through a stranger's eyes by Deidre


Part One

Brooklyn, NY, 79 N 11th Street
Thursday, Nov. 7, 2002, 4:45 p.m.

Danny Taylor peered through the gray drizzle as they approached the Williamsburg Bridge which would take them to Brooklyn. The team had gotten a tip that the leading suspect in the disappearance of Adam Schoate, a twelve year-old boy, had been spotted near the Brooklyn Brewery. The caller suggested that the suspect, Henry Hilliard, worked there. Hilliard had been identified by some of the boys on the soccer team as someone who'd they'd seen lurking around the outskirts of the field during practices. A raid on his apartment netted scores of child porn photos and videos, some of which were brutal and disturbing. The boy had been reported missing at 10 a.m. when he failed to show up for a soccer game. His parents had last seen him at 8:30 when he left to walk the short distance to his friend's house.

"Take the first exit, then a hard right onto Broadway and follow it to Kent."

"I know where I'm going," Danny replied tersely.

"Excuse the hell out of me," Martin Fitzgerald grumbled.

Danny followed Broadway to Kent Avenue and turned right. Martin knew by the fire shooting from the dark eyes that Taylor was pissed. He didn't understand why everything he said seemed to annoy the six-year veteran. He was only pointing out a fact, why couldn't Danny understand that? Sometimes Taylor's mouth ran a bit too much and he would like you to believe he knew about everything. There wasn't a neighborhood in New York that the dark-haired agent wasn't familiar with, or hadn't dated a woman from. The stories about his amorous adventures and his prior cases seemed to have no end. He saw 11th street approaching and the right turn signal blinking.

"Good thing I got that call." He'd gotten the tip and the 'good job' call from Jack. For some reason, that annoyed Danny.

Danny wanted to wipe that grin off the cocky agent's face. He wasn't sure what Jack Malone was thinking hiring the stiff rookie. He was about as flexible as a board and his attitude needed severe adjustment. The know-it-all tone and GQ wardrobe were enough to drive him nuts. He followed Fitzgerald into the building and they found the manager's office. Danny showed him the photo while Martin studied the workers on the floor below them.

"Yeah, he's on duty, why?" the manager asked.

"We believe he kidnapped a young boy this morning," Martin answered.

"Jesus! You're kidding! I can't believe it..." the stunned man replied

"He's a person of interest in a case we're investigating," Danny corrected, grilling the green rookie with his eyes. He saw the two men who'd been standing outside the office when they approached it suddenly move towards the stairs.

"He does the three to eleven shift, he clocked in on time," the manager noted. "Here' I'll show you where you can find him."

"I don't think that will be necessary," Danny spat directing his hostile gaze at Martin who seemed clueless and annoyed. "There he goes!"

The two men took off in pursuit as the thirty-year old suspect ran from the floor of the warehouse and onto 11th street. Danny was a few steps behind the fleet-footed newcomer and before he had a chance to even analyze the situation on the street, the blue-eyed man was already giving orders.

"Get the car!" Martin directed, taking off up 11th, utilizing his speed.

"Wait a minute, Martin!" Danny barked resisting the urge to follow. He ran back to the car and shoved the key in the ignition. He pulled out into traffic and flipped out his phone, using speed dial to get a location on where Fitzgerald was. "Martin? Martin? Dammit, pick up," he seethed, casting his eyes on the people on the street. Where was his partner? His eyes scanned both sides of the road searching for Fitzgerald. His mind began to spin, wondering where Hilliard would go on foot. "Subway!"

He turned onto Belford and then headed for 7th where the stop was, the first one arriving in Brooklyn from Manhattan. He pulled the car in, craned his eyes ahead and saw Martin's gray raincoat heading for the steps. By the time he parked and ran to the steps, his gun was drawn and he was anxious. He saw a figure hunched over, hands on knees, sucking in air noisily. He eyed the platform and saw the suspect was gone. He shoved his gun away and approached the wheezing body whose face was covered in sweat.

"...he... jumped... on... just... as... it... left..."

"Nice going, daddy's boy!" Danny spat, so angry it took all the reserve he had not to shove the cocky rookie onto the tracks. This was just another incident to add to the list that supported his theory of who got the smart-mouthed rookie his job rather that merit.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Martin coughed, rose and glared at Taylor. When would the day come when he didn't have to defend his job to his father's name?

He could see that his partner was beyond seething. The anger radiated off Taylor, pooling in shimmering waves by his feet. He felt the fire from the intense eyes and nearly expected flames to shoot from his mouth when it opened. What he hell could his problem be now? He'd chased the suspect, damn near caught him.

"You had to go answering the Cavalry bugle again, didn't you? Chargin' up San Juan Hill all alone!" Danny saw the stunned expression beneath the angry blue eyes and he couldn't believe it. How could he not realize how much he'd screwed up? "You don't get it, do you?" He pointed to the empty space where the train that took their suspect away had been. "We would have him in custody now if it wasn't for that fuckin' big mouth of yours."

"You're saying it's my fault?" Martin's anger rose and he felt a red haze descending. Why did Danny find fault with everything he did?

"I don't see any other green jackasses with soft names standing here!"

"Fuck you, Taylor!" Martin growled, shoving Danny hard and sending him into the brick wall. He fisted both hands and resisted the urge to strike out again. He had a short temper and took special care to keep it under wraps. He picked up his pace and headed for the car.

"Don't you walk away from me!" Danny shouted, rising from the ground and jogging to catch up. He grabbed Fitzgerald's shoulder and shoved him hard against the car. He poked his finger against the collarbone under the designer striped shirt. "You shot off your mouth in the manager's office. The door was open and two of his friends heard you. They tipped him off which is WHY he took off. Then if that wasn't enough of a fuckup, you go gallivanting down the street without telling me where you were."

"He was getting away, Danny, I was doing my job!" Martin snarled, shoving Taylor away.

"Your job! You're part of a team, now. Has that dawned on you yet? Do you even know what that means?"

"I know what my job is. I think we both know the real issue here." Martin got in the car and slammed the door.

"Well, you have all the answers, homeboy, why don't you fill me in?" Danny slammed his own door and shoved the key in the ignition.

"Your eyes turn green occasionally."

"You know what, Martin?" Danny ignored the comment and jabbed his finger in the arrogant rookie's direction. "That's too stupid to even address. You want something to digest on the way back? If that kid turns up dead, it's on your conscience. You fucked up twice in the span of five minutes and that just might have cost that kid his life."

"Look, Danny..." Martin began only to be cut off.

"Don't say another damn word, Martin!" Danny warned, "Just keep your mouth shut for a change."

Martin clenched his jaw so hard it was a wonder he didn't give himself lockjaw. How could Danny blame him? He saw the guy running and took pursuit; that was by the book. Hilliard was a suspect in the kidnapping of a child; that was by the book too. Advising the manager of the details wasn't wrong. How could he know some deadbeats were outside? For that matter, it might not have been that at all. Maybe Hilliard saw them in the office flashing their badges. Danny's emotions had got in the way again. He didn't know how to keep them in check.

Danny was livid. After alerting the NYPD and local officials to be on alert for Hilliard, he called Jack. What Malone didn't say spoke volumes. The silence that Danny's update met on the other end of the phone was deafening. Well he had no intention of taking the fall for Victor's Fitzgerald's pride and joy. If Jack hadn't allowed the Bureau to put the Deputy Director's son on their team, this last month wouldn't have been such hell. He intended to tell Jack exactly how badly Martin fucked up. If the boy wasn't found alive, let Victor worm his kid's way out of that mess. Maybe they'd get lucky and he'd transfer him to Antarctica.

Manhattan F.B.I Office
Thursday evening, 8 p.m.

Jack Malone had the Godzilla of all headaches. He popped another pair of Tylenol and sighed hard, eyeing the two anxious parents inside his office. He drained the water, tossed the cup away and wondered why it never got any easier. How do you tell these distraught people that the child they'd created and raised together was lying in a morgue? Sam and Vivian were still on scene, gathering clues; Martin was at his desk and seemed more uptight than usual. He was coordinating efforts with the NYPD and the APB on Hilliard. Jack wasn't sure where Danny was, he was the one who'd taken the call from the Port Authority police who spotted the boy floating in the river.

"Agent Malone?" Dave Schoate took his wife's hand and looked hopefully as the weary federal agent came into the office. But one look at the telling dark eyes told him otherwise. "Oh my God... no, not my Adam..."

"What?" Connie Schoate looked from her husband to the F.B.I agent. "He's not dead. No, that's not possible; he's got a trip with the Boy Scouts tomorrow. "

"I'm so very sorry, Mr and Mrs. Schoate. The Port Authority police found his body in the water..." Jack updated and immediately the boy's mother began to scream.

NO! NO NO NO NO!"

"Connie..." David Schoate tried to gather his hysterical wife into his arms. He was a realist and despite the outward signs of hope, with each passing hour his gut told him this moment would come.

Before Jack could move any further into the room, an angry set of voices exploded from the narrow corridor just beyond the main hub of the office. It was the area near the interrogation rooms and his head swiveled to where Fitzgerald had been sitting. He cursed silently under his breath and put up a hand to apologize for the harsh muffled words being displayed uninvited before them. As he drew closer, the heated discussion became clearer and his blood pressure zoomed up.

"...had it with your attitude. This isn't my fault..."

"The hell it isn't," Danny growled, shoving his face closer to the intense blue eyes. "That kid's dead because you fucked up."

"That's bullshit, Danny and you know it. The kid's dead because some nut got a hold of him!"

"Someone we could have had in custody if you hadn't blown it again."

"You got a big mouth, Taylor, that's about all you're good for."

"And those balls of yours are about all you're good for..." Danny snorted, "Course it takes real talent to piss through your brains several times a day."

"Get off my case, Taylor, this wasn't my fault!" Martin defended.

"Tell that to the dead kid! You weren't the one who had to watch them haul his naked body from the water."

Using a string of curses he'd not yet creatively strung together, Jack grabbed the two hotheads by the back of the neck and shoved them hard into the nearest conference room. He used an almost lethal force for his anger was that great, and kicked the door behind him. Taylor flew over a chair, knocking it down and hit his face on the table before landing on the floor. Fitzgerald was sent flying over the table and bounced off sideways, catching himself and sliding to his knees. Jack slammed the door and his temper exploded.

"I have had it with you two and your nonstop fighting!" Malone roared, sending molten lava from his eyes all over the two startled younger men. "This isn't a schoolyard, it's a federal office and you damn well better learn to respect that, because I have had it with your locker room bravado." He paused to swipe some spittle from his lip and jammed his hot eyes shut for a moment to stop the jackhammers that seemed to be going full tilt behind his eyes. He took a short breath and glared at each defiant face. Twin chins jutted back at him under equally heated eyes. "It's not bad enough I have to tell the Schoates that their son is lying on a slab in the morgue? No, they have to hear you two morons bitchin' at each other and discussing their child as if he were a piece of meat!"

"It's all his fault, Jack!" Danny protested, rising from the floor only to be shoved so hard against the wall he winced. Malone's forearm was pressed tightly against his neck, and the dark eyes were nearly bulging from his face. He'd never seen Jack this angry and it frightened him a bit.

"Did I say you could speak?" Jack grit through clenched teeth. When he felt Danny's resistance give, he let him go.

Danny rubbed his throat and continued to stare hard at Martin. How could Jack not realize it was Martin's fault? He'd known Malone for years and he respected him like no other man carrying a badge. But this choice was clearly a mistake, unless the choice was not Malone's. That was what he now truly believed. Victor had strong-armed Jack into putting his fuck-up son on the team. The golden haired boy's halo was tarnished badly now and even the mighty Victor couldn't save him this time.

"Get over here!" Jack ordered to Martin who was leaning on the table. If the situation wasn't so serious, he would have laughed at the momentary fear each regarded him with. He felt like the father at his wits end taking two kids behind the barn for a whipping. He waited until each hostile agent was on either side of him. He grabbed the scruff of both necks and shoved their faces closer to each other.

"As much as I'd like to smack your two thick skulls together to knock some sense into you," he warned, glaring opening at each irate face. "I'm going to say this once and you will listen and remember." He turned to Danny first, "Fitzgerald is a part of our unit now, get that chip off your shoulder and get used to it." Then he turned to Martin, "And you, you're not riding solo anymore, hotshot, you have a partner. You work together in the field or you don't work in the field at all, understood? Whatever shit happened on the street this morning that both of you made the mistake of bringing into my house, ends here and now. You need to take out a pound of flesh? Fine, take your hot heads over to Max's and strap on the gloves," he noted of the gym nearby.

He released them then, wiping his hands on his jacket as if to rid himself of their stench, an action that did not go unnoticed. He made his way to the door, pausing long enough to issue a final warning.

"One more thing. Another incident like this... either of you so much as raises your voice in the office, I'll write you up and keep your juvenile asses strapped to your desk indefinitely. You're not teenagers squabbling over a cheap piece of ass. Check your egos at the door and act like the professionals you were hired to be."

For a moment, each young agent stared at the closed door before their eyes and watched Jack retreat down the hall. Neither spoke and the only movement was the rising and falling of twin sets of rattled psyches. Two lean bodies with hostile eyes regarded each other for a moment. Neither hiding the disdain they felt for the other. The tension in the air was so evident it nearly sizzled.

Martin moved first, chuffing in annoyance and exiting the room. Danny's temper was worming its way through his body. It snaked up his chest, cascading tendrils wrapping around him and causing Jack's threat to resurface.

"Fuck!" he snapped, kicking the defenseless, unarmed chair. He stalked the room, rubbed the back of his neck and thought of the seeming unending days and weeks ahead, saddled with 'superman' then he kicked the chair twice more. As much as he loved the job and the territory, he might have to consider putting in for a transfer to another unit.

Manhattan, FBI Building
8:30 p.m

Martin went to the men's room first to wash his face. He stared at the man in the glass, taking a long hard look. He looked past the rivulets of water running down his face and peered hard into his sky eyes. It was said that the eyes are the mirrors to the soul. Who was that man? Was he the fresh-faced rookie bound from Seattle right out of Quantico, the one with the high ideals and enthusiasm which chipped away after three long years in gray raining climate doing 90% paperwork? Or was it the young man who longed to right the wrongs. He'd sought out Jack Malone for a reason; he respected everything he stood for. He liked that Jack bent the rules, showing his scars. That meant a lot to him; something he didn't understand how his father couldn't admire.

Arguments; he shook his head, dried his hands and face then left the room. He headed for the cafeteria on the first floor. It was closed at seven, but the vending machines would be available. As he shoved a stream of quarters into the soda machine, seeking a cherry coke, he wondered about his place. He knew he'd made a mistake his first day, he'd owned up to the Maggie Cartwright mistake. But he felt he'd made some progress in the last few weeks. Despite three years doing white collar, he felt like a rookie. Every day working in the prized MP unit brought a whole new set of challenges to him. He was constantly seeking new and better ways to do his job.

His team? He pulled out a dollar and found the change machine. He gathered up the coins and hit the slot, seeking chocolate. He eyed C3, a trio of cream filled chocolate cupcakes and pushed the button. He settled at a corner table alone and mulled over his workmates.

Samantha Spade was a beautiful and very competent blonde who he found intimidating. Sometimes he found himself wondering about off duty time. He was attracted to her but didn't show or voice it. You didn't get involved with coworkers, that was a rule he intended to follow. They got along pretty good in the field.

Vivian Johnson was the most well versed agent he'd ever met. She was very smart, very street savvy and had great instincts. She was a first class interrogator and he was learning the most from her. She was the one he felt most comfortable with and the only one he didn't feel he had to prove himself to.

Jack Malone? Martin shoved the creamy tail of the second cake into his mouth and took a swig of soda. He'd first become aware of Jack years ago, listening to his father's wrath at the dinner table.

Victor didn't like Malone's ways and methods and made that clear to him at every opportunity. That piqued his curiosity and he quickly learned all he could about the Missing Person's Team Leader. The more he read and studied, the better he liked Jack. He met him once while he was in Quantico, when Jack was a guest instructor in a field assignment. He lost track of him during the tenure in Seattle, but then when he learnt about the opening, he put his paperwork in. He felt something click during their interview. He knew by the grip of the hand that shook his afterwards that Jack sensed it as well.

Danny Taylor.

Martin belched and made a face as the sour taste exploded in his mouth. His gut churned and he tossed the trash away. Cocky, arrogant, strutting around the office like he owned it. A wise-mouthed street kid who didn't like anyone telling him what to do. Every time they were partnered, he felt an ulcer about to be born. He hadn't liked Danny from the first meeting and a part of him wasn't sure why he felt acid rain in his gut every time they were within feet of each other.

Jack's threat? As Martin finished his soda and gathered up his scattered thoughts, he knew Malone was a man of his word. He headed through the dark corridor back towards the stairwell. Begrudgingly, he admitted that Danny was a good agent and a very skilled one. If only his ego didn't trip him up every time. He didn't want desk duty again; he'd traveled across the country to get away from that. He'd have to learn to bite his tongue and curb his temper.

Martin was about fifty feet from the red 'Exit' sign that would reveal the stairs to take him back to the office, when he heard Danny's turbulent voice. Curious, he moved a bit closer, spotting a dim light shining from the edge of a vacant room. It was formally a photo lab, but had been empty for some time. He knew some of the agents gathered there, as it was a short distance from the usually crowded vending area.

"I don't envy you, Danny, that guy sounds like a real prize."

"What the hell was Malone thinking hiring him?"

"It was out of Jack's hands, Steve."

"Yeah, you're right Rico, who the hell can say no to Victor Fitzgerald and keep their job!"

"I think Daddy Warbucks up in Washington made it a done deal. Nobody in their right mind would pick him, he's a first class fuck up," Danny vented, letting his pent up anger spill out. He'd spotted his friend Rico in the hallway. With Jack's venomous tirade still ringing in his ears, he'd jumped at the opportunity to free his frustrations.

Somehow, out of the bounds of their office, the car or similar one-on-one settings, Danny's words hurt. Martin did not recognize the other voices, at least four men from what he heard, but Danny had been a fed for years and undoubtedly had friends all over the building. The words 'first class fuck up' really hit him hard, given this time it was not lashed at him in anger, rather it was to outside parties. Is that what other agents thought? A part of him deflated inside as once again his name, or rather his father's came back to bite him in the balls. Why was it he could never escape that? Why couldn't they see him for who he was not what his name was? Would that ever end?

"Anybody else would have been bounced that first week, when he almost got that hostage wasted."

"Don't think we didn't talk about that," Danny replied to his fellow agents. He'd known Steve and Rico for over five years. Tyrone worked with Steve. Danny didn't know Mitch too well, he had a reputation as a bad apple but he was a teammate of Rico's. "Even the fuckin' bat bounced off that thick head of his. We talked about that the next day while Jack was at the hospital picking him up. We all know the real reason he's on the team and it sucks."

We? Martin staggered backwards as the invisible blow struck him hard. He rocked back on his heels and felt numb all over. Was that true? Did Vivian and Sam feel that way too? Did all his coworkers think he was a patsy, riding solo on his father's name and without his own merit? Tiny claws begin to work his gut and he nearly doubled over. His senses were reeling from the news. Danny had no reason not to speak the truth, not with his friends.

"Me? I pulled a stunt like that and I'd have been suspended," Steve admitted.

"Or at least written up," Rico suggested but Danny shook his head.

"Tampoco!" Danny denied angrily, as neither had occurred. "His old man's wipin' his ass for him, we all know it and we're tired of it. Jack laid down the law, we're stuck with him. I have to learn to like him or I get streeted."

"No fuckin' way!" Tyrone replied.

"Yeah, ain't that sweet?" Danny vented. "He's got a big mouth and thinks his balls are the size of Texas. He screws up in the field, lets a murderin' sick, fuckin' rapist get away and I catch the shit from Jack. Somebody outta knock Little Lord Fitzyboy down a peg or two."

Martin staggered away then, stunned by the harsh conversation. The air turned sour and the walls seemed much narrower than they'd been just moments before. He couldn't breathe here, Danny's words were so cold they burned him and he flinched. His legs felt as if they had weights on the ankles as he dragged himself up the stairs. As much as the dark-haired agent angered him, deep inside he wanted something more.

Truth be told, he envied Danny's street smarts and easy way. He was smooth and fluent, never afraid to show his emotions. Show them? Hell, Taylor wore them proudly on his sleeve. Now any chance of working towards a real partnership was shattered. The shards of that hope, dashed by the horrific use of the word 'we' by Danny had sent those icy, glass bits inside him. They embedded in his heart and tore it to pieces. He wanted those dark eyes to be looking back at him with respect, not loathing.

Did Jack get his orders from Victor? Martin simply couldn't bring himself to believe that, not of Jack Malone. He thought about that interview and how well it went. Jack's words rang true; he wouldn't be under somebody's thumb. Unless Victor had given him an ultimatum? He wasn't aware of the walk down the hall to the office. He was relieved to find it empty. Totally deflated, he sank into the chair at his desk and pulled his badge out. He toyed with it, twirling it in his fingers. He'd thought this was the only job he'd ever wanted. Now he wasn't so sure. He thought back on the sunny day in September when he'd been hired. Jack looked him square in the eye, shook his hand and told him he was Malone's top choice.

"Don't prove me, wrong," he rasped, securing the words with a firm grip.

Now those words were hollow, for he'd shown little in the five weeks worth merit. He thought on that boy lying in the morgue and his actions that day. He had to find out the time of death, if it turned out Danny was right, he'd have to consider his future. If his mistakes cost a human life, then he wasn't the agent he'd hoped to be. He closed down his computer and put his files away, then headed for his car. He paused by the doorway, weighing the need to drown his sorrows at home or clear his head. He turned away from the lot, seeking solace in the blanket of darkness in the street.

Manhattan, Max's Gym
9:30 p.m.

There was no crowd roaring their approval, nor was there a bell to sound the end of the round. The weary slugger made his way to his 'corner', watching his opponent sway slightly. Martin's bloodied and defeated face dissolved and was replaced by the punching bag. He pounded the snot off it, pummeling the arrogant face over and over. Every muscle in his taut body screamed and sweat cascading down every firm line. He rested his head against the concrete wall, squirting his face with the water bottle before guzzling some much needed liquid.

It didn't help.

Danny sighed and tried to find an answer to Jack's edict. How could he possibly work with Martin without one of them ending up in the ER? It was all he could do now not to knock some sense into him. Maybe he could ask Jack to have Martin work with Vivian awhile. She'd been handling the rookie pretty good and keeping him inline.

Vivian.

He gave his wet face another squirt of water and eyed the phone on the wall. In the six years he'd been with the team, she was one person who always had a fair sense of play. Maybe she could shed some light on his problem. She been there before for him and gotten him through some tough times. He rose and moaned, his muscles already protesting the workout. He pulled his gloves off and slung them to the side. Guzzling the last of the water, he punched the numbers on the face of the old phone.

"Hello?"

"Vivian? I know it's late, I'm sorry to bother you. Are you busy?"

"Well, as it turns out Marcus and Reggie are at a game and Denzel isn't in town," she teased but his breathlessness caused a frown. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"Well," Danny sniffed, wiping the sweat from his eyes, "I'm not being held in lockup for assault and battery on Victor's pride and joy."

"Oh." Vivian eyed the clock and heard the silence clearly. She'd heard from another agent in a nearby office that Jack blew up earlier. She also knew from talking to Sam that Martin was responsible for Hilliard getting away. And where there was Martin problems lately, there was Danny.

"Look, I'm sorry, Vivvie, I didn't mean to bust up your night."

"Well, if you can haul that skinny butt of yours over here in a half hour, there'll be a cup of hot chocolate and some home made banana pudding."

"You twisted my arm." Danny smiled, thanked her and hung up.

Vivian had the cocoa and pudding on the table when Danny arrived. She studied his face and didn't like the tension she saw. You needed to have a clear head working the streets and Taylor was troubled. He tossed his jacket on the chair and sat down, sipping the cocoa thoughtfully. Three spoons into the pudding, with the last remains of a dying vanilla wafer clinging for life on his lips, she spoke.

"So talk to me, Danny. How bad is it?"

"I think I'm gonna transfer," he blurted, dropping the spoon.

"Um-hmm," she added, calmly crossing her arms over her chest and waiting for the rest. He fidgeted, tapped his fingers on the table, shifted in the chair twice and finally sighed hard.

"Look, Vivian, I've tried. He's just impossible. You can't tell him anything. That mouth of his has an answer for everything."

"Really? Imagine that, a rookie with a wise mouth."

"I wasn't that bad!" he defended, hearing her implication.

"I was there," she smiled, tapping his cheek lightly. "and you were ready to take on all comers. It's been six years Danny, it's hard for you to remember how hard that first year is. He's only had a few weeks."

"He's selfish, Vivian. He charges all over the place, doesn't tell me where he is..."

"Hmm, seems I recall an incident at the Port Authority one summer morning..."

"That was different!" Danny's ire rose and he felt his face flaming. He saw her brow arch and frowned. How was it that she always did that? "How come he doesn't screw up with you or Sam? Why am I the only one pissed off?"

"You don't want to hear this..." she warned and he sat back, made a face and crossed his arms over his sweatshirt.

"I am not like him!" he spoke up, reading her intent.

"I'm an objective observer and I hate to say this Danny but you do have a lot in common with him." She waited for his chuff and distressed face to turn back to her. "He makes mistakes, he's too impulsive and yes, I know that cost you today. But you were hotheaded and impulsive too, Danny. Selina Yates? Carl Denno?"

"Okay... okay..." Danny put up his hands in defense and sat forward, leaning his elbows over the edge of the table. "So how do I stop myself from shooting him?" He heard the soft laughter and her chair move.

"You take it one day at a time," she answered, giving him a reassuring hug.

"You're not tempted to shoot that cocky grin from his face?"

"I've had to correct him more than once, but I don't lose my temper or insult him." She saw his eyes flash and tilted her head. He sighed and looked away in defeat. "Danny, that only adds gasoline to the fire. You both have short fuses and you're like two alpha dogs fighting over a bone. Tell me what happened today at the brewery."

She listened to the story, prodding him at times and getting some answers. Martin did remind her a bit of Danny when he was a rookie. He too was a bit impulsive, a bit too sure of himself and thought he had all the answers. She had a feeling that when Martin lost his green tint, got some seasoning and his feet under him, they'd be a good team. That is if they didn't kill each other first. She might mention that to Jack, suggest pairing him less with Danny for awhile.

"When you went gallivanting across the Port Authority building after Madison," she said of the suspect in the Yates case, "and left me in the parking lot, did I insult you, your heritage or your family when you came back?"

"No, but that wasn't the same," Danny answered weakly. She was doing it again and he didn't like it. "You saw where I was, where Madison was..."

"Only because I turned the corner in time to see you take off like John Wayne. That was luck, Danny. Do you understand the difference?"

"You dressed me down good for that!" Danny recalled, "You damn near boxed my ears."

"The right way, by telling you what you did wrong and not using insults or a demeaning manner."

"Look you weren't there, he trashed talked me good, he's got a smart mouth."

"You hit him, he's gonna hit back," she countered and saw him stand and eye the clock.

"It's late, I'm beat. Today is a day I want to forget." He took his jacket and shucked it on, pausing by the door.

She reached up to pat his back. "Just think about what I've said. I know he's not the easiest person to get along with, but he's trying to learn a whole new game with new rules. It takes time."

"Time?" Danny replied, going back into the cold night. "I'm not so sure I have much left."

He saw her eyes bearing on him and nodded, "Okay, I'll try to be patient."

"Goodnight, Danny."

"Thanks for the couch trip," he teased of her wise advise before charming her with a Taylor special smile.

She watched until he drove away, until the red tail lights were no longer visible. She wrapped her robe a bit tighter and went to clean up. As she washed the dish and cup, she wondered about the future of the team. If Danny and Martin couldn't resolve their differences, Jack just might have to make a decision he wasn't prepared for.

Manhattan
10 p.m

He'd taken a long walk, embracing the cold air and welcoming the chill. He thought again on every action he taken this day, adding up the positives and negatives and weighing each. He was walking through the darkened indoor parking facility just past a large dumpster, when a hand shoved him hard behind a retaining wall. It was completely black on the other side, without benefit of any overhead lighting. The irony of getting mugged in a federal parking lot was almost funny. A hard blow found his midsection, doubling him over. As he started to rise, coughing and choking, a severe blow from a board or hard object hit the back of his legs, taking them out.

"Look, before you make any more mistakes, I'm a federal agent, just walk away now," he wheezed.

The laughter that followed sent a chill through him. His head was yanked back hard by the hair and he struggled, wheezing badly and expecting a blow to the face. But instead the warning was issued and he recognized the voices.

"No, not his face, don't leave any marks."

"Just enough to teach him a lesson."

"Danny Taylor's a friend of ours and a damn good agent. You pissed him off and that pissed us off. He earned his badge; he didn't have his father buy it for him."

"On your best day..." there was a brief pause and he was hauled to his feet, his knees buckling. Several more hard blows met his ribs. Then his coat was taken away and the brutal fists found the lower back, kidney blows. Very painful and lingering, yet no marks would be retained, "You couldn't wear his jockstrap..."

"You fuckin' learn or we'll have to have another class to teach you some more."

Martin didn't know how long he was lying there when he regained consciousness. He managed to roll over and get to his knees, painfully trying to stand. The throbbing pain in his back told him the kidney blows hadn't missed. He'd be in a lot of pain for several days. His ribs were bruised, not broken and Danny's friends knew just how hard to hit. Rising fully was not possible, rather he hunched forward, walking slowly and gripping the wall. The walk to the car seemed a hundred miles away.

Part Two

Manhattan, Federal Bldg
Thursday, November 7, 2002, 11:15 p.m.

It was after 11 p.m. when Jack Malone was ready to leave his office. He spent some time at the coroner's office, getting details on the autopsy for the report he would be finalizing. Adam Schoate put up a hell of a fight. The broken fingernails and tissue samples taken from his fingers and teeth would help to reveal his killer. Whoever it was had a lot of skin missing. The coroner wasn't sure, but suspected the boy had been dead for several hours when they found him. Jack was on his way to the elevators, when he heard his name.

"Jack?"

Frowning at the sound of a familiar voice at this late hour, he backpedaled and peered down the hallway. There was a lone light on three offices back not far from his own. He retraced his steps and shook his dark head. An equally worn but handsome face met his glance. But, unlike his rumpled suit and disheveled hair, the blond man looked like he had just arrived. His designer shirt and tie with shades of charcoal matched the suit perfectly. There werenČŘ™t even any damn wrinkles.

"I thought I was stubborn. You were supposed to be out of here hours ago."

"You look like shit, old man," Chris Boone teased of the weary face before him.

"Up your ass, Boone."

He took a seat across the conference table where his close friend was sitting. Like himself, Boone was the head of a missing persons unit and busy working on several cases. The pale green eyes crinkled in warmth and the lean man rose to move towards the coffee pot.

"Wish I could add a shot of Jamisons," Boone teased and nodded to the sandwich lying next to Jack.

"I don't think the whole bottle would cure my ills," Jack replied, helping himself to half of what appeared to be a roast beef sandwich on a crusty long roll with provolone and roasted peppers.

"How're things in the OK Corral?" Chris inquired of the warring duo Jack was saddled with. He put the mug in front of the worn body and reclaimed his seat. He nearly choked when Jack turned and pointed to the back of his head.

"See this?" Jack indicated, tapping his head. "Take a good look, it'll be gone soon." He paused and shook his head. "Along with what's left of my sanity."

"Sam said that new kid is a bit of a cowboy," Boone recalled and picked up his coffee mug.

"Just a bit," Jack replied with a hint of sarcasm as he stabbed at defenseless pickle lying naked on the plate. "One hothead was bad enough, now I got the two shortest fuses in the Bureau." He paused to take a bite of the sandwich, chewing thoughtfully. "I swear Chris, I damn near suspended both of them today. I really could have killed the two of them."

Chris sat back and listened as his friend spilled out the details. He didn't envy Jack and had warned him about taking Victor Fitzgerald's pride and joy as a part of his team. The old man was a real SOB who had a helluva lot of clout. He only met young Fitzgerald a couple times and he seemed okay, albeit a bit green but he was a rookie. Despite his words, Chris still saw the resolution in Malone's eyes.

"But you don't regret choosing him?"

"No," Jack answered honestly. "I still think he's got what it takes, he was top of the class in Quantico and even though Seattle was white collar, he got some pretty high profile collars in his jacket. I've seen his instincts in the field and he's sharper than most."

He'd known Chris enough years to almost sense what he was thinking. Just by the tilt of the fair head and the way the pale eyes were regarding him, he knew what was coming.

"Keep them apart?"

"Well, hell, Jack, if you don't cure it soon, you're asking for trouble. You can't play with fire in the field, you know that." He took a hefty bite of the sandwich and rummaged on the empty chair, producing a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips. He slid the bag to Malone when his phone rang.

"Boone."

Jack had a mouthful of chips when Chris's head shot up and he began to write. "Yeah, that's great, Kevin, a real break. Hold on a minute." He cupped the phone. "Jack, this is Kevin McGeever, a buddy of mine whose head of a precinct Hartford, Connecticut."

"Hartford? Hilliard has a brother up that way," Jack replied, his antenna rising. "Chris, put him on speaker."

"Kevin?" Boone asked after pushing the speaker button and hanging the phone up.

"Yeah?"

"I'm here with Jack Malone, his team is the one looking for Hilliard."

"What happened?" Jack pressed.

"Well, he was weaving all over the road, suspected high on DUI," McGeever stated. "We got several calls about him. He ran a red light, hit two cars and jumped out, fled on foot. We got an APB out, but I thought you'd want to know."

"You thought right, McGeever, I'm very grateful. I'll send a couple of my men up there in the morning."

Jack took down all the vital information and would review the details about the brother's house. He knew that area and from Hilliard's background information, he lived with his brother Frank for awhile in that area. "He's a suspect in a kidnapping, sexual assault and homicide of a minor. He's dangerous; you do whatever you need to do to get that piece of trash off the street."

"Will do, you have your agents check in with me when they get here. If we pick him up before then, I'll call you."

"Thanks," Jack answered, "appreciate it."

"Sounds like a real prize," Chris commented as he released the call.

"Yeah, Jack sighed hard as the acid from the afternoon event spilled in his gut again, "and he would have been downstairs and booked if the Sundance Kid hadn't tried playing Superman again today."

Chris's eyes narrowed and he thought on Jack's parting words to McGeever. "You're not sending them up there together? You like playing with fire don't you?"

"They have to learn to work together. I won't coddle Martin," Jack decided.

"Look, I know where you're coming from, Jack, but after what happened today, maybe they both need a couple days to cool down. Two angry pitbulls going at each other is disaster. Send Vivian with him, you said he's good with her."

"He trusts Vivian, he's more relaxed around her. No big problems with Sam either, it's just with Danny that he gives me an ulcer." He took a refill on the coffee and finished his half of the sandwich. "I won't have this shit everyday, Chris, this is my ship and they're gonna learn to work together. Funny thing, down here," he tapped his gut, "I know they're good for each other. I thought because their backgrounds were so diverse, they'd hit it off, learn from each other and I still think they will."

"If they don't bury you first," Chris teased, patting Jack in consolation on the back. "Maybe we should put in a plan for reorganization; all male team leaders have all female agents under them."

"Is it possible for you to get through a conversation without you thinking of new and creative ways to meet women?" Jack teased of the ladies man. "You're a hound, Boone, you know that?"

"Howling to the moon every night," Chris laughed and began to clean up. "Put out the cat will you? I got a hot woman waiting on me and patience isn't her strong suit."

"Now? You're meeting a woman now?" Jack's voice rose a bit and he eyed the clock on the wall. "By the time you get anything 'vital' moving, it'll be midnight. Tomorrow's a school day, champ."

"Spoken like an old married curmudgeon," Boone sent back, watching Jack rise slowly. He knew just how much breaking in the rookie was affecting his friend. "Listen, you let me know if I can help. I'll take the kid for awhile, tell him it's part of his rookie rotation."

"Thanks, Chris," he replied with sincerity, "I appreciate that, but Danny's got a chip the size of Manhattan on his shoulder and it's gonna come off. It's not all Martin's fault and he's not a threat, Danny's gonna have to be more flexible."

Jack was at the door when his friend called out to him one last time.

"Hey, Jack? I got a favor."

"Shoot," Jack answered and watched the handsome man carefully flicking invisible lint from the designer gray suit. There was not a thread out of place and the shirt and tie would turn heads wherever he went.

"I don't look good in black, okay if I wear this to your funeral?"

"Goodnight, Chris!"

Manhattan, Federal Bldg
11:45 p.m.

Malone went back to his office to check his messages again, but the coroner hadn't called. He then made his way to the elevators. As he rode down to the lobby, then strode through the building towards the parking facility, he thought on his problem. Maybe his lecture today would sink in and the two would start afresh in the morning. Or at least learn to listen to each other and realize that it wasn't a contest. It was freezing in the garage and nearly midnight but there were still quite a few cars left. He found his quickly and began the curving descent down three levels to the street. He was halfway through the last level, nearing the final turn when his headlights caught something pink. It stood out against the dark concrete and steel. A face shot up and two startled blue eyes squinted at the light. Jack was close enough to recognize the face, even past the hand that was held up to protect the eyes. He pulled over, put his car in park and rolled the window down to address the sole body sitting on a guardrail against a concrete block.

"Martin?" He saw the hand come down and a bit of fear wash over the reddened features. "What the hell are you doing out here? It's almost midnight and cold as hell."

"Uh... Jack... uh..." Martin stammered as Malone got out of his car. The wheels in his mind were spinning now. What could he say? He'd thought everyone was gone. Midnight? Had that much time passed?

"You okay?" Jack asked, seeing pain clearly etched on every feature and shooting out of the bruised eyes.

"Yeah... I was uh...on my way to the car." He paused a moment and cast a fast glance around where he was. Where was his car? He was on the right level, it wasn't far. "I thought I lost my phone, I was retracing my steps." This was going badly and he knew by the stoic face that Jack wasn't buying what he was trying to sell. "Then I got to thinking about that kid and how I uh... fuc... could have made better choices today."

"And you decided that squatting in a dark, cold parking garage was the best place to do that?"

Jack spotted Martin's badge resting in his right hand. He thought back a moment and realized that was why Martin's head was down when the headlight's first caught him. He was staring at his badge. But the pain in the eyes wasn't just from self-examination. His gut told him something was very wrong.

"Did the coroner make a ruling yet?" Martin inquired, hoping to get the answer he'd been praying for.

"Not for certain but we should know tomorrow when some of the lab results come back."

He knew Martin was troubled but hadn't realized he'd been this affected. He kicked himself inwardly at the poor choice of leaving the office for several hours. Martin was still a rookie and he'd forgotten just how hard losing one hits you. He should have stayed closer and he felt guilty about that. He saw the slim fingers toying with the badge again, just as Martin swallowed hard and his eyes seemed to burn. It was as if the object in his hand was a foreign one. Jack didn't want to coddle him but there was no easy way to accept this.

"It's a part of the job, Martin and it sucks. It won't get any easier and I'm sorry you had to get hit with losing a victim this early in your career. I know it's hard, but you can't let it get personal or it will eat you alive."

"It's my fault..." Martin choked, hearing Danny's words echo in his head.

"The kid?" Jack shook his head and tried to find a way to penetrate the guilt ridden eyes before him. Somehow, he preferred the cocky Fitzgerald he'd gotten used to; this wavering shaken soul was disturbing. "We don't know that yet. He could have been in the river long before you and Danny got to the Brewery. Hilliard? Yeah, you blew that one, junior and I meant every word I said upstairs. We got a lead on him; he's suspected DUI in Hartford. He caused an accident and fled on foot."

"Shit," Martin hissed, hearing Danny's words about him being a 'fuckup' echo again. "But he got away?"

"He's drunk. He'll pass out somewhere and get caught. His brother lives up there; we'll press him if we have to." He sighed hard, watching the trembling fingers toying with the silver badge again. "I know how it hurts, Martin, I've been there. But the sun will come up again tomorrow. You take this and learn from it and you pull yourself up and go on."

"Danny was right."

"That's water under the bridge, Martin and feeling sorry for yourself won't bring him back. You learn from this, you go over every inch of what you did in the field that could be improved. You make those adjustments and you go on. You won't forget Adam Schoate, but you can't let his death be in vain." He eyed the badge again, sitting idly in the palm of Martin's hand. "And put that back in your pocket where it belongs, understood?"

Martin's face came up slowly, he stared hard at Jack and he did 'understand'. He knew Jack was trying to give him part of his soul back. He was grateful for the support, far more than he deserved under the circumstances. It helped tremendously to know that despite all his errors that he was still in his corner. He had to believe that Jack hired him outright, without Victor. If he found out otherwise, there would be nothing left to hold onto. But Jack didn't know the real reason for the pain that now throbbed relentlessly inside him. Danny's words were like acid coated bullets pinging through his body.

"We all know the real reason he's on the team and it sucks... we all know... we all know... we... we..."

Martin remained silent; all he could see was the absolute loathing in Danny's eyes that matched the expressed feelings. What kind of tomorrow was there for him? How do you learn to work as a team when none of your coworkers trust you? He never felt so cold in all his life; so utterly and completely alone. He'd been deserted before he'd gotten the chance to prove he could learn by his mistakes. Or had he? Maybe working on a team would never be good enough, as along as he had the Fitzgerald name. At least riding a paper horse in Seattle he'd not had his heart broken like this. When you worked mostly alone, there was no way to get your feelings crushed. Nothing ever hurt like this, not in the three years since he'd graduated Quantico.

"Martin?" Jack prodded, hearing a long shuddering sigh of desolation. He kept his eyes on the badge and it slowly went back into the coat pocket. "Go home, you're freezing. You get some sleep okay?"

"Yeah," Martin rasped, nodding slowly. He didn't want Jack to see him fall apart. He was freezing and berated himself for not crawling into his car. He was almost afraid to stand, that the pain from the beating would be too great and he'd have to lie yet again. He put on his best game face and caught the dark eyes above. He saw the concern there and it was genuine, giving warmth for the first time in hours. "I'm good, Jack, thanks. Sorry to have interrupted your trip home."

"See you tomorrow," Jack replied, holding his hand out. "Come on, I'll give you hand up."

Martin blanched as he eyed the hand and nearly had a panic attack. He ordered himself to calm down and his eyes darted to the left. There was his car, just down the row. He could be stiff from sitting in the cold, right? Yeah, that would work. So he took the hand and tried to keep his face from revealing just how badly his chest and lower back were throbbing. Try as he might, he still ending up hissing and sucking in air hard.

"Hey?" Jack puzzled, eyeing the pain now radiating from the light eyes. He also didn't miss the death grip Martin had on his arm. "You okay?"

"Sat there too long... just stiff..." Martin lied, hoping it worked. He pretended to 'dust' himself off and fish for his keys. "Thanks again, Jack, see you tomorrow."

"Okay," Jack said, not sure if he believed that or not. Something was wrong and he felt sure the pain mirrored on the younger man's face was not from the Hilliard case. He got back in his car and put it in drive. He was nearly to the exit when he saw Martin was still in the same spot. "Christ..." he muttered, rolling his window down." Martin! Get your ass in that car." He saw the head rise and a guilty flush still remaining but he got a nod and Martin did begin to move. He waited and kept his eyes on the troubled soul until he reached his car. Just as he was about to pull away, he saw Martin drop to his knees and he heard a muffled cry of pain.

He'd almost made it; he actually had the key going towards the lock. But as soon as he bent to place it there, it was as if someone had stuck a hot poker straight through his kidney. He saw red and felt himself go down. For a few minutes, he kept his eyes jammed shut, biting his lip and moaning. Then he felt a hand on his shoulder and peeled his eyes open. Jack's worried face was over him and he was being hauled up.

"What the hell happened?" Jack demanded, eyeing the now very pale face. Martin was trembling and he took the keys, opening the door. "You okay to drive? You want to leave it here? I'll drop you off."

"No...no..." Martin shook it off. He took a deep breath and found reserves he wasn't aware he had, it took all of them to not move his hand to his lower back. "I got dizzy, Jack, I haven't eaten much today and I'm tired."

"You sure?" he pushed, he wasn't buying that. He wondered if Danny and Martin had gone at it in the street after Hilliard got away. Maybe his rookie was hurt and hiding it. "Martin? Are you hurt?"

"I'm worn out," he admitted that wasn't a lie, he was worn out. He managed to get into the car and not scream as his bruised body protested viciously. He saw an extended hand and took the keys, pausing to let his gratefulness ebb through the pain. "I'm sorry, Jack,"

"I know, Martin," Jack answered, seeing it clearly in the pained eyes before him. "Go home and get some food in you. You're on duty in the morning." He didn't tell Martin about the trip to track Hilliard yet. It could be Chris was right; maybe he should send Vivian, especially if Martin was sick or hurt. He'd check with him in the morning and decide.

Taylor's Apartment, Manhattan
Friday, November 8th , Six a.m.

"Hello?"

"Danny? The Hartford police have a lead on Hilliard. He was in an accident there last night and fled on foot. He's been spotted twice in a wooded area near his brother's place. Sgt. McGeever is your contact. I need you two to go up there and find him."

Suddenly Danny was instantly awake. He sat up, turned the low light on and rubbed the last of the sleep from his eyes. He yawned and scribbled down the address and phone numbers Jack gave him, along with a quick set of directions. His stomach immediately soured at the number 'two' in the order given.

"It better be 'two' as in Vivian or Sam," he directed and the stone cold silence brought back his ever present pain. "No fuckin' way, Jack, I'm not ridin' with him."

"First of all, Special Agent Taylor, I'm the one giving the orders. Second, did anything I said to you last night get through that thick skull of yours? You two have to fix this, Danny, is that clear?"

"Crystal!" Danny hissed, rubbing the throbbing pain in his jaw. "Does he know?"

"I called him but got the machine. You check with me at the office before you leave."

"Yeah... fine..."

He rolled out of bed and hit the shower. As he soaped up and rinsed down, he thought of the long day ahead with Mister Perfect. He toweled off and peered through the steam in the mirror. As soon as the toothbrush hit the back of his mouth, the nagging tooth he'd been ignoring growled at him.

"Dammit!" he hissed and then rummaged in the cabinet for something to fix his tooth. He didn't know how he'd survive the twin festering pains that would be riding with him all day.

It was before seven when Jack arrived in the office. He stopped in the entry and frowned, eyeing the nearly darkened room. It was empty except for a lone body quietly sitting at a desk. He moved closer and noted that the head was drooping a bit. He frowned at the cadet blue sweater and khaki pants.

"Martin?" Jack spoke and the head jerked up and a startled face blinked at him. A face far too drawn and eyes swollen from lack of sleep greeted him. "Well I guess that explains why you didn't answer at home."

"I couldn't sleep, finally gave up and came up here," Martin hedged, eyeing the empty space.

"You okay?" Jack asked, studying the fair featured face carefully. "Or is there something you haven't told me about what happened to you last night?"

"Last night?" Martin repeated without changing his expression.

"How'd you get hurt?" Jack pressed.

"I'm okay, I told you I was just a little stiff from sitting in the cold too long." He saw that the dark eyes were not conviced. "I took a little spill on the subway steps chasing Hilliard. It's no big deal." He had fallen, that wasn't a total lie. Before Jack could react he thought on the more painful issue. Now was as good a time as any to talk to the man who was his boss. He'd been troubled all night unable to rest thinking on the awful prior day. "Jack?" He cast an open face at the man next to his desk. "When you hired me, it was because I was met the qualifications right?"

"What?" Jack's voice rose and he made a face. "Where the hell did that come from?" Then he looked right through the telltale eyes and saw the doubt wavering there.

"I have to know, Jack." Martin's plea came out strongly. "You shook my hand that day and said 'Don't prove me wrong'. You meant that, didn't you?"

"Look, Martin, I got about three hours sleep last night and a shitty day in front of me. This isn't kindergarten and you damn well know I don't play games. If something's bothering you, spit it out, stop talking in riddles."

Martin closed his eyes, shook his head but before he could reply, Paula Van Doren, Jack's supervisor, came into the room.

"Jack, I need to talk to you."

"Alright Paula, I'll be there in a minute," Jack answered, eyeing Martin's semi-haggard face. He looked exhausted and there was something not quite right about his eyes.

"Now, Jack."

"Alright," he replied, but before he could give the troubled rookie an answer to whatever was ailing him, the young man seemed to snap out of it.

"It's okay, Jack, I'm fine. I had a rough night, is all. I'm not feeling so good. " Martin rasped, "Forget about it."

"Jack!"

Jack didn't reply, he turned away to follow his supervisor into her office. He shut the door behind them and took a seat across from her. She looked angry and he knew by the morning news report that the press was already looking for answers. Someone had tipped one of the news crews that that the FBI had been given the location of the kidnapping suspect the day before. They wanted to know where he was and why he wasn't in custody and so did Van Doren.

Danny Taylor was miserable. If it were possible to have anything else go wrong today he doubted it existed. He'd been plagued by a throbbing tooth for two days, the funny grinding noise his car had been making turned into a seven hundred dollar bill and he wasn't sure if the headache that was splitting his skull was due to the bad molar, the car bill or the call he'd gotten from Jack Malone.

"Thanks Mister Taylor, have a good day."

"We expecting a meteor shower later?" Danny replied sarcastically to the mechanic who handed him his keys.

He pulled the collar of his wool coat up and shivered, it was brutally cold today. It wasn't bad enough he had to spend most of the day on a transport. He had to postpone his dentist visit and as a bonus, he got to spend another day in paradise with the team misfit. He'd drawn the short straw and was saddled with Dudley Do-Right all day to escort the prisoner. He tried to think like Vivian but it was hard.

"Five fuckin' weeks and he thinks he knows everything," Danny mumbled of Martin Fitzgerald.

Danny still wasn't sure if the fact that the cocky rookie's father was the Deputy Director of the F.B.I in Washington wasn't the reason he hadn't been canned when his rash actions nearly got Maggie Cartwright killed. She was the MP they were working on when he joined the team. He played hot dog and broke a lot of key rules seeking out the kidnapper on his own. A bad decision that could have gotten both of them killed. Yesterday's incident was still glowing, bright red in his skull. How arrogant could Fitzgerald be, that he couldn't see he'd nearly cost them again?

He turned onto the exit ramp and took a sip of his coffee careful to keep it away from his tooth. He found little to like about Fitzgerald. He was too confident, a know-it-all and show off. He wasn't forthcoming about anything, they knew little about his personal life. Usually on Mondays the rest of the team joked about what they did on the weekend, but not Mister Stick-up-his-ass, for all they knew he had a secret life as a crime fighter at night. That thought gave him his first smile of the day. Then a thundercloud sounded overhead.

"You have a twisted sense of humor," he vented to the angry black sky.

He knew Jack Malone, their boss, was troubled by the fact the two of them fought constantly. It would start out as knit-picking, gradually blossom into bickering and sometimes heated words would fly. What he couldn't figure out was what Jack saw in Fitzgerald, other than the fact he looked like a poster boy for the G-Man ad. Putting them together for this extended rotation was Malone's way of making them work out their troubles. A poor decision, Danny had argued but it'd fallen on deaf ears. Malone was about as flexible as concrete when his mind was made up, especially when he thought he was right.

He couldn't get an answer at Fitzgerald's place and dialed Jack, wondering if his boss knew where Superboy was. There was no answer, so he weighed his options. He could drive to Martin's which would waste at least an hour in cross town, rush hour traffic. Or he could call Vivian and coerce her into coming. After all, it wasn't his fault the screw up wasn't available and the prisoner needed to be picked up. A smile formed and the sun finally started to come out. Even his toothache wasn't so bad.

Jack leaned forward and shook his dark head, he could feel the anger radiating off her and he knew why. "I heard the news, Paula, and you know most of those reporters are sharks."

"What happened at the Brewery?" she requested, tapping a pencil on a folder in front of her. "I have conflicting reports here from the two agents on scene." She paused and saw him slump a bit. "Danny has six years experience and although I'd like to give Fitzgerald the benefit of the doubt, I tend to believe a seasoned agent over a green rookie who is frankly, too much of a cowboy for my tastes."

"He's learning, Paula, he's made a few mistakes..."

"A few? That's twice in a month that he's really screwed up a major case. He repeated the same mistake he made with the Cartwright case. Jack, I don't have to tell you how much of a liability he could become. If he can't handle the street, I don't want him there."

"I know, Paula," Jack put both palms up defensively, "and he knows too. I laid down the law with both of them yesterday. It's true that Martin has made some errors in judgment, but Danny's attitude doesn't help. For what it's worth, I think something hit him hard last night. He didn't get much sleep and talked to me about where he went wrong." He saw the coldness in her eyes and understood her position; after all, she had to answer to superiors as well. Then there was Victor Fitzgerald to contend with.

"You fix the problem or I'm going to have to recommend he be transferred." She paused and eyed the clock on the wall. "Did the coroner call yet? If that boy died because Martin shot his mouth off and let the suspect escape, there is no cover up, understood?"

"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that!" Jack stood, his face flushed with anger. "And for your information, the time of death was established between ten a.m. and noon. Martin's mistake allowed the suspect to flee, but that's all."

"Fine, just watch him closely, Jack. If he doesn't shape up, he's going to be shipped out." She turned away when her phone rang.

While Jack was talking to Van Doren, his phone rang. Martin's head came up and he watched the light blinking for several rings. Then it stopped. He went back to his brooding, weighing and measuring all the pieces of fool's gold he'd collected. At least Jack was on his side but for how long? What if the boy died because of him? He'd called the coroner's office three times overnight and got voicemail. He stared as his phone willing it to ring. But instead, Vivian's began to ring. She was usually the first one in and he knew she had a son in school. What if they were trying to reach her? He walked over to her desk, punched the blinking button, then pulled the receiver up.

"Agent Fitzgerald, can I help you?"

"What are you doing there?" Danny asked, annoyed that Martin was at work already. Or maybe just annoyed at the voice, he wasn't sure. The sun smirked at him and disappeared and his tooth rebelled.

"I work here," Martin quipped, hearing the voices again from the night before. He decided there was nothing left to fight for. Danny had shown his true colors and he'd play their game. He would keep his troubles buried and put on the game face he'd developed a long time ago.

Danny ignored the droll comment and tone and eyed the traffic ahead. "Jack talk to you?"

"About what?" His hackles rose and his voice became defensive. Was Malone talking about him too?

"Hilliard. He's been spotted in Hartford near his brother's place. Jack wants us to get him."

"No...I mean he mentioned Hilliard." Martin recalled the brief conversation the night prior.

"But he just about got here and Van Doren grabbed him. He's in her office now."

"Okay, well I'm down the block. You be out front in five minutes."

Martin jammed his eyes shut and moved in the chair, the pain wasn't so bad today but he was very stiff. Traveling to Hartford, finding the prisoner and traveling back meant a day in hell with Taylor. His stomach was already churning. The dial tone gave him no chance to reply. He wrote a quick note for Jack, leaving it on his desk, picked up his soft brown leather jacket and headed for the door. If he walked slowly and took his time bending to sit or stand, it wouldn't be so bad. He'd used a heating pad most of the night and had taken some painkillers. He hadn't even dressed up today, planning on taking sick leave for the rest of the day after he talked to Jack. It was Friday and that would give him all weekend to heal up and think.

He hit the street and waited, scanning the cars moving forward. He saw the scowl first, nearly screaming at him through the windshield. Danny looked like he'd eaten jagged glass and rusty nails for breakfast. He was surprised Taylor even stopped the car to let him in. He got in a bit awkwardly and winced but he didn't think Taylor noticed. Neither of them spoke and that was fine with him, he wasn't going to let it bother him, he would play the fool for them, if that's what they wanted. It would only be for a few hours then he'd be free of Danny. He had some serious thinking to do over the weekend. By Monday he just might be free of them all.

Part Three

Hartford , CT
Friday, November 8th, 1 p.m.

Danny yawned and stretched, letting his stiff back flex. They were staking out Frank Hilliard's house. Two cops from the Hartford P.D were dressed as utility men just across the street in a city truck. An empty bag of donuts and two large empty cups of coffee were lying in a grave on the seat between them. He shifted his eyes sideways and peered at Martin again. The tense rookie hadn't spoken more than a handful of words all day. By the worn face and bloodshot eyes, it appeared he'd gotten little sleep the night before. Could be the cocky rookie got knocked down a few pegs by the disturbing turn of events?

"Hey, heads up, guys, we got movement."

"Roger," Martin replied into the radio in reply to the voice from one of the cops. "Yup, that's his car." Fitzgerald peered through binoculars at the license plate of the car pulling into the driveway.

Danny waited until Frank Hilliard was unlocking his front door and then slowly got out of his car. He saw the two cops crossing the street. He was several feet behind Hilliard, when he noticed that his partner wasn't with him. He turned and glared harshly, prompting the slow moving Fitzgerald to move from the vehicle. First he's all gung-ho, rushing off without assistance; now he's going to turn timid?

Martin ignored Danny's perturbed face and gingerly made his way around the car. His lower back was stiff and his chest hurt but not nearly as bad as he thought it would. Danny finally turned back, joining the police by Hilliard.

"F.B.I., Mister Hilliard," Danny identified himself and nodded to the policemen. "These men are two local policemen. We need to talk to you about your brother Henry."

"Hank?" Frank frowned, nodding to the lock "Okay to go inside?"

"Sure, just slow and easy," Taylor replied. "You mind if we look around?"

"No."

"Okay, you two search the place, see if you find anything." Danny let the two cops go by him and wondered what Martin's problem was. He just stood on the steps without saying a word. "You coming inside?" he snapped.

"Yeah," Martin rasped, terribly uncomfortable. It had gotten worse with each passing hour. Danny was now a stranger to him; the words issued last night were burning inside his gut still.

"Mister Hilliard," Danny inquired of the sandy-haired forty-ish man. There was a passing resemblance to his brother. Henry was taller and a bit heavier. "When was the last time you saw your brother?"

"Uh...let's see," Frank sighed, scratched his chin and frowned. "A couple weeks ago, no, closer to three. I came down to the city for a Rangers game. We ate, saw the game, had a few beers and I took a train home."

"Has he called you?" Martin asked, looking beyond the home owner's shoulder. They were standing in Hilliard's living room. The kitchen looked empty but a single drawer was opened halfway and some folded papers were sticking out.

"No," he answered and eyed his answering machine. It wasn't blinking. "Doesn't look like it. I've been out of town. The construction company I work for has a gig upstate. I left Sunday night, just got back."

"You can verify that?" Danny asked.

"If I have to, yeah, you can check with my foreman."

"Did you leave your drawer like that?" Martin asked, nodding to the doorway.

Both Danny and Hilliard turned and peered into the kitchen. Hilliard moved first, dropping his jacket and car keys on a chair by the entry. He paused at the drawer and shook his head. He went to touch it and a voice halted him.

"Don't touch that," Danny said, using a pencil to pry the drawer open. "We'll dust it. Anything missing?" Taylor noted the inside of the drawer was very neat, everything was orderly.

"Yeah," Hilliard replied, using a pen from the cup near the phone to push several transit schedules aside. "The train schedule, it's always on top." His eyes went to the top of the refrigerator where four canisters stood. One was sideways with the lid off. "The money's gone."

"What money?" Taylor asked walking to the refrigerator.

"I keep house money in there, about a hundred bucks or so. He must have been here," he replied, eyeing the two agents. "FBI? What the hell did he do?"

Twenty minutes later Danny and Martin were entering the train station. The Hartford police had been updated and were sending some men over to help. They went to the ticket counters first and were relieved to find out that none of the tellers recognized Hilliard. They checked with the various vendors and porters near the platforms as well. When the local police arrived, they had photos and began to circulate around the area.

The next several hours proved to be a waiting game and Danny hated that. He leaned his throbbing jaw against the cold marble wall near the doorway where he stood. He'd already read both newspapers and discarded them. It was almost five and he was getting hungry. Martin, of course, was his usual frosty self. The pensive profile was across the station, stoic and distant. He couldn't put a finger on what was wrong with Martin but something had changed. He only replied when spoken to and even then kept it to minimal input. This Martin was as bad as the cocky one. Danny pulled out his binoculars and scanned the large area again, pausing on his partner. He wasn't looking very good today, very withdrawn. There were at least three wrinkles in the collar of shirt. He moved the glasses upwards and peered hard at the face. His eyes were almost blank, as if the life had been sucked out of them. Maybe he had a conscience after all. A voice behind him brought his glasses down.

"Agent Taylor?"

"Yeah?" Danny turned to a man his own age with light hair. The jacket moved revealing a badge.

"Tim Simmons, local FBI. Sgt. McGeever filled me in and I spoke with Malone. Listen, you and your partner have been here all day. Why don't you take a break and get some food. We got this place blanketed pretty good."

"Okay, thanks." Danny nodded.

Martin continued to stare into the crowd, blinking to keep his focus from shifting. So many people moving quickly and a face like Hilliard's could easily blend in. Today had not gone badly, he hadn't screwed up yet. But the awkwardness was increasing and he didn't like the growing gap he felt. He saw Danny approaching and moved his eyes across the other side of the station.

"You hungry?"

Martin shrugged and looked at Taylor. The perturbed face was back and that soured his gut. He'd not raised his voice and they had not quibbled all day. What could Danny be pissed off at now? He began to get irritated and felt a scowl forming.

"Tim Simmons checked in," Danny updated, trying to call Jack, "He's the local fed, over there where I was." He saw Martin flick a glance there, "I'm gonna get some grub. They got this covered if you want to eat."

"Okay," Martin eyed the men's room. "I'm gonna hit the men's room first."

"I'm checking in with Jack," the dark-haired agent replied, "You need him?"

"No," Martin managed, heading for the bathroom.

"Great!" Danny hissed. "Now I get Mister Freeze."

The call wouldn't go through, Jack must be out of range or the tower was down. He would have to try later. He got a sandwich and a bottle of ice tea and found a small table in the concourse. As he ate, he kept looking for the suspect. Once finished, he was heading back to the terminal area, stopping to tie his sneaker. He was dressed down today, in jeans, turtleneck, sweatshirt and a short wool jacket. He could smell Chinese food and eyed the small sign above him with a Red Dragon. There was a short wall next to him and he heard a familiar voice from the other side of it.

"Yeah, dad, you're right!" Martin snapped, feeling a headache explode. Funny how often that happened around his father. "It is pretty hard to see with my head that far up my ass."

Danny covered his mouth and hid a chuckle. It sounded like the old man had found out what happened.

"Look, dad, if you'd just let me..." Martin tried but the angry voice didn't let up. "It wasn't my fault... If you'd just listen to my..." He finally gave up, what was the use? His father was only interested in berating him. He never truly heard him, just what he wanted to hear. If it wasn't the answer he expected, he never heard it. Finally, he had enough; he shoved off from the table, feeling the pungent food churning inside him. "You know what dad? You haven't heard anything I've said since I told you I was going to Quantico. You never supported my decision to carry this badge, why should it change now! I'm sorry I'm such a big disappointment to you!" he hollered into the phone and hung up. "Goddammit!" He kicked the wall.

For a minute, Danny's smile faded and he felt sorry for Martin. He hadn't realized that side of the story before. Being Victor's son was not all that it was cracked up to be. He turned the other way, back to the bathroom.

Martin threw his trash away and cast an eye over the area, looking for Danny. He sighed hard, rubbed his throbbing temples and tried to rid his aching skull of his father's voice. He walked a for few minutes, his eyes scanning the crowd. A homeless man approached him, his age was hard to determine. The grimy face was bearded and a wool hat was pulled down low, under a hooded sweatshirt. There were several layers of clothing covering him and he reeked. He asked for money and Martin gave him a disgusted look and moved away. The guy shuffled off and found a friendlier face nearby. He chuffed and moved closer, just as the fool parted with his money.

"Here, get yourself some hot soup, maybe some coffee and some sandwiches for later," Danny offered and gave the man a ten dollar bill.

"That'll go right up his nose," Martin muttered, just as Danny's head swiveled.

"What? You think you're the fuckin' expert on everything, huh? You know all about life on the streets. Is there anything the Amazing Fitzgerald doesn't know?" The arrogant tone returned and again Martin was judging him and using that cocky voice. It really rubbed him the wrong way and he didn't like the insinuation.

"I know he's not gonna buy food with that," Martin snapped, his mood still fired up by the heated discussion with his father.

"You know what, Martin?" Danny seethed, his whole jaw was throbbing now, the abscessed tooth was screaming at him. He jammed an index finger into Fitzgerald's chest and bared his teeth. "I've had it with you and your fuckin' attitude. You got no right to judge that guy. You don't know who he is, where he came from or what happened to him."

"I know the statistics prove my point," Martin shot back, flexing his body to quell the pain in his lower back which was singing in harmony with his pounding head. "The odds are in my favor. He's gonna buy himself a trip with that."

Danny's face screwed up with incredulity. He couldn't believe Martin had the audacity to make a statement like that and preen about it. Fitzgerald turned away and began to walk into the station. Danny jogged up behind him, catching him when he paused to let several elderly people cross in front of him.

"I can't believe you! Who the hell do you think you are? Placing judgment on another human being you know nothing about? Not all of us were lucky enough to suck on a silver spoon on Easy Street!"

That struck a nerve and whatever resolution Martin was holding onto was unraveling quickly. Danny had no right to make a comment like that. He'd tried all day to placate Taylor, letting him make all the decisions and take the lead. He'd not crossed him once, not on technique or questioning the brother. His frazzled nerves snapped; he was done.

"Back off now, Danny, I'm warning you," Martin seethed, resisting the urge to shove the offensive body away. "You're way out of line again."

"I'm out of line?" Danny's eyebrows rose along with his voice. "You don't know shit about living on the streets. While you were feasting on the finest with sixteen forks by your place setting, I was flickin' flies off cold pizza I dug out of the trash on Thanksgiving." The wound had opened and when the blue eyes rolled and a grim line formed over the square jaw he saw red. Now Fitzgerald was mocking his background and nobody got away with that. "Oh, really?" He addressed the disgusted look, "You ever had to dumpster dive for your food? How many nights have you slept in an alley with a piece of cardboard for your blanket and rats pissin' on your face? Huh? Smart boy? I didn't have no fuckin' moneybags funding my way through life, I earned it!"

"Fuck you, Danny!" the irate rookie growled, shoving the angry Cuban away just as Henry Hilliard strode by on the level above them.

Danny jumped on the radio and alerted Simmons and the others. He and Martin set off, splitting up and each taking a half of the divided stairway. The top level was crowded and they had to work their way through a throng of people. Danny felt like he was being compressed as the thickening crowd grew. He heard Martin's voice ahead and he craned his neck when several voices screamed in alarm.

"Freeze, FBI, Hilliard!"

Martin pulled his gun out and trained it on the suspect. Hilliard kept backing up and there were too many people between them. Martin motioned for them to move and ordered them out of the way, but the area was too narrow and there was no room to maneuver. Hilliard had his own gun drawn and kept backing up, looking for an exit.

"We got the place covered; you won't get out of here. Drop the weapon now!" Fitzgerald ordered.

"Fuck you, cop!" Hilliard replied. Just as he edged his way past the restrooms a group of teenaged girls burst from the room, laughing and chattering. He waved the gun at them and Martin froze as they began to scream and panic.

"Calm down, it's okay," Martin issued but Hilliard shoved them hard into Martin, sending them all into a heap. The terrified girls got up and ran to the closest store. Martin hit the corner of the newspaper box hard, right in the delicate area that had been abused earlier. He saw stars literally and gasped in pain, it was as if a white iron poker was shoved into his kidney.

"Martin!" Danny hollered and saw Fitzgerald on the ground. A janitor waved to a door that said 'Staff Only'.

"He went in there!"

"Thanks!" Danny called out, entering the maintenance room. He went to the windows and cursed, kicking the wall. The large window was open and the room was vacant. He kicked the wall and felt the red surge rising again. He turned around and found Martin in the doorway, his face reflecting fear and pain.

"What the hell happened?" Danny roared, holstering his gun.

"I had him cornered, but..." Martin began and shifted as the janitor tried to enter. The doorknob hit him in the back and he went to his knees. The strong smell of the cleaning fluids nearby was overwhelming. His gut was already churning due to the questionable fare at lunch. He doubled over as he felt the Chinese food rising back up.

"FBI, Stay out of here!" Danny ordered and went to the struggling body. "Are you sick? You're kidding me? What the hell were you thinking coming here today? Why didn't you tell Jack you were sick? He would have sent Vivian or Sam with me." He paused over the pale faced and trembling body. He sent the next words dripping in acid, the same venom that was coursing through him. "A partner I could count on."

"That's not fair," Martin coughed. "I didn't..." He never finished his defense, Danny jumped in to finish it.

"No, you sure as hell 'didn't'! Twice in twenty-four hours we had a raping, murdering dog and you let him skip." He was so angry and disgusted he didn't want to look on the shaken rookie anymore. "Just get out of my sight, Martin."

"You don't need a partner," Martin wheezed, rose and stood eye to eye. "You got enough balls for a whole fuckin' team, don't you. You don't need anybody. You sure as hell won't give me a break. Why the hell did I think today would be different?"

"So go!" Danny issued waving his arm and exiting the room. He saw the area was cleared and half a dozen policemen were interviewing witnesses. "Who the hell is stopping you? This team survived fine for a lot of years before sorry ass got transferred in. I don't need you now and didn't from day one. "

"Really?" Martin snarled, his eyes flashing heat, "Fine. You're the senior agent, you're dismissing me? That's how I'll write it up."

"You do that, Martin and I'll be sure to include the part where you blew it again. "Your old man got you that desk, but he can't keep it for you. Hell, maybe you're adopted." He spat out, referencing the lack of Fitzgerald in him that Victor had in swaggering amounts.

"Fuck you, Danny!" The livid Fitzgerald vented, shoving the other man hard. "I've had it with you, you want me gone? Fine, I'll take the train home."

"Do us all a favor and don't come back on Monday!" Taylor shot back, watched Martin flinch a bit and turn away, disappearing into the crowd. He had no way of knowing it, but those words would return to haunt him, festering inside of him..

Martin paused long enough to check in with Tim Simmons and give him a full statement. Twice he had to pause because he felt sick. He felt the other agent's eyes appraising him and felt a bit uncomfortable. Was he thinking like Danny too? But the other man gave him a firm handshake and told him the witnesses supported his story.

"Listen, you look awful, man. We got this covered, why don't you head back home?" Simmons suggested.

"Yeah, Danny already dismissed me. I just wanted to make sure you had my statement."

"I'll call Malone, go on, maybe you can catch the six o'clock local to New York."

"Thanks," Martin replied, wiping his now sweaty face with a napkin he'd shoved in his pocket. When did it get so hot?

Simmons moved a bit to keep his eye on the unsteady rookie until he saw him talking to the clerk at the ticket counter. Then he turned back to address the cops approaching and advise on the manhunt to catch the suspected killer.

Martin closed his eyes twice while the clerk was assisting the person in front of him. He made the wrong decision getting Chinese food for lunch. An unwelcomed image of a lurking urban legend appeared in the guise of a cat pelt. Also, his back and ribs were throbbing. A sharp voice brought his eyes open.

"Sir? Can I help you?"

"The... uh... train... to.. .Manhattan... New..."

"Are you okay?" the clerk asked. She was frowning at the pale face now sweating.

"It's awfully warm in here," Martin decided, yanking at the flannel shirt under his cashmere sweater. "What time...uh...is...the train?"

"The next one isn't until six thirty," she answered.

"Okay, I'll uh...be back. I need some air." He gripped the rail hard and headed up the long staircase to the street. Through the glass door ahead, he could see the streets were crowded with passangers entering and exiting the busy station. It seemed like forever before his rubbery legs finally hit the top step. Panting slightly, he eyed the rotating doors ahead, on the other side of which was fresh air. He got through the doors and sucked the air loud. The cold autumn wind rushed up to greet him. He closed his eyes and let the icy wind caress his hot skin. The burning pain inside was ready to explode. He walked slowly along the building, holding onto the scalloped edging and sucking in air. His head was reeling and whatever he ate for lunch wasn't going to stay put much longer.

Gus Hassett kept his eyes moving as he turned the corner. A veteran cab driver of over thirty years, he knew this time of day was his bread and butter. The sidewalk was packed with people, a seeming throng of humanity spilling from the building and crowding the narrow sidewalk.

"Rush hour, never changes," the balding cabbie muttered.

He slowed down behind two more cabs that were pulled over waiting for customers. He saw an elderly woman slowly trying to make her way to the curb and jumped out to help her. She was holding onto the edge of the building. As he made his way around the cab, he noticed a pale young man fighting against the flow. He recognized him as one of the FBI agents he'd talked to a few hours before. His eyes were too wide and a startling shade of blue; he looked a bit panicked and unsure. His face was covered in sweat and he seemed to be gasping. He had to step around the unsteady figure to get to the old woman who was tottering towards him.

"Here, ma'am, I got it," he said, grabbing her arm and steering her through the crowded walk. He opened the door and assisted her into the back seat. He shut the door and turned back, but the young man had vanished from sight.

Bushnell Park, Hartford, CT
Friday, 7:45 p.m.

Danny Taylor eased his weary body onto a park bench and tugged the collar of his jacket up. What started as an annoying drizzle a couple of hours before had turned into steady freezing rain. The tiny needle-like precipitation bit into his neck and face. Along with several teams of cops from the local police department, they were canvassing the large park in the downtown area. Several witnesses reported seeing a man matching Hilliard's description entering the park.

The forty-one acre park was founded in 1861, making it the oldest publicly funded park in the United States. Its founder wanted to create a sanctuary of green in the center of the city, importing over 1100 different varieties of trees and plants. Over the years it grew to house War Memorials for fallen heroes, graceful arches, a Victorian carousel and many other beautiful images.

Danny popped another Advil and carefully drained the last of the water. He trotted over to the recycle bin and put the plastic container inside. Pausing for a moment, he laid his hand over his swollen, throbbing jaw and closed his eyes. He was about to turn back to hit the trail again, when Tim Simmons, the head of the FBI team assigned to assist him approached.

"I got Malone on the phone he's been trying to reach you."

"Huh?" Danny frowned, pulling out his phone. He thought back and noticed it hadn't rung much all afternoon. He took the offered phone, "Thanks. Jack?"

"Where have you been all afternoon? I've left four messages."

"I'm sorry, Jack, I didn't know my phone was acting up."

"Listen, I want you to head back here. Hilliard's in their jurisdiction now and they're the primary. How's the tooth?" He heard a pause and didn't wait, "Simmons told me and you should have mentioned it, Danny."

"It's history as of nine tomorrow," he replied. "It's not a big deal, Jack; it's only a damn toothache."

"What happened to Martin? Simmons said he got sick."

"He should have stayed home, he blew it again. Twice in twenty-four hours he let a prime suspect escape. That's it; I've had it with him."

"Hold it!" Jack interrupted. "Hilliard's escape today wasn't his fault, he didn't have a choice."

"Oh, so you're on his side now? Great! He must practice hypnotism on the side."

"I'm gonna chalk that up to your infected tooth and being tired. Simmons sent me a copy of the report and the witness statements. He didn't have a choice, Danny, you know that. What did you expect him to do? Shoot through the schoolgirls?"

"Schoolgirls?"

Danny ducked under the edge of a hot dog vendor's canopy to keep dry. He saw Simmons giving him a harsh glare. He suddenly realized that he'd left the scene with the cops in the station in hot pursuit of the suspect. He'd not thought of the event since.

"The ones that came out of the bathroom just as Hilliard was passing by, the ones he grabbed as shields." Jack sighed hard, "You didn't interview them?"

"Well, no, I went after Hilliard..."

"So how did you make the assumption that it was Martin's fault?"

"Well, when I got there he was on his knees, heaving and gasping and Hilliard was gone."

"Uh huh... that's great detective work, Danny, top notch. Did you even ask him?"

The silent wall that met his ear gave him his reply. "Okay, you get back here. You're not 100 percent and it's their ballpark. When they catch him, they'll transport him. I left a message with Martin, but his voicemail said he'd be away this weekend. Maybe he's heading to his folks place in Newport."

"I don't think so," Danny muttered, "not the way his old man nailed him on the phone."

"Victor's a jackass," Jack commented, "and I'm sure Martin wouldn't go if his father was there. I don't think they use the place that much. Martin mentioned it's going up for sale. Anyway, I'm gonna talk to him Monday. Maybe some time alone away from here will clear his head."<,/p>

New York City, Friday
11:30 p.m

The horrific storm raged on, high winds screaming fiercely caused the small boat to be tossed without mercy. There was not even a moon in the black sky to assist the wayward seaborn vehicle. It was thrown violently to and fro, nearly capsizing. It struggled and struggled against each mighty wave crashing into its delicate body. It was lost, fighting in a strange storm without any help. Yet it fought onward, even when water began to spill onto its tattered deck. The heavy rain and wind sent the sea into a frenzied dance. Then the boat began to go under and his heart lurched.

"NO!"

Danny sat up covered in sweat. His face was a wet mask of fear. Perspiration covered his chest as well, emphasizing the depth of his fear. He threw his legs over the side of sofa, letting the remnants of the newspaper slip away. Twin trembling hands covered his face as he tried to collect his scattered breath. He hunched forward, reaching for the now empty ice bag that was pressed to his jaw. His heart was hammering and a naked fear encompassed him. He had no idea what the dream meant or why it affected him so much. He didn't even like boats. Yet as he stumbled to the bedroom, his sweatpants riding low on slim hips, the disturbing images clung to him. He reached for Excedrin PM, seeking a way to rid himself of the night terror. The narcotic in it would give him a deep sleep, a dreamless state that he now sought. He eyed the shaken man in the mirror and shivered, gasping softly as the image of the boat going under the water enveloped him. He turned away from the disturbing reflection, seeking to lose himself in a deep, dreamless sleep.

New York City
Saturday, November 9th, Six a.m.

Danny leaned against the cold tiles, pressing his throbbing jaw hard. He let the steaming water cascade hard down his body, inhaling the steam that caressed him. Three hours, that wasn't so long. In three hours his pain would be gone. He'd had toothaches before but not like this one. He shoved off the tile and picked up the soap. As he scrubbed down, his thoughts kept being interrupted by the fragments of the disturbing dream of the night before, the damn little boat fighting a losing battle in dark and strange water. The battered boat was lost and just on the dark horizon, its fate seemingly sealed.

"Shit!"

He turned and let the water hit his face full force, hoping it would take the troubling dream away. It nagged at him, giving him queasiness inside. He couldn't figure out what it meant. As he reluctantly shut the water off, toweled off and dried his hair, the boat nearly appeared in the mirror. Try as he might, he could not rid himself of the disturbing dream nor could he explain why it left him full of worry.

Holy Cross Shelter, Hartford, CT
Saturday, November 9, 6 a.m.

Father Joseph Maziak tugged his collar up and eyed the gray sky above. The snow that had begun overnight was getting heavier. The fifty-five year old priest moved from the doorway in the kitchen and stepped outside to the alley. It was only a short walk to St. Michael's where he would be saying Mass at six thirty. He enjoyed walking, along with a good diet it kept his trim body in shape. He couldn't afford to be out of shape. Running the shelter for homeless men and tending to the needs of the parishioners was a trying job.

He tugged his gloves on and turned toward the end of the alley, where the snow remained free of car tracks. A clattering of metal from behind him caused him to stop and turn.

"Is someone there?"

He waited and was about to return to his trek, when he spotted a snow covered object moving. Then part of the object turned pink through the snow. He hurried his pace and peered down into the area next to the trash dumpster along the side wall of the shelter.

"My God," he whispered, eyeing a slim body curled up.

The skin was not yet covered in snow and he eyed the uneven tracks in the area that lead to the back of the alley. This area was not the safest one and he wondered how this man came to be here. The long coat that he wore wasn't very heavy and an undeterminable shade between gray and brown. It was covered in urine, fecal matter, food and other unknown grime. The stench that rose assaulted his nose. The coat was torn and old as were the filthy corduroy pants that once appeared to have been tan or light brown. One foot was encased in an old boot and the other in a torn shoe. He turned the body onto its back and the face was revealed. It was a young man, in his late twenties perhaps with dried blood covering the left side of his face under a gash by his eyebrow. There was a large bruise under his left eye and it was swollen. He was wearing a ratty dark green hooded sweatshirt with gaping holes surrounded by vomit and other filth. The clothes were far too large and he reached through the grime to find the neck. As his hand touched the young man's skin, the eyes shot open. They seemed unnaturally large under the hood. They were far too wide and frantic, darting fearfully all around; twin pools of blue that already were seeking to escape.

"Easy, son, I'm Father Joe, I won't hurt you. Can you stand?"

qqqFather Joexxx

The words hung suspended before Martin, twirling around in the falling flakes. He wanted so much to reach out and snag the images of hope. The kind voice and soft gray eyes under a cap of thick white hair were beseeching him. He peered around the older man fearfully, his heart hammering. He didn't know this place, or this priest. He was so tired and cold and his head hurt so very much. It was all so confusing. He moaned and pressed his face into the hand near his neck, desperately seeking the warmth and comfort of the human touch.

"It's alright, son, I can help you. What's your name?"

Before a reply was given, the door several feet behind him opened and a Spanish accent was heard. Juan Sanchez was in his mid-twenties and working his way through college. He volunteered at the shelter on weekends. Father Joe was proud of the young man, who he'd found a few years before homeless and angry.

"Hey, Padre, you better get moving. Who's that?"

"I'm not sure, Juan, can you give me a hand with him? I think he's injured."

He turned back to the victim then and gently reassured him. "I won't hurt you, I just want to check to see if you've broken anything, okay?" The hood nodded but the eyes continued to dart in fear. A quick check assured him nothing was broken, although the rib cage was tender, as was the lower back. His gentle ministrations caused the young man to tense up and moan. He had no doubt there would be more bruises under the large, tattered clothing.

"Hey man, let me help you up," Juan offered, bending down. But the battered man tried to back up into the wall. "It's cool, brother, I ain't gonna take nothin' from you. How 'bout we get you a hot shower and some breakfast? Okay?"

"What's your name?" Father Joe asked again and noticed the blue eyes were now riveted to Juan's dark brown eyes. They seemed to be seeking something very important judging by the intensity he saw there.

Martin got up too quickly and the whole alley began to twirl. It was as if that axe in the back of his skull had turned into a jackhammer. He moaned and fell forward, blinking fuzzily at the blurry face that belonged to the person holding onto him. Dark hair, tan skin, dark eyes and a slight accent.

"Hey man, I'm talkin' to you!" Juan issued in stern voice, hoping to keep the sagging eyes alert.

Martin felt himself slipping away then, just as a name formed in his throbbing brain. Something in the middle of the thick mud that was his brain knew that tone and he tried to call out. He used what little strength he had to try to whisper it, before he passed out.

"Danny?" Juan guessed, reading the man's lips. "Well at least we know his name. Go on Padre, I can take care of him. Boomer's here, he'll help."

"Alright, I'll call to Boomer," the priest offered as he rose, hurrying to his church. He paused by the door and hollered in to Boomer Jackson. The six foot six muscular body shuffled into the doorway. The seventy year old African American man was a former boxer. Homeless for years himself, he was now Father Joe's right hand in running the shelter.

"We got us a new'n?" Boomer asked, stepping outside.

"Juan will fill you in; I'll be back as soon as I can."

"Go on, Joe, we'll be fine." Boomer had known the kind-hearted priest for almost ten years. He'd been one of his first customers and quickly found a home.

Father Masiak had doubled as a medic in the Army unit where he had been Chaplin for many years. After over twenty years of service, he retired and came home to Hartford. He'd opened the shelter ten years ago and ran it well. They fed dozens of men three meals a day and had beds for thirty. The large kitchen was well stocked and the four bedrooms in the back were used by the sick or injured. The small medical room was empty this morning.

Boomer and Juan got the stranger inside and on an examining table. Together they got the coat off the young man. While Juan got a basin with soapy warm water, Boomer began to examine the cuts and bruises he saw. Just as he gently washed the dried blood from the stranger's face, he began to moan.

"Easy now, boy, Old Boomer ain't gonna hurt ya none," he soothed. But then the moans turned into coughs. Blue slits peered up at him and the coughing victim sat up. Fear filled his eyes and he began to fight them.

"Ya hold on a minute son," Boomer warned, grabbing the weakly flailing arms. "We're only helpin' ya. Lord knows them clothes need the trash heap. We got clean ones after ya shower."

"Trust me, man, you need some soap and hot water," Juan teased and wondered why the newcomer was staring at him so hard. "Do you need some help?"

Help? Martin saw the young man point to the bathroom and slipped off the table. He began to follow, then turned back to the large black man. He shuffled over, wincing at the bright light and held out his hand. He tried to apologize and offer thanks, but no words would come out. Why couldn't he speak?

"It's okay, son, ya go on now and get cleaned up."

Juan worked quickly, filling the large tub in the bathroom off the medical room with hot sudsy water. He left a clean navy blue sweat suit on the sink, with thick socks. He watched as the mismatched shoes came off and judged the foot size.

"I'm gonna find you some sneaks, okay? You gonna be okay in here?" He saw the hooded head bob once and gave the shoulder a slight pat. "I'll be back in about fifteen minutes. You sure you're not dizzy?"

Martin was dizzy but he didn't want any help in here. He held out his hand and felt a flush rising. He took the firm grip and the warm smile, it took the chill away. He wondered if he knew Juan for he seemed familiar somehow. The door closed and he was alone. He took the disgusting clothes off, gagging at the rotting decay that clung to them. He opened the door a crack and tossed them outside. Then as he turned back towards the tub, he spotted the mirror. He gasped and fell back, startled at the image. He touched his face and watched the reflection mimic him. He moved closer, transfixed by the face trapped there. He studied every feature closely, and with every passing second without a flicker of recognition, his body slowly began to go numb. The eyes were wide and a shade of blue just on the other side of panic. He was mesmerized the blue pools clouded in fear. The reflection's hand trembled as it moved over the exposed throat. He gasped in horror and shook his head in naked disembodiment. He leaned to within inches, begging the blue eyes to speak the truth. His silent pleas fell on deaf ears, sliding over the sink and shattering by his feet.

Who was the man in the glass?

Part Four

Holy Cross Shelter, Hartford, CT
Saturday, 6:30 a.m.

Juan returned with the shoes and left them on the chair near the door. He watched as Boomer put the ratty, disgusting clothes in the trash next to the door. He didn't miss the brown skin wrinkling in puzzlement. He watched as several bugs tried to flee from the rags, now that their home had been taken away.

"I don't remember seeing him before, I know most of the regulars."

"He ain't from around here," Boomer replied, getting out the bandages and ointment. "He ain't gonna cause a fuss, he seems okay."

"Why won't he talk? He seems confused by the fact he can't speak. I mean if he was mute, he'd know that, wouldn't he?" Juan thought aloud.

"Never mind about that now, go scare up some bacon and eggs for him. There's some biscuits and coffee ready."

Martin lay back, resting the edge of his neck on the lip of the metal tub. The water was starting to cool but he'd scrubbed the grime away. He stared with curious eyes at the torn fingernails on his right hand. Two of them were broken as were three on his other hand. What had happened? Why was his eye cut? Why did his throat hurt so much? He closed his eyes and thought hard. The only thing he saw was the black underside of his eyelids. He smacked the water in frustration, sending a wave onto the floor. A tap on the door drew his eyes open.

"Ya okay? We got some food waitin'." Boomer heard the noises as the body left the tub and stood back. A few moments later, the door opened. He smiled at the startled young man, whose brown hair was curling up. "Well now, ya look a lot better." He noticed that the slim young man was still shivering. "Soon as ya eat, ya can rest up under a pile of thick blankets, nice and warm."

Martin padded softly behind the large man, his eyes taking in every inch of the room. There was a large medical room, several cots in a room just next to it and then the hallway. Across the hall to one side, he heard noises. He cocked his head at the sounds of muffled voices.

"That'd be Maria and Agnes gettin' the breakfast ready. The men'll be up and wantin' their food. We got a couple dozen stayin' with us here at Holy Cross." Boomer answered the quizzical eyes. He saw the cut clearer and moved closer, causing the young man to back up in a hurry. "I ain't gonna hurt ya, son, I just wanna look at that eye."

Martin frowned and touched the area over his eyebrow. It was sticky and he winced as his finger touched a sore spot. His breath was unsteady and labored and his head hurt. He was awfully tired but had to eat first, he felt weak. The brown fingers gently probed the area around his cut and the old man nodded.

"Looks worse, don't need no stitches, but after ya eat, we'll put a bandage on it." He frowned when he saw the harsh bruises marring the pale throat. There was no mistaking those bruises; they were from a pair of very strong hands. The newcomer's hand moved, seeing the area he was staring at.

Martin shuffled past the old man, touching his sore throat. He felt achy all over, especially his head. He wondered if he was sick. Juan put a plate of bacon, eggs and biscuits on the table for him. There was a steaming mug of coffee and he sat down, eager to fill his empty stomach.

"Somethin' ain't right," Boomer said to Juan. They were standing several feet away. He recalled the hand he shook and now observed. "He ain't got any street marks, his hands are soft and unbroken," he noted, then recalled a few torn fingernails. "He put up a fight."

'Si, Amigo, I think you're right," Juan agreed, his dark eyes capturing the remnants of a brutal struggle evident on Danny's neck. "Somebody got real serious."

"Yup," Boomer agreed of the severe bruising on the neck. They both watched as the hungry man made quick work of the plate. He stood and leaned over, reaching for the sugar. The sweatshirt rode up, revealing significant bruises on his side.

"Those aren't new," he noted of the extensive purple and blue bruises along the ribcage. "You think he got jumped?"

"Could be," Boomer replied, eyeing the fingers now wrapped around a hot mug. "Or maybe he's on the wrong side of the law. I know them hands been fussed with," he noted of the manicured nails. "And that haircut too, whoever he is, he ain't from the street."

"You want some more?" Juan asked, moving over to sit across from him. The damp head shook negatively. He saw the blue eyes were owlish, the fight to remain awake was being waged. "Danny? Are you from around here?"

Here? Martin didn't know where 'here' was, or where he belonged. He thought for a moment and shrugged, then sneezed s several times. This caused his already throbbing head to protest and he clenched his eyes shut, dropping his face and rocking a bit. He felt a strong hand on his back and looked up but Boomer's brown face was blurry.

"Come on, ya'll feel better in that bed. I'm gonna fix that first, then ya can sleep for awhile."

Martin was more than a little dizzy now and the food he thought he wanted was churning below. The quicker he got this done, the sooner he'd be under a pile of blankets in a soft bed. He stood up and his knees buckled. Both men scrambled to his aid. He got annoyed and shoved them away, he wasn't helpless.

"Hey, watch that temper!" Juan warned of the flashing blue eyes. "You don't bite the hand that feeds, Amigo." He saw the annoyed face turn to him and then the eyes regarded him sheepishly.

"Apology accepted. I gotta help out front, I'll check on you later. Here, you ring this if you need us, okay?"

Martin took the bell and nodded, opening his lips to thank Juan but nothing came. His brow creased in frustration and he sighed, coughed and sneezed so hard his shoulders jumped.

"Man, you're a mess, don't be sendin' your germs all over me," Juan laughed, leaving his new friend to Boomer's care.

An hour later, he returned to the back area, watching Boomer unpacking some boxes of linens. He eyed the body beyond on the bed, moving closer to inspect the injured man. His friend joined him, pausing to lay his gnarled hand on the reddish cheeks. Danny's face screwed up and he pulled away but remained asleep.

"He's got a fever comin'," Boomer noted, frowning at the cough that persisted even as the young man slept. "No tellin' how long he was outside in the storm." He moved a large basin nearer to the cot. "He threw up his breakfast. Could be he's got the flu or somethin'."

"I'll finish the order, you help out front," Juan offered. "Maria and Agnes are busy, looks like we'll have a full house for breakfast."

"Alright," Boomer replied, pausing to pull the blanket up a bit tighter. He rested his hand against the flushed face and the eyes cracked open "Hey now...ya rest easy, boy, we's tendin' t'ya."

God he was thirsty, it was so cold in here. He shivered and sighed hard, blinking at the large man looking down at him. His vision was blurry but he saw a scatter of very short white hair clinging to a dark brown head. He licked his dry lips and coughed again and felt his head lifted. Another blurry blob appeared with a soft voice. Did he know them? Why was everything so fuzzy?

"Easy now, Amigo, I have some water. Sip, don't gulp," Juan ordered, gently pressing the straw in the mug to the gaping lips.

Martin's heavy head sagged against the strong arm. As he slowly sipped the cool water, he hand roamed on the sheet. Clean sheets, a clean bed, clean clothes, that horrible stench was gone. His eyes peered over the young man's arm and he saw a small room. It was immaculate and in the room beyond, he could see medical equipment. He didn't know where he was but he knew he was safe. The straw was withdrawn and the other man lowered his head onto the pillow. He frowned up at the stranger's face. Dark hair and eyes set in handsome olive skin. Did he know this man? He began to shiver then and felt his stomach lurch.

"It's okay, if it's gotta come out, you just let it," Juan encouraged, holding the basin near. About half of the water came back but a good portion stayed down. "I'll get you another blanket." Martin nodded and watched the young man leave the room. He kept his eyes trained on him until he noticed the cabinet door across the room. The back of it held a long mirror. He could see the face looking back at him, a bruised face with brown hair and large blue eyes. He moved his hand, touching the swollen cheek. Then he gingerly fingered the horrible discoloration on his throat. The stranger in the glass followed suit and was just as puzzled. Then the other man returned, blocking his view.

"Here you go," Juan put a thick wool blanket on the shivering soul. He rested his hand on his patient's face. "I think maybe Boomer's right, you have a fever. He saw the puzzled face and smiled. "I'm Juan, remember? We met before outside. You got cleaned up and ate some food. This is the Holy Cross Shelter, Danny." The panic appeared briefly in the eyes and head began to shake a bit. He winced again at the awful marks on the pale neck. Whatever fear was chasing him, he would help to dispel it. "Hey, man, don't worry, okay? Whatever shit happened to you, whoever did this to you, your back is safe here. You get some rest, Father Joe'll be back soon and he'll check you out. He's a good man, you can trust him. He saved my ass, took me off the street, gave me a home here. I'm in college now..." He paused when he saw the mouth opening and closing and the hand move to the marred neck. "Yeah, that's gotta hurt. You're lucky, Amigo, you could be in the big blue room downtown," he noted of the morgue. Again the lips moved but no words came out. The wavy brown head cocked at him and the eyes were so desperate to seek him out, yet again there were no words. "Can you talk?"

qqqTalkxxx

Sure he could, he could speak. Martin frowned and his lips moved but nothing emerged. Talk? He could talk, couldn't he? Maybe he couldn't...maybe he was mute. He couldn't remember if he could talk or not. How dumb was that. Frustrated, he balled his hand into a fist and pounded the bed. A soft laugh drew his now angry eyes back to the smiling ones of his benefactor.

"You better not curse like that around the Padre, he don't like it," Juan teased of the angry eyes. "It's okay, Amigo, I can hear you fine. Are you still thirsty?"

qqqThirsty? Martin thought a moment and his queasy stomach lurched. He shook his head and laid back, somehow comforted by his new friend.

"Okay, Danny, I'm gonna see if they need help out front. You know how crowded the breakfast run is, I'll be right back okay? You stay in this bed!" He ordered and pointed to the bell. "Don't forget, you just ring that if you need me."

Martin nodded and watched the young man leave. Danny? He'd called him Danny. How did he know that was his name? He caught his reflection again in the long mirror. His eyebrows drew together and he stared hard into the glass. He studied every inch of that man's face intently. Then he left the image briefly to examine the room again. He didn't know this place, or the kind people tending to him. He came to rest on his own image then and a cold fear gripped him. The talons dug into his tender insides fiercely. Who was the stranger trapped inside his body?

New York
Saturday, 2 p.m

The shrill ringing caused him to moan, clutching his face. He blinked lazily at the television trying to see the tiny clock in the corner. He eyed the phone nearby and decided to let the machine come on. He was miserable, having suffered through what seemed to him to be a ghoulish ordeal with the dentist that had taken hours. Jack's voice came on the answering machine and he reached for the phone.

"Awahmupfh?"

"Danny?" Jack wrinkled his brow and pressed the phone closer to his ear. He sat forward, picking up the remote control. He turned down the television and used his full concentration to hear the distorted voice.

"Yef?"

"It sounds like you had a happy visit with the dentist. You okay?"

"Yef." Danny paused, shifting the phone to his other ear. His jaw was swollen and he lowered the ice pack. "Hults t'took."

"Okay, I won't make you talk then. Did I wake you?"

"Nuh. Voith dopey dwugged up."

"Happy pills? It sounds like you need them. Listen, I'll keep it short. I just wanted you to know that Simmons checked in, they haven't found Hilliard yet but he's been spotted twice in the same area. Also, the coroner confirmed the TOD on the Schoate kid. It was around 10 a.m."

"Confum?" Danny frowned at the time of death. Confirmed how? He'd not heard it before.

"Yeah, I called you yesterday and left a voicemail on your cell. You did tell Martin didn't you?"

"No... bibmut no..."

"Bibmut? Bibmut?" Jack repeated, trying to figure out the garbled speech. "No...you didn't know? You didn't get the message?"

"Yef... sowwe."

"That's okay, Danny, go back to bed. You take those pills and rest up, I'll see you Monday."

"Hellwood cupped co."

"Hellwood?" Jack repeated. "Hilliard? Oh, yeah if I get word on him, I'll call. Get some shut eye."

Danny replaced the phone on the cradle and stood up, shuffling across the room. The infection below the bad tooth was severe. He was on two antibiotics and there was a drain inside the infected gum. He would have to have root canal. He replaced the ice in the bag and took his medicine. He slipped back onto the sofa and pulled the blanket up. The old gangster movie faded away and his eyes closed.

The dream began in full color, a bright sky over a large group of people. They were all walking towards him, thousands of them. He was fighting the tide, trying to walk the other way, forcing his way against them. He was lost, trying desperately to find a way home. They wore bright colored shirts and some were emblazoned with baseball team logos. They were loud and the multiplicity of their voices caused his ears to ache. They pressed harder and he felt his heart began to hammer. Someone took his hat and other hands grabbed at his jersey. He struggled in vain against the mob and began to fall. He couldn't breathe and they pressed closer, kicking him and striking out.

He awoke with a startled gasp, sitting up and sending the damp blanket to his waist. His head was plastered in sweat and it ran down his face. He swung his legs over and took several steadying breaths. He didn't understand these disturbing dreams or why they left him drained to the core. What the hell was wrong with him? Could the infection be doing this? He eyed the clock and noted he'd been asleep for almost three hours. His empty stomach roared and he managed to get his shaky legs moving towards the kitchen. He dreaded taking the pills before bedtime, fearful of another nightmare descending.

Holy Cross Shelter, Hartford, CT
Saturday, 5 p.m.

Martin was bent in half, leaning weakly on the sink. He raised his face slowly, letting the drops of water run from his flushed face. He'd thrown up again and had watery diarrhea. His head was throbbing so hard it made him dizzy. He heard a voice from the other room and pulled himself upright. With a wavering hand over his queasy stomach, he turned back to the infirmary.

He was exiting the bathroom, when the priest entered the room. He vaguely recalled meeting the man earlier, but his mind was fuzzy on the details. He wondered about that. Why his memory was so poor. He frowned and shifted his eyes, trying to recall exactly what had taken place. He chuffed out a very annoyed breath and heard a gentle laugh. The strong hand tapped his back in support.

"That's okay, Danny, you need not worry. We met earlier this morning after mass, remember? I'm Father Joe." He saw the brown head dip and he nodded towards the kitchen area. "I was just about to have a bowl of soup and some hot bread. Would you like some?"

Martin paused, eyeing the bathroom door and sighing hard. He shook his head and pointed to the bathroom, then moved his hand over his abdomen.

"Were you sick again?" he asked and the solemn face nodded. "Both ways? Very well. But I don't want you to lose any more fluids, especially with a fever. How about if you just eat some broth and sugared black tea?"

Martin nodded and ran a hand over his fickle stomach. As he shuffled behind the priest towards the kitchen, he thought on his long day. It had been an odd day; he knew he'd slept through most of it, but recalled images of the young Hispanic man and the older black man visiting him. He followed the priest to the kitchen, peering anxiously through the door. He didn't realize his relief was visible until the priest chuckled and pointed him towards the table.

"It's okay, I understand your uncertainty. We're all alone. Young Juan has a date tonight and Boomer is over at the church finishing some painting on the wood trim." He ladled out two bowls of steaming chicken soup, one loaded with tiny bits of carrots, celery and some rich egg noodles. He sat them down and gave the downcast shoulder a tug, placing the bowl of broth before the infirmed man. "Go on, it's just what the doctor ordered."

Through the steam rising from the bowl, Martin reflected on his day. He watched the priest cutting some warm bread and also filling two mugs with hot tea. He took a tentative spoonful and worried about his odd sojourn to this place. He didn't know who he was, where he was or how he came to be here. He was thankful that these kind souls had taken him in and felt safe here but safe from who? Why did the strange dreams about policemen with badges in a crowded area cause his heart to race? Where they after him? Was he running from the law?

His headache seemed worse when he sat up, throbbing without mercy. Actually there weren't many areas on him that didn't hurt like hell. It was a struggle to breathe and the congestion in his chest was getting worse. But the worse pain was not knowing who he was or where he belonged. Was he always this way? The harder he thought on it, the more it hurt. The only memories that came back were the angry policemen with badges screaming at him.

The soup was very good and the warmth spread though him. He eyed the napkins a few feet away and rose to get them. The toaster was on the shelf over the napkins and he stared at the reflection in the chrome. He touched the face of the stranger, trying desperately to know who held those blue eyes.

Father Joe winced at the utter desolation in his young friend's eyes. He saw the trembling hand touching the reflection and there was no mistaking the fear held there. He put down the tea and returned for the bread. He'd had two brief conversations with the young man, but both times he'd been very groggy. Boomer suspected this man was not from the area and had been a victim of foul play. Juan hadn't said much, and he knew by how his young charge hovered close to Danny, that he felt protective of him. After hearing Boomer's theories, he'd contacted the local police, but no one with this man's description was missing. He also knew that the injuries could have been sustained by an illegal action. The area surrounding the shelter was full of empty houses that drug lords used. But, something inside him told him this young man was not that type. Perhaps as the days passed by, his memory would return. In the meantime, he was sick and needed care, something that he'd vowed to give when he opened the shelter many years before.

