MEDLEY by Laurel


Chapter 5:

Long lost words whisper slowly to me
Still can't find what keeps me here
When all this time I've been so hollow inside
I know you're still there
Evanescence: Fallen, 2003

Putnam took Martin and Danny up the mountain to where the survey team was assessing damage and mopping up behind yesterday's burn. Like Grenz, he was a stickler for safety; he had them repack all their gear keeping some small yet essential items in their pockets. He refused to take them any further until they were able to demonstrate they understood all of the equipment they carried including their fire shelters. It took several practice sessions before they were able to successfully deploy their shelters and get inside them.

It was now early afternoon and they were trekking up to the next site where the mop up crew was working. It took them well over two hours to hike the mile or so to the site. When they arrived, they were surprised at the quiet activity before them. Men and women were working with their Pulaski tools, as well as their hands on spots in the ground. Occasionally the sound of a chainsaw split the air and then the crashing thud as whatever tree or branch it cut hit the ground.

"What are they doing?" Danny asked.

"It's called cold trailing," Putnam replied. "This fire edge is dead, but until we're through inspecting it there's always the risk something is smoldering below. Duff, stuff like needles, leaves, all the forest 'litter', can easily hide heat or smoldering particles that, if we don't clear them out trench them cool them, can eventually flare up again and if the wind catches it - well, this is the mop up operation."

"Looks like the surface of the moon." Martin commented.

Everywhere they looked they saw ash covered surfaces. What had once been green and lush and displayed the colors of nature was now gray, statues of dead trees that were scorched stood where towering pines once stretched skyward.

"It's hard to believe that anything will ever grow here again." Martin murmured taking in the ghostly appearance. The area looked like a giant hand had ripped everything out of the ground throwing trees, in haphazard piles as it moved through burning all the color, all the life. Besides the sound of the chainsaws and the occasional shouts as snags were felled it was nearly silent.

"I know all you see is sheer devastation but give this a few years and the new growth will amaze you. By clearing out so much of the surface vegetation that was choking the ground Mother Nature will regenerate and this area will be lush and vibrant again. Nature is already working below the surface, deep underground where the heat of the fire didn't penetrate and roots and insects and new life is already working its way to the surface.


The three men were slowly walking through the area and while they were going Putnam was pointing out hazards.

"You want to walk very carefully and pay attention to everything around you. Keep your hard hats on and go only where I tell you. Those dead trees, we call them snags, they're notorious for falling suddenly and they aren't all extinguished. We've got a couple of sawyers up here and they're removing the snags and extinguishing them as needed. We're far enough back there shouldn't be any concerns but I take nothing for granted. I've seen a fire turn and when it does, there's nothing to do but drop everything except your shelter and run hoping you don't have to deploy."

"Have you ever been in a fire where you needed to deploy your shelter?" Martin asked.

"No, but I've been at fires where firefighters have. These shelters are good but they don't withstand everything and, if you tear them during deployment or don't inspect them and keep them in good condition--well, let's just say that I inspect mine before and after any incident. They can sustain a direct flame impact but you'll still get burned, inside it'll still heat up and asphyxiation is a real problem."

It wasn't long before Putnam led them to a small area that one man was inspecting carefully. He had a notebook and was scribbling in at as well as squatting down and brushing through the ashy debris to uncover what lay beneath. At Putnam's greeting he stood up and walked over to them.

"Kevin Moody, meet Agents Fitzgerald and Taylor from the FBI," Putnam took care of the greetings and after the men shook hands he left Moody and Danny to talk and brought Martin a little further along until he spotted another man, Zac Christian. After introducing those two, he left them to their task

"So, Zac," Martin began. "How long have you worked with David Braxton?"

"I've worked with him for six years now. Never known him not to turn up right on schedule, you don't have any leads back east?" Martin sized Christian up, he was in his late 20's, fit, had an economy of movement that bespoke someone used to being quick and orderly in his work from necessity.

"The rest of our team is running down every possible avenue of information available. Agent Taylor and I were sent out here specifically to talk to his team members in the hopes that you can tell us something that we won't learn from phone and bank records."

"Yeah, well, I don't have any ideas where he could be. David has two passions in life, his family first and preserving the forests and natural resources second. There was never any question that he was going to head home for the birth of his and Caitlin's third child; he always puts family first. After that it was a foregone conclusion that he'd be right back out here."

"Wouldn't that be kind of hard on his wife having a newborn plus two other children and him heading out so quickly again?"

"Caitlin Braxton is as big a protector and champion of the forests as David. The only reason they live in NYC right now is because her father is ill and is being treated at Sloan Kettering. They used to live in Missoula but since her dad got ill, they moved east to help out. Those two have the same outlook on the world, family first, nature second. No, Caitlin would completely understand and her mom and her aunt and uncle live in NYC so there's plenty of help to go around. She knew he'd be back here; it's funny she used to joke that she checked the calendar carefully and calculated out the pregnancy so as to conceive at just the right moment to stay within Dave's schedule."

Zac chuckled at the memory and Martin could see by the light in the young man's eyes that his regard for his boss and his boss' family was genuine.

"Tell me about this fire here, was this one of the spots that your survey team had chosen to burn?"

"It was, but it was supposed to be a lot smaller obviously and we weren't going to start it until later this week. Weather is an important factor to consider and there's a front coming in that's going to be carrying a fair bit of humid air in front of it and somewhat cold air behind it, we were waiting for that to get here before we started since it would help us keep the fire under control. All these flash fuels around us are so dry and combine that with the dry air and the wind--well, it's not ideal conditions for a control burn."

"Have you had burns before that got out of control?" Martin knew that he had but he wanted to keep Zac talking.

"Yeah, I mean, you can never completely control a fire. It's a living force of nature and thus unpredictable at the best of times--wild and out of control at the worst, but this time Dave was really cautious. There have been several surveys that we conducted and prescribed burns for that went out of control.

Dave was real upset; he took it personally that's one of the reasons I love working with the guy. He really is passionate about the work and he's one of the best in the field. I've been able to work with him now for six years and he is a complete stickler for detail, to have four fires go out past the control zone and to do it to the scale that they have and now this one--" Zak trailed off as he looked around him sorrowfully taking in the devastation.

"How did this one get past the boundaries?" Martin asked neutrally allowing Zak a chance to confuse his story if he was going to.

"Like I said, this one wasn't even supposed to be started yet and even so, it wasn't going to start here. We're not only mopping up this section but we're looking to see why it started, lightning strike maybe, I don't know. I'm thinking this will be the fifth fire in as many years that will have gone past its boundary that is not going to make Dave very happy.

He takes a lot of pride in his work and he takes the failures or miscalculations very personally. As I said, he's going to see this as a failure. His passion is why I wanted to work with him. This--" Zak swept his arm around to indicate the burned forest around them. "--this will regrow no doubt about it and it will flourish and be even more beautiful than it was, but Dave's reputation will not be so easily rebuilt."

