PHOENIX
Michael Biehn Archive


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The characters belong to various production/film/TV companies. No profit is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
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Author's Chapter Notes:
Thank you FaraD for the beta and the helpful advice you gave me and thank you KET for the medical advice.
I want to thank everyone who answered my plea for help with the karate moves and The Neon Gang for showing me how to put it all together.
The Other Shoe artwork by LARAMEE


The storm raged around their home. Lightening streaked across the sky while thunder rumbled and rolled across the heavens. Thick sheets of rain pelted every surface and the gale force winds whistled as they buffeted the house, causing windows to rattle and groan.

Vin lay awake listening to the storm that seemed to be never-ending. These storms had formed out at sea and were hitting the coastline in wave after wave of torrential downpours, gusting winds and an array of light shows brought on by the lightening.

Chris was spooned next to him, his arm lay over Vin's body holding him close. Vin supposed it was a sort of protective gesture. He sighed, and turned over on his back and stared at the ceiling. He couldn't understand this feeling of melancholy that had descended on him. He and Chris were getting along fine and Chris seemed happier and more at ease than ever. The salvage business was doing well and the jobs they contracted to do for the CIA still brought in a good income, plus Vin felt they were making a little bit of difference in the war on terror. So what was the problem?

Vin eased out of bed, slipped on some boxers and headed for the screened-in porch. Raising one of the canvas blinds about half way up, he sat down on the glider. Shivering, he took the throw off the back of the couch and wrapped it around his body. Watching the lightening as it cascaded around the heavens, Vin tried to calm his inner turmoil as the storm continued around him.

Chris stepped on the porch wrapped in a blanket. "I thought I'd find you out here," he said. Chris lay down on the glider, snuggling close to his partner and laid his head on Vin's shoulder. Larabee drew his feet up underneath the blanket and his partner wrapped arms around him.

"Sorry," Vin smiled, "I didn't mean to wake you."

"It's okay," he answered. "I thought you were coming right back. When you didn't I figured I'd come to you," Chris whispered, placing a light kiss on Vin's neck.

Vin leaned into the kiss, "I been watching the storm."

"You're not worried, are you? We battened down all the hatches and the house is solid. It's just a little blow. It'll be all right," Chris assured him.

Nodding, Vin said, "I know. I ain't worried about the house."

"What is it then, Vin? You getting tired of me?"

"Oh God no cowboy," Vin said, closing his eyes and tightened his hold. "If that day ever comes, just shoot me and put me outta my misery." He kissed the top of Larabee's head.

"I guess I could lock you in the basement." Chris grinned.

Vin was silent for a few minutes before answering his partner. "Exceptin' we ain't gotta basement."

"Yeah well, there is that," Chris said, kissing his partner, again. A few minutes later he asked, "What's going on with you, Pard? You been moping around here like you lost your best friend. I'm worried about you."

"I ain't sure what's wrong, Chris. Just seems things are goin' along too good. I reckon I'm just waitin' for the other shoe to fall."

Chris sat up and looked his lover in the eye. "Let me get this straight, Pard, you're afraid that something, in the future, is going to go wrong so you're worried about it now?"

Vin grinned in spite of himself. "Yeah, I reckon that about covers it, and put like that it does sound kinda dumb."

Chris smiled and said, "Lets go back to bed, Vin. It's cold and wet out here and warm and cozy in there. Let me take your mind off of your troubles."

"Okay," Vin nodded.

Rising, they walked back to their bedroom, but try as he might, Vin still couldn't shake the feeling of foreboding.

****

TWO WEEKS LATER:

The Limo pulled onto the curved driveway and stopped before the door of the mansion. Leo, the car's driver, got out and opened the back door. Chris stepped out of the car and turned back to help his date, Mary Travis, out. On the other side, Vin had opened his own door and was helping his date, Julie, from the limo.

Dressed in formal wear, Chris thought, there was nothing finer than Vin in a tuxedo. Watching Vin and Julie, Chris sensed while Mary was beautiful, poised and classy, Vin's date was stunning and more..., well, earthy was a good word. Even though she was an FBI operative, her and Vin had hit it off and Chris could tell they were having a good time.

Mary saw her date watching the other couple as they made their way around the limo. She felt a jealous twinge and pinched his arm. "You're suppose to be with me, mister. Anyway, you have a job to do." Her frown turned into a bright smile as she took his arm possessively.

He grinned at her, patted her hand and said, "Don't worry, we'll get the job done and have a good time, too."

****

The job was the only reason they were at this party; Chris thought back to the meeting with Admiral Orrin Travis and their CIA liaison, Charles Yosemite, who was nicknamed Tiny. Larabee met with them at the agent's office. The big man offered him a seat, a whiskey and a cigar. "Try one of these, Chris," Tiny had said and offered the humidor to him and Orrin.

"Cuban, hmm, aren't these against the law?" Chris had asked and stuck the cigar in his shirt pocket for later.

"Just enjoy it, Chris," Admiral Travis smiled.

After passing out the drinks, everyone sat back and relaxed. Charles Yosemite had become their handler after their previous liaison, Raphael de Cordoba, had returned to Washington D.C.. Tiny, as he was known, was a large man, tall, and well muscled, but the nickname still seemed to fit him. He was well-liked by the seven and the feeling was believed to be mutual.

"Chris," Tiny started, "The Admiral and I have a job for you. It's a simple one, there shouldn't be any problems. You and Tanner can probably handle it by yourselves. The only problem is, you'll both need to take dates and you can't be caught."

"Dates?" Chris said and grinned. "I'm not sure I know any single women anymore, and I know Vin doesn't." Pausing to think a minute, he went on, "If it's not dangerous, maybe Buck can fix us up with someone."

The Admiral moved forward in his chair. "Evie and I have been invited to this shindig and we thought you might take Mary as your date. Also, there are plenty of female operatives, CIA and FBI who wouldn't mind a night at one of Senator Hoxton's soirées."

"Okay, so let's cut to the chase," Chris said. "What do you want me to do?"

"Lloyd Hoxton is being quietly investigated by the FBI and by us. He was recently a guest at a secret nuclear facility in Brazil. He was found to be taking unauthorized pictures with his cell-phone. We need the Sim card and SanDisk from that phone," Tiny said.

"Why wasn't he stopped and the phone confiscated?" Larabee asked.

Admiral Travis picked up the thread of conversation. "He was there visiting with several other senators and no one was sure which one of them were taking the pictures. It was done surreptitiously and by the time it was reported, they had returned home. We had to check several hours of tape and the shots taken were done so stealthy that even we didn't catch it right away."

Tiny took up the dialog. "Since we have him on tape, we could go ahead and arrest him, but we figure he can lead us to.., well, to whoever he's getting or selling that information to. Here's where you come in. As a paid contractor and not actual CIA operatives, we feel you stand a better chance of success. We need you to slip into his study, retrieve those cards and bring them to us. Of course, if you're caught stealing from a Senator's desk, you already know the CIA cannot become involved. We'll have to disavow your actions and throw you guys to the wolves. You and Vin would be totally on your own. But I don't foresee any problems, do you?"

Chris looked at the two men. "Anytime we go out we're on our own, so that's no different. But Ezra's the one you'll need to pick his pocket," he began.

Orrin held up his hand. "He doesn't keep his cell on him at home. He keeps it in his desk in the study. Left hand, top drawer. If anyone wants to reach him at home they call his home number. Once you get into the study it should be a simple task to get in his desk, get the SD and Sim cards from the cell, maybe replace them with new ones and get out. Vin can keep an eye on the door of his study. That way he can stop anyone from walking in on you. Think you can do it?" Orrin challenged.

Chris gave the Admiral his cockiest grin.

****

So here they were at the Senator's party. Vin escorted Julie around the car and joined Chris and Mary as they entered the house. Chris handed the invitation to the butler and proceeded into the large room where the party was in full swing. An hour later, Chris checked his watch and glanced around the room. Vin had found a corner to quietly drink his beer and Chris wandered over to where he stood.

"Hey," Larabee smiled at his lover. "Where is everyone?"

Vin perused the room. "Well the Senator, I think, is outside. I saw him walk out those French doors, but this place has more openin's than a sieve. Julie and Mary have disappeared, too. Mary went down that hall to the right. I think it must be a bathroom, 'cause I've seen lots a women headin' down that way. Either that or they're havin' their own party." Vin paused. "I ain't seen Julie for awhile." Vin glanced at his watch. "It time?" he asked.

Chris glanced at Vin, nodded and looked at his watch, again. "The study is behind the staircase. I'll just mosey over that way."

"I got your back, cowboy."

Giving the room one more look, Chris slipped quietly behind the stairs. Reaching into his pocket, he took out the gloves he'd brought and put them on. Checking his back, he saw that Vin had moved to the staircase where he had full view of the entrance to the Senator's office.

