MCAT: Turbulent Transition #3

by tannertexaslady & Tonny

Characters: Chris, Vin, Buck, OCs

Disclaimer: This is entirely a work of fiction for entertainment only, based on the characters from "The Magnificent Seven." I don't own them, but if I did I would run away with 'm and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had 'em first and do not want to give 'm away. I only do this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights is intended.

MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism) is under the leadership of Commander Chris Larabee and he has every reason to be proud of the new unit that has handled fifteen cases in the first five month of operation. Six of which were very high profile and all of which were successful. The unit that began as an experiment is on the verge of becoming permanent as an essential tool for aggressively fighting crime and terrorist threats. In his personal life, he had found contentment with his extended family of brothers on their ranch, Larabee 7 and new love, Linda Dubois.

This series of seven stories will establish relationships and provide background for the characters in this AU.' Decisions' is third in a series of seven.

#1 Transitions

#2 Connections

#3 Decisions- The team is up for the six-month review. Their new case starts with a gang war on the streets of Denver, which quickly spreads to an attack on Larabee's family and ends with a shocking discovery.

Acknowledgements: My thanks go to Wendy for her beta work and her great advice. Tonny, thanks for reading, listening to the ravings of my silly muse and giving me valuable feedback, along with your contributions to this story. My thanks also go to the gracious readers that took the time to send me feedback for "Transitions".

Notes: Any mistakes are mine, as are the original characters I have created for this series. You are welcome and encouraged to play in this AU, but no slash parings please.

Background from Parts One and Two: For those who would like to have some information about this new AU at hand, here is a brief description:

MCAT is set after the wonderful ATF AU that Mog created. Team seven is disbanded and Chris Larabee is asked to lead a whole new type of law enforcement unit, MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism), a totally independent unit that has the authority to act outside the existing boundaries within law enforcement and politics, their authority also overrules these other agencies. He accepts, and the other members of team seven decide to become a part of this unit as well. Chris, as the unit commander, only has to answer to Orrin Travis; Vin is his squad captain and Buck is his number three man.

In the first and second story, Transitions/Connections, new members became a part of this team as well:

Pamela Walton, Native American, computer genius who worked for the Justice Department, 30 years old.
Kelli Coulter, Caucasian, from Texas, degree in criminology/criminal justice, worked New Orleans PD, State of Texas Criminal Task Force and the DEA, 27 years old.
Justin Michaels, Caucasian, former homicide detective with Denver PD and then worked with the State Police investigations in Colorado, 43 years old.
Mark Westin ,Caucasian, excelled at the Police Academy, worked LAPD and California Highway Patrols, 26 years old.
Paul Roberts, African American, worked Atlanta Metro police departments with excellent records, 31 years old.
Ross Anderson, African American, Detroit Metro police departments, career until then focused on inner city crime, 34 years old.
Judy Mullins is not an agent, Caucasian, Data typist/computer assistant, 21 years old.

CASSIE is (Collaborative Analysis System for Sensitive Information Engineering). State of the art computer and is a valuable team member to the unit.

Dr. Robert (Bones) Metfield, Chief of Forensics, Caucasian, medical examiner, born Dumas, Texas ME Tarrant County twenty-five years, 10 year Chief ME six county area Amarillo 62 years old
Katrina Santos, Latin American, certified medic, forensics investigator, coming from the Taos Police Department and the DEA, 31 years old.

Family life has changed for the seven, as well. Josiah has married Mallory, 43 years old, former leader of ATF team six. When their old ATF teams disbanded and MCAT formed, she was pregnant with their second child and decided to quit working. They have a three year old, Joanne and at the end of Transitions, Mallory gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Adam.

Buck and Inez are married and have two lovely daughters, Sarah (2) and Maria (1). Nathan and Rain are married as well, Rain finished medical school, works at the Jewell Avenue Clinic (in Purgatory area of Denver) and is pregnant with their first child. JD and Casey are married, Casey is pregnant and they live with Nettie Wells on her ranch. The seven and their spouses have formed a real family now, have pooled their resources, and become partners in the horse ranch, Larabee 7, hoping that one day, when law enforcement becomes too much, this ranch will provide their income. Chris still lives in the ranch house, the gathering point of the whole family, while Vin lives there in a smaller house built nearby. Ezra passed the bar and his legal expertise is something the whole family gratefully uses. He still has his townhouse in the city and owns the Standish Tavern where Inez works part-time.

Chris is in love with new neighbor, Linda Dubois who, along with her brothers, owns the Southern Breeze horse ranch that borders Larabee 7 land. She comes from a family with old money, well known for the racehorses they breed. In Transitions Vin married colleague Kelli Coulter and the two Texans live in his house on Larabee 7. The Wilmingtons have built and The Jacksons are building homes there. Josiah and Mallory live in their home on adjoining property.

Size: Approx 280K

I have not found much time to write in the last three months and here it is, almost the end of September already. After I returned to work in July, our caseload has kept me busy. Personally, my family life has been full of activity. Linda is spending more time with me at the ranch and I find myself looking forward to seeing her here at the end of the workday. Our relationship is getting stronger with each passing day and I feel the time is fast approaching that I will have to decide what our next step will be. In spite of what my head tells me, my heart seems to have a mind of its own where Linda is concerned. I can feel the ties to my past loosening and I am more inclined to spend my days looking to the future. I do wish she had a better understanding of how Vin and I communicate, but given enough time maybe that will change and she will realize that Vin's connection to me is no threat to us.

Rain and Casey are keeping Nathan and JD on their toes, too. With both of them pregnant, it makes for lively conversations at the family dinners. Inez has her hands full with the girls and Mallory has a challenge with Joanne's jealousy of her new brother. Kelli seems to be adjusting to having family around and she and Vin are very good for each other.

Five months after the inception of MCAT, the all important six-month review is looming just around the corner. MCAT survived the attempt by Reed and his backers to take over and our team is stronger because of it. Politics and jealousies still surround us, but we are proving to everyone that this unit is here to stay. Our reputation is growing and I am pleased with our accomplishments. I am enjoying my position as Commander and Vin has found his comfort zone as Captain. Ezra remains an essential player with his people skills and legal expertise. Buck is in his element working with the younger agents and JD has made CASSIE an effective member of our team. Josiah is in demand for his profiling abilities after all the publicity we had on the last three cases and Nathan is spending most of his time coordinating our new forensic department with Dr Metfield's help. Gotta go meet Travis, more soon.

Chris closed his journal and left for work.

Chapter 1
Travis Office - Thursday

"Chris the unit has performed beyond expectations and that is wonderful."

"I hear a but in there, what is it?"

"Reed. What he did only highlighted the attention MCAT is getting, good and bad. There will always be an interest in MCAT for both good and evil purposes. We have proven the need and effectiveness of this unit, now we must find a way to protect it."

"Translation...Damn politics!"

Travis sighed, "Yes, damn politics. Although I must admit, you have flair with your tactics for handling the press and those with political interest Orrin smiled, with some resignation, remembering the tactless way Chris had responded to the press during MCAT's second case. "We need your ...uh talents concentrating on the unit. Our six-month mark is approaching and we need to make some decisions."

"Your point is, Orrin?"

"My point is that you and I need to be on the same page when our review comes up. How is all this publicity affecting the team?"

Larabee sat in thoughtful silence before he answered. "Truthfully, it has made our job harder. We came into his with the intention of taking on cases too hot for the other agencies to handle. Now they want us for any case they do not want to deal with and the requests for Josiah's profiling skills are mounting as we speak. We have to guard what we say about CASSIE and keep her capabilities a secret. If we are to function at our best we need to stay independent and chose our cases carefully."

Travis sighed, "I agree, right now I have at least fifty requests for our help and over one hundred applications for a place on the team. You have had time to think about this and access the potential of this unit. To stay effective what manpower do you need and what limits are necessary on case selection?"

"Manpower may fluctuate, but should never exceed eighteen field agents. We should only take high priority cases that either poses a threat to national security or for the welfare of the public, other cases, we should examine individually. All media access should be with press releases that we approve and we stop loaning out help to other agencies.' "

Orin was sure that there was more, "What do you need to make it better?"

Chris decided to lay out all his preferences. "We can be the best ready response team in the country, but to do so we must make that our only focus. I need time to work with the agents I have, not have them spread out on six different cases where our presence is not essential. We do not need to loan out our agents to anyone, not of our choosing. I want the authority to decide what we take or do not take. I also want our own helicopter with a trained agent as a pilot.'

Orrin stood up and passed two stacks of folders to Chris. "As of now you have it, these files are the request for MCAT help and the applications for a place on your team. Chose your next case, find the new agents you need and are satisfied with, I will take care of the rest." Travis was pleased with Chris' assessments and ready to let him run with it. "From now on I will handle the press and if you need anything else, let me know."

"Why do I get the feeling you just set me up for this?"

Travis grinned, "Because you are a smart man and ...I did."

Orrin watched Larabee head to the elevator and had to smile. Chris did not know yet that the Attorney General declared MCAT a major success and there was no longer a question of its worth. Larabee was the reason for that success and deserved credit for it. Orrin planned to make sure he got it, but it was going to be special and would take some time to make the proper arrangements. The six-month celebration, for this MCAT team would be one to remember. Travis picked up the phone to call Linda Dubois for assistance in planning the event.

MCAT Office

Chris entered the bullpen and went straight for the war room, indicating on his way for JD and Vin to join him. Dropping the files on the table, he started with Vin. "We need Nathan and Metfield in here for this, ask them to join us." Tanner turned on his heels and went to get them.

"JD, you know more about that computer than I do, can it sort applications by skill?"

"Sure, CASSIE can rate them any way you want her to." JD explained, "I'll get Judy to put the info in and let CASSIE do the rest of it. Just tell me what you want."

Vin walked in, "They're on their way."

"Good, these files are requests for our help on cases. Tanner, you and I are gonna go through them and decide which one we want to take and send our regrets to the rest." Chris pushed a chair out with the toe of his boot. "Take a load off and start reading."

Tanner eyed the stack of files and shook his head. "Damn, Chris, we'll be here til midnight, you sure know how to wreck my plans for the evening."

Chris laughed, "I know what kind of evening you have planned. Since when did time or sleep interfere with you and Kel"

The Texan grinned, "Hell, I'll take lovin' over sleepin' anytime."

"Vin the whole family knows how you are when you miss your playtime. "JD smiled." You tend to get a bit irritable and a cranky Texan is something we don't want, so CASSIE and I will help you."

Before Tanner had a comeback, Dr Metfield and Nathan came in. Larabee was quick to get to the point. "Bones, you stole one of my agents for your team and I plan to keep the rest of them. Tell JD what qualifications you need and we'll find you another one."

"Kat is damned good and 'm keeping her, as to a second one I already know who I gettin'." Dr Metfield threw out his challenge to Larabee. "Greg Ramsey, now workin' in New York, I trained him and they don't come any better."

"You get him here and I'll interview him, if he is as good as you say I'll know it."

"Fine, tomorrow soon enough for you?"

"Two o'clock and Bones...don't promise him anything, yet." Chris smiled as Dr Metfield grunted his answer and left. "JD..."

"I know, background on Ramsey. What else?"

"Take these application, we need a good agent that can also pilot a chopper. Don't limit your search to those apps."

"You got it Boss and then I'll help on your case files." JD was off and running.

Nathan's eyes sparkled, "Helicopter? Outfitted for medical care, too?"

"Yep, start making your wish list and I'll get it to Travis." Jackson was already on it.

"Damn Chris, you're on a roll. Meeting with Travis go that good? Vin smirked, "Or did Linda get you in that mood?"

"Both, Travis was so agreeable, it scares the hell out of me and Linda...well it was a great morning." Chris smiled, "You know Vin I feel good about the way things are coming together. Sending Ezra to that anti-terrorism training was a good move; he was the best choice and will be one hell of a force to deal with if we need him to negotiate. Josiah has been terrific as profiler; JD and Pam have made CASSIE practically a team member. Buck is training Mark on explosives and Kel has proven to be a damned good investigator. Justin, Paul and Ross have established themselves, too. Our record of success is outstanding and now we are in control of our choice of agents and cases."

"All of the agents are good, but without your lead they would still be struggling. You made it happen, Cowboy."

"You ain't done so badly yourself Captain. Now enough of this let's get to work."

For the next few hours, they worked in comfortable silence with only an occasional interruption. They sorted the files and then ran them through CASSIE to check on connecting cases. Finally, they were down to fifteen possibilities and JD was printing out all available information on them.

Kelli came through the door with an armload of bags; Vin took some and set them on the table. "I knew y'all would lose track of the time and not think about eatin', everyone else is gone, so I brought you dinner, before I go home. Sandwiches from the deli and you can spring for the drinks, Lar'bee."

"Thanks, Kel, I guess we did lose track of time." Chris smiled at the young agent that just happened to be married to his best friend. He had liked her the first time he met her and was pleased to have her as part of his family. "It's past time for a break, anyway."

Chris went to get the drinks from the machine down the hall and JD excused himself to call and check on his Casey pointedly saying, "I'll be gone at least ten minutes." That gave Vin and Kelli a few minutes of privacy.

The Texan did not waste the opportunity and pulled his redhead close, "Missed you today." He reinforced his remark with a fiery kiss that ignited a spark of desire that could have consumed them both, if they had been truly alone. Instead, they took their few minutes of mutual enjoyment; the loving Texan, allowed time for a few tender caresses over soft curves, while Kelli was content just to be close to the man she had missed all day. The rest of their feelings would have to linger until they could be together with no interruptions, later. Vin sighed and whispered to her, "Chris is coming, but hold on to those pleasurable thoughts you're havin', til I get home." Tanner gave one last pat to her backside and pulled away.

Larabee walked in a minute later and grabbed a sandwich. It still amazed Kelli when Vin and Chris 'communicated', but she was grateful that Vin had a friend like Chris in his life. Her only regret was that her best friend, Linda, did not share her view on that relationship. For Kelli it represented the kind of trust that she knew was hard to come by and it did not bother her in the least that Vin was close to Larabee. In fact, she liked, as well as respected the man immensely and was even getting used to the brothers' strange connection. When JD returned they ate until all the food was gone.

"I'd better go so y'all can get back to work, just don't forget Vin, we still need to find a present for Sarah's birthday. Her party is Saturday and a girl doesn't turn three everyday." Kelli got up to leave.

Tanner stood up and took her hand. "I'll walk you to the truck, 'm sure Lar'bee can do without me that long."

"Just make sure walking in all you do, I want to go home, too." Chris exchanged a grin with JD as Vin gave him a silent hand gesture for an answer, as he walked out the door.

Chris went back to reading until, fifteen minutes later; JD laid three folders in front of him. "These three are your best candidates for a new agent. All three have flight experience and good work records. Everything I could find on them is in their file."

"Thanks JD, how many more cases does CASSIE have to run?"

JD checked as Vin came back. "Five more Chris and then we are done."

Chris slid the employment files to Vin, "Set up interviews with these three as soon as possible. Tanner nodded in the affirmative as an answer. "This pile we don't touch, they don't need MCAT's abilities and these we might take a second look at to see what we can do." Larabee separated the files.

"Hey guys, I think CASSIE may have found something, take a look at this." JD passed some printouts to Larabee and Tanner.

Chris read and then looked up, "JD, I want everything CASSIE can find on this file, as of now, this one is our priority. According to what CASS came up with this one, it has trouble for Denver, written all over it.

Chapter 2
Larabee 7 - Friday

Chris took one more look at the woman in his bed. I do not know how she did it, but she made it through all those barriers I built around my heart. Now I find myself more and more thinking us, instead of me. God if feels good to be in love again. He moved on to the kitchen for coffee, letting her rest, aware of how much she enjoyed sleeping through the sunrise. Larabee shook his head and smiled, thinking how she made up for it with those long loving nights. Grabbing a cup on his way out the door, he put a lid on it, so he could enjoy it on the way to work. Outside he saw Vin and Kelli were ready to leave, but they stopped long enough to make another memory as Tanner called it.

"Okay, you two, break it up, work calls." Chris grinned at the young couple and could not resist teasing them. "If I didn't know better I'd swear you both were sex-starved adolescents, instead of two grown-up federal agents."

Vin did not answer immediately, but finished kissing Kelli first. "Them that can... do, them that can't, nag the rest of us." The Texan smiled, gave his wife another kiss and a loving swat to her backside. "Come on, Kel before the principal decides to give us detention for being late."

"Lar'bee, you'd miss having us to pick on in the mornin's, if we weren't here." Kelli smiled, "What are you gonna do when we grow up and leave home?"

Chris became serious, "This is home young lady and don't ever believe otherwise."

"Does that mean I get to drive this mornin'?"

"Hell no!" Chris and Vin answered at the same time.

The three of them left for work with Kelli still mumbling that there was nothing wrong with her driving. Both Chris and Vin long ago decided that she drove too fast for their comfort zone. Vin didn't mind her off-road excursions so much, in fact they were fun, but she did not always switch her mind back to city traffic.

Kelli drove with the same enthusiasm that Linda shopped with, both looking for adventure, just from different sources. They were both good at their chosen 'sport', but that did not make it easier for the men to handle. By the time they reached the federal building, she forgave them both for the insult to her driving ability and was ready to face another workday.

MCAT Office

They were early, but Wilmington was already there and because Buck was seldom the first one in the office that could only mean one thing. He and Inez were having a serious disagreement.

"Morning Buck, what brings you in so early on a Friday?"

"Chris, you tell me what is wrong with buying a three year old a pony."

Larabee took a large swallow of the coffee Kelli just handed him. "That depends, Buck. What kind of pony are we talking about?"

"A pony, you know one of them little ones like Linda brought to the party that time. Hell, it's small enough that Sarah could even bring it in the house, but Inez is dead set against it. She says Sarah is too young for a horse, but she would have a ball with one of those midget horses."

Chris looked at Vin for help, but the sharpshooter put up his hands and backed off. "M not touching that one, Cowboy, you're on your on.


Kelli shook her head at the two men. "Buck, maybe it's the idea of havin' the pony in the house that Inez doesn't like. Why don't you compromise and instead of buyin' a pony, bring Sarah down to ride with one the adults until she gets her confidence. Let her pick one of the colts that she likes to be hers and then they can grow up together."

"I'll call Inez and talk to her about it, thanks." Wilmington left to call his wife.

She looked at Chris, "What? I don't have to read your mind to know what you were fixin' to say. Tellin' him he was crazy for expectin' his wife to welcome a pony into her home without raisin' hell would solve nothin'. Now, you have an opportunity to teach Sarah to ride." Kelli went to tackle the paperwork on her desk.

Vin, are you sure she can't read minds or am I that easy for her to read?

I wonder about that myself sometimes, she seems to read you almost as good as she reads me.

Buck came up and slapped Chris on the back, "Inez loves the idea and between you and me we'll have Sarah riding in no time."

"That's great, now can we get some work started around here?"

Larabee and Tanner headed for their respective offices, while Buck settled in at his desk. He had plans to make, teaching Mark about explosives would be a challenge, but the boy was smart and willing to listen. Wilmington had several learning guides for him to start on and when he was ready, Chris had already approved his training time. Now all he had to do was convince Mark that his teaching started in the classroom. Grabbing the manuals, he dropped them on Westin's desk.

"This is to get you started."

Mark looked at the stack and winced, "All that, why can't you just show me in the field?"

Buck sighed, "Mark, if you make a mistake with explosives, you don't get a second chance. You will learn the right way and then when you are ready, we'll go into the field together. Start studying."

"Thanks Buck. I do appreciate you backing me on my decision to specialize in explosives. I promise you will not be sorry that you agreed to help me.

"I'm gonna hold you to that, kid." Buck was smiling as he walked away because Mark had already immersed himself into reading.

An hour later, Vin came out of his office and once assured that everyone was busy went to see Chris. He was on the phone so Tanner made himself comfortable and waited for Larabee to finish.

"Okay, keep trying and if you run across anything, let me know." Chris hung up, "Dammit, how did that sonofabitch just disappear off the face of the earth?"

Vin knew who he was talking about, they both had been searching for this man for months. "I don't know, but my sources can't get a line on him either. As much as I would like to get my hands on the bastard, I can only hope that he is dead and gone. What he did to Kelli was bad enough and I pray he never got a chance to hurt another child. Maybe the Devil already took him to hell and we weren't meant to find him."

"So we give up?"

"Hell no, not until I have proof the bastard's dead."

"I didn't think so." Chris smiled, and moved on, "Okay, what have you got?"

Tanner handed him the three folders from last night, "I talked to all of 'em, they all sound good, but my money is on the last one, Raphael Cordova he's 43, with the DEA fifteen years, Marine pilot, veteran of Desert Storm. He learned to fly from his dad and soloed at the age of twelve, he can fly anything that has wings. I set up interviews with all three for Monday."

