Breaking Faith

by Wendj

Part Thirteen

The four men made their way into Vin's apartment building, full aware that they were under the gaze of many uneasy eyes.

"Can you feel it?" JD asked as his eyes darted around nervously.

"Feel what, JD?" Nathan asked.

Moving closer to his three friends, JD continued to scan the area, looking back at their vehicle as he wondered if it would be still here when they got out. "The hate. They don't want us here."

"It is not hate, son," Josiah offered, "It is mistrust."

"Yeah, seems to be a lot of that goin' around lately." Chris chided himself with his observation.

Looking around the graffiti covered entry, Chris moved quickly to the elevator.

"Chris!" Nathan drew the leader's attention to the blood that painted a trail down the wall. Stooping to touch the drops that flecked the floor, he stood pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his hand. "It's fresh."

"Doesn't mean anything, does it Chris?" JD asked concerned at the coincidence. "I mean, it could be anybody's, right?"

"But it's not I'm afraid."

The four men turned to find Father Chavez walking toward them. "I was going to call you, but I had a feeling I would not have to."

Having been introduced to the priest on more than one occasion, Chris walked up to shake the priest's offered hand. "Father, are you saying this is Vin's blood?" he asked ignoring the formalities of conversation. "What happened?" he asked more urgently.

Spreading his arms with his hands palms up, the priest sighed. "This place is a small world, Chris. These people are forced to exist here, and that is all it is, an existence. So, when someone appears to threaten someone in this *small* world, the punishment is usually swift and harsh, and I'm afraid sometimes without justification. The boys that attacked Vin, did so out of misguided revenge and frustration. They wrongly believed that he had something to do with the death of their friend, Eneas Lopez."

Chris ignored all the other questions and the rage he felt at himself and at the boys who had perpetrated the act, to get to the most important issue, Vin's life. "How bad was he hurt?"

"I cannot be sure," Father Chavez answered sadly. He remembered Vin telling him about his friend Nathan's knowledge of medicine, so he turned his attention to him. "There was blood here, Nathan" he gestured to the his left side of abdomen, "and here," he continued touching the back of his head."

"Well, Nathan?" Chris asked too sharply. Feeling Josiah's restraining hand on his should, Chris took a deep breath, "Sorry, Nathan, what do you think?" he asked more calmly.

Nathan ignored Chris's outburst, realizing he was just concerned for Vin's welfare, as he was himself. Things seemed to be going from bad to worse for their friend. "Can't be sure. Was there much blood?" he asked the priest.

"What is too much blood?" the priest shrugged, "There was enough that I wanted to get him to a hospital, if that helps."

"So where did you send him?" Chris asked impatiently.

The priest had been dreading relating this piece of information. "I didn't. Vin chose to put his faith in another's hands."

There was that word again. Chris felt the word branding him, accusing him of him of his crime; the basis of any friendship; trust.

"What do you mean Father?" Josiah asked before Chris could speak.

"Guido Fabrizio arrived. Vin left with him, Chris."

Chris suddenly became animated, "And you let him go! This is all Fabrizio's fault. Everything that has happened is because of that man and you let him take Vin!"

"Brother, please don't," Josiah gently admonished his friend.

Father Chavez looked sympathetically at the four men's anguish, "It is all right Josiah. No one shoulders the blame completely, Chris, and we can't always let others shoulder our own guilt."

Chris flinched under the priest's words. He knew the priest wasn't talking directly to him, but his words hit home to Larabee all the same.

"Guido said he would protect Vin with his life. I believe him," Father Chavez added.

"He'd better," Chris vowed.

"What do we do now, Chris?" Nathan asked. "Vin needs medical attention, as well as a big damn." Glancing at the priest, Nathan apologized, "pardon me father, spade to get him out of this hole he has found himself in."

"We have no choice, " Chris said, running his hand through his hair. " We will have to see if Guido will allow us an audience. If Guido is clean, then something stinks and he and Vin are caught right in the middle of this." Returning his attention back to Father Chavez, Chris held out his hand, "Sorry Father if I said anything to offend you. I was worried about Vin."

"Please, I understand," the priest acknowledged, cupping this hands around Chris' hand. "Vin wanted me to give you a message if I saw you. He said 'faith was all I asked--faith in me'."

Shaking the father's hand again, Chris nodded at acknowledging the words. "He has it Father. I just hope it's not too late."

The priest smiled. "It is never too late for faith. Is it Josiah?"

"Amen Father." Josiah agreed.

Part Fourteen

As the Lincoln drove through the guarded gates of the Fabrizio compound, Guido couldn't help but notice the increase of firepower now protecting his estates entryway.

Leaning forward in attempt to not disturb his exhausted friend, Guido lowered his voice to Roberto, "Who ordered this?"

Twisting around, Roberto looked at his boss. "Mario felt it was necessary, sir." he answered before turning his back to Guido.

Guido frowned as he face clouded over, "Since when does my son give the orders in *my* house?" his voice rising at his son's affront.

"G-Guido?" Vin stirred at the change of his friend's tone. Moving without thought, the sharpshooter hissed as attempted to sit up. "W-What's wrong?" he asked through clenched teeth.

Concerned at the pale features of his young friend, Guido tapped Vin's arm lightly. "Nothing Vincenzo. Nothing for you to worry about."

"S-somethin's wrong." Vin pressed, his blues searching his friend's face for answers

"You bet there is something wrong," Guido agreed as the car pulled to a stop at the front door. "I have a young friend who refuses to stay still."

