Actions

Work Header

Debatable Answers

Work Text:

Tuesday 06:00 a.m.

Brent turned over, sighing softly in pleasure as warm lips brushed against his. With the fuzzy warmth of a restful sleep and an attentive lover still buzzing through him, Brent reached up to tangle his hands in the short strands of dark hair. He drew Martin closer, increasing the depth of their kiss before Martin moaned in frustration and pulled away

"I got to go," he sighed, "or I'm going to be late."

Brent moaned his disappointment as he checked out the bedside clock, reluctantly letting Martin slip from his grasp when he realized they had slept through the alarm. He watched in open appreciation as his naked lover crossed the room. The pale gold skin stretched taut across a strong body that was slightly shorter and stockier than his was. Lean, well-muscled legs met the gentle, firm curves of a slightly paler ass and above the swell of ass cheeks was a trim waist that broadened into a strong back. Martin turned to gather up a fresh towel from the small pile lying by the door, ones they had not got around to putting into the linen closet yesterday, revealing the broad expanse of a chest spattered with dark curls. His six-pack stomach rippled as he grabbed the towel from the top and straightened up but, by now, Brent's eyes had drifted south to the morning erection standing proud from a bed of soft, dark brown curls.

Brent licked his lips in remembrance of the taste of that silken shaft, finding his own erection harden further as he recalled the texture and the pleasure of taking Martin in his mouth. He smiled almost coyly, remembering how Martin had reciprocated as they lay head to groin, licking and sucking as they pleasured each other; drawing each other to the very edge of the abyss. Hard fingers had dug into his ass cheeks as he tried to resist the temptation to thrust deep and hard into Martin's hot and welcoming mouth. Loud slurping had given way to muffled moans of pleasure as he leapt into the abyss, plunging hard and fast within the intensity of his climax even as Martin's bittersweet juices filled his mouth.

He could still taste the pungent, salty sweet semen on his tongue. He had lapped at the spilled droplets that overflowed his lips to trickle down his chin, too replete to move as the heady musk of sex pervaded the sweaty tangle of pubic hair that tickled against his cheek.

Brent loved that scent. He loved the boneless sensation that followed good sex, and he loved the mussed hair and the sated look on his lover's face as Martin crawled up the bed to kiss Brent sloppily. The taste of his own semen on Martin's lips always sent another buzz through his body, and Brent could tell by the slight gasp that Martin felt a similar shock of renewed pleasure.

They had showered a little later, too content within the circle of each other's arms to care about damp sheets and sweat soaked flesh and hair immediately. Afterwards, they had fallen into a routine of stripping away damp and rumpled sheets and pulling fresh linen from the closet before settling back into a clean bed. Sleep had come quickly, filled with sweet dreams.

During his reverie, Martin disappeared from the bedroom to take a shower and a quick shave. Brent listened to the familiar sounds; the buzz of the electric shaver followed a little later by the sound of the shower running. He smiled as he heard Martin humming loudly in the shower; another sign of the contentment they both felt since moving in together several months before. The sound of splashing water stopped abruptly and moments later, Martin returned wrapped in a towel, with droplets of clean water still beading upon his lightly tanned skin.

The sight sent Brent back to his memories of last night, of grabbing the front of the towel Martin had wrapped around his lower body, pulling him forward into a gentle kiss that held more love than urgency. The towel fell to the floor leaving them both naked, skin against skin, but with only the slightest tingle of lust as the toll of a long day finally caught up with them. They had slipped into the freshly made bed, snuggling up together under the cool sheets, and then slept.

Brent closed his eyes and moaned softly in remembrance. When he opened them, he noticed the heat in Martin's gaze, knowing his near naked sprawl upon the bed had sent fresh desire through his lover.

For one moment, Brent thought Martin might give in to the lust filling his bright, deep blue eyes, but then he sighed heavily as his eyes darted towards the bedside clock. Brent watched as Martin dried his skin and hair vigorously, once more appreciating the naked flesh tantalizingly displayed, his own desire rising at the sight of each mark of passion revealed.

He remained silent as Martin dropped the damp towel to the floor and shrugged into a pale lilac shirt, leaving it hanging open as he drew a lightweight suit from the closet to match the dress shirt, and laid it across the end of the bed. As always, the sight of his lover half-undressed and with his lower half barely covered by the shirt tails, sent Brent's stomach flipping over in unbridled lust. His fingers itched to reach out and draw that partially clothed body to him, wanting to compare the texture of silken flesh against the crisp cotton.

Coy glances and a tiny smile flicked towards Brent as Martin made a great show of leaning over to pick up his clean underwear from the second drawer down in the cabinet. His shirttail rode up to reveal the paler globes of his firm ass and his muscular thighs. Brent bit into his lower lip, knowing how much Martin enjoyed teasing him like this.

Martin pulled on his underwear and pants, and buttoned up his shirt before tucking it inside. He grabbed a belt and looped it through, leaving the ends hanging as he sat down on the bed to pull on fresh socks and his shoes. Standing up, he took a few steps across the bedroom and looked inside his half of the closet. Martin half turned with a mischievous grin, holding up the most hideous orange and green swirl patterned tie either of them had ever seen before last Christmas, and held it against his lilac shirt.

"Well?"

Brent laughed and shook his head, wondering how anyone could find such a tie tasteful. It had been a Christmas gift from Vivian; a woman who showed impeccable taste on most occasions. Both he and Martin had decided to put it down to Christmas shopping fever -- a moment of madness.

Brent sank back into the pillows as Martin replaced the tie in the rack, knowing better than to ask what time he would get home this evening for neither kept standard hours. As an FBI agent and a local Sheriff, neither enjoyed the complete stability of a nine-to-five shift but at least they both understood the nature of the job, learning to cope with the erratic hours. Instead, they snatched moments whenever they could, making the most of any time they could spend together in the knowledge that each day might easily be their last.

Still, the risks they took each day had not stopped them from planning for tomorrow as they built a life together.

Looking back, Brent was amazed at how quickly the months had passed, with a cold winter turning to spring. Now they stood on the cusp of a glorious summer, though Martin was quick to point out how stifling it felt in New York during the hot summer months. It made him appreciate the small community of Clarke County even more.

He waited until Martin had selected a darker lilac tie and moved to the high mirror on the wall before crawling out of the bed and sliding up behind his lover, their eyes meeting each other's reflection in the mirror. Brent wrapped his arms around his lover's waist and leaned in to nuzzle the warm throat, watching as Martin's eyes glazed over: the dilating pupils quickly engulfing the deep blue iris. Agile fingers became clumsy with need as Martin moaned in appreciation of the naked flesh pressed up against his clothed body, momentarily caught between desire and duty.

"Bastard," he whispered hoarsely as Brent's sharp teeth raked his throat just above his short collar, leaving reddened skin that would disappear long before Martin reached his desk at FBI headquarters.

Brent grinned unrepentantly, recalling the slightly more permanent bite marks adorning his lover's body, marks that were hidden beneath the layers of clothing.

Martin took on a slightly hunted look as his eyes moved, involuntarily, towards the clock reflected in the mirror, as if being chased by time, so Brent took pity on him. He turned Martin and took one step back, pushing away Martin's fingers so he could straighten the tasteful tie Martin had chosen. He looked back up when he had finished, just in time for Martin to lean in and take his face in both hands. Firm lips took his in a sound kiss before Martin pulled back.

"Got to go," he said huskily, quickly moving out of Brent's reach. He pulled on his wristwatch, strapped on his gun before grabbing his suit jacket from the bed, shrugging into it quickly. Martin picked up all the other paraphernalia required for the day from the bedside table and placed it in various pockets: his identification card and badge, notebook and pen, cellphone, wallet and a handful of loose change.

"What about breakfast?" Brent asked teasingly as he stood naked beside the bed, flaunting the body he knew Martin loved to lick and taste.

Martin glanced back as he reached the threshold, visibly swallowing down his lust as he offered Brent a smile full of contentment and love. "I'll grab something at work," he replied, waggling his eyebrows twice.

"You better not," grinned Brent in response to the light teasing that came in response... then Martin was gone.

****

FBI Headquarters
09:15 a.m.

Jack glanced out of office to where his team would be waiting for him, his eyes narrowing as they rested upon the empty desk where Martin Fitzgerald usually sat. Automatically, his eyes searched for the clock on the wall and he frowned again when he realized Martin was fifteen minutes late. He glanced towards the new case file lying on his desk and came to a decision not to wait any longer, knowing he could explain the nature of the case after he had given his junior agent a verbal reprimand for tardiness. In the meantime, every passing minute could be vital for Scott Hainsley, the man reported missing under suspicious circumstances.

Jack strode out of his office towards the conference table, his eye catching the other members of his team and drawing them in without a spoken word passing between them. They took their seats and waited as Jack sorted through the paperwork. He slid pieces across the desk to each member, glancing at the last piece meaningfully before scanning the faces around the table.

"Anyone seen Martin?"

Vivian answered. "There was a crash in the Holland Tunnel. He might be caught in the gridlock."

Jack made a noncommittal sound, the first real signs of worry filling him. However, a rare occurrence, Martin had been late before now but it was obvious to Jack that no one had heard from him this morning. He glanced at his wristwatch.

"Danny? Give him another ten minutes then try his cell. If he doesn't answer then try his home."

"And if he doesn't answer on his home number... I'll call Brent."

"You got it. Now...down to business. Scott Hainsley... white Caucasian male, age 33. Reported missing eleven hours ago. The clock's ticking on this one, people, so read fast and bring suggestions back to the table in fifteen minutes."

Danny pulled a face, knowing he had only ten minutes to digest the basic case report unless Martin turned up in the interim. Jack smiled as Danny opened the report and began to read quickly, his eyes straying to the corridor as he caught movement but returning with renewed concern when the person turned out to be some other agent rather than the one he was waiting for.

As the minutes passed, Jack noticed increased restlessness from the team, and he knew the cause. All of them were aware of the longer journey Martin took twice a day between home and office. On a few occasions, some traffic incident had delayed him but he had always called in to let someone know the situation. This lack of communication had them all jittery now that Vivian's report on the Holland Tunnel had sunk in.

What if Martin had been involved in the accident?

After seven minutes with no sign of Martin, Danny gave up any pretense of reading the file. Jack could see by his expression that he had to know what had happened to the man who had become a close friend as well as a colleague. Without meaning to, Jack gravitated towards the desk where Danny was punching in numbers from memory. Showing unusual nervousness, Danny drummed his fingers against the desktop, and then his dark eyes flicked to Jack's, his head shaking in a negative. There was no answer on Martin's cellphone.

Danny keyed in another number. Again, no answer.

"I'll call Brent."

He punched in the number for the Clarke County Sheriff's Department, knowing this one would take him to Brent's office, and waited for an answer.

"Sheriff Marken."

"Brent. It's Danny Taylor. Is Martin around?"

Momentary silence filled the air. "He left at the usual time this morning, around six thirty."

"He say where he was headed?"

"No. I assumed he was heading into the city...to the office. He usually says something if that's not the case. Maybe he hit a snarl up on route. Heard there were problems at the tunnel. Guess you've already tried his cell."

Jack leaned over and punched the speaker button. "Brent, this is Jack. We got no answer from his cell... but reception's not so good if he's stuck in the tunnel. We'll try again later."

"Sure... Jack!"

"Still here."

"Tell him to give me a call, okay?"

"Will do."

The dial tone replaced Brent Marken's voice and both Jack and Danny stared at the handset for a few seconds longer before Danny replaced it on its cradle.

"Check with the NYPD about that incident in the tunnel. We can't rule it out that he's caught up in that accident somehow."

Danny nodded, as if Jack had simply ordered him to make inquiries concerning an ordinary missing person's case, but Jack could see the increasing concern filling Danny's eyes that belied the lack of emotion on his face. According to Sam, Martin had taken on that same haunted look when his Aunt Martha had disappeared, and Jack knew all of them had felt that same fear when Martin disappeared during the Cherry Falls case.

He knew how hard each individual case could be, having first hand knowledge of the violence one human could inflict upon another, and the depths of depravity to which some would go to sate whatever demons drove them. Yet it was ten times worse when the missing person was someone they knew...someone they cared for.

Too often, they faced the tragedy of never locating the missing person and, in some ways that was worse than finding a body. At least with a body, the family and friends could find a little closure, no longer living with doubts and false hopes concerning their loved one. He could see the same thoughts chasing across Danny's face.

"Let's not be premature here. Make the checks."

****

Clarke County Sheriff's Office
09:30 a.m.

Brent's worry grew with each passing minute as he stared at the phone on his desk, almost willing it to ring. He felt a strange desperation to hear Martin's voice, just to know his lover was safe. Beside him, his coffee had gone cold but Brent reached for it anyway, grimacing as he swallowed.

With an exasperated sigh, he decided not to wait any longer and stood up. Brent grabbed his uniform hat from the hook on the wall and strode out of his office.

"Where are Burke and Nolan?"

The dispatcher, who also acted as a general secretary, picked up the radio mike. "Dispatch to Delta Romeo 5. Please give your current location."

A short crackle ended with the sound of a man's voice. "Hey Maisie... I'm out on the old barn road heading east, about a mile from Davison's farm."

A call came in on the land line and Brent indicated for Maisie to take it while he leaned over and took the mike. "Nolan, this is Marken. Take a left at Davison's and check out the road from my place down to the turnpike."

"Am I looking for anything in particular?"

"Just anything out of the ord--"

"Sheriff?" Maisie snared Brent's sleeve.

"Hold on, Nolan." Brent turned to Maisie, questioningly.

"I have Mr. Daniels on the line. He said he just found a car in the ditch close to his farm. That's about a mile from the turnpike on Willow Creek Road... your road."

"Nolan, I'll meet you at the Daniels' farm on Willow Creek Road. Over and out." Brent turned to Maisie, feeling a sudden clenching in his gut. "Get Burke to meet us there."

Brent knew that there could be a dozen different reasons for Daniels' finding a car on his property. Even small communities had their problems with wild kids stealing cars and dumping them but Brent had a terrible feeling that something had happened to Martin. The niggling sensation had clawed at his mind for several days, as if his mind sensed approaching disaster. Last night, he had been abnormally worried when Martin arrived home a little later than expected. The release of that fear as relief swept over him had fueled the passion that drove them both last night. Now, Brent began to wonder if he had seen something suspicious that had kicked in his cop's sixth sense.

As he strode out of the station towards his personal police cruiser, Brent tried to recall any strange incidents over the past week. Several sprang to mind but none of them sent chills of premonition through him. Yet, there was something lingering at the back of his mind, something that had triggered his instincts, making him more wary of the world around him.

The journey out to Willow Creek Road took less time than normal as he drove with full lights and sirens, cursing once when an unwitting driver tried to turn across his path. Ahead, Brent could see the other police cruisers parked by the roadside and so he slowed down, pulling in behind them. Nolan was standing at the edge of the road, looking down into the ditch but he turned when he heard Brent's car approaching. Brent could see by the expression on his face that something was wrong, and he hurried over. In the field beyond the ditch he could see Daniels standing beside his tractor, head cocked to one side as he stared into the ditch.

Brent's heart skipped a beat as the car came in sight, his mouth going dry as he recognized the make and color... and then the license plate. This was Martin's car. Without any thought for his personal safety, he slid down into the ditch, joining Burke beside the driver's door. Broken shrubs covered the windows and Brent helped Burke tear away the larger branches concealing the window, his heart hammering in his chest in fear of what he would find.

As he worked, his mind fled back to that morning, recalling his last sight of Martin, and the sound of Martin's car starting up and then receding into the distance as Martin began the commute into Manhattan. He had fallen back asleep straight after but dark shadows had filled his dreams, ones that grabbed for him and Martin.

The last of the branches gave way and Brent pulled open the driver's door, leaning in and then freezing.

The car was empty. He gave the inside a cursory glance but all the windows were intact and the doors closed so, if Martin had slid off the road into the ditch then he had not been thrown out by the impact. The airbag had activated so there was a good chance that Martin had walked away. Or had someone carried him away?

Renewed fear consumed Brent as he visualized Martin staggering from the car, injured and dazed. His eyes swept the surrounding area but he could see no obvious sign of his lover. Brent knelt down, hoping to find some tracks that would tell him which direction Martin had gone but his and Burke's boots had obliterated any close to the car.

"Burke, stay where you are while I check a little way along the ditch for more footprints."

Daniels had come to the very edge of the ditch and he called for Brent's attention. "If you're looking for footprints then there are a passel of them up here."

Brent glanced upwards, following the side of the ditch and noticing the areas where the earth had been disturbed. It did not make sense. If Martin had left the car then he would have climbed up the side of the ditch leading to the road in the hope of flagging down some help. Brent climbed up into the field, being careful to keep well away from the place where the ground had been disturbed. He approached the area with care, his fear for Martin increasing as he recognized three distinctive sets of footprints, all of them shoes rather than Police boots or the heavy duty farmers' boots worn by Daniels.

Did these extra prints belong to Samaritans stopping to lend a hand...or did these have a more sinister presence?

"Nolan? Check along the road and see if any other cars stopped close by. Put down a marker if you see anything suspicious. I'm going to follow these footprints as far as I can. Burke, get up there and check for tire skid marks."

Brent waited from some acknowledgment and then began to follow the tracks. He frowned as, instead of heading back to the road, the footprints headed across on the diagonal, cutting off the corner of the field. Brent made certain to keep away from the prints until he came to a gap in a hedgerow bordering a small dirt track that led along the side of the field. Stepping through carefully, as he did not want to disturb what looked more and more like a crime scene, he stepped through the gap and onto the dirt track. He dropped down onto his haunches, his fingers settling on the raised ridges of tire tracks.

It seemed obvious to him now that there had been a second car involved but, rather than stopping on the open road where other early drivers might notice it, the car had pulled into this partially concealed track. The only possible scenario was that the occupants of that car were trying to conceal a crime, for any Good Samaritans would have stopped in the road to offer assistance.

All Brent had to figure out now was what crime, and to do that, he needed more expert help than could be found in a small community in New York State. He needed Jack's Missing Person's team.

****

FBI Headquarters
10:15 a.m.

Jack took the call from Brent Marken in his office, slumping back in his chair in dismay as Brent summarized the evidence at the scene. He knew a second call would have gone out for crime scene investigators, and Jack had no doubt that his superiors would authorize one of the best CSI teams, for Martin was not just a missing FBI agent. He was also the son of the FBI's Deputy Director, and no matter the heightened conflict between them since Martin declared his homosexuality by moving in with Brent Marken, Victor Fitzgerald loved his son.

As the disappearance was under very suspicious circumstances, Jack knew he would also gain authorization to pursue this particular missing person's case. Whether Victor Fitzgerald liked him or not, the man at least respected his team's ability and results. He would want the best team on the case.

As soon as he had all the known facts from Marken, Jack disconnected that call and made another.

"Deputy Director Fitzgerald's office."

"Jack Malone of the Missing Person's Unit in New York. I need to speak to the deputy director concerning his son."

****

Deputy Director's Office
Washington D.C.

Victor Fitzgerald gave an apologetic face to his visitor and pressed the flashing red light that indicated his secretary had received an urgent call, which he needed to answer.

"Yes, Rosemary?"

"I have a call from Jack Malone in the New York office."

Victor frowned, aware there was no reason for Malone to call him direct about work issues for there was a chain of command in the FBI that demanded attention to protocol. Therefore, this had to be a personal matter, concerning his son. His heart skipped a beat in dread, knowing the risks every agent took whilst performing their duty. He tried to hide his fear behind a polite mask as he turned to his visitor.

"I'm sorry, Bob, but I need to take this call. Would you mind waiting in the outer office for a few minutes."

"Sure."

Bob Garford closed the door softly behind him. Only then did Victor ask Rosemary to put Jack Malone through, though he deliberately hid his fears for Martin when he greeted his son's supervisor. After all, it could simply be forewarning of a reprimand added to Martin's jacket for some misdemeanor, knowing that the Media could turn even the smallest incidents into political cannon fodder. Though he doubted such a small matter would have that great an impact compared to his son being outed in the media for his homosexual relationship with Sheriff Brent Marken.

"Agent Malone. How can I help you?"

"Martin didn't show up at the office this morning. Sheriff Marken called about five minutes ago to inform me that the Clarke County Sheriff's Department found his car in a ditch off Willow Creek Road. At this moment, we've no idea if this was an accident or deliberate... but there's no sign of Martin at the scene and every evidence that some one or some persons have taken him."

It took a moment for the words to sink in fully. "My son is missing?"

"Yes, sir."

Victor straightened in his seat, uncertain at first if this was any better than the scenario that had rushed through his head moments earlier, one where someone had shot and killed his son on duty.

'Of course it's better', he thought viciously, knowing he had to hold out hope that his son was still alive until he saw evidence to the contrary. Suddenly, all his resentment and anger with Martin, which had bubbled to the surface when Martin made his choice to share his life and bed with another man, seemed so petty, and so pointless. He had never taken a chance to get to know Brent Marken, had never given either of them an opportunity to show how much they... loved... each other. Instead, he had wasted all these months refusing to see or talk with his son.

What if he never saw him alive again and never heard his voice calling him 'Dad' again?

"Sir?"

Victor licked suddenly dry lips. "Find my son, Agent Malone. I want you to find my son."

****

Clarke County
5 hours missing

As they approached, Sam could make out the figure of Sheriff Marken standing by the side of the road with one hand holding his deep blue uniform hat while the other balanced on the heavy utility belt and sidearm he always wore when on duty. She pursed her lips in appreciation as she took in the lean, yet well built Sheriff of Clarke County.

The pale blue shirt with its deep blue pocket adornment, complimented the sun kissed blond hair that was slightly longer now than it had been the last time she saw him. It suited him, along with the coloring of the uniform, far better than the brown and yellow of the Cherry Falls Sheriff's Department. He turned as she drew up with Jack, allowing her a chance to appraise the front aspect. A plain, deep blue tie neatly into place and on his left breast was a sheriff's gold star; reminding her of the westerns she used to love as a kid.

Until now, she had not seen the attraction on Martin's part. The Brent Marken she knew from all those months back had seemed older, thinner, and more haggard than the man standing before her now. She had to admit that, at the time, Marken had been going through a terrible ordeal -- one that would have broken most men.

When Sam last saw him, he was still recovering from a horrific ax attack that had left him heavily scarred across the chest and arm, and from the chain of events that had followed.

The ax-wielding attacker had been the serial killer who had stalked the small town of Cherry Falls, targeting high school kids whom he knew to be virgins. When Marliston kidnapped him and then grabbed his daughter, Jody, intending to mutilate and kill her in front of him, Marken had bought her time to escape the psychopath, almost at the cost of his own life. Far worse was that, in the course of his investigation, he had discovered a shocking truth that the killer was the son of a girl who had accused him and some other boys of raping on the night they graduated from high school. For all Marken knew, Leonard Marliston could have been his son, borne out of that act of violence.

It should have ended with the death of Leonard Marliston. Instead, the horrific murders had continued, forcing the past out into the open, causing more deaths before the truth set Marken free to pursue the life he had always wanted. Marliston had not been his son for Marken had been incapable of raping the girl at the time. He had been as much a victim as the unfortunate Loralee Sherman.

Somewhere along the line, amid all the fear, death, and grief, he and Martin had found each other.

For a moment, Sam reflected on the changes in Martin since openly declaring his homosexuality and moving in with Marken. He no longer acted so impulsively, as if he felt he no longer had anything to prove to anyone, least of all his father, and he had lost that cautious air around others. Martin had a wonderful smile and though he smiled often, that beautiful smile would fade quickly in the past. Now it lingered, infecting everyone around him, growing most intense when he talked quietly on the phone every once in a while. It did not take a genius to work out that those particular calls came from his lover.

Apart from the terrible things they witnessed in the job, the only thing that could wipe the smile from Martin's face instantly was mention of his father. Yet, what replaced that smile was not anger but sadness.

The relationship between father and son had always seemed tempestuous at best but it had grown more remote since Marken stepped into Martin's life. Sam sighed. It was hardly surprising, really. After all, Deputy Director Fitzgerald probably had great plans for his son, only to see them dashed when the media plastered pictures of Martin kissing Brent Marken in every newspaper and network across America.

Andy Warhol had once stated that everyone would find his or her fifteen minutes of fame. However, Martin and Marken had continued to suffer invasions of their privacy long after Leonard Marliston, Loralee Sherman, Marge Marken, Harold McKay and all the other victims caught in the back wash from Cherry Falls were cold in their graves. She recalled Martin moaning about such an incident only a weekend earlier when he could have sworn someone had been trying to photograph them as he and Marken took a walk together, hand in hand.

Seeing Brent now, with his hair lifting gently in the breeze, and his strong athletic body filling that uniform to perfection, made Sam wish someone had taken that photo and sold it to a few magazines. Any further thoughts came to an abrupt end as he moved towards them.

Sam stepped out of the car with Jack, and it did not take much skill to read the fear in the soft green eyes that belied his casual stance from a moment before. Although Marken was trying to remain professional about his lover's disappearance, it was obvious to anyone who knew him even remotely that he was suffering with each passing minute.

****

Jack stopped before Marken, reaching out to place a comforting arm upon the uniform clad shoulder while studiously avoiding the press who had started to show as soon as news of the potential kidnapping reached the media. Jack had noticed one of Marken's officers watching the reporters carefully, and he knew Marken had set him to that duty in order to keep them away from him. He did not want to have his worried expression on the front of every newspaper for the ghouls in the world to deliberate over.

"Any news?"

"No. Forensics got here about 30 minutes ago. They're lifting footprints, searching for any clues left behind but..." he shook his head as his voice trailed off.

"You mind if we step into your crime scene?"

"No... I value your insight."

"Then walk me through what you've discovered so far."

Marken led Jack and Sam along the road, pointing out tire tracks from two separate vehicles -- Martin's and one other. Jack could see skid marks from where one car had slid sideways under force, and Marken's next words confirmed his suspicions.

"The lab boys reckon his car was forced off the road about here. It traveled on another fifty yards before plunging into the ditch." Marken fell into silence as he led Jack and Sam to the ditch, pausing on the edge to stare down at the Forensics team combing the wreckage of Martin's car. "Two men dragged him from the car and up that slope." He pointed to the slope leading up into the field. "From the tread marks, they half carried him between them across the field to the gap in the hedge row opposite."

"No chance it could be a Good Samaritan then."

"I checked all the local doctors, hospitals, and clinics just in case but..." he shrugged one shoulder again, his lips tightening in concern once more.

"I informed his father."

Marken gave a short bark of a laugh, shaking his head.

"No matter what you and Martin think, he does love his son. Just doesn't know how to relate to him right now. He had a right to know as a father, and because of who he is, just in case this is a kidnapping."

"Certainly looks like one to me," Marken stated, staring off across the field to where his lover would have been bundled into that second car and driven away. "I followed the tire tracks but they led back to the main route and then on to the turnpike. Could be anywhere within a three hundred mile radius by now."

Jack said nothing but he knew the radius could be a lot further than that if the kidnappers had access to a plane. He had already set Danny checking all the airfields within a three hundred mile radius, spiraling outwards from where the kidnappers snatched Martin.

It was rare but, this time, they had to work two cases simultaneously, so he had made Vivian the leader for the Scott Hainsley missing person's case, allowing her to draw a reserve team of agents to coordinate information on his disappearance. Jack felt a momentary pang of guilt for Scott Hainsley but finding Martin was as important to him as it was to Martin's father and his lover.

When Jack mentioned the problem, Deputy Director Fitzgerald sent Agent Danzig to help share the workload. Jack hoped that would not be a problem, knowing there had been some bad blood between him and Martin over the Cherry Falls case. Martin had never let on what had passed between them and Jack hoped it was not a case of homophobia at work. He needed Danzig to be one hundred percent committed to finding Martin.

In his absence, though, Jack set Danzig the task of checking the security tapes at the three main airports situated close to New York -- JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia -- until further notice. Over an hour earlier, the FBI had asked the relevant security firms at all of those airports to step up their surveillance and keep a watch for any signs of Martin Fitzgerald. Jack knew it was a long shot but, until they had some more promising leads, this was the best starting place. In truth, he hoped the kidnappers would make their ransom demand as then he would have a far better idea of whom and what they were dealing with.

His thoughts returned to Martin. Since joining the team, he had proved to be a great asset, with quick intelligence and off-the-wall ideas that often broke a case. He was a natural on the computer and, despite a few occasions, he had a lot of patience and compassion for the frightened and angry families that they had to deal with. Any fears that someone had bolstered up Martin's profile due to his father's influence had fallen away with the very first case he worked on. Martin was a quick study. He worked hard, and he deserved every commendation added to his file, as well as every reprimand.

Jack felt it a great shame that others would read Martin's file and interpret what they saw in the wrong light, believing the commendations were all lies to curry favor with Martin's high placed father. He sighed. He did not pity Martin his position in life, knowing it had to take a lot of strength to follow in his father's footsteps when he could have made a completely different career choice and had a lot less trouble. Yet, whatever path Martin chose, Jack knew Martin would have had problems with his father. The elder Fitzgerald had never understood his son and probably thought his relationship with Brent Marken was out of pure spite rather than love.

Jack wished Deputy Director Fitzgerald had taken the time to get to know Marken, and to see these two men together. Only the coldest person could have dismissed the love that lay between the two as nothing more than a way to cause a rift between father and son. He knew that the circumstances in which Martin met Marken -- and fell in love -- had not been the greatest, opening Martin up for attack, and his father through him. After all, Marken had been deeply involved in the Cherry Falls case. He had been the focal point of every crime involving Loralee, committed through nearly quarter of a decade and, as such, Martin should have kept him at a polite distance. Yet his insight had been invaluable. Too valuable to ignore.

