Voices in the Wind
MCAT Series # 2: Strength & Solidarity Series concludes. # 7

~ Written on the Winds Trilogy ~

# 3 Voices in the Wind

Written by Tannertexaslady & Sue M


Characters: Vin, Chris, Ezra, Buck, Josiah, JD, Nathan, additional original characters, the Wild Bunch, and MCAT team members. Special occasional appearances: OW 7

Rating: FMR ~ Het ~ violence ~ profanity

Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only, based on the characters from "The Magnificent Seven." I don’t own 'em, but if I did I would run away with ‘em and never be seen again. CBS and Co., Trilogy Entertainment, and MGM had ‘em first and do not want to give ‘em away. I play at this for fun and do not make any money doing it. No infringement of any copyrights intended. Any references to locations or people are only for story use, and do not intend to depict any real place or person.

The MCAT AU: MCAT (Major Crimes and Acts of Terrorism), are stories are full of mystery, action, humor, and anguish, sprinkled with a touch of fantasy. The seven have formed a real family now, pooled their resources, and equally own Larabee 7 Ranch. Someday, when law enforcement becomes too much, the L7 will be their retirement sanctuary. All seven are or will be involved in committed, het relationships. Series #1, Turbulent Transitions, forms the foundation for this AU. Series # 2, Strength & Solidarity, are stories, which center on the Seven's intrinsic bonds of friendship, and brotherhood, forces that have no boundaries. Further background and information about the characters of MCAT, and the Larabee 7 families, is available @ Magnificent Seven Heaven

Written on the Winds Trilogy:

#1 Winds of Change

#2 Devil Winds

#3 Voices in the Wind: The final story in the Written on the Winds Trilogy also concludes the Strength & Solidarity Series. The MCAT 7 take ownership of their legacy, but find the challenge rougher than they expected, both in their personal lives, and at work.

Tannertexaslady Notes: Any mistakes are mine. I'm a Texan, born and raised, speak Texan, understand it, and write it, as I know it. The original characters created for this series belong to the authors who created them. 'Raven' aka Brodie Tanner, first appeared in Series 1 - # 7 Reconciliations. 'Cowboy' and 'Tracker' first appeared in Series 2 - # 1 Shades of Gray.

Acknowledgments: To my betas, thank y'all ~ Sarai, thanks for catching all those rogue typos and commas. Wendy, I appreciate the great MCAT beta, and thanks to Christy for the onceover. Ladies of Muse 7, y’all are wonderful, and I'm grateful for your critique.

Bountyhunter’slady, the collages you create are awesome. All of your collages amaze me, and I love the art you have contributed to the MCAT Series.

From Sue: Ditto to the betas, Jo, and Muse girls. Thanks for keeping us on track. Also, my love and thanks to Zach...my real life JJ'


Chapter 1

'The seeds of our destiny are nurtured by the roots of our past.'

Master Po


Throwing down his dead microphone in frustration, Chris cursed the new equipment. 'Hell….that's what this is…freaking hell.' From his concealed position, Larabee caught his breath and scanned the shadows and packing cases for his scattered teammates. The intensity of the battle had thrown him out of sync, and he could not get a read on any of them. 'So much for our alleged connections.'

Checking his weapon, Chris cursed again at the inopportune timing of their current confrontation. Despite being certain they were ready for anything, this encounter proved them wrong. Michael Langley, their sharpshooter, was already down, and the odds were not favorable. The opposition had them out numbered, out gunned, and regrettably out maneuvered. The enforced situation they had been hurtled into just days after their return to MCAT, and the mish mash of mental images clouding his thoughts, made Chris Larabee one very pissed off Special Agent in Command.

Dodging his head around the packing crate from which he was taking cover, he was relieved to see Josiah and Nathan to his right. Further searching located Buck and JD. As he tried to figure out how the hell he had gotten himself cornered like this, all hell broke loose, and the sounds of gunfire exploded around them.

Josiah looked to Nathan for guidance while they maneuvered about large containers and discarded machinery to dodge the onslaught of ricocheting shots.  Incoming mental signals melded into one. When nothing obvious from his partner sprang to mind, he decided to take the initiative to protect his teammates.

"I'm on the move," he yelled to Nathan, exposing his position, and shooting as he advanced on the enemy fire.

The members of Alpha Team watched in horror. Caught in the crossfire, Josiah hit the warehouse floor, where he remained unmoving.

Nathan jumped up, and ran to protect his fallen teammate. Fire from the opposition dropped him before he took his second step.

Buck sensed the indecision in his youngest brother; JD picked up nothing but frustration from Buck. Moving from a crouched to a standing posture, they witnessed Josiah and Nathan go down as several weapons fired at them simultaneously. Their hearts pounding and breathing accelerating, they scrutinized the building for any clue as to where the next threat was.

Spotting Chris across the warehouse, Buck shouted to him, "Hold your position, Eagle One."

From a concealed location Agents Wilmington and Dunne surged forward, guns blazing to protect their CO. Watching JD go down hard caused Buck’s heart to constrict, a mere second before he met his own demise, and dropped to the floor next to his unmoving teammate and sibling.

Chris stared in horrified fascination, freezing when a cold, gloating voice floated over him from behind.

"I finally got you Larabee… Kiss your ass goodbye."

Chris closed his eyes in bitter acceptance, hoping the events of this day would not be in vain, and he hoped Vin and Ezra would one day understand.

Tanner Home

"Hell that's what this is…pure hell.' Kelli slammed the truck door, and did not even wait for Vin to exit the passenger side before striding into the house, muttering as she entered the kitchen. "He's acting worse than the twins…He's a grown man for heaven's sake. I swear he's as prickly as a grumpy old porcupine lately."

Max looked up from cutting vegetables, and asked, "Problems, Hon?"

Kelli huffed, "Yeah, instead of four children, I have five! Vin complained all the way to the doctor's office, and then had the nerve to tell me to sit in the waitin' room while 'he' talked to Gilford. He tried to tell me how to drive, where to turn, speed up, slow down, go this way, don't go that way…ugh."

Max smiled. "Most men do not take well to being ill or injured. Vin is a man who is used to activity, and now finds he has to have naps just to keep up with everyone. It's going to be a while yet, before he can go back to doing the things he's used to doing. Give him time…your old Vin will be back soon."

"You mean, if I don't strangle him first," Kelli murmured as her husband ambled inside.

"Kel, I need you to come to my office, I want to go over some things with you." Vin did not even say hello to Max, just kept walking.

She knew he was tired from the trip to the doctor, and he looked pale. He should be resting, but the expression on his face told her he had something on his mind that would not wait. Kelli shook her head and followed him, wondering what in the hell he was up to now.


Vin sat down at his desk, and when he noticed that Kelli was not coming further than the door, he said, "You might as well sit down. This could take a while."

Reluctantly she sat in the chair opposite his, and asked, "Are you gonna tell me what Doctor G said?"

Shrugging his shoulder, Vin answered. "Nothin' new. He wants me to wait before I start on any heavy workout routine, and return in two weeks." He sighed. "I reckon it's his way of sayin' I'm not healin' like he wanted." Pulling a folder from his desk drawer, he laid it on the desk. "Ezra helped me pull this together. You need to know more about our business affairs. We were lucky this time…next time…"

"Next time?" Kelli's brows furrowed. "Vin…"

He continued as if she had not said a word. "I've given this a lot of thought. I had my will updated to make sure the twins were included, and Ezra has a copy. It's all here in this folder, bank accounts…the trusts, stocks, land deeds, and pension information…This gives you an idea of our net worth as of today. Of course that can change as L7 grows, and you have your own money from your trusts, your salary, and the inheritance Linda left you, but…"

Kelli stood, attempting to rein in her surge of anger. "I am not havin' this discussion. You're not dyin' anytime soon, Vin, and if, God forbid, you do go before me, I'm certain I can find out anythin' I don't already know …besides, since when is it yours and mine? I thought everythin' was ours. Maybe I need to update my will…make certain MY business affairs are covered."

A stab of pain assaulted his emotions, and he snapped out a quick denial. "You are NOT dyin' before me. I just want to make sure you and the kids are taken care of …if…"

Silently counting to ten, Kelli sighed, before interrupting him, "I think…you should go read a book, take a shower, or somethin'. I have a trainin' class to teach that starts on Monday, and I need to study up on whatever the hell it is I'm supposed to do."

"Damnit Kel, this is important," Vin yelled as he slammed the folder shut.

"Important to you… not to me," she yelled back at him. "When I saw you come off the elevator with part of a freakin' tree stuck in your chest, and had to stand there while you crashed goin' into the trauma room…the last thing on my mind was our net worth! All those days in the hospital watchin' you breathe on a vent, and not wakin' up…Do you think I gave a rat's ass about trusts, stocks, and deeds? IF that's what you think then we have a BIG problem…and it doesn't have a damn thing to do with your accident! You might be the one havin' to heal, but you are not the only one who wants our life back!"

"So it's MY fault you have to take on a teachin' class. MY fault we aren't makin' love…My fault you have to drive me everywhere….I'm sorry as hell it inconveniences you so damn much!"

"I didn't say that…" Kelli heard one of the twins wake up crying. "Aw hell… I need to go check on Trey. Vin…just quit thinkin' so much about all of this…" her voice softened, "please." Frustrated by their argument, Kelli sighed, and started to reach out to him, but he waved her away.

"Go take care of Trey. I'll just take MY nap, and I can find my way to the bedroom by myself." Vin watched her walk out, chastising himself for letting their discussion get out of hand. He rubbed his palm across the scars on his chest, and shook his head. He did not want to fight with his wife; he only wanted to protect her. 'Can't she understand?' Picking up the piece of branch Gilford gave him, he turned the unusual work of art in his hands. In spite of surviving the impossible, he was beginning to think he had no control over the changes his accident was making in their lives.

Standish Home

Ezra sat, reviewing the plans for the L7 Children's Activity Center, keeping one eye on Barbara and Cait as they fussed over Pearl. The weeks had flown by, and he found it hard to believe that his little girl was almost a month old. Although he had enjoyed every second of his time off with his wife and daughter, it seemed strange not to be at work. While they had not said anything, he felt things were not going well for his brothers at MCAT. He had also seen firsthand how Vin was struggling with his enforced recovery time at home. An odd sensation across his chest had him frowning, and rubbing the affected area.

"Honey, did you hear me?" Barbara asked, drawing his attention.

The pain vanished, and he answered, "I'm sorry, sweetheart. What did you say?"

Shaking her head, Barbara smiled. "I said…we can look into this CPS situation for Cait…can't we?"

Ezra understood what she was talking about, a subject they had been discussing earlier. At first, Child Protective Services had asked to use the Reins' dorm for temporary housing for their overflow. It was now going on three months, and they had not made a move to find permanent accommodations. "We certainly can. I believe it's necessary for us to find out what definition of 'temporary' the State is using."

"I don't mind helping CPS, but with my work hours cut short, I need to bring in more assistants. Our roster is full, and it looks as if I'll need to add more sessions. When I do, I'll need rooms for them to stay over when necessary." Cait explained. "The way it stands now, my hands are tied. I'll have to either turn away new clients, or get my dorm back. Our generous contributors do not pledge their money for the state; it's for the children who need the help. I cannot risk losing the funding for my Reins' kids."

"I assure you that will not happen." Ezra laid down his work, stood, and then walked over to take Pearl from his wife. "I cannot imagine how the parents of your handicapped and disabled children feel. The financial burden of finding support for their children must weigh heavy on their minds. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure Reins is available for those who need it."

Barbara laid her hand on Cait's, and said, "You take care of your baby, and don't stress over this. Ezra will find a solution…he always does."

Cait looked over at Ezra holding Pearl, and smiled, while without thinking, she rubbed her stomach. "Trust me. I'm not doing anything that would put this baby at risk. I know we've been blessed."

"I'll make a few phone calls, and get things rolling. If need be, I'll find another suitable location for the CPS intake office myself." Ezra assured her.

Tanner Home

Kelli had her feet up in the swing, reading her training manual, while keeping an eye on Bren and Trey, who were busy playing in the sandbox. When the swing shifted, she gasped in surprise, looking up to see her father-in-law grinning.

Brodie looked down at her, and said, "You're losing your edge, Kel. Most any other time you'd have heard me coming."

"I've got a lot on my mind, and wasn't expectin' a sneak attack." She sat up in the swing. "I'm tryin' to study for my assignment, but between keepin' watch on the boys, and worryin' about your son; I'm not makin' much headway."

"The boys look like they're having fun." Brodie sat down beside her. "Vin saw the doctor today…problem?"

"Hell if I know. He wouldn't let me go in with him." Kelli sighed. "Vin is not tellin' me much these days. All he does is bitch and complain. He's not sleepin' enough, or I let him sleep too long. The kids are too loud, or they're not around enough… it's like livin' with Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde. I never know which one he's gonna be."

Brodie nodded. "Vin never was good at being sick or injured, and the nature of his injuries, the surgery, the anesthesia, and the pain meds are all working to pull him down physically. I imagine he feels like a tethered hawk about now."

Kelli shook her head. "A healthy hawk can fly if he gets loose. Vin is gonna have to build up by takin' small steps. Doc told me before we left the hospital that it would take time for him to regain his strength. He's tired a lot, and I understand it's difficult for him to admit that he's not in the shape he was before the accident, but…damnit, I almost lost him, and while I don't like waitin' either, I'll do it. The least he can do is to try and show some of the Tanner patience he's always claimed to have."

Brodie stood. "I'm going to stick around until the kids get home from school. Maybe I can draw Vin back into our chess game, and try talking to him."

"He's in the house. Go for it, and good luck."


Vin glanced in the bathroom mirror, and sighed. He saw a longhaired, scruffy looking, tired man. Never in his life had he felt so worn out from just taking a shower. The scars were not bright red anymore, but they were very visible, and a constant reminder of his lack of energy. There had been many times in his life when he was exhausted, and in pain, but he still managed to keep going, by willpower alone. Now, he could barely walk from his bedroom to the deck without stopping to rest along the way.

'Damn, Tanner, nothin' is goin' right for you. Physically, you can't do half of the things you want to. Mentally, you're strugglin' with this Heart Warrior business. Sexually, the spirit is willing, but your body keeps goin' to sleep. It's a damn shame when a man is reduced to fantasizin' about makin' love to his wife, and can't do more than that.'

Shaking his head, he reached for his sweatpants, and pulled them on. A knock on the bedroom door, drew his attention. He knew Kelli would not knock, and it was too early for the kids to be home. Barefoot and shirtless he padded out of the bathroom to see who it was.

Opening the door, he nodded. "Come on in, Dad."

Brodie stepped inside. "Thought I'd come see if you've made another move on our chess game."

"Yeah, it don't take a lot of energy to move a chess piece." Vin sulked, as he dug out a clean shirt from his dresser drawer. "It's your turn."

Noticing the unmistakable tone of cynicism in his son's words, and the grimace on his face when he stretched to dress, Brodie frowned. Sitting down in 'his' chair, he avoided letting Vin see his expression, and studied the game board. "You're moving around better than a few days ago. Soon as you're ready, I want to set up a workout schedule with you. We can start slow."

Vin waited to answer until he sat down opposite his father. "Doc said I can start on a light workout next week, and maybe return to work in January." He shook his head. "I need to sort out a few things before I can concentrate on it."

Taking his time to respond, Brodie moved one of the chess pieces, and then asked, "Anything I can help with?"

"I doubt it. Hell, I'm not sure there are any answers for what I need."

Brodie leaned back in his chair and studied his son. "Try me."

Knowing that his father understood about the connection with his ancestors, Vin nodded, and said, "All right. Evidently, I had to go through all this to learn how to be some kind of Heart Warrior. What I learned was gonna make our 'transition' easier, but it hasn't happened. If anythin', it's only made me more confused and uncertain. I'm not alone, either. The frustration I feel from my brothers is the same as mine. We thought acceptin' ownership of our legacy would be all that was necessary, but nothin' seems to be goin' like we expected."

Thinking about his words, Brodie nodded. "Yeah I reckon since y'all's ancestors had over a hundred years to figure it all out, you and your brothers were supposed to work it out in only a few short months. Hell, what did you need them for anyway? I mean, y'all clearly understand a helluva lot more than they do. Right?"

Now Vin was the one frowning. It had not occurred to him that it would take more time to make this legacy thing work. He, as well as his brothers, thought all they had to do was go for it. "I reckon when you put it that way, maybe we expected too much, too soon, but…" Still puzzled over the events that had led him to where he was today, he looked across the table, and asked, "If it's only more time we need, why the hell did I have to go through all this? I could have learned what I needed without havin' a freakin' tree land on me."

Brodie shrugged. "Maybe you needed to learn something specific."

"Like what? That I hate bein' laid up? That I miss bein' able to make love to my wife? That no matter how hard I try, I can't harness the mental gifts I've acquired, or figure out how to guide the others. Hell, maybe it's another damn test to see what it takes to drive me nuts." Frustrated, and not expecting an answer, he looked down at the board. Making a move, he took Brodie's bishop. "You're slippin', Dad. You left him wide open."

"I did, didn't I?" Brodie smiled, and said, "Sometimes, Son, you have to bide your time, and make a major sacrifice to get what you want." He made his move. "Checkmate."

"Damn," Vin muttered as he laid down his king. "You had that planned, and I missed seein' it."

Brodie met his son's gaze. "Don't lose sight of the bigger picture, Son. 'Cause if you do, it will always come back and bite you on the ass."

Vin nodded. "Message received. I reckon I might need to adjust my point of view."

"Think on it a while, you'll find your answers." Brodie stood. "I'm going to stick around until Jason and Andi get home, visit a bit, and then kidnap Bren and Trey for the weekend. Reckon I should let Kel know, too. You coming with me?"

"I'll be out in a few minutes. I want to make a phone call first."

Brodie patted his son on the shoulder as he walked past him, and pointed to the Karma Sutra chair on the other side of the room. "What you need boy is to get rid of some pent up tension. You need to get laid. Take hold of that gorgeous girl of yours tonight, and put that chair to good use." He winked and grinned at his son's expression.

"What the hell do you know about that kind of chair?"

Brodie laughed. "I know you got it more for you, than as a gift for Kelli. Now take some sound advice from your old man, and get in some action tonight. Trust me; it'll be a helluva lot easier to think straight once you do."

Vin acknowledged his father's words with a nod. He was painfully aware that part of his problem was sexual frustration. Delivered while he was in the hospital, he and Kelli had not yet had the opportunity to use their 'love chair'. 'Time to stop worryin' about what I can't do, and concentrate on doin' what I can. Tonight, we'll revisit our chair.'

First though, he had to reach Chris. He had not been able to get a read on him all day; it was time to call him to find out what the hell was going on. He waited until his father walked out, and then reached for the phone to call Larabee. Before he could do so, the phone rang and a strange sense of foreboding washed over him.


Chapter 2

Unforeseen events provide us with opportunities to change our direction, which often clear the way for Fate.

Orrin Travis and Sam Russo stood side-by-side. The scene before them was unfolding, and what they observed, pleased neither man. Mike Hutchins, the man who had replaced Orrin at the ATF, walked by, and slapped Travis on the back. "Tough day for MCAT."

Restraining a sharp response, Travis only nodded. It had been a very tough day for his MCAT agents. In retrospect, he was not certain his decision to keep them off work had obtained the desired benefits he expected. Instead of refreshed, rested agents, he had a unit of men who had been away from the action too long. Now they had paid the ultimate price for it.

"You want to supervise the debriefing, or do you want me to?" Sam asked Travis.

Orrin sighed. "I created this disaster, I'll do it." He walked over, looked at his team, and pointed to the man in charge. "In my office…fifteen minutes."


Standing in front of the window, Orrin heard his office door open. Without turning around, he asked. "What the hell happened out there?"

"We got our collective butts kicked, that's what happened." Ripping off the vest he was wearing, Chris sat down. "You can't say anything we haven't already thought ourselves. We screwed up, and now we'll have to listen to that pompous ATF Team Leader, Grant Dean, crow about beating our asses from here to next Sunday."

Travis turned around. "He always did have it in for your team, even when you were still ATF." Shaking his head, Travis sat down, too. "Look, I'd like to have won this damn laser tag competition as much as any of you, but my concern goes further than that. If Alpha Team is not ready to get back in the field, I need to know."

Chris sighed. "I'll admit, we're facing a few challenges, but we're working through them. Don't worry about Alpha team; we can take on whatever you want to throw our way." He stood. "Right now, though, I'm sending everyone home for the weekend. See you Monday morning."

After watching Chris stride out of his office, Travis leaned forward and rubbed his temples, wondering why he never had these headaches, while Alpha Team was on leave.

MCAT Office

Josiah, Buck, Nathan, and JD sat slumped in their chairs, waiting for Chris. The aggravation they all were feeling bounced from one to another, magnifying it ten-fold. It was difficult enough coming back to work after being off for almost five months, under perfect circumstances; however, with Vin's injury, Ezra still out, and them feeling their frustration on top of their own, things just were not going as they expected.

Chris entered the room, took one look at his brothers, and knew they had to talk about this. "Okay, the ATF team kicked our ass in today's competition. I'm sure Grant and his men will razz us about it until hell freezes over, but it's only one loss among dozens of wins. They didn't beat us out there…we beat ourselves."

JD looked up. "I thought things were supposed to be easier for us, once we accepted ownership of our legacy." He glanced at the rest of his brothers. "I don't know about you guys, but I felt anything but connected out there today."

"He's right." Buck nodded. "Hell, we were more in sync with each other before we ever heard about any damn code."

Nathan rubbed his chest. "I keep getting a huge feeling of frustration coming from Vin, and I feel his pain when I think about him."

Josiah agreed. "I think we all feel it, Nate. Ezra too, he's enjoying his time with Barbara and the baby, but he misses being with us here."

Chris listened, and came to his own conclusion. "Right after we got our code, and Vin realized he had more mental skills, I remember him saying it was like a beehive buzzing around in his head. He was picking up stray thoughts from everyone he met. He figured out how to control that, but maybe it's kind of what we're doing. We're picking up too many feelings at the same time."

"Makes sense, that would explain our confused signals, and high levels of frustration." Josiah nodded. "If Vin worked it out for himself, then he can tell us how he did it."

"You guys, go on home. I'll call Tanner and set up a meeting for us at his house tomorrow morning at ten. We need to get this under control before a real disaster hits us in the ass."

Chris waited until they left, and then picked up the phone to call Vin.


Vin waited until his father walked out, and then reached for the phone to call Larabee. Before he could do so, the phone rang and a strange sense of foreboding washed over him.

Grabbing the receiver, he barked, "What the hell you been doin', Larabee?"

"Getting my ass kicked. Today was not one of our better days."

"Who took you down?"

"Grant Dean got the drop on me and he's damn proud of it."

"Grant always was a bastard. He hated us more than he ever admitted."

"Yeah, and he's gonna milk this for all he can." Chris paused. "Look, we're all having a time of it trying to get this new connection thing down. I think you might be able to help. I want us to meet at your house tomorrow morning at ten. You okay with it?"

Tanner thought about what Brodie said earlier. Maybe they did expect too much too soon. "I'm fine with it. See you in the mornin'." Replacing the receiver, Vin made a decision. One way or another he was going to take control of his life again, and do whatever it was a Heart Warrior was suppose to do. First, he had to set his own house in order, and to do that, he had to reconnect with his wife.

Tanner Home

Vin had spent the remainder of the afternoon thinking about how to use the mental skills he had acquired to get past this low point in his life. After supper, he retired to the bedroom to gather the things he needed to pull off his new plan, and rest as much as he could, while Kelli took care of the children's arrangements for the evening. As he waited for her, he fantasized about all the things he wanted to do with his woman, concentrating on trying to recapture the mental connection they had shared at their cabin a few short weeks ago.

It was close to ten before Kelli walked into the bedroom. Stretched out on the bed, wearing sweatpants, he looked up from the book he had been attempting to read. Just seeing her stirred the longing in his loins, but he wanted to make this night long lasting and special "Hey, Baby, you get everyone settled?"

Surprised to find him awake, Kelli nodded. "Yep. Your dad took Bren and Trey home with him. Jason is at the Wilmington's to spend the night with Caleb, and I delivered Sarah, Maria, and Andi to the Sanchez home, so they could stay overnight with Joanne. I locked up the house, and shut everthin' down." She began to undress. "I'm gonna take a quick shower before I come to bed. You need anythin' before I do?"

"Nah, you go ahead. I'll wait for you." He observed her from beneath hooded eyes, while she stripped. When she bent over to wrap her beautiful red tresses in a towel, he was afraid his resolve might break before she left the room. The need he felt growing for her was intense, but he was determined to do this right. He shut out everything except the burning desire building inside him for his wife.

"Okay, I won't be long." Tossing her clothes into the hamper, she moved to the bathroom, but could not resist a bit of sashaying in front of her husband. They might not be making love right now, but that did not mean she was not thinking about his gorgeous body.

Vin hid his smile as he picked up her carnal thoughts. Hell, she was as primed as he was. Taking one more look as her sweet, bare backside disappeared through the door, he waited until he heard the water running and the shower door close, before setting into motion the first part of his plan to seduce his wife.


The hot water felt good, but Kelli reckoned she should be taking a cold shower instead. The image of a half-naked Vin laying on their bed was stuck in her mind. Although she knew, she would wait until hell froze over to act on her thoughts, rather than hurt him in any way, the visuals her mind was conjuring up sent hot flashes through her body. Sighing, she turned off the water, opened the door, and stepped out of the shower to find the object of her desire standing there waiting for her, holding a towel.

Wrapping the towel around her wet body, Vin pulled her against him, and whispered, "You still angry with me, Baby?"

Gazing into his eyes, she said, "I'm not angry with you, Vin. I just hate seein' you so down." She laid her hand on his chest, trailing her fingers over his scars, before gently placing kisses on them. "I've missed you."

Sensually rubbing the towel over her body, he inhaled at her touch, and delighted seeing her eyes darken with passion. "I was thinkin' the same thing about you." He pulled at the second towel, which was wrapped around her head, then reached up, and ran his fingers through her hair as it fell over her shoulders. Fisting his hand in her the long strands, he drew her head closer, leaning down to capture her mouth for a slow, tantalizing kiss, which held the promise of a long night of loving. "Have I told you how sexy you are?"

"Not lately." Kelli croaked out, feeling hot flames of passion race though her blood.

Going down on one knee, he dried her legs, as he caressed her calves. "I've been thinkin' about doin' this all day."


Raising his head, he smiled. "I know what I'm doin', Baby. Tonight 'm takin' care of my woman, and we're both gonna enjoy the hell out of it." Taking her hand, he led her to the bedroom.

Kelli gasped at the sight that greeted her. Soft candlelight bathed the room, the scent of roses filled the air, and the sound of sexy music drifted from the stereo. "When and how did you pull this off?" She turned to her husband, smiling when she saw the look of pleasure in his eyes. Her Vin was back, and that was all that mattered.

Pulling her into his arms, he leaned his forehead against hers. "I just want to love you, Kel. Watch our shadows dance on the wall as we make love, see the passion in your eyes when we connect, steal your heart, and mentally reach the euphoric place we found together at the cabin." Whispering, he repeated the words he recited to her then, "Feel the promise of my words…."

Using his mental strength, Vin concentrated, moving his thoughts from his head to his heart…. all his senses…hearing, smell, taste, and feeling…connected. A euphoric flow of energy surged between them, taking them back to 'their special place', which overflowed with comforting warmth, absolute trust, and unconditional love.

Gazing into his eyes, Kelli could feel her emotions rise as the wordless message Vin was sending to her strengthened. A wonderful sense of inner peace and belonging came over her as their hearts beat in rhythm. Without breaking their connection, she reached down, and untied the drawstring on his sweats, allowing them to drop to the floor him.

Vin's eyes never left hers as she gazed at him. Their mental connection intensified her act of love, both feeling the pleasure of the other, and it was an awesome experience. It surprised him that he found it easier than before to maintain his mental energy. Now, sitting in the 'saddle' part of their love chair, Kelli faced him, their hands touching. The connection between them was strong, and the experience of making love and feeling one another's' pleasure was exhilarating.

Reaching up to brush a strand of hair from Kelli's face, Vin smiled. "Reckon I should have tossed the meds and just stayed in this chair with you all this time. I feel more alive than I have since I left the hospital."

"Doctor G would not have approved." Kelli grinned.

Pulling her closer, he tilted his head to nip at her neck, and then kissed his way across her throat, before gazing into her sapphire blue eyes. "Maybe, but I know somethin', Doctor G doesn't." Lacing his fingers with hers, he raised her hand to his lips. "This love of ours has a healin' power of its own. I love you, Kel. Here…now and always...feel my words."

'Eyes wide open…

Arms wide open…

Heart wide open…

One mind.

One soul.

One love.

My love.

This love.

All yours.'

Kelli felt every syllable, laced with his love and emotion. "Vin, your words are beautiful."

"Not as beautiful as you are. I wanna love you, Baby, 'till the want in both of us is gone…all night long." Vin kissed her, and then gazed into her eyes, seeing the mirror image of the love he knew she saw in his.

Larabee Home

Tired after a frustrating day, Chris sat his shower-fresh body down on the edge of the bed. Cait had retired an hour earlier, and the sliver of light in the room was from the open bathroom door. He was aware of movement in the bed, but the unexpected warm tongue on his ears and neck, made him shudder with pleasure, and lose all thoughts about time. When his senses returned, he looked deep into sapphire blue eyes…

Sanchez Home

In his study, Josiah had been reading his Legends book. He and his brothers needed to get a handle on things, and he was desperate to find some clue to aid them. The desk lamp kept the room semi dark as he poured over the words, looking up as the study door creaked open. His breathing altered as his wife sashayed toward him. As she stopped and stood before him, he inhaled her arousal.

"This is for you." The voice floated over him as all around him melted into a blur. It took several long moments to be able to focus on the features before him…that beautiful, youthful face…

Jackson Residence

Nathan leaned back against the sloping pillows, enjoying the soft support as his weary body reenergized from the exquisite lovemaking session with his wife. His eyes flew open as he sucked the soft skin at the nape of her neck and clung to the trembling pale-skinned beauty…

Standish Home

Sitting on the bed below the heaped pillows beneath Barbara’s lower body, Ezra studied the beautiful features of his wife. Smiling, with eyes filled with love, Ezra stared at the red curls cascading over her ivory shoulders…

Wilmington Home

Inez and Buck sat in the center of their big bed, entwined in a passionate and penetrative embrace. He kissed her and gazed into unfocused blue eyes…

Dunne Residence

JD could not believe it. Standing in front of the hearth, Tess’s dark brown eyes looked deep into his. Touching his face with her slender fingers, she pulled her sweater over her head to reveal her slim body. His hand rested on her jean-clad butt, and he longed to feel her naked against him. Opening his eyes, the pair smiled at each other and he toyed with her thick red hair. "Oh, Kelli…"



Six lights snapped on in six different homes, as six brothers sat bolt upright in their beds, their bodies still primed for the act of love. Each man trembled as they tried to comprehend what was happening.

Chris glanced at a slumbering Cait. Josiah eased out of bed so as not to disturb Mallory. Buck looked down at Inez, while Ezra got up to check on Pearl, leaving Barbara to her rest. JD blinked hard as he stared around his empty bedroom, trying to figure out why he was rock hard, and thinking about his sister in law.

Shaky and disoriented, they each moved toward their living room windows, and stared out into the night, their minds in turmoil.


Chapter 3

'Even the strongest bonds of friendship, trust, and family are tested when reason vanishes in the mists of frustration. Tension shatters the tranquility of the soul.'

Larabee Home 6:00 am

Unable to sleep after his disturbing, but vivid dream, Chris grabbed for the phone when it began ringing shortly after six. Reaching for it before it woke Cait or the children, he snapped, "Larabee." Recognizing a familiar voice, he frowned. "Buck? Little early to be calling. Is everything…" Chris paused at the disturbed ranting from the other end. "Buck…come over."

Within seconds of him ending the call, Ezra had rung, soon followed by Josiah, then Nathan. Instructing them to join him for coffee, Chris set things up for their arrival, while pondering how long it would take JD to call, and was surprised when he did not. He looked in on a rousing Caitlyn. "Baby, the guys are coming over. JD’s going to have to bring his little ones…"

Cait realized by the tone of her husband's voice that this was more than a social visit. "No problem. I’ll set up breakfast for the kids."

Chris smiled, hoping the guilty feelings that he was experiencing from his dream did not show. "Love you, ‘mama’."

Grinning as she touched a hand to her belly, Cait waved him off and went for a shower.

Dunne Home

JD paced, losing count of how many times he paused to pick up the phone, just to walk away again. Pushing his fingers through his hair, the young man’s mind went over and over the events of the night. He paced some more.

"Come on, JD…you need to talk to Chris." He sighed. "Oh yeah…right. How the hell do I tell my boss and older brother that I dreamed I was making love with his daughter and the wife of his son in law?" He rubbed at his unsettled stomach as it did another flip, almost jumping out of his skin when the phone rang.

Trying to control his shaking hand, he answered," Hello? Oh…" JD swallowed. "Uh, hi Chris. You must be psychic or something…I was about to call…" He frowned and checked his watch. "Now?" He glanced toward the children's rooms. "I can’t, the kids aren’t dressed yet." He nodded. "Okay, see you in half an hour."

Walking to the bedrooms, he looked in on JJ, smiling at the big grin that greeted him from the crib. "One up, two to go." He checked on the girls, smiling with a mixture of sadness and pride as he watched them dressing themselves, and pick out the day’s choice of hair ribbons. "Hey…you want to go to Uncle Chris and Aunt Cait’s for breakfast?"

The squeals of excitement he received made JD laugh, sobering fast as he remembered why they were going. This was the easy part.

Larabee Home

The five men sat in virtual silence as they waited on JD. Josiah sprawled in an armchair, his arms folded across his broad chest. Nathan, was also sitting in a chair, and was hunched forward, his elbows on his knees and his chin resting on clenched fists as he stared at the floor.

Ezra was sitting on the sofa, one arm resting on an armrest, as he appeared relaxed; but anyone who knew him well had already recognized he was like a coiled spring. Buck on the opposite end fidgeted, while the fingers of one hand tapped on the armrest. He turned his head as Ezra spoke.

"Buck, please. Must we suffer that perpetual drumming?"

Oblivious as to what Ezra was talking about; Buck frowned and shifted in his seat. "Where the hell is JD?" he huffed.

"He has little ones to attend to, Buck," Josiah reminded them, acknowledging the returned look as remorseful for the remark. The tension in the air crackled, and it was not surprising that people were snapping.

Chris watched in silence, his own frustration over JD’s tardiness beginning to grate on him. At last, the door opened, and all the men smiled as the Dunne twin girls entered bounding and chattering. Setting JJ down and smiling to Cait as she took charge of his brood, JD made an apologetic face.

"Sorry I’m late. JJ decided it would be fun to unravel a whole roll of toilet paper into the toilet, including the cardboard center, and then flush. I think I might need a plumber."

The men could not help but laugh. Buck patted the seat between him and Ezra. "Take the weight off, Kid. When we’re done, I’ll come take a look."

Nodding his thanks for the coffee from Chris, JD sat down between his two brothers and sipped at the welcome, aromatic brew. Now that they were all together, no one seemed to want to speak. Chris glanced behind him to make certain that the kitchen door was not open, and then he looked to Josiah for assistance.

The big man sat forward. "Last night, I had a very vivid dream…." He paused and accepted the reactions to his words as confirmation that he was not the only one.

Chris closed his eyes, understanding that this was more than a bad dream; it was a hellish nightmare scenario for them all. "Can I take it from reading your expressions that Kelli featured in all of them?" The responses he received made him far more uncomfortable than he let on.

"You, too?" JD choked out. "But…she’s your daughter," he whispered. He blushed as he felt all eyes turn to him. "Sorry, but this is kinda freaking me out."

Chris took control. "Freaking out…good choice of words." He paused for a moment as he looked at his brothers. "I’m thinking maybe Vin was…," he faltered. Because it concerned his daughter, he did not care to dwell on the subject.

"Projecting?" Josiah offered.

"Dear Lord," Ezra said in disbelief.

"That would explain it," Nathan agreed.

"Holy crap," Buck muttered.

JD frowned. "Projecting? Projecting what?" As soon as he said the words, realization set in, and he leaned an elbow on his knee and covered his eyes. "Oh."

"We’ve all been struggling to control this so-called ‘gift’, Chris continued, "stands to reason Vin might be, too."

"Oh shit," Buck was now also sitting forward. "Do you…do you think 'we' project … like…that?"

For once, JD relaxed. He had nothing to ‘project’.

"Even if we fly solo?" Buck added. Now JD was groaning again.

"Perhaps this might be an appropriate time to visit with our recovering sibling, and discuss our experiences," Ezra suggested.

They all pondered on that for a moment, knowing it was the right thing to do, while daunted at the thought of it.

Reluctant as he was to broach this subject with Vin, Chris understood that it was necessary. "Yeah, we should. I’ll call him, and tell him we’re on our way."

Tanner Home

Kelli smiled as she took her turn in the shower. Vin was already dressed, and had given quite an entertaining performance of his vocal repertoire while showering. Their night had been amazing and fulfilling, and Tanner was all the happier for it.  As Kelli soaped herself, she sighed contentedly under the pulsating, hot water. Vin had been right on with his thinking. They needed last night. It had given them the chance to reconnect and chase away the tension between them. They had then slept in each other’s arms until Chris had called too damn early.

Tanner whistled as he moved through the house. He felt lighter and happier than the previous day, and if Chris had not called, he would have taken his wife and made love to her until the pair collapsed from exhaustion, or the bed broke, whichever came first. Coffee brewed, Vin grinned when his six brothers entered. By habit, they poured themselves coffee, and then took up seats around the kitchen table.

Fresh from her shower, Kelli entered, and poured herself a cup before leaving them to it. "’Mornin’ all," she beamed, her smile fading a little as she received little more than grunted replies. Josiah, Nathan, Buck, and Ezra all of a sudden found their cups very interesting. Chris, she noticed, would not look in her direction. "Dad, you okay?"

Larabee forced a smile. "Sure, Honey."

She heard his words, but her focus was now on JD, who was clearly struggling with something. "JD…what’s with all the wrigglin’? You’re actin’ like you got fire ants in your pants."

The mention of his crotch had him looking away from her, and fascinated with a tile on the kitchen floor.

Tanner picked up a very strange collage of thoughts from his brothers. With a wink and a gesture of his head to move Kelli on, he waited until she was out of earshot, and then glared at them. "Y’all had better have a damn good reason for comin’ here in such sour moods."

"Vin, sit down," Chris urged.

Before Vin could comply his head snapped around. Images of him and Kelli from the previous night flashed through his mind, but…the man with her was not…"What the hell's goin’ on, here?"

Realizing there was no easy way to tell him, Chris just came out with it. "We’re guessing you and Kelli had a real good night last night."

Vin’s jaw dropped open. "What’s it to any of y'all?"

The silence that followed was deafening, until JD could stand it no longer "You… she… we… PROJECTING!" he blurted out, relieved that it was now in the open, but ready to haul ass outta there if Vin moved any closer.

Tanner glanced around at the faces of men he loved as brothers, admired as teammates and cared for as family, his mind going a mile a minute as he processed all the images and thoughts coming at him. "Oh shit, oh shit, OH SHIT!"

Six men relaxed a little as some of their burden eased. Chris nodded. "Looks like we’re not the only ones having trouble with this damned legacy."

Vin shook his head in disbelief. "Y'all…y'all saw?"

Josiah looked at him. "Saw, felt, and lived," he replied. With…?" Vin did not want to hear the next answer, but knew he had no choice. He closed his eyes, and moaned as their expressions said it all. His wife was the featured attraction in their damn dreams, thanks to him.

"It might be practical to tell her as soon as possible," Ezra suggested. "We should clear the air a.s.a.p."

Vin gasped. "Are you crazy? You want me to tell my wife…" he looked to Chris. "…your daughter…" then to the others. "…and your sister in law, that y’all had fantasy sex with her last night, courtesy of yours truly, and his amazin’ freakin' mental ability?" His shoulders slumped as he received the nods. "There's no way in hell, I can explain this to Kel! Y'all must think I'm suicidal along with everythin' else."

It became obvious to Chris that they could not move on to the reason they had called their meeting at Tanner's home in the first place, much less discuss their work-related issues until this was resolved. He cleared his throat. "Look this is not easy for any of us, but the fact remains that it happened. We can sort out why later, but Kel is family, and we work with her. She's bound to notice if we all act strange around her." He then delivered the coup de grâce of all arguments. "Beside, until we figure this out. You can't dare touch her. How can you not tell her?"

Vin exhaled. "God damnit! I wished like hell we'd never heard of this damn legacy shit. It's done nothin' but screw up my life." He stood up, removed the key ring from his belt loop, and slammed it down on the table. "I think y'all better hold on to the key for the gun cabinet."

Glancing at the amused expressions on his brothers' faces, Ezra tried not to laugh as he said, "I assure you we will all be close by, should you require back up."

Tanner glared at them all. "Just what do y'all plan to tell YOUR women?"

None of them were amused when Vin's words sunk in. A chorus of 'aw hells'' sounded as the Texan walked out of the room.


Kelli sat by the window, reading the morning paper, looking up when Vin walked into their bedroom. "Y'all done already?

"No…" He bit at his bottom lip, and began to pace. After a few moment he stopped, and glanced toward his wife. "Kel…I…last night…we…. you…me… aw hell."

Laying the paper down, Kelli stood up and walked closer to her husband. "Honey, what's wrong? You look like death warmed over. Are you in pain? Is it you chest? Maybe you should lie down." She reached to feel his forehead to make sure he was not running a fever, and was surprised when he jerked away from her touch. "Vin?"

"Hell, there's no easy way to say this, Kel." He took a deep breath. "Last night you and I had an amazing mental connection, a helluva lot stronger than either of us imagined." His voice faltered as he searched for the right words to tell her.

"You're scarin' me, Tanner. Just say whatever it is…."

"You weren’t the only one I connected with." Vin rushed his words, and then waited for her reaction.

The redhead pondered that for a moment, her eyes widening. "Define connected."

"It appears I projected powerful images and thoughts durin' our time together," he explained. "And while they were sleepin'… each of my brothers picked up on a particular sexual fantasy of theirs, as we were makin' love, and followed it through in their dreams."

Kelli frowned, and then realized what her husband was trying to tell her. "All of them?"

"Yep." He held his breath.


"Kel, I swear, I never expected…you know I didn't plan to put you in this position. I…" Now he frowned. He had expected her to rant, rave, scream, and curse, but instead she just stood there shaking her head, and thought he saw the start of a smile. No… must be his imagination, or the result of his wishful thinking. "Baby, please say somethin'."

"That is…unfortunate." Kelli reached up and cupped his cheek. This time he did not jerk away. "It explains their strange behavior earlier, but …it's not the end of the world. I love you Vin, and while I prefer our intimate moments to be private, I'm not about to be apologetic, embarrassed, or ashamed about anythin' we did." She sighed. "I reckon we need to confront this head on, before it festers out of control, huh?"

Amazed by her reaction, and as much as he would like to take it at face value, he had to be certain that she understood all of what happened. "You do realize they saw and felt everythin' I projected? They all started off their dream with their chosen partners, but when the act was complete, they were no longer with them…it was your face they saw…I reckon my thoughts about you were stronger."

Kelli paused for a moment to think, and then said, "I understand, but you’re gonna have to let me handle this. They're all still here, right?"

"Yes, but are you sure…" Vin was not convinced a direct confrontation was the best way to go. "Maybe if I…"

Taking his hand, Kelli shook her head. "If I plan to stay in this family, and work with those men again, I need to do this. Trust me, it'll be all right."


None of them expected to see Kelli walk into the kitchen with Vin. They all avoided looking at her, and prepared themselves for her anger.

Kelli stood there for a second, staring at the concerned faces around her, and wondered if the amusement that was tickling her senses was genuine, or rising hysteria. "I want y'all to know that Vin and I have decided not to charge 'y'all for the x-rated entertainment we provided for you last night." Her words had the desired effect. Six sets of eyes now focused on her.

Buck glanced at Vin, who shrugged his shoulders, and then back to Kelli. "You know everything, and you're not upset?"

"We were in our own homes," Ezra assured her.

"And until the act was complete, were visualizing our chosen partners," Nathan added.

They all nodded except JD. "In my defense, I never got past second base," he huffed. He noticed grins were threatening to break through and shrugged. "Story of my life."

Now Kelli smiled, her gaze shifting from one man to the other. "Look, it happened, and none of us can change that, but we have to move on from here. I don't know, and quite honestly don't want to know any details. I love my husband and refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed for doin' so." She looked over at Vin. "Five weeks ago, I thought I'd lost him. Since then, I've watched his physical limitations frustrate him to the point of depression, and seen him struggle tryin' to sort through all his jumbled thoughts to figure out just what the hell it all meant. Yesterday, he found his mental strength, and put all his doubts behind him. It's regrettable that his abilities are now stronger than he realized, but in the process, I got 'my Vin' back. A little awkwardness with our family is a small price to pay for havin' him here."

The relief in the room was palpable, as seven men nodded. Chris sighed, realizing that this was not about any one of them, but the result of a process that affected them all. He also understood it was not easy for his daughter to stand there and face them. He exhaled, and then asked her, "Are we okay, then?"

"We all are, unless y'all let it be more than it is." Kelli glanced from one brother to another. "I love all of you, and trust each of you with my life, but I do have one small request. If at all possible, I'd prefer to keep the knowledge of what happened just among us." She started to explain. "I would never lie to any of my sisters, but …"

"Say no more." Josiah spoke for them all. "We've already decided that what is said here, stays with us."

Nodding, Kelli looked at Vin. "I've got you back, Tanner, and I'm not lettin' go. Right now, though, I'm gonna take Dancer out for a while. I suggest y'all figure out a way to prevent a repeat of what happened because…" she winked at her Texan, "I plan to seduce you again tonight, and I don't care who the hell is watchin'. If you can't fix this connection thing by then…make 'em pay up before they leave."

Vin suppressed his grin. "I'll do my best."

Once Kelli had gone, they settled down and sipped at their coffees, each man considering how it could have turned ugly. JD looked up as Vin came in close, and whispered into his ear. "Tess?"

Alarm on his face, the younger man stared at Vin. Tanner grinned and winked. "Your secret’s safe with me, Kid."

Chris made a noise in his throat. "Okay…time to do some more talking."

"But not about last night, right?" JD begged.

"Not directly," Chris answered. "But right now, we’re up shit creek and paddling with a fork. This needs sorting out."

"Amen, Brother," Josiah said what they were all thinking. "We know you and Vin 'communicate' in a different way than the rest of us. Now, it appears that Vin can project his thoughts to us, but we only receive feelings from the rest of our brothers, not actual word thoughts, right?" He looked around at the others for confirmation "So, we have to assume the rest of us cannot project the way he does, or 'talk' the way the two of you do."

"God, I hope not," Buck said, "all those feelings coming at me at one time is enough, and I damn sure don't want to 'project' from 'my' bedroom."

Ezra studied on it awhile, before venturing his opinion. "I assume that Chris and Vin were able to successfully block certain parts of their thoughts before this sudden surge in Vin's mental faculties. Whatever y'all did then would work now wouldn't it?"

"If you're asking if Vin and I ever shared bedroom fantasies before…the answer is a definite no." Chris sighed. "We just blocked what we didn't want to share. I have no idea how we did it, we just did."

Nathan sighed. "Then I suppose we're stuck receiving what everyone is feeling."

"Vin, Chris said you had a problem with filtering out unwanted thoughts when we first got this code?" JD looked at Tanner. "How did you change that?"

After listening to everyone, and picking up a few stray thoughts, Vin reasoned that he at least had identified their problems. "We had two different things goin' on here. The first one is the crowded feelin's y'all are all pickin' up from the rest of us. That should be easy to work on. When I found my mind on overload, I asked Tracker what to do about it, and he told me, it's a matter of sortin' the priorities in your mind, and havin' faith that our code will keep us on the right path. With all the high emotions we've experienced the past few months; we're receivin' strong signals because we're thinkin' more about one another, and we're not allowin' ourselves to work with what we've learned."

Josiah nodded. "What we need to do is rely more on our faith in each other, and push back our overwhelming concern. We've been trying to take on everything for all of us, and overloading by doing that." He saw their heads starting to nod, and knew he was on the right track. "We just have to trust the code, have faith in one another, and stop trying to work it all out in our mind. Let it unfold as it's supposed to."

Nathan nodded. "Concentrate on what we can do, and trust that the answers we need will come when we need them."

"Feel our connection, but not try to act on everything we feel." Ezra added.

"If we can master this, it would help us at work." JD looked from one brother to another. "Maybe then, we could get back into sync with one another."

Chris figured they were making progress, but his concern now was for Vin. "I can attest to the fact that letting go is not easy, but I know it works. I had to learn the hard way that the stress of worrying about all of you was killing me. I forgot to trust our bond, and tried to take it all on." He looked over at Vin. "Josiah's right, the more we trust in ourselves, the more our 'natural' filtering systems will kick in, and the mass of confusing emotions will gradually fade so we can focus on the immediate situation, danger, fear, or pain. We can work on sorting the blast of feelings coming at us, but how in the hell are you going to harness this new mental energy you have?"

Vin sighed. "I didn't have this problem when I connected with Kelli at our cabin. I reckon bein' down physically left me wide open to project stronger to y'all. I'll have to be careful and concentrate until I get back to where I was. Now that I know what I'm capable of, I'll know what to watch for."

Buck grinned. "Does that mean you're giving up sex until you're stronger?"

"Hell no! I'll keep my guard up, and do what I can to NOT project. If I do, I trust y'all can pick up the phone, and warn me if it's not workin'."

Josiah smiled. "Now that you're aware of it Vin, I doubt we'll have a repeat of last night. While you're healing, read up on being a Heart Warrior, and if you need to, you can call on Tracker to help you sort through it. We'll do whatever we can to make this work on our end. I have a feeling there will be more than a few more potholes to get through before we have this all figured out, but we'll take it one step at a time."

"My dad made a good point yesterday when he reminded me that our ancestors had over a hundred years to sort all this out. We've only had a few months, and we're gonna learn by trial and error sometimes."

Chris stood up. "Think about what we've discussed, and listen to the voices of our ancestors. Go home, leave everything that happened yesterday behind us, and concentrate on our future. Barbecue's at my house tomorrow, come relax, and enjoy time with your families." One by one, the brothers left, until it was just Chris and Vin.

"You okay with this?"

Vin walked with Chris to the door. "I hate that it happened, but Kel took it a helluva lot better than I expected." He saw the concern on Chris's face. "I'll work it out, and no backslidin'. No more feelin' sorry for myself, and I can accept that it's gonna take a while to get my strength back."

"Take your time, but when we compete again with Grant's ATF team, I expect you to be there."

"Somebody's gotta save your sorry butt." Vin laughed. "You know, with all this goin' on, I forgot to tell Kelli that Rambo got his ass kicked."

"You just keep on forgetting there, Hot Shot." Chris was glad to see Vin's humor return. He smiled, and said, "See you in the morning."

Vin watched him leave, and then his thoughts turned to his wife. He owed her big-time, and he planned to make sure she collected.

Seattle, Washington

Tess smiled up from her armchair as her mother, Louise, stroked her shoulder in passing.

"Have you made your decision?"

Tess glanced across at her father, Paul, sitting in the opposite chair. He had Keira curled up in his lap as he read to her, the little one enraptured with the story and happy in her grandfather’s arms.

Tess sighed. "Yes. Whichever way I went, I knew it would be tough," she admitted. "I’ve found such happiness in Denver…but, being home with nothing to fear is…wonderful."

Louise smiled. "You know we love you both, and want you to stay. What's more important, we want you to be happy. Whatever your decision, we’ll support you, you know that."

Nodding, Tess closed her book and stood. "I should call Cait; she’s waited on me long enough." Kissing her mother’s cheek, Tess moved into the study and closed the door. She stood gazing at the phone for a long minute, her heart heavy. This would prove to be one of the most difficult calls she had ever made.

Larabee Home

Cait moved around the house picking up after the visit from the Dunne children. Between them, and her and Chris’s two youngest, the house looked like a mini tornado had swept through it. In truth, they had been no trouble at all, and she had enjoyed having little JJ toddling around the place. It started her thinking about what they had to look forward to in seven months.

But what made her smile more, was JD’s hesitant question when he picked up his brood, as to whether she had heard from Tess…and his muted disappointment that she had not. Cait had to admit, she had regretted not hearing from the young teacher, too. In her short time with the project, she had become a valuable addition to the teaching staff, and Cait hoped Tess would return; but, after what the young woman and her little one had lived through over the past three years, Cait would understand if Tess wanted to stay in Seattle. The phone ringing pulled her from her musings.

"Larabee residence." Cait beamed. "Tess, how strange, I was just thinking about you...how are you and Keira doing?" She listened, her head bobbing while she did so. "I appreciate that, Hon; it’s a very big decision. Of course, I understand. Yes, we’ll talk over the details tomorrow. ‘Bye Tess." Replacing the receiver, Cait chewed her bottom lip. Ah well, at least she knew how to proceed, now.


Chapter 4

Family ties, weave the threads of our lives into the ages.

Kerrs' Croft - 5:30am

Lillian smiled, keeping her eyes closed as she and her husband lay in bed. She attempted to bat away his hand. "Bugger off you old fool."

Donald chuckled, and squeezed the warm, yielding mound in his hand. "Now then, my love, I don’t believe we’ve christened our new home yet."

Turning to him, Lillian gazed into his gorgeous brown eyes. God she loved this man. Even after all these years, he excited her. "And just what is it you have in mind, old man?"

Gazing into her eyes, his Scottish brogue washed over her. "To show you, my bonnie wee lass, that you are the only woman I have ever wanted, loved, and needed. I want to make love to you here, now, and for as long as I have breath in my body. So tell me, love, you, will you be mine?"

Lillian smiled and kissed his nose. "Always." Tangling her fingers in his hair as his body moved in a steady, strong, timeless rhythm and he took her to their special place.  Sated and happy, she snuggled into her man as he wrapped his arms around her, pulled her in close, and kissed her head.

"I love it, here," Donald sighed.

"Mmmm, me too," she agreed.

They chuckled, rolled together, and kissed. Maybe later they would ponder what was in the air or water in Denver that had invigorated them so. But right now, two bodies and souls were in need of physical and spiritual bonding, and they weren’t about to waste a second of it.

Larabee 7

Cait smiled and moved to greet her parents. "Welcome. You’re the first to arrive." Both Donald and Lillian kissed her, Donald walked over to shake Chris’s hand as Lillian embraced her daughter.

"Are you well?"

Cait smiled. "Yes, mother to be and baby are doing fine." She looked at Lillian's face. "Mom, you’re glowing. This place suits you."

Remembering the touch of her husband’s hands on her just hours earlier, Lillian nodded. "This place is good for us. Your father hasn’t been this happy in years."

Cait guided her to a seat. "I’m so glad. Having you as permanent neighbors is wonderful. I’ve missed you both so much." She looked up to see Kelli and Vin pulling in. "Excuse me. Help yourself to drinks."

Having offered Donald a beer, Chris walked across the deck to greet Vin, Kelli, and their kids. "How are you doing?"

Vin nodded as he eased himself out of the truck. "Doin’ good, cowboy. Been told I can have me a beer today."

"Just one," Kelli reminded him. "You’re still on meds."

Larabee grinned at his daughter’s fussing. "So…you got this projecting thing under control, or did you two have a quiet night last night?"

Tanner grinned, while Kelli frowned. "Well, if you have to ask, old man, I guess that answers your question."

"On both counts." Chris chuckled, and ducked the incoming swipe from his daughter as he returned to his place at the grill.

Kelli glowered at Vin. "Stop grinnin’ Tanner."

"Can’t help it," he said, pulling her closer to whisper in her ear. "This morning's session not only was amazing’, but it appears to have dipped under the radar, too."

Looking into his mesmerizing eyes, a rush of warmth coursed through her blood. "Want to go covert again, later?"

She sighed as he leaned in and kissed her. "Countin’ the minutes, Texas."

Donald wrapped his arm around Jesse's shoulder. "You found a name for that horse of yours yet?"

"Yes sir, I decided to call her Wildfire."

Chris overheard and chuckled. "Since he got her the day before our last fire, it seemed fitting."

Nodding, Donald agreed. "Tomorrow, I'll fill in the paperwork, and we'll register her name."

Kelli reached past her father for a couple of beers, and could not resist teasing him. "So, Dad, I hear Rambo got his butt kicked by the ATF. Did your extended vacation wear you out, old man?" She grinned, and moved to distance herself from him.

"You run now, but you have to come back to work sometime, Missy." Chris smiled; glad to see that the latest misstep with their legacy had not changed his relationship with his daughter.


Buck and Inez, relaxed on chairs as their kids headed for their cousins in the play area, under the vigilant eyes of Max and Walter. Inez turned as Chris squeezed her shoulder and offered her a glass of wine. "How are you, Honey?"

"I am good, gracias. My Buck and Tía Isabella have been taking excellent care of me. I am almost healed."

Chris leaned in and kissed her cheek. "Good because we need you."

Inez’s eyes grew misty, and she nodded her thanks, grateful for the hand now clutching at hers.

"Amen," Buck whispered.

"Just for that, you have a night to look forward to," she whispered back.

Buck swallowed and tried not to physically react to her words. "Damn, woman, don’t do that to a man in company." His heart soared, hearing her sweet laugh.

Isabella, choosing a few appetizers, nodded to the just arrived Brodie. "We have both been burdened with the pain of our injured loved ones," she stated. "I hope your burden, like mine, is now eased."

Brodie smiled. "Dear lady, that’s an understatement. I guess it takes the tough times, to appreciate the good times."

"That it does, that it does." Taking her food, she joined her family.

Brodie waved to Vin and Kelli and moved in their direction to talk to them.


Josiah, Mallory and their kids arrived at almost the same time as Nathan and Rain and their children, both sets of parents relieved to see their kids run off to play.

"Thank God," Rain huffed. "They’ve been so excited; I thought they’d pop."

"I know what you mean," Mallory laughed. "Our two…" she leaned in and whispered, "...were up so early, they almost caught me and Josiah in the throes of passion." Both women giggled.

Nathan and Josiah eyed them with suspicion. "I bet they’re talking about sex," they both said together, then laughed.


Chris and Buck were grinning as they watched, and noted JD limp across the yard attempting to contain his two girls. They squealed with excitement from the moment that they saw their cousins. JD was holding on to the back of JJ’s shirt as the little one tried to keep up with them…intermittently falling, to stand and run again. When JD reached the porch, Jesse held out his hand. The little man willingly took it, and dragging the teen, waddled off toward the other children. JD collapsed into a chair.

"Tough morning?" Buck laughed.

JD waved off a beer from Chris, accepting a soda instead. "Bro, you have 'no' idea! What the hell were Casey and I thinking, having three kids under the age of four?"

"The thing is," Buck winked. "What we actually 'think' with to create the little darlings, isn’t what has to run around after ‘em."

The younger man chuckled. He could not argue with that.


Ezra, Barbara, and Pearl arrived. The women moved in to coo at the little one, while Ezra stood to one side, beaming with pride. He glanced around at his brothers, who all felt their collective bond of seven kick in when he arrived. An amazing sense of peace washed over them. It was good to be together.


A little later, all the brothers gathered. JD was regaling them with the events of the past twenty-four hours with the Dunne family.

"So, after dinner, the girls decided to do some coloring, and I thought I’d test them on their knowledge of colors." JD took a sip of soda. "After about five minutes of me picking up a crayon, and asking what color it was…" JD grinned and shook his head. "…Lilah huffs and stares at me and says, ‘Daddy…I’s gonna ask Miss MCawl to help you learn your colors ‘cause you don’t know any of ‘em." He cackled, laughing harder as his family chuckled with him.

"Was this before or after JJ took your wallet and mislaid it?" Buck asked through his laughter.

 "Before." JD made a face. "I might have to call the bank tomorrow, if it doesn’t turn up soon."

Chris eyed him with suspicion. "And the knee?"

JD rubbed at his sore knee. "Dental floss."

"Dental floss?" they all chorused.

"Oh this is gonna be good." Buck grinned.

Ezra’s eyes glistened, while listening to the conversation. He had so much to look forward to with his little one.

Shrugging, JD glanced towards his girls. "They wrapped my dental floss around the leg of my bed and the leg of my dresser." He grinned as the laughter started, nodding at their assumptions. "Yeah…didn’t see it, did I? Ended up kissing wood floor. That’ll teach me for not locking it up in the bathroom cabinet." He took another swig of soda, leaping to his feet and taking off, with a tiny limp, as he spotted JJ heading for the sandpit. "NO! JJ…don’t strip …JJ!" He returned with a wriggling, naked rug rat, sighing as he sat down and tried putting the toddler’s clothes back on. "Can you believe this? They’re like a miniature tag-team! If it’s not him, it’s the girls, or him and the girls!" He held up his son, and blew on his belly, laughing at the baby’s squeals and hearty chuckles as JD talked and played at the same time.

The more JJ chuckled, the harder JD blew on his tummy. "I…swear…it’s a competition to see…who breaks daddy…first! I’ve had to have eyes up my a…"


All heads turned to the little child's voice yelling. JD was aware of someone taking JJ from him as his head snapped around to the sound of a familiar voice. His heart skipped a beat as he sought out its owner. A bundle of three year old, galloping energy ran at him. JD caught her and swung the squealing girl around. "Hey, munchkin! Great to see you."

Keira giggled as she clung to his neck. "I’s Keira, silly!"

JD grinned at her, but his eyes were scanning the area. His grin widened as Tess walked toward him, the family greeting her as she passed them. JD felt his mouth go dry, and any coherent thoughts as to what to say to her, escaped him. He watched her produce a small bag, and their eyes met.

"Hatless today, John Daniel?" Tess smiled and held out the bag. "I brought you a gift."

Placing Keira down, he motioned towards his girls and several of the children who were squealing out their excitement to Keira, and beckoning her to join them. JD straightened and gazed at Tess. "A gift?"

"Mm hmm." Her smile widened as she handed the package over and he reached inside.

JD laughed as he pulled out a baseball cap with the embroidered words ‘My other hat’s in the laundry’ on the back of it. He placed it on his head with the bill facing backwards so the words were at the front, the way he preferred to wear it. "Thank you. If I’d known you were coming back I’d have baked a cake." He shrugged. "Well…more likely gone to Wal-Mart."

"Always knew you were a classy guy."

