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Unexpected Alliance

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Chapter 1

They were suppose to get together for dinner that night. The case was over, they were all together, and they just wanted a chance to relax and unwind. Uncle Mike had invited Vince and Frank to his place that night. The pasta and sauce were on the stove, and there was a fresh 12 pack in the fridge. When the knock came on the door, he simply yelled out to whoever it was to come in.

Walking through the door, Frank stopped and breathed deeply. He wasn’t a big fan of Italian, but there was something about Uncle Mike’s cooking that he couldn’t deny. “Hey Dan, Vince here yet? I didn’t see his truck outside.”

Dan Burroughs was affectionately dubbed “Uncle Mike” by Vince when he joined up with Dan and Frank. Vince had hated calling him “Lifeguard” and the two of them came up with Uncle Mike one night while talking on the phone. The name had stuck.

“Nah, Frank. I haven’t heard from him yet.”

Walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge, Frank cracked open a beer and handed it to Dan before opening one for himself. Taking a long draw from the bottle, Frank sighed. “He’s probably got some blond at the house with him. Be lucky if he remembers that we were doing dinner tonight.”

Chuckling lightly while stirring the sauce, “Easy Frank. When I’m cooking, he always remembers. And for the record, he isn’t into blonds, it’s red heads.”

Shaking his head, Frank grumbled. “Yeah but he could have called.”

Sighing, Uncle Mike pointed at the cordless mounted on the wall. “Frank, if you’re that worried about him, call him. If he’s busy, the least he’ll do is answer and tell you to go to hell.”

Rolling his eyes over his glasses at Dan, Frank reached for the phone and dialed Vince’s number. Listening to the busy signal at the other end, he hung up and tried again. Still busy. “Dan, when was the last time he checked in?”

“Yesterday, why?”

“The line’s busy and if he hasn’t called in yet today…” His voice trailing off, Frank dropped the phone on the table next to his beer and started walking to the door. “Something’s not right. I can feel it.”

“Oh come on, Frank. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s taken it off the hook so he wouldn’t be disturbed.”

Pausing with his hand on the doorknob, Frank looked over his shoulder. “Maybe, but you said it yourself, he never passes up dinner here even if all he does is call to say he can’t make it.”

Knowing that Frank had made up his mind, Dan covered the sauce and turned off the stove. “All right, Frank. Let’s go. But I’m warning you, if he’s got a girl over there and we interrupt, it’s all on you.”

“Fine. I’m driving. Let’s go”

***

Arriving at Vince’s house, all the lights were on and shining through the windows. Moving up the back walk to the door, Frank and Dan could hear the music playing inside. Pulling his gun from his shoulder holster, Frank flicked off the safety and quietly walked up the back steps on to the small porch.

Noting the door partially open, Dan started to worry. “Frank…”

Holding his hand up for silence, Frank slowly pushed open the door all the way to the wall to make sure no one was behind it. Standing in the doorway, he could see the entire kitchen and part of the living room. The stove was on. A kettle was boiling over and the water in the sink was turned on. Gun at the ready, Frank moved slowly through the kitchen but motioned for Dan to leave the stove and water alone. If someone was in there, he didn’t want to give it away that they had entered.

Inching his way along the wall toward the living room, Frank quickly checked around the corner and noted that it was empty. The doors to the bathroom and the bedroom were both open. The TV and the stereo were both on, and from the amount of steam coming out of the bathroom, so was the shower.

The bedroom door opened outward and was against the wall, so Frank got a clear view of the empty room. Nodding to Dan to keep watch on the bathroom door, Frank entered the bedroom to check the closet before moving to stand outside the bathroom. “Vince.” Nothing. “Vince! It’s Frank. Are you in there?” No reply. “I really hope you don’t have company in there because I’m coming in.” Pushing the door open fully, the bathroom was empty. The shower was on and the shower curtain open. Quickly turning off the shower, Frank stepped back into the living room and holstered his gun.

Turning off the stereo and TV, Dan made his way back to the kitchen to turn off the stove and sink before shutting and locking the door. “Frank, what the hell is going on here? You don’t think he just ran out of here, do you?” Returning to the living room, he noticed Frank kneeling on the floor near the bedroom door. “Maybe he got a call from his mother and rushed out without shutting everything off?”

Studying the wall before him, the wall that had been blocked by the opened bedroom door, Frank slowly shook his head. “Vince didn’t run out of here. I think he was taken.” Moving out of the way as Dan approached, he showed him the mark on the wall. A white hand print.

Sitting down hard in the chair beside him, Dan could only stare at the wall as he recognized the print. Emotion welling up inside him, Dan choked back on his fears. “You think they killed him?”

“No. There’s no blood. How they got in though, I have no idea.” Pulling out his cell phone, Frank punched in the number for the Bureau director. “This is Frank. We’ve got an operative down. Looks like Terranova has been taken. All indications so far show no blood, no resistance, and a mark on the wall from the Manos Blancas. I need a team down here ASAP to process.” Taking a breath and listening to the director on the other end, Frank frowned. “No dammit, I don’t think he’s playing us just to get us off his back so he can have time alone with a girl. I want a team at his house now!” Snapping his cell shut and stuffing it back in his pocket, Frank stormed out of the house to wait outside.

This wasn’t right. This couldn’t be happening. They’d never even had any business with this group. He knew he shouldn’t do it, but Dan pulled out his own phone and stepped out the back door to stand in the yard while Frank waited out front for the team to show up. She’d left the Bureau some time ago, but they still kept in touch. She’d been Vince’s only partner and they had made a great team. She’d want to know. Slowly dialing the number, he put the phone to his ear. It rang, once, twice, and then she picked up.

“Hello?”

His voice gruff, “Sam, something’s happened to Vince. How fast can you get here?”

***

She hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days. She only hoped that it wasn’t the flu. She hated being sick, and worse, she hated being cooped up in the house with nothing to do. So she’d made a cup of tea, changed into her warm pajamas and was laying comfortably under her blankets in bed watching an old movie when the phone on the nightstand rang. Once, twice, she always let it ring twice. Picking it up, “Hello?”

Hearing Uncle Mike on the other end saying something had happened to Vinnie, she almost dropped the phone. When he asked her how long it would take her to be there, she checked the time, and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Cold or no cold, “I’ll be there in a half an hour. Is a team being sent?”

“Yes. Frank called the Bureau and demanded a team ASAP.”

Kicking off her pajama pants and sliding into her jeans, “What happened? Tell me everything.” Trying to get dressed as Uncle Mike filled her in, “Hang on, let me put you on speaker, I’m getting dressed.” Pushing the speaker button and dropping the phone on the bed, “Go ahead.”

“… doors were open. Shower, tv, stereo, stove, and sink were all on. Back door was ajar.”

Pulling on her boots and grabbing her leather jacket from the closet, “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Sam, we think it’s a group known as the Manos Blancas. They left their mark on the wall.”

Grabbing the phone, “I’ll be there in 20.” Pushing the disconnect button, she dropped the phone on the bed, and opened the top drawer in the nightstand. Staring down at her gun safely in it’s holster, she sighed and picked it up. I haven’t had to use you in a long time, old friend. Removing the gun from the holster, she released the clip to make sure it was fully loaded. Habit really. She knew it was loaded. Replacing the gun and slipping the shoulder holster on, Sam closed her eyes as the familiar weight rested against her side. Picking up her jacket, she left the room. Turning out the light, and moving through the darkened house, she snatched up her keys and headed for the garage.

***

Turning onto Vinnie’s road, Sam hit the speed dial for Uncle Mike’s phone. “It’s me. They’ve got most of the road blocked off, so you might have to meet me to get me in.”

“I’ll be out front in a minute.”

“All right. I’m parking about four houses down. I’ll walk in.” Hanging up and parking her truck, Sam climbed out and took in the scene. Local cops had the street blocked off two houses in both directions, and the feds were swarming all around. Leaning against the front of the truck with her arms crossed over her chest, Sam waited for Uncle Mike to make an appearance. She wouldn’t be able to get through the badges on her own. She gave up her badge a long time ago and without it now, she had to wait.

Leaning heavily on his cane, Uncle Mike slowly made his way down the sidewalk and past the line of officers. Pulling Sam into his arms, he hugged her tightly before slipping an arm around her waist and walking back to the house with her at his side.

“Sir, I’m sorry, but she can’t come through here.”

Narrowing his eyes dangerously at the young officer, Uncle Mike stared him down. “She was his partner and I’m vouching for her. Now move aside.” Taking Sam’s hand he pulled her past the officer before he could stop them. Moving up the front walk, they stopped as Frank stepped through the doorway.

“What’s she doing here, Dan?”

“Frank, she has every right to be here. She’s still a part of this family.”

Pulling her hand free, Sam walked up the steps to face Frank. “Geeze, Frank, I’ve missed you too.” Stepping around him to enter the house, she quickly found herself caught up in a whirlwind of activity. There were feds everywhere. Almost every inch of the living room had already been processed and she could see them working in the bedroom and kitchen. Jumping as a hand settled on her shoulder, she turned quickly to see Frank behind her.

“Listen, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Seeing the pain written on his face, and fear haunting his eyes, she wrapped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder. “It’s ok. I have missed you though.” Feeling his arms circle her waist, she sighed and tried to find the strength that she’d been missing for the past few days. Stepping back to look up at him, “So what happened, Frank?”

Nodding his head toward the door, “Let’s go outside and talk. They need to work in here.” Walking outside to stand in the yard out of the way, Frank could only repeat what Uncle Mike had told her on the phone. “They’re processing everything now. With any luck, we’ll have some answers within a day or so.”

Zipping up her jacket against the chill, and jamming her hands in her pockets, Sam rolled her eyes. “Oh come on. Are they seriously sending all this stuff back to D.C. to be processed? They couldn’t do it here? There’s no labs in this part of the country?”

“Sam, keep your voice down. He’s still a federal agent and it has to done according to guidelines.” For the first time since she had arrived, Frank noticed her haggard appearance, “Are you ok?”

Watching the feds walk in and out of the house, Sam shook her head. “Not really. I’ve felt like I’m coming down with something for a few days now. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus.” Glancing quickly at Frank, and narrowing her eyes, “I’m not leaving. So don’t even bother trying to tell me to.”

Looking at the people milling around outside the police barricade, Frank shook his head. “We don’t even know if any of them are part of this. There’s so many faces out there.”

Joining his family, Uncle Mike shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Frank. It’s taken care of.” Noting the twin raised eyebrows from the two in front of him, he couldn’t help but to chuckle. “I talked to one of the reporters out there. She’s going to get face shots of the entire crowd and slip me the feed later.”

“You what?”

Rolling his eyes, Uncle Mike frowned. “Frank, calm down. All she knows is what we’ve fed to the press about Vince over the years, and now she knows that he’s my nephew and that I think this is a ploy to get at me personally.” Looking rather pleased with himself, “She said she’d get the crowd for me, and give me the tape later.”

Smiling broadly at her Uncle, “Good. I’ll help you go over it later. Any news on anything else they’ve pulled so far?”

Nodding slightly, he looked over his shoulder at the house. “They’ve pulled a few prints, and there’s some hairs and fibers, but beyond that, not much else. They’re making copies of all the pictures for me, and I’ll have them tonight. Unfortunately, they’re sending trace to D.C.”

“Yeah, Frank told me already. We need those results though.” Breaking off in a sneezing fit, Sam growled and shook her head. “I can’t get sick now. Vinnie needs me.”

Knowing she wouldn’t leave alone, Frank looked at Uncle Mike. “Why don’t both of you head back to your apartment and get her something to eat and keep her warm. When they’re done here, I’ll bring over the pictures and the tape.”

Not wanting to leave, but realizing that standing in the cold wasn’t going to help any, Sam hesitantly agreed. “I’ll meet you back at the truck. I’m going to get the heater cranked up.”

Nodding in turn, Uncle Mike walked Frank over to the reporter that he had talked to earlier. Playing the distraught Uncle, he asked her if she could possibly get the tape to Frank when everything was over because he couldn’t bear standing around without being of some help. Immediately agreeing, she offered her sympathies and gave Frank her cell phone number. “Just call me when you’re ready for the tape. I’ll still be here.”

Thanking her again, Uncle Mike crossed the barricade and climbed into the truck beside Sam. Seeing her eyes glistening under the street lights, he reached over to take her hand. “He’ll be ok. We’re going to find him.”

Staring out the windshield, Sam nodded silently. Taking back her hand, she turned the truck around, and headed for Uncle Mike’s apartment.

Chapter Text

Pulling up in front of the apartment complex, Sam turned off the engine and stared out the windshield. “He’s still alive, you know.”

Keeping his eyes forward, his nerves on edge, Uncle Mike had his doubts. “Are you sure?”

Nodding slightly, “Yeah, I’m sure. I’d feel it if he wasn’t.”

Never the one to doubt her intuition, Uncle Mike slowly climbed out of the truck and poked his head back inside, “Good enough for me at the moment. Come on, let’s get you inside.”

Exiting the vehicle and setting the alarm, she fell in step with her Uncle. Still feeling achy and the night air not helping any, Sam welcomed the warmth of his apartment. Watching Uncle Mike head for the kitchen, Sam spotted the open beer on the table and picked it up. Draining half the contents, she coughed and grimaced at the taste. “How can you guys drink this stuff?”

Dumping out the kettle of soggy spaghetti, Uncle Mike chuckled. “Like it’s any better than the stuff you drink?”

“Jack may burn a little going down, but it doesn’t leave this nasty after taste.”

Filling the kettle with fresh water, Uncle Mike called over his shoulder. “Well, why don’t you pour yourself a drink then and relax while I make some fresh spaghetti?”

Walking into the kitchen, Sam reached for the cabinet near the sink. Smiling fondly as she spied her squared bottle nestled in the back of the crowded space, “I can’t believe you still have this.”

Still busying himself with dinner, “What was I going to do with it? I wasn’t going to drink it, and I wasn’t going to just pour it down the drain.”

She’d been away for so long, she really was surprised the bottle was still there. She hadn’t been to Uncle Mike’s apartment in over a year. She’d left this family years ago, but she stayed in phone contact at least once a month with either Uncle Mike or Vinnie. Swallowing past a lump rising in her throat, Sam poured half a glass and replaced the bottle in the cabinet. “Just make enough for you and Frank. I’m not hungry.”

Setting the kettle on the stove, Uncle Mike dropped a hand on her shoulder with a scowl. “You’re eating, so go sit down and relax. Frank shouldn’t be too much longer. They didn’t have much left to go over when we left.”

Sighing heavily, Sam headed for the living room and turned on the stereo. Flipping though some of Uncle Mike’s old cds, she slipped one in and let it play. She loved listening to him play. A lot of his cds were of him just playing his guitar endlessly, and it always had a calming effect on her. Moving to the sofa, she curled up in the corner and closed her eyes, balancing her glass on her knee. She must have lost track of time, or dozed off, because the next thing she heard was Frank’s voice trailing in from the kitchen.

“Everything is being sent to D.C. now. I’ve got your pictures and the video for you.”

“Thanks, Frank. I’ll take them over to the loft later tonight and start going over them.”

“Are you taking Sam with you?”

“If she wants to. I could use the extra eyes, and you know she won’t walk away from this until we find him.”

“If we find him.”

Walking to the kitchen, Sam took a sip from her glass. “No, that’s when we find him.”

Turning around to face her, Frank simply sighed. Frank was good at that. He always had the sad eyes and tired looking face, and he always sighed when he knew he couldn’t win the argument. He sighed a lot with her. “Sam, we don’t know that.”

Stepping between them before another word could be said, Uncle Mike ushered them both to the dining room. “We’re going to eat. That’s enough from both of you.”

Running a hand through what little hair that he had, Frank sat at the table. “We weren’t arguing.”

Carrying the kettle of spaghetti to the table, Uncle Mike claimed his seat. “Not yet you weren’t, and you’re not going to. We’re going to eat, and then I’m taking everything over to the loft.”

Muttering around the fork half way to her mouth, “I’m going with you.”

Looking from Uncle Mike to Sam, Frank realized that his family was back together again, almost. Sighing yet again, “I’m heading home from here. If you two come up with anything, call me. I don’t care what time it is. Hopefully we’ll hear something from D.C. in a couple of days.” With the exception of the cd playing in the background, the rest of dinner was eaten in silence.

Finishing the meal and saying their good nights, Frank headed home as Sam detoured to the kitchen to wash up the dishes. Standing at the sink, she listened as Uncle Mike turned off the cd and broke out the guitar. The music was sad. He was one of the best blues players she’d ever heard play, and every piece he wrote and played tore at her. Tossing back the rest of her drink, she washed the glass and set in the drainer with the rest of the dishes. Emptying the sink, she wandered back to the living room and sat listening to the mournful chords as they echoed the feelings in her heart.

With tears in his eyes, he finished his song. No words this time, just the guitar. He hadn’t recorded it yet, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to. This one was personal. Some times he just played for the sake of the music when his heart was heavy and his soul was sad. Taking a breath and setting the guitar back in its case, “Are you ready to go?”

Nodding, Sam handed him her keys. “I’m not driving though.”

Picking up the package that Frank had left on the stand near the door, they left and headed back to her truck. The loft wasn’t far. It was where he had all of his equipment. The radios, the computers, the phones… It was his base of operations when his ‘kids’ were in the field. Pulling into the underground parking garage, they took the service elevator up to the loft.

Standing just inside the loft, Sam smiled as she remembered the first time she had visited this place. She’d met Uncle Mike before, but not like that day. When she had met him, he had his cane and a limp. Same as today. When she showed up at the loft one day though, her heart had skipped a beat because she hadn’t recognized the man racing around the equipment in the wheelchair. From the back it looked like her Uncle Mike, but a wheelchair? Her first thought had been mobility. Wheels were faster to cover more ground. Then he had turned around and her jaw had hit the floor while her heart had fled to her throat. His legs were gone.

That’s when he had smiled, told her to relax, and had pointed to the corner near his bed. There, standing in the corner, were his prosthetic legs. “Fashion statement,” he had called them. She had laughed and told him that he had given her a heck of a scare. He’d laughed and told her of Vince’s first reaction. Hers had been no where near as bad.

Snapping out of her memory as she watched Uncle Mike perch on the edge of the bed and move the wheelchair closer, she knew better than to ask if he needed help. Instead she simply walked over, picked up the package and headed for the monitors.

Loading the tape into the VCR, she hit play just as Uncle Mike zipped around the corner of the machines and stopped by her side. “All right, let me have the pictures so I can get them scanned in. You watch that for now and see if anyone jumps out at you. I’ll see if I can run a face scan recognition on it when I’m done with these.”

Looking over her shoulder as Uncle Mike was busy with the pictures, “Is it going to be in the way if I drag a chair over here?”

Not bothering to look up, “No, go ahead. I’m not running a full show right now, so most of this isn’t even on.”

Pausing the video, Sam walked to the small dinette area and snatched up a folding chair. Opening the fridge and removing two bottles of water, she carried everything back to her station. Passing a bottle to Uncle Mike, she opened hers, took a swallow, recapped it and placed it on the floor beside her. Hitting the play button once again, Sam crossed her arms behind her head, sat back and watched the faces fill the screen. Muting the volume, she wanted to only concentrate on the faces. The audio would be filtered by Uncle Mike later.

Finishing with the photos, Uncle Mike turned his chair and parked beside Sam. “Anything?”

Shaking her without taking her eyes from the screen, “Not really. Most of them are his neighbors.” Pointing out a couple from the crowd, “She’s the little old lady that lives two houses up on the other side of the road. He lives next door to the old lady. He’s over there constantly. He’s normally over there at night having tea with her. Not too surprised that they’re out there.” Pointing out a few more, “This one is the nephew or cousin, or something, to the one directly across the street. That one, I think, is the granddaughter of Vinnie’s neighbor on the left side when you’re facing the house.”

“No one really jumped out as out of place, then?”

Now it was her turn to sigh. “Not really. There are a lot of faces I don’t recognize, but you know how it is. People see lights and sirens, something inside clicks, and they have to see what’s going on.”

Dropping a hand to Sam’s shoulder, “It’s late. Why don’t you go lay down and I’ll run facial recognition for a while. I think I’m going to leave audio for morning though. I’m going to need a clear head to go through everything.”

Not wanting to leave her post, but knowing she wasn’t going to beat the cold sneaking up on her any other way, Sam reluctantly rose and moved the chair out of the way making room for Uncle Mike to slide right up to the monitor. “If you find anything…”

Wrapping an arm around Sam’s waist, Uncle Mike pulled her closer. “I’ll wake you if I do.”

Kissing him lightly on the forehead, Sam set the folded chair against the wall out of the way. Hanging her jacket near the elevator, she sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off her boots. Tucking her gun in the nightstand, Sam climbed into bed and cocooned herself in the blankets before falling asleep.

***

Waking the next morning and finding Uncle Mike still at the monitors, Sam slipped out of bed and pulled on her boots. “Have you slept yet?”

Looking up from the video, he nodded with a tired shrug. “A couple hours. I didn’t want to wake you.”

Raising an eyebrow and frowning deeply, “Go get some sleep. If the program is still running, it’ll do fine on its own. I’ll make sure everything is logged and saved.”

Shaking his head firmly as Sam crossed the room to stand behind him, “I’m fine. I still want to tackle the audio.”

Leaning on the handles of the wheelchair, Sam rest her chin on the top of Uncle Mike’s head. “Set up the audio for me, then get some sleep. Fresh eyes, remember?”

Frank wasn’t the only one who knew not to argue with Sam. Dan knew that he might think of her as his daughter, but being the only female in a family with 3 grown men, Sam was the proverbial mother hen. “All right. Here’s what’s going on so far.”

As Uncle Mike filled her in on the facials so far, he set the audio feed up. She already knew how everything worked, but he gave her a quick refresher course before wheeling off to the bed. “If you find anything…”

Retrieving her chair from the night before, Sam smiled innocently as Uncle Mike laid down. “Then I’ll log it and let you sleep.” Purposely ignoring the glare being throw at her, she returned to the monitors and continued to set up. Looking over the audio equipment, her voice was serious. “I’ll wake you. Don’t worry.” Watching as he rolled over and was soon asleep, Sam sat down and pulled on the headphones.

***

Waking to a ringing phone, Uncle Mike sat up and moved the wheelchair closer to the bed.

“Mike’s Hardware.”

Pausing as a voice answered the phone, he remembered that Sam was there with him. Hearing her flip through the daily paper, he smiled proudly as she rattled off the new code phrase for the day. She hadn’t forgotten a thing. Listening in, he quietly settled in the chair and wheeled closer.

“Right. Nothing new here, Frank.” … “Audio is running now, and we’ve had the facials running half the night.” … “What about the trace? Any word yet?” … A heavy sigh. “Yeah, all right. I’ll talk to you later, Frank.”

Watching as she disconnected the call, “What’s going on?”

“Just Frank calling in to see how things are going here. There’s nothing on the trace yet, but they’re working on it.” Stretching in her seat, Sam looked over her shoulder at Uncle Mike. “There’s not much on the audio other than the reporter chick doing her job. Although if you plan on running background on it later, maybe we can pick up more from the crowd.” Catching his nod, she continued. “The facials are almost complete. There’s a few so far that I can’t seem to find a match for though. Apparently there’s a few upstanding citizens in the neighborhood.”

“No one’s that upstanding that their face isn’t somewhere on file. I’ll run them again.”

Moving out of the way and setting the chair aside, Sam leaned down and hugged her Uncle. “I think I’m going head back to my place for a bit to grab a shower and pack up a few things. Then I’ll stop off and pick us up breakfast somewhere before heading back here.”

Hugging her back, “Sounds good. I’ll give Frank a call back in a while and see what his plans are.”

Walking back to the nightstand, Sam removed her holster and slipped it on before grabbing her jacket and stepping into the elevator. “I’ll be back in a while.” Closing the door to the elevator, Sam headed out.

Watching her leave on the security monitors, Uncle Mike waited until she was safely out of the garage before turning his attention to the facials. Absently hitting the speaker button on the phone and punching in Frank’s home number he waited for it to be answered. “Frank, just checking in. What are the plans from here?”

From the other end of the line a very tired voice came through, “There’s nothing yet. The trace was sent to D.C. and they’re apparently working it now.”

“Yeah, Sam filled me in.”

“How’s she holding up, Dan?”

Still watching the faces flash across the screen, Uncle Mike sighed. “She hasn’t cracked yet, if that’s what you mean.”

“I know she thinks he’s alive and that we’re going to be able to find him alive, but honestly, between you and me, what do you think the chances are?”

“Chances that we’ll find him, I’d say are pretty good at the moment. She won’t give up. Finding him alive however, that’s going to depend on how long it takes to get a line on him.” Catching the faint yawn from the other end, “Frank, get some sleep.”

“Yeah, I’ll get some sleep on the plane.” Not getting a reply he continued, “I’m going down to D.C. to see if I can’t get someone down there to move a little faster. I’ll call when I get in.”

“All right, Frank. Safe flight.” Signing off, Uncle Mike’s attention now settled on the nameless faces that the recognition program couldn’t find matches for.

***

Returning hours later, and finding Uncle Mike still zipping from one machine to the next, “Sorry I’m late. Breakfast was out, so I picked up lunch.” Tossing her backpack on the bed, she noticed the headphones perched on his head. Getting no response, she crossed the room and dropped the bag of food in his lap.

Looking up sheepishly, “Sorry, I didn’t hear you come in.” Setting the headphones aside and pausing the audio, “I talked to Frank. He’s heading to D.C. to see if he can’t light a fire under someone’s ass and get some answers faster.”

Almost wishing she could be there to watch that, Sam shook her head. “We’re going to find Vinnie, and when we do, whoever’s behind this is going to pay dearly.” Shrugging out of her jacket, but keeping the holster, she pulled out her chair and took a seat. “Ok, so what do we have new?”

***

Later that night, Frank called in from D.C. “I’m not talking long. I don’t know where they get these techs, but they either need new help, or more help.”

Sitting perched on the edge of the table with the speaker between them, Sam looked at Uncle Mike. “Frank, besides the trace, do they have anything new? Anything we can run with?”

“Sam, right now they’re looking into flights, trains, buses, any major transportation that they could have used to get Vince out of there. I have my money on a plane, but that’s just my thought on it.”

Nodding, Uncle Mike agreed. “I think we’re both with you on that one, Frank. I take it the feds are flashing Vince’s picture around?”

“Yes. They haven’t had any hits with the buses at all. There was one possible hit on a plane, and a couple at the train depot.” Pausing for a yawn, “Sam, let them do their jobs. I know what you’re thinking, and you can’t get too involved. You don’t carry a badge anymore, and if you go in throwing your weight around, the feds can, and probably will, arrest you for interfering.”

Growling softly at being chastised, Sam scowled. “You really think so, Frank? I’m not a kid anymore. I know what I can, and can’t, do. Am I happy about my limitations? Not in the least bit. You know I hate playing politics and playing by the rules, but it’s not like I can do any good finding Vinnie if I’m behind bars.”

Resting a calming hand on Sam’s arm, Uncle Mike kept his voice soft. “Easy, Sam. We’re all on edge. I think Frank just wanted to make sure that you didn’t do anything to get into trouble. We’re all going to have to make some adjustments here. We can’t just go rushing in on this one.”

“Dan’s right, Sam. I wasn’t accusing you, or anything. I just wanted to make sure you keep a level head. I know this is getting on my nerves down here with how slow everything is going, and because of my own reactions, I just want to make sure you’re keeping it together too.”

Listening to him yawn deeply yet again, Sam’s face softened. “Frank, get some sleep. I’m sure if anything is turned up, they’ll call you. We’ll do the same here.”

“Right. Night to you both. Keep me updated.”

Disconnecting the call, Uncle Mike eyed Sam nervously. Smiling slightly at the look on his face, she tried to reassure him. “Calm down. I’m not going to sneak out of here while you’re not looking. For now, I’m willing to wait.”

***

The next day brought nothing new. Trace kept coming back negative. The prints so far were either Vinnie’s, Frank’s, or Uncle Mike’s. There were no prints in the paint. They were getting no where.

There were still faces with no names. The audio and background audio were turning up nothing out of the ordinary. Nerves were shot, tempers were rising.

Pouring over the faces once again, Uncle Mike was yelling at the program, pleading with it to find the names. Sam had the background audio running yet again, and was getting frustrated with the speculation from the crowd. And then the private line rang.

Jerking off the headphones to hear the call, Sam waited for Uncle Mike to hit the speaker. “Yeah, go.”

“There’s a line to Vince. Apparently he was seen on a flight that was headed to Miami.”

Chapter Text

Miami!

Staring at the speaker in shock, Sam looked at Uncle Mike and back again. “Miami?”

Hearing the uncertainty in Sam’s voice, Frank sighed. “I don’t know. I have to check into a few things here still, and then I’m heading down there to try to catch up with a source.”

Uncle Mike was on top of it. With his fingers poised over the keyboard, “What’s the name, Frank?”

“I don’t have one yet. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know.”

Passing a hand over her face, Sam sighed. “Does the Bureau still have a safe house down there?”

“I’m sure we do, Sam. I’ll double check on it. Do you remember where it was?”

Watching Uncle Mike as he started searching the data base for Bureau held safe houses, she nodded. “Sort of. It’s been a long time, Frank. It was close to the Metro Dade Police Department, wasn’t it?”

“That’s the only one I can think of at the moment. Only thing is, they don’t really go by Metro Dade anymore. It’s Miami Dade now.”

Reading over Uncle Mike’s shoulder as he points at the screen before him, “Yeah, it’s here. Uncle Mike pulled it up. It’s still maintained by the Bureau. Looks like it still has electric, water, phone, and cable hookups. We could use that as a base of operations when we get down there.”

And then came the sigh. “Sam…”

Slapping her hand down on the desk near the phone, “Don’t even say it, Frank! There is no way I’m sitting up here in the doom and gloom while you go down there to question some guy that may or may not have information about Vinnie. That’s not going to happen.”

“Sam, would you calm down for a minute?”

Grumbling and gritting her teeth, “What?”

“Sam, I was going to tell you that there is no sense in rushing off right away. It’s going to be a couple days at least before I can get everything in order here and get a meeting set up with who ever the contact is.”

Calming slightly, Sam grinned cautiously. “So, you’re not telling me that I can’t go?”

“I couldn’t stop you if I wanted to, but you can’t just go running off down there when you don’t have the jurisdiction or the badge to back you up.”

At the mention of a badge all the fight left her. She knew he was right. She’d never get anyone to talk to her down there without something to flash. Sounding heartbroken, “Listen, I can’t run around down there questioning people, but I can go down and get the house set up for when you and Uncle Mike get down there, right?”

Not wanting to jinx what he had planned, Frank forced himself to remain calm. “Sure, Sam. Are you planning on flying down?”

Looking at Uncle Mike, she shrugged. “I wasn’t planning on it. I was going to take the bike down.”

Shaking his head and sighing, Uncle Mike looked up at her. “You’re on the verge of a cold, and you want to take that damn bike down there? What about your truck?”

The wheels in her mind already burning, Sam smiled widely. “You could drive the truck down. Then, if I have to, I can always load the bike on the back of the truck when I have to come back up here.”

Not entirely liking where this was headed, Frank broke in. “Listen, I can’t fly out of here to get down there for at least two days. It will probably take that long for you to drive down there. I’ll have a key stashed at the house for you, and by the time you get there, I’m hoping to have a package for you. That should make things a little easier while we’re down there.”

Her mind working overtime, and her heart soaring, “That would be great, Frank. Why don’t you let us go for now so that we can work out details and such? I’m going to have to make a list of what I can carry and what I have to pack in the truck.”

“All right. I’m not entirely comfortable with all this, but ride safely, and check in with Uncle Mike regularly. I’ll have my phone on me at all times. If you need anything, you call me. Is that understood?”

Rolling her eyes at his almost demanding tone, “Yes, Dad. I promise I won’t run anyone off the road. I promise not to shoot anyone that gets in my way. I promise not to get caught speeding. I promise to call when I get there. Does that cover everything, Frank?”

“Yeah, something like that.” More shuffling of papers. “Call me if you two have anything new. Take care, and be safe.” The click in the line signaled the end of the call on Frank’s end and Uncle Mike turned off the speaker.

Tossing the headphones onto the desk, Sam folded up her chair and moved it back to the dinette. Picking her backpack up from the floor beside the bed, she dumped the contents out onto the bed. Looking over her shoulder as Uncle Mike rolled up beside her with a pad of paper in his hand, “I’m packing as light as I can. I really don’t think I have to stop back at my place at this point for anything other than the bike. I have a change of clothes, my boots, my jacket, and my SIG and holster.”

“Ammunition?”

“Full clip loaded now, plus two more clips loaded.” Reaching into a side pocket, Sam pulled out two clips to show him before returning them to the pocket. Stuffing the clothes into the bag, she set her SIG on top of the clothes before zipping it up again.

Motioning for her to sit, Uncle Mike set the pad on his lap. “All right. If you really want to do this, then we need to make up a list. You’re going to need your laptop. I’m going to need mine. There’s already communication equipment down there, so that cuts down on a lot. I’ll take the video with me. I’ll make a copy and save it here, but I want the hard copy with us. The photos are already scanned and saved to file. I can load those onto both laptops.” Pausing to let his thoughts sort out, “I still have to stop at the apartment to gather a bag of clothes, and a small cooler to keep me going while I’m driving. I’ll have to drive you back to your place so you can get your bike. Then I think I might as well leave at the same time you do.”