As Jack stared at Brent Marken's profile, seeing the strain there after just a few hours missing, he had a flashback to a similar occasion when Marken's daughter went missing. Marken had done nothing to deserve this kind of pain in his life and had suffered enough in the last twenty-five years, far more than most people gained in a whole lifetime. Most victims did not have to deal with their grief in the public eye, where the camera captured their every move, expression, and emotion and sold them for another's gain.

Jack stopped short in that mental tirade, recalling something Sam said about Martin a few days back, about reporters stalking him and Marken. If the potential kidnappers had been watching Martin, determining the best way to grab him, then maybe one of those reporters had seen the watchers.

"Sheriff Marken?"

"Brent," Marken stated as he turned to Jack. "I think we've been through enough to warrant first name terms rather than titles."

Jack nodded. "Martin said you'd been followed around by freelance photographers."

"Yeah, but I sent the last one running a week back. Told him I'd arrest him for stalking next time I saw him. Haven't seen him since."

"Is he here now?"

Marken glanced over his shoulder at the slowly growing number of reporters and freelancers gathering across the road. Dozens of clicks went off simultaneously, taking advantage of seeing his full face within the scope of their telephoto lenses. Jack winced, knowing they had some more shots at his expense but Marken continued to scan the small crowd, apparently not seeing the man he had 'run out of town'.

He turned his back on the crowd and shook his head. "Don't see him."

"Don't you find that unusual?" Jack asked, with a frown creasing his forehead, knowing he had probably had a far greater exposure to the tenacity of the press than Marken.

Only rarely did they allow such a threat to dissuade them from their self-appointed task. With Martin and Brent still so popular in the tabloids, even if they no longer made the news cycle, a freelancer could still make money from getting the 'right' picture of the pair. Holding hands was good, but Jack suspected the freelancer was looking for the real money shot of them kissing, caressing -- or even hoping they would give into some psychological urge to indulge in a little foreplay or more in the natural beauty of the woods. Looking around him, Jack knew he would have a hard time resisting such an urge if he had a beautiful lover on his arm.

Without conscious thought, his eyes drifted across to where Sam was talking with one of the Forensic specialists. She seemed to sense his eyes upon her and glanced around at him before turning back to the man speaking to her. Jack looked down at the ground, pushing thoughts of Sam out of his head as he considered the freelancer who had been stalking Martin and Brent Marken.

"You have a name?"

"Mark Friedman." Marken watched as Jack reached for his cellphone and called into the office.

"Taylor," stated the voice on the other end of the call.

"It's Jack. I need you to locate a freelance photographer by the name of Mark Friedman. Bring him in for questioning, and let me know when you have him. Get Danzig to do a background search on this guy. I want to know who he was selling pictures to."

"I'm on it," Danny stated before he disconnected the call, and Jack replaced his cellphone in his jacket pocket. He looked at Marken.

"It's not much of a lead but it's all we have right now."

Marken nodded. A tow truck arrived and they watched as he hooked a chain up to Martin's car before dragging the car out of the ditch. The tow truck would take the car to the Forensics lab for further investigation.

"There's nothing more we can do here. It's in the middle of nowhere," said Marken with a sigh.

Jack glanced around the empty countryside, knowing the kidnappers had chosen just the right time and place to grab Martin. The only possible witness would be another driver commuting in to New York City at that time of morning, and on this quiet stretch of road, even that was a slim possibility.

"I'll have a couple of my officers set up a roadblock to catch people returning home this evening, just in case someone saw something amiss this morning."

"I'm going to head back over there and see if I can track down that reporter," Jack indicated towards the media crowd, knowing Marken would be better off leaving this job to Jack's people under the circumstances. Marken nodded, a small smile of gratitude lifting the corners of his lips before he moved off to speak with Daniels again.

****

Deputy Director's Office
Washington D.C.
6 hours missing

Rosemary entered the office and placed a fresh cup of coffee and a club sandwich on Fitzgerald's desk. She waited patiently as Fitzgerald continued to stare out of his office window, lost in thought. He seemed a little older to her at this moment, with his face creased with worry and his eyes dulled by fatigue even though only a few hours had passed since learning of Martin's disappearance.

Her thoughts trailed back to last year when Martin had gone missing while investigating the Cherry Falls case. Only she had seen the devastation on this man's face when agents had discovered Martin's crushed cellphone and his blood at the scene. Those few hours of fear for his boy had aged him almost a decade and, though some of his vitality had returned once he learned Martin was safe, he still looked slightly older now.

This time was no different... perhaps even worse because there had been no demands made for his release after six hours. He had received no letters and no phone calls to let him know Martin was alive, and to let him know how he could have his son returned safely to him.

Rosemary knew Fitzgerald's fear of every seeing Martin alive again was growing with each passing minute.

She knew that if it were a kidnapper with a financial or political demand then he would have the chance to negotiate on some level, but if it was personal -- or impersonal -- then whoever had Martin might be hurting him right now, or he might even already be dead.

Rosemary wondered how Fitzgerald would survive such a blow, knowing from their long association that his anger when Martin joined the FBI was for this very reason. Martin's life as an FBI agent was a greater risk than if he had chosen to become a lawyer or an accountant, especially when it involved dealing with desperate people. He had tried to force Martin into a desk job in white-collar crimes, spending his day poring over accounts or hunting through computer hard drives for hidden or deleted files that would lead to a successful prosecution. Martin wanted more though. He wanted the challenge and was prepared to take the risks, leading to another area of friction between them.

After all, how could Fitzgerald keep his son safe when Martin was determined to go beyond the relative safety of headquarters to interview potential murderers and abductors?

The phone rang, making her jump and she grabbed for it. "Deputy Director Fitzgerald's office." She glanced up to see Fitzgerald's eyes fixed upon her, hungry for news of his son. "Deputy Director Fitzgerald is unavailable at this moment. I can schedule in a meeting for you later today at four p.m." she responded, recalling his schedule from memory.

She replaced the phone into its cradle quietly, sending a silent apology in his direction that she had not been able to pass on any news of Martin to him, good or bad. He turned back to stare out of the window, his voice startling her.

"Reschedule all my afternoon appointments. I'm going to New York."

Rosemary hurried back outside to her desk and began making the necessary calls. Minutes later, Fitzgerald walked out of his office with his overnight case and barely the murmur of a goodbye. When she re entered his office fifteen minutes later, she found both the coffee and the club sandwich untouched on his desk.

****

Clarke County
7 hours missing

The helicopter landing in the field adjacent to Daniels' property caused a flurry of activity on the ground as reporters pushed and shoved to get a better view of the occupants. Brent watched as two men alighted, recognizing the older man immediately. He sighed, appreciating the advance warning given by Jack, especially as that passenger was the one man Brent dreaded seeing at this time.

The initial report was that Deputy Director Fitzgerald would be heading to the FBI offices in New York. However, as soon as he learned that the investigating officer was out in the field, near Hasper, Fitzgerald ordered the helicopter onwards.

Brent watched as Fitzgerald's sharp eyes surveyed the scene quickly before falling upon him. Silently, Brent wondered if Fitzgerald would give him a cold reception, as had happened last Christmas. Or if Fitzgerald would acknowledge him this time. Brent knew his involvement in the case was purely out of respect for his position both as the Sheriff of Clarke County and as the partner of the missing man. However, the possible abduction of a federal officer was a federal offence, giving the FBI jurisdiction. All Brent could hope was that Fitzgerald had not come to hand the case over to another agent for Brent could think of no one better than Jack and his team.

He glanced swiftly to the man accompanying Fitzgerald, disliking the man on sight for no better reason than the disdainful look on his face as he looked back. Brent waited as the two men crossed the field towards him. Movement beside him gave him a little relief, welcoming Jack's presence at his shoulder. He knew from Martin that there had been a lot of friction between the two since Martin joined Jack's team but that had slowly turned to begrudging respect.

Fitzgerald came to a halt several feet away. "Sheriff," he said calmly in greeting, acting as if they had no more than a professional relationship. Brent merely nodded, unsure how to address a man who had shown him so little respect in the past. In truth, Brent could not blame Fitzgerald for it had to come as a great shock for Victor Fitzgerald to discover his son had fallen in love with another man. It was certainly not an ideal situation for a man of high standing within the Washington D.C. community, and within the FBI.

The press had made all their lives very difficult, using any images or clips of the pair as a means to draw Martin's father into making comments regarding the way homosexuality was viewed within the ranks of the FBI. They also attacked him personally, accusing the FBI of having double standards, though where they got the idea that Fitzgerald extended favoritism towards his son was anybody's guess. If anything, Victor Fitzgerald tended to err on the side of caution, leaving Martin at a double disadvantage compared to other agents because Martin also had the stigma of the Fitzgerald name attached to him. People assumed, wrongly, that he had only made it this far in the FBI because of his name whereas, in truth, he had made it that far in spite of it.

"Perhaps you would care to show me the scene of the... crash."

Brent could not help his eyebrows flicking upwards in surprise, having expected Fitzgerald to ignore him in favor of a case discussion with Jack Malone. Brent nodded and indicated for Fitzgerald to follow, leading the small group across the track to where Daniels had found the car in the ditch. The Forensic team had removed the car almost an hour earlier, taking it back to the crime lab in the hope of finding fingerprints or other evidence that could lead them to the people who had taken Martin. The churned up ground, debris from broken shrubs and tire tracks was all that remained.

Brent recalled the condition of the car as it watched the tow truck haul it out of the ditch. Considering the way someone had forced it off the road, there had been very little damage. The front grill and headlights had smashed on impact but the rest had barely crumpled. Inside, the air bags had deployed, buffering any occupants form the full brunt of the crash. With so little damage, there was every chance that Martin had survived.

As he explained all this to Martin's father, he saw a little of the tension leave the man's eyes, knowing his words had given him some hope.

Jack took over at that point, indicating how the investigation was progressing but Brent found his attention wandering as the reporters began to shout out, trying to draw a response. Eventually, Fitzgerald gave into their calls and approached but Jack grabbed Brent's arm, preventing him from following.

"They want nothing better than close ups of you and Martin's father together. Before you know it, they'll be asking personal questions about your relationship with Martin... and with his father, and speculating upon your replies. Don't make it easy for them."

Brent nodded, understanding all too well how the press had the habit of twisting words and images out of context. He had seen it happen far too often recently to have much faith in the media. Several of the press called out loudly, and Brent could make out the words.

"Sir, Sir, how about a picture with your son's boyfriend?"

Brent shook his head in despair, expecting the worst. Fitzgerald's response surprised Brent.

"Brent Marken is far more than just my son's...friend. He is the Sheriff of Clarke County and deserves your respect for his standing within this community."

Another reporter quashed any attempt to make a similar request for a photo opportunity as she thrust to the front of the pack and called out her question. "Are there any new leads in the search for your son?"

Jack Malone had fully apprised Fitzgerald of the situation so the Deputy Director gave the only answer possible. "We have a number of leads and agents within the FBI are working on those, assisted by police officers from Clarke County."

"So you have no idea who has your son, or why?"

"At this time," Fitzgerald shook his head. "No. However, I'd like to make a brief statement to whoever is holding my... Agent Martin Fitzgerald." He stared straight at the cameras as the reporters fell silent so they could catch his words. "I don't know why you've taken him but... please don't hurt him. Let him go unharmed and we will consider all options for leniency in this case."

Brent gave a wry smile from knowing Fitzgerald had made no firm promises for leniency, merely offering an enticement should the abductors be having second thoughts. Fitzgerald turned away from the cameras and walked back towards Brent. Although he did not offer any reassurances, Brent could see a thaw in the ice-cold eyes.

"I'm going to do everything within my power to get him back safely," Brent stated softly, for Fitzgerald's ears only.

"I know you will," he responded with an equally soft voice... and then Fitzgerald was gone, heading back to the helicopter.

After the helicopter took off, it took a while for Brent to realize that staying at the crime scene was a waste of his valuable time. Yet he had been unable to leave at first, as if Martin's presence still lingered here, keeping him trapped in this place. Eventually, Nolan had told him he should leave as he had received a call saying there were other pressing matters waiting for Marken at the Sheriff's office.

With a heavy heart, he had left Jack Malone and Agent Spade interviewing all the reporters present in the hope that someone would reveal the location of Mark Friedman.

As he drove back along the road towards the town, he did not see the beautiful countryside for his thoughts were on his missing lover. Last night's lovemaking, and this morning's warm caress seemed a lifetime ago now and Brent dreaded the thought of going back to their home this evening with just those last memories to sustain him. He wanted to see Martin, wanted to look deep into those desire filled, blue eyes. He wanted to feel Martin's hands caressing his skin, bringing him to ecstasy as he took him in fierce possession. He wanted to feel those sharp, white teeth against his throat, marking him below the collar line where none could see. Yet Brent would know of its presence, and would smile secretly as he thought of the possessive mark he had left on Martin's silken flesh in response.

As he passed the penultimate junction before reaching the town, he registered a car pulling out behind him. He thought nothing more of it until the lights flashed once, then once again. With a frown, he slowed down, drawing to a halt by the side of the road and taking his gun off safety as he stepped out of the car and walked slowly towards the car that had drawn in behind him about twenty feet back. His hand rested lightly on the gun and he waited for the tinted window to slide down.

"How can I help you, ma'am?"

"You're Sheriff Marken." It sounded like a statement but Brent had a feeling this woman wanted verbal confirmation of his identity nonetheless.

"Yes, ma'am. How can I help you," he reiterated.

"My boyfriend's in serious trouble... and he needs your help."

Brent felt a flicker of surprise rise and disappear just as quickly. "Perhaps you'd better tell me everything you know."

"Not here. Someone might recognize me," she replied nervously, ducking her head down lower as another car passed by, with the driver eyeing them curiously. "He knows something about Martin Fitzgerald's disappearance."

Brent's interest perked up immediately at the sound of his lover's name falling from this woman's lips. "Okay... how about we go down to the Sheriff's off--"

"No! Nowhere public. There's a track about half a mile up the next side road. Follow me there and we'll talk."

"Sure... okay." Brent walked back to his police car and climbed back in, quickly gunning the engine.

As she pulled past him, he had the strong urge to pick up the radio and report in his position, just in case she was leading him into some sort of trap. There was not a huge amount of time and so he did the next best thing and picked up his cellphone, dialing Jack Malone's number and juggling the phone until it was wedged against his ear as he began to follow the woman. Jack answered quickly.

"Jack, it's Brent. I may have a lead on Martin. I'm heading along Cedar View Road then taking a left about half a mile up onto a track. If you don't hear from me in fifteen then come looking."

"Bren--"

Brent disconnected the call and dropped the cellphone onto the tray on the console in front of him as he turned onto Cedar View Road. He picked up the pace a little until he was only thirty feet behind the lead car and then allowed her to set the pace. She made a left just up ahead and Brent followed, keeping a constant distance back as she slowed down and pulled into the area behind a long abandoned barn. He recognized this as the old Tyler property that had fallen into disrepair when the bank had foreclosed on the man's loans and taken the land away. The barn still had four walls and a roof but all were in dire need of repair. Parts had rotted away in the hard winters and wet springs leaving gaping holes in the roof and walls. It reminded Brent of another dilapidated property that he had checked out during the Virgin Killer case, the old Sherman residence. He had not wanted to go there but he had no other address for Loralee.

Brent stopped and picked up his cellphone, clipping it inside his shirt pocket before leaving the car. He left his hat on the passenger seat and made his way to where the woman waited for him, eyeing both her and the barn cautiously.

"This way," she said but Brent reached out and grabbed her arm before she could draw him any closer to the large structure.

"Wait. Who's your boyfriend and what's he got to do with Martin Fitzgerald's disappearance," Brent asked, unwilling to release his grip even when she tried to shrug him off. The click of a weapon being mad ready to fire sent Brent spinning round to see a familiar man standing behind him with gun raised.

Mark Friedman.

Brent's thoughts returned to the day over a week back when he and Martin had painted the spare room and then gone for a walk in the woods close by...

****

It was a beautiful day with all the promise of a hot summer filling the cloudless blue sky. Although they had moved in only six months earlier, there were still more than enough chores needed to turn their house into a proper home, with rooms in desperate need of redecoration. Over the previous weekend, they had cleared the smallest bedroom, intending to turn it into an office so Martin could set up all his computer equipment permanently on its own desk rather than moving it on and off the table in the dining area. Being closer to home, Brent had continued with that work while Martin commuted back and forth to the city each day. He had finished preparing the walls and paint work only two days ago. All they needed to do now was one final coat of paint, which would take the two of them working together barely half the morning.

With care, Brent made sure the drop cloth covered the entire floor area, even though it would hardly matter in the long run, as they intended to lay carpet once all the painting was completed. More importantly, though, he laid a drop cloth in the clean up section to limit any splatters of paint there. When he returned to their intended office, he could not help but raise an appreciative eyebrow at the sight that awaited him.

Although Brent had little reason to be self-conscious about the heavy scarring across his shoulder and arm when alone with Martin, he rarely stripped down beyond an old, torn pair of well fitting jeans and a ratty t-shirt. However, this Sunday was the hottest day of the year so far, and with the sweat pouring off him, Martin had given in to the urge and pulled off his t-shirt, working half-naked as he started to paint the first wall, cajoling Brent to do the same.

Feeling a little timid, Brent gave into the light teasing and yanked it off, bundling it up and casually throwing it into the hallway next to Martin's.

"Good shot!"

"Weren't the star quarterback just for my good looks, you know," Brent said with a broad smile before grabbing the closest paint brush. He dipped it into the parchment yellow paint and began to stroke the walls, breathing life into the off white paper that he had finished hanging only two days earlier.

A few minutes later, he stopped as he dipped the brush in the paint tray, eyeing up the younger man leaning against the unpainted wall with his head flush against it. Creamy yellow paint had dribbled down the brush hairs, over the handle, and onto the strong fingers that clasped it, unnoticed by the owner of those fingers. Instead, Martin fixed his blue eyes solely on Brent, his lips parting invitingly as his tongue swept over the fuller, lower lip, teasingly.

"You planning on painting anything with that brush today, or should I just dip your hair in the tray and use the back of your head for a brush instead," Brent teased.

Martin's hungry look became more wolfish as he raised his head from the wall and stared across at Brent, his eyes traveling down Brent's exposed flesh, sending it tingling as if ghostly fingers were caressing him. Martin dropped the brush to the floor and stalked towards him slowly, tongue still teasing over his glistening lips as if Brent was a feast for his eyes.

Brent found his own heart beginning to pump wildly, his breath coming in shorter pants as Martin casually reached out with paint-covered fingers to stroke Brent's naked chest. He groaned as one clever finger teased a nipple, sending jagged shards of lust twisting through him, culminating in his groin. His pants grew tighter against the increasing hardness of his excited flesh, and he moaned into the mouth that covered his as Martin's hand covered his groin and caressed the growing erection through the thick denim while those other fingers continued to pinch and tease across one nipple.

Brent's paintbrush slipped from numbed fingers as he raised his hands to the short strands of dark brown hair, drawing Martin into a deeper kiss as their tongues coiled and darted at each other, sucking and licking as they swallowed each other's moans of pleasure. Brent was lost to passion when Martin's lips finally dragged away to trail wetly down his throat, caught between the teasing fingers and the hand still rubbing against his groin.

Martin laughed as he drew back, placing just a few inches of cool air between their overheated flesh before both hands began to tease apart Brent's jeans, lowering the zip and pushing the heavy material down his hips and over the curve of his ass. His boxers disappeared just as swiftly, leaving his torso and groin naked for Martin's eyes to feast upon again.

He gasped as Martin sank down to his knees, dragging the jeans and boxers down until the material bunched around Brent's ankles. Warm hands touched him, some fingers curling around his burgeoning erection while others slipped behind to trace a path down the curve of his spine to the hidden entrance. A hot tongue flicked out to lick at the tip, swiping at the dewdrops of precome beading there and Brent sobbed at the dual torment as one finger pushed inside his body just as Martin's mouth engulfed him.

He threw back his head, uncaring that it smacked against the freshly painted wall behind him, his hips thrusting uncontrollably into the greedy mouth as Martin finger fucked him. All too soon, the pleasure overtook him, sending him spiraling out of control as he climaxed in Martin's mouth, crying out Martin's name over and over until all strength left his body and he collapsed forward.

Martin pulled out of his body and took his weight, drawing him down onto his elbows and knees, ass raised invitingly in the air. The hurried sound of Martin lowering his zipper, and the rustle of cloth roughly shoved aside, made Brent grin. Martin eased in behind him, and Brent moaned as he felt the blunt tip of Martin's erection pressing against the exposed entrance. Martin's hands grasped him firmly around the hips, fingertips digging in as he thrust once, breaching the loosened muscle in one go and sinking in to the hilt with one powerful stroke. Brent cried out at the invasion, feeling his over sensitized body burn in exquisite pleasure and pain as Martin drew back to thrust in deep again. Swept up in the rhythm, Brent pushed back, deepening the possession, rocking with Martin until he felt the familiar heat of Martin's release bathe his innards.

They collapsed together on the paint-splattered floor in an exhausted heap, limbs trembling with welcome fatigue, with the air scented with paint and sex, and filled with soft murmurings of adoration. They lay there, curled around each other for the longest time, with Martin's still semi hard flesh inside Brent but, eventually, the need to move from the uncomfortable wood floor caught up with them. Brent groaned his loss as Martin's cock slipped from his body, and rolled over onto his back. He moaned his appreciation as warm lips kissed away the disappointment from him before traveling down to nibble at the sensitive scar tissue at his shoulder. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the echo of sensations rippling through him, then opened them in shock as the warm lips left his skin.

Brent stared up as Martin sat back on his heels looking down at him with eyes full of love and awe.

"You sure it wasn't just for your good looks," Martin whispered huskily, then he began to grin. "I can think of a different brush we could use to do the walls... judging by the amount of paint already on it."

Martin's eyes drifted to Brent's groin and Brent looked down, snorting when he realized what Martin had used for lube. Creamy yellow paint was, literally, everywhere. He saw it daubed across his chest and belly, and even mingled with the semen seeping from his ass. His hands had not been clean either, and Martin's hair and torso sported several stripes of soft parchment that was drying rapidly.

"Best we clean up and then finish off this painting," Brent murmured with a smile.

"How about we finish the painting in the nude... and then clean up after?"

"Good strategy."

"Weren't the star chess player just for my good looks, you know," Martin responded with a smirk, yowling when Brent scooped up a little paint from the tray beside him and flicked it at Martin. He laughed and pounced, pinning Brent's arms down by his side with the weight of his surprisingly heavy body while he leaned it to steal another kiss from Brent's paint flecked lips.

They pulled apart then, with Martin tugging off Brent's jeans and boxers before yanking off his own remaining clothing. He pulled Brent to his feet and, together, they finished painting the small room, sniggering like little kids every time they looked at each other's paint splodged body.

They showered separately, with Martin clearing up the brushes, paint trays, and drop cloth while Brent washed away the semen and paint from the inside as well as the outside of his body. By the time he stepped out, all clean and glowing pink from the hot water, Martin was ready to step in, grinning brightly as they past in the corridor.

With the beautiful day only half over, they decided to make a packed lunch and eat in the woods close to the property. As they walked beneath the canopy of green leaves, dappled by sunlight, one of them must have reached for the other's hand, or perhaps their hands had simply brushed together and joined of their own volition. Whichever the case, they walked together hand in hand; sneaking contented glances at each other occasionally, just like any new pair of lovers.

They happened across the occasional clearing, eventually finding one that seemed too perfect to pass by. It was small enough to be intimate and yet large enough not to be claustrophobic. Just off to the center stood the remains of several trees, which someone had cut down to stumps at knee height. They were large enough to use as a seat. Martin headed for one, dropped the backpack holding their lunch, and sat down. He frowned when he realized he had left Brent standing at the edge of the clearing.

"Come on, I'm starved," he called, laughing gently, and Brent fell under his spell all over again as he walked towards this man he had come to love with every fiber of his being in such a short span of time. Sinking down on the stump next to him, Brent watched as Martin hunted through the backpack, drawing out items and peeling back the foil so he could inspect the contents before handing items to Brent. They talked of inconsequential matters as they ate, telling anecdotes from work or from the past and when the food was all gone, Martin laid down on the grass covering the clearing and placed his hands behind his head, staring up through the gap in the canopy of trees to the blue sky above.

Brent joined him, and they lay in silence, side by side in contentment as the sun's heat warmed their skin while the food filled their stomachs. Brent had no idea how long they lay there, watching the sun slowly arc across the sky... until they heard a dry twig snap in the darker shadows lying just beyond the clearing surrounding them. Instantly alert, they both froze, eyes focused on the tree line from where the noise had come from.

"Could just be a deer," Brent murmured quietly.

"Sure... if deer's' are prone to wearing a Red Sox baseball cap," replied Martin.

Brent sighed, knowing their perfect day had come to an end as he knew of only one person in the area who wore a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, and it was no coincidence that this man happened to be out in the woods so close to them. The man was a freelance photographer by the name of Mark Friedman who had latched onto them several months back when the Media brought the Cherry Falls case to the attention of the nation. When the rest of the paparazzi finally gave up trying to follow the son of the FBI's Deputy Director Fitzgerald around the small township in Clarke's County, Friedman had simply dug in deeper, knowing he had no competition for shots. Brent knew that he and Martin were not so news worthy anymore but the whole sordid case of homosexuality, rape and serial killings in a small New England town intersecting with homosexuality within the walls of the elite Federal Bureau of Investigation had intrigued the ghouls and those with little else to occupy their time.

Although the actual events spanning twenty five years had been played out on every noteworthy news channel and tabloid, the lesser tabloids that dealt purely with sensationalism and celebrity spotting stilled showed an interest in them as a couple. Several times now, Brent or Martin had found one of their colleagues sniggering and, on investigation, had found photos of them within the covers of some sleazy tabloid; walking or talking together, leaning in close and kissing, or just touching in a proprietary or loving way. Often, the comments attached to the pictures were ribald but, thankfully, rarely were they derogatory -- except in some tabloids that had no qualms about name-calling and asking God to smite them down for their 'unnatural' relationship.

The last set of photos sold by Friedman, only a week earlier, had reached one of those particularly nasty tabloids, Job's Army. They had named the tabloid after Job, the successor to Moses who had led the people of Israel in its holy war against the city of Jericho. It saw itself as a representation of the Christian far right, taking the laws of Leviticus and Revelations to almost fanatical extremes by decrying all those who broke those laws. Like many other cult publications, it had incited others to violence against gays and 'heathens', though no one could find more than circumstantial evidence against it in a court of law.

The photos displayed in the previous edition of Job's Army were of them kissing while standing in their back yard. It had been another glorious day like this one and they had decided to throw some steaks onto the barbecue. No one else had been there, just the two of them in the privacy of their own home, or so they thought.

The publication of those photos resulted in Martin's father calling him into his office. Fortunately, Jack had accompanied Martin despite Martin's request that he stay out of it for fear of ruining his career prospects but Jack had insisted that his prospects had never looked that good for years any how.

As it was, having Jack present had made a difference. Until he stepped into his father's office, Martin had no idea that this would be an official reprimand for bringing the name of the FBI into disrepute through his personal life. His father barely spoke to him, remaining silent while Assistant Director Stailing insisted that Martin choose between his career and his homosexual lifestyle.

Jack's counter arguments against A.D. Stailing's had, effectively, forced Stailing to back off this time but Brent knew the Assistant Director was looking for reasons to have Martin removed from the FBI. After all, the policy was 'don't tell and we won't ask' but no one had mentioned how they would handle those who had not told but who had been outed by other means.

What had Jack said to Martin's father, according to Martin?

"Agent Fitzgerald cannot be held responsible for being your son. That is the only reason why these people are singling him out. Do you think they would have cared less if he had been just some ordinary junior agent?"

Brent was glad Martin had someone like Jack around to stand between him and the people who wanted to use him as a scapegoat. Of course, there had been a time when those same people had tried to nurture him instead, wanting to curry favor with his father. They had tried to befriend him, making promises of smoothing his career within the Bureau but Martin had seen through them. He had wanted to rise through the ranks on his own merits, unwilling to accept any undeserved assignments or promotions, much to his father's annoyance. Brent knew Martin was astute enough to realize that these people would only remain his friends while he was of benefit to them and, sure enough, as soon as Martin's homosexuality became public knowledge, these people had fled from him as if he carried the plague.

Fortunately, not everyone was like that.

Of the others in Jack's team, Brent trusted Danny to watch his lover's back and, to only a slightly lesser extent, he trusted Sam. Vivian was a completely different matter. The woman was ambitious and despite her motherly air, she had already placed Martin in a serious position where he could have been kicked out of the FBI, just to protect her own interests. The case had involved children and Martin had become so sickened at what the perp had done to one little girl that he lost it and attacked the perp. That would have merited a severe reprimand and probably seen the perp let off on a technicality, except Vivian had not done her job properly to ensure the perp had no access to a weapon. The man grabbed a knife lying on the table behind him and counter attacked leaving Martin with no choice but to kill him or die.

From one of their many late night 'confession sessions', as Martin called them, Brent knew Martin's first instinct had been to tell Jack but Vivian persuaded him to cover up the incident instead. By the time Martin came to his senses and realized she had been more concerned with the reprimand that would end up in her jacket than protecting him, it was too late. With the Internal Affairs branch breathing down his collar, and no support forthcoming from Vivian, who had left him to fend for himself, he told Jack the truth. By then, Jack could do nothing to protect either of them. Fortunately, the internal investigation had been inconclusive and they had all breathed a sigh of relief.

That relief had been short lived though, for now Martin had a greater problem to contend with in the form of prejudice. Many times, Brent regretted putting Martin through all this, knowing he had a bright future in the FBI before revealing his homosexuality. In time, the higher echelons of the FBI would have conveniently forgotten such a personal issue -- if not for the Mark Friedman's of the world who were intent on making a living at the expense of his and Martin's privacy.