"Hey, don’t knock a ‘Great Value Chocolate Lovers’ Delight Slab Cake’, there’s at least one cocoa bean in there." Grinning, they stared at each other, then, moving together, they hugged. "How have you been?" JD whispered in her ear.

"Good, thanks; and all the better for coming home."

Pushing her back, and holding her at arm’s length, JD’s eyes flashed. "Home?"

Tess smiled, and looked around at the happy faces surrounding them. "Home. The longer I was away, the more I thought about you all here, and what this place has come to mean to Keira and me. My only concern was how Keira would feel about leaving her grandparents… she barely knew them before, and while we were in Seattle, they bonded, beautifully."

Now starting to take up seats, Chris prompted her. "But?"

Accepting a glass of wine, Tess nodded. "But, when I asked her about coming back here, she grabbed her little duffle bag, and was stuffing her clothes in it almost before I had finished the sentence."

They all laughed.

Tess took JD’s hand and put on an expression of mock concern. "She was concerned her friend ‘Jaydee’ was missing her."

"Damn straight," JD fired back. "Not to mention the worms have been getting mighty overconfident since the terrible worm-hunting trio has been disbanded."

Tess giggled. "But of course."

JD leaned in. "You’re really okay?"

She nodded. "Really."

He smiled. "Cool. Excuse me for a minute, I’m just gonna go check on the kids."

She watched him move with a slight limp. "Why are you limping?"

"Dental floss," the family chorused.

JD waved them off as he moved away. "Long story!"


Sometime later, the younger ones were napping, and the older ones had opted to chill out, by watching a DVD, leaving the adults to relax for a while. Leaning against a rail with his soda, JD watched Tess interacting with his family. She looked so happy…vibrant… and alive, it warmed his soul. He smiled as Buck joined him.

"Happy to have her back, Squirt?"

JD glanced sideways but did not turn his head. "Uh, sure. Aren’t you?"

Buck laughed at the evasiveness. "You bet." They were silent for a while.

"She looks happy, don’t you think?"

Buck nodded. "Yeah, Kid, she does." He looked at his younger brother. "I know neither of you are up to anything more than friendship right now…but, in my opinion, I reckon you two have something worth working on."

JD bit back a grin, but just shrugged, and sipped his drink. He jolted when his cell vibrated and played a tune JD had set aside for a particular person. Frowning, he straightened and answered. "Hello? Yeah, it’s me…hi. Is something wrong?" Focusing on the caller, JD had not realized he had walked away from the group. "No easy way to tell me what?"

"What!" The message he was receiving rocked him, and JD clung onto the porch rail as he absorbed the words. "How…when? Oh God…oh God!" He gripped the rail harder, his gaze flickering toward the house as thoughts of his children flooded his mind, and his eyes filled with unshed tears.

The rest of the group was listening, Buck now stood next to where he and JD had just been leaning. Vin groaned, and covered his face with one hand, putting them all on alert. Whatever the thoughts were that he was receiving from JD, they were not good…


JD felt his whole world narrowing as he listened to the voice on the phone. Trembling and barely able to comprehend what he heard, he nodded. "Wednesday? Okay. Yeah, sure I’ll help. I…uh…I should be able to get there Monday evening. It’s okay, it’s no problem, I’ll be there. Thanks…thanks for letting me know. I’ll call you tomorrow." Closing his cell, he just stood there staring out across the yard. He jerked when Buck placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.


Taking a breath, JD turned to face his family and Tess, a solitary tear spilling over his lashes. He was too numb to brush it away. JD glanced at Vin, accepting the compassion he saw in his eyes, before looking at them all, and resting his gaze on Chris.

"That was Nettie. S…sometime in the early hours of this morning…Casey…" He swallowed. "Casey was hit by a truck."

"How badly is she injured?" Chris frowned, reading Vin's silent message. The women reacted to JD's news with a collective gasp.

JD shook his head, and his gaze dropped to the floor. "She…she's dead." He could hear some of the women cry out, and murmurs from his brothers, but he could not bear to look at them. All he could think about was how surreal it all seemed; Casey was too young to die…how they had not been on the best of terms the past year, and now they could never put that right. Despite their estrangement, they had once lived together, loved together, had kids together. His breath hitched. ‘Oh God…the kids.’

Buck wrapped his hand around JD’s head, and pulled him close, the stunned silence heavy as JD stammered out, "How do I tell the kids, Buck?"

Those words rallied everyone, and soon they had JD seated.

"You said something about Wednesday?" Ezra sympathized.

Blinking hard to recall, JD nodded. "Funeral." He swallowed. "Nettie thinks the funeral will be Wednesday."

Chris moved closer. "And Monday night?"

JD shuddered and stared at his hands. "She…she asked if I would help with the arrangements." Another tear escaped. He was not weeping, but his emotions were intense when he looked up at them. "I couldn't refuse, could I?"

"I’m coming with you, kid," Buck stated, his glance around assured him that it was the right decision when he received nods and comforting smiles from Inez and Isabella.

JD offered his own thin smile. "Thank you," he whispered.

Chris nodded, looking with regret at Tanner and Standish. "I hate to point this out Vin, but you can’t fly just yet. Prolonged travel isn’t a great idea either, but it’s your call. Ezra, while Barbara’s taken to motherhood, I’m guessing your presence has been invaluable. We’ll all understand if you stay here."

Ezra wanted to go, but JD was well covered, and his wife and baby still needed him. "If you don’t mind, I shall stay, and in the meantime, endeavor to look over any necessary paperwork while you are gone."

Vin shifted in his chair, his gaze catching JD’s. He knew his recent injuries prevented him from flying, and realized that he might not be up to the trip. "I reckon you’re right about the travelin'…it’s too soon, and in truth, I’m nowhere close to bein' a hundred percent." He acknowledged JD’s nod, and returned the squeeze to his hand from Kelli.

"Okay," Chris agreed, "that’s settled then. The rest of us will join JD and Buck once the date is confirmed." He placed a hand on JD’s shoulder. "Take all the time you need for you and the kids, JD. I’ll square it with Travis."

JD nodded. "Th…thanks, Chris."

"You and the kids are staying with us tonight."

JD heard the words, but they took a while to filter through his turbulent thoughts. He blinked at Buck. "Huh?"

"Staying with us…tonight…you and the kids."

JD shook his head. "No…thanks, but…no. I just want to go home and…" he sighed. "I dunno, hug the kids, and be alone for a while." He smiled at the concern. "I’ll be fine," he promised. "I just need to do this, okay?"

Buck was not okay with it, but he nodded anyway. He wanted to support the kid, and he would, even if he was not happy with JD’s decision.

 "How was Nettie holding up?" Chris asked JD.

"She sounded awful. I said I’d call tomorrow."

Vin nodded as he listened to the exchange. He would, too.

Tess watched the proceedings in stunned awe. She was upset for JD and the children, but marveled at how the family rallied to make plans. These were amazing people.

They all sat together for a while, reminiscing, until JD decided to call it a day, and take his kids home. With heavy hearts, they watched him hold JJ close, and trudge back to his home with the girls holding hands and Daisy holding his. No one wanted to see him go off alone, but all respected his need to do so.

Tess had to ask. "Does…does JD still love Casey?"

Buck answered. "Sure, but not as a husband, it's more like an old friend." Buck pursed his lips before continuing. "Like he once said, he loved her too much to ever come to hate her. There would always be history and affection there, and the kids a constant reminder of what they used to be. So yeah, he still cares. He fought the divorce, but once he got past the hurt, he knew it was the right thing to do." Buck gave a small smile. "Besides…he told me he’s happier now than he’s been in a long time." His eyes conveyed a silent message to Tess, and he felt sure she understood.

Inez dabbed at her eyes with a Kleenex. "It is just so sad. Casey was far too young to die. Poor Nettie." She looked at her husband. "I want to accompany the others when they join you and JD?"

Cait, Mallory, and Rain nodded, speaking together. "Me, too."

Chris acknowledged them. "I’m sure we can arrange that. Nettie and JD will be glad to have your support."

The news had them all reflecting and giving thanks that they still had their partners. As they broke up to head home, each of them glanced toward JD’s current home, and then beyond it to where the Wells’ residence once stood. It was the end of an era. 

Dunne Home – 2:00 am

JD sighed as he watched his children sleeping. They were tuckered out after such a busy day and had crashed almost the moment they came out of the bath, and in their PJs. JD was not sure whether to feel sad or relieved. Sad, because it had given him a lot of time to reflect; and relieved because it pained him to know that, no matter how vicious and flaky Casey had become, the kids would never have her in their lives again.

Her recent behavior was disturbing, but JD was the eternal optimist, and had hoped with all his heart that she would have turned it all around, and found the happiness and peace of mind she had sought, as he had.

Less than a year ago, JD’s body still ached to hold Casey and make love to her…not that he ever admitted it to his family. He shook his head. Yeah, like they had not figured it out. Talia had been a disaster, but filled a void in his life that had been causing him so much unrest. Once she was gone, JD had gained some perspective, and though he yearned for the same type of love and company his brothers had with their wives, his need for it diminished, as his enthusiasm for single fatherhood grew.

‘Enthusiasm’. JD pondered that for a moment, unsure if it was the correct word, but it seemed to fit his current demeanor. Casey’s recent volatile behavior had brought out the best in him…opened his eyes to what he held close, and for that, he would always be grateful to her. Her actions had made him the father he had always aspired to be. He knew this because he had become the father he had always wanted for himself. The difference was that it came naturally, and he did not have to think about it or Casey anymore.

Now in his bedroom he removed a small case from a drawer and opened it. Inside his wedding ring and his mother’s cross and chain, lay nestled in tissue. He had given the necklace to Casey after she agreed to marry him. His mother had wished it to be for the woman he loved. When they parted, and despite JD’s protests, Casey had insisted he take it back. She felt his mother wanted it to be with him if he no longer had a woman to love. Looking at it now, JD figured she was right.

Squeezing the jewelry in his hand, JD finally gave in to the emotion that was choking him, and wept. He wept for the girl, the woman, and the friend they lost some while ago. He wept for the mother his children would never grow up to know. He wept for Nettie’s loss; and then he wept for himself; for all the recent arguments, bitterness, and undercover observations that revealed what a twisted individual Casey had become; and for having to one day soon tell his kids about all this. His level of grief compounded his emotions because it was shallower than he expected. In truth, his thoughts after the initial shock had been for his kids, and a young woman that was capturing his heart, and helping him sever his ties with his turbulent, personal history.

Casey’s new life and abandonment of her children would amount to nothing more than a small service and a pine box. Before JD crashed from exhaustion, his thoughts were of telling those close to him how much they meant to him, and making sure, from this moment on that he would embrace family, friendships, work, and the Legends Legacy as if every day was his last. The time to start a new page had arrived…not with the fanfare he had imagined it would, but on the winds of tragedy. He would turn this into a positive…and during what remained of the night, JD dreamt of a phoenix rising from the ashes of what had once been his home, and Vin standing close by, observing, nodding, and smiling.


 Chapter 5

Personal battles may be singular, but none of our brethren ever stands alone.  

Tanner Home, Monday, 4:00 am

Vin reached over, turned on the bedside light, and picked up his writing pad and pen. Sleep was elusive for him tonight, and he hoped to clear his mind by working on his new list. A short time later, he felt Kelli stir beside him, and smiled when her soft voice penetrated the silence.

"You need your rest, Tanner. How you gonna heal if you don't sleep?" She snuggled closer, laying her hand on his chest, over his heart. "Thinkin' about JD, Casey, and Nettie?"

Setting his writing tools aside, he shifted his position, taking her into his embrace. "Some about them. I hate that Casey never found her way back. I worry about Nettie's health, and I plan to talk with JD later today, but," Vin recalled what he had seen in his dream, "I have a feelin' the Kid is gonna do okay." He kissed the top of her head, and told her, "Mostly 'm thinkin' about you." Smoothing his hand over her bare thigh, ass, and up to her back, he massaged the area between her shoulder blades. "Did you mean what you said?"

"Hmmm… that feels good, and I always mean what I say." Raising her head, she looked up at him. "What did I say?"

"You said, you'd make love with me, anyway I asked, anytime, anywhere."

Kelli smiled. "Of course I meant it. I'd be a fool to refuse amazin', passionate, sexy loving' from my man."

"Good answer." Vin chuckled. "I'm makin' a list of places we need to try out."

Rolling her eyes, Kelli grinned. "You have too much time on your hands, Tanner. Just how many places do you have on that list?"

"So far, ten, but I just started a few minutes before you woke up." He lowered his head to give her a soft, sweet kiss. "You're so much a part of me, Kel. I love you more than I did when we married, and I didn't think that was possible. I tried to imagine what JD and Casey went through, and I'm at a loss to understand how two people, who loved one another once, could end up so far apart. I can't even begin to think about how I'd feel if I lost you….if…"

Placing two fingers on his lips, Kelli said, "Then don't think about it. You and I will never have to face what JD and Casey did. We've passed every test life has thrown at us with flyin' colors, and our love is gettin' stronger every day." She trailed her fingers across his jaw line. "You're stuck with me, Tanner, here, now, and always. You are everythin' to me, and while I might want to strangle you once in a while, I could never hurt you."

"Ah my Sassy, " Vin whispered as he lifted his leg over hers. Pressing his throbbing arousal against her, and running his fingers through her hair, he gazed into her eyes. "Stuck with you for eternity…sounds damn good to me, but… lovin' you right now sounds even better." Her gasp of pleasure made him smile. Taking his time, he took them to their own private paradise, leaving the rest of the world behind.


Several hours later, Kelli was ready for her first day back at work, and attempting to rush Jason and Andi along to leave for school. She did not feel that great, but chalked it up to everything that was going on, and the anticipation of starting a new assignment. She decided not to mention it to Vin, since he had enough to worry about without her adding to it. "We're out this door in three minutes, kids."

Vin handed Jason his lunch bag, and then Andi hers, hugging them both. "Y'all don't want to make mama late on her first day at school do you?"

"Mom's gonna teach?" Andi asked as she hurried to the door.

"Not if your brother doesn't quit dawdlin'." Kelli leaned down to kiss Trey, and then Bren, on their cheeks, dangling her keys towards Jason.

Jason took the offered keys from her, and ran ahead of Andi. "I'm calling shotgun." Then the argument between the two siblings began, as they raced to Kelli's truck, almost running over Brodie, who was coming up the walkway. "Oops…sorry grandpa, we're late for school."

"Reckon y'all best get along then." Brodie was still smiling when he entered the kitchen. He stood by, while Vin and Kelli said good-bye.

Releasing his wife from a passionate kiss, Vin swatted her rump. "Have a good day, Baby."

"You too, and don't overdo." Kelli grabbed her bag, and glanced at her father-in-law as she rushed past him. "Make him behave."

"I'll do what I can." Brodie assured her as he watched her go. Turning, he accepted a steaming cup of coffee from Max. "Thanks." Moving to sit at the table next to the twins, he grinned as he observed their obvious excitement about seeing him. The time he had spent with them over the weekend was fun for all three of them. He turned his attention to his son. "How are you feeling this morning?"

"Better." Vin sat down with a fresh cup of coffee. "I know I'm not a hundred percent, but I'm gettin' there." He took a sip. "I just wish I was healed enough to fly to Arizona with JD."

Brodie nodded. "He knows you would if you could, but I'm glad you're heeding the doctor's advice. You need to strengthen those lungs before you do any flying. In fact, that's one reason I'm here. You ready to start a light workout routine?"

"Now's as good a time as any I reckon. I'm already wearin' sweats, and we can use the gym at Camp Larabee."

"Good," Brodie said. "Just remember I'm the coach, and you'll stop when I say so."

Vin shook his head, and sighed, muttering below his breath about another mother hen. "Yes, Dad." He pushed back his chair. "Max, you okay with the boys?"

Max laid her dishtowel down, and put her hands on her hips. "Of course I am. That's my job and I love it. Now shoo, quit looking for an excuse to put it off, and get your butt out of here."

Joining his father by the door, Vin pushed past him. "You coming, Old Man?"

"Right behind you, Kid." Brodie winked at the twins before he left. "I have a feeling your daddy will be napping the same time y'all are."

Max smiled, knowing he was right. "Plan on lunch here, and go easy on him or Kelli will have your hide." The only response she received was a grin and a wave as Brodie walked out the door.

MCAT Training Academy

Kelli stowed her bag in a locker, and walked toward her assigned room. Sam Russo stopped her in the hallway. "I know this is your first classroom training assignment, and wanted to let you know I'll be auditing your session today. It's nothing personal, just standard routine ops for a new instructor."

"No problem." Kelli answered as she opened the door. "I won't be doing anythin' with you in the room that I wouldn't do without you there."

They walked in together, and the first thing Kelli noticed was the vase of flowers on her desk. She did not have to read the card to know that the beautiful yellow roses were from Vin. She smiled, walked to the center of the room, and addressed her class of cadets. "I'm Agent Coulter, and you'll be seein' me every Monday and Thursday for the next eight weeks."

MCAT Office

Chris walked into the conference room where Nathan and Josiah waited for him. "Travis arranged time off for us to attend the funeral and gather with our families. He's arranging our transportation via the MCAT jet, and said we can take off anytime we want. After we return to work, we'll go on active status for the next case on the roster."

Josiah looked up. "I pulled the official police report from Phoenix. The case is closed, and ruled an accident."

"Anyone talked to Nettie?" Nathan glanced at Josiah and Chris.

"I did. She's not doing so well." Chris answered. "Nettie gave up everything for that girl, and her health has suffered for it." He sighed, "Hell, we need to be at home with our brothers. Let's get out of here."

Larabee 7

Brodie watched his son for any sign that said he had overdone his workout, and was puzzled when Vin insisted they stop at the barn on the way home. "You did well, Son, but aren't you ready for a break?"

"Soon enough, but I need to do this first." Vin stopped once they were inside standing next to the stalls, and faced his father. "Kel and I discussed this, so I don't wanna hear any protest. You were there for her when she needed support, and I'm damn grateful for it." He held up his hand to stay his response. "We're family, yes, and that's what family does, but sometimes a man needs to know how much he's appreciated. After yesterday, I decided not to put this off any longer." He glanced over at the horse stabled in the closest stall. "We want you to take Midnight. He's yours, and not because of any one thing you did, but because we wanted to share with you somethin' that's special to both of us."

Vin had told him the story of how Midnight came to be his, and while he appreciated the thought, he started shaking his head. "Kelli gave you that horse. I can't take him."

"As she pointed out, she gave him to me out of love, and that's why we're givin' him to you. While we can learn from our past mistakes, the important thing is where we are now. We shouldn't put off lettin' people we care about know how we feel." Vin cleared his throat, pushing back the unexpected emotions threatening to overtake him. "Take the horse, Dad."

A curt nod was all Brodie could manage. Allowing the truth to come out had freed him from the shackles of his past mistakes, and had given him more peace than he ever expected to find or felt that he deserved. Family…he had one now, and he needed to accept his blessings without question. "I'm honored, Son."

Vin nodded, and took a deep breath. "Now we can go inside, I wanna call Nettie, and then rest up from the gruelin' workout you put me through." Walking side-by-side, father, and son headed towards the house. Their years of estrangement were a distant memory, and Fate had given them the gift of time to build on their future.

Dunne Home 7:30 am

Hovering over two mugs, JD stirred the boiled water into the coffee as he heard the sound of a car engine shutting off outside. Tess had picked up his kids and taken them to Reins, promising to return once they were in class. Knowing she needed this day to settle back into her home, JD was grateful and honored that she would take the time to do this for him.

Once they sat down at the kitchen breakfast bar, Tess studied his face. "Did you sleep?"

JD nodded. "Yeah, eventually."

Her features saddened and she clasped his hand in hers. "I’m so sorry."

Smiling, and clinging to the hand that felt so good in his, he nodded. "Thanks, but…I need to share something with you."


He paused for a moment or two. "About Casey…I’m devastated about all this, I truly am, but not for the reasons you might think." He waited for a reaction, but her gaze remained soft so he continued. "You recall I took a trip to Phoenix?" He watched her nod. "While I was there, what I saw…shocked me. She was like a different person…dressed like a common streetwalker and drunk. She had men pawing at her and when I tried to talk to her…" he touched his cheek as he recalled their confrontation. "She struck me. It took me back to beyond our initial troubles and reminded me of how, through our whole relationship, she would be in my face about everything." He dropped his gaze for a split-second.

"Don’t get me wrong, I could handle it…her…but, just thinking on it helped me realize, as a couple, we never …grew." He raised one hand. "We loved each other, and to a degree, I always will…love her; but, after she attacked me, I worked through it, out of choice, mostly alone, and decided no matter what, I’d stand by her." His features saddened.

"But while I recovered physically and mentally, and tried to be a father and mother to our kids, she decided to give up on everything. On me, us, and on our children. I also found out that during one of her selfish walkouts from us, she cheated on me, and then came back as if nothing had happened. I know she wasn’t well, but…when I learned about it I think, deep down, if I had been more honest with myself, I would have admitted it was never gonna be the same." He squeezed Tess’s hand.

"You see, I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I could never have done that to her. Once I reconciled all that, I knew us divorcing was the right thing to do, and so I focused on the kids and our lives together as a foursome, while she threw away everything she had achieved, and used our kids as weapons against me." He sighed. "She wasn’t my Casey anymore." He cursed at the tear rolling down his cheek. "I called Nettie when you took the kids for me. She told me Casey hadn’t been home for several days before her death. The police said eyewitnesses claimed that she staggered out from a nightclub yelling at someone, and walked straight into the street." He shuddered. "She never stood a chance."

Tess could not bear it. JD had shared so much of his most personal confidences, bared his soul to her, just like she had to him, and a wave of emotion eclipsed her as she held him close, and wept for them both. They remained that way for some time, until the shrill ringing from the phone drew them back to the here and now. Pulling back, Tess wiped at her tears and thumbed away JD’s solitary trail. She stood.

"Take the call. I’ll talk to you later." As she moved to the door, and JD headed to the phone, Tess called to him. "John Daniel…thank you for trusting me. I’ll always be here for you."

Watching her go, JD nodded and picked up the handset. "Hello? Hey Father…how are you?" JD smiled as Father Rafferty’s warm tones and kind words washed over him. He took a seat. "Thanks, I appreciate that. Yeah, I’d like to talk, if you have a minute."

Larabee 7, 4:00 pm

The family had gathered. JD and Buck were yet to arrive. Chris was driving them to the airfield to catch the MCAT jet to Phoenix. It felt good to be together. While Casey was officially no longer family, they each had some good memories of her time with them before it all fell apart, and that was where their focus was now. That, and to be supportive. Now was not the time to harbor grudges, the time was past for bitterness. This was the time for healing, embracing what was still theirs, and within their grasp…and for family.

As Buck and JD pulled up and went to grab their bags and suits from the truck, Buck stopped JD and stared at him. "Kid, before we do this, I need to talk to you."

JD nodded. "Okay."

Buck paused while he gathered his thoughts. "When…when Casey stabbed you…I was so angry at her, Nettie too, not to mention Vin and Kelli…but Casey…God forgive me… I wanted her to pay." He noted JD swallow and continued. "I was scared. I thought you were going to die, then, when you recovered, the anger remained, and all I could think of was why wasn’t she locked up for hurting you. I couldn’t believe my ears when you were prepared to stand by her, but, you have to know, even though I didn’t agree, I always supported you."

JD nodded again.

"It took a long time to let go of the anger, especially when she kept coming back at you with yet another barrow-full of shit. However, while I was getting over what happened in Purgatory, it made me look at my life. I got to thinking, ‘what if that had been Inez?’" He reached out and squeezed the back of JD’s neck. "I just needed you to know…I’m not proud of how I acted back then, but I also needed you to know what was driving me." His heart pounded as he waited for a reaction, praying he had timed this right.

JD moved in and embraced the big man, Buck’s arms coming up to return the gesture.

"You’ve always been there for me, Buck…through the good decisions and bad. You’ve yelled and cursed, but always supported. I know what drives you…because it drives me, too."  He smiled. "I just don’t always get so demonstrative…." Patting each other on the back, they parted.  

Buck tilted his head. "So…we’re good?"

"Always. Will we disagree again? For sure. Will we screw up? Hell yeah, but whatever happens, we know it’s done with love and we’ll move on. I hate all this, but I can’t change it. If there’s one thing the Legends lessons have taught me, it’s to embrace our mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Yeah, Bro…we’re good, and Buck…thanks for doing this with me."

Buck’s smile lit up his face as he displayed a rare blush. "Shoot, kid, where the hell else would I be?" They picked up their belongings and walked into Chris and Cait's home.


Having spent time talking with their brothers and sisters, Vin caught JD’s eye, and gestured for him to go to the study. Once inside, he drew close to the younger man. "Y’all set?" He smiled when JD shook his head. "Yeah, I know. How the hell do you prepare for somethin' like this?"

JD blew out a breath. "I always thought I’d go first, Vin, you know…the job and all. I…I just wish we had parted on better terms."

"I wish I could be there with you…" Vin stayed the impending comment, knowing that JD understood. "I want to share somethin’ with you, do you mind?" JD shook his head, while Vin placed a hand on the side of the younger man’s head, and closed his eyes, encouraging JD to do the same. JD gasped as an image of Casey when they first met entered his mind. She was smiling, waving, and walking through a field of tall, breeze kissed grass toward something too beautiful to put into words. When the image disappeared, JD’s eyes opened.

"What…what was that?"

Vin shrugged his good shoulder. "Not sure. It came to me in a dream last night, and I felt sure it wasn’t for me. I hope it helps."

Damnit…JD felt his eyes fill with moisture…again. He fought it and nodded. "It does, thank you."

Still with his hand on JD’s head, Vin patted him softly. "Take care, and give my love to Nettie."

Returning to the group, JD and Buck shook hands or hugged everyone goodbye. They finished with an emotional group hug with Inez and Isabella, then with their own children, before Chris did their familiar ‘circle of brotherhood’, and then drove them to the jet. As they were about to board, Chris nodded to them and said, "See you Tuesday," and then they were gone.

Phoenix Arizona

Buck and JD’s reunion with Nettie was emotional, their concern growing for the elderly woman who looked frailer than they had ever known her to be. JD asked if he could see Casey, and Buck waited in the hallway of the funeral home while he visited. It was a sad reunion, and Casey’s injuries could not be concealed, but as JD touched the casket and said his goodbyes, he clung to the image Vin had gifted him with. He closed his eyes, and hoped his gratitude to his older brother reached Denver.


Tuesday morning saw the two brothers attending to all the loose ends. JD helped Nettie pick out an outfit for Casey’s final journey, as well as finalized everything with the funeral home and the caterers. There were not many expected to attend, but Nettie insisted the Wild Bunch would not leave her, and Phoenix, without eating. Before Buck and JD realized, it was time to meet their family at the private airstrip where the MCAT jet would be landing.

As they waited, JD looked at Buck and nudged him. "Thanks."

Buck winked. "Not necessary."

JD nodded. "I know, but I would have struggled here on my own. So…thanks." They watched the jet land, and taxi, and then they headed to the arrivals lounge.


It was a heartwarming reunion, with fast exchanges of information from both sides. Sensing the silent message being conveyed, the women moved back, and Chris stepped forward, extending the palm of his hand, upwards. One by one, as on Monday, the brothers formed a circle, and placed their own hands on top of his.

Seizing the moment, JD spoke. "I know this will sound kinda sappy, but I just wanted to say that you all, Vin, and Ezra, are men I have always looked up to, and aspired to be like. It saddens me that Casey missed the point, unlike the other amazing women of this family. I’d be lost without you. Thanks for all you’ve done for me and my kids, and for being here."

Savoring their collective presence and sending the emotion it evoked toward Denver, the brothers stayed tight for a minute or so, before breaking up, joining the ladies and heading for their hotel.


 While on a warm, sunny Wednesday morning the men and women of L7 said a quiet goodbye in Phoenix, back in Denver, one special schoolteacher took the hands of two little girls and their baby brother, and together they planted three trees in memory of their mother. The little ones had yet to learn why they had done this, but Tess hoped it would one-day give them comfort. The soft, whispering breeze that wafted over and around them endorsed that thought as they headed home.


Chapter 6

October, Chris's Journal

The past month has been a tough one for the Wild Bunch. After news of Casey's death left everyone reassessing their priorities, Nettie's passing ten days later from a heart attack had them reeling. While we all miss Nettie, for Vin and JD it was especially hard. Nettie nurtured Vin during his teen-age years, and gave him a home when he needed one. For JD, she was a loving aunt since the day he had married Casey, and his children's only blood link to their mother. Nevertheless, with support from family, they both took time to grieve, and then looked forward.

JD's new home is finished. He and the kids moved in this week, and The Wild Bunch have a big housewarming party planned for later today. The drawback for him was accepting that the part of their divorce agreement, which required him to carry Casey on his medical for two years, included a life insurance policy. The amount doubled since her death was accidental, and the payout was substantial. The burden of what to do about it dampened his enthusiasm about the new house. After careful consideration, and on Ezra's advice, he took the money to pay off Casey's outstanding medical, legal, and personal bills. He also invested a portion of it for Lilah, Daisy, and JJ's future, donated some to the building fund for the new L7 activity center for our children, and used the rest to purchase special accessories for the kids' new rooms.

Ezra returned to MCAT with an album filled with pictures of Pearl. Our MCAT caseload has been light, but I expect we'll soon have a major case handed to us. While we still have a few issues to work out with our 'new connection', we're making progress. Vin is healing, and he hopes to be back at work soon. He is using his downtime to explore our legacy further, and attempting to define his role as a Heart Warrior, as well as getting back in top physical condition. Kelli has a few more weeks to instruct at the academy. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, Alpha Team should be complete again very soon.

Brodie and Vin have already begun to transform Tanner's old place into the ranch office. We are all pleased about Brodie's accomplishments with L7. He has had the reins for a short time, but we can see the differences, and wholeheartedly approve. Standish also 'encouraged' CPS to find permanent accommodations for their intake facility, and now Cait has hired a full staff at Reins, and has the room to lodge them. Consequently, she has trimmed back her schedule to working part-time, which allows her to concentrate on our new arrival.

Cait and I also made an important decision regarding our little one. We decided not to have genetic tests run due to her age, and possible risks. Our new child is a gift, and God willing our baby will arrive sometime in April and be healthy. We will love him or her, regardless of the outcome of any tests. On the other hand, we look forward to finding out if we're having a boy or a girl. Either is fine with me, but I would like to pick out the right color paint for the nursery.

I hear Cait stirring in the kitchen, which means the rest of our brood, will not be far behind, so I suppose I should close for now.

Larabee Home, 8:00 am

Cody squealed with delight when Bren and Trey ran through the open door ahead of their father. The three toddlers began communicating in a language that only they understood. Chris and Vin exchanged smiles knowing their sons were 'talking' with one another, the same way they did.

Cait shook her head; she saw it, believed it, but no way did she understand how the boys 'inherited' their fathers' ability to communicate. Handing Vin a steaming cup of coffee, she asked Jesse, "Honey, would you take the little ones to the playroom, and supervise them for me? I'll relieve you in a few minutes."

Jesse grinned, pushed back his chair, and took Grace by the hand. "Come on munchkin; let's escort these three imps to the toys." With little effort, he maneuvered the four children out of the kitchen.

Vin sat down at the table. "Thanks Cait. I think those kids would follow Jesse anywhere."

Cait answered, "Over the years, and with all the different places he lived, Jesse always related to the younger children better than his peers. He likes them, and they like him, a good combination."

Chris sensed that Tanner had something on his mind, but was willing to wait until he was ready to share. "You know we love seeing the twins anytime, but what did you do with Kelli, Jason, and Andi?"

"Dad took Jason and Andi ridin' earlier, and I'm lettin' Kel sleep in. She's not feelin' too great. I figured if it was quiet, she might rest better."

"Kelli's ill?" Chris frowned. "What's wrong with her?"

Setting his cup down, Vin shrugged his shoulder. "Not sure. I know she's pushed herself the past couple of months. Between spendin' every spare minute with me and the kids, fillin' in for Barbara at CASA, assistin' Mal with the self defense class at the women's shelter, helpin' me finish the murals for JD's kids' rooms, and workin' two days a week, she hasn't made time for her. I reckon havin' me grouchy, and underfoot so long hasn't helped either."

Cait smiled. "Is it possible she's got the baby bug?"

With a shake of his head, the Texan sighed, Kelli was hoping, but he was receiving mixed signals, and did not think that was the reason she was ill. "As much as we'd like that, and Lord knows we've been tryin', I think it's somethin' else. She was supposed to go back to see Doctor Weeks in August, but with me hurt, and everythin' else going on, she's put it off."

"I assume you're making her go to the doctor tomorrow?" Chris knew the answer but asked anyway.

"Damn straight," Vin nodded, "and for once she didn't argue with me." He sat there sipping on his coffee, not offering any more information.

'You didn't come over just to tell me Kel was not well. What else?'

'Got a phone call last night from one of my snitches.'

Cait knew when it was time to leave the two men alone. "I think I'll go check on the kids." She stood, kissed Chris on the cheek, and exited the room.

Tanner waited until she was out of earshot. "Gino has always been a reliable source. He says he has somthin' important …and he'll only talk to me."

"When and where?"

"Parking area at the entrance to the Lookout Mountain hikin' trail, tonight, eleven o'clock."

Chris nodded. "We'll leave by ten, so we can scout the area before he arrives."

"Works for me," he flashed a grin, "hell, not just anybody gets Rambo for backup."

"Rambo, my ass," Chris huffed. "You're still on sick leave, Captain, and I'm not taking any chances on you getting into something that could prolong your return to MCAT. Now go home and take care of my daughter. Cait and I will take Bren and Trey over to JD's with us."

"Thanks, I think I'll do just that." Standing, Vin picked up his empty cup, and then took it to the sink. "See y'all later," he said as he walked out the door.

Chris sat a few minutes longer. He had a bad feeling about a late night meet, but he planned to cover Tanner's back, no matter how it turned out.

Dunne Home, 10:00 am

JD stood at the patio door, watching his children and Keira explore their new playground wonderland. His gaze moved to the other side of the yard where the three trees that Tess helped the kids' plant in memory of their mother were. It was difficult to comprehend all that had happened during the past few weeks. Casey's death, then Nettie's, was hard to accept, and then dealing with the details of legal issues on top of that was daunting. Thank heaven Ezra had been there to advise him, or he would still be trying to figure it out. At the same time, completing construction on the house, buying furniture, coordinating deliveries, and working, left him with little time to dwell on the changes in his life.

Tess, Inez, and Isabella, had been lifesavers. They had taken on details he did not have time for while moving his family, and they coordinated every detail of today's housewarming. Inez and Isabella's help was not so surprising, but Tess had gone beyond what he expected. She had been a godsend with the kids, and …for him. Her quiet support, and listening ear, helped him make it from one day to the next. Now, standing here in his own home, with his children enjoying a huge yard, he felt as if he should pinch himself, just to make certain it was real.

"Smile, John Daniel, or you'll have permanent wrinkles from frowning." Tess walked into the room from the kitchen, where she, Inez, and Isabella were cooking. Moving to stand next to him, she smiled. "Keira is having fun. Thanks for including her."

"Lilah, Daisy, and JJ already think she's part of the family. They all do okay together." He turned to look at her. "Besides, I should be thanking you. You've done so much to help me pull all this together. Hell, without you I'd be looking at some crazy colored drapes in my bedroom, instead of the cream ones you suggested. They go much better with the blue carpet than the patterned ones I considered."

Tess shook her head. "You thanked me with dinner last night. I liked the restaurant you picked, the food was great…" she grinned, "…and the company wasn't so bad either."

"Uh oh, wait for the roof to collapse. You actually said something nice about me."

"You have your moments, John Daniel." She looked around the finished sunroom. "I think all the details you've included in your new home to safe guard the children is remarkable. The fenced in yard, the curved, padded corners on the playground equipment, the smaller spacing on the railings, the intercom system, enclosing the deck area so they can't fall, and locks on the access doors to the upper areas….all of those things only a caring parent would think about."

"I had a lot of good advice from my brothers and their wives, and after Daisy got hurt on the play set before, which included a memorable trip to the ER, I decided we didn't need sharp edges." JD shrugged. "Of course, I'm learning more every day …I have to work hard to stay one step ahead of my kids. It would be easy to lose them in a place this size."

Shaking her head, Tess smiled. "You'd never lose them, and you have a wonderful family. The murals Vin and Kelli painted for the kids' rooms are beautiful, Buck and Inez helped you more than I ever did, and the outdoor kitchen they all went together on, and gave you…"

JD's laugh interrupted her. "They are a great family, but the outdoor kitchen was so I can host some of the family get-togethers for a change. I didn't do that near enough before…but then I didn't have a place that was all mine either."

Tess nodded. "You'll get used to it, I'm sure." She stepped forward and cupped his cheek "You're doing okay Mister Dunne. Nice touch remembering the girls wanted pink beds and the Broncos football theme for JJ…masterful. Keep this up and I might…just might…move you up a notch on my nice people meter." She laughed, dropped her hand, and turned to leave. "I need to get back in there and help, or Inez might fire me. Enjoy your home John Daniel; you deserve some good things in your life."

JD smiled as he watched her walk out of the room. It struck him how different she was from Casey. Tess was resilient, a good listener, he enjoyed their conversations, as well as her sense of humor, and she made him feel good about himself. Not everything was all about her either, she showed an interest in the things he liked, and treated his children like her own. She was also easy on the eyes, and the longer he knew her, the more he found to admire about her. Tess was someone he considered a good friend…did he dare consider rocking that boat, by wanting more than friendship?


By noon, JD's new home was filling with family. He had given most of them 'the tour', and found that he was enjoying the hell out of showing off his new digs. Of course, the guys teased him about his fancy hot tub, but that was one pleasure he did not mind them making fun about. After discovering the one at Vin's old place, he knew he had to have one, and it was the one thing, other than his computer equipment that he had splurged on for himself.

Kelli had stayed home. In case her illness was contagious, she did not want to expose the kids, or the rest of the family, to whatever she had. Rain had to work, and Mallory was on a crisis call, but all the men were there, along with Tess, Inez, Barbara, Caitlyn, Donald, Lillian, Max, Walter, and Brodie. Of course the Wild Bunch kids were present and keeping the adults on their toes.

The food was fantastic as usual, and once the meal was finished, Buck stood up, gaining everyone's attention. "Well, we did it. Our boy is all grown up, and master of his own castle. JD, you've come a long way, Kid. We're proud of you. Now come on up here and say a few words."

With a little prodding, JD joined Buck, and took the hug his big brother offered. "Thanks, Bro…and thanks to all of you for the help and support you've given me and the kids. Standing here, with all of my family and friends around…feels great. Plus we finished the house, and moved before the first snowfall of the year."

"Not by much," Chris yelled, "the forecast says we're in for a cold blast headed our way."

JD shook his head. "Doesn't matter now. Let it come…the Dunne family will be snug and warm in their own home for the winter." He looked out at the people he loved and cared about more than anything in the world. "Vin, you and Kelli made my kids happy with the murals, Buck…Inez…Isabella; I couldn't have done this without your encouragement. Chris, the kitchen accessories you and Cait gave me, I'm sure I'll use. Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, I appreciate your help setting up my new office, and the outdoor grill and kitchen you all gifted me with…I promise to put it to good use by having lots of family shindigs here."

Vin chuckled. "That was our plan."

"Yeah I figured," JD said with a grin. "Ladies, all of you gave me good ideas about décor, and I'm grateful. Thanks too, for sharing Mila with me. I wouldn't have thought about needing a housekeeper before, but…" he glanced around, "I never had this much space to clean either." Clearing his throat, he had one more thing to say. "Most of all, I want you all to know …I'm in a good place in my life for the first time in a long while…I wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for my family."

Buck saw the emotions that were bubbling up from JD and decided to help. "Now that we're neighbors… how about sharing that pool table in your rec room…along with some beer?"

"I vote for that," Chris added as he stood and wrapped his arm around JD. "How about it, Kid? … you and me against old Buck and Vin?"

"Ez, you take 'em on for me. I need to go check on Kel." Vin started to round up his kids, but Brodie stopped him.

"You take care of Kelli, I'll bring the kids home in a while."

Nodding, Vin gripped JD's shoulder. "Enjoy your new home, Kid."

"I plan to do just that. See you later." JD's spirits lifted, and he led the men to the rec room. His new pool table was about to be christened.

Tanner Home, 9:45 pm

The short blare of the horn from Chris's truck alerted Vin to the time. He tucked his service weapon into its holster, before zipping up his jacket. It felt strange wearing it again after all these weeks, but he was not about to meet Gino without being armed. He was a good snitch, yet he was also a two-time ex-con, who did not adhere to all the rules of law. "Dad, I appreciate you stayin', while I'm gone. The kids are all down, and I just checked on Kel. She's asleep for now, but I know she feels worse than she did this afternoon…keep a close watch on her for me."

"No problem, Son, and you know I'll watch over them." Brodie walked him to the door. "You focus on what you're doing, and don't worry about what's going on here."

"If all goes well, we should be back in a couple of hours. If you need…"

Brodie stopped him. "You sound like a first-time mother instructing a babysitter. Go Captain Tanner…I still know how to stand guard."

"Reckon you do…" Vin grinned, "Sorry...I'm a bit out of practice."

"Get the hell out of here." Brodie slapped him on the back. "Don't make me come looking for either of you."

Vin gave him a backhanded wave as he headed out to Chris's truck. He might not be back officially yet, but it felt good returning to a familiar pattern of work.

Lookout Mountain 11:15 pm

Chris glanced at the clock on the dash. "Your boy is late."

"He said he'd be here…he will."

"We'll give him another twenty minutes." Chris double-checked the cover on the dome light to make certain they remained unseen when the doors opened, leaned back, and prepared to wait.

Vin caught a glimpse of headlights coming in their direction. "That could be him now." Waiting a few moments to make sure it was Gino who parked and exited the car; Vin opened the passenger door of the Ram, and slipped out into the darkness. Chris followed about fifteen feet behind him.

Gino paced in front of his vehicle, and jumped when Tanner stepped out of the shadows. "Damn, you scared the hell out of me."

"You're late…what have you got?"

"I had to make sure I wasn't followed." Pulling a large envelope from inside his coat, Gino passed it over to Tanner. "What you need is in there, but you didn't get it from me." He started back toward the driver's door.

"Wait…don't you want your usual finder's fee?" Vin frowned, his internal alarm bells sounded, questioning why Gino was in such a hurry.

"Keep your money; all I want is for you to nail these bastards…too many have already died…stop the killing." He opened the door. "It's too hot for me to stick around. As it is, if they knew I was here, I'd be a dead man, and….so would you. Trust no one but your own on this Tanner, or you'll be as dead as the rest of them."

Gino started his vehicle, and pulled out as fast as he could. Chris walked up beside Vin. "I heard …what the shit are we getting into?"

"Not sure, but if it's all the same to you, let's get the hell out of here before we find out."

On the other side of Denver, Midnight

Gino Galina drove around his block three times before he parked. He knew he had to be careful, and hoped he did the right thing by turning over the evidence he had to Tanner. Exiting his car, he started up the walkway to his town home, and had his keys ready to unlock the front door. The sound of the blast ripped through the night, a moment before the concussion of the explosion propelled him into the air. He was dead before his body parts splattered to the ground.

Chapter 7

'Fate has a way of lulling us into a false sense of complacency, as unseen forces stay busy inventing roadblocks to throw onto the path we choose to take in our journey through life.'

Tanner Home, 7:30 am

Bren and Trey were in good moods this morning. Big sister Andi was trying to teach them a new word, and their laughter frustrated her efforts. With her hands on her hips, she scowled at them. "Let's try this one more time…'usketeers." The twins giggled, and Andi turned to her father, her blue eyes pleading for assistance. "Daddy…make 'em listen."

Grinning, Vin shook his head. "Sugar, give 'em time. Right now that's a big word for them." Seeing her crestfallen expression, he attempted to console her. "They're learning new words every day sweetheart, and soon, bein' Tanner 'usketeers will be as important to them as it is to you. Now finish your breakfast, and then gather your stuff for school. Grandpa is gonna take y'all, while I drive Mama to work."

Brodie set his cup on the table, and waited until Andi left the room. "Are you sure Kelli is up to working today?"

Recalling the unsettling dream he experienced the night before, Vin shook his head. "No, but she has her mind set. Doctor Weeks returned our call, said she wanted to see Kel at two. She wants her to have blood drawn at the lab first, and she scheduled a couple of tests before we see her. Once she rules out any problems concernin' her infertility treatments, then we'll go from there. Kel wanted to give Russo time to find a replacement for her trainin' class, so…"

"So," Kelli said as she entered the room. "I'm gonna work half a day, and then Vin will go with me to the doctor's office." She leaned down to kiss Bren, and then Trey on the cheek. "You two behave for Max today." The answer she received was another round of giggles.

Max handed Kelli a travel mug filled with coffee. " You don't look well enough to walk on your own, much less teach half a day, but…" she sighed, "I know how stubborn you can be Missy."

Vin smiled, not minding at all that Max was giving his wife a hard time. If he had his way, Kelli would be staying home until her appointment time, period. Pushing his chair back, he stood. "Say good-bye to Andi and Jason while I warm up the truck. That cold front made it in last night, and we could have snow before the end of the day." He passed Kelli her coat, and reached up to feel her forehead. "At least you don't feel like you're runnin' a fever…you just look like death warmed over. Stay put…I'll come back in for you once the heat kicks in."

Watching him don his jacket, and make an exit, Kelli forced a smile. The last thing she wanted was for Brodie to start in on her, too. Jason and Andi's return saved her from that ordeal. Hugging both of them, she smiled. "Y'all do well in school today."

Jason grinned. "You, too, Mom."

"Grandpa is gonna take us." Andi told her.

Kelli nodded. "I know." She glanced at Brodie. "Don't let 'em forget their coats, or their books…oh and …"

"We've got everything covered." Brodie stood up and escorted her to the door, whispering to her so the children could not over hear. "You're not fooling Vin, or me, you feel as bad as you look. Do whatever that doctor says, and if she tells you to slow down…do it."

Sighing, Kelli nodded. "I reckon I could feel better, but I promise to listen to the doctor… and Vin. I don't want him worried about me just when he's gettin' well."

Brodie looked over at Jason and Andi. "I'm going to walk your mama out to the truck. You two be ready to roll when I come back." He smiled at the 'yes sirs', and opened the door. They met Vin coming up the walkway, and Brodie turned her over to his son. "Drive safe, and let me know if you need anything."

"Will do, Dad," Vin answered as he took his wife by the arm to walk her to his truck. Any way he looked at it, this was going to be one very long day of waiting.

MCAT Training Facility, 8:00 am

Pulling up in front of the building where Kelli's class was, Vin turned in the seat. "I'm gonna drop in at the office for a while, so I won't be far, if you need me."

"Thanks for understandin', Vin. I just wouldn't have felt right, leavin' the class with no one to replace me."

Leaning in to kiss her, he said, "Just 'cause I understand, don't mean I have to like it. If you can't hold out 'til noon…call me…Hell, I'll make Ezra or Josiah come take over for you if need be."

Running her fingers across his jaw line, she said, "Love you Tanner."

"Love you too, Texas. Now get your sweet ass inside, unless you want me to escort you to your classroom."

"I think I can manage." She kissed him one more time, and then slid out the passenger side.

Vin watched her until she entered the building. Thanks to his visionary dream warning him that an imminent threat was heading into their lives, and his churning gut, he was apprehensive about what lay ahead. She was too damn pale, and he knew she was miserable, but since they could not see the doctor until two, he had no good argument for her staying at home. Starting the truck, he headed over to the office. Maybe Chris already had some more information to add to what Gino gave them last night.

MCAT Office, 8:00 am

JD cracked his knuckles as he sat down in front of CASSIE, and prepared to do some digging. He stared at the contents of a large envelope Chris had handed him earlier. Despite Larabee warning him that the information was sensitive, and to relay his findings straight to him, JD was still a little shocked. A list of perps would have been expected, a list of incidents, also. The two together… priceless, but this…put him in his favorite element.

The perps were not the criminal element as he had expected, but a list of names, most of whom JD recognized, not as criminals, but as upholders of the law. He studied the dates, incidents, and attributed names…two of the hits dated back to when he was still a fresh-faced rookie and they were still operating as ATF Team Seven. The memory of the confusion and uproar it caused amongst the drug and weapons barons was still as fresh in his mind today as it was back then.

At the time, despite the shock of the deaths of such high-powered individuals, neither the ATF nor DEA had mourned their loss. JD recalled how he had commented about someone doing them a favor…only to be hauled into Chris’s office, and ripped a new one, as his boss and absolute hero reminded him there was no such thing as favors in their business…just repercussions. Boy, did he have that right.

First, he entered every incident on the list, and then cross-referenced them to get all reports generated by the initial investigators, alongside accurate dates and times. The first thing that became obvious was that not one hit had been resolved. The second, each case had landed at the door of either ATF Team Three, or Team Eight, led then, and still commanded by the ubiquitous, contemptible Grant Dean…the same Grant Dean whose team had just kicked their collective butts in a recent laser tag exercise. It was no secret throughout the bureau, the then successful Team Seven and their hard-assed, but popular leader Larabee, were not his favorite people…and still weren’t.

As his fingers flew over the keyboard, and his fast mind processed the scanned information forthcoming, JD recalled a fierce encounter between Dean, Vin, and Chris during a bust when Team Eight had backed Team Seven, and he and Buck had been exposed and caught in a vicious crossfire. Vin had never cleared the rafters so fast and had almost taken Dean’s head off, accusing the man of jumping the gun and poor tactical skills. Realizing that Vin had seen everything from his elevated vantage point, Chris became embroiled in a heated exchange. His parting words to Dean…JD grinned and wished he had been recording it…being that if the man ever screwed up with him like that again, he’d take his balls and grind them up for one of Josiah’s chilies, before feeding them back to him. Dean had never got past that day, and since then, looked for every opportunity to trounce Team Seven. Until that laser tag match…he never had.

ATF Team Three's leader, Dan Cashton was not someone JD was close to, but he knew him from his own years of working at the ATF CASSIE showed him to be a long-serving officer with an exemplary record, not unlike Dean. The lack of success the two federal teams had experienced over the murdered arms and drug magnates did not seem to have caused much of a ripple, and it was now becoming apparent that this list might well extend to federal hierarchy, also. Still processing, JD snatched up the phone. "Chris…you got a minute?"


Larabee stared at the accumulated information, more of which was spewing out even as he and his agent talked. JD was animated and energized as he navigated his way through his findings, his hands gesturing between the screen and the paperwork building up. "The thing that’s started ringing alarm bells, is that, on the dates each hit took place, each one of the names on the list had alibis…some quite prominent…dinner dates with high-up feds, court dates…"

Chris frowned. "Your point?"

JD’s eyes flashed. "Why have alibis at all? These were planted…deliberate…somehow interspersed into the mish mash of information as if waiting for an investigation of some sort to uncover them. Insurance, without being obvious."

Chris took a seat. "So, you’re saying this list is legit?"

"That’s something we’re gonna have to prove, and I’m hoping that will come when I find a reason these people would collaborate. I’m guessing money, but this seems less superficial than that." He handed over a sheet of paper.

Chris scanned it. "A cop?"

JD nodded. "He's on the list. Right slap bang in the middle of these executions, Lawrence Paulson…until then real tight with ATF Team Three's leader Cashton, was shot dead while out on patrol one evening."

"Hazard of the job…" Chris began.

JD shook his head. "It was a sniper shot, and they recovered the gun. Not only was it responsible for three of the previous murders, and despite having its number filed off, ballistics identified it as a weapon recovered five years earlier in an arms bust…"

"Don’t tell me," Chris interjected, "a bust lead by ATF Team Eight?"

"Uh huh."

Chris stood. "All right, where now?"

"Now I could do with a motive."

"Anything you need?"

JD shook his head. "Just peace and quiet. This could take some time."

Larabee nodded, walking to the door with his agent. "Take all the time you need, I’ll see you’re not disturbed." He offered a tight smile. "JD…good work."

Dunne smiled. "Thanks, but we’re a long way from the full picture."

"I have no doubt you’ll get it for me."

"You bet, Boss Man." While Chris continued walking to the war room for a review of the morning threat assessment with Alpha Team, JD lost himself in a part of his job he loved. 'Digging for details'.  


Tanner made it through the outer office, in spite of the many Bravo Team members intercepting him to welcome him back. Not inclined to explain that their welcome was premature, he nodded, and continued to the conference room where he knew Alpha Team would be meeting. He entered just as Chris finished the morning assessment.

"Vin, it's good to see you here," Josiah said, while gripping his shoulder.

"Easy Josiah, you'll damage him again, before he even gets to sit down." Nathan grinned. "The man doesn't know his own strength sometimes. Nice to see you still know where we work, Vin."

Ezra picked up the reports Chris had assigned him to pursue, and added his welcome to the others, before leaning in to whisper, "Take care, brother, our Illustrious Leader is not in a good mood this fine morning."

"Tanner, just in time to take on some of the work our Commander loaded us down with," Buck said with a smile as he slapped Vin on the back.

"Not today, I'm just visitin'." Vin felt a moment of excitement being back in the middle of the familiar work area, but held on to the thought that he was indeed not all the way back…yet.

"Okay, tea time is over, get to work." Chris urged them out the door. Turning to Vin, he motioned for him to sit down. "First, how's Kel?"

"Miserable, but she's workin' until Russo sends over a sub. I'm gonna pick her up about noon, and then we're headed in to see the doctor."

Chris nodded, and shoved a report across the table to the Texan. "Your informant got himself blown to kingdom come last night after we saw him."

Vin read over the police report and frowned. "Reckon he didn't get out of town fast enough." He looked up. "Who do you have lookin' into this?"

"Ezra is going to snoop around to see what he can find." Chris sighed. "You think anyone can connect you to him?"

Shrugging, Vin shook his head. "Don't think so, but then we don't know yet if he was followed, or they were waitin' for him."

"JD made a few interesting discoveries using the information Gino gave us. His murder could just be the tip of a very big iceberg. Before we make any major moves, I want to see what we find lurking below the surface."

Nodding, Vin closed the report. "I have a few hours to kill before I pick up Kel. Think I'll use my office and make a couple of calls. If you give me a preliminary on what JD finds by the time I leave, I'll do a little unofficial diggin' later at home."

"Just stay under the radar until we're certain Gino didn't leave a trail that leads back to you." Chris stood. "I'll have Gunny bring coffee to your office. I also want to know as soon as possible about what the doctor says."

Vin pushed his chair back, stood, and walked out with Chris. They parted ways as each went to their respective offices. Gino's life may have ended, but the investigation into the information he passed on was just beginning.

Training Facility

Vin slipped into his wife's classroom just before noon. A few heads turned when he entered, and sat down in the back, but the cadets kept their attention on the debate Kelli had started on criminal thinking. As Tanner listened, he took note of how pale his wife looked, and did not miss the tell-tales signs of pain she was trying to conceal.

Kelli noted the time and wrapped up their discussion. "The bottom line is to remember that you have to operate by the rule of law. For the criminal, they have no rules. You have the justice system on your side, but they have tons of illicitly gained money to hire the best defense lawyers to get them off on technicalities. You follow your conscience, and they don't have one. Your goal is to do your job, and return home safely each night. They'll shoot you, walk over your bleedin' body, and go out for a good meal without thinkin' twice whether you live or die." She then walked around her desk. "We'll break for lunch. I have an appointment this afternoon, so when you return another instructor will finish the day with y'all. Dismissed."

It took a few minutes for everyone to clear the room. Vin walked up to the front where Kelli was gathering her papers, and after assisting her with her coat, he began picking up her work folders. He smiled as she handed everything to him. "Never did get the chance to carry your books for you in school. Reckon this makes up for it."

Falling into step with her husband, they headed out of the room, down the hallway to the exit. "You wouldn't have given me a second look in school. I was not what they'd call a girly girl. I was one hundred percent tomboy, stayed to myself, and had an independent attitude that put the boys off talkin' to me."

"Wouldn't have stopped me." Vin smiled as they reached his truck, and he opened the passenger door for her. "I happen to like down to earth, independent, sassy females, a certain redheaded one in particular." He did not care that there were several other agents and cadets within sight. Leaning in, he kissed her, and said, "I'd have picked you out right off the bat." He closed the door, satisfied that she was not thinking about how bad she felt. Whatever happened today, he planned to support her, and he hoped it was nothing as serious as his gut told him it was.

 Denver Memorial, Doctor Helen Weeks' office, 3:00 pm

The Tanners sat in Doctor Weeks' office, waiting for her to join them. The past few hours, they had been busy. The lab drew Kelli's blood, she took her scheduled tests, and once here, Helen had performed a thorough physical examination. Now they waited to hear the results.

Holding on to her hand, Vin squeezed gently. "Relax, Baby, whatever she says we'll deal with together."

"I know…I just wished she'd have given some indication of what she was thinkin'. She seemed so damned serious."

Before Vin could think of something comforting to say, Doctor Weeks walked in, and for once, she was not smiling. Sitting down at her desk, she opened the chart she had carried in, and sighed. "I realize the past two months have been difficult for both of you, and Vin, I am very pleased to see that you're recovering from your accident. I'm sorry I made you wait so long, but I wanted to have as many results as possible before we spoke."

Vin nodded. "Do you know what's wrong with Kel?"

"I can tell you upfront it's not the flu, mono, a virus, or any other contagious illness." Helen removed her glasses, and waited, letting that information sink in before she continued.

Kelli exhaled. "At least it's not somethin' I can pass on to the kids." She felt Vin tighten his hold on her hand.

Helen stood and walked around the desk to stand in front of the couple. "To put it bluntly, young lady...you are a mess. Your tests show that you're anemic; your blood pressure is too high, which is a major reason for your headaches, and your hormone levels have not come down, even without taking the fertility injections. The stress in your life is also a contributing factor to your declining health. The miscarriage, Vin being kidnapped, and then his accident, along with your normal activities, combined to place your body mentally and physically under duress."

The Texan leaned forward. "So, all she needs to do is rest up, and regroup?"

"I wish it were that easy." Helen sighed, before addressing Kelli, "During my examination I found that your old injuries are rearing their ugly head. Your left ovary is inflamed and I detected a cyst. In your case, this one is partially responsible for the light-headedness, the pain you're experiencing, and the nausea. Given the challenges you already have concerning your reproductive track, it is an added troublemaker." Watching the expression on Vin's face, she added, "Although, I have no reason to believe it's malignant or cancerous. Ideally, I would schedule you for surgery immediately, and you'd start feeling better within a week or two."

Kelli knew the doctor had more to say. "I hear a 'but' in there, doctor."

Doctor Weeks nodded. "Surgery is not an option at this point, and we are facing a bigger challenge." She reached over and picked up a lab report. "After my examination, I made you wait, so I could have my suspicions confirmed. In addition to what I have already told you… evidently, the other issues hid the fact that you're also pregnant…approximately six weeks."

Vin exhaled, and Kelli gasped. Her first surge of excitement faded as the doctor's words took root. "This is good right?"

Helen shook her head. "We were fortunate with the twins. None of the catastrophic things that could have manifested with that pregnancy happened. This time…you are not in the best place health wise for a successful pregnancy. The other problems complicate it even more. A ruptured ovarian cyst could be dangerous, and painful. Thankfully, anesthesia and other pain relievers can be used to ease your discomfort, and I can start you on antibiotics, but that is only half the problem."

Vin cleared his throat. "Just get to the bottom line, doc."

"Any surgery is out of the question until your stats improve, and you are at least another month into this pregnancy. Given your present condition…I'd say the odds carrying this child to term are less than twenty percent."

Helen understood the strong emotions this couple had about wanting another child, and hated to give them bad news. She also knew the Tanners well enough to know that her recommendation would not go over well, but she was obligated to give them the facts. "I know dealing with your first miscarriage was difficult: however because of your current health status and the potential complications we're facing, I'm recommending that this pregnancy be terminated, and we proceed with surgery as soon as you are physically up for it."

"No. That is not an option." Kelli stated.

Closing his eyes, and gathering his words, Vin had questions that needed answering before he could agree with his wife. He looked at her first, and said, "Baby, I won't agree to put your life in jeopardy for us to have a baby. We can adopt more children or keep tryin' for another one, but I plan to have one wife in this lifetime, and that's you." Glancing at Doctor Weeks, he asked, "If we go forward...what are the risks for Kel?"

Nodding, the doctor was straightforward with her answer. "While you know there are no guarantees in life, I do feel confident that the physical peril for Kelli is minimal, providing we bring down her blood pressure, can control the inflammation, and there is no internal bleeding. If we reach the point that I feel there is a threat to her well-being, I will intercede with a surgical solution. My other concern is mental." She gazed at Kelli, "In addition to all the stress factors you've encountered over the past year, can you handle the possibility of losing another baby?"

Kelli turned to Vin. "I think we've proven that together we can handle anythin'. Maybe we have no more than a small possibility of savin' this child, but we have to take the risks. Our child deserves a chance."

The Texan saw the determination in his wife's eyes, and nodded. "Okay doc. What do we need to do to improve the odds?"

Their decision did not surprise Helen. "First, you need to clear everything from your schedule that does not pertain to this pregnancy. Kelli, I need you to focus on your health. We'll start with antibiotics, bi-weekly iron injections, and a regimen of high potency vitamins, folic acid, and B-12 supplements. If you cannot hold them down orally, we'll go with shots. The key for you is building your strength, avoiding secondary infections, rest, a good diet, plenty of water, and…" she sighed, "reduce any outside stress in your life. I'll see you every week, and monitor you closely. If we can get you through December without surgery….your baby has a fighting chance."

"Diet is no problem. Max will make sure she gets what you say she needs. We have plenty of help with the kids, so Kel can rest, and changin' our schedules is not a problem. As for stress…we'll eliminate as much as is within our power to control." Vin glanced at Kelli. "Whatever it takes…we'll do it."

Helen nodded, and began writing out her orders. "It won't be easy on you Kel, and even making it past the first trimester, which will be a milestone, will not eliminate our challenges. I can help ease the pain, but not eliminate it. The reason I am not admitting you to the hospital today, is that I think it's better for your mental status to be around family, but if it becomes necessary, I will put you in the hospital for twenty-four-hour a day monitoring. In the meantime, I will see you every week, and I want your stats called in daily. Before you leave, my nurse will give you your first iron injection. You can return on Thursday for the next one, or, since I know Max is also a nurse, and if she is willing, she can administer the injections you'll need."

"I'm sure she would, but I can do it too," Vin assured her, and then hesitated a moment before asking, "Are we havin' a single baby, or…"

"My preliminary exam was not conclusive. Ask me again in a couple of weeks. Regardless, my instructions are the same. Our first goal is to make it past the first trimester, and get Kelli healthy enough for surgery, so she can carry to term. After that, we'll reevaluate our priorities."