She was excited and nervous at the same time. “Even if we leave the same time, I’ll still end up far ahead of you. I know I can drive for longer stretches than you’ll be able to, so I’m figuring if we both get as much sleep as we can tonight, we can leave in the morning. That should put me in Miami in 2 days. I could probably push it and drive straight through, but I don’t want to risk that.”

Tapping his pen on his knee, “We can figure a point of layover. That way even if you hit the spot first, you can get a room somewhere, call me, and I’ll let you know when to expect me. If you have to, rent a room for 2 nights, and I’ll take the key from you when I get in.”

Following his train of thought, Sam nodded slowly. “I can get a double occupancy room, and let them know that I’m expecting my Uncle to show up. Then when you get there, you can crash, I’ll leave you the key in the morning, and if you decide to, you can keep the room the second night and then continue down to Dade.”

Watching Sam as she laid back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, “Do you still have the helmet I modified for you?”

Nodding against the mattress, “The one with the CB mic and speakers? Yeah, I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet though.” Leaning up on her elbow, “I’ll grab that one when we go to get the bike in the morning. The CB in the truck works well though, so I’ll try to keep within CB range, but I can’t make any promises on that one.”

“Well just remember what Frank said. Ride safe. There’s a lot of drivers out there that don’t respond kindly to motorcycles.” He was worried about her taking off on this trip on her own. He’d be on the road too, but too far behind her in case anything went wrong.

She knew he was worried. He was worried about Vinnie, and now with her taking off with the motorcycle, he’d be all the more worried about her. “I’ll be fine. It’s a good plan.” Checking her watch, “Look, why don’t we load up what we need from here, then head over to my place to pick up the bike, and then crash at your apartment? It will save us a lot of time instead of doing it in the morning.”

Studying the woman before him, Uncle Mike realized just how much she’d changed since she had first walked into their lives. Gone was the scared kid, afraid of everything and everyone and in her place was this strong willed, strong hearted woman. For her family she would risk everything, and he saw it in her eyes now. She was determined to get to Miami in record time and find Vince. If he’d let her, she’d be on the road as soon as he gave the word. Passing a hand over his eyes and sighing deeply, “Let me get the laptops loaded up with the photos and the audio tracks.” Rolling back to the bank of equipment, “Pull the video from the player and put it in your bag for now. Then we’ll go.”

It didn’t take long before they were both ready to leave. Making a fast stop at Sam’s, she dug out her helmet and fired up the bike. Hitting the toggle switch for the CB, “Uncle Mike?”

His voice boomed inside the helmet, “I’ve got you, Sam.”

Shaking her head and adjusting the volume, “Try again. Volume needed to be adjusted.”

“How’s this?”

Flashing a thumbs up as she roared out of the garage and onto the street, “Perfect. Now be a dear please and hit the garage door button?”

Following her back to his apartment, Uncle Mike found himself quickly loosing ground to her. “Sam, if we’re doing this, you realize you’re going to need a handle, right?”

“Sure. Have anything in mind? What am I supposed to call you?”

“Haven’t figured that out yet, and you can call me Lifeguard One.”

Smiling behind the full-face visor, “Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Pulling into a parking spot right in front of his apartment, Sam killed the engine and looked at her watch. Hearing her truck coming up the road, Not too bad. He’s only a few minutes behind. I’ll have to watch the speed on the way down. I don’t want to put too much distance between us. Removing her helmet and shaking out her hair, she waited for Uncle Mike to park and exit the vehicle. “I’ll have to keep to a slower pace on the drive down if we plan on sticking together.”

Handing the laptop cases to Sam as she set her helmet on the front seat, “Don’t worry too much about it. The CB has range and we can test it out when we get on the road in the morning. Once we know the distance, we can go from there. Now let’s get inside, and pack.”

***

Frank knew that she wouldn’t back down. Once they were all in Miami, there’d be nothing he could do to stop her from taking this into her own hands. The only problem with that was, she wasn’t part of the Bureau anymore. She had no badge to back her up now. That wouldn’t stop her, but if she pushed too hard, there would be those that could. He couldn’t take that chance.

Knocking softly on the Director’s door, he heard a muffled “Enter”, and he stepped inside. Closing the door behind him, Frank straightened his tie and began playing the best political game he could. He had to get her some backing, and this was the only way.

***

The laptops were stacked in their hard cases on the table. Uncle Mike’s bag was sitting next to the door, and the small cooler had found its place on the counter. She’d watched as he’d collected some of his Cds and stacked them beside the laptops, and smiled when all he said was “Road tunes.” What tugged at her heart though, was when he picked up his guitar case and set it near the door with his bag. He’d turned and looked at her, and his only words were softly spoken, “We’re both going to need it.”

Now they sat at the table eating left over spaghetti that had been in the refrigerator. Sam was itching to leave. She wanted to be on the road. The longer they waited, the further Vinnie was taken from them, but she waited. She needed her family together in this. As strong as everyone thought she was, she still needed her family to stand together. She would never admit it, but she knew she would never be able to do this alone.

Breaking the silence, Uncle Mike cleared the table. “Why don’t you get these washed up while I call Frank? I’ll let him know what’s going on.” Not waiting for an answer, he moved into the living room taking the phone with him. Dialing Frank’s cell phone, he waited patiently for him to answer. Getting the voice mail, Uncle Mike frowned but left a quick message for Frank to call him back for trip details.

***

Leaving the Director’s office, Frank checked his cell phone. He’d felt it go off while he was in there, but hadn’t dared to even look at it. Things hadn’t gone as smooth as he had hoped, but at least he had gotten what he’d asked for. Now if he could only get Sam to play by the rules.

Walking out to his car, Frank called Uncle Mike. “It’s me.” … “I was in with the Director trying to get Sam some backing. She’s not going to be able to do much without some standing behind her.” … “No, don’t say anything to her yet. I managed to talk him into getting her a temporary ID.” … “No, no luck on a badge. She’s going to have to play by the rules though.” … “Yeah, slim chance.”

Listening as Uncle Mike gave him the rundown of their travel plans, Frank offered a suggestion. “I know she isn’t going to like it, but why don’t you make your layover here in D.C.? We can get her ID done when you get here tomorrow.” … “Right, call when you two get into town. I’ll give you directions to one of the available safe houses.” … “Get some rest, you’re going to need it.”

***

Hanging up with Frank, Uncle Mike ran a hand through his hair and looked up as Sam sat beside him. Catching her questioning glance, “Frank wants us to make our stop in D.C. tomorrow. You’ll be able to straight shoot it to Miami from there the day after.” Holding up a hand before she could argue, “I don’t know how he did it, but he’s getting you a temporary ID.”

Shaking her head, “Sorry, not happening. I’m not playing by those rules anymore. I will not have my hands tied anymore. Call him back later and tell him I appreciate what he did, but he shouldn’t have. I don’t want it.” Getting up, she leaned over and kissed Uncle Mike on the cheek. “I know it’s still early, but I want to crash. Are you sure we have everything packed?”

Having known she wouldn’t accept anything from the current Director, he wasn’t surprised by her reaction. Looking at the clock, it was just after 9pm and he found himself wondering where the day had went. Reaching for the phone once again, “I think we should still layover in D.C.” Watching her reluctant nod, he pointed to the guest room. “Get some sleep. I’ll call Frank, and then I’m turning in.”

Saying good night, and making her way to the guest room, Sam sighed. She knew Frank was only trying to help, but she wouldn’t accept anything from this Director. He was the reason she had walked away, and she wasn’t about to play nice with him. Shutting the door, she changed for bed, and fell asleep quickly despite the multitude of thoughts and plans running through her head.

Hitting the redial on the phone, Frank answered on the second ring. “Frank, cancel the ID. She won’t play ball with the Director.” … “Don’t be mad at her. She wanted to thank you for doing it, but she said she couldn’t accept anything from him.” … “Well you should have known, or at the very least, you should have asked her or said something before you went in there.” … “How bad is it going to be?” … “Ok. I figure he won’t care much. He’ll probably even grin ear to ear when he hears he doesn’t have to give her a card now.” … “No, she’s in bed. I’m turning in as well. We’re out of here early, so we should make it there by noon. I don’t think she’s planning on staying though.” … “Frank, a straight shot is only a little over twenty hours. She could make it there on her own, but she’s planning on keeping a slower pace so I’m not too far behind her. She’s not going to sit in D.C. all day when we can stop over, touch base with you if you want, and then move on. I want to hit somewhere near a half way point if we can.”

Listening to Frank rant and sigh on the other end, “Frank, would you relax? We’ll be down there in two days. We’ll get the house set up, and then when you get in we can get started. Besides, the open road may give us a chance to clear our heads and look at things with fresh eyes.” That was his thing. Whenever you got too engrossed in a case, you needed to step back, close your eyes, and look again. You always found something new when you had fresh eyes. “I’ll call from the road. Let me know when your flight gets in. Night, Frank.” Ending the call, he sat there in the silence for a moment, and then got up to shut off the lights before crawling into his own bed. Sleep wouldn’t find him for hours still, and the road ahead of them was a long one. With any luck, they’d make it to Miami without incident.

***

Waking the next morning, Sam crawled out of bed and headed for the shower. When she walked out of the bathroom she found Uncle Mike leaning over the table with a map laid out before him. Glancing up at her as she entered the room, he frowned. “Get back in there and blow dry your hair. You’re not riding that bike with wet hair.”

Yawning widely, Sam ignored him and walked into the kitchen to pour a glass of juice before returning to his side. “I planned on it, but I needed a drink.” Watching his finger follow a route, “What’s the plan?”

“I talked to Frank last night before I turned in. It’s only four hours to D.C. and it’s a little over twenty to Miami. I know you can make it in a straight shot if I tell you that you can, but I’m asking that you don’t. I’m not sure about road conditions and traffic patterns, but if we can push through to somewhere in South Carolina, then we’re doing good. That will take a good portion of the day, then we can get something to eat and some sleep, and hit the rest tomorrow.”

Sipping at her juice, Sam nodded in agreement. “You don’t have to ask since I have no plans of leaving you too far behind. Do we know when Frank’s due in Miami, and are we planning on stopping in D.C.?”

Still studying the map, “He’ll call when he gets his flight information, and no, we don’t have to.”

Tipping the glass and emptying it in a long swallow, “Good. Then I need to dry my hair, and get the truck packed.” Leaving Uncle Mike to fold the map, Sam made a dash for the bathroom and came out fifteen minutes later with her hair dry and pulled back in a ponytail. “Ready?”

Slipping the strap of his bag over his shoulder and picking up his guitar case, “If you can grab the laptops and the cooler, then we’re ready to go. Tunes and map are already down there.”

Raising an eyebrow at the empty cooler, “Gas and munchies before we hit the road?”

Waiting for her to join him outside, “That’s the plan.” Loading everything into the passenger seat with the cooler closest to him, he picked up Sam’s helmet. Sliding it onto her head, he tapped the top of it lightly. “Ride safe. Keep your eyes on traffic.”

Hugging the man before her tightly, “I’m not a kid anymore. I’ll be safe. I promise.” Turning to her bike, she started the engine and toggled on the CB.

Standing beside the truck for a moment, Uncle Mike’s eyes misted over slightly as he watched her. You may have grown up, but you’re still a kid to me. I may have lost one of you already, I don’t need to lose you both. Climbing into the truck, he started it up and turned on the CB.

“Lifeguard One, you got your ears on?”

“Yeah kid, I’m here.”

“I figured out a handle, if you haven’t yet.”

“Can’t wait to hear it.”

“Merlin.”

Raising an eyebrow at her as she turned to look over her shoulder at him, he could see her smile. “Merlin?”

“As in, I’m pure magic baby. Never been caught.” With those words he heard her laugh as she hit the throttle and took off down the street leaving him to chuckle and shake his head in amusement. This was going to be an interesting drive.

Chapter Text

Leaving the apartment, Uncle Mike and Sam pulled into the closest gas station. Setting her helmet on the seat, “Why don’t you gas up the truck and I’ll head inside and fill the cooler for you? Then you can get a head start out of here while I gas up.”

Already removing the gas cap, Uncle Mike nodded as she stopped by his side. “A couple sodas and munchies. A large coffee too.” Sighing as Sam reached past him and swiped her credit card through the pump reader, “I had that.”

Shrugging as she walked away, “It’s my truck.” Smirking as she walked inside, she pulled a small bag of ice and four sodas from the back cooler, and picked up some chips and beef jerky. Dropping it all on the counter, she stopped back at the coffee machine and poured a large cup. Paying for it all, and heading back outside, she set the coffee in the cup holder, pulled the cooler from the truck and dumped half the ice inside. Depositing the sodas into the ice, she returned the cooler to the seat and set the bag with the munchies on top of it.

Topping off the tank, Uncle Mike handed her the receipt and climbed back inside. “I’ll meet you on the highway. You remember the route I showed you this morning?”

Nodding as she walked back to her bike parked next to the pump in front of the truck, “I remember. It won’t take me long to catch up with you. Don’t wait for me. I’ll find you.” Waiting for Uncle Mike to pull around her, she pulled the cap off the tank and swiped her card once more. It didn’t take long to top off the bike. She hadn’t ridden it for a while and the tank was almost completely full. Better safe than sorry though. Pulling her helmet back on, and starting the bike up again, “Lifeguard One, this is Merlin. I’m on the road.”

***

The ride to D.C. was uneventful. Traffic wasn’t too heavy until they hit the big cities, but even then they were missing the rush hour jams. They’d only stopped once before D.C. to fuel up, and that had led to a rather heated discussion over who was going to pay for that portion of the trip. It was finally agreed upon that they would split the cost of the trip by alternating fuel ups.

By the time they hit the outskirts of D.C., lunch hour traffic was in full force. “Lifeguard One, this is Merlin. I’d say it’s time to call boss man and let him know we’re in town.”

Still shaking his head with amusement at her choice of handle, Uncle Mike plucked the CB mic off the dashboard, “Roger that, Merlin. Hold one.” Picking up his cell phone from the seat beside him, he speed dialed Frank’s number. “We’re in town, Frank. Where’s the house?” Getting directions from Frank, Uncle Mike let him know that they would be there shortly, and relayed the directions to Sam.

Pulling into the driveway of the tiny safe house, Sam parked the bike on the front walk to make room for Uncle Mike to park the truck. Removing her helmet and running a hand through her sweat dampened hair, Sam smiled as Frank opened the front door and stepped out.

“You guys made good time.”

Shrugging as Uncle Mike pulled the cooler out of the truck and closed the door, “We left early, Frank. Besides it’s only a few hours drive.” Slipping past him to enter the house, Sam warned him over her shoulder, “We’re not sticking around though. We’ve got time to relax for a little while, but the plan is to push on to South Carolina.”

Raising an eyebrow as Uncle Mike joined him to walk inside, “What’s in South Carolina?”

Handing the cooler to Frank, Uncle Mike leaned heavily on his cane and grimaced as he tried to massage the tight muscles in his lower back. “Nothing. It’s just as far as we’re going to push.”

Walking back into the living room and stretching, Sam noticed Uncle Mike’s discomfort and instantly felt to blame. Crossing the space between them to wrap an arm around his waist, “Why didn’t you say something?”

Biting back a groan as he moved slowly to the closest chair, Uncle Mike draped an arm around Sam’s shoulders and for once, leaned on her for added support. “I’m just a little stiff. Give me a couple hours and I’ll be fine.”

Frowning at his stubbornness, “I should have thought about it while we were driving. I may be able to ride for hours straight with just a quick stop every now and then, but I should have known better.”

Sitting in the recliner nearest the sofa, Uncle Mike leaned his head back and tried to relax. “Stop worrying. We’ll rest for a couple hours, and then we’ll head out again. We can still make our layover by nightfall.” Calling out to Frank, “I don’t suppose there’s coffee in this place, is there?”

Hearing Frank bustling around in the kitchen, Sam snickered as he walked out carrying a small serving tray laden with sandwiches and coffee mugs. “Not only is there coffee, but there’s food too.”

Picking up a sandwich from the pile, Sam looked at it and wrinkled her nose. “This is food?”

Rolling his eyes, Frank frowned. “It’s tuna. It won’t kill you.”

Leaning over to whisper to Uncle Mike, “Remind me when we hit our stop tonight that we need to find a cow or something.” Fighting back a yawn, she glared at Uncle Mike as he opened his mouth to comment. “I’m having a sandwich, and then I’m catnapping for an hour. Any more than that and I’ll be useless on the road.” Pointing the corner of her sandwich in his direction, “You should lie down and rest your back too.”

Having already planned on doing just that, Uncle Mike ignored her and turned to Frank. “Any news on the trace that was sent in? What your flight plans are? Who this source is?”

Deciding to keep it to the point, Frank shook his head. “No, yes and I’ll give you a written itinerary before you leave, and I won’t get his name until I get to Miami.”

Stretching out on the sofa, Sam draped her jacket over her and closed her eyes. “Don’t mind me, but if you let me sleep more than an hour, I’m going to hurt someone.” Within minutes she was asleep.

Leaving the room, Frank returned with a blanket and a sheet of paper. Handing the paper to Uncle Mike, “That’s the information for the flight.” He didn’t need to point out that at the bottom of the sheet was the name of the source, Michael Santana. Handing Uncle Mike the blanket, “Take the bedroom. I had to dig that out of the closet for you.”

Nodding, Uncle Mike shuffled down the hallway with the blanket over his shoulder. Sitting in the recliner, Frank studied Sam as she laid sleeping beside him. He wasn’t so sure that they were going to find Vince alive, but she was going to fight tooth and nail until they did. She wasn’t about to give up hope, and she was the only reason why he hadn’t completely given up what little he had left either. Letting them both sleep for an hour, he reached over and gently shook her shoulder, “Sam, time to wake up.” Waiting until she was sitting up and stretching, he walked to the bedroom to wake Uncle Mike.

Making a stop in the bathroom to splash water on her face, she could hear Frank talking to Uncle Mike. “I’ll get your cooler packed, but I don’t want you pushing any further than you have to.”

“Calm down, Frank. My back feels fine now. We’ll knock out a few more hours and then we’ll stop for the night.”

“Fine. Call me when you guys stop tonight.”

Stepping out of the bathroom as Frank and Uncle Mike walked past, she fell in step between them. Picking up her jacket from the sofa, and tucking her helmet under her arm, “I’ll make sure he doesn’t push too far.”

Saying their goodbyes, Uncle Mike pulled the truck back out on the road with Sam not too far behind.

***

Making their stop that night, Sam tried to talk Uncle Mike into resting the next day while she continued on, but he outright refused. “We can both rest up once we get to Miami tomorrow. Frank won’t be in until late tomorrow night. We should be able to make good time if we leave here early.”

Shaking her head at him, “If I can’t talk you out of staying, we might as well find a place to eat and then get some sleep.” Picking up the keys to the truck, Sam headed for the door.

Smiling wearily as he sat on the edge of the bed, “Why don’t you just go find something and bring it back? I think I’m going to call Frank and then lie down and rest my back.”

Looking over her shoulder, Sam nodded. “I’ll be back in a while.” Leaving, she searched out a decent burger joint and picked up a couple meals. Stopping at the gas station on the way back to the hotel, she filled the tank so that it was one less stop in the morning. Returning to the hotel, she divided the contents of the bags, and they ate in silence. Setting the alarm beside the bed, they both rolled over and fell asleep.

***

Waking before the alarm, Sam groaned as she heard the shower already running. Uncle Mike was up before her and it wasn’t even light out yet. Turning off the alarm, Sam laid back staring up at the ceiling. As soon as Uncle Mike was done in the bathroom, she took her turn. Cursing that she had not brought her hair dryer, she towel dried her hair as best as she could, and tightly braided it. At least with the helmet on, it wouldn’t be so bad.

“Sam, we should stop to fill up before we leave.”

Walking out of the bathroom, Sam sat on the bed and pulled on her boots. “Already filled up the truck last night before I came back. I just have to stop to top off the bike.” Shrugging on her jacket and zipping it up, “Do you want stop anyway and get coffee, or something else for the cooler?”

Draping his jacket over his shoulder and picking up the keys from the table near the door, “No. It’s early, let’s put some miles under our belts, and then we can stop in a couple hours.”

Taking the room key, Sam grabbed her helmet and walked out the door. Watching Uncle Mike get into the truck, “I’ll drop the key off at the office, hit the gas station, and then I’ll catch up with you. Hit the road, and I’ll find you.” Without waiting for a reply, Sam walked down to the office to turn in the key. Returning to her bike, she smiled as Uncle Mike was already gone. Making a quick stop at the gas station, Sam checked in with Uncle Mike, and took off hot on his trail.

***

Arriving in Miami by mid-afternoon, Sam followed Uncle Mike to the safe house. Studying the outside of the house, she parked the bike and frowned as Uncle Mike turned off the truck. “Good to know that the Bureau hasn’t skimped on its accommodations.”

Chuckling lightly as he opened the driver’s door, “Why don’t you see if you can find the key to this place, and then we can unload the truck?”

Walking to the front door, Sam searched the flower bed. Moving some of the stones aside, she picked up a key. Rolling her eyes, “And such great security.” Opening the door, she let herself inside. Taking a quick look around and flipping the switches for the lights, she was surprised when they actually turned on. Returning to the truck, she gently pushed Uncle Mike aside and started unloading. “Go inside and sit down. I’ve got this.” Waiting until he was inside, she leaned against the side of truck and took in the neighborhood. Not much had changed over the years. Quiet, little traffic, a rather nice little spot. Ok, so maybe the Bureau hadn’t made such a bad choice after all. Lugging in the laptops and cooler, Sam headed back outside and pulled Uncle Mike’s duffle bag and her backpack out, followed by the guitar case. Taking those inside, she stopped outside long enough to lock the truck, and take another look around. Heading back inside, she stepped in the kitchen and opened the cupboards. Groaning loudly, “Uncle Mike, I think the last person to use this place was Old Mother Hubbard.”

“Why’s that?”

Letting the cupboard slam shut, “Because all the cupboards are bare.” Walking into the living room, she watched as Uncle Mike was busy setting up the laptops and surveillance equipment that was stored there. “Why don’t you leave that for now? We both need a break.”

Without looking up as he fiddled with the main phone, “I’m fine. I need to get everything set up. We have to pick Frank up at the airport in a couple hours.”

Leaving her helmet behind, Sam walked to the front door. “I think I’m going to go for a ride. Have we decided on dinner yet, or are we going out later, or should I stop off and do some shopping?”

“I don’t know about Frank, but I’m thinking quick and easy tonight. Pizza sound ok?”

“Yeah, great. I’m taking the truck. I’ll be back in an hour or so.” Shutting the door behind her, Sam climbed into her truck and rolled the windows down. Driving around the city aimlessly, she took in as much as she could. Noting the location of the MDPD, she drove past, but couldn’t help but think how close they are to the safe house, and how the Bureau apparently wasn’t as bad as she had thought. Driving down the beach, her cell phone went off and she pulled into a parking lot overlooking the hot sand and blue water. “Yeah?”

“Sam, Frank’s flight is getting in early. How far are you from the house?”

Watching the waves roll up onto the sand, she was mesmerized. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, “I’ll be back in 5.” Closing the phone and dropping it on the seat beside her, she backed out of the space, and turned the truck around. She didn’t need to rush, she was close to the house. She was definitely thinking about coming back to the beach if they had to wait to contact their source. Picking up Uncle Mike, they made it to the airport just as Frank’s plane was landing. With only a small overnight bag with him, there was no other luggage to claim, and they were quickly out of there and back to the house. Ordering pizza and soda, they sat in the living room with the stereo on playing some of Uncle Mike’s CDs. “So, when are we supposed to meet up with this source, Frank?”

He was tired. He didn’t want to argue. Sighing, Frank leveled a look at Sam that told her exactly that. “Tomorrow, Sam. If you want to go, fine, but you need to keep your head straight and play by the rules for once. If he has any information, we’ll get it from him. Understood?”

Rolling her eyes as the doorbell rang and Frank went to pay for the food, “Yeah, yeah, I got it.” Things were starting to run faster now, she could feel it. This was the first real shot they had at finding Vinnie, and she wasn’t about to compromise that. “You’ve got the lead, Frank. I’m only going to see what Michael has to say.” Noting the surprised look on his face as he set the pizza on the table, “You shouldn’t write random names on your flight schedule.” Eating a couple of slices, Sam quietly excused herself. “I’m going to claim the room on the end. I need to just chill for a while.” Leaving the men to themselves, Sam sprawled out on the bed and despite it still being early, the long ride had tired her out more than she cared to admit, and she was soon sound asleep.

***

Waking to a knock on the door, Sam rolled over and noticed the sun shining brightly through the windows. Had she really slept through the entire night? Rubbing her eyes and stretching to the point that her back cracked, Sam slowly shuffled to the door to open it. Staring at Frank through blurry eyes, “What time is it?”

Laying the back of his hand against her forehead, he noted that she felt slightly warm, but didn’t look half as bad as she had back in New York. “It’s almost 11. You came in here last night, and when Uncle came in to check on you, you were sound asleep. I figured you both could use some rest after that trip down here, so I let you sleep. We don’t have to meet up with Michael for another hour. After that, the day is yours depending on what we get from him.”

Turning back into the room, Sam picked up her backpack and set it on the bed. Pulling out a change of clothes, “Anyone in the bathroom?”

“No, go ahead. I won’t leave without you.” Turning on his heel, Frank walked back into the living room where Sam could hear Uncle Mike tapping along on the keyboard to his laptop.

Enjoying a long, hot shower, Sam stepped out of the bathroom awake and refreshed. Without words, she nodded to Frank and picked up her jacket as he walked to the door. Leaning over to kiss Uncle Mike on the cheek, she picked up the keys to her bike, and followed.

Winding through the city, Sam kept a healthy distance between her and Frank. Heading down to the docks, she raised an eyebrow as Frank got out of the car and started walking toward a house boat. Parking the bike, Sam rushed to catch up with him. Holding up his hand to silence any questions, Frank knocked on the door. Receiving no answer, he pounded louder. A voice from inside told them to go away. Growling under her breath, Sam reached around Frank to pound on the door again. Hearing her growl, but trying to keep in control, Frank yelled out, “Michael Santana, this is Agent Frank McPike. Open the door!”

Opening the door with nothing but a pair of boxers on, his hair messed up, and reeking of beer, Michael frowned deeply. “What do you want?”

Scowling at the man before him, “We had a meeting. We were supposed to meet here at your boat house at noon. I can see that we’re interrupting.”

His eyes growing wide, Michael ran a hand through his hair. “Shit, I’m sorry. I forgot. Give me a minute, will you?” Closing the door, Frank could hear him inside. “Get dressed, I want you out of here when I get back… It doesn’t matter… It’s work, honey… I’ll be fine…” Opening the door, Michael only looked marginally better. Now dressed in khaki shorts, an open necked button-down shirt, and moccasins, “Agent McPike, forgive me please. I lost all track of the day.” Glancing at Sam, “Who’s she?”

Stepping back so that Michael could join them outside, Frank made it a point to keep himself between Michael and Sam. “She’s his partner, and I’m thinking that if you don’t have anything useful for us, she’s probably going to become quite unstable.”

Eyeing Sam warily, Michael motioned up the dock, “Why don’t we walk, Agent?” Waiting for Frank to walk with him, Sam fell instep behind them listening to what Michael knew. “I can’t do much to help you. I can tell you this though. Tomorrow around 2pm, there’s supposed to be a plane landing here at Miami. It’s a private flight. There’s supposed to be someone on it that was on the same flight as your missing operative. I can only assume that he may have information for you.”

Looking over his shoulder at Sam, Frank shook his head signaling her to remain silent. “How do you know this?”

Stopping to look at Frank, “Look, we all have our sources, Agent. I can only assure you that I had nothing to do with his disappearance, and that I’m trying to help you out as best as I can.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a scrap of paper and handed it to Frank. “Just between you and me, I’d get in touch with the MDPD and see if they can’t send someone over to the airfield with you tomorrow.”

Narrowing his eyes dangerously, Frank dropped his voice. “Why exactly is that?”

Holding up his hands, Michael shrugged. “Hey, I’m just saying. Federal Agent gets snatched up and there’s a possible eye witness coming in, I’d want to make sure I could get my hands on him without the rest of the feds showing up and dragging him back to D.C.”

Glancing at Sam and seeing her nod, Frank had to agree. “I’ll give them a call. Thank you.” Watching as Michael walked back to his boat, “If this Intel is bad, we’ll be back to talk some more.”

Hearing the warning and taking it to heart, Michael called back, “I wouldn’t expect any less.”

Returning to their vehicles, Frank studied the paper in his hand. “Why don’t you head back to the house, or go do whatever you had planned for a while? I think I’m just going to stop by the MDPD and have a talk with one their officers and see if we can’t get some help for tomorrow.” Settling in to his Bureau car, Frank slowly backed out of the parking space and drove back into the city. Watching him leave, Sam headed for the beach.

***

The rest of the day was uneventful. Sam returned to the house hours later with the beginnings of a sunburn, but she felt great. Relaxing around the house though, she was soon bored. Firing up her laptop, she went over the photos from Vinnie’s and set her mind to the task at hand. Tomorrow they would get their biggest break, and she wanted to be ready.

Going out for dinner that night, the mood was mellow, and none of them discussed what was about to happen the next day. Frank had stopped off and talked to someone at the PD and they had promised to have someone there when the plane landed. That’s all they had to worry about right now. Back at the house, they relaxed and went to bed at a normal time. They weren’t as stressed or tired, so it was almost 11pm before they all turned in.

***

The next day dragged on until it was finally time to head for the airfield. Frank had ordered her to stay out of the way, so Sam had parked her bike near the fence and was leaning against it when a trio of Hummers showed up. The lead vehicle stopped closest to Frank and Sam reached inside her jacket to thumb the release on her holster. Crossing her arms over her chest, she wrapped her hand around the grip of her gun and held it.

As the steely gray Hummer stopped, two more parked behind it, one beside the other. Seeing Frank raise his hand in greeting, Sam only partially relaxed. Watching as the driver’s door opened, Sam bit back a laugh. The bright red hair glowed in the sun, and all she could think of was how much Vinnie loved red heads. Studying the man as he casually placed a pair of sunglasses on, she watched him walk over to Frank.

Looking at the other two Hummers as their passengers exited, she counted two males and a female. No, make that three males. One of them had climbed out of the passenger side of the lead vehicle. Glancing at the sky and then her watch, she turned her attention back to the new arrivals. The leader was still talking to Frank. Red hair, slim build, maybe 5’10”. Since he was standing next to Frank, it wasn’t hard to gauge his height. Irish maybe. Moving to the others in the group, her eyes passed over each one briefly before being drawn back to Red.

Now he was walking toward her. He had a powerful walk. One that demanded attention. She didn’t think he did it intentionally, but he definitely drew the attention. Purposefully ignoring him as he walked up and moved to stand off to the side so as to not block her view, she kept her eyes on Frank.

“Agent Giovanni? I’m Lt. Horatio Caine.”

Chapter Text

His voice was soft and calm. Out of the corner of her eye, she studied him standing beside her. He stood tall, his back straight, and his arms casually at his sides, his chin dipped and his head cocked slightly to the side. His sunglasses reflected the area around him, and Sam frowned. She hated not seeing someone’s eyes. Shifting her eyes back to the scene in front of her, “Yeah, and?”

Following her gaze to fall on his team and on Frank, “I wanted to let you know that I will do everything I can to help you.”

Releasing her grip on her gun, she slipped her hand out of her jacket and hooked her thumb in Frank’s direction. “Tell that to the badge over there. He’s the one in charge.”

His eyes snapping to the sky at the sound of an approaching plane, “I already did. However, I wanted to personally let you know as well.”

Her eyes turning to the sky as what looked like a C-17 cargo plane swiftly descended, she looked quickly at Frank and caught his eye. Nodding solemnly, he pointed at her to stay put. As the plane landed and slowly taxied closer, every nerve was buzzing. This was it. Finally some answers. Watching as the tail gate was lowered and a single man walked out with his arms up, he said something to Frank and disappeared back into the plane. A few moments later, he reappeared pushing a wooden casket down the ramp. Sliding it to rest next to Frank, he went back in and pushed out a second to set it beside the first. Standing beside them, he gestured to the caskets and shook his head as Frank yelled at him.

Sam knew that he was yelling, but couldn’t hear him. She could barely hear anything over the sound of her own breathing and her heart beat echoing in her ears. Watching Frank motion for the caskets to be opened, her breath caught as he knelt between them and looked inside. Moving from the first to the second, he shook his head. They weren’t Vinnie! Seeing Frank spin on his knee back to the first one as the lid was being lowered, he slammed his hand on the inside of the lid and reached inside. Snatching something out of the casket, he held it up. Forgetting that Lt. Caine was standing beside her, Sam screamed. “NO!” It was Vinnie’s crucifix. The sun glinted off the chain and Frank spun around to look at her. She could see his lips moving, but it was too late. Sam had already turned and mounted her bike. Laying on the throttle, she spun the bike around Lt. Caine and took off in a fury.