"G-Guido," Vin attempted a stern look. He always knew when his friend was dodging an issue with him. "If I am a problem--"

"My only problem, Vincenzo is with you. You don't know when to keep quiet." he lightheartedly bantered. "Roberto, take Vincenzo inside. I have a phone call to make." he ordered.

"I can do it," Vin protested as he weakly struggled against the hands that tried to help ease him from the car. Barely able to make his legs move and left breathless with the effort of trying, the sharpshooter eventually gave in and allowed Roberto to help him.

Permitting himself to be supported into the house, Vin continued to hold the now soaked cloth to his wound. Once they appeared to be out of Guido's vision, the moderate handling he had been receiving from Robert suddenly changed, "Move your ass Tanner." Roberto growled as he pulled at Vin's arm that was hooked around his neck.

Roberto's action pulled at Vin's side, eliciting a curse from the injured man, as he tried to pull himself away from the callous provocation.

Stopping suddenly, Roberto pushed Vin away, only to grab him by the shirt collar with one hand as the other hand pressed on his wound. "I'd sooner kill you here and now cop, but I have my orders. So pick up your damn feet up, or I'll shoot 'em off." He snarled.

+ + + + + + +

"Thank you." Guido said as pressed the button on the mobile. Stepping from the car, Frabrizio quickly scanned around the compound and was more than surprised not to see Doctor Hanson's car parked anywhere nearby.

Rushing into the house, Guido took of his coat and passed it to Tito. "Where did Roberto take Vincenzo?" He asked his valet.

"The sitting room I believe, Mr. Fabrizio." Tito asnwered.

"And Doctor Hanson?"

Tito appeared puzzled, "Doctor Hanson, sir?"

Pacing the vast foyer of the house, an edge of impatience crept into Guido's voice. "I called for Doctor Hanson to meet us here, you're telling me he hasn't arrived?"

"No sir, he has not. Should I call him and find out what is keeping him sir?" Tito asked.

"Yes Tito, call him and ask him to--,"

"No Tito. I don't think so." Mario said as he entered the room gun in hand.

Part Fifteen

Guido stared down the barrel of the gun that was pointed at him with such deadly intent by his own son. "Mario! What the hell do you think you are doing?!" he demanded of his only child.

Mario eyed his father with contempt, "I am doing what I should have done years ago, Papa. I am giving the Fabrizio name back its honor."

'This is how you define honor, by betraying you father; by betraying your family?" Guido challenged, his voice full of bitterness.

"You are the traitor Papa." Mario retaliated. "You who gave up the life you were born too, giving me no choice but to become a nobody. Well, I am not a nobody anymore. *I am Mr. Mario Fabrizrio*."

"Well, *Mr. Mario Fabrizio*, waving a gun in your father's face does not make you a man. It makes you stupid." Exasperated with his son, Guido walked past Mario pushing his gun hand out of his way. "Where is Vincenzo?" he demanded as he ignored his son's threat.

Mario glared at his father as an embittered laugh escaped. "Oh yes, let us not forget the precious Mr. Tanner; the son you wish you had."

"Is that what you think?" Guido asked shaking head as he made his way toward the sitting room.

"It doesn't matter what I think anymore. There is no turning back for me now."

Guido's heart sank as he took in the seriousness of his son's words and actions. "What are you going to do, Mario?" he asked, stopping to turn to look with despair at his son.

"I will do what I have to do Papa," Mario answered, for the first time unable to meet his father's gaze. "and ‘I will’ finish this."

"Mario please, I know some of what you have done; we can fix it." Guido pleaded, trying to bring his son to his senses.

"You fix murder Papa?" Mario snorted as he irritably pinched at his nose. "No, I told you I can't go back. More to the point, I don't want to. Shall we go and visit my little ‘brother’?"

His first phone call had been more than luminous on his son's supposed activities. Guido still had some old contacts in the underworld and Johnny Martino had been more than honest about his son's underhand dealings. The ex-mobster was stunned, that in his rush to be a civil, legit businessman, he had missed the signs if his son's yearnings to follow in his former footsteps. The street was awash with drugs and blood and again it was attached to Guido Fabrizio's name.

"Please Mario, I don't know what you are going to do, but please leave Vincenco out this. This is our problem; it's family." Guido entreated his son.

Prodding his father with his weapon, they continued to walk to the sitting room. "But you see, I can't leave him out of it Papa. Tanner was my motivation. He made me see just how little I meant to you. He has to be rewarded for that alone."

Part Sixteen

Guido entered the sitting room and was some what relieved to find Armanno standing over a pale and sweating, but alive agent. Making eye contact, the older man was grateful that his young friend made no attempt at movement. Whether it was the threat of Gasale's gun aimed at him or the weakness from his injuries, Guido wasn't unsure; either way his stillness worried him.

"Your father would be ashamed at your treachery!" Guido said bitterly as he shot his late friend's son a scorching look.

"My father would say 'business is business' just like you taught him, Mr. Fabrizio," Armanno disputed with a smile. "After all, it's nothing personal."

"I see, business." the older man nodded his understanding as he looked from Armanno back to his son, "For you, your motivations are money and prestige. For my son, well, his rationalism is revenge in perception of some wrong I have done him; both are very poor excuses for the murder of an innocent young man."

If Mario was surprised that his father had found out about Eneas Lopez's death, his face didn't show it. If anything, he seemed more antagonized with his father's pious attitude. "You have done the same, and worse," the younger Fabrizio spat back as he began to circle his father. "So don't give me that 'holier than thou' crap, Papa. Anyway, Lopez was dispensable."