Martin looked with Zak and absorbed the visual impact of scorched tree trunks, ash covered earth, trees blown down by the force of the fire or felled by axes, the unnatural quiet broken only be chainsaws and the falling of trees was eerie, no birds, no rustle of leaves; it not only looked dead, it sounded and even felt dead. Despite his heavy gear, Martin shivered.

Later, after he had interviewed Eric Pulliam, he met up with Danny who had managed to interview Kevin Moody and then Brian Keeler. The two men exchanged their impressions.

"I don't know, Martin. We spent the morning with Putnam who is as much like Grenz when it comes to safety, safety, safety, gave us full access to all of Braxton's files, taught us about equipment and is genuinely concerned about the man's welfare, both Moody and Keeler indicate that Putnam and Braxton are almost identical on their thoughts on the environment and safety and the best way to manage fires and rejuvenate the forest."

"I agree, Putnam doesn't strike me as having anything to hide or any agenda other than doing his job to the best of his ability; it'll be interesting to hear what his records turn up to see if what we see in person matches up to what's on paper."

"Same for all of them," Danny continued. "Keeler is pretty much off my list, he's on this fire and he was on the Cherry fire in Arizona in '02 and Sink's Canyon in Wyoming in '03 and that one he joined at the end as part of the after fire assessment team, so that alone pretty much rules him out.

He's completely a science guy. He's all about measuring the depth of the burn, rate of burn and all that stuff. He has no knowledge or interest in anything other than crunching those numbers and once this survey is complete he'll rotate to another fire, doesn't matter to him which one just so long as he gets to measure and tabulate.

Now Moody, he's been on all five of the fires but I don't see him as anything other than someone who is looking to learn and grow and perhaps head up his own survey team one day. So while he may be conscious of his future and not always wanting to be part of a team but rather a leader, he's also serious about the work intensely loyal to Braxton and savvy enough to know that being part of a five surveys that all escaped their prescribed burns will not help him to succeed."

"Any particular reason for his loyalty," Martin asked thinking that while everything else Danny had said, especially the part about keeping a clean resume and not having fires go out of control, his suspicious side thought that 'intense loyalty' could be a cover to throw them off of something more sinister such as knowing something about Braxton that he could use against him.

"Seems the first fire he joined Braxton's team for was Sink's Canyon, Wyoming, and the fire escaped and ran wild at his section of the survey zone. He blamed himself for underestimating ground moisture and the amount of flash fuels in the area and was certain he was done especially since two firefighters and three civilians died in that fire when it blew up and became a firestorm. Well, Braxton stood by him and went over his analysis and proved that it wasn't Moody's analysis that was faulty. Moody says that he looks at Braxton sort of as a mentor."

"I'm getting the same from Christian and Pulliam. We know from our own background checks on Braxton that he's a good guy and this just further supports the theory that someone was sabotaging these burns and Braxton caught on to it."

"That and the threats he was getting right before he disappeared is pretty strong evidence. So Braxton is a good guy, respected by everyone on his regular crew and those that join in from time to time; financial, family and work records all show a good guy, family man."

"Yeah, so it's not likely Braxton skipped on his own but we already figured that but I don't see that we're any closer to seeing who had it in for the guy." Martin looked around noticing several members of the crew walking back down to the makeshift camp that was just behind them. Checking his watch he saw it was just after 4:00 p.m. local time which meant it was just after 6:00 p.m. in NYC.

"Better call Jack and give him an update on what we've got." Flipping open his phone he was happy to see reception still worked although it was getting sketchy. Danny's battery was starting to get a little low so Martin used his phone which still had more charge.

He filled Jack in in short order and while Jack was getting a more two dimensional view of their 'suspects' based on Danny and Martin's interviews, Martin was fleshing out his and Danny's views of the same men based on the background information. None of it pointed to any of the men as a possible person with a motive, although with the new information Jack would have the team spend the next day tracking down and verifying the stories.

Shutting down his phone at the end of his conversation with Jack after agreeing to try and contact him the next day Martin turned towards Danny as he motioned towards a couple more men coming down from above. The two agents walked over and fell in step with Chad Putnam and Kevin Moody.

"We're going to use the last couple of hours of light to move further up the mountain. Once we get a bit further up, we'll set up and grab some chow that got brought in a little while ago. Don't know if you saw a supply vehicle come into camp but they brought us some food so no MREs tonight. You boys will be staying up here with us tonight and we'll see about sending you back to base camp tomorrow when the supply truck comes back around. I'd have sent you back with it but we were just stop one on its route and it was going across the ridge to the south and heading closer to an active area."

"Sounds fine." Danny agreed.

Later that evening the two men were burrowed in sleeping bags inside a two man tent whispering ideas of the case back and forth. They were at a dead end and they knew it. While there was definitely something suspicious with the fires the best Martin and Danny could do would be to alert the local FBI and ATF offices of Braxton's concerns and turn over his files. Their purpose was to find the missing person not stop arsonists and so far it appeared there were no further clues to follow in Utah.

Martin lay there long after Danny had gone to sleep. His mind kept turning over what he'd heard earlier in the day:

I know all you can see is sheer devastation but give this a few years and the new growth will amaze you.

While Martin knew Chad hadn't meant that metaphorically he couldn't help but apply it to how he'd been living for the last couple of years. The shooting and subsequent recovery had taken a lot out of Martin, add to that his struggle with painkillers and finally being saved in essence by both Sam and Danny he felt like he was slowly starting to rebuild.

Martin had truly hoped that he and Sam would find a way back to their friendship after they broke up and for a short while it appeared as if it was possible and he knew he'd never be anything but completely grateful that she didn't back down in the face of his problem with the painkillers and that she stood by him. Still there was a void between them and Martin realized that perhaps it wasn't going to be possible to bridge that void.

With that unsettling thought tumbling around in his mind he fell into an uneasy sleep.

Watching me wanting me
I can feel you pull me down
Fearing you loving you
I won't let you pull me down
Evanescence: Fallen, 2003

Chapter 6:

Bring Me to Life:
How can you see into my eyes like open doors
Leading you down into my core
Where I've become so numb without a soul
My spirit sleeping somewhere cold
Until you find it there and lead it back home
Evanescence, Fallen, 2003

The next morning Jack gathered Viv, Elena and Sam at the bullpen conference table and reviewed all the information he'd received from Martin from the interviews. Now it was up to the remaining team members to track down the various stories and see if they matched what they'd been told.

The team set to work calling former supervisors, tracking down members of past survey teams that weren't currently at the Abajo fire trying to verify the information.

It was early afternoon when Jack, working at his desk, received a call from the NYPD.


"This is Lieutenant Dennis Krupp with the 48th Precinct, are you searching for a David Braxton?"

Surprised Jack took his reading glasses off and concentrated on the conversation, "Yes, my team have been on his case since he went missing four days ago."

"Well, we've found him." The voice on the other end was professional and neutral so Jack asked the obvious questions.