Jogging back to his team, Horatio stopped beside Frank. Before he could say a word, Frank asked him to find her. “I’m not the person she’s going to want to see right now. Vince was her partner, but he was also the closest thing to a brother that she ever had.”

“Right.” Looking at his team assembled, “Frank…”

***

Racing through the city, everything was a blur as tears burned her eyes. Once she thought she caught sight of a Hummer following her, but it didn’t have its lights on, so she didn’t care. She didn’t know where to go, she didn’t where she was going to end up, until she pulled into a parking lot next to a strip of the beach. Parking her bike, she stumbled across the sand until she sank to her knees. Bowing her head, the tears flowed. Raising her head at the sound of footsteps coming up behind her, her hand flew to her gun, and she spun around coming up in a crouch. Growling low, her eyes red and hard, she drew her gun and looked up at Lt. Caine.

Seeing the surprise in his eyes, but not missing the fact that he stood his ground and hadn’t drawn his own weapon, Sam holstered her gun and turned back around sitting hard in the sand. “What do you want? You want to arrest me?”

Crouching beside her, his eyes looking out over the water, “Now why would I want to do that?”

Snorting in derision, Sam wrapped her arms around her knees. “Oh I don’t know, Lieutenant. Carrying a concealed weapon, speeding, operating a motorcycle without a helmet, running a red light, running a stop sign, reckless driving? Any or all of the above. Well, not the carrying a concealed since I have a license to carry one.”

Sitting in the sand beside her, Horatio pulled up his legs and wrapped his arms around his knees. “How about none of the above?”

Snapping her head around in confusion, her eyes narrowed suspiciously. “What do you want, Lieutenant?”

The corner of his mouth curling up in a half smile, “I’d like for you to call me Horatio.”

Shaking her head, she didn’t understand this man. She wasn’t sure if she cared to. Right now she didn’t care about much. Their only lead was now a dead end. Literally. “Whatever.”

“Agent Giovanni..”

“I’m not an Agent anymore. I haven’t been one for years, Lieutenant.”

“All right, Samantha…”

Growling at this annoying man beside her, “It’s Sam.” Turning her head to look at him, “What exactly do you want? I’m assuming that Frank sent you.”

Still not looking at Sam, “He asked me to find you, yes. He said you wouldn’t want to speak to him right now.”

Feeling her eyes start to burn, Sam looked back out over the water. Swallowing hard, her voice dropped to no more than a whisper. “He was wrong.”

Hearing the pain her voice, Horatio knew what she was feeling, and he felt like he was intruding. Slowly climbing to his feet, he fished a calling card from his wallet and wrote on the back. Leaning down, he offered it to Sam. Keeping his voice calm and low, “Sam, I want you to take my card. If you need anything, I want you to call me. Understand?” Taking his card, Sam studied the front and then flipped it over. Looking up at Horatio, she saw his hand extended and hesitantly accepted it. Helping Sam to her feet, Horatio bowed his head and pointed at the card. “My office number and work cell phone number are on the front. My home phone and personal cell phone numbers are on the back. I want you to call me if you need anything. Anytime.”

Choking back emotion, Sam slipped the card in her pocket and shook her head in confusion. “Why are you helping me, Lieutenant?”

Feeling the need to explain, but not knowing why, “Perhaps because I know the pain that comes with losing someone close, whether family, or partner.”

Seeing the pain flash momentarily in his eyes, she knew he was telling her the truth and that it hurt him to do so. Her chin quivering and tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, she quietly thanked him. “Would you mind if I gave you my cell phone number? You know, just in case?”

Smiling gently down at Sam, Horatio removed his work cell from his pocket and flipped it open. Punching in the number as she gave it to him, he saved it, and slipped it back in his pocket. “Sam, you have my word. The bodies are being sent to my CSI lab right now. As soon as I hear anything, I will call you. That’s a promise.”

Turning away, Sam dropped her head. “Don’t make promises, Lieutenant. I’ve had too many broken on me.”

Resting a hand on her shoulder, “Sam, I only make promises I intend to keep, and I promise you that I will call if I hear anything. Do you understand?” Pulling her around to face him, he reached out to take her hand. Covering her palm with his own closed fist, he dropped something into her hand and closed her fingers around it tightly. “This is yours. Your boss wanted you to have it.”

Biting her lip to suppress a sob, Sam closed her eyes and could feel the cross biting into her palm. Nodding silently as she blindly listened to Horatio’s footsteps fade away, she sank slowly back to her knees, and stared out at the waves as the tears start to flow.

***

Hours later Sam returned to the safe house feeling drained and alone. Parking the bike as Uncle Mike appeared in the doorway, she walked up the sidewalk and slid into his arms. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she buried her face in his shoulder. “Come inside, Sam.” Walking numbly into the house, Sam collapsed on the sofa and curled up in a ball. Sitting beside her, Uncle Mike pulled her close. “Sam, Frank got recalled to D.C.”

Her throat dry and sore, her eyes still burning, she looked up him. “Why? We need him here.”

Sighing, Uncle Mike brushed a stray lock of hair from her eyes gently. “I know. He had to call in though and let them know what happened with the meeting today. They recalled him on the spot.”

Not believing the amount of bad luck falling upon them all at once, Sam rose shakily and moved to the kitchen. “You want anything? I need a drink.”

Knowing full well that his earlier decision to make a supply run was a good one, “Sam, look above the refrigerator.” Hearing her sigh, and then the sound of a soda can being popped open, he almost smiled. At the very least, it would calm her down.

Returning with her stronger than normal soda, she half smiled in appreciation. Handing Uncle Mike her glass, Sam reached into her pocket and slowly pulled out Vinnie’s chain and crucifix. “I need to fix the chain. The clasp is still attached, but I need to take off the broken part. Luckily it snapped near the clasp so the chain length wasn’t compromised that much.” She knew she was rambling, but it kept her mind busy.

Standing and walking to the table, Uncle Mike set her glass down and motioned for her to come closer. “Let me see it.”

Not wanting to let go of it, Sam was torn. Of course she knew he wouldn’t do anything to it, but it was the idea of letting it go for even a second that she couldn’t handle. Finally she held out the chain and sighed as Uncle Mike took it from her and laid it out on the table. Opening his small tool case that he always carried to tweak the electronics, he removed a pair of long nosed pliers and gently removed the broken length of chain before reattaching the clasp to the new end. Picking up the chain, he walked around Sam to wrap it around her and clasp it behind her neck.

Closing her hand around the cross, Sam closed her eyes. “Thank you.” Leaning back as Uncle Mike pulled her into his arms, she sighed. “We have to find him. I know no one wants to believe it, but he’s alive. I can feel it.”

Hesitant to tell her more bad news, Uncle Mike moved back to the sofa to sit down. Patting the cushion beside him, “Why don’t you bring that drink back over here and sit down?”

Something in his voice brought out the warning flags. “What aren’t you telling me?”

“Sam, Frank wasn’t the only one recalled. I have to fly out in the morning.” His voice low, he was afraid of her reaction.

No Frank. No Uncle Mike. No Vinnie. No leads. She was alone. The Bureau wasn’t exactly jumping to find Vinnie, and now they were recalling Frank and Uncle Mike. “Dammit!” Slamming her glass down on the table, Sam stalked through the house and slammed her bedroom door. Throwing herself on the bed, her heart heavy, she realized that she had no more tears to cry, and that infuriated her all the more. Hearing the soft knock on the door, she snapped. “What?”

Cracking open the door, “Sam, can I come in?”

Gritting her teeth, her hand automatically went to the chain around her neck and immediately calmed. “Uncle Mike, I’m sorry. Please come in.” Waiting for him to sit on the edge of the bed, she turned toward him. “What time are you leaving?”

Not wanting to leave her alone in this, his soul ached for her. “Flight leaves at 10am. What are you going to do?”

Plans. Did she really have any? This was Frank’s operation. He held the badge. “There’s not much I can do. I can’t go and talk to that Michael character. Since I don’t have a badge, he has no reason to talk to me. The bodies were taken by the MDPD CSI team. So I guess I’ll stop by there tomorrow and see if anything turned up.” She was so confused and hurt. She wanted to do nothing but crawl under the covers and hide from the world that had taken so much from her, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t late enough for bed, so Sam sat up and asked quietly, “Will you play for me?”

He knew she was hurt, and with those words he realized how deep that hurt ran. She loved listening to him play and would listen to his cds for hours on end, but when she asked if he would play for her, he knew the pain was deep. She had a wounded soul and was trying to find a way to forget the pain. If he could comfort her for even a short while, he would put his own pain aside and do it. Rising from the bed, he held his hand out to her and pulled her to her feet. Walking to the living room, he sat her on the sofa and handed her her glass. Turning one of the dining room chairs around to face the sofa, and removing the guitar from the case, Uncle Mike sat down and closed his eyes. Playing from the heart, the music was rough and sad. It was pain and loneliness, and in the end, it was hope.

Glancing at the clock, he’d been playing for hours and was so deep into the music that he hadn’t noticed how late it was getting. He knew better than to try to force her eat at this point, and when he looked over at Sam, he smiled sadly. Curled up in the corner of the sofa, her glass empty on the floor beside her, she was sound asleep. Her cheeks were wet and he knew she had cried herself to sleep while he had played, and it broke his heart. Setting the guitar in its case, he walked to the bedroom and returned with a blanket to drape over her. Turning out the light, he went to his room and softly closed his door.

***

Waking in the early morning darkness, Sam struggled to escape the nightmare that had grabbed hold of her and had refused to let go. Vinnie had been beaten and broken, covered in blood, and had called her name. He had begged her to find him, to save him. Even with her eyes now open, she could still hear his voice in her ears and see his face in her mind. Practically running to Uncle Mike’s room with her blanket wrapped around her shoulders, she knocked softly and was surprised when she heard him tell her to come in.

Opening the door, Sam could only stand in the doorway. Her voice stuck in her throat, her eyes once again burning with unshed tears, she struggled to keep her breathing even. Whispering against the dark, “Sam, come here.” Patting the bed beside him, he felt her weight settle on the mattress and curl up against him. Wrapping his arm protectively around her, he held her tight against his chest as she laid her head on his shoulder. What this world would have thought had anyone seen this young woman curled against him now? He didn’t care. Sam had been a daughter to him from the beginning, and he couldn’t stop thinking of her as one. Rubbing her back gently, he kissed her lightly on the top of her head, “Go back to sleep, Sam. I’m right here. I’ve got you.”

Flipping her blanket over her, she nestled down, and found a more peaceful sleep awaiting her.

***

Waking and rolling over to find the bed empty, Sam spied a folded sheet of paper laying on the pillow.

Sam,
Hang in there. You were sleeping so soundly that you never heard me when I told you I was leaving this morning. So I wrote this for you to let you know that I still believe we can find Vince. Even if Frank and I can’t be there with you, I have faith that you won’t give up easily.
I’m only flying to D.C. so I won’t be in the air long. If you need anything, call me. Otherwise, I’ll call you tonight and let you know what’s going on.
Keep your plans for the day. Frank told me about that Lt. Caine he talked to, and from what I dug up on him, I believe you can trust him. He seems like a good man, Sam. If he’s willing to help you, let him. Understand?
Hold tight to your love for Vince, and don’t give up. I’m here to help as much as I can.

With love,
Uncle Mike

Sighing as she finished the letter, she folded it up and left the room. Retrieving clothes from her room, she checked the time. 10:35am. How she was managing to sleep this late was beyond her, but she had to admit that the cold that had been sneaking up on her appeared to be beaten down. Jumping in a hot shower, she got out and dressed for the day and realized that she was going to have to go shopping. Things like that happened when you only planned for a day or two, and you packed light.

Braiding her hair tightly, she placed the folded letter in her back pocket. Walking to the kitchen, she poured a glass of juice and sat down at her laptop. Logging in, she checked her email and noted nothing new. Closing the program, she logged off and closed the laptop. Picking up her cell phone and slipping it in her jeans pocket, she pulled on her holster and jacket, scooped up her keys and retrieved her helmet from the closet near the door. Heading outside, she fired up the bike and roared out of the neighborhood. Pulling into an empty spot outside the MDPD, she removed her helmet and slipped it under her arm.

Walking through the doors, she walked up to the main desk. “I’m looking for Lt. Caine, please?” Getting directions to his office, she stepped into the elevator and headed upstairs. Leaving the elevator, Sam walked up to the receptionist, “Is Lt. Caine in?”

Hearing a voice behind her, “Actually, H is in the lab at the moment. Is there anything I can help you with?”

Turning around she recognized the tall man behind her. Standing around 6’ tall, wearing dark dress pants and a black polo shirt, he had a Cuban look about him. “You were with Lt. Caine’s team yesterday at the airfield.”

Offering his hand, he flashed a full grin. “Officer Eric Delko.”

Accepting the hand in a brief shake, “Sam Giovanni.”

Cocking his head to the side, his brow creased in confusion. “No Agent?”

“I haven’t been an Agent for a few years now. Vincent was my partner and when he was kidnapped, I was called by my bosses because they figured I’d want to know. Now it looks like I’m the only one of us that’s still in Miami since the guys got recalled after yesterday.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Eric shook his head. “I’m sorry to hear about your partner. Listen, H is in the lab, why don’t I walk you down so you can talk to him?”

Setting her helmet on the desk, Sam looked at the woman behind it. “Do you have a weapons locker where I can check my sidearm?” Unzipping her jacket and pulling her wallet from her back pocket, Sam removed the license to carry a concealed weapon. Laying it on the desk and removing her ID, she slid her weapon out from under her jacket and laid it down.

Reaching past her as her weapon hit the desk, Eric raised an eyebrow. “SIG 229. H carries the same thing.”

Shrugging as he handed back her weapon, “Until I got out of the Bureau though, I was carrying an M9.”

“A Beretta 92, military issue.”

Spinning on her heel as a long haired blond joined them, “Another member of Lt. Caine’s team?”

Smiling broadly and nodding her head, “Calleigh Duquesne. I must say you have an interesting choice in weapons. Not my choice, but a good one.”

“Calleigh, is H still in the lab? She came in to talk to him.”

Turning back to the receptionist to sign the forms, Sam nodded her thanks and slipped her paperwork and ID back into her wallet before turning back to Eric and Calleigh. Looking at Eric, Calleigh shook her head. “I have no idea. I haven’t seen him all morning except when we had our briefing.” Looking at Sam, she smiled again. “It was nice meeting you, but if you’ll both excuse me, I have to get to firearms.”

Watching Calleigh walk away, a familiar flash of red appeared from around the corner, and Sam felt herself following his every move. Her hand drifting to the chain around her neck as Horatio stepped closer, “Lt. Caine. I hope I’m not coming at a bad time.”

Cocking his to the side and smiling gently, his eyes glittered with laughter, “Call me Horatio, and no, this is not a bad time.”

It finally clicked. Sam finally figured it out! It hadn’t occurred to her at the time when they had first met, but she noted how he tended to stand at an angle when he talked to her, his head cocked to the side, his eyes almost averted and not quite looking at her out of the corners, his voice low and calm. She’d only seen it done by one other person, and that was when she had been younger and staying at a friend’s ranch. There had been a guy there that was always working with the wild horses. He’d walk right into the corral with them, unafraid, and he’d stand in the center with the same pose. He wouldn’t move, but he’d keep his voice low and he’d keep talking to the horse until it finally came to him on its own. Everyone had called him a horse whisperer. That’s what Lt. Caine reminded her of. Bowing her head to shield the smile from view, she quickly composed herself. Her hand still touching the chain at her neck, “I don’t suppose you have a couple minutes to talk, do you?”

“Of course. Why don’t we go into my office?” Looking at Eric, Horatio arched an eyebrow. “Don’t you have someplace to be?” Chuckling to himself, Eric walked away. Sweeping his arm down the hall, Horatio led the way. “This way, Sam.”

Chapter Text

Following Horatio to his office, Sam took a seat and set her helmet on the floor beside her as he perched on the corner of the desk. “How are you, Sam?”

That head cocked to the side again with the half smile tugging at his lips was starting to get on her nerves. “Can I ask you something?” Catching his nod, “The whole cocking the head and not quite making eye contact, is that something you practice to get people to open up to you, or is it just some subconscious thing that you do without even realizing it?”

Bowing his head and laughing lightly, Horatio raised his eyes to meet hers evenly. “I find it makes people more relaxed if you don’t always make direct contact.”

Chewing her lip in thought, Sam saw his point. “Definitely comes in handy when questioning suspects, but I don’t suppose you could not do it around me, could you?”

Raising his head and smiling widely, his teeth flashed behind his lips, “If it makes you more comfortable, then I will try to remember to do as you ask. If…”, he paused for effect and pointed a finger at her, “if, you can remember to stop calling me Lieutenant.”

Nodding briefly, Sam offered him a weak smile. “All right, Horatio. You’ve got a deal.”

Clasping his hands before him and rising from the desk, Horatio walked around to take a seat. “Good. Now, how are you doing?”

Sighing heavily and passing a hand over her face, “Not so good. Frank and Uncle Mike were recalled back to D.C.” Seeing the question in his eyes, “After what happened at the airfield, Frank was recalled as soon as he called in with the details of what had happened. Uncle Mike is my other supervisor, but behind the scenes. He runs all the communications and Intel. He flew out this morning. That leaves me here in Miami on my own with no badge behind me, so my hands are pretty much tied.”

Leaning forward to cross his arms on the desk, Horatio shook his head. “First of all, you’re not alone. When your Agent McPike came in and requested back up, that got this department and lab involved. You may not have a badge, but with the knowledge of your connection to the missing Agent, I have no problems with allowing you to come in here and ask for help, or to ask for any results that we may come up with.”

This was unexpected but she wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Thank you, Horatio. I was hoping you would say something like that.”

Lacing his fingers on the desk, “And second of all, I’ve already told you that if you need anything, anything at all, you were to call me. Right?”

As much as he was annoying her, Sam had to admit that he was growing on her too. “Which is why I’m here. I was hoping I could at least run a name past you and see if you’ve ever heard of it before. Well, that and I was wondering if there was anything from the bodies yet.”

Pulling a pad of paper before him and removing a pen from the desk, “I haven’t heard anything from our Medical Examiner yet, so let’s start with that name, shall we?”

Sitting back in her chair and wrapping her arms around herself, “Los Manos Blancas.”

“The white hands? What’s that?”

Looking past Sam at the man standing in the doorway, Horatio motioned for him to step inside. “Frank, this is Sam.”

Walking into the office, Frank stopped by her side and offered his hand. “You’re the partner of the missing Agent, right?” Shaking her hand as she nodded slowly, “So what’s with the white hands?”

Looking over her shoulder at the open door, Sam waited until Frank closed it and returned to sit on the sofa beneath the windows. “Los Manos Blancas. I don’t know much. All indications lead to them being behind Vinnie’s abduction.” Watching Horatio scratching notes, “Vinnie was my partner until a couple years ago. I left the Bureau because we had a new Director take over and I wasn’t going to play the political games that he was throwing around. So I talked to Vinnie, and my supervisors, and I turned in my resignation.” Leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees and her face in her upturned hands, “I’ve stayed in contact with them though. I call them, or they call me, at least once a month to touch base. Things were quiet until I got a call from Uncle Mike saying he was missing.”

Looking up from his notes, and glancing from Frank to Sam, “Sam, this is Detective Frank Tripp. Frank, Uncle Mike is her communications and intelligence supervisor. Agent Frank McPike was the one at the airfield yesterday.”

“Ah, ok. So you get a phone call saying your old partner was missing and you headed over to check it out. What about evidence from the scene?”

Sighing, Sam turned to Frank. “All the evidence was collected by the Bureau Feds, and was sent to D.C. for analysis. According to Frank and Uncle Mike, neither one of them has received any results yet.” Looking back to Horatio, “The only real lead that I can sit here and give you was the white handprint on the wall behind the bedroom door. It’s the calling card for some group that call themselves Los Manos Blancas. Then we got the word that Vinnie was apparently on a flight headed here to Miami, and that we had an appointment with a source down here named Michael Santana. We get down here, meet with the guy, and he tells us about the flight that came in yesterday. There was supposed to be someone on that plane that was on the same flight as Vinnie when he was kidnapped.”

Taking in all the information and making the necessary notes, Horatio mentioned the chain around her neck. “Sam, one of those bodies did have your partner’s crucifix around his neck, so it’s possible.”

Shaking her head, “It really doesn’t matter, now does it? There’s no way to know if the body wearing it was actually on the plane with Vinnie, or if he was just killed and the chain was put around his neck in an attempt to either throw us off their trail, or to scare us away.”

Rising from his seat, Horatio moved around the desk to stand in front of Sam. Reaching down to rest a hand on her shoulder, he dipped his head and cocked it to the side until he caught her eye and she raised her head. “Well, we just won’t let that happen then, will we?” Glancing at his watch, “Frank, see if you can find Kevin Vedder, and bring him in, will you please? Let’s see if we can get some news from the streets.” Waiting for Frank to walk out of the office, “Sam, why don’t you let me buy you lunch?”

Narrowing her eyes at Horatio, “Frank told you to take care of me, didn’t he?”

Chuckling lightly, he shook his head. “No. He only asked me to find you yesterday. I figured since it was almost noon, and it would be a while before Frank can hunt down Kevin, I thought you could use some food.” Lowering his head to meet her eyes, “When was the last time you ate?”

A question she really couldn’t answer. She remembered her drink from the night before, but food? “I… I don’t know.” Watching the concern flash across his face, Sam realized she couldn’t argue with him. “All right. I have my bike downstairs.”

Holding up a hand, Horatio stopped her from picking up her helmet. “Leave it. I’ll drive.” Walking to the door, he waited for Sam to join him.

Stopping to reclaim her weapon from the receptionist, Sam signed for her gun and slid it back into her holster. Joining Horatio in the elevator, they headed out for lunch at a quaint little café not far from the Department. Lunch was simple but they took their time before returning. As they drove back to the Department, Horatio tried to warn her about Kevin. “He’s a local snitch we use from time to time to get information. Normally he’s rather laid back, but we’ll have to see how he is when we get there.” Pulling into his parking spot, “Keep your weapon. If anyone says anything, then they can deal with me. You don’t have to keep signing it in and out when you come here.”

“All right.” Walking up the sidewalk, “Listen, Horatio, thank you. For lunch, for everything you’ve done.” She hadn’t noticed a ring on his hand, and she didn’t know if he was involved with anyone, so she took a chance. “Why don’t you let me make you dinner later? Just… a way for me to say thank you.”

Holding the door open for her, and waiting for her enter before him, Horatio smiled faintly. “That sounds fine, but for now, let’s get upstairs and see if Frank has found our boy yet.”

Stepping out of the elevator, they found Frank standing in one of the interrogation rooms. Seeing them walk down the hall, Frank stepped from the room to join them. “He has no idea why he’s here. I haven’t bothered to tell him anything other than you wanted to talk to him.”

Nodding to Frank, Horatio slid off his sunglasses and glanced at Sam. “Let me doing the talking.” Not waiting for a reply, he stepped into the room and stood opposite Kevin. Watching Sam follow Frank inside and shut the door, “Kevin, I need information.”

The guy was a slime ball. Greasy slicked back hair, ripped up jeans, stained t-shirt, and a frayed denim jacket. Sam had dealt with guys like this before, and she wasn’t sure if he’d be able to help or not. She was surprised when he opened his mouth though.

His voice strong and even, he sat straight in his chair with his arms crossed casually over his chest. “What? No hi Kevin? How’s it going, Kevin?” Watching Horatio’s lip twitch slightly, “Yeah, it’s good to see you too, H.” Still met with silence, he looked at Sam who had moved to stand by the windows. “So who are you?”

“Kevin…”

Looking back at Horatio, Kevin shrugged. “Hey, you weren’t talking to me.”

“Yeah, well he’s talking to you now. So why don’t you listen to what he has to say?”

Shaking his head with a laugh, Kevin glanced up at Frank. “I’d love to.” Looking back at Horatio, “Ok, so my attention is all yours, Lieutenant. What do you need?”

Setting his sunglasses on the table, Horatio set his hands on the table and leaned closer. “Los Manos Blancas. I want to know if you know the name. I want to know whatever you know about them.”

Shoving his chair back forcibly, Kevin shot to his feet. “Oh hell no, H! You can not pay me enough to go under with those guys!”

Moving behind Kevin, Frank grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him back down in his chair. “Sit down. You’re not going anywhere.”

“Frank’s right, Kevin.” Horatio’s voice was calm, and his eyes were lowered, “I’m not asking you to go under for me. I’m asking if you’ve ever heard of them, and what you’ve heard.”

Running his hand through his hair nervously, “Yeah, yeah, ok. Look, these guys are bad news, Lieutenant.”

Pulling out a chair, Horatio moved it around the table to sit closer to Kevin. “Ok, so tell me.”

Looking up at Frank, then to Horatio, “Look, there’s not much to tell. They’re Central American. I don’t know where though, ok? These guys mean business though if you’re asking me for information.”

Crossing his arms across his knees, Horatio leaned forward and cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

“Look, the streets have ears, you know? We hear things. You call them Los Manos Blancas, but they go by another name on the streets.”

“Los Manos Blancas de Muerte.”

Snapping his head around to look at Sam staring at him with wide eyes, “Umm… yeah. The white hands of death. How do you know that?” Searching Horatio’s eyes, “How does she know that?”

Keeping his voice even, “Kevin, they’ve kidnapped a Federal Agent and she’s investigating the kidnapping.”

Smirking at Sam, Kevin shook his head. “Sorry, honey, but depending on how long this Agent has been missing, you’re not going to find him.” Relaxing back in his seat, he looked at Horatio. “They take what they want, when they want. They’re not exactly known for giving back.” Glancing at Sam, “Look, if there hasn’t been a ransom demand within the first couple days, then your chances are zero of finding this Agent alive. Ok?”

Her stomach churned. Horatio’s head spun to catch her anguished expression. Her face went white, and a small moan escaped her lips. “I think I’m going to be sick.” Pushing past Frank, and reaching the door, she heard Horatio behind her.

“Down the hall, on the left…”

Racing down the hall and shrugging off her jacket as she slammed into the bathroom door, Sam skidded to a stop in the first stall and threw her jacket behind her. Leaning over the toilet, she couldn’t help thinking that the chicken salad on rye that she had for lunch had been really good. Unfortunately, it didn’t taste so great the second time around. Feeling a hand touch her lightly on the shoulder, Sam couldn’t even look up as her stomach continued to heave.

“Easy now, baby girl. You’re gonna be ok.”

As her stomach emptied, Sam pulled tissue from the roll and wiped her mouth. Flushing the toilet, she sat back against the wall of the stall regarding the woman kneeling in the doorway. Cringing as her stomach took another dive, Sam grit her teeth and tried to control herself. “Who are you?”

“I’m the medical examiner, baby girl. My name is Alexx.”

Closing her eyes as another wave of nausea rolled over her, “Please don’t call me that.”

Reaching over to brush the hair from Sam’s forehead, Alexx smiled. “Baby girl, it’s either that, or sugah. I’ll give you your choice, but it’s what I call all my family here.”

Feeling her stomach starting to calm down, Sam found it a little easier to talk. “You’re the one working on the bodies brought in yesterday? Did you find anything?”

“I was just on my way to see Horatio when I saw him coming down the hall.”

Bowing her head, Sam realized she’d have to apologize for running out so quickly. She’d never reacted like that before. Of course she’d never been told by anyone other than her family that it was next to hopeless to find Vinnie alive. Now she had to face the fact that her chances were growing dimmer by the moment. “Did he ask you to come in here?”

Lifting Sam’s chin to look at her, “He was worried about you.”

Sighing, Sam studied the stall wall in front of her. “Alexx, can I ask you something?”

“Of course, sugah.”

Smiling faintly, Sam had to admit that she liked ‘baby girl’ better, but had no intention of saying so. “Is he always so…” Pausing to find the right words, “so… selfless?”

The smile on Alexx’s face said it all. “He’s always putting others before himself. Family, friends, it doesn’t matter if he’s only just met you. If someone needs helps, he’s there. He’ll do whatever he can to help those that need it most.”

Pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them, Sam rest her chin on her knees and groaned as her stomach still hadn’t settled down. “Does he always give out his home phone and instructions to call, day or night, if someone needs anything?”

The surprise flashed just briefly in Alexx’s eyes, but Sam caught it. “If he did that, baby girl, then you’re not just someone he just met. You’re special. If he did that, then he plans on seeing this through to the end, no matter how long it takes, and he’s going to make sure that you make it through this too.” Seeing the tears form in the corner of Sam’s eyes, Alexx gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. “So my answer is yes. Horatio Caine is one of the most selfless people I have ever met in my life. He’s a good man and he’ll help you through this so long as you let him.”

“Thanks, Alexx.” As her stomach rumbled once again, she turned quickly back to the toilet and emptied the rest of her lunch.

***

Watching Horatio follow slowly behind Sam, Frank looked down at Kevin and cuffed him upside the back of his head. “Way to go, dumb ass. That’s her partner you just told her was probably dead.”

His eyes wide with fear, Kevin looked up Frank. “I didn’t know. How was I supposed to know? No one told me. You guys just wanted to know what I knew about them, so I told you. I didn’t know.”

Dropping a hand on his shoulder, Frank sighed. “Relax, Kevin. Horatio will take care of her.”

“Listen, I’ll tell you what…” His eyes begging to be released, “I’ll keep my eyes and ears open and if I hear anything or whatever, then I’ll call you guys. Ok?”

Figuring the questions were definitely over for now, Frank stepped aside and pointed to the door. “Yeah. Now get out of here before Horatio gets back with Sam.” Watching Kevin practically run for the elevator, Frank shook his head and stood looking out the window shaking his head.

***

Sam never heard Alexx leave, or Horatio settle behind her. Rubbing her back gently, his voice calm and soothing, “Sam, it’s ok. We’re going to find him. I promise.”

He only made promises he intended to keep. That’s what he had said, but then again, he never promised to find him alive. At least he was honest. Sitting back on her heels, Sam bowed her head and waited to see how her stomach would react. Surprised that it was much calmer now, she again wiped her mouth and flushed before looking over her shoulder. Nodding slightly, Sam tried to stand.

Her face was so pale. Slipping an arm around her waist as she shakily climbed to her feet, Horatio led her to the sink so she could clean up. Stepping away as she leaned against the counter, “Are you going to be alright?”

Cupping her hand under the faucet, she brought it to her mouth and swished it around before spitting in the sink. Wetting her hands and patting her face, Sam reached for a roll of paper towels sitting in the corner of the counter. “I’ll be ok.”

Lowering his head, and his gaze, Horatio tried to give her some privacy. “Why don’t I take you back to my office, and I’ll find you something to drink? You can rest on the sofa in there, if you’d like.”

Still leaning heavily against the counter, her knees still weak, “A drink, yes. Rest, no. I think I’m going to take off and try to get some air to clear my head.” Accepting Horatio’s hand as she stepped away from the counter and wobbled, Sam leaned against his side for a moment, before taking a step away and starting for the door.

Shaking his head at her stubbornness, Horatio picked up her jacket from the floor and followed. She had strength, he had to give that to her. She wasn’t accustomed to getting help though, and he had the feeling that she rarely bothered to ask for it. Walking back to his office, he noticed more than a couple faces turn in their direction and flash a questioning glance at him. Barely shaking his head, they had turned away and went about their business without a word spoken.

Sam kept her head lowered, but she’d seen the glances. At this point though, she didn’t care. Normally she would have glared back, daring them to say anything, but when they only turned away, she knew it wasn’t because of her. She was definitely starting to like this guy beside her, no matter how annoying he could be at times. Reaching his office, Sam sank into the chair by the desk.

Horatio didn’t say a word as he walked back down the hallway to find a bottle of water in the break room. Entering, he was surprised to find Frank hovering over the coffee pot. “What’d you do with Kevin?”

Looking up, Frank shrugged. “I figured he wasn’t going to give us anything else, so I let him go.” Watching as Horatio pulled a bottle of water from the refrigerator, “He didn’t know, Horatio. He felt terrible about hurting her, but I’m not sure if he was more afraid of what she might have done when she came back, or what you would have done.” Seeing the faint smile tug at the corner of Horatio’s mouth, “Yeah, that’s what I thought, so I cut him loose. He said he’d keep his eyes and ears open though and would let us know if he came up with anything else.”

Walking past Frank, and clapping him on the shoulder, “That’s fine, Frank. Thank you.” Leaving the break room, Horatio returned to office and handed the bottle to Sam. “You should rest.”

Opening the bottle and slowly sipping the water, Sam nodded. “I know, but I need some air. I’m going down to the beach for a while to clear my head.” Replacing the cap on the bottle, she leaned over to pick up her helmet. Taking her jacket from Horatio, she whispered her thanks. “How do you feel about still having dinner tonight?”

Smiling lightly, Horatio shook his head. “Don’t worry about it. You just try to get some rest.”

Shrugging on her jacket, slipping the water bottle into her pocket and tucking her helmet under her arm, she touched his arm gently as she stepped past him. “I will try to rest when I get back to the house, but I still want to make you dinner. I owe you at least that much for everything you’ve done already. Besides, you bought lunch, and although I enjoyed it tremendously, it wasn’t quite as good the second time around.”