****

Senator Lloyd Hoxton sat at his desk, tears running down his face. He knew the people he'd sold his soul to were planning to have him killed tonight. If he had the information right, it would be his so-called friend and partner. He'd served his purpose, gotten caught and now had to pay the price. He'd heard the FBI and CIA were investigating him also. He had friends in high places and they had warned him to be careful, trust no one, but he'd trusted his best friend. He no longer had the photos of the plant so the terrorists wouldn't get their hands on them. This last act of penance was all that sustained him as he prepared to die. Before he'd destroyed the cards from his phone, he'd copied the photos to a file, put the file to disc and mailed it to Chris Larabee, a man he'd heard good things about. The Senator knew he'd have to trust someone to do the right thing, so he'd chosen Larabee. He had written specific instructions about what to do with the disc and to make sure his suicide note was given to the proper authorities. Lloyd Hoxton choked back a sound that was between a sob and a chuckle. He thought, Larabee will be damned surprised when he gets that envelope. I hope he obeys the instructions I sent or destroys the damn thing. He knew this was taking the coward's way out as he screwed the silencer into the gun, but the humiliation and disgrace of being exposed for the fraud and traitor he was, was more than he felt he could endure. He'd let his family deal with it. And what a better way to go. With fifty people in the next room he wouldn't be dying alone. With tears still rolling down his face, the Senator put the 9-mm into his mouth, closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

****

Larabee slipped into the room, his eyes sweeping the entire area. A roaring fire burned in the fireplace and one wall, he noticed, was covered with bookcases. When his eyes reached the desk, Chris's heart plummeted to his stomach as he saw the Senator, but within seconds he realized the man was dead. Larabee rushed to the desk and searched the drawer. After finding the phone and retrieving the cards, Chris dropped the phone back into its holder. He dropped the cards in his pants pocket.

The man in black started for the door, when the French doors to the outside opened up. Julie and Leo walked into the room with Leo holding a silenced gun. Glancing over at the Senator's desk and taking in the bloody remains, he demanded, "Why did you kill him? Did you get the pictures? Give them to me!"

Chris smiled, turned to look at his visitors and answered, "I don't have them," and shrugged his shoulders. "The phone is in his desk." Chris glanced back at the Senator. "Whoever has them must have been the one to kill him."

"I don't believe you Mr. Larabee. Turn your coat pockets out."

Chris hoping he wouldn't ask about his pants pocket, showed Leo the pockets of his jacket. Julie was going through the Senators desk, "The cards are gone. Who could have gotten them?"

Leo raised his gun. "I think Mr. Larabee knows more than he's saying. Where are they?"

Chris shrugged and stepped towards the door. "I'm leaving and you can go to hell."

Just as Larabee reached for the door handle, the limo driver fired the silenced gun at him. The bullet caught Larabee in the left shoulder, spinning him around. The slug crash into his body and threw him against the wall causing his head to snap back against the wood bookcase. Unconscious, Chris slid to the floor.

"You fool!" Julie said through clinched teeth. "His team will hunt us down. They'll stop at nothing, especially his lover. He's ruthless, a natural born killer. He'll kill us both!"

"Don't worry, we'll cover our tracks. Search his body, I know he has those cards"

Trying not to get blood on her, she searched his coat and shirt pockets, then she searched his pant pockets. There, she discovered the Sims and disc. "Here they are!" she exclaimed and stuck them in her handbag.

The limo driver remarked. "I'll set fire to this room and that'll destroy any evidence of us being here. You go back to the party and take up with Tanner. On the way home I'll kill him and we'll dump his body up in the hills. He'll never be found."

Julie began to argue with this logic. "Don't you think he'll notice his lover missing?" her voice rising. "He's not so taken with me, he'll forget the blond there." She pointed to the man on the floor.

"Don't be an idiot, woman, Larabee came with Mary Travis. Lover? Larabee's straight, he'd never be mistaken for a queer. I'll tell Tanner he went home with Mary Travis. The house will be on fire, it's not like he'll be able to check.

Julie started to argue, but Leo pointed his gun at her. "I said, go back around to wherever Tanner is." Julie shrugged her shoulders and started for the outside. She paused at the French doors and turned back around and watched as Leo searched for something to set the fire with.

Leo found some tobacco products and lighter fluid in one of the cabinets. He sprayed it around the room, ending close to the fireplace. Throwing a match onto the wide hearth, the blaze flared and the fire started to spread across the room.

Tanner stood by the door of the study. Chris had been in there longer than should have been necessary. He started to open the study door when he smelled the smoke.

Vin took out his gun, cradled it to his shoulder and cautiously opened the door. He heard the 'whap' of the silencer just as a bullet hit the thick wood of the door. He knew Chris was in trouble, so Vin kicked open the door and launched himself through the opening. He rolled across the floor and came up on his feet. All the while scanning the room to see what was happening. Julie and Leo - Leo?, he thought, were shooting at him, just missing his body by inches. Vin returned fire and Leo went down. He shouted at Julie to put the gun down. She shot at him again and Vin had no choice but to return fire. His bullet hit her in the chest and her eyes went wide with shock as she fell to the floor.

Vin quickly checked on Julie and Leo, kicking their guns away from their bodies. The entire room was ablaze and Vin could feel the acrid smoke curling up into his nose and eyes causing them to tear up. Looking around for Chris, he saw him slumped against the wall.

"No, no, not Chris. Please..." Vin headed for his partner and felt for a pulse. Finding one, he pulled his lover into a fireman's carry, slung over his shoulder, and looked around for an exit. Seeing the French doors open to the outside, Vin started towards the exterior. He heard a series of pops and heat bloomed as debris fell around him. Vin went to the floor and crawled along the rug, dragging Larabee with him. His eyes were burning and the dense smoke was choking him as he reached the outside doors. Grabbing hold of his partner and holding him tight, Vin rolled through the doors and out onto the terrace. The room was engulfed in fire. He breathed in fresh air and began to cough. Vin's watery eyes were causing his vision to blur, but there wasn't time. I can't stop now, he thought. I gotta get Chris outta here.

Still coughing, Vin got his partner back across his shoulder and headed towards the back of the property, where the valets and limo drivers would have parked their cars. He could hear sirens from the fire and police departments getting closer. A fire alarm must have gone off somewhere in the house, he thought. Vin continued on to where the people who worked the party would park and began to search the area. He found an older model Ford with the doors unlocked. Raising his eyes to the heavens, he said a quiet, "thank you," and hoped his luck continued to hold. Checking the area for any witnesses, and seeing none he opened the back door and sat Chris down on the seat. Holding his head like a baby's, he laid the man across the seat. Taking off the jacket to his tux, Vin wrapped it inside out and used it for a pillow for Larabee.

"Chris," he whispered, "Please hang on, just hang on fer me, cowboy. Can ya do that? I'll git ya some help. I'll git Nathan and he'll help ya. Just hang on fer a bit," Vin begged and used his handkerchief to help stem the flow of blood from the wound. Stripping off his dress shirt and folded it up to be used as padding to stem the flow of blood. He checked the t-shirt as best he could but it didn't look like Chris's blood had soaked through both shirts.

Vin hot-wired the car with no problems. There was half a tank of gas and that was more than he figured he'd need. He pulled out of the parking spot, just as the fire trucks arrived. He knew it'd be awhile before the car was reported missing. The staff was always the last to leave and with the fire, well, everyone would be focused on that. Vin felt bad taking the car, but he had no choice. Chris's life was more important than someone losing a car. Silently, he figured he'd find out who the owner was and compensate them somehow.

Knowing Chris's life depended on him keeping his head, Vin left the road and cut across an open field. He could see the lights of a parking lot in the distance. Every where he and Chris went, Vin always had an escape plan. This night was no different. Driving cautiously across the field, he finally entered the mall's lot, turned on his headlights and headed for the highway.

He heard a groan from the back seat. Worried, he asked, "Chris, you with me?"

"Hurts..," Chris groaned.

"I know, Pard, I'm gonna git ya some help. I'm takin' ya home and I'll git Nathan. Don't talk now. Save your strength."

"No, noo, V.. Vin, it was a set.. up..,. we can't go home. Ya gotta wa... warn the others." Chris moaned and closed his eyes seeking relief from the unbearable pain that had settled into every nerve in his body.

****

Vin drove along the highway towards the depressed section of town known as Purgatory. He knew he'd find a motel in that area that wouldn't be particular about ID. And right now, Vin wanted to draw as little attention to himself as possible.

As he drove, he saw the rundown tenements and empty abandoned buildings and knew he was close to where he needed to be. He spotted a flashing neon sign advertising the Sunny Inn, Vacancies and slowed the car and exited the freeway. Even though it was dark, the street lights either burned out or shot out, he found the street that headed back to the motel and followed it. At the motel, he pulled into the lot and checked the place out. Everything was quiet, no loud parties that would bring the cops, and the doors to the rooms opened to the outside. 'Perfect' he thought.

After parking the car, he turned towards the back seat. "Chris, you with me? I'm gonna get us a room. Will you be all right till I git back?"

"Yeah, but hu..hurry," Chris moaned.

Leaving the car parked well away from the entrance, he got out and headed for the office. Once inside, he nodded to the night clerk. "I'd like to git a room fer the night?" he drawled. "How much?"

The clerk grinned wolfishly at Vin. "I kin letcha have a room fer $50.00 cash fer the night. But ya gotta be out by 7:30 in the mornin'."

Vin managed to hide his surprise at the time they had to be out, but answered, "Why!"

"Manager comes in at 8:00 and checks the books. But $50.00 is the goin' rate, young fella. How do I know ya ain't gonna do yourself in? Then I gotta clean all that mess up. It's fifty bucks buddy, or hit the road'."

He and Chris always carried a substantial amount of cash on them, so money wasn't the problem. Like always having an escape route planned, cash could mean the difference between the escape being successful or not. But it would be morning before he could lay hands on their fake ID.