"Danny?" he called out softly and the slim body turned. The eyes were so full of woe it pained him to gaze upon them. "Sit down, son, your soup will get cold."

Martin reclaimed his seat and reached for some crackers. He crunched them up, tossing a small bit into the soup. He chewed thoughtfully, trying to find a way to cut through the black curtain that covered up his memory. Frustrated, he dropped the spoon and shoved the near empty bowl way.

"Temper? That won't help." He issued and reached over lightly touching the blue sleeved forearm.

"I know how frustrated you are. You can't remember anything?" He saw the Adam's apple go down hard and the head shook once. The bottom lip was bitten slightly and one fist hit the table. It's very possible you'll wake up tomorrow and you'll know who the man in the mirror is. In the meantime, you're safe here. You've still got some recovery time coming. Lots of rest and good food is the key."

Rest? Martin chuffed out an annoyed breath and shook his head, giving the cot in the far room a nasty glance. He'd done nothing all day but rest. He was tired of resting. He wanted answers and that wouldn't come from resting.

"There is a Psalm I'd like to share with you, Danny. 'There shall no evil befall thee neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.'"

Martin considered the words and wondered on them. Hadn't evil already befallen him? Weren't his injuries proof of that? He grimaced and pointed to his eye, head and chest, shoving away from the table and rising. He walked to the window and peered into twilight. The snow had stopped and the street was quiet. The outer room was noisy; the men were eating their dinner. He didn't need a babysitter; the priest didn't have to quote the bible to him.

"Let go of that anger, Danny," Father Joe urged, joining the flaring eyes at the window. "It serves no purpose. What drew you here? Why were you curled up outside my door?"

Confused, Martin turned, his face screwed up in thought. Why had he come here? He cocked his head and looked outside again. The quiet of the snowy evening was disturbed by the pain in his head. He cried out and gripped the window as evil images descended, quick footsteps, rough hands on his body and pain. But something else was there too, a white cross in the sky.

"Danny? Are you dizzy? You should stay in that bed for a few days," He paused when the young man's hand moved and touched the cross on his neck and then pointed to the roof. "The cross outside? You saw that? A wise choice, the Lord never turns away a needy soul. You hold onto that hope, Danny. You might try praying to God for some of those answers, He's a pretty good listener."

Martin nodded and eyed the dishes in the sink. He pointed to the empty seat and took the towel. He tried to turn the priest towards the chair, urging him to sit and rest but Father Joe would have no part of that. The coughing fit that consumed him then quickly chased away any dishwashing action.

"That's very kind, Danny, and I appreciate the thought. But right now the best way you can help me is to get back to bed. When you're stronger in a few days, I'll find some work for you." Martin glared and tried to take the towel but the priest just chuckled and clapped his back lightly. He didn't hide his annoyance, he wasn't helpless. He could clean up after himself. But the older man was persistent and he shuffled back to the bed. By the time he got there, his legs gave way and the priest grabbed his arm. The headache exploded unexpectedly and he rolled in the bed, clutching both sides of his head. He heard the priest's soothing words and felt the hand remain on his shoulder, even as he began to fall away. The last image he had and held onto was that cross. He didn't feel the kind hand tap his cheek and pull the blanket up. He didn't hear the blessing that followed or the prayer. But the kindness and grace covered him as easily as the blanket and with that he slept soundly.

Hartford, CT
Sunday, November 10th, 11 AM

The sun reflected off the snow, causing a blinding light to hit his face through the window. Martin dropped the spoon, clenching his eyes shut and waiting for the pain to go away. He heard a voice behind him and slowly let out a long breath. Tentatively, he peeled his eyes open and gripped the sink hard.

"Something about stay in bed you don't understand?" Juan pressed, seeing the unsteady figure by the kitchen sink. He tapped the downcast shoulder and saw the eyes flashing at him. One wavering hand pointed to the chalkboard. Displayed on it were the lunch orders, including sandwiches to be made. A handful of utensils were floating in the soapy water. "You're stubborn, you know that? Go sit down!"

Martin made a face and tried to turn back to the sink but the young man persisted. He chuffed in annoyance and shook his head. He was no baby and wouldn't be sent to bed. He'd spent too much time there already. He did his best to defy the young man, thrusting out his jaw and glaring, but the dark eyes crinkled up in mirth and he laughed.

"You couldn't shoot a fly with them eyes, let alone a Sanchez. You want to help? You can wrap the sandwiches. You ain't that steady on your feet yet."

Martin didn't like it but realized when he'd been beat. He took his place at the table and began tucking the dozens of sandwiches into baggies. As he worked, he listened to Juan telling his tales of the night before. He liked the sound of the soft accent and the confidence the young man had. He didn't mind that Juan seemed to talk a lot, it made him feel welcomed. He was lucky to have found this place and the kindness of the three men.

Boomer's cranky tone and gruffness didn't fool him; he knew the fatherly concern behind that. Father Joe was a very kind man but as much as they'd made him feel at home, this place wasn't home. He didn't belong here. Once he felt a bit stronger, he had to leave. He didn't know where his path was, but he knew he had to try to find it. He looked up when the hard working priest entered the sunny room.

"Well that's what I like to see; you know idle hands are the devil's workshop."

"You know Padre," Juan teased, his eyes bright, "I kept that in mind last night. These hands and lips were far from idle." He eyed his new friend whose face was split into a wide grin. The brown head shook in a very negative fashion and the right hand formed a fist with the thumb down. "What? You don't think so? Rosita will be writing songs about me, you mark my words."

Martin kept the warmth that Juan seemed to exude and tucked it away. He lifted the tray of sandwiches, moving them across the room to where a larger cart was waiting. As he turned back, he heard the priest discussing him with Juan.

"I appreciate your concern, Juan, but the fact remains he needs to find out who he is. We have to consider going to the police. What if he's involved in criminal activity?" He saw the dark eyes flash with anger and the head shook. "You know as well as I do that area his tracks led to is a very dangerous one. Boomer was right about his hands and haircut; he's not from the street. He could be a very dangerous drug dealer who was attacked."

"And he could be a guy who lost his way. What the hell is the cross on the roof for?"

"Alright, alright, calm down!" Father Joe ordered, gripping the tense shoulder. "I didn't mean to upset you. But we have to consider all possibilities. What if you're right and he was a man who lost his way and was attacked? He might have a family worrying on him."

"I guess..." Juan admitted. "Maybe you're right." He saw the fearful blue eyes on the other side of the table wide as saucers.

He waited until the priest moved away and he crossed the room. He laid a hand on the troubled neck and gave a solid tug. "I know you're scared, that's natural. Man, it's gotta be scary as hell not knowing who you are. But the Padre is right. What if you have a wife worrying or a little girl by the window waiting for her daddy?" He saw alarm and distress rising quickly and led the shaken man towards his cot.

Was Juan right? Was there a family out there somewhere worried about him? Was he a businessman of some sort who'd been attacked far from home? Or was he on the wrong side of the law? He'd not shared his nightmares with his friend Juan. The distressing images of man in badges shouting at him and the pain it caused in his delicate brain. A cold fear gripped him hard at the thought of police intervention. He gasped as the thought rose again, causing his knees to buckle. He heard Juan's soft, soothing tone as he was placed back on his cot. He felt the blanket come up and rocked in pain, until he felt himself slipping away. No, he wouldn't let them take him to the police, he'd have to leave.

New York
Sunday afternoon

While James Cagney was giving orders to his men on the television, the troubled Danny Taylor slept fitfully. With strong antibiotics coursing through him, he was a prisoner of his own body. Try as he might, he couldn't stop himself from falling asleep. Drool lolled lazily on the corner of his lip before slowly trickling down onto his damp shirt. He frowned in his sleep and tossed his sweaty head on the soggy pillow. The Sunday paper covered his midsection like a bizarre loin cloth and a melting glass of iced soda waited patiently on the coffee table next to him.

The boat was back, fighting the mighty waves and trying to find safe harbor. It didn't know where to go and wavered unsure on the breakers, seeking a beacon to guide it to safety. The sky was an angry shade of black and lightning cracked overhead. The gusty wind coughed fiercely, sending more waves against the body of the valiant sailing vessel. But it was clear that the little boat was in desperate trouble. It was taking on water and losing its battle.

The papers fluttered and the Entertainment section slipped away, joining the Travel and Sports sections in a puddle next to him on the floor. With his heart beating wildly, his eyes shot open in a hurry. They remained unnaturally wide and his body trembled slightly as he regained his bearings. His jagged breathing finally regulated and he slowly sat up, reaching for a napkin covered with doughnut crumbs. He shook the napkin and used it to wipe his face. He took several deep breaths and eyed his living room.

"Shit!"

The damn dream was torturing him. He took a long gulp of soda, belched twice and jiggled the ice in the glass. He'd never been so affected by dreams before. Despite the long number of stolen hours asleep, he was robbed of rest and exhausted. He sighed hard, got to his feet and stumbled into the kitchen. Yawning hard, he scratched his bronzed chest peeking through the open flannel shirt and opened the freezer door. Sighing deeply, he rested his face there, absorbing the cold mist that blew onto him.

He didn't like this feeling. His gut was a mess, troubled by the invisible demons attacking him while he slept. He had no idea why he was so plagued. Was it the dead boy? No, he'd lost MP's before to far more gruesome endings. He shifted his face and decided on frozen macaroni and cheese. Tugging the box from the freezer, he took the plastic case out, peeled the cellophane away and shoved it in the microwave. While the blue digital numbers ran off, he peered outside his window to the snow covered streets.

He couldn't believe it was only four p.m., it seemed like it should be morning already. He'd been restless all day, unable to concentrate. The troubling dreams left a gnawing ache inside of him and he had no idea why. He eyed the dirty snow outside and cars making their way through the streets. The bell on the microwave nudged him and he retrieved his meager meal. He grabbed a fork and took his dish back to the sofa. As he gingerly ate the soft macaroni, he used his free hand to surf through every channel. Nothing suited him and he tossed the remote control down, chuffing in annoyance.

He tried to read the paper but couldn't concentrate, needing to reread paragraphs of simple words and still unable to absorb their meaning. He retreated to his bedroom, taking a full mug of soda and settled in bed, reaching for the murder mystery he was half-way through. That lasted ten minutes and he was trapped on page 180 the entire time, unable to get to the next page. He gave up and tossed the book away. Shivering, he threw the comforter over himself and glared at the clock.

"Five fuckin' forty five..." he rasped, yawned and laid back, trapped in a lethargy he was strangely unable to combat.

Hartford, CT
Sunday night, Eleven. p.m

With a shuddering gasp, Martin sat up his wide eyes darting fearfully over the room. The pounding drums in his head were on overdrive. His hammering heart and sweat encased body only added to his discomfort. Wheezing heavily and disturbed by the annoying aches that shrouded him, he left the damp bed. The dreams or rather violent night terrors, didn't allow him to rest; strange faces in crowded places all converging on him with the overpowering presence of policemen. Not just any policemen, angry ones with bright badges. He couldn't see the invisible threat but felt the icy hands on his neck. His rubbed his sore throat and rose, shuffling through the dark room towards the kitchen.

It was late, the silver shadows from the lingering moon played tag with him as he reached into the refrigerator for some cranberry juice. He'd just drained a large glass when he heard an odd noise from the outer room. He'd only been in there once, just before dinner. It was the room where the men staying in the shelter slept. Dozens of cots were lined up and most occupied by stilled bodies. Martin squinted and saw a tall, muscular man trying to overpower a young man on one of the cots. The young man tried to shove the bigger one off and got a beefy fist in the face. Martin reacted without thinking.

"What the fuck?"

The intruder's complaint was sounded just as the lights came on. The men that weren't awoken by the crashing of the table near the bed were now out of their own beds. Some remained in place while others rushed to the area where the newcomer that Father Joe introduced only as 'Danny' was forcing a much larger man against the wall.

"Attaboy Kojak, you show him!"

Father Joe's eyes went from the group gathered behind Danny and he heard their shouts of encouragement. He moved quickly through the room and saw that Danny had a large man shoved against the wall with his arm twisted up his back. With his other hand, Danny used his forearm to press the intruder's neck and face hard into the wall.

"What's going on in here?" he asked, parting the throng like Moses entering the red sea.

"He come in through the window and jumped Tony." The old black man pointed to Danny then. "Then Kojak come bustin' through the place, he grabbed that guy and shoved him against the wall. He took care o'business, sure enough, he surely did."

"Alright Leonard, thanks." Father Joe rested a tentative hand on Danny's shoulder, just as Boomer joined him.

"I got this Padre," Boomer announced, "You call the police. I think this is the trash that's been bustin' into the stores around here."

"Tony, are you alright?" Father Joe inquired as Danny reluctantly released the intruder. The young boy on the cot was a teenager that had been staying with them on and off for a few months.

"Yeah, I heard him tryin' to bust into the office. I tried to stop him and he threw me down. Then he came outta nowhere and grabbed him." He nodded to Danny and offered his hand. "Thanks, man."

Martin shook the boy's hand and drew his gaze away nervously. He didn't like the way the other men were staring at him. He watched as Father Joe used the office phone briefly and then returned. He didn't understand why he reacted the way he did nor why despite his smaller frame, he was able to easily apprehend the intruder. He stared at his hand curiously as the room faded away. A crowded street appeared and a stocky man with sandy hair was running towards some stairs. He heard the whoosh of a train and more people moving toward the doors of the train.

"Danny?"

He blinked and his shoulders jerked, the room reappeared and he turned to see Father Joe's concerned face. He suddenly felt confined, there were too many people too close by and he couldn't seem to catch his breath. He swayed a bit and the older man grabbed his elbow.

"Come on, you shouldn't be up. That flu has left you weak."

Martin nodded in appreciation but pulled his arm free. He could get back to the cot on his own. He stopped in the kitchen, turning on the faucet and using both hands to wash his face. He had a coughing fit and sent a wad of yellowish muck into the sink. Wrinkling his face in disgust, he washed it away and peered through the window. Dizzily, he clung to the sink, sweat rolling down his face. Red flashing lights and wailing sirens announced the arrival of the police.

His head exploded in pain then, causing him to nearly double over. Images of the night terrors that plagued him reappeared very unwelcome. The thick crowd of people and police were running at him, screaming harsh words. His gut instinct told him he had to leave. He couldn't let them find him. He blinked rapidly and saw that the red lights were not distant anymore, they were right outside! Then a group of the policemen turned towards the window as they approached the door. His heart lurched and he stumbled badly, twice falling to his knees.

"Whoa!" Juan grabbed Danny as he fell a third time but his newest friend was full of fear. The weak arms were flailing at him in panic and his eyes were wide with terror. "What? He followed the terrorized gaze through the large window and spotted someone with the police. "Him?" He asked Danny whose panic had turned his breathing into dangerous gulps of air. The wet head bobbed once and a shaky hand went up to his brutally marred throat. "Did he hurt you? That bastard put his hands on you?"

Martin didn't hear what Juan said next, his ears were full of a whispered threat in a dark alley. More scattered pictures appeared in quick succession without warning. A knife was pressed to his throat and the deadly threat was brutally issued. His face was slammed hard into the bricks and then the strong hands went around his throat. There was no more air, he was dying.

"Hey!" Juan slapped the trance-like face when the harsh gasping stopped. "Cut that out, breathe, come on man, breathe." He dragged Danny away then, finding his cot in the back and sitting him on it. He squatted down and rested a hand on the trembling shoulder. "Look, that bastard's a real creep, his names Petruzzo and he's not a cop. He's a security guard that works at the store down the block. He don't like homeless people and I've heard he's gotten rough with some of them." He paused and winced as the trembling hand went towards the throat again. He intercepted it and got the alarmed blue eyes to focus on him. "I won't let him hurt you, okay? You're safe here." He saw the eyes dart then with more fear at the police. The dazed head began to shake and the breathing became ragged. "The cops? Whatever you did, I won't let them take you away. Not until I find out who you are and what the deal is. You stay put, you're sick and hurt. You need to rest." Juan felt Danny tense up and turned to see Boomer and a cop entering the kitchen. "He's gonna ask you what happened, that's all. You stay right there." He tugged the quilt up and remained on guard in front of the bed.

"Juan, Danny, this is Officer Davis. He wants to ask Danny about the intruder." Boomer saw that Danny was indeed not well and turned to the policeman. "He's got the flu pretty good, he's really sick."

"It's okay, pal," Officer Davis noted, "You just nod, okay? Father Joe told me you can't speak is that right?"

Martin nodded once and listened as the policeman asked him about the man that broke in. He nodded in all the right places and relief flooded through him in waves as soon as the cop thanked him and turned to leave. It was as Boomer said; this guy had been breaking into local businesses at night. Boomer and Juan both urged him to rest, but he was afraid. The silver badges on the uniforms scared him.

He closed his eyes and dozed fitfully, his fevered mind tormented by the dreams about red lights and angry men with badges in a train station. He thrashed around in his bed, seeking rest. Then a pair of hands found his throat and began to choke the life out of him. His eyes bugged open and his jaw worked, desperately seeking air. He clawed in vain at the murderous man over him, but the madman's eyes glinted evilly. He was going to kill him!

Martin woke up and continued to claw the air, battling the space where the very realistic murder had nearly taken place. His confused mind swirled like a vicious eddy, churning up debris in the current. His hand went to his throat and he thought hard about what had happened. Was Petruzzo the would be killer? If so, why had he attacked him? Was it as Juan had told him? Or was there another reason? His eyes clenched in agony as his headache flared, causing the room to spin for a moment. Then the face of the security guard appeared, just as it had in the room with Boomer and the others earlier. What if he came back? What if the gruff whispered threat issued in that alley came true? What about the other policemen? What if they got suspicious of him and came back? They knew where he was now, what if the cop that took his statement updated them after he left? What if Petruzzo knows he's here? He felt those hands on this throat again and the glint of the knife. He couldn't remember the words but the threat issued gutted him to the core. What if Petruzzo came back to act on that threat?

He sat up, throwing the blanket off and tugging on his sneaks. He padded quietly into the next room, washing his face, neck and chest, ridding his upper body of the wet fever. He paused for a moment, eyeing the man in the mirror. He leaned in close, brows furrowed in concentration and breathing heavily through his parted lips. He sought an answer in the sky eyes that were looking back at him. He pressed hard, pleading with the one dimensional stranger but his life remained locked inside that man's head. Angrily, he raised a fist to the bold image, desperately wanting to shatter its useless face. Chuffing in anger, he left the nameless alien trapped in the glass and moved away.

He went into the room where Juan got the clean clothes from. He got a new sweat suit and also tugged a gray hooded sweatshirt on. He pulled the hood up and reached for a warm jacket. It was a little big but that was fine, it had large pockets. He took sandwiches, small packages of cookies, a few candy bars and two bottles of water. He spotted a pad and pen on the counter near the telephone and walked over. He thought for a moment, and then wrote a note.

With his bounty tucked away, he paused in the doorway. He felt a lump in his sore throat, watching the bedrooms in the back where Father Joe, Boomer and Juan were asleep. They were his only real friends and he was very grateful for their help. His right hand went to his chest, where under the coat and sweatshirts, was the silver medal that Father Joe gave him that very morning. It was an image of Saint Michael, with his sword raised against the evil doers, the very symbol of justice and courage. The kindly priest told him to think of that as he battled through his darkness. Keeping that thought, he left the sanctuary, heading into the unknown.


Part Five

Manhattan NY, Missing Persons Unit
Monday, November 11th, 2002, Seven a.m.

Jack Malone sat down at his desk, placing his coffee mug nearby. He belched and made a sour face, regretting the choice of a sausage and egg sandwich from a new vendor down the block. He only hoped it was 'sausage' that he'd eaten. He'd gotten the call fifteen minutes ago about their new MP. He reviewed the information in the folder before him and made some notes. Vivian was at her desk but Sam, Danny and Martin weren't in yet. He had just finished going through his voicemail messages and was booting up his computer, when his phone rang.

"Malone."

"This is Captain Wallace, Hartford PD. We picked up a suspect this morning for attempted rape and assault. He was shaking down hookers, using a badge to trade some head action for not running them in."

"As fascinating as I find this Captain Wallace, what exactly does that have to do with me?"

"The badge he's been using all weekend, according to several hookers who he attacked, belongs to one Special Agent Martin Fitzgerald. We ran his badge through the FBI in D.C. and they tracked him to your office. Does he work for you?"

"Yes, he's one of the members of my team." Jack leaned forward, his stomach dropping a bit. There weren't too many good scenarios for a cop of any kind to give up his badge. "Who's the scumbag?"

"One Lamont Thompson, twenty-four with a record as long as your arm. We got a pile of outstanding warrants on him. He claims he 'found' the badge."

"And you're not buying that?" Jack quizzed, writing down the information.

"Nah, this guy's bad news from day one. He shot up a liquor store when he was fourteen and never looked back. He's got a long history of bad blood against cops. When's the last time you heard from Fitzgerald?"

"Uh... late afternoon, Friday," Jack sighed, rubbed his wrinkled brow and thought back. "When did this lowlife begin hustling the hookers?"

"We're still checking with some of the regulars. Four women came forward, plus the vice cop that was undercover on another assignment that he made the misfortune of offering the proposal to. Near as we can tell so far, sometime after midnight Friday. What was he doing in Hartford?"

"He and his partner, Danny Taylor, went up to Hartford on Friday morning. We got a call from a Captain McKeever up there. One of his units pulled over a DUI, Henry Hilliard. He's wanted down here on suspected rape and murder charges. Fitzgerald and Taylor checked in with him, they tracked Hilliard to the train station. Tim Simmons was the local FBI agent they checked in with. They lost Hilliard last Friday at rush hour; he fled on foot from the station. Martin gave Simmons a full report and from what we understood, headed home on the train, he was ill."

"Where we picked Thompson up is clear across town from the train station. When's the last time anyone there talked to him?" Wallace pressed, taking notes.

"Uh, I got a voicemail from him about five thirty or so on Friday. He'd just completed his report with Simmons and was heading for the ticket counter. I'll check with the other members of the unit to see if they heard from him."

"Speaking of his voicemail, can you give me his cellphone number? I'll start running it for activity." He paused and wrote the number down. "Good. What about his family? Did he call or contact someone?"

"His father is Victor Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the FBI," Jack replied and heard the sharp whistle of recognition on the other end. "I'll contact him myself. "

"We'll start checking the hospitals and the morgue. I'll double check with the FBI but I'm sure by now Simmons has been made aware. We'll make sure that we canvas the train station for witnesses."

Morgue.

The word went through his gut like a hot knife through butter. An unwelcome image of Martin's bluish body on a slab appeared in his mind. This is the worst kind of call that any team leader can get. To have one of his own missing, a trained agent who would know all the right contacts if he got in trouble unless he was lying in a hospital without identification.

"So you're checking for John Does?"

"We got a photo from DC, we're faxing it to the local hospitals and the other precincts. According to his jacket, the kid's only been with you about a month. Tough break."

"Yeah," Jack managed, "okay, you keep that slime ball under wraps, I want to talk to him. I'll be up there as soon as I get clearance." Jack wrote down the address and phone numbers and hung up.

He dialed Fitzgerald's cellphone and it rang several times, there was no reply.

Vivian was on her way to the fax machine when she saw Jack hang up his phone. What troubled her and caused her to forget the fax and head for his door was the almost slow motion he'd used. Then she saw the veil of worry descend over his features and she moved more quickly. Her first thought was that something had happened to one of his daughters.

"Jack? Are the girls okay?"

"Huh?" Jack saw Vivian approaching his desk. He hadn't even heard her enter the office. "Oh... yeah fine. Did Sam arrive yet?"

"No, she should be here any minute. Danny's in the lobby, he called a little while ago to say he was picking up doughnuts."

"Good... good..." He closed his eyes for a moment and then let out a long breath. Then he eyed the phone and dialed Samantha Spade.

"Hello."

"Sam, are you almost here?"

"No, as a matter of fact, I'm running late, why?"

"I need you to go over to Martin's."

"Martin's?" Sam frowned, "Jack, that's clear across town. Why? Does he need a ride? Can't he take the train?"

"No, because he's missing."

"Missing?" Vivian rocked back. "When? How?"

"A Hartford vice cop brought in one Lamont Thomson this morning. Sometime after midnight Friday and for the entire weekend, he's been hustling hookers, using sex as a trade off for not arresting them. He was using Martin's badge."

"What?" Sam sat back hard in the car. "I thought Danny said Martin came back here on Friday afternoon. "

"Did either of you talk to him this weekend?"

"Not since Thursday," Vivian stated.

"Sorry, Jack, I haven't heard from him since Thursday either," Sam agreed. "What about Danny?"

"He just walked in, I'll speak to him. Sam, get the super to let you in, check his voicemail. Maybe he called someone and they returned his call. At least we can try to get a timeline." He turned to Vivian then, "Vivian, check with the Newport PD, his folks have a house there. I doubt if he's there but he mentioned it earlier this week to me. Look, we got a new case this morning, I'm gonna give it to Chris, but I want you two working it, a sixteen year old girl from Cherry Hill, NJ who was visiting her sister at NYU disappeared sometime after midnight."

"Alright, Jack," Sam replied, "You headed to Hartford?"

"Yeah," Jack said watching Taylor settling at his desk. "And I'm taking Danny with me." He turned to Vivian and handed her a folder. "Here's the brief on Heather McKenzie. Her sister Denise is a senior at NYU. You hold onto it and we'll brief Chris."

"Alright, I'll keep it and call Newport." Vivian left and headed for her desk.

Danny was tired. In fact, he was tired of being tired. For three nights he'd gotten little sleep, thanks to the nightly invasion into his dream world. The dark visions were disturbing and causing interrupted rest. Try as he might, he could neither figure them out nor rid himself of them. He flipped through his heavy inbox, began separating the urgent things from those that could wait and was on his third yawn when Jack arrived.

"Danny, when's the last time you spoke with Martin?"

"Why?" he replied with a voice dripping in sarcasm. He eyed the forensic report before him and lifted the phone to dial the lab. "Did little boy blue lose his horn? Maybe his daddy can buy him a new one, like he bought him that desk."

The words were barely out of his mouth when Malone's palms slammed down in front of him causing every pen, pencil and paperclip to jump into a frenzied dance. Startled, he dropped the phone and shot back in his chair, eyes narrowed in annoyance. Every line on Jack's face screamed tension and the dark eyes were glowing.

"Lose the attitude and answer my question!" Jack growled.

"Friday... uh... at the train station, he said he was heading out. He uh... uh... stopped to talk to Tim Simmons and file a report. Like uh... after five o'clock maybe. I don't know, Jack, I'm not his babysitter. What the hell's your problem?"

"My problem? My problem is now your problem. Get your coat, when I get back from Chris's office, we're heading out to Hartford."

"Hartford?" Danny turned and eyed Martin's vacant desk. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his skin began to tingle. "Why? I thought the Hartford PD was handling Hilliard? Look, Jack, I was sick most of the weekend, I feel like shit. Can't you take Boy Wonder to Hartford?"

"First of all, his name is Agent Fitzgerald and if you can't remember his name, try writing it down. I'm losing my patience with your attitude Danny. Second, it looks like Martin never made it home on Friday."

"What?" Danny choked, his insides turning to ice.

"Did I finally get your attention?" Jack quizzed of the shocked face before him.

"What do you mean?" Danny rasped, not liking the odd sensation that was overtaking him. Jack must be wrong, or have gotten misinformation. He saw Martin leave. "I saw him leave. He overslept is all. I told you he was sick, maybe he just didn't hear the alarm or..."

"Without his badge? You know damn right well there aren't too many ways you part with your badge."

"His badge?" Danny's voice was small now, almost a squeaky whisper.

"The Hartford PD pulled in a suspected rapist early this morning. He was using Martin's badge to coerce hookers into sex. From what they can put together from the statements of the various women that they talked to, he started throwing it around after midnight on Friday." He paused for a moment as Taylor's olive complexion melted into an ashy, chalklike one. "They got a photo; they're running it through the hospital and morgue." Danny's head shot up and the dark eyes pleaded with him silently. "It's a possibility we're going to have to face. We got a new case this morning; I'm turning it over to Chris. Vivian and Sam will be working with his unit while we're gone. Danny? Pull yourself together. I'll be back in five minutes."

"Yeah," Danny managed, not seeing Jack brush past him.

Almost immediately the ghoulish images arrived. Martin's bloated body being pulled from the river, or he and Jack standing over a drawer in the morgue and the sheet being pulled back to reveal half of Martin's face blown off, Martin lying in heap in a deserted crackhouse, bleeding to death slowly, unable to move. Then the soundtrack began to play and try as his might, there was no way to turn down the volume.

qqqDo us all a favor and don't show up on Monday. Do us all a favor and don't show up on Monday... don't show up... don't show up... don't show up...."

Vivian put the phone down and went to catch up to Jack. She paused a few feet from Danny's desk and bit her bottom lip. If he hadn't looked like death-warmed-over when he arrived, he was certainly up for that title now. His face was gray, his eyes were dull and he'd not moved one inch since Jack left. She walked over slowly and sat on the edge of his desk.

"Don't bury him yet, Danny. He might be in a hospital, without ID."

"Yeah, right," he snorted, pulling his hands into his lap and hunching over. "He's dead, Vivian. He's dead and the last thing I said to him... hell I didn't say it, I screamed it. Helluva thing..."

"Look," Vivian's voice got sharp and she moved next to him, lifting his chin with her hand. "You pull yourself together. You and Jack have a long day ahead and you need your head clear. Leave that pity pool here, Danny, it won't help. Hartford is a big place, he could be anywhere. He's a trained federal officer and he can handle himself."

Danny sighed hard, rubbed the tension rope that was twisting in the back of his neck and stood up. He couldn't help staring at Martin's desk. He nodded at Vivian and shucked his wool jacket on. As she left, he wandered over to Martin's desk. It didn't have many personal items yet, he'd not been here long enough to get settled in. There were no family photos, just the Government Issue working material, save a navy blue and gold coffee mug with his class number from Quantico. His desk was as tight and buttoned up as he was. Why was he so afraid to show a little bit of himself? He thought back on the harsh words the rookie had spoken on the phone to his father. He'd assumed incorrectly that the old man had gotten Martin the job. But the one-sided conversation spoke volumes. He picked up the mug and studied it. He wondered on the true victory Martin must have felt receiving it, given the pressure he was under. Victor wasn't in Martin's corner and from what he'd heard, rode him hard. He wondered about that kind of pressure. He knew how hard the courses at Quantico were and from what Sam told him, Martin was top of his class and had broken a few records.

"Danny?"

"Yeah," he answered Jack's call from the doorway. He set the cup back down and turned away leaving Martin's ghost behind.

Hartford, CT
Monday, Seven a.m.

The reality of his plight hit him hard as the new dawn unfurled. The grayish drizzle clung to him as he struggled along. He didn't know where he was going only that he was keeping to the shadows. He'd been on a main street and stumbling along, dizzy and disoriented. The looks of disgust from the fine citizens hurrying to work gave him pause. He even heard himself labeled as a 'damned drunk'. His head hurt so bad it made his eyes throb. His cough was picking up and he ached from head to foot. Strangely though, he felt safer here than at the shelter. At least here, that guard couldn't find him. He could hide.

Home

Martin thought on that word as he headed down an alley to relieve himself. Where was home? Was his house just a few miles away? Was there a family waiting for him? Or were the streets his home? No, that didn't feel right. Somehow, even in the thick mud that seemed to replace his brain, he didn't feel comfortable here. No, home wasn't here, he had to find the truth somehow. He finished up, grabbed some melting snow to wash his hands; this action caused a guffaw from the shadows. Startled he whipped around and saw an old man peering at him from a doorway. Draped in clothes that blended in easily to the shadows, he was a slim man about his own height. His gnarled hands reflected his age, whereas the face under the scruffy whitish beard was anywhere from sixty to eighty. He noticed for the first time that the wall that he'd urinated on was the burned out shell of a former store. From the looks of the boards covering the windows, it had been forgotten long ago.

"You're new, huh? You're so green you shine, kid, come on inside."

Green

Martin flinched and hunched over, clutching his head. Someone else's voice echoed in his head, a man with a strong voice. The warning about being 'green' was issued. What did that mean? He dropped to his knees and began to rock, hoping to ward off the pain. The old man didn't move to help him, rather he offered advice from the doorway.

"You gotta make yourself invisible, kid. You gotta blend into the air. You don't want them to notice you." He saw the young man's brows furrow and the eyes narrow. "Them. The cops. I'm talking from experience, kid. I've got a leg that won't ever heal thanks to one of their beatings. Oh, they tell a different story. 'He come lungin' at me, I didn't have a choice. My life was threatened'. "

Martin watched as the sentence was concluded with a thick wad of something flying from the old man's mouth into the snow. He blinked stupidly up at the man, who seemed to grow blurry. He clutched his head again and began to cough violently.

"It's not everybody I trust, I've been rolled too many times," he advised and eyed the pathetic figure in the snow. "But you got an honest face, kid. Come on inside." He saw the huddled figure back up, his eyes wide and blue with uncertainty. Unconsciously the young man's hand moved to his throat. Then he saw the awful marks. "Well, there's nothing like a baptism by fire I always say. I won't hurt you, kid. You make up your own mind. I got some soup if you want some and it's warmer in here."

Martin considered his options and rose warily. It was freezing outside and he could handle himself, certainly against an old man. So he shuffled inside, keeping his back to the wall and his eyes all over the narrow entry. He smelled the soup and moved into a larger area, what was once the storeroom of the abandoned store. The old man was hunched over a small cast iron pot that was resting on a hole in the floor.

"I get free hot water from the folks at the donut shop, makes it easier to mix the soup." He nodded to a can of vegetable soup lying nearby. He poured two mugs and rested on an upturned crate. "Go on, kid, you look like shit, if you don't mind me saying."

Martin thought for a moment about the food he was hiding. Should he share it? Or was it unwise to let this man know he had food? He didn't know what to do. He moved closer and picked up the mug, sipping it thoughtfully. On one hand, this man invited him to share his 'home' and 'food'. On the other hand, he was a total stranger who might be luring him into a web of some kind.

"The name's Catfish," the old man saw the young visitor's face puzzle up over the mug. "Comes from a long time ago and a hot woman in New Orleans, but that's another story. You got a name kid?"

He watched as the light brown brows drew together and a long sigh went airborne. The mug was placed down and the young man's head dipped down, followed by another sigh and a series of wet coughs. Then the slim fingers moved and began to write in the grime on the glass window behind where he was sitting.

"...D...a...n...n...y...." He nodded his head as he retrieved the mug and continued to eat. "You can't talk?" The blue eyes regarded him for a moment and then concentrated on the soup. "Well now I hope with a pretty face like that boy, you got a weapon."

Martin swallowed the broth, swiped at his chin, and then narrowed his eyes. He put the mug down and stood up, not hiding his anger. He knew exactly what the old man meant

"Not me, boy, I ain't the one you got to worry on. I'm just saying, you're new and green, there're a lot of nasty men roamin' these alleys. You're fresh meat and don't think they won't try t' jump them bones of yours. You always need a weapon, hidden up your sleeve. A piece of metal you sharpen on the bricks or a small pipe. Something you can defend yourself with. A sap is easy enough and handy." He chuckled when the face screwed up again. "A sap, this, see." He pulled out an old black sock full of small rocks. "It's quick and fast, you smack somebody in the face and it stings long enough for you to either get away or get your knife."

A weapon? An image of a gun appeared and odder yet, he felt himself holding it as if he'd been born to it. Then it disappeared and he shook his head to clear it. He really felt awful, the cot in the shelter seemed like heaven now. He'd have to find a weapon he wouldn't let anyone else lay a hand on him.

He sat back down and listened as the old men continued to offer tips on street survival. He learned the differences between sleeping in abandoned houses, constructions lots, wooded areas and parks. He learned that storms and sewer drains were never an option, too risky for drowning and loaded with rats. About sleeping alone unless you run the risk of waking up stripped of what you have or worse. Dressing in layers was not just for protection against the cold, those extra layers stopped a knife from cutting you. Tools were something you needed every day. Odd bits of string or twine, an old screwdriver, something to pry or punch open cans with. Anything you could adapt into a tool was worth keeping. Food was something you needed to plan for each day. When the old man began speaking about catching, skinning and eating pigeons, Martin almost lost his soup. By the time he'd explained about cat and rabbit traps, the soup was threatening to come back up.

"But you're still pretty clean, clothes are new, you don't smell. Try to keep yourself that way if you can or you'll get lice. Nasty buggers, they'll suck you dry. Use the men's rooms when you can. You're a good looking kid with an honest face. If I was you? I'd head uptown to one of the fast food joints. You tell the manager you'll pick up butts and trash outside, keep the street clean for food. You'd be surprised how many of them will take you up on it. If they give you food, get it in plastic, it keeps better. And be careful about dumpsters. If you didn't see that food go in it, don't eat it. Just because it looks new don't mean it ain't been sittin' there gettin' ripe for awhile. Malls are the best; folks wandering around usually dump a lot of good stuff in the trash. "

Martin's head was spinning as he tried to keep up with all the information. He learned that you had to scour the sidewalks with your eyes, that all kinds of loose change could be found. That some of the pawn shops and thrift shops would pay you for things. The abandon houses often has stuff left behind that could be sold. He also was warned about other homeless men that would offer sex for money and to avoid certain areas of the city at night. The predators often traveled in packs and would attack newcomers. A cold fear was born inside of him then. His hand went to the marks on this sore throat, the scratchy voice roughly whispering in his ear in the dark. What if something else had been taken from him that night?

"Kid?" Catfish looked over at the odd noise and saw a curious combination of anger and fear on the fair features. Then the young man clutched his head and toppled over in a heap.

"Hey... kid... Danny... hey..." He moved closer and snaked a hand on the bruised throat. "Looks like you already got your first lesson the hard way." He felt something bulky in the young man's pockets and his grimy face split into a smile. 'Well, now, Catfish, looks like we're eating good tonight." After taking the food and water, he shuffled to the doorway, pausing long enough to tip his filthy hat. "Sorry, kid, but I'm getting too old to fight for food."

Someone was coughing and gagging. Martin's eyes shot open and he realized he was the one who was choking. After dispelling a load of phlegm, he rolled over, sat up and continued to breathe heavily. Sweat clung to his face and he shoved his hood down, gasping aloud. His head hurt so bad he could barely get his eyes open. He was hot and tugged at the collar of his shirt. His muddled mind went around the strange room before settling on a discarded plastic container. Hot water. Soup. An old man. The room was empty and he had no idea how long he'd been asleep. His throat was dry and he reached into his pocket to retrieve his water and discovered all his food and water were gone. His anger was short lived, it served no purpose.

After rummaging through the rooms in the abandoned property, he found a short lead pipe, a jagged piece of metal and a ton of loose gravel. He didn't have any spare socks, but he did find an old shirt lying in a heap under the counter out front. He tied the tattered edges of a sleeve together and filled it with gravel. After securing the other end he tested it, pleased that it worked.

With his weapons intact and two unopened cans of soup, the plastic container and its lid intact, he set out to find some food. The icy drizzle and the gray skies greeted him when he emerged from the old building. His eyes shifted to all angles of the alley before he set out. The old man might have taken his food, but he'd left behind sound advice on how to survive on the street. Martin decided that it was a fair trade and felt better prepared as he made his trek into the unknown.

Interstate 95 North
Enroute to Hartford, CT
Monday, 8 a.m.

For the first thirty minutes, the only sound in the car was the swooshing of the windshield wiper blades. The gray sky finally began to cry, sending shards of icy tears onto the city below. Jack adjusted the heat and glanced sideways. Danny's brooding face had arrived upon entry to the freeway. He'd known the young man long enough to sense what was lurking beneath that tense mask.

"Spit it out before you choke on it," Malone directed.

"It's my fault."

"How can it be your fault, Danny, we don't even know what happened," Jack argued.

"If I hadn't lost my temper and sent him packing, we'd have come back together."

"Temper? Let me take a wild guess here," Jack replied, not hiding his annoyance. "You two had another squabble?"

"We had another fi... uhm... argument after Hilliard got away," Danny began and flashed a glare when Jack's chuffed and distinctly annoyed breath left his lips.

"Another one? You mean all together or just on Friday?"

"Friday afternoon," Danny replied, frowning. "Look, something was wrong with him all day. Then he made some smart assed comment about that homeless guy and I lost my cool. Who the hell is he to call that guy a junkie?"

"What guy?"

"Some homeless guy I gave a ten to, to get some lunch. Martin sneered at me, saying how I was a fool and the money would go right up his nose. We had some words..."

"No? really?" Jack's voice rose in mock surprise. "So you both were pissin' vinegar when Hilliard got away." A long sigh of disgust and annoyance was his reply. "Wonderful. And then what?"

Jack listened as the details of the argument spilled out. He could tell by the emphasis on certain words that Danny was still angry. A part of him was angry that Martin had gone missing and their last words were bitter ones. But he wasn't revealing his whole hand yet; something else was nagging at him.

"You should have heard him, Jack, I knew he was from a wealthy background but man is he a bigot."

"Really?" Jack commented, "And you're not?"

"Me? No, what the hell kind of statement is that to make?"

Danny's back was up and he turned despite the restrictive seatbelt to face Malone. Who the hell was he to make a comment like that? It was clear Martin didn't know a damn thing about the underprivileged masses. It was unlikely he truly understood the meaning of 'want' and 'need'. How could Jack turn that on him?

"Well between the sixteen forks on his table and those silver spoons..."

"That's different," Danny argued.

"No, it's not, Danny. Do you know what the definition of prejudice is?"

"You're kidding, right? Give me a little credit." He turned away in disgust, one hand fisted in anger.

"It's a preconceived opinion or feeling without knowledge of all the facts. You're using his background to define him for what he is not who he is. Not very much different than his words to that homeless man, no wonder he's always pissed off at you."

"Me!" Danny's voice rose a full octave and his dark eyes flashed. He turned to Jack and his index finger emphasized his points. "I can't believe you're taking his side. He thinks his shit don't stink, always the know-it-all, won't listen to anybody..."

"I'm not taking sides here and don't think I wouldn't be having the same conversation with him. You both need a slight attitude adjustment." He shifted in the seat and diverted the subject a bit. Was he born to a wealthy family, yes he was. So was Robert Kennedy, was he a bigot?"

"You're being ridiculous, Jack."

"I'm trying to make a point. Prejudice is a two way street, Danny. He has his faults and he doesn't understand the street or that life like you do. And yes, I agree that he has a lot to learn about this job, the people of this city and its pulse. But you blaming him because he was sleeping in a soft bed when you were sleeping in a box isn't fair. It's not his fault you lived on the street."

"I never said it was!"

"Of course you do, every time you two are together, it's right between you. You think for some reason that his money or his background or his father got him the job. You can't get beyond that to see him for who he is, rather that where he lived, went to school."

"All I know is that I worked my ass off to get this badge, going to school at night, working three fuckin' jobs. Half the time I had nowhere to sleep. He's sleepin' in an apartment off Harvard's fuckin' campus."

"You're making my point for me." He heard the groan of disdain and the face turned away. But he'd made a dent and he had to pursue it. He wanted Danny's head clear by the time they got to Hartford. "Do you know what Habitat for Humanity is?" Jack waited and saw puzzlement on Taylor's face and the head slowly turn. "He's been a very active member since High School and I mean hands on. He spent his summer breaks for three years in college in Mexico, building houses for the poor. He taught Accounting to prisoners and English and Math to teenage kids on a reservation in New Mexico. After he graduated from college, he spent six months crossing this country, living with all kinds of people and working jobs that would curl your hair." He paused then, hoping some of his words penetrated. "He's a lot more that an Ivy League grad with sixteen forks, Danny."

"Then why does he say shit like that? He didn't even know the guy and he labeled him."

"He doesn't know the street and the homeless like you do, and yes, he shouldn't have said that. But he was probably in a pissy mood, and wanted to hurt you back."

"Back?" Danny's head shot up and the dark eyes were glowing in defiance.

"Back," Jack emphasized. "Since he got here, have you've tried to look at him for who he is? Or did all you see was his name? Did that blind you?"

"Come on, Jack, he screws up left and right..."

"So did you as a rookie. I never shoved your background down your throat. You hit him and he's gonna come up swinging." Another long, annoyed sigh precipitated the annoyed face turning away. "If his name was Martin Smith, would you still treat him the same way? That expression about walking a mile in another man's moccasins is more than just words."

Danny turned then, the last phrase hit him harder than he expected. He started to reply to Jack but didn't. Instead he thought back on those first days, even before, when they'd heard that Victor Fitzgerald's pride and joy had been assigned to them. Was Jack right? Had he allowed that to stand in the way of seeing Martin for who he really was? Had his attitude helped to ignite that spark that caused endless friction in the month since? Was a part of him jealous that Martin had great instincts? He laid his face to the glass window and watched the cars go by. Was he prejudiced? He reflected on the pain he'd heard between Martin's words on the phone to his father. How hard would it be to be Victor Fitzgerald's son? Would he have held up under that pressure? Was Martin's old man a ball buster? That he'd chosen a career that his father disapproved of and stuck to it seemed now to speak volumes. "Look, we got a while to go yet, take a nap. It looks like you didn't get much sleep this weekend."

"I'll pass, I don't like the soundtrack."

"Huh?" Jack frowned. "What does that mean?"

"Never mind," Danny sighed, closing his eyes and laying his head against the window.

He tried to rest but the damn soundtrack wouldn't go off. The echo of the words he'd used like bullets now came back to bite him hard. What if Martin was dead? There would be no amending the harsh edict. He wasn't sure if he was fully prepared to meet whatever they found in Hartford.

He only hoped that his caustic words wouldn't turn into a bitter epitaph.

qqqDo us all a favor and don't show up on Monday... don't show up... don't show up...

Manhattan, FBI Headquarters
9 a.m.

Samantha Spade made a sour face and tossed away the half empty cup of coffee. She made her way through the lobby of the Federal Building and headed for the elevators. Martin's apartment hadn't been used all weekend. His mail from Friday and Saturday was still inside his box. His neighbors hadn't seen him since early on Friday morning. His answering machine had only one message, from Jack on Friday to call him.

The doors opened and she exited the lift, pausing at the entry to the hallway. Vivian hadn't done much better, striking out with the Newport PD. But she'd at least spoken to Tim Simmons, the Hartford FBI agent who'd last seen Martin. He was on his way to the train station to interview the ticket agent and search that area when he'd seen Martin heading for the ticket counter and noted there was a lapse in time until the train to New York on Friday afternoon. It was possible Martin bought a ticket and then went somewhere within the terminal to kill some time. But both she and Vivian now had a job to do and they had to put their trust in Simmons and his crew to find their missing agent. A warm voice broke through her gray mood.

"Hey, Sunshine."

Her lips turned up as they always did when she was around Chris Boone. A few inches over six foot, the lean handsome blond turned every female head he passed. But he was not only an exceptionally skilled agent and team leader, he was a good friend. He was one of the few men in her life that she could completely trust.

"Morning, Chris," she managed, taking a seat at his conference table. She saw a mischievous light in his gray-green eyes.

"See, with you and Vivian on my squad, I'm more than halfway there."

"Halfway where?" She pulled the folder of the missing girl towards her.

"An all female team under my strong leadership of course. Three down, two to go," he noted, including Trisha, who was already on his team.

She knew he was trying to cheer her up and as much as she appreciated it, she was worried. Whatever had happened to Martin had transpired nearly three days ago. The odds were stacked against them. Finding him alive was statistically in a 'slim to none' category. She didn't know Martin well enough to like or dislike him. He was certainly handsome and had a charisma about him. When he did smile, it came right through his eyes. But he also had a 'gung ho' attitude that had to be corralled. He was almost too eager to show them, especially Jack, that he could do this job. That misplaced effort had nearly cost them more than once. But, there was something else there, something just beneath the surface that attracted her. Now she'd never get the chance to see him for who he really was.

"Hey?" Chris waved a hand in front of the unblinking dark eyes. "Earth to Sam? You with me?"

"Huh?" She blinked and sighed hard, shaking her head. "I'm sorry, Chris. I can't stop thinking about Martin."

"If anybody can find him, Jack can. No better man for this job, you know that."

"It's been almost three days, Chris. You know as well as I do, unless he's lying dead somewhere, we would have heard from him, if he was hurt and in a hospital, we would have found out. Thomson might have panicked and killed him, once he saw the identity in the wallet he lifted."

"Killing a federal agent is trouble, even for a lowlife like him. I don't think he'd been throwing that badge around so freely if he'd iced him. But from what Simmons said about that area, if Martin had been assaulted, it could be he wandered off in a state of confusion. He could have stumbled into an abandoned building and passed out."

"Or maybe Thomson or somebody like him dumped him in the river," Sam commented, shaking her head. "He'd have called by now or the cops that found him would have. It's just feels bad, Chris. You know, I don't anything about him? I mean past the basics. He's not the forthcoming type."

"And you are?" Chris rose to get something that was coming through the fax machine. He collected the papers.

"Okay, point taken," she noted. "Vivian didn't get much either but she did say that Simmons is on his way to the train station."

"How'd you make out at Martin's?" Chris inquired, scanning the information from Heather McKenzie's cellophane. The missing teen's phone had been used four times between midnight and four a.m. Three of the numbers were the same and from her records, she'd called one of them a lot over the last several weeks. He picked up the phone on the table and dialled without any luck. He wrote down the name on the voicemail.

"His mail was piled up since Friday and nobody has seen him . His neighbor across the hall usually hears him come home from jogging in the morning at 530. He said you can almost set a clock by Martin, he's that regular. When he did hear Martin on Friday, it was after 6 and he peeked outside. He said Martin looked very drawn. He was leaving for work and he was walking very slowly, holding himself a bit stiff. He even asked him if he was alright."

"What?" He inquired of the pretty puzzled face.

"He said Martin was startled by his question and stammered a bit. He said is as almost as if Martin was trying to cover up something. He finally just said he overslept and had to get to work."

"And you think he was already in trouble of some sort?"

"From what his neighbor said, I do. He felt Martin was hiding something." Sam noted, taking the file. "What do we have on this girl?"

"Vivian and Trish are at NYU talking to McKenzie's sister, Denise. Brendan is on his way to Cherry Hill to talk to her friends and her folks. I have to be in court in less than an hour to testify at the Alberti trial. I need you to follow up on these phone calls. The number traces to a Bradley Henderson, it's a South Jersey exchange. There isn't any answer."

"Okay." She sighed hard, pushing the image of Martin's dead body from her mind. She peeked over at the handsome profile. He always looked good, even when he came from the gym covered in sweat he looked great. "So, where exactly do I rank in this harem of yours?"

"Harem?" He grinned rakishly, winking at her. "That's what I like about you, Sam, you're always thinking. Harem? As in gauzy see through pants and bare midriff tops? Yeah I like that idea." He paused beside her and tipped up the forlorn chin. "No quitters around my campfire, okay? He's out there, Sunshine and Jack's gonna find him. You got my word on that."

Hartford, CT
9 a.m.

The city was as gray and bleak as the mood inside the car as it made its way uptown. Jack scanned the streets on either side, looking in vain for a slim, blue eyed young man with a slightly cocky attitude. Funny thing, the normal cocky attitude of the young man riding with him was sorely missing. That fire would be needed if they were to find their missing teammate.

"Danny?" He waited for the pensive profile to leave the window it was pressed against and turn a bit towards him. "Look, whatever guilt trip you're on, you have to leave it behind. Those arguments on Friday and all the ones before are water under the bridge. The bottom line is we're up here to do a job. I need you thinking clear, Danny. If you have anything else to get off your chest, do it now."

"You turning your collar backwards?" Taylor noted in a derisive tone about the 'priest like' attitude.

"Why?" Jack shot back, "Do you have something to confess? What the hell is eating at you?" Jack thought back on Martin's odd behavior in the parking garage on Thursday night and the strange questions Friday morning. Then he thought on the collapse and pain he'd seen. "Did you two have a fight on Thursday?"

"Thursday?" Danny's brow furrowed deeper and he chuffed in annoyance. "I thought we covered that? You were ready to castrate the two of us in the interrogation room."

"No, I don't mean an argument, I mean a fight," Malone clarified and saw the puzzled face morph into defiance.

"You think I hit him? Jesus, Jack, that's one hell of an accusation. Is that what you think? That I beat him up?"

"Hold it." Jack pulled over into the parking lot of the police station. He put the car in park and turned to his rattled agent. "So the last time you saw Martin was after I left you two in the interrogation room?"

"Yeah," Danny answered and saw more than concern in the dark eyes. He also knew Jack well enough to know that he'd never make an accusation like that unless he had proof or a damn good reason. "Why do you think I hit Martin?"

"Because when I was leaving Friday night, close to midnight, I found him sitting on a concrete barrier in the parking garage." Jack eased out of the car and locked it up.

"Midnight? What the hell was he doing there that late?"

"That was my question. It wasn't as much how he answered," Jack recalled, rubbing his chin, "he was in pain, I could see that. When I gave him a hand to help him up, he gripped it so hard it hurt. The pain was in his eyes, a physical pain. Then he tried to unlock his car and went down on all fours. Something happened..."

"But he didn't say?" Danny answered his own question, "No, he wouldn't, he's a bulldog that way. But that's not what's bothering you, is it?"

"Partially. Whatever happened to him, happened inside the building. He got hurt somehow and I don't think it was an accident." Jack paused by the front door of the building, tugging his collar up against the bitter cold.

"Why?" Danny prodded Jack's theory.

"Because when my car swung around that curve, my headlights hit him. He was staring at his badge. What I saw with that pain was doubt. That's what's bothering me. He's got his faults and he's made some stupid mistakes but one thing he had from day one, when I interviewed him was confidence. Hell, he was on overload."

"You interviewed him?"

"Of course I did, how the hell do you think he got the job!"

Danny's mouth opened and shut, he hadn't realized he'd spoken out loud. It was a stupid comment, but a part of him truly believed that somehow, Victor had gotten Martin the job. He felt maybe that Jack had gotten a notice that the vacancy was to be filled by Martin with a start-up date. An interview meant there was more than one candidate and Jack wasn't alone on the selection panel.

"Sorry, I didn't mean it that way. I guess I figured his old man had something..." Danny jerked the door open and entered the building.

"His father didn't want him in Quantico and I haven't heard from him yet. I'm sure eventually he'll have to accept that Martin is working for the FBI. That might open a whole new can of worms. I did call him this morning. His secretary said he's on a transatlantic flight on his way to the Orient. She wouldn't tell me where, I didn't have clearance. It's some kind of top secret meeting tied to terrorism. But I told her it was urgent..." He regrouped, "Anyway, how did he seem to you Friday? I only had a few minutes with him and he was rattled. He asked him why I hired him. Something or someone yanked his chain on Thursday night. And it's definitely tied to him getting hurt. Where would he get that idea?"

"Friday?" Danny thought back. "He was quiet for the most part and he looked rough. I just assumed he was shook up over the dead kid. Then his old man called and that pissed him off. That was right before we fought over the homeless guy."

"And then you two took off after Hilliard and you had another argument and you sent him packing?" He inquired but saw no indication of whether the troubled young man heard him. "Danny? I'm asking you a question."

"Yeah," Taylor sighed hard and turned to face Jack. He lifted his face and looked away for a moment, shutting his eyes and trying to ward off the throbbing headache. "The damned soundtrack won't stop, Jack. It's killing me..."

"What?" Jack's face screwed at both the question and the slight crack in Taylor's tone. "What do you mean? What soundtrack?"

Danny sighed hard and pried his eyes open, biting his bottom lip slightly. "The last thing... I said..." he paused and swallowed hard, grateful that the lobby wasn't very crowded, "...to... Martin... was... was...'Do us all a fa...fa...vor... don't come back... on... Monday..." There it was, finally out, and he let out a very noisy exhalation. "Makes me quite the fuckin' prophet, doesn't it Jack?"

"You had no way of knowing, Danny. And that certainly didn't get him in trouble. This isn't your fault, understood?" He meant well but he knew his words wouldn't fill the empty gut next to him, that until they found Martin, Danny Taylor would be haunted by his words. If they didn't find him alive, he wondered what the lasting effect would be on the haunted soul next to him. He laid a hand on the back of the downcast agent's neck and gave a gentle tug. "Come on; let's find out what this creep Thomson knows."

Danny nodded mutely and followed Jack toward the desk sergeant. He tried to shut down the volume of the soundtrack to hear what the duty desk cop was saying but it was hard. He saw Jack's lips moving and the other cops nearby going about their business. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. His legs took over and followed the other two men down the hall, where a third man shook Jack's hand and his own shot out.

Wallace.

He was the man in charge. Then they entered a small room with a single table and two chairs. The paint was peeling off the walls and it smelled musty. A well built black kid in his in mid to late twenties with a hostile attitude was sprawled on a chair, leaning back in total disregard. An arrogant dark-skinned face rose to meet them. The cold eyes regarded his and when he was introduced as Martin's partner, the suspect made the mistake of snorting derisively through a half grin.

The soundtrack ended abruptly and he felt himself leaping over the small table. "Danny No!"

Part Six

"...the hell's wrong with you?"

The aborted voice seemed to come to him from a tunnel. Danny blinked and jerked, his eyes blinking rapidly against the sharp light in the hall. He looked around in muted confusion and saw Jack's mouth moving. Jack was angry, as a matter of fact he looked livid. The hostile hands held him by the shoulders and pressed him hard to the wall. He spotted blood on the knuckles of his right hand and frowned.

"Yours, not his, thank God, or we might not get anything out of him. Christ, you went from Larazus to the Terminator in a span of seconds."

How he got in the hall was a bit of a mystery. He only recalled the arrogant face and the snide chuckle when the subject of Martin was introduced. It was then that a red haze dropped over him. He knew by Jack's wrath that something had gone wrong. The fog was gone but in its wake was a storm of a different kind. Malone was someone you didn't want to piss off.

"Danny, I'm talking to you!"

"I'm sorry, Jack. I don't know what happened. Martin's probably lying dead somewhere and he was laughing. I guess I freaked a little."

"Just a little!" Jack replied, seeing the light of reasoning reappear in what had been transfixed brown eyes. He let his extreme hold go and walked away. Captain Wallace appeared in the doorway, shutting the door behind him.

"I'm, sorry," Danny offered, wiping his knuckle with a wadded up napkin in his coat pocket. "I didn't mean to wig out on you. It won't happen again."

"Your damn right it won't," Captain Wallace replied as he put a hand of protest up when the shaken up young man attempted to enter the room again. "No way. How you managed to knock him out of the chair and not hurt him is our luck. He's already talking about a law suit."

"And you tell me there's not something fuckin' wrong with our society!" Danny fumed, pointing his bloody appendage to the door. "A freak like that thinks he got the right to sue? Shit..."

"Look, Danny, he's right," Jack moved between the two men. "You stay on the other side of the glass. Right now, that scumball is our only lead to Martin's whereabouts. We need him."

"Yeah," Danny spat back, shirking past Jack and Wallace to the slim wall and turning to face the large window, a two way mirror. Thomson was spouting off nonsense about his rights being violated and damages. Jack reappeared and shut the door behind him. Wallace stood in the doorway.

"Captain Wallace, would it be possible to get some water?" Jack inquired of the PD chief but kept his eyes on the suspect.

"Sure." The Captain nodded and turned to leave.

"Hey! Yo Man," Lamont protested, standing up and leaning over the table, "you can't leave me here with Sipowicz. I got my rights."

"Sipowicz?" Jack answered gruffly, moving in front of Wallace and blocking the suspect's view. "Sit your ass down or I'll nail your balls to that chair." He glared openly at the hostile young man until after a few long seconds he reclaimed his seat and his arrogant posture. Wallace left and the door closed.

Danny looked up when Wallace appeared next to him. Both turned to view Jack as the interrogation began.

"Look, I already told Barney Fife out there that I found that badge. So I borrowed it for awhile, what's the big deal? It's not like them tramps were nuns or nuthin'." He grinned when the out of town Federal Agent began to chuckle. "I'm funny huh?"

"No, you're hilarious." He leaned over the table and stared down hard into the cold, dark eyes. "I'm not from Mayberry, numbnuts, so you better come up with the truth or you'll be squealing like a pig up the river before the day's done."

"Man, you don't got shit on me..."

"No? Killing a federal agent's gonna put you away for the rest of your life."

"I didn't kill no fuckin' cop!" Lamont slammed his hand on the table.

"No? I suppose he just handed his badge to you. There's not too many ways he'd part with that badge. You followed him out of the train station and you attempted to rob him, but he fought back. After you took care of him, you took the badge and began to shake down those hookers".

"That dude was pink and pukin' when I dumped him!"

"What time was this?"

"I don't know man, late afternoon. I ate at four and it was after that, five thirty, I guess. What the hell difference does it make?"

Lamont backed up a bit and pressed his back to the chair when the dark eyes began to nearly glow at him. From the venom dripping from them, it was clear he felt it did make a difference. The brutal tone in the voice was so cold it sent a chill through him.

"Start at the beginning and don't leave anything out."

Friday afternoon Hartford Train Station

Lamont Thomson was lingering at the corner of the street, leaning against the end wall of the station. This was the best time of day to look for fresh meat. Unsuspecting young women exited the train looking for a new start. He was so good at picking the easy targets, he could tell by a brief conversation if they were doable. The easy ones had eyes like Bambi and were nervous when they walked and talked. They often lacked self-confidence and there was trouble at home. He became the friendly stranger who bought them a sandwich and listened to their troubles. They were so glad to have someone listen they never saw it coming. He knew the cheap hotel where they could stay and a 'connection' for a job. He lured them in slowly, slipping them pills to get them hooked. They'd wake up in a stupor with a John between their legs. Strung out and stripped of what little dignity they had, they became his puppets.

"Colder than a bitch's tit today," he mumbled, eyeing the crowds approachi ng on the sidewalk. A cab pulled up and distracted his attention, but not before he saw an easy mark. "Looks like Opie had one too many milkshakes," he noted of the staggering, sweating man approaching with one hand on his gut. The leather jacket was expensive as was the blue cashmere sweater under it. The expensive haircut told him he might net a small mint from whatever was in the wallet. He remained in position until the unsteady figure moved by him. Then in one quick move, he stuck his gun into the guy's back and shoved him inside the alley.

"Keep your mouth shut and get moving!" he ordered, using his left hand to grab the guy's jacket collar and shove hard. He propelled them halfway down the alley and to the extreme left, behind several industrial metal dumpsters. "Keep your hands up!" He sent the staggering man several feet ahead and body slammed him into a heavy metal dumpster. Like a pinball in a machine, he popped off it twice and went down on his hands and knees "Give it up, Opie." He wiggled his left arm and kept the gun trained on the coughing man. "Toss in the watch too, come on man, I ain't got time to wait around for you to puke."

Martin was very close to passing out and his vision was blurry. Everything around him was out of focus or doubled. Breathing heavy and sweating profusely, he tried to prevent the black curtain from falling. But between swallowing the vomit that already was in his mouth and trying to prevent more from coming up, his actions weren't too smooth. A booted foot slammed into his gut, sending all the bile out and taking his breath away. His head was swimming and it was hard to think clear; but his hand moved instinctely to his waist. Gingerly he eased the gun out, praying he could see clear enough to get a shot off.

"Quit fuckin' around and give me your wallet."

The viscious kick that followed to his left side clipped the underside of his wrist, sending his gun under the dumpster. Now he'd have to fight for his life and get the felon's gun. He was fading fast, black spots danced before his eyes and he felt himself slipping away. Martin started to pull himself up, his left hand gripping the top of the dumpster. He moved his right hand to his rear pocket, where his wallet was. He heard gravel as the his attacker moved.. He shoved his elbow back hard, connecting with the tender area over the stomach where the ribcage ends.

Lamont was caught off guard and lost his footing, slipping on the loose gravel and glass under his boots. He slipped sideways, his right hand flew back and clipped the edge of the metal dumpster hard, sending the gun skittering away.

Martin struggled fully to his feet, amazed that he could stand with the ground and walls around him moving. He'd hit the dumpster hard, sending his already spinning brain deeper in a mad whirl. His sad euphoria was short lived; the felon grabbed him by the neck and tried to force him back down. He felt the other man gaining an edge and grit his teeth, using his shoulder to shove into the guy's chest. A fist landed on the lower part of his back. An explosion of colors erupted in his brain, causing a blinding pain that paralyzed him. He fell forward, his upper body landing inside the open dumpster.

"Shit!" Lamont vented, bending down to pick up his gun. "Your fuckin' puke got all over my pants!" His moaning victim started to rise and he smacked the back of the guy's head with his gun butt. The limp body retreated partially inside the metal trash bin. He could see a bulge in back pocket and grabbed the wallet. He was about to search for more when he heard voices. He peered over and at the opposite end of the alley, a large truck was making a delivery. Two beefy truck drivers were stepping outside. He heard one mention that he'd unload the truck as soon as he took a piss. He didn't need any witnesses, so he grabbed the belt with his left hand and the limp legs with his right. He propelled the body the rest of the way into the steel dumpster, putting the lid down. Slipping the wallet into his jacket, he quickly walked away.

Wallace heard a staggered exhalation of breath and turned to where Danny Taylor was standing. The dark head was dropped and one hand was closed around something suspended on a chain. He noted that the hand was trembling and wondered how he'd feel if his partner were missing. They both turned back when Jack Malone finally spoke.

"You left him in a dumpster?"

"He's lucky I didn't off him for messin' up my pants," Lamont protested in a huff and eyed the yellow pad approaching.

"I wouldn't get too attached to them," Jack quipped, "You won't be wearing them much longer. Write it down, every word," he directed and slipped from the room.

"I'll radio Simmons and have him check those dumpsters," Wallace said, "if they haven't already."

"We'll meet him over there," Jack replied. "Come on, Danny."

"Just like that? You bought that story? How do you he didn't kill Martin?"

"My gut," Jack dismissed, heading for the door at a brisk pace. "It's got a lot more years of experience questioning scum than you do."

Danny didn't know why Jack was so chipper. Just because some sleazebag said he mugged Martin and left him alive didn't mean it was true. He got into the car and buckled up, turning his annoyed face to the glass. Besides, if Martin was alive when Thomson left him on Friday night, where was he now?

Hartford, CT
Noon

If there was a way to feel worse than this, Martin didn't know about it. He'd gotten sick once and was wearing remnants of it all over his sweatshirt. He'd gotten so dizzy twice, he'd fallen over. So now he was covered in mud, grease, garbage remains and he was wet. The horns blasting seemed unnaturally loud to him and the traffic lights seemed too large and bright. The people rushing by him were even oddly shaped. Everything was distorted and strange. He was sick as a dog, cold, hungry and he felt dizzy. It took him forever to find his way downtown in the strange city. He felt how the immigrants must have when they got off that gangplank at Ellis Island. He had no idea where he was or where to go. But he did need food and he headed for the first fast food restaurant he found. An almost grotesque chicken with bright red lips and a poofy red hairdo screamed at him from the sign. He peered inside and saw mostly Hispanic and African Americans eating their noon meal. His palms were wet and he felt his ragged breathing getting worse. He eyed his reflection and grimaced. Why would they even let someone like him in the door? Still his growling stomach urged him to at least try. So he opened the door and shuffled inside with terribly uncertain steps.

"Can I help you sir?"

Martin looked up at a teenage girl with a bright red cap sitting haphazardly on top of a bushy head of hair. There was the same chicken spread out a bit too much on a tight tee shirt. His eyes darted all around the room full of uncertainty. His legs were rooted to the floor and he felt sweat pouring down his face. Customers lined up behind him and tried to get by. The girl repeated the question and he remained in place.

"Hey, man, you in line?"

Martin shook his head and the teenager brushed past him. Now he felt others staring at him and wanted a hole to open in the ground. He licked his dry lips and eyed the men's room. He had to go to the bathroom, his stomach hurt. Somehow with a power he didn't realize he had, he urged his legs to move. He was just about to push the door open, when a hand grabbed his shoulder.

"Sorry, it's for customers only. You buy something? Then you can use it."

Martin eyed the name tag and noted the shirt and tie. The middle aged, stocky man was not counter help or a cook. He had to be the manager. Martin held his hands out indicating he had no money.

"Look, I'm getting tired of you bums freeloadin' here, it's bad for business. Paying customers don't want you near them when they eat." He saw the blue eyes flash in anger and the body straightened up to glare at him. "You get your lazy ass out of my store or I'll call the cops."

Martin didn't get the chance to offer his services, he didn't like this man nor did he trust him. He held the beady eyes with his own gaze and attempted to brush past him. Again the hand grabbed him and shoved him the other way, across a very slippery and greasy floor and towards a side door.

"You go out the back way, same as all the other trash."

Martin almost lost his footing on the icy ground outside. His eyes went to the dumpsters where he wondered if there was any food. But the beefy arms went across the chest and the body moved in front of it. He stood straight and looked right at the small minded manager as he walked past. He got to the street and sighed hard, watching a pigeon swoop down and land near a half eaten donut. He was tempted to fight the bird for the pastry. He didn't get very far when the burning pain in his gut propelled him into the nearest alley. He ran a crooked path to the back and squatted down behind a large wooden crate. Then he shucked his pants down as felt his chest clench as his dignity fled from him faster than the watery diarrhea. After he cleaned up he could barely hold his head up. He made the mistake of looking up the street to find the next fast food place. He caught his reflection in the window and felt an invisible fist punch him in the gut. The stench that clung to him seemed a fitting match to the filthy creature in the glass.

Train Station, Hartford, CT
1 p.m.

Jack was outside interviewing some cabbies when Simmons called. The ticket agent who was on duty on Friday had arrived. He left Danny with the cabbies and headed back inside. In a matter of seconds, he was approaching the fair-haired agent.

"Miss Bralow, this is Special Agent Jack Malone, FBI out of New York. It's one of his men that has gone missing. "

"Did you speak to him?" Jack asked, watching her eye the photo of Martin.

"Yes, I remember him, he didn't look well. He was shivering, sweating, stuttering and seemed unsure of what to do."

"What time was this?" Simmons asked.

"Well, let's see, I come on duty at three thirty, so I guess it was well after that, five thirty perhaps?"

"Did you notice anyone following him? Anyone that looked out of place or suspicious?" Jack pressed.

"No, he was alone. He complained how hot he was and that he needed some air. I told him that the train didn't leave for awhile and he said he'd come back."

"But he didn't?" Jack quizzed and the red-head shook in a negative turn.

"No, he went up those stairs and out the door." She pointed to the exits on the other side of which Danny was checking with the local cab drivers. I was on duty until 11 p.m and I didn't see him again."

"Thanks, if you remember anything else, you let me or one of the other agents know." Jack sighed and snaked a hand to the back of his neck, rubbing the tension away.

"We're going to extend the perimeter by a few more blocks. I'm heading out, I'll be in touch."

"Okay, Simmons, thanks," Jack replied and went back to where he'd left Danny. Just as he hit the top of the stairs, he saw Danny waving to him. He quickly went outside and approached his anxious agent. "Whadda we got?"

"This is Gus Hassett, he was on duty Friday afternoon. He's pretty sure he saw Martin."

"I'm Jack Malone, Agent Fitzgerald's boss. What can you tell me?"

"Well, I'd just pulled up, it was very crowded outside and I spotted this old lady who was having trouble walking. So I hopped out to grab her and I nearly knocked him down. I noticed him right off, he looked bad. I recognized him from before, earlier that day. He stopped by a bunch of us cabbies that were in line here, flashing a picture of some guy."

"Did you speak to him the second time you saw him?" Jack asked.

"No, I didn't get the chance. The old lady was ready to drop. I grabbed her and got her to the cab. I was going to head back over to help him; he looked like he was ready to pass out." He eyed the younger agent who seemed distraught and looked away. "You know, pale and sweating, staggering a bit, not too steady on his feet."

"So what happened then?" Jack asked.

"She's old, you can't exactly rush her along. It took me a few minutes to get her in the car and belted. I turned back right away but he was gone."

"Did you notice anyone suspicious around him?" Danny broke his silence, his dark eyes grazing over the alley entry.

"Mister, it was packed, you know rush hour on Friday. I wouldn't have noticed my own mother behind him. If he wasn't lookin' like he was going to drop over, I might not have seen him at all. I'm sorry, I wish I could be of more help."

"We're grateful, thanks a lot," Jack offered along with his card. "If you remember anything that could be of help, you call."

"I sure will."

By the time Jack dismissed the cab driver, Danny was already in the alley. He made his way over there, bracing himself as a strong gust of wind came around the corner. He flashed his badge at the NYPD cop standing in front of the barricade and then entered. The local FBI had done an initial search and the alley was sealed off. He paused to eye the spot where Thomson said he was standing and then gazed back at the exit to the station. Coupled with what the cab driver noticed and Martin's apparent illness, it would have been easy to manhandle him.

Danny paused at the edge of the alley, narrowing his eyes to scrutinize the area. He spotted the large dumpsters that Thomson spoke of right away. It was almost a free invite to mug someone; you'd never see anything from this side. He walked along, carefully eyeing the debris scattered in the narrow path between the dumpsters. He popped open the first one but it was only half full. He knelt down and peered underneath, but found nothing. He repeated this process with each one, until he got to the last one. He heard gravel crunching under footsteps and turned, spotting Jack at the far end. He popped the lid open and peered inside, something blue was waving in the breeze. He pulled a small, blue, plastic evidence bag and tweezers out of his pocket and captured it.

"What?" Jack called out.

"Could be from Martin's sweater, it 's the right color," he noted of the woolen bit of cloth. He eyed the expanse at the end not far from where he stood. He recalled Thomson mentioning seeing a truck pull up.

"It's been three days, it's been emptied." Jack peered into the dumpster. His dark eyes scanned every inch and he pulled out his cellphone. "Simmons? Malone. We found a dumpster that might be the one that Martin was thrown inside of. Danny's got fabric from his sweater and there's blood on the side and old vomit. Why isn't the lab out here?" He paused and nodded, "Fine, ten minutes then, thanks." He put the phone away and eyed Danny kneeling down, he made a face pressed himself flat, digging behind some old bricks under the dumpster. "You got something?"

Danny stood up and with a pen, held out a gun. "It's Martin's, I'd bet on it. It looks like he might have tried to hide it from him Thomson.

"Or maybe he was trying to pull it out, Thomson was behind him. Maybe he went for it instead of his wallet and lost it when Thomson threw him down. Bag it..."

Jack searched the area immediately around them but found little else. He watched the pensive Taylor popping his antibiotics and guzzling water. As the bottle was capped and shoved back inside his pocket, his dark head moved. The brown eyes were searching for something just beyond the horizon. A deep sigh prompted Jack to join his downcast agent.

Danny couldn't help but wonder what happened to Martin after Thomson left. If he did wake up, why hadn't they found him? Why didn't he go for help right away? In a city this size, there were lots of places he could find help. Then again, there were also a lot of places where he could have staggered into and collapsed. What went wrong? What happened during the storm on Friday night?

"I hope to God he woke up in time and got out," Jack noted.

"In time for what?" Danny turned to face him.

"Trash collection."

"Shit...aw shit..." Danny's insides churned when he envisioned Martin's limp body being dumped into the back of a trash truck and crushed by the compactor.

Manhattan, FBI Office
3 p.m.

Vivivan Johnson nodded her head and continued to take notes from Brendan Gavin. After interviewing the missing girl's parents and some school friends, he'd gotten new information on Bradley Henderson. Heather's cellphone had numerous calls to his Moorestown, NJ home. The seventeen year old football star hadn't shown up for school this morning. His parents were divorced and had each thought the boy had spent the night with the other.

"Okay, Brendan, I'll have them run his plates. From what the other kids told you, they are romantically involved?"

"Yeah, Susan Evans is Heather's best friend. She said Brad and Heather have been intimate since early summer. She said Heather is normally very outgoing, straight A's and never missed school. But the last month she's missed classes, looks pale and withdrawn. She seemed preoccupied. The Evans girl thinks maybe she's pregnant."

"Great..." Vivian sighed, "So she uses her sister as a cover story for her parents. If she is pregnant, she and Brad might be trying to take care of an unwanted pregnancy. How about his friends?"

"I'm headed over to the school now; the football coach called around and got most of Brad's friends to come to the gym. I'll be in touch."

"Okay, Brendan, Sam and I will go talk to Denise again. She had to know about Brad, I wonder if she is keeping something from us."

"Hey, Viv, anything new on Martin?"

"Well Danny found a cabbie who saw Martin staggering near the edge of the alley next to the station. He rechecked the dumpsters and found some cloth, and blood and vomit in one of them. Martin's gun was underneath."

"Damn, I hope he got out somehow on his own and will turn up in a hospital somewhere as a John Doe. Keep me posted, okay, Viv?"

"Will do, Brendan."

She hung the phone up and got her purse from her desk drawer. She headed over to the vending area where Sam was sitting at a table sipping a diet coke. The blonde head looked up and she knew by the expression that she was upset.

"I know it looks bad, but he might not be dead."

"You know? I can't remember the last conversation I had with him. How stupid is that?" Sam fretted, shaking the nearly empty can. She finished the last of it and rose, tossing it into the recycle container near the soda machine.

"We got some new information on Heather, I'll fill you in. We're going back to talk with Denise McKenzie again." The other agent didn't reply and by the time they got to the car, Vivian turned to her. "He made some critical mistakes, even for a rookie. But he's smart, Sam, he's got great instincts. He might have gotten out of that dumpster and on the way to get help, ran into trouble. Or maybe he isn't even in Hartford. If he's confused because of a head injury, maybe he tried to get back here later or even on Saturday."

"It's been three days, Vivian, where would he go? Why wouldn't we know?" She put her dark sunglasses on and buckled her seat belt.

"If he did somehow get out of Hartford, he could be a John Doe in another city. He might be in a hospital."

"Or at the bottom of the river."

Vivian didn't reply, she turned into traffic and began to navigate the streets. Her experience told her Sam was most likely correct. Three days without any sign whatever of Martin spelled trouble. But she didn't want to think that the cocky, young rookie was dead. He had a lot to learn and was very green, but like Jack, she saw promise in him. She hoped to see him grow and learn, becoming a vital part of their team.

Across town, Hartford
5 p.m.

Martin felt like the hare in the old fable. Slow and steady should win the race but he wasn't sure if he had enough gas to cross the finish line. He found a brief half-smile when the image of Mike Reynolds, the manager of this fast food restaurant. He dumped the last of the trash and sat down on a broken crate. The alley next to the burger place was as clean as an alley could be. He'd picked up every cigarette butt, napkin, candy wrappers and debris of every kind, even a dead animal. Satisfied, he laid his throbbing head against the side of the bin. He was so tired and sick, but he had to complete his job.

He was lucky to find Mike. The first two places he'd tried had the same hostile attitude as the manager of the chicken place. It could have been by the time he go to this place, he was so sick and with a face full of woe that the manager took pity on him. He'd been curled up next to the trash bin, having seen a pair of kids leave the restaurant and toss a bag into the trash. He found a half eaten burger, a cookie and three-quarters of a soda. He was devouring the meager meal when Mike appeared. Expecting the worst, he cowered back and apologized profusely with his eyes. But the tall, stocky African American man with graying hair gave him a kind smile.

He'd offered to give him some food, but Martin pointed to the sidewalks, windows and alley. He got the man to give him a pencil and notepad, and he wrote down his offer. Not only was he given the job, but Mike told him he could come back every afternoon and clean up for food. He'd allowed him to use the bathroom to clea n up a bit and gave him a full lunch before he started. The kindness that was showered on him was his fuel to complete his job. He heard the back door and saw his new friend approaching.

"Hey, man, it's getting nasty out here," Mike noted, eyeing the wheezing body. "Look, why don't you let me take you to a hospital? You ain't looking so hot."

Hospital? There was no way he could allow that, they asked too many questions. He'd been proud of the fact that he'd only thrown up twice all afternoon. His head did hurt and his vision blurred occasionally. He couldn't exactly remember how he got here or where he was but a deep fear inside warned him about strangers asking questions. He saw the badges again, so shiny they blinded him. His inner alarm sounded, warning that they wouldn't believe him or trust him, moreover that they were dangerous. Coughing violently, he got to his feet, swayed and wobbled.

"At least get out of this weather. They're talking about freezing rain and ice. You got a place to go?" He saw the blue eyes look away a moment and a slip of pink tongue appear in the corner of his lip. The hard thinking homeless man then nodded. "Good. I'll give you a lift and..."

Martin began to shake his head and limp away. He couldn't risk anyone knowing where he was going. What if the police found out? Or that guard? No, he had to keep his haven a secret. He offered his hand and shook the other one, thanking him for the meal.

"Hold on, now." Mike grinned and pulled out a gray knapsack. "Hard day's work means a payday. Here, there's plenty to hold you over. You come back tomorrow afternoon; I'll have some work for you, okay?"

Martin swallowed hard, his hand trembling as it reached for the sack. It was heavy, he unzipped it and his eyes widened in surprise. There was a hot thermos with what he supposed was coffee, several baggies with sugar packets, creamer and some salt and pepper. The bottom was lined with cloth towels, toothpaste and a toothbrush as well as a lot of moist towels in foil. He rummaged further and found several well wrapped sandwiches, two plastic containers of salad, several small containers of juice, four baked potatoes, plastic packages of utensils, several kinds of cookies and a rectangular box with a photo of lemon pie on its lid.

Mike watched the emotions morphing quickly on the young man's face. He'd been homeless for almost a year when he was young. He knew firsthand how far the kindness of an open hand went. Thanks to someone who'd taken him in and given him a second chance, he got a job. That lead to night school and more jobs, including the one he had now. The young man's head dropped and the eyes peered up at him shyly. He saw the lips open and frustration in the blue eyes. He didn't know why the young man couldn't speak. But his eyes didn't lie. He took the wavering hand and offered a wide smile.

"You're welcome, Danny. More than welcome. You did a damn fine job today, hold your head up. I wish you'd let me drive you to..." The hooded head shook 'no' again and the slim hand retreated. "Okay, be careful now. Hey, hold on a moment."

Martin paused and his brows furrowed in puzzlement when Mike headed back inside the side door. Shifting his prized bag to his shoulder, he winced when his lower back screamed at him. He nearly toppled over but the spasm passed. He hadn't realized he'd shut his eyes until a hand hit his shoulder. He eyed the blanket folded neatly inside a large plastic bag with a drawstring.

"It's old, as long as you don't mind some stray fur. I shook it out pretty good. We used to have a cat in the back office. Sassy, a real lady, she died a few weeks ago."

Mind? He didn't mind, it was a decent sized blanket and would cover him. It would keep the cold off and he'd keep Mike's smile to ward off the chill. He accepted the bag and found that lump in his throat again. He opened his mouth trying to will the words but none came. He eyed both the bags and bit his lip, his eyes filling.

"Quit thankin' me already," Mike teased of the emotions wavering badly. "Go on now, it's starting to rain."

By the time he got back to the old store he was exhausted, his legs barely holding him up. He watched carefully as he approached, to ensure that nobody was there. He carefully inspected every inch of the place, which had four good sized rooms. The old storeroom was the warmest and it was where he slept. He found in the outer room, an old metal trunk. He put his food inside, carefully separating everything. He could eat small meals and make it last a few days. He took a sandwich, a potato and a juice out and also the thermos. He tucked the sugar and creamer into his pocket and fought off the urge to devour the pie. He shut the lid, shuffled slowly to the bench in the storeroom and sat down on the floor.

Spreading his food on the seat of the bench, he bowed his head. He fingered the medal on his neck and frowned, trying to recall where he got it. He didn't like being so confused about everything. He gave thanks for his meal and ate quietly; enjoying the warmth the coffee brought him. He peered around the dark, cold room and his shoulders slumped. Somehow he knew he didn't belong here. But every time he looked at the man in the glass, all he got was a flare-up of his headache. His energy was spent and his skull was throbbing; he curled up and covered himself with Sassy's blanket.

But his sleep was far from restful. His fevered body brought violent and disturbing images full of strange faces. There were men in dark suits with badges that beat him up in a garage, more men with badges screaming at him in a train station. And, a new set of dark eyes that flashed anger and loathing along with the badge. He tossed and turned, his wet hair plastered to his head like a helmet. His grunts and moans of pain and fear went unnoticed. There was nobody in the darkness to tend his fevered brow and dismiss the awful night terrors.

He sat up in a hurry, heaving and gasping. The dreams were becoming more violent, their dark images extremely disturbing. His head hurt so bad he felt sick and couldn't lift it. His chest was full of congestion and he hacked up several large wads of thick muck. Wheezing badly, he rolled over and pulled his blanket up, his wide eyes wandered around the utter blackness around him. Hopelessness and desolation wandered in, easily claiming their prey. He didn't want to go back to sleep and suffer the pitchforks from the invisible demons. He tried hard to keep his heavy eyes open but the hot pokers brought on by the fever were too powerful.

A rat scurried past and up onto the leg of troubled sleeper. It crept slowly over his hip and onto the side of his chest. The body began to thrash, sending the rodent sliding down onto a slick exposed throat. It lingered for a moment, its beady eyes taking in the wet face that moved back and forth. Its nose twitched as it sniffed and moved over the face, around the neck and out the other side of the hood. It moved on then, seeking its own nest, leaving the tortured soul behind trapped in a horrid netherworld.

Part Seven

The Days Inn, Hartford Ct
Tuesday, 4 a.m.

The turbluent sea unleashed her wrath in full force, sending monsterous waves high in the air. The wicked wind with equal fury, screamed in protest, its evil breath dancing in whirlwinds over the black water. A sinister soundtrack was provided by the sky, a thunderous call was accompanied by jagged streaks. The crippled victim of the triple terrors fought bravely, using what little strength it had left to stay afloat. But with each passing minute, it grew a little closer to dying.

The witness being held hostage fought desperately, thrashing and moaning. Danny Taylor's dark hair was plastered to his head, his face and upper body slick with the efforts of the battle. Twin fists gripped the sheets in unmatched strength while his heaving chest struggled to breathe. His heart was gyrating wickedly, like an out of control jackhammer. It was painful to breathe and his muscles were worn from the fight. He had to break free, he had to help...he had to help before it was too late. Then the helpless prey was toyed with by the killer trio one last time and it slipped beneath the waves.

"Nooooooo!"

"Danny?"

Jack sat up, turned the light on and squinted for a few seconds until his eyes adjusted. He blinked and stood up, watching the lean body twisting in the bed. The sheets were askew, his chest, neck and face wet and an twisted oval of a mouth gasping for air. "Hey, wake up." He walked over and gripped the slick shoulder and gave it a solid tug.

Jack stood back when Danny's eyes shot open, far too wide. The unblinking gaze and the short fearful pants of air told him his young charge wasn't awake yet. Cautiously, he leaned over and waved a hand in front of the terrorized eyes.

"Danny?"

Danny blinked, coughed and looked around. The haunted dreamscape dissolved into a bleak hotel room. Jack's sweat pants appeared in his line of vision and he moved his gaze up. The worried face told him he wasn't the only one the dream had disturbed. He sighed long and hard, closing his eyes and resting his forearm over them. For several long moments, he tried to get his lost breath corralled and turn his pounding heart down a few notches. Finally, he moved his arm, peeled an eye open and saw the paint stained gray sweats were still in place. "Sorry..." he whispered, his voice scratchy and raw.

"Must have been a helluva dream," Jack noted, "You want some water?"

"I want a drink," Danny commented, slowly raising his eyes to meet the troubled ones above. The serious nature of the comment wasn't taken lightly. Jack's head dipped and he knew Malone understood the full ramifications of the nightmare. "Yeah, okay."

"You want to talk about it? It might help," Jack offered from the bathroom.

Danny sat up, threw his legs over the side of the bed and dropped his elbows onto his thighs. He dropped his wet head and the gold cross his mother gave him on his First Holy Communion Day swung like a tiny pendulum. His trembling hand caught it and he closed his eyes, saying a silent prayer. When he opened his eyes, the yellow and white flecked pants were back. A hand held out a glass of water, a token he accepted gratefully.

"Thanks," he managed, taking two thoughtful sips and using the last bit of water to splash onto his face.

"So what's the dream?" Jack offered, before taking a seat on the edge of his bed.

Danny wasn't going to reply at first, he wasn't sure he was ready to share the awful burden. Nightmares were for scared little kids, not adults carrying a badge. But like an invisible battering ram, the dream was breaking through his resistance. So despite himself, he found his voice.

"It's a storm on the sea, like nothing you've ever experienced. The sky is pitch black, the wind is like a hurricane and the oceans sending waves as high as buildings. There's this boat fighting hard to get through. It's so small and helpless; they toy with it, throwing it around. But it won't give up and it fights hard, then water starts pouring on the deck and it starts to sink. I can't help him... he's out there fighting alone, crippled and hurt. It's like I'm trapped in the ocean of Hell, Jack, it's so brutal and raw..." his raspy voice trailed off and he rolled the glass between his fingers, watching the tiny crystal drops clinging for life at the rim drop to their death.

"Danny, a lot of times the traumas you experience in life spill over into your dreams. You've been blaming yourself since yesterday morning for Martin's disappearance." He rose and held out his hand, taking the glass for a refill. "That's what that dream is about, you can't find Martin and you think he's looking for you. You feel helpless, you're both lost." He returned and handed a full glass over and wondered about the impassive mask before him. Save the eyes, which were full of sorrow and hopelessness, the face was now stoic. "It wasn't your fault, Danny, and once you realize that and accept it, those dreams will stop."

Danny considered the words and what was behind them. Jack Malone bled for his team; he'd do anything for them, including taking away guilt. He appreciated the concern he heard and the worry he saw in the dark eyes. He drained the water and swiped at a loose bit that dribbled from his lips. He nodded once, sending his full gratitude. "That's a nice theory, Jack but it doesn't hold water," he noted wryly, shaking the empty glass and putting it on the bedside table.

"How's that?" Jack inquired, wondering on the odd, dull, tone in the voice.

"I got home Friday night and I was in some serious pain. Between my jaw, tooth, the infection, Martin and me fighting, all of it... my head felt like a hatchet was buried in it. I crashed on my couch with the television on." He paused and bit his lip, swallowing hard. "That's when the dreams started. Always the same, over and over every time I closed my eyes, there was the storm and the damn boat. Sometimes there's another dream about a baseball stadium and I'm fighting hard to walk through this huge throng of people. They turn on me, I fall down and they're kicking and beating me, they take my clothes..." He shook his head and emitted several breaths of discontent. "Tonight, Jack, the dream changed. It wasn't a boat..."

Jack's brows drew together in deep concern when Danny's voice cracked. He saw the shadows there of the five day long battle. No wonder the ashen complexion and dark circles beneath the eyes were so prevalent. Fighting crime and enemies in a physical world was one thing. How do you fight your subconscious? What tools do you use?

"It was Martin. It was uh... the same waves I always see, just as the lightning snakes out and a big thunder explodes a huge wave crashes... but it's not the boat that's broken and taking on water, it's him." He paused to try to regain control. He ran his hand over his face and took several steadying breaths. "He's up to his neck and the water just comes and comes, into his mouth, nose, his eyes. Then he just sinks and it's only his hand reaching up... and then... nothing."

"Look, Danny," Jack began and was cut off.

"How can that be, Jack?" The lost, dark eyes pleaded with the older man." I didn't know he was missing until Monday. Why did the dreams start on Friday? What the fuck does it mean?"

"I don't know, Danny, I wish to God I could give you the right answer." He watched again as Danny 's face crossed in pain and he rubbed his eyes. "Time for your pills?"

"No," Danny answered in a voice beyond tired. He flicked a gaze to the digital clock, "Not for a couple hours yet."

"Could be talking about it helped. We're gonna have a full day ahead, why don't you get some sleep?"

"What for?" Danny sighed in defeat taking his weary body to the bathroom.

Jack shut the light off and lay back, wondering about Danny's odd experience. He didn't know a lot about psychic connections like this appeared to be. The lost boat had indeed been Martin who was helpless and broken somewhere. Could it be that the head injury had left him impaired? Did he think Danny was nearby and calling out to him? Jack wasn't sure how to help Danny. He turned his head when he heard the water go on. While Danny Taylor was trying to cleanse himself, Jack thought on the dream again. Could it be that as long as Danny suffered the dreams, Martin was still alive?

New York
9 a.m.

Brendan Gavin's height gave him a distinct advantage walking through the very crowded bus station. Vivian and Sam were also inside, looking for Brad Henderson and Heather McKenzie. The missing pair was suspected to be here, buying a ticket for North Carolina. One of Brad's friends had called him early this morning to say that he'd heard from Brad. The high school senior has requested a hundred dollars. Wisely, he told Brad he'd have to get back to him. He called the FBI first and they set up the meet through the young man. So, they were staking out the bus station waiting for the pair to show up to claim their money. He scanned the crowd again, his eyes slowly moving over the perimeter and back to where Steve Davis, Henderson's friend, was waiting. Sam's voice came through the radio link.

"Brendan, I have a visual. They're coming up the escalator. You should see them in a minute. I'm right behind them."

"Copy that, Sam." He paused and waited until the teenage pair was indeed appearing. "Got 'em."

He slowly made his way over to the bench where Davis was seated. Once the trio was together, he stepped up and introduced himself.

"What's going on?" Brad asked, glaring at Steve. "You did this? You called the cops?"

"You're damn straight I did," Steve lashed back. "She's only sixteen, Brad. How would you feel if it were your daughter? What if she never came home one night? What if something bad happens?"

"Nothing would have happened, I had it under control." Brad stepped back when a blonde agent stepped in front of him with a badge.

"Where were you going?"

"I don't have to tell you anything," Brad shot back.

"Oh, really?" Brendan scoffed, "Think again, Brad, she's a minor and she's missing. Right now, you're facing kidnapping charges and that's a federal crime."

"Kidnapping!" Heather found her voice finally. "I'm not kidnapped..."

"Running away won't solve the problem," Sam suggested to Heather, who she could see was the weaker one. "How far along are you?" She saw the girl's face blanch and then her head dropped.

"Three months," Heather choked, her eyes filling. "Brad has a friend who lives down there. He knows a doctor..."

"Look," Brendan suggested. "That's only one option. Your parents can help, you need to trust them. What did you think would happen when you didn't show up at school and didn't come home?"

"I don't know..." Brad's voice trailed off. "I would have thought of something."

"And what if there were complications, Brad?" Sam vented, glaring at him. "What if this 'so-called' doctor is a back alley quack? What if Heather hemorrhaged, or worse? "

"I'm sorry," Brad offered to Heather, taking her hand, "I guess I panicked. I think my folks will freak a little, but I'm sure we can work this out."

"Okay." She turned to the F.B.I agents. "Do my folks know?"

"All four of your parents were called this morning; they're on their way to our headquarters. Come on," Brendan said, leading them away.

Hartford, CT
1 p.m.

The bleak gray sky and gusty wind seemed a fitting backdrop to the day. The weary federal agents from New York were back at the train station, canvassing passengers and cabbies again. The Hartford PD was in the surrounding neighborhood, also looking for Martin or a witness. They knew that with every passing hour, the margin of finding Fitzgerald alive got smaller and smaller.

Jack shivered and eyed the busy street, full of the working crowd spilling out. There were so many side streets, buildings and possibilities that he worried they might never find Martin. Simmons and some of his men were at the landfill where the trash trucks took what they picked up on Saturday morning. Every time the phone rang, his heart clenched expecting Simmon's grim news. He was also worried about Danny. He was sullen, pale and full of fatigue. The nightly battles with the brutal nightmare were wearing him down. He watched as Taylor crossed the street, quickening his pace. Jack's dark eyes nar rowed and scrutinized the area. His troubled agent was making a beeline for a hot dog cart. Something told him he wasn't interested in the food. He left the doorway and jogged down the steps, heading for the same vendor.

"Taylor, FBI, New York," Danny announced, flashing his badge. The small man behind the vending truck was at his busiest. A long line of customers were waiting to order hot dogs, hot sausages, steak sandwiches, gyros and other selections. He ignored Danny and spoke in a Middle Eastern language or sorts to an equally small man next to him helping out. "Hey!" Danny growled, moving closer and shoving the badge into the man's face. "We can do this two ways, easy or hard. You can take a few minutes to cooperate or I'll have the health department shut down your roach coach, comprehende?"

"I know nothing!"

"License?" Danny wagged his fingers and the other man shifted nervously. "That's a violation right there..."

"Alright, alright!" the man protested, throwing his hands up. "Aman, you take over." He turned to the intense young agent and scowled. "I do not know anything."

"I haven't asked you anything yet!" Danny was angry and didn't hide his temper. He held out Martin's photo. "My partner is missing. He was mugged in that alley late Friday afternoon." Danny pointed across the street. "Some of the folks that work in the station told me you have the other side of the train station on Fridays and Saturdays. Is that right?"

"What difference does it make, I didn't see anything."

"You look at his picture and you think back to late Friday afternoon or early Friday evening. One of the ticket agents told me he bought a sandwich from you at nine o'clock. So I know you were there pretty late. If he stumbled out of the other end of that alley, he'd have to have walked right past you."

"I didn't see this man!"

He shoved the photo back and cursed, turning back to his customers. But Danny saw the other man's eyes darting and shifting like a rat caught in a trap. So he moved again, edging between the two of them and halting the discussion in a foreign tongue.

"You know it's rude to talk like that when I'm right in front of you. Speakk English!" Danny ordered. "Now I want to hear what you're hiding or you'll be slinging this shit back in your homeland."

"It was late and the snow it was falling hard and the wind was great, we were ready to close and he came out of the alley. I noticed because he walked right into the street he didn't turn and a car nearly hit him."

Danny gave the owner an evil glare and turned to the assistant, who had begun to speak rapidly and without a break. "What else did you see? Are you sure it was him?"

"Yes, he went right under the streetlamp. He was having trouble walking, staggering badly and holding his head. I don't think he could see too well, a couple more cars nearly hit him." He backed up a bit when the tall agent's eyes seemed to shoot fire.

"What exactly did you do?" Danny turned to the owner.

"I mind my business, that's what I do! I stay right here. I no get involved."

"Your business?" Danny shoved the man hard against the side of the cart, sending three bags of chips, four doughnuts and a pretzel to the ground. "I'm gonna make it my personal business to haul your ignorant ass into Immigration!"

"Danny," Jack warned, gripping the irate agent's shoulder and shoving him back.

He saw both hands were fisted and tiny flames sizzled in the dark eyes. He also saw pain there and knew the root canal was not two days past being treated. Between that pain and the lack of sleep and emotional turmoil, his young charge was spent.

"Look, I know your jaw is killing you and you didn't get much sleep. Go back to the hotel, take your meds and grab a nap-"

"I don't need a fuckin' babysitter!" Danny protested his eyes hot.

"Then stop acting like a child, or I'll have you on the next train to New York," Jack shot back. "You're no good to me, Martin, or this investigation dead on your feet and hurt. A few hours rest, the meds take their course, you eat and you'll feel better. We could have another long night ahead."

Danny walked away a few feet and tried to regain control. He envisioned Martin disoriented and woozy, staggering in a potentially dangerous part of town. He flipped open his phone and called Simmons to update him. As he hung up, he moved to the area where Martin was seen by the vendors. He followed the same path, his dark eyes carefully searching the street. Something caught his eye to the left in the gutter. A silver patch that reflected sun from a pile of snow. He squatted down and peered closer, probing it with his pen. He pulled out his cellphone and dialed Jack.

"Malone."

"Jack, can you dial Martin's phone?"

"His phone? Why?" He craned his neck to see where Taylor had gotten to. Frowning, he moved closer to the street and peered around.

"Just do it, okay?" Danny pressed, eyeing a pile of old vomit near the phone. He watched as in his mind's eye Martin fell to the ground. He'd staggered past the vendors and perhaps was trying to dial 911. It was dark and snowing, he was coming off a head injury. He fell to his knees to throw up and dropped the phone.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jack asked, standing over where Danny was kneeling next to a ringing cellphone.

"Huh?" Danny blinked as Martin's ghost vanished. He nodded to the phone. "It's his, that is too most likely."

"Yeah," Jack agreed, his gaze drifting between the vendor's cart and the alley. "He staggered out of that alley dazed and disoriented. Throwing up comes almost right away, he stopped to puke."

"I think maybe he had the phone in his hand when he went down. He was so sick and hurt he didn't realize he lost it."

"I'll call it in," Malone decided and hailed an approaching cab, "You get some rest."

You get anything more out of them?" Danny nodded to the vendors.

"He said he only saw Martin for a few moments, that it was snowing hard and dark. He claims he waited on his last customer and when he looked over again, Martin was gone."

"He's lying," Danny vented, angry and in pain. He made a weak attempt to get back at the vendor, but was thwarted by a pair of strong hands.

"We can't prove that, but at least we know that Martin made it out of the dumpster." Malone eyed the cabs and propelled his angry agent towards them.

"You know how many abandoned buildings are up that way?" Danny walked towards the door of the yellow cab. "We could look for weeks and not find him."

"Get some rest, I'll check in with you later."

Jack watched the cab drive away and shook his head. He worried what lasting effect it would have on Danny if Martin was found dead. He pulled out his phone and dialed Vivian.

"Johnson."

"Hey, Viv, how're things on the home front?"

"Quiet, we're catching up on paperwork. Anything new on Martin?"

"We have a witness, a vendor with a food cart on the back end of the alley. He saw Martin late on Friday night stagger out of the alley and into the storm. He said he appeared very confused and nearly walked into traffic. We found his cellphone in the gutter nearby."

"So he might be alive somewhere and hurt. How's Danny holding up?"

"He's not, he looks like shit. He's been having nightmares about Martin being missing and that damned tooth's nagging at him."

"He's blaming himself, I saw that yesterday."

"It's not his fault but if we don't find Martin alive, it's gonna be hard on him. I'll be in touch. You call if anything urgent comes up."

Jack eyed the path that the vendor saw Martin take and crossed the street. He began with the first building, which was occupied by an insurance company. He would distribute Martin's photo and check the alleys. Then proceed to the next building. Simmons called to update that he'd send some help to assist. He flicked a gaze to his watch and couldn't believe it was early afternoon. It had been a brutally long morning.

Hartford, CT
Tuesday, November 12, 2002, 2 p.m.