Cocking his to the side to regard this woman before him, “I will call you later. For now, go rest, and ride safe.” Watching as Sam walked away and entered the elevator, Horatio reached for his phone and called Alexx. “Tell me you have something, Alexx.”

Chapter Text

How she wished she could give him some good news. “Horatio, I don’t know what to tell you. Sealed up in those boxes in a hot plane, they were pretty ripe when they got here.”

Running a hand through his hair as he sat behind his desk, Horatio bowed his head and frowned. “Alexx, tell me you got something, anything.”

“All right, baby, hang on. I can’t give you a time of death because of the state of decomposition to the bodies, but I can tell you that they both had puncture marks on their arms. One appears to have suffered a myocardial infarction, while the other presented a severe case of vasoconstriction in the brain. I’m guessing drug induced for them both, but I had blood samples sent to the lab. I also bagged all their clothes and sent those along with nail scrapings and hair samples to the lab.”

Horatio sighed. “What about prints, Alexx?”

The sadness in Alexx’s voice was heavy. “Oh, Horatio. There are none. The pads on their fingers were sliced off. I’d hope postmortem, but I can’t swear to it.” Flipping through the pages of her notes, “There won’t be any dental recognition either, I’m afraid. What teeth weren’t removed, they were shattered, and believe me sugah, there’s not may left in either mouth.”

Not the news he was hoping for. “They really don’t want us to find them, now do they?”

Alexx’s voice grew stern, “Now don’t you be giving up just yet. I’m not finished with these boys yet.” Softening her tone, “Horatio, I did notice a mark on the neck of one them though. The skin was slightly abraded, like they had something wrapped around their neck and it was yanked off. I didn’t see any jewelry, so I’m not sure what to make of it.”

Closing his eyes and resting his head in his hand, “It was a crucifix, Alexx. It belonged to Sam’s partner. Her supervisor pulled it off of the body at the airfield.”

Understanding the intense feelings that were tied up with the airfield encounter, Alexx was still a little surprised that a seasoned Federal Agent would compromise a scene. “Where is it now?”

Whispering into the phone, “It’s around Sam’s neck.”

“Horatio.” Disappointment filled her voice, “He gave it to her instead of having it tested?”

“No, Alexx. I did.” Pausing to sit back in his chair, “He gave it to me when she left the field, and asked me to give it to her. I almost didn’t, but I couldn’t keep it from her. I hate to say it Alexx, but I think he was right. He said the possibility of finding anything on it would probably be impossible. The only DNA we would most likely find would be the body that was wearing it, and her partner.”

Hearing the weight bearing down on his voice, Alexx tried to sooth him. “Baby, don’t you worry about it. You did what you had to. Now we just have to work with what we have. Promise me something, Horatio.”

He wasn’t sure he was going to like this, but he asked anyway. “What is it, Alexx?”

“Don’t give up on this, Horatio. That baby girl needs someone to believe in her, someone to help her through this. She’s not going to be able to do it alone, no matter how strong she thinks she is. You take care of my baby girl. You understand me, Horatio?”

The stress was still mounting, but the weight on his shoulders wasn’t as heavy. “I have no intentions of giving up on her, Alexx. They’re just not making it very easy to hold on to that promise.”

“Well you hang in there, baby. You just let Sam know that I’m not done here yet. We’re gonna find that boy of hers.”

“Thanks, Alexx. I’ll catch up with you later.” Hanging up the phone, he glanced at his watch. A little over an hour left to his shift. Leaving the office with his suit jacket tossed over his shoulder, Horatio headed for the lab.

***

Heading to the beach, it was the only place where Sam felt comfortable. The sun felt good. She’d probably end up with a nice sunburn for sitting out on the beach most of the afternoon, but the sun, the smell of the salt in the air, the sound of the waves breaking gently on the beach, it all soothed her. Her stomach had settled down, and her mind was quickly joining it. Kevin’s words still echoed in her ears, and that wasn’t making her feel any better, but he had been honest. He hadn’t known that Vinnie was more to her than just any Agent, and he gave them the information that they had asked for. It just hurt to hear someone on the outside say that she probably would never see Vinnie alive again.

As slow as the Bureau was going with their investigation, it was like they weren’t even trying. She knew that Frank would only be humoring her now. She had seen it in his eyes when he looked back at her before she had left the airfield. It had flashed in his eyes, and there was no way he could hide it. When he had pulled Vinnie’s crucifix from the body on the ground, all hope he had of finding Vinnie alive was shattered and she hadn’t talked to him since he had been called back to D.C.

She needed to believe that Vinnie was still alive. She couldn’t bring herself to give up on him. He’d always been there for her when she’d needed him, no matter how many miles had separated them, he’d always shown up. Vinnie had pulled her out of the flames more times than she could count, and she’d always tried to be there for him as well, but he wasn’t the kind to ask for help. He’d played this game alone, right up until the time they became partners. Even then he’d try to protect her, keep her out of harms way so she wouldn’t get hurt. Now it was her turn to be there for him when he needed it most. She couldn’t give up hope of finding him and bringing him home. Although now she realized that there was the distinct possibility that all she might find was a body to bury.

Sitting in the sand with her jacket folded beside her and her helmet sitting on top, Sam stared out over the water and tried to find the strength to hold on.

***

Looking up at the sound of footsteps entering the lab, Calleigh shook her head at Horatio. “I don’t know what to say. The clothes have a couple very different strands of DNA on them. One set of course belongs to our two bodies down in the morgue. One of the shirts has a second strong male dna that we haven’t been able to identify yet.” Pointing at the clothes laying out on the evidence table, “That one has the second DNA on it, or maybe more importantly, in it. It was like someone else was wearing it and then it was on our dead body. That one,” pointing at the second shirt, “had some stray hairs that didn’t match either of the bodies, and doesn’t seem to be a match for our second DNA sample from the first shirt.”

Moving around the table, Calleigh quickly filled in Horatio. “Ok, all their pockets were empty. No wallet, no identification. The shirts I already gave you everything I can at the moment. The pants don’t hold much for us either. There’s a little dirt on the cuffs and wood splinters, but those we’re attributing to the caskets they were in. I have to compare them still. Eric went to work on the caskets. I should have something in a while.” Moving back to the computer, “The blood test was hinky though. We weren’t exactly working with fresh bodies here. However, when Alexx sent the samples down, she mentioned she noticed what looked like needle marks, so we tested for drug use. Both samples were laced with cocaine.”

Raising an eyebrow at the news, Horatio stared at the screen over Calleigh’s shoulder. “Interesting. Alexx said that one appeared to have died of a heart attack, but the other one showed a severe narrowing of the blood vessels in his brain.”

Looking over her shoulder, Calleigh nodded. “Sure, that wouldn’t surprise me. Cocaine can lead to heart attacks and strokes, not to mention a number of other medical problems. When it’s injected, the cocaine can reach the brain in under thirty seconds. It’s faster if it’s smoked, but slower if it’s snorted. If they were given a high enough dose, it could definitely have killed them within minutes.”

“Yes, but the question is, did they do it to themselves or did they have help?”

Shaking her head, Calleigh turned back to the monitor. “I don’t know at this point. The scrapings that Alexx sent up didn’t help much. We got mostly food and dirt, but there were a few skin cells that we managed to collect. We’re working on replicating the samples so we have more to work with.”

“Thank you, Calleigh. Keep my informed.” Walking from the lab, Horatio paused as Calleigh called him back.

“Horatio, how is she? I saw her earlier.”

Standing in the doorway, Horatio bowed his head. “Sam will be better when we find the people behind this and bring them to justice.”

Nodding, Calleigh turned back to the monitor. “I’ll call you with anything new, Horatio. Please let Sam know that we’re going to do everything we can here.”

“I will, Calleigh. I’m sure that will mean a lot to her to hear.” Watching as her fingers tapped the keyboard in front of her, Horatio decided to leave for the day. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket as he climbed into his Hummer, he stared at it before putting it aside. He should call Sam to check on her, but he was sure she wasn’t home resting. He wouldn’t want to be cooped up if he had been in her shoes, so he pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the beach.

***

She heard him approach long before his shadow fell across her. “Hi, Horatio.”

Crouching beside her with his arms crossed on his knees, “Sam, I thought you were going to rest?”

Tilting her head and bringing a hand up to block the sun from her eyes, she swept her other arm out to gesture to the sand and the surf. “I am relaxing. I’ve been sitting here just taking in the sun, and listening to the waves. The people don’t bother me, so it’s rather peaceful.” Smirking as Horatio sat in the sand beside her, “You’re the only one out here in a suit and you’re sitting in the sand. Do you make this a habit, Lieutenant?”

Bowing his head to hide his smile, “And you’re the only one on the beach that’s been sitting here for hours wearing jeans.”

Shrugging and leaning back to rest on her elbows, “Yeah, but the sand doesn’t bother the jeans as much as the light material of dress pants.”

She seemed to be in a lighter mood, and more relaxed, but Horatio was still concerned. “Sam, how are you holding up?”

“That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?” Sitting up, Sam pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees. “You know it’s been over a week already since I got the call from Uncle Mike saying Vinnie had been kidnapped? Yup,” ticking off the days on her fingers, “nine days. Tonight will be nine nights.”

“Sam…”

“No, it’s ok, Horatio. What Kevin said earlier just hit home hard. I mean up until that point, I had it set in my head that I’d be able to bring him home alive. Frank, Uncle Mike, and I make a heck of a team, and I thought that we’d actually be able to find him.” Resting her chin on her knees, her eyes searched the water. “Then of course we haven’t heard anything from the Bureau about the evidence they collected, so that’s pretty much a dead end. Then we get a lead to Miami, come down here, and end up with two more dead ends, literally.” Leaning her head to the side to look at Horatio, he could see the pain her eyes. “I still thought I had a chance, you know? I still thought I could find Vinnie and bring him home safe and sound.” Feeling her eyes start to burn, Sam closed her eyes and buried her face in her arms. Taking a shaky breath, her voice muffled, “Then Kevin saying that if there hasn’t been a ransom demand…” Looking up with tears in her eyes, “It felt like someone hit me in the stomach with a sledgehammer. Up to that point, failure to find and bring him home was not an option.”

He wanted to reach out and hold her, to try to take away some of the pain, but he wasn’t sure if she’d accept that level of support, so he simply reached down to pick up a handful of sand. Letting it slowly seep from his fist, Horatio whispered, “Failure is never an option. I promised you that I would help you find him, Sam. You’re not alone in this.”

Nodding and watching the sand fall from his fist, it was like watching an hourglass. She couldn’t help but think about how fast time seemed to be slipping from her grasp. “I know. You’re a smart man, Horatio. You promised you’d help me find him, but you never said he’d be alive when we found him.”

Staring at the sand piling up in front of him, “Sam, that’s a promise I couldn’t make.”

“I know, but I appreciate the fact that you were honest.” Feeling her cell phone vibrate in her pocket, she leaned back and pulled it out. Looking at the caller id, “Give me a minute? It’s Frank.” Watching Horatio nod, Sam climbed to her feet to answer the call. “What’s up, Frank?”

“Sam, where are you?”

Tilting her head back to feel the sun warm her face, “I’m at the beach. I needed some air and I couldn’t stay cooped up in the house. Why?”

“How are things going down there? Get any information on the bodies yet?”

“No, not yet. I haven’t had a real chance to talk to the M.E. yet.”

Normally he was simply blunt, but now he felt himself taking a long time to tell her what he needed to say. It was going to destroy her, and he wouldn’t be able to be there for her. Taking a deep breath, “Sam, there’s no way to say this…”

Rolling her eyes, she liked him better when he was blunt. “Just say it, Frank. If it’s going to piss me off, it’s going to do so no matter how long it takes you to say it.”

Sighing heavily, he knew she’s right. “Sam, Dan and I have been pulled from the case.”

Her voice was emotionless. “What?”

“The Director called me in earlier this afternoon. He pulled us both from the case.”

Clenching her fist at her side, “He can’t do that! At least tell me he’s sending other Agents down to cover this!” She could feel the fire building inside her.

“I don’t know, Sam. He didn’t say anything. I’m to stay here in D.C. until he decides where he wants to send me, and as far as I know, he’s sending Dan back to New York.”

“Dammit, Frank! He’s writing Vinnie off, and you’re telling me that I have to let it happen? Are you serious?” Stalking back and forth across the sand, she caught the concerned look from Horatio. Shaking her head at him, she kept her attention on Frank. Running a hand through her hair, “He can’t do this, Frank.”

“He already has, Sam. I’m sorry. I tried to get him to allow me to go back to Miami to at least be there, but he’s ordered me to stay here. I don’t know if he’s sending anyone else, but in case he does, get whatever you can from those bodies and hold on to whatever evidence is gathered.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. She knew the risks of being in the Bureau. You get caught and they think they can’t get you back alive, they deny your existence. It’s like they’ve never seen or heard of you. You’re on your own. That’s what they were doing to Vinnie now. They’d written him off. They’d written off her partner, her friend, her brother. They’d taken her family and ripped it apart. Curling her lip in a snarl, “I want the evidence they collected.”

He knew there was no stopping her now. He heard it in her voice. “Sam, I have to go back in to talk to the Director. Try talking to Uncle Mike, maybe he can come up with something before they send him out of here.” Hearing the growl through the line, “Sam…”

Her voice low, and taking on a deadly tone, “I heard you, Frank. Now you hear me. You go back in there and you tell that bastard to keep out of my way. I’m not giving up on Vinnie, and I plan on bringing him home, with or without his help. Tell him, Frank. Make sure he understands what he’s unleashed.” Snapping the phone closed, Sam stalked away toward the water.

Only hearing her side of the conversation, Horatio locked his eyes on the back of the woman standing just out of reach of the water. Her back was ramrod straight, her shoulders squared and her head back. He was now more concerned than ever. He’d seen a change in her eyes when she had roared away from the airfield, and now there was the change in her tone. Watching her turn slowly and dip her chin, he kept his gaze averted. Part of her had snapped, part of her was now a deadly hunter that wasn’t about to give up.

Stopping in front of Horatio, Sam looked down at his lowered head. He was still here. Hearing the conversation, he had stayed. She had to give him credit, the mood she was in at the moment, one would have to be insane to be around her right now. Flipping open her phone and punching Uncle Mike’s number, she stalked away. Growling into the phone, “Are you alone?”

“God, Sam. I just got off the phone with Frank. He said he only had a second, but he told me that he called you and told you what was going on. He said you would probably call.”

Gritting her teeth, “Tell me that you have contacts that can get the evidence they collected. I have two bodies here, and those are not going to be enough to break this open. I need everything.”

“I can’t promise it, Sam. I can see what I can get my hands on, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Yelling into the phone, “Not going to be easy? You really think things are going to get any easier for me down here? He’s torn this family apart, Uncle Mike, and I’m the only one down here!”

“Sam…”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Pulling her arm back, she threw the phone as hard as she could and watched as it sailed out over the water. Turning back to snatch her helmet and jacket from the sand beside Horatio, she growled a warning. “Don’t follow me, Horatio. I’m not the kind of person you’d want to be around right now.” Leaving Horatio sitting in the sand alone, Sam made her way back to the parking lot. Pausing long enough to pull on her jacket and helmet, Sam kick started the bike and revved the engine. Snarling behind the helmet, she tore away from the beach in a shower of sand and gravel.

Watching her leave, Horatio was torn. Part of him wanted to follow her to make sure she’d be alright. He didn’t like the pain he had seen, and with so much going on, she was being swamped. The other part of him knew well enough to leave her alone. He already knew she wouldn’t jeopardize those around her while she was riding, no matter how upset she was, but from the look in her eyes, he wasn’t sure what she would do once she stopped. Slowly climbing to his feet and brushing himself off, Horatio headed back to his Hummer and decided to go home.

***

Racing through the city, dodging traffic, weaving her bike around the cars packing the streets with afternoon rush, her mind was on fire.

The old Director had been a good guy, easy to work with, easier to work for. He had a way of looking at things that not many could understand. She had asked him once, when they had all been in D.C. for some big conference, why he gave her and Vinnie so much leeway. What had made them so special that he didn’t push them to get results faster, nail the bad guys faster? He’d smiled at her, ushered her to a quiet corner of the room, and he’d explained it to her.

He’d said that he was just an old country boy. Born and raised on a horse farm. Growing up he’d seen people come and go, buying their horses because people thought they were fast, sleek, real racing material. When he got older, he decided to get into racing. Oh, he said he never actually got on the back of one and raced around the oval, but he trained the horses, and more importantly, he had trained the riders.

He had told her that from the time they were young, horses loved their freedom, and most of them loved to run. If you could harness that speed, and couple it with the right rider, then you’d have a winner. A good horse, a true winning horse, was the one that you didn’t have to go to the whip with, you could just sit on his back and enjoy the ride because the horse would do all the work in his own time. He’d said, “Sam, you and Vince are my thoroughbreds. You’re young, you’re fast, and you need the freedom to do what you need to do. I could order you to work a case faster, and you would, but the results wouldn’t be the same. When you two work, you take the time you need to build a case to make sure it’s solid. I don’t need a whip with you two. You two can run on your own, I’m just here to enjoy the ride.”

She hadn’t been thrilled at being compared to a horse, but she followed what he meant. They’d worked together for a little over a year before this new guy took over. Rules were changed, paces were reset, cases were thrown at you one right after the other with no downtime in between. He wanted results, but he wanted them on his schedule. Even if you didn’t think you had enough evidence, it didn’t matter. If he wanted the case closed, then you took what you had, turned it in, and the case was closed. It didn’t matter. Finally she had said enough was enough. He was careless, thoughtless. He’d risked the lives of many operatives, and she wasn’t about to watch him risk theirs. So she had talked to Vinnie, and then went to Frank and Uncle Mike, and turned in her resignation. She’d pleaded with Vinnie to get out too, but he was a lifer. As much as the cases bothered him at times, he still believed he was doing some good.

Growling as she pulled into the driveway of the safe house, You should have gotten out. You should have left when you had a chance. Walking inside, Sam draped her jacket over the back of the recliner and set her helmet on the table. Noticing the light blinking on the answering machine, she hit the play button.

“Sam, you need to calm down. I’ll do what I can to get you the evidence they collected, but I can’t promise anything. With Frank and I pulled from this, it’s going to be a little difficult to get anywhere near the labs. Sam, call me back when you get home. Ok?”

Uncle Mike. Of course he’d be worried, but she wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone, so she left the message on the machine and loaded a cd into the stereo. Curling up in the corner of the sofa, she’d closed her eyes and tried to relax as the soft haunting chords reached out to her.

***

Waking hours later, the shadows in the house were longer, and it was silent. The cd had finished playing a while ago, and looking down at her watch, it was almost 7pm. Had she really been asleep for over two hours? Seeing the new message light blinking, Sam crossed the room and let it play.

“Sam? Sam, where are you? I’m starting to get worried. I tried your cell phone and got no answer, and now you’re not at home either? Sam, call me when you get this.”

Shaking her head, she’d even slept through the phone ringing. Now that the anger had subsided, the pain was back with a vengeance. Her family was torn apart. Vinnie may be dead. She was stuck trying to deal with this all on her own. The Bureau had written him off. They’d given up on the best Agent they ever had. Her friend, her partner, her brother… The pain grabbed at her heart and ripped at her soul.

Reaching for the phone on the counter, she dialed his number and waited for him to answer. He’d probably be mad at her for not letting him know she was ok, but she’d take that chance. She just needed to hear his voice to let her know she wasn’t as alone as she thought she was. Hearing his soft voice answer, her own caught in her throat. Whispering out his name, she hoped he wouldn’t be mad. “Horatio?”

Chapter Text

“Sam? Sam, are you alright?”

The concern in his voice was genuine. He wasn’t mad. He was worried. She didn’t know when exactly she had started to care about what this man thought, but it pulled at her heart. The anger from earlier had dissipated leaving her only the pain. She wanted her family there with her. Instead, she was alone and had called the one person that had promised to be there for her. Shaking her head as the tears filled her eyes, “No.” She tried to say more, and couldn’t find the words.

“Sam, tell me where you are.”

“I can’t. I’m at the safe house and I can’t have anyone here.” Sliding to the floor with her back against the cupboards, “I just needed to hear a voice. I can’t do this alone, Horatio.”

He could hear her crying, and he wanted to be there. He kept his voice calm, but there was an authoritative undertone that he knew she’d grasp. He only hoped that she’d give in to it. “Sam, tell me where you are. Give me the address and I’m going to come pick you up. You’re not staying there alone tonight.”

She couldn’t deny him. He had the same tone Uncle Mike had when he wanted her to do something. It was almost funny. Whispering out the address, she dropped the phone to the floor beside her and buried her face in her hands.

He heard the phone drop, but it didn’t disconnect. It couldn’t have fallen far. Yelling into the phone to make sure she heard him, “Sam! I’m on my way! I’ll be there in ten minutes! Hang on, I’m on my way!” Hanging up, Horatio raced through the kitchen and turned off the stove. Dinner would have to wait. Grabbing his keys, he went out and climbed in the Hummer. She was half way across town, but he’d make it.

***

Faintly hearing Horatio yelling into the phone, Sam absently disconnected the call, and climbed to her feet. Tears blinding her, she sat in the living room in the growing darkness. She’d heard him say ten minutes. He couldn’t live too far away if he could make it there that fast. Then she heard it…

The sound of a siren slicing through the air growing closer. Groaning, she hoped it wasn’t Horatio. She couldn’t compromise the safe house. Before it entered the neighborhood, she heard the siren cut off. Ok, maybe she had been wrong. Glancing at her watch, she didn’t even know when she had hung up with him. Hearing tires screech into the driveway, Sam opened the front door and sighed as Horatio climbed from the Hummer.

Seeing the front door open and Sam step into the opening, Horatio’s heart leapt in his chest. He hadn’t felt this strong of a need to protect someone in a long time. There was something about this woman that demanded his attention, and he’d made her a promise to be there for her, a promise that he’d help her, a promise to see this through. He wasn’t sure why she had decided to call, but she had, and he was there for her. Noticing the tears still wet on her cheeks and her hair disheveled, he’d thrown the Hummer in park and climbed from the driver’s seat as soon as it had stopped moving. Crossing the yard, he didn’t hesitate to pull her into his arms. He felt her stiffen, and then she shuddered. She didn’t wrap her arms around him, but she didn’t push him away either. She needed someone there to let her know that she wasn’t alone. Rubbing her back, and whispering softly, “Sam, find your keys and let’s move the truck and bike into the garage. You’re not staying here tonight.” Releasing her as she moved back into the darkening house, he forced himself to stay on the front step and not follow her.

She couldn’t remember where she had dropped her keys, but checking beside her helmet, she found them. Walking outside, she pulled the door shut behind her. Her hand shaking badly, she had a hard time fitting the key in the lock. Resting his hand over hers, “Sam, let me.” Gently taking the keys from her hand, he locked the door before wrapping an arm around her waist and leading her to the Hummer. “Sam, go on and get in. I’ll move your truck and bike, alright?”

Nodding faintly as he held the door open for her, Sam climbed inside. “There’s an electric opener in the truck.” Leaning her head against the glass as Horatio shut the door, she watched him. He wasn’t the best on the bike, but he parked it off to the side of the garage without incident. Pulling the truck in safely, he removed the garage opener, and walked back to the Hummer with it.

Clicking the button as he settled behind the wheel, he handed it to Sam along with her keys. She wasn’t crying, but there was an emptiness in her eyes. Her shoulders were slumped, and her head rested against the cool glass. Backing out of the driveway, Horatio headed back to his beach house. Reaching over to cover Sam’s hand with his own, he gently squeezed it trying to offer some comfort. There was no reaction. Her eyes never left the road, and her hand never moved. He knew she was in pain, but he didn’t know how to help her. Releasing her hand, he was surprised when she grabbed it back without even looking and held on tightly. She wasn’t ready to talk, but at least she knew she wasn’t alone.

With a single tear trailing down her cheek, Sam held on to the one life line she had left. She wanted her family there with her. She needed Frank and Uncle Mike there to see this through. She needed them to be there to help find Vinnie. She couldn’t do it on her own. But they weren’t there. They couldn’t be there. The only one she could turn to now was sitting behind the wheel with his hand wrapped in her own. She had never expected outside help. Hell, all the years in the Bureau, she’d learned quickly to expect nothing from the outside. All she had was her family. Now though… now was different. She’d come down here to Miami with Frank thinking this was going to be a quick search and rescue operation, and instead it turned into the biggest mess she could ever remember getting mixed up in. She had to admit that Horatio had nerve. Not many would have bothered getting involved with a case like this. Locals always tended to do only what they had to in order to comply with the Feds. Rarely, if ever, did they go above and beyond to the point that he had. Horatio had promised to help find Vinnie. She believed he would do whatever he had to in order to see that promise through.

Glancing at the man beside her, the fading sun glinting off his hair and reflected in his sunglasses, she almost smiled. She never thought she would get this kind of help down here, but she had. In the few short days that she’d known him already, she was to the point where she considered him a friend. She trusted him, even if she wasn’t sure quite why. His tone, his strength, his mannerisms, they drew her in and she felt safe. That was something that she had never expected. Sam wasn’t one to trust easily, and yet, when the time had come, when her options were less than limited, she’d laid her trust blindly in the one person that had offered to be there, no questions asked, and he had answered.

Turning back to the window as the Hummer stopped in front of his house, Sam looked it over. Not what she would have expected, but it was a good sized place. She could see the beach stretching out behind it and part of her relaxed even more. She’d found solace at the beach, a haven that soothed her, calmed her soul. Climbing out of the Hummer as Horatio walked around to the passenger side to open her door, she smiled weakly at him.

Locking the Hummer, Horatio motioned toward the house. “Shall we?”

Sighing heavily, Sam fell in step beside him and walked to the front door. Entering, she could still smell the food in the kitchen. Groaning softly and shaking her head sadly, “Horatio, I’m so sorry. I forgot all about dinner.”

Holding up a hand to silence her, Horatio removed his sunglasses and placed them on a small table near the door. Depositing his keys beside them, he dipped his head and looked at her. “Sam, don’t worry about it. I’ve been making dinner a long time on my own. I think I have it figured out by now.” Seeing the haunted look in her eyes, “You deal with dinner tomorrow night. Tonight I want you to try to relax and get some rest.”

Following him through his house, she was surprised at how much room there was. It hadn’t looked that big from the outside, but it gorgeous inside. He had good taste, for a guy. He showed her to the guest room, and pointed out the bathroom. Figuring she’d want some time alone, Horatio showed her out to the back porch that overlooked the beach. It wasn’t enclosed, but there was a roof overhead. He liked sitting out here when it rained, just listening to the rain hit the roof and hearing the waves roll up on the beach always made him forget all the problems and concerns of the day. It wasn’t raining now, but the waves sounded beautiful. Calming, soothing… Watching her sink into a chair in the corner, he couldn’t help but think that she had that defeated look about her, and it worried him. “Sam, just try to relax for a while. I’m going inside to finish making dinner. Are you going to be alright?”

Gazing out over the sand, her thoughts were a whirlwind of chaos. Nodding absently, “I’m fine.” Suddenly thinking about the call from Uncle Mike, she bowed her head and sighed. “I can’t stay though. I have to go back to the house. I have to call in to Uncle Mike. He’s going to be mad that I haven’t called back yet.” Sam started to rise from the chair, when Horatio stopped her.

Raising an eyebrow and cocking his head, he looked hurt. “So what you’re saying is, my phone isn’t good enough to make a call on?”

Looking aghast, Sam tried to stammer out an apology. “I didn’t mean it like that, Horatio. It’s just…” Her voice trailing off, she just shook her head and fell back in the chair with her eyes closed. Defeat weighing down her voice, “Nevermind.”

Walking inside, Horatio returned with his phone. Crouching before her, he set the phone in her lap. “Call him, Sam. Let him know that you’re alright.” Reaching up to cup her chin and lift her head to meet his eyes, a smile pulled at his mouth, “I even have long distance calling here. Running water too.”

Trying to hide the smile she felt rising within her, Sam bowed her head. “Thank you.”

Standing and walking to the doorway, Horatio called over his shoulder. “Call him. I’m making dinner, and you’re going to eat something.” Disappearing inside, he left her no chance to argue.

Watching his shadow slip further into the house, Sam shook her head and sighed. She had to give him credit, at least he had tried to get her to smile. Staring at the phone in her lap, she recalled Uncle Mike’s number, and dialed.

“Mike’s Hardware. What can I do for you?”

He was recording the call. Taking a deep breath in preparation for the explosion, “Uncle Mike?”

“Sam? Jesus, Sam! Hang on.” There was a slight pause, “Where are you!? Girl, do you have any idea how worried we’ve been? When you didn’t call back earlier and you didn’t answer at the house, I had to call Frank.”

She already felt terrible for the way she had spoken to him earlier, and hearing the concern in his voice now did nothing to reduce her pain. “Uncle Mike, I’m sorry, ok? It’s not like I was in a good mood earlier after that call from Frank. I needed to blow off some steam, and I didn’t want to call back when I got back to the house because I didn’t want to get into a fight with you and say something I’d regret.”

Sighing heavily, Sam could hear the frown in his voice, “Sam, you should have called to at least let me know you were alright.” His voice softening, “I was worried, Sam. We may have lost Vince, and I don’t…” Taking a deep breath, “I don’t want to think about losing you too.”

Running a hand through her hair, “I’m ok. I went back to the house and crashed for a couple hours. I must have slept through your second call. I’m sorry.”

“Sam, where are you? You’re not at the house.”

Her mouth starting to water at the smells drifting from the house, “I’m at Horatio’s.”

“The Lieutenant’s house? What are you doing there?”

Rolling her eyes and shaking her head, “It’s ok, Dad. I had another nightmare about Vinnie. I woke up, was pretty shaken up, and knowing that you couldn’t be here, I only called him because I needed to hear a friendly voice.” Rising to walk down to the beach, “I’m here by myself, Uncle Mike. Horatio is the only one that has done anything to help me find Vinnie.” Stopping in her tracks, “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Sam, calm down. You’re right. Frank and I can’t be there, so you reached out for someone that could. As I said before, he seems like a good man. I think you could trust him, if you’d let yourself.”

Glancing over her shoulder at the house, “I think I’m starting to.” Sitting in the still warm sand, and watching the tide slowly climbing up the beach, “I need a new phone.” Cringing, she waited for the questions.

“Do I want to know what happened to the last one?”

“It umm… went for a swim in the ocean?”

“Sam!” Groaning, “I’ll have a phone delivered to the house in the morning. Call me when you get it so that I can log the number.”

Smiling faintly in the growing darkness, “Thanks, Uncle Mike. I’m sorry about earlier. I know you and Frank didn’t ask to be pulled from this, and I had no right to blow up at you two. I’m sorry.”

His soft voice reaching through the phone tried to reassure her, “Sam, don’t worry about it. Frank knows you’re not mad at him. I talked to him earlier. He said he passed on your message to the Director. Word for word.” Laughing lightly, “He said you’d be happy to know that he turned as white as a ghost.”

Feeling the fire flicker within her, she took heart from his words. “Good. Maybe he’ll think twice about crossing me now.” Sighing, “I still wish you guys were here though.”

He knew what she meant. There was no place he wanted to be at that very moment other than in Miami. “Sam, you just remember one thing. We’re still together in this. You, me, Frank… we’re still a family, Sam. Frank and I may not be able to be down there with you working this first hand, but we’re not about to give up on Vince. If you get anything, send me a copy and I’ll work it from my end too.”

Tracing her fingers through the sand, “I will. I’m thinking about taking the video over to the lab tomorrow and letting them run with it. You didn’t take it with you, did you?”

“No, it’s still at the house. If you want, I’ll send you the hard copies of the scene photos when I get back to the loft. Otherwise, you have the copies on the laptop still.”

“Ok. I don’t know what the plan is for tomorrow yet, but I have to stop at the house in the morning. I’ll call you when I get the phone, and I’ll touch base at some point tomorrow.” Hearing Horatio step out on the porch, “I better go for now. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Uncle Mike.”

“Get some rest tonight, Sam. I have to fly back to New York tomorrow, so if you don’t get me right away, then just leave me a message.”

“I will. Have a safe flight, Uncle Mike. Let me know when you land.” Saying goodnight and promising to try to get some rest, “I love you. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Hanging up, Sam bowed her head briefly and did something she hadn’t done in a long time. Pulling Vinnie’s crucifix out from under the neck of her t-shirt, she wrapped her hand around it and sent up a silent prayer before slipping it back under her shirt and climbing to her feet.

Watching Sam brush the sand off her jeans, Horatio offered her a smile as she walked back up on the porch. “Everything ok?”

Handing him back his phone, “Yeah. Uncle Mike is flying to New York tomorrow. He’s going to have a phone dropped off at the safe house for me in the morning. I told him I’d touch base with him at some point to let him know what’s going on here.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Holding the screen door open for her, “Why don’t we go inside and eat? We can figure out what’s going on tomorrow after that. Right now, you need food.” Letting Horatio lead the way to the kitchen, he handed her a plate. “Spanish rice and stuffed peppers. I’m not sure if it’s going to agree with your stomach, but if it doesn’t, I can make you something else.”