That brought Brent's thoughts back to the man hiding out in the woods, probably snapping off picture after picture or using one of those expensive telephoto camcorders to capture moving image of him and Martin.

"I had enough. I'm taking this guy in."

Brent stood up slowly, stretching to make a show of casualness to lull the photographer into a false sense of security, and then he stormed into the wood, quickly catching up with his quarry.

"You're under arrest--"

"You can't arrest me," the man spluttered as Brent held him in a vice like grip with one arm twisted up his back. "This is public ground so I can be here if I want."

Brent leaned in close over the man's shoulder, speaking softly into his ear. "You're under arrest for invasion of privacy, stalking, and anything else I can throw at you."

"Ah... come on, man. I'm just trying to make a living here."

"Okay... what say we make a deal. You leave town today," Brent emphasized, "and I'll forget all about the misery you've put me and my partner through and drop all charges."

The man went as still as a statue then nodded dejectedly.

"Deal?"

"Yeah... it's a deal."

Brent let the man's arm go but grabbed at the man's recording equipment. "You can collect this on your way out of town."

Friedman made to protest but Brent put on his darkest glare, staring the man down until his eyes lowered in submission. In the meantime, Martin came up behind Brent, remaining silent until Friedman had gone almost ten feet before calling out. "Friedman!"

Mark Friedman turned, with his face holding a wary expression.

"If I see so much as one more photo or film clip of me and Sheriff Marken in some tabloid or on some TV channel, with your name on it, I'll make it my business to have a federal warrant issued against you. Do I make myself clear?"

"As day," Friedman uttered bitterly and then walked away...

****

That should have been the last Brent ever saw of the man but Friedman stood opposite him now, with a gun held in shaky hands, trained upon him. Seeing the fear in the man's dark eyes, Brent released the woman's arm and lifted his other hand away from his service revolver.

"You don't need the gun, Friedman. I'm not a threat to you." Brent spoke gently, knowing his soft voice had some good uses for when he needed to calm down a frightened person, and clearly, something had terrified Friedman.

"They're after me... for the film." He swallowed hard. "I know I promised to leave you alone... but I needed the money."

"What film?"

Friedman's eyes darted away so Brent asked again with less patience, "What film?" almost afraid of what Friedman would say in response. Had Friedman seen the men who took Martin, perhaps catching the whole thing on his camcorder? Brent's eyes narrowed, a darker suspicion leaving him with the sensation of bugs crawling in his belly as he recalled the last time he saw Friedman. He and Martin had indulged in a little fun, making love among the paint brushes and filled trays on that day. There had been no covers over the open windows, nor any curtains or nets, as they needed fresh air and sunlight when painting the room.

Brent felt physically sick, wondering if this bastard had filmed them through the open window.

"What film?" he asked again, softly.

Friedman lowered the gun, his mouth moving silently, shoulders twitching. "I'm so sorry. I'm so--"

Any consideration for his personal safety went flying out of his head as Brent lunged for Friedman, grabbing the little weasel by the throat and knocking the gun out of his hand to fall harmlessly to the floor.

"What film?" he demanded savagely, pushing aside the woman as she leapt to her boyfriend's defense.

"With the paint," Friedman choked out. "You fucked in the yellow paint."

Brent let go of Friedman as his worst fears were realized, suddenly feeling more violated than if the man had actually raped him. This man had taken one of his most cherished memories and he had destroyed it. He had ripped it from the warm and fuzzy place in Brent's heart and memory and trampled it into the dirt. Brent sank to the ground, drawing up his knees as Friedman slumped down a few feet away, his girlfriend sinking down beside him, her hand stroking through his unruly dark hair.

"Where's the film now?"

"I sent a few frames to the editors of several magazines and websites, including Job's Army." He looked up with haunted eyes and then reached into his pocket to pull out a tiny memory card. "The only full copy is here... and it's yours." He flipped the small memory card into the air and it landed by Brent's hand. Brent reached for it, closing his fingers around it, and holding it tight in his fist.

"I'm so sorry, man. I just needed the money." He shook his head, pulling away from the woman as she tried to comfort him by making shushing noises and stroking his hair. He reached over and grabbed his baseball cap from where it had fallen during the struggle with Brent, pulling it back over his hair. "I just never thought anything like this could ever happen. I'm sorr--"

"You say I'm sorry one more time and I'm going to shove your teeth down the back of your throat with my nightstick," Brent snarled as rage replaced the shock. "What the fuck did you think would happen?" Brent took a deep shaky breath, closing his eyes to try to gain some composure. When he opened them, Friedman was still watching him cautiously but if he were waiting for some sort of absolution then he would be waiting one hell of a long time.

"I need to know everything. I need to know who you sent clips of the film to, and why you're running scared now." Brent held up a hand to forestall Friedman's response, seeing by the man's eyes how eager he was to tell all. "First, we have to get you to a safe house, and I need to bring in someone I can trust to go through everything with you."

"Who?"

"Martin Fitzgerald's supervisor, Agent Jack Malone."

Friedman looked a little wary, with his eyes darting from side to side as he thought it through, but then he swallowed hard and nodded his acceptance. Brent reached into his pocket and withdrew his cellphone, quickly selecting Jack Malone's number and waiting for answer.

"Brent? I was getting worried."

"I'm fine... and you can cancel the search for Friedman. He's here with me now, and he's got plenty to say...maybe too much."

"What do you need?"

Brent smiled, his respect for Malone going up yet another notch as the agent registered the hidden meaning in Brent's words. "I can provide the safe house but I need someone to provide 24 hour protection... and I need you to hear what he has to say."

"Give me the address and I'll arrange the security personally."

Brent reeled off the location of an old farm house just outside of town that had fallen into disuse decades ago after the owner died but which had been bought by Clarke County and kept in a modest state of repair for emergencies such as this. The county had a retired police officer living there rent free so the place would not attract any undue attention and Brent would need to tell him to leave while the FBI and Clarke County Sheriff's Department used the house to keep Friedman safe.

"I'll call you back in five," stated Jack before he disconnected the call.

Due to the security issues involved, only Brent and the county judge were aware of the safe house so Brent made a second call to the number he had burned into his head on the judge's instructions.

An older man's voice answered. "Hello?"

Brent gave the code he had learned. "Your sister needs you in New York. Her cat fell forty stories. She's pretty upset."

"I'm already packed and I'll be on the road in ten minutes."

"Thank you."

The minutes lengthened in the strained silence until Brent's cellphone trilled; he answered immediately, listened to Jack's instructions, and then ended the call without more than a simple acknowledgment. Brent replaced the cellphone in his pocket and looked at Friedman and the woman still clinging to him. Brent frowned.

"You know, I don't even know your name," he said, staring at the young woman.

Her blue eyes widened fractionally before she answered cautiously. "Mandy. Mandy Summerfield."

"Okay, Mandy, Friedman. This is how we are going to play it. We leave your cars here. FBI agents will pick them up and take them to a safe storage area. In the meantime, I want you both to get into the back of the police car and lay down low. Don't come back up until I give the say so. Okay?"

Both of them nodded and Brent pushed to his feet, waiting for the other two to stand also. Minutes later, he was back behind the wheel, taking the long route around the town on his way to the safe house. As he drove, his thoughts turned back to Martin, and he prayed Friedman had vital information that could lead him to his missing lover.

****

FBI Headquarters
New York
Same time

Vivian put down the white board marker and fired a series of short questions at her team. On the board behind her was a recent photo of Scott Hainsley, with a case number and date scrawled beside it. Below was a long line, intersected at points by times and events. So far, they had tracked Hainsley's whereabouts down to within three hours of the time someone reported him missing under unusual circumstances.

"Let's start from the beginning. What do we know about Scott Hainsley?"

"He has a prominent position in 'Garham, Garham, and Tate'," responded Kennett, a fresh faced, young agent who had only recently clawed his way out of the FBI 'nursery' as far as Vivian was concerned.

"The big law firm, dealing in?"

Vivian watched as one of the other junior agents assigned to assist her flicked through his notes. "Erhh... securities and liabilities."

"Was he working on any particular cases at the time of his disappearance?"

"He'd just closed a deal with McMurray Enterprises and was taking a breather before starting on his next case," replied Kennett.

"Okay. Then we need to find details on the McMurray case and see if there was anyone who wasn't so happy with the outcome. Kennett, you take that angle. Georges, I want you to go back to the club this evening and see if you can find the man he went home with that night." Vivian stared around the table, realizing anew how much easier the job was when everyone present knew what to do without her having to ask, and who worked as well together as Jack's team.

Vivian clapped her hands together. "Well, people, the clock's ticking. Get moving," she said, sighing as they jumped out of their seats as if she had lit a fire under each one.

As they raced off in different directions, Vivian sighed again, wishing Jack had kept her on the team searching for Martin even though working the Hainsley case as team leader increased her promotion prospects.

She knew part of Jack's decision was formed out of guilt, for he had resigned from the team, putting her forward as his replacement, only to return days later to take his old job back. She had barely started to unpack her boxes when the news came through that she had been 'demoted', forcing her to pack up her files and awards again and move back to her old desk out in the bull pen. She knew her attitude had been less than gracious but that was hardly surprising under the circumstances. In a mute show of anger, she had deliberately left her boxes packed by her desk for over a week

Handing her this temporary team to lead would give her the chance to prove her supervisory skills, perhaps earning her a permanent team of her own in due course. However, the truth remained that none of her colleagues on Jack's team had been too upset to see her usurped in Jack's favor once he said he wanted the position of team leader back.

That hurt almost as much as having to relinquish the post, for it made her assess her attitude towards them and what she saw she did not like too much. It was easy to understand Martin's pleasure on having Jack as his boss once more for she had burned him once by proving she cared only for number one -- herself. She had placed him in an untenable position that could have resulted in him losing his job and even facing a prison sentence. When Jack called her on it, she had not had a single iota of remorse for what she did to Martin.

Although Martin had never said a word about the incident, keeping it strictly between himself, Jack and her, the others had sensed something amiss, making them feel uneasy working for her directly.

Vivian wanted to repair that damage, realizing almost too late that good, solid teams were built on trust and respect. Without it, she had nothing. She thought she might have made some inroads over recent months. Certainly, she had closed the gap between her and Sam and had made her peace with Jack. However, Danny was naturally distrustful and it would take her some time to bring him around. Martin would take even more hard work but, one of these days, Vivian hoped to prove to them that she could be the loyal, trusted colleague that they wanted and needed.

She realized how far she had traveled towards that goal by her reaction when Jack offered her a team earlier today; her initial reaction had been to turn it down, without a second thought. The only thought revolving through her mind at the time was that Martin was missing, possibly in grave danger, and this team was one of the best Missing Person's units in the country. If anyone could find him then it would be this team working together. Instead, the team consisted now of only three members, with the addition of Agent Danzig to handle some of the more mundane investigative work.

Martin usually took on that role, with his analytical mind making amazing leaps and side jumps to extract information from the most unusual sources. There was no doubt that, despite her initial caution in believing he had gained a coveted position on Missing Person's because of his family connections rather than ability, he had proved her wrong time and time again.

She thought back to some of the early cases. Without his off the wall ideas, they would never have considered looking for pedophile websites in Texas. The information had set them on the right path, arriving in time to save a boy from falling into the hands of a pervert who might have inflicted terrible abuse upon him.

Martin's incredible insight into a case had not been a one off. He had come up with information on many other cases, gleaned from reams of data, having a natural talent for spotting seemingly inconsequential pieces of a jigsaw that fitted together into the 'wrong' pattern.

Often, those inconsequential facts became cornerstones of their cases.

Vivian hoped Danzig had a similar gift, unable to stop worrying about Martin even though she ought to be focusing on the case Jack insisted she take over. With another sigh, this time of exasperation, Vivian yanked open the file in front of her and began to read it through again, hoping to find the inconsequential remark that would turn out to be the essential missing piece of the puzzle, hopefully leading to Scott Hainsley before it was too late.

'If it's not too late already,' she thought, morbidly, recalling how many of their Missing Person's cases had ended either in the morgue or in the cold case cabinet. Vivian snapped out of that dangerous frame of mind. She had to believe that Scott Hainsley was still alive, waiting for her to find him.

With renewed enthusiasm, she started to read the file again, starting with the statements from his family and friends.

****

The safe house was in a semi rural area just outside the small town of Hasper, with open land on three sides and a narrow road leading past a small row of single story houses. Nobody lived in those houses anymore, which was fortunate as it meant there was no need to fabricate some excuse for Mark Friedman and several agents moving in while the owner disappeared off.

The house consisted of just four rooms, a kitchen/diner, bedroom, bathroom, and the parlor. The front door to the property led straight into the parlor, which consisted of several bookcases, a comfortable looking couch, and two upholstered chairs. A small television sat in one corner on a low cabinet, hooked up to a DVD player with several films stacked beside it but that seemed to be the only concession to modern electronics.

Inside the house, the caretaker had kept it clean and tidy with just a smattering of personal possessions to lift the blandness of the place. Thinking back to the house he shared with Martin, and to the mementos from both their pasts that filled the walls and shelves, Brent wondered how hard it had to be for the caretaker to live here. There were no photographs in view, no certificates of achievement or citations on display. Even the pictures on the walls were the kind found in an impersonal motel room. Here and there, small things gave away the individuality of the caretaker. A mug with a baseball player swinging his bat, a small figure depicting a fisherman exaggerating his nonexistent catch with arms held wide, entitled, 'The one that got away'.

Friedman and his girlfriend slumped onto the couch. Despite his eagerness to capture Brent on film in the past, he seemed far less inclined to stare at him now without the defensive barrier of a camera lens between him and his subject. Instead, he kept his eyes lowered as Brent moved to the front window. Brent pulled back the curtain slightly and checked out the world beyond this small house, relaxing when he saw Jack's car drive up and pull in round the back, out of sight of the road.

"He's here," Brent said softly, wanting to warn Friedman in case the man got jumpy.

Brent opened the door when Jack drew close, letting him slip by and then locked it firmly behind him. He watched as Jack appraised the man still seated, noticing the slight hardening of Jack's features that showed a certain dislike for the man, most likely from seeing the effect of Friedman's handiwork on his junior agent. Then the professional in Jack came to the fore and he sat in one of the upholstered chairs, with elbows resting on parted knees, his hands clasped lightly between them. He stared across at Friedman.

"I believe you have some information for us," he said firmly but without menace.

Friedman squirmed in his seat, with his eyes flicking towards Brent as if he was unsure whether he could speak openly in front of him. Yet, he must have already revealed the worst, having already admitted to taking a copy of Martin and him making love that Sunday morning and offering it up for sale to the tabloids.

"You have to believe me when I say I never meant anyone to get hurt."

"Bullshit," replied Jack. "You wanted the money and you didn't care whose lives you ruined to get it. So let's just cut through all the crap."

Jack's vehement reply caught Brent by surprise but it had a salutary effect on Friedman. He swallowed hard and sat up straighter, his eyes flicking to Brent one more time before he related his story.

****

Brent and Martin's home
Previous Sunday

Friedman watched through the binoculars, smiling as he saw the two men head into the recently prepared room. He had spent the week watching Brent Marken as he worked through until mid evening, catching some great shots of Marken as he stripped the walls of old paper and scraped the peeling paint from the window surround. These were the kinds of natural poses preferred by some of the celebrity magazines, and by most of the gay ones too. Although his personal taste did not run to men, Friedman knew a handsome man when he saw him. With Marken and Fitzgerald, he had two good-looking guys, both with celebrity status following the Virgin Killer case, and due to Martin's father.

Once that particular item was no longer news worthy, the other freelancers moved on to fresh targets but Friedman knew he could milk these two for a few more months yet. The good-looking pair had caught the public eye for more than just their involvement in scandal spanning a quarter of a century and the rash of murders that followed its revelation. They were both attractive, perhaps even beautiful in a manly way, and the strength of the loving bond between them that had defied a father's wrath and the machination of the FBI was the stuff of fairy tales.

Their relationship had caused its own miniature scandal rippling through the halls of the mighty at Washington D.C. due to the high-ranking position of Martin Fitzgerald's father. Debates on the openness of homosexuality within the vaulted walls of the Federal Bureau of Investigation were thrown into the arena with homophobes decrying it even as the moderates and sympathizers rallied to the cause of justice for gays in all occupations.

However, even those debates had started to decline as the arguments for and against became stale, and no number of photos and clips of these two walking side by side down a street, or making the occasional loving gesture with hand or smile could revitalize that situation. This, however, was different, and as the erotic peep show continued, even Friedman felt the stirrings of lust within his body. The open display of love and trust, of desire and worship, took what should have been a sordid little incident into the realms of eroticism that put most porn movies to shame.

Friedman knew he had hit the mother lode with this particular home movie, already anticipating the salivating editors of various tabloids clawing at each other for a chance to have the full exclusive. As he slipped away from the house before either of its occupants could register his presence, his mind was already whirling with names and places. Taking no chances, Friedman took the memory card from the camera and tucked it in to the tiny pocket he had made in the waistband of his jeans where a police officer could easily miss it on a body search. He pushed another card into the slot in the camera... just in case another opportunity for more images should arise.

Amazingly, the pair decided to take a walk in the woods. Lulled into believing they were alone -- or perhaps they were simply still lost in the euphoria of their earlier lovemaking -- their hands reached out, fingers entwining as they walked slowly, side-by-side, bathed in dappled sunlight. Friedman never expected them to see him like this and snapped away ecstatically, catching some amazing images of the two lovers smiling and laughing as they moved from the darker woods into a clearing. From behind the screening of trees and undergrowth, he took several more of the relaxed pair, never suspecting that they had spotted him.

He took half a dozen more photos as Marken stood and stretched in seeming contentment, only to be taken by surprise when the man suddenly came hurtling towards his position. He froze for vital seconds, and then turned and ran. He never expected Brent Marken to catch him but Marken proved to be as fit as he looked. Swiftly, Marken closed the distance on him as Friedman tried to outrun a man who had been his prey only moments before.

Much later, he collected his camera and camcorder on the way out of town. They even gave him back the memory cards except, on viewing them through the camera, he discovered the police had not simply erased the contents. The police officers had overwritten every megabyte of storage on the card with a view of a blank wall holding a single poster stating, 'crime does not pay'.

As he walked back to his car, bereft of recording equipment and images, Friedman fingered the tiny pocket in the waistband of his jeans, feeling the outline of that most important memory card. Marken might have destroyed those pretty snaps of him and his lover walking through the woods but Friedman still had the amazingly hot sex scene tucked away.

There would still be an excellent payday ahead of him.

****

Brent turned away from Friedman in disgust, with no denial falling from his lips, leaving Jack with the certain knowledge that, so far, Friedman was telling the truth. He had spied on Martin and Brent, and he had taken some compromising film of the two.

Jack frowned, wondering why he should consider that film as compromising. Anyone who kept abreast of the news was aware that Martin and Brent was a couple and that they were involved in a full homosexual relationship, so there could be nothing clandestine about them. In essence, taking film of them making love was no different to filming any other couple in a publicly known relationship, no matter how bland or erotic the act.

Compromising implied some form of guilt or some level of secrecy, but whatever Martin and Brent did, it happened between two consenting adults behind the privacy of closed doors. Friedman had invaded their privacy, pure and simple, leaving Jack to wonder how he would have felt if some reporter had taken film of him and his wife during their first year together. In those early days, they seemed to spend all their time making love in every conceivable place around the house: bedroom, kitchen, shower, even on the old threadbare rug in front of the Christmas tree. He still held all those special memories dear in his heart, despite the vast distance between him and his wife now, but having them paraded on the TV would have destroyed those memories. Yet, unauthorized images of him and his wife together would never have created a scandal. They would have both been highly embarrassed but, otherwise, it would have meant very little to the general public and, hence, not been news worthy.

That could never be the case with Martin and Brent, though. They had become minor celebrities due to the Cherry Falls incident, leaving them an easy target for weasels like Friedman who could not afford to join the paparazzi trailing around after the A list celebrities.

"What happened to the film?" Jack asked.

"I went home and extracted a three second segment from the movie... then I hawked it all over the country, promising exclusive first showing rights of the full movie to the station that bid the highest."

Despite lowering his head and eyes, Jack could read no regret in the man's posture. He was a vulture who circled around looking for easy pickings, willing to tear into the privacy of others without any consideration for the damage wrought on their lives, so long as the tabloids paid him handsomely.

"Who bought it?"

"You think I'd still be here if I'd sold--"

Jack leaned in, taking on a more menacing stance. "Who bought it?" he demanded again and this time Friedman caved in.

"It had Rainbow or something like it in the title. One of those 'pay to view' online gay sites. The guy I dealt with reckoned he'd get his money back within a week... and be in profit soon after."

"You bastard," Brent exclaimed as he went for Friedman, "How much did you earn from ruining our lives?" but Jack stepped in front of Brent, holding him back through the sheer force of his presence alone, banking on Brent's sense of duty to keep him from ripping Friedman in half.

"Brent," Jack said firmly, using Marken's given name in the hope of penetrating the fog of anger that filled the gold green eyes. "He's not worth it."

"Hey!" Friedman called out, indignantly, his cry echoed by his girlfriend who had sat by his side in silence until now. Jack rounded on him.

"You're a piece of shit, and I'd like nothing better than to stand aside and let this man flush you back down into the cesspool where you belong."

"You've got no right to say that to him," yelled Mandy but Jack ignored her, focusing solely on Friedman.

"But I'm not going to let that happen if, first," he emphasized, "you give me a name and then you tell me why you're running scared."

Friedman latched onto the second requirement first but Jack did not interrupt him. He did not care about the order as long as he got all the information he needed eventually.

"Look, I ain't seen a dime of what I'm owed. There were three--"

"You don't have to tell them anything, sugar," interrupted the girl, angrily.

"Shut up, Mandy!" Friedman snarled, shoving her aside. He sat up straighter and started again. "There were three of them in the final bidding war... and I met with the guy who won that evening. After I closed the deal, I saw someone hiding in the shadows. All hell broke loose and I panicked... and ran. In all that confusion, I ended up with the memory card and no cash." Friedman paused, swallowing hard. "I think they killed the man."

"Who? Who did you meet?"

"Hainsley. His name was Scott Hainsley."

Jack's eyes widened in shock, recalling the other missing person's case he had handed over to Vivian to pursue. If Friedman was telling the truth then there was a connection between Hainsley disappearance and Martin's. Therefore, whoever had Hainsley might also be the ones responsible for running Martin off the road and abducting him.

"I need to know who the other bidders were and I need to know exactly what you saw that evening. Exactly," Jack restated firmly, knowing that even the most seemingly inconsequential details could be the ones that cracked the case.

"I only know the name of one of the others, because I dealt with him before, the previous week."

"Job's Army?" sneered Brent, and Friedman had the graciousness to look chagrined.

"Yeah... Tommy Sandler. He's the editor. He wanted to run photos in the magazine and short clips on the website, to whip up more religious fervor against homosexuals." Friedman looked straight at Brent. "Look, I really don't have anything against your kind. It was nothing personal... just a pay day."

Brent sank down into the other upholstered seat, and Jack could see he was too stunned by the lack of compassion or regret displayed by Friedman to remonstrate with him again. For his own part, Jack felt just as sickened by this admission, especially as he had witnessed the fall out from the last public airing of Martin's private life. In that instance, he had accompanied Martin to Washington D.C. to support him after A.D. Stailing started baying for blood, wanting to have Martin kicked out of the FBI to protect its interest.

'More likely to protect his own,' thought Jack sarcastically.

"The third party?"

"I don't know. I only knew them through an email address."

"Then how did you know they were... legitimate?"

"Jorge Masters introduced them. And I trust him."

"I'll need that email address," stated Jack.

"And where can we find this Jorge Masters?" asked Brent.

Friedman reeled off both email addresses, and Jack knew they would get little else out of the man, but it was a starting place at least.

****

Missing Person's Unit
New York.

Danny stared at screen after screen of video footage taken from the security cameras at some of the local airports but he did not recognize anyone fitting Martin's build and characteristics. He had spoken with the supervisor from every small airfield within three hundred miles of Martin's last known position but no one recalled seeing anything unusual. It all seemed like a waste of time right now, time that he could employ better out in the field. However, until Forensics had finished with the scene and the car, he had nothing else to work on.

When the call finally came in, Danny realized how important the information might be so he called Jack's cellphone.

"Jack, there were three cars at the scene... not two. Forensics is going to work on tire tread patterns, see if they can narrow the field to a particular make and model."

"Where was the third car?"

"It reversed into the dirt track alongside the field then must have pulled straight back onto the road afterwards."

"Why didn't we know of this before?"

"Because the tracks were all similar. Two cars with near identical tread marks."

"Two cars of the same make perhaps?"

"That's my bet."

"What about the airfields?"

"Nothing. Least, if anyone saw anything suspicious then they're not saying." Danny let those words hang, knowing him and Jack were thinking alike in that these small airfields provided great opportunities for all kinds of criminal activities. Most, however, ran perfectly legitimate operations. It was just the occasional manager who turned a blind eye to smuggling of people or merchandise, or other unusual activities.

However, short of going to every airfield personally, Danny had tried to gauge their responses on the telephone, looking for ambiguity or cautiousness that should not exist. The vast majority, however, just seemed curious about his call but Danny had made a notation against the names of any who sounded 'wrong' to his ears.

He continued to listen as Jack outlined all he had just learned from Friedman, his heart sinking in his chest with dismay even as cool rage swept through him internally. All Martin and Brent wanted was for the Media to leave them alone in privacy but people like Friedman had hounded them for months once their relationship became public knowledge. The small town sheriff and the son of the FBI's deputy director. Those viewers who had nothing against gays, treated their lives like a fairy story come true, of good beating evil. Others conspired to make Martin's life a misery, including a few within the very walls of the FBI.

Danny felt a moment of discomfort as he recalled his attitude towards Martin over that first year. He had automatically assumed Martin had gained a place on Jack's team because of his father rather than on his own merit, and every problem thereafter came down to undue influence from Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald. When Internal Affairs came baying for Jack's blood, Danny recalled how he had openly accused Martin of throwing Jack to the wolves. It had been an unfair and unjust accusation yet Martin accepted his apology without rancor. Even so, it had taken a little while to rebuild the growing friendship that Danny had almost destroyed in his haste to find a scapegoat for Jack's problems.

Now, Danny could understand what a burden Martin carried through being Victor Fitzgerald's son. Not only did his father make his life difficult as an FBI agent by being over protective one minute and using positive discrimination against him in the next, but there was also the minor celebrity status he carried. Victor Fitzgerald was in the public eye, and so his son was under similar scrutiny. However, there had been nothing much to report until some reporter caught Martin kissing another man, Brent Marken, during the Cherry Falls case.

It had been a stupid thing to do, especially as it could have compromised the case if Marken had turned out to be an accomplice to the murders they were investigating. Fortunately, that had not been the case and the two had made a life together. They deserved to find a little peace now.

"Do you want me to check out a few of those airfields personally?" Danny asked.

"No. There had to be a reason for the second car--"

"Didn't Marken's report state he and his officer had to pull branches away from Martin's car?"

"Yes."

"Then how did Martin get out?" Danny paused for effect. "The answer is... he couldn't have...so he wasn't in it when it crashed. I checked back with the Forensics team. They checked the skid marks and figure Martin's car was probably only doing around ten miles an hour when someone shunted it off the road. It could have picked up that much speed just from rolling down the incline in the road."

Jack was silent on the other end of the phone for several long seconds before he finally answered with a firm voice. "Follow up on the cars and that idea, Danny. Let me know where it leads."

"Will do," Danny stated before putting down the phone. He stared at the computer screen one last time and then pushed away. The Forensics boys would probably have something more by now but he needed to splash some water over his face and grab a coffee before he continued, knowing details could be overlooked and mistakes made if he did not let his eyes rest for a moment.

Silently, Danny wondered how Martin managed to stare at a screen most of the day and still look fresh and alert. Then the seriousness of the situation struck him anew. Once more, it was Martin out there, missing under terrifying circumstances. Danny glanced across at the timeline board depicting the weeks leading up to the moment Martin disappeared. Several lines intersected that board, dealing with specific cases they had all handled and the recent incidents of media attention. For now, though, Danny needed to focus on the circumstances surrounding that crash.

****

Vivian listened as Jack handed her a vital piece of the puzzle regarding her missing person, Scott Hainsley. Her team had checked into his background but none had found the link between Hainsley and the gay website that Jack mentioned in his call. Certainly, no information had turned up on his hard drive, though Vivian suspected that if there were something on there then Martin would have uncovered it, had he been the one to go searching.

The man had an uncanny ability to get to the root of a personal computer and find the most amazing information stored innocuously there within deleted files or hidden in password-controlled areas. Still, Agent Wood in the computer forensics department had an equivalent skill but he had found nothing untoward. That left her wondering if Hainsley kept the data stored on one of those small pocket drives that were becoming so common these days, or perhaps he had a laptop secreted away.

She set one of her team checking the WHOIS database but Hainsley's name did not appear there. Most likely, any websites he maintained were owned by someone else but, without a website address, Vivian knew it would be difficult, though not impossible, to find it among the millions of websites filling the internet.

Unfortunately, Friedman did not know all the necessary details, having used Jorge Masters to post the 'auction' on several forums, hoping to drum up some interest. Hainsley had used a yahoo email address in all correspondence, leaving nothing leading back to the website he maintained. Unfortunately for Vivian, as most of the hard porn sites, be they straight, gay or just plain kinky, used complicated login procedures to protect the identity of their clients, a web search revealed hundreds of gay sites using the word 'rainbow' in the title. Without a website address, Vivian could not obtain a warrant to access those details, so that avenue had become a dead end. Or had it?

Someone had to know Hainsley, someone with enough wealth to cover the cost of purchasing the item that Friedman offered up for auction. According to Friedman, the bidding had gone into the thousands. Hainsley did not have that kind of money so he had to be fronting for another.

