into the dragon's lair by Deidre

Summary: What should be an adventurous couple of days away at a Terrorism Summit turns into a trip into Hell for Martin.

Note: A Dragon can be sometimes defined as a powerful figure and commanding presence. A fire breathing creature with reptilian traits whose lair is a fearsome place in which he dwells, where he feels protected and invincible.

Sunday night
January 23, 2005

Danny Taylor hated the traffic around the airport. At least due to the late hour, he wasn't stuck in rush hour traffic. It was nearly seven p.m. when he found his way downtown. By the time the F.B.I. agent eased his car in to a parking spot in the Federal Building he had a headache. He didn't need Paula Van Doren lecturing him. He wasn't sure why Missing Person's Division Directorate left such a cryptic message on his cell phone. He'd been on a fishing boat most of the day off the coast of Miami and been driven from there to the plane, so he been out of communication until he got off the plane and charged his cell phone in the car.

He ran up the hall and through the doors of her office. Just behind it was her conference room; the door was open a crack and he shoved his arm through. Something about the grim faces of his fellow team members Samantha Spade and Vivian Johnson stopped him dead in his tracks. Then, when he saw the two men seated at the table, his heart began to pound. They seldom left Washington, but it was the ashen face of Victor Fitzgerald that caused his stomach to drop. It was as if he'd aged ten years. There was only one person that would cause a ghastly pall like that. What had happened to Martin? His stomach dropped and before he could ask, Paula looked up and saw him.

"Shut the door, please."

"Yeah...sure..." he mumbled, cocking his head to see the video they were watching. It was a very grainy black and white image that was jumping all over the place. "What's going on?"

"Shh!" Van Doren put her finger to her lips.

It was hard to hear the commentary, but Danny knew Spanish better than anyone in the room and the fast spoken words hit him hard. When the grainy image of a bare-chested Jack Malone came up, his face twisted in agony as electrical shock was applied, Danny's stomach to dropped through the floor.

Sam sat stoically, not moving or flinching as the horrific details of torture on the two semi-naked male bodies spilled out. Blindfolded and bare from the waist up, they were face down in a shallow pit, with the backs of their heads shattered by bullets. When she dropped her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest, Danny felt her unspoken anguish, he knew her that well. Vivian dropped her face in her hands and took a long, shuddering breath.

"How sure are we?" Sam pressed in a shaky voice.

"Positive confirmation," Will Garrison updated. "I saw some of the tape and heard from a source what those bastards did to Jack and Martin before they were executed - it was barbaric. I got a call from one of our DEA undercover agents that two feds had been kidnapped. By the time he was able to track them down, it was too late. I've been in El Paso for a few weeks now, due to the critical circumstances of this investigation, which is why I was able to steal some time with him at a remote location. Looks like they took a wrong turn on a bad stretch of ground and stumbled into something. The only reason I have that piece of footage is because he's been working undercover with them for a couple of years now and they trust him. He only had a few moments to copy the last portion of the tape, I don't have the rest. He couldn't risk being caught."

"When?" Vivian asked.

"When was the last message from them?" Garrison prodded, although he was pretty sure of the reply.

"Jack called me on Friday night. He was at the base camp. Martin was being looked over by a doctor, he'd taken a fall. We didn't talk long, the line wasn't good. On Saturday I tried all day to call him...the lines were down." Sam's voice was shaky.

"That storm that blew through the area was wicked, it did a lot of damage. Most of the phone lines in that region are still down, it's a remote area." Van Doren scanned her notes as she updated them.

"Jack called me on Friday night too," Vivian added. "It was late, about midnight. The reception was poor; he'd been trying for hours. He said Martin needed a couple days to rest and that they were staying at the base camp for the weekend. I didn't really get to talk to him, the line faded away. I tried several times on Saturday but never got through."

"This afternoon we called El Paso... we thought maybe they got that far..." Sam sighed hard, raking a shaky hand through her long blond hair. She flicked a gaze at Van Doren and her voice wavered. "Then your call came..." She had a bad feeling when Vivian said that Van Doren was on her way in with news about Jack and Martin. She thought there was an accident maybe, but never this.

"Yes, I spoke to them just prior. I didn't want to deliver news like this over the phone," Garrison relayed. He incorrectly assumed that since Taylor was out of town for several days until just arriving now, he had been out of touch. So he didn't allow the shocked young man a moment to regroup and reply. "That seems to fit. Our sources down there say they were picked up sometime very early Saturday morning near Chihuahua. I guess they headed out and ran into trouble. He said there was a short chase but their car was shot up. They were tortured on and off until sometime after midnight this morning and once those bastards were satisfied that they weren't able to tell anyone whatever it was they witnessed, they were executed. I'm sorry, Victor..." Garrison's voice was cold when he addressed the Deputy Director of the F.B.I who was also now a grieving father. Martin Fitzgerald was Victor's only son and the ramifications of that loss were echoed on his shattered features.

"I want those bastards, Will," Victor's voice was hoarse. "Whatever it takes."

Danny's head jerked up at the reply. He didn't hear the rest of the conversation when they discussed what efforts would be taken to try to recover the bodies. It was as if he was having an out of body experience. The voices seemed far away and he stumbled from the room, clutching his gut. Later, the others would attribute his odd reaction to shock. But Danny wasn't grieving for he felt sure his friends weren't dead. But the powerful figure who delivered the news had tentacles that extended deep into all parts of the world. Whatever happened in Mexico, Garrison was a part of it. Who else knew? Had Jack and Martin caught him doing something illegal? Were they still being held prisoner somewhere? What kind of sick game was Garrison playing? Like some federal agents, he'd heard rumors over the years about Garrison playing both sides of the field. But he was such a powerful figure that he had 'ears' everywhere.

He didn't stop until he hit the street, sucking in the cold air that kissed his face. His legs moved swiftly, he seemed vaguely aware of the people on the street that his shoulders came in contact with. He didn't stop for quite some time, blinking up at a bright yellow sign blazing the name 'coffee'. He went into the small coffee shop and hit a booth in the back. A waitress with tired features appeared, holding a pot of hot brew. He wrapped his hands around the ceramic mug, letting his frozen fingers relish the warmth. He hunched forward, his handsome face drawn in a puzzle. The conversation repeated itself and the positive identification from a kidnapping, torture and execution was overlapped by another conversation. One he'd been privy to himself just the day before, which contradicted Garrison's story. He rubbed his throbbing temples and replayed it.

Miami, Fla
Saturday Mid-Afternoon
January 22, 2005


"So how was...the...action...Romeo...?" Martin tried to sit up to angle his head to use the phone better. His tender ribs didn't like that idea at all.

"Martin?" Danny frowned, wondering about the odd speech pattern and sharp intake of breath. A short groan drew his brows together in concern. "Something wrong, amigo?"

"Nothing that a...little Old West justice...wouldn't cure," Martin vented. He pushed off the rails to try to get more comfortable and dropped the phone. When he went to reach for it, the pain stole his air.

"Huh?" Danny closed one ear and pressed the phone closer to the other one to hear better. The reception was bad. He wasn't sure if it was Martin's line or his. There was a huge burst of static and he pulled the phone away. "HELLO!"

"I'm not deaf," Jack called back, having rescued the phone dropped by his infirmed friend.

"Jack?" Danny pressed the phone closer to his ear. "Where are you?"

"Base camp," Jack stated. "Listen I don't have a lot of time, the reception is shitty. Martin's pretty busted up, black and blue from his ass to his neck, he can barely move. He needs a couple days rest. We'll head up on Monday."

"Hurt?" Danny's voice alerted. "How?"

"Somebody on his team ambushed him, turns out the guy's been after Martin for a while. He took a bad fall down the side of a mountain and ripped the hell out of his back. Bruised his ribs and right hip." He paused and moved the phone over to the bed where Martin was lying on his side He took a couple photos and sent them. "Take a look."

"Jesus..." Danny winced when the gory image came through a few moments later. Martin's entire back was discolored in varying shades of blue and purple with slashes of crimson. He saw a large blue gel pack peeking out from under Fitzgerald's hip. "Where are you?"

"About halfway to El Paso, way north of Chihuahua somewhere. The camp is in a remote area. Everybody else left last night for Chihuahua. There was a party at one of the hotels."




"Harvard!" Taylor greeted. "See what happens when I'm not around to watch that skinny ass of yours."

"" Martin managed, warmed by the voice.

"Sorry, amigo, you don't have the right parts. Try not to bust anything else, I'll see you Monday." He frowned when the voice began to fade away.


"So you're gonna lie low a couple days." Danny hollered, but the line was dead.

Danny lifted his head as Martin's voice faded away. The word 'tomorrow' lingered, smoldering slightly inside of him. For his friends, 'tomorrow' had not come. Now he knew why his messages to Jack and Martin had gone unanswered. What happened to them? He didn't know where they were, but he knew they weren't the grotesque corpses in the photo. Not only was the timeline wrong, but the unmarred skin on the back of the smaller man was not Martin. Garrison was lying and covering something up. He also knew that for now, he had to keep what he knew to himself. But he was as stubborn as they came and had every intention of finding his two missing friends. It only took a few minutes to formulate a plan of action. He finished his coffee, tossed a bill on the table, stood up and put the wheels in motion.


December 28, 2004
US District Court
Southern District of New York

Although it was a cold day, the noonday sun was high in a blue sky. Without the wind nipping at their faces, the walk to the neighborhood deli wasn't so unpleasant. As a matter of fact, Jack Malone was glad to rid himself of the warm confines of the Federal Courthouse. He and two members of his elite team of the Missing Persons Unit of the local F.B.I. office were to testify in a murder trial. Danny Taylor and Martin Fitzgerald had not been called yet, but Jack had been on the stand for over an hour prior to the lunch recess. His testimony was completed. The District Attorney had a sound case and he didn't doubt that when the trial was over, Tyrell Davis would be going away for a long time.

"There it is," Danny hollered from in front of him.

Jack nodded and motioned for the two younger men to enter the corner eatery. His growling stomach wasn't shy and didn't require an invite. As he crossed through the doors, his nose was assaulted by the heady mixture of a variety of garlic, meats, pickles, fresh bread and other gourmet delights. Salami of all sizes hung from ropes over the glass counter, which housed rows of meats, cheese and salads. The intoxicating aroma was a candidate to be the poster child for heart disease. The decor and wall fixtures were right out of the early twentieth century and the black and white tiled floors and art deco appeal had not changed in over a century. The crowded tables producing a cacophony of dialects of many nationalities only added to the allure. He craned his neck, stood on tiptoes to worm his way through the crowd and saw the back of Martin's head as the young man got a corner table near the counter. By the time he inched his way to the tiny walnut table the antithetical pair were already squabbling.

"Don't you dare embarrass me!" Danny warned Martin. He saw the sky eyes shifting to the salad side of the large menu. "Eat like a man."

"Last time I checked, you're not picking up my tab," Martin countered. He had no intention of getting a salad but knew it would annoy Taylor, so he was purposely perusing that part of the menu. "I'm not that hungry."

"Since when?" Jack growled, dropping his coat onto the spare chair where the other agents left theirs. "The junk food king of New York giving up his crown?" Malone eyed the handsome younger agent's thirty-two inch waist and flinched. That Martin ate all day and raided the vending machines when the booty stashed in his desk drawers was empty and never gained an ounce annoyed him. "I think not."

"You ready?" Danny pressed, rising and eyeing the short line. "There's a break, we gotta make our move now."

"Benny's original," Jack stated of the sourdough roll filled with Italian ham, several kinds of salami, provolone and mozzarella cheese, olives, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, roasted garlic and hot mustard. "And a large iced tea."

"And for the nanny?" Taylor skirted past Martin and thwacked his head.

"The number six," Martin replied of the Italian roast beef and smoked turkey combo laced with three cheeses, oil, vinegar, lettuce, tomatoes and onion on an Italian roll. "Large coke."

Danny's lean body swiftly skimmed the glass counter and snaked through the crowded area until he was in line. He added his own choice of a pastrami, corned beef and turkey with melted Swiss cheese and sauerkraut nestled with Russian dressing on pumpernickel. He eyed the room frantically until he caught Martin's eye. He jerked his head towards the narrow staircase by the door that led to the lower floor where the bathroom was located.

"Come on, Martin, quick fuckin' around!" Danny hissed of the blue-eyed devil's very slow walk around the long way to meet him.

"Problem, Taylor?" Martin said with a guileless face as he approached.

"It's gonna be your problem if I don't make it to the head," the Cuban snapped and headed quickly for the stairs.

Jack was on his cell phone getting an update from Vivian Johnson when Danny returned. He glanced at the counter where Martin was stretching on his toes to reach over and take a large tray. Martin had already made one trip to the table to drop off the beverages, a bag of chips and a bowl of coleslaw, as well as utensils and napkins. Malone hung the phone up and his eye caught a table of very proper women who were right behind Martin Fitzgerald. Four pairs of hawkish eyes were riveted on the tight stretch of fabric that spanned the young man's very lean backside. Having taken his suit coat off, it offered them a grand view. Danny had the misfortune of having a mouthful of soda when one well-dressed woman with a prominent British accent offered her comments on Fitzgerald's 'asset'.

"I'd love to tickle his pickle."

Martin frowned in confusion when he approached the table and his friends were laughing and eyeing him. His gaze flicked down to his fly but it was not unzipped. Shrugging, he set the heavy tray lower and waited until each man had taken a plate off. After depositing his own sandwich onto the table, he placed the tray on the floor beside the counter. He immediately lifted the large, green, spicy object from his plate. It was one of the few foods he didn't like.

"Anybody want my pickle?" Martin asked innocently and got even more confused when Jack laughed so hard he began to slap the table and cough and Danny was convulsive, nearly throwing up his soda. "What the hell are you two drinking?" he mumbled, tossing the offensive pickle to the side.

They discussed the trial and their light workload over lunch. Jack was hoping it remained light as the holiday weekend was approaching and it would be a nice break for his team to relax and enjoy it. Jack got the bill while Danny got rid of the trash and empty containers from the littered table.

"Where's Martin?" Jack asked, walking with a fistful of bills toward the antique cash register by the door.

"Take a guess," Danny retorted, nodding to the pastry counter.

"Jesus, where the hell does he put it?" Malone groused of the chocoholic's lean torso. Sure enough two large chocolate cookies riddled with nuts and chips were being placed in a bag, while a layered, white and dark chocolate pastry was already headed for Fitzgerald's mouth.

"I got five that says he doesn't pay for that one," Danny sniped of the blue-eyed agent's ability to attain gifts from women who fell for the eyes, smile and blush. "See!" he chuffed when a single price was entered on the bakery register.

"Come on!" Jack yelled, hustling Danny out of the door. They had to get back for the afternoon session of the trial.

"Yeah...yeah..." Martin waved them on. He folded the white bag and put it inside his coat pocket. He handed the old Italian woman a ten and thanked her again. He wasn't sure of all of what she said, as it was mostly in Italian, but whatever it was caused the three younger women behind the counter to hide their giggles behind their hands as they eyed him. He was nearly out the door when his eyes caught the small television that the cashier had behind the counter. "Can you turn that up?"

He stared intently at the 'breaking news' in large letters across the bottom. The camera from a helicopter was trained on a house in what was identified as Elmhurst, New York. What caught his eye initially was a brief inset photo of Chris Boone, Jack's best friend and a counterpart on another F.B.I. Missing Persons squad. The reporter mentioned a hostage situation and from what Martin could pick up between the lines, Chris had exchanged himself for a female hostage, now weeping hysterically in the background. What chilled Martin's blood was the reporter stating that Boone had been inside for twenty minutes and then shots rang out. All communications were cut off and the gunman was holding an elderly man at the window and threatening to kill him. Martin ran to the door and stuck his head out.


Malone's head spun and the urgency of Martin's tone got his legs moving. By the time he got closer, Fitzgerald was updating him and moving aside to let him back through the door.

"It's Chris...a breaking news report. He's a hostage in Elmhurst. He got the perp to release a woman and he went inside, shots were fired." He winced when Malone's dark eyes filled with fear. He knew how close the two were. "They don't know if he's still alive."

"Shit...Shit..." Malone swore and his chest hurt when they showed Chris's photo again. "You had to run up San Juan Hill didn't you?"

"You'd have done the same!" Danny charged. "Look, that's only about seven miles from here. You're done for the day. We'll update the D.A."

"Yeah...yeah..." Jack agreed, putting his palm out for Fitzgerald's keys.

"Here," Martin handed his phone as well. "It's Brendan."

"Brendan?" Jack spoke to one of the agents on Boone's MP team and kept his eyes on the small television picture. 'What the hell happened? Is this tied to Keith Washington?" Washington was the other team's leading suspect in the disappearance of a model. He had a long rap sheet and a violent temper.

"Yeah," Gavin answered, his eyes trained on the house where his boss disappeared. "We got a tip that he was holding her at his uncle's house. We heard shouting inside when we got to the door. Chris called for backup and the guy came to the window with a half-dressed girl. Chris got him to let the guy's teenage niece come out if he went inside. It all went down so fast. By the time NYPD rolled in, Chris was inside. He was talking him down and then there was some shouting, it sounded like the old man tried to get the gun and shots were fired. Then the line went dead. Now's he claims he's gonna off the old man too."

"I'm on my way," Jack updated, "keep me posted. You got my number." He handed Martin's phone back and headed out the door.

The other two watched him walking quickly for the parking lot where they'd left Fitzgerald's car. Both had the same sick feeling in their stomach. What had been a bright afternoon full of teasing and joking conversation had just turned into a gloomy day.

"That just sucks," Danny spat. "That piece of shit for the likes of Chris."

"We don't know if he's dead," Martin returned, laying a hand on the tense shoulder. He liked Chris, who was not only a top notch team leader but a respected agent throughout the Bureau. But he knew Danny went back with him for five years and Jack close to a dozen. As shaken as he was, he knew Danny was gut shot.

"Don't we?" Danny shot back, "Shots fired at close range? His brains are decorating that sick, fuckin'..."

"All right!" Martin broke into the terse words and gripped Danny's shoulder. "Enough! We got a trial to get back to. I don't want Davis walkin' because your head is screwed up!"

"I'm fine!" Danny shoved the hand away, "and I don't need a babysitter."

"Oh, brother," Martin mumbled when the hot-headed Cuban walked ahead, losing himself in the crowd.


Elmhurst, NY
1:47 p.m.

Jack slowed the fast moving car when he approached the blockade. He flashed his badge and went through slowing to a stop. His heart was hammering so hard his chest hurt. As he climbed from the car, he eyed the police on scene carefully. His keen gaze was trained on the man giving orders and he breathed a sigh of relief.

Deacon Dennison was an imposing figure. Six inches over six feet and a solid wall of muscle between two broad shoulders, the former Michigan State running back was the commander of the SWAT team called to the situation. He knew before the tread of shoe to gravel hit his ears who was approaching.

"Figured you'd drop by," Dennison noted as Malone took a flak jacket and shed his coat to put it on.

"What's the story, Deac?" Jack asked, grateful for the veteran on duty.

"It's not good, Jack, I'm sorry." Deac knew how close Malone was with Boone. "Chris seemed to be making progress and then the old man interfered and all hell broke loose. Three shots, can't tell who did the shooting. But Chris's line is dead and Washington and the old man have been at the window once."

"I'm going inside," Jack dictated, eyeing the two story white building. "You keep him talking, keep him at the window. Anybody else in there?"

"No, the old man's daughter was alone with him. We have her down the block. Kitchen's in the back," Deac updated, showing Jack the drawing the girl made for them of the interior. The shots came from the living room and my guess is they're still there. The curtain keeps opening a crack, he's watching us."

"Alright, I'll call you when I get in," Jack stated. He paused to load his gun and noticed the forlorn Brendan Gavin squatting behind Chris's car. He knew how Danny or Martin would feel if they were the partner left outside. He ducked down and knelt by the young man briefly. "Get your head up, you're on duty. Lose that hair shirt, he's the best I ever worked with and he'd expect better from you."

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Brendan managed. "What if he's dead, Jack?"

"Don't you bury him!" Malone growled, leaving the upset agent behind and ducking behind the tall bushes beside the house.

He quickly made his way to the back and eyed the windows. He peered into the kitchen and saw through a sliver to the dining room. His hand tried the door and it was locked. Jack's eyes went upwards and he saw a window above opened a crack. He saw a beat up ladder lying next to the small garage and retrieved it. Five long minutes later, he was quietly bellying through a bedroom window. He took his shoes off and padded quietly through the hall, his eyes below. He ducked into the bathroom and updated Deac on the radio. He kept his eyes on the moving second hand of his watch. Ten seconds after Deacon's voice came over the bullhorn, Malone drew his gun and began to move.

"...okay?" Deac asked. "See, we're leaving."

Washington watched through the window as the patrol cars moved away. The only figure left was the man with the bullhorn. He put his hand to his aching head and eyed the blood splattered shirt he wore. He was so high he couldn't feel the pain, but he was lightheaded and giddy. He was so intent on watching the cops leave, he didn't turn when his uncle gasped.

"Shh!" Jack warned the old man and waved his hand, pointing to the kitchen. He mouthed the word 'go' and the old man didn't hesitate.

Once the old man was hiding safely behind the refrigerator, Jack moved from the small hall at the foot of the stairs into the entry of the small living room. He swallowed his bile at the sight of a blood splatter behind the sofa. His eyes saw the edges of a navy blue pant leg and the familiar expensive shoes Chris wore. He didn't allow himself to recognize the fear nearly paralyzing him.

"F.B.I.! Drop the weapon!" Jack thundered, firing when the assailant wheeled around gun high.

A single shot split the kid's forehead. Jack spit on him as he kicked the gun away. He broke the window glass and signaled to Deacon, and then he tucked his gun away and ran to the sofa, shoving it aside. He stopped dead and put his fingers over his eyes, rocking back slightly at the sight of the twisted body. Boone's pristine custom made shirt was now maroon and scarlet. From the angle of his body, he must have been standing beside the sofa and been flung over it, bounced off the wall and landed on his side. Jack knelt and with badly shaking hands, gently turned him onto his back. Blood covered one side of his face and just as Jack's hand moved to the throat to check for a pulse, the sea green eyes opened.

"JESUS!" Jack choked, his hand jerked back in shock. "What the fuck's wrong with you? You scared the shit outta me!"

"'long..." the wounded blond agent slurred, his hand fumbling and flopping.""

"Old man my ass!" Jack growled, ripping Chris's shirt and discovering the wound just below the left collarbone. He used pressure and hollered back when he heard Deacon coming. "He's alive, get a chopper, he needs to be medevac'd to Saint Vincent's. You hit anywhere else?"

"...ruined...Guido's...cut..." Chris frowned of the bullet graze on his head. "...twenty bucks...down..."

"Shut the fuck up!" Jack warned, flinching when the bloody paw found his wrist and latched on. Both of his hands were applying pressure to the wound or they'd be gripping it now.

"...owe you...ten..."

"For what?" Jack asked.

"...landin''fore...year...up..." Chris managed and couldn't hold back anymore. He face screwed up in agony and the burning in his chest and head reached a crescendo.

The cry cut right through Jack, cut him to the core. The sea green eyes went wide and roved around, in a state of panic.

"...hurts...Jack..." Chris gasped. "...cold...cold..."

"Don't you die on me!" Jack ordered in a shaky voice as the sounds of a helicopter sounded.

The eyes found his and locked on. The pale lips opened to say something but no words were produced. The eyelids fluttered shut and the hand slipped from his wrist and hit the grimy rug. Jack closed his own eyes and prayed, prayed harder than he had in his life.
"Please...don't let him die."

December 28th
Federal Building
2:02 p.m.

Sam was in the elevator, coming back from lunch when her cell phone rang.


"Sam?" Martin whispered, dodging his head to make sure no one saw him. He'd gone to the men's room and then ducked into an empty courtroom to use the clerk's phone.

"Hey!" Sam's face brightened. "I got the confirmation for the weekend. The place is great, a stone cabin by the foot of the mountains. It's got a great view and very private!"

"Sam, listen to me!" Martin urged.

He hated to do that. He'd been seeing her for six months and been trying for the last four to get her to agree to go away for a weekend. The affair started on a rocky line, each having drunk too much and awoken hung over and horny. The first few weeks it was all physical urges, hot sex and hotter bed games. But it had grown and although Martin knew Sam didn't view the depth of the relationship on the same level he did, he hoped he could change that if they only had more time together. Sleeping over in secret in each other's apartment was getting stale. He wanted more and this weekend in Vermont to celebrate New Year's and each other was for that purpose. It was the first time she'd shown any interest in expanding their horizons.

"What's wrong?" Sam stepped off the elevator and her brows knit together in concern.

"Get to a television, turn on ABC, they're covering a hostage situation in Elmhurst live." He paused, hearing her suck in air. She'd had breakfast with Chris this morning and she knew where he was headed. "It's Chris...he's inside and he's down."

"Oh God...Martin..." Sam gasped, running for the conference room and turning the TV on. Vivian was off for the holidays and she was alone in the office. "He's dead isn't he? God, he can't be..."

"I don't know," Martin managed, "Listen I can't talk. I'm using a court phone and I gotta go. I gotta testify. I'll try to call or have Danny call when we get breaks."

"Jack's inside!" Sam hissed, playing the voicemail message on the team phone from Brendan.

"I gotta go!" Martin hung up when an angry court officer glared at him from the hall. He slipped into the courtroom as Danny was finishing up.

U.S. District Courthouse
Southern New York District
2:20 p.m.

Danny returned to his seat as Martin was called. As his partner passed him, he leaned towards him.

"Call Sam. She's keeping tab, Jack's inside..."

"Okay," Danny nodded, slipping out into the hallway.

It seemed like forever until Danny reappeared. Martin answered every question dutifully. He was a good witness, very hard to shake. As the prosecutor began another question, the sky eyes locked onto Taylor's dark ones. Danny held up a piece of paper with 'it's over' written on it. One thumb went up. Martin heaved a sigh of relief, Chris was still alive.

Saint Vincent's Hospital
7:30 p.m.

Nobody really wanted the coffee. But it was a ritual they'd each endured too many times in waiting rooms. It gave your hands something to do while your gut was turning to ice. Danny tossed his cup aside, his stomach far too sour to hold anymore. Sam was nursing hers, or using the heat of the cup to warm her hands. His eyes flicked to Martin who was hunched over, tossing his empty cup from hand to hand. Jack was stoic, sitting in the same stiff chair for hours, his dark eyes hollow. Brendan Gavin was pacing, unable to sit for very long. His face was etched with every bit of concern that they all felt. He disappeared down the short hallway, heading for the bathroom again. Just as Danny thought on getting up to stretch his legs, Jack spoke.

"He's gonna milk this for all it's worth," Jack predicted. "He'll be ass deep in nurses and getting hourly sponge baths."

Danny, Sam and Martin all exchanged a trio of worried smiles. Jack was nervous, worried and tired. Fatigue scored every feature and the wrinkled clothes only added to the look. They all knew he was scared of losing Boone.

"You know they came up together?" Danny whispered when Jack rose yet again to walk from the waiting area to the nurses' station to inquire on the surgery. "Went through Quantico and got assigned to the same unit. They partnered for close to eight years before Jack got promoted, Chris got one six months later."

"They're pretty tight," Martin agreed and thought on the tall, outgoing, handsome blond agent fighting for his life in surgery. He was quite the ladies man and turned every female head when he entered a room. But he was also one of the best men Martin knew, a tough interrogator, top notch agent and dedicated leader. "Jack's right, he'll have a parade of nurses through his door."

"The man's my hero," Danny grinned, "A real chick magnet."

"Hey...hey..." Sam stood up when a bloodied green scrub garbed doctor approached Jack. Brendan appeared behind the doctor a few steps later.

"How is he?" Jack asked.

"Critical but stable. He lost a lot of blood and one bullet just missed his collarbone. It did some internal damage and bounced around a lot. There were a lot of bleeders. He'll be out of action for six weeks or so, but barring any unforeseen complications, he should make a full recovery."

Danny clapped Jack on the back when Jack turned away from them, rubbing his eyes. Sam gave Brendan a hug and the younger men stepped away to update the others members of their team.

"His arm? Is there permanent damage?" Martin asked. "And what about the head injury?"

"With therapy, he should get the mobility back in his shoulder. The graze to his head was deep and he'll suffer headaches and blackouts. But no major damage was done."

"So he's in ICU?" Sam asked, her mind lingering on the familiar morning greeting he gave her. Now she'd give anything to hear 'Hey Sunshine'. "Can we see him?"

"Not tonight, he'll be in recovery for a while. I believe ICU visiting hours start at ten a.m. You might want to check with the nurse."

"Thanks, Doctor!" Danny said, shaking his hand. He left Martin and Sam and walked down the hall to where Jack was standing alone, staring out the long window. Danny saw the rosary disappear into Jack's pocket. That surprised him, he didn't know Jack had one. He didn't offer any thoughts, he just stood beside his distraught friend for a long time. "He's too horny to die." He broke the uneven silence.

"Yeah," Jack chuckled, his voice hoarse. "I'm gonna go home. I'll be here in the morning. You and Sam are in charge. Keep Junior busy."

Danny had to smile at that, Martin had been with them two years now but was still 'Junior' or 'Hotshot', depending if Malone was angry at him or not. He knew Jack liked Fitzgerald and hand picked him over dozens of other candidates. The headstrong rookie had grown into a first class investigator. Danny clapped Jack's shoulder as the elevator opened.

"You look like shit, Jack," Danny offered as the weary body trudged for the elevator. He laughed when Jack's single fingered reply came back. He kept that smile and did his own prayer, grateful that they'd escaped the noose again. But he had no way of knowing how quickly the storm clouds would return and threaten to claim more victims from the close unit.

Friday, December 31st
Manhattan, NY
St. Vincent's Hospital

The medical resident on call flipped through the chart and scanned the contents. He did a quick study of the patient in the bed and wrote up new orders. He returned the chart to the nurse's station and paused to update the chart nurse.

"His vitals are improving and now that he's responding to questions and is coherent, there is no reason he cannot be transported out of here later today. I want to take new pictures of his skull to make sure, if they're clean, he can go downstairs."

"Yes, doctor."

Chris kept his eyes closed even though he was awake because the light caused his head to throb. He heard the nurses coming and going, adjusting things and pushing him to drink water. Apparently, 'moving fluids' through his system was the big excitement of their day. He felt a light tap on his shoulder and peeled an eye open.

"Sorry, you're due for another series of pictures. But the doctor said if they come out well, you can go to a regular room."

"Good," Chris rasped, nodding slightly. He was very grateful for the service he'd gotten but being in ICU was a bit too close to the morgue for him. A regular room meant one step closer to going home.


December 31st
Federal Building
1:10 p.m.

Jack shoved the folder away, tired of reading the same paragraphs over and over. He couldn't seem to keep his mind occupied. It had been a long week, one of the longest in his life. The awful scene on Christmas Eve with his soon to be ex-wife and her attorney cumulating in his throwing a chair through a window seemed like longer than a week ago. Between meetings with his own attorney and sitting by Chris's bedside, he felt as if it had been much longer than a span of a few days. He wasn't looking forward to tonight. New Year's Eve when you're alone is the pits. He would head to St. Vincent's until closing, then grab a pizza and go to his father's. A far cry from the prior ending of the year when his girls would make paper chains, signs and other festive things to decorate the apartment. They would watch the ball drop and welcome the New Year, then make ice cream sundaes.

Danny eyed Sam's empty desk and flicked his eyes to where Martin was fidgeting again. It seemed to the Cuban agent that his partner had ants in his pants. The normally staid poster boy for the Bureau was like a cat on a hot stove. The smile appeared again, when Fitzgerald's all too readable eyes met his own.

"Shut up, Danny."

"I didn't say anything!" Danny chuckled, enjoying the flush of color rising on Martin's face.

"Your X-rated thinking isn't as invisible as you think it is," Martin objected, wondering why the hands of the clock weren't moving.

It seemed to be frozen between one and two p.m. He was leaving at three for the drive to Newark to catch a flight to Vermont. Then he would drive to Woodstock to meet Samantha for a romantic weekend in the country. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and creased his brow when Danny wheeled over in his chair. The dark-haired agent leaned over the trashcan and was counting.

"What the hell are you doing?" Martin demanded.

"" Danny laughed, shaking his head and holding up an empty cupcake wrapper. "Eight dead soldiers, you're gonna take a nose dive when your sugar crashes," he noted of the candy, cake and sweets wrappers in the trash. "Little Martin's not gonna be happy..." He used a pencil to illustrate the deflated object.

"Leave my crotch alone," Martin said, grabbing the pencil. "And Little Martin does just fine."

"So that's why Sam's smiles more on Thursday morning," Danny teased and got the flush of color he set out for. He figured out a while ago that Sam spent Wednesday nights at Martin's. "I got eyes, Harvard." He gave his friend a genuine smile then. "Hey, man, I'm happy for you. This world's a cold place and if you can find a little piece of the sun, go for it."

"Finding it and keeping it are two different things," Martin muttered, glad for the phone ringing ending the uncomfortable discussion. "Fitzgerald."

Danny went back to his desk when Martin began a conversation with a lab tech. By the time three o'clock finally arrived, Martin was on overdrive. Danny needled him all the way to the elevator, Martin was an easy foil and embarrassing him was too much fun.

December 31st
St. Vincent's Hospital
5 p.m.

Chris pushed the button to let the bed come up a bit, he felt better with it semi-upright. He was grateful that the damage to his left shoulder was minimal, at least he could have use of his right hand. The headaches were brutal and he was tired all the time. Despite the fact the nurses told him he was doing well for someone who nearly died, he was frustrated. He didn't like feeling so worn out and helpless. His frown changed when he spotted a very rumpled Jack Malone exiting the elevator. The suit looked like it had been on him for the entire week. As Malone drew closer, Chris saw the extreme fatigue scoring every feature. A part of him felt humbled by the dedication this man had for all he held dear. Chris knew from the nurses that Jack had been here every day. An idea formed and he laid his head back, closing his eyes

Jack paused outside Chris's cubicle in ICU and took a long breath. Despite the fact his friend was getting stronger, the image of him sprawled against a wall covered in his own blood was one Jack couldn't erase from his mind. Chris was more than his best friend. From the time they met a bond formed that went further and deeper than any other relationship he had. Losing Chris would have been devastating. He collected himself, took his coat off and went inside. He tossed the coat on the foot of the bed and pulled the chair up. He was only seated a moment, when the blond head turned. He leaned forward, watching the handsome man's features forming a puzzle. The hand began to work against the sheet as the weak voice emerged.


"Yeah," he replied, taking the weak hand. "Take it easy."


"Hell," Jack swore, dropping the hand to pour water into the mug. He adjusted the straw so the injured man could drink. He winced at the bloody path the bullet had taken in Chris's skull. Another inch and he'd be an obituary. The effort of merely drinking a few sips took all the steam from the patient. He shifted uncomfortably when Chris took a few moments to regain his breath.



" drawer...bed"

"Book?" Jack's face screwed up. "What kind of book?" He saw the green slits appear and regard him in astonishment.


"A little black book?" Jack nearly choked.

"...little..." Chris feigned hurt.

"What the hell do I want with your harem's phone numbers?"

" fund...your girls..."

"You're a humble son-of-a-bitch, aren't you?" Jack groused, grinned and watched as the impish green eyes opened a bit wider. "You look better."

"Feel like shit," Chris decided, sighing and yawning.

"Yeah, well damn near getting killed will do that. What the hell were you thinking?"

"I was thinking...of a teenage girl...terrified of die..." Chris challenged. ""

"This one was too close," Jack decided.

"Comes with the territory," Chris answered, observing the wear and tear his friend held at his expense. "Listen, thanks Jack. Brendan told me what you did. I remembered some of it, but it's fuzzy."

"That's because some of your head is decorating that freak's wall." He saw the hand rise and took it, grateful for the warmth of it and all too aware of how cold it had been just three days ago. "So I'm guessing your plans for breaking in the New Year with that Amazon is off."

"Amazon?" Chris frowned then recalled the statuesque beauty who'd picked him up in Atlanta during a convention two months before. "Oh, no she's old news. I had the Terrelli twins coming over."

"Twins?" Jack's mouth twitched, fighting off a grin.

"The four finest breasts you've ever seen, perfection," he decided. "Their grandfather was some kind of acrobat in Sicily. They inherited his skill, you can't believe the things they can do with their legs."

"Here comes my dinner back up," Jack replied, then spotted the other mans' dinner tray nearby. "Speaking of which, did you eat?"

"Would you?" Chris challenged.

Jack lifted the lid and saw chicken broth, tea, apple juice and something wiggling in a blue dish. "It's not so bad, soup, juice and uh..."

"Shimmerin' shit," Chris noted of the lemon Jell-O. "I'm not eating that."

"You gotta eat," Jack ordered, pulling the tray over closer. "Here, put the straw in the soup and sip on it." He sat back satisfied and watched for twenty minutes or so while the small bit of broth and juice were digested. He moved the tray away, bringing over the lukewarm mug of tea. "Sugar?" Jack said, pulling a packet from the tray.

"Yes, sweetheart?" Chris teased with a smile.

"Your sense of humor hasn't suffered," Jack dumped the sugar into the mug and shoved it closer, taking the straw and putting it there.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, each drawing on the other's strength. Jack waited until the green eyes were shut and the even breathing told him the night meds the nurse gave out were kicking in. He paused over the bedrails, regarding the body below. He pulled out the cross his mother gave him when he graduated eighth grade. It was her father's and he kept it in plastic inside his wallet. He fingered the crucifix and cast his dark eyes upwards.

"Thanks, I owe ya."

December 31, 2004
Woodstock, Vermont
Seven p.m.

The 19th century stone carriage house outside Woodstock, Vermont was at the end of a road that was right off a Currier and Ives painting. Pines trees lined either side of the country road dotted with farms and quaint historic Inns. Martin spotted Sam's car, she'd chosen to drive up the day before. He pulled his rental into the driveway and smiled. She wasn't expecting him yet, as his flight was early. She thought she was picking him up. He got his bags and entered the beautiful home on the ground level, quietly sneaking up the stairs.

His eyes widened at the top trying to drink in the stone wall with a blazing fire amidst leather sofa and loveseat, knotted pine tables and antique decor. A large widow graced the next wall, giving a spectacular view of the lake and mountains. He put his bags down and moved inward, leaving his short leather coat on the hook by the door. He'd gone home to change and wore jeans, a turtleneck and a navy blue artic patterned sweater. The kitchen was cozy and inviting, opening up to overlook the living area. He heard a radio and moved towards the music. The narrow hall led to a single bedroom and bathroom. He recalled from the brochure, two more bedrooms and an additional bathroom were located upstairs.

Sam had just exited the shower, wrapped herself in a towel and was standing over the bed, trying to decide what sweater to wear. A hint of cologne caused her to frown in confusion. Before her mind could work on that clue, she was pulled backwards against a lean body. A familiar pair of lips began to nuzzle the tender spot on her neck behind her ear, while an all too eager hand moved under the towel to caress her skin.

"What are you doing here?" she demanded, as she was turned around and lost the towel. "Don't, it's cold..."

"I can fix that," Martin promised, pulling her close and kissing her. His hands expertly played up and down her spine and he knew the shiver was not from the air.

"...don't..." Sam pushed back, "start something you can't finish."

"Can't finish!" Martin objected, his wolfish eyes drinking in the perfect skin still rosy from the shower. He palmed her breast and began to thumb the nub. "Some detective you are..."

No...No..." She pulled back and smacked his hand. "I mean it. We have reservations at Bed and Breakfast up the road that was built during the Revolution. I'm starving."

"So am I," Martin agreed, pushing her down on the bed and straddled her. He pinned both wrists above her head and bent down, using his well versed lips and talented tongue to invade her inviting, albeit, pouting mouth.

"I'm warning you, Martin," she managed when he finally pulled away. She wiggled, trying to ignore the heat rising. "It'll be a long, cold weekend if you do this now." She felt the pause and saw the wheels moving behind the expressive blue eyes that rose up to regard her. "You know I'll do it, too."

"Dammit," Martin sighed, rising and shaking his head. He watched her disappear into the bathroom and was about to return to the kitchen. He'd seen a box from a bakery on the counter and knew there had to be chocolate of some kind inside.

"You need to get dressed," Sam called into the room.

"I am dressed," Martin replied, fingering his jeans and frowning. "Tell me this is a fussy place with French subtitles on the menu."

"No, but jeans won't cut it."

"My zipper's stuck, I need some help," he pled, eyeing the door hopefully.

She grinned despite herself, mentally drawing an image of the impish face. "Nice try, won't work."

Four hours later, sated by greens and a raspberry vinaigrette lobster bisque, chicken and wine sauce, wild rice and baby carrots and a triple chocolate mousse, the fire snapping in front of him was just the finishing touch to lure him into a sound sleep. But Martin fought the sandman and stretched out on the quilt on the floor. He was lying on his side, reading a magazine and sipping wine when he felt a soft body press against him. A slender arm reached over and took the reading material, tossing it away. He went to grab for it and got soundly smacked on his backside.

"Is that anyway to treat a country squire in his own home?" Martin asked, lying back when she lay next to him.

"Oh, us serving wenches are a bold lot," Sam retorted with a cocky British accent, tracing the outline of his jaw with one finger.

"Bold huh?" Martin pulled her on top of him. "Sounds like you need to be punished."

The willing captive surrendered to the rapture, lost in the whirl of colors that came when Martin used his extensive talent to turn up her internal heat to a fever pitch. She'd come to realize early on in their relationship that his sharpshooting skills weren't just on the Firing Range. As his expert fingers played the tender flesh between her legs perfectly, she moved to accept him when he claimed her.

Outside the snow began to fall, swirling through the trees and obscuring the view the woodland creatures had of the amorous couple. The howling wind wrapped the historic cottage in its grip and the tall pines moved to assist. Neither of them would realize that the romantic vista would be something special each would hold onto during the nightmare that was on the horizon.


January 14th
Manhattan, NY

The first two weeks of the new year had been busy; the team had already completed three cases. They were currently investigating Marian Benedict, a missing lawyer. Spade and Johnson had just arrived back from New Jersey, having interviewed the MP's ex-husband. Fitzgerald was on his way back from the lab and Taylor was at his desk, one hand on a phone and the other busy writing.

Jack read the email again and smiled. Washington was sending an elite squad of agents down to El Paso for a Hostage Rescue Training event as part of the International Terrorism Conference being held in Mexico. The twelve agents chosen would use every skill they possessed during two grueling days in a remote area. Six would represent the terrorists holding hostages and the other six would have to find them without being detected and overpower them without losing a hostage. To qualify, the agents not only had to be highly skilled but also in excellent physical condition. He knew back in August when the event was first announced, Martin had immediately increased his work ethic. He already ran five miles a day but he used the facilities at Quantico when he could sneak away and when possible, hit the local mountains for climbing and hiking. The initial qualifying rounds were held in October and he knew Martin scored high in the regionals, high enough to be in the final candidates. A tap on the door broke his train of thought.


"Yeah, Danny?"

"Sam and Vivian are here, Martin should be on his way up. I just got off the phone with Carla Palozzi. She found a file that Marian hid in their conference room. It looks like David Pierce lied to us, he was up to his ass in graft."

"Okay..." He hit the print key and walked to the printer.

"I'll grab Martin and we'll pick her and the file up first. We need an APB on Pierce."

"Yeah, okay, just hold on a minute..."

Taylor moved aside when Jack approached the door. He saw Sam and Vivian walking through the doors. Jack motioned for them to go to the large conference table. He stopped at his desk to get his notes and jacket and joined them. Jack filled them in but kept looking at the door.

"Where the hell is he," Malone asked, "the lab is only two floors down?"

"It's Friday," Vivian stated and rolled her eyes at the blank stare coming back at her. "Jack, it's Friday..."

Malone's puzzled face went from the cryptic Johnson's to Taylor who was laughing. "I don't have time for this shit...somebody start talking."

"On Friday, Connie brings in homemade cake and cookies," Sam grinned.

"And Martin always volunteers to pick up the lab reports on Friday morning," Vivian filled in.

"And stops on the way up to get a pint of milk at the machine." Taylor shook his head. "Some team leader you are."

"Don't be insolent," Malone warned and picked up the phone. A few seconds later he spoke. "It's Malone, tell Fitzgerald to put the damn fork down and get his skinny ass up here...NOW!"

"Boy Wonder's gonna need more than his bat belt," Taylor chuckled.

Four sets of eyes were trained on him as he flew through the door. A quick glance told him his peers were very amused by something, but the boss was pissed. He grabbed a tablet of paper and a pen from his desk and slid into the end chair.

"Let me guess," Malone shot at the younger agent, "Hitler?"

"Huh?" Martin replied with a blank face, and then belched loudly.

"Nice," Vivian laughed.

"Class all the way," Danny touted.

"Milkstache..." Sam clued in, pointing to her own upper lip. Her lover's was painted in a nice shade of white.

"Sorry," Martin managed, wiping his lip. "So what's up?"

Jack and the others filled him in on the new information. He slid his chair back to leave and Malone growled again.

"Hold it!" Jack put both hands up and motioned downward. He tried to put on a stern face and directed his gaze at Martin's wide blue eyes. "I'm not done with you."

"Shit," Martin hissed, wondering what he'd done.

"Did you forget what today is?"

"...uh..." Martin's eyes shifted as he mentally went down the birthdays and other notable days. That came up blank. Was there a report due? Was he due in court? "'s the uh..." His face wrinkled in annoyance when Danny drew a large `14' on paper and held it up. "I know it's the fourteenth!"

"Ding. Ding...ding..." Jack sang out, rose and walked to where Martin was sitting. He clapped Martin on the back and laid the email down. "Congratulations, Junior, you made the team."

"Damn!" Martin's face broke into a wide grin. "Damn..." His fist hit the table. "Wow..." He stood up and grinned wider.

"Two hundred agents starting qualifications back last summer," Jack summarized. "I don't have to tell you how hard that test is, only the elite pass. From that group, there was another trial, even harder held at Quantico in October. Those finalists were graded on everything, from the written, verbal, mental and physical aspects. Not only did Martin make the `Dirty Dozen' but he scored a 98% across the board." He paused, his chest pumped out a bit. "Of course, I'll have to tell them I taught you everything you know."

"Of course," Martin chuckled, still staring at the paper. It was worth every blister, every pulled muscle and all the hours packing ice on his aching bones.

"That's great!" Vivian moved forward to hug him. She knew how hard he'd worked and how much it meant to him. Martin was an overachiever and a tough competitor, sometimes his own worst enemy.

"Congrats, bro!" Danny enthused, clapping his back and tugging his neck. He scanned the email and the list of names, some he knew, some he didn't, not that it mattered. "You're gonna kick their asses."

Sam hugged him and gave him a smoldering look and got the flush she wanted. She didn't say anything, but her eyes were hot and signaled she'd celebrate his good news that night.

"When do you go?" she asked, pulling back.

"Uh...let's see..." he scanned the paper, "next Wednesday. Orientation is noon in El Paso, two seminars and a dinner. Then we get our assignments. We'll be taken somewhere in the desert or mountains, dropped off by helicopter at five a.m. Thursday. Friday night is when the clock stops."

"I'll dust off the chariot and take you to the airport in style," Taylor offered.

"In the meantime, we have a case to solve," Jack interjected. The others grabbed their coats and headed out. Martin was last, jogging to catch up with Danny. "Hey Junior." He waited until Martin turned around. "Good work."

The smile that came back was one he'd not forget for a while. Martin still had the enthusiasm and bright eyes that most of the agents start out with. But twelve years of finding dead bodies or not finding any bodies can take a toll. So he was glad for Fitzgerald and proud as well. He'd seen the hotshot rookie grow and blossom into a top notch agent. What Martin didn't know was that he was chosen as one of the Observers. Four senior SAC's had been chosen, one from each district. He beat out five other SAC's from the Northeast Regional Area. He wasn't allowed to tell Martin, the observers had to remain anonymous until the trials were done. Martin would fly down on Wednesday morning; he would fly down later than afternoon. He wouldn't be able to approach or contact Martin until Friday night when the event was completed.

Wednesday Morning
January 19th
Manhattan, NY

Martin ran five miles just about every morning. He actually liked cold weather, the brisk air seemed to charge up his blood. He rounded the corner and paused long enough to eye the bagel shop that was opening. His growling stomach reminded him of the quality of the large bagels. He eyed the chocolate chip baked gems through the window and then thought of the whipped cream cheese in Sam's refrigerator. That was a match made in heaven.

Ten minutes later with a bag of bagels in hand, he entered Sam's place. He put the bag down and took his hat and jacket off. He peeled off his clothes as he tiptoed through the bedroom on the way to the shower. He paused by the bed and watched Sam sleeping. She was on her back, the quilt was draped diagonally from her left shoulder to her right hip. The flannel shirt she wore was one of his and mostly unbuttoned, leaving the soft rise and fall of her breasts too hard to resist. He eyed his reddened hands and an evil grin was born. He peeled the quilt back and eased himself next to her. Leaning over her face, he slipped one cold hand inside her thigh above the knee and caressed it forward. The icy fingers coming in contact with warm skin woke her up.

Don't!" Sam rasped, making the mistake of opening her mouth. "Your hands are like ice."

Martin quickly silenced her, kissing her ardently and letting his talented fingers continue their journey north. Her complaints quickly turned into moans and her legs opened and the heat rose. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he pulled back, eyeing her lust filled eyes.

"Guess I'll take my shower now..." he teased, nibbling the area under her earlobe. His answer came in the form of a well-placed hand between his thighs. He yelped and the grip only tightened.

"I can play dirty too," she replied huskily, twisting her fingers and enjoying the blue eyes bulging.

She waited until he surrendered, then allowed him to make love to her slowly, worshiping her with every tool he possessed. He was a very generous lover, always seeking to please her. He was especially gentle afterwards, holding her close and nuzzling her, speaking softly and comforting. Somehow, Martin found that secret place deep inside her that longed for such love. That was her guilty pleasure; those stolen moments with his body shielding her and wrapped in wonderful warmth. She wasn't used to that, most of the men in her life were maintained at arm's length or only sought in pure carnal fashion. This was different. She was afraid of falling in love with him. She waited until she heard him breathing deeply. Then she slipped from the bed, allowing him a little more sleep. She found his blue flannel shirt on the floor and retrieved it, slipping it on. He was being picked up by Danny later that morning for his flight to El Paso.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and returned to the bedroom. She eased herself back on the bed, sitting crossed legged next to him.

He was beautiful.

She slowly eyed his body, from the point where the sheet ended just above his navel up that well-honed chest to the handsome face. She loved watching him sleep, his fine features were more pronounced when he was relaxed. He was kind and gentle, had a teasing sense of humor and treated her with respect. He regarded her as an equal, yet put her needs first. Any woman would cherish his love and bask in its glow. Yet despite the warmth she felt when her face was pressed on his chest next to his heart, there was a coldness creeping inside her, a naked fear uncoiling like a snake. She knew Martin was falling in love with her. She knew he wanted a much deeper commitment than she was capable of. Why was he slipping away from her? What was wrong with her? Why couldn't she love him back? Her eyes burned with tears of shame and she leaned over him to put the mug down. She stared at his face, drinking it in with guilt riddled in her eyes. Then she brushed her fingers through his hair resting her hand gently against his cheek. He sighed once and pressed her hand close to his face.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, retracting her hand and slipping from the bed.

Danny couldn't help but grin as he maneuvered his car through the traffic. The weather forecast for New York was cold, wet and icy. Tomorrow, Danny was leaving for four days in Miami, where there was nothing but sunshine and hot weather. His cousin's daughter was being married and she'd asked Danny to give her away. Ramon died when Rosa was only six. He had been the combination big brother and father figure to her. Now at twenty-one, she was a lovely young woman who was a nurse. Her fianc�'s family owned a very good Cuban bakery and cafe.

Martin groaned when his side vision caught Taylor's cocky grin. He shook his head and eyed the planes departing from the nearby airport. He envied his partner flying into a dry, warm climate for the mini-vacation. He could see Danny now soaking up the rays with a bikini clad beauty by his side.

"Just as well," Danny read the tint of jealousy in Martin's eyes.

"How so?"

"Your virgin Gringo skin against the fierce Miami heat?" Danny chuckled, envisioning Martin looking like a lobster. "You're kidding right?"

"It's a wonder I survived all these years without you." Martin eyed the terminal signs as Danny moved the car again. "So how long has it been since you've seen her?"

`Uh...six months, no eight," Danny recalled. "Her future in-laws had an engagement party for her and Marco. Nice guy, goes to church, volunteers with the little kids sport programs, and he does great carpentry work. You should see the house he's renovating."

"She's lucky," Martin agreed, as they pulled into a spot in front of the arrivals area.

"Here we go."

Danny put the car in park and put the blinkers on. He eyed his partner and chuckled softly. To the untrained eye, Martin appeared calm, cool and collected. But Danny's trained eyes didn't miss the signs. Martin usually consumed at least three doughnuts and a large coffee full of sugar by now. Instead, the slim fingers were wrapped around a diet coke. Martin had been bouncing around the office for two days, riding on a wave of adrenalin as this date grew closer. He knew by the tired eyes on Monday, that the blue-eyed stud and Sam had celebrated all weekend. But now that he was actually leaving, his nerves were fried.

"You need help with the bags, bro?"

"No, I'm good," Martin replied, easing his body from the car. He took the last draw on the can and tossed it in the trash can by the curb. Then he headed for Danny's trunk. He got his bags out, set them down and then walked around to the driver's side, tapping the glass.

"Thanks." He gave a slight smile, "Hey, have a great time in Miami. I'll see you Monday." He turned to leave and Taylor called him back.

"Did I forget something?" Martin asked, bending down and leaning on the window.

"Yeah," Danny answered, playfully cuffing Martin`s chin. "You kick some serious ass, okay? I'm countin' on you to set at least three new records."

Martin narrowed his eyes and studied Taylor's features closely. "Did you put money on me?"

"Me?" His choirboy eyes went wide "Would I do that?"

"How much?"

"I can't believe you think I would gamble my hard-earned money on you. That I would risk greenbacks on that sad ass and sorry boys of yours." Taylor's voice mimicked hurt.

"How much?" Martin pressed, "I'll find out, you know I will."

"Let me check for blood," Danny replied, peering down at his chest for a `broken' heart. A loud horn drew his gaze to the rear view mirror. "Hey, traffic's backing up, I gotta boogey."

"You know Fitzgerald paybacks are a bitch," Martin warned. "I better get a decent cut."

"Well," Danny bragged. "I mean if I was there, you'd have competition. But I saw the list." He flashed a grin. "If the shoe was on the other foot, you'd have enough to retire."

"Humble aren't you?" Martin teased, shoving off the window. "I'll see you Monday, unless you get lucky. You can send me a postcard from some exotic island with your new bride."

"Not likely," Danny countered. "This rooster has too many hens to court. See you later, man."

Martin watched until Danny's car disappeared. It had been an exceptionally routine week at work, and he was looking forward to the challenges and grueling pace the course would offer. Getting away from the suit and tie and office for a few days would be a good thing. He had no idea he couldn't have been more wrong or that he might never see his best friend again.


Thursday Morning
Northern Mexico

The helicopter swooped over the arroyos and strange rock formations of Cumbres de Majalca National Park. Pine trees dotted the side of the mountain which an abundance of wildlife such as coyotes, black bears, and great-winged predators like falcon and hawk called home.

Martin didn't know much about this area. The only place in Mexico he'd visited was Cozumel with his girlfriend in college.

Situated in Northern Mexico south of El Paso and north of Chihuahua, the sprawling mountain terrain had many rough areas. Martin was one of six agents that were part of the hostage rescue team. Six other agents were the terrorists and had been flown in a couple hours before. The 'terrorists' were holding five hostages and if their demands were not met in 36 hours, they would be executed.

The exercise would test the team to the limit and Martin was ready for the challenge. He knew that there were cameras set up in the designated target area to capture some of the exercise.


"Yes sir," Martin replied, readying himself for the landing.

Four of the team lined up behind Martin, but the fifth took his time. His eyes were full of loathing when they observed Fitzgerald exiting the aircraft. He'd been trying for two years to get transferred to New York so he could stalk Fitzgerald. He couldn't believe his luck when he saw him in the lobby at the hotel the night before. Liberating the hostages was still his main priority and he intended to excel in the event. Washington was watching and it could prove to be a huge career move for him to be on the victorious side. But there were many dangerous places within this park. One misguided step could send a body down a steep hill, over a ravine, into the water or even in the path of a black bear. A cruel smile split his lips when he watched the lean blue-eyed Fitzgerald directing the others. Typical, he was already giving orders. It was all he could do to contain his rage. His brother was dead and Fitzgerald was alive. The grisly image of John's corpse rose up. Eight years and he still was fired with the same rage. He wondered if Fitzgerald even remembered him. He fisted his hands and tried to quell his rage.

"Accidents happen..." he predicted, already drawing up an image of Fitzgerald's bloody body.

Thursday Morning
Chihuahua, Mexico

Chihuahua is located in the Northern end of Mexico and is its largest state. Several universities are located there as well as industrial plants. It's a thriving area, alive with culture and a growing population. Its direct access to the United States into El Paso makes it a hub for tourism.

Jack eyed the historic buildings as they drove through the Plaza. Despite the history and tradition that the area was rich in, it was also a large city. Like most large cities, it had its share of crime. Anything could be had for the right amount of money. From the bars tucked away in the side streets that sold drugs, guns and women to the large warehouses that held knife fights and up to the federales, some of which were corrupt and would arrange to have your money and possessions stolen and then sell them back to you.

He was riding in the back with Angela Morrison, the representative from the Southwest quadrant. He didn't know her well, but knew she was a highly decorated twelve year veteran. Her cocoa colored skin and distinctive features were a very attractive mix of her Native American and African American heritage. Dave Webster was driving. He was from Atlanta; his gray hair was a brush cut reminding Jack of his days in the Army. Webster was tall and lean, with almost twenty five years on the job. Vince Nelson was the only senior agent Jack didn't know. He was from Portland, had ten years on the job and his thinning golden hair was a reflection of his Norwegian roots.

"How far?" Jack asked, breaking the silence.

"We'll stop for coffee in town here," Dave suggested, "then it's about a two hour drive to the base camp."

"That gives us an hour or so to set up," Angela noted, eyeing her watch. "If they head out on time, they should be hitting the edge of Zone 1 by three p.m. or so."

"Cassidy says your boy is pretty good," Dave inquired, peering at Jack in the rearview mirror. Bob Cassidy was one of the instructors at Quantico who set up the trials that were held in August and October.

"He's on my team isn't he?" Malone's gruff voice bragged, giving Angela a grin.

"So he's not soft? I mean, he's Victor's kid..." Vince asked.

'He's as tough as I've worked with," Jack answered, "and smarter than hell. You saw his scores."

"Yeah, but I guess I figured the old man had a say," Nelson frowned

"His old man didn't want him to carry the badge, but now he's prouder than hell." Jack sat back and yawned, scrubbing his eyes. They'd been up and out by dawn. His stomach was growling and he eyed the cafe ahead. "That place okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Dave said, pulling in. "We'll take twenty minutes, eat and hit the bathrooms. This base camp isn't exactly the Hilton."

Thursday Afternoon
12:30 p.m.

It was a quiet afternoon. Sam popped the top on a Diet Coke and took a long draw. She eyed Martin's bottom drawer and got an evil thought. It was no secret the junk food addict kept a stash there. The salad she had at lunch didn't cut it today. Her mouth was watering for the cream filled chocolate cupcakes she knew were just waiting. She'd just stood up to kill her craving when her phone rang.

"Missing Persons, Spade."

"Agent Spade? I'm not sure if you remember me. My name is Kathy Kelly. My younger sister Trish...Patricia went missing eight months ago. She was a freshman at Rutgers. She went into the city to celebrate her birthday with some friends and never came home."

"Kelly?" Sam's brows knit in thought as she tried to wade through the unsolved cases still active. She kept a file on her desk with brief bios on those still missing. Tugging the red folder, she flipped it open and found the tab marked 'May'. "Let's see..." She eyed the photo of a very pretty girl with reddish brown hair and green eyes. She scanned the two pages quickly and concentrated on the last paragraph, a summary. As she reviewed it, the details started to come back to her. "We don't have any current information, Kathy. The last notes in here are from early June. There was a young woman who matched her description pulled out of the river."

"Yes, I recall that. My father had to come to identify her. Thank God it wasn't Trish. My folks are out of town and I'm staying at their house babysitting for my two younger brothers. They had ESPN on and they were showing highlights of a soccer match in California. They panned onto the audience and I saw Trish. She was sitting right there. I almost died..."

"Alright, hold on Kathy. When did this happen?"

"Just now...well actually about fifteen minutes ago. The Mexican National Team was playing the U.S. Men's Team in San Diego. Trish was sitting with Javier Lopez, he's a star on the Mexican team. Trish knew him from before when he came here. It was clear that they were intimate, he was holding her hand and they looked...well...close."

"Okay, so you got a quick glimpse of someone in the stands that looked like your sister?" Sam was taking notes as she spoke.

"No...It didn't look like her, it was her. The showed a close-up, her face was the entire screen. "Both Brian and Sean hollered 'that's Trish' at the same time."

"Okay, okay," Sam placated. "Give me your parents' home number and your cell number. I'll call ESPN and get a copy of the footage. We'll check it out and get back to you."

"Thanks...I guess I shouldn't let my folks know yet. I mean�until we know one way or the other."

"Why don't you wait until we have a look at the footage? If we feel confident it might be Trish, we'll fly to San Diego and check on it further. Where are they? When are they due back?"

"They're in London. My dad had a speech to give at Cambridge. They haven't really gone anywhere since Trish...well it was good for them to get away for a week. They're supposed to come back tomorrow night."

"Okay, Kathy, I'll call you back later today, I should know something by then."

"Thanks, Agent Spade."

Just as Sam hung the phone up, Vivian returned from down the hall. She saw Sam's cold case file open and the deft fingers dialing up information on the computer.

"What's up?"

"Trish Kelly, maybe. Grab your coat and I'll fill you in on the way over."

"Way over to where?" Vivian asked, getting her coat from the hook on the far wall.

"ESPN offices."

Two hours later Johnson and Spade were going over the Kelly file. They'd viewed the footage from ESPN and agreed it was her. Now they had to find her to determine if she was being held against her will and close the case out. They would be heading to San Diego within the hour. They'd contacted the local F.B.I there to find Lopez at the hotel the team was staying in.

Vivian contemplated calling Jack, but by now he was somewhere in the Northern part of Mexico. He'd called last night to tell her that the demonstration was south of El Paso over the border. He knew that Martin was not one of the terrorists, he was on the other team. Jack wasn't sure where he was going, only that the observers would be able to track both squads closely.

What she didn't know was that the much anticipated competition would morph into a trip to Hell.

Thursday Afternoon
Two p.m.
Northern Mexico

"Hey, we have movement," Angela Morrison noted from the monitor she was viewing.

"Hit the cameras, four and seven," Vince directed, eyeing the monitors springing to life.

"They're early," Dave said, counting the bodies walking through a dense thicket of trees.
"Dylan, Preston, Maddox, Arcaro, Sanchez, and Fitzgerald."

"An hour early," Angela recorded the time and waited for the cryptic message to come through. They didn't know who the team leader was but he would be the one to send the signal back.

"Nothing here yet," Jack said, watching the cabin were the hostages were being held.
"Looks like the two who left the nest are still hunting."

"Which may or may not prove to be a good decision," Angela said of the choice that the terrorist group made to send out two agents to intercept the rescuers. If they missed, their team would be two short during the finale.

They arrived at Zone 1 almost an hour ahead of schedule. Along the last several hours, they'd been pushed hard. They'd hiked through dense forests of pine and oak, scaled down a plunging rock face born out of a flat plateau and navigated down a short part of a river. Now the team leader was going to check in with the base camp while the others ate power bars.

Martin was pleased with the first day's progress. They studied the maps and ascertained the most likely area, based on clues given, that the terrorists would hide their hostages. They were in camouflage and concealment detail and by nightfall would find one of the evasion shelters. Tomorrow would be a long day as they had a lot of ground to cover. They had to reach the evasion and escape segment and coordinate a rescue area. Each six man squad was armed but the bullets were paint filled. If a member was hit, it was treated as if a real wound had occurred.

"Let's get moving, ladies," Dylan ordered.

He was the team leader and had sent the base their plans for the next five hours. They would hit Zone 2 by nine p.m. and button down for the night. They had to be in Zone 3 by nine a.m. so they would be up and off before the sun came up. The hostages were somewhere in Zone 4. Even if they hit it by noon, it left them only three hours to fine the locale.

Martin finished his drink and put the water bottle back in his pack. He put his gloves back on, checked his gear and followed up the path towards the summit they had to scale. He'd been studying the map and felt that the area bordering Zone 3 and 4 was a place where the team should split up. They could cover twice as much ground and surprise the terrorists early. He would speak to Dylan at supper.

He wasn't aware that his movements were being monitored. Nor was he aware that his repelling gear had been tampered with. He couldn't know that one of his teammates had access to the gear the day before and made some adjustments. So, he didn't see the sick smile plastered on the face of the man watching him through field glasses.


Thursday evening
San Diego
6 p.m.
Vivian and Sam were met at the airport by Eric Martinez. His partner Bobby Caruso was at the Marriott hotel where Lopez was registered. They kept an eye on him at the afternoon practice and followed him back to the hotel. The local FBI agents didn't want to approach him until they arrived. Now the four agents split up inside the hotel to cover more area.

Javier Lopez was the soccer star on the Mexican National Team. The handsome twenty-two year old had spent his junior year in college as an exchange student in New York City. He'd met the then sixteen year old Trish Kelly through a friend. Prior to their departure, Vivian tracked the friend down and the young man admitted that Javier and Trish dated in secret. He was now their prime suspect, since he was in New York the night she disappeared. His team had been touring the states and the exhibition game in New York was their last before returning to Mexico.

Martinez took his sunglasses off and scanned the lobby and elevator area looking for Lopez. Caruso and the two New York agents were searching other parts of the building. He was walking through the lobby towards a brightly lit open dining area when he saw a flash of auburn curls behind a large plant and moved closer.

"Got him," he whispered into his radio. "They're in the back of a dining room, the one in the lobby, way in the back by a bunch of plants."

"Okay, hold where you are," Vivian answered. "Don't move in yet."

Five minutes later, Caruso and Spade joined Martinez. Vivian took the lead, casually walking to where the missing woman was eating wings with Javier Lopez. Lopez spotted her first and his dark eyes narrowed, then he saw the badge on the belt of a man behind the dark-skinned woman.

"What's going on?" he demanded when the quartet surrounded the table. He stood up: his temper rising as well.

"Sit your ass down!" Caruso commanded, flashing his badge. Lopez looked like he was trying to digest a bowling ball.

"I'm Agent Vivian Johnson, this is my partner Samantha Spade. We're F.B.I. agents from New York. These are Agents Martinez and Caruso from the local F.B.I." She turned to the young woman then who was pale and visibly shaken. "Young lady, you have a lot of explaining to do. We've been looking for you for months. Did you leave New York on your own?"

"You can't make me go back!" Kelly stuttered and held up her left hand. "I'm married now and I'm eighteen."

"Physically maybe," Sam sent back. "Mentally you're about ten. Do you have any idea what you've put your family through, what this did to your parents?"

"Not to mention the manpower and hours the police and F.B.I. spent looking for you." Caruso shifted and glared harshly. "You're pretty selfish."

"They didn't understand, I tried," Trish argued. "When I met Javier a couple years ago, they found out we were dating. My dad hit the roof, said if he caught me again with Javier, he'd throw me out. They hated him."

"So this was your idea of how to solve that problem?" Vivian's voice rose in incredulity. "Having them think you were raped and thrown in the river? You know how many tears your mother shed?"

"I tried to be upfront with them," she countered, "I told them last spring Javiar was coming back and I wanted to see him. We had a huge fight and they forbade me to see him. It was ugly...we both said some pretty mean things. So when I met him that last night before the team was going to return to Mexico, I decided to leave with him."

"You're a real genius, you know that?" Caruso drilled to Lopez.

"I love her," Javier found his voice. "We were married a few months ago. We are going to tell her parents..."

"When?" Sam asked. "Why didn't you at least call them? They think you're dead."

"Look, despite what you may think, they love you." Vivian pled her case. "At least call them, talk to them. Don't you miss your family? Your sister has been frantic. Do you know your little brothers saw you on ESPN? That's how they found out. How do you think that felt?"

"I...I..." Trish halted and began to cry. "I'm sorry...I just wanted to be with him."

"Sorry!" Vivian recoiled in disgust, then turned to Sam "Call in and update them. Get the parents here."

"No!" Trish panicked. "I don't want to go back."

"And hiding and lying to the police isn't much of a future." Caruso paused, eyeing Javier.

Trish was still sobbing when a phone was put in her hand. Before she could protest, she heard her mother crying. That was more than she could bear. She suddenly realized how wrong she'd been and now had no idea of what to say.

"Mom? Please don't....I'm fine." Trish choked. "I'm so sorry..."

By the end of the call, Trish agreed to wait at the Westin for her parents to arrive from New York later that day. Sam and Viv escorted her back to her room and waited with her until they arrived. They remained long enough to make sure the amends were well on their way.

Thursday night
Northern Mexico
Ten p.m.

Martin and the others had finished their meals and were waiting for Dylan to give their rotation for the guard duty overnight. They would each get an hour of watch until four thirty. They would then have thirty minutes to eat and prepare for the long day ahead. He had the midnight to one a.m. shift and once Dylan ended the list he raised his hand.

"I have an idea," Martin began and walked over to Dylan. He outlined his plan and used the map as well as reverse thinking. "Think like the terrorists. I'll bet half of them are in the woods looking for us. Hell, they might have penetrated Zone 3 already. If we stay together, we could all get wiped out."

Dylan thought for a moment, scanned the map and turned to the others. "Alright, listen up..."

The others all agreed splitting the team was a good idea. Dylan called them into a circle to go over the area and outlined Martin's plan. A voice from the edge of the circle caught his attention.

"Three teams of two works better and faster, we can move easier. We can keep in touch."

"Three times two," Dylan mulled, watching the other heads nod. "Okay, partner up. Each team will take a quadrant as follows and we keep in touch. We need to be united when the take down goes down."