"Eneas was a friend of mine." Vin glared at Mario's casual banter.

"Why do you think he's dead?" Mario smiled. "Thought that might get the peanut gallery to speak up." Sniffing, the self-satisfied man shrugged. "So I had Lopez killed; he was no loss, but he did help me add doubt on you already dubious reputation. I hear your friends fled your sinking ship at break neck speed; shame about that." he gloated.

Vin wanted to jumped up and pound his fists into Mario's face, but lack of energy and concern for Guido stopped him from making a move.

"Enough Mario." Guido sighed, as he suddenly felt very old. "What do you want?" he asked.

Sniffing, Mario pointed to the living room table. "I have papers. You will sign them. Armanno and Roberto will witness them."

Stepping to the table, Guido wearily picked up the papers and scanned them for their contents. An incredulous look passed over the old man's face as he read the documents before a bitter laughter passed his lips as he waved the papers at his son. "This gives you power of attorney over everything I own. You think that I will sign this?"

"I don't see where you have much choice, old man," Mario gloated.

"Why should I do this?" Guido asked, his voice rising. "Why should I allow you to add misery to the Fabrizio name?"

"Because if you don't, " he said with a fanatical gleam at Vin, "your friend, who I might say is not looking to well, is going to be feeling a whole lot worse."

Part Seventeen

"Damn convenient for Wilmington and Standish to find this--'Ms Walters'," Michaels' eyes narrowed with contempt as he read the statement from the folder that his senior partner had just handed him. "But I don't see how it helps Tanner anyway."

"You wouldn't," Davis murmured with a slight shake of his head. "The point "Eliot Ness' is that, that records officer, Ms. Walters, was working for one Armanno Gazales, who in turn works for the Fabrizio family. She used the team's surveillance photos and inner correspondence to let us now of Tanner's meeting with the old man."

Michaels appeared to ignore his partner's snide remark, but he had already added Davis to the people he was going to make pay for underestimating him. "So," he sniff arrogantly, "It just makes our case all the more powerful on Tanner."

Davis stopped and spun around to face his subordinate, "Listen here Junior and note I will not repeat myself again. This is not your own personal inquisition and if you can't separate yourself from it, I will give you the job of counting how many men use the office lavatory. You will garner the facts and find the truth and only the truth. Do I make myself clear?" he scowled at his flinching partner.

"Yes Sir," Michaels answered as he glanced up and down the hallway checking for any eavesdroppers. "You asked me to look at the truth; I'm looking. Tanner was meeting with a well-known crime boss and no matter how we got the photos, the proof is right there in black and white," he said confidently

"And if you can use the feeble minded brain of yours for some arithmetic, you'd see that something doesn't add up here. For a start if Tanner was working for Fabrizio, the old man would do anything to protect his man on the inside and he would not have had the photos sent to us; not only do they incriminate Tanner, they incriminate the old man himself." Davis argued. "No, someone has gone to a lot of trouble to set up not only Vin Tanner, but the old man as well. Fabrizio has been playing by the rules for fifteen years now. He has become quite wealthy towing the legal line. I don't see him rocking the boat at his age."

"Well, what about the initial investigation that started all this?" Michaels asked indignantly

"Your I.A. remember Michaels? That doesn't come with our territory, so stay in your own backyard."

Their conversation was interrupted with the ringing of Davis' mobile phone. He was pleased to hear David from ballistics on the other end of the line. The agent had been waiting for the results on Eneas Lopez.

"Yeah, Dave. Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Uhuh," Davis nodded somewhat relieved, "I was hoping on this one. Can you send the report over to my office? Thanks again, I owe you a beer."

"Well, does the junior partner get to know the results, or does he just go and make himself comfortable beside the men's room door?" Michaels asked sarcastically.

Ignoring Michaels' caustic remark, Davis answered watching the man's face as he revealed what he learned, "That was ballistics—it would seem that Agent Tanner has been cleared of any guilt in the Lopez shooting. Coupled with his clean record and nothing more than the photos, we haven't much to go after him with. Disappointed?"

A spasm crossed over Michaels' face as his brow furrowed. "I still believe that there needs to be a thorough investigation into Tanner and his relationship with Fabrizio."

"Well, that isn't up to you. Tanner has not been, and is not under arrest. He will still have to be interviewed, but as it stands he does not have much to answer for."

"That bodes to question. Why did he run, if has nothing to hide?"

"Maybe for the same reason we were chasing him, because he wants to find the truth."

Part Eighteen

Being a valet for the family since his early twenties, Tito was loyal to only one man and that man was Guido Fabrizio. Watching the younger Fabrizio growing up, the valet saw a troubled child and noticed he had grown into a harsh and unforgiving young man. Now that menace that he had seen maturing all these years had exploded in a blast of greed and power.

After Mario had taken Guido into the other room, the valet seemed to have been forgotten. He tried to stay unobtrusive as possible as he tried to form an opinion on who he could trust. It hadn't taken him long to find out that all the men seemed to be taking their orders from the younger Fabrizio now, and he was not going to get any help to save Guido from them. Fearing for his boss and friend, Tito made his way to his room and the mobile that he kept there.

Checking the hallway, Tito carefully crept down the corridor to his room. Frowning, he tried to open and close the door as quietly as possible. Hurrying to his bedside draw, he silently thanked Guido for the Christmas present of the mobile. He never liked the silly things himself, but he could see now that they had their uses after all.