She turned her attention away from the internet to the real world. At least now, she had a new intersection to add to her timeline, and a new starting point for finding Hainsley.

She set out for the secret meeting place set up by Friedman and Hainsley that night, hoping he might have left some clues behind. Kennett accompanied her and together, they worked through the alleyway, carefully opening trash lids and checking darkened corners. Kennett called her over; pointing out splatters of what looked like dried blood on the outside of one of the trash bins lining the small alleyway.

A quick glance inside revealed nothing but a layer of garbage, as if the bin someone had emptied the bin recently. She turned to Kennett, giving him new instructions.

"I want you to find out when this bin was last emptied, and where the waste was taken."

"Most is transported out of the city by water almost immediately--"

"Then you'd better get moving," she stated dryly.

****

Safe House
Outside Hasper

Brent moved out of earshot of Friedman and his girlfriend at Jack's request.

"I have a feeling you don't want to be babysitting this guy..."

"Is it that obvious?" mumbled Brent in distaste as he glanced back at the sleazy freelancer who had caused so much disruption to their lives. Jack gave a small half grin.

"...so I've got two agents on the way. Vivian's tracking down any leads on this Scott Hainsley, and Danny's focusing on the cars, seeing if he can narrow them down to a particular make or model."

"Jack... there's one thing been bothering me. How did Martin get out of the car? It was pretty much covered in debris from the crash."

Jack smiled slightly, though without humor. "That's the question Danny's chasing. At this moment in time, it's debatable whether Martin was actually in the car when it crashed. We should know the answer to that soon."

Brent seemed to mull over that thought for a moment, most likely recalling the small amount of blood found inside the car... Martin's blood.

"Someone had to be in that car. Someone had to be driving."

"Maybe... maybe not. According to Danny, it wasn't moving that fast when it was pushed off the road."

"So the crash could just be a red herring?" Brent frowned, shaking his head, and Jack knew they were having the same thought. Why would anyone want to make it look like he or she had run Martin off the road? If they had intended to hide the car then it would have been far simpler to drive it up one of the narrow tracks until it was out of sight of the main road. If they had wanted everyone to assume Martin had been inside the car then why did they try to conceal it with branches? It would have been simpler to leave the driver's door open and make it look as though they had forced Martin off the road and then taken him from the crashed vehicle.

Several possible answers came to mind but Jack debated the reasoning behind some of them, leaving him with only a few implausible scenarios. He could only hope that time would reveal the true answer.

"It's getting late. The commuters will be heading back along that route soon. Maybe someone spotted something amiss this morning." Brent took a deep breath. "I need to set up a roadblock with my officers."

"I need to head back to New York and see if we can chase down Jorge Masters and set up a meeting with Tommy Sandler."

Jack's cellphone trilled and Jack answered with just the words, "Okay." He replaced the phone and turned to Brent. "My agents are here," and walked to the door, opening it carefully as the door was rapped twice, then three times more. Brent looked on as Jack gave them instructions for watching over Friedman and then followed Jack from the house. Jack paused by the side of his car, his head tilting slightly. "You going to be all right?"

"I have to be... for Martin's sake."

Brent watched as Jack drove off. Then he stepped into his sheriff's car, quickly driving back towards the ditch where they had found his lover's car earlier that morning. As he drove, he radioed his officers, Nolan and Burke, knowing both would still be on shift and at the scene of the crime.

"I need you to assist Agent Spade in setting up a roadblock to stop all cars heading back from the city this evening. Agent Spade will question the drivers. I'll be there in ten minutes."

He signed off and tried to concentrate on the road ahead of him but thoughts of Martin filled his mind. Already, the love and desire from last night and this morning seemed a distant memory, and part of Brent feared he would never have new memories to replace the ones that had faded all too swiftly.

Someone had taken Martin, and the absence of a ransom note of any description did not bode well for it meant that greed had not governed his or her actions. Too many new thoughts crowded into his head as he tried to understand what reasons could have driven Martin's abductors, with his imagination supplying some terrible ones that ranged from personal revenge to sexual motivation. They had both received some nasty mail after the article published in Job's Army, with religious fanatics and homophobes alike cursing them with hell and damnation for their 'despicable acts', but Brent could not recall any obscene calls or letters that promised to send them 'to hell' personally.

However, plenty had come close to the mark and he considered handing over copies of those letters and recordings to Jack, wondering if someone had made good on one of those veiled threats. His first instinct had been to destroy them but the police officer within him had demanded that he hold onto them for a little while longer. Still, he had hid those obscene items away from Martin, deciding that his lover did not need to know how much hatred that one article had stirred up, mostly aimed at Brent. After all, Martin already had to deal with his father's over reaction at the time and Brent did not want him to worry over him too.

Brent's thoughts returned to the evening following Martin's formal meeting with his father and A.D. Stailing...

****

Brent looked up as he heard the key in the lock, his grin of welcome fading at the exhaustion apparent on Martin's face as he came to the threshold of the kitchen and leaned against the door frame.

"Bad day?"

Martin sighed, slumping further as his head dropped against the wood. "Yeah... pretty bad."

Brent dried his hands from where he had been trying to clean up the mess they had made from breakfast. His own day had been pretty bad too, though he had hoped to spare Martin the knowledge of the obscene calls and letters he had received. However, it seemed that trouble had found Martin anyway, judging by his somber expression.

"You want to talk about it?"

Martin seemed to hold his breath, as if unsure whether to nod or shake his head. Brent decided to help him decide.

"Was it a case?"

Martin took a deep, ragged breath before sighing heavily. "No... But can we let it drop until after I've eaten. I'm starved."

Brent smiled gently. "Sure. I only just got in myself, though, so there's nothing ready."

"How about we order in pizza?" Martin suggested with a slowly building grin.

Brent's smile grew too. "Why don't you grab the shower while I make the call," he said, his smile fading slightly once Martin pushed away from the wall and headed towards the bathroom.

Brent picked up the phone from the kitchen counter and punched in the number he had memorized since they moved in, quickly picking their favorite toppings and extras. As he put down the phone, he was startled as a pair of naked arms snaked around his waist, but then he relaxed into the strong embrace, sighing at the feel of Martin's warm body pressed up against his back. He felt Martin's head lay heavy on his shoulder, feeling the exhaustion seeping into him from his partially undressed lover.

Brent turned in the embrace, wrapping his arms around Martin's naked waist and drawing him in until they were pressed closed. His lips nuzzled the slightly bristled throat, feeling the slightest friction burn that set his lips tingling. He felt the vibration as Martin gave a soft, guttural moan of pleasure.

"That feels so good," Martin murmured.

Brent pulled back his head so he could see Martin's face, his hands slipping downwards to brush over the suit pants that Martin still wore.

"Thought you were going to take a shower?" Brent asked softly, before moving in swiftly to claim a kiss from the now smiling lips. He let his tongue swipe over the dry lips, feeling them part in anticipation of a deeper, more welcome intrusion. Brent obliged, slipping inside the hot mouth to lay claim to the interior, licking and sucking, as he tasted the man he loved. He felt fingers carding through his hair, dragging at the short strands at the nape of his neck as Martin pulled back Brent's head to expose his throat. Brent moaned in appreciation as Martin began to nuzzle him in turn, sucking and biting at the vulnerable flesh at the junction of neck and shoulder.

"No matter what they throw at me," Martin whispered, "You're worth it."

Brent pushed Martin back in concern, eyes locking onto Martin's as he tried to read the truth in his lover's heated eyes.

"What happened?"

Martin shook his head and leaned back in, latching onto Brent's Adam's apple and sucking gently. He released his hold for a moment to murmur, "Later. Please... I'll tell you later."

It was enough of a promise from Martin, and Brent gave into the sensations rippling through him as Martin slowly stripped the clothing from Brent's body before unzipping his own pants and letting them drop, to pool at his naked feet. Brent did not release his hold on his lover as Martin maneuvered him into the front room, to lower him down onto the couch, accepting his lover's need to be in control this time.

Martin used spit to lubricate his fingers and, though Brent knew it was not ideal, he relaxed as Martin's fingers breached his body. The fingers thrust deep inside him, curling to find that special place that sent surges of pleasure racing through him. Martin's other hand gripped his erection, rapidly milking him to an almost painful climax as his senses overloaded too quickly. Brent gasped and shuddered in completion, letting his limbs become boneless as Martin worked the spent semen over the head of his own rock hard erection before positioning it at the entrance to Brent's body. He pushed in with surprising gentleness, rocking his hips with small, slow movements as he gradually buried himself inside Brent.

All Brent's concerns at being taken dry, too hard and too fast, faded as Martin took his own sweet time, pressing Brent's legs further back, almost doubling him over as he rocked deeper and deeper inside Brent's tight ass. Even his release was slow and careful, with only the softest of cries and a tightening of his hands upon Brent's body to herald the flood of heat filling him.

Afterwards, Martin eased out slowly, with a silly grin plastered across his handsome face that had smoothed away the lines of fatigue and despondency. He helped to place Brent's limbs in a more comfortable position and then he reached up to brush aside a strand of hair that had fallen over Brent's forehead.

"Definitely worth it," he repeated softly before kissing Brent tenderly. Then he pulled back. "We'd best get tidied up before the pizza delivery boy gets here. Don't want corruption of a minor added to the string of charges against me," he stated morosely, then took away the sting with a wry grin.

He pushed back to his feet and offered Brent a hand, drawing him upright and, together, they went into the bathroom and showered quickly, washing away the misery of the day from each other's skin and replacing it with loving touches instead.

Within a few minutes of pulling on jogger pants and t-shirts, the bell sounded, and Brent moved quickly to the door to get the pizzas and pay the delivery boy. When he re entered the small front room, he found Martin seated on the couch with an opened bottle of beer in one hand and with another bottle standing on the low coffee table close by. Brent dropped the boxes on the tabletop and sank down in the seat next to Martin, watching indulgently as his lover made for the boxes with just a single hungry glance sent his way. Brent knew from the moans of appreciation that he had chosen just right, waiting for Martin to bite into a slice before grabbing one for himself. They ate the first slice in comfortable silence. Then they began small talk about their day that Brent knew was leading up to far worse.

"I had a few nasty personal calls today. Seems somebody sent pictures of us kissing into that fanatical Christian tabloid--"

"Job's Army," Martin sighed, naming the tabloid in question.

"Yeah. Guess you heard the news then."

"I got a call to fly into Washington to see my dad. First thing he did as I stepped into his office was slap down a copy of that piece of shit on the desk in front of me and demand what the hell I was playing at."

"Was anyone else there?"

"Stailing... and Jack. Jack insisted on coming with me."

"Stailing," Brent repeated in disgust.

The man had made it his self-appointed task to make Martin's life a misery within the FBI ever since the press printed the very first photos of them kissing. He was a staunch supporter of Martin's father and saw Martin as the black sheep of the family, bent on ruining his father's standing within the FBI, and his reputation as a whole. The man took every opportunity to find fault with Martin, wanting to see him kicked out of the FBI so he could no longer tarnish its illustrious image with his flagrant bending of the rules concerning homosexuality.

"What did the bastard have to say this time?" Brent asked with a sneer, finding his appetite deserting him as he considered the embarrassment Martin's father had subjected Martin to this day.

"The usual... but Jack stepped in and put Stailing in his place... this time." He dropped his half-eaten slice of pizza back in the box and leaned back on the couch until his head touched the backrest. "One more scandal like that and he'll have me kicked out for sure, no matter what Jack says in my defense."

"What did he say?"

"Jack?"

Brent nodded.

"He said, 'Agent Fitzgerald cannot be held responsible for being your son. That is the only reason why these people are singling him out.' Then he added, 'Do you think they would have cared less if he had been just some ordinary junior agent?'" Martin let out a deep breath. "Stailing backed off after that, looking pretty pissed at both me and Jack."

Brent did not know what to say to ease Martin's pain. He knew all Martin had ever dreamed of being was an FBI agent, and their relationship was destroying that dream come true. He knew that neither of them believed they would have an easy time once their relationship become common knowledge but Brent had hoped that any prejudice would remain basically unspoken but now it seemed that there were elements within the FBI that could not accept homosexuality within its ranks. Or maybe they just could not accept it from the son of such a prominent person within the FBI, knowing the media coverage would make it harder to fail others should their homosexuality become apparent before they graduated from the academy.

Whatever the case, people like Stailing would make Martin's life difficult, finding fault with his work or with him until he had no choice but to resign before they kicked him out. It was not fair, especially as Martin had proved that he was a good agent, and that his sexual preferences had no bearing on his ability to do his job well.

His dark thoughts must have shown on his face because Martin reached out and grabbed his arm, drawing his attention back.

"It's them... not you, or us. No matter what, I don't regret what we have, and I'd give up the FBI in a second if I had to choose."

"You shouldn't have to choose," Brent said, bitterly. "It shouldn't make a damn bit of difference if you're black, white, straight or gay, as long as you can do your job. And you've proved you're a good agent ten times over."

Martin smiled at Brent's rant. "Not the only thing I'm good at," he said, raising his eyes seductively from beneath a crescent of dark lashes. Then picking up another slice of pizza, he ate with relish, licking at his fingers and then at the corners of his mouth as he began to tease Brent.

****

Brent's thoughts came back to the present as he approached the roadblock, though the memories of the passion they shared that night lingered, bringing a bittersweet smile to his lips as he wondered if he would ever fall asleep with Martin in his arms ever again. Silently, he cursed his morbid thoughts, knowing he could not give up on Martin for if the intention had been to kill him then they would have left his body in the crashed car.

He drew up behind Nolan's police cruiser and waited as, under the watchful eyes of his officers, Agent Spade approached the window of another commuter coming back from the city. Brent recognized the driver and saw him shake his head in answer to Sam's questions. Another car pulled in behind this one, and another behind that as the slow but steady trickle of people returning home met with the roadblock. He knew there would be some angry people in that queue if they did not speed things up a little, so he got out of his car and walked to the hard shoulder running alongside the road, indicating for the next car in the line to come forward.

"Evening, Sheriff. What's happening?"

"Hey, Gerald. We're investigating an incident that occurred this morning around 06:45... At this spot."

"Hmmm... I was on the turnpike at six thirty. Had an early meeting."

Brent nodded as he jotted down some notes, then he looked back up. "Do you recall seeing anything unusual while driving this stretch? Cars parked along the route or just off road? Anything out of place?"

"No... Except, there was a black car that tailed me a short way, then he turned up the old creek road. Thought I saw him do a turn back up the road."

Brent frowned and took a step back, only just realizing that Gerald's car was a similar model and coloring to Martin's car. At a quick glance, they could easily have been mistaken for each other.

"What can you tell me about this black car?"

"Not a whole lot really. Looked like a Ford Taurus. It had tinted windows, so I couldn't make out the driver, but there were at least two people in the car."

"Did you make the plate at all?"

"No," replied Gerald with a sad shake of his head. "I barely took much notice of it at the time."

"What time was that, approximately?"

"Around six ten, six fifteen, I reckon."

Brent took a few more details down from Gerald but it was too much of a coincidence that a car had started to follow Gerald only to turn off moments later, probably when the occupants realized it was the wrong vehicle. Yet, if they had made that mistake once then they might have been careless on another time too, and that gave Brent fresh hope.

He let Gerald go and moved over to where Sam Spade was finishing with another driver. She turned at his approach and offered a smile that was not too reassuring because her eyes showed how concerned she was about her friend and colleague. It was obvious to Brent that she had gained no answers from the drivers she had spoken to so far.

His thoughts turned to her relationship with his lover.

Brent knew Martin had asked her out for a drink on a couple of occasions but she had turned him down. He knew his lover had even fantasized about her taking him to her bed and making love to him before realizing that all he would ever be was a surrogate for Jack Malone. Looking at the petite, pretty, blonde agent, Brent could understand the attraction. Samantha Spade was everything a man could want from a woman. Beautiful and intelligent, compassionate and yet strong too, and Brent was so grateful that she had been too focused on Jack Malone to truly look in Martin's direction. Otherwise, Martin might never have acted on the attraction he felt for Brent. However, they were more than colleagues now, as if both recognized that they could be good friends now that a sexual relationship was not going to happen between them.

"Have you got anything?"

Brent nodded. "A black car, possibly a Taurus, started following Gerald's blue Mondeo this morning, but it turned off at the first junction."

"A blue Mondeo? That's the same as Martin's car. Could it have mistaken this other car for Martin's?"

"That's what I'm betting... but Danny says there were two cars involved. Gerald only saw the one."

"Let's keep asking questions, and maybe we'll find more answers."

Brent nodded and they set back to work on the slowly building queue of cars.

****

City Landfill
Upstate New York
12 hours missing

Vivian ceased holding a handkerchief under her nose as she became accustomed to the stench of trash in the holding site, grateful that not all the trash had been loaded onto the garbage barges immediately. She knelt down and stared at the body half concealed beneath the layers of household refuse, knowing she had found her missing person under tragic circumstances.

Crime scene investigators were already working the area, setting up floodlights as dusk fell so they could continue working into the night. The body had been found almost as soon as her team put out a request to the garbage operators to check the site, asking them to be careful not to disturb anything just in case. Scott Hainsley had been dead for at least eighteen hours, and the cause of death left her feeling even more concerned for Martin.

From what she could see, and from what the coroner could tell her at the scene, Hainsley had been beaten and then castrated. Death was most likely from blood loss rather than from the beating sustained but, whichever the cause, her missing person case had become a homicide. She looked up and gave a small smile in welcome as Assistant Director Tony McGraw from the Homicide division clambered over the mounds of garbage to reach her, followed closely by Special Agent Harris. Having worked with both of them on the Cherry Falls case, she knew they were trustworthy and without prejudice, though she had her suspicions why McGraw had come out on this case personally. After all, an assistant director rarely got his hands dirty on field work unless someone higher up the chain of command had told him to get involved. That someone had to be Victor Fitzgerald, who would be doing everything within his power to find his missing son despite Martin's conviction that his father did not care much for him.

"What have we got?"

"Scott Hainsley... dead," she remarked almost sarcastically. "And we have part of a crime scene but not the killing ground. Mark Friedman admitted to meeting with Hainsley to exchange cash for a piece of film. Something else went down and Friedman escaped with the film, convinced he'd seen Hainsley killed."

"Except?"

"No sound of a gunshot... and no gunshot wound."

McGraw knelt down beside the body, looking but not touching and Vivian knew he was staring at the bruises covering the naked torso.

"He was stoned," McGraw murmured.

Vivian frowned. "We won't get a tox screening until they have the body in for autopsy--"

"No," McGraw looked across at Vivian. "I mean he was stoned, quite literally." He indicated the irregular pattern of bruising that Vivian thought had come from multiple weapons, some blunt, some a little sharper. "Someone stripped him and stoned him. I think the castration was an afterthought, to send a message saying why this man was killed."

"And that message was?"

"That he was a homosexual... an abomination in the eyes of God according to the Bible."

"And the penalty is death," said Vivian, recalling the words of Leviticus with distaste. "Death by stoning."

Vivian and McGraw stood back as the forensics specialists released the body to the coroner to take back to the morgue for an autopsy. She would have to hand all her casework notes over to McGraw's people so they could continue with the investigation to find the killer.

Part of her was relieved as this meant she could rejoin Jack's team in the search for Martin, but another part of her felt renewed fear, knowing how closely these two cases were linked. The killer, or killers, had murdered Hainsley almost as soon as they grabbed him so; if the same people had grabbed Martin then he was already dead. Terrible new scenarios danced around her mind, with visions of finding Martin's dead body, bereft of clothing and covered in bruises to match those upon Hainsley's flesh. His body would be similarly mutilated to mark him as a homosexual, and yet Vivian could not quite believe in that scenario.

If the intention was to send a warning to other gays -- telling them to fear the wrath of God -- then they needed to display a body, publicly. That had not happened in Hainsley's case for the killers had dumped the body where they hoped no one would ever find him. However, it did pose new questions that needed answers.

Either someone must have known about the meeting Friedman had arranged with Hainsley, and he or she had been lying in wait, seeking an opportunity to jump him, or someone had followed him down there. It was debatable, at this point, which of those possibilities was the answer she sought and both opened up a whole load of new questions.

"I'll speak with Jack and see if he's willing to second you to the homicide investigation."

Vivian frowned. "I'd rather stay on Missing Person's and--"

"I know you want to find Martin Fitzgerald, and I can respect and appreciate your loyalty towards your colleagues but these cases are linked. There is a strong possibility that the person, or persons, who did this..." he pointed to the body of Scott Hainsley, "...have Agent Fitzgerald. If we find them quickly, then we may find Fitzgerald before they do this to him."

Vivian sighed, knowing he was right but it did not make her feel that much better. For all any of them knew, the link to Hainsley might be a pure coincidence but Vivian realized that Jack could not take that chance. It occurred to her then, that Jack would have deliberately pushed her name forward anyway, just so he could have someone he trusted covering this aspect of the case. She would provide a link between the two parallel investigations, ensuring that any pertinent information found its way between the two investigation teams. It might even mean the difference between finding Martin alive or dead.

Vivian nodded and followed McGraw back across the heaps of trash towards their cars. As she came to the top of the last putrid mound, she gasped inaudibly as she stared down at the three cars lined up below, including her own.

All were the new FBI standard issue vehicle from the car pool, and all were dark colored Ford Taurus models, just as Danny had mentioned from the Forensics gathered at the scene of Martin's disappearance.

Her eyes flicked sideways, unsure if she should bring this to McGraw's attention, or whether she should take this unsubstantiated feeling to Jack. She decided to err on the side of caution and check with Jack first, especially as it involved the Missing Person's case rather than this homicide. She knew Jack would bring it to McGraw if it merited his attention, or if he found an even stronger link between Scott Hainsley and Martin.

Vivian climbed in behind the wheel of her Taurus and followed McGraw's car as they set off back into the city to discuss all aspects of the Hainsley murder with the Homicide team. McGraw had settled into the back seat, leaving Harris up front driving and she could see McGraw on his cellphone. Vivian wondered whom he might be talking with. At first, she assumed it would be Jack but his body language seemed wrong for dealing with a subordinate. Then she realized that McGraw would have a direct line to Martin's father and, most probably, would be keeping Deputy Director Fitzgerald apprised of the current position regarding his son's disappearance.

Silently, she wondered how he would react upon hearing of this murder and, most especially, the way the killer or killers carried it out. She had seen the deputy director on a few occasions since Martin joined the team and he had come across as rather aloof, even towards his son, but anyone with even the slightest knowledge of body language could see that he honestly believed that he was protecting or helping Martin. Only Martin seemed blind to his father's overtures, or maybe he saw them as manipulation, with his father trying to control every aspect of his life.

Whatever the case, Vivian knew it must have come as a great shock to Victor Fitzgerald when he discovered his son had fallen in love with another man.

Vivian had to applaud Martin's choice, though, for she could not think of a better man for Martin. Brent Marken was honest and hard working; he was passionate and compassionate, and loyal to the very end. If his wife had not released him from their sham of a marriage then he would have honored the vows he made to her until 'death do us part'. In many ways, Marge Marken's death had made it even easier on Brent for he began his relationship with Martin free of any guilt regarding the marriage vows he had taken under duress a quarter of a century earlier.

A man called Grazer shot and killed Marge during the investigation into the murder of Loralee Marliston, formerly Sherman. The terrible events surrounding the small town of Cherry Falls had started with the rape of Loralee, twenty-five years earlier. Her son, born out of that act of violence, had tried to take his revenge on the people by killing their children, selecting only those he knew to be virgins, just as his mother had been that night. The brunt of his anger had fallen upon Jody Marken because of her father, Brent. Leonard Marliston's mother had loved Brent Marken from afar, writing him poems and letters that he would never see, and blaming her son for not being Brent's flesh and blood.

Those few nights, when terror gripped the small town, brought the truth back into the open, eventually revealing the roles played by the other boys. For twenty-five years, Brent lived with flashbacks of a horrific crime, recalling Loralee's half-naked body lying beneath his and believing that it was his entire fault. At the time, he had been too drunk to recall any of it, and so he could only stand by while the lawyers of his rich friends turned Loralee from an unwilling victim into a ready and willing, drunken whore. The townsfolk virtually ran her family out of town, and his own hopes of a scholarship were shattered soon after as the rich families closed ranks and separated Brent from their offspring.

It took the murder of several innocent teenagers to reveal the sordid truth that he had been just as much a victim that night as Loralee, used and abused by boys he thought of as his best friends. Strangely, Martin's strength helped Brent through the terrible revelations that followed, and his love that set Brent free. Brent resigned his position as Sheriff of Cherry Falls, accepting a similar position in Clarke County so he could be closer to Martin, and Martin moved out of his New York apartment just so he could be closer to Brent.

If anyone on the team had any doubts about the pair then they were swiftly put to rest because Vivian had never seen Martin so happy and content despite the hassle he faced getting into Manhattan each morning. They had found the best of both worlds by moving outside of the city into Clarke County, swiftly making a life together that was marred only by the seeming lack of acceptance from Martin's father.

In contrast, Brent's daughter and his sister had accepted Martin with open arms. The only reason why Jody did not live with the pair was that she had asked to stay on at Cherry Falls until she had finished her last semester at high school. However, there was a room at their house for her, and to make sure she knew she was always welcome; they had decorated her bedroom first. Vivian knew Jody was due to stay with them this coming weekend and she wondered how the teenager had reacted to the news that Martin was missing. Her own ordeal would still be close to the surface and Vivian swore softly under her breath.

Jody Marken had been through so much in the past year. She had lost a close friend to the Cherry Falls serial killer and had almost lost her father as he tried to protect her from the ax-wielding psychopath. Brent had survived the horrific attack only to be thrown headlong into fresh danger when the events from twenty-five years earlier caught up with him. In those weeks following the death of Leonard Marliston, Jody had suffered through the kidnapping of her father, a serious attempt made on her father's life as he lay in hospital, recovering from his wounds, and her own abduction. The disappearance of Loralee had eventually led back to Jody's mother, and she became a terrified witness to her mother's death, brutally murdered in an attempt to force her father to reveal the whereabouts of Loralee.

Already, Danny had fielded a call from Virginia Allen, Brent's sister, and so Vivian knew Jody was flying in tonight to be with her father. Vivian thought about Virginia, and recalled how close Brent's sister and Martin had become, almost like siblings too.

Martin had slept at Virginia's apartment overlooking Central Park on several occasions when a missing person's case had required him to stay nearby in New York City. On at least one of those occasions, Brent had traveled in and stayed the night with Martin, though Vivian only knew this from overhearing Danny and Martin talking on the morning after. Overall, Martin said very little to her concerning his private life and Vivian knew this was a hang over from the time she almost threw him to the wolves to protect her own career.

Whether conscious of it or not, she knew it would take him a while to trust her again after that.

The building came in sight and Vivian set her thoughts back to the job in hand. Jack had placed her on McGraw's team for the interim but she knew where her loyalties lay. Her first duty would remain to her missing colleague, no matter what the cost to her personally. She speed dialed Jack's number, wanting to talk to him before she became too embroiled in the homicide.

****

Missing Person's Unit
New York
12 hours missing

As soon as Jack reached his office, he picked up the phone and punched in the number for Martin's father, knowing the deputy director would be waiting for an update. He was not surprised when Fitzgerald's secretary put him straight through.

"Agent Malone, do you have any news on my son?"

"I'm sorry, sir. We're still chasing down a few leads. Sheriff Marken--"

"Marken," Fitzgerald sneered. "None of this would have happened if that man had stayed away from my son."

"I don't believe that's true. There's no evidence to determine why your son was abducted. It could be for any number of reasons, including blackmail or for a ransom from you."

"No. If they had taken him because of me then I'd have heard something by now. Some demand for payment. This has to do with... with what he is, and Marken's to blame for that."

"Marken didn't make your son a homosexual, and in truth, if he hadn't met Brent Marken then, eventually, it would have been another man that caught his eye." Jack paused, unsure if he would be overstepping the mark by adding any further comments but he felt he owed it to Martin and Brent. "Marken's a good man."

Jack caught the ragged sigh from the other end of the line before Fitzgerald spoke again. "I'm sorry. I know you're right... it's just..." Fitzgerald sighed again. "His mother couldn't understand it. Hell... I can't understand it. We had such high hopes for him. A big society wedding, grandchildren. She's still trying to work out where we went wrong, what we could have done to send him running into another man's arms."

Jack swallowed hard, feeling empathy for his superior but having far greater loyalty and responsibility towards his subordinate, Martin.

"It's nothing either of you did... right or wrong. It's biology... just the way he is. If Brent Marken had not come along then maybe Martin would have bowed to convention and married, had children even... but he would never have been happy. There would have always been an emptiness inside where something was missing... and then, when he figured out what it was, he could have ended up bitter and resentful for the wasted years."

Jack held his breath, slowly becoming aware that Fitzgerald was actually listening to him for once so he continued.

"It's not just a passing fancy, or a means to get back at you in some misguided way. Your son loves Brent Marken, with all his heart... and Marken loves your son just as deeply in return."

Silence filled the air between them, and just as Jack began to wonder if Fitzgerald was still there, he heard him speak again.

"Is he... was he happy?"

"Yes, he is," Jack replied, stressing the 'is' because he had not given up on finding Martin alive, and would not give up until he had proof to the contrary, even if that meant holding out in hope for the rest of his life. Fitzgerald must have registered that hope in Jack's voice.

"You think there's still a chance of finding him alive?"

Jack could hear a slight tremor in Fitzgerald's voice and knew he must have received some bad news from another source that had given him doubts about his son's continued existence.

"There's always hope. Don't give up on him too quickly."

The silence lengthened before Fitzgerald spoke again. "Keep me apprised of any new information especially if..." His voice broke and Jack heard him clear his throat. "Especially if you have reason to give up hope."