Martin blinked and squinted as daylight hit his eyes. He groaned and rolled over, coughing so hard, he nearly choked. Releasing the muck that was blocking his windpipe, he leaned heavily against the wall and sucked air nosily through his mouth. Daylight poured through the high windows above, causing his painful eyes to burn. It roamed around the dusty room and he frowned. The blanket moved to his waist when he sat up. Fingering it gently, he wondered where it came from. For that matter, he wondered where he was and why his head hurt so much. Setting out to explore proved difficult as he was very dizzy and hot. He rose, immediately grabbing the chair a few feet away when the room began to spin. Finally it leveled out and he walked slowly through the room. The other rooms were just as mysterious, nothing about the abandoned property was familiar to him. Martin spotted an empty container of juice sitting on top of a metal crate. Prying the lid open, his aching eyes were stunned to find food. He selected a sandwich, a potato and some juice. As he sat on the floor and ate his meal, he studied the name on the wrapper. He finished the meal with lemon pie and more juice.

Most of the food was wrapped in paper bearing the same name. Martin sighed hard and picked up a gray knapsack. It held some toiletries and other items. He assumed it was his, as was the food. But, the fact he couldn't remember worried him. His full bladder propelled him into the alley. As he urinated he spotted his reflection in the glass window. He studied the face hard, scrutinizing every feature. He didn't know the man in the glass. Completing his job, he cleaned up in the dirty snow and made his way cautiously to the end of a short alley. It was a small street without any traffic. The signs, buildings and landmarks were strange. He began to panic, his heart thundering in his chest. Where the hell was he? He wanted to explore more and find a clue but the short walk from the alley had taken his breath away. Why couldn't he breathe? Why did his chest feel so heavy? He was dizzy and hot, and his head was spitting open. He wanted to go up the street and find the answers to his qu estions, but he just couldn't do it. He turned slowly, watching in amazement as the whole alley tilted to one side. It seemed to take forever as he staggered, stumbled and fell into the little haven. By the time he got back to his blanket, he was soaked and gasping for air. He laid back and pulled his blanket up, his fevered and injured body succumbing quickly.

His sleep was tortured and filled with strange dreams about angry men with badges screaming at him. Some of them cornered him in a dark lot and beat him, giving him a harsh warning. Others chased him through a train station, causing more fear to explode. More strangers with badges appeared, a blonde woman and a dark skinned woman, their features spelling distrust. Then a face appeared in his torment, a young man with dark eyes and dark hair. Although the eyes were angry, shooting fire at him, he was relieved. He relaxed then and with that strong set of features protecting him, he finally rested. His lips formed the name he couldn't speak. He sighed once, letting his troubled breath drift on the chilly air. His fevered brain flashed him a name and he clung to it, holding on tight.

qqqDannyxxx

New York, Federal Bldg
3 p.m.

Vivian eyed the empty office which was eerily quiet. Even the techs were in the field this afternoon. She was returning from a short trip to the DEA's office on a lower level to drop off a file. She paused to get a mug of coffee and sat down at her desk. She was just about to get back to the paperwork for the McKenzie case, when her phone rang.

"Agent Johnson, can I help you?"

"Yeah, tell me this is a bad dream and my alarm is ready to go off."

"I wish I could, Jack. What's up? Anything new?"

"No," he replied, sitting down and resting his tired feet. "These older buildings have too many stairs. This is why I have Danny and Martin." He took a swig from a bottle of water and sat back. "Listen, Viv, have you heard from Victor or from his secretary?"

"No, I can check with Chris if you like. Maybe when you weren't here, they left word with another Supervisor."

"He'd have to know by now, his plane would have landed. I just don't need him on my ass right now. I want to make sure that message got through to him."

"I'll call Margaret and double check," she replied of Victor Fitzgerald's secretary. "I'll call you back, okay?"

Once Jack hung up, Vivian dialed Chris first but he had not heard from either the Deputy Director or his secretary. So she dialed Victor's office and spoke to Margaret, the executive secretary who'd been with Victor for years. She'd known Martin since he was little boy and was quite upset when he was reported missing.

"Hello, Margaret, it's Vivian Johnson, how are you?"

"Good, Vivian, is there news? Has Martin been found?"

"No, sorry," she winced at the anxious voice. "Jack was worried that Victor hadn't gotten the message. Can you confirm that for me?"

"I contacted the White House immediately on Monday morning when Agent Malone called. I spoke with the Director himself and he assured me he was going to contact Victor as soon as it was possible. I'm afraid their location is top secret, even I don't know where in the Orient this meeting is being held."

"I understand, Margaret. Could you call me as soon as you get word?"

"Certainly." Margaret hung up and dialed the White House Executive Offices and Rick Hamilton answered. He was the point of contact for the heads of agencies that were a part of the summit meeting.

"Rick Hamilton," he answered and sighed hard, throwing a pencil at the man across the room. "Yes, Margaret, I understand your concern. Believe me, everything is being done to contact the Deputy Director. I'm waiting for a call back now. I assure you everything is being done." He nodded and made a face to his office guest. "Yes, Margaret, I will contact you ASAP. Please don't worry, yes, okay. Goodbye."

He spun around in the leather chair and faced the man who only answered to the President himself. Herb Denmore had been in this job for more years than anyone could remember. He'd been through several changes in the Administration and was respected by all. Yet his job was not known to the outside world. "We're doing the right thing here?"

"Of course we are!" Denmore barked, his gray eyebrows drawing together. "Victor is a key member of this summit panel. We've been working on this meeting for months. If we tell him his only son has been missing for four days and presumed dead, it will ruin everything."

"I don't know, Herb, I don't like it. He's gonna chew my balls off when he finds out. What if the kid turns up dead? How do we keep that a secret?"

"They're in such a remote location that outside news will not be available. The only news they get comes from my office. As long as Fitzgerald is still missing, nothing changes. If his body is found, we'll keep it quiet." Still the pensive profile was not swayed. "This could mean advances in counter-terrorism that will change the course of world history. Potentially saving millions of lives makes it the right choice."

"What if it was your son?"

"It's not and this issue is not up for discussion. You're getting soft, Rick." Herb bristled and rose, pausing at the door. "Not a word, understood?"

"Yes sir," he answered, sliding the memo from Jack Malone back inside his top drawer and locking it.

Hartford,CT, Days Inn
4 p.m.

The storm raged on with such intensity it left the captive totally whipped and worn. He sagged against the invisible bonds holding him, his muscles aching. The wind was lashing his face so hard he could barely keep his eyes open. The waves were as tall as buildings, dwarfing all it their path. Through the driving rain and wind, his eyes continued to search.

There. There it was again. He didn't know whether to laugh or cry. His hopes were crushed by the inevitable outcome which was becoming more and more apparent. He was forced to witness the gruesome and macabre act. The single speck of pink was visible in the endless void of blackness, a battered body barely moving in the murky depths. Twice the pink speck disappeared, eaten by the greedy surf. But twice again it reappeared. Then the speck turned and faced him, beseeching him with eyes so blue and full of naked fear it ate him to the core. The gray lips parted, sending the call through the cavern of Hell.

"DANNY!"

He sat up so quickly, he nearly toppled off the bed. Panting hard, he shuddered several times and raked a shaky hand through his wet hair. He continued to breathe heavily and used the edge of the sheet to wipe his face. He made the mistake of looking at himself in the mirror on the cheesy dresser and flinched. He'd not shaven that morning and between the five o'clock shadow and the dark circles, he looked awful.

"Danny?"

"Huh?"

The disembodied voice came from the floor where the phone was lying. He must have knocked it down during the brutal dream. He pulled his legs over and bent down, retrieving the receiver.

"Hello?"

"Where the hell were you? I've been calling your name for close to two minutes."

"Sorry, Jack, I knocked the phone over, I didn't hear you." He scrubbed a hand over his weary features and suppressed a yawn. "What's up?"

"Be outside in five minutes." Jack eyed the intersection which was a couple of blocks from the hotel.

"Why?"

"We got a... well... I'll fill you in when I pick you up." Jack hung up and wondered how to tell Danny. It hadn't sunk in yet; he was still hoping that somehow they were wrong. "Jesus," he muttered when he saw Taylor. He looked rough. He pulled up and the harrowed body slid into the seat. "You look like you could haunt a house. You lose your razor?"

"GQ isn't up the road," Danny returned, then saw something in Jack's eyes that caused his already shrinking gut to grow as cold as ice. There was only one thing that he thought of and his head dropped. "No... no..."

"It might not be him," Jack answered the small voice. So small it hurt him to hear it, truly caused a gut ache. "Simmons called, the Port Authority found a body about ten miles from here. Male, twenty to thirty, Caucasian, same basic build."

"How?"

"He didn't say," Jack lied, not wishing to tell the already shaken Taylor the gruesome news he'd heard. "Look, the river is full of bodies, it might not be him."

Tim Simmons was on the pier when Malone and Taylor arrived. The sky had opened up, sending wet flakes onto them. He shoved his hands into his pockets to keep them warm and waited under both men were walking towards him. He jerked his head to the right, indicating the Coast Guard cutter that was moored there.

"Captain Danbury, this is Jack Malone and Danny Taylor, New York FBI."

"Gentlemen, I hope to God this isn't the young man you're looking for."

"Where is he?" Jack pressed, stepping onto the boat.

"What we found is over there."

Danny only saw the dark brown wavy hair visible from the top of the sheet and his stomach lurched. He gagged twice, swallowing the bile that rose. He stopped about five feet away, his legs not allowing him further. Then Jack squatted down and nodded and Captain Danbury pulled the sheet back.

Jack flinched and sucked in air, closing his eyes to the horrific corpse. The face was completely missing, only some brains and bits of bones were left. He took several deep breaths and prayed that his lunch wouldn't spill over into the empty space where Martin's face should be. He heard Danny gagging and turned just in time to see him throwing up over the side of the boat. This was the worst thing he'd been forced to witness since his mother's death.

"Any... uh... identification, clothes, jewelry?"

"No, sorry."

Then just as the Captain was about to pull the sheet back up, Jack noticed something. "Pull the sheet down to his waist." He sighed hard, closed his eyes and rose, casting his grateful gaze to the heavens. "It's some poor bastard, helluva way to go, but it's not Fitzgerald."

"You're sure?"

"The scars are wrong. That guy had his appendix out and a tattoo on his navel, that's not Martin. Plus Fitzgerald has a scar from a knife high up on his chest under the breast. I want confirmation as soon as the prints are run."

"Absolutely, I'm sorry I had to put you through this."

"Yeah," Jack nodded, turning back to find Danny. He was back on the pier, sitting on a cold, concrete bench huddled over. He wasn't sure how much more Danny could take.

Try as he might, Danny couldn't get the morbid sight of the faceless corpse from his head. The hairline was so similar and just seeing it peeking above the sheet caused a knife to shred what was left of his gut. He sipped the bottle of water one of the crew had given him and shivered. Against his will, his eyes were drawn to the boat in the water and that body on the deck. The wind kicked up and lifted the corpses brown hair, it caused him to shudder. Then a gentle hand was laid on his back. The warmth of the strong palm went right through him.

"Come on," Jack said softly, patiently waiting for the shaken soul to rise.

Twice as they were walking away, he saw Danny's eyes graze over to the corpse again. Danny never said a word all the way back to the hotel. He didn't utter a sound when they hit the coffee shop in the parking lot. He nodded mutely when Jack ordered soup and a turkey sandwich for him. Nearly zombie like, the hand moved to get the spoon to his slack lips. The bill was paid and they walked back to the room. Jack was returning from the bathroom when Danny finally spoke. The eyes were so haunted it stopped Jack in his tracks.

"I can't do that again, Jack." Genuine anguish shone clearly through his pained eyes. "I saw that hair, so much like his..."

"I know," Jack replied, "there's no easy way to ever get through it. Hopefully, we won't have to do that again. I hate to leave you, but I have to meet up with Simmons. I want you to stay here and get some sleep, you look like shit."

Danny was aware of Jack in the room for a moment then the bleak walls melted into a pitch black that he was all too familiar with. The black sky greeted him and the evil wind laughed in his face, sending him backwards. The sinister waves roared up and he fought to find a way to escape. The pink fleck appeared again, its blue eyes pleading with him.

He saw Danny's head moving in agreement but the eyes were empty. They were unblinking and trained on a spot far beyond the room. He shucked his coat on and waited, watching as the dark head cocked to one side and the eyes widened a bit. The anxious face then turned to him, eyes almost fever bright.

"He's not dead, Jack," Danny's voice found the first hope in days. "Don't you see? If he were dead the dreams would have stopped. He's not dead... he's not... He's out there somewhere; he's calling out to me."

"Yeah, okay, Danny." Jack frowned at the odd babbling. He was truly worried about Taylor's deteriorating state of mind. The normally healthy olive complexion was ashen and the eyes that were usually bright with mischief were dull and void. The stubbly beard seemed to fit the mood that cloaked him. His babbling about the dream and the false hope he connected it with were alarming. He was half tempted to send him home but Taylor would just come back on his own. At least this way, he could keep an eye on him.

Danny fell back onto the bed and surrendered. He didn't feel the blanket go up to cover him or the strong hand that momentarily gripped his shoulder. He didn't see the light turn off nor did he hear the lock turn as the door shut. He was battling through the storm, fighting the killer winds and devil's water. He was on a mission.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002
Eight a.m.

The sun finally came out, splitting the gray sky and gracing the two working agents with a smile. Jack parked the car and got out, watching Danny with a guarded eye. He'd returned at midnight and saw two empty coke cans and the sandwich that had not been eaten at dinner had been consumed. Danny slept through the night, although Jack had to wake him up twice to stop the screaming. He'd declined breakfast, choosing only coffee. Jack couldn't talk him into eating, but Danny agreed to eat later. The area they were going to cover was vast. Shops, restaurants and small businesses spread out east and west along a lengthy stretch of road.

"We'll split up, we'll save time," Jack decided. "You cover that area, I'll take this side. You check in every half hour."

"Yeah, okay." Danny zipped his coat up and shoved his glasses on.

"Danny, you eat something. You already look like you got one foot in the grave."

"Yes, mom," Danny chided, walking across the street toward the corner where his trek would begin.

Two hours later, he finally gave into his growling stomach. Danny checked in with Jack and then headed for the cafe. The morning sun was strong and since the only available seat was in the smoking section, he opted to eat outside. He got a stack of pancakes, sausage and some hash browns, along with a hot coffee and a blueberry muffin. They packed the order into a large Styrofoam container with a snap on lid. He gathered up utensils and napkins and headed outside.

He had only eaten half of the first pancake and a single sausage when he saw a Coast Guard Officer exit the restaurant. He immediately thought of the body on the deck, with the wavy brown hair blowing in the breeze. His stomach soured and he shoved the food away. Where the hell could Martin be? Why couldn't they find him? What if he was wrong about the dream? What if Martin was already dead? What if the next time the sheet got pulled back, it was lifeless blue eyes peering up at him.

"Shit!" he hissed, snapping the lid down and deciding his stomach would just hurl the food back. He decided to move on, continuing the search for his missing partner. The outside area was crowded as was the sidewalk beyond which was near a bus stop. He skirted the tables and left the nearly full container on the top of a metal, green, trash can. Patting his belt, he realized he'd left his cellphone on the small table where he'd been sitting. He jogged back.

Martin turned the corner and saw a white container of food on a trash can. He could see steam coming from the lid and couldn't believe his luck. He'd managed to leave his safe place and get all the way down here. He'd eaten the last of his food the night before and needed to refuel. He was so weak and sick; he didn't have the strength to go much further. He staggered to the fence and leaned over a bush to reach the trashcan then lifted the lid. His mouth watered and his fevered eyes glazed over. He looked around to see if anyone was looking.

Danny had just clipped his phone to his belt when he saw a reflection in the glass window of the cafe. He dropped the cup back onto the table and his jaw dropped. His heart began to hammer and his throat went dry. For a few seconds, time stood absolutely still, even the birds didn't dare chirp. There staring back at him in the glass was the one face that had haunted him for days. A light beard and mustache covered the fair features but he knew those eyes anywhere.

He turned around slowly, the only sound he heard was his heart beating like a drum in his ears. Blood rushed to his head and he nearly got giddy. There he was, across the property from the coffee shop on the other side of a fence. He'd leaned over to reach across the fence and a small bush to get the food. His clothes were ragged and filthy and he was dirty. But he was alive and no more than sixty feet away.

Blue eyes met brown.

Danny's lips parted and his euphoria spilled over in a loud cry.

"Hey!"

Part Eight

Startled, Martin dropped the box and stumbled backwards, holding his right hand in front of his face protectively. A tall man with a semi-bearded face was hollering at him. His brain was flashing signals of danger and a different picture of the same man. He was angry and the dark eyes were full of loathing which was directed at him. There was no mistaking those eyes or the object of his distress. The fearful soul shook his head and pointed to the food, offering an apology with frantic eyes. He continued to back away, half crouched over and shielding himself.'

"No, Martin, wait," Danny hollered through the crowded cafe patio where those dining were blocking his path. "Get out of the way! Move, F.B.I," he ordered, flashing his badge to try to find a path. He skirted the fence line, hissing in annoyance at the length of it. Finally, he saw the edge of the bushes dip down and an opening.

F.B.I.

That was worse than police, a whole new kind of badge. Martin's eyes caught the glint of the metal on the badge held high above the crowd. The badge seemed to grow, until its radiance nearly blinded him. His fevered mind wouldn't allow for any thoughts but of escape. He shoved through the line of people waiting for the bus, ignoring their disgusted comments. Overeager and not thinking clearly, he ran around the crowd in front of the bus towards the street.

"NO! MARTIN! THERE'S CARS COMING!"

Danny's screams split the air when he saw Martin run into traffic without looking. The screeching of brakes caused him to jerk and suck his breath in, but there was no thud, just a lot of angry horns. So intent was he on getting to the missing man, he didn't see the curb and went flying, landing hard on his hands and knees.

"Shit... shit..." He scrambled, rising to his feet. Just as he tried to cross the street, the bus pulled in front of him. "NO!" he screamed, holding up his badge but the driver didn't see him. "MARTIN! MARTIN!"

By the time the bus moved he had halted traffic, running quickly across four lanes. His eyes were like lasers, splitting the entire area leaving scorch marks in their wake. He flew down the street, searching every face and body in front of him. He paused at the corner where several streets intersected. Gasping for air, he eyed the many streets and side streets cutting into the main ones. He did several slow circles in place, seeking the fleeing Fitzgerald.

"Fuck!"

He was gone. Danny kicked the fire hydrant and scowled. He got out his notepad and immediately began to write down as much about how Martin looked as he could recall. He wanted to get it fresh. He eyed the kid on the corner selling papers and went over, holding up Martin's photo.

"Did you see this guy run by here?"

"I dunno, Mister, there're lots of people walking by. I don't know..."

"Great," Danny muttered, pulling out his cellphone.

"Malone."

"Jack, I found Martin! Hegotawaybutitwasdefinatelyhimandhe..."

"Danny? I can't understand you, slow down!" Malone ordered as he cupped the phone closer to his ear.

"...rightinfrontofabusbutitdidn'thithimatleast..."

"DANNY! DANNY!" He screamed so loud it did cause the unending stream of babble to cease its frantic motion. "Where are you?" Malone nodded and eyed the street. "You wait right there, I'll be there in five minutes."

He saw Danny pacing the short width of the very crowded sidewalk, disrupting the people trying to walk past. He seemed unaware of them and his eyes were bright with an unholy fervor. Jack jogged up to him and grabbed his shoulder. He steered Taylor to the side street and sat him down on a short, half cement wall next to a bakery.

"That's why he never called us, Jack, or got help. He's living on the street," Danny voiced of the theory he'd been working over in his head.

"Start from the beginning, Danny. Where did you see this man?"

"This man!" Taylor stood up and directed a hot glare at his boss. "Didn't you hear me? It was Martin!" He pointed to the cafe down the block. "Right on the sidewalk by the bus. I looked right at him! He saw me, Jack and he ran."

"Okay, you were inside the cafe and it was crowded. You're exhausted and it's possible that someone outside caught your eye and by the time you got there, he was gone."

"I'm not crazy!" Danny seethed, grabbing both of Malone's shoulders. "Fuckin' listen to me, Jack! It was Martin. You think I don't know those eyes by know? They've been haunting me all week. I threw a container of food on top of the trash can. He reached over a bush and a fence to grab at it. That's when I saw him and yelled at him."

"Alright, alright," Malone placated, wondering if it really was Martin or if his agent was exhausted and seeing things. Then the arms dropped and Danny slumped a bit, his head drooped, clearly upset.

"He dropped the food," Danny rasped painfully, seeing the fearful face again. He turned his woeful eyes at Malone. "He was terrified of me, Jack. He cowered...shit he turtled up. To me, Jack, he turtled up." He saw the questioning eyes bear on him. "Look, it's no secret I don't like the guy and the feeling's mutual. But's he's got attitude, he wasn't shy about gettin' in my face all the time. He wouldn't cower, it's not in his makeup. Shit, he'd like to think his balls are the size of Texas. You need that to survive on the streets, Jack." He sighed hard and shook his head, still seeing the wide, blue eyes full of fear. "What the fuck...."

"What happened next?" Malone pressed, trying to get his rattled partner composed again.

"He ran right in front of a bus and into traffic, damn near gave me a heart attack. I heard the brakes screeching but he got through okay. The bus pulled out just as I was tryin' to follow and by the time I got across the street, he was gone." He took a deep breath, shook off the jitters and put on his game face. "He's out there somewhere, Jack. Alone, cold, hurt, hungry..." his voice trailed off momentarily and then he found resolve. "And I'm gonna find him."

Before Jack had a chance to reply, his cell phone rang. He watched Danny peering up and down the streets, sizing up the buildings. It was as if he was drawing a mental map of the area and paring it down to where his lost partner would hide.

"Malone."

"Jack?" Tim Simmons got in his car and turned the motor on. "We got a lead. A patrolman named Davis positively identified Martin. Davis was off Monday and Tuesday, they showed Martin's photo at roll call and he spoke up." "Where? Where did he see Martin?" Jack's question brought Taylor over, his dark eyes darting and searching for the reply as well.

"On Sunday night in a shelter for men, Holy Cross. He's gonna meet us there." Simmons listened as Malone updated him on what Taylor had seen.

Danny watched Jack nodding and signing off. "What?"

"We gotta get the car. A cop named Davis ID'd Martin during roll call today when they showed his photo. He says he's living at a shelter for men named Holy Cross. At least he was on Sunday when he met him."

"That's why we haven't found him, why he never called in," Danny noted, keeping pace with Jack's long strides. "He's homeless. He was bearded and dirty; his clothes were too big and filthy. He's on the street. What the hell happened to him?"

"Well," Jack surmised, adding up the clues. "If Thomson popped him hard enough, he might have amnesia or some other head injury."

"Even so," Danny countered, "Why wouldn't he go to the police or get help? If he was as bad off as that vendor said he was, he had to be hurt."

"I don't know, Danny." Jack paused at the street for red light. He turned to Taylor and caught the worried eyes. "But, he's alive and for now that's enough."

Martin didn't stop until he was safely back inside his haven and collapsed heavily onto the floor, wheezing badly. He rolled onto his back, pulling his blurry eyes open unnaturally wide as sweat poured freely, covering him in an uncomfortable wet cloak. He couldn't seem to regain his breath and his chest hurt. The angry man with dark eyes appeared in his mind again. Those three letters and the badge caused him to wince

F.B.I.

That was a whole new kind of badge. Government men... agents with no mercy... serious business that kept you in prison for a long time. F.B.I.? What could they want with him?

That was bad news, big time trouble. What kind of mess was he involved in? Was that why his nightmares were full of cops with hard eyes? Was that why he knew it was dangerous to seek them out? If the government was involved it had to be a serious crime. Murder? He began to choke and rolled over, coughing hard enough to bring tears. Stars danced before his face at a dizzying pace. His head exploded in pain then and the room began to fade away. His eyes rolled back and he passed out, taking the new found fears into his subconscious.

Hartford, Holy Cross Shelter
Wednesday, Noon

Simmons was waiting for them outside when they pulled up. Jack exited the vehicle and walked towards the fair-haired young man.

"They're gonna run Fitzgerald's photo on the noon news. If anyone else has seen him, we should get some calls pretty quick. The priest that runs the place is Father Joe Masiak, he's inside."

"Okay, good," Jack noted of the use of Martin's image.

"I saw him outside a cafe south of here," Danny updated, "You need to send some men down there."

"Jack mentioned that." Simmons paused at the side door that led into the kitchen. "He didn't spot you?"

"He did and he ran away. He's got a beard and his clothes weren't the ones I last saw him in, but it was Martin. We know he's got a head injury, he might have memory issues." Danny flipped his notes open and ripped the page out. "I wrote it down."

"Alright," Simmons read the description and pulled his phone out.

"Good Morning, gentlemen."

All three paused when the door opened and a priest stepped outside to greet them.

"I'm Father Masiak, I run this shelter. I understand you are inquiring about a young man that stayed with us over the weekend, a missing agent?"

"When did you find him?" Jack asked.

"Right there," Father Joe pointed to the trash cans next to them, "early on Saturday morning. It was about six am or so, I was leaving to serve Mass nearby. He was curled up trying to keep warm, he was covered in snow. I went over to greet him, to help him but he shied away. That's when young Juan came outside."

"Alright, what next?" Jack asked as they followed the priest inside.

"Juan and Boomer," Father Joe paused and waited for the three men to enter, then closed the door, "work with me here. Officer Davis went to get them; they're in the other room. He seemed to trust Juan, he kept staring at him."

"He looked right at me, like he was trying to study my face."

The three federal agents looked up when the young Hispanic male who had spoken approached. A few feet behind him were an older black male and a policeman.

"Juan, these men are from the F.B.I," Father Joe noted, "they've come to ask us about young Danny."

"Danny?" Taylor echoed in a startled tone, looking at the priest sharply. "His name is Martin. Martin Fitzgerald."

"When I got to him outside, he was scared and hurt, he was afraid of the Padre. But I knelt down to talk to him and he kept staring at me. We were asking him his name and he grabbed my arm and before he passed out, I thought he tried to whisper 'Danny'. But since he can't talk, I guess I was wrong."

"What do you mean he can't talk?" Jack quizzed, his voice matched the puzzled expression Taylor wore.

"He didn't talk the whole time he was here," Boomer replied, "not with words anyhow. But that temper of us kept his eyes busy. He's a stubborn one, sure enough."

"Yeah," Danny rasped painfully. The portrait of his missing partner injured and freezing in the snow calling for him was a lot to bear. "Martin's got a good temper and he's like a pit bull"

"But he never spoke? Not a word?" Jack repeated. "That's odd."

"He was very sick, most likely the flu. Feverish, throwing up, very congested," the priest recalled.

"Yeah and somebody worked him over good. His neck was so bruised you could see the hand marks." Juan paused when the young F.B.I. agent closed his eyes and swayed a bit. "Hey, man, you okay?"

"Danny, sit down before you fall down," Jack commanded, grabbing the shaken man. To his surprise, Taylor didn't argue. He allowed Jack to steer him to the table and sat down.

"Danny?" Father Joe eyed the shaken young man who looked like he was one step past exhaustion.

"Martin's partner, Danny Taylor," Jack said.

"Well, that clears up that mystery." Father Joe eyed the young agent and Juan.

"Yeah," Jack agreed, seeing the priest's eyes move and understanding their motive. "When you found Martin in that alley, he was in bad shape and had at least one head injury. You mentioned a fever, too. He was passing out and saw Juan's face. He was calling out for his partner."

"Me and Boomer got him inside and got the rags off of him. They were filthy and worn, covered in blood, puke and shit," Juan recalled.

"Rags?" Danny injected, thinking of the expensive leather jacket and cashmere sweater.

"Can you describe them?" When Juan finished giving them a description of the garments, Danny shook his head slowly and turned to Jack. "Somebody else rolled him, Jack, between the train station and here"

"It wouldn't be hard, given he was dead on his feet." Malone turned back to the priest. "How badly was he hurt? Did you find any other injuries? Blood loss or anything?"

"Just a cut on his eye. He was beat up good, his chest and lower back were covered in bruises, some new and some not so new," Boomer updated.

"Not so new?" Jack mused, thinking on the state he found Martin at the parking garage on Thursday night.

"But the marks on this throat, they were rough. Somebody tried to ice him," Juan stated, curling his fist. "That fuckin' Petruzzo, I got half a mind to go and teach him some manners."

"Juan!"

"Sorry, Padre," Juan replied to the harsh call of his name. "I didn't mean to curse. But I'm not sorry for my intent. That piece of scum..."

"It's not your fault," Father Joe placated. "You had no way of knowing he'd leave us Sunday night.

"What happened Sunday night?" Jack asked. "And who's Petruzzo?"

"Let me give you a brief summary," the priest replied. "Saturday Danny... I mean Martin... slept most of the day. He was very ill, feverish, throwing up and suffering from headaches. We all tried to keep some fluids in him, broth and tea. Sunday he seemed a bit stronger, but clearly very weak. He was quite disturbed by the fact that he couldn't recall who he was."

"Amnesia," Danny voiced, clearly upset. "That sucks. No wonder I scared him."

"He kept staring in the mirrors, touching the glass," Juan noted sadly. "I felt awful for him. The path where he came from, it's bad news, like the dead zone. All kinds of abandoned buildings and loaded with drug dealers."

"Great," Jack sighed. "You think this throat injury was the reason he couldn't talk?"

"No, I don't," Juan answered "It's just a gut feeling but he seemed confused and upset that he couldn't speak, like it really shocked him. I think something else is causing that... maybe."

"I thought he wasn't from the streets," Boomer mused, "His hands were too smooth and he had an expensive haircut. So, we kinda figured maybe he was a buyer who got jumped back there."

"Not all of us," Juan defended of his silent friend.

"So what happened on Sunday night?" Jack asked and listened as the priest told of the prowler and how Martin subdued him.

"The witness, an old guy who lives here, called him 'Kojak'," Officer Davis spoke up, flipping through his notes. "The guy had fifty pounds and a few inches on him, but he handled him without issue."

"His training took over," Jack answered.

"He got real shaky, like the room was too small. I didn't want him keeling over, so I hustled him out of there." Juan updated. " I was trying to get him back to his cot. He spotted the cops arrive through the window and it shook up him good."

"Shook him up?" Jack asked Juan who was speaking.

"He was terrified, scared to death, it really rattled him."

"Terrified of the cops?" Danny frowned, "What the hell..."

"He started rubbing his throat, eyeing up one cop... well not a real one." Juan's face screwed up in disgust. "That maggot-eatin', pile of shit went too far this time."

"Would this be Petruzzo?" Jack guessed and saw the rage in the young Latino's eyes.

"He's the one who put them marks there, I'd bet on it," Juan vented, "Danny was really frightened."

"He's bad news," Davis agreed. "He's a security guard who works for a small department store a few blocks from here. He's got a history with the homeless, he doesn't like them. I brought him over to ID the guy your man caught. We've had a string of break-ins in the area and the store he works for was one of them."

"Did Martin confront Petruzzo?" Jack asked.

"No, I kept him back here," Juan said, his voice dropping in tones of dejection. "I looked right at them blue eyes of his and gave him my word I'd watch his back."

"It's not your fault," Father Joe addressed the annoyed huff of air that followed.

"The hell it isn't!" Juan raged, "I promised him... now he's gone and who knows if Petruzzo found him out there. He might be dead by now."

"No, no he's alive," Danny spoke up, "I saw him not an hour ago by a cafe. All of this doesn't explain why he's so afraid of the police."

"I want you to know Agent Malone," the priest interjected, "that I tried to get him to go to the police. We felt he wasn't from this area and perhaps in trouble. But the thought scared him so much, it caused horrendous head pain. Sometimes he'd pass out. I was going to report it on Monday, but he left during the night. I'm so sorry."

"It's okay, Father," Malone nodded, "you took him in, clothed him, sheltered him, took care of him. He might have died out there."

"We found this on Monday morning."

Jack took the note from the priest and scanned it, then handed it to Taylor.

"I have to leave; it's not safe here anymore. I took some food and water; I will pay you back one day if I can. Thanks for taking care of me. That cross on your roof really was a beacon for me. Your friend, D...Dan..ny."

Danny handed it back and rose, walking to the window. The conversation between the others gradually turned to buzzing sounds. He went back outside and stood by the area where Martin had been found. He 'saw' the body covered in snow, huddling from the cold. The expressive blue eyes bruised and frightened. He thought of the extensive bruises and the mangled throat and felt the fire inside flare up.

Turning away, Danny eyed the back path indicated by the workers in the shelter. He walked to the end of the alley and looked down the street. Tall, older buildings with broken windows seemed to mock him. He saw scattered groups of what appeared to be homeless men lurking in the shadows. He envisioned his dazed partner, stumbling blindly in a snowstorm. Coldness filled him then, as he recalled his own days on the street. He knew all too well what happened to fresh meat when it was thrust into their world. Martin was lucky the only thing stolen were his clothes.

"Shit..." he rasped, swallowing hard when a vision of Martin nearly naked, being beaten by a pack of the violent men and left in the snow came to mind. Then another face rose up, one that might have the key to this mystery.

"Hey Malone?" Simmons called out from the doorway. "You didn't send Taylor to the car did you?"

"No, why?" Jack asked, joining the other detective.

"Because he's not here." Simmons exited the building with Malone in tow. "I got a feeling that hotheaded agent of yours went hunting bear."

"A bear named Petruzzo," Malone hissed, turning the corner and seeing Taylor's tall form heading for the building in question. "Stupid, stubborn..." he cursed as his call to the driven agent went unanswered.

Claire Lassiter was leaving work early to get home to let contractors in her house. She was late and rushing when she attempted to exit the front door of the store. The next thing she knew she was sprawled on the floor with a rough looking Hispanic man bending over her.

"What's wrong with you!"

"I'm sorry," Danny apologized, attempting to help the middle-aged, stocky, blonde woman up. "I was in a hurry. I should have been more careful."

"As if I wasn't late enough," she replied in a very annoyed tone. "You young people today don't have any sense." She dusted herself off and frowned at the man. His unshaven and unkempt face and hair told her all she needed to know. The wrinkled clothes only added to it. "Or the right end of a bar of soap." She turned away, heading for the door as her cellphone rang. "Charley? I'm running late. I was knocked down by a scruffy hooligan."

"Hooligan?" Danny muttered, making a sour face and turning away, seeking the security office.

The security office was down in the basement of the building. There was a small medical office, restrooms and a discount area with some sad and outdated merchandise with red tags. Danny walked through the narrow aisles between a crushed velvet sofa and a several shabby entertainment centers. He eyed the area ahead and saw a black sign above a half-window. As he approached, he spotted three guards finishing their lunch. Two were on their feet; the third was in front of a bank of monitors, each showing various floors of the store. They looked up when he approached the window under the sign.

"Taylor, F.B.I., New York," he announced, eyeing the two near the side door. One was a slim black male, the other a muscular guy, sandy haired and mustached with a nasty look on his face. Danny knew before he spotted the name tag. "I'm looking for a guard named Petruzzo."

"I'm Nick Petruzzo."

"Yeah," Danny chuffed, nodding his head sideways. "Can you come out here where we can talk?"

"What about?" Petruzzo never moved. He didn't like the way the guy was looking at him.

"About you doing twenty in the Federal Pen for assaulting a federal agent," Danny shot back, "and that's just for starters."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Petruzzo raged, his face turning red. "You can't come here in front of coworkers and spew shit like that. Assault? You're not only off your rocker but you just bought yourself a law suit," He paused and leered, "Amigo."

Before the growl had fully emerged from Danny's throat, a hand grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back.

"Malone, F.B.I.," Jack announced, "Easy or hard, your call."

"Hey, I got nothing to hide," Petruzzo shot back.

"Good, then this won't take long." Jack wagged his finger and the reluctant guard emerged from the small office. He turned to Simmons and nodded at the guards. "Tim, run Martin's photo by those others, see if anyone has seen him. Could be the employees use the parking lot out back and he might have been lingering there." "What's this about?" Petruzzo demanded.

"Have you seen this man?" Jack handed the photo over and it was thrust back at him.

"No."

"I suggest you look again and be aware that this is man has been missing since last weekend. He was mugged on Friday night. It would have been late, during the snow storm."

Petruzzo scowled and took the photo again, letting out a very long and annoyed exhalation. He frowned, narrowed his eyes and studied the face carefully. He thought back to Friday night and where he would have been during the storm. He was patrolling the alley between the building and the path to the parking lot. The lights overhead weren't working and it was dark. He was checking to make sure that all of the employees cars were gone for the night. It was cold outside and he was anxious to get back inside.

"Yeah... yeah...I remember now. I was coming back from checking the employees lot and it was dark, hard to see. It was sometime after one a.m. I'd guess. He came staggering out of nowhere, hitting trashcans and falling all over the place. I pegged him for a wino..."

"He's a missing federal agent you missing link," Danny snarled as Jack's arm moved across his chest automatically preventing any movement.

"Look, I tried to get him on his feet and shove him back on the street. He started to flip out. I didn't want him to grab my gun so I had to protect myself. He was nuts."

"Nuts?" Danny vented, shoving Malone's arm aside, stepping in close and grabbing the guard's collar. "I think we'd all like to see yours. How about if I separate them from that chicken dick you got?"

"Danny!" Jack warned and stepped closer, eyeing the guard. "Were you wearing your coat?"

"Yeah, why?" Petruzzo replied.

"Is your badge visible?" Malone prodded and the guard nodded.

"Yeah, it's pinned to my jacket."

Jack recalled the witnesses statements at the shelter regarding Martin's fear of the police; more specifically men with badges. Had this guard assaulted Martin? Was that what was lingering in his confused and injured mind? Or was there another missing piece? He gave Taylor a dark look and the younger agent released his death grip.

"What happened next?" Jack asked.

"Look, like I said, he was stumbling all over, coughing hard, like he was puking. I flashed my light on him, I thought he was drunk, his eyes were all wild and he was acting crazy. He couldn't seem to stand up; he kept coughing up shit..."

"He was hurt, you sick freak!" Danny lunged, pinning the startled guard against the wall. "Did it ever occur to you to help him?"

"Danny," Jack warned, using a tone that indicated how dangerous his actions were.

"What the hell did you do to him?" Danny demanded, releasing his hold.

"Nothing," Petruzzo lied, sweat forming on his brow. As vocal as the wilder younger agent was being, the older one was scarier.

"Listen, you lying sack of shit," Jack hissed, jabbing his index finger hard into the guard's shoulder, "I'm tired of fuckin' around. You want miserable? I can make your life a living hell. This man you encountered is a missing federal agent who was assaulted. Beyond the fact that you don't have the qualifications to make a decision on his sobriety or not, you should have gotten him help. If you had done your job, he wouldn't be missing. Now, I'm gonna ask you one more time and don't think about lying to me, understood? What exactly did you do to him?"

Petruzzo sighed hard, his breath coming out in quivers. He licked his dry lips as the F.B.I. agent backed off but the intense dark eyes were burning a hole in him. He nodded once, rubbed his chin and recalled the night in question.

Friday night
One thirty a.m.

Nick Petruzzo scowled as he navigated the icy path in-between the two buildings. At the far end was the employees lot. He had to check to make sure it was empty and notify the maintenance crew to come in early to salt and plow the snowy surface. Two of the overhead street lights were out and it made the road ahead very dark. He flashed a light over the large lot and nodded in satisfaction. Radioing base, he retraced his steps. Just as he was about to turn the corner to reenter the building a stranger staggered towards him.

"Yo, buddy, watch where you're going!"

Martin blinked and swayed, trying to figure out which of the two men in black had spoken to him. He staggered sideways, trying desperately to remain on his feet and ended skidding badly into a group of metal trashcans. He went down hard, coughing up some muck into the slushy snow.

"Listen you fuckin' drunk, I ain't cleanin' up your shit. You puke there, you're gonna have to either clean it or eat it," Petruzzo warned as a single hand came up. He recoiled as a long line of greenish phlegm ran from the corner of the guy's lip past his chin. Remnants of what might have been a meal clung to the filthy coat he wore, as well as urine and shit all over the holy pants.

Martin was wheezing badly, trying hard not to pass out. Every breath was an effort and his head was splitting in half. He couldn't think clearly and he ached all over. Something was very wrong and he needed help. He grabbed at the end of the arm within his blurry vision. His tongue seemed too big for his mouth and tripped all over the place, turning his words into guttural grunts.

"Pu...lu...ss... hu...p... pu...lus.. hup..." His call for help was punctuated by a coughing fit that send vomit onto the other man's feet.

"I warned you!" Petruzzo yelled and grabbed the flailing arm. He hauled up the dazed man and shoved him hard into the wall. The body bounced back and began to fall. Then as he went to grab him again, the slim man fought back.

Martin saw the badge then, the silver points seemed to drive right into the base of his skull. Red letters flashed before him warning of danger. The voice was mean and the brutish hands had hurt him. He felt the evil hand on him again and turned around. He used what little strength he could gather and shoved hard. Grunting and growling, he missed his target and went flying haphazardly into the trash cans again. Then a bright light hit his eyes and it felt like a flaming arrow was piercing his brain. He tried to turn away, blinking and moaning, grabbing at the man to stop the light. The pain was unbearable.

"No... no... no... huts... pl...uz... no..."

"What's wrong freak? Don't you like my flashlight?" Petruzzo toyed, shining the light at the frantic soul clawing at air. Then the struggling figure made a desperate lunge at him and landed flat on his stomach. "Looks like you need some help..."

Jack finished his notes and stared hard at Petruzzo. Despite the fact he had no doubt this man did indeed harbor resentment towards the homeless, Jack knew he was telling the truth. Was Martin acting of turn because he saw the badge? Or was his fear developed after the altercation? What happened in the missing hours in between? And when did the strangulation occur? What could have prompted something that deadly?

"He spoke to you?" Danny asked, barely containing his anger. He wanted to beat the snot of the bully. He'd known far too many men like this and knew exactly how terrified Martin must have been.

"Slurred stuff, not real words."

"Okay, we're leaving copies of his photo. He was seen this afternoon near a cafe a few miles from here. If you spot him again, you call me, understand?"

"Yeah."

"One more thing," Jack issued, in his trademark lethal Malone tone, "You better starting practicing 'Would you like that supersized' because once my report goes in, that's about the only job your sorry fuckin' ass will be working."

"Look, I'm sorry, I didn't know."

"Jack, I think you should see this," Simmons interrupted and pulled out his handcuffs.

"What the hell's going on?" Petruzzo asked and then grew pale.

Far beyond the desk, Malone was peering at a monitor with a grainy image. Petruzzo was aware of his rights being read and cuffs being applied. Then he heard the younger agent's raging voice and he backed up, glad that the sandy haired agent who'd arrested him was between them.

"Don't hurt me!" he whined.

"You sick fuckin' animal!" Danny lunged at Petruzzo but Simmons shoved him through the door back into the security office and turned back.

"He's done, Danny, the tape is enough, don't give his lawyers ammunition. That won't help Fitzgerald."

"Play it again," Jack told the guard.

He leaned over and studied the image. It was from a security camera on the other building. It showed the front of the store on the right and the alley and the edge of a building. Just as the guard's shadow appeared in the center, Martin staggered from the left. He watched as the rest played out, Martin stumbling and falling several times, throwing up and twice reaching up for help. The second time he saw Martin's lips moving, eyes pleading for help. The hand was slapped hard by a nightstick. Martin was thrown into the wall and tried to fight back, but missed, ending up falling back into the metal cans. Then the guard could be seen laughing, flashing the light into Martin's eyes. The head injury clearly was causing Martin severe pain and the light must have hurt like hell. Every time Martin tried to duck away, Petruzzo forced the light into his eyes again. Then Martin turned away, trying to escape and ending up on his stomach.

Petruzzo paled even more and felt his bladder nearly empty when Jack Malone's cold eyes met his across the room. He began to squirm in his chair, sweat rolling down his face. His mouth went dry and the room seemed to grow smaller.

Danny moved behind Jack and watched again, as Petruzzo began to kick Martin hard in the backside and between the legs. Twice Martin rolled over and tried to get away, actually getting to his feet. Then the guard's baton came down, hitting his lower back. Martin's eyes went wide with pain and he fell over the trash can. The guard came up from behind, grabbed him by the back of the coat collar and dragged him back up the alley into the dark. Several moments later the guard reappeared, tapping the nightstick into his palm and entering the building. Martin never reappeared.

"You twisted freak," Danny snarled. "You don't got the right to pass judgment on the homeless. He was sick, hurt, looking for help and you beat him like a dog. You're lucky I have this badge..."

"You got a room where you frisk the shoplifters?" Jack asked the guard by the monitor but his lethal gaze was fixed on Petruzzo.

"Yeah, two doors back, why?"

"I have some additional questions for the suspect," Jack noted, taking his coat off. He kept his gaze fixed on the squirming worm in the chair.

Danny took Jack's coat and then the watch and wedding ring. He flicked a gaze to Petruzzo who was melting into matter on the chair. Jack rolled his sleeves up and slowly walked towards the prisoner.

"Hey, listen, I don't know if this is a good idea," the guard at the desk noted.

"Oh, you don't think so?" Jack turned and used a sing song voice then it grew hard, "I don't give flying rat's ass what you think. You take your Mickey Mouse badge and shove it." He joined his hands together and cracked his knuckles several times, then began to flex his fists.

"No... no... you can't let him do this..." Petruzzo babbled when Simmons hauled him from the chair and shoved him towards the second door.

"Give me about ten minutes," Jack said.

Petruzzo went to his knees just as the sweet scent of urine filled the small room. He didn't care about the puddle between his legs. He couldn't take his eyes off the blackest eyes he'd ever seen. He cowered then, curling into the wall and holding his cuffed hands in front of him.

"I swear I didn't hurt him...I just had some fun with him."

"Fun? I like fun," Jack parroted. "How about I show you my idea of fun?" He paused, towering over the quivering mass. "How about if I take you into that alley and try to choke you to death."

"What? No, I didn't use my hands, I never choked him!" he protested.

"What the hell did you do to him in the back of that alley?" Jack demanded.

"...nothing... I swear..." Petruzzo blinked and realized the dark meaning behind the question. "No... rape him? Shit... no... I just had some fun with the nightstick. I threw him against the wall and ran the nightstick up his legs, pressed it against his ass and ... well... I just... nothing happened. I let him go and he kinda staggered off."

"You better not be lying to me," Jack warned, "or I'll find you in whatever hole you're hiding in." Jack took his things back from Taylor and felt his stomach churn in disgust as he digested the information.

"Honest to God... it's the truth. I never hurt 'em much, I just scare 'em is all."

"You sick, twisted, fuckin' animal," Danny seethed, trying to get past Simmons.

"Let's go, Danny." Jack steered his emotional agent backward.

"Hold it," Danny stated, heading back to the monitor. "Replay that. Roll it back to the part where the guard was shining the light in Martin's eyes. Jack, look at his neck."

"Clean, no marks," Jack noted. "So that happened between two a.m. and six when the priest found him."

As they walked back to where Jack left his car, Danny couldn't get the image of Martin filthy and wretched and groveling in the alley, from his mind. From what information they had now, Martin had been assaulted three times with the missing hours still blank. He found a grim smile at the tenacity he'd seen for five weeks partnered with the hotheaded rookie. That same fire was now keeping him alive somewhere. Martin had good instincts and read a situation well, that had possibly saved his life and kept him alive this far. Danny remained sullen and silent until they got outside. Jack stepped in front of him and he knew by the dark eyes that his boss was angry.

"I'm sorry," he answered before the lecture came. "I know I should have waited, but..."

"No more buts, Danny. I warned you before about losing control. You know better than to leave like that."

Jack put his notebook on top of a trashcan near the entry to the store. He began to draw a rough map. He followed it with a timeline and paused, as Danny leaned over his shoulder.

"Okay, we know he got mugged near the train station, exited the opposite end and headed into the storm. He emerges here," Jack tapped the letter 'B' on the map, which represented the store, "about six hours or so later."

"Without his clothes," Danny noted, sighing in frustration. "So somebody else rolled him in this area," he tapped the map above the 'B'. "From what I saw and what Simmons said, they call that the 'badlands'. Lots of abandoned buildings, drug dealers, homeless and bad dudes hang out there."

"Martin comes stumbling in, wearing expensive clothes. It would have been like wearing a red target on his back," Jack agreed. "So something happened. He got hit again, stripped, and ended up here."

"Then sometime in then next five hours or so, somebody damn near killed him," Danny noted sadly. "What the hell did he stumble into Jack?"

"I don't know," he replied, examining the map again. "But from here to the shelter where Father Joe found him at six a.m. leaves a lot of ground, we better get moving."

Three p.m.

His growling stomach woke him up. The light from the window stabbed his eyes and he curled away, rocking until the pain subsided. The room was blurry and his head felt like it had sand inside of it. As he struggled to his feet he thought for a moment that he might be on a ship at sea. The floor tilted at an unnatural angle and he took three steps sideways for every one forward. He stumbled into the outer room, his dry throat desperate for liquid. His face was covered in sweat and it was hard to breathe. He went outside and took a handful of the grimy snow, squishing it to liquid and slurping it up.

Food

He was weak from hunger and sought out nourishment. He walked for quite some time, pausing occasionally at a trash can to fish. He found a half eaten candy bar next to a bag with a half-empthy cup of coffee and a stale doughnut. He flicked the bugs off and nibbled at it, taking the floating cigarette butt from the coffee before drinking it. He finished the doughnut and shuffled onward, his eyes darting left and right pausing on trashcans. He spotted a bus slowing down about a block ahead and quickened his step. There was a small store near the bus and there might be someone getting on the bus who would throw their food away. He paused behind the bus, coughing slightly at the exhaust fumes. To his dismay, there was no food left behind. Dejected, he staggered away, sitting down on a bench by the bus stop.

"Hey, Mister!"

Startled, he jumped up and backed off, assuming a defensive posture. A teenage boy was approaching him, the headphones on his neck blaring hip-hop music. At first the face seemed to be in a scowl, a look of defiance. The boy's angry eyes worried Martin. But he stopped by the bench and put a large brown bag down.

"Go on, man, you need it more that I do."

Suspiciously, Martin shuffled over, holding the top of the bench to get support. He was very dizzy and he shut his eyes for a moment and took a few good breaths.

"You okay, man?"

Martin nodded at the boy and opened his eyes, then peered into the bag. There was a large sandwich, a bag of potato chips, a pair of chocolate cupcakes with cream icing in a package and a large bottle of soda. He couldn't believe it! Stunned, he blinked and shook his head. Was the boy serious? Was this feast really his? He turned his hopeful eyes back to the baggy-panted, oversized sweatshirt bearing youth.

"I know it ain't always easy for you to find a meal. People can be mean huh?" The boy saw the homeless man's head bob. "It feels good for me too, to help somebody. Enjoy that okay?"

Martin picked the bag up and cast shy eyes back at the boy. He felt so humbled it colored his face and he bit his lower lip. Sighing heavily, he swallowed hard and looked at the boy's face again. The smile he got back was one he'd keep for awhile. There was no scorn there or judgment being passed, just a friendly smile, from someone with a good heart. He nodded his thanks and turned away.

"You're welcome, man."

He shuffled for a few blocks then spotted an alley. Martin made his way halfway down and found a large dumpster. Next to it was a heavy wooden box. He sat on one side and put the bag down next to him. But before he could even open it, a sound drew his head up. Another homeless man was approaching and he looked mean.

"Give it up or I'll cut you," the voice warned.

Martin shook his head, stood up and reached in his coat for the pipe he carried. He hadn't even realized he'd been followed. He'd have to be more careful from now on. This man was larger than him and not unsteady on his feet. Martin was dizzy and sick, his head was pounding. But he wasn't going to give up his food. The beefy arm shoved him aside and snatched at the bag. Martin slammed the man, whipping his metal pipe out and thwacking the side of his face. His attacker rolled off the crate and shook himself off. Martin saw a glint of metal in the rising hand and acted, slamming the pipe on the wrist. A knife dropped down and before the other man could reach it, Martin kicked it. He then grabbed the hand, twisted it up the guy's back and ran him hard into the brick wall. He heard a groan and the heavy body went limp. He dropped the offender and kicked the flaccid belly once, before taking his bag. He picked up the knife and headed for a safer spot to eat. He eyed the street and retraced his steps, seeking his refuge. He staggered, swayed and even fell twice but he made it back.

He quickly devoured the food, shoveling it in without pause. He guzzled the last of the large soda and belched, then laid down to rest. He was so tired and his head hurt so badly. And he knew he'd have to go foraging for food again that night. As his eyes closed, the disturbing dreams began. The men with badges were chasing him, their angry shouts causing the fear to blossom inside. One face loomed larger than the rest, his enraged dark eyes clearly speaking volumes. The heated disgust in them was directed at him. It was the same man from the cafe, the one who screamed at him. The badge he held up was from the F.B.I. and the revulsion was directed at him.

Martin twisted in his sleep, sweat pouring out and covering him in a wet blanket. He gasped and choked, crying out and trying to escape. Finally the nightmare ended and he slumped back, exhausted from his battle. But the lingering doubts were growing inside of him. The face of the FBI man was now etched in his brain and his subconscious allowed him to form twin fists. His face scowled and he chuffed in his sleep, jutting out his chin.

Part Nine

Hartford
Wednesday, Four p.m.

Danny took the door that Jack held and entered the crowded hamburger place. Brightly colored tables were nearly full of hungry patrons. The scent of hamburgers usually tempted him but not today. His tooth hurt and he regretted leaving his pills in the room. Since the episode at lunch where he'd seen Martin through the brutal videotape, his insides were churning. So all he smelled was grease and it sickened him. He followed Jack to the counter; the older man stepped in front of an Asian woman who was ready to order.

"Malone and Taylor, FBI," Jack announced, flashing his badge at the clerk behind the counter. "I'm looking for Mike Reynolds."

"Mister Reynolds is in the back," she answered, turning to the pimply teenager dumping fries from the basket fresh from the deep fryer. "Andy, can you show them where Mike's office is?"

"Sure, he answered, tossing a liberal amount of salt onto the mound of golden potatoes. Then he stepped around and through a doorway, where he met them on the side. "Follow me." He made his way down the corridor past the employees changing area to a white door. He knocked twice.

"Mister Reynolds? There are two F.B.I. agents here to see you."

"Thanks, Andy."

Danny pressed his back to the wall to allow the stench of the grease from the employee pass. The door opened revealing a tall, stocky African American man about fifty or so with graying hair. He looked upset and stepped into the hallway.

"I'm Agent Malone, this is Agent Taylor. We understand you called the hotline about our missing agent, Martin Fitzgerald?" He handed the photo over and saw the worry in the dark eyes increase even more. The manager's head shook and he scrubbed his face with his hand, continuing to stare at the photo.

"I'm so sorry..."

Jack tilted his head, wondering if the upset man was apologizing to him or to Martin's likeness.

"When did you see Agent Fitzgerald?"

"Monday, late in the afternoon," he replied, handing the photo back. "I knew he was lost. I just had a feeling; he seemed out of place compared to most of the homeless men that come through here. He was out here..." He opened the side door in the hallway and stepped into the alley. "He said his name was Danny..."

"He spoke to you?" Jack stared intently at the manager.

"No... he wrote it down. I guess he was confused."

"Something like that," Malone replied, not missing Danny's head drop and the dark brows furrow. "So tell me what happened."

"I approached him, I think I scared him, he backed away, a bit frightened," Mike recalled "I offered him some hot food, but he would only take it for work. He cleaned this alley, I mean he really cleaned it, out front too. He finished up at dinnertime. I found an old backpack and filled it for him, food, coffee, a toothbrush and other stuff, even old Sassy's blanket." He paused when the agents' faces puzzled up. "A cat I used to keep, her blanket was still in my office. Danny... Martin he was so sick, feverish. He kept staggering and holding his head. I wanted to take him to a hospital but when I mentioned it, he freaked out."

"And you haven't seen him since?" Danny inquired.

"No, I told him to come back yesterday, that I'd find more work for him. When he didn't show up I got worried and drove around for hours, I thought I might see him. I hope he's alright..."

"I saw him a few hours ago, not far from here at a cafe," Danny reassured the worried man. He knew the concern in the dark eyes was sincere. "Thank you, Mister Reynolds, we appreciate all you did for him."

"What happened to him? The news report just said he was a missing federal agent. How did that happen?"

"We're not sure of all the pieces yet, but sometime on Friday night he was mugged," Jack answered. "He wandered off in the snowstorm and we theorize he might have been attacked again and suffering from some sort of amnesia."

"Oh God," Mike sighed, rubbed the back of his neck and moved away. "I should have done something... maybe offered to find him a hotel room or something."

"Mister Reynolds?" Danny moved over to where the disheartened man was sitting on a crate. He waited until the soulful brown eyes looked up at him. He offered his hand and gave a solid grip, resting his other hand over the disturbed manager's. "I want to thank you for opening your heart to my partner. You showered him with warmth and care. You gave him shelter in the storm he was lost in. I was homeless when I was a teenager; I know how cold these streets are. With more people like you, it would be a much sunnier place. He was lucky to have met you, I know I am."

Jack smiled when Mike Reynolds rose and embraced Danny. He could see how visibly upset the manager was and Taylor's point was well taken. This man had truly cared for Martin without knowing who he was. The kindness he offered so freely was rare and thanks to that at least for one night, Martin had hot food, enough to drink and a friend. He handed the manager his card and also shook his hand.

"If you see him again, if you can detain him, offer him lunch, anything to get him inside, I'd appreciate it," he paused and saw the worried eyes seeking out passersby on the street, "and thanks, I appreciate all you've done and Martin will too when we find him."

"I get off at six, I'm going to drive around again, maybe I'll get lucky," Mike offered.

"We appreciate the help," Danny replied, turning to follow Jack to the car.

Jack drove slowly up and down the streets in the restaurant's immediate area, his keen eyes scanning each building and alley. If Martin was as sick as all signs indicated, it was likely he wouldn't be too far away. Wherever he was, it was most likely to be somewhere between the cafe where Danny saw him and here. His thoughts turned to Taylor and he cast a glance in the direction of his pensive partner. The eyes were squinted in pain and his hand was pressed to his jaw.

"When's your appointment with the dentist?" Jack inquired.

"Ten a.m. this morning," Danny replied of the missing time slot. His jaw was throbbing and a part of him wished he'd kept the appointment. His tooth would be fixed now.

"Call him and reschedule..."

"Look, Jack, I'm not leaving now in the middle of this," Danny argued but the angry dark eyes that met his stopped him.

"You get the tooth fixed and then you come back. It won't take that long. See if he'll do it tonight or first thing. It's getting worse and affecting you. Call," Jack ordered and saw a reluctant hand go inside the coat. From the half of the conversation he heard, it sounded as if the dentist could see him this evening.

"Seven?" Danny eyed his watch. "I have to catch a train, I might be a little late but I'll be there. Thanks, I really appreciate this, Doc."

"See? Now you won't miss anything. You get the tooth fixed, a good night's sleep and you'll be back here first thing." For a few minutes, they role in silence, but Jack knew Taylor's mind was working in overdrive.

"He's close by," Danny murmured, his eyes scouring every brick and window, hoping for a miracle. He knew all too well what went on behind those walls, in the hidden corners and basements of the empty houses. The dark memories of his own homeless teenage years lingered near him. "Life on the streets is a constant struggle for survival, Jack."

Malone turned briefly and saw the shadows of a not too distant yesterday painted on the forlorn face. He heard the echo of a turbulent time in the raspy voice that was raw and throbbing. Danny seldom spoke of that time in his life. Jack knew parts of the story but not all; most likely there were parts that Danny would never share. It was part of what made him so tough and at the same time so very understanding.

"He survived this long with half his head caved in, he's a fighter," Jack noted with a trace of hope.

"He's gonna need a lot more than that," Danny replied, sighing hard and closing his eyes.

He rested his head back a moment and rubbed his weary eyes. Behind the aching lids were flickering images of a movie from many years ago. Troubling frames of desperate measures taken by equally desperate characters. He shivered and tried to fast forward past the bad part to the end but the hero doesn't always ride off in the sunset.

"You gotta be on top of the game, always wary, guarding your back. You gotta hunt for food and shelter and watch out for the wolves. He's sick, Jack, that means he's gonna be sleeping a lot. Then he'll be skipping meals, too worn out and sick to hunt. He'll be weak and eventually desperate. You ever been starving Jack?" He eyed the driver who gave him a curious look and a shrug. "I don't mean hungry, I mean starving, a few days without food, alone, nowhere to go. They smell it, Jack, the wolves. They smell the fear and desperation. They come and circle, offering food, all you want. You end up... trading anything you have... which isn't much, to get that food." The dark eyes glared at him then and he watched the revulsion emerge on Malone's face. "It's called survival sex and once your dignity is gone the drugs make it easier to cope. We gotta find him Jack."

"We will, Danny, we got leads and more tips might come in. We know the area where he's been seen..." His voice traile d off then and he wondered how much of the story Danny painted was based on his own life. As if sensing the silent query, Taylor turned to him with a sad smile.

"No, I never got that desperate, but I came close..." Danny choked, his eyes burning at the painful recollection. "...too close..." He turned his face to the glass watching through the crowds for those lurking in the shadows. He longed to see that terrified pair of blue eyes again. "Where the hell is he, Jack?"

Malone didn't have an answer and Danny's thoughts had him worried. From what they knew, Martin not only had a head injury but an illness. How long before he fell victim to the evil predators Danny spoke of? Or would he fall asleep for longer periods of time and just not wake up?

They were headed for the train station to drop Taylor off when Danny called Simmons and reported what they had learned. The Hartford agent reported that they had chased down a few tips but none so far were nailed down. Darkness would arrive soon and Danny was worried. What if he'd scared Martin back to his hole? What if the fevered amnesiac fell asleep and hadn't eaten all day? How much longer could he survive alone? They were stopped at a red light that turned green just as he hung up the radio when something caught his eye. It caused his mouth to go dry and his heart began to hammer loud.

"Jack, pull over."

"What?" Jack replied to the quiet request. He thought on the troubling conversation and eyed Taylor's hand now resting on his gut. "You gonna get sick?"

"No, pull over real easy." Danny kept his head turned back, staring out the back window. "Didn't you see him?"

"Who? Martin?"

"No, the son-of-a-bitch wearing his clothes."

"What?" Jack asked, pulling into the curb and parking the car. He craned his neck and tried to follow Taylor's line of vision. He saw a group of raggedy looking men, save one, in the shadows of a sandwich shop near the bus stop. "You sure?"

"There by the green trash can, the guy with the leather jacket... that's him."

"Huh?" Jack eased his frame from the car and slowly joined Danny on the curb. He saw the man in question and he was wearing a brown leather jacket. His age was hard to determine, but Jack estimated it to be about forty. He had greasy graying black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was a few inches less than six foot. "Look Danny, a lot of men have brown leather jackets-"

"It's a throwback jacket, Brooklyn Dodgers he paid a fortune for it, Sam told me." Danny pulled out his binoculars and took a closer look.

"Okay, so it's a jacket that looks like the one Martin was wearing but..." Malone was cut off when the intense eyes turned to scorn him.

"Really? What are the odds that this 'guy' is also wearing a blue cashmere sweater with Harvard's logo on it?" He shot back, tucking the field glasses away. "I sat next to Martin almost the whole damn day. They're his clothes... the pants and the shoes-"

"Hold on," Jack hissed, grabbing his arm that already was housing a fist fixed on revenge. "You keep that hot head of yours under control."

Danny jerked his arm free and kept his fist, "You ever been jumped and had your clothes taken, Jack? It's not a good feeling. As a matter of fact, it sucks. There's nothing much left when you're dignity has been taken. Don't you tell me to calm down! That sick, fuckin' animal beat Martin, stole his clothes and left him lying naked somewhere."

"Alright, alright, but you go charging in there and he spots you, he'll take off. It's his turf, Danny. He'll be history before you get a hand on him," he warned. "Slow and easy."

Danny slipped his sunglasses on and pulled his collar up. He casually sauntered down the street, heading for the door of the sandwich stop. When he was a few feet away, the other man turned and seemed to sense something was wrong. He started to run and Danny drew his gun.

"FREEZE! FBI!"

The chase was short-lived; Danny tackled the fleeing suspect in front of a newspaper vendor. He was glad that the suspect protested. His mind was still reeling from the image of Martin battered and naked, stripped of his dignity. He delivered three solid shots to the culprit's midsection. Then, he hauled him up and shoved him hard against the brick wall. He frisked him and spun him around, holding the gun to his throat.

"Hey! What the hell's wrong with you? You can't kill me, I didn't do nothing!"

"Kill you?" Danny laughed, turning to Jack who was approaching. "Get him, he thinks I'm gonna kill him." He turned back and kept his smile, then moved the gun, shoving it into the suspect's crotch. "How about I blow your balls off?"

"What the hell do you want?"

"I want your clothes!" Danny hissed. "So where are they?"

"Clothes?" The confused man's eyes went from angry dark ones burning a hole in him to the annoyed ones of the other agent. "Hey, you can't hassle me, I got my rights."

Who are you?" Jack asked, his eyes caught something reflecting the sun. It was from a watch that the suspect wore. Not just any watch, one he recognized. "Are you carrying any identification?"

"I don't have to tell you anything!"

"How about you tell me where you got these clothes!" Taylor snarled, shoving the gun again. "Before I lose my patience."

"These are my clothes!" he protested.

"Really?" Jack leaned in, searching both pockets. Then he felt along the inside of the jacket's silk lining and frowned. He pulled out a wad of papers and saw the little color remaining in the suspects face quickly drain. He scanned the papers and handed them to Danny.

Dry cleaning bill, a golf score card and credit card receipt," Taylor held the papers close to the man's face. The beady eyes began to dart around and he was trembling. "So Martin Fitzgerald, just how long have you been a member of this Golf Club in Long Island, New York?"

The watch!" Jack ordered, snapping his fingers. Once the worn leather his his palm he examined it closer. He turned to the back and read the inscription. "Nice watch, where'd you get it?"

"It was a gift," Yankee lied, his lips twitching like a rat in the throes of death.

"I'll bet," Malone growled, "So who is John Thomas Martin?"

Danny's eyes narrowed and he wondered what Jack was up to. His own eyes flicked to the watch, which didn't look to be expensive. It was old, that much he could see and it had an insignia of sorts on the face. Martin. Martin. He thought back but couldn't remember what kind of watch his partner had been wearing.

"John... Thomas......" he murmured, beady eyes darting. "The guy from the Waltons?"

"That's Richard Thomas you dipshit," Malone snarled, grabbing the collar and pressing hard against his throat. With his free hand he held the watch up. "So how it is you're wearing his watch?"

"Oh, that... oh... hey, I forgot... it was a gift... yeah... from a friend ..."

"Oh , from the Long Island Golf Club, right?" Danny interjected, leaning in with such a look of hostility that the suspect began to twitch all over.

"You better quit fuckin' around and tell me who the hell you are!" Jack pressed and an answer came from the newspaper vendor nearby.

"His name's Yankee, don't know the rest."

"Is that right," Jack inquired, dispersing the name from his tongue as if it were a dead bug "'Yankee'?

"Yeah... Mark... Fleming... I uh... worked for the Yankees a few years ago..." He stuttered and saw the menacing eyes grow even darker.

"I... uh... found... this... it... yeah ... I uh..." "Listen you maggot-eatin' hairball!" Jack poked his index finger under the suspect's collarbone hard enough to make him flinch. "I don't have time to waste on your bullshit. The man who clothes you stole is a missing federal agent. Do you know what that means?"

"It means your day job will be chief cook and bottle washer at the house of many doors," Danny replied and found an evil grin. "Your night job will be suckin' dick or maybe gettin' a fist up that tight ass like a good little bitch, Comprende?"

Jack saw the facade cracking and moved in, "Of course first degree murder of a federal agent will probably get you the death penalty..."

"I didn't kill nobody, he was alive when I left him!" He realized his mistake and closed his eyes. "Fuck..."

"Plenty of time for that later when you and your nice orange jumpsuit get a room for the night," Danny sent back, grabbing him by the collar and slamming him against the bricks. "Now I'm gonna ask you again, fuckface, where did you get those clothes?"

"Alright, alright," he pleaded, "But I didn't kill him."

Hartford
Friday Night, Ten-thirty p.m.

Yankee finished the last of the cheap whiskey and tossed the bottle away. He shivered in the cold, keeping close to the doorway. The coat he wore was nearly threadbare and didn't keep the wind out. At least the old sweatshirt kept his head covered. The snow was getting heavier and he'd have to head for cover soon. There was a crack house not too far away and he could crash there.

"Come on, Yankee, I'm cold, let's get moving."

"Yeah, okay," he answered of one the three men with him.

They were stupid to a fault, but loyal. They knew he was their bread and butter. He was the one who came up with schemes to get them money for food and booze. The crack house wasn't far and they were eager to get inside. At least the walls and roof would offer protection from the biting wind. Just as they approached the corner, a stranger staggered in front of them from the other side.

Yankee put his arms out on either side, halting his comrades. His weasel eyes lit up when he saw the leather jacket. It was expensive and that meant there might be money inside it. The young man didn't see him; he was not able to walk straight. He was either drunk or high by the slurring sounds he was making.

Martin saw blurry figures and didn't know who they were. But he needed help and he started to ask for assistance. His words sounded funny, garbled and mixed up. He couldn't seem to get them off his tongue. His head hurt so bad he couldn't think straight. A non-stop crushing pain in the back of his skull made him sick. Walking was difficult and getting harder. He was afraid he'd pass out in the storm and freeze to death.

"You need some help, buddy?" Yankee moved in, the other sharks circling in the bloody water. "Here, let me give you a hand."

Martin sighed hard, finally somebody would help him. He felt two pair of arms get him to his feet and he sagged against somebody. He felt movement and managed to get his eyes open. Then he noticed they were going down a dark alley. Something told him this wasn't the way to help. He started to struggle and was thrown face first into a brick wall. As he sagged to his knees, he fought back, hitting out at whatever was nearby. His fingers groped along the wall, but there was nothing to hold onto. A fist drove his face back and flipped him onto his back. Several kicks to his side and already injured back brought a red haze over him. His mouth gaped open and cried out in pain.

"Shut up or I'll finish you off!" Yankee threatened, holding a blade to the exposed throat. "You understand?"

He didn't wait for a reply; he rolled the semiconscious man over and took the jacket off. The pockets were empty and that made him angry. He delivered several kidney punches and relished the cries of pain they brought. A weak struggle ensued as the shoes were taken and the socks.

"I get first cut!" he warned the others, then flipped the body over. He grabbed the belt and a weak fist came up and clipped his jaw. "I warned you, pretty boy!" He got a good grip on the collar, pulled him up and punched his jaw. The blue eyes flittered shut and the body sagged.He took the watch first, then eyed the rest of the clothes.

Martin felt his belt removed and his zipper being pulled down. A warning light inside of him went off and he roused himself and tried to fight back. Rough hands hauled him to his feet; his legs were like rubber bands and wouldn't support him. His pants fell down and the biting night wind and wet snow assaulted him. Then a brutal set of fists hit him hard in the groin and he saw stars. The pain exploded into a brilliant set of colors. Somewhere far away, he felt his underwear removed and his shirt. He didn't feel the cold snow when his body hit the ground. He barely heard the sick laughter when strange hands groped at him. He flinched when a booted foot kicked him again and again. Then the brutality stopped and he curled up, returning to a fetal position that instinct brought on.

"Hey, don't we get nothing?"

"Next time," Yankee promised, dropping the filthy coat and peeling off the urine stained pants that stuck to him thanks to a bout with diarrhea. He threw the filthy, rags on the naked, shivering man and donned the new clothes. They skittered away without looking back.

After swallowing back the revulsion that the disturbed story brought, Jack glanced over at Danny who was strangely silent. That worried Jack more than the explosive temper he'd come to know. The haunted eyes were cold as hell, burning as if Lucifer himself were stoking the fire. But there was no mistaking the lethal tone in the quiet voice that emerged from Taylor's tense lips.

"You left him naked in an alley in the snow?"

"All I did was take his clothes, I needed them. It's not like he couldn't get some more. He had money, the threads were bucks, you know? I wouldn't have taken them but he had no money and I got pissed off. Plus he kept fighting back..."

"Then you strangled him," Jack tried and the other man shook his head.

"I didn't kill him, I never choked him, just a warning with the blade. Hey I left him my old clothes."

"Yeah," Jack scoffed, reading him his rights and turning him towards the street. "You're a real humanitarian. You're gonna show me where you assaulted him. And you better not fuck with me, 'Yankee'!" he warned.

"Hold it." Danny grabbed Jack's arm as he prepared to cuff the suspect. "Take that jacket off and don't piss me off!"

Jack watched as Danny took the jacket. He cuffed the guy and put him in the back of the car. As he shoved his head under the roof, he watched as Taylor reverently folded the jacket inside out to protect the leather and gently place it in the trunk. He didn't miss the pain radiating from Danny's eyes nor the slight tremble of the hand the paused to stroke the silk lining. He saw the Adam's apple bob painfully and turned away, giving the worried agent a moment to compose himself.

Try as he might, Danny couldn't get the image of Martin naked and lying in a heap in an alley being beaten by the animal in the car. Coupled with the encounters by Thomson and Petruzzo, it was clear that his missing partner experienced a living hell on Friday night. What could have possibly happened in the wee hours of the morning that was horrific enough to cause the frightened bearded stranger he'd encountered at the cafe to develop?

"Danny?"

He blinked and looked over the trunk at Jack, not missing the concern in his eyes. He nodded once, reluctantly took his hand from the silk lining and shut the trunk. He caught Jack's eye and nodded to his pocket.

"The watch," Danny guessed, his thoughts lingering on the name. "An uncle?"

"Grandfather," Jack corrected, handing the watch over. "He died when Martin was a kid. They were pretty tight. He was a Navy man, fought in World War II and Korea. Martin wore it the day I interviewed him, I noticed the insignia and asked about it."

"He told you all of that?" Danny felt a bit jealous and had no idea why that bothered him. He gingerly examined the old timepiece and noticed the small gold anchor on the top and the lettering USN. He flipped it over and read the back, his finger tracing the old script.

"We talked about it, I was interested in his background. I think he likes talking about the old man."

"Yeah..." Danny whispered, handing the watch back.

Taylor reluctantly took his hand from the silk lining and shut the trunk. He felt oddly distracted as if his body and mind were in two different places. He felt himself pulling away from the car and traveling through space to another place. A set of fevered blue eyes were beseeching in the dark. He shut his own eyes and saw the storm from his nightmares again, with the single hand disappearing beneath the waves. The undertow was strong and he felt himself drawn to it, unable to stop himself from the dangerous mission he knew was ahead.

Hartford
Wednesday Night

It was dark, so dark that for a moment he thought he'd died. But the cold air and his chattering teeth proved to him that he was still living. Martin sat up and coughed so hard and long that he lost his breath. He collapsed back weakly, sucking huge gaps of air in through his mouth. His head was pounding and he ached all over. Fevered eyes roamed around and he had no idea where he was. Why was he so confused? He sat up and gingerly made his way to the window, peering into the night. Nothing looked familiar, not even the man in the glass peering back at him. This wasn't his home, was it? Did he belong here wearing filthy clothes and reeking to high heaven? Was this his life? He shut his eyes and tried hard to remember anything, but the only images that came back were ones of the men with badges.

Martin's growling belly reminded him that he needed to eat. His mouth was on fire as well. He was so hungry, he felt as if a monster was inside him gnawing its way out. He was shaking all over from the hunger and staggered down the alley. He paused long enough to go to the bathroom, washing his hands in the muddy, filthy snow. He eyed a pile of snow by his feet and scooped some up, shoving it in his burning mouth.

He wandered for some time, staggering badly and occasionally falling down. He rested for a moment then forced himself to move on. The injured man came across a pizza box that looked pretty clean and was on the top step on a shabby apartment house. He heard music inside and saw a low light upstairs. Cautiously, Martin crept up the four steps and took the box, moving as quickly as his weakened body would allow. He didn't stop until his air gave out and the wheezing turned into a messy coughing fit. Great wads of thick muck came out of his mouth. The very effort to expel it sent him to the ground. He sat there for sometime, unable to catch his breath. Then he pulled the lid up and smiled. Three pieces of cold pizza! It wasn't much and he ate them so fast he didn't think it even hit his stomach. He was still hungry. Ditching the box, he pulled his aching body up and moved on.

Martin saw a fire in the distance, under the overpass of the highway. He trudged over slowly, wary o f the large group of strange men surrounding the trash can. Flames leapt from it warming their bearded faces and grimy hands. Some had gloves, hats and even scarves. The fevered body shivered in the cold night air and moved closer, seeking warmth. Then the wind kicked up and the scent of hot meat or food hit him hard. His stomach growled loudly and he couldn't stop himself from moving towards it. A harsh set of voices halted him a few feet from the fire. He could see mugs with steam and what looked like small rolls. Something was speared to several sticks and cooking over a second trash can that had flames in it.

"What's ya lookin' at boy?"

Martin tried to focus on the voice closest to him, and saw a blurry face with a scruffy gray beard. He managed to point to the food and to his stomach. He held out his open palms, indicating that he was no threat to them, just hungry. He saw a few of them whispering and one laughed then approached him. Martin backed up a bit, the ugly man was large and heavyset and held a mean glint in this eyes. "Go on... you want soup or not?"

Soup.

His mouth watered and he took the mug, sipping it without thinking and burning his mouth. He spat out a mouthful and they laughed at him, calling him names. Martin huddled on a pile of debris, using the beat up metal mug to warm his hands. He felt their eyes on him and shivered uneasily. It was warm here, and the cover overhead from the highway held out the wet snow. Gingerly, he sipped the liquid and wrinkled his nose. It was awful but it was hot. Chunks of something he couldn't identify as vegetable or meat were floating in a broth of sorts. It wasn't much but he was grateful and when he finished it, he returned the mug. His bright eyes lingered on the rolls and some kind of meat being placed within them. His tongue shot out, slowly licking his lips.

"You still hungry boy?"

Martin nodded eagerly; he was starving, so much so he was shaking. For some reason, no matter what he ate seemed to never hit bottom. He watched the large man speaking to the others; they laughed and slapped his back. Then he turned to Martin and approached.

"I got just what you need over there, come on."

Martin shuffled behind the man, walking for quite awhile. Twice he eyed the fire cans that were now too far away to feel the heat. He turned back and saw the man lift a box and pull out a hamburger wrapped in paper. It was large and had cheese and tomatoes on it. He growling stomach caused the man to laugh. When he went to take it, the large man shook his head and held it away so he couldn't reach it. Frustrated and angry, Martin scowled, trying to jump to get the food. He went off balance and stumbled, falling into a small brick retaining wall. His upper body toppled over it, leaving his backside exposed. He felt the man's hand grab his ass and the large bod y press against him from behind. He tried to get up but a beefy hand pulled his head back, hot disgusting breath caressed his cheek and made him gag. The blubbery lips pressed into his ear and filled it with vile and disgusting images of what the price was for the food.

"You understand me, boy? If you want to eat, I get to fuck that sweet ass of yours first."

No

No

No

No

No

The word kept repeating in his head as the beast's hand snaked down inside the front of his pants. He struggled against the oppressive weight and got bitten on the exposed part of his shoulder for his efforts. The large man then slammed his fist into Martin's face. Martin felt himself on the verge of passing out. Somewhere between the stars beginning to dance in front of his eyes, the loose fitting sweatpants were yanked down. He was shoved with great force over the brick wall and the beefy hands spread his legs from behind.

A red light went off in his head and he sent his elbow hard back into the soft side of the man's belly. The action stopped him long to pull himself off Martin, who lifted his foot and brought it down hard on the man's instep and then turned, jamming his three middle fingers hard into the vulnerable spot of the predator's throat just above his collarbone. An odd gurgling sound accompanied the bear of a man as he fell, clutching his throat. Martin tugged his pants up and took gaping breaths loudly through his mouth. The revulsion of what nearly had been done to him spilled over. He leaned over and lost the soup he'd eaten. His anger at this monster went into overdrive. He spit the residue onto the brute's face and repeatedly kicked him in the balls and in the head.

Dizzy and sick, he grabbed the sandwich and paused long enough to lift the lid off the box. He saw a bag and grabbed it, shoving the sandwich inside. He staggered, stumbled and ran as best as he could into the darkness. He didn't stop until he came to an old abandoned car at the edge of a junkyard. He saw a small opening in the fence and went inside. The door opened without fault and he crept in the back. His heart was hammering so hard he felt his ribs would crack. He closed his eyes and tried to get the sick feeling of nearly being raped from his mind. Bitter bile rose up and he swallowed it then looked in the canvas bag.

He nearly wept in relief. There were cans of fruit, soup and several sandwiches. An orange, two candy bars and a bottle of iced tea. To Martin it was sweeter than Thanksgiving dinner. As hungry as he was, he had to be careful. He didn't know how hard it would be to get another meal. He ate the hamburger slowly, relishing every bite. The orange followed, giving him the liquid he yearned for and then half a candy bar as dessert. Tucking the back next to him, he sighed once and let his heavy eyes fall.

His sleep was not easy, the dreams returned and the stranger with the dark eyes and shadowed beard reappeared. He was angry, his dark eyes full of fire and he was screaming at him, calling him names. Martin thrashed in the backseat of the car, his fevered body emitting terrified moans that no one would hear. Finally it was silent; the moon peeked inside, casting the sweaty body in a near corpselike, grayish light.

Manhattan
Federal Bldg, F.B.I. Headquarters
Ten p.m.

"Spade."

"Hey, Sam."

"Jack!"

Jack wasn't sure who was more surprised, Sam or himself. He didn't really expect to find her working that late. He eyed his notebook again and wondered if he'd dialed right. He knew that Chris, like himself and other supervisors, often worked late. He was hoping to catch the blond MP squad leader and update him.

"I'm sorry, Sam, I guess I dialed wrong. I thought I called Chris."

"You did, I'm in his office."

"Really?"

"On business!" Sam huffed, rolling her dark eyes and snapping her fingers. Chris was getting them coffee and looked up from the other side of the glass. She mouthed Jack's name to him and he pointed to the conference phone on the long table a few feet away. Nodding, she turned back to the caller. "Jack? Chris wants me to transfer you to the speaker phone, okay?"

"Sure." A few seconds later the ringing stopped and a male voice called to him.

"Jack, you there?"

"Unfortunately. More importantly, what kind of late night business are you doing with my agent?"

"The undercover kind," Chris teased. "I hope she doesn't bruise easy, rug burns are a bitch."

"Shut up!" Sam chuckled, throwing a pencil at the grinning blond. "We're going over some evidence that turned up on the Waterman case.'

"Waterman?" Jack repeated, frowning. It took a few seconds than the picture of a sixty year old man appeared, "that businessman that disappeared sailing at the shore in August?"

"Yeah," Chris replied. "A couple stores uptown had hits on his credit card tonight. Sam pulled the jacket and asked me to look at it since Vivian had gone already. Anything new on Martin?"

"Well, we got another piece of the puzzle, but it's not pretty."

Jack tugged his tie off and threw it on the bottom of the bed. He was dead on his feet and had come back to the room to catch a few hours rest. He unbuttoned the two top buttons of his shirt and shifted the phone. He picked up the bottle of diet coke and took a liberal sip. He then spent a few moments updating them on the case. By the time Jack completed the sordid tale, both agents were silent. Chris knew Sam was upset before her arms went across her chest. She looked away, biting her bottom lip. He knew she was unable to get rid of the image of Martin being attacked and stripped bare then left lying like a beaten dog. He turned back to the speaker box, where Jack was updating them on the search that followed.

"So the alley didn't get you anything?"

"No, a trail of old vomit, but there's no proof it's his. Too many druggies, homeless any other assorted vermin use that place. But from my map, he's still going east. From that alley to the parking lot at the store where he ran into the guard is east. So if he continued that pattern, it took him into what Danny called the 'badlands'."

"How much worse could it have been than what he went through?" Sam found her voice. "The key to this is what happened to him after midnight. Somewhere between midnight Friday and dawn on Saturday, somebody tried to kill him. He's scared so bad he won't come to the police for help. For some reason, anyone with a badge frightens him."

"Jack, what do you make of this fear of badges that the witnesses keep repeating?" Boone asked.

"I'm not sure Chris, but I think it started on Thursday night."

"Thursday night?" Sam sat forward, tapping a pencil on the table. "What do you mean?"

"Chris and I were in his office, I left pretty late. I was leaving the parking garage when on the last curve, my headlights hit Martin. He was sitting on a concrete girder staring at his badge. He was looking at it as if it were foreign to him. He was in a lot of pain, not just physical."

"Physical?" Chris cut in, "You mean he was hurt? Had an accident?"

"Hurt, yes, accident, I don't think so. I talked to him, he was upset about Hilliard but something else was bothering him. Something happened between the time I left him and Danny in that conference room until I spotted him at midnight. He gripped my arm so hard when I helped him up it hurt me. He was clearly in pain; he almost passed out trying to open his car."

"Well what was his... uh... explanation, Jack? What did he say happened?" Sam quizzed, her brows drawn together in puzzlement.

"He didn't, he claimed he was tired. But I don't buy it. The next morning he was asking me why I hired him. Somebody got to him on Thursday night. Whatever happened, it rattled him good. It was still in his head when it got caved in on Friday."

"Plus all the shit that happened in the train station on Friday and the arguments with Danny," Chris relayed. "You think they're all connected?"

"I do," Jack answered, pausing to take a bite of the hamburger next to him. He chewed and swallowed, then took a swig of soda. "What I saw in his eyes and heard in his voice in that cold garage on Thursday night was doubt."

"Doubt? Martin?" Sam's voice went up a pitch. "That doesn't sound like him."

"No, it doesn't, Sam, and that worries me. I think whoever planted those seeds in his head did it on Thursday night," Jack noted.

"And they were ripe and ready when his head got caved in," Chris accounted. "Head injuries are rough, concussions are hell. You're confused, disoriented, you don't know up from down. It could just be that he's confusing whatever caused that doubt with the police or badges in general."

"I think that's exactly what happened. He's a mess and he's out there somewhere, hurt, sick and alone. The longer this goes on, the harder it's gonna be to find him."

"Garage?" Chris sat back, his slate eyes narrowing.

"What?" Sam asked, seeing the wheels turning.

"Hey, Jack, what if we go over the video from the garage on Thursday night? Security installed new cameras only a couple weeks ago."

"Yeah, yeah," Jack agreed, "Sam, I want you and Vivian on that first thing in the morning. Check all the tapes from say seven p.m. onward. Start with Level 1 that's where I found him."

"You know what you're saying, Jack?" Chris leaned over towards the speaker phone. "The only personnel who have access to the lot are feds like us."

"Come on, Chris, we both know it happens." Jack's voice was full of disgust. "It wouldn't be the first time some bad apples got out of line. And it's no secret there was a lot of resentment when I chose him. I got more than one angry email voicing their protests on hiring Victor's kid."

"Alright, Jack, we'll get on it first thing," Sam replied. "How's Danny?"

"He looks like a Goddamn ghoul. Circles under his eyes, he won't shave, he didn't even shower or eat today. This thing is eating him alive, he blames himself." He rubbed his weary eyes and thought on the shaken agent. "He's holding on by a thread and it's unraveling fast."

"He sounded awful," Sam recalled of the brief conversation she'd had with him. "I caught him on his cellphone earlier; he was in a cab headed for the dentist. I offered to drive him but he shut me out."

"He's troubled, really troubled," Jack agreed, eyeing his watch. "I hope he uses his head and gets a good night's sleep."

"Speaking of which, you sound like you need some sleep, Jack, we'll call tomorrow," Chris promised and pressed the button.

He got up and walked behind Sam, massaging her downcast shoulders. "Come on, Sam, let it out."

"It sucks, Chris. I hate it. That somebody would beat up Martin in our building? For what?

Because of his name? Who the hell would be that bold? Right in the parking garage?"

"Jack's right, Sunshine, it happens. And it happens because they know it won't get reported. What I can't figure out is what they could have said to make him doubt his abilities. That just doesn't fit somehow"

"Unless, we're missing something else..." Sam yawned, stood up and stretched. "I'm going home and going to bed." She saw a single sandy brow arch up and that wolfish, heartbreaking smile appear on his face. "Alone!"

"Let me check for blood?" He noted, tapping his 'broken' heart. "I'll call security and leave a message. You call Vivian before you head home, that way you can report right to Security in the morning."

"Alright." Sam gathered her notes and folders and headed for the door. His voice caused her to pause and turn.

"Hey," Chris called after her, waiting for the worried dark eyes to meet his. "Don't give up, Sam, he's alive. He's tougher than he looks and Jack's no fool. He went through a few dozen of those applicants before he picked Martin. He's a fighter, a survivor and they'll find him."

"A fighter," Sam repeated, shaking her head. "That doesn't stop a knife or a bullet, Chris... or pneumonia or the flu or that fever. He's running out of time..." She left and made her way back to their office. She stopped at her desk then went to Martin's. As she dialed Vivian, she picked up his coffee mug and ran her fingernail over the gold letters. Would he return to claim his place with their unit? Or were they already too late?

Part Ten

Hartford, Train Station
Thursday, November 14, 2002
One a.m.

Danny sighed and slumped back against the bench outside the train station. The session with the dentist went surprisingly well. He'd removed the infected pulp within the tooth, cleaned and shaped the inside of the canal, filled it and sealed it. Danny had to return in a couple of weeks to get a crown for the tooth. The dentist gave him some painkillers, if needed, and warned that the tooth would be sensitive for a few days. He was glad that Jack pressured him into going back, the pain was gone and he could think clearer.

He shifted on the bench and hunched forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. His dark eyes roamed the sky, which was pitch black and starless. He could have gone home to his place in New York and slept all night, taking a morning train back. But, for the three hours in the dentist's office, he'd thought about Martin and the best way to find him. The answer was obvious at least to him. Martin wasn't going to come to them, he didn't trust authority figures. So he would go into Martin's world and find him.

The witnesses that were coming forward were helpful but they had only encountered Martin after the fact. The real witnesses were the ones who wouldn't dare come forward. They feared authority and especially the police, those who lingered in the dirty parts of town, where drugs and other illegal actions came to play in the still of the night. It was there, deep within the crack houses, abandoned buildings and other corners in the shadows that he'd find his missing partner.

Undercover.

Jack wouldn't approve. As a matter of fact Danny would bet he'd go ballistic when he arrived back at the hotel and got ready for his mission. He knew Malone well enough to know he'd never approve his choice, given his state of mind. But Danny knew better. He knew the streets and understood the world that few people took the time to see. He could find Martin, he truly believed that. He would mix with the homeless in the area and keep his ears open. Somebody crossed paths with Martin and he was sure hunger would drive the desperate man to drastic measures. He'd have to come out of whatever hole he was hiding in to forage for food. He saw a cab approaching and hailed it, the sooner he got back to the hotel, the faster he could get moving.

Subtle noises tickled his ears and his eyes cracked open. Jack squinted in the darkness and saw a figure hunched over Taylor's bag on the floor. His eyes went to the digital clock which read that it was ten minutes after two. Cursing silently as the fact he'd overslept, Jack reached to the drawer next to the bed where his gun was. He was about to open the drawer when the neon light from the all night diner in the parking lot hit the face of the 'intruder'

"Goddammit, Danny!" he growled sitting up and turning on the light.

"Blinded by the light," Danny sang of the old radio classic when Jack covered his eyes and cursed.

"I could have shot you!"

"Nah, I'm faster," Danny countered, "I move like a cat. I was going to wake you when it was time to leave."

"Leave?" Jack croaked, reluctantly peeling his fingers from his throbbing eyes. Then he noticed that Danny was dressed. Not only dressed but in dirty, wrinkled clothes from the plastic bag he'd been keeping his dirty laundry in. The smell wasn't hard to miss. "What the hell's going on?"

"Martin won't come to us," Danny stated calmly, turning his dirty, unshaven face to the other man. "So, I'm going to him. Simple."

"Simple?" Jack stood up and approached the haggard body. "Not really. First of all, this isn't New York and you don't have the authority to work undercover. Second, it's dangerous. You'd be totally cut off from us. Third..."

"Third, I'm ready to go," Danny interjected. He smelled and looked the part. "I have my cellphone, I can call you. By the time I walk over there and start hunting, it'll be almost dawn. You get Simmons to okay this. It's the only way, Jack, you know I'm right!"

Jack let out a long breath and studied the determined eyes before him. He hated to admit it, but Taylor was right. It was clear that Fitzgerald was lost, truly lost and for reasons still unknown to them, would not seek out help. So, unless divine providence intervened or a miracle occurred, it was not likely that they would find him in time, time being a key if he was injured and ill. Taylor was not only a very capable, well trained agent but he'd lived on the streets and knew that world. He could handle himself.

"We know something happened to him after Petruzzo manhandled him. Sometime over the next five hours, somebody tried damn hard to kill him," Danny theorized.

"Why?" Jack answered, scratching his chin. "Did he witness something illegal? Was the reason he was choked in an attempt to strangle him to death because wherever they were, a gunshot was too risky?"

"Or Martin fought them and got loose, tried to call for help..." Danny shook his head. "Doesn't matter, I'm going to find him!"

"No gun."

"Do I look that dumb to you?" Danny answered. "I got other weapons." He pulled out a pipe he'd found lying in a pile by the property's edge. "They're redoing the sprinklers; they left this on the lawn. I'll be fine."

"Alright," Jack agreed, but gave fair warning." But you keep in touch. I want a call every four hours, understood?"

"Got it, boss," Danny replied, "I'll call at seven, you should have talked to Simmons by then. I'll hunt for awhile and we can meet up at say noon by that cafe where I saw Martin. There's a large part of it at the far end by high bushes. I'll huddle by the trash can, you should be able to find me."

Jack walked over to the table where his things were. He pulled out a map they'd downloaded from the Internet. They studied the perimeter of the area in question and laid out a plan. He wanted Danny to memorize the map, know all the turns and side streets. Ten minutes later, Danny folded the map and handed it back.

"Watch your back," Jack issued and got the cocky grin he'd missed for several days now.

"You love me!" Danny grinned, tapping his chest. "I'm touched!"

"You're losing time."

Jack's gruff voice didn't fool him, Danny knew Malone was worried. He gave a salute and exited the room. He didn't mind the cold air biting his face. He was layered up, so he couldn't feel it yet. He'd selected his dirtiest wrinkled clothes from the duffel bag, added to the bearded face and dirty hair, he'd be right at home. He knew where he was going; the map was now imprinted in his brain. He also believed in Jack's timeline and route. His first stop was the last place Martin had been seen, the cafe. There were several alleys between where the bus was and where the newspaper vendor stand was situated. Martin had to have ducked down one of those streets. He'd studied that part of the map over and over, mentally making his own map of the paths between where Mike saw him and the cafe.

Danny picked up his pace, eager to begin his mission. He noted the sky was starless and even the moon was hiding from him. It would seem nobody approved of his choice, he scoffed at them all. As his sneakers crossed the asphalt, he thought on Martin. He went back to those first few days and wondered if Jack were correct. Was part of his open hostility towards Fitzgerald jealousy? Had his attitude towards Martin caused the caustic reaction the missing man gave him every time they worked together? Vivian even noticed that and felt part of Martin's attitude was 'reaction'.

He tugged his collar up against the wind and let his mind drift back even further in time. Back to that humid day in August when the air conditioning wasn't working and they were sweating like bulls in the conference room. Jack had been gone for most of the week, conducting interviews for the new position on the team. When Martin was announced as the choice, he'd been angry. Why was that? Was it because he was Victor's son? Was Jack right? Had he written Martin off before giving him a fair chance?

Communication.

He turned at the intersection and headed from the safe, secure, well lit area of the city into the shadows. Communication is a two way street and therefore, Martin was also responsible. He did start off on the wrong foot on his first day. In his eagerness to show off, he'd nearly gotten both himself and the hostage killed. He'd also made the mistake of making Danny look bad in front of Jack and the others. That was something that bothered him more than it should have. On one hand, Martin was right. But it was the way he'd presented the information that irritated him, not the information itself. Beyond that, he was green and should be given a chance to rectify the errors of his ways.

Martin Smith.

Danny paused to catch his breath and rest for a moment on a bench. Martin Smith might have been a partner he would have accepted easier. Was it the Fitzgerald name that stuck in his craw? Was that part of the problem and he couldn't bring himself to admit it? He thought on last Thursday night and Jack's witness of Martin late in the garage. Why would Martin consider his badge too heavy to carry? He had his differences with the guy but yellow? No way, Martin wouldn't go belly up, he was too ballsy. What happened in those lost hours before Jack found him? He chuffed in annoyance, shaking his head when he recalled how different Martin acted on Friday. He should have known something had happened. Why didn't he see that? Even after hearing the brutal call from Victor, he'd been secretly enjoying Martin's pain. He winced at that now, how wrong that was. If he'd only taken the time to look at Martin really see him, maybe they wouldn't have fought that day. And maybe Martin wouldn't be lost in the dark somewhere with a head injury.

He let out a long shuddering breath and shook off his doubts. He had a hard job ahead and a dangerous one. His long strides took him past the last of the street lights to the part of town where secrets lingered in the shadows. Martin's cocky face appeared then, during a revisit to the fight in the food court. The brash blue eyes were blazing with fury; they were the same color as the expensive sweater. The logo of the sweater in its neat white stitching seemed to flash at him, just like the fiery eyes. He'd find Martin and bring him home. Once the battered body healed, he'd offer the olive branch. He owed it to the other man to set things right.

'We're gonna have a long talk, Harvard," he vowed, letting his promise carry on the wind. Then he turned the corner and entered the badlands.

Hartford
Seven a.m.

The sound of a harsh voice and a loud clanging caused the slumbering body to rouse. Martin blinked several times, shielding his eyes from the sunlight that was ramming his face. Sunlight. Morning. He heard the voices again and peeked through the glass. He spotted a few men who looked like they worked for the junkyard. He didn't want to get caught; they probably wouldn't take kindly to him sleeping in one of their cars. So once they passed and were a good distance away, he gathered his bag and crept from the car.

A new day. He shivered in the cold morning air and peered at the sky. By the newness of the sun and the angle, he knew it was early. The streets were full of rush hour traffic. There were harried faces driving the cars rushing by, people eager to get to work. He flinched when a fast moving image of an office appeared, a quick glimpse of a blonde woman and a black woman working at desks. Just as quickly it was gone. What did it mean? Confusion rained down on him and caused him to slump.

The frustration caused his stomach to growl. He paused at the corner, peering at his image in the almost mirror like surface on a pub window. He stared hard at the man in the glass. He pulled his hood down and touched the filthy face of the unkempt, bearded stranger. That is who he saw, a face of the unknown. He stared hard into a lost set of blue eyes. Who was he? Where did he belong? Nothing came back to him. Not a picture of a house with a white picket fence and a young wife to meet him. Not a chubby baby with the same blue eyes and a toothless cherubic grin. Not an office with coworkers to laugh and share stories with. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Chuffing in annoyance, he yanked the hood up and peered at the street.

The buildings were as strange to him as the face he'd left behind in the glass. The streets were foreign as well. He was a stranger in a stranger land, as new and untested as the immigrants who spilled into the country every day. No friends, no family, no home. No home. That hurt him; it caused a festered wound inside to throb without abandon. He didn't want to be homeless; looking at the world through a stranger's eyes. He didn't want to sleep in his urine laden clothes with vomit clinging to them. He didn't want to itch constantly and have most people look at him with such loathing and disgust in made him ashamed to breathe.

"Aw, laddie yer breakin' me heart."

Martin blinked and turned towards the almost musical voice. A brogue, that's what that tinkling sound was. There behind a small vending cart was an elderly woman with a soft smile, kind blue eyes and a tiny face framed by white curls. Was she talking to him? He slowly turned around to look behind him and heard her laugh.

"Aye, laddie, tis ye I speak ta," she called out, beckoning for him to come closer.

Startled, Martin backed up at first, fear spelled out plainly on his face. But the smile she wore widened and it warmed him as sure as the sun above. He eyed the small folding chair behind her and followed the hand pointing toward it. He ran his hands over his grimy clothes and dropped his head.

"Am I talkin' ta meself then? I think not. Come on with ye, I'll not be wastin' me time." She relaxed when he finally shuffled closer. She could tell he was sick, he'd nearly fallen twice since he left the alley and those eyes were bright with fever. Plus he was wheezing badly. As he settled down, he coughed several times. Clucking her tongue, she poured him a hot cup of tea and loaded it with sugar. "Here now, ye'll sip on this and keep Old Annie company fer a spell, alright?"

Alright? Martin's hands were shaking so badly he nearly dropped the hot tea. The large cup had a snap on lid and a tiny slot opened up to sip from. It was good, so good it caused a tiny moan to escape. He laid his head back on the bricks and let the warmth flood through him. He heard her laugh again and looked up at her. The gnarled hand reached out towards him and his first instinct was to move away. But she would have none of that and cupped his chin.

"There's somethin' about them pretty eyes of yers, luv, that puts me in mind of a sweet bonny lad I left in Kitimagh a long time ago. Aye, he was a fine one..." Her voice trailed off for a moment as forty years passed by and the mists of time opened up to her. "Me first luv," she recalled, sighing in contentment. "I lost me heart and a lot more ta him," she chuckled and gave the young man's face a gentle stroke. "I'm Annie, luv, what's yer name?"

Martin shook his head and opened his mouth but the words didn't come. He pointed to his mouth and shook his head again, then put the tea down and reached in his pocket. He took out the small notebook and flipped back to the page where his name was written. He held it out to her and saw her face crease into a smile again.

"Danny ? Ye can't talk? That's alright luv, Old Annie can hear ye just fine. Under all the scruff yer a fine lookin' lad, that ye are. Ye just rest here as long as ye like. Are ye hungry then? Of cour se ye are," she corrected, chuckling. "Don't mind me, slow mind, I'm gettin' on in the years ye know. Here," she handed him a hot ham, cheese and egg sandwich on a large roll. He shook his head and dropped it in shame. "Yer not a dog, lad, ye'll get yer head up now and look at me. Yer soul is shinin' lad, yer a good boy, I can tell. Hard luck and times hits us all now and again. Ye'll find yer way again, ye have Annie's word on that. I know yer feelin' poorly, ye've a fever and an awful cough. Ye'll eat and ye'll not give me a hard time, don't get me Irish up!"

