He made his way out of the underground chamber to where the paramedics were waiting to take her and Trey to the hospital.
Chris looked around with the flashlight, taking inventory of what little Kelli had been left with when that door closed, sealing her and Trey inside. He found her MCAT badge, slipping it into his pocket. The empty water bottles and jerky bags told him more than he wanted to know. He involuntarily shuddered to think about how horrible it had been for his daughter.
"JD and I will finish here. Ezra is already notifying the cemetery office about the damage, Chris. You go to the hospital with Vin. We'll bring your truck and meet you there." Buck said. It was hard enough on him and JD to think about what it was like to be locked in this hell for almost a week. He could only imagine how Chris must be feeling.
"I'll drive myself." Chris headed toward the only exit to climb the steps leading to the chapel. After briefly speaking to Vin as the paramedics prepared Kelli and Trey for transport, he asked Nathan to take Vin's truck and go on to the hospital.
"Will do, I already called Rain. She's on her way to meet us at Denver Memorial." Nathan watched the ambulance pull away.
"Josiah, will you call the rest of the family?" Chris requested. "I have something important to do before heading to the hospital."
"Consider it done. Take all the time you need." Josiah had a good idea of where Chris was headed and was wiling to give him all the space he needed.
Retracing his steps from earlier, Chris walked back to Sarah's gravesite and knelt down in front of it. "Sarah, I won't even try to convince you I understand all that's happened, because I don't. You leading us to Trey and Kelli, Cowboy, Tracker, and Vin's visions, maybe it wasn't meant for me to understand why or how. I will promise you I'll keep an open mind in the future, though. I do know I credit you for stopping me from killing that bi…woman in cold blood, there was no mystery to it. You taught me about the power of love and showed me the strength a loving family can offer."
Chris stood up. "I need to get to the hospital, but I wanted to see you first... I'll love you and Adam forever, Sweetheart." He had left his coat for Trey and shivered from the cold, but he felt better than he had in a long time. The road to recovery for Kelli could be rough going for a while. However, Chris was confident he, Vin, and the Wild Bunch would see her through it. He turned and headed for his truck, his family needed him.
It is not through the great skill of the hunter himself that success is achieved, but through the hunter's awareness of his place in Creation and his relationship to all things."
--Thomas Yellowtail, CROW
If only the human being could understand the power of proper relationships, the need for power and control could be abandoned. It's not what is going on which matters, but how we look at what is going on. It's our relationship to it that counts. Nothing in the world has any meaning except the meaning we give to it.
Denver Memorial Hospital
Vin was already inside the treatment room with Kelli and Trey by the time they had arrived. Nathan and Josiah settled into chairs to wait, while Chris paced to keep himself in motion. He looked up when the emergency room double doors opened and saw Buck, JD, and Ezra enter.
Buck reached Chris first. "We know anything yet?"
"Not yet," Chris answered. "Everything cleared at the scene?"
"Cemetery maintenance personnel are already at work repairing the damage to the mausoleum," Ezra said
"Buck and I removed any evidence which could possibly be traced back to Kelli," JD told him. "We didn't want any nosy news people snooping around trying to make a story out of what happened out there."
Chris nodded. "Good thinking."
"You think she's all right?" Buck asked. "I mean, she did point a gun at Vin, you think…?"
"Being disoriented would be expected after spending over a week locked in the dark." Nathan remembered how he felt just having the bandages on his eyes. "Add sleep deprivation, dehydration, hunger and fear, it's a bad combination."
Josiah nodded, "We still don't know what all Kelli went through in addition to being locked in that hellhole. She may have suffered other trauma we know nothing about yet." None of them wanted to think about the possibility she might have been abused even though all of them had considered it.
"We won't borrow trouble; let's hear what Vin can tell us before we go down that road of thinking." Chris told them. "Rain, Inez, Barbara, Mallory, and Casey are on their way and we should know something soon."
*Patience, Chris, patience,* Cowboy's voice jumped into Chris's head.
*Where have you been? I thought you were supposed to be the one to guide us to Kel and Trey?*
*You object to your Sarah helping?*
*No…no, of course not.* A thought struck Chris. *You arranged it didn't you?*
*You found them didn't you?*
*It's simple. Sarah wanted to help. We needed her assistance.*
*That's it then, you and Tracker are finished here?*
*Not yet. We have a few loose ends to tie up. You still need to understand why we came.*
*Hell, I'm not ever sure I believe it all happened. What else could I possibly need to know?*
*Think on it son, if you don't have it figured out when it's time for us to leave, then I'll tell you.*
Emergency Treatment Room
Tanner refused to leave his wife and son. Dr Landers wisely did not insist, especially when Vin told him what Kelli and the baby had been through over the last eight days. Trey was moved into the same treatment room as his mother and the pediatrician on call was already examining him. Kelli was connected to an IV and her blood was drawn for lab work.
The initial examination showed she had no broken bones or apparent traumatic injuries, aside from bruising and surface abrasions. She was dehydrated, had severe chest congestion, and appeared to be suffering from sleep deprivation and lack of nourishment. The doctor ordered an ultrasound to determine if her abdominal pain was caused by internal injuries.
After thoroughly examining Kelli, Doctor Landers pulled Vin aside to speak to him. "Vin, your wife's disoriented mental state is from lack of sleep, little nourishment, and the mental trauma from being held in captivity. She is congested and I have her on an antibiotic cocktail to ward off any further infections. I see no evidence of a head injury or broken bones, but she is in suffering lower back pain and cramping for a reason. I'm ordering an ultrasound to look for internal injuries I may have missed during my initial examination. Regardless of what we do or don't find I am having her admitted." The doctor hesitated.
"Whatever you aren’t sayin', you might as well spit it out, Doc." Vin wanted to know everything.
"Under the circumstances, I'd advise doing a rape kit unless you're sure she was not assaulted," Landers said. "We can wait until after the ultrasound. I just hate to put her through it after everything else she's been subjected to if it’s not necessary."
Vin closed his eyes; he had worried about this possibility since finding out one of her suspected captors had a record of violent crimes against women. While it would not change how he felt about her, he knew it would make a difference to Kelli if she had been raped. "Let me talk to her, and then we'll decide." He started to go back to Kelli, but stopped. "I want to keep Trey close to her if we can, and get her cleaned up as soon as possible."