Knowing he had no choice and no time to argue, Vin pulled out his wallet. "Okay, but I'll need some clean towels." Giving the clerk a hard glare, he continued, "There ain't gonna be any record of me bein' here, right?"

Vin wasn't actually sure what had transpired at the Senator's house, so keeping their whereabouts a secret was most important. If someone wanted them dead, then people would be looking for them.

"Secrecy is what yer payin' fer, fella," the proprietor smirked. He handed Vin a small stack of towels along with a key.

Out in the parking lot, he opened the back door of the car, Vin bit his lip, as he pushed a lock Chris's hair back from his sweat dampened forehead. "Hey cowboy," he whispered, "let me see if I can stop some a this blood you're leakin' out." Taking one of towels, he opened up the front of Larabee's shirt and checked the padding he had placed on the shoulder. There was a spot of blood on the shirt, but the bleeding seemed to be slowing. Vin placed another towel on top of the wound.

Chris gasped as Vin pressed the towel against the wound. "I got us a room, but there's an all night drugstore a few blocks from here. Can you hang on 'til then? I don't want to leave ya and have that guy call the cops. There's bound to be questions I ain't got no answers for right now."

"It wa... was a set-up, Vin. Be careful, Wa... watch yer b.. back." Although he tried to remain awake, Chris succumbed to the blackness again.

Anguished, Vin pleaded, "Chris, Chris don't do this to me." Laying his hand on his partner's chest, he felt the slow rise and fall. Vin reassured himself that his partner was still breathing before closing the back door.

Tanner got back into the driver's seat and headed for the drugstore. Pulling into the lot, he checked his t-shirt over. There was a small stain, but not enough to draw a lot of attention. Leaving his gun in the glove box, he dashed into the store. Vin grabbed a cart and found a rack with sweats pants and t-shirts hanging from wire hangers. He dumped two shirts and pants in the cart, then headed for bandages. He bought what he hoped would be enough medical supplies and headed for the electronics department. After grabbing four throwaway cell phones, Vin headed for the checkout. The clerk took his money, gave him his change and went back to his paperback. Vin was back at the car in less than fifteen minutes.

When the sharpshooter opened the back door, Chris had risen almost to a seated position with his gun pointed at Vin and ready to fire. He murmured, "You...you're back?" Larabee closed his eyes, again, and laid the gun on the seat next to him.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Vin whispered, "Yeah, cowboy, it's me. I need to get your phone."

He reached for the cell hooked on his lover's belt. After dismantling and stomping his and Chris's cells to pieces, Vin drove back to the motel. He drove by and doubled back, making sure there weren't any unwanted guests, like the cops or their CIA counterparts. Cruising the parking lot, everything seemed quiet. The light that had spilled out of the office was dark, so Vin hoped the clerk had taken his money and closed for the night. He parked a few doors down from their room. Vin helped Chris out of the car and into the room. Laying him on the bed, Tanner closed the blinds and turned on the lights.

He removed Larabee's shoes, then loosened up his partner's pants. He carefully began to unbutton the bloody tuxedo jacket and shirt. Raising the blond and leaning Chris against his chest, Vin gently removed his clothes and lay Chris back on the bed. He began to check his lover over to see if he had any other injuries. Finding the knot where Larabee had hit his head, he said, "Damn, cowboy, you got a bump the size a Texas on the back a your head. When'd that happen? At least it ain't bleeding." Vin moved to the hole in his shoulder. He frowned when he realized there was no exit wound. Placing a bandage over the padding he'd already placed there, Vin wrapped gauze around the shoulder.

While he worked, Larabee told him slowly, in a pain-filled whisper what had happened in the Senator's study.

"J..Julia and Leo came in..into the room from the outside door. I thought th.. they were th..there to help, but th..they weren't. I didn't get..get why they showed up, but I didn't think they were th..there to kill us."

"Who do you think set us up, Chris?" Vin asked.

"T...Tiny and the...the Admiral se...sent us there." Chris gasped in pain.

Vin finished wrapping the bandage around his partner's shoulder and shook his head. "I've known Travis ever since I's a little feller. He was friends with my Grandpa. I can't believe he'd do something like that."

"Maybe Tiny di..didn't give him a cho...choice."

Vin was unconvinced. "Maybe Julia and Leo decided to change sides. Loyalties can change when the money's right."

Trying to take a deep breath, but failing, Chris said, "Ri...right now I don't tr..trust anyone. You best... You warn the others. We'll go underground till we can figure out wha...what's going on."

Nodding, Vin agreed. He helped Chris take a drink of water before saying, "I gotta git rid of this car. It's got blood and prints in it. I'll call Nathan. Do want me to call your Dad, too?"

Exhausted, Chris leaned back into the pillow and closed his eyes. "They're in Tex..Texas somewhere. Tell 'em to stay on the road. The number's in my wallet. Tell Nate not to leave Raine and Lil Josh unprotected. Have Bu...Buck take 'em some...somewhere they'll be sa...safe. We'll git this figured out one way or another." Chris's tired body gave out on him and he slipped into dreamland.

The sharpshooter covered his lover with a blanket and sighed heavily. He set two chairs facing each other at the window. After changing from his tuxedo pants into the new sweats and T-shirt, he turned out all the light. Using the chairs, he sat in one and put his feet in the other. He checked his gun, before placing it in his lap. Vin moved the drape aside just enough to be sure they would have no surprise visitors.

Sitting there, watching the outside, Vin gathered his thoughts. Chris was in bad shape and needed Nate. He had hoped this day would never come, but if the seven had outlived their usefulness with the CIA and the powers-that-be wanted to get rid of them, they'd have to disappear. But Vin hadn't lost hope. He was convinced that the Julia and Leo duet had nothing to do with Travis and Tiny.

If they had to disappear, though, he and Chris were prepared. They had money and false ID stashed in several different bank vaults under assumed names. This wasn't a dangerous assignment. A simple B and E, in and out. So neither one had thought to bring any backup ID. That had been stupid on their part and would never happen again. A very bad mistake that they were paying for now. The salvage business owned several ships and small boats that they had registered under assumed names, plus, as a SEAL, Chris was a master at disguises. Leaving the country shouldn't be a problem.

Still watching the parking lot, Vin dialed the prepaid phone. Checking his watch, he couldn't believe it was only 3 am.

"Hello?" a sleepy voice answered.

"Nate, It's Vin. The whole thing tonight was a set-up. Chris has been shot and needs you, but you need to git Buck and JD to take Raine and the baby where they'll safe. We ain't sure who set us up, so we're headed fer the safe house."

"Where are you, Vin and what's the status with Chris?"

"I'm in a no-tel motel in Purgatory, right off the highway. The name's Sunny somethin', room 15. Chris was shot in the shoulder, it's bled a lot, but I think I got it almost stopped."

"I'll call the others and come and get you. You have your Jeep?"

"No, I had to hot-wire a car to git here. We'll need to set it on fire somewhere, 'cause I reckon it's got blood and prints in it."

"Okay, Just hang on and I'll be there within the hour. Ya need clothes?"

"No, I went to an all night drugstore and got some sweats. Don't leave 'til Raine and Josh are safely outta the house. And thanks Nate, I owe ya."

"Shut up Tanner, you know better than that. I'll be there. Be sure Chris gets plenty of liquids and I'll see you as soon as I can." As he hung up the phone, Nathan worried about Vin. He'd sounded about played out.

Vin sat there for a few minutes before dismantling the cell. 'Well,' he thought, 'I reckon this must be the other shoe' and began taking the cell apart and crushing it with his heel. He added the pieces to a plastic bag that held the rest of his clothes and trash.

Knowing one little drop of blood might yield DNA, he planned on taking the blankets with him. For the $50 he paid for this dump, he figured he'd bought them, anyway.

****

The minute Vin saw Nathan's car pull into the dark lot, he rose from the chair and began waking Chris. "Wake up, cowboy, our ride is here."

"Hmm, Vi.. Vin wh.. what's wrong?" he murmured.

There was a light tap on the door. Vin checked to make sure it was Nathan before he opened it.

"How is he?" Nathan asked, walking into the darkened room and dropping his kit next to the bed.

Chris opened his eyes, but didn't move.

As soon as the door was shut, Vin turned on the lamp, which cast a dim glow around the room.

"Stay there Chris, let me get a good look a you," Nathan said, and unwrapped the bandage shoulder. He noticed blood was still seeping from it. "It's still bleeding. Let me change that dressing for you. Vin, hand me a couple of those pressure dressings from my bag. Damn, you're starting to get a fever. Get me some water," Nathan said. "Where did this knot come from on the back of your head? Someone hit you there?" Nathan asked and looked at Vin.

Vin shrugged. "He must have hit it."

Nathan felt around the shoulder as Chris gasped and tried to pull away. Sighing heavily, Nathan went to work.

Working efficiently and with no wasted movements, Nathan had Larabee's wound cleaned and a new bandage applied in no time. Helping the man sit up, he gave Chris some Tylenol to help alleviate some of the pain. Nathan fashioned a sling for his friend's arm from an old triangular bandage he kept in his kit. Using the sling, he immobilized Larabee' left arm. "Vin, he needs to be in a hospital." Nathan turned to the sharpshooter. "There's only so much I can do here. The bullet's still in there. He needs a doctor," Nate frowned.

"Don't you think I know that," Vin said through gritted teeth. "What in the hell do you suggest we do, Nate, take him to an ER and dump him? Just throw 'em to the wolves? If someone is looking for us, ER's is the first place they'll check."