A friend. That's what the good feeling inside of him was. That smile, the soft voice and the untold kindness spilling from the old woman's heart filled him with warmth. He finally relaxed and his muscles nearly died of the shock. His instincts told him to trust this woman and he took a small bite of the sandwich. The wolf inside wanted to devour it in one gulp but his head overruled that thought. He switched off between the tea and sandwich, watching as she served customers with that same sunny disposition. They knew her by name and she asked about their work, friends and family. He finished half of the sandwich and although he was still hungry, he started to hide the rest. He didn't get very far.

"Did ye not hear me? Ye'll eat all of that or you'll get no desert!" She knew he was still hungry but afraid of where the next meal was coming from. She pulled out a cream donut and held it up. His mouth watered and the fevered eyes lit up. "I knew it; I can smell a sweet tooth a mile away. Now finish yer sandwich!"

Martin did as he was told and ate the donut as well. The warm sun hit his face and his coughing fits caused his eyes to water. The headache flared up and the images came back, all mixed up and causing him to pant. The office with the two women spilled into a crowded street and a train station. The man with the olive skin and dark eyes with the badge was there, yelling at him. It was the same man from the cafe the other day. It was too much for his injured brain to absorb and he laid his head back, letting his eyes flutter shut.

"Aye, that's a good laddie, ye take a nice rest. Old Annie'll watch over ye!" She reached over and tugged the zipper up on his coat and tucked the hood around his neck better. Satisfied that he was warm enough, she turned back to her customers, singing an old tune.

"Oh Danny boy, the pipes the pipes are calling..."

Manhattan, Federal Bldg
Nine thirty a.m.

Vivian and Sam had been watching the surveillance tapes for a couple hours, when Sam suddenly sat forward in her chair. She put the coffee cup down and hit the pause button.

"Hey Vivian, I think I got something."

"Where?"

"Martin," Sam answered, tapping the screen.

"Okay," Johnson replied, watching as the rookie made his way through the parking garage. Then three men appeared behind him and shoved him hard on the other side of a dumpster and out of view. Several moments later, they reappeared.

"My God, Jack was right," Sam whispered, shocked and appalled when one of them tossed a small board into the dumpster, another was shaking his fist as if it was sore.

"Where's Martin?" Vivian inquired, forwarding the film. "A half hour," she murmured when he staggered into the frame.

"He's really hurt," Sam sympathized, wincing when it was apparent that he couldn't stand up fully. Rather, he held on to the wall with one hand, walking slowly hunched over, cradling his ribs with his other hand. "Those bastards..."

"We got them now," Vivian answered, pulling her phone out. "Jack? You were right."

"I knew it," Malone exclaimed, "What did you find?"

"Sam's copying the frames now and we'll send them to you. Martin was jumped by three men, two of the faces are pretty clear; we shouldn't have any trouble getting identification. How do you want to handle it?"

"Let me look at the tape first. Then when we identify them, I want first crack. Good work." Malone paused, nodding to Tim Simmons. He was at the Hartford F.B.I. office coordinating the new plan. "Oh, by the way, Danny's undercover as a homeless man. He's felt strongly that it was the best way to find Martin. He sure as hell won't come to us."

"And you think that's a good idea?" she fretted, knowing how haunted Taylor was.

"I know what you're thinking," he agreed, "But it's our best choice. And despite his haggard appearance, he's the best man for this job. He's been on the streets, he knows the pulse. I talked to him a couple hours ago; he's been canvassing the area where we last saw Martin. I'm meeting up with him at noon."

"Tell Jack, the email is on its way," Sam updated wondering why Vivian was distracted. The dark head nodded and she waited until Vivian signed off and hung up. "What?"

"Danny's undercover, living on the street."

"Oh," Sam's voice told her concern.

"That about covers it," Vivian agreed.

Hartford
Thursday, November 14, 2002
Noon

Danny shifted twice on the uncomfortable low metal railing on the other side of the bush. He was early and kept scanning the street for Jack. He was also tired and stifled another yawn and rubbed his weary eyes. He'd thoroughly searched the alleys and terrain to the east of where he was sitting now. He didn't think Martin was in that direction, but he checked it anyway. After talking to Jack, he was going directly across the street. The alleys that cut into the main street were most likely where Martin disappeared to when he ran in front of the bus.

Jack paused at the doorway of the cafe and eyed the empty tables. It was too cold to eat outside and he made his way to the far end. He peered over the tall bushes and saw Taylor looking very uncomfortable. He made his way over and paused on the other side of the bush. He shivered as the wind kicked up and then got an idea. He backtracked to the gate, went through it and approached the undercover agent. His haggard appearance, scruffy beard and unkempt appearance was totally convincing. A little too much; Malone knew how large a percentage of what he saw came from the pain within.

"You look like you could use a meal."

"I'm doin' okay," Danny replied, huddling closer to keep warm.

"It's my day to play Samaritan. There's a little dive a block down, Sammy Ho's."

Jack kept walking and stopped at the corner for a traffic light. He saw Danny out of the corner of his eye and waited for the light. Once it flashed green, he picked up his pace. The small Chinese restaurant was dimly lit and not crowded. Jack took a booth near the wall and waited.

"Two," he said to the small Asian woman approaching. She left two menus, a bowl of fried noodles and sauce and a steaming pot of tea with two cups.

"Nothing yet," Danny answered the dark eyes as he slid into the booth. He tapped his pocket, "I found an old hunting knife though and a small wooden club, like an old chair leg." He poured the tea and wrapped his fingers around the porcelain before sipping it.

"But this afternoon I'm heading into the area right across the street. It's where I think he ran after the bus nearly hit him. According to the locals I spoke to, there's a lot of action at night back there."

"Uh..." Jack eyed the menu and tossed it aside, "I'll have the number 6 with Hot and Spicy Soup."

"Good ... good..." The waitress turned to the other man and wrinkled her nose. He was dirty and smelled. Usually they didn't allow homeless men in the restaurant but he was with a paying customer. "Well?"

"Oh." Danny eyed the nasty face and scowled. Already it had started; he'd forgotten the feeling that you were the scum on the pond. "Number 1 with Won Ton and an extra shrimp roll."

"Shrimp?" Jack growled, flicking an eye at the Lunch Special Danny chose. "Butterfly shrimp wrapped in bacon. You're awfully generous with my money."

"I'm worth it!" Danny chirped and leaned back when the waitress deposited the soup. She barely got his on the edge of the table. "Thanks, looks good, plenty left over for the bugs I'm carrying."

"Danny," Jack warned as the waitress left. He eyed the fatigue scoring the face before him and took a spoonful of soup. "You sure you have enough gas for this? You look beat."

"I'm fine," Danny offered, devouring the soup. "Jesus, I must be desperate, even this swill is good."

"Two things," Jack updated, reaching into his pocket. "First, I called that priest at Holy Cross and told him you were hunting for Martin on your own. If you need a place to sleep, you can crash there."

"Thanks, Jack, I might do that," Danny lied. Holy Cross was too far out of the perimeter he'd set up. "Second, my hunch about Martin was right. Take a look at this. It's from the surveillance cameras in the parking garage on Thursday night."

Danny took the photos just as the waitress reappeared. She took the empty soup bowl and left his twin shrimp rolls. He pushed the plate aside and laid the photos out. Jack numbered the bottom of each frame so he viewed them in order. As he carefully eyed the photos, Jack spoke.

"The video shows Martin walking into the frame and then three goons appear and strong arm him. A few minutes later they come out. One of them tosses a board into the dumpster and another is shaking his right hand. Martin doesn't appear for about another half hour. He was clearly in pain, he wasn't able to walk upright, and he shuffled, hunched over, holding his ribs."

"Shit," Danny whispered, trying to see more clearly. "Any idea on who it was?"

"Do you recognize them?" Jack asked. "I'm going to give Vivian a list of possibles. I got a lot of negative emails after I picked him. A handful was other federal agents looking to transfer into the unit. They resented him, said I picked him because of his name."

"Hell, Jack," Taylor complained, "Elliott Ness could be in this photo. It's so damn dark in here..."

"Take the photo... that one there, number 6," Jack suggested, "it's the clearest of the three of them. Go into the men's room, there's bound to be a light in there."

The entrees arrived and Jack began to eat. Three forkfuls into his Kung Pao Chicken, he eyed the men's room door. Danny should have been out by now. He wiped his mouth and took a large swallow of water. Just as he rose to exit the booth, the door opened. His brows furrowed in concern when the now ashen faced Taylor slowly arrived back at the booth.

"What the hell happened?" Jack asked, seeing the distress on Taylor's face. "Are you sick?"

"Yeah," Danny rasped, swallowing hard. Couldn't Jack see the guilt that was clinging to him like a desperate lover? He eyed the tablet Jack was composing a list of candidates on. "I'll save you some time."

"You know them?"

"Yeah..." Danny shook his head and looked away. Shame washed over his face and he felt his guts turn to ice. He was certain shooting his mouth off had lead to the nasty encounter.

"Danny? Look at me and tell me what the hell's wrong?" Jack demanded. Now he saw something in the haunted dark eyes he didn't like. "Spill it," he waited a moment, "Now!"

"That's uh..." Danny put the photo down so it faced Malone. He tapped the chest of the man on the far left that had thrown the board away. That's Tyrone Washington. The guy in the middle is Steve Haines and the one who was shaking his fist is Mitch, Gary Mitchell."

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear you were hiding something from me." Malone glared openly at Taylor. His gut told me that despite what his heart wanted to hear, his head was right. "I'm wrong, aren't I?"

Danny took a deep breath and shook his head slowly. Only he could have uncovered something that made Fitzgerald's disappearance any worse. How many times had Jack schooled him on curbing his temper? How many times had he told him to take a walk, count to ten and chill? Don't let your emotions rule you, you control them. He could feel Jack's eyes bearing down on him. Hell, he was surprised the ratty shirt he wore wasn't scorched.

"Uhm... I didn't think... I mean... I had no way of knowing they'd do something like this. Shit... shit..." He turned away, raking a shaking hand through his disheveled hair. The ice water that ran through his gut in the men's room when he saw the photo seemed to intensify. Hard, cold nails raked his tender insides. The scent of the seafood on the table was making him queasy now.

"Sit down!" Jack ordered, his hot eyes drilling the troubled agent. It took a few seconds but Taylor slid boneless into the booth. "Now what the hell do you know about this? How do you know them?"

"I don't know them well, I met them through Rico. Rico Delgado, we came in together, we met at orientation. We had some classes together. He got a job in Houston for a year or so and then transferred back to New York. They work with him."

Danny sat back in the booth and echoes of his ranting edict of a week ago came back to haunt him. His temper was in overdrive and as usual when that happened, he shot his mouth off. He was so livid he couldn't remember half of what he said. Only that Martin had been the object of his venom. He closed his eyes and heard the last thing he said before he left them. He couldn't believe they'd gone this far.

"Somebody outta knock Little Lord Fitzyboy down a peg or two."

"What?" Jack had to lean over the table to hear the raspy voice. "What the hell does that mean? Dammit, Taylor, open your eyes and answer me. What happened on Thursday? And why is guilt dripping from your eyes?"

"Because it's my fault," Danny spat back, unsure of how to begin. "After you left the conference room, I was pissed. I mean madder than I've been in years. It was like a pressure cooker and the lid was gonna blow off. I needed some air... some space... something..." His hands formed into fists just as they had that night. "Before I knew it, I was in the elevator. I got off and was headed to the gym, when I ran into Rico. They were with him. He asked what was wrong and the lid came off the pressure cooker."

The words stumbled out then hard and painful, they clung to his lips with reluctance. Did they spill or did they cling? He gave as much of the details as he could recall. He could feel the heat from the other side of the table and didn't dare look at Malone. He felt sure steam would be coming from both of his ears.

"Somebody outta knock Little Lord Fitzyboy down a peg or two," he repeated, finally taking his eyes from the window and directly offering them to his very angry boss. "I was venting, ranting... I didn't think they'd take it to heart. Jesus..." He swallowed hard and sucked in air painfully, his eyes burning with shame.

"You badmouthed Martin? In front of other agents?" Jack's voice was full of disdain and disappointment. "What the hell's wrong with you?"

"I know... I know..." Danny winced at the vile tone, one he'd never gotten before from Malone. "I'm sorry, Jack. I had no idea they'd go that far. I left for the gym and they kept going towards the lot." He sighed hard and gathered up his scattered emotions. "You think my gut wasn't ripped apart when I saw who was in the photo? My God, if I didn't shoot my mouth off, Martin would have been hundred percent on Friday. That means he wouldn't have been headed for the train."

"Look, you leave that guilt trip here, understood? I don't need two missing agents. You need a clear head out there; you're in no man's land and on your own. Leave it behind."

"Yeah... right..." Danny scoffed, "easier said than done."

"Then pull yourself up by the balls and do your fuckin' job, Agent Taylor!"

Danny leaned on the table and dropped his head. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. He revisited his anger during that night and on Friday. He now understood why Martin seemed off kilter on Friday. Hell, after that kind of beating it took balls to even show up to work. But what he couldn't figure out is what they could have told him that would make him doubt his job? That just wasn't like Martin. There was something else missing, a critical piece of the puzzle. A piece he intended to find. He found his center again and his purpose came back. He lifted his head and found Jack's eyes across the table. He nodded once, picked up his fork and ate his lunch. He needed the fuel; he had a long night ahead.

The sun left the sky, hiding behind an angry cloud. Annie's eyes went skyward, she felt the dampness in the air and knew she better get the cart back and locked up safe. She packed the loose items, carefully securing them. She turned to where her young friend was dozing. She was troubled by his health; she clearly saw signs of an illness. He'd seemed almost relieved to stay most of the day, leaving only to use the bathroom of the bus station a few blocks down. But each time he drifted to sleep, he appeared to have bad dreams. He'd wake up in a panic, gasping for breath and clawing at his throat, his blue eyes wide with terror. She was worried now, he couldn't go with her. The apartment she shared with two other elderly ladies was not a suitable place for him. She double bagged the food and hot tea, tucking cookies and hot rolls down the side. She walked over and gently tapped his cheek.

Martin turned away from the touch, his aching body not wishing to return to the land of the living. Just the thought of moving was impossible. The soft touch was repeated and the musical voice tickled his ear. He pried his eyes open and squinted up the older woman. For a few moments, he didn't know where he was or who she was. He panicked and stood up too fast, grabbing air when the world tilted sideways.

"Easy, luv, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle ye. It's just Old Annie, ye remember me don't ye lad?"

Annie.

Annie.

He narrowed his eyes and wrapped his arms around his chest. He was awfully dizzy but as much as he wanted to sit back down, he knew if he did he wouldn't get up. Annie. A warm voice, a soothing touch, food, hot drinks, a lovely voice that lulled him to sleep, she'd watched over him all day just like a mother would. He sighed heavily, which turned into a wicked cough. It was nasty and wet, dropping him to his knees. Huge wads of greenis h muck flew from his mouth. Wheezing heavily, he gripped the side of the building and tried to find air.

"Tsk, tsk," she clucked her tongue, taking a napkin, she squirted some water on it and tipped his chin up. She gently wiped the tears from his eyes, brought on by the awful coughing fit. She saw the gratitude pouring so fast from them that it caused her heart to tighten. "There now, that's better. It's an awful cough ye have, dear. Shouldn't ye see a doctor?"

No.

Martin shook his head and stood up. Doctors asked too many questions and they'd call the police. He couldn't have that happen. He took the water she handed him and smiled, sipping it gratefully. He drained the tiny bottle and tucked it away in his pocket. He noticed then that her cart was all shiny. The sides were up, the food hidden within. He frowned and turned away, not wishing her to see how upset he was.

"The sun's leavin' and so must I," she noted, tapping his arm. "Would ye walk with me for a spell? I have to lock me wagon up for the night. Then it's the bus I'll be catchin'. I get a ride over in the morning from Sally. She talks a lot and sometimes I wish she'd hold her tongue, but she's a good lass."

Martin took the handles of the cart and pushed it for her. They'd only gone a few steps when he stopped and waited. She looked up at him and cocked her head. He motioned with his mouth and hand, hoping she'd understand.

"What is it then, Danny boy?" she asked and then saw his head nod once and that shy smile appear. "Oh!" She took his arm and hugged it, walking slowly beside him. "Tis a song, ye want then?"

She had a good voice, soft and warm, just the kind that every child wants for a grandmother to have. Singing softly about 'Danny boy', her words filled him and he savored each one, storing them inside for when the night fell. It would be far too cold then and he would be alone again, just like the mourning mother in the song. He'd need to pull her song out then to keep him warm. It wasn't long before they came to a large metal storage unit. She carefully unlocked it and he pushed her wagon inside. He waited while she locked up and tucked the key away.

"Well, I'll be leavin' ye now, lad and I'll be thankin' ye for a lovely day. It's been a long stretch since I've had such fine company." She gave him the bag of food and saw the hunger in his eyes. He ducked his head then and shame fluttered briefly. But she'd have none of that. She stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek, totally oblivious to the matted, dirty beard. She heard the sharp inhalation of breath and saw his eyes m elt. "Yer welcome, lad... yer more than welcome. Will I be seein' ye on the morrow then?" Tomorrow?

Martin wanted to come back but he had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten here. His eyes shifted to the street they'd come down on. He saw the side of the green building her cart had been parked near. They'd made no turns, if he could just remember that building, he'd find his way back. She was his only friend, someone who cared for him. He had to hold onto that for now. He put on his most confident face and nodded enthusiastically. Then he took her hand and kissed it, giving her a formal bow.

"Well, fancy that... just like a real lady..." She watched his smile fade then and he nodded once, gently touching her cheek. "Oh my... ye've done it," she choked, her eyes filling. "Ye've stolen me words. I have to go, I'll miss me bus and the girls won't like that. But I'll be waiting right here for ye tomorrow mornin', alright then?"

Martin nodded and watched until she got to the corner and the bus came. He kept his eyes on it until it was only a silver speck on the horizon. Then the sun left, the wind whipped around the strange buildings and whispered wicked thoughts into his ear. His heart began to pound and he turned slowly, trying to study the area. This wasn't familiar at all. Which way to go? He didn't want to lose the green building, he'd lose Annie. He took out his notebook and wrote down her name and the green building. Then he looked again in every direction, picked up his bag of food, hid it carefully inside his baggy coat and began to walk.

Midnight
Shantytown

The silver moon boldly caressed his cold face as he walked along. Dark eyes, rimmed red from pain and fatigue skirted the area ahead. He knew where he was going; he'd sought out this area in particular. To the homeless in the area, it was known as 'Shantytown', a makeshift living area of sorts located under the interstate. It bordered an old industrial park which had lots of places for the homeless to hide. The police let them alone, unless there was trouble. There were a few lean-tos that men slept under. Some just huddled near the fires inside the trash cans for warmth. But it was more than heat Danny was seeking out.

He shivered as the night air whipped up, encircling his legs and back. He'd lived this life before when he wore a younger man's clothes and this trip down memory lane was unpleasant. All too quickly the memories came back of his days and nights on the streets of Miami. His hand unwittingly went to the scar on his chest from a knife fight. Had it not been for the intervention of a tough priest, he'd have ended up dead or in jail. When you're alone, without a roof, a job, or anyone to kick your ass in line, it's easy to slip to the other side. The dark side whispered in your ear, promising money, protection and the wrong kind of brotherhood. Those savory words were tempting, like a feast spread before a starving man. Thank God for Father Orlando, who'd intervened and kicked his ass good.

He felt a dozen pair of eyes on him as he drew closer. Several small metal trashcans had fires going in them. Some men were already sleeping near one, wrapped in layers of blankets and clothes. He knew the wooden and cardboard makeshift rectangular abodes were housing others. He had no intensions of sleeping here. He knew all too well as tired as he was, if he fell asleep he would most likely wake up stripped of his possessions, if he woke up at all. Experience was the best mistress.

He lingered near the fire, nodding once to a large man who appeared to be the leader of sorts. The large, heavyset brute's face was bruised and one eye swollen. Danny didn't realize he'd been staring until the menacing man glared at him.

"You got somethin' to say?"

"No," Danny offered, shrugging. "Sorry, I didn't mean to stare. Looks painful."

"Painful?" he spat back, his good eye gazing towards a dark area on the other side of the overpass. "If I ever catch that blue-eyed bastard who jumped me, I'm gonna ream him so hard he'll split in two."

"We shoudda known that dummy was up to no good," another voice offered nearby, eager to stay on the beast's good side.

"Dummy?" Danny inquired, outwardly masking his face to appear confused. Inwardly, an alarm of sorts went off. The clues of a blue eyed man who was a 'dummy' painted a desperate portrait of his missing partner.

"Some kid wandered in last night, looked awful, sick you know?" the battered man recalled, watching the newcomer 'nod' in sympathy. "So I felt bad for him, I offered him some soup. He couldn't talk, but he wanted more food." He paused and glared at the evil chuckling that was heard in the shadows behind him. "You got somethin' to say to me?"

"No, Benny, just sharin' a joke," the voice replied in a telling lie.

Danny's picture was coming together more clearly. The sketch was filling out before him. He turned and in his mind's eye, Martin staggered into the camp, head throbbing, body aching, coughing, confused, alone, starving, seeking comfort. Once the initial bait was offered, the victim wants more. 'Benny' apparently offered food but with a catch. His dark eyes watched as the large man limped painfully closer to the fire. He only hoped that Martin delivered the beating before anything happened. His hands formed into fists without him even fully aware they were doing so.

"So where is the guy? The dummy?" Danny asked.

"Gone," Benny shot back, "Stole my stash and beat me to hell when we were alone."

"Really?" Danny's voice dripped in sarcasm, "and you offered him food out of the goodness of your heart? No strings attached?"

"Listen, pal, I don't like strangers coming in here and getting in my business," Benny warned. "So if you know what's good for you, you'll keep that hole of yours shut."

"Or what?" Danny fired back, leaning in closer, "You're gonna jump my bones like you tried to rape that kid?" The one working eye that glared back at him spoke loud and clear, then it shifted uncomfortably as the truth was revealed. Danny knew before the monster's mouth opened what happened. The rest of the picture turned to color, Martin had gotten away without being assaulted. "For a dummy he wasn't so dumb, huh?" Danny laughed and saw the rage simmering in the working eye.

Benny's anger spilled over and his beefy hands formed into fists. Who the hell was this stranger to undress him in front of his people? He didn't like the tone of his voice or that disgusting look on his face. His first mistake was lunging at the grinning face. The leaner body moved swiftly, punching him solidly in the midsection. His second mistake was reaching for where his knife was hidden.

"Not so tough now, huh," Danny seethed. He flashed his knife out so fast it caused Benny to gasp. The stench of fresh urine wasn't far behind. He pressed the blade to the coward's throat and felt the fear. "I bet he didn't quiver, did he? Listen up you sick fuckin' bastard. I'm on this turf now and I'll be watching. You won't see me, I'm like the shadow you're gonna come to regret. You keep your dick inside your pants or dancing in your hand, got it? You so much as look at a kid wrong and I'll cut it off and shove it up your ass, understand?" Danny was so livid he was panting. The rage was out of control. He couldn't help but think of what this monster nearly did to Martin. "I don't hear you!?"

"Yeah... yeah... okay..." Benny managed, his heart racing.

Benny didn't like this man or the fear that he normally didn't have stirred up. The regulars here knew to stay away from him. The last thing he needed was a threat to his control. He stared at the fire, choosing to remain silent and warming his hands. He didn't budge an inch, this was his turf and the other man would back down, they always did.

Danny had no intensions of getting into a fight with Benny. He'd gotten a lead and that was his only goal. He had to tone down the fighter inside that wanted to beat the guy senseless for attacking his injured partner. Partner. Suddenly that word took on a new meaning to him. He shook off the guilt and desperation and focused on his mission. To follow the trail and find Martin before it was too late. He was curious as to where Martin went and eyed the 'dark' area that Bennie spoke of. He eyed a smaller fire about fifty feet away with a single old man hovering near it. He wandered over, sat down and put his hands out. They sat in silence for awhile, but the old man finally looked over at him.

"You got anything to eat?"

"No, sorry, I hit the soup kitchen near the post office for dinner." Danny replied of his meager meal. "At least I think it was soup."

"I know the place, it ain't great but they give you a lot. They have those small hot rolls?"

"Yeah, I ate a few of them and some fruit." He saw the old man's eyes lingering on Benny. He read the loathing there and decided it was time to go fishing. "I'm Danny."

"Catfish," he replied, then eyed the dark-haired man. "Danny, huh? That was his name too."

"Whose" Danny replied, distracted. He kept his eye on Benny, not trusting him.

"The dummy," Catfish answered. "He wasn't that wild when I met him last weekend. He didn't belong on the street, damn virgins... there's too many of them now."

Danny turned his full attention to the old man and stared at him hard. His heart was pounding and he felt his blood racing. He had no doubt that this man was speaking of Martin. If he played his cards right, he could get vit al information.

"Wild?" Danny finally spoke and the picture crystallized. "You mean he was the one who beat up Benny?"

"Yeah," Catfish chuckled, leaning in closer and speaking low. "Good for the kid. That damn monster should have been locked up years ago. Them poor kids wander in desperate and starving, some of them hooked on drugs. They'll do anything... and that sick bastard feeds off that."

"So he lures them to the dark place over there." Danny nodded. "And offers them food for sex?"

"He likes it when they refuse, he gets off of it. You get used to the screams after a while," Catfish replied, then found a smile. "I wasn't here last night, but I heard about it. The kid was sick, coughing and staggering around. All fevered up and starving. Benny took him to the cave," he paused, shaking his matted white head, "that's what we call it back there. When he told the kid what was up, the kid refused. So Benny clocked him, got his pants down and was ready to jump him, but the kid fought back. Beat the tar out of him!" he noted proudly, "I hope some of the stuff I told him last week sunk in. It's rough enough surviving on the street. Fresh meat like him with a pretty face, I warned him."

Relief scored every feature on Danny's face and a bit of pride. He found a grim smile when the defiant Fitzgerald eyes that he knew so well flashed before him. That temper and attitude that created trouble between them had saved his life. So that part of him was alive inside, that fight, that instinct and the cocky attitude. He needed to know more about where Catfish met Martin and what he knew.

"So you think he's new to the area? Kinda dangerous."

"Who, Danny?" Catfish nodded. "Yeah, I found him last weekend, late one night. He was peein' in the alley near an old place I hole up in sometimes. An old store, up the road about a mile or so, all boarded up now." He laughed then, recalling the event." He was washing his hands in the snow. He looked like shit, sick I guess. I asked him in, gave him some grub. I knew by them damn big eyes of his he had no idea what he was doing. I told him what I knew, about keepin' safe, hidin' weapons and foraging for food. Somebody already got to him, his neck was a mess. Must have hit him hard, all of a sudden he clutched his head and fell over."

"Shame you missed him," Danny answered, trying to stomach the throbbing inside when that picture of Martin appeared.

"Yeah, the new ones need somebody with 'em for a while, you know? He didn't have nobody, he was real confused. I guess he done alright, though, he got the best of Benny." He yawned and settled back. "I might try to look him up tomorrow."

Danny didn't answer, but he had no intention of losing his only lead. He stayed for awhile, huddled against the cold with the small fire giving him warmth. But he felt himself nodding off and twice jerked his head up, shaking it hard to keep awake. Both times he saw Benny moving closer. He was exhausted, having not slept in two days. He knew the next time he dozed off he might not wake up. He needed to find a place to sleep nearby without the fear of Benny attacking him. When he saw Benny turn away for a moment, he rose and fled, easily slipping into the darkness.

He found an old supply shack on the outskirts of the park and climbed in the window. Nobody was inside and although it was cold, it was sturdy and safe. The window gave him a good view of where Catfish was sleeping. He could get some rest and follow him in the morning. As he curled up in the corner on an old worktable, he thought of his missing partner. His heavy eyes went to the window where the full moon was staring at him.

"Where are you, Martin?" he whispered, only getting a shrill cry from the night wind as a reply.

He slept fitfully, his mind working overtime with ideas, clues and possibilities. He moaned and thrashed when the dream returned. The storm blew in, the angry winds fought with the feisty sea and the thunder and lightning applauded loudly. Martin was in the water, fighting hard to keep above the waves. He sunk beneath, the single hand came up. But Danny was fighting too, with a fierce cry he broke free of the bonds holding him. Then he swam like hell, working hard to reach that hand. His eyes remained on the fingers reaching out. He was so close... so close... so close.

"...fight... man... fight..." he mumbled in his sleep to his missing partner. "I'll find you... I promise..."

Part Eleven

Hartford
Friday, November 15, 2002
Nine a.m.

Jack was just leaving his morning briefing with Tim Simmons when his phone rang. He had just exited the Hartford Federal Building and was heading for his car. He pulled out the cellphone and flipped it open.

"Malone." He shifted the phone and used his other hand to unlock the door. As he climbed inside a young man's Hispanic voice sounded in the earpiece.

"Agent Malone, this is Juan Sanchez from Holy Cross. I was wondering if you had any news on Danny."

"Danny?" Jack shut the door and put the key in the ignition. "You mean Martin?"

"Si... yes... I'm sorry."

"We got a few leads but nothing solid. Danny is hoping to find out more working the streets."

"I might be able to help."

"You already have, Juan," Jack conceded, pulling out onto the street. "Father Joe told me how much of your free time is being used to canvas the streets. I really appreciate that."

"Thanks, I owe him that much, I gave him my word..."

"It's not your fault Juan," Jack trimmed the edge of guilt on the words.

"Anyway," Juan deflected, "We have a blown up photo of Martin on the wall by the dining room. We got a guy who showed up for breakfast today that thinks he saw Martin yesterday."

"Where?" Jack inquired, pulling over to take out his notebook. He cradled the phone with his shoulder and wrote down the address that Juan gave. "That's great! I'll keep you posted."

Jack paused a few yards away from the vendor's cart. The description couldn't have been clearer. The woman behind the cart selling hot sandwiches, donuts and coffee while cheerfully dispensing advice with a kind smile had to be 'Old Annie'. Rosy cheeks sat under bright blue eyes and there was that smile. He approached the cart and pulled out Martin's photo, just as she looked up.

"What'll ye have, luv?" Annie asked.

"A moment of your time," Jack replied, offering the photo. "My name is Jack Malone, I'm an F.B.I. agent from New York. One of my men went missing last week, his name is Martin Fitzgerald. He might have been in this area and I was wondering if you'd seen him. He was mugged, suffered a head injury and has amnesia.'

She eyed him curiously, noting the dark trench coat and serious face. "Malone, is it?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Jack answered.

"Would ye be kin to the Malones of Kitimagh?"

"No, I don't think so," Malone replied with an amused smile. Then he moved in when she leaned closer as if to bestow wisdom or impart with a secret.

"It's just as well, they're a nasty lot, Fergus and Mickey and that awful Ned. Blew up their Daddy's barn they did, making poteen. A heartache they were for their sainted mother." She shook her head sadly and blessed herself.

"I have enjoyed more than a wee bit of Tullymore in my day," Jack chuckled, totally charmed by the tiny woman.

"Ah, I knew it, ye have that look. Jack is it? Rakish I'll bet, goes with the name." She was delighted to have found a 'kinsman' of sorts.

"Rakish," Jack laughed, "yeah, that's me. Have you seen him?" He held out the photo again and this time she took it. He knew before she replied by the sadness that crossed her face like dark shadows.

She put one hand to her heart and shook her head. "Me poor bonnie Danny, I knew he was lost. Poor lamb was so full of fear and hurt. Aye, lad, he was here yesterday. He stumbled in early in the morning just as I was settin' up me cart. He kept me company all day. He walked with me down the alley where I locked up me cart." She paused then and sighed hard, her eyes filling with tears.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you," Jack apologized, seeing how distressed she was.

"No, I don't usually wash me eyes this early in the day," she noted, swiping her eyes. She looked at the picture again. "Poor lamb, he was so sick, slept on and off and the awful dreams. He'd wake up startled; his eyes wide and full of fear. He couldn't seem to get his bearings at all. I waited for him this morning, by the lockup where me cart is. I waited for almost an hour, but he never came back. I've been watchin' for him to come around the corner again but..."

"Can you show me where you last saw Martin?"

"Aye, lad." She left the cart and walked to the corner, then pointed down the street. "Do ye see that red overhang with the black lettering?"

"Yeah." Jack squinted and saw the awning which appeared near the corner a few blocks down. It was large and the only red in the otherwise conservative buildings."

"That's Ming's, an Oriental store; I turn there and get the bus. He went the other way. Oh, I hope he's not..." she broke off the thought and changed her mind. "Now there ye go again Annie, paintin' a black picture. He's fine, jest sleepin' in today, that cough... oh that cough..."

"Annie?" Jack followed her back to the cart. "Did he mention where he came from? Is there anything that you remember about yesterday and Martin that might help?"

"He's not well, he's totin' a fever and an awful cough. He seemed to get bad headaches. He didn't talk but his face would screw up in pain and he'd hold his head. He was starving; I got some food and hot brew in him. I sent him off with some food. He seemed fearful, of himself even, kept lookin' at the silver reflection on me cart and touching his face. Then he'd get this pain in his eyes and they'd dart back and forth. I'm sorry, I wish I could have been more help to ye, Mister Malone."

"Mister Malone is my father," Jack corrected with a gentle smile. He took her small hand in both of his and held it for a moment. "My friends call me Jack, okay. And you did more for Martin than most have since he's been lost. I want to thank you for that and for that smile that you kept for him."

She nodded and kept hold of his hand, staring at the picture. "It's going to sound silly, I mean he didn't talk, but he's special. There's something about him... Can I hang this up on me cart? Perhaps someone else will recognize him."

"I'd appreciate that, Annie, very much," Jack complimented. He gave her his card as he turned to leave. "My cell is on the back, if you see him again, try to keep him here and call me, alright?"

Jack spent the next hour canvassing the block, stopping in various stores and offices to see if anybody had seen his missing agent. He was just exiting Ming's when his cellphone rang.

"Malone."

"Jack? I can't talk long."

"Danny?" Jack hissed, squinting through his sunglasses into the bright autumn sun overhead. "Where the hell where you this morning? You should have checked in. I got three of Simmons men out looking for you."

"Call them off, I'm fine. I'm sorry, I overslept. Listen, I got a lead."

Jack listened to every word that Danny spoke and didn't miss the vinegar sprinkled liberally throughout the speech. He had to squelch his own anger when Benny's disgusting act was revealed. He pulled out the small handwritten map he'd made and eyed the area where Danny was. Then he moved his gaze to where he stood now, where Martin had been last night. The cross radius was broad and his agent could have gone in a dozen directions.

"So where's this Catfish now?" Jack asked of the old man Danny was pinning his hopes to.

"He hasn't left yet." Danny craned his neck from the window he was seated behind keeping a hawk like position. "He said he was going to try to find Martin today. I can't leave just yet, Jack, I gotta stay put. He's my first real lead."

"Okay, I'm heading by to New York for the afternoon. I'll update Simmons and have him send some local cops to roust Benny. You sure you're okay?"

"I'm good," Danny sent back, and then thought on Jack's words. "New York? Did Van Doren pull you back? What the hell is her problem? We can't leave without Martin!"

"Hold it!" Jack practically shouted. When Taylor got his craw up, his feathers ruffled good. "I'm going back because Dave Palmer called. They're bringing in those three goons who beat up Martin and he's invited me to sit in."

"Sit huh?" Danny spat back. "You got more self control than I do. Don't think they're not on my list. I intend to have my own 'conversation' with them..."

"You keep that hot head cool, understand!" Jack issued, "You concentrate on your job. You call me later, if you can't get me, you call Tim Simmons, understood!"

"Yeah," Danny replied, his keen eyes spotting Catfish on the move. "I gotta go, Jack."

Noon

Martin's eyes shot open and he woke up gasping for air. He rolled over and sat up, immediately coughing without abandon. He coughed so hard he threw up and got dizzy. Something thick was stuck to the inside of his throat and he couldn't breathe. He gagged and coughed until he dislodged it and sat back, wheezing and sweating. His head was killing him and his back hurt. He peeled an eye open and stared at four unfamiliar concrete walls. The worktable he slept on was near several rows of large crates stacked to the ceiling. A warehouse? He shook his head to clear the cobwebs out. Again he eyed the room and spotted a single open window at the top of the wall. He had no recollection of entering last night or yesterday or whenever he'd stumbled inside.

The loud noise that woke him up sounded again. Martin jumped up and climbed onto the tallest crate to peer out of the window. There was a construction crew across the street. That's where the loud sound came from. He saw an orange and black sign and realized that whatever they were doing had shut the building down. Relief coursed through him. He was safe for awhile longer. He went back down and staggered badly, falling to his knees. The floor seemed to tilt up at a ridiculous angle, like the Titanic. He couldn't fall off but it sure felt like he might. He closed his eyes and took several loud breaths, then felt the room leveling out.

Food; his growling stomach caused his eyes to open. He spotted a bag on the floor next to the workbench. As he stood up to head to the table, he saw a silver stand with a large glass container of water. It was a dispenser for hot and cold spring water. He nearly cried in relief. He took the red plastic cup that was in a stack next to it and filled it. He gulped the cold water so fast it hurt his throat. Then he filled it again and drank, the third cup he took with him and ate some lunch. He saved a sandwich, a bag of chips and cookies for dinner.

There was a pane of glass nearby with a dark plastic cover on the outside. It gave a reflective appearance and he stared at the filthy face; matted, dirty hair over wide eyes and a bearded face. Nothing came to him. Not a name, a home, an identity, a purpose. He concentrated on the eyes again, hoping to see something there. The stranger's eyes held no secrets for him and he turned away, taking a seat. He thought about the F.B.I. man again who'd screamed at him. He revisited the cafe in his mind and that face.

A flash in his head caused him to cry out and clutch his head with both hands. The same man appeared but in a different place. They were in a crowded train station and the man was yelling at him, his eyes full of rage and anger, with a rippling of hatred even. The badge the man wore seemed to glow and grow in intensity until it blinded him. He went limp and fell sideways onto the floor, slipping back into an unconscious state.

New York, Manhattan, Federal Bldg
Three thirty p.m.

Jack was in his office, talking to his wife when the other phone rang. He hung up and took the new call.

"Malone."

"It's Simmons, Jack. Just wanted to let you know Danny called in. He's fine and still trailing that old guy. He seems to think the guy is headed in the right direction, according to what he told him last night. I got two men ready to go if he needs us."

"Okay, Tim, thanks, keep me posted." He looked up when Vivian and Sam appeared in the doorway.

"Hey."

"Hey, yourself," Sam returned. "Dave Palmer called; they're ready if you want to meet them, thirteenth floor, the conference room near his office."

"Thanks." Jack stood up. He'd gone home long enough to shower, pack more clothes, leave the dirty ones and eat. He'd arrived here a short while ago, gone through his messages and left a voicemail for Van Doren. "You two have something to keep you busy?"

"We're ready to head to Atlantic City," Vivian answered. "We got a lead in the Waterman case. How's Danny?"

"Simmons checked in just now, Danny's good. He met some old guy last night who claims to have knowledge of an old store or something that Martin was sleeping in. Danny's trailing him, hoping to find the place. It fits the pattern, I've been mapping his moves and it's in the right general area."

"So we're close maybe?" Sam's voice was fu ll of hope.

"Yeah, maybe," Jack answered, gathering up his things, he paused to look at the wistful expression she wore. "But a prayer wouldn't hurt. He's pretty sick, if we don't find him soon..."

"Don't." Sam held her hand up.

"I'll check in later," Jack vowed, leaving them to head for the Office of Professional Responsibility. Dave Palmer worked for the OPR, which was responsible for the investigation and supervision of investigations into allegations of criminal conduct and serious misconduct by FBI employees.

As Jack approached the door in question, a tall man with graying hair stepped out into the hall. He knew Palmer from previous investigations and some Bureau Division meetings. He was a fair man and Jack felt the three men in question would be punished if found in violation.

"Jack," Dave stated, extending his hand. "Sorry about this."

"Thanks for the invite, Dave, I appreciate it." Malone walked with Palmer to the short hallway where he viewed the suspects.

"Left to right," Palmer stated, nodding through the one way glass, "Steve Haines, Tyrone Washington and Gary Mitchell. They were called down this morning, they weren't told why. I didn't want them to cook up a story. We're gonna talk to Haines first. He seems the one most likely to talk. He's never been in trouble before. Mitchell's done, he's got prior violations and write-ups. Washington's got an attitude problem and the board won't look kindly on that."

"Okay," Jack agreed, eyeing the defiant posture of the African American agent through the glass. "But Washington is mine," he snarled, still seeing him throwing the board away.

"Let's do it," Palmer answered.

Steve Haines looked surprised when he entered a small interview room. He knew what the room was for and what Dave Palmer's job was. He wasn't sure why Jack Malone was there. His mind tried to recall if they'd worked any cases together. There weren't any questionable incidents that he could recall.

"Take a seat," Palmer indicated and waited until the ruddy-faced, stocky agent sat down. "Do you know why you're here?"

"No, sir, I don't. I can't think of anything that would cause this interview."

"Really?" Jack leaned forward, nodding to the technician seated in the corner. "Let me refresh your memory. This video is from last Thursday night." He saw the hazel eyes grow wide in a startled response. "New cameras, just installed, Thank God or we wouldn't have been able to identify the three slime balls who assaulted a federal agent."

"I never hit him," Haines spouted, wincing when the image of Martin Fitzgerald staggering badly appeared. He turned his face to Malone and the anger in his dark eyes was telling. "Honest to God, Malone, I didn't know they were going to hit him."

"Whose idea was it?" Palmer asked.

"Tyrone's," Haines replied. "When Danny left we were headed for the cars and we saw Fitzgerald walking on the other side of the garage. Tyrone said something like 'look what the wind blew in' and Mitch grinned. Then Tyrone said, 'it would be rude if we didn't introduce ourselves to the rookie, wouldn't it'."

"So you had no idea they intended to beat him unconscious?" Palmer pressed.

"No... not until they grabbed his arms and forced him behind the wall. I sort of looked at Gary but they started hitting him."

"And you didn't stop them?" Malone grilled. "You didn't even call for help, you left him there?"

"They didn't hit anything important, they said they were teaching him a lesson, so he wouldn't piss off Danny anymore."

"You're aware that Agent Fitzgerald went missing last weekend?" Palmer stated.

"Yeah, I saw it on the news," Haines managed. "That's not tied to this."

"Oh, I beg to differ." Jack stood up and leaned over the table. "His state of mind on Friday thanks to the beating he took from you three bore a direct impact on his disappearance. That film is all we need to suspend you, pending a full investigation when Martin is found. You might even be charged with assault."

The other two were split up into separate rooms. Jack entered the first room and the dark eyes of Tyrone Washington regarded him with distaste. Palmer was talking to the technician and joined them afterwards.

"Agent Washington, do you know why you were asked here today?" Palmer asked, putting a yellow tablet and a pen down on the table.

"No," Tyrone spit back, his face impassive. Then a board was slammed onto the table by Malone nearly hitting his hand. He jumped out of the chair. "Hey, man you damn near broke my hand with that thing."

"You're lucky I don't break your thick skull with it you shithead," Jack growled. "Doesn't it look familiar? We got one just like it in the evidence room with your fingerprints all over it."

"Fingerprints?" Tyrone's brows drew together in confusion.

"Sit down, Washington," Palmer ordered. "Maybe this will bring back your memory."

"Fuck," Washington muttered when the grainy black and white tape began to play.

"You should read your departmental emails, Washington," Palmer said, "You'd have known about the new security cameras."

"Look, we didn't hit him too hard, just showed him what was up. Hell, Taylor's the one you ought to be grilling; he's the one who started it."

"Daniel Taylor?" Palmer asked, "How's that?"

"He told us the real reason the kid was hired, cause of his old man. Pissed him off good... he said Fitzgerald was a real fuckup and that you only hired him because his old man made you do it."

"Have you ever met Agent Fitzgerald?" Jack asked, his eyes glowing like coals. He'd have to talk to Danny again about shooting his mouth off.

"No."

"And since I was on the panel that interviewed several dozen potential candidates for that job, I don't recall seeing you there. So you have no idea about his qualifications, all the records he holds at Quantico..." He chuffed in annoyance when Tyrone shifted in the chair and rolled his eyes. "I guess he got the last laugh. He'll be wearing his badge for a long time while you're asking 'would you like fries with that' at the drive thru window."

"Let's have it, Washington, start talking." Palmer listened as Tyrone gave the details of the session that Haines had also stated occurred with Taylor earlier.

"So you took it upon yourselves to show Fitzgerald the light?" Malone asked, then leaned over the table again. "You used a weapon of assault against a Federal Agent. You can kiss that badge goodbye and you better get used to zipping up an orange jumpsuit. You better pray that we find him alive, or the charges will change."

"Hey, that ain't my fault..." Washington's voice died off when Malone stood and leaned over the table with both fists pressed down hard.

"Actually, it does have a direct bearing," Palmer replied, "Agent Fitzgerald's state of mind at the time of his disappearance was as a result of the beating." He shoved the pad over. "Start writing."

The interview with Mitchell went in a similar fashion and afterwards Jack stopped in Boone's office to update him. Vivian and Sam would be reporting to him and he could at least give them that news. By the time he got back on the road headed to Hartford it was after six p.m and he got stuck in rush hour traffic. He spoke briefly with Danny who was closing in and putting his faith in his gut feeling that something would break very soon.

Hartford, CT
Friday night, Seven p.m.

Martin woke again and it was dark. Confusion rained down and his eyes darted frantically. Where was he? What happened? Why did he feel so sick? It took him a few moments to adjust to the inky blackness. He felt a chill and shivered, noticing the open window. His stomach growled and he climbed up and out of the window. He eyed the terrain from the height before climbing down. From this high up he scanned the nearby streets. His eyes zoned in on a kid in a colorful shirt that was throwing boxes of donuts into a bin behind the donut shop a couple blocks down. He wasted no time climbing down and getting over there.

He gained two full bags of stale bagels, some outdated cream cheese and a dozen donuts. He wandered along, munching a donut and eyeing the unfamiliar buildings. He stopped by an office that was closed that had a bench outside. He watched some of the people leaving the city scurrying past. One threw a nearly full soda into the trash as she was running for the train. He took the large soda and sat back down, eating again and draining the liquid. He was so hot and thirsty and his head hurt. He rested awhile, then the sky drew dark and he shivered. He began walking again; he needed to find a place to sleep. He saw a department store whose rose colored slate front looked familiar. He turned at the corner and the alley seemed familiar as well. As he walked along a few blocks down, he saw a boarded up store. The closer he got, the more relief filled him. He knew this place, he would be safe here.

Hartford, CT
Nine p.m.

Danny kept to the shadows and watched as Catfish entered an old deserted store. Most of the windows had been boarded up but there was a broken door in the back. He moved to the front of the building squinting through a small piece of glass into the interior. He couldn't see much but boxes and old furniture. He heard noise from the alley and saw Catfish walking in the other direction, disappearing into the night. Danny didn't waste any time, he quickly entered the old store.

He allowed a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the darkened room. There were silvery beams playing on the floor, courtesy of a street light outside. He walked around cautiously, squatting to examine some tin foil and a paper bag. The writing on the bag looked familiar and he got a good feeling when he realized it was from the hamburger place that Martin had cleaned up for. He moved into the next room and saw a bench attached to the wall. Something was lying on the floor and he bent to pick it up. He took it over to the window and the light hit it, his fingers toyed with the gathering of white hairs on the fabric.

"Sassy's blanket," he murmured, recalling the manager's story. His eyes went to the bench and he envisioned Martin curling up on it with the blanket wrapped around him that first night. Eyes dull with pain and wide with fear; his feverish body trying to force a name for the unknown face he wore. Sick and alone with his head caved in, he fearfully peered around in the dark, lost in a land of strangers. The image of the blanket wrapped around the aching soul caused Danny to shudder.

Martin's ghost faded and he moved back to the bench and looked around some more. He found a gray knapsack and inside was some toiletries and a candy bar. "Martin's lair," he whispered. But would his injured partner return here? It was worth staking out and he reached for his cellphone.

Martin entered quietly, his throbbing head and congested chest causing him to become dizzy. All he wanted was to sleep. He was halfway into the room when he spotted a stranger near the window. His heart began to pound and his throat went dry. He blinked and tried to see the man clearly. He shuffled a bit closer and watched as the bearded stranger caught a beam of light from outside. The silver glint made the dark eyes even more menacing. Once the man began to talk the voice became like a drill in his head. He knew that voice, but an angrier shade. Images of heated words and an irate snarl appeared. He shook his head in disbelief as the realization hit him. It couldn't be; it just couldn't be.

"Hello?" Danny said when the ringing stopped. "Who is this?" The voice identified herself as a policewoman. "This is Agent Taylor, F.B.I. I need Jack Malone. Where is he? I need him, it's urgent."

"Hold on, he's across the room. He left his phone in his jacket, he just arrived."

F.B.I.

F.B.I.

F.B.I.

The words crashed into his overloaded brain and his fevered mind brought up every disturbing image it could find. This man was the same one who'd yelled at him in anger and loathing and his words were full of hatred. He saw the crowded station again and that badge held up, the man screaming at him. F.B.I... Agent Malone... Agent Taylor... Most Wanted... guns... badges... danger... danger. He was the enemy they sought! The twisted pictures brought him pain, an agony coursed through him that made a red curtain fall over his eyes. His brain was screaming at him for relief. The 'danger' light was flashing in colors that were blinding him. He pulled out his knife and staggered forward, just as the man turned.

"Martin!" Danny screamed, his whole body jerking in shock. He jumped back just as a blade missed his neck by inches. "Shit... shit..." He dropped the phone and grabbed the amnesiac's wrist just in time. "Martin... it's me... Danny. I'm not... going to hurt... you..."

Jack took the phone from the policewoman and eyed the clock. "Yeah, Danny, whaddya got?" He paused and cupped his hand over his ear. All he could hear was shuffling sounds and grunts, then a small crashing sound and Taylor's distressed cry.

"Martin! No! No, don't!"

Danny cried out when the frantic attacker's blade arced and sliced through the narrow area of exposed flesh from the bottom of his shirt to the top of his pants. He was under attack and the blue eyes were nearly rabid in their intent. He shoved Martin hard enough to turn him to try to find the phone. He couldn't see it but he hoped Jack was there and could hear him.

"Jack, Jack, I found him, he's...."

"Danny? Danny!" Jack hollered, pressing the phone closer to his ear. He snapped his fingers and ordered a trace, while the sounds of the scuffle got more intense. "DANNY!" Then there was a loud crash and the line went dead.

"Dammit!"

Jack slammed the phone down and turned towards the office across the room. His frantic eyes went to the technician at a desk. Tim Simmons looked up from over the tech's back and shook his head. Jack sank down into a chair and dropped his head down, resting his elbows on his thighs.

"Sorry, Jack, he wasn't on long enough. Taylor?"

"Yeah... he found Martin but it sounded like a struggle. There were crashing sounds and Danny cried out in pain. The damn line went dead." He redialed and a recording came on to say the number was not in service at the moment.

"Well, we know the general area where he was at his last check-in. We'll search every building. We'll find him."

"If we're not too late," Jack mumbled, taking the coffee he'd poured a moment before and eyeing the map on the computer screen before him. The black and white grid seemed endless, full of hundreds of buildings. There were so many places in a large city to hide. What if Taylor had been wrong? What if he wasn't where they thought he was? What if he'd stumbled into Martin by accident? "Jack?"

"Yeah, Tim..." Malone left the screen, took a long sip of the warm coffee and followed the sandy haired agent out the door.

Lying amidst the broken, decayed wood of the table he'd fallen through, Danny Taylor was fighting for his life. The fevered eyes above him were full of bloodlust driven by terror. He realized by the fear reflected in the wide blue eyes that Martin thought he was fighting for his life as well. But the blood dripping from the knife was real enough. Martin was convinced he was the enemy and unless he did something quickly to disarm the amnesiac, he could end up dead. He couldn't take his hand off Martin's wrist to grab anything or the knife that was inches from his neck would pin him to the floor in a pool of blood.

"Martin... Martin... look at me. It's Danny Taylor. We work together... you got hurt, you have amnesia..."

Martin curled his lips up in a snarl and sent his fury through his eyes. The dark-haired man was lying to save his life. Danny? Is that what he said? Taylor? Danny Taylor? Putting the words together in his mind brought a stabbing pain near his eyes. His shoulders jerked and he lost his grip. Vibrant flashing images appeared so fast and furious it was impossible to get a clear look. But each fragmented frame was of the man beneath him. But, he was clean shaven and wearing a suit and tie, driving a car, drinking coffee or sitting at a desk.

The minute he felt Martin's grip slipping, his eyes shifted from the knife to Fitzgerald's face, which was screwed up in pain. Danny took his cue and acted quickly. Grunting, he brought his legs up and twisted them, flipping Martin's legs from beneath. The startled predator jerked suddenly as if snapping back to attention. As Martin began to fall sideways, Danny snapped Martin's wrist hard on the edge of the chair next to them.

Martin winced as what felt like an electrical shock jazzed through his wrist and arm. The knife fell to the floor and before he could grab for it, he ended up on his back with the knife skittering sideways. He was nearly out of air and began to wheeze badly, coughing and sputtering. His opponent was also breathing heavily and struggling to rise. Martin saw the blood soaking through the dirty gray sweatshirt. His quick eyes flicked to the doorway and he seized his chance.

"Ahhhhh...."

Danny cried out and saw stars and crumpled to the floor when the heel of Martin's left hand hit his injured side, while the right fist clipped his jaw. For several moments, stars danced before his eyes and the whole room was flying around. Panting heavily, he closed his eyes to allow the waves of nausea to pass. Finally, despite his dizziness he was able to sit up and get his bearings. Then his stomach dropped and his heart lurched.

The room was empty.

"Martin! Martin!" he screamed and sent his fist to the floor. "Fuck!"

Scrambling to his feet, he lurched to the doorway, the floor beneath felt like a sinking ship. He had not a second to spare. He had to find the confused attacker before someone hurt him worse. Danny's rubbery legs finally found themselves and got him to the door. He left a bloodly trail of handprints as he took his hand from his side in order to keep his balance. Finally, he was out in the alley. He eyed the traffic sounds from one end, leading to the street. He swiped the sweat pouring from his face and turned the other way. Martin would have retreated into the darkness. Staggering and stumbling, he managed to get to the end of the alley without falling. He looked left and right and then saw the fleeing Fitzgerald a block ahead. He caught the figure just in time as Martin turned left. Had he not exited the store when he did, he'd have lost him. He half jogged that block, gasping for air as he turned. Martin was ahead, picking himself off the ground. By his uneven steps, Dan ny realized his injured partner was having difficulty staying on his feet. So he kept Martin in his sights and quietly picked up his pace.

For several blocks they remained about a block apart, but Danny had to walk faster to catch up. That meant more pressure on the wound he was holding. He stopped briefly, peeling his sticky fingers away. The bleeding was slowing down and he applied more pressure in order to stop it. He saw an upturned trash can lid full of melting snow and dipped both hands it, cleaning them off. Now his fingers were limber again and he'd need that to hold onto Martin. He picked up his pace and continued the trek. His brows furrowed when Martin slipped through the open fence near a construction site. Danny's eyes turned to the three story warehouse next door which appeared to be closed down. Then he saw his partner climbing precariously up the side of some boxes to a group of metal rungs in the bricks.

"Jesus, Martin, you're gonna fall and break your stupid head," he muttered, reluctantly leaving the bricks to follow. He kept his eyes on the climbing body as he too crept through the fence opening. Martin's upper body disappeared into an open window

Touching down lightly, Martin sank to his knees and took several minutes to catch his breath. His headaches were getting worse and coming closer together. His chest hurt and his back ached. His rumbling stomach and the awful burning pain told him he needed to get to a bathroom quickly. His eyes roamed the warehouse and something told him there was a bathroom on the other side, directly across. So, he got to his feet and padded over the catwalk and crept carefully over the open expanse below. He walked very slowly, holding onto the iron rail for dear life. Just to his left was a wooden door that he recalled. He frowned, not able to understand his odd memory patterns. He had to have been inside here before, yet his memory of how and when were muddled. The burning intensified in his gut and he had to hurry.

Danny crept through the window just in time to see Martin ending his prowl on a very narrow catwalk.

"You couldn't make it easy, could you," he grunted. "Same old Fitzgerald, you're still a pain in the ass."

Danny watched Martin disappear into a room and eyed the dimly lit cavernous area. It was a large warehouse and the window led into a loft of sorts on the top story. A walkway of about three to four feet went all the way around. Two catwalks crossed over to the other side. Beneath them, two floors down, were lots of crates of varying sizes. Danny took a good breath and followed the same path. He didn't realize just how narrow the catwalk was until he was halfway across and got dizzy. Sucking in his breath, he tried to ignore the sweat pouring down his face. The moisture drenching his body was causing an army of stingers to prick his wounded side. He sucked in his air and kept going, one foot in front of the other until he touched down. He heard the toilet flush and water running. The bathroom was several yards ahead at the corner of the large floor.

Martin washed his hands good, then splashed water on his face. The painful, watery diarrhea was getting worse. He felt so weak it was hard to stand upright. He cupped his hands under the water and drank greedily. Turning the faucet off, he exited the room. His journey was short lived; he'd only gone a few feet outside the door when a rough hand grabbed his collar.

"Well, well, looks like company dropped in unannounced, I just hate that."

Danny cursed silently and ducked behind a large crate. He took a few seconds to use his filthy shirt to swipe his sweaty face. Peeking around the edge, he spotted a sandy haired man with a beard holding a gun to Martin's temple. His partner was forced to his knees, his blue eyes wide and darting.

"Hilliard," Danny whispered, his anxiety rising.

"I can't believe you're still following me." Getting no reply, he yanked back his hostage's head and ran the gun along the bruised throat. He grinned when blue eyes flashed with recognition.

Danny's eyes narrowed when he watched Martin's face morphing. The startled expression had given way to confusion with the eyes a muddled shade. The last words caused that to melt into pure terror.

As the gun scored his neck, Martin looked into the face of the brute who'd attacked him. The pain in his head expanded and the room disappeared. He was in a train station, crowded with people and the heat was stifling. He was chasing someone and hollering at the man. The crowds scattered and the man turned, just as a group of young girls came in front of him. A name appeared in his mind's eye and another body, that of a young boy, naked and murdered.

Then the fear on his partner's face dissolved into an eerie, blank stare. The unblinking eyes were fixed on a point far beyond time. The matted head cocked and he realized that Martin was painfully reclaiming a part of his lost memory. Danny's eyes glared at Hilliard. No wonder they'd not found him, he'd blended into the homeless congregation. Danny turned behind and eyed the long way around, skirting the wall. He'd have to hurry, but he had no choice. If he didn't act now, sneaking up behind Hilliard, Martin was going to be executed before his very eyes. So he pressed his back to the wall and unseen, began the long way around.

It was then that something else flashed into Martin's mind. This man who was holding a gun to his head was no stranger. Letters formed in his head spelling a name. Hilliard. Other words followed of child molester, rapist and murderer. Then he saw himself and the other dark-haired man both wearing badges. They were chasing this man through a crowded train station. Together. They were working together! Taylor, the man was Taylor and he'd been telling the truth. How could that be?

"I thought I'd lost you last week," Hilliard recalled. "You should have gone back to New York when you had the chance. Now you'll be going back in a body bag, pig."

Martin snarled then as the memory returned of a gruesome photo of a naked, dead teenager made an unwelcomed appearance. More disturbing flashes of a computer and digsuting child pornographic material and chasing this man through a crowded New York street.

" I gotta give you credit, you go all out for an undercover assignment." Hilliard noted the bearded face and stench ridden clothing. "I almost didn't recognize you." He paused to move the tip of the gun inside the pink ear of the victim. He heard a gasp, yanked the hair back and enjoyed the fear reflected in the wide blue eyes. "Course maybe a bullet would be too quick. This place is closed for the weekend. Maybe instead I'll use the knife and make it slow. I'll cut the tendons in your ankles first, so you can't move. Then I'm gonna hurt you..."

Danny was infuriated by the scene unfolding. Martin's amnesia still held him prisoner. How much did he recall about the murderer that now threatened his life? Hilliard on the other hand probably thought that Martin was after him; still chasing him from the train station. So he decided to kill him and keep his fate unknown. He still didn't understand why Martin couldn't speak and why he was so terrified of the police. What else happened to the lost soul during that dark night in the storm?

"You must be the stupidest, fuckin cop in the F.B.I.. You should have quit hounding me last week when you had the chance," Hilliard chuckled then became mad when the blue eyes fluttered shut and the body sagged. "Oh no you don't, you can't pass out now, that's no fun. Wake the hell up!" He roared and hit the side of the agent's face with the gun. Blood gushed from the split lip and nose and the eyes jarred open.

"You sick, fuckin', bastard," Danny hissed, creeping closer. He knew Martin was struggling hard not to pass out. Now blood ran freely down his chin but he saw the lean body wiggling again. "That a boy, fight back."

"I don't know what kind of undercover shit you're doing," Hilliard stated, eyeing the matted hair, beard and filthy clothes. "But I'm not going back to face a murder rap, no way. That kid should have kept his mouth shut. He wouldn't stop fighting and biting, I had to kill him. Just like I'm gonna have to kill you. I'll be doing the world a favor, one less stupid cop to worry about." He shoved the gun back into the open ear and enjoyed the panic that flashed. But just as quickly it was replaced by a defiant stare. "Yeah, you got balls, I give you that. But your luck just ran out."

Hilliard's words were just buzzing sounds in Martin's ear. He couldn't stay awake, he hurt too much and he felt his eyes drooping. But he also saw the boxes below that were open with straw in them. He'd rather take his chances falling then having his brains blown out. He was deciding how to make his move, when a loud call split the air.

"FREEZE! F.B.I.!" Danny hollered, hoping that Hilliard would think he was armed. If he could get him to drop the gun, he could overpower him. "Drop the weapon, NOW!"

Hilliard froze, stiffening as the words descended on him. His eyes shifted left and right as he tried to figure where behind him the agent was hiding. He should have known there would be two of them, they usually work in pairs. He hauled up the hostage's head by his greasy hair and shifted the gun in his hand. He had to think fast, before the others arrived. He yanked the matted hair of his hostage hard and swung around, holding the gun against the underside of his chin. He eyed the dark area from where the voice came but it revealed nothing.

As soon as Hilliard moved, Danny ducked down. He slid on his belly over to the end of the crate and peeked out. He knew by the way Hilliard's eyes were roaming around, he couldn't see him. He winced at the blood streaming from Martin's face and the mottled colored bruises still on his throat.

Martin slumped in relief and let his eyes close for a minute. He listened to the echo of those words and felt his waning strength resurging. Somebody was trying to save his life. Somebody named Taylor. Danny Taylor. The dark-haired man with the badge who'd haunted his nights now rose up like a savior. He felt Hilliard tense up and shift his weight, as if deciding what to do.

"Back off or I'll blow him away!" Hilliard threatened, wondering where the FBI agent was and how many more there were.

"Listen up you cockroach," Danny vented, gripping the wooden club he'd been carrying.

"I'm not a patient man to begin with and you fried my last nerve. You let my partner go now and I might let you live."

"Forget it!" Hilliard growled. "Neither one of you are comin' out of here alive." Martin felt a clinch in his aching gut when Taylor's strong cry of 'my partner' hit him. He kept repeating the words inside until they became a mantra. The strong emphasis on the word 'my' gave him strength. It gave him confidence and the echo resounded strongly. Partners watch each other's back, they protect each other. They work together; support each other like a team. It dawned on him then that he belonged somewhere. He wasn't homeless! Whatever happened to him put him here temporarily. But his partner had found him! He felt a surge of resilience grip him and determination replaced hopelessness.

Danny was lying on a box and was several feet behind Hilliard but above his head. Despite the hard words issued, he knew by the body movement that Hilliard was hesitating. He had to make him think that there was backup coming.

"This is Taylor, I'm with the dirtball, move in and send a wagon."

"A wagon?" Hilliard snarled.

"Meat wagon," Danny replied, inching closer and getting ready to spring, "to haul away your bullet-ridden corpse."

"Say goodbye, you stinkin' fed," Hilliard vented into the darkness. "I'm gonna blow his brains out."

Before Danny could react, Martin did. He felt Hilliard move the gun and rammed his elbow into the felon's crotch. Hilliard cursed, hunched forward and struggled with supporting the squirming agent while pain rushed through his groin. The feisty victim then shot his head up hard, catching the goon under the chin. As soon as Hilliard cried out and the gun was no longer pointed at Martin, Danny made his move.

Hilliard grunted when the full weight of the Fed hit him He dropped his grip on the hostage who was partially pinned under him. He turned the gun on the dark-haired agent who was swinging a club at his head. He cried out in pain when his former hostage bit him hard on the wrist. The impact sent his gun flying and the club then nearly whacked him on the head, but he ducked and it caught his upper neck.

As soon as Danny saw his partner's move and the gun fall, he scrambled for it. It slid several feet away. He tried to stand and run to retrieve it but his heroic jump to save Martin had taken a toll on his injured body. Blood seeped from the wound that had been clotting and his legs were like spaghetti. He went down on all fours and shook his head to clear out the dizziness that was overwhelming. The room was tipping at an uneven angle and he felt himself on the verge of passing out. He reached out to steady himself and felt uneven iron under his hand. Slowly he pulled himself upright.

"Looks like you get to watch your buddy die first," Hilliard leered at the wheezing, bloodied, blue eyed victim who was sprawled next to him. He crawled over and got the gun, then aimed it at the wise-mouthed FBI agent now standing precariously by the edge of the loft.

Martin's fevered eyes went to Taylor and the word 'partner' thundered inside his head. The mantra of 'protect him' began and became the fuel that propelled him into action. With his features locked in a fierce mask scored with warrior's blood, he sprang into action.

It happened simultaneously and Danny had no time to react when the gun went off. Martin's body hit him hard, knocking his head from the path of the bullet. He felt a burning sensation in his arm and then nothing but air. He spiraled backward over the railing and downward until something broke his fall and sent him into a black void.

Hilliard cursed and tried to walk over to the edge of the loft to see if the other man was still alive. The dark-haired agent was lying in a narrow crate directly below him. Fittingly, it appeared to resemble a large coffin. He saw blood covering the area over one hip and then the chest rising and falling. He attempted to aim again to inflict the fatal shot when his wrist was hit hard with the wooden club. Pain screamed in his arm and sent the gun to the floor.

Martin was kneeling on the floor and grabbed the gun and fired, hitting Hilliard in the leg. But the other man was much larger and stronger and kicked him hard in the chest. The force of the blow sent him backwards, through the same broken railing that his partner went through. He felt a thud as he hit the straw inside a crate and it drove all the air from his chest.

Hilliard limped to the railing and looked down, neither agent was moving. He was too far up to see where the gun was. Also, he was bleeding heavily from the thigh and knew that he needed to get to a hospital or he could bleed to death. So he tied a tourniquet around his leg and limped to the elevator several yards away. It led to street where he could get a cab to a hospital. He stopped on the main floor by the power box. He cut the power to the building preventing them from calling for help. He doubted either of them would live to Monday without medical attention.

Martin tried for several minutes to rise but just couldn't get his breath. He drifted in and out of consciousness for awhile, unable to move. It was like floating in a dark sea, not sinking under the waves but not able to leave them. His tongue clicked over his dry mouth as the metallic taste of blood caused his face to wrinkle in distaste. He turned his head sideways and spit out a wad of blood. His jaw and face throbbed and he ran a hand over it, leaving his fingers sticky with blood. Finally, he rolled sideways in the large crate which was filled with something soft. They were covered in packing material which also broke his fall. His fingers first felt soft material, like thick cotton under heavy plastic. But then they hit something warm and hard; the hot metal near his hand was a gun. He managed to tuck it into his pocket. He squinted in the near darkness, letting his eyes adjust. There was large overhead lights outside that were shining in the window bathing the room in a silvery light. Pain screamed from every inch of his body. His face remained contorted when he sat up. By the time he got over the side of the box, he was vomiting blood and mucus.

For a few seconds he was terribly confused. His legs kept failing and he felt like a puppet with broken strings. Then he saw the smaller crate a few feet away. The entire side was broken out; it was shaped like an oversized coffin and he saw blood dripping over the broken edges. Curious, he staggered over, having a hard time keeping his footing. His eyes widened in shock when he saw the man lying inside. He blinked as the memories rushed back and he moved his upper body over the fallen one, his frantic eyes going to the top of the warehouse where the brutal attack had taken place. He didn't see the gunman and theorized that he'd have killed them if he was still in the building.

He looked down at the pale bearded face and his heart sank. He thought he'd only knocked Taylor out of harm's way. Now the gravity of his harried action hit him hard. What if his decision had cost his 'partner' his life? Trembling badly, he moved his hand to the throat and waited. The life-force that coursed beneath his fingers sent a surge of euphoria through him. His head dropped and he sighed hard. He stared at the face hopefully, tapping the stilled cheek repeatedly. He cupped the bearded chin and shook it firmly.

"Please don't die... please don't die... wake up... wake up, Taylor... Taylor..."

His silent pleas felt on deaf ears and the silence in the room was deafening. Martin's anxious eyes beseeched the others to open. His temper flashed and he banged his palm hard against the side of the box, but the other man remained alarmingly still.

He moved his hand to the grimy sweatshirt, thumping on the chest hard. Taylor's face remained pale and placid. He shifted his body up and moved closer, resting his left arm over Taylor's chest. He shivered in the dark, sitting on the cold floor next to the box and began a vigil. He heard the mantra again slowly building in his throbbing head. It got louder and louder and he rocked slightly with the waves it was creating in his mind.

"Protect him... protect him... protect your partner... your partner... protect him..."'

And he did.

Part Twelve

Hartford , CT
Saturday, November 16, 2002
Two a.m.

While most of the city slept inside warm houses, the weary F.B.I. agents and a task force were braving the wind and dipping temperatures. Jack tugged his collar up and sipped on the coffee that Tim Simmons had provided ten minutes before. He watched as the sandy-haired man stifled a yawn.

"Listen, in case I haven't mentioned it, thanks for your devotion. You can't have gotten much sleep this week."

"Part of the job, besides I got an infant in the house. Sleep depravation has become second nature."

"How old?" Jack asked as they slowly patrolled yet another dark street within the large grid that they felt Taylor and Fitzgerald were lost in. They'd just searched a group of crack houses and netted nothing save some stoned out crackheads. The local vice cops were now handling that scene.

"Six months. He's cutting teeth, he's a tough little guy though," Tim noted with a bit of pride.

As Jack's eyes scanned the deserted streets, he mulled over the word 'tough'. Danny Taylor's determined face came into view. He recalled the brash newcomer who didn't like to take orders or be told what to do. Over the last six years he'd watched that green rookie who was short on temper and long on guts grow into a highly skilled agent, second to none. That Taylor hadn't found a way to call them in almost five hours had him very worried. What if Martin had done the unthinkable? Finding Taylor's dead body inside one of the rundown houses or in an alley wasn't something he was prepared for. Neither was finding Martin later and having to confront him with Taylor's demise and his role in it.

"Six nineteen to Hawk, copy?"

"This is Hawk," Tim replied and waited, holding the radio and listening intently.

"I think we got a possible here, looks like it could be the place where Taylor called from. We got some belongings on the floor and blood all over."

"Where?" Jack hollered as Tim took the address and pushed his foot to the pedal on the floor.

"Roger that, our ETA is two minutes," Simmons answered

Jack's flashlight caught two patrolmen on the other side of a partially boarded up window. There was a third policeman in the side alley squatting over a spot on the ground and talking into a radio.

"Sir?

"Yeah," Simmons replied, jogging up to the spot in the alley. He eyed the area that was now illuminated by a light

"I called for the lab, I think that's blood."

"Good... see what else you can find," Jack answered, flashing his light further down the alley. "Go all the way, call in for backup. If there's a blood trail, I want everybody on it."

"Yes, sir," the cop returned with a nod. Jack stepped inside the door and was grateful for the large portable flashlights that were set up high and giving light to the room. He saw the gray bag and carefully opened it with a pencil, eyeing the interior. He spotted the blanket next and turned around to enter the next room when his own flashlight hit a partial bloody handprint on the wall.

"Jesus!" he exclaimed, as Simmons joined him.

"Taylor's," Simmons suggested. They both knew if Martin had been injured, neither man would now be missing. "What's left of his phone is over here. They must have struggled; Martin attacked him, cut him somewhere and then fled."

"Danny took off after him," Jack agreed, walking to where the broken furniture was. He squatted down near a large dark stain. His trained eye carefully noted the placement of the broken wood and the phone. The departed players reappeared and reenacted the confrontation. "He was on the phone when Martin must have entered the room and surprised him. Martin jumped him, he lost the phone..." Jack turned and eyed the area where the handprint was. "Danny must have lost a few minutes, Martin ran out... and Danny chased him. I want a full crew in here," Jack ordered, leaving the room. "Let's see if we can pick up his trail."

Following a trail would be hard enough in daylight. But in the pitch of night trying to find tiny specks of blood was nearly impossible. Jack was grateful for scattered police and federal units covering the large area, but his gut told him they'd not find anything more tonight. His eyes went to the many side streets littered with buildings. Many of them were several stories. There were too many small, unseen places; elevator shafts and basements which his missing agents could be lying in. Taylor had to be with Martin, somewhere, trapped. The alternative was something he couldn't accept.

"Where the hell are you, Danny?" he muttered, eyeing the dark horizon.

<H3<WAREHOUSE
Five a.m

Disoriented took on a whole new meaning. Danny Taylor squinted against the harsh wind and driving rain. The evil black tide was pulling him under, tugging at his legs with no mercy. Twice he felt his head dip under the waves and he swallowed the bitter water. Coughing and sputtering, he fought to get his head above murky tide. Then he felt someone grab his face and pull him out, he took great gulps of air and his eyes darted around as the echo of the evil storm caressed his ears. Then his stomach sank as low as the bottomless sea he was fighting. Where was Martin? The drowning man had fought so long and hard and now that he was here, Martin was gone. Or was he? Gasping hard to gain even the tiniest of breaths, he suddenly realized that the arms holding him above the drowning zone were Fitzgerald's!

Martin sighed in frustration and wiped Taylor's mouth again. He'd woken up the first time to find the dark-haired man gagging. He sat up just in time as the mouth opened and he threw up. This time he was ready. He'd gotten several wet towels and an old cracked plastic dish. After he had cleaned up the messy face, he threw the dish away. Then he limped slowly back to where the unmoving man was lying deathly still. He saw a bloody hole in the upper left arm and examined it. He used his knife to cut away the fabric and gently lifted the arm. The bullet had passed through but the wound needed cleaning. Sighing hard, he rose and began several slow trips to get warm, soapy, clean water and then cut open one of the plastic containers of baby diapers from the crate he'd landed on. He gently ministered to the injured man's wounds, first the arm and then the bloody cut on his side. The wounded man moaned and his damp head twisted. Finally he was done and he grabbed a slight stack of the c lean soft diapers and lifted Taylor's wet head. He gingerly placed it on the makeshift pillow, using a wet cloth to wipe his fevered face and neck. This caused two dark eyes to crack open slightly and the slack lips moved muttering something unintelligible before closing again.

The fire the fever caused needed water. Martin lifted the mug with one hand and the damp head with the other. Gingerly, he nudged the slack lips but they didn't part. Frustrated, his temper got the best of him and he tried again and the water spilled down the newly bearded chin. Hissing and cursing silently, he put the cup down and went back to the trash can. He fished around until he found an old plastic cup and lid. He took the red straw out and went to the water cooler, pressing the red tap and rinsing it in hot water. Then he shuffled back to his injured partner, stopping twice when the large room began to swim and he was forced to grab the edge of a crate and keep himself upright. He couldn't pass out again, he had to stay awake. He was on duty protecting Taylor. Once the episode passed, he found his way back. He sat back down and closed his eyes, trying hard to ward off the violent pain in his head. Then he stuck the straw in the cup and tried again, nudging the lips.

Nothing.

Setting the cup down, he tapped the stilled cheek. His brows drew together and he peered closely at the pale face. He cupped the chin and tipped the head to face him. Martin's lips opened and he tried to say the name. He tried hard, so much so he strained his throat. The silence was deafening and he felt the cloak of defeat settle on his slim frame. He forced his tongue behind his teeth and his gut convulsed hard in the effort to get the name Taylor out. But nothing happened. Then he went to lift the water bottle he'd filled for himself and spilled it. Clucking his tongue in annoyance, he went to wipe the water that was now running down the unconscious man's neck, when the dark brows furrowed and a moan sounded.

qqqTaylor... Taylor... Taylor... he screamed silently, again trying to force the name through a very stalwart set of teeth.

Disoriented and sicker than he could ever remember feeling, Danny Taylor moaned loudly and turned his head a little. His fingers moved, shifting painfully over cloth, straw and cotton. Jagged pieces of wood met his stumbling touch. He wrinkled his nose in distaste at the foul odor lingering near him. He licked his dry lips and the burning sensation that only comes after vomiting greeted him harshly. He didn't remember being sick. He felt something nudge his lips and part them. Plastic? Circle? Straw! His grateful tongue took over, sucking water greedily until it was suddenly taken away. Angry and annoyed, the confused eyes fought hard to part. Through the smallest of cracks, he saw Martin's blood encrusted and very worried face hovering above him.

qqqI'm not dead, don't be giving me them eyes, Martin. Martin? Martin! Martin wasn't missing. Martin was here with him. Here where? Where were they?

He wanted to address his partner but couldn't open his mouth. With a Herculean effort he turned his head away and saw an odd blue light peeking into tall windows. Day was blending into night, his muddled brain managed to assess that it was either dusk or dawn. Boxes, lots of boxes and a concrete floor were the only things he managed to see before his heavy eyes slid shut. The frantic tapping on his face told him his partner was not happy with this action.

qqqQuit slappin' my face Martin. Danny's mind screamed. Then he felt the straw again but was too weak to accept it, instead he surrendered to the thick blackness that was enveloping him.

qqqNo... no... no... Taylor... Martin shook the chin again but the head lolled and spit ran from the slack lips.

He sighed hard and pulled the canvas back on top of Taylor. He'd found a small canvas tarp and it kept his friend warm. His worried eyes went to the windows where the new day was trying to enter. What if the bastard who hurt them came back? He couldn't remember the name but he knew that face. His hand unconsciously slid his hand over his ear where the gun had been pressed and heard the echo of the sinister threat. He couldn't let him kill Taylor. He had to hide him. He stood up and immediately went to his knees, clutching his head in both hands. The pain was getting worse and he bit his lip so hard it drew blood. Finally it subsided enough to allow him to stand. Limping badly and holding on to anything he could grab, he managed to shuffle around the room. He found several tall, empty crates that he moved around them, making a fort of sorts. Once the barricade was in place, he dropped down back at Taylor's side. His legs felt like rubber bands and his face was soaked with swe at. Although he had a lot of water, he'd need to search for food soon. He checked the gun again and tucked it back inside his pocket, his fierce gaze scouring the loft above. He kept his left arm protectively over Taylor's chest while his right hand rested over the concealed gun. He had to close his eyes several times to try to ward off the unending waves of pain. He couldn't sleep on the job, he had to protect Taylor.

Saturday Morning
New York
Eight a.m.

Sam's eye caught a well fitted pair of jeans, tailor made for the lean backside that housed them. Far across the lobby, the body that was attached to the jeans was wearing a short but very expensive black leather jacket. The sunglasses that were still riding under the tousled blond hair regarded her as the handsome face turned. The sensual lips turned up into a warm grin.

"Hey, sunshine!"

"Hold the elevator, Chris," she called back, picking up her pace. She saw then that he had a cell phone in his right hand. "What are you doing in on a Saturday?"

"Same thing you are," he replied of their quest for clues surrounding the missing pair of agents in Hartford. "Jack?"

"Chris," Malone shoved the greasy sausage and egg sandwich away and picked up the coffee mug. "I got your message, what's up?"

"Jack, did you hear from Victor yet?" Boone asked as the doors to the lift closed.

"No."

The clipped reply gave the blond team leader support for his gut feeling. "Somebody in the Special Ops office in the White House is running interference."

"You bet your ass," Jack replied curtly. "Victor never got Margaret's message. Why?"

"I was in D.C. yesterday," Chris started to reply and then paused, "Quit pawing my ass!"

"What?" Jack frowned, "Where the hell are you? Jesus, Chris, are you in bed?"

"No, the elevator at work," he replied and glared at Samantha Spade.

"Fine by me, let the rest of the people working here see 'sweet cheeks' on your butt."

"What?" Chris's head whipped around and he saw the sticker she held up. His eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"Like I'd ever get that desperate," she deferred arching a single eyebrow.

"Hello? Am I in the room?" Jack snapped. "Who are you with?"

"Sam... listen Jack," Chris replied. "I had some time before my train and stopped by Victor's office. Margaret's a mess, I felt awful for her. She's worried about Martin... she'd been crying."

"She's known him most of his life," Jack answered, "I'll call her, I don't want her to feel she's done anything wrong. Whatever those jackasses in the Ops office did, it's not a reflection on her."

"I tried to get through to her but she's frantic. She calls those pricks everyday and they give her the same line about it 'being handled,'' Boone seethed.

"Handled? Yeah," Malone scoffed. "The only thing those idiots can handle is their balls and even then they need help.

"I had lunch with her, she's really upset. I walked her to the train and once she was on her way home, I went to the Ops office."

"Chris..." Jack's voice held a warning tone. Boone was always cool under pressure but if his buttons were pressed the wrong way, he could explode.

"I wasn't invited inside, I was told my 'assistance' wasn't necessary and that I was not welcome to remain. My message was duly noted."

Jack snorted in contempt, "Whoever made the boneheaded decision not to tell Victor is gonna be transferred to an office five miles beyond where civilization ends. So fuckin' stupid..."

"Yeah, that about covers it," Chris agreed. "When's he due back?"

"I'm not sure, Sunday maybe? I think the conference was over yesterday. Why?"

"Margaret said Jean went with him." Boone stepped off the elevator and paused to hold the door for Spade, who was carrying a bag of food and a large container of java. "She said they were planning to stop in London on the way back to visit friends. She's afraid he's going to check in and she'll have to tell him that Martin's been missing for over a week."

"No... no..." Jack replied, "I'll talk to her, she's got enough shit to deal with. What's on your mind?" He knew that the blond had something cooking.

"Well, something Vivian said a few days ago. We were talking about Martin and she mentioned that he was close to his mother. So I'm guessing she might email him. We've got the phone tapped, nothing there yet but..."

"Yeah, that's good, Chris, you have Sam take a tech to Martin's and run with that. If we can track the email, we can find out where they are. I don't like the guy much, but this isn't right. He deserves to know his son is missing. Keep me posted and put Sam on."

"Okay," Chris replied, turning the phone over and striding up the hall.

"Jack?" Sam asked and nodded when he updated her on both Danny and the email trail she was to investigate. "Okay, I'll call later."

"Sam?" he quizzed thinking on the odd middle part of the conversation with Boone. "What's wrong with Chris's ass?"

"From where I'm standing," she noted slyly, her lips turned up in appreciation and her eyes glued to the finely honed male ahead of her. "Not a damn thing."

"Why did I ask?" Jack muttered, closing the phone.

Hartford
Nine a.m.

Before even he opened his eyes, Danny was annoyed. His face bore a scowl and he groaned in displeasure. He'd acquired a headache and his side was throbbing. The inside of his mouth was vile and sour, he licked his dry lips and his right hand moved along something thin and rough that felt like straw. Straw? He tried moving his left arm but it was pinned under something heavy. All his fingers could feel was damp skin. Something was very wrong. He peeled his heavy eyes open. His brows creased in displeasure even further when a blurry ceiling appeared. His eyes shifted left and right and tall windows were allowing in morning sunlight. The wind howled and caused them to shudder.

"...the hell..." he croaked and moved his free hand over his dry throat. Again he tried to yank his left arm free but it was trapped. Pain exploded in it and he cried out. He tried to focus and saw the top of a greasy brown head and a bearded, flushed face. Someone was lying on his arm. A free arm wa s cast over his chest.

"Hey... man... you're... on... my... arm... Hey..." He moved his arm and caused the slumbering body to rouse. It was then his vision cleared a bit and he saw who had been lying on his arm. "Martin?"

For a few moments, two very confused battered bodies eyed each other with twin masks of utter bewilderment. Danny broke his gaze first, eyeing the warehouse with apprehension. Bits and pieces of the action the night before came back. The fragmented pieces clashed together and were not in any logical order; a fight with Martin but not in this place, a man with a gun, a chase through the street clutching his bleeding side and a cruel brute holding a gun to Martin's head.

"Hilliard!"

At the sound of the raspy voice, Martin jumped up and backed away. That was his first mistake. He lost his balance and stumbled badly, staggering sideways like a drunken Frankenstein.

"Hey man, take it easy. I don't need you keeling over on top of me!" Danny warned. "Sit your ass down before you fall down."

Martin backed away, his eyes frantically moving around the room. He noted the injured man who was obviously in a lot of pain .By the position of his body and the broken crate it was obvious he'd not moved from the spot where he had fallen. His head cocked when he saw the neat rows of cups of water, cut up cotton cloths and a small bucket next to the injured man. Somebody else was here! Someone had been taking care of him. Where were they? Had they gone to call for help? That meant police would come. Badges, lots of badges, he couldn't allow them to find him. It was dangerous.

"Okay, man, you're scaring me," Danny fretted, watching Martin's fearful eyes darting all around them. Then the lost soul began to shake his head and he ducked down behind a box, his head moving around as if expecting someone to approach. "Martin? Martin, look at me. Martin, you can't..." he paused when Martin turned to him and shook his ratty head frantically, putting a finger over his lips as if to warn him not to talk. "Man, would you listen to me? Nobody else is here. We're alone, Hilliard left hours ago."

Martin's ferret like gaze went from the loft above to the man lying a few feet away. Hilliard? He knew that name. A sandy-haired man with a nasty face and a gun carried that name. The cruel voice of a killer whispering in his ear and the cold steel knife pressed to his throat. His face went slack and his eyes glazed over as the trauma of that dark night came calling without an invite.

"Great..." Danny muttered and was about to sit up when another picture appeared; Hilliard firing a gun at him and Martin knocking him out of harm's way. He'd fallen through a broken railing. "Shit..." he hissed, suddenly gone cold when the realization of the possibility of paralysis set in. He eyed his feet and took a deep breath. There was a small tarp of sorts haphazardly thown over him. He was able to move it aside and peer at his legs. A part of him was afraid to attempt to move them. What if he couldn't? Given the fragile state of Fitzgerald's mind, he doubted if his partner had gone for help. But that was something that had to be addressed. Beads of sweat line up on his forehead and impatiently raced down is skull He licked his dry lips again and felt himself gasping audibly.

"Martin!" His scratchy voice caused the matted head to turn. He waited until the clouded blue eyes were semi-focused on him. "Did you go for help? We need help, you have to find the police and report..." He hissed in frustration when the fearful eyes turned away and the slim fingers fretted nervously. He saw the Adam's apple bobbing furiously and then the head shaking negative. "Look, I know something rattled your cage. For the life of me I can't imagine what would do that. You got your faults but one thing you have too much of is balls. I'm hurt Martin, I don't even know if my legs work. I need to get to a hospital, so do you."

Martin blinked and left Hilliard behind in that snow storm and turned to the injured man. He was staring at his feet and his face was full of trepidation and fear. He felt his own heart clench and his own eyes turn to the bottom of the crate. The dark haired man was right of course. He did need help. That meant leaving him here alone. What if Hilliard came back? What if his back or legs were hurt so badly, he couldn't walk or move? Hilliard could kill him. Police? The very thought of a badge brought that threat back and he felt the cold snakes circling in his gut. Right now he had to see how badly the other man was hurt. He moved closer, peering down into the broken box. He kept staring and hoping, his silent calls of encouragement had yet to net a result. The shoes remained unmoving. Frustrated, he huffed in impatience and tapped the side of the crate next to the stilled legs.

"Shut up, Martin, don't rush me. You're not the one who'll be captain of the paraplegic basketball team." Danny let out a deep breath and blessed himself. "No guts, no glory," he muttered gingerly moving first his left ankle and his right.

Danny saw Martin's wide smile at the same time he sighed in relief. The next step was to see how badly he was hurt. He slowly moved his left leg and was able to pull his knee up almost halfway. His back twinged a bit but he slowly lowered the leg. Then he tried to repeat that with his right knee and pain exploded in his back. His scream brought a nosily stumbling procession to his side. He'd closed his eyes and tears of pain ran down his face. He spent several moments heaving hard, taking in great gulps of air and trying to quell the burning pain. He felt the lightest touch dance over his cheek and peeled an eye open. The concerned face was hovering nearby again and offering a mug with a red straw.

"Silent Bob's back on duty, huh?" Danny teased but the blank face told him his joke had missed its mark. "Silent Bob, the dude in Dogma with the beard who didn't talk?" The blank mask remained. "Nevermind. Thanks for the water." As he drained the offered liquid, he couldn't help notice the bruises that still lingered on Martin's throat. The blue eyes were dull with pain and the circles under them were the scars of the night terrors he was sure Martin was suffering from as well as the lingering illness. Blood crusted at the edge of his nose and also over part of his mangled lip. The cheek was also swollen, courtesy of the gun whipping. Coupled with the mangy hair, unshaven face and 'ripe' clothing, it painted a pretty frightful picture. "You look like shit, partner."

Martin's head came up slowly and he savored the word. He rolled it over on his tongue and digested it slowly, like a piece of decadent chocolate. The feelings that were associated with that word encompassed him. His furrowed brow was marking his face as he took the cup back and slowly drew his gaze to the ceiling. A partner watched your back, stood by you when you most needed him and supported you.

"Yeah, man, it's me, Danny Taylor, remember?"

Taylor? Martin stared intently at the other man's face and concentrated on his eyes. He saw such hope in the dark orbs that it gave him confidence. Taylor was depending on him, he was hurt and needed to be taken care of. A partner does that, right? Taylor, Taylor -he said the name over and over in his head and tried to remember what he and Taylor did together. His patient was coughing and he reached over with a bit of cloth. When he touched his cheek, a picture appeared. They were in an office with two women. The older woman was a black woman with a very warm smile, the other was a pretty blonde who was laughing and smacking Taylor on the arm. As with other pieces of his shattered world coming back uninvited, the restored memory had a price. Sharp, jagged talons raked through the inside of his skull. His mouth contorted in a silent oval of agony. He dropped his head and clutched it, rocking with the pain.

Danny felt Martin's trembling hand on his face and watched as Martin's puzzled expressions slowly changed. Once whatever memory returned, so did the ramification of the head injuries. He saw the mask of anguish appear and the hand left his face, but not quick enough. His own hand came up so fast it startled him.

"I got you, man, we'll ride this one out together," he emphasized; hoping subliminally that feeling of support would take hold.

Martin was riding out an especially crushing wave of pain. But this time, unlike the others, someone was there. His partner was there; a hand snagged onto his own and gripped it hard. He held the grip and accepted the support. For several minutes, he gasped and choked, fighting hard as the pain slowly subsided.

"Martin?" Danny prodded quietly, once he was sure the worst was over. "Are you okay now?"

The face seemed to soften a bit and the shaggy head bobbed once. Danny heard the relief seep from Martin's lips as the shoulders sagged. He couldn't imagine the confused world his partner was lost in, but he wasn't alone anymore. One shaky hand swiped the damp residue in the eyes that the wrestling match had left behind. With it came a soulful look of gratitude that gave him a small grin.

"Hey, man, it's cool. We'll take care of each other, okay? That's what partners do, right?"

Martin nodded and released the grip, then noticed the dark eyes widening at the large amount of blood on his arm and shirt. He tried to lift the injured left arm but Martin put his hand on it and shook his head.

"What's wrong with my arm? Where the fuck did all this blood come from?" Danny demanded and then tried to quell his temper. The sharp words and tone had shaken Martin up. He was barely holding on now and didn't need anyone stepping on his fingers. "Sorry, I didn't mean to take your head off." His eyes slowly following Martin's left hand pointing to the loft and then forming the shape of a gun. He narrowed his own eyes as a memory returned of the gun going off and Martin hitting him. The bullet that could have hit him in the chest hit his arm. "Hey, you did that huh? Guess you saved me life, thanks, Martin."

Martin shrugged and shifted uncomfortably. He was so tired and weak he had no idea how he was staying awake. He picked up his cup and drained the remaining water. He rested his eyes for a moment, dreaming of a soft bed. His headache was picking up steam and he drew his features together in a mask of pain.

Danny saw Martin's very pale face so drawn and racked with pain and exhaustion. He noticed the bandages then, first the one on his arm and then the one on his side. He wondered if Martin remembered stabbing him, he certainly hoped not. The last thing he needed now was a guilt trip. He winced at the odd wheezing sounds and watched as Martin's eyes slid shut. The respit was momentary, his body then convulsed when overtaken by a horrid, hacking cough. Martin turned his head away and tossed up something green that had been choking him. The effort left his panting and damp, sucking air audibly through his mouth. He felt a tug in his gut when he realized as sick and hurt as Martin was, he'd spent precious time tending to his wounds, getting him water, keeping him safe. Maybe he'd found a partner after all.

"Hey," Danny called softly, causing a single eye to half open and try to focus on him. He patted the area near his hip where the tarp was bunched up. "Go on and take a rest, I'm on duty." He saw the slight hesitation and he knew that fear. When you're on the street, you don't have that luxury. Someone is always out there in the dark, ready to strike. "I got your back, partner."

Five quiet words but they broke through and scored a direct hit. Martin sighed once and lowered his head. Danny moved his hand until it rested on the back of Martin's neck. He hoped the nap would bring some of his strength back, because Martin needed to get help. He'd have to convince him to leave this place and get the police, a tall order giving Martin's current state of mind. The weird wheezing was soon joined by a soft snore. "Go on man, you earned it. You got a tough job ahead."

Hartford
Saturday, Noon

Martin eyed the bright sun peeking in the window and moved slowly towards it. He was very annoyed at being so dizzy and out of breath, it forced him to hold onto each box as he moved along. Spotting an old wool blanket lying in-between two of the crates, he bent to pick it up. He sucked in his breath noisily as the room swam for a bit. Finally he grabbed it and righted himself, holding on as if on the deck of a sinking ship. There was a wooden bench near the window and he sat on it, turning his face upwards to warm himself. Huddled under the old blanket, he welcomed the stroke of the sun on his chilled frame. He was totally exhausted; the trip outside this morning had taken everything out of him. He had no idea how long he'd been gone and he'd panicked when at first he couldn't find his way back. But the difficult mission was worth it; he had food for Taylor. The injured man was sleeping restlessly; he was getting worse. He was mumbling in his sleep and tossing his damp head. He 'd bathed the face twice and finally the worn body rested. Now he was trying to rest and figure out what to do next. A craggy voice beckoned and he moved forward, wincing as every muscle protested.

"Martin?"

Danny coughed and peeled his eyes open. His head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds and he knew the heat clinging to him was from a fever. He squinted and peered around the large area and spotted a single leg dangling from a crate on the other side of the room. Something bright pink and orange in his peripheral vision caught his attention. Turning a bit, he spotted a bag of doughnuts and a large container of liquid. His nose told him was coffee.

"Martin!"

The leg twitched and a head popped up over the box. He could see part of a plaid blanket wrapped around the bearded face. The fuzzy gaze that was looking back at him had him worried. He had to convince Martin to get help before he collapsed too. The body had yet to move and he wasn't sure if that confused look was directed at him.

"It's Taylor, remember, your partner."

That word brought the shaggy head to bob and Danny kept his eyes on the staggering body until it landed beside him. Martin's face was covered in a fine sheen of moisture and he looked awful. He noted that Martin's wheezing was worse and he looked more washed out. His stressful breathing was punctuated with wet coughs. Finally, the blanket was removed and a shaking hand reached for the water bottle. Danny found a small chuckle as Martin washed his hands. Then the bag was opened and a bagel came out. The shaky hand gently lifted his head and brought the cup over. A bright orange straw was offered.

"Where'd you get this?" Danny was leery of anything that would come from the trash. "Did you dive in a dumpster?"

For a few minutes Martin was confused and a bit hurt. The sharp tone stung him. It had taken him quite a while to get himself outside and back with the food. He'd been proud of himself that he'd not gotten completely lost. His face bespoke his annoyance and he took the coffee back, sitting it down on the makeshift table he'd made from a crate. He turned away wearing a scowl, crossing his arms on his chest.

"Look, I don't have time for a tantrum, Martin, I'm just askin' a question. Hey! I'm talkin' to you."

Martin sighed in frustration. How could he possibly tell Danny what he'd endured to get that food? He eyed the sides of the boxes and got an idea. He held a finger up to let the injured man know he'd be right back.

"Where you goin'? Martin?"

Danny watched as Martin disappeared behind the fort he'd made around them. He waited for several moments and then the body stumbled back through the narrow passage by his feet. He squinted and lifted his head as Martin put a large wooden sign of sorts a few inches from the end of his feet. The alphabet was written on the top, vowels separated from consonants. The numbers 'zero' through 'nine' were under that. Then the words 'yes' and 'no'. He saw the grease pencil in Martin's hand and waited as the capped edge was used as a pointer. He noted the letters aloud until words were formed.

"Donut store... handout..." Danny read. "From someone who worked there?" The word 'no' was tapped. "A customer?" The 'yes' was indicated. "Nearby?" He frowned when Martin's hand wavered and his battered face flushed in what he took to be embarrassment. Martin turned to him then and shrugged, holding his hands out helplessly. "You can't remember?"

Martin felt like a fool. He was a grown man, not a child. How could he not remember where'd he'd gone? What kind of partner could he possibly be if he was that stupid? He chuffed in annoyance and shook his head. He might as well tell Taylor the truth. He had the right to get a partner who wasn't so stupid. His hand moved slowly hitting four letters.

"L...o...s...t... You got lost?" Danny's voice was soft then full of concern.

He couldn't imagine how scary that had to be; a stranger in a strange land, a silent, dark world that had no end. In his mind he saw Martin clutching the pink and orange bag and staggering down street after street, his blue eyes wide and frantic. A sinking hook caught in his gut when he realized that the trip endured had been done for him, to get nourishment.

"Shit..."

He watched as Martin's temper flared and the frustration set in, the hand tapped out the word 'dummy'. "No, man, don't do that to yourself. You got a head injury, your memory is gone and you're in a strange city. Anybody would get turned around. Hey..." He waited until the bruised eyes met his own. He turned his pride on then and offered a small smile. "What you did was very brave, Martin. You did that for me, Gracias!" He saw a little life return to the eyes and sighed in relief. "Come on, we can share, okay?"

Martin resumed his position and lifted Danny's head. He watched patiently until some of the warm liquid was consumed. He then broke the bagel sandwich into small pieces and held them out.

"Thanks," Danny said, despite the queasy stomach, he knew he had to eat or he'd get weaker. He noticed that Martin wasn't eating. "Did you already eat?" The head shook negatively. "Why not?" The head shook again. "You sick?" The head bobbed. "Throwin' up? No?" Danny read the answer and saw Martin's hand tap his abdomen. "Oh, the other end. Damn, that's rough. You need to drink, Martin, or you'll dehydrate..."

His voice trailed off when Martin held up his plastic water bottle, now almost empty. More tiny bits of the bagel were carefully put on his chest. He noticed that his head was elevated on something soft. He ate a few more bites and then paused, tapping the cup. As he consumed the coffee, he eyed the sad profile next to him. How was it possible that he felt he knew 'this' Martin better than the one he'd been working next to for over a month? The arrogant, impulsive and self-possessed rookie whose brash and impulsive comments and actions had worked his last nerve was gone. Somehow this lost bearded soul with no past was someone he felt at ease with. The emotion pouring from the eyes was real. Was Jack right? Was Martin's defiance and attitude partially a result of his own misplaced conduct? Was Martin 'reacting' rather than 'acting'? He decided that this Martin stripped of the wall he'd built around his real self was someone he needed to know better. When they got out of this mess , he vowed to talk about it with Martin. Maybe they could start over. That is if Martin got his memory back. What if whatever was causing his loss of speech was permanent? He sighed long and hard and pushed all of that away. Right now his only goal was to get help. That meant convincing the shaken body next to him to go outside and seek help from the police; facing the dreaded badges that were deviling him.

"Martin? You did a great job getting the food. I'm very grateful, I needed to eat. But, you have to get help, understand? You have to find a cop and tell him to..." He broke his sentence off when Martin scrambled to the foot of the box where the letter board was. The word 'no' was tapped with extra vinegar. "Yes!" He argued. "I'm hurt, I need some help and you're hurt. You've been running around for a week now with a concussion and God knows what else." The hand wavered near no and the guilt flush was so evident in the sky eyes it hurt. "Why man? What's got your cage rattled? The police will help..." He flinched when the 'no' was tapped several times and then the word 'bad' spelled out.

"Bad cops? I don't understand."

Martin dropped the pen and sat down, pulling his knees up and resting his chin. He rocked back and forth, trying to rid his body of the invisible talons that were gleaming just beyond his reach. It was dark and cold and he was hurt. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to see the demon. But it remained invisible, leaving only the terrorist threat in his mind. How could he make Taylor understand something he didn't understand himself? He only knew that cops were bad and if he went to them, he wouldn't come back.

"Martin?" Danny pressed, watching his ailing partner trying to force himself to remember. He knew that every time that happened, Martin got a fierce headache or passed out. He couldn't afford that now. "It's okay, leave it alone. Listen, how about if I write a note? I'll tell them who I am and where we are? You just have to give it to a policeman. Once they see my name, they'll know. By now half the force is looking for us. Would that be okay? I'll tell them not to hurt you."

Martin peeked sideways and saw the pain etched in every drawn feature. Taylor's heavy lidded eyes were full of fever. How soon before he stopped waking up? He knew he had to go but the fear that gripped him was paralyzing. The thought of going to the police caused a cold sweat to envelop him. But he couldn't let his partner die. Partners take care of each other. So he sucked up his fear and stood, shaking badly. He disappeared around the end of the fort he'd built for a moment and looked around. Ther e on the floor was a pink slip of paper, a good length. It had light blue print on it. He ripped if off the side of the box and eyed what appeared to be a billing statement. Flipping it over, he noted the back was blank.