"I agree," Doctor Landers told him. "Vin, I've known you both for a couple of years now. Kelli is a strong woman, but this kind of trauma is not something she's going to get over quickly. It will take time, patience and a lot of loving support for her to recover mentally."
Nodding his head Vin answered, "I got time, a helluva lot of patience when need be, we have a supportive family, and I love her, so I reckon we got it covered."
"Never doubted it," Landers said. "I'll talk to the pediatrician about keeping Trey with his mother and we'll go from there."
Moving back to his wife's side, Vin thought about what Landers had told him. He knew he needed to tread carefully because the last thing he wanted to do was to upset Kelli more than she already was. Taking her hand, he sat down next to her bed and spoke her name softly, "Kel?"
Kelli responded to his voice and opened her eyes. "Can we go home now?"
"Not yet, Baby." Vin rubbed his thumb in soothing circles over the palm of her hand. "The doc is still waitin' on some test results for you and Trey. He also ordered an ultrasound for you since he hasn't figured out why you're in pain." He brushed her hair back with his other hand. "Kel, we can go over all the details later and I'll answer all your questions, but Doctor Landers needs to know somethin'. Were you sexually assaulted?"
"No... The one called Roger …he tried, but I shot him with his own gun. Then…she came in and I recognized her…and she threatened to kill Trey if I didn't give her the gun. Roger was whinin' about me shootin' him and she killed him. I didn't have a choice…I should have…I'm sorry."
"Shh…, it's okay, you're safe and Trey ain't goin' far. You don't have to talk about it now."
Kelli did continue to voice her rambling thoughts, "After that they moved us and …God, I thought she was gonna take our baby and…" She could not stop the tears as she remembered how awful it was. "I was blindfolded. Then I was forced to hand Trey over to the 'boss' without knowin' if I would get him back. I didn't think you could find us…even if you did…I thought it would be too late."
"Listen to me, Kel. Ice is dead and this is over. None of it was your fault." Vin trailed a finger down her cheek to wipe away her tears. "We're gonna be okay, Baby, all of us." He sat with her while the technician set-up the portable ultrasound machine and took the pictures Doctor Landers had ordered.
The nurse moved in and injected medication into the IV line. She left and came back with soap and water to wash Kelli's face and hands. "I thought you might feel better if I helped you clean up a bit." She explained to Kelli and kept talking to her as she worked.
Vin sat beside his wife, holding her hand until he saw Doctor Landers standing with the pediatrician. The doctor motioned for Vin to join him and his colleague. He told Kelli, "I need to talk to the doc, but I'll be right over there where you can see me. You try to rest and I'll be right back."
The younger doctor introduced himself. "Mister Tanner, I am Doctor James, your son's pediatrician. After examining Trey, I can tell you he is in better shape than I would expect after what he and your wife have been through. He's very fortunate. Under the conditions he was in I would expect him to at least show signs of exposure, but there are none and he is not dehydrated or congested. Your wife apparently took better care of him than she was able to do for herself. He is a bit fussy, but it's only due to the remains of the ear infection he had last week. A few more doses of antibiotic and he'll be fine. In fact, I am not even admitting him, fill his script and you can take him home or arrange for him to stay with his mother."
Doctor James picked Trey up and handed him to his father with his discharge papers. "The prescription for Trey can be filled here at the hospital." He then shook Vin's hand and continued on to his next patient.
Vin held his son close, knowing the only reason Trey was in such good shape was because Kelli sacrificed her own health to protect him. He turned to Doctor Landers. "Okay Doc, your turn."
Doctor Landers had the results of the lab work in his hands and wanted to talk to Vin before he said anything to Kelli. First he needed an answer to his previous question. "What did she tell you?"
"No, she wasn't raped." Vin noticed the papers Doctor Landers was looking at and asked. "You already have the results?"
"Yes, I put a rush on them." he sighed before asking, "Vin, did you know Kelli was pregnant?"
"Hell, Doc, the twins are only four months old." Vin shook his head. "There must be a mistake. We would have known and besides, Doctor Weeks told us that without the fertility treatments it was next to impossible for Kelli to become pregnant. "
"I believe the tests are correct and although she is only a few weeks along, your wife is pregnant. It appears she has been having problems for a few days and it explains why she's in pain." Doctor Landers placed his hand on Vin's shoulder. "I'm sorry Vin, she's losing the baby. Given Kelli's physical condition and the fact medical care was not available when the first signs presented, she's at the point that I don't think we can do anything to prevent it. We can only let nature take its course. I placed a call to Doctor Weeks and she is on her way over."
Vin knew Kelli could see him from where her bed was located and attempted to control his outward reaction to the doctor's words. He looked down at Trey and felt grief cut through his heart when he thought about the precious miracle being taken from him and Kelli. As strong as his own emotions were, he knew Kelli was going to feel even worse. In her condition he could not see how in the hell she could deal with the fact they were losing a child they did not even know they were expecting.
"Kel was supposed to see Doctor Weeks last Wednesday, but…If she had and had received medical care would …?"
"That is something we'll never know." Doctor Landers closed Kelli's chart. "Doctor Weeks will instruct you on what to expect in the next few hours. In the meantime I'm moving Kelli to a private room. I want to keep her here for a few days. It will give her a chance to get some of her strength back and make certain the antibiotics are doing their job. It is not going to be easy for her, Vin. All you can do is be there for her and use your instincts on how to proceed. If you can persuade her to go to counseling, it will help. I can make a few recommendations when you're ready."
"I'll keep it in mind." Vin shifted Trey in his arms. "While you move Kel, I'm gonna go talk to the family."
"The nurse will stay with her while you're gone. She's going to be in room 214," Doctor Landers told him. "We'll make her as comfortable as possible, Vin. Physically, she'll be fine in a few days."
Vin went over to tell Kelli where he was going. Obviously exhaustion had caught up with her and she was sleeping.
"I'll be with her, Mister Tanner, until we get her in a room," the nurse assured him.
"Ten minutes, that's all I need."
His heart was heavy when he thought about the small life he and Kelli would never get to know. Vin knew it was pointless to torment himself by dwelling on it, but he couldn't help it. He once believed he would never get married or become a father. Kelli changed that the moment she stepped into his life, and then with the addition of Jason and Andi into their family, followed by Trey and Bren; he thought his life was complete. However, learning the new little Tanner would be lost to them so soon made him realize life was never complete. It was what his grandfather had patiently tried to teach him… an unending circle of memories strung together over time.
