Black Widow

by Deirdre

Part 26

Sunday Morning, predawn

"Baker 215 go, Baker 340."

"Baker 340 copy. Got anything?" J.D. answered Josiah's call.

"Negative. Had a few crossovers during the night, other than that, all quiet. You?"

"Nathan almost shot a cow..." J.D. chuckled, "Ow! Damn Nate that hurt."

"Don't bruise the boy before breakfast, Nathan." Josiah advised, glad for the smile Buck wore.

"The Chief wants a meet at zero eight hundred," Chris Larabee's voice interrupted, "Get moving."

"Baker 215, roger"

"Baker 340, copy."

"Think they'll have doughnuts at the meeting?" J.D. asked.

"J.D. you need to eat better," Nathan scolded, eyeing the terrain as they made their way back to the base. "It's a wonder you and Vin don't burn all your energy out by ten a.m."

"Vin would have remembered doughnuts..." J.D.'s voice trailed off.

Nathan eyed the youth and shifted in his seat. He knew how badly J.D. felt and with each passing hour, likelihood of finding Vin was growing slimmer. He saw J.D. crane his neck as a helicopter flew overhead.

"How can they see?" J.D. asked of the Border Patrol air machine, "The sun's not up yet."

"That unit's got FLIR onboard, and the pilot's have Night Vision Goggles. It helps them see in the dark."

"FLIR?" J.D. asked.

"Forward looking infrared...very effective. They're probably doing a final sweep before heading back." Nathan replied.

+ + + + + + +

Six a.m.

The sun was up when Ezra arrived back at the deserted Villa. He took the backroad that Marty used when they left. Jumping from the vehicle, he paused, trying to recall the security system. He flashed back to his brief trip from the bowels of the house. His mind's eye recalled briefly glimpsing a set of stairs near the crumbling wall behind some storage containers. Skirting the perimeter, he judged where the door should be and eyed some thorny bushes, overgrown and menacing.

"Wonderful..." He shook his head and was about to prepare for the painful encounter, when he saw a flutter of white fabric. He retraced his steps and felt a giddy giggle escape. "Eureka..." He boomed, spotting the open kitchen window. He slid in effortlessly and wasted no time getting to the cellar. He found a lightswitch and flipped it on.

"VIN! VIN TANNER! VIN!" He screamed, slipping on the ancient stone steps. "VI...." His voice died as the heart-rending sight met his eyes. Vin was curled up in a ball on his side; he wasn't moving. Ezra's worst fear climbed up his throat and choked him. The strangulation gripped him so severely he legs buckled and he nearly fell down the remaining steps. The agony was replaced by anger. He stumbled forward, falling to his knees beside the battered body. His hand recoiled at the initial touch of the icy skin. He hissed audibly and eyed the ceiling, wiping the moisture from his eyes. He turned Vin over and pulled him forward. The body flopped against his chest, the matted hair resting under Ezra's chin. He wrapped his arms around Vin and rocked. One hand keeping the head pressed against him.

"You selfless, son-of-a-bitch," He cried in anger "How dare you undertake such a deleterious action? Where did your fucking nobility get you? Damn you Vin Tanner..." His voice broke and he ran his trembling hand through the tangled head. "It wasn't enough that you managed to sail effortlessly into previous uncharted territory," He alluded to his own heart, "But not you've smashed it irreparably. You didn't have that right!" He seethed, shaking the body in anger. He winced as Vin's head flopped and bounced. He took a breath and cradled him again.

So many thoughts jammed into his head. Like a nervous colt, Vin's first weeks after the Academy as a member of Team seven, as he found his legs. The months that followed when the loner found himself acclimating gradually, learning to trust his new friends. Ezra recalled the unknown pang of envy at the instant bond that the Texan shared with Chris Larabee. From the start it was clear the two were bound by something deep and profound. The wonderfully dry sense of humor, the youthful pranks and the mischievous light in the blue eyes. How with one word and a grin, Vin could totally disarm him. The quiet, reflective man who hid his painful past from most. Perhaps that was what touched Ezra the deepest; it was like looking in a mirror.