"In what condition and where?"

"He's alive, suffering from a touch of exposure and dehydration but nothing worse than that. As for the where, there's a bunch of warehouses under the Major Deegan and the Washington Bridge and the one he was in was scheduled for demolition today. It seems our Mr. Braxton managed to make enough noise for the final walk-through crew to hear it and they found him tied up at the bottom of a freight elevator shaft. They've transported him to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital in stable condition."

"That's great news; I'm heading on my way to interview him. I assume you've contacted his wife?"

"Yes, I sent a squad car to pick her up since I understand she's only recently given birth."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Jack disconnected and headed out to the bullpen where the rest of the team was working.

"David Braxton has been found alive and mostly well." Jack said by way of greeting as he walked up to the group.

"Elena, you and I will head to the hospital to interview him and try to find out how he ended up tied up and at the bottom of an elevator shaft under the Major Deegan. Sam, Vivian, keep gathering the information flowing in and organize it so that when we hand this over to major crimes for pursuit of kidnapping everything is ready."

"Shall I call Martin and Danny and let them know?" Vivian asked.

Jack paused for a beat, "Not yet, I want to hear what Braxton has to tell us. He may have information that points to someone in Utah. If so, I want to have the boys turn it over to the local office."

Once Jack and Elena had left the office Vivian and Sam worked quickly to get the current piles of paper organized and boxed up. They labeled everything so as further information came in it would easily be filed appropriately.

"Well, I'm glad this is ending positively for once; it's been a while." Vivian remarked as she placed the box in the middle of the table. "I'm going to get a cup of coffee, bring you some tea, Sam?"

"That would be great, Viv, thanks." Sam smiled tiredly. She hadn't been sleeping well lately with the stress of being pregnant, her conflict with Martin and then last night was really lousy for sleep as she'd been processing her conversation with Elena. Now that the case was close to being closed she was feeling the drain of not having slept much.

She sat at the table and tiredly rubbed her eyes.

Vivian found her that way as she walked back with two steaming mugs in her hands. Setting the mug of chamomile tea in front of Sam she sat down at the table at a right angle to her and smiled before she started to speak.

"So, now that we've got a little time to ourselves, are you going to tell me what's got you so angry at Martin, distant towards Jack and absolutely looking miserable," Vivian asked gently.

"And I always thought I was good at hiding my emotions." Sam quipped wryly.

"Perhaps you can fool a layman, but I'm an FBI agent and a mother, I don't fool so easily, what's going on?"

"I thought--I don't know, Viv. I just don't know." Sam couldn't voice what was in her mind, not to Vivian.

"I'm not going to accept that, Sam. You do know, just spit it out. If you're thinking I'll judge you -"

"It's not that, Viv. You've always been there for me; it's just--"

"It's just you're still in love with Jack, aren't you?"

Sam could only stare open-mouthed at Vivian; she hated being that transparent.

"Is it that obvious?"

"To me it is. Sam, don't take this the wrong way and think that I'm judging you because I'm not. I do want to help and maybe offer some unsolicited advice so I need to understand something first." Vivian paused and watched as Sam took a small, careful sip of the hot tea. When Sam gave a small nod indicating she should continue she took a breath and plunged in, "You need to explain to me why you love Jack."

"Why? Why do I need to explain to you or anyone else why I love who I love; I can't help that my heart loves Jack."

"Samantha, Jack is my friend. I love working with him even when he drives me crazy. I love that I can fight with him and yet still respect him. If I didn't love working with him and for him do you think I'd still be here?"

Sam shook her head.

"No, I wouldn't but you've got to understand something about Jack that I've known for the ten years I've been working with him, Jack is all about the work. Everything Jack does is for the team and everything the team does is for the people we try to find. Jack gets emotionally involved in the cases and sometimes he gets emotionally involved in the victims, but he doesn't do it anywhere in his personal life; he's not capable of it. So tell me, is that what you love about Jack?"

"I don't know what it is; I just know in my heart that it's there. It consumes me. I think back to the time we had and I remember feeling safe and loved and needed--"

"And where is the man that made you feel that way?" Vivian softly asked.

"He sits in his office 50 feet from me every day."

"That's right he does. Has he ever tried to renew anything with you since his divorce?" Vivian decided that it was all or nothing at this point and since Sam was talking she was going to lay bare the emotional baggage as best she knew how.


"Have you?"

"I asked him to be my Lamaze coach a few days ago."

"Really, and what was his answer?" Vivian already knew, she could tell by how Sam was acting.

"He said no; it wouldn't be appropriate."

"And do you think it would have been appropriate?"

"No, but I just don't care anymore about what's appropriate I want to be with the man that makes me happy that doesn't judge me that doesn't think less of me for being who I am and for things that I've done."

"Is Jack that man, Sam?"

"Are you saying he isn't?"

"Why do you think Jack doesn't judge you for being who you are and doesn't judge you for the things that you've done?"

"Because he knows all my secrets, my flaws, my fears he knows them all."

"Why is it you felt comfortable telling him and not anyone else?"

When Sam didn't answer Vivian continued. "Did you feel comfortable telling Jack because you knew his deepest secret or did you tell Jack because you already knew in your heart that while he cares for you on one level he'll never be capable of caring for you on that deeper, truly intimate level and so you were safe because you weren't really committing yourself to anything other than a surface relationship?"

"I didn't see it as a surface relationship, Viv, and besides, while Jack knows all my sins I know all of his."

"Of course you do, Sam, you're the other woman. Now don't think for a minute that I'm giving you permission to blame the breakup of his marriage on yourself, no, don't give yourself that much credit.

Jack was married for a long time before you came along and his work was all consuming back then.

That marriage was in trouble before you ever appeared on the horizon and the trouble continued for almost two years after you faded from view.

You weren't the blame for that marriage, Jack was. Jack is incapable of being that kind of a man; and that's all right, some people aren't. So, it's real easy to tell Jack your sins after all you know one of his biggest; infidelity. But knowing that he's been unfaithful and is also incapable of that truly deeper level of intimacy you have to ask yourself, is that why you love Jack?"

Sam was silent as she turned over Vivian's words.

"Sam, other than telling Martin about Jack, did you ever tell him anything personal about yourself?"

Sam was stunned as she thought through the nine months of her and Martin's relationship. She remembered telling him that she didn't want to be considered less of an agent because she had slept with one agent and was currently sleeping with another at that time. She remembered how hurt he had been when she said that and she was angry with him for not understanding but based on Elena's words to her yesterday she suddenly realized that that was mostly what they did.

Other than opening up to him occasionally about a case and her theory as to why the person was missing and what should be done to find them, she'd never really told him much.

"Viv, Martin grew up in D.C. surrounded by politicians and fancy people high up in the Bureau. He went to college and graduated with no student loans and while he doesn't flaunt his money I know he has some from his parents that is available to him, not to mention he has both his parents in his life."