The agent who had been watching Martin slipped next to him, resisting the urge to choke the life out of the cocky agent. He was thrilled that Dylan had accepted Fitzgerald's revised idea. He would have him all to himself for several hours. As he bedded down, his mind went over the area he and Fitzgerald were assigned to. The last phase of their quadrant just prior to Zone 4 involved scaling a difficult rocky cliff. His hand slid to the knife near his boot. The repelling rope should be wearing down nicely, they'd already scaled two peaks and by sometime tomorrow, the line should break free on its own. If not, he'd cut it. Martin Fitzgerald would not live to see another sunset.

Friday Morning
Northern Mexico
Eleven a.m.

Mountain climbing is a dangerous sport and requires mental and physical dexterity. The mountain they were scaling was one of the roughest Martin had ever encountered and he considered himself an expert. He'd been climbing mountains since high school but always prepared first by getting to know the exact area of the climb. He didn't know this mountain and even with a partner he trusted he would have been apprehensive. But there was something odd in the other man's behavior since they broke camp that morning. He couldn't put his finger on it but sensed he was nervous and twice Martin caught him looking at him weird.

They were about one-third of the way up when Martin felt his line lose tension. He called up to the other agent but got no reply. Then the line slipped completely and he was falling fast, spinning and hitting the rocky walls of the mountain.

He'd heard Fitzgerald calling out and kept climbing. It wasn't until he got to the top and pulled the line up that he took time to peek over the side.

"Fitzgerald?" He called down, then went on his belly and peeked over the side.
He had to use his field glasses and scan the brush hard to find the camouflage but finally saw a tiny speck of pink, part of an arm. He moved his eyes over the visible partial body and saw there was no movement. Satisfied that his prey was down for the count, he moved back. He secured his gear, took a long drink of water and eyed his map. He would arrive at the hostage sight alone and take part in the rescue. Then he would tell Dylan and the brass that Fitzgerald decided they should split up and that he was the senior partner and so he obeyed the command. He'd claim that he didn't scale the mountain, rather he went the long way around. Without knowing exactly where he was in a park this size, it could take days to find his body.

His body. The words that he'd waited for so long. Martin Fitzgerald was finally dead or would be soon and justice had been served. He gave one final salute.

"Adi�s, amigo!"

Friday Afternoon
Northern Mexico
Three p.m.

Dave entered the monitoring station and handed Vince Nelson a bottle of iced tea. Angela was transcribing the last five relays. Jack was journaling the movements of the terrorist team. The next hour was the critical one when the rescue should occur. They knew that the group had split into three teams of two and that all should be in Zone 4 by now. Once Dylan's team coordinated the rescue site and moved in, they would begin to wrap it up. So far, Dylan's team was ahead in points.

"Houston, we have a problem," Vince said, leaning forward and putting the bottle of drink down. He scanned the monitors again and shook his head. "Two of Dylan's teams are in Zone 4 and moving towards the target."

"Two?" Dave prodded, moving in and peering at the screen over Nelson's shoulder.

"Yeah...see here." He tapped the screen with a pencil end. "That guy's alone, no partner."

"Who is that?" Dave asked.

"Looks like Arcaro," Nelson replied. "Angela, you got anything?"

"All three teams checked in when they hit Zone 3 just after ten. Sanchez and Dylan checked in within the last fifteen minutes, just before they hit Zone 4."

"Who's his partner?" Dave asked.

"Fitzgerald," Vince said and heard the wheels on the chair on the other side of the room move fast.

"Take it easy, Jack, it might be nothing," Dave warned when Malone left his station.

"Maybe they split up?" Angela suggested. "We didn't get an update so whatever decision was made it was made after they checked in a few hours ago."

"We can't call them," Jack noted, "Not in Zone 4, they're too close to the red zone and the transmission would be picked up. We have to assume Martin is going in from behind."

"Yeah, maybe," Dave said, eyeing the map on the wall closer. "They were in the position to do that, they had the southeast quadrant. He'd score extra points for a move like that."
"Can we review the footage from where they were in Zone 3?" Jack asked.

"We can," Vince said, queuing up the film. "But if there was a problem, Arcaro would have called in."

For several moments they fast forwarded through a series of grainy images which caught the pair in the water, on land and climbing rocks.

"That's all of it?" Jack asked, "How many cameras?"

"Uh...three..." Vince noted. "But there are three we didn't use, they record automatically. The Park has them set up at dangerous points in case of accidents."

"Do it," Dave ordered.

"What the hell!" Jack roared a few moments later when the image of Martin slipping appeared. They watched him move his head and wave, calling up to the leader. Then the tension was taken away and he plummeted.

"Shit...shit..." Dave swore, ready to hit the alarm on the wall. "What the hell's wrong with Arcaro? He knows the drill."

"Christ, he did it on purpose!" Vince said in amazement when they saw Arcaro salute down at the place where Martin fell and then leave.

"Back that up and slow it down," Jack ordered and waited. Instead of concentrating on Martin this time he watched Arcaro. There was a slight motion of his arm just prior to Fitzgerald's line problem. "He cut it..."

"Ah, I don't know Jack, it's too vague. He could have been trying to adjust it." Dave stared again at the footage.

"BULLSHIT!" Malone protested. "I want his fuckin' jacket! NOW!"

Vince continued to scan the tape while the other two moved over to Angela's station where the background information was kept. Jack and Dave each took a computer and Dave was able to use his classified password to access the agent's records from the main file. He found Arcaro's and read through it but didn't find anything.

"I got nothing," he admitted.

"Where's he from?" Jack asked. "Where'd he go to school, go back before Quantico?"
"Uh...he's from New York and he went to Columbia." Dave briefly scanned through those records. But they contained nothing connecting him with Fitzgerald.

"We're missing something," Angela thought aloud.

"Hey, Jack, look at this!" Vince called out and looked for Malone to appear. "He's climbing up."

"He must have grabbed onto something on the way down, it broke his fall," Dave surmised.

"Attaboy, hotshot, show'em your balls," Jack lauded.

"Okay, he should have called in," Dave stated. "He's down, that was in the rules."

"Would you?" Jack challenged, watching the quickened motions until Martin reached the top. "Slow it down, play it in real-time."

"Christ, he's a mess," Vince updated, as they watched the pain etched on Fitzgerald's face which was streaked with blood. For a few moments he remained prone, curled up with his face contorted. But then he slowly sat up and rolled to his knees, braced himself and stood. By his stance and awkward motions, it was clear his back or hip was injured. "We gotta call it in."

"No," Jack stated firmly. "Let him play it out."

"Jack, are you sure?" Dave asked, wincing as they watched Martin gingerly take his helmet off and use a water bottle to clean his face. He then left most of the gear, taking his gun and a few other items and limping towards a clearing. "He's really hurt."

"He'd chew his foot out of a bear trap," Jack praised and then frowned when Martin turned back, taking a narrow unchartered route.

"What's he doing?" Angela asked. "That's not the right way."

"Maybe or maybe not," Jack noted. "He's smart and he's been climbing mountains since he was a kid. I'm betting he's taking a shortcut."

"But you're worried?" Dave asked.

"For Arcaro, if I get there first," Jack vented, "I'm heading down there. That prick's gonna answer some questions."

"I'll come with you," Dave said. "But we can't compromise the mission. We wait until they rescue the hostages, they we move in."

"Fine by me," Jack agreed, "Just stay away from Arcaro, he's mine."


Friday Afternoon
Northern Mexico
Four p.m.

Martin wasn't sure why or how he was still on his feet. Every step he took consumed his lower body in agony. He wasn't sure how he hadn't broken anything and if not for the small branch growing out of the rock face, he'd be dead. He snagged it and that took the pressure off most of his fall. He was almost to the point where putting any weight on his right hip was impossible. His ribs and lower back were on fire and his face hurt. But nothing was going to stop him from reaching his goal. Then there was the matter of Arcaro.

"Son-of-a-bitch," he swore, eyeing the hill.

He leaned against the rocky wall and resisted the urge to vomit. Taking several shallow breaths, he swigged the last of his water and eyed the steep hill. It was the shortest way to reach the cabin where he knew the hostages were. Two miles back, at the height of an outcrop, he'd spotted two men on a roof of sorts. This trail led into the back of that building. But climbing down was out of the question, his injured hip wouldn't support that kind of pressure.

"Well, I guess that leaves the old fashioned way," he muttered, easing to the edge and sitting down. The hill was covered in cedar chips from the trees which made the rough slide more bearable.

The cabin was about fifty yards away. He pulled out his field glasses and slowly did a search of the perimeter. From what he could see, two guards were on the roof of the one story cabin and two more inside. That meant two were in the woods somewhere. He also saw that Sanchez and Preston were captured. He wondered where the other agents were. Sanchez and Preston were on two different teams. Did that mean their partners had been shot and were out of the game? Or had they come under fire and split up? He glanced at his watch and there was less than an hour left. He eyed the trees lining the path to his right and stood up.

"Jesus...God..." He swore, slamming his eyes shut as the pain waves rolled through him again. He tried to take a step and nearly fell over. "Fuck..." The main motivation force was the image of Arcaro's face.

Martin limped, staggered and stumbled his way through the cover of trees until he was only a few yards from the back door. He was surprised neither guard was checking. He could see around the edge of the building and spotted movement. He pulled out his field glasses again and checked out the brush that was across from the front of the house. He saw Maddox and Dylan. He wondered where Arcaro was. If he'd stayed on the path that they'd laid out, he would be on the other side and not visible.

The guards on the roof spotted Maddox and began to fire. Maddox and Dylan returned fire, hitting one guard on the roof and one on the porch. Preston rolled sideways, taking the downed man's gun. Martin eased up onto the back porch and peered through the window. One guard remained but was at the front door. Martin caught Preston's eye and motioned. The other man caught on and distracted the guard. Martin slipped in the back door and motioned for the hostages to quietly exit. Preston kept the guard on the porch busy in hand to hand. Once the hostages were outside, Martin herded them into the woods.

"Hey, man, what's wrong?"

"I fell," Martin replied to the agent who was a hostage. He kept peering through the woods until he saw Maddox and Dylan. He signaled to them. Five minutes later, the pair appeared.

"Sanchez and Preston are holding the four we caught. Two are still in the woods." Dylan eyed Fitzgerald's pain lined and blood encrusted face. "What the fuck happened to you?"

"Where's Arcaro?" Martin hissed, trying to take small breaths. Each intake caused hot pain through his ribs.

"He supposed to be with you," Sanchez replied

"He tried to kill me," Martin answered. "You get them to the rescue area, there's a large area a mile south of here. We only have twenty minutes." He saw the others exchange an odd look. "I know it sounds crazy but it's true. My repelling gear was tampered with and when I fell on the rock face, he cut the rest and left me there."

"Maybe it's on tape," Sanchez suggested to Preston as Fitzgerald begin to limp away.

"Where are you going?" Dylan asked.

"Hunting!" Martin snapped.

"Look, you can barely stand, let alone walk or run." Dylan objected. "He's out there armed and you run into him, he might finish you off."

"He won't get that chance!" Martin left despite their objections.

Andy Arcaro cursed his bad luck. Without Fitzgerald's knowledge of the mountains, he'd gotten turned around. Now he knew he was late. He saw the terrorists tied up in the cabin and counted four. That meant two were still on the loose. His only chance was to find them and take them out on the way to the rescue area. He'd not passed it and surmised the others took the hostages and headed out the back, so the rescue area would be that way. He headed west, back through the woods.

Jack and Dave were kept abreast of the situation by the others. They knew where the rescue area was from the cameras that caught the agents leading the hostages. They arrived at the designated spot just as the alarm went off ending the exercise.

Within a matter of minutes, two large vans appeared. Jack saw the agents piling into the vans and ran toward Dylan. The only two he couldn't account for were Arcaro and Martin.

"Where's Fitzgerald and Arcaro?"

"I don't know where Arcaro is. Martin saved our asses, he came in from behind and got the hostages out." He shook his head then and eyed the other man cautiously. "He hurt bad, took a fall. He claimed Arcaro was behind it."

"He's right, we got it on tape," Jack answered, "Where's Martin now?"

"Hunting Arcaro in the woods." Sanchez ambled over.

"Fuck..." Jack swore, snapping his fingers. "Gimme a goddamn map."

Arcaro heard the sirens ending the exercise and swore hard, tossing his gear on the ground. It had been for nothing. Well, almost nothing. He'd not get the points required to remain on the elite on-call squad but he had knocked off Martin Fitzgerald. He began to walk back towards the area where the sirens came from and worked on the story he had to make up. He didn't want them finding Fitzgerald too soon, so he'd have to have them split up on the other side of the divide. He was so lost in thought, he didn't see his prey on the rock above him.

The impact of Martin hitting Arcaro left them both breathless and sprawled on the ground. Sheer will got Martin on his feet and he swayed badly, his right leg wouldn't hold him up. He shifted weight to his left hip and stared down at the stunned look on Arcaro's face.

"Get up!"

" can't be...I saw your body..."

"GET THE FUCK UP!" Martin lashed out, kicking Arcaro in the knee.

Arcaro's shock wore off and he studied Fitzgerald's body language. He couldn't believe the man was still alive, let alone on his feet. The fall should have killed him. He was favoring his right side, so that's where Arcaro attacked. He used his feet to upend Fitzgerald and then punched his lower right back. A fist lashed out, clipping his chin and sending him backwards.

Martin rolled over and saw a glint of metal just before Arcaro's hand lashed out. He dodged it and tumbled, his face scraping the rocky gravel. He had no idea that the kick that Arcaro sent into him had set off his tracking device, to be used for emergencies. He rolled onto his back and tried to get up but the effort sent an invisible wall of pain on his right side. He couldn't rise.

"There!" Dave called out when a blip appeared on the machine in the car. "It's Martin...:

"Move it..." Jack ordered and Dave floored it, taking them to the edge of the spot where the road ended. He glanced at the spot where the red light was blinking and at the map in his hand.

"He's not far, just a few yards up that path," Dave announced but Malone was already on the move.

Arcaro pounced when he saw Fitzgerald couldn't move. He whipped the knife out again but Fitzgerald caught his wrist. He knew the other man was injured and it was only a matter of time before his strength gave out. But he couldn't afford to waste much more time, they'd be looking for him. So he knelt up and ground his knee into Fitzgerald's right hip

Jack heard Martin's agonizing call and cleared the brush in time to see Arcaro on Martin and the knife rising. He never hesitated.

Martin heard a gunshot but couldn't make sense of it through the pain he was lost in. He laid there as a parade of color splotches moved in front of his eyes. He heard a voice and blinked as the colors faded and he saw a face above him.

"Yo!" Jack called out when the out of focus but irate set of blue eyes fired up at him. The fist came next, hitting his cheek. He grabbed it before it rose again and used his other hand to cup Martin's chin. "It's Jack...calm down!"


The name registered but he couldn't absorb it. He was losing his battle to remain conscious and concentrated on that, rather than the voices. The peach blob left his vision and he blinked up at trees far above. Disoriented, his confused brain told him to move. He had to find Arcaro. He rolled over onto his knees and with the last bit of strength he had left, he used a tree stump to force himself to stand.

"You're done!" Malone spat at Arcaro. "And I hope you got good knees because you're gonna make some fuckface in the joint a nice little bitch."

"You can' that..." Arcaro sputtered, as blood dripped on the handcuffs from his wounded arm.

"No?" Jack's voice rose and he grabbed Arcaro by the throat and shoved him hard into a tree. He kept applying pressure until the other man's eyes bulged.

"Jack, you're gonna kill him," Dave warned. "We got it on tape, he's done."

"Tape?" Arcaro's head turned to the other man. "What tape?"

"The tape of you cutting his line and then waving to him. You left him to die..." Jack dictated. "You stupid prick..."

"" he shook his head. "He has to pay...John's dead because of him. All these years....I kept track, joined the Bureau and waited...tried transferring to New York...he has to pay..."

"John who?" Dave asked.

"My brother...John Lynch." Arcaro's hot eyes turned to where Fitzgerald was swaying badly, his face etched in pain. "He died in prison because of him." He tried to break free but a fist to the gut sent him down hard.

"You so much as blink at him and I'll cut your balls off," Jack threatened, twisting the prisoner over and shoving the knife against his crotch. "Dave, take this piece of shit out of here." He shoved the handcuffed man towards the other agent. "Send that van to the clearing for us."

"You got it, Jack."


Jack turned and saw the dazed, bleeding warrior swaying badly and turning towards the wooded area. "Martin? We got him. Let's get you to the camp and checked out."

Martin heard the voice and turned his head. He couldn't move his lower body. He saw a man with dark hair looking at him. He rubbed his eyes and the vision cleared. He knew that face.

"Jack?" he croaked, shaking his head to clear it. He wanted to say more but shock was setting in.

"I leave you alone for two days and look at you, you're a mess." Jack moved in and grabbed Martin's arm. He put Martin's right arm around his shoulder. "The clearing isn't far, the van's coming."

Martin was only vaguely aware of the trip to the base camp. He was on an entire spread of seats in the van with his back to the window. His eyes were closed and the motion of the car on top of the pain he was in was causing him to become sick.

"Drink," Jack ordered, shoving a bottle of Gatorade at Martin. The lips parted on instinct and he pushed the straw inside. He was seated in seat in front of Martin. He frowned when very little liquid was taken. "What the hell is that? Drink like a man." The face scowled and although the eyes didn't open they were moving rapidly behind the closed lids. "Quit cursing and drink this shit." Finally, Martin took several good long draws and Jack moved the drink.

The others piled out and headed inside for quick showers. They would have an hour to write up their reports and then they were headed to Chihuahua for a fiesta hosted by the Mexican Government. Jack and Dave were on the outside of the third van and Dave eased the door open.

"Got him?" he asked when Fitzgerald's head and back were released.

"Yeah," Jack replied, moving in and supporting Martin.

"I can do it," the disgruntled agent grunted, righting himself and slipping out the door. His efforts were short-lived.

"Martin?" Jack moved in when the young agent's knees buckled and his eyes rolled back. He caught the young agent and eased him down onto the ground. "Get a gurney and alert that medic inside."


It was quiet when Martin woke up. He licked his dry lips and his eyes wandered around the room. There were white cabinets with glass doors and small bottles and packages inside. The chart on the wall was written in Spanish and the room smelled like rubbing alcohol. He moved his head a bit and saw an IV line running into his arm. Something very cold was packed above and below his right side from the ribcage to his knees. He sighed hard, trying to quell the rising nausea that was getting worse. He gagged twice and panicked, not seeing anything nearby.


A bowl appeared in front of him and he grabbed it, throwing up water and then dry heaving. The pain the motion caused created tears in his eyes. Red-faced and breathless, finally he laid back. A cold cloth was pressed to his hand when the bowl was removed.

"Welcome back," Jack said, after he dumped the bowl and rinsed it in the bathroom. "How do you feel?"

"" Martin whispered. "Cold..."

"Hold on." Jack got a blanket from the closet and placed it over the two already on Martin. Between the shock and the ice pack on his right side, coupled with the air conditioning, he was bound to be cold. "You want water?"

"No..." he rasped, eyeing Jack's outfit. He was wearing jeans but the top was a short sleeved cotton thing that looked like a doctor's. ""

"No," Jack replied, leaning over the rails on the bed in the medical room. Martin was inclined with pillows behind him. "You puked Gatorade all over me."


"Not as sorry as I was," Jack answered, eyeing the battered body. One of Martin's eyes was swollen and the right side of his face was bruised and cut. He'd seen Martin's back and hip when the doctor examined him. How the young man got up that hill and completed his job was a mystery to all of them.


"Base Camp Medical Office." Jack eyed the clock behind Martin's head on the wall. "It's almost ten, you've been out for hours. You're lucky, you didn't break anything. You got a few cuts on your face. That hip is bruised and so are the ribs. Your back looks like an ad for Welsh's grape juice. That IV is loaded with good shit, which is why you're feeling no pain."

"...go home..." Martin hoped.

"Not for a few days. The doctor wants you to stay put and give those bruises a chance to heal. Your hip is swollen but the ice and meds outta help with that. This place is remote, just being in a car and bouncing all over wouldn't work. Why? You got a hot date?"

"Mmm...hmm..." Martin nodded, sighed and thought of Sam tempting him in the shower.

"Well I hope she likes horror movies because you need a hockey mask." He almost laughed when Martin's eyes went wide and racoonish and then dropped shut.

Martin dozed for a while and when he woke up again, Jack was still beside him. He saw a newspaper in Malone's hand and a pencil. The crossword puzzle was half filled in. He wondered why he didn't see or hear anybody else. His mouth was dry and he spotted a plastic cup and straw. He tried to reach it and Jack looked up.

"I got it," Jack said, holding the cup so Martin could drink. "Slow and easy, you puked on my only shirt and it's not dry yet."

"Why�so...quiet?" Martin asked.

"We're the only ones here." Jack answered the wandering blue eyes. "The doctor has three clinics to stop at and the others are in town at a party. The doc's gonna stop back sometime tomorrow to check on you." He saw Martin's eyes zoned on the bathroom and grinned down at him. "You're kiddin' me, right? Not a chance." He placed a handheld container for depositing urine by Martin's left hand. "You gotta do more than pee and we roll you and you sit on a..."

"Yeah�got the picture," Martin fingered the plastic device. "Scare up a soda?"

"Sure." Jack left and waited long enough for Martin to finish his business. He dumped the container, rinsed it and left it by his left side again. He handed the cold cola with a straw to Martin. "Arcaro's done. He's already back in El Paso being processed."

"Did we win?"

"You can't remember?"

"Not much...I remember falling...climbing up...the woods...uh..." he shut his eyes and the fight with Arcaro returned."�Arcaro�down�"

"He's on his way to a prison term," Jack answered. "Who's John Lynch?"

"Lynch..." Martin sighed, sipped his soda and pressed the cold can against his face. "A rapist... years ago when I was in college. I was jogging." He paused a moment, he was very sleepy. "I caught him raping a girl, she was beat up, cut up, bleeding. He died in prison a few months later."

"Arcaro said it was his brother. Same mother, different fathers. He's been waiting all this time to get you."

"My luck..." Martin commiserated. "How'd you get here?"

"I was one of the monitors, I wasn't allowed to tell you." He eyed the battered body with pride. "You did good, Junior, you kicked ass."

"Yeah?" Martin croaked. He felt no pain at all and was slipping away. He felt the soda taken from his hand and the blanket pulled up.

Jack stayed by Martin until after one a.m., then he stretched out on the cot across the room. The drugs would carry the injured man until daylight. He had called Vivian and updated her quickly; the line was full of static and finally died outright. He cursed the phone and hung up, pulling the blanket over him. He didn't realize how exhausted he was until his head hit the pillow.

New York City
Saturday Morning

It was earlier than usual when Sam woke up. She was upset at Martin's mishap but glad that the culprit was locked up. Although glad for the update, she wished she'd gotten the chance to speak to Martin. That was part of the reason she couldn't sleep. She didn't leave the bed right away; instead she hugged the flannel shirt she was wearing a little closer. It was one of Martin's favorites and his scent clung to it. She closed her eyes and imagined him next to her, holding her, nuzzling her neck, teasing her. Her mind echoed with that wonderful laugh and infectious boyish grin. She missed him, she ached for him and yet she couldn't embrace the full intent of what he offered. The feelings left her confused and she drifted back to sleep, dreaming of that wonderful weekend inside the snow-covered Inn.

Saturday Morning
January 22, 2005
Base Camp

It was eerily quiet when Martin woke up. He blinked in the semi-darkness at the shadows playing tag on the cream colored walls. The cabinets and other furniture confused him for a moment. He heard snoring and tried to focus on the lump on the cot across from him. The dim light coming in the window didn't help much. His bladder reminded him of a more pressing matter. His first mistake was trying to sit up.

"Martin?" Jack mumbled, hearing the cry of pain. He coughed, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and sat up. Martin was on his side, trying to sit up. Both hands were gripping the sidebar hard. "Don't move, you'll pull the IV out."

"Jack?" Martin rasped, blinking at the disheveled body approaching.

"Hold on," Jack ordered, easing the bars down and slipping his hands under Martin's arms. "Easy now..." He guided Martin enough so that his legs came over and the young man was sitting. He eyed the empty IV and moved to remove it. "It's okay," he advised the skeptical blues appraising him. "I had training in the army."

Martin took the bottle of water Jack offered and drank quite a bit. He saw Jack disappear into the small room off to the side and then heard the toilet flush. By the time Jack returned, he was trying to figure out how to move across the room. Just sitting up was causing some pain. Right now the only think he could think of was being home. He could be recovering in his place with Sam tending to him.

"I can't wait to leave."

"Small problem," Jack noted, not missing the pinched features and white knuckles. "That requires actually standing up and moving."

"Okay," Martin answered, slipping his feet onto the floor. All he did was move forward to stand and it felt like a hot knife was jammed into his hip and lower back. He sat back and frowned, "Maybe not."

"Look, how about we get you into the bathroom and at least get you a hot shower? I'll make some breakfast and you chow down. Then you get back in bed and take some pain killers."

An hour later, with a belly full of pancakes, hot tea and a good dose of pain killers, Martin was sleeping again. The hot shower had done him good and Jack would repeat that later. But he couldn't walk without support and that effort caused labored breathing over his bad ribs. Jack made himself some coffee and slipped into the main room where there was a television. He tried calling Vivian and Sam but couldn't get through. He was on his way to CNN when he stumbled across a soccer match.

January 22, 2005

Martin woke again and was rewarded by the smell of chicken soup. There was a steaming mug in front of him and a small package of crackers. The bed was raised up so he was in a semi-sitting position. He was sore all over and his back and hip hurt but the two hot showers and pain meds were helping a lot.

"Well, Sleeping Beauty it's nice to see you awake," Jack commented, putting his plate down. He had already had some soup and was now eating a sandwich. "Eat that..."

"Smells good," Martin replied, lifting the mug. "What time is it?"

"Almost three. How do you feel?"

"A little better, the showers helped." He sipped the chicken rice soup and used the plastic spoon to get the rice and carrots.

"I can't get through to anybody." Jack eyed the gray sky and noted the wind howling. "Looks like the outer edge of that Tropical Storm is here."

"Could be why the phones won't work," Martin suggested, sipping his coke and breaking crackers into his soup. "This place is in the middle of nowhere. Reception might be shitty anyway." He eyed the turkey sandwich Jack was eating with lust. The soup was good but his gut was empty.

Jack looked up then and groaned. Martin's hair was sticking up in seven places, his face was a mess, his back and side had more colors than Crayola and the eye that wasn't swollen was doing its best to resemble an orphan looking for a home.

"What?" Jack growled.

"Nothing." Martin winced and shifted in the bed, fingering his package of broken crackers. "These dry, broken crackers sure are good..."

"You're worse than my kids," Jack complained, heading for the small kitchen.

While Jack was gone, Martin spotted a cell phone on the nightstand. He knew that they were in a mountainous area and that most likely meant that there would be no reception. But the landlines were down and he had nothing else to do. He found the speed-dial and tried Sam but had no luck. He tried his father but there was no call getting through. He tried several other numbers and began with Sam again. Then to his amazement, one of the calls did get through. He pressed his ear to the static noise and waited.


"Getting...any...action...Romeo..." Martin tried to sit up to angle his head to use the phone better. His tender ribs didn't like that idea at all.

"Martin?" Danny frowned, wondering about the odd speech pattern and sharp intake of breath. A short groan drew his brows together in concern. "Something wrong, amigo?"

"Nothing that a...little Old West justice...wouldn't cure," Martin vented. He pushed off the rails to try to get more comfortable and dropped the phone. When he went to reach for it, the pain stole his air.

"Huh?" Danny closed one ear and pressed the phone closer to the other one to hear better. The reception was bad. He wasn't sure if it was Martin's line or his. There was a huge burst of static and he pulled the phone away. "HELLO!"

"I'm not deaf!" Jack called back, having rescued the phone dropped by his infirmed friend

"Jack?" Danny pressed the phone closer to his ear. "Where are you?"

"Base camp," Jack stated. "Listen I don't have a lot of time, the reception is shitty. Martin's pretty busted up, black and blue from his ass to his neck, he can barely move. He needs a couple days rest. We'll head up on Monday."

"Hurt?" Danny's voice alerted. "How?"

"Somebody on his team ambushed him, turns out the guy's been after Martin for a while. He took a bad fall down the side of a mountain and ripped the hell out of his back. Bruised his ribs and right hip." He paused and moved the phone over to the bed where Martin was lying on his side He took a couple photos and sent them. "Take a look."

"Jesus..." Danny winced when the gory image came through a few moments later. Martin's entire back was discolored in varying shades of blue and purple with slashes of crimson. He saw a large blue gel pack peeking out from under Fitzgerald's hip. "Where are you?"

"About halfway to El Paso, way north of Chihuahua somewhere. The camp is in a remote area. Everybody else left last night for Chihuahua. There was a party at one of the hotels."




"Harvard!" Taylor greeted. "See what happens when I'm not around to watch that skinny ass of yours."

"" Martin managed, warmed by the voice.

"Sorry, amigo, you don't have the right parts. Try not to bust anything else, I'll see you Monday." He frowned when the line began to fade away.


"So you're gonna lie low a couple days." Danny hollered, the line was dead.

"Danny?" Martin called out and shook his head. "It's dead."

"It's a miracle we got through at all; at least he knows the score." Jack brought the sandwich and a bag of cupcakes to Martin. "Let me help, okay? If we get you to sit up, once you're done eating we can get you in the shower again. Then you can nap."

"Another nap? Feels like I'm in a fuckin' nursing home..." Martin grunted, but was grateful for the help.

An hour later, Martin was showered and sleeping and Jack wandered back into the large room. He finished his crossword, two candy bars and a coke. He frowned at the velocity of the wind and the angry rain hitting the windows. He flipped the television on and noticed that most of the channels were static. He finally found CNN and turned the volume up high, frowning at the words he could pick up through the static. He watched the weatherman point to a large mass that was leaving the Gulf and instead of turning north as expected, was now heading overland towards them. Then he saw that the Tropical Storm had been upgraded to a Hurricane.

"Shit!" he swore, realizing that they were in a dangerous area. By the indications on the map, they still had some time to get out of the isolated spot. He went to the large bulletin board on the wall and studied the map. With any luck, if they left now they might make it to El Paso in a couple hours. It was better than being ripped apart by a Hurricane. He didn't have any time to waste and just getting Martin dressed and out to the car would require extra time.

"Martin?" Jack shook the blanketed shoulder impatiently, "MARTIN!"

"What?" Martin blurted out, blinking against the light and coughing.

"Sorry, hotshot, but we gotta get out of here. That storm was upgraded to a hurricane and it's headed right for us."

"How" Martin lifted an arm and used Jack's shoulder to steady himself.

"If we're lucky, a couple hours," Jack answered, eyeing the battered body. "Look, this is going to be a rough ride."

"...hurt just the same...but we'll be home..."

Jack nodded and got Martin to a sitting position. He rummaged through the bag that held Martin's clothes and found a navy blue pair of sweatpants and a matching sweatshirt with FBI in
gold letters. It was only twenty minutes but it seemed like much longer by the time Jack got socks and sneaks on Martin. He got his windbreaker on and winced when he turned around. Martin was puddled in pain, biting his lip and the one eye that wasn't swollen was tearing up. He knew that the rushed efforts and movement had hurt like hell. He went outside and got the car, bringing it around to the side door. The rain pelted his face and the velocity of the wind was tremendous. He lifted Martin's arm around his shoulders and slowly hobbled towards the car. As they got outside, three windows of the building they'd exited shattered and several large pieces of debris sailed by.

"Let's get the hell out of here," Martin called out over the wind.

Jack eased the injured man into the back seat on his side. He buckled Martin in across the knees and just under his arms. The trip would be rough and he would be bounced around a lot. He climbed in the front and headed out. The first part of the journey was on the small road that led to the interstate. That would be the longest stretch. Jack felt sure once they got to the Interstate, the open road would provide them a better route home. He knew Martin would never admit the amount of pain the very bumpy ride was causing but Jack felt every hiss and sharp intake that came from the back seat


"S'okay, Jack, not your fault," Martin managed, gritting his teeth. Then there was a loud bang and the car spun wildly. "Jack?" No sooner had the name left his lips when a tree limb crashed through the windshield.

Jack clenched his teeth and spun the wheel, trying to control the spinning car on a water soaked road littered with tree limbs in hurricane force winds. He felt the back of the car lifting and realized they were headed backwards down a hill. He never had time to call out to Martin before they hit something hard and all went black.


Seven p.m.
January 22, 2005
Miami, FL

It was with great reluctance that Danny left the beautiful young woman on the dance floor. With a quick kiss to her delicate hand and a soft murmur of things to come, he left to get something cold to drink. The wedding reception was crowded, the ballroom was large and decorated very festively. The room was alive with color, sound and light. The music was jazzing him up, the pulse beating through his system and giving him a natural fluidity when he moved. There was nothing like a Latin celebration. He downed a whole bottle of water and eyed the guests. So many beautiful women sporting pretty dresses in every color of the rainbow. Young men were doing their best to impress the fine ladies, using every tool they had. He flashed his teeth when he caught sight of Rosa. He made his way through the dance floor and tapped the shoulder of the man dancing with her.

"Danny!" Rosa gushed, embracing her hero. For that is what he'd become to her. His constant support over the years was something she couldn't fathom living without.

"You look beautiful," Danny praised, pausing to pin money to her dress as was the Cuban custom when a man danced with the bride.

" don't have to, that's too much," she cooed of the hundred dollar bill.

"Never, not for my princess," he replied, tipping her face and kissing her cheek. "Your Poppi would be proud of you, I know I am. You shine, carino. The light from your eyes is blinding me."

"I'm so happy, Danny. I love him so much."

"It shows, carino, it shows," he replied, picking up his steps as the beat changed. "Now let's show them how it's done!"

January 22, 2005
Northern Mexico

Something cold and wet was hitting his face. It stung his eyes and he pulled his arms up to shield them. He was on his side leaning forward in a horizontal position. Confusion rained down and he couldn't figure out why he was on leather with glass near his head and a tree over him. There was an awful shrieking sound outside of the window. Other loud sounds coupled with the water hitting his face and the debris on him added up to a storm. He tried to move but found he was immobilized.

"...hell's wrong..."

Martin fumbled with his hands until he found a belt and clicked the button. He fell forward a bit onto the floor of the car. The car was at an odd angle partially on its side and downward. Gingerly, he moved his body and hissed when pain shot up his hip and side. He moved slowly, unclipping a belt near his legs. Finally free, he turned onto his back, careful not to cut himself on the tree limb that had severed the front windshield and was kissing the back window.

Once on his back, the branches and leaves were just above his face and chest. He moved his hand to try to get leverage and fumbled until he found a headrest. His foot hit the door and it moved. Encouraged, he kicked several times, despite the intense pain it caused. Finally, the door gave way and he inched very slowly under the tree limb until his legs, butt and finally shoulders slid out.


Wheezing and coughing, Martin rolled over and bit his lip when the pain stabbed the right side of his body. He forced himself to get up on his knees, gasping and blinking as the rain beat down on him. Then he stood up, holding onto the tilted car when the mud under his feet caused him to slide. The storm colored the sky in a weird gray and the fierce wind and heavy rain made it difficult to keep his eyes open. The rain felt like needles hitting his face and the wind was pushing him hard. He edged his way forward and peered inside. A huge arm of a broken tree had crashed through the window on the passenger's side. He saw a body behind the wheel that was partially lying on the driver's side window. It took several moments but he stared hard into the car at the chest of the unmoving man. He saw the white shirt under the open windbreaker rising and falling. Relief coursed through him and he moved closer.

"JACK!" he screamed over the wind but his friend remained motionless. He tugged on the passenger side door and got it free.

Before he did anything else, he slipped and slid around the side of the car until he was near the front. He eyed the terrible angle and the precarious position the car was in. It was on its side on a hill leaning against a very small tree. One wrong move would send Jack plummeting down the rest of the steep hill. There was no way he could get Jack under the huge tree limb, so he would have to try to get him out of the driver's side.

The trip seemed to take forever and the horrid storm didn't help. But Martin painfully made his way around the hood of the car and then eyed the steep hill. If he wasn't careful and slipped, he'd go down the side of the mountain. He knelt down and crawled until he was near the tree. He went around the back of it, holding on for dear life and trying not to think about the rocky grave below if he fell. Finally, he made it around and braced his back against the tree. The tree was against the front part of the car. By a miracle it left the door unobstructed. So he leaned forward and yanked. The door opened and Jack's upper body fell partially out. The seatbelt was holding him in. Martin turned, crawled and held onto the interior, while fumbling for that belt. He couldn't get Jack out without rising, so sucking in his breath and saying a quick prayer, he rose.

"" he screamed when his feet slipped and he grabbed onto the top of the car. It moved but then stopped. He eyed the blood streaked face of his friend. He couldn't see how bad the injury was, the rain was soaking the head and washing the blood away.

"JACK! JACK!" he screamed but the body remained motionless. "Think, think," he berated himself.

There was no way to get Jack out the drivers' side. The grade was too steep and he had to use both hands to keep himself from falling off the mountain. He eyed the interior and got an idea. It was a long shot but with the right timing, it should work. The intense pain in his hip and lower back caused his legs to buckle. He dropped to his hands and knees again and crawled slowly around the car. Once he was at the front passenger door he crawled in on the floor. Reaching over, he was able to unclip the seatbelt and grab the top of the waist on Jack's jeans. Now all he had to do was get Jack's legs turned around and haul him out the long way. The tree was right over his head so he had little room to maneuver. The minutes seemed to move at a snail's pace and the pain in his hip caused him to stop several times. Finally, Jack's left leg shifted and he moved both until they were on the passenger's side seat. Malone's head and shoulders were out the driver's side, his body under the tree and his legs on the passenger's side.

Martin wasted several precious minutes to rest, fearing if he didn't he'd pass out again. Then he inched backwards from the floor of the car and slipped out, sitting down hard. He was gasping for breath and doubled over, clutching his ribs. He panicked for a moment when his breath wouldn't slow down. But the car shifted and that propelled him into action. He turned, grabbed Jack's legs and tugged hard. Twice more he tugged until Jack's legs, waist and chest appeared. One last pull sent the car downward and Martin held onto Jack with a death grip. The waves of pain that engulfed him were so intense, he couldn't move. The harsh sounds of the storm began to fade away and everything around him seemed to get distant. The last thing he held onto as the world faded was to reach over to Jack. He snaked his fingers around the belt loop of the inert body and the pain dissolved.

The next thing Martin was aware of was something pawing at his face. He was lying face down in the mud. He felt it again: it was fingers dancing on his face.


He rolled sideways and eyed the dark sky. He must have been out for a while, there was little light to see. He could see Jack moving his arm. He knelt over Malone and tapped his face. There was a low moan and he slapped it this time, as hard as he could. He heard a sharp intake and in the dim light could see eyes blinking up at him that were muddled in confusion.

"Easy, Jack, it's Martin."


Jack stared up through a haze of pain at a very blurry, slim body. Martin. He was with Martin. He wasn't sure where but it was outside and raining hard. He felt mud under his body and the sound that was splitting the night was high wind. Why were they outside in a storm? It felt as if an axe were stuck in his skull. He moaned and moved his hands to the upper right side of his face. A voice was beckoning at the very edges of his reality. He couldn't understand the words but knew the hand on his chest was real. He wanted to get up and out of the mud that was encasing him. He tried to move but the arm wouldn't let him.


"What?" Jack coughed, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs. His confusion was overwhelming. The main thing that did get through was that he was in a lot of pain, cold and wet. He didn't like the blockade preventing him from escaping Mother Nature's fury. "" he growled, rolling sideways and shoving hard against the body.

Martin knew Jack was groggy and not totally aware yet. So he tried to secure him until he could figure out how bad he was hurt. But when Jack hit his injured hip and chest, he saw stars and doubled over. He heard Jack moving and from the fact he was crawling away, his arms and legs were not broken. He wanted to follow but his hip didn't allow for that. All the adrenalin that coursed through his battered body during the rescue had evaporated.

Jack didn't get far when his stomach rebelled. He vomited until the dry heaves came and went. He sucked excessive water from the tail of his shirt and spit the vile taste away. Panting heavily, he wheezed and coughed for a while and saw he was several yards beneath the surface above. He crawled and clawed his way to the top and rolled over on his side, breathing heavily. Blinking through the near-darkness he could see asphalt from the road.

The red haze of pain lifted and Martin opened his eyes again. He was curled up on his side and blinked hard, as if in disbelief. Jack was gone. His frantic eyes went to the sharp drop where the car had plummeted. His heart nearly stopped. By some miracle, he'd been able to free Jack from a mangled car on a steep hill only to have the injured man roll or fall to his death.

Jack sat up, rolled to his knees and stood up. Who was calling him? He eyed the road and flashes of a harrowing car trek through a severe storm came back to him. He and Martin were trying to get to Texas ahead of a hurricane.

"Martin?" he mumbled, eyeing the empty road. Where was Martin? Then over the screaming wind he heard his name. The terror it was painted in only made his gut clench more.

"JACK! JACK!" Martin screamed, rolled and crawled towards the drop-off.

Jack staggered to the edge of the road and swayed badly, trying to peer into the darkness below. Martin was crawling towards the edge of what looked like a steep cliff. Jack blinked stupidly a few times, wondering where the car was. Then he put a hand to his throbbing head and saw a flash of a tree coming through glass. He could make out deep tired grooves in the mud below near Martin. It appeared that the car had dropped off the mountain. How did they get out of the car?

Then Jack saw Martin leaning over the drop off and realized with a sickening horror that the younger man thought he'd fallen.

"Martin!" Jack cupped his mouth and screamed over the wind. "MARTIN!"

Martin froze and turned slowly. Jack was above and safe. He closed his eyes and sagged hard, shaking all over.

"What the hell are you doing?" Jack growled. "Get your ass up here."

"Yes sir." Martin saluted before crawling up the rock and mud filled hill. He slipped several times but finally got to the top. He felt an arm reach down and latched on. He hauled himself over and collapsed, coughing and breathing hard.

"You okay?" Jack asked and the wet head bobbed. "Where the hell are we?"

"I uh...don't...uh...know..." Martin wheezed before sitting up. "I was asleep...when that tree limb came through. I'm not sure how got..."

"We went off the road?" Jack nodded to the hill and head dipped again. He knew he'd been knocked out. Martin was the only one there. "You got us out?"

"Yeah...the car was down there...your side against the tree..." He looked up tiredly. "It wasn't easy..."

"Well," Jack paused, trying to realize how his injured friend had maneuvered him out of a tree-embedded car on an incline. "Not for most mortals. But most poor bastards aren't partnered with Superboy."

Martin laughed then, shook his head and rose on unsteady legs, hissing and wincing.

"We're not on the main road," Jack commented, "Come on Junior, we gotta find shelter or the main highway."

"Between your head and my hip, this is going to be a long night." Martin trudged behind Jack, who was wavering badly and staggering sideways, clearing affected by the head injury.

For hours they staggered along through the fierce wind and driving rain. Supporting each other, they limped and fell, crawled and weaved but made little progress. Martin wasn't sure how much time elapsed. Jack had already passed out twice and he'd waited silently until the senior agent roused again. Each time Jack was more confused and the last time he got physical, clipping Martin's chin hard with his fist. The mud on the road made it hard to walk, they slipped constantly. Jack went down again and Martin staggered over, hauling him up.

"I can't...gimme a minute..." Jack begged. He couldn't tolerate the pain much longer. His entire head was throbbing without mercy and he was almost too dizzy to walk anymore. He felt Martin grip his shoulder and shove him forward.

"There's a rock here, sit," Martin ordered, shoving Jack onto a large, flat-topped rock. He walked ahead and saw something in the distance standing out in the blackness. He kept moving slowly and peering through the storm for any signs of life. He swept his gaze from left to right, seeking anything in the pitch blackness. Then something yellow appeared on his left in the distance. He crept forward, his heart hammering. He paused at the top of a hill which was overlooking the area with the yellow light. He identified the light coming from a window in a small house or one story building. What it was doing in the middle of nowhere was not his concern right now. It was too far away to see what it was, but he did see figures moving through the yellow light. Whatever it was, it was shelter from the storm. He doubled back and got Jack's attention.

"Hey, I think there's a building or something ahead," Martin urged, laying a hand on Jack's soaked jacket.

"You go...I can't..." Jack denied, resisting the urge to throw up again.

"Bullshit," Martin objected. "Where's your balls? Get off your ass, let's go!"

"You talkin' to me?" Jack did a DeNiro and although he couldn't see the blue eyes, he knew they were flashing fire.

"Don't give up your day job," Martin commented on the poor imitation. He didn't give his boss the chance to resist, rather he hauled him up. He grabbed Jack around the waist, looping his finger through the belt loop on Jack's jeans. He pulled Jack's arm over his shoulder, steadied him and they began staggering again but this time with a specific goal in mind. It seemed to take forever but finally they were standing as close as they could get to the shelter.

"Thank God," Martin croaked when he settled Jack down on a long log at the top of a hill. Jack immediately lurched and would have toppled, had Martin not grabbed him. He slapped Jack's face hard and a wayward fist came up. "Cut that out!" He waited for the blinking eyes to regain their composure and met them. "You with me?"


"There's a building down there, I have to climb down and check it out. I saw people moving around, somebody is inside. I'll get help and come back for you, okay?" He didn't get a reply and grabbed Jack's chin again "JACK!"

"Yeah...yeah...I got it. You go..."

"Stay awake!" Martin ordered, reluctantly leaving his injured friend.

The pangs of guilt that Jack felt would no longer be kept at bay. He knew how badly Martin was hurting and winced as he watched the young man slipping, sliding and twice hitting his injured hip as he got down the hill. The second time, Martin didn't rise and Jack's heart dropped. How the slighter built agent had gotten him this far was a miracle. Just as he was about to shout over the wind, the body rose again.

"Attaboy..." he lauded, watching Martin disappear through the trees that surrounded whatever kind of shelter it was. He rested his eyes for a moment when a shot rang out. That brought him to his feet, his own head injury forgotten. He couldn't see Martin and didn't call out, not wishing to alarm anyone to his presence. He slowly followed the path his friend had taken, his stomach fluttering badly. He didn't want to land at the bottom and find Martin's dead body.

"Huh?" Martin swiped the rain from his face. He was soaked and shivering. It was a small cabin and he landed at the back of it. He was about to go around front when the shot rang out. His hand immediately went to where his gun was by instinct, but he had no weapon. Cursing under his breath, he dropped down and crept slowly around the building.

Jack took a fork on the way down and ended up in a clearing near the front of an old, but well-built cabin. Light spilled from the interior and he moved closer, skimming the building. He heard male voices speaking in English, then a loud cry of pain. He peeked in the window and was not prepared for the sight that met his eyes.


Northern Mexico
After Midnight

Shocked, Martin ducked down behind a bush and watched closely. After hearing the shot, he got to an open window on the side of the house. He watched in horror as a man was murdered. What the hell had happened? The younger man was American and when the older man turned, Martin's heart sank. What was Will Garrison doing here? What had he and Jack stumbled into? He knew his father didn't totally trust Garrison and didn't like the way he got results. He'd heard for years that Garrison played both sides and was as dirty as they came, but smart. He saw the younger man coming towards the window and ducked, seeking cover in the area from which he came. He eyed the hill and had to climb quick, he had to get Jack and get as far away as possible.

Unaware that his partner was on the way up the hill, Jack couldn't take his eyes from the grisly scene unfolding. Three males were standing over a low table with a body on it. The man on the table was Mexican, mid-thirties and clean shaven. One hand was nailed to the table and his torso showed signs of torture and Jack's investigative eye noticed the fingernails on the right hand were gone, leaving bloody stubs behind. The two males on the far side of the room were about thirty. One was a white guy wearing jeans and a cotton shirt and the other was olive-skinned in black pants and black shirt. The taller one spoke and had a light Spanish accent.

"He knows too much and he's too well connected."

"We have the tape, we don't need him anymore," the young white guy said.

"We wouldn't be in this position if you hadn't let him escape!" the other agent accused. "He'd be buried somewhere where nobody would find him."

"Enough!" The third man ordered, his back obscuring his identity.

It was then that Jack noticed that the olive-skinned man on the table was alive. His eyes were slits but open and darting around. The bloody fingers were moving and blood spilled from his lips when he tried to speak.


"Wealthy you mean," the third man said, taking a knife from a bag by his feet. Without hesitation he shoved it into the navel of the victim. "Courtesy of the largest drug czar in this stinking country. And I intend to stay that way. You should have gone to Iraq instead of sticking your nose in my business"

Two things struck Jack at the same time. He knew the voice of the man he couldn't see; a tall well-built man whose back was to him. And the man on the table now had an identity. A well-known reporter he'd seen on CNN and other international news networks. His risky, undercover work gained him much recognition and put his life in danger more than once. It was Alex Garcia.

"Adios, Garcia."

Jack watched in horror as the large man took the knife that was embedded in Garcia's gut and slowly moved it, twisting it cruelly. The reporter's eyes widened and a single cry of pain slipped from his blood-foaming lips. His face went into a surprised look before the eyes closed and the bloody hand dropped off the table.

"Okay, take him back to where we jumped him, leave his body there. They'll never trace it here. It'll look like the drug runners he was trying to uncover did this."

Just as he finished speaking, Will Garrison's eyes came up and hit the cracked mirror on the wall behind his two agents. He saw a man in the window and turned around. He knew that man and was stunned for a moment.

"MALONE!" he growled. "What the fuck!"

Jack didn't wait, he turned and fled. Will Garrison was the most powerful figure in the Government. Jack never trusted him and more than once heard that Garrison was dirty and there were a lot of dead bodies in his closet. If he didn't move fast, he'd be the next one. He got to the edge of the hill and saw a small trail that had a lot of thick brush. He had to hide and then find a way to get to Martin. From what he'd seen, his friend was not inside and most likely still alive and nearby.

"Get him!" Garrison hissed.

"Who is he?" the shorter agent inquired.

"Jack Malone, FBI New York. I don't know what he's doing here but he can't leave," Garrison directed.

"What about him?"

Garrison eyed the Latino agent who'd spoken about Garcia and paused. "Okay, Tony, you get rid of Garcia. Brad, grab some flashlights, you and me are gonna find Malone."

Martin cursed and kicked the unforgiving ground when he got up to the top and Jack was gone. He must have reacted to the same shot, figuring that he'd been in trouble down below. Martin saw activity in the front of the cabin, so he skirted around and headed down the long way. He paused when he heard a car motor and saw a body flung into the back. His heart jack hammered so hard, he swore it would break his injured ribs. His frantic eyes watched the driver head for the car door. Was Jack in the back? He had to find out. His keen eye shifted to the long, winding driveway that led from the cabin up to the road. The van was paneled, no windows and a broad bumper in the back. It had a blindside. If he timed it right, he could ride on the bumper and not be seen.

Perez had to drive slowly, due to the muddy incline. He had to stop twice to turn to avoid debris. He finally got to the top and turned right. It wasn't far to the spot where they'd found Garcia, who'd escaped from them once. This time, his luck ran out. He was unaware of the passenger riding on the back of the van.

Garrison spent twenty minutes searching the area in the front of the cabin, while Brad took the rear. The younger man was the first back and immediately moved to the monitor inside the back door. He rewound the tape just as Garrison came back.

"You find him?"

"No," Brad said, eyeing the activity that had been captured. There was a small camera that was posted out back, which gave them warning to anyone sneaking up from behind. "But look at this, he wasn't alone."

"Christ!" Garrison hissed, running his hand through his salt and pepper hair. "How could this get any worse!"

"Who is he?"

"Martin Fitzgerald, Victor's kid." He sighed hard. "What the hell are they doing in the middle of this shithole?" He watched the high-speed version of the tape and Fitzgerald scooting down the hall and crawling out of view. He couldn't be sure, but if the young man got close enough, he would have seen the murder as well.

"He's not here now. Either he found Malone and they left or they're hiding in the woods." Brad paused, frowned and cocked his head. "We did a wide scope on the way in, nobody was within miles. They had to stumble in by accident. Could be they got caught in the storm and had an accident. They had to be on foot."

"Yeah, so they can't get very far." He pulled out his radio "Tony? Where are you?"

"I'm on my way back, I'm about ten minutes out."

"Keep an eye out for two F.B.I. agents, both white, the older one has dark hair and eyes, the younger one fair. They saw us do Garcia. We need to find them. And Tony, we need them alive. I need to know if they told anyone."

"Got it."

"Okay, boss, what are we gonna do if we find them?" Brad asked, pulling out a bottle of water from the gym bag under the table and uncapping it. He took a liberal swig and watched the older man pace.

"We got all the tools," Garrison noted of the items of torture in the basement beneath them as well as in the next room. "We bring 'em back for a little talk."

Martin's joyride came to a painful halt when the van hit a bump in the road and he was tossed sideways. He landed hard, rolled over twice and laid flat on his back for several moments. There was so much pain at first he feared he'd broken something. But slowly he began to move and rocked to one side, getting to his knees first, then rising with the help of a tree stump. He moved as best he could, following the path of the van.

He picked up the pace and wasn't sure how much time passed when he saw the headlights halted. He ducked for cover and watched the driver roll a body off the side of the hill. He was too far away to get any kind of jump on the guy, who was already back in the van. He didn't need to get caught now, he ducked out of sight. Once the van passed him, he jogged back up the road and found the spot where he'd seen the body go off. Then he began the longest journey of his life.

"Will? You there? I got something."

"Tony? Talk to me!" Garrison thundered, heading for the door.

"Hold on�" Tony pulled the car to a stop and got out, cautiously heading down a muddy incline. At the bottom was a white male, face down. He pulled his gun and kicked the guy, who never moved. He knelt down and rolled him over. "He's got dark hair, mid to late forties, he's alive but out cold."

"Malone!" Garrison sighed, "Where are you?"

"About a quarter mile from the house," Perez reported.

"Bring him in."

The rain and wind had died down for a bit, he was grateful for that. Besides being soaking wet and in a lot of pain, Martin had no idea where he was or how far from help. With the full moon as a guide, he carefully climbed down to where a body was lying in a twisted heap at the bottom. As he made his way down, he thought of his early days on Malone's team.

*"So stupid."*

Those words echoed in his concussed skull the entire ride in the Emergency Vehicle to the ER on the first day on the team. Actually, thinking back, 'stupid' was being kind, he'd screwed up royally in critical rookie mistake that nearly got himself and the missing girl killed. It was a miracle that she was found alive and unharmed. Malone's scrutiny didn't let up for weeks, and he'd been in the doghouse fighting his way out. But that is what he wanted, to be treated as an equal, no special breaks. He'd fought hard to get on Malone's team, he'd long admired his work and knew of his tough reputation. And it paid off in spades, he'd learnt from Jack and his teammates, who he considered friends, real friends, the close kind that he didn't have in college or in Seattle doing white collar work.

*"Nice work, Junior."*

Junior. The first time Malone used that term, it caught him off guard. Not for the use as much as the warm tone. The slight smile and a glint in the dark eyes. The brief chest swell it caused that day a few months into his tenure still lingered and grew each time Malone used it. Martin paused to eye the twenty or so feet remaining. A part of him didn't want to go any further. When you put the badge on and become partners with another agent, you know the chances are that this moment would come. But not on the edge of a hurricane, at the bottom of a hill, off the road to hell.

*"Get your head outta your ass, hotshot!"*

"Shut up, Jack," Martin choked of the growled threat that erupted when Malone wasn't happy with his work. He'd give his badge to hear Jack threaten to cut his balls off if he pulled a stunt 'like that' again.

He hit bottom and doubled over, resting his hands on his knees. Sweat and rain ran down his face and his hip and side were screaming at him. But his eyes burned the worst, trained on a sight that he never thought he'd have to face. Slowly, he rose and took a steadying breath, then made his way to the body. He knelt down and turned the man over, his hand jerked back when a moan crawled over his fingers.

"Jack? Jesus, I thought you were dead."

"Who�" Garcia coughed a mouthful of blood. "�are�you�"

"I'm Special Agent Martin Fitzgerald, F.B.I. New York." He knew now that this was the man he'd seen them torturing in the cabin. "Why did Garrison do this?"

"�tape�drugs�murder�all �of �it�"

"Tape? What tape?"


"Jesus," Martin hissed, bending closer. He was dying, that could not be denied. But he wouldn't die in vain. "Alex? Where is the tape? I'll make sure it gets to Washington. My dad is the Deputy Director, he hates Garrison."

"�hid�it�it�the real one�they have fake�.Madre Maria�Madre�feet�safe�she'll watch�it�"

"Who? Mother Mary?" Martin spoke louder as the words were weaker. He bent lower, putting his face inches from the dying man's. "Where Alex? Tell me where? I'll get it, I promise."

The headlights of the van hit his two cohorts when Perez pulled down the rocky hill and came to a halt. By the time he got out of the van, Garrison had the back door open. Brad crawled inside and slapped the prone man's face hard.

"He's out cold." Brad turned to Tony. 'You see anybody with him?"

"No, why?" the olive-skinned agent asked. He was handpicked by Garrison years ago in a Spanish slum in Texas and recruited. He was well paid for this job of ensuring that anything he wanted, got done. He moved closer and took the victim's legs as Brad lifted him from the van. They laid him down on the ground and all three eyed the heavily wooded area, chosen for its isolation.

"He wasn't alone. We got his partner on tape, coming down from the rear." Brad paused, kicking the inert body. "Where the hell did that kid go?"

"Who?" Tony pressed.

"Martin Fitzgerald, the Deputy Director's son. We saw him on the security tape." Garrison unleashed his fury on Malone, kicking him viscously in the balls.. "GODDAMMIT!"

"Okay, why would he leave Malone out there, hurt?" Perez asked.

"Could be when Malone went down, he couldn't carry him. Maybe he's hurt too." Brad theorized. "Or maybe he doesn't know where Malone is. We just don't know."

"We have to find him," Garrison ordered. "We have to know if Malone told him anything. And we need to move on this. Victor Fitzgerald won't spare anybody or any cost to get his boy back. Whatever they were doing down here�" He paused and frowned, slapping his head. "The Terrorism Conference was this weekend. Fitzgerald had to be on one of the teams. They were probably on their way back and got caught in the hurricane. If Fitzgerald isn't home on time, his old man will have this place crawling with activity. So I need to have this done by tomorrow night."

"Why don't we do him now?" Tony took out his gun. "Then we can hunt the other one."

"No," Garrison denied. "We have to know what he told. We question him first." He pulled out a pair of handcuffs and turned Malone over, cuffing his wrists. "And while I'm doing that, you two find Fitzgerald."

"And then what?" Perez asked.

"We only have tonight. I have to be in El Paso for an eight a.m. breakfast, followed by a three hour conference. From there, I go back to Washington. I need to prove to Victor and the Bureau that Malone and Fitzgerald are dead and their bodies are not currently recoverable. We'll doctor up one of those tapes we confiscated from Garcia. It'll be grainy enough and we'll splice in footage before of torturing them. I can buy us a few days, but we have to find that kid, before he calls north." He eyed the prone body. Once we find out who Malone talked to, we do him and the kid. This area is crawling with lowlife scum who smell American money. We either blame it on them getting robbed and killed or just put their bodies in a car and shove it off the mountain and blame the Hurricane. I'll make sure they get found before Victor even knows a thing. Problem solved. Get moving."


January 23, 2005
One a.m.

Garrison followed the two younger men who carried Malone down to the cellar of the cabin. There were three rooms in the cellar built for specific means of torture. He waited until they dumped the prone agent on the floor and took his clothes off, leaving him only in his underwear. The cold room was about 50 degrees and he would be forced to stand. His feet were shackled to the floor and his wrists cuffed. The bound wrists were then hooked to a chain suspended from the ceiling. This would keep Malone on his feet until his muscles screamed.

"You two scour the woods for Fitzgerald and use the tranquilizer, we need him alive," Garrison ordered. "He's a smart one, keep an eye out."

Garrison saw Jack Malone beginning to stir and wasted no time. Once the dark head began to move, he slapped the face hard, causing both eyes to open.

"What are you doing here, Malone?"

Jack was disoriented at first; he didn't know where 'here' was. He knew he was freezing, nearly naked and being questioned by Will Garrison in a cement block room. He licked his lips and coughed, squinting at Garrison.

"I don't know..."

"Bullshit!" Garrison accused, slapping him harder, drawing blood from his lip.

Jack spat a wad of blood out from where the blow had driven his tender lip through a tooth. He shook his head to clear it and eyed the inquisitor. He only had bits and pieces in his throbbing brain. Flashing images of Martin in a bed with his back badly bruised, followed by a harrowing trip in a car through a storm then a car going over a cliff.

" the storm..."

"You and Fitzgerald had an accident? Where? Why were you here?"


So his hunch had been correct, Fitzgerald was one of the elite chosen for the demonstration. If Malone was telling the truth, they were trying to get home and the storm caused an accident. He and Fitzgerald must have found them while stumbling through the woods.

"Were you alone?"

"Yeah...he's gone...he left..." Jack lied, hoping that Martin had not been taken.

"You and Fitzgerald were alone in the car?"

"Yeah..." Jack shivered, he was freezing and the icy ground was causing his feet to feel as if they were encased in ice. He tried to flex his toes and heels but his ankles were encased and it felt like he was in concrete boots.

"Why were you two alone? Wasn't there a banquet in Chihuahua somewhere?"

"He got hurt...couldn't go...we stayed at camp..."

"Hmmm..." Garrison walked behind Malone. The clues did add up, it would explain why Fitzgerald might have left Malone.

"Why were you snooping around in the woods?"

"I wasn't..." Jack answered.

"Don't lie to me, Jack. I saw you in the mirror. Now go easy on yourself and tell me what you saw and who you told."


Garrison shook his head and picked up a short rubber baton. Without mercy, he whipped around and struck the bound man hard in the lower back. The scream came up sharp and fast while the shivering naked body buckled.

"Tell me the truth...I can make this a living hell for you."

"�truth�you wouldn't recognize�" Jack hissed, his back singing in pain.

The other pieces were appearing without warning, and he wasn't sure he was happy they were back in place. Garrison killed Alex Garcia in cold blood. Garrison knew Jack saw him and could finger him. Why then wasn't he already dead? What was this fishing trip all about?

"I guess you aren't taking me seriously enough," Garrison replied, heading over to a table on the wall that had tools on it. He took out a foot long baton and turned the power button on. Then he walked in front of Malone and shoved the object down the front of his shorts, pressing it hard against his groin. He got a sick satisfaction when the current hit Malone and the body convulsed in agony.

Jack screamed and thrust his head back, straining the chains that bound him and the muscles in his neck when the cattle prod hit his privates. Sweat poured down his face and he coughed and panted.

"Now, let's try this again. What did you see and who did you tell?"

"You?" Jack shook his sweaty head. "... know�what�I saw�sick fuckin' prick�"

"Sad to say, it was your fatal mistake, Malone." Garrison ran the prod up and down Jack's back and walked behind him. He pressed the end against the cloth covering Malone's rectum, then he slipped it inside and over the cheeks. He heard the sharp intake of air and pressed harder. "Who did you tell?"

"" Jack answered and before the final syllable the current sang loudly again.

Garrison just smiled, his skin prickling in anticipation. He walked to the table and eyed the cruel tools of the trade, then selected one. He squatted down and clamped the mechanism on Malone's largest toenail. He eyed the semiconscious man who was dripping in sweat with blood matting his hair.

"Did you tell your partner what you saw? Where is he?"

"�he's gone�we�split up�"

"You'll learn soon enough how I despise being lied to," Garrison snarled, yanking the toenail out and drinking in the scream of pain. Malone went limp and he tossed the nail away, then yanked the head up. "Not so fast, I don't want you sleeping just yet." He walked to the table and took out a capsule, then broke it under Malone's nose. The acrid fumes from within caused the head to jerk back and the eyes to open, wide first then drooping.

"Now where were we �" He clamped the tool on the large toe on Malone's other foot. "Where's that kid? What does he know?"

"�I didn't see him�I don't�don't�know�" Jack panted then screamed when his nail was torn away and the bloody stub showered in rubbing alcohol. The pain caused him to pass out, but the bitter, strong smell came back, invading his lungs and he was forced awake again. His arms were screaming with the pain of supporting his body.

"You better hope he's gone, Malone, because if Perez finds him, well..." he turned and leered, "he has a weakness for those pretty blue-eyed types and he'll tear that kid's sweet ass apart."

"�can't fuck what he can't catch�"

"Oh, you have that much faith in him?" He moved a small table on wheels over and methodically attached electrodes to Malone's nipples, balls and penis.

"�goons�won't�catch�his�wind�" Malone shivered, knowing what was coming. He closed his eyes and waited, and then the screaming began.

"I can play all night, Malone, it's your funeral," Garrison decided, increasing the voltage. "Where is he?"

"�don't know�" Malone replied honestly, wondering how he could produce a lie that Garrison would believe.

The pain was fierce but not enough to send him under. As the sick warden continued his torture, Malone's only hope was that Martin had gone. But, knowing the bull doggedness and stubborn streak, he knew the young man was outside somewhere, trying to figure out a plan. His ace in the hole was that Martin knew the mountains, how to hide and how to run. He didn't think the two goons hunting him were as adept. All Martin needed was to overpower one of them and get a gun. He was only vaguely aware of Garrison's questions, his mind was turning into pudding.

"New deck of cards, perhaps?" Garrison removed the electrodes and strode to the table, eyeing the lined up elements.

Jack was in a living hell and the next few hours would be the worst he'd ever endured.

Our Lady of Grace Church
Three a.m.


That was the one thought that enveloped Martin Fitzgerald when he stumbled into the yard of the church. He eased his burden down and shoved the old wooden door open. Had the dying man not used his last breath to give him exact directions, he'd not have found this old church, it was that well hidden. But sanctuary was why Garcia sought this place out and it was exactly what the FBI agent felt as he entered.

One of many sanctuaries of earth and stone whose ruins were scattered all over Mexico, Our Lady of Grace had once held the poor worshipers in her arms. But that would have been over a hundred years ago. Profound in its simplicity, most of the exterior was intact and still held that reverence that beckoned its denizens.

Martin collapsed once he got inside the cold, stone walls. He was freezing, having trudged with Alex Garcia's dead body in the rain for more miles that he could count. He rolled onto his back, swiped the rain from his face and struggled hard to catch his breath. His hip and back were screaming at him and for a fleeting moment, he hungered for the IV cocktail he'd been hooked up to at the base camp. His wide eyes swept over the darkened interior and above the debris that was littered between the pews that remained, then he saw her.

"Madre�Maria�" he whispered, still heaving harsh breaths.

He remained in place, allowing his body to rest for close to fifteen minutes, sucking the water from his sodden clothes. Then he rolled onto his knees and staggered to the statue. He dropped down, blessed himself and sent the most heartfelt prayer he possessed, asking for safe passage for himself and Jack.

"I'm sorry about this," he apologized, moving his hands over the base on which she stood so regally. A loose stone moved aside and he put both hands inside, trying to ignore the tiny feet of some family of unknown origin that ran over them. He pulled a metal box out and swept the dirt away. "Bingo�"

He felt two tapes inside, along with some other objects, one he immediately pulled out and turned on a small flashlight. There was a gun inside and upon his inspection, he found it had four bullets left. He also found a crude map, a list of names and phone numbers and something written in code. There were two bottles of water and several candy bars. He opened one and nibbled slowly, rinsing with a tiny amount of water.

He saw a sleeping bag in the corner and a lantern, along with some clothes. Garcia must have hidden here at some point. He inspected the clothes, which were close enough to his size, dry and clean and for the mean time would have to do. He stripped his wet clothes off, laying them over a bench to dry and put on a pair of jeans and a sweater. He padded barefoot to the body, carefully moving him inside the sleeping bag and leaving him next to the statue. He thought on the brave acts this man had done time and time again in war zones all over the world. He placed one hand on Garcia's chest and eyed the serene face of the Lady.

"He was good guy, better than most, saved a lot of lives. Please keep him safe until I can get him home."

He flashed the light around the room, doing a short inspection. Every step was an effort, he was well beyond the exhaustion point and the pain in his hip was causing every step to be a hard one. He eyed the area beyond where he'd found the sleeping bag and clothes. He wondered if Alex had other stuff hidden. Gingerly, he eased past the body and spotted a small staircase. The light caught a zippered black bag at the bottom. He flashed on the steps again and carefully began his descent.


The fourth step crumbled beneath his feet and he dropped the light, trying to catch himself as he fell. When the dust cleared, he was sprawled on the last five steps, face down and silent.

Darkness fell again and Mother Mary kept a silent vigil on the two men who were in her care.


Garrison's Cabin
Five a.m.

Garrison looked up when the door opened and Bell and Perez came into the cabin. The leader had been eating a sandwich and draining some coffee in preparation for his trip north. His stormy eyes told the younger pair his thoughts, before they uttered a word

"We couldn't find him," Bell stated, eyeing the door to the cellar. "You get anything out of him?"

"No�not yet. But that will change. I put him in isolation, that will play on his mind."

"When are you leaving?" Perez asked, pouring a cup of coffee.

"In less than an hour. I'll be back by this time tomorrow. How long do you need to splice that tape? It has to look good."

"I'll be ready when you are," Bell said, heading into the small room where the audio equipment was set up. "I cut in some footage of you torturing Malone. It's on the primary?"

"Yeah," Garrison replied. "That's a good idea, that should seal it for them. "That kid wouldn't leave Malone behind and there's no phone service, so he can't call from this area. He's lying low out there, licking his wounds."

"Could be he knows you're leaving if he was at that conference last week." Perez sat down and began to eat.

"Yeah�" Garrison nodded. "He's thinking taking out two is easier. But that won't happen, will it, Tony?"

"No," Perez stated. "The motion sensors are back on and the minute he sets foot in the perimeter, we'll know."

"I want updates, understood?"

"Yes sir," Tony acknowledged with a salute.

Garrison finished up and headed over to the monitor on the wall. Thanks to their own generator, they had power. It was an expensive undertaking, but due to the instability of the electricity in this area, it was necessary. He nodded to the screen where Jack Malone was tied to a chair in a dark room.

"He's completely cut off, no sound, no vision and in utter darkness. He has no idea of time," Garrison noted and saw Perez look up briefly. "You have an hour to rest and then you're back out there, you and Brad take turns but I want Fitzgerald and I want him alive, use the dart gun."

"Where do you want him when we get him?" Tony asked.

"In the coffin, take some video and make sure Malone will think he's buried alive. Then transfer him to the rat shack. You pipe in audio of Malone screaming and without knowing how much time has elapsed, Fitzgerald will crack, especially since he's not being tortured and forced to hear his boss suffer."