"Good, I talked to Morgan at the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. He heads up the Major Crimes Division and is the man that asked us to take on this case. Initially we do a Security Threat Assessment and then go from there. This is the background that he gave me, but JD has twice that much already set up in the war room." Chris passed Vin a folder. "I told Travis that we wanted to take this one first and put the Seattle case up second. That one can wait a couple of weeks, this one we get started on ASAP."

"Ten minutes?"

"Fine, herd 'em in."

War Room

There were at least twelve different conversations going on, while the agents waited on Larabee and Tanner to tell them what was going on. The seasoned seven listened with amusement as the newer team members speculated on their next case. All chatter ceased when the Captain and the CO entered the room.

"Okay boys and girls, I know you are all anxious to get started so let's begin. JD and Pam have already put background together for us and you will find it in the folders they are now passing out. For now we are only to do an STA, once we can confirm the facts, then we move to step two. The Colorado Bureau of Investigations has asked us to take this on. Our contact there Special Agent Morgan will coordinate information with the following law enforcement groups: The DA's Gang Unit, Denver Police Gang Bureau, Rocky Mountain Safe Street Task Force/Metro Gang Unit and NAGIA, which is the National Gang Intelligence Center."

"Gang? Isn't that a little off what we do?" Buck wanted to make sure he understood.

"Gang activity is not just limited to street gangs anymore, Buck. They have gone national and with all the attention to terrorism have slid under the radar and flourished in both large cities and rural communities. Drugs will always be associated with them because that is how they finance their business and it is a business. They use new technology just as we do and have the money to keep up with anything law enforcement can get. However we are not taking on all the gangs out there, we are looking for evidence of one in particular. 'The Soledad'."

Ross whistled, "I know about them, but I thought they ceased doing business five years ago."

"So did everyone else, but the CBI thinks they might be trying to resurrect here in Denver. First we find proof they are here and then we make sure they stay dead." Questions bombarded Chris. "Hold it. Ross is the closest we have to an expert in this area so let him explain."

"There are several bad boys out there, but the fastest growing are the OMG's or Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The Soledad was or is one of the deadliest. in addition to drugs, they were responsible for murder, bombings, arson, assault, extortion, weapons trafficking, home invasion, prostitution, money laundering, insurance fraud, kidnapping, robbery, and contraband smuggling to names a few of their enterprises. The gang was thought to be wiped out five years ago in Detroit, I was there and I can tell you no one mourned their passing. If they are back, this means big trouble because the first thing they will do is try to eliminate the competition and they do not care who gets hurt in the process. Boss, if there is any chance this rumor is true I want to be on the front line. I saw what they did in Detroit and I sure as hell don't want to see that repeated here."

"Here is how we start, Ross I want everything you know about their activities in Detroit and any ideas on who might be trying to bring them back. Bones, I have forensic reports from known murders they committed five years ago, I want you to compare them to several unsolved we have had in the last few weeks. Ezra, I want the word on the street from your sources and take Kel with you. Buck, you and Mark on the street, Paul you go with them. Josiah work with Ross and give me a profile of who their new leader might be. Vin, take Nathan and Justin, hit Purgatory see what the word is there, I'll join you after my interview with Ramsey. JD and Pam keep CASSIE going on this. Remember, first we need to find out if it is true and then we plan from there. I want every one of you back here no later than five o'clock. Hit the streets."

Dr Metfield approached Chris, "Larabee, Ramsey is in town, if you want to see him earlier I can have him here in twenty minutes,"

"Do it and I assume you want in on the interview so come with him, just in case I miss a question or two." Chris grinned.

"Twenty minutes."

Ramsey and Metfield hit Larabee's office in nineteen minutes; it took less than fifteen minutes for Chris to decide to hire him. Bones had his man and now the forensics team was complete with the addition of Greg Ramsey. He was to report to work in two weeks, enough time to find a place to live and have his things moved.


When Rain Jackson went to medical school, she did not have a great design to change the world, just a small part of it. The Jewel Avenue Clinic was a place where she knew that she could make a difference and feel good about it. Being pregnant with her own baby only made her more determined to help the children that had to grow up in Purgatory, they called it that because once you were here it was hell to get out. Gangs, drugs, poverty and violence, all called this area home.

"Honey, listen to me. If what we hear on the street is true, you may not be safe working here. Please think about taking off, as least until our son is born." Nathan pleaded with Rain to consider it.

"Rain, I understand how you feel about helpin' these people and you know 'm the first one to defend this place, but this time I have to side with Nate. At least for a couple of weeks you need to be away from here, you have a choice the people that live here don't." Vin did his best to persuade her, too.

She looked at both men and the third one she did not know as well. "That is exactly why I need to stay, these people can't leave and they might need me."

Justin watched and he had been married long enough to know when a woman had made up her mind. He did not blame Nathan for pleading with her; if it were his wife, he would be doing the same thing. He just could not see her changing her mind for anyone.

"Dammit Rain, this could get very dangerous fast and what about our son?"

"He's right." Chris joined them. "I have lost a wife and son and I do not want to see Nathan go through that. You have until Tuesday to tie up loose ends and then you will be out of here. No arguments."

Dr. Jackson met Larabee's green eyes, hesitated, and after a minute of thought responded, "Okay, Tuesday."

"Nate, you stay here with Rain, we can't do anything until we get the hard files from Detroit and after Monday I won't guarantee you two any time together. I'll see you both at home, later."

Nathan walked out with them. "Thanks Chris, I know that was not easy to bring up, but I appreciate you getting through to her." Chris just nodded and kept on walking. "Vin, Justin, I'll see you guys later."

MCAT Office - 5:00p.m.

"Okay, most of your reports indicate that we have more than rumor. We still have time to do this right; I will alert The CBI and Travis. Monday we go on the offensive and we will have a hard job ahead of us. Take the weekend with your families; it may be the only free time your have for the next few weeks. You are all welcome at the ranch on Sunday, open invitation, bar-b-q served at two. Now go home." Chris watched them leave, he knew the next couple of weeks would be hell, but he also knew he had the right team to face it.

"That goes for you too, Chris. There is nothing we can do until Monday, let's go home, Linda made a special request for us all to have dinner together and you don't want to disappoint her."

Tanner's words brought Chris back for his musing, "Right, some kind of announcement and with Linda you never know where that could lead."

Larabee 7

As soon as they got home, Vin and Kelli went straight to the barn to tend to the horses. Chris was ten minutes behind them and with a little luck; they might have some time for themselves before dinner was ready.

"You have any idea what this announcement will be?" Tanner poured the oats, while Kelli refreshed the water for the horses.

"Nope and knowing Linda it could be anything from buying a jet to findin' a new litter of kittens on the ranch." Kelli laughed, "Is Chris worried?"

Vin shook his head and smiled, "Nah, I think he likes the element of surprise that Linda has brought to his life." He put down the empty bucket, walked up behind Kelli and circled her waist with his arms. "Just like you have to mine," he kissed the back of her neck. "You may not be as impulsive as Linda, but you did manage to surprise the hell out of me."

Kelli leaned back against him." How did I do that?"

He rested his chin on top of her head and sighed, "When I first laid eyes on you in that restaurant, I thought if I set my mind to it that we might get together, have a few nights of wild lust and move on."

"Well, you were half-right, we did get together and we have had more than a few wild nights. That wasn't such a surprise was it?"

"Maybe not, but the rest of it sure as hell was. "He turned her to face him, "The last thing I expected to find was a beautiful, spirited, and stubborn to the bone, redhead that would be able to steal my heart, start a never-endin' fire inside me, and bury herself deep in my soul before I knew what hit me. Until you, I didn't believe that kind of life changin' love existed." Long lean fingers trailed through her hair and down her cheek.

Like drawing water from a well, Vin's words reached deep inside her and drew her emotions to the surface. It never ceased to amazed Kelli how this Texan set her spirit into motion so easily, with a look, a few words or a touch. He tore though every defense and all the walls she had spent a lifetime building with no difficulty and then took her to a place that she had never believed was destined for her. Vin filled all the empty spaces within her, wrapped her in the security of his love and changed her life forever.

Her voiced rough with emotion she questioned softly, "You think they would miss us if we skipped dinner?"

Vin kissed her tenderly and then in a husky voice answered, "Yeah, Lar'bee would be beatin' on our door, but... we still have twenty minutes and 'm willin' to share a shower, if you're interested."

Kelli's heavy emotions lifted and her eyes filled with mischief, "I never could resist a wild, wet Texan. Come on, I'll race you home." She pushed off his chest and took off running.

They raced across the yard reaching the house at the same time, then they practically fell though the open front door, laughing. Vin shoved the door shut with his boot and leaned back against it, while his hands took a firm hold on Kelli's hips, pulling her close. "A beautiful woman and a wild wet Texan can make a helluva combination." He claimed a hungry kiss that fueled the desire that had been building between them and then grabbed her hand, "Time's wastin' baby and I hear that shower callin' our name."

They were only five minutes late for dinner.

Chapter 3
Larabee 7 - 6:00p.m.

Linda had dinner planned for the four of them and was anxious to share her news, but it could wait until after they ate. Chris arrived first and the moment he laid eyes on her his concern about the case disappeared, other thoughts took over instead.

"Hello beautiful," he slipped his arms around her. "Dinner looks great, but you look even better,"

"You don't look so bad yourself," Linda leaned into him and kissed him, with a fierce passion that made him consider canceling dinner altogether. "It won't be ready for another thirty minutes or so, How about a cold beer?"

"I'd rather have you, but I suppose that will have to wait. Thirty minutes should give Vin enough time to take care of business and get his butt over here." He smiled, Tanner had already tuned him out, but Chris had a good idea about what he was doing.

Linda gave him a strange look, "You can't....I mean," she blushed.

"No and neither can he so just relax." Chris took the offered beer and stole a quick kiss. "You worry too much."

"Well, hell, Larabee how am I supposed to know these things? This is all new for me; don't you have a list of rules or something that goes with this connection thing?"

Chris laughed, "No, it just is... it's not something for you to be concerned over and has nothing to do with us, ever. I love you Linda and that is more important than anything or anyone else, remember that."

Thirty-five minutes later, the Tanners joined them. Both were in a great mood, and wet hair along with a few passion marks left little doubt as to what they had been doing before they arrived. Linda still had a few reservations about this connection business, but she was not going to let it ruin their evening. They enjoyed a leisurely meal and moved to the den for desert and coffee.

"Okay Dubois, you have made us wait long enough, what is this announcement, you're so hot to tell us about?" Kelli decided to push her.

"Well, yesterday, I received a phone call from Orrin Travis. He is such a nice man, you are all so lucky to work for a man like that and his wife is a doll..."

"Linda...the phone call." Chris interrupted.

"Oh yes... well you know the six-month anniversary for MCAT is coming up and, he asked you believe, to help plan the celebration. This is going to be so much fun; I can see it all now. I was thinking maybe a formal ball or maybe something historical. Anyway I just wanted to share with all of you and I promise it will be an event to remember."

Kelli answered first. "That's great, Linda." I hope Travis has a big budget.

"Good for you, Linda." Vin added. Aww hell, formal.

Chris offered his enthusiasm, "I'm glad he recognized your talent, sweetheart." Orrin, do you know what you are getting yourself into?

Dinner was finished, the Tanners said goodnight, the kitchen was cleaned up and Chris was ready for some loving from his lady. He may not know everything there was to know about this woman, but he did know they made magic every time they came together. He took her hand and pulled her close to him, "I may have to share you with the rest of the family this weekend, but tonight it is just you and me.

A moment later, they were in the den together, huddled on the big couch. With a fire roaring in the fireplace and the wine on the coffee table, it was a great start to the weekend, Chris thought, taking Linda in his arms. She snuggled against his chest, eyes on the fire and a deep sigh of contentment escaped her.

"I do hope this new case will leave you some time for us, for this," she murmured, trying to dig in even deeper.

Chris grinned and kissed the top of her head. Slowly he opened the top buttons of her blouse and soon his hand was inside, caressing her. "I'll sure try and make time," he whispered in her ear, blowing softly to make goose bumps rise all over her body. He grinned wickedly when he felt her shiver. "And at least we have this evening and tonight. Come close, I want to kiss you."

Linda tilted her head so they could share a deep kiss. Without breaking contact, she turned around in his arms and started to unbutton Chris' dress shirt. "Time to get you more comfortable," she murmured without taking her lips of his. The kiss deepened again and her hands started to push the shirt off, when the phone rang.

"Leave it!"

"I can't... OH!" It was difficult to think with Linda's hands all over his body and her teeth nibbling his ear. Hell, couldn't they do without him for just one evening? He decided not to take it and see if it was really urgent. If it was, his cell phone would be the next to ring.

The phone stopped and Linda had just started to trail kisses down along his body, when his cell phone started to play the Star Spangled Banner. It made Linda giggle.

"Buck," Chris sighed. "When did he get his hands on my phone this time? At least this is a decent tune. Sorry Linda, I really have to take this, you know that." She pouted prettily but let him get up enough to grab the phone from the coffee table. He frowned when he saw the number display.

"Chris, is something wrong?"

"It's Buck. I hope there's nothing wrong with the kids that can put a dent in Sarah's birthday tomorrow." Hastily he punched in the receiver button.

"Larabee, and Buck, this better be damn, damn good!"

"Chris? Chris, old buddy, thank God you picked up! I was afraid you'd already hit the sack with that lovely little lady of yours and had thrown out your cell!"

"I was almost there, Buck."

"Really? Listen, I'm real sorry but I'm in a big, big jam here and I need your help! It's Sarah's birthday present...."

"Her present?" Chris suddenly had a feeling of doom. "Buck, what did you do? We talked about the pony, didn't we?"

"We did and nope, I didn't sneak one in, honest! I just... I bought something really great for her, the next best thing to a pony, but uh... I've got some trouble with it."

"Where's Inez?" Chris wanted to know, still suspicious.

"Uh, hm, she uh... sort of said I was on my own with this one..."

Chris groaned. What on earth had Buck gotten himself into now?

"I'm not going to take sides against Inez with you, Buck, you know that! Damn, what did you do?"

"Nothing, it's a grand toy that I bought, it's from the age of three up, so I don't see the problem! I just ... I didn't get it assembled and I could really, really use the help!"

Chris felt Linda's arms snuggle around him once more and felt her kisses trail his chest and abdomen. He knew he did NOT want to get involved in whatever hair brained scheme Buck had thought up now.

"Damn it, Chris! I've been there enough times for you and I do need help here!"

"If you're going for emotional black mail you're really desperate."

"I AM! Now will you come and help me? Please?"

If he wanted to, Buck could make a stone melt with his pleas. Something Sarah and Maria had already picked up flawlessly. Chris heaved a deep sigh. "I'll be right there."

"Good, you better come directly to the garage, I'll be in there."

"Garage? Buck, whatever did you buy Sarah?"

"A car," Buck stated, the pride evident in his voice. "A real car, ain't it just grand?"

"A CAR? BUCK! BUCK, WAIT...." Too late, the connection was already gone. Chris swore profusely and would have thrown his cell phone in disgust, if Linda hadn't stopped him. She was grinning up at him mischievously.

"Sorry, Linda, I'd better get over there, Buck...." A hand on his mouth stopped him from talking. Linda's eyes were dancing with repressed joy.

"Don't, Chris. Come on, let's go and save Buck. This sounds like fun!"


"Oh yes, I can't wait to see what he's done. A car? Oh, this I've got to see!"

"Linda, you have NO idea how Inez can be when she's mad, can you?"

"Nope. But I don't care. It won't be me she's mad at after all!" The mischievous smile was still there. "Come on, chicken, I'll try and intermediate between you two strong men and Inez. Let me grab my coat." When she walked away, Chris thought he heard some suspicious noises coming from her. Was she snickering?

He was going to kill Buck!

Wilmington's resident - 9.00 p.m.

"God, Buck, is this a car?"

Chris had marched directly towards the garage, ready to give Buck a piece of his mind, but the scene that greeted him when he opened the door had stopped him immediately. Buck was sitting on the ground, some kind of bookwork beside him and a lot of unidentifiable objects spread all over the garage floor. One of the things Chris noticed was that a very great number of those objects were pink, not a soft pleasing pink, but about the harshest and brightest pink he'd ever seen. What wasn't pink was a bright shining silver.

It was ghastly.

"Chris, will you move on? Let me see!" Linda called out from behind him. Reluctantly Chris entered the garage and walked over to his long time friend.

"WOW!" he heard Linda exclaim behind him. Buck was looking up at them with a big, goofy smile under his mustache.

"Chris, thank God! When I bought this, I didn't know it would come in so many pieces! I've been trying to figure it out for ages and I still didn't get any further than the wheels and the underside of the thing!"

"Nice color," Chris couldn't help from commenting.

"Yeah, it is, isn't it? You know how the girls just love pink! Look, this is the picture, isn't it absolutely adorable? And it can go up to five miles an hour!"

Chris winced. It really WAS a car.... Only taking in half of Buck's ravings about rechargeable batteries, gas pedals and steering capacities, he took up the instructions and looked at it.

"I'd better go talk with Inez," Linda said, clearly not wanting to be involved. "I got the impression from Chris' side of the phone call she's not thrilled with this gift." Seeing Buck's face turn crestfallen, she grinned at him. "If it's any consolation, I love it! I think she'll have a ball with it, Buck!"

"Inez thinks it's way too dangerous for a wild three year old," Buck said, looking at it somberly. "Do you think you can convince her it's no more dangerous than a bike?"

Now Linda had to laugh out loud. Shaking her head, she disappeared to the house.

Chris sighed and looked again at the instructions. "You couldn't buy it assembled?"

"Hell Chris, I was too glad I finally found something worth while, you know, after the pony was vetoed by everyone. So I just brought it home. I thought I'd have enough time to assemble it this evening. Never thought it would be like... this!"

"Or that Inez wasn't going to give a hand. Well, let's start, big dog."

"Yeah, let's make this work, stud!" The grinned at each other and very soon were immersed in the job at hand.

"First we have to put this in here."

"Are you kidding? That can't be right Chris! See, how can we stick this in, if you've got that up there?"

"Buck, I don't think that should go there."

"Oh, but something has to go there!"

"Yeah, but what? Give me those instructions."

"Why? I'm reading here!"


"Oh alright, alright, have it your way, see if you can do better...."

"You called me, remember?"

An hour later, when Linda came in with some coffee and cookies, the whole get up was starting to look like a beautiful little pink truck. "Oh yes," she nodded, "I definitely like it! Buck, you bought her a truck, way to go!!!"

"Yeah! I wanted her to be able to cross all through the field. Hey, pretty soon she'll be driving over to you by herself, Larabee! Uh... Linda, how's Inez now?"

"Still pretty angry, Buck and I don't think ideas like Sarah driving on her own to the ranch house would make her feel better about this."

"Oh hell!"

"You two enjoy yourself. Good luck with all those parts still laying around."

"Uh, Linda...."

"Oh no, Chris! No way I'm going to help with that! Buck is your buddy, you have fun with it! Why Buck didn't have it assembled in the store is beyond me...." Hastily she left. They could hear her laughter all the way to the house, again.

"Women," Buck muttered.

"Speak for yourself! Me and my woman were doing just fine until you called!"

Another hour and no more parts were laying around. What was even better, the little car worked. Two proud men were standing there, watching it with silly grins on their faces, when the door of the garage opened again. The two men had their arms around each others' shoulders and didn't notice anything, all their attention was on the little whirling truck.

"Ain't it grand?" Buck sighed.

"It's a ghastly pink, Buck; no way can it be grand! Damn, that's one hell of a birthday gift, pard. She's gonna love it!"

"Yeah, she will, won't she? Oh Chris, I can't wait to see her face when she finds this."

"You still gotta gift wrap it, Buck."

"Are you kidding? How am I gonna do that? No way I've got enough paper, it was a lot smaller disassembled in a box! Just look at it though...."

"Yeah! Glad you got one that stops as soon as her foot gets from the gas pedal though."

"Yep, I specifically wanted that. It's pretty safe Chris, really. Damn, but it feels good to see it standing there!"

"Yeah." Chris didn't say it, but it was clear for the silent watcher peeking through the door that both men had had fun. Not only the grins were giving them away, but also the proud looks they were giving the small, one child truck with its big wheels, sturdy frame and handsome steering wheel. Both men loved what they had wrought here.

"Yep, she's gonna love it," Buck repeated his friend and Chris nodded.

Silently Inez left again, walking back to the house, shaking her head.

Wilmington's residence - 11.30 p.m.

After having said goodbye to Chris and Linda, Buck quietly entered the kitchen. There he hesitated, not knowing what to do. His eyes sought hers and Inez sighed.

"I won't bite, Buck."

Well, you were pretty mad..."

"I know, I'm still not that thrilled about it, but Linda has convinced me to give it a try. She says it's not rated from three years old and up for nothing, that toy manufacturers know what they do."

Immediately Buck's face lighted up. "They do, Inez, they do. It's really safe, you'll see!"

