by tannertexaslady & Tonny

Chapter 1 - 3 | Chapter 4 - 7 | Chapter 8 - 11 | Chapter 12 - Epilogue

Chapter 8
The black Ram slid to a halt two blocks from the health center. Fire trucks and emergency vehicles had the road blocked and chaos had taken over the street. Chris bailed out of his truck and ran toward the clinic, followed by the rest of the team. His stride faltered only once and that was when he first saw that the front wall of the building was in ruins. Justin and Raphael were already there, franticly moving rubble looking for a way inside.

"Michaels?" Larabee called to him, while he caught his breath.

"Sir, nothing yet, but we've only been here about fifteen minutes, That man in the yellow shirt is the senior detective on the scene and I have already informed him that MCAT is involved. His name is Owens and he is expecting you."

"Good work, but for now keep digging." The other agents had joined in and the debris was dwindling faster. Rescue trucks had not had time to get this far down the street yet and they were not waiting for them to assist.

Buck looked up for a moment, "Go on Chris, we got it here, I'll holler when we get to 'em."

Chris wanted to stay and look for his family, but Commander Larabee knew what his duty was, with one last look at Nathan's car covered with shards of glass he made himself head over to talk to Owens and attempt to bring some kind of order to this chaos. He changed course when he found that Bones was on the scene with Santos and Ramsey already working on evidence.

"Bones, I though we didn't get Ramsey for two weeks." Chris waited for an explanation.

"I pushed his paperwork through and he will stay with me until he finds other lodging. He is one of the best forensics investigators in the country and from the looks of this mess we'll need his help."

Chris cut scorching green eyes to Metfield, "Next time, you will inform me, before you take matters in your own hands. Understood?" Bones only nodded as he walked away. Chris continued on to Owens and took command of the crime scene.

Josiah was throwing rubble as fast as he could and suddenly stopped, "Shh, listen!" He cocked his head toward what was left of the door. "YES!" he yelled, "I heard them, they're alive!" The preacher franticly moved big blocks of cement and pushed onto the door.

Buck laid his hand on Josiah's arm. "Slow down and let me help, you take that side of the door and I'll take this one." Together they moved the last obstacle and a small opening appeared.

JD elbowed his way to the opening. "I can fit through there and get inside, at least then we'll know if they need medical assistance." He recognized the look on Willington's face. "Buck, Nathan and a pregnant Rain are in there and I am going in, if it were Casey I would be taking the same risk. Now either help me or get out of the way."

"Okay, but if it looks unstable back your ass out of there, I don't plan on having to raise your babies along with mine, you got that!" Buck squeezed his shoulder.

"I got it." JD dropped to his knees and wiggled his way in, once inside he yelled to the others, "It looks better in here than it does out there. I'm gonna work my way to the back." It took him only fifteen minutes to clear a path and reach the back room; he kept up a steady stream of chatter with Nathan all that time.

"Damn it's good to see you," Nathan picked JD up in a bear hug.

"Are you guys okay?" JD addressed Nathan but he was watching Rain and thinking about his Casey.

"Yeah, we managed to take cover in the closet, but couldn't work our way out once it got quiet. Between my size and a very pregnant wife I didn't want to risk something else falling." Nathan kept his arm around Rain, grateful that she was safe, but afraid to let go of her. "I figured it was safer to wait for some help."

"We'll have you both out in no time, the front is cleared, and all we need is a bigger opening, follow me." JD led them back the same way he came in and by the time, they reached the place where the door used to be, Buck and Josiah had made the opening larger.

Nathan helped Rain through the debris and wanted her out first." Okay, baby, I'm right behind you," he gave her a kiss. "Josiah, Rain is coming out first." JD helped Jackson ease her out.

Buck and Josiah were waiting for her and quickly got her to her feet, Wilmington shouted, "We got her, come on out, before this building decides it has had enough." Nathan was next, followed by JD and then they hurriedly found a place for Rain to sit.

Josiah hugged them both, "Thank God you are both okay." The rest of the team gave their welcomes, too and JD ran over to let Chris know the Jacksons were safe.

"Lord it's good to see all of you. I thought..." Rain's emotion took over and she could not continue.

Nathan held on to her and Buck kept patting her back. "Darlin, do you need to see a doctor, you know to get checked out?"

She shook her head and regained some control. "No, I think I'm okay and the way our son is kicking, I'd have to say he is okay, too."

Josiah offered his keys to Nathan, "Here use my truck and take her home." He pressed them in Jackson's hand. "We'll take care of getting your car towed."

"Thanks, but are you sure you don't need me?" Nathan viewed the destruction around them and looked back to his beautiful wife. He knew he would be at Josiah's next service at the mission, giving thanks.

"Go home, Nathan and take care of your family," Chris walked up and gave his order. "We'll see you tomorrow."

Nathan took the keys from Josiah and decided that maybe he did need some time with his family. "Thanks guys, take care." The team stood together and watched them leave.

Larabee was back to issuing orders, "Ross, you take Paul and start interviewing some of the residents, see what they can tell you. Buck..." The ringing of his phone stopped him. "Larabee... We are on our way, but you will be there long before us. Don't try to play the lone ranger." Chris closed his phone. "Justin, you are in charge of the scene, Raphael, Westin, stay with him, Buck, JD, and Josiah, with me."

"What's going on, Chris?" Buck had a bad feeling,

Chris shook his head and said nothing, directing them back to his truck, with one hand firmly on Buck's arm, once they were there he explained. "That was Vin, he received a message from Kel, the ranch is under siege, he's on his way, but Buck ... the girls are there with Ezra and Kelli." It took Josiah and Chris to hold onto Wilmington until Chris' words got through to him. "Buck, I need you to calm down, if you're gonna be any help," he waited for his old friend to gain some control.

Buck shook himself loose, "Alright! ' He took a deep breath. "I'll be fine, let's go take the bastards out."

Once again, the Ram was speeding away with light on and sirens screaming. Josiah called Mallory and had her go to the tavern to break the news to Inez. He knew Mallory could handle her and make sure they stayed out of harm's way.

Larabee 7

Kelli laid two rifles down beside Ezra, he had not moved from the front window in the last fifteen minutes. "Ez we need to do something before Inez comes back and stumbles into the middle of this."

"I know, but they seem to be waiting for something or someone."

"Look since there are only two of us, we can't cover the entire house, you distract them and I'll try to get to the roof."

"NO! You are not going to the roof."

"Ez, it's the only place I can see the front and the back, maybe I can even eliminate one or two and even the odds for us." She read the doubt in his eyes and snapped, "Like it or not, it's what I do and I am good at it, Tanner qualified me, that should be good enough for you."

"Fine, but in case you haven't noticed they are not moving, just how do you propose I distract them?" Ezra hated the idea, but saw no other choice.

She laughed, "Ezra, you're the one with the training for this stuff and I know you have a mouth that can, when you choose to, irritated and provoke anyone into doing anything. Use it." With that remark, Kelli retreated to the back of the house and waited for her chance.

Ezra began talking non-stop and Kelli took the opportunity to quietly slip out the back door and climb to the roof. She laid down flat and using the scope on her rifle was able to spot five men with guns, marking their locations in her mind. She had to smile though because Ezra was still talking and a couple of those men looked as if they would like to strangle him.