"Of course, I not suggesting that. But he needs more help than I can give him." Nathan thought for a minute. "We'll have to get Raine out to the safe house."

Using the last of his strength, Chris raised his right hand and gripped Nathan's shirt. "No, no, I won't let ya put 'em in da..danger. Not for me or anyone el..else." The strong grip loosened and Chris sank back onto the bed.

"Look Chris, Raine refused to go into hiding. She insisted to me and Buck that she had obligations at the hospital and wouldn't leave her patients. She did agree to stay at the hospital and not come home for a few days. And as you already know, we have Joshua in the hospital's daycare, so he's protected. It's open 24/7. There's no way the nurses in charge are gonna let strangers in there. To be admitted, there's doors to be unlocked and bells to be rung and you have to sign in and out, plus show ID. The place is a fortress and if the ladies don't know you, they won't let you in there." Nate paused. "Buck and JD are still at the hospital with Raine. It's a simple matter to bring her out and let her take a look at you."

"No, no absolu... not," Chris mumbled.

Tanner was inclined to agree with Chris. "Damn, I hate this!" he swore out loud. Then a thought struck him. "Maybe Raine could write a prescription. You know, some kinda antibiotics or somethin' like that to keep any infection away. Buck or JD could fill it and meet us at the safe house."

"Now that's a good idea," Nathan agreed. "I'll call her." He started to turn his cell phone on, but hesitated.

Vin stopped him, and handed over a phone he'd just taken out of a package. "Use this one, Nate, then git rid of it."

Nodding, Nathan placed his call and talked for a few minutes. Hanging up, he said, "She's going to send the meds to him. Buck and JD will be on their way shortly. She said they're just in the way so she's glad to get rid of them. Come on, lets get Chris out of here."

"They're just worried about her, Nate," Vin said.

Nathan nodded as he helped Chris to sit up. "Come on, let's get you out of here."

The blond didn't have any strength left and the simple act of sitting up took it all out of him. "I can't do this," Chris slurred.

The sharpshooter turned off the lamp as Nathan grabbed his friend by his belt and uninjured arm and swung it around his shoulder. Vin also grabbed him by his belt, but wrapped his arm around Chris' waist.

"Come on, Pard, let's get you out to the car." They started towards the door.

"No, noo, I can't do this." Chris groaned and gasped in pain.

"You have to do it, cowboy. Ya ain't got a choice," Vin answered. Another few steps and Chris faltered.

"Just leave me, I can't do this," he moaned.

"We ain't leaving you, Chris," Nathan said, and opened the door cautiously. Looking out, all he saw was a deserted parking lot. Stepping out of the door, they headed slowly for Nate's SUV. The pain Chris was feeling was evidenced by the tightening of his jaw.

Opening the back door, Nate helped his boss into the back seat. Larabee whimpered, as the two men lay him across the seat and tried to make him comfortable.

Holding his wounded arm close to his side, Chris folded himself up into a fetal position.

Vin went back into the room, grabbed a pillow and wet a washcloth. He wrung the cloth almost dry and headed back outside. He handed the pillow and washcloth to Nathan, who placed the cloth across his friend's forehead and propped his head on the pillow.

Entering the room once again, Tanner gathered the blankets off the bed the wounded man had used, along with their belongings and trash and headed back outside. Handing Nathan the blanket to put over Larabee, he put everything else in the stolen car.

"I have to git rid of this car, Nate. I'm sure it's been reported stolen by now," he told his friend.

"We have to pass by Little Otay Lake on the way to the ranch, so why don't we dump it there?" Nathan suggested.

Tanner nodded, "Good idea and I know just the spot. Chris and I go fishing there sometimes."

"We best get going, then," Nathan whispered.

****

It was almost five in the morning as Nathan, Chris and Vin headed out of town. Their safe house was on five acres of land about an hours drive from San Diego off of Stone Canyon Road. The house had been purchased as a group under a fictitious corporation the seven had started. They called the company, "The Magnificent Seven" and claimed to be an export company.

Getting rid of the car had been easy. They had stopped at a Seven-Eleven that was open all-night and purchased some bleach to get rid of the blood. When they reached the lake turn-off, Vin led them to the place he knew the car would never be found. He wiped down the car as best he could, and poured the bleach over the blood stains he found. He and Nathan pushed the car down the short embankment into the water. As they watched the car disappear, Vin said, "This lake is about 800 or 900 foot deep here. I don't reckon that car'll ever be seen again. Once this is over I'll send the owner some cash and a thanks for the use of the car."

"I agree. Come on let's get out of here." They headed back to Nate's SUV.

A while later Nathan turned into the drive that would lead them to the house. Vin knew that alarms were going off inside the house, so someone would be looking for them. On one of the weekends they had spent at the ranch, JD had installed motion detectors along every road leading in and out of the property. Each one of the seven had clothes, several sets of fake ID and cash at the house.

****

Their foreman, Francis Corcoran, lived in a bungalow about a half mile from the main house. Frank had been their liaison for a short time, but had left the CIA under a cloud. Falsely accused of shooting a fellow agent, the agency had turned their back on him. Bitter about the forced retirement, Frank and his wife figured to buy a small house in the country and disappear.

Chris and Ezra invited Frank out for a beer, where they discussed what had happened. Ezra still harbored misgivings with his former agency, the FBI, who had hung him out to dry on false charges, also. He understood the frustration of trying to clear your name after being accused of a crime you couldn't defend yourself against.

So Chris had offered him a chance of a lifetime. Live on the seven's ranch as the caretaker. They'd pay him a small salary, just to keep an eye on the place. That way, Frank and his wife could live the secluded life they had thought appealing. They had lived in the bungalow for about a year now and both seemed content.

****

As they pulled up in front of the house, Josiah and Ezra walked out to the car. Both men were armed, checking the area. When they reached Nathan's car, Josiah handed Vin his gun and opened the back door to help Chris. "Come on, Boss, let's get you into the house."

"We he..here?" Chris mumbled.

With Josiah's help the men were able to get Chris into the house and into bed.

Inside the house a pot of chili for lunch and a broth for Chris was simmering on the stove.

Coming out of the bedroom, Nathan asked. "Is that a chicken broth I smell, Josiah?"

"Yeah, it is, Nate. Ezra and I stopped at Murphy's store and picked up a bunch a fresh stuff. You didn't know how bad he was hurt when I talked to you and I didn't want to take any chances. If he didn't need it, I could always use the broth for chicken and dumplings," Josiah frowned. "He looks pretty bad, Nate."

"He is Josiah, he really needs to be in a hospital. But if this was a set-up by our employers, a hospital would be the first place they'll be looking. Would you give me some of that broth? I'll drop a ice cube in it to cool it off enough that he can drink it. We gotta keep liquids in him."

"Sure thing Nate. Here ya go." Josiah ladled out some broth in a cup and handed it to the medic. "Oh, by the way, I talked to Frank and told him we'd be out here until Monday, at least, so he'll ignore the alarm."

"Thanks Josiah. I'd forgotten about Frank. I'm glad you talk to him," Nathan said and left the room.

About an hour later the alarm went off. Everyone grabbed their weapons and went to their vantage points. A few minutes later Buck's truck appeared. After parking under the carport, Buck and JD got out of the vehicle and started unloading grocery bags. Ezra and Josiah came out to help carry them into the house.

After dropping off his burden, Buck headed for the room Vin and Chris shared. He found Vin sitting on the bed next to his lover and Nathan bent over the man trying to get him to drink something from the cup he was holding.

"How is he Nate?" Buck asked, but took one look at the man on the bed and roared, "Why ain't he in a hospital? Look at him, he'll be lucky to survive the night. Move over, Nate, I'm taking him to an ER."

"No Buck, no hos...pital," Chris muttered, pushing the cup away. Nathan helped him to lay back on the bed.

Vin stood up and stared at Buck. "Get the fuck outta here, Buck. Ya ain't takin' 'em anywhere!"

"Open your eyes Vin, he needs medical care. He should be in a hospital. We can take him back to Mercy General where Raine works. She can take care of him."

"Settle down, Buck," Nathan said sharply. "Raine would have to report any GSW she treated or she could lose her license. Ya want that? Where are the meds she prescribed?"

Buck fumed, but handed the bag to Nathan. He checked the bottles and frowned. "She only sent enough Penicillin for a few days. She did send some Tylenol3 for pain, though."

Buck nodded. "She said that was the best she could do."

Buck turned to Vin again, "Are we going to take him to a hospital?"

Looking at Chris, Buck said again, "That's where you belong stud."

"We already know that Buck," Vin stated. "We have to git this resolved and quickly. We need to be able to talk to Tiny or Travis." Vin's drawl seemed to be more evident due to the stress he was under. "Find out what the hell is goin' on."

Vin looked around the room. Everyone had entered the room and made themselves comfortable.

Ezra spoke up and said, "I believe the direct approach is the most efficient one. We should pay a visit to Mr. Yosemite's domicile and inquire directly why he would do such a dastardly thing. We have been, after all, loyal employees."

Vin smiled, "That's a good idea Ez. We need to git a car and check out the area."

JD decided to add his idea. "We could go into Chula Vista, lease a car under one of the credit cards we have. I like the name Jerry Wilkes Booth."

Everyone laughed, breaking the tension in the room.