Vin paused just inside the doors leading out into the waiting room to compose himself, before talking to the family. Already he could feel Chris reaching out to him mentally. Knowing Chris was sensing the torment he was in; Vin hastily shut himself off to it. Kelli would be the one to decide whether or not anyone else learned of their loss.
The moment he stepped through the doors, Larabee swiveled around to face him. Vin was aware of his best friend's scrutiny as family converged around him and Trey. He took a deep breath and began, "Good news first. Except for still sufferin' from the ear infection he had last week, Trey is okay. Kelli did a good job of keepin' him fed and warm."
There were audible sighs of relief all around him.
"What about Kelli?" Chris asked.
"I expect that would be the bad news." Vin told them. "Kelli's sufferin' from sleep deprivation, hunger, dehydration, and chest congestion. Doctor Landers wants to keep her in the hospital for a few days."
"Do you have a prognosis for how long it will take her to recover completely? Ezra inquired.
Before Vin could answer JD asked. "Did she tell you what happened?"
"What can we do to help?" Nathan asked.
"Hold it y'all," Vin said. "First off the doc said even after she gets her strength back and is healed physically; it might take longer for her mentally to get over this. I haven't asked her for details and don't plan to until she's ready to talk about it."
Buck asked, "Are we going to be able to see Kel anytime soon?"
Vin hesitated, not ready to commit until he talked to Doctor Weeks. "It might still be a while before she's ready to see everyone, but she'll be in room 214. He looked to Chris. "Once she's settled in, I do need to take Trey home and talk to Jason and Andi. When I leave, I'd appreciate it if you'd stay with her."
"You know I will." Chris could sense Vin's turmoil and knew he was holding back information. *Vin?*
*Not now, Chris.* Vin knew Chris had questions, and as her father, he had a right to know was going on with her, but Vin couldn't think about Chris's concerns right then. He couldn't even allow himself to dwell too long on his own thoughts. Helping Kelli get through the next hours, days, and weeks was his top priority. Everyone else's feelings, except for his children, had to sit on a back burner. He turned to go back inside.
Hospital Room 214
Vin went home to give their kids the good news and Chris sat next to Kelli's bedside. While she slept, he thought about Cowboy's words. Why did they come? It wasn't to confront Ice, or even to interfere with fate. It certainly was not out of curiosity. Hell, they knew more answers than Chris could think of questions to ask. He figured the reason had more to do with relationships than actual events. It was apparent to him, especially after the last few weeks, that it is not so much what happens to us, but how we are prepared to deal with it. Being open-minded and prioritizing the important things in our lives was foremost, regardless of how we found our way to them.
"Kel, I know you probably can't hear me, but I need to say a few things. You and I didn't have the traditional bonding of a parent and child or the childhood memories I'll have with Grace and Cody. Still, I think what we have now is special, maybe because we missed so much. I know you have Vin and the kids, but you also have a Dad who loves you. I'm here for you the same as for your brother and sister. Whatever you need to get through this, we'll all do it together."
She did not answer him, nor try to stop the tears which threatened to fall. Kelli knew Chris was there and meant everything he said. Her only hope was that he would never find out the truth and realize she was not near as strong as he thought she was.
Chris knew she was awake, but he also recognized that now was not the time to be impatient and push for answers. He had no plans on going anywhere and whenever she or Vin needed him, he'd be around.
Trey perked up when he was reunited with his siblings and heard all the familiar voices.
"Mom's really okay?" Jason asked.
"She needs a few days to rest, but she'll be fine," Vin answered. "Right now I need you and Andi to help Max take care of the twins and tomorrow I'll take you to see Mom."
"Wait," Andi told him, "Mama needs us." She ran to her room and returned with two small baby blankets. The ones her biological mother had made for her and Jason.
Vin knelt down. "Sugar, I know theses are special. Are you sure you want me to take 'em?"
"Uh huh, they makes me and Jason feel 'xtra loved. Mama needs 'em." She looked at Jason, who nodded his approval.
Pulling both children to him, Vin hugged them tightly. "I love you both and we'll bring your Mom home real soon." He swallowed the lump in his throat. "I need to get back. Y'all listen to Max and take care of Bren and Trey."
Before he left he sought out Tracker. He told Vin everything about the past nine days, including how desperate Kelli had become. He promised to stay with the kids until Vin figured out what to do. Vin mentally filed the information away for now, hoping she would tell him on her own about it sometime soon. He knew it would take her time to recover her old spirit, but she and Trey had survived. Thankfully time was something they still had.
Kelli's Hospital Room ~ late evening
Hours later he found himself sitting next to Kelli's bedside, watching her pretend to sleep. It tore at Vin's heart to see Kelli draw into herself, but he realized she was overwhelmed by all that had happened. He thought about Doctor Weeks' words from earlier and Kelli's reaction.
"… It was never impossible, just improbable. You were pregnant, but this one was evidently not meant to be
…at some point during this period of time the pregnancy ended. I'm sorry.
…no permanent damage and trying again later is still an option
…right now you both need to grieve. When you're ready there are some very good support groups out there
After Doctor Weeks left Vin had tried to talk to Kelli. He knew her well enough to know she would blame herself and he couldn’t allow her to do that. "You have to know this was no one's fault, Kel."
"I don't want to talk about it." She turned over on her side with her back to him.
Sitting here now, brushing his fingers through her hair, he wanted to make all her pains disappear, to erase the last ten day for her and see her smile. Vin was smart enough to know however, it was not going to be so easy or a quick fix. The storm raging through their lives was a bad one. Kelli did not have much fight left, but he had plenty of his own to share with her and he was not going anywhere. She would not have to struggle alone and although he knew she would try, he would not allow her to give up. He had a heart full of love to give him patience, enough strength to pull them both through, and he had the tenacity to wait her out until she found her spirit again.
Sleep would not come, yet Kelli pretended because she could not look at Vin and risk seeing disapproval in his eyes At first she had been stunned and then a wave of numbness washed over her as Helen Week's words began to sink in. Never in her wildest dreams had she considered she could have been pregnant. The pain she was feeling now had nothing to do with her physical state of being. In her mind she was responsible for killing their child and she was plagued by questions.