Danny heard Martin moving around and then he reappeared next to him. He saw the paper and then moved his gaze upwards. The crippling fear he'd seen just moments before was gone. In its place was steely blue resolve. He nodded slightly and sent his affirmation with a solid wink and a cocky half grin.

"Well, alright, partner, let's get this done. You write for me okay?" When Martin was finished, Danny wiggled his fingers for the note. It identified him, Martin, Jack and the situation. He took the pen from Martin and drew a crude map. Then he handed it back. "Listen to me, Martin. You have to get this to a cop. They'll know my name and not to hurt you. They should be combing the streets looking for us so you shouldn't have to go far." Danny handed the note back and then held out his hand. Once Martin gripped it, he tried to send some faith as well. "You can do this partner, I know you can."

Martin took a deep breath, folded the note and tucked it in his pocket. It was a slow and difficult trip, his staggered steps were frustrating. But he took his time as he climbed to the top and out the window. He paused by the fence eyeing the building. What if Hilliard came back while he was gone? What if Taylor got worse or needed him? He had nobody to protect him? Shaking off his worries, he eyed the busy street in the distance and began his trek. His partner was hurt and depending on him.

Downtown Hartford
Saturday afternoon
3 p.m.

Although it was a cold day, it was bright and clear. Jack squinted against the sun and finished the end of a rubbery hot dog. Belching the sour aftertaste, he frowned and realized he'd be paying the price for the greasy chili dog later. He chugged the last of his ice tea and felt every bit of the fatigue that was plaguing him. He'd been searching for Taylor and Fitzgerald all night. Exhausted, he'd claimed a couple hours sleep, a hot shower and change of clothes that morning. He'd met up with Tim Simmons again a few hours ago and they were now searching each building in the far edge of the grid. He'd taken five minutes to eat; now he tossed the trash away and stood up. He noticed Simmons waving frantically from across the street. He checked both ways and jogged over.

"What?" Jack asked, following the anxious, younger man to the car.

"Fitzgerald, maybe. A patrolman spotted someone matching his description down by the train station. They didn't want to spook him, especially in a crowded area. They're tailing him."

"Let's move!" Jack ordered. He didn't want to get his hopes up but he was worried about Taylor, and all that blood.

Martin woke up with a start. His heart was pounding frantically and he was covered in sweat. Gasping and coughing, he doubled over and threw up a large amount of watery phlegm. He swiped his mouth and cast his eyes around the bricks. Horns sounded and a radio was playing. The rapid sounds of traffic and footsteps were close by. He blinked and sat up, fingering the broken bench. Where was he? What was he doing here? He stood up and dizziness overcame him, sending him back down onto the bench hard. Wheezing and annoyed, he took several moments to collect himself and stood again. Then he began to creep along the edges of the bus terminal. Something was nagging at his throbbing brain. Something important was just beyond the spot where the blackness started. He walked slowly, wincing as the loud sounds of the city hurt his tender head. He went around another corner and kept to the edge of the building. The people rushing by were dressed in expensive suits and eyed him as if he were a repulsive bug.

He shuffled along, tugging his hood down over his head to protect his face from the wind. He shoved his hands in his pockets to keep warm and encountered a piece of paper. Frowning, he pulled it out and read it. At first the words were foreign to him, but the second time he read it, the name 'Taylor' seemed to glow in red letters. He doubled over when a pain seared into his brain and the image of a young Hispanic man lying injured in a broken crate burned into his brain. He saw the man's lips moving and the word 'partner' was sounded. Taylor was hurt; Taylor needed help; Taylor was depending on him. Carefully shoving the note back inside his pocket, he headed towards the large building on the corner. It was a train station and they would have help there.

Tim sped past the intersection, pulling the car in front of the building so Jack could jump out. He flashed his badge at the patrol car which moved aside to let him pass. By the time he parked and got out, Jack was already pushing his way through the large throng of passengers exiting the building and spilling down the steps.

Martin paused at the corner, annoyed at the police barricade. He put his hands on it to try to move it and found he couldn't. He saw a police car two blocks down parked by the front of the building. He had to hold onto the wooden sawhorses until they ended and cross over a busy street. He ignored the angry honking sounds and the curses flying from the drivers windows. He finally got to the other side, dizzy and wheezing badly. He kept his eye on the cop car, despite the fierce pounding in his chest and the fear gripping his heart. Sweating badly, he staggered onward and then stopped when the policeman walked away from the car. He was walking with two men in dark coats, they weren't in uniforms but Martin got the impression they were important. He hurried his faltering steps to try to worm his way through the crowded sidewalk. He was halfway up the steps, his eyes glued to the back of the dark head of the taller man in a dark coat. He pulled the note out and pressed onward. He wa s only a few feet away.

"I'm Malone," Jack announced to the cop at the doorway of the train station. "Whaddya got?"

"Male caucasian, twenty-five to thirty, slim, brown hair, blue eyes, ratty clothes. He's inside; he's been panhandling for food. We got close a couple times but he bolted. He's near the men's room. We have a camera trained on him; you can have a look."

"Let's go," Jack answered, moving through the door with the other lawmen in tow.

qqqNo... no... no... Martin screamed silently when the man in the black coat disappeared into the station. He was so intent on catching the man, he didn't move quickly enough. A dozen anxious passengers spilled through the doors and right into him.

"Hey, watch where you're going!"

"Jesus, you stink."

"Get out of my way, you dirtball."

Martin tried to get his balance but there was too many of them and he was just too dizzy. He began to crawl out of the way and someone stepped on his hand. The note flew from his grip and he began to grunt, frantic to get it back. He finally retrieved it, three steps from the bottom. Over his hammering heart he collapsed against the concrete wall and caught his breath, the prized note pressed to his filthy coat. When he opened his eyes again, there was a man approaching. He wasn't a policeman, but there were too many steps to catch the one he'd seen. He was just too weak. This man was dressed in an expensive coat, held a leather briefcase and had silver hair and wasn't in as much of a rush as the others. Maybe he could help. He could read the note and Taylor would be saved. Martin tried to stand but failed, falling twice before staggering beside the man. He grabbed at his sleeve, grunting and holding out the note. Pleading silently through his fevered eyes, the man finally turne d but he was shoved off as the man cursed at him.

"Get away from me, you damn beggar."

Martin persisted, grabbing again and halting the man in his steps. The face turned then, red with fury. A fist flew out and caught his collar, sending him hard into the railing that rose along the steps. He slid down and nearly fell.

"Listen you retard, stay the fuck away from me!"

Martin wouldn't be denied and despite being shoved, he got to his feet and jumped in front of the man again, waving the note.

"This is what's wrong with this city. They cut the budget and fucked up retarded freaks like you get sent loose, instead of being locked up in the crazy house." He grabbed the pink paper and crumbled it up, tossing it onto the street. He felt the filthy man's hands on his leg and turned, kicking him hard in the knee and shoving him down.

Martin felt like a shotgun ripped through his gut. His eyes went wide as the pink wadded ball skipped through the tires of a car and the velocity carried it further away. He scrambled to keep up, half stumbling along, his eyes on the street and the pink ball.

"What are you crazy? That's traffic out there, you'll get killed." The large construction worker screamed, wrinkling his nose at the disgusting body in his grip. The man was grunting and carrying on wildly. He knew some homeless people were crazy, this might be one. "Listen to me..." he said slowly and loudly, causing the stranger to peer up at him from beneath the hood of his jacket, "you can't go in the street, understand?"

Martin glared at the large black man and pulled away. Why was he talking to him like he was a nut? The words came out slow and loud as if addressing someone who was mentally ill. He stormed off, anger radiating from him. Both hands were fisted in rage and he felt his face flame in anger. The note was gone, Taylor's life was in the balance and he'd failed. He stopped at the corner and eyed the police car. Maybe he could leave another note? He could write it down and wait by the car.

Just as he was about to cross the street, the loud wail of a siren was heard and two police cars sped by, lights flashing. Martin's whole body jerked in pain and he staggered back, the screaming red lights burned into his skull like flame driven arrows. He turned and ran, trying to escape the consuming pain. He stumbled and fell, grasping at a fence near a parking lot. It ended at a gravelly hill causing him to slip. The light of the afternoon faded away and he was involuntarily sent back in time to a dark, cold place with snow falling. The images were short but painfully brutal; red lights, icy steps and two angry faces, men in blue with badges... and a body. His air was cut off, something hard and wooden was pressed to his windpipe. He clawed frantically at the invisible weapon until his eyes rolled back and he slipped bonelessly to the ground, his limp body rolling until it hit the bottom, out of view from anyone passing by above.

"Well?" Tim asked, watching Malone's hawk like eyes fixed on the monitor.

"I need to get closer," Jack stated. The grainy image didn't appear to be Martin but he had to be sure.

"Okay, he's not far, it's just down the stairs and about a hundred feet to the left," the young patrolman stated. "If you don't need me, I'm heading back to my unit. We got an armed robbery with shots fired nearby, I should go assist'

"Yeah, thanks," Jack replied, taking the steps two at a time. He slowed his pace when he got within twenty feet of the young man. His heart sank when the skittish homeless person turned to face him. "It's not him," he spat out bitterly to Simmons behind him.

"When?" Simmons asked, speaking into his cell, he saw Jack turn and nodded. "No, we're not far; we'll take it, thanks Mike."

"What?" Jack asked.

"A positive ID on Martin. A bank teller gave him donuts and stuff early this morning. It's not far."

"Let's roll," Jack replied, hurrying with Tim to the car. He thumped his hand impatiently on the dashboard as they sped down the street past a parking lot which was being expanded. A large mountain of dirt rose up next to the lot. The sign next to it stating completion would be expected by the spring. The dirt and gravel spilled over into the street. The word 'positive' stayed with him. Maybe this would be the break they had been seeking.

Part Thirteen

Hartford, The Warehouse
Saturday, 4pm

Danny forced his eyes open, reaching for the water bottle at the same time. He eyed the remaining liquid cautiously, as it was the last of the water. He drank it slowly, savoring the relief it caused him. His headache was worse and by the heat coursing through him, he knew the fever was worse. His heavy eyes drifted towards the windows above and he tried to judge the time. He attempted to move his left arm to see his watch but the white hot pain stopped him. Gasping and sweating, he moved his eyes to the window again. By the color of the sky and the degree of light, he assumed it was late afternoon.

Where was Martin?

He'd been gone far too long and Danny was worried. What if something happened to him? What if he collapsed somewhere and was taken to a hospital? What if he didn't remember this place at all when he woke up? He sighed hard and used the cotton cloth on his chest to swipe his face. He had to give Martin credit, he was very resourceful. He'd arranged the water cups and food so they would be easily accessible. He had several damp and clean diapers lined up so he could fend for himself while his nurse was gone. After nibbling on a donut, he wiped his face again and tried to stay awake. But the lethargy cloaked him like a thick wall and he soon drifted back into nothingness.

Downtown, Hartford
6 p.m.

Jack shoved the remains of a turkey sandwich aside and drained the last of his coffee. The chic, upscale deli had been in the middle of the zone he'd been searching. His 'gas' tank was on empty and the fuel helped a bit. He sighed hard and rubbed the back of his aching neck. The combination of lack of sleep, worry and frustration was adding up. He was exhausted, pushing his body too far and hard without proper rest and food. His dark eyes were red-rimmed from fatigue and he felt ninety years old. He and Tim had split up to cover the area by the financial district. The last confirmed sighting they'd had of Martin was from the woman at the donut shop. Just as he moved to throw the trash away and continue his search, his cell phone rang. He shoved the trash into the bin and moved towards the door. Grabbing the ringing phone on the way outside, he eyed the gray sky and shivered.

"Malone."

"Jack, it's Chris. I think we have a lead on Victor."

"How so?" Malone moved towards the large computer software building across the street that was next on his hit list.

"We went through Martin's address book on his laptop at home. We found two European addies and called Margaret. It seems Jean and Victor have friends in London, the Cavendishes. They visit them twice a year. Sam called them and Mrs. Cavendish confirmed they are due in sometime tomorrow night. She didn't know from where, she said that Victor wasn't allowed to disclose that."

"That's good, Chris," Jack relayed, eyeing the traffic and jogging across the street. "Tell her it's urgent that I speak to Victor as soon as she hears from him."

"Done." Boone shoved back from his chair. "How's the hunt?"

"Slow. Frustrating." He paused to go inside the building.

Chris didn't have to hear anymore, the degree of fear in Malone's usually staid voice was evident. He also knew Jack well enough to realize he was most likely second guessing his decision to send Danny undercover.

"It was the right move, Jack, Danny's good. It was your best shot."

"Was it?" Jack spat out. "Now I got two missing, Victor's gonna chew my balls for this."

"Well, you'll have a couple extra bodies in about an hour. Vivian and Sam are on their way up there." The silence was telling. "Don't beat yourself up over this, Jack, it's done. What about that lead?"

"The donut shop?" Jack waved to the security guard and headed across the lobby. "Positive ID, it was Martin. A bank teller felt sorry for him and gave him her breakfast, all bagged up. She even got him extra coffee. But the donut shop is off the search grid. He's all over the place. And where the hell is Danny?"

"If Danny's hurt, maybe he can't get out. Martin's getting food for them?" Chris hoped.

"Yeah, and maybe he's dead," Jack replied gruffly.

"Jack!" Chris warned.

"Yeah, yeah, I know, that was a stupid thing to say. But shit, Chris, it's been too long..."

"Keep the faith, brother," Chris pledged, "You'll find them, Jack, I know you will."

"Yeah," Jack mumbled and hung up.

Hartford, The Warehouse
Saturday, 7pm

A loud clatter brought Danny's eyes wide open. It took him a minute to adjust to the dimly lit warehouse. The night lighting overhead in the high ceiling kicked in and his fevered gaze roamed around the spacious area. He blinked as movement on the far side of the room caught his eyes. He swiped the sweat that was stinging them and narrowed his gaze to see more clearly. The moving object took form, it had legs and arms and a grimy face.

"Martin!" he choked, relief surging through him like an electrical current. "Jesus, you scared the shit out of me, I thought you were dead."

Martin moved closer to the man on the floor and tried to control his anger. He quickly scooped up the bottles and cups and filled them, put fresh water in the plastic bowl and swabbed the protesting and sputtering man's face and neck.

"Cut that out!" Danny snapped, shoving the arm away. "You damn near drowned me with rag. What the hell's wrong with you?" He saw such anger radiating off the slim frame it worried him. He saw the hot eyes regarding the dirty bandages and the hand move towards them but he intercepted it. "No way! You're not handling my wounds with that temper out of control. Calm the fuck down!"

Calm down?

Martin snorted at that thought. If Taylor didn't want his bandages changed, fine by him. He shoved off the floor and his anger rose again. He kicked the nearest crate hard and punched it with his fist. That wasn't his best move, it hurt. He shook his hand and hissed in annoyance. Then he continued his rampage, frustrated by the events that prevented him from doing the simplest of jobs. He paused several times, coughing and sputtering, leaving wads of greenish muck on the floor.

"Martin... Martin..." Danny tried twice, flinching when the fist hit the box. "Enough!" he hollered to the back of the irate agent. "Fuckin' look at me when I'm talkin' to you Martin."

The body whipped around and faced him then, eyes flashing and fists clenched.

"What the hell happened out there? Did you get help?" He saw the head shake and both hands moving in uncertainty, as if he was trying to figure out how to explain. Before he could address it, Martin grabbed the grease pencil and turned to a very tall crate to Danny's far right. He watched the furious letters appear.

"I am... not... retarded?" Danny spoke the words aloud and watched the wrath pour down from the livid blue eyes. "Of course you're not, I know that. Somebody on the street called you a name? That's why you're mad?" Martin's reply was to kick the crate again. "Man, Jack thinks I got a bad temper, you got me beat by a mile. Alright, Martin, so some jerk dissed you, so what? You let that shit roll off your back. You..." He paused when the marker flew again and he read the words. "U not there? No I wasn't there, Martin. Look, I'm sorry if somebody did that to you, but you can't let that upset you. Where's the note? Did you get to a cop?"

Martin shook his head and mimed the action of crumpling and throwing it away. He rubbed his chest, trying to force the heavy sensation away. He felt like shit. He wanted a soft bed and medicine. He wanted to go home. He didn't know where 'home' was or who he was. But his chance of getting his injured partner home were now gone and it was all his fault. Wheezing badly, his anger erupted again.

"You threw it away? Dammit, Martin!" Danny flinched when Martin made a guttural sound and rose over him in fury. "I got no time for your tantrums, Martin. I could die here, you got that? You need to calm down and write down what happened, okay? You going postal on me isn't going to help either of us."

Taylor was right but it didn't help Martin's raging emotions. He felt like a complete failure. Martin saw past the dark eyes regarding him then to the pain and fever. His eyes skimmed the crude bandages and he couldn't remember when he'd last cleaned them. He was trying hard to do everything, couldn't Taylor understand that? He didn't mean to lose the note, he did try. His own inability to do the simplest thing came up unexpectedly and stole the wrath right out of him. He turned away then, his face colored in unflattering hues of shame. He sank to the floor, sitting crossed legged and dropped his face into his hands. He swallowed hard and it hurt. How could he face Taylo r? A real partner wouldn't have failed. He'd been tasked with one simple thing and he'd failed.

"Martin?" Danny tried but the pile of dejection next to him never moved. Somehow the raging body was easier to see than this. He also noticed that Martin had tiny cuts on his face and hands. "Look... it's okay. We'll try again."

Finally the head rose and he saw Martin swipe his eyes. That hurt, more than Danny could accept. He saw the pain then, not just the physical pain that his partner was carrying but the mental and emotional toll the amnesia and the week in hell had ravaged. The notebook appeared and the hand moved slowly, then Martin presented his heart in the guise of the message on the paper.

"I'm sorry." Danny read and sighed hard. He didn't need the notebook to read that face, he could see the dejection and shame clearly. He felt bad for that but he didn't have time to coddle Martin, they were desperate for help. "Martin?" He prodded until the face rose up. He tried not to see the devastation riddled eyes. "Let's start at the beginning, okay? If I understand what happened to you, we can figure out a better plan maybe."

Martin nodded, that sounded reasonable. Taylor was being too kind; he deserved to get his ass kicked for what he'd done. It wasn't bad enough that he'd failed his mission, but then he'd ranted like child. He moved to the letter board and picked up a long, thin piece of wood to use as a pointer.

Danny took a long, drink of water and paused to wipe his face. His initial thoughts could pose a guess and save Martin some time pointing out letters. "You left here and went to get help. You didn't find a cop?"

Martin shook his head and held up his hand. He moved to the long row of other coffin like boxes and laid down on one. He pretended to be asleep and then sat up, confused and in a stupor.

"You passed out somewhere and when you woke up, you didn't know where you were?" Danny guessed and the head bobbed. The teacher then resumed his place with the pointer at the board. "Found note in pocket... near the train..." Danny's voice trailed off. "The train station? That's across town, man, how'd you get so far..." he aborted his thought when the guilty party's hand wavered and the head dropped. "I'm sorry, Martin, that's not important now. Go on..."

Martin slowly tapped out the letters, trying to explain the police and the man who he'd tried to get help from. He remembered running into traffic and a big man yelling at him, then nothing else. He wasn't sure how he ended up in a pile of gravel and dirt at the bottom of a hill. He put the marker down and slowly walked back to Taylor then, offering his hand.

"I know you're sorry, Martin." Danny accepted the apology. "I'm sorry too, you tried, man, you really tried." He saw the extreme exhaustion then and wondered how and where Martin was finding the stamina to get around. Martin held up three fingers then and Danny was puzzled. "Three? Three what?"

Martin held up his notebook and waited.

"Three notes?" Danny guessed and the shaggy head bobbed. "Oh, so if you lose one or someone else disses you, you got backup." He gave Martin his best grin then, hoping it would give the battle fatigued body some spirit. "Hey, that's a great idea, I didn't think of that."

It worked, the eyes were a bit brighter and the half smile he got back held promise. So ten minutes later, three new notes were tucked away in Martin's pocket.

Martin pointed to the bandages then and waited. He kept his gaze sure and true and hoped that Danny would see he'd calmed down.

"Okay, I guess we gotta do it, go easy though, my arm's really bustin' me good."

Danny rested his eyes then, taking laborious breaths and trying to gain some strength. There was one donut left and he and Martin split it. Then the rookie disappeared and returned with warm, soapy water from what Danny guessed was the bathroom. He didn't miss the fact that Martin's hands were scrubbed red and raw. He tried not to cry out because he knew just how careful Martin was handling him. The deft fingers moved gently, using the warm water to ease the crusty bandage off, but it hurt like hell.

Martin ignored Taylor's cries of pain and his thrashing body. He concentrated only on the task before him. He used the soapy water to clean out the yellowish goo and kept at it until only reddened areas remained. Then he got the clean strips of diaper and loosely covered it. The next one was more difficult and he hesitated, his hand hovering over the patch on Taylor's side. He tried to withdraw it, fearing that he'd hurt his partner worse. Then a hand moved, catching his wavering wrist and steadying it. He moved his eyes over and saw Taylor's dark ones shining with pride. It caused his breath to catch and he took a long exhalation. He waited a few moments and with Taylor's confidence in him, he proceeded.

It hurt like hell but Danny wouldn't cry out. Martin was careful, moving slow but sure, removing the crud and puss and washing his side as best he could. Finally he felt the soft, clean bandage in place and he sighed hard, taking several moments to regulate his breathin g. He heard movement and coughing; a nasty gagging sound. When he peeled his eyes open, he saw Martin curled up on the floor, clutching his head and rocking back and forth. Tears were forming and his face was contorted in pain. Danny wanted to reach out to help but he couldn't. So he watched helplessly until with one final agonizing silent scream, the eyes rolled in his head and he fell back, arms splayed.

"I'm sorry, Martin," Danny managed in a choked whisper. A fear gripped him then, snaking its way through his insides and snagging on with vicious talons. What if Martin didn't wake up? What if there was something inside his injured head bleeding slowly? Was that what was causing his hellish headaches, pain so severe it rendered him unconscious? He kept his eyes trained on the filthy coat and watched the chest rising. He huddled down under the wooly blanket Martin covered him with and fingered the cross on his neck.

And he prayed.

Days Inn, Hartford
Saturday night, 8 p.m.

Vivian Johnson's dark eyes moved to the other side of the lobby. She stood up and waved to the sorry soul who'd just entered the hotel. She and Samantha Spade had Sunday off and decided to come up and lend a hand in the search.

"Let me guess," she said drolly when Jack Malone collapsed in a chair across from her. "You're up for a part in the remake of Night of the Living Dead?"

"It wouldn't be acting," Jack replied then caught the dark eyes and nodded in relief. "Thanks for coming up. You have no idea how good it is to see a friendly face."

"When's the last time you had a decent meal and some sleep?" she quizzed.

"Probably Sunday," Jack replied, "seems like a year ago. What a week..." His voice trailed off and he spotted the familiar raincoat. "Where's Sam?"

"Updating Chris." She nodded to the phones in the business center across the lobby. "First, we get some dinner and you give us everything you have on the case. Then you're going to bed."

"I appreciate the thought, Vivian, but I can't afford to waste that time."

"You can't afford not to," Johnson directed. "I've got just as many miles on my belt as you have, Jack. Give me some credit, huh? We both know you're exhausted and you need sleep. You can't go on like this; it won't help either of them. You let Sam and me take over for awhile. You'll feel 100% percent better."

Jack kept his dark gaze for a long moment and thought on the offer. He was beyond the point of exhaustion. Twice driving here from the downtown area, he'd felt himself nodding off at the wheel. Maybe some hot food and a warm bed would be a cure of sorts. Plus he trusted Vivian, he'd known her longer than anyone save Chris Boone.

"Alright, but only for a few hours, you better call and wake me."

"Sam?" Vivian called out and nodded to the coffee shop. The blonde head bobbed in return and she took her coat and Sam's and waited. "Come on, Bela."

"Bela?" Jack asked, reluctantly taking his aching bones from the soft leather chair.

"Lugosi. I decided you look more like a corpse."

"Very funny," Jack muttered.

By the time the soup, cheeseburger and coffee was done, Jack felt a bit stronger. All the plates had been cleared away and the table wiped clean. Now he pulled his map out and laid it flat for the two to study. He'd updated the pair on the entire case. He'd outlined every step they'd traced Martin taking from the minute he'd left Simmons to get a ticket at the train station the week before. He'd ended with the area covered after the donut shop sighting this morning.

"Well," Sam eyed the diagram and area with yellow, red and black marks on it. "He's covering an amazing amount of ground. He's still on his feet and moving, that's good. But he's all over the place, that's not so good."

"No, that worries me," Jack admitted with a telling heavy sigh,"Whatever head injury he's sustained could lead to blackouts. It's possible when he passes out and wakes up he's got no memory of what transpired before. So he stumbles away, taking any street without any direction."

"Maybe," Vivian studied the map again. "But if Danny is involved, he'd have to be in the area within the grid. It's Martin who's been spotted not Danny. Danny would not have been afraid to call or get help. From what you've got, Martin won't go to the police for some reason."

"So you think we go back to the grid and start again?" Sam asked her partner.

"I think if we find Danny, we find our answer. We know he was with Martin when that fight or attack occurred. Whatever happened next, involved the two of them and Danny is the key since Martin is suffering from amnesia and can't speak."

"Okay," Jack agreed. "You two head over there. Call Simmons and let him know. I've got," he e yed his watch, "quarter after nine. You call me every two hours, understood?" He saw the dark eyes rolling at him. "What?"

"Jack, I'm not a rookie, I know my job." Vivian dictated. "I'll call and update you when we have something to report. You get your sorry ass to that bed and sleep," she replied. "Understood?"

Sam chuckled when Jack blanched. Vivian was the only one who could talk to him like that and get away with it. Jack needed to have her here; she was one person who knew him inside out, something that only time and history could shape. So the dark head nodded and the grumbling supervisor tossed some bills on the table. They left Jack heading for the elevator and walked to their car.

Hartford, Warehouse
Saturday night, 10 p.m.

Martin shifted wearily, leaning his face against the cold glass. It felt good and he savored the icy sensation on his warm skin. Every inch of him ached and his head hurt terribly. He knew now the complete working definition of 'bone weary'. The fatigue that possessed him was all encompassing. It took all the strength he had pulled from way down deep to organize his thoughts into actions. He wasn't sure how much longer he could hold out. His eyes moved to the darkness outside and the starless sky. All he could think about was a soft bed and a hot bath. He itched in more places that he could count and had no energy to scratch, the effort was too much.

Taylor.

He sighed hard and moved his face away, leaning over his perch to eye the man across the room. The pale body was much too still and it made his gut hurt. The wet head wasn't tossing anymore and that worried him. What if Taylor didn't wake up? What if because he screwed up, Taylor died? He wasn't sure how much time lapsed from the last trek outside but if he hadn't failed in his mission, the injured man would now be safe and being cared for in a hospital. He knew he'd have to venture out again and this time he wouldn't fail. He would find the right help for his partner. He eyed the empty construction site across the street and thought about the word 'partner'.

He knew from what Taylor said they were both F.B.I agents. He closed his eyes and thought about those words and Taylor's face. It took a few moments but the inky blackness in his mind dissolved into a series of images. He hunched over and gripped his head as the pictures spilled fast and furious. The scenery in the background was different; sometimes outdoors, sometimes in a car or in an office. But the one that remained constant was the rippling anger painted clearly on Taylor's face. The dark eyes were livid and the face contorted in rage. In just about every scene forced into his throbbing head, that wrath was directed at him. A soundtrack appeared with hostile accusations. Then the screen went black but the audio remained. He heard Taylor call him a 'first class fuck up' and others echoing that claim. The waves of dejection and mortification that washed over him took his breath away.

Through his hacking cough, he left the disturbing images and turned back to the empty lot. What kind of person was he? If Taylor and the other men in the flashback all thought he was that bad on the job, was he a bad person too? Was he so disliked by his coworkers that it caused tension, fury and hatred as he'd seen from Taylor in the awful trip through his past? As he turned his head to check on Taylor, he caught his image reflected in the dark glass window on a door a few feet away. Gingerly, he eased off his perch and staggered over .He stared hard at the stranger in the glass. Was the real 'Martin' someone he wanted to remember?

Danny woke up with a start, coughing and reaching for his water. He chugged quite a bit through the straw and saw that all his cups were full and the wet cloths were lying in a row. As he swiped his damp face, he saw Martin standing across the room touching the glass reflection. The hopeless sigh he heard coupled with the shades of shame shadowing the distressed face caused him to grimace. As if sensing he was being observed, Martin turned towards him wearing sorrowful eyes.

"Hey..." Danny managed, holding up a cup. "Bar's open, I'm buying."

Martin shuffled over and sat down, taking a cup of water and slowly sipping on it. He was glad Taylor woke up, but the breathing was worse and the voice weak. He would go out and get help and this time he wouldn't fail. Try as he might, the disturbing images wouldn't leave him alone. He kept seeing Taylor's fury directed at him time and time again.

"You're remembering again, aren't you?" Danny guessed of the odd expression. The sad blues regarded him for a moment and the matted head nodded. One hand came up and the fingers were an inch apart. "You remembered a little? That's good. What did you remember?" The index finger moved then pointing right at him. "Me?" he rasped in an oddly toned squeak. But his brows creased in concern when Martin wouldn't meet his eyes.

Martin eyed the spelling board by Danny's feet but he was too tired to stand up. So he took out the notebook in his pocket and began to write. Then he flipped the pad around and showed it to Taylor.

"...angry face... mad... mad... livid eyes... hollering... inside and outside..." Danny swallowed hard then and felt his face flush with heat when the last words were forced out. "...all the time..." He was at a loss for words at first, not sure of what to say. "Is that all you remember? That I'm mad at you all the time?"

The reluctant head dipped once and he turned away. It wasn't bad enough Martin had been through hell for a week. Now the only memories that were returning were of their fighting. "Shit..." he whispered, realizing that his own temper and those hostile words in the train station were a large part of why this man disappeared and suffered.

Why would Taylor be so angry with him on the job? Maybe he was a 'bad cop' too. Was he the same cut of badge as the demons that tortured his night dreams? With a shaky hand Martin wrote his query and held it up.

"Bad cop... dirty badge?" Danny read and frowned in confusion until Martin's free hand tapped his own chest. That brought a chortled choke that turned into a coughing fit. He sputtered for a few moments and shook his head. "That's twisted logic... no man; you're not dirty, just the opposite. You're squeaky clean. You're the good guy with the white hat and all that 'by the book' shit."

Danny watched Martin's face puzzle up then and the eyes shift in thought, then the pen went back into action. He closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness crossed over him. He felt like a hostile witness on the stand. A small tap on his hand brought his head up. The two words offered burned a hole right through him. He felt his chest tighten and the letters seemed to turn red and pulsate.

"...bad... partner..." Taylor choked, then turned to face the sad and expectant eyes. What the hell could he say? It was so complicated he didn't understand it himself. Martin was in no shape physically or otherwise to tackle that kind of load, not now. A new question was posed for him. "Why?" he repeated. "It's complicated Martin. I don't even understand why. Look," he used a soft tone and stared directly into the lost gaze, "you're a rookie, you've only been on our team for about a month. First year is hard, there's so much to learn and it comes so fast it's a real tough battle. I forgot just how hard it was and I'm sorry for that. You and me, we got off to a bad start, on the wrong foot, you know? Vivian thinks we're too much alike," he paused for a sad chuckle and saw Martin frown. "Vivian? Vivian Johnson, she works with us and so does Samantha Spade." He watched Martin's face crease and his hand flutter to indicate long hair. He pointed to a yellow mark on the cup and Danny grinned. "Hey, you remember Sam? Yeah, she's got long blonde hair. Anyway, we both got short fuses, we're headstrong and reckless. You got talent Martin, you're smart as a whip and you're fast. I guess maybe I was jealous and..."

Jealous? Martin chuffed and shook his head, then wrote quickly, holding up his note.

"Taylor wears a good badge..." he whispered and a sloppy half grin appeared on his face.

"Thanks, Martin, you know that means a lot to me. But my halo ain't sittin' so high these days. Listen Martin, when we get out of here, we're gonna have a long talk and clear the air. We both made mistakes, we both need to listen a little more and not be so judgmental. A fresh start, clean slate, okay?" He held out his hand.

Martin's eyes widened in shock when the hand was offered. He felt a lump in his throat at the generous offer. He thought on all the words that had been presented to him with invisible gift wrap. He was a rookie, that meant he was new. New cops often made mistakes, overeager and zealous, needing to prove themselves. Something told him he'd done just that and made some bad mistakes. That was why Taylor was mad at him. But he'd come halfway, taking a large leap in faith by offering this olive wreath. It was a gift he'd not refuse. So he gave his own hand and a silent vow to be the kind of partner Taylor would be proud of.

"So we're okay now, partner?" Danny asked and Martin bobbed his head once. Then the silent warrior withdrew his hand and examined it, then held it up. The first two fingers were crossed over each other. With his left hand he indicated that kind of bond, a team, was the two of them.

"Partners?" Danny guessed and Martin nodded. "Yeah, that's right."

Danny rested his eyes then, frowning and swatting when his nurse tried to swab his face and neck. He heard the annoyed huffing and the ministrations continued. Then it fell silent for awhile and Danny drifted into a restless sleep.

While Taylor tossed and cursed in his sleep, Martin kept vigil. Every time he thought of the lost note, he was filled with shame. Then Taylor began to mutter in his distressed sleep. Martin leaned forward to wipe the fevered face and every word uttered hit him like bullets.

"...find a cop... note... help... stupid... stupid... idiot..." Danny berated his own reckless actions in his unconscious state unaware his words were mistakenly being absorbed by the wounded soul next to him.

He was a bad partner and thanks to his mistake, Taylor might die. He sighed hard, swallowed his dejection and picked up the empty bottles and cups. He staggered and swayed but he got to the water fountain and filled each one. He put a bottle in each pocket and carried the three cups very carefully between his two hands. He set them up again and took the basin and clothes to fill them as well. Then he wiped the fevered man's face and neck. He used the last bit of water in the bowl to wipe his own face. He sat back then, trying to draw up the energy for the trip he'd have to make soon.

The cool water on his seared skin brought a moan from Danny who felt the light touch and relaxed; he knew who was tending to him. The fog lifted and he forced his eyes open. He'd barely focused when a straw nudged his lips. Like a greedy infant, he sucked on instinct. Over the cup rim, he observed his nurse and didn't like what he saw. Something was wrong. The light was gone from his eyes; it was as if someone had drained the life from him. He wondered how long he'd been asleep and if Martin had suffered another painful flashback.

"Martin?" he whispered, ignoring the throbbing, burning pain in his arm. "What's wrong?" It took a few moments but the note was held out.

"...u... r... rite... I... m... first... class fuck up..." Danny paused and narrowed his eyes. "I never said that to you. I know I was pissed but..."

Martin disagreed, he knew better. He'd heard the voice clearly and the other voices, other agents and they all agreed with him. There was something about his name involved and he didn't understand that part. But the venom was clear enough; he was a bad partner or agent or maybe both.

"I heard you..." Danny read the reply and the next words caused him to pale. "...they agreed with you. They? Oh... shit..." He closed his eyes and scrubbed his face with his hand. It couldn't be true, how could this mess possibly get any worse. But the coiled snake in hit gut sank its fangs deep. The worst realization hit him. Martin had overheard the entire conversation that night. "Martin do you remember where you heard that?"

Martin thought for a moment, nodded his head, then wrote.

"A dark place... night... inside..." Danny's acid coated words issued on that fateful night to the other agents came back and hit him hard. Not only had those bitter words caused Martin to be beaten up physically, but hearing them himself had caused the very doubt that Jack saw that night when Martin was sitting in the dark playing with his badge.

"Christ, did I fuck up royally."

He didn't know how to face Martin or what to say. How could he possibly explain his overheated temper that night? Martin might not understand the events that lead to that encounter and he doubted if the injured man was strong enough to fully comprehend the situation. But he felt the blue eyes burning a hole in him and he slowly raised his gaze.

"Jesus, turn down your headlights, you're killing me," he rasped of the expressive blue eyes. "Martin... what you heard that night, it was last Thursday night, the night before we came up here to find Hilliard. I'm sorry you heard that conversation. I'm even sorrier it took place, it shouldn't have." He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and choose his words carefully, but he kept his eyes trained on the puzzled ones before him. "Remember I told you that you've only been with us a few weeks, and that we got off on the wrong foot? Well that night it all came to a head. Jack," he paused when Martin's brows creased and he sat up, cocking his head, "dark hair, dark eyes, scowls and a growls a lot, our boss. He's the best agent there is... no?" he asked and Martin shook his head, clearly not recalling Malone. "Just as well, he was pissed that night, I mean madder than I've ever seen him. We were squabbling again; we seemed to do that on a daily basis. But this time, it cost us ."

Martin listened carefully as Taylor slowly recounted the story of a lost boy and the horrific consequences. Danny didn't mince his words; he spilled the many arguments they'd had. Martin's hand moved without thought to his abdomen and he hunched over when the part about the beating was recalled. He closed his eyes and felt a board or something hard hit him and the harsh words in, what flashed by in his mind, a parking lot. Then just as quickly, it left. He blinked and sighed hard, biting his lower lip.

"Martin," Danny's thick voice wavered badly. Those were the hardest words he'd ever parted with. It left his gut an aching mess. He saw the shame flooding Martin's face and felt awful. Finally, the other man turned to face him. He wished he hadn't, the embarrassment was nearly too great to look upon. "I'm sorry. Honest to God, if I could take that back... you gotta believe me, man, I'm so sorry. Know this, Jack got those guys and they're gonna pay for what they did to yo u. I was wrong, Martin, okay? It was my fault." He paused when Martin shook his head and thumped his own chest in denial. "No, Martin, don't do that. It's history, okay. Remember, we're startin' clean."

But he did remember, all too well. Martin stood up and slowly staggered away, seeking the bathroom. He threw up and sagged against the cold tiles, his heart thumping so hard it hurt. Something he'd done had caused a child molester and murderer to escape. Oh, Taylor hadn't said as much but he'd heard it clearly between the spoken words. What else had he said? A month on the job? A rookie who was screwing up badly by the sound of it. But he wanted this job and he wanted his tarnished badge to shine again. So he got up off the floor, flushed the toilet and went to the sink. He stared hard at the stranger in the glass and made a vow. If he got his memory back and the ability to resume his job, he'd work harder, better and smarter. He'd be the partner Taylor deserved. That started right now. His partner was weak and sick and needed help.

It was dark and eerily quiet when Danny woke up. For a few moments, he didn't know where he was. Then the fleeting images came back and he swiveled his wet head; his watchdog wasn't sitting by his side.

"Martin?" he croaked, wincing at the weakness of his voice. "Mar...tin..." he tried louder and only got his echo as a reply. That's when he saw the paper attached to his wrist. Wrapped in a small cord, it was tied to him. He held up his arm and scanned the crooked lettering.

"Please don't die..." he read and felt his gut clinch. "I won't fuck up this time. I'll get help... partner?" He eyed the question mark next to the word partner and sighed hard, his throat tight. "No man, you didn't fuck up this time, I did. I'm sorry too..." He eyed the dark sky through the window and wondered what time it was and how long Martin had been gone. He kept his heavy eyes glued to the window his elusive partner used to come and go by. He began to pray again, his slurred words getting softer and softer until he went silent, his head lolling to one side.

Martin awoke with a start, sitting up too fast. It was freezing and he shivered, tucking his head back inside the hood. He eyed the empty parking lot and the large red lettering that seem to be from a supermarket. He frowned and tried to remember where he was and what he was doing. His growling stomach told him he needed food. His hacking cough and throbbing head dictated he was sick. The fever that was causing him to stagger and stumble needed fuel. He found a discarded can of soda, still not opened. He popped the top and drained it as he staggered down the dark street.

It wasn't enough, he was so hot and his head hurt so much. He was starving, shaking from weakness. He heard voices and turned down an alley. His fevered eyes lit up when he saw a pair of homeless men gathered over a small metal can. Fire shot from the can and over it were sticks with what he thought were hot dogs. His mouth watered as the tantalizing scent tickled his nostrils. He staggered forward eager to join them but was rebuffed. Their angry voices rose first, then rocks were thrown.

Martin ducked down, grabbed the rocks and threw them back. The battle continued until one of the rocks hit the larger man and he cried out, stumbling away clutching his eye. Martin eyed up the remaining man who was about his own size but much older. He nodded to the meat but the man laughed at him, trying to chase him. Martin advanced, trying to take the lingering stick and his hand was grabbed. He snarled and attacked, leveling the man with a series of precise movements. Terrified, the other man skittered off, bleeding and wiser.

Martin hunkered down over his meal and grabbed at the meat, shoving it into his mouth. Parts of the meat were hard to chew and he spit them out. The grisly parts landed near the pelts of several rats. He considered them a moment and turned back to his feast. The movement caused him to eye broken glass in the doorway across from him. A filthy man with greasy hair and a grimy beard with new and chewed food and snots in it looked back at him. It was then he saw someone else appear in the glass, a young many lying broken with pleading dark eyes, a man who was counting on him. A name appeared; 'Taylor' and he held it close, protectively.

He grunted and shoved the four remaining pieces into his pocket. He'd feed them to his partner, who needed to eat. Sated for the moment, his eyes roamed to the broken glass in the doorway across from him. He regarded the stranger in the glass and saw dead eyes looking back at him. He recalled his vow then, to get help. He wouldn't fail this time, he shuffled away repeating the words 'help Taylor' silently in his head.

The mantra kept his shuffling feet on the right path. He'd been staggering along for awhile when he spotted flashing lights ahead. The fear that ripped through him caused him to drop to his knees, clutching his skull. The words 'danger' and 'dead' seared as wickedly into his head as the lights did. But he fought hard, resisting the urge to flee. The urge to 'help Taylor' had become too strong; his mission was more important. So he swallowed his fear and staggered towards the cars ahead.

"There it is," Frank Horne relayed to his partner. They'd gotten the call on the radio of an accident. Apparently two men robbed an all night market at three a.m. and crashed the getaway car.

"Looks like one didn't make it," Brett Callison replied, slowing up to pull into the curb. The bloodied face with unblinking eyes behind the steering wheel appeared lifeless.

"Hey, Brett..." Frank's voice trailed off when he spotted the raggedy man next to patrolmen Tony Zimmaro who'd called in the accident.

"Yeah, I see him," Callison spat. "What the fuck is he telling Zimmaro?"

"I don't know, but we play this slow and easy, okay? It's been a week, it's done. Could be he's just asking for a handout."

"Yeah?" Brett's blue eyes shot over to his partner's brown ones. "And we could end up doing time if that homeless bastard is spilling his guts."

"No, I don't think so," Frank answered as Zimmaro approached. "Just cool it, okay, Brett. Keep that temper holstered. Hey Tony, whaddya got?"

"One DOA, one on foot and he's armed. He already killed the clerk at the store, so he's got nothing to lose. He's about twenty or so, African-American, six foot, maybe two hundred pounds, wearing a hip length leather coat and blue jeans, one leg is torn up, he cut himself climbing out of the wreck. I called it in."

"Who's that guy? A witness?" Brett hedged, keeping his eyes on the nervous beggar.

"Nah, not sure what he wants. I think he's mute or something. He's trying to get me to leave. He wrote out the word 'help' in the dirt on the hood of the car."

"But he didn't tell you anything?" Frank prodded.

"No... he can't talk. He's pretty upset about something. He keeps tugging on my arm and pointing to the street."

"You got your hands full, here. We'll take him in and see what's up," Brett offered, eyeing the prey with guarded eyes.

"You sure? Hey, thanks," Zimmaro replied, "I'll get him."

Martin looked up from where he was sitting on a trash can. He felt good for the first time in as long as he could remember. He'd found help! Now Taylor wouldn't die. His head rose when a hand landed on his shoulder. He jumped up startled and fell backwards.

"Sorry buddy," Zimmaro offered, assisting the man to his feet. "It's dark over here, you should have stayed where I told you. Listen, I can't leave the scene yet, until backup comes. My buddies over there are going to help you, okay?" He saw the guarded eyes peering at the patrol car that had pulled over. "Here, I'll take you over. They'll help you, I promise."

Martin's heart was beating hard as he stumbled along. The closer he got to the car, the more his head began to pound. By the time his eyes caught the numbers on the side of the car, his head screamed when his inner alarm went off loudly. He started to fall and felt a strong set of arms pushing him into the soft leather seat. Vaguely he was aware of voices. His hands were freezing and he shoved them in his pocket and felt paper. Paper? Taylor's voice echoed in his fuzzy head. 'three notes... they'll know what to do... write it down...' He shoved the note out the window and saw the other cop take it.

"Okay, thanks again," Zimmaro shut the door and clapped the top of the car, watching the patrolmen drive off. He flinched at the wide almost terrified eyes of the man in the back seat that were trained on him through the glass. He put the note in his pocket when he saw the detectives pull up to get an update on the robbery and chase.

Part Fourteen

Sunday morning
Hartford, The Warehouse
Six a.m.

A loud scrapping sound invaded the thick, black mud he was trapped in. With great effort, Danny Taylor pried his heavy eyes open. Gasping slowly, each breath a labored task, he blinked through the sweat running into his eyes. Blurry wooden objects as tall as men were moving all around him. His brows creased in confusion and he allowed his eyes to roam around again. Where was he? Something in various shades of grayish browns moved in front of the pale wooden objects. It had arms and legs... a man?

Martin's legs were like rubber bands and the throbbing pain in his head was making him very dizzy. The weight in his chest made every breath a hard one and his body ached, but he'd not let them win. He eyed the makeshift fortress and decided it would do, his fevered eyes peeked through the narrow opening and his harsh breathing turned into a severe coughing attack.

Danny moved his good hand and found a cloth on his chest, He used it to wipe his eyes. The unmistakable odor of vomit and diarrhea matched the sounds he heard from the other side of the large wooden boxes. Someone was very sick, he didn't see the grayish arms and legs and decided the man was sick. Man? He sighed hard and forced his foggy brain to work. He eyed the crates again, the tall windows near the top of a large wall and then the boxes. A warehouse, yes, he was lying on the floor of a warehouse. A series of snapshots appeared in his mind, fast and furious. It all came back then: the chase, the shooting and his fall.

And Martin.

Suddenly, the grayish blob with arms and legs puking his guts up had a name.

"Martin?"

Martin's head came up and he leaned heavily against the crate. He couldn't get up. This wasn't good; he had to protect Taylor from them. He wouldn't let them or anyone else hurt Taylor. His shaky hand moved over the filthy encrusted pants and found the gun. With a menacing glint rising in his already bright eyes, his lips formed a snarl and he took a deep, painful breath. He forced his legs to move, rising upwards an effort which caused his face to screw up in a silent wave of agony. The burning pain in his side brought tears to his eyes. He hunched forward, cradling his side and he staggered badly hitting every crate. The weak voice came again, calling out to him.

"Mar...tin... you?" Danny managed, blinking rapidly to dispel yet more sweat. He frowned and peered hard through narrow eyes when a body staggered close to him. The smell gave cause for his face to wrinkle. "You... stink..." His only reply was a cold cloth being wiped over his face and neck. Then a straw nudged his lips and he latched on, feeding his parched mouth and throat. Finally, the world righted and his vision cleared up.

"Where the hell... have you been!" Danny demanded before noticing the rookie was breathing heavily and loudly. He was slightly hunched over and cradling his ribs. Martin's face was locked in pain and his right eye was swollen shut and discolored. . "What the fuck... hap...pened?"

Martin's lips moved but no words came. How could he make Taylor understand the peril he'd now put them in? A partner would have done better, made a smarter choice. Why was it that he couldn't seem to do that no matter how hard he tried? He shuffled away, his face a mask of pain and his free hand moved to his lower back.

"Why are you limping?" Danny demanded and then saw fear spelled out clearly before him."Martin? What happened?"

Martin carefully shuffled to the narrow opening in the fortress and peered around. Once he was sure nobody was there, he tucked the gun away. He turned back to Taylor and formed his hands into fists. He mimed the act of being beaten and kicked.

"Somebody wailed on you?" Danny inquired and the battered face dipped once. "When you tried to get help?"

Help.

Martin's face screwed up and he punched the box, then regretted it, shaking his throbbing fist. The effort brought a fiery eruption on his ribcage and he sucked in air, gasping in agony.

"Curb that temper," Danny chastised, coughing and choking. The feet moved, the unsteady hands drew his head up and a fresh stack of diapers went under his head. The straw reappeared and he took a good drink. "Thanks..." He saw Martin's fingers flip through the pad and pause, lingering on the word 'retard'.

"They're wrong, Martin."

The soft words parried with his doubts and destroyed them. Martin's face turned and he looked at the fevered eyes that matched his own. Taylor wouldn't lie to him and that silent support put the wind back in his sagging sails. He flicked a gaze back on the pad again and turned the page. The words 'bad partner' were scratched out.

"Listen to me," Danny tried to cut through the doubt he saw on the bruised features. "Shit, you... were... top... of your ... class at Quantico. You... even... set... some... records... especially on the firing... range. You're smart, man, really smart." He paused, thinking of the logo on the blue cashmere sweater Martin seemed to be fond of. "Okay, Harvard?" He thought for a moment and held his hand up, with the two fingers crossed; the symbol for a partnership that Fitzgerald had created. Martin eyed that gesture and repeated it, causing Danny to sigh in relief.

Harvard? Martin saw a smile form on Taylor's lips, a warm one that spread right up through his eyes. Something inside touched him, something that comes with a treasured nickname. It helped; he felt the dragon die and his strength renewed. So he took the name, tucked it carefully inside, savoring the warmth it gave him. He nodded his head and sent back a crooked grin of his own.

"Okay," Danny sighed hard, "Can you tell me what happened? Who did that to you?"

Martin grimaced and shifted, bending forward and tucking a hand on his side. He swallowed hard as his fears resurfaced. The images of the harrowing ordeal came back fast and furious. Two leering faces in the front of a squad car. A harrowing trip through dark streets with a desperate victim trying to claw his way out of the back door. The chilling laughter that came with the snarled words of 'say goodbye shitface, this is your last sunrise'. Then the pain exploding in his lower back and chest.

"Hey!" Danny hollered, when Martin begin to choke, his eyes lost in a flashback so severe it caused him to lose his breath. His shaken partner jerked and the eyes blinked, then the startled party took several long gasps of air. "Easy... bad trip, huh?" The head bobbed once and a trembling hand covered his face. "Okay, I need to know what happened. Did you find a cop? Did you give the note... what?" he pressed when the lone eye working went wide and angry. He watched curiously as the fingers found the pencil and began to write.

"Bad cops... bad cops..." Danny eyed the crooked letters. Then he frowned and eyed the new damage inflicted on Martin's torso. By what he'd seen, it was clear at least one rib was broken and possibly his kidneys were bruised. "They did that? Cops?"

Martin nodded and held up two fingers, then began to write again. "Liar?" Danny read and saw the fury rising. Martin rose and began to pace again, albeit badly, staggering in an uneven gait. He kicked a box and his fists formed, eye flashing.

"Calm down! I'm sorry. Let's start at the beginning. You left here to get help. Did you find somebody and give them the note?"

Martin paused, took a good breath and nodded once.

"Good!" Danny proclaimed. "Man, that's great! You took care of business, somebody knows we're here. The person you gave the note to, did he do that to you?" The head shook 'no'. "Okay, can you tell me who did?"

Martin thought for a moment, picked up a pink shipping slip from the nearest box and began to write. He glanced over the passage and handed it over.

"The good cop was busy. He couldn't leave the accident and the dead guy. The bad cops came and he gave me to them. They tried to kill me again." Danny frowned, his wary eyes leaving the note to find Martin's face. "What do you mean 'again'?"

Martin began to struggle then. He closed his eye and tried hard to see again what happened. Everything was shadows then muffled voices, a brutal set of hands choking the life out of him. His own hand went to his throat as he relived the harrowing episode, a glint of metal and a blade on his neck. A cold and lethal warning issued in his ear... then... then...

"Okay, okay..." Danny interrupted when it was clear the effort to recall the event was too great to bear. The silent oval of agony that broke onto his partner's face was too much to view. "Tell me what you do remember."

Martin struggled to cross over and sit down next to Taylor. He paused and thought hard, then wrote down a few words.

"Dark... cold... snow... ice..." Danny read the scratches on paper. "That's good Martin! That's a timeline. I know that was last Friday night, when you first went missing. There was a snow storm. What else?" Danny formed his own timeline and knew this was the key, the missing piece of time between midnight and six a.m. when the priest found Fitzgerald. These 'bad cops' if Martin was correct, were the ones who tried to kill him. What had his injured partner stumbled into?

Martin closed his eyes and thought again, then blinked and began to write.

"..choking... hands... strong... can't breathe... knife... bad words..." Danny paused and concentrated on the last 'image'. "Bad words?"

He saw Martin nod once in an almost zombie like state and his hand move to his marred throat. So someone did try to kill him and the 'bad words' were given most likely when the knife was pressed to his throat. If the shattered pieces of Martin's mind were reforming correctly, then his injured partner had witnessed two rogue cops doing something illegal and tried to kill him to shut him up. They thought he was a muted homeless person who nobody would miss. As a bad turn of luck would have it, he'd been placed right back in their hands this evening. That meant whatever happened last Friday night had taken place in the same general area as the accident Martin found a few hours ago.

"Why didn't they kill you?" Danny asked and saw the hand work. He noted that Martin was surprised at the words. "Red lights?" He thought a moment. That's why the 'bad words' were spoken. Had it been that as they were struggling to subdue and kill Martin, another squad car appeared? "That's why they didn't use a gun; it would have made too much noise. So they tried to slit your throat so the other car, the 'red lights' wouldn't hear them. But you got away."

Martin paled and nodded once, biting his lower lip and rubbing his throat. Danny's anger rose so fast and furious it nearly choked him. He felt his face flush with revulsion as the grisly portrait of what Martin endured last week was painted a little more clearly. There was still a few missing pieces but the puzzle was coming together. He saw his already dazed and concussed partner being strangled; the life being choked out of him. More likely he was seeking help and Fate turned a cold shoulder.

"Martin?" Danny asked quietly and saw the worried face turn to meet his own. "You said you gave the note to a 'good' cop, right?" The head bobbed. "Okay, so he'll get help, you did good, partner!" But the sad eyes didn't agree. He watched as Martin left him and slipped through the boxes, his eyes roaming. That's why the fortress had been erected around him. Martin was trying to hide him from the 'enemy'. Then he understood why Martin was so worried. If the two bad cops had tried to silence him again earlier but Martin escaped, they might arrive first.

"Shit..." he whispered, surrendering to the black curtain that was falling fast.

Hartford, Police precinct
Seven a.m.

It had been an especially long shift and Tony Zimmaro finished his report with his last gulp of Mike Kelly's bad coffee. He eyed the duty desk and shook his head. Whoever had told the burly Irishman he made good coffee must have been drunk at the time. He reviewed his detailed report of the fatal accident. Satisfied, he rose, took his gear and dropped the report on the Sergeant's desk.

"See ya, Kelly," he muffled, shoving a greasy donut in his mouth. "Thanks for pissin' in the coffee again."

"Fuck you, Tony!" Kelly hollered as the wiry Italian beat cop scurried away with a slick grin.

Zimmaro yawned twice and rubbed his eyes. He'd done a double shift and couldn't wait to get home and get to bed. He stowed his gear, changed into his civvies and finished the end of the donut. As he chewed, he noticed his jacket was on the bench. He checked the pockets before hanging it up and frowned.

"What the hell?" he muttered, wiping his hands on a napkin and scanning the note. "Shit... shit..." His dark eyes frantically swept around the room. He tried to remember the face of the homeless man who'd shoved the wrinkled paper into his hand. He slammed the locker door, tugged on his wool jacket and headed for the on call room. He ran to the bulletin board and studied the blown up photo.

"Fuck..." He realized his error and moved to the bin holding copies of the likeness of the missing federal agent. "Martin Fitzgerald..." he whispered, placing the drawing on the nearest desk and penciling in a mustache, beard and hood. "Aw, fuck!" He then eyed the second photo, the agent who'd only been missing a day and a half. "Taylor." He scanned the note again and raced for the phone.

"What the hell's wrong?" Kelly asked. "I thought you left?"

"I fucked up... I'm lucky if I ain't slinging pizza at my Uncle Mario's when the shit hits the fan." He put the penciled in drawing down and tapped it. "I saw this guy tonight. I didn't recognize him right off; he's clean in the photo. He gave me this..."

Kelly read the note and peered at his copies of the two missing F.B.I. agents. A full press was on to find them. "Why didn't you call it in?"

"I didn't know it was him!" Zimmaro defended. "I was hangin' over a corpse, getting the APB out on the missing perp... hell he looked like some homeless guy, he stank to high heaven."

"Alright, alright," the older veteran watched the agitated younger cop skimming the poster for information. "Where is he now?"

"I turned him over..." His dark had came up and his career in the pizza parlor faded away. "I gave him to Callison and Horne. I was tied up. Where are they?"

"Gone." Kelly moved to flip through the reports left by the missing pair. He read through each sheet as Zimmaro dialed the phone. "They were off duty an hour ago. They never mentioned him. Could be they just dropped him at a shelter or something."

"Call them at home!" Zimmaro pushed just as the ringing in his ear stopped. "Agent Malone?"

"Yeah, who's this?" Jack headed for the car. Several tips had come in over the last hour and he'd split up, sending Vivian and Sam to field two of them on the other side of town. His turned out to be a false lead. Fortunately, the dead man found by the train depot was not Danny Taylor.

"Tony Zimmaro, I'm with my desk sergeant here at the precinct, it's about your missing men."

Hartford, The Warehouse
Seven a.m.

Brett Callison and Frank Horne were in Frank's old Chevy. Callison's pale eyes roamed the street which was nearly empty. They'd been searching for their witness for an hour. They'd taken him to the desolate area where most violent crimes are committed. They'd intended it to look like another overdose. The homeless guy seemed to sense something was wrong soon after they left and began to try to escape. By the time they pulled off into an alley, out of sight and without any witnesses, he'd worn himself out. Or so they thought. His limp body had been pulled from the back seat and as they began to unbutton the filthy coat, he'd sprang back to life.

Horne had been by himself and the guy did a few fancy moves and sent him sprawling By the time he'd caught up to him, he'd been able to slam his back with the billy club and throw a fist into his face. But the bastard had gotten hold of a loose shank of wood in the trash and slammed him with it. It had stunned him long enough for the bearded stranger to slip away in the dark. The alley bellied out four ways, each into an area heavy with abandoned buildings. They'd searched for awhile, then gone back to the precinct to log out. For the last hour, they'd been searching for him on their own. A bag lady pushing a cart told them she saw him climb into the window of a building not long before.

"Okay, we do this quick and easy," Horne stated, tugging on his leather gloves. "We strangle him, then toss him into the river. I got a bag in the trunk with weights." Just as they attempted to leave the car, Callison's cell phone rang. He ignored it and waited for the message to appear. Just as the message ended, Horne's cell began to ring.

"It's Kelly and it's urgent, I better take it, I don't need Michelson's shit," Callison noted of their Captain who already had written him up for similar infractions. "Yeah, Sarge?" He frowned and his eyes went wide. "What homeless guy?" He saw Horne's face screw up and the graying head shake. "Oh, that guy. He started to freak out in the back seat, thrashing around and punching at the windows, trying to get out. We figured he was sick or something, so we pulled over. I tried to get him to calm down but he flipped out and took off."

Horne's brows furrowed in concern when Callison's normally ruddy complexion paled, his blue eyes rolled and a silent curse formed on his lips.

"Fed!" Callison's voice rose. "What missing Fed? No, Sarge, I didn't know. Were did we leave him?" He eyed his partner who was scribbling on a piece of paper. "Uh... it was near the park on the South side near the big fountains. Yeah, I'm sure. Now? I'm off duty." He held the phone out as the irate voice trumpeted. "Okay, okay, I'll go back there and look. No, I'll pick up Frank, it's on my way."

"We're fucked, Brett," Frank hissed.

"Maybe not," Brett eyed the large warehouse and got out of the car. "I didn't tell the Sarge where I was. It might be it'll take me a bit longer to get to the park and search. In the meantime, if that stinkin' bastard is inside, he's gonna become the victim of a fire."

"Fire? Killing a fed? Are you crazy?" Horne stated, climbing out of the car.

"You got a better plan? I'm all ears, Frank!" Callison turned to face his partner. "We don't have much time. They know about this place, we gotta find him, knock him and set that fire. He's got a head injury, we can make it look like an accident. Dead men tell no tales right?"

"Right..." Frank agreed, his ears picking up at a distant siren "But we gotta hustle."

"Doctor Gandolfo?" Sam asked and saw a weary middle aged man with graying dark hair look up from behind a counter of the clinic they'd arrived at.

"Yes?"

"We're Special Agents Spade and Johnson, New York F.B.I. You called us about an injured man?"

"John Doe," the doctor stated, nodding to the room near the end of the floor. "He came in on Friday night late, his leg was shot up. He's stable and resting. He wouldn't say much about how it happened. I wasn't on shift Friday night and the intern who tended to him didn't press it, they were swamped and he's new. I got on duty an hour ago and spoke with him. I told him I was calling the police and that he'd have to make a full report. That's when he asked for the F.B.I and said he knew where the missing Federal agents were and that he had a deal."

"A deal?" Vivian asked, peering through the window. "Sam? Take a look." She pulled her phone out and dialed. "Jack? It's Vivian, we're at the clinic. Our witness turns out to be Henry Hilliard."

"Hilliard?" Jack repeated and the wheels in his mind began to spin wildly as Vivian updated him on the doctor's statement. "I'll bet that murderin' bastard's tied to this, Danny's probably the one who shot him. Get the information but no deal. I got news of my own."

"Martin and Danny?" Vivian guessed.

"Martin handed a note to a patrolman about three a.m. Zimmaro, the cop, was tied up on a robbery gone wrong and waiting for the detectives to arrive. He handed Martin over to another squad car, they said he flipped out and jumped out by the park. I'll give you the coordinates."

"Okay," Vivian nodded, writing the location down. "As soon as we finish with Hilliard, we'll head over there and look in the park. Where are you?"

"Martin shoved a note at Zimmaro as he was taken away. It was from Danny. He's hurt, unable to move and in a warehouse in the new construction area. We've got units rolling and I'm on my way. You two find Martin!"

"Okay, Jack. Can you have Tim Simmons meet us here to transport Hilliard?" She nodded and flipped the phone, walking through the door that Spade held open.

"Good Morning Mister Hilliard. I'm Agent Johnson and you're under arrest."

Danny's eyes shot open when somebody began to slap his face. He began to complain only to have a hand cover his mouth. His only working arm shot up in an automatic reflex and then he saw Martin's frantic face. Something was very wrong. Danny nodded, indicating he understood the warning to be silent.

Martin withdrew his hand and crawled to the mock chalkboard at Taylor's feet. He tapped the words 'bad cops' and then spelled out a new word.

"Here?" Danny whispered and saw Martin's head bob. "Are you sure?" he mouthed and the head nodded again. Then he heard glass break not too far away and muffled male voices. Martin scurried to the top box, lying down flat and drawing his gun. Gun? Where the hell did he get a gun?

"There he is!" Horne whispered, pointing to the dark hooded face that popped up briefly and looked around.

"Okay, I'll go around the back, sneak in behind those boxes he lined up. You keep watch that he don't leave."

Callison left and skirted the empty floor, easing closer to what appeared to be a barricade. He frowned in annoyance. Their elusive prey had done a nearly impossible task. There was no way to enter the fortress from behind. There were tin cans tied to some kind of cord that would alert him of any movement from the rear. He kept moving, until he was on the floor, crawling towards the side of the wooden fort.

Martin peered over the top again and saw a man with gray hair and beady eyes looking up at him. Then he saw the white can by the man's booted foot. On the side of the can was a large red flame with a warning. Then he realized what their intent was and took aim.

"Look, Buddy, nobody wants to hurt you," Horne lied when the wild-eyed man took aim at him. "Put that gun down before somebody gets hurt." He saw the intense eyes move towards the can and realized that the other man knew their intent. "You know too much, we gotta shut you up."

Danny's keen ears picked up sirens wailing although they were not close, they were getting louder and there were several of them. He had to stall this guy before he could act on his warning.

"F.B.I.!" Danny hollered, "Drop that weapon. Backup's already rolling, your ass is grass. My partner gave a note to the other cop at that accident. They already know."

Callison's eyes flicked to Horne who looked like he was about to give birth. They were this close and he wouldn't let the other man's cold feet get in the way. The other voice came from within the barricade. The cop's quick eyes skipped to the box overhead where he saw the side view of a coat and hood and the gun. If the mute fed was the only one on top, the other one must be inside. That's what the fortress was for he was protecting an injured partner. He moved his hand to indicate Horne to keep talking and stall.

"They don't know shit. Besides I got nothing to lose either way. If your fucked up partner talks, I'm doin' time anyway." Horne watched Callison crawl on the floor towards the lone slim opening in the fortress.

Martin took aim again, listening as the sirens got louder. He heard Danny whisper from behind him but didn't turn around.

"Easy, man," Danny coached, watching the determined gun take aim. He didn't want Martin to shoot the cop. "They're almost here... just chill for a few more moments."

Callison peered inside and saw a badly injured man lying in what looked like a large coffin with one wide broken open. He saw the bandaged arm and the fevered face. Judging by the broken wood, he assumed the fed had landed there hard, breaking through it. That meant a fall and a back injury. That's why he hadn't been seen for two days and wasn't beside his partner on top.

"Hey you fuckin' freak," Callison called out, drawing a gun. "You get your ass down here or I'll shoot your boy stuck in the box in the head."

Martin's stunned face peered down at another cop who was aiming straight at Taylor's head. He then glanced at the second cop who was coming closer with the can of flammable liquid. He turned back to Taylor who shook his head. He gripped the gun tighter, he knew better than to give up his gun. If he did that, they'd both get killed. So he gave Taylor a silent nod, tucked the gun inside a shallow pocket in the top of the crate and then rolled off the top.

"Martin?" Danny hissed in alarm and saw a blond head look up and then spring forward out of view. "Martin! MAR..."

Danny's last cry was choked off when a gunshot rang out and a thud was heard. His eyes went to the slim opening waiting for his partner. His heart was gyrating so hard in his chest he winced. Sweat poured in streams down his face, stinging his anxious eyes. He heard movement, a clawing sound of fingernails on wood and then the boarded area shuddered when someone hit it. Then a single bloody hand appeared on the edge of the narrow door. He saw the face first, the sky eyes already fluttering. Then he saw the blood, lots of blood covering Martin's entire chest.

"No... no..." Danny choked, his eyes burning with unspent tears. Not after all he'd gone through, all the courage he'd displayed. Not like this. "Martin?" He reached his hand out and tried to rise but the explosion of pain in his back was too great. The cry of pain that sounded was as much for his bloodied partner who'd staggered away and fallen. His eyes lingered briefly on the slim, red stained hand with unmoving cu rled up fingers. He turned away then, unable to look upon the grisly portrait of the bravest act he'd ever beheld; that his partner had sacrificed his own life to save him.

Frank Horne was numb all over; the sound of that shot along with the large pool of blood forming under the dead body rocked his world. How had it gotten this bad? Try as he might, he couldn't tear his gaze away from the unseeing blue eyes just a few yards away. The wailing of the sirens outside forced his legs to move. They were too close and if he didn't leave now, he'd get caught. He wasn't sure where he would go, but it mattered not. Survival instincts kicked in and he turned from the crime scene. Without a look behind, he headed for the door he'd forced open. He was halfway to his car when the first squad car rounded the corner. He turned and ran, heading out the narrow back lot and onto the street.

The loud sounds of multiple sirens, car doors slamming and loud voices brought Danny Taylor's eyes open. As welcome as that sound was, his heart was heavy. They'd arrived just minutes too late. He thought of the bloody body of the brave rookie just on the other side of the fortress. He swallowed hard and tears burned his eyes. Martin had used his body as a shield and paid the ultimate price. He didn't want to look through the doorway; he didn't want to see those bloodied lifeless fingers. With Herculean strength, he drew his pained gaze there. The hand was gone! Then it dawned on him that if Martin had died, the rogue cop would have killed him as well. He coughed and swiped his eyes, then called tentatively to his fallen comrade as Hope fluttered her wings against his heart.

"Martin..."

Martin blinked and stared at the ceiling. For several seconds, he didn't know where he was or what had happened. His hand ran along his sweatshirt and came up red. Blood red. Blood? Slowly he sat up and winced, his side was throbbing. It was as if he was breathing through fire and his head was throbbing too. His eyes widened at the sight a few feet away of a dead man. The man was lying in a large pool of blood. Then the movie replayed and the man was alive. The same man a few hours before that had tried to kill him. Where was the other one? What if he'd gone and gotten others? The voice came again, a worried tone from someone close by. A face formed in his mind's eye; a scruffy beard under soulful dark eyes set in olive skin. Taylor-his partner! Taylor was hurt; Taylor needed his help.

"Martin?"

Martin's frantic eyes went to the window where several blue coated figures were moving in front of the windows. He saw the insignia and realized they were cops. His eyes tore over the warehouse floor and he realized the other man was gone. He'd alerted the police! His fevered eyes saw Taylor lying a few feet away. The words sounded in his mind, becoming his mantra.

"Protect him... protect him... .protect... protect... protect...."

Danny frowned and watched the opening carefully. Scuffling footsteps sounded and a body staggered badly into view, cradling his side. The body lost its balance and crashed heavily into the right box, which toppled over opening his narrow door to a span of six feet. The opening created a new view for Danny; Martin and the cop; the living dead and the newly dead. Danny closed his eyes and relief coursed through his veins.

"I thought... you... were... dead...." he managed, holding a hand out. He pointed to the police peering into the windows. "It's cool, Martin, they came. What?" He noticed Martin gingerly bending to retrieve the gun from where it had fallen. He had one in each hand and the fire in his eyes and frantic motions put a cold fear inside him. "Martin, it's okay, they won't hurt you..."

Martin crawled over to the box at Taylor's feet and one bloody hand pointed to the words. He needed Taylor to understand. He hit the words twice, leaving a crimson scar across them.

"No man... no..." Danny pressed, but the fire in the eyes and the bobbing Adam's apple told him his partner was lost in time again. He couldn't understand that all cops weren't bad. Whatever happened to him had branded that fear deep. He saw Martin's face lock in torment then and he dropped to his knees. One red hand brandishing a gun was pressed to his head the other to his side. He was in agony.

"Are you hit?"

Hit?

Martin wheezed badly, digested the word and paused, then shook his head. He pointed to the dead cop lying a few feet away. He mimicked a struggle and then jerked as if the shot rang out. He began to cough then, severe enough to bring him to his knees, tears running down his face.

"Martin, you need to calm down, you're okay," Danny coached, watching the wobbly figure crawling slowly towards him. "You and the dead guy struggled for the gun and it went off?" The shaggy head nodded and one hand pointed to him and the fierce scowl etched on the face before him stole his breath. He waited for those determined eyes rimmed with courage to meet his own. He gave the filthy shoulder a tug, "Thanks, man, you saved my life. You were gonna take a bullet for me?"

Martin shrugged and turned, his job was not done. He had to make Taylor understand his job, one he took seriously. He eyed the blue coated bodies again and stood up, the boxes were taller and he was shielded. He staggered to the box at Taylor's feet and tapped out the first word. Then he waited and held his fingers up crossed.

"P..a...r...t...n...e...r..." Danny spelled, struggling but managing to cross his fingers and reply. "Yeah, we're partners. But it's time to go now. We both need medical help and..." he paused when the other word was tapped out. "P...r...o...t...e...c ...t"

He choked out the last letter and the full ramifications of the courage that the rookie housed hit him hard. His mouth opened to speak but he couldn't find any words. Then Martin scrambled back to his perch, sitting this time, pressing his battered body against the wooden crate, both guns ready. Danny swore he saw Martin's soul glowing, illuminating the warrior.

"Martin? I understand what you're trying to do and it's very brave. I'll never forget this, but it's time to surrender." Danny realized immediately that was the wrong word. The blue eyes blazed fury at him, the crimson hand pointing at the words on the box. "Protect, yeah I know but Martin you don't have to..." Danny's thought was interrupted by a bullhorn outside the window.

"This is the Hartford Police, drop the weapons."

Martin's reply was to shoot at the window, nobody would hurt Taylor, nobody.

"Shit... shit..." Danny mumbled, trapped and helpless, "He's all fucked up in the head again."

Captain Matt Seaver's boots crunched under the gravel as he swiftly walked around the perimeter and peered up at the four cops who were outside the windows. Three more were inside, making their way through the large warehouse. The sound of a shot from inside directed at his men brought his hand to his radio.

"I need SWAT."

"Roger, Captain." The voice replied. "They're already rolling."

"Whadda we got?" he called up and the nearest cop crawled away and turned to look at him. "One dead, one armed and one injured."

"Get a camera in that window and audio, set it up," he ordered. "Did that shot take down the dead man?"

"No, sir, he was dead when we got here. Siekowicz ordered the guy to surrender and he shot at the window."

"Alright." Seaver turned to his radio. "This is Captain Seaver, stand down until we get a better picture of what's going on. Understood? Don't approach the suspect." He heard the reply from the team inside and they reported back.

"We can see him from here; he's got two handguns and a barricade around the other guy. He won't let anybody get close."

"Who the hell is he protecting him from?" Seaver grunted.

"Cap?"

"What?" He turned back to the narrow catwalk outside the window where the cops were guarding. Two more scurried past him with cameras and equipment, quickly putting the small video set up inside the window.

"Callison, he's the dead guy."

"Callison?" He felt as if he was punched in the gut. That was one of his men. "What the hell was he doing in there? He was ordered on a search and find."

Martin's head came up when the camera's red eye came on, seemingly trained on him. His eyes roamed around the perimeter and he spotted three cops crawling towards a row of crates on the other side from him. He moved in front of Taylor and drew a gun.

"What the hell was that?" Seaver barked when a shot rang out. Before his men could answer, a voice came through the monitor. Seaver walked over and peered at the ten inch screen.

"This is Taylor, F.B.I." Danny grunted, sucking in air to get a good loud call out. He didn't want any trigger happy cop taking a shot at Martin. "Back the fuck off... Fitzgerald's got a head injury, he's confused. My part...ner..." he paused and took another gulp of air, "is a crack shot, he's a deadly sniper. That was a warning. Please..." he pleaded, licking his dry lips. "Find Jack Malone... get Malone... now"

Martin's head cocked in disbelief. Why was Taylor talking to them? They were the enemy. Taylor must be hurt worse than he thought. He didn't know what he was doing. Martin's resolve grew to make sure that nobody would hurt his partner.

Seaver found his radio then, "Inside? What the fuck is wrong with you? You were given orders."

"Yessir, understood."

"Where the hell is this guy Malone?"

The irate Captain moved back to his car, as the large van with SWAT appeared. He coordinated with the SWAT leader whose trained men took over those of his own at the windows. Several more moved inside, given orders not to shoot. Just as he turned to go back to the monitor, a tall man with dark hair and a hawk-like set of dark eyes jumped out of a car and headed right for him. He spotted the badge clipped to his belt.

"I'm Malone, F.B.I. New York. Two of my agents are inside, Martin Fitzgerald and Danny Taylor. "

"Yeah?" Seaver shot back, nodding his head to the monitor. "See that corpse? He was one of mine, Brett Callison. That whacked out, loose cannon of yours shot him dead. Now I won't lose another man, you talk him down or I'm giving them the green light!"

"First of all, he's not 'whacked out' or a 'loose cannon'," Jack objected, using his index finger in the man's chest like a jackhammer. "He's a federal agent, Martin Fitzgerald. He's been missing over a week and he's got a bad head injury. Do you have firsthand knowledge of what happened?"

"No," Seaver answered, shoving the hand away. "But Taylor can't move and Callison's dead, so that doesn't leave a lot of suspects, does it?"

"Callison?" Jack peered at the video then at his watch. "He was dead when you got here?"

"He was, so what?"

"Well it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math," Malone bristled, "How did he get here ahead of everybody else? We weren't that far away and I came direct. I got the call from the beat cop who found Taylor's note. How is it Callison got inside and that close huh?" He waited and the steel gray eyes of the Hartford captain didn't blink. "He had to be here already, genius. So until I HEAR what happened from the witnesses inside, you back the hell off. Those are federal agents and I have jurisdiction, got it?"

"Yeah," Seaver muttered. "But understand this, Callison was a friend and if that kid loses it, that SWAT team gets a green light."

"I'm in charge. The only order of that nature would come from me, understood? You try to defy me and I'll shoot you myself!"

Jack didn't wait for a reply. He peered at the monitor and flinched, his agonized eyes watching a filthy, bearded warrior protecting his fallen comrade with a determination that made him proud. He swallowed hard at the fierce stance, proud of the raw courage that Martin Fitzgerald was housing.

Danny's head came up when a familiar voice came through the air.

"Danny? Can you hear me?" Jack asked and watched as a shaky arm moved from behind the barricade. "Good. I'll get you two out, okay? Work with me."

"Jack?" Danny rasped, swallowing and taking a deep breath. He saw Martin's confused head whipping around. "It's okay, Martin, Jack's our boss, he's gonna help us."

"Danny, what happened to Callison?" Jack asked, "The dead cop in there."

"Self... defense..." Danny called back.

"Well what did you expect him to say?" Seaver growled at Malone's cocky stare.

"I don't expect, I know," Jack drilled. "That's the truth because I know Taylor."

"...they... tried... to... kill... him... again... Ja...ck... and me... they're... dirty..."

"They?" Jack called back through the mic. "They who? Is someone else hiding in there?"

"No," Danny shook his wet head, using great effort to keep his falling eyes open. "Part...ner... ran off... Jack... Jack..."

"I'm here, Danny, you just take it easy," Jack offered worried for the weak voice. "Are you wounded?"

"...No... grazed... can't move... fell... back... hurt..."

"Understood. What about Martin?"

What about Martin? How could Danny possibly answer that? There weren't any words to describe the efforts for two days that his man had gone through for him. He eyed the confused profile above, the blue eyes darting feverishly and then the word 'protect' scrawled on a box nearby. Then he realized just who Martin Fitzgerald was. He swallowed hard over the lump in his throat and put every ounce of pride he housed in his reply.

"Martin..." Danny called back, heart swelling. "...is my partner."

Jack understood the answer and wondered on the emphasis on the word 'my'. Whatever ordeal the two young men had gone through had created a new force. It wasn't the way he'd wished for them to come to terms with the differences of the other, but he'd take it. However they went forth from this day, the incident had changed each of them. He turned away from the monitor and faced Seaver.

"I'm going inside. I have two agents Johnson and Spade that are on their way, you fill them in when they get here." Malone barked. "Where's the other guy?"

"What other guy?" Seaver blinked as a young cop approached.

"Horne, sir," he addressed the F.B.I. agent. "Callison's partner, his car is out front."

"Thanks," Jack answered as a SWAT cop called down to them.

"Agent Malone?"

"Yeah?" Jack looked up and saw a hand pointed to the monitor.

"The camera picked something up, it looks like a can of flammable liquid. It's on the floor not far from Callison."

"Really?" Jack answered, his eyes on Seaver's hot ones. "Looks like this puzzle is coming together. Fitzgerald went missing last Friday after being beaten and mugged twice. Someone tried to kill him overnight. That someone would cause him to fear anyone with a badge. Taylor stated that Callison and Horne tried to kill Martin 'again'. I'm betting you'll find Horne's prints on that can."

"That's horseshit!" Seaver replied but not with credence.

"Why don't you find Horne and ask him?" Jack ordered, "Now I'm going inside. You get your head out of your ass and do your fuckin' job. You got two dirty cops in your house who tried to murder a federal agent. That's not a good score sheet."

Seaver didn't reply, but kept his eyes glued to the receding back as Malone made his way inside. He sighed hard, rubbed his neck and turned back to the half dozen men waiting his orders. He eyed Horne's car and shook his head.

"Get out there and find him," he ordered.

Captain Paul Hand looked up when the federal agent approached. He had dismissed the three local cops and replaced them with four of his own. They were about thirty feet from the wooden barricade. He didn't doubt for one minute that the young man holding the guns on them was serious. He held his hand out and nodded to the protective gear nearby.

"Paul Hand, you're gonna need a jacket."

"No, thanks," Jack replied, taking his hand. "He won't shoot me."

"I understand your loyalty but we can't take a chance. That kid is wound up tighter than a drum."

"Let me talk to him, I'll stay behind the barricade."

"He won't let anybody near Taylor," Hand updated. "He's got balls, I'll give him that."

"He's one of mine," Jack trumped, peering at Martin who had one armed hand pressed to his skull. His heart sank a bit at the pain radiating in waves off the injured agent. "He's really hurting. It's a miracle he's on his feet at all." He leaned out closer to see if he could spot Danny. Before he had the chance to call out, Danny moved.

Danny cracked an eye open just in time. He saw the SWAT team and then spotted Jack Malone. His lethargic head moved to Martin, whose eyes were glued to the dozen SWAT members lining the glass windows. He took his heavy eyes to Malone and caught them. Danny moved his free hand to his waist and tapped it, then pointed at Jack. The dark head nodded back and slipped from sight.

"What's wrong?" Hand asked when Malone retreated in the open area in the next room out of sight from Fitzgerald.

"Danny spotted my badge and he's right, Martin won't trust anyone with one of these in his current state of mind. That dead cop and his partner tried to kill him. From what I can surmise from Taylor, it's not the first time. I suspect they are the ones who tried to choke him to death last Friday night when he went missing. My guess is that he stumbled into them doing something illegal and they tried to ice him."

"Ice a fed?" Hand shook his head.

"They didn't know who he was; he'd been mugged twice and stripped of his clothes. He was wearing filthy rags like a street person." He pulled out his cellphone.

"So what are you going to do now?" Hand asked

"I'm going to a higher source," Jack replied and eyed the ceiling. "Father Joe? It's Jack Malone. I found Martin and Danny, but I need a favor."

Part Fifteen

The Warehouse
Eight fifteen a.m
Sunday

Samantha and Vivian approached with the man of the hour. Sam walked ahead of her partner and made her way to the door that led to the immediate area inside of the warehouse. Jack was standing with two other SWAT cops. She caught his eye and he excused himself.

"How's it going?" she asked.

"They're both alive and that's more than I had when I woke up today." Jack's eyes skirted the window and he saw the priest approaching. "I need you topside, keep an eye on that monitor. Talk to Danny if you can, keep him awake, okay?"

"Sure," she replied, taking off for her post.

"Hey, Padre," Jack greeted, shaking Father Masiak's hand. "I know this is your busy day, I sure appreciate this."

"Not a problem, how is he?"

"Not good," Jack replied. "He's in the back, holding two guns on anyone with a badge. Danny's hurt and he won't let anyone near him. He's protecting him." He paused, slipping his coat off. "That's where you come in."

"Why don't you let me talk to him?" Father Joe suggested. "Saving lost souls is my specialty, comes with the collar."

"Thanks, Father, I really mean that." Jack shucked his suit jacket off and slipped the badge inside his pocket. "But I'm a trained negotiator and you're a civilian. I can't let you inside. The shirt, collar and sweater are what I need."

"Here," the gray-haired priest handed over the items previously requested on the phone. "I'd like to wait, if that's okay."

"Sure, just stay outside with Agent Johnson. Vivian?"

"You sure about this?" Johnson asked, stepping forward.

"He went to Catholic schools for twelve years," Malone recalled of Fitzgerald's past. "He'll trust a priest. Right now anything wearing a badge is the enemy."

"Father Malone?" Vivian found a smile at the new uniform. "I'm not so sure..."

"What?" Jack feigned being hurt. "I've saved a few souls in my day."

Vivian smiled and straightened the collar out, then buttoned the remaining button on the black cardigan. He looked the part at least. "Go find those lost lambs, Father Jack."

"Danny?"

Martin's head snapped up when a woman's voice entered the room. He blinked his stuper away and peered around the entire room. He looked behind and saw Taylor stirring. His inner alarm went off; this was a trick of some kind to distract him. He moved outside a little further to make sure he wasn't missing any movement. Those few steps brought the burning pain in his side to increase and he doubled over, cradling the injured area and gasping loudly. The floor seemed to be moving and he staggered, nearly dropping his gun.

"God," Sam whispered, seeing how badly injured Martin Fitzgerald was. Yet he was dogged in his stance and that only made him more dangerous. She couldn't see past him to Danny Taylor. "Danny!"

Danny jerked awake and his eyes went unnaturally wide. He coughed several times and reached for the water bottle. After taking a large gulp, he blinked and furrowed his brows. He knew that voice. He tried to see around Martin but couldn't.

"Sam?"

"Yeah, it's me," Spade's voice didn't hide her relief. "Hold on a little longer, Danny. We're almost there. How's he doing?"

"I'm worried, Sam. Those bastards worked him over last night, something is wrong with his ribs. I think his lung... I hope..."

"It's okay, Danny, just save your breath. Keep awake, okay?"

"Try...ing..." he slurred, then his eyes caught movement. "Who's there?"

"Father John Michael," Jack stated. "Martin? Can I come a little closer and talk to you?"

Martin's head was screaming in pain, making hearing anything very difficult. Every breath was an effort and the priest in front of him looked like a reflection in the funny mirrors in the fun house at the carnivals. The body was long and distorted and he narrowed his eyes, pressing the gun to his pounding skull. Why wouldn't the pain go away? He didn't know what to do. He took a quick look back at Taylor who was blinking rapidly and struggling to look back.

"Let... him... in..." Danny managed and saw Martin nod. "He's a priest... a good guy."

"Thank you," Jack offered, slowly walking towards the very unstable rookie. The closer he got the more his heart clenched. From the pain rippling off the injured man and the fever present in the bright eyes, he was a testimony to stamina.

"He's in," Hand updated. "Everybody on alert. Agent Spade? Do you have a visual?"

"Roger," Sam replied. "I can see all three of them."

As the priest approached, Martin moved backward, his legs wobbling badly. He sank to the floor and crawled backwards, his left arm snaking out until he hit Taylor's chest. His right hand remained with the other gun trained on the dark-haired priest. As he got closer, a sharp pain shot through his head. A flash of this same man in a black suit behind a desk made an unwelcome appearance. He wasn't sure if he could trust this man. He pressed his left hand harder onto Taylor's chest.

Danny felt the metal of the gun on his neck and opened his eyes. That blood encrusted hand now sitting over his heart brought a lump to his throat. The unflagging loyalty and defiance shining in the blue eyes overwhelmed him. He saw Jack moving to the right, which allowed him to see him fully. He nodded, relief masking him. He knew Jack would get through to Martin and this hellish ordeal would finally be over.

"There are two teams of paramedics outside. You've been injured and you both need help. I promise, Martin, I promise," Jack emphasized, "I won't let anyone hurt you."

Martin shook his head and pointed to the windows, lined with heavily armed police. Every window had the face of the enemy. They were all part of the plot to kill. He still felt that blade on his throat and heard the chilling voice. He began to cough, causing red hot pokers to stoke his chest.

"Did that man hurt you?" Jack nodded to the corpse lying between them to one side.

Martin eyed the blond man on the floor and flinched, as the mists of time parted. Snow fell, it was cold and he was unable to breath. Two strong hands holding something hard to his throat to choke him and then a blade appeared. The glint of it held his eye until it pressed to his exposed throat. The voice came then... and the other man's badge caught the light.

"He can't hurt you, he's dead. I know he tried to hurt you before and his partner will pay for that, I promise. But you have to have faith in me son. I won't hurt you or Danny Taylor."

With every word, Jack drew a little closer. The stench was overwhelming and he could see crude bandages on Danny's arm and side. The dark slit eyes regarded him and a crooked smile formed on the scruffy face. Jack smiled and nodded, then saw Danny's smile fade and his eyes shift to the window.

"...get... away..."

Jack turned halfway and saw a beam of red light from a scope hit Martin's chest. He moved in front of it his eyes glowing like coals. He had his radio tucked under his sweater and put it close to his lips.

"You son-of-a-bitch, stand the hell down. Hand, I want them out of sight now. They're scaring him. I got this under control, you can leave one. You don't need an army around that glass."

The growling order brought a crease to Martin's already troubled brow. He cocked his head and his eyes lit up. He heard that same gruff voice and other words came out like fragments into his tender skull.

"...don't let me down..."

The same face in a dark suit, a warm handshake, a grip that told him a lot about the man that used it. He was confused. How could he know this priest? Was the priest a family friend? He had seen him before and his gut told him to 'trust'. He saw the police had disappeared from the windows and he sighed hard. It was so confusing. He leaned his aching head against the crate and his face screwed up in pain and loss. Could he trust this man with Taylor's life?

"You look like you got hurt too," Jack pressed, baring his wrist so it would be visible. "It's about time you let me help you, okay? You and your partner, he's your partner right?"

Jack knew he struck a chord with that word when the shaggy head shot up and the blue eyes glowered at him. "Partners take care of each other. You partner wants us to help you. You trust him, don't you?

Martin was transfixed by the voice and nodded his head. Then he saw the wrist watch and a sharp pain hit him square in the temple. He gasped and his whole body stiffened up in pain.

"Jack? What's wrong?" Danny felt the change, the left hand guarding him was trembling, doing a dance on his chest. "What ... did you... do..."

"Easy, tiger, I won't hurt him," Jack soothed. He saw Martin's anguished gaze on the watch. He didn't realize viewing it would cause this much pain and he almost regretted the decision to wear it. "You recognize this? It's your grandfather's, he was a Navy man, remember?"

Flashes of a kind face with blue eyes like his own under a cap of white hair greeted him. Walks by the ocean, tales of the sea and building miniature replicas of old sea going vessels greeted him. The images came so face he lost his breath. He needed the watch... he had to hold it. The desire to have it became overwhelming. He grunted and pointed to it, pouting when it was pulled back.

"Jack, be careful," Sam whispered into the radio, knowing the earpiece allowed him to hear her.

"You want this?" Jack asked, unbuckling the watch and dangling it like forbidden fruit in front of a starving man. "You give me one of the guns. You can have the watch. You still have a gun left. No harm done."

Martin's eyes narrowed and he frowned; he didn't know what to do. It was all so very confusing. He was so tired of being tired and every inch of him hurt so badly all he wanted to do was go to sleep. But he had to protect Taylor. Yet the priest with dark eyes and the gruff voice was someone he did trust. He was riveted to the watch being suspended before him. He needed to have it; he needed it but didn't know why.

"It's easy, Martin, just slide the gun over to me and I'll give you the watch." Jack saw the flicker of hope appear in the dazed gaze and acted on it. He held the watch closer.

"Go... on... man..." Danny encouraged when the left hand on his chest twitched. He sighed in relief when Martin moved his left hand and shoved the gun towards Jack.

"Good, that's a good choice, here," Jack tossed the watch and saw the hand dart out like a rat and snatch it. He winced when Martin held the watch against his chest and began to rock, his eyes wide with confusion. "Can I come and check on your partner? I won't hurt him, I just want to see if he needs some help."

Martin's head jerked up and his body went rigid. He shook his head and leveled the gun on the priest. His left hand held the watch pressed against his face, hoping it would quell the unrelenting waves of ripping pain shooting through his head.

"You need help, son," Jack used a calm tone and zeroed in on the agonized eyes. "You've got a head injury. There are people here who can help both you and your partner. He's injured and needs a hospital. You don't want him to die do you?"

'Great, Jack," Sam hissed. "Don't push him that hard."

Die?

Martin's lip twitched and he turned to eye his fallen partner. The face was ashen and his breathing worse. Was the priest right? Was Taylor going to die because of him? He moved his left hand and gently laid the watch on Taylor's neck, then touched his cheek. Two eyes opened halfway, dulled by pain and fever.

"Hey... " Danny managed a small glare at Jack. He'd heard the threat and didn't like the guilt it had caused. "I ain't checkin' out yet... 'kay..."

Martin nodded and tapped the face gently, then picked up the watch. He held it up before his friend to see.

"...your grandpa's? That's... nice... must be... special..." Danny saw the head nod and held his hand out. Martin started to put the watch in his palm but Danny shook his head and nodded to the gun. "...time to... ride... partner..."

Martin shook his head and shoved the watch in his pocket. His frantic eyes darted between the man who he thought was a priest and his partner. Why did he 'see' this man in a suit? Was this a trick too? How come Taylor knew the priest? How did the priest have his grandfather's watch? Keeping the gun trained on the dark haired man, he crawled backwards on his butt towards the letter board at Taylor's feet. Fumbling with his left hand, he found a long piece of slim wood and tapped out the word.

"Trick?" Jack read and shook his head. "No, Martin it's not a trick. I only want to get you and Taylor to the hospital. He's very sick, look at him. Look at him, Martin, now!"

Martin jumped at the extra loudness and cringed at the pain it caused. He saw that Taylor was fading fast and the weakness consuming his own body was winning. It was all so confusing; he didn't know what to do. He leaned his head against the board and began to rock slightly, the gun hand trembling. The pain was so bad, he couldn't stand much more. The fire in his chest was making every breath like breathing through hot nails. Then a calm voice interrupted his trauma, two cool words that lanced his wound and drove home.

"Trust me..." Danny whispered, crossing his first two fingers in the partnership gesture and waiting. He saw the sky eyes painfully transfixed by the fingers and then slowly the gesture was repeated. Only then did he flip his hand out, palm extended.

Martin did trust him and although still plagued by fear and uncertainty, he hurt badly. He wanted so much to sleep but was fearful of shutting his eyes. Every time he did, bad things happened. But he kept his gaze fixed on Taylor's and felt his fears diminish. The only thing he saw in the dark eyes was hope.

Jack didn't utter a sound; the silence in the room was deafening. He was nearly transfixed and watched in muted awe as Taylor made some mystical connection with Fitzgerald. Somehow, those two words, a pair of crossed fingers and the faith they were issued with penetrated every protective layer of fear and defiance that Fitzgerald had built up. His eyes widened in shock when the injured agent moved. Unable to stand, he inched over on his butt, the left hand protecting what he assumed was broken ribs. The right hand still shaking badly, housed the gun that was still aimed at him. But then once he got close enough, he dropped the gun into Danny's hand. Danny immediately shoved the gun to him and he kicked it out of harms way

"It's okay, brother, I got you. I'll watch your back this time. You did good... I'm proud of you." Danny whispered, gripping the back of Martin's neck. His voice was choken with the same deep emotion that his chest was constricted with. The matted head was on his hip, Martin's entire body was shuddering badly. "It's okay, you're not alone. You're safe, partner, I'm right here."

"I need medics, now!" Jack ordered, moving in and dropping down next to Danny and Martin. "Nice work, Agent Taylor."

"All ... in... a... day's... pay..." Danny managed, biting his lip in agony. "Jack, he's on my bad arm... it's killing me..."

"Martin?" Jack eased the quaking body upright and like an animal cornered, he began to fight. Jack heard the paramedics entering the room along with Johnson and Spade. "They won't hurt Danny, I promise. Let me help you move over. You can still watch him, but they need room to work." Jack managed to move Martin over several feet away but as soon as the first paramedic began to cut away Taylor's clothes to inspect the wound in his side, Danny cried out. That was all Martin had to hear. "Whoa!" Jack used both hands to keep Martin pinned to the back of a box. He had to keep moving his head as Martin was frantic to get at Danny. "He's fine. They're medics, they're helping him." He cupped Martin's squared jaw and found the troubled ey es. "You did a great job, you saved his life." He saw the crooked letters scratched on the board behind the lost soul. "You protected your partner. Now it's time for both of you to get help. We're going to move a little ways over, so they can look at you, okay?"

Martin shook his head and pointed to Taylor. No, it wasn't okay. They were hurting him. He was twitching and crying out in pain. But as he struggled to move forward, the whole room began to spin and he collapsed into the strong arms that held him.

"Jesus," Jack sighed, nodding to two medics who had been waiting. "Gimme a hand, here. Be careful with him, he's got something wrong with his ribs."

"I hope he didn't pop a lung," the first medic stated when they stretched the injured man out.

Jack walked over to Danny then, keeping an eye on Martin as they assessed his condition and called orders in over a small radio.

"I'm fine," Danny whispered to relieve the concern on Malone's face peering down at him. "Just a ... few... more... bruises... and scars... to... impress... the... the... ladies..." He winked at Vivian and Sam who had come over. Both smiled at him and Sam bent down to tap his cheek before leaving to check on Martin.

"Yeah," Jack chuffed, finding a smile.

"Jesus, this is a mess!" the paramedic cutting away the crude bandages muttered. Then found his wrist caught by the patient and two hot eyes bearing up on him.

"Watch... your... mouth...." Danny warned, incensed that this stranger would criticize the work done by Martin.

"Okay, buddy, sorry," he apologized and threw the bandages away so he could treat the wound.

"Jack?"

"Right here, Danny," Jack squatted down so the injured man could see him.

"That dirty cop and his partner, they're the ones... they tried... to... kill... him." Danny hissed and his hand snapped out and was gripped by Malone's. "Aw... God... aw....."

"Easy," Jack soothed, eyeing the wounds being treated. A C-collar was put in place and a back board ordered. Danny told them about his legs and back.

"Jack... Mar...tin... ribs... head... and... sick... bad... diarrhea... they... beat... him... again... last night... tried to... kill... he... he...'scaped..."

"Okay, okay, just save your breath."

"Martin... saw... them... last... Friday... night... do something... illegal... they... they... tried..."

"Jesus, would you shut up already?" Jack kept the grip on the hand as the body was eased onto a gurney. He saw the heavy eyes fighting to find Martin.

"Don't... leave him... 'kay?" Danny whispered. ...he... can't... remember... when... he... wakes... up... it's... it's... terrifying... so... lost...."

"I understand. I'll make sure he's not alone."

"...next time... you... go... under... cover..." Taylor teased and heard a chuckle.

"You scared ten years off of me, Agent Taylor," Jack lauded, "But you did one helluva job."

"No..." Danny corrected, flinching as Martin's terribly bruised chest was revealed.

"We... did... my... partner... and I..." He crossed his fingers and tapped his heart proudly.

"Yeah," Jack smiled, wondering about the hands of Fate and how they'd moved this time. "Sam, ride with him?"

"Okay, I'll see you at the hospital." She followed the gurney bearing Taylor through the warehouse.

"Danny, you like giving me gray hair, don't you?" Vivian teased and gave the wounded agent a smile. "Jack, I'll update Father Joe and see you at the hospital."

"Thanks, Viv." Jack dropped down by Martin's side and put a hand on the bared shoulder. His eyes were full of disgust when the multiple scores of bruising were revealed.

"Christ, somebody really worked this guy over," the paramedic commented.

"How's the side? Did he pop a lung" Jack quizzed, not liking the horrible breathing.

"I don't think so, but he's full of congestion and running a good fever, just over 102. The ribs feel like they're broken and his kidney looks bruised." He probed the purple and scarlet lower back and the patient twitched and jerked, his body wracked in agony.

"Hey... hey... take it easy!" Jack barked and grabbed Martin's hand. "Look at me, Martin, right here. It won't be too much longer."

It hurt more than he was prepared for and tears ran down his cheeks as the strange hands probed him. But he kept a grip on the hand and never let his eyes stray from the dark ones. Even as a needle was inserted and a plastic IV line attached along with oxygen, he kept finding the dark eyes. He trusted them, he didn't like the strangers who were hurting him. He pointed to the jacket, his eyes full of worry.

"Okay," Jack read the fear and rummaged, finding the watch and a notebook. He started to hand them over and Martin shook his head then pointed to him. "You want me to hold these for you?"

Martin nodded, his eyes falling fast. He kept fighting the black curtain, his hand reaching blindly until the strong one grabbed it. It was so hard to breathe and his chest hurt. He pressed his head against the stretcher and jerked in agony.

"I'm right here, Martin, I won't leave you," Jack vowed and that was what the blue eyed warrior was waiting for. With a single sleepy nod, he sighed once and faded away.

Jack kept his vow, remaining by Martin's side in the ambulance. As the sirens wailed and they drove off, his exhausted shoulders sagged in relief. The brutal ordeal was finally over. But as he eyed the all too still figure on the stretcher, and the beeping monitors kicked in, he wondered if that was true. What if Martin didn't regain his memory? What if he remained trapped in a silent world forever lost? Would the coming days bring a cure? Would the troubled rookie awake as Martin Fitzgerald? Or would he be forever lost?

London, Heathrow Airport
Ten p.m., Sunday night

Jean Fitzgerald heard the baggage bay hum as luggage began to spill onto the conveyor. But her eyes were directed across the room. She didn't like the fact that Miles Cavendish had met them alone or the fact he pulled Victor away to speak to him privately straight away. She'd watched as her husband's face morphed into a curious mix of anger and deep concern. Then a phone was in his hand and he was dialing frantically. She left the baggage area and made her away across the room.

"What's wrong?" she asked and saw Miles look at Victor. "Miles? What is it?" Before she could reply, her husband's growl was born.

"It's Victor." His eyes grew wide and his face flushed with anger that quickly blossomed into rage. "Missing? Why the hell wasn't I notified?" He put a hand up when his wife's face paled and her hand covered her mouth. Miles moved in to support her.

"Victor, you were the first call I made last Monday," Jack replied, squinting at the numbers on the clock at the Days Inn. It was just after four p.m.

Chris Boone had called earlier with an update on Martin's parents. Miles Cavendish had called stating that he'd heard from Victor. The blond team leader directed the Englishman to have Victor Fitzgerald call Jack as his hotel. He was on his way there to shower, eat and change. He'd left Sam and Vivian at the hospital to keep an eye on things.

He'd just stepped out of the shower when the phone rang. He dried quickly and tied the towel around his waist and ran for the phone. He sat on the bed and sighed hard, rubbing his weary eyes.

"I want you to know that Margaret did everything humanly possible to reach you. She made several trips to the White House Special Ops office to follow up on last Monday's initial message. She was so upset that Chris Boone went to Washington to visit with her. It wasn't her fault or mine."

The silence on the other end of the phone spoke volumes. Victor Fitzgerald was a force to be reckoned with and Jack didn't envy the unsuspecting pair of idiots who'd made the fatal mistake of not telling him his son was missing. He envisioned them being transferred to a primitive office in Guam without air conditioning.