Inez tried not to smile, but if there was one thing that had finally won her over to get serious with Buck, it was the rogue's boyish enthusiasm. The big, happy smile on his face while talking about his gift for their eldest melted her heart. She took pains to keep the devastating effects that smile and that enthusiasm had on her hidden, knowing full well Buck wasn't above taking advantage of them if he knew. So she hastily took another sip of her orange juice and avoided looking at him.


Good, he sounded uncertain again. Schooling her face, she looked up with a frown. "Yes, Buck?"

"Inez, I didn't want to make you mad or do something you hate. I just thought it was the perfect gift for Sarah and when I saw it was for three year olds, I was so happy to have found her something."

She sighed. "One of the things I hate about a big gift like this is wondering what you'll do next year, Wilmington, when you will try to top this one. They are little kids, they don't need grandiose presents. They get a lot of presents on their birthday from the family as well and enough is enough Buck."

"I... Oh ... I hadn't thought about that..."

She looked at him in earnest now. "Do think about it Buck. Please, think very hard about it. At this age it doesn't matter that much yet, because they are living in the moment ... happy in the moment. But next year Sarah will be four and she will start to expect things. If she gets bigger and bigger presents on her birthday, pretty soon she won't be happy with little things anymore. Then what do we do?"

"Shit, you are right. I... I'll remember that Inez, promise. It's just... it's such great fun to give them something you know they'll love..."

"It is." Inez smiled at him. "But she would have loved something smaller just as much, Buck. She doesn't even know that these cars exist. All I ask is that you think about the effects of spoiling and that we talk these things over first. It's not like we should never give them big presents, it's more that I want us to think before we do."

"That you want ME to think before I do."

Now she had to grin. "Yep, I guess that's it. Oh, come here, silly!" Hastily she rose up and walked over to him, taking her third child in her arms. Buck was the most wonderful man she knew, with the biggest and warmest heart she knew, just look at what he'd always done for Chris, how he had never abandoned his friend. He would also fight to the death for them all, but deep in his heart, he was still a kid, a very playful, fun loving kid.

She loved it; she loved the combination of everything that made Buck... Buck. Pulling his head down she gave him a resounding kiss. "Let's do some celebrating right now," she whispered. "And tomorrow... tomorrow we'll just enjoy our daughter's birthday. We'll go back to thinking mature after that, deal?"

"Deal, definitely," he breathed, deepening the kiss. Then he took her in his arms and laughing with joy ran with her to the bedroom.

Chapter 4
Wilmington's residence- 9.00 a.m. - Saturday

A horn sounded as soon as Chris, Vin, Linda and Kelli got out of the big black Ram. Looking up in surprise, they saw a pink and silver explosion flying straight at them. Sarah was inside it, squealing with delight and Buck was running after her, shouting at the top of his lungs for her to stop immediately.

"What the hell," Vin stammered, looking at the strange scene. "Damn, that's a real car! What did Buck do now?"

"Yep," Linda smirked. "She loves it, Chris, she definitely does!"

"I wonder what Inez is thinking right now," Chris sighed, still a bit apprehensive despite Linda's reassurances on the way home last night. This didn't look like the thing to put Inez in a better mood about Buck's gift.

"Uncl' Chris, Uncl' Vin, look!" Sarah was yelling, still aiming for them unerringly and coming at full speed. "Look! I have a car!"

"SARAH CHRISTINA WILMINGTON, STOP RIGHT THIS MINUTE!" Buck hollered. Sarah didn't pay him any mind and didn't stop until she could do it right before her uncles' toes. She was giggling when she looked back at her father.

"Daddy! You are too slow!"

"I am not! You get out there and race with me girl, then we'll see who's too slow!"

"YEAH!" the happy girl screamed, jumping out of her little truck. "Uncl' Chris, come! She ran off immediately and her father spurted behind her with a groan. Chris smiled and ran after them. Just when Buck was ready to grab his girl and tickle her mercilessly, Chris caught up, picked Sarah from the ground and ran away with her.

"HEY!" Buck roared. "Damn it Chris, not fair, I've been running all morning! Vin, stop them!" Vin grinned and jumped in front of Chris, arms held wide. Green and blue eyes flashed at each other, Chris tried to avoid the inevitable, but soon there was a heap of three men and one little girl on the ground. Chris tried vainly to keep the others from tickling the giggling birthday girl and soon got the full load himself. This made Sarah pound on Buck and Vin relentlessly.

The group didn't stay a foursome very long. With a loud "Me too!" a little whirlwind jumped right into the fun.

"OUCH, MARIA, my nose!" Buck could be heard yelling and then none of the onlookers could make head or tale from the whirling arms and legs. In the end, they all ended tickling Buck, Chris and Sarah on one side of him, Vin and Maria on the other. The rogue started to sound desperate when finally Inez took pity on him and moved in to save her man.

Soon they were all standing around, the women brushing grass and dirt off the men and the girls dancing up and down, yelling for more. Inez was firm though. "No ladies, first we're going to drink something, I think these guys need coffee, badly. Besides, maybe they have a present for you, Sarah?"

"Nah," Vin teased. "The little girl has a car. Figured she didn't need any other present."

"OOOH!" Sarah squealed. "OOOH! Aunt Kelli, he should give me a present, yes? He should! Or," her little face crunched up and solemnly she stated, "Or you can not have a piece of my birthday cake. And it's the bestest birthday cake. I know, 'cause Aunt Nettie made it herself! So there!"

"Aaah," Vin gasped, grabbing with two hands at his heart. "A birthday cake by Miss Nettie? Oh, you have to give me some, you have to!" The girls started giggling again. "Oh, alright, you want a present before I can have some cake? Here it is!" Vin opened the back door and got out a flat present, wrapped in silvery paper and tied with a pink bow.

Buck grinned when he saw it. "See stud?" he whispered to Chris. "Pink and silver, it's all the color for little girls. Vin and Kelli don't seem to think it's ghastly."

"Buck, it's ghastly!"

Sarah didn't pay them any mind, she was tearing off the paper, despite Inez's admonition to wait until she was inside. Her mouth formed a big O when she saw what was inside and for a moment, she was speechless.

It was a pink and silver princess's dress, with lots of lace, a little crown, a necklace and even a little ring and slippers. The little girl stared at it with reverence, then she carefully put it on the ground and before any of the adults knew what hit them she had kicked off her shoes and ripped her dress over her head.

"Sarah, stop that!" Inez gasped. "Buck, do something!"

"Me? Why me?"

"Because she does this kind of thing only after she's seen you running around the house naked! Stop her!"

"She only wants to put on her new dress!"

It was true; Sarah was trying to see how to get the dress out of the plastic package, her eyes shining. She hadn't heard a word her parents had been saying. "Come here and I'll help," Vin smiled. "You can open it here, see? Now, I think this is for the back...."

Sarah and Maria immediately started to giggle. "Silly Uncl' Vin! That's not the back! Look, it has flowers there! The flowers must be in the front!"

"Really? The flowers in the front?"

"Vin, please, just get her dressed before someone else gets here," Inez told him a bit pertly. "She's taking her clothes off way too easy as it is!" A glare went in the direction of Buck, who wisely decided to ignore it. Soon the proud little girl was standing before them in a long, flowing pink robe, with lots of silver lace and tiny silver flowers. A silver crown with pink roses rested on her long, brown hair, a necklace gleamed around her throat, a big pink ruby adorned her hand and on her feet, she was wearing pink and silver slippers. Buck had disappeared for a while, but now he was back with a whirling video recorder, muttering something about JD getting his ass over here so he could take over the camera.

Sarah was oblivious to the camera and so was Maria, who was staring in adoration and clearly jealous of her older sister. When Sarah threw her arms wide and twirled around in front of the amused adults, her lower lip started to quiver. Everyone shared a concerned look and then Vin hastily crouched next to her. "Hey," he whispered, "You didn't think I'd come here to a party and not bring you anything? So, me 'n Kelli got something for you too."

"W... weally?" the little girl asked.

"Really," Vin nodded. "Here."

Out of a bright blue paper came a lovely bear, about 14 inches tall, with a big nose and an adorable grin on his furry face. "OH!" Maria yelped and then she hugged the bear tight.

"I love him," she told Vin with shining eyes.

"You know, this ain't just a bear, it's a special bear."

"Oooh... yes?"

"Yeah. This here bear can sing 'n dance. You just have to squeeze his paw. Come on, let's see." They put the bear down and soon they all stared at the wiggling and singing toy. The two girls gazed on in admiration, the adults in a kind of horrid fascination.

"Uh... can he do more than one song, Vin?" Buck finally asked after the fourth repetition.

"Nah, don't think so. It's just this one, ain't he adorable?"

Buck groaned and Inez sighed. "You do realize we'll have to listen to that same tune thousands of times during the day now, don't you?"

Vin looked up at her with big, innocent eyes. "Aw, Inez, I know you and Buck won't mind that! Look how she loves it!" Then he grinned impudently.

Buck scowled, but Inez suddenly smiled. "Maria, dear, you really love your bear, don't you?"

"Oh, yes!" the one year old nodded vigorously, while she squeezed the paw again for the song and dance.

"So the next time you are staying with your Uncle Vin, we will bring him too, alright, sweetheart?"

"OH YES! YES! Uncl' Vin, please?"

Vin suddenly looked a lot less smug while he assured the little girl that the bear could come too. Happily, the little girl squeezed the paw yet again and Vin looked a bit disgruntled at a smirking Kelli. "Hell, you'll be around that bear all day as well, Kel, so I don't see what you gotta laugh about," he grumbled at her. The smirk grew.

"I think I'll be VERY busy with the horses, Tanner," she replied archly.

"Traitor," Vin murmured.

Now Chris approached Maria with a packet as well. "Hey girl, I've got you something too," he smiled. Anxiously the little girl put down her bear, squeezed the paw so it would sing again and tore up the paper.

"A BABY!" she squealed. "A baby like aunt M'lory!" She was holding a little carrier basket with a plush baby doll under a blanket. When she pulled it out wildly to give it a hug, a plush milk bottle, a diaper and a little plush teddy bear showed up. "Oooh, a bear. Baby has a bear like me!" Immediately she held out the baby doll to her bear.

"Look Bear, a baby!"

"This is great for her!" Inez smiled. "You've all noticed too how she adores Adam? Maria, shouldn't you say something?"


"Maria! You should say thank you! Come on, say thank you to your uncles!"

"Thank you," she mumbled, not looking up at her two proud uncles, but busying herself with placing the baby doll back in its bed with the little teddy in its arms. "He's Adam," she stated proudly. Then she took her own bear in a fierce hug and looked at the adults with shining eyes.

"Give it up, Inez," Linda laughed when she saw the frown on the beautiful brunette's face. "She'll learn. Maybe."

"Yes, well, maybe we now really should get inside and I'll get you all some coffee."

"But... but Mom...." Sarah started, looking a bit forlorn.

"Yes, dear?"

"I... I...," Sarah looked helplessly at her mother and then at her uncle Chris. "I...."

Chris smiled and knelt down, so he was at the same level with her. "You were waiting for a birthday present from me?"

Vigorously she nodded, all lessons from her mother about not asking for gifts totally forgotten.

"Well, I DO have something for you," Chris teased. "But I don't know.... It's in the back of the truck and you being such a lovely princess right now.... I guess you couldn't climb in there anymore."

Immediately Sarah started to open up her dress, all ready to take it off again, determination on her face.


"Uh... alright Inez, sorry." Ignoring the snickers around him, Chris took his niece in his arms and walked to the back of the Ram. "I'll help. Here you go. It's under that blanket." Soon he was with her in the back of the truck, helping her to remove the blanket and the rope binding it around whatever was laying there. When they finally had gotten it uncovered, a long wooden cage could be seen, lying on its back with the legs sticking out towards them. Between those legs a bale of straw and a bale of hay were resting. Sarah was staring at it in wonder.

"Do you know what it is, Sarah?"

"M... maybe...." Huge eyes were looking at him imploringly; the little girl was clearly stunned and also a little frightened that she might have it wrong.

Chris smiled at her. "Perhaps something is still missing from it, don't you think?"

"M... maybe...," Sarah stammered again. Chris ruffled her hair and leaned over the side of the truck, where Linda stood ready to give him something. He turned back with a box in his hands. Carefully he placed it before the little girl. She looked at it and then she looked at him.

"Come on, little munchkin, you open it," he whispered.

A small nod and then her hands carefully opened the top of the box.

"OH," she breathed. "Oh...."

"You can take her out, she's very tame."

"I... I can?"

"Yes, and when you take her out everyday, pet her everyday, then she will stay tame and she will become your best friend. But only if you don't forget to take her out and pet her. So, why don't you try it?"

Her hands went into the box eagerly. Chris directed her. "This one here see, so you can take her up and then you put your arm under her, here. Easy, you have to cuddle her very, very gently."

"Oh!" Sarah breathed again. Then she plopped down, holding the little dark grey rabbit carefully in her lap. "Oh!" Softly she caressed it and soon the little animal relaxed enough to start sniffing at her.

That brought forth a happy laughter. With shining eyes, Sarah looked up at her uncle and stated, "I think she likes me!"

"See?" Buck had sidled up to his wife, who stood gazing happily at her two little girls, so he could whisper in her ear. "I told you they always find ways to top our presents? And the others haven't even arrived yet!"

"You could've thought about a rabbit yourself, lover boy," Inez whispered back, with a mischievous grin on her face. "Just a little rabbit, instead of immediately wanting to buy her a pony! It doesn't always have to be big to be appreciated!"

"Really?" he was nuzzling her neck now. "That cage is pretty damn big, though. You knew he was gonna do this, didn't you?"

"You never buy an animal for a child without consulting the parents first!"

"No one asked me!"

"I was going to talk with you about it and then you came with that stupid pony plan! It riled me up good and I completely forgot about it. When Chris called to ask if we had thought it over, I decided that someone who wanted to bring a pony in the house wouldn't mind a tiny little rabbit."

"Aw, lady, and you just wanted me to pay a little more. I'm still not completely off the hook, am I?"

"Nope! But you can make it up to me tonight!"

"I thought I did that last night?"

"OH NO! That was for the car! You still owe me some more for that Pony. Now, when are you all going to tell her about the riding lessons?"

He grinned. "Chris wanted to do that tomorrow, during the barbecue, spread the wealth a little. Seeing what he brought now I can understand why. Man, he needs to get a child of his own again or he's going to spoil ours rotten!"

"Like you are any better! Or Vin!"

"Well.... Do you think we can get her away from the rabbit long enough to celebrate the rest of her birthday?"

"Why don't you say 'car' to her and I'm sure she's ready to race us all to the house!"

"I can't believe you just said that! You hate that car."

"Well, it does take some getting used to.... But, as long as you are the one running behind it to see that everything goes all right, I guess I can live with it. And she truly loves it, I have to admit...."

A moment later, a speeding pink and silver truck with a happy pink and silver princess in it was racing towards the house. Her laughing dad jogged behind it, with his second little girl on his neck, who was holding on tightly to a bear and a baby carrier. Before the others started walking after them, Inez pointedly looked from the departing trio to the box in Chris' hands and shook her head.

"And I'm going to keep these kids from becoming spoiled brats, how?" she asked with a sigh. Chris and Vin only grinned wolfishly at her and hastily followed the birthday girl with her father and sister.

"It's a losing battle," Linda stated. "You don't know how many addresses we've been to so Chris could find just the right rabbit for her!"

"And all those toy stores! I don't ever want to see the inside of a toy store again!" Kelli added. "Nope, you ain't got a chance in hell, Inez."

"Not even a small one," Linda agreed.

Inez threw her hands up in surrender. "And look, there comes the rest of the cavalry. Oh, I can at least go and see what they have thought up for the little princess!"

Wilmington's residence - 2.30 p.m.

"Maria's finally sleeping," Inez sighed, rolling up on the couch beside Buck and putting her head in his lap. "With her bear tightly in her arms and her baby on the dresser next to her bed, so she can look at it. And you can't begin to imagine what a hard time I had getting her to take off the bracelet Casey and JD gave her." She smiled looking at their now three year old, sitting in the middle of the living room in her princess's dress, the crown beside her on the ground, surrounded by her new toys.

"Buck, do you think the computer games JD gave her are really suited for a three year old?"

"Don't worry, I'll test them first."

"I bet you will! All night long probably!"

"Nah, not all night long," he leered at her. "Never all night long. Got something else I wanna do then."

She swatted him. "Buck Wilmington, you will never change!"

"And that's what you love about me!" He grinned impudently and wagged his eyebrows at her. "It was a good day, wasn't it? Everyone had a great time."

"Yes, it was. And did you see Joanne? Mallory is very worried, because she still ignores Adam, pretends he isn't there. She can get very upset when Mallory has to take care of him or wants to spend some time with him. It's almost half a year now and she still doesn't seem to change her attitude. But today she was playing with Maria's baby doll and she took real good care of it, like she really adored it!"

"Maria was hovering over her and yelling at her the minute she did something wrong," Buck smiled, remembering. "I think you were busy in the kitchen just then. It was so funny, our little girl hovering over big three-year-old Joanne and telling her she shouldn't do certain things or she would hurt the baby, or upset it! You know what Joanne said? She said, 'I don't care, I don't like babies' and Maria hit her, just punched her in the nose and took away her doll, telling it that she did love it."

"Was that why Joanne was crying?"

"Yep. But Josiah didn't want me to interfere. He was hoping Maria would get through to Joanne, where they couldn't. I don't know if it worked, but she did play with the doll later on."

"Mallory is going to buy it first thing Monday," Inez said softly. "I hope it helps. Buck, I'm really glad that Sarah never reacted that way. But what if they do when we have another child? We've been talking about it for some time now, but what if they get jealous this time? I don't really think Sarah will, she accepted Maria without problems, only, how about Maria?"

"Honey, the way that kid was doting on her baby doll and is trying to hold Adam, pet him and help take care of him if she gets the chance even as small as she is, I think you'd better worry about her not trying to take over your mother role," Buck laughed.

"She is doting on Adam, isn't she?" Inez agreed. "Maybe that is getting even more through to Joanne then the baby doll. You know, maybe it's not such a bad idea to have Maria stay a day over at the Sanchez's from time to time. When Joanne sees Maria with Adam a little more, she might notice a baby brother can be fun."

Buck took her lips in a sweet, long kiss. "You are something else, lady. I think it's a wonderful idea. Why don't you propose it to Mallory tomorrow, at the barbecue?"

"I will." She answered his long kiss with a passionate one of her own. For a moment they were lost in each other, but suddenly a little body squirmed her way between them. With a happy sigh, Sarah made herself comfortable. The two adults grinned at each other.

"Was it a good day, munchkin?" Buck asked, ruffling her hair.

"DAD! Not a munchkin!"

Buck grinned. "Alright, little princess. Now please answer me, your highness, was it a good day?"

Sarah giggled. "YES!" she said with fervor. She sagged against them and closed her eyes. "Tired?" Inez asked softly.

"Oh no!" The brown eyes flew open immediately. "No, mommy, I'm not tired! Really!"

Inez smiled at her and ruffled the dark hair. "Don't worry, sweetheart, you don't have to go to bed. Hey, you're three years old now!"

"Yeah, I'm BIG!"

"Sure you are, munchkin," Buck grinned. "And, is there something you'd like to do right now?"

"Eat some more cake?"

"You know it's all gone."

"Ride my car!"

Buck snorted. "You've ridden it so often today that the batteries are empty, that's why it stopped. It is in the garage now until the batteries are full again."

"Oh." Sarah clearly didn't understand a word he said, except car driving was out. She fell silent, a look of longing on her face.

"Sarah? What is it, dear?"

"Well, I... I thought.... Mom, now ever' one is gone, can I sit with my rabbit? Uncl' Chris said I have to hold it real often, ever'day! So we can be good friends."

"He said that, huh?" Inez asked, frowning.

"He told me too, Inez. A rabbit's brain is so small that if you don't hold him everyday, he forgets you eventually and turns wild again."

An eyebrow raised in the handsome face of the feisty brunette. "Is that a fact?"


"Oh, alright! I will look it up though, to see that you two aren't spinning me a tale so I let her hold it as often as she wants. It is a rabbit, not a dog!"

"Mommy, please? It's so cute!"

A moment later Sarah was sitting on the couch, holding the tiny, gray rabbit and petting it, talking softly to it. Buck and Inez were quietly cleaning the house around her.

"I call her Pony," the three year old suddenly stated.

"P... Pony?" Buck managed to get out without choking.

"Yeah. Pony is Chris' most loved animal in all the world, even if he is old now. And this is my most loved animal. So I call her Pony too."

"Oh, yeah...." Buck looked helplessly at Inez who just grinned. Children's logic was hard to fight.

When the house was completely neat and tidy again, Inez kneeled before her eldest, who was still holding the little rabbit. It was lying quietly, contently in her lap, clearly not minding the soft, endless petting.

"I think it's time to put her in her rabbit hutch outside, Sarah."

"OH! Oh no, she will be so lonely there! You can't put her in there all alone!"