"Then what?"

"I can buy us a few days, but Victor will have the authority by Thursday or Friday to get men down here. We have to make it look good, or we could lose our whole net." He didn't want to lose the drug zone he'd come to protect and make money from. If the FBI came down here, that was a threat. "I'll think on it while I'm gone."

Our Lady of Grace
Eight a.m.

It was freezing.

That was Martin's first sensation, before he opened his eyes. He felt as if he was encased in ice. When he did peel his eyes open, he was very confused. He saw steps, a wall and stone flooring. His disorientation was due to the fact he was upside down. He coughed several times, wincing as each effort produced a sharp pain in his hip and lower back. He was on his belly on a flight of stairs. It took him a few moments, but the fog lifted and he realized where he was and what had happened.

Gingerly, he rolled over and eased his foot out of a hole in the step. He was almost afraid to move it, but it moved freely, nothing was broken. The lump on his head told him the reason he'd been out cold. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and stood up, crying out in pain but feeling lucky that all his parts moved. Although very stiff, cold and sore, he was lucky. He made it down the rest of the stairs and picked up the bag, which felt fairly heavy. He eyed the room around him, which seemed to have been used for storage and possibly burial. There was a large stone table of sorts and he limped over, putting the bag down. It was then he noticed daylight spilling in from a series of narrow windows along the ceiling. He flicked an eye on his watch in astonishment.

"Eight ten�shit�"

He'd lost several hours. He had to get moving, it was a long walk back to where Jack was being held. Had he been healthy, it would have been a shorter hike but with an impaired hip, it would prove slower. He opened the bag and discovered more tapes, each labeled and a notebook that held broader notes on the tapes and points of contact. He decided to bury them by Mary in the hole where the other tape had been.

By the time that was done, he shoved his ice-cold, bare feet into damp socks and put his sneaks back on. Then he spotted a dark black jacket on the side pew and put it on. He put the water bottles he'd found, along with the candy bars in the deep pockets. He shoved the gun in his right pocket and set out to find Jack.

New York City
PAL Tournament
One p.m.

Vivian saw a familiar blond head coming across the far end of the court and waved.

"Sam�over here."

She was glad Samantha had decided to come today. Sam didn't divulge much of what she did on the weekends they did have off, but being an attractive, single female she assumed there was man involved. After the affair with Jack ended, Sam had kept quiet about her personal life. Vivian had mentioned in passing that Reggie was in a basketball tournament today and the proceeds would go to the Police Athletic League.

With the help of some of the people sitting on the lower bleachers moving aside and giving her a hand, Spade made it up to where Vivian was sitting.


"Hey, yourself," Vivian answered, noticing that her friend looked very pale and drawn. "You okay? You don't look so good."

"Couldn't sleep�" Sam decided, which was the truth. She'd gotten so used to Martin keeping her warm that the last few nights had felt like an eternity. "How's the game?"

"Not close," Vivian replied, "The hawks are losing 32 to 22 but Reggie is getting plenty of playing time and that's the important thing."

"How's he doing in school?"

"So -so�" Vivian sighed, "I wish he'd show more interest in studying, it's a real battle to get him to crack those books."

"He's got time, it's not easy being a teenager, I wouldn't relive those days for all the gold in the vault." She shuddered, recalling her lonely teenage years.

"I hope Danny is enjoying himself," Vivian said of their missing friend who was in Miami for a family wedding.

"Are you kidding?" Sam laughed, "Don Juan floating around a sea of attractive females? We'll be lucky if we don't get a call that he's 'sick' and can't fly home."

"He was really looking forward to it," Vivian recalled of Taylor's anxiousness that week. She saw Sam shiver and drop her head. "You sure you're okay?"

Sam sighed, raked her fingers through her long hair and turned to the senior agent. "You didn't hear from them, did you?"

"No, honey, I would have called you, you know that," Johnson reassured. "I checked with the El Paso Bureau office and they said, in that area, there is no phone at all. Everything's down. It was much worse than they thought. They did say that the others were safe in Chihuahua and that from what they knew, that base camp is fairly secure. They might lose power, but they should have been okay inside."

"I got a bad feeling, Viv, I just can't shake. Something's wrong�" Sam's voice trailed off and she recalled the cold sweats she'd woken up with. She'd had a horrible nightmare about Martin.

"Okay," Vivian said, patting the distraught younger woman's hand. "When the game is done, I'll drop Reggie off at home and we can pick up some take out. We can eat at the office and make some more calls."


Sam tried to keep her interest on the game, but her mind wandered. She recalled just a few weeks ago, Danny and Martin volunteering here with the kids. They'd been goaded into playing one on one and just seeing Martin unwind, whooping it up and working up a sweat had brought a smile to her face. Then later, she'd snuck up on him in the shower and rewarded his good game. Why wouldn't this coldness leave her? He'd been away on travel before and this never happened. She closed her eyes and felt him with her, that talented tongue and well-honed fingers, and those eyes, those amazing eyes you could drown in.

"Sam?" Vivian was concerned now. "Hey�"

"Sorry, just a headache," Sam lied, shaking herself free.

Garrison's Cabin
Sunday, January 23, 2005

Martin couldn't believe he was finally here. He snaked through the thick foliage and down the hill, pausing at the bottom. He found a log and sat on it, draining the last of his water. He'd eaten the last candy bar an hour ago. He could see the cabin from here and there was that van in the drive. He shifted his eyes and thought back on the night before, there had been a small car there as well.

"Where would he go�" His voice trailed off and he cocked his head, recalling the last two pages of the information packet he'd received prior to coming. There were more optional conferences in El Paso today. Once he got hurt, Jack had decided they would be better off getting him right home, but all the heads of the various departments would be there and since Garrison was heavy into foreign activity, he was required to go.

"Two's better than three�" he murmured, hoping his luck would change.

He stood and decided to go around to the back of the cabin, hopefully out of sight. Knowing he was loose, he was fairly sure one of them was hunting him. If he could get inside or even create a diversion and get the inside man to come out, he could take a shot. He crept down the hill, unaware that he was already in the crosshairs.

"Bingo!" Perez whispered when the tranquilizer dart sailed true and struck the blue-eyed deer in the thigh.


Martin wheeled around and pulled the gun but the drug was strong. He dropped down and stumbled badly, trying to combat the rubber-legged effect the drug was having on him. He fell to his hands and knees and his sausage-like fingers tried to pick up the gun he'd dropped. His tongue felt too thick and drool slid from his slack lips. He saw legs approaching and was defenseless when the booted foot kicked him in the gut.

Tony nudged the worm onto his back and knelt down, cupping the slack jaw. He saw the eyes still firing anger even as they slid shut.

"Sweet dreams..." he called out as the new captive finally went limp. "Hey Brad!" Perez called into his radio.


"I got him, I'll bring him out back. Get that coffin ready."


Bell took the camera outside and placed it on a table, then walked over to where the wooden coffin was laid in a hole. He knelt down and pulled the top off. It was wired for sound and had a tube that allowed air inside.

He looked up a few moments later when Perez ambled over with a body slung over his shoulder. He dumped the man down hard and rolled him over.

"Hey, that doesn't look like the clothes he was wearing last night."

"How could you tell, it was dark�" Perez peeled the jacket off and checked the pockets, which were empty. "He had a gun, too. You might be onto something."

"There's a few deserted houses in the hills, folks that left when the Hurricane warning came through."

"Where'd he get a gun?" Bell prompted, watching his partner search the victim's pockets a little too closely.

"Could be he went back to where their car wrecked�" Perez theorized, enjoying the firm muscular body beneath his fingers.

"Yeah, maybe�" Bell stood up, "Enough, dump him inside already."

"He's a pretty gringo�" Perez admired, running his hands over the well-honed body. He cupped Fitzgerald's face and took in the fair features. "Very nice�"

"Yeah, well, you can play all you want before we kill him. For now, Garrison's orders stand."

"I look dumb to you?" Perez sneered, nodding to the upper body. "Grab him."

They lowered him in the coffin and took some more video. Mice and roaches ran freely over his pale face, crawling under the sweater to under his arms, seeking warmth. Then they put the lid on, and Perez tossed some dirt on the top for effect, before Bell stopped filming.

Perez went inside and flipped the switch on, showing them the inside of the coffin and providing light and air for the prisoner.

"How long?"

"He's about one-eighty or so," Perez judged the lean man's weight. "Couple hours maybe three, given he's hurt." He moved aside to allow Brad to film a pull away shot of the entire coffin with the unmoving man in it. Then he tapped the lid on and began to cover it with dirt.

Bell paused and then moved to a fresh grave, from one of the insider's that Garcia paid and was caught. He'd spilled his guts quickly and they'd spilled his even quicker. He let the camera roam over the mound of dirt and then stopped it. Once inside, he used the remote device to film a bit of their new prisoner inside the coffin.

A while later, they transported Fitzgerald to the small room in the basement that Garrison dubbed the rat shack. It was about eight by ten with low ceilings, a primitive room with only a hole in the floor for waste and a bucket with rancid water and a filthy cup. It had low lighting, barely enough to see a few inches in front of you, but it did have speakers so Fitzgerald would hear Malone's screams as soon as he woke.

Perez eyed the body lying on a mat on the floor. "Okay, pretty boy, time to soothe that savage soul." He waited a moment for Bell to turn the audio on from the small control room. Garrison's questions were followed by Malone's agony. "A Malone Rhapsody in Red�"

Brad went to the radio and placed a call to the airport, having Garrison paged.

"Hey, Boss, good news, we have another guest at the Inn."

"Good work," Garrison sighed, relieved. "No mess?"

"Nah, he's sleeping like a baby. He'll be hearing those screams in his sleep, and there's no escape from it when he wakes. It'll torture him�"

"Okay, I'm ready to board the plane. I called the Bureau director and set up an Emergency Meeting for six thirty at the New York Office. So I'll be out of touch until eight or so. Call back at 10 p.m., unless something happens."


"Once Fitzgerald wakes up and hears Malone screaming, he'll be doped up enough to be loopy. He'll scream back."

"Then we play that for Malone along with the video, let him think his boy is buried alive," Bell suggested.


Garrison's Cabin
Sunday, January 23, 2005

The smell of burning flesh coupled with the screams of untold agony roused Martin. He blinked through the rain at a car wreck that was in flames. For a few moments, he was stunned into silence until the realization of what was occurring hit him hard. The rental car that he and Jack had been driving back to El Paso in was on fire. The screaming rose to an unholy pitch and with a disturbing sickness rolling through him, he realized who was screaming.


Martin sat up and, with the echo of Jack's name still clinging to his ears, blinked into total darkness. It took a few moments for him to realize that this was real and the dream was left behind. He had a dull headache and felt sick, which only got worse when he inhaled the stagnant air around him that was accented by human waste. He slowly let his eyes adjust to the near darkness and rose on unsteady legs, swaying and rubbing his dizzy head. Brief images of the woods and a frantic race towards the cabin came back and then a pain in his leg. He absentmindedly rubbed his thigh where something had hit him and knocked him out. He'd fallen right into their trap. Was Jack even alive? He began to pace, measuring the cell by how many steps it took and realized it was not very big. Then the darkness was split by an agonizing scream, the same scream that filled his nightmare.


He moved towards the area where the sounds were coming from. He pounded the walls with both fists, calling Jack's name. Then, he tried to block out the ear shattering, heart wrenching agonizing call as his hands roamed over filthy, grimy walls trying to find the source. Between the stench he was surrounded by and the horrific screams, the drugs in his system rebelled. He dropped to his knees in the corner and began to vomit. Reduced to painful dry heaves, he crawled away, pounding the walls in frustration.

"What the hell are you doing to him?" he hollered, "JACK! JACK!"

While his partner was trapped in a dark hole, penetrated by amplified sounds of torture, Jack was becoming more and more disoriented. In the black velvet darkness, there was no sense of time. He had no idea when he'd woken up or if he'd been out for an hour or a day. Time didn't apply He struggled against the bonds that bound him to a chair to no avail. Then a brilliant light penetrated the darkness from in front of him. The starkness of it pierced his eyes and he turned his head, blinking and moaning. Then he heard a sound that caused his heart to clench.


Perez and Bell grinned when their plan began to fall into place. They'd recorded and amplified Martin Fitzgerald's desperate cry for his boss. They played it over the grainy images of him being buried alive.

"Showtime," Bell chanted, pushing the button.

"Mar�tin�" Jack murmured, as Martin's cries morphed into a sick image. He forced his eyes towards the white light in front of him that had become his own private movie screening�one right from hell. Martin was dumped into a coffin. He saw the air hose running out of one end and then the lid closing. With every shovelful of dirt that hit the wood, he was mentally castrating Will Garrison slowly.

"Your pretty, blue-eyed gringo dog is running out of air, " Perez paused, watching Jack strain against the binds. "How long has he been inside of there? Does he have one hour left or ten hours left? He calls for you but soon he will be too weak and go to sleep. But he is not alone, the Mexican roaches and rodents, they love white meat�"

"You sick fuckin' bastard!" he vented, hearing Martin's voice calling to him and a banging sound that had to be the fists pounding against wood. How long had Martin been inside? Was he still alive? "What the fuck do you want!" Jack hollered, wincing as a close-up of Martin's face came on and several bugs and a mouse crawling over it. "I'm gonna fuckin' kill every one of you bastards." He strained hard against the restrictive bindings and then the room went dark. Then Martin's voice began again.


"WHAT DO YOU WANT!" Malone screamed. His answer was Martin's fading voice.

New York City
January 23, 2005
Six forty five p.m.

The Federal Building wasn't very crowded when Paula Van Doren arrived. She had been planning to meet friends for a night at the theatre when the call came. There wasn't any other way to refer to it, other than 'the call'. It was something that you were taught about at Quantico and although she'd been through similar 'calls' in her professional career, this one hit home. She had a private meeting with Will Garrison and Victor Fitzgerald and then had the grim task of calling Malone's team. Danny Taylor's cell phone had not been answering, either it was dead or he was out of range. Then, a few moments ago, before their meeting was done, she saw his numbers appear on her phone. When she was able to play his message, he stated he was almost at the office. When she called Vivian, the agent had reported that she and Samantha Spade were already there. She only told them to go to her conference room and wait. She took a deep breath just as the elevator doors opened.

"Oh God�" Sam whispered, when she saw that Van Doren was not alone. Flanking her were Will Garrison and Victor Fitzgerald.

"Only one thing would cause that man to look so bad," Vivian noted of the corpse-like pall on the face of Martin's father.

"The Hurricane must have�" Sam's voice trailed off as the heavy sense of dread caused her stomach to drop.

"No�that wouldn't bring Garrison or Victor here, something else�" Johnson thought aloud as the door opened. Both agents stood up.

"Good evening," Garrison spoke, nodding to the two women. "Agents Johnson and Spade? I have heard about your work. I'm sorry we have to meet under circumstances such as this."

"Such as what?" Sam asked and was startled when Victor nearly fell into a chair. "Is Martin dead? Jack? What? What's wrong?"

"Calm down," Paula directed in a no-nonsense tone. "I got a call about an hour ago from Mister Garrison. Unfortunately, he has some rather startling evidence that both Jack and Martin are dead."

"Oh my God," Sam hushed, her shaky hand running through her long hair.

Vivian didn't say a word, she was stunned. Her training kicked in, adding up the clues she was viewing and from the haggard look of Van Doren and the almost unspeakable grief on Victor Fitzgerald's face, whatever evidence he had must be credible.

"I'd like to wait a few more moments if we could," she suggested to Garrison. "Agent Taylor is on his way."

"You talked to Danny?" Sam asked and Van Doren shook her head.

"I left messages, he left one for me, when he was nearly here."

"Well, I'd like to get started, but under the�" Garrison's eyes went to the glass walls where he saw a harried Latino man jogging quickly towards them. "It looks like we can get started." He put the video in the player and hit the button.

Danny Taylor hated the traffic around the airport. At least due to it being a Sunday, he hadn't been stuck in rush hour traffic. It was nearly seven p.m. when he found his way downtown. By the time the F.B.I. agent eased his car in to a parking spot in the Federal Building he had a headache. He didn't need Paula Van Doren lecturing him. He wasn't sure why Missing Person's Division Directorate had left such a cryptic message on his cell phone. He'd been on a fishing boat most of the day off the coast of Miami and been driven from there to the plane. He'd been out of communication until he got off the plane and charged his cell phone in the car.

He ran up the hall and through the doors of her office. Just behind it was her conference room; the door was open a crack and he shoved his arm through. Something about the grim faces of his fellow team members Samantha Spade and Vivian Johnson stopped him dead in his tracks. When he saw the two men seated at the table his heart began to pound, they seldom left Washington. It was the ashen face of Victor Fitzgerald that caused his stomach to drop. It was if he'd aged ten years. There was only one person that would cause a ghastly pall like that. What had happened to Martin? His stomach dropped and before he could ask, Paula looked up and saw him.

"Shut the door, please."

"...yeah...sure..." he mumbled, cocking his head to see the video they were watching. It was a very grainy black and white image that was jumping all over the place. "What's going on?"

"Shh!" Van Doren put her finger to his lips.

It was hard to hear the commentary but Danny knew Spanish better than anyone one in the room and the fast spoken words hit him hard. When the grainy image of a bare-chested Jack Malone came up, his face twisted in agony as electrical shock was applied, Danny's stomach dropped.

Sam sat stoically, not moving or flinching as the horrific details of torture on the two semi-naked male bodies spilled out. The next frame had them blindfolded and bare from the waist up, they were face down in a shallow pit, with the backs of their heads shattered by bullets. When she dropped her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest, Danny felt her unspoken anguish, he knew her that well. Vivian dropped her face in her hands and took a long, shuddering breath.

"How sure are we?" Sam pressed in a shaky voice.

"Positive confirmation," Will Garrison updated. "I saw some of the tape and heard from a source what those bastards did to Jack and Martin before they were executed - it was barbaric. I got a call from one of our DEA undercover agents that two feds had been kidnapped. By the time he was able to track them down, it was too late. I've been in El Paso for a few weeks now, due to the critical circumstances of this investigation, which is why I was able to steal some time with him at a remote location. It looks like they took a wrong turn on a bad stretch of ground and stumbled into something. The only reason I have that piece of footage is because he's been working undercover with them for a couple years now and they trust him. He only had a few moments to copy the last portion of the tape, I don't have the rest; he couldn't risk being caught."

"When?" Vivian asked.

"When was the last message from them?" Garrison prodded, although he was pretty sure of the reply.

"Jack called me on Friday night. He was at the base camp. Martin was being looked over by a doctor, he'd taken a fall. We didn't talk long, the line wasn't good. On Saturday I tried all day to call him...the lines were down." Sam's voice was shaky

"The storm that blew through that area was wicked, it did a lot of damage. Most of the phone lines in that region are still down, it's a remote area." Van Doren scanned her notes as she updated them.

"Jack called me on Friday night too," Vivian added. "It was late, about midnight. The reception was poor, he'd been trying for hours. He said Martin needed a couple days to rest and that they were staying at the base camp for the weekend. I didn't get to really talk to him, the line faded away. I tried several times on Saturday but never got through."

"This afternoon we called El Paso... we thought maybe they got that far..." Sam sighed hard, raking a shaky hand through her long blond hair. She flicked a gaze at Van Doren and her voice wavered. "Then your call came..." She had a bad feeling when Vivian said that Van Doren was on her way in with news about Jack and Martin. She thought there was an accident maybe, but never this.

"Yes, I spoke to them just prior. I didn't want to deliver news like this over the phone." Garrison relayed, he incorrectly assumed that since Taylor was out of town for several days until just arriving now, he had been out of touch so he didn't allow the shocked young man a moment to regroup and reply. "That seems to fit. Our sources down there say they were picked up sometime very early Saturday morning near Chihuahua. I guess they headed out and ran into trouble. He said there was a short chase but their car was shot up. They were tortured on and off until sometime after midnight and once those bastards were satisfied that they weren't able to tell anyone whatever it was they witnessed, they were executed. I'm sorry, Victor..." Garrison's voice was cold when he addressed the Deputy Director of the F.B.I who was also now a grieving father. Martin Fitzgerald was Victor's only son and the ramifications of that loss were echoed on his shattered features.

"I want those bastards, Will," Victor's voice was hoarse. "Whatever it takes."

Danny's head jerked up at the reply. He didn't hear the rest of the conversation when they discussed what efforts would be taken to try to recover the bodies. It was as if he was having an out of body experience. The voices seemed far away and he stumbled from the room, clutching his gut. Later, the others would attribute his odd reaction to shock. Danny wasn't grieving. He felt sure his friends weren't dead. But, the powerful figure who delivered the news had tentacles that extended deeply into all parts of the world. Whatever happened in Mexico, Garrison was a part of it. Who else knew? Had Jack and Martin caught him doing something illegal? Were they still being held prisoner somewhere? What kind of sick game was Garrison playing? Like some federal agents, he'd heard rumors over the years about Garrison playing both sides of the field. He was such a powerful figure that he had 'ears' everywhere.

Danny didn't stop until he hit the street, sucking in the cold air that kissed his face. His legs moved swiftly, he seemed vaguely aware of the people on the street that his shoulders came in contact with. He didn't stop for quite some time, blinking up at a bright, yellow sign blazing the name 'coffee'. He went into the small coffee shop and hit a booth in the back. A waitress with tired features appeared, holding a pot of hot brew. He wrapped his hands around the ceramic mug, letting his frozen fingers relish the warmth. He hunched forward, his handsome face drawn in a puzzle. The conversation repeated itself and the positive identification from a kidnapping, torture and execution was overlapped by another conversation. One he'd been privy to himself just the day before that contradicted Garrison's story. He rubbed his throbbing temples and replayed it.

Saturday Mid-Afternoon
January 22, 2005


"So how was...the...action...Romeo..." Martin tried to sit up to angle his head to use the phone better. His tender ribs didn't like that idea at all.

"Martin?" Danny frowned, wondering at the odd speech pattern and sharp intake of breath. A short groan drew his brows together in concern. "Something wrong, amigo?"

"Nothing that a...little Old West justice...wouldn't cure," Martin vented. He pushed off the rails to try to get more comfortable and dropped the phone. When he went to reach for it, the pain stole his air.

"Huh?" Danny covered one ear and pressed the phone closer to the other one. The reception was bad. He wasn't sure if it was Martin's line or his. There was a huge burst of static and he pulled the phone away. "HELLO!"

"I'm not deaf," Jack called back, having rescued the phone dropped by his infirmed friend.

"Jack?" Danny pressed the phone closer to his ear. "Where are you?"

"Base camp," Jack stated, "Listen I don't have a lot of time, the reception is shitty. Martin's pretty busted up, black and blue from his ass to his neck, he can barely move. He needs a couple days rest. We'll head up on Monday."

"Hurt?" Danny's voice alerted. "How?"

"Somebody on his team ambushed him, turns out the guy's been after Martin for a while. He took a bad fall down the side of a mountain and ripped the hell out of his back, bruised his ribs and right hip." He paused and moved the phone over to the bed where Martin was lying on his side He took a couple of photos and sent them. "Take a look."

"Jesus..." Danny winced when the gory image came through a few moments later. Martin's entire back was discolored in varying shades of blue and purple with slashes of crimson. He saw a large blue gel pack peeking out from under Fitzgerald's hip. "Where are you?"

"About halfway to El Paso, way north of Chihuahua somewhere. The camp is in a remote area. Everybody else left last night for Chihuahua. There was a party at one of the hotels."




"Harvard!" Taylor greeted. "See what happens when I'm not around to watch that skinny ass of yours."

"" Martin managed, warmed by the voice.

"Sorry, amigo, you don't have the right parts. Try not to bust anything else, I'll see you Monday." He frowned when the voice began to fade away.


"So you're gonna lie low a couple days?" Danny hollered, but the line was dead.

Danny lifted his head as Martin's voice faded away. The word 'tomorrow' lingered, smoldering slightly inside of him. For his friends, 'tomorrow' had not come. Now he knew why his messages to Jack and Martin later had gone unanswered. What happened to them? He didn't know where they were, but he knew they weren't the grotesque corpses in the photo. Not only was the timeline wrong, but the unmarred skin on the back of the smaller man was not Martin. Garrison was lying and covering something up. He also knew that for now, he had to keep what he knew to himself. But he was as stubborn as they came and had every intention of finding his two missing friends. It only took a few minutes to formulate a plan of action. He finished his coffee, tossed a bill on the table, stood up and put the wheels in motion.


Martin woke up with a start, shivering in the cold dampness that engulfed him. Jack's screams were worse than pitchforks and had roused him from the stupor he'd passed into. He wasn't sure how long he'd been out, but his head felt a bit clearer, whatever drug they'd used on him was wearing off. He sat up and felt around again, being trapped underground in a dirt-floored cell. He turned the emotion of Jack's voice off and concentrated only on the sound. Where was it coming from? He stood and began to examine every wall, until his fingers brushed against wood. His fingers moved over it and the meshed, screen like interior.

A speaker.

He wondered how big it was and if there was an airway or duct behind it. Just as his fingers explored the speaker, from the corner of his eye, he saw a red light blink. Between being sick and disoriented or passed out, he'd not noticed it before. He began to count and it remained on for about twenty seconds. He sat down and waited for it to come back. His rough estimate told him about thirty minutes or so had elapsed when the red light came on again. So, they were watching him with a camera. The light was high above, and most likely it had sound as well. When it went off, he began to think. Thirty minutes wasn't very long, but then again, Garrison was the brains and these two were the hired help. With both Jack and he captured, their guard would be down. He wasn't sure how much time had gone by, but nightfall would come and they would take shifts. If he was going to make a move, he'd have to do it then and find Jack, if he was still alive and part of their sick game.

Garrison must have ordered they be kept alive for a reason. It must be that they weren't sure if either of them had been able to tell someone of what they saw. But Garrison wasn't here, and until he came back, Martin felt pretty sure that neither he nor Jack would be executed. He saw the light come on and began to play their game.

"JACK! JACK! What the fuck are you doing to him! You want a fight? You're nothing but Garrison's fuckin' lap dogs!" He screamed and acted like a lunatic, hitting the walls and spitting he was so angry. Then the light went off and he went to work.

Pocono Mountains

"Shut up, Jack!"

Chris Boone addressed the ghost of his best friend's voice as he downed another shot of courage. In the line of work they were in, he'd wondered how it would feel to lose someone close. He'd always thought he'd see it, either getting the 'call' or being there when it happened. But being alone in his grandfather's cabin in the middle of the woods didn't help, or maybe it did.

He rose up and ignored Jack's 'voice', nagging at him to stop feeling sorry for himself. He moved to the window, examining the pitch of night that engulfed the tidy abode. This weekend he'd escaped from the painkillers and the noise of the city. He wasn't used to not working and still had three weeks left until he could report to work again. The injured shoulder troubled him and he'd have to re-qualify at the firing range, and the headaches from the concussion still plagued him. The doctor said to expect that to last another month or more.

"Fuck," he swore, not able to crush the frustration he felt at not being able to avenge Jack's death.

Paula Van Doren's call hit him harder than the bullet that creased his head almost a month before. Vivian Johnson called and he'd known her long enough to hear the pain in her voice but when Sam called, his heart broke. He was closer to her than the other team members, having known her longest. He knew she was seeing Martin and he liked Fitzgerald, he thought he would be good for Sam who had too many internal bruises to count. He also knew she had history with Jack and this double blow was breaking her heart. He wasn't allowed to drive yet, Brendan Gavin from his team dropped him off Friday morning. Jack was supposed to come up sometime this week and spend a couple days and bring him home. Sam wanted to drive up right away but the roads in the remote area were icy and she wasn't used to them, so he told her to wait and he'd call back. He turned as his phone rang.


"Hey, it's Danny." Danny paused, wondering if the likeable blond knew about Jack. By now he should have been called, it had been over two hours. "Did anyone call you?"

"Jack sure as hell didn't," he hissed, eyeing the bottle of Irish whiskey. "Goddamn his black soul, I ought to dig him up and�."

"He's not dead," Danny said, shivering as the icy winter wind came right through the cracks in the phone booth.

"Are you drunk?"

"No, of course not," Danny denied. "Listen, we gotta talk. Just believe me when I tell you he and Martin are not dead, not yet anyhow. I got proof."

"What's going on?"

"Pack just what you need, a small bag, and be ready. I got your passport, we don't even have to stop at home."

"Passport?" Boone frowned. "You broke into my apartment?"

"No, you have a spare key at Jack's and I have a key for his place." Danny eyed the pitch-black sky. "Look, we're losing time, get packing. I'll pick you up in a half-hour."

"Danny, wait a minute�" but his ear was ringing with the annoying sounds of dial tone.

He wasn't sure what Taylor was up to, but he changed into jeans, a clean shirt and maroon sweater then tossed a few things in a small black carryon bag. By the time he was finished, he saw headlights and stepped outside.

"Talk, Danny," he ordered as they drove off.

"We need to eat. Is that diner with the big red cup far?"

"Cup?" He was confused at first.

"The one where we waited when we broke down on President's weekend?" Danny recalled of the fated trip a few years back.

"Yeah, about ten minutes away, take a right at the next light and you can't miss it."

Donna's Diner
11 p.m.

After the waitress deposited the coffee, took their orders and left, Chris hunched forward and eyed the angry dark eyes across from him.

"What do you know?" Danny asked.

"Van Doren called, she said Martin and Jack were headed back north and got ambushed early on Saturday morning. She said they were tortured and then executed. Garrison doesn't know where the bodies are but he's got an inside man he's hoping to recover."

"Garrison's a lyin' sac o'shit and up to his balls in this," Danny vented. Contacting Chris was the easy part. He was the one person Danny knew he could count on and had close to twenty years of experience.

"Enough cloak and dagger, Danny, out with it!" he ordered. "I've had a shitty night and don't need this game."

"Garrison said they were picked up early on Saturday. Part of that rigged tape he used was dated at 9 a.m. The last shot was two male bodies, naked, face down and executed." He slid his cellphone across the table. "I know he's lying, I talked to Jack and Martin late Saturday afternoon. Martin got hurt Friday night, took a spill off a mountain and ripped the hell out of his back and hip. Look�"

Chris studied the image and his face puzzled up. He thought again on all that Van Doren told him and the answers he got to every hot question he posed. She said the tape was dated, that it proved they had been abused since Saturday morning. Jack was shown screaming in agony.

"What the fuck is he doing?" Chris wondered aloud, sliding the phone back.

"I'm not sure, but I know that's not them," Danny stated. "I haven't told anyone and we gotta keep this to ourselves for now."

"Yeah," Chris agreed. He knew Garrison had eyes and ears everywhere. He also knew just how devastated the agents were and that would tell on their faces. "If he so much as sniffs that Sam and Vivian know different�" His mind drew up a stern face. "Victor?"

"I thought about that, but I don't want to have him bury Martin twice. For now, it stays here." Taylor tapped the table between them as their platters arrived. "I got a gut feeling that they don't have Martin yet," Danny explained, taking a bite from his hefty cheeseburger.

"Based on what?"

Danny paused to swallow some cherry coke and continued. "Garrison only showed Jack in the tape. I think he's buying time. Martin and Jack weren't due back until Monday. If they didn't come home, we'd have all been down there looking for them."

"And Victor would lead the parade," Chris concurred, using the side of his fork to cut away a piece of his ham and cheese omelet. "Van Doren mentioned that Garrison has until Friday then Victor is going to send a special ops unit down there. I told her I wanted in and I'd be back by then."

"I called Sam, I told her I was on my way up here. She'd called me several times and she bought that we were both upset. I told her I'd bring you home later this week."

"Good," he nodded, taking some fried potatoes and picking up his toast. "What next?"

"Garrison's heading back down there, whatever's going on, he's the head rat." Danny speared several fries and dunked them in ketchup.

"Maybe when the storm changed into a hurricane, they decided to leave ahead of time," Chris guessed attacking his crisp homefries.

"That could be," Danny agreed. "Something happened and Garrison's behind that tape I saw of Jack. The lack of Martin, that's got me thinking Martin and Jack weren't together. I think Garrison is trying to get Jack to talk."

"So, if they did head out during the storm, maybe they got separated for some reason. Jack had to have seen something illegal." The handsome blond pushed his empty plate away and drained his coffee. "But why not kill him? Why the torture?"

"I think he's buying time to Friday to either get Jack to say what he knows or have his crew find Martin. The phone lines are down, so Martin wouldn't be able to call out."

"Okay," Chris took the lead, signaling for the check. "We start at the beginning; we go back to the base camp and follow the trail. We know what direction they took so that will save time."

"Philly is closer," Danny decided on the airport, tossing bills on the paper check and rising. "I hope they have a redeye."

"Bulldog!" Chris blurted, wincing and rubbing his healing shoulder.


"Bulldog Smith, a snitch of mine from years ago. His cousin runs a charter service from Atlantic City," Chris explained, heading out behind Danny towards the car. "The 'don't ask, don't tell' type of charters for big bucks."

"You think he'll fly us as far as El Paso? We can rent a car."

"That prick owes me, I saved him a stretch in the pen," the driven team leader answered, strapping on his seat belt. "He has a cot in the back, he's always there. He'll do it. He gives us any shit and I'll have to convince him."

"Let's roll," Danny said, putting the car in drive and leaving a spray of gravel in his wake.

Garrison's cabin
Northern Mexico
Five a.m.

The red light went off and Martin sprang into action again. He had the speaker pried off and dangling, and was working the wires one by one to yank them free. He had no idea of how much time had gone by, nor did he care. Finally, the last wire gave way and the speaker lowered onto the ground. He moved to the wall directly under the red light and waited. If his hunch was right, whoever was on duty would see his empty bunk and the hole in the wall and come to investigate.

He didn't have long to wait.

Fortunately for Martin, Brad was on duty and didn't have Tony's street smarts. The blond man nearly toppled out of his chair when the video came on and the cell was empty. The hole in the wall where the speaker had been was wide enough for a slim man like Fitzgerald to wiggle through. He took his gun and padded down to the basement to investigate. He opened the cell door and entered. The last thing he expected was a blow to the side of his neck.

Martin moved quickly, using the light from the hall to guide him, he snapped Brad's wrist and sent the gun to the floor. Brad swung back and Martin ducked, grabbing him by the hair and slammed his head into the wall, which was enough to daze his captor who fell to his knees. Martin got the gun and viscously slammed it into Bell, sending him into oblivion. He then carefully put the speaker back in the hole and shucked his sweater off, taking Brad's dark gray sweatshirt. It was cleaner and fit better. He then dragged him to the cot and laid him face down, moving the arm over the head. That might buy some time. He spit on Bell and then left, locking the door behind him.

His first duty was to get the lay of the land, he had to know the escape route and where the other man was. He pulled the gun and made his way upstairs, eyeing the living area, the front door and the van he saw through the window. He spotted a set of keys on the table next to a bottle of beer and took them. Then he moved around the first floor. Through the first door, he saw a control room where Bell had been watching him and Jack. He moved on, hearing soft Latin music playing in a small bedroom where Perez was sleeping. He eased the door shut put a chair from the kitchen under the knob.

He made his way down stairs through the narrow basement. The hallway had a series of doors, most of them locked but the final door was open and he jarred the knob. The light from the hall spilled into the room, illuminating Jack tied down to a chair with a hood over his head. He was in jeans and his FBI sweatshirt. He moved slowly, gingerly feeling for the edge of the hood.

"Fuck off you bastard," Jack growled.

"Nice, this is what I get risking my balls to save your life," Martin replied.

"Martin?" Jack blinked in disbelief. "You were buried�I saw the tape."

"No, you saw what they wanted," Martin answered, undoing the straps on Jack's wrists and hands. "Can you walk?"

"Yeah," Jack said, got up and immediately went to his knees, the pain in his lower back from the rubber hose beating was that great. "Shit�shit�"

"Alright, easy," Martin whispered. "The blond guy is locked up in the cell I was in, the other one is sleeping."

"Shoes," Jack hissed, nodding to the pile in the corner.

Once that was done, Martin took Jack's arm around his shoulders and snaked his own arm around Malone's waist, supporting him. "Okay, at the top of the stairs we go right, through the living room and out the front door. I have the keys to the van."

"You sure you're not Clark Kent's kid?" Jack wondered on how Martin had freed himself.

"Trust me, you don't want to see me in tights," Martin teased, huffing and cursing when his injured hip kicked in.

"I got it," Jack lied, pulling free. He knew Martin was in pain and they had to get out of here. Toppling backwards down the stairs wasn't on the agenda.

They crept silently through the house, Martin jerked the door and an alarm went off. Jack was stumbling badly and needed help.

"Fuck," he snarled, shoving Jack ahead and pulling his gun. "Get to the car..."

Perez was up like a cat, taking his gun from under the mattress, he kicked at the door several times before dislodging the chair. Then he ran through the house, shocked to see both Malone and Fitzgerald heading for the van. He began to shoot and cursed when the van pulled away. He ran to the side of the house and jerked a brown tarp up, revealing a small motorbike.

Martin was in the passenger seat and had the key in the lock when he noticed Jack peering down dumbfounded at his hands. Then he saw the blood.

"How bad?"

"Bad enough!" Jack snapped, holding his side. "That's not your biggest problem."

Martin saw Jack's eyes go to the side mirror and his own hit the rear view. He saw Perez following and picking up speed.

"Gas�" Jack said, eyeing the low gage.

"Fuck�we can't make it to the border."

"Gimme the gun," Jack dictated, flashing his eyes on the mirror. "He shoots out a tire and we're history."

"Make it count," Martin said, prying the gun from his waist. "There's only four left."

"Let me know when he gets close," Jack answered, making his way to the back of the van. He leaned hard against the door, sweat rolling down his pained features. His side was burning and coupled with the various injuries he'd already sustained, he wasn't sure why he was still awake.

"Go," Martin yelled.

Jack yanked the door open and fired, separating the rider from his bike. Martin pulled the van over and Jack hobbled out, went to his knees and shoved up, staggering to the injured man. Perez made a weak attempt at the spot where his gun was laying.

"Rot in hell you son-of-a-bitch!" Malone growled, putting a bullet in Perez's forehead.

"Stay down," Martin said, peeling the back of Jack's blood soaked shirt up. "It went through but you're bleeding bad.

"Well that shouldn't be a problem with a hospital up the road," Jack snapped, eyeing the dense woods. "Where the fuck are we?"

"Madre Maria," Martin answered, eyeing the road, judging the distance and checking the gas tank on the bike.

"Mary who?" Jack let Martin help him stand and limped back to the car.

"I got an idea," Martin said, getting Jack in the van first and then pulling the bike to the side, covering it with debris. He then loaded the body in the van and set off for the church. There was enough gas to get there and back to the bike. He could leave Jack at the church and take the bike to get help.

Thirty minutes later, he pulled up to the church. Jack was in and out, losing blood fast. He half carried the larger man inside, laying him down on the sleeping bag he'd left behind. He returned to the van, carrying out boxes of supplies stored there. Bottles of water, canned fruit and cookies, candy bars and a pack of tee shirts. He also took the dark gray sweatshirt off Perez's corpse.

"Bingo," he ripped the plastic open and used a utility knife from the van to rip the cotton tee shirts into long strips. He cleaned both entry and exit wounds as best he could and packed each with whiskey sodden cotton, then wrapped it, tying it off. He got the bloody shirt off Jack and put Perez's on. Then he covered him up and tapped his face.


"Hmmmm..." Malone moaned, blinking up at Martin. He eyed the dirty pews and dusty statues and frowned. "If this is heaven, I wasted a lot of time."

"You're not dead," Martin quipped, lifting Jack's head and getting some water in him. "I'm going for help. There's enough gas in the van to get me back to the bike. You'll be safe here. I uh�brought Alex's body here."

"What?" Jack blinked in disbelief. "How the hell�"

As Martin began pulling the pop tops off the fruit cans and uncapping the water, he told Jack all that had happened. He got two cans of fruit and some cookies in Jack and more water. Then he stood up and eyed his badly injured friend.

"Drink whenever you wake up and use this if you have to," Martin said, putting the gun near Jack's hand. He also left a large flashlight, but hoped it wouldn't come to that. Jack needed help fast.

"Did you radio?"

"Radio?" Martin frowned. "Radio from where?"

"The house�" he saw the confused blues and huffed in annoyance. "How do you think they talk to Garrison? They have no phone lines in that area. There has to be a radio�"

"Shit�" Martin rose and paced, kicking the pew and scowling.

"Curb the temper, hotshot, it's done," Jack dictated, knowing Martin was berating himself. "Look, you got both of us out of that hellhole alive. Put it behind you and move on. You got time, Garrison's probably in Texas at the conference but he'll be back. Get your ass to that radio." He paused to fumble with a bottle of water and took a swig. He didn't miss the fact that the exhausted younger man was limping and favoring the injuries. "You look like shit, junior."

"Fuck you, boss," Martin sent back, glaring at the wounded man. He knew Jack was trying to compliment him and get the wind back in his sails.

"Get the cape unfurled, Superboy," Jack grunted, nodding to the door. Martin gave his shoulder a tug and then departed. Jack heard the motor and kept his ear to it as it slowly faded away.


January 24, 2005
Northern Mexico

Chris laid his head back and closed his eyes, hoping Danny Taylor's hawk-like gaze wouldn't notice the pain he was in. Actually, they were making great time, it was only eight a.m. and they were almost to the base camp, just east of the Cumbres de Majalca National Park. They were still on Highway 45, the main road and seeking the turnoff.

"I think this is our turn," Danny said. He didn't miss Chris jarring himself back upright. He had been surprised by the lack of debris on the main road and grateful for the brief chat with Jack on Thursday night when he'd spoken of where the camp was.

Chris kept his eyes peeled for any signs of disturbance. What they knew was that Jack and Martin had been at the base camp as late at Saturday afternoon but sometime between then and Sunday afternoon Garrison had Jack prisoner. This road was the only one that led from the camp to the highway, which their two friends would have sought. It was possible that when the hurricane hit, Jack decided to head north, fearing the remote area would be too badly affected.

"Whoa�whoa�stop�" Chris said, wincing and turning his aching head back.

"What?" Danny quizzed, pulling the car over. By the time he adjusted his sunglasses and got out of the car, the senior agent was approaching a tree.

Chris fingered the paint on the tree and eyed the skid marks nearby. He moved to the side of the steep drop cautiously. Tire marks created a path and there was scattered glass glinting in the sun.

"You stay here, I'll have a look," Danny suggested, dropping to his knees and easing over the side.

Chris watched as Taylor slowly made his way down until he came to the cliff where he jogged over to the side and looked below.

Taylor squatted down and tilted his head, squinting at the car far below. There was a large tree limb going through the empty driver's side but he couldn't see the rest. It was a rental car and he copied the plate number down to track it through the company. The glass, twigs and leaves around him suggested the car hit here first. He saw footprints and larger area prints, possibly from a body, and maroon stains, that could be blood. Maybe the car hit here first and they got out, just before it went over.

"Hey, Danny!" Chris called out, "I have something."

Danny climbed back up and joined his friend across a patch of ground. He wrinkled his nose at the bugs making a home on a pile of vomit. Then Chris bent down to examine something and swayed.

"Easy, amigo, you pass out now and you stay, I ain't haulin' your ass back," Danny warned, righting him.

"Blood," Chris gasped, frowning at the awful nausea and dizziness. "I gotta sit down�"

"Get back in the car, I'll snoop."

Chris inspected the muddy road on the way back and took a slight detour. He saw a large log ahead and kept his eyes on the ground as he approached it.

Danny did a quick check of the area and headed for the car, then spotted Chris on a log.

"Footprints," Chris called out, nodding to the uneven path.

"They're going the wrong way," Danny theorized. "If their car went over the side, they got out and this far, why go back?"

"Well, maybe one of them was badly hurt and if it was in the storm, they felt the base was closer?"

"Or maybe it was dark and during a storm, after you've been over the cliff in a car wreck, your sense of direction would be wrong."

They got back in the car and slowly followed the prints until they left the road at a fork. Danny got out and paused, eyeing the path. It was narrow and strewn with debris. It was impossible to tell how far they'd gone, or if they had taken a short cut. He turned back and saw Chris gagging and jerking for the car handle.

Chris was about to panic when the door opened and he was hauled out and shoved towards the side. By the time he was done throwing up, a bottle of water was thrust at him.

"The base camp isn't far. I want to check that out. It might be that the injured person was left there and the other one tried to get help." That was partially true; he also wanted Chris to lie down for a while. He knew the camp would have maps and other resources they might need.

"You can't play poker for shit, Taylor." Chris sent back, grateful for what he knew was an unplanned side trip on his behalf.

"You only wish you could play strip poker with me," Danny teased, and got a groan.

Garrison's cabin

By the time Martin arrived at Garrison's cabin it was midmorning. He hid the bike up the road and off to the side. He crept in on foot, limping down the hill and into the back door. His growling stomach and fatigue required a quick stop in the kitchen area. He spotted crackers, cookies and unopened bag of cinnamon rolls. He ripped that open, devouring two of the rolls and chugged a bottle of water. Then he ran into the control room where the monitors showed an angry, blond man yelling and pounding on the walls. There was a computer set up that seemed to control the various rooms as well as security of some sort but he didn't see a radio. He turned over chairs and tables, opened a closet and frowned.

"Where the fuck is it?"

He eyed the room again and saw what looked like an old brown cabinet. It was in the corner under a jacket. He shoved the jacket aside and opened the top of the cabinet.


Northern Mexico

Will Garrison wasn't happy and continued up the debris strewn utility road that was a short cut to the cabin. He'd spoken to Perez at midnight and was satisfied that both prisoners were suffering. He'd left orders for them to call him at 6 a.m. just after he landed in El Paso. He waited for over an hour and no call came. By the time he got the rental car fiasco straightened out, it was almost eight a.m. when he headed south.

Now he was near the cabin but with every mile he crossed, he got a bad feeling in his gut. The radio looked old but worked fine and there was no reason for no communication unless one of the prisoners had escaped and they were out hunting, but they still should have called.

He turned around a steep hill and saw the cabin at the bottom of the canyon. The van was missing and that gave his stomach acid cause to rise. Something seemed very wrong. He cautiously navigated the sharp turns and headed for the cabin.

He was in a foul mood.

Base Camp
Ten a.m.

Danny finished the can of coke he'd been nursing and shoved the remnants of a sandwich away. He'd found several good maps, two knives, handcuffs and other items that were secured in his jacket. He studied the map carefully, eyeing the side roads and using a highlighter to mark them. He knew Martin was familiar with mountains and how to survive on them, so if he was in a remote area, he should be okay.


"Yeah," Taylor answered, rising and jogging back towards the area where a bed and medical supplies were kept. He picked up the carton of orange juice he'd brought in earlier and handed it over, nudging the bottle of Tylenol as well. "You look human again."

"You find anything?" Chris asked, sitting up and easing his aching body off the bed. He'd slept for over an hour and did feel better. The headache was almost gone and he didn't feel dizzy or sick. He took the OJ and the Tylenol next to it and tucked the bottle into his pocket.

"Yeah, a good map with quite a few possibilities."

"Let's go," Chris said, pausing to hit the bathroom.

Danny packed a gym bag he'd found with water, sandwiches, cookies and fruit. He'd just returned from the car and joined Chris who was studying the map, when his cell phone rang. He was shocked at first that the signal would be working.


"Danny!" Martin's voice was heavily colored with relief. "Thank God�"

"Martin!" Danny yelled, causing Chris's head to jerk.

"Where is he?" Chris asked and Danny's hand came up to silence him.

"Where are you? Is Jack with you?" Taylor pressed, his eyes fired up.

"I'm in a fuckin' torture chamber in the mountains down here that's Will Garrison's. It's in a remote area between the base camp and the main road. We crashed our car during a storm and got lost, stumbled into a hornet's nest. It's a long story�"

"I know some of it; that bastard said you and Jack were picked up by rebels Saturday morning, tortured and executed. He even brought doctored footage of your dead bodies up to the city and showed all of us."

"Jack's wounded, Danny, it's bad." Martin paused at the crackling sound in the radio. "He was hit in the side during our escape."

"He's not with you?"

"No, one of Garrison's goons followed us, shooting at us. Jack killed him. We didn't have enough gas left to get to the border, so I took him to a church, where Alex Garcia's body is. Garrison tortured him and killed him, he had a tape of Garrison buying drugs and executions and stuff. It's all in a bag by the Blessed Mother's feet in the church."

"Church�Garcia�" Danny frowned.

"I left Jack in the church, Our Lady of Grace. My Spanish is piss poor, but from what I could read on the walls and stuff, it was a healing place or something. It's very old."

"Why aren't you with Jack?"

"Because I fucked up," Martin vented. "I got Jack out and into the van and never realized this place had a radio. So, once I hid him, I came back to call you. There isn't anyone else I could trust."

"You took care of business, man, quit cryin' in your beer. Where're those Fitzgerald balls?"

If only Danny Taylor knew how much hearing those fired up words did for him. Martin absorbed them, letting them settle inside just as the radio began to break up. "Listen, the radio is breaking up, you have to get down here and get him home�"

"We are here. Chris and me are at the base camp."

"What?" Martin's voice shot up and his eyes closed in relief. "Jesus�God�" He paused, shaking his head. He wasn't sure of the 'whys' and the 'hows' but the fact that two of the men he trusted the most were within range of Jack was a miracle.

"Harvard, you with me?" Danny didn't miss the shaky voice and couldn't imagine the mental state his missing friend was in.

"Yeah�" Martin replied. "You're not far, listen carefully."

"Okay, okay." Danny nodded, using a pink highlighter to trace a line on the map. "How far from the turn? Yeah�stone ruins�okay�busted steeple�yeah�"

Just as Martin was finishing the directions, he heard a car motor and dropped the radio, running to the window on the other side of the hallway.

"Aw, fuck�" He raced back to the radio. "Danny, I gotta go, Garrison's here. Don't trust anybody, he has ears everywhere. "

"Martin, wait a minute, where are you?" Danny demanded but the transmission was done.

"What happened?" Chris asked when he saw the concern creasing Taylor's face.

"Jack's wounded bad, Martin hid him in an old church in the mountains." Danny eyed the map again.

"What the hell happened?"

"Martin and Jack were trying to get home Saturday night during the storm and the car crashed. They got out of the wreck and wandered in the dark into the mountains. Somehow, they stumbled into a cabin that Garrison owns and he was in the process of executing Alex Garcia."

"The reporter?" Chris asked and Danny nodded.

"Yeah, he has tape of Garrison that could put him away and Martin somehow got the body and the tapes in an old church. I'm not sure of the missing parts, but from what he didn't say, Jack must have been caught and Martin came back to spring him. Jack got wounded in their escape but they were almost out of gas."

"He couldn't make the border, so he hid him somewhere safe?"

"Yeah, he didn't realize this cabin of Garrison's had a radio so he left Jack to come back and call for help. I guess he figured with the phone lines down that was the fastest thing."

"Where is the cabin?"

Danny sighed hard, rubbed his neck and shook his head. "I don't know. He didn't have a chance to tell me." He stared hard into the concerned sea green eyes. "Garrison came back."


"Look, Martin's as smart as they come, if he can get out of there and back into the woods, he'll be fine. We gotta get to Jack, he could be dying." Danny got the map and headed for the car. He shoved the key in the ignition and eyed the mountains around them. "Hang on, Harvard, I'm gonna hunt down that skinny ass of yours."


January 24, 2005
Northern Mexico

Since the cabin only had one door and Garrison was heading for it with his gun drawn, Martin quickly maneuvered to the room which held supplies, a table and food. He moved the chair under the lone window and forced it up, then pulled himself out. He lowered the window from the outside and headed for the woods.


Garrison paused in the open front door and eyed the empty interior. He was just about to move further inside when he heard a motor jump to life in the woods. He ran out the front door and through the trees in the woods above, saw a figure speed by. A fast glance of a brown head ruled out either man. Which only left one possibility.


He stormed into the house and as he ran past the control room, he saw one of his men pounding against the door of the rat room. He took the stairs two at a time and unlocked the door. He noticed that the room where Malone was held was now empty.

"What the fuck happened?"

"Fitzgerald jumped me," Brad panted, heading for the bathroom upstairs. "He dug the speaker out and when the camera came on, it looked like he was gone. I ran down to investigate and he jumped me."


"During the night," Bell answered, flushing the toilet and washing his filthy hands and face.

"Where's Tony?" Garrison demanded, backing the embarrassed Bell against the bathroom wall. "How the hell did you two fuck this up?"

"I don't know where he is," Brad replied, flinching under the steely eyes that were bearing on him hard. "Could be he took off after Fitzgerald when he escaped."

"The van is gone," Garrison reported, shoving Bell towards the media room where the radio and monitors were. "Get your ass over there and call Tony. Someone left here just as I arrived, it looked like Fitzgerald and I could see his head, he was riding the bike. Why the hell did he come back? "

Bell ignored the question and tried to contact Perez on the radio. He knew before the silence came back at him that something went wrong. Fitzgerald returning using the bike meant that somehow he'd taken care of Perez.

"He's not answering," Brad stated, watching Garrison's blood pressure rising to an alarming rate.

"Get the rifle," Will ordered, nodding to the black case under the table. He waited until Bell took out a rifle and a box of cartridges. "Let's go."

The old motorbike Martin was riding didn't have the speed or power of a car, so when he heard the car in the distance behind him, he knew he had to think quickly. He couldn't continue in this direction, or they might follow the van tracks and get to Jack before Danny did. He eyed the gas on the gage of the bike and got an idea; it was a long shot, but the only choice he had.

He sped up and got back to the van, hiding the bike in the foliage off the road. He opened the back of the van and eyed Jack's bloody FBI sweatshirt. He got the shirt off Perez's corpse and put the FBI shirt on him. He put Perez' s body in the passenger seat of the car and belted him in. He saw sunglasses lying on the floor and put them on too. He eased the seat back a little so the body would recline. Then as he went to shut the door, he thought of Perez's blue shirt. He rolled it up and moved into the woods where the bike was hidden. He placed it on a log, a spot that only someone looking would see it. If the plan worked, he would drive back towards Garrison and hopefully have enough speed to fool them. Coming in the other direction at a fast glance, it would appear he had Jack with him. By the time they turned their car around, he would speed up enough to get past the fork in the road. If he timed it right, he should have enough gas to get out of the van before it went over the side. Then he could double back for the bike.

Our Lady of Grace Church

Chris kept his eyes roving both sides of the road, looking for stone ruins. They'd stopped twice already but the ruins they'd found were not a church. He sat forward and peered intently to the left.

"Danny, eleven o'clock," he noted of the area on the left.

"Yeah�hey�a busted steeple!" Taylor kept his eyes on the road and waited until he saw the broken tree that Martin mentioned.

"There's no road," Boone said, but when Danny turned into what appeared to be overgrowth, a road appeared.

Jack woke with a start, his fever bright eyes stinging from the sweat running down his face. For a moment, he was confused, eyeing the stone walls around him and shivering badly. His vision was distorted and the statues around him appeared to be moving.

"�fuckin' nightmare is this�"

His mouth felt like the inside of a litter box and he fumbled badly, reaching for the water. He guzzled some and spilled most, letting it run down his neck and chest. He saw the gun lying on his stomach and cocked his head. Garish images of a torture chamber and horrific acts being performed on him appeared along with an unwelcome one of Martin being buried alive. He tried to move but there was not one inch of flesh or bone not screaming in agony. Panting heavily and grimacing, his stinging eyes roamed the area again. A ghost like image of Martin appeared wrapping his side with cloth.

"�shot�" he panted as more images appeared. Martin freeing him from Garrison's torture chamber, a burning pain in his side, a car chase and a corpse. Where was Martin?

"Mar�tin�Mar�tin�" he called out and chased his echo. He lifted his head briefly to see if his partner was also hurt and lying nearby. Then he heard a motor, tires on gravel and a car door.


He went to reach for the gun but his fingers were like sausages. The more he tried to lift it, the harder it got. Finally, he used both hands and waited. Two figures appeared in his tunnel vision; he squinted and tried to focus.

"JACK!" Danny called out, eyeing the empty church. He broke to one side and moved past the broken pews.

Chris moved down the other side and looked to his left just as a gun rose.

"Danny, get down!" Chris ordered, skirting the rest of the pews as the gun sounded.
"Jack, it's Chris and Danny!"

It was a trick. Even fever-addled, Malone knew that Taylor was in New York and Boone was recovering from being shot. He wasn't sure where he was now, but he knew he was in the middle of nowhere in Mexico, so he kept his wobbly weapon trained on the area in front of him.

"�next one�takes �head off�" he warned. "Drop�it�"

"Okay," Chris agreed, putting the gun down and putting his right arm up. The left was finally out of a sling but the therapy was incomplete. He didn't have full range yet, so he lifted it halfway. He'd seen corpses that looked better than his best friend. A wounded tiger is far more dangerous than an unimpaired one though and that gun was aimed right at him. "I got one dent, Jack, I don't need another one." Chris saw Danny snaking his way around behind Jack. The dark-haired agent moved his hand to get Chris to keep Jack's attention. "Fine thing, I haul my concussed body down here to save your sorry ass and damn near get shot."

Jack paused and blinked hard, the sweat was running into his eyes like a river but he couldn't swipe at it, he needed both hands to hold the gun. How could Chris be here? Hell, he didn't even know where 'here' was, how could Boone know? He blinked harder and the blurry image had blond hair. He saw that blond hair on Garrison. The gun moved again.

"�kill you�fuckin' maniac�torturing me�"

"You kill me now and you don't get the 40 bucks I owe you from the poker game last month."

Danny was only a few feet from Jack and dropped to his knees, crawling slowly from behind.

"Easy, Jack," Danny said as he reached over and grabbed the gun. Jack began to fight and Danny slid the gun away, using both hands to force his boss down. "You're bleeding, Jack, cut it out!"

Jack shoved back and freed one of his arms, using it to grab at the face of his assailant.

"Christ, you're a worse pain in the ass half dead," Chris snarled, grabbing Jack's chin. "Jack! It's us�cut it out. There're a lot of things I could be doing on my time off- going to your funeral isn't on the list."

Jack lay back, gasping for breath and blinking the sweat from his eyes. A cloth went over his face and he moved to free it. When his vision cleared, it was Danny Taylor's concerned face he saw. Like Thomas, he had to touch to believe.

Danny sighed in relief when Jack's hand came up and touched his face. He saw Chris peeling the blanket back and pulling the shirt up to check the wound.

"What the fuck are you doing here!" Jack growled.

"Did that sound like 'thank you' to you?" Danny asked Chris.

"In Malone-speak," Boone sent back, frowning at the saturated cloth beneath his fingers. "You'll learn it better as the years go by."

Danny's eyes met Chris's over Jack's marred body, on which he saw the bruises and marks left by Garrison's torture. The green eyes were more than concerned and he knew by the grim face, it wasn't good.

Boone cut the cloth away and nodded to a pile of tee shirts by Danny's hip. He doused the wound with water and pressed hard, causing Malone to cry out, buckle once and go limp.

"We need something solid to carry him to the car," Chris suggested. "I'll keep pressure on this and you scare up some wood."

"His pulse is shitty," Danny decided, moving his hand from Jack's neck.

"Bastards really worked him over, no telling what else they did," Chris replied.

Danny spotted the body by the Blessed Mother and said a quick prayer, kneeling to grab the bag that Martin said the tapes were in. He moved around the altar and then to the area behind it. He continued his search and spotted a broken bench. He kicked at the bottom of it, freeing up a five-foot section.

"I got it," Danny announced, tossing the bag by Chris. "That's the evidence Martin spoke about. We can't take the body, too many questions. We'll have to come back."

Ten minutes later, with Jack strapped across the back seat, Danny and Chris were headed for the border. Danny made it back to the main road and up I-45 in record time, and soon they would be approaching the border.

"We need a plan, man." Danny increased his speed and adjusted his dark glasses. It was a miracle they'd found Jack alive and he was glad of that but without Martin, he wouldn't rest.

"We can't be here watching Jack and find Martin."

"Okay, we call Vivian and Sam," Chris suggested, turning to check on Jack, who was breathing badly and covered in sweat. "Victor?"

"Not yet," Danny answered, "Not until we find Martin. You didn't see his face, I'm not doing that to him twice. But once I find Martin, I'll use all the clout he can cough up to get us home if we're stuck." The signs for the border loomed ahead. "How are we gonna explain a badly wounded man in the car?"

Chris scrubbed his hand over his weary features, absentmindedly rubbing his aching shoulder. He sighed hard and then a light bulb came on.

"What?" Danny noticed hope wavering in Boone's light eyes.

"An old war dog who isn't retired, I hope," Chris said, dialing information in El Paso. "Fort Bliss Administrative Office."

"Fort Bliss?" Danny turned and Chris looked up.

"Jack was stationed there when he was in the Army, it's not far from the border. He's got an old CO that has clout. He was pretty tight with Jack, they did a few special ops missions in Central America, Jack saved his life, I think. We'll have to use an alias and�" Chris paused, "Good morning, is Major Douglas in?" His worn face relaxed. "Tell him it's Cagney and I need a secure line."

"Cagney?" Major Peter Douglas frowned at the intercom. "Are you sure?"

"Yes sir, that's the name."

He hadn't talked to Jack Malone in sometime. Why would he call now and ask for a secure line? He didn't pause long, he trusted Malone and he'd not be alive had it not been for him.

"Alright, put it through on a secure line." The silver-haired, sixty-year old decorated veteran sat back and picked the phone up. He hadn't heard from Malone in almost five years. "Malone? What the hell's going on?"

"Is it safe?"

"Yes, the line is secure." He frowned at the odd voice. "Who the hell is this?"

"I'm a friend of Jack's, we work together in the Bureau." Chris sighed heavily and raked a hand through his short blond hair. "I need a big favor, sir."

Martin kept his foot on the gas and his eyes on the gage. The needle hovered at the fifty mark, going no higher. He hoped he didn't run out of gas before he got past Garrison. His hawk like eyes went to the road ahead.

"Come on, come on," he coached, then saw a silver car approaching. He knew before he saw the blond head in the passenger side move for the window, it was them. He pressed harder and ducked when the rifle appeared.

"It's them!" Garrison shouted, eyeing the bloody FBI shirted body on the prone man not driving. "Shoot for Christ's sake!" he screamed and lunged to the left as the van nearly hit them. Gravel flew and tires squealed as he slowed to make a U-turn.

Martin's twin focus was keeping an eye ahead and one behind. They were gaining faster than he had gas to accommodate. He'd not make the fork, he'd have to ditch the car sooner. The harder he pressed his foot, the lower the numbers ran. Now the needle was moving backward from 30 to 20.

'Shit�" he hissed, eyeing the road ahead.

"What the hell are you waiting for?" Garrison demanded.

"One shot," Bell predicted, aiming at the gas tank.

Martin saw the blond take aim and began to zigzag the car, which worked for a few moments.

"Shit!" he snarled, when the gas needle dipped even lower. Then the tire was shot out and the car careened. He jerked it to the right, sending it down a hill and into a body of water. As it began to sink, he moved his body through the open window. He took a quick glance at the turn of the river, took a deep breath and went under.


Northern Mexico
January 24, 2005
One p.m.

Martin's years of rigorous training for swim meets paid off. His lung capacity was greater than average and he remained under water, swimming until his lungs cried out. When he did break the surface, he flipped over, keeping most of his body hidden and gulped at the air. He moved behind debris in the river and peered back to the distance where the van was. There was a slight figure climbing down the steep incline to get to the van, which was about half submerged. Once they realized they'd been duped, they'd come hunting for bear and he'd be in their crosshairs.

He didn't wait, he moved ashore and up the rocky hill, glad for a bright sun overhead. He took a few moments to get his bearings and then set off. He wanted to put as much room between himself and the hunters as possible.

Will Garrison remained stone still, peering down at where Brad Bell had disappeared. The van was nose down, with only the back half-visible. Brad was under water, checking the inside front area where Fitzgerald and Malone were. Finally, the damp body reappeared, and then began wading back to shore.

"Driver's gone," Bell panted, swiping water from his face. "Malone wasn't riding with him, it was Tony, he's dead."

"That son-of-a-bitch tripped us up�" Garrison seethed. He returned to the car, pausing to fold out a map and spread it on the hood.

"Look, he's on foot, he couldn't have gotten far�" Brad tried but backed up when Garrison's full fury exploded in his flinty eyes.

"We wouldn't be in this mess if you hadn't fucked up!" Garrison growled, "And if we don't find Fitzgerald�"

Bell swallowed hard, knowing full well what the unspoken threat would be. Garrison's previous aides had disappeared when they'd made critical errors that cost Garrison. He nearly melted until the burning eyes turned away and he didn't utter a word as Garrison studied the map.

"If he was on that Anti-Terrorism Team, he's good at survival, he'll be tough to find." Will paused, eyeing the areas on the map. "We'll need help," he decided, folding the map up. "I'm gonna drop you off at the cabin, you get his likeness off that video and send it around."

"All contacts?" Bell asked, moving towards the car. Garrison had been doing illegal arms and drug business down there for over twenty years. Most of the rebels knew of him and that he paid well. They roamed the hills and the desert both, even if Fitzgerald got out of the mountains, he'd be targeted by a group in the desert.

"Everyone," Garrison decided, getting into the driver's seat. "We're gonna put a bounty on that boy scout's head. I want him alive, make sure they understand." He moved the car quickly down the road. "I'm gonna make that blue-eyed bastard pay�he fucked with the wrong person."

William Beaumont Army Medical Center
Fort Bliss
El Paso, Texas
Two p.m.

While the battered patient lay limp and unaware, around him a surgical team was working to fix the damage done by a bullet. Orders were given, vital signs were updated and the most serious of the extensive injuries was being treated.

"Did somebody notify Stenney?" The surgeon tossed a bloody sponge away and took a retractor from the scrub nurse.

"I'll check," a nurse at the back of the table announced of the burn specialist. "You need anything else?"

"No, those burns on his groin and buttocks don't look too bad, but they appear to be infected, I want a trained eye. Oh and have the on call keep an eye on the urine, those bruises on his lower back might be tied to his kidneys."

"Yes, doctor," she replied, leaving the room.

"You're a lucky man, Cagney," the surgeon stated. He wasn't sure what had happened to cause the variety of injuries but none were life threatening. "Clamps�"

Major Douglas returned to the OR waiting area and found the blond man alone. He didn't miss the pain etched in every feature and wondered if he'd been hurt. Upon closer inspection, he saw a jagged healing wound along the fair hair.

"You okay?"

"Thanks," Chris said, taking a hot cup of coffee. He saw the steely eyes raking over his scar. Absentmindedly, he rubbed at it. "Three and a half weeks ago, a hostage situation that exploded. I was lucky."

"It appears that way," he replied, sitting down and stretching his long legs. At six foot five, sitting in the small chairs was not easy. "You and Jack go back a ways?"

"Yeah, we came up together, partnered a while and then six years ago, we got promoted, each got our own team."

"Rough line of work," he noted.

"It can be," Chris admitted, "but fulfilling too. Jack's the best leader I know, his team would walk through fire for him."

"Sounds like he hasn't changed much," the Major noted with a wry grin. "Still keeping one step ahead of the brass."

"A half step," Chris chased back with a rakish grin.

"Where's uh�the �uh�"

"Taylor," Boone completed, they'd only met the Major briefly when they arrived. He'd sent an army medic down to meet them at the border with orders. They got through customs in a flash and sped to the medical center. He'd met them at the ER entry and then had to leave for a meeting. "He went to make a phone call�." he paused, seeing the gray eyes narrow. "On a payphone."


"Yeah," Chris acknowledged. "Vivian Johnson and Samantha Spade, the rest of Jack's team. I want them watching Jack."

"You sure you don't want me to send men down there with you?" Douglas offered and saw a grateful smile.

'No, sir, but thanks. Don't worry, Danny and I have your inside line memorized. I hope we don't need it�"

Danny filled the gas tank and pulled the car to the side of the gas station, asking the attendant to check the oil. He trotted to the pay phone on the side of the station. He and Chris had agreed that for now, only Vivian and Sam would be told. He dropped change in the slot and pulled out the number he'd gotten from information before he left the Medical Center.

"Rib Shack."


"Hold on please."

Danny sighed hard and rubbed the back of his neck. The tension was corded up to the point where it was becoming normal. Every nerve in his body was on edge, dancing wildly as if scorched. He hated the missing hours and not knowing if Martin was alive or dead. His only hope was that if Garrison had caught Martin, with Jack gone, he'd keep him alive, however painfully, until he got an answer.

"This is Walt."

"Hi, it's Danny Taylor," he greeted Vivian's brother-in-law who owned the busy eatery. The team sometimes stopped in after completing a case and unwound there with the help of the tangy ribs and friendly owner. Vivian's teenaged son worked there a few hours each day after school.

"Danny," Walt said, wincing slightly. He'd spoken to Vivian only that morning and seen a report on the news about Jack Malone and the other agent. "Hey, man, I'm sorry about Jack�"

"Thanks," Danny answered. "Listen, I need to talk to Vivian. Is she dropping Reggie off this afternoon?"

"Yeah, she oughtta be here in about fifteen minutes." He frowned, wondering why Taylor was calling him at the caf�. "You okay? Vivian said you peeled out fast."

"I'm hurtin'�same as her and Sam, but it's important I talk to her ASAP." He eyed his watch. "I'll call back in twenty, ask her to stay, okay?"


Walt wrote the number down in case Vivian was late and before he could ask anything else, there was a dial tone. He shook his head as he hung the phone up. Vivian said Taylor took it hard but something told him she wasn't aware of just how bad off he was.

Northern Mexico
January 24, 2005
Three p.m.

Martin's throbbing hip and back caused him to pause in his trek. The warmth of the afternoon sun had dried off most of his clothes, although the underwear was damp and that was not comfortable. He knelt down by the edge of the stream and cupped his hands, taking a good drink of water. His eye caught a falcon swooping down from a cliff and then soaring high into the sky.

He stood and eyed the terrain, wondering what his best option was. Although he'd been able to locate the motorbike, his journey to freedom was short lived. The bike died twenty minutes into his journey. The only good thing was the food he'd found in the compact glove box. A tiny bottle of water and several granola bars would be utilized. If he continued on this path, it should take him out of the wooded area through a more remote and dangerous one that would or should lead to US 45, but he knew that would be dangerous and was highly travelled by unsavory elements.