"I shall bear you home proudly, my friend," Ezra's voice wavered, "I'm a better man for knowing you Vin Tanner. I wish I'd had the foresight to tell you sooner."

Ezra gently laid Vin down and stood to find a blanket. His burning eyes fell upon the table where the cruel tools of torture were spread out. His screams of rage echoed around the room as the table and elements were thrown against the wall. Heaving and panting with a simmering fervor, he gripped his fists and raised his face skyward.

"Why? How can you be deemed merciful and allow such a travesty of justice?" He screamed.

He turned to search for a blanket and froze in his steps. The body was no longer dormant, it was trembling. The head rose and the eyes blinked. There staring back at him was one large blue eye, transfixed.

"Vin?" Ezra whispered, almost afraid he was hallucinating and the image would fade. It didn't. He heart started again and his legs took him forward.

The cold, dark void Vin was lost in cracked open. He felt something...heat, warmth, motion and solace. A voice penetrated the darkness. He couldn't identify the words, but he clung to its tone. It was familiar somehow and he embraced it. The soothing wave was overwhelming in its comfort. Then suddenly it was gone. Vin moaned, and struggled, prying eye open. He raised a weak hand and rubbed his unswollen eye. He heard the screaming and saw a figure across the room. It was blurry at first, but then Vin recognized him. He turned away and hid, his weak voice turned out. "Please....don't..."

Two small words. Ezra Standish was a student of the world. He'd worked for Interpole throughout Europe. He'd seen and experienced every imaginable situation. He thought himself stalwart when it came to keeping his feeling in check; a champion of the masquerade. Keeping his feelings buried beneath the costume and mask. Arm's length at all times, until an undercover assignment brought him to Denver. The duty was to be temporary, working with an ex-special operative who was a legend in his own time, named Chris Larabee. Somehow, that six weeks had evolved into a permanent residence and vocation. In his former years, he referred to his co-workers as 'colleagues' and kept it professional at all times. But somehow this unlikely band of six had permeated his steel exterior.

Two small words that finally did it. Unleashing the tidal wave of emotion. The weak voice that uttered those two small words turned away and hid in shame. Cowering in a cloak of humility, Vin wouldn't meet his eye. Ezra nearly looked to see if he was wounded, the pain in his chest was so great. He felt his face, and gazed at his fingers stunned as the moisture fell freely from his haunted green eyes. He didn't fight the tears or pull them back. He let them fall and dropped to his knees. Vin curled up and shook his head. "Please...don't Ez...please..."

Ezra ignored his pleas; he gathered the bundle up and wrapped the protester in a hug. "Really, Mr. Tanner, cowering doesn't become you." He choked, placing his trembling hand on Vin's head, which rested near his shoulder. "I find these accommodations to be most unsuitable. Shall we go, Vin?"

"No.." Vin gasped, weakly pulling away.

"It would seem your feverish state is the cause of such a ridiculous statement." Ezra chastised, pulling Vin closer, "I'd sooner be strapped to that wall and face those barbarians, then cross the border and face Mr. Larabee without you."

"Chris...." Vin's head lifted hopefully, his eye bright, blinking at the blurry steps.

"Poor choice of words..." Ezra muttered, "Mr. Larabee is not with me Vin. All the more reason for us to leave this God forsaken place."

"No...clothes..." Vin finished his thought, then frowned when he heard the Southerner's choked voice rumble in laughter.

Ezra welcomed the laugh that burst out. Vin was the most private person he knew. Even delirious and battered, he retained his modesty. He knelt forward and gripped Vin under the arms and stood, dragging the mumbling protester with him.

"No..." Vin scowled and Ezra welcomed that too. The wisps of the cranky, crusty, gruff Tanner face was fighting to come back.

"There's no one here but you and I" Ezra ordered, "and it would be an exercise in futility for me to dress you, drag you up these wretched stairs only to have to undress you in the bathroom. I'm sorry, Vin, you going up the stairs 'au naturale'."

Vin's legs buckled and he cried out as the tender soles hit the floor. "Oh back...feet...Shit..." He hissed, clawing at Ezra.