"Those bastards ran interference," Victor seethed.

"Yes they did and poor Margaret got caught in the crossfire. I know you got a lot to wade through, Victor, but she could use a call. She's frantic. I spoke to her this morning and she's really upset."

"Not to worry, I'll reassure her, no fault on her part," he stated, "Jack, what happened?"

"Uh... let's see. Martin and Danny Taylor went to Hartford last Friday to help the local F.B.I. in finding a suspected child rapist and murderer. It was during that assignment that Martin became ill late on Friday and started for home. They were already in the train station, so he opted to take the train. He never made it. He was mugged in an alley next to the train station. Later on Friday night, he woke up and staggered into a snow storm. He had amnesia. He didn't know who he was or where he was. He got jumped again, his clothes were taken."

"Oh my God," Victor managed, his voice cracking.

"Look, there's a lot of stuff to cover, I can fill in every piece later. Right now, all you have to know is that he's safe. Danny went undercover and found him. They're both at Hartford Hospital. Martin is in ICU, he's got a head injury, broken ribs, bruised lungs and a severe upper respiratory infection. He's having more tests done on his skull. He still has amnesia and he can't speak."

"What do you mean he can't talk?" Victor repeated.

"Just that, from the time he was taken in last Saturday morning at 6 a.m. in a men's shelter in Hartford, he hasn't uttered a word. The doctor's aren't sure why but the initial report from the ER doctor was that it wasn't due to his concussions."

"Alright... alright..." Victor ran a hand over his skull. "Jean and I will get the first flight out. We'll go right to the hospital. How's the other agent?"

"Danny hurt his back and had a bad infection from two wounds. He's having tests done to determine the severity of his back injury. When we found him this morning, he couldn't move."

"Okay, thanks, Jack," Victor shook his head to clear it. "He's... Martin... uh... is he... stable?"

"Yes, the last report I had was he's guarded. His fever is high; they were worried about that and his breathing. He's on a ventilator." Jack paused, not able to erase the picture of a scraggly, bearded, blue eye warrior who held off a SWAT team protecting his partner. "The kid's got guts, you have no idea how much."

"You say you found them this morning? He was missing over a week. Why didn't the shelter report him? How did a week go by?"

"It's complicated. I'll fill you in tomorrow when you arrive. His amnesia was a big factor, he left the shelter and then lived on the street. Look, he's safe now, in the best place he can be with round the clock help. "

"Yes... yes..." Victor mumbled, waving again at his frantic wife. "I have to fill Jean in, Jack. You have my cell phone? Can you call me first thing in the morning and update me on Martin's condition. If there's any change tonight, call right away."

"Alright," Jack agreed, "I'm sorry about this Victor, it's a helluva way to find out."

"Not as sorry as those pricks in the Special Ops office are going to be. I want their names, understood? I want dates and times of every report."

"Chris has that information, I'll have him fax it to you. Will you be going back to the Cavendishes?"

"Yes, just as soon as we book a flight for the morning."

"It'll be there by the time you get home later."

"Alright, Jack, thanks again."

Victor put the phone away and Miles let go of Jean's shoulders. She ran to him, her eyes wide with fear. Martin eyes... they were so like his. He painfully recalled his last conversation with his son and the heated words exchanged. He embraced her and got his scattered thoughts together.

"What's happened to Martin? How bad is he hurt? Why didn't anyone tell us?"

"He's alive and safe in a hospital in Hartford, that's the important thing, Jean. He went missing last Friday during an assignment. Another agent, Taylor, went undercover and found him I guess, this morning in Hartford. They're both in the hospital"

"Why can't he talk? I heard you ask that."

"I'm not sure, Jean, the doctors are still doing tests."

She held his gaze a moment and slowly shook her head. Her baby was hurt and broken, not able to speak. Or was there something more? "You're not telling me something. Oh God, Victor, is he dying?"

"No, no, of course not!" He gripped her shoulders and emphasized that. "He's in ICU but he's stable. Come on, now. We need to get the first flight to the States we can arrange."

Hartford Hospital
Five p.m.

Jack followed the numbers of the rooms until he came to Danny's. He stepped inside quietly, nodding to Vivian who was sitting beside the bed. Danny was asleep, his knees flexed with what looked like a pillow of some kind under them. His face flushed and turned to the left. His left arm was in a sling and his right arm had an IV line running into it. Jack motioned for Vivian to step outside the room.

"You look better," she commented, eyeing the new jeans and sweatshirt from a nearby Walmart.

"I ran out of clean clothes," he answered. "The shower and food helped. How's Danny?"

"No change, the doctor was in," Vivian replied, pulling out a small notepad. "The CT and MRI were negative, he has a severe strain of the lower back. That's why they have that pillow under him, along with ice packs and compression. She said he has inflammation of the soft-tissues resulting in a painful and debilitating lumbar strain."

"Nothing broken, his spine is okay?" Jack pressed, his dark eyes darting to the bed again and watching the injured body.

"No, in a few weeks he'll be up and around like normal. After resting a few days, they'll start him on some motion and range activity, then use the pool for hydrotherapy and eventually some weight bearing exercises. He's getting some kind of anti-inflammatory drugs and non-narcotic pain killers."

"What about the other wounds? His fever..." Jack inquired.

"The arm wound was badly infected, they had to open it up and debred it, he has some muscle damage, but nothing that therapy won't fix. The side was cleaned out and dressed. She's not sure if the fever is from the infection that's he caught, whatever Martin has, but they are giving him antibiotics for that in the IV."

"He come around yet?"

"No, and she doesn't think he will, he needs to rest and she's pretty sure he'll sleep at least through until tomorrow sometime."

"Okay, I'll be back, I want to check on Martin, ICU visiting starts at five." He moved through the room and paused by Danny's bed.

"Sam's down there now, she left just before you came up."

"Anything new on Martin?" he asked, tugging Danny's blanket up a bit.

"No... not really."

"What?" Jack turned at the hesitation in her voice. Vivian walked towards the hallway and he followed. They headed for the elevators at the end of the hall.

"The good news is that the CT scan didn't show any fractures to the skull and the MRI didn't show any bleeding."

"But..." Jack frowned.

"The doctor wouldn't tell me too much, but she did make a call to Martin's doctor and relayed that he has a severe cerebral contusion."

"Shit..." Jack hissed then a hand gently tugged on his arm.

"It's a bruise, just like when you hit your leg or side and it turns blue and purple from blood pooling. It's a bad one, but eventually it'll heal. He'll be confused, have memory lapses, dizzy spells even passing out. But those symptoms will go away as the bruising heals in his brain but, there isn't any indication that his inability to speak is coming from that."

"So why can't he talk?" Jack watched as the door opened.

"They're not sure... also his fever is climbing and his breathing isn't getting better. They are a little concerned about his stamina. He fought so hard all week that now there isn't much left."

"Bullshit!" Jack growled. "He's not gonna let some germ convention beat him, he's got too much balls for that. I'll be back later when ICU visiting hours are done."

Part Sixteen

Sunday
Seven thirty p.m
ICU

Sam stood and stretched her back, walking away from the bed for a few minutes. It was amazing that just sitting in ICU could wear you out. But she was tired and the constant whooshing sounds from the respirator along with the beeping of the monitors had given her a headache. She walked down the short aisle around the nursing station from where every patient in ICU was being closely watched and cared for. She saw the ladies room at the far end and headed for it. After freshening up a bit, she popped two Tylenols and drained three small paper cups of water.

As she walked back to the cubicle with a twelve on the top, where Martin was resting, she couldn't help but worry. He looked awful, so very still and pale. The fact that a machine was breathing for him didn't help settle her nerves. They had taken great care to scrub the filth from him, clean him and shave the facial hair. Aside from the swollen eye and bruised face, he looked like Martin again. He'd also be 'deloused' the very term made her cringe, but living on the streets had given cause for a collection of bugs to take up residence. She lifted his hand to give it a reassuring tug, it was ice cold. He was lying on a 'cold ' bed, something used to bring a high fever down.

"Hey, Martin, it's Sam. Jack and I are right here. You're pretty sick but the doctors think you're going to be fine. Danny's going to be okay too..." She paused not sure of what else to say .They had encouraged her to talk to him in a soothing tone. "They cleaned you up really good..." She heard movement and turned as Jack stirred in the chair. He looked up, blinked his eyes open and yawned. "He's so frail... so young looking..."

"Just when I was getting used to cave boy," Jack mumbled eyeing the clean shaven patient. He sat up and rubbed his weary eyes. "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"You needed a nap," she replied, "You get very grouchy when you don't get enough sleep."

"That's a matter of opinion," Jack vetoed, moving to stand on the other side of the bed.

"It's my opinion, I should know," she retorted, catching his eye.

The five month affair they'd shared was over now but old feelings die hard. Two lonely people with a need inside had found each other working too closely together too many late nights. The sex was good; the danger made it better but sleeping with the boss was a major infraction and if they'd been caught, they could have lost their jobs.

Jack made a sour face and turned his attention to his fallen rookie. His face store bold bruising and swelling from where he'd been beaten. Jack had been there when they brought the ice bed in and although he'd been asked to go outside, a tiny sliver of window wasn't covered when the nurse yanked the curtains close. He'd seen the awful bruising on Martin's back and ribs, varying shades of purple and blue with scarlet slashes. He knew some of those came from the two dirty cops who'd beaten him. One was in the morgue, the other on the loose. He'd gotten nowhere pursuing what Horne and Callison had done. He intended to find out the truth if it meant hunting down Horne himself. But he hoped that Martin's memory came back; they needed to find out what Martin saw that would cause two cops to consider murdering a federal agent. Danny might have a clue, but he wasn't awake either.

"Jack?"

"Huh?" He blinked, seeing concern in the brown eyes staring at him.

"The doctor's outside."

He moved through the small room with Sam behind him and stepped outside. He saw a slim Asian man in his mid thirties eyeing a chart with Martin's name on it. "Doctor? I'm Jack Malone, Mister Fitzgerald's boss. This is Agent Samantha Spade, a colleague of his. His family is returning from England, they'll be here tomorrow."

"Yes, I already received a call from his father, I'm Doctor Chang." The doctor eyed Martin's chart. "He's got a grade 4 concussion, a severe cerebral contusion, broken ribs and a bruised lung, also, severe bruising and abrasions to his torso. He was dehydrated and we're hydrating him intravenously. His urine has blood in it, caused by a bruised kidney. That should heal on its on, it wasn't lacerated."

"His fever? The nurse said it went up?" Sam inquired. "Since I've been here earlier, it went up to over 104."

"Sometimes a fever spikes before it begins to decline. In his case, he is fighting a severe upper respiratory infection as well as dysentery, "He saw the blonde woman's face puzzle up. "That can be common among some homeless, it comes from ingesting bad water. A parasite gets in the bowel, he's on amoebicide now and that will help to combat that problem. Also, there are indications that he may have RBF."

"RBF?" Jack frowned, "What the hell is that?"

"Rat Bite Fever."

"Oh God," Sam recoiled. "That's disgusting."

"We found what appears to be a bite in the groin area. A good antibiotic cocktail will fix that, but he's very weak and that's got me worried."

"He was on his feet all week, that's a good sign, right?" Jack hoped. "I mean with all the stuff wrong with him, he still foraged for food, fought off attackers and managed to take care of his injured partner."

"The will to survive is an amazing thing, Mister Malone. The body's endurance at times is nothing short of miraculous. He did what he had to do to stay alive, now he's in a place where that's being done for him, so the brain tells the body to shut down. Rest is the very best thing for him and once his fever comes down and the lungs clear up, he'll be out of the danger zone."

"But he's not going to die, right?" Jack asked, now worried.

"I can't see into the future," Doctor Chang offered, writing new orders for the patient and handing them to the chart nurse. "He's young, strong and before this, was in excellent health. That's all on his side. Excuse me, I have other patients to see."

"Thank you, doctor." Sam shook his hand and elbowed Jack.

"Uh... yeah... thanks..." he managed, moving back to Martin's bedside. He scowled, lifted the icy hand to hold it and shivered. "Feels like a fuckin' corpse," he mumbled, not liking the pale skin and the unnaturally stilled body. He leaned down over the bed and hovered just above Martin Fitzgerald's marred face. "Wake the hell up..." he ordered, but his only reply was the beeping sound of the monitor.

Monday, 11 a.m.
ICU

Jack had just taken a small sip of the coffee he'd brought into the Unit with him, when a familiar face caught his eye throught the glass. He put the cup down and stood up, waving to the man in black.

"Hey, Padre," Jack greeted Father Masiak from the Holy Cross Shelter.

"Agent Malone," Father Joe returned and shook the offered hand. His eyes went to the pale figure in the bed. "How's he doing?"

"Holding his own, but he's got quite a battle ahead." Jack took a few minutes to update the priest and eyed the bag he'd placed on the tray by Martin's bed.

"I thought I'd give him a blessing," he offered, "I did stop at Agent Taylor's room. He was asleep but I prayed over him."

"Thanks," Jack answered, "Martin can use all the help he can get, especially the divine kind."

Jack stood back a few feet, giving the kind priest room to work. He listened as the almost musical tone that Latin words took him back to his boyhood. Finally, the priest made a cross of holy oil on Martin's head and heart. The items were replaced into the bag and the elderly priest took the limp hand in the bed.

"Martin? It's Father Joe. I want you to know that Boomer and Juan are both praying for you. Juan will here to see you after you're a bit stronger. You have to fight, young man and I know you can beat this. I saw the fire you possess and you need to use that now."

"Jack?"

Malone turned at the sound of his name and saw Victor Fitzgerald a few feet away. He looked haggard and drawn, the kind of face that only a worry for a child can provide. A slim woman with stylish, short, dark brown hair and Martin's expressive blue eyes brushed past him to the bed. Her voice was as frail as her son looked.

"Martin?"

"I'm sorry," Jack apologized, moving out of her way. "Father Joe Masiak, these are Martin's parents. " He turned to the anxious couple and held Victor's eye. "Father Joe is the priest I told you about. He runs the Holy Cross shelter here and took Martin in last Saturday morning."

"Thank you, Father," Victor found his voice and shook the priest's hand. "His mother and I appreciate all you did for him."

"He's a fine young man," Father Joe recounted, "But I'm sure you already know that. I'll leave him with you now. Agent Malone, I'll see you again I'm sure. If you need anything, just call."

"Hey, Father, thanks a lot, I know Martin would appreciate the blessing and prayers." Jack watched until the priest left the room.

"Martin... Martin..." Jean whispered, her heart in her mouth. She bent over the bed and kissed his cheek, then recoiled. "He's freezing... I thought he had a high fever... I don't understand..."

"It's an ice bed... I mean they put him on that to bring his temp down. It was close to 105 last night. But they just did his vitals and it's down to 103. "Malone paused and noticed that Victor hadn't moved yet, his gray eyes trained on Martin. Then he noticed a discerning shade of guilt rising quickly. He turned back to the attractive woman, "I'm Martin's boss, Jack Malone."

"I'm sorry, Jack," Jean turned and shook the hand. "That was rude of me, pushing in front of you like that. I want to thank you for taking such good care of him..."

"Me?" Jack shook his head. "I'm just riding the chair. The nurses are the ones who've been busting their ... uh... well working hard."

"Nonsense," she corrected with a warm smile, covering his large hand with both her smaller ones, "When we checked at the nurses station on the way to this room, they told me you haven't left his side. That you talk to him and how much that helps. And I'm sure you haven't been home in a week, since this happened. How is the other agent?"

"Danny Taylor," Jack replied, seeing genuine concern in her face. Martin looked a lot like her, especially the eyes that could convey so much. "He's upstairs and he hasn't woken up yet, but the doctor said that he needs rest. He had two minor wounds, his left arm and side. Also he took quite a fall in the warehouse where he and Martin ran into trouble. He was lucky; his back was only strained, nothing broken. With rest and therapy, he should be fine."

"Victor!" Jean reprimanded in a quiet but authoritative voice.

"Uh... the doctor... do you think he's around?" Victor asked, not moving yet. The echo of the argument he'd had with his son that last time they spoke was replaying over and over.

"Doctor Chang," Jack updated, moving closer to the Deputy Director. "I'll go check, you visit with Martin. Mrs. Fitzgerald, it's nice to meet you. I'm sorry it was in here."

"Martin's had nothing but good things to say about you. He's admired you for a long time. Victor?" She glared at him and he finally moved.

"Thanks, Jack," Victor stammered, shaking Malone's hand.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked when they were alone.

"I had an argument with him Friday afternoon a week ago," he admitted, moving to the side of the bed and frowning. "My God he looks so young..."

"What kind of an argument?" she pressed, bending down to run her hands through Martin's hair. "It's mother, dear, I'm right here, your father is here too."

"That outta bring him out of his coma..." Victor mumbled and saw his wife's temper flare.

"I want an answer," Jean demanded with the same fire as her son possessed.

"I called him when I got the report on Hilliard," he answered, sighing and feeling he'd aged ten years overnight.

"Who?" She began to rub Martin's cheek and brush the area of his head over his ear.

"Henry Hilliard, a suspected child rapist and murderer. They were looking for the missing boy and he was their lead suspect. They apparently would have caught him at his place of employment but Martin made a critical error and he escaped." He let out a long breath and shook his head, his eyes on his son's pale and stilled face. "Friday was a lousy day. I was arguing most of the day with the Joint Chiefs over the agenda of the Summit. When I got that report from the SAC in New York, I guess I lost it..."

"He's a rookie, Victor, he's new at this and he's human. He's going to make mistakes. But they're his mistakes and he's got to learn from them. Having you breathing fire on him like some overbearing dragon will not help. I don't have to remind you how hard it is being in his job with your name," she addressed, gently placing Martin's hand on the bed and moving away. She motioned for Victor to follow until they were by the door. "You need to come to terms with the real issue. You never wanted him in the Bureau, you wanted him in the Senate."

"He's a brilliant boy; he's got all the right tools. With the right backing and effort, he could have been president one day."

"He didn't want that," she corrected, "Your dream, not his. This is HIS choice, dear and you have to learn to live with it. It was hard for me too, but I learned to accept it. Now I want that bitterness you harbor towards him dissolved, understood? I won't have you dragging up that old business again. He could have died, isn't that enough?"

Victor didn't reply right away, he left his wife and moved to the bed. He leaned over the railing and for some reason thought of a spring day many years before. Martin was about ten or so, trying to charm his way into a touch football game down the street from where they lived. The other boys were older, twelve to fourteen and didn't want the 'runt' bothering them. But he persisted and by tooth and nail, fought his way onto that team. He wasn't the strongest or the fastest, but he had the most heart and he had guts. Victor had read the initial report that Malone faxed to him along with the link of the tape from the warehouse. What he'd seen reminded him of that ten year old boy with such a fire inside. So he took the limp hand, wincing at the icy skin and leaned over the rail.

"It's dad, Martin," his voice faltered and he regrouped. "I'm proud of you, son. I hope you can hear me. What you did... saving your partner's life at nearly the cost of your own." His voice trailed off and it took him several moments to compose himself. Admitting fault was something that came very hard to him. "I was wrong, Martin, about your choice. And I'm sorry..."

Jean smiled, raising her eyes and thanking God her prayer was answered. For too many years she'd suffered through the two of them, equal in temper and stubbornness, fighting like two dogs over a single bone. Now maybe it took nearly losing his son to mend his ways, but it was worth it. She saw Jack motioning from the other side of the glass. Next to him was a slim Asian man. She walked over to where her husband was struggling badly by his son's side. She thought back over thirty five years to when she first met him. He was a lot like Martin then, before the power that corrupted men when they rose to the ranks in Washington took over.

"Victor?" She laid a hand over his, "The doctor's outside."

"Fine... fine..." he muttered, leaving Martin.

"We're going to speak with the doctor, dear, we'll right back." Jean assured, bending and kissing Martin's cheek. She smelled nice. That was the lingering impression he got. He didn't know where he was only that he was cold and it was very dark. The voices came and went, some he held onto, like the gruff one, a man's voice that growled a lot. This other man he wasn't sure of, he recoiled a bit at the call of 'dad'. But this woman's voice and soft touch warmed him. Mother? Is that what she'd said? His mother was here? Where was here? Did it matter? He wasn't dead, he was sure of that. He had to find a way to the light somehow. Every once in a while he saw a distant light in the dark. So Martin began to fight harder to find that path. His mother was there... he had family... someone who cared. For now, that was his beacon.

Hartford Hospital
Monday afternoon
November 13, 2002

Vivian and Sam had gone to get some lunch and Jack stretched his legs, walking from Danny's room down the hall and back. It was almost two p.m and his stomach was growling. Once the girls got back he was going to leave for awhile. He wanted to eat and also check in again with Tim Simmons. He wasn't getting anywhere with the Hartford P.D. Victor also wanted a complete report and that could be done soon, now that the ICU visiting hours were ending. He reached the end of the hall and turned back, heading for Taylor's room.

Danny yawned and blinked, his confused eyes roaming a room with white and blue walls. It had soft rose accents and he felt very soothed. The bed next to him was empty. The sun was shining brightly, it had to be afternoon. His puzzled face went to an IV line attached to his arm. He was on his back with some kind of pillow under his knees, raising them. One arm was in a soft blue sling, so he used the free arm to rub his dry throat.

"Hel...lo..." he croaked, eyeing the vacant doorway. "...water..."

He turned to where the small white nightstand was but it was on the wrong side. He couldn't reach it. He was desperate for water. Where was the damn call button for the nurse? He sighed hard and frowned, trying to recall what brought him to this place. He ached all over and his chest hurt. He tried to sit up and felt a pain his back.

"No... don't do that..."

He squinted at the body approaching the bed. The growl matched the face he knew so well but dressed in a sweatshirt. "No black tie..."

"Everybody's a critic," Jack rebuffed, gripping the rails, glad to see that cocky grin and dark eyes looking back at him. "You look like shit..."

Danny yawned, managing to arch a brow at the body. "You got no room to talk..." He eyed the pitcher. "...die of thirst..."

"Sorry." Jack filled the cup and shoved a straw in it, "Slow... don't be puking it back at me."

"Couldn't hurt," Danny teased, taking a long slow sip and moaning loudly. "Orgasmic..." he decided and heard a chuckle. "How long?"

"Yesterday was Sunday, we found you in the warehouse early in the morning. It's Monday afternoon, you've been out cold. The side is healing, the arms infected, minor muscle damage. The back is strained, thank God, nothing broke. That's what that thing under your knees if for. They don't want you moving for another day or so. Then with rest and exercise, you'll be chasing bad guys again in a few weeks."

"Warehouse?" Danny closed his fuzzy eyes and rested his free hand over them. Fleeting images returned slowly at first but then in rapid fire succession. He jerked his hand down and his eyes opened when the face of the battered, bearded warrior with startling blue eyes appeared. "Martin!"

"He's downstairs in ICU." Jack updated.

"ICU..." Danny panted, reaching for his water. After draining the second mug, he turned his anxious eyes to Malone's. "How bad, Jack?"

"Bad enough," Jack replied, then brought the young man up to date. For a few moments, Danny didn't move, his dark eyes studying the end of the bed. "Let it out..."

"That bastard... he was going to shoot me..." Danny recalled, voice tight, "Martin... looked at me... put his gun down and jumped the guy. He put himself between me and the bullet..." Danny choked, swallowing hard. "Damn fool... there's no fuckin' 'S' on his chest. Don't think I'm not going lay his skinny ass out for pullin' that stunt."

"I'm sure," Jack placated, seeing the partnership he'd hoped for born before him. "I saw some of the tape, Callison, he's the one who was trying to shoot you. He's dead. His partner is named Horne, he got away."

"Martin stumbled into them doing something illegal last Friday, the night he went missing. They tried to kill him then but he got away. I guess they didn't pursue it much, thinking he was a homeless guy. But then on Saturday night into Sunday morning, Martin went out to get help again. He found a cop at the scene of some robbery gone wrong."

"Zimmaro, I talked to him," Jack replied soothingly seeing that Taylor was wheezing. "He couldn't leave the scene until the coroner showed up. So he turned Martin over to Callison and Horne, they were on scene."

"Yeah... lucky for them not so lucky for Martin. I can't imagine his panic. He couldn't talk and he was locked in the back seat with the bastards who were trying to kill him. They tried again and he got away. They followed him to the warehouse... you know the rest."

"How'd you get into that fix? We found signs of a struggle at that dump you and Martin fought in... what happened?"

"He didn't know me and heard me identify myself on the phone. He knew about the badge and he freaked. We struggled; he stabbed my side and took off. I didn't want to lose him..."

"So you took pursuit and followed him to the warehouse?" Jack guessed and the dark head bobbed. "It's closed due to the renovations next store. He must have found it before, if he knew his way back."

"He did... he knew where the water was, the bathroom..." Danny coughed and winced, the coughing caused his back to spasm. His hand flew up and was snagged. He didn't talk for a moment but held on tight until it passed. "sorry.."

"For what?" Jack diffused. "By the way, we caught him. He's being processed back in New York."

"Good... son-off-a-bitch..." Danny hissed, "Martin had a diarrhea problem, a bad one... he was just coming out of the bathroom. I was across the other side and Hilliard jumped out and grabbed him."

"Christ, that's bad timing," Jack grumbled.

"He was going to kill Martin. He didn't realize... I mean he thought Martin was undercover or something and looking for him. He was going to kill him, had the gun to his head. I backed around... warned him off... tried to convince him backup was coming..." Danny took a break and caught his breath. "Martin fought back and I jumped in... then it got freaky. Hilliard hit me and I was staggering, grabbed the rail... he had the gun on me and Martin jumped me, shoving me out of the way."

"And over the rail," Jack guessed.

"Yeah... how he ended up next to me I can't say. But I'll tell you what, Jack. He took care of business. I was never without water. He cleaned the wounds as best he could, he hunted up food... he figured out the letter board so we could communicate."

"So he didn't know you?" Jack quizzed, buzzing for the nurse.

"No... well... sort of... but no... He knows I'm his 'partner'. That word was his uh... life raft I guess. He kept going back to it, writing it down, using it...."

"Protect partner..." Jack recalled. "That got through."

"He has flashbacks, sees images from the office and parts of the job but it gives him bad trips... sometimes so painful he passes out."

"Maybe that's good," Jack decided, "His memory is trying to come back. They seem to think that will happen as the brain bruise heals."

"Why can't he talk?" Danny's dark eyes turned haunted.

"The doctors don't think it's from his head injury..."

"No, it's not," Danny's voice was far away.

"Whaddya mean?" Jack pushed as the nurse appeared.

"It's from that night... it's tied to the red lights... I'm sure of it."

"Red lights?" Jack's face puzzled up.

"Red lights..." Danny repeated, then sighed in frustration. "He can't remember all of it, but from what he did remember, my guess is that Callison and Horne were doing something illegal and Martin stumbled into them looking for help. They tried to kill him, but I think the 'red lights' that Martin remembers is what stopped them. They had a knife to his throat."

"Another patrol car," Jack guessed, "Believe me, when Horne's caught, I'll find out what happened."

"Mister Taylor," the pretty brunette nurse smiled down at the fevered dark-haired man. "Welcome back, I'm Katie, I'm on duty until seven."

"It's Danny," he oozed with a weak version of his usual killer smile, "and I'm sure you're my fiance, no?"

"No," she laughed, holding up her ring finger. "Sorry."

"Damn..." Danny punched the bed playfully. "So I guess you can add a broken heart to that chart."

"Oh somehow I think that's not a problem with you," she teased, going into the bathroom to get a fresh set of gloves from the dispenser.

"No, it's not," Jack added from across the room. "Listen, Danny, I've got to update Victor and check in with Tim Simmons. Viv and Sam ought to be back any time now, they went to get lunch. I'll be back later."

"Hey, Jack?" Danny said, his eyes shining, his voice full of pride and wavering slightly. "My man Harvard, he's got balls, you know?"

"Yeah," Jack replied, heading for the elevator. He wondered at what point during that lost weekend when the pair were trapped alone Martin Fitzgerald, who Danny had despised, had become 'My man Harvard.'

Tuesday
Hartford Hospital, ICU
Noon

Jack had been with Tim Simmons all morning. They'd completed their case file and Simmons was going to work with the Hartford PD to find out what Callison and Horne were doing the night Martin went missing. Horne had yet to surface but they had several phone tips that they were tracking down. Once they made the news, the phone calls began. Danny had given the DA his statement earlier in the morning. Victor was on his way to Washington. . He was due back for the evening hours of five to eight p.m. Jean had been by Martin's side when Jack arrived a few moments ago, but stepped down to the lobby to get some coffee.

He settled down by the bed, thinking of how cocky Martin had been during his interview for the job. It was that self-confidence, so high it bordered on bold that had impressed him. He realized now that it was probably that ballsy attitude that kept him alive during his week from hell. He wasn't nervous like most of the candidates had been. Also, his records from both Seattle and Quantico were stellar. He had some pretty big collars to his credit out west. He wondered on Danny's new found faith in Martin and hoped it would be enough to pave the way for the future. The beeping on the monitors rose to a high pitch and Jack turned his eyes from the window to the bed.

A pair of blue eyes were unnaturally wide and frantically darting around the room. The right hand was thumping awkwardly on the blue smocked chest, reaching for the ventilator tube.

"No... no... don't touch it, it's helping you breathe," Jack ordered, grabbing the shaky hand. "Martin? Look at me. Martin!" he thundered, watching the fear encased eyes finally train on him. "You're Martin Fitzgerald, you're an F.B.I. agent from New York. You were hurt in the line of duty in Hartford and you're in the hospital. You have a fever and some broken ribs, an infection..." Jack took a breath and tried not to rattle the now very confused eyes. "You suffered a head injury, that's why you can't remember much. Do you know me?"

Martin thought for a moment, trying to absorb all the information that had been thrown at him. It was like catching flies. He felt himself mentally grabbing out at each word launched. Some stayed, some didn't. F.B.I. He was a fed? Injured? New York? He kept gripping the dark-haired man's strong hand, he couldn't seem to let go.

"Martin?" Jack gently prodded, feeling awfully guilty at having to inflict this kind of pain. "Do you know me?"

Martin stared hard at the face; he flinched and jerked a bit as this same face appeared in an office setting. There was a blond woman and a young man with olive skin and a winning smile at a large table together. Partner... that dark haired man was his 'partner' He knew that face and trusted it. Where was the partner? Where was ... was... Taylor! Taylor was his name. He remembered that!

"Jack?" Malone began hoping the rapidly darting eyes would recall something. "No?" he guessed when Martin shook his head. "That's okay, your brain got bruised. Your memory was affected but the doctor's have said you'll recover fully."

Brain? His brain was hurt? What else was wrong? Why couldn't he breathe on his own? Why did his head hurt so badly? Why did it feel like an elephant was sitting on his chest? It was all too much and he began to panic, causing the machine he was hooked up to, to wail.

"Shit..."Jack cursed, "I'm sorry, Martin, I didn't mean to upset you." He turned when two nurses and a doctor appeared at the bedside. "He just woke up. I think the amnesia has him rattled."

"We'll take it from here," the doctor ordered briskly, "If you'll just step outside."

"Sure," Jack agreed, trying to pry his hand loose, but Martin would have none of it. The fearful blue eyes were like saucers, trained on his alone. The damp curly brown head was bobbing frantically, trying to see past the rude doctor and keep sight of his own face. He felt his heart cracking. "Listen to me. I'm not leaving, okay? This doctor and the nurses just want to examine you."

No, it wasn't okay. Martin didn't know these people and he didn't want 'Jack' to leave. He didn't like the doctor, he looked like a weasel. He made a stubborn face and tugged harder, giving the doctor a nasty look.

"Mister Fitzgerald, I have to examine you and you need to comply. Please..." He began to pry the fingers off one at a time, causing the patient to flinch.

"You're hurting him!" Jack snapped, moving in front of the doctor. "Give me one minute. I'll handle this. Back the hell off..." He hissed. "What nurse were you groping in the supply room when bedside manner was being taught?"

"I don't have time for bedside theatrics, I have other patients."

"Martin?" Jack ignored the doctor and turned back, resting his other hand over the death gripped one. "Just let them help you. I'll be right back. Your mother is here, I'll bring her with me, okay? "

Mother? The word brought a vision of a soft touch, gentle voice and soothing waves rolling over him, a soft delicate scent and a kiss on his cheek, a hand stroking his face. Yes, he needed to see her. So he released the grip but held his hand up palm out. Neither amnesia nor the ventilator prevented his eyes from speaking very clearly for him.

"You're welcome, junior," Jack grinned and winked. "I'll be right back."

Jack paused on the outside of the cubicle as the curtains were drawn around the glass walls. He was moving past them to get to the elevator when he saw them turn Martin through a tiny sliver that the cloth didn't cover. The gown was taken away and he flinched when he saw the purple and scarlet bruises covering his rookie's side and lower back. He felt an anger rise in him, and vowed that Horne would be caught and made to pay.

Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Part Seventeen

Tuesday Late Afternoon
Washington DC

The normal pace at the White House was brisk and today was no different. In dozens of offices throughout the historic home of the President of the United States men and women of varying degrees of importance went about their daily business. It was through this hive of activity that the Deputy Director of the F.B.I. made his path known. Heads nodded to him in respect and the bodies parted quickly as he strode by with his steely eyes on the door at the end of the long hallway.

Rick Hamilton was on the phone with two of their top people that were in Russia on a Diplomatic mission when the door opened. All the color from his face drained to a whiter shade of pale when the six foot juggernaut entered.

"Uh... uh... yeah, Mitch, I'm here..." he stammered as the older man's eyes started to sear a hole into the fabric of the curtains behind him.

"Put it down now," Victor hissed leaving steam curling from each word. He leaned over the desk and curled his lips up in a feral snarl, "or have it surgically removed from the deep recesses of your narrow bowel later."

"I'll call you back," Hamilton squeaked and tried to place the phone back on the cradle. "Look, Victor, I'm sorry, it wasn't my idea..."

"Sorry?" Victor snarled, "You haven't even begun to be sorry yet. Get up!" he ordered but the quivering mouse remained in place, twitching badly.

"I wanted to tell you but Herb..." Rick managed to get out before he was hauled up by his shirt collar and thrown hard into the wall. Two pictures of former Presidents fell from the wall landing in a heap on the carpet.

"You're a fucking idiot, Rick, you know that?" Victor raged.

"But Herb..."

"You answer to me not him and you know that. You had no right to withold my son's disappearance from me. It was your job to keep me informed and up to date on any and all urgent matters. I spoke with you every day you balless wonder..."

"I don't... I wish..." Hamilton stammered feeling his bladder tremble. "I wanted to tell you... but Herb warned me..." He paused when the iron grip on his throat was released and his knees nearly gave way. He coughed and felt his pores open, sending dampness to every inch of him. He swiped at the sweat running down his face and watched a paper calmly be withdrawn from Victor Fitzgerald's jacket.

"Sign it," Victor demanded, "and you damn well better not fuck with me again or the only thing that chicken dick of yours will be screwing is the sheep on a remote base in Greenland."

"Islotes Evangelistas..." Hamilton stammered, his brows furrowing. "What exactly... where..."

"It's a lighthouse perched on a rocky inlet about 20 miles from the western entrance to the Strait of Magellan."

"That's like... past... South America... somewhere..." He was numb all over and that he could utter anything amazed him.

"That's like, right..." Victor parroted. "And I'm sure in the six months you'll be spending there you'll have plenty of time to reflect on your lack of integrity." He snapped his fingers and once the trembling hand signed, he snatched the paper back. He didn't wait for the stricken figure to slump into his chair, he had another head to stake on a pole.

Herb Denmore was meeting with the Secretary of Defense and glanced at his watch on his way into the small conference room. He was reading his brief and entered the room, shutting the door behind him.

"I'm sorry I'm late..."

"Not half as sorry as you're going to be you arrogant jackass."

Herb sighed and tossed his papers on the table. He wasn't intimidated by Fitzgerald, hell he was older and had more years in D.C. He met the steely gaze head on and didn't blink.

"The kid's fine, I saw a report on CNN. I did what I had to do to ensure the safety of the free world from potential terrorist attacks."

"You actually believe that don't you?" Victor returned, crossing the room. He paused in front of the older man and used his finger like a jackhammer against he broad chest. "You fucked up royally this time, Herb. The 'kid' is my son. He's got more guts on his worst day than you've ever had. He's also got class and integrity, something you have no knowledge of."

"Don't touch me!" Denmore barked, shoving the hand away. "Whether you like it or not, he was expendable. I had to protect..."

Victor ended that sentence with a right hook to Denmore's thrusting jaw. The arrgogant Ops figurehead landed hard on the floor with the fury of the Deputy Director raining down hard on him.

"Expendable?" Victor's fury sent the word out hard, each acid dripping letter landing heavily.

"I'll have you up on charges!" Herb stammered, wincing and rubbing his jaw.

"And I'll have your prick and your balls skewered and roasted on an open fire you maggot eating vulture." Fitzgerald tossed the papers down and waited for the beady eyes to scan them.

"Antarctica?"

"The Antarctic Sciences Section," Victor gloated. "The Office of Polar Programs to be exact." He paused for effect, "The term? Indefinite. I'll decide when. What's the matter Herb?" he asked, "is that thick head of yours still so far up your ass you can't talk?"

"You can't do this! You don't have the authority!" His voice shook with rage as he slowly got to his feet

"I can and I did..." Victor stated calmly, enjoying seeing the usually unflappable Denmore coming unglued.

"I'll speak to the President, this is far from over."

"Be my guest," Victor waved his hand towards the door. "He's in the Rose Room, I just left him."

It was only then that Denmore's face turned ashen and he staggered, barely reaching a chair that Victor Fitzgerald finally felt satisified. He paused on his way out, standing just next to the silent mass of cowardice.

"Oh and Herb? I'd take plenty of powder. I know how you like to swing that mighty prick of yours around and I wouldn't want it to get a rash flapping alone in the cold air."

It was Wednesday afternoon and Danny Taylor was restless. The last twenty-four hours had seen quite a lot of positive changes in his condition. This morning they had done some range of motion exercises with him. Although it hurt a little and he was stiff, it felt good to set up and move around. Then just after lunch, two large orderlies got him on his feet. He took a handful of stumbling steps with one of them on either side.

Vivian and Sam had gone back to New York, they had a new case and were needed at home. Jack had gone home the night before, taken his soiled laundry and updated the home office. He'd called from the road at about noon, he was already headed back to Hartford. Tim Simmons had a lead on Horne and Jack was going to meet him.

Danny shoved the lunch tray away and laid back. He still felt like shit, but the doctor told him the infection was still waging a good battle. He sighed when he thought of his lost partner. He kept asking about Martin but got little information. Just a kind smile and 'If there's any change in his condition'. It was bullshit Jack told him that Martin had woken up and how confused he'd been. Didn't they know how terrifying it was for him? It was bad enough waking up with that damn tube in your throat. Add to it that you can't remember who you are or why you hurt so much nor did you know the strangers bending over your bed. He sipped at his water half-heartedly, then put the blue cup back on the tray. The afternoon sun caught his eyes and he rested them. The next thing he knew, someone was gently shaking his shoulder

"Mister Taylor?"

"Huh?" Danny blinked and clucked his tongue over a very dry mouth. Before he could ask, a straw appeared in front of him. Cold water came through it and nothing ever tasted so good. He moaned and drained the cup. "Thanks..." his voice was breathless. He coughed several times and winced, rubbing his head. "Damn..."

"Sorry to disturb you, but it's time for your hydrotherapy."

"Hydro..." Danny stuttered, still foggy from being awakened from a deep sleep. The orderly was one of the ones he'd had that morning. Frank? He seemed to recall that name.

"Water therapy." He lowered the side rail and assisted the patient to a sitting position. A nurse appeared and disconnected the IV pole. She smiled at the fuzzy patient and then departed.

Danny hissed a moment when he stood, but it was better than not being able to move. He put his weight on Frank and let himself be lowered into a wheelchair.

"What is it?" Danny asked, "Like a pool? Where is it?"

"Hydrotherapy is on the third floor. It's part of the rehab facility. It's a large room with several specially designed tubs. There is a pool but you're not ready for that yet."

"Third floor?" Danny's mind was working, that was where Martin was. Maybe he could coerce the orderly into a short visit.

The room was large and painted in cream and aqua. The scent of the water and the steam hit him once they got inside. He saw through a large glass window, the pool where other therapists were assisting patients. Two therapists appeared and Frank gave him a pat on the shoulder.

"I'll be back for you, have a nice soak."

"Yeah, thanks," Danny replied, eyeing the nozzles and other paraphernalia on the large tub.

"I'm Pat, Terry and I will get you inside the tub and explain the benefits. Water temperature and the rate of speed at which the water moves will help relax the tension in those lower back muscles. "

"And relieve swelling, as well as reduce pain," Terry added, lowering the slightly nervous man into the steaming water.

"Ahh... God that feels good," Danny moaned, sighing deeply.

"Warm water exercise is particularly helpful, because your body weight is supported and the resistance of moving through water boosts muscle strength and endurance," Pat noted. "There are three different components we'll be using as therapy and rehabilitation. Buoyancy, resistance and drag and turbulence."

"Okay," Danny replied, "How's does it work?"

"Well," Terry answered, "Buoyancy is what happens when your body weight interacts with gravity in the water. The gravity causes a downward thrust which boosts your body upwards. Your body weight is decreased by 90% when you're in the water. Because of this, the force of the compression on the joints decreases dramatically, making it possible to reach a full range of motion."

"The water will act like a natural support for all the limbs easing the pressure on joints even further. All of this means that it is possible to move and exercise a bit," Pat added. "Resistance is the force that works against those muscles making them work harder."

"Because water is denser than air," Danny guessed.

"Right!" Terry complimented." That makes it possible to build greater strength in the water .

"Drag & turbulence..." Pat began and got interrupted by a pair of amused dark eyes.

"Sounds like some ancient honeymoon ritual," Danny teased and got hearty laughs from the pair.

"Possibly," Pat chuckled, "They are two different factors, but they both work together to benefit the body. Drag creates opposition to the movements of the limbs in the water. Turbulence is the agitation of the surrounding water that can be created in the water that can be used as a hydro massage effect. "

"Massage sounds cool to me," Danny decided, settling in for his first session.

The ICU was quiet when Rose Delanney saw a priest appear on the other side of the glass. She put down the chart she had been updating and moved to the doorway. She pushed the intercom button and waited for the white-haired priest to follow suit.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm Father Masiak. My associate and I are here on special request for Martin Fitzgerald."

"Hold on Father."

Father Joe waited for the buzzed to sound and turned the knob, entering the carefully guarded Intensive Care Unit. His eye went to the third glass encased cubicle where he'd last seen his young charge.

"How is he doing?"

"Better," she replied, leading the priest over to Martin Fitzgerald's room. "He woke up this morning and looked around. He was able to nod his head to answer questions. His fever is coming down and he's a bit stronger. But there is a very serous infection in his chest and he is still fighting the dysentary."

"Thank you," Father Joe replied. "I know you are busy and we won't be long." He approached the bed and took the limp hand. The rosy hued cheeks were the only color on the pale face. At his touch, the brows furrowed and two blue eyes slowly opened. "Hello again, Martin. I'm Father Joe. We met last week at Holy Cross Shelter. Do you remember that?"

Holy Cross Shelter. Shelter. A haven. A safe place. Holy Cross. Father Joe. So many words for the concussed man to absorb. The kind priest gave his hand a good tug and then turned to pour him some water. As he studied the priest's profile, another image formed in his fuzzy and fragmented brain. A large room with a long table and food being prepared. This man was there with another man, a much younger man with olive skin and warm dark eyes. He winced painfully as more images appeared so fast and furious he began to gasp. He was in bed, very ill and they were tending to him. They cared for him, they were kind. But the memories came with a painful price. He pushed his head back into the pillow and grimaced. Then someone caught his flailing hand.

"Easy, man," Juan soothed, finally moving into the room. For several moments, he held on tight until the features relaxed and the curious blue eyes began to study him. "Juan? Remember me?"

Martin thought hard as the warm images of this likeable young man returned. The same hand now gripping his during the painful ride through the past had tended to him. He recalled the young man laughing and talking about a girl he was romancing. He nodded and smiled, glad that he had a link to his dark past.

"Good... cool... that's cool." Juan gently replaced the hand and took the water from the priest. "Thanks."

"I'll be right outside," Father Joe warned, then gave the troubled man's shoulder a tug. "Don't do this to yourself. He's safe now, he'll get stronger and there is no need for you to feel guilty."

"I gave my word..." Juan whispered, holding the cup so the confused patient could drink.

"You're standing by him now and you did watch his back. It was his choice to leave, you didn't desert him."

"Yeah..." Juan muttered and settled into the chair when the kind priest left. Finally Martin was done with his water. Juan put the cup back and for a few uncomfortable moments, both eyed each other nervously. "So it looks like the doctors are taking good care of you here, huh." He saw the dark head bob and watched a nurse walk by. "Hot looking nurses taking care of you, that's cool." He took a deep breath and decided to get his troubles from his heart. "Listen, man, I want to say how sorry I am. Went you went missing, it really tore me up. I gave you my word... I'd watch you back... you got busted all up... I'm sorry."

"No... no... no..."

Martin vented silently. He didn't like the choked voice, the sorrow in the dark eyes or the trembling hands fidgeting uneasily. He tried to speak, opening his mouth to reassure but no words came. Frustrated, he balled h is fists up and hit the bed.

"Whoa... what's wrong?" Juan sat up when he saw the placid face grow turbulent.

Martin's mouth formed a grim line of defiance and his eyes darted around. He needed to communicate. Then he got an idea. He mimicked writing and eyed his guest hopefully.

"Okay, I got it," Juan answered, opening the bedside table and taking out a pad of paper and a short pencil. "Here..." He watched as the weak hand scribbled a crooked reply, the letters as if written by a young child. He took the note and swallowed hard. "No... sorry... no wrong... u r my friend... thank you... for helping... me..."

Martin waited and watched the dark head dip down. He wanted to say it better but he could barely hold the pencil he was so weak. His trembling hand moved over and tapped the side of the hand that was resting on his bedrail. The dark eyes were full when they met his . He gave Juan a good, solid smile and offered his hand.

"Just like that?" Juan whispered and Martin nodded. So he took that hand into a brotherhood grip and returned the smile. "Okay, but when you get out of this place and you're up to it, I'm gonna make it up to you." The damp brown head shook and the hand went for the paper again. He waited and then read the new note. "Me make up to you." He paused and let a long breath out, one he felt he'd been holding for over a week. "Well, damn... how about that. Okay, how about we just hit the town and have dinner, okay?"

Martin gave a thumbs up just as Father Joe popped back inside. He extended his hand to the priest and then fumbled, pulling it back. He scribbled another note and offered it with sincerity shining bright from his eyes.

"U r one hell of a shepherd." Father Masiak smiled then, took the weak hand and covered it with both of his. "You're welcome, son. And I'm awfully glad to have you back in the flock. Juan and I will visit you again soon. Now get some rest, alright. And don't forget, you're never alone. God's always got his heart open to you. Talk to him Martin, he'll take your pain away, ease your troubles."

Martin nodded and watched his friends until they went through the double doors. As he drifted back off to sleep, his thoughts were off a new light in his darkness. This morning he didn't know about Holy Cross and now that part of his missing past was illuminated.

As he slept, dreams invaded his respit for tranquility. Disturbing images of menacing figures in the dark with knives. They held him, hurt him and the cold words whispered into his ears were as brutal as the knife to his throat. He struggled to get free but something was holding him back. Sweat formed on his face and he twisted in the bed.

"Martin." Rose soothed, gently touching his cheek. The eyes shot open and he began to gasp. "You're fine, it was a bad dream." She wiped his face and neck and gave him a drink. The muddled eyes were upsetting. It was awful every time he woke up this confused. "Are you okay? I'll be right outside if you need me."

Martin nodded and his fingers found the satin edge of the blanket. He began rubbing it again. His nervous glance went around the room again. He hurt all over and breathing was especially difficult; as if he chest was full of jagged pieces of glass. It was hard for him to sleep because they had him semi-upright in the bed. He frowned and his owlish eyes went around the room again. He knew he should remember why he was here but he couldn't.

He chuffed out a long air of frustration and furrowed his brows.

At least they'd taken the breathing thing from his mouth. Now he was on a nose cannula and his mouth was free. He'd gotten a light tray at lunch, just broth and yellow jello with apple juice. He seemed to recall them mentioning only clear fluids because of a problem with his intestines. He drained the last of the water and his shaky hand nearly dropped the cup. It was frustrating to be so weak. He'd not been able to feed himself at lunch. He'd been angry at that and gotten chastised by the nurse.

He laid his head back and sighed hard, trying to put the odd pieces of the puzzle together. Every time he closed his eyes the weird dreams began, a spiraling journey down strange, dark, streets full of terror. Painful encounters with angry, violent men who beat him. It was cold, dark and a shade of hell he didn't want to revisit. Yet each time he slept, he'd be taken back to that frightening scenario. Then there were slivers of a large warehouse and an injured man. He couldn't remember the man's name but he knew he had to protect him. He knew the lady would come soon, the nurse said she would be here after lunch. Mother? Is that what the nurse said? His mother? He tried to hold onto a vision of a kind touch and warm smile. His weakened body overcame his desire to remain wake. Soon he was breathing heavily, his congested chest protesting each painful gasp of air.

And the dreams began...

Wednesday Night
St. Albans, Vermont

A cold whisper from Lake Champlain caressed the face of the determined F.B.I. agent. He snapped his collar up and kept walking, his determination resounding with each patch of snow his heels crushed. Following a few steps behind was Tim Simmons. The tiny Vermont town of St. Albans was rich in Norman Rockwell appeal. The pair of agents had journeyed to this place, which was a hair's breath from Canada, after a call from the Vermont State Police.

The resort town was nestled between Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains. Jack's wrist send the beam of his flashlight ahead and caught a wooden sign which boasted the 'home of the Vermont Maple Festival'. His belly reminded him that he'd not had dinner and the words on the sign brought an image of a hot stack of buttermilk pancakes covered in melted butter and oozing in rich, thick syrup. Tim's voice shoved the urge away.

"There he is," Simmons' light flicked onto a squad car about twenty feet ahead.

"I'm Jack Malone, this is Tim Simmons." He paused and flashed his badge. "Where is he?"

"Up there about a quarter mile or so," he nodded to the other agent. "I'm Mark Davis. I got a call from a couple of visitors. They were staying with relatives nearby and saw him in a diner in town. They're from New York and they recognized him from a news report they saw about the missing agent being found. Anyway, we've been hunting for him and I saw him about an hour ago head up this road in a old truck. I didn't want to spook him until you got here. So I've been watching him."

"Cabin?" Simmons guessed, eyeing the rural area.

"Yeah, I checked in town and it's been for sale for almost a year. I guess he broke in."

"Okay, we'll take it from here," Jack updated. "Keep the road closed. I'll let you know if we need backup."

"You got it," Davis agreed, moving to his car to turn it to block the road.

"How do you want to play this, Jack?" Tim asked as they quickly made their way down the snow covered path. "Christ it's freezing here."

"We wait long enough, nature will take care of this problem for us," Jack grumbled, climbing the hill. "What I'd like to do or what I'm required to do by law," he grunted, pausing at a clearing and turning out his flashlight. He pulled out his nightvision field glasses and peered ahead. "...are two different things."

"He's alone," Tim appraised, peering into the window with his own glasses. "I got a gun on the table by the window."

"I'd love to make him eat it," Jack whispered, inching closer and keeping behind a large tree. "Go around the back and wait for my call."

"Roger," Tim replied, pulling his weapon and skimming around to the back of the cabin.

"Horne!" Jack shouted, "This is the F.B.I. The cabin is surrounded. Throw the gun out now and come out with your hands in the air!"

Frank Horne was tired. Although he was surprised that they'd found him, a part of him was relieved. He was out of money and although he had his passport with him, getting into Canada would have been difficult given that his face was plastered on every law enforcement bulletin board. Surrender or go out in a hail of bullets? He pressed his back to the door out of sight and closed his eyes. Sweat poured down his face and into tight areas on his body. The room seemed to be growing smaller and his frantic eyes swept to the back door. The F.B.I. agent repeated his message at about the same time that Brett Callison's dead eyes appeared. Brett was dead and the only other witness wasn't able to talk. He'd seen an update on CNN just this morning in town. Fitzgerald had not regained his memory and could not speak. Could a good lawyer get him off? Before he could make up his mind, the decision was made for him. A splintering of wood and a boot through the rotted door hit him square in the back. He tumbled forward onto his knees and turned to see a very angry set of black eyes over him. He recognized the man from the news, he was the boss of the two agents they'd cornered in the warehouse.

"Go ahead, make a move!" Jack dared watching the weasel's eyes dart to the gun on the table. He leveled his own weapon on Horne's forehead. "I'm not a very patient man and spending the night freezing my nuts off trooping through deer shit to hunt down your yellow ass wasn't high on my list!"

"Don't hurt me!"

"Don't hurt me!" Jack parroted, looming over the quivering figure on the floor who was cowering. "You make me sick!" He spat a large wad of phlegm on the wall next to Horne's face.

"Come on Horne, you know the drill!" Simmons appeared from the doorway with handcuffs.

"Get up you sick son-of-a-bitch!" Jack roared, holstering his gun and hauling the felon up by the hair and slamming him hard into the wall. "I bet he didn't beg," he noted of Martin Fitzgerald. From what Danny Taylor had surmised, Martin had been captured by the pair of rogue cops and had escaped twice. The disgusting marks on his neck from the brutal force they'd used to try to kill him turned Malone's gut's into a pool of lava. The ugly bruises covering Martin and the invisible terror that still held his vocal cords captive overpowered the tired agent. "Tim, go outside and update the local law."

"Hey... wait... you can't... leave... I... got... my rights..."

"Your rights!" Jack hissed as Horne squirmed and tried to duck past him. Jack punched him hard in the gut and followed up by a fist to the face. He stood over the gasping prisoner and grabbed his collar with his left hand, drawing his right fist back. "What the fuck did you do to him?"

"Jack," Tim warned in a calm, low voice. "Don't give his lawyers any ammunition. We got him."

Horne's eyes flashed from the irate face just inches from his own to the younger agent just behind Malone. So Fitzgerald hadn't communicated anything of what had transpired. He'd take his chances with a slick lawyer. He'd convince them that Brett was guilty.

"Until I see my lawyer, I got nothin' to say," he squeaked.

"Oh I wouldn't worry about that," Jack returned, shoving Horne on his knees. "Get used to this position. You'll be squealing like a pig when you're takin' it up the ass or down the throat by every big, fuckin' lunatic in the pen." He cooed, taking the cuffs from Simmons and snapping them on. "They just love cops in there."

An hour later Horne was secured in the back of the car and Simmons was signing the paperwork. He shook the hand of the alert trooper and headed for the car. Jack Malone was sitting on a bench by the car, sipping coffee. The remnants of a sandwich had been tossed in the trashcan. He knew by the almost white degree of lividity on the tense face that Malone was still clenching the bone in his teeth.

"Let it go, Jack," he suggested gently.

"I can't," Jack replied, his eyes on a place much farther south. Since Horne lawyered up, they couldn't interrogate without counsel present. He still didn't know what had occured that sent his young agent twice to the death's door. He cocked his head and watched Martin's ghost fleeting on the edge of the horizon. The large blue eyes beseeched him, reaching out painfully. He blinked and sighed hard, his victory was very hollow. "Not yet. But this isn't over." He stood up, tossed the coffee away and eyed the pile of refuse in the back seat. "He's gonna pin this on Callison. He's banking on the fact that Martin won't be able to remember."

"And you think he will?" Simmons guessed.

"I know he will," Jack predicted, "he's a tough kid. The bell went off on this round and it went to Horne. But when the fight's done, it'll Martin in the victor's circle."

Tim headed for the driver's side just as Jack's phone rang. He paused and saw the dark head nod to him.

"Gimme a minute, Tim." Malone turned away and when the car door shut. He huddled in the doorway of the building and flipped the phone open. "Malone."

"It's Chris. Where are you?" Boone hit the mute button on his television. "I've been leaving messages all over."

"St. Albans," Jack replied, "home of the Vermont Maple Festival."

"And John LeClair," the blond ice hockey fan recalled of the high scoring winger. "What the hell are you doing up there?"

"Huntin' bear," Jack grunted, shivering as the wind kicked up.

"Did you catch him?" Boone asked, taking a sip of the cold beer on the table next to him.

"Yeah."

"He still alive?" He ran his hand through his damp hair. He was fresh out of the shower.

"Why do you sound that surprised?" Jack's voice was indignant.

"I was hoping for bullet ridden corpse." Chris took a swig and sighed hard. He knew how upset Jack was at whatever the two dirty cops had done to Fitzgerald. Malone was fiercly protective of his own. "Did he talk?"

"No, he lawyered up. But believe me, he will. No greasy lawyer is gonna get that sick, fuckin' worm on the hook."

"Hey, you talk to Victor?"

"Not since yesterday morning, I've been busy, why?" Malone frowned.

"I got a call from Vicky Moore, you remember her?"

"Jesus, how could I forget her. With that voice it's a miracle that every dog in New York wasn't camped outside your bedroom window. I still don't know how you put up with that high, pitched screech of hers."

"I wasn't much interested in her voice," Chris chirped, "besides God made up for that, she had real talent..."

"Yeah," Jack scoffed, "I'll bet."

"She works in DC now. She called me last night. She's been dating Rick Hamilton."

"Her taste sure went south," Jack deadpanned.

"South is exactly where he's headed." Boone grinned, taking a satisfied swallow and rising. "Victor stopped by the White House yesterday. She was supposed to be meeting Rick and he was late."

"And?"

"He's been transferred to some lighthouse depot south of Argentina." He heard the laugh on the other side of the phone and relaxed. He knew that Malone was wound up tighter than a drum. He made his way to his bedroom and turned, letting the towel that had been riding his slim hips drop.

"Denmoore?" Jack asked and heard a throaty chuckle.

"Antartica." Chris laid down on his belly leaning on his elbows.

"You're shittin' me!" Jack shook his head and kept the grin. "He deserves it. He outta be punished for being that fuckin' stupid."

"You comin' back tomorrow?" Chris sighed hard as a pair of well trained hands began to work on the muscles in his lower back. A second pair went to work on his neck and shoulders.

"I gotta a lot of paperwork in Hartford to do and I want to talk to Danny. By I might get back by Friday night or over the weekend."

"Strawberry or chocolate?" Chris pondered with a throaty gasp.

"Huh?" Jack wrinkled his nose. "Ice cream?"

"Massage oil." Boone eased down further and sighed hard. "The twins are here."

"Twins?" Jack repeated, his grin widening.

"Ilsa and Inga. They don't speak much English. You could say I'm their teacher."

"Have a good class, Professor," Jack chuckled and ended the call.

The ride home was quiet. Jack kept his eyes on the road and tried to quell his inner demons. Horne was now in custody, so that was the last link in the chain. Danny would be returning to New York sometime the following week. With rest and therapy he would once again be back in the unit where he belonged. Martin would recover physically but what of his mental state? Despite his pep talk to Simmons, a part of him worried that whatever trauma Martin endured that caused him to lose his voice would linger.

Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Part Eighteen

Hartford Hospital
Thursday Afternoon

Danny Taylor was worn to the bone. The orderly had loaded him into his chair and was in the process of wheeling him back to his room. As exhausted as he was, Danny ignored his body protesting loudly for the bed. The harsh lights overhead caused his eyes to hurt but even narrowed in pain, they saw the sign.

"ICU..." he whispered, then turned his most pious eyes upwards." Frank, turn up there."

"You can't, it's not time for visitors yet. Besides..."

"I need to see my partner. Nobody will tell me how he's doing. He damn near died saving my life. "

"I don't know, Taylor, they got rules for a reason." Frank stopped outside the double doors that led to ICU.

"Five minutes, that's all I want." Danny made a heartfelt plea, "Can you ask the nurse?"

By the time the petite, blonde nurse appeared with Frank, Danny had his most pitiful face painted on. He used his most beseeching eyes and put his heart into his plea.

"I know you're busy and I want to thank you for taking time to hear me out. My partner Martin Fitzgerald is in there. He almost died saving my life. He's got amnesia, I know how confused he is. I need to see him... I haven't seen him since we got rescued. He was so sick... I just need five minutes... please, you won't even know I'm there."

"Five minutes," Cindy Armstrong decided, totally undone by the painful dark eyes. "Then you have to get back to your own bed. Understood? Five minutes!"

"Thanks so much!" Danny babbled, pointing to the door. "Come on Holmes, the clock is running. My man Harvard is waiting on me."

Although Jack had told him that Martin didn't look well, the sight of the clean shaven, pale face, now gaunt from weight loss, startled him. He looked too frail, as if touching him would cause pain. But Danny instinctively lifted the limp hand and swallowed the lump in his throat. Instead of pale, closed eyelids, he saw stormy blue eyes taking on an armed felon. Instead of the unmoving body riddled with fever, infection and pain, he saw a bearded warrior fighting to keep them both alive. Twice he tried to speak but was so overcome by emotion, his voice came out as a choked sob. He had to blink back tears that were forming quickly.

"Hey... man... it's Danny... Danny Taylor," he stammered, "You look like shit partner."

"Partner?"

The word penetrated the deep sleep he was trapped in. The dark street with menacing figures approaching him in the snow backed alley. He was transported to a warehouse where a slim man with dark eyes was bleeding and thrashing in a broken crate. The man's lips parted and spoke to him.

"...partner..." Danny whispered, watching Martin's face furrow and a scowl form. "That's it man, it's me. Come on, open them killer blues... please... Martin... look at me. "

The room began to spiral at a dizzying pace and Martin was caught in the vortex. He blinked and choked, coughing and sputtering as he was taken from the place. He felt like Dorothy in Kansas as the twister lifted him into another time and space. The voice was his lifeline; he clung to it, sought it out and fought hard to reach it.

"Hey!" Danny's voice cracked when the blue eyes blinked over at him. "It's me, Taylor, remember?"

Martin studied the tear-streaked face and thought hard. A word came to mind along with such a strong emotional pull it stole his air. He nodded his head and tried to speak, but he had no voice. His fingers automatically moved, the first two crossing together. He lifted his free hand and tapped his own chest, then pointed to his wheelchair bound visitor.

"Partner?" Danny enthused, matching the gesture. "You bet your ass we are. Yeah, man, that's right. Good for you, you remember me huh?"

Martin nodded and then his face creased with worry. He saw the slinged arm and the ashen features. He remembered the broken body in the box and then another image, his own body slamming into this man's and sending him off a railing. A fall that caused the very injury that put him in this place maybe. Guilt washed over him and he began to gasp.

"Hey? What's wrong?" Danny asked and saw the wavering arm point to him and then the face flushed with shame. "No, Martin, that's not..." he paused and waited until the shamed eyes turned up. "Look at me, this is not your fault. You saved my life. You remember that, okay? Leave that guilt shit alone."

Martin knew Taylor wouldn't lie to him, so he thought maybe his dream was mixed up. He took the strength shining brightly from the dark eyes and let it fill him. His pain seemed to ebb and he felt stronger for the first time since waking up.

Danny fell silent then, not allowing words to ruin this moment. He felt the change in Martin and intensified his grip. It was as if he was transfusing a part of him into the shattered soul of the broken body in the bed. He felt a surge so strong he was sure he was connected to a humming source of electrical current. Martin's color got better and his eyes lost their clouds. They were bright and sure. A small smile formed and the lost eyes crinkled in mirth. Danny's own lips turned up and he let out a long, satisfying breath.

While the two lost partners reunited, two visitors had arrived. They stood transfixed at the sight that unraveled on the other side of the glass. Each was left speechless at the raw emotions that tumbled freely from Danny Taylor. The change to each man's physical and emotional state was inspiring.

"My God," Jean Fitzgerald stammered standing outside the cubicle and watching through the window. "I had no idea.'"

"I don't think Danny did either," Jack Malone replied. He'd met Jean in the lobby and came up to the room with her. Victor was parking the car and would follow shortly. "Let's give them a minute. I think Danny needed this more than he realized."

Danny held onto the weak hand even after Martin's eyes drifted shut. He knew how sick and weak Martin was and he was grateful they'd gotten to see each other. He truly believed that being here, that seeing him had helped his lost partner. He wanted to talk to someone and ask about getting Martin transferred to his room. Didn't they realize just how much support he needed? That nobody else could give him that, they didn't share the ride through hell they'd been through together.

"Mister Taylor?" Cindy whispered, tapping the blue-robed patient's shoulder. 'I hate to remind you..."

"No," Danny rasped, "It's cool, a deal's a deal."

"His mother is here and his father will be shortly. We can only allow two visitors at a time."

"Yeah, okay...." he saw a blur of movement and a petite woman with short dark hair and Martin's very expressive eyes appear next to him.

"I'm Jean Fitzgerald, Danny, and I'm so honored to meet you at last."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Fitzgerald, I didn't mean to tie up your time," Danny replied but still held the hand in the bed.

"No, don't be," she spoke softly and cupped his chin with her hand. "You have no idea how very grateful this mother is for..." she had to pause as her voice cracked. "We... his father and I are very grateful to you for finding him. He could have died out there if it wasn't for you."

"That's what partners do," Danny replied, totally disarmed by her charm and grace. It was then he transferred Martin's hand. The lifeline would be safe with her. "And he saved my life too. We're quite a team."

"Thank you," she choked, bending and kissing his cheek. "You'll always have a place in my heart."

Danny felt his face flame with color and dropped his eyes, swiping the dampness there. It had been so very long since he'd been graced with a mother's touch. He'd forgotten just how powerful a lure it was and how good it felt. He even found a smile and a catch in his gut when she chastised him for being out of bed.

"You should be resting. I've been checking every day with your nurses. You are supposed to be sleeping this afternoon. You had therapy today." She saw the bright eyes come up startled. "A mother knows... a mother always knows." She gifted him with a smile. "You promise me you'll rest?"

"Yes Ma'am... I... don't..." Danny stammered badly, his eyes full. This was where the giving soul who tended to him in that cold warehouse came from. It was from her he got that. "Thanks..."

"We have been stopping up to see you each day, but you were always sleeping. The fever and exhaustion, the nurse said."

"You didn't have to do that," Danny's voice was shocked and it showed. Then she cupped his cheek and her eyes flooded with warmth.

"Yes, son, I did. And if you don't get back to that bed and rest, you'll find out just where Martin gets his temper from."

"Yes, Ma'am." Danny grinned like a fool and felt his face flush with color.

Martin heard voices and felt a change in the current. The grip was soft on his hand, firm but soft. He cracked an eye open and saw a small woman talking to Taylor. She smiled at him and bent over the rails to kiss him. He backed up, skittering to the other side of the bed and yanked his hand free.

"Martin?" Jean's voice faded away and her heart sank at the terrified stranger looking back at her with eyes wide with fear.

"It's okay," Danny whispered to the upset mother. "He doesn't know you. He's real confused when he wakes up." He moved closer to the bed and tapped on the rail, causing the frightened figure to plead silently at him. Martin's hand was working the blanket again, the slim fingers rubbing the fabric with great anxiety. "Hey, it's cool, Martin. This is your mother, Jean Fitzgerald. She's got the touch, you know, that mother's touch. You hang on that man, it's better than all the crap in your IV, okay?"

Martin stared at Danny for a moment and then fortified by the strong words, he turned to the slim woman who was now weeping. He winced and swallowed hard, he never meant for her to cry. He felt a pain rip in his gut and reluctantly his fingers left the blanket he'd been 'clipping' and reached for the tissues on the bed tray. He caught her gaze and nodded. She sobbed and bent down again to kiss him and he gently wiped the tears away.

"Smooth, man," Danny teased and grinned. "See, I'm rubbin' off on you."

"I'm sorry, Martin, I didn't mean to scare you," Jean apologized, taking the seat next to the bed. Then she saw his face fall and his eyes fill with trepidation. She turned slowly and saw the orderly turning Danny's chair.

"Hey, it's cool, now, right? I gotta go, Harvard, my ride is here. They got rules about visiting. I'll try and come back later." Danny felt awful leaving. Martin looked like a deer caught in the crosshairs. The damned eyes were ripping a hole inside him. "Your mom and dad are here, they'll take good care of you. I promise." He held up his right hand, crossing his first two fingers. His partner followed suit and with a smile and nod, he departed.

Martin held onto that word and moved his head until he couldn't see Taylor anymore. He kept his eyes on the closed doors of the ICU unit long after his partner had gone. He felt uncomfortable now. All the warmth and strength and purpose that had engulfed him when Taylor was here had evaporated. He believed this woman was his mother, Taylor said so but she was a stranger. He felt awkward and unsure and shifted in the bed.

"I know this is hard for you, son and I'm so very sorry," Jean read the anxious eyes well. "It's hard for me too. No mother wants her child to look at her through a stranger's eyes." She saw his gaze turn to her and he really focused on her words. "I wish I could take all your pain away and make those clouds in your memory go away." She paused to brush her fingers through his hair. He sighed hard and pressed his face into her palm, his bruised features forming a soft smile. 'You remember that? That always calmed you as a boy when you were sick or frightened"

Martin did remember the feeling that came with the touch, although her face and voice were strange. He nodded again and let the tension evaporate with the magical work her touch was producing. It felt good and his breathing evened out, he relaxed and started to doze. Then the touch went away and he peeped his eyes open, looking for her.

"I'm right here," she vowed, warmed by the look in his eyes. "I'm not leaving."

That was enough for now, enough to guide him into a deep restful sleep, void of bad dreams. The healing slumber that was much needed, for now her touch was the wind in his sails.

Thursday
Hartford Hospital

Danny's face creased in frustration as he pushed the channel button on the remote again. He wasn't interested in talk shows or bad sitcoms from the seventies. He yawned and flipped the news on. His dinner would be arriving in about an hour and the thought that it was the highlight of his afternoon made his stomach turn. Then CNN came on and three famliar faces appeared in still shots across the screen. He fumbled with the dial until the sound came up.

"....in the assault of a fellow agent, Martin Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is a rookie of only a few weeks on the Missing Persons Unit of the F.B.I. here in New York. He went missing the day after the assault and was found nearly ten days days later ill and suffering from numerous injuries. He's in a Hartford hospital in the I.C.U. recovering."

Martin's face flashed then, from a news camera the day he was taken from the warehouse on a gurney. The close up was painful to view and seeing Martin's battered and swollen face coupled with the lingering images of the three bastards who'd beat him in the parking lot of the Federal Building caused his anger to rise. He turned the sound down and reached for the phone. Something that had been nagging at him since he'd woken up needed addressing.

"Delgado"

Rico waited but was only met by silence on the other end. He frowned and was about to hang up the phone when a low voice sounded. The words sent a chill up his spine.

"Tell me you didn't know."

It had taken Danny several seconds after hearing his friend's voice to get enough control of his anger to even speak. He'd known Rico for years and considered him a good friend. That's why this hurt so badly. To think that Rico could have seen this happen or even heard about it later bothered him greatly.

"Danny?" Rico's voice didn't hide his surprise. He tossed his pen down and sat back, trying to absorb the words and the tone. "Hey, I heard you're doing good... well better."

"I'm sick, Rico," Danny answered; the flush on his face was not due to fever. "As a matter of fact just thinking about what you and those animals did to Martin is making my gut churn."

"I didn't have anything to do with that!" Rico defended. "I wasn't there."

"And after? You had to know, I know how Tyrone likes to brag."

"Oh right, I'm gonna rat them out. Yeah, that's what I should have done," Rico sounded hotly. "Christ, Danny, you don't even like the guy. Hell, you were ready to tar and feather him that night."

"Shooting my mouth off is one thing," Danny corrected. "I was pissed off... and part of that anger was my fault. I know that now. But to do that... to beat another agent senseless... to hurt him. That's not the Rico Delgado I know. He wouldn't have stood by and allowed something that disgusting to happen."

"Look, Danny, I'm sorry he got hurt but I didn't do anything."

"No, You sure as hell didn't!" Danny growled and slammed the phone down.

The conversation left him empty and cold. He felt the familiar waves of guilt washing over him. If only he had kept his mouth shut that night, Martin might not have gone missing. He liked Rico but knew that this would now be an invisible wall between them. The faces of the other three loomed before him and the coldness in his gut turned hot. Like acid rain it burned within him, the need for revenge. His emotions were all over the place and he struggled to contain his anger. His body reacted to the change in tide, causing a bad coughing spell. Just then a much needed body arrived in the room.

"Hey!" Danny managed, blinking and coughing. He reached for his tissues and coughed up a wad of muck. He tossed the tissue away and reached for his ice water.

"Hey, yourself," Jack sent back, entering the room and depositing a box of chocolate candy on the tray in front of him.

"Chocolate?" Danny frowned. "I don't get it, that's not my bag."

"So when company stops in to see you, you say 'How are you?', 'Care for a chocolate?'" Jack dangled the bait.

"Care for a chocolate?" Danny repeated, still puzzled.

"Don't mind if I do," Jack replied, taking the lid up and selecting two chocolate nut and caramel clusters.

"Man, that's weak," Danny objected, tapping his congested chest, "bringin' candy to an invalid to satisfy your greedy needs."

"You're hardly an invalid and they're not for you," Jack muffled, slurping up the caramel. He opened the lid again and shuffled the candy around inside, to make it appear that none had been taken.

"Cheap bastard!" Danny chuckled. "Not for me?"

"No, for your roommate, he's a chocoholic." Jack picked up the box and waited. He saw the puzzled dark eyes and tossed out another clue. "You're a detective, figure it out."

Danny thought on the word 'roommate' and pondered. Then he saw an overeager rookie whose candy bar tab was as high as most bar tabs. His eyes flew to the doorway as he heard a squeaky wheel. His good hand gripped the railing and he leaned his head to the right to see more easily. Then a gurney appeared and the 'chocoholic' was wheeled in.

"Martin!"

"Shush!" The orderly warned. "He's asleep. He had a rough afternoon."

"Sorry," Danny murmured, eyeing the chart nurse who was right behind the orderly. Martin was settled into the next bed and his IVs were checked. Once the new vital signs were taken, the nurse turned and approached.

"He's doing much better," she updated, tapping the hand clutching the bar. His dark eyes were full of worry. "Relax, he's breathing better and his fever is down, even his bowels are better."

"Good," Jack sighed. "He's lost too much weight already."

"He moved up from clear liquids to soft foods." She took Taylor's vital signs and was pleased. "You're doing much better too. I think you'll be released over the weekend."

"What rough afternoon?" Danny asked. "The orderly said Martin had a rough afternoon."

"He has two bad episodes and woke up in a state. If he wasn't so weak, he would have been uncontrollable. It's very hard when you have a head injury and memory loss. He was very agitated."

"I know!" Danny spoke up, turning to Jack. "Didn't I tell you that at the warehouse? It's awful what he goes through. Then he rocks, holding his head and passes out."

"Exactly, which is why we moved him to your room. You seem to be the one link that he has between past and present. We're hoping seeing you close by will calm him. You see these episodes might get more frequent as the bruising on his brain heals. The return of the memories will be painful."

"You tell the other doctors not to worry, I'm on the job!" Danny announced, carefully checking Martin to ensure he was sleeping and not dreaming.

"Well alright!" The nurse smiled. "If you need anything, you buzz me, okay? I'm Cara and I'm on until eleven thirty tonight."

"Thanks." He saw Jack eyeing the chocolates and Martin. "If you put them in the top of the closet, I'll give them to him when they okay it."

"Yeah," Jack mumbled, popping the box and taking two more. "Actually, they were just a clever prop. I knew they were switching his room."

"Man, that's low," Danny chuckled. "You headed home tonight?"

"No," Jack answered, scratching his chin. "Horne's lawyer is arriving in the morning. I want to be there."

"I can't believe they haven't found anything yet." Danny shifted gingerly. "We gave them a rough idea of the general area. Something had to have happened. Without that key..."

Danny didn't finish and Jack kept his eyes on Martin. He had a gut feeling that Martin's memory would come back as his brain healed.

"Don't underestimate Martin," Jack quipped as the scent of food drifted through the room. "His brain will heal and that memory should come back. He might unlock it himself, without Horne."

Dinner arrived and Danny had no sooner had two spoonfuls of his roast beef in his mouth when Martin began to tremble. The arms flailed out and the eyes shot open, wide and unseeing. Danny nearly choked himself trying to swallow when Martin began to gag and claw at his throat.

"No!" Jack ordered, when he saw Danny trying to sit up. He crossed the room and clapped his hands in front of Martin. He heard Danny buzzing for the nurse. "Martin! Wake up!"

He grabbed the IV'd arm and held it, using his free hand to grab Martin's chin. "Hey, hey... snap out of it."

"Martin? They're gone, they're not hurting you. You're safe!" Danny called out. "It's me, man, I got your back. You're not choking."

The nurse arrived and moved to the other side of Martin's bed. She placed a firm hand on his shoulder and shook it gently."Mister Fitzgerald?" she called out loudly, watching his eyes blinking rapidly.

Jack grew frustrated and gave Martin's face a light tap. The wheezing slowed and the eyes blinked. He heard several shuddering breaths as Martin's eyes roamed the room. Finally, they rested on his face and the brows furrowed. He didn't pull away in fear, which Jack took as a good sign. Rather, his head cocked and he narrowed his eyes, studying him carefully.

"I think he's okay now," Malone addressed the nurse who agreed and departed. He turned back to Martin, who was still staring at him. "Jack Malone. I'm your boss in New York. You remember me from the warehouse?" Jack asked and then fished the watch out.

Martin puzzled up and thought hard, recalling lots of men in blue and badges shining in his eyes. He remembered a gun and protecting Taylor. It was then that his fuzzy brain cleared up a bit more. He blinked several times and his eyes went wide in surprise. There on the other side of the room was his partner! His grin was matched by Taylor's beaming right back at him.

"What? You don't believe me?" Jack inquired when the blue eyes went seeking confirmation and around him to Taylor.

"It's Jack, I told you about him," Danny concurred, shaken by the lost soul. The weight loss was evident now that the beard and grime were gone. The beseeching eyes seemed especially large in the gaunt face. "He's a good guy. He's okay."

"Thank you," Jack added with a voice dripping in sarcasm. "This look familiar?" He flinched when the claw like hand grabbed the watch. The head cocked and the eyes furrowed, lost in thought. "Your grandfather's?" He watched the head bob. "You gave it to me to hold onto for safekeeping. Do you want it here? Or I can give it to you mother?"

Martin's eyes were transfixed by the worn timepiece. He remembered a bearded man with eyes wide and blue and a gentle smile. He recalled beach walks and talks of days gone by and laughter; the kind of laugh that warmed you on a cold day. Nostalgia overwhelmed him and he felt himself longing for those golden days. He held his wrist out and waited.

'You sure?" Jack asked and the wavy head bobbed. "Okay..." He secured the watch and Martin seemed quite taken with it. He pressed it against his chest; his eyes were glued to it. He filled Martin's cup with ice water and put it in front of him on the bedside tray. As he turned to go, his arm was tapped gently. "You need something?" Jack asked and then smiled when the hand came out for him. "You're welcome, junior."

Danny resumed his meal and Jack came back to sit by his bed. They thought Martin was resting, but then the thin body sat up a bit and moved for the tray. But when the lid was lifted and the chicken rice soup, vanilla pudding and apple juice were revealed, the lid slammed down in anger. The face morphed and flushed in annoyance and the squared jaw was defiant.

"Jesus, you're worse than my kids. Eat that, it's good for you!" Jack ordered and then moved to the other bed.

Martin made a face and waved his hand over the food, inviting 'Jack' to eat it if he liked is so much. He pouted and sat back, banging the lid on the rail.

"Cut that out!" Jack growled, grabbing the lid. 'You're too old for a temper tantrum. Look, Martin, that's all you get. Your insides aren't ready for real food yet and Danny doesn't need your ass leakin' all over the room, okay? So you're going to eat the fuckin' pudding and soup and like it."

Danny smirked when Martin's irate features froze for a moment on Jack's stern face. He coughed and covered his mouth when Jack arched a single eyebrow at the petulant face in the bed. For a moment, they remained in place then Martin relented and dropped the lid. He watched Jack point to a spoon and Martin's shaky hand reach for it. Then his smile turned warm when Jack steadied the very shaky hand.

"You want some help?" Jack offered and waited, but Martin shook his head. But Jack remained ready to step in should the weakened body fail. It took awhile but Martin did finish his tray and the heavy eyes drifted shut.

"Nice work, Agent Malone," Danny cued when Jack returned to his bedside. "You ever lose this job you can get a gig in a daycare center."

"Yeah," Jack scoffed, keeping his eye on Martin.

Jack stayed through dinner and Danny appreciated the company and the humorous comments about his food. But as grateful as he was for Jack's company, he was worried about Martin. Jack turned on an old movie and Danny felt himself dozing. The evening meds distributed by the nurse had kicked in and it was hard to keep his eyes open. He was vaguely aware of Jack saying goodnight.

Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Part Nineteen

Hartford Hospital
Friday Morning, Three a.m.

Startled and slightly shaken, Danny Taylor's eyes jarred wide open. For a few seconds, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim light. Something had woken him up. There was enough light coming in from the hall to allow him to see fairly well. And what he saw immediately had him fully awake.

It was dark and his head hurt. Martin blinked several times and looked around again. He was very disoriented. He didn't know this place; he didn't even know who he was. He only knew that someone was trying to kill him. They were gone, he couldn't see them. Or were they hiding? Were they waiting for him to fall asleep and then they'd come back with the knife? Or were they lurking in the shadows? He could still feel the blade pressed to his throat and hear that voice and those strong hands crushing the life out of him.

"Martin?" Danny called out when the other bed began to shake and Fitzgerald's hands started thrashing.

He could see the glint of terror in Martin's eyes which were wide with fear. Then his hands began to claw at his throat and an odd choking sound could be heard. His mouth was in a horrid oval creating a sickening, sucking sound.

"Martin!" he hollered louder, hoping to rouse him from whatever horror he was lost in.

Desperate to get his attention, Danny peeled the lid from the cup of water on his bed table and began to toss ice cubes across the room. He paused his icy shower long enough to ring his buzzer for the nurse. He continued to call Martin and toss the ice cubes. Twice he saw the tormented soul flinch. Just as the nurse came to the doorway, Martin stopped gagging and blinked.

"Hold it," Danny warned the nurse. "Martin? Look at me. It's Danny Taylor, your partner, remember? You got hurt, you're in a hospital. The reason you can't remember is because you got a bruise on your brain. "

Partner.

The word cut the shadows like a saber, sending the demons away. Sweat was pouring down his face and his heart was hammering in his chest Martin blinked and squinted, eyeing the dark-haired man in the next bed. He wasn't alone and he wasn't lost, Taylor was here. He sighed hard, sagged a bit and lifted his hand.

"Yeah, man, that's right, partners." Relief washed through Danny's voice when Martin lifted his right hand with the first two fingers locked. "You had a bad dream. It's cool; you're safe here, okay?"

"Mister Fitzgerald?" the nurse said softly, approaching with caution. "I'm the nurse and I just want to see that your IV is secure and check you over, alright?"

He eyed Taylor who nodded, so he nodded to her. He was breathing heavyily and coughing, she turned his oxygen up and that helped. She took a cool cloth and bathed his face, neck and chest, taking the sweat away. She pulled the curtain around and called for another nurse. Together they put the sweat drenched soul into a clean gown. The curtain was taken away and he could see Taylor again. Finally, she gave him a drink with some pills and departed. It was all he could do to keep his eyes open.

"Scary trip, huh?" Danny asked softly and the damp head bobbed. The blue eyes even at half-mast were moving too hard. He saw Martin's fingers working the edges of the blanket again. "Look, don't force it, Martin, your memory's gonna come back when the bruise heals."

Martin chuffed an annoyed breath and shook his head. How could anyone understand how hard it was to be lost like this? He didn't know who he was, where he was or where he belonged. Everyone kept saying that it would get better. But it hadn't so far; he didn't even know how long he'd been lost like this. He couldn't remember. He kept pushing for those answers until the drugs kicked in and his heavy eyes surrendered.

Danny waited until he was sure Martin was in a deep sleep then he resumed his rest. When he woke up again, the sun was shining and the aroma of sausage and pancakes assaulted him. He sat up, yawned, coughed and sneezed several times. He cleaned himself up and lifted the tray. There was also fruit, cereal and juice along with something that was once a muffin. He noticed Martin was staring at him or rather at his tray. The lust in his eyes was evident.

"Sorry..." Danny noted, eyeing the sad piles of beige mush in front of Fitzgerald. "Looks like baby puke." That comment caused the eyes to roll and he got a smile. "Looks like you're doing better, how you feeling?"

Martin thought for a moment. It hurt to breathe and his headaches were bad at times, but he knew he was getting stronger. His coughing wasn't as bad and his burning intestines had stopped. He lifted his hand and waved it slightly, indicating an 'okay'.

"I know you still feel like stir-fried shit, but you were a pretty sick puppy, it's gonna take awhile." Danny paused to swallow some sausages and pancakes. He washed it down with lukewarm tea and turned to Martin. "Hey, listen, Martin. You saved my life in that warehouse. You shoved me out of the way of one bullet, took care of me and stuff and then damn near took another one for me. Thanks doesn't seem like much but, it's from the heart."

Martin thought a moment, wheezing for a bit and fisted his hand, tapping his heart. He smiled back at the dark-haired man. He didn't remember all of what happened but he did remember Taylor being in a box and unable to move. He eyed the bed and wondered about that injury. He pointed to the legs and waited.

"Oh, nothing broken, just a bad strain. I'm getting therapy and stuff. I'll be out for a few weeks but nothing permanent."

That was good. Martin was very relieved and his body relaxed. He picked up his spoon and ate the mushy mix, drowning it down with orange juice and tea. He flipped the button for the television and ran through a few channels. He paused at one, his eyes crinkling in mirth.

"Hey, hold it..." Danny muffled, shoving the crumbling muffin into his mouth. "Flintstones... I love that show."

Martin nodded in agreement, settling back with his sad breakfast and enjoying the antics of Fred and Barney. Once breakfast was done and the trays cleared away, two nurses entered the room. They headed for his bed and he saw his partner frown and crane his neck.

"Hey, isn't it time for my bath?" Danny chirped, watching the pair of attentive nurses helping Martin sit up.

"I think he's jealous," Nancy stated, winking at her coworker Teresa.

"We're going to get you cleaned up and out of the bed for awhile. We need to get those legs moving." Teresa assisted the young man and they got him into the bathroom.

Danny kept his eye on the television and about twenty minutes later, Martin reappeared with a nurse on each side. A blue robe made his eyes stand out but his color was good and it was great to see him on his feet.

"Hey, look at you!" Danny enthused, nodding in encouragement. "How you feel?"

Martin paused and gently pulled his arms from the two nurses, standing on his own and then took a few steps.

"Cool!" Danny chirped.

"Okay, don't get carried away," Nancy scolded. "We're going to go up the hall and back. We'll do that several times today, okay?"

"Danny, when we get back, we'll get you ready for your therapy session." Teresa entered the bathroom and returned with a basin of soapy water and put it on the tray in front of the handsome patient. She took his shaving kit from the side drawer and opened it, spreading the contents in clear reach. "You should be able to handle it. If you need help..."

"I think I do..." Danny rasped hopefully.

"I can send Milton in to..."

"Milton!" Danny spat the word out like a bug, causing his partner to cough hard. He didn't miss the broad grin Martin wore. "Sure, yuck it up. You get two pretty girls to shower you and I get 'Milton'."

He found his lips turning up as he watched Martin walking through the door. A part of him was sure that his lost partner would recover. He hoped that the weeks to come would prove to be the right mix of rest and recovery. They both needed to mend physically and emotionally. He washed, shaved and eased the tray away. He heard the nurses voices close by using words of encouragement. Then Martin's flushed but proud face appeared. He was wheezing and coughing but he was still on his feet.

"Hey by Sunday you can boogie down the street and get us some donuts, huh?" Danny noted.

Martin paused when they tried to steer him towards his bed. He shook his head and pointed to the chair by Taylor.

"Actually, that's a good idea, it'll help your lungs." Teresa moved ahead, pulling the chair out so the two men could face each other. She assisted the injured man while her fellow nurse took Taylor's soapy mess away. She made sure it was close to the rail so Martin would have leverage if he needed it. "Danny'll be leaving in about a half hour for his therapy. You two have a nice visit.'

"Here, sweetie." Nancy put a full icy cup of orange juice by the now seated, blue-eyed patient. She laid a hand on his shoulder and gave a tug. "You did great! We'll do that again after lunch, okay?"

Martin gave the thumbs up sign and settled back into the chair. He watched as Taylor's dark eyes narrowed as the nurses left.

"Hmmph!" Danny grunted, nodding to the door. "You get 'sweetie', I get 'Milton'." The smile appeared over the hand reaching for the cup of orange juice.

Martin took a long sip. He burped and frowned, putting the cup down.

"That's okay, you're with family," Danny noted of the belch. "Besides, it's better to burp it and taste it then fart it and waste it, right?" The grin that came back at him went clear up to sky blue eyes.

Martin pointed to Danny's slinged arm and then his legs.

"Me? I'm okay. You ought to see the tub they have in the therapy room. It's great. You sink in and these jets send like ripples through the water and massage you. Man, it's almost as good as Maria Rosita." He saw the puzzlement. "I got to tell you about her sometime. She did the most amazing things with her hands. And she had a body that wouldn't quit."

For the silent rookie, the thirty minutes seem to fly. He was hanging on every word that Taylor uttered. The warmth in the voice and the natural humor made the bawdy stories of the other man's youth seem to come alive. All too soon the orderly appeared.

"Looks like my ride's here." Danny saw the brief flicker of dejection appear then that quickly left. "Hey, I'll be back for lunch. We can talk again, okay?"

Martin nodded and gripped the rail, slowly rising. He saw the orderly move in and shook his head. His eyes bespoke the determination that was equally chisled on every feature of the handsome face. Twice he flicked his gaze to his bed and then using the bedstand and window ledge he started across. He knew the orderly was right behind him but the victory was sweet. He looked like a fat cat having just digested a huge canary when he got to the bed.

"Don't get cocky, Harvard!" Danny warned and flashed a winning grin. He settled into his wheelchair and snapped his fingers. "Let's go, Frank, those magic bubbles are calling me."

Jack paused by his car and pulled out his cellphone. It was a cold day but clear and the sky was a brilliant blue. He needed to finish his visit with his two injured agents and head home. Both of his children were in school plays for Thanksgiving and he'd promised to help with their costumes and their lines. Vivian and Sam were coming up for the weekend and he knew that would cheer Danny up.

"Hello?" Danny said, shifting in the tall chair the nurse had settled him in. His whole body ached and he longed for the bed but they said he had to sit up for awhile more. After lunch he had a long nap planned.

"Hey, it's me," Jack replied. "How you two doing today?"

"I'm fine. Martin had rough night. Woke up chokin' and clawin' at his neck, eyes buggin' out. I felt like diggin' Callison up and chokin' the shit out of him..."

"How is he now?"

"He's gettin' breathing treatments and then chest and head pictures. He'll be back later. He was good this morning. They got him up and walking, then we hung out by my bed for awhile"

"Good," Jack agreed, knowing Danny needed that as well. "I'm heading over, you two need anything."

"Nah..." Danny said, "How'd it go?" He knew Jack had been tied up all morning at the Federal Building in Hartford where Frank Horne was being questioned.

"He claims he wasn't there. He said just Callison went up an alley to check out a prowler and he stayed in the car. He said he heard a scuffle and found Martin and Callison fighting, that Martin was out of control and it took both of them to restrain him. He said Martin hit him and when he shook it off and got back up, he was gone." Malone paused to shake his head. "His lawyer didn't allow for much else."

"And without Martin's testimony, he's gets off scott free. It reeks..."

"That lyin' sac of shit's gonna eat dirt," Jack predicted. "Besides we have him on tape in the warehouse. That's at least attempted murder, even though he blamed that on Callison too. He claimed Callison blackmailed him into that." The silence that met his ears was telling. "Look, I'm sorry Danny. I know you were hoping he'd confess to whatever Martin saw, but it just didn't happen."

"It's not your fault, Jack..." Danny's voice trailed off when he revisited the stark terror in Martin's eyes from the night before. "Those pricks tried to murder him. I've been watching Martin relive it and I have to find a way to help him." He cocked his head and thought for a moment.

"Look, I'm losing time. I'm gonna pick up a burger, you sure you aren't hungry?"

"Yeah," Danny answered. "Get Martin a large chocolate milkshake."

"Okay, anything else?" Jack asked.

"Yeah," Danny answered, his eyes bright ."I got a favor..."

Danny woke up from his nap to find his silent partner sitting next to him in a chair. Martin was dozing, with the late afternoon sun dancing on his face. He shifted his gaze to the package that Jack left. It was hidden under the sheet next to him and he smiled. A few moments later Martin began to stir. Two yawns were followed by a scowl, a series of coughs and a pair of confused blue eyes blinking. "Hey, partner, how'd it go?"

Martin turned and took a decent lungful of air and then exhaled, giving his thumb up. He felt tired but the breathing treatment really got a lot of crap out of his lungs. It still hurt to breathe and would for a while until his ribs healed but at least the congestion was going away. He'd been surprised to find Jack entering the elevator he was exiting on the way back from the x-rays they had taken of his head. He was pleased that he'd remembered who the dark-haired man was, something that pleased Jack as well. He wanted to tell Taylor about his good fortune but sighed in frustration. He pretended to write on his hand and the other man grinned.

"I think I can fix that." Danny handed the plastic bag over. " Jack rigged it all up so it's ready to go."

Martin's puzzled face soon flushed with warmth as his blush formed. It wasn't just any gift, it was a very thoughtful one. Despite the pain and exhaustion his partner was enduring, he'd gone that extra yard to do something like this. His hands trembled slightly as he ran it along the surface. He found the 'on' button and pushed it, illuminating a bright green window.

"See, it's got a LED display and big letters, but it's compact. You can carry it with you. It's even got a black cord if you need put it around your neck."

Martin's fingers ran over the smooth keys of the electronic message machine. He typed the letters and turned it, his eyes mirroring what his heart felt.

"Thank you... partner." Danny grinned and watched Martin typing again. The screen was then displayed for him.

"I saw Jack in the hall and I knew who he was!" Danny paused and his grin widened. "Hey that's great... no headache?" The wavy head shook 'no'. "Hah! I won't be able to shut you up now. You'll have blisters on every finger." He saw the next question

"Jack go home?" he read and nodded. "Yeah, his kids have Thanksgiving shows in school. He doesn't see them enough as it is. Hey, he caught Horne."

"Horne?" Martin typed and cocked his head, his face creased in puzzlement.

"The other dude who attacked you, Callison's partner. You remember the blond guy who tried to kill us in the warehouse?" Danny saw the eyes narrowing in pain and the fingers fought hard to type. "Bad cops... Yeah, that's them. Do you..." It was that quick that Martin put his electronic voice onto the bed and doubled over, clutching his skull. "Shit... shit... I'm sorry..." He buzzed for the nurse and then gripped the back of Martin's neck. It was the same event as the night before. Martin's hands were clawing at his throat and his eyes were wide, his mouth gaping like a fish on the deck of a boat. "Martin, it's not real. That bastard can't hurt you." He physically turned Martin's face then, gripping his cheeks hard. "LOOK AT ME!" he commanded, "Right here, Danny Taylor, I'm real, they're not. Tell me what they did to you. Get that shit out..."

The alley was dark and freezing, the icy wind sent silvery shards of ice and snow into his face, pelting him like needles. A brutal force was applied through a wooden baton to his throat. All his air was cut off. He was dying...

Then a voice burst into the darkness. A voice he knew, someone who could help. He couldn't hear the words but he knew he wasn't alone. Then just as quickly the pressure was off his neck. He was hurled through a vortex at a dizzying pace.

Martin gasped audibly and eyed the walls of the hospital room. The sinister voice still echoed in his ear and he still felt he hot breath on his neck. But his partner had chased the demon away.

"It's cool..." Danny advised the nurses who'd arrived. He gently released the pressure he'd had the terrified face gripped in and gently tapped the sweaty cheek. "You okay?" The shivering, gasping soul nodded but Danny wasn't so sure.

"I think you need to get back in your own bed, I have your pain medication and we need a new set of vitals." The nurse waited for the silent patient to agree.

Martin thought for a moment and let his breathing even out. His ribs ached, his head was screaming and he felt very sick. He nodded to Danny, carefully put his new gift around his neck and bit his lower lip. He held his hand out and waited, then Danny offered his own. But he didn't shake his hand, he gripped his forearm.

"Brotherhood," Danny whispered, drinking in the emotive face that replied with an overture of silent gratitude. "Go on and catch some 'z's', I ain't goin' anywhere."

Martin rose slowly and let the nurse take his arm. With her help, his shaky legs made it back to the bed. The bed was raised up quite a bit, which helped him breathe better. She gave him his meds and a cold drink of juice. He kept one hand on his gift as the room slowly faded away.

Saturday, Noon

Victor Fitzgerald paused in the hallway and scanned the room numbers. He found Martin's room and peeked inside. Danny Taylor was sitting by Martin's bedside. The two were watching a movie on television. Each had a large soda in front of them and Martin had three empty ice cream cups on this tray. Taylor looked over and sat up, nodding to him.

"Good Afternoon, sir."

"Taylor," Victor noted, walking towards the bed. Martin's blue eyes were as blank as his face as they appraised him. "Son, I heard from the doctor that you have made remarkable progress."

Son.

Martin's healing brain did the math even though the picture was fuzzy. Son. This man with the cold eyes and seemingly regal bearing was his father. He kept staring at the older man's face, hoping something would spark in his memory but the lid to that box remained firmly shut. He thought on the greeting and automatically his finger pointed to Taylor.

"No, man, I can't take credit for that. You've been bustin' your ass. Hustlin' down the hall with the nurses, gettin' your breathin' treatments and eatin' more."

Martin thought for a moment and pulled out the small device that he now carried everywhere. He typed a message and flipped the screen around.

"Without you... ICU." Danny grinned, his eyes drinking in the compliment. "Hey that rhymes you're turning into a poet, huh?"

Martin's eyes went behind the man to the empty door. He waited but she didn't come into the room. He frowned, feeling the room grow colder. Although he didn't remember who she was, the woman that would be his mother had become important to him. She had a kind heart, soothing voice and he yearned for her touch. He typed the word and held it out to his father.

"Mother?" Victor read aloud. "She's not here today, Martin, she wasn't feeling well. Nothing serious, I think all of this worrying about you just caught up with her. I'm sure resting today will do her a world of good. The nurse said you are able to take walks. She thought it might be a good idea to walk down to the visitors' room at the end of the floor."

Danny saw the guilt flash in Martin's eyes and flinched. He knew Victor didn't mean it to come out that way. He knew just how rough running to a hospital every day was and that without rest, eating right and adding on the strain of worrying on a loved one, anyone would be rundown. But Martin didn't take it that way and was blaming himself for his mother being ill.

"Hospitals can really wear you out. She'll be back fussin' over you tomorrow." Danny encouraged, rising slowly. Victor was by his side in a flash and he took the arm for support. "Thanks... I'm not real good yet, but they tell me I'm ahead of schedule."

"You'll be 100% in no time," Victor predicted, leading the likeable young man to his bed. "It just proves how much resolve you have; another reason my son is sitting in that bed." He paused as the young man gingerly eased into his own bed. "I want you to know I haven't forgotten the courage your displayed. I'm very grateful for what you did for Martin."

"I didn't do..." Danny gasped, out of breath from the walk. "much... he... had... enough... guts... for... both... of us... I owe him... my life... "

"You're very modest," Victor acknowledged. "Martin's always been very determined. From the time he was a small boy, once he set his mind on something, he worked every way to achieve it."

"Yeah, he's stubborn all right," Danny yawned, blinking hard and tugging his blanket up.

"Get some rest,' Victor directed, turning back to Martin. "Martin?"

Martin waved off the older man and stood on his own. The nurses made him work hard each shift, making him use his legs. They told him how to breathe and use his air to get the most of his endurance. He felt more confident with every trip he took, short ones to the bathroom or long ones down the hall. He allowed his father to steady him but once he took two steps he pulled away, shuffling on his own towards the door. He didn't understand why he felt annoyed every time this man was close to him. It wasn't that way when his mother was here.

Victor paused to get a drink of water when they arrived at the vistors' room. It was a large, sunny room with bright colors on the walls. A television was mounted high on one wall and there were magazines scattered on each of the small tables. He saw Martin slowly ease down into a chair. He took the one next to his son. He spotted the small device around his son's neck.

"Danny gave it to me. I have a voice now." Martin typed and held it out.

"That's fine, son," Victor replied. "But you won't need it very long. Michael Anderson is the best in his field. He's on staff at Georgetown and you'll be working with him. He'll be able to unlock that mind of yours and free your voice."

Martin bristled in the chair. He snapped the screen down and held the treasured gift close to his heart. How the hell could his father be that blind? Didn't he realize how important the word machine was to him? Moreover and more importantly, how much the gift meant to him because it came from the heart. His anger surfaced turning his sky eyes stormy and scoring his cheeks with an angry rose. He flipped the screen back down and typed, not hiding his anger.

"You didn't think of it!" Victor read and then saw the fierce eyes blazing on him. "No, I didn't, Martin. It's a very nice tool but..."

Martin snapped the lid down before his heart overruled his head and the words 'fuck you' would appear on the green screen. His father's arrogance filled the room and made his stomach churn. He didn't hide his displeasure. Twenty uncomfortable minutes passed with his father updating him. Most of the information he'd already got from Jack Malone or Danny. He suddenly decided he'd had enough of listening to his father and stood up. When then reached the doorway, Martin pointed to the elevator, making himself known.

"Oh... well if you're sure," Victor stammered. He knew he'd done or said something that offended Martin. He eyed the black cord on Martin's neck and the word machine. "I'm sorry about that Martin. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

Martin chuffed and shook his head, waving his hand in annoyance. He left his father behind and slowly walked back to his room. By the time he'd reached his bed, the steam that propelled him there had run dry. He allowed his body to take over, surrendering into a troubled sleep. The dreams were an unsettling mix of the warehouse, a strange alley with snow falling, the scent of death and his father's cold face.