Nathan suggested, "Lets take this meeting into the main room and let Chris rest." Nathan gave the man on the bed his medications and told him to try and sleep. They had his back covered.

Vin sat with him for a few minutes longer, then made his way into the kitchen, where the other men were eating chili and crackers. Vin helped himself to a bowl and sat down as they began to formulate their plan.

****

Buck parked the rental car a block away from Tiny's home. Ezra and JD waited in the car, while Vin and Buck checked out the area. They kept in touch by the walkie-talkies they'd purchased at Radio Shack.

There was an alley behind the Senior CIA agent's home. As they walked along the alley, tall bushes grew along the chain link fence, but the bushes were cut back from the gate, leaving a clear view of the back of the house.

Vin grinned and gave a little shake of his head, 'someone needed to inform Tiny of the lack of security back here.' Anyone could walk right up to the gate, open it and be at the back of the house before anyone was aware they were there.

The two men made their way surreptitious into the darkened area keeping to the bushes. Tiny's car was in the driveway in the front of the house, so he was probably home. They were surprised to find Admiral Travis's SUV parked there also.

Keeping to the shadows, they watched the back of the house from their vantage point.

****

Jason Brooks, Charles Yosemite's bodyguard, was bored and aggravated. He sat at the kitchen table working a crossword puzzle, thinking he was going to lose his mind. He wanted a cigarette in the worst way, but he wasn't allowed to smoke on the premises. Usually Maria, the housekeeper and cook was there to talk too and admire, but today was her day off.

Damn, he thought, thinking of the pretty housekeeper. If he wasn't already married, he'd love to go a few rounds in Ms. Diaz' bed. And if given the opportunity, he would be more than willing to give of himself, anyway. She really was a great looking woman. Unfortunately she hadn't given him any hint that she was interested.

Since Yosemite was a bachelor, Sundays were the day for takeout or dining out. However, right now there was a meeting going on in Tiny's study that Jason was not privy to. Scoffing, 'bodyguard?' he thought, actually he was nothing more than a glorified chauffeur. When he'd joined the Company a few years ago, being someone's bodyguard was the last job he'd wanted to do. He had been good at his job and excelled as a field agent. He loved chasing the bad guys, but after being shot in the line of duty, he was offered a desk job or he could sign on as a bodyguard. He thought being a guard would, at the least, give him some excitement, but anyone stupid enough to come at Tiny, was going to get his ass handed back to him, gift wrapped. No doubt about it, Tiny was a bear of a man and more than capable of taking care of himself.

Looking through the sliding glass door into the dark yard, Jason sighed heavily and wondered if anyone would know or even care if he slipped outside for a smoke. Rising from his chair, he turned the overhead light out and slid the patio door back and stepped outside.

****

Not long after Buck and Vin arrived, an agent, the bodyguard, Vin guessed, opened the sliding glass door and stepped outside. They watched him light up and smoke for a few minutes, before Vin said, "Watch for my signal," and stood up.

"Vin, Vin!, wait," Buck whispered. Vin flayed his arm, in a wait motion and slowly started to walk past the backyard gate, whistling.

Jason saw the stranger, by the gate, as he stood on the patio smoking.

"Hey, you there!" Jason shouted. "What are you doing out there? Come here!" he demanded.

Vin looked around innocently. "Me?" he said to the guard as he pointed to himself and looked around. He opened the back gate and walked into the yard.

The young man nodded at him and asked, "I haven't seen you around before, are you new in the neighborhood?"

Vin smiled noncommittally and said, "Hey, got an extra smoke there? I left mine at home."

The guard smiled, finally, he thought, someone to talk to if only or a few minutes, and gave Vin a cigarette and lit it for him.

"I'm Vin," Vin put his hand out to shake. Jason, without a thought, took the stranger's hand and shook it. "My name's Jason, glad to meet you. I saw the van up the street a few days ago and wondered who was moving in. Was that you?"

Vin shook his head at the guard's relaxed attitude. The stupid sonuvabitch, he thought and grinned in a friendly manner.

Taking a puff, Vin asked, "Say, you ain't seen a small brown dog around here have you? My daughter left the back door open and he got out. My wife sent me out to look for him."

"No, I haven't seen a dog. He'll probably go back to your old address," Jason said helpfully.

Vin nodded.

"But I understand about kids and pets. I have a daughter, too, and if she lost her cat she'd drown us all with her tears." Both men smirked in mutual understanding and continued smoking.

Buck listened to the conversation and decided to get in on the act. He gave a low, soft, "woof woof." Vin faced the alley, "Say, did you hear that?"

The guard actually turned and looked toward the alley, just as Vin delivered a hard right hook, catching the bodyguard on the jaw. The man's knees crumpled and he began to sink. Vin caught him before he could hit the ground, but Jason was too heavy and Vin started to sink also. Next thing, Buck was beside Vin, helping him carry Jason back through the door. Together they got him into the house and laid the man on the kitchen floor. Using his handcuffs, Buck, secured Jason's hands behind his back and searched him for a weapon. Finding a Beretta in a holster in the small of Jason's back, Buck relieved him of it. Jason started coming around and opened his mouth to yell, just as Buck stuffed his handkerchief into it.

Putting his finger to his lips, Buck said, "Shhh."

Finding no other weapons on him, Buck and Vin got Jason to his feet. Using his beretta, Buck and Vin pushed the guard down the hall to Tiny's office. They were at the study door in seconds.

"You want to kick the door in, Buck?" Vin whispered.

Buck looked at Vin as if he were nuts. "Only if you want me to break every bone from my foot to my knee, you idiot. That door looks to be solid oak."

Vin shrugged, "Well, I reckon we'll have to do it the old fashioned way," and reached for the door knob. Finding it unlocked, he pushed the door open and Buck gave Jason a hard shove. The guard flew through the door, stumbled and fell to the floor. Vin and Buck stepped through the door of the study, their guns drawn and ready to fire.

"What is the meaning of this," Travis roared and started to rise from the chair he was sitting in.

"Stay where ya are, Admiral!" Facing Yosemite, Vin said, "Your security stinks Tiny. You probably need to hire us to check it out."

Yosemite glanced at the man on the floor, and nodded. "Yeah, I've suspected that for awhile now. It's about time you men checked in. Where in the hell have you been?"

"We've been trying to keep Chris alive, but you already know that, since you tried to have Chris and Vin killed," Buck informed the man. He quietly closed the study door.

Leaning against the door, Buck said a few words into the walkie-talkie.

"What?" Tiny said, shocked. "I, we..." pointing at Travis. "Wouldn't do that! Why would you think that? You men are too valuable to us, and to the cause. What happened Saturday night, anyway? Senator Hoxton's home was partly gutted by the fire. Three bodies were found and we're still trying to determine if one of them is the Senator or not."

"Everyone else get out alright?" Vin asked, concerned.

"Yes, well, everyone but you and Chris," Tiny said. "The Senator, Julia, and Leo were considered missing, too. You say you've been trying to keep Chris alive? Where is he and how bad is he hurt?" The CIA Agent asked.

"We got Nathan takin' care of him. You sent us into a trap Tiny, we want to know why," Vin said.

Tiny moved from around his chair and faced the men. "I wouldn't do that boys. Although I admit, I did send Leo with you. He has been under suspicion as a double agent for awhile. We've tried to keep him under constant surveillance. That's why he was assigned as your driver. I concede we should have told you to keep an eye on him."

"Leo shot Chris and Jules tried to kill me," Vin explained to Travis and Yosemite. "I had to kill both of 'em."

"Tiny, why don't you have a seat over on the couch and let's all have us a little talk? And everyone keep your hands where I can see them," Buck suggested.

The seating area was U-shaped, two sofas facing each other with a chair at the end and the fireplace at the other end. Vin stood behind the chair. A large coffee table sat between the sofas.

Buck walked over to the liquor cabinet and poured out a drink for himself and Vin. He offered the bottle around. Just about that time a tap came from the door. JD and Ezra entered the room. "No one else is in the house and we locked everything up tight.

Spotting the man on the floor, Ezra said to him, "My good man, you look most distressed. That disgusting thing in your mouth must be terribly uncomfortable. If you promise not to start making a commotion, I'll remove it posthaste."

Jason had squirmed around and was sitting up. He had been trying to free his hands and was muttering frantically, something incoherent.

Yosemite looked at his guard disdainfully and said, "If he does say anything one of you can just shoot him. The only thing he's good for is driving me around and chasing after my housekeeper."

Jason glanced up at the agent's surrounding him with murderous looks. He'd realized too late that by letting down his guard he could very well have been a dead man. He wouldn't make that mistake again. Ezra donned a plastic glove, leaned over and plucked the rag from Jason's mouth. He sputtered and opened his mouth, but Ezra waved the handkerchief at him, so he clamped his teeth together.

"Why do you think it was us that set you up?" Tiny asked.

Buck answered, "You sent Chris and Vin to the party. Who else could it have been?"

Travis stood up. "If we wanted to get rid of you gentleman, we would have sent all of you on a suicide mission. Not a simple B and E." Travis had emphasized the word All. "My daughter-in-law was in that house. Do you really think I'd put Mary in a dangerous situation like that? Dammit Vin, I've changed your diapers, bounced you on my knee when you were a toddler. Your grandpa and I were friends for many years. Do you really think I could do that to you? We need to put our heads together and figure out what happened."