"Big deal, so he didn't have college loans, you're going to hold that against him? I don't ever recall Martin holding it against you or Danny that you both had to work your way through college. Martin's best friend is Danny Taylor, orphan, grew up in foster homes, brother in prison.

He fell in love with you the first day he set eyes on you and for two years he learned about you and from you and he flirted with you. He'd fight just as passionately for his theories as you and the two of you had some ripping debates on the best way to handle a case and the both of you grew because of it. And during those two years I know he learned enough about you to know you grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in a trailer park with no father in the picture and a mother you barely talk to and a sister you were estranged from and yet he still flirted at and with you and continued to strengthen your friendship and relationship.

So, if you're trying to suggest that Martin judges you because of where you grew up and who your parents are or aren't. you'd better rethink those thoughts and know you'll have me to fight. If anyone in your relationship both before during and afterwards judged the other for who he is or where he comes from, it's you.

You're so hung up on what you didn't have growing up that you resent him for what he did and that's not only wrong it's completely unfair. Martin is a good man, a nice guy and you're judging him for that and judging him unfairly."

"Elena said something along those lines to me yesterday."

Vivian merely sipped her cooling coffee and waited silently for Sam to continue.

"She was surprised that Martin and I had dated because she didn't think he was my type because she figures him to be the kind of guy that's in it for the commitment, the good the bad and everything in between."

"She's right, that's what Martin is and exactly what Jack isn't." Vivian looked up as another agent approached with a pile of papers.

She thanked him and quickly glanced at the papers noting they were some of the information they had spent the morning calling and requesting as background on their suspects. Vivian looked at the stack of papers and then at Sam who was sitting silently and from what Vivian could see, processing their conversation.

"Listen, Samantha, why don't you go home. You're tired, the case is winding down, Jack and Elena will be back before long, and he'll update the boys on the situation and we'll take it from there. I'll sort this information and get it boxed up and I'll see you tomorrow."

Sam started to protest not wanting to leave Vivian with the papers but Vivian held her hand up and cocked an eyebrow at her, "Hey, enjoy the freedom while you can. In a few months that baby will be here and you won't know what freedom is anymore. Consider it a pre-baby shower gift from me, take the afternoon."

"Thanks, Viv." Sam packed up her stuff, shut down her computer and headed home with her mind full of conflicting emotions and thoughts.

Bring Me to Life:
Wake me up inside
Wake me up inside
Call my name and save me from the dark
Bid my blood to run before I come undone
Save me from the nothing I've become
Evanescence: Fallen, 2003

Chapter 7:

Lithium, don't wanna lock me up inside
Lithium, don't wanna forget how it feels without
Lithium, I wanna stay in love with my sorrow
Oh, but God, I wanna let it go

Come to bed, don't make me sleep alone
Couldn't hide the emptiness you let it show
Never wanted it to be so cold
Just didn't drink enough to say you love me

I can't hold on to me
Wonder what's wrong with me
Evanescence, Open the Door, 2006

Elena and Jack arrived at the hospital and were quickly given access to the room where David Braxton was being examined. The doctor reviewed his condition which was pretty much what the police lieutenant had told them, dehydrated, exposure, some scrapes, a minor concussion and--well, hungry. They were given ten minutes with him and then he was to be transported to his room.

Parting the curtain Jack and Elena saw their missing person, the man they'd gotten to know from everyone and everything but him, in front of them. He was holding his brand new baby girl in his arms while his wife sat near him both her hands holding tight to her husband's arm.

Both looked up and Caitlin smiled in greeting as Jack and Elena approached.

"David Braxton, my name is Jack Malone and this is Elena Delgado, we're with the FBI; we've been looking for you."

"So my wife tells me, thank you, guess being found helped you guys out." David started to shift the baby to stretch out a hand but Jack stopped him.

"Not necessary, hold your baby girl."

"Thank you."

"Mr. Braxton, can you tell us what happened?" Elena flipped open her notepad as she asked the question.

"I sure can, it was four days ago, I was going to catch a cab to the airport later that day to head back out to Utah. So, when it was time to go, I called a cab and when it came I said good bye to Caitlin and headed outside. I was just about to get in the cab when I heard my name called. I looked up and Jeff Pierce was jogging across the street towards me."

"Who is Jeff Pierce?" Jack asked while Elena jotted the name down.

He's a colleague of mine. We've worked a bunch of surveys together. He said he was hoping he'd catch me and would I let him drive me to the airport as he wanted to discuss some strange patterns he'd noted in some fires over the past few years. I agreed. I let the cab go and grabbed my bag and got in the car with Jeff."

"I take it this Jeff Pierce didn't want to just exchange information with you about these fires." Jack noted.

"Oh, he was willing to exchange information all right; he wanted me to know that since I hadn't taken the hints and the threats, that now he was going to get serious and that meant eliminate me." Braxton stopped and gave his wife a quick kiss as her hands tightened on his arm.

"That's when he showed me he had a gun; shocked the hell out of me that's for sure. I've been fighting fires since I was 18 and I have a healthy respect for the beast, as I call a wildfire, and while I know what it can do when out of control I don't fear it; I respect the hell out of it knowing that I can never fully predict it, but when I saw that gun, I was scared." David stopped and Elena and Jack noticed his expression; he was reliving that moment.

"Is that when he drove you to the warehouse?" Elena asked trying to get him to continue.

"Yes, ma'am. I didn't say a word after he showed me that gun, I had no idea what he would or wouldn't do with it as I'd never seen Jeff that way. All of a sudden the serious yet funny man I considered a colleague and friend turned into a killer before my eyes, some of those fires I was suspicious of killed people and all of them killed land, animals, as well as people's dreams.

Anyway, we got to that warehouse and he got me inside, tied me up and dropped me into the elevator shaft, said he didn't want to shoot me 'cause he didn't want the body found with a bullet in it, the ropes would burn up in the fire. I asked him what fire and he said the one that would happen when the charges went off around me to demolish this building, said I'd only have to wait a day; building was set to be demolished the next day." David shuddered and held his baby girl a little tighter although the slumbering infant didn't notice.

"Before he left me there I asked him why he was doing this. He said he was just following orders and then he left me there."

"Do you have any idea what that means, "Just following orders"? Jack asked.

"I spent all the time I was down in that shaft trying to figure it out, whose orders and why, I have no idea. When you pick him up you can ask him."

"Any idea where he's headed?" Elena asked.

"Yeah, I expect he's out in Utah right now. Caitlin told me how that fire is out of control, damn fool, no reason for it either so I know for sure he's out there."

"Was he supposed to be there with you on this particular fire?" Elena followed up her question.

"He's with me on all the fires I do that's what really irks me; I've been trying to figure out who and why and all the while the very man I share all my suspicions to and all my information was taking it and using it against not only me but against the very thing we're hired to prevent."

"Any reason his name isn't on the current manpower manifest for the USGS team?"

"Yeah, Jeff's freelance, I hire him on my own docket so he wouldn't show up on a manifest."