*How could she lose a child without knowing about it? Was this God's punishment for asking Tracker to end hers and Trey's lives? Did her unborn child have to pay for her lack of faith about being rescued? How could she face her children and the rest of the family, when she had failed so miserably? When had she lost control of her life? What would she have to do to get Vin to forgive her? Did she even have the right to expect him to?*
"Kel, your dinner's here, you need to eat somethin'," Vin's soft drawl drifted over her.
She desperately wanted to throw herself into his arms and forget all that had happened. Instead, she tried to ignore him.
Not one to be deterred easily, Vin paid no heed to her obvious attempt to discourage him. "Kel, I'm not goin' to push you into talkin' about anythin' you don't want to, but you need to understand that I'm not goin' to let you shut me out either. Baby, we'll take all the time you need, because we've got a lifetime of it ahead of us." Vin shifted his position on the chair he was sitting in, making himself more comfortable, as he continued to stroke his fingers through her hair, hoping it was as comforting to her, as it was to him. Whether she acknowledged it or not, she needed him and this is where he needed to be.
All things are connected. Man did not weave the web of life. He is merely a strand in it. Chief Seattle
Early the next morning
"Pretty smart how you asked Sarah to reach out to Chris, so we wouldn't have to bend the rules ourselves."
"I made Vin a promise to intervene if time ran out. After you and I talked, I knew it was time to keep my word and act. It just took Sarah's help to accomplish it."
Silence prevailed for a while and then Tracker spoke, "I had it figured all wrong. I thought savin' Kelli and Trey was what I needed to do to see Anne again. It wasn't until a certain redhead lit into me that I realized the only thing keepin' me away from Anne was me."
"All things are connected remember? We just play with the hand that's dealt to us and let fate do the hard work. You needed to come here for a reason, the same as me. We'll benefit from it and so will they the same way it all happened for us when we gathered so many years ago.
"I reckon we all learned somethin'." he grinned. "Hell, I'm sorry now I gave our ancestors such a hard time when they came to guide us."
"Guess that's why it fell on us to come here. Payback," Cowboy said and then laughed. "You and I did give our forefathers a damn hard time."
"That we did," Tracker agreed. "You satisfied with our results?"
"Yeah, I am. Chris has just about got it all worked out and he'll be fine. I think he, as well as the rest of them will welcome the changes coming into their lives and will be ready for the challenges yet to come. The Seven are in place and they'll do just fine."
"I have a promise to keep too. Other than that we're about done here aren't we?
"You and I still have a few loose ends to tie up," Cowboy said. "You've had a rough ten days. I've already sent Josiah his message. You get to deal with Ezra. He's the one who can help with what we need done."
Tracker's eyes held a mischievous glint. "Thanks, 'm ready for somethin' amusin'."
Cowboy chuckled. "Don't get too carried away. He can't help if he's in shock."
"I can handle Standish. Besides, he needs to be open to new perspectives."
"Just don't warn him…"
"I know, don't mess with fate," Tracker grinned, "At least not too much."
Cowboy shook his head, "You, try to behave."
"Aww hell, where's the fun in that?"
After a long day in court, Barbara was tired and had turned in early. Ezra was restless and couldn't sleep, so he thought it would be a good opportunity for him to get some paperwork finished. Sitting at his desk in the study, engrossed in financial figures, he heard someone say his name.
There is was again. "Who's there?" Ezra pushed his chair away from the desk, stood and said, "Vin?"
"Close, but think older," Tracker chuckled.
Ezra moved about his office, checking for some sort of communications apparatus that would explain why he was hearing Vin's voice, when his friend wasn't even in the room.
"Find anything interestin'?" an amused drawl asked from somewhere close to his ear.
Standish turned toward the sound only to find empty space. "That's it. I've finally lost it."
Laughter shattered the stillness of the room.
"I don't find this game the least bit amusing. Show yourself, whoever you are," Ezra demanded.
"Damn, Ez. You're as skittish as a long tail cat in a roomful of rockin' chairs."
"Skittish? I have never been skittish a day in my life," Standish stated firmly, before he remembered he was talking to an empty room. "Upset, angry, frustrated, those are all traits I will admit to, but skittish I am NOT!"
Tracker was sitting on the corner of the desk. "Okay," he said as he allowed Ezra to see him.
Ezra jerked backward, tripping over his chair when the shadowy form of a man appeared. He stared at the apparition in wide-eyed fascination, taking in the familiar, yet more rugged looking features which were very similar to those of the Vin Tanner he knew.
"I told you, you were skittish."
"Can you blame me for reacting adversely to someone appearing out of thin air before me?"
"I reckon not."
Taking a deep breath, Ezra composed himself and attempted to act as if talking to a spirit was an everyday occurrence. "What can I do for you Mr.…?
"Tracker will do. I need your help, Ez."
"You need my help?"
"Yep, I made Kelli a promise and 'm running short on time to keep it."
"You stayed with her while she and Trey were in that dreadful place?"
"I did. We were supposed to work on this together, but I don't think she's up to it. Will you help?"
Ezra knew about Tracker and Cowboy, of course, but until now he wasn't sure he really bought in to idea of their presence really being here. Regardless of his personal beliefs, this spirit, ghost, apparition or whatever he was, had helped Chris and Vin. "Tell me what you want me to do."
"You'll need to make a list. I'll spell it all out for you."
Sunday November 11th
Tanner Home ~ 11:00 a.m.
The past five days were hectic ones for Vin, he was up early to care for all of the kids and spending time with Jason and Andi was a priority. They had seen their Mama of course, but the visits were short. Kelli told them she needed to rest, so she could come home sooner. He fed the twins with the breast milk she pumped and sent home with him daily. Then he handed the boys over to Max before he headed to the hospital to be with Kelli.
Physically, the doctor was pleased with her progress and planned to release her today. Doctor Landers apparently bought into her constant assurances of, "I'm okay." Vin knew she was anything, but. Kelli was in denial about what had happened over the past two weeks. Outwardly she acted liked everything was normal. Inside she was fighting one helluva battle. For him the worst was over. She and Trey were alive and the torment he suffered while they were gone was a bad memory. His only concern now was to help Kelli face their future. He planned to stay close by, but give her time to sort things out. Vin was confident she would come to him to talk about it when she was ready.
The Wild Bunch was thrilled when she was released. They planned a welcome home celebration, but with far more care and consideration than previous get-togethers. Since they did not want to overwhelm her, they were sensitive to the fact she might not be ready for a party atmosphere. They needed to do this as much for them as for her.