"Take it easy, Vin," Ezra sat him down and took off his jacket. He got Vin's arms through the sleeves, just as a spasm of coughing erupted. He felt Vin's clinging arms go limp and the injured man's head slumped. He got Vin in a fireman's hold and proceeded upstairs. He remembered the first floor bathroom and made his way there. He eased Vin against the wall, cringing at the horrid state of his friend's body. He gathered up the softest clothes he could find in the cabinet nearby and two bars of Ivory soap. He filled the tub and eased Vin into it. Putting himself in a 'zone', he gently washed every bruised inch, without seeing Vin.

Vin felt the water around him and shivered, then tensed as a clothed hand wiped his face. He mumbled and tried to escape, but then a voice was near. A soothing tone, reassuring and comforting as were the gentle hands that wiped his face.

"Chris..." He croaked, trying to find his best friend.

Ezra's hand paused at Vin's throat and he swallowed hard, envious of the unique bond that bound the two men. "No Mr. Tanner, it's Ezra. Once I've tended to your wounds, we'll find Mr. Larabee."

Vin frowned, but the voice was so soothing and the bath felt good. He relaxed, trusting the voice and allowed himself to sleep.

Ezra felt Vin relax and proceeded with his treatment. He washed the matted hair and refilled the tub, as the water quickly turned brown. Finally he was able to lay Vin into a large cotton blanket and wrapped him up securely. He carried him into the guestroom next store and set about to tend to the wounds.

+ + + + + + +

Seven thirty, Headquarters

Buck and Josiah split up once they got inside. Josiah waited for Nate and J.D. to arrive, while Buck sought out Chris. He found the team leader pouring coffee in a small room off the main floor, housing a microwave and refrigerator also.

"You buying?"

Chris poured a second cup and slid it over. Buck added sugar and cream and followed Chris into the hall. Chris looked awful; not that Buck was expecting anything different. The loss of Vin had mortally wounded his old friend.

"Hear anything new?" He broke the silence.

"Talked to Sierra." Chris replied, sipping his coffee and eyeing the numbered doors in the bright corridor.

"Yeah?" Buck was surprised.

"'bout an hour ago. Told her I'd update her as soon as we knew something." He paused, catching Buck's eye. "Either way. She's flying to Mexico this morning. Felt bad for her...she's good for Vin."

"Yeah, she's quite a lady. Where's this meeting?" Buck eyed the unfamiliar hall

"I'm not sure. Ted just said to be here by eight a.m. I'll page him if we don't find it soon."

They walked in silence, Buck was about to inquire about a plan to go south and find Vin, when something caused both men to halt their progress.

"Chris...Chris...where are you?"

Buck saw all the color drain out of the blond's face. His green eyes went wide and he inhaled sharply. Buck rested a hand on the tense shoulder.

"That wasn't in your head, Chris," Buck eyed the door next to them, "I heard it too."

Chris didn't knock or wait for an invite, he charged right in. The room was dark and Buck stumbled right into Chris, who'd halted to adjust his eyes. He heard Chris's painful intake of air and felt his partner rock back on his heels. Buck steadied him and turned to see what had Chris so upset.

"Sweet Jesus...' The rogue gasped as the grotesque image of Vin's beaten body hit him between the eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra went to the kitchen first, and filled a bowl with water and tossed two linen towels inside. He spotted a small container of ice cream and took that out as well. He theorized that his friend's throat was most likely raw and swallowing would be difficult. He retrieved two containers of yogurt and a bottle of water. He added salt and sugar to the water and made his way back to the guestroom. Dumping his bounty on the bedside table, he left his hand rest on Vin's face. The fever was building and scarlet patches scored his cheeks. He rested the wet clothes on Vin's lap and upper legs, where the burns were located.