"Thank you, Mr. Braxton, we'll let you get some rest. We'll be back again tomorrow after you've gotten some rest to interview you again, in the meantime if you think of anything, here's my card, give me a call." Jack handed over his card and left the happily reunited family.

Stepping out into the corridor Jack and Elena saw a tall police lieutenant striding towards them.

"Agent Malone?"

"Lieutenant Krupp?"

"One and only, thought I'd have a chance to meet you here."

"We just finished interviewing him for now. Lieutenant, he said when he was left in that shaft he was told the building was to be demolished the next day, when you called me earlier, you said it was slated for demolition today, which is it?"

"It was scheduled for demolition earlier this week unfortunately the foreman who oversees the final inspection got in a car accident and broke his arm. They postponed it until today to allow him to get a permanent cast put on and be allowed to do the walk through, don't know if that's a gift or not as it appears Mr. Braxton was ready and able to call for help anytime he needed, guess we'll never know why things happen that way."

"I guess so." Jack commented.

"So do you guys keep following this up or what do you do?"

"Well, it appears this guy was abducted by someone on his survey team but since it's no longer a missing person, we'll turn it over to the local office in Utah to follow up. I've got two agents out there right now that can help bring them up to speed and maybe apprehend the kidnapper."

"Glad to have one end well." Lieutenant Krupp shook hands with Jack and Elena and then headed into the cubicle to complete some paperwork with David Braxton.


Vivian had finished boxing up the files for the Braxton case and alerted the agents actively working on the file by the time Jack and Elena returned. Once Jack brought her up to speed he headed into his office to call Danny and Martin and give them the update, as well as contact the Utah office involved.

Elena noted that Sam's desk was straight and that her coat was gone.

"Sam head home for the day?" Elena asked Vivian as she stood by the other agent's desk.

"Yeah, hopefully to think about some of what you and I apparently have talked to her about."

"Ah, so she bent your ear as well on some male issues?" Elena perched lightly at the edge of Vivian's desk.

"Yeah, seems you and I have similar opinions on Martin being a nice guy." Vivian leaned back in her chair and rubbed the back of her neck to relieve some tension.

"He is a nice guy; I actually have a friend that I think would be perfect for him and I mentioned something to Danny about it a couple of weeks ago and he told me to let it alone that he was pretty sure Martin's heart was somewhere else. I'll admit, I never thought of Samantha though, not sure why, just thought Danny and I were the first couple on the team."

Vivian smiled knowingly, "No, you and Danny weren't the first couple on the team, but you are a good couple, still Martin and Sam really had something. It was fun watching the two of them learn about each other and come to be friends and trust each other and then finally that trust, friendship and respect turned to flirting and then---well, when it ended, it ended quick and then just seemed to fade as if it never was."

Elena was quiet listening to Viv's memories. "You liked them together, didn't you?"

"I did and still do; Martin was and is good for Sam, strong, steady and protective without getting in the way of who she is as a person. Sam is equally strong and protective but too protective of herself to allow someone else within that protective fold. She's also someone who drew Martin out; she challenged his thoughts and perceptions and together they changed each other."

"Well, hopefully she'll think about what I said, and I have a feeling you spoke your feelings quite clearly, didn't you, Viv?"

Vivian smiled but didn't comment. Elena patted her on the arm as she headed to her desk.

Just then Vivian's phone rang, grabbing the line she answered, "Agent Johnson."

"Viv." It was Jack's voice.

Turning in her chair Vivian looked across the area into Jack's office where he was waving for her to come and join him. Looking at him and then back at her phone she hung up and headed to Jack's office, upon reaching it she entered, when he motioned for her to close the door she complied.

"What's up, Jack, did you reach Danny and Martin?"

"Yeah, I hung up with them a moment ago. I was coming out to gather the files so I could update the Utah office and I overheard you and Elena talking."

"I see." Vivian stood her ground neutrally.

Jack looked at her and then sighed. "Viv, would you sit for a moment."

Vivian stared at him unflinchingly and then, after considering him for a moment, she took a seat.

After close to two minutes they were still sitting there silently. Vivian wasn't uncomfortable but she could tell that Jack was, she watched him wrestle with his thoughts and emotions and finally saw his expression change as she watched him sort them out.

"Sam asked me to be her Lamaze coach."


"Judging by your dispassionate response, you already know."

"Is that a question?"

"Viv--" When Vivian just stared at him Jack cleared his throat and tried again.

"I told her it wasn't appropriate."

"And how did that go?"

"Not well."

"Hmm, I'll bet."

"Well, what happened afterwards was even worse." Jack paused as his thoughts drifted back to that night.

Sam had fled his office in near tears, feeling badly Jack followed her to the ladies room where he stood for a minute wrestling with whether he should or shouldn't go inside, finally the chicken in him won out and he grabbed his briefcase from his office, turned out the light and headed out.

Upon reaching the lobby he realized in his haste to leave he'd forgotten his coat which held his keys. Sighing and thinking of all the times to be this stupid he resignedly turned around, punched the elevator button and when it arrived headed back up to the 12th floor.

Exiting the elevator he was halfway down the corridor when he heard their voices.

"I signed up for Lamaze class."


"Well, I don't know if you know much about Lamaze, well, there's the mommy and the father that attend Lamaze, of course the baby is there but, you know, that's 'cause mommy goes. Well, anyway, I know I haven't told you who the father is and even if I did it wouldn't matter because first of all you don't know him and second of all he's made it completely clear he wants nothing to do with me or the baby so, I need a coach; I'd like that person to be you."

"You'd like me to be your Lamaze coach?"

"Yes, silly, I'd--I'd like it to be you."

"When did you decide you wanted me to be your Lamaze coach?"

"What does it matter, I asked you."

"Yes, yes you did ask me. Did you ask me because Jack said no?"

"Why would you ask me that?"

"I saw you go into Jack's office. I saw you hold out that same piece of paper to him and I saw him shake his head no and I saw you stand there in disbelief."

"You were spying on me?"

"You're something, Samantha Spade. I didn't have to 'spy' on you. I was standing right at this table, facing the corridor and Jack's office. You knew that as you'd just walked past me on your way to his office."

"Did you enjoy the show?"

"Yeah, Samantha, the show was great. It was so good I walked to the file room and archived the papers I had been gathering up. I had no idea what you were in there talking to Jack about nor did I care as what you do is none of my business anymore, if it ever was. But then I come back from the file room and am getting ready to head home after a long day and just grab a quick dinner, maybe some of the game and head to sleep and here you are sitting at my desk waiting for me.

What do you expect me to think when I see you with the same paper and standing there in the same posture and same hand twisting gestures as you just did in Jack's office?

You know what the real irony is, Samantha, if you'd asked me, if you'd come up to me and said, Martin, I'd like you, as my friend, to be my Lamaze coach, I'd have said yes. But you didn't, you asked Jack and when he turned you down, you didn't even think or wait or anything--not like that would have made it better--but you came right to me, your second choice.