"Sarah, it's a beautiful rabbit hutch, with lots of hay and straw just like rabbits want it! It's the best place for her, her own little house."

"I don't care, its mean," Sarah told her stubbornly.

"It's a rabbit, sweetheart, not a dog or cat! It's not meant to be inside!"

"MOM! Dad, Mom wants to put Pony all alone outside!"

"Buck, don't you dare side with her in this! Buck?"

That night a very happy three year old went to bed with a beautiful pink truck standing beside her bed and a big rabbit hutch filling up one wall, where until then a dresser had been standing. In her arms she was holding her dancing Dora the Explorer doll and between her and the wall a big, stuffed dog was squeezed. A beautiful princess dress was hanging on a hook.

When they looked in on her before going to bed themselves, the look of utter bliss on the face of their sleeping eldest made the wonderful day complete for Buck and Inez.

Chapter 5
Larabee 7 - Monday

The best way Vin knew to start off Monday morning was to make love to his wife. He woke her to gentle kisses and the sound of his soft sexy drawl whispering softy in her ear. "Morning, Texas." It did not take long for them to become lost in each other and the outside world closed off completely. The Texan held on to her for a long while afterward, not wanting to give up the intimacy they had created with their morning's love session. In the end, the clock refused to stop the time and they reluctantly decided they would have to leave their private world to face the day

"Chris is going in early and that means that you and I get the horses this morning, if you're good I'll treat you to breakfast first." Tanner coaxed his woman out of bed with a kiss and the promise of a "Tanner special" for breakfast.

MCAT Office

Josiah had been in the office since five and was no closer to an answer now, than when he had started. He had read everything he could get his hands on concerning 'The Soledad' and it just did not made sense that now, after five years they would be back. If there had been any survivors, it was only logical that a comeback would have been much sooner. Nevertheless, facts were fact and there was definitely something on the horizon, but he felt he was missing a piece of the puzzle, a very important piece. The ding of the elevator told him he was not longer alone, looking at his watch he knew it was Chris.

"Morning Boss."

"Josiah, you spend the night here?"

"I came in early to get some work done. I wanted to get a head start on this if I could, but so far ..." Josiah shook his head in frustration and sighed. "I did map out incidents that happened over the weekend that might be related to this OMG, but nothing conclusive.

Chris laid a hand on his shoulder, "Don't rush it, we'll check them out and see where it takes us."

The elevator ding sounded again and Vin and Buck made their entrance, quickly followed by the other agents. There was laughter and a lot of talk about the barbecue they had all attended the day before at Chris' ranch house. Number one on the list to discuss was JD and Casey's announcement about having twins and number two was Ross's apparent fear of horses.

"Ross, you want me to set up riding lessons for your kids, too?" Buck grinned and could not resist a new target to tease.

"No! I still cannot believe you are going to let your little girl have riding lessons already. Was that a serious birthday present?" Ross asked Buck. He shook his head. "No way will my girl ever be allowed on one of those huge, dangerous animals!"

Buck slapped him on the back and grinned. "Spoken like a true city boy, Ross, spoken like a true city boy! I swear I saw you blanch when we showed you all the stables and you realized some of them actually had horses inside. And were you really trying to keep your kids from petting them?"

"He didn't have much luck with that," Justin grinned. "As soon as you weren't paying attention anymore Ross, they snuck off with my youngest to get inside the stables again."

"They did? Why, those disobedient brats!" Ross shook his head. "What ever do they see in those frightening monsters?"

Laughter and teasing followed his statement. However, the banter only took as long as was needed to get the first coffee for everyone. All were eager to work on the new case and waited anxiously for their assignments. Once they were all settled Vin made an announcement. "We meet in the war room at eleven, until then work your sources and gather whatever information you can." He turned to Chris, "First man is ready to interview whenever you're ready.

"Bring him on, let's get this done." Chris kept walking as Tanner called the first man into Larabee's office. The meeting was brief, although the man was certainly qualified, Chris just did not see him fitting in with this team. The same was true of the second candidate that came in wanting to be a part of this unit. Vin came in as the last man left. Larabee sighed, "Okay where is this guy you told me about?"

"He still has twenty minutes to get here. I didn't expect you to go through the first two so quickly." Vin smirked, "You were kinda rushed with the first ones."

"I know, but I just don't see either of them making it with this bunch." The two men stood outside Chris' office. "I hope this other guy is better suited for us than the last ones were. What's his name again?"

"Cordova, Raphael and I think you'll like him... that must be him, now." Vin stopped as he observed the new man enter the bullpen. He was lean, but well built, dark features and was what most people would call good looking. The man halted at the door and scanned the room; suddenly he smiled as he recognized someone he knew. Moving quietly, he walked up behind Kelli and tugged at her hair, she quickly turned ready to do battle when she stopped and grinned. Neither Chris nor Vin could hear what was said, but it was obviously friendly banter.

She did have a life before you met her, Vin, probably knows a lot of people you don't.

Yeah, I reckon.

Chris smiled, Tanner may not exactly be jealous, but he was definitely interested in knowing more about the man his wife seemed to know rather well. "I supposed you plan to sit in on this one." He saw Kelli point towards them, directing her friend to the right office.

Hell, yes.

Thought so.

Raphael Cordova approached them, Chris held out his hand introducing himself and Tanner. "Come on in and we'll get started." Vin leaned against the credenza and said nothing, leaving the questions for Larabee to ask. Raphael sat opposite Chris apparently at ease with himself and the questions.

"I have read your record and Captain Tanner gave me a report on your phone interview. I know you are forty-three years old, a damn good pilot, have been with the DEA fifteen years and are a Marine Veteran. Tell me what I do not know. Why do you want to be a part of this Unit?"

Raphael studied the man in front of him. "Probably for the same reason you do. I want a chance to make some kind of difference out there and have the resources to do it. We do good work at the DEA, but we will never get rid of the drugs coming into this country. The best we can do is slow some of it down and in the process save some lives, but not enough unfortunately. I want to be able to make the future safer for my children and I believe MCAT can help do that. I have already tendered my resignation to the DEA and if you don't want me then I will retire because what I am doing now is not enough to keep me going another twenty years.

Chris liked this quiet spoken man for some reason, but before he said anything definite he wanted to head off any potential conflict." I noticed that you already are on familiar terms with one of my agents. How do you know Agent Coulter?"

"Blaze?" He grinned, "Six years ago I was assigned a case in the south part of Texas and got a redheaded, hot-tempered rookie to work with that did not know the first thing about the DEA or how we operated. That did not stop her though, she jumped in with both feet, she was good with a gun, but quickly found out she was in over her head with the rest of it. It did not take me long to find out that rules and regulations were not part of her vocabulary and neither was the word quit. For that reason, I decided that I either had to teach her how to survive in that kind or operation or see her get killed trying. I was hard on her, but she learned to follow the rules at least some of the time and turned out to be a damn good agent. Besides, she reminded me too much of my own daughter and I just could not see her hurt, without at least attempting to get through that hard head and teach her how to stay alive."

"You have a daughter?"

"Actually, I have two of them; Selina is twenty-four and is with the police force here in Denver. Alicia is twenty-two, married and lives in Boulder, with her husband and my one-year old granddaughter. I lost my wife twelve years ago and it has been the girls and me ever since. I want to safeguard their future, as well as my grandchild's and they are the reason I applied to be part of your unit."

Chris nodded and exchanged a look with Vin. "We have a helicopter coming by the end of the week; it will be your baby. Do you have any questions?

"Just one," he turned to address Tanner. "Are you satisfied that I'm not interested in your wife for any thing other than friendship?" Sensing Vin's discomfort he added with a smile," She told me. In fact she was quiet pleased to point out her fearless husband, a legend with any rifle."

The Texan blushed and smiled, "Yeah 'm satisfied and 'm glad you took the time to teach her how to stay alive. But, Blaze?"

Raphael gave him a slow grin, "She hates it, but it fits with her hair and her temper,"

Chris stood up, "Welcome to the team. When can you start?"

"I'm ready, as soon as you do the paperwork. I told you I either would retire or work with MCAT, I moved here to Denver over the weekend to be closer to my girls whichever way it worked out."

"In that case, find an empty desk and start filling out the papers in this packet for personnel. I'll take care of the rest." Chris handed him the documents and watched him walk out. "Hard to believe he has grown children, he is only a year younger than me."

"I hate to break it to you Cowboy, but you are old enough to have grown children, too."

"Yeah, I guess so... If I started as young as Cordova evidently did then, yeah, I could. Adam wasn't born until I was almost thirty and he would have been fourteen this year." Chris had a faraway look in his eyes.

Vin decided to bring him back. "We got a pilot, now get Travis moving on that bird so he'll have something to fly."

"Right, I want to check on what he has Linda doing anyway. Move them to the war room in ten minutes and ask Rafael to join us."

War Room

As the agents sat and waited for Chris, they could not help but notice little pin makers on the big map on the wall and several crates sitting on the floor. Curiosity mixed with a tingle of excitement kept them alert and ready for the next step.

Larabee walked in, "First a couple of announcements, By Friday we will have our own helicopter and we now have a new agent that will also be our pilot. Raphael Cordova this is your new team. Take your time with the names, but feel free to ask any of them for help if you need it. Now, we move on to other business." He had folders prepared to hand out and was ready to put the agents to work with their assignments. "Over the weekend there were several incident reports that could be related to our OMG. We are going to take a second look at each one. Buck, you and Mark take this mornings' multiple homicide in Aurora; Bones, as well as Kat are already there, see what you can find. Nathan, take Justin and check out the clinic break in Commerce City, reportedly a large quantity of drugs disappeared. Ezra, you and Kelli take a trip to Eldorado Springs, home invasion with injuries. Ross, Paul, you two will work with Josiah and go through these crates of files. They hold hard copies of every reported crime attributed to The Soledad in Detroit. JD and Pam will load the information into Cassie, but I want human eyes on it first. We meet again at four, let's roll out!"

"Raphael, Captain Tanner will show you around and get you settled in. "Chris went back to his office to make some calls.


Buck and Mark made it to the scene before the coroner finished preliminaries on the bodies, identifying themselves to the detectives in charge. Bones had already claimed jurisdiction and the DPD was not happy about it at all. The senior officer on the site appealed to Wilmington to reason with the good Doctor.

"Well see, I can't do that. First, he has the right to call this scene and second, I am taking over this investigation. You can help or get out of the way." Buck waited for the officer's answer, while Mark smirked in the background.

"Shit! I suppose next you expect us to take directions from you?"

"Talk to your Captain and then let me know." Buck walked off leaving the detective reaching for his phone and joined Bones for his report.

Bones was ready for him. "Three males, dead less than two hours, probable cause of death gunshot, but I think this will interest you." He knelt by the bodies, "Come on they can't hurt you, they're dead." Buck reluctantly knelt down beside him. "All three had the same thing attached to their bodies," he pulled their coats back.

"Holy mother of God! Bones, I want you to back up with me now! Mark, clear the area and don't be slow about it!" Buck pulled the doctor along with him and when he reached the other officers issued more orders." Call the bomb squad and clear every one for a five-block radius. NOW! Each of those men has a belt of explosives attached to their waist, enough to do some serious damage".

Commerce City

Nathan and Justin tracked down the director of the clinic and had a list of the items stolen. "You don't seem to be too upset about losing this many drugs." Justin observed.

"We just count ourselves lucky that is all that happened." The director answered.

Nathan stopped walking. "What does that mean?"

We are the tenth clinic that has been hit, some were vandalized, some trashed pretty badly and two had female employees that were raped. That's why we were lucky to only lose some drugs."

"There are no reports on any of that with the police. Why not?"

"I guess, because they are smaller clinics that work with volunteers and because they were warned not to. They did not leave us a warning and due to insurance requirements I had to report ours."

Jackson felt a chill run down his spine, "I want the names of every one of them, now." The man started making a list.

Eldorado Springs

"Mr. Madera, we will need to speak to the young lady that was here when the incident occurred." Ezra requested.

"You would be wasting your time, as I explained to the local police, it was all a misunderstanding. The girl that works for me just panicked here by herself. She overreacted to some boisterous coworkers of mine. I assure you it was nothing, I am sorry you made this long trip for no reason, but I am glad to see that law enforcement responds so promptly to possible crime." Madera tried to shepherd them toward the door.

"It was a long drive, do you mind if I use your facilities before we head back to Denver? Kelli asked sweetly.

Paul Madera hesitated for a moment and then said," Of course, upstairs and to your left."

Ezra kept the man engaged in conversation as he watched his partner slip towards the back of the house. He hoped that she knew what in the hell she was doing, but just in case she did not; he planned to give her a long lecture on the way home. After five minutes, he saw her coming back and distracted Madera long enough for her to make a noticeable entrance from the stairs.

"Thanks, we'll be on our way now and sorry to have bothered you." Kelli smiled, "Come on Standish, maybe this time you'll let me drive."

Ezra held back his remarks until they were outside. "Just what do you think you're doing? We were not through with him."

"Oh yes we are and we need to leave, now. I'll explain once we get away from here." She urged him to hurry.

Inside the house, Paul Madera made a phone call. "Two federal agents were just here. I DO NOT want them to make it back to Denver alive. It must look like an accident with no ties to me. The car is a late model, emerald green Jag XKR, Colorado plates, license number 542-ICC.

MCAT Office

Vin came into Chris' office." Buck just called, they ran into a problem in Aurora, three DB's and all of 'm have an explosives belt attached to 'em. Bomb squad is there now and they evacuated five city blocks. As soon as they give the all clear, Bones is gonna take 'em and try to identify the bodies. Buck will go to work tracin' down the source of the explosives. I told Bucklin to make sure he keeps his ass in one piece out there."

"Damn, have you heard from Nathan or Ezra?"

"Nate is on his way in; he said he had some information that looked promisin'. There is still no word from Ezra and Kel."

Chris picked up the phone, "I'll coordinate with Buck while you get on the other line to find Ezra. I have a bad feeling about all this." Both men began to call.


"Mark, dammit, what in the hell do you think you are doing? You plan on dying today, son?" Buck reached the younger man and dragged him back behind the line. The fierce look he gave him made sure he stayed there, while he answered his cell phone, putting an end to that irritating musical ring. "Wilmington!"

"Buck, what in the hell is going on down there?"

He took a deep breath and counted to ten before he answered. "Chris, we've got it covered. The business owner was tired of being harassed and sat in his store all night with a twelve-gage shotgun, waiting. Our three perps showed up at six this morning and he blasted 'em. I don't know what they had planned, but all three had explosives strapped to their bodies. The bomb squad has removed the belts and neutralized the threat. As soon as I get the particulars from them we are headed in, Bones has already transported the bodies and will try to ID them."

"Before you come in find out how many other businesses in the area are having the same problem and not reporting it. Watch your back."

"You got it, Boss." Buck called Mark over and shook his head over Westin's eagerness. "Relax junior, now we do some old fashioned foot work and start interviewing the other business owners on the street."

"What about the explosives?" Mark asked, disappointment written all over his face.

They will still be there when we finish. The sooner we start the sooner we move on to tracking down the sources."

Eldorado Springs

"Do you at this time have an inclination to enlighten me as to the reason for our premature departure? Ezra was clearly irritated with his young partner.

"You don't really believe that bull that Madera was givin' us." Kelli countered.

"No, however, by engaging the man in dialogue we had the potential to reveal his true intent."

"Maybe, or we could have ended up the same as the young woman that called the police." She dug a plastic bag out of her pocket. "If we find her body, I'd bet you anything this blood will match it." In the bag was blood evidence she collected.

"Where did you find this?"

Kelli grimaced, "In the same room that had enough firepower in it to start a small war. I tell you Ez that man has a million bucks worth of firearms in that back room, state of the art stuff. Not somethin' your traditional hunter or collector would have, nor likely to be missed by criminals lookin' for loot to steal."

"Call Chris, have them start running a check on Paul Madera, the man is definitely a major player in some illicit enterprise. You did not happen to confiscate his prints did you?"

She smiled and produced another bags, "Well, as a matter of fact, I picked up his glass from the coffee table on my way out." Kelli tried the cell and got no signal. "We'll have to call when we get away from these mountains."

"You do realize that you threw the rule book out the window?" Truthfully, Standish had no problem with it, but did not want Larabee or Tanner to think he was corrupting Coulter.

"Rule book? You mean we are supposed to follow rules. Hell, I suppose you'll have to tell 'em to me as we go along. I've never been to keen on rules and regulations."

Ezra laughed, thinking maybe he had someone to work with that saw things from his own point of view. When he glanced in the rear view mirror, he stopped laughing. "We have company, make sure you are buckled up and hang on." He stepped on the accelerator and the powerful engine roared, pushing the Jag for more speed.

Chapter 6
MCAT Office

Chris looked at the wall clock and his concern increased. Four o'clock and there was still no word from Standish or Coulter, hell even allowing for a two-hour interview, plus a long lunch they should be in range for their phones to work. He watched Tanner pace with his phone in his hand, hitting the redial button every two minutes. "Vin, it's time." Chris knew the Texan's mind was somewhere between here and Eldorado Springs, but had no doubt that Tanner would do his job. If those two were out there leisurely taking their own sweet time getting back, Lord help them because first Chris intended to read them the riot act and then turn Tanner loose on 'em.

Vin looked up, "I'll have 'em in there in two minutes." He pushed the redial button one more time and still could not get through. He directed the rest of the agents to the war room and halfheartedly joined them.

+ + + + + + +

For over thirty minutes, Standish had driven the winding mountain roads at speeds in excess of one hundred miles per hour. No matter which direction he went, he was not able to shake their shadow. At the top of the next rise, another vehicle joined the chase from the opposite direction intending to force the Jag off the road and over the side of the mountain. It was only due to Ezra's driving skills and the precision handling of his car that he avoided the move and the other two cars hit head-on. The momentum of the impact sent them both flying over the guardrail to the rocks below. The Jag slid and came to rest against the inside of the curve after bouncing over more than one area of rocks.

Once the car stopped, neither passenger moved for a full minute. Finally Ezra rallied, "Kel, are you alright?"

"I think so, you?"

"We seem to have fared better than our adversaries; I daresay they will not be going anywhere." He opened the door and exited the vehicle helping Kelli out the through driver's area since a wall of solid rock blocked the passenger side. Taking a good look at the damage to his Jag, Ezra felt sick. "Good Lord!"

"You did a great job of driving Ez, but even I know that there is no way we are gonna move this car." Kelli walked to the rear of Ezra's beloved car. "My truck might not do zero to sixty in 5.2, but I do have four wheel drive and that or a tow truck is the only way this Jag is movin' again." They both cringed when they heard another explosion from the burning vehicles below.

"Yes, we should obtain some assistance and report this, along with reaching headquarters to let them know where we are. The difficulty I see is that with the various roads we took to avoid our pursuers, I have no idea where that might be and our phones are still not working. I am certain though that we must stay together and trust no one because there may be a few more of their associates roaming around."

War Room

"We checked out the other clinics and found at least ten more that have been hit and not reported the incidents. JD has the information and is running it into CASSIE now." Nathan reported. "Dammit, those fools didn't even report that two woman were raped by these bastards."

"Rain is pulling out tomorrow, at least until this is over?" Chris wanted to make sure she was out of harm's way.

"Yep, she gave you her word and she intends to keep it. Tomorrow is her last day until after the baby is born." Nathan assured him.

"Buck, what did you find?"

"The same thing is happening with the small business owners we talked to, they are too scared to say much." Buck relayed their discoveries. "The only one willing to take a stand was the old man that shot those guys this morning. It's a good thing he did because they had enough explosive material on 'em to take out a few square blocks. The DA is calling it self defense and they are not filing charges on the old man." Buck looked at his notes. "Bones is hoping to ID them by tomorrow." He laughed, "I tell you that medical examiner was not happy when he found out Metfied had controlling authority over the autopsies and tried to intimidate our good doctor. He discovered real quick that he was out of his league, Bones just rolled over him and went to work."


Sanchez took his time to answer Larabee. "The only conclusion I can give you is that this is not the same gang that ran free in Detroit, but someone wants us to think that it is. As of right now, that could be just about anybody. What we need are some names to look at and try to connect someone to one or more of these incidents."


"We are feeding all of this information into CASSIE, plus the fingerprints from our dead guys and then we just have to wait and let her do her thing. She is fast, but it will still take her some time to assimilate all the facts we have given her."

"Okay, Nathan you stay with Rain tomorrow and help her close down, Buck you and Mark work on those explosives and see if you can find where they came from. Justin I want you to talk to some more business owners, take Raphael with you and start first thing in the morning. The rest of you continue with the assignments that you had today. We start fresh in the morning and by the end of the day I want some more names on that board, hopefully we will be able to connect one or two of them."