"Yes, sir."

Jack broke the connection, his lips forming a tight line of grief in sympathy for the emotions Fitzgerald could not quite hide, knowing how hard it had to be for Fitzgerald because he was a father too. Losing a child had to be one of the most terrifying things that could happen to any loving parent, and it did not matter whether that child was tiny or full grown, for they never ceased to be your babies.

He started to replace his cellphone in his pocket when it began to trill.

"Malone," he stated.

"Jack... we found Scott Hainsley, dead, and by the looks of things, he'd been biblically stoned and then castrated as some kind of statement about his homosexuality."

Jack sighed, suddenly understanding why Fitzgerald had been close to the edge. The Hainsley case had become a homicide, and Tony McGraw would have contacted Fitzgerald to let him know.

"I'll have a word with McGraw, and see if we can keep you on the case, working with Homicide. If necessary, I'll try and clear it with Deputy Dire--"

"It's okay, Jack. McGraw wants me to stay on the case, and I agreed because I knew that would be what you wanted too. There's one thing though... something that struck me out at the city dump. Danny mentioned that we might be looking for two similar cars... dark Ford Taurus. The latest FBI contract for the car pool is the Ford Taurus... and guess what the favorite color is?"

Jack sat back in his seat. "I'll get Danny to check it out. Good work, Viv."

"Got to go... I'll keep you informed of anything else we discover."

"Thanks," Jack mumbled, still partly in shock at the possible revelation. Quickly, he speed dialed another number, not bothering with pleasantries when Danny Taylor answered. Within a minute, he ended the phone call knowing Danny would be chasing down that possible lead immediately.

****

Clarke County
8:30 p.m.
14 hours missing

The line of cars at the roadblock stretched back along Willow Creek Road and Brent could understand the frustration the drivers felt at this delay even though the police and FBI were questioning them and moving them along at a brisk pace. Most had spent a long day at work and were looking forward to the comforts of home but, while Martin was missing, Brent knew he would find no solace in the house they shared.

After fourteen hours without any strong leads, and with no ransom demands of any kind made on either him or on Martin's father, Brent was trying not to focus on the worst-case scenario. Too many 'what if' statements revolved around his head, and he felt physically sick every time the cellphone rang or the radio crackled, almost too terrified to pick up either for fear of hearing the words he dreaded most.

Jack Malone had called him a couple of hours back to let him know they had found Scott Hainsley dead, and that he would head back to help with the roadside interviews, assisted by several other FBI agents. In many ways, Brent was relieved that Vivian had joined the homicide team for she was an excellent investigator despite his reservation about her as a person. He knew it improved the odds on the FBI locating Hainsley's killers and would keep the Missing Person's team in the loop should anything turn up that might have a bearing on Martin's disappearance.

Brent pushed aside all those thoughts as the next car in the queue drew up alongside him by request. He leaned in through the opened window and started by apologizing to the driver for the delay, taking his name and details quickly.

"Mr. Bryant, do you recall seeing anything unusual this morning around six thirty, six forty five?"

"No... I'm sorry. Though I thought you boys were up good and early."

"I'm sorry?"

"Pulling over cars at that time of day. I was impressed... and damn glad I was sticking below the speed limit."

"Did you see the car they pulled over?"

"Yeah, but I don't recall much. But then you'd know all the details any how," he said with a chagrined expression.

"Humor me. Do you recall the make and model?"

"No. A blue car. Sedan type rather than a pick up or wagon."

"And the patrol car?"

The man started to look a little nervous, confused by the questioning. "The usual local blue and white, with the light bar on top."

"Would you mind pulling in over there?" Brent indicated to the space just behind his sheriff's car, watching as the man did as Brent asked. Brent took a note of the license plate before heading across to Jack. He waited for Jack to finish questioning a driver before speaking.

"May have something here," he said, indicating back towards the Toyota that was maneuvering into place just behind his patrol car. "He says he saw a blue sedan being pulled over by a patrol car around that time this morning. None of my boys mentioned anything about that."

Jack nodded and followed Brent across to where the driver sat, looking a little nervous. Jack leaned in, showed his FBI identification, and asked the driver to step out of the car. He led him towards the back of the car and then began questioning the man, face to face, while Brent stood by. Jack asked the man to repeat what he had seen, prompting him for extra details when appropriate.

"Did you see the officer who approached the driver?"

"No, I was just passing by... and thanking my lucky stars it was that poor schmuck and not me," he added with a nervous laugh. "The officer was wearing a uniform though... like his," he nodded his head towards Brent. "Pale blue shirt with darker blue patches on the pockets."

"Was he white, black?" asked Jack.

"White... with light hair. Like his," he said, flicking his eyes towards Brent again.

"Would you recognize this officer if you saw him again?" asked Brent softly.

"I'm not sure."

"Would you mind taking a walk with me?"

The man shrugged his shoulders and followed a step behind Brent as they toured the scene, with Jack just behind him. Brent stopped and indicated towards one of his officers but Bryant shook his head. They moved on but this time, Bryant grabbed Brent's sleeve and tipped his head towards one the police officers directing the cars.

"That's the officer you saw this morning?"

"Yes. That's the man," he responded and Brent could sense no doubt in the man's voice.

Brent looked to Jack, who spoke to Bryant. "I want you to go back to your car, Mr. Bryant, and then go home and stay home. I may need to speak with you again later."

They waited until Bryant had pulled away and then Brent approached the officer concerned.

"Officer Burke, I'd like to have a word with you."

****

Brent escorted Burke back to the Clarke County Sheriff's Office, with Jack's car following behind, remaining silent throughout the journey even though he desperately wanted to know what Burke had to say. However, he knew it would be far better to get Burke into a formal interview room with Jack Malone in attendance.

He gave himself a few minutes to splash water over his face before he nodded to Jack that he was ready, and then they entered the room, side by side. Burke looked up as soon as the door opened and, just by looking into his eyes, he knew the man had something to hide.

Brent sank down into a seat on the opposite side of the table and stared hard at the other police officer, wishing he knew Harry Burke just a little better, if only to understand what had happened. He knew the man had resented the town council for passing him over as sheriff in favor of Brent but never thought that this disgruntled man would act upon it.

"Sheriff?" Burke asked, as he tried not to look guilty but failed miserably.

"Where were you between six thirty and six forty five this morning?"

Burke's eyes darted between Brent and Jack Malone. "I was out on patrol... early shift."

"A police officer fitting your description pulled over a blue sedan on Willow Creek Road, right about the same time Martin Fitzgerald would have been driving by," stated Jack.

"I--I don't know anything about that. I was patrolling the Oldham farm road."

"Cut the crap, Burke. A passer by identified you. So, do you start talking or do I arrest you on suspicion of the kidnapping of a federal agent."

"I didn't touch him... just liked to razz him on occasion." He turned to Brent with dark eyes pleading for some understanding. "Look, it's no secret I wasn't too pleased with you taking the sheriff's position. I earned that position. I worked hard for it and then they just gave it away to some..." Burke trailed off as if realizing he had said too much.

He took a deep breath.

"I just pulled him over every now and again... just to get a little payback 'cause I knew he wouldn't say anything to you. After all, I got a right to do my job any way I see fit."

"You were harassing him?" said Jack, with menace.

Burke swallowed hard, relating the incident from this morning...

****

Willow Creek Road
06:35

Burke grumbled to himself as he screwed the lid back on the thermal mug having finished the last of his coffee. Once more they had saddled him with the early shift while Sheriff Marken slept in with his little fuck buddy by his side. He sneered, wishing he knew why the Clarke County magistrates had overlooked him in favor of a homosexual who had caused a big stir in the media.

Or maybe that's exactly why they wanted him, Burke thought, as he reflected on Brent Marken's minor celebrity status. Or maybe they were doing a favor for the FBI, he thought with disdain as he recalled all the tabloid news associating the son of the FBI's deputy director with Marken.

Whatever the case, they had offered Marken the position, leaving Burke with nothing to show for sixteen years of dedication as a police officer in Clarke County. His wife had been furious, looking forward to the extra pay that would have come with the promotion and the passing months had done little to appease her.

A loser, that is what she called him, making his life a misery at every turn.

"Damn, I hate the early shift," he said aloud, knowing it meant he could not sneak into bed with Josie Schnell for a little of what he fancied until his shift changed back to normal days. Knocking on her door at three in the morning was hardly going to keep their relationship secret, even if Josie was of a mind to answer the door at that time of day.

"Bet that bastard gets laid every morning," he grumbled, then screwed up his nose in distaste. He did not have anything against gays, per se, but he resented the fact that Marken got to screw around with his lover while he deprived Burke of his.

He started up the engine and drew to the junction with Willow Creek Road, looking both ways as he tried to decide which way he fancied going. At that moment, a familiar blue Mondeo came along, heading away from where Marken and his boyfriend had made their home, in the old farmhouse that Burke had his eye on for when he got the sheriff's post. That one extra little injustice set Burke tailing Martin Fitzgerald, and he grinned as he noticed a slight deviance in the way Fitzgerald was driving as he avoided a pothole.

Burke decided to pretend he had seen no pothole, giving him just cause to pull over Fitzgerald on suspicion of DUI -- driving under the influence. He depressed the switch that set the blue and red lights flashing on top of the cruiser, letting out a single whoop of the siren. Burke grinned as Fitzgerald glanced into the rear view mirror, almost sensing the man's dismay at being pulled over for the second time this month.

Another car passed by as Burke reached for the door handle, his eyes meeting those of a very relieved driver for a nanosecond before the car disappeared off into the distance. Burke climbed out of his car and, after drawing on his blue hat, he walked slowly towards the Mondeo, stopping by the driver's window and signaling for Fitzgerald to wind it down.

"What can I do for you, officer?"

"You were all over the road back there. I want you to step out of the car and take a breathalyzer test."

"You got to be--" Fitzgerald bit off the remainder of whatever he was about to say and stepped out of the car. Burke began to smirk as he put the FBI agent through some of the embarrassing coordination exercises. Then he held out the small measuring device, explaining how it worked even though Fitzgerald probably knew it all already.

"I don't think you'll find... blowing to difficult," Burke stated, barely able to keep the laughter in check as he saw Fitzgerald's reaction to the double meaning.

However, Fitzgerald gave him no cause to delay him further as the light clearly indicated that he was sober and Burke told him to go on his way. As the car disappeared down the empty road, Burke laughed. Maybe the early shift had its good points after all.

****

Inside, Jack was seething with anger and one look at Brent Marken showed a similar rage boiling just beneath the surface.

"Did any other cars pass by at that time?"

"No... But then I didn't stay on Willow Creek. I turned about and headed back towards Hasper."

Jack nodded, looking across as Brent spoke in his softest, most menacing tone.

"You're on suspension pending a full investigation."

Burke opened his mouth to protest but then he shut it, drawing his gun and badge, and placing them on the table in front of Brent.

"Don't bother. I resign."

"Accepted," Brent replied, much to Burke's shock. "But that doesn't mean you're off the hook. There'll still be a full inquiry... later."

Burke rose to his feet angrily, scraping back his chair. "Well... maybe there'll be a few home truths come out for you, if you do. Like all those dirty pictures of you and that other queer--"

"I think you've said enough," interrupted Jack, standing up to lean heavily on the table, his eyes pinning Burke in place with as much menace as he could muster.

Burke bit back any further retorts and stormed out of the interview room, leaving the door ajar. Turning around, Jack and Brent looked through the open doorway to find half the small office staring straight at them. With a tightening of his lips, Brent closed the door on the faces and dropped back down into his chair. He wiped a hand across tired eyes and then leaned forward until his head was cradled in his arms upon the tabletop.

"We will find him," insisted Jack. "Everything we learn, even from people like Burke, will bring us one step closer."

Brent looked up and Jack could see the tension and fatigue from the day dulling his eyes. He felt immense compassion for this man, knowing how much he had suffered in his life. It did not seem fair that this should happen just when he had found a measure of peace and a whole lot of love from Martin. He deserved to have a 'happy ever after'... they both did.

"It narrows down the crime scene," Brent replied softly, before raising his head to look directly at Jack. "There's only three other turn offs between where Burke pulled him over and the ditch where we found his car."

"My gut feeling would be to check out the first one, the furthest one from the ditch. If they pulled in behind him then it could have taken half a mile or more to pull his car over."

"And then another half mile or more to set up the crash," added Brent. He glanced down at his wristwatch and shook his head. "We could get some floodlights to the turn off but all it would prove was that they were laying there in wait. Doubt it'll give us any more about the vehicles involved than we already know from the tire tracks at the scene."

Jack made a noncommittal sound, wishing he could share Vivian's suspicion that other FBI or government agents could be involved in Martin's disappearance.

"You should get some rest," he said, dropping a hand upon Brent's shoulder. "A few hours sleep will--"

"Not sure I could," he replied tiredly, "even though I could use the sleep," he added with a self-deprecating laugh. "Anyway, Jody should have arrived at Newark by now. Ginny's meeting her and bringing her here."

"Go home, Brent. Comfort your family and then try to get some sleep. If anything turns up..." He let the words hang, knowing he did not have to state the obvious.

Brent stared at Jack and then nodded in resignation, pushing up from the seat and walking slowly to the door. Brent opened the door and turned back on the threshold.

"Same can be said for you too, Jack. And if you need a place to stay overnight rather than head back to the city, then you can always take the couch. It opens up into a bed."

Jack gave a silent 'thanks' and watched as Brent walked away with heavy steps, not taking his eyes off the man until Brent turned the corner at the far end of the room. Only then did he allow his own fatigue and concern for Martin to show as his limbs became heavy, weighed down by the tension from the long day. He had always found it hard to stay emotionally unattached to the victim and their friends and families but succeeded partially because he did not know these people. With Martin, it was far different. Martin was more than just a subordinate, more than just a colleague. He was part of a second family created out of necessity and need, and in some ways, replacing the family he had lost when his wife left him, taking their two little girls with her.

Brent was an extension to that little family and, given time, Jack knew he would become a good friend too for there were no boundaries between them. They had no chain of command issues, with both holding equal responsibility. Jack smiled at that thought; knowing it was not strictly true for Brent's responsibilities went far beyond those of a small team investigating a single type of crime. Yet, Brent treated him and every member of his team with respect, gaining the same respect in return.

Jack thought of Martin and the relationship he had built with Brent Marken so swiftly. He was positive that Brent extended that equality into their private lives, offering a true and loving partnership, and giving Martin everything he needed. In return, Martin gave Brent everything he had denied for himself over those twenty-five years.

He sighed, straightening his jacket and tie, before leaving the now empty interview room and heading back towards his car. It was almost nine p.m. and the commuter traffic had slowed to just the infrequent car heading back after a late meeting or overtime at the office. Upon reaching his car, Jack sat behind the wheel for several minutes, trying to empty his mind. He failed miserably and, in exasperation, he considered the hour-long drive back to the city, loathing the idea.

Making a decision, Jack pulled out his cellphone and called Sam to let her know he would be taking up Brent's offer of accommodation. Replacing the phone, he started the engine and headed back towards Willow Creek Road, and the home that would feel far too empty for Brent Marken this night despite the presence of his family. He knew that feeling all too well, still finding the apartment he had once shared with his wife and two lively children far too quiet.

However, it was not just for Brent's sake that he felt in need of taking up that offer. Martin had become such an important part of his second family so Jack knew Brent was not the only person who could use a friend this night.

****

Missing Person's Unit
New York
18 hours missing

Danny grinned as he replaced the handset, silently hoping Jack had managed to grab a few hours sleep because he had a feeling Jack would want to be wide-awake for what he had to tell him. First, he had to verify the information, not wanting to offer up anything that he could not substantiate.

A quick verification proved that his information was correct, but then he froze as he saw the name on the release docket. Agent Danzig had taken out a pool car the night before Martin's disappearance, bringing it back in a less than pristine condition. His damage report stated that a felon had sideswiped the car but Danny had his doubts.

Danzig had been a thorn in Martin's side ever since the Cherry Falls case. Although Martin had never said anything directly, it was easy to see that there was no love lost between the two agents. Although Danny could not openly accuse Danzig of homophobia, Martin's problems with Danzig had started the moment the media got hold of pictures of Martin kissing Brent Marken.

Danny recalled that day clearly, for he had driven Brent to his sister's that day, with Martin, and he had seen the two lean in close on the doorstep of Ginny's apartment. Although his own attraction was to the women, Danny had felt envious that day. What he saw between the two men was not simply lust. It went far deeper, entwining their very souls. Theirs was the sort of love that most people dreamed of finding some day; the sort of love Danny hoped to find some day.

No one saw the photographer but everyone became aware of the relationship between Martin and Brent soon after as those pictures managed to find their way into most newspapers. In some ways, Danzig was right to take Martin to task over those pictures, as Brent was still a possible suspect in the murder and abductions they were investigating, at the time. However, it had not ended there. Once the Cherry Falls investigation wrapped up, any contact between Martin and Danzig should have ended but Danzig had continued to make Martin's life difficult.

Despite being in another division, Danzig managed to get in digs at every opportunity, finding fault with Martin's work or simply spreading rumors whenever some scum reporter like Friedman gained a lucky shot that ended up in some minor celebrity magazine. Martin could not be held responsible for freelancers like Friedman who continued to invade his and Brent's privacy long after the original news had died from the main news cycle.

Danny cursed softly, realizing that any chance of the Media leaving the two men alone had vanished again, now that they had become a mainstream item once more. The more important papers and websites had dug up all the old information trying to add a new spin to it in light of Martin's disappearance. Even though Danny was not an expert in that particular field, even he could see the massive hit counts this abduction had generated on the lesser celebrity websites and increased circulation of the exploitative magazines. Images of Martin and Brent had filled the evening papers, speculating on their relationship again, and on Martin's relationship with his father.

Jack had often tried to stir this sort of media coverage in the press when they were looking for a missing person, in the hope that someone would step forward with information. Martin and Brent had found it seemingly for free but it actually came at a price than no sane person would be willing to pay. It seemed as if they spent every single day of their life under a microscope, leaving them little opportunity to simply enjoy each other's company. Their sex life was discussed in internet forums, and their lives dissected by a public that was too wrapped up in other peoples' lives to bother about their own.

Problem was, Danny had seen many of these articles on Martin and Brent, and even he had found them intriguing. The difference was that he held no malice towards the pair, whereas agents like Danzig looked for chinks in Martin's armor in the hope of bringing him down.

Danny let those thoughts slide and checked through the remaining car pool assignments but no others stood out. Of course, he could be way off base, with Danzig's report turning out to be a legitimate incident but Danny could not afford to take that chance.

He picked up the handset and punched in the familiar number, unsurprised when Jack answered quickly and making Danny certain he had not been asleep.

"Malone," he stated in a slightly graveled voice from tiredness.

"Jack? It's Danny. I followed up that idea of Viv's. I think I have a lead on those black cars... except you're not going to like what I've got."

"Go on," said Jack.

"Seems there was a dozen pool cars still out that day... and one of them came back later with a dent. Agent Danzig took out a black Taurus the night before, and returned it with damage on the passenger's side. The accident report stated he was side swiped during a car chase but the perp got away." Danny paused; he continued on when Jack said nothing. "Bit of a coincidence, wouldn't you say?"

"Yeah," Jack replied and Danny could hear the dismay in his voice. No one liked to think ill of a fellow agent, even ones like Danzig.

"I'm thinking of having a word with him, off the record."

"No. Leave it to me. I'll take it up with Harris, his supervisor... just in case it is just a coincidence. He should know what cases Danzig has been working on. In the meantime, limit any information made available to him until he's in the clear."

"Will do."

"And Danny?"

"Yeah?"

"Good work. Now go get some rest and start afresh in the morning."

Danny grinned as he put down the phone but it was short lived as he looked across at Martin's empty desk. Everything was neatly stacked up or put away, just as Martin had left it the day before. Danny knew that his pens would be in the pen tray, and copies of blank forms filed in order in the cabinet below. He knew because he had delved into Martin's desk on more than one occasion when his own pen or a necessary form had not been to hand.

He recalled the first few weeks after Martin joined the team, and how he had accused him of being anally attentive during a discussion with Vivian and Sam. Of course, it did not help that he had still been smarting from Martin noticing a mistake Danny had made concerning an alibi.

After that, the two had knocked heads a few times more before a trip down to Florida in search of a missing person had forced them both to take a fresh look at each other. They discovered they had quite a lot in common and no need to see the other as any kind of threat. An uneasy truce began to build into a friendship until Danny almost ruined everything when someone in the Bureau decided to target Jack as a scapegoat.

They all knew that someone higher up was trying to blame Jack for Martin's mistakes during a possible terrorism case. What Danny did not know at the time was that Martin was the one who forced his father to back off and let Internal Affairs place the blame where it belonged. It meant Martin gained an official reprimand in his record but Martin had figured it a small price to pay to see the investigation against Jack dropped.

Any remaining animosity between them disappeared after that, though Danny still felt a little guilty for never actually saying the words, I'm sorry. He always figured Martin knew the apology was implied, even if never spoken directly but that did not make his guilt any less real. Now, he wondered if he would ever have the chance to say those words.

****

Jody sank onto the couch next to her dad and hugged him while her Aunt Ginny bustled around in the kitchen making a late dinner. In the seat opposite, Jack Malone put away his cellphone and gave a tight smile that said the news had not been too good. Yet it was not the call they all dreaded so Jody relaxed as much as she could.

"I need to make another call," he said gently to Brent, and pushed up from his seat to make the call in the privacy of the back room.

Her dad slumped back in the seat as Jack left the room, holding her tightly as if he was afraid she would disappear too if he let her go. Jody could understand that. This past year had been the worst of her life, losing her best friend and her mother in close succession, and almost her father too. In between had come all the revelations from the past, throwing her whole life into turmoil as she learned terrible things about her beloved father.

Her mother had tried to set part of the story straight, trying to explain that her father had been too drunk that night to attack and rape anyone. Yet it took several more murders and some harrowing moments before the questionable truth was fully realized and the facts brought out into the open.

The hardest change to handle had been the revelation that her father had married her mother out of necessity rather than love, forced by convention to hide his true feelings for those of his own gender. Her thoughts turned to Timmy, a close friend who had become one of Marliston's victims. At seventeen years of age, Timmy knew where his desires lay, and he did not intend to accept anything other than another man in his life once he reached the legal age. Even so, she knew he had gone as far as heavy petting with other guys because he shared all his secrets with her, sharing their names with her. Of the two boys he mentioned, one was a real surprise because he was always surrounded by adoring girls.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine her father as that boy, seeing through this boy's eyes the fear of being outed competing with the need to find pleasure with Timmy rather than one of those girls. Now, she understood how hard it had to be for her father trying to cope with the pressure from family and friends to conform. Twenty-five years earlier, even Timmy would not have been able to display his gender preference so openly, not without drawing hostility and ridicule.

Her mother had told her things about her father. Just like this other boy, her father was never soft like Timmy. He had always been athletic, excelling as the star quarterback in the football team, the top basketball player in the school, the fastest runner. A good college had offered him a scholarship based on his athletic achievements, only to withdraw it following the rape of Loralee, even though the police had thrown out Loralee's claims, branding her as a whore.

Silently, she wondered how different her father's life would have been if his friends had not betrayed him that fateful graduation night? He would have taken that scholarship and left Cherry Falls far behind him. He might even have joined the FBI, or perhaps, used his freedom from his overbearing father to assess his own needs and act upon them.

However, if not for that fateful night then her father might never have married her mother, and they would not have had a child. Jody realized that her very existence had come about because of that night. Still, it must have been a terrible blow for her father to discover the truth behind that night.

Consumed by their own fears of being tainted by association with Brent -- when the rumors began to circulate that her father was 'queer' -- his so called friends had decided to force Brent to prove he was 'a man'. Her mother had tried to help them in that attempt, already so in love with Brent that she was willing to lose her virginity to him but Tom Sisler had got Brent too drunk, and had then spiked his drink with LSD too. The boy they brought to her house that night had been too far gone on alcohol and drugs to put one foot in front of the other, landing flat on his face on her father's lawn. That was why she knew he had not raped Loralee, for even if they carried him from the car and placed him naked on top of her, there was no way he would have been able to 'perform'.

The only good thing to come out of the Cherry Falls killings had been Martin Fitzgerald. For all her life, she had noticed the sadness lingering in her father's eyes when he thought she was not looking. His marriage to her mother was a sham that anyone could see through, and he spent longer and longer hours immersed in his work as the Sheriff of Cherry Falls, only leaving his duty for Jody's sake. Her mother had turned to alcohol as her escape from an unhappy life, and to the arms of strangers met in bars while she was too drunk to care less. Rarely had she been there for Jody, never taking her to or from school, never attending her school activities or watching her in the school drama.

Her father had done all those things. He had been the one to feed and bathe her as a child, tucking her into bed with stories, and often taking her to the station when they called him back to duty and he had no one to look after her in his absence. Rarely did he leave Jody with her mother until she was old enough to take care of her own needs. He did not trust his drunken wife to look after his daughter.

She recalled her father whispering to her once when he thought she was asleep, "you're the only good thing to come out of my life."

Much of that changed when he met Martin. Even though he was in tremendous pain from the ax wounds inflicted by Leonard Marliston, his step had been lighter. Whenever someone mentioned Martin's name, or whenever Martin appeared, her father's eyes would glow with pleasure. Knowing Martin returned that love was simply amazing; making her certain that it was meant to be.

Until today, contentment, happiness, and love had replaced the lingering sadness, and Jody hated its absence. She hugged her father tighter, wishing she knew the right words to take away his pain. Jack Malone came back into the room, looking a little glum and, moments later, Aunt Ginny came in loaded down with plates of pasta.

After the long flight and drive out towards Hasper, the meal was a welcome sight. Though he started out merely picking at it, she watched with relief as both her father and Jack accepted their need for a good meal, polishing off the entire plate.

Jack pushed his plate aside and gave a soft grin, aimed at Aunt Ginny. "Thank you. I didn't realize how much I need that."

"You always were a good cook, Ginny," added her father. He glanced up at the wall clock and sighed. It was past midnight and Jody could see the tiredness in his eyes, mingled with this fear for Martin. Ginny must have noticed too for she spoke up.

"Time to get some sleep. I'll share with Jody. First, let's get this couch set up for you, Jack. Jody? You start through the bathroom first."

Seeing the sense of this, Jody kissed her father on the cheek and hugged him once more. "Sleep tight, Daddy," she whispered, just as she had as a small child.

"You too, munchkin," he replied just a softly, making her eyes tear over at the old, familiar nickname.

She paused on the threshold to watch him set up the sofa bed then slipped out of the room, hoping he would have a good night's rest, yet knowing that might be impossible under the circumstances. Martin was still missing, and her father seemed lost without him.

****

Clarke County
06:45
24 hours missing

As a matter of course, Brent flicked on the television as he came into the front room, knowing Jack would not object as Brent had already heard him using the shower. He sank down on the second couch with a mug of hot, black coffee in his hands, and stared at the screen, looking up only to acknowledge Jack's reappearance.

The newscaster quickly went through the news cycle for the day, flashing pictures up on the screen behind him. The sight of Martin's face made him jerk reflexively, and he cursed as scalding coffee burned through the pajama bottoms he had worn only because he had visitors.

Jack reached over and grabbed the remote, cranking up the volume and sinking onto the couch next to Brent. They did not have to wait long before the newscaster reached his story.

"Meanwhile, the FBI is still no closer to finding missing agent, Martin Fitzgerald, the son of the FBI's Deputy Director Victor Fitzgerald. Martin Fitzgerald disappeared close to his home near Hasper yesterday morning under suspicious circumstances. Strong evidence points to someone running his car off the road, leaving police and FBI agents concerned for his physical well-being. Yesterday, his father spoke to reporters at the scene, making a personal plea to the kidnappers to let his son go, unharmed. As of now, that plea has not been answered."

The newscaster shuffled his papers and looked into a different camera.

"In a new twist to this missing person's case, a pornographic movie of Martin Fitzgerald with his lover, Brent Marken, the Sheriff of Clarke County, has found their way onto the internet. One website claiming to have extensive footage of the lovers committing homosexual acts, has reported thousands of hits from people interested in the continuing saga."

Brent was unaware of the hand that grabbed the coffee from him as a tiny clip from his painting session with Martin flashed on the screen behind the newscaster.

"That bastard," he whispered hoarsely. Friedman had said he still had the only full copy, handing it over to Brent yesterday but that must have been a lie judging by the clear images on the screen. Even as his eyes misted at the sight of his playful lover, Brent felt the anger surge up inside at seeing their private act of love flaunted for all to see.

"Where's the card he gave you?" asked Jack forcefully, reminding Brent of the memory card Friedman had flipped into his hand.

"Upstairs. I--I couldn't bring myself to look at it last night."

Jack grabbed Brent's shoulders, forcing him to look into his dark eyes. "Go and check it through now. Make certain it's the same images."

Brent stared at him for a few moments before realizing Jack had left this duty for his eyes only, not wishing to infringe on his and Martin's privacy even though he was heading up the investigation. With a quick nod, Brent headed up the stairs, his coffee forgotten. In the small room they had painted, and made love in, he switched on the computer and waited impatiently for it to boot up. Once up, he stuck the memory card in the reader attached to the computer and selected the first movie clip.

Tears filled his eyes as he watched images of Martin cavorting playfully with him, recognizing the scene from the news program. It was the same piece of film, and if someone else had a full copy then Friedman had been lying to them all along.

Memories of that beautiful day assailed him again and he swallowed the bitterness, along with the despair at seeing Martin so clearly. He knew this tiny film might be all he had left of his lover, and knowing that thousands of gawking strangers were sharing those precious memories with him filled him with even more grief.