It took another twenty minutes for the doctor to finish her instructions. On the way home, they picked up Kelli's prescriptions at the pharmacy, and discussed the immediate changes they needed to implement, and how much to tell the family, especially their children. Pulling up in front of their home, Vin cut the engine, and turned in the seat to face his wife. "You might be the one havin' to go through the pain, and miserable bouts of nausea, but never doubt for a second, Baby, that we are in this together. You concentrate on you and our baby, I'll take care of everythin' else. No matter what happens…we'll know we did everythin' possible to help our child."

Kelli reached up and touched his face. "This time, we know what we're facin'. I promise not to shut you out…even if we don't make it across the finish line."

Vin moved his head, and kissed her palm. "Reckon we'll have to prove to the good doctor that givin' odds against us is never a safe bet. Now, let's get started on the next chapter in our book of memories."


Chapter 8

'Life changes quickly, and often, but solid foundations prevent us from losing our direction.'

MCAT Office, 6:00 pm

Closing down the office for the day, Chris was almost out the door when he had a thought, and walked back to the Intel room. He smiled when he saw JD still in there, engrossed in his work.

He entered the room. "Hey…don’t you have kids and a home to go to?"

Rubbing his eyes, JD turned to Chris. "Don’t you start; I’ve already had Buck in here busting my chops." He grinned. "It’s okay, Tess has my gang, and is cooking dinner for me."

Chris didn’t miss the twinkle in JD’s eye and nodded, smiling. "Mighty nice of her."


"You done for tonight?"

JD stretched. "I guess…but…" he gestured toward his workstation. "This is like…opening a can of worms…they're crawling everywhere."

Chris took a seat. "Go on…"

"I pulled up the bank accounts of all the names on the list, and cross referenced dates of the hits with deposits. All, but Agent Paulson’s shooting, showed large amounts of money transferred into Dean’s account just a day or so after."

"Dean’s… on the take?"

"That was my first thought…but here’s the thing…no less than a few days later, almost all of it goes to an offshore account…and the same amount he keeps, is transferred between the other suspects on the list."

Chris frowned. "So…he receives an amount of money, divides equal sums between himself and the other suspects, and then sends the bulk to an offshore account?"

JD nodded.

"Who owns the account?"

"Church of the United Brethren."

"Hmmm…" Chris shook his head. "Why is it I’m struggling to believe that’s the actual beneficiary?"

"I'd have to agree with you," JD nodded. "There have been huge cash withdrawals from the account, but apart from a name, there’s no trace of where they went from there." He threw his pen onto his desk. "I’ve hit a dead end. The name hasn't shown up as known, not to mention having to navigate through the trip wires all over these links."

"Trip wires?"

"Someone’s set up all sorts of little pop ups. If I had tried to breech any, and gotten through, it would have alerted someone to abnormal activity. Pretty clever…it’s something I would do, too." He laughed. "It’s a ‘hacker’ thing."

Chris raised an eyebrow. "I’m assuming you navigated them successfully?" He grinned at the disgruntled look he received. Larabee stood. "Okay…enough, go home. I’ll bring this to the table tomorrow, and we’ll consider our options. What do you plan to search for next?"

JD clicked off his overhead light while the computers powered down. "Tomorrow I’m gonna try to connect the dots with any items recovered from previous busts…see if anything else seems amiss over the last several years, and if any of it ties in with any of the hit dates."

"Good." Together, the pair grabbed their coats, and walked out of the building, climbed into their trucks, and headed home. JD intended to have a nice evening with Tess and the children, while Chris planned to stop at Vin's to get an update on his daughter.

 Tanner Home

Chris called Cait on his way to Vin's house to tell her that he would be late. He smiled when she told him to take all the time he needed to check on his oldest. Closing his cell, he wondered, not for the first time, how in the hell he had managed to find an understanding woman like Cait to share his life. Whatever the reason, he was thankful for it.

Arriving at the Tanner home, he parked, walked to the back door, and entered without knocking to find Max finishing the clean up in the kitchen. "Where is everybody?"

"Jason and Andi are taking baths, Brodie's corralling the twins in the den, Vin put Kelli to bed, and I think he's in his office." Max shook her head, reading the questions on Chris's face. "I don't know. Vin said he'd tell us in the morning, after the kids leave for school."

"Guess I need to go see Vin." Chris understood that she used her brisk manner to cover her concern. He patted Max on the shoulder when he walked by her. "Whatever it is, I'm sure she'll be fine."

A curt nod was her response. Larabee hit the stairs, and headed to Vin's office. Entering through the open door, he heard the unspoken news, as he observed his Texas friend, sitting at his desk, and staring out the window. Taking a deep breath, Chris closed the door, and sat down, waiting for Vin to acknowledge his presence.

Without moving, Vin started talking, "I had a dream last night. You and I were on horseback, dressed in armor, and fightin' an unseen enemy usin' swords and shields. Reckon I knew then we were in for a hell of a battle." He turned to face Chris. "Now, at least, I know what it is, and this is one fight I don't plan to lose." He repeated what Doctor Weeks had told them earlier, concluding with a deep sigh. "Last time we didn't know we were expectin'. Whatever it takes, we're gonna beat those odds….Kel will be fine, and we're not gonna lose another baby."

Chris read the pain and determination in the Texan's eyes. He could also feel the strong emotions reinforcing each word he spoke. "What do you need me to do?"

Picking up a folder Vin passed it to Chris. "I wrote up the request for Kel's leave of absence. Russo's gonna have to find someone to replace her for the remainin' classes."

"No problem. I'll take care of that first thing in the morning. What else?" Chris was certain he knew what was coming and was not in the least surprised.

"I'm not comin' back to work for a while. I didn't mention that Gilford wants me off another six weeks to get to a hundred percent, 'cause I've been fightin' him on it, but…not anymore. I'm gonna do exactly what he wants, which gives me time to be home with my wife, and continue my workouts to build my strength. I won't leave Kel to handle this alone. I know you hate doin' double duty, and I'm sorry, but… after we make get Kel back on her feet and healthy….we'll see." Vin nodded towards a box on the floor. "I gathered everythin' I have on Gino. Take it and see if it helps decipher the notes he gave us."

"Hell Vin, you covered my ass for more than a year. Doc knows what he's doing, and I wouldn't expect you to leave Kel in this position even if he released you today. You take care of her; I'll take care of Captain Tanner's team."

Vin nodded. "I told Brodie, and I've already started a to-do list. Tomorrow we’ll tell Max and Walter, and then when Jason and Andi come home from school…I'll sit 'em down and try to explain. I told Mal to find someone else to hold her self defense class at the women's shelter, Barbara that Kel couldn't take on any more CASA meetin's, and I put a call into Carmen to take our name off the foster care list for a while."

"I'm guessing this is not going to be a secret then." Chris studied for a moment and said, "You realize no one but you, your Dad, and I know about the previous miscarriage, and if you explain the current situation…."

"JD knows…I told him while he was in the hospital after Casey…it helped him to know I understood about major events that lead to depression." Vin leaned forward, and ran his hands over his face. "I reckon it don't matter now if the rest of 'em know all of it. You'll need to give 'em a reason why I'm not pushin' to come back, and I imagine I might be doin' some projectin' concernin' my feelin's they might question."

"If you're sure…I'll make certain they know, unless you want to…"

"No, go ahead. All I want to do is concentrate on Kel." Vin stood, and sighed. "Reckon I need to rescue Dad. He loves the kids, but they do have a way of wearin' him down."

Chris grinned. "Kid's have a way of doing that." He then turned serious as he stood. "Look, whatever you need…you don't have to ask…it's yours. I know it felt like someone sucker-punched you today, but I know you and Kel are strong, and neither of you are having to go through this alone. This time next year, our two babies will be playing side-by-side….believe that." He gripped Vin's forearm, knowing he would 'see' the inner turmoil he was experiencing, but ready to lift some of the burden from him. Chris 'saw' a replay of 'the dream', and smiled. "We can do anything, if we do it together, and this is one battle your brothers can help with by lending their strength." Feeling the tenseness leave Vin, Chris felt better. The power of seven would help keep Tanner going, and he in turn, would be there for Kelli. As far as Chris was concerned…that was an unbeatable combination.

Tess’s Home

The sound of a vehicle pulling up had Tess peeking out the window. Her heart gave a little lurch as she watched JD climb out of the truck, but she did not have time to dwell on it because within seconds, JD was tapping at the door.

"Hey Tessie, it’s JD." He grinned as the door opened, showing her slim form silhouetted against the muted light inside.

"Good evening, John Daniel. I’m afraid your choices for dinner may now be burnt offerings, or sandwiches."

As he stepped in, he checked his watch. "Shoot, am I that late, or are you just a bad cook?"

She had to turn to hide her grin. "Just for that, you don’t get dessert."

JD tossed his jacket over a dining chair. "Why, did you burn that, too?" He grinned at the little squeak she produced as she turned to scowl at him. Her eyes gave her mirth away.


JD chuckled and howled. "Aaawooooo…"

"Oh my God!" Tess laughed. "Buck wasn’t kidding when he said you told bad jokes."

Still grinning, JD rolled his neck and shoulders. He was stiff, and a little headachy from a long day at the computer. "I tell good jokes. I’m just ahead of my time." He tilted his head to listen. "Where are the kids?"

"Ah…" Tess handed him a glass of wine. "They played for a while, and then they were hungry, so, rather than wait, I fed them. Then they played a bit more, but JJ fell asleep, and I noticed the girls were struggling. I gave them a bath, then the twins and Keira crashed out. I hope you don’t mind." She gestured for him to take a seat at the table. "I still have clothes here from when they’ve stayed over, so rather than disturb them, they can come with Keira and me to daycare tomorrow. Is that okay?"

Sitting, JD smiled. "Sure, if you’re cool with it that’s fine. Thanks for taking such good care of them."

"Aw, they’re sweethearts. It’s no trouble."

JD sipped his wine and raised his eyebrows. "No trouble? You sure it was my kids you brought home?"

Tess giggled. "Oh yes. Oh, I have to ask…what is this fetish JJ has for carrying around a saucepan with a potato in it?"

"You got off light," JD replied, smiling. "He usually insists on putting water in there, too…milk if he can get hold of some. Then he takes a big ol’ spoon and stirs the crap out of it."

"Hmm, a budding chef, maybe?"

"More like a confirmed living, breathing, walking disaster area," JD verified.

She giggled again. "Right, I’m just going to dish up our dinner. I’ll be right back."

"Tess…do I have time to look in on the kids?"

She smiled. "Most definitely."

Entering the large bedroom, JD could see that JJ was in a travel crib in one corner, laying spread eagled on his stomach, and sleeping like an angel. Leaning in, JD ran a hand over his dark tresses. "I love you, little man." Turning to the twin beds, he smiled as Keira slept in her bed, and his girls snuggled together in the spare one. Without thinking, he ran a gentle hand over Keira’s curls, before turning to his two. Bending over to kiss each dark head, he gazed at them. Some of their expressions reminded him of Casey, and at that moment, Lilah’s little face was the image of her mother’s. "Daddy loves you, girls…never forget that," he whispered. After spending a few minutes just watching them sleep, he returned to the dining room.

On the table, lay two plates of steak and fries, with a large bowl of salad in the center. With a basket of rolls and two bowls of what looked like chocolate mousse there too, JD’s mouth watered and his stomach rumbled. Re-taking his seat, he smiled as Tess joined him.

"Dig in," she urged.

"This looks great, thanks. I must admit, it’s been a long day. If you hadn’t cooked tonight, I would have picked up take-out on the way home." He cut up some steak, and then looked at her. "Not that I do that often…it’s just that some days…"

"John Daniel…shut up and eat before it goes cold!"

JD grinned. "Oh, yeah…right." He savored each mouthful. "Damn…this is good," he praised. "I was thinking, maybe I could return the favor this weekend." He suddenly went a little shy, but she was looking at him, so he had to continue. "Uh, maybe…Sunday? " he grinned. "Dinner, wine…a movie, maybe?"

"Not too much wine for the kids though, right?"

"Huh?" He caught the smile. "Ha…funny. Anyway, think on it…"

"We’d love to, John Daniel, thanks," Tess cut in quickly. She hoped she did not sound too eager.

JD grinned. "Cool. And don’t worry about the meal; I hear uncooked, beat-up potato in milk tastes okay."

 "I’m on a diet, tell JJ, to go with the water," she hit back.  Looking into each others’ eyes, they both laughed.

Throughout the meal, they chatted, about Seattle, the kids, Boston, and Lord knows what in between. The pair was comfortable with their friendship, so much so that Tess had noticed JD was still struggling with his neck and shoulders. Now sitting on the sofa and enjoying their coffees, Tess turned to him.

"What’s wrong with your neck?"

JD sipped his brew. "It’s just tension. It builds up when I spend long hours at the computer. I’ve likely got a few days of it to come…I’ll take an aspirin when I get home, it’ll pass."

"Do you mind if I try something?"

JD shrugged. "I don't mind."

"Scoot forward a little."

He did, while trying not to react when she sat cross-legged behind him. Tess began kneading his shoulders. He closed his eyes as his neck and shoulders throbbed.


"Mmmm, that’s real tight." She got her thumbs in there, and JD could feel the knots releasing.

"Oh God, Tessie, that’s awesome. I could get used…aaah…to this…"

‘Me too’, she thought to herself. "Not sure how you feel about taking your shirt off, but I could do a lot better if you lay on my bed. I have some oil I could use."

His body tingling from the ministrations…he assumed…he half turned to her. "You’d do that?"

"Sure." Tess got up and pointed. "Come on, you go lie face down on my bed with your shirt off…I’ll be there in a minute."

It was not until JD was lying there with nothing to do, but wait for Tess, that he glanced around, wondering what the hell he’d been thinking. Before he could dwell on it, Tess returned and was now straddling the backs of his thighs. He heard her squelching her hands together, and then she leaned over him to place a bottle of baby oil on the nightstand. Seconds later, she was massaging his back, going from low to high as she kneaded the tense muscles under her talented fingers. JD couldn’t help the audible sighs he released. It felt so damned good.

Enjoying the closeness a little more than she was prepared to admit, Tess soothed out the aches as she chatted. "I guess you’ve seen some action over ten years."

"Yeah, a bit," JD answered, his words becoming more inaudible as he relaxed into her care. He grunted. "Where you just worked…took two bullets, pretty bad…one got lodged…" He sighed. "It came back with a vengeance, though."

"Was that why Casey got so worked up over your time together?" Tess wondered if dread had been a factor contributing to their marriage failing…it must be a daunting task to fear for your partner’s life every day.

"Didn’t help…" JD mumbled.

As she continued, it occurred to her how her mind was processing. She concluded that, while the thought of that fear scared her, it also thrilled her; not because she could see unending days of anxiety mixed with heroic deeds, but more how amazingly fulfilling a life these men must lead, to know they made a difference in the world, and that their spouses were supporting them all the way. By all accounts, it was something Casey eventually found impossible to do.

"I can see why everyone here is so close," she said, frowning at the lack of response. Easing off JD, Tess looked at his face, smiling when she realized he was asleep. The temptation to reach out and stroke his face, and push back his hair was overwhelming, but she settled for sitting in a chair and watching him breathe, instead, whilst more than a little pleased she had been able to help make him the vision of peace he was now. As she stood to drape a blanket over him, she gazed into the still boyish, handsome features of the man, who she considered her closest friend. She realized that maybe she wanted more…but dare she risk losing a friendship that she knew she could not bear to do without, in the hope of finding something she felt sure would make her life complete?

 Larabee Home

Satisfied that there was nothing more he could do tonight for Vin or Kelli, Chris arrived home. He had already called Cait and given her a brief summary of the situation, certain they would discuss it in more detail after the children were asleep. Walking in to the smell of an array of tantalizing aromas, his two youngest in their PJs hurtled towards him, making all the worry and strains of the day melt away. Jesse looked up from the dining table, where he appeared to be doing his homework, and raised a hand before continuing with his writing.

Cuddling the wriggling, giggling, chattering pair, Chris walked to the sofa and sat down with them, grinning like a loon as they talked him through most of their day. Cait came in from the kitchen and looked at him…a look that told him his lady had plans to help him unwind this evening. Approaching him, she leaned over and kissed her husband. Jesse watched for a second, smiled, and then packed up his books.

"I’m done, dad. Can I go play my games now?"

Chris looked to Cait, who gave a slight nod. "Sure son. I’ll come in to hear about your day after I eat, okay?"

"Sure, if you want." He walked off toward his room.

"Come on, bed." Cait reached over to grasp Cody, while Chris stood with Grace in his arms, and together, they put their youngest to bed. Just outside the room, Chris pinned his wife against the wall and kissed her. His hand wandered to the tiny growing bump.

"How are you?" he whispered.


Chris frowned. "Didn’t you eat with the kids?" He saw her nod, smiled, and possessed her with a searing kiss. When they broke apart, she spoke, "Aren’t you hungry?"

"Food can wait."


"Damn." Cursing his behavior, Chris composed himself and knocked on his son’s door. He spent time with his son, listening to him share the events of his day, and felt good when he told him goodnight. Some things you just had to make time for and he thanked God for giving him a second chance to experience these special moments.


Chris joined his wife, once Jesse had settled for the night. After hearing more about the Tanners' situation, Cait had some ideas that she wanted to share with Vin and Kelli, which she hoped would make their lives less stressful. Chris agreed, silently sending a second thank you to God for bringing her caring spirit into his life.

Standish Home

Ezra had spent most of the afternoon, on the sleazier side of Denver, talking to old informants. By the time he arrived home, it was later than usual. Gazing down at the precious life that he and his wife had created as little Pearl slept in her crib, the stress of his afternoon slipped away.

Talking to Chris earlier, it was evident, even without major details that the case the team was working on was big and getting bigger by the minute. Larabee had asked him how he felt, if required, about going undercover again if necessary. Despite assurances that it was a preliminary enquiry, Standish knew his team leader did not ask such questions without good reason.

Going undercover did not daunt him, per say, going in deep and being away from home…did. He had not given an answer, it was not required just yet, but he knew Chris had asked to enable him to think about it.

Entering the living room, he smiled. Barbara was sleeping in the chair. While Pearl was a good baby, she was their whole life right now, and their new regime, while fulfilling and wonderful, was exhausting. As he took a seat and watched the love of his life sleeping, Ezra began to stumble through the myriad of thoughts and emotions Chris’s question had evoked. He would have to talk to Barbara…he smiled as he gazed at her peaceful form…but not yet, there was time. One thing he did know, though…while the emotions swirling through his mind gave him cause for concern, it felt good to be needed. He had missed working with his brothers, and, while he loved being home, he was ready for the next challenge… whenever it came.  

Tanner Home

Brodie insisted on staying overnight in case Vin or the kids needed anything. Together they got all the children down for the night and parted ways. Brodie went to sleep in the room next to Jason, while Vin headed to the master bedroom to join his wife. Expecting to find her asleep, he was surprised to see their bed empty. He started for the bathroom to see if she was sick again, but then caught sight of her standing by the window. Changing directions, he walked over to stand behind her, wrapping his arms around her to draw her into his embrace.

Kelli leaned into the strength he offered, and sighed. "The snow arrived. I've been watchin' it fall for about twenty minutes."

"Reckon I can take the girl out of south Texas, but can't take the south Texas out of the girl."

"I know I should be used to it by now, but I still get a little excited when it snows."

Vin understood what she meant. It took a while for him to get over his initial excitement of seeing a white wonderland when he first came to Colorado. "You should be sleepin'. Are you in pain?"

"Not so much. The meds are helpin'. I just have a lot on my mind." Closing her eyes, she enjoyed the sense of security that being in Vin's arms gave her. "It's amazin' how fast things change for us. This mornin' I was just worried about bein' sick…now all I can think of is the baby we created."

"You leave the worryin' to me, Texas. All you have to do is let me take care of you and our kids." Vin leaned down to nuzzle her neck. "I know you hate it when I hover and move into protective mode, but ….right now you're gonna have deal with it."

"Tanner, I trust you to make the right decisions for us, and I'm past all that independent, 'I can do anythin' on my own streak' I had when we married. I've accepted that while you might be a lovin', sensitive, supportive, and enlightened husband… your basic instincts of needin' to protect what's yours is always there. In fact, I'm countin' on your warrior's strength, and primal male protectiveness to get us through this. Keepin' our kids safe and you close, is all I need, and I'll do whatever's necessary to carry this baby to term, while you take on everythin' else."

Relieved to hear her words, Vin tightened his hold on her. "We're gonna make it all the way, Kel, and we'll do it like we always have…together."

"My biggest regret is not bein' able to physically make love for a while…at least till Doctor Weeks gives us the green light."

"Ah Sassy. It's temporary. We might not be able to complete the act, but you should know by now, there are many other ways to share our love. After you get some rest, I'll have to remind you how, in case you've forgotten." Without warning, he shifted his stance, and lifted her into his arms to carry her to their bed. Gently placing her on the sheets, he quickly undressed, and lay down next to her, pulling her to him. "Listen close and you'll hear my love for you in every beat of my heart. I'm here, and I'm not goin' anywhere, so relax and try to get some sleep."

With her head on his chest and with her personal Heart Warrior there to watch over her and their baby, Kelli let go of her worry and fears. Within a few minutes, she fell into a peaceful slumber.

Vin laid there a while, just watching her breath. They had come full circle. She now understood that letting him take care of her was not a weakness on her part….and he had found that sharing his concerns with her did not make him less of who he was. He knew, without question that all the winding roads he had taken in his life were necessary paths to lead him to her…for him she was home. Drawing the comforter over them, Vin closed his eyes, recalling the soft whispers from his ancestors that had guided him when he was injured, and lost somewhere between life and death….as fitting now, as they were then.

'No matter how difficult the journey, or the obstacles encountered along the way, as long as the road leads home, anything is possible.'

Federal Building –Grant Dean’s Office

The leader of Team Eight scowled at the voice on the phone. "Relax; our loose end has been well tied. I had a man on him right to the point of him going splat, so we’re confident nothing was passed on." He paused and checked to make certain that no one was near. "He was Chico’s boy, so Chico’s number is up. If they can’t keep their guys in line…they’ll pay."

Within minutes of the call ending, Dean received a text, the message simple. ‘Done’.


Chapter 9

'Change and choice influence the paths we walk in life. Attitude determines how we fare on our journey.'

MCAT office, 730 am

Chris stood by his office door, watching his agents arrive. The members of Alpha team were always the first ones in, and today was no exception. He motioned for them to join him, and then sat down at his desk as, one by one they entered. Josiah and Buck stretched out their long frames in wing chairs close to the desk. JD made himself a comfortable spot on the couch next to Nathan, while Ezra chose to sit where he could watch the body language of his commander.

Larabee leaned forward. "This is not an official meeting, and while I'm reluctant to take on personal issues in the workplace…this affects all of us, and is too important to put off discussing."

Five MCAT agents disappeared, replaced by concerned brothers who understood that Chris seldom allowed their personal lives to interfere with work. Glancing from one to another their sense of apprehension increased.

Buck sighed. "Whatever it is, just spit it out."

Without going into explicit detail, he told them about Vin and Kelli's situation, and that Tanner was not returning to work for a while. "Bottom line… Vin needs our support. After losing a child when Ice threw Kel and Trey into that hellhole….well, it was hard on both of them for a long time. Facing that possibility again…." Chris shook his head. "I can't imagine the bad memories that could dredge up for them."

Each man was silent for a few moments, reflecting on the blessings that they shared with their children. Then reactions began. Learning that the Tanners' loss was another terrible result of Ice's action stirred old memories they all thought were behind them.

Josiah nodded. "Thinking back now…that explains a lot of what I observed over the months following Kelli's imprisonment. Vin's moodiness, her reclusive behavior… it all fits."

"Why didn't they tell us? Maybe we could have helped," Nathan commented.

Buck glanced at JD to see how he was reacting. He was worried that the mention of Ice might bring back more bad memories of Casey's breakdown.

"I'm fine, Buck." JD read the concern in his brother's eyes. He leaned forward. "When I was having a hard time accepting Casey's behavior…Vin shared with me how hard it was for him and Kelli. It helped me, but I don't think he would have said a word about it otherwise."

Ezra thought about Pearl, and the challenges he and Barbara had faced waiting for her arrival. He could not imagine how he would feel now, if they had lost her. "What can we do?"

Chris took a deep breath. "All we can do is be supportive. If Vin 'projects', just understand that it means he's not focused on his mental senses. He's concentrating on one thing right now, and that's getting Kel's health issues resolved, and making it through these first few months." Chris picked up several folders he had stacked on his desk, and passed to his right. "We can however, help work wise. I'm giving you each a copy of the records Tanner gave me last night. The informant that was murdered Sunday night was one of his…in fact Vin and I saw him just about an hour before he died. We're almost certain no one saw us together, but…we need to be positive. Investigating his murder is now our top priority. Following up on the info he gave us is a close second. JD, you run all of this through CASSIE, and find any connection that might be there. Josiah, I need a profile started. Buck, you and Ezra are going to the Federal Building. I want you to 'liberate' a few files from Grant Dean. Russo already cleared it with AD Hutchins, and the written orders are in your folder. Nathan, I have someone I need you to find and talk to." He handed him an additional piece of paper. "Stay in touch, and…." he recalled Gino's warning, "trust no one but our own on this one."

With a curt nod, he dismissed them. Once they were gone, he leaned back in his chair, resisting the urge to call Vin. He would wait and give the Texan an opportunity to tell Max and Walter what was happening, and organize the Tanners' new lifestyle.

Tanner Home, 8:00 am

Between trying to quell her queasy stomach, and fighting a raging headache, Kelli had rough morning. Vin had insisted that she go back to sleep, and then he set out to get the day started for the Tanner household. Coffee was first on his agenda. Max arrived and began cooking. Jason and Andi prepared for school, the Texan roused his twin boys, changed, dressed them, and had Bren and Trey sitting on their booster chairs as their siblings breezed in, just as breakfast was ready. There were a few chaotic moments, book bags to find, and hurried goodbyes, before the eldest Tanner children were out the door, and racing to Grandpa's truck, where he waited to take them to school.

Brodie returned just as Vin finished updating Max and Walter about Kelli's health situation, and Doctor Weeks' orders. "Anythin' needs tendin' to, y'all come to me. I want Kel to be as stress free as possible. Max, since you're a certified RN, the nurse at the doctor's office is expectin' a call from you…coordinate with her a schedule for the injections and the information Doctor Weeks needs."

Max was already making a list of priorities, and planning in her head. "Walter and I will be making a run to the grocery store. Missy will need some special items added to her diet. I'll post a schedule on the fridge for checking her BP, and if she's nauseous, we'll have to change her vitamins to liquid, or shots." She stood up to get started. "Brodie, lunch will be on the table at noon…don't be late. Oh, and Vin… I suggest you keep the newspaper hid, and steer Kel away from the news programs…she gets upset when she hears or reads about any crimes or abuse involving children." She sighed. "Lord knows they're too many of them lately."

"Will do, thanks." Although Vin planned to keep the newscast turned off, he had not thought about the newspaper. He observed the exchanged smiles between Brodie and Walter as Max moved into 'strategic planning mode'.

Stopping to pat the Texan on the shoulder, Max stated, "We'll get through this just fine. I'll organize a menu for your approval, and keep a copy of med schedules posted, too. Walter and I will be here anytime you need us. You concentrate on our girl and our new baby…" She stopped when Vin covered her hand with his.

"Whatever it takes, Max…we're gonna make this work. I appreciate you and Walter bein' here, and I'm countin' on y'all's help." Vin accepted her nod as an answer, since he saw the tears she was attempting to hide. "You get busy makin' your list; I'll handle the twins."

Watching his wife fortify herself with Tanner's assurance that he expected her assistance, Walter nodded. "Whatever it takes…you got." He cleared his throat. "Reckon Max will have a list for me, and I best get to it. See y'all later."

Brodie smiled. "It appears you won't be going this one alone, son."I should to get to work, but I'll be back at lunchtime. If you need me…I'll have my cell with me." He headed for the door.

"Dad…" Vin waited until Brodie turned, before continuing, "Reckon I don't say it enough, but…I'm glad you're around."

"Me too, Son." Brodie answered and then hurried out the door before his emotions matched Max and Walter's.

Vin looked at his boys, and sighed. "Reckon y'all need a bath, before Mama sees you." He lifted Trey and then Bren, and headed to what was formerly the nursery, and now known just as the 'twin's room' to gather the essentials he would need for the job. The Texan smiled, life in the Tanner home was on schedule, and …. it was only eight-thirty.

MCAT Intel room

JD had only just scanned the newest police reports when he was calling Chris. "Can I come see you?"

"I’m not swamped with paperwork, hid away in an office upstairs, or attending endless meetings any more, JD…my door’s always open."

Scooping up some papers, JD headed for Larabee’s office.


 Having read what JD had handed over, Chris looked at him. "Gino was killed two days ago, and only now they're listing him as officially dead. What took them so long?"

JD winced. "Without dental records, it took time to confirm his ID."

Now Chris was wincing, understanding what JD meant. "And this new murder?"

Dunne leaned forward in his seat. "Chico Alvarez, small time, but up and coming arms dealer.  It took me less than five minutes to link Gino and him."

"In what way?"

"Gino’s been associated with Alvarez since he first started out. Kinda strange that someone working for him gets whacked after passing information to Vin, then the boss guy is executed days later, don’t you think?"

Chris frowned, and leaned back in his chair. "Same MO as the others?"

JD nodded. "I’m waiting on the ballistics report…the gun was abandoned close to the scene."

Chris sat up. "Liaise with Josiah…let’s get a profile started."

JD stood. "You got it."


Back in the Intel room, JD stared up at the huge screens as CASSIE cross-referenced and spat out streams of ballistics reports, and ATF bust logs for the past five years. He could not deny that he found this unsettling…especially if he needed to go back further…back to when his old Team was operating. While that was ongoing, the name Francis Daley was his focus, the person who withdrew huge amounts of cash from the offshore account. This search was one that he knew would take time. He had no doubt that the ID was a fake, all he needed was one link to connect the dots..., and he would find it, no matter what.

Federal Building

Buck felt a twinge of nostalgia as he and Ezra stepped into the Federal building where they once worked. The pair exited the elevator on the tenth floor, where ATF Team Eight's office was. He was going to enjoy this.

Grant Dean was on his feet the moment he spotted the two MCAT agents. Exiting his office, he approached them. "Well, look what the wind blew in the door. Came back to offer us a rematch, boys?" He chuckled. "We’ll be happy to give you more pointers on how we professionals operate."

Ezra raised his eyebrows. "Really? If I were you, Dean, I would savor the fluke that occurred due to the deficient numbers of regular agents from our department, and concentrate on acting as proficiently while on an actual assignment."

"Oh yeah, Standish? You’re just arrogant enough to reckon your presence would have made a difference, huh?"

"Oh, I know so," Ezra replied, coolly. "I can smell bullshit a mile off, and you, sir, are full of it."

The pair squared up and Buck stepped between them. "Whoa, whoa, back up there a little, fellas. Grant, we’ll be gone in less than ten minutes…all I need is for you to hand over the files for these cases, and we’ll be on our way."

Dean snatched a list from Buck’s hand, and scanned it. He would reflect later how amazed he was that he had not reacted. "What do you need these for? They’re ongoing…and ours."

"'Were'," Ezra smiled.

Buck interjected. "AD Hutchins was concerned the lack of results was becoming an embarrassment to the department, so he did the only thing that made sense, He called in the team with the best track record…even if we have moved onwards and upwards." He paused, and enjoyed seeing the frustration building up in the man. "And with this new murder, it looks like he came to his senses in the nick of time."

Dean glowered at Buck. "What do you mean?"

"Chico Alvarez was small time, but his brother…Bruno Sturman…" Ezra smiled at Grant’s reaction. "Chico took his mother’s name," he explained, "…is not just one of the largest gunrunners this side of the border, but he's pissed about his little brother’s execution. Word on the street has it that he's put out an open contract on the perpetrators for a cool million dollars."

Team Eight’s leader shrugged his shoulders. "Good luck to him; we haven’t had any breaks on his murder."

"Indeed," Ezra rounded. "But then…as we all know, criminals seldom play by the rules, and have many ears to the ground when large amounts of money are on the agenda."

"So," Buck finished. "We’ll just be taking those files off your hands. We still have to check in with Cashton and pick up his team’s paperwork, too."

Within an hour, the two MCAT agents were on their way back to hand the files over to JD and Josiah for profiling and scrutinizing.

 Sierra Coffee Shop, downtown Denver

Nathan pushed a coffee toward the black woman sitting opposite him in the small diner in one of Denver’s notorious red light districts. "I’m sorry about Gino. I understand you two had been an item for a few years."

Desiree nodded and stroked her swollen belly. "He was so pleased he was gonna be a papa. We were both goin’ straight, Mister Jackson…honest. I hadn’t turned a trick in eighteen months, and Gino was workin’ at the Avanza, two blocks over."

Nathan nodded. "But…"

She looked at him over the oversized cup. "But Chico Alvarez called in a favor."

"Do you know what it entailed?"


"What was the favor?"

"Oh." She shrugged. "Not sure. All Gino told me was ‘enough was enough'. Them bastard’s been takin’ a cut for too long. It’s payback time…the killin’ has to stop’." She nodded to herself, satisfied she had relayed it right.

Standing as a huge meal arrived for her; Nathan leaned in and pressed a hundred-dollar bill into her hand. "Thanks. You take care of yourself."

Nodding, Desiree dug into her meal.

MCAT War Room

While Josiah pored over the files, and made notes, JD compared information logged at the time of the assignments, with numerous arms catalogued during busts over the last eight years. It became evident that the original electronic records were no longer matching copies of where guns used in executions were traced to previous recoveries. Now he was curious as to whether these missing guns were destined to turn up after any further killings.

Josiah had made charts from his notes, and was now looking up at the video screens, while JD, after feeding his calculations into CASSIE, put the results up there. In less than five minutes, the rest of Alpha Team had joined them.

Pointing to the screen, Josiah explained, "The red line is criminal activity, the blue, successful busts, the black represents a death of a prominent drug or arms dealer, the green, deposits into the offshore account, the yellow, failed convictions."

Everyone studied the graphs, but the evidence from the crossing lines was clear. JD stated it, anyway. "Conclusion…based on original evidence from Gino, busts by ATF Teams Three and Eight, are followed by heavy deposits of money and then…"

"The bad guys get off on a technicality," Chris finished for him. JD nodded.

"Extortion?" Buck asked.

"A good old protection racket," Josiah put in. "’Give us a cut, and we’ll let you off’."

"Were the judges serving during those cases, involved, do you think?" Ezra wondered.

"Well, two of the five were shown as having dinner with either Cashton or Dean during an execution, so I would say there’s a good possibility…at least for those two," JD answered.

"What I don’t get," Nathan mused, "is why now? If this has been going on for years, why is it only now these links have been uncovered?"

JD jumped in. "Clearly the teams have been covering their tracks. Anyone stepping out of line got whacked…"

Chris looked at him. "Agent Paulson…"

"Looks likely," JD nodded. "Gino’s words indicated someone’s had enough…and now, guns are being left at the scene, and no longer disappearing."

Buck smiled. "Sounds like not just the criminal element have called time."

Chris nodded. "And now we’ve taken over the cases, Dean and Cashton must be crapping themselves, not to mention whoever else is involved." He noted JD’s demeanor. "JD?"

"I still can’t find a motive though. Yeah, they’re siphoning off some of the extortion money for themselves, but they sent huge wads of it to an offshore bank, for someone using the alias of Daley to withdraw. Where’s it going? Who's Daley, and where does he take the money? With so much hierarchy involved, this has got to be big, right?"

Larabee grinned at him. "Jesus, kid, we’ve just had this a few days, and look what’s turned up. There’s no pressure here…this is our baby now, and we have all the time in the world to get it right before we move on these bastards. Something’ll turn up…we’ll get the breakthrough. We’ve hit a few dead ends, and we’re going to hit more, but we’re already ahead…and that’s a good place to be." He stood. "Okay, it’s been a good day, let’s quit while we’re ahead." With that, the group dispersed.

 JD eyed his hovering brother as he packed up. "Problem, Buck?"

"No light on at your place last night." He bobbed his eyebrows.

"I stayed at Tess’s place," JD replied.

"Ha, I knew you two…"

Turning sharply, JD shook his head. "No…it’s not like that."

Buck frowned. "You took her to dinner…"

"Uh huh."

"She asked you to dinner…"

JD made a face. "You got a point here before I have to draw my pension?"

Buck shrugged. "You stayed over…I figured you two kids had finally…" He watched as JD pulled his thoughts together.

"I…" he chewed on his lip, "Tess shared something with me, something real personal. I told her later about Talia. Her friendship’s the best thing to happen to me in a long time, Buck. Just because I like her, isn’t enough to jeopardize what we have. I’d rather have her as a lifelong friend, than push things too far, too soon, and lose her forever."

Approaching, Buck placed his hand around JD’s neck and squeezed. "You got it bad, huh?"

JD did not answer, just looked at the floor.

Buck squeezed harder. "It’ll work out, kid. If it’s meant to be…" He smiled as JD’s gaze met his. "…It’ll happen."

JD smiled. He had no idea if that was so, but it felt good to have confided his fears and feelings to a man he trusted with his life, as well as his emotions.

Tanner Home

Chris stopped at Vin's on his way home. He had to see for himself how his daughter was faring. When he entered, Max tilted her head, indicating that he should go on into the living room. He took off his jacket, and had just set it down when Andi saw him, came running, and threw herself at her Uncle, knowing that he would catch her.

"You know what? Mama has nemic blood, but Daddy's gonna take care of her and help make her better, and then if things go right…we gonna have another baby, but…if it takes too long…we might have to wait. Jason was upset until he membered before…when Mama and Trey was gone…when Daddy said the best things in life are not always easy…."

Jason shook his head as he approached Chris. "Gee Andi…try to get it right if you're gonna blab." He looked at his uncle. "Reckon you know what Dad meant…trust your instincts, and hold your ground." He guessed, saying that, said it all, and then he sighed. "Andi, if you want me to help you with your homework, you best get down, say bye, and come on."

Nodding Andi did just that, leaving Chris shaking his head about the entire conversation. Walking over to where Kelli was sitting next to Vin on the couch, he leaned down, kissed her cheek, sat down, and said, "I take it the kids did okay with the news."

Vin answered. "Yeah, they did…better than I thought they would. Andi…hell, she rolls with the flow. I was concerned about Jason, but he said he trusts us when we said Kel would be okay, and that's all that mattered to him."

"He's a great kid…they both are, but have you noticed that Jason sounds more and more like Brodie every day?" Chris added, "Not that there's anything wrong with it…I just hadn't noticed before."

"We noticed, Dad, but if you think about it…he hears a lot of Texas talk with me, Vin, Walter, and now Vin's dad around a lot. Even though Brodie thinks he's lost his Texas speech… enough of its still there." She squeezed Chris's hand. "You didn't stop by to talk about dialects though…we're okay…it may be a little rough goin' for a while, but we’ll make it, and we have a lot of offers to help."

Tanner explained. "Brodie's with the twins now. Max took charge of the meds, and planned our healthy meals for the next month. I've heard from all my brothers today, and their wives, includin' yours. Cait stopped by on her way to havin' lunch with her mother, and suggested, among other things, that we try the twins in nursery school over at Reins…at least part-time. We're gonna think about it."

Chris nodded, approving that Vin was accepting the support his family offered. "You do that." He stood. "I'm not staying, but if you need …"

"We know Dad." Kelli smiled. "You'll be the first one we call if we need help, but Vin's doing a good job of takin' care of me. You should go home and spend time with that beautiful pregnant wife of yours, and my siblings."

Chris stepped back to retrieve his jacket, before he said, "Bossy isn't she?"

Vin grinned. "It's her Larabee side showin', but she's right. We're fine Chris…go home."

Chris was still smiling as he walked out to his truck. It was getting easier for him to trust their code. He meant every word he had said to Vin the previous evening, and he believed his daughter would make it to term with this pregnancy. He also believed that the challenges she and Vin were facing, and how they overcome them, would ultimately benefit the power of seven. It was the only outcome that he was willing to accept.

Stopping for a moment, he turned to listen. Chris swore he heard a male voice…sounded like a man chuckling…then it hit him…. it was Cowboy, laughing, just before he spoke, 'Jason might be sounding like Brodie, but in case you didn't notice Chris…you're starting to think like me.'

Jackson Home

Rain recognized that her husband had something serious on his mind, and asked, "Aside from the news about your Texas brother, what's troubling you?"

"That obvious, huh?"

"Baby…when we make love, I can tell how your day has been. Now, tell me…who, or what else has upset you so?"

Pulling her onto him, Nathan held her tightly. "There was this woman…I met with her today."


"She was heavily pregnant. Her partner was recently murdered, and she barely has enough money to live. Now she’s alone, and about to bring a baby into her sordid world."

"Mmm, I see. You want to help her?"

Nathan sighed. "I don’t think I can."

Rain kissed him. "The fact that you want to, makes me want to, also. I’ll speak to Mallory tomorrow. Maybe there is something we can do." She melted into a searing kiss from her man.

"I feel so bad that I have all this in my head…yet want you…right now."

"Just roll with it," she breathed close to his ear. "Maybe this way, I can help you through it."

This time their lovemaking was more sensual and steady. Nevertheless, despite Nathan taking comfort in the intimacy, it could not shake the concern in his mind.

Dunne Home

Having put the kids to bed, and now remembering what he meant to ask Tess earlier, JD dialed. "Hey, it’s me, can you talk?"

"Yeah, I was just heading for a bath and an early night," Tess answered. "Is everything okay?" She frowned at the pause. "John…?"

Trying not to think of her heading for a bath, JD cleared his throat. "Yeah…uh, no…no problem. I was thinking about picking up groceries tomorrow, and thought I’d best check if we’re still on for Sunday."

"Oh sure, Keira and I are looking forward to you cooking for us. What time would you like us there?"

"I thought we’d eat around six. The kids’ll go to bed not long after, then we could watch a movie…uh…come over about midday, then the children can play and wear themselves out. Sound good?"

Tess sighed. ‘Mmmm…perfect…’ "Sounds good. So…I’ll see you tomorrow at daycare?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Goodnight, John Daniel."

"’Night." JD grinned to himself as he hugged the phone to his chest for a while before returning it to its stand. ‘Yeah…sounds real good…’

Federal Building, Dean’s Office, late evening

Grant Dean glared at the man in the chair opposite him. He wanted answers, and looking at this person's body language, something was telling him they were not answers that he wanted to hear.

"You screwed it up?"

Agent Karl Morris nodded. "It was just a split second. I needed to pee, so I pulled over just as Gino turned off to head for his apartment block. I was real quick, but when I got to his street…he wasn’t there."

"How long was he missing?"

"’Bout two hours." Karl winced as Dean slammed his hand down on the desk. 

"That’s when you called in Mason?"

Morris again nodded at the mention of the covert group’s powder man. "Figured…why take any more chances? … why not blow the little bastard up…job done." He watched Dean stand, and then begin to pace.

"Gino could do a lot in two hours."

"He was carrying a takeout bag when he got out of the car. Maybe he just went looking for food."

"Maybe…and maybe it’s just coincidence that Larabee and his damn band of merry men are now handling our cases." He stopped and leaned in to Morris. "But here’s the thing…I don’t believe in coincidences." He ran a hand over his face. "This is getting too close for comfort. Tell Mason to contact Daley…I think the well’s about to dry up. Someone we trust is leaving clues, too. Each shooter swears they took the guns away from the scene, yet somehow they get back there or turn up."

"Are you gonna run?"

Dean laughed, mirthlessly. "No. If we hold our nerve, this may go away. Chances of linking us to any of them are minimal. We have a lot of influential friends…I’m not worried." He approached the window, and stared out across the city. "But Larabee may need to watch his and his cowboys’ backs."


Chapter 10

"What you see with your eyes closed is what counts." Lame deer, Lakota

Larabee Home, Friday, 6:30 am

Chris wrapped his arms around his wife, and gazed into her eyes. "You're more beautiful every day."

"Bigger and beautiful, you mean." Cait laughed.

"I wouldn't expect you to shrink while you're carrying our child." He kissed the top of her head. "I'm sorry I can't offer you a lunch date, but I'll meet you at Doctor Weeks' office at two."

Cait understood that the case they were working on was taking up most of her husband's time this week. "You do what you need to, I'll meet Mother for lunch, and then you'll be with me for the important stuff. I can live with that."

Swatting her backside tenderly, Chris sighed. "Love you, but I need to run, Babe. Hug the kids for me." Releasing her, he picked up his attaché case, and turned to walk outside.

Watching him from the door as he climbed into his truck, and then drove away, Cait smiled. Chris's work was demanding, and they did not always have options concerning their schedules, but she would not trade one second of their life for anything.

MCAT Office, 7:30 am

Larabee was not surprised to see JD already working on CASSIE when he arrived. Gunny handed him his morning threat assessment report as he passed her desk, and in his office, he found that she had a carafe of fresh-brewed coffee waiting, along with a plate of fresh fruit sitting on the credenza. Smiling, Chris set his case next to his chair and filled his mug. Settling into his daily routine, he knew he would hear Buck or Josiah's booming voice as they arrived, followed by Ezra and Nathan. Alpha Team was in 'case mode', and no one wasted any time.

Looking up from his report when he heard a knock on his door, Chris yelled, "Enter."

Sam Russo stepped into the Commander's office, and sat down opposite Chris. "This is the third straight day Alpha Team has been in early. Anything I should know?"

Chris shook his head. "We're focused." Leaning forward he sighed. "This case has legs, Sam. It'll take a while, but I believe by the time we're done, we're going to upset more than a few bureaucrats … some very big ones at that, and the repercussions could be ugly."

Nodding, Sam smiled. "Some of them need upsetting in my opinion. Follow the evidence, and let me worry about any unwelcome ramifications." Handing over the folders he carried, Russo said, "One is the approval for Agent Coulter's LOA, the other…," he grinned, "she made a good impression on her class of cadets. They sent a few get-well wishes, and personal notes. I trust you'll see that she gets them."

"I will." Chris set the folders aside. "Who took on her class?"

Sam stood. "I did, and I'm impressed with the material she covered. You'll also find a letter from me in there telling her that." Starting for the door, he said, "Travis took his wife on a long overdue vacation to Europe, and will be gone until after Thanksgiving. Whatever you need, let me know, and I'll see that you get it."

Chris laughed, "I hope Orrin left you his bottle of aspirin…I have a feeling you might need it before this is over."

"Orrin already warned me. I'm ready for whatever your teams throw my way." Russo was smiling as he walked out the door.

Chris picked up his assessment report and continued to read, until Gunny entered with his appointments for the day. "I wanted to remind you, since I know you don't read all the memos I leave for you. You're scheduled to meet with Greg Lawson, at the U.S, Attorney's office at three today." She laid a case folder on Chris's desk. "It concerns your deposition on the Medina case. I thought you might want to review your notes beforehand."

"Thanks, Gunny…and in case I don't say it…I appreciate you taking care of me." Chris hid his grin when he saw the shocked look on her face, and then left without answering. He supposed he should tell her more often, but just never thought about it. Making a mental note to send her flowers and chocolates on her upcoming birthday, he picked up the file she left, and added it to his growing stack of work to-do-today.


Following the morning briefing, Josiah returned to his office to work on the profile they needed. Ezra left to run down a lead from one of his sources, and Buck cornered JD before he went back to sat-com.

"You got everything planned for your date with Tess?"

JD sighed. "It's not a date, Buck. I just figured it was time for me to do something nice for Tess. She's made dinner for us, watched my kids when I'm late, and she's a good friend. Why shouldn't I make a nice meal for her and Keira?"

"No reason," Buck shook his head," if you say you're just friends, then I believe you. But…I think you might not believe that yourself." He smiled, and walked away before JD could think of a snappy comeback, leaving his youngest brother with something to ponder.

Nathan returned to his desk to find a callback note. Picking up the phone, he dialed the number, and was surprised to hear a woman's voice. He ended the call, grabbed his coat, and told Buck, "I'll be out awhile, but my cell will be on if y'all need me."

"Sure Nate, do you want me to tag along for backup?"

Shaking his head, Nathan answered, "No…this is a personal errand. Reckon I'll drop by the hospital and see if Rain's free for lunch while I'm out."

"Tell that beautiful wife of yours hello for me." Buck watched Nathan leave, and then he opened the file on his desk to begin running background information on the names JD had given them to look into.

Larabee's Office, 12:30 pm

Chris knew Vin was coming in before the Texan made it past the front entrance. Standing, he walked over to his door and opened it. Just as he expected, Gunny had sidetracked Tanner, asking about his health and Kelli's. His brother looked in need of rescuing.

"Gunny, would you mind bringing us some fresh coffee, please?" He smiled when he 'heard' Vin's thank you, and motioned for him to hurry into the office.

Once inside Vin sat down. "I love that woman to pieces, but she worries over me too damn much."

"She is a one-woman marvel, for sure, but you can't deny she's worth her weight in gold."

Vin nodded. "That she is." He reached into his pocket and then handed Chris a note. "I saw Gilford this morning, and told him I'd quit pushin' him to release me. He sent you a copy of his orders for my file."

Chris looked at it. "He's going to make you wait another six weeks…good."

"Yeah, and it works out for me. I can stay home with Kel; maintain my workout schedule to rebuild my strength, ride herd on the kids, and still keep up with what's goin' on here. Before you ask, she's doin' about the same. Gettin' tired of all the damn shots, not that I blame her, and fightin' a lot of nausea, but she's stayin' calm. We're gonna drop the twins off at nursery school startin' Monday, and then go see Doctor Weeks."

Gunny entered with their coffee, and then made her exit for the two men to talk.

Picking up the folder Russo had left earlier, Chris passed it to Vin. "Kel's LOA has been approved, and Sam took over her class. He gathered these notes and cards from Kelli's students. They might make her feel better about her teaching assignment."

Vin thumbed through the notes and nodded. "I'll see that she gets 'em. I got an unexpected present earlier too. It appears that Tracker thinks I need more information about bein' a Heart Warrior, and he left a very old journal on my desk at home. I haven't had a chance to look it over yet, but I reckon he knows what I need."

"Seems like our ancestors always know what we need before we do." Chris shook his head. "Sometimes I wish they wouldn't be so cryptic about it though."

"Any leads on Gino's murder?"

Chris shrugged. "A few, nothing definitive, yet. I do know he was on to something with the info he gave you. One name led to another, and then another. My gut says we're just hitting the top of the iceberg on this case. Hell, we’ll still be unraveling this mess when you do come back to work."

"Gino always did have good information. Anythin' I can do from home to help?"

"You have enough to do just keeping tabs on my daughter, and healing. If I do need you, I'll let you know. In the meantime, stay low profile, just in case the wrong people know that Gino saw you the night he died."

Vin drained the remains of coffee in his cup, and set it on the desk. "Same goes for you. If they know he saw me, you can be sure they know you were there, too." Tanner stood. "I need to get home, but take extra precautions, and watch your back, Cowboy."

Chris nodded. "At two I'm meeting Cait at Weeks' office, and then I have one stop at the Federal Building. After that, I'm going home; I hope to enjoy a nice, quiet weekend. Kiss Kel for me, and tell her Cait or I will call tonight to give her an update on her new sibling."

Tanner gave him a backhanded wave as he left. Chris glanced at his watch. He had just enough time to finish his report for Russo, leave instructions for Gunny, and make it to the doctor's office to meet Cait.

Saint Augusta Women’s Shelter, Denver, 1:00 pm

Arriving at Desiree’s home after receiving her frantic call, Nathan found the mother-to- be, bruised and distraught. Someone had roughed her up trying to find out what she knew about Gino's last night. Nathan made a call, and then drove her to the women’s refuge. The people there were more than accommodating, and Nathan was now with her, in her allotted room.

Desiree smiled at her savior. "This is real nice Mister Jackson, thank you."

Nathan returned the smile. "You’ll be all right here until you can relocate to safer housing…unless you have somewhere you’d prefer to be…parents’ home…a sister or brother?"

Desiree stroked her belly, then her bruised cheek, and shook her head. "No, there was just me and Gino. This will be just fine, thanks." She gazed at the kind black man as he approached to examine her face.

"You're gonna be sore, but it should be healed in a few days. The people here are gonna have their in-house Doc check on you anyway, make sure you and the baby are doing okay." He watched her stand.

"I’m real grateful to you, Mister Jackson. Let me thank you proper." In seconds, she had opened her shirt, snatched up Nathan’s hand, and as she placed his large palm on her breast.

Nathan gasped, removed his hand from her chest, and stepped back from her."Desiree… Honey… you don’t have to do this anymore. I wanted to help you, and so do these people. Your days as a hooker are over…all you need to do now is take care of yourself and that little one growing inside you."

Desiree looked confused. She had always understood that no man did something for nothing, except Gino. He had loved her and made her feel safe. "You…you don’t want me?"

Nathan smiled. "It’s not that, Honey, it’s just not my way."

"But, I wanna thank you."

Taking her hand, he smiled. "Just stay safe, that’s all the thanks I need…oh…and if you think of anything that Gino might have said to you, which could help us catch the guy who murdered him, that would be good, too." He leaned in, kissed her on the cheek, and then said goodbye.

On a side street outside the shelter, he sat in his truck for a good five minutes thinking about the young woman's situation before snapping back to the here and now. Feeling guilty for his woolgathering, he reached for his cell and punched in Mallory's cell number. After arranging for her to see Desiree, he decided to call Rain. Reaching her voice mail, he opted to not leave a message and surprise her in person. Slipping his cell into his inside coat pocket, and focused on securing his seatbelt, he missed the four men in ski masks approaching his vehicle until someone yanked open the driver’s door, and gloved hands roughly hauled him out of his seat.

A blow to his face halted all thoughts of fighting them off, while they dragged him into an alley. A gruff voice rasped in his ear. "You should've kept your nose out of this, Agent Jackson."

With that, the men proceeded to beat Nathan until he collapsed semiconscious to the snow covered ground. One of the men pulled up his head by the hair, and snarled into the cut, bruised and bleeding face of the downed man. "Larabee's in way over his head, and your dead corpse is gonna be our message to him." Raising the barrel of his 9mm to Nathan's forehead, he prepared to shoot. Before he could fire, however, the sound of trashcans clanging down the alleyway halted him. The masked man growled as he withdrew his weapon, "You're one lucky bastard…today…, but there's always next time." With one final kick, he let Nathan drop hard onto the concrete, and the four men departed.

Shaking and in terrible pain, Nathan tried to retrieve his cell, but it required too much of an effort from his battered body. Instead, he passed out amongst the filth and detritus around him.

Tanner Home, 1:30 pm

After Max told Vin that the twins were down for a nap, and Kelli was resting after a rough morning, he went in search of his family. Entering the kid's room, the first thing he observed was that their beds were empty. He started to backtrack to look for his youngest, when he noticed that the adjoining door to the master bedroom was ajar.

Standing at the entrance to their room, Vin shook his head. There on the bed were his sleeping boys, snuggled close to their mama, who had one arm protectively laid over them. His heart tightened at the sight. Physically loving his wife was gratifying, but it was moments such as this that he felt the true bond of their love. He approached the bed, set the folders he carried on the nightstand, and then reached down to lift Bren into his arms. Kelli stirred, but when she saw her husband, she closed her eyes, and loosened her hold on their babies.

After making two trips, Vin had both boys nestled in their own beds. He slipped off his boots, and eased down beside his wife, leaning his back against the headboard. "You shouldn't let them sneak in here like that."

Cuddling closer to Vin, Kelli sighed. "I know, but they were so cute about doin' it, I couldn't resist." Raising her head to meet his eyes, she asked, "What did Doctor G say?"

"Said I'm doin' fine, but he wants my lungs to strengthen and heal completely before he releases me for work. Reckon you're stuck with me till after the first of the year." He slipped his arm around her. "Max told me you had a rough mornin'…feelin' better?"

"Better than I was, but not as good as I'd like to be." She sighed. "I am beginnin' to feel like a damn pin cushion though."

Vin rubbed her sore hip, and then reached over her to pick up the folders Chris had given him. "Maybe this will help take your mind off your misery." He proceeded to read some of the cards to her, while they waited for the twins to wake from their nap.

Doctor Weeks' Office, 2:20pm

Chris and Cait sat in the doctor's office waiting for her to come in and tell them the results of the latest tests. Although they were not sure they were all necessary, they followed the doctor's advice and had them. Neither appeared to be nervous, but both were anxious to hear that all was well with their baby. They did not have to wait long for the doctor to appear.

Helen Weeks smiled as she entered and sat down at her desk. "I know you're not here to pass the time, so I'll tell you right off that all looks good. After seeing the results of the quad test, I can tell you that you're doing fine. Although," she sighed, "we might be off on your due date. I can be more precise after your next ultrasound."

Cait relaxed. "If the tests say all is well, and only the date changes, then I'm happy."

"Guess that means we'll find out soon if we're having a boy or girl." Chris nodded. He could live with all the extra tests, as long as Cait and their baby were all right.

"We should be able to tell by the first week in December, and we do have a few more test results that we're waiting on, but," Helen removed her glasses and closed Cait's chart. "I don't expect to see anything amiss with them either. So, I'll see you both a week from today?"

Exchanging glances, neither Larabee had anything to add. Chris answered for them, as he and Cait stood. "We'll be here."

"Make your appointment with my nurse on the way out. Call me with any concerns, night or day." The doctor opened the door, allowing them to exit.

They walked hand in hand, across the parking lot, until they reached Cait's van. Chris waited until she was inside and then leaned in to kiss his wife. "I have a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's office, after that I'm all yours for the weekend."

Smiling, Cait rubbed her swollen stomach and answered, "We’re looking forward to that 'Dad'."

"Drive safely." Chris stepped back and closed the door. Watching her pull away, he glanced at his watch, and realized that he was running late. Walking to his truck, he popped the lock, climbed inside, and then headed towards the Federal Building.

MCAT Office, 3:15 pm

Josiah exited his office, and motioned for Buck, Ezra, and JD to join him in the conference room. "It seems that Nathan was helping Gino's lady with a problem, and asked Mal to go see her. That was more than two hours ago. Mallory called and said when she arrived at the Saint Augusta Women's Shelter she found Nathan's truck parked out front, but no sign of Nathan."

"Damn, I knew I should have gone with him." Buck grabbed his cell and tried to call him, but Jackson's phone went straight to voicemail. "I'D better call Chris and tell him we have a missing agent."

JD shook his head as he noted the time. "Chris is in a meeting with Greg Lawson, something about a deposition. I doubt you'll get hold of him for at least an hour."

"Then we best find our missing brother before that." Buck nodded and directed, "JD with me. Josiah, you and Ezra are together. We'll start at Nathan's truck and go from there." The four agents grabbed their coats and left the office.

Saint Augusta Women’s Shelter, 3:15 pm

Cold… was all he could feel. Nathan stirred, trying to move his battered body, but nothing seemed to work the way it should. Flashes of memories filtered through his dazed mind. Fighting the invisible weight, which pressed against his bruised ribs, he gasped for air, but that was a mistake. When the bitter cold hit his lungs, it caused him to begin shivering. Then he felt warmth surround him, and heard a comforting voice say, "Hang in there, Son. I've got your back till your brothers come."

"You….you're here…I…."

'Don't try to talk. Concentrate on your connection…all you have to do is think on it, and the rest will follow.' Healer held the battered body of his charge in his arms, while he made another connection.

Federal Building, 3:15 pm

"Damn," Chris muttered as he hurried across the parking lot. Being a few minutes late was bad enough, but spending ten minutes looking for a parking place was obscene. Entering through the big double doors, a feeling of déjàvu washed over him. How many times had he rushed in through those doors? For years, this place had been home away from home for him…at least until a rocket launcher destroyed the entire twelfth floor.

Stopping for a moment, he tried to shake off the image that particular memory invoked, wondering why after all this time, he was thinking of it now. Shaking his head, he approached the metal detectors. Another three minutes passed before he cleared security, and was on his way to the elevators. It seemed like forever before he reached the eighth floor. Stepping into the hallway, Larabee felt a chill run down his spine. He was alone in the corridor, and less than twenty feet from the door of Lawson's office, but he heard whispering close to his ear. Closing his eyes, he stopped to listen. He swore he could hear shouting… something about Doc being down and a looming threat. Involuntarily he glanced at his watch…it was three twenty-four.

Vin's voice echoed in his head. 'Watch your back, Cowboy.'

His muscles tensed, and his instincts kicked in, moments before the deafening sound of an explosion reached his ears, and he felt the concussion of the blast. The last thing Chris saw was the door of Lawson's office splintering in front of him…then…nothing.

Tanner Home, 3:15 pm

While Kelli was busy sorting through her get-well letters, Vin took the opportunity to read parts of the worn old journal Tracker had left for him. Some of the entries dated back a couple hundred years. It amazed him how relevant the writing from then was to him now. One passage in particular expressed accurately how he felt when he mentally reached out.

'Another whole world opens up when we close our eyes and calm our mind. Be still and know; be still and hear; be still and see; be still and feel. Inside every person is a still, small voice. Sometimes it is necessary to close our eyes to shut down our perception in order to see.'

Closing his eyes, he connected with five of his brothers. The first vision he had, showed Buck and JD running toward Nathan, who was lying on the ground, cradled in Healer's arms. Resisting the urge to panic, Vin watched as Buck, JD, Josiah, and Ezra reached him. Healer stood, relinquishing his charge, and raised his eyes to penetrate Tanner's mind, assuring the Texan all was in hand there, and conveying to him that he should concentrate on Chris.

Taking a deep breath, Vin searched his mind for a connection to Chris. The scene of a smoke-filled hallway materialized for him. Mentally calling out to Larabee, Tanner felt his presence, and relief flooded over him when he 'heard' the steady beat of Chris's heart. Their connection allowed him to gather information, which told him what he needed to do. While holding his link open with Chris, Vin made the first of several phone calls.

Saint Augusta Women’s Shelter, 3:45 pm

Buck closed the door to the ambulance as soon as Josiah climbed inside to ride with Nathan. Slapping the palm of his hand against the side panel, he cursed as the ambulance moved away from the alleyway. "Damnit to hell….I should have had his back."

Placing his hand on Buck's shoulder, JD attempted to calm him. "You had no way of knowing this would happen, and we'll find the sonofabitch who did this."

"Yeah," Buck said with a sigh. "I know the paramedics said he'd be all right, but…damnit, let's just do our job, and then get the hell out of here."