Tanner's phone rang and everyone froze. "Tanner... yes... let me talk to him. Ez, are you both okay? ... Yeah I know where that is ... Repeat that name ... okay I got it. We'll be there in about forty-five minutes." He turned to the others, his voice was calm, but the intense blaze in his blue eyes said otherwise. "There was an accident, but supposedly neither of 'm is hurt. Ezra's havin' the Jag towed and they need a ride, the State Police will have an officer with 'em until we get there. JD, Ez gave me a name he wants you to check out, Paul Madera, dig up whatever you can."

"I'll drive." Chris felt Tanner's disquiet and was already on his feet, "Buck, take over, the rest of you know what you have to do." He and Vin were out the door and gone before anyone had a chance to any questions.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Kelli decided to limit what they shared with the State Police, to the details of the 'accident' they witnessed. The rest of their experience they decided to keep to themselves until Chris and Vin arrived. At the pace the recovery was going, they were likely to be here before the wreckers moved any of the vehicles. Standish and Coulter knew that neither Larabee nor Tanner would be happy campers after their drive from Denver, thinking that carelessness was the cause of this accident.

As if their thoughts materialized them, a black Ram appeared on the scene and stopped abruptly. Two fierce looking men descended on the State Police. Chris immediately sought out the officer in charge, his angry strides carrying him forward. Vin's eyes narrowed when he saw the Jag wedged against the rock wall and he slowed to scan the area looking for his wife, visibly relieved when he saw that she was safe.

Ezra drew Kelli's attention to the Ram. "Prepare yourself; The Eagle and The Dragon have landed."

She laughed, "You take on the dragon and I'll take care of my eagle, strictly speakin' for myself, I kinda like the way he lands." She heard her partner grumble something about rats deserting a sinking ship as she moved to intercept the Texan that was now treading in their direction, his eyes angrily fixed on Standish.

Kelli easily stopped him with one word. "Tanner." She wrapped her arms around him, "It's not his fault and 'm fine."

Vin felt the tension that had taken over his body, since receiving that phone call, drain away and returned her embrace. For the moment, he did not care who was at fault, he was holding his main concern and the feel of her heart beating against his chest assured him she was alive. Taking a deep breath, he leaned back to make a visual assessment of the woman facing him, looking for any sign of injury. "You're sure?"

"Absolutely, but please don't ask for explanations until we are away from here. Just make sure Chris asks for a report on the occupants of the other vehicles. Tell him to go easy on Ez, because if it weren't for him, we might not have made it out of this alive."

Tanner was not about to leave her out in the open alone, until he knew more about what was going on, so he caught Larabee's attention and communicated the request without moving. Chris' nod was his answer. Vin led Kelli to the Ram ignoring her complaint about overprotective men. "You lady, stay put, I'll be back in a few minutes and don't worry about Ezra, Chris will hear him out before he says anythin'." Smiling at her disgruntled frown, he gave her a quick kiss and was gone.

The wrecker was ready for the Jag and Vin helped Standish move his personal items to the truck. Chris joined them and once the car was gone, he steered them all into his Ram. They sat in silence until the recovery of the other vehicles transpired and the state coroner took the bodies away. Turning in his seat to face Standish, his voice barely above a whisper he stated, "I've heard the bull and now I want the truth."

Ezra knew what Larabee was expecting to hear and did not disappoint him. "We initiated the interview with Mr. Madera and immediately were alerted to the fact that he was being less than truthful. I engaged him in a lengthily discussion allowing my colleague an opportunity to explore the premises under the ruse of need for the lavatory. Once she returned we concluded our business and departed. We immediately set course for the office and began to discuss our individual assessment of the meet. While doing so, we acquired unsolicited company that evidently intended to prevent us from reaching Denver. The mountains blocked the signals from our communications devices, leaving us with no opportunity to call for assistance. The ensuing thirty minutes I spent attempting to avoid the efforts of our pursuers to propel us off the face of the mountain. That ended with the mishap that we recounted to the police."

Chris inhaled deeply, "Kel, what do you have to say, anything to add?"

She shook her head, "No, what he said is good." Ezra's account amazed Kelli, all truthful, but told in a way that gave the impression they had preplanned their actions at the Madera home.

Vin read between the lines and felt his tension return. "What you mean to say Ez is that Kel took off on her own, you covered for her, whatever she saw or took, set off some alarms with Madera and then he sent the bastards out to kill both of you."

Ezra shrugged a shoulder, "You could put it that way."

Larabee silently laid his hand out palm up and Kelli gave him the plastic bags. "The man has an arsenal of new-fangled weapons in there and 'm willin' to bet none of them are registered." Chris turned the key, started the engine and began the long trip back to Denver. Ezra sat silently in the front wisely deciding that he had said enough.

Kelli sat in the back with Vin, who couldn't decide if he was upset with his wife's disregard for procedure or proud of her as an agent that had used her intelligence and relied on her instincts to lead her. Regardless, he was damn glad Standish used his head, along with his driving skills and kept them both alive. He pulled Kelli closer to his side, where she belonged, choosing to give her hell later about procedure and for now he would just be thankful she was okay.

By the time, they cleared the mountain area, it was almost seven, and Chris pulled over, got out of the truck and made a few phone calls. The first call was to Dr. Metfield alerting him about the bodies coming in from the accident. The second one was to Buck, arranging to meet him and the boys at the ranch. Last, he called Linda to let her know company was coming. Climbing back into the truck he chose to let the others know what was going to happen.

"Madera may already know that his men failed and you two are still alive, but we are not going to advertise that fact. Ezra, you have clothes at the ranch and you will be staying there for a few days. Kel, you're homebound, too." Larabee saw the satisfied smirk on Vin's face. "Tanner, don't get too happy, you can't show up at work when you supposedly just lost your wife. You will all stay out of the office, at least until we know who we are dealing with and I find the sonofabitch that tried to have two of my agents killed." Larabee raised his hand for silence. "No arguments. Now, we are going to the ranch, Linda will have dinner waiting and the boys will meet us there."

Larabee 7

After dinner, they all met in the den. Since Larabee knew that he was bringing his work to the ranch he allowed Linda to sit in, and listen, after all, she spent ninety per cent of her time here now. He would let her make the decision whether to stay or go back to her own home until this was over. Ezra repeated his story, this time in plain English, for the others to hear, while Chris had Kelli make a list of the weapons she saw at Madera's home.

"Wow! I bet it was hard to stay on the road taking those curves so fast." JD found the tale exciting, "How fast did you have to go Ezra?"

"The Jaguar is made with a high caliber of workmanship and has the ability to handle well under any circumstance or speed." Standish explained.

"Yeah, but how fast did you get her up to?"

Ezra started to answer the younger man, but noted the sharp look his partner gave him and reconsidered his answer. "Only fast enough to stay ahead of our pursuers." He saw her look toward Tanner, who was intently listening to the particulars of the dangerous chase and noticeably tensing with each revealed detail.

Chris watched the exchange and intervened, "Bottom line is they made it, the bad guys didn't. Bones will try to ID them for us, and Buck you get the lab on the evidence that our dynamic duo 'found' in the course of their investigation. JD you work with the Madera name unless the prints come up with a different one. Also, try to get a line on the woman that called in the home invasion report. Nathan as soon as you pack Rain out of that clinic, I want you to help Bones, with five dead bodies to ID I'm sure he could use your assistance. Kel, how is that list coming?"

"I wrote down the names I was sure about, the others I can only describe, but this is what I have so far." She handed the list to Vin.

The Texan let out a low whistle, "This is some serious firepower, enough to launch a small war."

"Vin, pull out your books, sit down with her and try to put some name to those descriptions, I want to know what we could be confronting. Ezra, tomorrow I want you and JD to work on that face-building program of his and get us a picture of this man, so the rest of us know what he looks like. You can use my computer to communicate with each other. Josiah, I know you have your own thoughts about this, you ready to share?"

Josiah shook his head, "Not yet, but I have an idea that is trying to take shape."

Chris nodded, "The one thing I want you all to remember is that until proven differently we are working two cases here, The Soledad and Madera. I have a feeling they might be connected, but until we find that connection, we stay with separate investigations. As soon as Madera knows his men failed, he might try another attempt. If he does, we will be ready for him. Tomorrow morning we will talk to the rest of the team but remember we want Madera to think that he was successful, at least until we can confirm that he already knows he failed. Any questions?"

Silence answered him, "Okay, get out and get a good night's rest, you're gonna need it." One by one, they left, Standish said goodnight and headed to the guest room.

Vin stood, "We can work on this list at home, see y'all in the mornin'." He picked up the papers on the table with one hand and drew Kelli close to him with the other.

Tanner, you work on that list first.

Message clear, Cowboy,

Once they left Chris turned to Linda, expecting her to want to pack her bags and go home. "Well, you now have a good idea of what is going on. What are you thinking?"

Linda stopped her deliberations and grinned, "I'm thinking that we need to do some shopping."

"Shopping! Linda, were you even listening to what we were talking about?"

She wrapped her arms around his neck, "Of course I was and I know you can handle whatever happens." She halted her sentence long enough to give him a very passionate kiss." But, Ezra, Vin and Kelli will be here full-time, for the next few days and I am sure the others won't stay away in the evenings so we need more supplies to keep this bunch fed. Translation! ... Shopping!"

Chris laughed, "Woman is there anything that takes you mind off shopping?"

"Now that you asked, there is one thing." She stood on her toes and whispered in his ear.

Larabee gave her a wicked grin, "That I can do." He lifted her in his arms and headed for the bedroom.

Eldorado Springs

"Mr. Madera, I have the information you requested." The man handed him a packet of files.

"Outstanding, your completed assignment will be noted. This is all of them and their personal information?" He looked at the names on the folders, Larabee, Tanner, Wilmington, Standish, Dunne, Jackson and Sanchez.

"The ones that matter sir, the other are fairly new and inexperienced. These men however, could be a problem."

Madera shook his head, "Not for long, tomorrow we bring the battle into the open and make sure they see what we are capable of doing. Initiate the orders; Operation Soledad is no longer a covert mission. Send them a message to let them know we are here and I believe we will start with that place on Jewell Avenue, that one should get their attention. Then, we take care of some unfinished business."

Once he was alone Madera made a phone call. "Sir, it has begun. MCAT is now involved and you have my guarantee that neither Commander Larabee nor Captain Tanner will survive this war.

Chapter 7
Larabee 7 - Tuesday

Tanner looked at the clock and mumbled a soft curse, "Damn, not even four yet." He knew Kelli was up, but he mistakenly assumed she would be coming back to sleep. Throwing the covers aside, he left the bed, pulled on some sweatpants and went to investigate. He smiled when he found her, wearing nothing, but one of his old shirts, her hair a mass of unruly locks. She had one knee on the chair leaning over the kitchen table studying the books and papers in front of her. His unobstructed line of vision gave him a good view of her attractive backside and she was so absorbed in her reading that she failed to hear him enter the room. Quietly he moved behind her and tenderly grasped a handful of bare cheek.

She let out a surprised yelp. "Dammit Tanner, you are a dangerous man that needs to wear a bell around his neck! "Kelli turned to face him, "A little warnin' would be nice before you scare the hell out of me."

"Sorry... Blaze." A mischievous look danced in the azure of his eyes that said he was more amused than sorry. The Texan laughed at the look of annoyance on her face and heard an inaudible mutter about people with big mouths. With his hands on her back he looked over her shoulder, "What are we doin'?"

"We are tryin' to match the pictures I see when I close my eyes to the guns in those books." She sighed, "The further I read the more menacing it seems."

Vin kissed the top of her head, "Let me grab some coffee and I'll help you." He poured a cup, straddled the chair to sit behind her and together they started pouring over the firearm books, adding to the account they began last night. After thirty minutes and looking at the long list in front of them, Tanner stopped the search. "We have enough, anymore and we will both end up nuts over this. I want to get this to Chris before he leaves, so..." He closed the books, turned her around to face him and claimed her mouth with a slow, sensual kiss that left them both panting.

Kelli nuzzled his neck and whispered softly, "I love you, Tanner."

Leaning back and looking into her dark blue eyes ablaze with passion, the Texan managed a husky murmur, "Hell, Chris can wait." Vin thought that he had been satisfied with his life before he met Kelli, but could not for the life of him figure out how he could have missed knowing how incomplete it really was. Now, he could not imagine his life without her in it and he intended to take pleasure in every minute that providence allowed them to have together. Yeah, Larabee will just have to cool his heels Tanner, you have had something more important to do.

Vin kissed her neck and then whispered softly, "Texas, I think we need to make another memory first." His kiss took her breath, and they quickly became lost in each other.

For a long while after, Tanner held a contented Kelli snuggled against him. Their lovemaking was even more gratifying for him, knowing how much pleasure he gave her, after all fair was fair and she pleased him more than she would ever know. The Texan marked another page in his mental book of memories.

+ + + + + + +

Chris left his lovely Linda asleep and waited for the Tanners out on the deck, one of his favorite places. The mornings were getting cooler though and it would not be long, until leisurely drinking coffee in the warmth of a new sun would be a pleasure put away until springtime. He had made a decision and although he had not discussed it with Tanner, he knew what he wanted to say. Coulter needed a tighter rein, as her sometimes partner he appreciated that he could count on her not to back down and he respected her abilities, but living with another risk- taker in the family was just asking too much. Kelli would just have to accept that she would have to follow the rules and not take chances out in the field.

Watching the young couple walk up from their house he knew that he could not sit by and see Vin go through the hell that he had after losing his family and that had almost happened yesterday.

"Mornin' Chris," Tanner handed him a folder as he walked up, sensing that there was something weighing heavy on Larabee's mind and it wasn't about the case. Whatever it is talk to me, first.

"Thanks, morning Kel."

Vin decided to heads things off, "Kel, go ahead and bring Midnight out, I'll join you as soon as I go over this list with Chris." Tanner gave her a kiss and watched her head to the barn.

Larabee waited until she was far enough away. "She needs to quit taking risks, Hell, she jumps into the middle of things without thinking about her own safety and bends the rules so far that I'm surprised they haven't sprung back and hit her in the as... well, you know what I mean. You could have lost her yesterday, Vin."

"Chris I know where you are comin' from and I won't deny that I worry about her, but I do the same thing when it concerns you or one of the other guys. Until Kelli came along y'all were the only family I had and it is not always easy to stay objective, especially when y'all depend on me to cover your asses during an operation. One mistake and I have to live with the fact that I could be responsible for one of you gettin' hurt or dead." Vin shook his head, "I worry about y'all as much as I worry about Kel, maybe more about you because you're such a damn trouble magnet."

Larabee took a hard look at Tanner, "I suppose I never thought about it being the same thing. I just do not want to see you go through the hell I did when...

"That is not up to you, it wouldn't matter if we work in the same unit or fifty miles apart, you cannot control how long we get to have together because someone else higher up already has that job. Kelli and I know that, it does not keep us from being concerned about each other, but we will not let it control us either. We both do our jobs, but we also take pleasure in the time we spend together and God willin' we will have a long lifetime to share. I have confidence in her abilities and I know she is a good agent. You do too, Chris."

"She is, but if she could just be a little more... reasonable and not so...

Vin laughed and earned himself a blistering glare from Chris. "Not so what? Stubborn, hardheaded, hot-tempered, confrontational, rule breakin', hell, pick one or all of 'm and it would fit. That is who she is, but she also has an innate sense of right and wrong and will do whatever is necessary to defend the victims. She also loves and protects the ones she cares about with an intense passion. All the same traits as someone else that I know and care about, except she's a hell of a lot better lookin'." Tanner made eye contact with Larabee.

Chris grudgingly conceded, "Okay, I get your point and I won't say anything else."

"We'll be fine, you wanna worry about someone, try Linda. You know I can keep Kel and Ezra here, but if Dubois makes up her mind to stray off the homestead, just how in the hell am I supposed to stop her?"

"Your not, I told her you would go shopping with her this morning, 'to assure her safety', but I really just wanted to give you something useful to do with your time off." Chris grinned, "That will also give you the chance to sneak by the federal building and pick up your truck, just make sure Ezra and Kel stay here while you're gone. Now, I need to head out to the office, wanna get this gun information into CASSIE." Larabee headed to the Ram and ignored Vin's protest.

"Dammit Chris, don't do this to me!" Tanner was talking to air; Larabee had already made his escape.


Nathan observed his beautiful wife as she organized files to take home with her. He enjoyed seeing her pregnant and was impatient to meet his son, but it would be nice having Rain at home for the next few weeks. It would give him a chance to spoil her a bit, taking pleasure in just the two of them, before they became three. He also hoped to put the final additions on their new home. Some of her patients would see the various doctors that had volunteered to keep the clinic open two days a week. The others refused to see anyone but Rain and for that reason, she wanted to have copies of their files on hand, just in case they needed her.

"My last patient will be at noon, so we can plan lunch somewhere on the way home. I still think you and Chris are overreacting, but you can thank our son for making me agree. Truthfully the days are getting longer and harder to manage, the closer I get to our delivery date." Rain grudgingly acknowledged that she was moving slower, too.

"I'll take these out to the car and at least make myself useful." Jackson grabbed a box of files and went to their car parked in front. Once he loaded the container he took a good look around, something felt off this morning, but he could not put his finger on what it was. He decided to keep an eye on things while Rain finished up with her patients. He stationed himself by the front window and waited.

MCAT Office

JD and Pam worked furiously at their computer station and Judy stayed busy typing the information that was pouring in. CASSIE's processors whirled and did whatever mysterious thing it did to come up with the reports cascading out of the printer. Josiah, Ross and Paul tried to keep up with the mountain of information and make some sense out of it, desperately looking for the one piece that would connect to the facts that were already in their possession. Justin and Raphael were out on the street tracking down business owners that could provide them with even the smallest detail to add to their growing list of unreported incidents.

Buck walked into Chris' office, "Mark just picked this up from the bomb squad, the reports on our explosives."

Chris tossed another file across the desk. "Kat brought this over from Bones; our perps are all local, evidently recruited for the job by someone who wants to control the street crime in Denver for their own profit."

"Hell, Chris most of the organized crime in Denver has been white collar stuff, counterfeit securities, insurance fraud and maybe some auto theft. The streets have always been about the drugs, but this is something else altogether." Buck tried to come up with the right term. "It's as if someone wants to start a war on the streets. But for what purpose?"

"I don't know, Buck, but I have a strong feeling we don't have much time to find the right answers."

Wilmington stood," I'll give these to JD and see what Josiah and Ross have come up with," he started out and then stopped. "You do think the ranch is safe, right? Inez is going to ask Linda to watch the girls for a bit, while she opens up the Standish Tavern. With Ezra on ice, she may have to work a few extra hours and our regular babysitter is out of town."

Larabee smiled, "Yeah, the ranch should be safe, I just wanted them out of sight for a few days and if Linda can't handle the girls, I'm sure Ezra and Kel can help her. They'll have to anyway until Linda gets back from her shopping trip." He grinned, "I sent Vin with her, just to keep him busy, plus it gave him an opportunity to retrieve his truck from the lot downstairs." Chris was already picking up hostile vibrations from his young brother, which meant Linda was leading him on a merry chase through the mall.

Buck broke out in laughter, "Man, I bet Tanner is not happy about that. I would not turn my back on that boy for a while, if I were you because he always manages to get some payback sooner or later."


The activity on the street was not normal and Nathan was getting an uneasy feeling. A glance at his watch told him it was just after eleven and he knew Rain had at least another hour of patients to see. However, he refused to ignore the growing apprehension in his gut and made a decision. If he was wrong, Rain could give him hell later, but if he was right, he could only hope it was not already too late.

He turned away from the window and made an announcement. "The clinic is closing, now! I want all of you to leave immediately and go home. Stay inside for the rest of the day and if you see anything out of the ordinary call the police."

"Nathan! What are you doing?" Rain seemed shocked by her husband's abruptness.

"Honey, don't ask me to explain, get on the phone and call Chris. Tell him we need some help down here ASAP, he'll know what to do," he saw her hesitate." NOW, Rain!"

The medic ushered everyone out the front door and pulled out his keys, praying there was enough time to get Rain out of here. She had just hung up the phone when the first outbreak of gunfire rang out down the street, followed quickly by an explosion. Nathan grabbed her hand and ran toward the back of the clinic, abandoning any idea of making it out through the front. They had barely reached the back door when the windows in the other part of the clinic shattered. The explosion that followed was deafening.

MCAT Office

Chris threw down the phone and ran into the bullpen, "Nate needs help at the clinic, unknown trouble, Josiah get us some backup. Pam, you stay with CASSIE, everybody else, let's roll!"

They wasted no time reaching their vehicles; they were on the street in a matter of minutes with lights on and sirens blaring. Larabee was not sure what his instincts had been screaming for him to understand, but whatever it was, he knew this was the beginning of it.

Justin and Raphael were only two streets away when they heard the first blast of gunfire. Immediately Michaels thought about the Jewell Avenue Clinic, he knew Jackson was there with his wife and would be in need of assistance. They were too far from their car to get back to it; he pulled his weapon and took off in a run to Jewell Avenue, yelling for Raphael to follow him.