Ezra found a tote bag in the otherwise empty closet and made his way upstairs. The bathrooms upstairs netted Motrin, bandages, peroxide, antibiotic cream and a tube of Neosporin. He recalled Roberto being about the same size as Vin and found his bedroom. He threw open the drawers and found a pair of dark blue silk pajama's. The material would be the easiest for Vin's tender flesh. He grabbed a pair of socks and was about to turn and leave, when he saw her picture. He didn't know her real name, but the picture in the frame was of a younger Cambria, with Roberto's arms around her. He felt the pain of betrayal again; she'd used him but good. He smashed the picture against the wall and departed.

He was in the dining room when he heard the thud and the weak string of curses. He raced to the bedroom where Vin was sprawled on the floor. He was clawing at the bedding trying to pull himself upright.

"Leaving without me, Vin?" Ezra teased, placing the tote bag on the floor and gathering Vin's arms up. He got Vin back on the bed and attempted to lay him back down, but Vin clung to him, gasping and coughing. He could feel the sharpshooter's heart beating frantically against his chest. He left his hand on the back of Vin's head and ran his fingers through the wavy locks. "Deep breaths Vin, calm down."

"...don't go..." The rasp begged, hands clawing at Ezra's shirt.

"We're a team, Mr. Tanner," Ezra spoke, trying to break through the panic-stricken man's mind. "I merely left to get some First Aid Equipment." He pulled the heaving body back and saw the fear in Vin's blue eyes. "I won't leave you, Vin, I promise."

Vin nodded, but continued to cling to Ezra's shirt. Ezra gently pried the hands loose and grabbed the container of ice cream. He eased Vin upright against the headboard replaced the wet clothes and pulled the blanket up to his waist. "Here, see if you can swallow this," Ezra offered a spoonful. Vin winced briefly, but nodded. "Good," He replied, picking up the water bottle. He handed it to Vin, warning him to take only small sips. He rummaged through the bag and got out the Motrin. He gave Vin two and eyed the barrage of cuts and bruises on Vin's chest. He saw Vin's eyes drop and the bottle slide to his hip. "You have nothing to be ashamed of Vin." He said quietly, tipping Vin's chin up. "Don't hide from me. It's I who am ashamed and I hope someday you can forgive me."

Vin stared hard at Ezra, a scowl on his face. Didn't Ezra realize what he'd done? Vin rested the ice cream in his lap and shook his head. God, he ached everywhere. His head was splitting, his back hurt and as he shifted he felt the pain of the burns under the ice. "I...they...know...Ez...I told 'em...I'm sorry."

"If I hadn't been so blind, you wouldn't have been forced to undergo that horrific ordeal. She used me Vin, and ifs there's any fault to be carried, it lies on my shoulders, not yours. It was my presence that forced your hand. Your valor is to admired. Finish that before it melts." Ezra ordered his tone brusque.

Vin finished the ice cream and Erza gave him yogurt as well. He sipped the water slowly and watched as Erza unloaded bandages and other things from a bag. He heard Ezra talking, but his eyes were heavy and it got hot again. He heard the bottle thump as it slid from his hands. He heard Ezra calling him and tried to open his eyes, but they were too heavy.

"...s'hot...Ez...s'hot..." He slurred.

Ezra's hand confirmed what his eyes already saw. The fever was rising and he needed to get Vin to a hospital. He reached in the bowl where a cloth was soaking in peroxide and wrung it out. Tossing the sheet back, he eyed the scores of small cuts that scored Vin's chest. None were deep, just painful, like dozens of papercuts. He ran the cloth around Vin's neck, where the collar had left a ring of abrasions. Vin hissed audibly and cried out. Ezra retreated back in 'the zone' tuning out the soft cries. After dousing the patient liberally with peroxide, Ezra rubbed Neosporin on the raw wrist wounds and throat. He carefully wrapped them in bandages and went to the foot of the bed. He eyed Vin's swollen, bruised feet and grimaced. He swallowed back the bile as he saw several toes, ragged and inflamed with the nails used to be. He used the last of the Neosporin and bandaged Vin's feet, covering them with the socks. He pulled the sheet down and took the clothes, eyeing the awful burns. He lightly covered them with antibiotic cream and a bandages and pulled the silk pajama's on. Tossing the remaining first aid items into a bag, he tapped Vin's face.