Dialing the emergency number, he paced the length of his bed as he waited for an answer. Thankful when he heard a voice on the other end, Tito stopped his apprehensive movements and began to explain his problem to the officer in a hush whisper.

With his back to his bedroom door Tito was oblivious to the door opening behind him.

"Yes," he whispered. "That' right, I believe that both men are in danger, please hurry," the valet pleaded

+ + + + + + +

Mario stalked over to his father, his movements becoming more aggressive as he grabbed at Guido's shirt. "Damn it Papa, sign the damn papers." He was becoming more agitated at his father's unwillingness to give in to his ultimatum; more agitated and edgy as his body began to crave its usual buzz. Rubbing the back of his trembling hand under his nose, Mario's eyes narrowed as he released his father and walked back toward Vin.

Roughly pushing Armanno aside, Mario grabbed Vin by the hair, yanking his head back as he jammed the gun under the wounded man's chin. "Do it Papa, or I will let you watch as I blow Tanner's brains all over this room." he threatened.

Vin groaned, as he held tight to his side as Mario's attack pulled at the stab wound in his side. "Sonofabitch!" the sharpshooter hissed as his blue eyes locked eyes with his captor. "Don't sign it Guido!" he dared the younger Fabrizio.

"I'm going to enjoy killing you," Mario promised as he pulled harder on Vin's long hair.

Ignoring the pain the young Fabrizio's attack caused on his already injured head, Vin smiled. "Yeh, I know ya are, that's why I told him not to sign it. Don't ya see, ya have nothing to bargain with. I know what yer goin' to do and so does Guido; he loses nothing in not signing. Whereas, ya lose eveythin', you'll have no money to pay for that shit that ya sniff up that snow lined nose of yours." Vin had recognized the symptoms of Mario's drug abuse almost straight away and knew that it not only made him dangerous to himself, but dangerous to his father.

Vin noted the brown eyes darken, as Mario pulled the pistol back and brought it hard across the side of his head. It seemed to be the final abuse his head was going to bear as spots danced in front of his eyes threatening send him into darkness.

Watching with some satisfaction as blood dripped down the side of the stunned agent's face, Mario turned a cold eye to his father, "That's right Papa, don't sign. You won't lose anything, but he will." The son's voice ascended to a murderous falsetto as he unlocked the safety on his Berretta.

+ + + + + + +

"Shit!" Chris cursed as he threw the phone to the floor of the car in frustration.

"What?" Josiah asked, glancing from the rode as he drove them toward the Fabrizio compound.

Chris shook his head as he stared out the window, "It was the Captain," he sighed. "There was a 911 call from the compound. It seems that Mario is the germ behind all this shit." Pausing, Chris tried to keep his emotions under control as he thought of the rest of Travis’ message. "Someone put a call out from the compound. It appears that Mario is holding Vin and his father at gunpoint."

"Damn!" Nathan swore from the back seat as he and JD moved closer to the front so they could hear it all. "So what does the Travis want us to do? If old Fabrizio is no longer in control of the compound, they aren't going to open the gates and let us in."

"Buck and Ez are on there way with a warrant signed by a Judge and our equipment. Travis’ words ' do what you have to do to eventuate the release of Agent Tanner."

"How did the AD sound?" Josiah asked.

"In a word 'pissed'. I ordered us back from the assignment and failed to give him a report. Then IA turned up investigating one of his agents. The said agent was found at a murder site and then preceded to go missing from the hospital. Now ‘his’ agent is caught in the middle of a hostage situation. How do you think he sounds? One good thing though, it seems Davis is one of the good guys. I.A. still wants to talk to Vin, but Orrin says that Vin is as good as off the hook with them, but I'm afraid not with our captain." Closing his eyes Chris let his head drop back against the seat. "How could I have been so stupid. I have handled this badly from the start. If I had just -- said the right things to Vin If--"

"We all have ifs in our lives Brother. You're not the only one who could have handled this situation with our friend better." Josiah knew that Chris was trying to blame himself when they all had to shoulder the blame equally. They all had in some way doubted their friend and it was time to make amends. The first step was going to be getting Vin out of the compound alive.

Part Nineteen

Chris had stood in anxious silence on the hill overlooking the compound. That he was so close to Vin and yet there was nothing he could do was tearing him apart.

"Where the hell are they?" Chris snapped as he paced the ground, his hands folded into white-knuckled fists. It was seemingly taking the others forever to get there even though in reality it had only been minutes since he had spoken to Buck.

"Patients brother. They will get here." Josiah tried to soothe his friends growing panic even though he was trying to quell the same fear inside himself.

Chris' head whipped around at the sound of the oncoming vehicle, "It's about time!" he fumed as he broke into a sprint toward the vehicle.

"What the hell took you so long? We haven't got time to be standin' around twiddling out God damn thumbs waiting for you." Chris glared into the driver's window at Buck.

"Damn it Chris, it wasn't my fault and gettin' angry at me isn't goin' to help Vin," Buck shot back as he flew from the truck to join Chris at the back as his friend began to start unloading and handing out the vests and weapons.

Chris knew he was being unfair, but he couldn't let go of his anger, not yet, not until he had Vin back. "I'm sorry Buck," he whispered. It was all he could manage as he concentrated on checking the weapons.

Nodding, Buck looked around for the rest of the team. His eyes came to rest on JD who stood looking over the compound. He walked over to the young agent, his hand coming to rest on his shoulder.

"Something bothering ya son?"