Ezra joined them. "I made a sketch of the area, and paced off the distance from the truck to where we found Nathan. A tow truck is on its way to take it to our lab so they can dust for fingerprints. No witnesses are forthcoming, but Mallory said he called her at one and was leaving then. Once we interview the woman he brought here, I think we'll have all we're going to get."

Buck nodded, "Ezra you interview the woman. JD you sign for the tow, I'll…" his cell rang, interrupting his next order. Grabbing it, he was surprised to hear Vin's voice. Listening, he swore, before saying, "We'll finish up here and meet you at the hospital." Wilmington closed his phone, and then turned to JD and Ezra. "Chris just missed being blown to kingdom come at the Federal Building. He's pretty much okay and Vin is en route to him now. Bravo team is on their way over there, too."

"First Nathan and now Chris…who the hell did we piss off?" JD asked.

"Don't know yet, Kid, but I guarandamntee you we will soon."

Federal Building, 3:50 pm

Vin parked close to Chris's Ram, and noted that Justin's truck and the MAU were already there. Hurrying through the crowd of evacuated workers, he flashed his badge to gain access inside the building. The elevators were non-operational so he took the stairs. By the time he approached the eighth floor, he understood what Gilford meant about his lungs needing to heal more. He also heard Larabee yelling before he reached the landing.

Chris was in the face of the ATF Agent. "Stand down Agent Dean, this scene belongs to MCAT!"

"ATF has jurisdiction over any explosion in a Federal Building, Agent Larabee!"

"That's Commander Larabee, and not this one. Since this case involves the attempted murder of an MCAT operative…it's damn well ours!"

Dean huffed. "Lawson was not one of your agents."

"No…no he wasn't, but I was supposed to be inside that office, and I take exception to almost being blown to hell. The only reason I'm standing here now is that I was late for a three o'clock meeting. So back off and stay the hell out of our way!"

Vin moved between Dean and Larabee. "Agent Dean, take your team and leave. Captain Michaels is in charge and any help he needs…MCAT will cover. You have a problem with that take it to your Director Hutchins"

"Fine, you take over, Larabee, but you damn well better do it right." Dean glared at Chris, and motioned for his agents to follow him into the stairwell.

"Give me your keys Chris." Vin held out his hand, tossing them to Justin when Larabee complied. "See that the Commander's truck makes it to Denver Memorial. That's where he's headed."

"I'm all right Vin. I just…"

Assessing the dark bruises on Chris's face, the splatters of blood from assorted cuts, and the pained expression in his eyes, Vin failed to believe his claim. "You need to see a doctor, Justin can manage here. Besides, I left Cait with Donald and Lillian, and Brodie is with Kel. I promised your wife and daughter that I'd personally see that you're examined at the hospital. You don't really want to see either of them upset…do you?"

As his anger unwound, Chris's thoughts returned to what had happened and he began to feel the aches and bruises he had sustained. Turning to Justin, he said, "I want all reports faxed to my home a.s.a.p. We'll talk later." He started to walk off, and stopped, looking back at Tanner. "Well, you going to stand there or drive me?"

Vin shook his head. Chris's body was a little banged up, but his spirit was still strong and true.

Denver Memorial, 4: 45 pm

Chris exited the exam room and joined his brothers as they waited for news. "Doc says my head's too hard to hurt and the rest of me is just bruised. What do we know about Nathan?"

"Not much, other than the paramedics seemed to think he'd be okay. They figured he had a couple of broken bones, a concussion, and was a bit hypothermic, but nothing life threatening." Buck repeated what he knew. "Rain's in there with him now."

Nodding, Chris told them. "We'll meet at my house tomorrow morning. I should have all the reports by then, and maybe we can piece this day together…find out how it all went to hell."

Justin entered through the ER doors, and walked over to Chris, handing him his keys. He orally gave him a preliminary report. "Your truck is outside. Lawson's secretary is conscious, and I'm about to ask her a few questions. Bones is going to push on Lawson's autopsy, so I should have what you want by nine in the morning."

"Good job, Captain. Have a man stay with Agent Jackson tonight, too." Chris acknowledged Justin's nod as he turned and headed to the secretary's assigned room.

Fifteen minutes later Rain joined them with a report on Nathan, "Sprained arm, bruised ribs, a concussion, and assorted contusions. I'm going to stay with him overnight here, and bring him home in the morning." She looked at Chris. "Why was he working alone?"

"I can't answer that question just yet, but I will…I promise you. I'm leaving a man stationed at his door tonight, just to be on the safe side." Laying his hand on Rain's shoulder, he asked. "What do you need?"

"Mal has my kids, I have clothes here…I suppose all I need is some answers, but…I'll wait. Go home, Nathans's already down for the count, and probably won't be too coherent until tomorrow. We'll be all right."

"Call if you need anything, or if something changes."

"I will." She accepted a hug from Chris and each of the brothers before leaving them in the waiting room.

Buck threw his arm around JD. "Come on Kid, I'll give you a lift to your truck."

Josiah took his keys from Ezra. "And I'll drop you at your car." The four men waved as they exited the ER.

"Reckon that leaves me to follow you home Cowboy. You ready?" Vin asked.

"As I'll ever be, "Chris grumbled, "I'm getting too damn old to go flying through the air. Next time I'll send your ass to the federal Building."

Tanner grinned. "Hey…I'm on sick leave. Pick on someone else." They continued their banter as they walked out.


Grant Dean used a payphone to make his call, and started in the moment his contact answered. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Setting off a bomb in my own damn building was plain damn stupid! You want to kill a Federal Agent…keep me out of it because that is not part of our deal! I don't care who the hell ordered it….you want Larabee dead…don't drop it on my doorstep!"

Slamming the receiver down, Dean swallowed hard. This was not what he signed up for, but…how the hell could he get out of it now…other than dead?


Chapter 11

'All things happen for a reason; our challenge is to discover what it is.'

Larabee Home, Saturday, 9:00 am

Chris rolled over in his sleep, reaching for his wife. Finding an empty space, he glanced at the clock. It had been a long time since he slept past eight, and as he moved, the ache in his muscles reminded him of why. The memory of events from the previous day rushed back to him, and he sighed.

'So much for a nice quiet weekend.'

Tossing back the covers, he sat up, assessing the aches and pains his body recited. Deciding that it was not going to improve by sitting there, he stood, and gingerly made his way to the bathroom. A quick shower refreshed him, and after dressing, he went in search of his wife.


Cait had talked to their children, and when her mother assured her they were all right with Granddad and Nana, she set to work on breakfast, and planning her day. Her first priority was tending to Chris. She doubted that he remembered much of what he had told her last night because of the pain meds Doctor Gilford gave him before he left the hospital, but she recalled all of it. Determined to make his day easy, she had already conferred with her sisters, planned a casual dinner for the Wild Bunch, and made refreshments for his meeting with his brothers.

When she heard him turn the water off in the shower, she made him a plate, poured his coffee, and met him at the kitchen door with a good morning kiss. "You look better in the light of day."

Lingering over their kiss, he smiled. "Feel better than I look." Taking in the breakfast waiting for him and the covered plates of snacks on the counter, he shook his head. "You've been busy, I see." He sat down at the table and gratefully reached for his coffee.

"I have." She poured herself a glass of orange juice, and sat down next to him. "The kids are with my parents until noon. Justin came out early, and the reports he left are on your desk. Mallory, Inez, Barbara, and I have an impromptu dinner planned for the Wild Bunch, and your meds are next to your plate. Buck called, said he told everyone to be here at eleven for your meeting, and Rain is bringing Nathan home. He wants to be here, and she couldn't talk him out of it. Vin said Kel wants to see for herself that you're okay, so they'll be over soon. I thought you might want some privacy for your discussion, and set up the den for you to use. It's a beautiful day and not as cold as it's been, which means we can eat outside, once you finished."

Leaning back in his chair, Chris gazed at his wife. "Organized and beautiful, too." He had forgotten how it worked to have a real partner as his spouse, to share the burdens of his hectic life, and she never ceased to amaze him. Sarah had been one, and now Cait. To find two women in one lifetime, who understood his needs and wants, was to him, a miracle. Whatever their future held, he knew they were in for a wondrous ride.


By ten o'clock, Chris had reviewed all the reports, and had a clear picture in his mind of the previous day's events…he thought. When Vin and Kelli arrived, and he 'heard' some of what the Texan was thinking as he walked down the hallway, he was not quite so sure. A knock on his office door alerted him to their physical presence. "Enter.' He stood and walked around the desk, anticipating his daughter's need to see him.

Kelli peeked in first. When she saw her father, her emotions ran amuck and she had to rush over and hug him. "I was worried about you." She stepped back enough to look at his face. Reaching up to touch the ugly bruise on his forehead, she winced. "It's a good thing your head is Larabee tough."

Chris chuckled. "Guess it is at that. There's no need for you to get all wound up, Missy. You don't need me to worry over right now, and I'm all right, I promise."

Trying to give him a stern glare, she said, "You just make sure you stay that way." Glancing over her shoulder to Vin she sighed. "You didn't tell me he looked so bad, but since he's alive, I'll forgive you."

"Hell, you didn't ask me how he looked." Vin shook his head, and grinned. "Reckon another scar or two just adds more character as he ages." He ignored the glare Larabee sent his way.

Chris decided to keep the conversation light. "Age is overrated anyway. Most women prefer wisdom and maturity over youth and inexperience."

Smiling at the exchange between the two men she loved most in the world, Kelli said sweetly, "I'll leave you two alone to talk about experience. Cait might need some assistance with dinner preparations, and I should help Brodie ride herd on our brood." She started for the door, but Vin snagged her by the arm.

Pulling her close, he leaned down and kissed her, before saying, "Dad can handle what needs doin' until I get out there. You just remember, no liftin'."

"Got it, Coach, but I can help with dinner, and I promise to behave." She stood on her toes to give him a sound kiss, reflecting that promise. "See y'all later."

Waiting until she was out of earshot, Chris asked, "How's she really doing?"

"She's doin' what she's supposed to, and except for havin' a few anxious moments about you, she's stayin' calm." Vin walked over to look at the stack of reports on Chris's desk. "You do realize by now that somethin' important happened yesterday."

"Aside from me and Nathan almost being killed?"

Vin nodded. "We might not have it perfected yet, but the power of seven was workin'. I saw Healer with Nathan, and connected with you moments after the blast."

Chris sighed. "I guess I did hear voices just before it happened. Wasn't sure if I imagined them, or…whatever it was, I stopped to listen, otherwise, I would have been inside Lawson's office when the bomb detonated." He reached for the one pile of reports. "We'll cover it all when the others arrive. Rain told Cait that Nathan insists on being here, too. Grab the rest and let's move to the den."

Picking up the remainder of the files, Vin walked out with Chris. "Maybe he’ll tell us what was so all fired important about runnin' off alone."

"He'll tell us…one way or another."


Most of the brothers arrived early. Each had their own story to tell, and wanted to compare their experiences with the rest. Nathan was the last one to come in, after having to promise Rain that he would tell her all of it later.

Josiah reached for an extra pillow to cushion the chair for Nathan. "Are you sure you're up for this?"

Taking a moment for his breathing to even out, Nathan nodded. "I'll manage."

Chris passed around copies of the reports, and waited until Nathan looked up before he began. "Let's start with what we know. At approximately three o'clock, Mallory called Josiah and informed him that she found Nathan's empty truck parked in front of the women's shelter, and no sign of Agent Jackson. According to her statement he had called her around one and requested her to talk with…" he looked at his report, "a Miss Desiree Adams…" he glanced at Nathan. "How did you get involved with this Adams woman?"

"She was Gino's woman…I interviewed her the day before, and, she seemed so lost. There she was pregnant and alone….I guess I let her situation get to me. When she called and asked for my help….I went. Someone had roughed her up asking about Gino and who he talked to…the only thing I could think of was to get her to a shelter, and have Mal counsel her. I left and then sat in my truck for a minute or two to make that call and…" he swallowed hard. "Four men dragged me out of the truck and into the alley where they beat the hell out of me."

Buck leaned forward. "Did you get a look at any of them?"

Nathan shook his head. "They all wore ski masks…said I was gonna be a warning…. 'Larabee's in way over his head, and your dead corpse is gonna be our message to him.' One of 'em planned to kill me, but a noise or something down the alleyway stopped him. After he lowered his weapon, he said, 'You're one lucky bastard…today…but there's always next time.' That's all I recall…except…"

"Except what? Chris prodded him.

Sighing, Nathan ducked his head. "I probably was hallucinating 'cause I thought I heard Healer talking to me."

"I saw him." Ezra admitted.

"Me, too." Buck added.

"I know I did…that's how I knew you were gonna be okay." Vin met Josiah's eyes. "I saw y'all enter the alleyway."

JD smiled. "Then I didn't imagine I felt Vin with us."

"Once Healer assured me that Nate was in good hands, I searched for a connection to Chris…I found him just after the bomb exploded." Vin looked at Buck. "After I got Cait and Kelli settled I headed for the Federal Building. I called Justin and Bones to meet us there before I called you."

Nathan was confused. "What explosion?"

"While Healer was tending to you…someone set off a bomb meant to kill Chris when he was in Lawson's office." Buck explained.

Chris nodded. "I was already running late, but heard voices when I exited the elevator. Someone shouted… I swear I heard Buck's voice…and I knew Nathan was in trouble…I stopped before going inside the office to listen…"

"Which is why you're still with us." JD finished what Chris did not say. "You think Dean and Cashton were behind both attacks?"

Hesitating, Chris sighed. "The message to Nathan proved that whoever is behind all this has no qualms about killing a Federal Agent. I've known them both a long time. While I might not like either of them, I've never had reason to suspect them of being cold-blooded murderers. Lawson's secretary gave Justin a statement before she died. Said a man came in claiming to be with maintenance to check on the copier just before three. He stayed a few minutes, said the machine was fine and then left. I was due in with Lawson at three, and according to our lab, the copier was the ignition point of the blast. We have no proof either Dean or Cashton were involved, but I don't believe Nathan and I both being targeted in one day is a coincidence."

"There is a way to find out. It would sure be useful to have a phone tap on Dean and Cashton’s office phones." JD bobbed his eyebrows. "Got me a nice little device for the little boy’s room, too."

Chris could not help smiling, sitting back as he became more serious and pondered the request. "We'd need a court order."

"Yeah, I realize that."

Chris pursed his lips. "Let me think on it. You’ll have my decision Monday. In the meantime, we leave all options on the table. Nathan…does Miss Adams know who the men were that roughed her up?"

"No, and she doesn't know who Gino talked to either."

"Good, "Chris nodded as he continued, "We connected yesterday when we needed to. I'm glad we at least got that part right. As for the rest…no one," he looked at Nathan, "and I mean no one goes off alone to investigate anything without backup. We trust only ourselves, and until we have proof in hand that tells us who is responsible, everyone out there is a suspect."

Vin felt he needed to add in his two cents. "I know 'm not on active duty, but I'm involved. We can't let our emotions cloud our judgment. Not only will that screw up the investigation, it makes it hard for me to connect with y'all. I don't know yet where my mental stuff fits in with this, but my gut says it does. When we function as one, we get results. I can't promise to stay completely focused with everythin' else goin' on, but I’ll do my damndest."

"We'll do our part, Junior, but don't neglect what you need to tend to either. We're all one part of seven…we'll adjust when one needs to pull back." Buck spoke directly to Vin, and grinned. "Of course, any help you can offer…we'll take."

"As soon as we break, I'll reach out to my contacts on the street." Ezra closed his notebook. "After I make my own review of these reports."

"Unless one of you has anything to add…. I suggest we join our ladies and try to push all this to the back of our minds until Monday." Chris waited, and when no one said otherwise, he said, "All right, let's go join our families." He smiled to himself when he saw Ezra start making phone calls.

Buck nudged JD and grinned. "I saw Tess with your kids on my way in. She's real obliging ain't she?"

JD sighed. "We're friends, Buck. F-r-i-e-n-d-s….friends, that's all."

"Right…you keep saying that, but do you believe it?" Buck was still grinning as he walked ahead of JD to catch up with Chris and Vin, leaving his young brother to mull on his words.

"Hey Vin, wait up." Buck reached them. "Are you two still taking our boys to the game tomorrow?"

"No reason to change our plans," Vin answered. "Caleb can spend the night with us, so you and Inez can get an early start on that shopping expedition you promised her." He grinned. "She has you right where she wants you to help her with a home makeover."

Buck sighed. "I know…I'm just not ready for her to go back to that mall alone. Reckon a little remodeling is a small price to pay for my peace of mind."

Chris gripped his shoulder. "Buck, if it was me, I'd be right there with Cait, too. Caleb, Jesse, and Jason will have a ball at the Broncos' game, and you'll know Inez is safe. A fair trade off if you ask me. Now, come on, first beer is on me."

Josiah stayed behind and helped Nathan to his feet. "I trust you told Rain why you were out there alone?"

"Not yet, but I will." Nathan saw the look of doubt Josiah cast his way. "She'll be okay with it, and I 'will' tell her."

"Uh huh. If I hear fireworks later, I'll know where they're coming from."


Taking advantage of a slight warm-up before the next blast of cold air descended on Colorado, the entire family was enjoying their time outside. The bigger kids ran and played, while the babies stayed closer to the deck. Donald and Lillian kept watch on their grandchildren for Cait, so she could stay off her feet. Vin took over watching his brood from his dad, allowing Brodie to grab a beer from the cooler.

Chris beat him to it and handed it to the elder Tanner as he walked up. "You're getting good at this grandpa stuff."

"I'm enjoying the hell out of it, too. It makes me feel good to be able to help our kids, without having to be covert about it. Vin has his hands full, and Kelli needs all the support she can get." He took a swig from the bottle. "Both of them will be devastated if the worst happens."

"Vin said Kel is doing all right, so far. You know something I don't?"

Shaking his head he answered, "No. They're both working hard to follow the doctor's orders. I know if love was enough to get through this, they'd have it made, but you and I both know it takes more than love to beat the odds stacked against them."

Chris gazed across the yard and watched Vin and Kelli. It appeared that they were holding up well, but he knew the strain of worry was bubbling just below the surface. "I wish Kel would come with us tomorrow. It might do her good to get away from here for a while."

Brodie smiled. "With the twins starting daycare Monday, she wants to spend the day with them, and Andi's been busy instructing the boys on what to do in school. I'm staying close, in case Kel needs anything, but she's having a rough time accepting that they're not babies anymore."

Looking at his own 'babies', Chris nodded. "They do grow up, too damn fast."

"I hear Cait has a plan for Cody to help Bren and Trey adjust to school."

"Yep, and knowing Cait, her plan is foolproof." Chris had no doubt that the boys would do well. It was their mama, who worried him. "By the way, I looked over those leases you suggested, and took a verbal vote from the others. Once Ezra explained how much money we'd save in the end, they all said yes. Go for it."

Brodie nodded. "I'll get on them Monday then."

Laughing when Vin and Buck got into the boy's impromptu football game, Chris smiled. With Ezra, JD, Donald, and Josiah playing against them, he figured they could use some help. "They appear to be outnumbered. I may be sore, but I'm game if you are. Reckon we should offer an assist?"

"Hell yeah," Brodie finished his beer and tossed it into the trashcan. "We'll show 'em how it should be done."

Thirty minutes later Vin bowed out, claiming that his lungs protested, but the truth was he knew Kelli was tiring, and he wanted to get her home. Shortly after that, the gathering broke up, and the brothers headed home with their families. A bitter cold front was coming within a day or two, but a happy Wild Bunch had enjoyed the day.

Jackson Home, 9:00 pm

Rain watched Nathan as he climbed into their bed. "I hope you didn't over do today."

"Relax, babe. All I need is to sleep in my own bed, with my woman close by."

Rain slipped on her gown. "The kids passed out, and the house is locked up." She pulled back the covers, climbed in bed, and snuggled next to her husband. "You ready to tell me what happened now?"

"Not much to tell. I was just trying to do a good deed, and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time." For some reason he did not want to explain why he was there. It was something he needed to find an answer for himself, before he could tell her. "I'm gonna be fine, it's over, and I am tired. You don't have to worry though, 'cause until we find who did this, I won't be going out alone again."

Rain knew he was holding back, but content to have him alive and at home, she decided not to push him for more…for now. "Get some rest. I love you."

"Love you, too."

Wilmington Home, 10:00 pm

Slipping off his wristwatch and placing it on the nightstand, Buck slid between the crisp bed sheets and patted the bed. Inez smiled and dropped her robe, enjoying how his face lit up at the image of her nakedness; she slipped into bed beside him.

While they sleepily cuddled in the darkness, Buck gave her a squeeze. "With everything else going on, I forgot to tell you…JD’s got it bad for Tess."

"Oh, mi amore…are you only now finding this out? It has been evident for some time."

"Oh, I knew he liked her and all…but this is way past like."

"Does Tess know?"

"Hard to tell. That little lady’s had such a tough time; she keeps her cards close to her chest…so to speak. But, yeah, I reckon there’s something there. I’ve seen the way she looks at him when he’s not looking."

Inez nodded against her man’s chest. She had seen it, too.

"I sure hope it works out. I hate to see the kid alone up there in that big house. He deserves the love of a good woman." He purred as a delicate hand drew circles on his chest. "Wha…what’s this? Mmmm…a bonus…oh God...?"

All thought about JD and Tess flew out the window, and tomorrow they would be on their own for their dinner. Tonight Buck had pressing matters on his mind that needed tending.


Chapter 12

Chris's Journal, Sunday Morning

Today I promised Cait I'd try to forget about work; although in light of recent events… that seems damn near impossible. Our unit definitely has a challenge, and I fear we have only scratched the surface on a case that is destined to be long and laborious. We'll manage though, and take things one day at a time until we dig deep enough to find and kill the roots of this conspiracy.

Vin and I are taking Jesse, Caleb, and Jason to the Broncos' game. Kickoff is at one, so we'll leave early to beat the traffic. Buck is accompanying Inez to the mall for his own peace of mind. Donald elected to stay and keep watch on Cait for me, while Brodie did the same for Vin about Kelli. While I always worry about Cait, she is doing well, and our baby is on track for a spring arrival. Kelli is following doctor's orders and Vin is diligent about keeping her calm. I pray everything works out, and this time next year, our new babies are crawling around together, keeping us all on our toes.

On the ranch front, Brodie struck a deal to lease twenty thousand adjoining acres from the government for pennies on the acre. It's a long-term lease, and taking it will benefit our efforts to expand our growing herd. I don't worry about L7 with Brodie on the job. He is a natural for ranching, and has a personal stake in our future success….four grandchildren and counting.

I know the next few weeks and months could be tough for MCAT work, but I will try to remember to write here often. I hear the kids up and will close now to join them and my beautiful bride for breakfast.

Roof of the Federal Building, Sunday 6:00 am

Dean and Cashton stood together looking out over the city. They had met up to discuss their predicament, but were now all talked out, while both of a mind that their ideals were turning to mush right before their eyes. As they gazed out over the metropolis, they reflected back to when all the craziness had begun.

Federal Building, Ten Years Prior

Dan Cashton stared into the inner sanctum that was his team leader’s office. Yesterday, his appointment as head of ATF Team Three was confirmed, and the conviction of one drug baron by the name of Christian Delouise was a day or two away from a long-term prison sentence.  Life was good.

Just an hour earlier, Delouise’s lawyer had beaten the ADA with a technicality, and he, Grant Dean, and Team Eight had watched the smug bastard walk away a free man. Glancing around the bullpen at his sullen teammates, Cashton approached Dean’s office and knocked.

"Watson’s bar?"

Dean threw down his pen and sat back in his chair, before standing and grabbing his jacket. "Yeah, why not? Leave the cars here, I’m gonna get hammered."


Four hours later, the rest of his team had gone home, leaving Dan and Grant to wallow in self-pity. Laughter from another table drew the drunken pair’s attention. Dean hissed. "Freak Team Seven…they think they’re so damn perfect."

"Probably due to having such a great track record, despite not being together long." Dan knew that he had said the wrong thing before he finished the sentence.

"That was 'my' team…what was Travis thinking? Larabee’s a lush, a has been…yet, there he sits, with a whiter than white black guy, an old man that spouts religion, yet cusses like a sailor, another that thinks with his dick, a thief, a faggot and a kid that’ll get ‘em all killed…I hope soon."

Dan knew it was the booze talking, tangling with the frustration of their lost conviction, and bitterness harbored from when Grant was passed over to lead Team Seven. "You calling Tanner a faggot?"  He asked, knocking back a whiskey shot.

Dean huffed. "You seen his hair?"

Cashton nodded. "Yeah, but I got it on good authority from Palko…got a girlfriend in the typing pool friendly with that tall girl…Nadia? Anyway, after a one-night stand, she told his girlfriend; Tanner is made of steel and can go all night. Palko’s girl reckons Nadia still walks funny to this day."

They both laughed. Cashton glanced at Team Seven's animated youngest member, then at his friend who was still glaring at the group. "You wouldn’t have taken on Dunne, if you'd gotten Team Seven?"

"Jesus, no. He’s just a rookie."

"I hear he’s sharp as a tack."

"See, told you he was a little prick." Again they laughed. This felt good. A long pause saw them watch Team Seven leave the bar and again reflect on their day.

Dean sighed. "On days like this, I wish I could take my service weapon, stuff it in Delouise’s mouth, and shoot the bastard's brains out."

"Would sure cut out the middle man, wouldn’t it?"

"And put the bastard where he should be…out of circulation." A few more minutes of silence passed, when a tall man approached them.

"Gentlemen…forgive my intrusion, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation." He spoke with a distinct southern drawl, and pushed a business card across the table at them. "I appreciate y'all are a little drunk right now, but…in the cold light of morning, if you still feel the same way…give me a call."

Present Day

As the light began to increase, they remembered that they had called him the next day, and soon found themselves embroiled in a group hell bent on nothing less than vigilantism. Nevertheless, the faction’s record of accomplishment was impressive. They had taken down men the feds had all but given up on convicting, and the pair soon discovered many other law enforcement people, as well as Judges and lawyers were involved, also.

From there, the group moved into the protection racket. With such impressive hits behind them, perps were very happy to pay up to be spared certain death. The group’s coffers swelled, and over the years, the discreet but powerful set-up boasted many successes.

Still, while outside the system they were successful, Cashton and Dean’s teams’ accomplishments suffered, and were becoming the joke of the ATF. Now the two men were in turmoil. Not only was their greatest adversaries on the case, but two of what was once Team Seven had been personally attacked, with threats that there may be more to keep MCAT off the group’s backs. When Paulson had been killed, the pair had not taken the murder of a fellow officer well, especially Cashton, the man had been a friend, but they were assured it was for the good of the cause.

When they had questioned the latest incidents, they were told, and not politely, to stay the hell out of it, it was no longer in their hands. Right there, the ideals they had signed on to years ago seemed to crumble into dust. Their authority usurped, their caseloads transferred to another Federal Bureau, and now known as the standing joke of The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives…they were screwed.

Sanchez Home

Josiah looked up from the newspaper as Mallory brought him coffee and smiled. "You don’t have to wait on me, my love."

Leaning over his recliner to place the mug on a small table, she kissed him. "I know, but the kids are on an overnight at Buck's, and we're alone, which is all the more reason to do so is." She sat in his lap and was comforted when Josiah’s powerful arms enfolded her. She sighed.

"Something troubling you?" he asked.


Josiah held her tighter. "I see. I know it can’t be about the time it took for you to get to him, because that was out of your hands, so what else is it?"

She gazed into his eyes. "This new career of mine…since I’ve been involved in helping women suffering domestic violence, Inez has been attacked, then Tess and JD…so many others could have been injured or died fighting the fire that Allen started…and now Nathan gets beaten trying to help a young woman. Is someone up there trying to tell me something?"

His large hand cupping her face, Josiah softly kissed her. "Honey, Tess was already in trouble, and Allen showed no mercy in pursuing her. As for Nathan…" he paused to consider his words to prevent him revealing too much. "…Let’s just say this appears to be going way beyond a simple warning beating, and is no reflection on the work you’ve chosen to undertake. Now, I ask you…are you still eager to continue?"

Mallory pressed against him. "Yes. The cases I’ve worked beyond those have been fulfilling. I do believe I’m making a difference." She smiled. "Clever, you made me answer my own question."

"Well, if it’s the answer you seek, I’m happy I could help. I think what you’ve undertaken is magnificent, and knowing how important it is to you, and how much it means to those you help, should be continued." His kiss left her breathless.

"Now then, maybe I could help you relax a little more."

Gazing lovingly at him, she nodded. "Sounds perfect."

Dunne Home, Noon, Sunday

"Come on in!"

Calling from the kitchen at the sound of the doorbell chiming, JD wiped his hands with a dishtowel, snatched up JJ from his high chair, and walked to greet his guests.

"JAYDEE!" Keira raced toward him and he barely had time to put a squealing JJ down before she launched herself at him. He scooped her up and gave her a squeeze. "Hiya munchkin, how are you?"

"Me wanted to show you my owwie."

JD frowned and drew his head back to accommodate the tiny hand now in his face. Tess watched, grinning as she picked up JJ and hugged him.

Seeing the Band-Aid, JD kissed the injured finger and tilted his head. "How did you do that?"

"I shutted it in my toy box."

"Lid fell on it," Tess explained as she carried JJ past the pair. Sniffing the air, she smiled. "Mmm, smells good, John Daniel." She placed a wriggling JJ on the floor and watched him disappear into the kitchen, moving to follow him.

"What smells good? The food or me?"

Tess laughed and leaned in to sniff him. They were so close JD could smell her hair and hoped, when he inhaled, she couldn’t tell.

"Definitely the food," she lied as his cologne tickled her nose and she barely held the sigh it evoked. She caught up with JJ by his high chair as he looked longingly up at its tray. Lifting him onto her hip, she passed him the apple slices he had been eating before his father yanked him away to answer the door.

Tess sniffed the air again. "Beef?"

JD nodded. "Uh huh, with dauphinoise potatoes, red wine gravy, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots."

"Wow…you know, a burger would have been fine…" she noted the look on his face, "but this is wonderful." Tess frowned. "I’m not sure Keira…"

JD grinned. "Oh, this is for us. The kids have chicken sticks, fries, and peas. I’ll serve it to them a little later. I figured they’d get hungry before us, so I got some nibbles to keep us going, while we watch the kids play. We can eat a little later…if that’s okay."

"Mmmm…sounds just right. How did you know Keira likes chicken sticks?"

"The girls told me they wanted chicken sticks one night…like Keira." He caught her smile. "You know, it’s no trouble for you and Keira to stay over."

"Tempting, but with daycare tomorrow, it’s probably best we go home tonight, thanks."

With a nod, JD took JJ from her. "I reckon this little man is ready for his nap." As if in agreement, JJ rubbed his nose against his father’s shoulder and snuggled into JD’s neck. He looked at Tess and grinned. "Great, I’ve been slimed. Sounds like the girls went up to the playroom. Follow me up and you can check on them, if you like."

Once on the landing, JD took a now sleeping JJ to his bedroom, while Tess followed the girls’ voices to the playroom. Once JJ was asleep, JD checked that the baby monitor was on, and then crossed to his own room to change, forgetting he was not alone as he stripped off his shirt while he walked.

Exiting the playroom, she caught sight of JD’s toned upper body and ducked back to watch him before he disappeared into his bedroom. "Nice…" She shook her head. "Tess, behave." In less than five minutes, the pair was relaxing in the sun lounge with a glass of wine and several plates of treats.

"How has work been?" Tess asked as she kicked off her shoes and curled up on the sofa.

"Pretty busy," JD answered. "I miss being home, but it's great getting back into our routine."

She watched him speak, and smiled. "You love what you do, don’t you?"

JD looked at her. "Sure. It’s all I ever wanted to do. Plus, I have the added bonus of being with the men I begged to work alongside…and still do."

"They were that good, huh?"

JD nodded. "The best…then and now." He turned to face her. "They’ve taught me so much…" he smiled, "Chris says ditto to me when I say that…but I think he’s just being kind."

"Chris doesn’t strike me as the type that throws out compliments without good reason," Tess rationalized.

"Oh yeah…but, what I learned from them in one year, would have taken at least five from others. See…" His eyes flashed and sent a thrill through Tess to see him so enthusiastic. "The men I now consider as brothers…they already had exemplary reputations before I joined them…though they were all considered mavericks. I reckon it was not just their backgrounds, but their ability to get results and stay within the law, that prompted Travis to leave them as a unit and turn a blind eye to their laid-back approach."

"And how did you fit in?"

"Persistence." JD chuckled and sipped his wine. Noting her frown, he explained, "Chris was prepared to take me on, but wasn’t sure about me…too young, inexperienced…cocky…" He grinned. "I wasn’t really that cocky, but I knew if I wanted to be with those men, I had to make a good point."

"Clearly you did."

"It took a while to make it. Apparently, I was earmarked for the FBI…they were waiting for me to turn twenty one, but Travis jumped in there and placed me as an AIT."


"Agent in Training." He laughed as he stared out into the garden. "I think they made it up, just to secure my position."

"Are you sorry you didn’t get a chance to work with the FBI?" Tess wondered.

JD shook his head. "Hell no. I applied for Chris’s unit despite being just underage. It’s what I wanted to do…where I wanted to be. He had a hell of a reputation, I couldn’t imagine wanting to work with anyone else." JD again looked back at her. "Buck and the guys were an unexpected, but very welcome icing on the cake." Enjoying their talk and feeling it to be the right time to fire a few questions at her, JD paused when he noticed Tess tilt her head and make a face.

"Do you smell something burning?"

He checked his watch. "It can’t be the beef; it still has an hour…" The piercing screech of a smoke alarm had him on his feet and running to the kitchen. "Ah, what?"

Tess joined him to see thick black smoke pouring from the oven of his brand new ‘state of the art’ stove, and him pulling open the door.

"Shit, shit, shit!"

As the smoldering roasting pan and its blackened, shriveled contents nestled in the oven mitts on JD’s hands, a thunk from the ceiling, followed by a hiss had the two young people looking up, then howling as the kitchen sprinklers kicked in, showering them in frigid water.

Slamming down the pan, JD slipped and slid along the floor to a secluded cabinet, cursing as he pushed wet bangs from his eyes to enable him to see the shut off switch. Silence and occasional droplets followed another thunk from the now motionless nozzles. Soaked and bedraggled, the pair stared at each other, JD, at first, mortified. Three little girls stood at the kitchen’s perimeter and stared.

"Daddy!" Lilah huffed. "Is you playin’ wivout us?"

Turning to face her, he shook his head. "No baby, we had a little accident. Go play, okay?" He listened to them grumbling about him not being fair about playing in the water, turning back to Tess as she made a slight noise.

"I…I’m so sorry," he stuttered out, his eyes widening as she burst out laughing. Unable to stop his grin, the pair laughed harder…and harder, taking great gulps of air, they just rolled with it. The phone ringing slowed them down and JD padded through the puddles to answer it.

"Yeah? Oh, hi Walter." JD listened and screwed up his face. "No, it’s all fine…no fire, just smoke. Walter…please tell me no one else knows…ahh shit!" Replacing the handset, he looked at Tess. "The alarm showed on the board at the gate."

"Surely Walter wouldn’t need to ring anyone…" Tess began.

JD halted her. "Buck and Inez were just coming back from a shopping trip."


JD sighed. "Gawd…I’m never gonna live this down."

Smiling, Tess approached, and touched his face. "Well, for what it’s worth, it was the best laugh I’ve had in ages. Come on…go get a load of towels and let’s mop this up." She winked. "I kinda like take-out, anyway."

A thought occurring to him, JD approached the stove and checked the heat setting before turning it off. "I don’t get it…it’s turned on a high setting, but I had it on…" Straightening, he looked at Tess. "JJ!"

"But, he was just seconds ahead of us."

"Seconds is all he needs." He rubbed his face. "I’m gonna have to put safety gates everywhere. I had him in the high chair…I thought he’d be fine…"

Tess gave JD a quick hug. "Well, you know now, and no real harm done. Come on…let’s sort this mess out…then we need to change out of these wet clothes."


 By nine, the kids were all played out, and sound asleep in the girls’ room, with JJ asleep in his crib. Tess was dressed in one of JD’s oversized sweatshirts and it had been a difficult evening for JD, his eyes constantly wandering to her exposed, long, shapely legs. After retrieving her clothes from the dryer, he guided Tess into the movie room, where they relaxed into one of the large sofas facing the giant screen and settled down to enjoy a movie and more wine. An hour in, Tess was getting sleepy and was leaning into JD. Ten minutes later, she was asleep. JD smiled as she sighed and snuggled in closer. Gazing down at her sleeping form, his stomach did a small flip. He could so get used to this.

Rousing almost two hours later, Tess was a little embarrassed, but JD just smiled and went upstairs to get Keira, while Tess prepared to leave. He carried the sleeping child to the car and leaned in to buckle her in her child seat. As JD moved to duck out of the vehicle, Tess leaned in to drop a bag next to Keira and as the pair crossed; their faces were a mere inch apart.

Unable to stop himself, JD leaned in and kissed her on the lips. It was a soft, chaste kiss and only brief as JD realized what he had done, and quickly covered by smiling and wishing her goodnight.

Tess had gazed into his eyes a second before he kissed her, and now her heart was pounding as she watched him walk away from them. "Goodnight," she called, before jumping behind the wheel and starting the car. Hearing the engine turn over, JD looked back at her, his mind racing as he fought the feelings and emotions his actions had created. He regretted she was not looking his way at that moment.

Ducking down to look back at the house, Tess wished JD had been looking her way right then. As she pulled off, JD closed the door, both young people wondering about the feelings coursing through them at present, while looking forward to the start of daycare the next morning.


Chapter 13

'Obtaining peace and tranquility in our lives may be our ultimate goal, but the obstacles we face to reach that point make life challenging.'


Reins Daycare, 7:00 am

All set for work, JD ushered his kids into the cloakroom area just outside the classroom. Before Tess left on Sunday, they had talked about his difficulties and concerns with his kids and his working hours, to which she suggested he let her think on it, as she wanted to help.

They had parted with a meaningful goodnight, and JD began to allow himself the luxury of considering that maybe they could take their friendship further. With a big grin on his face, he turned to guide his kids toward Tess, freezing on the spot as he saw her leaning in and chatting with the good looking…the very good looking boys’ counselor, Tony Rodriguez. Ezra had taught him a lot about reading body language, and JD’s heart sank on noting hers. A voice startled him.

"Are you going in?"

Turning to see Mallory and her children, JD was lost for words for a second. He pasted on a smile. "Uh…I’m running late. Can you take my gang in for me?"

"Sure honey…you okay…?" Before her question was out, JD kissed his kids, and was gone. Mal frowned, looking at a now approaching Tess. "Odd…"

Tess greeted the children, and then glanced around. "Where’s JD?"

Mallory thumbed behind her. "He had to go…said he was running late."

"Oh…" Tess frowned, showing her disappointment. She had hoped to arrange to meet with JD later for a talk.

"How did dinner go on Sunday?" Mallory asked, grinning.

Tess smiled. Mallory's question pulling her from her musings. "Oh, it was so much fun…"

"Buck told us about the alarm," Mal warned her.

The young teacher chuckled. "JD said he’d never live it down."

"With this lot…you’d better believe it."


Jumping into his truck, JD tore off, stopping about ten minutes later, pulling off to the shoulder. He rested his head against the steering wheel and closed his eyes, unable to shake the image of Tess and Tony together. Sitting up, he cursed as he repeatedly thumped his fist against the steering wheel. "Damn, damn, damn!" He shook his throbbing hand. "Shit." Staring out of the windshield, but seeing nothing in particular, JD sighed. "What was I thinking? All she needs is friendship. I mean…now she’s free, look at all the choices out there." He started the truck and pulled out. "Why the hell did I think she’d look twice at someone like me?" He swallowed the lump in his throat. "Well, maybe it’s time I found someone who will."

Tanner Home, 7:30 am

The Tanner chaos was in full swing, Vin, Kelli, Brodie, and Max were all close by for this special day. Today all four Tanner children would be going to class, two for the first time. In between eating and then gathering their books and jackets, both Jason and Andi took a moment to give their younger sibling advice about their first day at school.

"Listen to your teacher," Jason told them as he slipped into his coat, "and get off the computer when she tells you to." He grinned at his father's frown. "Hey, they never get off my PC when I tell 'em. They love PBS Kids and Nick Jr."

Andi nodded. "Yeah, and they like to watch me and Jason play Bookworm."

Vin nodded, and smiled. "Reckon they need to be in school then, huh?" He said it to answer his daughter, but wanted Kelli to also feel better about 'her babies' headed off to nursery school. She seemed to be having a difficult time accepting that Bren and Trey were old enough to 'leave home', even for a few hours a day.

Brodie headed for the door. "We leave in," he glanced at his watch, "two minutes. Hustle it up kids, or you'll be late for school."

Jason, followed by Andi, hugged their mama and daddy, waved to the twins, and rushed outside with grandpa. Bren and Trey waved back, and then returned to eating their breakfast.

Max sighed. "It's going to be quiet around here today." She watched Kelli, who was fighting back tears, and then turned to Vin. "I don't mind having the twins here…I could…"

Tanner cleared his throat. "It's time Max. These two soak up new stuff like a sponge. They're ready to learn more."

Nodding, Max sighed and said, "I know. I'll get their jackets." She walked out of the kitchen, leaving Vin to deal with Kelli's emotional state.

The Texan understood how she felt. He was having a hard time 'letting go', too.

Reins Daycare, 8:00 am

Cait, with Cody, who was anxiously watching for Trey and Bren's arrival, met the Tanners outside the door. Kneeling down, she praised the twins. "My, oh my, you two look great in your new school clothes."

Bren smiled and pushed his new backpack toward her. "Just like Jace."

"Me, too," Trey proudly declared.

"Nice," Cait grinned. "Cody will show you where to put them."

Hearing his name was all the young Larabee needed to set things into motion. "Come…me show you."

Vin and Kelli stood back, watching the three toddlers head for the entrance. Excited about their new adventure, the young Tanners almost forgot to say goodbye. A brief wave as the twins went inside was all their parents received.

Cait took pity on them, she recognized how hard this was for both Tanners, and knew that if Kelli's health were not an issue, they would have prolonged this until next fall. "They'll do fine. I promise to keep a close watch on both boys today." She hugged her daughter-in-law. "The first day is the hardest, Hon. When you see how excited they are to share what they learn, you'll forget how difficult it is to let them go."

"Thanks, Cait." Kelli attempted a smile. "Reckon my hormones are overreactin'. Course I cried when Andi and Jason went to school the first time, too."

"That she did." Vin wrapped his arm around his wife's waist when Cait stepped back. "We have a full day scheduled. Blood work at the lab, then we see Doctor Weeks, and I promised Kel a special lunch date afterwards. Max or Dad will pick up the boys, if we run late gettin' back."

"No problem, and don't worry. Call me if you just want to check on them, or if you want me to run them home. Now, go on, and do what you need to, Bren and Trey will be fine."

Vin nodded, took Kelli's by the hand, and led her to his truck. Knowing that they were doing the right thing and doing it were two different things. He sighed as he helped his wife inside. It was going to be a very long day for both of them.

MCAT OFFICE, 8:00 am

Walking into the office, JD stared at the faces looking back at him. He sighed. "Go on…get it over with."

One by one, the remarks started:

"You know dinner is ready at JD’s house when the smoke alarm goes off."

"Or when his kids automatically head for the dinner table every time they hear a fire truck siren."

"And when he barbeques, two of his kids hold water guns, while the third has the phone with 911 on speed-dial."

"Or the smoke alarm beeps if he even walks near the stove."

"I hear he uses his roasted beef joint as a door stop."

Several agents cackled with laughter. JD grinned at them. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Good to see you didn’t blab it around, Buck." He made his way to the Intel room, Buck, still laughing, following until he reached the corridor.

"Aw, come on, kid…it was too good to bury…JD?" He returned to the others. "Boy’s lost his sense of humor."

"I thought he took it rather well," Ezra grinned.

Passing Pam, JD greeted her, and then stopped next to her desk. Leaning one hip against it, he smiled at her. "A bit of a random question, but…how would I go about joining the ‘singles scene’ in this town?"

Trying not to show her surprise, Pam looked at him. "There are bars, I guess, or you could join a gym." She watched him nod.

"Thanks." As he walked away, Pam called to him. "Um…I have a friend who’s single. Would you be interested?"

Looking back at her, JD worried his lower lip as he pondered the question. ‘Would he? Is this what he wanted?’ What he did know, was the ache in his chest was all the answer he needed right now. "Sure, set it up."

MCAT, Russo's Office, 10:00 am

A knock on his door drew his attention. Sam Russo glanced up from the paper he was reading, and said, "Enter."

Chris entered, and walked over to sit across from the AD. "You have an answer for me?"

Setting aside the folder he held, and apprising Larabee's visible injuries, Sam sighed. "Good to see you're still with us, and I noticed Agent Jackson is here today, also."

"We're all right, just anxious to move forward."

Sam nodded. "I read your request, and after researching a bit, I find you do not have enough information to ask for a FISA warrant."

"The bank JD discovered is outside the U.S. and the money could be funneled into covert terrorist activity." Chris was prepared to make his case. "Furthermore…"

Russo held up his hand, interrupting Larabee dialogue. "All good points, however, your premise is weak and if pushed in court it might result in a dismissal. On the other hand, I believe the information you have does sustain issuance of a RICO warrant." He tossed a folded paper across the desk. "You have thirty days to make your case, Commander. Any evidence you can option through a wiretap in that period of time, will be admissible. You'll notice that some of the pertinent information is missing. Only you, one discreet judge, and I know that MCAT obtained this warrant."

Reaching for the warrant, Chris nodded, "I understand." He stood and turned to leave, but stopped to say, "Thanks."

"Don't thank me yet. I expect results. Don't make me regret going out on a limb for your team."

Chris repressed a smile, and nodded, leaving Russo to deal with his feeling about taking a leap of faith on Alpha Team.

Doctor Week's Office, 11:00 am

This was the part they both hated…the waiting. Vin kept a firm hold on Kelli's hand, attempting to offer her some silent reassurance. When Doctor Weeks walked in, he felt his wife's tension increase, and her thoughts were easy to read.

Helen sat down at her desk, and did not even look at the chart before she spoke, "I know you both have done everything I instructed this week; however, not much has changed. I still feel that I should urge you to reconsider continuing this pregnancy."

Kelli started shaking her head before the doctor finished her sentence. "No….we'll do what we need to, but we are NOT electin' to voluntarily end this."

Nodding, Helen sighed. "I have to tell you, I do not think we can hold off on surgery much longer." She opened the chart. "In fact, looking at the results of your blood work from earlier, I'm not happy with what I'm seeing. I do want to run a few more tests before we have to make a decision though. On your way out, stop by the lab, and let them take some more blood. I should have the result within forty-eight hours. In the meantime…."

"I know…no sex, no liftin', and no stress, get plenty of rest, and take my meds." Kelli recited the doctor's previous instruction from memory.

Vin was more concerned about what the doctor did not say. "If, Kel has to have surgery sooner, does that mean somethin' else is wrong?"

"It means… I want to cover all bases. I told you last week, my first priority is Kelli's wellbeing. That has not changed. Now, don't start jumping to conclusions that we don't have any facts on yet. Stay focused on what we know, and if things change, we'll go from there."

"I reckon you had your reasons for not doing an ultrasound today." Kelli cleared her throat. "The baby's heartbeat…?"

"Is strong, and we have time for an ultrasound once we get your other issues under control." The doctor softened her voice. "Try not to worry. Some things we just have to be patient about, and right now, all we can do is to monitor you for any changes, and proceed accordingly." She passed the papers for the lab work to Vin. "Give these to the lab tech, and when she's done, go home, relax as much as possible, and I promise to call as soon as I get the results."

Once outside the hospital, Vin pulled Kelli close. "We're gonna take this one day at a time, baby, but we're not givin' up." He opened the truck door for her, and waited for her to get in. " I owe you lunch, and we’re gonna enjoy our time."

Walking around to the driver's side, Vin vowed not to let her see just how worried he was, or what he read of the doctor's thoughts. His mental ability could be a blessing, but right now, he figured it was more of a curse.

MCAT Office, 3:00 pm 

Several hours into the day, Pam tapped on the door and entered when JD waved her in. "Hi. Uh, I know this is a little quick, but Alice says she’s free tomorrow night, if you’re interested."


"My friend…she’s free tomorrow night." She did not tell him her friend had almost bitten her hand off; even before she told her that, he was good-looking.

JD was a little shocked. "Oh! Uh…let me call in a favor. I’ll get back to you, is that okay?"

Pam smiled. "Sure."

Entering the bullpen, JD glanced around. "Where’s Buck?"

Without looking up, Josiah pointed. "Bathroom."


The pair almost ran into each other as Buck was exiting when JD entered. The younger man pushed the older man back inside.

"Hey, kid…you’re not still mad at me, are you?"

JD stared at him. "I figure you owe me, I need you to babysit for me tomorrow night."

Buck grinned. "You and Tess got plans?"

JD’s face saddened. "She probably has…with Tony from Reins." He shook himself out of his funk. "Well? Can you help me out?"

Now Buck was frowning. "What’s going on?"

JD swallowed. "I’m moving on, Buck, and it's clear that Tess is, too. Like I said, we’re just friends."

Knowing there was far more to this, Buck nodded. "Sure, I’ll help. Inez and I will come up to your place…okay?"

No, JD was not okay, but nodded anyway. "Thanks."

Once Buck had returned to his desk, he dialed Inez. "Babe…I need you to do some investigating."


Seeing JD, Chris poked his head out of his office door. "JD, come in here."

Complying, JD stood in front of Chris’s desk. "You made a decision?""

"You got your phone tap. Russo set it up for you and Ezra to log in at the Federal Building as emergency phone techs. Get with Standish, and work on your covers because you two are going in at eleven tonight." Preempting JD’s concern about his kids, Chris raised a hand. "Already arranged. Isabella’s going to sit with the kids for you. If you decide to bug the men’s bathroom on the ATF floor, make it quick."

 JD nodded. "Will do." He chewed his lip. "I uh…I kinda hacked into Dean’s computer, too."

"Home or office?"

"Both…" JD waited for the shit to hit the fan, surprised when Chris nodded.

"I didn’t hear that. Be careful with anything you find."

"Hey, this is me." JD winked and left.

Chris shook his head. "Damn technology. Is anything safe out there?" He had to grin, though, thinking about Ezra prepping JD for an undercover assignment.

Reins Daycare, Monday, 5:00 pm

While picking up her little ones, Inez took the opportunity to ‘do some investigating’ as Buck put it. Smiling at Tess, Inez approached her. "When you’re finished, bring Keira, JJ and the twins to my home for coffee and cake? I’ll call the office and tell JD to pick the children up from there."

Not wanting to appear rude, Tess accepted the offer; despite being a little disappointed, she would not have JD to herself when he collected his children. Still, she at least would see him at Buck and Inez’s home.  "Okay, thanks. We’ll be over soon."

Earlier, Inez had called around the sisterhood, and soon learned, after reaching Mallory, how JD had seemed a little flushed and hurried that morning. Buck mentioned JD had referenced Tony Rodriguez when talking about Tess, and with a bit more digging, Inez found a picture emerging. All she needed to do now was work out where Tess stood in all this. Welcoming them when they arrived, Inez sent the girls to where her children were playing, while Isabella took JJ in her arms to join Inez and Tess in the kitchen. While Isabella fed the little one pieces of fruit, her niece and the young teacher chatted their way through cake and coffee.

"It sounds as though you have quite a challenging day with such a variety of age groups," Inez pointed out.

Tess nodded. "Yes, I never have time to get bored. Of course, with other teaching staff available too, I can flit between the age groups as, and when I please, or wherever I’m needed most." She turned to Isabella. "This cake is good."

"Gracias," Isabella acknowledged, chuckling when JJ closed one eye and shuddered while sucking on a particularly tart piece of orange.

Inez smiled as she swallowed a piece of cake. "I suppose having someone like Tony around must be useful, too."

Tess frowned, and then shrugged. "I guess. Apart from a quick chat with him this morning, I don’t see that much of him in our area. He more often than not, works with Reins clients."

While that answer warmed Inez’s heart…it was also apparent Tess did not seem too interested in the man. What had she and Tony been talking about this morning, and why did it affect JD so badly? "Did dinner on Sunday go well?"

Tess’s face lit up, and her laughter, as she began to talk about her and JD’s day together deepened the mystery further, while also convincing Inez that JD had nothing to be concerned about.

"Oh Lord, yes. It was so funny. Have you heard what actually happened?"

"No." Inez and Isabella exchanged glances while Tess relived her dinner with JD. This woman was definitely more interested in spending time with JD than Tony…that much at least was obvious. Now, the question was where to go from here?

They all looked up, and offered greetings when JD knocked and came in. Inez glanced at the wall clock.

"You are early, el chiquito."

"Hi John Daniel…missed you this morning."

Stunned for a moment to see Tess sitting there, he glanced at her and answered before replying to Inez. "I uh, was running late." He looked at Inez and Isabella, grinning at his son before scooping him up and causing JJ to giggle as he covered him in kisses. "Chris let me go early…to prepare for tonight."

Isabella nodded, Inez spoke. "Oh yes, of course."

"Are we still okay for later, Isabella?" he asked.

"Si, I will come to you for seven thirty, will that be alright?"

JD agreed, chuckling as his squealing girls, raced toward him. "Yeah, that’s great, thanks."

Bemused, Tess watched JD, wondering why he seemed so distant, deciding it must be work-related. Before she realized, he and the kids were gone, leaving her even more confused and determined to catch him for a longer conversation the next morning.

Tanner Home, early evening

Vin kept a close watch on his wife. They had spent too long out today looking for just the right birthday present for Andi, but Kelli had been insistent about finding it. He knew she was tired, but she stubbornly refused to go on to bed without listening to every detail of Bren and Trey's day. At last, the boys unwound, and after making certain Kelli, at least ate a light supper, he convinced her that she needed her rest. Walking with her to their bedroom, Vin tried not to read her thoughts, but she was broadcasting loud and clear. She was more afraid than she was letting on, and for the first time since finding out about this pregnancy, he could feel her doubts about the outcome.

Understanding that he needed to strengthen his confidence, before talking with her about it, he chose to keep their conversation light. "I reckon you're feelin' better about the boys goin' to school."

Nodding, she smiled. "It's hard not to after seein' how excited they are." Hating to admit how tired she was, she welcomed his assistance as she undressed, and he helped her slip on a nightgown. "You okay with beddin' 'em all down? It was a long day for you, too."

Vin pulled back the covers for her. "You rest, and let me deal with our tribe. I'll have 'em to bed soon, and come join you."

"I always knew you'd be a great dad." Sighing, Kelli got into bed. "Tomorrow it's my turn, so you can get some extra rest."

Leaning down to kiss her, Vin grinned. "Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives, Baby. You'll get your turn." He stayed long enough to make sure she was comfortable, and smiled as he walked out. She was asleep before he closed the door.

Federal Building, 11:30 pm

"I need a little more light."

Adjusting the position of the oversized flashlight, Ezra glanced around the dimly lit basement, while JD worked on the federal building’s phone junction box. The pair was dressed in gray coveralls, and looked the part of telephone engineers, complete with tool belts, which JD wanted to keep once they finished this job.

"It would be simpler to adjust the lighting in here, would it not?"

JD grunted as he twisted to get at his objective. "Not really, direct light is easier. Even full on lighting in here would likely cast a shadow and I’d struggle to see." He huffed as the large hard hat fell over his eyes for the third time in as many minutes. Pushing it back, he glanced around at Ezra before continuing.

"Seriously, Ezra, why the hard hats? It’s an internal job, what could possibly fall on our heads in here? Oww!" He yelped at a smack to the hat, the impact, and noise reverberating through his ears and jaw. "What was that for?"

"Did it hurt?" Ezra asked.

"Not as such, no."

"Then my work is done. Imagine how that would have felt had you been hatless or, God forbid, only wearing one of those unsightly baseball caps."

JD turned to him and raised one eyebrow at the grinning agent. "Cute." He stood. "Okay, done. We got fifteen minutes to get to the twelfth floor, plant the bug in the washroom, and get the hell out."

"And where exactly is this window of time derived from?"

"From the moment the loop on floor twelve's and elevator three’s cameras began. Come on."

As they traveled in car three, Standish addressed his teammate. "The override box for the camera controls was sealed. How did you get in?"

JD smiled. "Oh I’ve had this set up for years. All I've had to do was activate the feed running from my laptop in the van, which I’ve set to time out in…" he glanced at his watch. "…twelve minutes."


"I went through a probability phase about a year before we switched to MCAT…you know…planning ahead for any eventualities. It didn’t take long to pick up feed for the corridor and elevators…edit out any movement…"

"Good Lord. Were you not busy enough with day to day business?"

JD laughed. "Sure…but sometimes, when I get an idea in my head…"

"…You have to run with it, yes, I see. Well, this was amazing foresight on your part."

"Not really. I may be an agent, but I’m a tech, too. I read a lot…and something I read made me wonder if I could set up something like that, too."

"So you had to try," Ezra stated with amusement.

"Bet you’re glad I did now, huh? It took me almost all last week to clean it up before I knew I could use it. Everything’s digital now, so it took some editing and noise reduction to clear the images from back then…" He paused when Ezra raised a hand.

"Bottom line, brother."

"Our visit to the twelfth floor will never be recorded."

"Marvelous." The elevator dinged to announce they had arrived. Standish gestured toward the doors. "Shall we?"

While Ezra kept watch outside, inside, JD attached the tiny bug and camera to a framed fire safety notice on the opposite wall to the urinals and the door. Even if someone used the stalls to meet, the mic would still pick up the conversation, after the camera logged the images of who had entered the bathroom.

In the corridor, Ezra stiffened as whistling assaulted his ears. Catching a glimpse of the janitor approaching an office further down, Ezra ducked inside the bathroom. "JD, we are out of time."

Packing up his equipment, JD cursed at being unable to test it before they left. Easing out through the washroom door, the pair edged their way along the wall, eyes searching for any sign of movement. One of the cleaning crew appeared from an office, closing the door before heading for the next one. The two agents ducked into an alcove, went flat to the wall, and held their breath as the man and his trolley ambled past. When he stopped opposite the alcove to pick up a piece of trash on the floor, JD thought the noise of his pounding heart would give them away, almost wilting when the man chuckled at his luck in finding a five dollar bill, before pocketing it, and moving on. Hearing another door creak open and the squeak of the trolley’s wheels fading, Ezra peeked around the wall. He looked back to JD.

"Let’s go."

Ten seconds later, the elevator was making its descent to the basement, the janitor oblivious to the lit panel and the gentle whirring of the gears as he moved further along to the next room.

Back inside the van, both men sighed with relief. "Wow, that was intense," JD panted as he snatched up his laptop and tapped in some commands.

"Indeed." Ezra couldn’t help smiling. It had felt good to run undercover again, and feel the adrenaline pump through his veins. He looked over JD's shoulder. "Well?"

The younger man turned and grinned, gesturing to the laptop and the image of the bathroom. "Well, we got picture." He turned back to the screen when the caretaker walked in and relieved himself. Ezra grimaced, JD’s grin widened.

"And we got sound, too."

Jumping into the front seats, Ezra started the van and pulled out of the parking lot while JD dialed Chris. "Hey Boss Man…it’s done."

Larabee Home

Chris closed his cell, satisfied to know that JD and Ezra were out safely, and undetected. At least that part of their plan went smoothly. He glanced at the clock…almost midnight…too late to call Vin, but tomorrow morning he planned to find out what had that Texan so worried, and why he was ignoring him.


Chapter 14

'Irrelevant facts often cloud our perceptions. Sometimes we have to dig for the truth, hidden beneath the surface, to obtain a clearer vision.'


Tanner Deck, 6:30 am

With his hands wrapped around a hot mug of coffee, Vin stood on his deck watching an ominous bank of snow laden clouds move across the mountainside. The short reprieve of wintry conditions they had experienced during the past few days was over, and barreling towards them was a blast of bitter cold, directly from the Arctic. The Texan shivered involuntary when he thought about the snow that would be on the ground by nightfall. His main concern, however, was figuring out what the hell he should do next about his legacy, and how it related to the current situation that he and Kelli were facing. He recalled the words of his ancestors,

'Victory demands that all battles, whether they are physical or mental, need thorough preparation. Do not compromise your principles, or abandon your cause. … I'll be ready and damn sure plan to fight for my wife and child….Reckon it comes down to trustin' our code and keepin' things in perspective.'

Brodie parked his truck, made a quick exit, and headed up the walkway. Approaching the steps, he made an observation about his son. Staring off in the distance, it was obvious that Vin was lost in his thoughts, and so far, had not acknowledged his presence, which meant that something heavy was weighing on his mind.

The elder Tanner remarked as he reached the top step of the deck, "Wherever you are, Son, I hope it's a damn sight warmer than here."

Vin smiled, as he shook his head. "Just concentratin' on what you told me…about the bigger picture." He turned to look at his father. "You're out early."

Brodie nodded, not willing to push Vin for more. "We moved most of the horses yesterday and dropped hay in two lower pastures. Bounty's in stable one and I wanted to make sure the heat was working right after it failed on us last week. I also put Outlaw in three, and all the young brood mares are doing fine. You need any help here?"

"Nah, I've already checked on ours this mornin', grained 'em, and laid out fresh hay."

"Reckon I wasn't the only one up early then?"

Glancing down at his cup, Vin sighed. "Kel had a rough night. I've been awake since three." He raised his head and grinned, when the first sounds of his children's voices drifted from inside. "Another day, another round of Tanner chaos begins."

Chuckling, Brodie stepped aside to allow Vin to pass. "Tell you what. You get the twins started, send them in for breakfast, and then check on Kel. While you tend to your redhead, I'll take on the Tanner Tribe."

"Sounds like a fair trade-off to me," Vin said it more to divert his father from asking questions than in fact believing it. He reckoned that facing his brood was easier than keeping his wife in positive spirits since he had already seen what Doctor Weeks was concerned about, but he was not ready to discuss his challenge with anyone…yet.


Keeping their distance, Cowboy glanced over at Tracker. 'Guess you were right about that fence mending. It's worked out well for those two.'

'They both needed a second chance to connect, and their relationship will serve them well in the times ahead.' Tracker turned to his oldest friend. 'You realize young Tanner is on the verge of figurin' out his role?'

'Yeah, and it didn't take him near as long as it took you.' Cowboy chuckled. ' You should be proud of him though, he hasn't backed down from his Heart Warrior challenge by one inch.'