Vin pulled up in front of their house, cut the engine and watched Kelli. She tried to hide it; however his wife was far from ready to confront the Wild Bunch. On the drive home she squirmed a lot, sighed too much, and did not say more than ten words. He wished he could make this easier for her. "Kel, try to relax. Everyone in there is either a friend or family member. They just want to see you and celebrate the end to all the hell of the past month. You want talk to anyone, fine. You don't, that's fine, too. You do whatever is necessary to deal with 'em."
"I'm all right, Vin. Let's just get this over with."
Slipping his arm around her waist they headed inside. The Wild Bunch was waiting for them.
It was Chris who welcomed her first. With emotion clearly evident in his green eyes, he pulled his eldest daughter into his embrace. Kelli resisted the hug at first, but then relaxed against her father.
"Welcome home, Missy," Chris whispered in her ear before releasing her.
"Thanks, Dad," Kelli replied as she withdrew from his arms.
She was showered with more hugs and kisses from the rest of the family, before being surrounded by the younger generation, including her older children. It was with the kids she seemed to light up the most. This realization wasn't lost on the other adults.
"How are you holding up, Vin?" Chris asked.
"The worst is over for me. I'm good now that Kelli's home and my family is back together."
"You never doubted it did you?"
"I had my moments of uncertainty," Vin admitted.
Ezra joined them. "Vin, has Kelli said anything to you about Tracker?"
"Why do you ask, Ez?"
"I … you … hell. He came and talked to me a few days ago, asking for my assistance with a project." Ezra felt foolish even discussing it. "While I am certain he was a comforting presence for Kel during her time of duress, I found talking to him somewhat unnerving."
"Yeah, he does have that affect on people. Meetin' him is an experience though." Not used to seeing Ezra at a loss for words, Vin smiled. "He was with Kelli, but she hasn't mentioned him. What I do know about what happened, I heard from him. If he asked for your help, then whatever it is must be important. I can only tell you I owe him more than I can ever repay."
"We owe him." Chris corrected his friend softly. "If Tracker hadn't been with her...."
"It's best we don't dwell on what could have been," Josiah spoke up as he joined them. ""We need to move forward."
"We're workin' on it, Josiah. Kel already wants to go back to work." Vin shook his head. "I think it's too soon, but Doc said he'd clear her for duty in two weeks."
Chris was surprised. "He thinks she'll be ready?"
"Looks that way," Vin told him.
Chris turned troubled eyes onto his eldest daughter. At first glance Kelli appeared to be enjoying being home. Her eyes however held a faraway look, her actions seemed strained. "I don't care what the doctor says. I'll have the last say about it."
"Have you considered suggesting counseling to her? Josiah asked.
Vin shook his head. "Not yet." He changed the subject. "How's Hannah doin'?"
Josiah sighed. "Hannah isn't quite back to the person she was before her medication was tampered with. Though, she has improved greatly. I spoke with her doctor earlier today. He informed me she has been repeatedly asking for me. The strange thing is, I have been dreaming about her for the past five nights."
"That's encouraging news, Josiah," Ezra said. "Are you going to go for a visit?"
"Of course he is," Chris said. "However long you need with your sister, you've got it."
Vin glanced over and caught Kelli's expression in one of her unguarded moments. She appeared to be listening to whatever Casey was telling her. However, she looked lost and very vulnerable. "I'll see y'all later." He moved away from the group, toward his wife.
"Hi Vin," Casey greeted him. "I was just telling Kelli about our ideas for the new nursery. We know it's a long way off, but JD's already planning. He’ll be going back to work soon and wants to do what he can before then. He is so excited; it's practically all he talks about."
"I bet he is." Vin wrapped his arm around Kelli, trying to offer her some comfort.
"You know JD. Of course, he'd love another girl, but I think he has his hopes up for a boy this time."
"Maybe you'll have one of each," Kelli said softly.
Except for a brief moment or two when the Tanners first entered the house, Caitlyn had not found a chance to speak with Kelli. While she maneuvered her way around active children and chatting adults, she was able to overhear the last part of the conversation Casey and the Tanners were sharing.
"If you don't stop Casey now, she'll keep rattling all day about their plans and ideas for the new baby," Caitlyn said as she joined them.
She flashed Casey an affectionate smile to let her know she was teasing, before turning her attention to Kelli. "I'm glad you're home Kelli. With the love and support of your family, it won't be long before you are feeling more like yourself."
"I'm sure you're right," Kelli replied quickly. "You know, I am really tired. Vin, will you keep our guests company? I think I need to lie down for a while."
"Go ahead, I can handle this bunch." Vin assured her, his eyes filled with loving concern. Kelli gave him a kiss, nodded to Casey and Caitlyn and then left the room.
"I hope I didn't say anything to upset her," Casey said in a troubled voice.
"She just needs to rest," Vin said.
Caitlyn felt there was more to Kelli's sudden departure from the room than what Vin was letting on, but she didn't say anything. "I'm going to have to get back to Reins of Change. I'm real happy about Kelli and Trey being home."
Vin nodded. "Thanks for comin'."
Once Kelli left the celebration it wound down fairly fast. The rest of the family began to drift off to their own homes
Chris was the last to leave. "Josiah asked an important question, Vin. You really didn't answer him. Have you talked to Kel about counseling?"
"She'll be fine. All she needs in a little time and space. I plan to see she gets it."
"I hope you're right. Especially if she expects me to put her back to work…"
"I know you're concerned, but I can take care of her. Kel bein' home is the best medicine for her right now."
Chris saw Vin withdraw before his eyes. He obviously did not want to discuss it anymore. "I'll help Max and Walter with the final cleanup. You go see to Kel."
Watching him walk away, Chris knew Kelli was not the only one facing a rough time ahead.
Monday November 12th
Reigns of Change ~ 8:00 a.m.
Caitlyn tried to concentrate on the tasks in front of her. There were supply invoices to go over, inventory lists to sign off on, animal and client records to update and so on. Yet, she found her mind drifting back to the welcome home party held in Kelli Tanner's honor, or more specifically, to Kelli's behavior.
The redheaded young woman wasn't okay by any stretch of the word. She was going through all the motions of being happy, but Caitlyn had identified the telltale signs brought on by traumatic stress. It was something Caitlyn had experienced firsthand, when she lost her family in addition to dealing with it in her patients. She wanted to find a way to help. She was just unsure how to go about it.