Larabee 7

"I daresay Vin was not pleased with this assignment." Ezra smiled recalling the disgruntled look on Vin's face as he left with Linda.

Kelli did not find it so amusing. "Linda can be a might fanatical with her shoppin' excursions, Tanner will not be in a good mood when he gets home, and I assure you, Lar'bee will pay for that somehow."

"Think of the pleasure that you will benefit from by putting him in a better mood." Standish grinned and swore that she blushed. "In the meantime we have the delightful company of two beautiful young ladies." They watched the girls run across the yard, chasing a butterfly, both squealing with excitement,

Suddenly Kelli froze, the sun's rays reflected off some kind of metal, on a hill overlooking the ranch. She felt a cold chill when she realized what it was. Ezra's voice was soft, but clear, "I saw it, too. You take hold of Maria and I will take Sarah and then we slowly should make our way to the homestead."

The two agents gathered their respective charges and headed to the house. Both felt a sense of urgency to find safety for the children. Once inside Ezra tried to call for assistance, while Kelli pulled out blankets and flashlights, she grabbed some snacks from the kitchen, telling the girls they were going on an adventure.

"Damnation! The phones are not working; someone has cut the lines and jammed the signal, for the cells. Take the girls to the basement and don't come out until I come to get you." Ezra ordered Kelli to stay with them, but had little hope that she would. He felt sure that they would soon be entertaining uninvited guests.

"Come on, sweethearts we are going to play a game and you must follow the rules. Okay?" Kelli led them down the stairs and settled them on the blankets with food and a radio. "Sarah, 'm leavin' you this flashlight, if the lights go out, don't worry. Now for the rules, no matter what you may hear, you stay here. Do not come out until someone from the family comes to get you. Understand?" Sarah gave Kelli an intent look and then nodded while taking hold of her sister's hand .Kelli hugged them both and gave them a promise. "I'll be back as quick as I can, but I need to go help Uncle Ezra."

Reluctantly, she left the little ones, amazed that Sarah seemed to understand the importance of obeying. When she reached the top of the stairs, she locked them in and said a prayer. Kelli then went straight to Chris' gun cabinet and began to take out weapons and ammunition.

"I thought I told you to stay with the girls." Ezra admonished the young agent. "There are at least four of them out there that I can spot and the phones are not working."

"That's why I am out here; you'll need someone to back you when they make their move. Try e-mail." She continued to load several rifles.

"Excuse me? E-mail? I do not think Chris even checks the mail on the desk computer; much less would he know how to retrieve it on the phone."

"Chris might not, but Vin does" She read Ezra's skeptical look, and sighed, " We don't talk much at the office, but that does not mean we don't stay in touch with each other. Trust me, use Chris' computer, it's connected to the cable and just send it to Vin's phone, he'll get it."

Ezra quickly ran to Chris' home office and returned shaking his head "Sorry, it too, has been disabled. I daresay someone does not want us to request assistance."


Park Meadows Mall

Tanner had been through a lot with Larabee and their bond had only grown stronger after each challenge they faced down together. However, after today that could be a thing of the past, right now Vin was thinking that even brotherhood was not enough of a reason to endure a morning at the largest mall in Denver, with a woman that he was now convinced was a compulsive shopper. The Texan was grateful that his redhead did not like to shop and knew that she would never drag him through this hell.

"Linda, we have been to fifteen different stores and already have so many packages to pick up it will take both our vehicles to carry them and we have not even made it to the grocery store yet. Don't you think ... "

"Vin, loosen up, this is supposed to be fun and you do have a six month anniversary coming up soon. Wouldn't you like to find something special for Kelli?"

"I've got that taken care of, so can we go now?"

"I won't tell her, what is it? Jewelry or is it maybe a trip to some romantic place? Is it a special night out on the town?" Linda was dying of curiosity.

The Texan just smiled, "Not tellin'." He gained a little satisfaction when he realized that Linda would drive herself crazy trying to find out.

When his phone beeped he pulled it out and said a quick prayer, maybe a rescue from this hell was on the way. He saw who was calling and read the message. "Sonofabitch!" He grabbed Linda by the arm and growled, "We are leavin'!"

Tanner pulled a protesting Linda out of the mall and when they reached their vehicles, he gave her explicit instructions. "Go straight to the federal buildin' and up to the office. Stay there until Chris tells you to leave. I do not have time to explain or argue. Now go!"

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 abandoned 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."

Chapter 12
"Chris will be back in a little while Tanner, he walked Linda down to her car." Kelli talked to Vin as she stroked his temple and intertwined her fingers in his hair. "You might not be able to talk for a bit, but that's okay, I just want you back with me, where you belong. You are the one that told me that as long as we are together, we can do anythin' and 'm holdin' you to that because 'm sure as hell not ready to let you go yet."

She checked the ice packs that the nurse had placed on the worst of the bruised areas. "It's cold, I know. I told 'em you wouldn't like it, but it's supposed to help. As long as they keep the blankets comin' I guess we can manage." She felt the tears starting to form, "I love you, Tanner and 'm tryin' to be strong, but Lord Vin, you have to wake up because you are scaring the hell out of me. You are too much a part on me now and I can't go back to who I was before I met you because that woman doesn't exist anymore. You made sure of that when you tore down those damn walls I built and made a place for me in your life. I promise that I'll do whatever I can to help ease your hurt and I will wait right here for you to come back, however long it takes."

The nurse entered the room and Kelli stepped back to allow the woman room to take vitals and mark Vin's chart. An orderly joined her and together they were going to remove the icepacks and change the sheets on the Texan's bed. Kelli moved over to the window that overlooked the parking lot, and looked out.

Suddenly she saw movement near Chris' truck and a body laying on the ground next to it. Shouting, she began to give orders to the nurse, "Call security now! Tell them that there are two Federal Agents in distress! There is an assault in progress in the north parking lot, black Dodge Ram, two victims, one perp probably armed. Send medical assistance because it appears one of them is injured." Her first instinct was to run down and help, but it might be just what some one wanted her to do. No, she would not leave Vin alone up here, all she could do was watch helplessly."

The nurse hung up the phone and turned to Kelli, "Security is on the way and the police have been contacted."

"Thank you. I need to stay here and see what is going on, could you pull the phone over here please." Once she could reach it without losing sight of Chris and Ezra, she called Buck praying that he would answer.

+ + + + + + +

"I have been waiting for you, Larabee."

"Well, I'm here."

"You are a difficult man to get close to."

"So I've been told."

"You don't need to sound so hostile, in different circumstances; you and I might have been friends."

"There is something about having a gun to my head that tends to set off my ugly side." Chris started to move.

"Do not turn around, just listen. If you want the man responsible for hiring Reed and Madera, I can help you. However, I need something in return from you, take this and it will explain everything. I will contact you tomorrow for your answer." Chris caught the folder that was dropped over his shoulder. "Make no attempt to follow me and your friend lives." Suddenly the gun and the assailant were gone, consumed by the darkness of the night.

Chris stuffed the file inside his jacket as he dropped down on one knee to help Ezra. Relief poured over him when he found that the Southerner was still among the living. He heard footsteps running in their direction and saw the flash of uniforms. "Over here!" Larabee shouted at the officers and was happy to see the emergency medical personnel with them

"Are you alright, sir?" The senior officer asked him.

"Yes, just take care of my friend; he was hit on the head and out cold for about ten minutes." He watched as they placed Ezra on a gurney.

"Can you tell me what happened?"

"I'll fill you in, when we get inside." Chris was already in motion, marching to the emergency room doors.

Emergency Room

Ezra was alert and complaining, "I assure you that I am fine and have no need to remain as a patient of this establishment!"

A frustrated doctor attempted to reason with him. "Mr. Standish, you may have a concussion and it would be to your benefit..."


"Might as well, give it up doc, Ezra has a head harder than a brick and is twice as stubborn as a mule." Chris smiled, because he knew a complaining southerner was a good sign.

The doctor sighed, "Very well, but at least take this for the headache that you say you do not have." He held out two capsules of Tylenol.

Chris stood up and gave Standish the 'look', "Do it." He was satisfied when Ezra swallowed the pills. A disturbance at the front desk drew his attention and hearing Buck's voice he knew what was going on out there. He stepped to the door and yelled at Wilmington. "Down here."

Buck reached the door in record time, eyeing Chris for any injury. "You okay, Stud."

"Better than him," Chris tilted his head in Ezra's direction. "How did you know?"

"Kelli, she saw the whole thing from the window. While she kept her eye on you two, she had the nurse call security and then she called me." Buck relaxed, "She probably is having a fit, worrying about both of you."

Chris nodded pleased to hear that Kelli had used her head and stayed with Vin. "Let's move this discussion to Tanner's room. You ready Standish?"

"Absolutely, lead the way." When Ezra stood he was unsteady on his feet, Chris took one arm and Buck the other to help him upstairs.

+ + + + + + +

Buck pushed the door open, met the business end of Kelli's Glock 22, and stopped. "Whoa, girl it's us," he did not move until she lowered the gun.

"Sorry," she holstered her weapon. "You don't look so good Ez," she moved. "Why don't you put him on the extra bed?" She visually checked Larabee over and was satisfied that he was okay.

"I assure you..."

"Shut up Ezra." Buck and Chris said at the same time, while helping him to the bed, before they sat down.

"How is he? Chris asked about Vin.

Kelli shook her head, as she answered, "No change. They took the ice packs off for a while, but he is still unconscious."

Chris was silent for a few minutes trying to reach the Texan and for just a moment, he thought he felt something, but then it was gone. Kelli watched his face and knew what he was doing; she prayed that Chris would be able to tell her that Vin was talking to him. Larabee looked into her eyes, the pain she saw tore at her heart and her emotions threatened to overtake her, but she pushed them back.

"Larabee... Chris!" Buck was talking, trying to get his attention and finally, the blonde looked his way. "You gonna tell us what happened out there?"

He pulled the file from his jacket pocket and gave it to Buck, "I read it while I waited on Ezra, you two read it and then we'll talk." The envelope addressed to him, he kept.

Buck finished reading, lowered the folder and passed the last sheet of paper to Ezra. "Damn! You believe all that, Chris?"

Chris shrugged his shoulder, "I've thought about it and it makes sense."

"Gentlemen, let me make sure that I understand this correctly. We are expected to believe that one person, yet unnamed, is responsible for hiring Madera to wipe out the leadership of MCAT, start a street war that has taken 17 lives, placed Agent Reed in the Unit with the express purpose to sabotage our operations, killed off all connections to him and put a hit on Director Travis." Ezra was astounded. "All this executed, to have control over MCAT and CASSIE, for a foreign country?

"Yep, that's about right." Chris answered.

"You know who that was in the parking lot, don't you?" Buck saw the truth on his face before Chris answered. "Who and why would this person offer you proof?

Chris took a deep breath, "Lady Ice, as to the why it should not surprise you that this man does not want any loose ends. He made sure she served no time in jail, so she would be out in the open."

Ezra shook his head, affirmatively, "So he could put a hit on her. If she gives us proof and we arrest, as well as prosecute this man then she only has to eliminate the one person that holds the hit contract on her. However, if he is free he can keep sending someone after her until eventually they are successful. That part makes sense, but what does she want for this proof?"

Buck answered, "A free pass."

"Pretty much, a twenty-four hour head start to get out of the country, after her 'business' is concluded." Chris added.

Kelli was listening more to what was not said, "You mean she will give you the proof to bring this man down, once you do she plans to kill him and then slip out of the country. That is the only way she will have complete freedom, without lookin' over her shoulder for the rest of her life. You can't agree to that."

"Why in the hell can't we?" Buck shouted, "We are talking about the man that is responsible for trying to kill Vin and Chris. I would expect you to be the first one to agree. That bastard put Sarah and Maria in danger! I want him taken care off for good!"

Larabee answered, "Because, if we agree to that it makes us no different than the people that want MCAT to use for their own purposes. We cannot condone murder, no matter who it is and don't fool yourself because that is exactly what that woman had planned."

"Perhaps there is another way." Ezra offered, "Fear works both ways, what if we find him first and we made him think we already have the proof?"

"You're forgetting something, we don't have a name." Buck reminded him.

Chris saw where Standish was heading, "No, but we have dates, incidents and a common denominator. If CASSIE cannot come up with a name with that, she is not half as good as we think she is. Call JD and then meet him at the office, bring in whoever you need, but do it now. Lady Ice will be contacting me tomorrow for an answer; I want to know who this man is before she calls."

"JD is at the penthouse with Casey, it will only take him ten minutes to get to the office. I'll call Nathan to come stay here and then we'll go meet the kid." Buck was planning.

"No, you go now, we'll be fine, besides I have the backup I need with Kelli here." Chris ordered. "I have my laptop so tell JD to send me whatever you can find. Now go."

Buck hesitated at the door, "Madera and his 'soldiers' are still out there."

"We have it covered Buck, just make sure Ezra doesn't get dizzy and fall on his face."

"I would never, sir." Ezra protested.

Buck took him by the arm, "Come on Ez, we won't stay where we are not wanted." He gave Chris a serious look, "Take care and let us know about Tanner."

When Buck and Ezra left, the room was suddenly very quiet, except for the whish of the machine that was breathing for the Texan. Chris and Kelli settled in, one on each side of Tanner's bed, waiting for him to wake up. Neither of them spoke, but as the time passed, Larabee knew that the young woman was almost to a breaking point. He watched as she restlessly moved around, tucking the covers over Vin, stroking his brow, combing through his hair with her fingers, and watching each breath that he took. After two hours of this, he felt he had to do something.

Vin you can wake your Texas ass up anytime now. You have had enough beauty sleep and we are here waiting for you. I told you that I would stand-in for you, but what that girl needs is to see those baby blues of yours open.

"You should try to sleep a couple of hours," Chris said softly.

Kelli shook her head, "No, you go ahead if you want to ... I...'m fine."

Chris laughed. "Did Tanner teach you that or does it just come naturally?"

She got up and walked over to the window without answering. After a few minutes she hesitantly asked, "Why can't you reach him?"

Larabee sighed, stood up and joined her by the window. "It's not something I can explain, I would if I could, but the only thing I can tell you for sure is that I know he will be all right." He reached out and turned her to face him, "Kel ...I know it in here." Chris placed her hand over his heart. "Just as sure as we are standing here, I promise you he will come back to us." His words unlocked a place deep inside Kelli and he actually felt the wave of emotions that washed over her as uncertainty and fear uncharacteristically took command of her actions.

"Dammit ... Lar'bee ... I ...d...didn't want to do this." She tried to stop the hot tears that rolled down her cheeks, but it was too late. Once she started, she could not stop, emotions that she had managed to hold back for the last fifteen hours rolled to the surface and refused to go back into hiding. The only thing Chris could do was to give her a safe place to shed her tears; he wrapped his arms around her and just held onto her until she could gain control again.

Larabee felt good that Kelli was able to trust him enough to let him see her emotional side. He was sure not many people had, but from his own experiences, he understood her need to protect herself. Not letting anyone in was his specialty; at least it was until Tanner came along. Giving her shelter somehow felt right, not just, because Vin would expect him to watch out for her, but also for who she was herself. She cried for over fifteen minutes and Chris never said a word, he just let her get it all out.

Kelli finally pulled away from Chris and apologized, "I'm sorry ... I usually don't do that."

"No apology needed," he gave her a handkerchief. "Feel better?"

She shook her head, "Yes ... yes I do," she then looked up at him and froze. Chris had a strange expression on his face, but before she could ask him about it, alarms began sounding off all around Vin. "OH GOD!"

Kelli started toward the bed as nurses rushed into the room but Chris held her back, "Wait, give them a minute, it's okay, trust me." Just as suddenly as they started the alarms stopped. Larabee moved in closer with Kelli right beside him.

The first thing she saw were Vin's piercing blue eyes probing his surroundings in search of... what she wasn't sure, something to anchor to maybe? "Tanner?" The sound of her voice drew his attention, her heart soared when that penetrating gaze fixed on her and settled. It was good that Chris still had a hold on her arm because as immense relief poured over Kelli, her body gave in to emotional fatigue and she needed the strength that he transmitted toward her to remain standing.

Chris? Nathan?

Easy Brother, do not pull on those damn tubes, I will explain everything, just be still. Nathan is fine and you are going to be, so relax before those damn alarms go off again. You cannot talk right now so do not even attempt it, just listen and stay calm.

The nurse was talking, "Mr. Tanner, please don't pull on the tubes, you will just make it harder on both of us. I have paged the doctor and he will be in to see you soon. Try not to set off those alarms again." The nurse moved away from the bed

Vin was not listening to the nurse, but to Larabee, never taking his eyes off Kelli as she rushed to the bed. She laid her hand on his cheek and with her voice breaking with emotion; she whispered huskily, "Tanner, I love you." Chris may 'hear' his thoughts, but everything Vin was thinking she could read in his eyes, and Lord could those eyes talk. She easily understood the same message written in those beautiful blues.

You can see for yourself that Kelli is okay. You're gonna be fine, but right now that tube is helping you breath and you damn well better not touch it. You just concentrate on this woman beside me. I know you scared the hell out of her, not to mention me and everyone else. There is plenty of time to talk later, now I just want you to stay quiet. The doctor will be in here within a few minutes and he will check you over. As soon as I know the doctor is on his way, I'm gonna call the others and let them know that sleeping beauty decided to wake up from his nap.

The Texan's hand weakly reached out to Kelli, she gently grasped it and held on. Once he was touching her, Tanner's eyes shifted to Chris for an explanation as to how he got here. What happened?

Bottom line, someone tried to kill you and failed. You will have time to hear the whole story later.

I reckon. I don't seem to be going anywhere.

Never believed you would, Vin...never believed you would.

Chapter 13
MCAT Office 4:00a.m. - Thursday

"JD, talk to me and tell me what you found." Buck said impatiently, Dunne had put all the agent's reports into CASSIE along with the material Larabee gave them.

"A helluva lot more than we were looking for, that's for sure." JD pulled the sheets from the printer. "We need to get this to Chris, but not through the computer."

Ezra read and commented. "Gentlemen, we must proceed with caution. This conspiracy extends much further than we envisioned and if we are to be successful in our endeavors, we will need a steadfast plan. We must execute it with precise timing and use only the personnel that we deem trustworthy."

Buck stared at Ezra. "You know what's scary? I understood you and agree with what you said."

"If all this is accurate, we cannot chance sending this over the Internet. We have to assume that all our actions are monitored and that is how Vin's e-mail was compromised. This man must be getting anxious with Chris and Vin still alive. According to this his time to deliver control of MCAT is running out." JD added, "I can set up some safeguards and Pam is great with the government network, between the two of us we should be able to secure some communication lines."

"Get her in here and start on it now, Ezra and I will take this over to Chris, also send out a message to the team, I want everyone in here by six." Buck ordered, "We should have something worked out by then."

Ezra and Buck started for the door, but the ringing of the phone stopped them. "Wilmington...YES! ... We are on our way over now, we need to talk." He hung up and turned with a big smile on his face, "Vin's awake! "

Denver Memorial Hospital

Chris hung up the phone, "Buck and Ezra are on their way and they must have found something."

The door opened and Dr Landers walked in moving toward the bed to examine Vin, not speaking until he finished. "Welcome back, Mr. Tanner. Let me tell you where we are, the tube I want to leave in until later today. The swelling around your throat is reducing, but I want to make sure we give it enough time for your airway to completely open. I know it is uncomfortable and we can keep you sedated if you wish." He read Tanner's expression and laughed, "Yes, I suppose you have had enough time sleeping, you have some deep contusions and it may take some time for them to heal. As with any concussion, I want to keep a close watch on you for a few days, if you experience any memory loss, blurred vision, headaches or nausea, I want to know about it. Your stats look good and I will be back this afternoon to see about losing that tube. You are indeed a fortunate man that your injuries were not as serious as they could have been."

Any questions?" He looked to Kelli and Chris.

Tell him it's Vin.

Chris answered for them, "We're good and doc it's Vin, not Mr. Tanner."

"Very well," He placed a hand on Tanner's arm. "I am leaving you in good hands and I will see you later, Vin."

"Thank you, Dr, Landers, for everything." Kelli said softly.

"You are welcome, and for the record, I think Vin is a lucky man in more ways than one, you make a good patient advocate Kelli." With that said, he made his exit.

He is right, you should have seen the hell she raised in the emergency room, Tanner. Chris felt the heat from Kelli's glare and hesitated, I will tell you later.

Vin squeezed her hand, That's okay Cowboy, I know her well enough to imagine what it was like.

"Are you two through discussing me?" Kelli complained. "I may not hear you, but your expressions give you away."

Larabee laughed, "Relax Kel, you are among family that loves you and I'm damn proud of how you behaved."

Before she could comment, the door opened. Buck and Ezra came in with an armload of file folders, handing them over to Chris, while they took a minute with Vin.

"Welcome back son, glad you decided to join us." Buck grasped Tanner's free hand. "JD said to tell you that he'll be up later."