I know I'll never be good enough for you to consider as someone to love or to think of as anyone other than--I don't know anymore, Samantha, I thought we'd have a chance again at our friendship, but you've made it clear that I don't even rate that high for you. I'll never be anything other than your fallback plan and I can't do that anymore."

"I didn't mean to eavesdrop on the two of them, Viv, and it was over so quick. I ducked into the stairwell and hid there until Martin left and then I stayed in there until Sam left. I felt so foolish hiding in the stairwell peering through the little glass but I didn't want either of them to know I heard."

Vivian sat quietly stunned. She'd seen the bittersweet emotions in Martin's eyes when Sam announced that she was pregnant. She knew he loved children and wanted his own and she knew he'd hoped he'd have them with Sam. As the weeks passed after Sam's announcement she watched Martin try to reach out to Sam as a friend and while the attempts weren't dismissed outright they were met with indifference.

Something had changed right before Martin and Danny were sent to Utah though, Vivian had left one night leaving Martin and Sam working in the bullpen and while he'd given her a big smile and a goodnight she'd seen the sorrow in his eyes and decided she was going to talk to him the next day about Sam. When she came in the next day though something had dramatically changed, Sam was the one looking hurt along with defiant and Martin, Martin just looked devastated and he'd avoided Sam at all costs and she him.

Vivian had had no idea what had happened at the time but now, in the context of Jack's revelation it was all clear. Vivian loved them both; she loved Samantha's unrealistic emotions and Martin's true romanticism. She knew now that in that instant Martin's heart had shattered and he'd lashed out which was why Sam looked not only hurt but defiant as well. When Sam was hurt she hardened her shell and became angry, when Martin was hurt he would lash out in defense and then withdraw into himself.

"So that's what's going on between the two of them." Vivian breathed.

"Yeah, I doubt either of them know that I know but I tried to help a bit by keeping the two of them busy and doing separate tasks and when the need came up to send a couple of agents to Utah, it was a relief as I figured it would give the two of them some much needed space."

"Well, it may help in the short-term but the boys will be back soon and then what are you going to do about it, Jack?" Vivian focused again on the immediate problem.

"I don't know."

"Well, you better figure it out before it tears this team apart. Are we done?" Vivian stood sending the clear message to Jack that she was.

"Yeah, thanks." Jack's voice was low and Vivian could tell he was well aware of the ramifications of his past actions she only hoped that this time he would do something permanent about it and if that meant transferring either himself or Sam or Martin off the team, well that might be for the best in the long run even if it hurt in the short run.

After Vivian left the office Jack sat for a long time, long after Elena and Vivian bade him good night, long after he'd updated the Utah office, long into the night thinking about seven years ago when he'd first taken that foolish step with Sam. By the time his clock finally clicked to midnight he'd made his decision. Come tomorrow he'd act on it. Straightening his desk and grabbing his briefcase, coat and keys he shut off the light, locked the door and headed home.

Oh! Don't wanna let it lay me down this time
Drown my will to fly
Here in the darkness I know myself
Can't break free until I let it go
Let me go
Darling, I forgive you after all
Anything is better than to be alone
And in the end I guess I had to fall
Always find my place among the ashes
I can't hold on to me
Wonder what's wrong with me
Lithium, don't wanna lock me up inside
Lithium, don't wanna forget how it feels without
Lithium, I wanna stay in love with you
Oh, I'm gonna let it go
Evanescence: Open the Door, 2006

Chapter 8:

Playground school bell rings again
Rain clouds come to play again
Has no one told you she's not breathing?
Someone to talk to hello

If I smile and don't believe
Soon I know I'll wake from this dream
Don't try to fix me I'm not broken
Hello I'm the lie living for you so you can hide
Don't cry

Suddenly I know I'm not sleeping
Hello I'm still here
All that's left of yesterday
Evanescence, Fallen, 2003

The next morning when Danny roused himself from his sleeping bag he was feeling more than a little uncomfortable after having slept the night on the ground inside their two-man tent on the side of the mountain. Noting that Martin was still burrowed inside his sleeping bag Danny rolled his up and exited the tent and, after doing his part to ensure there was nothing smoldering under the ashes and completing a quick wash up which consisted of throwing water on his face where there were buckets of water set for just such a purpose, he returned to the tent finding his normally energetic partner slowly dragging himself from his sleeping bag.

"Hey, sleeping beauty," Danny teased, "It is well past time to be up and about, the sun is thinking about showing itself in probably the next, oh, half an hour, we have a fabulously ashy landscape spread before us and we're looking at another day of trudging about on this scorched, cold and deathlike mountain before we get to hitch a bumpy, spine rearranging ride back down to base camp where we can enjoy a three-minute shower and all the canned SPAM in the world, so rise and shine, amigo."

"You're way too happy, bro. Who put jet fuel in your coffee?" Martin said as he slowly rolled up his sleeping bag.

"Come on, man. We're almost done and that means back to civilization, back to New York and--"

"Yeah, back to New York." Martin muttered as he tied off his bag and helped Danny disassemble the tent.

"Martin, seriously, are you even getting any sleep?" Danny noticed that not only did Martin's eyes look bloodshot but his voice was a bit raspy which it usually got when he was really tired.

"Yeah, I'm fine. I'll be right back." Martin headed off to take care of his personal needs and, when he returned, he found Danny waiting for him with two plates of food and a couple bottles of water.

"Come on, you can't say I don't treat my dates right, I even got you breakfast." Danny waggled his eyebrows at Martin and was happy when he got a grin and a chuckle in return. Martin sat down next to him and the two men dug into their breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches on thick bread.

After a few minutes of eating in quiet and watching the rest of the camp slowly begin to pack up, Danny looked over and saw Martin thoughtfully staring at the terrain around them.

"I'll give you a peso for your thoughts, I'm sure I've got one here somewhere." Danny teased pretending to pat his pockets for said item.

"Okay, okay. I'm using this trip to try and get some things straight in my head and in my heart and I--I'm just trying resolve myself to some things." Martin offered.

"Like what?"

"Like it's time I stopped living as if I were dead."

Danny sat quietly letting his friend gather his thoughts.

"This may surprise you, Danny, but sometimes I need a map drawn or to be hit upside the head or have the metaphorical piano fall on my head before I finally see the obvious." Martin sat still and waited knowingly and willingly giving Danny a wide open door.

"Really? You don't say. I hadn't noticed. Wow, I never would have guessed that about---"

"All right, all right smart-aleck." Martin glared at Danny who pasted a innocent looking smile on his face and stared right back. As Danny looked at Martin he noted a calmness that was showing through the obvious exhaustion.

"So, who dropped a piano on your head, did it leave a bump?" He reached over and started to poke Martin's head only to have his hand swatted away.