Her stomach growling audibly, Sam couldn’t help but to laugh. “I think I’ll be fine. This smells incredible.”

Picking up his own plate, “We can eat on the porch if you’d like.” Noting her nod, they walked back outside and sat down to eat. “If you like it, then you’ll have to let Eric know tomorrow if you plan on stopping by the lab. The recipe was his.”

Savoring every bite, Sam forced herself to take her time. She was ravenous. No breakfast and the lunch that had made it’s reappearance, and nothing the rest of the day, it was hard to eat slowly. “It’s delicious.” Finishing dinner, Sam frowned as Horatio took her plate from her and walked back inside. Following him and spying him at the sink, “Horatio, let me wash those up. I couldn’t make dinner tonight, so the least I can do is the dishes.”

Stepping aside, he figured it would keep her mind off everything else. “I thought I would drive you back to the house in the morning before I head in to work. I don’t want you staying there by yourself though. I’d prefer if you gathered your things and stayed here until this finished.” Leaning against the counter as she turned toward him, Horatio sighed. “If these guys are as dangerous as we think they are, then I don’t want you without some security. You’ll be safe here, and we can go over the case here after I get out of work. Maybe we can come up with something that will help.”

Shaking her head, “I can’t stay here, Horatio. I’d feel like I’m intruding.”

Cocking his head and raising an eyebrow, “I promised to help you, Sam. I don’t want anything to happen to you while you’re down here. Humor me, please?”

Turning back to the dishes, “Alright. I’ll pack what little I have in my truck tomorrow and I’ll drive that around all day. Sometime tomorrow night maybe, if you don’t mind, could you run me back over to pick up the bike?”

“That won’t be a problem.” Picking up a dish towel, Horatio started drying the dishes as Sam stacked them in the side sink. “Have you thought about what you want to do tomorrow?”

Shrugging, Sam shook her head. “Well, after you drop me off at the house, I’ll have to go through and make sure I have everything. Uncle Mike left a video that he got from one of the reporters the night Vinnie was kidnapped. It’s just footage from outside and she tried to cover the entire crowd for him. We ran facials and listened to the audio, but we really didn’t come across anything useful. I was thinking that maybe I could bring it by the lab tomorrow and see if someone else could look at it.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I have a meeting with the Chief in the morning. I’m going to talk to him about splitting my team.” Catching her raised eyebrow, “I can’t have the entire team working solely on this, but I can see about making at least two of them completely at your disposal. I’ll know by lunch.”

“Thank you, Horatio.” Finishing the dishes, she waited for him to put the dishes away before walking back out on the porch. “I was hoping to stop by the morgue, if you think Alexx wouldn’t mind. I’d like to take a look at the bodies.”

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I’ve put enough bad guys in body bags. I think I can handle looking at two more. They’re not Vinnie, so it shouldn’t bother me.” Sitting on the porch steps, “I need to be a part of this. I can’t let your team do all the work. Even if I can’t get my hands in it, I still want to see the evidence and take my own notes.”

“Sam, I wouldn’t think about keeping you out of the lab. As for Alexx, I’m sure she would welcome a visit from you. I’ll warn you though, from what little she told me earlier, there hasn’t been a lot to pull from the bodies.”

“That’s ok. I just have to be in this. If I only stand on the outskirts looking in, I’m going to lose it.” Yawning, Sam stared out over the water.

It was still early. Only a little before 9pm. “Sam, it’s going to be an early morning. If you want to, why don’t you grab a shower? Maybe it will help you relax a little. I’ll make us some tea when you’re done.”

“I’d love to, but I sort of left my change of clothes at the house.” Letting out a soft moan, “and my shorts and night shirt. Wonderful.”

Chuckling lightly, Horatio tapped her on the shoulder and nodded toward the door, “If you think you can handle it, I think I can find you a pair of sweats and a t-shirt.”

Following him inside, she waited in the hallway as he stepped into his bedroom. Biting back a yawn as Horatio returned and handed her a change of clothes, “Thanks. I think I need to add shopping to my list for tomorrow. We weren’t sure how long we’d be down here, and I packed kind of light.” The past couple days had been exhausting and they were taking their toll. Tired and emotionally drained, Sam made her way to the bathroom and turned on the water as hot as she could stand it.

***

Walking out of the bathroom and depositing her clothes in the guest room, Sam found Horatio back on the porch leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed. Standing in the doorway just watching him, he truly was a selfless man. He looked so peaceful and relaxed that she thought he was sleeping until he cracked an eye open and gazed up at her.

“Feel better?”

Nodding, and leaning against the doorframe, “Yeah, actually I do. Thanks for the clothes.”

Sitting up and stretching, he smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t we go inside, and I’ll make us some tea?”

Holding the door open for him, “You don’t strike me as a tea drinker.”

Shrugging and suppressing a yawn of his own, “Alexx turned me on to a chamomile blend that does wonders to help you relax and sleep. I don’t drink it often, but when the day has been long, and nerves are on edge, it helps.” Sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the water to heat up, “At some point, I’d like to hear how you got involved with the Feds.” Cocking his head and smiling faintly, “You don’t exactly strike me as a suit.”

A suit. She laughed. “We’re not your normal Federal Agency, Horatio. Frank wears his suit, and the big boys in D.C. wear theirs, but the rest of us, the ones actually out there in the field, no suits unless it’s necessary. We’re strictly undercover.”

Getting up as the kettle whistled, “You’re not going to get into trouble for talking about this, are you?” Pouring two mugs, he returned to the table.

“No. Besides, I’m not a part of them anymore. I’m a civilian now. Should I talk about it? No. Will I talk about it? Some of it, maybe. Do I trust you enough to tell you and know that you won’t repeat any of this because if you did it would jeopardize the lives of all the agents in the field still?” Pausing to raise the mug to her lips and blow across the tea lightly, she raised her eyes to meet Horatio’s. “Something inside me tells me yes. To be honest, I don’t normally trust people so quickly. I’m surprised that I trust you already.”

He knew that she wasn’t lying. Trust wasn’t an easy thing to simply bestow upon someone. “Sam, I wouldn’t risk you, your family, or any of the other Agents. To do so would be like putting my own team, my own family, at risk.”

Sipping at her tea, “Ok. Let’s start this way. Tell me if you’ve heard of us. Our Agency, it’s one that technically doesn’t exist. You can’t just look us up and find out what or who we are.” Setting her mug on the table, and wrapping her hands around it, “We go by OCB. The Organized Crime Bureau.”

Chapter Text

Frowning, Horatio shook his head. “Never heard of it.”

Nodding slightly, Sam smiled weakly. “I’m not surprised. Like I said, we work completely in the dark. Anonymity is our best defense. The less people that know about us, the safer we are.” Staring into her tea mug, “We go after the big boys. Organized crime. Mafia and mob bosses, weapon and drug cartels. We have backgrounds to back us up, and bosses and partners to cover our asses.”

“So how did you get involved with all that?” He was interested.

Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, “My family was murdered. I was out of town on business at the time and apparently they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were gunned down in a crossfire between two rival drug lords feuding over territory.”

His breath catching in his throat, his heart leapt in his chest. Reaching across the table to cover her hand with his, “Sam, I’m so sorry.”

Patting his hand with her free one, Sam smiled weakly. “Don’t worry about it. It was a long time ago. I’ve learned to deal with it.” Sighing, “Of course when it happened, I had only two emotions ruling my life. Anger and revenge. I wanted the ones responsible and the local cops weren’t exactly busting heads to bring them to justice.” Picking up her mug with one hand, her other still covered with Horatio’s, “So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I went out, bought a gun, and taught myself to shoot. Then I started following them around. I started taking notes, figuring out who was where on certain days. I didn’t have names, but I knew them. Their faces were burned into my mind.”

“They never knew they were being watched? That was a dangerous move, Sam.”

Shrugging, her eyes grew hard. “Doesn’t matter. They’re all gone now. Life sentences for both lords and most of their top goons.” Sliding her hand out from under Horatio’s, she stared her hands shaking. “I probably tailed them for months. I went through notebooks taking notes, writing down descriptions of everyone I knew was involved. I finally decided to take a shot at one of them. That’s when I met Vinnie.”

Crossing his arms on the table, Horatio leaned forward, pushing his mug aside. She had his attention.

“Vinnie was working undercover. Of course I didn’t know that. I’d seen him before. I’d even covered pages with notes about him. Somehow he saw me that day. Of course later on I found out that he knew the entire time that I was watching them all. While I was watching them, he had me under surveillance too. I was the sole survivor of my family, and he figured I’d try to take matters into my own hands.” Draining her mug, she set it aside. “He came up behind me where I was hiding, and grabbed my gun away from me. I thought he was going to kill me, but instead he simply told me that I didn’t want to that. That I didn’t want to kill them because that would make me no better than them.”

Horatio decided in that instant that he wanted to find her partner alive. He seemed like an intelligent man.

“So I sat back in the shadows and I looked at him. Asked him why he cared, and why he wasn’t trying to kill me or turn me into his boss. He knelt down and handed me back my gun. He said that he wasn’t supposed to break code, but he felt that I needed to know. He said that he was undercover and it was his job to bring them all to justice.” Smiling faintly, “I didn’t believe him. He saw that. He asked me to give him two weeks, no more, and he’d promise that he’d make sure they got what they deserved.” Shaking her head at the memory, “So I left. I didn’t trust him, but he hadn’t killed me, so I figured it would be best to back off and rethink my next attack. Then about nine days later, my phone rang.”

Horatio’s eyes widened with disbelief. “He called you?”

Shaking her head, Sam laughed. “No. There was a man on the other end and all he said was to turn on the news and then he hung up. My curiosity got the better of me, so I turned on the news. Staring back at me were the two faces of the drug lords that had killed my family. Behind them were about fifteen of their biggest thugs, including Vinnie. When he passed the cameras, I almost swore that he winked.” Picking up her mug and noticing it was empty, Sam carried it to the sink and rinsed it out. Filling it with plain water, she returned to the table. “I followed that story right up until the verdict came down that they were all being sent away for life for everything from drug manufacturing, possession and distribution, to weapon charges and murder.” Looking at Horatio with tears just forming at the corners of her eyes, “That night was the first night I actually slept without nightmares since it all started.”

Shaking his head trying to follow it all and piece it together, “So he was sent away with the rest? How’d he get out without anyone knowing?”

Lifting her glass in a mock toast, “Hail to the Bureau. They bring us up on trumped up added federal charges and have us sent to a federal prison away from the rest of the group, and then after we spend some time behind the bars to feed our backgrounds, we work out a ‘lighter’ charge and we’re released.” Taking a long drink, “So Vinnie got out. About five months later, after they were all sent away, I got a phone call from him. He wanted to get together for dinner, to talk he said. So I went. I had to thank him for everything he had done. So I met him for dinner, and about half way through dinner, he introduced me to Frank. He’d already told Frank everything I had done, everything that I had tried to do, and somehow managed to talk him into offering me a position. So they pitched the Bureau idea to me, and I accepted.”

Draining his mug, Horatio simply shook his head. Walking over to the stove, he turned the kettle back on. “I think we’re both going to need another cup.”

Nodding in agreement as he sat back down, “I went through training and graduated top of my class. My assignment came down that I was working with Frank. Of course that had already been planned beforehand, so it wasn’t too big of a surprise. The surprise came when I called my Lifeguard for the first time. I thought I recognized his voice, but I couldn’t place it…” Pausing to bow her head and chuckle, “That is, until he asked me if I liked watching the news. He was the one that had called me when the drug lords were taken in. Later on, Vinnie got tired of calling him Lifeguard. He said it was too impersonal. So he started calling him Uncle Mike, and we’ve been calling him that ever since.”

“He sounds like a good man, your Uncle.”

“You’d like him. I think everyone does when they meet him. Frank on the other hand, he tends to take some time to grow on you.”

“So what made you decide to quit?”

“The Director that was in office when I started was a good man. He was easy to work with, easier to work for. He knew when to push, but mostly he let you work the cases at your own speed. He wanted to make sure the bad guys were going away for a long time, so if it took longer for you to get the evidence against them, then that’s what it took.” Sighing heavily, “Then about five years ago, he retired from his office and the new Director came in. He has no field experience behind him, so not many field operatives like him. Cases are run his way, on his schedule. If he wants it done in two weeks, you better have everything in two weeks because the Feds were coming in whether you’re ready or not.”

Taking both mugs to the counter as the kettle whistled, Horatio called over his shoulder, “That’s not very smart. If you didn’t have enough evidence, how was anyone suppose to get charges to stick?”

Watching Horatio pour the water and take fresh tea bags from the cupboard, “Believe me, there were many times when they walked because operatives didn’t have enough evidence to hold them. That’s dangerous for us because once they’re released, they start going through their people and cleaning house looking for the narc. It’s never pretty, and it’s always dangerous.” Accepting her mug as Horatio set it in front of her, “There were a couple cases that Vinnie and I worked on that really put the Director on my list, so to speak. A couple that landed Vinnie and myself in the hospital on separate occasions. But what really cinched it up was when Frank was recalled to D.C. and we needed backup so the Director ordered Uncle Mike into the field.”

“Ok, so why is that a problem? I know you said he’s more behind the scenes, but wouldn’t he be cleared for field work too?”

Staring at the steam rising from her mug, “Technically he is cleared for the field, but if you meet him, you’ll understand why I couldn’t accept that. I wouldn’t let the Director risk Uncle Mike’s life. Vinnie and I both told him to stay out of it, and the Director still ordered him, so I flew out to D.C. to have a heart to heart. I walked into the Director’s office, shut and locked the door behind me, pulled my gun, walked around his desk and put it against his head. The entire time he never reached for a weapon, he never picked up his phone to call security, he just kept telling me that I couldn’t just walk in there and threaten him. I told him that he was wrong.”

Horatio remained silent but watched her eyes the entire time. She never stopped looking at her mug. She was caught up in the moment.

“I told him if he insisted on sending our Lifeguard into the field, and no, we never called him Uncle Mike around the Director, that I’d make him regret what would happen, and that everything would fall back on his head.” Picking up the mug and taking a sip, “He didn’t believe me.”

There was a darkness that had settled into her eyes, and it was quite unsettling. They were hard, dark, and her voice took on a sharp tone. Horatio wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but he asked anyway. “What happened?”

“I flew back out to be with Vinnie and finish the case. A couple days later, Uncle Mike showed up. The Director had sent him orders to join us in the field. So I talked to Vinnie, and I had him protect Uncle Mike while I sabotaged the rest of the case. I fed false information back to the Bureau about when and where to be for the final strike. I knew who would be sent. He always used the same team. Somehow things didn’t turn out the way it was planned. The team was caught in a shoot out, and they lost three men. One of the older operatives that had wanted to retire for years but the Director never let him, he got shot and is now out on full disability and will never want for anything for the rest of his life.”

Horatio made a mental note to never cross this woman. “So what did your Director do?”

“He told me it was my fault, and I told him it was his. I told him that I had warned him, but he hadn’t believed me. His fault, not mine. A week later, I resigned. That was almost three years ago.” Yawning, Sam slowly drank her tea.

She was tough, she was brutal, and she was determined. Part of him wanted to feel sorry for whoever had kidnapped her partner because he thought he had an idea of the wrath she was going to rain down upon them, but the other part of him wanted to be there when she did. Beneath the hardness, beneath the killer look in her eyes, he could still see her pain. For that alone, he wanted a shot at these people. Finishing their tea in silence, he nodded toward the clock. “It’s getting late, Sam. Why don’t you get some sleep? I’ll wake you in the morning and then I’ll drop you off on my way to work.”

Finishing her mug, Sam walked to the sink and dumped the tea bag in the garbage before rinsing out the mug. Returning to the dining room to rest a hand on Horatio’s shoulder, “Thank you, Horatio, for everything.” Leaving the room, Sam moved down the hallway to the guest room.

Hearing the bedroom door close, Horatio sat thinking about all that Sam had told him. He wanted to meet her Uncle, and he had to help her find her partner. Stopping himself, no, he had to help her find Vinnie. Depositing his mug in the sink after rinsing it, he checked the doors to make sure they’re locked before turning out the lights and heading to bed.

***

Waking in the middle of the night, Horatio rolled over to check the clock. 2am. Rolling onto his back, he stared up at the ceiling trying to figure out what woke him. Listening intently, trying to pick up any noise, he propped himself up on his elbow and turned toward the door. Faintly he could make out a voice. Reaching into the nightstand to remove his gun, he moved silently to the door and cracked it open. Holding his breath, he heard it again. The guest room. Sam.

Slipping through the shadows, he found the door shut and slowly inched it open. Peering inside, the light of the moon shining through the window cast a faint glow about the room. Sam was laying on top of the blankets, muttering in her sleep. Crossing the room and setting his gun on the small dresser, Horatio leaned down and touched her shoulder lightly. “Sam? Sam, wake up. You’re having a bad dream, you’re safe.”

Growling as she felt someone touch her, Sam’s eyes snapped open and she sat up swinging.

Jumping back and grasping her wrist as she swung at him, Horatio stepped closer. “Sam! It’s me, it’s Horatio. You were having a dream, Sam. You’re ok, you’re alright. Just relax.”

Her eyes slowly focused on his face in the dark, and looked at her wrist in his hand. “Horatio?” Not Vinnie. The nightmare came back then, and she closed her eyes and started shaking.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he pulled her close. Wrapping an arm around her, “It’s ok. You’re safe. It was just a dream. We all have bad dreams.”

Muttering in a half sleep, “Not like mine.” Pulling back and rolling away from him, “I’m sorry I woke you, Horatio.”

Watching her curl up into a ball, “Don’t worry about it, Sam. Try to go back to sleep. I’ll wake you in the morning.” Hearing her soft breathing, he shook his head and picked up his gun. Leaving the room and closing the door behind him, he walked back to his room and picked up the phone in the hallway. It was 2am, and the man was probably asleep, but Horatio was at a loss. He wanted to help Sam, but at this point, he wasn’t sure how. Horatio only hoped he wouldn’t be mad. Walking into his room and closing the door, Horatio stood by the window looking out over the water. Absently hitting the redial button, he waited for it to be answered.

Four rings later, a very tired voice answered. “Mike’s Hardware.”

Raising an eyebrow, Horatio wondered if he had the right number. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he kept it simple. “This is Horatio Caine, is this Sam’s Uncle Mike?”

“Shit! Hang on.” A silence followed by a click, and then he was back on the line. “Lieutenant? What’s wrong? Is Sam alright?”

The call was either currently being recorded or it had been turned off, but he wasn’t sure. “Is this being recorded?”

“Not anymore, why?”

“I wanted to make sure. There was a click on the line and I didn’t know if the recording was being turned on or off.” Silence. “I’m not quite sure why I called actually.”

He’d have to check the connections on the recording devices later because the disconnect shouldn’t have been audible. Right now, he was only worried about one thing, “Is Sam alright?”

Sighing and running a hand through his hair, Horatio shook his head. “To be honest, I’m not sure. She’s on a roller coaster of emotions right now, and I just woke up to her having a nightmare.”

Groaning, “You didn’t try to wake her, did you?”

Frowning slightly, Horatio sighed. “Next time I’ll remember to throw something at her. She has a heck of a right hook.” If she had connected, he was sure she would have done some damage. “She told me how she met all of you, and how her family was murdered…”

Breaking in, “The nightmares aren’t about her family. I’d lay odds on that. She hasn’t had a nightmare about her family for many years now. Right now, I’d say she’s more concerned with finding Vince, and that’s where the dreams are coming from. She’s scared she won’t be able to find him in time to bring him home alive.”

Feeling the need to reassure the man on the other end of the line, Horatio’s eyes searched the night sky. “I’ve asked her to stay here at my house for the duration of this investigation. I don’t like the idea of her staying at that safe house by herself. She wasn’t thrilled when she found out you were pulled from this. I think not having the rest of her family here is weighing on her more than she cares to admit.”

Sighing, Uncle Mike knew exactly how that felt. “Sam won’t admit to anything. I don’t like not being there either. I don’t like having her work on this by herself. These people are dangerous, and I can’t bear to see her get hurt.”

“For what it’s worth, she’s not by herself. I’ll do everything I can to protect her. You have my word on that.”

“Lieutenant, you’re a good man. Don’t tell her that you called me and don’t tell her that I’m flying down there tomorrow.”

A little surprised, Horatio turned from the window and crossed to the bed. Sitting down, “When are you getting in? I’ll make sure someone is at the airport to pick you up.”

Chuckling lightly, “Don’t worry about that. All I need from you is an address.” Growing serious, “Listen, this isn’t anything against you. They’re my kids. One of them is out there somewhere on his own, hurt and possibly dead. I’m trying really hard to deal with that. I’m not about to let my girl go through this alone. She’s strong, but she shouldn’t have to shoulder this on her own.”

Horatio’s respect for this man was growing every second. “What about your orders? I know Sam doesn’t have to follow any, but what about you?” Faintly he could hear the sound of keys being punched.

“I’ve been playing this game for so long, I’ve learned how to play around the rules. I plan on following my orders. I’m flying to New York first thing in the morning.” Pausing, “I plan on picking up a few things, then hopping the next available flight to Miami.”

Stifling a yawn, Horatio ran a hand through his hair. “Well, you’re welcome to stay here if you’d like. The offer stands.”

“Thank you. Now I think I should let you go, Lieutenant. It sounds like you need a couple more hours of sleep. Let Sam keep whatever plans she had for later, and I’ll let you know when I get to town.”

“Sounds like a plan. Now if you have a pen, I’ll give you my cell number and the address.”

“No need. Just rattle the number off. I can get the address when I call.” Listening as Horatio gave him the number, “Get some rest, Lieutenant. Morning is quickly rising.” Saying a quick goodbye, the connection ended.

Laying back on the bed, Horatio stared at the ceiling and waited for sleep to catch back up with him. It was going to be an interesting day.

***

Waking as the alarm sounded, Horatio rolled over and slapped at it turning it off. Groaning and stretching, he slowly climbed from the bed with the intentions of waking Sam. Opening the bedroom door, his senses were assaulted with the smell of coffee. Walking into the kitchen, he found Sam staring into his refrigerator. Watching as she removed a carton of eggs and a package of bacon, she quietly opened cupboards until she found, and removed, a heavy skillet. Clearing his throat, Horatio chuckled as she jumped slightly and almost dropped the skillet.

Spinning around, “Jesu… Horatio, do you always sneak up on people when they’re trying to make you breakfast?”

He didn’t need long to think about that. “No. I can honestly say that I don’t, but then again it’s been a very long time since anyone’s been around here to make breakfast.”

Setting the skillet on the stove, Sam crossed her arms over her chest and cocked her head to study him. Shorts, t-shirt, his hair wild, and tired eyes that held a deep truth that echoed his words. Sam felt an ache in her heart for him. The man had so much to give, she could only wonder at why he would be alone in life. Smiling gently, “Well, if I’m staying here, then it’s the least I can do. Now why don’t you go take a shower, wake up, get dressed for work, and I’ll fix you some bacon and eggs. How do you like them?”

She was serious. So was he. He hadn’t had anyone make him breakfast in a long time. He wasn’t sure if he wanted her to or not though. In the end, he broke the silence. “Sunny side up. Two slices of toast, if you don’t mind?”

Waving her hands at him, “Go. Let me worry about this. You go get ready. I can’t get dressed properly until I get to the safe house, so get moving. I have plans for today.” Waiting until he disappeared down the hallway, Sam set about making breakfast.

***

Horatio didn’t rush. There was no reason to. He needed time to wake up, and if he didn’t stop yawning before he got to his office, then he’d end up with the third degree from Alexx for not getting enough sleep. Leaving the bathroom and returning to his room, he dressed for work and ran a comb through his hair. Pulling his holster from the nightstand, and replacing his gun in it, he pulled his suit jacket from the closet and draped it over his arm. Taking a tie from the rack, he walked into the kitchen. Smiling to himself as Sam was finishing with the eggs just as the toast popped, he laid his gun on the table, and draped his jacket and tie over the back of his chair.

Looking up from the stove as Horatio pulled the toast from the toaster and stacked it on a plate, “You’re not dressed yet. Go finish. I’ve got this.”

Snatching bacon from the plate beside her, he raised an eyebrow and flashed a toothy grin before returning to the table.

Shaking her head and rolling her eyes, “Get your own coffee since I don’t know how you like it. The food is ready.” Carrying the plates to the table, they sat down to eat.

Having already gone over the plan of the day, Horatio just touched base. “So I’m dropping you off, and you’re going to pack up and use the truck all day. You’re planning on stopping by to see Alexx, and stopping by the lab, right?” Catching her nod, “If I don’t see you before noon, then make a stop by my office. I should hear something by then from the Chief.”

Clearing her plate, she waited for Horatio to finish before taking the plates to the sink to quickly wash them. There was nothing worse than dried egg. Glancing at the clock, “What time are you due in?”

Absently fixing his tie, “I usually get in early to make sure everything is in order when the team arrives for the day.” Picking up his jacket, “Are you almost ready?”

Reaching into the pocket of the sweats, she pulled out her keys. “Whenever you are.”

Leading the way to the front door, Horatio opened it and stood aside for Sam to step out. Scooping up his keys and pulling on his sunglasses, Horatio locked the door behind them and nodded toward the Hummer. “Shall we?”

***

Driving across town, Horatio pulled into the driveway and walked Sam to the door. Stepping inside to make sure everything looked in order, “Alright, get your stuff and I’ll see you around lunchtime in my office.” Pausing as if he wanted to say more, he dipped his head and walked back outside.

Watching Horatio drive away, Sam closed and locked the door. She didn’t want to stay there any longer than she had to. Walking over to the table, she opened her laptop and checked her mail. A couple from Uncle Mike from the day before wanting to know if she was alright, but nothing new. Logging off, Sam turned and eyed her gun on the couch. She couldn’t believe that she had left it there. Picking it up, she headed for the bedroom to pack up the few things that she had. Changing clothes and stuffing Horatio’s sweats and t-shirt in her backpack, she dropped the bag in the living room.

Collecting the video from Uncle Mike’s room, she gave the room a once over, but it was clean. He had taken everything else. Good. Less she had to deal with. Slipping her holster on, and sliding into her jacket, Sam pulled out the garage opener that she had almost forgotten in the Hummer. Walking outside, she opened the garage and backed out the truck. Leaving the bike inside, she closed the garage and returned inside to gather her things.

Walking through the house room by room, there was nothing left behind. She had her bag, helmet, the video, the laptop and all the cords. No phone. Stopping outside the door, Sam shook her head as she spied a small box hidden in the bushes. Retrieving it, she read the tag. Mike’s Hardware. Her phone. Locking the door securely, she climbed into the truck and pulled out of the driveway. First stop, the morgue.

Chapter Text

Pulling into a spot in front of the MDPD, Sam opened the box from Uncle Mike. Removing the phone, power cord and ear bud, she unfolded a small note.

Sam,
The phone is charged and ready to go. Give me a call when you get this. I may be in the air, so if I don’t answer right away, leave me a message and I’ll call you back when I land.
Uncle Mike

Short, sweet, to the point. Turning on the phone, she smiled as she noticed the phonebook was already loaded. Dialing Uncle Mike, it went directly to voicemail. “Uncle Mike, it’s me. I wanted to let you know that I got the phone and I’m just touching base. I’m heading to the morgue and the lab, and I’ll check back in with you later. Give me a call when you get in. Love you.” Hanging up and slipping it in her pocket, Sam cracked her window open and locked the truck. Walking to the front door, she paused as Eric walked out.

Stopping as he eyed Sam walking toward him, “Morning, Sam. Where are you heading?”

Shading her eyes with her hand, she smiled up at him. “I was planning on paying Alexx a visit in the morgue. How about you?”

Putting on a sheepish grin, Eric chuckled and bowed his head. “I left some paperwork in the Hummer. If you want to hang on a minute, I can show you how to get there.”

She hadn’t been there yet, and it would save her from having to get directions through the building, so Sam nodded with a smile. “Sure. Sounds good.” Waiting for Eric to grab his papers and rejoin her, “Horatio mentioned a meeting with the Chief this morning.”

Opening the door for her, Eric followed Sam inside. “Yeah, we work for H, and he works for the Chief. H is always in meetings with him. Don’t worry too much about it because there’s no way H will let him take us off this case.”

Ok, so apparently Horatio hadn’t said anything about his plan yet. Sam kept that to herself. Falling in step beside Eric, “Has there been anything new? Anything?”

Stepping into the elevator, Eric hit the basement button. “Calleigh is in the lab now. I’m heading back to the lab after I show you to the morgue.”

Staring at the door before her, her voice soft, “You didn’t answer me though, Eric.”

Dropping a hand on her shoulder as the doors opened, “Alright. There’s not much. I won’t lie to you about that, but we’re not giving up.”

Glancing up at him, Sam smiled. “Thanks, Eric. I was thinking about hitting the lab when I finished with Alexx.”

Holding the door open, Eric nodded. “We’ll be there.” Pointing at a doorway, “Through there. Alexx should be in already. You can find your way back to the labs?” Catching Sam’s wave as she headed for the door, “See you when you get up there.” Stepping back into the elevator, the doors closed cutting Sam off from his view.

***

Pausing outside the double doors marked “City Morgue”, Sam took a deep breath before walking inside.

Turning around at hearing someone enter, Alexx smiled warmly. “Sam. Baby girl, how are you feeling?”

Walking over to Alexx and allowing the woman to give her a light hug, “I’m feeling better. Emotionally, well, I think I’m still a mess, but I’m dealing with it the best I can.”

Stepping back to look Sam up and down, Alexx shook her head with a frown. “I won’t even begin to yell at you for how tired you look because I’ve already seen Horatio this morning and I had a few things to say to him about how he looked. That is, until he told me how he talked you into staying at his place so you didn’t have to do this alone.” Seeing Sam’s shocked expression, “Oh, now don’t be getting upset now. I think Horatio made the right decision. I don’t want you to try to do this alone. You understand me, baby girl?”

Biting her lip, Sam nodded. “Yeah, I understand.”

“Good. Now what brings you down to my little corner of this building?”

Suddenly Sam wasn’t so sure if this was such a good idea or not. “I was wondering if I could see the two bodies that were brought in. I…” Her shoulders slumped and she sighed. “I need to see them. I know they’re not Vinnie, but I need to see them. I don’t know if they were really with him or not, but I just have to see for myself.”

Patting Sam on the shoulder, “Of course, baby. You just give me a minute to pull them out. I’m going to warn you now though, they’re not too pretty.”

Nodding, Sam waited patiently for Alexx to slide them out of the wall crypts. Finding a box of gloves on the desk, Sam pulled on a pair, and slowly approached the first body. Looking at Alexx expectantly, “Did you get anything from them?”

Shaking her head sadly, Alexx pulled back the sheet covering the first body. “Not a whole lot from either of them. Their clothes were sent to the lab along with skin, hair and blood samples. The nail scrapings were sent up too.” Pointing out the needle marks on the one arm, “I can’t say repeated use over time, but they definitely shot up with something before they died. This one happens to have died from a heart attack.” Covering the body and sliding it back into its crypt, Alexx turned to the second one. Pulling back the sheet, “This one died of a stroke. The blood vessels in his brain were so constricted that it cut off all the blood going to his brain.” Pointing at his arm, “Needle marks in this one too. There were also some abrasions on his neck where it looks like he had a chain or something on and it was ripped off.”

Her hand going to her throat, Sam growled. Leaning close to the body, “Count yourself lucky that you’re already dead.” Studying his face and ignoring the look from Alexx, Sam reached over and flipped the sheet back over the body. Stripping off the gloves and tossing them in a garbage can near the desk, Sam leaned heavily against it. “Alexx, do you have a list of everything that one was wearing?”

“Of course, it’s all in my report.” Sitting behind the desk, Alexx punched up the file on the two bodies. “I can print you out a copy if you’d like.”

“That would be great. Thanks, Alexx.”

It didn’t take long for the two files to finish printing, and Alexx handed the pages to Sam. “Are you ok, baby girl?”

Looking back across the room to where the bodies were safely back in theirs crypts, “I just want to know what else of Vinnie’s that guy had.” Glancing at the files, Sam read through them quickly. “Thanks again, Alexx. I have to get up to the lab. I’ll talk to you later.” Leaving the morgue, Sam headed for the elevator and the labs.

***

Walking down the hall towards the lab, Sam’s cell phone went off. Pulling it out, she smiled as she read the number. Answering, “Uncle Mike. How was your flight?”

“Wasn’t bad. You know how it is though. I stopped by the loft. I know there isn’t much I can do from here, but I’m putting the pictures together and I’ll get those to you. You already have the video. Is there anything else you need from here?”

Pausing to lean her back against the wall, Sam kept her voice low. “I’d feel better if you were here too, but I know that isn’t going to happen, so I guess so long as you can get the scene photos to me, and you still answer when I need you, then I guess I’ll deal.”

He wanted so much to tell her that his next flight was leaving in an hour, and that he’d be in Miami by nightfall, but he couldn’t. “I know, Sam. I’m not thrilled with not being there either. Anyway, I wanted to let you know that I made it in. I want to get out of here for a while and head over to the apartment. I’ll call you tonight. Ok?”