She looked through her riflescope again, watching them. Why weren't they moving? They were all in position and could take the ranch house easily, so why weren't they? With an uneasy feeling starting in her gut, Kelli kept her eyes riveted on the men.

+ + + + + + +

Vin parked a quarter of a mile down the road from the ranch entrance. He knew it would take Chris another thirty minutes to get here and he was not willing to chance waiting that long to check out the situation. He grabbed some rope, his rifle, along with two sets of handcuffs and then left the truck on foot, knowing the ranch well enough to come in the back way.

Taking the high ground, he used his scope to locate the players. He counted five and then smiled, when he saw a flash of red on the roof of the ranch house. Tanner settled in to wait, rifle out and ready. Between his position and Kelli's they could prevent a rush of the house and if needed, he could move in with her to cover. He settled in to wait on Larabee and the others, he wanted to take some of these bad guys alive and make them talk, in fact he was looking forward to it.

Standish was still talking and Kelli decided to scan the area again, this time she was pleasantly surprised when she spotted Vin at ten o'clock. She relaxed a little when she realized that between the two of them it was unlikely that the men could launch a full attack without encountering fire from one of them. Well fellow's, it seems you had your chance and blew it! But dammit Tanner, where is your backup?

"Chris, can't you go any faster?" Buck could not stand not knowing what was going own.

"Buck, we'll be there soon, just try to stay grounded for me, okay?" Chris reached out to Vin. Soon, pard, another fifteen minutes.

"Grounded, yeah I'll stay grounded long enough to find the bastard responsible for this and make him regret the day he was born!" Buck had only one thing on his mind.

"Brother, I believe you might have to stand in line for that honor." Josiah was already making plans on how to educate the man about the path to righteousness.

JD could not imagine how Buck felt, but vowed to be there with him when he sought retribution. "Chris, you have a plan yet?"

Larabee was quiet for a minute and tried to picture what he was receiving from Tanner. "There are five men surrounding the house, when we get close three of us will go in on foot and station ourselves between Vin and the front gate." He thought for a minute. "Buck, you will take the truck and get to the front door, Vin and Kelli can cover you, but don't take any detours, we don't know what kind of firepower these guys have. Once you are inside, we will move on the others and take 'em. Remember we want at least one of 'em alive to question."

Watching the men, Vin knew they were getting restless and would probably not wait much long before they made a move. He felt the pump of adrenaline coursing through his body and waited for Chris and the others to get into position. They were there, he might not see them, but he felt their presence and was ready to move on Chris' signal.

Kelli saw the black truck slow down and three men get out, she was not sure what they had planned, but was ready for whatever they needed her to do. It did not take long to figure it out, the truck picked up speed and barreled through the front gate directed straight at the house. As the truck slid to a stop, Buck rolled out and made a dash to the door that Ezra had open for him.

It seemed as if the arrival of the black truck was a signal, because suddenly, all hell broke loose as the five bad guys opened fire, but not toward the house. The agents rushed them and Kelli laid cover for her teammates as one by one they took down four of the five attackers. The fifth man decided to be stupid, as well as suicidal; he singled out and took deliberate aim at one of the agents bearing down on him. That was a big mistake. Kelli fired and ended the threat to Agent Tanner's life, suddenly it was quiet and the siege was over.

Scurrying back down, Kelli was anxious to see how the kids fared though all of this and to share her observations on the roof with the others. She heard Buck yelling before she made it in the door. "Where are they, Ezra?"

"This way... Dad." A smiling Standish led him to the basement door. Buck ran down the stairs to find his two girls curled up together. Maria was asleep, but Sarah was looking at the door with huge eyes. The radio was playing and Buck was grateful for whoever thought that up. It must have kept the children from hearing too much of what had been going on outside their hiding place. Then Sarah was suddenly there, a whirlwind of movements. Behind her Maria gave an indignant yelp when the sudden movements of her big sister woke her up. Seeing her daddy, she immediately forgot to be angry and yelling, she ran up to him as well.

"Daddy, daddy! You back! Let's go home! Wanna go home, don't like Aunt Kelli's games, is boring! Why Sarah cry?

Buck couldn't answer; he could only scoop up his second whirlwind and hold on tight to his two precious girls.

"I was s....scared!" Sarah wailed. "Daddy, there were noises and we were all alone!"

The distress of his eldest brought Buck's voice back. "It's alright," he whispered, "it's alright, it's alright, I'm here, everything is alright. Nothing happened, I promise it's alright!" It was like a mantra he couldn't stop, just like the tears streaming over his face.

"Daddy? You cry too?"

"Just 'cause I'm happy sweetheart, just 'cause I'm happy," he reassured his youngest.

"Oh." The feisty one year old and the trembling three year old ducked in even deeper, while their relieved dad held on tight. Ezra backed out of the basement and left them alone for some family time.

+ + + + + + +

In a secluded corner upstairs, an equally relieved Tanner was holding Kelli. Finally, she shoved him away and gave him a mock glare. Then she got serious. "Vin, there is somethin' we need to talk about."

"We do?" he asked mischievously, pulling her back with a firm hold on her. He lowered his head, kissed her neck and whispered in that soft sexy drawl that drove her crazy, for only her to hear. "Are we plannin' a long night together or maybe you had somethin' special in mind?"

The desire she saw in his eyes made it difficult for her to hold a thought "God Tanner, you're killin' me and yes," She leaned back, 'But dammit, 'm tryin' to discuss somethin' else."

Vin sighed in resignation," You're right, we do need to talk. You and Ezra clearly ain't safe here, we need other plans."

"I don't know. I'm not sure Ezra and I were the targets this time."

"What? What are you talkin' about?"

Chris? You had better come over here.

Soon Chris was with them. "What's going on?" he asked, looking from Vin to Kelli.

"Chris, I saw some things while I was up on the roof and 'm not so sure that Ezra and I were the targets. Those men were in position when I got up there, but they didn't move, they seemed to just wanna pass the time. That made me nervous, I thought maybe they were waiting on reinforcements, but that didn't sit well, 'cause there were already five of them, all heavily armed."

"So? You clearly have figured something out, tell us."

"I think they waited for you, Chris. They started shootin' the moment your truck showed up. Speakin' of which, how did you know we were in trouble?"

"You sent me an e-mail, remember?"

"No Vin. I didn't, we couldn't get any type of message out. Someone else that wanted to make sure you and Chris got here must have sent it."

"Someone sure as hell wanted us to be here, the message I got was supposedly from Kel. Damn! Now we need to think 'bout protectin' you too, Cowboy!"


"Chris, don't forget 'bout Reed! Seems that maybe, things ain't over yet."

"And as soon as y'all showed up behind them, they didn't target the house anymore; they targeted you... and Vin."

"Me? Now, wait a minute...."

"Yes you, Vin! I had to shoot that bastard to save your sweet ass!"

The two men were staring at each other and Kelli knew they were discussing what she told them. She was ready to do battle if she wasn't believed. She knew she was right about this, she felt it in her gut, and it was the only explanation that made sense.

The two friends did not question her observations though.

"We better wrap things up here first," Chris finally said. Vin nodded and Kelli knew both men had come up with ways of dealing with this already, especially when they threw threatening looks at the two prisoners. Whoever was behind it had involved their family and Chris and Vin were not going to let that go.