"Keep your paws to yourself, Taylor. Geez, just 'cause I've willingly shared sleeping accommodations with you for the last two nights and you're missing Elena doesn't mean you get to get all fresh with me. It's going to take more than a couple nights at this smoky, hazy resort and a ham sandwich before I give in so easy."

Danny sighed deeply and feigned injury to his pride before he settled down and gave Martin time to begin speaking again.

"No, this, all this," Martin indicated the devastation around them. "Between Putnam's and Christian's comments yesterday about all this being nature's way of rejuvenating the land and that while it all seemed lost now, give it a few years and it will come back more beautiful and alive than ever before, well, maybe I'm starting to think some things out and make some decisions."

When Martin paused Danny let the silence stretch for a few moments before he leaned against Martin nudging him with his shoulder and prompting, "And?"

"And it's been over two years since Sam and I broke up, and while she helped me along with you through my addiction and got me to get my head out of my ass and I'll never be able to repay her, or you for that matter--" Danny just nodded thoughtfully and Martin continued, "Maybe it's time to move on. It's obvious she's moved on, at least to other men and it's also obvious that her heart is and always will be tied to Jack but that doesn't mean I need to continue to allow mine to be tied to her--I don't know, maybe I--maybe I'm just trying to get it straight in my head and in my heart. I just don't know."

Danny stayed silent after Martin had finished speaking. He felt bad for both Sam and for Martin. He used to tease Martin for his crush on Sam when he first joined the team but truth be told, once he'd gotten to know Martin a bit, he realized this was a great guy and someone Sam could and would be safe with.

Unfortunately Sam had pretty willingly sunk that relationship and while he didn't truly know everything between them he would admit that he was pretty frustrated with her constant infatuation with Jack which now, in light of this new knowledge of their affair - jeez, some trained agent he was, how the hell had he missed that, it did explain her constant close proximity to Jack in any room, her subtle shift in voice when she talked to him or about him.

He also felt bad for Martin knowing how much his friend really did love Sam and now knowing that she not only had ruined her and Martin's relationship but now even two years after they broke up and, according to Martin, well over five years after her affair with Jack she'd asked Jack to be her Lamaze coach, well, he felt a surge of defensiveness on Martin's behalf, the man didn't deserve to be treated like crap.

"Well, man, while I know I teased you about Sam when you first came on board, I really was rooting for you to make it, but in light of what you've told me, maybe it's best you move on. You really do deserve happiness and, if moving on is going to help you find some happiness--" Danny left the comment hanging trying to gauge Martin's resolve.

"Yeah, well, I just don't know. I guess I'm trying the idea out loud to see how it sounds somewhere else than just inside my head."

Danny nodded in understanding and then in contemplative silence the two men finished their breakfast, rose, gathered their gear and headed towards the group that was just starting to collect in order to move further up the mountain.

By mid-afternoon Danny and Martin and the survey team had managed to wind their way slowly through the scorched earth. Along the way they stopped to clear out some snags and areas where smoldering was a possibility. The two agents used the opportunity to question as many of the other members of the hand crew as possible trying to pick up tidbits on the survey team, Braxton, as well their thoughts on why this fire had started.

Danny was examining an area of burned earth when suddenly he noticed the scorching of the earth seemed more extreme than other areas. Digging deeper into the earth he realized his initial thoughts appeared correct, having spent a fair bit of time the day before with other members of the survey team and peppering them with questions he knew enough of what he was looking at to know that, when the fire had burned this area, it had burned extremely hot.

"Martin," Danny called across the slope to his partner who was similarly examining the earth while chatting up another member of the mop up crew. Martin nodded to the team member he had been talking with and made his way across the rocky, stumpy, and tree strewn wasteland.

"What's up?"

"Look at this ground, tell me what you see." Danny pointed to the spot he had recently dug in and waited while Martin squatted down dug into it and looked closely. When he stood back up he noted Zac Christian making his way over, curious as to what had interested the two agents.

"Looks like this area was scorched deeply," Martin stated as Christian came into proximity.

Christian hadn't yet reached that section as he had been intrigued by some burned areas just below it but now hearing Martin's comment he knelt down and dug into the ashy, burned residue. Checking the depth of the soil and inserting some of his instruments into the ground he took measurements, collected samples and then quietly walked around the area for over 20 minutes, stopping periodically to dig, jot some notes in his pocket notepad, insert another instrument into the ground that recorded what, neither Martin or Danny knew, but they watched as the man did his job.

After he was done Zac came back over to them, "I'd say based on what I'm seeing right here that this is the point of origin for this fire."

"How is that possible," Martin asked, "There's burned terrain below this and this fire is moving up hill, how did it start burning here, go down the slope and then double back on itself and go back up the hill, wouldn't it die once it got to this area where all the fuel was already consumed?"

"That's correct it would, the area we were in yesterday we burned ourselves to ensure the fire didn't go back down the hill, it's a method called backburn. Once we recognized we had a fire on our hands we set that area on fire and backed it into this area to keep it from spreading down slope, this is where the fire started."

"Well, if you lit a fire below this and it burned up into this area, wouldn't this area naturally be overly hot because the two fires converged?" Danny asked.

"Not at all, in order for that to happen the fire would have had to stay in this spot, in essence waiting for the backburn to join up with it and fire doesn't do that. By the time the fire we lit got to this area the main fire had already moved up the slope, and our backburn probably met this fire somewhere below us but it had no where to go once an area devoid of any fuels met another area equally devoid of fuels, once they joined together they burned out.

It's a control method and since this area burned itself out instead of being subjected to normal suppression efforts we can see that this is the point of origin. Also, I was noting the area at the other end of this section and there's a pattern. It's fairly neatly defined, in fact, it's unnaturally defined." Zac paused letting his words hang to see if the two agents caught his meaning; watching them he noted that they did.

"You mean it was deliberately defined." Danny voiced.

"That's exactly what I mean." Zac confirmed. "I've got to alert Chad to this, you guys stay here and I'll head up and tell him and bring him back down, okay?"

"No problem," Martin replied. "We'll take some photos for you and we'll guard the site, this is a crime scene."

"All right. I'll be back in about 40 minutes or so."

Zac set out straight up the hillside, clambering over felled trees and strewn branches leaving Danny to use his cell phone to snap photos of the site with its remaining batteries while Martin pulled his out preparing to call Jack. He hadn't the opportunity to dial when it started to ring and he noted somewhat bemused that it was Jack himself calling in, the connection wasn't great but he was able to hear him.

"Jack, Danny and I've discovered what appears to be a case of arson for this fire, and fairly sophisticated arson, this wasn't done by someone leaving a campfire unattended or dropping a match, this was planned."

Martin held his phone out so Danny could hear on the speaker setting and through some of the static and interference Jack's voice came through.

"I'll notify the local field office. They should get a team out there and probably bring in the ATF as well. In light of the news I have for you, I'm not surprised to hear this. We found David Braxton. He's alive and well and here in the city."

Martin and Danny exchanged looks that mirrored relief, it was always nice to have a case end positively.