Forcing aside the pain, he moved into the bathroom and showered quickly, pulling on a fresh uniform and Martin's Christmas gift to him. He checked his image in the mirror before leaving the bedroom, noting the dark circles beneath his eyes from a restless night. Jody and Ginny were downstairs waiting for him but he brushed off Ginny's offer of breakfast until Jack insisted otherwise.

"You can't rush out there like this. Sit down, eat some breakfast, and talk to me."

Brent felt a momentary urge to tell Jack to go to hell, but it was the voice of reason. For all Brent knew, there might be hoards of reporters waiting just outside his door, wanting to catch a glimpse of him. Going off half-cocked would only cause more problems later. He bowed to Jack's demand though he had little appetite remaining after this morning's news.

"I'm going to have another talk with Friedman."

"Under the circumstances, it would be wiser for you to let me do the interview."

"What website has the film?" Brent looked up. "I don't have a clue how to figure that sort of thing out. Martin was the..." he choked off a sob. "Martin was the expert there."

"I'll get Danny on it... if he hasn't already started the search."

"Damnit Jack! Why couldn't they leave us alone?"

Brent turned his face away as the tears escaped to trickle down his cheek. He rubbed at his eyes, hating anyone to see him this way, especially Jody. He had to be strong for her sake. She had lost so much already in her young life.

"Daddy?"

Brent squeezed his eyes tight but the tears refused to dry up, seeping through the lashes as all his fears for Martin breached his defenses. He felt her small arms wrap around him.

"It's all right, Daddy," she said softly, though her voice cracked with emotion. He turned in her arms and hugged her to him, burying his head in her small shoulder as the storm of grief raged within him. Eventually, the tears stopped and, slowly, he regained control of his shuddering breath, pulling back form her embrace.

"I'm sorry. I'm so--"

"It's okay, Daddy. It's okay. I miss him too," she replied gently.

Embarrassed by his outburst, Brent could not meet Jack's eyes but he felt the man's hand on his sleeve, forcing him to look up into eyes filled with compassion.

"Don't be ashamed of loving him. He's worth it."

Brent nodded, and drew in a deep, shaky breath, feeling strangely better for the release of all his pent up fear, anger, and grief. He felt in control once again, and returned Jack's reassuring smile.

"Let's eat, and then let's find out why Friedman lied to us."

****

Safe House in Hasper
25 hours missing

"You lied to us. You said you had only the one full copy, which you gave to Sheriff Marken last night. Yet, this morning, I see parts of it running on every news channel, with a report that the full version can be found on the internet."

 

Friedman blabbered a little, trying to find excuses but Jack reached forward and grabbed the man's shirt front.

"I want the truth. NOW!"

"Okay, okay... but if I told you what really happened then you wouldn't have protected me."

"Now!" Jack reiterated and Friedman shrank back in fear.

"It was Jorge's idea. He set up the auction, reeled in the bidders. The winning bidders had met with trouble from Job's Army before now so we set up a decoy meeting, figuring to draw them to the wrong place. Hainsley was part of the decoy while Jorge met with website owner across town. I gave him a CD, the only other copy of everything on that memory card. When those men showed up at the decoy site with me and Hainsley, and realized they'd been had, they went berserk."

"Why didn't they take the original from you?"

"Because he didn't have it with him," came a hard voice from behind. "I had it."

Jack looked at Mandy Summerfield, the girlfriend, and some of the pieces began to fit together. Friedman confirmed his suspicions soon after.

"They grabbed Hainsley, said they were going to teach him and his kind a lesson they wouldn't forget in a hurry. When they realized I didn't have the film on me, I told them I had a copy elsewhere. They figured I was some wimp and didn't hold me too tight but, you know, I've spent my life evading people's grasp so I can get that vital shot. Pushing past them was easy, and then I just ran and kept on running."

"Why didn't you go to the police?"

"And say what? Two men just threatened to hack me to pieces and dump me in the East River because I wouldn't give them film of the son of a high ranking FBI agent doing the nasty with another guy?"

"A man is dead... and Martin Fitzgerald is still missing."

"Fuck them. What about me?"

It took all of Jack's control not to step forward and punch the man in his filthy mouth.

"What about you?" He said too calmly. "You are going to accompany me back to FBI headquarters in New York, and then we are going to sit down and go through this again and again until I'm satisfied you've told me the everything."

Jack turned to the FBI agents watching over Friedman, seeing abhorrence reflected in their eyes for the piece of scum Jack had left them guarding. "Get him ready to go."

Within ten minutes, Friedman and his girlfriend were ready to leave. Jack let the other agents handle the security, following on behind. On the opposite side of the road, he could see Brent waiting in his sheriff's car, a grim expression marring the handsome face, and he was grateful he had asked Brent not to sit in on this interview. He doubted Brent would have shown any restraint when faced with Friedman's indifference to his lover's fate. And who could blame him? The man was a selfish bastard, thinking only of himself.

The dark maroon sedan came out of nowhere, speeding past the safe house with the passenger window lowered. A gun appeared; spitting bullets before Jack could even yell out a warning. He crashed into Mandy Summerfield, knocking her to the ground but could only look on in horror as Friedman performed a macabre dance within the hail of bullets, dead long before he hit the ground.

A squeal of tires showed Brent's car doing a fast u turn and racing after the speeding sedan, the light bar flashing as the siren began to whoop.

Jack barked out orders for the two agents who were only just regaining their feet having dived for cover. "Get an ambulance... and stay with the girlfriend."

Jack raced to his own car, jumping in behind the wheel to give chase, knowing he could be no help to Friedman here even if he was not already convinced the man was dead. He flicked on his radio to the police band, hearing Brent's call to all units in the vicinity to give chase. Jack raced after the flashing lights of Brent's car, knowing the killers' sedan could not be that far ahead of them. Oncoming cars veered sharply to the side of the road as the killers played a deadly game of chicken with them, cutting through the early morning traffic that was mainly in one direction, towards the turnpike and New York City.

Jack clenched his teeth as Brent's patrol car narrowly missed one stupid motorist who moved into his path rather than stay out of harm's way. The sound of more sirens filled the air and Jack glanced into his rear view mirror, seeing two more blue and whites with lights flashing coming up fast behind him. He slowed sufficiently to let them pass; knowing the state troopers and Clarke County police had greater experience of car chases than he had. Then he put his foot back on the gas, determined to keep up with them, knowing Friedman's killer might lead them to Martin.

Minutes past unnoticed as he concentrated on the three sets of flashing lights ahead of him, and on the ordinary cars that pulled aside to let them through. Some were too slow, and Jack cursed as the killers' sedan clipped the rear of one car, sending it spinning off the road into a shallow ditch. He glanced across as he passed by, overhearing the radio call from Brent informing the emergency services of possible casualties.

Ahead, Jack could see the exit onto the turnpike and he kept his foot down on the gas pedal as they merged into the traffic heading for the city. He kept his sights on the flashing red and blue lights, weaving between the lanes of cars heading east towards the Holland Tunnel. Another police car joined the chase, with its powerful engine quickly outstripping Jack's standard FBI pool car. The heavier traffic slowed down the chase; otherwise, Jack knew he would never be able to keep up. He listened as Brent's soft voice on the radio filled the empty air of Jack's car, reeling off codes that were meaningless even to Jack.

"Circle R."

The four police cruisers formed a semi circular wall behind the killer's car, herding him towards a roadblock but the driver of the maroon sedan realized the danger and veered sharply over three lanes onto the hard shoulder, kicking up gravel and dirt that peppered the cars behind him, causing many to brake hard. The cruisers blocking two of the lanes ahead sped apart, turning quickly to fall in behind the four cruisers already giving chase.

"C square," Brent called and Jack watched as one police cruiser raced ahead of the maroon car, slipping in front of it while another pulled in hard on its rear bumper. This was the second maneuver they had tried to slow down the speeding sedan. Another cruiser raced up the inside, boxing it in on the driver's side while Brent's car plugged the hole on the passenger side. It was precision driving by all concerned, visibly slowing the maroon sedan as they boxed him in on all sides.

Jack drew closer, his own single flashing light on the dashboard barely noticeable amid the red and blue disco lights of four police cruisers.

As the passenger's electric window began to wind down, Jack's heart froze in his chest. A hail of bullets tore into Brent's car even as he jerked away and Jack could only look on in horror as fragments of glass whipped through the air. The sheriff's car began to drift and the maroon car used the clear space to make his break for freedom but Jack had lost all focus on it, concentrating on Brent's car instead. He could hear calls from the other cruisers to Brent's code, and added his own but with no response. Brent's car continued to drift across the lanes. Though it was slowing gradually, Jack knew it would still leave the road at too high a speed, leaving him with visions of it rolling down the slight incline.

Jack saw a truck coming up behind and changed his frequency to the one displayed on the cab.

"Dairy Express," he reeled off the license plate. "This is Malone, FBI. I need your assistance."

He was relieved when the driver of the truck answered his call. "Rolling Tom on the Dairy Express. How can I assist, over?"

"Sheriff's car ahead is in trouble. I need you to buffer it on the passenger side."

"Ten four."

Jack watched as the truck slipped up beside Brent's stricken car, slowing to match its current speed and then moving in closer while Jack maneuvered in on the driver's side. Jack looked across, shocked by the broken window and bullet-ridden door. Brent had fallen sideways, held up only by the edge of the passenger seat and all Jack could see was the bright red of blood covering the side of his face and splattered across the console and lower windscreen.

They wedged in Brent's car between them while a police cruiser that had fallen back from the chase to answer Jack's call for assistance, pulled in front and began to decrease his speed until the bumpers touched. The lead police car slowed gradually to maintain control of Brent's car, bringing all of them to a stop. Jack pulled forward a few feet to clear the driver's door and jumped out of his car, racing back to Brent. He reached through the shattered window and pressed his fingers against Brent's blood slicked throat, almost slumping in relief at the thready pulse.

"He's alive."

The driver of the truck came running with a crowbar in hand and, between them, they pried open the damaged door. Jack realized that no bullets had passed through the thick metal skin of the cruiser's door. The only damage had come through the window at chest and head height. The blood had come from two sources, grazes across the left temple and the skin under his chin, and neither truly explained Brent's unconsciousness. Then Jack spotted the hole made in the uniform shirt from one bullet, dead center in the chest. Fearing the worst, he reached in and ripped aside the material, prepared to plug up the entrance wound and search for an exit wound, only to find the bullet embedded in Kevlar.

Jack gave a silent prayer of thanks, recalling Martin's extra Christmas gift to his lover and the promise he intended to extract from Brent to wear it when on duty -- always. It had come about after Martin witnessed the death of a traffic cop, shot at point blank range as he approached a vehicle stopped for a traffic violation. As Brent's job entailed similar risks, Martin had sought to reduce them, and had saved Brent's life today.

Still, the shock of a bullet slamming into him from just a few feet would be damaging even with the Kevlar. It could easily have stopped his heart permanently if it had struck just a little lower. Instead, the shock had probably knocked the wind out of him, and the additional head graze had done the rest, sending him into unconsciousness.

"Brent?" He heard a soft moan. "That's it. Stay with me now,"

Jack looked up as the wail of new sirens drew closer, recognizing paramedics. Overhead, he registered the sound of a helicopter, its side blazoned with the logo of one of the main news channels, and he wondered how long it had been there. Certainly, it was hovering over the car where Brent lay unconscious but Jack pushed it from his thoughts as he continued to talk to Brent.

He moved aside as the paramedics reached the car, leaving them space to work on the injured man, the car chase forgotten in the life and death drama of moments before. Reaching out, he patted the shoulder of 'Rolling Tom' in thanks, leaving him with the state trooper to organize payment for repairing the damage to his truck.

Martin! He thought, remembering why it was so important to catch the maroon sedan and the killers onboard. He raced back to his car and picked up the radio, asking for an update on the car chase.

****

From high above, the helicopter hovered over the seemingly tragic scene below, relaying the drama playing out below to a mesmerized audience. They had picked up news of a car chase on the police band, quickly zeroing in on the location as more information filtered through from reporters on the ground. The flashing lights of multiple police vehicles brought them to the chase and Griffin ordered the helicopter in lower.

Within moments, he identified the various cars giving chase, letting his camera operator circle the police cruiser driven by Sheriff Marken. He filled in the dead time by reviewing the missing person's case and the erotic footage that had found its way onto the internet only hours before. The four police cruisers began a new attack formation and he remarked on the latest maneuver, having seen it deployed successfully on several occasions in the past.

"Was that gun fire? Oh my word, Marken's car is HIT! Multiple gunshots fired from the passenger side have torn into Marken's car, and I can see no sign of Marken behind the wheel. NO! Stay with this," he yelled to his pilot, who had started to veer off to continue following the car chase. Griffin knew the other network's helicopter would share the live feed, just as they were currently sharing his footage. "The side window is completely shattered and the car is drifting off sideways, out of control. How could anyone have survived that?"

He made the pilot take the helicopter lower.

"I cannot see Marken behind the wheel. He's either unconscious... or dead... and the car is slowing but at the rate of drift across the lanes, it will still be doing some speed when it runs out of road. Wait... there's a truck pulling in along the inside, matching the pace of Marken's car. I'm going to try and reach the driver."

Griffin used a second radio and grinned as 'Rolling Tom' answered.

"Can you tell us what's happening down there?"

"No one's controlling that police car... but I'm too high up to get a good angle inside to say what's happening in there. The FBI and a state trooper are going to try and stop the car, using some kind of blocking maneuver."

"I can see it... this is incredible." He carried on describing the scene below as the four vehicles came very slowly to a complete stop and one non-uniformed man raced across to the driver's side.

****

Ginny watched the drama unfolding on their television screen in horror, focusing mostly on the right hand panel that depicted the scene involving her brother. Beside her, Jody was gripping her arm so tightly. Yet, Ginny barely felt it through the numbness of her shock. Her eyes strayed across to the other panel often, the one depicting the chase as the maroon car raced over the specialized road spikes used to shred the tires of a car. The maroon car carried on for another mile at an excruciatingly slow pace with sparks flashing up from where the metal rims scraped along the road.

The driver's door opened and a man leapt out, hands raised in the air as he raced towards the pursuit cars, only to fly forward as his passenger opened fire on him. Ginny knew this man never intended for the police to take either him or his driver alive. As he turned his gun on the pursuit vehicles, the police retaliated, opening fire in response.

It was over for them and her attention focused back solely on her brother's car and the paramedics who raced to the driver's door. An eternity seemed to pass before they took Brent out of the car and placed him on a gurney. Her hand went to her mouth at the sight of so much blood on his face, seeping into his pale blue shirt. Jody cried out beside her, and Ginny recalled that her niece had seen this terrible sight before though, this time, medical equipment rather than duct tape held him bound.

As he disappeared inside the ambulance, Ginny reached for the phone knowing exactly who to call as she continued to watch the images on the screen as the ambulance pulled away with siren blaring and lights flashing. She saw Jack Malone's figure fumble with his jacket.

"Malone."

"Jack... it's Ginny."

"He should be fine. Bullet creased the scalp and another, his throat. The Kevlar stopped a potentially fatal bullet to the chest but knocked the wind out of him."

Quickly, she relayed Jack's words to Jody, seeing the girl's eyes tear over in relief. She grabbed her handbag and pulled Jody towards the door, barely taking time to lock up before getting into the car with Jody and driving back towards the city. Ginny wanted to be at the hospital, and Jody needed to be there.

****

New Jersey Turnpike
26 Hours Missing

To Sam's eyes, Jack looked terrible with splatters of Brent's blood staining his suit and dress shirt, and it only made her want him more. Their affair had been short lived, with his fear of discovery by both his wife and the FBI tearing them apart before she could convince him that none of that should matter. She loved her work on the Missing Person's unit but she would have moved to Homicide just to keep her love affair going with Jack.

However, the fear of losing access to his kids had been the hardest obstacle to overcome, and Sam had failed there for, even though Jack no longer felt any love for his wife, those kids meant everything to him.

When Marie moved to Chicago, taking the kids and letting him know in uncertain terms that she did not want him to come along, Jack had been filled with disbelief. In one fell swoop, his wife had tricked him into giving up his job and allowed her to take his kids to another city, using her knowledge as an attorney to ensure he could never get custody of their two girls. In some ways, Marie had underestimated her husband, having never seen his ruthless streak as he fought to get his supervisor job back, ousting Vivian with only a little remorse. It had caused a rift on the team between him and Viv that lasted several months but Sam noticed how Danny and Martin accepted Jack back with seeming relief.

In truth, Vivian had caused her own downfall with those two when she did something to betray Martin's trust in her concerning the killing of a man they had taken into custody. Sam doubted that either would ever reveal the full truth, though she had a suspicion that Jack knew it all after seeing him have a heart to heart with Martin. Whatever had happened, Vivian, had put Martin in a bad position that, from the worried look on his face during those few weeks, could have seen him with more than just another official reprimand on his file.

In Sam's opinion, Danny did not know what had transpired between the two but he was not stupid, and he had a level of empathy that many overlooked. When he wanted to, he could read people with ease, and it had not been hard even for Sam to see the tension between first Martin and Vivian, and then between Jack and Vivian after Martin's private talk with Jack.

Then Brent Marken went missing at JFK after meeting his sister, starting a missing person's case that shocked all of them. They began to question the so-called truths spanning twenty-five years of Marken's life, debating the answers and finding new truths about themselves in the process.

Sam gave a small smile. Martin found Brent in more than just the physical sense. He found the person he had been seeking, unknowingly, all his life. She knew from the outset that Brent was someone Martin could love and cherish, until death they did part. Seeing that love returned in full measure had haunted not just Sam's days but her nights too, as she imagined what it would have been like to have been the one for Martin.

Her thoughts drifted onwards. The team sometimes went for a drink at the end of a case, especially after a successful one, or a bad one. In one particular dream, she had left the bar at the same time as Martin, only to invite him to her home. They had made love, waking up in each other's arms, only for the insistent trill of their cellphones to tear them apart as it called them back to duty.

Sam knew what the dream meant. It was a missed opportunity, one that could never be regained now that Martin had found Brent Marken. She thought of the other dreams that haunted her sleep; dreams of holding Jack in her arms, of kissing away the shadows of grief from his eyes whenever a case went bad and left them with a body, or nothing at all.

Sometimes it was hard for Sam to know what was worse... finding the person dead and having closure, or never finding them at all and having to live with the doubts. The pain doubled if a child was involved either as a victim or as the one left behind to face the world alone. Unconsciously, Sam rubbed the side of her face, recalling the terrible beating she had taken when she went undercover to break a 'mule' ring in the hopes of finding a little boy's missing mother. Martin had been there for her then. He had talked to her in the lonely nights and had placed a comforting hand upon her when the similarities between her past became too uncomfortable to bear.

Perhaps it had been easier accepting reassurance and compassion from him because she knew that there could be only friendship between them. The complications of sex would never rear its ugly head because Sam could no more see Martin betraying Brent than she could see the Pope turning to Buddhism. With Danny, she would have felt uneasy because his empathy would have overwhelmed her... and with Jack?

With Jack, she would have broken down because she still wanted him so much. Perhaps more than ever, now that he was free to love her back in return.

Jack glanced round at her, and she gave a tremulous smile before walking across to meet him. He was standing beside the patch of drying blood spilt by the man who had almost killed Brent Marken. The coroner had removed the body after allowing Jack to search through the man's pockets, looking for anything that would identify him. Without the ski mask that covered his face, the man had looked just like any other young person. Not a monster, just a kid barely out of his teens. The driver had been only a little older, maybe mid to late twenties. Now both of them were dead and neither she nor Jack had any idea why.

A Forensics agent who was going through the car called for their attention. He held up a paper, one of those small, independent tabloids that attracted a specific section of the community. Sam was not surprised to read the title: Job's Army.

"Wonder if these were two of Job's soldiers," said Jack wryly.

It made some sense as Friedman had indicated to Jack that they had threatened to kill him... and now Friedman was dead. Yet they had gone to a lot of trouble just for a little petty revenge, unless Friedman had left something important out of his story.

"I don't understand why they would kill for a copy of that movie of Martin and Brent anyway. If they wanted it so badly then they could have stolen a copy from the other website."

"Thou shalt not steal," murmured Tony McGraw as he came up beside them.

"Isn't not killing one of the Ten Commandments too?" Sam asked, finding it hard that they would break one Commandment but not another.

"That one came with an 'unless' clause attached," he replied. "We just ran a scan through the known felon database and came up with a name and a list of known associates for the driver." He paused, looking deadly serious at Jack. "I think it's time we went to see Tommy Sandler."

Jack nodded. "I need to get cleaned up first," he replied, glancing down at his rumpled and stained suit.

"We can stop off at your place on the way... You do still live in that apartment--"

"Yeah."

Sam knew how close Jack had come to even losing his home after his wife tricked him. Fortunately, no one had put down a deposit to buy the place so Jack had managed to retain it... until the divorce case, at least. Still, Sam realized the place probably had too many memories for Jack, filled with the laughter of his kids and the happy times before everything went sour between him and his wife.

"I'll go back to the office and see if Danny and I can link any of those associates to the dark cars seen close by when Martin disappeared."

Jack nodded with a strange look in his eye, as if he had some additional information that he was not willing to share at that moment. Although it was more likely that McGraw's presence stopped him from speaking, Sam felt a moment of despondency as she wondered whether he was merely keeping the information from her.

As if registering her thoughts, he spoke up as she started to turn away. "Check in with Danny over his findings first."

"Okay," she said with a reassured smile.

****

Union Hospital
27 Hours Missing

Brent groaned as he tried to open his eyes only to have the bright lights of the room stab into him. He heard movement beside his bed and he called out tentatively, "Martin?"

"No, Dad. It's Jody. Martin's still missing."

Brent moaned softly. "I was hoping... What happened to me?"

"You were shot during the car chase."

Brent had to think on that for a moment. Then he recalled the two masked men who had driven by and shot Friedman before speeding off. He had given chase, trying several maneuvers to get them to stop, eventually trying the C Square even though he knew it might be risky knowing they were armed and dangerous. When the passenger window began to roll down, Brent knew he was in trouble, and he jerked his car away as the masked passenger sprayed the car with bullets.

His mind provided images of glass shattering, flying into his face even as he raised an arm to protect himself from the worse... and then came a blow to the chest that made his heart skip a beat, followed immediately by a searing burn across his throat and temple.

Darkness followed and he wondered how he had managed to survive the crash that should have followed when he lost consciousness and, hence, control of his car. He tried to move but the joint pain from his head and chest made him gasp and fall back to the pillow.

"Did they get those men?" he asked as soon as regained his breath.

Jody shook her head.

"They got away?"

"No... They're both dead."

Brent looked at her in dismay, knowing they might have been able to lead Brent to Martin. With each passing hour, his fear of never seeing his lover again grew exponentially, and now he could not even rise from this bed to help in the search. Frustration, anger, and despair pulled at him as he recalled his last sight of Martin, grinning contently as Martin gave him that special smile just before he left the bedroom.

He bit back on the angry words forming in his head, not wanting to lash out in anger at his precious daughter. She did not deserve it for he knew she would be hurting just as much as he was. Instead, he closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on reducing the pain in his head and chest in the hope that he would be able to make another attempt to get on his feet once the pain decreased.

Instead, he fell back asleep, landing in a misty world where Martin called to him from help... but Brent had no idea where to look.

****

Ginny came back into the private hospital room, armed with sandwiches and Styrofoam cups of coffee. Her eyes went straight to the bed as she saw the tiny smile on Jody's face, seeing Brent's slightly more relaxed features rather than the worrying slackness that had been there earlier. Livid bruising stood out against the pale flesh, sneaking out from around the pristine white gauze that covered the bullet graze at throat and temple. Otherwise, he looked fine now that the nurse had washed away all the blood from his face, with the years dropping away from his features leaving him looking more like the boy she remembered from their youth.

She turned back to Jody, who preempted her question.

"He woke up for a minute..." Jody's dark eyes flicked towards the door as she saw movement, and Ginny expected it to be a nurse but was shocked when she saw it was someone completely unexpected -- Martin's father. Her smile faded as Jody continued while looking directly at Victor Fitzgerald, "...and he asked for Martin."

Fitzgerald nodded slightly in greeting, looking a little uncomfortable as he approached the bed. He gazed down at the man Ginny still thought of as her baby brother, as if looking at him clearly for the first time. Protective instincts rose inside her from knowing Fitzgerald and his wife had caused Brent a lot of pain through seeing Martin hurt by their lack of support for his choice of life partner.

A large part of her could understand their confusion, perhaps even their resentment towards Brent. She had been just as guilty as they had, by growing up with the hidden knowledge of her brother's homosexuality and not attempting to help him find that right path. Instead, she had wanted to see him live a 'normal' life. She had wanted to see him happily married to Marge and living in a house filled with the laughter of kids, only to hate herself when she saw how truly unhappy he was.

Martin Fitzgerald had been more than just Brent's second chance. He had been her second chance too; a chance for her to give Brent the support she had denied him when he needed it over a quarter of a century ago. The sight of his contented smile, his joy, and his laughter was her reward. It was a reward she cherished as she filled her apartment with photos of the happy family that now consisted of her brother, Martin, Jody, and her.

"I spoke with his doctor... told him I was family. He says...Sher.... Brent will be all right, and can probably go home tomorrow." Fitzgerald looked faintly embarrassed as he used her brother's first name rather than his rank; it made her smile softly, knowing it was the first step to Fitzgerald actually acknowledging Brent as more than just his son's 'friend'.

"Can I sit for a while?" he asked and Ginny gave the slightest nod towards Jody to say she was happy with him staying, gaining a soft smile in response.

"Sure. You take coffee?" asked Ginny, and handed him her Styrofoam cup as a welcoming gesture.

****

Missing person's Unit
New York City
Half an hour earlier

Danny looked up as Sam approached, using her as an excuse to move away from Danzig, who was still cross-referencing all the information gleaned from the security tapes at the three main airports. Danzig had focused on Newark, as it was the closest airport to where Martin was last seen, but it looked like a dead end, with any possible matches proving negative on a closer look. If someone had taken Martin out that way then he or she had concealed him well, probably within a container.

It seemed unlikely though, and Danny had a suspicion that Martin was still close by.

Whenever something had Danzig's complete attention, Danny continued with his covert task of gathering information on Danzig's movements over the days preceding Martin's disappearance. Agent Harris, Danzig's supervisor, had verified that Danzig had been involved in a case where a chase had ensued but that still left plenty of gaps in Danzig's movements between six and nine o'clock yesterday morning.

"Coffee?" he asked, eyes darting towards the corridor leading to the coffee making facilities. Sam took the hint and nodded, following on behind after snatching her coffee mug from her desk. Once they were out of earshot, Danny explained the situation to Sam.

"I know there was some animosity between him and Martin over the Cherry Falls case, but isn't this a little extreme?"

"Got to check out every lead, no matter how small. You know as well as I do that a case could hang on the finest thread."

Sam murmured her agreement, though Danny could see she was unhappy at the thought of investigating another agent. He had not liked it either but he would do anything, within reason, to find Martin, and this fell into that category.

When they returned to their desks, Danzig was waiting for them with a grim face.

"Problem."

"Yeah. Just got a call from McGraw. Someone's reported finding a body floating in the Hudson... male, Caucasian, mid to late thirties with dark hair."

Danny felt the color drain form his face as the most obvious person came to mind. "Give me the details." He took the crime scene address from Danzig. "Let's go," he said to Sam.

Danzig began to object but Danny had already grabbed his jacket and was moving fast, with Sam on his heels. If this was Martin then he needed to be there for his sake as well as Brent's sake. If it was not, then he needed to be there just to make sure, so he could allay any fears from Brent and from the other members of the Missing Person's Unit.

Sam grabbed a pool car and they set off immediately, with the siren wailing and the small dashboard light flashing. She drove in silence through the heavily congested streets, while Danny verified the details via his cellphone. Throughout the rest of the drive, he waited in fear of the call that would confirm it as Martin's corpse. Eventually, they reached the scene and Danny was out of the car before it had fully pulled to a halt, needing to get to the covered body and see for himself.

The coroner intercepted him, quickly outlining the cause of death as similar to suffered by Scott Hainsley; most likely, this man had been stoned to death. The news filled Danny with even more fear. He knelt down beside the body bag, having already assessed that it fitted over someone matching Martin's physical height and build, and he pulled down the zipper.

'Thank you, thank you', he prayed silently, even as he grieved for the battered man who bore no further resemblance to Martin beyond the basic description given. Then he realized that the face looked familiar, even though it was battered and swollen from being in the river for at least a day.

Danny pulled out the picture he held in his inside pocket and compared it the dead man. It was Jorge Masters.

The attending agent knelt down beside Danny. "We found this in his pocket."

Danny accepted the soggy piece of paper and opened it carefully. The ink had run in several places leaving much of to unreadable but Danny did not have to worry about most of those letters to understand what this was.

w war orb z.c

It spelled out the internet address of a website, the one they had been searching for in vain even after the Media found all the details pertaining to the movie of Martin and Brent. Agents had traced the website address sent by the Media to Germany, only to discover that the owners had merely stolen a copy from some place else. However, this had to be the real thing, and all Danny had to do was try out a few searches using the remaining letters as a guide.

He reached for his cellphone and called the Computer Forensics team, giving the details and ordering them to start the search. By the time he and Sam were halfway back to the FBI Headquarters, he had his answer.

www. warriorboyz.com

In addition, he had the name and address of the owner, and he lived barely ten minutes drive away. Danny speed dialed Jack.

"Malcolm Jessops," he stated, giving over an address close to the waterfront where the Circle Line harbor tours set off.

"Get a warrant, and order a SWAT team for back up. I'll meet you there."

Danny made a fresh call to the Judge on duty, explaining why he needed the warrant and answering all of the Judge's questions on the legality of the request. Danny grinned as he disconnected the call, knowing the Judge had agreed and would be sending a court official with the papers to give to Danny at the address cited.