+ + + + + + +

JD fixed the phones, removing the high tech jamming device that shut down their communications. He was already planning how to protect them from that in the future and trying to find out who sent the message to Vin for help. Josiah called Mallory and gave her the all clear for Inez, while Chris called Linda and told her to come home. He held a still very anxious Sarah in his lap, while Buck was taking care of Maria, who needed clean diapers and was constantly nagging her daddy about food. He was helping Maria close by, so he could keep an eye on Sarah as well. The little girl was clinging to Chris and the anger surged up in him again. Whoever was behind this, he would never forgive them for getting the girls involved, or Rain.

Two of the attackers survived but so far the only information Chris had gotten out of them was useless. They started quoting the Geneva Convention and the rules for questioning POW's, as far as they were concerned this was a war and they were prisoners. Larabee arranged to put them in high security lock up. He also did not see the point in Standish and Coulter staying away from the office any longer and told them to plan to go back in the morning. Justin gave him a full report, assuring him that things were under control at the other scene and that it would be late before all the evidence could be possessed.

Then the door opened and a very anxious Inez rushed in, followed by Mallory.

"Mommy!" Sarah shrieked, jumping down and running into the arms of her mother. Soon Buck and Maria followed, forming a tight cluster of four. Chris watched the Wilmington family reunite and thought about Nathan and Rain. "Justin, finish up and tell the team we meet tomorrow morning at seven to start sifting through all the evidence and find a trail to the bastard that started this. "He knew JD was anxious to see Casey and was fairly certain Kelli was waiting to check Tanner out. Chris also knew he needed Linda with him and just holding her would help control the building rage inside him. Tomorrow would be soon enough to begin the hunt, tonight the family needed time to calm and comfort one another.

+ + + + + + +

"Sir, your report." Madera took the report and although his mission was now in the open, his men had failed to take out any of the MCAT unit.

His phone rang. "Yes sir, operation Soledad has commenced. I assure you sir, this time next month; you will have your new Commander and Captain in the MCAT Unit because the present leadership will be history."

Paul Madera hung up the phone and pulled out the plans for the next phase of this operation. Failure was not an option; he would be successful because his own life depended on it.

Chapter 9
Larabee 7- Wednesday

Chris laughed when he looked at the southerner standing beside his truck. Six in the morning was early for Standish, but one of the benefits of having him stay at the ranch was making sure he got to work on time. However, he had to admit seeing him in the early hours gave Chris a new understanding of the phrase 'not a morning person'. Ezra looked as if he was still lost in dreamland or should be, even the coffee he was slowly sipping on, did not seem to help.

When Larabee looked up, he saw Vin and Kelli coming in their direction. Whenever they were together, Chris could feel the close bond between the two of them and was grateful Tanner had found a woman that could give him that kind of contentment in his life. As he stood and watched the young couple, he was thinking that maybe Vin was right. He should give that somebody higher up some credit for putting those two together and trust that he had a plan for keeping them that way.

You look like you had a pleasant night.

Did at that, Cowboy, I could say the same for you.

"You two do know that is rude, do you not." Ezra drawled.

Kelli laughed, "Ez you should be use to it by now." She reached into her pocket. "Here, you may not let me drive your baby, but I don't mind you using mine. Take my truck until your car is ready, no sense in you rentin' one, besides my lady has four wheel drive, just in case you need it." She handed him the keys. "This way you don't have to depend on Lar'bee and I can attest to your drivin' skills."

Ezra looked at the keys in his hand, touched by her offer and surprised that she recognized the unease he felt about not being in control. "Thank you, but are you sure you won't need it yourself?"

"She won't need it, 'm sure she has plans to stay close to my backside until we figure out what in the hell is goin' on and find the bastard behind all of it." Vin smiled, "Course I don't have a problem with it, I've kinda gotten use to her watchin' my ass." Tanner grinned when he felt the pinch on his butt, courtesy of his redhead. He put his arm around her and pulled her to his side, he was very much aware of how worried she was about his safety.

Chris perceived the concern radiating from Kelli and could feel his anger grow against the unknown person that had dared to make these attacks personal. Taking risk on the job was an unpleasant fact they all lived with, but it was very different this time, that bastard was specifically targeting his family and that was not acceptable.

"What do you say we all get going and start the hunt for that sonofabitch?"

MCAT Office

Well before seven, all the agents were present and ready for action. Chris noted their mood and did not keep them waiting. "War Room, we meet in ten minutes."

The usual banter was absent this morning, replaced with serious conversations about the events of yesterday. The huge board with all the pins on it dominated the room. Vin grabbed a marker prepared to add the latest facts to the already long list. Larabee decided to let the agents' discussions direct the course on this meeting. Bouncing ideas among themselves may come up with some answers.

"Okay we will start with reports."

Bones took the cue and began with forensics. "All the DB's are local, each of the deceased had a criminal record, small time stuff, nothing that would indicate organized activity. There was nothing noteworthy about the COD, an assortment of drugs, gunshot wounds and in the case of the car accident, blunt force trauma".

"I attempted to trace the origins of the drugs and they seem to have come from the clinics that were targeted in the last ten days." Katrina added.

Ramsey took over, "The explosives and weapons used have military origins and I am attempting to track them by serial numbers, hopefully I will have more by the end of the day. One note, all are relatively new versions of weapons used by the military and not something easily picked up on the street."

"Raphael and I interviewed over thirty people and to no surprise, nobody knows nothing and saw even less. They're scared and after what we saw yesterday, I can't say that I blame them." Justin passed it to Paul.

"We have gone through all the police reports concerning The Soledad and found some interesting comparisons. Ross, I think you have that list."

Ross shuffled some papers, "Yeah... All the incidents that have happened in the last two weeks are identical to what happened in Detroit with the original OMG. It's as if someone took all the details from the police reports, including the use of explosive belts for intimidation."

Kelli interjected, "I've heard of copycat killers, but copycat gangs?

"Blaze, I'm surprised at you. Aren't you the same person that told me the best offense was always a damn good distraction?" Raphael said, "Think about it."

"Blaze?" Buck started to laugh, but stopped when Kelli cut her eyes and gave him a glare that would rival one of Larabee's. However, Wilmington did mentally file that information to use later.

"In this case, I believe that is a good description. Someone went to a great deal of trouble to duplicate the crimes of the original gang and I am confident it was not to resurrect the old gang. It was to create an atmosphere of fear and to covertly stir up enough trouble to draw the interest of this unit." Josiah explained. "Whoever is behind this created the 'distraction' of an OMG to hide their real objective."

Chris' voice was soft, but no one missed the lethal tone, "What do you believe is the real objective?

Josiah heaved a sigh, "MCAT, more specifically, after the events yesterday at the ranch, I would say the leadership of this unit. Someone wants you and Vin out and my guess is to replace you both with people of their own choosing. We cannot discount the possibility, especially since we never found the identity of the man Reed worked for and the man that recommended him conveniently had a heart attack. Who could connect your deaths in a street war to Reed's attempt on your life? Look at how that man who was the runner-up for your position in Frisco died in the line of duty."

There was silence in the room as the agents digested what they were hearing.

Nathan broke that silence, "Chris what he is saying makes a lot of sense, and they are not above using your family to get to you so that means more than you two are at risk, here."