"The threats we found were the cause. The man who was orchestrating the out of control burns was threatening Braxton andm when that didn't get Braxton to back off his investigation, he kidnapped him."

"So, who was the mystery kidnapper?" Danny asked. "I don't like anyone on his team for it."

"Well, that's the part that we didn't know about," Jack continued, his voice suddenly coming in loud and clear. "Jeff Pierce is a member of Braxton's normal survey group, he doesn't show up on the manpower manifest simply because he's a freelance contractor and Braxton brings him on personally. Seems he had been trying to get Braxton to stop his investigation into the fires and, when that didn't work, he took a more aggressive approach."

"Did Braxton have any ideas where this Jeff Pierce is right now?" Martin asked.

Jack's voice was obscured by a blast of static and then came back in faint but discernible, "--update the Utah office and get a team of agents out to you as soon as possible."

"We'll coordinate with them. I'm going to try to send you some pictures since I still have a little bit of juice left; they should get there soon." Danny stated.

"You two be careful; should be able to get you out of there in another day or so. We still don't know who is behind the fires or why." With that Jack disconnected.

Danny used the remaining power in his phone to transmit the images of the burn site; he hoped they'd get through. Until he got somewhere he could recharge his phone, it was just extra weight. Martin used the remaining power on his phone to snap some additional photos and as his batteries died he managed to send them to the office as well. With both their phones out of juice it was good they'd be getting out of here soon.

Standing there for a minute or so both agents noted the complete silence, similar to what they'd experienced before; this time however it was compounded by the fact that they were alone since the survey team had been moving steadily upward. A shift in the wind raised the ash and twirled it around in little dust devils at their feet that skipped and danced their way down the hill.

Neither Martin nor Danny paid attention to the fact that the wind had shifted until another moderate gust came down the upslope and brought with it more ash, some charred bits as well as settling a fine layer of smoke across the area. The arrival of the smoke and the immediate reminder it brought as well as a small bit of coughing on both men's part was followed instantly by the arrival of a man bearing the patch on his jacket of USGS survey team. He spotted the two agents and ran up to them clearly happy at finding them.

"Putnam sent me down to bring you two and Zac up. We're bumping up, the fire has started to loop around a bit and they need us to move up and help them contain the north line."

"Well, Zac just left us a few minutes ago to talk to Putnam." Danny replied giving the man a quick once over. He'd seen the guy with the group at dinner last night as well as on the trek up this morning but had yet to talk to him as he and Putnam were always deep in conversation.

"I know, I passed him on my way down. I told him I'd get you two. Our team just got orders to bump up the line to the north. Seems the fire has started to curve around that way and we've been called up to supplement that portion of the containment. There's no time to take you back down the mountain and no one wants you further in harm's way so I'm to take you to the south a bit. We've got a strong line of containment that way as well as several spike camps with a bit of an easier route to get you all back to base camp. Follow me and I'll guide you out."

Martin and Danny hesitated only slightly, again a rush of air rolled down the mountain bringing a heavier cloud of smoke, ash and charred materials and even some slightly red embers still burning, since they would be landing on scorched earth there wasn't much reason for worry but the affect was immediate, the two agents quickly reached down, slung their packs on their backs and set off after the man who was leading them at an angle up the mountain.

After about ten minutes of climbing the trio entered an area that was completely untouched by the fire. The change was shocking, after two days of nothing but ash covered landscape that was occasionally darkened by blackened hulks of trees the color was almost an assault on the men's eyes. In some manner the going got easier since they didn't have to pick their way around trees that were blasted down in the fury of the fire or concern themselves with stepping into possible depressions that contained smoldering tree trunks hidden under the ash. On the other hand, since the wind was still coming down on them, the smoke was getting thicker obscuring their vision and causing them to experience a greater difficulty with their breathing.

As if sensing Martin and Danny's uneasiness their guide turned around and motioned for them to come closer. With their shrouds tight over their heads, necks and faces plus the wind blowing through the trees it was hard to hear their guide.

"Keep going straight on this angle. I'm going to check behind us since the wind seems to have shifted a bit more in the last few minutes. I want to make sure that above us is clear or else I'm going to start angling us back down, there's a better vantage point behind for me to look."

Martin and Danny quickly followed the direction their guide had been taking them and came around the rocky outcropping that had been obscuring their view up the mountain. Both men stopped dead in their tracks at the sight that met them. The canopy made by the tree limbs was ablaze with tongues of orange and red devouring the fuel. The sky was all but obliterated by the cloud of smoke; the roaring sound of the fire devouring trees above them filled their ears deafening them.

Both men quickly looked behind them but all they saw was smoke and through it flickers of red and they knew instantly that their path up and back was blocked, going forward would only allow the fire to catch them sooner leaving down the best way to get to safety, but now that they were in an unburned section safety was a long way off.

Martin, remembering some of the markers on the map he had studied grabbed Danny and pulled as he plunged downward, if memory served there was another rocky section just below and if they made it around that formation there was a small clearing where some logging had occurred a few years ago leaving them with minimal overhead hazards. If they could make it there, they could deploy their shelters.

The two men ran as fast as they dared with Danny checking constantly behind them on the progress of the fire. Remember the safety instructions that Putnam had ingrained in them he grabbed Martin halting his flight and when Martin looked at him Danny quickly shed his pack, grabbed his shelter and nodded sharply at Martin to do the same. In another moment the two men were lighter and moving faster, both had shed their goggles as well as their hard plastic helmets remembering those items would likely melt in the temperatures they were about to endure.

In another short burst of speed they came upon the site Martin remembered from the map. Ducking around the rocks they positioned themselves on the downward side of the protective barrier and quickly deployed their shelters. Climbing inside Danny's eyes quickly found Martin's; the two men exchanged a quick message and then they both closed themselves inside to wait whatever hand fate chose to deal them.

As Martin positioned himself in the containment face, burrowed into the bottom of the shelter, hands and feet anchoring the material to the ground, his thoughts whirled in a myriad of emotions and patterns. The roaring around the shelter increased until it sounded as if a freight train was running overhead, the heat inside the shelter rose and he felt his body respond and the sweat begin to pour off him. Idly he wondered if he'd end up lighting himself on fire as he and Danny continued to wear their service pistols under their gear but then remembered the flash point of gunpowder.

Hell, he thought somewhat ludicrously, we'll boil to death before our own guns explode on us, wonder which way is faster.

Dismissing that less than comforting thought from his mind, Martin latched instead onto the next thought that flashed through his brain, Sam. Realizing at this very moment, the moment of impending death he wanted more than ever to live and to live like he was alive.

My Last Breath:
Holding my last breath
Safe inside myself
Are all my thoughts of you
Sweet raptured light
It ends here tonight

Closing your eyes to disappear
You pray your dreams will leave you here
But still you wake and know the truth
No one's there

Say goodnight
Don't be afraid
Calling me calling me as you fade to black
Evanescence: Fallen, 2003