Still mulling over her thoughts, she didn't hear Willard enter her office until he spoke.
"Cait, are you all right?"
"You don't sound all right."
"I'm fine Will, really," Caitlyn assured him. "I was just trying to work something out in my head."
"Anything I can do to help?"
"Maybe," Caitlyn paused. "I want to offer my assistance to someone as a friend, but in the capacity of a therapist, without insinuating that this person needs counseling."
"Just be yourself, Cait. Let this friend know you wish to help in any way you can."
She thought for a moment and then nodded. "I'll do that." Caitlyn rose from her chair and started toward the door, pausing long enough to give him a brief hug. "Be back soon."
Caitlyn left the barn and climbed into her car. She drove to Larabee's house, turned off the ignition, and took a couple of minutes to ready herself to talk to him.
Chris walked out on the front porch when he heard a vehicle drive up, and was surprised to see it was Caitlyn. Concern filled him as he walked down the steps headed toward her car.
"You planning on staying in there all day or are you going to get out?"
Caitlyn jumped in reaction to the voice so close to her ear. She placed a hand on her chest and let out a curse, before turning to glare at Chris. "Don't do that!"
Chris grinned at her. "Sorry, didn't mean to spook you. I heard someone pull up and came out to see who it was. When you didn't get out, I decided to walk over and make sure everything was okay."
Caitlyn grinned sheepishly back at him. She decided honesty was the best policy. "I was wondering if I had made a mistake in coming over here unannounced."
Her words surprised Chris. "You are always welcome here, Caitlyn. I thought we had already established that the Wild Bunch had adopted you into the family."
"You did...we did," Caitlyn was quick to assure him. "I just, well, in light of all that's happened recently. I thought you might not be up to receiving any company."
"Let's go into the house and talk. It's getting colder out here by the minute. "
"All right," Caitlyn agreed. Chris stepped back so she could open the door, assisted her out, and together the two headed into the house.
Dottie greeted Caitlyn warmly as she and Chris entered the house. "You two go on into the living room and I will bring you some coffee."
"Now, why don't you tell me what's on your mind?" Chris asked after they had seated themselves.
"You probably already know any news concerning the Wild Bunch travels fast around here. I'm not here to pry, but I've picked up enough to know Kelli had a rough go of it. Whatever she was forced to endure is going to take her some time to get over. I didn't think it was appropriate at this time to approach her and Vin about this. So I decided to come and talk to you instead. I want to offer my assistance as a friend and a counselor, to you, Vin, Kelli or any of the Wild Bunch group for that matter."
Silence settled between them. The longer it went on, the more Caitlyn began to suspect that she had definitely overstepped the bounds of friendship she had forged between her and Chris. She rose hastily to her feet. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have butted in where I wasn't asked." She rattled off, startling Chris out of his reverie.
Chris came quickly to his feet, blocking her path, so she couldn't get past him. "You aren't butting in. Fact is, I think Kelli is going to need counseling to help her through what happened. However until she and Vin are ready to accept it, we've got to play it by ear. Maybe it will be easier for her when the time comes to know she has someone like you willing to help her. You're a good friend Caitlyn."
Caitlyn glanced up at him in surprise, her cheeks flushing prettily at the admiring gaze he leveled on her. "Thanks. That means a lot to me. Why don’t you call me Cait? My friends do."
"All right, Cait it is."
Dottie entered the living room, carrying two mugs of coffee. Chris motioned for Caitlyn to sit back down and she did. The two talked a little while longer as they shared their coffee. Eventually she told him she needed to get back to Reins of Change. He accompanied her out to the car and stood watching until she drove away, thinking about her offer to help. He had a feeling she was right. A powerful storm had passed through their lives and was finally over, but the damage it left behind was going to take some time to repair.
Saturday November 17th
Journal Entry- 5:00a.m.
The past month has been a living hell for all of us. JD was stabbed, drugged, and charged with murder. Travis and Buck were shot. Nathan was almost blinded by an explosion. Kelli and Trey were missing, presumed dead, and held in a crypt for eight days. Hannah was terrorized. Even Reins of Change was drawn into the sick, twisted plot of revenge against me. I discovered the identity of the person responsible for Sarah and Adam's deaths. Their killer, Shadowchaser and Lady Ice were one and the same person. The emotional turmoil associated with these horrific events, affected our entire family, our closest friends on the Larabee 7 and all the MCAT agents.
I found Sarah's murderer, but not who hired her. Ice wanted me to pay for her loss of freedom and push me into killing her. She almost succeeded. Thankfully the thought of my children stopped me from crossing the line to become the same type of cold-blooded killer Ice was.
Ice failed to extract her ultimate revenge though. Kelli and Trey were returned to us. However, I fear the inner scars Kelli has suffered are going to take considerable time to mend.
Life has returned to some semblance of normalcy for the Wild Bunch. JD is returning to work after Thanksgiving. He and Casey are looking forward to a new little Dunne in their not too distant future .Buck is well again. Nathan is back to fussing over all of us. Ezra is working on some kind of secret project for Tracker. He says we'll be pleased, but he won't reveal what it is, yet.
Josiah returns today. After spending the past week with Hannah, he said he needs to tell us all about some exciting discovery he made. The seven of us will be meeting later this afternoon to find out what it is.
Me? I am trying to get my life back to normal. I've started going to my meetings again. Tai was pleased with the way I handled myself during our family crisis. I also returned to my old routines, which include resuming my workouts at Freddy's Boxing school.
Have I changed my outlook? You bet. Did it all really happen the way we believe it did? I can only answer for myself. My view of reality was challenged. I now see possibilities I was blind to before. The things I allow to influence me, good or bad, are only as strong as the importance I give them. I did not get all the answers I wanted, but I can live with the ones I do have.
I also learned how strong the ties of family really are. It doesn't matter if the distance is in miles or time. We never quit caring. Cowboy and Tracker came here not to be heroes, or to change the world, but to protect their own. Time itself is boundless. Tracker crossed it to find his answers and to help Vin understand his fate. Cowboy came across to give me the insight to find mine. Love of family is what's important, it never ends or waivers. I finally understand that is reason they came, in addition to passing on the lessons the seven of us need to prepare for what's ahead. The strength is within us, connected from one generation to another. Our spirits are free-flowing and infinite, linking us to our past, giving us strength in the present and guiding us to our future.
Gotta go…babies are awake.