Sighing, “Yeah, ok.” Hanging up and slipping the phone back in her pocket, Sam took a deep breath and walked to the door of the lab. Knocking softly, she waved as Eric looked up and smiled. Entering as Calleigh turned and waved her in, “I don’t want to be in the way, so if you’re busy, I can stop by later.”

“Nonsense. There’s plenty of room in here, and since we’re working on your bodies, I’d think you would want to be here.”

Shrugging out of her jacket and hanging it on the coat rack near the door, Sam walked over to Calleigh. “Thanks. That’s why I wanted to come down here.” Accepting a box of gloves from Eric, and pulling a pair on, “I stopped by to see Alexx already. She showed me the bodies, and gave me their files she started on them. I wanted to see their clothes for myself.”

Stepping away from the table, Calleigh motioned for Eric to step aside as Sam slowly walked around the evidence table. Standing beside Eric, Calleigh quietly filled Sam in on what they’d found so far. “The blood work came back and both samples were laced with cocaine.”

Absently listening, Sam added her thoughts randomly. “That would explain the heart attack and stroke. Vinnie and I have seen our shares of both when it comes to crack heads.” Comparing the notes in the files to the evidence on the table before her, “This shirt. Tell me about it.”

Walking to stand beside Sam, Calleigh regarded the shirt for a moment before recalling the details from memory. “Ok, that one gave us more than the other. Same wood slivers as the rest of the clothes, and those are from the wooden caskets they were in. Two strong strains of DNA in it though. There was some trace on the outside that didn’t match the two on the inside, but it wasn’t enough to even replicate.”

Nodding, her eyes still locked on the shirt, “What about the DNA on the inside?”

Glancing at Eric, Calleigh nodded to the computer. Waiting for Eric to pull up the files and results, Calleigh sighed. “Well, one definitely is the body in the morgue. We still can’t get a name though, but it’s a definite match. The other strand though, we can’t match.”

Raising an eyebrow, Sam cocked her head and looked sideways at Calleigh. “What do you mean you can’t match it?”

“We can’t find a match in the system.”

Growling under her breath, and stripping off the gloves, Sam walked to the side of the room and pulled out her cell phone. “Uncle Mike? Really quick, I know you probably want to rest after your flight, but I need to know if the backdoor is still open in the Bureau’s system. I’ve got a shirt here from one of the bodies that I swear is the same one I bought him a couple years ago. Thing is, they can’t match the DNA. They couldn’t have wiped his record away, could they?”

“If they’ve decided there’s no chance in getting him back, then it’s possible that they’re erasing everything they can. But in answer to your question, yes, if you go into the laptop, you can get into the Bureau’s system if you remember how I showed you.” Pausing and taking a deep breath, “Sam, if you do it, make sure you are extremely careful. They can’t erase your service records since I encoded them, but they’ve upped the security a bit. Get in, get your records, and get out.”

“I will. I’ll try to pull up his federal record first, and if I can’t, then I’ll hit the Bureau. Thanks, Uncle Mike. I’ll talk to you later tonight and let you know how it all turns out.” Hanging up, Sam walked back to Calleigh. “Ok, if for whatever reason you missed any of that, that shirt looks like one that I bought Vinnie a couple years ago for his birthday. It was also the shirt worn by the stroke victim.”

Shaking her head, “Ok, but what difference does that make?”

“It matters because he was wearing something else that wasn’t on him when he was brought in.”

Eric and Calleigh stared at her. Crossing his arms over his chest, Eric narrowed his eyes. “And what might that be?”

“A crucifix.”

Turning on her heel as Horatio walked in behind her, Sam nodded slightly. “Yeah. Vinnie’s crucifix.” Reaching beneath the neck of her shirt, Sam pulled the chain out. Noting the shocked glances, “Frank, my boss, yanked it off the body at the airfield and gave it to me. I haven’t taken it off since.”

Resting a hand on Sam’s shoulder, Horatio softly corrected her. “Actually he gave it to me and asked me to give it to her. So she wasn’t hiding evidence. I was the one that didn’t bring it in.”

Unhooking the chain, Sam wrapped it around her fist, and held it to her heart. Turning slowly to Calleigh, “Vinnie never took it off since the day his mother and brother gave it to him. You run this for DNA. You’re going to find mine, Frank’s, trace from Horatio, Vinnie, and that slime ball in the morgue. If you can eliminate the dead body, Horatio, and myself, you should have another that matches your unknown on the shirt. If it matches, then I may have to break into the Bureau’s system to pull up Vinnie’s service record to get his DNA and blood results. They’re always updated every six months. I just can’t believe you couldn’t find him in the system.” Handing the chain to Calleigh, Sam reluctantly released it.

Closing her gloved hand around the chain, and resting her other hand over Sam’s, Calleigh searched her eyes. “I’ll take care of it. Nothing’s going to happen to this. It won’t take long to run it, and I’ll give it back to you as soon I’m done processing it.”

Biting her lip, Sam nodded and turned away as Calleigh walked from the lab to the one next door. Looking at Eric, “You can look up any prison records, right?”

“Sure, but Calleigh already tried and didn’t turn up anything. What did you have in mind?” Settling behind the desk and pulling off his gloves, Eric looked over his shoulder as Sam stood behind him.

“Newark State Penitentiary. Inmate name, Vincent Michael Terranova.” Walking to the door, “Try that, and I’ll be back in a minute.” Smiling as Horatio fell instep beside her, “I’m only going to the truck to get my laptop. I have a feeling Eric won’t be able to find any record for Vinnie anywhere.”

“And why is that?”

Stopping at the elevator, Sam glanced sideways at Horatio. “If they don’t think they can get him back, then they’re going to try to erase everything they have on him. They’re going to write him off.” Stepping into the elevator with Horatio at her side, “The only way to get DNA and blood results for Vinnie now, with the exception of going to New York and gathering it first hand, is to get his service record from the Bureau. Uncle Mike makes us submit new samples every so often, so that our records are current.”

Shaking his head, Horatio frowned. “That wouldn’t be necessary though. Your DNA wouldn’t change all that much in such a short period of time. Over years it can change, but not that much in six months.”

Nodding in agreement, Sam agreed. “You’re right, but with some of the stuff we go through on cases, Uncle Mike figures better safe than sorry.” Walking outside and shielding her eyes, Sam grumbled. “Something else for my shopping list for later. I really need a pair of shades.”

Chuckling as he slipped on his sunglasses, “Talk to Eric. He’s the one that found me these.”

Reaching the truck, Sam leaned behind the seat and pulled out the laptop. Glancing at her bag and remembering the video inside, she decided to wait on it. Locking the truck, they walked back inside. “Horatio, I’m not sure if you’re going to want to be around when I do this.”

Holding open the door for her, “And what exactly are you planning on doing, Sam?”

Glancing at the people waiting for the elevator, Sam turned toward the stairs. Looking innocently over her shoulder as she took them two at a time, “I plan on hacking into the Bureau’s system and swiping our records.”

As Sam and Horatio walked back into the lab, Eric looked up and scowled. “If he was an inmate, even years ago, how can his record disappear?”

Dropping a hand on Eric’s shoulder, Sam held up her laptop. “Welcome to the Bureau. They’re basically erasing every trace of him that they can. If they can’t bring you home alive, then they write you off as if you never existed.” Setting the laptop on the corner of the desk and flipping it open, Sam logged on. “Thing is, they can’t erase our service records. They’re safeguarded. They can’t even get into them to change them. Uncle Mike has to do it for them.” Laughing out loud at the confused and shocked looks from Eric and Horatio, “Don’t mess with Uncle Mike. They were messing with our records, so he went in, fixed the altered information, and then encoded them.”

Relinquishing his seat, Eric stepped to the side as Sam pushed the keyboard aside and set the laptop in front of her. “You should be able to get a signal, it’s wireless throughout the building.”

Nodding absently, Sam’s eyes shifted from the small laptop screen to the large lab screen. “Is there anyway for me to transfer the image on my screen to the big screen?” Smiling her thanks as Eric handed her a cable, she plugged it into the side of the laptop and started tapping away at the keys. “Just remember one thing, this is the only way for me to get what I need, so you may want to look away for a few minutes.” Glancing up as Calleigh walked back into the room cleaning the chain in her hand, Sam bowed her head as Calleigh wrapped the chain around her neck and clasped it for her. “Thank you, Calleigh. Did you get anything?”

“Yes, and I’ve already discarded Horatio and the dead body’s DNA. There are three other strains, and a partial print. One female which would yours, one strong male that is a match for the shirt, and a second male not as strong. The partial isn’t going to help us any though. I was only able to pull two or three good minutiae points from it. That’s not enough to get a match. I’m sorry, Sam.”

Wrapping her fist around the crucifix, “Don’t worry about it, Calleigh. I’ll have Vinnie’s records in a minute.” Opening the program that Uncle Mike had installed, “Before anyone says anything, yes, I’m hacking into a Federal Bureau system, and yes, I know it’s illegal. Arrest me.” Narrowing her eyes and concentrating on the screen in front of her, Sam’s fingers danced across the keys. Muttering to herself, “Come on, I know you’re in here. You guys couldn’t have upgraded this well on your own.” Studying the screen, Sam growled softly. Trying a different approach, a smile gradually spread across her face. “Gotcha!” Saving Vinnie’s record to her hard drive, Sam quickly jumped to her own record and saved that as well before backing out of the system and shutting down the laptop completely.

Crossing his arms over his chest, Eric leaned his hip against the corner of the desk. “Ok, so you got the records, and you shut down before we could look at them?”

Holding up a hand to silence him, Sam looked at the clock on the wall and held her breath watching the minute hand tick off two minutes. “I wasn’t in the system long enough for them to trace the connection, but by shutting down completely and not just closing the program, there’s less chance of them finding me.” Logging back into the laptop, Sam pulled up Vinnie’s record.

Handing Sam a small USB drive, Calleigh studied the information on the screen. “Could you save a copy of that so I can work with it?”

Pausing, Sam nodded slowly. “I’ll save you a copy of mine too, but it can’t be moved from that drive, and it can go no further than this room. No one, and I mean no one, can know that I gave you those records, not even my Uncle Mike.”

Taking the USB drive back to the other lab, Calleigh agreed. “I’ll let you know what I find.”

Staring at Vinnie’s picture on the screen, Sam barely glanced up as Horatio approached. “Sam, why don’t we get you something to eat? Let Eric and Calleigh work with what they have.” Waiting for Sam to shut down the laptop, he handed her her jacket. Looking over at Eric, “If anything comes up…”

Nodding with a smile, Eric waved as he turned toward the clothing once again, “We’ll call you.”

***

Tossing her jacket over her shoulder and slipping the laptop under her arm, Sam walked out with Horatio. “I suppose I should thank you for dragging me away from there. I would have stayed in that lab all day if you hadn’t come in.” Glancing at the man beside her, Sam sighed. “I have a lot of get done today still. I have shopping to do, groceries to pick up for dinner…”

So she was still planning on making dinner. Horatio smiled at the thought, but figured he’d offer her an easy out option. “Sam, why don’t we just order a couple pizzas or something. I was thinking about inviting a few people over tonight.”

Walking down the stairs and out the front door, “Yeah? Who?”

Pointing at the Hummer, “I’ll drive.” Climbing in and waiting for Sam to store the laptop behind her seat, Horatio pulled on his sunglasses and backed out of the parking lot. “I was thinking about inviting Eric, Calleigh, and Alexx over for dinner. I figured we could get a couple pizzas, and you could spend some time talking to your new team.”

It took a moment or two to grasp what Horatio had said, but when it did, Sam turned to him with a smile that lit up her eyes. “Are you serious!?”

Laughing lightly, Horatio nodded. “I talked to the Chief, and explained everything to him. I told him that you were this Agent’s sister, and his only partner, and that your old boss brought you down here to help him out. When he was called out of town, he left you in charge, and I told him that you could use some help since you were trying to run a one woman show.” She was still speechless. “I couldn’t give you my entire team, but since you had already met Eric and Calleigh, I figured you wouldn’t mind working with them. Alexx is the main dayshift M.E. but there’s a couple on nights and they’re going to switch one of them to days so that Alexx can concentrate on helping us find Vincent.”

She couldn’t believe her ears. Frank and Uncle Mike had been called off the case, and now she had a team of her own. The Director would be furious that she was getting help, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t work for him anymore. Her mind was working a million thoughts at once. “Do they know yet?”

Shaking his head, “No. I wanted to let you know first.”

She wasn’t sure how they would react to being told that they were only working a single case now, but she was glad for the help. “Thank you, Horatio.” Pointing down the street toward the small café they had lunch at prior, “Shall we try it again? I think this time I’ll actually try to enjoy my chicken salad.” Parking in front of the café, “I’m still making dinner tonight. Do you think there will be any objections to Italian?”

Chapter Text

Now that was something he hadn’t had in a while. “I don’t think there should be any problems.”

Walking inside and placing their order, they waited for their food and carried it outside to a small table. “Good. I have to do some shopping for dinner, so if there’s anything you need, just let me know and I’ll add it to the list.” Watching him shake his head, “How do you feel about a nice wine with dinner? Really class it up a bit.”

Bowing his head, Horatio’s words were soft but simple. “I don’t drink.”

Thinking he meant more than just wine, Sam raised an eyebrow. “Nothing at all?” Watching him shake his head, she knew better than to ask. Shrugging, “Ok. I’ll see what I can come up with. I just figured Italian would be nice. I have Uncle Mike’s sauce recipe committed to memory. It’s good comfort food.”

Raising his eyes to study her, Horatio was mildly surprised that Sam hadn’t asked him about the drinking, or his reaction. He almost felt the need to explain, but he couldn’t find the words. It was a part of his past that he didn’t like talking about, not even to the people closest to him. Reaching into his pocket, he removed a key from the ring and slid it across the table. “It’s the key to the back door. If you want to do your shopping and take it over to the house rather than waiting around for me to get out of work, then you can do that. Besides, if you’re going to be staying with me for a while, then you should have a key.”

First her own dedicated team, and now a key to his house. She had seen his eyes shift behind his shades, and for a second they held painful memories. She didn’t know where they came from, but a part of her wanted to take that pain away from him. She wasn’t sure where that thought came from, but she was starting to feel drawn to him. This was getting dangerous. Reaching out slowly to accept the key, she fastened it on her key ring. “Thank you.” Chuckling softly as he slowly raised his head and smiled, “I seem to say that a lot when I’m around you. Just know that I mean it every time I say it.”

Finishing in silence, Horatio drove them back to the Department. Retrieving her laptop, Sam waved goodbye as she climbed into her truck and drove off. Mentally slapping herself, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Horatio number. Thanking her lucky stars that she was good with numbers, she heard the smile in his voice as he answered. “Around 730 if that’s not too late for you.”

Laughing as she recalled seeing signs for mall when she had first arrived in Miami, Sam headed west. “No, that’s fine. I just thought I better find out what time you wanted dinner. I’ll let you go now. I have shopping to do.” Hanging up, Sam pulled into the parking lot of Miami International Mall. Thank the heavens there’s a Sears! Jeans and t-shirts, here I come. Running into the mall, Sam was in and out in under twenty minutes. It was great knowing exactly what you were after without having to try everything on. Walking back to the truck with a bag containing two pairs of jeans, a pair of shorts, two t-shirts, and a pair of lightweight pajamas, Sam dumped it in the backseat and went looking for a grocery store.

Finding a store wasn’t hard. Finding everything she needed wasn’t as easy. Running though the shopping list in her mind, Sam was certain that her trip was complete. Paying for her purchase and loading the truck, she drove back to Horatio’s house. Parking in the driveway, Sam headed out back to unlock the door. Walking through the empty house, she opened the front door and lugged in the groceries and the rest of her stuff.

Dropping the grocery bags on the kitchen floor, and her laptop on the table, Sam took her backpack and shopping bag to the bedroom. Removing Horatio’s sweats and t-shirt from her backpack, she left the video on the nightstand, and snagged Uncle Mike’s cds. Depositing the borrowed clothes in the hamper in the laundry room, Sam made a quick stop in the living room to load a cd in the stereo before heading back to the kitchen. Unpacking the groceries and pulling out a large pot for the sauce, Sam set to work on recreating the best sauce that had ever crossed her taste buds.

***

Walking through the front door, Horatio’s senses were bombarded by the unbelievable aroma wafting throughout his house. The soft music playing in the living room gave him pause as he stopped to listen to the lonesome guitar chords echoing eerily in the empty room. He knew Sam couldn’t be far, so he allowed his nose to lead the way to the kitchen. The stove was on low, and whatever was in that pot was making his mouth water. Lifting the lid and closing his eyes, he let the smell of the fresh sauce wash over him. Sighing softly, he almost dropped the lid when he heard a voice right behind him.

“Tastes even better than it smells.” Looking over his shoulder, Sam almost laughed at the look on his face. He had the look of a child who had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Chuckling and shaking her head, Sam removed a spoon from the drawer and reached around him to dip it in the sauce. Taking the lid from his hand and replacing it on the pot, “It needs to stay covered otherwise it will never be ready for dinner.” Offering the spoon to Horatio, “Try it and let me know what you think. Be honest. I’m making this from memory.”

Dipping his head and accepting the offer, his eyes slowly closed as he let the sauce sit on his tongue, savoring the flavors. She was right, the sauce was incredible. Cocking his head, Horatio’s eyes twinkled as he smiled at Sam. “I don’t know about your recipe or your memory, but this is very good.”

Smiling brightly, her mood was a bit lighter than it had been over the past few days, “Good. I’m glad you approve.” Walking into the living room, she listened to Horatio’s footsteps as he followed. “I don’t know how you feel about Blues, but the cd is my Uncle Mike’s. It’s all stuff that he’s written and recorded. If you don’t like it, then I’ll put it away, but I just wanted to listen to it for a while. It’s rather soothing to me.”

Picking up a blank cd case, he flipped it over to check for a track list. Finding none, he set it back on the side of the stereo. “Let it play.” He wasn’t sure how the melancholy tune could be soothing, but if it helped her relax, then he’d let it play. He had to admit that it was rather relaxing, in a sad sort of way. “This would be nice during dinner.” Glancing at his watch, “We have a couple of hours before everyone shows up. I think I’m going to take a shower and change. Any plans?”

Shaking her head as she headed back toward the back porch, “No, not really. I figured I’d grab a shower once you were home since I didn’t want to leave the sauce unattended for too long.” Shooing her hands at him, “Go, take a shower and relax. I’ll take one in a while.” Walking outside, and sitting on the step, Sam could just make out the music drifting through the door.

***

Lost in her thoughts, Sam barely heard Horatio as he stepped out on the porch and stood behind her watching the waves. “I checked on your sauce for you. Stirred it a little so it wouldn’t stick to the bottom.” Nodding absently and wishing her family was with her, she muttered a soft thanks. Moving to sit on the step beside her, his arms resting on his knees, “What’s on your mind, Sam?”

Sighing heavily, Sam’s eyes traveled over the water. “My family. They should be here, Horatio. Uncle Mike, Frank…” Closing her hand into a fist, “I don’t know what that damn Director was thinking pulling them from the case, but they should be here. This is family, you know?”

Reaching over to cover her fist with his hand, “I know, Sam. I know. Just remember though, you’re not doing this alone. You may not have your family to back you up, but you have me here for you, and you have my family. We’re going to do everything in our power to get Vinnie back to you.”

Staring at her hand clasped within his, “I just wish I knew what he had gotten into. Frank and Uncle Mike both said there were no open cases at the time he was nabbed. So whatever happened, he had to have gotten into something without them knowing about it. He should have said something. Maybe this wouldn’t have happened.”

Glancing at his watch, he had gotten the call right after he had stepped from the shower. Good thing his cell phone was with him at the time. Dan would probably be there in a half hour. Maybe things would start to look up then. “Sam, why don’t you go take a long hot shower, and clear your mind? I’ll keep an eye on the sauce, and it won’t take long for the spaghetti to cook once everyone gets here. We’ll keep the music on, have dinner, and then we can discuss the case. Alright?”

God she hated the way he cocked his head and looked at her like that. With that soft voice, he reminded her of Uncle Mike. Nodding faintly, “There’s Italian bread to go in the oven too. It won’t take long, so that can go in when everyone gets here.” Giving his hand a squeeze, Sam rose and headed inside. Retrieving a pair of new jeans and a t-shirt from the bedroom, she headed for the shower.

***

Glancing at her watch as she stepped from the shower, it was only 630. Not bad, still time to relax before everyone shows up. Getting dressed and braiding her hair, Sam left the bathroom and paused. Her brow furrowed, she cocked her head and listened. The stereo was off but she could hear Uncle Mike’s music out on the back porch. Must have a portable player. Walking into the kitchen to check the sauce, she stopped when the next song started. She didn’t remember that one being on the disc.

Walking down the hallway, Sam could see Horatio standing on the top step of the porch with his back to the door. As she approached the door, the music continued, and she was certain that wasn’t on the disc. That sounded like the new piece Uncle Mike had been working on the night Vinnie disappeared. But he never recorded it… Opening the door, she caught Horatio’s slight nod of his head toward the side of the porch. Stepping through the door, Sam was stunned.

Quieting the strings under his hand, Uncle Mike looked up and smiled. Setting the guitar against the wall, he slowly climbed to his feet as Sam crossed the porch in a daze. Wrapping his arms tightly around her, he could feel her shaking. As her arms circled his waist, he dipped his head to whisper in her ear. “It’s alright, Sam. I’m here now.”

Tipping her head back to look at him with her eyes bright with unshed tears, “What are you doing here? I thought you were sent back to New York?” Seeing his eyes shift over her shoulder, and hearing the door shut quietly, Sam looked over her shoulder and noticed Horatio’s absence. Releasing her as she stepped away, Uncle Mike sat back in the chair and wordlessly picked up his guitar as Sam hurried for the door. Pulling the door open, Sam stepped inside. “Horatio?” He kept walking down the hallway. “Horatio, wait. Please?” He stopped.

Bowing his head, he wasn’t sure if she was going to be mad at him for contacting her Uncle. “I thought you could use some time alone.”

Walking up behind him, and touching his arm, “Horatio, look at me.” Waiting for him to turn, his head still down, she gently cupped his chin and raised his head. “Look at me, please.” Dipping her head to catch his eye, she offered a lopsided smile. “I’m not mad that you called him.”

“He told you that?”

Her smile widening, “No. He didn’t have to. I know he wouldn’t have called even though he asked if he could keep the number.” Stepping closer to loosely wrap her arms around his waist in a hug, Sam could feel his back stiffen. Sighing, she pulled away. “I don’t know when you called him back, but thank you. I really don’t think I’d be able to get through this without him.”

Nodding briefly, Horatio turned toward the kitchen. “You’re welcome. I already talked to Dan, and he’s staying here for at least tonight. We’ll figure something out. There’s plenty of room.”

Not quite understanding him, Sam shook her head as he disappeared around the corner. Returning to the porch, Uncle Mike was still playing. Sitting at his feet with her back to the railing, Sam closed her eyes and tried to find a moment of peace. Her thoughts broken by Uncle Mike’s soft voice, she looked up at him.

“Sam, don’t be mad at him. He called me last night. He was worried about you.”

Pulling her knees up and resting her chin on them, “I know. I’m having those damn nightmares again. I can’t shake them.”

“Vinnie?”

Wrapping her arms around her legs and tilting her head to look out over the beach, “Yeah. Every time I seem to get close enough to touch him, he’s pulled further away.”

Pausing in his playing as he rethought the chords, Uncle Mike started playing again. “There’s more to them than just that.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah.” Turning her head back to look at him, she still couldn’t believe he was really there. “I just don’t want to talk about it right now. I’m just glad you’re here.” Hearing the doorbell chime through the house, Sam climbed to her feet. “I’ll be right back. I should probably greet our guests.” Holding her hand up as he started to get up, “Just stay put. Dinner won’t be ready for a while still, so I’d guess that everyone would rather be outside than cooped up in the house.” Walking inside, Sam smiled as she saw their team arrive.

“Baby girl, something smells wonderful!”

Chuckling as Alexx wrapped her in a hug, “That’s funny because Horatio said almost the same thing when he walked in the door tonight.” Smiling at Eric and Calleigh as Horatio took their jackets from them, “Dinner won’t be ready for about a half an hour or so. I didn’t want to put the spaghetti on until everyone was here.” Gesturing to the back porch, “If you’d all like to follow me, I’d like to introduce you to someone very important in my life. I’d like you to meet my Uncle Mike.”

Watching the group walk through the door, Uncle Mike set the guitar aside and climbed to his feet. Leaning heavily on his cane, he smiled warmly as Sam walked over and wrapped an arm around his waist. “Uncle Mike, I’d like you to meet part of Horatio’s team, part of his family.” Offering her hand to Alexx, “This is Alexx. Dayshift’s head M.E., and also the one that took care of the bodies that came in on the plane.”

Reaching out to shake her hand, Uncle Mike bowed his head and smiled. “Nice to meet you, Ma’am. And please, call me Dan. The only ones that call me Uncle Mike are Sam and Vinnie.”

“It’s a pleasure, and only if you call me Alexx and drop the Ma’am. It makes me feel older than I need to.” Laughing lightly, Alexx stepped out of the way so that Eric and Calleigh could cross the porch.

“Uncle Mike, may I introduce you to Eric and Calleigh? Two of Horatio’s best CSI’s. They were both with him at the air field and they’ve been working with Alexx on the bodies and with all the physical evidence so far.”

Shaking each hand in turn, Uncle Mike nodded to each. “Thank you, all of you. I wasn’t pleased with being called away or with being pulled from this, and I hated thinking about Sam having to deal with this alone. I’m just glad you’ve been able to help us out with finding Vinnie.”

With his hands in his pockets, Eric shrugged. “We haven’t been able to do a whole lot, but we’re doing our best with what we have to work with.”

Her blond hair blowing in the breeze coming in off the water, Calleigh smiled warmly. “We’re not giving up on this. There may not be a lot to work with, but we’ve had less before, and it never stopped us.”

Gesturing to the chairs, Sam threaded her way through the small group to the back door. “Why don’t you all have a seat and relax? I have to get the rest of dinner ready. If you’ll excuse me?” Slipping through the door, Sam wondered at where Horatio had disappeared to. Walking into the kitchen, she shook her head. “What are you doing?”

Standing over a pot of water on the stove, Horatio glanced over at her. “Waiting for your water to boil. I thought I’d get the water started so you wouldn’t have to wait so long for the spaghetti to cook.”

“Horatio, go outside. Let me deal with dinner, please.” Arching an eyebrow as he walked silently from the room, Sam smiled as she heard Uncle Mike start to play. Turning her attention back to dinner, she dumped the spaghetti in the boiling water, and placed the garlic bread in the oven.

“I was thinking about sending Eric out to pick up a bottle of wine.”

Nearly jumping out of her skin as Horatio walked back into the room, Sam turned and leaned back against the counter. Frowning deeply and crossing her arms over her chest, “No you’re not. That was already decided.”

“Sam…”

Shaking her head, she refused to budge. “Sorry, Horatio. I asked earlier, and you said you don’t drink. I don’t need to know why, but since this is your house, I will not bring it in here. It’s a matter of respect. Let it go, and don’t worry about it. If anyone has a problem, then it’s their problem. Understood?”

She was tough, she was stubborn, and he understood. It was his turn to feel the need to thank her, but he couldn’t find the words. Simply dipping his head in acknowledgement, Horatio turned and walked down the hallway to allow her time to complete her meal.

The spaghetti didn’t take long to cook. Draining the pasta and transferring it to a large serving bowl, Sam quickly set the table, and placed the pot of sauce in the center. Carrying the pasta to the table, she checked on the garlic bread before heading out to the porch. “If you’re all ready to eat, I’m just waiting on the garlic bread.” Waiting for everyone to find a spot at the table, Sam grinned mischievously. “Ok, so normally I’d be serving wine with dinner, but out of respect for my host that does not drink, I offer up two alternatives for your dining pleasure. Sweet or sour iced tea.”

Throwing his head back and laughing deeply at the looks surrounding him, Uncle Mike explained. “Sweet tea is exactly that. Sour is unsweetened tea.” Shaking his head at Sam, “You really couldn’t help yourself, could you?”

Shrugging innocently, “Don’t blame me. I get it from Frank. Besides, it’s keeping my mind busy, so let it go.” Taking orders and slipping into the kitchen, Sam smiled to herself as she heard footsteps behind her. “Horatio, let it go.”

Pausing, Horatio bowed his head to hide a smile. She was good. “I was only going to ask if you’d like some help carrying it all in.”

Another glance in the oven, and a quick nod, “Sure. We’ve got about five minutes on the bread.” Handing him three glasses, she took the other three and followed him into the dining room. Standing behind her chair, she bowed her head for a second before looking around the table. “If you’d all humor me for a minute or two, I’d like to say a few things.” Taking Sam’s hand, Uncle Mike gave it a light squeeze of reassurance. Smiling down at him, she slipped her hand from his to rest it on his shoulder.

Turning to Horatio, she smiled. “I know I’ve said it probably more times than you think I should have to, but until I find the words, or find a way to say it differently, thank you. Without you, I’d be trying to find a way to do this on my own, and I’d be failing miserably. So thank you for your help, your support, and for going behind my back and getting my Uncle down here.” When Horatio merely dipped his head in acknowledgement, Sam nodded gratefully.

Glancing across the table at Alexx, Sam sighed. “Guess I’m stuck with baby girl now, huh?” Chuckling at Alexx’s nod, “I can deal with that. You’re the main M.E. and although I know they’re bringing in one of the nightshift to help out on days, I’d understand if you don’t want to shoulder this weight. There’s only two dead bodies, and those have been worked already.”

Holding up a hand to stop her, Alexx narrowed her eyes. “Don’t you even be thinking that I’m backing out of this, baby girl. The way I see it, if these people are that dangerous, then there may be more going on before it’s over. Besides, don’t think I can’t add my two cents to whatever you all come up with in the lab.”

“Alexx is right, Sam. You’re stuck with us now. Horatio may not have asked us beforehand if we wanted to work primarily on this case for its duration, but he knows us well enough that he didn’t have to ask.” Raising her glass, Calleigh offered a toast. Waiting for everyone to raise their glass, and an eyebrow here and there, “To this new team. To new friends, and new family. May we never forget our goal, and let’s find and bring Vincent home.”

Closing her eyes as her hand drifted to the chain around her neck, Sam choked back tears and took a sip from her glass before leaving the room to retrieve the garlic bread. Setting it on the counter, her hands resting beside it and her head bowed, she didn’t react when a hand touched her shoulder. She’d heard the cane lightly tapping on the floor, and she knew that he’d come in to check on her.

“Come here, Sam.” Turning, she stepped into Uncle Mike’s arms as the tears fell. Burying her face against his shoulder, she quietly wept. Rubbing her back, “Shhh… easy now.” Taking a shuddering breath and stepping away to face the sink, Sam splashed water on her face and tried to calm her breathing. Drying her face and hands, she waited as Uncle Mike sliced the bread and placed it in a bread basket. Handing it to her, he brushed the back of his hand against her cheek. “We’re going to find him, Sam. Hang on to that.”

Walking back into the dining room, Sam claimed her seat between Uncle Mike and Horatio. Glancing at Sam, Horatio held out his hand for her plate. “You cooked. I’ll serve.”

Passing the plates around, Sam waited until everyone was settled. Glancing at Uncle Mike, she offered him a sad smile before turning to everyone else. “I have one small request to make. It’s a rule that my family tends to follow very strictly, and that is, no one discusses the case while we’re eating. We can talk about anything else, just nothing that deals directly with the case at hand. Is everyone ok with that?” Noting the nods of agreement, “So, anyone have anything they want to talk about?”

Looking at Sam sitting across from him, Eric studied her for a moment, and then asked, “Yeah, first, how are you two related? And second, how’d a kid like you get involved with the Feds to begin with?”

Chapter Text

Waving his fork at Sam, Uncle Mike frowned at her. “You eat. I can field questions.” Taking a bite and savoring the sauce, he beamed proudly. “Sam, you did good though. Now eat.” Getting a laugh out of the rest of the guests, Uncle Mike turned to Eric. “First of all, by blood, we’re not related. Otherwise, Sam is a daughter to me, and Vince is the son that I never had. As for your second question, she wasn’t that young when she joined up with us.” Leveling a fatherly glare, “How old do you think she is anyway?”

Lowering her head but raising her eyes to glance at Calleigh, Sam caught the slight shake of her head. Either Calleigh hadn’t looked at her file, or she hadn’t shared her file with the others. Watching an evil little smirk play at Calleigh’s lips, Sam choked back a laugh as she realized that Calleigh may have checked her file, but she definitely hadn’t shared it.

Clearing his throat nervously, Eric looked to Sam for help, but her head was still lowered. Looking back at Uncle Mike, “I’d have to say between twenty eight and thirty two.”

Snapping her head up and flashing Eric the most adoring puppy dog eyes she could muster, Sam practically cooed at him. “Oh Eric, I could just love you, but you’re so not even close.”

Rearing his head back in shock, Horatio stared at her. “Really? I would have said thirty five at the oldest.”

Giving an approving nod, Sam graced him with a smile. “Better. I’m thirty seven.” Looking at Eric, “If you knocked off almost ten years because of my looks, then you can guess how old I looked when I started almost fifteen years ago.”