"Indeed brother, it is good to have you with us again," Ezra smiled. "Your presence was missed."

Vin may not be able to speak or move his head, but both men read the brotherly love in Tanner's eyes.

Buck answered with a raspy voice, "Yeah, us too."

Chris was already into the third folder and drew their attention, "Damn, are these figures correct?"

"Yep, JD checked twice, that is a lot of money which means someone is desperate to get this takeover completed." Buck explained.

"Ezra, call Travis and get him over here, he wanted proof and it will please me a great deal to give it to him."

Standish hesitated, "We must assume his phone calls at home are being monitored, also."

"You need Travis?" Kelli saw the affirmative nod of Chris' head and picked up the phone, making the call. "Orrin this is Kelli Tanner, you said if I needed anythin' to call you and I...well it's Vin... I'm afraid it's not good and the doctors won't listen ...if Chris were here he's not ...Oh thank you ...yes sir, twenty minutes."

The men in the room were silent. Chris stared; he had never heard Kelli sound so helpless before and was already thinking about Travis' reaction to this ruse. He caught the twinkle in Tanner's eyes and smiled when he realized that the Texan was the only one in the room not surprised by Kelli's act. Obviously, he still had a few things to discover about the abilities of his young agent.

Kelli was uncomfortable with the silence, "What? You said that you needed Travis and he is on his way."

"Yes, we need him here, but you might want to stay in the background until we can explain a few things to him." Buck offered helpfully.

"Let's get busy and have this worked out before he gets here." Chris started writing as they discussed their plans. They talked for the next twenty minutes and finally were satisfied that they had something together that would give them the best chance of being successful. It definitely was going to be a challenge, but not impossible.

Orrin Travis rushed into the room exactly twenty minutes after Kelli's phone call and when he encountered a roomful of agents stopped still, waiting for the explanation he expected Larabee to give.

"Sir, I am sorry we had to get you here under false pretense, however there is a possibility that your phones have been compromised. Once you hear me out I believe you will agree it was necessary." Chris started.

Travis put up his hand," I am sure you have a good reason and I will hear it, but first I will see Agent Tanner." Orrin moved to Vin's bedside assuring himself that his agent was indeed back with them. "It is good to see you awake, Tanner, you had us worried son." He then sat in the chair next to the Texan's bedside. "Okay so tell me why I am here at five in the morning."

Instead of answering Chris gave him their notes to read and waited. When Travis finished reading, he stood and walked over to the window, standing still and silent for a few minutes looking out into the darkness. With a heavy sigh, he turned and addressed his agents. "I asked you for proof and you have given it to me. I know you are positive of your facts or we would not be here, although I am disappointed with what you found, I appreciate your tenacity. I trusted this man and now he has betrayed not only me, but also this country. This is one case I will not watch play out from the sidelines; I want to see this bastard pay for what he has done and I will be there to see him arrested. Tell me what you need me to do."

Chris knew this was a blow to Orrin, but he also knew that Travis was a man of great integrity and would see this through, all the way. "We have four arrests that need to be made simultaneously; we need warrants and can only use people that we know we can trust. We cannot prove the link to the murders, but we can prove the link to Reed, Lady Ice, and Madera, and by doing that we have evidence of a conspiracy. The money trail leads us to the source and the assets will be frozen immediately after their arrest. The fact that the Congressman was the driving force in this makes no difference, the U.S. Attorney was in his pocket and the CIA agent handled the dealings overseas. The Major he planned to replace me with would do his bidding, also."

"We will use your team, plus special agents from the Department of Homeland Security. I will have the warrants sealed and filed one minute before we move in. When you plan to arrest a congressional representative, a high-ranking military officer, a U.S, Attorney, a CIA agent and are charging them with espionage as well as conspiracy to commit murder, we will not be taking chances."

"I will need two agents to take Lady Ice into custody when she contacts me and Madera will have to wait for now." Chris noted.

"How can you be so sure she will contact you and have the proof with her?' Travis asked.

Chris gave him the letter she had written for him stating her faith in his need for revenge and her confidence that he would look the other way when she carried out her plans. "Evidently she believes all the garbage about me that the media put in that damn TV special. She will meet me and bring the other proof we want. The other contents of that letter are enough to charge her with the murder of Judge Matthews and the attempted murder of you and the Governor. "

Travis read the letter and commented. "She has no clue about who Chris Larabee really is."

"The rest of the team will be in the office by six, Chris we will keep you posted." Buck planned to keep Larabee out of sight.

"Nice try Buck, but as soon as we get someone here for Vin, I will be in the office." Chris corrected.

Chris, you need everybody, the only person I need here is Kel.

No, Vin she has not had any sleep and you aren't in any shape to help if Madera sends someone after you again.

Go Cowboy, we will be fine. If it makes you feel better post a DPD officer outside the door."

Larabee hesitated, caught Vin's intense look and sighed, Okay, but you get hurt again and I will personally kick your ass.

Deal and watch your back, Lar'bee.

"Kel, I will have an officer outside the door if you need him, take care of that cantankerous Texan until we can get back here."

MCAT Office
War Room 9:00 a.m.

"Okay let's go over these assignments one more time. Raphael is already at the airfield preparing our new helicopter and Nathan is on his way to the hospital to stay with Tanner. Buck, you, Mark and Nathan will serve the warrant on the U.S. Attorney, Robert Braden. Josiah, you, Paul and Ross will take Major William Gentry and be sure he knows that the job he was expecting as MCAT Commander is not open".

Chris went down the list, "The team from homeland security will take down CIA agent Frank Kellerman in Washington and Orrin, Justin and I will have the honor of arresting Congressman Zimmerman at his home here in Denver. Ezra and JD will coordinate everything from a mobile control over secured communication lines, while Pam feeds the information to us from here in the office and she will freeze their bank accounts once we move in. All targets are under surveillance by homeland security agents so we know where they are and we will move at noon. Go to your assigned locations and wait, nobody starts anything before noon."

Chris stopped Ezra before he left the room." Ez you have time before you need to meet JD, right now you and I have a date with Lady Ice, these two Marshals will be joining us." Just as Chris expected, she had contacted him and arranged to meet at 10:00 a.m., three blocks from the Federal Building. "Orrin, I will meet you and Justin before noon."

+ + + + + + +

At an outside café three blocks from the Federal building, Chris waited. Ezra and the Marshals were out of sight and they would not move in until Larabee signaled them. Lady Ice did not keep him waiting.

She sat opposite Larabee. "I knew you could not resist taking revenge for what they tried to do to you and your friend. You know Larabee; it is too bad that we could not have met under different circumstances. I think we have much in common and could have been very good together."

"I agreed to your terms, you have what I want?"

She sighed, "Of course, here is your proof and a map of where I need you to have the Congressman so I can take care of my business with him."

"It's a disk, how do I know it isn't blank?

"And I thought you trusted me." Ice reached in her bag and pulled out a small laptop. "Somehow I knew you would insist on viewing it." She pushed the laptop to Chris and he inserted the disk. Satisfied with what he saw he removed the evidence and put it in his pocket." By doing so, he signaled the others to move.

"This is the map and you are to have him there at ten sharp Monday morning. I will take him out and then we will be done."

"Don't think so." Chris watched Ezra come up behind her.

"Remember me? I am the one you graced with the headache from hell. You are under arrest for the murder of Judge Harold Matthews, the attempted murder of Deputy Director Orrin Travis and the Governor of the State of Colorado." Standish was pleased that he was the one to handcuff this woman.

"YOU LARABEE ARE A FUCKING BASTARD!" Lady Ice was livid as the Marshals took her and began to read her rights.

"So I've been told." Chris nodded to the officers to take her away.

+ + + + + + +

Exactly at noon, four teams of Federal agents moved in to serve the arrest warrants. By twelve fifteen, all four men were in custody and Orrin Travis had the proof in his hands that they had all accepted money from a terrorist controlled country for their cooperation, conspired to commit murder and instigated a street war that cost seventeen citizens their lives. The fallout would reverberate throughout Washington D.C. and another threat to the security of this country was over.

Travis sat in Chris' office a few hours later. "You should feel good about what was accomplished today. This type of work is why MCAT was set up in the first place." Orrin chuckled, "Of course no one expected MCAT to be a target. Seeing how you, your team and CASSIE put this together makes me proud of what you have accomplished in such a short time. My only regret is that this threat came from one of our own that sold out his country and the trust of its citizens for money."

"I'm sorry that it was someone you trusted."

Orrin sighed. "So am I, evidently he had this planned from the beginning. Reed was supposed to discredit you enough that there would be no choice, but to replace you. When that failed, he ordered your death. After Lady Ice supposedly killed me, Zimmerman expected to take my place, with him as Deputy Director and his man replacing you they could control MCAT along with CASSIE. They were paid enough to do whatever was asked of them and with CASSIE'S help, they could compromise National security measures as well as access any government program. Of course when Reed failed to kill you, they used Madera as a last resort, hoping you and Tanner would die, and then their leadership could come in and take over."

"We're not through with this yet Orrin, Madera is still out there.' Chris reminded him.

"Do you think he will still come after you and Vin, even after he finds out his employer has been arrested?"

"Count on it, after seeing his profile I know Madera will take this as a personal failure. Sooner or later he will try to finish what he started."

+ + + + + + +

Paul Madera was furious, "NO ONE DENIES ME MY VICTORY AND LIVES!" He paced and ranted for an hour after he received the news about the arrests. His aides and soldiers tried to avoid their Commander until he could calm down. "Captain Hudson you will report for duty now!" He shouted for his officer.

The Captain was there immediately. "Yes sir."

Madera stopped in front of the man. "We have a new mission. Begin preparations for our next operation."

"What would that be sir?"

"Operation Larabee, "Madera lowered his voice, "The only thing that has changed is the name of your employer. As of today, you work for me, I want you to pick two good men to stay with us and pay off the rest. When we get rid of their leaders, the rest of that team will fall apart and take months to regroup. Choose one of the men and then make a new plan to take out Tanner in the hospital. The other one will go with me tomorrow to finish this game. He may not know it yet, but Chris Larabee is a walking dead man."

Chapter 14
Penthouse - Friday

Chris woke to the feel of soft kisses on his shoulder. Linda never missed an opportunity to show him that the she loved every part of him, even the scars he still wore from where the doctors had to apply new skin. After the late night at the hospital visiting with Vin, he had decided to stay at the penthouse with Linda and that was proving to be an enjoyable experience.

"Keep that up Lady, and I will never make my meeting with Travis on time." Chris returned her kisses with new passion. Larabee had no problem admitting that he was hopelessly in love with this wild blond and addicted to her loving attention to him. Mornings like this made him wish that they could stay wrapped up together forever, leaving the outside world, along with his past behind.

"Breakfast will be here at six-thirty and your meetin is not until eight. That gives us plenty of time, Larabee. Now shut up and kiss me again." He did, taking them to a place of pleasurable bliss that belonged to only them.

Both blonds took time to recover from their morning session before time became the doorway back to the outside world. Chris kissed the top of Linda's head, rolled out of bed and headed for the shower, reluctantly leaving their place to prepare for the workday ahead.

Chris was just stepping out of the shower when the knock on the front door told them breakfast had arrived. "I think since I am at least wearing a robe, I should get that." Linda took one more look at her naked Cowboy and left the room to answer the door.

Nathan was already there, ""I got it Linda."

"Thanks, are the others up yet?"

"Rain is sleeping in, but I heard JD moving around as I passed by their door."

"Someone mention my name?" Dunne entered the room alert, refreshed and full of energy. "Ah, breakfast."

"Help yourself JD, I ordered an assortment for everyone. Is Casey joining us?' Linda asked as she poured some coffee for Chris.

"Nah, she is enjoying this vacation too much and decided to sleep in."

Chris came in and took the offered cup from Linda. "Thanks, babe," he grinned at his beautiful blond and gave her a quick kiss. "Nate, you talked to Vin's doctor yesterday. Is he really doing okay or does he just want us to think that?" He sat down to eat with the others.

"Considering that when that car hit him he was thrown into the air, slammed into a parked car, landed ten feet away on the sidewalk, and was unconscious for fifteen hours, he is doing great. All the tubes are out, he has no broken bones and as long as he gives his throat a chance to heal, he should have no permanent damage. Other than the pain from those deep bruises, a hoarse voice, some stiffness in his movements and a slight headache, he is doing fine. Doc says he can come home tomorrow as long as someone keeps a close eye on him for a few days."

Linda laughed, "I don't think that will be a problem, Kel won't let him out of her sight, not that I blame her. I have just never seen this part of her before; usually her emotional side is not so transparent. Judging from what I saw last night, that has evidently changed."

Nathan commented, "Vin was lucky and I think we all know it, it could have easily been much worse. When I saw that car hit him..."

Chris clasped Nathan's shoulder, "Try to forget that part, he is still with us and we will deal with the man that put him there."

"I noticed that the police officer was not there last night either. Does that mean you think the threat is over since we arrested Zimmerman?" JD was still concerned.

"It means that we cannot officially assign someone to protect him since the arrests have been made. Ezra stayed over last night so Kel could get some sleep, but I do not want to take any chances until I know Madera is either dead or out of the country." Chris answered. "As soon as Buck finishes his report he will go stay the rest of the day at the hospital with them."

"Well, you guys work it out I have a homecoming to plan, Mallory and Inez will be back with the kids tomorrow in time for the entire family to welcome Vin home. Rain and Casey are going to help with the preparations, although staying here has been fun, it's time to go home." Linda said wistfully and gave Chris a kiss, ""I'm going to dress and finish packing; I'll leave you to talk shop and see you tonight."

"I will meet with Travis this morning, while the team finishes the paperwork on the arrest sweep, Orrin and I will complete the report for the Attorney General " Chris grinned," The good news is that MCAT is no longer on trial status as of five o'clock yesterday afternoon. By making it through the first six months successfully, our official classification is now listed as permanent".

JD whooped, "Yes!"

"Orrin will make an official announcement at our celebration next week, but you can unofficially pass the word, JD." Chris was positive that JD would make sure everyone knew." I will stop by the hospital about noon and Nathan, I will meet you are the airfield at one-thirty. Raphael has the bird ready and will take us up, while you get an opportunity to make sure the medical equipment you requested is in working order.

"I will be there," Nathan smiled.

Chris pushed his plate back, "I'm off, see you two later."

Denver Memorial Hospital

Larabee finished his meeting with Travis early, picked up some lunches and went straight to the hospital. When he entered, he found Vin and Kelli were making good use of their time alone. "It's a damn good thing that I'm a friend and not one of Madera's men. As wrapped up in each other as you two are, how in the hell would you hear them coming?"

Kelli answered, "First of all, Tanner knew it was you and second, we weren't that 'wrapped up', as you put it. It's kinda hard to do that in this place and third, Vin had the door covered." Chris shook his head and grinned when the Texan pulled his gun out from under the blanket.

"I hope you brought some decent food, Cowboy." Vin rasped.

Chris set the cartons down, "I wasn't sure what you could eat so I brought you some of that chicken noodle soup you like from the Deli, enough for all of us."


No problem, Vin.

The three of them ate while Chris caught them up on what was going on with Travis and the unit. "Still no word on Madera, so don't let your guard down, Buck will be here in a little while to spend the afternoon with you."

"You do know that it is not necessary to have someone here, we can manage. I have my gun and Vin has his and I am fairly certain we know how to use them" Kelli liked Buck, but knew she and Vin would not have a moment to themselves while he was here, without being teased about it.

"We will be fine on our on, Chris." Vin squeezed her hand, knowing what she was thinking.

"Don't be so damned stubborn about this, until I know where Madera is, no deal, beside it will make me feel better because if you get hurt I'll have to kick you ass." Chris was firm.

"Who's watching your back?" Tanner shot Larabee an intense glare.

"Tone down that look, Vin, in about thirty minutes it will be Nathan and Raphael. Until then, I suppose I am capable of making it to the airfield by myself, as much as you two are capable of managing until Buck gets here."

Kelli watched the two men," You are a stubborn man, Lar'bee, but you had better be right. I do not want to fight with Tanner about him leavin' here to keep an eye on you. You get hurt and I suppose we'll both have to kick your ass, besides it will make us feel better." She gave him back his own argument

Vin wore a smug look on his face and his eyes gleamed with amusement, making it plain that he agreed with Kelli's statement.

"Shut up Vin," Chris looked at Kelli. "I will take precautions, you make sure that ornery Texan stays put. I will see you both later this evening."

Chris had only been gone twenty minutes when the phone rang, Kelli answered. "Buck hi... no he's left already, that's okay, we aren't goin' anywhere, see you later."

Vin waited for her to tell him. "Buck is tied up at the office and cannot be here for another hour. So, Mr. Tanner we are on our on and I know just what we will be doing." She saw the change in his eyes and laughed. "Not until we get home, but close. One of the nice things about havin' this private room is that the bathtub is big enough for a portable whirlpool and that is where you are going. It will help take some of the soreness out of that gorgeous body."

Tanner gruffly whispered, "Only if you go with me." He reached for her and urged her closer for a kiss, his voice might be hoarse, but nothing was wrong with his hands and they were busy. When it became clear where his thoughts were leading them, she stopped him.

Kelli pulled back with a sigh, "You don't play fair Tanner, now behave yourself, while I call the nurse and get her to set it up." She reached over and pushed the call button. When the nurse came in Kelli explained what she wanted.

"No problem, I'll get it started and it will help more than you can imagine." The nurse went to pick up what she needed and had it set up within fifteen minutes. "If you need assistance, just push the emergency button in there and one of us will be right here."

"Thanks, I can handle it from here." Kellie helped him to sit up and hesitantly stand; taking their time, they made it the bathroom, one slow step at a time. Locking the door behind them she helped Vin undress and ease into the warm water, then turned on the machine to allow the soothing whirlpool to work its magic. "Feels good doesn't it?"

"Damn good, you should join me." Vin splashed just enough water to get her shirt wet and grinned.

Kelli leaned over the side of the tub and splashed him back. "Think I'll wait until we have our own tub, we did agree to install one for our six month anniversary and maybe we can just have it put in three weeks early."

"I'll start on it as soon as I get home." Vin pulled her closer in for a long lingering kiss until finally Kelli leaned back.

"Like hell, you will not be doing anythin' of the sort. You will heal, Tanner and let me take care of you; beside I plan to keep you busy with matters that are more important. We will pay to have someone else put in the hot tub."

Vin leaned back in the tub and enjoyed letting the hot water work out the soreness in his aching body. Sighing with resignation he said, "Since it's appears all we are going to do is talk, tell me about those important matter while I soak."

"That, I can do." They talked for at least thirty minutes, Kelli knew Vin had been in long enough and was getting tired.

Kelli helped Vin out of the water and complained, "Dammit Tanner I am almost as wet as you are and if you're not careful you'll get your clothes wet, too"

"Hell, half the people in this hospital have seen me naked; I don't see what difference it makes if I walked out of here without 'em."

She continued to help him dry off. "It makes a difference to me, I don't like sharin', let them get their own Texan to look at."

"Ah, possessive as well as sassy, I like that." Vin smiled, "Since you don't plan on doing anythin' else you had better let me get my clothes on, woman."

Kelli unlocked the door and after checking the room, she helped Vin slowly move back to his bed and then... she changed into her own dry clothes.

Stapleton Airfield

Raphael landed with ease, allowing his two passengers to depart the helicopter and wait for him, while he took the chopper to the hanger.

"Everything checked out perfect, that equipment will save someone's life one of these days." Nathan was extremely please with the medical equipment and supplies stocked on board their new acquisition.

Chris agreed, "Yep and Cordova is one hell of a pilot, I'm impressed. Having that helicopter available will be a good addition for the Unit."

Both men were walking across the field toward the terminal, where they had agreed to meet Raphael in twenty minutes. That would give him time to refuel and put the new helicopter to bed as he put it. Suddenly they were not alone.

"Both of you keep walking to the next hanger and do not turn around; someone is waiting to meet with you Commander Larabee.

"What if I refuse?" Chris felt the gun at his back.

"Then your friend dies first." The man produced a second gun and aimed it at Nathan's head. "I assure you I can make the shot. Would you care to test me?"

Chris did not answer, just kept walking to the hanger, and once they were inside the unknown man stepped back.

"Welcome Commander Larabee and good to see you too, Agent Jackson. I want both of you to slowly remove your guns and throw them on the floor, along with your phones. Please do not think about doing anything foolish Larabee, because my associate still has a gun aimed at Agent Jackson's head."

Chris nodded and both he and Nathan placed their guns on the cement floor. "I did not expect you to give up Madera. I just did not believe you were such stupid man. You could be long gone by now, back to your own country, but here you are still on American soil, fair game for arrest and imprisonment."

"You have turned out to be a worthy opponent, Larabee, but I never lose and you will die here along with your friend" Madera sneered.

"If you are going to kill us why wait?"

Madera gave an evil grin and explained, 'Killing you is not enough; I am expecting a phone call that will confirm that your friend Tanner is dead. I want you to know that before you die. Now both of you sit and we will all wait for the news."