Chris and Vin exchanged an intense look, no one interrupted their 'discussion', but everyone felt the tension rise in the room. After a minute or two, Larabee turned to JD. "What did we find out about Madera?"

"Paul Madera aka the Columbian Fox" is a hired gun that has availed his services to at least eight countries in the last 3 years. His mission success rate is 100% and usually takes only assignments that he considers challenging, he commands a high fee for his services and has access to state of the art weaponry as well as unlimited manpower. His IQ is near genius level and he considers himself a master strategist."

Pam picked it up, "Last night the local police went to his residence in Eldorado Spring with a search warrant, the house was empty, except for the body of an unidentified female. There was no sign of Madera or the weapons Kelli saw. This is a picture of what he can look like; it seems he is able to change his appearance according to what his needs are at the time." Pam passed out copies of the picture.

"This is the man we encountered in Eldorado Springs," Ezra verified.

"Ross, you and Paul talk to Morgan at the CBI, give him what we have on this street war and he can coordinate with the Denver Police on how to handle it. As of now that is not our case, our priority is Madera and the threat to MCAT. JD, Pam I want anything CASSIE comes up with on my desk. Josiah I want a full profile on this bastard, Justin, you and Mark dig up what you can on his past missions, Cordova use what connections you still have with the DEA, see what you can find out. Bones get the report on that heart attack victim and see what the other ME might have missed. Santos, Ramsey stay on those connections to the military. Come on people let's move!"

As Chris gave out each assignment, the agents began to leave to carry them out, finally it was Buck, Nathan, Ezra, Kelli, and Vin left in the room.

"Vin, they're yours, come up with a plan to get the ladies safely tucked away somewhere, until we put these bastards out of business. I'm going to be in Travis' office and I won't be back until I have some names." Larabee picked up a folder and walked out.

"Kel, you might wanna get Josiah and JD back in here for this." Vin directed and waited until they returned." Okay suggestions?" The men knew their families would be safer away from Denver, but just looked at each other at a loss to think of something their wives might agree to.

Kelli sighed," How about a three days at Disneyland, Inez and Mallory wouldn't deny the kids an opportunity like that would they?"

"Hell, Inez would love it and the kids would have a ball." Buck agreed.

"Mallory would probably like that" Josiah thought about it, "Yes she would and Mallory knows how to take precautions for them."

Vin shook his head, "I can't see Linda agreeing to leaving Denver."

"She would if we asked her to organize it," Kelli grinned. "Trust me, Linda is a big kid at heart and she would have fun, too."

Nathan joined in. "No way Rain and Casey could make that trip this close to their due dates."

"If I may suggest, for those lovely ladies a few days spent in the lap of luxury in a penthouse suite here in Denver. One place to protect and they could indulge themselves with spa activities such as massage, facials, makeovers, room service and such .It could be a luxury for themselves before they take on the duties of motherhood." Ezra suggested. "We could use one detail for protection during the day and at night Chris, Nathan or JD would be there."

"Casey would like that. It is something she would never do for herself. Nettie won't be back for another ten days and she has been spending a lot of time alone." JD agreed. "Besides with twins coming, it might be the last chance she has just to pamper herself for a while."

"Fine, get on the phones and make it happen, that leaves more of us free to watch Chris." Vin liked the ideas.

"And you," Kelli added. "Don't forget Tanner, you are a target, too."

Each headed for a phone and surprisingly had agreements from the ladies quickly. With The memories of yesterday fresh in their minds, they felt an urgency to protect the children. Ezra arranged for the penthouse and Vin elected Kelli to seek Linda's cooperation. Dubois loved the idea and was on the phone with Inez and Mallory within minutes making plans to leave this afternoon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris stormed off the elevator and did not stop at the front desk. He went straight into Travis's office unannounced, followed by an apologetic secretary.

Sir, I am sorry..."

"It's all right, close the door on your way out." Orrin waited until she closed the door." Chris, I assume this is an urgent matter."

"Someone wants control of MCAT and they are not above personally attacking my family to get it." Chris threw a folder on Travis's desk. "No more bullshit, Orrin, I want names or I walk and destroy CASSIE on my way out the door."

Travis opened the folder and began to read, becoming more alarmed with each word he read. When he was finished, he sighed and stood up. "Madera?"

"Not yet, that bastard is on his last mission, but I want the person that hired him. You and I both know it is the same sonofabitch responsible for Reed. Politics be damned, this ends NOW!"

Orrin sat back in his chair and thought for a minute. "The only ones that would know enough about MCAT to set this up were on the commission that gave the approval to form this unit. There were eight of us and I know each one on them, well." He hesitated briefly and then pulled a folder from is desk drawer. "Chris, I have trusted each man on that commission and ask only that you bring me proof before you act. "He gave the folder to Larabee. "These are the names you want and you have my word, if one of these men is responsible, I will not hesitate in making sure he is prosecuted."

"You'll have your proof, Orrin."

MCAT Office

Chris did not slow down on his way through the bullpen, but yelled orders on the way. "JD, my office, Vin you .too." Both men followed him into his office and Tanner closed the door.

"JD, there are eight names in this folder, I want you to run each one personally, your eyes only. Look at everything from the day they were born." Chris was silent for a minute, "I also want you to install a kill switch in CASSIE, if something happens to me and Vin, use it. If they succeed and get control of MCAT I want to make sure they don't get their hands on that system."

JD swallowed hard, "I'm on it now." He was out the door before Chris had time to sit down.

"Damn, Chris, I know he'll do it, but you could have ask him to cut off his arm and caused less pain for the kid."

Chris gave a half laugh, "Wait until he see one of those names belong to Travis, he won't sleep for a week worrying about it."

"You don't think...'

"No, but this way, he's protected and if there is any backlash, it will look like our idea, not his."

Tanner gave him a rundown on what they decide to do about the family and their safety. Chris was surprised that Linda agreed to leave Denver. "How in the hell did you get her to do that."

"I'd like to take credit for it, but it was Kelli that got her to organize the trip and agree to go with them." Vin smiled, "Maybe you should talk to Kel and learn some ways to handle that woman of yours."

"Very funny, but I'll learn, it just might take a little longer than I first though. Linda has a unique way of seeing things, which is part of what I love about her." Chris ran his hands over his face. "I'm glad she is going with them, I love that woman and if something happened to her ..."

"So when are you gonna do somethin about it? You know what you want, just do it."

"Soon, I just need a little more time." Chris grinned, "I guess it's true, a married man can't stand for his friends to be single."

"Hey, I know a good thing when I find it and Kel is the best thing that has ever happened for me. Lovin' her is the most natural thing in the world, I feel as if we have always been together and I know she feels the same. I tell you Chris, she constantly amazes hell ... you got me started on the one subject that's hard for me to shut up about. What I intended to say is I just want you to be happy, too"

Chris smiled while he listened to Tanner talk about Kelli and it made him feel good. He remembered how it felt when he was with Sarah and he was glad that his friend was experiencing those same feeling. "Nothing wrong about being in love Vin, and I love Kelli, too, just like I do the rest of this crazy family. I'll be talking to Linda soon, don't worry about me."

Larabee's phone rang and he answered, "Damn, I forgot all about that, but I've got them ready... yeah, I'll take care of it." Chris sighed, "With everything that's happened I forgot to give The DPD copies of the reports from yesterday. I promised Owens I would get them over to him."