Watching the look on Eric’s face was comical. Pointing his fork toward Eric, Uncle Mike nodded. “That’s why it was so easy to pass her off as a kid that Vinnie sort of adopted and considered her to be his younger sister.”

Setting her fork down and pushing her plate back, Sam crossed her arms on the edge of the table. “I looked like I was barely legal. Some thought I was about eighteen. Most put me between fifteen and eighteen. I looked like a kid. They tended to treat me like one, and thus underestimated me every time. It was easier for me to dig up dirt than it was for Vinnie at times.”

“So when did you get out?”

Turning her attention to Calleigh, “I resigned a few years ago. New Director in charge, new rules, new politics. He’s never been in the field himself so he tends to take risks with the agents that, in my eyes, are unacceptable. I walked. I tried to talk Vinnie into leaving too, but he’s been in so long, it’s in his blood.” Falling silent, Sam stared at the table in front of her.

“Don’t you worry, baby girl. We’re going to do everything we can to help you get him back. You hear me?”

Smiling sadly at Alexx, “Yeah, I know.” Sighing, Sam started to tick off the days in her head. Over a week now, and going on two. That wasn’t good, and she knew it.

A heavy silence fell over the group as they finished their meal with an occasional compliment passing the lips of the impressed guests.

As Sam rose, ready to clear the table, Eric reached across the table to scoop up her empty plate. “You cooked, you sit. I think I can figure out how to clear a table.” Laughing, Calleigh joined him as Alexx picked up the sauce pot and walked into the kitchen.

Shaking her head with a sigh, Sam glanced at Horatio. “I was wondering how late they’d stay. I have something that I’d like to show them. I was going to bring it into the lab earlier, but…” Pausing and bowing her head, “I wasn’t ready. It’s a video of the night Vinnie was taken.”

“Sam…”

“Uncle Mike…” Lifting her head, her eyes searched for understanding. “I don’t want the first time they see it to be in the lab. We both know that neither of us has even looked at it since we left New York. We need help filling in the blanks.”

“What blanks, baby girl?”

Glancing in her direction as Alexx walked back into the room, and hearing dishes being stacked in the sink, “Alexx, why don’t you grab Eric and Calleigh for me and meet us in the living room? I have something I’d like you all to see.” Walking to the bedroom, Sam retrieved the video and returned to the living room. “I have to apologize now, but we didn’t have any options on this. Uncle Mike talked to one of the reporters on the scene and she made him a copy of the video she made. She promised to get as much of the crowd as she could, and she did a good job. Only problem is,” holding up the tape in her hand, “it’s vhs and not disc.”

Frowning at the tape, Calleigh sighed. “How’s the quality and the audio on it?”

Taking the tape from Sam, Horatio slipped it into the player and sat down. Handing Sam the remote, “I think we’re about to find out.”

Nodding her thanks to Horatio, Sam claimed a seat on the floor beside Uncle Mike. Looking around the room, “She did a good job. Quality was good enough to transfer to the hard drives of the laptops so that we could work with it easier. We ran facial recognitions on everyone, and if we pulled up anything on them, you can click on them in the video on the computers and it will pull up whatever information we gathered on that specific individual.” Starting the video, “We also ran audio on it. It wasn’t easy, but there’s audio tracks saved too.”

Watching the video was hard for Sam and Uncle Mike. They hadn’t watched it since they had left New York. The pain was evident on their faces. A ghost of a smile played across Sam’s lips as she watched Uncle Mike and Frank standing with her on the video. She couldn’t help thinking that was how it should be now. The three of them together.

“Sam? Who is that?”

Shaking her head and bringing herself back to the moment at hand, Sam paused the video. “Which one, Alexx?”

Sitting on the edge of the sofa, Alexx pointed at the screen. “Rewind it a bit and then play it back.” Waiting for the man she had seen, “There. Pause it there.”

Hitting the pause, Sam stared at the man on the screen. Mid to late thirties, dark hair falling just past his shoulders. Round face, dark eyes, a deep scowl, broad shoulders. Plain white polo shirt. She recognized a couple of the people around him, but had no idea who he was. “Alexx, I don’t know. Let me get the laptop.” Leaving the room and walking back in with it propped open on her arm as she was logging on, “Why? What it is, Alexx?”

Narrowing her eyes at the screen, she shook her head. “You tell me first.”

Noting the time stamp on the video, Sam raced through the video on the computer and clicked on the man’s face. Nothing. “I have no idea, Alexx. He was one that we couldn’t get anything on. I know the girl standing beside him is the daughter of the couple that lives down the road, and the boy beside her is the grandson of the lady across the street.” Setting the laptop down, Sam slowly looked at the faces glued to the screen. “Alexx, tell me.”

Looking at Calleigh and watching her slowly nod, Alexx rose and closed the distance between her and Sam. “Baby girl, you know that man because I know that man.” Seeing the question in Sam’s eyes, her voice was soft and emotional, “Oh baby, that man is in my morgue. He was the one wearing that crucifix around your neck.”

Shock. Horror. Sickness. Her eyes widened. Her stomach clenched and she fought back the nausea. He’d been at Vinnie’s that night. Her hands clenched at her sides. Her lip curled back in a snarl. He had Vinnie’s crucifix. He’d been on the plane with Vinnie. Anger. Pain. She could see Uncle Mike’s mouth moving, but she couldn’t hear him. She was past that. He’d been on the plane with Vinnie. He had been on the plane that Santana had told them about. Santana. Rage. Fury. Spinning on her heel and stalking from the living room, Sam could hear the voices behind her, but paid them no attention as she walked into her bedroom and removed her gun from the nightstand. Releasing the clip, she double checked it to make it was fully loaded before snapping it back in place. Ensuring that the safety was on, Sam simply tucked it into the waistband of her jeans and stormed through the house heading for the front door.

“Eric! Stop her!”

“Sam!”

Growling as Eric grabbed her arm and effectively pulled her to a stop, Sam dropped her head and glared at him. Her voice low, cutting, dangerous, “Let go, Eric. Don’t make me hurt you.”

Glancing over his shoulder out of the corner of his eye, “H?”

Pushing past Eric, Uncle Mike stepped in front of Sam and made her meet his eyes. “Sam, you can’t do this.”

Pulling her arm free from Eric’s grasp, she ground her teeth. “He was at Vinnie’s that night. He was on the plane with Vinnie when he was taken. He was on the plane here in Miami that Santana told us about. I want to know what else he knows.” Turning and pulling the door open, Sam grabbed her keys from the small table before Uncle Mike could stop her.

Catching Horatio’s arm as he tried to follow Sam, Uncle Mike pulled him to a stop. “Go with her, please.” His voice pleading, “Keep her safe for me, Lieutenant. I can’t lose her too.”

Nodding and looking down the hallway, “Eric, you’re with me. Let’s go!”

Standing in the doorway, Uncle Mike tried to stop Sam. “Sam…” She kept walking. “Sam!” Seeing her reach the truck, “Samantha!”

Freezing with her hand on the door handle, Sam growled and looked back at the house. Seeing Horatio and Eric heading her way, she also noticed something flying through the air and sailing over Horatio’s head. Reaching out to snatch the object from the air, Sam glanced at it and ripped open the truck door. Climbing inside, and slamming the door shut behind her, Sam ended all conversation. Starting the truck as both men climbed inside, Sam backed out of the driveway carefully avoiding the twin hummers. Tearing off down the road, she raced through the streets only slowing briefly at the intersections. Sam had no intentions of hurting innocents, but what she was going to do to Michael Santana when she saw him, that she hadn’t decided yet.

Trying to relieve some of the tension, Eric leaned over the front seat, “There’s a lot of room in here. It’s nice.”

Her voice grating, “It’s an extended cab, Eric. Extended cab, extended bed. Rear seat has it’s own doors, you know this because you got in here through one of them.”

“Sam…”

Snapping her head around to glare at Horatio, “Don’t start with me. I’m in no mood.”

“Merlin, this is Lifeguard One. How do you read? Over.” As the CB crackled to life, Sam set her jaw and ignored it. “I say again, Merlin, this is Lifeguard One. Do you read? Over.”

Picking up and keying the mic, a snarl on her face, Sam growled into the mic. “Go.” If she wasn’t in the mood for Eric trying to be nice, she surely wasn’t in the mood to ripped into by Uncle Mike. She was expecting to get yelled at, but she wasn’t expecting his soft voice over the airwaves.

“Be careful. I can’t lose you both.” Pausing, “Lieutenant… keep her safe.”

Part of the fight flowing out of her, her voice choked, “Lifeguard One, this is Merlin. Loud and clear.” Looking down at the small wallet tucked between her leg and the seat, “But you shouldn’t have given it to me. See you on the flip side, Lifeguard One. Merlin out.” Shutting off the CB, Sam drove on in silence.

He knew she didn’t want to talk about it, but he had to keep her mind busy. He didn’t want to give her a chance to think about what she was going to do when she got to Michael Santana. Keeping his eyes on the road, and his voice calm, “What did he give you, Sam?”

“Something I told him and Frank not to.” Tossing the wallet into Horatio’s lap. “It’s my badge.” Watching out of the corner of her eye, Sam waited for him to flip it open. “That’s my badge. The same one I turned in when I resigned, same badge number. The I.D. has been updated though.”

“Is it legit, H?”

Glaring in the rearview mirror, Sam narrowed her eyes. “Yes Eric, it’s legit. Uncle Mike wouldn’t have given it to me if it wasn’t. Which is why I didn’t want them to get it for me. I don’t want to be tied to that damn Director anymore.”

Sitting back in his seat, Eric crossed his arms defensively. “So what exactly are you allowed to do with it?”

Slowly handing the badge back to Sam, Horatio turned in his seat to look back at Eric, “Just about anything she wants to.”

Glancing at Horatio, she accepted her badge and nodded briefly. The sadness in his voice told her that he wasn’t happy with what she was doing, but so far he’d made no move to stop her. Sam had to give him credit. He was a brave man. Driving through the city the rest of the way in silence, Sam slowed down as they neared the docks. “This is my game. Uncle Mike may have sent you two to watch out for me, but I don’t need bodyguards. My game, my show, my rules. I talk, and you stay out of my way.” Holding up a hand to ward off any argument, “I have no intentions of killing him. I need him alive to tell me what he knows. So just relax, and enjoy the show. Just remember one thing, Feds play by different rules.” Pulling into a parking spot, Sam climbed out of the truck and waited for Horatio and Eric to join her.

Approaching the boathouse, Sam pulled out her gun and thumbed off the safety. The lights were off, but the closer they got to the boathouse, they could hear voices possibly from the television. Keeping her weapon at ready, Sam smiled to herself as she heard Horatio and Eric pull their weapons behind her. Walking up to the door, Sam knocked on the door. “Michael Santana, open the door.”

“Go away. Do you know how late it is?”

Growling under her breath as his slurred words drifted out to them, Sam banged on the door louder. “Michael Santana, open the damn door, or I will open it myself!” Hearing footsteps approach the door, Sam stepped to the side and motioned for Horatio and Eric to do the same.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” Cracking the door open, “Who is it?” Staring down the barrel of a SIG 229, Michael’s bloodshot eyes traveled the length of the barrel to stare into the eyes of the woman holding it. “Shi….”

“Hi, Mikey. Why don’t you invite us in?” Wedging her foot in the opening, and kicking the door open wider, Sam stepped through the doorway with her gun pointed at Michael’s head. Hearing the door close behind her, Sam cocked her head at Michael. “That was rather rude having guests wait like that.”

Shaking his head roughly, Michael backed across the room. “No. We are not doing this. I don’t have to talk to you. I only have to deal with your boss. There was nothing said about me having to work with you.”

Narrowing her eyes, Sam slowly advanced. “What are you talking about? We told you if anything happened that we didn’t like with that plane coming in that we’d be back. Well, I’m back, and I want answers.”

“I don’t care. I don’t have to work with you. Your Director said I only have to work with McPike. I don’t have to answer any of your questions.”

Sam wasn’t sure what he was talking about, but she was going to find out. Without moving her weapon, Sam pulled out her cell phone and hit the speed dial for Uncle Mike. “It’s me. Have you heard from Frank yet today?… I’m with Mikey, he said he only has to work with Frank. What’s that all about?… Yeah, let me know.” Hanging up, Sam tossed the cell over her shoulder without looking, “When he calls back, answer it.”

Michael wasn’t sure if she’d shoot him or not, but he wasn’t about to chance it. Trying to reason with her, “Listen, I just got a call this afternoon. Your Director is sending McPike down here to look into a case that I’ve been trying to get someone to pay attention to for a while now.”

Her arm never wavering, “Yeah? What case?”

“A man named Guzman. Illegal immigration, money laundering, possible drugs and weapons.” Shifting his eyes toward a chair just out of reach, “Can’t we sit and talk about this?”

Cocking her head to the side, “I don’t think so. I’m fine standing.” Raising an eyebrow, “Now what about this Guzman character? Who is he, and why is the Director contacting you?”

Sighing and starting to sweat as he realized that the gun wasn’t going to move, and that he wasn’t about to get any help from the two officers that had accompanied Sam, “I tried getting the Feds involved, believe me. I called and called all over D.C. and finally I was put in touch with your Director. He did the same thing everyone did though. He blew me off. Said there was nothing he could do without proof. I told him I couldn’t get it on my own, and he gave me a name and phone number to call to get help.”

“Yeah? Who?”

“Your partner. Vincent.”

Snapping her free hand out to wrap around Michael’s throat and push him harder against the wall, Sam’s lip curled back in a savage snarl. “You lie! Vinnie wasn’t on a case. He’d just finished up a case and was on R and R.”

Twisting at Sam’s wrist and gasping for air, Michael’s eyes went wild. “It wasn’t an official case! He was ordered to look into it. He never came down here. I only talked to him on the phone. I swear it!”

Abruptly releasing him and turning toward Horatio, Sam held out her hand for her phone. Silently handing it over, Horatio stepped closer to Michael and motioned for him to take a seat. Flipping open the phone, Sam hit redial. “It’s me. Run a name.” Waiting impatiently as she listened to the keys being punched on the laptop, “Guzman… I got it from Mikey. He said the Director gave him Vinnie’s name and number, and gave Vinnie orders to look into this immigration and laundering ring this guy was suppose to be involved with.” Glaring at Michael, Sam hit the speaker button and handed the phone to Eric. “Lifeguard, you’re on speaker. Any news from Frank?”

“Sam, he just got the orders this evening. He thought he was going to be sent back to New York like I was.”

“Understood. He doesn’t know that the Director gave out Vinnie’s name and number then.” Slowly closing the distance between herself and Michael, Sam continued. “Lifeguard, give Calleigh access. I want everything there is on Guzman by the time I get back.” Glancing over her shoulder, “Eric, end it please.” Pulling her keys from her pocket she tossed them to Horatio. “Drive please.” Dropping her hands to the arms of the chair, Sam leaned forward crowding Michael. “I’ll be back, Mikey. Count on it.” Walking to the door with Eric and Horatio leading the way, “Don’t let me find out that you’re screwing me over again. I won’t like it.”

Stepping outside and letting the door slam shut behind her, Sam slipped between Eric and Horatio as they walked back to the truck. Tucking her weapon back into the waistband of her jeans, Sam quietly climbed into the passenger seat as Horatio sat behind the wheel. Driving away from the docks, Horatio turned the truck toward home.

Flipping on the CB and keying the mic, “Lifeguard One, this Merlin.”

Seconds tick by, “Go ahead Merlin.”

“I need to stop off and pick up my bike. Anything yet?”

A heavy sigh. “Roger that, and not yet.”

“Right. Merlin out.” Tossing the mic back on the dashboard, and looking blankly out the window, her voice flat, “Could you swing by the safe house so I can pick up my bike, please? I think I need some air to clear my head.”

“Sam, it’s late…”

Sighing and turning her head toward Horatio, “I know. It’s just…” Setting her jaw and looking away before he could see the tears forming in the corners of her eyes, her voice was little more than a whisper, “I need to clear my head. I have to figure this out.” Closing her eyes, “Vinnie wasn’t suppose to be on a case. You’re suppose to get downtime between cases, that one of the reasons why I left. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

Leaning forward to rest his hand on Sam’s shoulder, Eric glanced at Horatio in the rearview mirror. “We’re going to find him, Sam. Just… hang in there.”

Watching Sam rest her head against the window, Horatio’s chest tightened. Sliding his hand from the wheel and reaching across the seat, Horatio touched her hand and was a little more than surprised when she slid her hand into his and held on. His voice soft and soothing, “Sam, I’d feel better if you left the bike for now. If you really want it at the house that badly, then we can stop to get it, but I’d prefer if Eric rode it back to the house.”

Her mind was so jumbled. “The key’s on the clip ring.” She didn’t even have the energy to threaten Eric if he so much as put a scratch in the paint. At this point, she didn’t care.

Pulling up in front of the safe house, Horatio hit the garage opener and handed the key back to Eric. “Take it straight back to the house, and ride safe.” Releasing the key as Eric nodded and climbed from the truck, Horatio sighed. Waiting for Eric to pull out of the garage and out onto the road, Horatio closed the garage and pulled out behind Eric. His hand still held firmly in Sam’s, he glanced at her briefly. “Sam?”

Staring out the window, but watching Eric ahead of them out of the corner of her eye, “He should have called, Horatio. Uncle Mike, Frank, someone. He should have called.”

There was nothing he could say that would make any of this easier for her. There were no words. So simply holding her hand, offering her his presence, he drove them home.

Chapter Text

Climbing out of the truck, Sam walked around the side of the house out to the beach. Watching Eric pull the bike into the garage, Horatio locked up the truck and followed him inside. Walking into the dining room, they stopped at the sight of Uncle Mike and Calleigh both hunched over their own laptop feverishly punching keys. Nodding to Alexx, Horatio’s eyes shifted to the back porch. “Anything yet?” Catching Horatio’s eye, Alexx quietly slipped from the room.

Without looking up, Uncle Mike shook his head. “I called Frank back. He’s going in to talk to the Director in the morning. He’s furious that Vince was given orders to look into a case without our knowledge.” Glancing up briefly, “I don’t know how Sam handled the news, but I know Frank. It’s not going to be pretty.”

Stepping around the table to stand between the two computer whizzes, Horatio made room for Eric to move closer as well. Resting his hands on the back of Calleigh’s chair, Eric frowned. “I’m sure she took it better than expected. She didn’t shoot Santana if that’s what you mean.”

Mumbling as his hands dance across the keyboard, Uncle Mike scowled. “Wish I could say the same for Frank.”

“Calleigh?”

Her eyes glued to the screen in front of her, “Horatio, we’re running everything we can. We got a few hits on the Guzman name, and we’re trying to run each one. We crossed the name with the group that they believe is behind Vincent’s disappearance, and we came up with one Amado Guzman. He has ties to Central America and that’s where their group is centered.”

Narrowing his eyes as he studied the screens on both laptops, “Calleigh, are you in our database?”

Pausing in his search, Uncle Mike looked up. “Horatio, with the system I have running on these, I can get into any state or local database, as well as through the backdoors of several federal databases other than just our own. It’s extremely useful when locals are not.” Looking over at Calleigh, “Why don’t you shut down for now? It’s late and I for one am not pulling an all nighter after two plane rides today. I won’t hear from Frank until morning, and I can pick up the search then.”

“Alright.” Saving the information to the open folder on the desktop, “Will you be bringing the laptops to the lab tomorrow?”

Nodding as he saved his own work, “Yes, as well as the video. That way we can run another facial on it, and see if we can’t fill in any more blank spots.”

***

Standing on the back porch with her arms wrapped around herself, Alexx silently watched over Sam as she sat in the sand just out of the waters reach. Glancing over her shoulder at the approach of footsteps, she smiled sadly at Horatio as he quietly opened the door and stepped outside. “My baby girl is hurt, Horatio.”

Bowing his head, he sighed. “I know, Alexx. I’m doing the best that I can.” Looking down at her hand as she rested it on his arm, “I don’t like this any more than you do.”

Seeing the genuine pain in her friend’s eyes, “Oh baby, don’t you be blaming yourself.” Looking out over the sand, his heart ached and it was reflected in his eyes. Following his eyes, Alexx smiled gently. “You’re starting to care for her, aren’t you, Horatio?”

“Alexx…”

His voice was low but held a hint of a warning, Alexx patted his arm reassuringly. “Don’t think you can hide it from me, baby. I’ve known you too long, Horatio.” Spying Eric and Calleigh walking down the hallway toward them, Alexx slipped her arms around his waist and gave him a hug. Whispering softly, “You deserve to be happy, baby. I just don’t want to see you get hurt too.”

There were only so many people that he allowed to get close to him, and Alexx was one of them. She knew a lot about his past, more than even his own team did. She knew about the scars that he carried, both physical and emotional. He knew she was worried about him, but he was more concerned with the lone figure sitting in the sand. “I’ll be fine, Alexx.” Releasing her as Eric and Calleigh joined them on the porch, “I will see you all in the morning. Get some rest. Things are not going to get any easier.” Saying good night to his team, to his family, Horatio watched as they walked back through the house. He could hear Calleigh’s Hummer start up, and he listened as the engine faded in the distance.

***

Amado Guzman. Uncle Mike had Calleigh save her work and close up for the night. He had no intentions of staying up all night, but he was worried about Sam. The longer they went without finding Vince, the more unwound she was becoming. He could tell she was trying to keep it together, but it was only a matter of time before she completely snapped.

Saying goodnight to the new team as they made their way back through the house and out the front door, he paused. They weren’t his team, they were Sam’s. Horatio had gone out of his way to ensure that she would have the support needed to find Vince. Thinking back to the search he had run on Horatio before Frank had ever even stopped at MDPD to ask for his help, Uncle Mike sighed. He’d made a good call. From everything that he had learned about the man watching over Sam, both personal and professional, he knew she was in good hands. He never gave out search results unless it was of dire importance, and as much as he was tempted to save the search file on her hard drive, he knew she’d never read it. Shutting down both laptops, Uncle Mike stiffly made his way down the hall to the back porch. Standing in the doorway, he could see Sam sitting on the beach.

“She hasn’t moved since we got back.”

Stepping outside, Uncle Mike looked for Horatio. Sitting in the corner, perched on the railing with his back to the wall, he was surrounded by shadows. The fact that his gun was in plain sight wasn’t missed. Shuffling to the chair closest to Horatio, Uncle Mike slowly lowered himself into it, and studied Sam’s back. “I want to thank you for going with her. I never would have been able to get to the truck in time.”

Glancing at the older man slumped in the chair beside him, Horatio turned his eyes back to the beach. “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The look in her eyes when Eric stopped her in the hallway…” His voice fading to a sigh, “The look was a cornered animal.”

Shaking his head sadly, Uncle Mike rested his head against his cane. “No, it was the look of the predator. The longer this goes on, the more she’s going to end up bottling things up inside. She’s trying hard to not break under the pressure right now, and it’s taking its toll. I almost pity the bastards that took Vince.”

Raising an eyebrow and cocking his head, “Why is that, Dan?”

As a chuckle died in the back of his throat, Uncle Mike looked up at Horatio. “Understand something, Horatio. That woman out there, she’ll fight tooth and nail to protect her family and those she’s close to. You don’t have to worry about her hurting you or your team. She cares about you, that much I can see for myself. She may not be that close to your team yet, but they’re your family, so they’re safe. Even in a rage, you would have the ability to stop her. I can’t say that to many people, but you’re safe with her. She trusts you.”

“That doesn’t explain the pity.”

Staring out over the sand, a dark laugh escaped Uncle Mike as his voice growled. “Me, you, Frank, your team, we’re all safe. Even if she snaps, she won’t do anything to intentionally hurt any of us. But when she finds Vince, and make no mistake about it Horatio, she will find him, I could almost pity the bastards that took him because she surely won’t.” Standing and walking to the railing, “When the time comes for her to go after Vince, it’s going to be a bloodbath. She’s out for blood, Horatio, and no one is going to be able to stop her at that point. When that time comes, the only advice I can give you is this, stay out of her way because she’s going to go through everyone and anything that stands between her and Vince.”

Slipping off the railing to stand beside Uncle Mike, “I promised her that I’d see this through to the end. She’s not going to be able to go after him alone, but I’m not sure if she’ll even entertain the thought of accepting my help that far.”

Clapping Horatio on the shoulder, “You’re a good man, Horatio. She won’t accept your help to go with her, but I’ll talk to her about that. As for your promise, be careful. She’s had too many promises made to her that have been broken in her lifetime. I don’t want to see her get hurt.”

Broken promises were something that Horatio understood. That was why he never made one unless he was certain he could keep it. “I don’t make promises lightly. Those that I intend to keep are the only ones that I make.” Uncle Mike wasn’t sure what to make of this man. The fierce determination that Horatio showed impressed him greatly. Trying to hide a yawn, Uncle Mike made a move toward the steps. Reaching out to stop him, Horatio nodded toward the door. “Why don’t you go inside, and I’ll get Sam?”

There was no hiding the yawn that ripped though him this time. “She isn’t ready to come inside yet. But if you don’t mind, I think I hear a shower calling my name.”

“Down the hall, on the left. There’s towels in the closet outside the bathroom door.” Walking inside with him, “It’s getting cooler out there. I think I’m going to put some water on for tea, and take her down a blanket. I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“You do that.” Pulling a towel from the closet and disappearing into the bathroom, Watch over her, Horatio. I can’t lose her too.

Filling the kettle with water and placing it on the stove, Horatio stopped by his room and pulled a light blanket from the end of the bed. Walking outside, he paused. The moon wasn’t quite full yet, but the glow it cast upon the beach, and the reflection on the water was breathtaking. Sam still hadn’t moved. Shaking his head, he walked across the sand and gently draped the blanket around her shoulders. Her head was lowered, she shoulders slumped, he almost thought she was asleep.

Mumbling her thanks, Sam raised her head to look out over the water. Pulling the blanket tighter around her, she glanced over as Horatio crouched down beside her. “Everyone went home?”

With his arms resting on his knees, and his eyes out on the water, “Yeah. We’re going to meet up in the lab in the morning. Dan and Calleigh ran that name, and came up with a hit. They’re going to dig deeper in the morning and work on the video some more.” He had been expecting some kind of reply, but he was met with silence. “Sam,” resting a hand on her shoulder as he climbed to his feet, “I have water on for tea. I was going to bring you down a cup. Are you going to be alright out here for a few minutes?”

Sighing and planting her feet beneath her, Sam stood and shook her head. “I’ll go inside with you.”

“If you want to stay out here…”

Turning her head to look sadly at Horatio, “My Uncle is here, Horatio. Frank is in D.C., and Vinnie is out there,” waving a hand out over the water, “somewhere.” Bowing her head, “If one of your family was missing, and even if you were surrounded by people trying to help, if even one member of your team was with you, would you want them out of your sight for very long?”

Placing his hand on her lower back to lead her inside, Horatio could feel her stiffen. Dropping his hand and bowing his head, “Shall we? The water should be almost ready.”

Entering the house and seeing Uncle Mike walk around the corner into the living room with a blanket over his shoulder, Sam hurried after him. “What do you thinking you’re doing? You’re not sleeping in the living room. The bed is yours, and I’m sleeping on the sofa.” Walking over to take the blanket from Uncle Mike’s hand and placing a finger over his lips, “Please don’t argue with me about this. Take the bed. You need the room to stretch out and relax.” Dropping the blanket wrapped around her to the sofa, “Besides, it’s not the first time I’ve slept on a couch.”

Taking his blanket back and tossing it over his shoulder, Uncle Mike pulled her close. “Walk with me, kid.” Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, Uncle Mike leaned against her. Sighing and covering a yawn, they walked slowly back to the bedroom. “Sam, you need to sleep too.”

With her arm around his waist for support, she could feel the tight muscles in his lower back and knew he had to be hurting. “I will. I’m going to have a cup of tea, and then I’ll lay down for the night. I just want to make sure you’re going to be ok.”

Sitting heavily on the edge of the bed and passing a hand over his eyes, Uncle Mike muttered, “I should have thought about bringing the chair. All this damn walking is killing my back.”

Collecting her pajamas, “Try to get comfortable. I’m going to change, and I’ll stop back in.” Walking to the bathroom, Sam studied her face in the mirror. Where are you, Vin? Sighing, she quickly changed clothes and brushed out her hair. Returning to the bedroom, she smiled faintly in the dimly lit room. Uncle Mike could never sleep with his legs, but a once over around the room had Sam raising an eyebrow. Hearing the soft snore coming from the bed, she crossed the room and stared down at her Uncle. Pulling the blankets up around his shoulders, and leaning over to lightly kiss his brow, Sam stacked her clothes on top of her bag and, carrying her weapon with her, returned to the living room.

“How is he?”

Sighing and settling in the corner of the sofa, Sam accepted a cup of tea from Horatio as he walked into the room. “Tired, worn out, stressed out, in pain. When we came down the first time we didn’t think we’d be here this long, so we left his chair back in New York. Problem is, all the walking is bothering his back now.” Seeing the questioning look on Horatio’s face, it dawned on Sam that she never explained Uncle Mike’s condition to him. “When he was younger, he was in an accident and lost both legs at the knees. He was strong though, and he ended up with a set of prosthetic legs. He doesn’t mind using them, but wheels are easier on his back, and they give him faster mobility.”

Rolling that over in his mind, Horatio smiled. “Let me make a call in the morning. I’ll do it before I leave here for work. I might be able to get him a set of wheels while he’s down here.”

A wave of relief washed over her, and the tea was kicking in. Yawning, “He’d appreciate that, Horatio. Thank you.” Finishing her cup and carrying it to the kitchen, she returned to the living room to find Horatio turning on the stereo. “I thought that sleep was the standing order for the remainder of the night?”

Turning the volume down very low, he looked over his shoulder. “It is. I just thought you might be able to relax a little easier with some music.” Looking at the light blanket that he had taken out to the beach, “Are you sure you’re going to be warm enough?”

It was Uncle Mike’s cd. Stretching out on the sofa and tossing the blanket over herself, Sam tucked her gun between the arm of the sofa and the cushion. Yawning widely, and letting her eyes drift closed, “I’m fine. You need to get some sleep, Horatio. Go to bed. I’m fine.” Listening to his footsteps fade down the hallway, she could hear him shut and lock the porch door. Hearing his bedroom door shut, Sam curled into a ball and let the music wash over her lulling her to sleep.

***

Waking hours later, something wasn’t right. Rolling out of bed and reaching for his gun on the nightstand, Horatio silently left his room and made his way through the dark house. The stereo was still playing. Funny, he thought the disk would have ended by now. Maybe Sam couldn’t sleep and turned it back on. Slowly moving into the living room, he lowered his gun to his side at the sight of Uncle Mike sitting in the corner of the sofa with Sam curled up against him with her head on his lap sound asleep.

Looking up, Uncle Mike raised a finger to his lips and waved Horatio into the room. Waiting for him to take a seat beside the sofa, his voice no more than a whisper, “I couldn’t sleep so I came in to check on her.” His arm protectively wrapped around her, “The nightmares are getting worse.”

Leaning forward with his arms crossed on his knees, “She really loves him, doesn’t she?”

Staring down at the long dark black hair covering the face of his daughter, “As a brother, yes. Sam’s never really had the best of luck with relationships, so she’s kept out of them for the most part. Her and Vinnie, they’ve played the part of lovers on a couple of cases, but it was all appearance.”

He wanted so much to understand this woman. Alexx had been right, he was starting to care for her. “I suppose being undercover all the time makes relationships hard.”

Shaking his head sadly, Uncle Mike sighed. “It’s not that.” Dropping his voice even lower, “Horatio, before I say anything else, I want you to know that she trusts you. I’m only telling you this because she trusts you.”

“She hasn’t known me long enough to trust me.”

Brushing the hair from Sam’s face, “She trusted you the moment you showed up at the airfield. She knew that I ran you through the system, and that was the only reason why you were there with Frank. If I hadn’t liked what I’d seen, or if I hadn’t felt like you could be trusted, you wouldn’t have been there. Sam knew that. She’s stubborn, and she can be quite distant, but there’s a reason for it.”

“Which is what you’re hesitating on telling me?”

Searching Horatio’s eyes, Uncle Mike held them. “I just told you that I ran you through the system. Do you know what I found?” He saw the concern pass over Horatio’s eyes, and he nodded faintly. “Your service record is beyond impressive. Which is why I agreed to talk to her about letting you go with her when she goes after Vince.” Pausing and bowing his head because he knew the next part would be painful, “And I learned about your past.”

Sitting back in the chair, Horatio looked away. “How much?”

Tread carefully. Glancing at Horatio and noting his averted gaze, Uncle Mike could swear that he looked embarrassed. “Your parents, your brother, medical records. More specifically, your father and what happened to him.”

Setting his jaw, Horatio left the chair and approached the stereo. “Why are you telling me?”

“Sam won’t know. I will have to tell her about your service record in order to get her to consider taking you, but the rest, she’ll never hear from me. You have my word on that.” Watching Horatio bow his head, “I’m telling you that I know so that you’ll understand why I’m about to tell you what I am about Sam.”

Looking over his shoulder, Horatio turned slowly and walked back to the chair. “I’m not too sure if I like even you knowing about my past. My team doesn’t even know much about it other than his death was an accident.”