He also knew that Garrison was around somewhere and if he wasn't careful, he could end up back in the madman's clutches. He thought on the cabin and wondered if the area around it was protected. It must have some alarms or traps to keep unwanted company away. There also the fact that Perez had shot him with a dart gun almost as soon as he'd gotten close to the perimeter.

"Unless�" Martin theorized, eyeing the water and the rocky terrain on the other side.

What if he didn't head for the highway as Garrison would be thinking, he could go farther out and over, ending up east of El Paso somewhere, but that was unknown territory too. Which evil was the worse one? Sighing hard, he continued his trek, opting for the main road for now. With a little luck, he might run into recovery crews working on repairs to damage done by the storm.

To get his mind off his growling stomach, he thought on the miracle of contacting Danny. He wondered if his partner found the church. Eyeing the sun in the sky, he surmised it was about mid-afternoon. If they did find Jack, he should be over the border at a hospital by now. He hoped that Danny was on his way back. Taylor was smart and he was fairly sure Danny would be able to find him somehow.

"Where are you, amigo?" he whispered, letting the wind chase his voice.


William Beaumont Medical Center
OR Waiting area
Four p.m.

"Danny�" Chris warned, reluctantly prying his throbbing eyes open.

He and Taylor were a study in contrasts. He'd collapsed on the largest chair in the room, resting his aching, dizzy head against the wall two hours ago and hadn't moved. Danny on the other hand, had been pacing, drinking water, peeing, walking the halls and had yet to sit for longer than ten minutes. When he did sit, one of his knees jiggled and he squirmed in the chair.

"Don't tell me to calm down," Danny answered, punching the wall next to the window. "Four fuckin' hours�"

"I can tell the time too," Chris shot back.

Danny hissed and eyed the skyline outside the window. In a few hours it would be dark and impossible to navigate the mountain roads on the other side of the border. What if Martin was lying somewhere hurt? What if he died overnight? The tension was past the warning sign and well into the red zone.

"I'm outta here," Danny announced, turning and heading for the elevator.

Just as the bell sounded and the doors opened, he was grabbed from behind and shoved into the corner of the narrow alley that separated four elevators. Neither man saw Major Douglas step off the lift and watch the play unfold.

Chris twisted Danny around and threw him hard against the wall, clutching the collar of Taylor's leather jacket hard. He didn't miss the fire in the dark eyes glaring at him and unleashed his own frustration.

"You listen to me," Chris growled, "Agent Taylor. I got enough shit to worry on with Jack damn near bleeding to death and another federal agent missing on a Goddamn mountain in Mexico. I'm not adding you to that list. You cool that hot head of yours down or I'll do it for you!"

"You pullin' rank on me?" Danny snarled, trying unsuccessfully to wiggle away. The effort was met by a forearm moving across his neck.

"You're damn right, I am."

"Too fuckin' bad, write me up, hell suspend me," Danny challenged, "I'm not wastin' any more time here while my partner could be getting his toenails and teeth pulled out by that sick, fuckin' bastard."

"Don't you dare insult me," Chris said with slow, lethal precision. "I want Fitzgerald back too. Exactly how much are you going to accomplish running around loose in the mountains? You know how many thousands of acres that range covers? You could drive for days and miss him."

"Chance I gotta take�"

"I won't, not with your life," Chris stated, he tried to find a way past the iron wall of muscle under his grip. "Look, Jack might know where that cabin is. We don't even know if Garrison has Martin, but if he does, he won't kill him, not yet."

"He's right, son."

Danny's eyes went over Chris's shoulder to where the Major stood watching. He knew Chris was right but a part of him just couldn't remain here and wait. Jack was in the best place he could be and once Vivian and Sam arrived, they'd have more help to guard him. He nodded and Chris released him. Chris didn't move totally away, but gave the incensed younger man some room.

"The surgeon is meeting us in a private conference room near Jack's room. He's in an isolation area, which is empty now. He'll have round the clock care."

"Thanks, Major, I don't know what we'd have done without your help." Chris nodded and the older man nodded back.

"Cagney," he used the code name Jack had been given by the men in their army unit many years before. There wasn't a situation they would encounter that he wouldn't have a James Cagney line to use from a movie, "saved my life and I owe him."

"Danny�" Chris waited and the body shoved past him. The blond team leader sighed hard, rubbed his aching head and followed Major Douglas into the elevator.

Atlantic City NJ
Four thirty p.m.

Sam knew they didn't have a choice but she wasn't comfortable with the arrangement. Vivian's call had shocked her and although the senior agent didn't have any details, the fact that Jack was alive gave her renewed hope about Martin. Was he hurt? Why wasn't he with Jack? A darker image of Martin's corpse rose up uninvited, his beautiful blue eyes unseeing in death. She shivered and dropped her head, trying to hold onto that sliver of hope. He was still alive, she had to pray for that. Danny had to feel that too, right? Why else would he request them? He wanted somebody to watch Jack. Did he and Chris have a lead on Martin?

"There it is." Vivian turned the car.

The isolated airstrip was in a remote area and the overcast gray sky and chilly wind only made it feel more ominous. Vivian hadn't spoken much on the journey here and she knew part of that was an argument with Marcus. Danny had sworn her to secrecy, so nobody knew where they were going.

"I don't like this," Sam said, stepping out of the car.

"I look happy to you?" Vivian replied. "My husband and son think I'm on my way to the mountains. If something happens to Reggie, Marcus won't be able to find me."

Vivian didn't mean to snap at Sam but she was angry. Danny's message had shocked her and he'd said little. She only knew that Jack was alive and under an alias in hospital at Fort Bliss. Chris would fill them in when they got there. There would be a car waiting for them when they left the arrivals area Danny was firm in that Jack had to be protected and she and Sam were the only ones he trusted to do that, save Chris.

She stopped walking short of a door completely painted black, even the windows. As she raised her hand to knock, it opened, revealing a paunchy, middle-aged man with a graying reddish beard. He looked as thrilled as they were.

"You two have to pee or anything, get it done. I'm pulling out in five minutes

"Bulldog, I presume?" Sam asked.

"No, Tom Fuckin' Cruise," he snapped, walking towards the plane. "Goddamn fed�"

"Charming," Vivian answered, eyeing the lone door he'd pointed to. "After you."

"Thanks," Sam replied, wrinkling her nose at the offensive odor that greeted her as she opened the door.

William Beaumont Medical Center
Isolation Unit
Six p.m.

The room was large and an extra bed was set up on one side. There was a table and chairs as well as a full bathroom and shower. The cool blue walls were not soothing to the anxious body, that couldn't rest. Chris ate dinner without tasting it. As grateful as he was for all that Major Douglas had done, he was worried about Danny.

Once Taylor had seen Jack and listened as the doctor stated that their friend was critical but stable, Danny had argued with him about the time wasted. It was unlikely Jack would awaken for hours, or even until the next day. The doctor explained that the trauma to his body, coupled with the infection and the blood loss would keep him out. Three toes had no nails and were infected, along with the groin area, courtesy of burns. Jack's lower back was black and blue from beatings and the kidneys were affected. The bullet had done little damage, which was the only good news.

So, after a heated discussion that had given Chris a merciless headache, he'd agreed to Danny heading back. They agreed that Danny would go to the base camp, since he knew the way there and should get there before dark. Chris would remain with Jack until Sam and Vivian arrived, then he'd use the other bed. Come morning, he would hope that Jack would awaken and possible tell them where Garrison's cabin was. If not, he still intended to head back to find Danny.

Taylor promised to wait until he heard from Chris in the morning before heading out on his own. In the meantime, he would study the maps and other information on the area at the base camp and try to figure out where the cabin might be, based on Martin's known movements.

The exhausted blond moved back towards the bed. The hot shower and hot food had done little to lift his spirits. He leaned over the railing, eyeing the tubes and lines running into Jack giving him medicine and blood. He also kept an eye on the bag collecting urine, which was reddish. They were keeping tabs on that, to determine if the kidneys were bruised or worse. Right now the infection was what worried them and Jack was on an ice bed, with that, coupled with the antibiotic cocktail, they hoped to combat the high fever.

"You look like shit," Chris whispered, willing the black eyes to open and the surly lips to snap back at him. Sighing in frustration, he rubbed his throbbing temples and eased into the chair by the bed. Why was it that when you were waiting, the minutes seemed like hours?

Northern Mexico
January 24, 2005
Seven p.m.

Martin was exhausted, his back and hip were screaming and his limping had slowed him down to the point where he was barely moving. He had two granola bars left and the bottle of water. He only had about an hour or so of light before the sun would do down. He had to find shelter and recognized the bluffs ahead of him. If his memory was correct, there would be cabins in this area. He painfully trudged on, his mind wandering between Jack and Danny. He prayed his partner was still here. Danny's street smarts and knowledge of the language were huge and he knew his partner wouldn't give up on him.

"Thank God�" he panted, spotting an old cabin.

The door was locked, but he was able to force the window up, easing his aching body inside. He spent a half hour gathering loose twigs and wood for a fire. Then he stripped his damp clothes off and took a small sip of water, eating one of the granola bars. He'd save the rest for breakfast. The heat from the fire spread warmth to his chilly body. As soon as his clothes dried, he put them back on and curled up. He fell into a dark, dreamless sleep, unaware of the danger that was creeping nearby.

Garrison's Cabin
9 p.m.

Will Garrison was a man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it, so the frustration of Martin Fitzgerald being on the loose was causing his anger to build to monumental proportions. He was monitoring the radio at the cabin while Brad was out looking for the missing F.B.I. agent.

He'd checked with his usual sources north of the border and so far, Jack Malone had not turned up in any hospital or morgue. Either he had died before Fitzgerald could get him help and he hid the body or he was already north and hidden somewhere. Either way it mattered not, for the bounty on the blue-eyed man's head would eventually lead to his capture.

He walked to the area map he'd spread out and eyed the sections highlighted in yellow. They were the areas that the various unsavory elements he dealt with had already checked. So with every passing hour, the field was getting smaller. It was only a matter of time until he got the call he was waiting on. Then he'd find out just what happened to Malone and Victor's kid would die a slow death.


William Beaumont Medical Center
Isolation Unit
Eleven p.m.

Vivian and Sam were both exhausted when they got to the Isolation Unit of the Medical Center. Although both women were very grateful for the extra effort the Major went to meeting the plane with a private car and getting them into the back door of the Center, they were eager for answers.

"Hello?" Vivian approached the lone nurse at a desk. The woman looked up and stood, coming around the desk to meet them.

"I'm sorry, I'm Cyndi Barrister, I didn't hear you exit the elevator. The doctor was in to check on Mister Cagney just a little while ago and�"

"Who?" Sam asked, frowning at the odd name.

"Cagney," Vivian answered, giving Sam a telling look. "How is he?"

"As well as can be expected considering the amount of damage that was done and the blood loss."

Sam and Vivian listened as she listed all of Jack's injuries and followed her to a room down the hall. Both of them flanked the bed, still shocked to see him alive. She turned the light over the bed on and eyed the monitor near him.

"So, his fever is still high and we're hoping the antibiotics will bring that down by tomorrow afternoon. The blood transfusion has helped a great deal, he's breathing better."

"Chris," Sam called out softly, eyeing the slumped figure in the chair.

"He was in the other bed earlier," Cyndi noted, "but I guess Mister Cagney was restless, that happens with fevers."

"Thanks," Vivian stated, nodding to the nurse who, after checking and recording his vital signs, left the room.

"Chris." Sam shook the dozing blond's shoulder and then put both hands on either one when he woke up quickly and tried to rise. "Whoa!"

"Sam?" Chris whispered, covering his eyes and giving a gasp. "�bright�light�"

"Okay, Gizmo�"

"You look awful," Vivian commented on Boone's pale face and pinched features.

"Damned near impossible," Chris teased, reaching for the water Sam offered. "Thanks, Sunshine." He drained it and eyed his blonde friend. He knew before she could ask why her eyes were haunted. "Danny will find him�"

"What happened?" Vivian asked, watching Chris stand and embrace Sam briefly before inspecting Jack.

"It started with a phone call last night," Chris replied, rubbing his throbbing temples. "Hell, it seems like longer than that."

Vivian and Sam listened as Chris told them all the details of what transpired from the time Danny met him through the impatient Latino agent's departure earlier.

"So in the morning, you're going to check in?" Sam asked.

"I'm going to find him," Chris stated. "I'm hoping by then Jack will be able to tell us where that cabin is. Martin's got a lot going for him, he knows how to hide and survive in the outdoors." He sighed and eyed the clock next to Jack's bed stand. "The Major provided base housing, nobody knows but him and me. We don't all need to be here."

"No, and you look almost as bad as Jack does," Vivian commented. "You and Sam head there and I'll take first shift. "

"Okay, I'll be back by five a.m. or so," Chris agreed. "If he comes to at all�"

"I'll ask about Martin and the cabin," Vivian noted, nodding to the door. "Go on, Chris."

"Thanks Viv," he answered, waiting for Sam to come beside him.

It wasn't often that Sam let her guard down, she just didn't have enough positive experiences in life to warrant that. Therefore, the ride to the base house was a quiet one. She stayed in the kitchen while Chris took his bag and explored the rest of the one story house.

Chris wasn't surprised that the Major had someone stock the pantry and refrigerator. There was fresh bedding on the three beds and he longed to hit the closest one.

"Well, we're set up�" he yawned, fidgeting with the clock radio and setting the alarm. "No sense both of us getting up that early. I'll hang around the hospital to seven or eight and�" He noticed that Sam wasn't in the room. Sighing, he tossed his jacket on the chair in the corner of the bedroom and took his shoes off. Then he wandered back into the kitchen. He wasn't surprised at the tears, only that they'd taken this long. He held his arms out and she folded herself into them.

Chris didn't preach or spout false promises, which Sam was grateful for. He just held on and she needed that more than anything. That reassuring rub of the strong hand on her back and the solid chest were her rock. Finally, she composed herself and pulled away.

"I hope this shirt is waterproof," he teased and got a half smile. He tipped her chin up and brushed his finger along her cheek, killing a stray tear. The pain in her eyes hurt to look at.

"You think he's still alive? What if...I mean if Garrison gets him...look what he did to Jack." She saw hope and promise in the sea green eyes. "Find him, Chris..."

"Scout's honor," he vowed and pulled his hand up in a pledge.

"Scout's honor," she hiccupped, shaking her head. "How many Girl Scouts fell for that?"

She couldn't sleep, despite her tiredness and at four a.m. she gave up and got out of bed. Twice she checked on Chris who had not taken anything for his headache. He looked awful and she wondered if he was up to a rescue mission in a foreign country. She bent and kissed his cheek as he slept.

"Thank you, Lance�" she whispered, thinking of the knight in the King Arthur tale. Then she made some coffee and waited for the sun to come up. Her heart wanted to hang its hopes higher than her trained, logical brain would allow. Still, over the pink and blue dawn being born, she saw Martin's intense eyes.

"Please�" she rasped, eyeing the sky.

Northern Mexico
Tuesday, January 25
Eight a.m.

Danny had been up for hours, reading anything he could find in the base camp on the area and studying several maps. He found the rough location of the church on one of them and traced the path he and Chris had taken when they took Jack back to Texas. Martin had taken Jack from Garrison's cabin to the church but from which path? There were dozens of small trails that led to the larger one on which they'd turned off of to get to the ruins.

"Christ, he could be anywhere�" Danny sighed, shoving the highlighters and papers away.

His growling stomach reminded him that he needed food. Most of the food left in the kitchen of the base camp was spoiled. He recalled seeing a small gas station when he came down the main road last night. He remembered the one story building next to it had lights on. He eyed the clock on the wall and reckoned he had about an hour until Chris arrived. He'd checked in earlier, Jack was very groggy and disoriented and the high fever was keeping him sedated for the most part. So Chris didn't want to waste any more time, he would check back with Sam and Vivian later.

Twenty minutes later, Danny pulled into the small station and cast a wary eye at the rough looking Mexican males loitering in the shadows of the building. He was glad he'd not shaved or bathed, coupled with his wrinkled clothes, he looked less like bait than a clean shaven American with a target painted on his back. He filled his tank with gas and then headed inside to pay.

The patron nodded to a handful of tables around the wider side, which looked like a very small caf�. He recognized some of the local fare being prepared by a woman with a long, gray braid down her back and bright, brown eyes.

"Buenos d�as," he spoke and she nodded. "Lo que es bueno?"

She held up a plate with rice, beans and that morning's breakfast special.

"S�," he replied of chorizo and egg burrito platter. He took two cinnamon coated churros with him to a small table. The pastries were fresh and he savored each bite. The platter came quickly, with a mug of coffee. "Gracias."

While he ate, Danny reasoned that once Chris arrived, they would have to form a game plan. He had two theories on possible locations of the cabin, based on the condition they found Jack in and the time of Martin's call. He scooped up some rice and beans with a mouthful of the egg mixture and took some more coffee. Luckily for him he'd swallowed when a grainy, black and white photo of Martin was thrust in front of his face. His partner was lying on the ground and appeared drugged. The man holding the photo wanted to know if he'd seen him.

"�Ha visto a este hombre?"

Danny acted totally blas� and shook his head no. "�Por qu�?"

He eyed the rough-looking man who asked him but there was no reply to his query on why they wanted Martin. The man studied him for a moment, then left. Danny casually lifted his cup and eyed the area where the man went. It was just near the doorway. Eyeing the coffee pot, he moved across the room and slowly poured a cup, listening to what he could hear before the six men departed in an old truck. He didn't want to draw attention to himself, so he studied the direction it went and returned to his table. He threw some money down and found his car, then dialed the new untraceable cell phone, courtesy of the army.


"Where are you?" Danny demanded, pulling out and trying to catch up to the truck.

"I'm about ten minutes from the turnoff, why?" He recognized the anxious tone in Danny's voice.

"I'm not far, just inside the road off 45. I got some gas and was eating when some local shoved a photo of Martin in front of me. He didn't say why they were looking for him, but from what I heard discussed between him and the five guys he was with, Garrison has a bounty out on Martin."

"That's good," Chris said.

"Good? If one gang is looking for him, they all are. He's as good as dead."

"But he's not dead and Garrison doesn't have him." Chris increased his speed. "You wait for me, Taylor, don't go solo, not here."

"Then get your gringo ass in gear!" Danny relayed, frantically eyeing the road ahead and braking. "Shit, I lost 'em. They turned off."

"Okay, you head to base camp, we'll go over what you found."

Chris wasn't surprised by the call ending abruptly. Danny was too close to the situation to realize that if the bounty was still on, Martin was on the run and still alive.

All they had to do was find him.


Isolation Unit
11 a.m.

Jack wasn't sure where he was but he was wet. His head hurt and his tongue was much too thick for his mouth. He heard beeping sounds and strange voices right above him. Someone's hand was on him, lifting his arm and then moving something between his legs. He tried to move, to free himself from the invasion of his privacy but couldn't move an inch. One of the voices left and the other voice was close to his ear. He frowned, creased his brows in frustration and tried to pull away.


The fragmented pieces pierced his brain and he winced, the raging headache roared to life. He turned away from the voice, seeking to return to the quiet blackness he'd left somewhere behind.

"Jack!" Sam was more persistent, turning his fever painted face back and tapping his cheek with more force. "It's Sam. Come on now, wake up."




"Green eggs and ham�" Jack chirped, rhyming the name that was echoing in his throbbing head.

"Boy, they gave you the good stuff," Spade commented on the painkillers Malone was hooked up to. She continued to tap his face and then cupped his chin, turning him towards her. "Jack, wake up."




He stopped fighting and concentrated on the name and the voice that wouldn't leave him alone. The hand that moved on his face brought back memories. An image formed of a young woman with long blonde hair. She was lying on a bed, smiling seductively at him, her silken skin was melting under his touch. He was caressing her in a bed and kissing her, then moving his body over her and claiming her.

"Mmmmm." Jack moaned, enjoying the dream. A wet cloth moved over his face and he leaned into it, pressing against the small hand.

"Come on, Jack," Sam coached, watching him return to life. Finally, the eyes blinked up at her and then roamed around the room, in total confusion. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

"Where the hell�" Jack croaked and winced at the weak voice that didn't sound like his. "Water�"

"Ice chips," Sam suggested, thinking on the nurse's orders. It wasn't until the third spoon exited his mouth that his eyes started to become more alert. "You're in the hospital in Fort Bliss, you're safe here thanks to your old friend, Major Douglas."

"Pete?" Jack rasped, thinking on his old CO. Then he eyed the IV lines and the monitor, before feeling the pain radiating over every inch of his battered body. "What the hell�"

"Jack, look at me," Sam spoke slowly and waited for the confused eyes to train on her. "You and Martin got in trouble in Mexico, you got wounded. Danny and Chris found you and managed to get you back over the border. You were tortured, you have a bad infection and�"

"GARRISON!" Jack hissed, clawing at the rails. "I'm gonna rip that fuckin' prick's arm off and beat him to death with it."

"Stop that, you'll dislodge the IV line!" Sam ordered, shoving his arms back and pinning his shoulders to the bed. He was panting heavily and sweating, she knew by the darting eyes he was reliving something. She used the opportunity to let go and retrieve the wet cloth that was soaking in a dish.

Jack closed his throbbing eyes and let Sam bathe his face and neck. Then she lifted his head and put a rolled up icy cloth behind his neck.

"Thanks�" he managed, fighting the nausea that was rising fast as garish images of the torture he'd endured came back. "How long�"

"Yesterday, you were brought in Monday. You've had surgery and been unconscious until now." She knew he would ask sooner or later and when those eyes flew open and trained on her, she winced and backed up a bit.

"Where is he?" Jack's voice was frantic and his heart was racing. He eyed the empty bed and began to gag. She moved in with a basin but he shoved it aside and grabbed her wrist. "Where's Martin!"

"I'm sorry�Jack�I don't know," she choked, fighting hard. "Danny and Chris are down there looking for him."

"They left him behind!" Jack gasped, dizzy and sick from this brief movement, the room began to spin and he had to close his eyes. He felt as if he was on a wayward amusement ride in a theme park.

"No�Jack�" Sam spoke in a low voice. "This is what we know�"

Jack listened to every word and the pieces came back. He nodded and told her of Martin's rescue and shooting Perez. The rest was a bit fuzzy but he recalled the church and Martin tending to him. He had only fuzzy images of someone lifting him and being in a car, but no memory of Danny and Chris.

She sat back and almost wished for the fury she'd seen earlier, for the worn and defeated body in the bed wasn't someone she was used to. His fever was high and that was a large part of it, his body was weak and worn. But she knew him well enough to know he had survivor's guilt.

"It's not your fault, Jack."

Jack didn't answer, all he could think of was where Martin was now and if he was still alive. What if Garrison caught him? He would be furious with Martin for what he'd done and stop at nothing to get the information he wanted. What if Danny and Chris did find him? What state would he be in? He'd seen POW's who'd endured brutality and some never came back mentally. He heard Sam talking to the nurse and she adjusted his IV line. Then the blackness came and everything faded away.

Except one set of telling blue eyes that scorched his brain.

Northern Mexico
Two p.m.

Martin was in trouble. With every painful step he managed, he cursed and swiped the sweat that ran down his face. He wasn't sure where he was or how far he had to go. He had no food and water and the bruises to his hip and back were slowing him down and, he wasn't alone.

The wooded area he'd left earlier that morning had thinned out now and soon he would be in the desert area. He had to turn away from the direction he'd chosen as his route to freedom due to activity in the woods. He'd heard them first, whispering and moving around. He'd managed to climb up and over a large group of rocks and he saw them moving around, heavily armed.

He'd crept away so as not to be followed and that worked for a while but now there were others closing in. He couldn't imagine the locals would be interested in one lost American, unless they had reason to be. Garrison must have paid help roaming around looking for him.

"Shit!" He dove for cover when a shot rang past his head, hitting a small tree.

Before he could rise, a boot shoved him hard in the middle of the back. He didn't have to understand the excited Spanish words raining down on him. His hands were tied behind his back and he was hauled to his feet. He immediately kicked out at the man holding him, sending him to the ground. A rifle butt to his midsection ended any attempt at escape and took his air away.

As he lay gasping for breath on his knees, he saw one of the men pull out a cell phone and then he noticed the worn paper with his image on it. Someone grabbed at his face, making kissing noises and a comment that caused the others to laugh. He dove off his knees and used his head to clip the man's chin. Someone grabbed him from behind and held him while the large, ugly brute he'd charged, rose up with both fists.

As he sank to the ground with his conscious state ending fast, he knew who the call was to. Then he fell into oblivion realizing that the reason he was not already dead was that Garrison had plans for him. That version of hell was the last thing on his mind when blackness fell.

It was after three p.m. when Danny and Chris paused at a clearing and examined the map that Taylor had highlighted. They were eliminating trails one by one and it was a painstaking process. Danny was getting more irritated by the minute and Chris was wise enough not to add to that short fuse by preaching. While the senior blond agent studied the next trail, how far away it was and how long it would take, the younger man left the car. He watched Danny disappear into the brush and assumed he was urinating. He knew by the body language of the Latino as he returned towards the car, he was ready to jump out of his own skin.

"Danny, we should be able to hit the last three trails by dark, then�"

"Bullshit!" Danny sent back, pounding his fist on the car hood. They'd left Chris's car at the base camp, and were using the other one. Once they got low on gas, they'd refuel and switch cars. "We need to find one of those gangs and question them. They all have Martin's photo, they know where Garrison is."

"Really?" Chris sent back, getting out of the car and walking around to where the tense, younger man stood. "And you think they're going to just give that up? They run in packs, Danny, we're two strangers against a well-armed unit�"

"It can be done, you find a pack and watch. You isolate one guy and�" he sighed, raking a hand through his hair. "I hate this�"

"I know," Chris said, laying a calm hand on the tense back, "and you might be right. We're bound to run into one of the rebels units scouring these trails, we might get lucky."

"Yeah�" Danny climbed back into the driver's seat. "Lucky�how long will Martin's luck hold out?"

Martin's first sensation when he returned to consciousness was that he couldn't swallow. The rough gravel digging into his bare skin made him aware that his shirt was stripped off. He coughed several times and tried to reach his throat but his hands were tied. His face and head throbbed in time with his lower back. He peeled his eyes open and saw a dozen or so rough looking Mexicans. Fragments of a beating came back and a phone call. Before he could think on his captor, he was yanked up hard by the hair and the beast's face appeared, gray eyes blazing fury.


Martin regarded the question, still fuzzy and wondering why he couldn't breathe right. He thought of all that Garrison put Jack through and all that suffering. He pulled his face up, curled his lips and spit right into the arrogant face.

Garrison whipped out a knife and in a swift move, slashed right across Fitzgerald's lower ribcage area, opening a long slash and drawing blood. He gave the cocky F.B.I. agent a vicious backhand across the face that sent him sprawling.

The power of the blow reeled Martin, causing him to black out for a moment. He heard Spanish directives loudly issued and felt his hands cut briefly, only to be pulled to either side. Then his air was cut off by something wrapped tightly around his throat. The force of that brought him up to his knees. The lack of air caused his eyes to bulge and he saw Garrison laughing. He recognized the rough texture around his throat as a rope. His hands were tied to trees on either side, drawing his arms up. Somebody behind him had the rope on his neck, tugging at it and jerking his head back. He felt himself passing out again and more directions were given, the rope lessened up and he gasped hard, sucking in air.

"Where is Malone?" Garrison asked, walking around the victim to a box where he drew out something specifically designed for the tender skin of the prisoner's back. He nodded to the man standing next to Fitzgerald.

"Fucking your wife�" Martin rasped, wondering what the sound was that he heard, which seemed to be something snapping and hitting the ground. The mystery was solved when that same snap erupted across his lower back. He cried out and his body jerked when the leather whip bit him hard.

"I'm not a patient, man, Fitzgerald, I can make you suffer in ways you never dreamed of," Garrison oozed, snapping the whip again and grinning when it took flesh. He moved in front of the gasping man, lifting up the edge of the whip. "Or maybe you'd rather be introduced to the other end, eh?" He caressed the thick leather handle and moved around to the back. The pants Fitzgerald wore were too large and riding low on his hips. He yanked the back open and shoved the thick handle down, pressing hard between the victim's cheeks. He heard Fitzgerald shudder and felt the fear.

"I don't�know�" Martin gasped and felt pressure from the handle of the whip as Garrison moved it again, pressing it hard. His frantic eyes darted left and right and his heart began to hammer so hard it felt like a rib would break. Then the pressure left and he exhaled, shaken. He bit his lip and didn't cry out when the next lashes rained down over and over, striking his lower back.

"I'm waiting."

"I�don't�know�' Martin persisted.

He had no time to prepare when in a matter of seconds, his hands were cut free from either side and the rope around his neck was drawn taut and tugged hard, lifting him off the ground and strangling him. He twisted in the effort and used his hands tugging at the rough, thick rope. He felt himself slipping away and then was dropped down, hitting his knees hard. Before he could react, the rope was loosened and his head was shoved into a large metal trash can of ice water.

He was almost unconscious, swallowing water instead of air and just as he was about to black out, his head was yanked out. Like a fish out of water, he gulped air, his mouth open wide seeking air. Someone yanked his wet head back and poured water down his throat fast and at the same time the whiskey that had been passed around the men was used on the open wounds on his back, causing a viscous burning.

He was let go and vomited the water back up, trying to crawl away. Then only after getting a few gulps of air, the noose came back and he was yanked off the ground again. The whole episode was repeated several times, each time ending with his head shoved in water and then water forced into him. The last time he gave up, curling up on his side with vomit clinging to his mouth and neck. Icy water was tossed on his face and he sputtered, not moving to wipe the residue away. He felt Garrison's hot breath on his face when the older man knelt next to him, rolling him onto his back.

"You haven't even begun to suffer," he predicted, cupping the groggy man's chin. The blood from the raw wounds under the rope-burned neck was running freely with the water. He moved his hand down the front of the loose pants and gripped the prisoner between the legs. "I'll have these mounted in my trophy case�and by then you'll beg to die." He applied pressure until the weak blue eyes slowly closed.


It was dark when Martin woke up. His pain filled disorientation was accented by the fact he was moving. He lay shivering in the back of a truck, the cold night air whipping his naked skin. He arms were tied behind him and he was lying on his side on rough burlap. His eyes were slits but they saw that a large Mexican man was sitting just across from him with a gun trained on him. It took his a few moments to realize where he was and what had happened. His heart began to beat a little faster when he thought on what methods of torture Garrison had in store for him. But he had spoken the truth, he didn't know where Jack was. He only hoped he could hold his tongue about Danny and Chris.

Swallowing was difficult and the mock hanging had taken a toll, his throat was swollen on the inside and burned terribly on the outside. The water that remained in his lungs from the water dosing kept him coughing, which created a gag reflex that led him to panic when he had no air. His blurry eyes sought the stars overhead. Was Danny close by? Would his partner be able to find him?

Fort Bliss
Isolation Unit

Jack's fever had spiked on and off during the day, leaving him thrashing, uncomfortable and combative when he was awake. Vivian had put in a long afternoon, relieving Sam at one p.m. Sam was due back about nine p.m. and would remain until about six the following morning.

"Chris?" Jack croaked, blinking against the light in the room.

"He called a couple hours ago, nothing yet." Vivian moved towards the bed, tossing a magazine aside. "Hold on."

Jack felt the bed moving up and waited until he was semi-upright, then nodded. A mug was produced with a plastic lid and straw and he drained most of it, savoring the cold refreshment. He didn't recall Sam leaving and had vague images of a nurse changing his bandages and talking to him. He also knew that Chris and Danny were somewhere below the border looking for Martin. Something that would be a lot easier if he could remember where Garrison's cabin was.

"�dammit�" he mumbled, fisting his hand and shaking his throbbing head. His annoyance, frustration and anger needed an outlet and unfortunately for Vivian Johnson, she was the one standing there. "I don't need a babysitter�"

"I look thrilled to be here?" Vivian answered, moving to the dinner tray where a thermal container of broth was waiting. She snapped the lid and stuck the straw in it. She moved the bedside tray over Jack and put the soup there. "My husband thinks you're dead and I'm grieving with my team in the mountains."

"This wasn't my idea," Jack barked, his shaky hands taking the blue dish and using both hands, he lifted it until he could reach the straw.

"Mine either, Jack, so let's not waste any time sulking. It's done. Until Garrison is caught, Sam and I are here." She moved across the room to where there was a counter near the wall with a microwave and a coffee pot. She poured herself a cup and stirred some sweetener in it, then turned back. She studied him closely, it was the most lucid he'd been since they arrived the night before. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"Most of it's fuzzy," Jack admitted, sipping more of the soup and resting it on the tray. He laid back and closed his eyes, throwing his free hand over them. "Martin was in bad shape, I was hoping to ride out the storm. Then it got worse, they said it was heading right for us. I thought we should make a run for it."

The pregnant pause caused Vivian to move closer and address it, "You didn't do this, Jack, it happened. Lose the hair shirt."

"You'd make a good priest," Jack quipped.

"Celibacy?" She shook her head. "I don't think so."

"It was dark, the rain was coming sideways and the wind was tossing trees and all kinds of shit in the road. I'm not sure what happened, but we hit something and a tree came through the windshield." He paused, moving his hand and trying to force his muddy brain to clear up. "I only know that from seeing the wreck after. Martin�" he sighed hard, shaking his head. "By some miracle, got me out and the car went down a ravine or something. We stumbled for a while, then Martin saw lights�"

"Where?" Vivian prodded, trying to gently rouse the brain to working. "How long were you walking?"

"Hours�it was hours�but we were slow�my head injury and his hip�"

"Can you remember when you left the car, which direction you went?"

"North�I think�we�Martin was heading for the main road."

"Okay, that's good, I can tell Danny that. It might help."

"Martin left me topside and went down a steep hill. The cabin was hidden, you can't see it clearly from the road. I heard a shot�I went down�a window�uh�uh�" His dark eyes darted left and right, greedily seeking to suck up the fruit dangling just out of reach. "�murder�Garrison killed Alex Garcia�and he saw me�"

"We have Garcia's tapes, enough evidence to put Garrison away. Martin made sure we got them. And with your testimony, a potential murder charge."

"Tapes?" Jack was stunned, "How the hell did he do that? From where?"

"A church�somehow he found Garcia before he died and he told Martin where he hid them. Martin got Garcia to that church and hid the body. Then he came back to find you and got caught."

"That sick fuckin' bastard tortured me�" Jack seethed, balling his fist. "I want his head on a spike�"

"Martin got you out?"

"Yeah�but not before he got caught, they buried him alive. I saw that�on tape�he was screaming my name�Garrison put me in isolation, a hood on my face, no sound, nothing. I was starting to lose it when Martin appeared. I still don't know how he got free, but he took care of business, got us the hell out. We killed the one guy and I got hit."

"Martin got you back to that church." She took the soup mug and shook it, "Do you want more?"

"How about some fresh soup?"

Both of them turned at the sound of the voice. Jack found a weary grin when he faced his old friend. He was still tall, lean and mean, just gray inside of brown hair on the top. "You got old, you cheap bastard."

"At least I can take a whiz on my own," Douglas returned, entering the room with a bag. "The Lotus Garden's double strength Won Ton with rice instead of the noodles." He set the bag down and took the container out and saw the hand rising up. "It's good to see you, Cagney."

"I'm sorry we got you in the middle of this, Pete," Jack addressed, shaking the hand and carefully placing the spoon in the soup. There was also a large cold container of Ginger Ale. He sipped that first.

"I'm not," Pete answered, turning to Vivian. "I'm off duty, Agent Johnson. I can stay until the morning. You and Sam are both exhausted. Call you husband, talk to your son. You and Sam have dinner maybe."

"It's Vivian and thanks, Major Douglas." She turned to Jack. "Jack, can you remember about how long you were in the car when Martin got you to that church?"

"Uh�" Jack closed his eyes again and thought hard. "Not long�only one turn� forty�forty-five minutes, maybe less."

"Did you turn left or right?"

"I don't know�" Jack replied.

"That's okay, it's more than we had an hour ago. Chris is due to call at eight," she eyed her watch. "That's not for over an hour, I'll call him."

"I want to talk to him," Jack dictated and waited for Vivian to dial the phone.

Chris and Danny just finished a meager dinner of sandwiches and cookies, washed down with Coke when Chris's new cell phone rang. He tossed the bag away and picked up the phone.


"Chris? Jack remembered a little, it might help."

"Uh..huh�yeah�" Chris nodded, snapping his fingers for the map.

"What?" Danny asked, his dark eyes narrowing in curiosity. He handed the map over and watched the blond head dip as the pale green eyes scoured the map.

"Okay, you update Danny, how's the old man?"

"Cranky, his drawers are in a bunch." Vivian shook her head at Jack grabbing for the phone. "Put Danny on and then have him give it back, Jack wants to talk to you."

"How is he, Viv? Really?"

"Better, the fever is still there but he's more lucid, I think he's over the worst of it."

Danny took the phone and listened as Vivian repeated what Jack had recalled, then moved his head to see how Chris was moving the red pen on the map. "Yeah�we didn't hit that area yet. We're on it. Put Jack on."

"What the hell are you two doing down there?" Jack barked, wincing as his headache disagreed with his voice. "It's been all goddamn day, Martin could be dead."

"It's good to hear you too, boss," Danny returned, "and we don't think he's dead. This morning I hit an old gas station that had a small eating area. One of the local gangs came in and began showing Martin's photo. Garrison put a bounty on him, he wants him alive."

"That prick," Jack hissed. "You better pray he's dead before you haul his body back here�"

"So we've been using the maps to eliminate certain areas near the basecamp and the church. We're trying to find one of the locals looking to get an update or info on where Garrison is," Taylor updated.

'It's gotta be in this area," Chris interrupted.

"Listen, we gotta go, I'm gonna put Chris on," Danny stated.

"Keep your head down, I don't have any time for your funeral."

"Aw, you love me," Danny teased and handed the phone over.

"Chris?" Jack waited.

"Good to hear your voice, Jack," Chris said and heard a lot more in the telling silence than Danny could have, time and seasoning dictated that. "We'll find him, Jack."

"He's got balls, you know that?" Jack's pride rose when he thought of all Martin had done.

"Malone only hires the best," Chris complimented, "and he's tough and smart. We're getting close and now we have a red zone, that'll help."

"You keep Taylor's head cool, when it comes to Martin, he can't always think straight."

"He's fine," Chris decided. "We'll check in later. How are Viv and Sam?"

"Pete's here, he'll stay tonight. You watch your ass, I'm not going to be responsible for all those questionable women you date mourning all over New York."

"Questionable?" Chris sat back, tapping his 'wounded' chest. "I think I have to check for blood."

"Chris, watch your back, okay?" Jack replied. "And I can't remember exactly what happened but I know I'm here because of you and Danny.

"You'll get my bill," Chris said. "Get some sleep." He folded the phone over and nodded. "You heard the man, let's roll."


It was almost nine p.m. when Garrison pulled off the road and up to an old, deserted house. The adobe style dwelling wasn't used as much as the cabin. But it still had a purpose and was closer to the area where Fitzgerald had been found. It also had a few things that the cabin didn't, which would help, including a faster means of escape nearby. He got out of the car and went to the door, unlocking it and turning on the gas lamp that was on the wall. A car that had been following them was idling in the drive, its headlights shining on the back of the truck.

"You know what to do," he addressed the driver, who turned the car off and handed him the keys. He'd left the keys to truck in the ignition. "Put him in the back room, secure his hands above him, put a blindfold on him."

"No cuts, no shocks�" Carlos Santiago asked. He'd seen Garrison work a prisoner before and wondered.

"No, I gave him the wounds he needs to get the rest done. Isolation and sleep deprivation will work on him soundly for the next few hours. He'll be full of fear and anxiety and possibly be hallucinating. By then, that little package you're getting for me will loosen his tongue."

"Then you will kill him?" Carlos asked, taking the money.

"No, our little friends in the back yard will," Garrison answered and heard them chuckle. "I want him to suffer and suffer he will. Okay, you get moving."

Martin was hauled out of the back and shoved on his knees. He struggled weakly and was punched in the gut. As he gasped and choked, doubled over, he was yanked up by the hair and blindfold was put on. He was hauled to his feet and forced ahead, wincing as his bare feet were cut by sharp rocks and gravel.

He felt the ground change to tiles and felt warmer. Then he was halted and his arms untied. He immediately shoved out, trying to hit the man beside him. He was punched hard in the balls, taking all his fire away and causing a burning pain that crippled him. His arms were pulled over his head and secured. He could stand but it wasn't comfortable. The texture under his feet felt odd. He heard voices and then the sound of a heavy motor, of the truck he'd been riding in as it left. Then footsteps approached and his gut tensed up. His mouth was dry and swallowed painfully, coughing and choking. A hand caressed his cheek, stroking it lightly and hot breath danced against his ear and he stiffened up.

"I'm sure you're exhausted, your body crying out for sleep, relief from the pain and suffering." Garrison paused and moved away. "You have a lot to think about. You tell me what I want and you'll be free to sleep."

"Yeah�" Martin whispered, his voice reduced to a rasp due to the effects of the noose.

Garrison moved out of the room and moved the lamp to the other side, causing the small room with his hostage to be engulfed in darkness. He moved to the battery operated console and flipped it on. The lights came on and the needle indicated it was ready to operate. Then he waited, watching as the body began to go limp, the head bobbing and hitting the chest. He then hit the button.

"Ahhh�" Martin cried out, jerking his legs and trying to move his feet which felt like they were set on fire. No matter where he moved them, the heat was there. Then it went cold again. His body yearned to rest, he ached to the bone, his lower back was burning from the whipping and his throat was killing him, inside and out. His injured hip was screaming at him and he waited and then the exhaustion claimed him. He began to doze off and then the floor was on fire again, causing him to jerk back to life.

"And so the game begins," Garrison purred, knowing that in a few hours, Fitzgerald would be putty in his hands.

They had been driving for over an hour when Chris popped two more Tylenol even though a part of him knew it was an exercise in futility. The headache that was born a few hours before was now entering a dangerous area. He only hoped he could keep the blackout away, Danny didn't need that now. He eased his head back on the neck rest but kept his eyes alert.

"How bad?" Danny asked without taking his eyes from the road. He'd seen the pallor grow paler and the fine features become pinched in pain.

Before Chris could reply, he spotted a truck turning off about a quarter of a mile in front of them.


"Yeah." Danny followed cautiously, waiting until the truck pulled over.

The driver got out to urinate, and Danny cut the lights, he and Chris got out. He motioned for Chris to wait and the other man nodded, pulling his gun.

Danny crept up quietly, keeping an eye on the man and going to the truck. He looked in the back and then the inside, spotting a flyer with Martin's photo on it lying on the seat. Grabbing it, he took his gun out and approached the man who was zipping his pants. He shoved a gun to his neck and held the photo out.

Chris heard Danny quizzing the man in Spanish and came forward. Once Danny knew that Chris had him covered, he holstered his weapon and shoved the man hard against the tree.

"English!" Danny ordered, thrusting the photo again. "Where is he?"

"Why do you care? What is he to you?"

"He's gonna be the last face you see on this earth if you don't answer!" Chris growled, kicking the man. "Where is he?"

"I do not know, only that he was found a few hours ago. "

"By who?" Danny asked.

"The Diablos�their numbers are many�all over the mountains and even the desert. Not far from here�"

"And?" Chris snarled. "Do they still have him?"

"No�they have collected the money and are gone."

"But?" Danny saw something he didn't like. He bent to his boots and pulled out his knife, then kept it poised at the man's groin. "Don't piss me off�"

"I only heard�do not know�that when El Drag�n came�he�played with him a while�"

"The dragon?" Chris hissed, "Garrison?" The man's head bobbed. "That suits him. Played with him how?"

"�with a noose�and water�hang and then drown�" he babbled, his tongue wouldn't stop. He just wanted the gringos to leave him alone. "�my friend�he said he heard the gringo�did not speak and that also El Drag�n used a whip�"

"That son-of-a-bitch!" Danny hissed, whipping the knife up dangerously close to the man's face. "I'm gonna fuckin' skin him alive�"

"Danny�" Chris warned, eyeing the younger man hard and then turning back. "Garrison has him?" he asked and the man nodded.

Danny couldn't calm down. The fire that now course through his veins would only be quenched when Martin was safe again and he saw Garrison draw his last breath. Try as he might, he couldn't get the grisly visual of Martin being near hung and then whipped from his mind. But he knew they had a job to do and he put his temper away for the moment.

Danny waited until Chris moved the gun to the man's throat and moved closer. "Look, you tell us what we want and you live to see another day, okay? Where is Garrison? Where's his cabin?"

"I will tell you�" he babbled.

"No, you'll show us," Chris ordered, moving the gun to the man's crotch. "And if you're lying? I'm gonna blow your balls off,comprende?"

"S�s��" He nodded. "It is not far�

"Now that wasn't so hard, was it?" Danny chirped, shoving him towards the car. "See, what a nice guy I am? I'm gonna let you ride in the back, not tied to the bumper."

It was almost two a.m. when Carlos left and Garrison took the drugs out. He drew the liquid into a syringe and drew out just enough to provide what he sought. The barbiturate cocktail included the anesthetic induction agent, sodium pentothal. When administered correctly, they would interfere with the prisoner's higher cognitive functions. That should be enough for him to get the answers he needed, before the nasty side effects of the homemade drug kicked in. But first he had to move Fitzgerald. Putting the syringe in his pocket, he turned the light up and moved the lamp, then moved to the corner.

The gurney was old but he'd cleaned it and put fresh sheets on it. He wheeled it into the room and behind the now unconscious man. He'd let Fitzgerald sleep for about a half hour. He released the locks and the strained arms dropped. He eased the limp body on to the gurney and moved it out into the larger room. He put a pillow under the sweat soaked head and a blanket over the shivering body up to the waist. Then he injected the serum into the agent's arm and waited. He moved the blanket up and heard a contented sigh.

About ten minutes went by and the brows began to furrow and he saw the prisoner's tongue navigate over the dry and cracked lips. Blood encrusted the swollen, damaged mouth and he got a bottle of water and shoved a straw in it.

"Martin? Can you hear me?" He lifted the young man's head and nudged the slack, unmarred area of the lip. "I have some cold water for you."

"Mmmmm�" Martin moaned when the water was given. He took small sips and had a hard time swallowing. He began to choke and his eyes opened and fought hard to stay that way. He felt weird, like he was lost in a twilight zone.

"That hurts, doesn't it?" Garrison coached, clicking his tongue in sympathy when the coughing fit brought the water back. He gently lifted Martin's upper body and held him against him, wiping his mouth. "Easy now, it's alright�more?"

"�yeth�" Martin managed, wondering why he felt so odd.

"You can have some more, water, as much as you'd like. You can sleep too. Wouldn't you like to rest?" He adjusted the back of the portable bed so that the prisoner was semi-inclined and comfortable.

"�yeth�" Martin slurred. Rest? Sleep? He wanted nothing more than to close his eyes.

"Where is your friend Jack? Do you know?"

"No�" Martin answered.

"But you helped his escape?"

"Yes�" Martin answered and was rewarded by a tiny sip of water. When it was taken away, he pouted, opening his mouth for more.

"Where did you take him?"


"Mother Mary?" Garrison frowned, that was not enough. He nudged the anxious mouth but when the tongue came out, he pulled the water back. The young man became upset and his unfocused eyes widened in fear. "Who is that? Where is she? "


"Good boy," he coached, giving the water and stroking the needy soul's hair. He pulled the bottle away again.

"Where is the church? Is he still there?"

"�don't know�" Martin frowned then sighed hard, yawning. "�ask Danny�told him."

"Danny Taylor?" Garrison was shocked at that. "How did you tell him?"

"Called�radio�at cabin�Danny and Chris were here�looking for us�"

"Looking for you and Jack? Alive?" The brown head bobbed and he gave a little water, then took the bottle back. "How did they know you were alive?"

"Garrison�fucked�up�" Martin boasted.

"How?" He'd covered all the bases, how could they have known?

"�time wrong�pictures wrong�Danny knew�it was a lie right away."

"How?" He pressed but Martin didn't reply, he seemed confused. Danny knew it was a lie. How could the time be wrong? He thought back on what he'd said. "Did you talk to Danny on Saturday?"


"Dammit�" Garrison swore, then his mind thought on something he'd seen a few moments earlier and dismissed.

He roughly turned the groggy man over and yanked the blanket down. Until now, he'd not seen him in light. The purple and blue bruises covering his back would have tipped Taylor off. He moved away and observed the drugged body on the bed, saliva running from his bloody mouth and glazed over half-mast eyes. He eyed his watch and waited until the next phase of the drug took effect. It shouldn't take too much more 'persuasion' to find out what he needed. This changed the game plan and he needed more answers, answers that Martin Fitzgerald would give or die trying.


The near pitch black around him was alarmingly eerie and Danny drove slowly, due to the uneven road. They'd turned off the main road about twenty minutes before and he didn't like the near darkness. The road was becoming too narrow to navigate and he slowed the car and finally stopped it.

Chris was as frustrated as Danny and recognized the irate face when it turned to them in the backseat. He had a gun trained on the cowering man in the other seat.

"Okay, Sherlock," Chris hissed, his out of control headache in the red zone. He shoved the gun in the man's side and that got his attention. "What the fuck kind of turkey hunt is this?"

"�I do not lie�you go on foot�it is just ahead�this is the back way�I swear�"

"You'll be doing more than that if you're lying!" Danny warned, "Get out!"

Chris came out last, keeping his gun drawn and adjusting his eyes to the unnerving blackness. Danny had one hand on the neck of the guy's shirt and the other on the gun shoved in the man's back. At least the moon came out from behind a cloud and gave them a little light. The blond team leader stumbled and went to his knees, cursing silently as he felt himself passing out. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer and then sucked a large gulp of air and got on his feet again. He jogged to catch up to Taylor, whose strides were dictating a sour mood

Garrison moved back to the bed when the previously curled up body scooted to the end of the bed and the eyes widened in horror at the wall. He pulled the blanket off and shoved Fitzgerald onto the floor when the hallucinations began.

A fire erupted in Martin's body and he cried out, shaking his head and rolling, hitting something hard. He couldn't rise and managed to get on his hands and knees. The walls were blue and vibrating, seeming to be alive. A large beast of some kind hovered over him, its red eyes and green skin causing him to back away. Fire came from its mouth when it spoke to him.

"Who else knows?"

"�don't know�please�" Martin gasped, totally disoriented. "�told Danny�Jack shot�bleeding bad�get Jack�"

"Did Danny get Jack?"

"�don't know�he came back�almost caught me�" Martin whimpered, crawling away.

"See those dogs?" Garrison provoked, watching the drugged man eyeing a group of ceramic dogs he'd placed in the corner. "They're man eaters. If you don't answer me, they'll eat you."

"�no�no�" Martin choked, his glazed eyes widening at the trio of snarling beasts with long yellow teeth dripping blood.

"Where is Jack now? Did Danny take him away?"

"�don't know�I left Jack�tricked them�follow me�"

"So that's why you were driving the wrong way?" He eyed the pathetic soul crawling around on the floor. He tossed a bottle over towards him and watched. It contained older water, laced vinegar and hot sauce. The lab rat took it willingly, and then his eyes widened and began to tear. He thrashed mildly for a moment then the vomiting began.

Martin wasn't sure what happened or if this place was a way station on the road to hell. His gut was on fire and his throat too sore and swollen to help him. The walls were purple and orange now and the dogs were eating giant spiders. They were all over room and dropping from the ceiling. He had to get out of this place.

Garrison watched for a moment until Fitzgerald stumbled and fell, curling up. Then he knelt down and moved his hand, closing it over his neck. He applied just enough pressure to put him out. The frantic eyes bulged briefly and the hand batted weakly against him, then he went limp. He had things to do before he left and Fitzgerald should be out long enough to ensure that.

Having Taylor and another agent in the area changed everything. That they were alone suggested to him that nobody else knew. Also, he'd been keeping taps of Victor and the other brass in the States. They didn't know and still believed the agents were dead. He thought back on Danny Taylor's very odd reaction to hearing of his coworkers' deaths. Maybe the reaction was shock but not for what he thought. He couldn't risk going back to the States, he'd have to head elsewhere. He would be forced to act on an alternative plan. He had connections in South America and would use them.

January 26
Medical Center
Two a.m.

Unaware of the secure environment around him and antibiotics and fluids sustaining him, Jack Malone was in a very dark place. There were no clean linens under him or a protecting friend to his side. He was cold and alone in a dark cell. The cold stone floor went right though his feet to his bones, causing him to shiver so hard his teeth rattled. He was naked and tied to a chair, with his legs splayed open. The air was so cold his breath came in clouds from his mouth. Then the stillness was broken by a heart wrenching call.


"Martin?" Jack rasped, weak and worn out. But the blood curdling scream that came next caused his guts to turn to ice. Then the silence was deafening. The door opened and Garrison stepped in, tossing a bloody apron to the side. A bag was placed on the table and his hand went under the table.

'What did you do to him?" Jack coughed, so cold he could hardly speak. Garrison didn't reply, he drew out an axe and without any warning, struck hard under his knee. The pain was all consuming and Jack screamed as his leg was separated from his body. The chair tipped and as he fell, tasting the blood that ran freely when his face struck the floor. Garrison tossed the axe aside and then threw the bag at Jack.

"Noooooo!" He screamed when Martin's head rolled out, those blue eyes wide and full of fear.

"Jack! Jack!" Pete Douglas held Malone's shoulders down and tried to reach the black eyes that were darting too fast. Malone shoved his hand aside and then the blanket, groping at his knees. "It was a dream�you with me?" He waved his hand in front of the dazed face. He released his hold when the tense body relaxed and almost disappeared in the pillows. A very shaky hand moved over the sweat-logged face. "Hold on, I'll get some water."


Jack took the water and spilled most of it, his hand was shaking that badly. The dream was so real, so vivid and horrific, he couldn't shake it. It took almost five minutes until he could speak.

"I'm sorry, Jack, being tortured has a steep price," Pete reflected. "Talking about it helps�"

"I was tied to a chair, naked, colder than hell. He cut leg off with an axe�the chair fell over and he threw Martin's head at me�those damned blue eyes of his were just�shit�"

"No news is still good news," the Major offered, along with some ginger ale. He waited until Malone finished. "Chris and Danny are chasing a solid lead."

"If Garrison catches Martin and finds out�he's got no reason to let him live."

"That's a big 'if'," Douglas stated. "And don't bury him yet, Jack. Go back to sleep, maybe the new day will bring better news."

"Sleep?" Jack shook his head. "What for?"

"I can have the nurse call an order in, get you something good." Pete waited, watching the haggard features until the head bobbed once. He moved outside to talk to the nurse.

What Jack really wanted was to rip the IV and other lines out and head south. But he was so weak he couldn't even sit up without the room flying around. He forced his heavy eyes to stay open and tried to dispel the grisly image of Martin's head. What if they were too late? What if Martin was already lying in a nameless ditch somewhere?

Ten minutes later Danny was surprised when the thicket of trees disappeared and a clearing formed. There was a cabin about twenty yards ahead and they moved in carefully. Taylor took out his night vision glasses and crept closer, studying the perimeter. There was a single light on from somewhere inside; its dimness was seen through a window.

Chris watched as Danny moved towards the back door and shoved the man forward. The window was open and he opened it further. By the time they got to the window, Danny was waiting.

"Get inside," Danny ordered the Mexican gang member who shook his head. "Okay," he shrugged eyeing Chris. "Shoot him."

"No no�I go�" he argued, scampering inside.

An alarm sounded and a light went on. Danny remained where he was, while Chris moved to the front door. A blond man appeared in the entry behind the main room and the Mexican man dropped to the ground. Danny saw the gun coming up and shoved his own through the window.

"F.B.I. Freeze!"

Chris kicked the door in and rolled, taking aim at the blond who was shooting at Danny. He clipped him in the arm, but the other man ran for a room out of their view. The Mexican gang member tried to run past him and Boone clocked him on head with his gun, sending him in a heap on the floor. Danny came through the window and they hit the back of the house. It was a small kitchen area and the table was already on its side. Chris saw the top of a blond head turning as if to weigh his chances.

"Toss it out, now." Danny moved closer, ducking behind a large cabinet.

"Fuck you," Brad hollered, his head spinning at the thought of how the F.B.I. found the cabin.

"Look, there's no way out," Chris suggested, eyeing the walls behind the trapped man. "You give us what we want on Garrison and we'll let you live."

Danny and Chris exchanged a telling stare at the silence that followed. The man was clearly thinking his options and the fact that he didn't deny Garrison told them they were in the right place.

"Brad? Brad? What the hell is going on?"

The sound of Will Garrison's voice interrupted the standoff.

"Time's up, Brad," Chris called out, moving closer and taking aim. He shot at the edge of the table, causing the blond to scurry and Danny moved the other way, taking aim as the blond head popped up.

"Go ahead," Danny offered, "You think I don't want to do it? I know what you did to Malone�"

"Yeah okay," Bell answered, tossing the gun out. He stood and put his good arm up in the air.

"Where is he?" Chris growled.

"At the old place, about an hour or so from here."

"Is Martin Fitzgerald still alive?" Danny asked and his eyes were never darker than they were at this moment.

Bell had seen dangerous before and the man with the intense eyes epitomized it. He swallowed hard and eyed the other man, whose green eyes were shooting fire.


"He was�" Bell answered as Garrison's voice made him jump. Then when the dark-haired man unleashed a feral cry and shoved the gun in his throat, he realized his mistake. "I mean, I don't know if he is�Garrison took him to the old place to question him about Malone. He checked in about ten minutes ago and he was still alive then."

"Answer him!" Chris shoved him down the hall towards an area where the voice came from. "You say one wrong word and I'll cripple you for starters�" he warned when Bell sat down before a monitoring station. He kept his gun on the other man's kneecap. He saw the same thing that caused Danny to freeze in the doorway. There were several videos running and one showed Martin being whipped.

"Yeah�it's me�sorry�"

"What the hell happened?" Garrison demanded.

"One of them Mexican freaks busted the window. He was looking for money for Fitzgerald. I took care of it." The blond guy with the gun pressed to his leg mouthed for him to ask about Martin. "So you done there? Is he dead?"

"Not yet, but I got all I could from him. You keep your eyes open, Brad. Malone's got two Feds down here looking for Fitzgerald. They knew it was a ruse from the start. I have to change my plans."

"What about me?" Brad demanded.

"You clean up there, get rid of the tapes and don't forget to erase the master file from the computer. It has all the video evidence we shot, right up to tonight. After you're done, torch the place. I'll be in touch later."

"Wait a minute," Brad stammered, but the line went dead.

"See what you got for your loyalty?" Chris grilled, "You're nothing but a fuckin' lapdog to him. Muscle like you comes cheap. He's not coming back, Brad, he left you holding the bag."

"And since Alex Garcia is a citizen of Mexico, that means you stand trial for murder down here," Danny prodded.

"Just think of all those old friends you'll be reacquainted with," Boone goaded.

"I'm sure they'll be just dying to see you again," Danny complimented of the enemies Garrison had behind bars.

"I've heard that blond Gringos are quite popular among the prisoners." Chris leaned in closer, "You'll make somebody a nice bitch."

Chris and Danny exchanged a knowing glance over the pale and not nervous young man's head. Danny's stomach was turning at the images of both Jack being tortured, Martin in a coffin and the recent ones of him being hung and then shoved in water.

"What do I have to do?" Brad asked quietly, holding his bleeding arm.

"First, you copy every file you have to that Master file and email it to the address I'm gonna give you." Chris moved to let the younger man access the computer. "Then you're gonna copy all the new stuff and pack those tapes. "

"How about my arm?" Brad asked, wincing as he tried to move it.

"Get up!" Danny ordered, sitting at the console. "You tell me, I'll type. Once I know the Master file was delivered, we'll patch your arm up."

"Then what?"

"Then you're gonna show us where that prick is," Chris stated, using his lethal eyes on Bell. "And you better pray we get there on time, because if Fitzgerald isn't alive, you're gonna wish you were dead."


January 26
Three a.m.

"Now it's time to feed my other guests, they've been patient far too long."

Will Garrison took the large flashlight that he'd gotten from his trunk and put it on the gurney. Then, he wheeled the unsuspecting prey out the back door and over a rocky terrain to the edge of the cleared ground. Unless you knew it was there, you'd never find it. He lifted the light briefly, inspecting the residents of the six foot by ten foot ditch. Then he placed it on the perch built into the tree trunk over the pit, shedding light within. The creatures scurried about, anxious over the disturbance.

"Welcome to the belly of the Dragon's Lair, Agent Fitzgerald." Garrison paused and took a moment to use his phone to record the pit and helpless, glassy-eyed bait.

"�dragon�" Martin rasped, his voice was almost gone and his throat raw. He recalled hearing that name earlier when he was kidnapped.

"El Drag�n is how the locals refer to me," he updated. "I'm sure you're familiar with the legendary powers of a dragon and the fate of those foolish mortals who stumble into the lair." He grinned at the confused face. "These are my pets, mascots if you will and they rather enjoy white meat," he teased, taking the blanket off and slapped Fitzgerald's face hard. There was a muffled gasp and the half-mast eyes fired up. "Unfortunately, your demise will not be swift. It might take days and you'll suffer."

Martin felt like he was coming out of a bad dose of anesthesia. He was dizzy and weak, seemingly unable to fight off the talons of the 'dragon'. His limbs flopped around and his mouth gaped, sending saliva down his chin. Then he was sliding and falling and grabbed at the sides of muddy walls. He hit the ground with an odd thud, landing on a bumpy surface. Then the 'ground' beneath him began to move and when his eyes focused, he saw several pairs trained back at him. He was on his back with his left arm over his lower waist.

"�dragon�" he mouthed, his heart hammering when a large beast crept over his waist and onto his chest. Its mottled black and white body didn't seem real to him. But when the long beast moved onto his arm, the teeth were real enough.

"I see you've made a new friend." El Drag�n grinned when the live bait cried out in pain. Most of the lizards were harmless but a few would provide venom that would keep him sick for some time, before thirst and fever robbed him of his life. "Malone, it's a shame you can be here to enjoy the show. But I'm sure you'll be reliving it for some time. Take a last look at him while he's still alive."

He waited a few moments and then turned the phone off, before shutting the flashlight off. He wheeled the gurney into the woods and left it there, then got to his car and pulled the map out. He studied the routes and selected one which would have the least amount of trouble, posed from locals or the federales. With any luck, he'd be at the small airfield within the hour. Getting a pilot's license was one of the best things he'd ever done.

"That's the place," Brad supplied, wincing at the metal cuffs that bit into his skin.

"No signs of life," Chris said, pulling up close to the door. They'd been driving for over an hour and Danny's short fuse was almost gone.

"Lots of fresh tracks," Danny said, getting out and examining the larger and smaller tracks that the headlights of their car uncovered.

"Truck," Chris noted of the wider tracks that Taylor was examining, "could be they delivered Martin here and left. Garrison had his own wheels." By the time he got out of the driver's seat, Danny was already hauling Brad Bell out of the back seat.

"You so much as sneeze," Danny decided, slamming the protesting man hard against the trunk of the car, "I'll shoot you." He recuffed the prisoner, latching the arms around a steam pipe that came out of the ground. He joined Chris who was quietly inspecting the windows.

Chris looked over when Danny turned the knob and the door opened. Both men entered slowly, carefully examining the room. Danny found a lamp on the wall and turned it on, giving the room some light. He watched as Chris moved to the table near the far end of the room.

"It's still warm," Boone noted of the coffee in the mug. He moved to join his partner who was squatting over a pile of vomit. "Fresh?"

"Yeah�" Danny shook his head, eyeing the other room. His stomach turned at the blood on the floor. He kicked the small chair by the door in frustration.

"FUCK!" He swore of their close call.

"It's a hot floor," Chris said, eyeing the odd floor under the arm cuffs. "In Martin's case, he's in bad shape and craving sleep. This prevents that, burning his feet when his body slumps."

"Sleep deprivation?" Danny's temper flared again.

"It's a very effective torture device. Given enough time, you become so disoriented you'll do anything."

"But Garrison didn't have enough time," Danny hissed, his eyes blazing fury. "He found out that we were here. So he skipped to the finish and killed Martin."

Chris felt as bad as Danny, they'd just missed Garrison and his stomach dropped when he thought of what they might find out back. If Garrison was fleeing, he didn't need Martin anymore and the ominous clue on the phone of the missing agent not being dead 'yet' didn't bode well. He winced at the hollow dark eyes that met his. They both knew the last place they needed to inspect.

"I'll go," Chris offered, heading for the back door which was through a small kitchen.

"No, he's my partner, I'll do it," Danny decided, sucking in a long and unsteady breath.

The light from the house spilled into the yard, which didn't show a body or a grave. Neither man knew what to make of that. They headed closer to the wooded area, a cold fear spreading through them. Danny picked up the pace, his heart trying to overrule his head. Maybe Martin was still alive. Maybe that's what Garrison meant.


Something roused Martin from the drugged stupor he was lost in. A voice broke through his muddied brain. He inched his way back until his back hit the soft wall, scattering the annoyed lizards, some of whom reacted in a very unfriendly way. He ignored the tiny flicks of pain and listened harder. His muddled mind drew up a color image of a man with dark hair and intense dark eyes. The name flashed in his mind and brought his flagging hopes to full sail.


Was he dreaming? He was sitting up and he felt the throbbing arm where the large lizard bit him. Or was he dreaming that pain? How was Danny here? Who was with him? Where was he? It was all so confusing and his whole body was throbbing in pain.

"Wait a minute," Chris said as they stood near a clearing at the back of the yard. Danny kept moving. "Danny!"

"WHAT! WHAT IS IT?" Taylor was beyond the red zone now and the idea of finding his best friend's battered corpse a few feet away had shorn off what nerves he had left.

"Maybe the reason we haven't found Martin is because Garrison still has him," Chris theorized. "He said 'change of plans', meaning he knows he can't come back to the States."

"So he'd have to go elsewhere," Danny's voice was slow and hope glimmered.

"Fast�he'd need a plane."

"And Martin might be his ticket," Danny reasoned. "Especially if he thinks his story is blown and the Government knows about it. He might keep Martin�"

"It has to be close, there's not much between here and the Texas border."

"Now I wonder who would know where that is?" Danny parroted, his eyes going to the house where on the other side, Brad was cuffed to a pipe. He set off leaving Chris to follow.

Some lucid thread in Martin told him that this was not a dream. And the words he could understand made him fear they were leaving. He called out to Danny but he had no voice left. He tried to climb out but the walls were too steep and slippery and he was far too weak. Then his hand hit a moving object and his survival instincts kicked in.

Chris's headache and dizziness caused him to pause again and Taylor went ahead. As he shook his head to clear it, something hit him hard in the back. He spun around and spotted a decent sized lizard by his feet. It gave him a few blinks and then scurried off. But there was no tree near him, how did it hit him in the back? Before he could think on that any more, a stronger wave of dizziness took him to his knees.

"Christ, not here, not now�" he panted, sucking in cold air and praying the event to pass.

Then an object came hurling at him and hit his chest hard. This lizard was much larger and the weight and force threw him on his back, causing the beast to slip down to between his legs. He didn't dare move or breathe. He wasn't sure what this black and white lizard could do but it was huge and he assumed had a lot of teeth.

Brad Bell was sweating profusely, very uncertain of his future. If these Feds found Fitzgerald dead, they might kill him. Nobody but Garrison knows he's here and they wouldn't have any reason not to. If they turn him over to the Mexican police, his fate was even darker. He didn't want to think about what they would do to him, given the amount of adoration for Alex Garcia that the nation held. His pulse quickened when he saw the intense, dark-haired one approaching him in a hurry.

"OW!" he yelped when his head was yanked hard by the hair and bounced off the pipe. His wounded arm was killing him and the thin bandages were soggy. "Watch my arm�"

"Watch it?" Danny growled, shoving his face close. "We'll both 'watch' it. I'll cut it off and beat you with it. Where's Garrison going? How far is the plane?"

"�plane. I don't�" His words were cut off when a hand clamped on his wounded arm and the pressure brought up a white-hot pain. He screamed and clenched his teeth, his throat corded up and then he nodded. "Okay�okay�about forty minutes from here�Garrison has his own�"

"He flies?"


"Hey, Chris, we have time to�" Danny updated and turned but his blond friend wasn't with him. "CHRIS!"

He drew his gun and crept around the side of the house. He paused and frowned when he saw the senior agent lying on the ground. At first he thought the concussion had caused him to pass out, but the light eyes were wide open.

"What's wrong? What are you�"

Then he saw an enormous black and white lizard perched on Boone's groin. By his eye, it was well over two feet long. His front feet and head were just about the crotch. Danny crept close and aimed his gun. Chris glared at him with his eyes nearly popping out of his head. For a moment, he was reminded of Linda Blair in the Exorcist right before her head spun around. Danny frowned and nodded, realizing that he wasn't that skilled a marksman. He wasn't sure how to rid the fallen man of the huge beast or how poisonous a bite would be. He didn't want to imagine how painful that tender area would be if wounded. As much as he didn't want to shoot, when the foot-long creature opened its mouth, revealing a whole lot of sharp teeth, he decided he might not have a choice, so he took aim.


Before Danny could formulate a plan or even the concept of one, another lizard came sailing through the air from the ground level a few yards away. It landed a few inches from Chris's head and he could almost feel his friend paling. Both of the lizards began to bob heads and motion at each other, giving his fallen comrade even more tremors. The second lizard made an odd sound and the first one moved very slowly over Chris's groin and hip, pausing a moment and staring at the human, then moving quickly off him and jumping at the other lizard.

Chris didn't wait; he rolled as fast as he could away from the sparring lizards. He was dizzy and panting when a set of hands hauled him up.

"You okay?" Danny asked as he steadied him, but his arm was shoved away.

"You aim a gun at my balls again and I'll tell every female in your harem that you're a closet transvestite!"

"I could have hit him," Danny defended but the hot, light green eyes disagreed. "I guess we'll never know."

"Lizards don't fly," Chris panted, swiping the sweat from his face when another lizard flew from the ground at them.

"No, they don't," Danny agreed, poising his gun and moving towards the area. "F.B.I.!" He didn't duck fast enough when yet another one came flying up and hit his face. "�fuck�" He moved his head and shook it, sending the creature down his shirt. He threw it off and swiped at his face.

Chris fired a warning shot over the hole and moved past Danny. "Look, I'm not having my best day and my last nerve is fried, so you either speak up or we're gonna start shooting." He glanced at Danny and nodded, when the reptilian missiles halted.