The scent of pizza tickled his nose and drew his protesting eyes open. He saw the amused eyes of Vivian Johnson. She had placed a large pizza in a box on the table that went over his bed and was waving the lid, sending waves of a wonderful aroma through the room.

"Damn..." Danny mumbled, pushing the button to bring himself upright.

"We come bearing gifts of great food," Sam greeted walking towards the bed and bending to kiss his cheek. "You're lookin' better."

"You're lookin' as fine as always," he replied. "It sure is good to see both of you."

"You gave us quite a scare," Vivian stated, moving the pizza to the other table. She took a piece out and placed it on a plate. She put it in front of him along with a quart container of cold coke.

"You should have been on my end," Danny noted. "Scary doesn't come close. I couldn't move and had to spoon feed Martin's battered soul. He didn't trust anyone or anything with a badge. Just gettin' him to leave me to get help was hard."

"Jack told us he's become very attached to you," Sam stated, "How's he doing?"

"Better," Danny answered, taking a small bite of the tempting treat. He took a large sip of soda and eyed his dozing partner. "He's like a Pitbull. He gets his teeth in and won't let go. Since they okayed him to walk, he's been driving them crazy. So I think the physical stuff will heal okay."

"But he still doesn't speak?" Vivian inquired and saw Danny's sad eyes appear. "If it's not due to his head injury, it's very possible that once he's stronger and recovered, he'll be strong enough to face that fear."

"I'd like five minutes with that maggot-eatin' hairball Horne," Danny seethed. "I'd find out what the hell happened."

"That wouldn't help," Sam interjected, slightly taken aback by the passion in his voice. Although Jack had warned them about how protective Danny had become of Martin, she was shocked at the transformation. Until this incident, he had grown to despise Martin. "He has to remember on his own. But I think you're right, it's tied to whatever Callison and Horne did to him in that alley"

Danny spent the new few moments telling them of his ordeal. He eyed the second box that was perched in front of Martin.

"We got him one with no sauce," Vivian stated. "The nurse said that would be okay."

"Hey, man!" Danny hollered over when Martin began to stir. "Wake your ass up. The pizza's gettin' cold."

Martin blinked and yawned, then his nose brought him fully awake. Something smelled wonderful and he saw a slice of pizza on a plate placed in front of him. A slim hand eased a large soda into his and he took a gulp. She looked better than the pizza. His stunned face and smitten eyes caused his roommate to chuckle.

"I should have guessed you dig blondes!" Danny teased. "Beautiful women bearing gifts and feeding you pizza is a good thing."

"Don't mind him," Sam soothed, watching Martin blush. "I'm glad you're doing better. I'm Samantha Spade. We... Vivian Johnson and myself, work with you in New York."

Martin saw flashes then of a large office, lots of glass windows and doors and desks piled high with folders. Both of the women were at desks, working and talking on the phone. Then he saw the blonde woman teasing him about eating doughnuts. She held up a can of diet soda and shook her head. He moved his hand to his head, the memories always brought a headache.

"Martin?" Sam's voice was tinted with worry. His face morphed into pain and he clutched the side of it. "Should I get somebody?" Martin shook his head 'no' at the same time Danny's voice replied.

"No, it's cool," Danny muffled through a half a mouthful of pizza. "He gets a bad trip every time he remembers something. But they're gettin' less painful, he doesn't pass out too much anymore."

"No doughnuts at your desk?" Martin typed, still wincing from the headache. Her smile at his confused face lit the room.

"No," She answered, gifting him with a smile. "You eat enough sugar for all five of us. You remember that?"

Martin nodded and typed again. "I'm glad you're here. Thanks."

"You're welcome," she answered, "Now eat!"

Martin kept his eyes on her as he ate his pizza. He liked her and he was happy with the act that remembering her in the office and in a car driving through New York didn't give him painful headaches. It seemed to him the severe pain and passing out was tied to the dark time when he was lost. The events prior to that gave minor pain but lessened each time he recalled them. Also, he was remembering more about that time. He hoped as his brain healed, that would be enough to unlock the key to that bad place. He had to find out what happened, he knew unless he did, he'd never recover.

Sunday Morning

Martin was already in the visitor's room when he saw his mother and father walk past the doorway towards his room. He snapped his fingers and a nurse at the station looked up. He pointed to his parents and tapped his chest.

"Oh..." She turned and eyed the couple walking past her. "Are you here for Martin Fitzgerald?"

"Yes?" Jean asked, turning back. "Is he alright?"

"He's doing very well, he's in there."

"Martin!" Jean walked briskly towards him. "Look at you! It's so good to see you in clothes." She eyed the baggy sweatsuit and embraced him, kissing his cheek. "We brought some bagels and coffee. I wasn't sure if you were allowed doughnuts yet."

Martin's eyes never left her as she took her coat off and spread a bounty of bagels, cream cheese and jelly on the table. One even had an egg and cheese on it. She put extra sugar in his coffee and snapped a lid on, leaving room for a sip space. He wanted to tell her how glad he was to see her. She brought the sunshine right inside the room. He fumbled for the word box.

"What's that dear?" she asked when he smiled shyly and tugged on her sleeve. "I missed you." The words caught in her throat and she sat down next to him, taking his hand. She was so choked up she couldn't speak. Instead she rested her head on his shoulder and felt his arm go around her. After a few moments, her full heart allowed her to move. With damp eyes, she kissed his cheek. "I love you too..."

He felt better already. He ate his bagel sandwich slowly, sipping at the coffee while she buzzed around the room. She offered bagels to the nurses and then took a large one that had meat, cheese and eggs.

"I'm going to take Danny some coffee and a sandwich, I'll be right back."

He nodded, watching her until she disappeared. The room got smaller then, with just his father to keep him company. No words were spoken and the rift that had begun yesterday widened. His father watched CNN on the television and drank coffee. It felt like forever until his mother reappeared.

"He wasn't in his room, I guess he's still at therapy?" She saw Martin nodding and sat back down next to him. She watched as he picked up the small black rectangular item on his chest and flipped a screen open.

"That's a wonderful thing, where did you get that?"

"Danny!" Martin replied.

"I should have guessed, he's very thoughtful. With all his own pain and recovering, he thought of you."

She understood! Martin sighed in annoyance and glared at his father's profile. He wondered if the stomach acid that exploded in his gut every time he was near his father was a new feeling or an old one. Did they always disagree? Was that why he didn't feel bad about his animosity towards his father?

"Martin?" Jean rubbed his arm. "Did your father tell you we're taking you home tomorrow?" The wide-eyed shock and his body jerking back gave her the answer. "I'm sorry, dear, I didn't mean to startle you. We spoke at length to your doctors here in Hartford and they conferred with the staff at Georgetown. It's so much closer to home and you could stay with us and go there for therapy. They feel that once you start working with Doctor Anderson you'll be able to remember what happened the night you disappeared.

Leave. He couldn't leave. Going home should bring warm feelings. Who wouldn't want to 'go home'. No normal person would feel sick about leaving a hospital. But leaving to 'go home' meant leaving Danny Taylor behind. Despite his mother's strong presence and the love that she bathed him in, he was scared.

Jean recognized the fear and knew by the terrified blue eyes roaming to the door at the end of the hall what that fear spelled. She knew he'd become very dependent on Danny Taylor and felt that the separation might do him good. He had to learn to stand on his own feet. Also, Danny needed to recover. His back was healing but he was in a great deal of pain. Worrying about Martin and trying to heal him was affecting his own pace of recovery. But Martin didn't understand that and now was not the time to force that upon him. Instead she took his hand and gave a good tug.

"I won't let you fall," she vowed and held on tight

Danny was gone most of the day in therapy and having x-rays. When he was back in the room, Martin was missing, having a skull series follow-up. When Martin did come back, he was annoyed, his face was angry and his skin flushed. Danny tried to find out what happened, but Martin wouldn't answer. Instead those fingers found the blanket again and the friction began. He turned briefly when the phone rang and then went back to his pondering.

"Hello?"

"Hey, you're back. I called twice, but you must have been out. How's Martin?" Jack asked.

"He's frettin' the bed," Danny decided, watching the nimble fingers working on the blanket edge.

"Shouldn't you call somebody? That's not supposed to happen, it'll make a mess."

"Huh?" Danny frowned, then realized the mistake. "Frettin' with ' f', not wettin'. Jesus, Jack."

"Frettin' the bed?" Jack's impatient confusion came through the phone line, "What's that mean?"

"His fingers are workin' overtime rubbin' the edge of his blanket. He does that when he's upset. And he's pissed... his face is all red and his eyes are hot. He won't tell me why."

"His parents are taking him home tomorrow. Now that he's stable, the doctor agreed. I spoke with his mother earlier. She answered your phone the last time I called."

"Shit," Danny hissed. "He's leavin'? No wonder he's frettin' so much."

The silence that followed was telling. Jack waited and then spoke with caution. "Look, he's their son, Danny. We can't change that. Legally, they're responsible for him. He'll be fine, he's gonna get top notch help."

"You don't understand," Danny whispered. "He needs me. He's gonna be lost, dreamin' about last week. You weren't there, they weren't there. None of you know..." His voice trailed off when the large blue eyes grew exceptionally wide and Martin's Adam's apple went down hard. "He's really upset. I hope they know what they're doing. When he wakes up, he's violent; he's been fightin' the nurses. He's lost in a weird place."

"Then he'll have to find his way back," Jack decided. "You have to heal, too Danny. You have a few weeks of therapy ahead. "Look, I'm heading out. We got a new case this morning. I'll be up early Tuesday to bring you home. You need anything?"

"Yeah," Danny whispered, "The road to Georgetown," he noted of the wealthy area that the elder Fitzgerald's lived in. He did give Jack a list of personal items and some clothes he'd like. Then he hung up and waited.

Martin's rage continued. He didn't want to go with them, he didn't know them. He was a grown man, not a child and didn't need them to do things for him. He knew the lady meant well and he didn't mean to get her upset. But he didn't want to go. He couldn't make them understand that. He didn't even know where they lived. The irony of that statement twisted his lips into a sarcastic grin.

"Martin?"

He turned to where Taylor was calling to him. The dark eyes were sad and full of worry. He was a bit embarrassed by his tantrum and his body language expressed that.

"Don't sweat, bro, it's okay, I understand," Danny disarmed and watched the rage begin to melt. "Look, I know you're confused and scared. Hell, I'd be shittin' bricks. But they're your folks. They won't hurt you. It could be going home to D.C. might spark something. Maybe seein' your old room and house will be the key that opens that door."

Maybe Taylor was right. Maybe his road out of darkness did start with this first step. He was embarrassed that his emotions were betraying him. He knew they were his parents and that they cared for him. But his heart was here with Taylor. He felt as if a part of him would be missing when he left. Every journey starts with one step. Maybe his path back to becoming Taylor's partner had begun.

The evening was quiet and Danny was worn out. His therapy sessions were getting more intense and he was able to walk a bit. But by the end of the day, his still healing body needed rest. He managed to eat his chicken dinner, commenting on the news that was on television. But his eyes were crying out for sleep. He fought hard to stay awake. Then he saw Martin's hand go up. The first two fingers were crossed.

"Partner?" Danny rasped, even his tongue was tired.

Martin nodded and pointed to Taylor. Then he touched his eye and pointed to the fatigued dark haired man again. The lips turned up and the brown eyes were flooded with warmth.

"You're gonna keep an eye on me? You got my back?" Danny guessed, his congested chest full. The blue-eyed warrior nodded and he smiled back, filling the room with much needed reassurance. "Well, alright, partner. Don't fuck up, you're on the job."

Martin made a sour face and kept his attention on Taylor. He'd seen just how worn out his partner was and how hard he was fighting to stay awake. He knew that every time he had a bad dream, it was Taylor who fought off the night demons. Now it was time for him to give that back, after all that's what partners do. It was a pattern that repeated over the last two days they shared. Danny's quiet talks meant more to him than the medicine being given out. He held onto that strong voice, along with the power that came with the brotherhood grip, tucking it inside for the cold nights ahead. He kept that light with him all the way back to Washington.

Part Twenty

Washington DC
Thursday, Nov. 28, 2002

Thanksgiving Day usually brought tantalizing visions of roast turkey dinner, a plethora of football games and crisp autumn air with a brisk wind sending scarlet, gold and orange leaves into a frenzied dance. But, to the young man sitting alone in the enclosed porch of the large house, it was just another day. Another long and tedious day where he'd eat a little, nod his head at all the right times when his mother or father asked him something. He'd shuffle through the house, exploring all the strange rooms and hide in the one that was 'his' room, where he'd sleep far too long.

It hadn't changed.

He sighed hard and took a sip of the strong coffee. His parents weren't up yet; he doubted if they knew he wandered through the house at night. He preferred the stillness and anonymity that the hours between dusk and dawn brought. The garish sun in the day seemed to mock him. He dared not sleep again; the dreams were brutal and caused him to awake wearing a sweat-encased cloak, his hair plastered to his head. So he sat alone in the dark, his thin frame seemingly even smaller in the navy sweat suit. But at least he was able to remember where he was although it was still a strange house to him.

His eye slipped through the darkness to the silver moon basking the backyard in a frosted embrace. He felt like a stranger in a strange land, despite the photos his mother kept showing him of his babyhood, early years and school days. He knew it was him but why couldn't she understand that the photos meant nothing. He had no memory of them or those lost moments in time.

The woman called Jean, his mother, was a very kind woman and he was grateful for the love and care she'd given him. But he was still uncomfortable around her, ill at ease in her company. This was a busy week for her, she was preparing for the holiday dinner so he wasn't pressured to spend too much time pretending to enjoy the small talk.

His father? He shook his head when Victor's face entered his mind. He was extremely uncomfortable with his father. At least his mother showered him with love. Her touch, the kiss on his cheek and that physical reaching out did change her a little. But his father didn't seem to know what to do with him. They'd not spent more than ten or twenty minutes alone since his return home. His father's job was demanding and he was at work until the late hours.

The doctor's visit yesterday hadn't gone all that well. The doctor his parents took him too chastised him for not eating better. Part of rebuilding his health began with restoring his lost weight. That strength he sought came partially from that and despite the fact he knew the doctor was right, it agitated him anyway. He just didn't care. It mattered not what the food was, he didn't taste it or want it. The headaches came and went at irregular intervals and he knew that it would be weeks until that changed. The broken ribs were painful, very much so but there was nothing to do until they healed. The coughing from his congested lungs made the pain worse and he was glad for the strong medicine that gave him relief.

His eyes were drawn over the stone wall at the back of the yard to the horizon. Small slivers of pink and violet were breaking through the darkness. Dawn had awakened and was donning a new gown. He sighed hard and his heart was heavy. When would the day come that he would wake up and embrace that new morn? When he would reclaim that elusive key that opened the box of memories in his mind?

Thanksgiving Morning
Manhattan NY

Danny yawned and coughed, annoyed that the remnants of the germs he'd caught from Martin still lingered. He grinned for a moment, imagining the tiny germs with a scowl and angry blue eyes. They were tough little SOB's just like him. The smile faded when he thought on his missing partner. He wondered how the recovering soul was making out. Mrs. Fitzgerald had been kind enough to call him at least once a day, knowing he was worried. Not much had changed and that upset him. But the doctors still felt confident that Martin would fully recover.

He stood and gingerly walked to the kitchen. Each day brought more mobility and although he was stiff and sore, he felt much better. He was able to care for himself and he found himself sleeping far too much. He rinsed his breakfast dishes and was just about to pour a fresh cup of coffee when the doorbell rang. He frowned, padded slowly through the short hall to the living area. Pausing long enough to put a 'mute' on the annoying voice of the woman hosting the Macy's Parade, he called out.

"Who is it?"

"Regis and Kathy Lee."

"Jack?" Danny walked to the door and unlocked it. The other side revealed his boss, wearing jeans and a dark burgundy sweater. His nose told him before he saw the boxes and bags the visitor brought. "Cinnamon rolls?"

"The best in New York, hot from the oven. You got coffee?" Jack asked, entering the apartment.

"Yeah, just made it, come on in."

Jack walked to the kitchen and put the packages down. As he cut the string on the bakery box, he observed his agent. The color was back in his face and his eyes were brighter. He was walking better and slowly getting his strength back. His eyes went to the counter were the prescriptions were. He picked them up, popped the tops and eyed the insides.

"I'm taking them,' Danny objected, taking the bottles back. "Mom!"

"Look, the sooner you get one hundred percent, the better my life will be. This week was light and we were able to cover. Chris is going to lend me Brendan Gavin until you get back."

"Doc says two more weeks minimum," Danny stated. "But if I keep up with the therapy and stuff, maybe in three weeks I can do desk work, you know?"

"We'll see," Jack put some of the savory confections on a plate and handed them to the likable Cuban. "Go on, I'll bring the coffee."

"I talked to Mrs. Fitz last night. She's worried."

"She said that?" Jack asked, putting two large mugs of coffee down on the table a few feet from the television.

"No, but I heard what she didn't say. He's not eating, she did slip up and that came out."

"It's going to be a long road back for him, Danny, you know that. And you have to face the fact that he might never be same."

"He's gonna be fine!" Danny objected, tossing the knife down. He grabbed half of a cinnamon bun and shoved a large piece in his mouth.

Jack sighed hard, sat back and drank his coffee. He didn't tell Danny about the conversation he had with Martin's doctor. He needed the physician to fax a medical report to them for the folks in Human Resources who had to approve his sick leave. The report didn't mince words. The brain injury was healing on schedule but the amnesia and lack of speech were something that might not fully return. The muteness was not tied to the brain bruise. And Martin was resisting psychological sessions. That would have to change in time but for now the doctor was not pushing the issue. Rather, he was concerned with the brain trauma and the rib and lung recovery.

Danny knew Jack had to present the whole picture, bad shades and all. But nobody could understand the gut feeling he had that curing Martin was within his power. He felt sure if Martin was with him, he could find the key to unlock the door that his lost partner was being held captive behind. He had to find a way for Martin to come home. Home. He thought on that a minute and realized that might be part of Martin's problem. Although he was in the house he was raised in, he wasn't 'home'.

"Home is where the heart is..." he murmured, thinking of the traces of sadness in Jean Fitzgerald's voice when she spoke of her son. Was that it? Was Martin's desolation due to the fact he was depressed? His heart wasn't there and Danny knew then what Martin needed. He needed to be here where the answer was. He needed to come 'home'.

"What?" Jack asked at the wistful voice.

"Nothing," Danny dismissed, eyeing the television. But his mind was already working on a way to get Martin back home.

Thanksgiving afternoon
One p.m.

The alley was dark and with every step he took, it narrowed a bit more. The wind was bone chilling and its angry cough covered him with snow. Yet he struggled on to get help. He hurt so badly and he was afraid the next time he passed out, he might not wake up. Then he saw something ahead and paused. It was two policemen. Hope! He could get help. He staggered closer and then froze in his tracks, shaking his numbing face in disbelief at what he saw.

"No... no..." He choked and tried to back up, but it was too late. They'd caught him. Like sharks scenting fresh blood, they came in for the kill.

"Martin!"

His eyes flew open and he began to cough, clawing at his neck. His face was soaked in sweat and he couldn't catch his breath. Someone was helping him to sit up. His feet hit the floor and his wheezing slowed down. A small woman appeared in front of him, her hands on either side of his face. He backed up startled, pulling away from a worried set of features.

"It's me, dear, it's mother." Jean's heart broke every time he had a nightmare and woke up frightened out of his mind.

Martin's ferret-like eyes swept past the dark-haired woman to the rest of the room. Four sage green walls and cream colored curtains greeted him. Pine furniture dotted the walls and a country quilt was lying on the bed. He was sitting in a chair, gripping the arms in a death hold. Mother? Did she say that? Where was he? Why was his mother here? She was calling 'Martin' again and he realized that he was 'Martin'.

"You just take a moment to collect yourself. I'll get some water, alright?" She waited and the fuzzy head bobbed. "Good."

As the water ran in the sink, she swallowed hard and brushed her damp eyes. The dreams weren't getting any better. He was losing weight, not sleeping well and slipping away more each day. She hadn't seen any improvement in his mental state in the five days since they'd arrived home in Washington. What if he never recovered? No, she wouldn't accept that. She took a steadying breath and lifted her face. Her husband's face appeared in the reflection in the mirror.

"Is he okay?"

"He's right in the next room, ask him," she answered, not hiding the sharpness in her tone.

"Well, you have everything in control here..." Victor's voice died out when he saw the anger radiating in her eyes. The same degree of lividness that Martin's eyes often directed at him.

"He's your son, too. Why are you ignoring him?" she pressed.

"I'm not ignoring him, Jean. I've tried; I just don't know how to reach him."

"Tried?" she scoffed, sweeping past him. "Yeah, you've worked up a sweat you've 'tried' so hard."

"Look, Jean..."

"Don't talk to me. Call the airport and check on the flight." She paused in Martin's doorway her voice dripping in venom. "Can you handle that?"

Martin's eyes were closed and he was trying to stem the pounding headache. Her scent enveloped him and he relaxed. It was a wonderful, light almost Oriental scent. A light touch to his cheek brought his eyes open. Two pills were dispensed and he took them and the water. He drank slowly, now feeling very guilty for worrying her. He remembered the hospital and the trip home. In the last few moments, with the headache diminishing, those memories returned. He knew he was in Washington at his parent's house, but he didn't know them. That hurt, especially when he knew the pain in her eyes was a reflection of that. He lifted the small hand held electronic word device and moved his fingers on the keys.

"I'm sorry, mom," she read and kissed his cheek. "I know you are, honey. I'm sorry too that you have to suffer so. Brianne and the girls will be here soon. Do you want to shower and change?"

She watched his face puzzle up and moved to the dresser to get a picture. His former room was now the guest room, recently redone but housing his old furniture. "Brianne, your younger sister. See?"

Martin took the photo that was of him in a cap and gown. Next to him was a very pretty girl about twenty or so with long golden hair and large blue eyes. He heard a soft laugh, an almost musical sound and saw her in a ponytail with paint on her nose. Another scene of the two of them having a snow ball fight and another with him holding a small baby in a white gown in a church. His sister? He nodded, not needing to put any more strain on the overworked woman.

"Good... she always makes you smile. You two are very close. She's been married about five years now. John and she live in Denver with Cara and Caitlin, their two girls"

Martin stood up and put the photo back on the polished dresser. He turned and embraced the worried woman, kissing the top of her head. He smiled, trying to reassure her that he was fine. He wasn't sure if it worked but she seemed relieved. She mentioned the dinner, the food and the preparation as he nodded. Then she left and he went into the shower. He sighed as the hot water cascaded down his recovering body. He pressed his face to the tiles, closing his eyes and wishing the soap could wash the uncertainty away. When would he find his way home?

Thanksgiving
Three p.m.

The table looked beautiful; the china, silver and stemware sat on cloth edged in fruits and other fall splendor around a gorgeous floral centerpiece bursting in shades of gold, orange and toffee. The tantalizing scent of turkey filled the air as the bird completed its roast in the oven. The sideboards would soon be groaning with dishes filled with scalloped sweet potatos and apples, mashed redskins, maple butter glazed carrots, Corn baked in butter sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin bread and of course turkey and stuffing.

In the sunroom which was at the back of the house, a plethora of pies awaited along with the silver urn that would be full of coffee. They usually went for a walk after eating to return to the sunroom for a view of the sunset with dessert. But this year all the beautiful colors and wonderful food shared by the family left Jean Fitzgerald empty. The roots of Thanksgiving were to thank God for the bounty He'd left before you. And she was thankful to have her son back alive but his mental state had her worried. She'd even pared down the number of guests they usually entertained to just immediate family. Victor would be arriving from the airport any time now with their daughter and her family. She knew Martin was nervous about meeting them and she hoped it wouldn't trigger an episode. The ringing of the phone drew her attention and she went to the kitchen to answer it.

"Hello."

"Hey, Mrs. Fitz, it's Danny Taylor, Happy Thanksgiving. I hope I'm not bothering you."

"No, of course not. How are you?"

"I'm hungry!" he replied, eyeing the newly arrived bounty that was spread on his kitchen table. "I could eat a horse, but I think turkey and the trimmings will be great. Listen I can't thank you enough for the dinner. You didn't have to that." Although she'd called on Tuesday when he arrived home to check on him and she told him they were treating him to dinner, seeing the large and very generous feast had propelled him to the phone.

"Nonsense, if you can't extend your thanks to those you care about at Thanksgiving, then you don't understand the reason for the season. Besides you already thanked me and it's the least we could do, Danny, to thank you for all you did for Martin. It's hard enough being infirmed and house bound on a holiday. I hope you enjoy it."

"I'll be enjoying it for days," Danny remarked, eyeing the large dinner that a well known area caterer had provided. "Samantha is coming over, so I'll have some company. Listen, can I talk to Martin? If you don't think it would upset him."

She eyed the forlorn figure sitting alone outside, his handsome face full of woe. She knew that Danny was worried as well. It couldn't hurt Martin; she knew he missed his partner. It might lift his spirits to hear Danny's voice.

"Hold on, Danny, I'll get him."

Although it was cold outside, Martin welcomed the brisk and chilly air that enveloped him. He had to get out of the house; the walls were closing in on him. It was as if the house was shrinking each day and he couldn't breathe. He was very nervous about his sister's arrival. It was a stupid thing and he chastised himself for his fear. This was someone he'd known all his life. His mother had told him how close they were. Yet the cold fear that gripped him left him tense and frayed. He'd not told her about the fierce headache that gripped him. She was already worried about him. A tap on the window brought his head around. His mother was waving and holding up the phone. Frowning, he walked back inside the house.

"It's Danny."

Danny?

She read the confusion on his face and when he made no attempt to take the phone, she walked over to him. He was slowly taking his coat off and heading closer to the fireplace.

"Danny Taylor, dear, your partner."

Partner!

A set of brown eyes over a cocky grin appeared in his mind. Flashes of the warehouse and the olive-skinned face lined with pain sped by along with other images of their time together. He nodded and reached for the phone.

"Danny? Here he is..." She motioned for him to sit down near the warmth of the crackling fire. "I'll get you some hot chocolate."

"Hey man, you there?" Danny heard breathing and paused. "How about if you push a button once for 'yes' and twice for 'no'?" A single beep sounded. "Cool. Are you feeling better?" Another single beep brought a smile. "Good, me too. I've been sleeping a lot though, but the doctor says that's good. Vivian and Sam have been great; they come over once a day and bring lunch or dinner. I've never eaten so well." He paused and took a breath wondering how Martin really was. He wanted to ask about the nightmares but didn't want to upset him. "So... you keepin' your mom busy?" The single beep sounded. "That's good. Everybody at work is asking about you. Jack came by today with the biggest cinnamon rolls you've ever seen. We had a good talk. I'm getting better, I've been bustin' my ass at therapy every day and it's getting easier for me to walk around. I bet your mom got a shitload of food for the feast huh?" The single button sounded again. "You better eat, you hear me. I ain't ridin' a round New York with no skinny assed partner." He heard several beeps and chuckled. "Quit cursing! It's a holiday."

Jean froze in the doorway; the heat from the mug counteracted the chill that went through her. Gone was the desolation and sorrow that her firstborn's face had been clouded with all week. The beautiful blue eyes were bright and the smile on his face was shining right through them. His smile was wide and true and his posture reflected a state of relaxation that had been missing since... since... Her heart fell right through her feet and hit the floor. The sunshine that seemed to envelop him now had been missing 'since' he'd left the hospital in Hartford. The warmth in his eyes, the light that shone from them as they crinkled in mirth was something, despite all her efforts, that she failed to produce. She turned away, put the mug down and wiped the tears from her eyes. She couldn't upset him and had to get control of her emotions. She waited a moment, took a steadying breath and composed herself.

"...so Sam's comin' over and she's gonna heat up the stuff your mom sent. I gotta tell you, she's something else. My mom died when I was a kid and well... you're damn lucky."

Martin pushed the button once and turned as his mother put a mug of cocoa down in front of him. The large mug was covered in melting marshmallows. He tapped her hand to thank her and noticed that her face looked funny. He frowned as she turned to leave him. There was sadness in her eyes that hurt him deeply.

"Listen, I gotta go, Sam's gonna be here soon and I gotta shower. You have a great day and enjoy your family. Family's what it's all about, man, I'll see you soon."'

Martin pushed the button once and hung up. He eyed the melting marshmallows and swallowed hard. Danny's words about his own mother dying a long time ago gave him pause. What if he had no mother? What if nobody had been there to shower him with love as his mother had? He knew that Jean Fitzgerald was his mother and she was full of strength and faith. She'd given him nothing but love and hope since he'd opened his eyes in the ICU. He suddenly realized just how selfish he'd been. All this time he'd not once tried to look at this from her side. How would it feel to be a mother and have your own child look at you as a stranger? How much pain could that cause? Yet despite her own worry, she'd showered him with all the love she could offer. All week he'd been shuffling around with a long face. That had to have hurt her. Cursing his stupidity, he got to his feet. Troubled by the gnawing pain in his gut, he slowly walked into the kitchen. She was just closing the oven door and he mov ed next to her.

"No cookies!" she teased of the notorious sweet tooth. But, he gently rested his hand on the side of her face and gave her a look of utter devotion. So much so it took her breath away. He then kissed her cheek and held her close. She didn't realize how much she needed to feel that and she held on, sobbing just a little. He pulled back and used his hand to wipe the tear running down her face. He eyed the pad and pen near the phone and moved for it. He used the paper and handed it to her. "I love you."

Three words inside a crooked heart with a smiley face underneath. Three words that she'd heard him say before. Three words that now rocked her nearly off her feet. Three words scratched out on a wrinkled piece of paper with a pen running out of ink that would now and forever be etched in her heart. The tears ran freely then and she didn't hide them. She accepted his hug and held on tight. Suddenly the glow that had always surrounded her Thanksgiving celebrations had found its place once again.

Danny was still damp from the shower when a knock sounded at the door. He tucked a towel around his slim waist and padded through the house to the door. Peering through the peephole he smiled and opened the door.

"You're just in time, I'm clean and ready..."

"Please!" Sam rolled her eyes, moving past him with a bouquet of flowers. She put them on the center of the table which was in the small dining area. She turned around and assessed her grinning friend who was swaggering over, the towel now precariously angled. The grin he wore was hiding something devilish.

"Come on, toss a crippled Cuban a bone..." he oozed, arching an eyebrow and sliding his hand to the sloppy knot in the towel.

"I'm hungry, not desperate," she answered and swatted his arm.

"And I cure that hunger..."

"Sell it somewhere, sailor," she teased, ducking under his arm and going to the kitchen. "Wow!"

"Impressive huh," Danny ambled besides her eyeing the food. "Good thing Mrs. Fitz came through or we'd have starved."

"I can cook!"

"Poptarts don't count!" He laughed and yelped when she smacked him playfully.

"Hey, watch that, I bruise easily."

"Would you get dressed, we're already short staffed and we don't need you getting pneumonia!" she ordered, unwrapping the turkey.

"Hey, I'm a lot of things but short staffed I'm not..."

"Danny, I swear to God!" she threatened with a badly hidden laugh and sent her chuckling friend out of the kitchen.

By the time he'd dried off, dressed and assembled himself, she had dinner heating in the oven and the microwave heating up one of the vegetables. The table was set and two glasses of sparkling cider were waiting. He watched her move around the kitchen and thought on the trip she usually made to her sisterČŘ™s. She didn't get to see her sister and her nieces often and he realized the sacrifice she'd made. As if sensing she was being observed, the blonde head turned to study him.

"Great timing, Danny. It's almost done." She eased past him to put a tray of hot biscuits on the table.

"Listen, Sam, thanks for coming over."

"You'll get my bill," she teased and paused to kiss his cheek.

"Now you're frisky? I'm already dressed!"

"Now I'm thankful," she replied her voice full. She leaned against the doorway and reflected on those days when he'd been missing. With each passing hour with no contact, she'd feared the worst. He'd become such a vital part of her life that losing him was too painful to comprehend. "I could have lost you..."

"Hey!" Danny said softly, wrapping his good arm around her. Her face came up and he saw her eyes full. He kissed her forehead and hugged her. "No crying, okay? You'll get tearstains on my shirt and I'll have to strip."

"That'll cure it!" she laughed, brushed her eyes and laid her head on his shoulder. "For me, this makes Thanksgiving very real..."

"Amen to that," he concurred, shivering a bit as he came face to face with his close call. He held her a little tighter and felt Fate brush by again. She had indeed been very kind to him. He intended to reflect on his bounty and give thanks.

Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Twenty-One

Thanksgiving Afternoon

Martin was dozing by the fire when a tiny voice squealed at him.

"Unca Mot'n... Unca Mot'n..."

Startled, he blinked and sat up as a whirlwind of green and navy plaid flew towards him with long chestnut curls and large, dark, green eyes. He winced when she landed a bit hard on his lap and hit his healing ribs. Before he could recover from the landing, a bright pink piece of construction paper was thrust before his face. A lone blob with brown hair and blue dots where eyes should be, stood on a green bunch of lines with a brown 'house' behind him. At his feet was a pair of black and yellow circles with legs and wide heads. In between them were half a dozen small circles with brown dots. The stick man had a huge white shirt with red crosses in various places.

"I maded you picsurs, see? There's Misty and Snuffles and some cookies and see... there's you..." She pointed to the white shirt. "I drawded your boo-boos... see..."

Martin nodded thoughtfully as a group of newcomers entered the room. His mother was first, placing a tiny blonde girl about two or so with beautiful blue eyes onto the ground. She immediately ran for him and held her arms up. He couldn't lift her, his ribs wouldn't allow that. He opened his mouth but no words came out. Frustrated, she pouted and screwed her face up.

"Up! Up!" The tiny scowl after the demand caused him to grin.

"Cara, don't pout," Jean advised, "She looks just like you when she does that," she teased him and lifted the tot placing her on his other knee. "You sure you can handle this?" He nodded and peeked past her as a tall man in his mid to late twenties with wavy light auburn hair and green eyes appeared with both arms full of luggage.

"Hey, Martin, Happy Thanksgiving. It's great to see you again. How you feeling?"

Martin gave the thumbs up over the silken heads under his chin. The man nodded and kept moving, most likely to deposit the luggage. Right on his heels with boxes tied up in one hand and a large gift bag in the other was a very pretty young, blonde woman. As soon as she smiled at him, a warm wave of nostalgia came over him. He found his smile then, as memories of sharing childhood illnesses, playing games in the yard and swimming in the ocean exploded. The feelings were good ones, happy times and the sense of someone he could trust. A word formed and he wasn't sure why it appeared. Struggling around the wiggling girls, he managed to type the word. He held out to his mother as his sister put the packages down and came over.

"Buttons." Jean spoke and saw her daughter grin.

"God, you haven't called me that in years. Not since I was a kid." She bent down and kissed him.

"Sorry," Martin typed and offered a sheepish grin.

"That's okay," Brianne soothed, sitting next to him and taking her younger daughter from him. The tiny girl immediately protested.

"No no no..." she vented, reaching out for her uncle. "My Mah-n..."

"Cara, listen to me, you too Cait," she eyed her eldest, her four year old who was digging something out of her backpack. "You remember what I told you about Uncle Martin? He has a lot of boo-boos. You have to be very careful you don't hurt him."

"Sorry," Caitlin whispered, dropping her head.

Martin felt like a mule had kicked him. It wasn't bad enough the one little girl dropped her head, the little one stood up and kissed him, pushing her face into his neck.

"...wuv... Mah-n... wuv... wuv..."

He held onto both of them then, inhaling the sweet scent of the clean hair. He used his right arm to tickle the older girl. Her giggle flooded the room and made him sad. A pang inside was born that he had no memory of the times they'd shared in the past. It was obvious by the love they were sharing with him that they had bonded. He felt awful that he couldn't remember them.

"We play house," Cait decided, pulling two dolls from her backpack. "You be the daddy."

Martin frowned when a doll with crayon on her face and a bleached blonde Mohawk was thrust at him. His odd look caused his sister to laugh.

"That's Emily and she didn't survive bath time a few months back, she's having a bad hair year."

Martin's eyebrow rose at the second doll, who was much smaller and had no clothes. He turned to his sister and typed a word on his box.

"No, she's not a... not that," she giggled at the word 'stripper'. "That's Cara's doll. Cara doesn't like her dolls to have clothes on. Her father is a bit worried about that."

Martin chuckled and was mesmerized by his two nieces. The next half hour flew by as he entertained them while his sister and mother got the dinner prepared. He was still fighting a headache but didn't want to take his pills, they'd knock him out. He'd have to get through dinner and then have a nap. As his mother entered the family room and announced dinner, the pair of tiny blondes moved to either side.

"Watch your boo-boos..." Cait warned, taking his hand carefully. "I help... 'kay?" She felt her hair ruffled and turned her face up to catch a wink and a grin.

Not to be outdone, the two year old grabbed his leg and hugged it, proclaiming her 'wuv' for him again. He held his hand out and allowed the tiny treasures to escort him to the table. There was a minor fight when both wanted to sit next to him. Finally it was decided that neither would; they sat by their parents. Dinner went better than he thought. His sister updated them on the antics of the girls and their upcoming vacation plans for Hawaii in the late spring. He ate more than he'd thought he would and found himself relaxing. But then the little girls who'd both missed their naps got to arguing. The pitch of their voices, coupled with the bright lights overhead caused the pain in his head to flare up. He felt a light touch on his shoulder and his mother was at his side.

"Why don't lie down for an hour or so? We'll wake you for dessert."

Relief coursed through him and he stood, swaying a bit as the room moved. The scraping of chairs on wood made him flinch and he found four adults around him, too many bodies in the small space. His mouthed actions tried to tell them to back off but he couldn't voice it. He shoved the two blurry bodies near him and staggered away, seeking air. Then a strong body appeared and grabbed his elbow, steadying him.

"Come on, son," Victor voiced, shaken by the episode. His wife's words in the bathroom that day had remained with him. It hurt him deeply when Martin's eyes sought out his wife. But he held on and eased his wavering son out of the hot dining room. "It's much cooler in your room. I'll get your pills, alright?"

Martin nodded absentmindedly totally unsure of what to do. The fact that he was in a lot of pain and not able to walk without help scared him. He'd been steady all week. But it was hot and he'd not had his pills since that morning. Perhaps it was too much activity and no rest. By the time they got to his room, his father had wrapped one arm around his waist and he was supporting most of his weight. He felt himself lowered onto the bed and laid back.

"Hold on," Victor whispered, easing him up and shoving several pillows behind him. The doctor advised him to sleep in a semi-upright position for his injured lungs and ribs. "Martin, I'll be right back."

He felt a light tap on his shoulder and blinked up in the darkened room. His father put a glass of cold water and a trio of pills in front of him. He took them and drained the water. His father took the glass and set it down on the table next to his bed. Then the older man sat down next to him. His confused look caused a sorry half smile to appear on the older man's face.

"I guess I deserved that, Martin. I've never been very emotional; this is very hard for me. I'm sorry for... well for everything." He sat forward then, resting his elbows on his thighs. This was just as tough as it had been when he was a young boy. "Today is the day we Americans set aside for giving thanks. As a father I have more reasons than some for that. When you were born, the first time I held you I was shaking so badly I nearly dropped you." He heard the odd strangulated sound and turned to the startled look. "It's true. I was overwhelmed by you. As you grew, that part didn't change. A part of me was always afraid I'd disappoint you. So instead of reaching out, I pulled away. Two weeks ago I nearly lost one of the two finest gifts I've been blessed with. I'm sorry for failing you, Martin. You're a son any man would be proud of and what you did for Danny Taylor... my God the courage you have..." He didn't continue, his voice broke. He sat for a few moments, struggling hard when a hand came out, palm up. "Just like that?"

Martin thought for a moment and pulled his word machine out. He typed and held out his reply.

"It's a good start." Victor eyed this son and nodded. "I promise, Martin, things will change. You have every right to being angry for what I did in the past. I was arrogant, trying to force my dreams on you. I guess I'm not the first father who's made that mistake." "...not the last..." Martin typed.

He was troubled by the confession. He knew the anger and heat that rose when his father was near was caused by something in the past but he didn't know what. But he also knew that his brush with death had made him a better man as well. Until he did remember just what the root of the anger was with his father, there was no sense harboring it. His father was willing to try, he should as well. He closed his eyes and sighed, letting the pills take over. Twice he dragged his eyes open fearful of the demons lurking just beyond the dream gate. His father was still next to him. His sluggish eyes formed a puzzle that caused the old man to flinch.

"If it's alright, I'd like to stay." He felt a flicker of hope when the sky eyes softened and relief caused the troubled body to relax. So he kept his seat by his son's side, something long overdue.

Manhattan
8.45 p.m.

It was almost nine p.m. when Sam forced herself to rise. She had been dozing on and off on Danny's loveseat under an old quilt. She eyed the television and decided that as captivating as Natalie Wood was as a child, she'd have to miss the rest of Miracle on 34th Street. Danny was snoring softly on the sofa, covered to his shoulders in a blanket. She paused by his side to touch his cheek and ruffle his hair. Two dark eyes blinked up at her.

"Sorry..." Danny managed, sitting up and hissing. His hand flew out and a strong one caught it.

"Easy... it's not a race."

"Shit... shit..." His back really hurt, he'd stayed in one position too long. '

"I'll get your pills," Sam said, helping him stand. "And I'll sleep on the couch."

"Plenty of room in the lair," Danny teased as she led him to his bedroom.

"Another notch on your bedpost?" she sassed, easing him down onto the bed. "I don't think so."

A few moments later a cold glass nudged his hand and he popped his heavy eyes open. He took the pills and drank in the concerned face. It felt good to have such a good friend to lean on. He drained the water and set the glass down. He bit his bottom lip and turned his face away.

"You okay?" Sam asked, worried by the uncharacteristically quiet face.

"I'm glad you're here," he admitted, still in a bit of pain. He wasn't too macho to admit he'd be glad of her to being close by in case something went wrong with him during the night. He turned back and gave her a warm smile. "And I'd be grateful if you'd stay."

"Okay, but don't expect a miracle in the kitchen in the morning," Sam warned. "Don't be looking for breakfast in bed."

"We'll eat out, the place at the corner is good," Danny noted, "My treat. Thanks for everything, Sam, you really made today special for me."

"You make everyday special for me," she returned, kissing his cheek. She couldn't resist pushing the wayward locks of dark hair from his eyes. "It's the least I could do."

"Goodnight," Danny replied, carefully tucking himself under the blanket.

"Goodnight," Sam whispered, slipping out of the dark room. As darkness filled the apartment, each one of them silently reflected on the meaning of the day. To have a good friend is rare and something to be cherished. To have someone who was willing to take a bullet for you, well that was a real treasure. Each slept a bit better knowing that they were buoyed by that strong sea.

Washington, D.C.
9 p.m.

The dishes were done and her daughter and the family were sprawled around various parts of the den watching Miracle on 34th Street. Victor had been late for dessert and missed the family walk after dinner. He'd been very quiet during dessert, and then excused himself to take a walk. He often took long walks when he was troubled so she didn't expect him back for awhile. Jean left the room and went to check on Martin. He was tossing in the bed, gripping the sheets. She moved inside and flipped the light by his bed on. The fine features were bathed in sweat, causing his brown hair to curl up.

"Sweetheart?" She tugged on his shoulder and both eyes jerked open. His mouth begin to suck air, he looked like a fish on the deck of a boat. "It's mother, dear." The terror in his eyes was unnerving. "I'm going to get you something cold to drink, alright?"

He held onto her arm for a moment and sat up, tossing his legs over the side. He dropped his head down and rubbed his eyes. Mother. That's who the woman was. That meant he was home, either in his own or hers. He peeped around the room and nothing looked familiar. Then he saw several small trophies and other items from various stages of boyhood. This wasn't his home, it was hers. He looked up at her and although he didn't know her, he know of her. He was flooded with warmth, waves of concern and protective embraces flooded him. He was safe here; she would shield him. He sighed hard and nodded, he was thirsty.

"Good, you rest here, I'll be right back." She bent and kissed his damp cheek.

In the span of moments after she left, the memories began to flood back, faces without names around a long table, the clatter of utensils hitting plates and several large platters of food, a turkey and football games, a pair of tiny girls and his sister's smile. He eyed the clock and realized he'd slept for several hours.

"Unca Mot'n?"

He cocked his head at the tiny voice and saw a pair of little girls encased in pink, fuzzy sleepers. The older one was studying him and the little one was holding her hand, half hidden behind her. A shadow appeared on the wall behind them and a pretty blonde woman moved past them into the doorway.

"The girls are going to bed and wanted to say goodnight, is that okay?" Brianne asked and was glad when Martin nodded. "Good, mom met me in the hall and I asked if I could stop in." She walked over and put the bottle of iced tea into his hand. He took a large gulp and held the bottle against his face. He put the bottle down and watched the small unsure faces across the room. He patted the side of the bed and a bevy of feet moved into action. The little one had trouble climbing onto the bed and her determined face made him grin.

"God she looks just like you," Brianne noted. "The older she gets, it's more defined. She's got your temper too..."

Martin grabbed the area of fabric over the toddler's backside and helped her up. He was rewarded when she sat on his lap and proclaimed her affection again.

"Wuv Mah'n." She clapped and snuggled when he kissed her cheek. "My Mah'n" she declared and made her intent known by scowling at the others.

"Uncle Martin loves you too," Brianne translated of the light coming from her brother's eyes.

Caitlin hesitated and didn't sit next to her uncle right away. She remembered the scene in the dining room and how scared he was. Her mother explained that he had bad dreams because of the boo-boo inside his head. She held her treasured blue blanket a bit closer, studying the frayed parts that had been loved away. Finally she edged up next to him, sitting close. She peered up at him and started to hand the blanket over. A part of her wanted to give it to him to help his boo- boos but it was hard.

"Here... it'll make your boo-boos better," she whispered. "It makes my heart better when it hurts".

Martin swallowed hard and realized the sacrifice the little girl was making. He knew just how attached the child is to her favorite bedtime buddy and how hard it is for her to let the worn blanket go. He didn't want to take it, but his sister caught his eye and nodded her head. He didn't want to refuse the heartfelt gift; it might hurt the little girl's feelings. Yet if he took it, it would hurt her too. He ran his hand on the nobly bits of soft blue and his throat tightened up. Then he got an idea. He typed a word and held it out for his sister to read.

"Share?" Brianne read and nodded. "That's a great idea, Martin. What does that mean, Cait?"

The troubled little girl thought for a moment and her eyes brightened. "If you share, you care."

"That's right!" She rewarded her daughter with praise. "Good girl." She helped him lie back down and covered the trio up with the large blanket, then tucked the small blue one between Cait and himself. Just for a few moments, Uncle Martin has to go to sleep."

Cara immediately popped up, slid off the bed and ran out of the room.

"Cara? Where are you going?" Brianne eyed the empty hall and then the small blonde tot reappeared clutching a book. "Oh, honey, we'll read later..." The determined blonde went right past her and climbed back up on to the bed. She was secure in the normal bedtime ritual when Martin came to their house or they visited here.

"Are you sure?" Brianne asked and her brother nodded to the rocker next to the bed. "Okay, but just for a few minutes. I'll let mom know." She ducked into the hall.

Martin shifted when the baby plopped down next to him and shoved the book at him. Her thumb went into her mouth and she curled up onto his chest. His heart sank when his eyes roamed over the book. A bright yellow cover with a monkey under the words 'Curious George' appeared. He opened the book and his mouth formed the words but they didn't come out. He felt his face flame with color and he was mortified.

"Weed Moh'n..." Cara demanded, unhitching her thumb just long enough to make the request. "Weed..."

The little one cast her annoyed eyes at him and smacked the book. He let out a long frustrated breath and felt his fist curl in anger. Then a small hand moved over his, clenched it and the older girl's offer caused his eyes to fill.

"I can't read the words... but I can read the picsurs," Cait offered. "You can turn the pages, okay?" She caught her beloved uncle's wink and broad smile. She sat up a bit straighter when he kissed the top of her head.

Brianne only heard the last part of the conversation but it made her heart swell. She was transfixed in the doorway, unable to utter a sound as her elder daughter quietly kept the other two entranced by a story about a monkey going to the circus. Cara's eyes closed first, her thumb slipped out halfway leaving a trail of slobber on Martin's arm. Martin's eyes grew heavy and his head went back hitting the pillow. She got her camera then, carefully focused and got a picture she'd treasure forever. She took the baby first and then returned to get her older daughter. Cait had gently untucked herself and eased off the bed. She moved and kissed his cheek, carefully tucking the blue blanket around his neck and chest.

"I love you," she whispered, patting his cheek. "I'm so proud of you," Brianne choked, when they got into the hall. "Uncle Martin won't forget this, he loves you very much." "I love him too," she replied, watching her hero sleep. "He catches the bad men and makes it safe for us, right?"

"Right!" Brianne agreed, leading her daughter to the bedroom.

After the girls were sleeping, she returned to her brother's bedside and kept vigil. She watched him sleeping, recalling their early years and the long talks they'd shared. He'd always been the one she leaned on and he'd always been there for her. Now it was time to pay that back. She only hoped and prayed that he would heal and be able to resume his work. He was a hero to her, standing tall and wearing the badge he'd always wanted so well.

"Sleep, big brother," she whispered, "I'm watching over you."

The next few days flew by in a flurry of family activity. Martin divided his time between enjoying movies, cartoons, coloring and playing with his nieces, long walks with his sister and resting in his room. With each passing day he felt stronger, his weight was returning and he was resting better. The headaches were still a problem and he'd passed out twice but the doctor said that was to be expected until the contusion on his brain fully healed. The memories came and went, some leaving him very confused. The nightmares were terrifying and he often woke up alone, covered in sweat and choking.

All too quickly it was Sunday night and his sister's flight was departing. He'd gone with his parents to see her off. He still felt the hugs and kisses his nieces had covered him with. He'd hold onto that warm feeling that they gave him and cherish the images that the pretty little faces brought to him. His father returned to work on Monday and his mother remained at home. He knew she worked and he assumed she would be going back to work. She told him she had taken emergency family leave. That bothered him and he couldn't understand why it upset him so much. A part of him recognized he was injured and recovering, but not to the extent where someone was putting her life on hold. The week went slowly for him, the hours turning into days at a snail's pace. With each passing day he grew more sullen, he felt like he was a hostile captive lost in Norman Rockwell land. Saturday afternoon he had a doctor's appointment and it ha d gone well.

They had just pulled back onto their street when another couple his parents age waved to them. His father pulled the car over.

"Happy Holidays!"

"Hello Carl, how are you?" Victor asked, eyeing the man's wife. "Bonnie, it's good to see you."

"Why don't you stop over for dinner," the wife extended. "We can catch up. Martin, we're so very glad you're recovering. You're more than welcome to join us."

"I'm not sure, Bonnie," Jean hesitated. They were good friends and often dined out together. She would have loved to have gone to their house for dinner.

Martin sat back and crossedhis arms over his chest. He knew why his mother hesitated and it made him angry. He wasn't a baby and didn't need a babysitter. He kept his annoyed scowl as the car continued to their home. He stormed into the house and grabbed the notepad by the phone in the kitchen.

"What is wrong with you?" Jean asked, watching the thundercloud in action. She eyed the paper thrust at her. "I am not a baby."

Martin then scribbled a second note, "Go to dinner, I'll be fine."

"I know you're not a baby, son. But you're still recovering. What if..." Her sentence was cut off when he brushed past her to his room, closing the door. "Oh, dear."

"He's right, you know," Victor stated. "Maybe we're being too protective, smothering him. It'll only be a couple of hours. You can call and check on him. You have to give him some room, Jean. You've been hovering over him for a couple of weeks now."

"Alright," she reluctantly agreed. She knew Martin well enough to know that if she didn't go, he'd be angry all night. That wouldn't be good for his headaches. She tapped on his door. "Martin, dad and I have decided to go to the Parker's house for dinner. I'll call and check on you if that's okay." A few moments later the door opened and the blue eyes regarded her carefully. Although they were not angry, something was different. Something had changed and she wasn't sure what. He nodded and moved past her, heading for the kitchen.

While his parents got showered and dressed, Martin made himself some leftovers for dinner. He took the platter of food into the family room and settled down by the fire. By the time they appeared, coats on and headed out, he was finished. He was enjoying coffee and pie watching a football game. His mother approached cautiously.

"I'll call you, you can use the system you used with Danny, okay?" She saw the head bob. "This is my cellphone number. If anything goes wrong, you call me. You beep threes times and we'll know to come home."

Fine. Fine. Martin was still annoyed and stiffened up when she kissed his cheek. He actually was glad they'd gone and was relieved when the door closed. Now that he was feeling stronger, he was feeling penned in. It was as if he couldn't breathe. One of them was always with him, hovering and tending. He was very grateful for their care but now it was bothering him. He sighed hard and rubbed the back of his neck. He got bored with the football game and began to roam the house. He flipped through an old photo album and bits and pieces of his high school and college years came back. He was passing by the guest room and saw a computer. He recalled vaguely his mother using it during the past week. Danny Taylor's cocky grin floated into view and he wondered if he could email his partner. He missed Danny and tonight especially feeling so boxed in, he needed to hear his partner's voice.

He refilled his coffee mug and returned, settling in at the computer. His mother called and he beeped once, letting her know he was fine. It didn't take him long to log on and access the email. He typed out a message and frowned. The 'to' column seemed to blink at him. What was Danny's addy? He wasn't sure. So he copied the letter and pasted it onto several new ones. Then he typed in a variety of possible addys and sent them all. It didn't take long for the 'mail undeliverable' messages to pop up. His temper grew shorter and shorter and he got frustrated, sweeping the pens, pencils and other desk tools off the top of the desk. He seethed for a few moments, cleaned up the mess on the floor, turned the computer off and left the room. He went to the enclosed porch and studied the stars starting to appear. An old boy scout leader's voice entered his head then, proclaiming that 'the north star' would guide you home. He reali zed then that is what he needed. He needed to go home.

Where was home?

That thought troubled him, gnawing at his insides and giving him a pain. He retreated to his room, taking two more calls from his mother. She said they were on their way home and that's when he shut the phone off and climbed into bed. He didn't want to talk to anybody or to be fussed over. He wanted his life back.

Manhattan, NY
Tuesday December 10th, 2002

Jack was late that morning, having overslept and then been held up behind a multi car pileup. He was just outside his office when something caused him to halt. A frown creased his forehead and he shifted his coat to the other arm before entering the room. Sam and Vivian were in court this morning and he intended on catching up on paperwork. There was a lone figure sitting at his desk, so intent on thinking he never heard him approach.

"You sleepwalking?" Jack asked but the body never moved. "Hey!" He tapped the white shirted shoulder and the dark head slowly moved. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Danny disregarded the gruff voice and the phony anger in the eyes. He tossed a cocky grin and twirled around in his chair. He rose up and took his coffee cup. He tapped the chest on the older man and winked. "You do have a heart in there."

"You haven't answered my question," Jack retorted, hanging his coat up and grabbing his own coffee mug. He followed Danny Taylor into the small room where they had a microwave, coffee mess, refrigerator and a table with chairs.

"I have a nine o'clock session with Doctor Harrison."

"Oh," Jack answered, then scowled. "I thought that was next week."

"Well, my PT is going better than expected and I had a checkup yesterday. Doctor Soames thought it might be beneficial for me to begin working on the other aspects of healing."

Jack pursed his lips a moment, while stirring cream into his coffee. He could hear the wheels turning in Taylor's head. "That's a load bullshit," he replied. "You're just angling to get back on duty earlier. It won't work. You have two more weeks before I will even consider desk duty."

"Aw, come on Jack!" Danny pleaded, grabbing his full mug and following the senior agent to the larger room. "I'm going nuts at home. I can answer phones..."

"Good," Jack decided, settling at his desk. "I guess you can catch up on calling on the friends who don't see you normally due to your work hours." He heard the long exaggerated sigh and raised his eyes over his glasses. "Look, Im glad you're ahead of schedule and I know how hard you have been working, I talk to the doctors too. But you're not 100%, and we both know that. Talking to Lisa will help but you need those two weeks."

"I need to work!'

Danny's plea fell on deaf ears. He shuffled back to his desk and sat down, sighing hard. His eyes shifted to Martin's vacant desk. He didn't miss how barren it was. Unlike his desk and his coworkers, which were full of little personal touches, it remained cold. He thought of the man who used to sit there, as unyielding as the desk. He wondered who would return, that man or the emotive, fierce blue eyed warrior he'd met in the warehouse.

By noon he was headed home, having completed a two hour session with Doctor Harrison. He felt it went well. He was smart enough to know if he didn't give her the right answers, the sessions would go longer. He wanted that stamp of approval so he opened up a lot faster than he normally would. He'd even surprised himself when she got him to open up about his guilt concerning Martin. The next session was on Thursday and he was hoping she'd be satisfied enough to approve his desk duty.

He eyed the train station and got an idea. Maybe he'd be strong enough by the weekend to visit Martin. He'd wait a couple days, his back still didn't allow for a long stretch in one position and he couldn't bend too well yet. But he'd try to call Jean by the end of the week and see if she was agreeable. Like Jack, Doctor Harrison has strongly objected when he slipped up and mentioned 'curing' Martin. She gave some very technical reasons and he'd nodded at all the right times, but she was wrong, they all were. He knew he had the power to reach his silent partner and nobody was going to stop him.

Thursday December 12, 2002
Georgetown
Washington, D.C.

It was early afternoon when Jean returned from the store. She put away the groceries and went to check on Martin. He was watching reruns of MASH on the television in the den. He'd been with the doctors all morning and they seemed pleased with his progress in most areas. But although they suspected his silence was connected to the brutal nightmares, they still had not found the key to unlock that door. He looked tired and she wondered why he wasn't napping.

"Martin, are you hungry?" He shook his head without looking up. "Alright, dear. I'll be in my office if you need me."

She was fortunate in that she was able to do most of her work from home. She had several reports to email to her office. But when she settled in at the computer and accessed her email, she frowned. She had not had the time to check on the email for several days. She counted over three dozen 'rejection' notices spread over the last few days. All of them were trying to find one person. Martin had been trying to reach Danny Taylor. What was so important that it required urgency such as that? She went to the sent mail and noticed none of the letters was successful. She began to delete the rejection notices and couldn't help herself. She read the letter. By the time she was done, tears were rolling down her face. She deleted all but one, printing it out and then deleting it. She composed herself long enough to send her work into her office and then she shut the computer off. She went to the rocker in the corner and sat there , thinking on the letter and the one line that haunted her. She was still in that position when her husband's voice called out. "Jean?"

Victor stopped in the kitchen and pulled up the lid to the crock pot. A pot roast was simmering with carrots, celery and potatoes. He hung his coat up and checked the other rooms. He stopped by the couch in the den long enough to pull a quilt over Martin. His son was sleeping, the warmth of the fire leaving a golden caste on his features. He turned the television off and went upstairs. He saw the light on in his wife's office and went down the hall. She was sitting in the rocker; her usually confident features a mask of desolation. He saw that she'd been crying and immediately crossed the room.

"What's wrong? Is your sister alright?" His sister-in-law had battled cancer the year before and that was his first thought.

"Mary's fine," she answered, then handed him the letter. She waited but his features never changed. Typical of a man. "Well?"

"Well what?" He handed the letter back. "He's upset, Jean, he's getting it off his chest. Danny is his friend, a peer, his partner."

"Did you read that last line?" she pleaded. "I wish I was home." Victor relayed, shrugging. "He lives in New York, he misses that?"

"He is home!" she argued. "He's been trying to send that to Danny for days. There were dozens of rejected emails."

"So that's it," Victor interpreted, sitting down on a hope chest next to the rocker. He handed the letter back and took her hand. "You're upset because he's turned to Danny."

"Well how do you think that makes me feel, Victor?" she choked, swallowing hard. She didn't think there were more tears left. "He's my son, I carried him for nine months, I gave him life, fed him at my breast. It was my hand he held onto when he took his first steps. Now, I'm a stranger to him. This isn't his home." She sobbed, shaking her head and accepting his arms around her. "He doesn't know us... or this place. I can't find him. I want to heal ... him. I want to give him his life back. I'm his moth...er..."

"Oh, Jean," he sighed hard, hugging her. "You can't beat yourself up over this. Danny is the only connection he has to his past. You have to understand that. Whatever trauma happened on the Friday night is tied to Danny and their ordeal. The reason isn't important. He loves you, you're his mother and when his memory comes back, you'll see that again. But right now, he's reaching out to the only person he is confident in. We have to accept that and encourage him. And don't think this is easy for me. I'm his father and I want to cure him too." Then she pulled away and studied the letter again but this time her eyes held a different purpose "What?"

"Maybe I misread this," she murmured, suddenly seeing the light. "Maybe he does need to go home. Of course he does, how could I be that blind." She rose and crossed the room, eyeing the computer. "He's a visitor, here, a guest, a stranger with a familiar face. He's stiff and unsure, too polite at times, just like company would be." She paused to tap the screen. "But when he talks to Danny, he's looking for safe harbor. He's trying to find that lighthouse and guide his way home. If Danny is his beacon, then we need to take him there."

"Oh, Jean, I don't know. Taylor isn't completely healed himself yet," Victor thought aloud.

"And he needs Martin too. He won't completely heal without him. I'm going to call him..." she paused and shook her head. "No, we'll visit him. Martin will be at the hospital all day on Friday having tests. We'll take the train to New York." She saw hesitation in his slate eyes still and approached him, taking the photo by her computer with her. It was Martin the day he graduated from Quantico.

"He's our son and it's his life we're holding, isn't he worth it?" Friday morning Danny had just finished his breakfast and was ready to do his morning exercises for his back when the phone rang.

"Hello?"

"Danny?" Jean watched through the window as Victor and Martin headed for the car. "My husband and I were wondering if you will be home today. We'd like to come over, if you're up to it"

"Here?" Danny eyed his hovel and winced. It was okay for him to pad around the dirty clothes, scattered papers and magazines and few plates and cups. "How about I meet you for lunch? There is a great cafe at the corner. I walk outside for a bit during the time when it's warm." He paused to give the address.

"That's fine, Danny." Before she could ask, he spoke.

"I was going to call you yesterday but I met Viv and Sam after therapy and we had dinner and I was too tired when I got home. I've been doing a lot of thinking about Martin." He shifted the phone, pausing to glance out the window at the bright day. "As a matter of fact, he's on my mind a lot. I know you and Mister Fitzgerald are taking great care of him and he's gaining weight and getting better but..." he hedged, rubbing his eyes. "Please don't take this the wrong way, but I think he needs to come here... back to New York... here... with me. I can't explain it to anyone, but my gut... it tells me, hell it screams at me... that I can help him. I know I can find that missing piece." He heard a long sigh of relief and frowned. "What?"

"That's what we wanted to speak to you about," she rasped, her voice tight. "I have a letter to give you and I think you'll feel better when you read it."

When Martin returned home from the hospital, his mother had his bags packed. He was confused and pulled out his word machine.

"Your father and I thought it might do you... that you might feel..." she paused, this was harder than she had anticipated, "more comfortable... at home in New York."

Martin's head shot up and his eyes grew wide, glowing like blue lights. Did he hear her right? Did she say 'New York'? She took his hand and led him to the kitchen table where warm hot chocolate and cookies were waiting. They sat down and he took a sip, his hand grabbing his fa vorite snack. "You haven't changed that much, you know," she whispered wistfully, still seeing the wide eye boy in the man before her. "We had lunch with Danny today." He nearly choked and she winced. "Sorry... He's been quite concerned about you. He offered his home to us... to you... for you to share until you... get better." There it was done and she blew out a long breath. She felt her hand squeezed and then he held her, kissing the top of her head. "I wanted... I thought I could... I'm sorry..."

qqqNo no no no no.... Martin vented, as excited as he was to get 'home', he never wanted this. She had no reason to feel guilty. How could he make her understand? He eyed the back of a flyer for snow removal that had come in the mail. He let go of her long enough to write a note.

"Please don't do this to yourself," she began, swiping at her wet eyes. "Honey, I'm a mother, it comes with the territory. Since I first felt you move within me, that need to nurture, heal and protect was born. That never leaves, not ever." She cupped his chin and found a smile, then continued the letter. "I could never thank you for all the love you've showered me with. I wouldn't be here now if it weren't for you. Oh my..." she had to stop then and hold the tears back as her heart surged. "You healed my broken wings and now it's time for me to try to fly again." She folded the note back, not able to read the 'I love you now and forever' that was the parting line. She'd never give this letter away. And the light shining in his eyes would be the strength that she needed. She took his hand and nodded. "Well, alright, then I guess we better eat out tonight, somewhere close to the train station."

It was almost nine o'clock when the doorbell rang. Although he'd been prepared, they'd told him the time of the train and he'd taken extra care to clean his place, he jumped anyway. He got to the door, his hand on the knob. He took a moment and found the medal around his neck; it was a silver miraculous medal that had belonged to his mother. It was all he had of her and he felt her nearby when he prayed with it. He needed her strength now. He did a silent prayer and kissed the silver treasure.

"Stay close, okay?" he whispered, then opened the door.

He was vaguely aware of Victor and Jean. Martin's father came through the open door and put the luggage down. Jean hugged and kissed him, but it was only Martin he saw. The emotion in the blue eyes was on overdrive and the wide smile was quickly mirrored by his own. His fears fled then, replaced by a powerful force that would embody him until his mission was completed.

"Hey, man!" he greeted, moving aside and sweeping his arm across the air. "Welcome home!"

Martin hesitated, slipping inside and trying to lasso the dozens of butterflies doing a wicked dance in his gut. He accepted his mother's fretting and the three hugs and kisses before she finally let go. He took his father's strong hand and was surprised by a hug. Then they were gone and he felt awkward. The enormity of the gift hit him hard. How the hell could he possibly repay Danny? His dark-haired roommate returned from the kitchen with two bottles of root beer and a pile of nachos oozing in melted cheese.

"I got the store to send over all the junk food they had. We're gonna pay for this!" he teased, setting the food down. Martin was dressed in jeans and a cadet blue sweater that only made his eyes look bigger. He saw the fingers fumbling badly with the word machine and the temper flashing. He saw something else then and quickly put a stop to it. He sat next to the struggling body and gripped the back of his neck. "It's cool, okay?"

Okay?

Hell it was more than 'okay'. But just feeling that strong hand on his neck sent a surge of current so strong through the ailing body that it caused him to lose his breath. He sat forward, struggling to regain his composure. He sat up then, nodding and extending his hand. Once the promise was made and bonded over that grip, he picked up the bottle and waited for Danny. They tapped the glass and took a good long drink. He'd just taken the first step on an unknown journey. He didn't know what lay ahead, but he knew he wasn't alone anymore. The uncertainty that had encompassed him since he left the hospital was gone. The coldness that he'd been plagued with was replaced by a fire that would continue to grow. Whatever demons were waiting in the dark during that time between dusk and dawn would now be met by a formidable force.

The battle had begun.


Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Twenty-Two

Danny Taylor was tired. His weary eyes didn't need to look at the red digital numbers on his bedside clock. He knew it was just after four a.m. He'd seen every new hour born since he'd gone to bed just past eleven. He'd been so worried about his houseguest waking in a sudden state of confusion that he'd not been able to rest. He'd risen twice to check on Martin, who was sleeping on the sofa. So far, the night had been uneventful. Maybe his partner was too exhausted to let the vile dreams invade his subconscious state. Should he risk catching a cat nap? He knew Martin was an early riser and would be up soon. He closed his eyes and let the utter stillness of the soon to be departing night cradle him.

It was dark. Martin was freezing and he hurt all over. He felt sure there was an axe stuck in the center of his skull. He couldn't seem to walk right and stumbled badly seeking... seeking... seeking what? Then he saw the red lights. They became a beacon and a terror at the same time. A part of him wanted to rush towards the flashing light but the dark fear inside of him overruled that thought. Bad thing things would happen. His heart began to jackhammer against his chest and his legs turned to move. It was too late! His air was cut off and he couldn't breathe. He began to claw at his throat and then felt the cold and deadly blade press on his tender throat.

He was going to die.

"Huh?" Danny mumbled, sitting up and blinking. The red digits announced it was just after five a.m. His heart was racing and his keen ears trained on the darkened hallway. Something had woken him up. A dull thud brought him instantly awake. "MARTIN!"

Danny rose gingerly, wary of his healing back. He walked swiftly through the room and into the hallway. By the time he hit the living room, his hand hitting the light switch and sending light into the dark room, Martin was on the floor on his knees, clawing at his throat. His eyes were bulging and riddled with terror. Danny quickly crossed the room and sat on the coffee table, just in front of the nightmare consumed victim.

"Martin?" He kept his voice calm, worried about startling the seemingly asleep man. But when Martin's eyes began to roll, he took action. He gripped the sweat encased shoulders and shook him. "WAKE UP!" The eyes rolled more and he felt Martin slipping away, so he used his right hand to slap his face.

Martin sucked in a great gulp of air and slumped. The black and icy night dissolved into an urban setting. Walls. Rugs. Pictures. A big television. A man with dark eyes. A man with dark eyes? Where the hell was he? He jerked away from the strong arms holding him and fell against a sofa. He heard a voice and tried to listen but his terror was all consuming. They were going to kill him. Was he one of them?

"Alright, man, you're scaring me," Danny stated, standing up when Martin struggled to his feet. He kept walking forward as the lost soul moved backwards, nearly falling over a small table. "Martin, look at me. It's me, Danny Taylor, your partner. You're at my place, nobody can hurt you here. I won't let them."

Danny Taylor.

Martin's brows crossed and he frowned, rubbing the right side of his throbbing temple. Danny Taylor, he knew that name. He kept backing up, keeping his free hand in front of him in a defensive posture. He kept moving until he hit a wall.

"You had a bad dream," Danny said slowly, watching the rat like eyes move around the room. Martin's face and upper body were bathed in sweat. He was breathing too heavily, gulping for air. He didn't want the slim man to pass out. "Take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Slow and easy. You're safe now."

Safe

Was he safe? He didn't know but his body took over, taking those deep breaths. He became less dizzy and his fuzzy brain began to stir. He let his cautious eyes move to the other man and he stared hard at the worried face. Flashes of other things caused him to wince and his mouth gaped in a silent cry of pain, a warehouse, a fight, this same man spiraling downward into a box. He was there too, taking care of the man. He saw the man's lips moving and forming a word.

Partner.

His head cocked and through his wheezing, his fingers moved independently the first two crossing over each other. He saw the other man form a half smile and nod at him.

"Yeah man, that's right, we're partners, remember?" Danny inched closer and was glad when Martin didn't flee.

It all came back then in a sudden rush, the shooting, the lost days and nights and the rescue that followed, endless days in hospital, even more endless days at his parents house, strangers with a common name. His mother's healing touch and his partner's cocky grin. His partner. His partner. Danny Taylor. Danny. Danny. He sighed hard then, dropping his head in shame. Danny had opened his house to him and how had he been repaid; by being woken up to find his guest acting like a child.

"You okay now?" Danny asked, gently laying a hand on Martin's shoulder. "Man you're soaked. Must have been a bad trip." The damp head bobbed and the Adam's apple followed suit. He felt Martin flinch then, his hands moving to either side of his temple. Then his legs began to buckle. "Aw, shit, don't do this to do me."

Martin didn't want to pass out, so he moved as best he could, stumbling with Danny's help toward the couch. He sat down and lay back, resting his head against the cool leather. He took great gulps of air and closed his eyes, trying to calm himself. He felt as if he were on a wayward roller coaster. A few moments later a cold glass touched his hand. His eyes opened and he saw his pain pills. He didn't argue, his head was screaming. The drugs kicked in and he began to feel the room slip away. He felt Danny ease him onto his back and he pulled his legs up. The last thing he saw was the genuine concern in the dark eyes. He opened his mouth, wanting to thank Danny and reassure him, but the face disappeared into a dark tunnel. He grabbed the words he heard and held on, using them to keep floating.

"I'll watch your back." Danny reassured as the blue eyes finally shut. It was only after Martin was truly under, that he allowed himself to relax. "Jesus..."

He raked a hand through his hair and winced as his back began to protest. He was used to a routine in the morning that started with a hot shower to caress his healing muscles. After pulling the quilt over Martin, he padded to his own room and stripped his flannel pants off. He put the shower on and climbed inside, letting the pulsating hot water work its magic. He rested his tired face against the cold tiles. He couldn't afford too many more nights like this one. He had to try to find a way to break through that horrific shield Martin was hiding behind. He would talk to him today, taking notes down from what could be recalled from the dream. Coupled with the notes he had from the investigation and from what Martin had told him before, he hoped to find the key.

Reluctantly, he parted ways with the mesmerizing stream of water. He had three full days before his next therapy session. He would have to make good use of that time. But, he couldn't leave Martin alone. Either Jean would have to come down on Tuesday or perhaps Sam or Jack could stop by for the afternoon while he was gone.

Martin was in the lazy state of being not quite awake but not asleep. He sighed and snuggled down, letting the sounds of the room invade his slumber. The ever familiar headache was in place but not as bad as some mornings. The scent of coffee tickled his nose and he peeled an eye open. For several seconds, he didn't move, nor did he recognize where he w as. He was beginning to panic when he saw Danny Taylor's reflection in the mirror on the wall. He appeared to be in the kitchen cooking something. Martin heard a soft voice in Spanish and realized Danny was singing along with a radio or CD player.

Danny had just finished mincing red peppers for the eggs he was making when a noise caused him to turn. Martin had stumbled into the room with a pair of fuzzy albeit shame filled eyes. Danny nodded to the chair and his silent partner shuffled past. He paused by his side and seemed to be trying to say something.

"You feelin' better?" Danny inquired and got a non-committal shrug. "Hey, it's okay, don't worry about what happened. I'm just glad I was here." The sharp intake of breath and the startled eyes gave him a soft grin. He put the knife down and gave the naked shoulder a tug. "I mean that... I am glad you're here. Peppers and eggs, sausage and toasted bagels okay?"

It looked great to Martin and he nodded then pointed to the knife.

"Thanks, man but I got this. Why don't you take a shower and get dressed. All I need is for my nosy neighbor," he paused to point to the window, "to see me with a naked stud cooking together." That brought a wide smile and amusement so great his guest began to cough. "Sorry... go on and get your skinny ass in the shower."

He saw Martin frown and eye his gray sweat pants. The defiant thrust of the chin told him Martin did not agree with that assessment. "Well, it's not bad, but we can't all have a Taylor ass."

Danny was just placing two platters of food on the table when Martin reappeared. He looked much better. He was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt and his eyes were bright or maybe the healthy pink flush of skin made them look that way. He nodded to the closest chair and Martin took a seat. Danny put the two coffee mugs down and joined his guest for the morning meal. Just then Martin's stomach growled and the sheepish grin that appeared on Fitzgerald's face gave him a grin of his own. He was glad to see him eating; he still needed to gain some weight. Martin ate seconds of the eggs and also half a bagel. They did the dishes and then took coffee inside, Danny bringing a plate of donuts with it. As Martin bit into a cream donut, giving him a nice powdered mustache, Danny put the seeds of his plan into motion. Maybe, just maybe, by asking for Martin's help, his silent partner would open up about himself.

"Listen, I got a favor and if you're don't want to do this, it's cool, okay, no pressure." He saw the quizzical look on the other man's face and the donut wavering on its way to his mouth. "I've been having these nasty dreams about the warehouse and all that shit. I'm alone, it's dark, I can't move and it's cold and then that bastard Callison is laughing at me and putting the gun to my head. I mean I tried talking to Doctor Harrison, the Bureau shrink and she nods and says 'really, what do think that means?'" He chuffed out a breath and shook his dark head. "I mean they don't understand. They weren't there. You... you were..." He looked up at Fitzgerald just in time to see the relief shining in the blue eyes. Martin nodded anxiously and thumped his hand on his chest. Then, he leapt to his feet and grabbed Danny's arm, then pointed to the spare room.

"Okay, okay, Lassie, let's get Timmy out of the well!" Danny laughed and followed the eager-eyed terrier into the small room where his computer was located.

A few moments later the Windows Office application was open to a blank page and Martin's fingers were flying. Danny pulled up a spare chair and read as the words appeared.

"I know just what you mean; it was the same for me. The doctor, you know the therapist, he'd nod and nod and make mouth noises." Danny frowned, "Mouth noises? Like grunts?"

Martin nodded and kept typing. "I'd get so mad. I didn't like his attitude, his arrogance I felt like a damn lab rat."

Danny sighed and nodded, "Yeah, me too, man. I mean it got so frustrating."

The morning passed quickly, with Danny talking about how helpless he felt lying in that box as broken as the wood. Martin's answers were thoughtful and from the heart. Danny actually did start to feel better and then he gently suggested Martin open up about his dreams. He saw the fear flickering and the hesitation.

"I know my dreams don't hold a candle to the hell you're reliving every night, but maybe if we start at the beginning and put a timeline together, you know, go over every inch. Maybe we can figure out what happened in the lost hours."

"Lost hours?" Martin typed and his brows drew together. He waited while Danny got a yellow folder from the desk. Inside were the notes and timeline he and Jack had done. He held onto it and turned back to Martin.

"Okay, do you remember leaving the train station?"

Martin closed his eyes and saw bits and pieces of a street tilting sideways and too many people coming at him. He was dizzy, sick and felt like he was passing out. "Yes, I was sick, dizzy and there were too many people."

"Good! Did you go into the alley or were you forced?" Danny prompted, reading his notes. He watched Martin scrunch his face up and then a fist appeared. He gently put his hand over it. "Don't, that won't help. You have a contusion on your brain, you might never remember. What do you remember next?"

"Uh... darkness, snow and walking, stumbling and falling a lot. There's an ax in my head. Nobody will help. There was a guard and an alley and I'm down and he's shoving something hard at my ass..." His fingers froze as his mind went blank. qqqWhere did that come from? What the hell had the guy done?

"No, no, Martin, look at me!" Danny ordered when Martin's face turned a whiter shade of pale and his hands jumped off the keys as if they'd turned to acid. He knew by the frantic eye motion that Martin couldn't remember if the guard abused him. "Petruzzo was that sick fuckin' bastard's name but he didn't assault you, not that way. You need a minute?"

Martin shook his head and took several deep breaths. He tried to type but his fingers wouldn't work. He was shaking slightly. That was a new memory and it scared him for a moment to think he'd been raped. What else didn't he remember? What if someone else raped him? He turned to Danny and tried to read the dark eyes. Slowly his fingers began to work.

"Did anyone else do that? I can't remember..."

"No, no man, they checked you out good at the hospital. There was one sick fucker who tried but you beat the shit outta him. That's as close as it got, okay?"

Okay? It was enormous. Martin doubled over, resting his head on his hands and rocking just a bit. There was so much missing of that lost time, days and days when he'd been alone on the street. He had no idea how he'd survived. Maybe being here with Danny was stoking up those lost memories. Would one of them be the key to unlock the door to his silence?

"Why can't I talk?"

"I don't know, man," Danny answered honestly. He should have guessed that talking about that missing period of time would cause this question. "Look, for what it's worth, the doctors don't think it's physical, that's good. That means if we keep talking about it, especially about the red lights, you might just bust the door open. Martin?" He waited for the shaggy head to rise and the troubled eyes were pain filled. "We know you were talking when you had the run in with Petruzzo. It was after that, sometime between three a.m. and six a.m when the padre found you, that you lost that ability. You told me in that warehouse about the bad cops and red lights. I think you were trying to follow those lights and get help. But you saw Callison and Horne do something bad and they tried to kill you." He paused when Martin began to nod slowly and fear flickered in his eyes. "Martin, were the red lights on their car? Or did you see another car and..."

"No... no..." Martin typed. He closed his eyes and a single flash occurred. The red lights were further away. "The red lights... they can't see me... I ... I want them to... but... but..."

"But what?" Danny pushed. "If you can see them, why didn't you call to that patrol car? They were right there?" He sat back startled when Martin jumped up and kicked the chair over. "Yo... yo... settle down. Having a tantrum won't help." Danny stood up as the frustrated agent turned around with both fists clenched. He looked like a caged panther. "You need something to bust, go on," Danny offered, waving to his chin. Martin eyed him for a moment and he could feel the anger sizzling. Then the fists slowly uncurled. "Look, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have pushed you that hard. Can you remember anything else?"

Martin sat back down and closed his eyes. He tried hard to remember what happened. There was nothing but a black void behind his eyes. Why was it that at night the demons brought the images and they were painfully vibrant? But in the light of day, he could see nothing. He banged the keyboard and chuffed.

"Okay, we've been at this for hours, I think we should call it a day." Danny knew the pinched features indicated a headache coming on, probably due to the new memories.

"You need a nap, or you want to hit the cafe on the corner for some grub? The fresh air might be good."

Lunch out did sound good but then Martin realized he had no money. He shook his head and his fingers found the keys.

"I can eat a bagel."

"A bagel?" Danny repeated, 'Man that ain't lunch. I'm talkin' about the best panini's you ever tasted. And they got this frozen triple chocolate mousse thing that's orgasmic." He knew Martin was hungry and couldn't figure out his hesitation.

"I'm not that hungry," Martin decided, hoping his growling stomach would not reappear.

"I look like a fool to you? You eat all day at work." Danny tried but Martin stood up and walked to the doorway. He did want to go out and the fresh air was something he missed. The food sounded great. He gave himself away when he eyed his empty palms.

"That's what 's bothering you? Money? Shit..." Danny jogged to the living room where Martin was now slowly heading. "Look, if it makes you feel better, we'll split it. I'll keep track and you can pay me later."

Martin grabbed his word machine and answered.

"As long as I'm staying here, I pay all tabs." Danny read and knew better than to push or argue now, given the rough afternoon. He didn't want to set Martin's temper off. "Okay."

The twin full bellies and fresh air wore out both recovering men. Danny knew Martin's headache was worse when he'd not ordered any dessert. By the time they got back, his guest barely got to the couch. Danny put a movie on and settled into the leather recliner. He dozed off sometime between when Kurt Russell catched up to Michael Biehn in Tombstone.

"Ummmm...."

His own moan brought his eyes open. Danny yawned and blinked stupidly at the lights on in the living room. The darkness outside told him he'd been sleeping for quite some time. He glanced at his watch and was surprised to see it was after seven. But the sofa was empty and the wonderful aroma coming from his kitchen told him a chef was on duty.

Martin was just shutting the oven door when Danny Taylor appeared in the kitchen. He picked up the large spoon and began stirring the ingredients in a large pot. He pointed to a chair and then the pill bottles lined up.

"Yeah, I know, I missed my meds," Danny agreed, his back was agitated. He took the bottle of offered iced tea and downed the two pills. His curiosity got the best of him. He tried to peek in the pot but the chef blocked him, pointing to the chair. "Okay, okay, don't get your panties in an uproar. What's in there?"

Martin arched a single eyebrow over a very amused blue eye and crossed his arms over his chest, wielding the spoon like a spear.

"Okay, let me see," Danny sniffed. "Tomatoes, garlic, pepper... sauce?" The wavy brown locks shook 'no'. "Hmmm... soup?"

Martin didn't reply, rather he ladled out both bowls and doused them with shredded cheese. He placed them under the broiler for a few moments. Then he put them on the table, before reaching into the oven and retrieving toasted garlic rolls.

"Damn, this is good," Danny oozed, taking a second spoonful. There was ground meat, spinach, tiny bits of peppers and onions in a rich tomato broth that had Italian seasoning in it. The cheese was dripping down his chin and he sucked it up. By the time Martin joined him, he'd downed half the bowl. "I might have to marry you!" He drank in the wide grin across from him. "Where'd you get this stuff?"

Martin waved to the cabinets and refrigerator.

"Now that's scary," Danny replied, "I didn't even know I had meat in there. This is really good, you didn't have to do this."

Martin tapped his spoon on the table to get Danny's attention. He put his first two fingers together and tapped his chest.

"Partners!" Danny agreed, lifting his iced tea and tapping Martin's glass of soda.

He was more tired than he realized and the events of the prior night and lack of sleep caught up to the congenial host. He yawned and dozed through the first half of a basketball game and then felt a tug on his arm. Martin was holding a bottle of water and pointing to the hallway.

"Yeah, I'm goin', I'm beat. You okay?" He got a solid nod and got up, wincing and hissing in pain. He was glad for the arm of support that helped him stumble to the bed. "I'm good now, thanks," Danny said and saw Martin shake his head and type on his machine. "No problem, we're a team, right.." Danny agreed. "Goodnight, Martin."

Danny was asleep before the hall light went off. But his rest would be short-lived. The night ahead would be anything but easy for both occupants of the apartment. As darkness settled down and the shadow of the sandman appeared, the demons drew out their well-honed pitchforks and entered the abode without an invite.

For awhile the two recovering agents slept peacefully. Darkness descended, drenching the apartment in a silvery moon bath. But the stillness was about to be broken. The demons invaded and surrounded the blue-eyed man, honing their pitchforks. Unaware that his partner was being jabbed and stabbed by the evil dark ones, Danny Taylor remained blissfully unaware.

Martin's face screwed up in distress and his lips moved in silent agony. He began to thrash, tossing his sweat soaked head from side to side. His arms flailed, clawing desperately for the air that he was suddenly robbed of. He fell from the sofa, hitting a table and sending a glass crashing to the floor. He remained on all fours for several tense moments, his heart jack hammering wildly. He blinked the sweat that was stinging his eyes away and looked around; four dark walls, strange furniture and not one clue as to where he was. What had happened? This wasn't home. He frowned and rose to his feet, swaying badly. He had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten here. He winced and pushed both hands on his temples, his head was screaming in pain.

Danny heard glass breaking and sat up. For a moment, there were no more sounds then he heard footsteps and banging. He put his legs over the side of the bed and rose, wary of his back. He cocked his head again and heard another thump. His fuzzy mind cleared and he remembered he had a houseguest, not a home invader.

"Martin?"

The sound of a strange man's voice caused Martin's head to shoot up. He was pressed to the sidewall near a door. Then he saw a stranger approaching and backed up. Had he broken into someone's house? Or had this man broken into his? His eyes ran around the room again and his heart raced even faster. He didn't know this place at all. What if this man was armed?

"Martin, what's wrong?" Danny asked and froze when Martin gazed back at him like a deer caught in the headlights. Twin, wild, blue eyes that were riddled with fear grew unnaturally large. Sweat clung to him and he was gasping audibly. "Okay, you had a bad dream. It's me, Danny."

Danny

Martin shook his head and continued to back up. He didn't know this man. It was a trick. What did the man want? Where were they? Why did he hurt so much? He felt dizzy and sick; he didn't want to pass out. He kept moving backwards until his back hit a wall and he almost fell sideways.

"I won't hurt, you, Martin, you need to calm down."

Danny was worried. Martin didn't know him and was panicking. Both arms were pressed to the wall and it was if he was trying to melt inside of it. He kept walking towards the distressed soul, slowly as not to frighten him even more. He kept his voice at an even, low, pitch as well.

Martin could see the man's lips moving but couldn't seem to hear the words. It was as if he was in some weird tunnel. He eyed the perimeter again seeking an escape plan. There weren't many options. The way out was behind the man now a few feet in front of him. He began to shake his head and duck, preparing for the clash.

"Enough!" Danny snapped. He was tired and his back hurt. The lack of sleep was pressing his nerves as well. "Look at me, Martin. You're Martin Fitzgerald. I'm your partner, Danny Taylor. This is my place and you have a head injury. You were sleeping on the couch and had a nightmare."

The words penetrated that time aided by the sharp tone. This man called Taylor was angry at him. Partner? He mulled on that word and his head cocked. His eyes darted sideways as strange images flashed in a parade before him. The man called Taylor was in them. Driving a car, racing through a train station, trapped in a warehouse, his arm and shirt drenched in blood. A warehouse. He knew that place, he was there too! Partner. His fingers crossed over and he examined them, unaware of even doing that.

"That's right, partners," Danny agreed resting a hand on the wet skin of Martin's shoulder. The smaller man jumped and tried to push past him seeking to escape. "Cut it out!" he ordered, pointing to the sofa. "You need to sit down before you fall. I can't get you up, my back is healing."

Then all the bells and whistles went off and that fast, Martin knew who he was and where he was. The rush of recollection slammed him hard reeling him on a twisted, roller coaster ride of memories. Angered by his own childish behavior, he rejected the hand and shoved hard.

"Fine!" Danny snapped, his voice not masking his irritation. "You're fuckin' welcome!"

Martin chuffed in annoyance and continued to move. Shame was painted on his features and he dropped his head in embarrassment. He shuffled to the sofa and sat down. He didn't dare raise his head; he couldnČŘ™t meet Danny's eyes. This man had opened his home to him and he'd been rewarded by the act of a child. A few moments later a glass of water appeared on the table in front of him. He drained it and pressed the cold glass to his flushed face.

"Okay?" Danny asked, he was in pain and wanted his own bed. Martin's head dipped once and Danny left.

Mortified by his behavior, Martin couldn't lift his head. He willed himself to stay awake, or at least he tried. But exhaustion claimed him and the demons laughed, picked up their pitchforks and continued their parade.

The episode was repeated three more times in the span of a few hours with each one greater in intensity. Danny was in real pain and his nerves were shattered. He didn't have the patience to deal with this now. He'd already gone well past the point of exhaustion. The last encounter had nearly come to blows and although he found his bed and sleep claimed him immediately, his troubled guest wasn't so lucky.

Martin was so ashamed of himself it made him sick. He vomited until nothing was left but very painful dry heaves. He cleaned up and examined his face in the mirror. He couldn't do this to Danny again. He would not be a burden. He would have to leave in the morning and go somewhere. Somewhere? Where? He had no home but he'd have to find one.

Danny sighed and moaned, letting the warm sun bathe his face. He snuggled down and for the next twenty minutes, tried to wake up. It felt so good, he didn't push himself. He wanted to stay in the warm cocoon. But his full bladder had other ideas and he was forced to act. He peeled an eye open and yawned again, then sat up and winced, rubbing his back. He shuffled to the bathroom, took his pills, took care of business and washed his face. Then with water dripping he reached for a towel and saw the clock.

"Eleven!"

Reality hit him hard. Eleven was almost afternoon. How could he have slept so late? Then, as he dried off, he remembered that he wasn't alone. "Shit... Martin!"

He walked into the living room and chills raced up his spine. The room was neat again, all evidence of the battles of the night prior were gone. Broken glass, turned over tables and scattered goods were cleaned up. The blankets and pillows were folded and neatly stacked at the end of the sofa. The room was too quiet and way too empty.

"Martin?"

The pitch of his voice was tinged in worry. He ducked into the kitchen and found it empty. He eyed the thermal coffee carafe in the sink and frowned. Then he spotted a litter of empty candy wrappers on the top of the trash can which weren't his. The spare room was empty as well. Then he noticed the large gray duffle bag Martin had brought his things in was gone.

"Shit!"

He was on his way to his room to get dressed when he saw the paper on the floor by Martin's makeshift bed. He sat down and read the note written in red marker.

"You are Martin Fitzgerald. You are at Danny Taylor's house. Danny is your partner. You have a head injury. Don't go to sleep." He paused and realized what the coffee and sugar were for. "Shit... don't go to sleep." Martin was trying to force himself to stay awake. "Don't make Danny mad again." He felt as if a mule kicked him in the nuts. The red exclamation point in marker only made that worse. His stomach sank to the floor and his fear grew. How long had Martin been gone? Where had he gone?

Jack Malone had just finished the Sports page of the Sunday paper when the phone rang. He dropped the paper and rose, walking across the room. He picked up the receiver and watched the traffic below out of the window.

"Hello."

"Jack, I lost Martin. I didn't mean to but he kept having bad dreams and waking up. He didn't know who he was or who I was... he got mixed up and I got pissed off at him. I didn't mean to snap but..."

"Danny?"

"My back was killing me and every time he woke up it got worse. Over and over all night and now I can't find him and his bag is gone and the note damn near killed me and..."

"Danny?"

"Christ, Jack, he's out there alone somewhere. What if he gets mugged again? What if he gets lost? We'll never find him in New York. I don't even know how long he's been gone. I fucked up good this time, Jack."

"Danny!"

Danny winced and pulled the phone away when the loud voice broke his irrational train of thought.

The silence told the older man he'd finally gotten through. "What the hell do you mean you 'lost' Martin? Where are you?"

"Home. I'm here, he's gone. I can't believe I did this..."

"Gone?" Jack frowned. "What was Martin doing at your house?"

"He was staying with me; I'm gonna help fix him. His folks dropped him off on Friday night."

"That's a great idea, Danny," Jack's voice rose in distaste and dripped with sarcasm. "You can barely take care of yourself. What the hell were you thinking?"

"It was a good idea, we made real progress yesterday," Danny defended and then shook his head. "Never mind, right now we gotta find him, Jack."

"Okay, was his home address on the bag?"

"Yeah."

"That's a start. Maybe he headed there. I'll call those people across the hall from him that we interviewed .Maybe they saw something."

"Okay, I'll head uptown and..."

"No, you stay there," Jack ordered. "You need to be there in case he comes back. I don't need two of you loose in the city."

"I can't sit here and do nothing!" Danny argued.

"You can pull that thick head of yours out of your ass for starters," Jack growled. "I"ll be in touch."

Danny hung the phone up and sat down in his kitchen. Jack was right, he should stay here. What if Martin came back? He really should be here. Danny kept telling himself that as he got dressed. He was still arguing the point when he left his apartment. He was fishing his keys out of his coat pocket when the elevator doors opened in the lobby. He was relieved and annoyed at the same time. So he allowed his head to overrule his heart and he curbed the inner voice that wanted to scream 'What the hell do you think you're doing' at the sad figure huddled in the faded wingchair by the window. The fronds of an aged rubber tree plant were covering most of his face. Danny pulled his cell phone out.

"Jack, I found him, he was in the lobby."

"Is he okay?"

"I think so."

"Look, Danny, it's clear you can't handle this alone. I'm coming over."

"Gimme some time with him, Jack, I owe him that. He looks like somebody just shot his dog. I was the one who flipped out on him last night and chased him away."

"It was that bad?" Jack pressed.

"It was ugly, I really hurt him. Why don't you come over around four or so and bring some pizza?"

"Okay, but if you need me, you call!"

"Yeah."

Danny didn't speak at first, rather he picked up the gray bag and waited. Martin dropped his head but not before Danny saw the deep sorrow and shame as the familiar Fitzgerald flush of color rose.

"Martin, listen I don't blame you if you're so pissed off at me that you don't want to come back. I really fucked up last night. I had no right to snap at you like that. I want to apologize for..."

The words upset Martin so much he leapt to his feet and covered Danny's mouth before the word 'sorry' could escape. He shook his head and thumped his hand on his chest. Danny nodded and he withdrew his hand then fumbled for his word box.

"My fault not yours. I am the one sorry and u r right, I am a fuckin' pain in the ass." Danny rocked back as if an invisible sand bag hit him. "Oh, shit, did I really say that?" He winced and shut his eyes for a moment when Martin nodded. Then he gathered up his scrambled emotions and regrouped. He found the sorrowful blue eyes and drilled them. "I didn't mean that, Martin, I hope you can believe me. I was wiped out last night and my back was actin' up. I can get real cranky when I am overtired. I lost my cool. I can't promise it won't happen again but running away isn't the answer. Why would you do that?" he asked and the fingers moved on the word machine again.

"You don't bite the hand that feeds you." Danny read the words and shook his head. "It wasn't your fault. Where were you going?" The sad figure sat down again it was very hard for him to type. "Nowhere. I have no home." Danny felt that sandbag hit him again but this time he held on. He touched the downcast shoulder lightly and waited for the shaggy head to rise up. "Yeah, you do man, it's upstairs for as long as you need it, okay? It ain't gonna be pretty all the time and we're gonna argue I'm sure, but running away from the problem only makes it worse."

"Together?" Martin asked and waited.

"You bet your skinny ass," Danny teased and frowned when Martin tried to grab the bag. "Let go, I got it."

"Give me my bag you sorry-assed cripple." Martin typed and held the message out.

"Cripple huh?" Danny smirked, "I'll show you who's crippled. You watch how fast this cripple can whip up chocolate cappuccino pancakes and candied bacon."

Although he'd persuaded Martin to return, something had changed. He was very quiet and withdrawn that afternoon. He'd refused to 'talk' as they'd done the day before about the missing time and the red lights. Danny knew he was worried about a reoccurrence and tried to persuade Martin that talking would help. But Martin was as stubborn as they come and held fast. Danny knew the pinched look around the eyes meant that the headache was in overdrive. Martin wouldn't take the pills at first and Danny knew why.

"Look, Jack's coming over so I won't be alone, okay? You look like shit, take the damn pills!"

Martin felt like shit too. He needed to sleep and the ax in his skull was throbbing. Even his hair hurt. So he took the pills and hit the sofa. Neither of them realized the drastic turn of events that was about to occur.


Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Twenty-Three

Usually Danny enjoyed the rare Sunday afternoon when he didn't have to work. Those lazy days were filled with reading the newspapers, watching football and cooking some Cuban delight in his kitchen. But today although the sun was shining, the clouds of doubt that lurked inside his apartment made him feel dismal. Had he bitten off more than he could chew? Was this idea a mistake? Brain injuries were tricky, what if pushing Martin too hard had created more problems?

He lifted a bottle of ice tea to take a sip, keeping his eyes on his slumbering guest. It hadn't been very long but his gut was already twisting. He didn't know what to do if Martin snapped out again. He couldn't handle that wild, blue-eyed frenzy again mentally or physically. A knock on the door drew his attention from the fair-haired Fitzgerald.

"Danny?"

"Hold on, Jack."

Jack was prepared for a tired face, based on Danny's rambling earlier that day. But the dark, circles in the ashen face made him wince. Danny looked awful and it was clear he was in pain. The senior agent paused long enough to glance at the sleeping body on the couch. Outwardly, he looked peaceful and he'd gained weight. Jack ducked past the host and put two boxes of pizza on the kitchen table.

"You look like shit," Malone commented.

"Nice to see you too!" Danny groused and then sat down at the table. He crossed his arms in front of him and leaned heavily, dropping his head down and rubbing his neck. "I thought this would work. I really thought I could reach him."

"How long has he been asleep?" Malone asked.

"About a half-hour, I guess."

Jack had known Danny Taylor for quite a few years. He was a complex man; often what you saw on the surface didn't even begin to touch the soul inside. He was so much more than the outgoing, cocky, self-assured agent that most of his coworkers saw. This side of him, the human side that ached for his brother in arms, was a large part of what gave him 'the right stuff'. Jack walked over and gave the downcast agent's shoulder a tug.

"Your heart was in the right place. It might be a good idea, just maybe too soon. You have to heal yourself before you can help anybody else."

"Maybe you're right," Danny murmured. "His folks called this morning. I called back and it took three tries before I could complete the dialing. I didn't know what I'd say. I got their machine and left a message. I hope to hell they don't call back..."

"What happened?" Jack asked as the weary voice trailed off. He listened as Danny revealed the brutal night.

"Okay, I'll stay tonight. You need to take the good shit," he noted of the strong prescription, "and get a full night and then some. But tomorrow you have to call Victor and Jean. You can't handle this. What if he shoved you and you fell? What if you undid all the good that the therapy has done?"

"I know, I know..." Danny interjected. He lifted his head and sighed hard. "I just can't explain it. But I know somehow, I'm the one who can reach him. I feel it, Jack, right here!" He tapped his gut. "That's never failed me before."

"Okay, Danny but..." Jack halted when a thud sounded.

"Shit!"

Both men moved quickly to the living area. Martin had tumbled off the sofa and was crawling away from them. Jack hustled past Taylor and scrambled to the other side of the room, close to the computer room. Martin's face was covered in sweat and his eyes were open but Jack knew from the wide, unmoving gaze the young man was not awake.

"Martin?" Danny called out, moving behind the fleeing soul. The body stopped for a moment, then continued.

"He's not awake!" Jack moved in front of the escapee. He knelt down and moved a hand in front of the terrified eyes. "Hey, snap out of it!"

Martin didn't want to look, the scene was horrific and he couldn't help. Guilt slammed into him and he was desperate to get help. Then he saw the red lights. They seemed to be rotating in slow motion, a beacon of hope cutting through the fluffy, falling snow. He opened his mouth to call for help but he couldn't. He was going to die!

"Hey... hey... cut it out..." Jack moved in when Martin began to claw at his throat.

Martin shoved his adversary away and stumbled forward. Where did the red light go? The snow was falling too quickly and they were going to kill him. Then the hot metal pressed to his tender throat and he felt his life slipping away.

"Shit..." Jack cursed when Martin began to choke, his eyes unnaturally wide trained on a sight far beyond the room. Danny moved past him, dropping down behind Martin.

"Say it!" Danny ordered, familiar enough with the few details he had to know Martin was reliving the crucial frame in time where Callison had tried to kill him. Martin knew the 'red lights' were close but didn't call out for help. "The red lights are right in front of you, Martin. They can help you. Call to them!"

Martin heard an echo in his head and his brows furrowed in confusion. He knew the voice and trusted it. He knew he had to obey. And he tried... he tried hard. His mouth opened and he wanted to call out. But no words fell; the only sound was the crunch of tires beneath that red light just a few feet away.

"Danny, that's enough."

"I know what I'm doing," Danny argued, gripping Martin's shoulder and hauling him up on his knees. He gripped the wet chin from behind and trained the head in one direction. "The red light is right there, Martin. Call for help. Do it!"

qqqI can't' Martin begged the voice, trying to find air. He was dizzy, his head was splitting in half and he couldn't breathe.

"Do it now!" Danny ordered sternly.

qqqNo, I can't... please ..." Martin saw black spots and fought hard for each small breath.

"Do it! Call out... Do it!"

qqqShut up! Shut up! Martin screamed silently. The voice was slamming into his tender brain. Each letter was like hot shrapnel imbedding itself over and over.

"Danny, he's had it," Jack insisted when Martin's eyes began to roll back in his head. He moved in but was stopped by a six foot wall of solid objection. Danny moved so quickly it stunned the team leader.

"Stay the hell away!" Danny warned, shoving Malone hard and sending him back several feet. His eyes were so hot they were scorching the walls behind the shocked Malone.

"Look, I know you think you're doing the right thing but..."