I knew he wouldn't, and I am proud. Hell, I am proud of all of 'em. It won't be long before our code becomes a permanent part of theirs, and the hard part of this transition is behind us.'

'I had my doubts when we first arrived, and I won't say it was all easy, but reckon I should have given them more credit…especially Larabee. He came round faster than I expected. All in all, I think we done good, Pard.'

'Yeah…we did, didn't we?'

MCAT, Commander Larabee's Office, 7:00 am

Chris had been up since the early morning hours, too. The more he thought about their current case, the more he became convinced that they had only scratched the surface. Gino was their catalyst, but the contradictions in the details they were finding only proved that he had given them a small piece of the puzzle.

Reaching for the intercom, he pressed the button, "Gunny, send Captain Michaels and Agent Wilmington to my office as soon as they arrive."

"Yes, Sir," Gunny's voice drifted through the intercom.

Leaning back in his chair, Chris closed his eyes for a moment. While he was satisfied with his plan of action for MCAT, he was finding it difficult to stop thinking about Vin. The Texan had not answered any of his mental calls, and Larabee sensed that all was not well in the Tanner house. He did not get long to think on it, before there was a knock on his office door.

"Enter," Chris bellowed as he sat up.

Buck walked in first, with Justin on his heels. Both men sat down and waited for what they expected to be a serious discussion.

Taking two folders from his desktop, Larabee gave one to each man. "Buck, until Vin returns, you're the acting Captain. I expect you to take on his duties. Justin, I need to see a list of Bravo teams' ongoing cases. We're going to need every agent available to work on our current case."

Justin answered first, "Most of Bravo Team is working on the bombing at the Federal Building. Our other cases are on hold."

"Good, then that won't be an issue for us." Chris halted when the door opened.

Gunny entered, carrying a tray of coffee. When she handed Buck his cup, she made a special point of saying, "Just the way you like it."

"Thanks," Buck said, and then waited until she left before he grinned. "I knew I’d win her over sooner or later."

"Yeah, and it only took you three years." Chris chuckled when he saw the look on Wilmington's face, and then returned his thoughts to the matter at hand. "I've given you reports on what we have already, and outline what I want to see happen. I'll leave it to you two to decide on how best to combine our resources, but…I want the case boards up by the time we have our joint meeting, which…" he glanced at his watch," will be in one hour."

Buck nodded. "I'll get with JD and work out a rotation for listening to the wiretaps."

"Judy will be the one transcribing them. Until we shut down the taps, she is assigned to JD." Chris explained, and looked from one agent to the other. "Anything else?"

Justin shook his head and stood. "I need to make a quick phone call, so I'll meet you in the war room in five minutes, Buck."

"No problem." Buck waited until Justin walked out and then looked back at Chris. "I'm fine with this, and we'll be ready for the meeting, but…" he sighed. "Is everything okay with Vin?"

"As far as I know…yes. Why do you ask?"

"Just a feeling and I reckon a result of the dream I had last night. We were back at that fire…well you know what happened." Buck cleared his throat. "If you find out different…"

"I'll let you know, Buck." Chris accepted Buck's nod, and watched him leave.

"What the hell is going on, Vin?'

MCAT War Room, 8:30am

Sam Russo chose to sit in the back of the room as an observer. Captains Wilmington and Michaels had finished the case boards, covered them, and now sat at the front of the room, flanking Larabee. The agents of Alpha and Bravo Teams sat around the table, waiting for their Commander to begin. They did not have to wait long.

Chris stood. "Until Captain Tanner returns, Buck Wilmington will assume the duties of Captain of Alpha Team. You all have folders in front of you that give you the facts of our current investigation, which is now the priority case for all MCAT Agents. We'll start with what we know. Gino Galina gave a packet of information to two of our agents; someone murdered him less than an hour later." He turned to the first board, which JD uncovered, and picked up the narrative.

"I took that information and began to unravel what appears to be a series of crimes that started almost ten years previous. Among numerous unsolved murder investigations, two names kept reappearing…both ATF Agents…Grant Dean and Dan Cashton. In the beginning, no weapons surfaced. With the death of one of our fellow officers by the name of Lawrence Paulson…that changed. Guns appeared that traced back to confiscated weapons. A money trail began, and we still have not found out where it's leading." JD glanced over to Buck, who uncovered the second case board and continued.

"When our investigation started, another murder followed Gino's. Chico Alverez died, and it turns out Gino worked for him at one point. At this time, we took over the unsolved murders case from ATF Teams three and eight. Agent Jackson interviewed Gino's significant other, and when she was beaten for information about Gino the following day…he interceded, and was beaten and damn near killed because of it." Buck looked over to Justin, who then picked up with information on the third case board.

"That same day, it appears that Commander Larabee also became a target. We took over the investigation of U.S Attorney Greg Lawson, who along with his secretary died because of the bomb blast in his office. We now believe our Commander was the primary target. We've also found some interesting information about Lawson. Until four years ago, he handled normal caseloads, and his win-loss record was above average. Then…he started losing more than he won, and began taking on high profile criminals to prosecute. The more he lost, the bigger his bank account grew. We're still trying to cross-reference some of those losses with names JD uncovered, as well as track down the source of the bomb material."

Chris stepped back to the front. "Right now we have three different tracks to follow…four if you add in the money trail. You have a list of cases involved, and a couple of names we don't know much about…Bruno Sturman, Francis Daley, and The of the United Brethren. We believe some kind of protection racket has been ongoing, too, but as of now, we cannot connect all the different players. As of today, this one takes all our attention. I want these three boards to connect and we will find out who all our players are. Your Captains have your assignments. We'll start with Alpha Team."

Buck took over, and started with JD. "Judy will transcribe the wiretaps; use your Com-Sat Team any way that works for you. Agent Sanchez will work on profiles, Agents Jackson and Langley will rotate on listening to the wiretaps, and Agent Standish…Follow the money."

When Buck nodded to him, Justin made his assignment. "Agents Sanders and Cordova, stay with the bombing investigation, and keep digging into Lawson's past records. Find out who the presiding judges and investigating officers were on each of his cases. Garrison and Sandoval will assist and you all will rotate on the wiretaps, and Westin…I want you and Bandit to sweep the building every morning, and all vehicles that enter MCAT grounds."

Larabee made his closing remarks. "Every agent will stay involved with working the ATF case files as well. We're not in any race, but I do want results. We trust no one outside MCAT, and stay with a partner. Until we know who is trying to kill MCAT Agents…we will implement additional security measures. Now get to work."

After receiving a nod from Russo as he left, Chris motioned for Buck to stay, while the other agents exited the room.

"I'm taking off early today. I want to catch up with Vin and find out if he's okay. You'll be in charge. Keep 'em focused."

"You got it. I'm glad you're going. Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, and JD all told me they were concerned, too."

Nodding his head, Chris took a deep breath. "Reckon all of us can't be wrong. I'll let you know as soon as I know."

Tanner Home, 2:00 pm

With their legs intertwined, and Kelli snuggled next to him in their double recliner, Vin sighed with contentment. "I can't believe I missed seein' the signs of you bein' pregnant." His hand moved over her breasts. "You're fuller, and," he lowered his touch to her waist, "I should have noticed the changes in the rest of your body."

"We've both been a little distracted, if anythin', I should have kept closer tabs of the dates." Kelli raised her head to look at him. "Do you think if we'd known sooner…?"

"Shh…don't go there, Baby. We knew soon enough, and it wouldn't have made any difference. I remember when Tracker and I talked about my visions. He told me that we only see somethin' when it's the right time… we're gonna do just fine." He gently pushed her head back onto his chest and rubbed her back. "I don't want you worryin' over what we can't control. We'll do whatever we need to."

"I know, but I want to hold off on any surgery for as long as possible. Every extra day or hour we can give our baby can make a difference."

After discussing her health issues with his wife, he realized that their thoughts on how to proceed with treatment were not so far apart. While he had expected her to resist surgical intervention, and was prepared to argue with her about it, it was not necessary. Kelli knew she did not have the right to jeopardize her own health, disregard the needs of their other four children, nor put Vin in a position of choosing between the life of his wife or child. She had already decided that once they exhausted all their options…she 'would' have the surgery.

The memory of Doctor Week's concerns crossed his mind, and the Texan nodded. "We'll follow the path destiny sets for us, Kel, and have faith that it's the right one…no matter where it leads."

"You'll keep us on the right track." Kelli said with conviction as she listened to Vin's heartbeat. She knew that she would trust his instincts, but not worrying was difficult. "I just wish I felt like doin' more... don't seem fair to you."

"You let me worry about what's fair…you, woman, need to rest."

"It's too damn quiet around here…. I miss the boys."

Vin chuckled. "Would it help if I said, 'mama' about fifty times an hour, or ask 'why', another fifty?"

"It might." Kelli smiled. "Not that I'm complainin' about havin' time alone with you… It's just that I stay so tired…." she yawned. "Sorry..."

Recognizing that his wife was falling asleep in his arms as he continued to massage her back, Vin did not mind at all. She needed her rest, and when she was sleeping…she was not worrying. Waiting another fifteen minutes to make certain she would not wake, the Texan tenderly lifted Kelli into his arm, then carried her to their bed, kissed her forehead, and drew the comforter over her, before backing out of the room.

Vin's first stop was the kitchen, where he discovered Chris waiting for him. Seeing Larabee here, in the middle of a workday afternoon, sitting at his kitchen table, drinking coffee, and chatting with Max, did not surprise him. In fact, the way he had been projecting his thoughts all over the place lately, he had expected him sooner.

Grabbing a mug of coffee, Tanner informed Max. "Kel's sleepin', the intercom is on, and we'll be in my office."

Chris stood, nodded at Max, refilled his cup, and followed Vin out of the room.  He waited until they were in Tanner's home office and the door closed, before saying.  "What the hell is going on with you?"

"I've been busy."  He sat down and flipped his fingers over a stack of folders.  "Some of this is MCAT work, more though, pertains to medical info, and a lot of it is what you'd call… transition or evolution notes.  Bottom line, I think I figured out what I'm supposed to be doin.'"

Larabee sat down opposite the Texan.  "Okay…so you want to share your discovery?"

"It's hard to explain…my role is to use the inherit 'gifts' I have, like my visions, make them stronger, and be able to help those that I love and care about in the process.  This mental stuff is the same as the instincts I used when I was bounty huntin'…listenin' to my inner self and payin' attention to the smallest of details. I can show you easier than tellin'."  Vin leaned forward offering Chris his arm to form their 'warrior grip.'  He knew already that his brother could see what he saw with a touch, and now …he could share the lessons he had learned during and after his accident.

It took a few moments for it all to fall into place.  Chris released his grip and shook his head.  "I know this is not the first time we've been down this memory path, but it sure as hell helps now. I always said you were the one who healed damaged souls with your ability to 'see' what was needed. You did it with me…Kel…Jason, and Andi.  Reckon it's not so much of a stretch for you to tap into others when they are broadcasting, and link that knowledge to one of us when we need it."

"No…. no it's not, and as for why now?  It's the right time for us to revisit what we already know.  Belief in our code and perspective…that's what it's all about…always has been... and always will be."  Vin sighed.  "I had to remember that lesson before I could help Kel deal with what I read from Doctor Weeks.  I do believe in our code, in our destiny, and that with the power of our kinship anythin' is possible.  My point of view since my 'journey' now allows me to see what I was blind to before…like not so long ago when I saw Raven as interferin' when he had Bubba and Karl killed in jail.  Even being relieved that they were gone, I thought it was wrong.  Now I see it as a father protectin' his son…the same as I would with one of mine…It's all about lookin' at things from a new perspective…the facts didn't change…"

Chris nodded.  "It's not any of us who have changed…just our perspective of facts and truths we have known for several lifetimes.  We've been trying to make the legend book a separate teaching tool, and complicate the hell out of its existence…but it's not…it is a part of who we are, and always have been."

Tanner added, "For me with my gift of visions and natural huntin' instincts, being our Heart Warrior fits…just like Tracker was for his seven.  We're all warriors of some kind… be it Spiritual as Josiah is, Guardian Warrior, Buck or Healer Warrior, Nathan. We all have our place predestined.  "As our leader, you're Chief Warrior of course, but JD is our Guide into each time period we enter, keeps us on the right path and up with the latest technology and communication skills we need. Ezra is our Sight Warrior, he sees thing we all miss, and has a way to extract information in ways none of us come close to havin'."

Vin leaned forward. "In short, what I'm tryin' to say is, a Warrior of the Heart is a person who steps up to serve those closest and, or in need, to actively perfect powerful, compassionate, and life enhancin' actions to help them through difficulties, but without the pomp and ceremony. A callin' of silent protection, carried out with strength and integrity, for the hearts and souls of those we hold dear while ensurin' a strengthenin' of the bond that protects our legacy, as well as us." He smiled. "I've been focusin' on the 'warrior' part, but, readin' our Legends book and the journal Tracker left for me, I've come to realize it's not meant that way. Our definition of warrior has nothing to do with fightin', though active involvement may be part of it.  Nor does it necessarily involve any kind of aggression, though strong actions may be required. It does, however refer to someone willin' to learn to take skillful dynamic actions in the service of his brothers and those he holds dear. It's still about the traditional values of warriorship, such as; sincerity, honesty, courage, personal responsibility, and loyalty, and the book also uses the term 'Heart' in reference to compassion and empathy. I see it all now. The promise of our legacy lives within us.  We were, we are, and will be again.  It's that simple."

  Chris nodded. Not only could he see what Vin was talking about…he could feel it, too. If felt…familiar and now, very clear. "We're the ones who tried to make it difficult…"  He sat back in the chair.  "No wonder we've been out of sync…we haven't trusted our inner code.  Instead, we've been trying to make it bend to what we want."

"Yep… and gettin' our asses kicked in the process."  Vin pushed the folders toward Chris.  "The top ones are some names I dug up you might want to check out for your MCAT investigation…the rest is research on what Doctor Weeks thinks is wrong with Kel."

"Did you tell her what you 'saw'?"

Vin shook his head.  "Didn't have to.  She might not know specifically what Weeks is thinkin', but Kel is smart enough to figure it's not all good.  'Seein'' it gave me a chance to seek out details on possible procedures.  Kel won't argue with the facts...if she is bleedin' internally…she will have the surgery."

Chris glared at Vin.  "You could have said something and not made me worry about your silence."

Vin glared back.  '"Hell, it only been one day and I'm tellin' you now, so dial down that look.  We should have test results back in the mornin'."

Larabee nodded.  "I just didn't want you to shut me out.  Whatever happens…good or bad, I need to be there for my daughter.  There were too many times in her life…I wasn't."

"You'll know…I'm countin' on our 'Chief Warrior' to gather the positive power to see us thought this challenge….because we 'are' all gonna survive it."

Dunne Home

Buck and Inez had watched JD leave for his date, neither of them missing that, not only was he nervous, but his heart did not seem in it, either. They also noticed, when anyone mentioned Tess's name, it steeled his determination. Once gone, Buck nudged his wife. "Well?"

"I've told you all I know. Mallory said he took off fast yesterday morning."

"JD mentioned Tony Rodriguez."

Inez nodded. "Tess and he were chatting, quite intimately, when he arrived. She assured me it was an innocent conversation."

Buck made a face. "Aw, hell, poor kid. They need to talk."

Inez frowned. "Something does not quite add up here. What would cause him to get so upset? Unless…." A knock at the door had her and Buck moving to answer it. Tess’s smiling face greeted them.

"Hi. Keira’s at Mal and Josiah’s. I was just on my way to collect her when I thought I’d drop over some clothes JD’s kids had at my place." She glanced beyond them. "Is JD here? I was hoping to have a word with him."

Buck could not help himself. "He’s on a date, ummff…"

Elbowing Buck and staring wide eyed at him before turning and smiling at Tess, Inez answered, "We’ll tell him you stopped by."

Tess frowned. "Oh…okay, thanks." She checked her watch. "I have to go. Bye."

Closing the door, Inez turned and glared at her husband. "What is wrong with you? Did you forget to take your ‘learn to shut the hell up’ pill again?"

Buck looked suitably admonished. "I just hated seeing the kid all bent out of shape over this."

"Well, my husband, you may just have made things ten times worse." She pushed past him. "Be sure to explain this to JD when he gets home."

Buck hung his head. "Aw hell."


As Tess drove to Mal and Josiah’s home, her mind was racing. What did Buck mean when he said JD was dating? Since when? She knew there was no obligation between them and why would there be? They were just good friends, right? However, one thing they did do was talk…about everything. Something she had planned to do tonight. Why was it JD never mentioned wanting to date?

She found the idea of either of them dating others, very unappealing. What did that mean? Did she want more from JD? Did he want more from her? Was that why he was looking elsewhere, because he needed more than just friendship? Her thoughts had come full circle…why had he not mentioned it? Then again, the way they parted Sunday, while initially feeling good about it, she had paused for reflections since. Was everything moving too fast for them? She had questions, but no answers.

Tess knew this needed to be resolved, one way, or another. She decided it would begin tomorrow. Inez had dropped the kids into daycare this morning, so she had failed to speak to JD again…she had to make sure she spoke to him tomorrow, their friendship rested on it.

 La Stanza Restaurant, Denver

JD smiled at his companion. He could not remember the last time he had felt this nervous. Already, he had knocked over his water, dropped his knife on the floor, and banged his head on the underside of the table while retrieving it.

She was very pretty, but not a big conversationalist. The silences were interspersed with her playing footsie with him under the table and grinning inanely. He had never eaten a meal so fast. Waiting to pay, he looked down as her hand covered his.

"Are you passionate about frogs, JD?"

He laughed, sobering when he realized she was serious. "Uh, can’t say I am, no."

She stroked his hand. "They’re very loving, and often misunderstood."


She nodded. "Mmm hmm. The male frog serenades the female for hours, before climbing onto her back and fertilizing her eggs."

"Wow…" he coughed to give clarity to his voice." You…learn something new every day."

Gazing into his eyes, Alice ran an index finger down his jaw line. "Making love, to a chorus of male, sexually aroused frogs can be quite…exhilarating."

"No kidding?"

Nervously he glanced around, relieved when the waiter came with the check. Paying, he stood. "Ready?"

Alice nodded. "Okay."

They chatted intermittently while JD drove her home.  Alice looked at him. "Do you date much?"

JD shook his head. "No. In truth, I haven’t wanted to."

She smiled. "Well, play your cards right, and tonight might just be your lucky night."

Her words were a reality check. If this had been a few months ago, he might have taken her up on her offer. However, things were different now. He mentally admonished himself. What the hell had he been thinking? He should not be here; he should be at home, with his kids…and thinking about what he needed to say to Tess.

Pulling up outside Alice’s house, JD smiled at her. "Thanks for having dinner with me tonight. It was…fun…" he only hoped his face did not give him away.

"Do I get a goodnight kiss?"

JD smiled. "Sure." He leaned in, the kiss at first, sweet, and lingering, but as JD tried to pull away, she clung to him and made it very clear she wanted more. JD was trying to fight the effect her kisses were having on his much-neglected libido. Feeling the resistance, Alice pulled back and ran her fingers through his hair.

"Have I done something wrong?" she breathed.

Holding her hands, JD shook his head. "No…it’s just…" He smiled. "I’m really not looking for this right now. It’s not you, it’s me." He winced. "I know that’s kind of a cliché but, it’s true."

"Oh…fine. Will you call me?" she asked, clearly interested in pursuing a relationship.

 JD paused for a moment, and then looked at her. "I’m gonna have to say…no. I’ve realized I’m just not ready for all this, yet. I’m sorry."

Alice shrugged and climbed out of his truck. "Well, your loss." She leaned in and winked. "You know, you can still come in…I can show you my frog collection, they sleep with me in my bedroom."

JD shook his head. "Thanks, but I have to go…" As he drove away, he had never been so relieved to be going home in his life, while wondering why Pam had set him up with a frog-loving fruit loop.

Chapter 15

' Scars remind us of where we've been. They do not have to dictate where we are going.' Unknown source

Frowning, JD stared around the drab dressing room, and then at the male stripper before him. Antonio scrutinized the smaller man, dismissing him as a threat. "Can I help you?"

"Is that what you said to her? Or was it 'can I help myself, lady?'"

"What the hell? Get out."

"Oh, classic line…that's what you said to her after you screwed her, you asshole."

Antonio tilted his head. "Who? Your girl?"

"No…my wife."

The area faded, replaced by a larger more pleasant room. Casey took a deep breath before she spoke, and her voice trembled, "I love you JD, but… I'm not coming home." She held up her hand to stop his immediate attempt to respond, at last making eye contact. "Hear me out, please."

JD closed his mouth and nodded for her to continue. He was not at all certain that he wanted to hear what she had to say, as they faced each other in the sanitarium she had been in since her attack on him.

"I remember everything now. The months of uncertainty, the way I treated you, the girls and JJ, the confusion, my unforgivable behavior with Antonio, and…," she hesitated a moment, "I remembered when I attacked you." She fought the urge to cry. "I'm sorry JD, so sorry for everything. When I'm released, Nettie is moving with me to Arizona, closer to her sister," she hurried the words to get it over. "My lawyer is filing our divorce papers as soon as the doctor hands over my discharge, and all you have to do is sign them."

The scene faded, and he saw himself in the Wells', barn, tied and in pain, as he looked up at the young nurse that he had been sharing his home and his life.

"I like you, and that's why I'm letting you live. When I leave, the next thing you'll hear will be your teammates blown to Kingdom come and... My job here will be finished." Talia kissed JD hard on the lips, grinning at his stunned expression, bloody hair and face, and tear-filled, unfocused eyes. "The sex was great. Thanks to you, I'll have several new moves and positions to teach my husband."

As she walked away from him, the scene changed again. No longer in the Wells’ barn, but now standing outside near the main L7 gate, JD blinked back the threatening tears as he held a gun on Talia to halt her attempted escape from the property. "You're right; I'll never understand anyone using themselves like a whore to promote murder." He matched her movements as she raised her gun higher. "You…you said you loved me."

"I lied!" She laughed cruelly. "You made it so easy…so easy… so easy…"

 Dunne Home, Wednesday 4:30am


Soaked in sweat, and trembling, JD glanced around his darkened bedroom before climbing out of bed and entering his bathroom. Flushing the toilet, he leaned heavily on the sink before turning on the faucet and rinsing his face. As water dripped from his chin, he stared at himself in the mirror. "Jesus, what a nightmare." He shuddered at the memory of the betrayal from women he had loved and trusted. Moving back into his bedroom and sitting in the armchair in the corner, he gazed out at the view from his window. It took him a minute to collect his thoughts as to why the dream had been so intense, and…poignant, soon deciding it had to be something to do with his feelings toward Tess and all the confused thoughts he was having lately.

Was he falling for her, or was it another rebound effect? He had been so careful in constructing their friendship, and Tess had made it easy on him. Her sharp wit and kind demeanor drew him in, much the same way it drew in others. There was no pretense, no expectations, and no demands on his time for her. She understood his needs, even though they had only met each other a few months ago, and she expected nothing in return, which just made it easier to want to offer something. Now he was angry with himself for getting all bent out of shape when she was talking with Tony. What right did he have to expect her not to want to talk to other men? Yet watching her and Tony together had crushed him.

The dream brought it all into focus. Maybe he was falling for her, but the real anxiety had been that feeling…the feeling he’d had when Casey told him, not asked him, about divorcing, despite him waiting months for her to get better and supporting her when most of his family thought he was crazy. That feeling when Vin told him Casey had cheated on him…confirmed when JD read Casey’s journals.

Then there was that gut-wrenching moment when Talia showed herself to be the traitor in their midst. The same Talia he had welcomed into his and his children’s lives, and made love to…many times. The woman who had brought him back to life after being lost in a relationship wilderness, and who, like Casey, had said she loved him…and he believed her. He had given of himself to two women in his adult life and both had rejected him in the most painful ways imaginable. So…was this what he was afraid of… commitment…. rejection…infidelity, or all three?

Making his way to the kitchen for some coffee, JD pondered on that last question. Tess had been a faithful wife. Her divorce was borne from domestic violence, and a husband, who was certifiably crazy. When she had spoken of Troy, her early memories of their marriage were fond ones, tainted by an oppressive three years of living with violence, fear, and recollections of his cruelty to her. Her behavior reminded him of his own. He could never think badly of Casey for long. Until the events leading up to her attack on him, they had been, he thought, blissfully happy.

As he sat in his study with one lamp on, JD’s thoughts turned back to Tess. Their last day together had been idyllic. The pair had laughed a lot, played with the children as if they had been together forever, and… shared a breathtaking goodbye kiss. He smiled. Unplanned, and very innocent, but it was that moment, which had made him consider they might one day have something more than just friendship.

Then, next day, there was Tony. Draining his cup, JD realized his thoughts had come full circle. Standing to place the mug in the dishwasher, he glanced down towards Buck’s home, while wondering if he dare ask the man for help…again. Going to Vin had crossed his mind, but their resident Heart Warrior seemed to have his hands full with his own problems…it seemed selfish to want to bother him about something like this.

He loved all his brothers dearly, and cherished any help or advice they offered him, but Buck had lived with him, mentored him, nurtured him, and always seemed to know what JD wanted, or needed, even before he knew himself. He was JD’s rock and was the person he looked to at times like these.

Buck had been right about one thing, no matter how old you get, or who you have in your life, there will always be someone prepared to listen…even if it is just for a little while. JD knew he had been there for Buck over the years, too…even though he was certain the ratio of him helping Buck, would always be way behind Buck helping him. JD shrugged, well, after all, it was not his fault Buck was an old man and had years of experience on him. Smiling, he mentally ducked the swat he knew he would get from the man for that remark, which answered his question. He would call Buck before work, and then speak to Tess.

 Reins Daycare, 7:30 am

Glancing at his watch, JD groaned, "Damn, I'm late." Approaching the classroom door, his stomach did a little flip to see Tess standing there, waiting for him and his kids. She gave him a huge smile and he returned it, but not with its usual wattage. "Hi." Bending to kiss his kids, he watched the girls take JJ’s hand and walk on in, then straightened, closer to Tess than he had expected. "Hey, how are you doing?"

"I’m good, you?"

JD nodded. "Sure, never better." Damn, that lie just rolled out there. He backed away. "Well, I guess I should go. I’m running late. See you after work." He stared at the slim fingers curling around his arm.

"Wait. We’ve barely spoken since Sunday. Is everything okay? I was hoping we'd have a chance to talk soon."

"Sorry, been busy…work, you know. Look, Tess…" He stared into her chocolate brown eyes. God, this was killing him. When had things got so damned complicated? With no time to tell her what was on his mind right then, he raised a hand to wave. "I gotta go."

As JD left, Inez arrived and had not missed the exchange. She looked at Tess. "You two need to talk."

Not registering the deeper meaning in Inez’s words, Tess looked at her and sighed. "That's the plan. If I asked for help to spend some alone time with JD on Saturday…"

Inez smiled. "Consider it done."

MCAT Office, 8:00 am

JD ducked the glare from Chris as he half-walked- half ran into the office. He had already dreaded coming in because he felt certain that everyone knew about his disastrous date the previous evening, but if they did, no one was saying so. He was very relieved; he had enough on his mind. Having gone back to bed after his bad dream, he had slept in, and not only was running half an hour behind, but had not been able to speak to Buck or Tess as planned. He had wanted to talk to Buck first, so he hoped his big brother would be available later to have that very conversation. Once he settled in the Intel room, JD picked up the phone and dialed Buck’s extension.

"Hey, it’s me. Uh…I was wondering, can you come over this evening, I need to…" he grinned. "Yeah, thanks. No, no, I’m okay…yeah, the kids are okay, too, I just…thanks, thank you." Relieved, JD nodded to himself. One down, one to go.

The relief of no one commenting on his previous night’s date dissipated when Pam later knocked on his office door. Half turning in his chair to acknowledge her, he waved her in.

"Hi, I hear it went well last night, though Alice tells me you didn’t feel ready to pursue a relationship."

‘Yeah, ‘cause I really want to get to know another crazy woman…’ JD admonished himself. 'Talia, yeah, but Casey hadn’t always been that way'. He smiled. "I think it’s for the best."

"Alice is a great person, but she can be a bit eccentric. She did say though, that you were the perfect gentleman… passed all her little tests. She also told me that, while she understood how you felt, she would happily meet with you again if you ever change your mind."

Now JD was frowning. What…test? No wonder she was still single. "Good to know, thanks. She was very sweet. Thanks for the help but..." He paused. "I’ve uh, decided I’m not ready for all that just yet."

With a wave and a smile, Pam left. JD sat back in his chair. He needed to talk to Tess. Mistrust and insecurity had never been an issue in his marriage until Casey became ill. Then with Talia…He sighed. Yep, it was time to step up to the plate; Tess deserved at least that much. He had decided that when he saw Buck later, he would ask if he and Inez could watch his kids on Saturday, and give him and Tess some time alone.

MCAT Chris's Office, 9:00 am

Chris passed a folder to Buck. "Not much new in the morning threat assessment, but you might want to look them over anyway."

Nodding, Buck sighed. "You know I don't mind filling in for Vin, but Lord I hate all this extra paperwork."

Failing to control his grin, Chris laughed and said, "That I do know, Buck, but…." Recognizing the designated ringtone on his cell, he stopped to answer it. "Yeah…what did she say? Okay…keep me posted then." Snapping the phone shut, he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.

"Problem?" Buck interrupted Chris's thoughts.

"Maybe…That was Vin. Kelli's doctor called them earlier and said she did not like the latest test results. Bottom line…Weeks insisted on admitting Kelli into the hospital for further tests. Vin just got Kel settled into a private room, and wanted to let me know."

Buck shook his head. "Those two can't seem to catch a break. I assume Vin will keep us posted?"

"Yes, and I'll be stopping by the hospital on my way home." Sighing, Chris cleared his throat. "Right now, though, we need to get to work."

"On it, now, Boss." Buck stood, gathers his papers, and made an exit.

Picking up the receiver, Chris dialed his home. He had a sudden need to hear his wife's voice. In addition, he felt Cait should know about Kelli, and pass the news on to the rest of their sisters.


 As the morning moved on, JD and Judy continued transcribing and analyzing the wiretaps, while Josiah pored over reams of case studies and paperwork to find a link, anything that would help them move their investigation. Startled when the Intel door flew open, all three looked at Chris.

"Bruno Sturman got whacked this morning, and a beat cop named Dev Brinton was found dead in his apartment just an hour ago. One shot to the head…been dead a few days."

Both men rose to assist, but Chris raised a hand. "No, you guys carry on here. Ezra and Buck are heading for Brinton’s apartment. Nathan and I going over to Sturman’s murder scene. I’ll keep in touch." 

Josiah could not help grinning at JD’s muted disappointment. He so loved being where the action was. "Patience, JD, our time will come."

JD nodded. "Yeah, I know, but sometimes I think Chris forgets we’re field agents, too."

"Forgets? Never, but right now, he needs us here."

Narrowing his eyes at Josiah, JD sighed. "Why do you always have to be right?"

Josiah laughed. "Patience and knowledge comes with age, son."

JD nodded. "True, guess I forget sometimes how old you guys are." Without looking up, he laughed when a pencil from Sanchez’s direction bounced off his head.

Brinton’s Apartment, 2:00 pm

Despite being long past the need to put cloths to their mouths, Buck and Ezra would never get used to the stench of blood and a decomposing corpse. Dropping anything they considered interesting, into an evidence bag, the pair , along with Bones and his team worked the room, stepping over the corpse several times during their investigation, but it soon became evident the killer fired from a building opposite the one they were in.. Braving the cold temperatures, the two MCAT agents visited several rooftops until the one used became evident. Alerting Bones and his Forensics Team, Buck and Ezra returned to ground level to search the alleyways and dumpsters.

Half an hour later and cradling a Remington M24 in a large Ziploc, Buck called Chris.

"Bones has plenty to analyze. Ezra found some papers, bankbooks, officer notebooks…the usual. I’ll get Forensics to pass the account numbers to JD when they get back to the lab." He listened. "Yeah, same MO, didn't even bother to hide the gun well. Someone up there likes us, stud." Closing his cell, Buck looked to Ezra.

"You still think the guns are being dumped by a third party, rather than the sniper himself?"

"I do."

Buck nodded. "I’m inclined to agree with you."

Warehouse District, Denver, 2:3O pm

Bruno Sturman vowed revenge when they murdered his brother, Chico, now there was no chance for him to keep that vow. Unlike Officer Brinton, Bruno saw his death coming and understood…his number was up. Killed execution style, the gunrunner laid in a pool of gore and blood. An associate…more likely a personal bodyguard, lay just feet away, having suffered the same fate.  Sturman was a familiar name to them, Brinton, was not. As Chris paced around the area, waiting on Forensics, it occurred to him this was more than mere ‘smacks on the wrist’…this was the sign of tying up loose ends. He looked at Nathan.

"Call the women’s shelter, tell them no one but us or Mallory gets in to see Gino’s lady."

Nathan frowned. "You think she’s in danger?"

Larabee gestured around him. "They’re cleaning house, Nathan. Desiree’s a loose end…it won’t hurt to take precautions."

As Nathan nodded, Chris’s cell chimed. Checking the caller ID, he answered. "Tell me something good, JD." He nodded. "We’re going to be a while. I’ll call in when we get back." He glanced around him and nodded. Yep…something big was definitely going on.

MCAT Offices, 5:30 pm

JD and Josiah looked up when Chris entered the Intel room and got right to the point. "You have something?"

Flipping a notepad open as he approached, JD glanced at Chris before reading. "Dean got a phone call at eleven thirty this morning." He read from the pad, "We've taken your concerns on board and acted accordingly. We have no time for weakness. Decide.' They traced the call to a payphone in the center of Denver. We’ve got Spencer and Mike pulling camera footage of the area as we speak."

Sensing there was more, Chris nodded.

"Twenty minutes later, Dean and Cashton used the bathroom." Nodding to Josiah, the big man pressed a button and Dean and Cashton’s images came up on the monitors and big screens. They looked agitated and clearly not in need of the facilities.

"I just got a call," Dean said first. "I think the shit's about to hit the fan."

"I can’t take any more, Grant. This isn’t what we signed up for. Larabee and Jackson could have died, just for doing their jobs. I may be many things, but I’m not a cop-killer. I won’t have the blood of our fellow officers on my hands just because someone’s getting nervous."

Dean ran his fingers through his hair. "Agreed. We’re gonna have to come clean…but I’m 'not' going to Larabee. If it's the last thing I do in the bureau, I’m not giving that smug bastard the satisfaction of watching us burn."

"Why don’t we just cut and run? We got the money."

"It’s an option. Let’s sleep on it and make our decision tomorrow. Daley’s moving money and closing the offshore account as of this morning. It certainly looks like things are on the move."

Flushing the urinals, the men exited the bathroom.

As the clip ended, Chris nodded. "Good. We can’t use it, but Grant directly referenced Francis Daley, and Cashton practically admitted to having money associated with these activities. We’ll interview them first thing in the morning. They're on the verge of confessing; maybe a little push will help."

"One last thing," Josiah stated. "I profiled Daley based on what we knew from the money transfers, and then JD and I cross-referenced it with other names on our list. One name popped up that seems to fit the activity from the offshore account."

"Go ahead," Chris urged, unable to hide his enthusiasm.

Josiah smiled. "Former U.S. District Judge, Davidson Farley."

Chris leaned in. "Former?"

"He was reprimanded for failing to provide acceptable reasons for decisions as required, then, two years later he was recommended for consideration of impeachment. He ‘retired’ six months after that and was never charged."

Chris patted both men on the arm. "Go home, guys. You look done in."

JD leaned back in his chair to ask," Hey Chris…have you heard anymore about Kelli?"

"On my way over there now." That was all Chris would commit to saying. Vin had called and updated all he could, but….it was not the right time to share more possible bad news with his brothers. He turned to leave, glancing back and smiling as he reached the door. "Good work."

Denver Memorial Hospital, 6:30 pm

Kelli pushed her tray back. "I'm not hungry."

Vin observed every movement his wife made. Doctor Weeks had confirmed with the ultrasound that Kelli was bleeding internally, but agreed to keep her under close observation, and do everything possible with alternative treatments before scheduling surgery. Her warning was clear though, if Kelli's stats started to deteriorate, she would insist on immediate surgical intervention.

Smiling, as he thought about the other news the ultrasound revealed, Vin pushed the tray back towards her. "You might not be hungry, but I bet our baby is."

"Baby…" Kelli sighed, "At least now we know we're only havin' one. I just wish…" Unexpected tears appeared, and she rushed to wipe them away.

Reacting fast, Vin moved to sit beside her on the bed. "Easy, Texas, we haven't lost a thing... true, the odds against us are not what we'd like them to be, but we…" he reached out and tilted her chin, so she would look at him, "… are gonna beat those odds. You have to believe that."

Kelli nodded. "I want to believe it…I just…all those years Vin…what happened to me when I was four years old threatens to take our child from us now…it's not right."

"Baby, we sent those nightmares back to hell, tracked down the man responsible, and we're long past thinkin' about all the 'what if's'. Scars from the past can't dictate our future…we are not gonna accept anythin' but a good outcome here." He leaned over to touch her forehead with his. "Feel what I'm sayin' Kel."

Mentally connecting, a euphoric flow of energy surged between them, and Vin took her back to the place they experienced at their cabin. It was a paradise that belonged to them, which overflowed with comforting warmth, absolute trust, and unconditional love. The Texan held them there for a long time, until he felt Kelli's fears subside and she relaxed.

Chris opened the hospital room door, and immediately felt the flow of energy. Reluctant to interrupt the scene he was witnessing, he started to leave, but Vin's words stopped him.

"It's safe to come in, Chris, Kel was just havin' a little confidence crisis, and I was remindin' her why she shouldn't."

Looking up, Kelli smiled at her father. "The flowers you and Cait sent are beautiful…thank you."

Sending a mental thanks to his wife for thinking about it, Chris grinned. "You're welcome. How are you feeling?"

"I'm hangin' in there. Vin told me he already gave you an update, so I know you understand it's all a waitin' game now."

Chris nodded, sat down in the chair beside her bed, and settled in to visit for a while. So many times in Kelli's life, he had not been there for her when she needed a father. As long as he had breath, he vowed that she would never go through a crisis again without his loving support.

For the next hour, the three of them talked, about everything and nothing, but Kelli was in higher spirits before Chris left for home.

Dunne Home, 8:30 pm

The kids had been in bed for a good hour. JD grinned as Buck called out a greeting and climbed the stairs to join him in the big room. Thirty minutes of talking around the subject uppermost on JD's mind, and several beers later, JD could no longer duck the look from Buck. He sighed and attempted to formulate the words he needed to say, failing miserably.

"This has to be a first…JD Dunne…speechless." Buck smiled. "Tess, right?"

JD nodded. "I'm an idiot Buck. I had this friendship with an amazing, funny, witty, sassy, beautiful woman…and I almost threw it away."

Buck sat forward. "Okay, bypassing that idiot remark for a minute, what makes you think that?"

JD huffed. "Are you kidding? I see her talking to one guy and I start second- guessing everything, and then end up freaking out and dating the frog lady."

Buck narrowed his brows at the reference; JD waved a hand. "I’ll tell you about it some other time."

Taking a sip of beer, Buck replied, "Kid…all that little lady has done this week is ask after you. She’s concerned. I’ve seen no signs of her wanting to back off." He saw the doubt in his younger brother’s eyes. "I know we've been kinda busy at work, but you need to make time to talk to her."

JD nodded. "You’re right…and I've come to the conclusion that I'm letting what happened with Casey and Talia cloud my judgment."

Buck smiled and patted his arm. "So what’s the verdict?"

JD pursed his lips and paused for a moment or two. "I guess to stop thinking and start doing. The past is past…I refuse to let it dictate what I do now. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…no matter what the future holds, I’d rather have Tess in it as a friend, than not." He smiled. "Sorry I dragged your butt over here to tell you that."

"Hell, kid, I already knew you’d worked it out, or were at least well on the way to doing it." Buck took a breath. "JD, Casey, and Talia screwed with your mind.  Robbed you of the one thing you’ve never wavered on…trust. Repairing that kind of damage takes time.  Plus, we both know, after what Tess has been through, she’ll not only listen, but understand and help you through it, like you’ve helped her and Keira through their issues."  He leaned in, put a hand on JD’s shoulder, and smiled.  "For what it’s worth, you two are good together.  Making things right at least gives you a chance to figure it out."

JD nodded.  "And that’s just what I’m gonna do, first thing tomorrow morning." He met the man’s gaze. "Thanks, for listening and coming over. Just having you here to talk to…"

Grinning, Buck finished his beer.  "Any time…you know that."  He glanced at the digital clock on the DVD recorder. "I guess I should head back, I sense a big day for us, tomorrow."

JD agreed and stood to walk him out.  When they reached the front door, JD smiled at his brother.  "Buck…."

Patting his cheek, Buck grinned and left.  "Any time, little brother, any time."

Denver Memorial Hospital, 4:00 am

Vin had long ago, given up any idea about sleeping. The nurses came in every hour to check Kelli's blood pressure, which had fluctuated since midnight. He also knew his wife was in a great deal of pain, but in order for the nurses to gauge its severity, she could not take any meds to relieve it. Kelli was having a rough go of it as the hours progressed. Remembering what Doctor Gilford ticked off as warning signs for internal bleeding; Vin knew that Kelli was displaying every one of them. She was nauseous and sweating, but her skin was cold and she had trouble making a coherent sentence. According to the nurse, a low-grade fever had developed, along with the fluctuating blood pressure reading.

Tanner watched while the night nurse took the four o'clock reading. Catching her as she was leaving, Vin asked, "How long can she go on like this before you call the doctor?"

"We've already made that call Mister Tanner. Doctor Weeks is on her way in now, and she ordered a surgical staff to be on stand-by. Doctor Gilford confirmed he would be in charge of it, and he should be here soon, too."

Vin nodded, as the nurse left, and he turned his gaze on his wife. Evidently, their waiting time had run out…now all they could do was let Fate take over.

Chapter 16

'If I am to be tested today, I pray for the courage to get through it, and for the strength to anchor my faith on solid ground.'

Reins Daycare, Thursday 06:30 am

JD had made a special effort to be early this morning. One reason was work. Things were heating up and several exciting avenues of investigation were on the agenda for today. His second and main reason was to speak to Tess as planned. His whole day was screwed if he failed. Grateful to see her standing in her usual spot at the door, he ushered his little ones forward and smiled nervously.


Tess beamed. "Well, good morning Dunne family," she said, bending down to greet the children. When they went inside, she smiled at JD. "Good morning, John Daniel."

"Uh…yeah, morning. Tess…"


They grinned as they spoke together. "You first," JD urged.

"Well, I was about to say it seems ages since we’ve had a decent conversation."

Nodding, JD took her hand, causing the young woman some surprise, albeit a pleasant one. "Yeah, about that. Look…this is all down to me. Between work and…" he hesitated. "Anyway, Buck’s given a green light for watching the kids for me …I wondered if we could get together Saturday…just you and me. If the weather improves…maybe take the horses out, and…talk…"

Tess felt her heart thud hard against her ribs. Only yesterday, Inez had agreed to have Keira over on Saturday for her to arrange to see JD and have a much-needed talk with him. She smiled and nodded. "I’d like that very much. How about I make some bread and soup and we have that to warm us up after the ride?"

JD swallowed as he salivated. He had not had homemade bread since Nettie… "Yeah, I’d like that, too." He turned to leave, looked back, and flashed her one of his widest smiles. "Saturday then."

"Uh…aren’t you forgetting something?"

JD stopped and turned towards her. "I am?"

"Well, unless you intend for your kids to stay here tonight, won’t I see you later?"

Laughing, JD nodded. "Ha, yeah…sure…of course." He waved. "Later."

Walking in together Mal and Inez smiled at each other as a grinning agent hurried past them. They had heard most of the conversation, and the women, both understanding there was something not quite right between the pair, were relieved to see progress.

Tess greeted them enthusiastically. "Good morning, isn’t it a wonderful day?"

Mallory giggled. "It certainly is, Hon."

Denver Memorial Hospital, 8:30 am

Vin stood by the window with his arms crossed, as the nurses prepared to move his wife to pre-op. Doctor Gilford would perform the surgery, while Doctor Weeks monitored the baby. Both had already reviewed the procedures with him. He knew they had an anesthesiologist they had confidence in to manage the care and life functions of both Kelli and their baby. He also understood that, while both doctors felt confident about her recovery, neither were optimistic about the baby's chances.

The charge nurse understood Vin's anxiety, and suggested, "Mister Tanner, your wife is sedated, and we need room to work. Why don't you step out for a few minutes, have a cup of coffee, or talk to your family. We won't move her without you knowing."

Acknowledging that there was not a thing he could do at this point to help, Vin nodded, and walked across the hall to the waiting area to join Chris and Brodie. Although Rain had been by earlier, he was surprised to see that Cait, Mallory, Inez, and Barbara had arrived since the last time he was out of the room.

Acknowledging their presence, Vin spoke to his sisters, "Kel and I both appreciate y'all bein' here. I know it's not easy to get away with kids and all."

In turn, they each gave him a hug, Inez went last and squeezed his arm as she stepped back. "Where else would we be?"

"All our kids are either in school or daycare, along with yours," Mallory glanced at Barbara, "well, except for baby Isabella and Pearl, but Tía Isabella is taking good care of them."

"I knew the day was coming that I'd have to leave Pearl for a while, this gives me an opportunity for a trial run." Barbara smiled. "I actually quit crying before I got here, and I know she's in good hands."

Vin produced a small smile. "Yeah, we just went through that with the twins…not easy."

Cait asked what they all wanted to know. "Chris gave us an update, but didn't know much to tell. Has the doctor given you more information?"

Shaking his head, he accepted the cup of coffee, Brodie handed him. "Not much has changed, except they've stabilized Kelli's stats enough to proceed with the surgery. Doc says it will take two to three hours, then another hour in recovery, and then they'll probably move her to ICU."

Chris frowned. "ICU? Are they expecting her to need it?"

"The first forty-eight hours of recovery is the period they say is most likely for a miscarriage, and the risks are higher followin' the surgery. They want her in ICU; at least for the first few hours… if…" he swallowed hard, not wanting to admit that the doctors expected a miscarriage, "…somethin' goes wrong for the baby." Vin faltered for a moment, and looked over at Chris.

'We're all with you, Vin, if not in person, in strength. Our brothers will be here as soon as they clear up a few things at work.'

' I feel 'em.'

Chris glanced to the others, making a statement to direct them away from asking more questions. "I already gave blood this morning, and anyone who wants to, can donate on Kelli's behalf."

They all looked across the hall when the nurse exited Kelli's room and approached Vin. "Mister Tanner, we're ready to move your wife. You can stay with her in pre-op until we move her into surgery." To the rest of the family she said, "The waiting room of the surgery floor is …"

"Thanks, we know where it is." Chris patted Vin on the shoulder. "Stand firm, don't waiver, and believe."

Vin nodded, as he moved to follow the nurse, and looked back at his family. Standing firm he could do, and he would never waiver on his belief that he and Kelli would beat the odds…and he believed that the strength of their code would guide him.

MCAT Offices, 8:30 am

The atmosphere in the office was subdued. Despite the happy mood JD had entered, hearing that Kelli’s condition had deteriorated overnight had been disappointing. They all wanted to be there for her and Vin, but while Chris understood their need to support their brother, he had instructed them to continue with the investigation, while he and Brodie stayed with the Texan. He promised that as soon as they checked the boxes on the most pressing issues, they could come to the hospital.

Ezra and Buck had already left the building to track down Grant Dean, and ask him a few questions. Afterwards, they planned to continue on to the hospital to give blood, and join their family. Earlier that morning, Nathan announced he needed to visit the women’s shelter to escort Desiree to a pre-natal appointment. Mike Langley went along with him, the rule still in place about no one going out alone. Even as all this was ongoing, JD and Josiah remained ensconced in the Intel room. While JD checked out the bank accounts of the recently deceased Dev Brinton, and tried to trace the final movements of Bruno Sturman before his ‘execution’, Josiah was profiling former District Judge, Davidson Farley. JD felt as if he was going stir-crazy and told Josiah the next assignment out of the office was theirs.

Saint Augusta Women’s Shelter 8:45 am

Nathan smiled as Desiree approached him. Since her arrival at the shelter, she had received new clothes and had a haircut. Now eating wholesome food, she looked the picture of health.

"Wow girl, you scrub up well."

Desiree giggled. "Why thank you Mister Jackson, mighty nice of you to say so." Taking hold of the agent’s offered arm, the pair exited the building with caution; Mike drove them to the hospital. While traveling, Nathan asked how she was doing.

"I’ve never felt so good Mister Jackson. The people at the shelter are real nice." She rubbed her tummy and took his hand in hers to place it on her ‘bump’. "Gino Junior’s been kicking like crazy since I’ve been getting three meals a day."

Surprised, and not to mention a little uncomfortable, Nathan allowed her actions to slide, grinning when Junior kicked on cue.

"I can’t thank you enough for helping me. If there’s ever anything I can do for you…"

"There is one thing," he said, gently easing his hand from hers.


"Please call me Nathan."

Again, she giggled. "Okay."

Once they pulled into the hospital parking lot, Mike dropped them at the door and waited outside, while Nathan escorted her to her appointment. It was not long before it was Desiree's turn to go in. Nathan stood when she did.

Desiree kissed his cheek. "Thank you, Nathan. I’ll be right back."

Leaving the maternity ward to check on a patient she had treated the previous day, Doctor Rain Jackson glanced into the pre-natal clinic as she passed by. Gasping, she ducked beside the doorway, peeking round to check if she was seeing things. Apparently, she was not. There in the clinic, was her husband with a young, attractive, and very pregnant black woman, who, at that precise moment was kissing him. Moving on, Rain felt an inkling of jealously. Why had Nathan not mentioned that he would be here and who was that woman? Rain shook her head, and continued on to the waiting room to check on Vin.

Surgical floor waiting area, 9:30 am

Rain found that Kelli was already in surgery, and her Wild Bunch sisters had arrived since her last check-in with Tanner. Entering quietly, she greeted the women, gave Vin a hug, and then asked Chris, "Are the men going to be able to get away from work and come up for a while?"

Nodding Chris answered, "At various times of the day. Nathan will be up soon. Right now, he and Mike are escorting a potential witness of ours to an appointment. Buck and Ezra plan to give blood and stop by after they finish an interrogation, and I'm certain JD and Josiah will be stopping by before too long."

She wanted to find out more about this 'potential witness', but accepted that now was not the time to ask. "I'm still on duty here, but I'm staying close." She turned to Vin. "Is there anything I can do, or get for you?"

"No, I'm fine."

Everyone in the room hid their smiles. They knew he was not as fine as he let on, but then, Vin never did feel comfortable saying he needed something. Regardless they all planned to be available for him. They hoped that just knowing his family was close was enough.

Federal Building, Denver, 9:30 am

Two disgruntled MCAT agents climbed into Ezra’s Jag on exiting the building. Buck huffed. "What are the odds Dean would take a personal day just when we’re ready to shake him by the throat?"

Ezra started the engine. "You’re asking me to give odds?"

Buck laughed. "Yeah. Okay, what now?"

"It might be prudent to go to the hospital now, and donate blood. It will also give us an opportunity to check on how everyone is holding up."

Buck nodded as he buckled up. "Sounds like a plan. I’ll call JD and Josiah and tell them what we’re doing."

MCAT Intel Office, 9:30 am

A half an hour after Buck called in, Josiah took a diverted call from Chris’s office. Snapping his fingers to get JD’s attention, he took a pad and pen from the younger man and started scribbling. JD watched in fascination, his alarm growing when Josiah paled.

"That is unfortunate." Replacing the receiver, Josiah laid a hand on JD’s shoulder. "Cashton was murdered sometime this morning."

"What?" JD squeaked.

"I’ll call Chris. Go see who’s available to go to the SOC."

JD returned, and by the time Josiah had informed Chris, he had news. "We’re it. Buck and Ezra are in the middle of donating blood, and not able to break away for another hour, Nathan’s escorting Gino’s girlfriend to a pre-natal appointment and Chris…"

Josiah nodded. "Well, John Daniel, looks like you got your wish. We get to take on this field assignment."

JD grinned. "Beats going cross-eyed in here. I’ll call Bones and get us an MAU on scene." Josiah began packing up his work, turning to JD when the conversation seemed not to be going, as he would expect. Putting down the receiver, JD turned to the older man.

"Bones said they’re swamped for another hour or so and to contact forensics at the DPD."

"Not sure Chris would be too happy…"

JD packed up as he spoke. "Yeah, I figured, so I suggested we drive a unit down there and make a start. What do you think?"

"I think that’s an inspired idea. What did Bones think?"

"He seemed okay with it."

"Well then, let’s do it…and I’m driving." The big man laughed at the soft curse from JD as he moved past the young tech.

"Great…I’ll expect to get there sometime next week then."

"Are you saying I’m a slow driver John Dunne?"

JD closed the door to the Intel room as the pair moved out. "What was it that gave me away?" 

Denver Memorial Hospital, 10:30 am

Vin kept glancing at his watch, the minutes ticking by too damn slow. He looked up when Buck and Ezra entered, although he felt their presence long before they exited the elevator. There was a growing energy in the room, and he knew it had more to do with the connection with their code than worry.

"I got a text while we were in at the blood bank. What did we miss?" Buck looked at Chris.

"Cashton took a hit while he was jogging this morning. JD and Josiah made the call and should be on scene now."

"Is our assistance needed?" Ezra asked, after greeting his wife.

Chris shook his head. "JD and Josiah can handle the inquiry for MCAT. You two might as well wait here with the rest of us."

They all felt the energy increase when Nathan joined them a few minutes later, repeating Buck's question. "I heard about Cashton. Did I miss anything?"

Larabee sighed. "We're covered, Nate. Sit down and wait with us."

Nathan nodded, chose to sit beside his wife, and then frowned when she gave him 'the look', which meant he had somehow offended her.

He leaned closer to his wife and whispered, "Everything okay with you, Babe?"

"We'll talk later," Rain whispered back to him.

Before he could ask what she meant, Doctor Brian Allen entered the waiting room and walked straight over to Vin. "Doctor G wanted me to give you an update. He's about halfway through the procedure. A ruptured cyst, which he removed, and torn adhesions, which he repaired, caused the internal bleeding. Kelli is stable, and Doctor Weeks said that so far, everything looks good for the baby. There are a few things though Doctor G would like for you to consider."

Vin nodded. "Go on."

"He can close now, and risk the reoccurrence of the problem at some point in the future, or he can go ahead and repair all the damage from her earlier injuries that have been at the root of Kelli's problems with fertility. Keeping her under longer might, and I stress might, increase the risk to the baby, but allowing him to repair the damage now, would not only prevent the need for another surgery, but also increase the odds of her carrying to term should the baby make it past the next forty-eight hours. The risk increases somewhat for your wife and child, but the long-term prognosis also improves. Doc felt you should be the one to make this decision."

Brodie stood on one side of his son, Chris on the other. Both men understood that Vin was the only one who had any say in this decision. Destiny had prepared him, given him the knowledge to use, and now he stood at a crossroad. Whatever his choice, they would support it one hundred percent.

Tanner closed his eyes; this is where the events of his life had led him, the ultimate test of the strength of a Heart Warrior. Did he have the courage to follow his instincts when the lives of his wife and child were involved? Was his belief in his destiny firm and certain? Had he learned enough from his near death experience and their code to allow him to trust fate completely?

Nodding, Vin answered his own questions. His wife trusted him to keep them on the right track, and he knew, without a doubt, which course he needed to follow. Kelli had already mentally cut her ties with the horrors of her past, now it was time to erase the physical ones, too. "Tell Doc to complete what he started and fix it all. We're not plannin' on doin' this twice."

Allen accepted Tanner's decision. "Expect another two hours of surgery then." He turned and made his exit.

From the corner of the room, unseen to all, Tracker smiled and nodded. Vin had accepted his role, and given his trust to their code. The mantel of Heart Warrior was now on his shoulders.

City Park, Denver, 11:00 am

Yellow tape surrounding the crime scene fluttered in the stiff breeze, the metal poles connecting them standing like slim line sentinels around the murdered form of ATF Team Three’s leader, Dan Cashton. Uniformed officers painstakingly scoured the area, bagging anything clue-like in their efforts to solve the heinous murder of one of their own.

Squatting next to the corpse, JD ran sad eyes over the still form, unable to ignore the gray matter spread around a wide area of ground, from when the sniper’s bullet had disintegrated most of the man’s head. Leaving the MAU parked up near some trees a short distance away, Josiah approached with more evidence bags. He cast sympathetic eyes over his youngest brother. Despite his years in law enforcement, it was no secret JD found cop deaths the hardest to deal with, admitting it always made him worry that one of his brothers could be next.

JD finished retrieving and bagging the items from Cashton's pockets, looking up after he did so. "I wish Vin was here."

Bending, Josiah plucked something out of the grass and placed it in a Zip-loc. "Why?" he grunted, moving to a new object.

JD sighed and glanced around. "Because I reckon he could work out the trajectory in an instant." He looked at the man and stood, before glancing back at Cashton. "Poor guy. One minute he’s out jogging, the next…" JD swallowed. "Chris is right; they...whoever 'they' are, really are tying up loose ends, aren’t they?"

"It would seem so, yes." Josiah twisted around to the sound of a heavy vehicle approaching. "Looks like the cavalry has landed." Both men waved as Bones exited the MAU and Josiah proceeded to give him a situation report while he stripped off his gloves.

Nodding his approval, Bones relieved the pair and his Forensics' Team took control of the investigation. After calling Chris, the two agents decided to take the first unit back to base, and write up a preliminary report before going to the hospital to donate blood and check on their family. JD, Josiah, and all attending officers, looked up at a shout from the edge of the park. Soon Greg joined them, in his arms, a sniper rifle encased in an evidence sheath.

Bones took the item. "Maybe this is the gun we get a print from." He looked at the ‘Doubting Thomas’s’.  "Or maybe not…but we live in perpetual hope."


Driving back towards the MCAT office, Josiah glanced out at the snow-covered hills of the mountain highway that lead to their base. He had felt the vehicle briefly lose traction once or twice, but he was more concerned about how spongy the brakes felt. Glancing sideways at a soft sigh from JD, he spoke. "Penny for them, John Dunne."

JD shrugged. "It’s nothing…I just can’t quite believe Cashton's dead."

Josiah nodded.

JD turned in his seat. "Do you remember his wife and kids? They were at one of the Bureau's Memorial Day picnics back before Casey and I got hitched. She was nice, and real pretty. Shame they ended up divorced."

"A sad but rising statistic amongst police officers," Josiah stated.

"His kids…God, his poor kids." Before he could think on the situation further, JD slapped one hand down on the dash and clung to it, his face a mask of concern as he glanced at his oldest brother. "Okay…I know I said you drive slow, but I take it back, okay? You don’t have to prove a thing." He inhaled sharply as they gained momentum down the sloping road; not missing the fact that Sanchez was pumping his foot on the brakes. "Josiah?"

"Sit tight, we have no brakes."

"We…? Oh shit!"

Despite Josiah trying to engage the parking brake and shift into reverse, they continued to pick up speed. Neither man spoke as roadway disappeared up under the speeding vehicle’s tires, Josiah wrestling with the wheel as he fought to maintain control. The truck lurched and then left the road.

"Hold on!"

Josiah’s words evaporated as the large unit lumbered and crashed down the steep bank to one side of the highway. When a tire hit something buried in the snow-covered grass, the MAU tilted and flipped over twice before crunching down onto the passenger side and sliding the rest of the way to the bottom of the grassy incline. With just their seatbelts holding the two battered, bloody and unconscious men in place, the only sounds were the ticking of cooling metal, the tinkling of falling glass, a skewed, rotating wheel, and a bitter wind whistling around the stricken vehicle.

Cold…With a soft groan, Josiah rose through the mire clouding his thoughts, and realized he was shivering. Pain was the next thing that registered, and he regretted the loss of the numbness he had been experiencing on first awakening. He stared in confusion at his skewed world and lack of protection from the bitter elements. How had they come to be outside? He frowned. Wait…they, he had said they. Who was with him?

'JD!' Josiah just managed to catch a glimpse of the unconscious younger man before he succumbed to the darkness flooding his weary mind.

Chapter 17

'Family and friends… are responsible for some of our most pleasurable memories… they can try our souls and our patience… but they will always have the power to fill our hearts with love.'

Denver Memorial Hospital, 11:45 am

Vin shivered as he felt a surge in the energy from his brothers. They each looked at one another, recognizing the concern within each of them. His first thought was that something had gone wrong in surgery, but after taking a deep breath, he decided that was not what triggered the moment of intense connection between them.

'Relax, Vin. We're all overreacting.'

'Maybe…maybe not…' Whatever Vin started to say was lost when Rain spoke up.

Having noticed the brothers shiver, Rain assumed they were responding to Vin's concerns for Kelli, and decided to try to reassure them. "Surgical procedures have advanced by leaps and bounds over the past few years. The precision with new equipment, laser technology, and the use of micro cameras, make it not only safer, but Doctors are now performing successful procedures thought to be too risky even two years ago. Doctor Gilford is one of the best surgeons I know, and Doctor Weeks would never consent to anything she did not believe was in the best interest of her patient."

Acknowledging her efforts, Vin nodded. "You don't have to convince me…I'm walkin' proof of Doctor G's skills." He smiled as he glanced around the small room. The amount of family members waiting with him was heartwarming. "Y'all all know the story now of what happened to Kel as a child…when that preacher found her on his church steps. He didn't think she'd survive, but she did. Spendin' the next three months in the hospital, the only people she saw were doctors, nurses, CPS workers, and one lone detective who took on her case as a lifelong challenge, and made a point of lettin' one little four year old know she was not alone."

Chris nodded. "Walter…thank God he was the officer who took the call that night."

"Yeah and he was in essence all the 'family' she had back then." Vin cleared his throat. "I reckon what I'm tryin' to say…it means a lot to me, and I'm sure to Kel that ya'll are here."

Ezra looked around the room, and saw the mixed emotional responses to Tanner's words. "I dare say all of us have taken different roads to arrive here, but …it is my humble opinion that Fate knew we all belonged together…maybe not by blood, but without a doubt by choice. All of us have experienced dark periods in our lives, resulting from the void of 'family', be it through death, or other circumstances. We understand how it feels to be alone, even in the midst of a multitude of people. That is but one of the reasons for the unique bond of our 'Wild Bunch', and' simply put…means that none of us need ever walk through any crisis of life unaided. If not accompanied by a physical presence, then we at least take a spiritual one with us wherever we go."

"Amen," Nathan said with a sigh as he realized he must have been channeling Josiah.