Each of the men took a position on the perimeter of a deep pit but it was too far away from the house and too dark to see anything clearly. It appeared that someone was moving around.

"You speak English?" Danny called down and a weak gagging sound ensued.

'I can't see shit," Chris decided. "I'll cover him, Danny, bring the car around the side as close as you can and hit the high beams.


Even in his lost state, Martin somehow knew that his best friend was here and rescue was imminent. He tried to stand up but his legs didn't seem to understand. The voice filtering down to him was asking him questions. He tried to reply, but a small, guttural sound was all that came out.

Danny had just completed moving the car and putting it in park. As he hit the high beams, something snapped in his brain. It was as if his hand had hit an electric outlet and shocked him. Sharp pins and needles pricked his entire body. Suddenly, he knew who was in that pit and his legs couldn't get him out of the car fast enough.

"MARTIN!" Danny screamed, racing to the pit and dropping to his knees.

"What?" Chris knelt down and realized. "Aw, shit�of course."

"Jesus, what did they do to you?" Danny rasped, swallowing hard when the bearded, battered face looked up at him with lost eyes. The stabbing pain in his gut only intensified when he saw the numerous bruises and cuts on the bruised upper body. "Can you stand up? We'll pull you out!"

Stand up.

The two words suddenly seemed foreign. Sure, he could stand up. His brain was screaming at him to rise. All he had to do was move his legs, but his body seemed to be boneless and he flopped badly. Annoyed, he punched the mud and scowled.

"Quit cursin'!" Danny shouted, recognizing the signs. "I'll find a rope or something."

Martin took several shallow breaths and closed his eyes. He took one long deep breath and with all he had left, he shoved off hard and tried to jump.

"DANNY!" Chris screamed, dropping on his belly and grabbing the arms that reached up to him. "I CAN'T HOLD HIM!"

Danny turned around and ran back, dropping down on his belly and lying flat. He relieved Chris of one side and between them; they hauled up the injured man.

Chris rolled sideways, grunting and grimacing as the healing muscles in his wounded shoulder screamed at him.

Danny hauled Martin backwards, sitting hard on the ground and cradling his missing friend. The fair-featured face was bruised and filthy, covered with a ratty beard. The normal GQ haircut was a greasy mess but to Danny's eyes, he never looked finer. The raw burns from the rope on his neck caused a fire to erupt in Taylor's gut. He cradled Martin closer, the head flopping against his chest. When he saw the whip marks on Martin's bruised lower back, he almost lost it. He felt Martin moving weakly and pulled back. The eyes weren't so lost anymore, but the relief that was pouring from them hurt to look at.

"You look like shit, Harvard," he teased and the injured left arm flopped badly, but finally a silent reply was fingered to him. "Man, you must be hurt, your trigger finger is off."

He was here. It was real. This wasn't a dream. As he gasped and his breath came in short, rapid burst of anxiety, the one thing that Martin's foggy, pain-filled world was illuminated with was that Danny Taylor found him. His partner had come into this hellish place and rescued him. His first two fingers twisted together and he tapped them repeatedly against the strong chest that secured him.

"Yeah," Danny choked, wearing a soft smile. He nodded at the signal Martin had forged during his rookie year when the two were trapped in a warehouse. His partner had been traumatized and left mute. But that symbol of the intertwined fingers had become the beacon in his lost world. "Partners!"

"Danny, let's get him in the house. We can clean him up and try to patch up what we can. He needs to get to a hospital."

"Yeah�" Danny agreed. "Give me a hand, he's out." He waited but Chris didn't move right away. Then he noticed that Chris was holding his left shoulder. "Aw, shit�"

"It's fine," Boone deflected, bending to take Martin's legs.

They laid him on the floor in the kitchen. Danny ran some water, which came out in a small stream. He tore the small window curtains down and shook them hard, sending dust all over, then he soaked them. He rolled Martin over on his side, for Chris to support and wiped the wounds on his back first, then applied the cold water to the awful neck marks.

"Got a bottle of water?" Danny asked and the blond nodded, gently lowering the semi-conscious man onto his back.

Chris disappeared and came back holding a white shirt. Danny grinned at the blood stained arm.

Look what Brad donated," he spoke, dropping down to help Danny. His hand went to Martin's face and he frowned. 'He's burning up." He lifted Martin's drooping eyelids and inspected the pupils. "He's been drugged."

"I don't think the burns and whip marks are so bad." Danny eyed the marred skin. "There's a few bites on his arms and back, but only the left arm is swelling up. I don't know what the hell that giant lizard did to him but his arm looks awful."

"I'm not sure but I don't think they're deadly, but they do have venom." Boone winced at the awful state Fitzgerald appeared to be in.

"Should we cut it open?" Danny asked of the red and swollen wound.

"No, I don't think so," Chris suggested. "A long time ago I had to take a desert survival course and something tells me that you leave it alone. Maybe just wrap it up loosely."

"Okay," Danny agreed and did just that. Between the two of them and with Martin helping, they got the shirt on the shivering soul.

"We'll be able to get him to an ER and�" Chris began when Martin began to resist, fighting and wiggling to get free.

"Martin?" Danny frowned when the body between them began to struggle. He actually sat up and swayed, hitting Chris.

"Easy, Martin," Chris soothed, pulling the top off the water. "Drink."

"Slow down!" Danny ordered when Fitzgerald gulped and sputtered, sending all the water back. The coughing fit that followed was scary, as he couldn't seem to catch his breath.

"His throat's swollen from the noose," Chris said, tipping the battered face up. "Listen to me, Martin. Just take tiny sips, your throat can't hand any more than that."

That seemed to work and with Danny's steady hand, the water went down. But the injured man was still upset.

"What?" Danny asked when Martin frantically began to tap at Chris and then motion to both of them. "I don't understand�"

Chris stared hard at Martin's lips. Although he couldn't talk, he could see what he was trying to say. "Jack?"

Thank God, they understood! Martin's head bobbed and he sighed hard, his eyes trained on Boone's. Was he alive? Had they gotten him out in time? Where was Jack?

"He's fine, Martin. He's at a hospital in El Paso, at Fort Bliss. He's safe."


Martin sagged back against Danny and sighed hard again, coughing a bit and breathing hard. He was shaking all over and couldn't believe he was actually with Chris and Danny. Their voices seemed strange and the faces a bit distorted, but they were real. He wasn't sure all of what Danny was saying to him, but he latched onto that voice and wouldn't let it go.

"Chris, move the car around and I'll get him outside. The sooner we get him to a hospital�" Danny paused again when Martin became angry, fighting to get up. "Holster that temper," he ordered but it fell on deaf ears.

Chris and he got Martin to his feet and supported him. He pulled ahead, falling to his knees and crawling towards the coffee mug. He managed to lift it, show it to them and throw it at the wall. There was no mistaking the fact that the blue fire shooting from his eyes was not due to a fever.

"I want him," Danny read the silent mouthed order. "Garrison? He's on his way to an airfield."

"And that would also be the fastest way to get him home," Chris noted of Martin. "We take out Garrison and call Douglas. He can have a chopper down here ASAP."

"Okay." Danny moved to where Martin was trying to stand. He hauled his injured friend upright. When Martin was on his feet, the blue eyes were fired up. Danny locked onto Martin's forearm and grinned. "Okay, let's find this fuckin' dragon and send him to hell, partner."

Once Martin was secured in the back seat, wrapped in a blanket, Chris kept them covered while Danny moved Brad to the trunk.

"I can't go in there!" Brad protested but shut up when the hostile dark eyes seemed to emit an unearthly glow.

"Then you can run behind us, tied to the bumper!" Danny threatened and the younger man climbed inside. "�fuckin' waste of space�" he slammed the trunk.

"I can't breathe in here�"

Chris judged the voice and aimed his gun the other way, at the far side, "Well, that's not very hospitable is it, Danny." He then shot some holes in it.

"You fuckin' lunatic, you could have shot me," Brad screamed.

"Man, you need to put more time in at the firing range," Danny quipped, taking the keys.

William Beaumont Medical Center
Isolation Unit
Five a.m.

Major Douglas had just returned from getting a bagel and some fresh coffee, when the red light began to blink on the phone. He had turned the volume down after midnight so if a call came through, it wouldn't disturb Jack. He put the food down and hurried to the bedside table.


"Major?" Chris laid his head back and closed his eyes, rubbing the pounding tension with his free hand. "Is Jack awake by any chance?"

"No, what's happened?" He paused and then sighed hard in relief, sitting down and shaking his head. "Where are you, Chris?" He eyed the pad and pen on the bed stand and began to write. "I got a pretty good idea of where that airfield should be. Once you get there, you get me coordinates; I can have a chopper down there ASAP."

"I don't know if he's even there," Chris returned, "We don't know how much of a head start he had. He could be gone by now. But we'll take that chopper for Martin."

"Okay, hold on, Chris." He put the phone down and gently shook Malone's shoulder.

"What!" Jack growled, blinking at the low light that was turned on. He saw the smile first, then the phone. "Yeah�"

"You make sure they don't fill that empty bed next to you, Jack, you're gonna have a roommate soon."

"He's alive?" Jack closed his eyes and laid back, dizzy at the good news.

"Yeah, he looks like shit and he's covered in cuts, bites, bruises and rope burns. He can't talk but he's madder than hell."

"Where are you?"

"Trying to catch Garrison before he flies south, he's headed to a private airstrip�" Chris frowned when the phone went dead. "Jack? Jack? Shit!"

"The mountains, it does that sometimes," Danny noted, eyeing the phone. "At least you told him, that's huge."

"And Douglas knows roughly where we're going, he's gonna have a chopper for us. There�there�" Chris nodded at the turnoff by a red and white painted signpost on the left. He pulled his gun and tugged at the box by his feet, loading his weapon.

Danny turned the headlights off and eased the motor down when two low lying buildings came into view above the brush level. Chris took out his night vision glasses and when Danny stopped the car, he got out to take a look.

"I see a plane�" Boone whispered and then scoped out the two buildings. "I can't see the far one but there is a light on in the other one."

"Okay, we go on foot from here," Danny stated, putting the keys in his pants pocket and loading his gun. He shoved ammo in his jacket pocket, got out of the car and jerked the back door open. He eyed Chris and nodded to the trunk. "Get him out, he's gonna be our way in."

Brad blinked and coughed, hissing in pain when he was hauled from the trunk. His legs were sore from the lack of circulation and he almost fell down. The blond agent who grabbed him looked meaner than before if that was possible.

"You know the layout, you're gonna knock on that door and convince him that you're going with him. All you have to do is get him to come outside." Boone leaned in closer, his eyes a shade past lethal. "And you so much as twitch at him and I'll shoot you, got it! Your performance better be Oscar worthy."

"You sure you're up to this?" Danny asked, helping Martin to stand up and steadying him.

Martin shook his head, he felt like the walking dead, looked like a zombie and smelled like a corpse but getting Garrison fuelled him well beyond his limits, so he staggered ahead and Danny grabbed him, slinging his arm over his shoulders.

"Let's do this!" Danny ordered, heading up the road.


Will Garrison had known this day might come and he'd prepared a few years ago in the event he'd have to flee the country. He'd made several connections in Costa Rica and had a bank account there. He'd contacted the airstrip for a flight plan and had two calls in to associates to have a car waiting.

The sun was starting to come up and as the sky turned from black to dark and then lighter blue, he eyed his map again. The plane was fueled and ready to go and he was eager to be free of this place. Costa Rica would be a new start with new money. He'd wait for a month or so and then arrange for an accident. He'd already advised his associates to find a patsy of the same height, weight and age to 'volunteer'. The witnesses would be well paid to give statements about the ambush and kidnapping. He'd be in the original video being taken away and never found. Plastic surgery and a new identity would take care of the rest.

He stood up, finished his coffee and reached for his jacket, when a rap sounded on the door. He picked up his gun and cocked his head, eyeing the filmy window. He couldn't see through it entirely but couldn't see anybody. Before he could move, a voice called out.

"It's me," Brad said, flinching when the gun aimed at his side was shoved harder.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Garrison asked, not opening the door. He moved closer, aiming at the center panel of the old wooden door.

"What do you think I'm doing here? I thought I was your right hand? What did you train me for all these years? I'm comin' with you."

"You weren't invited," Garrison replied, smelling a rat.

The building was small, a one story shed that he usually didn't use. The larger building was the one he normally used but after he fueled up and moved the plane, he'd locked it up. There was no way of seeing outside, save exiting through the back window. If it was a trap, no doubt someone was outside there. He moved behind the deserted crates that were on the far right and squatted down, taking aim.

"It's unlocked, Brad, come on in."

Danny sensed by the hesitation and tone that Garrison was suspicious. He shook his head and hauled Bell backwards, shoving him behind some large oil barrels about ten feet from the front door. Chris was out back and Martin was well hidden behind the car that Garrison used to drive there.

"Okay, this is what you're gonna do," Danny whispered. "We're gonna crawl back over and you turn the knob and open the door."

"He'll shoot me!"

"Not if I do first!" Danny snarled, "You won't be in front of it." He wondered why Garrison would hire someone this stupid. "Let's go�"

Garrison saw the doorknob move and the door slowly open. He fired immediately, sending a series of shots through the vacant space.

Danny cold cocked Bell and shoved him aside, then rolled over past the open space, shooting as he went.

Garrison ducked as the bullets hit the wall over his head and eyed the window that led outback. That would be heading into a blind spot and not an option. He decided to head out the front door, shooting at the man there and slipping around the side, which was a sharp turn to the right.

Danny ducked behind the oil drums when bullets kicked around him. He felt a brief burning pain in his side and glanced down, moving his free hand and glad for his jacket which absorbed most of the bullet. But the wet, sticky area and path told him he'd gotten a decent graze along his left ribcage. The shooting stopped and he lifted his head to see Garrison zipping around the side of the building.

Chris heard the volley of shots and moved from where he was hiding behind a dumpster in the wooded area out back of the building. He saw Garrison slip around the back, ducking down and eyeing the perimeter. He didn't have a clear shot and hesitated, realizing that the older man was expecting that. He crept around slowly, hoping that he wouldn't be heard. If he could get closer, he'd have a clear shot.

Garrison knew that the plane was prepped and ready to go. All he had to do was get around the rest of the back of the shed and if the shooter was behind him, he would be able to run around the larger building and get to the plane before they would catch him.

Danny got to the edge of the building and ducked once, watching Garrison run. He saw Chris shaking his head and attempting to shoot but the gun didn't go off. Danny kept shooting and Garrison whipped around and returned fire. Danny's body reacted on instinct, seeking cover. He dove quickly just as another shot rang out over his head. The dark-haired agent went down hard, banging his head against the metal dumpster.

"Shit�" Chris whispered, eyeing the prone Taylor. He couldn't tell if he'd been shot or stunned from the violent impact with the dumpster. "Danny?" he called out softly but got no reply. Garrison was past the shed and headed for the larger building, the hanger where the plane was waiting on the other side. So the determined blond took off, his speed better than Garrison due to being younger and in better shape. He ducked twice when bullets shot past him.

Chris's gun jammed after the first shot and with Taylor down, he did the only thing he could think of; he used his body as a weapon. What he didn't' know was that there was a very steep hill on the back side of the hanger. Something he found out when he knocked Garrison over the edge and went with him.

Danny was trying to stir, aware that he was outside and on a cold ground and his head hurt. He moaned and rolled on his back, his eyes not ready to open yet. He never saw the shadow that fell over him or the hand that reached down to take his gun away.

While his partner was slowly fighting back to awareness, Chris Boone was locked in a battle all of his own. They tumbled down a gravelly grade, tiny rocks cutting his face and hands. The impact and motion caused Garrison to lose his gun, which tumbled down ahead of them, landing in a space between where they lay on the ground. For a few seconds, neither man moved, each stunned and winded.

"You're a fool," Garrison wheezed, recognizing the blond man. "Your kind never learns. Your pathetic sense of duty is going to get you killed."

"Your ass is history, Garrison. There's nowhere to hide now, we have all the tapes."

"Surrender?" He laughed, eyeing the gun. "I'm not that stupid."

"Neither am I," Chris panted, cursing inwardly when black stars began to dance in front of his now blurry vision. The concussion aftereffects were bad enough when he took his meds and rested. The last few days he'd not been able to and coupled with the lack of rest and the bouncing trip down this hill, he felt himself slipping away. He eyed the gun again, a few feet away and normally it would have been over already. But now that span of short space seemed like miles. "You're not leaving here alive."

They both moved at the same time, two predators eager for the only scrap of raw meat to be had. Chris was leaner and more agile, but Garrison had twenty-five pounds on him. Chris felt the gun in his hand and tried to get his fingers around it. But the larger man landed on his back, the weight pressing down on him made that harder.

Garrison saw Boone's hand and knew he couldn't get the gun, so he yanked the blond head up and slammed it down against the ground. He heard a grunt and the hand went limp. He got the gun and stood up, aiming it at the unprotected head of the downed blond man.

"Was it worth it? Dying to save that precious moral code?"

Danny heard a shot and sat up hard, his heart hammering. He tried to stand but his legs were like rubber, with no bones at all. He fell down right away and the area ahead of him was blurry.


He blinked stupidly at the area around him, the gun was gone. Another shot brought his dizzy body to react. He couldn't see Chris and didn't know where he was but sensed the shots were tied to that. He tried to walk and fell again. He tried several more times and ended up staggering badly towards where the sounds came from.

"Wait�" Brad Bell called out, staggering towards the plane. He saw the Garrison running towards the hatch, his arm bleeding. "Take me with�" He didn't have time to react when the gun fired, he felt a white pain in his gut and collapsed.

Danny heard the plane sputter and then start and forced his jellied legs to work. He wobbled and staggered, hitting the outer wall of the hanger. The road under his feet seemed to be moving like in a funhouse at the carnival. By the time he cleared the building, the plane was taxiing down the runway. His blurry eyes saw a body oozing life a few feet away. He couldn't see clearly but saw blond hair and panicked. He began to stagger over, praying his blurry eyes were wrong.

"Chris?" he rasped and his path was halted by a wayward shot. He fell down on his backside and like a crab, scurried sideways. His blurry vision cleared up enough to see Martin hovering between the top of a hill and where he sat unprotected. Now he realized where his missing gun was. But the fevered eyes were blazing in fury and trained on him. There was no mistaking the intent held there.

"Whoa!" Danny protested when the shaky arm moved the gun. "It's me, man, Danny."

Martin's head was screaming a little louder than the rest of his body, but the chorus of pain left him on the edge. He saw a dark haired Latino male with a light beard on the ground. His mind drew up garish images of a crowd of similar men, beating him, groping him, humiliating him, laughing at him and pouring cheap wine on him. He still felt that noose around his neck and heard their jeers when the whipping began. It was time for payback. The gun in his hand took over, seemingly rising of its own accord.

"No�no�Martin�" Danny used a cool voice, hoping somehow he could reach his very disoriented friend.


"It's me, Harvard, put the gun down," Danny coached, desperately trying to reach Martin.


Martin's hand wavered and he swayed a bit, staggering closer. He knew that name, another image came up of a laughing man with dark eyes and a winning smile. The images got mixed up, blending into a cacophony of agony. He clutched his head with one hand and the gun went up again.

"��" His lips moved but no voice came out.

"Martin it's Danny, it's me," Taylor pled and then saw an arm come over the hill several yards behind the confused Fitzgerald. "Look at me, man, I ain't lyin'. I know they hurt you, Martin and Garrison's gonna pay for it."


Martin's heart began to thump and the hours he'd spent being tortured by the silver-haired grinning predator entered into the mix. His frantic eyes darted left and right, wondering on why he was here and where he was. It was all so confusing and he was so very tired. His left arm flopped down, the throbbing pain rendering it helpless.

Danny's heart ached for his friend. He knew just how lost Martin was and why he couldn't trust what we saw. Fortune was kind, for just as the confused soul turned back to him and the gun rose again, Chris Boone's blond head appeared over the edge of the hill.

"Come on, come on," Danny rasped, willing the shaken agent to stand and move in on Martin.

Chris shook his head clear and sat up, hoping not to vomit again. The viscous bile eruption on the bottom of the hill had been brutal. He was dizzy and sick but the first thing he saw when his eyes hit Taylor's was fear. Then he followed the line and saw the gun trained on him. He nodded, moving his hand to indicate for Taylor to keep Martin talking. Then he got to his knees first and shoved off hard, standing finally.


"No way," Danny replied to the word he saw his mute friend whisper. He kept his focus trained on Martin's wide and fearful eyes. "Me and Chris came down here after you. Jack's safe, remember? We got you out of that lizard pit at the house."

That brought up the image of dragons of all sizes and a large one with burning red eyes that crawled over him and bit him. Martin's ire went up. His fury unleashed and his wild eyes roved.

"I know, I know�" Danny coached, watching Chris creep closer as Martin's arm swung around.

Chris wrapped one arm around Martin's throat and drew his head up, using the other to snap his wrist lightly to let the gun fall. It was a weak struggle and Martin began to sink down, still fighting.

"Easy, Martin, it's Chris, you're okay�" He eyed the blood running down Taylor's neck, as the younger agent stood up, holding his side. "Danny?"

"Dented and scratched," he replied of his injuries, eyeing the other man who looked nearly as green as his eyes. "You?"

"Never better," Chris said, nodding to Brad Bell. "He's still alive." He eased Martin down on the ground and got the gun, then jogged over to where Taylor was kneeling beside the mortally wounded blond. He saw a flash of fear on Taylor and his brows furrowed. "What?"

"I thought�when I staggered out here�it was you."

"You are seeing things," Chris teased, patting Danny's back. "He don't have my pretty face."

"No�" Danny whispered, leaning closer when Bell's bloodied lips moved.

"�Miguel�Santos�" Brad gasped, feeling the Grim Reaper's scythe on his chest. "�san mateo�"

"Where?" Chris asked, not able to hear well.


"He's flying to Costa Rica," Danny pressed. "Do you know where?"


"Miguel Santos?" Taylor repeated the name. "Is he a friend of Garrison?"

"No�" Bell coughed up a mouthful of blood and his eyes rolled. He didn't have much longer and if he was going to Hell, Garrison was coming too. "�was�now enemy�thinks dead�Garrison�thinks�"

"He thinks this guy is dead? He'll help us find him?" Boone inquired and the dying head bobbed. "Is he in San Mateo?" The head dipped again.

"�wheelchair�disfigured�scarred�Garrison�did�left to burn�three years�ago�he lived�pottery�family�"

"So Garrison thinks this guy is dead and he wants Garrison, that might do it," Danny stated. "Where's the pottery store? In San Mateo?"

"Yeah�uh�tell�him�he'll�find�has connections�wants�"

"Brad?" Chris knew before the word left the man was dead. "Well, let's hope this guy's still alive."

"How are we gonna find him?" Danny asked. "You know anybody down there you can trust."

"Maybe," Chris grunted, feeling weak again.

"Should we report this?"

"No," Chris leveled with a hard stare. He saw the disappointment and anger in Taylor's eyes and understood all too well that feeling. "He's gotta think he's won, he'll let his guard down, get soft. That's when we catch him. We report this, word gets out and he'll leave again and this time we won't have any leads."

"I don't like it," Danny seethed, his eyes lingering on his confused partner who was trying to sit up.

"I look happy to you?" Chris growled. "I had him, Danny, I blacked out and couldn't get the gun."

"But I heard a shot," he protested and saw the green eyes turn and the blond head dip towards Fitzgerald. "Martin?"

"Winged him," Chris acknowledged. "I heard Jack brag about the kid being a sharpshooter, but damn he's good. He shot the gun right out of his hand, then fell over, I guess his legs gave out. I blacked out for a few moments, Garrison got away. "

"I guess he figured he'd cut his losses and get the hell out of Dodge," Taylor figured. "I'm sorry, man, I dropped the ball too�"

"Coulda, woulda, shoulda, it's all bullshit, Danny." Chris rubbed his throbbing temples and eyed the hanger nearby. "Right now, we need to get the hell out of here. There's a radio in one of these buildings, I'll call for that chopper."

Danny nodded and stood, then moved away from the corpse and over to where Martin was lying. He could see the blue eyes fighting to remain open and the traces of fear lingering.

"Hey," Danny spoke softly, gently rolling the injured man on his back and lifted him up a bit.

"Danny?" Martin mouthed silently, blinking in confusion. Where was the rebel? The dangerous man he'd just seen? He saw blood on Taylor's head and some inside his jacket on his chest. His hand moved over that area, his eyes narrowed.

"It's okay, just a scratch," Danny teased and saw Martin looking around again. "Chris went to call for help. You did good, Harvard, you saved his life." He saw the confused head shake again. "You're a mess, you know that? Face all busted up, burns, cuts, a fuckin' lizard bite." The eyes flashed at him, still fighting and he grinned. "See what happens when I'm not around to watch that gringo ass of yours?" He knew what the eyes were saying and laughed again. "Quit cursin' and save your energy." Martin sank back then, too weak to remain awake. Danny held on to him, eyeing the sky where the plane had been.

"This isn't over," Danny vowed, eyeing the new sun bleeding into the southern sky.

Newport, RI
January 26
Six a.m.

The jarring ringing of the phone disrupted the unearthly silence in the quaint cottage. Every beautiful antique was expertly selected and placed, each room a beautiful display of Victorian charm resplendent in a palette of pastel colors.

"Who could that be?"

"I'll get it," the half-asleep man reassured his alarmed wife. He eyed the clock and frowned, annoyed that his orders not to be disturbed were broken. They'd escaped to their summer home for a reason. Somebody would pay for this. "HELLO!"

"Sorry, Victor," Chris winced as the hard voice seemed to have a decibel level as it thundered through his skull. He eyed Martin and Danny through the window and felt his body relax for the first time all week. "I have good news�"

"Oh, God�."

"What?" Jean demanded, watching the stunned look on her husband's face and then his blue eyes close. When they opened, tears were glimmering and he was shaking.

"Martin's alive," Victor choked, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze for a moment. Then he sat up and turned the light next to bed on, pulling over the notebook and pen he kept there. "Yes, yes�we'll be on the first flight. What the hell happened, Chris? "

Chris relayed the events of the past week as best he could. He didn't have to see the eyes or hear the voice to feel the fury. It radiated through the radio. The capsulated version of the last several days would never do justice to all they'd endured but he felt the Deputy Director had a pretty good sense of the game.

"We tried, Victor, you'll never know how hard," Chris relayed. "But the bastard got away."

"Got away!" Victor seethed, "I want his head on a platter. What do you mean he got away? After what he did�"

"Your son's alive," Chris's interjected without an invite, his voice colored with anger. "And in a few hours, his mother will be able to hold his hand, kiss his face. I'm sorry, Victor, I guess we fucked up, huh?"

"No, Chris," Victor regretted his words immediately. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it came out. I've known Garrison's been dirty for years, just couldn't prove it. Now, hearing what he did to my son�we'll talk later today."

"Victor, I can't tell you what to do, but keeping this quiet for now will help us catch him. He has to think he's gotten away clean. We have a lead, someone who's out for his blood and lives there."

"Alright, Chris, for now," he agreed.

"We couldn't tell you or anybody, we just couldn't take the chance. If Garrison caught on..."

"I don't like it, but I can accept it," the angry father who'd been left in the dark noted. Then he thought on what these two agents had undertaken and to what lengths and his voice changed. "Listen, you tell Taylor�you tell him�"

"Yessir, I will," Boone heard the words unspoken, lost between the choked ones. "That's one tough kid you got."

"Damn straight!" the proud father bragged. "And Supervisory Special Agent Boone," he paused, knowing how tough the team leader was, "Job well done."

Chris was well beyond the point where normal pain and exhaustion ended, but when he got through to Jack's room, the voice that answered brought a weary smile.

"Hey, Sunshine," Chris greeted, "You and Vivian both there?"

"How is he?" Sam sent back, frantic for more news. When they arrived a few moments ago, the Major updated then and they were waiting for this call. She had to know about Martin.

"He's covered in burns, cuts and bruises and he has a nasty lizard bite on his left arm and a pretty good fever. He'll have some exposure and some hypothermia," he updated, rubbing his face with a grimy hand. "But he's gonna be fine. You got a pen? I have the coordinates for this airstrip."

"You and Danny okay?" She asked, hearing telling signs in his voice.

"Nothing that home cookin' won't cure." He frowned when static burst on the radio line. "Tell Jack, okay? Sam?"

"Well?" Vivian asked, watching Sam put the phone down. Had the blond agent not had her back turned, she'd have seen the tears shimmering.

"They all are okay, Martin's got some healing to do," Sam recovered, handing the Major the paper. "They're waiting, it sounds like maybe they all need some medical attention."

"And they'll get it," he vowed, nodding to the woman and winking at Jack. "Like old times."

"Yeah," Jack scoffed, "Except I was a lot younger and my nerves weren't fried. Listen, Pete, I owe you for this�"

"Oh, and I intend to collect." Pete grinned, and then paused at the door. "Later, with a clean poker deck, aged Scotch and imported cigars."

Jack kept his eyes trained on the door and tried to absorb it all. It didn't seem possible that only a week ago, things were so different. From what he could gather, Martin was very lucky his injuries weren't more serious. But what of the mental and emotional wounds? What toll had that taken on him? He hoped that the usually private and guarded Fitzgerald would use his head and seek out counseling.


William Beaumont Medical Center
Wednesday January 26
One p.m.

Danny blinked fuzzily and eyed the pale walls around him. The first thing he noticed was the smell, clean and antiseptic. The sounds came next, beeping and hissing, voices on a loudspeaker and others nearby. He fingered clean, cotton under his hand and then moved and found the edge of the bed.


Frowning, he sat up and the room tipped a bit. A blurry blonde figure appeared and small hands came up and gently guided him back.

"Easy, Danny," Sam coached, waiting for his muddled eyes to orient themselves. Once she was satisfied he wouldn't try to leave the bed, she moved to the bed stand and poured him a glass of water. As she unwrapped the plastic off the straw and placed it in the cup, he squinted at her.

Danny's foggy brain began to hum and spark back into action. He recalled a car chase, bullets flying and a plane taking off with Garrison. He still felt the inner heat from what that bastard did to his friends. His face screwed up in anger when the image of Martin's battered body crept back into his head. He eyed his hands and recalled the death grip he had on Martin even in the helicopter. The last image he recalled was someone pulling Martin from him and his fist flying up. He heard water and turned as Sam held the cup out. He winced and touched his throbbing skull.

"You have a concussion and they had to do some minor surgery to repair some damage to your side. The doctor said you should heal okay."

Danny absorbed the information and tried to get it past the thick walls of mud in his skull. He didn't remember much after the helicopter took off. He eyed the empty bed next to him and squinted up at Sam painfully. The voice that came through his dry lips sounded strange and faraway.


"He should be here soon, he was in the ER for a long time and then to get X-rays and other tests." She held the mug out until he took it and then wrapped her arms around her chest. "He looked awful�Danny. He's really busted up, so many bruises and his neck�"

Danny eyed her curiously and wondered if part of the icy interior that he knew Martin was hell bent on dissolving was beginning to melt. Maybe almost losing him was enough to convince her that there was something as real and wonderful as love. He put the mug on the tray over his lap and reached up, putting a hand over the closest one he could reach.

"Hey?" He spoke softly, watching her tears fighting hard to remain unspent. "A part of the reason he fought like hell was to get back to you." She looked at him startled and he only widened his smile. "It stays here, okay? And he's a good guy, Sam, better than most. He's the real thing and don't close any doors. I know you've been hurt by men in the past, but don't blame him for their stupidity. He's good for you�he really cares about you."

Sam held that strong brown gaze for a moment and took his hand, giving it a tug. He was being kept for twenty-four hours for observation. Also, they felt that when Martin would awaken, having Danny nearby would help due to his confusion.

"Chris?" Danny inquired, recalling a pale face and pinched features on the other side of the helicopter.

"He's bunking with Jack until tomorrow. He got a full skull series�"

"He's one helluva'n agent," Danny praised, tipping his mug.

"He's a good friend," Sam whispered, wondering about all the times she'd leaned on those shoulders of his.

"Yeah�" Danny smiled, he knew how close they were. "He'll be okay, Sam, he's one tough customer."

Then the nurse came in and she moved away so Danny's vital signs could be taken.

"Your friend is on his way up," the nurse updated, nodding to the bed. "He's got a bit of a fight ahead of him and he's going to be sleeping for most of the next few days, but the doctor is confident he'll make a full recovery."

"Thanks," Danny answered, waiting until she left to let out a long sigh. He laid his aching head back and closed his eyes. It was as if the last few days were a living nightmare. A soft fall of hair tickled his face and a kiss to his cheek got his eyes open.

"Just like Sleeping Beauty," Sam teased, cupping his chin. "Thanks, Danny."

Danny sat up when the door opened and Martin was wheeled into the room. He swallowed hard when he saw the battered body. The stark white bandages to the neck caused his temper to flair. A solitary fist curled up and he held onto that rage. He vowed he'd be there when Garrison was brought down.

"Just so you know," the one orderly addressed them, nodding to the patient's arms. "They had a tough time getting his IV line in, that arm is secured and the other one has to be kept elevated above his heart to reduce the swelling. Don't let him move 'em."

"Okay," Sam spoke in a strange voice eyeing her lover on the bed. He looked like a broken toy from her childhood.

"The bastard's gonna pay," he whispered, watching as the orderlies transferred the limp body onto a bed.

Sam moved in as soon as the two male attendants left and hovered by the bed. Her hand reached out but pulled back. He was so fragile looking, so frail. This was so unlike the strong, virile male who she worked with during the day and played with at night. It was hard to see him like this, so helpless. She laid her hand on his cheek and frowned at the heat there. Then her fingers moved through his hair and so bent low, speaking close.

"Martin? It's Sam. I'm right here." She was pleased when he moved his face, pressing it against her hand. She bent closer to his cheek, putting her lip by his ear. "That's right, baby, I'm here." A voice startled her and she stood back up, moving her hand away.


"Hi, Doc," Danny answered, addressing the middle-aged Hispanic man with a balding head and pleasant face. "How's my man, Martin doing?"

"Good, considering what's he's been through." He stepped closer to the bed and reviewed the chart that he held. "He has a severely bruised hip, three bruised ribs and a concussion. There were traces of several drugs in his system, which would cause disorientation and hallucinations. He shouldn't wake up, his body will dictate that, but if he does, don't be surprised if he's confused."

"More than normal" Danny teased.

"What about his throat?" Sam asked, horrified by the burns she'd seen on his neck in the ER and imagining how they were put there.

"We cleaned the wound with soap and water. We`re using antibacterial ointment on it and keeping it covered to prevent infection," he updated, "There is a good amount of swelling inside and his larynx is bruised, so he won't be able to talk right away. The whips marks on his lower back were minor, they`ve been cleaned and should heal fine." He scanned the charts again, writing new orders. "His fever is elevated but that should come down, we treating him with rectal Tylenol."

"What about the lizard bite?" Danny pressed, recalling the ugly wound. "Was it poisonous?"

"There were several minor bites, which were cleaned. The one to his arm was serious. The lizard your friend Chris described to us in the ER is of variety that does bear venom. There is radiating pain from the wound site, also some weakness, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. That swelling will gradually go away as the treatment takes effect over the next few days. However, the real damage is done by the teeth that are small and often undetected when they become embedded in the wound. That causes a serious infection, which he's fighting now. We've got quite a cocktail running in that IV." He moved to the woman, who seemed scared and unsure and put a fatherly arm on her shoulders. "He's a strong young man, he'll be sick for a few days and weak for several weeks, but he'll recover fine. Mostly, he's worn out and suffering from exposure and a bit of hypothermia as well."

Sam nodded and moved back to the bed, drawing up the many memories of the quiet hours they spent after lovemaking. Martin would hold her, stroke her skin, speak softly to her, nuzzle her and those arms would protect her. She ached for that now, to have her strong warrior back.

"Well," the doctor noted, shutting the chart and turned to Danny, "I've updated your other two friends. Tomorrow, when you're released, we'll be moving him to Agent Malone's room. He still has some therapy to build his legs and system back up. Given the ordeal they shared, it might be better for both of them to spend some time together."

"Thanks," Danny said, nodding to the doctor who turned to leave. He kept his eyes on Sam, who was shaken to the core. He saw her slip her hand under the left one of Martin' s which was elevated high on bundled up pillows, so it would be above his heart.

"Just when I was getting used to cave boy," Danny teased of the shaggy hair and beard that he'd found Martin with. Now the face was clean again and shaven, although the bruises and cuts marred it temporarily.

"I need to see his eyes," Sam whispered, willing the telltale blues to open.

"You will," Danny promised. "And yours are the first thing he'll be looking for."

The door opened and a hospital worker appeared with a lunch tray. Danny pushed the button and his bed elevated. She moved the covers off the food and turned to leave.

"Hey, can you shut the curtain?" Danny asked and she eyed the curtain that was attached to the rings next to his bed. Shrugging, she did as requested. He knew Sam needed some private time with Martin and he hoped she would reach out and touch him. The chicken soup, ginger ale and jello quickly disappeared.

Sam moved then, gently easing the metal side of the bed down. She gently eased Martin's IV'd arm so she could sit on the side of the bed. She leaned over and kissed his slack lips, shivering at how cold and still they were. He was a very skilled kisser, leaving her weak-kneed and always turning her pulse up. She took his hand and held it, intertwining the slack fingers with her hopeful ones. She moved his hand over the cotton covering her heart and pressed it there. Tears finally fell and she hoped he'd fell that strong beat under his limp hand.

"I love you�" she whispered, shocked when the words came out so easily.

Jack woke up with a start. His face was covered in sweat and the horrific nightmares left their usual mark. His stomach was churning, his pulse was racing and his head was pounding. Even Martin's safe return didn't put a dent in the unwanted trip back to that hellish time. He grabbed the unused napkin on his tray from lunch and wiped his face and neck. He eyed the corner of the muted television, which had CNN on and noted it was after three p.m. It was then he noticed Chris staring at him hard. He saw by the quick blinking action and slight breathless state, he'd woken his friend up.


"S'okay, Jack," Chris sat up and adjusted the gel pack that was tied to his left shoulder. Between the IV and ice treatment, the unnerving pain he'd experienced in the ER was subsiding. The skull series that the doctor ran did indicate another concussion and they were concerned due to the close proximity to the prior one. His vision was a bit blurred and he was very dizzy. But the fact they'd all arrived back alive was worth the pain.

Chris eyed the other man twice and then sighed hard, eyeing his hand with fuzzy eyes. He could almost hear Garrison sneering at him. He saw the dirt then and the gun just a foot away. "�so fuckin' close�dammit�

"Lose it," Jack decided, not liking the unwarranted guilt he heard between the lines and saw written on the pale, pain-lined face.

Jack heard Vivian and Sam discussing Chris's injuries with the doctor, he was aware his friend would be out of action longer and only hoped that the aftereffects of the concussion were not permanent. He caught Chris's pale eyes and held them a moment, until the blond head nodded.

"You look shitty," Jack noted, taking a sip of the tall container of Coke that was on the tray.

"�not possible�" Chris decided, giving his best friend a half smile. "As soon as I can see better, I've got some calls to make. I want visuals on that bastard as soon as possible."

"Who?" Jack asked.

"You remember Denny Carlson?" He asked of the undercover operative he and Jack crossed paths with on and off about ten years ago.

"Carlson?" Jack screwed his face up. "He still around? I thought he retired, he got shot up bad."

"He did, took four bullets about five years ago and he was out of action for almost two years. But he's working for the DEA down there. Last I heard, he was still active. I know some of his contacts. It's worth a shot, I can trust him."

"How soon?" Jack thought aloud. "I think we wait a bit, let him make his own noose."

"Agreed," Chris concluded, trying to figure out which of the containers of iced tea on his tray was real. "Damn thing won't stay still." He managed to grab it and get a sip. "He'll get lazy, comfortable and then we move in. But I want tabs on his movements. And he still has enough friends up here that he'll be sniffing around. We have to play it close, Jack. He even suspects we're on to him and he'll move again and we will lose him."

"I can assure you that won't happen."

Both men turned to the new voice in the doorway. Jack was startled to see Victor Fitzgerald moving into the room.

"If you want Chris, I can call Ted Donnelly. He should know where your man is, I think."

"Thanks," Chris answered, "He's one of the first contacts I would have made, I know Ted."

"Consider it done." He moved over towards the blond agent's bed and paused, putting his hand out. "Your only job right now is to rest and recover. I know you sustained more damage to your head and that concerns me."

"I'm okay, sir," Chris deflected and shook the hand. "You didn't have to come down here. You should be with Martin."

"Today, it's just Victor, not 'sir'. This is a very grateful father not the Deputy Director." He paused and moved his other hand over Boone's. "And his mother and I will never be able to thank you and Taylor enough for all you did and how quickly. You saved his life."

"Hell," Chris grinned, nodding and sat back. "Jack don't like breaking in new rookies. Turns his normally sunny disposition around. It was self-preservation."

"How is he?" Jack asked, eyeing Victor as he approached the bed. "Some doctor came in a few hours ago and gave us a quick update."

"His mother is with him," the concerned father answered and smiled. "He's not come around yet, but his vital signs are improving. He's restless, from the fever I guess. The doctors are fairly sure that he'll be awake and cognizant by tomorrow sometime. I think Jean's ready to adopt Taylor. He's quite a charmer."

"That he is," Jack agreed.

"The ICU visiting hours are about to end. Jean and I are going to visit Major Douglas and thank him. The Major and his wife have invited us for an early dinner. Then we'll head back by six for the evening hours. He arranged for us to have base housing down the road."

"He's a good man, I owe him big time for this." Jack laid back and noticed that Victor seemed to have aged in the last week.

"I haven't seen the tapes yet, but Agent Johnson has and from what she reported, there is more than enough to put Garrison away for life. I did see an abbreviated version of what that bastard did to you and Martin. He'll pay for it, Jack."

"Damn right he will," Jack muttered, "And I'm gonna be there when it goes down."

"I'll make sure Ted is actively pursuing this and it stays confidential. He's only to contact me, you or Chris, agreed?" The Deputy eyed the two men who nodded. "Very good. You take all the time you need, Jack. You and Martin both have to go through counseling but not until you're physically able."

"Yeah, I know the drill," Jack replied. "Listen, you give my best to Jean and tell her that's one tough kid she raised."

"I will, thanks Jack."

After the senior Fitzgerald left, the two men remained silent, each lost in his own thoughts. But it was as if they had a common thread. Each man wanted payback and curbing that action would be difficult. The first step was getting the right operative to eyeball Garrison and report back. Then when the time was right, they would spring into action. As Jack drifted off to sleep, his fading thought was of Garrison being slowly roasted over a pit with spike going through his ass and out of his mouth.


William Beaumont Medical Center
Wednesday January 26
Ten p.m.

It was very late when Sam arrived back at the hospital. Martin's parents arrival had changed the scope of her visits. Also, the doctors warned about too many people being in the room and she'd pulled back. She knew visiting hours ended a couple of hours ago and Danny called to update her that the elder Fitzgeralds had left for the night. She'd been in enough hospitals to know that usually the easiest way to sneak into a room was to go through the ER. And the fact that nurse on duty in the early afternoon caught her twice caressing Martin and asked her discreetly if they were a couple. She sympathized with Sam, for what reason Sam didn't know but was grateful. Her name was Nancy and she told Sam she was going a twelve hours shift, ending at midnight. It wasn't much but a stolen pair of hours alone with him would be worth it.

Nancy looked at the clock and the glass windows on the doors that led into the ICU. She saw a blond head appear and pushed the buzzer. She nodded discreetly at the young woman and then at the clock.

"Thank you�" Sam whispered, padding to the end of the row of rooms and ducking inside.

Danny was sleeping and was expected to be discharged by early the next afternoon. They'd left him with Martin in case the fevered agent woke up confused. They felt it would be better for him to be with someone he knew. Their assumptions had been correct. The fevered blue eyes found the soothing dark ones each time he woke up. Taylor's voice alone had turned the frantic breathing into regular rhythm. Once Danny was discharged, Martin would be transferred to Jack's room.

She put her coat and handbag on the chair next to Danny and brushed her fingers through his tousled hair. Then she moved over to Martin's bed. His vitals were better and the oxygen seemed to be helping him breathe easier. She lowered the rail and leaned over, studying his face closely. He looked so young and vulnerable, her heart ached to have those arms hold her and to feel his strong heart beating against her chest. She kissed his cheek and moved her lips close to his ear. She moved her hand under the loose neck of his blue hospital smock and caressed the area near his heart.

"It's me, babe, I'm here."

He knew. He knew before the soft words found him that she was finally here. The delicate scent of jasmine tickled his nose and enveloped him like a soft, spring rain. A gorgeous parade of colors dazzled his minds in soft hues of coral, rose, lavender, blue and green. He wanted to open his eyes to see her face but he couldn't seem to fight the mud his brain was mired in. But she was here! He moaned and moved his face, seeking that voice.

"You heard me?" Sam whispered, moving back a bit and stroking his face gently. He moaned again and his eyes darted under the lids. His brows furrowed and his lips trembled and quivered. She cupped his face with one hand and took his limp fingers with the other. Bending over, she kissed his lips and rested her face on his. "Fight, Martin, fight hard. I'm here, Danny's here, Jack's here. We need you�back�I�need you�Martin�my heart�needs you�please�"


He could do that. He had to fight, for Danny, for his family, for his friends and for her. For the woman he loved, the one he hoped to make a future with. More soft whispered words invaded the rainbow he was riding on. Gentle fingers stroking his face and soft words found him. He fought harder, swimming with record speed towards a golden light in the far distance. Then suddenly the colors and silence exploded and there was light. He coughed and gasped, his body shaking all over.

"Martin!" Sam moved back and cupped the sweating face in both hands. He was terrified. His bruised neck was corded with anxiety and his eyes unnaturally wide and darting. "You're safe, listen to me, Martin. Look at me, babe, right here." She directed his face and locked onto the frantic eyes. She moved her right hand to grab a cold cloth, wiping his face and wincing when the weak hand fumbling for her. "Right here�here�here�" She directed of the frantic eyes. She put the cloth down and grabbed his wayward right hand. "Try not to move your arm, there's a special IV hookup."

Sam. That was Sam hovering above him. She seemed to be underwater. Why was it so hot in here? Where was he? His breathing slowed down and his eyes left her face for a moment, to study a strange room. Not a hotel, not his room, something smaller and not personal. A clock, two chairs and a beeping monitor.

"�spital�" he mouthed, coughing and wincing painfully. His throat felt drier than a desert and as if razors were lining the inside. His mouth curled up in a silent protest of agony.

"I know it hurts," Sam soothed, reaching for the ice chips. Nancy had been very specific about that. Only ice chips until the swelling went down. She pushed the button and raised his bed so he was semi-upright. She guided a spoon to his parted lips. "Here�easy now�"

"Mmmm�" he moaned, savoring the icy blanket that covered the razors. The pink tongue slipped out, eager for more. Twice more the ice reward came. Then his side vision caught another person lying across the room. He cocked his head and frowned, recognizing the olive-skinned profile. Danny was here too, in the hospital. Then he noticed how swollen and elevated his left arm was and panicked, unable to move either.

"Okay, listen to me," Sam used a harsh tone and got his attention. She put the spoon down and sat on the edge of the bed, holding his right hand in hers. The frantic eyes were trained on the wounded arm. "You were in Mexico with Jack, you both got hurt. He's okay, he's upstairs in another room. Danny and Chris rescued him and then went back and got you. That left arm was bitten by a large lizard and has to be kept elevated to get that swelling down." His ragged breaths hit her hard; she could only imagine how confused he was. Danny had warned here of the prior episodes and how unsettling the fear in his eyes was. The fever would do that and pain didn't help. The frantic eyes were trained on Danny. The swollen fingers on his left arm moved, pointing to his friend. "He has a concussion and bullet graze on his abdomen, he's good, Martin. He wanted to be near you." She saw his first two fingers wrap around each other and smiled, recalling the close call he and Danny shared during his rookie year. Martin had gone missing and Danny went undercover as a homeless man to find him. Although he suffered a trauma that left him mute, Martin was able to use that symbol to forge a union with Danny. Twisting the two fingers was his silent way of signaling 'partners'.

"That's right, Martin, you and Danny are partners."

Satisfied that Danny was safe, he turned his attention to the beautiful blonde vision hovering over him. Careful of the IV line, he moved his hand over his own heart and then upwards, until he rested it on hers. His shining eyes waited and when her tears came, he realized he'd found home.

"Yeah," Sam whispered, taking that hand and putting it under the opened buttoned area until it was over the warm flesh covering her heart. "You feel that? It's beating for you."

He sighed hard and the air that left his lips was full of contentment. He pulled his hand out and moved it, using his finger to take the tear away that ran down her cheek. He used his thumb to caress her cheek and then rest at the side of her neck.

"They said you were dead," she hushed, still recalling that terrifying moment. "I thought�until then�I knew what cold was�" She bit her lip and studied the compassion in his eyes. God, he had the most beautiful eyes. "�without you�in my life�there is no sun�" She saw him mouth the three words that he'd spoken before. Usually in the quiet moments after he'd made love to her and left her rosy and tingling. Sometimes in the morning when she was making breakfast, he'd sneak up behind her and hug her, nuzzling her ear and whispering private thoughts until she blushed. Now, at last, her heart was free. Her lips moved on their own accord, directed by that heart. "I love you too."

Martin's elation poured through his eyes. He pulled her face down and parted his lips He kissed her softly, content for now to have that. She kissed him back a bit more urgently and he allowed her tongue to investigate. She pulled back, moving her fingers through his damp wavy hair.

"Sleep," she requested, knowing he was fighting the pain-killers and the fever. She took his hand and held it, watching the heavy eyes drooping. "We have plenty of time�a whole lot of tomorrows. Sleep, rest, get well�"

She held onto his hand until he was fast asleep. She moved back then, moving the blanket up when he began to shiver a bit. She kept her eyes on him, watching him sleep. She'd be there every step of the way, knowing that the mental and emotional damage would be harder to overcome than the physical. But she'd fight every demon that tried to claim him. Now that she had his heart, she had no intention of giving it up.

William Beaumont Medical Center
Thursday, January 27th
Seven a.m.

Martin eyed the wildflowers that seemed to go on forever and inhaled deeply. The parade of colors that assaulted his eyes was nearly overcome by the wonderful scent. The sky was a shade of blue he'd never seen and the sun was glorious. A cool breeze enveloped him and the dark blue water of the river moving by played in equal harmony. He saw her then, rising from the water like a goddess. The water covering her skin seemed to glisten like diamonds. His mouth went dry and his eyes raked over her perfect body. A wicked smile appeared on her face and her hands dipped into the water and then rose slowly, over the full, pink-tipped breasts. The water drops dribbled down them in a very painful and inviting fashion.

"God, Sam�" he choked, moving towards the water's edge.

He paused just in front of her, the warmth of the sun baking his nude body. He cupped her face, drinking in every feature and then lowered his, capturing her lips in a fierce hold. Her wet body molded against his and her guttural moan was caught between the heated mouths that were waging war. His hands moved down her back, dancing along her spine until the soft, rounded cheeks found his fingers. He moved down the back of her slick thighs, lifting her up so his heated loins could claim relief. He lowered her onto the wet earth, his mouth moving down her neck and capturing those rosy buds, nibbling and savoring the sweet nectar.


The hot word invaded his ears and he reacted. He shifted his body, lifting her hips and impaled her hard, taking no prisoners. His thrusts were merciless and her ragged moans only made the ecstasy sweeter. Like a sated beast in heat, he continued until he was spent, rolling off of her and onto his back. He felt the cold water moving to and fro over his hot skin. He felt her hands caressing him and tiny nibbles rained down on his chest and playfully bit his nipple. He peeled an eye open and the gorgeous sky turned on him. Black clouds rolled in and thunder screamed, turning the sky black.

"What the hell�" he felt a swift, horrific pain then in his groin. He tried to move but his arms were pinned to the earth. He moved his face up and saw Will Garrison kneeling over him, holding a bloody machete in one hand and in the other, his penis and balls, the blood dripping down on his chest.


"Dammit�" Danny swore, shoving his blanket back and sitting up. He'd been watching Martin like a hawk since he woke up. The stilled body was twitching and the slack lips were parted emitting frantic huffing sounds. He gingerly eased his body off the bed and walked to where Martin was thrashing. He knew whatever dark place his friend was lost in, demanded action. "Hey�" he called out, catching the wet face that was tossing back and forth on the pillow. "HEY!" he cupped the chin and shook it hard, both eyes flew open and the gasping sound was accompanied by a silent scream of agony. "It's cool, man, it was a dream."

Danny wasn't sure if Martin understood his words or was even aware he was here. He frowned when Martin's right hand moved awkwardly, across his hip and grabbed at his balls.

"Just let it go, Martin, they got a catheter in you," he urged, mistaking the gesture for the need to urinate. But the other man sighed hard, a sigh of relief and sagged back against the wet pillows. "Hold on," Danny coached, moving his hand behind Martin's neck. "I hate wet pillows, that's a bitch. I'll turn 'em, okay?"

Martin nodded, still shaking all over. The dream was so real it left him quaking to core. But Danny was there to save him. How was it that happened all the time? His partner instinctively knew when to find him, ease the pain and chase the demons away. Resting on cold pillows, he closed his eyes, emitting a raspy moan of relief.

"Incoming," Danny directed, moving the ice chips and nudging the lips. "Good�I got more, you just keep workin' that tongue." He found an evil smile then and seeking to relieve his friend of the panic he still sensed was near, he spoke again. "Don't be wearin' out that tongue, Sam's got a lotta places that need that well-honed tool." An angry eye glared up at him. He saw the single finger move on the swollen left and laughed. He ruffled Martin's damp head and winked. "Sorry, amigo, you don't have the right parts. I'm a peaks and valleys guy."

Martin grinned then, settled back and eyed his worn friend. He wasn't sure of all the details, but he knew that Danny busted his ass in Mexico to find him. He knew that without this man, he'd not be alive now. He scowled and pointed to Danny's head and then his side.

"Ahhh," Danny denied, leaning back and grinning. He fingered his sore wound on the side. "I timed it perfectly. Chicks dig a scar and think of all the fun I can have stripping down to show it off."

Martin was getting bits and pieces of the ordeal back and a flash of Garrison's arrogant face loomed. He blinked and recalled the sound of a plane taking off and a strong set of arms holding onto him. Or was that a dream? He frowned, scowled and flashed his angry eyes at Danny, mouthing Garrison's name.

"He got away," Danny updated, wincing when his partner's temper flushed and the IV'd hand formed into a fist, pounding the bed.

Martin's anger was spilling out all over the bed, but then a determined hand moved over his fist. He turned and locked his hot blue eyes onto icy dark ones. No words were spoken, but he heard Taylor clearly through a piercing gaze. Those strong fingers put pressure on his enraged fist until it melted into a palm again. Then Danny latched onto his hand.

"Word," Danny vowed of his intent to find Garrison and bring him to justice.

That was good enough for Martin and he nodded once in agreement.

Then Martin moved the swollen first two fingers of his raised left hand and waited.

"You bet that sweet ass of yours we're partners," Danny echoed and repeated the gesture. "Look, I know I can't prevent them fuckin' nightmares, but I'm gonna make damn sure they don't go far. I'm gonna be right here, okay?" He settled in the empty chair and saw such emotion pouring from the wide blue eyes it almost choked him. "Man, you outta register them eyes with the Bureau." He saw a plea then, and felt Martin's right hand moving. He moved his arm and locked onto Martin's hand in a brotherhood grip. "You're welcome, brother."

Martin's eyes were closing when his arm was placed back on the bed. He peeled his heavy eyes open twice and saw the strong brown ones guarding him.

"Look, you get them blues down, okay? Because breakfast is coming in an hour and I ain't lettin' it get cold to chase your demons away." He saw the scowl form and chuckled. "Quit that cursin'." He watched Martin's hand move over his gut and shook his head. "No dice, man, your throat is all fucked up. You can't even get water for now." The angry face only got more sour and Danny laughed outright, ruffling the hair again and enjoying Martin's frustration. He didn't like being pawed and Danny was enjoying it immensely. "You're kiddin', right? You can't move either arm. I gotta get my innings in now." When Martin pulled back and flushed over his fever, giving him a very angry glare, Danny leaned over and wagged his eyebrows. "I got a nurse here linin' me up with a nice shade of bright pink nail polish. Your toes will never be the same." He sat back and laughed at the wiggling body in the bed that was cursing at him in a silent blue streak.

He knew his best friend had hard road of mental recovery ahead but he was alive and that was enough for now. And Danny would be there every step of the way, ensuring that Martin healed inside and out.

"Partners," he vowed, enjoying the fact the ragged hole inside that formed when Martin went missing was now gone.


William Beaumont Medical Center
Thursday, January 27th
One p.m.

The therapy room was large, divided among raised flat beds with mats on them and areas with two rows of silver rails, the path between guiding unsteady legs. Earlier that morning, he'd been brought down here for his first session. Jack had been surprised at how weak his legs were and how unsteady he was. He'd done two trips up and back through the poles and had been shaking and covered in sweat.

He grunted and bit his lip, keeping an eye on his feet as he moved forward. He felt better this time and the therapist mentioned in room therapy as well. He wanted to get his strength back and get out of this place. His only goal was to get back to New York and monitor Garrison's movements.

"Good, Jack," the therapist noted as the large man turned and walked through the rails back towards the wheelchair.

"One more," Jack decided.

"Okay," the therapist replied, eyeing the raised blue mat about five feet from them. "Walk over to the mat. It's the same level as your chair. You can rest a bit and then we'll head back to your room."

As he moved along, getting encouragement with every step, he thought of Martin. He knew by what the nurse had said that Martin was being transferred to his room. Vivian had departed for home that morning, anxious to reunite with her family. Chris had been discharged at lunch, but was not allowed to fly yet or be alone. He was staying with Sam and Danny in the base housing. Jack was worried about his blond friend. He knew from what the doctor told Chris that the second head injury was too close to the original one and they were concerned about lasting effects. He knew Chris was worried too and prayed that the blurred vision and dizziness that plagued him would go away in the upcoming weeks.


Jack nodded at the therapist and sat down on the hard blue mat. The young man got him a cup of water and as he drank, he thought about Martin. He was young and strong and his body would heal physically, but what of the mental and emotional wounds? Would the nightmares that found him so easily, also torment Fitzgerald?

After making sure Chris and Danny were settled into the ranch house on the base, Sam returned to the hospital. She was worried about Chris, who was far too quiet. She wasn't sure all of what the doctor told him but was concerned about what she saw. He was one of the few men she'd ever met that she totally trusted. She knew Martin's parents had been there when they left and were expected to remain for a while. But Nancy, the nurse that was so friendly, had called to say the elder Fitzgeralds had departed for lunch and told Martin they would return later in the afternoon.

Sam paused in the doorway, watching Martin sleep. His fever was still very persistent but not as dangerously high as it had been. She moved into the room and put her things down. She paused by the bed, still shaken at how close she'd come to losing him. She moved her hand through his damp hair and saw his brow furrow.

"Hey�" Sam spoke softly, when twin fuzzy blues eyed her with confusion.

Martin sighed hard and eyed the empty room. He'd been semi-awake enough to recall Danny leaving and then his parents hovering over him. But now Sam was here and he wanted to remain awake and enjoy her visit. He smiled up at her and wiggled his fingers.

"You look better." Sam took his hand and sat on the edge of the bed. She leaned down to kiss him and was pleased to find him kissing her back. "Mmmm�I missed you."

He nodded and arched his brows, casting a wicked grin. He had plans for her too and was getting hot just thinking on them. He watched her eyeing the tray nearby and rolled his eyes. He shook his head and made a face, recalling his mother feeding him pudding and broth.

"That's okay," Sam purred, caressing his cheek and twirling the curling hair near his ear. "You wait until you're discharged. I have some plans involving chocolate to fatten you up�" She laughed at the flush that rose, even over his fever.

He sighed again, feeling frustrated at his body betraying him. It seemed he was barely awake and already fighting hard to remain so. He hated being waited on and dependent on others to tend to him. He was used to doing for himself and keeping his fears inside. He thought on the fierce stance Danny took and knew his friend would ride out the storm with him. That Danny Taylor saw through him so easily scared him a little.

"What's wrong?" Sam noticed the change in his demeanor. Then an angry scowl rose and he moved the hand with the IV over his body in the bed. "Hey," she dictated, taking his chin in her hand and moving his annoyed face. "You damn near died, so lose that scowl, alright? Danny and Chris went through hell and back to get you home and alive. Chris�"

He frowned at the crack in her voice and became even more concerned when she rose and moved to the window. He didn't miss the fact her arms were crossed in front of her chest. That was a dead giveaway that she was hiding something. He frowned and tried to recall if anything happened to the blond team leader. But his memory of the events of the last few days was very limited. He didn't think Chris had been wounded. He banged his hand on the rails to get her attention. He pointed to her face and waited.

"Nothing�" She distracted him and moved back to the bag she'd brought with her. She took out a large bottle of coke and uncapped it, putting a straw into the top. "Slow and easy�" She grinned when he took too much and belched. Then her smile faded when he winced and moved his hand over his throat. "I'm sorry�I should have thought of that. That's why you only get juice�no carbonation. They have milk shakes in the coffee shop, I'll get one for you later."

Martin patted the bed and waited for her to sit down. Then he wagged his eyebrows and pulled the sheet back.

"Sorry, Champ, you're not up to that yet, but thanks." She lay down for a moment, resting her head on his shoulder. His lips brushed her forehead and she sighed, content to be near him. A few moments later, she heard his breathing change and sat up. It was painful to look at the marred face and bruises covering him, but he was alive and she had no intention of losing him again. So she moved back to the chair and watched over him, vowing to be there every step of the way during his recovery.

It was just after four p.m. when the door opened. Jack was watching highlights from the NFL action over the weekend on ESPN. He saw those eyes first, Martin's eyes set under a very attractive short dark haircut. He muted the sound and smiled.

"Hello, Jean. It's good to see you again."

"Jack," Jean Fitzgerald greeted warmly and walked over to the bed. She laid down a box of chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

"With all you had on your mind," Jack marveled. She'd taken the time to remember they were his favorite and how she found a box in the middle of an army base was amazing.

"Just a little treat, enjoy them." She took his large hand in both of her smaller ones and smiled down at him. "I stopped in the chapel on the way up here to say a prayer of thanks for you and Martin."

"I've been doing some thanking myself," Jack admitted. He liked Jean Fitzgerald and saw a lot of Martin in her, especially her compassion. Martin also inherited her dry sense of humor. "That's one helluva smart kid you raised."

"Thank you," she accepted. She remembered how excited Martin had been that day he called from Seattle to tell her he'd gotten transferred to Jack's team. "It meant everything to him to become a part of your unit. He's learned so much from you and you've guided him well. All of you have given him something he lacked before, a sense of unity, family if you will. He's relaxed a bit, not as buttoned up as he used to be."

"He's getting used to his boots," Jack decided. "I heard a rumor he's on his way here."

"Yes, they're bringing him down now. Victor got a call and went to see Danny and Chris. So I thought I'd come ahead and spend a few moments with you. I spoke with Maria and the girls, they were all so relieved."

"Yeah, the girls called this morning. I don't think I ever appreciated hearing their voices as much. I can't wait to see them."

"Enjoy them now, they grow so fast�" Her voice faded off and she moved toward the empty bed. "I hope you can help him, Jack. He's having bad dreams. I know he can't talk right now but even if he did, I'm sure he wouldn't tell me. Danny broke up a couple of them and Martin is so close to him, that will help."

"I got his back, Jean, don't worry. It won't be easy, and it might take a while but he's gonna be fine. And you have my word, Garrison will pay for this."

The door opened and Jack looked past Jean to where Martin was being wheeled into the room. The lingering bruises were a visible reminder of what he'd endured. The abrasions to his throat were hard to look at. The younger man gave him a mock salute and Jack grimaced.

"You're damn right I'm still in charge. Don't get cocky, hotshot."

It wasn't as much the words but that craggy tone that hit home for Martin. Jack's words and sour face didn't fool him one bit. He did remember seeing and hearing Jack scream in that cabin and he knew the older man was going through a similar ordeal. Although he missed Danny, having Jack nearby would be beneficial.

"Damn, you're trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey," Jack teased of Martin's arms being inactive. He saw the scowl and laughed. "The nurses get one look at those eyes and they'll be fighting to take care of you."

Martin endured his mother's fussing, she'd earned it. It was far too painful to think of her face when they'd told her he was dead. So he found a smile for her and let his love come through his eyes. But when her tears appeared, that upset him.

"Don't you dare,' she whispered, taking his hand which was moving to halt the wayward tears. She held it close, pressing it to her damp cheek. "I earned these tears�they started the day I found out I was carrying you. You have no idea how much I love you�"

Yes he did and he shook his head, wiggling his hand free, he touched his heart and locked his eyes on hers. He drifted off to sleep, warmed by the memories of days gone by, from racing in after school, finding her in the stands at his Little League games or having her weathering some pretty tough storms in his youth. She was a large part of who he'd become, her grace alone was worth holding onto.


Fort Bliss Base Housing
Thursday January 27th.

Danny was dozing in the chair with the television on when Sam came home. He sat up too fast and the room spun a bit. He yawned and eyed the clock, surprised it was almost three-thirty.

"You hungry?" Sam asked and he shook his shaggy head. "How about you take a shower and lose the bandito look? We can stop by the hospital and visit Martin and Jack, then get some dinner later."

"Bandito?" Danny eased out of the chair and paused, wincing at the pain in his side. Between the headache and queasiness, it was not his best day. He eyed his reflection in the mirror over the sofa and grinned. The beard and mustache that had been borne from not shaving all week glared back at him. He arched a bold eyebrow at his reflection. "Rakish�sexy�" He heard her snort on his way to the bathroom. "I heard that�"

"Where's Chris?" She asked, eyeing the empty bedroom.

"He was outside�" Danny paused, catching her eye. "They didn't tell you anything did they?"

"Like what?" Her inner alarm went off. She saw the fear in his eyes. "What happened ?"

"I don't know, Sam, but something's not right. He was okay when Victor was here." He nodded to the black bag on the sofa. "Edited copies of the shit that bastard did to Jack and Martin. They're sending the full set to the officials in Mexico. Then Chris went outside and I told Victor all I remembered about where Alex Garcia was hidden."

"Oh, speaking of Alex," Sam updated. "Did they get his body back?"

"Yeah, Victor took care of that. At least his wife and folks will have something to bury."

"Don't be long," Sam warned. She eyed the new clothes and other things that spilled out of a Walmart bags on the bed in the room Danny was using.

Sam was glad somebody left coffee on and poured two mugs, putting sweetener in one. She moved to the window and frowned. There was an odd shade of fear shadowing his features. The sea green eyes seemed too distant. She moved to the door and exited, moving to where he was sitting on the patio area.

"Thanks," Chris said, taking the coffee. He took a sip and eased back a bit. He'd been so tense his shoulder ached.

"Talk to me, Lance," she offered, her voice tinged with worry.

The smile that came back had been born many years ago. Her first few weeks with Malone's team had been busy and a group of school children went missing at a summer camp. Chris's team had been called in as well and that's when she'd first met him. During the trek through the woods, he's rescued her from an angry thorn bush. He'd made some comment about being an expert at finding damsels in distress. Her 'thanks Lance' had been sarcastic. But in the months and years that followed, he'd become that and so much more. He was the first man in her life she totally trusted. He was a close friend and what she saw now scared her, for he was fearless.

Chris didn't reply, he took another sip and put the coffee down. He dropped his head a bit and gasped softly, when she moved behind him to massage his shoulders.

"God, you're wound up," she commented. "Did the doctors tell you something?" She moved in front of him, sitting on the patio table so she could face him. She rested a hand on his lower arm. "Chris?"

He raised his head slowly and caught her eyes, glad for the strength they provided. She was one of the few people he did confide in and this might not be a bad time to do just that.

"They uh�they aren't sure�"

"Sure?" Sam frowned, trying to read what was lurking behind the usual mesmerizing sea green eyes. "Sure about what?"

"The vision�other stuff�balance�" He paused, eyeing something far beyond the horizon. "I can't give up the badge, Samantha."


That hurt. Hurt to the point where she felt a pain in her gut. She could count on one hand in all these years the times he'd used her formal name. Usually, it was 'Sunshine' and he was the only one to get away with it.

"Oh, God, Chris," She replied, not thinking that his injury would cause permanent damage. Then she took his face in her hands and turned it to face her. "Hey, no quitters around the campfire, remember? It's only been a couple of days, Chris. Concussions take time, weeks even. Don't paint a black picture."

"Yeah, I guess�"

"Hey!" Her voice was sharp and that did get his attention. "Lose the pity party. You're alive, Jack and Martin are alive, Danny's alive�that's what counts. That skull of yours isn't made of steel, Chris. It's going to take time. And you're a whole lot more than a damn badge. So you lose that now or I'll kick your ass," she warned smugly. "I can do it, too."

He chuckled at that, gripped her hand a moment and then sat back, swallowing hard. She was right, of course. It was too soon and even though the doctor's warning about permanent damage was eating away at him, he had to give it some time. She moved to the next chair, but moved it closer, so it was next to him. He was glad to have her near and he did feel better confessing his fear. Then a voice came through the window, warbling loudly, badly and very off-key

"Blinded by the light�wrapped up like douche you now the runner in the night�"

They both laughed at that and he took her hand and rose up.

"God love him," Chris commented of the would-be crooner.

"Somebody has to," Sam teased and waited as Chris opened the back door.

He saw the worry in her eyes and felt badly about that. The last thing he'd intended was to put more strain on her. He knew she was involved with Martin and nearly losing him had rocked her world. He didn't like her worrying on both of them and set out to change that.

"You know, it just might work."

"What?" She got suspicious of the tone in his voice. But the glimmer of mirth in his eyes brought her hopes up a bit.

"My idea for an undercover team, all females with little leather outfits�" He yelped when she whacked his butt. "I'll draft you first�make sure the uniform is custom fitted."

"I got a few things I could custom fit," she tossed back, boldly eyeing his very well honed male physique.

"Hey," Chris's smile faded and he caught her shoulders, pulling her close and kissing her forehead. "Thanks, Sunshine�"

Central Valley
Costa Rica

The sprawling five bedroom estate was tucked away on a hill with a spectacular view of the Valley. Close enough to San Jose for what you need of a city, the rented home was perfect to suit his needs for the near future. The staff came cheap and were smart enough to know what was good for them. Loose tongues would cause you to disappear permanently and they knew that.