"Mr. Tanner...Vin...Can you hear me?"

One eye peeled open and was clearly unfocused. Something unintelligible passed through his lips. The eye closed and Vin tried to nest against Ezra. "Vin, I'm not leaving. I'll be right back. Do you understand?" He shook Vin hard enough for the eye to open again and saw the head not. "Good, you rest here."

Ezra spent ten minutes in the kitchen, filling the bag with more water bottles laced with salt. He found a container of orange juice in the freezer and made that as well. He grabbed some fruit and cheese from the nearly empty pantry and went back to Vin. He tossed the bag over his shoulder and put his hands under Vin's arms. He hauled the slumbering man upright and regained his fireman's hold.

Vin never stirred as he buckled him into the front seat. He placed the ice pack on his lap and a bottle of water and orange juice nearby. He slid behind the wheel and turned the engine on. Vin's head moved restlessly on the seat, small beads of sweat formed on his fevered brow.

"...s'hot...thirsty...s'hot..." He mumbled. "Chris...water..."

"Drink," Ezra commanded, brushing the spout of the water bottle against his lips. Like a slumbering infant, Vin's jaw worked sucking in the fluid without waking. He'd take a few sips and stop, forcing Ezra to nudge his mouth. A pattern that would be repeated throughout their journey.

Part 27

It took the Team Seven leader several seconds to take his eyes away from the gutwrenching image on the screen in front on him. Vin's scream of agony as a cattle prod was laid to him, forced the blond to react.

"What the hell is going on?" He demanded, chest heaving, fists clenched and eyes hot.

"Look I don't know who you are pal," A burly patrolman growled, standing in front of Chris, "But you two are going to have to leave." He ordered grabbing Chris's arm.

"Get your fuckin' hands off of me," Chris growled, shoving the patrolman hard, sending him across two chairs and onto the floor. The half-dozen other patrolmen rose to their feet, guns drawn.

"Whoa!" Buck pleaded hands in front of him defensively, "We're ATF, we're working with Ray Mendhenhall. I'm Wilmington, he's Chris Larabee."

"Stand down," a voice ordered from the side of the room. "Thats' an order."

Buck turned to a large black man, and relaxed as the other officers took their seats. The muscular officer approached Chris and offered his hand. "I'm Lamont Davis, If you calm down, maybe I can help."

Before a reply could be made, Vin's hoarse cry caused the blond's head to swivel and his face to flinch.

"Chris..." the tormented face on the screen pleaded, his shackled head raised painfully, "...need ya cowboy..."

His white-knuckled fists lashed out, and Buck grabbed him. "Take it easy, Chris. That ain't gonna help Vin."

"Chris..." Davis repeated, connecting the two tormented men, "He one of yours?"

"Vin Tanner." Chris teethed, "Carlino kidnapped him from Denver on Friday. Where did you get that?"

"One of our FLIR units found a dead body about ten miles over the border. He had this on him and a note."

"Body?" Buck flinched thinking of Erza, "We're missing another agent, Ezra Standish. He was working undercover as a buyer, but his cover was blown."

"Mitchell," Davis barked to a young officer, "put that on pause and come over here."

An officer about J.D.'s age approached. "Sir?"

"Tell these men what you found."

"At ten minutes after six, my partner and I were doing a last flyover of our sector. We spotted a body and picked it up. The Caucasian male, brown and brown, six foot, about forty had been shot once in the temple. We estimated he'd been shot no more than two hours prior."

Both agents sighed in relief and Chris ran a hand through his hair. "Note?" Chris frowned, without taking his eyes off the screen. "What did it say?"

"I didn't read it," Davis answered, "It's upstairs being dusted. I'll notify them to contact Mendenhall."

"Give it to Ted Dempsey," Buck stated of the man he trusted more than the loud mouthed Border Officer.

"I want to see it," Chris stated, "and I want that tape. Maybe we can determine how old the footage is."

"When we put it in," Davis stated, "it was near the end. Hold on a minute." Davis grabbed the remote and pressed the fast forward button. After several seconds, he pushed the play button. The image came back. Vin was being questioned by two men.