JD nodded toward the compound nervously, "There’s a lot of men down there, Buck. I mean there must be at least two of them, for each one of us."

Cocking his head to one side, Buck asked, "You suggestin' we leave Vin in there kid?"

JD, straightened, distressed that his friend would actually believe he thought that way. "Of course not Buck, you know better than to think that."

Buck patted the back of the young agent's back. "Hell, I do know that kid. I'm just glad for once you ain't flyin' down there with guns blazin', you're learnin'. And you're right about there bein' more of them than us, but you're gotta remember son, they're on a payroll that don't include medical benefits, or get out of jail free cards. They ain't gonna be stupid."

The young agent stole a quick glance at their leader, noting the grim determination on Chris' face. "What about Chris, Buck, what if Vin...??

"Don't even go there, kid," Buck said shaking his head as he followed JD's line of sight to their friend. "We won't let that happen. Chris ain't Never goin' to feel that way again." Buck promised. "I won't let that happen."

Part Twenty

His head was killing him. Vin was past knowing which injury hurt the most. Each pain had flowed and melded into the other till his physical pain was indistinguishable from the pain in his heart. He had kept the darkness at bay for the moment, but he couldn't say for how long. His hand that held the bandage to his knife wound was slick with blood. He didn't think the injury it was too bad, the bleeding had slowed some, but the successive blows to his head worried him. He would be of no use to Guido if the blurred vision and dizziness continued, or got any worse.

He couldn't help himself and his mind drifted to Chris and the other five men that he had had the honor of calling friends. He wondered if Chris or the any of the others had come looking for him, or if they even cared anymore. He had been hurt, not by the accusations, he had been blamed for a lot worse, but that Chris had felt he had to ask. He hadn't had much time to think over the last short but incident full hours, but putting himself in Chris' shoes for a moment, Vin wondered would he have asked the same thing in the same situation?

He looked over at his friend Guido and realized that no one knew him like he did, so how could they be expected to understand the innocent friendship that had grown from a chance meeting of a mob boss and child.

Excuse me, Mr. Fabrizio, I think we have a problem." a voice called from the doorway.

All eyes turned to the entryway, Vin forgot everything and move to stand, but felt hard fingers embedding themselves in his shoulder as they pushed him back down to the seat.

"You've got you own problems," Roberto's voice whispered behind him.

Vin kept his sight on the scene in front of him as he shrugged out from under the henchman's grasp. "So have you. You're first on my list asshole." he vowed.

"Tito!" the senior Fabrizio called as he saw his old friend standing in the doorway, blood flowing from his nose. Guido stepped forward to help his valet, but found himself blocked as Amanno stepped in his way.

"Sir, if you wouldn't mind." Amanno politely, but firmly, gestured with his gun for the older man not to step any further. Gasale knew the situation had gone way past the sublime to the ridiculous but he also knew there was no turning back now. If they actually pulled this insane stunt off, it wouldn't take long, with Mario strung out as much as he was, for him to turn the tables on the young Fabrizio and end up in control of everything. So he stood his ground; for now.

"So!" Mario scowled impatiently. His skin felt like it was alive as it itched and screamed at him to relieve its growing hunger. "What do you want?" he barked at the man at the doorway.

"Mario," the man explained as he pushed the bleeding valet into the room, "I caught Tito making a phone call. I believe he was in contact with the police at the time."

Police? Vin couldn't help hoping that meant that Chris and the others were on their way. Wishful thinkin' Tanner. That bridge is well and truly burnt.

"Mario?" the younger Fabrizio snarled as he stretched his neck and stalked toward the interruption. "It's MR. FABRIZIO to you. It will be me paying your wages from now on, so show some respect." he ranted.

"Sorry sir," The guard apologized. "What do you want me to do about Tito here, ‘Mr.Fabrizio, Sir’ ?"

Just as quickly as he had angered, Mario's frowned disappeared to be replaced with an disturbing smile, "What to do about Tito," Mario sighed as he walked over to the valet and wrapped his arm tightly around the older man's neck pulling him in close. "What do you think we should about this Tito?" he whispered into the servant's ear. "I mean," he said looking toward his father, "what would the Great Guido have done to traitors back in the good ol' days hmmm?"

Part Twenty-one

"Gentlemen, if you would be so kind?" Ezra smiled as he pointed his weapon at the two surprised guards and gestured for them to drop their weapons.

Both men looked at each other and then at the polite vested stranger as if deciding not only where this man had come from, but what do they do now.

"So far you are just mere body guards, but if you are feeling the need to meet new and exciting friends in the comfort of the communal showers of our correctional facilities, please to pursue another train of thought," Ezra offered with a polite nod.

Both men dropped their weapons and radio as if they had burned them and put their hands behind their heads.

"Much obliged, gentlemen," the southerner acknowledged. Without taking his eyes off the two men, Ezra bent down to retrieve the arms before motioning the men toward the house.

Buck was making his way silently through the gardens, when he was unexpectantly snagged by thorned creeper; its claw like spine entangling themselves into his clothes. "Oh just great!" Wilmington hissed to himself as he tried to pry the vine off himself. "All hell's about to break loose and I'm battlin' damn Triffids."

"Need some help there, buddy?"

Shit! Buck cursed as he looked up to see one of the ground guards with his gun trained on him, an amused smile plastered on the man's face.

"Well, ya wouldn't happen to have a weed whacker in your back pocket, now would ya?" Buck joked.

The smile dropped away from the guard's face as he frowned at the intruder. "Why don't you just drop your weapon, disengage yourself from the plant life there, Jungle Jim and move yourself toward the house."