Chris felt Nathan start to react and put out his hand to stop him.

Paul Madera laughed, "Good thinking Commander, Agent Jackson is expendable and I will not hesitate to kill him."

Any member of my team dies, and you have signed your own death warrant, Madera. Killing me will make no difference, the others will find you and you will lose."

"SILENCE! You have less than thirty minutes left of your life; think about you dying friend during that time.

Denver Memorial Hospital

The hot water helped with the soreness, but Vin was exhausted and knowing that Buck would be here in ten minutes or so, he felt comfortable dozing while they waited on him. Kelli sat where she could watch the door.

Captain Hudson had a simple plan, slip into Tanner's room unnoticed, let him know Larabee was a dead man, shoot him using a silencer and be long gone before anyone discovered what had happened. After all, he witnessed the hit and he was the one that reported to Madera about the failure to kill Tanner. The man could not possibly put up any kind of fight because after he had watched that car strike him and saw how he landed he knew the agent had to be seriously injured.

The hospital corridor was almost empty and Hudson saw his window of opportunity. "You stay here and watch for interference." After giving the order to his man, he pushed open the door to room 407 and stopped, having the business end of a gun aimed at him was not in his plan.

Thinking quickly he aimed his own gun at the man in the bed. "Looks as if we have a standoff, put your gun down lady or he dies now."

Kelli lowered her weapon. "Okay, I am puttin' my gun down, just don't shoot him."

Captain Hudson relaxed and smiled as he shifted the direction of his gun," Then I guess you get to die, first." His took aim at Kelli, never even hearing the shot Vin fired that killed him or the shot that rang outside in the corridor.

The door pushed open and Buck was standing there, gun drawn. "I was on my way down the hall to your room when that idiot outside pulled a gun on me. That was a big mistake on his part. You two okay?"

"Yeah, but I think these sheets have had it" Vin showed him the hole his shot made when he fired his weapon from under the covers.

"We had better get hold of Chris and warn him, if they came after you, they will be looking for him .too."

Kelli picked up the phone and dialed, counting the rings until finally Chris' voice mail picked up. "Chris is not answering."

Dammit, Chris where are you?

Stapleton Airfield

Chris and Nathan sat silently, listening to Paul Madera boast about his plans. When Chris' phone stared ringing, Madera became more anxious. Chris felt Vin trying to reach him and he knew Nathan still had his knife. When he saw a slight movement at the window, he knew what he had to do.

"Madera, you should have left while you had the chance, Tanner is not dead and unless I miss my guess your men are."

"Shut up Larabee!"

"Go ahead, call them, you don't have to believe me." Chris stood up, taking a step forward removing himself from in-between Nathan and the second man. "Call them! Maybe you can't call them, maybe you know they failed."

"Stop it!' Madera was pacing now.

"You failed with Soledad and now you have failed again." Chris kept taunting the man, drawing his attention.

"I said shut up!" Madera raised his gun aiming it at Chris. As he heard the sound of a gunshot, Nathan jumped up and threw his knife at the second man, turning in time to see Madera drop to the floor. Raphael Cordova stepped out of the shadows gun in hand and knelt down beside the assassin.

"He's dead." Raphael confirmed.

Chris looked at Nathan, "How did you know?"

Nathan shook his head, "You are not the only one that trusts our teammates to be there and... I saw him, too."

Chris picked up the phone to call the hospital and smiled when Tanner answered the phone.

Larabee 7 - 7:30p.m.

Vin insisted he was going home and when Dr. Launders heard about what had happened he did not argue with the Texan. The doctor warned him about not overdoing, gave him a list of things to watch for and made an appointment to see him on Tuesday. By five, the Tanners were home and Vin was exhausted again. Kelli convinced him to take a nap by promising to wake him in a couple of hours.

Kelli gave him over two hours to sleep before she left him alone for a few minutes. She made her way back to the bedroom carrying two cups of hot coffee. "Good, you're awake. How are you feelin'?"

"Lonely, you have been gone exactly fourteen minutes." Vin sat up in the bed and took both cups, setting them next to the bed. His voice was still raspy, but strong.

"How would you know, you were asleep when I left?"

Ignoring her protests about hurting him, Vin pulled her down across his lap, wrapping his arms around her. "You should know by now that I can sense your presence and anytime you leave, I feel your absence." She sighed, leaned into him and with her fingers lightly traced the still visible scar on his forehead. Shivering at the thought of how close she had come to losing this man only a few days ago. "Don't go there, baby, we are on a journey that we'll be takin' the rest of our lives and we still have a long way to go, 'm fine, we're together and we can take on anythin' life wants to throw at us."

"I know that's true Vin, but...dammit I was so scared that you...that we..."

"Uh-Uh, it's over, 'm still here and hell, except for being a little sore 'm okay. However, I seem to remember a promise you made about what we would do once, I was home.

"Tanner, you know that I always keep my promises, but I don't want to do anythin' that will cause you more pain."

The Texan grinned," Baby, 'm healin' just fine and if I can survive four tons of movin' metal slammin' into me, one sassy little redhead is not gonna hurt me."

"Sassy little redhead? We'll see about that, Tanner." Kelli reached up and ran her fingers through Vin's hair, pulling his head down close enough for a long slow kiss, leaning back she looked into his eyes and what she saw made her heart skip a beat. Without words, she felt his love pour into her soul, she knew that he was telling her with absolute certainty that the worst was over and that whatever difficulties they might face in the future, the spirit of their love was safe, in a sheltered place. With a voice laced with emotion she whispered, "Message received."

"Good, now, about that promise..."

"Okay, but this time it's my turn, my rules, let me show you how much I love you, tomorrow it can be your turn." Gently, Kelli started with a soft kiss to the scar on Vin's forehead and worked her way over every bruise and scrape on his body, carefully protecting his injuries. With warn kisses and soft touches she showed him how much she loved him and two loving souls reacquainted themselves.

The Tanners spent the rest of the evening enjoying their time of just being together, adding one more page to their book of memories.

Chapter 15
One week later

Chris groaned when he saw their destination, one of the most glamorous restaurants in the city. He should have known, he should have seen this coming from the moment he heard Linda had been a part in organizing this.

Or when she'd insisted on formal wear for them all....

A valet came running the moment he and Linda got out of the Ram. "Keys please, sir?" the young man asked, looking with a bit of disdain at the big, muddy truck. Chris scowled at him, not wanting to give his beloved Ram over to someone who could not appreciate the sturdy vehicle. Another valet was standing close by.

"Hey!" Chris yelled. "YOU!" When the boy looked over hesitantly, he tossed him the key. "You can park my truck." Giving the first young man, who was gaping in astonishment a last glare, he strode away towards the door of the restaurant.

"Chris!" Linda hissed beside him. "Be nice! You did not need to be so rude! And leave that tie alone, it's fine the way it is!"

When they entered the copious room set aside for the MCAT celebration, Chris knew he was facing a hell of an evening. The whole set up had 'formal' written all over it, from the round tables with white damask table cloths to the slight stage at one end of the room. Stage?

"Why is that damn stage there, Linda?"

"What do you mean, Chris? With formal parties like this that is where you make ceremonial announcements," suddenly she was coughing. Coughing! He knew this woman! She was hiding something from him!

"You're talking speeches."

"Uh, well...."

Oh God, he had the feeling there would be more than speeches going to happen. He suddenly wished he could be the babysitter for the kids instead of one of the guests. That at least would have been fun. Absentmindedly he put his finger between his tie and his neck again.

"Chris!" Linda hissed.

Hey pard, you don't seem too pleased. What's up?

Nothing, get your ass up here.

Uh... you know, I'm feelin' kind a weak all of a sudden. Maybe I'd better go back home to...

OH NO YOU DON'T! You've been home for over a week, hell, you've been feeding the horses again for the past two days! No way are you gonna leave me alone with this!

That bad?

See for yourself, Tanner!

A steady pulling at his sleeve brought his attention back to Linda. For a moment, her stunning looks distracted him from the whole set up of this evening. That dress sure brought out all the curves of her gorgeous body.... Hell, why wasn't he at home enjoying those curves instead of here for whatever she had planned.

"Look," she called out. "There are the MCAT tables. Let's go over there. Half the team is already seated." The excitement on her face once more brought home to Chris how Linda thrived on occasions like this. She endured all the quiet times at the ranch he cherished, he could get through this for her, he really could!

He hoped....

When he saw where Linda was pointing, his hackles rose again. Damn! Their tables were right in the front, right there where it would be impossible for them to sneak out when all the speeches became too boring. Also, wasn't that Sheppard, the congressional representative they had saved a few months ago during one of their cases?

He heaved a deep sigh while he followed Linda to the front table, right smack in the middle. If people from that high up were here tonight, he knew formal was the name of the game.... Oh no, the governor was here, too!

Linda was going to pay for this! She was going to make it up to him big time! Just as soon as he could decently drag her out of here, they were leaving.

"Hey stud, we're over here!" Buck yelled loud enough for everyone to hear.

Leave it to Buck to make sure that they were the center of attention, Chris thought in disgust. Damn, couldn't the man have laryngitis for once? He enjoyed these shindigs way too much and... hell, here comes JD, the kid was almost as bad as Buck. Casey was looking around a bit uncertainly and Chris decided to have pity on the young couple and at least be civilized to them.

Nodding at them, he asked "JD, Casey, are you both having a good time?"

"I... I guess," Casey said, looking around her obviously impressed. "This is awesome."

"This is cool! Someone had a damn good idea about this celebration. Food, a wet bar and all these VIP's to meet, fantastic." JD was too damn excited.

Immediately Linda was beaming and it took Chris' breath away. He even forgave the two youngsters their enthusiasm about the whole stupid thing. After all, it wasn't a wonder they were still taken in by the glamour of it, they weren't old enough to know that this was a trap where they lured you into hell and then blocked your escape.

"Yep they sure did," he answered JD, looking at the beautiful blond at his side And I am going to have a good time making her pay for it! Vin where are you, dammit?

Be there soon, 'm kinda busy right now.

Linda grabbed Chris' hand and steered him towards the table with the Wilmingtons. It was clear she wanted to sit with them, so she could talk to Inez. Just great! That put him next to good old Buck, who was inescapably going to be his entertainment for the evening, Chris thought sourly.

"Hey Chris, that is a happy face if ever I saw one!" Buck smirked when they reached the table. Chris could hit him, especially when the bastard started to praise the whole mess into high heaven. "Man, Linda you did a great job on setting this up and I have the best seat in the house. I can watch all the fun and never have to leave my chair. Look, there's Raphael and that gal he's with, hell she's as young as Kelli. Speaking of which, you seen her yet? Vin is gonna have his hands full, just trying to keep up with her tonight."

"Why is that Buck? Is something wrong with Kel?" Linda started looking around for her friend.

"No, I'd say Blaze is living up to her name tonight." Buck smirked, "Vin is the one with the problem."

Damn, where are you, Vin? Chris thought again. I need some sanity here!

If Vin was smart, he was hiding, exactly like he himself should be doing. Chris reached up to his collar again.

"Chris! Leave that collar alone!' Linda snapped.

"Good evening, gentlemen, may I introduce Miss Sandra James, my companion for tonight's gala. Sandra this is our Boss, Chris Larabee and his Lady, Miss Linda Dubois. And this is ...Good Lord!" Ezra was staring at something or someone behind Chris.

Chris turned and for a moment was speechless, There you are Vin, Damn! How in the hell did you let that happen? He watched as Vin and Kelli took the seats on his right and struggled to find the correct words to say. Linda beat him to it.

"Kelli you look great, and you don't look half bad either Tanner. Formal attire suits you."

Chris grinned when he saw the dirty look his friend sent Linda for her remark and then the finger that went between his collar and his neck. He looked at Kelli again.

Kelli's dress was a shock to the men who normally saw her in blue jeans, shirts and a jacket. It was...daring, and low cut, showing a remarkable amount of bare skin, a lot more than they were used to seeing of their backup sharpshooter. Definitely, something he wanted to see Linda in, Chris decided.

Ezra recovered first. "You look stunning, Kel and may I introduce you to my friend Miss Sandra James, Sandra, Kelli and Vin Tanner."

"It's nice to meet you, Miss James." Kelli answered.


Long story

"Selina, It's good to see you, girl!" Kelli stood up and hugged the young lady that had walked in with Raphael. "Selina Cordova, my husband Vin, and that's Chris, Linda, Buck and Inez. Here are some empty chairs, y'all sit with us." Everyone said their hellos and Raphael ended up sitting across from Chris.

"Dad told me he was working with you again Blaze and I volunteered to come with him tonight hoping we'd get a chance to catch up with one another." Selina had a beautiful smile, "I think we have just missed crossing paths at least three times in the last couple of years."

Chris observed Raphael as he listened to his daughter talk and could see the pride and love he felt for her written on his face. At least Cordova would be enjoying his evening in this place. While the young women talked, Larabee's thoughts went back to Kelli and that dress, Whatever possessed her to pick something that...revealing...that...

Yeah, I know and she didn't I did. Hell, Chris when she tried it on in the store she looked so damn sexy that I insisted we buy it. It just didn't register with me at the time that every other man that saw her in it would think the same thing.

You probably were not thinking about that part of it at all Tanner. I am sure that your mind was ... elsewhere.

You'd be right about that! So now, I just have to make it through long enough to sneak out of here and go home.

HELL NO! If I gotta stay so do you Captain Tanner! Suffer just as much I am.

"Rain, you look lovely, Nathan I am afraid your wife outshines you tonight." Linda smiled. "Join us, almost every one is here except Mark and ...there's Josiah and Mallory now." Linda waved to them and they started over to the table.

Looking around and trying to hide the boredom that was already setting in, Chris saw all of his team had arrived, proudly occupying the first row of tables. They were not the only ones in the forefront. There were Orrin and Evie sitting with the governor ... and hell, he knew that guy, someone from the Attorney General's Office.

Buck leaned over, grinning. "Hey stud, you're looking as if you've seen a ghost or something."

"No, worse, see that guy next to Evie? Dammit, if he gives a speech it is going to be a helluva long night. And did you see who else is here? Those government men never know when to shut up! Hey, where's Mark?" Buck nodded. "Here he comes, stud. Yep, now they can start serving the food!"

Buck was actually rubbing his hands in anticipation. Chris shook his head. "You know they serve food with portions only big enough to keep a small rabbit alive in places like this, don't you Buck? And don't tell me you're looking forward to all those boring speakers. Thank God, we don't have any awards coming up! What are you smirking about?"

"Now Chris... don't be that way. Just relax and enjoy! This is supposed to be fun, you know. Mark, glad you're here!"

"Hi Buck, everyone!"

Mark took the only available chair, the one next to Selina and struck up a conversation. It made Chris grin, seeing the young man trying to get cozy with her. He saw a certain look start in Rafael's eyes and he was getting the feeling Mark was going to be in for a nasty surprise.

Chris, you are mean, you at least ought to warn the kid!

Mean? Hell, why should you and me be the only ones in misery?

You got a point there, Cowboy.

"Chris, you need to relax or you won't be able to enjoy your meal and I made sure it would be something you like." Linda patted his arm. Chris suppressed a sigh and even managed to smile at her. When she was looking at him with those shining eyes, he just couldn't tell her that he would rather be dragged through a mud mire and stomped on by a bucking horse than be sitting at this table. So he manly suppressed a groan when one of those salads with nine different types of lettuce, half of which he'd never heard of before, arrived at their table.

Larabee, if you look any meaner you're gonna scare that lettuce back into the ground.

And you are doing better because?

Hell, at least I know what I'll be getting once I get home, You tick off Dubois and you'll be doing without for a long dry spell, brother.

Vin, the only reason I'm still here is because I love that woman and she damn well better know it.

Right, and she knows it because?

Vin, eat your rabbit food and quit smirking.

Finally, the main course! Only desert after this and come hell or high water, Chris vowed to himself, he would find a way out of here with Linda. She would just have to understand. Being a reasonable woman, she just had to! He raised his glass of water and took a healthy swig, when suddenly Buck leaned over and said, "Hey Chris, I heard earlier that MCAT is gonna get some kind of recognition tonight." He broke out in laughter when Larabee started coughing.

Linda glared at Buck, while Chris got over his coughing fit, "Are you okay?"

Chris shook his head, he spoke to Buck, but his eyes were on Linda. "What kind of recognition?" Everyone at the table stopped eating and waited for Wilmington to answer.

"Oh, you know, a job well done, great record, that sort of thing."

Kelli stood, "Linda would you go with me to the ladies room?" She wanted to rescue her friend from her obvious distress and this was the only way that she could think of. Linda wasted no time in agreeing and both women left the table. Although for different reasons, Chris and Vin both closely observed their departure.

Chris could kick himself! He should have known, all evening little things told him there was more going on then a celebration, but did he listen to himself? NO! Now his team members had those silly smiles on their faces and there was no way that he could duck out of here without disappointing them. Trapped! Linda had a hell of a lot of soothing to take care of when they got home!

Linda and Kelli did not return until after dessert and the first speaker was ready to be introduced. They quietly slipped into their chairs as the lights dimmed and Congressman Sheppard began to speak.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I have a story to tell..." and he did, all about how MCAT was responsible for stopping an attempt on his life. Chris was sure the man would talk into next month.

Next was the man from the Attorney General's office. He spent thirty minutes talking about the war on terror, crime and how the MCAT Unit was the model for others to come. Then he called each team member by name on stage to present him or her with a commendation from the President. Most were pleased, Chris had to smile when he heard, 'aw hell' from Vin's direction and a 'good Lord' from Ezra's. He was amazed, yet relieved that he got away with only a handshake and no speech.

That was not as bad as it could have been and for the first time since he stepped through the front door of this place Chris really relaxed. At least until the Governor and Travis took the stage together. The Governor praised the MCAT team for saving his life and preventing the explosions that could have killed a multitude of people in the city of Denver.

Okay, the team deserved that and Chris was happy for them. Then Orrin began to speak. Larabee was fine as long as he was acknowledging the team's accomplishments, but then he became more specific, talking about the driving force, team unity, and great leadership. It was then that Chris felt his tie choking him and that he knew what was coming....

"The man responsible for leading this unit is Commander Chris Larabee and it is my honor...damn... to recognize his great leadership by naming him 'Law Enforcement Man of the Year' and presenting him with this plaque. Chris, would you come to the stage and say a few words...."



It was early and Linda was still in bed. After last night Chris figured she probably needed the extra sleep, she had spent hours soothing Chris' mood once they got home from the 'celebration'. When the coffee finished Larabee grabbed a cup, filled it and then sat down at the kitchen table. He opened his journal and scanned his last entry, picking up his pen he began to write.
I promised myself I would be more diligent about writing, so here I am again. Two more weeks and it will be November; the weather feels more like winter every day. It has only been a few short weeks since my last entry and I did not think I would have much to write about, but I guess that I do. The time may have been small in the grand scheme of things, but what has happened will have long-term effects.

Family is always a good place to start. Sarah celebrated her third birthday and I tell you, Buck had better stay in shape to keep up with that one. JD and Casey announced at our last bar-b-q that they are having twins, which means two more girls will be joining our growing brood. Rain is home until after the Jackson baby makes his entrance and the rebuilding of the clinic is finished.

We discovered who was responsible for the attack against MCAT or more specifically to me and to Vin, but we paid a high price for the information. The man hired to do the dirty work dared to attack my family. Nathan and Rain were trapped after the clinic was bombed and an attempt was made to kill Ezra and Kelli. Even Maria and Sarah became involved when a siege took place at the ranch. We almost lost Vin when the same people made an attempt on his life by running him down with a car, but thank God he survived.

I was angry that they targeted my family, but I also learned how much strength abounds in this wild bunch. Nathan and Rain recovered quickly, The Wilmingtons took a little longer to get over their scare with the girls though. I also discovered that Kelli has more inner strength than I gave her credit for before. She fought hard for Vin, when he couldn't fight for himself and refused to allow anyone a chance to hurt him while he lay unconscious in the hospital. I also gained enough of her trust for her to let down some of her emotional barriers, usually something she only does for Tanner.

There were many decision made in the last three weeks. MCAT now has permanent status and we control our own destiny with the unit. I decided to add a new man to the forensics team and I think Greg Ramsey is an excellent addition. I also requested and received a helicopter for the unit. The agent I decided to choose to fly it has already found his place on this team and saved my life when Madera tried to kill me. Raphael Cordova is a man that I can respect as well as like and I am proud to have him join us.

Mark Westin decided to specialize in explosives and Buck is his trainer. I decided to send Ezra to anti-terrorism training and I know I made the right choice. Katrina decided forensics was the assignment that she wanted and she is furthering her education in that field. From now on, we decide which operations we take or reject. Next week I am sending Tanner, Dunne, and Standish to Seattle to do some surveillance work on a new case. More soon...

The End


Continues in MCAT # 4: Past Transgressions