Buck nodded, thinking about what his Wild Bunch Family meant to him. "I agree…what they said."

"Well said Ezra," Chris squeezed Cait's hand. "The seven of us stand as brothers, and always will, but the backbone of our lives is entwined with our family. We choose to be together, stand with one another, and fill those voids in our past with love and acceptance."

A comfortable silence settled over the room, and suddenly the waiting became easier. Each one present understood that together they had made a difference in the course of their lives, and of their loved ones. Whether they reached the highest of highs, or felt the despair of the lowest lows…as long as they were family…. anything was possible to endure.

 MCAT Lab, 12:15 pm

Clutching the prized sniper rifle retrieved from the SOC, Bones entered the hub that was the MCAT crime lab. His colleagues, Greg Ramsay and Katrina Santos nodded to him before returning to cataloguing the evidence they had gathered from the scene. They looked up again when he spoke. "Where did Josiah park my MAU?"

Greg frowned. "Now that you mention it, I didn’t see it when I arrived."

"Borrow means return…they'd best not be runnin' around Denver in my truck," Bones complained.

Katrina was frowning now. "How much of a head start did they have on you?"

Greg answered. "At least a half hour, maybe more." He went to his computer and activated a search for the unit’s GPS signal. In no time, the two agents and M.E. Doctor Robert Metfield, more affectionately known as Bones, were staring at the stationary signal.

"Broken down? In that MAU? Not likely" Bones stated

Katrina waved her cell in the air. "Neither of them answered."

Ramsey was already calling the MCAT office. "Hi, Mike, it’s Greg. Did Josiah or JD check in yet?" On Agent Mike Langley's confirmation they had not, Greg relayed the missing MAU's co-ordinates and replaced the handset. "He said he'd notify Captain Michaels, and then he and Brad are going to take a look. They'll get back to us."

Bones nodded his approval. "Good, now let's get busy before our evidence turns to ice."


Arriving at a point on the highway that matched the co-ordinates from Greg, Brad Garrison looked around, and then glanced over to his partner. "You sure this is it, Mike?"

Langley nodded. "Yep. Let’s walk a while, maybe the tracker dropped off along here."

Garrison made a face as the pair bundled up and exited the truck. "Can they do that?"

Mike shrugged. "No idea, but the unit’s not…" His gaze fell on a spot at the bottom of the long, grassy incline to one side of them. "Oh hell!"

Brad followed his gaze. "Shit…I’ll call 9-1-1." Grabbing blankets and a first aid kit and setting off red smoke flares several yards in front and at the back of their vehicle to guide the rescue vehicles, the pair made their way toward the battered and stricken unit.

Denver Memorial, 12:45 pm

Vin stood as he saw Doctors Gilford and Weeks approaching, and took a deep breath. "It's done?"

"Yes, and I have to say the Larabee-Tanner resilience I've become accustomed to seeing is still working." Gilford laid his hand on Vin's arm. "She did fine."

Doctor Weeks nodded. "If I hadn't been there, I'm not sure I would have believed the outcome, but your baby has a strong heartbeat, and there is no sign of distress with the pregnancy."

"In fact," Doctor G continued after glancing at Doctor Weeks," After we looked at the stats, we've decided to forgo the ICU, and return Kelli to her room as soon as she's out of recovery. The next forty-eight hours are still crucial, but…we have every reason to believe that the worst is over."

Nodding, Vin smiled. For the first time in almost two weeks, he felt a heavy weight lift from his shoulders. "Can I see her?"

"I'll give you five minutes, and then you'll have to wait until she's moved back to her room." Doctor Weeks smiled. "Of course I doubt Kelli will be coherent or remember a thing you say."

Chris grinned. "Well, go on. What are you waiting for?" The family relaxed as they watched the Texan leave with the doctors.

Five minutes later, Buck glanced around, an overwhelming desire to call JD, picking away at his current state of mind. "I thought JD and Josiah might have been here by now."

"They said they would donate blood first," Ezra reminded him.

"Surely they’d be done already," Buck challenged, "or at least called."

"Depends on how it’s going with the investigation," Chris added. "They may still be on scene." Four men looked around at each other, wanting to believe that, but not able to ignore the prickling sensation they felt creeping up the back of their necks.

Tanner retuned not long after, and noted the unease of his brothers." What's wrong?

"We're just wondering why JD and Josiah aren't here yet." Chris answered, and then asked, "How's Kel?"

"Pretty much out of it, but…" Vin grinned, "She looks beautiful, but you can see for yourself in about an hour."

Brodie smiled. Seeing his son happy made him feel good. He reckoned that he might be a wee bit prejudiced, but in his opinion, Vin and Kelli deserved a good break.

Chris felt his MCAT pager vibrate, looked down at the message, and frowned. Slipping his cell out, he walked over to the window and made a call.

"This is Larabee, talk to me." He listened, causing them all to look when he began to pace. "How long? Okay, thanks. Keep me updated." Glancing around at the concerned faces, his focus shifted between Buck and Mallory. Never one to beat around the bush, no matter how hard the impending conversation, he took a breath and tried not to focus on the intense look Vin was directing at him.

"That was Justin. While returning one of the MAU trucks to base, Josiah and JD went off the road."

Mallory gasped, one hand flying to her mouth as she stood in reaction to hearing the news. Buck and Inez were also standing, the rest of the group following. "How bad?" Buck asked.

"They’re on their way in, now. So far, they’re unconscious, but alive. Justin said the paramedics were no more specific than that."

Ezra steadied a shaky Mallory, grateful when Rain assisted. Inez clung to Buck. "They’re coming in now?" He asked to confirm.

Chris nodded.

Looking apologetically to Vin, Buck spoke, his voice raw with emotion. "I need to get down there." He placed a hand on Mallory's shoulder. "Mal too."

Tanner placed a comforting hand on Buck’s arm and a surge of energy passed between the five men. Vin closed his eyes and ‘sent’ the energy to his injured brothers, confident it reached them, but despairing over the lack of response in return. "We all do," he soothed.

Cait placed her palm on Vin's back. "I'll stay here. If anything changes with Kel, I promise, you'll know without delay."

Barbara stood beside Caitlyn. "I'll stay with her; you do what you need to, Vin."

"I'll be here to stand in for you, too." Brodie assured his son. "Kel won't be alone for a moment."

Vin nodded. "Thanks." He looked at Chris," I'm goin' with y'all."

"Okay…" he stared at Cait and Barbara, who both nodded. Chris and Ezra gazed at their wives, hoping they could read how much they loved them. Seconds later, all but the two women, and Brodie had gone to see for themselves just how bad things were.

Emergency Room, 1:15 pm

Doctor Landers paced the ER bay, glancing at his watch intermittently. He knew about Gilford's surgery on Kelli Tanner, and now this. As if this family was not already struggling enough, they now had more strife to deal with. Spotting the group’s arrival, he went to meet them. Before he could repeat what they already knew, the bay doors crashed open and the prone form of Josiah strapped to a spinal board, trundled through on a gurney. The attending paramedic accompanied him in, reciting the injuries to waiting staff before disappearing into the trauma room.

Mallory watched as the gurney carrying the bloody form of her husband passed by and sobbed, " Josiah, oh my God."

Struggling with their own shock, the group comforted her while they waited on JD. Seconds later, he passed by them in a similar condition to Josiah, the paramedic’s voice drifting through the confusion. "Head lac, concussion, pupils reactive but sluggish; non responsive. BP 110 over 60, Pulse-ox 85, multiple cuts and contusions."

Buck groaned aloud on seeing JD, Inez clung tighter and uttered a quiet prayer for the pair. All eyes turned to Mike Langley as he entered the bay and approached Chris.

"Brad stayed with the vehicle; Justin notified Russo, Bravo Team is investigating the crash, and a Forensics' Unit is on site. Judging from the lack of skid marks, his knowledge of that MAU, and his gut instincts, Bones is certain that someone must have tampered with the brakes. He'll be able to verify it when they tow it to the lab."

"No accident." Tanner’s words cut through the tension like a knife.

"Damnit!" Larabee glared at the agent. "How in hell could anyone get that close?"


Activity in the trauma room was frenetic. Nursing staff wasted no time in cutting off both men’s clothes while doctors triaged the pair. Buck pushed the door ajar and stared into the room, his heart in his throat as medical jargon flew left and right.

"Closed head trauma, bruising to outer thorax, contusions. Raspy breath sounds on the right, multiple cuts, and glass fragments, abdomen soft..."

"Probable concussion…body core temp 94, these guys are cold."

"Okay…let’s get a portable x-ray in here. I want chest, head x-rays, and ….let’s get warm packs on them…chest, neck, and groin, and two units, type specific on the IV, stat. Once they’re stabilized arrange full CT scans."

"Come and sit down, Buck."

The brunet startled and closed the door to the ER, turning to face Chris. "I think they ordered blood."

"Quit second-guessing. As soon as they know something, they’ll come tell us." Joining the others, the two men sat down, and another long wait began.


What seemed like an eternity later, and with Vin becoming agitated due to being unable to read either of the injured men, Landers joined them in the ER waiting room. He pulled up a chair to sit in front of Mallory, Rain, Buck, and Inez.

"The first thing you need to know is that due to the stability and sturdiness of the vehicle JD and Josiah were traveling in, plus their seatbelts, both men’s injuries are not as severe as we first feared." He paused for the expected sighs of relief as his words sank in. "Both have several cuts and contusions and are suffering from concussions. JD has a nasty head laceration, but it’s not deep and we’ve successfully glued it. Josiah’s awake and talking, but JD was struggling a little. His pupil reactions improved, however, so to help him rest we’ve sedated him for now. The x-rays and MRI scan showed no internal injuries or broken bones. They were both hypothermic on arrival, but their core temperature is normal now, and there was no need for transfusions." He smiled. "To summarize, with a few days rest and proper meds, I have every confidence they’ll be sore, but fine."

Mallory stifled a sob, and accepted a hug from Rain. Inez and Buck touched heads, their eyes closed in relief. The rest of the group rallied and celebrated the good news while reassuring the others. Vin closed his eyes and concentrated. Chris’s smile matched Vin’s only seconds before the seven connected.

"When can we see them?" Buck asked, just beating Mallory and Chris.

"We’re transferring them to a room within the next half hour." He stood. "I’ll have someone let you know when they're moved." Shaking hands with the group, Landers left to check on his patients.

Vin nodded. "I'm gonna go see about Kel, but I'll make time to see JD and Josiah, once they're in a room."

"Tell her, I'll be by in a while to see her." Chris understood that Vin was the one she needed to see, first and foremost. He needed to stay with the family until they could see JD and Josiah.

JD and Josiah’s Room, 3:30 pm

Once given the go-ahead, the L7 Wild Bunch visited with their two injured brothers. Entering the dimly lit room, they could see the pair in their beds and connected to monitors as nasal canulars softly hissed. Josiah was looking back at them and Mallory almost ran to his side. Taking his hand, she wept unashamedly as she kissed the palm. "Oh, my darling."

"Nothing to concern yourself about," he rumbled, his gaze toward Chris telling a very different tale.

Glancing across to a sleeping JD, then back, Chris spoke. "How are you?"

"So full of drugs I’m higher than Heaven right now."

They all grinned. Buck and Inez had moved to JD, the latter’s hand hovering over JD’s bandaged head.  "Oh, cariño."

In the time she spoke, Buck had run a gaze over the prone form. He nodded to himself. Just as promised, no breaks no permanent damage. With Vin and Kelli’s good news too, this was a good day.

"I lost control." Josiah’s tired words pulled them all back from their musings and silent prayers. "We had no brakes."

Chris nodded. "Nothing confirmed as of yet, but Bones seemed confident they’d been tampered with."

"When?" Josiah frowned. "The MAU never left our sight…at least I don't think so."

"Had to be at Cashton’s SOC," Ezra put in. "If these degenerates are determined enough, they will find a way. My guess is there was a window of time in which no one was watching the vehicle."

They all nodded; there seemed no other logical explanation at the moment.

"How’s Kelli?"

"Doing great," Nathan answered, causing Chris to smile at his enthusiasm.

"Good to hear," Josiah said.

Buck looked away from JD as Chris joined him and Inez. "Just sedated Buck, remember? He’s doing okay."

Buck sighed. "I hear you, don’t stop me wishing he’d look back at me, and tell me to quit fretting, though." He looked at Larabee. "I want to stay tonight."

Chris did not intend to fight the idea. It had been a difficult day. "In truth, considering the circumstances of the accident, I’d rather they weren’t alone tonight anyway."

"If I may," Ezra interjected. "I would consider it a privilege to stand first watch. I’m sure JD will be awake sometime in the morning, Buck, and would appreciate seeing you."

After a moment of pondering, Buck nodded. Chris patted Ezra’s arm.  "I’ll tell Launders it's official duty. Ezra you take a few minutes with your wife, and then we can send her and Cait home." He glanced over to Mallory. "I'll escort you to the ranch when I leave."

Within half an hour, Ezra began his vigil, while the others checked on Kelli before heading to their homes and kids.

Jackson Home, 8:00 pm

After supper, baths, and a phone call to their mom and dad, Rain settled the Sanchez children with hers, and before long, they were all asleep. Chris would escort Mallory home soon, but she planned to return to the hospital early Friday morning. It made sense for Rain to keep Joanne and Adam and get them off to school, one less thing for Mallory to worry over.

Nathan looked up from writing, when his wife returned to their den. "Any problems?"

"No, they're all asleep." She sat down opposite her husband, contemplating whether now was the right time to ask what she wanted to. She sighed. "Did you volunteer to take that woman to the clinic today?"

Laying down his pen, Nathan frowned. "That woman is a potential witness for us, and what difference does it make if I volunteered or was ordered?"

"It makes a difference to me." Rain shot back. "You've been very evasive whenever anything about her is mentioned. I'd like to know why?"

Shaking his head, Nathan took a deep breath. There was no way he could explain to Rain that Desiree's situation had gotten to him. He wanted to help her and was not about start questioning his reasons for doing so. Besides, he was not sure he had those answers. "You're imagining things. She's a witness, her life might be in danger, and it's our job to protect her…period…end of story."

Rain knew her husband well enough to recognize when he had dismissed a discussion. Maybe with the extra children here, it was not the time to push for more, but sooner or later…Nathan would have to start being honest with her and himself.

"Okay…we'll leave it there…for now." Rain stood up and headed for the door. "Goodnight."

Nathan watched her leave the room, leaned back in his chair and sighed. What was it about Desiree that stirred his protective instincts? He knew it was not sexual, Rain was the only woman for him...now or ever, but there was something…. something he could not put a finger on about Desiree. He just hoped that he figured it out soon.

Tess’s Home, 8:15pm

Looking around the place she called home, Tess shivered. The kids were in bed, but she was not sure if it was a blessing or a disadvantage. While her and JD’s little ones had been awake, her evening had been full. Now that the house was quiet, she found herself unable to stop thinking about Josiah and JD. The whirlwind of events after the accident, to place children until their parents returned home, had made the day fly by, with little time to dwell on the shock of the news. Now that she had time on her hands, it was all she could do.

Absent-mindedly, she moved from room to room, her mind whirling with the memory of her relief when Buck called to update her on the two men’s conditions, and how after the call, she had wanted to be there to see for herself how they were doing. Seconds after that, she yearned to be with JD and tell him she was there for him, just as his family was. Now she was pondering on what was driving those emotions.

It occurred to her, when JD had been sick or injured before, and after Casey, it seems Buck and Inez had assumed his care. Maybe she could offer to look after him in his own home when the hospital discharged him. That would ensure his kids were in a familiar setting to deal with his injuries, and, if he was up to it…they could have their talk. Nodding to herself, she decided that was the best option, but first, she needed to visit him to let him know she was thinking of him.

Larabee Home, 8:45 pm

Chris was not surprised to see Cait up waiting for him. Wrapping his arms around her, he softly kissed her. "Damn it's been a long day."

"I kept some food warm for you, since I'm certain you didn't take time to eat." She pointed to a chair. "Sit while I get it for you, and you can fill me in on how things went after Barbara and I left."

"Russo stopped by to check on JD and Josiah… Ezra stayed with them tonight, and Buck will relieve him about five. I stopped by to see Kel one more time, and then brought Mallory home. Both JD and Josiah were resting when we left."

Setting a plate before him, Cait turned to pour him a glass of tea, and then sat down. "I plan to visit with Kel in the morning; if you want I can go with Mallory when she goes back."

Taking a bite, he waited until he swallowed. "I have to meet with Russo early; I'll have Nathan accompany you two." Seeing her frown, he added, "Look, until we know who is responsible for JD and Josiah's accident…indulge me…I won't take chances with you, our baby, or Mallory 's safety."

Cait resigned herself to her husband's protective nature. "I'll do it, but only because you have enough to worry about without worrying about me."

Smiling, Chris nodded. "You're a smart woman Cait Larabee. That's one of the reasons I love you."

Denver Memorial Hospital, 9:00 pm

Vin sat in silence beside Kelli's bed. He doubted that she would remember most of this day, but she was now awake enough to begin to comprehend what was going on around her. At the moment, she was looking at the get-well cards the kids had made for her.

"It was sweet of your father to bring these back up here tonight."

Chuckling, Vin shook his head. "Brodie might be a lot of things, but in my mind, the man I knew as Raven and sweet don't fit."

"He didn't have to make the extra trip you know, though I'm glad he did."

"He wanted to, just like everyone else who came to see you." Leaning in, Vin wanted to be sure Kelli heard what he had to say. In her current state, he found that her old insecurities were trying to make a comeback. She might not remember all of the Wild Bunch stopping by or Chris's visit, but she needed to know that people who cared about her had been around all day. "Kel, you have a huge family that loves you, and my father thinks the world of you. Don't be so dismissive of your importance to them. Hell, I know for fact that Dad was worried not just about me, but you, too."

"I know …I just…." Kelli gazed at her husband. "We got through this…right?"

Taking her hand, he reassured her for the tenth or twelfth time today. "Not only is our baby's heart beatin' strong and true, your old injuries and scars will never threaten your health, or put any child of ours at risk again…ever." Kissing her fingers, he smiled. "Tomorrow it will all be clearer for you, but tonight all you need to know is… we did it….we beat the odds Kel, and we did it together."

 Somewhere in the Rocky Mountains

Dean Grant paced the small cabin. His world exploded today when someone shot a bullet through Dan Cashton's skull. Without giving it a second thought, he put in his papers for LOA, cleaned out his bank account, loaded up his truck, and ran. He understood that the only way he could stay alive was to put an end to the 'Trinity Brotherhood', but… who the hell could he trust enough to tell?

Chapter 18

'Sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction.' unknown

Denver Memorial, Josiah and JD’s Room, Friday 6:00 am

Ezra looked up from his novel when Buck popped his head in the door. Standing and closing his book, he took one last look at the sleeping men, slipped his gun, which he had within reach on the nightstand, back in its holster, and joined Buck outside the room.

"’Morning Ezra, how did they do?"

"Josiah was uncomfortable, so the doctor ordered meds to help him sleep. JD was out for most of the night, but he's beginning to rouse. You missed Vin. He came by about half an hour ago, stayed a while, and then left to search for, and I quote, 'a decent cup of coffee.'"

Buck nodded. "I’m guessing no trouble then."

"Nary a peep." Ezra grinned, at the look on Buck's face, and explained, "A phrase I heard Donald use and I liked it."

Buck extended his arm and the pair clasped hands. "Thanks. I felt bad leaving, but you were right about me being here this morning. It’ll be good to be here when the kid wakes up."

Standish slipped on his coat. "Brother, while I have no uncertainty about JD’s affection for myself, I also have no doubt seeing your disagreeable visage on awakening; will be a morale boost for him."

Buck grinned, and started to wave him off, and then he frowned. "Hey! It may be early, but I’m pretty sure there was an insult in there."

Looking back, Ezra winked. "Naturally. Complacency is the Devil’s Tool; I must endeavor to keep you all on your toes." As he walked away, he laughed as the sound of Buck’s hushed mutterings drifted down the corridor.

Entering the room, Buck could see Josiah looking back at him. He approached the Profiler’s bed with a concerned look on his face. "Hey Josiah, can I get you anything?"

"Some water would be good, thanks." After slaking his thirst, Josiah glanced at JD. "Has he been awake yet?"

"No, but Ezra thinks he’s close." He frowned at Josiah’s saddened features. "Are you in pain? Shall I call a nurse?"

Josiah waved him off. "No, I’m fine. I just wish…"

Buck understood and stepped closer, wrapping one hand around Josiah’s uninjured wrist. "You did great. That hill is a bitch under normal driving conditions. Add snow, ice, and no brakes… it becomes a killer," he smiled, "but not this time."

"Thanks Buck. It’s just…I keep seeing JD’s face the moment he realized…God, I’d give anything to erase …."

"Knowing him, he was worrying about you, and wishing he could help you."

Josiah nodded. "What a week. God likes to test us, doesn’t he?"

Buck grinned. "Yep, and then sometimes, he holds out his hand and helps."


Both men looked towards JD. Buck's facial features transformed from worry to relief when he grinned, and said, "We have lift off." Walking around to the side of Dunne's bed, he leaned over the rail, took JD’s free hand, and grasped his wrist. "Hey, you in there?"

"Don’t…shout. I got a…headache."

"No shit. What else you got?"


"Buck, roll him on his side, quickly."

"Huh?" He looked up as Josiah called out. Slamming down the rail, Buck turned JD to his side just as he puked. By the time the vomiting stopped, a nurse had arrived, followed by another nurse.

The first nurse smiled. "If you’ll just step to the side, we’ll sort this out." Ten minutes later, Buck was back in his spot.

"Sorry. Did I get your shoes?"  JD's voice was no more than a soft rasp, and he looked at Buck before closing his eyes for a moment. "Damn, that hurts my ribs."

Trying not to display how concerned he was, Buck smiled. "I never liked these boots anyway. Doc gave you…" He paused to recall, "Oh yeah, Stemetil…for the sickness. He said to let him know if you need more painkillers."

"No, not just yet, it’ll make me sleepy." His eyes widened, as his memory began to clear. "Josiah!"

"Right here, John Dunne. Good to see you awake."

JD looked across at Josiah. "You okay?" He then turned his gaze back at Buck. "Stupid question, ‘course he’s not." JD redirected his question, "How bad?"

"A mite banged up, but nothing to be concerned about. Rest easy, son. I’ve found it aids the process considerably."

Buck could see JD fighting the need for more sleep. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he stared at Buck again.

"The kids?"

"With Tess, and they’re fine." He leaned over the rail. "Good to see you, little brother. Rest up, we can talk later."

Grateful for the offer and comforted to know he was here and Josiah seemed to be doing okay, JD gave in and drifted off. Buck looked across at Josiah, only to see that he was sleeping again, too. Relaxing into the chair next to JD’s bed, Buck stretched out his long frame and, gun nearby, relaxed into his watch.

Tess's Home, 6:45 am

While the kids ate breakfast, Tess mapped out her plan. Her first call was to Sally, and the second one to the Larabee home. As she waited for her boss to pick up, she smiled over at JJ, who was waving to her from his highchair. His smile, which reminded her of his daddy, had her so enthralled that she almost did not react when Cait answered.


"Oh…Hi Cait, this is Tess. I know it's early but I wanted to catch you before school starts. I need to take off a few hours this morning. Sally agreed to cover for me at daycare, if you agree…I kinda promised the girls that I’d go see their daddy for them…take him a few pictures they made for him, and…well, I would like to see JD for myself."

Cait smiled; not at all surprised that Tess would want to see JD. "Hon, I'm sorry, I should have contacted you last night…of course I don't mind, but…Nathan is escorting Mallory and me to the hospital, and I think you should ride with us."

Alarmed, Tess glanced over at the children. "Is there a problem?"

"Not really…" Cait sighed, "Chris is a lawman, and like his brothers, when he's in the middle of a case…he gets a bit paranoid about security. He had to go in early, but before he did, he arranged for Nathan to take us in. Mallory is staying until later this afternoon and after he visits, Nathan is going into the office. Brodie will be there later, and Chris asked him to accompany me home. It won't be any problem for you to go with us, and there's not any threat, but …"

Tess sighed in relief. "Say no more…I understand. My father's been in law enforcement for almost thirty years…all us kids know the drill. When things got ugly at work…he went into protective overdrive. We went along to make him happy. He always smiled, apologized for being so paranoid, and said it was a hazard of the job."

Cait chuckled. "Then, how about you come over after you drop the kids at daycare? Mallory said she'd be here by eight, and we'll leave shortly thereafter."

"Thanks. I'll be there." Hanging up the receiver Tess felt better knowing that Cait supported her request. She sighed, and thought about her other reasons for wanting to see JD. The ache in her throat and chest told her JD was more important to her than anyone had been for a long time. His easy manner and friendly demeanor had drawn her to him instantly, prompting her, far earlier than she would have ever expected, to share her deepest confidences with him, with no doubt in her mind it was the right thing to do. Their conversations were fun, his company, relaxing, and every day the pair had been growing closer. But closer, how?

'Tessie girl, there's only one-way to find your answers, and that's what you need to do… starting today.'

MCAT Office, 7:30 am

The Forensics' reports were on Chris's desk when he walked in, and he wasted no time getting down to business. The knot in his stomach tightened as he meticulously went over each one. Bones had concluded that someone had altered the brakes on the MAU, and there was no doubt that the 'accident' was no accident at all. Evidently, outside forces intended the MAU to crash, and did not care if two Federal agents died in the process. His brow creased over one section that stated there were fresh footprints around the crash site on their arrival, yet both agents had been strapped in their seats when found.  

The rifle did have a usable print, but the return information on the identity left many open questions. As he read the printout on the name, the details only heightened Chris's curiosity. Glancing at his watch, he gathered the reports, and headed to his meeting with Russo. He stopped long enough to give Pam a name, with explicit instructions about what to do with it.

Russo's Office, 8:00 am

Sam Russo looked up when Commander Larabee rushed into his office. He understood that the conversation they were about to have would not be received too fondly, and stalled by asking for an update of the hospitalized agents.

"You have an update for me?"

Chris answered, but he was anxious to get on with business, and his impatience was apparent. "Sanchez and Dunne had an uneventful night. Both are awake, and the doctor has not made his rounds yet."

Russo nodded, and followed up by asking, "And Agent Coulter?"

Since she was not on active status, the fact that the ADD asked about Kelli, took Chris by surprise, he slowed his movements and sat down. "We're optimistic that the worst is over, and expect to have her back home in a few days."

"That's good to hear." Sam took a moment to retrieve a thick file folder, before he continued. "I received an interesting phone call yesterday from the DOJ. It was a request that I be present at a meeting with one of their special crimes task forces. It appears that they are investigating some of the same crimes MCAT is.'"

His interest piqued, Chris leaned forward. "Really? I supposed they want access to our information."

Sam shook his head, and drew in his breath, anticipating Chris's reaction to his answer. "Not exactly. They went through a lot of jibber-jabber to explain to me how many man-hours they have poured into their investigation, and in politically correct language, the lead supervisor told me to have MCAT back off a.s.a.p. He said we were impeding their work, and had no idea what we were involved in. That if we didn't, they had the connections to make certain that we faced very unpleasant consequences."

"Uh -huh," the muscles in Chris's jaw tightened. "Are we knuckling under to the DOJ now?"

"Hell no," Sam smiled, "I still have a few strong connections of my own at the DOJ, and wasn't hesitant about using them." He tossed the folder across the desk. "That's everything the task force has, and I'm assured that should we require more cooperation from them, all I need to do is make a phone call."

Chris decided that the more he learned about Sam Russo, the more he liked him. He opened the file and skimmed through it. At least one of his questions had been answered. The identity of the print on the rifle belonged to an undercover working with the Task Force. That explained the man's bio. Larabee looked up. "It'll take a while to get through this and match details to what we've already uncovered. But this gives me enough hard evidence to haul Grant Dean's ass in here for questioning."

"Do it," Russo agreed. "Use what you have Chris, and take however much time you need to nail these bastards." He handed him a business card. "This is the man you can contact at the DOJ. David Jenkins has the authority and the power to make decisions about their task force. In his opinion, they'd been at this too damn long, with too little results. As far as he's concerned…MCAT now has the lead on this, and he intends to make certain that every member of the special task force understands that they will be working under your command." He sighed. "Judging by the obvious animosity the men I met carry about MCAT, I don't expect any of them to be overjoyed by that decision."

Chris grinned as he stood. "That's what makes being Commander of MCAT such a fun job." Picking up the folders, he said, "We'll get to work on this new data immediately. I'll get back to you when we have a better picture of where we stand."

"It's in your hands, Commander. If you need me you know where to find me." Russo smiled as he watched Chris walk out. The more he learned about that man's character, the more he liked him.

Denver Memorial, Josiah and JD’s room, 9:00am

Josiah’s face lit up when Mallory walked into the room, went over to JD, and placed a kiss on his cheek, before she came to him. The pair kissed and she held his hand. "I missed you beside me last night. Are you all right?"

"I'm good and better now that you're here" The big man grinned before it faded to a frown. "I’m sorry I worried you, my love."

"Yes, you did, but don’t blame yourself, because I don’t. I know the dangers associated with this job, Josiah, and while I don’t like them, I’ve learned to live with the possibility that you could be hurt at any time. Just get well, and with a bit of luck you’ll be home in your own bed by tomorrow."

Josiah’s eyes flashed and Mal giggled as she gently slapped his arm. "You wish. You’ll be resting, and nothing more."

Nathan was busy reading JD’s chart. He glanced at Buck. "He’s been sick?" He looked at JD half apologetically for not addressing him. "You been sick?"

"Yes," they both answered. Buck lifted his foot and waggled his boot. "He got me good."

Nathan grinned and winked at JD. "There’s someone outside, who would like to see you, if you're up for another visitor."

JD frowned, "a visitor?"

Cait explained, "Tess came with us, but she wanted to make sure you were decent before she came in."

"Uh…yeah sure…tell her to come in."

Buck stood, nodded, and squeezed JD’s wrist before he walked from the room. He smiled when he saw Tess. "Hello darlin’, it’s good to see you. JD’s as decent as he's gonna get at this time of the morning…come on in."

Tess's smile lit up her face. "That's all the invitation I need, thanks."

"My pleasure." Placing a hand against her back, he guided her into the room.


 "You guys are delusional. Except when I have a cold, I never snore. One day I’m gonna get my voice recorder and damn well tape you all."

Josiah chuckled. His ploy to provoke a sleepy, pain-ridden young man worked like a charm. Josiah knew that just like his brothers', the best way to pull JD out of a slump was to wind him up. They all looked over when Tess and Buck entered. She looked at Josiah.

"Hello and how are you?"

Josiah smiled. "Well on the mend, thanks."

Tess nodded, turned to JD, and her gaze met his.

JD’s eyes glistened. "Hey."

Tess scowled. "Any excuse to sleep in, huh John Daniel?"

JD’s heart gave a little lurch, and he smiled. "Shame you couldn’t be here earlier."

"Why, to hear you snore?"

JD made a face the best he could with the stiffness of the bruises and cuts. "No. I puked over Buck’s boots."

She looked at Buck, who nodded. "It’s true, he slimed me."

Tess turned back to JD, pouting. "I will always regret missing that." She moved closer, and wanted more to cry than laugh as she took in his bandages, cuts, and bruises. He raised his hand and she took it. "You scared me and the kids."


She smiled and tried to rally. "I guess riding horses is out for a while."

JD grinned, then sobered. "Tess, it’s okay to be scared. I was."

"It’s not a feeling I enjoyed," she admitted, noting his eyes fill with moisture. She squeezed his hand. "But I got over it." She reached into her bag and pulled out the drawings that Lilah and Daisy had made. "The girls sent you these, JJ opted to finger paint the wall instead."

JD nodded and grinned as he memorized each detail of his children's' work. He chuckled as he gazed at the photo of his son's handiwork captured on Tess's phone.

Hating to interrupt, Nathan gave a little cough. "I'm headed in to the office, but Chris said to tell y'all he was coming by later for your statements." He patted JD's leg, and grinned. "You keep Josiah in line for me."

"Will do."

Nathan glanced at Mallory. "You let us know what the doc says when he makes his rounds."

She nodded as Cait stood. "I’m heading up to see Kelli. Tess, you can stay and visit for a while. I'll let you know when Brodie is ready to leave."


"Yes JD?"

"Tell her we said ‘hi’."

Cait nodded, and walked out with Nathan.

After they left, the others settled for a while, and talked as they waited to hear from the doctor. They did not have long to wait. Doctor Landers arrived within ten minutes. Once he read the latest lab reports, and examined his patients, he smiled.

"I think you both can go home tomorrow. Rest for a couple of days, and aside from a few aches and pains you'll both be good as new by the end of next week."

"That's great news," Mallory smiled and squeezed Josiah's hand. "Now I can plan your homecoming."

Landers nodded. "I'll be back in the morning with your discharge instructions." He looked over to JD as he headed for the door and said, "Yours too, young man."

JD sighed. "Thanks Doc." He waited until Landers exited before saying more. His mind was racing a mile a minute. He knew he was not going to be a hundred percent for a few days, but he felt bad about asking anyone to help with his children. "Now comes the fun part. I hope I can get the kids to understand that daddy has more boo-boos, but he’ll be okay."

Tess hesitated for a moment, and after glancing at the others, she decided just to say what she was thinking. "The kids will be fine as long as they're close enough to know Daddy is there. I could…that is if you want me to… Keira and I could stay at your place over the weekend. You know, keep an eye on them while you rest, help with dinner, get their costumes ready for the Halloween party, make sure they stay occupied, and out of trouble… things like that."

He had forgotten that tomorrow was Halloween, and mentally added that to his growing list of things that needed attention. "You've done so much already, but…." JD tried to ignore the big grin on Buck's face, "that sounds like a great offer. You don't mind?"

Tess placed her hand over his. "That's what friends are for, John Daniel."

He grinned as he remembered another conversation that took place in this hospital not long ago. Only Tess was the one laying in a hospital bed after Troy had attacked her. It made him feel good to know she accepted his help…now it was his turn.

"Yeah, I'd like that, thanks." His smile matched hers.

Buck nodded. The winds of change were blowing for JD. Closing his eyes for a moment, he sent up a prayer that they would keep him safe, and guide him to a wonderful future filled with the love and happiness, all of his brethren had found, and their little brother deserved.

When he felt his MCAT cell vibrate, Buck stepped into the hall to call the office. Chris informed him that a DPD officer would be arriving at any moment to relieve him. They had a break in the case. Ezra was on his way in, and he needed Buck to hoof it to MCAT a.s.a.p.

Fifteen minutes later, a DPD officer stationed himself outside the door, Buck was on his way to MCAT, and Mallory had slipped out to go see Kelli, while Josiah and JD drifted back to sleep.

Seizing the opportunity, Tess leaned over and gently kissed JD’s least scraped cheek, studying his face as he slept.

That kiss reminded her of the other spontaneous one that had changed her thinking. Their Sunday together had been a day to cherish. They had laughed, shared, and taken another step forward. Then they kissed. Unplanned, unexpected, tender…she smiled…and JD had done well to turn it into an innocent goodbye. However, driving away that night, her mind was in turmoil. Part of her felt excited, another felt fear…fear of the unknown, of being unprepared to take that big a step. Fear of losing something special, before gaining something more even became an option. Fear that it was too soon, and too painful, for either of them to love again. She sighed and leaned in further. "No matter what, never forget you mean a lot to me, John Daniel." With that, she squeezed his hand once more, and sat back to watch him as he slept.

Kelli's Hospital Room, 11:00 am

Mallory joined Cait, Brodie, and Vin in Kelli's room. She leaned over, gave Kelli a hug, and whispered to her, "It is so good to see you smile."

"It feels good, too." Kelli answered and as Mallory stepped back and sat down in a chair beside the bed. "How are Josiah and JD?"

"Doctor Landers said they could both go home tomorrow, and aside from having a bit of trouble staying awake…they're good."

Vin smiled. "I knew this mornin' they were both in better shape than we feared, but it's nice to hear that they can go home." That was the second best news he had heard all day. The first being that Doctor Weeks told them that Kelli's stats were already improving and everything looked good for her and the baby. "Too bad Kelli can't leave this place with them. Doctor Weeks says she'll be here at least until Sunday or Monday."

"JD and Josiah will be home in time for Halloween too." Cait relayed to Mallory the plans they had been discussing for the children's party at the Tanner home the next day. "We won't have all the Wild Bunch attending this year, but the kids will have fun."

"It appears I've been drafted to go in costume." Brodie cut his eyes towards his son. "Vin's off the hook this time."

Kelli laughed. "The kids will love seein' grandpa in costume, and Vin will be there."

Mallory looked at Vin. "You're going to leave the hospital for a few hours?"

He answered with a sigh. "As someone," he glanced at Kelli, "made it clear to me earlier, our kids expect at least one of their parents to attend, so…I am gonna be there, but as soon as I can I'll cut away and come back up here."

"You'll stay until ours are in bed." Kelli shook her head. "I'm not gonna race up and down the halls, do anythin' I shouldn't, or disappear while you're gone."

"Give it up, Son. You are not going to win this argument. I know the look a woman gets when she has her mind set on something, and yours is digging in her heels on this one." Brodie winked at his daughter in law. "I'll keep him busy for you, and what I can't think of for him to do, Max will."

"You're out numbered Vin." Cait smile, "but don't worry …I have a list made for Chris, too. The boys will overnight with us, and the babies with Buck and Inez, while the girls stay at your house." They spent the following twenty minutes discussing the plans for the Halloween party, the overnight stays, and the children's costumes.

Brodie glanced at his watch. "I hate to break this up, but the new vet is coming out to the ranch at one, and I should be there to meet Doctor Cooper. Cait, we can stop by to pick up Tess on the way out."

"I need to get back to Josiah and JD's room. Tess probably thinks I deserted her." Mallory stood and kissed Kelli's cheek. "You take care, girl."

Cait did the same, and then Brodie. When they left Vin sat on the edge of Kelli's bed. "I hate leaving you up here alone."

"Don't worry so much, Tanner. I'm seconds away from the best medical care in Denver, and if I need you…I've got your number."

"I've got yours too, woman." He leaned in, kissed her, and then said, "Don't you dare make me regret goin' tomorrow."

"I won't…but you know…you should have a costume….maybe you could be a gunfighter…or a pirate…or …I know…"

"Kel…" he tried to intimidate her with a frown, but seeing her laugh made him smile instead. He kissed her again. "We'll see."

Denver Memorial Hospital, 5:00 pm

Chris, Buck, Nathan, and Ezra pushed through the front doors and took a deep breath, when in contrast to the bitter cold outside; the heat from the lobby hit them. By plan, Buck, Nathan, and Ezra went on to JD and Josiah's room, while Chris detoured to Kelli's room. She was asleep, so Chris missed talking with her. After explaining to Vin that he wanted him at their impromptu team meeting, and after telling him that he was certain that Mallory would come sit with Kelli while they were gone, Vin agreed to go with him.

Mallory did not mind at all. She knew the men needed to talk business, and that was no longer part of her work world. Her day here was over, and since she knew she was leaving with Chris, she leaned over to give her husband a kiss, and say good-bye, before she headed to Kelli's room.

Chris gave Vin, Josiah, and JD a rundown of the day's events, from his meeting with Russo, the results from the lab, to their unsuccessful search for Grant Dean.

"We have an APB out on him, but he left a letter of resignation on his desk at work, cleaned out his bank accounts, and…vanished."

"No trace of his vehicle?" Vin asked. 

"He ditched it," Chris answered.

"GPS on his cell?" JD put in.

They all grinned at the look from their commander. He gave JD a wry smile. "I knew there was a reason I kept you on staff."

JD smiled and looked down to pick at his bedding. Within seconds, he was looking up again. "Any luck with the evidence from Cashton's SOC?"

Glancing around, Chris nodded. "We have a partial print on the gun, and a cell phone full of numbers and texts. Pam is working on that list and should have it completed and faxed to me by tomorrow. Let's say it's enough to open up a whole new thread to the investigation."

"How so?" Josiah asked.

"Looks like the DOJ have an operative in there. They've been investigating for some time, but now it's all ours. Russo thinks their operative was our inside help...it was his print on the gun."

JD's jaw dropped open, the others reflecting his surprise no less visually.

"Something we're now considering and I've put the word out that I want to talk with him." Chris continued, "There were footprints around the crashed MAU, if whoever this was wanted you both dead, they had every opportunity to finish the job, but they didn't."

"My beating?" Nathan asked.

Chris shrugged. "The jury's still out on that one, but I now believe Lawson was the intended bomber's target, not me."

"But..." JD's lack of poker face usually gave him away, though he had been getting better at controlling it. However, the weight of information and pain from his injuries prevented a cover-up this time. He swallowed. "We all could have died."

Chris nodded. "I think us being in the way was not a consideration."

Vin spoke. "Chris, you said you received some kinda warning before you walked into the office."

Larabee nodded.

"And Nathan, you felt Healer with you when you were beaten?"


Josiah glanced at JD. "I felt no such connection."

"Me either," JD confirmed.

Vin continued, "Somethin' kept naggin' at me about that, and I called Bones. Your GPS tracker was trashed in the accident."

Chris shook his head. "No... That's how Mike and Brad located them."

As his words faded, the men glanced around to one another. They already knew the strength of their code, and each had accepted the fact that extraordinary events occurred in their lives because of that strength. No one spoke, but the message that carried across the winds of time was loud, and clear as crystal.

 Chapter 19

'Realization of the truth, for some, creates wondrous moments of joy. For others, it manifests as bitter acceptance of dismal failures.'

Saturday, Denver Memorial, Josiah and JD’s room, 11:30 am

Nodding to the officer at the door, Vin entered the hospital room. He smiled as Josiah grinned back at him, a little surprised to see both men fully dressed, but JD asleep on top of the covers. "He okay?" Vin asked, walking over and touching the back of his hand to JD’s flushed cheek. "He’s a mite warm."

Sanchez nodded. "Doc says he’s developed a low grade fever from an infection in a few of the cuts. He’s not concerned enough to keep him here, just issued him a course of antibiotics." Josiah chuckled. "Not that there was a snowball’s chance in hell he was staying, anyway." He watched Vin lightly place a hand on JD’s chest, and smiled knowing their Heart Warrior was taking a 'read' on his brother's condition. After a pause, Vin nodded to himself, before he lifted his hand away and walked toward Josiah to take a seat.

"And how are you?"

"No problems here that a few days rest and…" He sighed at Vin’s expression. "This bond thing can be quite tiresome, you know."

Vin grinned. "You wanna share?"

"It’s nothing, really. Just…well, accidents are usually sudden, a bullet often unforeseen, but this…this was…"

"Like watchin' a movie and knowin' how it could end?"

Josiah nodded. "Something like that, yeah. The 'not being in control, and under no illusion it could hurt like hell', or worse."

"What can I do to help?"

Josiah smiled. "You already have, brother. Just talking about it helps a lot."

"Talking about what?"

Vin turned and grinned at JD. "So, the rumors are true, you can wake up without the aid of food being wafted under your nose."

JD made a face, grateful for the assistance when Vin stood and helped him sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. "Not being hungry helped." He went to pour himself some water but Vin beat him to it, and handed him the glass. "Thanks."


"I’m good, thanks Vin."

Swallowing the tepid water, JD looked at Vin. "How’s Kel?"

"She’s doin' better than anyone expected. She sends her love, by the way."

Both men nodded. Pushing damp tendrils of hair from his eyes, JD looked at Josiah. "I thought we were released?"

"We are," Josiah answered. "While you were snoozing, Buck came in to pick up our prescriptions, and then went to get them filled. Once he does that…. we’re outta here."

"I’m headed home soon, too." Vin added. "Kel can't be there, so I'm the designated parent in attendance for our L7 kid's Halloween Party."

Buck stopped for a moment and dismissed the officer at the door before he entered. "I got this now, thanks for your help." With a nod, the officer left.

Josiah, JD, and Vin smiled at Buck as he came into the room, followed by two nurses with wheelchairs.

"Let’s go home." Buck grinned, when for once neither injured man argued about using the chairs.

Outside the room, Vin squeezed JD’s shoulder, and shook Buck and Josiah’s hands. "Y'all take care. I'm gonna say good-bye to Kel, and head out myself."  

With that, the brothers separated, but not before exchanging looks that lasted several seconds. It was a moment in time, which conveyed the clear message that they had survived another adversity, and left them with no illusions about the strength of their bonds.

Kelli's Hospital Room, Noon

Katrina was on her way out when Vin arrived. "Hi Captain. I just stopped by to say hello to Kel, who looks great by the way. Pam and I wanted her to have one of the little cacti we grew, so I dropped it off while I was visiting."

"Is Pam here, too?" Vin glanced inside the room.

"No, Commander Larabee has her on some kind of search and find mission on CASSIE today." Kat nodded. "I'm supposed to take her some lunch, so I'll be going, but have a Happy Halloween." She smiled and walked on down the hallway.

Vin entered Kelli's room and grinned. The 'little' cactus was huge. "Reckon I need to take that one home with me." He leaned close to the bedside and kissed her.

"That one and a few others." Kelli sighed. "I feel like I'm in the middle of a plant nursery." She looked up at Vin. "Doctor Weeks stopped by…she said my stats are improvin', and if the next ultrasound looks as good as she thinks it will…she might release me tomorrow, or at least by Monday."

Vin exhaled, "I don't feel so bad leavin' you here, now that I know Doctor Weeks says you're doin' better. Still I hate for you to be alone."

From the doorway, a familiar voice joined their conversation. "You go home, Captain Vin, I'll be staying until you get back."

"Gunny." Tanner smiled. "I reckon I shouldn't be surprised that you're here."

She set her bag down, and walked over to the bedside. "Max told me how you were reluctant to leave your wife alone…so here I am." She winked at Kelli. "I'd planned to come see you anyway. This just gives me an excuse to boss him around a bit. You don't have to keep me company; I brought plenty of work with me to stay busy if you want to rest."

"Thanks, Gunny." Kelli glanced at her Texan. "Now, you have no excuse. Load those plants and go home. Hug our babies for me."

The Texan shook his head when he realized Max had out maneuvered him. He knew Gunny would keep a close watch on Kelli so he would leave, but he planned to thank Max when he made it home.


It did not take long for Vin to load his truck, and soon he was on his way home. With Gunny on hospital duty, it made his worries much lighter, too. By the time he reached the freeway, his thoughts turned to the Halloween party, and he found that he was looking forward to sharing this day with his children.

When he saw the red lights in his rear view mirror, he cursed, "Damnit…just what I don't need." He slowed down, pulled to the side of the road, stopped, and cut the engine. Then he reached for his billfold, extracted his license, and waited for the police officer to approach him.

Officer Leo Neilson exited his patrol car, and walked up to Tanner's truck. "Good afternoon, Sir. I need to see your license and registration, please."

Vin handed them over. "Is there a problem officer?"

"Keep talking, Captain Tanner. I've waited for one of your team members to pass this way, so I can deliver a message. I want anyone who might be watching to think you're upset about getting a speeding ticket." The officer began to write in his ticket book, while Vin did his part. Looking to the entire world like a man trying to get out of a ticket.

Tanner growled, "You wanna tell me what the hell is going on?"

Neilson ripped out the ticket. "As a courtesy to a fellow officer, I'm making this a warning." He handed it to Vin with an envelope that had Chris's name on it. Lowering his voice he said, "It's too dangerous to meet, but I think Commander Larabee will find I've included the information he needs. I trust that you'll make sure he gets it." He nodded, and then said louder, "You have a good day, Sir, and drive safely."

"Will do, Officer." Vin started the engine, turned on his signal and merged back into traffic as the officer returned to his car. He reckoned he would be making an extra stop at Larabee's house, before he made it home.

Dunne Home, 1:00 pm

Taking one last look around, Tess felt she was ready as she would ever be. JD was due home any minute now, the girls were in the yard playing, and JJ was standing in his playpen. He squealed with laughter and rattled the sides when she placed her hands on her hips and went ‘Oooh’ at him.

A pot of Inez’s chicken soup was on the stove and ready to warm up. While pleased to have the opportunity to take care of him for a few days, Tess had gratefully accepted the offer of soup from Inez, and appreciated that it was familiar comfort food for JD whenever he was sick. One day soon, she would introduce him to her grandma’s tomato and basil soup. She knew, on a regular day, tomato soup was a favorite of JD’s, and she had planned for that to be the soup to come home to after their ride; but maybe next time…if there was a next time. He would however, be sampling her homemade bread, the aroma of which was permeating the air.

It had been a long time since she cooked so frequently, and was rediscovering her love of it. Having someone other than herself and Keira to cook for was nice, too. Walking over to pick up an animated JJ, she called to the girls to tell them she was going upstairs, and made her way to the staircase with the baby nestled on her hip as she walked. Smiling as she passed the homemade banner draped across the stairwell, Tess headed for JD’s room. Pleased the room was warm, she partially closed the drapes, determined that her 'charge' would be resting when he came home.

Gazing out at the panoramic view, the domesticity of her actions hit her, prompting her musings from the day before to come to the fore. The pair had experienced a strange week, something she hoped they could talk about at some point soon. If anything had come of it, for her, it was realizing how much she had missed talking with JD, and their original planned time together this weekend was something she had been looking forward to. She sighed, softly kissing JJ’s head as he patted her, seemingly in sympathy. Well, they would be spending time with each other, and it might not be quite as planned, but considering their week, and the events of Thursday, she was coming to appreciate how precious the next few days would be.

Spying an approaching truck, Tess grinned and looked at JJ. "Daddy’s home!"

JJ bounced on her hip. "Da! Da!"

Walking down the stairs, she called to the girls. "Lilah, Daisy, daddy’s here." In seconds, the twins and Keira were at her side. Tess smiled at them. "Remember, he’s fine, but he’s sore, so not too tight with the cuddles, okay?"



"Me give Jaydee cuddles, too?"

Tess nodded to her daughter. "I think he’d like a cuddle with his best friend very much."

Buck's first stop had been to leave Josiah in Mallory's loving hands, now it was JD's turn. Cutting the engine, he looked over the seat. "You ready, Kid?"

By the time JD had scooted across the back seats, Buck had the door open and a helping hand to assist him out. Despite taking the offered support, JD made a face. "Oh God, I feel like an old man."

Looking at the slightly hunched over form before him as he snatched up JD’s overnight bag, Buck forced a grin to banish how sorry he truly felt. "You’re looking like one, too."

JD huffed out a laugh, and hugged his ribs. "Ow…don’t make me…laugh, damnit."

Warmed by his younger brother’s response, Buck took his arm. "Come on, old timer, let’s get you home and into bed."

"Don’t I get dinner and a movie, first?"

"Oh…snappy, let’s see how witty you are after climbing your stairs."

Frustrated at his shuffling steps, JD shook his head. "Nah, I’ll be fine on the sofa."

"Ooh, don’t reckon that’s gonna happen, Squirt." They both looked up as the door opened and Tess stood there surrounded by children. Buck leaned in and whispered. "Now, ain’t that a sight for sore eyes."

JD turned sharply to him, but before he could answer, his gaze drifted back to the vision before him. Buck was right, it was.



"Oh shit!" Just managing to get down onto one knee, JD waited for the pain as three little girls ran at him, suddenly stopping right in front of him. They gazed at JD for a few moments, then moved in and gently laid their heads on his shoulders and back. Their little arms came around and tiny hands patted him ever so delicately.

Buck sniffed, his eyes welling at the sight. There was nothing quite like coming home to family. JD inhaled as deeply as his ribs would allow, kissed each head, and eased back. Sensing his need, Buck hooked a hand under JD’s arm and gave the younger man help to stand. He grinned at the look on his little brother's face. "You just got out of the hospital, kid…in a few days you’ll be good as new."

Tess approached them, and JD hugged her and JJ together to prevent having to hold the excited little one. With a smile and a nod to her, JD, Buck, and the kids went into the house, and Buck escorted JD to his room.

Larabee Home, 1:30 pm

Chris closed his study door, and then turned to Vin. "I knew Agent Russell Miles was working undercover as Denver Police Officer Leo Neilson, but when I told his contact that I wanted to meet with him…this is not the response I'd expected. Although, I do have to admit…he was inventive with the way he got this to me."

"You could say that." Vin sat down. "Evidently, he knows all of us, but…what the hell do we know about him?"

"We know he's been under for almost a year," Chris moved over to his desk and sat down, too, "He's been an agent for eight years, started out with FBI, but the DOJ recruited him for special assignments. From the information he gave you, we have a good outline of this conspiracy, and we know he's the one who have been helping us 'find' the murder weapons. He also has laid out creditable reasons about why he believes someone on the DOJ Task force is a snitch for 'The Trinity Brotherhood, which is why no one but his contact man knows he's under."

"If his information is solid, then we have a bigger problem than we thought." Vin read over the names Leo listed as members of the Trinity. "Cops, lawyers, and judges…. All of them well-connected, and respectable citizens, who could pull some very big strings."

"All of them vigilantes', who, that we know of are responsible for the deaths of dozens of people over the past ten years." Chris shook his head. "Not to mention the money they raked in from their protection racket."

Tanner huffed. "Yeah, either pay up, or we waste you for bein' the sorry criminal asses that we think you are. They work the same way all those closet bigots do, who belong to, or sympathize with white supremacy groups….and we already know what kind of viper's nest they can build."

"We might know most of who 'they' are, but not who masterminded this thing." Chris leaned forward. "What bothers me more than their secrecy is… what the hell they do with all that money. Keep it? Back more conspiracies in different cities? Or send it to some of those hate groups to train more people to kill."

"I don't know, but I reckon MCAT needs to find out, and soon. Grant Dean could probably answer a few of those questions…if we can find him."

"We'll find him. The question is…will he be alive or dead when we do?" Chris rubbed his hands over his face, and sighed. "Go home, Vin, we're not going to close this case today. Visit with your kids, enjoy the party with them, and then go back to stay with Kelli. I'll send this list over to Pam to run on CASSIE. By Monday we'll have backgrounds on all of these members of the Trinity, and hopefully we can begin to verify some of this information."

Vin stood. "Give me a copy of those names. I'll reach out to a few of my 'unconventional sources' and see what comes back."

Chris took the list, got up, went over to his fax machine, made a copy, and handed it to Vin. "Let's keep all transmission coded. This list might not be complete, and Gino did say…trust no one but your own."

Tanner nodded. "Like you said…we're not gonna close this case today. Take time to enjoy the day with your kids, too, and don't forget you're gonna have Jesse, Cody, Bren, Trey, Terrell, Adam, Jason, and Caleb here tonight." The Texan grinned. "I haven't figured out yet how Cait ever got past you on that one."

Chris smiled, "We'll have eight, but my wife was smart. She called in reinforcements to assist, Donald and Lillian will be here to help."

"Max, Walter, and Dad will have their hands full with Andi, Grace, Lilah, Daisy, Joanne, Maria, Sarah, and Keira. It's a good thing Isabella agreed to help Inez with the babies, but come to think about it…they got the best end of this deal. How much trouble could Tannis, Bella, and JJ get into? They'll be down for the count by eight, while the other kids are going strong for half the night."

"Hell…it's only Halloween one night of the year. At least we'll know where our children are, and not have to worry about them being safe."

Chris and Vin walked out together musing on how Ezra managed to have only Pearl for the night. Apparently, the women cut him and Barbara a deal. They did not have to chaperon the overnights, but Thanksgiving would be at their house this year.

Dunne Home, 5:00 pm

Later, with Buck long gone, and Tess dropping the kids at Vin’s, the house was quiet. JD looked out at the view from his home. He still found himself in awe of it all. Having his own place had come off the back of painful events, which is why he savored it even more. It had not fallen into his lap, or been what was left of his failed marriage. It was fresh, new and all his own work…well, technically the work of Jed Flintock and his amazing team, with some inspired ideas from his family; but the design was all him, he had known what he needed, and Jed had incorporated every idea.

He knew there were aspects of his life that were lacking, but he had come to realize what will be, will be. His children and his family were his life, his work his inspiration, and his home his refuge. From now on, anything else would be a bonus.

"You should be in bed, John Daniel."

 Jolted by Tess's scolding as she entered his bedroom, JD turned to face her, wincing as his aching body protested the sudden movement. He mock pouted. "Sorry, I just wanted to…sorry."

Rolling back the bedcovers, Tess gestured for him to get in. "Never mind, just climb in now. I’m warming some soup and I’ll bring it up soon."

"Soup?" JD asked, easing himself into the crisp, fresh sheets.

"From Inez. She said you always have it when…well, you know."

JD smiled, his eyes welling at the consideration his family…and especially the woman before him had shown him and his kids. "Neat, thanks." He coughed to clear the squeak in his voice. ‘Damn, that didn’t come out well at all.’

Tess gazed at him, appreciating his feelings right then. She too had felt humbled by the way JD and his family had rallied for her. She stroked his face and let her fingers linger. "You’re still hot. Drink more water and I’ll go get your soup, and then you can take more meds."

"Hey Tess," JD said as she walked to the door. He waited for her to turn around. "I really appreciate you getting the kids ready for Halloween. You chose some great costumes."

Tess smiled. "My pleasure, John Daniel, and it's wonderful that Keira was invited to join them." She saw that he was tiring fast. "I'd better get that soup before you fall over from hunger."

JD watched her leave the room. It had been a long time since he had felt so much peace in his home life. He knew that Tess was a big reason for that, and he was glad she had decided to stay at L7.

Tanner Home, 7:30 pm

Something about Halloween brought out the silly side of both children and adults. Whatever it was, it appeared that all of the participants of this particular party were enjoying themselves. Vin caught all of it on video, too, from JJ in his Bumblebee outfit, Chris as Count Dracula, Andi as Annie Oakley, Bren and Trey dressed as miniature Space Cowboys, and Jason as a g-rated Beastmaster, with poor Tracker made to look like a tiger instead of the proud Aussie Shepherd that he was. The Texan also got good shots of Brodie decked out as Herman Munster, and everything in between. Kelli might not be here, but he planned to make sure that she did not miss any of the fun.

JJ, Tannis, and Bella were wearing down. Buck lifted JD's youngest into his arms. "I think it's time for us to take these babies home." Inez carried Tannis, while Isabella carried her namesake.

Ezra nodded. "Alas, as much as I've enjoyed this, it is past Pearl's bedtime." He, Barbara, and their daughter took their leave.

Chris clapped his hands. "All right, I need all the boys to fall in. We're moving our part of the party to my house." He and Cait counted heads as the boys gathered round them.

Vin hugged his twins and Jason before they left, and accepted the hugs they wanted to send to mama. "I'll see y'all tomorrow."

Brodie stood next to his son. "We've got the rest of tonight covered if you want to go back to the hospital."

"After I talk with Andi, I reckon that's what I'll do. With a little luck maybe Kel can come home tomorrow."

Max overheard Vin's statement. "You tell that doctor, we're ready for her."

Vin leaned over and kissed Max on the cheek. "Thanks for callin' Gunny. Knowin' she was there today made it easier for me."

"I know how to take care of my Tanners." Max smiled. "Now, tell your daughter goodnight, and move your backside out of here."

"Yes ma'am." Vin grinned, and after spending some 'Dad' time with Andi, left his home for the night.

Standish Residence, 8:30 pm

Pearl's first Halloween was over, but spending time with her was pure delight. While Barbara enjoyed a long hot bath, Ezra stood and watched his baby sleep. It still amazed him that Barbara and he created her, with love, and just how much their life had changed since her arrival. Their time together before Pearl had always been good, now it was truly magnificent. Hearing Barbara moving around the bedroom, he checked to make certain that the monitor was working, and then went to join her.

"Now," she smiled at him, "Aside from your concerns over your recently inured brothers, will you tell me what else is on your mind?"

Standish looked at her, not surprised that she knew he had been perturbed. He turned to give her his full attention. "The case we're working on made me realize I may be required to go undercover again at any time. Since meeting you, it has always been a more difficult decision to make, but so far I haven’t needed to be away from you for long." He sighed. "I fear, however, that sometime soon that might change, and it occurred to me I might not be so eager to do my duty. I can’t bear the possibility of being away from you for a prolonged assignment, but now, the idea of being away from both of you at all…well; let’s just say I have genuine concerns."

Barbara nodded. "Oh, don’t worry, I’ve already visited that area of our lives, and, yes, it bothers me, too. Nevertheless, I conclude that, what will be, will be. If such an assignment comes along, I can deal with it. What I can’t deal with too well, is the thought of you endangering yourself, especially if it partially amounts to you being preoccupied with thoughts of home." She stroked his face. "Just know this, whatever comes along, we’ll worry about it then, but never forget, I support you one hundred and fifty percent…no matter what you decide."

Kissing, they snuggled together, happier that they had put their thoughts into words. Barbara was right, as long as they had each another, and the amazing family around them, anything was doable.   

Denver Memorial Hospital, 9:00 pm 

It took a little longer to get away than he had planned, but Vin made it back to Kelli's room just as visiting hours ended. Gunny gathered her things, graciously accepted thanks from both Vin and Kelli, and then said goodnight, leaving the Tanners alone.

Kelli was full of questions about the children. How did they look? Did they have fun? Did they miss her? "Tell me everythin'."

Vin stretched out beside her, and relayed most of the events of his day, leaving out the part with Officer Neilson, aka Agent Trundle. "You were right. I needed to be there. Jason and Andi sent you hugs, and I have a few sloppy kisses from the twins to pass on. But…it's easier to show you than tell you so…" he pulled out the video camera and replayed the events of the party. It was almost as good as being there for Kelli, and for Vin, it was the end of an almost perfect day.

Mountain Cabin, midnight

Grant Dean was at his wit's end. He could not understand how his quest for true justice had landed him in this perilous predicament. All he ever wanted was to make the real criminals pay instead of skating away from courtrooms free as a bird. Somewhere along the line, he took a very wrong turn, and now he had nowhere to hide.

"Damned if I do, dead if I don't!" He paced the small cabin, and cursed loud and long. Railing about how in the hell he had let things get so out of control. There was only one-way out for him, and that was to turn himself in, and make a deal to testify against the men and women who were now out to kill him.

Even worse was the knowledge that the only man he could trust to keep him alive, was also the man he hated for taking over the team he felt was rightfully his.

"All right, Larabee. You win. Now, we'll see if you're as good as everyone thinks you are. If you can keep me alive…I suppose I'll have to get used to eating crow." Resigned to the fact that he had to contact Chris, he sat down to plan out how to do that.

Chapter 20

November 1, Chris's Journal

As I sit here in the silence, waiting for the rest of my household to stir, it seemed an appropriate time to catch up on the events of the past few weeks. On the work front, our case has taken an unexpected turn. It went from a homicide investigation, to a possible conspiracy, to the realization that there has been a vigilante group operating under the radar in Denver for the past decade. Worse yet, it appears that the Department of Justice not only knew about it, but they were running their own task force investigation. Now, it all falls into our lap to unravel, and I fear that when we do, it will become very ugly.