"Hey Biff, what do ya think I have been trying to do?" Buck replied as he dropped his gun and feigned complete helplessness to the broadly-built man.

"Jeez," the guard said in stunned disbelief. "What do those initials stand for?" He nodded to the ATF vest, "Awkward Total Fuckwits!" he chuckled as he stepped closer to help release the trapped man.

"Hell no," Buck disarmingly smiled as he suddenly freed himself and grabbed at the armed man. "It stands for Asshole Terminating Foo-bar-your-ass, Einstein." he grunted as he bent the guards wrist back until the weapon dropped from his fingers. Dodging a kick to his legs, Buck's right arm blocked an oncoming fist before he elbowed the startled man in the face, shattering the man's nose.

The guard dropped to his knees clasping his hands to his face, but he still didn't give up as he made a grab for his discarded weapon. Just as his fingers grasped the gun, his hand was crushed under the pressure of Buck's boot.

Stooping down, the breathless agent grabbed the guard by the shirt. "And the names not Jungle Jim asshole, its Buck, remember it!" he smiled as he slammed his fist into the man's face knocking him out.

Shaking his fist, Buck hissed as he picked up the weapons and started toward the house, this time dodging most of the plant life.

Having heard the pleasing chimes of two guard's heads banging together as he played cymbals with their bodies, Josiah was close to the house as he waited for the others to arrive.

Nathan was not so lucky as a bullet missed his head by inches.

Spinning around, one of his knifes was flying through the air and embedded itself in the targets arm.

Hearing the shot, Chris knew it was now too late to be slow and cautious and ordered the team to move in.

Guido watched in despair as his son ceased to exist and instead a power mad monster took his place. Knowing he was probably looking at the last moments of Tito's life, Guido pushed past Armanno, shouting at Mario just as the sound of gunshot went off outside the house.

Vin took the chance, and using up the last of his energy, he leapt up from his seat. Spinning around, he drew back his arm and sent a fist into Roberto's throat. The stunned man didn't know what hit him as he dropped his weapon, clawing at his shattered throat as he tried to get air into his fractured larynx.

Armanno heard more shots outside and knew it was too late.

"I'm sorry Mario, it's over," Gasale said as he cut his loses and ran past the stunned Mario as he attempted to make his escape.

"Damn you!" Mario yelled after him as he fired a bullet into the fleeing man's back, before turning back to the object at the center of his hatred.

The sudden movement had cost Vin dearly and he fell to his knees grasping his hands to his now freely bleeding side. With the room spinning and his vision becoming hazier, Vin was attempting to weakly push himself up from the floor and didn't see Mario fling Tito away from him and renew his aim at him.

Part Twenty-two

Guido was past thinking of anything, but saving his son from making the worst mistake of his life. Ignoring the sporadic sound of gunfire he kept calling to his son, hoping he would eventually see reason. It was a vain hope as the old man watched Mario shoot his friend and then as he tossed Tito aside, take aim at the struggling man on the floor.

With mobility faster than his years, Guido quickly covered ground and threw himself between Mario and the partially standing agent. It was a selfless and fatal action as Mario's bullet left his gun and impacted into Guido's chest. The force sent the old man reeling back against Vin, tossing both men like rag dolls to the floor.

"NO!!!!!!" Mario screamed. "No, no, NO! This isn't the way it's supposed to happen" he continued to yell at the helpless men. "This is your fault," he yelled at Vin, who was struggling to get out from under the barely breathing form. "You love my father so much," Mario gestured to his father. "Join him in Hell," he snarled as he reset his gun.

Giving into the inevitable, Vin gave into the darkness just as the sound of gunfire reached his ears.

+ + + + + + +

Nurse Lancaster's patience was running thin; she had really had enough of these men. She had tried to get them to leave and give the patient some time alone, but was again ignored.

Cornering the doctor in charge of the patient’s case, she voiced her stream of complaints. "Doctor Sanders, not only do the six men inside Mr. Tanner's room refuse to leave the patient's side, but we are being accosted by all manner of undesirables wandering the halls waiting to see the patient." Nurse Lancaster's voice lowered at the latter part of her sentence as she nodded toward the three young men who waited on the chairs in the hallway.

"Are the young men causing any problems, other than sitting here peacefully in the hallway?" Doctor Sanders asked of three somber looking men.

"Well no," Nurse Lancaster begrudgingly admitted, "but it’s like the subway at peak hour here. It can't be good for the patient," she added.

"I for one am just glad to have the young man back in hospital where he belongs. If that means putting up with concerned and overly attentive friends so be it. From what I have heard about what this young man has been through, he needs a little TLC from ‘everyone’. Let me know if anyone causes a disturbance. Until then leave them all where they are," he instructed the nurse.

"As you wish doctor, " the nurse replied as she rushed off the locate the charge nurse too find out if she could change floors for a few shifts.

The doctor had to admit he hadn't seen a room like it. Six men sprawled in all different positions around the room. He figured they had to have backs made of steel to sleep in the chairs the way they did, but nothing would shift them. He noticed the one called Larabee was awake as usual. He couldn't help wondering if that man ever slept.

"How is he?"

How many times had one of the six asked him that? He had lost count, but he didn't mind and smiled at the depth of caring that it showed. "As I have said Mr--sorry, Chris, he is lucky he has a hard head." The doctor watched as the leader of this strange band of men reached out affectionately touch the Vin's exposed arm.