"Give 'em here, I'll do it, I need some fresh air anyway." Vin held out his hand. "Come on Chris, it's two blocks, you don't need a messenger for that. I'll be back before you could even make the phone call."

Chris handed them over, "Take Nathan with you, until this is over I do not want anyone out own their own. When you get back we'll go have a talk with our prisoners"

"That, I am lookin' forward to." Tanner grinned and was gone.

Vin stopped at Nathan's desk and ask him to come along, he looked at Kelli and recognized the question in her eyes. He detoured on his way out the door to her station and squeezed her shoulder. "Be back soon."

Once outside Tanner took a deep breath of fresh air, "Damn it feels good to be out in the sunshine."

Nathan laughed, "Face it; you are just a country boy at heart, that happens to work in the city."

"Come on, let's see if an old guy like you can keep up" Vin threw down his challenge and started to jog down the street. Not one to be left out, Nathan was right on his heels. Neither man noticed the car that pulled out behind them.

Two blocks and they were directly across from the DPD Tanner started across the street, while Nathan stopped to fasten the loose strap on his shoe. He heard a car accelerate and looked up just in time to see the vehicle intentionally take direct aim at The Texan.


Chapter 10
MCAT Office

Chris stood at the door of his office and watched his agents working. They were a good team and he was not going to allow some unknown bastard to destroy that. He watched Kelli get up and go refill her cup, thinking that it was a shame Vin had corrupted her coffee drinking habits. Now, she actually liked that stuff the Texan tried to pass off as good coffee.

Kelli saw Chris watching her, suddenly she stumbled, dropping her cup, at the same time Chris felt a wave of pain race through his body, and his head felt like someone dropped a few bricks on it. He reached for the doorframe to prevent himself from falling.

Buck saw Kelli falter, jumped up and caught her before she fell. You okay darlin?'"

"I... no." Kelli heard Buck say he wanted her to sit down. "Let me go, I need to get to Chris!" She pulled against the hold he had on her.

Wilmington knew Chris was watching and turned to see why he was not helping, when he did, he saw the distressed state Larabee was in and shouted for help, "Ezra! Josiah!"

Buck did not let go of Kelli but did take her to Chris. When she saw him, she felt her chest constrict and a knot of fear formed in her stomach, she knew what was wrong before he said a word. His eyes said it all; Vin had that same look when Larabee had been hurt. Kelli started shaking her head and gasped, "NO! Not Vin ..."Noooo!!!!

Chris grabbed her arm to get her attention. "He's still alive Kel ... He is still with us!" Larabee worked to gain a sense of balance for himself. He was very aware that everyone would look to him for answers. He also knew that Vin was in trouble and he needed to keep a cool head in order to help him. "Buck, try Vin and Nathan's cell phones, see what you can find out." He kept a firm hold on Kelli's wrist attempting to transfer some of that calm to her.

Before Buck finished dialing, everyone tensed as Larabee's cell phone began to ring, knowing that whoever it was on the other end would not have good news. Chris answered, "Larabee..."

+ + + + + + +

Nathan's warning came too late. The front fender of the speeding car caught the Texan at the hip and sent him flying onto the sidewalk, his body slamming into a parked car before his forward momentum halted. Jackson ran across the street and dropped to his knees next to Vin's battered and bruised body. "Oh God," he groaned, alarmed by the amount of blood that covered his friend. "No, he can't die, Vin, don't you dare die on us!" He knew he needed to find the source and stop it; during his search, he noted the swelling of the larynx area, which was now palpable. Damn that must have happened when you hit that parked car.

A police officer that was acquainted with both of the agents knelt beside him. "Here's the first aid kit from the station and the ambulance is on its way. How is he?"

The medic began to assess Tanner's injuries, "He's alive, that all I know for sure." Nathan could not find any broken bones, but the bleeding wound on his forehead had him worried, that and the fact that the younger man was unconscious. "Hand me those gauze pads." He placed them on Vin's head and held them on the wound, applying pressure to curtail the flow of blood. He was fighting for the life of this quiet, unassuming man, who had become such a big part of his life; who had become family despite the fact that at first, when he'd just joined team seven, he had tried to stay a loner. "You're not a loner anymore Vin, so you fight, you fight hard and I'm right here beside you to fight with you," he whispered resolutely.

Nathan heard the siren on the next street and knew help would be here soon, but he did not want to let go of the Texan. "I need you to make a phone call for me." He gave the officer the details of the incident to relay to Larabee and a phone number, just as the ambulance pulled up. Jackson stayed with Vin while the paramedics assessed his other injuries, took his vitals, started an IV and prepared a backboard to move the still unconscious agent. He climbed in the ambulance to go with him to the hospital. No way was he going to leave Vin and have him face the hospital alone.

The ride in the ambulance was hell though for the healer. He could do nothing but watch and the paramedics took over the fight for Vin's life. The swelling around the Texan's throat was making it difficult for him to breath and five minutes from the hospital the Texan was gasping for each breath. One of the paramedics was on the phone with the doctor. Hanging up he shouted to the driver, "Pull over stat!" Nathan watched intently, praying softly, as they inserted a breathing tube down the young Texan's throat, to allow the intake of more oxygen. Once successfully accomplished, the paramedic again yelled to the driver, "GO!"

Denver Memorial Emergency Room

Jackson jumped out the back as soon as they rolled into the ambulance bay, allowing them room to move Tanner into the emergency room. He followed, but felt helpless as the doors closed in front of him, losing sight of the gurney and his friend. The last thing he heard was the Doctor issuing orders to the nurses

Exhausted, more from the emotion and the fear for Vin's life than anything else, Nathan leaned back against the wall, determined not to move from that spot until he knew more. God, Vin, he thought, Just hang on, please, be okay!

The front doors burst open and a powerful force entered the room, led by a blonde man with a fierce scowl on his face, bearing down on the receptionist. Next were two men, one was a tall intimidating man with blazing blue eyes and a mustache, the other a well dressed gentleman with the same intent look in his green eyes. Seemingly protected between them was a smaller redheaded woman that had a look on her face that said she had only one objective and no one should dare try to stop her from getting there. Behind them was a mountain of a man that appeared ready to do battle with the devil himself and a younger man that wore his worry and fears on his sleeve for the entire world to see.

Jackson sighed and pushed himself away from the wall, his family was here and they would look to him for answers, something he did not have, yet. "Chris, over here."

Larabee changed direction and came to a stop in front of the man that he hoped had good news for him, "Nathan?"

"Definite concussion, contusions, gash on his forehead, no apparent broken bones, possible throat injury causing some difficulty with breathing, no idea about internal or back injuries, and he has been unconscious since it happened, that's all I know." Nathan had been through this enough times to know exactly what Chris wanted to know. "He's been in there maybe twenty minutes, they took him for a CT, x-rays, and as soon as they know more they will come tell us."

Kelli stood next to Larabee and took in Jackson's appearance, without commenting on Tanner's blood that soaked his clothes. Showing no outward reaction to the unsettling sight, she had only one question, "Where?"

Nathan silently cursed himself for not thinking about his clothes. Lord, how disturbing it must be for her to see him covered by her husband's blood. "He still in the trauma room, but they won't let anyone in, yet. We will just have to wait and see." He addressed Chris, speaking low in hopes that Kelli would not hear him, "I have his personal effects, his gun, ID and...badge."