Sam pulled up around the corner from the main address and together, they went to the trunk to retrieve Kevlar vests and FBI jackets, pulling them on quickly as they waited for Jack and for the warrant. Jack came up behind them and he accepted the warrant from the court official, who arrived moments later. With Sam and Danny flanking him, he approached the residence of Malcolm Jessops and rang the doorbell, standing to one side as he waited for an answer. Behind the door, Danny could hear the scuffle of running feet.

Jack called through the door. "FBI. Open the door."

He jerked back as two gunshots were heard, tearing through the wooden door. Jack nodded and SWAT agents waiting close by moved in, making short work of the door and charging in with Danny following, gun at the ready.

"Clear," came first one call then another as the SWAT team moved from room to room, gradually moving deeper into the surprisingly large building. Another gunshot came from deeper inside the building but Danny saw a cellar door just ahead and indicated that he wanted to take this one, having a strong feeling about it. Jack nodded and continued down the corridor with Sam and three other members of the SWAT team, leaving one man with Danny.

Danny twisted the door knob, determining that it was unlocked. Then he yanked it open, laying back against the solid brick wall, signing to Penderson, the SWAT officer, his intention before ducking inside and hugging the wall leading down into the semi darkened room.

Frantic movement below attracted his attention and he continued to move stealthily and slowly, with Penderson right behind him. At this point in time, he did not know whether the movement indicated friend or foe, and he was not prepared to take any chances. At the bottom of the stairs, he found decent cover but waited until Penderson had found cover before he yelled out.

"FBI. Put down your weapons."

Danny heard no sound of guns or anything else dropping to the wooden floor, only the continued frantic movements from the deeper shadows in the far corner of the damp room. He waited a moment longer but heard no new sounds. Taking a gamble, Danny flicked on his flashlight and panned the area, knowing Penderson would remain silent and wait in the shadows just in case anyone else was hiding down here. The room was empty except for that far corner, and his eyes widened in shocked relief as he aimed the flashlight in that direction.

Danny had found Martin -- alive.

****

When Martin heard the splintering of wood and gunshots high above, he knew a moment of fear, unsure who had found this place. Was it his people... or Job's Army? He froze as the cellar door was shoved open, his mouth going drier behind the duct tape sealing his lips as he waited, eyes fixed on the slightly brighter rectangle of light at the top of the stairs. Martin recognized Danny's silhouette immediately and made as much noise as he could, though the duct tape that silenced his cries and secured his arms and legs to the bed frame beneath him hampered him.

Although he understood why Danny did not respond to his frantic movement, for Danny was not to know that the room was empty save for him, tears glistened in Martin's eyes as he heard the familiar voice calling out. He was safe at last. The light beam struck his face and he squeezed his eyes tight against the glare, unused to bright light after spending the last day or more in this poorly lit cellar.

Suddenly, Danny was beside him and Martin squinted through a film of tears at the familiar face.

"Hey buddy, you've had a lot of people worried about you," Danny choked out as he began to scrape at one corner of the duct tape sealing Martin's mouth.

Martin winced as the tape pulled at his skin then took in his first real deep breath since this whole ordeal began.

"Penderson, see if you can find another light switch," Danny asked, looking back over his shoulder.

Another series of muffled gunshots made Martin freeze; all three men glanced up the stairs. Then all fell silent within the house and Danny's radio crackled into life with the sound of Jack's voice.

"Danny, we have one dead... and two suspects in custody. Give me your status and position."

"I'm still in the cellar with Penderson... and I've found Martin," he added triumphantly.

"I'm on my way!"

Martin watched as Penderson reached the top of the stairs. Suddenly, light flooded the room, making Martin's eyes water all over again. He could hear the pounding of feet on the wooden stairs but could see only blurred shapes until Jack's face swam above him.

"Jack," he croaked, grinning uncontrollably at the joy he saw in Jack's dark eyes.

****

Upon hearing Danny's excited voice, Jack raced back through the house with Sam in tow. The cellar door remained ajar and Jack pounded down the stairs, drawing up short in shock as Danny moved, giving Jack his first clear sight of Martin. Dried blood coated one side of Martin's face, matting the sweat soaked, mid brown hair. His skin of his lower face looked red and sore beneath the five o'clock shadow, and Jack guessed why from the duct tape still held in Danny's hand.

Jack could see they had stripped Martin down to his underwear, with his ankles and wrists duct taped to the rusty frame of an old bed, before they covered him with a thin, threadbare blanket. The stained mattress stank of stale urine from where his abductors had simply left Martin to lay in his own mess.

Jack doubted if anyone had come to check up on him from the moment they secured him to the bed, except maybe to verify that he was still there. Reaching out, Jack placed his hand on Martin's bare shoulder, feeling the coldness of his goose bumped skin for, even though it was warm outside, none of that heat had penetrated into this cold and damp cellar. He looked down into the tear-filled eyes.

"Jack," came a hoarse dry and Jack could not help but grin back from knowing Martin was safe at last.

Accepting a knife from Penderson, Jack sliced through the duct tape securing Martin's right wrist and ankle, handing it over to Danny to free the remaining limbs. He restrained Martin as he tried to rise.

"Where's Brent?" Martin asked pleadingly.

"He's all right." Jack could hear Sam on her radio, calling in the paramedics. "We're going to take you to him."

For the second time that day, Jack stood aside as the paramedics moved in and began to work on Martin, looking for any injuries that he and Danny might have missed. Noting his dehydration and the glassy look in his eyes, one started an IV of saline. As a matter of course, they placed Martin in a neck brace before lifting him onto the stretcher, handing the bottle of saline to Jack to hold up high as they carried Martin up the cellar stairs with the assistance of Danny and Penderson.

"I'll go with him," said Danny as they lifted Martin into the back of the ambulance. Jack had already gained permission for the ambulance to transfer Martin to Union Hospital, even though it would be a longer ride. He knew the best healing for both Martin and Brent would be to see each other again.

Jack nodded his agreement, knowing he had to stay at the scene to coordinate the clean up and see to the transportation of the prisoners and the dead man. He gave a perfunctory wave to Danny as the back doors closed, and watched as the ambulance pulled away before turning back to his duty. Only then did he notice Sam almost at his shoulder. He offered her smile that went beyond the platonic one he had used since he brought their relationship came to a halt.

Although he had registered this same life's lesson repeatedly in his job, this past day had shown to him how important every day was. Perhaps it was seeing the devastation on someone he had grown close to that had shaken him out of the indifferent air that had surrounded him since his wife left, taking their two kids with her. However, he now realized that everyone deserved a little happiness in their lives, however short lived, including him... and Sam.

He let the smile linger, knowing she still cared for him, perhaps even loved him, and he knew he returned those feelings even though he had tried to deny it. Her eyes widened as she read his expression. Then she smiled brightly, and Jack knew everything between them would be good again.

****

Martin closed his eyes as the ambulance threaded its way through the morning traffic to the hospital, too relieved at being found to feel embarrassment at his state of undress or at the smell from his body that lingered in the enclosed space. No one else seemed to care either as they fussed over him, not even Danny for all his neatness. Instead, Danny spent the entire journey with a broad grin, looking like the proverbial Cheshire Cat as he left his hand lying on Martin's arm in reassurance.

With his voice too hoarse from lack of moisture, Martin was content to leave Danny doing all the talking, though he was only half listening as Danny outlined the investigation. He perked up when Danny mentioned Brent's name, spurring the memory of how that day had begun...

****

One Day Earlier
Clarke County

"What about breakfast?" Brent teased, and Martin turned on the threshold, his mouth going dry at the sight of his lover standing naked beside the bed. The lean frame was perfectly sculpted, with strong pectorals spattered with curls of blond hair that grew more abundant as Martin's eyes trailed down the muscular stomach to the thatch of dark golden hair at his groin. Brent's erection stood proud from its bed of crisp curls and Martin wanted desperately to drop to his knees and taste the salty droplet shining at its tip.

Inside, his belly did a flip-flop as all the blood drained south to his groin at just the imagined taste of that bittersweet nectar. Martin heard his own swallow, almost giving in to the desire to say 'to hell' with work today, just so he could rip off all the clothes he had just put on and ravish his teasing lover.

A large part of him wished it could be that simple as he recalled the pleasure of the night before, lying face to groin as they encouraged each other with lips and tongue...

When Brent took Martin's hard shaft into his hot mouth, and began to moan, the vibration rippled all through Martin, from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. His fingers tightened on Brent's firm, pale ass, stroking along the cleft to press against the hidden entrance as Martin engulfed as much as he could of Brent's hard flesh. Sucking and slurping noises joined the moans of pleasure to fill the silence of the bedroom, with occasional gasps as Martin stroked deeper into his lover's body, finding that special spot.

He felt Brent's muscles clench, his ass clamping down on his finger, his legs stiffening as a muffled cry fell from his busy mouth. A rush of hot semen filled Martin's mouth, spilling over to trickle down his chin as Martin swallowed the bittersweet juices, hands digging into the pale ass cheeks, as he demanded every last drop. His own climax came soon after, exploding from him like a supernova, shooting into the hot mouth as Brent suck harder, with his teeth grazing the sensitive tip over and over.

This second bout of lovemaking left his limbs feeling like jelly and he could barely move at first, not until the need to look into his lover's desire sated eyes overcame his inertia. He crawled up the bed, planting soft kisses on belly and chest until he could bestow a sloppy kiss on the pleasure-swollen lips.

As his thoughts returned to the present, Martin could not help but smile in love and contentment, before feeling the mischievous urge to tease his lover in return.

"I'll grab something at work," he replied, waggling his eyebrows not once but twice, suggestively.

"You better not," grinned Brent in a light and teasing tone.

Unable to stay any longer for fear that he would not be able to leave Brent at all if he did not move now, Martin slipped away, whistling as he closed the front door behind him and climbed into his car. His good humor and happiness did not last more than ten minutes, broken by the quick wail of a siren and the flash of red and blue lights.

"Damnit," he thought as he pulled to the curbside, knowing he had done nothing to warrant being pulled over. Martin knew long before the uniformed officer climbed out of the police car that it was Burke. This would be the second time this month that Burke had pulled him over for no reason, and twice more the month before. It occurred to Martin that these incidents with Burke followed a pattern, occurring when the disgruntled, wannabe sheriff had been put on the early shift.

Another car passed and Martin caught a fleeting glimpse of a man who looked relieved that it was Martin rather than he whom the cop had pulled over.

As Burke approached, Martin rolled down the window, having already decided just to let the man have his power trip so Martin could get back under way faster. However, last time, Burke had ordered him out of the car to perform some sobriety tests before making him take a breathalyzer. Of course, it came back negative for alcohol, so Burke was forced to let him go on his way. Silently, Martin hoped he would not be subjected to the same thing again as he was already running late.

"What can I do for you, officer?"

"Pay me back some of what you and that queer Sheriff took from me," stated Burke with menace.

Martin did not turn away fast enough as Burke jabbed his nightstick through the open window with great force to smash against the side of Martin's head. Dazed by the blow, he did not resist as Burke opened the car door and dragged him out, his leg or arm knocking the car out of gear. He barely noticed the two dark cars pulling up alongside until Burke thrust him towards one.

Realizing what was happening, Martin slammed against Burke, knocking the man to the ground. He ran blindly along the road, unaware that his car was following, slowly picking up speed as it began to roll down the slight incline in the road. By the time he sensed the danger, the car was too close, forcing him to jump sideways. He lost his footing, and staggered ungainly before the ground disappeared beneath his feet and he was falling into the ditch.

Martin heard the crunch of metal on metal, looking on in surprise as his car careened over the edge into the ditch twenty feet ahead of him. He patted his jacket pocket for his cellphone, cursing when he realized he had put it on to charge as soon as he got into his car earlier. One of the dark Sedans pulled up alongside the ditch and two men with their faces hidden behind masks, clambered out but Martin had no idea what happened to the other car. All he knew was that he had to get to his phone.

Staggering forward, he almost reached the car before Burke's accomplices grabbed him. One cuffed him hard against his already bleeding head wound, stunning him insensible and making it easy for them to drag him up the other side of the ditch into the field beyond. With his world spinning and lurching, Martin could not even fight back as they half-dragged and half carried him across the corner of the field to where he could see the other black car waiting.

Someone dragged his arm out of his jacket and Martin felt the painful jab of a needle piercing his flesh... and then nothing more until he awoke in the barely lit cellar.

****

Present Time
Heading to Union Hospital

"Burke," Martin whispered hoarsely, and Danny leaned in closer to catch Martin's words, his grin fading.

"Did you say Burke... as in Officer Burke?"

Martin nodded. "Pulled me over... a ruse. He was working with them."

Danny's mouth formed a tight line. "Don't you worry. I'll ask the driver to relay that information to Jack. Just hang in there, Fitz."

Danny moved towards the front cabin and leaned in. Though Martin could not hear the exchange, he knew the driver would do as Danny asked, so he relaxed back against the pillow, only meaning to close his eyes for a second.

****

Private Room
Union Hospital

Victor Fitzgerald sipped slowly at the cup of coffee as he watched the rise and fall of Brent Marken's chest.

Having never held an attraction for someone of the same gender, he could not understand what Martin saw in Brent. Admittedly, Brent was good looking, handsome even, without an ounce of spare fat on the lean, well-built frame. He was intelligent too, having risen to the post of Sheriff by his merits rather than through political means or family ties.

Martin loved this man, of that Victor had little doubt, but did Brent love his son in return?

He could no longer debate the answer to that question. Every look and gesture from Brent screamed it to Fitzgerald, and had done so long before the events of this last twenty-seven hours, except he had not been willing to listen to the answer before today. Instead, he had pushed his son away, not wanting to deal with the repercussions of having a son who was gay.

The Media had taken every opportunity to publicize that fact, stalking the pair so it could show images of his son in compromising positions with Brent. Kissing, hugging, holding hands as they walked in the woods together. Now there was this movie depicting the two having sex.

'No,' he thought savagely. 'Not just sex. They had made love.'

He had seen the movie. Stailing had forced him to watch it as he tried, yet again, to persuade Victor to remove Martin from the FBI rather than bring it into more disrepute. He thought he would be abhorred by what he saw, even though he had spent many years in the FBI viewing far more distasteful things than two men pleasuring each other. The difference was, this time it was his son. Yet, as he watched, he realized that the love his son felt for Brent, and the love Brent felt for Martin in return, was all there in the short movie. The tender touches, the soft caresses and kisses... the joy as Brent offered his body to Martin, exalting in his possession. Afterwards, they had lain together for such a long time, curled up in deep contentment... and love.

Only a blind man or a bigot would not have recognized the love flowing between the two, and Victor's eyes had -- finally -- been opened.

A flurry of movement interrupted his thoughts and he looked up as an agent entered the room. The agent hurried over and whispered into Victor's ear.

"They found your son. He's alive, and on his way here right now."

Victor looked up in shock, too overcome with joy to stutter even a response at first. Eventually, he looked across the room to where Martin's sister, Ginny, and daughter, Jody, were gazing at him in concern.

"It's Martin. They found him... alive."

"Oh, thank God!" exclaimed Ginny and hugged her young niece tightly, overjoyed by the news.

****

FBI Headquarters
New York City

Jack slammed his fist down on the tabletop in frustration as Malcolm Jessops refused to answer his questions, keeping his lips tightly sealed. Beside Jack, Tony McGraw remained silent too, listening intently but, otherwise, leaving Jack to handle the interview alone. They were both experienced agents and knew certain techniques worked on different people. Both Jack and McGraw had already figured out that the 'good cop, bad cop' routine would not gain them anything with Jessops.

"I'm offering you a chance to cut a deal. We already have you for kidnapping a federal officer. That alone will see you doing hard time. I won't even mention resisting arrest, attempted murder of federal officers. You'll be lucky to breathe free air again in your lifetime... unless you talk to me now."

Jack saw a crack show in the man's mental armor but he showed no sign of triumph, deliberately avoiding McGraw's eyes in case Jessops read something into it that made him clam up tighter. A knock on the interview room door had Jack spinning around angrily, knowing this distraction may have blown his chances of getting a full story out of Jessops, and perhaps the identity of the killers. He saw Sam looking in through the partially drawn shutters and he stalked out, drawing the door closed behind him. He glanced back over his shoulder and through the partially drawn shutters to check on Jessops. McGraw's back was to the door but Jack could tell from the expression on Jessops' face that no words passed between them.

Jack had always respected McGraw this unassuming attitude, knowing McGraw was a man who put the job before any personal considerations. Jack had met plenty of agents who were little more than glory seekers, looking for a chance to get their names noticed so they could race up the promotion ladder or be handed the more prestigious assignments. McGraw was nothing like them and he had never been that way, earning the respect of the majority of agents working for him for his diligence and self-effacing manner. That he had managed to aspire to the rank of Assistant Director was nothing short of miraculous when so many others had played the political card to get ahead.

Yet, Jack knew McGraw's silence would keep Jessops on edge only for so long. He had to get back in there before all the momentum was lost.

"This had better be good," he ground out, and felt guilty almost immediately as none of his team would ever interrupt an interview with a suspect unless they truly believed it was important.

"It is. Burke was lying. He pulled Martin over just as he said, except he did not intend to let him go afterwards. Someone paid him a lot of money to set up the abduction. We have bank details that show a large deposit made into his account two days prior to Martin's abduction, followed by another deposit yesterday morning."

"Bring him in."

"We're trying, but his wife has no idea where he's gone. He never came home after you and Brent questioned him last night."

"Check the airports and bus companies. I want him found."

Sam nodded and walked away swiftly, heading back to her desk to make all the necessary calls. In the meantime, Jack took a deep breath before re entering the interview room, where Jessops waited in total silence. He gave Jessops a menacing, knowing smile.

"This interview's over," said Jack. Then he leaned on the table, looking directly at Jessops. "Unlike you, Officer Burke seems to have a lot he wants to say to us."

Jack knew he had Jessops by the way his nostrils flared, and by the way his eyes widened and darted around the small room in guilty fear. Playing his last card, Jack turned and headed for the door.

"Okay! Okay!" Jessops had moved to his feet but he sank back down again when Jack turned back to face him. Jessops licked dry lips and reached for the glass of water he had requested earlier. He sipped at it slowly, as if gathering his thoughts.

"The footage of the two was no good without some publicity. They may be minor celebrities already but that alone wasn't going to be enough. We paid fifteen thousand for that movie. We needed to get them back into the national news cycle so people would go searching on their names, looking for more information." Jessops grinned slyly. "Basically, people are ghouls. Straight or gay, we knew they'd be intrigued enough to pay for the 'check us out' three day registration to access the site, and the movie. Only five dollars to them... but you factor in twenty six thousand people registering on the site after news of the abduction hit the main news..." He let the words slide, raising both eyebrows.

Jack did the math quickly, realizing how much that single movie had netted for its new owner already. The dramatic rescue earlier today would have given the case even more coverage, bringing in more curious clients... and hence, even more money. What Jack could not understand was why they had treated Martin so badly, unless they never intended to let him go.

That thought made him shudder internally as he imagined the way this missing person's case could have ended like so many others before it. Perhaps they would have found Martin's dead body floating in the river, or maybe they would never have found him at all, with the case going cold.

"I want the names and details of everyone involved in this."

Jessops lowered his head and Jack had a feeling he might have decided to clam up again but then he began to relate his participation in the abduction, giving Jack everything he needed.

****

One Day Earlier
Clarke County

Jessops watched as Burke pulled over the blue Mondeo before pulling on his dark ski mask. He ordered his drivers, Gary Marlow and Simon Radcliffe, to get the cars moving as soon as Burke began to drag a semi-conscious Martin Fitzgerald from the Mondeo. They pulled up alongside, with Jorge Masters preparing to jump out and assist Burke, only to see Fitzgerald slam against Burke. Fitzgerald took off down the road, staggering blindly leaving Burke sprawled on the ground.

"The car!" Masters yelled back through his open window, and Jessops looked across in anger as he saw the Mondeo rolling forward, gradually picking up speed. Masters made a lunge for the Mondeo but only succeeded in making the situation worse as the driver's door slammed shut.

"Stop that damned car!" yelled Jessops, his eyes flitting between the staggering figure of Fitzgerald and the car that was coming dangerous close to the seemingly oblivious man.

Radcliffe went after it, and Jessops cursed as Radcliffe's car rammed the side of the Mondeo, forcing it off the road, though he had to admit that it was the only option open to them at this point. Another early commuter could come by at any time and he or she was bound to notice the suspicious activity. Fortunately, Fitzgerald had sensed the danger in time, and he had leapt into the ditch for safety. All Jessops' men had to do now was retrieve him, and then try to hide the Mondeo as best they could under the circumstances. With enough leafy branches strewn over the top, it could be hours before anyone spotted it.

Movement caught his eye and he snarled as he watched Burke's patrol car do a u-turn and drive off. However, the corrupt cop had done what Jessops had paid him to do. Instead, he ordered Marlow to drive up the small dirt track lying alongside the field, and sent Marlow across the corner of the field to help Masters and Radcliffe with Fitzgerald.

Not wanting to take any more chances with Fitzgerald, Jessops pulled out a syringe and ordered his men to take off Fitzgerald's jacket. He stuck the needle in none too gently, quickly depressing the plunger to shoot the sedative into Fitzgerald's bloodstream. The injured man sagged against the men holding him, making it easy for them to quickly tape his mouth and shove him into the trunk. He ordered Masters and Radcliffe to go back and try to conceal the Mondeo while he and Marlow got back into his car and drove off with their prize safely sedated in the trunk.

Arriving back in the city, Jessops was surprised when Masters arrived at the house only moments after him.

"We spotted a tractor entering at the top of the field, and had to get out of there before he saw us."

Masters and Radcliffe assisted Marlow in carrying the unconscious man down into the cellar and over to the far corner where a rusty, old bed stood abandoned. Jessops chuckled softly at the great idea he had thought of only that morning. He knew that the longer he kept Fitzgerald and Marken in the news cycle, the greater the profit. Once the interest in the abduction had begun to fade, Jessops had the idea of releasing new footage of Fitzgerald, bound and gagged, to create another Media frenzy. Image was everything, and a clean-shaven, well-fed prisoner would garner only so much interest compared to one who looked as if he was being mentally and physically abused.

"Strip him down to his underwear."

Jessops watched in open appreciation as Fitzgerald's body was revealed to him, quickly realizing how the images on the movie did not do justice to the full beauty of this man, especially with the signs of recent passion marking his flesh. Jessops could not help feasting his eyes on the clean lines and strong limbs. The curve of muscle on biceps, stomach, and thighs proved Fitzgerald worked out regularly, keeping his body fit and healthy.

"Get the video camera," he ordered, knowing he could not pass up this opportunity to take close up footage of Fitzgerald, knowing it might be worth a small fortune later.

By the time Marlow came back with the camera, Masters and Radcliffe had strapped Fitzgerald down on the lumpy, stained mattress. The silver duct tape shimmered in the lower lighting as Jessops panned the camera along the well-muscled, smooth, and good-looking man, stopping for a close up on Fitzgerald's face. He let the camera make love to the youthful body, lingering over the duct tape with the knowledge that this would fire up those clients who were interested in a little bondage.

"Don't get too greedy," came a whisper from behind, and Jessops turned his head to glare at Masters.

However, Masters was right. He could not afford to play this game for long as, eventually, something could go wrong, and the FBI would find them. If that happened, then all the money in the world would be useless to him when he found himself on the wrong side of prison bars.

No... He would use this additional footage just the once, saying the footage came from an unknown source. Then he would wire all the money collected to his offshore bank account and disappear out of the country to live a life of luxury on some tropical island.

****

Present time
FBI Headquarters
New York City

"I went back in several more times to take that footage, especially after he came round from the sedative. No sound of course. I didn't want to risk some over eager crime lab assistant finding some low level noise in the background that could bring you feds to me."

Jessops fell silent and, with a nod from Jack, McGraw began asking a new string of questions relating to the homicides.

"What happened to Masters?"

"I paid him... and he left."

McGraw tried asking him several more times but Jessops would not admit to knowing anything more about the man whose body had washed up in the Hudson River. He tried a difficult approach, asking about Scott Hainsley but with a similar lack of success. Jessops met any references to Job's Army with a head shake, leaving McGraw back where he started, with just a tenuous link to the anti gay people through the presence of their tabloid being in the possession of Friedman's killers.

If Jessops knew anything more relating to those two murdered men, then he was keeping very quiet about it. However, there was one thing Jack could do for Martin and Brent, and that was pull the plug on the man's website and freeze all his assets as proceeds from a criminal offense. FBI agents had already found all the film of Martin, taken by Jessops in the dingy cellar, and once the evidence was no longer required, it would be destroyed.

When Jack stepped out of the room, he was not surprised to discover McGraw had already set Harris onto the task and he felt his respect for the Assistant Director rise yet another notch.

****

Emergency Room
Union Hospital

"Dad!" Martin called as Victor pulled aside the curtain of the Emergency room cubicle.

Victor could tell by the frantic look on his son's face that he must have just heard the news concerning Brent. An orderly was trying to hold Martin down while Danny was trying to get Martin to cooperate. Victor saw the doctor approach with a loaded syringe but then Martin spotted him too.

"Stick that in me and I'll sue you!" he yelled, and the doctor hesitated. "Dad, please" Martin repeated. "I need to see Brent."

Victor thought he had hardened himself to the pleading in Martin's blue eyes many years ago but, this time, he knew he could not resist, knowing it would be to his son's benefit. Yet, he understood the reluctance on the part of the people surrounding Martin. His son looked terrible. Strips of duct tape still clung to his wrists and ankles, reminding Victor of the harrowing ordeal his son had been through. His face was unshaven and still covered in dried blood from the head injury he had sustained at Burke's hand.

The nurse had yet to remove his soiled clothing so he smelled almost as bad as he looked and yet, Victor had never seen a more wonderful sight. His son was alive, giving Victor one more chance to settle the differences between them. He looked to the doctor, who was waiting for some cue on how to proceed.

"What is that?" Victor asked, indicating towards the hypodermic.

"A mild sedative," replied the doctor, and Victor nodded.

"My son won't be needing that," he stated firmly, and watched as the doctor handed the hypodermic back to the nurse. Victor turned back to Martin and leaned in close, hoping his son would listen to what he had to say, just this once.

"They won't let you see him like this... and would you really want him too anyway? Let them clean you up first... and then I'll take you to him. You have my word on this, Martin."

For once, it looked as if Martin might actually be listening to him for he glanced down at his battered and dirty body. The anger left the bright, blue eyes as Martin swallowed visibly any retort he might have had, and nodded curtly. Yet, the despair remained, leaving Victor concerned at how much Martin had been told concerning his lover.

"He's my life, Dad," Martin whispered hoarsely.

"I know," Victor replied with equal softness. "I realize that now. I'll be waiting just outside with Agent Taylor."

****

Martin sank back against the examination table and allowed the nurse to start the cleaning process while his father and Danny left him alone to their ministrations, but his thoughts were on Brent.

All Danny could tell him was that someone had shot Brent in the chest and head but was in a stable condition. Memories from several months back haunted Martin as he recalled the day he had been passing on the opposite side of the road and saw Brent pulling over a car. The gunshot still echoed in Martin's nightmares, along with the sight of Brent falling to the snow covered ground. Brent had been lucky that day for the shot had merely grazed him and, even though Martin's Christmas gift of a light Kevlar vest would not have prevented Brent being killed that day, it did give Martin some solace in knowing there was a reduced risk of Brent being killed in future encounters.

Knowing he would see Brent as soon as he was clean and fixed up, Martin did everything the nurse asked of him, swallowing down his embarrassment as she stripped off his remaining clothing. She washed him quickly and he had to admit that it felt good to be clean again, though he was more grateful for the hospital gown and the light blanket she covered him with afterwards.

"It's lucky your hair is so short. It will make cleaning it easier," she said with a smile of reassurance

He hissed as the nurse swabbed over the head wound, raising one hand reflexively to brush away her hand.

Shot in the chest, he thought. In a stable condition, Danny had said. The scenarios did not seem to match unless... Had Brent been wearing the vest? He hoped so.

He cried out sharply as the nurse continued to clean the wound and his face, silently giving thanks when she stood back, until he realized it was to allow the doctor to take another look at his head. Martin gritted his teeth against the pain from the probing fingers.

"I think we can get away without stitches," the doctor murmured before listing instructions for the nurse. He checked the line running fluids into Martin. "We can dispense with this too once this bag is finished."

The doctor disappeared through the curtain leaving the nurse to bandage the head wound and, once she had finished there, she started on his wrists and ankles. Martin was not certain what she used but the duct tape came off far less painfully than he had anticipated, though he still lost a few hairs in the process.

She smoothed a salve over the sore skin before allowing Martin's father back into the cubicle.

"I'll ask the orderly to bring a wheelchair."

Martin murmured his thanks as she left, then he turned to his father. "Where's Dan... Agent Taylor?"

"Agent Taylor has gone back to headquarters to file his report... and to assist in the apprehension of Officer Burke."

"You know... I get the impression that you were here before me." Martin hid the question he truly wanted to ask, as he wondered how his father could have reached this hospital from Washington D.C. so quickly.

"I was here when the news came that you'd been found."

Martin frowned, knowing there could be only one reason why his father was here: Brent.

"Look, son. I know we've had a few problems recently... and I know my attitude towards Brent at Christmas didn't help matters."

"Too right," interrupted Martin bitterly but his father ploughed on regardless.

"I was wrong. I was wrong to question how you feel about him... and how he feels about you. Agent Malone was right when he said you could not help being who and what you are... that you cannot be held responsible for being my son."

"Who and what I am?" Martin muttered in outraged disbelief. "And what exactly am I?" he asked in annoyance, believing this to be the start of another lecture by his father. He did not want his father's pity, or his 'understanding'. What Martin needed was his father's acceptance.