"That big guy pulling his hair is the dead guy," The young flier offered.

"Marty Toscano, one of Carlino's goons." Buck stated, wincing as Vin was slapped hard.

"Alberto Carlino?" Davis raised his dark eyes. "Blue Cobra?" He recalled the Operation outlined in a previous meeting.

"Yeah..." Chris answered, his stomach churning as Vin's feeble cries grew weaker.

"What the hell's he doing?" Buck asked aghast as Ezra's image appeared, picked up a gun and took aim at Vin's head. "I can't believe..." the sound of the shot and Vin's body dropping cut Buck's words in his throat.

"That was less than twelve hours ago," Chris said slowly, eyeing the time on the frame. "Maybe Ezra's still in the game." His voice wavered; eyeing Vin's all too still body. Just before the image faded to black, Ezra knelt and gave Vin some water. Buck and Chris both slumped in relief.

"Buck you get Josiah, J.D and Nate. Meet me upstairs in the lab. We've been patient long enough. I'm gonna find that fuckin' animal and teach him some manners." Chris seethed, grabbing the tape and blowing out of the room.

Buck took a deep breath and watched Chris stalk away. He started to exit the room and Davis tapped his shoulder.

"He up to viewing that tape? It's pretty rough. I had a hard time watching it and he's not one of my men."

"Well," Buck answered, rubbing his neck; "Vin's a whole lot more than one of the team to him. Inside, he’s gutshot...but he'll keep it under control, until we find Carlino. Then all bets are off."

"Believe me, Mr. Wilmington," Davis's voice dropped, "I wouldn't mind a piece of that myself. Good Luck." He shook Buck's hand.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra eyed the gas gage and the road ahead. With a little luck they'd be across the border in less than an hour. His gaze flicked to Vin, who was sleeping restlessly. The hot air didn't raise the damp curls plastered to the injured man's face. Vin moaned and groaned, tossing his wet face, pleading for water. Ezra shook the empty container and pulled the car over. He exited and retrieved a full bottle from the bag. He opened the passenger door and poured some of the water off onto a cloth and wiped Vin's face. The heat of the day was strong already and it was only nine a.m.

"Drink," He spoke loudly, nudging Vin's slack lips. The mouth took hold and the sucking motion started and halted. Ezra nudged his lips again and the jaw resumed sucking. He hung a towel in the window, giving Vin some shade. He took an apple, a container of yogurt, and a piece of cheese from the bag and pulled out his knife. He squatted next to Vin and cut the apple into small pieces.

"Vin, wake up." He tapped the slack damp face.

Vin was hot and in pain. His muddled mind couldn't remember what happened. Everything hurt, especially his back. He wanted the pounding in his head to stop, so he could think. He felt the cold cloth and the gentle hand wiping his face. He relaxed and heard the voice again. He was safe, the voice was here. Somewhere at the end of a tunnel he heard the word 'drink' and obeyed. But it was hard, he wanted to sleep. The voice wanted him to drink again, so he obeyed. He heard the voice again, asking him to wake up. He tried, but his eyes were so heavy. His tongue felt thick, but he moved it anyway.

"...s'hard...can't open..."

"Yes you can, Vin. I have some food for you. Wake up." Ezra slapped him harder and the eye shot open, angry and glaring fuzzily.


"I'm sorry Vin, but you need to eat, here." Ezra placed a small bit of apple on Vin's tongue and ordered him to chew. It went better than he thought and he managed to get Vin's half of the apple and cheese into him. The yogurt went down easy, and Vin drank more water and rested. Just as Ezra was preparing to shut the door, Vin groped for his arm.

"Chris...gotta go..."

"Yes, Mr. Tanner, we're leaving now." Ezra answered, but the hand tugged again.

"No...gotta go..."

"Oh..." Ezra frowned, thinking of the large amount of water Vin consumed. "Very well." He unbuckled the strap and pulled Vin upwards. Vin immediately cried out as his tender feet touched the ground. But to Ezra's surprise, he fought it off and managed to walk with Ezra guiding him. Ezra wasn't surprised when the red-tinged urine formed a puddle. The bruising he'd seen on Vin's back indicated a kidney injury. He only hoped they were bruised.