"What in the hell happened?" Buck asked angrily, his concern for the Texan evident. "I hope you killed the bastard that did this, because if you didn't and Vin dies, I will!"

Chris softly said, "We have time for that later, Buck right now we wait on the doc." He wanted to put his arm around Kelli, to offer her comfort and support, but he understood her enough to know that she was unlikely to accept it. Vin may have her trust and with him her emotions were unrestricted, but with anyone else or in times of stress she still reverted to her old defenses, detaching her feelings, staying aloof.

Ezra gave Buck a disgruntled look for saying that in front of Kelli and to the man's credit, he realized what he had done. Standish then decided to tackle Jackson and took his arm, "Perhaps we can find other apparel for you, sir." He led him away from the group in search of a change of clothes.

Buck wanted to kick himself for his thoughtless statements, but his worry about Vin and his anger at Madera overrode his good sense.Dammit, but this was family that had been attacked. "Sorry, but I tell you right now, Paul Madera has signed his own death warrant as far as I am concerned and any other sonofabitch responsible will not be able find a place to hide that I won't go after them."

"We will find them, Buck, but now is not the time," Chris' voice sounded calm, but Buck read the promise of retribution in his eyes.

JD and Josiah came back in from outside, giving Chris an update. "I was just on the phone with Mallory, she and Inez are headed to the airport with the kids. I asked Justin to escort them to make sure they get off safely. Casey and Rain are already at the penthouse and Linda is on her way here."

Kelli turned to Chris, "Call her and tell her I don't need a Mama to hold my hand and that she should go with the others." She then leaned back against the wall, watching the trauma room doors and waiting for some word about Vin.

Chris nodded, "I'll see what I can do." Larabee was surprised that Kelli did not appear to want her best friend here, but he wanted her to stay calm and would make an effort to stop Linda from coming for her sake. He pulled out his phone and walked to the front exit, not really expecting to change Linda's mind

Josiah followed Kelli's gaze to the trauma room doors, thinking about the young man on the other side. Lord, I had the privilege of uniting those two in your name, and they have only had a short time together. God I know you have your reasons, but if you can keep him here a little longer our family would be thankful for it.

Nathan and Ezra returned and Jackson now wore green scrubs, all evidence of blood gone. Neither had words of comfort to offer Kelli and each found a spot to wait it out, until they knew more.

Chris came back in, hesitated for a moment and then decided to lean on the wall next to Kelli. After a few minutes of silence he finally asked, "How are you holding up?"

At first, he thought she was not going to answer him, and then he heard her respond in a quiet voice. "Just think you should know, in about one minute 'm gonna make a scene that this hospital will be talkin' about for a long time. I've waited all 'm goin' to and I will get some answers."

A slow smile started on Larabee's face. "Ready when you are, let's do it." Chris' movement was a signal to the others that it was time for action and time to stand together as family for their brother and young sister.

They both pushed away from the wall and Kelli set her sights on the floor supervisor, "Excuse me," she read the name tag, "Ms. Williams, my husband is in trauma room one and in the thirty minutes I've been here, all I have been told is someone will be with you in a minute..."

Ms. Williams patted her on the arm, "As soon as we can, we will let you know something."

"NO! MY PATIENCE IS GONE! YOU WILL FIND OUT NOW OR GET ME SOMEONE THAT CAN! YOU HAVE SIXTY SECONDS TO DO ONE OR THE OTHER!" Kelli lowered her voice, "If you don't, you best call in the National Guard because that is what it will take to stop me from takin' matters in my own hands. I promise you that I will make a scene that your hospital board will have a hell of a time forgetting!

The woman scrutinized the furious young woman with the six intimidating men standing behind her and made a wise decision. "I'll be right back." Kelli did realize that all six of the brothers were standing united behind her and appreciated their support.

The nurse did not come back, but a doctor did come out, "Mrs. Tanner, I am Dr. Landers, let's sit down and talk."

Kelli shook her head no, "Just tell me."

Landers sighed, "Mr. Tanner was brought in unconscious with multiple contusions and in respiratory distress. He is still unconscious, but the CT did not show any bleeding in the brain. He has a grade 2 concussion, but we will not worry about his unconsciousness unless it extends past twenty-four hours. X-rays surprisingly revealed no broken bones and I feel safe in saying he has no internal bleeding. He has suffered a grade one Laryngeal trauma, which means that swelling around the trachea has made breathing difficult. We are using an inhalation tube to make sure he gets enough oxygen. His body has experienced a tremendous shock and needs time to recover. I will be admitting him for close observation and treatment."

"I want to see him and before we go rounds you should know I will be stayin' with him. I will not be leavin' 'til we both go home together. He is in here because someone tried to kill him and he will have twenty-four hour police protection 'til he leaves this place."

The doctor studied the woman in front of him and agreeing, shook his head. "I will take you to see him, but I want you to be prepared. He is presently connected to a number of machines and his appearance with the contusions may alarm you."

"You lead the way and we'll be right behind you." Kelli knew what the doctor would say about her reply, but pre-empted his response. "Mr. Larabee is his brother and will be comin' with me."

Chris stood directly behind her and whispered for her to hear. "Well done Lady."

Kelli and Chris followed the doctor into the trauma room and when she saw her Texan, Kelli was grateful not to have to face this alone. She felt Larabee's hand on her back and the strength he gave her pushed her forward. It was not the machines and tubes or the colorful contusions that bothered her, but the stillness of the man she loved that was always so full of life. She spoke in an anguished whisper so low that Larabee barely heard her "Oh Tanner." She brushed his hair back with her fingers and traced the path of the bruises on his face.

Chris was not unaffected by the sight of the motionless Texan either and swore softly, Dammit Tanner, it is time to wake your ass up, naptime is over. He could not feel even the slightest effort from Vin trying to communicate and his confidence of Tanner's recovery wavered briefly.

Dr Landers spoke up, "At the request of Director Travis, we will put Mr. Tanner in a private room and I have noted on the chart that he is under police protection. We of course, will have accommodations provided for whoever is staying. Now if you will give me a few minutes to prepare my patient for that move, I will meet you in his room, number 407."

Chris shook his head, "My agent will be staying with him." He only tiled his head to acknowledge the grateful look that Kelli gave him.

When he went out to join the others, Travis was there wanting all the details of the attempt on his agent's life. Nathan waited until Larabee was there to give his account. "The car deliberately accelerated and aimed directly at Vin. I shouted at him and he moved, but not enough to miss being hit, the car sped off and was gone before I even crossed the street. I got to him and did what I could until the ambulance arrived. Officer Lakes already gave you the description and the plate number so I cannot add much more."

"Pam ran the plates and they came back on a stolen vehicle that was found abandon six blocks away. Ross and Paul are checking the owner out now." JD had been busy gathering information." We had the car impounded and towed for our lab; Ramsey from forensics is going over it as we speak. He also found out that those guns came from a government shipment that went missing six months ago and Cordova got his hands on a dossier about Madera from the DEA. We should know more soon."

Larabee shook his head, "Good work."

Travis questioned, "What about Tanner?"

"They are moving him to a private room, just as you requested and one of us will be with him at all times," Chris stated. "Kelli is with him now and I doubt anything will get her to leave, so we will have two agents in the room at all times."