"No, you don't know!" Danny spat back, "Nobody knows, you weren't there," he seethed, swallowing the pain of what those horrible flashbacks did to him. "You didn't see him suffering in that warehouse, reliving what that sick fuckin' maniac did to him over and over." His voice broke but his resolve remained strong. He used his index finger and issued an edict. "It ends now. I won't have him suffer anymore. So stay the hell away from me!"

Turning back to Martin, who was on all fours again, he pulled him up and knelt behind him. Once again he gripped the slack jaw from behind. Martin's head lolled against his chest and his mouth was sucking air like a fish on the dock. "Oh no you don't," he slapped the face then, causing the body to jerk in his arms.

"Call for help!" he ordered but the weak body in his arms was in denial. The damp curly head shook no. "Yes, you can! Dammit Martin! Do it now!"

qqqSHUT UP!

"CALL FOR HELP!"

qqqSHUT UP! GO AWAY. IT HURTS.

"DO IT!"

qqqNO... NO... NO...

"Why not?" Danny asked when the head kept shaking 'no'. "Why can't you call for help? Why not? You tell me..."

qqqNOxxx

"Quit fuckin' around Martin and answer me!" Danny ordered.

qqqNo, I can't... I can't... I... I..."

The bad voice returned then, its evil words causing Martin's heart to clench. The other voice was louder, overruling the echo of the one who he trusted. Both voices were on a continual collision course and the wreckage was tearing his head apart. The pain exploded then in a supernova of agony and the key finally turned in the lock.

"Don't say a fuckin' word or I'll slit your fuckin' throat!" Martin wheezed and slumped into the strong arms that held him.

He thumped back against Danny's chest and loudly sucked in all the air he could take. His vision was blurry and he saw someone else bending down to look at him. For a minute the blurry face took shape and he heard his name.

"Martin?" Jack was so shocked for a few seconds he couldn't move. But when Martin's face lost all its color, he feared passing out would cause him to fall on Danny, who couldn't support that much weight.

"Jack?" Martin rasped, licking his dry lips. The black and red stars began to dance in front of his eyes and the throbbing pain in his skull was intense. He felt himself slipping away. "I think... I'm gonna..."

"Let go of him, Danny," Jack ordered and realized Taylor was holding on tight and not moving. "Danny!" he hollered and snapped his fingers. Taylor gasped and shook his head as if to clear it. "I got him."

Danny didn't want to let go, he couldn't explain to Jack that in that brief scattering of seconds, he'd felt Martin Fitzgerald's soul. It was physical warmth that engulfed him and he felt as if he'd stuck his finger in an electrical socket. Some unseen force had bonded the two together and in that brief span of eternity, he touched someone's soul. He'd actually felt it, the moment when Martin Fitzgerald's soul had finally gained its freedom. Reluctantly, he allowed Jack to ease Martin from his arms and onto the couch.

"...cold... cold..." Martin mumbled, shaking all over. Every memory came calling then in a long, uninvited parade.

"You went too far!" Jack advised sharply, grabbing the quilt on the sofa and wrapping it around the trembling agent.

"In your opinion," Danny sent back with a bit of acid, then rose and grabbed Jack when his legs buckled.

" He's going into shock. Call 911!" Jack shoved Martin's head down, "Keep breathing, slow and easy."

Martin heard his coworkers voices around him but most of the words sounded liked buzzing. It was as if bees were hovering near his head. But one thing he heard clearly and objected to; he didn't want any strangers prodding him and he didn't want a hospital stay.

"No way... doesn't... need ... more strange... faces..."

"...head injury... take... chance..."

"... I'm right... won't... hurt..."

"...my call... my partner..."

"No 911..." Martin whispered, finally getting enough strength to vote. He knew what part of the lightheadedness was from. "Drink with sugar... real sweet..."

"Low blood sugar," Jack recalled of Martin's profile. "Don't you pass out on me, Junior!" he ordered, rubbed the back of the damp, curly head and heading for the kitchen.

Danny nodded when Jack gave his back a pat and then he turned back to the pale figure on the couch. He watched a slip of pink tongue navigate the dry lips and the pale brown brows furrow again. The damp head moved back and forth and the eyes narrowed in pain. He laid a hand on the damp shirted shoulder.

"You okay, partner?"

Partner. A curious word. Was he truly Danny Taylor's partner? He remembered now, all too well, the harsh words he'd heard in the garage. Who was his real partner? He didn't answer, rather he dropped his head again, taking slow breaths and gaining some room. Finally the horrid dizziness passed and he didn't feel as if he was on a wayward roller coaster. A cold glass appeared before him with bright red juice. He took it, nodding gratefully and slowly drained it.

"You want some more?" Jack asked.

"Yeah..." Martin rasped, wondering why his voice sounded like bad sandpaper. He sat up then and immediately regretted it. The room swam, he felt his stomach lurch and his head was splitting. "Shit... not... now..."

"Don't you heave that Hawaiin punch shit on my couch, I'll never get it out," Danny reacted and got a glare.

"Thanks..." Martin managed and slowly took air until the queasy sensation passed.

"I'm sorry," Danny offered, "I didn't mean it like that. You okay?"

"I am now," Martin whispered, holding his hand out and gripping Danny's arm. "Thanks, Danny."

Danny was a lover of old westerns and knew the 'brotherhood' grip. It meant a lot to him and he also knew the 'old' Martin was not as emotionally verbal as Silent Martin had been. So it was unlikely a long passage of gratitude would occur.

Martin wasn't sure yet of all the pieces but he knew it was Danny Taylor's voice he'd heard in the dark place where he had been lost and it was that same voice and strong arm he now gripped that had dragged him back from hell. He wasn't sure how to even thank someone for that. He wasn't even sure of any words that would or could come close to conveying it. But the smile that surfaced on Danny Taylor's face and the pride shining in the dark eyes would be something he'd hold onto for quite some time. He wasn't sure what the tingling feeling was he had inside but a part of him wanted it to be friendship. He wanted to see respect from those eyes, like a partner should have. The arms parted as Jack Malone came back.

"How do you feel?" Jack asked putting a fresh glass of punch down.

"Like I got sucked into one end of a hurricane and spit out the other side." Martin sipped the juice thoughtfully; grateful for the energy it brought him.

"Not too far off," Malone agreed. "Do you remember what happened?"

Martin leaned back on the sofa and rested his head. He shut his eyes and put his hand over them. The pictures flashed before him, in an uneven sequence, his first day on the job, Maggie Cartwright, the weeks that followed and the fights and bitter words with Danny Taylor.

'We all know how he got here and it stinks'

The 'we' part of that heated epitaph that Taylor issued to his friends in the parking garage weighed heavily on Martin's heart. The original fears that haunted him that night returned. Was that part still true? Did Danny and the others still feel he was a lightweight riding on his father's name? The other memories were painful, as the dark night of the storm returned. The days that followed were a lost chain of gray and dismal images that made his already sour stomach churn. He'd turned into a vile, disgusting creature that had resorted to horrific acts.

"You'd never believe it."

"Don't be so sure," Jack answered.

"Sleeping in alleys and old crack houses," Martin recalled in a scratchy whisper. He swallowed his shame as the other images made themselves known, "using the alleys as a toilet, filthy clothes, eatin' rats... livin' like a damn animal..."

"Surviving!" Jack corrected, then frowned as the head dropped. "Get your head up, you're not a damn dog."

"It doesn't feel good, remembering that part," Martin answered, "It feels like it was a weird dream."

"I was there, Martin, for some of it," Danny offered, his voice choked. "and you have some serious cojones, my man. You saved my life in that warehouse and then some," he lauded.

"Two way street," Martin saluted back, realizing that Danny had gone undercover and nearly died for him. "It seems like a long time ago. It all started that night of the storm. I don't remember how I got lost. I can't remember much after eating lunch." He frowned and Jack filled him in.

"You got mugged, rolled and spent the night wandering during a storm trying to find help. The head injuries caused a brain bruise and you had amnesia. But something happened in the hours before dawn that stole your voice. What did Callison and Horne do to you? Can you talk about that?"

Could he talk about it? He wasn't sure. He eyed the two men nearby and realized that despite his personal objections to opening up, this was a police action. Crimes had taken place and he'd been a part of them. There would be more questions and detectives asking them. It might be easier if he spoke of it the first time with those he could trust. At least he hoped he could. He really wanted to be on Ma lone's team and hoped it wasn't too late to mend his ways.

"Okay," he agreed, closing his eyes as the room faded away.

"Take is slow, man, we're not leaving," Taylor supported.

Martin didn't hear what Danny said next, his ears were full of a whispered threat in a dark alley. A knife was pressed to his throat and the deadly threat was brutally issued. His face was slammed hard into the bricks and then the strong hands went around his throat. There was no more air, he was dying. But this time, he was in control. So he kicked the attacker hard, turned away, opened his eyes and he began to purge the poison that had been keeping him prisoner all these weeks.

FLASHBACK
Saturday, Nov. 9, 2002
Sometime after 3 a.m.

He'd lost all sense of time. Trudging along through the snow, with the wind blowing the flakes into his eyes, Martin only knew it was late and he needed help. The streets were deserted and eerily quiet with only the crying wind keeping him company. Gasping aloud, he suddenly found himself on his hands and knees again. It was getting harder and harder to maintain his balance. The pain in his head had no bounds. The world around him had been reduced to a blurry, distorted place right out of the Twilight Zone. One word resounded in his mind and matched every step.

HELP
HELP
HELP
HELP

He had no idea how far he'd been trudging along or for how many hours. Time had long since come to have no meaning to him. He paused to finger the filthy clothing he wore; these weren't his he was sure of that. What happened to his clothes? Where was he? Why did his entire body throb? He gasped and straightened up, not caring about the driving wind in his face. Had he imagined it? He peered through the intense blizzard and saw it again. The mantra in his head began again and he quickly hurried to catch up.

HELP
HELP
HELP
HELP

There was a man a block ahead of him, walking through the storm, someone to help him, someone to take the pain away. He picked up his pace and called out, his voice reduced to a hoarse whisper. His dry throat tasted of vomit and blood. He got closer, falling twice on the slippery, icy walk but forcing his rubbery legs to move. Finally he was just a few feet away. He mustered all his strength to cry out. This man was his last chance. He truly felt he couldn't go on much longer.

"H...Hey!"

Henry Hilliard stopped and turned around, peering through the thick snow falling behind him. He squinted as a raggedy figure in a long, dirty coat approached. He could smell the man before he got close; he reeked of urine and vomit. He wrinkled his nose and went to turn away.

"NO! STOP!" Martin yelled.

Hilliard looked closer and the overhead streetlamp shed some light on the man pursuing him. He took one look at the features on the reddened face and his stomach lurched. How could this be? He had to have the worst luck known to mankind. He thought he'd seen the last of the F.B.I. agent in the train station. How the hell did the guy find him? He wasn't going back to New York to face a murder charge. So that left only one option. He eyed the parking lot at the corner and began to run. Once he got around the corner, he picked up a slim metal trash can and waited.

"Hey!" Martin coughed, slipping badly and skidding around the corner. Before he could draw another breath, something hard and cold slammed into his stomach. He fell to his knees and a beefy fist found the side of his face.

"You stupid fuckin' cop," Hilliard ranted, pulling out his gun and yanking the wet head up. "You should have gone back to New York. Now you'll go back in a body bag." Just as he was about to pull the trigger a slow moving police car approached. Cursing, he shoved the gun in his pocket and glanced at his dazed victim. He wrapped both large hands around the exposed throat and squeezed as hard as he could.

Martin's eyes bulged to an unnaturally wide state and he clawed at the vise-like grip on this throat. The pressure was incredible and he felt himself slipping away. He was going to die if he didn't do something fast. He used his feet, shoving backward as hard as he could like a springboard. Both he and his assailant went to the left and tumbled sideways from the slippery sidewalk. The grip was gone and he painfully sucked in cold air through his gaping mouth, he spotted a red light that was moving. A moving light on a car... a police unit!

"He...he...he...p!!" he tried to call out but a tiny whisper was all that emerged.

Martin saw the other man start to rise and made his move. Desperation married his many years of martial arts training and it took over. He wasn't sure what moves he did or where they came from but Hilliard tumbled to the ground. Martin didn't take his eyes off the police car. He staggered at first and then broke into a haphazard run, seeking that red light.

"So you saw the police car after Hilliard attacked you and you tried to follow it?" Jack quizzed.

Martin took more juice, rubbed his throbbing eyes and nodded. "I lost the car in the snow. I was hurtin' really bad and desperate." His blue eyes went away then, recalling the harrowing part of the ordeal, the most brutal moments of his life. He rubbed his throat as the memory of what nearly ended his life came back.

"So you took a wrong turn and ran into Callison and Horne," Danny guessed and his partner nodded in zombie like fashion.

"Yeah," Martin whispered and once again went back in time

FLASHBACK

Martin stumbled blindly, the ice pelted his face and the wind slapped him hard. He couldn't see the red light! Hope was fading fast. Then he heard a muffled scream, a woman's voice and headed for the alley on the left. Peering down the alley partially obstructed at the far end, he saw a parked police car. He moved towards it, then his eyes widened in shock and horror. There was a young woman lying on the ground. Her shirt was torn open revealing breasts cut and oozing blood. Her short skirt was shoved above her waist. Her face was battered and beaten and blood ran from her nose and mouth. A cop with blond hair was kneeling between her legs, forcing himself into her roughly. Then she saw Martin and one bloody hand reached out for him and she called for help. The blond cop turned long enough to see him and then began to strangle her.

Martin moved quickly, picking up a board and swinging at the rapist's head but the cop moved and he only hit his arm. The thick woolen coat was no match for the board. So he threw himself sideways at the cop.

"You wandered into the wrong alley!" Callison grunted, punching the homeless man's head hard.

"...leave... her... alone..." Martin gasped, seeing dancing black spots and fearing he'd pass out. He saw the holster and went for the gun.

"FRANK!" Callison screamed, the wiry prisoner he was trying to subdue was squirming away.

Just as Martin reached for the gun, someone hauled him up from behind by the hair. He tried to pry the strong arm from around his waist; the loose fitting long coat worked to his advantage and he nearly broke free.

Callison heard a siren close by and the girl began to scream again. His partner was tangling with the homeless guy. He stood up long enough to shove his dripping dick back in his pants and zip up. The prostitute began to scream again, her eyes spotted the reflection of a red light on the glass window across the street. This was going bad in a fast way and he didn't have time to waste.

"Shut the fuck up!" Callison warned the screaming prostitute. He clamped both hands around her thin neck and began to squeeze the life from her. He actually got hard again when he saw the last bit of life leave her.

Martin was fighting hard to get free. He kicked the man hitting him between the legs. The cop fell and Martin kicked him again in the face. Then he tried to find the car, the red lights. The blond man hit him from behind, the icy ground was slippery and they both tumbled. Then Martin saw the wide unblinking eyes of the girl. The single hand that had reached out for him was now uncurled and lifeless. The blond cop had murdered her.

Callison knelt over the homeless guy from behind. The smaller man was on his knees, trying to stand. He whipped out his baton and put it over the guy's throat with brutal force. For a few moments, the only sound in the alley was the wild call of the wicked wind. The red lights seemed to move in terrific slow-motion, painting their glowing force on the glass. They were close, too close. Callison kept his grip but turned his attention away.

Martin couldn't breathe. He knew he was dying. He saw the red lights too and this was his only chance. He couldn't overpower the rogue cop, so he clawed for freedom. He used his index finger like a jackhammer, stabbing the cop's eye hard. It worked! He heard a soft curse and the baton was dropped. But Martin was too weak from the head injury and the near strangulation. He couldn't stand, he began to crawl away and call out for those red lights. They were his only salvation. So he parted his lips, his voice was weak and barely audible.

"Hey... help... over here..."

"On no you don't!" Callison eyed the car that was now dangerously close to them and the knife that the hooker dropped when she tried to defend herself. He picked up the blade and yanked the wet brown hair back hard and pressed the blade against the exposed skin of the blue-eyed man's throat.

"Don't say another fuckin' word or I'll slit your fuckin' throat!" he growled pressing the blade closer to emphasize the point.

Martin's heart was pounding so hard it hurt his chest and he felt as it was going to explode. His eyes went wide with fear as the deadly intent of the desperate and now murderous cop became evident. Gasping hard, sweat poured down his face, stinging the eyes that watched frantically as the cop car moved closer. The pain in his skull was pulsating in time, echoing the words the cop had spoken. His rebellious lips parted, but fear and the cold steel pressed to this throat prevented him from crying out. Then as the car slowed again, the icy fingers holding the blade to his throat began to slip. Martin had nothing to lose, they were going to kill him anyway. He tried to duck sideways and used his mouth, biting the exposed wrist of the killer cop hard.

"Shit!" Callison hissed.

He slammed the struggling body against the brick wall hard, causing a loud whoosh to sound as the air left his prisoner's lungs. He shook his hand and picked the knife back up and yanked the dazed homeless prick's head up. The blade was back in place, pressed to the veins now popping out on the pale throat. The unit slowed down, the flashlight the patrolman was using just barely missed them. The body of man he held before him went limp about the same time as the car finally turned the corner.

Martin didn't move when they dumped his body. He didn't even flinch when the blond cop spat on him. He was so weak and on the verge of unconsciousness, it was all he could do to remain awake. He didn't have the strength to move as much as one finger, but he heard every word they said.

"Come on; let's dump her body back in that dive she rolled out of. It's a mess, they'll figure one of her Johns iced her."

"You went too far," Horne suggested.

"She knew too much, Frank, she saw us sellin' coke," Callison replied, "besides, nobody will miss a junkie whore."

"What about him?" Horne asked of the motionless beggar.

"We'll load him in the back and toss him in the river. He'll wash up in a few days, just another sad statistic." Callison lifted the dead girl by her underarms while his partner took the legs. Her room was on the third floor of the building and they used the fire escape. They weren't gone for more than fifteen minutes, but when they returned, the homeless man was gone.

"Shit!" Callison swore, kicking the trashcan. "He can't be far, let's find him."

Martin was across the street, hiding under a grate. He held his breath when they walked on top of the metal bars above his head. But after what seemed like the longest span of minutes he could ever recall, they got in the car and left. He crawled out, his head was swimming. His useless legs were like rubber and wouldn't support him. But he was alive!!! So he stumbled and fell, crawling into the dark night. Then he spotted a large cross in the sky, its whiteness became his beacon. His sole focus was finding that building. The cross became like a magnet for him. He managed to get to his feet and stagger, his eyes never losing the large white cross.

For a few moments nobody spoke, each man silently absorbing the nightmare that had been brought to life. Jack moved and sat on the other side of Martin when the younger man began to shake. He'd seen this happen before and knew it was an emotional purging. So when Martin began to fight the sob that was stuck in his throat, he rested his hand on the shivering soul's back.

"It's okay, man, let that shit out, you earned it," Danny supported, wrapping his arm around Martin's shoulder. "I got you, partner, and that bastard's dead. He can't hurt you anymore."

"She looked at me, reached her hand out," Martin choked, swiping his damp eyes and sitting forward. He lassoed his rambling emotions and shoved them back down. "I couldn't help her..."

"It's not your fault!" Jack corrected. "You had a series of serious head injuries and you're lucky you weren't killed. The cerebral contusion was serious and that bleeding inside your head is a large contributing factor to all of this."

"Which is why you couldn't speak," Danny theorized. "That's like some kind of weird subliminal suggestion."

"Exactly, Jack agreed, "and why your brain shut down. The image of the red lights triggered that bastard trying to kill you and telling you not to talk."

"So you didn't," Danny concluded.

"Would you recognize her again?" Jack asked.

"Recognize her?" Martin hissed, eyeing Jack as if he had sprouted a spare head. "How the hell can I forget her face? I was the last living soul she saw."

"Easy, man!" Danny warned, "We're on your side."

"Hispanic female, eighteen to twenty, long, dark, curly hair and big brown eyes." Martin snapped back into F.B.I. mode. "A junkie, too thin and way too young. She had a rose tattoo on her neck."

"Good," Jack replied, "That's enough for me to keep that bastard Horne in jail. I'm gonna call Hartford PD tomorrow and ask about her. Can you remember anything about the alley or the buildings that would help nail the location?"

"Bakery," Martin said, seeing the red lights hitting the word. "Uh... lots of paintings on the windows of bread... it's on the corner... uh... white lettering..."

"Good, very good." Malone stood up then. "You want to call your folks?"

"Yeah." Martin stood up and Danny pointed to the hallway.

"Use my bedroom, it's more private."

"Thanks."

Martin dialed and when his mother answered, for a moment he couldn't speak. He remembered those days in the hospital and all she'd done for him, the time at his childhood home where despite his coldness she bathed him in love.

"Is anybody there?" Jean asked and was about to hang up when it happened. Those two words she'd prayed every night to hear, now they locked into her heart and it swelled.

"Hello, Mom?"

Danny waited about a half hour and then went to check on Martin. He tapped lightly and didn't get a reply, so he opened the door. Martin was sleeping but this time the fine features were relaxed. The breathing was even and true. Danny took a quilt from the closet and rested it over the worn out body. He paused in the darkened room, wondering who would wake up. Although he wanted the emotive, silent Martin to remain, for he felt a kinship there, he knew by the verbal and body language he'd seen that the former Martin had returned. So with a heavy heart, Danny shut the door and watched the ghost of the blue-eyed warrior he'd come to know and respect fade away.

Twenty-Four

Jack woke up with a start. It took him a few seconds to recall where he was and what had transpired. The television was broadcasting a news report about civil unrest in some far part of the troubled world. He glanced at his watch and realized he'd been dozing in Danny Taylor's recliner for a couple hours. It was just after nine p.m. and he sat up, rubbed his eyes and yawned. He moved from the chair and walked to the sofa, where the dark-haired agent was sound asleep. Jack pulled the quilt up and turned towards the back of the apartment to check on the recovering member of his team. He passed the kitchen and paused when he spotted Fitzgerald sitting quietly at the table.

"Martin?"

Martin looked up and met Jack's concerned gaze. He wasn't used to people fussing over him and it was a bit unsettling to have two grown men mothering him. He scowled and wrapped his hands around the heat coming from the coffee mug.

"I'm fine," he answered of the question lingering in the dark eyes.

"Then why the hell are you sitting here in the dark?" Jack questioned, flipping the light switch on.

He poured himself a cup of coffee and grabbed a donut from the box on top of the refrigerator.

"Did you get your folks okay?"

"Yeah."

So that was how it was going to be. The old Fitzgerald had returned. Although the younger man wore a sweatshirt, Jack could see a row of buttons being buttoned up tightly, keeping everything inside. The sphinx-like profile was clearly back in place. And that was a shame, because the glimpse he'd gotten of the other Martin who, although he couldn't talk, spoke volumes with his emotions, was a stronger man.

"So, how did that go? Are they coming down or..."

"Uh... yeah, I guess," Martin muttered. He didn't want to talk about this but it was clear Jack was not going to let up. "My mom was crying so much it was hard to hear."

"She's a class act," Jack commented. "And, she earned every one of those tears."

"Thanks," Martin agreed, "She is pretty special. I didn't talk to him long. He didn't have much to say."

The acid in the voice worried Jack a bit. He knew Martin and his father had unsettled issues between them. But he'd thought that this near tragedy had helped to mend that. Something told him the pensive face on the other side of the table was still hiding something.

"I'm not going to rush you, Martin, but I'm going to need a statement. Just uh... take your time and use Danny's PC. Write down everything you can remember. If you're up to it this week, we really should go back to Hartford and talk to the DA about Horne."

"Yeah, sure," Martin agreed, shivering a bit as the mention of the cop's name brought back bad memories. He sat for a moment, troubled by the events. He'd woken up a little while ago and having found the other two sleeping, taken refuge in the kitchen. His headache was only partially due to the physical injury. He had a lot on his mind. Now that the box was open and his long lost memories had returned, they were actively pursuing his full attention. One corner of his mind was juggling the heated words Danny had spoken about him in the Fed. Another corner of his mind was jousting with the memories of the dead girl and the two animals that were responsible and whom had nearly ended his own life. Yet another part of his mind was dueling with a calendar. That troubled him the most. Nearly four weeks had gone by and all that time he'd been missing, all the manpower and time others had spent looking for him all because he didn't speak up to the priest at the mission.

"Such a fuckin' waste of time," he mumbled in disgust.

"You want to expand on that?" Jack pressed, seeing flashes of anger in the troubled sky eyes.

"All of this... time..." Martin vented, shaking his head. "You, Danny, the cops in Hartford... manpower wasted on me. All because I didn't tell Father Joe..."

"First of all, genius," Jack's sarcasm rose up, "You had a very serious head injury and you were sick with a fever. Amnesia is very real, Martin, you didn't do that to yourself on purpose. You being mute was your subconscious reacting to Callison's threat."

"So stupid..."

"Look Martin, I don't have time to hold your hand, okay?" Jack addressed the moping body. "It happened, I did the job I was trained to do, Danny went undercover and did his job. It's over and done with, get over yourself already!" Jack warned. "Quit cryin' in your beer and pull yourself up by the balls."

Jack was right of course. Wallowing in the 'whys' and 'what ifs' wasn't going to help anything. He still had several weeks of recovering to do before he'd be cleared for work. He would have to mend his mental wounds in that time. One by one, he'd conquer those demons if he could. But what if his teammates felt the way Taylor had referred to? Could he really be a part of Malone's team if the others didn't trust him?

Jack could hear the wheels in Martin's head turning and he didn't like what he heard. One thing Fitzgerald had was confidence. The doubt he'd first seen flickering in the rookie's eyes in the parking garage that night was the same hue he saw now. He didn't like it then and he still was not comfortable with it.

"Alright, Martin, spill it," Jack pressed. "What's eatin' you? You never did answer me."

"Huh?" Martin slowly drew his gaze from Danny's window to his boss. "What are you talking about?"

"The morning you and Danny left for Hartford, you asked me why I hired you. I want to know what happened on that Thursday night to plant that stupid seed in that thick head of yours."

"Did you hire me for who I was or what my name was?"

There it was out and Martin felt one of the busy spots in his brain let off a relief valve. He saw the flash of anger in Jack's stormy eyes just before the slow burning fuse exploded.

"What the hell kind of question is that?" Malone demanded.

"That night... I heard Danny talking to his friends about me. He said... they said... more or less you... only hired me because of my name."

Jack watched Martin's face flush with color and his head dropped down. So that was what was troubling him? He realized now that the old bruises, the ones embedded deeply inside the rookie would be much harder to heal. There was nothing in a bottle or from the drug store that would cure what ailed him.

"I gotta know, Jack." Martin's voice was a choked rasp.

Jack thought for a moment before replying. He held out his open hand and sternly addressed his troubled newcomer. "I gave you this the day I hired you. That's your answer." He rose up, ate the end of the donut and took a hearty sip of coffee. He tossed the rest down the kitchen sink. He turned to Martin then and didn't hide his anger. "And don't you ever question my integrity again!"

"I'm sorry, Jack," Martin answered contritely, "but you're not the one saddled with the name Fitzgerald."

"Oh, so I'm supposed to feel sorry for you?" Jack's hackles rose, "because you got stuck with half of your old man's name? Horseshit!"

"Half?" Martin's face puzzled up.

"Half!" Jack was adamant. "Half of it is yours and you work your ass off and make it shine. You show the world that you're not Victor's son, that's he is Martin's father."

Martin sat up and back in the chair. Jack's words hit him like a volley of bullets. He'd never thought of that before. He'd been so busy being angry at what he felt was prejudice, he'd not allowed himself room for another possibility. Was Jack right? Was the answer that simple? Could he prove to those nay Sayers that he was worth his meddle? That he was not Victor's son but his own man?"

"I guess I never thought of it that way, Jack," he admitted in a small voice.

"As far as those idiots who beat you that night," Jack paused. "Do you remember any of that?"

Martin thought for a moment and shook his head. "Not really. I remember Danny was mad, really mad. He said some things..." Martin broke off then, "Uh... I was going to get some air, I was so upset at what he said." He closed his eyes then and tried to remember. "Sorry, Jack. I remember waking up and hurting like hell. It was dark, cold, I was on the concrete. But, I can't remember."

"Damn..." Jack mumbled.

"I'm sorry."

"That's okay, Junior," Jack stressed. "We got some of it on tape and the rest came in confessions when they were brought in. That should be enough. Who knows, maybe it'll come back to you during the next month or so before you come back to the team."

"Team?" Martin muttered.

"Is that what this is all about? You don't think you're part of my team anymore?"

"Hard to be part of a team when the others don't trust you."

"That's a fuckin' load of shit, Martin, and get that out of your head. I built this team and I know what makes it run."

"But Danny said that... that 'we'... all know why he was hired and we don't like it. 'We', Jack. That means not only does Danny not trust me, Vivian and Sam don't either."

"Really? So you talked to Vivian and Sam about this?"

"Well, no but..." Martin began only to be cut off.

"No buts about it, Martin, because that is simply not true. Danny has a temper and he told me about shooting his mouth off that night. 99% of that was his temper talking, and not Vivian or Sam. You two didn't hit it off right from day one. You were pissed off about being Victor's son and so consumed by that; Danny was wrong too, not giving you the benefit of the doubt. But you had a chip on your shoulder, Martin and he reacted to that. You were like two dogs fighting over the same bone. You each have some time to work this out before you are approved to active duty again. So I am telling you right now, get that shit straightened out. I know what you thought you perceived but I also saw the ballsy warrior who was ready to take on a fuckin' SWAT team protecting his partner." Jack stopped when Martin's head shot up. So that word still meant a lot to him, it was still the battered life preserver he was holding onto. "Partner, that's right. What I saw told me everything I need to know. What you two went through that weekend and what you did to save his life, that's all you need to know. That's what a partner does, what a friend does. Why can't you hold onto that?"

Could he hold onto that? Why was it difficult for him to accept that version of himself? He recalled every painful moment of that weekend. It was like watching some weird movie on television. It looked like him and walked like him but it wasn't him. He wasn't touchy-feely, he didn't get emotional or show himself. That Martin was so free giving it made him uncomfortable to think about it. But that was the Martin that Danny bonded with and was looking for. How could he be partners with a man who didn't know him?

"You going to be okay? I'm going to head home."

"Yeah, fine," Martin said in an odd voice. "Should we wake Danny? He needs his bed. I can take the couch back."

"No, he's sound, leave him be. I'll call Tim Simmons in Hartford tomorrow and ask if he's free later this week. You take a couple days and head back to Georgetown. Your mother needs to see you, she's healing too."

"Yeah," Martin agreed.

Neither one of them saw the shadow of a figure standing on the other side of the wall. Danny slipped back onto the couch and played dead. He heard Jack get his coat and speak with Martin at the door for a moment before leaving. He heard the microwave turned on when Martin reheated something to eat. He remained awake long after Martin cleaned his dishes up and went back to bed. His heart was too heavy carrying Martin's words to allow any sleep. He'd done more damage with his words than Callison or Hilliard had with metal, fists and wood. How could he repair that? There was no such thing as 'no' in his vocabulary, so he had to set out and get a new game plan. Because come hell or high water, Martin Fitzgerald would be his partner and a member of Malone's team.

New York

Martin was already showered and dressed when Danny stumbled into the kitchen. He'd awoken during the night with a bad headache and pain in his legs. He'd taken his pills and that had knocked him out. Martin looked up briefly when he came into the kitchen. Danny chuffed and wondered if Martin was planning on hiding out there until he left. He managed to get himself coffee and made himself a bowl of cereal.

"I'm sorry about the couch; I wanted to wake you..." Martin's voice trailed off when the other man found his chair directly across from him. Why did the room suddenly seem much too small?

"s'okay," Danny mumbled, resting his face in his hands for a moment. He hated waking up in a fog like this.

"I uh..." Martin proceeded, "have a train in a couple hours. I'm heading down to my folks. I have a physical scheduled for tomorrow. Jack wants me to head to Hartford to talk to the cops up there, I guess midweek maybe."

"Sounds like you have your appointment book all full," Danny noted bitterly. He felt the dormant anger he'd housed towards Martin for those five initial weeks returning. He didn't like the feelings now stirring in his gut or the defensive posture his body was already maintaining.

"Yeah, well..." Martin shrugged. "You got therapy and stuff, right?"

"Yeah... stuff..." Danny snapped. But he couldn't let this go. It was too important to him. He shoveled down his cereal and mulled through his emotions.

Martin was at the sink rinsing his coffee cup when he heard Danny speak. It was the tone rather than the words that caught his attention.

"Martin, we need to talk."

"Okay," Martin answered, crossing his arms over his sweater.

"See!" Danny hissed, watching the bricks that had come down to reveal the real Martin Fitzgerald slowly going back in place.

"What?" Martin barked, "I can't stand and cross my arms?"

"You're hiding again!" Danny accused. "Like you did before you went missing. You're putting that fuckin' wall back up."

"Wall?" Martin's voice rose. "This is who I am, Danny, take it or leave it. "

"No," Danny rose up and walked over until he was just inches from the troubled man. He knew Martin was struggling, he could feel the inner turmoil. He used his index finger and jabbed the area near Martin's heart. "This isn't the real Martin Fitzgerald, it's the pretender. Oh, you put on a good show and fool most of the people with that mask, but not me. I saw the real Martin in that warehouse and he's the partner... the friend... I want back."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Martin was brisk and shoved past Danny. " I don't have an alter ego."

"You know what Martin? You look shitty in yellow."

Martin wheeled around and his fist came up automatically. Danny didn't back off, rather he moved forward wearing a smug grin. Martin didn't like the odd feeling coursing through his insides. Who the hell was Danny Taylor to talk to him like that? Why did the cocky look in the dark eyes make him feel uncomfortable?

"Go ahead, big man," Danny dared, jutting his chin out in defiance.

Martin opened his mouth to reply but couldn't find the words. He just shook his head and forced his legs from the room. His bag was packed and waiting by the door. He'd already called a cab and it was due in about ten minutes. He could take the bag and wait downstairs. As if sensing his thoughts, Danny's voice once again cloaked the room.

"Run away, that's what the imposter would do; he doesn't have the guts my partner did."

Martin's fists balled up and he pressed them to his sides. Why wouldn't Danny let this go? Was he going to hound him like this every day? He felt his headache kicking in protest and he winced, pulling one hand up to press his temple. He didn't need this now, it was bad enough he had to face his father in a few hours.

"What the hell are you so afraid of?" Danny pushed, laying a hand on the tense shoulder.

"I'm not afraid of anything, including you!" Martin vented, whipping around and swaying a bit.

"I don't doubt that," Danny agreed, "You still got balls bigger than the state of Texas." He shoved Martin in the direction on the hall mirror. "That's who you're afraid of!"

Martin seemed transfixed by the image and Danny felt sure he heard a 'click'. Maybe he would have to take this in small doses. He knew he'd made a deep impression on Martin. Maybe during the next week while he was gone, he'd think about it. Danny would give him some room, but he wasn't going to give up. He turned away, seeking the relief for his aching back that only the hot shower could bring. When he emerged, twenty minutes later, Martin and his things were gone. He walked to the window and watched the New Yorkers moving quickly along the streets below. Just then a ray of sun broke through the overcast sky. His eyes found it and he captured it, hoping it was a good omen.

Georgetown, Washington D.C.

Martin paid the cab driver and eyed the majestic house before him. He knew the next couple of days would be difficult but this was necessary. He'd stopped at the bank on the way over and withdrew some money. Jack had told him the night before that he'd meet him at the train station with his wallet. The police had returned it and Jack had been holding it for him. It was as if the pieces were falling back in place. He knew the doctors would not clear him to drive for several weeks, not until the contusion on his brain fully healed. His ribs still ached most of the time and breathing hurt a bit, but it was the headaches that were killers. They came without warning and right now he had a doozy. The last thing he needed was that steely gaze of his father. But he had opted to come in the morning because the older man told him the night before he had a 'ten a.m. at the Pentagon.' So he'd bought himself a few hours.

Jean was just coming outside to check the mail when she saw Martin a few feet away. Her bottom lip trembled and then the waterworks erupted again. She flew towards him and he caught her, holding her close.

"Come on, mom, don't cry," Martin suggested. "I'm fine now."

She pulled back and held his handsome face in both hands. He was a handsome boy and she was so proud of him. She'd prayed all these weeks that his ability to speak and understand would return. Now he was stood before her, and the light was back in his eyes.

"I missed you," she confessed. Then she thought of the emotional stranger that he'd been during his last visit. As frustrating as his amnesia and muteness were, she liked the giving part of him that had been exposed. "But I hope you'll keep a part of him with you, I loved him too. So sweet and loving."

"I'm not..." Martin bit the words off, he wouldn't fight with her. Why did everybody want him to change? "I'm kinda tired mom and my head is killing me. If it's okay, I want to take my meds and hit the bed." And hide? He shoved that angry small voice away and entered the house.

Victor's apprehension proceeded before him into the house. He paused inside, listening to the silence. He hung his coat up and peeked into the kitchen. The scent that he found told him chicken of some kind was in the oven. He found his wife sitting quietly in the study.

"He's out," Jean answered and shook her head. She saw the same fear in her husband's eyes she had in her son's. Odd, that they would have that in common. "And he's hiding too."

"I'm not hiding, this is my house!" Victor barked.

"Hiding!" she emphasized. "You promised me in the hall outside his room in ICU that day that you would talk to him. He almost died Victor. It's time you two bury the hatchet. I won't have that bickering anymore." She saw his hackles coming up and pressed onward. "And yes, I told him the same thing. He went for a walk to think about it. I told him you'd meet him at the King's Arms, he's waiting there for you." She moved past him to check on the dinner. She stopped by her husband and saw the man that no one else did. They only saw the arrogant Deputy Director of the F.B.I. They didn't see the frailty and fear that she now saw. She rested a hand on his cheek and found his eyes. "Just love him, Victor, is that so hard? Welcome him back for what he is. He'll never be a senator, honey, that's not his calling. But he's a fine young man, someone any father would be proud of. All he needs is to hear that."

"I know," Victor stammered. "I know..." He slumped a moment and shook his head. "I keep thinking about seeing him in that bed. All those tubes in him, that monitor... but..."

"But what?" She caressed his troubled cheek. "You're as stubborn as he is, it's a wonder I've survived all these years. That damned Fitzgerald pride..."

"But I guess," Victor returned, catching his hand on the back of her neck, "I've been wrong and I have to tell him that. My son, Martin..."

"Thank you," she accepted the hug and kiss and then felt a weight lift from her heart. She only hoped Martin would drop his barriers.

Federal Building
Manhattan

"Who the hell does he think he is!"

Doctor Lisa Harrison sat back in her chair and watched the angry young man stalk the room again. Although they had made some progress during last week's sessions, this one was different. Jack Malone had called earlier and told her that Martin's voice and memories had returned. So she knew both young men were jockeying for position. All she'd done was ask about Martin and Danny Taylor had exploded. The reserved, polite answers she'd tolerated during the earlier sessions were gone. This is what he needed to purge and what she'd been waiting for.

"Confused," she added. "He's been through a lot, Danny. It won't be easy for him, especially given your history."

"I'm not the problem!"

"You don't think so?" she prodded and he found a chair. His fingers tapped impatiently on the table next to him and the handsome features were puzzled into a brooding mask.

"There he was in my kitchen, using mortar and bricks... puttin' that damn wall back up!" Danny vented. "I won't have it," he attested, eyes flashing. "I'm takin' every one of them fu... damn bricks down one by one."

"You need to heal yourself first," she warned.

"I need some air," Danny disagreed, eyeing the clock. "Times up, doc. I'll see you Thursday."

"Danny, just think before you act. He's been traumatized and he's got a lot of healing to do. It won't happen overnight. Don't give him any new wounds."

"Yeah, yeah," he muttered and reached for the door.

He found the elevator and waited for the doors to open. He wasn't even sure where the hour went. All she'd done was ask about Martin and it was as if Pandora had lifted the lid on that box again. Every fly and spider he'd been hiding carefully during their earlier sessions had flown out. It was as if he was unable to control himself. He couldn't stop talking about his frustration in reaching Martin. He was still wearing a scowl when the door opened.

"You know if you're not careful, your face will freeze like that?"

"Sam?" Danny blinked.

"Then what would those throngs of desperate females do?" she teased but he didn't smile. "Hey? What's wrong?"

"Everything's all fucked up," Danny noted with a long sigh and rubbing the bridge of his nose. The headache he'd been holding at bay all morning just broke through with sharp talons.

"Come on." Sam took his arm and steered him into the elevator. "I'll buy you lunch."

Gino's wasn't crowded yet, it was only eleven a.m. and the mad rush for lunch wouldn't begin for another hour. They were able to snare one of the few, prized booths in the corner of the cozy eatery. Its dark wood and brass fixtures spoke of another era. The waitress put down two cups of coffee and then two bowls of Escarole soup. Sam was halfway through the bowl when Danny placed the warm, crusty roll he'd been buttering down.

"Why is he doing this?"

"What happened? Jack said Martin seemed better, he was talking..."

"Yeah," Danny scoffed, shoving his empty bowl away. "He was talking alright, every perfect one word answer. It was real chilly again, just like he was before."

"Danny, he's been through a lot, you have to give him some time, it's only been a couple of days." She was surprised that Danny was this upset but she was glad at the same time. He cared enough to fight for what he'd lost and that was a good sign.

"He's gonna go back, I can feel it. That smug, smartassed, cocky, son-of-a-bitch that I..."

"That you didn't like," Sam filled in, pausing as the waitress reappeared. She took the empty dishes, filled their mugs and left more bread. "First of all, you have to stop yelling at him."

"Me?" Danny's voice rose a full pitch. "Sam, I'm not the problem."

"Oh, come on, Danny, this is me you're talking to, okay? You went in with both barrels right off, didn't you?" She waited but he didn't reply, rather he leaned heavily on his arms on the table. "You can't push him that hard, you'll push him away. You don't think this is hard for him too? First of all, he damn near died. His body hurts. I had a concussion once, a bad one. Those headaches are killers. His brain was bruised badly, his ribs are healing... how would you feel if you lost that much time? If you suddenly remembered living on the streets, urinating in alleys and having the world look at you like dirt? It has to be hard and don't forget he's going back to face Victor today. He remembers that warehouse, Danny, and I'll bet a part of him wants that Martin back. But right now, he's not ready to embrace it. He's got too much on his plate and I'll bet he's a little scared."

"Maybe I was too hard," Danny admitted. "But I just... you guys didn't see him... live it... he was amazing. I felt something, Sam, here, you know?" He tapped his gut and swallowed hard. "Last night when I held onto him, when he finally spit that shit out... I swear, Sam, I felt his soul."

"Then hold onto to that, Danny," she encouraged, drinking in the tremble in his voice. She reached over to lay her hand on his. "He felt it too and I'll bet it shook him up. You've always been emotional, proud to wear your heart on your sleeve. But I think he sees showing emotion as a sign of weakness or at least he did before. It could be he wants to change but he's afraid." She withdrew her hand and saw the dark eyes darting back and forth. "Give him some time and let him talk. Don't bark at him and push him against a wall."

The waitress came back and put their plates down. Sam took a good bite out of her Tuscany Panini, loaded with grilled chicken, roasted peppers, provolone a nd spinach. Danny wolfed down half of his meatball parmigiana sandwich before pausing for air. He carefully digested the words Sam spoke along with the food. Was she right? Had he wanted it so badly he pushed Martin away? They both had a few days to think things over. He would take a more positive approach. Maybe you can draw more flies with honey.

"You know what?" Danny complimented softly. "You bottle blondes are pretty smart." He chuckled and ducked when a roll few at him. Then he gifted her with his best Danny smile. "Thank you... Samantha..."

The historic tavern had been around since the Revolutionary War. It's stone walls still held onto secrets told by bright-eyed patriots long dead. It had a large open hearth and it's walls were decorated with antiques of that troubled time. It had a fine selection of ales and a good menu full of hearty fare.

Victor spotted Martin at a table by the window. The pensive profile didn't offer much hope. He knew by the clouds in the normally fired up blue eyes that his son was troubled. He kept his wife's words and advice close to heart and made his way to the table.

Martin looked up when his father approached. His gut began to react as it always did and he felt the half dozen snakes uncoil and bare their fangs. But something was different this time. He saw something in the gray eyes that startled him, contriteness and maybe hope? So the snakes receded and he waited.

"I uh... ordered coffee."

"Thanks, Martin," Victor replied and sat down. Before he could even speak, the waiter came over. "Uh... the uh... crab cake special and uh... chowder." He eyed the blackboard on the wall with the daily specials on it.

"Prime rib sandwich and shrimp bisque," Martin stated and then waited for the waiter to leave. "Thanks for coming, dad, I know you're busy."

"Not too busy for you," Victor admitted, meeting his son's gaze. He saw hope flickering there and didn't waste the opportunity to seize it. "The old Victor might have been... but not this one. That day in the ICU when your mother and I first saw you..."

Martin was taken aback at the break in his father's voice. Moreover he was moved that the older man couldn't go on. Maybe his mother had been right this morning. She'd warned him to tread easy, that his father had changed. She'd encouraged him to keep an open mind and reminded him that they both needed to reach out.

"I nearly lost something so very precious... something I had no idea I held." He remarked of Martin. "The day you were born, I vowed I would be a father you could be proud of. But... it was hard for me the older you got to show... that."

"I know, dad, it's okay," Martin replied. "It's hard for me too."

"I want to start off by saying, how sorry..." Then Victor shook his head. "No... how wrong I was that day on the phone. Do you remember that day? The day before you went missing? We argued on the phone."

As Martin sat back to recall that day and the heated words, the waitress put their soup down along with a basket of hot herbed bread and honey butter in a chilled crock. He thought back in time and recalled that conversation and how underneath all the venom, he was very hurt by what he perceived as disappointment from his father.

"I was upset... I disappointed you again. It seems I can never do the right thing." Martin reflected.

"You have never," Victor emphasized, "never, disappointed me, Martin. You're a fine young man, one any father would bust his buttons over. I was the jackass with my head buried in the sand. All these years... all the wasted time. I should have told you...."

"I know you wanted me in Washington, dad." Martin proceeded to the root of the problem. "From the time I got into High School, that's all you talked about. You'd drag me to parties to introduce me to the 'right' people in the Senate. I never wanted that. I tried to tell you but you never heard me."

"I'm listening now," Victor admitted. "And I'd like to hear what your goals are, Martin. I can't make up for the damage I did all those years. Those are scars I'll carry to my grave. But I would like to think that now the sky is blue not cloudy."

"I'd like that too, dad," Martin agreed. It wouldn't be easy and they would still have their battles. Martin admired Jack Malone and he knew his father didn't approve of the team leader, but at least now he respected Martin for who he was and for having the courage to be his own man. That changed everything. So over a lunch that both would remember for a long time, they started rebuilding their relationship.


Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Twenty-Five

Manhattan

Jack pulled up in front of Penn Station and honked the horn. Martin was standing by the curb and headed for the car for when he saw him. Malone popped the trunk from inside, so the young man could stow his bag in the back. A few moments later, Martin got into the car. It was early, not even seven thirty and traffic was already bad.

"Hey," Martin said, buckling his seatbelt.

"How are you feeling?" Jack asked, noticing that Fitzgerald look good.

"Pretty good, a little nervous," he admitted.

"You'll do fine, just tell the truth. We'll head to Hartford PD first, Simmons will have you look at a lineup and you can give your statement. They have a potential ID on the girl you described. They're going to show you some morgue photos from women who met the description that were killed that week."

"Great..." Martin mumbled.

"If you're up to it, on the way into town, I thought we could go over the path you took. I want to stop at that alley where you confronted Horne and Callison."

"Okay," Martin agreed and thought for several moments. He not only remembered the black times of that week in hell but the kind people who'd aided him. "If we have time, there are a few people I'd like to thank."

"Sure," Jack readily agreed, eyeing the pensive profile. "You remembered more?"

"Yeah. I remember a guy at a chicken place. He gave me a bag with food, a blanket. He treated me like a real person." Martin stopped then, his flush betraying his emotional tide.

"We met him, he's a good guy. He was worried sick about you. He even canvassed the neighborhoods at night looking for you."

"Damn..." Martin whispered. "And Annie... I remember her clearly."

"So do I," Jack grinned, "she's quite a lady."

"That she is," Martin agreed. "And I want to stop by and thank Father Joe again."

"He called my office yesterday asking about you. He's been praying for your recovery."

"I guess it's good to have friends with connections in high places," Martin teased.

For awhile, they rode in silence, but Jack knew something else was troubling Martin. Despite his reassurances of the other day, he felt maybe the rookie was still harboring doubts. He knew by the brief conversation he'd had with Taylor the day before, things had not gone well when Martin left. He also knew how hard Martin was struggling to find a common ground among the two personalities he'd shown. Then there were those old feelings about his qualifications.

"Martin," Jack began and waited for the apprehensive blue eyes to find his own. He caught them for a moment, sending reassurance, then kept his eyes on the road. "I want to apologize for barking at you the other morning."

"Jack, you don't owe me any...."

"Let me finish," Jack interjected. "I came on too hard, I know that. But one thing I won't tolerate is self-pity. One of the many things that put you at the top of my A list when I interviewed candidates for the opening on the team was your confidence. You have a fire inside, Martin, and that is something that they don't teach at Quantico. You were the top of your class, so we don't have to cover that. Despite the fact you didn't want white collar, you excelled there as well. You have several high profile collars to your credit. So when I made my selection, it was because the intense young man I interviewed had a moral compass inside that was refreshingly real. I know being Victor's son had to be hell, especially at Quantico." He peeked sideways and saw Martin's jaw clench as bad memories came back. "And there is always going to be other agents who will try to make you feel less than you are due to your name. But you need to stand tall, Junior, and look at the man in the mirror. Because, what I see, is someone I am damn proud to have as a part of my team."

"Thanks, Jack," Martin's voice was tight, he was not used to being on the receiving end of accolades. But Malone's words made a difference, he felt a bit taller.

"Look, I know you and Danny have some unresolved issues. That's normal considering what the two of you went through. You both have short fuses and there's gonna be times when you two butt heads over stuff. But I also know that what I saw in that warehouse is something that you don't always find on a team or in a partnership. You were ready to take a bullet for him. That came from somewhere."

"He wants me to be somebody that I'm not," Martin blurted. "This is me... why isn't that good enough?"

"That's something you need to talk to him about. But you have to do a little soul searching Martin. Because whether you want to admit it or not, that Martin who fought on the streets in Hartford to stay alive and who took care of his injured partner, wearing his heart on his sleeve is a part of you too. It might be a part that normally you bury, but the head injury didn't allow for that. Just don't rush to close that door and bury him again. There are tools there that helped to define you, tools that you need."

Martin didn't reply but the exaggerated sigh told Jack he'd hit a sore point. He did notice that Martin's face was pinched in pain and he was gripping the edge of the seat.

"Why don't you rest your eyes, maybe lose that headache?" Jack suggested and the brown head bobbed. He hoped that Martin would really think about using all the tools he was given.

Hartford

Although the sun was shining over the skyscrapers on this brisk December day, for Martin Fitzgerald it was dark and snowy. Hidden shadows seemed to leap out at him and he was so cold it defied description. The pain in his head was unbearable and his legs were like lead.

"You okay?" Jack asked, watching Martin wince and hiss. He got no reply but the younger man's breathing accelerated. "Hey, Martin!" When the next corner brought a stop sign, Jack reached over and shook Fitzgerald's leather jacket. He jumped, startled. "Are you alright?"

"Uh... uh... yes..." Martin lied then shook his head, "no... flashbacks. It's like watching a weird movie."

"This is where Danny and I theorized you went after that second mugging. It was sometime after that when you ran into Petruzzo, right over there." Jack pulled the car over and Martin got out, walking directly to the spot where on the video, he'd approached the security guard for help. Jack parked the car and followed. He watched Martin's eyes moving down the alley and then his fists balled up. Two broken crates and a trash can received the brunt of his fury.

"That sick bastard!" Martin spat, then eyed the building. "Where is he? I wanna shove him down on his knees and ram a pipe up his ass."

Jack chuckled then, glad to see the fire back in the rookie's eyes. "He was fired. The Hartford FBI brought him up on charges, he was released on bail."

Jack let Martin release more steam and then they returned to the car. He felt that revisiting the scenes of that shattered night would help to heal the festering wounds inside. The next stop was harder, for they didn't know where Martin ran into Hilliard. Hilliard only gave a rough description but as Jack drew near to the spot, Martin sat up.

"Pull over!"

"I can't Martin, I'm in traffic." He saw the frantic eyes darting and one hand reaching for the door handle.

"MARTIN!" Jack shouted, grabbing his arm. "Stay inside the car, we're in traffic. I'll go back, I promise."

No sooner had they pulled into the next available parking spot, Martin flung the door open and ran back. Jack followed as quickly as he could and nearly ran into the recovering agent. As quickly as Fitzgerald had entered an alley after making two precise turns, he froze. Jack moved ahead and in front of him, so he could watch. Martin cocked his head and stared at an old mattress lying on the ground. He began to slowly shake his head then, whispering.

"...no... no..." Martin rasped, watching the life slip away from the dark-haired girl. He reached his hand out to her cold one, watching as her fingers slowly recoiled. "I'm sorry..."

The next images came fast and he felt Callison's fists on him and that knife pressed to his throat. The hot breath danced on his neck and those words were issued, warning him of the fatal mistake calling out would bring.

"Martin?" Jack said softly when Fitzgerald's hand moved to his throat. Martin's lips parted and he began to choke. Jack moved in as the dazed man dropped to his knees. "Hey, snap out of it!"

"I'm okay," Martin managed, cradling his gut. He felt his stomach churning and actually gagged twice. "She was right there, Jack. I tried to help her... she kept looking at me, reaching her hand out..."

"I know, I know," Jack reassured, keeping his hand on his shoulder. "They had her on that mattress, you're sure?"

"Yeah... that's where he raped her..."

"Okay, I'm gonna call it in, the lab should get something from it," Malone stated, "You gonna be okay?"

"Yeah." Martin let Jack help him up and moved over to a small retaining wall where he sat down. He raked one shaky hand through his hair and took several good, deep breaths. He was still seeing flashes of the two rogue cops attacking him.

"Martin, did Horne participate?"

"Yeah... he didn't stop Callison, he stood and watched. Then Callison said they had to kill her because she knew too much. She saw them buying coke. He tried to kill me, Jack. Callison tried too and nearly succeeded. I played dead and they decided to hide the body first, then dump me in the river. He let Callison kill her and helped moved her body."

"Okay, that's great Junior," Jack complimented. "You sure you're okay? You look as white as a sheet."

"I knew today would be rough," Martin admitted, "but it's taking a toll."

"I can call Simmons and push it back, if you want."

"No!" Martin was firm and stood up, recovering slightly. "The sooner I get this over with, the sooner I can try to put it behind me."

"Okay, let's go."

It was just after ten a.m. when Tim Simmons saw Jack Malone and Martin Fitzgerald walk into his outer office. He put the phone down and went outside to greet them. The rookie looked rough but at least he was on his feet.

"Hey, good to see you again. You look much better," he said, shaking Martin's hand.

"Thanks, Tim," Martin replied, "for everything. Jack told me you really busted your ass that week for me."

"Hey, he's the kind of guy you have to stay on the good side of," he teased.

"Martin's ready to make his statement now. Once we get that done, you can call downstairs and tell them to get the lineup ready," Malone offered.

"Okay," Simmons led Martin to a table inside the interrogation room. He opened a folder with a dozen photos. "Martin, I want you to see if any of these women..."

"It's her," Martin pulled out the fourth photo. He swallowed hard and saw her pleading eyes again begging for help.

"Are you sure?"

"Am I sure?" Martin stood up, sending the chair flying. "She looked right at me; she held her hand out for help. Callison shoved his dick into her and I didn't do a damn thing. You think I can forget that? Watching him choke the life outta her? Horne stood right beside him and watched. I can't go to sleep at night without seeing her face. Yeah, it's her!"

"Alright, alright..." Simmons put both hands up defensively.

"Tim, Martin found the alley where they killed her. There's a mattress there, you need to send a team for DNA." Jack handed the address over.

"Yeah, that fits." Simmons flipped the photo over and pulled out the paper file that matched the number on it. "That's the alley that backs up to her apartment. They must have moved her." He nodded to the door. "Sorry, Jack, you have to wait outside."

"I know," Jack answered, pausing by Martin's chair. He gave Martin's shoulder a tug and met the emotive blue eyes head on, calming them with his dark ones. Once he felt Martin was ready, he left the room.

Forty minutes later, Martin emerged with Simmons and two other F.B.I. agents from a small interrogation room. Jack had to wait in the outer office, drinking coffee and reading the paper. He knew by the pinched expression Fitzgerald wore that his headache had returned. Wary of the contusion on the brain, he motioned for him to sit down.

"You have your pills with you?" Malone asked.

"Yeah, but they're too strong. I don't want them to say I was on something. I want to ID Horne. Then we can take a break. But if you can find a soda and a candy bar..."

"Your sugar is low?"

"Feels like it," Martin answered, resting his head against the back of the chair. A few minutes later his arm was touched. A snickers bar, Mallow cups and a Coke were presented.

"You eat up, I'm gonna check in with Tim."

"He did good, Jack, he's got an amazing eye for detail. That rose tattoo nailed it. He even remembered Horne having a broken watch on his wrist, the face was cracked. "

"So you think it'll stick?" Jack asked.

"Oh, yeah," Tim nodded, "I tried tripping him up several times and Joe and Max did too," he noted of the other two agents, "but he held his ground. He's a real terrier."

"Yeah." Jack watched Martin wolfing down his chocolate cache. "Listen, he's had a rough morning riding a roller coaster down memory lane. Is that lineup ready? I want to get him out of here."

"Yeah, we can go down now."

Martin finished his soda on the way down and belched twice to add punctuation to the mini-meal. By the time he got to the other side of the double glass he felt much stronger. It was very different wearing the victim's shoes. How many times had he stood by and issued the encouraging voice?

"Take your time, Martin," Tim said, watching Fitzgerald carefully eyeing every detail of the five men. Then his eyes went back and zoned in on one man. His anger rose causing his face to flush and both hands fisted. It was all he could do to control himself.

"Number two."

"You sure?" Simmons asked.

"How about you open the door and I'll introduce myself?" Martin hissed, raising his fists. "That sick son-of-a-bitch..."

"Easy, tiger," Jack issued, "don't blow this. We have him now, that's what counts."

"Okay, I'll let the DA know, they'll hold him over now. Good job," Simmons noted, patting Martin's back. "You'll have to come back to testify, but for now, we got all we need."

"Good," Jack said, 'because he's done. Thanks Tim."

It was noon when they hit the street again and Jack's wheels were spinning. "How about we get some lunch?"

"Yeah sure," Martin said, buckling up and immediately laying his head on the headrest. About ten minutes later, they parked and Martin opened his eyes. He was only a few steps onto the patio areas of the fast food eatery when the mists of time descended. The people passing by and dining seemed to be moving in slow motion. Martin was transfixed, watching a young, blue eyed man with clothes that didn't fit him and reeked of the street cleaning an alley. He then saw a middle-aged black man with kind brown eyes gripping his hand and nodding, thanking him.

"Mike..." he rasped, blinking as the terrified young man took a bag from the kind man and headed back into the memories of yesterday. He turned to Jack, swallowing hard and trying to regain his composure. He felt his face flush and his eyes fill up. He didn't realize he was staggering until Jack grabbed his elbow and shoved him into the restaurant. Rather than eat in the main area, Jack flashed his badge at the kid by the door and moved to the manager's office. He had called ahead from the FBI office and Mike was expecting them.

"Sit," Jack ordered, shoving Martin into the chair.

Martin dropped down and clutched his skull, rocking forward and moaning. A few moments later a cold soda was pressed to his hand. He tossed his pills down and took a hearty gulp. Then he saw the hand that was on his arm, a dark hand, a kind hand, a hand that saved his life. He moved his head up slowly and gasped as every memory came back. He found himself hauled to his feet and wrapped in a bear hug.

"It sure is good to see you, son. I was so worried." Mike pulled back and looked as the very polished professional he saw before him. It was a stark contrast to the homeless boy he'd met that cold afternoon. "I tried to find you, Danny... Martin..." he corrected, "I want you to know how sorry I am for not helping you more."

"Sorry?" Martin shook his head. "My God, Mike, you saved my life. That blanket you gave me was a lot more than cotton. I clung to that, it kept me warm inside and out. I got hope from that and faith. You have no idea what your gift of kindness did for me. I didn't have many bright lights that week, but yours kept me warm. If you hadn't helped me that first night, I don't think I would have survived."

"We're all family, you know," Mike said, motioning for the concussed man to sit. He looked very pale and was shaking a bit. "This planet ain't so big that you can't help a brother."

"Amen to that," Jack said, turning when a clerk from the counter set a platter of food before them.

"I hope you're hungry," Mike offered.

"You're kidding right?" Jack scoffed, tapping Fitzgerald's narrow waist. "He eats more shit than all the teenagers you have on that counter. Thirty two inch waist."

"Youth is wasted on the young," Mike commiserated.

"I'll drink to that" Jack toasted with his root beer.

The fried chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, macaroni and cheese caused his mouth to water. Martin's stomach was growling. He ate heartily and even had two pieces of hot apple pie. He listened as Mike told of his own experiences living on the street. That really affected Martin. After they left, he kept thinking of Mike's words in the car. How often had he looked down at a homeless person? He never bothered to give them a second glance. What if Mike had treated him like that? Those thought only added to the changes that were occurring inside of him.

As they drove to where Annie's vendor's cart was located, Jack Malone kept a careful eye on his young charge. It has been a long and grueling day for the recovering agent. He knew by the pinched features and the fact Martin was blinking a lot, his headache was bothering him.

"You okay?"

"Yeah..." Martin hedged, shuffling in the seat. He eyed the streets they were driving past and shivered. Every now and again he'd spot a sign whose bright color or picture displayed would bring a flashback. He spotted a worn bench by the bus stop and inhaled sharply. There was an old man lying on it, his ragged clothes and the worn newspaper over his face brought back an unwelcomed memory. He knew that bench. "Jesus..."

"Huh?" Jack looked over again and saw the color drain from Martin's face. He pulled over and didn't mask his concern. "Are you sure you're alright? You're the same color as the snow outside."

"That bench..." Martin rasped, nodding back. "I uh... I... woke up... there. It was over that last weekend, I was supposed to get help for Danny. But... I... uh... I couldn't remember where he was... I thought he'd die before I got back." He closed his eyes and bit his lip as the memory caused a brain pain. He felt a hand on his back and let the support given due it's job. Finally the wave of agony passed and he let out a breath.

Jack withdrew his hand and pulled back into traffic. A short time later they pulled up at a busy corner. Jack turned the motor off and got out. He was halfway to Annie's cart when he realized that Martin was not with him. He turned and watched the saucer-like eyes drinking in every one of Annie's motions. Then the eyes suddenly jammed shut and the face was pressed into both hands.

"Fuckin' flashbacks," Jack cursed. This trip down memory lane was turning out not to be such a great idea after all.

The attack was sudden; it was as if two sharp icicles were jammed through his eyes into his brain. He gasped for breath and pressed the heels of his palms into his throbbing eyes. He moaned and waited, rocking in the car. The stench of the urine-laden clothing covered in vomit slammed into him. The eyes of the passersby that looked at him with disgust. Behind the multiple bright colors dancing in the midst of the agony was the image of a kind face with a gentle touch. He heard her voice as he had that day, soft and soothing.

"Easy, lad, Annie's here...'

Annie.

She had been there for him, showering him with the love and kindness that a mother would have for a lost child. He let that feeling wash over him, taking several deep breaths and exhaling slowly. He finally pulled his hands away and saw Jack approaching the car wearing a worry mask. Did he look that bad? He shook his head and put his hands up, indicating for his boss to halt. Then he got himself together and got out of the car.

"What the hell happened?" Jack asked as the pale young man approached. "Bad trip," Martin replied, casting his throbbing eyes around the busy corner. The smile came slowly, as soon as he heard her voice.

"You sure you're up to this?" Jack queried, not comfortable with the awfully pale face.

"Yeah," Martin decided walking towards the cart.

"....Kevin Barry gave his young life for the cause of liberty. Just a lad of eighteen summers, yet noone can deny. When he walked to death that morning, how he held his head up high..." Annie paused her song when a handsome young man approached . There was something familiar about his face. "Mornin' then lad, somethin' I can do fer ye?"

"How about a request?" Martin asked, watching her bright blue eyes carefully.

"A song?" She frowned.

"Not just any song, one that was special for me." He walked behind her then to the small folding chair by the brick wall behind her cart. He ran his hands on the wooden chair and his breath caught. He saw the raggdy man covered in filth with fear in his fevered eyes resting here. "Danny Boy?" He rasped, sitting down and looking over at her.

For a moment she was puzzled, but when she looked at him again sitting in the chair it came back to her. It was the sick young man with the emotional eyes who'd taken her heart. She put a shaky hand to her chest and walked over, her eyes filling with tears. She laid her hand to the side of his face and then he smiled up at her.

"It is ye... me Danny, me sweet Danny come back. Oh look at ye... yer all well then?"

"I'm fine now, Annie. My name's Martin Fitzgerald. I'm an F.B.I. agent from New York. That's my boss, Jack Malone. I was attacked near the train station one snowy night about a month ago and nearly died."

"Ay, lad, I saw the report on the news that day they found ye in that warehouse. Ye put me in mind of the rebels that stood up ta the English, ye have warrior's heart. There ye were, puttin' yerself in front of yer injured friend. I was so proud of ye..."

"Danny," Martin nodded. "He's fine now. If it wasn't for him and Jack..."

"Aye," She nodded at the dark-haired man sitting a few feet away. "The rakish lad."

"Rakish?" Martin's voice jumped along with a single eyebrow.

"What's wrong with that?" Jack growled lightly. "She's got a good eye."

"If it wasn't for you, for the kindness you showered on me..." Martin's voice broke then and he ducked his head.

"I'll have none of that!" She ordered pulling his face back up. "Wasn't I the one who worried sick about ye after ye didn't come back? Wasn't me prayers to Our Lady." She paused to bless herself "Each night that kept me heart hopin' she'd found ye? I earned those tears, laddie and I'll not have ye ruin this fer me."

Martin didn't move when she embraced him. He laid his head against her neck and tried to control himself. He felt her hand rubbing his back and although he didn't understand the soft Gaelic words spoke, they wrapped around him and filled him with warmth. She really did have a soothing touch.

Jack was sitting on a bench about ten feet away and just watched with awe. The tiny woman broke through part of the wall Martin built up. Whether it was her soft touch or the lilting voice mattered not, Martin was relaxed. He could see the pain that Fitzgerald had been harboring most of the day melt away. His own throat tightened a bit when she began to sing.

"Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen and down the mountainside..."

Martin didn't move for several moments after the powerful song ended. He remained where he was, with his head on her heart and her hand on his back. He felt something break inside and a weight he'd been carrying dissolve. Pain, anguish and agony bled out, leaving him with a healing air. He inhaled slowly and savored the balm as it washed over him. Then he stood up and hugged her, swallowing back some tears.

"I'll never forget you, Annie," He managed, pulling away, he reached inside his coat and withdrew a long thick envelope. Then he snaked a hand in his pocket and took out a small box. "or repay the kindess you showed me. You took a filthy homeless man into your heart."

"A pour soul who was down on his luck," she corrected and frowned when the small box was put in his hand. "What's this then?" She opened it and gasped, her eyes filling with tears. "A claddagh?" She choked, "I've always fancied one, but never dreamed..."

"Here," Martin offered, taking the n ecklace out . It was a gold circular pendant with two hands holding an emerald green heart under a crown. "You held my heart in the hollow of your hands. It's supposed to bring good luck when given by a friend."

"Aw, laddie," she swiped her eyes. "I'll never take it off. It's lovely, ye shouldn't have..."

"And this," Martin handed her the envelope. "It a roundtrip ticket on Aer Lingus so you can go home for a visit."

"Home?" Her bright blue eyes locked on his. Oh he was such a handsome boy. "I never dreamed I see me green hills again. Oh my..." she faltered, "Me sister Katie has a cottage on the Moy... tis like sitting in God's garden. Her grandson Aidan is ta be wed in May..."

"There you go," Martin grinned, it felt so good to do this for her. "You go home for the summer and enjoy your family. When the time comes, you call me. All my numbers are inside with the information. I'll come and get you and make sure you get to the airport okay."

Jack couldn't help but smile at the glow Martin wore. Whatever had transpired when Annie held him and sang to him had done the trick. He saw a healing taking place, something that was not in any bottle or pill. Something that had to be done heart to heart. He let them talk quietly a few more until he felt Martin was ready to finally leave. He made his way over to Annie and shook her hand, then he bent and whispered something in her ear.

"Does this sister of yours have any available granddaughters?" Jack queried with a grin. "Cause the kid could use a little help."

"Aye,' she took his hand in both of hers and held on. "I'm on the job, lad." She winked and nodded.

"Good!" Jack decided, "You take care, Annie."

"Saints keep the both of ye," she offered, watching them leave.

"What was all that about?" Martin asked, his suspicions rising quickly.,

"Nothing," Jack said innocently, "Nothing at all."

Martin was a man who liked numbers and letters. He needed to see things in real columns of even black and white figures that added up. So this gray area he was now mired in bothered him. He couldn't logically explain the reason why he felt so good. Something definatly happened when he was with Annie. He couldn't explain why the terrific weight inside was now gone. Nor could he explain why he felt so good. The splitting headache was all but dead, and he felt lighter than he had since he'd woken up. So when they pulled up in front of the misson, he didn't hesitate to skip the front door and head to the side alley.

Jack followed Martin but this time, unlike the painful episodes for their stops down the brutal trip on memory land earlier that day, he wasn't worried. Whatever magic Annie had bestowed had been the key. Martin looked better than he had since regaining his memory. He hoped that would continue with the visit at the mission. Moreover, he hoped Martin's change of he art would extend to the trouble with Danny.

Martin stopped in front of the dumpster in the alley next to the side door. He watched as an image appeared of a grieveously injured man in shabby, stench-ridden clothes. The fevered bright eyes of the bloody man were fixed on the cross on the roof. Martin followed his line of vision and let the now healed orbs remain no the cross. The ghost faded away and he moved to the door.

"Probably one of your dates,' Boomer teased and moved to take a large pot of stew into the next room where the homeless men were waiting for their supper. "They're side-door types."

"In your dreams!" Juan chased back, jerking the door open with his eyes trained on the large black man "My name should be Casanova!"

"Or humble," Martin teased and grinned at the surprised look on his friend's face. He extended his hand, "Hey, man how are you?"

"Danny! Martin!" He corrected, taking the hand and hauling the now recovered man inside. He clapped the shoulder with his free hand and shook his dark head. "Look at you! You okay now?"

"Gettin' there!" Martin suggested, eyeing the large kitchen. He swallowed hard and remembered the wonderful care the men who worked here had given to the amnesiac stranger who landed on their doorstep.

"Boomer, get the Padre!' Juan hollered as the othe man came inside. "Agent Malone, this is a great surprise."

"He had a lot of loose ends to tie up," Jack said as Father Joe came into the room.

"Martin!" The priest greeted the former homeless person warmly. "How are you? I'm so glad you stopped by. We have fresh coffee and Boomer just iced a batch of his world famous brownies."

"You may be sorry you said that," Jack teased and watched Martin's mouth water.

"Good to see you, Father. I'm fine now." Martin nodded at the loud noises from the other room. "I"m sorry, we should have called first. This is a busy time for you."

"Nonsense," the priest deflected. "I'm never too busy to break bread with friends. What brings you to town today?"

Jack saw Martin's face blank over and he moved without answering towards a small room near the infirmary. He saw the rookie swallow hard and wince when his eyes hit the small cot. "Uh... how about that coffee, Father Joe? I'll fill you in, I think he needs a moment."

"Of course."

While the priest gathered up the mugs, coffee, sugar, creamer and the plate of brownies, Jack filled him in on their day.

Martin got pins and needles all over when he entered the room of the sick. He touched his temples and recalled the awful headache. He recalled how sick he'd been , throwing up and suffering watery diarrhea. Everytime he passed out, when he woke up he was cleaned up and this man was by his side. He sat down on the cot and shook his head.

"Everytime I woke up, you were here," he rasped, eyeing his friend. "Holdin' a bowl for me to puke him, wipin' my ass, tellin' me I was safe." Martin thought on that word. "Safe. You have no idea how terrifying it is not to know who you are ."

"No," Juan answered, sitting next to the former amnesiac, "but I felt that fear I saw in your eyes. I can't imagine being that sick and confused. I tried to help a little, that's all."

"Help a little?" Martin shook his head. "You saved my life. You kept me safe, just knowing you were here..." he saw Juan turn away then and try to hide but it was too late. "No way, kill that shit now. Y ou aren't guilty of anything. I was the on who walked out of here, I fucked up, not you."

"It's just that if I'd only watched you better,all of that week you endured...."

"Hey," Martin said softly, catching the soulful dark eyes. "You did watch my back."

Juan took the hand and let the guilt go away. Martin was safe and well on the road to recovery.

"Besides, I had to come back and find out what happened to you and Rosita," Martin said, looking up when Jack tapped his coffee.

"Triple chocolate, with icing!" Jack waved the dish. "I hope you made extra, Father Joe."

"Rosita?" Juan laughed and stood up, "Man she's old news. I met this chick Nicole last week. She's so hot, she left burn marks on me."

"Oh, man," Martin laughed when Juan 'very colorfully' described her best assets.

Jack watched as Martin continued to relax, devouring several brownies. He teased Juan, spoke of his harrowing nights in the warehouse and how dark it seemed. It was obvious to Jack that Martin had needed this trip badly. The parts inside that he'd been worried about were beginning to heal. He knew if Danny and Martin really talked it out, they could really fix their problems. "Listen, Father Joe, I still have about a month before I'm cleared for desk duty, due to the severity of the head injury. I can't stand having nothing to do. I'd really like to come up here and stay for awhile," Martin inquired, "That is if you can teach a rookie the ropes."

"I think that could be arranged," The priest replied. "And you're welcome anytime and we'd be very glad for the help"

"Hey!" Juan announced, eyes animated. "You come up next Thursday and stay for the weekend. Friday night is our Christmas party, we put out all the extras, stock up on the stuff that the homeles men will need and give it out."

"Sounds great," Martin agreed.

"What?" Juan asked when the priest looked at him like the cat who ate the canary.

"Isn't Saturday the Holly Festival?"

"How about that?" Juan said, draping an arm around his new friend. "Holly Festival?" Martin asked, wondering about the priest's smile and Juan's 'innocent' eyes.

"St Monica's has a dance, the Holly Festival, where the single young ladies approach the young men for dances and other festivities." The priest fought hard to keep a straight face.

"Very amourous festivities!" Juan grinned. "You know, wall to wall mistletoe" he announced. "Luckiest night of the year. With a face like that," he cupped Martin's chin and shook his head. "You'll be ass deep in..."

"Juan!" Father Joe warned as Jack laughed.

"Sorry!" Juan gushed and clapped his hands. "Good... then Sunday we got pizza and football."

"Okay, then, I think I'm free, if so I'll come down on Thursday afternoon." Martin stood up then, "Can I use your phone?"

"Sure!" Father Joe said, pointing to a door across the room. "Use my office."

"Thanks!"

Danny Taylor had just come home from a long physical therapy session. His back ached and his shoulder was sore. He knew his muscls were gaining strength again but it hurt like hell. He heard the phone ringing and leaned his weary body against the bedroom door. He eyed the shower a few feet away and then the phone again. He sighed, walked to the bedstand and picked up the phone.

"Hello."

"Hey," Martin greeted with a touch of uncertainty. He still remembered the rough words when they'd parted. Danny was right, he was afraid to look at the man in the mirror. But he wanted to try again. "Listen, Jack and I are almost done here. We outta be home by seven or so. I need a place to stay and I was wondering if your couch is available."

"I meant what I said, Martin," Danny didn't hide the bitter tone, he was angry at Martin. "Until your cerebral contusion is all gone, you can stay with me. But under one condition."

He waited and accepted the silence as it being understood. "You and me are gonna have a long talk."

"Listen, Danny," Martin interrupted."First of all, I want to apologize for the other morning, I was out of line. And you're right, I think I... we... should talk."

"Okay, I'll see you after seven sometime," Danny answered, hoping he wasn't wrong about the winds of change he'd heard in Martin's voice.

"Good, thanks Danny."

Martin felt better when he hung the phone up but a part of him began to hide again. What if he couldn't be the partner that Danny wanted? What if no matter how hard he tried, the Martin from the warehouse wouldn't come back? Danny liked that Martin better. He closed his eyes and tried to recall those days and hoped that if he looked deeply enough inside himself, he'd find the key.

Through a Stranger's Eyes

By Deirdre

A fictional work based on the tv series 'Without a Trace'

Rating: PG-17 (Language, violence)

Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the show or characters. This story is for entertainment purposes only, without profit or gain of any kind.

Author's Note: I want to thank Pam for her tireless efforts, wonderful guidance and that cracking red pen.

I want to thanks all of you who have stayed on this long journey and I hope you enjoy this last part. For those who took the time to email me, offering thoughts and especially 'begging' for the next part, a huge thanks... your enthusiasm is good for this tired fic writer's heart.

NOTE ó SNEAK PREVIEW after the words "THE END" for those who want a teaser, there is a small snippet of the new WAT fic I will be working on.

Twenty-Six

Danny was watching a rerun of Miami Vice when there was a knock on the door. He flicked his eyes to the clock on the wall. It was almost seven-thirty. He crossed the room and eyed the peephole in his door. Martin's normally wide eyes seemed cartoonish through the exaggerated glass.

"Hey," Martin managed when the door opened. He held up a bag. "I wasn't sure if you ate, I brought some Chinese."

"Thanks," Danny said, taking the large bag and stepping back for Martin to enter.

Martin had his large gray duffle; he took it off, put it in the spare room and then walked back towards the kitchen. He shifted uncomfortably and watched Danny unpacking several boxes. It made no sense that he suddenly felt like a stranger. Given that they'd gone through so much together, he should be more at ease, not so stiff.

"Uh... I hope that's okay, I wasn't sure, I got a little of everything."

"It's fine," Danny replied and then frowned. He didn't mean to sound so sharp. It wasn't totally Martin's fault that there was now a wall between them. He got two plates out and put them on the table. He scowled and sidestepped when Martin tried to get past him.

"I'll get the drinks," Martin offered, eager for something to do besides adjust the buttons on his cuffs again. He got two frosted mugs from the freezer and then got a large bottle of Coke from the refrigerator.

"So how'd it go?" Danny asked, piling some rice on his plate. He popped open a container of General Chao's Chicken and heaped it on top. He then added some Shrimp Peking. He bit the head off of an egg roll and eyed his roommate.

"Okay, I think." Martin carefully spooned Chicken Le Mein on one side of his plate and Pepper Steak on the other. He opened a container of Won Ton Soup and picked up a plastic spoon that fell out of the bag." Jack followed a path, one that he said you two figured out by clues." He swallowed the tender dumpling hard and swiped the excess broth from his lip.

"What?" Danny asked when the spoon dropped and Martin's hands formed into fists.

"That alley next to the department store... that sick, fuckin' bastard..."

"Go on..." Danny's eyes lit up, this was the Martin he'd found in the warehouse trying to return.

"I wanted to shove him on his knees and shove a pipe up his ass..."

Danny's smile was not for the recollection of events, for that angered him as well. But that Martin was allowing his emotions to surface was a good sign. As he ate, he listened to the rest of the day and realized then why there was exhaustion painted on Fitzgerald's featur es. He was also still wary of the healing brain bruise and as the tale wore on, he saw pain arriving in the pinched features. He was glad that Martin had met up with Mike and Annie, he needed closure on that. He was surprised when Martin spoke of the mission.

"You're going back up there to volunteer?" Danny asked and saw the weary head bob. "Wow, that's great."

"Least I could do," Martin yawned. "Sorry..."

"No problem, I'll clean up, you get some sleep. I bet you didn't take your pills today?"

"No time to, but I will now."

By the time Danny finished putting the food away and cleaning up the dishes, Martin was already asleep. He laid the old quilt over his partner and turned the television off. He retreated to his own bedroom and thought about the days to come. He truly hoped Martin would open up more, for that was the only way he knew they could truly be partners once again.

It was early and Martin made a pot of coffee. He did a shortened version of his usual five-mile run and crept past a sleeping Danny Taylor to use the shower. As the hot water massaged his body, he thought on the night before. He felt good about telling Danny of his visit to Hartford. He wasn't going to at first but based on the aftereffects of the confrontations with Mike, Annie and the priest, it was the only thing he could do. Maybe the shrink was right; purging is good for the soul.

Danny was surprised when he woke up and it was after nine a.m. He showered and threw some jeans and a dark red sweater on, then padded barefoot into the kitchen. He helped himself to coffee and saw a bag of fresh bagels on the counter, along with a dozen pastries from the bakery. He slathered cream cheese onto a garlic bagel and took his coffee into the living room. He was surprised to find Martin out on the patio, eyeing the brilliant blue sky. It was a chilly day and the degree of redness on Fitzgerald's face only made his blue eyes seem more vivid. Frowning, he tapped on the glass and waited, but Martin didn't turn around. He opened the door and shivered as the cold air his hit face.

"Hey!" Danny hollered and the fair-eyed man finally turned all the way around. "Get your ass inside, it's freezing out there."

Martin moved past Danny's body in the doorframe and went to the kitchen and fixed himself a cup of coffee. He'd eyed the food but decided against eating. He'd spent a restless night with troubling thoughts about today and his stomach was upset which only made his temper flare up. Why should he feel so upset? He was his own man; Danny would just have to understand that.

Danny looked up when Martin finally reappeared. The uneasiness was clearly spelled out and Danny wondered if Martin realized just how easily his eyes gave him away. He recalled that old expression that the eyes are the mirrors to the soul. If that was true, than his partner had a very busy soul. He waited for the troubled man to settle on the sofa.

"Talk to me, Harvard."

Martin's head came up and his eyes didn't hide the brief emotion he felt when he heard the nickname. Danny was the first person to ever use a nickname to address him. A nickname was sign of camaraderie, housing the warmth that comes from a friend. It was a term of endearment and although his body language didn't indicate it, hearing the slight accent dip down when the word 'Harvard' came out did give him an internal ease.

Danny saw the exposure when Martin's need reflected back at him. Then just as quickly the door shut and the emotional pools went down. That was going to end here and now. He was not going to spend another day waiting for the rookie to get his armor back up. "Oh no you don't." He sat forward, put his mug down and leaned over, resting his elbows on his knees. "Don't you hide from me, Martin. That shit's gotta stop. What the fuck are you so afraid of?"

"I'm not afraid!" Martin retaliated, wrapping his icy fingers around the heat on the ceramic mug. Yet he found himself huddling forward as if trying to fit under an invisible umbrella. He was annoyed that Danny had no problem seeing right through him. It was fear that was causing his heart to hammer. He sipped the coffee and felt the heat glide easily down into his stomach.

"Bullshit!" Danny argued. "I saw the real Martin Fitzgerald in that warehouse. He was a fuckin' warrior, somebody that I was damn proud of calling partner and friend," Danny paused and watched Martin's lower lip disappear and pressed onward. He had felt a strong connection in that warehouse and knew there was something much deeper that could be achieved, if only Martin would open up. "...a brother..." That caused the head to come up and the twin blue saucers to appear. Hope was spelled out and he jumped on that. "I mean that, Martin. I felt something here," he patted his abdomen, "in that warehouse and you did too, I saw you, hell I felt you. I felt every damn bit of your hurt, anger, frustration, fear, pride and courage. It scared me a little too, that's okay. But that's not something I am going to throw away, Martin. That's the glue that can make a great partnership, if only you'll throw that shield away."

Although the words 'partner' and 'friend' hit him like bullets , it was the word 'brother' that became the flaming arrow that ripped into his gut. Was Danny right? Was that really a possibility? After all he'd done in the first few weeks, all the screwups and mistakes; Danny was still willing to accept him. Not just accept him but push further, way down deep to expose something Martin had not dared to look at himself.

"Where's the guy who saved my life, huh?" Danny saw the crack forming in the mighty Fitzgerald defense system and began to chip away. "The damn, cocky son-of-a-bitch who stood his skinny ass in front of a whole fuckin' SWAT team... where the hell is he?" He moved his hand then over his heart and saw Martin flinch. "I still feel your hand here, Martin. I see that blue fire that your eyes were shooting when you put yourself and a single gun between me and a whole damned police force. Fuckin' guts ..." He swallowed hard," There was something there... Martin... don't deny it. I still feel it, it's right here. Just allow yourself to reach for it."

"I know..." Martin rasped, his hand unwillingly went to his chest. It was tight and hard to talk. "I want... that... too... Danny, Jesus, God, I do..."

"Why are you hiding? From me? After all we went through?" Danny's voice went up a full pitch. "No way... not now... you can't go back. You already exposed the real Martin and I won't let you bury him."

"I am the real Martin!" He tried to defend weakly and wondered why he suddenly felt so uncomfortable in his own skin. "Why can't you just..."

"No, you're not!" Danny denied and sat back when Martin shot off the couch and began to pace the room like a wild, blue eyed tiger.

"It's hard..."

"I know it's hard," Danny agreed. "But, you can't go back, not now, not after wearing your heart on your sleeve."

"I can't just change," Martin objected, his fleeting hand on his gut, trying to quell the unrest there. He paused by the mantle and his eyes caught a cut out of a newspaper article. There was a photo of himself inside the warehouse on the side of an article. The grainy image didn't hide the fierce eyes of the stranger. That was what it felt like to him, that couldn't be him.

"The hell you can't!" Danny argued, rose and joined Martin on the other side of the room. He followed the painful gaze and bent down, retrieving the article. He shoved the black and white photo in front of Martin's troubled eyes. "I can't imagine the kind of guts it took for you to adapt and survive on the street for a week. Hurt as bad as you were, no idea who you were or where you were," He paused and thumped his hand on Martin's chest. "You took care of business, Martin. You never gave up. That kind of balls, that's rare. Let that out, Martin, use it, embrace it, don't bury it again."

Martin pulled away then, he opened his mouth to reply but didn't trust his voice. His gut was twisting and he felt as if a pack of rats were gnawing their way out. He shook his head and dropped it down, recalling those dark days.

"I wasn't brave, Danny, I was scared. Scared to death," Martin whispered, his breath came out in shuddering pants.

"No man," Danny's voice was a soft sword. He laid a single hand on Martin's shoulder and was glad when the smaller man didn't pull away. Rather the head turned and the eyes for the first time were beseeching him. "That's what true courage is. When you're scared shitless and you do what's right, standing up for what you believe, fightin' hard despite the knots in your gut, that's real courage. I'd like to hear about it, if you want to share."

Share? He could do that; it might take the shadows away. He'd not told anyone about the odd dreams that still came. He still remembered when he was lost in the silent world it was Danny's voice and strong hand that held him during those nightmares in the hospital. He nodded once, sending appreciation for the show of support. Then he moved to the wooden table by the large patio doors. He sat down on a chair and eyed the Manhattan skyline. The sky was a brilliant blue today not like the shadowy world he'd been trapped in.

"I was cold, Danny, I couldn't get warm. No matter how hard I tried, that ache never left." His voice drifted away as he recalled the days he'd struggled on the street to survive. The faces came back then, the disgust painted on the people and the revulsion they shed onto him." The streets were crowded and I wandered around, trying to find... hell, I don't know. Their eyes, Danny, they were repulsed by me, called me names... after awhile, I began to feel like that. The nights were worse, so long, endless. It was so dark and I was so cold..."

Danny winced then, moving to join Martin at the table. He saw Martin's Adam's apple bobbing wickedly and the normally handsome face was twisted in agony. "Go on man, get it out... I'm not leaving." So Martin continued to purge, quietly spearing each of the fears he'd imbedded and tossing them away. Then he turned and his eyes were almost clear. Danny felt as if he was looking right through those windows into Martin's soul.

"I was wrong, Danny," Martin choked and shivered, recalling how awful it felt to be tagged a 'nobody'. How often had he labeled other homeless men the same way? "They're real people with real fears, hurts, troubles. I treated them like dirt..."

"You learned a lesson the hard way," Danny concurred.

"My grandfather was in the Navy," Martin spoke quietly, eyeing that New York sky again and drinking in the rich blue flavor. "He told me as long as you find the North Star, you'll always be able to find your way home. I couldn't find any stars, Danny, the sky was black all the time. It was like looking at the world through a stranger's eyes, you know?"

"Yeah, man, I do," Danny supported, feeling a rush of emotion. It was right here, finally, Martin was finally opening up. That would make his transition easier. "Martin?" He waited for the pensive profile to turn to meet his own steady gaze. "I'm glad you found that star..."

Martin felt something then, something changed inside. The arrow was no longer burning a hole into him. He didn't feel as if his clothes were too tight. He wanted to move his hand to his face to see if the mask was gone. Was it that easy? Was the conviction in Danny Taylor's eyes and ringing in his voice enough? Could he change? The word 'brother' hovered between them and Martin never wanted anything more than he did at that moment. He wanted to reach out and grab it, but realized it had to be earned. Moreover, it would be a true fit then.

"I can't promise you, Danny, and it won't be overnight but I'm gonna work hard to be a better partner..." He paused and eyed his hand, palms out, "and friend."

"Work?" Danny grinned, "Man, quit being so uptight. Just let it go, Martin. Let it out, if you have to 'think' about it, it's not the same."

"I don't know how to do that!" Martin objected. "You don't think I envy that in you? That you show your emotions? Hell, you're proud of them. You don't know how hard that made me feel those first days."

"Well, you had a chip on your shoulder," Danny interjected. "You were trying so hard to show the world that you weren't a Fitzgerald that you forgot to be Martin."

"You hated me!" Martin argued. "You never gave me a chance. You only saw a Fitzgerald too!"

"Alright, you got me there," Danny agreed and found a wary smile. "I guess we're lucky Jack didn't shoot both of us, huh?"

Martin grinned then and nodded, examining the feelings that were rippling at the surface, screaming to be born.

"Look, one step at a time, okay?" Danny eased some salve on the wounds he saw exposed. "You start with small steps, the bigger ones will come on their own then. Like you opening up to me just now about that week and your fears. You wouldn't have done that last week. That's a great step forward."

"Yeah?" Martin seemed surprised and then understood the connection. The reason his bottled up emotions were now coming out was due to him opening that box.

Danny thought for a moment and got an idea, something that would make Martin's new path a lot easier. He rose and walked around the table, pausing by the rookie's side. He extended his hand then, palm out and put his heart into his smile. Martin's head came up slowly and he saw the raw 'want' in the blue eyes. "I'm Special Agent Danny Taylor. Welcome to the Missing Person's Unit."

There it was! Martin was not going to be a fool and not accept the very generous offer. Sure, Danny resented him when he started and that was some of the reason for their spats. But he'd also had a large chip on his shoulder and his attitude had caused most of the trouble. Despite all of that, Danny was still willing to forgive and forget. So Martin kept his eyes on that strong open hand and took it, gripping it soundly as he stood up.

"I'm the rookie, Martin Fitzgerald. I think I can learn a lot from you."

"We can learn a lot from each other," Danny corrected with his usual charm. "Okay, brother?"

He embraced Martin then and stood back, proud of what he saw. Oh, they'd have their differences and they'd argue, but now they would learn to use that diversity to learn and grow. He knew that the old Martin wasn't going to return. The rookie would make his mistakes, but now he would allow himself to learn from them and grow. And as that growth caused him to mature as an agent, then they'd have the partnership that would make them both better as a team and as brothers.

Martin yawned and sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He squinted at the darkening sky outside and eyed his watch. It was almost six o'clock and he'd slept all afternoon. He recalled eating a good lunch and watching a movie but then his headache caused him to lose his lunch. He was vaguely aware of Danny guiding him to the sofa and shoving pills at him. He sat up and burped, wincing at his queasy stomach. Maybe he caught a bug, he didn't feel so good. He went towards the kitchen to get some coke and heard a voice crooning. As he got closer, he heard the unlikely duet between his would be partner and Boz Scaggs. He forgot the soda and walked back to Danny's room. He watched Taylor preening by a mirror and swaggering to the Lido Shuffle. He was dressed up and by the scent, covered in aftershave. Martin didn't stop the dopey grin from spreading on his face.

"...Lido be runnin'..havin' great big fun 'til he got the note.." Danny sang proudly, picking up his comb. "Sayin' "toe the line or blow it" and that was all she wrote. He be makin' like a beeline, headin' for the borderline, goin' for broke, sayin, "one more hit oughta do it" this joint, ain't nothin' to it, one more for the road." Deciding that perfection needed nothing more, he tossed the comb aside and grinned back at the man in the glass. "LIDO!" He bellowed, "WHOA-OH-OH-OH... he's for the money, he's for the show. Lido's a waitin' for another go..." His voice died when he heard laughter and saw Martin's very amused face in the mirror. He frowned when his housemate picked up the CD jacket. "What? You were expecting the complete Ricky Riccardo Box Set?"

"Well..." Martin shrugged, "Didn't figure you for Boz man."

"Hey." Danny shut the CD player off and grabbed the jacket from the chuckling man's hands. "I'm a lot more than a pretty Cuban face, homeboy."

"Guess I short changed you a bit," Martin conceded.

"That's okay, Gringo," Danny used a heavy accent, winked and gave the pale face a tap before picking up his dark glasses. Once they were on, he put on his form fitting short leather jacket and turned back to the mirror. "When you got it, you got it!"

"Hot date?" Martin asked as Danny breezed by him, his dark head swiveling to find something.

"Vanessa!" Danny oozed, his hands moving to outline her body. "I swear she's right from Mount Olympus. You never saw such a body; you could drown in her chest. You can't believe what her tongue can do..." His voice trailed off when he found his keys. 'Aha!" Grabbing them he turned to leave and his face fell. His smile disappeared when he saw Martin sitting forlornly on the sofa and looking a bit to pale. "Hey, Amigo, you okay?"

"Yeah," Martin managed, fighting the urge to run for the bathroom.

"You sure? You look white even for a white boy," Danny teased and moved closer. "Did you throw up again?"

"Not yet," Martin replied, "But I wouldn't stand in the hallway if I was you," he warned of the path to the bathroom.

"Shit, you're sick?" Danny asked. "I'll call Vanessa and cancel."

"No!" Martin stood up, shaking his head. "No way, I'm not six and I don't need a babysitter. I can puke and scrub my teeth all by myself."

"Okay, well you take the bedroom, I'll bunk on the couch," Danny conceded. "I'll be home by midnight."

"Midnight?" Martin managed a weak grin despite feeling crappy. "What are you Cinderfella? You got a lady as special as that, you come home with the morning paper, stud." He rose then, feeling the urge to purge coming up strongly. "Besides, if you don't conquest, you'll have nothing to brag about and you'll be miserable."

"Smart ass!" Danny grinned, thwacking the tousled head lightly. "You sure?"

"Go!" Martin nodded to the door.

"Alright, but if things start to go south, you call me."

Danny was whistling as he made his way to the car. It was a fresh start, a true new dawn and he was going to embrace every color he could. If his step was lighter and his smile broader and brighter, that was the reason.

All too soon the days fell into weeks and Danny returned to work. Martin wasn't cleared of his symptoms yet and remained a welcomed houseguest. With each passing day, they talked a little more. The quiet conversations gave way to often deep discussions on life. Sometimes the debates got quite heated, especially when it came to politics. Martin was a staunch conservative and Danny was a liberal. But the difference was all too clear. They respected each other's opinions and he relished the lively debates. He was going to miss Martin when he left, but he was looking forward to that day. Because it meant that his partner was healed and returning to work. He knew that in the weeks and months to come, they'd learn a lot from each other.

Six weeks later

It was early when Jack arrived at work. Usually on Mondays he tried to get in by seven but today he got in earlier yet. It was Martin's first day back to work and he wanted to talk to him. He spotted the wavy brown head bent over a folder and made his way to the desk. He rested his hand lightly on the gray Armani suit and saw the sheepish face turn up.

"Welcome back!" Jack greeted. "How are you?"

"I'm good, Jack," Martin answered, following his boss into the coffee mess.

"Coffee?" Jack asked, and saw the head bob. Martin took a seat at the table and Jack didn't miss the nervous hand motions. "Sugar?"

"Yeah," Martin replied, "And anything else that will kill butterflies."

"You'll do fine, Martin. The nerves are normal when you've been out of the saddle for awhile."

"Yeah, I guess," Martin agreed, sipping his coffee thoughtfully. His eyes went through the glass and across the room. He studied Danny Taylor arriving, bopping to his desk with a natural grace that he envied. This was the first day and he wanted so badly to make Danny proud. "I just hope..."

"Hope what?"

Jack turned and followed the anxious, wide-eyed gaze. He saw the anxious eyes lingering on Danny Taylor. So that was it. He had spoken with Taylor who was extremely positive about the changes that they'd both made. He convinced him that both he and Martin had changed and Jack would have no more trouble.

"I can get it back from him," Martin rasped.

"Get what back?" Jack quizzed.

"Respect," Martin answered, turning his gaze away when Danny caught him staring. He directed his eyes at Jack then. " I want it looking back at me, from his eyes."

"Respect is something you earn. Give it some time, Junior, it'll come," Jack encouraged, pausing to grip Martin's shoulder.

"How do you know?"

Jack almost winced then at the plea and hope in the eyes. "Hey, I hired you both. Give me some credit huh?" He winked and made his way to his office.

Danny watched the change take place and with every day Martin's confidence grew. They worked better as a team, and began to sense the other's movements. That was a tremendous force in the field and it wasn't long before that long sought camaraderie was born. Martin was truly comfortable now in his own skin. He was open to ideas and suggestions, he asked questions instead of assuming what should be done.

It was a few weeks later that the team was immersed in a tough case. A missing stock broker and their investigation had turned up a huge stack of gambling debts. Martin and Danny arrived at a warehouse owned by their lead suspect. They scoped the perimeter, silently working together in a cohesive force. Martin spotted the MP through a small window from the side of the building. He motioned for Danny and they agreed to divide and conquer. After backup was summoned, they moved inside, working in envious precision, meshing and blending in fluid motion and taking down the gang holding the man hostage. Martin made several smart moves and it was his quick thinking and action that saved the man's life.

It was almost ten p.m and the others had gone. Martin and Danny were still finishing their paperwork. Martin yawned, shoved his weary body from the desk and made his way to the pizza box. Flipping the lid, he picked up a slice covered with pepperoni and sniffed at it. It was cold and the grease congealing on the pie didn't set well. Deciding against heartburn, he let the lid drop.

Danny put his pen down and watched Martin carefully. His mind quickly drew up pictures of the weeks and months that had come and gone since the rookie arrived. The change was a beautiful thing to behold. Here before him was the partner, friend and brother he'd seen glimpses of in that warehouse. No longer hiding, Martin was now exuding all this worth with each motion, word and action. They blended together and it gave him a swell inside. That pride was still painted on his face when Martin turned around.

There it was! Martin gasped a bit and blinked. He wasn't imagining it. Danny was looking at him and the dark eyes were dripping with pride and respect. He let out a long breath and leaned against the table, as if hit by a sandbag. Finally, he had it... that which he had sought for so long and it felt damned good!

"Hey, Gringo!" Danny teased, enjoying the wash of emotions playing on Martin's face. "How about we call it a night and hit Mario's? Some Antipasto, loaded garlic bread and Veal Parmigiana or maybe some Cappellini Capri?" He teased of Martin's favorite dish that blended fresh lump crabmeat and baby shrimp in olive oil and garlic with some lemon, white wine and asparagus and fresh tomatoes.

"Mario's huh?" Martin answered, walking over to get his leather jacket. His mouth was already watering. "Kind of pricey."

"Money is no object," Danny enthused, following his friend to the door. He clapped the back of Fitzgerald's jacket and winked. "Especially when I'm not buying."

"And what makes you think I'm picking up the tab?" Martin returned, hitting the elevator button. "How come you only pick up the tab when meal with tax and tip is under twenty bucks?"

"I don't have old money!" Danny answered and just laughed at the groan. Life was definitely good!

The ringing phone distracted Danny from the forensics report he was reading. Distractedly he picked it up. He took down the information and eyed Martin with Jack in the conference room. They'd had a rough morning and he knew Martin was upset at a suspect getting away. He put the phone down and headed for the other two. He waited until Martin had a mouthful of soda until he spoke.

"That was for you, Martin." He paused for effect, "They asked for 'teenie weenie'"

Jack grinned and shook his head when Martin choked, spit his soda up and Danny just laughed. It was so good to see them so at ease with each other. He knew now that he finally had the final piece in place and that this team would be all the better for it. Danny sat down and Martin finally composed himself. Twice during their conversation, while Jack was updating them, Danny yawned.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked.

"I didn't get much sleep last night, I was pretty busy, a lot of action" he bragged thinking on Marissa, the pretty blonde dental assistant he was dating. He gave his two male counterparts a knowing grin and wink "... you know how it is?"

"You didn't sprain your wrist, did you?" Martin tossed back without even thinking.

It was all Jack could do to maintain control and keep a straight face. Even harder was not cracking a smile when Danny sat back, arching his brows in surprise as well. So Jack doused his voice with a thick London accent then.

"I say Watson, was that a joke?" he inquired.

"I believe it was, Guv," Danny replied with his own mock British tone.

Martin looked up sheepishly and eyed both of them, then all three broke into laughter. A much needed release after a very hard morning and it caused them to laugh hard. By the time Vivian and Samantha entered the room, they were teary eyed.

"We miss something?" Vivian asked.

"Well," Jack wheezed, swiping the moisture from his eyes. "Martin was just telling us about Danny's unique talent in the bedroom."

"Really?" Sam pressed, when Martin began to blush. She and Vivian both had a guilty pleasure at getting him to blush. "First hand knowledge?"

"It's always the quiet ones..." Vivian teased, Martin was so flustered his laughter had turned into an odd choking cough. But he did look pretty with that rosy blush. So she and Sam continued to needle the poor rookie about it causing Danny and Jack to laugh harder as Martin's embarrassment morphed.

The loud noise caused their boss Van Doren to poke her head into the room. She'd been on her way to Jack's office and heard the odd and loud noises. "Is something wrong?"

"No," Jack answered, eyeing each on of his underlings. "Everything's fine, as a matter of fact, they couldn't be better."

THE END

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