Will watched as large colorful bird swooped past, it's red and green markings standing out against a crystal blue sky. Arturo Colon was more of a well-paid acquaintance than a friend. But Garrison had known him for twenty years and he knew the man kept his tongue. He'd phoned him from Mexico and told him what he needed. Arturo picked him up at the airport and took him to a doctor in San Jose. The bullet had been removed from his arm and although he'd lost blood and had a minor fever, he was lucky. He did see coverage this morning on CNN about the federales that had been presumed dead recovering in El Paso. So far, it would seem that they didn't know where he'd gone and that was fine with him. He had enough money down here to live lavishly for a long time. But he wouldn't do that, of course.

He could smell the distinct aroma of peppers frying. Carmelita was the woman who did most of the housework and cooked. He only met her this morning, yesterday he'd slept all day and still unwell. Arturo had well paid guards at the entry to the estate and the private road that led here. Once he felt better and regained some of his strength, he would move into the next phase. If all went well, it would provide him the luxury of going back to the States. He didn't like losing and Malone's arrogant voice and that cocky, blue-eyed kid who broke him out were the motivating force for his plan.

He lifted the bright orange drink that held fruit juice and vodka. His mind's eye drew up Jack Malone's body writhing in agony in the cabin, followed by the cocky eyes of Martin Fitzgerald. His plan was difficult but necessary and he'd make sure Taylor and Boone paid dearly for their actions as well.

"Sleep well," he toasted, lifting the large frosted glass to the breathtaking panorama around him. "Your days are numbered; your journey to hell is coming."


William Beaumont Medical Center
Thursday, January 27th
Five p.m.

The quiet interlude Jack had enjoyed had a short life. Martin's mother left and a short time later, Danny, Chris and Sam appeared. They'd enjoyed a good visit. Danny looked much better, but there was something hiding behind Boone's eyes and when they were alone, he'd find out just what. The patients would be getting dinner soon and the trio would be heading out to eat, returning after. Sam went to get the car, leaving the males in the room alone. Chris was settled into the chair next to him, Martin's wounds were being dressed by two nurses and the curtain was pulled. When they left, the curtain remained in place.

"What are you doing?" Jack snarled, not trusting the mischievous grin that Taylor wore when he disappeared with a large shopping bag to the other side of the curtain. "Taylor�"


"And your nose just grew a few inches," Malone tossed back of the Pinocchio shaded lie.

"I smell a rat," Chris commented, when Taylor reappeared tossing the empty bag away and grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Jack sat up and frowned, watching Taylor peering around the curtain like a kid who caught Santa Claus. He shook his head at the getup. An oversized New York Mets jersey over a navy turtleneck, with a Mets baseball cap turned around backwards on his head.

"This," Chris stated, waving his hand at Danny's impish attire. "Dangerous, lethal, trained to kill�"

"Yeah, well they lowered the Bureau standards a helluva lot since we came up," Jack decided.

Malone caught Boone's narrowed gaze and jerked his head, causing the blond to move an arm and haul the curtain back.

"That knock on the head took what little brains you had," Jack growled, eyeing the bed across from him.

Martin was still dozing, but the tray that had been within reach was now just out of reach. The entire top of the tray was covered in various chocolates. It was no secret that Fitzgerald was addicted to candy, especially chocolate. And he couldn't eat it yet, his throat was too swollen. Also, his stomach and digestive track were giving him problems.

"You're out of your mind, Danny," Chris chuckled.

"What?" Danny grinned, proud of his idea. He arched a smug brow and thrust his chest out. "He can't touch me."

"No!" Jack scoffed. "Like that time in Utica when you put that weird glue on his coffee mug."

"That was an accident, he was supposed to hit the men's room and wash it off, not hit on her."

Taylor thought on the encounter and wrinkled his face. Immediately realizing he'd been pranked, Martin cursed a blue streak then stood up to hit the men's room. But a waitress offered a towel. He'd reached to take the damp towel from the waitress and slipped, his hand hitting her chest and sticking there. Danny had nearly fallen out of the booth laughing, Martin nor the woman had been amused.

"Seems to me he was the one left laughing when you all those phone calls from Impotency Anonymous Support Groups," Jack recalled. The pair was always pulling pranks on each other, but Fitzgerald usually bested Taylor. "You'll never learn�"

"I got him good this time," Taylor defended.

"I'll make sure they put that on your gravestone," Boone teased, shaking his head.

Martin licked his dry lips and frowned, coughing and trying to pry his eyes open. The drugs in the IV kept him dopey and his body was still craving sleep. But something was pulling at his senses. He inhaled deeply and was overcome by the alluring scent.


He blinked a few times and then when his eyes saw the dazzling display of confections in every shape and degree, light, dark, milk and white he nearly died. They were piled several inches high, crying out for the warmth of the cavity of his mouth. He moved to reach one and scowled. His left arm was immobilized, raised high to reduce swelling and the right was tethered to an IV. But even moving it carefully, he couldn't get to within a few inches of the nearest candy. They were calling to him, his mouth was watering and he couldn't have them. A familiar chuckle took his irate eyes to the side. He glared openly and his silent decree went airborne.

"You're dead, Taylor," Jack read Martin's lips. "Yeah, that about covers it."

"Problems, Harvard?"

Danny sauntered over and eyed the mountain of chocolate, selecting one and popping it into his mouth.

"Damn�that's a butter cream." He took another and moaned. "Chocolate fudge and caramel�hey, I think this one is a nut cluster�" He held the mouth-watering morsel in front of the salivating patient's mouth briefly, before eating it.

Martin seethed, wiggling in the bed and huffing, his damaged throat making odd but irate squeaking sounds. He tried unsuccessfully to duck when Danny's hand moved to ruffle his hair.

"Temper, temper," Danny oozed. Martin hated to be touched and he was riding this wave for all it was worth. He grabbed Martin's chin and held it, shaking his head. "You'll get your blood pressure up too high, that's not good." He laughed when Martin's silent threat came. He lost the first word but the 'up your ass' was mouthed very clearly.

"Sam's outside," Chris said, eyeing the window. "You need anything, old man?" He asked Jack.

"Cheap whiskey and cheaper women," Jack deadpanned, then caught Boone's wrist. "We're gonna talk later." He took the resigned sigh the blond sent back as a yes.

Sam dropped Danny and Chris off at the hospital. She needed to get Martin some personal items from the store. The trio enjoyed a good dinner at a local restaurant, although Chris hadn't eaten much. Sam suspected his stomach was bothering him. They would stop in to visit Martin first, and then take Jack down the hall to the conference room, where the Major had provided a setup to view the edited tapes.

When they entered the room, something about Jack's smug smile caused Chris to grin. Danny frowned and cocked his head at the curtain pulled around Martin's bed. He heard at least three female voices talking in soothing tones. His dark eyes narrowed and he moved over, yanking the curtain aside.

"What's going on?"

His best friend was surrounded by nurses and stripped of his hospital smock. A large basin of sudsy water was resting on a tray over his knees. Both arms were elevated to give the trio of lovely nurses room to maneuver.

"Poor Martin," Jack cooed, enjoying Danny's shocked face. "Having to endure a warm bath�thanks to you."

"Me?" Danny squeaked, eyeing his boss.

"Neither fever nor an arm restraint kept him from his goal. He's worse than the Canadian Mounties�" Jack chuckled. "You left, I dozed off and woke up to find him maneuvering his legs and jiggling the tray to get those chocolates to drop off. The IV'd arm could reach just far enough to snag a few of them. The rest ran all over his chest and rolled down to a more delicate area.'

"Where they melted�" Chris guessed, tapping a hand of consolation on Taylor's stunned back and dropping down in the chair next to Jack.

"�and the few that he got in his mouth, he choked on and threw back up�" Jack laughed, watching the morphing expressions on Taylor's face. "You mind not drooling on his feet?"

Danny didn't know what irritated him more, Martin's smug smile, the raspy moans of pleasure or the cooing of the nurses that were bathing him. Then Martin's damp head nodded and the nurse who was using a sudsy cloth on his naval area turned.

"Is he the one?" She glared hard at the dark-haired man. "What kind of friend are you? To do such a thing?"

"You don't understand," Danny protested and made a sour face at the 'woeful' one reclining in the bed. "You're all buyin' into that blue-eyed orphan routine he puts out. Let me tell you, he ain't no choirboy. I can tell you things about him that would curl your hair�"

"�.weak and helpless�" the redhead soothed, wiping Martin's feverish face.

"�weak�helpless�" Martin mouthed to his annoyed partner and emitted a pitiful cough at the right time.

"You can't be that blind!" Danny protested.

"He needs extra care tonight and that dampness�" the blonde noted of the area she'd just covered up near his groin. "�could chaff. We don't want a rash�it's a rather delicate area�"

"�delicate�" Martin parroted silently and sagged back, wagging his eyebrows at Danny when the nurses weren't looking.

"Extra care!" Danny chirped.

"Extra�" Martin sent back.

"Shut up Martin!"

"That's enough from you!" The dark-haired nurse chastised, yanking the curtain. "You know very well his throat is too swollen to speak."

"You can't hear him like I can!" Danny snapped.

"You just take it easy, Martin�"

"You just lay back, we'll do all the work."

"We'll take care of every need."

"You gotta be kiddin' me�" Danny protested, then frowned. "Hey, I got wounded too�I got delicate areas�"

"Yeah," Jack chortled, "like the area between your ears. Some master planner you are�"

"You went down in flames again." Chris said, blinking hard when his vision blurred a bit. He sat back and shut his eyes.

"Care for a chocolate?" Jack needled, holding up the basket where they'd put the chocolates that survived. His side vision caught the color leave Boone's face and he noted the grip the blond had on the arms of the chair.

"Oh, man," Danny moaned, hands riding his slim hips.

"Why don't you go scare up a wheelchair? See if the room is ready?" Jack suggested quietly.

Danny felt the change in the atmosphere and Jack's voice matched the concern the dark eyes held as they were directed at Chris. He sensed that Malone wanted to speak with Boone alone and nodded, exiting the room. They had called to inquire if they could reserve a conference room to view the edited tapes of Garrison's. Martin's health didn't allow him to be included yet, but he would be provided that opportunity when he was stronger.

Danny hit the elevator button, seeking the lobby to get a wheelchair. He was staying in the base housing until Martin was well enough to travel. Once he was discharged, Martin would stay with him and Sam in the house for a few days. He hoped that when Martin was alone with them, he would begin to purge that poison that Garrison left inside.


A few moments after Taylor left, the nurses also departed. Martin's meds kicked in and he was sleeping soundly, his scarlet cheeks reflecting the fever he still fought. Chris sighed hard, hunched over and pressed his fingers on his eyes. He didn't feel good and the idea of the headaches, dizziness and other symptoms remaining 'indefinitely' had him bleak.

"Don't hide from me, Chris," Jack warned, not liking what he'd been seeing since his last return from therapy. It was before the blond was discharged and the doctor had spoken to him.

"It's not worth worryin' on, Jack. You got enough shit to get over�"

"All we've been through and you're gonna turtle up on me?" Jack sat up and eased his frame over the side of the bed. He was wearing a navy blue sweat suit and shoved his feet into the slippers on the floor. They were large, to accommodate the bandages on his toes. "What did that doctor say to you? He's a local yokel�we got some of the best in the world in New York�"

"The headaches�the dizziness�blurred vision�feelin' like I'm gonna black out�" Chris sighed and sat back, eyeing his best friend carefully. "It might�he wouldn't guarantee it would�leave�"

"Christ, it's been a couple days! You've been through worse before. I saw you take two bullets and held those leaks until the medics rolled. You remember that jackass in the ER that told me to notify your folks? You proved him wrong�" He noted the incident that was fifteen years in their past.

"�my badge�Jack�it's�"

Jack didn't like the defeat in the usually confident voice. The somber features were hard to look upon. He wasn't sure why Chris was reacting so hard to this, or did the doctor tell him something else that he had not disclosed. It mattered not, this was his best friend and he'd was riding this storm out for the duration.

"I know, Chris, and it's gonna stay where it is for a long time." He knew head injuries shouldn't be taken lightly but felt Chris was wrong about this. "Give it some time, okay?"

"Your limo's here," Danny announced, shoving the door open. He saw the two staid faces and something else in Chris's eyes he couldn't identify. But whatever he'd interrupted was between the two older men. "Hey," Danny said, helping Jack into the chair. "Me and Chris are a pretty good team. He don't growl or chew ass like you do. I might lateral�"

"I'll get the paperwork ready," Jack shot back.

"Besides," Danny teased, hoping to lighten the dark mood. "He's a chick magnet. I could live off his extras and die a happy man."

The edited portion of the tape ran for almost an hour. It began with Garcia's earliest film of the drug lords in Central America and Mexico that Garrison was involved with. There were interviews with them and footage of the meets where he was clearly seen interacting with them. There were also still photos and other damaging evidence. Then there were the horrific images of Garcia's torture sessions and the final grisly one that led to this death.

"You sure you're ready for this?" Danny quietly inquired, having seen snippets of what was coming. Jack didn't reply, so he turned back.

There were shots of Jack being tortured, Martin being dumped into a coffin and then the grainy shots of the blue-eyed agent being whipped and hung. The final shot came courtesy of Jack's email at work, where Garrison had sent the last pictures of a battered and drugged Fitzgerald being dumped into the lizard pit.

The tape ended, the trio sat silent, each seething to a different degree of rage and frustration. Jack spoke first, his voice low and lethal, which matched the glint in his dark eyes.

"Costs Rica won't be big enough for him to hide."

The flickering light went out, leaving him in total darkness. His voice was hoarse from calling out to nothingness; there was nobody to hear his cries for help. His fingers were cut and torn from clawing at the wooden lid just inches from his face. His heart was pounding so hard, he felt sure it would break a rib. What little air that was trapped in this coffin with him was stank and stagnant, reeking of human waste. The heat inside the box caused him to sweat profusely, bathing him dampness. He felt several pairs of tiny feet running across his groin and moved his hand to dispel the rodents who were attempting to dine there. But then he found he couldn't draw any air. There was no air left. He was suffocating. He struggled with what little strength he had left to fight his way out.


Jack wasn't sleeping great to begin with and since Martin arrived, that time was cut in half. He kept the low light on so he could keep an eye on the younger man. He was worried about the nightmares, having suffered through some pretty strong ones himself. He sat up, swung his legs over and studied Fitzgerald's face. The bruised face was bathed in sweat and the features were twitching. Then the body began to move and when that secured left arm was being pulled, he moved into action.

"YO!" Jack called out, carefully making his way to the bed. He grabbed the arm and held it down, leaning over to use his other hand to tap Martin's wet face. "Hey! Wake up!" Then Martin's eyes shot up and his mouth began to gape, frantically sucking at air. But Jack heard no sounds. Then he saw Martin's lips move and tried to read the words that were being offered in silent misery.

"�out�me out�help�" Jack hissed, his anger at Garrison rising like molten lava in a dormant volcano. His guess was that Martin was reliving being buried alive. "That fuckin' maniac, I'm gonna rip his heart out." He slapped Martin's face a bit more forcefully and then shook it lightly. "Martin! Wake up�Martin�come on�wake up." A long gasp was his reply, the terrified eyes shot open and he erupted into a series of coughs. Martin was shaking all over and the confused eyes that roamed the area around him told him his friend was not aware yet. "Martin? Look at me," he directed, grabbing the strong chin. When the eye that wasn't swollen focused on him, he continued. "You're in a hospital, not a coffin. He can't hurt here, Junior, okay?"

Once Martin realized what had occurred, he became angry and pulled away, using his tethered right arm to shove Jack's hands away. He huffed in annoyance and turned his face at the water being offered. He wasn't a baby, didn't want to be treated like one and didn't like the fact his nightmares were being shared.

"Look!" Jack growled, grabbing the annoyed face and turning it to face him. "You think I like being woken up at three fuckin' am by that lunatic hauntin' you? They're nightmares, Martin, and they're brutal, I've been there. So don't pull this spoiled kid bit on me, okay? Don't waste my time. You're not a kid, so lose the tantrum."

Martin sagged back on the pillows, resting his eyes and getting his wayward breathing under control. He waited several moments and heard the sound of water and ice swirling against the sides of a cup. He peeled his working eye open and saw only concern in the shadowed dark eyes regarding him. He nodded, parted his lips and accepted the straw. He sipped very slowly, allowing a little water to get past his swollen throat. He nodded gratefully when the cup was withdrawn.

"Sorry�" he mouthed. His head was pounding and he felt sick. He didn't want to be here and didn't want anyone worrying or fussing over him. But when he heard the chair legs scraping the floor and turned to see Jack easing himself into a chair by the bed, he was grateful. He felt a flush rising over his fever.

"Work that color on some pretty nurse, not me," Jack teased. "I'm too tired to make this trip again." He knew how embarrassed Martin was, having gone through similar nights when he first arrived. "I had them too, Pete was here and he helped but you're the only one who knows what that bastard did�we might have to ride this out together."

Martin nodded at that. Jack had suffered worse than he had at Garrison's sick hands. If anybody understood the naked fear the dreams engulfed him in, it would be Jack. He motioned with his right hand and waited. A pat to his shoulder and a shuffling of feet took Jack across the room and then back again. Then the carted table was moved over him and he felt the upper part of the bed rising.

"Take your time," Jack coached, wincing at how badly Martin's right hand was shaking. He moved his own hand over it to steady it, then removed it. The words came slowly at first, Martin was not one who was comfortable sharing any piece of himself, and usually it was to Danny. Jack read the words and nodded.

"I hate it too," he admitted of the dreams and the anger. But the next set of words came easier. Maybe it was a minor blessing that he couldn't talk yet. Sometimes it was easier to write your feelings than speak them.

Martin wrote briefly at first, about being trapped and helpless and at Garrison's mercy. He waited and Jack spoke, about his own dreams. Martin wrote again about the coffin and the horror of being enclosed in a tight area with no air.

"I had one where I was tied to a floor and couldn't move. He had an axe and started with my hands�"

And so it went, slowly at first and as Jack told Martin about that anger when he woke up, he heard the pen in Martin's hand hit the tray top. The blue eye was closed and the mouth gaped slightly, emitting steady air. He pushed the button to lower the bed. He made no attempt to move, his vigil was not done. But as the quiet time between dusk and dawn begin to die, his resolve rose. Will Garrison's days on this planet were numbered.

Sunday, January 30

Martin woke with a start, his chest heaving. He blinked hard and eyed the room carefully. His eyes roamed across the room to the clock that his mother had brought for him. It was just after ten a.m. and he was already tired. His face screwed up in annoyance and he balled a fist on his hand. All he did was sleep or worse, doze off when he had company. He'd eaten his breakfast, despite the fact he was not a fan of oatmeal, his throat was finally allowing soft foods to pass. He'd been allowed to shower and it felt like nirvana. He was dressed in navy blue flannel sleep pants and a long thermal shirt. The blue robe was a little loose, but it did the job. The nurses had left him sitting up in a high backed chair by the window.

Jack had been discharged earlier that morning and was at a briefing with his father, two other officials from Washington, Chris and Danny. Between reviewing the tapes and giving their testimony, it was expected to last into the afternoon. Sam stayed late the night before and had to fly back home this morning. Jack and Chris's teams were combined due to loss of manpower and Vivian was in charge. Two small boys went missing at the Central Park Zoo and she was needed for the investigation.

"Well, it's good to see you sitting up and dressed."

"Hey, Dad."

Martin was surprised to see his father coming through the door. His mother had been with him most of the morning, but wasn't feeling well. Martin couldn't imagine the strain she'd been under and told her to go to the base house and rest.

"I know you can't eat much, but this might go down easy," Victor stated, pulling a container of ice cream and a spoon.

"Chocolate Mocha Truffle," Martin whispered, his voice was still weak due to the abrasions inside his throat. He took a generous spoonful and moaned at the rich flavor. "Thanks�"

Victor went into the bathroom to wash his hands and splash some water on his face. The morning meeting had been quite rough. Viewing the tapes was difficult to say the least. Martin's input would be provided in a day or two, when he was stronger. Chris and Danny supplied their timeline and Jack told what he could recall of the car accident and the aftermath. They'd taken a break until two p.m., which Victor suggested for two reasons. He wanted to speak with Martin and Chris Boone was barely holding on by twelve thirty.

"I spoke with your mother," Victor said, re-entering the room and taking a seat on the other chair across from Martin. He wasn't surprised that the ice cream was going down easy. His son's sweet tooth was no secret. "Her stomach is acting up, nerves I guess. Major Douglas is going to have the base doctor send over something to quiet it down a bit."

"�worry on me�stay�rest�" Martin rasped painfully, it still hurt to talk.

"I'll see to that," Victor agreed.

He studied Martin as he ate, wondering again about the strength and stamina he'd called on to survive those brutal days in the remote areas of Mexico. From the time he could toddle, Martin had been tenacious. Undersized as a youth, he fought and worked twice as hard and long to make every sports team he could. He would not tolerate second place and his temper would flare when he didn't come in first. Maybe he had a hand in that, he'd always stressed to his son that excellence was the gold standard.

Martin put the container down and reached for his soda. It was the only thing left from the lunch tray. He puzzled his face up at the odd look his father was giving him.

"What's wrong?"

"Don't strain your voice," Victor ordered. "Everyone, myself included, are nothing short of amazed at what you endured last week. I can't begin to tell you how proud I am of you son."

Martin felt his face flush and was more than a bit surprised. Not that his father didn't compliment him, but it didn't happen often. Also, there was a different pitch to his voice and the tone was different. Again, he thought on the call from Garrison that his father would have gotten announcing he'd been tortured and executed. The might change a man's color of his son.

"�set the bar high�"

"Too high, perhaps," Victor admitted, shaking his head. "From the time you were a boy, always going overboard, working harder, pushing yourself beyond the limits�" He eyed his firstborn carefully. "How much of that was inside you or did I create a monster?"

Martin thumped his chest hard and scowled. Didn't his father know by now he was his own man? Sure, part of that was the atmosphere in which he'd been raised. But his mother played a larger role than his father. He wondered if his father even knew that. Her words of encouragement, her humor and the love that she showered on him gave him the fuel to drive. Even his love of history came from here, the books about great leaders and historical achievements came from her directive.

"�tools�" he pointed to his father. "�and mom�me�me�"

"When Jack told us this morning what you did�" His voice trailed off.


"It is your job, but not to the degree it was completed. It's the guts that Danny and Chris displayed in taking no prisoners on their quest to find you. I know the Bureau has high standards and you've all been trained to endure and survive. But this time it really hit home." He stood up and moved over, gripping the loose shoulder of the robe. "And this morning, hearing it, seeing those horrific images�"

Martin looked up to his father and nodded once. He knew how difficult this was for him, it was not his way. But the brush with death had rattled him. And if it softened that hard shell his father usually wore, then maybe it was worth it.

"The nurse said you should be walking a little," Victor encouraged and stepped back.

Martin nodded and rose, grabbing his father's forearm to steady himself. He held on until he got to the doorway. Then he latched onto the wooden rail that ran the length of the hallway. He took slow steps, listening as his father spoke of the testimony given. They sat for a while in the small waiting area by the elevator. He didn't mean to yawn but his body was not as willing to work as his mind was.

"I guess it's time to get you back, you need your rest."

And he kept his pace even with Martin's steps, encouraging him as he went along. By the time he was settled back in bed, the blue eyes were half-mast. He waited until they were closed and went to leave. But a hand came up and latched onto his arm.

"Do you need something?"

"�already�got it�" Martin sent back, "Thanks, Dad�"


February 2
French Quarter
New Orleans, LA

It was almost five p.m. when Jack and Chris got out of a cab at hotel on Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter. They were on their way back to New York, each anxious to begin the process of finding Garrison. Chris wasn't allowed to fly and Jack's head injury didn't allow for him to drive yet. So they were taking the train home and the passage from El Paso had a stopover in New Orleans. Instead of changing trains and taking one at seven p.m., which would arrive early the following afternoon, Jack opted for a layover in a real bed. Chris objected at first, but he looked awful and spending another night in the bunk style bed on the train wasn't an option.

"This sucks," Chris said, taking his small duffle bag into the lobby of the pretty hotel. "We're in sin city and can't enjoy it."

"Speak for yourself," Jack replied, heading for the counter to check in. "You can't imbibe and frolic, I can do that for both of us."

The room was large and airy, decorated in soft, celery green, blush rose and rich cream. The French style furniture suited it. Chris opened French doors onto a small balcony and slumped in the chair. It was cool outside as the sun was beginning to make its way to the horizon. He enjoyed the breeze that lifted his fair hair and sighed hard, rubbing the bridge of his nose. He didn't want to hear that the headaches would go away 'eventually', or that the blurred vision and nausea would go away 'in time'.

"Here," Jack offered, handing Chris's bag of pills to him with a can of ginger ale. "Don't spill any of that, that damned little refrigerator is overpriced," he noted of the sodas and other treats in the refrigerator in the room.

Chris eyed the bottles and took a blue pill from one of them and rinsed it down. He wasn't about to take the other two yet, they knocked him out. He enjoyed fine food and this town was known for it. It was worth the price he'd pay later in the bathroom.

"You need to nap or anything?" Jack asked. Chris had been very quiet all day and he knew by the pale face and pinched features, he wasn't well.

"�yeah�then a shower." Chris took another swig from the can. "You call in?"

"No, I'll do that later." Malone eyed the street below. "I'm gonna have a look around."

"I'll be ready by seven," Chris decided.

True to his word, at seven when they exited the hotel and hit Bourbon Street, Chris did look better. The medication, rest and hot shower revived him a bit. As they walked along, Jack's stomach began to growl.

"I'm starving�"

"Well," Chris paused, eyeing their casual attire. "We're not really dressed for Arnaud's, Broussard's or Antoine's�"

"I look like someone who needs subtitles on the menu?" Jack replied. "I can live without eating snails dripping in wine." He might not be dressed but the custom fit black jeans, black shirt and leather jacket with the face that wore it would take Boone in any door.

"Okay�" The handsome blond thought for a moment. He eyed the street and nodded. "Coop's is a good local place."

"Lead on," Malone answered, following his friend up the street.

They ducked inside the cozy brick building and Jack liked it immediately. The brick interior, worn tables and casual diners made him feel at home. A large blackboard had the menu written in colored chalk. They got a table in the corner and Jack got a beer. Chris stuck with a ginger ale.

"I could eat the whole menu," Jack commented, eyeing all the tasty dishes.

"The taste plate is good," Chris suggested. "You get a sample of a few things. The blackened red fish is good�"

The waitress appeared and Jack eyed the board again. "I'll go with taste plate." It began with a cup of seafood gumbo and led into shrimp Creole, Cajun fried chicken, red beans and rice with sausage and rabbit and sausage jambalaya."

"Blackened Redfish and a side of the Creole green beans, house dressing on the salad, thanks." Chris eyed the blackboard as the waitress was still writing. "Oh, and bring him an order of the fried crawfish."

"Anything else I can do for you, sugah?"

The low voice of the waitress and the clear intent in the tone caused Jack to smirk and roll his eyes. "He's fine," he replied, not missing her eyes raking over his friend as she left.

Chris grinned and rose, eyeing the restroom sign. "I'll be back."

Jack was just about to enjoy one of the tempting fried crawfish on the platter in front of him, when he saw Chris making his way through the crowded room. Just as he passed a table with three woman, one stood up. Chris didn't see her and approached their own table. His hand was on his chair where a sultry Creole accent tickled his ear.


"Jesus God!" Jack chuckled, shaking his head. The statuesque woman who approached was nothing short of spectacular. Her caf�-au-lait coloring, high cheekbones and large, green almond shaped eyes accented by silky, wavy, ebony tresses over a low cut cream sweater that twin perfect breasts were snuggled into drew the eyes of every male in the vicinity.

"Comment allez-vous?" she purred, slinking up to him.

"Bon," Chris replied, grinning and accepting the embrace and kiss.

"Amazing!" Jack mumbled of the uncanny ability of his friend to run into beautiful women in every port they parked in.

They conversed in French for a moment and he made mental note to look up whatever phrase she used, along with her hand sliding down his form-fitting shirt that caused him to blush a bit. Finally, the gorgeous creature attached to his chest noticed Chris wasn't alone.


"Oh, don't mind me, I'm just the poor bum he's traveling with," Jack noted, extending his hand when she offered her elegant one. "Jack Malone."

"Chantal Ducheneaux, enchant�!"

"Chantal and I are old friends," Chris interjected.

"I'm sure," Jack said with a sly grin.


"Sad to say," Chris answered. "Not business or pleasure. We're on our way to New York. I got hurt and can't fly."

"Oh, God," Jack covered his smile with his hand. He wasn't sure of all of what she spoke to his friend in a low tone, but he picked up on 'bed' and 'caress'. "Look, knock yourself out champ," he offered, nodding to the lovely woman.

Chris wanted to wipe the cocky grin off Jack's face. He turned to the stunning vision and returned her kiss, whispered something to her and then she returned to her table. He then took his own seat and a drink of soda. "So? How's the crawfish?"

"Not as tasty as that," Jack answered, nodding to the pink lipstick on Chris. His friend swiped at it and rolled his eyes. "You sleep in shit, I swear to God! Is there no city safe from you?"

"It was a few years ago, I was here for a week on that leadership class. I met her the first day at breakfast in a little place near the hotel."

"Why do I get the idea you didn't spend much time there?" He noted of the hotel. The rakish grin that came back answered his question.

"Hey, did you call in?"

"Yeah, Victor said Ted Donnelly's called him. He got in touch with Carlson and he's supposed to call in from San Jose, which is south somewhere of San Miguel. I told him to call on Friday at about 6. The train is due in at 2 p.m."

"That was quick." Chris ate one of the crawfish and thought on their problem. "Hopefully, we get the ball rolling. I hope to hell he don't skip."

"He won't, he thinks he's won. Besides, if Martin did hit him, he's probably gonna stay put." He ate two more of the tasty gems. "Besides, he's an arrogant prick, he's gloating down there."

The meal was very good and Jack devoured every bit of it and two more beers. Twice Chris and Chantal had exchanged heated looks. Jack grabbed the bill and rose, tugging at Boone's neck as he slipped past him. While Jack paid the bill, he noticed Chris stopped at Chantal's table and they spoke for a moment.

Music is the force that colors the soul of New Orleans. Jack and Chris spent three hours and managed to pop into several clubs. From Jazz through the Blues and Rock and capped their night off by hitting Sweet Lorraine's and Preservation Hall. It was almost midnight when they left the last club. Jack didn't have to ask, intuition and experience told him his best friend had plans. He had seen Chris make a call about twenty minutes before. Sure enough, just as they got to the end of the street, Chantal appeared leaning against a lamppost. Jack swore his pants shrunk a size.

"Don't forget it's a school night, champ."

"Thanks, Dad!" Chris imparted, then headed to the other side of the street where the beautiful woman was waiting.

Jack fished in his pocket for his hotel key and turned back in time to see Chris leaning against a Victorian streetlamp and the Creole beauty was pressed against him. Boone's hands were moving over her very firm backside and she was attempting to swallow his tongue.

"Danny would never forgive me," Jack chuckled, taking a photo with his cell phone. The pair went arm and arm, disappearing down a side street.


February 3
Fort Bliss Base Housing

It was a lazy afternoon, with dark, angry clouds scoring the sky and rain pelting the windows. With the departure of Chris and Jack a few days before, Danny and Sam spent most of their day with Martin at the hospital. By Tuesday he was on his feet and in therapy. This morning found him strong enough to be discharged, but not for extensive travel. So they were staying in the base house a few more days. After a brief tour of the house and a late breakfast, his partner was napping in the large bedroom he was sharing with Sam.

Danny yawned and eyed the half-empty bag of Cheetos and frowned. Why was it that when you were bored you ate crappy junk food?

"Well, somebody has to pick up Martin's slack," he defended to himself. He left Third Watch on the television and padded in to the kitchen. He opened three cabinets and his gaze fell upon a loaf of cinnamon bread. His dark eyes lit up with inspiration. "Harvard, you'd be proud�"

Ten minutes later, Sam came in the back door and set down two bags on the counter.

"I'm back," she called out, getting an undeterminable male grunt from the other room, she moved to the porch to get the remaining two bags.

She put the perishable items away first, stowing them in the freezer and refrigerator. Sending Danny out the day before had gained stock in food groups usually only appreciated by someone under the age of ten. She eyed the clock, not wanting to spoil dinner, she selected a container of yogurt.

"Shoot his ass�" Danny suggested to the cop on the tube.

"Danny? You want some yogurt?"

"YETCH!" he replied, following it up with a sound that was a cross between a wrong answer buzzer on a game show and a cat hacking up a fur ball.

"Sorry I asked," Sam huffed, grabbing a water bottle. "I thought you might be hungry."

"Got it covered," Danny sent back, 'I made a club sandwich."

"Club sandwich?" She frowned, peering into the refrigerator. "We don't have turkey or bacon�" Her voice trailed off and she picked up her yogurt and headed into the other room. "What did you�"

"Brilliant huh?" He sat up, burped loudly and scratched without pause.

"Lovely," she tossed over, "the daily double�"

"If you give me a minute," he invited, sitting up and forcing pressure in his abdominal area. "I can pull off a triple play."

"You do and you and your collection of junk food will be hitting Motel Number Six," she warned. "I draw the line at puke and gas."

She put her water and yogurt down and moved down the hall to check on Martin.

"Did he wake up?"


She went into the bedroom and around the bed, pausing to observe him. He'd lost some weight but his color was better. The bruises were fading and the swelling on his arm was nearly gone. He was on his side and she couldn't help wince at the marks on his lower back. Shuddering a bit, she pulled the blanket up. She sat on the side of the bed and moved her fingers through his hair. She bent to kiss his cheek and he groaned, as a single eye peeled open.

"You okay?" She asked, rubbing his bare shoulder.

"Dew�" Martin rasped, his hand snaking past her towards the bottle on the nightstand.
Draining a good bit, he put the bottle back, laid on his back and belched loudly.

"Attaboy!" Danny lauded from the other room. "An eight on the Richter scale."

"I ought to get a medal for endurance," she noted wryly of bunking with two males. She took the bottle back and replaced it on the table. "That's disgusting�"

"�breakfast�of �.champions�" he argued sleepily and grinned. She smelled great and just having her this close made him feel better. His hand snaked up her side, the fingers moving up over the closest of the tempting mounds in the tight tee shirt she wore. "Gives me stamina�"

She laughed at the eyebrows that wagged at her and bent over, kissing him soundly. He sat up, pulled her against him and left the tempting lips to nibble on the spot on her neck just under her ear.

"God you taste great�"

"Better than Dew?" she teased, pulling back and caressing his cheek.

"Hell, no�" he countered and was thwacked on the leg. "Hey�" He caught the side of her face and his eyes opened up the piece of his heart she'd taken. "I couldn't have made it back without you. Every hour I was lost in that hellhole, you were there. I don't want to lose you, Sam. I want this to hold onto�" he took her hand and held it close.

"I know," she replied, accepting a kiss and the promise of things to come. She got up, cupped his chin and smiled at the very charming, tousled head and sleepy boy face. "Get some sleep." She rose and paused in the doorway, her voice dropping into a husky pitch. "You'll need it for later�"

"Oh, yeah�" Martin growled, snuggling down and dreaming of things to come.

Sam paused by the sofa and observed the 'club sandwich' that Danny was digesting.

"That's not a club sandwich."

"Sure it is," Danny chirped, holding up the half that was left. "See? Three pieces of bread. Side A had Nestles crunch bars and peanut butter." He peeled the top off, "Side B has bananas, marshmallow fluff and M & M's. Martin would be proud!"

"A match made in heaven," she agreed, shaking her blonde tresses and sinking into the chair. "You two ought to be roommates, you'd give the FDA labs a run for their money."

"Roomies? Nah, I might have a prettier face," Danny noted, eyeing the body across from him. "But you got a better package." The words barely left his lips when a spoonful of yogurt hit his face. "Hey!"

"Martin's not the only sniper on the team," she answered.

It was almost six when Danny heard movement. Sam was in the kitchen checking on the lasagna, which was in the oven. Danny had made a salad which was waiting on the table in the kitchen with some hot sourdough bread just out of the oven. He moved back into the living room and grinned, watching the sluggish gait and bleary-eyed figure trying to navigate through the room. He moved over and clapped the damp tee shirt on Martin's back.


"Fuck off," Martin croaked, shoving the arm off. He shook his head as Danny wandered back towards the bathroom. He moved towards the kitchen doorway. "What time is it?"

"Almost six," Sam called out and frowned. He looked pale and drawn, but that usually happened on your first few days home. "How do you feel?"

"With both hands," Martin answered, stumbling past Danny into the kitchen. He took the glass of water she offered and as he drank, he sniffed. Putting the glass down, he stood behind her, close enough to pull her back against him. "Something smells great�"

"�Ocean Mist�" she noted of the body lotion.

"Nope" He murmured into her soft hair. His right hand moving over the shapely denim encased thigh. "�marinara�and oregano�garlic�" He yelped when her hand came back and smacked his leg.

"You need to be careful," Martin warned, turning her around to face him. "That doctor said I'm delicate�no manhandling and such�"

"And such?" Sam whispered, curling her fingers through his wavy hair. "Now that is a shame�I was in the mood for some 'and such'."

"Well," Martin decided pulling her close. "Doctors aren't always right�"

She accepted the kiss and moved her right hand down inside the leg of his loose fitting sweat pants. His skin was warm and she massaged the heated area on the side of his thigh. She felt his hand snaking a path under her shirt and making circles on the edge of her spine. She moaned and pulled back, resting her head against his shoulder a moment. It felt so good to be in his arms again. She shuddered a bit, thinking of how much she almost lost.

The oven timer went off and she moved slightly, "I hope you're hungry."

"We're both hungry," Martin rasped, reluctantly letting the warm body go.

"Well." She grinned, eyeing his well-honed groin. "Little Martin will be fed later�"

"He's not happy," Martin decided, frowned and was glad his pants were loose.

"He will be," Sam prophesized, casting a very suggestive look in his direction.

It was a quiet night. After dinner, the trio watched television for a while. Danny departed first, making his way to bed just after ten. Martin followed shortly thereafter. Samantha decided to take advantage of the quiet interlude and claim the bathroom for herself. She relaxed in a hot bath and let the steam ease the tension from her muscles. Once the water grew cold, she dried off, wrapped herself in a towel and made her way to the bedroom. She was standing by the bedstand and felt a hand move over her shoulder.

That was followed by a pair of very inquisitive lips and teeth, which began a journey by her neck. She turned around and the towel was evacuated to another part of the room.

"Just in time," Martin's voice was husky, "the boy is starving." He pulled her against him and kissed her deeply, causing the rise of a slow moan.

An evil smile formed and she raked a bold gaze south, arching an eyebrow. "The boy looks pretty full to me�"

"Full?" Martin scoffed, arching his own brow boldly and gripping her above the hips, pulling her hard against him. "That's not full�he needs to be nurtured�his growth could be stunted."

"Well, we can't have that, can we?" She snaked a hand down to nurse 'the boy' and drank in his groan of pleasure. He kissed her hard, easing her down onto the bed and taking command.

Sam surrendered easily, a willing prisoner who readily fell under her captor's power. His hungry mouth and randy hands turned her body into a quivering mass of nerves. By the time the sharpshooter's fingers parted her legs, she was moaning and panting hard. He took her slow and easy, causing her moans to turn into a firestorm. Afterwards, he held her close and nuzzled her, speaking soft words just for her. Sleep found them colored in a rosy hue, but that shade of bliss was to be short lived.

Martin wasn't sure what time it was, but his growling stomach moved him from the bed. Reluctantly, he left the warm cocoon that Sam's body held and pulled some pants on. He padded to the kitchen and peered into the refrigerator. He eyed some leftovers and decided on a pint of Won Ton soup and an egg roll. He heated them both in the microwave and went into the living room. He had a nasty headache and the inside of his throat was still healing, it was throbbing in time with his head and hip. He recalled Sam mentioning stopping at the pharmacy to get his meds. He went back into the kitchen and eyed the bottles carefully, then took one of the green pills. They were new. He remembered the doctor mentioning they were very good painkillers. He found an old movie, turned the volume low and waited until he was done his snack, then took the pill. It was strong and he laid his head back on the sofa and his heavy eyes closed.

Danny was coming out of the bathroom, when he heard low voices. Frowning, he walked up the hall and eyed the television playing. He carefully made his way in the near darkness to the living room and saw the body sitting up with a head back. He moved over to the sofa from behind and shook Martin's bare shoulder.

"Martin?" Danny waited and got a low cough. "Can you hear me?"

Roused unexpectedly from the nightmare he was lost in and coupled with the new drug in his system, the words his friend chose to use entered his brain and reformed as a voice from the past. A chilling voice issued by a maniac whose brutal tactics left wounds unhealed on the inside.

"Martin? Can you hear me?"

Will Garrison's voice entered Martin's ear like a long needle, puncturing his brain and sending red waves of warning pains through his system. He blinked and gasped, eyeing the confines of the remote cabin. From what he could tell, they were alone. He felt the hand on his bare shoulder and shivered, recalling the whip and beating he'd taken. Fisting both hands, he shot to his feet, whirling around and punching his adversary in the gut.

Danny didn't have time to react, the stunning blow sent him to his knees and took his air. Gasping and heaving, clutching his injured side, he was shocked to see the anger in the face bearing down on him. Then Martin grabbed the collar of his shirt and hauled him up, his eyes were feral.

"You sick fuckin' animal, I'm gonna kill you, Garrison!"

"No!" Danny whispered, still trying to get his breath. He'd made a big mistake in waking his friend from a sound sleep. Martin thought he was in Mexico in that damn torture chamber.

Martin sent Garrison hard into the wall, then looked around for a weapon. He saw a doorway and headed there, deciding if he couldn't get gun, he'd find a knife to use. He wasn't going to let Garrison get away alive.

Danny fought the black curtain that was threatening to fall and crawled across to hide behind the back of the couch. Maybe Martin would be so disoriented, he wouldn't come back. He heard the drawers banging and the clatter of utensils. He couldn't stand up, but from his belly, he was able to peer around the leg of the sofa. He saw the reflection in the mirror across from the kitchen door and saw Martin moving towards him with a large knife in his hands and deadly intent glimmering in his eyes.


Danny didn't want to pass out now, he had to stop Martin. What if he attacked Sam? She was asleep and defenseless. He had to get that knife but in order to do that, he had to remain awake.

"Shit�shit�" he hissed, blinking hard and sucking in air, hoping to regain some strength. He felt sweat trickling down his face and he waited, eyeing the area nearby for a weapon of any kind.

Martin eyed the empty room and frowned. Where was Garrison? He swayed a bit in the doorway, his heart was racing and he felt lightheaded. He heard a motor outside and his head cocked towards the back door. Had he slipped away? Was he trying to flee? Martin turned and followed the sound.

Danny heard the backdoor slam and managed to work his body up to his elbows. Swaying badly, he wanted to rise up but his mind was the only willing partner.

"SAM! SAM!" He yelled out with what breath he could muster. "SAM! GET IN HERE!"

Sam sat up and her hand went to the empty spot next to her in the bed. She shook herself awake and heard Danny screaming for her.

"Martin?" She called out, jumping from the bed and pulling on her jeans and one of Martin's discarded sweatshirts. She ran into the living room and saw only the grainy images of the television first. Then she heard odd breathing and saw a body on the floor. Flipping the light on, she was shocked to see Danny puddled in pain.

"What happened?" She bent down and helped him up. She was concerned that he couldn't stand up all the way and was breathing hard. "Danny!"

"Martin�my fault�sorry�" he hissed, sucking in air hard. His hand pressed tight to his still healing side. "Shit�that hurts�"

"Danny! I want an answer!" She eyed the empty room. "Where's Martin?"


"What?" Her voice rose in alarm. "Why? Where?" She watched him put his finger up, indicating he needed a moment to get his breath. Finally, his breathing leveled out.

"It was dark, he was sleeping sitting up on the couch�" Danny gasped and managed to get his body to an upright position. He moved to where he'd stood. "Here�I shook his shoulder and called out to him. He shot up fast and slugged me�he said he was going to kill me." He paused, finding her terrified eyes. "He wasn't here, Sam, he thought I was Garrison. Thank God I didn't have the gun out here. He got a knife�I hid� just as he was about to find me�a car went past. He left�"

"Danny, we have to find him!" Sam ran back to her room and got her sneakers on. She heard Danny moving as best he could, putting on a shirt and shoes. He grabbed a jacket and headed with her for the door.

"He can't have gone far, he's barefoot�" Danny hoped as they left out the back door. "Hold on�" He went back inside and snaked his hand into a utility cabinet by the kitchen door. He got two flashlights out. Although, it was almost five a.m., it was still not bright enough outside to see well.

"Here," Sam called out, pointing to fresh footprints in the muddy path. "He left a trail�"

"I hope to hell we find him before a soldier or MP does," Danny fretted. "He's got a knife and he thinks we're all the enemy. What if some jerk is the shoot first type?"

"Don't even think that way," Sam shot back, her eyes scanning the area ahead. The base houses were all identical, one story dwellings side by side in neat rows. The large path between two long rows of homes was where the footprints were haphazardly directed.

"He turned off," Danny noted, flashing his light to the right.

Twenty minutes later, Sam was worried. She felt if they didn't find him soon, they might have to call Major Douglas and ask for help. She didn't want Martin to hurt anyone or worse.

"Danny, I think we need to get the Major involved. What if Martin attacks someone? He could�" Just then Danny's left hand shot out and stopped her in her tracks. He turned to her slowly, putting his finger on his lips to suggest silence. She waited a few paces behind his longer strides and watched him enter the yard of what appeared to be a vacant house.

"Oh my God," she whispered, biting her lip and swallowing hard.

"Martin?" Danny called out softly.

The pain that clenched his gut was not from the blow he'd physically suffered, rather from the one that now scored his eyes and heart. His best friend was huddled in the corner by the side of the house and a tool shed. His body pressed close and his wide eyes darting fearfully. It was clear he was totally disoriented and terrified. He could see Martin's naked chest in the predawn light, trembling and shuddering.

"Slow and easy, Danny," Sam whispered, spotting the knife still clutched in his hand.

"Hey, man, it's me," Danny coached, kneeling down a few feet away. The hand came up and the knife flashed. "Whoa�chill�look at me�it's Danny�Sam's here too. You had a bad trip, Martin."

"No," Martin rasped, shaking his head. "�you're lying�" He blinked hard at the weird and distorted face in front of him. The terrain of Mexico was fading in and out, changing into a yard. Was Danny here? He looked past Garrison and towards the woods. "Danny? Danny?"

"Fuck," Danny swore, the heartfelt plea in Martin's voice and eyes was hard to bear. "It's not a trick, brother, I'm right here."

"No�no�" Martin denied, standing up and slashing at the air near Garrison.

"Danny!" Sam warned, when the knife made an arc just inches from his face

Danny shot up and grabbed Martin's wrist, putting enough pressure on it to have the weapon fall. Martin struggled and Danny pulled him backwards against his chest. They went down together to their knees. Sam moved in, taking the knife from harm's way and kneeling in front of him.

"He's out," Sam said when Martin slumped in Danny's arms. "Should we call an ambulance?"

"No�" Danny panted, worn and out of breath. He sat down and held onto Martin, whose body was lying on his legs. He cradled Martin's head and upper body in his left arm and slapped lightly at the face with his right hand. "Hey�wake up�come on�let me see those baby blues�"

Martin blinked rapidly, took a long breath too fast and tried to escape. Someone was holding him and another set of hands was trying to grab his face. He was dizzy and felt as if hot, thick mud were inside his head.

"He's freezing," Sam said, her hand still on his cold cheek. Danny nodded and Sam helped him take his jacket off. Between the two of them, they got his arms into the coat and eased his body to adjust the rest of it. The action stirred him up again.

"Harvard, settle down!" Danny said loudly and held firm.

"Harvard?" Martin repeated in a dull voice. He shook his fuzzy head and watched as the barren area of Mexico faded into the soil of the United States. He eyed the deep concern of a pair of dark eyes bearing down on him. "Harvard?" he repeated, his tongue thick and slipping out of his mouth. Only one man used that name, something that he held close. "Danny?"

"Yeah�" he sighed hard, dropping his head. He moved his right hand to his eyes. "Thank God�"

"Sam?" Martin eyed the fear radiating from the love of his life and wondered what he'd done to cause that. "What's�going�what's�uh�"

He looked past them both then and realized they weren't in the back yard of the base house. He had no idea where they were. Then he saw the knife in Sam's hand. He shook his head slowly, as images played in his head like an unwelcome rerun of a bad movie. He saw Garrison's face and a punch leveling him, he saw the knife in his own hand and the room that had been empty. He felt the same deadly intent he'd had when he picked up that knife. Then he realized with a sickening horror that the large knife he'd gripped so hard was intended to kill the man who held him now, who'd saved him as he always did.

"You?" That thought made his stomach turn. "�I�wanted�the knife�I..thought�Garrison�" He stammered, seeing nothing but compassion looking back at him.

"It's okay, I didn't use my head, man. You were out cold and I shocked you." He saw the questions forming and answered them as best he could. "You came up swinging, sent me down and went to get the knife. I hid and you took off out the door�"

"God�no�no�" he denied, shoving away and standing up. He lurched a few feet and bent over an old trashcan, vomiting hard. He felt someone put a hand on his back and he coughed hard, swiping the residue from his mouth. He couldn't look at either of them.

"It's alright, Martin," Sam tried, moving in front of him and grabbing his shoulders. "You're freezing." He was shaking badly and breathing unevenly. She eyed Danny's worried face as he flanked the shaken Fitzgerald. "He could be in shock�"

He couldn't face them, not after what he'd done. What if Sam had stumbled into the kitchen? What if he'd used the knife on her? What if he'd not missed Danny's face? He shoved off and walked away, using uneven steps until he found a bench and sat down hard.

"Hey!" Danny snapped, walking over to where the dejected figure was huddled. He knelt in front of him. "Who the hell are you hiding from? Me? Sam? Don't go there, Martin, I won't let you."

"Martin?" Sam said softly, sitting next to him and taking his face in her hands. He tried to turn the other way but she moved then, so he had to see her. "I'm right here, I'm staying her and I won't let you do this. Don't you dare shut me out!"

Martin turned and caught Danny's eyes then, absorbing all of that large heart that poured out, then he turned and got lost in Sam's eyes. The one place he could drown and redeem himself. But he was not used to being so publicly vulnerable, exposing his bruised soul or showing weakness. It was not his way to accept help or ask for it. He was embarrassed that his naked fear was open and exposed.

He stood up, inhaled sharply and exhaled slow and hard. He shoved past them, walking very unsteadily back to where the main road was. He didn't want them to see him like this, so unshielded.

"Wait a minute!" Sam called out sharply. 'Don't you walk away from me! You scared me to death. We need to talk about this, Martin!"

He turned and saw the sympathy and devotion in their eyes was now turning to anger. That was better, maybe that way they would back off. He was used to riding alone and this idea of sharing his battered soul was too foreign to handle.

"I'm fine, now," he decided, "I'm sorry�it was a bad dream, it's done."

"The hell it is!" Danny stormed, his anger flashing in his dark eyes.

"No, not here," Sam suggested, watching lights come on in some of the houses as the new day began. "We'll talk to him at home."

So they kept a few paces behind him, ready to move in if he fell, twice he staggered and they almost moved in, but he righted himself. By the time they got into the kitchen, all three were cold, tired and sharing frayed nerves. Martin opened the refrigerator and took out a can of cold soda. Popping the top, he took a gulp and paused, eyeing the pair as they studied him. He felt like a bug pinned to a board in the biology lab.

"I'm fine." He went to turn away and felt his shoulder grabbed.

"Don't you turn your back on me," Danny seethed, jabbing a finger in Martin's chest. His face and side were throbbing and that only added fuel to the fire. "That fuckin' lunatic tried to kill me too. And I was the one in your crosshairs an hour ago when you picked up that knife and wanted to carve my nuts off." He stared hard but the icy blue eyes didn't give an inch.

"I'm taking a hot shower and going back to bed," Martin said, jerking away.

"Gimme my coat," Danny snarled, grabbing Martin and taking the jacket off. "Seems you'd rather wear yellow." That caused a reaction and for a moment, he saw the flash of the very stuff that kept Martin alive in Mexico. But now the tools he needed were harder to hone and use. It took a different degree of courage and maybe something his friend didn't have to use to this extent before.

"Back off, Danny, before I do something I'm gonna regret," Martin charged. His head hurt, his feet were cold and all he wanted was a hot shower and soft bed. He tried to turn away again but Taylor wouldn't let it go.

"Go on, hide, Martin, it's what you Fitzgeralds do best right? Keep hiding behind that damn pride of yours. That way, you let Garrison win again�every time you walk away, he's still winning and laughing his ass off at you."

"Shut up!" Martin hissed, fisting his hands.

"Go on, that's a lot easier than looking in the mirror, isn't it?" Danny growled. Martin turned back then and moved in, ready to strike.

He moved over, not masking his intent until he was right in front of Taylor. He wanted to wipe that sneer off his face.

"Enough!" Sam came between the two of them. She kept her eyes on Martin. "He's right, you are letting Garrison win. I thought I knew you. But this�" she eyed him hard and shook her head. "This isn't the man I lost my heart to. He has guts�"

Why couldn't they understand? He moved away from both of them, half naked and slick with sweat, he had nowhere to send his building temper. He paced the room like a panther trapped in a cage. His body taut with tension, his eyes shooting fire and his fists still curled. Who were they to call him yellow? They didn't suffer through it? They didn't feel the shame of a whip hitting naked skin. They didn't feel the cold terror of a noose. They didn't hear that sick voice and feel his hands on their body.

"Let it out," Danny said quietly, reading the signs all too well.

"Let him have it both barrels," Sam suggested, standing next to Danny.

"I wanna fuckin' kill him!" Martin seethed, punching the wall. "I want to tie him down and nail his balls to the floor." He ranted, pacing again. "I want to put a long hook up his nose and pull his brains out."

"Good," Danny murmured, nodding his head. Letting some of the poison out was a start.

They let him rant and rave, pacing and releasing the pressure. Then as he lost steam, his exhaustion kicked in and he sat down hard on the coffee table. Slumped over, his head dropped down, resting between where his elbows were on his knees. Exhaustion and pain seemed to be pulsating from every fiber.

"I hate this�" he admitted of the newness of the feeling. He really didn't know how to share or give this part of himself to someone else, to have someone else hold his soul.

"I know it's scary, Martin," Danny suggested, moving in front of him. "A fuckin' nightmare. And it's gonna be hard, fightin' them demons over and over. But if you do this, shut us out? He wins. Is that what you want? To have that sick animal torturin' you forever?"


It was so small and lost, to the untrained ear it would have gone unnoticed. But Sam and Danny caught the plea and fielded it, holding it close and steady. He wouldn't battle this awful storm alone. They would be there to catch him whenever he fell and guide him home.

"You're with family, brother, you lean on us�we'll carry you if we have to." Danny held his hand out.

"Family?" Martin repeated, realizing it was not just a word. It had shape and definition, swirling and morphing until it was four dimensional.

"Family," Sam vowed, moving next to Danny.

He eyed both faces carefully, absorbing all of the raw emotion that was pouring from them. He eyed Taylor's hand and shudder slightly, recalling that same strong hand hauling him out of the depths of hell in Mexico. So he kept his eyes locked on Taylor's and took that hand. He found himself hauled up and embraced. He released a long breath, not realizing how much he'd needed that. He pulled back than and took Sam's hand and held it tight. He saw nothing but love pouring from her eyes.

And so with his 'family' flanking him, he took the first wobbly steps on the road back.


February 4
Fort Bliss Base Housing

It was a cold day, full of harsh rain and wind. Sam turned irritated at the sharp whistle of the tea kettle. She poured a mug of tea and tossed in some sweetener, before heading into the living room. The noon news was playing in the background, the wannabe prime time anchor was giving a report on a shooting at a liquor store. She put the mug down and eyed the grilled ham and cheese sandwich on a plate across the room. She'd made it for Martin, but he wasn't there. She moved back into the kitchen and went to the window. He was outside on the covered patio, a mug of coffee in his hands. His eyes weren't as steady as they should be, the fear riddled there was something new to her. She couldn't get a read on him. She knew deep inside he wanted help, someone to take the uncertainty away. But it wasn't his way to lean or ask. Although they'd made a small dent in his reluctant armor earlier that morning, there was a long way to go. She put a jacket on and went outside, moving slowly across to where he sat. She paused at the empty spot next to him.


Martin looked up startled a bit, he'd not heard her approach. But he didn't like the pain in her eyes and moved a bit, so she could sit next to him. He held his arm out and she nestled into his shoulder.

"Danny back yet?"

"No," she replied. "God only knows what he'll bring with him. Hopefully something more nutritional than Saturday morning cartoon fare."

"I happen to be a big fan of Saturday morning cartoon fare," he defended, kissing her forehead.

"Maybe you'd rather spent your Friday nights at Danny's then," she teased. "The two of you could have a feast on Saturday morning."

"I already have a feast on Saturday mornings," he murmured, pulling her closer and savoring the scent of her, the feel of her close to him. "A harvest of amorous delight."

She pulled back and peered up at him, wrinkling her face in distaste. "A harvest of amorous delight?"

"Too much?" he grinned.

"Just a bit," she decided, but when he bent to kiss her, fuzzy images of those delicious Saturday mornings rose up fast.

Martin used his thumb to trace the outline of her cheekbone and sat back, sighing hard. He knew how badly she wanted to help him conquer this and a part of him embraced that idea. But this was new territory for him and it wouldn't come easy.

"I'm sorry, Sam about all of this. I don't know about the road ahead�or what this will do to me."

"I'm here for the long haul, Martin, you won't lose me that easy." She studied his handsome profile, "And I know there are going to be days when you're in a crappy mood. You'll turtle up, get snappy, toss a few insults�" She took his hand and held it tight. "And when the sun comes out again, I'll still be here."

The lump in his throat prevented a reply. She had no idea how much he needed to hear that. He knew without question Taylor would be there too, his partner was annoying that way. Loyal to a fault and twice as stubborn. But he was the best man Martin knew and he thanked God this morning for Danny.

Sam wasn't aware of the fact she was shivering until Martin stood up and led her back inside. They went to the sofa, he stretched out and she laid down next to him, pulling a blanket over them. They didn't speak, it felt good to just hold onto the warmth they provided each other. For now, maybe that was enough.

Danny stretched and yawned, eyeing his watch as it closed in on two p.m. He wanted to give Sam and Martin some time alone, God knows they needed it. He had gone into town and had lunch at a Tex-Mex caf�, then found a Java Net place up the road. He had a large Mocha Caramel and found a computer to use. He printed out the information on the green pill Martin took. He and Sam had found the pharmacy bag after Martin went to shower. One bottle was separated from the rest, which were still inside the bag. Sam counted them and found one missing. The name of the pill was foreign to her, it wasn't one Martin had been taking in the hospital.

"Fuckin' doctors�" he seethed, reading the brutal side effects. Just as he was wrapping up, his cellphone rang.


"Danny, how's it going?" Jack asked, glad to be home.

"Where are you?" Danny asked.

"Just got in, we took a cab from the train. Chris went home to shower and change. I'm packing a bag and heading over there. The doctors don't want him being alone for a while." He heard odd noises in the background. "Where are you?"

"In town, doing errands, I stopped at a Java Net."

"You look at your email?" Jack teased and waited.

Danny tapped into his account and pulled his email up. He ignored the long list of emails and found one from that morning from Jack. The image that came through gave him his first bit of much needed levity. "Damn�" he chuckled, shaking his head at the photo of Chris being devoured by a Creole beauty. "That man IS my idol."

"You have many miles to go before you're in his league. We're headin' to the office later today, Victor left a message that Carlson is gonna try to check in later."

Jack tossed the large pile of mail into a box on the table and padded into the kitchen. He took a beer from the refrigerator. His instincts told him the silence on the other end of the phone held a deeper meaning. "Danny? What's wrong? You okay?"

"We're still alive," Danny noted, raking a hand through his tousled hair.

"What's that supposed to mean?" His heart jacked up a bit, maybe Garrison wasn't as far away as they thought. "Was there trouble?"

"Martin had a bad trip," Danny recalled. Then spent the next few moments updating his boss.

"How is he now?"

"Hidin'," Danny replied, shoving the chair back to stretch his legs out. "He's scared Jack, this really shook him up. He's not sure how to fight it. You know how he is, keep that fuckin' Fitzgerald vest buttoned up to the throat." He paused and let out a long breath as Will Garrison's sneering face rose up along with some indigestion. "Goddamn that fuckin' animal, I swear to God I'm gonna make him pay."

"In time," Jack warned. "And you'll have to get in line. We go slow and easy, bait the trap and let him walk into it."

"Easier said than done," Danny hissed. "You didn't see him, Jack, his eyes�those damned eyes of his full of fear. Martin ain't afraid of nobody�"

"He's human, Danny, he bleeds." Jack proposed. "And he's not alone." He knew how close the two were and until Martin was healed, Danny would be hurting too.

"Me and Sam are workin' on that. We tried to talk to him when we got him home this morning. He got some of the poison out but there's a whole lot of shit inside yet�"

"And he'll get professional help for that, or he won't have a job, you know the drill, Danny."

"I hope to hell he does," Danny sighed, "This is one time he's gonna have to put that fuckin' pride of his on the side."

"He won't have a choice," Jack quipped. "Not if he wants to keep his badge." He paused to take a sip of his beer "When are you headin' home?"

"Monday afternoon if Martin's doctor okays the trip," Taylor replied with a badly suppressed yawn. "Keep me posted on the call, okay?"

"Will do," Jack said. "And Danny, he's got you in his corner."

"Thanks, boss," Danny replied, absorbing the compliment.

Sam looked up from the sandwich she was eating when Danny came in the back door. He looked tired and she knew by the odd way he was walking, his side was bothering him. She saw his dark eyes roam past hers and read the silent question.

"He's in the back, sleeping I hope." She saw him pull a package of steaks from the bag he carried and put them away. There were three large baking potatoes and some salad makings.

"Jack called," Danny said, "they got back okay. He's picking up some things and heading over to Chris's to stay."

"They hear anything yet?"

"Later, maybe, Carlson may check in." Danny poured a mug of coffee and sat down. "Look what I found."

Sam put her sandwich down and eyed the papers he pulled from his pocket.

"That green pill he took? It's got something called Propoxyphene in it and it can cause severe hallucinations and confusion. As a matter of fact, the little information I found on this pill said it's not very commonly used, it's new and there have been too many 'incidents' involving patients and violent reactions." He took a sip of coffee and shook his head. "That damn doctor used him as a Guinea pig, I'll bet."

"We don't know that Danny," Sam reasoned. "But it will be something I ask him about on Monday."

"Hell, Sam, he knew about Martin's nightmares! Why add fuel to the fire?"

They didn't know that Martin was just about to come into the kitchen and heard every word. The dark memories of what he'd done and try as he may, he couldn't shake loose the image of the knife slashing at Danny's face. He quickly retreated, pausing long enough to fish something out of his wallet on the way to the bedroom.

"You hungry?" Sam offered half of her sandwich.

"No, just tired. I may crash on the couch." He winced, held onto his side and swore under his breath.

"Don't make me get out a wooden spoon," Sam teased, nodding to the blue zippered bag on the table in the living room where Danny's pain meds were.

"I didn't wanna risk takin' them and driving," he defended, shuffling towards the pills.

"I want to call Chris, see how he's feeling. That train ride had to be hard. I wonder if he got any sleep."

"OH, I doubt it," Danny chuckled, still seeing the photo Jack sent.

He shucked his shoes off and sprawled on the couch. Sam took the chair across the way and lifted the phone up to dial. Hearing voices, she frowned, confused for a moment. Then another voice sailed through the air and the phone at the same time. He dropped the blue bag, the pills and pain forgotten.

"Why the fuck kind of doctor are you? That shit you gave me almost turned me homicidal."

"What the hell?" Danny was on his feet and moving with Sam down the hall. "Martin�"

"Possible side effects?" Martin vented, shoving Danny back and sending him onto the edge of the bed. "Like causing hallucinations that took me back to Mexico? Like damn near stabbing a friend because I didn't see him, I saw a maniac instead? Like leaving me so confused I didn't know where the hell I was or why I was wandering around in the dark with a fuckin' carving knife? Christ, I'm lucky an MP didn't shoot me!"

"MARTIN!" Sam stood in front of him and tried to get the phone.

"Yeah, I guess you could say there were 'some side effects'." Martin paused to catch his breath and wipe the spittle from his lip. "You knew about my nightmares and that this shit could happen? Where did you get your license? On the back of a matchbook?"

Danny grabbed Martin's arm from behind, fortunately for him, it was the bad arm and the pain caused him to jerk and drop the phone. He held onto the struggling, irate figure while Sam picked the phone up.

"Who am I speaking with?" She asked. "Doctor Armistead? You're not the doctor who saw Martin when he was in the hospital." She paused and nodded. "The resident on duty that morning? Did you even read his background? Really? Well maybe you should have been paying more attention to that than the nurse you were trying to impress." She vaguely recalled being annoyed that Martin's departure was delayed because the doctor was 'busy' with a nurse. "And you better believe this will be reported and you'll have to answer for it!" She slammed the phone down. "Sorry�"

"I taught her everything she knows," Danny gloated, trying to lighten the mood. He released Martin and gave a firm tug on his shoulder.

"You should have waited, Martin. You let your temper get out of control," Sam warned. She put a tentative hand on his shoulder and was glad he didn't pull away. But the tension she felt was very real. He looked awful, it was clear he was in pain and exhausted. "You didn't get any sleep, you're worn out. I'm going to get your meds and some iced tea. "

Martin nodded absentmindedly and sat on the bed. He raked a hand through his hair and sighed hard. He was home, he wasn't dead, he should be happy, right? How long would this nightmare last? What if the episode that happened during the night was PTSD?

"Sorry," he mumbled, realizing Danny was still standing there.

"S'okay," Danny returned. "I know it looks all dark now, but trust me, man, the sun is gonna come out again."

"Yeah�" he managed, not feeling as optimistic. He saw the pills appear in his line of vision and noticed the green one was absent. He did recognize the others and took them, along with a good, long draw of iced tea. He laid back and rolled over, part of him hoping for some sleep but the larger part a bit wary. What if it happened again. He felt the bed shift and Sam behind him. Her reassuring hand was rubbing his back in small circles.

Danny moved out, wanting to give them some privacy. Martin was upset and embarrassed and didn't need an audience. But then those very readable eyes widened when they spotted his hand on the doorknob. Danny understood without a word what that fear shining at him was. He eyed the room across the hall and thought a moment. His own aching body that was crying out for a nap could wait. He padded into the kitchen and got a mug of coffee, grabbed the two newspapers that had not been read and went back.

Martin saw the tall body slip into the room across the hall and sprawl in a wing chair which had a perfect view of his own bed. He caught those strong brown eye and the dark head gave a single nod, the mug lifted to seal the deal. He felt his tension leave, his best friend was on duty. He'd keep watch while he slept. Then Danny fingers came up, the first two interlocked. Martin swallowed hard and sighed once. His own fingers repeated the move and he was reassured by unparalleled measure by that simple symbol.

Danny found a half-smile and motioned with his hand for Martin to close his eyes.

"I got your back, brother," he vowed. It only made his determination more resolved to hunt down that bastard and make him pay.


February 4th, 2005
New York City

Jack had spent close to an hour going through his email and voicemail messages and either replying or tagging the message for an update. He was halfway through his mail in his inbox, when the phone rang. He eyed the number that appeared and sat up, grabbing his notebook. He pushed the second line on the phone. Chris was in his office, updating his emails and mail as well.

"Chris? Get in here, it's Denny."

Once Jack hung up, he picked up the phone and hit the blinking red button. He saw Chris appear in the doorway from his office up the hall. He pushed the speaker phone as the blond sat down, pulling out a notebook.


"This is Carlson, can you hear me okay?"

"Yeah, Denny, I have Chris Boone with me. Where are you? "

"Back in my place." Denny shifted in his chair, shoving the almost empty plate of casado away. The tasty local favorite of chicken, rice and sauce with red beans and plantains was a favorite of his. He drained the last of his Pilsen beer and sat back. "Victor updated me, I know the score."

Jack knew Denny wouldn't disclose where that was, and he didn't care. Undercover operatives had to keep their secrets if they wanted to stay alive. He just wanted confirmation that the line was safe. "You got anything?"

"I just got in from San Mateo. I met with Santos." He paused, frowned and recalled the disfigured and very bitter man he'd spoken with. "Just so you both know, he won't talk to any Feds. I can't say as I blame him, the last one he trusted was Garrison."

"Christ!" Jack muttered, shaking his head.

"That sick fuck really did a number on him. His face is a mess, chemical burns�he's in a wheelchair and can't use one of his arms."

"We got information that maybe he's connected down there, he could get word out." Chris added.

"Yeah, he's got a posse alright, and I told him Garrison is back down here. He's got the money and connections to get feelers out. I told him to call me when he's got anything."

"Listen, Denny, we both appreciate this, I know you're puttin' your ass on the line here," Jack commented.

"Jack, I didn't like Garrison to begin with," Carlson picked at the label on the beer bottle and sighed. "But Alex Garcia was a good friend. He saved my ass more than once. I owe him this much. And believe me, once word gets out about Garcia, Garrison won't have a hole to hide in."

"Keep us posted, okay?" Boone requested.

"Will do, Chris," he replied, "If I don't get you or Jack, I'll get Victor."

"Thanks, Denny, watch your back," Chris answered.

Jack hung up and sat back, eyeing his blond friend. Chris was tired and it showed, he knew the afternoon meds weren't taken. It was now almost six p.m. and they both could use a good meal. "Look, I'm just about done here. Why don't we get some pasta from that little place near you and call it a day?"

"Okay, gimme about ten minutes, I want to leave some updates and stuff for Vivian," Chris answered. "I really owe her for this."

"She ought to have her own team," Jack complimented. "She's one of the best I've seen in the field and by far the toughest interrogator."

"Class act," Chris agreed, standing up and stretching. He was tired and was looking forward to a hot meal and soft bed.

"Sounds like Denny's got a good thing going, let's hope Santos is pissed off enough to throw plenty of money around."