Buckled and shaded by the cloth, Vin seemed to rest easier as they made their way north. They were running out of gas and Erza scanned the horizon frantically. They were close, he could sense it. Then as they passed a cluster of rocks, gunfire rang out. Ezra swerved as a group of violent aliens seeking refuge in America, decended on the car. Ezra tried to accelerate but there were too many of them. The car rocked and another shot rang out, Ezra felt a burning pain in his left shoulder and hissed. He pulled out his gun and returned fire, fearing for both their lives.

The crowd scattered, but the door was pulled open and Ezra felt a white hot pain as his wounded shoulder was grabbed. He turned and fired, taking the man down. He rolled over and continued firing, despite the agony in his shoulder. A body fell on him and he struggled to remove the overweight man pinning him down. He raised his head from under the great weight and wished he hadn't. He saw some of them jump into the car. The commotion caused Vin to stir and he watched in horror his friend's head turned. Vin's face pressed against the glass, his terrified wide -eyes seeking help. "I'm sorry, Vin..." He gritted, trying to quell the pain and dispel the body.

The ripple in the comfortable cocoon he was in caused him to stir. He heard shouting and shooting. Guns? Where was he? He couldn't remember. His muddled mind tried to find the voice. Where was it? Why couldn't he hear it anymore? A loud bang near his head caused his eyes to open. He saw garish faces looking through the window at him. Dark, swarthy complexions housing mean eyes and angry voices. His heart began to hammer; his face turned as more shots rang out. He heard the voice scream and then silence. He struggled but the pain in his head became unbearable and he sank into a dark sea.

Just as he freed himself and managed to get to his knees, the car took off. Ezra saw all the dead bodies littered about and was relieved that Vin wasn't among them. He aimed his weapon, but didn't want to risk hitting Vin. The blurry images of a driver and someone behind Vin in the car appeared. At least they're heading north, he thought, as he passed out.

+ + + + + + +

The five sat in silence as the last frame of the grisly film disappeared. Nobody moved, each were sorting through a whirl of emotions. Ted Dempsey stood in the back, having entered about twenty minutes prior. He eyed the collective pain on the faces of the men and wondered how to break the news to them. His eyes rested on the leader, whose burning eyes stood out on the somber face.

"Chris?" He said quietly, causing all of them to turn.

"You saw..." Chris nodded.

"I'm sorry. He was a good man and a helluva an agent."

"Was?" Chris rocked back on his heels, Josiah stood and steadied him.

He walked in the room and handed Chris a bag. Chris's hands trembled slightly and he refused to open it. He eyed the DEA man, allowing his eyes to ask what his lips couldn't.

"We've got an inside man on the police force down there. The Carlino's paid them for protection and privacy. They were told to raid the Villa this morning and pick up an informant."

"Oh No..." J.D. dropped his head. Buck cast an arm over the youth's shoulders; his eyes remained fixed on Ted.

"The house was empty."

"Well that's good, right?" J.D.'s popped back up, and the others turned to look at him. "Well...that means Vin got away somehow."

"I'd like to believe that Son," Ted said, "but you saw that condition he was in. It's unlikely he was even conscious. I'm sorry, but it would appear that they disposed of him."

Chris opened the bag and glanced at Vin's clothes. He pocketed Vin's wallet and handed Ted the note Ezra left.

"I don't think so, Ted. While you were away this morning, one of Carlino's bodyguards was found right over the border, shot to death. This note and the tape were on him. That's from Ezra."

"Going South to give sanctuary to the wounded Eagle. Will take him back to the nest. Slipped out of the Scorpion's nest, he's won't be out today. The Fox." Ted read and looked at Chris.

"Translated," Josiah added, "Carlino killed his bodyguard and somehow Ezra escaped. They're pushing the buy back. Ezra went back for Vin and is headed this way."

"He's gotta be near the border somewhere, unless they hit trouble on the way. Let's go!" Chris ordered, sweeping out of the room


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