Kelli slipped out of the house to find a quiet place to be alone. While she appreciated Max staying with them to help, it was at times a bit too much. The older woman watched every move she made, expecting… what? Hell, she didn’t know what anyone expected from her anymore. She grabbed a brush on her way to Dancer's stall.
*You feelin' better?*
She stilled her action of brushing Dancer, sighing. "I'm fine. What do you want?"
*We'll be leavin' soon. I've already said goodbye to Andi and Jason, but I wanted to talk to you alone before we go.*
"I thought talkin' to me tried your patience too much."
Tracker chuckled. *I reckon I got used to your stubborn ways.*
"Well, Trey and I are fine. You did your job."
*I admit, at first I thought I had to help you to find my way back to Anne. You were right though. It was Tanner stubbornness keepin' us apart. I couldn't accept her given' her life for mine. I wanted…needed to think I had control of what happened to her. I believed if I'd have done things differently she would have lived. It took 140 years and another feisty redhead to show me I was wrong*
"I'm sure she'll forgive you."
*Vin will forgive you, too. For whatever it is you think you did wrong.* He watched the play of emotions in her eyes. *You didn't do anythin', but survive, Kel. It's the only thing that matters to him.*
Kelli pushed her feelings aside. "You said at first you were there to find a way back to Anne. Why did you stay?*
* I couldn't leave you alone. Seein' you through 'til Vin found you was important to me. I was where I chose to be.*.
Kelli said softly, "Thank you."
*One of the reasons I came here was for my family, which you're a member of, Kel. Vin, you, Jason, Andi, Trey, and Bren, along with the future little Tanners are part of my legacy.* He saw her wince when he mentioned future Tanners. *There will be more,* he assured her, * Course I can't tell you when or how many, but I can tell you this… you are where you belong and 'm proud to know you're a Tanner.*
The tears she had been holding back started falling. "You shouldn't be. My behavior was anythin' but somethin' to be proud of. I can't even tell him…," she said between sobs,
*Damn,* he muttered to himself. Hating to see her so distraught, Tracker concentrated so he could hold her, giving her a shoulder to cry on. *Don't be Tanner stubborn, woman. Trust yourself and trust Vin.*
Vin wanted to tell Kelli he was going to meet Chris and the others at Camp Larabee. When he could not find her in the house, he went looking for her outside. He was relieved to find her in the barn and leaned against the door, listening while she talked with Tracker. It was fine with him. In fact he thought it was kind of nice, at first. The last thing he expected though was to feel a surprising pang of jealousy watching Tracker while he comforted his wife.
*He's your great, great-grandfather. Get over it Tanner,* he chastised himself, thinking it would be a helluva lot easier if Tracker looked the grandfatherly type.
*It's okay, Son. Just proves you're human. I just wanted to say goodbye. Give her time, she'll come to you.*
*I'll give her all the time she needs.*
*Good. Time, love, and strength of family are the only things which really matter on our journeys.*
*You're really leavin'?*
*Your visions are part of who you are. They'll come back when necessary… your never-ending quest for the truth will also continue. In the meantime, trust your instincts, Son. I'll always be close by, if you need me.
Vin nodded. He had not thought about Tracker actually leaving, but somehow Vin knew he had not seen the last of him. Now though, with Kelli and Trey home and Ice dead, it was time to move forward. He'd let Kelli cry on Tracker Hawk's shoulder while he met with the others at Camp Larabee. She was in safe hands.
Chris was the first to arrive. It was still cold outside, knowing everyone would be chilled; he turned on the heat and put on a pot of coffee, setting out seven cups. He could not imagine why Josiah was behaving so mysteriously about this meeting, but he reckoned he have answers soon enough.
*You have it all worked out, Son?*
"All of it?" Chris shook his head, "No. I do have enough of it figured to know it's about family and the ties that bind us together. You, me, Tracker and Vin, the whole Larabee-Tanner connection thing, is a force to be reckoned with. I know now, life is too fragile to waste a moment of it wondering about what ifs and we are all connected in some mysterious grand scheme of things. I can let go and move on with an open mind…to whatever waits for me or rather us. That's what it's all about, right?"
*I'm proud of you, Son. I reckon you learned the important things. You have a life full of love, challenges, and accomplishments ahead of you. Draw on the strength of the Seven. It's your right and their destiny for you to lead them.*
Chris asked, "You're leaving aren't you?"
*Soon. I said goodbye to Grace and Cody. You take care of them.* he chuckled. "Don't be surprised when Cody and the Tanner twins start with their own unique form of communications, either.*
"Yeah, I think Vin and I already have that one figured out." Chris hesitated. He was getting use to having this Larabee in his head and surprisingly found he was sorry to know he was leaving. "Will we remember…?"
*You'll remember. I'll also be close, if you decide you need the old man's help again.*
Chris nodded. "I might just take you up on that offer someday." he grinned." In spite of the fact you've been a pain in the ass at times… I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything."
*Feeling's mutual, I assure you.*
Their conversation ended when Buck and JD burst in the door.
"Damn, it's cold," Buck said with a shiver.
JD grinned. "That's just your older, thinner, blood talking. Now me, I'm still young and hot-blooded."
"Then move your young blood over there and pour us some hot coffee." Buck scoffed
Vin, Nathan and Ezra, walked in. JD kept filling cups, passing them over.
"Josiah is running a little late, but he's on his way," Nathan informed them.
Carrying their coffee, five men sat down around the table to join Chris.
"Vin, Barbara wanted me to tell you that all the condolence donations have all been refunded. Since Kelli and Trey have been taken off the missing list, the newspaper is printing a retraction of the obituary."
Vin only nodded in response.
"The death toll from the bridge collapse stands at 30, with two people still listed as missing. The search has been called off," Nathan explained. "They figure the bodies won't be found until after the spring thaw."
"I heard Homeland Security closed its investigation after receiving our report on Ice," Buck said between sips of coffee.
"They're satisfied she was the terrorist who brought the bridge down," Chris said. "The FBI also concluded she was the unnamed informant who set things into motion for that damn task force which investigated us."
"Did Travis determine if she also breeched MCAT grounds to sabotage the aircraft?" JD asked.
"Yeah, and he's taken steps to insure MCAT's defenses will be stronger than ever. Our new security measures there will prevent the type of breech Ice managed to make," Chris answered.