February 21, 2005
New York City
Federal Building

If there was a physical image for the word 'relief', Martin's face would be a leading candidate. He exited Lisa Harris's office and headed for the men's room. His nerves always got the best of him before their sessions and the coffee was working on him. He found a water fountain nearby and took a long drink. The tension that built up over the weekend, knowing he was facing this midday 'chat' had caused a major knot in his back. But now he had a whole day off before heading back here on Wednesday. She had been surprised he'd opted for three times a week, but he wanted to get it over with. Drawing it out over time would only prolong the pain.

He should take advantage of having a free afternoon in town, hitting the museums he always 'planned' on visiting when time allowed. But he'd not slept well and his hip and ribs were a bit more achy today, due to the damp weather outside. Right now, his couch, an old movie and a long nap were calling to him. He paused briefly by the entry to the office. He wasn't surprised to find both Danny and Sam's desk empty. Taylor had updated him on how busy they were. The joint effort headed by Vivian was working two cases. He eyed Sam's desk and felt a nerve hit inside. They'd come home two weeks ago and she returned to work the next day. He turned away from the glass and headed for the elevator.

Sam was returning from the main file room one floor below and exited the door juggling some files carefully. She halted in surprise when she saw Martin heading for the elevator. She hurried her pace, catching up to him as his finger hit the button.

"Martin!" She shifted the files to her left arm and tapped his shoulder. "You weren't going to say hello?"

"Yeah, well I figured you wouldn't want to be bothered."

"Ouch!" Sam pulled back, wounded by the sharp tone in his voice and matching anger glinting in his eyes.

"What?" Martin read her face easily. "We've been back two weeks and I've only seen you once, and that was for a quick lunch."

"I have two cases I'm working, Martin, and we're down two men, three in the field. Jack's not due back until Thursday. The Dempsey trial started last week and you know I had to go upstate for a few days to testify. You know how hard it is, you've been there. I've barely had time to do more than catch a couple hours sleep, shower and get back here."

He didn't reply, partially because she was right and he didn't like admitting that he was wrong. Part of his anger was eyeing his empty desk up the hall. He missed the breakneck pace, the quick pulse and racing against the clock. The only time his pulse quickened was racing to catch the train to see Lisa.

"Fine!" She commented, turning away and leaving him to his self-pity.

She was angry at his outburst, despite the fact she knew where it came from. She knew the sessions with Lisa were difficult for him, that was part of it. But the main reason was that Martin was a man of action. That was why he was so good at his job, he thrived on pressure and the fast pace. Even when he was off, he was rock-climbing, hiking, biking, kayaking, running or anything that would shoot up his testosterone. He was also highly competitive and that was a force that drove him, one that was now dormant.

She dropped the files off on her desk and spotted the blinking button on the phone signaling a message had been left. She pulled out a pen and dialed in for the message. It was from Trish, one of Chris's agents who they were teamed with. She had a lead on a potential witness to the one case they were working about a missing high school teacher. She took the information down and eyed her watch.

"Trish? It's Sam, is Brendan with you?" She waited. "No? Okay, I'll meet you there in twenty minutes. Did you update Vivian? Okay. I'm leaving now."

It was after four p.m. when Sam finally got back to the city. She and Trish had to go to New Jersey to track down a telephone lineman who was working near the school the day that the teacher disappeared. Then they had to track him down in the field. They'd they got caught in a violent downpour, getting soaked to the skin. So she was taking a quick break to get a hot shower and clean clothes, then Brendan Gavin was picking her up. They had a solid lead on the man who'd been stalking Renee Caruso. The twenty-six year old Math teacher had a court order issued against him. He was their leading suspect.

She finished dressing, grabbed a power bar and a banana for dinner and planned on eating it on the way down to the lobby. It was then she saw a small beige Teddy bear on the table in her living room. His head was drooped down, his face a picture of sorrow. His downcast sad blue eyes hovered over a deep frown and a small red heart was offered from one of his paws.

"He was here�" she mumbled, fingering the soft token. He'd come over to apologize. She grabbed her purse and headed for the elevator, shoving the bar and fruit in her bag and taking out her phone. He answered on the first ring.


"So I know this guy who's got a very thick head�"


"Yeah," Martin sighed, rubbing the back of his neck. "It's a good thing for him he knows someone with a size 9 boot."


"Just the right size to kick his ass when he deserves it," Martin noted, warmed by the sound of her voice.

"Well." She smiled, "I know a guy too. And he's got the most amazing eyes. You can drown in them. And he's got this smile�" She exited the elevator and saw Brendan's SUV. "And hands just the right size to hold onto my heart." She paused, arching a brow. "Even if he is a bit thick at times."

"I'm so sorry, babe," he admitted, "I hate this�"

"It'll get better,' she promised, waving to the handsome, dark-haired agent behind the wheel. "Hey, we got a solid lead in the Caruso case. Looks like I'll be stopping over tonight." She hit the door handle. "And Martin? Pick up some scones and cream from Murphy's."

"Oh, yeah�" His voice dropped down to a hot, throaty pitch. The Irish bakery near his place had world class scones. She would slather them with coddled cream and strawberry jam and straddle him in bed, feeding him. "I love you�"

"Me too," she whispered, folding the phone.

He'd just taken a sip of soda, when hot breath sailed down his neck. The embellished deep voice caused him to choke.

"I love you too�"

Martin was both choking and laughing and trying to smack his partner at the same time. Having missed Sam at home, he stopped here to see if she'd returned. He knew Danny would be here, he was not cleared for field duty yet. He'd returned to work a week ago and was on desk and light duty.

"Hey man!" Danny chortled, clapping his red-faced friend's back. "You okay?" He grinned and his dark eyes lit up in mirth. "Not to worry, if you keel over, I give great mouth-to-mouth." He opened his mouth and stuck his wagging tongue out. This only caused Fitzgerald to cough and laugh more.

"�prick�" Martin wheezed, accepting the hearty laugh and clap on the back.

"Come on, cupcakes are calling and it's my treat." He led the way to the break room. "How's it going?"

"Good, actually," Martin admitted, taking a seat. "Better than I expected."

"So you're sleeping okay?" Danny quizzed, reaching for a cup of coffee. He poured himself one and stirred sugar in it, then grabbed the box on the top of the cabinet.

"Yeah, no more brutal dreams." Martin eyed the packages of cupcakes suspiciously.

"It's okay, it's from a private stash," Danny encouraged.

"Private, hub?" Martin chased back, shaking his head. "So you're saying my bottom drawer is empty."

"Now that hurts!" Taylor protested, checking his 'broken heart'. He opened a package and took half of one in a single bite. "I left one soldier on duty," he muffled of the single package left in Fitzgerald's snack drawer. "Sharing is caring!" He added, shoving the last half inside.

"Cheap bastard!" Martin replied, setting both on a napkin and taking a small bite. He nibbled at it and began to peel the cardboard that was under it in little pieces.

Danny eyed the fret pile, a trademark of Martin's when he was thinking hard or worrying. He knew how difficult these last week had been since he'd started his therapy. It was never easy to open up about difficult issues. But for someone who was as internal as Martin, it was twice so.

As if sensing the dark-haired man's thoughts, Martin shoved the neat pile of evenly peeled strips away and sipped his soda. "It's hard, Danny, it's just not my way."

"I know, man, I'm proud of you!" Danny's voice was proud and quiet. He reached over and tapped Martin's fist with his own. He knew Martin well enough to know he'd not open up easily but he could tell by the eyes and the drumming fingers that something was coming out. So he waited patiently.

"First one was the toughest," Martin finally spoke. He sighed hard and raked his fingers through his hair.

"So, you're saying Lisa didn't get a blister on her ear, huh?" He teased and the head bobbed.

"Hell, Danny, I didn't know what to say," he relayed in a tight voice. "So, Martin, let's talk about Will Garrison." He mimicked her voice. "Let's not."

"You didn't say that," Danny commented, eating the other cake.

"Yes, I did," Martin stated. "I was being diplomatic. I wanted to say. Talk? Sure, let's talk about how I want to fuckin' cut his nuts off and shove 'em up his ass!"

"Well, that is the object of that couch,' Danny admitted, "And if you can't say it to her, I'm glad you told me. You know that right? Anytime?"

Martin didn't trust his voice, so he found those strong eyes and nodded once. He nibbled at more cake, took more soda and scowled when a pile of napkins was shoved his way.

"Go on, knock yourself out, make a nice little nest." Danny grinned at the glare that came back. He waited patiently and it came slow at first, in two or three word spurts. But it was pretty clear that with each session, he was getting more comfortable. And Danny hoped that Martin was smart enough to see the difference.

Martin saw Danny eyeing his watch and realized he was holding his friend up. He was on the clock.

"I didn't mean to hold you up," he said, rising and taking his trash to the trashcan. He turned back to see Danny frowning and shoveling his hand through the remaining cakes in the box.


"You never get enough vanilla," he protested. "I like vanilla!"

"Well, then I suggest you take your cheap ass to the store and buy some!" Martin grumbled, nodding to Taylor's pocket. "Be nice to let those moths out of your wallet."

"Well, now I did think about that!" Danny draped an arm over Martin's shoulder as they walked up the hall. "But seeing as how you buy in volume and get discounts, it didn't make fiscal sense."

"Fiscal sense?" Martin's voice shot up along with his eyebrows.

"This way, you keep the economy going," Danny added, clapping Martin's back as they stopped at the office door. "Besides, you've been away a while, they would get stale and that would be a waste of fine confections. You can thank me later."

"I'm sure," Martin drolled, taking a minute to catch Taylor's eye. He shot his arm out and gripped the other's forearm in a brotherhood grip. Each gave a smile and nod, grateful for the strength found there.

It was just after ten when Martin woke up from the long nap he'd taken on the sofa. He padded to the bathroom, stripping down and turning the shower on. He eased his aching limbs under the hot stream of water, allowing the hard pulse to massage his taut body. He was just reaching for the soap, when someone knocked on the shower door. He cocked his head and saw a distinctive female shape on the other side. He opened to door a crack and saw a cascade of blonde tresses.


"Good evening, sir," Sam used her Lauren Bacall voice. If it was possible that Martin could be even more appealing, seeing his wet curly head over those wide eyes gave her heart a start. She eyed the well-honed, lean body slick with water and felt his pulse race. She dangled a black cloth bag in front of her. "I'm here on behalf of a new line of sponges."

"Sponges?" Martin wrinkled his nose and couldn't help wonder about what was or was not under the very short trench coat she wore.

"For those hard to reach areas," she purred, using a single finger to trace a line down his chest and over his navel. "Of course, they haven't been tested yet. The company wanted me to select a fitting specimen." She snapped her wrist and the bag opened. She took out a fine bristled glove and dropped the bag. Then she untied the belt and let the coat drop. "May I come in?"

"I don't usually let strangers in�" Martin's voice was husky. Just seeing her peaks of pink perfection had him hard.

"Well," she noted, casting her eyes down and shoving a foot inside the shower door. "It looks like you're well-armed."

"Packin' heat but not fully loaded," he replied, opening the door.

"Turns out I'm an expert in that field," she whispered, stepping inside and shutting the door.

Martin pulled her close and pressed hard against her, taking her mouth in a very wet and noisy conquest. He gasped when the rough texture glove moved up his hip and onto his chest. Two very well trained fingers clamped hard onto his right nipple. "Shit�"

"�quality control test�" she noted, running her gloved fingers over his nipples until he hissed when they turned into hard brown nubs. "�time for phase two�" She nibbled at his chest and the gloved hand so south, right to the root of his difficulty.

"God�" he groaned, tossing his head back when she used the enhancer to push his blood to full throttle. He kissed her again, letting his hand find the familiar shape of her breasts. Then he moved his hands down her slippery thighs and found the soft spot between her shoulder and ear. "Time for phase three�" He decided, lifting her up and taking her in one thrust.

The steam rose up, the moans hit the tiles as fast as the water. Then the water was shut off and the blonde led her very willing and wet prisoner to his bed, where she punished him soundly well into the night.


Thursday, April 7th
Central Valley
Costa Rica

Denny Carlson had been working for one of the leading gun runners in the region for close to two years now. He was a trusted aide and moved freely around the Valley on his own. He'd been keeping his radar up for anything suspicious regarding Will Garrison. Two days ago he'd read a blurb in the local paper about a Swiss businessman who'd gone missing. The grainy photo the newspaper used caught his attention. The man was close enough in height and weight and his hair color was even the same. He drove to Santos's house and the word from the wheel- chair bound man was that a leading plastic surgeon from Brazil landed at the local airport that very day. Miguel had a man on his payroll who worked at that airport and was paid extra just to supply tidbits like that. One phone call to the cab company and a veiled threat gave up the address to which the surgeon was left off. Denny was perched on a rock nearby with high-intensity field glasses.

He watched the surgeon be served lunch on a large verandah that overlooked a vista of the Valley. A lean man with a grim face whose gray hair resembled a Marine cut waltzed onto the patio and sat across from him He adjusted the glasses and zoomed in, then studied the man's face carefully.


He took some photos and then made his way down the hill and drove to San Jose, then parked near a large hotel. He stopped at a caf� and got a sandwich and a large coffee. He made his way through the lobby and upstairs. He paused in the hallway, where two maids were undressing several of the rooms. He approached one and apologized, pointing to the room, he said he'd forgotten his medication and could she return later, he had to take it with a meal. Once the door was closed, he put the bag down and headed for the computer plugged into the wall.

Jack took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. Although he was glad that the busy week had led to three successful MP recoveries, the mountain of reports and paperwork for his review, observation and signatures would choke a horse. It would be a late night tonight for him, he needed to turn his own reports in to the Director's office before six a.m. tomorrow. He separated the piles into categories, making sure Fitzgerald's were first. Martin wrote much like his sharp shooting skills. He zoned in on the problem and took care of it with the least amount of extra ammunition required. He was very precise and accurate, right down to any measurements. So by reading his first, he could appraise the others easier. Just as he picked up Martin's report, the phone rang.


"Jack? It's Victor, hold on."

That got his immediate attention. He put Fitzgerald's report back in the pile he'd taken it from and took his notebook from the second drawer in his desk. It was a small book, used only for the updates given by Carlson.


"Yeah, I'm here."

"Jack's on the line," Victor updated.

"Talk to me, Denny," Jack spoke, grabbing his pen.

"How fast can you get to San Jose?"

"That's gotta be a ten hour flight, right?" Malone inquired. "I don't know about availability."

"A little less�." Carlson updated. "But I wouldn't wait too long."

"I'll arrange a charter," Victor interjected. "Did you find him?"

"Yeah, he's holed up about thirty miles or so from here in a villa overlooking the Valley. I got suspicious a few days ago when a Swiss businessman disappeared. He was the right age, weight and coloring. I met with Santos and he put feelers out. We got word a top plastic surgeon from Brazil arrived this morning. We got the address he was delivered to from the cab driver. I just got back from there and it's him. I sent you both photos of the house and the meeting on the patio between Garrison and this doctor."

"Hold on," Jack said, putting the phone on speaker so he could speak and use his computer. He went into his email and opened the email in question.

"So, he's gonna get a new face and identity�" Jack guessed. "The house is high up, he'll have guards posted. Not easy to access."

"And the kidnap victim will be tortured or disfigured somehow and bear Garrison's ID." Victor sat back, shaking his head. "To think a long time ago I trusted that bastard."

"What do we know about the victim?" Jack asked, taking notes and forwarding the photos to Chris Boone at home.

"Mid-fifties, single, a loner," Carlson answered, "Handpicked, I'm sure. I'll bet Garrison's been doing his homework."

"He won't have time to eat one fuckin' piece of chocolate," Jack promised. "How much time do we have, Denny?"

"Well, he'd still have to get a surgical crew, even a small one, if he's going to do it at that house. It's a huge place, he has the money, he could have had it outfitted."

"What about private hospitals or clinics? Places where the rich bitches get done?" Jack asked.

"I'm checking on that, I can update you when you get here. I'm heading back up there as soon as we get done here. You call me when you leave, I'll meet you at Pedro's Cantina, about ten miles from the airport. It's off the beaten path, but the locals all know it. Even if he does have the surgery over the weekend, he'd have downtime. There's no flight schedules requested for any of the private planes, I checked on that. So he's not ready to leave yet."

"Okay, Denny," Victor spoke, "I'll have that plane ready to leave in a couple of hours. Figure on it landing by seven or so tomorrow morning your time."

"Thanks Denny," Jack said, "We really owe you for this."

"Already paid, Jack," Carlson stated, "Victor, you sure about that plane?"

"Positive," the elder man replied, "and I echo Jack, Denny. Both from the Bureau's perspective and a father's."

"Watch your back, Denny," Jack warned.

"Will do, see you in the morning."

"Jack?" Victor waited as the other man hung up. "Are you sure you don't want backup on this one?"

"No." Jack took his glasses off and shook his head. "Only who I trust and they'll be ready. You want us to come down there?"

"Use the train, the express will get you here faster. Take a cab to the private hangers at Reagan Airport."

"Okay," Jack answered. "Thanks, Victor."

"Jack, you know if you get in trouble down there, I can only offer so much help."

"It won't come to that," Malone answered. "The only trip that sick prick is gonna make is in cargo," he vowed of the area for coffins. He hung up and immediately dialed Boone.

After three rings, somebody picked up but all he heard was noises like a chair or object falling over.

"Hello?" he paused and heard some heavy breathing. Then a familiar voice but not the one he expected answered.


"What the hell are you doing there? He demanded. "Where's Chris?"

"I got him cuffed to the bedpost," Sam teased, throwing a cookie at the smirking blond man. They'd both lunged for the phone. She was hoping one of his harem would answer and he'd have to explain the low and sultry voice that answered. In the process, a chair went over loudly. "He's been a very naughty boy."

"Are Batman and Robin there too?" Jack asked.

"No, they went to a Knicks game," Sam answered, walking to the patio outside of Chris's pricey apartment. "Hold on�for you I'll uncuff my prisoner."

"Jack?" Chris sat up and pushed the plate away. He grinned at Spade's playful face.

"Lucy? You have some 'splainin to do," he mocked Ricky Riccardo's accent.

"Sam stopped over with dinner," Chris answered.

"You have plans for later?" Jack hinted, not sure of the answer.

"Vivette and Mimette," Chris grinned even wider at the groan and eye roll Sam gave him. "I got my hot tub all primed."

"Yeah, well cancel them," Jack told him. "We're gonna South on a blood hunt."

Chris took all the details and hung up, updated Sam and then rose to make his way to the living room, where he had the twins phone number.

"Talk about bad timing," he said, "And me still needing extra work with my French lessons."

"I'll bet," Sam almost choked. "I'm sure they can find a suitable replacement. That homeless shelter for men isn't far from here."

"The twins will wait," he predicted, bending over to flip through his black address book. "The boys' reputation is well known. They speak for themselves."

"Loud and clear," Sam observed, enjoying the view of his very lean backside encased in black denim.

While he was on the phone, she took the dishes to the sink and filled it, then began to wash them. As much as she knew this day would come, her stomach was upset. Garrison was still a very dangerous man and being so far from friendly turf wasn't easy. Then there was Martin's mental state. He'd completed his sessions and returned to work a month ago. He was back to his normal self, but what if being near Garrison caused a relapse? She put the dishes in the strainer and went to the window, studying the New York skyline as the sun began to set.

"Hey?" Chris moved behind her and massaged her shoulders. She turned around and leaned into him and he held her lightly. "You just make sure you take care of yourself. I'll get that handsome hero of yours back here safe." He tipped her face up and saw the fear there. He kissed her forehead and traced her cheek with his thumb. "You two have something special, Sunshine, you need to hold onto it and ride it for all it's worth."

Danny shook his dark head slightly and rolled his eyes at the number of female heads that turned to study Martin as he made his way back to their seats. The teams were doing warm-ups for the basketball game about to start. Danny adjusted the package in his hands and allowed his lean partner to slide by and sit down.

Martin took his seat and turned at the odd throat sound Taylor made. "What?"

"What?" Danny repeated, nodding to the item in Martin's hands. "You're kidding me? Water? Why don't you have some yogurt with it?"

Martin paused long enough to take a healthy swig of the water and eyed the messy concoction that Taylor was trying badly to do a juggling act to keep on his lap. A large soda was accented by a messy tray of nachos dripping with cheese.

"Somebody has to be alert to take you to the ER to get your stomach pumped."

"Hah!" Danny chortled, shoving a mouthful of the oozing chips into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully and swallowed, then took some soda. He aimed the long straw at the blue-eyed man. "Never happen!" He put the soda down and patted his gut. "Like steel!" He then held the tray up. "Want one? They're good." He saw the odd look that crossed Martin's features as he inspected his arm and the food. "What?"

"I don't know where your hands have been."

"Up my ass five times!" Danny growled, hauling the tray back. "Fuck you."

"I'll pass," Martin grinned, eyeing Danny's crotch now covered by the tray of food. "Short stuff."

"You wish!" Danny laughed, arching his eyebrows. "It's a well-known fact that the ladies prefer dark meat, for it is much more sweet." He crooned and enjoyed Martin laughing back at him. It was so good to see his best friend relaxed and enjoying life again. His phone rang and he put the tray between his feet to fish out the cell phone.

Martin saw the immediate change in Taylor. The body tensed up and the face darkened. He did a quick mental jog and knew Sam was with Chris and Vivian was home with Marcus. What else could be wrong? "Danny?"

Danny held a finger up and kept nodding. "When? Yeah, okay. Where? Yeah, I got it. Give us an hour to get ready, we'll meet you there."

"What?" Martin said, rising and following Danny out of the narrow row of seats. He paused behind the tall man as he dumped the food and took a long drink of soda, before ridding himself of that as well.

Danny's long legs quickly found the exit and he held the door for the perplexed body behind him. He met the concerned blues dead on, his own eyes dark with anger and housing glints of anticipation. "We're goin' on a dragon hunt."

Despite the lack of sleep, all four agents were wired and ready to roll when the plane landed in San Jose. The got through customs and grabbed a taxi. The trip to the cantina was a quiet one, each man lost in his own thoughts.

Jack's eyes glanced over the rolling hills and greens that covered the mountains. He squinted at the new day breaking over them, creating a beautiful vista. Somewhere in those hills, Will Garrison would breathe his last day of fresh air, he'd stake his life on that.

Chris sighed hard and eyed the local peasants selling fruits, vegetables and other edible items on neatly housed food stands that lined the highway. He had only returned to work this week and although glad to be back, he was tired. Getting back into the swing of a ten- to eighteen- hour days on the move hunting down missing persons was easier when he was younger. But the image of Garrison's sneer as that gun misfired in his face was one that still haunted him. He needed to bury it and that bastard along with it.

Danny closed his eyes, leaned his head against the door and let the motor and roll of the car sooth him. His stomach was a bit knotted but his nerves were fired up. He wanted this so badly he was struggling to control his jangling limbs. He peeled his eye open and through his sunglasses, snuck a glance at Martin. Outwardly, the man was the picture of relaxed and calm. But nobody knew the man better than he did and he knew his best friend was wound up tighter than a drum. He hoped he'd hold it together when the time came.

Martin kept his eyes on the road, watching the green hills roll into an endless blue sky. This was a beautiful place, one that he would like to visit and vacation in. He imagined Sam in a slinky bathing suit strolling on golden sand. He saw the two of them hand in hand climbing these hills with a bottle of wine and a picnic lunch. But then that evil face loomed up again, like a phantom. Until Will Garrison's face twisted in agony and he heard that gurgle of his last breath, he wouldn't rest.

"We are here."

Jack was in the front seat and nodded to the driver. As the quintet spilled out, he stretched and took some bills from his wallet. Chris and Danny grabbed the gear from the trunk and moved aside. He paid the driver and felt Martin move next to him. The two exchanged a very long and very hard glance. No words were spoken, they would have been lost. Each man knew the score and the price they'd paid. He saw Denny's face appear in the window of the ranchero styled eatery. Nodding once, the face disappeared. Danny and Chris drew abreast of them.

The time had come; the gates of Hell were waiting.


Friday Morning
April 18th
Pedro's Cantina
San Jose, Costa Rica

Jack spotted Denny Carlson right away, he'd not changed much, aside from his hair. His hair was nearly shaven off, even making a Marine cut look long. His dark eyes had age lines around them but the body was lean, no doubt scarred from years of a harsh job. They exchanged nods and Jack led his trio over to the table in the back of the room.

Danny and Martin didn't know Carlson, but the senior agents did and they banked their trust on that. They lagged a few feet beyond the team leaders, allowing them to take the lead. He appeared to be about forty-five or so, a few inches over six feet. There was no mistaking the perennial grim look on his face, he held a job few men would want let alone survive at for years.

"This is Danny Taylor and Martin Fitzgerald," Jack introduced as they sat down. A waiter appeared and left a pot of coffee, four mugs and followed it up with a tray of sandwiches.

"Bring us up to date," Chris advised, taking the mug Danny offered. He tossed some sugar and sipped thoughtfully, as Denny updated them.

"That hunch about moving the face change to a clinic was a good one," Carlson stated, "A local clinic about a half-hour or so from the house suddenly announced it will be closed all this week, beginning Sunday. The private sawbones they flew in was out there talking to the administrator just before the announcement."

"And this private doctor, is he at the house?" Martin quizzed, taking a nibble one of the sandwiches.

"No," Denny answered, "I did get confirmation on that. I was up there until midnight, he left about eleven, went back to his hotel. The clerk at the desk confirmed he will be checking out on Sunday morning. "

"How's the house manned?" Danny asked, swallowing a spicy egg sandwich with a slug of strong coffee.

"I'll get to that in a minute," Carlson advised, "My source tells me that the plan is for Garrison's 'body' to be found burned up a car wreck. Officially, he'll be the victim of revenge from someone he double crossed. Even the dental records will match. Then Arnold Gisler will be reappearing back in Geneva."

"And Garrison gets a new life," Martin mused. "What about security?"

"The house," Carlson sighed, tossing a shot of liquor into his coffee and passing the bottle to Malone. "Is a sprawling bi-level. A full set of stairs to a basement and about five or six to bedrooms on the upper level. It's manned by a private security force. One main road," he updated, laid out a map on the table and then photos beside it. "It has a curving lane that ends up by a gate. Four men are on that gate at all times, three teams of eight hour shifts. There is a camera that is mounted on the top that shows all traffic approaching."

"Lasers or anything else?" Boone inquired, studying the photos.

"No, Garrison is a bit arrogant that way," Denny answered.

"He's stupid," Jack muttered, tossing a good dose of whiskey in his coffee. "So four outside, what about inside?"

"Two men on him all the time, two guarding the room where Gisler is being held and two more patrolling the inside."

"Tall order," Martin commented, shoving most of the sandwich away, it was too spicy for him and his stomach was in knots.

"Not if it's planned right and no mistakes occur," Denny said, "The guard at the main gate checks in on the hour. That's your first goal. There's one man in a kiosk, here." He tapped the photo of a small guard shack to the left of the entry. "He monitors the cameras and mans the radio. Two of the others are between him and the house and the third is on the gate outside."

"So even if we take out that main guy," Danny asked, cocking his head to study the maps. "He could still alert the others or call inside for help."

"Well," Denny found a grim smile. "Not with the right volunteers�"

"Huh?" Martin frowned. "What kind of volunteers?"

"The silent and deadly kind," the undercover operative answered, sliding a photo over. He saw the shock on their faces and continued. "The house Garrison rented has been a difficult sell for the local realtors, due to our friend there."

"Alligators?" Martin's voice was hoarse.

"It's close to the lake and they roam free, sometimes too close to the house." Carlson observed the unsure faces.

"That's great," Danny chirped, shaking his dark head. "We can stop by the lake on the way up and have Martin pick one up, he's got the killer eyes."

"Understand this, I can't go with on this, my life wouldn't be worth spit if I got seen. But there are locals here, lots of them who worked with Garcia over the years. He's got friends here among the downtrodden. He was a hero to them." He thought on Arturo Colon, who Garrison had trusted to keep him safe. "My source got me a couple of wranglers, they'll take care of the alligator. But you have to be on time, there are no second takes."

"This source, he's legit?" Danny pressed and the eyes that came back at him glimmered with a deadly combination of anger and insult. "Hey, look, nothing personal but�"

Denny raised his hand to silence the anxious young man. "Arturo Colon has known Garrison for many years. Garrison has paid him well in the past for that privilege. But this time, he made a critical mistake."

"Garcia?" Chris judged and got a nod back.

"Miguel told me shortly after I met with him that Colon would cooperate. The wranglers are well paid to do their job, don't worry about them."

"What's our time frame?" Jack interrupted. Like his friend, he didn't like the unknown risk factor that the alligator brought.

"Tonight. And you have to be sharp. I'll get you up there and in place, then I'll leave. That guard at the main gate gets coffee and sweet rolls every night at ten p.m. That's when he lets his guard down. He reports in and spends a good half hour, reading the paper and eating his sweets."

"So the alligator arrives in the driveway at 10 and the other three go after him?" Danny asked. 'But then the guard can call for help to the inside?"

"Not if he doesn't get the chance," Denny corrected, "Timing is everything. You break into two teams." He paused to move the photos in a line. "One team moves in from the southeast and waits by the side here�" He tapped the edge of one photo which showed the guard's back to a door as he drank coffee. "That door will be open for a few moments after the man from the inside who delivered the food leaves. You move in and take the guard out. You make sure to leave him in the chair, that way, so his face isn't seen. But to the camera mounted outside, it looks like he's reading. Keep the coffee cup near his hand. The alligator will be moving fast, the others will be occupied. Team two takes out the two men in the driveway, team one takes out the main near the gate. The wranglers will take care of the alligator."

"What about the house?" Jack asked.

"The door to the kitchen will be open, one of the two floating guards I mentioned will be the one who delivered the coffee. He's at a post inside that has the monitors from the cameras. So he won't be able to see the commotion going on, he'll not be there. By the time you're done, he'll be arriving just inside at a table, eating. The other is usually nearby, patrolling the first floor."

"Okay, we take them out," Martin stated, eyeing the map. "We split up, one team takes the upper floor where Garrison should be and the other team finds this missing guy. Where is he?"

"In the cellar in a room," Denny noted. "That's the only gray area. Colon has no access to him, so he hasn't seen the guy in a while. "

"What about house staff?" Danny asked, taking Martin's uneaten sandwich and biting at it.

"They leave at nine, don't return until nine in the morning." Denny sat back. "You only have an hour. The new team of guards arrives at eleven. You have to be clear of the grounds and on the boat by then."

"The boat?" Chris asked.

"Two miles down the road near the lake, here." Denny slid the map over. "A boat is waiting. I'll be on the boat until just before eleven. You get there on time, I'll drive you to the dock. If not, it's a straight run about twenty minutes or so east to a dock, the first one you'll come to. There's a white jeep there, you take it about ten miles up the road to the private airstrip. Victor will have a plane waiting. But you have to move fast. You don't want to run into complications."

"It's the risk we'll take," Jack replied. "What now?"

'Now," Carlson answered, sliding a small zipped bag to Malone. "I drop you four off at a local hotel. You study these maps and outlines until you know them in your sleep. There's information on the house, the grounds, the path to the boat and the road to the plane. I'll pick you up at eight, it'll give us plenty of time to get there. I'll take your gear with me to the boat and stow it. You put the material back in the bag, I'll dispose of it."

A half hour later, the quintet checked into two rooms in a very shabby but adequate hotel. They took a short nap, readying themselves for a long night. But from one p.m. to six, they studied and read every bit of material. Danny went out for food, getting take out from a caf� up the road. Then, they hovered around the table in one room, with the various maps and diagrams spread on the beds and table.

Jack and Chris took turns quizzing the younger two on every possible scenario. They'd been on similar missions out of the country before and wanted to ensure Fitzgerald and Taylor were ready.

"Okay," Chris sighed, raking a hand through his fair hair. "Let's go over it again."

"Martin's with me," Jack decided, eyeing Chris. The other leader moved next to him and watched Jack tapped a pen onto the map of the driveway. "We'll take out the guard and you two stay over there." He pointed to the other side of the road. "The gator should be here near the center. The two guards will have to pass between us to get to him, we'll come up from behind."

"We dump them into the woods and head for the kitchen," Chris agreed, pulling the drawing of the inside of the house out. "We take care of the house guards first, then Danny and me will hit the basement."

"We'll get Garrison and meet you in the driveway." Jack eyed the younger two men, Danny was fine but Martin was getting a green tinge that he didn't like. "Then we take hit the path by the water and head for the boat." He saw Chris studying Martin as well.

"You scared?" Chris asked, wondering why Fitzgerald was so quiet. He didn't miss the darting eyes and the tension shown.

"No," Martin hissed back too quickly, eyes flashing with a hint of insult. Who the hell did Boone think he was talking to? He wasn't a rookie.

"You should be," Chris stated, walking to the bed and unrolling a black cloth. He took a knife out and rummaged through the bag.

"Only a fool wouldn't be," Jack agreed, eyeing Martin's color rising.

"Fear keeps you honest," Chris sent back, taking another knife out. He then armed a small handgun. He turned and gave Fitzgerald a penetrating look, hoping his message would curb the nerve endings. "And that edge just might keep you alive."

Danny watched the blond man carefully, nudging Martin whose head was now down. They watched wide-eyed as Boone slid one knife in a slot in each boot. He then put on a double shoulder holster. After loading each weapon, they were secured in their respective holsters, before ammo was shoved in the pockets of his black jacket.

"Lucky me," Jack razzed, enjoying the star-struck eyes watching Boone's lean form. "Riding shotgun with Batman, Robin, and the Terminator."

"That's Mister Terminator to you," Chris quipped, shoving ammo in his pocket.

"You can call me Bruce." Danny nudged Martin.

"Who says you're Batman?" Martin grumbled.

"You're kidding me, right?" Danny's voice and eyebrows shot up then he glanced down at Martin's crotch. "Them balls you have are Boy Wonder sized, you can't wear the Bat codpiece."

"Humble, aren't you?" Martin sent back, shoving Danny away.

"You two get dressed and armed, Denny will be here in about twenty minutes," Jack said, eyeing the pair. "You okay? You got any questions?"

"Any chance I can lateral to Maui?" Danny teased. "Somehow this body is meant to do undercover work with bikini clad assistants."

"Book 'em, Danno!" Chris sent back with a grin.

"Come on, partner." Danny rose up and tapped Martin on the back. They left the room went next door. He watched Martin carefully taking out the black pants and shirt Jack recommended they all wear. "You okay?"

"Yeah�" Martin said, "I thought I was ready." He stripped down and shoved his legs into the pants, then sat on the bed, eyeing Danny tossing clothes off. "I've wanted this so much for the last few weeks, now that it's actually here�"

"We'll get him," Danny predicted, zipping his pants and grabbing a black sweatshirt with a large zipped pocket.

He waited for Martin to finish, then put his clothes into the gym bag with Martin's. He paused by the bed, taking the gun from Martin and loading it, then shoving ammo into his pocket. Martin pulled on a black ski cap over his hair and shoved a loaded gun into his shoulder holster, then stored his ammo. A tap on the door brought the blue eyes to his. He held those eyes for a long moment, then moved his arm out, Martin's moved on instinct, locking onto his forearm. The brotherhood grip, which gave each just what was required.

"Let's send that scaly bastard to hell!" Martin decided, heading for the door.


Friday Evening
April 18th
Central Valley, Costa Rica

The mountain ranges loomed up in the distance, standing guard over the tropical rainforests. San Jose's cosmopolitan atmosphere was nowhere to be found in this spectacular vista that was graced coffee plantations, flower farms, volcanoes and waterfalls. The sunny warm breath that painted this beautiful place in rich colors bled away into a dark and chilly night. The stark contrast only added to the cold atmosphere that surrounded them.

Jack stood up and stretched, rubbing his back. The sky was pitch black which gave them adequate cover in the wooded, hilly area around the main road. He pulled the night vision binoculars from the strap on his neck and peered up the road. Two guards were standing on either side of a paved entry. He flicked his eyes to the kiosk, where a third guard was observing a series of monitors. Carlson had dropped them off a mile away and went to the boat to wait for them. He pushed a button on his watch which illuminated the dial.

"Ten to ten," he whispered, watching the others nod.

Chris tapped Danny and then moved out, skirting the darkness and crossing the road well beyond the point where the guards could see. Once they were situated across the road from the other two, Chris pulled out a small radio.

"Eagle, copy?"

"Hawk in place?" Jack replied.

"Affirmative," Chris sent back.

Silence fell again. Martin shivered in the cool night air and wished his jangled nerves would settle. He felt like a cat in a frying pan. He was a few feet from Jack and kept his eyes trained on the older man's back. Jack kept checking his watch and the road. Once the alligator arrived, he and Martin would head for the kiosk. Chris and Danny would tackle the two guards that were near the main road were the animal would be present.

The remaining minutes seem to crawl, but suddenly Jack stood up and Martin followed. As they made their way towards the guard shack, the scaly visitor made his arrival. Denny was right, it went down perfectly. Jack tapped Martin's back and motioned for the guard who'd delivered the donuts and coffee. He was standing about ten feet inside the gate on the path to the house. The younger man took off and Malone slipped a blackjack from his bootstrap and headed for the open door. The guard's back was turned; one hand was on a red button on the radio. Without a second's hesitation, Malone cracked the man on the back of the head and eased him back into his chair. He took the gun from the black holster on the guard's hip and tucked it into his waistband. He put one of the guard's hands on the radio and the other on the counter. From outward appearances, he looked like he was on duty.

It was exactly ten p.m. when the alligator appeared. Chris and Danny waited for the guards to walk down the path to see what the disturbance was. Danny kept his eyes on Chris who'd turned to see what Malone was doing. Once he saw Jack emerge from the guard's shack, he motioned for them to act. They slipped from the shadows, guns drawn and snuck down the road behind the guards. They easily overpowered the two unsuspecting men and dragged them into the woods, cuffing them together to a tree and gagging them.

Martin jogged up the path and kept a few feet from the lone guard, who seemed unsure of what to do. His head was angled trying to view a point beyond what he could see from where he stood. Martin saw the man reach for his radio and was about to spring, when the shouting and noise from the driveway halted. Satisfied that the alligator was taken care of, the man then turned back and headed for the kitchen door. Martin turned slightly and saw Jack running quietly up the path to join him. Together the quickly followed the guard.

Juan Figueroa had just entered the kitchen when he saw a man's image appear in the glass on the cabinet door across the room. He reached for his gun and dropped down, but the other man shoved a gun in his face.

"Nuh-uh," Martin denied, taking the gun and shoving the man on his belly.

"Hit him," Jack hissed, he didn't want this man to make any warning sounds, alerting the other five guards in the house.

Once Martin did as told and gagged and cuffed the guard, they shoved him under a table. They turned as Chris and Danny came into the room. Jack motioned for the Hawk team to move to the cellar and find Gisler. Boone and Taylor turned right and left them, Jack then moved his gun forward and proceeded into the Dining room. A low murmur of voices followed by laughter from a soundtrack from upstairs told them a television was on.

Martin's eyes adjusted to the low light and immediately began scanning from left to right, looking for cameras or any sign of warning. A shadow fell on the wall and Jack's left hand came back hitting his chest and sending him flat into the wall.


"No," Jack hissed, firing once when a gun rose in the other man's hand. "Uncle fuckin' Sam." The silencer worked well, nary a sound was dispelled.

Martin and Jack then moved to the winding stairs that led upstairs. The top floor was large and divided, with three bedrooms and bathrooms on each side. Jack paused at the top and peered left the right. The entire corridor on the right was dark. A low blue light shone from under the last door at the end of the hall on the left.

Martin knew was Jack was thinking, Garrison's bedroom was the one where the light was coming from. But that didn't mean the two armed guards weren't somewhere else upstairs.

"You want me to check that?" Martin whispered, nodding to the right.

"Five minutes," Jack whispered, ducking down and nodding. He kept his gun out and eyes trained as the younger man disappeared. He could see Martin only as far as the first three doors, which were quickly checked and exited. But then the lean body was no longer in sight.

Martin entered the last room in the hallway and his mind drew up the drawing that was provided to them to study. It was a large bedroom, an L shaped room that housed a bathroom at the far end. The curtains were drawn back and the full moon boldly peered inside, bathing the room in an eerie gray light. Martin's eyes swept around the empty room and noted the untouched bed. He moved inside and pressed his back to the wall, skirting it as he approached the bathroom door, which was open. His nose wrinkled as the strong odor told him that the room had been occupied recently. But Martin hadn't passed anyone in the hall. His heart was hammering and sweat was tickling the area between his shoulder blades under the warm jacket and shirt. He kept his back to the wall of the massive bathroom and peered further into the dark room. He never saw the large shadow that rose up behind him.

There were thirteen stairs that led into the cellar. Both Danny and Chris had the steps and corridor memorized. There was a small foyer with a supply cabinet and bathroom. Then a door that led to a narrow passage with four smaller rooms. The blond paused at the base of the stairs and eyed the lit room. A table and chair were empty, but the burning cigar and steam rising from the coffee mug told him someone was near. He waved his gun hand at the bathroom door and aimed, as Danny moved over.

Danny's left hand gently massaged the doorknob and turned it. He then opened it and moved back. Chris moved in and his arm went left to right, but the room was empty. Nodding to the younger man, they moved toward the door that led to the rest of the rooms.

Each man flanked himself against a wall, so that they faced each other. Danny watched as Chris's hand snaked out and jiggled the first door handle. The blond eyed him and nodded; the dark-haired agent moved his gun in place and silently moved forward when the door opened.

The room was empty, save for a small group of mice socializing in the corner. Danny then moved to the door he'd been standing next to and they switched roles. He stood ajar and opened the door and Chris entered and shook his head. Two down, two to go. But the fact they'd not passed any guards yet left each man very keen of the danger that was lying a few feet ahead.

Boone eyed each door carefully, cocked his head and listened. He moved closer to the next door and leaned his head in, listening intently. Then he saw Taylor frown and move forward, toward the end of the long passageway. The last door was much further down than the map indicated. Danny turned back to him and motioned, his dark eyes alerting to the fact he'd noticed something. Chris jiggled the door handle and it didn't budge. The locked door told him either the prisoner was inside or something valuable, possibly illegal. He wanted Taylor to wait but the impulsive agent had moved forward, so Boone jogged to catch up.

Jack's shifted his gun so he could check his watch. The glow in the face of the device told him Fitzgerald's time was up. Just as he was about to rise up from where he was positioned on the top step of the staircase, a shot rang out from the right. The echo told him it came from the far end of the hall where Martin went. As he grabbed his gun and began to stand, the footfall of steps was heard from his left. This area was the one that the television had been playing in. Either the guards were watching television down there and Garrison was sleeping elsewhere or Garrison was watching television and one or both guards were with him. He flattened himself down, pressing his body against the steps and resting his chin on the top step. His right wrist took aim and as soon as the black boots crossed in front of him, he fired once, shattering his adversary's ankle. The second shot parted his forehead.

Jack stood up cautiously and peered to the left, the television was now off and silence hit him hard. Had the guard been down there alone? Or was Garrison hiding in the dark?

He turned back to where the single shot had come from and peered down the hall, but no sign of Martin Fitzgerald greeted him. His stomach dropped a bit, realizing that even if Martin had fired the shot, having heard two more, the younger agent would have come back to aid. As he moved to investigate, he was momentarily halted by the sounds of gunfire erupting from the bowels of the house. A cold fear crept over him and his heart began to pound. The report of bullets came to a piercing halt, dying out as quickly as they'd been born.

"Hawk?" Jack whispered into the radio, praying for Chris or Danny to reply. He moved towards the area where Martin went missing and no answer came back. "Chris? Fuckin' answer me!"

The silence that enveloped him stroked him with fingers much too cold.


Chris Boone didn't move for several seconds, almost afraid to check his leg. He felt down the pained area by his calf and cursed when his fingers felt something sticky and confirmed the burning pain. Fortunately, the room he'd dodged into when the bullets rained down had a lamp. He slammed into the table holding it when he flew through the door. The lamp was sent askew and by moving over a few feet, it's dim light allowed him enough light to work. Quickly, he cut his left pant leg from the ankle up a few inches and over. He breathed a sigh of relief at the graze. He eyed the room quickly and saw food and plates, near a tray. It was sent to the floor when the shooting began. There lying with the debris were two large white linen napkins. He was able to cut them down fast and tie them around his leg. He rose gingerly and tucked the gun into his holster and massaging the grip of the knife in his hand. He moved forward with the skill and grace of a cat, peering into the hall and down towards the other room. A lone body was in the hall, the burly shape of a dead guard was a relief.

Where was Danny?

Danny grunted and clawed at the huge arms that were crushing his throat. It all happened so fast, he'd just gotten to the door when two guards burst out firing. He was closer to one and returned fire, dodging out of the way and into a vacant room. That's when the unforeseen happened. A large man built like the unwelcome bastard offspring of the Hulk grabbed him and threw him hard into a wall. With stars still dancing in front of his dazed eyes, he had a split second to see this man was not a guard, or at least not on duty, he was not in uniform or armed. Not that he needed it. Danny got one shot off and hit the brute's arm but it had little effect. The metal tipped boots that lashed out at his chest were weapon enough. He managed to dodge a hit to the side, but in doing so, the heavy footed boot hit his gun arm, sending his weapon across the floor.

He'd been on all fours trying to get a stance when he was hauled up from behind and what felt like a iron bar came across his throat from behind. He tried slamming his foot onto the man's boot in an effort to move him, but that didn't work. It wasn't possible to lower one elbow to try to hit his groin. He felt himself slipping away, used his right hand like a claw, hurling it hard behind him and trying to hit the assailant's eyes. Suddenly he was on his knees, his starved lungs feuding like a pair of wayward hillbillies with his bruised throat in an effort to get air.

"You okay?" Chris asked, bending over and tapping the dark cloth of Taylor's coat. He wasn't sure if the younger man even heard him. But he heard hard air being sucked in and that was a good sign. He reached for his radio and frowned at the bullet hole. "Shit�" He theorized of Fate's kind hand, which saved his life.

Danny wasn't sure where he was or why the floor was moving. He kept shaking his head, hoping that the black spots before his eyes would leave. His throat hurt and he began to cough. He felt someone grabbing at him and reacted in kind.

"Danny!" Chris hissed when a wavering gun flew up at him. "Danny!" Chris kept one hand on Taylor's right wrist and used the other to cup the dazed man's chin. Blood was running from a cut on his lip and his right cheek was bruised. The dark eyes were unfocused. He gently tapped the unmarred cheek. "You with me?"

Danny blinked through waving black dots and lines at a familiar face. He felt the gun taken away and didn't move. Then a set of arms drew him up and sat him on a bench. He felt the hand move again and inside his coat over his chest.

"�m'fine�" he rasped, his voice a short whisper. It was then he was that Godzilla had been felled. One of Boone's knives was imbedded in his throat.

"Where's your radio?" Chris asked, tapping Danny's face hard enough to put a spark of life back in his eyes.

"�dunno�lost�" He shrugged, rubbing his tender throat. He picked up the gun Chris placed next to him. He noticed his blond friend limping a bit as he checked the room, looking for the missing radio. Boone kicked at it, the victim of the dead man's boot. It was then he saw a body covered up. He saw Chris lift the blanket. "Gisler?"

"Yeah�" He felt the stiffness and noticed rigor was setting in. "A while�" He turned back and eyed Taylor.

"I'm fine," Danny saw the concern and rose, shaking off the dizziness. His eyes focused enough to spot a bloody bandage on Chris's left leg. "You hit?"

"Grazed." Boone paused long enough to take his knife back, wiping the blood on the dead man's shirt. He strapped the weapon back in place. "Let's go."

Jack was almost to the end of the long hall when a body appeared in the doorway of the last room. His ducked down behind a table with a plant on it and took aim.

"It's me!" Martin hissed, spotting Jack's familiar bulk. "I got one." Fearing Garrison was getting away, he moved into the hall and began to motion with his hand. "Go." He paused, annoyed that Jack was eyeing him up and down. "Go�go�"

Jack didn't hesitate, he turned and headed for the other side of the hall. Martin had taken out one guard, which meant the other was with Garrison. He skimmed the wall, racing to the room where the blue light of the television had been on, not it was darkened. He moved his body quickly forward and back and drew the shot he'd anticipated. The shooter was on the right, between a large closet and a sliding door to a balcony. Jack began shooting and dropped down, heading for cover beside the bed. More shots sailed over his head. He shoved another clip into the gun and paused, feeling a cold air blow into the room. Lifting his head, he saw the guard heading for the balcony.

"Chicken shit!" Jack called out, rising and shooting. He saw the body jerk and fall. He ran to follow, pausing long enough to check the bathroom, which was empty. He kept his gun aimed and shot into the closet, then pulled the doors open. It was also empty. He did notice a small safe in the corner was open.

Where was Garrison?

Martin remained upright until Jack turned and ran down the hall. He managed to jog a few feet, then paused and a very sharp pain hit his lower back. He bent over, hissing and wincing. His tender back wouldn't agree but he was grateful that he'd heard a sound just before he was jumped. He'd turned just as a blackjack was headed for his skull. He dodged the blow to his head, and hit back. But he was off balance and began to fire, ducking as a shot came his way. His marksmanship was true, the guard was dead. But in moving to avoid being hit, he landed hard against the bath tub and fell in backwards. He felt like a turtle that some mean kid put on its back to torment. For a few moments, he'd not been able to right himself. The pain that lanced through his lower back prevented movement. He'd had to painfully move back and into the tub and brace his legs, and then stand up. Adrenalin got him into the hall, gun in hand. He was about to fire, when he heard Jack's frantic call into the radio.

Where were Danny and Chris? Martin managed to get himself three quarters upright and brace his right hand on a table. He pulled out his radio and pushed the call button.

"Hawk?" He paused, his brows furrowing in concern at the static. "Danny? Chris?"

Sighing heavily, he put his radio away and righted himself fully, hissing in pain. Movement at first was very slow, but he shifted his back and stretched as best as he could, hoping to aid the injured area. He turned his slow walk into a jog and peered into the darkness. Jack had disappeared from view. He'd just moved past the section where the main stairs intersected when a gun was pressed into the side of his neck.

Taylor's legs felt like spaghetti but he managed to follow Boone into the hall and saw the blond man frowning, eyeing the other room. Danny stepped over the dead guard and joined him.

"Where's the other one?" Chris asked. "Two of them jumped out firing. We split up, he's not in there." He nodded to the room he'd dodged into.

They checked the other rooms they'd passed and the main area, which was empty.

'Upstairs!" Danny whispered, his voice reduced to a scratchy sound. He fell into an uneven path after Boone who was already heading for the stairs.

Chris hit the foyer outside the kitchen and was about to turn into the living area when the sound of a motor halted him. Danny was behind him and closer to the kitchen.

Danny moved to the door, opening it just as a small red car made a U turn and the dimly lit area illuminated a familiar face as the car sped past.


"Where?" Chris spun around and followed Taylor through the kitchen. Taylor was sprinting out the back door, shooting.

Jack was just rising up from checking the corpse when he heard shots from the backside of the house. He peered over the balcony and saw steps rising up the wall to the right. He moved across the balcony and found a gate. He took the steps two at a time and hit the front yard, turning quickly and racing to the area out back.

"Where's he going?" Danny asked, shooting at the car that was moving toward the wooded area that paralleled the river. The car disappeared from view but the determined pair ran after it.

Jack came around the back of the house just in time to see Chris and Danny sprinting for the woods. He noticed that Boone was limping as he tried to keep up with Taylor. Malone quickly followed, hearing more shots coming from the unseen area where the pair disappeared. He eyed the smaller path, which skirted the road where the car went. His mind drew up the map he'd studied and he turned onto the other roa.d He allowed his eyes to adjust to the near darkness and was grateful that Carlson had provided maps of the woods and they'd studied them. He moved ahead with caution and heard the motor sound and saw dots where the headlights were moving. It wasn't easy to follow the footed back that was far narrower than the road where the car was above but it was faster. Finally he crested a hill and saw the bright beams of the headlights shining from an unseen area across the road.

"Garrison?" Jack called out, watching Chris Boone approach.

"He's gone," Chris stated, turning back for a moment and eyeing the open door and empty front seat. The headlights illuminated muddy footprints that led into a far denser area closer to the water.

Danny lingered for a moment, then skidded down the rough, rocky incline, getting closer to the car. The ground was wet and the mud kept him on alert, he didn't want to lose his balance. He gripped the top frame over the driver's open door and tried to keep his balance as he peered inside. Nothing of interest caught his eye, until as he shifted his weight turning to leave and his eyes hit the back seat. His blood turned to ice and he felt the color drain from his face.

"Oh, God," he rasped, shaking all over and feeling sick.

"He's got his plane stashed in that private airfield Denny routed for us. So he's headed for a boat somewhere on this river." Jack paused as Boone came abreast of him. He watched as the other man bent and rubbed at his leg. "How bad?"

"Doable, a crease." Chris eyed the empty area behind Malone and realized someone was missing. His pale eyes met Jack's and he didn't hide his concern. "Where's Martin?"

"He was right behind me," Jack said, turning around and pulling out his radio. "Martin?" He frowned when no reply came back. "MARTIN!"

Both agents felt their blood run cold when Danny Taylor walked slowly towards them, the eerie light from the headlights casting a wake-like pall on his face. But the ghostlike features traced with ghoulish fear were drawn for good reason. Twin sets of eyes riveted on the object in Taylor's bloody hand.

"Fuckin' bastard's got him," Danny's voice was hollow as he held out Martin's radio.


"Fuckin' bastard's got him." Danny's voice was hollow as he held out Martin's radio.

Danny's words hit the pair sharply. Chris dropped his head, cursed and kicked the unfortunate rock that happened to be near his feet. Jack didn't change outwardly, his dark eyes remained trained on Taylor's oddly composed face. Inwardly, the words hit him like bullets. His mind went back to Martin's last words challenging him to go get Garrison.

For a few seconds nobody moved, the only sound was the haggard breathing of Danny Taylor. It was Chris Boone who reacted first, his eyes pained from the amount of blood on the radio. What had Garrison done to him? He moved towards Danny, trying to see past the tall figure towards the car. He was relieved that what he could see of the open trunk looked fairly empty.

"How much blood in the back?" He asked, deciding on how unsteady the earth was and if it would be wise for more than one to go back to check the car.

Danny's hot eyes never left Jack Malone's cold ones, but his lips moved. "Don't bother, it's clean."

"Clean?" Chris frowned, moving to get a better look at the sodden object Taylor cradled. It was then he realized the blood was running off the slender fingers. "Shit!"

"I'm fine," Danny noted of the cut on his hand and slowly moved to drop the radio into Boone's palm.

The change happened so quickly, Chris had no time to react. As he reached for the radio, Danny Taylor went from zombie to lightning bolt in a matter of seconds. A hand shoved his chest hard enough to send him backwards onto the muddy ground.

"You arrogant bastard!" Danny charged, punching Jack hard in the jaw enough to send the larger man to his knees. "You should have had his back! Where the hell were you?"

"Hold on a minute," Jack growled, rising up and shoving the irate Cuban American back away from him. He didn't miss the venom in Danny's eyes that mirrored the seething voice. "He was right behind me, Danny. It happened in a matter of minutes. We split up in the hall, he took care of a guard at the far end and I took out the one near me. He told me to go after Garrison and I ran into another shooter in the bedroom. By the time I took care of him, I heard you two shooting behind the house and I�"

"You did it alone again. To hell with following the rules as long as Jack is satisfied. You never leave a man behind!" Danny accused, pulling his fists up.

"Don't you quote that fuckin' Marine shit to me!" Jack hollered, swiping spit from his irate lip. "He's a trained federal agent, not a kid whose nose needs wiping."

"That's fuckin' weak, Jack!" Danny inched forward and his right arm came back again, but it was snagged.

"ENOUGH!" Chris interjected, hauling Danny back and turning to face him. "This isn't a schoolyard, Taylor. You lose that attitude right now, I don't have the time or energy to haul your dead ass back north. Holster that temper." He paused and locked onto the angry eyes still lingering on Malone. "We don't know what happened in that hallway, Danny. What if Jack did come back? He might be dead now."

"That's not how it went down�" Danny accused. "You never looked back, did you? DID YOU!"

The telling silence was a decisive factor. "He made a mistake, Danny, it's done. You losing your cool won't help us find Martin. We're already losing time." Boone's pale eyes flicked to the hill. "You get down that hill and see where those tracks are headed. He's not dumb, he had an insurance policy."

"A boat�" Jack offered quietly, stung by the truth of Boone's words.

"Yeah and not far. He'd have to go the same way we were headed. Boat to a car for a short trip to the airfield. But he doesn't know that we're on the same track." Chris gave Danny's shoulder a tug of support.

"Great," Danny muttered, shaking his head. "Martin's dead and that prick is gonna get away again."

"He's not dead," Jack snapped, "Garrison needs him alive. He knows the Bureau is on to him and he'll keep that chip in his pocket.'

"He better be," Danny snarled, holding Jack's eyes a moment and turning away in disgust.

Jack was angry but at Chris's sharp words, they rang true. Had it been anyone else, he'd have lashed back. He stood for a moment, waiting until Danny was skimming around the car and moving around it. His upper body bent over the open trunk for a moment and a light went on.

Chris took the time to reload and heard Jack doing the same behind him. He watched Taylor make a rough bandage out of something he found in the trunk. Then the flashlight that he'd also found went into the bandaged hand and the slim body moved towards the tracks in the mud.

"Don't expect an apology," Jack broke the tense silence as the pair made their way down the hill to follow Taylor.

"I didn't ask for one!" Booth spat tersely and held the dark eyes for a moment.

"You don't have to, Chris, your eyes are speaking loud enough." Jack shifted his weight to adjust for the muddy turf under his feet. "I fucked up�okay?"

"Not okay," Chris snapped, grabbing Malone's shoulder as they landed at the bottom. He turned him so they were eye to eye. "Don't turn this into something it's not. You keep focused or we will lose him. Don't think Garrison isn't that smart, he knows you have a score to settle and he'll bait you with Martin if he has the chance."

"I'm not a fuckin' rookie," Jack lashed out, shoving Chris's arm. He went to move past and his collar was grabbed and he was shoved backwards against the empty side of the car.

"Then don't act like one," Chris leveled, his eyes a smoldered shade of pale. "And it's me, Jack, you remember that."

Jack didn't flinch when he was let go and the other man walked away. The bad feeling in his gut was partially because he knew that Boone would have gone back. He knew Danny would be wounded for a while, even if Martin was rescued unscathed. He'd lost part of the respect that Taylor and Boone held for him.

Will Garrison cursed again when Martin Fitzgerald dropped to his hands and knees. He kept the gun leveled on the younger man's back and moved closer. His eyes imagined the pain on the face he couldn't see, that matched the ragged, hitching breathing pattern.

"I can put four marks in or on you and keep you on your feet," he warned.

Martin didn't answer; rather he sucked in air as hard as he could, hoping each little clue would prove worthy when the curtain came up. It wasn't that he couldn't go on, far from that. But he wanted Garrison to think he was injured both to get his guard down and buy time for the others. He knew by now that they should be closing in. He couldn't estimate how far they'd trudged through the woods, but he was going as slow as he could.. He heard the click as the hammer was drawn back and shoved off hard, staggered a few feet and righted himself.

"Next time you get no warning," Garrison added.

"Gee�thanks�." Martin huffed.

'You got sloppy," Garrison baited, annoyed that the temper he'd seen such brilliant flashes of was not present. "You rambled down that hallway and never checked the stairs. A rookie mistake�perhaps you're not the prodigy Malone brags you are."

"You got lucky," Martin replied of the surprise in the hall. He surmised that Garrison was trying to flee when he heard the conversation between himself and Malone in the hall. From the angle, Martin assumed Garrison must have been on the stairs and ducked down until Malone passed. The bag he'd seen briefly looked as if money or other insurance documents were tucked inside. "This time being a coward paid off�"

He heard the sound about the same time he felt a burning pain scorch his right ribcage. He paused and felt along the thick sweater. His jacket was taken from him in the hallway when Garrison caught him. Luckily, he shoved the radio into his sleeve and had the dead guard's knife tucked into his boot. He hoped the radio he left on the floor of the backseat was found.

Danny was still in the lead, only using the flashlight sporadically to illuminate a path along the river. He didn't want Garrison to see the light. He turned back long enough to spot Chris about ten feet behind him and Jack bringing up the rear. He was glad to find two different sets of prints in the mud, indicating that Martin was walking. That didn't quell the rage he felt inside. As he flashed the light along the water's edge up and back around the bend he didn't see a boat yet. Just as he went to tuck it back into his pocket, he spotted something on the ground.

"Whaddya got?" Chris asked, limping to where Danny was squatting over the ground. His hand rubbed the throbbing wound on his leg and he flexed the tender area.

"Handprints," Danny answered, flicking the light. He moved his hand over the print and nodded thoughtfully. Garrison and larger and more square-shaped hands. "Martin's�"

"Either Martin's leaving a trail or he's hurt." Chris stated, eyeing the indentation. "It's not very wet yet�"

"No," Danny felt around the palm print. The light drizzle that began a little while ago had not filled the print. "They're not far ahead�ten minutes maybe."

"Pick up the pace," Jack stated, joining the trio. He saw Taylor slip in the mud as he tried to stand up. His hand came out but it was refused. Sighing hard, he shook his head and followed the other two as they began to jog quicker to catch up.

They dense wooded area broke into a clearing, right where Garrison had staked the boat out himself. It was in a hidden curve, unknown to anyone but locals and worth the money he'd paid to find out about it. The boat was a small motorboat, which would provide the speed needed to get to a small access road that bellied out at the very far end of an estate abandoned years ago. It would require a good walk and he hoped that by hiding his plane in the forgotten warehouse that was converted a long tie ago by smugglers, he'd escape any waiting Feds. And if he did run into Malone or any other interference, he'd use Victor's baby boy for all he was worth.

The last person he'd expected to see in the house was Martin Fitzgerald. But once that first shot was fired and he followed the guard into the hall, he felt his plan crumbling fast. He saw Malone rise up and ducked back inside the bedroom. He'd just gotten the payroll from one of the guards who reported early when that shot rang out. The safe was open and he threw what money and bonds he could into it and zipped it. He ordered the guard to remain behind and ducked back into the hall. He'd just accessed the dark stairs when he heard Fitzgerald call out. He dropped down out of sight and waited, unsure of how many more of Malone's men were upstairs. But Malone ran past and he heard a cry of pain. He inched up on his belly and saw a lean form staggering to his feet.

Getting the drop on the younger man was a risk, but the only ticket he might have to freedom. He got his gun and once they were by the car outside, as he was ordering the prisoner into the back seat, he hit him hard enough to stun him and shoved him down onto the seat out of sight. He narrowly missed getting shot and managed to get quite a distance ahead of the pursuing agents when the damaged tires finally gave out.

Martin saw the boat and decided it was time to draw out his trump card. He stopped walking, bent over and gave a stifled cry of pain.

"I didn't tell you to stop, get to that boat and untie the line," Garrison ordered, keeping his distance.

Martin cocked his head at an angle that allowed him to see that Garrison was not coming any closer. So jumping him was not an option. He eyed the boat, the rope, the stake and the marshy weeds growing next to it. So he righted himself and staggered over, exaggerating his gait.

"I'm going to miss you," Garrison sneered. "Of course we'll get the chance to say goodbye more intimately on the plane�" He saw the slim body stiffen a moment and chuckled in a lewd fashion. "Before your charm wears off and you're disposed of."

"You'll never touch me again."

It wasn't the words that struck a slight tinge of fear in Garrison, it was the calm and cold way they were delivered. He frowned when Fitzgerald moved at an angle that prevented him from seeing the rope or his hands.

"You've had enough time, move aside�"

"Or what?" Martin offered, turning slightly to see where the other man was. "You'll shoot me?"

Martin had cut the line and moved a bit, using his boot to shove the boat away with a good deal of force.

"You cocky little bastard," Garrison shouted, taking aim at the body that was moving towards him.

Martin's body shifted severely when the shot rang out. He sucked in air and hit the water hard, grateful for his years of swimming meets that earned him larger lung capacity. He knew he was taking a risk, that Garrison could shoot at his body floating, but he also knew that by now the other man was wading through knee deep water trying to save the boat and his only way out of here.

Garrison cursed Martin Fitzgerald as he tucked his gun away and ran into the water. The boat was drifting away and he made two frantic attempts to grab it. Twice he turned and saw the young man's unmoving body floating in the reeds. He'd been aiming at his arm and the change in direction by the other man must have caused the bullet to take him down. Finally he got a hold of the boat and tugged it back toward the shore, where he left the bag of money.

Martin lifted his face out of the water long enough to peer at Garrison as he reached for the bag. Like Phoenix rising from the ashes, he moved up in a solid motion, taking the knife from his boot. His heart beat with a fierce resolve and with the eye of the tiger, he silently moved towards his prey. It was time to send the Dragon to hell where he belonged.


Danny was already running hard, well ahead of Jack and Chris when a second shot pierced the still of the night. The first shot several moments before had alerted the trio that they were not far from their missing friend. The echo of that shot nearly felled Taylor; he felt the pain in his chest as if the bullet struck him. Had Garrison decided that Martin was too much trouble? Was his friend's lifeless body floating in the river? The second shot changed all that. His gut told him Martin had made his move and he was needed.

Even with a leg wound, the lean, athletic and very agile Chris Boone was much faster and already well ahead. Twice the blond head turned briefly and Jack waved at him to continue. The sound of that first shot hit him hard, literally rocking him back on his heels. Visions of Martin's cocky grin and the quick draw remarks courtesy of the dry humor emerged. His gut turned icy when the thought rose up that he'd have to take Martin's corpse back and face Victor. The second shot gave him new hope. He prayed that Martin was fighting back and when they broke through to the area ahead, he'd find that cocky swagger and hot eyes glaring back at him and that squared chin jutted out in defiance.

Garrison grunted and flinched when a booted foot rammed him hard in the gut. It happened so fast he still wasn't sure what hit him. One minute he'd been ready to put the money in the boat and the next, he'd been slammed to the ground with a knife thrust into his side. Lucky for him, he'd managed to get a shot off and slowed down the blue-eyed demon, causing a potential deadly wound to go off course. He was still trying to recover when Fitzgerald kicked him. He got onto his knees and thrust upwards, taking the slimmer man down with him. Fitzgerald had maneuvered his body on top to gain the upper hand and had gotten in two solid punches. Garrison's instincts kicked in and he used his fisted hand to strike hard and the lower back area which he knew was injured.

The blow sent a fiery pain through Martin's lower back and a second one coupled with Garrison's movement took the pair into a frenzied, muddy roll into the shallow part of the river. He was on his side, trying to find his knees when a beefy hand rose up and grabbed his head, slamming it against the boat and shoving it under the water. Martin's hand groped in the shallow water and hit something hard. He grabbed it and lashed out with all his might, making solid contact. The pressure was released and he shoved back, rising up and coughing. Garrison was lying a few feet away in the mud. Martin took a few moments to regain his breath and waning strength and staggered over, fueled by the memories of what this monster had done to him. His lips curled up and his teeth clenched together, his wet face a contorted mask of rage.

"Get up!"

"Go to hell�"

Garrison's words barely left his lips when he was hauled to his feet and a solid punch landed to his jaw. Staggered, he fell back as the irate younger man charged him. They fell into the mud, each landing wayward blows. Both bloodied, battered and breathless, they swayed on their knees, each hoping to get their legs back first. Garrison managed to get a heaping handful of mud and debris and heave it in Martin's face. He used the distraction to shove the other man hard, kicking his back. He glanced briefly at the boat which was now several yards off shore and they cast his eyes to the hill above. He'd have to head to the higher road and try to escape.

Martin blinked back the red and yellow stars that were teasing him and grit his teeth against the pain that was rolling over him. He wasn't sure how badly he was hurt but it mattered not. He was not going to let the beast escape. He got to his knees, watching the larger man disappear up a short hill. Taking a painful, large inhalation of much needed air, he lurched to his feet, pausing long enough to grab the knife that was lying in the mud. His will kept him going, pushing him past the limit where pain would have caused him to collapse. He bared his teeth, gripped the knife and set out to take the dragon down for good.

Danny suddenly found the narrow road he was traveling on widening out and with the full moon peering over his shoulder, he burst into a clearing. Heaving lungs guided him to a tree by the water. Leaning on it for a moment to catch his breath, he took his flashlight out and guided the beam around the area. He saw a boat drifting nearby and a bag on the ground. Still gasping for air, he jogged over and looked into the bag. It had bundles of cash and some thick envelopes inside. He turned when he heard movement and hand his gun drawn but Chris Boone greeted him.

Chris was getting his breath and jogged over to where Taylor stood by Garrison's bag of money. He spotted the boat and something else caught his eye. It appeared to be metal, lying in the dirt by the water under the silver moon. He moved over to what was a gun, just as Jack joined them.

"Where the hell are they?" Jack asked, walking to where his friends were by the water's edge.

He followed the path of the flashlight used by Taylor. The weird pattern in the mud suggested a skirmish. The rain began to fall harder, hitting them like small needles. A cold fear gripped him as the realized that Garrison may well have killed Martin and thrown his body in the water.

"You think?" Chris asked, watching Malone's dark eyes skimming the debris at the water's edge

"I hope not," Jack answered of the possibility of finding Martin's dead body floating among the tree branches and muck. "We better look�"

Danny left his friends long enough to move closer to a sharp hill. His concern was for the boat drifting nearby. What if Martin's body was inside? He climbed up a short way and found a rocky perch. He flashed his light onto the boat and was relieved to find it empty. Just as he was about to climb back down, an irate voice peppered with a familiar dose of temper split the night air.


"MARTIN!" Danny called out, scrambling down from the rock and using his agility to scale the rest of the hill.

"Up there!" Chris pointed to the hill above where Fitzgerald's voice came from and where Danny was disappearing.

Danny broke at the crest of the hill and staggered to a halt a few feet away from his best friend, who was well into the red zone. Garrison was on his knees on the ground and Martin was standing over him, his left hand clutching a soggy collar. He didn't have to see the blue eyes clearly to know that they were full of fire. Martin's body was shaking in anger and the knife was a few inches from Garrison's chest was wavering, but the intent was not.

"Easy, Martin," Danny soothed when the muddied face turned slightly hearing noise. "Don't do this, man�" he warned, inching up a bit. "He's not worth it. It'll eat away at you�"

"You don't have the balls�" Garrison suggested with a sick smile.