"Tanner is not the only target for this man, Larabee, you will have round the clock protection, too." Orrin ordered, "No arguments."

"Fine, room number is 407, you wanna see him, come with us." Chris led the way.

In the elevator, Chris was very uncomfortable, something was not right; he heard a commotion down the hall and when the doors opened, instinct had him running into Vin's room. A nurse stopped him and escorted both a stunned Kelli and him out the door. "What happened?"

Kelli tried to hide the tears that streamed down her cheeks as she answered, "It's Vin...he... stopped breathin'..."

Chapter 11

Dammit Larabee, don't you go anywhere without your watchdogs? Ah, but that is okay, you and I have a destiny to fulfill and I will wait to confront you, but do not make me wait too long.

A lone figure at the end of the hall watched the activity outside room number 407 and with a shake of the head ambled off in the opposite direction.

+ + + + + + +

"Noooo!" JD shouted, his fears for Vin taking over his emotions. "He can't die! Vin is too full of life to be gone. We're supposed to go skiing together next month and he promised to teach my girls about the outdoors...."

"Easy kid," Buck grabbed JD by the shoulders. "They're still working on him, that boy is not gonna leave us.'

"No, he's not." Chris spoke low, but with a voiced laced with enough certainty to calm those around him. He laid a hand on Kelli's back, "He's still here, Kel"

"Amen to that brother," Josiah stood on the other side of her. "Vin is a fighter that loves life too much and he is not ready to let go yet"

Ezra stood off from the others, not one to pray much he sent his own appeal. Your friendship and trust is of great significance to me, my friend. You and this band of brothers are my family. I implore you to keep fighting, do not let go of us because we are not willing to let go of you.

The door opened and Dr. Landers stepped out, addressing Kelli, 'We have him stabilized, there was a problem with the inhalation tube and Mr. Tanner was not receiving enough oxygen. I have ordered head-of-bed elevation, and humidified inspired air. There is still some endolaryngeal edema to deal with and that should help ease his breathing difficulties. Since we are not dealing with any fractures, the swelling should dissipate within 48 hours, and at that time, he should be able to breathe without assistance. "

"Just what does that mean and can we see him, doc?" Buck asked still holding on to JD.

Dr Landers shook his head, "It means that his throat is swollen squeezing the trachea, making it hard for him to breath and yes, you may see him, but give the nurses a few minutes to finish and keep the extra visits short. I'll be back to check on him in a couple of hours." The doctor squeezed Kelli's shoulder, before he left, "Considering what his body has been through, he is a lucky man not to have more severe injuries and I will do all that I can to make sure you go home together soon." He accepted the affirmative nod of her head as an answer and then continued on to his next patient.

Chris stayed next to Kelli and kept his hand firmly on her back. "Orrin, why don't you and Nathan go see him first, then Buck and JD. Josiah, you and Ezra go in after that. Kel and I will be here for the duration and will have plenty of time with him."

Travis and Jackson went in the room, but only stayed a few minutes. When they came out Orrin was fuming. "Chris, whatever it takes, you will have it, but find the sonofabitch responsible for this. I do not want to see any more of my agents in that shape." He turned to Chris, "You are on that same hit list, when you make your assignments, make sure you have one agent with you at all times. Kelli, if you need anything, for Vin and I can help, call me."

"Orrin, I'll let you know if we need more than we already have." Chris watched as Travis slowly walked down the hall to the elevator.

Buck and JD had gone into Vin's room as soon as the others came out. Once they exited, Josiah and Ezra took their turn. Kelli went back inside when they returned, leaving the men to decide on their next course of action, her only intention was being with Tanner. Chris had it already planned out."

"JD I need you sitting in front of CASSIE, when you do come back here, bring me my laptop. Nathan, you go with him, set up a schedule for security at the penthouse and coordinate the reports coming in from the other agents. Buck, you and Ezra pay our prisoners a little visit; use your persuasive powers to convince them that it is their best interest to talk to us. Josiah, I want you ..."

"To take first watch with you, right Boss?" Josiah interrupted Larabee.

Chris cut his eyes to Sanchez and then sighed, "You wanna waste your time stay, but I guarantee you no one is getting to me or Tanner tonight."

Buck clasped Larabee on the shoulder. "We'll be back later to relieve Josiah, in the meantime you tell that ornery Texan that we expect him to be awake when we get here."

Chris nodded as one by one his agents reluctantly departed. The four friends wanted to be here, but each one knew that there was still a job to do and they intended to find the bastard that put their brother in that hospital bed.

+ + + + + + +

Paul Madera was furious and paced angrily around the room. "There is no excuse soldier for an incomplete mission! You had only one objective and you failed!" There were five men in the room, but the one on the hot seat was the man that botched the orders to kill Tanner.

"Yes sir! Next time I will not fail, sir!"

"No, you won't." Madera stopped his pacing, reached for the gun in his desk drawer, raised it and fired." The soldier lay motionless on the floor, Madera addressed two oh his men. "Get him out of here and make sure his body will not be found."

The two men that remained waited for their orders and their Commanding Officer did not make them wait long. " Make a new plan to assure that Tanner does not leave that hospital alive. When the time comes, I will take care of Larabee myself."

"Yes sir."


Paul Madera did not tolerate excuses from his men and the word failure he refused to acknowledge. He was confident that his base of operations was safe from discovery, but felt uneasy about the fact that Tanner and Larabee were still alive. He had already spent more time on Operation Soledad than he usually invested in a mission, but the money was too good to turn down. He could bow out after this mission, with enough cash to retire and live comfortably for the rest of his life. Another few days would not be too much to ask for an opportunity to end his career with the coup of taking down the infamous Magnificent Seven.

The hired assassin picked up the phone to make his report.

Denver Memorial-Room 407

Chris' concern was growing, he was unable to make a connection with Tanner and even though his feelings of distress had diminished, he still felt pain emanating from the Texan. Waiting was always the hard part. Well, Tanner here we are again, only this time I am on this side and you are the one lost in the void. I know that you are not leaving, but I will sure feel better when you wake up and become your usual ornery smart ass self. You just keep following the sound of my voice and I will lead you back, brother. There are too many reasons to list, but I suppose the most important ones are right here in this room. No matter what happens in my life, I need you around to kick my ass when I get off center. Hell, you have had enough opportunities to practice and have become damn good at it. The other reason is the young woman sitting next to your bed. You would be proud of how she handled herself in the emergency room, hell I know I was. She may not know what name she was born with, but whoever she was, she is a Tanner now and carries that name well. For some reason, I can read her as well as I do you and right now she is damned scared of losing you. Oh, she is putting up a good front, I guess she has had to learn how to do that with the kind of life she has lived, but I can feel her frayed emotions beginning to surface. I will take care of her for you, but I am only a stand-in until you decide to rejoin us.

The opening of the door brought Chris back from his thoughts as Linda entered carrying several bags. He quickly stood up and welcomed her, relieving her of some of her excess baggage, while grabbing a kiss. "What is all this?"

"Just a few things I thought y'all might need. I brought some personal items for you and Kelli, but I didn't know Josiah would be here."

"That's okay, Linda I won't be staying the night, but thanks for the thought." Josiah smiled.

She moved further into the room and got her first look at Vin and gasped, "Oh my God, Chris, you didn't warn me about how bad he looks!"