"No, we are,"

Doctor Sanders had found Chris to be a man of few words, but what he said had meaning and depth and though when pushed Larabee could scare the pants off him with his glares. The doctor couldn't help liking the man. "Nurse Lancaster was just asking me about your three friends out there," he nodded to the hallway. "I am taking your word that they are all right to stay here."

Chris frowned slightly at the mention of the boys. He knew how much effort it had taken for the boys to come to see him, admitting to what they had done to Vin that day. When Father Chavez explained Vin's innocence in everything and they had leaned the truth, they had come to see him, wanting to make amends for what they had done. At first Chris had wanted to kill them with his bare hands, but Josiah reasoned that the hurt that they themselves had caused their friend would scar far worse. "They're all right; I wouldn't let them stay here otherwise. They're here for the same reason we are; they care."

"And like us, they need to ask our friends forgiveness," Josiah spoke as he rearranged his lengthy frame.

Doctor Sanders looked around at the six men, slightly perplexed at the statement. "I don't understand, you look like you care for your friend a great deal."

"That we do, my good Doctor," Ezra joined in as he stood up and stretched, "but even family can err in judgment and cause pain and suffering to those they love."

"That they can and that we did Ezra," Nathan chimed in.

"Hell, we all know who really blew it," Buck frowned as he kicked the cahir JD was sleeping in, "Don't have to beat around the bush on my account,"

"Wha-? Vin? What?" JD suddenly came to life, "Buck!" he chastised when he realized what that Buck had done it again.

"You're all very strange, you know that don't you?" the doctor smiled.

"Ya don't have to work with 'em," a weak voice spoke up from the bed.

Part Twenty-three

As consciousness came back to Vin, the dull and indiscriminate noises clarified until the recognizable voices of his friends became clear. He didn't know if it was the fear of finding out how much things had changed, or the fear of the hell he would be waking up to; but he stayed still. He listened as his friends battled each other to take the blame for their lack of faith, each voicing their apologies in their own particular way. He would've stayed quiet for a while longer, but the pounding in his head refused to give him any peace.

"You're all very strange, you know that don't you?" an unknown voice said.

"Ya don't have to work with 'em," Vin groaned as he opened his eyes, the glare of the hospital lights forcing him to shut them again.

The six men moved quickly to surround the bed, before the doctor moved to thin them out. "Gentleman, if you please. This time I am going have to insist that you wait outside while I check over your friend here." Noting the various frowns, Sanders smiled. "I'm sure your friend will be happier to see you after I have given him something for the 5.0 Richter scale size headache he will be experiencing."

With no disagreement coming from the sharpshooter, the team agreed and moved quietly from the room.

Checking his patient's vitals, Doctor Sanders smiled reassuring into the clear blue eyes of his patient. "Your friends are concerned for you,"

"Yeah, I reckon they are," Vin agreed, sucking in his breath as the doctor felt around his knife wound.

"Don't worry," the doctor said as he pulled the blanket back over his patient. "You lost some blood but the knife struck nothing vital, you're going to be up and around in no time. I'll just give you something for that headache,"

"Ain't got one," Vin lied.

"Sure," the doctor said, "if I got repeatedly hit over the head, it wouldn't have any effect on me either. Chris told me you would be stubborn about this."

"Larabee's got a big mouth," Vin huffed.

"Maybe, but he cares about you." Doctor Sanders replied as he looked down at his patient. "I can't make you take something if you refuse, but if it gets any worse let me know, okay?" Accepting the slight nod as agreement. "Look, I really wanted to give you some time alone. I don't know exactly what has gone on between you all, but if this is too much for you, I can have them banned from your room until you're more comfortable."

A small chuckle escaped as Vin pictured the scene, "You and what army?" The faint smile faded as he looked at the doorway, "No, it's okay Doc, we need to talk."

"Okay," Sanders said as he tapped at the bed and walked over to the door, "I'll send them in, but," he said stopping to pointing his patient, "take it easy and remember, call me if you need me."

"Okay, Doc." Vin agreed, before calling to the retreating physician, "Hey Doc, could ya send Chris in first?"

"Sure, just remember what I said," he reminded Vin again as he left.

Waiting for Chris to come in, Vin closed his eyes hopeful that the pounding in his head would ease off. Visions of the last couple of days assaulted him. He could see Lora's wide trusting eyes as he promised to return her brother and the pain wracked body of that brother's last breaths. He remembered--Guido!

"Oh, Guido. I'm sorry," Vin whispered, knowing in his heart that his old friend was gone.

"I'm sorry about your friend, Vin. I know he meant a lot to you."

"He saved my life ya know," Vin explained, his voice hitching in his throat with emotion. "I owe him everythin'." Opening his eyes the sharpshooter took in for the first time the drawn and haunted look on his friends face. "Ya look terrible, ya better sit down before ya fall down," he nodded carefully to the chair.

Both men looked at each other, their silent communication speaking the words that the voice wouldn't speak.


"No need to say it I reckon." Vin interrupted, knowing what Chris wanted to say.

Chris wasn't about to let himself off that easy, "I couldn't have handled it any worse." he chastised himself.

"Hell Cowboy, friendships are hard enough, with addin' extra guilt which don't need to be there. I should have explained about Guido instead of gettin' riled like I did. Guido--," he said getting a far away look on his face, "we knew one day my job and his old life would get in the way." Sighing he brought himself back to the present. "Mario?"

"Dead," Chris answered.

"Good," Vin grimaced as he moved in the bed.

Becoming concerned, Chris moved forward, "You did it again, didn't you?"