The pain was taking it's toll and he was getting dizzy. The rain was teeming down, turning the ground under him into a path as unsteady as his aim. He wanted to do it, he wanted to stop hearing the voice and seeing that sneer in his nightmares. Being this close to him again brought back every horrid memory of the torture he'd endured. He felt his hand sagging and lifted it again, giving an anguished cry.

"Come on, Martin, we have him now, remember the mission�" Danny soothed, moving again so he was just behind the trembling warrior.

Danny heard the wet, slopping pattern of more feet nearby and turned as Chris and Jack came into the bright, silvery clearing. He put his arm up warning them to proceed with caution.

"Jesus," Jack hushed, flinching as the unwelcome threat of the effects of revenge loomed over Fitzgerald. He knew how hard Martin was battling now, struggling to walk the right line.

"Yes, Martin, by all means, follow the rules�" Garrison goaded. "By the book Fitzgerald�keep that vest buttoned up�you're still the spineless lab rat I enjoyed�a quivering mass of cowardly jelly."

"SHUT UP!" Martin screamed, lunging and slipping.

Garrison's fist launched forward, striking the leaner man in the groin. The impact caused his attacker to fall forward. The wet ground gave way under their combined weight and sent them into a rocky, wet slide over the edge of a small cliff.

"Danny, don't�" Chris warned but Taylor had been reaching for Martin and went down after them.

Jack and Chris ran to the edge and watched as the first two bodies hit the water hard near a log jam of sorts. Somebody cried out in pain and that body arced forward, seemingly impaled.

"It's not him," Chris soothed, seeing the fear flash in Jack's eyes. He tapped the wet jacket and nodded to the path they'd come up. "Come on, Martin's in the water and Danny'll need help."

"Martin! Martin!" Danny called out, slipping, sliding and falling down the steep hill and skidding on his butt into the water chest high.

It took him a moment to adjust his eyes to the silvery light that was a minor player to the dark murky water. A ripple of movement across the river caused his heart to thump hard in his chest. They were the strangers here. The inhabitants would welcome the guests to dinner, with them being served up as the main course. Danny spotted someone struggling in a group of logs, branches and rocky debris a few yards away and moved quickly towards him.

Martin's head came up out of the water and he began to cough. He was very dizzy and disoriented. He didn't know where he was, only that he was soaked, up to his neck in water, and he hurt all over. The water was freezing and his bones felt numb. It seemed some of the river was in his lungs and he coughed violently, struggling to free himself. Why couldn't he move? Frustrated, he pulled hard and only one foot came forward. He was facing an unending ribbon of dark river with his back to the bank. His left foot was caught on something in the icy river below.

Danny swam hard, pausing when he realized that the body impaled through the side by a tree branch had a crew cut. Garrison's face rose up and his hand reached out for help. Danny snorted in contempt and turned away in disgust.

"�don't leave me here�" Garrison whined.

"Martin!" Danny called out, his frantic eyes keeping track of water around him while scanning the large wood infested river bank. Then he heard someone coughing and cursing. "Martin!"

His throbbing head began to impart flashes of memory. Most of it was fuzzy but Martin recalled fighting with Garrison. He also knew he was far from home and separated from his team. The icy water was gaining control; his frozen limbs were losing their battle to keep his throbbing head above water. He heard splashing and just as he head began to sink again, he felt someone haul him up. One face loomed up, the demon who'd tried to kill him. He lashed back with all he had left.

"Yo!" Danny called out when a shivering grunt and two fists met his rescue attempt.

The water was deeper here and the second fist hit his eye hard, causing him to lose his footing. He went under for a second and came back up, only to find an empty space where Martin had been. He took a deep breath and went under, groping in the dark water until he hit something viable and grabbed it. He got both of them above the water and eyed a spiky tree branch nearby. He pulled Martin close enough to shove him into the snaggle, using it to hold him up above the chest. He slapped at the slack face, then grabbed the chin and shook.

"Martin! Come on man�don't do this to me�Martin!"

The inert body rumbled and shook as a heaving breath came out and a large part of the water. He knew by when he'd moved Martin that something was preventing any further motion. "Martin?" He tapped the face again and despite the fact the eyes were looking at him, they were foggy. Finally, they blinked. "Harvard? You with me?"


That word broke through the icy quagmire that was engulfing him. A cocky grin, a pair of snappy dark eyes and a warm voice. Taylor. Danny Taylor. Partner. Friend. Taylor. Danny. Danny? Danny was here? Danny was here!!

"�D�d�unn�nn�y�" he chattered, groping at the blurry face.

"Yeah, man, it's me. Where you stuck? My balls are fuckin' ice blocks, we gotta get you outta here."


"Left foot?" Danny guessed and the wet head bobbed. He cupped the chin again hard until the eyes tried to focus. "I'm gonna go down and try to free your foot. You hold on, okay? "

Danny went under, following the length of Martin's leg until he reached the ankle. Martin's boot was jammed between logs under the surface of the water. Twice he yanked hard and felt Martin trying to pull. Finally, he went up for air. He spent a moment taking long gulps of air.

"Martin? I got it loose. Can you feel me pulling at it?" The wet head before him bobbed. "Okay, I'm gonna yank really hard and you pull like hell, got it?" With that, he took a big gulp of air and went down again. It took two tugs but at last the foot came free, the boot remained behind.

Martin moved as soon as his trapped foot came free. He struggled free of the branches he'd been slung upon just as Danny's head broke through the water. Martin attempted to swim for the shore but his body gave out. He felt Danny's arms grab at him and fought with all he had to help.

"Easy, man, I got you�" Danny attempted but soon realized Martin's dead weight coupled with his own aching limbs was too much. He felt his hands losing their grip. A few yards from shore, he heard splashing and called on in instinct. "JACK�I can't hold him�"

"I got him," Jack answered, knee deep in water. He hauled the nearly limp Fitzgerald up and slung his arm over his shoulders and used his other hand to hitch around Martin's belt loop. He turned back and saw Danny staggering to his feet. "You okay?"

"Yeah�" Danny coughed, waving his hand but he welcomed Chris Boone's support as his legs gave way.

"See what happens without my leadership?" Chris teased, getting Danny to shore and stripping off his wet jacket. He took his own jacket off and covered the shivering body.

Danny wrapped the jacket around him and craned his neck to see what Jack was doing. He saw that Martin was sitting on a rock and Jack standing over him, putting his coat on the shivering body.

"Thanks�" Danny said of the warmth his body was now welcoming.

"No problem�"

"�guess not�" Danny rasped, still a bit winded. He eyed the body armor Boone was still wearing. "�Grizzly MacAdams can probably kill something in the woods and make a new one on the way to the plane."

"Who?" Chris chuckled of what appeared to be the offspring of two television heroes of days gone by. "Your brain's waterlogged."

"As long as it's nothing important," Danny tossed back.

Martin wasn't sure of how he got to shore and suddenly realized he was sitting down, getting warmer and someone was talking to him. A hand rested on his neck and he blinked up.

"�to go on�"

"Wh�wh�at�" he chattered, his teeth rattling like old castanets.

"Can you go on?" Jack asked, not sure of how badly he was hurt. He'd done a quick check when he got the wet coat off and didn't feel any broken bones.

"�on�" Martin asked, sagging to the side. The cranky voice was one that made him relax but he wasn't sure why. He trusted his instincts and tried not to pass out.

"How is he?" Chris asked, coming up to join Jack. He squatted down and eyed Martin's bruised face.

"Nothing broken, I think, but he's hurt and disoriented. I'm not sure, but he may be in shock." Jack's voice took an odd tone and he turned away, eyeing Will Garrison in the water. He strode over, walking to the water's edge.

"Get me out of here," Garrison demanded, glaring at Malone.

"Chris?" Jack said, flexing his fingers into fists. His eyes never left Garrison's trapped form in the water. "Take Danny to the boat. It shouldn't be more than a quarter mile or so north."

"You got it," Chris answered, turning his attention back to the shivering Fitzgerald. "Hang in there, Martin. We'll bring the boat back. Once we get to the plane, we can get you warmed up."

"�Ch�ris�" Martin looked up, thankful for all this man had suffered. He'd felt badly during the unsure time when the concussions loomed as an ax over the team leader's future. "�thanks�"

"Danny?" Chris looked up as Taylor joined them. He found a half grin when both of the younger men's arms shot out at the same time, wrapping around the other's forearm in a brotherhood grip. Not a word was spoken, it was not required.

Danny turned away and caught Jack's eye, he nodded once, got a slight nod back and followed Chris back to the path that would lead them to the larger boat that Denny had waiting for them. Whatever Garrison's fate was should be left to Martin and Jack.

The icy fingers that encompassed his trapped body were not due to the water. Garrison felt his bowels threatening to empty when Jack Malone slowly waded towards him. As if to mock him, the guileless moon opened her cape and bathed them in a blistering silver light. The dark eyes that burned into his own were tinted with an unholy light.

"Go to hell!" He managed, as Malone loomed above him.

"You read my mind," Jack answered in a low, lethal tone.


Jack really wanted to put his boot on the limb protruding from what appeared to be Garrison's side. He wanted to grind and twist it; he wanted the foaming bloody bubbles to spurt from the bastard's mouth. He wanted the last living thing that Garrison would ever see be the glint in his eyes.

Garrison waited until Jack Malone was reaching down and sprung his trap. When he'd hit the water and the force of it sent him into this twisted mass of branches, he'd grabbed backwards. From outward appearances, in the cloak of night, it appeared he was skewered. But the protruding branch was under his arm and he gripped it tightly to his side, giving the appearance of being lanced.

"Rot in hell you fuckin,' scum-sucking, bastard," Jack growled, reaching down to shove the body and branches.

Martin was lulled out of his stupor but the sudden movement of the dormant dragon. He sat up and gripped the surface he was perched on. He staggered to his feet, ignoring the pain and the fact the ground seemed to be moving under his feet like the annoying walkways at most airports. He wasn't sure exactly what happened but he saw Garrison jump up and hit Jack. Now two figures were battling in the water. He rummaged in the pocket of the jacket Jack put on him and found the gun. He staggered toward the water and squinted under the full moon, his heart kicking up when he saw a third party slowly moving towards the thrashing bodies.

Jack was startled when the attack came. But a part of him was glad to have a mano a mano confrontation. He rose up out of the water and didn't feel the rain that was pelting him. Garrison's face seemed even ghastlier in the silver moonlight. He didn't have to see the features clearly. He reeked of arrogance; the stench was so strong it gave Malone a surge of energy. He raised his hand and cast down the gauntlet.

"Bring it�"

"Know this, Malone," Garrison leered, skirting the water to get surer footing. "Once I kill you, I'm taking your fair-haired boy with me. After I take my vengeance on his body, I'll take his mind. "

"You won't live long enough to dry off," Malone predicted, charging and thrusting a viscous right fist to Garrison's jaw. The blow staggered him but he got a good punch in to the abdomen.

Garrison followed up the blow to Malone's belly with a left to the face. Twice more they exchanged blows, their bodies falling hard and into the thick gathering of wooded debris.

"Shit," Martin swore, stumbling into water ankle high. He couldn't see which of the bodies was Jack. He couldn't risk a shot now. As it was, his hand was shaking worse than a virgin on prom night.

Garrison rolled over, shoving Malone's head under the water. He gripped his neck with both hands, his face screwed up in the supreme effort. Just a few more moments should be enough to finish him off.

Martin moved closer and saw only one man above the water. He didn't know who it was but he couldn't take the chance that it wasn't Jack. So he fired above the body, hoping to startle him.

Garrison jerked when the bullet streaked past his head. It was just enough release of pressure for Malone to strike back. A wet club came up and from the left, striking his face.

Jack charged from the water, still swinging the club while coughing up part of the murky water. He hit Garrison twice more when a bullet shot past him.

"It's me!" Jack screamed over the wind, watching Martin take aim again. That would be his luck, to finally dispose of Garrison and be killed by friendly fire.

Martin was struggling hard now, just staying on his feet was hard. But he couldn't leave the water's edge until he knew Jack was safe. Now that he knew which of the burly bodies was his boss', he kept his eyes on that swaying figure.

Garrison used when waning energy he had left to shove off hard and use his body as a weapon. His force took both of them into the deeper part of the water.

"Jack, get out of there!" Martin screamed, watching the large predator closing in. "ALLIGATOR!"

Jack turned at Martin's call just in time to see a huge set of jaws emerge from the water near him. He backpedaled as best he could but his legs felt like iron and the muddy traction under the water felt like he was jogging in quicksand.

"Malone!" Garrison's voice rose in degree and pitch when he felt a brutal pressure clamp on his leg. Then a white hot pain erupted from that area. "You can't leave me here!"

Jack turned just as the beast ripped Garrison's leg off below the knee. The man's frantic arms were pounding the water looking for something to grab. As much as Garrison's death was something he'd dreamed out, seeing him torn apart wasn't part of that. The beast's mighty head came out of the water again and its bloody jaws clamped down on the soft belly of the dragon. Whatever Garrison's last attempt at crying out for help was lost in a bloody gush that sprang from his mouth, just before he was taken under the water. He was still gasping and bent over to catch his breath. He saw a motion on shore that caused a moment of panic.


"Yeah�" Malone answered, rose up and waved to Martin. His eyes roamed over the water which was now sleek as ice, not a ripple to be found.

The battered and soggy team leader managed to get to shore and stand next to Martin. Each watched the water for a moment, thinking on all that had transpired. Jack's mind still drew up vivid images of the brutal torture he'd endured at the hands of that sadist, and then the cold fear during those days when he was safe and Martin's fate wasn't known.

Martin wasn't sure how he felt. He'd waited for this moment for so long, no that it was here, he was just numb. There was no rush of euphoria coursing through him. There was no peace emerging inside his tormented being. There was nothing. But it was done, the beast was gone and maybe that was enough.

"Into the Dragon's Lair," Martin rasped of Garrison's ultimate fate.

"Poor bastard probably die of indigestion," Jack predicted of the alligator's fate.

The sound of a motor drew Jack's eyes towards the east. "Come on Junior," he tossed to the shivering young man. Martin took two steps and his knees buckled. Jack grabbed his elbow and steadied him. "Sounds like the calvary is here."

"Hold it," Danny called out, his stomach turning when the brash body of the full moon teased the river.

"What?" Chris called over, watching Danny lean over the boat. "Aw, fuck." His heart went right through his gut and seemed to flop onto the wet floor of the boat when Taylor's arm dropped the lower part of a leg into the back of the boat. The catch in his voice told his partner his worst fear.

"I don't know," Danny said, examining the morbid item. "Not Martin, too hairy."

Chris didn't look back, he didn't want to think about finding the place they'd left his friends empty. Was Garrison already gone, taking Martin with him? Or was Martin's corpse waiting for them? Was the rest of Jack already in an alligator's nest? The grisly image of his best friend's sightless eyes under the murky depths caused his blood to go icy. Then they rounded the curve of the river and two distinct bodies were seen by the water's edge.

"Two! Fuckin' two�" Chris bellowed. "I'm gonna fuckin' kill him. He scared the shit outta me."

"Alligator would never be that hard up," Danny teased, relief surging through him.

As the boat slowed and he helped Martin to climb inside, Jack saw Chris's eyes peeling the area around them. "Gone."

"Good riddance," Danny mumbled, not the least bit upset.

He herded Martin to the back of the boat, where a covered area exited. He half supported the battered body to a bench and got a blanket out. He uncapped a thermos that Denny left with what was now warm coffee and handed it over.

"Whoa!" Danny put both his steady hands on Martin's wavering ones and guided the mug safely.

He stood over Martin, holding onto the shaking limbs until the mug was empty. A wavy, wet cap of hair bobbed gratefully. Then he sat down and kept a wary eye on the blue-eyed warrior. The tell-tale orbs seemed to be unnaturally large and fixed on the horizon.

"You okay, partner?"

"No, I'm not okay," Martin snapped, his teeth rattling. He knew Danny was concerned and he was vulnerable right now. That was still hard for him to share, even with someone he felt so close to. But he needed to take the worry away, so he turned to his dry humor. He cast a hot set of eyes at Taylor "I'�fr� freezing' my� balls off."

"That's 'cause you have that inferior, Irish blood, cold as shit." He tucked the blanket good and draped a brotherly arm over the shivering shoulders.' "Me? I got enough hot blood coursing through my Latin loins to keep us both warm."

"...keep your blood�loins�and�any�other�moving�parts�away�from�.me�."

Danny just laughed when Martin attempted to move away. Jack ducked inside and got a blanket, drying his face off. Danny didn't miss the concern in Jack's eyes as they remained trained on Martin. Even as their boss drank some coffee, blue eyes met brown and an unspoken epitaph seemed to be born. Danny wasn't sure what transpired in the water, but if either of them wanted to talk about it, that would be up to them. He wasn't about to ask. Justice has been served and served well.


An hour later they were airborne, the rumble of the engines that took them to a higher altitude died down as they leveled off. Jack unbuckled his seat beat and rose, going immediately to the back of the plane with Danny on his heels. By the time they got to the plane, Martin could barely walk and they'd strapped him to the first seat they found, near the area where a small kitchen was located. They left Chris back there since both of them had wounds that needed tending. The blond was already on his feet, taking off his wet clothes.

"Strip down, get dry clothes," Jack ordered, shucking his wet clothes and taking the towels that Danny threw to him. He gave one to Chris and then rummaged around to find some dry clothes for both of them.

Danny tossed his wet things into the corner and opened the large duffel bag he and Martin shared. He quickly got his own clothes on and found a pair of sweat pants, a sweat shirt and thick warm socks for Martin.

"Let's see," Jack asked, sitting on a bench across from where Chris Boone had slung a towel around his waist and was seated with his injured leg exposed. It was an angry wound. There were bits of various clothing embedded in the oozing slash and he did the best he could to get them out. He knew by the flush Chris wore and the angry, reddened area around the nasty graze it was infected.

"Just toss some shit on it and wrap it," Chris suggested, nodding to the white case with a large red cross Danny carried over.

"You sure you don't want to chew it off?" Danny teased and opened the case. He held his cut hand out and waited for Jack to clean it and wrap it.

"Okay," Jack coached, finishing the job of bandaging Taylor's hand. "I got this, see to Martin." He moved the case on the ground by his feet and picked up the bottle of antiseptic. He chuckled when the blond head turned away and the face screwed up. "You sure you don't want a stick to chew on, Braveheart?"

Martin was vaguely aware of someone tugging at him. His face creased in annoyance and he shoved the hand away that was touching him.

"Hey!" Danny called out, shaking Martin again. In the bright light of the aircraft, it was just downright painful to look at Martin. His face was bruised, one eye was sprouting three colors and swollen shut. "We need to get your clothes off."

"We?" Martin croaked, unpeeling his eye that wasn't swollen shut and glaring at Taylor. "There's no 'we' here�take�your�Latin�loins�the hell away�"

"Come on, man," Taylor grinned, got the belts off and sat his dazed friend upright. He tapped Martin's arms and they went up. He looked like a sleepy toddler woken too soon from a nap. Danny tossed the shirt away and stood Martin up. The sodden pants took a little more effort but he finally freed Martin from them and tossed the pants away. Martin immediately began to dry his cold, wet limbs. With Danny's arm steadying him, he got the dry pants on and felt much better

"That's not so bad," Jack noted of the red welt a bullet made on Martin's side when the younger man stood back up.

"Here, champ," Danny chirped, taking a towel and rubbing Martin's soaking wet hair.

"OW!" Martin yelped, pulled back hard enough to fall back down onto the seat.

"What the hell?" Danny eyed the towel which had blood on it. "Where'd that come from?"

"Must have been the other time I got shot�"


Martin's working eye went into his best 'innocent owlish' look at the triple chorus. "Didn't I mentione that?" He sat back down and gingerly touched the area high on the right side of his head.

"You wanna do it?" Danny asked, handing the towel over. Martin got much of the water from his hair and avoided the injured spot.

"I'm gonna make some coffee and find some soup or something," Chris suggested, zipping his jeans and limping into the galley which Victor had stocked.

Jack took the first aid kit to where Danny was hovering over Martin like a first time mama cat guarding the prize of the litter.

"Stand up Junior," Jack asked and Martin rose with Danny's help.

"It's not so�" Martin's words died as his head was bent down examining the crease in his side and he spotted a bottle in Jack's hand. He stood up and turned, backing into the larger open area. His left hand held onto a seat back to support his wavy posture. He was still dizzy and felt sick. "You're not puttin' that fuckin' shit on me! It burns like hell."

"What are you, four?" Jack growled, ignoring the attempt at a drawing a line in the sand. "Look, I ache in more places than I can count. All I want is to get your sorry ass bandaged and bedded down. I got a date with Jack Daniels and Jim Beam in the back of the plane. Now get your ass over here�"


Jack saw Danny fumbling with a smaller First Aid Kit and drawing out an identical bottle of antiseptic spray. Their eyes met and he watched Taylor slowly move towards Martin from the backside, ready to pull a Pearl Harbor.

"Look at it this way, once we dose your side, you won't feel it so much when we hit that cut on your head," Malone oozed.

"You come any closer and you'll be shooting left," Martin warned, arching his cut eyebrow. "You'll be doing a lot of things left-handed."

Chris had a full pot of coffee brewing and already heated two microwave containers of soup. He put them on a tray that also had sandwiches when a loud explosion of curses colored in varying shades of fury hit the air. He peeked his head around and watched as Danny shoved Martin into a seat and Jack doused the head wound.

"Jesus, that's gotta hurt," he murmured, chuckling as both men standing backed off a good four feet after they were done. Martin's working eye seemed even bluer set against a battered face wearing a shade somewhere between ire and fury.

"See? That wasn't so bad�" Danny goaded, approaching cautiously with a large bandage and some tape.

"Traitor!" Martin accused, glaring at Taylor. "I have a long memory!" He stood up and allowed the bandage to be applied and took a sweatshirt Jack offered. He was still pissed off as he tugged the warm socks on his cold feet. Between the dueling burning wounds, he didn't know which end to grimace for.

"Okay, kids, play nice!" Chris warned, nodding to Danny to sit beside Martin.

Taylor sat down at the area which had a rectangular table extending from under the window. Across from them were three seats, which he assumed Jack and Chris would occupy.

Now that they were out of harm's way, Martin realized that his injuries might have been avoided if he'd told Jack in the house about his back. He kept the pressure on the bandage for a few moments longer, despite the pain that was causing an awful headache. Chris appeared with coffee and mugs and Jack followed with a tray of soup and sandwiches. The older two men took the seats across from them.

Chris noticed that Martin didn't seem interested in the container of chicken soup. He wondered if the head injury was causing stomach problems. "You okay, Martin?"

Martin blinked a moment and nodded slightly. He took a small sip and relished the warmth. "No, thanks," he denied of the sandwich, his stomach churned at the thought of that.

"You're lucky," Chris noted, glancing at the head wound.

Martin didn't miss the hot glare that Danny sent over the table towards Jack. He thought on the fact he'd been taken and knew how loyal Taylor was. He could almost imagine the heated conversation that must have taken place when it was discovered he'd been kidnapped. Partially, that was his fault. Also, he didn't want bad blood between Jack and Danny. He caught Malone's eye and began.

'Listen, Jack, about what happened in the house, I hurt my back when I tangled with the guard. I should have told you I guess�"

"Yeah," Jack agreed and saw Danny's eyes heat up. "Your first thought was that Garrison was getting away at the other end of the house. Neither of us knew he wasn't there."

"He was on the steps, he jumped me from behind," Martin updated. "He clocked me pretty good but not all the way. You found the radio?"

"Yeah," Danny said. "Lucky for us it wasn't your corpse in the trunk."

"It's done, Danny," Chris warned. "We did this already, let it go."

"I didn't realize you weren't behind me until we found the car�" Jack paused, taking some coffee. "It all happened so fast�"

"It's done, we both learned a lesson, time to move on, Martin," Jack suggested.

Martin turned slightly and caught Danny's eye. He waited until the glare died down and the dark head bobbed once. Satisfied that the worst of the anger would pass, he concentrated on digesting the soup without throwing up.

So silence followed. The meal was simple but well met. Six containers of soup were consumed with crackers, coffee and three sandwiches. Martin didn't eat a sandwich, barely finishing a mug of soup and some crackers. He laid his head back to rest a moment and felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Come on," Jack suggested quietly, helping the dazed Fitzgerald stand up.

He led him to the back of the plane, where a pair of reclining seats awaited. Martin's legs seemed to turn to jelly and he waited a moment until the younger man got settled. Jack got the chair into its fully extended position, giving Martin a comfortable place to sleep. He'd barely hit the chair when Danny appeared with a large mug of coffee in his hands. Danny put the mug down and got two blankets and covered Martin. Satisfied, he took his own seat, next to his friend.

Jack moved back about ten feet to where two very comfortable swivel chairs were located. Martin's battered face was hard to look at. He felt the pangs of guilt stoking his tender abdomen when he thought of those lost moments in the hall. If he'd turned back, perhaps he would have seen Garrison moving towards Martin and could have shot him down then, preventing the beating and two new wounds.

"The kids are alright?" Chris asked, setting down a tray with a bottle of Scotch and two glasses. He eased himself into the swivel chair next to Jack and pushed the glasses over.

"So says Roger Daltry," Jack quipped, taking a bottle of liquor and inspecting the front. "Glenfiddich?" he praised of the Single Highland Malt. "Where you find this?"

"Where some misbegotten wayward Fed left it, hidden behind the coffee filters." He took the shot Jack poured and tapped the glass. "Mess with the best?"

"Die like the rest," Jack completed, tapping the glass and downing the shot. He poured himself another one and refilled the other glass.

"I sent a message to Victor that black bird was coming home with her belly full and that the dragon was greased."

"Good," Jack replied of the cryptic message that spelled out that the dark plane Victor sent down to from Special Ops was returning with all personnel on board and that the enemy was dead."

"We're landing in Bethesda, heading right to the hospital. He's going to meet us there. We can give him a briefing later today."

Jack just nodded and sipped his booze. The usual compatible silence they shared seemed strained. He felt the need to get some of the snags off his chest. He rolled the glass around in his palm and kept his eyes on Martin. As sensing his thoughts or perhaps it was the twenty years they shared the badge, the blond read him.

"It's done Jack; I think we cleared the air pretty good. Let it go," Chris suggested.

"Yeah, I guess�" Jack sighed hard, rubbing the back of his neck. "Christ, I want to get drunk and sleep for a week."

"As long as you don't bury it," Chris added, knowing there was something inside Malone that needed healing. "I'm right here."

Jack found a wary half-grin at that. Boone was the one person he could purge to, they always had that relationship. But he felt this time, since Martin was not quite at terms yet with all that happened, including the finale, he'd try that first.

"Looks like they're both out for the count." Chris nodded at Danny and Martin, both asleep.

"They earned it," Jack answered.

"You ought to be proud of them, Jack, you trained them well." Chris paused and shifted his aching leg, "They're as good as I've ever worked with. They really have a connection."

"That's something you can't learn or teach," Jack agreed. "And it's only going to get better over time. I can't take credit for that."

"Partially," Chris corrected. "You picked Fitzgerald over what? A few dozen applicants? You saw something there�"

"Maybe," Jack shrugged. "But until you work together, in the trenches, bloodied up and balls to the wall, you don't really ever know." He nodded to the two younger men. "They got off to a lousy start."

"I remember that," Boone agreed, thinking on the fireworks Taylor and Fitzgerald set off during the first several months after Martin joined the team. "But somehow, I think that made the bond stronger."

"Yeah," Jack chuckled, lowering his head. "And gave me premature gray hair and bald spots." He sighed hard and shook his head, eyeing the pair of terriers that both drove him crazy and made his chest swell.

Chris shoved the chair back, grabbed a blanket and dozed off. Jack remained awake, sipping his Scotch and waiting for the gravity of the situation to really set in. The nightmare was finally over. Why didn't it feel like it? He'd been hungry so long for this moment, yet he didn't feel satisfaction yet.

He must have dozed off because the next thing he knew the plane lurched and he sat up suddenly. He saw Danny's hand move out automatically when Martin rolled three-quarters of the way off the makeshift bed he'd been sleeping on. Martin's working eye popped open, glassy and foggy from the painkillers he'd taken with his lunch. He wasn't sure of what Martin mumbled at Danny but Taylor made a quick reply and despite Martin's attempt at shoving him away, the white paw of Taylor's hand remained in place. It was only after Martin's eye closed and regular breathing resumed that Taylor finally pulled back and shut his own eyes.

Twice more the place shifted slightly and Jack observed Martin. He was on his back, one hand flung over his head the other by his side. Malone finally rose, squatted down and found a pair the safety belt. He eased Martin's hand down on the other side and strapped him in. Then he replaced the blankets and got a heavier one down, feeling cold air around the slumbering agent. Now any more motion trouble wouldn't have him falling into harm's way.

Chris had left his seat to limp to the bathroom. He got a new pot of coffee and some more of the sandwiches along with a bag of nachos and brought them back. After pouring them each a mug of coffee, he sighed hard.


"What?" Jack asked, leaving Martin to return to his seat. He was hungry and the sandwiches would go down easy.

"The fuckin' leg, I didn't secure it," Chris added.

"I'll get it."

"It's in a red and white cooler. I think it might have fallen over."

Jack did secure the leg, wrapped in plastic and inside a cooler. Then he joined his friend and they began to eat.

"How he'd get the jump on you? I thought he was dead?" Chris asked.

"So did I." Jack took a large bite of roast beef, cheddar, lettuce, tomato and horseradish on rye bread. He took a sip of coffee, wiped his lips and shook his head. "He surprised me, had the limb tucked under his arm and by his side. In the dark, it looked like he was speared. We tangled in the water, he tried to drown me at one point but I got my hand on a piece of wood and clobbered him. It was enough to get loose. Then we rolled into deeper water and the alligator showed up. Christ, they're like silent missiles�right out of nowhere. Martin warned me and I got away just in time."

"Lady Luck doesn't often sleep with you," Chris teased with a grin.

Jack just shook his head. He thought on the leg being brought back and wondered if he'd had a few more moments, would he have taken the time to pull Garrison back. It was something he had no ready answer for. Maybe it was best left that way, in the murky depths of the Dragon's Lair.


College Park, MD
Saturday, April 19
Early Morning

Victor Fitzgerald was already out of the limo and walking when the plane began to descend. Chris Boone's cryptic message indicated all four agents were returning and Garrison was dead. And though the professional in him was proud of the fact the mission was completed, the father in him was worried.

The plane had been slightly delayed due to weather problems over the Gulf. He kept his eyes trained on the plane as it touched down and taxied to a stop. He made his way to the bottom of the stairs and was about to go up, when the door opened.

"Victor," Jack greeted, his eyes going to the limo. "Martin and Chris need some medical attention."

"How bad?" He asked, but Jack had ducked back inside the plane.

"Walking wounded," Chris replied, leaning heavily on Danny as he gripped the railing. "Sir." He nodded a greeting.

"Easy, Chris," Victor coached, moving up to reach the younger man. By the time they got to the final step, the blond was panting and sweating, clearly in pain.

"We tried�to bring him� in alive, Vic�tor, but it�it� went south," Chris managed, easing into the car. He sighed hard and laid his head back, wincing as Danny lifted his bad leg and propped it on the seat across the aisle. "Thanks�"

"I'm sure�" Victor's words died when Martin and Jack began to descend the stairs.

He inhaled sharply at the sight of his son's marred face. He was glad to see Martin's arms and legs attached and moving. But the new sun hit a reddish area on his scalp. He'd seen more than one scalp wound and knew it was from a bullet. He paled visibly, thinking on how close he'd come to losing his son.

"Hey Dad," Martin greeted, still leaning on Jack for support.

Jack saw the awful look on Victor's face and knew the father's eyes were on the son's nearly fatal wound. Sensing they would prefer a moment alone, he steadied Martin and then shook Victor's hand on the way to the car.

Martin stepped down on terra firm and surprised to find his father's hand touching his cheek lightly. The older man didn't speak but the veteran eyes were cloudy. The emotion there was more than Martin needed and he swallowed hard, nodding a bit. "I'm okay�really�" He found himself in a quick embrace and then pulled back. "It's over�"

"Thank God," Victor admitted, his voice raspy. He moved his hand to the back of Martin's neck and gave a tug. "Helluva job, Agent Fitzgerald�well done."

Sam wasn't even sure how many times the phone rang when she picked it up. Her fuzzy eyes cleared enough to see the red digital readout of her clock that proclaimed it was almost nine a.m.


"Hey, Sam�"


His voice invaded her and wrapped around her, instantly rendering her to a full state of consciousness. She sat up, put the bedside light on tried to keep her heart from hammering too hard.

"Are you okay? Where are you?"

"In an examination room at the Navy Medical Center in Bethesda. I can't talk long, a nurse felt sorry for me and let me use her cell." He winced at the long pause, almost seeing the fear on her face. "ER not OR�"

"Is everybody okay?"

"Chris is on his way to get a short surgical procedure; he got a bad graze on his leg. Danny and Jack are okay. I got a couple new dents�." He paused, yawned and her beautiful face rose up in his mind's eye. "Looks like I'm gonna need some tender loving care�"

She sighed hard, closed her eyes, and felt a weight rise and leave her slight frame. They were all safe, home and alive. "Garrison?"

"His lower leg came back," Martin replied, watching the nurse approach. "Alligator got him. Listen, I have to go�"

"I'll be up in a little while. I'll leave as soon as I shower�"

"No, don't, babe," Martin instructed. "I'm gonna be tied up in X-Rays and stuff and then we have a debriefing with Victor later as soon as Chris is up to it. I'm really wiped, I won't be awake. It's too far and I know you had a long week, you're beat." He rubbed his eyes, his head really hurt and his stomach was rocky. "Besides, I want you rested later when I get home and you're on duty."

"All right," she agreed, making a mental list of things to take to his place. "As it turns out, I am off on Monday. I can stay over a couple days."

"Leave your pajamas at home," Martin whispered with a short smile.

"I love you�"

"Me too�"

It was almost three p.m. when the phone in Chris's room rang. Jack put a hand up to prevent Chris from struggling for it.

"Hello?" He nodded and turned to the other bed, which had Danny Taylor perched next to it. He snapped his fingers and pointed to the slumbering Fitzgerald. "Yeah, we'll be right down."

"What's wrong?" Chris asked, waiting for Jack to lower the bars on the bed so he could get out of it.

"Victor said 'we're here for the debriefing'," he answered. Both Martin and Chris were dressed in FBI sweat suits, courtesy of the local branch. Both were staying over for observation and being released in the morning.

"Well, that's not a big surprise," Chris answered, nodding gratefully when Danny appeared with a wheelchair. "Thanks�"

"You okay?" Danny asked Martin, who was slowly walking to the bathroom. The head nodded once. "You go, we'll be right down."

"Conference room C, it's at the end of the hall, take a left, third door," Jack replied, pushing Chris's chair through the doorway.

"Gillin'll be there, Davenport and maybe LaSalle," Chris noted of three of Washington's most elite Government officials who usually headed investigations like this. "You had to expect that, given his clout."

"They better not turn the tables," Jack vented. "Or put out a statement about him and he ends up with a fuckin' medal."

"They can put up a statue for all I care, the bastard's dead," Chris retorted. "And he did have a double life. There're a lot of people who'll never believe he went south."

"Chris?" Victor greeted when the door opened. The young man looked pale and drawn. "I'm sorry to take you from your bed. This won't take very long."

"S'okay, sir," Chris answered, eyeing the four men seated. As he predicted, Gillin was there on behalf of the White House, Davenport from the CIA, and La Salle from the Bureau. He didn't know the fourth man but he didn't like the cold eyes that were cast on them.

"Agents Malone and Boone," Victor stated, eyeing the doorway and then Jack.

"Taylor and Fitzgerald are behind us," Jack answered, pushing Chris's chair to the table and sitting next to him.

"Martin?" Danny paused a few feet from the door and eyed his partner carefully. He didn't like what he saw in Martin's working eye. "We were there, they weren't. We got nothing to hide, remember that."

"He had friends, Danny," Martin vented, shaking his head and balling his fist. "I'm afraid I'm gonna blow my cool."

"You feel that coming on, you look at me, okay?" He waited and tapped Martin's shirt. "Okay?"

"Yeah�" Martin replied, tapping Danny's fist with his own. "Let's get this done."

"Well, we're all here," Paul LaSalle noted when two young men joined them. "For the record, Agents Taylor and Fitzgerald are present. Gentlemen, let's begin with your trip to Costa Rica on Friday, the 18th of April. How was it that you came to make that trip?"

"We got a tip," Jack said, "that Will Garrison was renting a house down there. The information was verified and we flew down to apprehend him."

"And get your revenge?" Glen Davenport prodded. He didn't like Malone and Will had been a friend, someone he'd worked with for years.

"Believe what you want," Danny answered, hearing the tone and knowing where he was going with it. "That sick bastard tortured and murdered a lot of people, including Alex Garcia. I trust you saw the tape?"

"Garrison isn't here, is he?" Davenport shot back. "Kind of convenient�"

"Who was your informant?" the fourth man asked.

"Who the hell are you?" Jack asked of the man who was older than he, thin and nasty looking.

"Bob Archer works for the Pentagon on Special Ops stuff," Victor noted. "Garrison was working with them on a drug issue down there."

"Who was he?" Archer repeated.

"He's an undercover operative," Chris snarled. "That's all you get. Move on."

"You not leading this investigation, Agent Booth," Archer pressed his voice sneering.

"Boone!" Martin hissed, "You need me to spell that for you?"

"Furthermore," Archer continued, swatting the comment away like an annoying fly. "You're in no position to make such a statement."

"Excuse me?" Chris seethed, shoving hard off the chair and rising up, "I was there, you arrogant prick! Who the fuck do you think you're talking to!"

"What Agent Boone is trying to say," Jack said in a calm tone, while easing the irate blond back in his chair. "Is that your question has been answered."

"Who is he?" Archer demanded. "We have the right to know."

"All you need to know," Jack said slowly and methodically, "is that he put his ass on the line to get us information required on a murder suspect. He could have been killed exposing himself and he took that risk. You wouldn't understand that kind of guts, the closest thing you come to danger is deciding to use the electric pencil sharpener."

"Move on," Victor ordered, taking control. "Okay, what happened after you landed?"

"We met with our informant and he gave us information on the house, the guards, the routine, maps and photos," Jack said.

"We studied the information for several hours and then headed after dark up to the house where Garrison was staying. We were going to hit the place at ten," Chris managed, still fired up.

The next fifteen minutes went by with questions on the house, the guards, and the alligator. Chris then relayed that once inside, the four split up.

"Danny and I went downstairs, Jack and Martin went upstairs. We were to meet outside in the yard and head for the boat."

"We took care of the guards downstairs but they had another man with them, it slowed us down. Chris was wounded and I almost got choked to death." Taylor sat back, letting a long breath out. "We realized that only one of the two dead men was a guard and there was one missing."

"About that time," Jack picked up the story, "Martin and I were upstairs. Martin went west to check out all the rooms on that side of the floor. He ran into trouble and a shot was fired. That brought an armed guard from the east wing and I took care of him. I heard shots from below and realized the other team was involved. They didn't answer the radio call and then I spotted Martin coming up the hall."

"I saw Jack and told him to go," Martin interceded. He was a bit nervous and took a good breath. "I hurt my back when I tangled with the guard and couldn't move very well. Jack wasn't aware that I was hurt. I didn't want Garrison getting away. By our count, we'd taken out both upper floor guards and Garrison should have been the only man left. I didn't get far, the pain in my back slowed me down and then I felt a gun to my neck. Garrison had been on the stairs leaving when he saw Jack run the other way and came back. He caught me."

"How many guards were dead at this point?" Gillin asked.

"All of them I thought," Jack said. "I got to the bedroom and saw the safe open. Someone fired at me and headed for the balcony; I fired back and hit him. I heard shots from the outside and went over the balcony to help."

"And you didn't wait for your partner?" La Salle inquired.

"I had no knowledge that Agent Fitzgerald was not behind me." Malone sighed hard.

"It happened very quickly and had he come back to check, he'd be dead now. It was the right move," Martin defended.

"Did you identify yourself as Federal Agents?" Archer snidely requested.

"He was looking right at me, he knew who the hell I was," Martin hissed, leaning over. "And I did state who I was and why I was there. He's a fuckin' monster not a Boy Scout."

"Martin," Jack chided, putting pressure on the irate arm on his right. Then he glared openly at Archer. "It's pretty clear you have an agenda. There isn't much to tell and you're putting up roadblocks. You either do this the right way or we'll leave."

A few tense moments passed with Archer getting grilled by four sets of irate eyes. However, the Deputy Director's was technically the only voice he had to obey.

"Mister Gillin will assume the recording." Victor nodded and the two men exchanged seats. He nodded to his son to continue.

"Garrison shoved me in the back of a car and clocked me, but I was not all the way out. I managed to leave my radio so they would know I was there." Martin sat back, taking a deep breath and fisting his hands.

"We saw the car leave and took off through the woods," Danny relayed. "We shot the tires but he got a pretty good lead on us. By the time we found the car, he'd taken Martin on foot."

"He had a small boat tied up in a deserted spot," Martin added. "He was going to use it to get to a plane he had hidden up the coast. But I jumped him, we fought and he thought he killed me. I floated in the water and waited until his back was turned. I shoved the boat away and jumped him. We ended up on top of a hill and fought to the edge, falling over."

"That was when we arrived," Chris spoke. "Danny was closer and got to the summit; the force also took him down into the water."

"The impact sent Martin and Garrison into a cluster of wooded debris. Martin's foot was stuck, he was going under. Danny got his foot untangled and just barely got him to shore. I had to go and help," Malone added.

"Martin was hurt pretty bad, the head wound had him disoriented and in shock," Chris interjected. "Danny and I went to get the boat that had been provided for us, up the coast a little ways."

"Why didn't you attempt to rescue Garrison? Was he injured?" Gillin asked.

"I didn't know," Danny answered. "My first priority was saving my partner. That water was cold and we were both freezing. It took all I had to get him out."

"But you never went to aid the suspect? You left him there to die!" Archer accused.

"It was dark and raining heavily, I didn't have any choice," Danny stated tersely. "Of course since your tight ass was dry here on the Beltway, you wouldn't know that, would you?"

"Taylor," Victor reprimanded lightly. "Mister Archer, you were warned. I'm going to formally request you leave these premises. You'll get a copy of the report."

Archer knew he crossed the line. Not that it mattered, Garrison was dead and that wouldn't change. He didn't want these cocky agents to think they'd bested him. He gave them a smug look and departed. Besides, without Will around there was more money for him.

"I gave Martin my coat and checked his injuries," Jack updated. "And then Danny and Chris left. It was at that time that I went to assist Garrison. He'd put himself in a position that would indicate he'd been speared by a branch, but actually, his arm was on it and pressed close."

"Giving the illusion that he was impaled?" LaSalle asked.

"Yeah," Jack answered. "He jumped me, we fought in the water. Martin fired a warning shot at one point�"

"All I could see was that one of them was under the water and in trouble. I didn't know which and fired that shot to startle the other," Martin added.

"It worked," Jack completed. "That was what caused him to release the pressure. He had my head under the water. I was able to hit him with a piece of wood. We fought into a deeper area and the alligator came over. Martin screamed a warning and I barely got away. Garrison didn't."

There were a few more standard questions and the three men got up to leave.

"You'll each get a copy to review and sign." Victor stood and nodded to the others. "This concludes the investigation. The lab reports should verify that the leg did belong to Will Garrison and by Agent's Malone's testimony, he was drowned. "

Victor nodded to each of the four, proud that they stood their ground. He gave Martin a lingering look, worried about how drawn his son appeared. As if sensing that, Martin found a weary smile and nodded back.

"Your mother will be over later," Victor added when the other three men left. "Get some rest, you certainly deserve it. I'm sorry about Archer, I had no choice, the White House insisted."

"Fuckin' prick," Chris mumbled.

"A good assessment Agent Boone," Victor sent back, 'Gentlemen�"

It was later, in the quiet of the room when Chris was asleep and Danny and Jack had gone to their hotel, that Martin got out of bed. He shuffled to the window, eyeing the pitch black of the sky. Even the stars were hiding. He wanted to feel satisfied, to feel a sense of accomplishment, but all he had was empty. There was nothing inside.

Five miles away at a tidy, cookie-cutter motel, Jack Malone sighed wearily. Danny was sound asleep and he didn't want to disturb him. He shoved his shoes on, grabbed his jacket, and went outside. He saw a diner across the street and headed there. As much as he didn't know the strangers inside, each represented another lonely soul hiding at midnight behind a Formica barrier. He didn't want pie but he needed something to occupy his hands. It was over yet he wasn't satisfied. There was no sense of completeness or finality. Perhaps it was too soon. He stirred sugar in his coffee and pushed the apples and cinnamon around, eyeing the pitch of the sky and trying to let it all sink in.

Manhattan, NY
Sunday Morning
April 20th


"You wearing something short and tight in a nice shade of leather?"

"Dream on," Sam answered, glad to hear Chris's voice.

She was about to ask where he was when she saw the black car turn the corner. Danny phoned from his place when he'd been dropped off. Chris and Martin lived on the same side of town, they were the two remaining. She flipped the phone shut and walked to the curb.

"Hey, Sunshine," Chris greeted warmly, stepping gingerly out of the limo to embrace her. He winked at her then said, "I told you I'd bring your Prince Charming back."

"Oh, God," she hushed, ducking down to see him. He was dozing and the morning sun was showing every bruise and discoloration.

"It looks worse than it is," Chris reassured, rubbing her shoulder. "He got a crease on top and one near his ribs, both minor. But he's on downtime for ten days. He and Jack kicked the shit outta Garrison. He ended up in a river fighting with Jack and an alligator got him." He paused thoughtfully. "We did bring his lower leg back."

"How thoughtful," Sam deadpanned, eyeing her close friend. "How are you?"

"Okay," he answered and grinned rakishly, "Nothing a few days in bed that the Travelli twins can't cure."

"Enough said," she chuckled, putting a hand up defensively. She ducked inside the limo and slid over, resting a hand on the only place on his face that wasn't marked. Then she leaned over and kissed him lightly.


"I hope so," she huffed, warming to the fuzzy, little boy lost look he usually woke up with. "You and Chris have something you want to share?"

"I'm a better kisser," Chris decided from the curb.

"Sorry," Sam winced when Martin touched his bruised lip. "I guess there's not many places you aren't bruised."

"I know one�" Martin whispered, nuzzling her neck. But he grinned and his cut lip protested. "Ouch�"

"Serves you right," she challenged, holding his chin and then touching his face. "Naughty boy."

"While I'm still young�" Chris called out from the street. "Some of us only have one good leg."

"Never stopped you before,' Martin grumbled, climbing out after Sam and stretching.

"You look like shit, Martin." Chris grinned.

"Fuck you, Boone," Martin sent back with a half-grin.

"You ever come to your senses and need a spot on the classier MPU�" He teased, patting the younger man's shoulder.

"They'd fall apart without me," Martin answered, nodding to the likeable blond as he limped back to the car.

Sam barely shut the door behind them inside Martin's apartment when she was turned and held close. She rested her head on his chest, tucking it under his chin. She sighed hard when his hand moved up and down her back, caressing her lightly. She held on a little tighter, fearing again for what she almost threw away. What they had was far too special to ignore or hide from.

"You hungry?" She pulled away and eyed the kitchen. "I brought sandwiches, Chinese and some�"

Martin kissed off her remaining thoughts and slipped his hand under her short sweater to caress the warm skin at the small of her back. His mind was willing but his body wasn't able. Now that he was finally home, it seemed every bit of tension and weariness descended hard.

"Man, I'm beat�" he admitted, longing for his bed. "I think I'll take a hot shower first�"

"I'll bring you some hot chocolate�"

Twenty minutes later, Martin appeared through a steam cloud in the bathroom, walking slowly towards the bed. On the side table was a white ceramic pot which was breathing heavenly cocoa at him. There was a large brownie with icing on a plate offered by a beautiful blonde with enticing eyes.

Bruised, battered and damp, he still looked sexy with a towel slung around his waist, parting invitingly for her. She put the brownie down and rose, allowing him to get into the bed. But he caught her instead, tipping her face up and tracing her cheek with his finger.

"God, you're like inhaling a rainbow," he whispered, moving his fingers to the back of her neck. He felt her hand moving across the damp towel on his thigh and grinned down at her. "Careful, Little Martin's got a concussion."

"A concussion?" She smirked, wondering what was going on behind the mirth in the eye that wasn't swollen shut.

"Yup," Martin decided, moving his hands over her backside and pulling her closer. "He's gonna need extra fine care, massages and some heavy lip therapy."

"Lip therapy?" She laughed, tugging the towel off and gently easing him onto the bed. "Turns out I'm a Certified Lip Therapist�"

"Well," his voice was husky as he unzipped her jeans and shoved them down. She stepped out of them and he unbuttoned her sweater. "Little Martin's gonna need some proof�"

"You need to rest," she protested, pushing his invading hands away. "You lay back and have your snack�"

"Now, you're talking," Martin replied wolfishly, moving his hand between her legs. But his efforts were met with a light slap.

"The brownie and cocoa�" Sam dictated, moving to pour some cocoa into mug.

"Stay?" Martin asked, moving back against the pillows and holding the quilt out. He saw skepticism in her dark eyes. "We'll be good, we promise�" Her snort was more than derisive. "You'll hurt his feelings�"

"He doesn't look it," she noted, eyeing 'little Martin'. "Behave?"

'Would we lie?" He added in his best choirboy voice. "Don't answer that," he chuckled. He allowed her to pull the cover up and sit next to him. She fed him tiny pieces of the rich, chocolate brownie and he completed his meal downing a mug and a half of cocoa as he filled her in on what happened.

When his voice began to slur and the eye began to fight hard, she pulled the high pillow out and slid him down. Then she moved the quilt and snuggled next to him. He turned on his side, pulling her close and the warmth that covered them was richly flavored with a healing force.

Tuesday, April 22
Long Island, NY

Jack frowned and sighed hard, resisting the urge to slam the horn and blast the moron in front of him. Why was it that everyone else on the road drives like an idiot? He eyed the clock on his car dashboard and hoped he wouldn't be late for his counseling session. Although it was not the first time he'd killed someone and had to make the official visits, it never got easier. His team was actively involved in a missing person's case.

Danny and Sam were at the MP's place of business, a high-end graphic design company in Oyster Bay. Kyle Langston had gone missing the day before. The forty-year old co-owner of the business had left work to meet some clients in Manhattan at five p.m. and never arrived. Vivian was at the missing man's home, interviewing his wife. Jack was on his way to meet Langston's partner. It had been a full day. Lucky for him Sandra Crews, the woman he was going to interview, was at a meeting with a client in Manhattan and Jack was going to talk to her on his way back to the office.

The only person on his team not working was Martin. Although he would be on sick leave the rest of the week, his session with the Bureau shrink had been that morning. He was going to stop at Martin's to talk to him on the way home. He'd spoken to him the day before and didn't like the vibrations he got. He had a feeling the younger man was struggling to come to terms with the abrupt closure of the harrowing ordeal they'd endured.

Martin frowned and eyed the skyline from the terrace of his apartment. He toyed with his iced tea, not really wanting it but needing something to occupy his hands. He was not used to being inactive and the doctor said no running for two more weeks, not with a head injury.

He leaned back on the chair and sighed hard, thinking on his odd state of mind. On one hand, he was lucky to be alive. Garrison was dead and the nightmare was over. So why after all these months of waiting for this moment was he empty inside? He didn't understand it and he didn't like it. His two hour meeting with Lisa Harrison had gone well. With the other meetings concerning Garrison on record, this one had been easier to handle. He was honest with her and that surprised her a bit. She encouraged him to talk about his feelings and not judge himself hard for the unemotional measure inside.

A knock on the door broke his train of thought. He rose up and made his way back inside. As much as he wanted Sam to be on the other side of the door, bearing a smile and those inviting arms, he would have to put that on hold. He opened the door and nodded, allowing entry.

"Hey Jack."

"Martin," Jack replied, entering the spacious living space and heading for the kitchen. He put a large bag down and took his jacket off, moving back inside and tossing it on a chair.

"Smells good," Martin offered, peeking into the bag.

"That new Thai place up the street," Malone answered. "I got a few things and some soup."

Martin got Jack a beer and retrieved his iced tea. He motioned for Jack to bring the food into the dining area. While he got plates and utensils, Jack updated him on the case they were working.

"I'm ready," Martin said, pouring some soup into a bowl. The spicy aroma that rose up with the steam was tempting.

"I know," Malone answered, carefully reading the signs he had come to learn about Martin while observing him after tough cases.

Jack dumped some rice onto a plate and spooned out half of a spicy beef dish, with carrots, onions, baby corn, fresh basil, and hot peppers. He then opened a container of spicy stir-fried glass noodles with green onions, red peppers, broccoli, and shrimp.

"So how'd it go?" Jack asked, tossing some hot pepper onto his dish and taking a swig of beer.

"It's over," Martin replied, chewing his dumpling thoughtfully and savoring the rich broth.

"Good," Jack baited, taking a large fork of the temping food.

For a few minutes they ate in silence. Jack knew by the impatient way Martin was attacking the food that he had issues brewing.

"Lisa's going to forward her comments to Van Doren and the brass down in D.C." Malone took some more beer and a forkful of the noodles. He kept an eye on the rapid motion of Martin's hands. "It's a good thing we can put this behind us. Now that Garrison is dead, it's over. Leave it behind and move on�"

"Right!" Martin said a bit too quickly. "Danny seems to think I have uh�uh�'lingering issues'." He snorted and shook his head, eyeing the dark eyes across from him. Without realizing it, his eyes were colored with blazing blue defense. "I'm fine."

"I know," Malone eased. "Danny wasn't tortured by that bastard. He wasn't naked and helpless, left to that maniac's sick hands. He didn't have that cold fear�"

Martin stopped eating and sat back, not liking the odd feeling that was creeping through his gut. This wasn't like arguing with Taylor. Jack was there. Jack had been toyed with, battered, burned, beaten and worse. He felt that sick monster's hands on him, felt that hot breath on his neck and had those cold words oozing into his ear.

"So I'm glad you're over it. Ready to move on once you're back to work. It would be tough to handle a new case and give that your undivided attention if you had doubts."

"Absolutely," Martin rushed, dropping his head down. Suddenly the room felt too small and he wanted out. He didn't like Jack stoking his gut like this.

"Me? She wanted to know how I felt about leaving Garrison in that river. How when he finally was dead, was I okay with that? Could I live with the fact I wouldn't have to face him in court and have him tell what he did. How I felt that it ended so suddenly."

Jack stopped when he saw the bait had been taken. He eyed the hands now curled into fists in Martin's lap. He could only see slivers of the eyes but they were troubled. Martin's body was now an armor of tension. Somewhere inside, a coiled snake was ready to strike.

Martin felt like a creature trapped in a cage. His eyes went back to the table and he picked up a fork, taking a large amount of noodles and shrimp. But putting food in his mouth and occupying his tongue wasn't the right answer. As the food went down, it seemed to sour inside. Something was clawing inside and needed to get out.

"It doesn't�" The words left Martin's lips on their own accord. He dropped the fork and shoved his plate away. He took a long draw of his iced tea and frowned.

"It doesn't what?" Jack prodded gently. He didn't want to push too hard. Danny was the only one who could get away with that. And from what he learned speaking to Taylor, Martin was still holding back. "Feel how you expected?"

"I wanted�" He put his hands palms down on the table and pushed off. He rose up, paced around the room and moved towards the sliding doors that led to the patio. The golden colors of sunset were creating quite a show.


"Yeah," Martin decided, turning back and eyeing his boss. He tapped his lean gut and shook his head. "I got nothing, Jack. Not hot, not cold, just empty." His eyes seemed to ask before his words did. "What the fuck happened?"

"Nothing, Martin," Jack said, moving from the table. He took his beer and Martin's bottle of tea and moved forward. "There's no right or wrong here. You have to understand that. You're losing sleep and torturing yourself because you expected to feel some glorious sense of relief."

"I want�" He took a sip of tea and moved to the door, eyeing the golden and rose curtains dropping on the skyscrapers. "�more�"

"More what?" Jack shook his head, moving next to Martin. "It's done, Martin. There is no more. There's not going to be any euphoria or glee. That's what you expected? That when he died, when it finally was over, you'd have some great wash of pleasure?"

Martin just sighed hard and dropped his head. He put the bottle down and fisted his hands again.

"Let it go," Jack suggested quietly. He gripped the back of Martin's downcast neck lightly and gave a tug. "He's dead and you're still letting him win."

"I can't�I want�something�" Martin decided, running a hand over his gut. "This? There's nothing."

"Because you didn't kill him when you had the chance?"

Martin moved away, putting a few feet between them and turned back with hostile eyes. "What the hell kind of thing is that to say? You're saying I'm yellow? Fuck you!"

"Don't you walk away from me!" Jack growled when Martin tried to flee to the kitchen. He grabbed the sulking agent and shoved him into a chair. He loomed over him and stared down hard. "First of all, you're not four, so lose the tantrum. Second, I've got a few years on you, Hot Shot, so don't pull that attitude crap with me. Third, I've been here before. And it's not easy and not something you shrug off. You're not fine, Martin, it's only been a few days. You need time to digest it, absorb it, bury it and move on with your life."

Martin was seething, partially because he didn't like Jack talking down to him like a green rookie. But moreover, because Jack was right and it bothered him that Jack was holding a mirror to his soul.

"I never said you're a coward," Jack corrected, moving to sit on the coffee table across from Martin. "And you haven't answered my question. Do you regret not killing him? Do you think somehow if you had, you'd feel better? That if the last thing he saw was your eyes looking at him when his life ran out, that would make you some kind of Superman? You'd be healed, cured�"

"Yes�maybe�I don't know!" Martin yelled, rising up only to be shoved back down.

"SIT DOWN!" Jack thundered, glaring hard. "Look at me, Martin. I was the last thing his eyes saw. Did I want that? Maybe, deep inside, but that choice was made for me. I have no regrets. He died, it's done. I got empty inside too, Martin. There is no magic that happens, you take the time to heal and move on. But you lose this false Superman shit because I won't have it and you won't work for me or anywhere with it, understood?"

Martin felt like a toy with the batteries running out. He couldn't get up off the sofa and didn't try. He remained in place, thinking over all that had happened and trying to study all the angles, from the onset until his arrival home a couple days ago. He heard Jack cleaning up and finally moved to the kitchen.


"For what? Being human?" Malone deflected, not missing the fatigue. Also, Martin had a head injury and that took a toll. "Get some rest. You feel up to it, you can do desk duty next week, half-days."

"Okay," Martin stated, moving aside when Jack went past to get his coat. He waited until Jack was nearly out of the door. "Hey boss?"

Malone paused in the doorway, one foot in the hall. He saw the hand coming and took it, shaking it firmly. He saw the blue eyes eyeing his shoes.

"Seems those are the right size to kick ass."

"Damn straight!"

Malone studied the worn features and especially the eyes which he'd come to see and expect an entire spectrum of emotion from. They seemed far too pale and one thing Martin never housed was a lack of tenacity.

"What stopped you from killing him is the reason you wear that badge well. Don't ever forget that."

Martin thought on those words long after Jack left. Later, when Sam crawled into the bed and curled into him, he sighed hard, relishing the warmth she provided. When her hands crept up his chest, he took them into his own and pressed them close. She kissed him softly and moved one hand to his cheek.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Not yet," he answered truthfully, pulling her closer. "But I will be."

Sunday, April 27th
Upper East Side Manhattan

Danny cursed as he hurried from the parking lot. He turned his collar up against the rain that had just begun to fall. He eyed the traffic carefully and ran across the street. He had to take four witness statements on Long Island and got held up in traffic. He was supposed to be at Chris's by 1 p.m. for an afternoon of baseball and a food feast at Boone's place with Jack and Martin. It was almost six and he'd missed the doubleheader. But maybe he'd be in time to get some food. Chris only got the best and the caterer he used put out a great spread.

"Hey!" Danny called out, rapping on the door. He jiggled the handle and it opened. "Sorry, I'm late. I got hung up�"

He tossed his damp jacket on a hook by the door and went to the kitchen. Chris had a fantastic apartment. No small wonder that the man had a parade of beautiful woman that usually were part of the classy d�cor. His stomach was begging him by the time he got to the table. He took a crusty sour dough roll and opened it, making a generous sandwich of Italian roast beef, aged provolone, roasted peppers, arugula, and tomatoes. He slathered on a generous amount of the gourmet sandwich spread that cost more that he usually paid for an entire lunch. He then added pickles, potato salad, and some smoked salmon and cream cheese that was on tiny pieces of toasted bagel to the overburdened plate. He grabbed a bottle of root beer and headed inside.



Danny's face broke into a mix of curiosity and mirth when he saw his three friends. Jack's bellow drew his eyes to the sofa. He chuckled at the sight of the two older men, wearing dark glasses and sprawled comfortably with a nearly empty bottle of Kentucky's finest sipping whiskey between them. He put his plate down and then realized he nearly stepped on Martin. A slight trail of drool came out of Martin's lips as his head rose up.

"Hey partner!" Martin slurred, trying to slap at Danny's leg and missing it. The action caused him to roll over and land on his face.

Danny began to laugh as he set down his plate and bottle. Then he squatted and hauled his partner back up. He leaned Martin's back against the large leather sofa that faced the one that Jack and Chris were spread out on. He lifted the sunglasses Martin wore and laughed louder.

"Nice eyes�"


"Yeah, I'm jellyous," Danny chuckled, picking up the empty glass that rolled out of Martin's hand. He sniffed and shook his head. "Damn�" He put the glass on the table and sat down ruffling Martin's disheveled hair. "Looks like Wally and Lumpy got the Beaver drunk." He shook his head and eyed Jack and Chris. "So much for being older and wiser. I leave the boy in your hands and look what happens?"

"Aging disgracefully," Jack chimed, taking the whiskey bottle and a good sip.

"And damn proud of it," Chris added, taking the bottle from Jack and another sip.

"Turns out dragons are in season," Jack added.

"�and they fly better than they swim�" Chris decided, trying to focus on Martin who was barely awake on the floor. "Right, kid?"

" �shent�that��bash�terd�sh..straight..t'hell," Martin managed, leaving a nice long line of saliva from his lip to his chin.

"Say goodnight, Beaver," Danny laughed, dropping a pillow on the floor and tipping Martin sideways.

"�goodnight�Bea�ver�" Martin rasped, sighing and letting his eyes close when his head hit a soft pillow.

By the time Danny finished a second plate of food and another of tiny pastries, tarts and cake, he was finishing his coffee when his cell phone rang.

"Danny?" Sam asked, "I can't get Martin, are you guys almost done?"

"Oh, some of us were done hours ago. Three sheets to the wind."

"That bad?"

"Don't wait up for him, he won't be seeing the light of day before tomorrow afternoon."

"I can't believe they got him drunk," Sam noted, eyeing the very empty bed in Martin's apartment.

"He needed it," Danny decided. "We don't know what he went through, Sam. But I know how hard he tries to fight his battles alone. This time, he couldn't and that got to him. It's gonna take some time but I think he's turned the corner. Just the fact he let his guard down and got drunk, that's a step. When's the last time you saw him unbutton like that?"

"I guess you have a point," Sam deferred. "So he's okay?"

"For now, but he's gonna be hurlin' in a whole lot of colors in a few hours." He heard the silence and depth of concern. "I got his back, I'm stayin'. You might as well go home."

"Thanks, Danny."

Danny cleaned up all the dishes, put the trash out and stored all the leftovers. Chris had departed to his bedroom, Jack was in the spare room and Martin was now on the sofa, a light blanket covering him. Danny got a bucket from under the sink and put it next to the slumbering Fitzgerald. He then brought in several bottles of water and some towels. He took his large mug of hot coffee and settled down on the other sofa, forwarding through the channels until Andy Garcia's face appeared. He recognized the movie The Untouchables and left it on. He was glad there was plenty of coffee; it was going to be a long night.

Several Weeks later
Conference Room
Federal Building
Fourth Floor

Danny sighed hard, scrubbing his weary face with his hand. He yawned and shook the cobwebs from his brain. He frowned, shaking an empty can of soda. His bleary eyes found the clock and it was almost ten p.m. It had been a brutal week. A newspaper reporter, Jimmy Tamarillo, had gone missing. The man specialized in undercover work, exposing faulty contractors, unsavory landlords, city council members on the take, and much more. So the suspects were many. They'd gone through dozens of cases, interviewed dozens of people, and were watching tapes of his prior assignments.

"How many more?"

"Five," Martin answered. "Viv and Sam are bringing them down."

"Man, I'm beat," Danny said. "I hope to hell something breaks soon."

"Yeah," Martin agreed, taking a moment to use the water in the cooler to splash his face. He dried off with a towel just as Sam and Vivian arrived.

"Jack's got a lead in Atlantic City," Vivian stated. "Seems a man who might be Tamarillo was seen a few hours ago in the back of a bar off the boardwalk. Two hookers who use the place recognized him. "

"And?" Martin pressed, hoping this would break the case.

"And the men with him work for Tony Vaccaro." Vivian saw Danny's head pop up. "Yeah�that's big." Vaccaro was a leading member of the local mob and controlled much of the drug and prostitution in the area.

"You two finish up with these," Sam stated, moving to the television and turning it on. There was a movie on that appeared to be in a women's prison. "Jack wants us to meet him at a restaurant down there that Vaccaro owns. One of the local cops got a tip they're keeping Jimmy in one of Vaccaro's places. He's got three."

Before she could update them further, the two male voices sailed through the room in loud and perfect harmony.


"Oh my God," Sam's horrified voice came out as she turned. She saw both of them bobbing their heads trying to see past her towards the television. She turned to Vivian who just rolled her dark eyes and waved her hand.

"I gave up on figuring that one out years ago," she said of the very male juvenile behavior. She walked back to the door. "I'll get the car."

Annoyed, Sam turned back and changed the channel.

"Dammit," Danny said, moving his head and trying to remember what channel it was. He'd been too preoccupied with the clinging cotton the women were wearing, not the channel. "Man they were all wet�I got a four or maybe it was a nine on the end."

"One and three," Martin noted of his angle. "Maybe�I couldn't see past Sam's�" He sat back when the blonde love of his life turned to him and the temperature in the room dropped about fifty degrees. "Uh�upper�uh�thigh�area�."

For a few seconds, the frost turned to ice and seemed to coat the walls. The only sound in the room besides Sam's boots clicking a decisive step as they exited was Danny's unabashed snickering.

"It's not funny," Martin snapped, smacking the back of Danny's head.

"Are you kidding me?" Danny laughed outright. "It's fuckin' hilarious. Upper thigh area? Man that's lame�"

"This isn't good," Martin decided, eyeing Sam's body through a glass window as she moved from the floor and the door closed.

"Nope." Danny picked a tape up and shoved it in the machine. "Something tells me you're gonna be watching an awful lot of late night television. He paused for effect and winked, "Alone." He eyed Martin's groin and arched a brow. "Little Martin's gonna be a monk."

"You're a big help!" Martin accused, shifting in his seat. He knew his bed would be cold for a while.

"You better dust off that gold card, Harvard," Danny suggested, patting Martin's back in a brotherly gesture as he sat down and hit the play button. "Chocolate and flowers ain't gonna cover it, you need to go big bling�something shiny that smells like old diamonds."

Three days later
Cape Cod

They'd both put in a long week on the Tamarillo case. He had apologized to Sam earlier and made it known that he was heading to his grandparent's cottage in Cape Cod for the weekend. He had Friday off and went up in the morning. He spent the day on the beach, soaking up the sun and surfing a bit. He stopped in town and got dinner at an old tavern. He met an old friend of his grandfather's and spent about an hour talking old times. Finally, he finished his last beer and headed for the cottage. He was surprised and pleased when he saw a light on inside.

Sam turned when Martin came through the door. She knew he put the spare key in the flower box outside on the porch. She'd been here twice before and enjoyed the picturesque cottage, which was colored in light pastels and seemed right out of a fairytale. It was a cool night and the ocean breeze sailed through the room, lifting her hair and caressing her skin. She wanted to be angry at him but he looked so good it was hard. Every perfect tanned feature and the lean body looking fine as he stripped his lightweight sweater off. His bronzed chest was perfectly honed and then there were the eyes. Eyes she could drown in, eyes that could undo her without him uttering a word.

"I'm glad you came," Martin said, walking over and pausing a few feet away. God she was beautiful. The short skirt seemed to accent her legs and the lacey, low-cut tee shirt seemed to be tailor made for his fingers. "I got something for you."

He moved to the mantle off the fireplace and lifted a box. He held it open for her and enjoyed the gasp. The jeweler was one known to his family for years. He found the antique locket scored with marcasites and housing a tiny amethyst in the center, and negotiated a good price. Seeing the stunned look in her eyes that quickly led to tears was worth it.

"It's lovely�" she gasped, stunned at the item. She knew Martin only bought the best and had exceptional taste when it came to jewelry. She closed her eyes and inhaled sharply at the touch of his fingers on her neck when he put it on her.

She turned around and opened her arms and he enveloped her. The kiss was long and demanding, causing her knees to go weak and a guttural, primal instinct to be born. Need turned to want and when his talented fingers moved up her legs and under her skirt she pulled back, breathless. Her lips full and bruised, she nibbled as his lips and moved her own lips to his ear.

"I want you�" She moved her hand down his chest and undid the zipper on his pants. He stepped out of them and she began to caress him.

"God, Sam, you're killing me�" Martin moaned, his blood racing. He needed her now, he wasn't ready to wait. He got her panties off and they fell to their knees, kissing and exploring. He got her shirt off and began to worship the perfect breasts with his talented lips and tongue. She was trying to get her skirt off and he moved his hands to the zipper. "I got it�"

"You sure my upper thigh area won't get in the way?" she teased and drank in the full blush that comment brought.

Later, they lay under a quilt that was over a hundred years old in an antique brass bead, quietly enjoying the comfortable silence. Martin didn't want this night to end. Just holding her, wrapped in the comfort that only came when they were together, was almost more than he could bear. The weather for the next two days would be nearly perfect. He envisioned long walks on the beach, lying in the sun, playing in the surf, enjoying the charm that the quaint local eateries brought, and worshiping her with all he had at night.

"I wish this could last forever," he whispered of that rosy texture that seemed to be in the air.

"Forever's a long time," Sam said, snuggling closer and relishing the slow caress of his fingers on her leg. She caught his hand and moved it up, covering her heart. "Together." She turned to face him and he captured her face in his hands and kissed her softly.



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