"If it bothers you Dubois you can leave, you should be with Mallory and Inez anyway." Kelli said with an icy tone to her voice and shot her a warning look.

"I was just taken by surprise, that's all. I didn't expect him to look that bad. But I'm here now and Kelli, I plan to help you get through this."

Chris saw trouble on the horizon, Kelli needed to vent her emotions and friend or not, a nurturing Linda was a likely target. "Linda when I talked to you we had not seen Vin yet or I would have told you."

Kelli sighed, she loved Linda and most of the time she could handle the protective, mothering side that she tried to exert over her without getting upset. However, right now she just did not have the extra energy it took to deal with Dubois when she was in hovering mode. "Linda I appreciate your concern, but I am fine, Vin is the one that is hurting and he is my main concern for now."

"Nonsense, you just never like to admit that you need someone to help you, too."

"Linda, if you are here for Chris that's great, but if you are here for me, you can leave, I think we both know you are not here for Vin."

"What in the hell does that mean?" Linda, taken aback by Kelli's statement was obviously upset.

Yep, Larabee, you sure know how to call 'em."Linda, why don't we step outside for a few minutes?" Chris took her by the arm.

"No, Chris, this is something Kelli and I need to discuss."

Kelli stood up, "Fine, but we take it outside." She did not want to say anything in front of Vin, not willing to take the chance that he could hear them.

Chris was not about to leave them alone to discuss this and he followed the two women out the door. Josiah was not going to let Chris out of his sight so he took a deep breath and went too. Once they were out the door Larabee decided to wait and see if he needed to intervene, he assumed this concerned Linda's discomfort about the connection between him and Vin, but he soon discovered that he was wrong.

"Do you want to explain that remark you made in there?" Linda waited for an answer.

"I love you as a sister and I value our friendship, but I have never felt the need to compete with your family for it. Vin is my family, he has a place in my life just as our relationship does and one does not exclude the other as far as I am concerned. However, your childish jealousies could change that. I know you, Linda, you do not like to share the people you love and Vin has become competition for you. I have not said anythin' about it before but I will not stand for it any longer! I do not need a mother; I need a friend, one that cares as much about my family as I do about hers."

Linda stood silently for a minute before she answered. "I suppose you could be partially right. I never thought about Vin as competition, but I know you confide in him things you never would confide in me and I guess I am a little jealous about that. Hell, I have known you for ten years and in less that six months Tanner knows you better than I do. I just felt as if I was losing you and maybe I did blame Vin for that. I'm sorry if I hurt you or him."

"Vin is a lot more forgivin' and understandin' than I am and if you made the effort to get to know him better you would realize that. You think about it and decide if you have room for both of us in your life. Right now, 'm going back in there to spent time with my husband. If you want to be there as our friend, you are welcome, but if you want to be there to mother me, don't come back inside." With that parting remark, Kelli turned and went inside Tanner's room.

Kelli's remarks surprised Chris, but the more he thought about them the more he realized that maybe she was right. Linda's relationship with her friend had changed when Vin came along, not in a bad way, just different than Linda was use to. He decided that his woman needed some support and went to her. Wrapping his arms around her, he started talking. "Kelli is under a lot of stress right now and I am sure after this is over she will rethink what she said."

"No, I don't believe she will," Linda sighed. "I am afraid she might be right. I told you before that in many ways Kelli is more mature than I am and she sees things differently than most woman her age. Let's face it; I grew up spoiled and the center of attention in a large family and I do have a tendency to be ...possessive with the ones that I love. I just did not recognize until now that I was doing that to Vin and now it is up to me to fix it."

Again, Chris was amazed how this woman never hid from the truth, even when it was painful for herself. The way she owned up to her mistakes, without trying to make excuses, was one of the things that he loved about her. It was something that most people could not do, but Linda was someone who went for it and did not give up until she had righted what she had done wrong and she did not spare herself in the process. He smiled at her to set her mind at ease a bit. "I don't think that will be too hard to do, Vin is forgiving and understands a lot more than most people give him credit for. He will be the easy one, Kelli you might have to work on. She is a bit protective of that Texan and doesn't have a problem with letting anyone know about it."

"That is one of the reasons we are friends. When your family has money and influence, everyone wants to be your buddy and most of my so-called friends went along with anything I wanted just to stay on my good side. They never disagreed with a thing I said or did." She laughed, "Not Kelli, she never hesitated to give me hell when I deserved it and has not and will not ever let my family's status influence what she says. She just accepts me for me."

Chris kissed the top of her head. "Then I reckon you don't have the problem I thought you did."

"No, Kelli says what she thinks, but she does not hold grudges. We will be fine and now that I know why I have shied away from Tanner, I can do something about it. He is going to be okay isn't he?"

"He should be, he just needs to wake up and make us all feel a helluva lot better."

Linda stood on her toes and hugged Chris' neck. "What do you say we go see the Tanners?"

"Sounds like a plan to me."

Once back inside Chris was amazed. Kelli and Linda were right back as the best of friends as if no harsh words had been spoken. Then again, maybe it was not so amazing; he and Buck were like that, too. And Vin never put up with his bullshit either, hell none of the other guys had a problem speaking their mind and standing their ground. That was what family was all about... That was the same relationship Linda and Kelli had, Larabee smiled; he had just figured out part of Linda's thinking process and was damn happy about it.

Ezra showed up about seven to exchange places with Josiah. Buck was due to relieve him by five in the morning, He gave Larabee the laptop JD sent over and he would hold his report on the interrogation until after they were alone. Not that there was much to tell, the prisoners had not budged an inch and had stayed silent. He did bring food for everyone and began to pass it out.

Thanks, Ez, but 'm not hungry," Kelli refused the food.

"My dear, I specifically stopped at one of those fast food places that have the type of fare that you seem to crave, just to acquire this for you. Besides I do not wish to have Vin upset with me for failing to provide for his Lady." He offered her the hamburger again and this time she took it.

When they finished eating Chris wanted Linda somewhere safe. "Linda, I want you to go to the penthouse to stay with Rain and Casey. I am sure Josiah will not mind escorting you there on his way home." Chris expected an argument, but Linda quickly agreed. She did not want to add to his worries and this way she would be closer to the hospital.

"Chris, if you want to walk out with her, 'm fine here." Kelli saw the doubt in his eyes, "Really I am and you know no one will get to Tanner as long as I am here. Take your time, 'm not going anywhere."

Larabee had no doubt that Kelli would protect Vin and kill anyone that tried to harm him. He also thought that she might want some time alone with him. He agreed and took the long way down to the parking lot. Josiah and Ezra stayed a discreet distance behind the couple, but kept both of them in sight.

Pulling Linda close Chris' hands found soft curves to caress and gave her a lingering kiss to hold her through the night. "I love you, Linda"

She returned the kiss and whispered back, "Love you, too." He made sure that she buckled up and then closed the car door.

"Don't worry about her Chris; I will stay with her until she is safely in the penthouse." Josiah assured him

"Ezra, hold up, I want to stop by my truck and pick up a book I left in it." The two men walked toward the Ram, Larabee unlocked it and reached under the seat for the paperback he knew was there. A sudden sound behind him had him turning just in time to see Standish fall to the ground. Too late, he reached for his weapon; the distinctive feel of a gun to the back of his neck stopped him.

"I have been waiting for you, Larabee."