"Not only did he survive, Travis has come back with a new spring in his step," Ezra commented. "I think he enjoyed running MCAT while we were otherwise engaged."
"He did. Orrin is also pleased with how Guy Saunders and Brad Garrison have adapted to working with us. I guess it means we'll be having more agents rotate in with us to train in the future," Chris told them. "Even with JD and Kelli coming back to work, we'll still be shorthanded. I suppose we do need to find permanent replacements for Paul and Ross."
"I have to admit, Guy Saunders surprised me. He did okay," Buck said. "Also, considering Brad has never worked on a Federal level before, he learned fast."
"Is Kelli ready to come back to work, Vin?" Ezra asked.
Vin shrugged his shoulders. "I reckon she's ready. She says she is anyway."
The door open and Josiah came in, apologizing, "Sorry I kept all of you waiting. I had one last thing to do before I came over here." He set a folder on the table, and then grabbed a cup of coffee before he sat down.
"How's Hannah?" Chris asked.
"Actually she is doing better than the doctor expected," Josiah answered. "I'm sure she recognized me. Especially when she insisted I take her doll."
"Why would she want you to have it?" Nathan asked.
"Apparently she had a message to deliver." Josiah said. "Remember the one clue we couldn't figure out? It said, 'A sister holds the key to your Salvation.' Well it took me a while before I realized Hannah was the sister with the key."
"It was inside the doll," Ezra whispered.
"Yes. There was a key inside the rag doll, put there by Lady Ice when she was posing as an orderly. I retrieved it and using the number imprinted on it traced it to a safety deposit box at a Denver Bank. I went there yesterday and opened it."
"You gonna tell us what you found or make us guess?" Vin finally asked.
"There was a letter for Chris and a disc." He passed the envelope to Larabee.
Exhaling loudly, Chris tore the end of the envelope. Three sheets of paper fell out. One was a written confession from Lady Ice about the year long string of murders and the explosives she planted on Old River Bridge. The second was her last will and testament, listing her assets and her directions for them. The third was a note to Chris which he decided to read aloud
If you are reading this then, I have to assume I am dead. You have my will, and my confession. The world will know my deeds and remember me. You won the game. I enjoyed it immensely. Life quit being fun when you had me locked up. I could no longer enjoy the thrill of the hunt, so maybe it's better you did win. I do hope though, that you carry the memory of your recent loss for the rest of your life. Your daughter and grandson's deaths were my greatest triumph.
I could not resist one final play, however. On the disc, which I have no doubt you now have in your possession, is information concerning the remainder of my life's vocation. Names, dates, and kills that I did not share with the FBI, including the name of the person who hired me to kill your wife.
Chris took the disc from Josiah and passed it to JD. "Run it." Seven men collectively held their breath when JD inserted the disc into the computer. They waited, only to see gibberish appear on the screen.
"Damn, it's encrypted," JD cursed. "It won't be easy, but given enough time, and with CASSIE's help, I can decipher the code," he assured them
"Time, fortunately, is something we have plenty of," Chris said without anger and showing no signs of frustration or surprise. He knew when the time was right, the code would be broken and his quest would continue.
"He's right. When it’s right, you'll find the answers," Cowboy spoke up. He and Tracker made themselves visible to the modern day version of their Seven, invoking varied responses from them.
Nathan was stunned. "They're real."
"I'll be damn," Buck grinned.
Ezra felt vindicated. If he was insane, so were the others.
Josiah was pleased, his smile conveying how he felt.
JD was awestruck, while his mind assembled a million questions.
The Spirits had a message to deliver and their remaining time here was short. Letting their voices be heard to the seven men before them, Tracker started.
"We've waited for the right moment to appear to all of you. We came here for two reasons. One was for family, Chris and Vin, but we could not have helped them alone. We understand, more than most, how important it is to have the support of good friends. We do need to tell y'all a few things before we leave," Tracker talked, giving them a chance to get over the shock of seeing another Larabee and Tanner. "I'm sure your Chris and Vin will be happy to answer all your questions about us once we're gone."
"Mostly, we wanted you to know… you're all men we’d be proud to ride the river with. You've stood good watch over our legacies and those of your ancestors. Your families are strong, your loyalties are firm, and your bond to each other is powerful," Cowboy continued, *you are destined to live out your fates together."
Tracker picked up the message, "The world needs men like y'all… men of honor and principle, to counter the existence of evil, especially now. It's the second reason we came and why you are all together in this time and space. Your greatest challenges still lay ahead. The Seven have always been and will always be… Their strength is yours to draw on. Embrace the past, cherish the future, and fight like hell for today. Make a better place for your children and grandchildren. Their destiny is the same as yours and ours… to be allied by the timeless bonds of friendships and brotherhood which tie us all to our past and gifts us with the promise of tomorrow.*
"We have to go. Our friends are waiting for us. However, they're anxious to get a glimpse of what we have seen in all of you."
Cowboy stepped up to Vin, clasping forearms with him, while Tracker did the same with Chris. After a curt nod to their great, great grandsons they turned to walk away. Seven men hurried to the door to get a better view of where they went.
For a brief moment the portal of time opened, giving them a picture they would carry in their minds the rest of their days. As Cowboy and Tracker stepped across the threshold of infinity, five men on horseback waited for them, holding the reins for two extra horses. They looked up and tipped their hats to their descendants while Cowboy and Tracker mounted their own horses to join them… the next instant… they were gone.
Chris cleared his throat to gain everyone's attention. "You heard them. We've in charge of protecting the future generations of the seven. It's our watch now and time to move forward."
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I could use a drink." Buck said as he shook his head. He had seen it, but was still finding it hard to believe.
"Bar's open at my house." Chris said. "That is, If anyone's interested." Chris smiled when five men rushed out the door and headed for their trucks.
"Some things never change do they?" Vin grinned and added while making a hasty exit, "….Cowboy."
"No, they don't," smiling as he stepped outside, Chris whispered, "Thank God."
#3 in the Strength & Solidarity series…'Turn the Page'
*Chapter 13, 14, and 19, 21, 22 quotations taken from Native American Wisdom.
*Chapter 15 -Lyrics used from 'Stand' by Rascal Flatts
*Chapter 18- Definition of Revenge
*Chapter 19 - Excerpts from Turbulent Transition Series, # 1 -Transitions and # 3 - Decisions.
For more on M7 and MCAT - Magnificent Seventh Heaven
Strength & Solidarity Series