"You're my son. A son I'm very proud of. A son I love so dearly that it blinded me to the fact that there was another who loved you just as much. I was here sitting at Brent's bedside, because it was the only way I could feel close to you."

Martin had been proud to hear Jack's words spoken in his favor, no longer torn by a need to distance himself from his father professionally or by a need to prove he was an FBI agent on his own merit rather through strings pulled by his father. He knew that he had nothing to prove to Jack Malone but the amazing thing was that Jack had never needed any proof. He had accepted Martin with all his strengths and weaknesses from the very start, protecting him where he could and gently guiding him into becoming an even better agent.

Yet, that pride paled against the knowledge that, finally, his father had accepted the relationship Martin had forged with Brent.

The curtain swished open as the doctor returned, accompanied by an orderly pushing a wheelchair. His body language told Martin that he sensed that he had interrupted something between father and son. Martin smiled in reassurance and stayed still as the doctor checked over the nurse's handiwork before addressing Martin directly.

"By rights, I don't need to admit you, but your father requested that I arrange to have a cot put into Sheriff Marken's private room... just for tonight."

"Thanks," Martin replied, his gratitude encompassing both his father and the doctor. Silently, he wondered how he deserved such kindness after his earlier display of temper. Martin made no sound as the doctor removed the IV line and he readily accepted the offered help to move off the bed and into the wheelchair.

As the orderly wheeled him along the corridor, Martin felt a hand drop on his shoulder, and he covered it with his own, looking up with thanks at his father. Martin had no idea what had transpired over the past couple of days to bring his father round but he was grateful for the support as they approached the room where his lover lay wounded.

****

FBI Headquarters
New York City

Vivian looked up as Jack and McGraw came out of the interview room. She moved to join them, wanting to hear what they had learned.

"Jessops admitted to the kidnapping charge. He's named his accomplices... and one of them was Jorge Masters," said Jack with a sigh.

"I gather he wasn't so helpful with the murder investigation."

"Said he paid off Masters and that was the last he heard from him," replied McGraw. "Friedman's girlfriend seems to know nothing either. Seems he kept her well out of the loop regarding his business -- until it all went sour. The only name she knew was Masters."

Vivian nodded, as if that confirmed her own opinion of Mandy Summerfield. She changed the subject. "I checked the background on the maroon sedan the killers used. The car was registered to a Jeffrey Sullivan, who reported it stolen last week. I checked and he has no priors, and no affiliations to any known radical groups."

"Any chance our Mr. Sullivan was lying about the car?" Asked McGraw, and Viv could see that he was hoping she had found another lead.

"No... I spoke to him and he seemed genuinely shocked when I told him it had been used in a crime."

"Too bad," McGraw replied. "Well... it looks as though your part of the case has been resolved."

Jack nodded, knowing his case was over the moment they found Martin alive -- bar the paperwork. It would be up McGraw's people to continue the investigation into the murders of Hainsley and Masters. At least they had two suspects for those murders, even though both men were killed during the car chase that almost saw the death of Brent Marken too. Backtracking the pair had not gained anything insightful as of yet, but Jack knew it was only a matter of time before they linked the murders of Hainsley and Masters with these two killers of Mark Friedman. However, Jack was not convinced that these two were the masterminds behind the murders and that thought left him with an uneasy feeling concerning Martin and Brent.

"I'd like to keep Agent Johnson on the murder investigation for a while longer, if that's okay with you, Jack," said McGraw.

"Viv?" Jack raised one eyebrow in question and saw her tight response, knowing she would prefer to rejoin Jack's team but would agree to the temporary reassignment, though only for the duration.

****

Private Room
Union Hospital

Brent murmured in his sleep, showing every sign of waking soon as his head moved against the pillow. Sure enough, Martin saw the heavy eyelids flicker as Brent struggled back to the surface. Hazel-green eyes stared into Martin's in hazy familiarity. Then they widened into full wakefulness as recognition filled them.

"Martin?"

Martin reached out and stroked one stubbled cheek, grinning broadly as he felt Brent's hand reciprocate. He turned his face into the palm and kissed it soundly.

"You're safe," Brent whispered, almost in awe. "I thought...I was..."

Martin pressed a finger against the beautiful full lips that he longed to kiss but he did not know how long they would have alone before someone returned to the room.

"You wore your vest," Martin stated softly. Then he thought, to hell with propriety, and leaned over, pressing his lips against Brent's in a kiss that deepened in intensity as the full impact of the past few days hit them both simultaneously. Mouths slid apart as they hugged each other with all the strength they had, heedless of any aches and pains aggravated by the pressure of arms and bodies in such close contact. They needed the physical reassurance of holding the other and knowing they were both alive and relatively unharmed.

Eventually, they pulled apart and Martin could read the love and need for him in the desire darkened eyes, only too sorry that he could not give Brent what they both needed because of the circumstances. Anyone could walk into this room at any time and, even though Brent's daughter and sister were open minded, and his father had come to accept their relationship, Martin knew such an open display of desire would embarrass any one of them.

"Tomorrow," he whispered. "We can both go home tomorrow... and spend all day doing something far more productive than sleeping," he added with a shy grin.

Brent gave a soft laugh at the coy expression, knowing Martin was the slightly more adventurous of the two of them but Martin had been relying on that response, wanting to prove to Brent that all was okay. They had both been through a terrible ordeal, with each of them scared that they might never see the other alive again.

For now, though, they had each other and Martin did not intend to let Brent out of his sight this night, even if they could not share the same bed. He pushed aside the visitor's chair that lay between the two beds. Trying not to show how much it hurt, Martin pushed his bed across the room until the two were barely inches apart before climbing back in and lying on his side, facing Brent. He reached out across the small space separating them and clasped Brent's hand, quickly falling asleep as the events of the past days finally caught up with him.

****

Next morning, the late Spring sunshine filtered through the blinds that covered the window of their private room. As Brent opened his eyes to the new day, he smiled warmly when his eyes met Martin's deep blue gaze. Brent glanced up at the clock on the wall, amazed to realize he had slept almost another ten hours straight but he felt far better for it, and more so for having Martin lying beside him. He recalled Martin pushing his bed up close sometime ago and was amazed that no one had moved it back during the night.

"You okay," Brent asked and Martin nodded slowly.

"We've got a matching set of head injuries," Martin pointed out, indicating towards his and Brent's light bandages, both on the left temple.

Brent laughed softly, only to be distracted at movement in the door frame. He smiled at the two women hovering there, inviting them in with a nod of his head that he quickly regretted due to the pain it caused him. Jody sank onto the far side of the bed, smiling brightly, and Brent turned over and reached for her, hugging her tightly.

"Martin, your Dad had to head back to Washington this morning, to let your Mom know you were okay," said Ginny with a knowing smile. "He wants to make arrangements to come visit you and Brent soon."

Brent could not help his surprise from showing and hoped this meant an end to the fiction between father and son. What Martin could not see was that he and his father were so alike in many ways, mainly in their obstinacy. Brent could only hope for a better visit than the one that they had attended at Martin's family home last Christmas Eve.

The two had lasted barely an hour under the same roof before Martin stormed off in disgust, vowing never to go back because of his parents' attitude towards Brent. They had not even unpacked their cases, and Brent had called Ginny to warn her of the change of plans so she could cancel her and Jody's flight to Washington to join them. Instead, he and Martin caught the first available flight back to Newark and drove home.

In truth, Brent understood how hard it had to be for Martin's parents to deal with the hard truth about their son and his sexual preferences. They needed time to come to terms with it but Martin had tried to force the issue, putting his father on the defensive. Though Brent had to admit that Martin's mother had made matters worse when she started on about society weddings and bewailing the grandchildren that she would never have unless Martin reconsidered his choice of partner.

The journey home had passed by in silence for the most part, with Brent almost afraid to talk in case Martin revealed some hidden resentment against him. His fears had evaporated as soon as they passed through the front door of their home and Martin had whipped round, crushing Brent to him.

"One of these days they'll figure out that you mean more to me than any society wedding or having kids of my own. You are all I want and all I need."

They had made love slowly that night, worshipping each other's bodies as they rocked towards a slow but immensely satisfying climax beneath their Christmas tree, as they welcomed in Christmas Day together in all ways. Ginny arrived at midday with Jody, and the rest of the holiday celebration passed without mishap, except Brent knew how much Martin missed sharing the day with his own family too.

Brent's thoughts returned to the present, and he grinned as Ginny placed a set of clothes of each bed.

"Looks like you two have been sprung... and I get to play responsible adult to my baby brothers," she remarked but Brent hardly noticed the accompanying evil grin. He was too filled with pleasure at hearing her acknowledge Martin as family.

"Your father is sending a car to pick you up and take you home. I'll follow on behind," said Ginny. "In the meantime... we'll wait outside while you both get ready."

After they left, Brent watched Martin as he reached for his clothes. His thoughts were in turmoil, wondering what he ought to say about the memory card Friedman handed over to him the night before he died in a hail of bullets. Brent still had the card in his possession, having checked its contents on Jack's request after the morning news cycle reported its existence on the internet. Knowing that thousands of people had viewed this intimate moment, left him feeling sick and he wished he could hide its existence from Martin. However, Martin deserved to know about the video from him, rather than from strangers.

"Martin?" Martin turned, his blue eyes already narrowed in wariness as he recognized the serious tone in Brent's voice. "There's something I need to tell you..."

They had hugged after Brent's revelation, finding comfort in each other's arms. Someone had made it public and he and Martin could do nothing about it. Within an hour, they were both dressed and ready to go, though with both of them feeling subdued as they rode the elevator down with Jody and Ginny.

As they approached the hospital entrance, Brent had a momentary flashback of the time he left the hospital in Cherry Falls while only partially recovered form his injuries. On that occasion, reporters and angry parents had surrounded him, pushing, and shoving, as they demanded an explanation for the terrible murders committed by Leonard Marliston. Someone had leaked information on that twenty-five year old rape allegation and, with Tom Sisler dead and the names of the other two boys shrouded in mystery; Brent had become the mob's scapegoat.

With all the media attention surrounding Martin's kidnapping, Brent half expected the same now and was not disappointed. He turned to Jody and Ginny but Martin spoke up first.

"I want you to wait here and slip out while all the attention is on me and Brent." He raised one eyebrow in entreaty as Jody began to disagree, and Brent nodded his agreement, hoping she would understand their reluctance to have her in the public eye once more. He wanted to protect her from this as much as he could. Brent kissed her forehead as she sighed in reluctant acceptance.

A cry went up as soon as they appeared in the doorway, and Brent felt Martin's hand on his arm, gripping it tightly as several police officers made a path through the press of reporters. Reporters thrust microphones into their faces as one after another snapped off questions in the hope of gaining an answer. Brent could hear Martin saying 'no comment' as they pushed through to the waiting car. The rear door opened and Brent slipped inside, scooting across the back seat to give Martin room to get in. A police officer slammed the door shut and the car began to inch forward as the police held the reporters back, finally rolling free of the crowd.

Beside him, Martin sighed in relief as they left the reporters behind, letting his head drop back onto the seat. Only then did he look forward at the driver, his eyebrows rising in surprise when he noticed who was sitting beyond the clear, safety partition that separated the front and rear of the car.

"Danzig?"

Danzig glanced up into the rearview mirror, offering a tight smile in response. Martin frowned, wondering why his father had sent Danzig to chauffeur them home, but then he decided that Danzig probably offered just to impress his father. Any agent bucking for promotion to supervisor would make this sort of gesture. Still, the journey would not take too long as the hospital was over halfway along the route Martin took from Manhattan to their home in Clarke County most every day, so Martin did not have to socialize with Danzig for long.

Beside him, Brent remained quiet, probably because he knew how much Martin disliked the other agent, for Martin had not bothered to keep that particular information secret.

The miles seemed to pass far too slowly... and then Danzig did something unexpected. He turned off on the exit before the one Martin usually took. Martin leaned forward and tapped on the bulletproof, glass panel that separated them, feeling Brent stiffen in apprehension beside him when Danzig ignored him.

"Danzig?" Martin called, tapping louder, and he watched as Danzig leaned forward to switch on the intercom speaker. "You took the wrong exit, you need--"

"Just sit back and enjoy the ride. It's going to be your last." With that, Danzig leaned forward and disconnected the speaker but Martin could see the vicious grin spread across his face.

Martin knocked harder on the glass panel while Brent tried to open the rear door even though they both knew it would be futile for these cars were built to hold prisoners securely.

"What the hell are you doing," shouted Martin, knowing the glass was not completely soundproof. He cursed as Danzig leaned forward to turn up the radio in order to drown out his shouts. "Bastard!"

Martin slumped back into the seat next to Brent, turning his head to stare at his lover with concern-filled eyes. "When the car stops and they open the door, we have to be prepared to take him out."

Brent nodded but Martin could see that his lover was still weak from his recent injuries, with his face a paler shade than normal and with dark circles under his worried eyes. Martin reached out and grabbed Brent's hand, squeezing it tight and giving a tremulous smile at the answering pressure.

"I'll be ready," Brent stated softly.

Moments later, Danzig pulled off the highway onto a small track leading towards an old abandoned quarry. Martin nodded to Brent as the car drew to a halt, wanting him to be prepared to act fast. Danzig reached over and switched the intercom back on; he turned in his seat, with an insincere smile plastered across his face.

"I'm sorry it had to come to this, Fitzgerald, but the FBI is my life. People like you destroy everything it stands for--"

"People like me?"

"Yeah. People like you..." Danzig's eyes slid sideways, "...and him. You bring the whole department into disrepute by parading your little fuck buddy across the TV screens."

"You think we want out private life out there for the whole world to see?" questioned Brent in disbelief.

"I don't care what you want. All I know is what I see... and even sending an anonymous copy of that disgusting video direct to Stailing made no difference. Thought Stailing would be all over that clip with righteous indignation, demanding you be thrown out of the FBI. Instead, he disappears off to Washington and returns close-mouthed about the whole damn thing."

Danzig snorted in disgust, leaving Martin to wonder if Stailing had shown the video clip to his father.

"Well, this time I'm going to do the job myself. You boys will get back in the news one more time, when they find your bodies...and then you're history."

"You're insane if you think you can get away--"

Danzig pressed up close to the glass panel, spitting out his words. "I'm not some dumbass junior agent. I've been working undercover on and off for over five months, looking for a serial killer of gays while you've been chasing down nobodies." Danzig pulled back, no longer hiding his revulsion as he sneered at Martin in disgust. "Infiltrating Job's Army was my first task, but the more I listened to them, the more sense their claims made. *You* are an abomination, corrupting everything and everyone you touch... defying the laws of God. And lawbreakers should be punished... by death."

****

FBI Headquarters
New York City
Half an hour earlier

Danny strode up to Jack's office and tapped on the glass, entering as soon as Jack raised his head.

"We got a problem." He dropped a file on Jack's desk and saw Jack's forehead wrinkle in a frown as he read the first line.

"Job's Army?" Jack looked up. "It's not our case anymore."

"I think it still is... especially when one of the lead investigators is on their payroll." Danny flipped to the next page of the report and tapped one particular face on the grainy photograph. "Agent Danzig."

Jack closed the file and looked up. "I spoke with Harris. Danzig was assigned the task of infiltrating the group several months back, searching for a serial killer responsible for attacks on homosexuals and non-Christians."

"Did Harris mention that part of Danzig's cover involved infiltrating Rainbow Warrior Boyz on behalf of Job's Army?" Danny placed a second file on the table and pointed to a shadowy figure behind Jorge Masters before pulling out an enhanced image. "I showed this image to Jessops and he identified this man as Simon Radcliffe... the last person to see Jorge Masters alive."

Jack looked shocked. "No. I don't buy it. If Danzig is Radcliffe then Martin would have ID'd him."

"Martin was bludgeoned by Burke... and then drugged. All Danzig had to do was make sure Martin never saw his face."

"Radcliffe was the driver of the second vehicle," Jack mused, recalling Jessops version of the kidnapping of his agent. "So if Danzig *is* Radcliffe then he knew where Martin was all along... and said nothing."

"Exactly. So, maybe he never expected us to find Martin alive?" Danny questioned rhetorically. Alarm filled him when Jack's face blanched of all color. "Jack?"

"Danzig volunteered to drive Martin and Brent home from the hospital." Jack grabbed for his phone and dialed Union Hospital, asking for Martin Fitzgerald.

"I'm sorry, sir. Agent Fitzgerald has just left with Sheriff Marken."

Jack disconnected the call and dialed another number in order to request immediate access to a helicopter, knowing that might be their only chance of finding Martin and Brent. Approval came swiftly, and he and Danny made their way to the rooftop helipad and climbed onboard, quickly placing on the headphones and ordering the pilot into the air. The helicopter curved away through the towering structures that made up lower Manhattan, heading west towards New Jersey and the Union Hospital.

"Jack, Forensics found quarry dust on Hainsley. There are old quarries both west and north of Union."

Jack nodded and passed the information to the pilot while Danny kept his eyes on the roads below, hoping they would be able to spot one single black car among the hundreds.

****

Something beyond the car made Danzig grin and Brent looked out the side window, his blood chilling at the approach of a dozen or so men. He watched as one juggled a palm-size stone from one hand to the other. He recalled Danzig's exclamation that 'his kind' would be punished by death and had a terrifying feeling of how they would carry out that death sentence.

The door locks snicked open and, despite Martin's earlier intentions for them to act as soon as that happened, Brent knew the odds would not be in their favor. Still, he waited until some of the men had drawn close to open the door and then kicked out hard, slamming the door into them. Two of the men fell backwards but several others rushed in and grabbed at him, dragging him from the car. Martin had tried to do likewise but his bid for freedom had not lasted for both of them were too weak from their recent injuries to put up a good fight against a dozen men.

Brent felt friction burns as rough hands ripped the clothing from his body until he was almost naked, clad only in his boxer shorts. He regained his feet only to sprawl back to the ground when the men shoved Martin into him, crying out as Martin's semi-naked body landed on his bruised chest. Martin struggled aside and stood up, drawing Brent up beside him. A quick sideways glance revealed that the men had backed them up against the quarry wall, leaving them with no escape route except through the semicircle of attackers. As Brent watched them through narrowed eyes, Danzig joined the bloodthirsty gang.

With an insane glimmer in his eyes, he picked up a fist-sized rock. "The Bible says, 'let he who is without sin cast the first stone'. Well, I say... fuck that!"

As Danzig hurled the first stone, Martin turned his back on the mob, throwing himself against Brent and knocking him down to the ground, intending to use his body as a shield to protect Brent. Danzig cried out in glee as the stone struck Martin's vulnerable flesh.

Brent heard the soft cry of pain and tried to push Martin's weight off him as more stones rained down upon Martin's unprotected back. His own cries of pain joined Martin's as sharp rocks struck his exposed hip and legs but the pain seemed nothing compared to the agony of knowing Martin was suffering far worse.

A sudden gust of wind sent smaller stones and dust pelting his and Martin's bodies, quickly passing as the helicopter passed close by, chasing the attackers away. Sirens and loud hailers from several cars joined the cacophony of sound as the helicopter's rotor blades continued to scythe the air. Brent felt Martin's weight shift from on top of him as someone rolled Martin aside.

"Martin?" Brent croaked, as he looked towards his lover. As if on cue, Martin groaned and fought against his would-be rescuers. They did not attempt to hold him down despite his injuries, allowing Martin to reach for Brent. Brent wrapped his arms around his lover's battered torso as Martin held him tight in return, resting his head upon Brent's shoulder.

After a moment, Martin released his hold on Brent. He sat back and spoke in a rough, emotion and pain-filled voice, "Did we get them, Dad?"

"We got them. Danzig too," came a familiar voice in reply.

Only then did Brent realize that Victor Fitzgerald was kneeling on the ground beside them. He watched in confusion as Fitzgerald shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over him, feeling the increased pressure of Martin's hand at this gesture from his father.

The Deputy Director looked up as a man approached. "Agent Garford... I believe you should inform Agent Malone--"

"He's already here, sir." Garford looked over his shoulder as Jack and Danny came running up, having ordered their helicopter to land close by as soon as Garford gave them permission.

Jack dropped down beside the small group, shrugging out of his jacket and wrapping around Martin's bruised and battered frame.

"Maybe you'd like to tell me what's going on now, sir," asked Jack and Brent could hear the anger simmering in his voice but Garford spoke up first.

"Special Agent Garford, Internal Affairs. A task force was set up to investigate the escalating violence within Job's Army since Agent Danzig infiltrated their ranks. We suspected that he had gone bad and was the instigator of recent attacks upon homosexuals. We have enough evidence now to charge him and these others with the murders of Scott Hainsley and Jorge Masters. Links to the two dead killers will prove he was the organizer of the hit on Mark Friedman, by providing them with Friedman's location. Added to this is the charge of kidnapping a federal agent and now, the attempted murder of both Agent Fitzgerald and Sheriff Marken." Garford smiled proudly. "And we couldn't have done it without the assistance of Special Agent Fitzgerald."

"Martin?" Jack looked at Martin questioningly.

"Dad told... Deputy Director Fitzgerald told me about Danzig at the hospital and asked if I'd be willing to play along." Martin had the decency to look chagrinned. "Although the cavalry was supposed to arrive before either of us got hurt."

Martin's grimace of pain reminded Brent that his lover had taken the brunt of the attack, protecting Brent with his own body until the 'cavalry' arrived in the form of Garford and his task force. Victor Fitzgerald noticed too and gave Garford a glare that wiped the smile off the man's face.

"We need to get you both back to Union Hospital. Perhaps you and Agent Taylor will accompany my son and his... companion, Agent Malone."

****

Victor Fitzgerald watched as Malone and Taylor assisted his son and Brent to the waiting helicopter. He knew this would be the start of a fresh round of media attention on him and his family, focusing on Martin and his male lover. Nothing could change that.

As he walked across the quarry towards the second helicopter, Victor grimaced at the sight of agents placing Danzig into the rear of one of the cars. Extensive psychological evaluation was supposed to weed out people like Danzig long before the FBI handed them a gun and a badge. Unfortunately, Danzig was not the first bad agent to slip through the net, nor would he be the last.

Once more, a string of incidents and dark opportunities had corrupted an agent, leading him into murder and deceit. Sometimes, money was the root cause but in Danzig's case, the resentment of Martin had started the rot. However, Victor could do nothing about that. Only once had he tried to influence events in Martin's favor, choosing to make Jack Malone a scapegoat for his son's errors. Martin had made him see reason, then and now.

The helicopter took off, carrying away his son and his lover, and Victor raised a hand as he saw Martin looking down at him, and fancied he saw a grin in response. He stopped beside his helicopter and looked about the quarry, watching as agents rounded up the last of Job's Army, including Tommy Sandler, its leader.

McGraw's people would find out which of these men were part of the mob that killed Hainsley and Masters. Yet, even if they could not make a solid murder case, they could charge every one of them as an accessory to the kidnapping of a federal agent and a police officer, and the attempted murder of both. None of them would see the outside of prison walls for a long time to come.

In the meantime, he had started to mend some bridges with his son, finally accepting that Martin was no longer the little boy who depended upon him for everything. His son had grown up and found a worthy partner, and it no longer mattered that the gender was neither Victor's nor Martin's mother's choice. Martin was happy and he was alive, and that was all that truly mattered to this parent.

****

Epilogue:

Finally, they were alone. It seemed as if weeks rather than days had passed since they were last alone together in the bedroom they shared, and Martin wanted to take full advantage of the situation. He moved in on his unsuspecting lover as Brent sank to the bed to remove his shoes. Brent looked up in surprise as Martin dropped to his knees before him and batted away his hands.

"Let me," he said, huskily, and proceeded to untie the laces and slip off the shoes, one after the other. He pushed them out of harm's way beneath the bed and began to roll down Brent's socks, pulling them free and casting them over his shoulder in the general direction of the dirty linen basket. Brent moaned in appreciation as Martin began to massage his feet but his breath hitched as Martin drew one foot to his mouth and began to kiss the toes, working up from the smallest to the big toe. Brent chuckled, his toes curling as Martin alternated between kissing and nipping at the arch, instep and finally the heel.

He giggled aloud as Martin nipped at his ankle, making Martin look up in amusement at the undignified sound coming from his full grown, male lover. He loved this boyish side to Brent, a side he revealed only to a very few.

"These pants have got to come off," Martin mumbled as he pushed the pants' leg upwards to reveal a muscular calf with a darkened bruise from their recent ordeal. Martin lowered Brent's foot back to the floor and knelt up, his hands reaching for the button and zipper but, before slowly undoing both, he massaged the growing bulge at Brent's groin through the layers of material, eliciting a moan of unadulterated pleasure as Brent let his head drop back. The hard flesh felt so good to Martin, making him a promise of even better sensations to come for both of them. Quickly, he teased open the button and then lowered the zipper, breathing in the heavy scent of male musk as precome seeped through the light cotton briefs Brent preferred to wear.

Martin could not resist. He leaned in to mouth the cotton-covered head, sucking it through the thin material, as he tasted the essence of his lover. The delicious moans spurred him on but then he drew back, wanting to feel the silken flesh against his tongue. He peeled back the briefs, freeing the hard erection and licked his lips as a droplet of Brent's pleasure beaded on the head. Tentatively, he leaned forward to lick at the droplet delicately, savoring the taste for a moment before taking the head into his mouth, his hands grasping at junction of Brent's thighs and torso, holding his lover in place. Brent leaned back on the bed on his elbows, head thrown back, and breath coming in short gasps as Martin sucked and licked, his tongue sliding across the sensitive spot, sending shivers of pleasure through Brent.

"Don't stop, don't stop," Brent called out hoarsely, his thigh muscles cording as he pushed against the hands pinning him in place, trying to thrust into Martin's mouth.

Every muscle tightened and Brent gave a strangled groan as his release came crashing through him, shooting thick, creamy cum into Martin's mouth. Martin swallowed with each pulse of Brent's release, waiting until there was no more before letting the softening shaft slip from his mouth. He pressed a kiss into Brent's midriff before looking up into sated green eyes.

"Damn, that was good."

"Tasted good too." Martin smacked his lips and then grinned unashamedly before kneeling up and pushing Brent backwards until he sprawled on the bed. Reaching across, Martin snagged the waistband of both pants and briefs, dragging them both down with a quick command to Brent to lift his ass. He tugged the clothing free and threw it aside, eyeing the half-naked body that lay open for his adoration.

Bruising still marked the ivory skin across one hip and down the long legs, the vivid purple and blue having not yet had time to fade to green and yellow. Nonetheless, he had never seen a more wonderful sight.

"Beautiful," he growled, fumbling at the belt, button and zipper of his own pants and pulling them down to his knees along with his boxer shorts. He stood up, kicking away the bunched up material before kneeling on the bed between Brent's spread legs.

Martin drew his hands underneath the muscular calves from ankle to knee, gradually drawing the legs further apart and pushing them backwards to reveal the concealed entrance to his lover's body. He leaned in and licked the hole, feeling the muscle quiver and tighten against his probing tongue. He could taste the soap from the shower Brent had taken at the hospital less than two hours earlier but beneath that artificial fragrance was the pure scent of his lover, and that musk sent his body throbbing with need.

The sound of Brent rummaging haphazardly in the bedside drawer distracted him for only a moment as he pushed his tongue against the tight ring of muscle. Then he felt warm fingers, slick with lube, press up against his cheek and tongue. The hole widened as one lube covered finger pressed inwards, and Martin groaned, deep in his throat, as his tongue collided with the finger, over and over, slipping inside Brent's body as the single finger stretched the opening.

Another finger joined the first, stretching the muscle further apart to allow Martin even greater access, until he was tongue fucking the beautiful body. He could hear Brent's fast breathing and glanced up to see his body reacting to the renewed stimulation of fingers and tongue, with his flesh slowly hardening once more.

Crisp hairs, slick with perspiration, clung to the base of the hard shaft, only to be swept aside as Brent palmed his own erection, slowly wrapping his fingers around it. His hand was moving in rhythm with Martin's tongue, his soft moans filling the air, driving Martin wild with need, and Martin knew he could wait no longer.

He grabbed the lube from beside Brent on the bed, and squeezed a generous amount onto his fingers, swiftly discarding the tube and coating his rock hard shaft. Forcing Brent's legs back with almost brutal strength, Martin knelt on the bed and positioned the blunt head of his penis against the well-lubed and stretched hole. He pushed in hard, hearing a gasp of pain and pleasure as the tight channel caressed every inch of his burning flesh. Pulling almost all the way out, he could not resist looking down to watch his flesh sink into his lover's body as he thrust in slow but hard, grinding his hips against the smooth ass cheeks. Again and again, he drew back and slammed forward, mesmerized by the sight of his body merging with Brent's as his senses slowly spiraled out of control.

Warmth swelled through his body, radiating out from his groin, rippling in his belly and turning his legs to Jello as his climax swept over him. He cried out in ecstasy as his semen spurted into his lover's ass, feeling the heat of his release against his own flesh as it filled the hot channel. Fully spent, and exhausted, Martin collapsed across his lover's chest, feeling it laboring almost as much as his, and only then realizing that Brent had followed him into ecstasy with a second climax.

Carefully, Martin pulled out of his lover and released Brent's limbs before rolling to one side and sprawling across the bed next to Brent on his stomach, unable to lie on his bruised back. Gradually, his breathing evened out and he rolled back onto his side to grin down into the pleasure-soaked face only to find Brent fast asleep. Martin chuckled and, though he hated to do it, he shook Brent gently to wake him up.

"Come on... let's get cleaned up and go to bed."

Brent looked at him with a sleepy but fully satisfied smile, nodding his head before accepting Martin's hand to help him stand. They washed quickly before replacing the cum-soaked covers with fresh bed linen. Then they climbed back into the bed, snuggling down into each other's arms to dream away the rest of the day and night, and to let the nightmares of the past week fade away forever.

THE END