Sighing, Tiny got up and made himself a drink. "No, Orrin, they were right to be suspicious. That's the name of our game. It's too bad, but betrayal happens all to often. I'm sorry this happened, but let me promise you, that once you gentleman decide to retire, we'll let you go and not try and assassinate you." He glanced around, offering the bottle. "Orrin is right, we need to figure this out."

Vin looked at Buck and Ezra. "Sounds reasonable," Ezra shrugged. None of the men really wanted to believe they had been betrayed by these two men. They, as one, decided to give the benefit of the doubt.

Tiny sat down on the leather couch. "Is Chris in a hospital? How badly is he hurt?"

Vin frowned, "The answer is no and bad enough." He sat on the edge of the chair. "Leo and Julie tried to kill Chris and then must a set the room on fire. I came in after the fire was blazin', killed 'em both and got Chris outta there. I don't know nothin' 'bout what happened to the Senator."

Tiny scratched his jaw. "There was a corpse at the Senator's desk, we've assumed it's him. Dental records will prove that one way or the other, and the coroner already has a set of those records. We have to find out who those photos were suppose to go to. Did Chris get the disc or the sim card?"

Everyone looked at Vin. "I didn't find them on him, so I reckon not. They're probably toast if they were in that room."

Looking around at the four men, he said, "That's your first priority, find out who paid the Senator to take those pictures. And for Gods sake, let's get Chris to a hospital, and get those cuffs off this moron." Tiny stood, walked over and picked up his phone. Buck and Vin looked at each other and braced themselves. If Tiny was their traitor, now was when he would reveal it. But all he said into the phone was, "Get me a medical life flight helicopter." Turning back to the men, he asked, "Where is Chris, I'll send the chopper for him."

Knowing they had no choice, Buck looked at the senior agent. "He's at a friends ranch out near Chula Vista, about a mile off Stone Canyon Road.

Tiny informed whoever was on the phone where Chris was and told them to take him to Mercy General and hung up.

Ezra opened his cell and dialed. He went to a corner of the room when Josiah answered. "Yes, what is it, brother?" Josiah asked.

Ezra told Josiah what had transpired and let him know a chopper was on the way to pickup Chris. "Have Mr. Jackson go with them, Mr Sanchez. and have him call me when they reach the hospital."

Josiah was skeptical about Travis and Tiny, but agreed to go along with the others. He turned on the outside lights so the chopper would have sufficient light to land.

JD took the cuffs off of Jason, who came to his feet like a rocket. "You nearly broke my jaw," he yelled at Vin and rubbed his chin that had already started to bruise.

Vin shook his head and shrugged, while Buck said, "That'll teach you to never invite a strange spider into your web."

Tiny told Jason to sit down and stay quiet. The other agents sat on the sofa's by the fireplace and discussed plans of how they were going to flush this traitor out.

****

It was Sunday afternoon and Jack Collins stood on the lawn of the Senator's home just beyond the large portico. He surveyed the damage caused by the fire to the house. The firemen had finished their cleanup and the investigators had shown up to search for the cause of the blaze.

Jack was a tall, angular man. He stood 6'3 and weighed about 210 pounds. Although he looked soft, Collins was a solidly built man with hard muscles. Since he had a skinny look about him, his enemies didn't consider him a threat, much to their regret.

On the previous day, he'd been told by their benefactors to kill the Senator and retrieve the photos taken at the plant. At last night's party he had watched for an opportunity, but he hadn't time to get into the Senator's office before the fire alarm sounded and truth be told, he was no cold-blooded killer. He knew he would have backed down if he had faced his friend. At this point he had no idea if the photos had been destroyed by fire or was stolen by whoever had killed Lloyd.

He wondered, also, if he was next on the assassin's list. He didn't understand how he and Lloyd could have gotten in this deep. They'd been offered an easy chance to make a little extra money. Take a few surreptitious photos of a classified airstrip and pass them along to a nameless, faceless P.O. Box. Collect their money and go on about their business. It had all seemed so simple. And really, the information could just as easily been gotten off the internet. But as time passed the demands for classified photos and secret information had intensified. When Lloyd refused to deliver the information from the plant in Brazil, he'd been approached on the street and his life threatened. When the Senator didn't appear to scare easily, Lloyd had been marked for death.

Jack wondered if the enemy, as he now saw his employers, knew he could never have killed his friend and had sent someone else to do the job. He'd seen Larabee and his partner hanging around and if anyone could kill in cold-blood, it was those two. He snorted, looked at the house again and wondered at the destruction. The fire had been mostly contained to the left side of the house. The study and the main hall were completely gone. All those paintings and rare books the Senator collected through the years were gone. His trophies and awards destroyed as well. Jack figured the place was heavily insured, but some of those collectibles were priceless and could never be replaced. Art was what Lloyd spent his money on and now it was nothing but ashes. Shaking his head, Jack knew Cora Hoxton, the Senator's wife, could care less about the art collection. Her passion was fashion. He figured she'd grieve for awhile, collect the insurance money and open another one of her fashion boutiques.

He also wondered about the bodies found in the study. He was almost 99% sure the one was the Senator. The body had been found between the desk and the wall, who else could it be? The 2 bodies found in the middle of the room had to be Larabee and his partner, didn't it? All three were considered missing and, well, who else could it be?

Their limo was still parked on the grounds. The driver had disappeared, as had some mystery woman, but Jack couldn't figure out why they would be dead in Lloyd's office. No, it was probably Tanner and Larabee, he thought and good riddance. Shaking his head he walked back to his car. Now was the time for getting out of town before the assassins came after him.

Collins walked back to his car and headed home. He breathed a sigh of relief when he discovered his wife was still out with her friends. Heading for the bedroom, he hastily packed two suitcases, taking only what was necessary and leaving the rest. He retrieved the money paid to him by the terrorists, cash he had changed into prepaid credit cards and left the house and headed for the airport.

Once there Jack stored his bags in a locker and bought a first-class ticket to the Canary Islands. Getting out of town was the important thing. He was upset and disappointed to learn that the first flight out wouldn't be until early Monday morning. He was a frightened man and desperate to leave San Diego as soon as possible. He penned a short note to his wife apologizing for leaving her with this mess and promised to contact her when the time was right. He mailed the note and walked to where he'd parked his car.

Leaving the airport, Jack drove aimlessly around town, stopping at a small, out-of-the-way restaurant for dinner. Since it was dark out, he felt reasonably safe and lingered over his coffee. Then his cell-phone rang.

****

Josiah woke Chris by gently shaking his uninjured shoulder. "Wake up, Chris, your ride is here."

Larabee cracked an eye open, "Hmm," he murmured. "Vin?" he croaked out.

"No brother, it's the paramedics, they're here to take you and Nathan to the hospital."

"Nate's hurt?" Larabee tried to focus. Had Nathan gotten hurt somewhere along the way? Why couldn't he remember that.

"No Chris, he's riding along with you to the hospital. Come on, now, wake up and let these nice people look you over."

The paramedic from the Med Flight eased his way to the bed. Nathan was explaining to him what treatment his friend had received. Sitting on the bed, Mike said, "Mr. Larabee, my name's Mike, and I'm going to help get you ready for transport. My partner and I are going to look you over first." He indicated a woman who was also sitting on the bed.

Nathan stood next to the bed watching the woman paramedic take Chris's vitals. He was uneasy with this, but Buck had told them it was okay, so he put his feelings aside while the two medics took charge. And Chris did belong in a hospital, Nathan thought, there was no doubt about that.

"Noo.., no hospital. Where's Vin?"

Josiah intervened, "He went to see Yosemite. Buck called and said everything was all right. Nathan's going to ride to the hospital with you. Okay?"

"Vin said he would meet you there." Nathan assured the patient.

"Okay," the blond agreed.

In no time the medics had oxygen hooked up, an IV established, and Chris on the gurney and ready to go. Wheeling him out to the Med flight, Nathan and the two medics took off for Mercy Trauma Center. Josiah jumped into his car and started towards San Diego and the hospital.

****

Judge Travis hung-up the telephone. "Well, that's the last of the numbers the Senator called the most. The trap is set, now let's see who falls into it."

"Tracing his cell phone and calling the favorites was a good idea, Tiny." Vin grinned. Glancing at the phone, he asked, "Have we heard from Nate or Josiah, yet?"

Ezra looked up, "Yes, they picked Mr. Larabee up about 15 minutes ago. He should be almost to the hospital by now. They were taking him to Mercy Trauma Center."

"Thanks Ez, I best be headed that way myself." Vin rose from the sofa, along with the other three and headed for the door.

Tiny smiled, "We'll need to brief the others, so we'll meet you fellows there."

Everyone headed out of the room. Tiny stopped and turned towards his bodyguard. "You can go on home now Jason, I'll be all right tonight. See you tomorrow." And continued out the door.

Jason stared at the closed door. He was angry, but only at himself. He'd been well and truly caught with his pants down. He would never forget these guys, whoever they were, nor the lesson they'd taught him. Tomorrow, Jason decided, he'd go into the office and ask for a transfer. How could he ever face Tiny's contempt again, after letting the fox into the hen house he'd been assigned to protect. No, he thought, it was time for a fresh start.

****

Chris Larabee lay on the hospital bed in his room feigning sleep. The ER doctor had examined and x-rayed the wound and made sure it was cleaned and dressed. Antibiotics had been added to IV's and medicines administered all designed to aid in his recovery. The doctor assigned to him, an older gentleman, said, "You're very lucky, Mr. Larabee. The bullet entered your upper chest, but is lodged by your collarbone. We can leave it where it is without any problems, but if it starts to move around we may need to remove it. We can make a decision at that time. You're very lucky your friends knew how to help you. I understand one of them has paramedic training."