"What?" Vin widened in innocence.

"Yeah right." Chris smiled as he shook his head, "I'm going to get the doctor."

"Chris?" Vin called him to him as his friend moved toward the doorway, "What about I.A.? Michaels told me--,"

Chris' face clouded over at the mention of the agent’s name. "Michaels is wasted space and hasn't done himself any favors in how he handled your case. His partner has some plans for that ‘so called agent’ that include a lot of paperwork and I doubt he will be allowed near a real case for a long time. As for you, we were a team of seven and I don't see how anything's changed, especially a stubborn sharpshooter who won't do what he is told and take his medicine."

"Aw Hell," Vin couldn't help smiling, it felt good to be back.


Chris pushed gently at the door, taking a peek in. He smiled at seeing the sleeping sharpshooter in the hospital bed. Pressing his finger to his lips, he asked for silence as they crept into the room. Placing his gift on the chair beside the bed, he winked and moved back out of the room as quietly as he had come in.

Turning his head as he began to wake from his sleep, Vin was startled as he opened his eyes to see a set of brown eyes looking intently at him from the chair.

"Hello Mr. Vin."

The stunned sharpshooter pulled himself up to a sitting position as he looked around for the reason that his visitor would be sitting in the chair. Finding no one, he looked back at the small child that sat quietly a small bunch of flowers clasped tightly in her hand.

"Lora," His guilt threatened to overwhelm him as he remembered the last time he saw the child and the pain he had caused her. "How'd ya get here?"

"Mr. Chris brought me," she explained. "He said I was a surprise. Were you surprised?"

"Yeah, I was surprised." Vin answered as he struggled to grip on his emotions. "I've missed my little Spanish flower." he smiled.

Lora returned his smile as she looked down at the flowers that she turned nervously in her hands, "I did a bad thing, Mr. Vin." she said looking up through her lashes, "Eneas wouldn't like what I said to you. He would be very cross with me." A tiny tear slipped down the side of her cheek as she sniffed, "I miss him, Mr. Vin."

Moving over in the bed a little, Vin patted the empty space beside him. Helping her on the bed, he cradled the sobbing child in his arms. "I know ya do." he whispered as he kissed the top of her head. "I wish I could've of brought him home like I promised ya. I'm sorry." his voice wavering as he held tighter to the child.

Snuggling in closer, Lora began to hiccup as her sobs began to ease up. "Mr. Chris said," her body jumped again as she frowned as seemed to be thinking hard on something, "that you --tired--no, tried to help," she hiccuped again, " but Eneas wouldn't have--- wanted you to get hurt too. Mr. Chris--said that Eneas isn't really gone-- that he is here." she said touching her small hand to her chest as she glanced up at Vin.

"Well, Mr. Chris is right. Eneas will always be with ya in there," he said pointing her chest, "and here," he gently tapped the top of her head.

Pushing herself away, Lora's hiccups ceased as she frowned, touching her finger tenderly to the mark left on Vin's forehead by Mario's gun. "Mr. Chris said that--you are naughty--that you won't do what he says and take your medicine."

"Does he now," Vin chuckled as he took the small hand in his and kissed the back of her hand. Vowing to get Chris for playing dirty pool, Vin gave in, "Okay, I'll do what Mr. Chris says, but only for you."

Suddenly remembering the present she had bought Vin, she pulled up the flowers that had been pressed between them, "Mr. Chris helped me pick these out. Aren't they pretty?" She asked as she showed Vin the slightly pressed flowers.

"They're very pretty, but nothing is as pretty as my Spanish flower," Vin smiled as he pulled the child into a hug as he silently thanked Mr. Chris for giving him back something else he had thought he had lost.

+ + + + + + +

Back at his office, Chris allowed himself to collapse into his chair as he allowed the relief to wash over him, easing the tightly coiled muscles in his body. So close to losing him He could still see Mario taking aim at Vin as he tried to struggle out from underneath his dying friend. He reacted quickly sending the crazed young man to Hell where he belonged before he could further hurt his friend.

Leaning forward his elbows resting on his desk, Chris' thoughts took him back to the rage and fear as he saw Vin appear to lifelessly slump to the floor. Rubbing his hands over his face, Chris pushed the thoughts away as he reminded himself that Vin was all right and soon he would be back at his desk where he belonged.

The flashing light of his answering machine called for his attention and he pushed the button to listen to the messages.

"Mr. Larabee. You don't know me, but we have a mutual and dear friend in Vin Tanner. My name is Guido Fabrizio and I do not have much time to talk. What I am about to tell you only three people in this world have known the truth. Why am I telling you? Because Vincenzio trusts you and one day you may be called upon to recount what I have said today......."

Chris angrily reached across to the answering machine and struck hard at button to stop the tape. Yanking open the lid, he pulled the tape from the machine. "Damn you Guido," he cursed the dead mobster.

"What are ya goin' to do?" Buck spoke from the doorway.

"You eaves droppin' again Buck?" Chris asked wearily.

Buck was past caring about Chris' charge of snooping as he stepped into the room and nodded to the tape. "We just got him back, this is goin' to kill him. We can't--,"

"Don't you think I know that Buck?" Chris countered as he lifted himself from the chair and walked over to the window. "He's owed the truth. No secrets, remember?"

Buck shook his head as he stalked over to Chris, "But he's also owed some peace. Forget you heard it Chris. For Vin, for us; let it go." he pleaded.

Chris Larabee's indecision was obvious as glanced from his friend to the tape in his hand.

The End