Not that it hasn't been ugly for us already, it has. First, Nathan was attacked, and nearly killed, then I narrowly missed being in Lawton's office when a bomb exploded, and last Thursday Josiah and JD were involved in an 'accident' that turned out not to be an accident at all. Friday, I found out that the DOJ had an undercover out there, and as it worked out, he has been helping us all along. He found a way to pass me the information he's collected, and it would be an understatement to say that this could all blow up in our faces if we’re not careful.

Tomorrow, JD and Josiah will be back at work, a bit bruised and battered, but determined to see this through with the rest of us.

On the home front, Cait is doing well, and according to the doctor, our baby is too. Kelli had to go into the hospital for tests that ultimately led to surgery last week. It appears though; she and Vin beat the odds against them, and not only is Kelli on the road to recovery, their baby survived as well. We're optimistic that she will be able to come home today or tomorrow.

Yesterday was Halloween, and Vin came home long enough to make his four kids very happy campers. All of the L7 kids attended a bash at the Tanners, courtesy of Max, Walter, and Brodie, and then we split them up for overnights. Cait and I took the boys, except for JJ, who stayed with Buck, Inez, and the other babies of the family, while the girls stayed at the Tanner home.

Donald and Lillian volunteered to help, and I think around midnight they were both thinking about how quiet their home is, and wishing they had picked another holiday to assist with the children. The boys finally ran out their sugar rushes, and the last ones crashed about twelve thirty.

I hear the first sounds of life coming down the hallway, so I'll close for now.

Chris set his journal aside, went over to the cupboard, reached for another cup, and had just filled it with coffee by the time Donald entered the kitchen.

"Morning," Chris said as he passed his father-in-law the cup. "You see any other sign of life on your way in here?"

Donald grunted, "Thanks," sat down at the table and took a sip of hot brew before he answered. "Lillian's awake, and I think I heard Cait stirring as I passed your room. I peeked in on the boys and they're all still asleep."

"That doesn't surprise me." Chris grinned. "They were all going strong way past their bedtimes."

"Isn't that what a slumber party is for…to break the rules and have fun?"

"Yes it is," Cait said from the doorway, "and I think this one was a success." She leaned over to kiss her husband, and smiled at her father. "Mom will be out in a few minutes, and then we're going to start breakfast. When those boys do wake up…they'll be ravenous."

Chris relished seeing the glow on Cait's face. She was in her element with all these kids. In truth, he supposed he would have to admit that he enjoyed the sound of children's laughter filling his home. Living with Cait and their four kids was going to be one hell of an adventure every single day, and his life would never be dull or lonely again…Thank God.

Sanchez Home, 8:30 am

Mallory had just finished making Josiah's breakfast, and had planned to take it to him on a tray, but he surprised her. He walked into the kitchen with a smile on his face, sniffed the air, and said, "Damn that smells good."

Mal gently embraced her husband and kissed him. "Good morning, love."

"Good morning to you," he rumbled into her ear, the emotion of being home and holding his wife close, briefly affected his voice. "There was a moment or two Thursday when I feared I might never take you in my arms again."

Feeling his body against hers, she nodded "Me too, my love, me too."

He kissed the top of her head, and chuckled to lighten their moods. "Today though, is a new day, and I'm starved."

"Then sit, while I serve you." Mallory set his plate in front of him, poured his coffee, and then sat down with her breakfast to join him. She knew he was sore, but the glimmer in his eyes told her his spirit was strong. They talked about him going back to work, about the kids, and took time to enjoy one another's company. When the phone rang Mallory answered, and then handed it to her husband. "It's Greg Ramsey, for you."

"Greg, what has you going so early on a Sunday?" Josiah listened for a moment. "Thanks, but aside for a few lingering aches and pains, I'm fine….yes I remember….really?" Sanchez closed his eyes, and nodded. "No…I asked, and … I appreciate you following through on this. Fax me the information and I'll take it from here….you bet. See you tomorrow."

Deep in thought, Josiah handed the receiver back to his wife. What had started as part gut feeling, and part curiosity, had just blossomed into a big problem. The question was...now that he had this explosive information, who did he relay it to first?

"I take it you didn't hear what you wanted?" Mallory's words broke the trance her husband appeared to be experiencing.

Josiah shook his head. "No. Remember when I told you that something didn't seem right about Desiree Adams. Well I asked Greg to run a discreet check on her for me, using a fingerprint we lifted the day Nathan was injured…" he sighed, "She's using an alias. Her background shows a history of arrests under several other names, but I'm afraid she outsmarted all of us. Until yesterday, when she cashed it out, she had a bank account that contained over a half a million dollars. Several large deposits correspond to the days Gino died, and the one when Nathan… Well, you get the picture. Greg is faxing me the full report. I suppose I'll start with Chris, and then… I'll have to tell Nathan."

Mallory made a call to the women's shelter to inquire about Desiree. "Thank you…no. I'll close her case file." Her call completed, she sighed and looked up at Josiah. "She left during the night…no one missed her until this morning. She could be anywhere by now."


Dunne Home, Sunday, 9:00 am 

After a late breakfast, JD used the bathroom then settled down for a nap. He hated to admit it, but he felt achy and sore, and only the pills he was taking eased his misery. However, the meds made him tired, and it was the last ones he took on top of a full stomach that was making him sleepy again. Determined to return to work the next day, JD would do whatever it took…even if it meant sleeping his day away. Climbing into bed, he glanced at Tess as she came into his room with a jug of fresh water, before she sat down in the overstuffed armchair next to his bed. "I’ll be fine if you have things to do."

Tess shook her head. "Nope, all done, until the kids come home…unless you’d like me to leave."

 "Nah, this is nice, having you all to myself." He smiled. "Thanks Tessie…for being here for me after this last week and all." He looked as she took up his hand in her, leaned in, and rested her elbows on the bed, pausing a while before she spoke.

"I thought I had a lot to say about the events of this week, but on reflection, I think it’s best to say what’s done is done. Time to move forward."

JD gazed at her, hope shining in his eyes that he had not screwed up their friendship. "Are you saying we can start again?"


JD’s heart felt as if it was about to flop into his stomach. "N…no?"

"No. We don’t need to start again. Where we are is where we should be. True friends look forward, they don’t look back, they listen, and they don’t judge. They act, not react. You and I have come a long way, and it’s been a painful journey. I can safely say, at this moment, barring Keira and my parents, you’re the next most important person in my life." She leaned in further. "Troy’s behavior forced Keira and me to live from day to day. The last time we were physically together, he raped me. The last time we met, he beat you, and me… and forced you to take action, which, while I’m eternally grateful for it, tore me up inside. No friend should ever have to take such drastic measures to protect someone, but you did.

You were, and still are, my absolute hero; and for a while, it all became a swirl of emotions as the realization I was finally free sank in. Going home to Seattle helped. I did a lot of thinking, and found some perspective, but I’m still aways from feeling confident about the feelings I hold for you right now." Her liquid eyes searched his, and she smiled at the understanding she saw there.

JD nodded. "Yeah, I know what you’re saying. Casey’s actions knocked me for a loop, and then I made a huge mistake with Talia. I jumped in with both feet and became oblivious to whether it was right…it just filled a void and I grabbed at it with both hands. One thing I've learned from that and from this past week, I'm doing okay. Rushing things is not the way to go." He squeezed her hand. "You’ll get no pressure from me, Tessie; and I’ll understand if you want to see other men. All I need is to know that you’re my friend. Our friendship means the world to me."

Tess nodded. "Me too. The last three years have made me cautious, and I didn’t want hero-worship to be mistaken for anything more, but time has helped my instincts guide me, and as long as I have you close by, the rest will fall into place."

"No problem. I’ll always be here for you." He looked deep into her eyes. "Wait, you sound like you’ve come to some sort of decision." His heart pounded and he swallowed. Time to bite the bullet. "I…I really like you, Tess. You’ve brought something unique to my life and…" a faint blush crept up his neck, "I think about you all the time and look forward to seeing you every day, even if it is at daycare."

She smiled, her heart soaring. "So…if I said I’d like to see you more often, and not just at daycare…you’d be interested?"

‘Oh yeah…’ JD nodded. "Hell yeah." They giggled and Tess leaned in closer to rest her head against his as she spoke.

"No pressure?"

"No pressure."

"We’ll probably run into all sorts of problems, we haven't even thought of yet."

"Bring it on."

"Can we kiss now?"

JD moved his head to look at her. "I thought you’d never ask." It took a few moments as their gazes flicked between eyes and lips, then, in perfect harmony, they moved together and kissed. It was as sweet and delicious as JD had imagined, but they kept it short. Pulling away, the pair smiled before JD stifled a yawn, his eyes half closing as he fought sleep. "Damn…pills." He sighed. "That was nice." As his head sank onto the pillows, he gazed at her, grateful he was sleepy, for he felt sure what he was feeling right now was not just a deep affection…it felt a lot more like love.

Tess stroked his cheek, smiling when it caused him to close his eyes before forcing them open again. "Yeah, it was." She leaned in and they kissed again, lingering longer this time. "Go to sleep. I’ll be here when you wake."


Tess watched him drift off; gazing at him for several minutes before she kissed his cheek. She sighed contentedly, and whispered, "You see, John Daniel, I’ll be here…I need to know how this will go because I think I’m falling in love with you."

Jackson Home, 11:00

After Josiah's call, Nathan stood at the window, and thought about what he wanted to say to his wife. He had danced around the issue with her long enough, and after a bit of soul-searching, he felt he now had the answers he needed.

Rain observed her husband, and intuitively knew that he was ready to talk with her. She sincerely hoped that she was ready to hear what he had to say. "Nathan?"

He turned from the window and smiled at his wife. "You have good timing, but then you always do with me. Let's sit." He waited until she was comfortable and purposely chose to sit facing her. "You are without a doubt the most beautiful woman I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. You're smart, strong, and your compassion has no boundaries. I love you, Lady, and as long as I live, you are the only woman I want."

"Nathan, I…"

He held up his hand. "Wait, please. I need to explain a few things."

"Okay," Rain said softly.

Clearing his throat, he continued. "I'm used to seeing the ugly side of life in our work, but when I interviewed Desiree…something about her situation got to me. It took me a while to figure out what it was. While I love the fact that you are an independent and capable woman, both here at home, and in your work, and there's nothing wrong with that… but somewhere over our years together, I guess I stopped feeling like you needed me. Maybe it's Healer channeling through me, or just pure male chauvinism, but I miss being your knight in shining armor. I believed Desiree needed help, and …my nurturing, protective side went a little overboard. It turns out she didn't need help, but it got me to thinking…." he steadily gazed into her eyes, "When did our personal life become so predictable?"

Taken back by the question Rain started to deny it, but then she stopped. When was the last time she shared her decision making process with Nathan? True, she used the excuse that he had enough to be concerned about without worrying about things she could handle, but was that fair? She was so hell bent on making things run smoothly for him at home; she had forgotten how they operated in the beginning. No matter what it was, they discussed everything. He never tried to change her mind, but he did listen, as she did to him. They enjoyed sharing their thoughts, and their work routines did not run their lives. Nathan was right, making love was only part of who they were…they had lost the intimate part of their relationship beyond the physical. They 'had' become predictable.

Leaning forward she took his hand. "I love you, and while trying to make life easier for you…I took over many of the things we used to do together." Her brown eyes filled with moisture. "I didn't realize I was doing that until just now. I do need you Nathan, and I'm so sorry I haven't showed that lately. The signs were all there, but I missed them."

Nathan quickly moved over to sit beside his wife. "I missed them, too, Baby." He pulled her to his side. "Now that we know…maybe we can work together to get back some of that impulsiveness, and intimacy we had when we first started out together."

"I think…" Rain looked up at her man, and smiled, "we know what we should do…we only need to do it."

Lowering his head, he claimed a long lingering kiss. Later they would discuss specifics. Right now, he was content knowing they were both in agreement on where to go from here.

Denver Memorial Hospital, 1:00 pm

Vin looked up from writing in the 'baby journal'; he had started for their new addition, and smiled as his wife paced the hospital room. "Kel, you need to relax. The doctor will be here when she gets here."

Kelli stopped, and frowned at Vin. "Doctor G said I was doin' fine, and Lord knows the 'vampires ' have taken enough blood from me to test for everthin' in the world. You'd think Doctor Weeks would at least let us know about the last ultrasound." She heaved a resigned sigh. "I just want to go home. I miss the kids, and I want to sleep in our bed with you, without havin' nurses in and out all night long."

"We'll get there, Baby." Vin laid the journal aside, stood up, and walked over to wrap his arms around his wife. "I'm sure Doctor Weeks will be here soon…"

"Doctor Weeks is here," the doctor spoke from the doorway, "and I have good news." The doctor entered the room, and motioned for the Tanners to sit down, before she continued, "The ultrasound showed that your baby is doing fine, and after consulting with Doctor Gilford, we agree that you have come a long way in a few short days."

"Does that mean I can go home?" Kelli held her breath, as she waited for an answer.

Helen Weeks smiled. "It means that your blood count is improving each day your pregnancy is stable, and yes…I'm going to let you go home. We'll continue your meds, iron and vitamin supplements, and monitor your blood work bi-weekly. You should feel better with each passing day, but I don't want you lifting anything over ten pounds; however…I see no reason why you two can't resume marital relations as soon as you feel up to it, which probably won't be for another couple of weeks." She began writing out instructions for Kelli's discharge. "I expect you to follow my directions to the letter."

Vin squeezed Kelli's hand, and felt her tense muscles relax. "Don't worry, whatever you say she needs…she'll get."

The doctor handed Vin a copy of her instructions. "You two never faltered on what you believed…I'm very pleased to see that your faith was stronger than medical probabilities. I think we're now in good shape for a successful outcome for your baby. I'll see you in my office on Thursday…now…gather your things and get out of here." She patted Kelli on the shoulder, and smiled on her way out.

Kelli laid her head on Vin's shoulder. "We did it…we're goin' home…all three of us."

Kissing the top of her head, Vin pushed back a surge of emotion. "Told you it wasn't smart to take odds against us…. You call Chris, and then Max to give them the news, while I take care of checkin' you out." The Texan handed her the phone, and then went about packing.

Tanner Home, evening

Most of the afternoon, the children hovered near Kelli. It took a while for each of the Tanner kids to 'catch mama up' on home news, but they wound down, and accepted that their mother was home to stay.

After supper, Cait took the Larabee brood home, but Chris made a point to spend a few minutes of quiet time with his eldest before joining her. Sitting beside his daughter, he sighed, and said, "I know the past few weeks have been rough, and I might not have been much help, but I'm glad you allowed me to stay close."

Kelli studied her father's features. "Dad, you and I have come a long way with our relationship, and you don't have a thing to prove to me. Just havin' you in my life is enough for me, but…" she smiled, "it's nice to know I can count on you bein' here when I need you."

Chris wrapped his arm around her, pulled her close, and kissed the top of her head. "We might have missed a few years, but that's behind us now. No matter what, you have a father who loves you."

"Reckon Vin and I both lucked out, havin' second chances with our fathers. I like where we are, and who's to say we'd be here now if Fate changed our pasts."

"One thing I've learned over the last couple of years is to not question Fate." Chris looked up when Vin and Brodie walked into the room. "We may not like all she dishes out, but in our case, I think she did okay."

Brodie glanced at his son and grinned. "I can't argue with that. In fact, I think we've all done all right in that department."

Chris nodded, and then stood. "I'm going home." He looked at Vin. "I don't have to tell you to take care of her, because I know you will, but try not to let her turn Larabee on you before she's up to it."

Kelli swatted at her father, and missed. "Vin's damn good at keepin' Larabees in line…just look at all the practice he's had on you."

"Hope he's as good with Tanners." Chris smiled and nodded towards Brodie. "I heard that the new vet is a woman, and a very attractive one at that."

Vin suppressed a smile, and turned to Brodie. "You didn't mention that Doctor Cooper was a woman."

Brodie shrugged. "I didn't think the fact that she's nice looking and single was relevant. Besides, as long as she does her job I don't have a problem with a woman veterinarian."

The young Texan did not miss the spark in his father's eyes when he mentioned Doctor Cooper. He knew Brodie was not naive when it came to women, but it had been a long while since he spent more than an overnight with one. Vin made a mental note to meet this new vet.

Kelli sighed, and addressed both Brodie and Chris. "Both of y'all go home. Vin and I will get the kids down, and then I'm callin' it a night. It's been a long day, and I'm tired."

Brodie glanced at Chris. "Reckon we're being asked to leave."

Chris nodded. "They know where to find us, so I guess we're out of here."

Both men said good night, and departed, leaving their children alone for the first time since they had come home. Vin smiled at his wife, and offered her a hand up.

"Come on, woman, the sooner we get our kids down, the sooner I can take care of you."

"Sounds like a good plan to me."


Vin had to drag his wife away from watching their children sleep. Finally, they made it to their bedroom. It had been less than a week since they were here alone, but it seemed more like a lifetime.

In the hospital, there was always someone coming in to check on IVs, take blood pressure reading, temperatures, or just to see if Kelli was sleeping okay. Here in their own room they could curl up together in their own bed, and know that no one would be interrupting their night.

Kelli eased into bed, snuggling close to her Texan when he followed. "Lord, I've miss this."

Holding her close, Vin sighed. "Me, too."

"You gonna tell me now what you've been busy writin' in our baby's journal?" Kelli yawned, as her body relaxed against her husband.

"Just recordin' events for him like we did for Bren and Trey. Someday our child will read what I wrote and understand that we fought hard for him to survive."

"You said him twice," Kelli teased, "You expectin' another boy?"

"I'm expectin' a healthy baby. Boy or girl…it doesn't matter. We're gonna love him or her just the same." Vin gently turned her to enable him to spoon against her naked form, and as he placed his hand over the slight swell of her belly, he whispered softly, "Concentrate with me Kel, and know this…our baby is alive because we had faith, and never gave up. I love you, our children, and our life, and we both loved enough to give our baby a chance for life. I wanted our child to know that so I wrote these words,

"I lay my hand upon your swollen form,

And feel the life within.

I rest my head and listen as you breathe,

And hear the life within.

Your radiance as you blossom lifts my soul,

As I see the life within.

Three hearts that beat in time as we lie here,

And touch the life within.

This miracle from God fills us with hope,

And we praise the life within.

I hear you sigh and strengthen my embrace,

While we love the life within."

As his strong arms held her, Kelli felt Vin's words surround her with his love, and she knew their baby felt it too. Sleep soon claimed her tired body, but her spirit was at peace. Her Heart Warrior had guided them safely through the latest storm in their lives, and their love would firmly anchor their future.

Chapter 21

'It begins as a trickle, but as time passes madness spreads silently in the mind. It takes over all reason, morality, and logic, leaving only the appearance of sanity. Evil feeds on the growing lunacy and hides in the shadows, just beyond the reach of righteousness.'

Dunne Residence, Monday, 6:30 am

Moving more like an old man than a young Federal Agent, JD eased himself into his work attire. Earlier he had snuggled in bed with his children. Even Keira opted to join in the group cuddle, before Tess called them down for breakfast. Only the day before he had not been able to let them touch him without pain, let alone hold him.

He knew once he moved around, he would be more mobile, so he just got on with it. Before he left home, he would take an over the counter pain reliever, and take the day hour by hour. One thing JD was sure of, he wanted to be at work. This case was heating up and he hoped all their hard work would come to fruition soon.

As he walked from his bathroom and back into his bedroom, a huge goofy grin spread across his face as thoughts of Tess filled his mind. He had a knot of excitement in the pit of his stomach about their talk yesterday, and he could not wait to spend some quality time with her again soon. As if she sensed his mood, the woman of his dreams entered his room and grinned.

"Breakfast is in the kitchen when you’re ready. The kids are putting their coats on and then we’ll be off to daycare." She walked toward him and their gazes locked. She slipped her arms around his waist, and eased beside him. "About yesterday…no regrets?"

JD returned her embrace and kissed her, the kiss was long and warm, and answered her question. "Absolutely not. You?"

With a smile, Tess returned the kiss, which ended with his lower lip between hers before she released it and nuzzled his cheek. "None whatsoever."

Raising his hand, JD stroked her face. "Will I see you later?"

She nodded. "Mmmm…how about for dinner?"

JD grinned. "I can’t wait."

Tess started to speak, but little voices interrupted her next words.


"Tess…we’s ready!"

Touching foreheads, the young couple giggled. "Duty calls," she smiled.

"For both of us.  Have fun, Tessie."

"I will." She touched his cheek. "Stay safe, John Daniel."

"I will." He sighed as he watched her go, moving to stand at his sliding doors to watch her and the kids get into the car then pull away. He touched his heart and patted it. "Slow down, fella…we’ve got a long way to go, yet." They had decided to hold off telling the family just yet, until they figured out where their relationship was going. While they agreed, in truth JD wanted to shout it from the rooftops, but keeping quiet was good…no need to rock the boat. Making his way down for breakfast, his thoughts turned to work, and he briefly grinned as he considered the fact that he would have more than his kids and a big rambling house to come home to after work.

Russo's Office, 7:00 am

Samuel Russo finished reading the file that Chris had brought to him. He closed his eyes for a moment, as the ramifications of what this could mean raced through his mind. While he had no doubt that Larabee's report was factual, as someone, who had spent his entire life fighting for justice, it disturbed him to see the judicial system tarnished and manipulated by a few rogues in the system, who perpetrated his or her wrongdoings in the name of the law.

"What do you need from me?"

Chris understood that this was not something anyone in either of their positions wanted to confront as officers of the law, but it was unfortunate that no matter how they handled this, their profession's credibility would be in question.

"I need to know which judge we can trust to execute warrants without leaking information. We'll need the cooperation of the DOJ, and help from the U.S. Marshall's office to carry out simultaneous arrests when we make our move. Given the extent of involvement within so many branches of the system, it won't be easy, and we'll only have one chance to get it right."

Sam nodded. "You put your case together, Commander, I'll make the necessary arrangements for warrants and we'll have all the cooperation we need. I know enough people in our business that I trust, who will be just as anxious to rid our profession from this vermin as we are." Russo stood. "Keep me informed."

"You'll know when we know." Chris rose from his chair. "I'm meeting with both Alpha and Bravo teams in one hour. I'll update you at the end of the day." He turned and walked out, determined to put an end to this conspiracy one way or another.

MCAT War Room, 8:00 am

Pieces of this huge illicit jigsaw were slotting together, and if things went to plan, these next pieces would give them a clear path for their investigation. Chris did not allow time for socializing; instead, he jumped right into the case facts, and began issuing orders. "I expect you all to take notes from the case boards behind me. We have reliable information that the listed names are all involved in what started out as a vigilante group, operating in Denver that goes by the name of The Trinity Brotherhood. It's probable that this list is not complete, but it's where we'll start. JD, I want backgrounds a.s.a.p.; pull any that match with the cases either Dean or Cashton took the lead on. Then distribute the others to Bravo team. Justin, cross-reference theses name with anyone your team might have interviewed on the bombing investigation, and give me a connection. Josiah, you made a good call on the Adams woman. Now profile her for me. We need to know if she was a bit player, or somehow deeper involved in this mess. Ezra, I need to see you in my office as soon as we're done here. Nathan, coordinate all the information coming in from com-sat and Bravo team on one case board. Get us a clear picture of what we have to work with. Captain Wilmington is the man in charge…any questions…take them to him. By the end of business today, I expect results…now get to work."

Agents scattered, and immediately went into work mode. Their Commander had successfully transferred a sense of urgency with his orders. They all felt as if something big was coming fast, and no one wanted to be left behind on this case.

Larabee's office, 8:30 am

Ezra followed Chris into his office and waited for his instructions. He watched as Chris retrieved a file from the bottom drawer of his desk, and tossed it to him.

"Agent Russell Miles aka Denver Police Officer Leo Neilson is the undercover who has been assisting us by placing weapons where we can find them. You have in your hand the background on both him and his alias, and the information on his contact man. Miles believes someone on the DOJ task force is a snitch for the Trinity Brotherhood…I want you to find out who it is."

"Ascertaining that information could take time. I…"

"You have twenty-four hours. The longer we take on this…the higher the probability that it will blow up in our faces. I don't care how you do it…just make certain we can remove that threat before the Trinity goes after Officer Neilson. Do whatever is necessary to protect our undercover agent."

Standish knew the dangers associated with being undercover, and how one's life could depend on trusted associates. He nodded. "Understood, and I'm on it now."

Chris sat down as Ezra walked out. He had no doubt that one way or another Standish would find the informant.

The buzz of his intercom drew his attention. He leaned forward to punch the button. "What Gunny?"

"Commander, there's a call on line two I think you'll want to take."

With a heavy sigh, Chris lifted the receiver and pushed two. "Larabee." Listening to the caller, his senses went on alert. "Where the hell are you?...yeah I know where it is…you stay put, and I promise you Dean, if this is anything but legit, you'll rue the day you were born."

Slamming the receiver down, Chris jumped up, grabbed his coat, and moved out of his office into the bullpen.

"Justin, you're in charge here. Buck, you’re with me."

Tomahawk Truck Stop, Denver, 9:30 am

Outside the boarded up mountain truck stop, Grant Dean stood huddled in a phone booth. Wrapping his arms around him as the bitter wind whistled through the damaged Perspex sides, he glanced around, nervously. Once he had learned of Cashton’s murder, Dean had fled the city to hold up in a mountain cabin that belonged to a relative. After he decided that contacting Larabee was his only chance to survive, he drove to the closest interstate, abandoned his car, and hitched a ride on an eighteen-wheeler to here. His cell was long buried at the bottom of a convenience store dumpster, but not before retrieving the memory card.

Convinced that time was not on his side, all this had taken place during the early hours of Monday morning. Hesitant to call Larabee, but knowing it was his only way out, Dean had waited until an hour ago to do it. He hoped he would not freeze to death before Larabee arrived.


On the road for almost an hour, and breaking every speed limit along the way, Chris glanced around as they ascended a small mountain highway. "Jesus, he sure picked an out of the way spot for this."

"Can you blame him?" Buck asked, rhetorically. "Right now I reckon he’s crapping himself. Why else would he turn to you?"

Seeing a tattered sign way in the distance as they crowned the hill, Larabee shrugged. "I guess we’ll soon find out."

"At last." Surprised at how grateful he was to see Larabee pulling in, Dean exited the booth, jogged to the truck, and jumped inside. "Get me the hell outta here, Larabee."

"Good to see you too, Dean," Chris replied, before slamming into drive and pulling back on the highway.

Buck raised an eyebrow when Dean ducked down and took a prone position in the rear seat. Reaching over the seat he frisked Dean for weapons, relaxed when he found none, and then handcuffed him before asking, "You expecting trouble?"

"I’m not taking any chances. They got to Dan…they’re not getting me."

"Where you’re going that’s a safe bet…"

"No!" Dean interrupted Chris. "With what I know…you'll get more credit than you deserve…I want a deal."

"You’re in no position to bargain," Buck scoffed.

"Trust me, Wilmington…this goes beyond just names. I’ll get it."

Chris seethed as he drove. His teams were on the verge of a major breakthrough, and the corrupt cop spilling his guts was likely to walk away from the punishment he deserved. The injustice of that sank deep into his bones. It was a long quiet drive back to Denver.

MCAT Office, interrogation room, 11:00 am

After making him wait, Chris now sat on the opposite side of the table from Dean. His first urge had been to throw the sonofabitch into holding and make him stew a while, but if the ATF Agent had information that could help their investigation, he needed it now. Turning on the recorder, Larabee gave his name, the time, date, and identified the suspect.

"You know how this works, Dean, everything you say will be recorded. For the record, you've signed a statement denying your right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present, correct."

"Yes. I understand my rights, and have waived them."

Larabee nodded, and asked his first question, "Why did you call me?"

Dean would not look Chris in the eye. His reason was difficult to swallow, but he understood that Larabee would not proceed until he answered. "I've been at this a long time; I know what the Trinity is capable of doing. It's no secret that I don't like you but whether I like it or not, I figured you were the only man I know who could keep me alive." He glanced at the man, who now held his life in his hands. "You perhaps won't believe that I never meant for things to get this screwed up, but it all made good sense…in the beginning."

"Then I suppose that's where we start. I want to hear it all…from the beginning."

Grant Dean took a deep breath and began telling his story. It took the better part of an hour for him to relate all the events he remembered from the past ten years. Chris did not interrupt him, but at times, he felt his stomach turn from hearing the details.

"That's pretty much it…" Grant sighed. "The memory card from my phone has the numbers of all my contacts within the Trinity." He looked at Larabee. "I know I'm finished with law enforcement, and I'm probably looking at some hard time, but I'll testify for the State in exchange for a reduction in my sentence." He shook his head. "I just don't want to die the way Cashton did."

Chris leaned forward and turned off the recorder. "We're going to hold you here until we find a safe place to put you. I can't promise you anything until we talk with the U.S. Attorney's Office, but if your information pans out, I'm sure they'll want your testimony." He stared at Dean. "At one time or another, I know that there is not a man or woman in law enforcement who hasn't seen a case go to hell, or seen someone they knew was guilty, get off on a technicality. We rant and rave, but most of us know there's a line we can't cross without becoming the same as the criminal element we fight every day. You crossed that line and nothing you say will ever justify your actions."

"Are you saying you've never thought about it?"

"Thought about it? Yeah, but thinking about it doesn't make me a vigilante. Have I ever been tempted by the gray shades of the law? Hell yes, but if we allow ourselves to enter that murky area, we all lose. Criminals don't change; especially when they think they've beat the system. Eventually they screw up again, and then we get another chance to see justice prevail. It's better to watch a criminal walk, than to compromise our integrity." Chris stood. "You were a good agent once; it's too bad you didn't give yourself that chance." Larabee started to walk out.

"I still don't like you, Chris, but you're right. I was a good agent once…that has to count for something doesn't it?"

"In my book…no, but it might be enough for a Federal Attorney to shave a few years off your sentence." Chris reached for the doorknob. "As soon as your statement is transcribed, someone will bring it in for you to sign, and then you go into holding." He opened the door and walked out.

Standing outside the door, Chris took a deep breath. He knew that many good men in law enforcement burned out after working endless hours on cases that did not result in convictions. Most quit or retired, but a few, like Dean, decided to take the law into their own hands, and it always ended in disaster. In Dean's case, evil won for a while, but by the time MCAT was finished, the good guys would have their victory, and Dean would not go down alone.

MCAT War Room, 5:00 pm

Chris stood and stared at the new case board. With the information, Dean had given them, and the evidence they already had, a clearer picture was forming about The Trinity.

JD walked in and laid a new file on the table. "I took the new names you gave me and worked up their backgrounds. I think I understand now how this Trinity works."

Nathan stopped reading to listen, Buck stood beside Chris, and Josiah moved closer to the table. Chris nodded, and said, "Okay tell me."

Dunne took a breath and began, "We have nineteen names that we can connect to this conspiracy. Dean is in custody, Paulson, Brinton, Lawson, and Cashton are already dead, and died because they became liabilities to the Trinity. That leaves us fourteen current members. All of the judges, attorneys, and law officers involved originally joined because they were tired of seeing the bad guys walk. According to Dean's statement, they were all recruited the same way."

"But we don't know who recruited them, or how many other deaths over the years connect to this conspiracy, do we?" Nathan asked.

JD shook his head. "No, but we know what they did and why they stayed." He bit at his bottom lip. "In the beginning the idea was to kill major players who evaded convictions, by either knocking off witnesses, or walking on technicalities. To make certain the recruits stayed in line, money went into their bank accounts after each kill, and the Trinity council moved them into participating in a protection racket. This assured that no one decided to quit or talk about what they were doing because then they were just as guilty of breaking the law as the criminals they wanted dead. If any member persisted anyway… they died."

Chris looked at the board. "In other words, what we have is a list of foot soldiers that did all the dirty work, while the Trinity Council kept recruiting new members, and banking big bucks. The longer this went on the more evil it became."

"Former Judge Davidson Farley handled the money end under the guise of the Church of the United Brethren, and coordinated the alibis the members provided for one another." Josiah stated. "He also brought in professional scammers like Desiree Adams, and placed them in positions to keep an eye of things on the street. In return, she, and others like her, fed him information about weak links, in her case it was Gino, in exchange for big payoffs when the weakness was eliminated."

Buck leaned back in his chair. "We'll never know how many others were involved over the past decade. What we do know is that whoever in the mastermind behind all this is cutting his ties, and cleaning house. This means that anyone on our list of suspects is expendable, and marked for death."

"Then the sooner we arrest them, the safer they'll be." Chris looked at Buck. "We'll keep Dean in holding overnight; assign a team to babysit him. Then, tell everyone we're working late tonight. We have twenty-four hours to make our plans, and then we move." He turned around to JD. "Use CASSIE to map out our best strategy for getting them all at once. We'll have the Marshall's office and the DOJ coordinate with us."

JD closed his eyes as he saw his dinner plans with Tess fly out the window. "I need to call and make arrangements for my kids first, and then I'm on it."

"Chris, how do we know we can trust extra help?" Nathan glanced at Buck. "I mean…what if we don't have all the names?"

"As we speak, Russo is vetting the agents we'll use, and he assures me he can trust the judge who'll issue the warrants. Right now, I need you and Josiah to pull all this together for a presentation to the U.S. Attorney. Be sure to dot all the I's and cross the T's. I don't want any of these bastards walking on a technicality." Larabee glanced at his watch. He hoped Ezra made his twenty-four hour deadline because with or without the informants' names that was all the time they had. "Okay men, let's make this happen."

The Residence of Judge Davidson Farley, Retired, 6:00 pm

Davidson leaned forward and leered approvingly from his lounger at the semi-naked beauty climbing out of his heated, indoor, pool. He nodded in reply to her smoldering gaze as she passed him, setting up their liaison for later when his guests were gone.

He would be the first to admit that he was not much to look at, with his graying hair and a paunch from high living and fine wines. However, that never stopped him from getting laid…frequently. Power and money were potent aphrodisiacs to the slender airheads that frequented his little soirées, and would happily consent to time on their backs with an aging former judiciary to share in it.

This particular social event, however, had already been arranged, and despite learning that all he had worked for was under threat, to save face he continued with his plans. He had however, added a twist. With him today, were also his closest allies, his ‘disciples’. Men and women who knew everything about their, until recently, successful covert operation, and were his strongest and weakest links. The weakness lay with them knowing him intimately, and being able to relay his part in all this should they ever be pushed for information; and this was why he had invited them to join him tonight. They were a loose end that needed addressing.

Standing and pulling on a thick, fluffy white robe, his commanding gaze alerted his people to their presence being required elsewhere, and obediently they followed him out of the huge, balmy poolroom and into his elegant home. Once settled in his rambling library, he addressed them.

"You are all aware of our recent difficulties. Therefore, I am officially announcing the suspension of our operation. It has been an honor to serve alongside you all, in the pursuit of justice and liberty for the good citizens of Denver. However, I fear MCAT's investigation is too close to revealing more than I am willing to share about our business, and for us to remain operational. Therefore, I request you join by Wednesday morning to tie up our outstanding business." He pointed to his left. "On the oak table by the door is a pamphlet with directions to a very nice retreat, which I have booked for our exclusive use to ensure that we will not be disturbed." Reaching for a large bottle, he popped the champagne cork of a jeroboam and filled the arranged glasses on a table next to him. Standing around their leader, the group each took a glass and raised them as he toasted.

"To true justice, long may it reign."

Watching them leave and pick up the information sheet, Davidson had not missed the occasional glances of dissent, and fully expected that when the group met for the last time, they would have a barrage of questions, frustrations and confusion to fire at him. He smiled to himself. His disciples may already be preparing for the debate, but it no longer mattered. Soon he and the money would be gone, and they would be dead; and if they happened to take out a Federal unit with them in the process…so be it.

Crossing to a large, polished oak desk, he lifted the chunky stopper of an exquisite cut glass decanter, and poured himself some vintage bourbon. As he savored the smoothness drizzling down the back of his throat, a tinge of regret passed over him. He would miss his home, and Denver, but his time here was over. Survival was the name of the game, his being the only name on his list, and time was of the essence. Their operation was under threat. He scoffed. Under threat from narrow-minded imbeciles, clearly dismissing the great work carried out over the past ten years, and tragically incapable of thinking outside the box in the more traditional pursuit of justice. He would admit that the monetary gains had been a welcome bonus, and he, and others had certainly lived well from it. Nevertheless, all good things ended, and as his mentor reminded him, it was a big country.  With that final thought, Farley lifted the receiver of an ornate, ivory phone, and dialed.

"We’re on the home stretch." He inhaled contentedly at the smooth southern voice washing over him. That voice had answered his prayers ten years ago, and showed him the path to victory, for his, and the city of Denver’s salvation. The voice of the one person, he would follow without question. Farley closed the conversation. "I’ll see you soon."

Replacing the handset, he turned to a knock at the door and a stunning, half-naked blonde smiling back at him. "Hello my dear. What can I do for you?"

"Your guests are wondering where you are."

He nodded. "Offer them my apologies. Personal business delayed me. I’ll be right along." Watching her leave, Farley finished his bourbon, placed the glass down on the desk, and walked to the door. Before exiting, he picked up one of the pamphlets and ran a finger over the image of the retreat. He had spent many a happy vacation there, and it would be a shame to see it reduced to rubble, but…he shrugged, over the last ten years he had become accustomed to change and rolling with the punches. That was why he was…and would remain…alive.

Chapter 22

' Faith, steadfast vigilance, and readiness to confront our battles, move us forward.'

MCAT Office, Tuesday, 7:00 am

Several members of the teams had stayed the night, and the remaining MCAT Agents arrived early. The only exception being Ezra, who Commander Larabee stated was on special assignment.

Chris stood at the entrance to the War Room, and shook his head. Seven 'o'clock in the morning, and the room was full of people. Most he recognized, but a few unfamiliar faces drew his attention. He observed AD Russo engaged in conversation with one of them, and when they concluded their talk, Chris approached him. "Sir, did we acquire a few new agents overnight?"

Russo smiled. "No, Commander, we didn't. We did however; acquire a team of U.S. Attorneys who are here to help us obtain the arrest and search warrants we need." He nodded towards the head of the table. "Saul Blackman, once upon a time, clerked for me. Now, he works as the lead prosecutor in the Special Crimes Division of the U.S. Attorney's office. He and his team will be coordinating this conspiracy case, so I invited him here to make certain all our procedural motions were in order."

"In other words, making sure we don't leave any legal loopholes for the bastards' to crawl through."

"Well put." Russo gazed across the room. "You've put together one hell of a case, Chris. I trust Saul to make certain that your teams' hard work and sacrifices reap strong convictions."

Chris nodded. "I have six Marshals lined up to assist us tomorrow. Between our teams, the attorneys, and the DOJ Task Force, we should be able to pull off all the arrests within minutes of one another."

"I thought the Task Force was suspect. Can we trust them?"

"We can by the time we need them. Your contact, David Jenkins, is cooperating with the man I have working on ferreting out the bad apple over there. I expect the DOJ team to be squeaky clean when they show up for briefing in the morning." Chris turned to face his boss. "With the exception of two men to babysit Dean in holding, I'm cutting everyone loose at two. I want them rested and focused tomorrow. We'll reassemble here at 0600 hours for assignments."

"Your warrants will be signed, sealed, and delivered for you." Russo nodded. "Anything else you need, just ask."

"Oh, I will." Chris watched Russo leave, and then glanced at his watch. He hoped that by now, Ezra had all the information he needed to find their leak…fast.

DOJ Task Force Office, 10:30 am

Special Agent David Jenkins entered the squad room and nodded to Supervisory Agent Foster. "Call your team into the conference room." He continued inside.

"Yes Sir," Agent Foster said with a sigh. It was never a good sign when one of the Administrative Agents came down. He shrugged his shoulders, and turned to his second in command. "Round up the others, and get them in there. The sooner we hear what the man has to say, the sooner he leaves."

Once gathered, Agent Jenkins spent time reciting mundane information, waiting for the moment to spring his surprise. He glanced at his watch noting that it was time to drop his bombshell. "Bottom line, we have an undercover agent in place, who now has enough evidence to close this investigation. Denver Police officer Leo Neilson is one of ours. He will be meeting with me later today to name the men and women involved in this conspiracy."

Foster frowned. "We have a man inside and we're just now finding out?"

Jenkins nodded. "He's been under close to a year. You didn't know because frankly, it made no difference to your part of the investigation. Now though, you are needed to assist MCAT with a series of arrests… after I meet with Neilson." He closed his notepad. "This was a courtesy announcement only. I'll be in touch as soon as I have more details about your team's involvement." He nodded to the other task force members and made an exit.

"I'll be damned." Foster shook his head. "Guess all we can do is wait. Stay close and keep your pagers on. For now you're all dismissed."


Ezra sat in his car across the street from the Justice Department. He glanced at his watch, and made a call to JD. "Operation Ferret has commenced. Stand by."

It was not hard to narrow down his list of suspected agents. Only one had made large bank deposits over the last year that did not match his pay scale. Agent Stuart Wilkins did not even try to hide his extra income. In the past twelve months, he had purchased an expensive sports car, run up credit card charges totaling more than thirty thousand dollars, and bought a new speedboat. If Ezra's instincts were correct, Agent Wilkins would be exiting the building in the next few minutes to report Leo's name, which would net him a huge payday.

A few minutes past, and sure enough, Stuart Wilkins walked out of the building towards the closest pay phone, just as Ezra had anticipated. A payphone JD was already monitoring. Ezra used his camera to document Wilkins making a call. "Talk to me JD."

"Hang on a minute…he's still talking." JD recorded the call and back traced the recipients' number, using a satellite to triangulate the location. "Okay, it's done, and you were right….he just ordered a hit on Neilson." JD jotted down the details, and the address to pass on to Standish, thanking the miracle of modern technology at his disposal for giving him the resources to save a man's life. He gave the information to Ezra. "Anything else you need from me?"

"You are a genius JD, thanks. As soon as the money transfers, call Jenkins and tell him to take Agent Wilkins into custody. I'll take it from here." Ezra disconnected from JD, turned to the man sitting next to him, and said, "We got him."

Agent Russell Miles aka Denver Police Officer Leo Neilson nodded. "Let’s go arrest the bastard."

Watercress Apartments, Noon

With warrant in hand, and the Denver PD SWAT team for backup, Standish and Miles led the way to the third floor. Ezra knocked on the door of apartment number three hundred, "Federal Agents, we have a warrant for your arrest. Open the door."

Agent Miles counted to ten, waiting for a response. When none was forthcoming, he kicked in the door, and the agents rushed inside. The occupant of the apartment had one foot out the window leading to the fire escape. "Stop where you are or I’ll shoot."

The man dropped his weapon and raised his hands. Standish moved in to grab the suspect by the back of the shirt, dragged him back inside, and pushed him into a chair.

Artie Washburn winced, but when he saw the face of the officer holding a gun on him he paled. "You!," he stammered, "How…how did you find me?"

"Easy scumbag…I sniffed and followed the smell of weasel feces."

The other officers in the room had found several weapons, including a sniper’s rifle, along with a picture of Agent Miles. The Sergeant passed it to Ezra as he glanced at Russell, and stated, "Looks like he had his target marked."

"I want a deal," Artie demanded.

"Right," Ezra said with a grin, "I have the perfect deal for you." Standish turned to the Sergeant. "We need him booked, and on ice for the next twenty four hours. No phone calls or visitors. Expect an attorney from the Justice Department to contact you about his dispensation."

"My pleasure, Sir. We’ll show him what kind of hospitality we give someone who goes after one of our own." He nodded to Miles, reached around him to handcuff the suspect, and hauled him to his feet. "Artie Washburn, you are under arrest, you have…." The Sergeant kept talking as he walked the prisoner out of the room, while the other officers gathered evidence.

Ezra looked at Russell. "That went well."

"Indeed it did. Thanks Standish."

"It’s the least I could do for a man who’s been under for more than a year. Welcome back to the land of the living." Ezra turned the scene over to the DPD, turned to Russell, and said, "Now you get to meet Commander Larabee. I’ll drop you at your vehicle and you can follow me to the MCAT Office."

MCAT Office, 1:00 pm

Agent Miles followed Standish back to MCAT, and after a brief introduction, entered Larabee’s office. Ezra had delivered, as promised, within twenty-four hours. For the following hour, the agent gave Chris a full report of his activities, and then received his assignment for the next day.

Before parting, Miles admitted his one regret. "In all that time under, I never got to the bottom of all this. I will say this though; I'm convinced this goes far deeper and dirtier than anything we've seen so far."

Chris nodded as the pair stood and shook hands. "I'm inclined to agree with you, but don’t discount your contributions. Your sacrifices helped us bring this case to a resolution. By this time tomorrow, we’ll have all the players we know of arrested. There might be others; however, we have a saying on this team; 'Shit happens, and we've got the catcher's mitt to prove it'." He grinned. "In other words, we dismiss nothing, if this case has legs beyond the here and now, we'll be ready."

Miles nodded. "I’ll be here in the morning. At least I can finish this as Agent Miles, instead of Leo."

Chris glanced at his watch."We’re done for today. Go home, and start reclaiming your life." He walked out of his office with the agent, and then announced. "All of you go home. Be back here at 0600, rested and ready to roll." Larabee reentered his office, picked up his coat, and grabbed his briefcase. He had thirty minutes to make it across town to meet his wife.

Denver Memorial Hospital Lobby, 2:45 pm

Chris smiled as he walked into the lobby and saw Cait waiting for him. He walked over, kissed her on the cheek, and whispered, "Hope you haven't been waiting long."

"Larabee, I waited twenty years to find you, a few minutes here is no big deal," Cait said sweetly.

"Feeling cheeky today are we?" Chris offered his arm to escort her to Doctor Weeks's office, but could not resist teasing her. "Bet your mood turns when you have to lie on that cold exam table."

Cait frowned. "You just had to remind me about that, didn't you?"

Punching the up elevator button, he grinned. "Don't worry, Mama, I'll warm you up when we get home." The doors opened, they stepped inside, and within seconds were on their way to the fifth floor, and a promised ultrasound.

Doctor Week's Office, 3:20 pm

Doctor Weeks closed Cait's file and looked up at the couple, both still trying to assimilate the results of the ultrasound. "I know this was unexpected, but we knew considering Cait's age that this was a possibility."

Chris squeezed his wife's hand. "How could the previous exams and tests have missed this?"

Helen sighed. "Modern medicine is wonderful, but not infallible. In this case, your baby had to cooperate, and did, so we'll proceed accordingly."

Cait finally found her voice, and asked, "Do I need to do anything differently?"

"You might find yourself tiring more easily, and take longer naps, but at this point I don't foresee the need to change your routine. I'll monitor you weekly, we'll run more tests, and as we progress I'll adjust my orders as necessary." The doctor handed Chris the video of the ultrasound. "Give yourselves time to adjust your thinking, and if you notice any changes that you're uncomfortable with, call me."

Chris tucked the video in his jacket pocket, and stood, helping Cait to her feet. He assisted her with her coat, and then turned to the doctor. "This is not a dream is it?"

Doctor Weeks shook her head. "No, but trust me, once the shock wears off, you'll see that this is not something to worry about yet." She stood, walked around her desk, and patted Cait on the shoulder. "I’ll see you next week, and keep in mind we still have a few months to go, so pace yourself."

Cait nodded, and walked out with Chris beside her. Of all the possibilities she knew they could be looking at, this was the one she had least expected. Neither she nor Chris said anything until they were back in the lobby.

"I parked close, but if you want to wait, I'll pull up in front," Chris offered, watching her for any signs of distress.

"No…the reason I had my father drop me off was so we could steal some time together, and right now….I don't want you out of my sight."

Drawing her close, he smiled, "No way in hell you're losing me, we're in this together. We'll be fine, Cait."

She nodded. "I know, but …until we absorb this….can we not say anything to the rest of our family?"

"We'll tell them when you're ready, and not a moment sooner." He leaned in to kiss her. "Now, how about we go home?"

Cait nodded, and he pushed open the doors, keeping a firm hold on her arm as they walked out into the snow. Chris had always known that Fate was good at throwing him curves, but this time….he had not seen this one coming.

Tanner Home, 5:30 pm

Vin stood at the entrance to the den, observing Kelli with their children. The twins were showing her their new artwork, while Andi and Jason sat close by, working on their homework. It was obvious that they all had missed her, and they needed to assure themselves that mama was actually home. Kelli began to tickle Trey and soon Bren, joined in for his share, both boys dissolving into a fit of giggles, which made their mama happy. The scene he was witnessing warmed his heart. When Kelli had first suggested the possibility of them having a house filled with children, Vin could not imagine it. Now though, with number five on the way, he could easily visualize a few more little Tanners gathered round their mother.

Making his presence known, he walked over to join his family. The twins immediately pulled him into their tickle session, joined by their brother and sister. He did not miss the mischievous glint in his wife's eyes, and it pleased the Texan. Her health was steadily improving, and had been since the surgery. He knew that before long, she would be back to a hundred percent, and another crisis in their lives would only be a memory.

Playtime ended when Max entered the room. "Andi, I need you and Jason to set the table please." Approaching the twins, she smiled. "Supper will be on the table in twenty minutes. I'll take these two and help them wash up before we eat." She stayed the protest she knew was coming from Kelli. "You might feel better, and I know you could do it, but don't push yourself. Besides, I miss having them around all day, too, and would like to have a few moments with them."

"Thanks, Max," Vin said as he took Kelli's hand. "We appreciate it."

Kelli leaned into Vin's side. "You two are spoilin' me. I do feel much better, you know."

"Baby, it's been less than a week since your surgery. Indulge us, and don't rush things."

Chuckling softly, Kelli answered, "I won't rush, but I have been thinkin'. Before we go back to work there's somethin' I'd like to do."

"We?" Vin's brows narrowed. "Did Doctor Weeks clear you for work and not tell me?"

Deciding that now was not the time to argue about her returning to work, Kelli sighed. "Okay…before 'you' go back to work then. I want us to make a trip to Santa Fe."

Her request did not surprise Vin. Tracking down Anne's history had been a priority for Kelli since their shared experience of receiving a warning from her. After his accident, she searched for, and found records, which led to the location of Anne's burial site. For the past three months, she had been sending flowers to Anne's grave, and he reckoned it was just a matter of time before Kelli would want to go there in person.

"I reckon we could, but only after the doctor clears it." He pulled her closer. "After that, we'll talk about you goin' back to work, agreed?"

She smiled. "Agreed, even if it's only part-time I…." The sound of Vin's cell ringing interrupted her.

Vin answered, and listened while Chris gave him a rundown of MCAT's plans for the next day. "I won't be there in person to do it, but I'll do what I can to watch your backs…. I understand…tell Cait hi for us, and yes, Kel's doin' okay…yeah…are you sure that's all?" Vin waited for Chris to tell him what he already sensed from his brother. When he did not, the Texan did not push him. "All right….if you need me…yeah, yeah, yeah…I hear you. Watch your back, Cowboy."

Closing his cell, Vin told his wife, "Cait was tired after her doctor's appointment, so Chris took her home, and said he'd see you tomorrow. The rest of the conversation was work related."

Kelli studied Vin's face. She knew there was more he was not saying, but for now, she would wait until he was ready to share. "Reckon we should join the kids. If we're late to the table, Max might make us go to bed without our supper." She grinned. "Of course that might be a helluva lot more fun for us."

"Feelin' feisty are we?" Vin smiled, leaned over and kissed her. "Control yourself, woman. We see the doctor in two days…if your tests come back good," he winked at her, "then we'll play catch up, but not before." He stood, helped her to her feet, and they walked side by side into the dining room. Vin knew Kelli was doing much better, and he missed their lovemaking as much as she did, but he did not intend to rush. Making love to his wife definitely fit into the category of special things worth waiting for, and he was, after all… a patient man.

Larabee Home, 9:00 pm

Amazingly, the Larabee children did not resist calling it an early night. They seemed to sense that their parents had a lot on their minds, and were now all sound asleep. Chris stripped off his clothes, and eased into bed to join his wife. Drawing her close, he whispered, "You okay?"

"Maybe…my mind is still racing a mile a minute. There are so many things we need to consider, I'm not sure where to start."

"We start," he said as he stroked her hip, "by accepting what we've been given. The rest, we take one day at a time."

Cait knew he was right, and even if they could turn back the clock and change anything, she knew neither of them would. Moving forward was the only path open for them. Worrying about what might happen was a waste of time. "You're right, and I guess I'm just a little nervous, but…"

"But nothing," Chris shifted to look at her face, "whatever we need to do, we'll do." He sighed. "I wish I could take a few days off, so you and I could get away and think this through, but I can't right now. Unfortunately, I have to go in early tomorrow, but this case is almost over…once it is…"

Cait silenced him with her finger on his lips. "You concentrate of your case…I'm okay. Just knowing that you're willing to take time off for me makes me feel good, but it's not necessary. I suppose it was the surprise that got to me, that's all. There's nothing for us to work through, and I'll be fine by tomorrow." She sighed as he held her tighter, relaxing into a sensual kiss. She turned her back to him and cuddled against him. "Come on, you need a good night's sleep if you have an early start."

Chris was aware that Cait was tired too, and this case had affected their personal time. He wanted to make it up to her somehow, remind her how much he loved her. Moving from their spooned position, he turned her in his arms and kissed her on the lips. "I know you’re tired, and you need your rest." Holding her trembling body closer, he kissed her forehead. "Sleep, mama."  He sighed contentedly as she wrapped her leg over his and snuggled into his chest.

"I love you too, Larabee," she whispered. Within minutes, they were both asleep.

Chapter 23

'Standing in the eye of the hurricane gives one a false sense of security.
Just when you believe the worst is over, the backside of the
 storm hits you in the ass with twice the force.'

Evergreen National Park, 0600

Davidson Farley sat in his BMW, looked at his watch, and yawned. He had arrived at the deserted rest area a little early, and waited for his mentor. Shaking his head, he smiled; his associate was brilliant, but also a little paranoid. It would have been so much easier to meet at the private airfield and then depart the country; however, the man insisted on secrecy, and had staged this meet beforehand. Since he was 'the boss', Farley complied. When he saw a Tahoe enter the parking area, he moved to greet the man that exited the truck. He and the Southerner clasped hands as they came together.

"All set, my friend?"

Farley nodded. "Yes sir." He handed over a disc case. "In here is a copy of all I had on my computer, which is now wiped clean. I transferred money from our accounts to an offshore bank, and listed the details on a flash drive for you. Our 'associates ' began arriving at the lodge yesterday evening, and expect to see us for breakfast." He grinned. "Too bad they'll be disappointed."

While the judge spoke, the Southerner glanced through the contents of the disc case, nodded as he did so, slipped it into his coat pocket, and smiled. "Davidson, you have been an outstanding ally. I could not have achieved our success without you." He put an arm around his friend’s shoulders, and the other man smiled warmly at the gesture. "I will miss you in Canada." The split second of surprise that registered on Davidson’s features was replaced by horror when the Southerner moved his arm from Farley's shoulders to his neck, applied pressure, raised his other arm, and snapped the trapped neck like a twig. The Judge's body dropped to the snow-covered ground.

Reaching into the BMW, The Southerner popped the trunk and returned to the corpse. Lifting Farley, he stuffed his body into the cramped space, pushed the lid shut, tossed the keys into the iced, dense undergrowth, and headed back to the Tahoe. Pleased to have this loose end taken care of, the Southerner pulled out and headed for the retreat.

Lake Evergreen Mountain Retreat, Denver, 0700

Farley had reserved the delightful lake house for two days, arranged for catered meals, and dismissed the staff. Six council members of the Trinity Brotherhood had begun to arrive the previous evening, and settled into their rooms with magnificent views overlooking the lake. None seemed to mind the fact that there was no staff, and each followed the list of directions given them to the letter. The next morning they left their cell phones, iPods, and blackberries in a basket at the door as per instructions, and then assembled in the dining area. Entering the large, rustic room, they were delighted to see an array of breakfast foods, juices, water, and coffee laid out on a group of tables dressed in long, white, linen tablecloths.

One man looked at his co-councilors.  "This is real nice and all, but am I the only one a little pissed that Farley’s decided to call it a day?"

Another nodded. "I understand that things are a little heated right now, but it’s not like it’s the first time we’ve had to weather a storm."

An elegant woman sipped at her coffee. "Well, this is all very unfortunate, but I have it on good authority that Larabee and his team are the Rottweilers of their profession, and no one under their scrutiny has escaped without a prison sentence…or died trying."

"We’ve survived this long," another reminded them all.

"With a little help from our friends," the woman answered. "Larabee makes no such allegiances. Personally, I think it might be wise to call it a day."

"Dear lady, you have good instincts."

They all turned to see a tall, slim, but muscular man dressed in smartly casual attire, enter the room. "It's good to see y'all again. Davidson called to apologize, he’s running a little late, but he wants y’all to enjoy breakfast, and said he’ll join us soon." He carried a bottle in his left hand, and pulled off the driving glove on his right hand before he extended his arm.

Shaking hands as he circled the group, he raised the bottle in the air. "I have with me a delicious bottle of Amaretto. What say we toast our last ten years of success?"  Filling seven glasses, the Southerner, using his gloved hand, passed them over one by one until each council member held a drink. He raised his glass. "To us and all we’ve accomplished."

"To us!" they chorused, downing the liqueur. Before the southerner could drink, he patted the breast pocket of his jacket. "My cell is in the lobby, and I should check on the judge. Excuse me for a few minutes, but please…enjoy your breakfast while I'm gone."

Taking his glass with him, he also picked up the bottle, and exited the room. As he closed the doors, he slipped on his glove, locked them both from the outside, and walked toward some stairs. At the bottom of the steep stairs was a wine cellar. Traversing through it, he came to a large door that led to a narrow, dimly lit passage. Beyond that was a covered dock, which housed several boats.

He jumped into a speedboat, started the engine, backed out, and headed across the still water, until he reached the middle of the lake. There he used his cell to make a phone call, and then tossed it in the lake, followed by the Amaretto bottle, his glass, and the keys to his rented Tahoe, before he pulled the throttle back and continued to the opposite shore.

After he anchored the boat, he stepped onto the wet, greasy boards of a deserted jetty, and he made his way to a parked Avalanche. Easing inside, he smiled at the beautiful woman looking back at him. Leaning in he kissed her, deeply and longingly, his hand caressed her breast before moving to her swollen belly. "How are you?" he asked, the passion in his eyes evident.

"All the better for seeing you," she sighed, her hand resting on his.

"And my son?" He rubbed her stomach.

"Strong, like his father. Is everything settled here?"

"Yes, all set for an MCAT surprise. You?"

"I’ve already prepared the way for our next operation. A few months in Canada and we’ll be ready to return, and take control." She smiled. "Our son will be born an American."


Back in the dining hall, before one of the councilors could raise the question of the Southerner’s exit, several of the council members began to gasp for air. Seconds later, no one remained standing as bodies convulsed on the floor and bodily functions were lost. Minutes later, the air was rank with the stench of death.

 MCAT War Room, 0800

Commander Larabee had reviewed the arrest warrants, and JD had matched photos to each one. Chris spent the last forty minutes laying out his orders for Alpha and Bravo Teams, the Marshals, and the DOJ Agents, who would follow up with the interrogations. He elected to serve the warrant for Davidson Farley personally.

"Agent Miles, you have the honor of arresting the two remaining ATF Agents on the Brotherhood payroll." Larabee handed him the warrants for Karl and Morris. "Sandoval and Garrison will assist. I've already notified ATF Director Hutchins, and he's expecting the arrest."

Russell Miles grinned. "Thank you Sir."

"Captain Michaels…." Chris stopped when Gunny walked in the room.

"Commander, there is a caller on line two, and the man specifically asked to speak with Chris Larabee. He said it was urgent."

With a heavy sigh, Chris punched line two. The message was concise, and to the point. The information concerned a cabin retreat at Lake Evergreen, where, if they acted quickly, MCAT could find six council members of the Trinity Brotherhood gathered. The line went dead before Chris could activate a trace.

"Okay, slight change of plans Captain Michaels, you'll coordinate with Pam on communications, and your team will take the warrants that Jackson, Standish, and Marshal Unit one planned to execute. We'll all move at 0945 hours, no exceptions. I do not want anyone tipping off the rest."

Chris began to brief the teams about the call. "Nathan, Ezra, you’re the lead agents on the retreat, Marshal Unit One will be your backup, and we'll use a John Doe warrant. We're stretched thin, but I hope we have an advantage with the element of surprise on this one. That said…" he paused to look at JD and Josiah. "We’ve had our share of incidents. Assume nothing. This could be a trap…or not. Time will tell. Mike, you set up the armaments required. Any questions?" He noted that JD raised his hand. "JD?"

"I uh…don't see Josiah’s or my name on the assignment sheet."

"They’re not. You both just got out of the hospital…"

Josiah straightened in his chair. "Now just a minute, we’re here, we’ve done the ground work, we want in."

JD nodded. "Yeah, what’s the deal here? Are you worried we’re not up to it? ‘Cause I gotta tell you, I’ve never been more up for anything in my life."

Chris stared at them. He knew when the adrenaline was pumping a person felt they could triumph over anything. He also knew both men were still overcoming some painful injuries. He nodded. "Okay. Josiah, stick close to Nathan and Ezra, let them be your guides while you watch theirs and the others’ backs. You’ve got good instincts, we could use them." He bit back a smile at JD’s expression. "Okay Dunne, you’re with Buck and me."

Ten years ago, those words would have had JD standing and punching the air. In truth, it was all he could do to stop himself doing so now. Instead, he just nodded. "Thank you."

Chris checked his watch then glanced around his brothers and the remainder of Alpha Team. "Okay, this all kicks off in one hour…let’s get ready to head out."

Tanner Home, 0945

Vin retreated to his study, his mind unable to focus on anything but his brothers and the round-ups going down today. Throughout the morning, his anxiety level had increased, to the point he was now convinced that something was seriously wrong. Images of an incendiary device formed in his mind. He tried to reach out to Chris, but could only sense that Larabee was in 'MCAT mode' and not in a situation where he could answer him. He had however, managed to ‘find’ Josiah. He could not communicate in the way he could with Chris, but he felt sure that he had conveyed his urgency. He hoped his message would get through. Tanner was certain that one or more of his brothers were in mortal danger, but…which ones?

Lake Evergreen Mountain Retreat, Denver, 09:45

Josiah, Nathan and Ezra, accompanied by the Marshals Unit arrived and entered the large lodge on cue, leaving a few men to log the vehicles in the parking lot and secure the perimeter.