"No surgery?" Chris asked.

"No, no surgery at this time," the doctor smiled and patted his patient on his good shoulder. "I'll stop back around to see you in a bit."

Raine and Nathan had been to see him and tried to reassure him all was well. But he hadn't seen Vin and that worried him. Where were Vin and the others? Had they been detained? Did Tiny have them drugged and shipped out of the country? He knew he was letting his imagination run away with logic, but until he talked to Vin, he wasn't talking to anyone.

Even Nathan had disappeared. He and Raine had walked out of the room together and he hadn't seen either since.

He heard the door open and felt the callused hand curl around his. He'd know the feel of that hand anywhere and opened his eyes a bit. He tried to smile, but it took too much effort.

"Hey cowboy," Vin whispered, "How ya feelin'?" He pushed the hair back off his lover's forehead and kissed it lightly.

"Better, now that you're here," he groaned. "What's going on?"

"Chris," Vin began, "I have to believe Tiny and Travis are on our side. We've set a trap for the Senator's partner. We ain't sure, yet, who it is, but I'm sure we'll find out real soon. I'm gonna have to leave you in Raine's care, for a spell, but I'll be back. I promise ya."

Larabee frowned, "I don't want you to leave," he said, weakly. He hated sounding needy, but he didn't trust anyone, except Vin and he wasn't real sure about that, now.

"I know, cowboy, and I don't want to leave ya, but we gotta find out who this asshole is." Kissing his partner on the forehead, he continued, "I love ya, Chris, and I promise I'll be back as soon as I can. But you relax and do what they tell ya do to. You got a fever and some infection that's gotta be cured 'fore they'll think 'bout lettin' ya outta here."

"Vin, swear to me they aren't making you say these things? Everything is okay, isn't it?" The blond held tight to his partner's hand.

Vin frowned, "I ain't never lied to ya Chris, and I ain't startin' now. I'll be back as quick as I can, I promise."

Looking deep into his Vin's eyes, and seeing the truth, Larabee nodded and took a deep breath. "Okay, I'll be here when you get back," he said.

Vin bent over and kissed his lover's forehead, again, and ran his fingers through Chris's hair. "See that ya are, cowboy," he whispered. "I gotta go. Raine promised to stay with you and we've got a guard on the door."

"Okay," he answered.

****

Buck arrived at the park just after sunrise. The men, along with Travis and Yosemite had spent the night in a CIA safe house, finalizing plans to take down the traitor. They'd been over the plan time and time again.

Unable to sleep, Vin called Raine twice during the night, making sure Chris was safe and resting. Nathan also talked to his wife and had been assured that their friend was in good hands. Raine had sounded exasperated the last time they'd called her.

The plan was a good solid one, and they had tried to plan for every contingency.

Just after sun-up, Buck walked into the park and strolled to a bench. He sat down and appeared relaxed. The big man placed a bag on the bench next to him from the Starbucks restaurant and removed his coffee.

JD, Tiny and Admiral Travis were in the communications van across the street. From their location, they could see directly into the park, and a camera was pointed at Buck's bench. Vin and Ezra were hidden in a copse of trees directly across the way from Buck. Josiah and Nathan were in another wooded area close to where Buck sat.

Buck appeared relaxed, drinking his coffee when another man came walking by at a fast clip.

"We got company," JD announced through his mike, but the man kept walking on through the park. Everyone relaxed.

A few minutes later the men heard JD, again say, "Here comes another one."

Jack stopped and eyed Buck, looked around and sat down. "Who the hell are you?" Collins asked.

"Never mind who I am, did you bring the disc?" Buck turned to look at the man and gave him his best Larabee glare.

"I don't have it! I don't know where it is or who has got it! I want out, do you understand me, I want out?" Jack was terrified, panic started to set in and he stood and looked around to see if anyone was watching. Buck stood also, which was the signal to move in.

Vin and Ezra started towards the walkway and Josiah and Nathan followed suit. Jack spotted Vin and Ezra as they approached.

"Who are you?" he hissed.

Buck, looking sad, said, "I'm gonna read you your rights and the CIA is going to arrest you. I hate trait..."

Before Buck could get the words out, and with a quickness that surprised everyone, Collins reached for Buck, grabbed him and head-butted the man. Buck went down sprawled on the ground.

As Jack was hitting Buck, Vin grabbed onto Collins' arm, but that was like holding onto a fence post. Jack yanked free and back-handed Vin, sending him to the ground. Josiah then punched Collins in the chest, but that had little effect. Nathan tried to help Josiah, but Jack was turning and twisting and flailing his arms, so it was hard to get close to the man. In a desperate move Jack started to jump over Vin, but in midair, his body jerked and he fell to the pathway a few feet away, dead.

Travis and the CIA agent jumped out of the van and ran across the lawn where the fight had taken place.

Vin was trying to get up, blood was dribbling from his nose down the side of his face. Buck was regaining consciousness and trying to get to his hands and knees. Nathan was breathing hard, bent over with his hands on his knees, trying to figure out what had just happened. Ezra shook his head and asked, "What just happened here?"

Ezra's attention turned to Josiah and noticed the big man's attention was on a tall building across the way from the park.

Nathan, helping Vin and Buck to their feet, asked, "What is it Josiah?" His attention also turned to the structure across from the park.

Josiah pointed towards the edifice and shouted at them, "That shot had to come from that building."

Ezra and Nathan looked over to the building in question. Gaging the distance, the men agreed and Josiah yelled, "Come on, let's get over there."

Tiny yelled, "What the hell happened? Which one of you shot him?" as he and Travis approached. "I told you we needed him alive, didn't I? Why'd you kill him? Where are those three going?"

Admiral Travis shook his head and glanced around at what was left of the crack CIA team. Vin stood, hands on his knees. Blood seeped from Vin's nose and mouth. Buck's nose was bloody as well and he looked a little dazed.

"We didn't kill him," Vin said. "There was a sniper," and looked towards the building that Ezra, Nathan and Josiah had disappeared into.

Entering the building, Nathan glanced up. "He's probably on the roof," Nathan said as they headed for the stairwell. JD joined his teammates and followed along behind.

Tiny, meanwhile, called the CIA for a cleanup team. He bent and inspected the body. Jack Collins, he thought. So he and the Senator were both in on it.

Travis handed Vin and Buck bottles of cold water. Vin put it on his forehead and looked over at Buck. Buck still looked dazed, but took the bottle, swished some of the water in his mouth and spit it out.

"You fellas going to be okay?" Travis asked them.

Vin stood up, poured some water onto his face, swished some in his mouth, spit it out and repeated the process. Finally he handed the bottle back to Travis and started to follow this team.

"Come back, Vin. There are enough people over there now and you're hurt."

Vin turned back to his old friend. "I know the ways of a sniper, Admiral, I'll be fine. You or Tiny can let the fellas know I'm comin'." And he started across the park to join the others.

Buck swayed on his feet, and Travis started to push him back down to the bench. "I know you want to help, Buck, but there are enough people over there and you need to go to the hospital."

Buck shook his head. "Those are my brothers and I gotta help 'em." Looking in the direction the others headed, he slowly started across the park.

****

Vin and Buck arrived at the building stairwell by the loading dock, finally catching up with the others. Josiah touched his shoulder and signaled that the sniper was still coming down the stairs by pointing and cocking his head. Vin moved forward and started up the first few steps. He looked up and could hear someone clamoring down the stairs. Josiah figured the shooter must have stopped long enough to pick up his shell casings, due to the time it was taking for him to reach the first floor.

Josiah touched the sharpshooter's shoulder, again, and whispered, "Wait." Vin stepped back off the steps and gave his head an impatient little shake.

He glanced back up the stairs and could see the sniper coming down fast. The man carried a duffel bag that probably held his rifle. Ezra edged up next to Vin as the sniper stopped his downward flight at the last landing and looked down at the men blocking his path.

With a swagger to his step and a smirk on his face, the sniper said to Vin, "What is this, a mugging?" He laughed in a self-assured way and continued, "Hey man, you look like ya already got your ass kicked once today, guess I'll have to finish the job?" he grinned.

Gloating, the shooter ambled slowly down a few more steps, laughing at his own joke.

Vin scowled, he was in no mood for this jerk. His head hurt and he was still tasting blood. He thought maybe he'd lost a tooth and he didn't relish seeing Larabee with the bruises he was sure to have. And now he had to deal with this asshole. Yep, the day just kept getting better and better. Focus Tanner, he berated himself.

Before Vin could blink, the guy jumped over the railing and caught him with a flying side-kick. Tanner hit the wall hard and sank to the floor.

Ezra knew the sniper had to be off-balance and moved quickly forward, hitting him with a back-fist to the right side of his face, snapping his head to the left. Ezra felt a bone break in his hand, but he ignored the pain and followed up with a snap-kick to the guys gut.

The sniper went down into a crouch but quickly came back up. Standish pivoted to the side and punched the guy with his good hand striking him in the solar-plexus. As the man bent over, Ezra brought his knee up into his sniper's face, breaking his nose. The sniper flew backwards and landed on his back.

Buck, who with Nathan's help had helped Tanner to his feet, bent over the sniper and pressed his gun hard against the man's bleeding nose. The sniper screamed, and Buck shouted, "Shut the fuck up and listen real good, pard, if you don't wanna leave your brains all over these stairs, you'll stay down, 'cause I'm just lookin' for an excuse to shoot your ass. Someone hand me your cuffs." To the sniper, he added, "Roll over."

Nathan, in the meantime, checked Ezra's hand. "I'm sure it's broken, Ezra," he said. "Vin's nose will have to be x-rayed too. We'll stop in at the ER when we get to the hospital."

Tanner started to resist, but Nathan snapped, "Don't even try it. Look at yourself, you want Chris to see you like that? You'll give the man a heart attack. You think that's gonna be good for him? Well, do ya?"

Vin grinned sheepishly and shrugged.

Josiah and Buck jerked the cuffed sniper by the elbows to his feet. "Where are we taking him?" JD asked, as he followed. "I think Tiny wants to question him."

Buck answered, "We'll take him to the van, stick him in there until we find out how Tiny wants to handle him."

****

After leaving Nathan to deal with Buck, Ezra and Vin in the ER, Josiah made his way up to Chris's room. He quietly opened the door only to find Chris reclining in bed with his eyes closed. His arm rested in a sling and a thick bandage covered his left shoulder. Josiah walked over to the bed, touched his foot lightly and said, "Hey Boss."

The patient opened his eyes and nodded at his friend. "What's happening? Where are Vin and the others?"

Giving his boss a toothy grin, said, "They're in the ER." Seeing the look on Chris's face, he continued, "Don't be surprised by the bruises on Vin's face. He forgot to duck. And Ezra, Nathan thinks his hand may be broken and he's pretty sure Buck has a slight concussion. Other than that everyone's okay."

Chris pursed his mouth, flashed Josiah an annoyed look and said, "So, I take it the plan worked."

"Yeah, boss, in a round-about way it did. You wanna guess who the Senator's partner was?"

"I'm too tired for games, Josiah, just tell me."

"Jack Collins!"

Seeing the blond's eyebrow arch up, Josiah went on. "He's dead. He was shot by a sniper from a building across from the park. We were the only ones who knew about the plan, so either someone was following Collins or Tiny's got a mole in his yard. He's going to start an eternal investigation of his office. But we were able to capture the sniper. We turned him over to Tiny."

"So, tell me how everyone was injured?" Larabee inquired.

As Josiah began to explain what had taken place, JD and Nathan walked into the room. "Hi Chris," JD greeted in his usual jovial manner.

Nathan said, "I guess Josiah has filled you in about this morning's activities. I called Frank at the ranch and told him we wouldn't be back for a couple of weeks. Raine and Lil Josh are waiting for me. We're headed home. Josiah, will you be sure Ezra gets home, okay? JD is going to take care of Buck. Vin said he was staying for awhile to visit with you. Raine told him we'd wait for him, but he insisted we go on home."

Chris frowned, "How bad is he hurt?"

"Not too bad I guess, Chris. Damn stubborn Texan, he needs to take it easy, but of course, he won't."

About that time the three injured men sauntered into the room.

"I heard that Nate," Vin started to grin, but winced instead. He was sporting a black eye a swollen lip and a bruised jaw.

Larabee flinched, "You feelin' okay?"

"Yeah Chris, I'm fine." Vin slumped into a chair.

Nathan gave Vin a glare that would have rivaled one of Larabee's. "That's not what the doctor said."

Vin scowled, "Ah, come on Nate, he said I should rest is all. How are you doing cowboy?" he asked his lover, taking his hand.

"Better," Chris said, "I was able to keep down the gruel and Jello they brought me for breakfast."

"That's good news, anyway." Vin agreed.

Nathan scowled, "Everyone's goin' home. We'll be back this evening, sometime. Come on, now, let's let Chris get some rest. That's what he needs, not the bunch of us crowdin' 'round him. Josiah?"

"Don't worry Nate, I'll get Ezra home. Come on guys. Chris, you rest easy now." Josiah assured him. "You too Vin!"

Vin lingered a few minutes, he bent over and kissed Larabee on the forehead. "I'll be back in a bit, cowboy. Love you," he whispered.

"I'll be here," Chris said. "I love you, too"

Some five hours later, Vin strolled back into Chris's room. After a nap, he'd showered, shaved and changed clothes. Feeling halfway human again, he'd driven his jeep back to the hospital. Before arriving at the hospital, he stopped at a fast food place and ordered a burger and fries.

Chris opened his eyes and noticed his partner. Vin's arms were wrapped across his chest, his head bent forward, almost touching his chest, and he appeared to be asleep. Larabee smiled and watched Vin. It never failed to amaze him the way he felt about this man. They were coming up on seven years together, and yet, it still gave him a thrill to just gaze upon Vin. It was a feeling he hoped he never lost.

"You're starin'," Vin raised his head, a grin on his face, and stood up. "How ya feelin'?" he asked as he sat on the bed and kissed his partner.

"Better, I sat up awhile after you left and they're gonna get me up this afternoon. Tomorrow, I'm going for a walk. I was able to keep my lunch down, so I guess I'm improving. Come here," he said and tugged Vin closer to him. Vin wrapped is arm around the shoulder that was uninjured and shared a kiss. The kiss deepened, but Chris pulled away and laid his head on Vin's shoulder. Vin held him close, ran his fingers lovingly over his lover's body, and whispered some nonsense in his ear.

Chris sat back up and ran his free hand up and down Vin's arm. "Once I'm up and walking, I should be getting out of here. Maybe a few more days. I can't wait to get home. What's it been, now, three, four days? It seems more like weeks."

"At least, ya ain't needed no surgery. You'll need to keep that sling on for awhile, but that bullet can just rest easy in there. And there ain't no need for you to worry, I'll be takin' good care of you once you're home."

Chris laid his head back on the bed and closed his eyes. "You'll stay for awhile, won't you?" His eyes flew open again, and he asked, "So your not having anymore premonitions are you?"

Vin grinned, "Nah, cowboy, I reckon the other shoe done fell, but once again, we landed on our feet."

****

Epilogue:

Vin stopped at the post-office to pick up their mail. Chris had come home the day before and Vin had spent the day spoiling him. Today, however, there were errands to run and Tiny had ask him to come to his office. Vin figured he wanted to know exactly how he'd subdued Jason and gotten into his home.

He told Chris about the errant agent and they had shared a laugh. Now, Vin wondered what, if any, disciplinary action would be leveled against him. Vin was determined to shoulder some of the blame.

He'd told Tiny that being a bodyguard to the large man was likened to a Poodle trying to guard a Pit Bull. They also shared a laugh and Tiny assured Vin that Jason had asked for a transfer and it had been approved.

As he unlocked the post-office box they shared, several pieces of mail tumbled out. Among them was a mid-size envelope addressed to Chris with no return address. Besides being curious, he was a little apprehensive, also. Letter bombs or anthrax were known substances to come in envelopes and they had enough enemies to be wary of such things.

At home, they both inspected the cover and decided to open it up from the bottom. Taking a letter-opener Chris slit the envelope holding it away from his face. He dropped the contents on his desk. Inside was another smaller envelope and a letter. Picking up the letter, he began to read;

Dear Mr. Larabee.

Enclosed you will find a Sim Card and a SanDisk from my cell phone. On it you will find the pictures I took at the Nuclear facility in Brazil where they are attempting to build a power plant for submarines.

I no longer know whom of my colleagues I can trust, so I'm entrusting this info into your hands and pray that you'll do the right thing and be sure it goes to the correct people.

Although I'm a coward, Mr. Larabee, I cannot continue with these traitorous acts. Greed was the catalyst that started me on this path, but has grown into something more sinister and ugly. I'm finally taking action into my own hands and so I'll be saying goodbye. Tell my wife I'm sorry to leave her all the shame and humiliation to bear alone, but again, I'm a coward and I'm taking the coward's way out.

On the second sheet of paper, you'll find a list of the people associated with this group.

Thank you,

Senator Lloyd Hoxton.


Larabee read the letter again before handing it to Vin to read. Rubbing the ache in his shoulder, he asked, "So Pard, what do you think we ought to do with this?" He opened the smaller envelope and dumped the two small cards out on the desk.

"Damned if I know," Vin answered. "Throw the whole damn thing in the fire, probably." Taking a deep breath, Vin continued, "You gotta make up your mind, cowboy, either you trust Travis and Tiny or you don't? If you do, then turn the whole thing over to them and trust they'll do the right thing, if not, let's burn everything and forget we ever saw it."

Chris pursed his mouth and ran a fingernail over his bottom lip. "Yeah..," he said quietly. He thought about it for a few minutes, then he sighed heavily. "I guess Tiny has always been straight with us. Why don't you take this stuff to him?"

"You want to come with me? We can go see Tiny tonight, now that he has no guard." Vin laughed. "In fact, we ought to talk to him about his security. I think we can offer him a deal. You being a man of action and all, he'll probably listen to you."

"Okay, I'll go with you. A man of action, huh?" Chris questioned, amused.

"Just be sure I get my share of the action," Vin bent and kissed Larabee.

"Just as soon as I'm able, you'll get all my action," Chris pulled Vin closer to him and they shared another kiss.

"I'm gonna hold you to that," Vin breathed through the next kiss.

"I hope so..." Chris grinned and kissed his lover, again.

END

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