Armed, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan looked warily around. Nodding a direction to the men with them, the three agents, and several of the Marshals moved into the wide corridor off the lobby and cautiously, but determined, announcing themselves and pushing open doors to each room as they negotiated the lit passageway. Most were unlocked and empty, but one set of double doors drew their attention. Gun primed, Ezra tested the door, and found it locked. He searched the area with his eyes, finding nothing of use. "We need a key."

One of the Marshals returned to the lobby and took a bunch of keys from a hook inside a small room off the reception, hurrying back to hand them to Ezra. Looking at Nathan, and Josiah to confirm that they were ready, Standish navigated through the keys to unlock the doors. After calling out their identity, he pushed them open. The smell that hit them made him gag. Josiah and Nathan peered in, the former speaking, "Oh, dear Lord."


Waiting on Bones and his team, and with the area secured, Ezra and the Marshals went to seek out the rooms marked occupied on the register.  Anticipating that someone might still be alive, Josiah and Nathan examined the bodies in the dining room. Both shuddered at the sight of limbs and features twisted in agony, laying in the toxic ooze of their own feces, urine, and vomit. Soon they realized there was no hope. It was evident that this was going to be a huge undertaking for forensics, but as far as they were concerned, all they could do for now was to stay focused. Still, Josiah had an uneasy feeling about their assignment, unable at this point to put it into words. Ezra joined them from searching the occupied guest rooms. In his hands were several evidence bags containing IDs, passports, wallets, and money. A Marshal held a collection of cells, iPods, and other paraphernalia, also in bags.

"It would seem some of them hadn’t even been here long enough to unpack," Standish reported as he pulled out his cell. "I'll call in to report our status."

Sanchez nodded. "I think we can leave this with the Marshals. I can’t explain why, but something’s not right, and I feel we should…" He tensed, his gaze flicking between Ezra and Nathan before he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Vin?" Opening his eyes, he stared at his brothers. "We have to get out of here...NOW!"

Residence of Davidson Farley

Stepping out of Chris’s truck, three MCAT agents stared at the exceptional building Davidson Farley called home. "Wow!"

Buck and Chris nodded at JD’s remark. Chris glanced at his watch. "Five minutes to get into position. Buck, you take the front, JD, the side door, and I'll cover the back. Keep your frequencies open."

Chris cautiously maneuvered through the large, landscaped gardens until he came to the pool house that adjoined the main building, and then stationed at that entrance. "Eagle one in position."

JD eased around the opposite side of the house, his shoes made a crunching noise as he walked over the snow. He stopped at the side door, and reported his location. "Eagle two in position."

Buck acknowledged both agents, glanced at his watch and waited until 0945 to knock on the front door. "Federal Agent, I have a warrant for Davidson Farley…. open the door."

With no response or noise from inside, Buck started to kick in the door, but hesitated and tried the doorknob first. He grinned as the door creaked open, and spoke into his microphone, "We have lift off." Stepping inside it was difficult not to be in awe of the tropically designed setting. Buck keyed his throat microphone, and whispered, "Eagle one I'm in."

"Me, too," Chris spoke from behind him.

Buck spun around with his weapon raised, then growled, "Jesus, Chris, don't do that."

"Back door was unlocked." He keyed his microphone, "Eagle Two we're in, you see anything?"

"Nope, quiet as a grave out here, boss man."

Ignoring Buck’s soft laugh, Chris spoke again. "Stand by, we’re about to approach the side door to let you in."

Chris slid the door open, and JD entered with a grin on his face. "Avon calling."

Chris bit back a tiny grin. "Get in here; we’ve got a lot of house to cover."

Walking through the lower floor, they pushed back sliding doors that led into a sunroom, which in turn led them into a grand hallway that had several rooms leading off it and a wide staircase to the upper level.

Looking around, JD nodded to Chris. "You’re not wrong about a lot to cover." He glanced toward what looked like a study. "I wonder if there’s a computer in there."

Buck joined them. "You can play once we’ve established no one is here." He stared around and looked at Chris. "Though, if I had to make an educated guess, I'd say Farley's long gone."

Chris nodded. "Okay, let’s do this. Buck, you go upstairs. JD, you take left, I’ll go right." The three parted, only to meet again ten minutes later, confident now the house was empty.

"Now can I go check out the computer?" JD asked.

"Yeah, do it," Buck answered as Chris dialed Com-Sat on his cell.

"Pam, we're in, suspect's in the wind. We're going to stick around and search the premises." Chris listened as she updated him. "Got it…let me know when Ezra checks in." he turned to Buck. "We have fourteen in custody, and all units have checked in except for the one at the retreat."

"Let's toss this place, and see what we can find. I'm sure we'll hear from them soon." Buck said as he and Chris started up the stairs. It became evident that most of the guest rooms were rarely, if ever used, and the two agents focused on the judge’s bedroom and bathroom. Despite wearing gloves, they used pens to open drawers and move things onto hard surfaces. They found toiletries, and assorted personal items, but no journals or paperwork.

Buck opened the nightstand drawer and chuckled as he used a tissue and held up a box of Trojan Magnum condoms. "Big ego, or big…?"

"Buck…focus." Chris released a small grin before quickly sobering. "Come on, I think that’s it. Let’s go see how JD’s doing and start on the rooms downstairs." 

Once the computer was up and running, it was evident that the judge had deleted all his files. JD had expected that, and while Buck and Chris worked upstairs, he had begun the tiresome process of retrieving them. By the time the two agents had joined their youngest, the flash drive was winking furiously, and JD was tapping away on the keyboard.

"Success?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, finally. Farley wiped everything…or thought he did, but I've retrieved most of it. I reckon I’ll have all of it soon."

Chris nodded. "Good, that’s something at least." He stared at the huge array of books lining the shelves, most of them law reference books, though he spotted a few leather bound classics amongst them. While he went through the drawers, Buck began rifling the bookshelves. It seemed a shame to disturb such distinguished literature, but they could not afford to leave any stone, or book, unturned.

JD frowned and squinted at a timer that suddenly appeared in the top right-hand corner of the monitor. "Hey, a timer just came up. It’s counting down from thirty seconds."

Before Chris could take in the words, Buck cursed and his attention moved to him while JD frantically tried to interrupt the countdown. "What?"

 Still holding the books he had removed, Buck gestured toward the bookshelves with his head. A white envelope with the word ‘Larabee’ written on it was nestled there. Easing it out, Chris used his pen to extract the paper inside. He read it aloud, "I congratulate you; you are a worthy adversary, and a credit to law enforcement. I however, have the last word, and it is this, ‘KABOOM’." He looked at Buck. "What the hell?" They both turned as JD cried out.

"Jesus, I didn’t have enough time, this timer’s on zero, what the crap does that mean?" They all froze in place as a loud noise reverberated around them. Within seconds, heavy security shutters slammed down on every window and door on the property, casting them into darkness. Fumbling, JD snapped on the desk lamp. "Oh shit."

Chapter 24

"I want to feel, smell, hear and see, but not see with my eyes and my mind only. I want to see with CANTE ISTA - the eye of the heart." Lame Deer, LAKOTA

Tanner Home

Vin picked up the first book he could grab from his desktop, and tossed across the room. For a short time he sensed Chris and now….nothing. He clenched his fists, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. If he was going to connect with his brothers, he had to tone down his frustration, and concentrate. If Chris could not 'hear' him, then Josiah was his best bet to make a link. Zoning in on the lesson from the journal that Tracker had left for him; he reached out to their Spiritual Warrior and sent him a message.

Lake Evergreen

For the second time in as many weeks, Josiah found himself speeding down an iced mountain road. This time, however, he was in control, and the memory of Vin's message urged him on. . ‘If only JD could see me now’. That thought caused him to push his foot harder on the gas, as his fear of the unknown threat for his brothers consumed him.

Ezra and Nathan fared no better. While the latter, sat in the front beside Josiah, and stared through the windshield at the passing blurred landscape, Standish called Tanner.

"Talk to me, Ez. I sensed Chris for a while, and now it's as if he's vanished."

"We have been unable to succeed in the more conventional way, also. The DPD is en route to our Commander's last known location, as we speak. We are also monitoring all police bands and thus far have heard nothing to concern us." There was no reply. "Vin?"

"Yeah, I’m here. What’s your ETA?"

"At our current speed, running lights and siren, I estimate fifteen minutes."

"Make it faster."

"Consider it done."


"Yes, Vin?"

"Keep the line open. I need to hear everythin’."

"No problem. You stay focused."

"Been doin’ that since this damn round-up started."

Now on the highway, the familiar wail of the sirens filled the air, as Josiah weaved in and out of traffic. "Stay out of my way, people, or I will go through you."

Nathan did not doubt Josiah’s sincerity for a moment. Within ten minutes, the three, with Tanner still on the line, arrived at Farley’s home. Slewing the truck to a halt, they ran onto the drive and stared at the large home enclosed in an armor shell.

Vin’s voice screaming for information broke them out of their reverie and Ezra raised the phone to speak, "Oh, dear Lord."


 Buck scooped the books off the shelves with one hand. Behind the title, ‘Exploring Theories – The Big Bang’ he discovered a sophisticated timing device attached to what was easily identifiable to his experienced eye, as Semtex. "Damn"

Chris pulled out his cell and attempted to call out; his frustration soon matched Buck’s. "Damnit! No signal." He looked at JD. "Can you IM or email anyone?"

Dunne shook his head. "Already tried, the computer’s detached from the phone line; actually, I think it’s the phone line that’s been disconnected." He glanced between the pair, his eyes wide. "How screwed are we?"

Tossing the ‘Big Bang’ book down onto the floor, Buck’s features were grim. "The timer gives us twenty minutes."

"You can do it," Chris said with confidence. JD nodded to back him up.

"I don’t have my tools…"

"You can do it." Chris restated, and nodded when Buck took up the challenge.

JD reached over and snatched up the book. "Wait, I saw a folder with this on it." Staring at the screen, he scrolled through the files, yelling out when he found it, "There, ‘Big Bang’." Opening it, he was crestfallen. "It’s the override for the security shutters…but it’s a six digit number." He looked at his brothers. "I’m not sure I have enough time to get all six…"

"Go for it, what have we got to lose?" Chris pointed out. "I’m gonna take a look around to see if I can find another way out of here." Silence fell in the library as Buck and JD set to work. The only audible sounds were of JD typing furiously and Chris’s boots stomping across the hardwood floor as he searched for an exit.

Hanson’s Security Systems, Denver

Sorrel Winiper looked thoughtfully at the ham, cheese, and pickle roll in his hand as he sat in a small cabin, affectionately known in the company as ‘the control room’. Opening his mouth wide to take a big bite, he cursed as a buzzer sounded and a light on the motherboard flashed below the name of a domicile under their protection. Squinting, he read the name. "Farley." Consulting a logbook to locate the address, he shrugged. "The guy’s away on vacation." His stomach growled as he glanced at his meager lunch. "Ah to hell with it, five more minutes won’t make no difference." He grabbed his sandwich to take a bite.

Residence of Farley Davidson

Buck had assigned Chris as the ‘gofer’, and requested nail scissors or something similar. Larabee recalled seeing one in Farley’s bathroom, and hauled ass upstairs, to return in less than a minute with the item. "Shouldn’t run with scissors in your hand, stud," Buck wisecracked, but the sweat beading on his brow told the tale of his true frame of mind. Chris turned when JD whooped softly, as the second digit of the six-number code fell into place. JD’s bangs clung to his damp forehead as his lower lip sought out the sweat beading on his upper lip. His outerwear long since removed, he rolled his neck for a second before resuming his feverish tapping.

Chris placed his hands on JD’s too- warm shoulders and kneaded the tense muscles. "Doing great, guys." In truth, Chris felt helpless. He had found no exit and his mind ached from trying to think up something, anything to resolve their situation. Earlier he felt a link with Vin, but since the window covers descended, he could not even sense the Texan. He squeezed JD’s shoulders harder when another squeal from the younger man revealed one more digit of the code. Three more to go, but his moment of hope eroded when Buck announced only ten minutes left on the timer and many more trip wires to navigate before the bomb was disarmed.


Outside Farley’s home, Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan studied the solid metal shutters over every window and door. They had located Chris’s Ram parked close by, which confirmed that their three brothers were on the premises, but they still had not obtained answers from any of their cells.

"No wonder we couldn’t get hold of them, I doubt any kind of signal would cut through that steel." Nathan stated. All three turned at the sound of a heavy vehicle coming up the drive.

A van, with the name ‘Hanson’s Security Systems’ painted on its side, rolled to a halt, and two men cautiously stepped out. Thinking to himself that burglars these days sure dressed well, Sorrel approached the trio with caution. "I gotta warn you, the cops are on their way."

"And I should inform you, sir, we are already here." Ezra handed the open cell phone to Josiah, and flashed his badge to the two men.

The man accompanying Sorrel stood tall, his legs slightly apart as he viewed the scene. "Tricky one," he said bluntly.

"Tricky how?" Josiah asked.

"Need a key to shut down the laser beams that protect the shutters."

"Well get it and hand it over, we have people in there," Nathan ordered. He watched as the second man jogged off to search through the front of the van’s interior before returning to them, and whisper something to Sorrel.

"Didn’t bring it," Sorrel replied.

Ezra growled, exasperated at the idiots before him. "Do you at least have schematics to the system?"



"Oh yeah, just a minute."

Standish rolled his eyes at Josiah and Nathan as the second man returned to the truck. "With any luck we’ll have our brothers out of there before Pearl’s first birthday."

Josiah nodded, before he heard a distant screaming voice that caused him to lift the phone to his ear. "Vin, is everything alright?"

Relieved that someone heard him, after shouting for some time, Vin answered. "Josiah, thank God. What’s happenin’?"

"We’re currently standing on the forecourt of Davidson Farley’s home."

"Get the hell outta there."


Vin sounded anxious. "I can’t explain, and I still can’t connect with Chris, JD, or Buck, but y'all need to get the hell out of there …NOW!

"That’s not possible."

"Jesus, Josiah, don’t give me issues, just…"

"Vin, they’re trapped behind steel security shutters. We’re attempting to get the mechanism operational as we speak."

Vin huffed out his exasperation. "Josiah, listen to me…trust me…you have to get them outta there, somethin’s seriously wrong, and it involves some type of bomb…I can feel it."

Josiah glanced at Ezra and Nathan, his heart thudding against his aching ribcage from the tone of Vin’s plea. "Stand by."

As a dozen or more DPD officers joined them, Josiah walked up to the main door shutter and startled his brothers as he pounded on it. "Chris! Chris, answer me…answer me now!" He turned to Ezra as the man walked toward him with the schematics. "We’re out of time; we need to get them out."


Seven minutes to go, and JD was working toward digit five. Buck straightened and wiped his brow. "Jesus, the bastard who put this together is either an evil genius or has a fetish for colored wires." Not expecting a reply, he resumed his work.

The sound of a distant metallic clatter jolted them from concentration. "What the hell was that?" JD yelped in surprise.

"Keep working, I’ll be right back." Realizing the noise was coming from behind the main door, Chris ran toward the front of the house. He jerked the door open to find an ugly gray metal shutter and heard the bellow of an irate Josiah on the other side. He placed one palm against the cold steel and prayed the sound of his voice would carry back to him.

"Josiah, get the hell away from here. There’s a bomb and I don’t think…"

Josiah interrupted him. "Now you listen up, Christopher. We’re not leaving without you boys. Our Heart Warrior got us here, and we know about the bomb. Ezra’s working on the schematics now, and I called in a bomb disposal unit…"

"No, no time. Sanchez. GO…that’s an order."

"Then write me up, boss, we’re not leaving you. Stand by." He turned to Ezra who was studying something at Josiah’s feet. "Ezra?"

Standish answered, but did not look up. "I see a way. If I can deflect this beam, the shutter will rise."

"Let’s do it." Josiah paused. "Wait, I sense a ‘but’."

Now Ezra made eye contact. "The system’s designed to recognize an attempt to infiltrate; it will cut in again in just seconds." The two men stared at each other.

"Will the gap be enough to pull a body under the door?"

They turned to Nathan. Ezra answered his question. "There’s a slim chance, yes." Decision made, Ezra extracted a small mirror from his inside jacket pocket. He raised an eyebrow, before dropping flat to the ground. "A gentleman never leaves home without one."

Vin’s voice sounded over the open cell phone. Josiah answered, and hit the speaker button. "Vin, we’re going to…"

"Josiah, listen…listen to your Heart Warrior. Tell Chris to trust me…to trust in the code. I need y’all to focus now…Ezra can do this, but he needs us all."

Josiah leaned into the shutter, "Chris…"

Larabee was already turning away. "I heard, and I’m on it."

JD’s hair was practically vertical where he had pushed at it so much. Digit five had dropped in, and he was pounding away toward the final number, but he was wiped. His head was throbbing and his aching ribs reminded him that they were not healed yet.

Buck was faring no better. Disarming a bomb was always stressful. Disarming one against the clock tested his skill and resolve to the limit. He turned when Chris called his and JD’s names. "Guys, time to go."

"We can’t get out," JD stated, not looking up from the screen. "I’m almost there, I can do this."

Buck turned back to the job in hand. "I’ve almost got it, I can do this."

Chris’s voice was calm as he spoke. "Time to trust our legacy, boys…Vin’s calling us home."

Both men stopped, turned to face not just their Commander, but also their Chief Warrior. Echoes of voices from their past called to them, and the Guardian Warrior, and Guide, stood. JD wavered just for a moment as he glanced at the blinking space that was waiting for digit number six. He felt Chris’s hand on his arm. "Come on…let’s go."

Now with six warriors gathered, separated by only one door, and the seventh, listening in, it was time to let Fate guide them. After ordering everyone to back up to a safe distance, Ezra attempted to deflect the laser beam, six men’s minds worked in sync to send their energy to him. All at once, Ezra felt a surge of adrenalin at the same time the others felt the connection. In his home, Vin smiled and focused all that power towards Ezra.

There was a jerk and the steel door began to lift, only to stop seconds later, leaving a gap barely big enough for a person to slide through, if at all. Josiah and Nathan got into position to pull their brothers out. "Now, boys, NOW!"

Chris looked at JD. "Go!"

About to drop to the floor, JD suddenly stopped and ran back into the hallway. "Shit! I forgot something!"


"One of you!" Josiah hollered.

"Buck!" Chris barked.

The brunet glanced to where JD had run, his eyes pleading as he looked back at Chris.

"He’s coming, Buck, go!"

Dropping to the floor, Buck went flat and extended his arms. Strong hands grabbed his wrists and hauled him through the gap.


"Not without JD!"

"You can’t afford to wait to be the last, time’s up. NOW!"

Seeing JD racing back to him, Chris nodded to himself, nose-dived to the floor, where waiting hands dragged him through with the younger agent hot on his heels. As if he was about to steal second, JD slid along the polished floor. He twisted onto his stomach before his feet exited the doorway. Hands grabbed his ankles, yanked him through and onto his feet. All six men turned and ran, barely reaching a reasonable distance when the former judge’s residence exploded in a billowing gust of debris, flames, and ear-splitting noise.

Despite being a fair distance away, the blast knocked the six men off their feet and the air from their lungs. Stunned and sitting on their butts on the cold gravel drive, they, their fellow officers, and the two Hanson security men watched in horrified awe as the once magnificent home collapse into burning rubble. None of the brothers could speak as they gulped in air. JD and Josiah both hugged their ribs as their recent injuries re-surfaced. Buck finally rallied, and spoke a fraction earlier than Chris.

"Kid, what the hell did you go back for?"

Fishing into his pocket, with a grunt JD pulled out the flash drive he had used in the Judge’s home. "Never leave home without one," he rasped out.

Chris laughed, causing the others to join in until they were all laughing helplessly. In his home, Vin squatted beside the desk, his energy drained, and his emotions high as he savored the laughter he could hear. He sent out a silent message. Seconds later Chris answered. 'We love you too.'


It was mid-afternoon before they broke away from what was now a crime scene. On the trip back to MCAT Headquarters, their earlier euphoria dissipated, and the moods of the returning six brothers became reflective. Ezra and Nathan, now in the back of Chris’s Ram and Josiah riding shotgun, were deep in thought about the day’s events.

Josiah’s mind sifted through the images of the prone bodies at the retreat, and the message from Vin that had compelled him to get himself, Nathan, and Ezra to their three endangered brothers. He had read his Legends book from cover to cover several times, but still found himself marveling at the timeless gift bestowed on their seven. It made them strong, focused and cohesive, but despite knowing their connection saved three lives this day, the message was clear…it did not make them invincible…it merely gave them the ability to do their best on the day. While grateful they were still seven strong, he could not help the fear nestling deep in his soul, that one day it just might not be enough.

Ezra glanced at his hands, and curled them into fists to disguise the tremors. He was unable to comprehend how a man who at one time swore to uphold the law could set a trap for law enforcement officers with the intent to kill them. He, Josiah, and Nathan had then faced the possibility of seeing three of their siblings of the heart, blown into oblivion. Judge Davidson Farley had a lot to answer for when they found him.

Nathan processed the details of the morning, and concluded that at this point only a few of his many questions about the case had answers. Some he may never find, but the one thing he was certain about was the bond of seven. Thinking back over the events that had happened since receiving their Legend books, he was convinced that their testing period was complete. They might not understand everything about their code, yet, but today it worked. From here on out, they would only become stronger, and that meant fewer injuries for his brothers.

Buck glanced towards JD as he drove them back to MCAT from Denver Memorial. First Nathan, then Chris, insisted that JD allow the doctors to look at his ribs when it became clear he had aggravated his recent injuries while escaping the house that almost became their tomb. Thankfully, apart from fresh bruises and a stern reprimand from Landers about being on active duty so soon, JD was fine…at least physically. However, knowing how his own mind was processing events right now, Buck had no doubt the mental repercussions of this case would provoke questions from them all for some time to come. While he wondered if there would have been enough time to diffuse the bomb device if he had stayed with it, he also marveled that their legacy had yet again been the reason the seven had bonded on a higher plain, and survived. He warmed at the grin JD threw him and squeezed his brother’s knee as they journeyed on.   

JD’s mind was working overtime as he tried to comprehend what had happened today. He felt sure he would have calculated the final number in time to halt the bomb’s timing device, or that Buck would have diffused it just before, yet it bothered him that it came down to testing his conviction down to the wire. He was well aware of how this legacy had changed their lives, but still struggled with the enormity of the power it carried. An authority far beyond reason, and fueled by faith. Despite Vin being unable to direct Chris today, their Heart Warrior had still guided them through the jeopardy that would have ended their lives, and the brotherhood they cherished. If that did not inspire them, nothing could. Sensing that Buck was looking at him; JD turned toward the big man and grinned before patting the hand squeezing his knee.

Chris felt drained, but understood that a debriefing was necessary as soon as possible. They would write reports, review their day, then go home, and start over tomorrow. This case had taken its toll in many ways. It did not sit well in his gut to learn of the long history of deceit within an institution designed to protect, serve, and uphold justice. To discover that men and women they had considered associates were entrenched in deceitful activities, the results of which would reverberate around the corridors of the various subdivisions of law and order for years to come, was disheartening. Having his brothers subjected to life-threatening deeds and subterfuge tested his belief in what they do to the limit. He seriously wondered, had it not been for his teams, the six men he held close to his heart, and the legacy bestowed upon them, if he would have wanted to continue after such revelations. Recent events however, particularly those of this day, had fortified his resolve and those he loved and commanded, to continue the fight. Justice would prevail…and their legacy would guide them on their journey.

Chapter 25

"The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of
security and calm that is not easily disturbed."
Carl Jung

Reins Daycare, Thursday, 7:00 am

It seemed like weeks since JD and Tess had seen each other, even though they had spoken on the phone several times, and especially last night. The girls and JJ had stayed with her and Keira through most of the week while the case had peaked, and Inez had picked his kids up for him to have back at home last night. Bringing the kids to daycare this morning had been an event JD looked forward to far more than he expected. He grinned when he spied Tess standing at the door.

Tess could not believe the butterflies in her stomach as she greeted the children arriving for the day. She and JD had talked on the phone for a long time the night before, and now she could barely wait to see him, even if it was just for a few minutes. A racy thought crossed her mind, and her smile widened when she saw JD and three offspring approaching.

"Good morning, Dunne family." She fussed with the children, and then sent them inside before looking at JD. "Hi."


"You look good…"

They both giggled as they spoke in unison. Tess beckoned to Cordelia for her to take over door duty. She waited for the woman to look away for a second, and then took JD’s hand to drag him down the corridor. Opening a door, she nudged him inside a broom closet.

JD grinned as she flicked on the light. "Miz McCall, what are you doing?"

Tess leaned in closer. "Are you going to talk all day John Daniel, or are you going to kiss me?"

JD bobbed his eyebrows, and his grin widened. "I thought I might just talk…" He chuckled as she kissed him, but soon relaxed into it when the kiss deepened, and he held her close. 'To hell with talking. '

Tess melted against him and raised her arms to lace them around his neck. Time seemed unimportant, and their kiss, their longest so far, continued. Both were thinking that it would be the first of many as they savored every second. Finally, they separated and nuzzled each other’s cheeks. "Missed you," she breathed.

"Girl, if that’s what I get for being missed, I can hardly wait to find out what I get for being around." He smiled. "Missed you, too. You, uh…wanna do dinner later?"

Tess nodded. "Would love to. Would you like for me to bring the children home from daycare, maybe fix dinner for all of you tonight?"

JD swallowed. "You…you’d do that for me?"

"I’d love to, if you want me to, that is."

Smiling, JD nodded. "I can’t think of anything better than enjoying down time with my kids and my girl…" he looked down coyly. "Aw hell, I can’t believe I just said that…"

Tess placed a finger to his lips and waited for him to look at her. "I like it." She kissed him. "We’d better get moving." Opening the door, she glanced around to check that the coast was clear. Then with a parting smile, the pair separated.

Just stepping out of the classroom after dropping Adam off, Josiah caught sight of Tess furtively peeking out from behind a door further along the corridor. She made a hurried exit, followed by JD. The young couple grinned at one another before they parted ways. The big man’s grin threatened to split his face and he looked Heavenward. "Thank you," he whispered. "What took you so long?" He smiled as Tess hurried past him. "Good morning, sweet lady."

Tess giggled. "Morning, Josiah. How are you feeling?"

"Never better," he replied, his grin still in place. "And you?"

"On top of the world," she smiled, before entering her classroom and closing the door.

"Good to know." After he waved to Adam through the window, Josiah headed to work. The team had a case to wrap up, and he wanted time to ponder and prepare for a request Vin. Their conversation last night about their unique roles within the seven as Spiritual and Heart Warriors had been a significant one, and the Texan was right. A private gathering of their seven was long overdue.

Tanner Home, 8:30 am

Kelli huddled with Max and spoke in a whisper, "I'll call you once we leave Doctor Weeks' office to let you know the plan."

Vin entered the kitchen through the back door and only heard the last part of his wife's statement. "I dropped the boys at daycare. What kind of plan?" He smiled when Kelli laughed.

"Nothin' for you to be concerned about. What time does your dad's plane leave?"

"Not until two. We should be back in plenty of time for me to take him to the airport. I doubt Gilford will keep either of us long. If we do your blood work first, Doctor Weeks will have the results by the time we get to her office."

"Then let's get a move on it Tanner," Kelli grabbed her bag, "we're burnin' daylight." She sashayed towards the door, and grinned when she saw Vin smile and shake his head as he followed her.

MCAT War Room, 2:30 pm

Alpha Team gathered round the table in the MCAT War Room, poring over the collected evidence and arrest reports. The unit meeting was long over, the Marshals' back at their own offices, and the DOJ Task Force were in their own building, deep into ciphering their interrogation reports for the U.S. Attorneys.

Nathan closed Desiree Adams's file and tossed it down. "That woman had more aliases than a pharmacy has pills. She was a first rate con artist. How could I not see it?"

Josiah leaned forward in his chair. "You didn't see it because she's good, and whoever hired her knew that."

"We made fourteen arrests, vindicated the remaining members of ATF Teams Eight and Three, and handed over a good case for the attorneys, but we still have more questions than answers." Chris took a deep breath. "We don't have the muscle men that attacked Nathan, or the men who set the bomb that killed Lawson."

JD glanced up from the computer. "I don't think they were local. Like the Adams woman, someone hired them. I've been going over bank records and for each incident we've catalogued; I've been able to match a large withdrawal." He passed a printout to Chris. "There's one to match every murder date. Two on the day Nathan was attacked and the bomb went off at the Federal Building."

Chris nodded. "This tells us that whoever's at the top of this venom pile hired outsiders to do the dirty work. All were professionals, who are in the wind, and probably untraceable."

"Yeah, but was that Judge Farley or someone else?" Buck turned to their profiler for an answer.

Josiah glanced around the table. "We know the Judge manipulated the money, and used the name Francis Daley to set up offshore accounts, so he was one of the top players." He picked up the autopsy reports. "Bones identified the six bodies from the retreat. They were all people who held high enough positions to throw their weight around if any investigation got too close. The paperwork we found referred to them as The Council of Trinity Brotherhood. They probably all knew the mastermind of this conspiracy, and that's the reason they had to die. The fact that they all died from cyanide poisoning shortly before we found them means someone they knew and trusted got close enough to administer it, but not alert them to any danger. It could be the Judge, but we know from the note he left for Chris that he was his primary target. Why call and send us to the retreat if he wanted Chris at his residence?"

"He couldn't be sure Chris would be one of the officers to go to his house though," Buck pointed out.

"True," Josiah agreed, "but with the house rigged to explode, the note was inconsequential. It only served, should Chris be there, to act as a ...a final word, so to speak."

JD nodded his understanding. "With the house, note, and anyone in it destroyed, its existence was only to make a point. Wow, what a smug sonofabitch."

"And bitter," Nathan added. "He knew Chris was the leader of the team that destroyed his little empire, and therefore responsible for him having to leave a lifestyle he coveted." They pondered the revelation for a moment before Standish cleared his throat and took up the commentary.

"After reviewing the interrogation reports, I noticed that there were several suspects who mentioned being recruited in the same manner." Ezra shuffled the papers in front of him. "They all said they wanted to join the Trinity to 'right the wrongs' in the justice system. Several of them, including Dean told of an unidentified man with a southern drawl, who approached them and offered his card. None of them ever saw him again, but when they called the number, they received instructions on how to join. Once recruited, they were coerced into participating in protection rackets and extortion plots to 'keep them in line'. They must have raked in millions over the years, but only received enough to implicate them if they decided to stop."

"So where did the bulk of the money go?" Nathan looked from one agent to another.

"We know the Judge lived way beyond his means, so I reckon he got a big part of it, but according to his financials, not near all of it." JD stated. "There must be at least fifteen or twenty million unaccounted for."

"It was all a scam, and damn they were good." Ezra laughed aloud, and when the others gave him a strange look, he explained. "Reread the statements. The men and women we arrested all believed they were 'fixing a broken system'. They did not care about monetary gains, and were in essence the pawns for someone who plotted a way to reap a fortune from their dissatisfaction. He or she succeeded by constantly recruiting and getting them in so deep there was no way out except arrest or death. Anyone who was close enough to identify 'the boss' is dead. The rest will all do time for their crimes, but are unable to fit all the pieces together. It's not a conspiracy …it 's one big con."

"Damn, Ezra, I think you may be onto something." Josiah nodded as he reread the interrogation summary. "Whoever masterminded all of this knew just how to play law enforcement, use the right lawyers to throw cases to allow guilty criminals to walk for more 'bait', and was smart enough to cover his tracks."

Gunny entered and placed a note in front of Chris, and then left without a word.

"Josiah, you profiled the Judge. How could a man who spent fifteen years on the judicial bench go from upholding the law to con artist? Is he capable of pulling off this kind of swindle?" Buck had trouble accepting that all those deaths resulted from one person's desire to acquire money.

Chris answered instead of Josiah. "I don't think so. A Colorado trooper found Judge Farley's abandoned vehicle this morning. Since we have a BOLO on him, he searched the car… and found Farley's body stuffed in the trunk. Someone broke his neck."

"Loose ends, "Nathan muttered, "all tied up in one neat package."

The six agents sat in silence, soaking in the facts. One case had ended with a measure of success, and that gave them a sense of satisfaction. The Trinity Brotherhood was no more, and fourteen people, including Grant Dean, would spend a long time in prison. This one would go into the win column, and eventually the black eye the vigilante group gave law enforcement would fade, but someone had walked away with millions, and left nothing but a trail of death and countless ruined lives behind. That left a bittersweet taste in their mouths.

Josiah stood, walked over to the evidence board and flipped it over to a clean side. There he posted a blank sheet of paper, and wrote the word Southerner below it with a question mark. "He might be in the wind for now, but sooner or later, he'll surface. He will not be able to resist showing us how smart he thinks he is. I'll work up a profile, so when he does return…we'll be ready for him."

"Our part of this is finished. It's up to the Justice Department to take on the case in the courts now." Chris began to restack the reports before him. "We move on." While they regrouped the reports and prepared them to be filed, a knock on the open door made them look up.

"For a group that just closed a big case, y'all look like you just lost your best friend." Vin walked in. "Am I interruptin' anythin'?"

Chris shook his head. "We're just about to close up shop. What did the doctors say?"

"Gilford said Kel is doin' fine from the surgery, and Weeks told us her blood work looks much better. Baby has a strong heartbeat, and she expects a near normal pregnancy from here on out." Vin smiled when he observed the rise of Larabee's brow. "Oh yeah, Gilford also said I can come back to work." He reached into his pocket, pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to Chris. "Mark me active as of December first."

"That's three more weeks, this says he released you." Chris's frown showed his confusion.

Vin nodded. "He did, but I'm takin' the extra time off anyway. Kel and I have a trip to New Mexico and Texas planned, since we didn't make it last time. I also want to spend the Thanksgivin' holiday with our kids. I've missed too many of them the last few years."

Chris remembered when Vin was under with the Rocky Mountain Resistance, and was not home for Thanksgiving, and when Easter rolled around this year, he and Buck were missing. After all the trouble the Tanners had faced over the past two years, three more weeks was a small request. "Fair enough. I'll set it up for you."

Josiah cleared his throat. He knew why Vin was here, and decided to get it out in the open. "Vin and I talked last night. Since our case is finished, we think all of us should make time to spend some private time together. A spiritual retreat, so to speak."

"After what happened yesterday, I say hell yes." Buck agreed.

Ezra nodded. "I concur. Recent altercations regarding our personal stations in life, warrant discussion."

JD scowled. "If you mean all the connecting, projecting, linking, and testing we've experienced since we got our books. I think you're right."

Nathan could not argue with any of that. "Me, too. When and where?"

"I just dropped my dad at the airport. He'll be in Texas until Sunday night, and he said we could use his cabin." Vin glanced at Chris. "I think the sooner we do this the better for all of us"

Chris understood Vin's message, and agreed. They needed to re-evaluate where they were as warriors, and what it meant for them in the future. "Russo told us to get lost until Monday, once we file these reports. Why not tomorrow?" he glanced at his brothers to receive their approval.

"Josiah and I will take care of the food. Plan to meet us at Brodie's cabin at sunrise tomorrow for a big breakfast." Tanner turned to Sanchez. "I'll make a stop at the grocery store on my way home."

"Vin and I will get it started, but I expect all hands on deck to complete the cooking. After that, we'll take things as they come, but I want to hear everyone's concerns, whether it's about our code, or work related issues, it doesn't matter. We proved yesterday what the power of seven can do; I want us to stay in that zone." Josiah could see that all of them were already thinking about what they wanted to discuss.

After they spent the next twenty minutes making food requests, and planning for their retreat, Vin left to start preparations. The rest filed their reports, and headed home before five o'clock.

Dunne Home, 6:00 pm

Walking through his new home, JD felt at peace. He truly loved it here. While married, the very idea of suggesting that he and Casey move to their own place was put on ice by his then wife. He often wondered if they would still be together if he had been more insistent, but in the end, it had not mattered.

While he knew events had been out of his control, he still found it hard to think of Casey as gone forever. He truly had wanted her to find the happiness she so desperately sought, while still being available to be a mother to their children, but now that could never be, and he still had to find a way to one day tell his kids about her. Then, Nettie’s death soon after had been a bitter blow, and though he and Vin had drawn comfort from each other when they heard the news, they had never really talked it over. He hoped now that Kelli was on the mend, he and Vin could do just that.

He turned his thoughts to Tess, and grinned. He liked that she had taken the initiative today. Their relationship was in its infancy, and he was still uncertain how the pace should be; but her actions told him they were at least comfortable with the first step of a long ladder. He marveled at how his life had turned around since Casey attacked him, and that thought moved him to walk to his patio door.

Glancing out at the garden, he saw the three saplings Tess and his kids had planted in Casey's memory, and smiled. Tess was a revelation. The longer he knew her, the more he knew he had to have her in his life. Friendship had been all that mattered at first, but seeing Tess and Tony talking that day made him realize that he wanted more. Thankfully, she did too, and while all this between them was new and exciting, it was precious, and worth taking time over. Her quiet support bolstered him in a way he had never encountered before. Tomorrow for example, not only did she know about it, but was already planning how to help with the kids and his homecoming. He rarely shared with his brothers how Casey had often sulked and complained when they planned such an event, only coming around when Nettie put her straight, and they made up…which had always been good. Still, he would have appreciated her co-operation occasionally… as Tess was doing now. Jolted out of his reverie, he took out his cell and dialed while he waited for Tess and his children to join him.

"Hi…I’d like to place an order for delivery please…uh, let’s go with roses…pink." He grinned to himself. Maybe by the next time he ordered flowers, the family would know about their relationship…and the roses would be red.

Brodie's Cabin, 6:00 pm

"Damnit, Kel, I said you could keep me company, but you're not here to work." Vin took the box she carried into the cabin.

"That's the last one, and chips don't weigh much." Kelli glanced around. "What else do we need to do?"

Vin set the box of snacks on the counter. "I think we've covered everythin'. The food that needed refrigeration is put up, and the boys will help with the rest tomorrow."

"Good. You're on my time now Tanner. Let's stop at our cabin on the way back down…just to check on it." She noted the look of doubt, which crossed his face. "I feel fine, the doc said I was better and could do anythin' I felt up to doin'." She took his hand, and tugged him towards the door. "Trust me, Cowboy."

Tanner Cabin, 6:30 pm

Vin unlocked, and then pushed open their cabin door to allow Kelli to go inside first. He helped her remove her coat, and then stopped when he turned around. Rose petals strewn on the floor, the smell of scented oils, and the fireplace ready to light, he recognized as her handiwork. "You've been busy." He drew her into his arms. "Or is this all part of the plan you and Max cooked up this mornin'?"

"Uh huh…the kids are covered, our supper is warmin' in the oven, and for the next couple of hours…you belong to me." She turned in his embrace and gazed into his eyes. "I feel fine, Doctor Weeks gave us a green light, we've been apart for too long, and I want to make love with you."

"Supper can wait," Vin growled as he swept his wife up into his arms. He carried her into the bedroom, and for a moment considered their chair, but the turned down bed and satin sheets from their honeymoon called to him instead. Gently setting her on her feet, he leaned in and their foreheads touched. "Have I told you today I love you?"

"You always tell me, Vin," she whispered hoarsely while his hands undressed her.

"Next time you can take the lead, but it's my turn, Baby, let go, and allow me the pleasure of makin' love to you." With a gentle touch, he began to do just that, and soon they were both naked and laying on the bed. Vin took his time, trailing light kisses over every inch of her body, lingering over her stomach, and the life within her. He resisted the temptation to rush their union, his heart soaring and passions rising with every movement, gasp, and cry she made. When his wife was ready for him he gazed into her eyes, whispered his language of love, as he united their bodies, and moved sensually to the rhythm of his words.

Eyes of sapphire gaze upon me,

Love and trust shine in their hue,

Lashes flutter, soft sighs risin',

While I move in time with you.

Satin skin that writhes against me,

Tells me all I need to know,

While I make these moments special,

Sensual, heated, long and slow.

Bodies achin' for this moment,

Melt together in their need,

Senses heightened, passions risin',

Knowin' they will soon concede.

Feel my power, sense my fervor,

Ride with me to ecstasy,

Then lay sated here beside me,

Together for Eternity.

Jackson Home, 9:00 pm

Nathan unclipped his watch, and laid it on his nightstand. He smiled at his wife as she sat up in bed reading. She had worked a particularly grueling shift at the hospital, and he insisted that she take a bath to relax and climb into bed, while he ensured the kids were asleep for the night, cleared the supper dishes, and locked the house down for the night.

Sliding into bed, and mindful of Rain’s weariness, Nathan leaned in, kissed her, and then took up his own book to read. A few minutes later, Rain looked at him. "Everything okay?"

"Uh huh. All ship shape. The kids are asleep and I reckon it won’t be long before I am, too." He returned her gaze. "You okay?"

Putting down her book, she turned to him and paused for a moment or two. "We’re okay, you and me…right?"

Following her example, Nathan gave her his full attention and smiled. "Absolutely." He took her hand. "I’ve been thinking, it’s been a while since you and I got away from here…just the two of us. How about we arrange for Josiah and Mallory to take the kids, and we head into the mountains for a few days…or a hotel in the city, do some shopping, dining out… whatever you’d like?"

Rain smiled. "I’d love that. You’re right, it’s been a while since you and I spent some time together without the kids."

"So which idea would you prefer? Or maybe you have an idea…?"

Leaning in, Rain halted his questions with a searing kiss, before hunkering down in the bed. "Why don’t you surprise me?" she smiled, snapped off the lamp, and burrowed under the covers. She had given him the lead to make their plans. The ball was in his court again.

Nathan switched his light off, grinned, and snuggled down to spoon against her. "Consider it done, babe."

Sanchez Home, 9:30 pm

Flicking idly through the news channels while catching up on the breaking news of their concluded case, Josiah smiled when Mallory joined him in the living room and set two mugs of cocoa on the coffee table. "Thank you."

"I’m almost ready for bed, are you?"

Josiah shook his head. "Not quite." He covered her hand with his. "Mal…I…I just wanted to say thanks for being there for me during this case. Between all the incidents, especially mine and JD’s, and helping Desiree, even though it was all for nothing, and having to put up with me working such long hours…you’ve been my rock. Maybe Fate did lend a hand when you decided to retire from law enforcement and take a new path, while being more available for the children…and me."

Mallory sat closer and raised her hand to stroke his face. "I won’t deny it, I was a little worried at first. I’ve been so used to active duty, I feared I might find the days tedious. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The work I’ve undertaken is fulfilling, and has helped complete the healing process of my past…even though I hadn’t realized it was needed. I’m able to be here for the kids, for you, and now that the doctors say Hannah can visit us, for her, too. I find it more rewarding than I ever could have thought possible." Her eyes shone with sincerity, and she could see Josiah’s positive response to her words.

"I suppose, what I’m really saying, is I’ve never been happier…and I’ve never loved you more than I do at this moment. You’ve been my rock, Sanchez…thank you."

Happy to see there were no regrets, he took her free hand into his strong, warm grasp. "I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire your decision and the work that you do. I can’t think of anyone more perfect for the job."

"Don’t be too long," she said, kissing him on the lips, and waggled her eyebrows before she stood, and sashayed off.

Josiah chuckled as he watched her leave, and realized that the news no longer held his interest. He sipped his drink, took hold of his Legends book he had been reading earlier, and followed her. Calling it a night might not be a bad idea…he had an early start in the morning.

 Standish Residence, 9:30 pm

The love in Ezra’s eyes shone as he watched his daughter nurse at her mother's breast while Barbara sat in an overstuffed armchair opposite him. It was a magical sight, and never failed to amaze him how something so natural could look so wonderfully beautiful. Pearl’s little noises as she suckled were a delight, and he smiled with contentment at the scene before him.

Barbara looked up from gazing at her daughter and smiled at him, her eyes filled with love and happiness. She had feared a child might change their relationship…and it had, but in a way she had not anticipated. They had gone from being a couple, to a family, and had settled into it surprisingly well. Despite Pearl’s tender age, it felt as if she had been with them forever; and it filled Barbara’s heart to see how happy and contented Ezra was when he came home to them.

Ezra moved toward his two ladies and knelt beside them. Placing a protective hand on his daughter’s tiny head, he leaned in and kissed his wife tenderly. "Why is it that I am so happy, and yet I feel I could cry?"

"I know what you mean," she breathed. "I wish, at times such as these, I could capture it and hold it close forever." Sensing Pearl was finished; she helped her daughter unlatch and sat the little one up to burp her. Barbara smiled as Ezra leaned in and re-clipped her nursing bra, delicately bringing her blouse back into place.

"We are truly blessed, my love," he rasped out through a tight throat and liquid eyes. "I vow to you here and now, as long as I have breath in my body, I will love, cherish, and protect you both. You complete me." The couple kissed, parting quickly and laughing when Pearl released a rumbling burp, followed by a tiny giggle and dazzling smile. Ezra kissed her. "Well said, my little Princess, well said."

Wilmington Household, 10:00 pm

Fresh from her shower, Inez stepped back into the bathroom for a moment after catching sight of Buck staring at his naked reflection in the full-length mirror. She watched as his fingers explored the fading scars from when he and Vin were tortured, and her heart ached to see the pain in his eyes. Moving quietly, she pressed her body against his back and embraced him, her own delicate fingers traced the marks.

Buck rallied, covered her arms with his, and took the probing fingers into his grasp. Looking into the mirror, he smiled back at her, the now familiar warmth of his gaze restored. "It’s nothing," he whispered to reassure her.

"This I know," she replied. "I also know that these marks represent the strength, honor, bravery, and endurance of the man I love with all my heart and soul." She kissed his shoulder. "We are both healed, mi amore. We will never forget, but we have moved through it." She gasped softly as he turned her in his arms and embraced her, fiercely, burying his face in the hollow where her neck and shoulder met.

"I know, but I would give my life to take away your memories. I’ve heard you cry out in your sleep, and it burns into my soul to know I can’t stop it. But I also know what an amazing, resilient woman you are, and that the inner strength I adore has brought you through it all."

She smiled up at him. "That goes for both of us, my husband. Having family that loves so intensely has also made our journeys easier. We are truly blessed." She leaned into his broad chest. "Come to bed and hold me." Climbing into bed, the pair snuggled, and held each other close until they fell asleep.

Larabee Home, 9:30 pm

Stretched out on the sofa, Chris smiled when Cait rejoined him after answering the phone a good half hour ago. "How’s Lillian?"

"Mother’s fine," Cait said as she cuddled back against him. "She sends her love."

"Was there a purpose to the call?" Chris asked.

"Mmm," Cait said, as she got comfortable. "She heard you were going to be away tomorrow, and is coming over to spend the day with me."

"That’s good right?"Chris pulled her back tighter against him and placed his hand on her belly.

"Oh yes…it’s…well, it’s just taking some adjusting to, having them so close now after being far apart for so long."

"They couldn’t have timed it better," Chris noted.

Cait squeezed his hand. "It’s going to be fine, Cowboy. With or without my parents here, we’ll cope. We have a wonderful family around us, great kids, and…" she squeezed harder. "…and each other."

Chris kissed the nape of her neck. "I’m sorry the damned case took me away from home so much."

Cait looked back at him. "I knew what I was signing up for, Chris. You and your brothers will always have my support, no matter what we have going on privately." She moaned as he sucked at her skin and made his mark.

"I know…just like I know we’re ready for anything. God, Cait, how the hell did I get by before you came along?"

"The same way you do now. You lead with your head and your heart, you fight for what you believe in, and for those you love. How can our children not thrive when they have such a great role model to look up to?"

Chris caressed her swollen belly. "Nah, it’s teamwork, Mama. It’s what makes us strong and will help us with whatever comes our way."  He held her tighter and savored their closeness. Both of them laughed when Chris felt a good strong kick under his hand.  

Tanner Home, 10:00 pm

Vin and Kelli entered their home quietly, thanked Max for staying with the children, and then locked up when she left. After checking on each of their children, they made their way to the bedroom. The beauty of the past few hours lingered, and the thought of continuing their romantic reunion was enticing, but the Texan insisted that his wife get some rest. Tonight he had been the loving husband she needed; tomorrow he would don the mantle of Heart Warrior, and with Josiah's assistance, help their bothers understand their destiny.

Chapter 26

Destiny is a destination. How we get there is up to us.

The sun was an hour away from breaking when Vin and Josiah arrived at Brodie's cabin. They wanted to get an early start on breakfast preparations before their brothers came. The temperature hovered around freezing, but it promised to be a beautiful day. While Tanner began cooking inside, Sanchez set up the smoker on the deck for the beef brisket they planned for lunch. By mutual agreement, the seven had decided to return to their homes to share supper with their families.

One by one, five brothers arrived. Tempted by the aromas that greeted them they joined in and hustled to share coffee, pour juice, set the table, and generally get comfortable. JD had been last to arrive. It was unintentional; the last thing he wanted was to draw any attention. While he and Tess had agreed to keep their relationship to themselves for now, it was not an easy decision for him. He and his brothers of the heart shared most everything, especially good news. Not sharing this was hard, but he respected his lady’s wishes and relayed nothing.

Josiah’s giant bear hug and equally large smile when he arrived instigated some hilarity, and caused him to wonder if the greeting had been exclusive to him; and since then, Josiah’s occasional happy glances toward him had JD curious…until Vin glanced his way.

JD tilted his head in question at the look he gave him, and realized that Vin had ‘read’ him. His moment of panic subsided when their Heart Warrior simply winked and continued cooking. Relieved that he would get his wish for discretion…for now…JD promptly moved on to antagonize Buck.

Chris watched the rough and tumble exchanges escalate. He grinned as everyone took sides, and even the ‘chefs du jour’ got involved, until Josiah called a halt when their sausages began to turn a very dark shade of charcoal.

Gentle conversation passed between them while they ate. When breakfast was finished, they all helped clear the table and clean the kitchen. Then they adjourned to downstairs, and the pool table.

Buck grabbed a cue. "All right, Chris. This is where I earn back some of the dough you took from me the last time we played."

"You can try." Chris flashed him a feral grin. "Rack 'em up." Cheered on by the others, they began.

Nathan stood beside Vin. "Your dad did a great job on this place. I think it suits him."

Vin nodded. "He likes it, and was more than pleased when I asked him about us meetin' here."

"You said yesterday, you and Kel planned a trip." Nathan bit at his lip. "Rain and I need a getaway…we want to recapture some of what we had when we first started. I hoped we could…uh…reconnect…physically. Our sex life has never been routine, but I wanted to try a few different things…spice things up, you know. You have any suggestions about where we could spend some alone time?"

Vin understood the concern his brother had about his and Rain's relationship. "Hell, Nate. It's not where you go that matters. You know as well as I do how life can take over your relationship; if you let it…our job is to make sure it doesn't get that chance. Sometimes Kel and I can only steal a few hours, but we make the best of it. We do somethin' fun and unexpected, just for the hell of doin' it. Call Rain for a date, or send her flowers for no particular reason. Both of y'all discuss your sexual fantasies, and then role-play them out together." Vin smiled when he thought about how that worked for him and Kelli. "Most of all, no matter how much you love your kids, and your work, remember when all is said and done, the kids grow up and leave, and work don't last forever…Rain is the one constant in your life that will always be with you…let her know you know that."

While Vin spoke, Nathan remembered a place he and Rain used to love to go, but they had not been since the kids came along. That was about to change. Tomorrow he would book a weekend for them at Colorado Springs. "I think we'll have that conversation, and I know just the place, thanks Vin."

Tanner placed his hand on Nathan's shoulder. "No problem." He turned his head when he heard his brothers groan.

"Way to go Buck, you're not supposed to scratch on your first shot." JD shook his head; he could see a Larabee victory coming.

Chris did win, and handed his cue to Nathan. "Your turn, you and Vin show the rest how it's done."

Ezra grinned as he watched the change over, and then asked Chris. "How is Cait doing?"

Chris paused for a second, and then nodded. "She's doing well. I think, though she’s struggling a little with some of the changes, and having her parents close by helps." He smiled. "She always was a beautiful woman, but since becoming pregnant…she positively glows."

"I understand you perfectly. Barbara has blossomed before my very eyes. Motherhood suits her."

"And fatherhood suits you," Chris pointed out, smiling at Ezra’s proud grin. "Is Maude adjusting to being a grandmother?"

"I wouldn't know. We have not seen her since Pearl was born." Ezra sighed. "Barbara has not heard from her parents either, though I suspect all the wayward grandparents will surface sooner or later."

Buck joined them and the discussion changed. "What time do we break out the beer?"

Josiah overheard the question, and glanced at his watch. "How about lunchtime? We'll play pool for a while, and I'll go check on our brisket."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Chris agreed.


After lunch, they gathered in the living room, to make themselves comfortable, ‘unwind’, and talk. Josiah took the lead "While we definitely need downtime, we also need to review some of the events that have affected our lives over the past year. I see no need to replay the threats we've faced, but how we've fared from their repercussions is important. Let's start with work. Any issues there?"

"Russo surprised me. He seems to fit in much better than I expected." Ezra stated.

"Yeah, I think his first assignment with us turned out to his satisfaction," Chris agreed.

"What do y’all think of him?" Vin asked.

"I like him," JD put in.

Buck nudged his head. "You like everyone," he grinned.

JD chuckled,  "Yeah, but then again, if pushed, a guy can change his mind about a person." He narrowed his eyes at Buck. "Especially about someone he's known a long time."

Ignoring the pair's staring match, Nathan concurred. "Yeah I like him, he’s a straight-shooter, and I like that."

"Yes," Josiah said. "He’s also supportive. When Chris asked, he delivered."

"He has high standards and expectations, but I believe we have more than lived up to them," Ezra decided.

Chris nodded. "I think we’ll get along just fine. He speaks our language, and that’s always good."

Josiah brought the conversation around to how the change affected them. "So," he pushed. "Looking back, we’ve come a long way since the laser tag affair, haven’t we?"

Chris nodded, JD moaned. "Jesus, do we have to be reminded of that?"

"Yes." Chris answered. "Whether we like it or not, it happened. It was a disaster on every level, but it took us into a new phase with our legacy…taught us to look at things differently and not push, but have faith in each other as well as ourselves. It took some work, but we turned it around."

"To think," Ezra cut in, "that Dean was a catalyst in a case that almost brought local law and order to its knees."

"Him serving time hardly seems justified, does it?" JD asked, rhetorically.

"It was a good win," Josiah cheered.

"But not a perfect conclusion," Chris reminded. "Some got away…including the guy who masterminded the whole thing."

Ezra lifted his glass from the coffee table to take a drink. "I think our last case proved how far we have come. I still have trouble getting past our brethren’s recent encounter with that explosive device and the conundrum issued alongside it."

"It was a close one," Josiah echoed.

Vin’s smile widened. "And our finest moment since our legacy was handed down. JD felt he could defeat that particular challenge, as did Buck, but I called y’all, and you had the faith to walk away from the physical, come together spiritually, and beat the odds." He looked at Ezra. "You were the key, Ez…your warrior powers of deduction and foresight won the day. All we did was focus on passin’ our support to you."

Ezra swallowed. "I…merely reacted to the situation." He grinned. "I did however, feel a surge of unexplained energy, moments before the door released."

Chris listened to every word and watched every reaction with fascination."I felt damn helpless that day."

JD’s head snapped up. "Are you kidding? I know I can be a cocky little shit…" again, he nudged Buck’s shin when the big man snorted a laugh. "But in truth…seeing that six digit code winking at me…I almost gave up there and then. If you hadn’t encouraged me to go for it and cheered me on each time I got a number…" JD looked down, shyly. "Let’s just say I really needed that support right then."

Buck nodded. "You know it, stud. Just having you there beside me kept me going."

Vin nodded at the interaction. "Your inner strength is what makes you a great leader, Chris. You have the charisma to empower the people around you by a simple word, gesture," he grinned, "or look. To outsiders you’re all angles, bark, and bite, to us; you’re the calm commandin’ inner voice that keeps us focused." He felt Chris’s heart soar at his words and the nods of their brothers. "You’re our rock." 'And the best damn friend a man could have.'

Chris nodded. 'Ditto.'

Josiah moved the discussion along. "Let's shift to something more personal. Buck, Vin, how do you feel you’ve progressed since your experiences in South America?"

Buck took the lead. "Funny you should ask that. Only last night I looked at myself in the mirror and, for the first time in a while, reflected on those very experiences." He smiled when JD leaned back against the couch beside him from his seated position on the floor, and continued, "I still have the occasional nightmares…" he glanced at Vin, knowing he had felt the reverberations of those dreams, too. "Mostly now though, they’re not about me suffering…," he sighed softly, glancing around and subconsciously resting one hand on JD’s head. "But more about all of you, and the terror of not being able to make it stop." He smiled to reassure them all. "It’s okay; I’ve got it under control. Our code and the support from all of you have ensured it…along with that of my family, too, especially Isabella and Inez, even though that amazing woman of mine had her own issues to work through."

Vin continued the line of discussion with a big grin. "My hair’s grown some…" They all chuckled; his grin faded a little. "The physical scars have healed; the mental ones also, to a degree. Havin’ almost died recently seemed to give me the perspective I needed to move on, and embrace all the things good in my life…Kel, the kids, y'all…our code." He smiled. "Kel and the baby are well and healthy, which is a helluva relief, and I finally understand where my role in this inheritance of ours lies." He glanced at Chris. "I’ve stopped thinkin’ I should take on every challenge in battle mode, and have accepted while all are still battles, not all are physical." He touched his hand to his chest. "I feel y'all…here…every day. It’s a gift I can’t put into words…yet has enriched my life more than I could ever express. The trick was learnin’ to temper it, and try not to allow it to become intrusive." He glanced briefly at JD before looking toward the others. "I’m still workin’ on it, though."

"Not sure I could cope with knowing what’s going on in everyone’s lives like that," JD said softly, "or how I’d react to it."

Vin nodded at him. "I believe we all were chosen for specific roles to balance with our personalities. Chris is absolutely our leader, but you, Kid, have a special job. Your role in each phase is to keep us on track and guide us on how to proceed. Your gift is seein’ things differently than us…to ‘see’ outside the box . In each lifetime we share, you're the one who finds the best way to give voice to our message."

For a moment, the pair locked gazes and JD felt Vin’s strength flow through, and lift him. Buck cut into the moment. "Yup, he’s sure the voice alright." He yelped as they all laughed and JD elbowed his shins.

Vin gestured toward Buck. "And there…Buck’s defensive teasin’ to mask the ‘touch my family and you’re history’ character. The Guardian Warrior that can tease the crap out of all of us, but anyone else takes a pop…look out." He grinned to see a genuine blush creep up Buck’s neck. "You’re the man at our backs, Buck. Each battle we fight, I feel your arms enfold us all. Soon, if the others haven’t already, we all will."

There was a second or two of silence. Buck flicked JD’s ear. "What, no snappy comment, Squirt?" He grinned as JD looked back at him from an upside-down view.

"Not this time, bro. I’ve always known you’ve had our backs…especially mine, even when I didn’t deserve it."

Sensing Buck’s emotions, Vin continued, "We all know Josiah’s guidance is from a spiritual plain, which from a man with such a physical presence is no mean feat; but Josiah’s a deep thinker, a man of philosophy and contemplation…discussions with him provoke thought and reflection. He helps us decipher the messages and seek out the right path." Josiah nodded at Tanner’s words.

Vin turned to Nathan. "Nate, you’ve always been there for us when we’re in pain. I can feel the changes in you when one of us is hurtin’ these days. Do you feel them too?"

Nathan nodded. "Oh yeah. I mean, I’ve always had the ability to fix y’all up, but since this legacy of ours has kicked in, I see so much more than just injuries. Something takes me to a higher plain and the confidence just… radiates through me." His voice held a tinge of regret. "I still can’t shake the fear of losing one of you, though. Of having that one injury I’m powerless to help with." He watched Vin stand and move toward him, to place a hand on his chest. Warmth spread through Nathan and peace washed over him. He looked at Vin and smiled. "I guess that’s normal then."

"Ezra, here is our Sight Warrior, he sees things we all miss, and has a way to extract information in ways none of us come close to havin'. Part of it's mental; the rest is an inert awareness he has to 'ferret out' things we don't see."

Tanner resumed his seat. "For me with my gift of visions and natural huntin' instincts, being our Heart Warrior fits…just like Tracker was for his seven.  We're all warriors of some kind… We all have our place predestined, and possess unique gifts…but we’re not invincible…infallible…bullet, knife, or bomb proof. We do however, have the power to think and act beyond ‘the norm’. Don’t fear it, Brothers…embrace and accept it. Allow it to work for you." He smiled. "Let me help you."

Chris nodded.  "It's not any of us who have changed…just our perspective of facts and truths we have known for several lifetimes.  We've been trying to make our Legend Books a separate teaching tool, and complicate the hell out of its existence…but it's not…it is a part of who we are, and always have been."

Josiah smiled as he glanced around the room. They did 'get it', and while they would never stop learning, they knew enough now to face their future. "Ralph Waldo Emerson said…'What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.'"

Chris leaned forward extending his palm upwards, followed one by one by the hands of his six brothers. Laying his free hand on top of theirs he said, "All the answers we want or need are written on the winds of time, we just have to listen for them and be ready to act using our power of seven. The promise of our legacy lives within us. We were, we are, and will be again."


As the winds around the cabin carried the seven men’s voices across the lake, another seven stood on a mountainside, far above the cabin where the new seven gathered. Empowered by their ancestors, whose spirits hovered behind them Cowboy, Tracker, Gambler, Healer, Rogue, Preacher, and Sheriff, smiled. They had successfully passed their code and the legend to a new generation of warriors. There was no doubt that both were in good hands.

Cowboy glanced from one brother to another. "It's done, good job." Cowboy smiled, noting their grins. "Our legacy has been passed and our brothers have embraced it. From here on in, we step back and watch it flourish into the awesome power we know it to be, observing, and only stepping in if necessary. It’s a great day, boys…a great day." He held out his hand palm upwards, smiling when Tracker placed his on top of it. Preacher moved forward and followed suit, followed by the rest, completing a gesture, which carried into the winds of destiny.

Cowboy nodded his approval. "Their time is just beginning, but one thing’s for sure, wherever it takes them, they’re in for one hell of a ride."



MCAT Series # 3 ~ One Hell of a Ride

The promise of our legacy lives within us. We were, we are, and will be again.

#1 ~ Blood & Roses

Vin's poems in Chapters 2, 2O, and 25 written by Sue M

All chapter quotations, except when noted, are originals taken from the MCAT Strength & Solidarity series.

More info on MCAT @ tannertexaslady.com

March 2010