Waving a dismissing hand, “That doesn’t matter. Sam’s lack of trust, her lack of relationships…” Pausing, Uncle Mike looked down at Sam sleeping peacefully at his side. “She has her own scars, Horatio. Most of the physical ones have been long healed, but there are emotional scars that are still raw. The trust issue, the male issue, those are not easy for her to deal with. She doesn’t trust easily, and definitely doesn’t trust many. There are three men in her life that she trusts. Frank, Vinnie, and myself. She’s starting to trust you more, but that only started because she knew that I trusted you with her and Frank.”

Staring at the sleeping form now stretched out on his sofa, “What happened to her?”

“Abused by her father. Her mother didn’t believe her, and if she did, she chose to ignore it. Her parents were a loving couple. He never raised a hand against his wife or even against their other child, her brother.” It still bothered him thinking about everything Sam had been through. “She had to grow up a lot faster than she should have had to. She ran away from home when she sixteen just to get away from her father, but the scars and distrust had already taken hold, and she stayed to herself.”

“Sam said she was away on business when they were killed.”

“She was. She couldn’t stand the thought of being away from her brother so she moved back a little closer to home. She’d see him every now and then, and she was alright with that. She knew he was safe. Then she got a good job a couple of months before they were killed. She was out of town on a conference, and they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were all killed.” Pulling the blanket up closer around her shoulders, “When Vince realized there was someone watching him, he had me check her out. While she was watching them, I was watching her. When she made her move, Vince was there to stop her. He brought the guys down, did his time, got together with her again when he got out, and the rest is history. They’re the best team the Bureau has ever had.”

“You mean until she resigned?”

Chuckling softly, Uncle Mike raised his eyes. “No, Horatio. I mean to this date, they are the best team the Bureau has ever had. Their track record is top notch. No one else is close. They also had the crazy knack for knowing when the other needed help. Didn’t hurt any that Sam could also track down Vince no matter where he went or how careful he was at hiding his trail.”

“Sounds like Vince took off a lot if she was always finding him.”

“Not really. Most of the time, if they were working separate cases, or only one was working, the other would trail behind and be there if backup was needed. Although if it hadn’t been for Sam, we probably would have lost Vince once. He took off near the end of a case, and dropped off the edge of the Earth so to speak. It was Sam that found him.”

Mumbling softly, and cracking an eye open, Sam struggled to sit up. “What are you two doing up?”

Rubbing her back, Uncle Mike smiled. “In a nutshell? I couldn’t sleep, you were having a nightmare, Horatio thought there was trouble, and now we’re discussing you tracking Vince.”

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes and glancing at her watch, she groaned. It was just before 430am. “You mean after Lynchboro?” No one was going to make it through the day with the little sleep that they had managed to catch. Yawning, and pulling her feet up under the blanket, “Let’s see if I can explain this fast because we all need some more sleep if we’re going to be worth anything the rest of the day.” Sighing, Sam began…

“Vinnie’s first case got him rather attached to the guy he was suppose to be bringing down. The guy wasn’t all that bad and there were aspects about him that you had to admire. Well, when it came time to bust him, he decided he’d rather die than be taken, so he electrocuted himself. There was nothing Vinnie could do to save him. Killed himself right in front of Vinnie. Vinnie never got over that.” Resting her head against Uncle Mike’s shoulder, “Ok, jump ahead. Vinnie got handed a case after I resigned. This was maybe a year ago. Got sent to this little backwoods town. Lots of craziness, even more dead bodies. Well, turns out that the sheriff was behind it. What does he do when he realizes he’s about to be taken? He kills himself. Electrocutes himself. Vinnie wigs out and takes off. He called Uncle Mike and then went dark, the trail went cold. Uncle Mike called me, and I went after him. I picked up his trail, lost it, found it, lost it again, and somehow still managed to find him.”

Sitting up and pushing against Uncle Mike’s arm, “That’s it. In a nutshell, that’s it. Now go back to bed, both of you.” Waiting for Uncle Mike to move off the sofa, Sam rolled over, threw the blanket over herself and went back to sleep.

Looking up at Uncle Mike, a faint smile on his face, Horatio stood and stretched. “In a nutshell, huh?”

Nodding and walking down the hallway, Uncle Mike turned into the bedroom. “Yeah, in a nutshell.”

Chapter Text

Waking to the smell of pancakes and sausage, Sam rolled over, sat up, and stretched. Cracking her back, she pulled her gun from its place between the cushions and walked slowly toward the kitchen depositing her gun on the dining room table.

“That’s not necessary, Horatio. Don’t worry about it.”

Yawning as she walked into the kitchen, she shook her head as Uncle Mike offered her a plate. “Not yet. I just woke up.”

Pouring another glass of juice, Horatio handed it to her before turning back to Uncle Mike. “I will worry about it, and you’re going to let me do this.”

Raising an eyebrow as her glass was half way to her mouth, “What are you two going on about?”

Glancing at Sam, Horatio shook his head. “I’m going to talk to Alexx when I get into the office. She has a friend that works at the hospital, and I’m going to see about getting Dan a set of wheels while he’s down here.”

Oh. Well that was what he meant last night. Glancing at Uncle Mike’s back, Sam sighed. “Don’t be mad at Horatio. I made the comment last night that I should have thought about it when we came down here the first time that we should have brought your chair too. I know how much it bothers your back when you’re walking too much.” Setting her glass on the counter, “I’m sorry.”

He knew she had meant well, and he couldn’t stay mad at her. Holding an arm out to her, Uncle Mike sighed as she stepped into the embrace. “You could have asked me, Sam. I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.”

With concern in her eyes, “I do worry though. With everything going on with Vinnie…” Stepping away and resting her back against the counter, Sam bowed her head. “I know I was a mother hen before, but now I just want to take care of my family all the more.” Raising her eyes, “Let Horatio do this, please?”

Swallowing his pride, he turned to Horatio and gave him a nod. “Alright. I’ll thank Alexx personally when we show up at the lab later.” Holding a plate in front of Sam, “Go eat. We have a lot to do today.” Carrying his own plate to the dining room, breakfast was served.

“So you two plan on stopping by the lab in a while, right?”

Pointing at Sam’s plate, Uncle Mike frowned as she started to push it aside. “I have to call Frank still and find out when he’s getting in. I’m sure he’s planning on staying at the safe house, so at some point, we’ll do some grocery shopping so he has something to eat. We’re bringing the laptops and video over to the lab, and we’ll play it by ear after that.”

Looking across at Horatio, as she pushed her sausage through the syrup. “I had a thought last night, but I figured we couldn’t do anything until today anyway. Is there anyway that Frank can bring Kevin back in for questioning? Maybe I can toss Guzman’s name at him and see if he knows anything.”

Smiling lightly, Horatio nodded. “I was actually thinking the same thing, Sam. I’ll call Frank on my way in. With any luck, he should be able to track him down and have him at the Station sometime this afternoon.” Excusing himself from the table as the house phone rang, “This is Horatio… Where?… I’m on my way…” Cursing under his breath as he hung up, Horatio made a mad dash for his room.

Calmly eating his breakfast, Uncle Mike shook his head. “Don’t worry about him. He was up before me this morning.”

Watching Horatio walk back into the room fixing his tie, Sam smiled and sighed. “So what’s going on?”

“I have a scene to get to. I may have to call in Calleigh and Eric for a couple hours until I find out who I’m being sent from nights to fill their spots on the team.” With his head down straightening his tie, “They’ll be back at the lab by lunch the absolute latest, and the night shift can work whatever they bring in.”

Shrugging, and continuing her breakfast, “That’s fine. Do you think anyone would mind if we still showed up at the lab though? Maybe we get someone to help us set up the video so we can go through it ourselves until Eric and Calleigh get back.”

Lifting his head slowly to study Sam curiously, “I’m sure someone at the lab can get you two set up.” Shaking his head, Horatio didn’t think he’d ever understand this woman. “Alright, I’ll call Frank about Kevin, and I’ll talk to Alexx probably at the scene. I will catch up with you two later.” Heading for the door, Horatio pulled on his suit jacket and picked up his sunglasses and keys before stepping outside.

Listening to the front door close, Sam tilted her head to look at Uncle Mike, “Do you think he was really worried that I’d tell him that he couldn’t use Calleigh and Eric?”

Stacking his plate on top of Horatio’s and carrying them to the sink, “You have your badge now, Sam. If you wanted to, then you could have done just that.”

Muttering to herself, Sam frowned deeply. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Walking back to the table, Uncle Mike cocked his head at her words. “What?”

Shaking her head and sighing, “Sorry, just something I read. A character in a book. It’s something he says from time to time.” Finishing her pancakes, “What I meant was, just because I have the badge and just because I have the authority to pull Calleigh and Eric, doesn’t mean I plan on it. I have no intentions of taking his team away from him. Horatio’s done so much already. If he needs them, they’re his team.“ Picking up her plate and draining her glass, “Besides, it’s not like we’re on our own. We can still run the video without them.”

Stopping her before she could start to wash the dishes, Uncle Mike gently steered her from the room. “If you’re going to grab a shower, then why don’t you do it now. I’ll clean up in here. Once you’re ready, then we can get going.”

***

Packing the laptops and video in the truck, Sam decided to ride with Uncle Mike. “So when’s Frank getting in?”

“He said the flight should get in by 5pm. I talked him into having dinner with all of us, and then he insisted that he stay at the safe house.”

Watching the traffic pass them by, “So we’re making dinner as a team a regular thing?”

Reaching over to touch her arm, his voice was soft, “Sam, it’s a good idea. Horatio actually mentioned it after you guys got back last night. I think it’ll do us all some good to be away from the station and just be able to sit down and hash it all out. Maybe we’ll be able to see things in a different light.”

Sighing as they pulled into the parking lot of MDPD, Sam noticed the Hummers were still absent. “They must still be out working the scene. Doesn’t matter though. Horatio said we could probably find someone in the lab that could help us get set up.” Climbing out and waiting for Uncle Mike to hand her the computer cases, she waited for him to join her before locking the truck. Walking to the front door, Sam smiled widely as Frank stepped outside. “Morning, Frank.”

Lifting a hand in greeting, Frank smiled brightly. “Hey, Sam. Horatio’s still out at the scene.” Eyeing the man beside her, “So you’re not on your own in this anymore?”

Hooking her head toward the door, “Frank, I’d like you to meet my Uncle Mike, but you can call him Dan. I get away with it, you won’t.” Stepping inside as Frank held the door open for them, “Uncle Mike, this is Frank… Tripp, right?”

Offering his hand to Uncle Mike, “Yeah, Frank Tripp. So you head up the communications and Intel for Sam, huh?” Shaking Uncle Mike’s hand and turning to Sam, “I talked to Horatio earlier. I’ll see what I can do about tracking down Kevin. He’s not always the easiest to find. When he’s brought in though, I’ll let you know.”

Pointing out the elevator to Uncle Mike, Sam smiled over her shoulder, “Thanks, Frank. We’ll be in the lab. Horatio said there should be someone there that could help us get set up so we can run some video on our own until Eric and Calleigh get back in.”

Trailing after Sam, Frank stepped into the elevator with them. “Why don’t I head over there with you? I can introduce you to whoever is working.”

Glancing at Uncle Mike, Sam raised an eyebrow. “You’re not carrying your piece, are you?” Shaking his head, “Good. I’m cleared to carry mine, but I’m not sure about you yet.” Stepping out of the elevator and smiling at the receptionist, “Morning. When Horatio comes in, could you let him know that I’ll be in the lab, but that there’s no hurry for him to stop in?”

Beaming brightly, the young woman nodded. “Sure thing.”

Leaning closer to Sam as they walked down the hallway, Uncle Mike whispered softly, “Getting to know a lot of people in here aren’t you?”

Shrugging, Sam’s eyes were constantly on the move. “Not really. Thing is, people talk. I’m the ‘Fed whose partner was kidnapped’. Most of them don’t know my name, and I don’t know hardly any of theirs.” Following Frank, “I know Horatio. I know Frank through Horatio. I know part of Horatio’s team. Other than that, I’m in the dark.”

Stepping into the lab, “Wolfe, you in here?”

Poking his head around the side of the computer monitor set in the corner of the room, “What’s up, Frank? Any word from H…” Pausing as he eyed the newcomers behind Frank, “So you’re the Fed.”

Narrowing his eyes, Frank walked into the lab and crossed his arms over his chest. “Knock it off, Ryan. Horatio gave them clearance to the lab while Calleigh and Eric are in the field today. You need to get them set up to run some video stuff they have.” Noting the hesitation, “You going to have a problem with that?”

Frowning slightly, “No, Frank. I got it.” Disappearing around the monitor once more, “Give me a minute.” Tapping out the keys and saving his work, Ryan stepped around the desk and held out his hand. “Video, please?”

Raising an eyebrow, Sam set the computer cases at her feet and crossed her arms over her chest. “Look, what ever the problem is, deal with it. I didn’t ask for Calleigh and Eric to be assigned to this case, but it happened. It was already discussed with Horatio that we could come in here and run some video. We only need you to set us up so we can get to work.” Looking him over, Sam had to shake her head. It was like looking at a young Horatio, minus the red hair, plus a youthful cocky attitude. She could almost enjoy a nice sparring match with this one.

It may not have been her idea to pull Eric and Calleigh, but it still happened. They were Horatio’s team, not some lackeys for the Feds. “Yeah, well, you want me to get you set up, I still need the disc.”

Settling a hand on Sam’s shoulder, Uncle Mike stepped forward, “I’m sorry to say this, but we don’t have a disc. We were given a VHS copy of a live feed.” Holding out the tape, Uncle Mike almost laughed at the look on Ryan’s face. “You have seen one of these before, haven’t you?”

Laughing and stepping back out the door, Frank shook his head. “I think you three will get along just fine. Sam, I’ll let you know when I hear anything.”

Still eyeing Ryan, Sam nodded and waved over her shoulder, “Thanks, Frank.” Sam figured he was just a little annoyed that his family was being pulled apart by a couple of outsiders, Feds at that, and she understood what that felt like. Taking the tape from Uncle Mike, Sam crossed the room and held out a hand. “Look, no hard feelings, ok? I’m not all that great at asking for help, but considering the missing agent is more than just a partner to me, I’m trying.”

Staring at her outstretched hand, Ryan finally accepted it. “Word is, he was your brother.”

His handshake was strong, warm, confident. “Is. Vinnie is my brother, or the closest thing I have to one.” Noting the doubt in Ryan’s eyes, “Until I have absolute proof otherwise, I refuse to even entertain the notion that he could be dead.” Dropping her hand to her side and glancing at the video, “I’m Sam. I tend to like that name more than ‘Fed’.” Hooking her thumb over her shoulder, “My Uncle Mike, but you can call him Dan. He’s also my lead communications and Intel supervisor. If you can get us set up, then he can run anything you put in front of him.” Biting her lip thoughtfully, and then holding out the tape, “So how about it?”

Gingerly taking the tape from her hand, “Yeah, sure. You can call me Ryan.” Turning away, “Why don’t you two follow me and I’ll set you up in the other room.”

Retrieving the laptops, Sam followed. Standing out of the way, Sam watched as Ryan went over the audio and video setups with Uncle Mike. She was out of her league here, and she wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Uncle Mike was the best she knew, and watching his eyes light up, she knew he was well in his element. Waiting for Uncle Mike to get seated and start running the video, “Ryan, is there anyway to hook up the laptops to this? We have copies of the audio and visual on them with our own facials that we already compiled and if we dig up anything new, then we’d like to add it to what we have.”

Waving her over, Ryan took the cases from her and propped them open on the desk closest to Uncle Mike. “Nice, you even have cords.” Plugging the power cords into an extra surge protector, “Do you want these separate or running in tandem?”

Glancing over his shoulder, “Separate. That way I can run the video here, feed it through your facial archive and load it to both. I want Sam to be able to run her own system so that when the new information uploads to her drive, she can run through our list of archives to cross check.”

Nodding and plugging in the laptops, Ryan stepped away. “You should be good to go. There’s wireless through out the building so you shouldn’t have any problem getting connected to whatever outside systems you need.” Stepping around the desk to avoid all the wires, “If you need anything, I’ll be in the other room.”

Looking over the top of her laptop, Sam smiled. “Thank you, Ryan. We should be fine.” Watching him leave and close the door behind him, “Nice kid. A little cocky, but nice kid.”

“Sam…” His voice held warning, “You were the same way, and you still are. You don’t like people messing with your family, and that’s what we’re doing to his. It’s not intentional, but we’re disrupting how things work around here.” Turning his attention back to the equipment before him, Uncle Mike muttered, “Wouldn’t mind having me a setup like this back at the loft.”

Chuckling to herself, “Why don’t you run the video and just feed it to me as you get a chance? I think I’m going to run Michael Santana and this Guzman character through our system and see what pings.” Stretching and making herself comfortable, Sam logged on both laptops and got to work.

***

“Well you two look like you’re hard at work.”

Turning her head and hearing it snap, Sam groaned. “Hey Calleigh. Ryan got us set up about…” Glancing at her watch, her eyes widened, “Wow, a little over an hour and a half ago.” Pointing at the video running, “Uncle Mike is running it through your database and loading the new data to the laptops. I’m trying to dig up whatever I can on Michael Santana and Guzman.”

Walking over to look over Sam’s shoulder at the laptop, “Any luck?”

Pulling up the new file, Sam shook her head. “Not a whole lot. Mikey was an Attorney here in Miami until not so long ago. From what I’ve pulled up, his disbarment wasn’t pretty.”

Rolling a chair closer, Calleigh took a seat. “So what happened?”

“Honestly? I have no idea. The bulk of the file is sealed and even I’m having a hard time getting the whole story. From what I’ve gathered so far, it had something to do with his father having some connections to a rather influential Central American anti-Castro group. I’m guessing that they may have made a move at some point and Mikey’s father was involved and Mikey probably covered it all up so his father wouldn’t get busted.”

Standing slowly and stretching, Uncle Mike walked toward the door. “Sounds like a good bet, Sam. I’m going to take a break for a couple minutes and I’ll be back. See if there’s any connection between his father and Guzman.” Walking out the door, he paused to talk to Ryan and then left the lab area.

Sighing and turning back to her laptop, “I haven’t found anything that directly ties his father to Guzman or to the Blancas. I’m wondering if maybe Mikey or his father inadvertently crossed the wrong person and the others came into the picture afterwards.” Passing a hand over her face, “Uncle Mike’s right. I need a break too.” Closing down the laptops, Sam turned to the main monitor where Uncle Mike had been working.

Laughing softly, Calleigh moved to Uncle Mike’s seat. “Sam, go take a walk. I’ve got it here. No one else is going to come in here and touch anything.”

Arching her back and feeling the muscles tighten painfully, Sam grimaced. “Yeah, alright. The laptops are still running. I only logged out, I didn’t shut them down.” Walking from the lab, she almost bumped into Eric. “Morning, Eric.”

“Hey, Sam. I just saw Dan. He was on his way to the break room for coffee.” She never drank the stuff, but it sounded good at the moment. Looking down the hallway, she realized she had no idea where the break room was. Seeing the lost look in her eyes, Eric grinned. “Come on, I could use a cup myself.”

“Thanks.” Walking with Eric, “So how’d the scene play out for you guys? You going to find the bad guy?”

Ushering her into the break room, “Sure. It’s pretty open and shut. Everything we brought back is being run by the nightshift that’s filling in.”

Sighing as she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat at the small table with Uncle Mike, “I wish this case was going as smooth. We really need a break in it somewhere.”

“You two were running the video again, right? Did you get anything new from it?”

Wrapping his hands around his cup, Uncle Mike shook his head. “Not really, Eric. I matched a couple new faces, but I haven’t had a chance to run the background audio yet, and Sam wasn’t able to pull much on Santana or Guzman.”

“Hey, there you are.” Poking his head into the break room, Frank pointed a finger at Sam. “Kevin should be coming in soon. A couple of the guys picked him up on the beach about ten minutes ago.”

Running a hand through her hair, Sam picked up her cup and headed for the door. “Thanks, Frank. Can you sit on him for a few minutes when he gets here? Just let me know when he shows. I want to get back to the lab for a minute before he gets here.”

Stepping aside as Sam walked out of the room, “Sure, Sam. I’ll put him in the same room we used before. You want me to find Horatio for you too?”

“No. I think I can handle this.” Glancing over her shoulder at Uncle Mike, “Care to join me when I talk to him?” Catching his nod, “Alright. If you don’t want to come back down to the lab right now, then why don’t you relax in here until Kevin gets here? I’ll let Calleigh know where we are and see if she’s turned up anything else.”

Raising his cup to Uncle Mike, Eric smiled and shook his head. “I think I should get to the lab and see if I can’t help Calleigh dig up some more dirt. Horatio is down in the morgue with the body we brought in, so he’ll probably be there for a while.” Draining his cup and throwing it in the garbage, “Later.” Walking out, Eric rushed to catch up with Sam. “Horatio’s with Alexx so he’ll probably be a while.”

Shrugging, “I’m not worried about Kevin. I just want to run some names by him.” Entering the lab, Sam nodded to Ryan before joining Calleigh. Dropping a hand on the back of Calleigh’s chair, “Anything new?”

“Not really. I thought I was going to have a problem figuring out which ones had already been identified, but apparently Dan uploaded the files that you had already accumulated so that everything is now up to date on our system too.” Slipping a disc into the computer, “I’m going to save the video on disc for you. I’ve enhanced it as much as I can. The audio tracks will unfortunately have the pops and crackles in it from being recorded on tape, but it will be easier to work with than the tape is.”

Claiming her seat and flipping open the laptop, “Do it. We ran audio before we came down to Miami on Uncle Mike’s equipment, but maybe you guys can pick up on something we may have missed.” Logging into the laptop, “Kevin should be here soon, and I want to see if I can’t get some more names to throw at him. So far I’m pitching Michael Santana, and Amado Guzman.”

Pulling the disc out, Calleigh handed it to Eric, “Find a sleeve for that please?” Turning her chair around, “Why don’t you just give him that for now? I mean until we come up with more on his father, there really isn’t a lot to go on for Santana.”

Frowning and glaring at the screen in front of her, Sam grumbled. “Yeah, maybe. There’s more to Santana though. I just have to find it.” Looking up as the phone rang, Sam waited until Calleigh hung up and then raised an eyebrow, “Well?”

“That was Frank. Kevin just got here.”

Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Sam climbed to her feet and looked at Eric. “If Calleigh is going to run audio, then you can either help her, or I’ll leave my laptop up and running and you can try to dig up something on Santana or Guzman.” Stepping aside as Eric pulled out the chair and sat down, “The program that’s running, don’t close it. It will effectively search every federal, state and local database that we can gain access to. Don’t ask how because I can’t tell you. Don’t try to mess with the program either. You can navigate through it though, it’s rather simple to play with.” Slipping on her jacket to cover her weapon, “Here goes nothing.” Walking from the lab, Sam headed for the break room to find Uncle Mike.

Pulling the tape, Calleigh started for the door. “I’m going down to audio with this. Keep an eye on that disc.” Heading down the hallway, Calleigh disappeared around the corner.

Shaking his head as he tentatively punched the keyboard, “Yeah, no problem. You do audio, you check on Kevin, and I’ll try to figure this out.”

***

Walking down the hallway, Sam studied Kevin through the glass. Same beat up jacket, but the shirt looked relatively cleaner than the last. “Let me deal with Kevin.” Stopping outside the interrogation room, Sam glanced at Uncle Mike briefly before Frank opened the door for them to enter. Nodding her thanks to Frank, Sam walked around the table and pulled out the chair for Uncle Mike. Waiting for him to be seated, Sam perched on the edge of the table with her hands clasped in her lap. “How’s it going, Kevin?”

Now he was nervous. “Me? Yeah, fine. I’m great. You’re Sam, right?”

Cocking her head and raising an eyebrow, “I am. Now I know I didn’t tell you my name…”

“Frank kinda said it the other day. In my profession, it helps to keep your ears open, ya know?”

Smiling faintly, Sam decided to give Horatio’s little quirks a try. Sliding off the edge of the table and turning her back to Kevin, “I do know. Now my question is, how much more do you know?”

Glancing at the older man across from him and back to Sam, “I know the one you’re looking for was your partner, but I swear I got that from here. I didn’t hear that on the streets.”

Bowing her head and smiling to herself, Sam figured that either Frank or Horatio had to have told him when she had left the room on his last visit. Hooking her thumbs in her pockets and staring out the window, “I need your help, Kevin.”

“Right, you need my help.”

Turning back to face Kevin but casually leaning her back against the wall, Sam smiled faintly at his heavy sarcasm. “Yes, I do. You see, it’s like this. My partner is taken, I have a line to him here in Miami, but when I get down here, it turns out to be a dead end. No one seems to even have heard of the Blancas until you came in. You know enough about them to know they mean business and that makes you very valuable to me.”

Kevin had to say, she was smooth. Not as good as H at getting him to open up, but he had to admit, she was good. It didn’t even matter to him if she was lying to him or not. “Listen, I told Frank that I’d be in touch if I heard anything else about them. I haven’t heard anything.”

Holding her hands out, palms up in a placating gesture, “That’s not why I needed to talk to you. I believe you that you haven’t heard anything else about the Blancas, but I have a couple other names I would like to run past you because I’m stumped and I need your help.”

He could feel the sweat breaking out on his forehead and his heart was starting to beat faster. This wasn’t going to be good for his health. “Yeah, ok. What do you want to know?”

Cocking her head and averting her eyes, Sam slowly turned back toward the window. “Michael Santana and Amado Guzman.” Hearing the sharp intake of breath, Sam knew he recognized at least one of the names.

His voice croaking in his throat, Kevin looked up at Frank. “Listen, could I get a drink or something?”

“Sam?”

Frank was actually asking her for permission to act. This was getting interesting. “That’s fine, Frank. Can you get him a bottle of water, please? We’ll fine in here. Won’t we, Kevin?”

Nodding wordlessly, he watched Frank leave the room and walk down the hallway. Looking nervously across the table, “I know she’s the Agent’s partner, but who are you? Now that Tripp’s gone, you gonna try to work me over or something?”

Leaving the window, Sam walked to the table and stood behind Uncle Mike. Setting her hands on his shoulders, she sadly looked at Kevin. “This is my partner’s Uncle. The only family he has left. Mike here flew in yesterday when he heard there was a lead.”

Sighing heavily, Kevin nodded. “Alright. I’ll tell you what I know.”

Chapter Text

Looking from Sam to Uncle Mike, Kevin leaned on the table and lowered his head collecting his thoughts. Raising his head, he looked at them both evenly. “There’s not much I can really tell you. Talk on the street is exactly that, it’s talk.”

With a sadness heavy in his voice, Uncle Mike nodded sadly. “I know, but if there’s even a slight hope that the talk might be right, then I need to know.”

Running a hand through his greasy hair, Kevin sat back in his seat and sighed. “Look, it’s like I told her the other day, if they haven’t made a ransom demand, then it’s pretty slim that he’s still alive.”

Resting her hand on Uncle Mike’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze, Sam moved back to the window to lean against the wall. “I’ve already informed him of that.”

Lowering his head, his shoulders falling, Uncle Mike looked up at Kevin with his eyes bright with unshed tears. “I’ve already come to that cross in the road. It’s like I’ve already told Sam, dead or alive, I want him home. If she can’t bring him home alive, then at least I’ll be able to bury him with his family and he won’t be alone.”

Closing her eyes and turning to the window, Sam took a deep breath to try to remain in control. She knew that Uncle Mike would play along with what ever role she gave him, but he had spoken from the heart and it tore at her.

“Listen, man. I’m sorry, I really am. I hope she can find him for you.” Glancing at Sam’s back, Kevin sighed. “There isn’t much I can tell you, but I’ll do what I can.”

***

“Frank?”

Jumping slightly and turning as Horatio joined him, “Horatio. You taking up sneaking up on people now?”

Bowing his head and smiling widely, “Actually Frank, I was going to ask what you were doing.”

Leaning his shoulder back against the wall, Frank held out a water bottle pointing at the interrogation room. “Sam’s got Kevin in there. He spooked when she gave him Guzman’s name and asked for a drink, so she sent me for a bottle of water for him.” Watching Sam move from the window to sit on the edge of the table with her hands folded in her lap and her head down, “Looks like she’s doing a decent job at imitating you, though.”

Cocking his head and watching closely, Horatio was intrigued. “Does she now?”

Chuckling lightly, Frank nodded with a wide smile. “I’ve been standing here watching her for a few minutes now. I have to say it Horatio, it looks like she’s got Kevin eating out of the palm of her hand.”

“Are you going back in?”

“Nah. I think she’s got it under control.” Holding the bottle of water out to Horatio, Frank smirked. “If you want to go on in, then why don’t you take Kevin his water? Just tell Sam that I had a call to take and I’ll be back in soon to walk Kevin out.”

“Sounds good, Frank.” Taking the bottle from Frank, Horatio slowly walked down the hallway watching through the glass. Stopping at the door, he held up the bottle and waited for Sam to wave him in. Ducking through the door and closing it behind him, “I ran into Frank down the hallway, and he asked me to bring this in for Kevin.” Setting the bottle on the table, “Sorry to interrupt, Sam. Frank got a call that he had to take, but he said he’d be back to walk Kevin out soon.” Turning back toward the door, he paused as Sam called him back.

“Horatio, why don’t you stay? We’re almost done here anyway, right Kevin?”

Looking nervously from Sam to Horatio and back again, “Yeah, right.” Shifting uncomfortably in his seat as Horatio walked behind him to lean near the window, Kevin tried to focus on Sam. “I don’t know much more than that. I still think you should just go and flash that shiny badge of yours in Santana’s face and ask him. You’re not going to find much more than what I told you since it was all swept under the rug and covered up.”

She kept her voice calm and even, her tone low and reassuring, “That’s fine, Kevin. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get in touch with him soon enough.” Walking away from the table and placing herself between Kevin and Horatio, Sam tossed a crooked smile at Horatio and raised an eyebrow. Catching the briefest of nods and a ghost of a smile on his lips, Sam lowered her head and wiped the look from her face before turning back to Kevin. “What about Guzman’s connection to the Blancas?”

“I already told you, I can’t say whether one works for the other. I don’t know.” His voice was starting to turn hysterical. “They’re dangerous. I keep trying to tell you that. You don’t want to go up against these guys.”

Moving to stand beside Uncle Mike with her back to Kevin, she lightly touched Uncle Mike’s shoulder and smiled as he lowered his head. Biting back a chuckle as his shoulders began to visibly shake, “It’s alright, Mike. We’ll find him.” Glancing at Horatio, “Horatio, could you take Mike down to the break room, please? I think this is more than he can deal with right now.” Hugging Uncle Mike as he stood and wiped at his already dry eyes, “Go with Horatio, Mike. I’ll meet with you in a few minutes. I just have to wait here until Frank comes back.”

Crossing to the door, Horatio nodded. “I’ll give him a ring and let him know you’re done in here.” Opening the door for Uncle Mike, they walked down the hallway.

Watching Uncle Mike and Horatio make their way down the hallway, Sam almost smiled as she watched them stop at the corner and then turn back to watch her. Claiming Uncle Mike’s chair, Sam hung her head and sighed heavily. Resting her elbows on the table and covering her face with her hands, “This was much easier when his Uncle wasn’t down here. Now I have to try to find my partner and try to keep Mike from having a break down.”

Dropping his chin to his chest, his voice little more than a whisper, Kevin shuddered. “Listen, Sam, what is the government always says when they don’t want to admit to anything?”

“I can neither confirm nor deny?”

Finally reaching for the water bottle in front of him, “yeah, that.” Taking a long drink, “Ok, so… I can neither confirm nor deny that the Blancas may or may not have worked for Guzman.”

Slowly raising her sad eyes to Kevin’s, pain was written clearly on her face. “Alright, Kevin. I have to talk to Santana and see what he knows still.” Nodding toward the door, “Frank’s on his way. Thank you, Kevin.” Holding out her hand to him, she was surprised when he actually accepted it in a soft handshake. “Be careful out there, ok?”

“Yeah. No problem. If I hear anything else, I’ll let you know.” Looking up as Frank walked in, “Guess it’s time for you to let me go now since you don’t have anything on me, now do you?”

“You’re lucky, Kevin. Now get outta here.” Roughly taking Kevin by the arm, he lead him out of the room and down the hallway where Horatio and Uncle Mike were no longer in view. “Let’s go.”

Mulling over the conversation in her head, Sam shook her head and sighed. Going in search of Uncle Mike, she found him and Horatio sitting in the break room waiting for her. “We need to talk to Mikey again. I got a little from Kevin about what happened, and I was right to an extent. There was a cover up when his father got involved in some bad action.”

Checking his watch, Uncle Mike shrugged. “Do you want to go do that now, or should we head back to the lab?”

Getting a bottle of water from the refrigerator, Sam ran a hand through her hair feeling stressed out. “Let’s stop by the lab really quick. Calleigh was going to work on the audio and Eric was running Guzman when I left. After that, I think we can take off for a little while to get some shopping done before Frank shows up.” Taking a long draw from the bottle and looking at Horatio, “Uncle Mike and I were wondering, if you didn’t mind the party at your place every night, that maybe we should think about doing dinner as a team for a while. It might help us all to get away from the lab stuff and just be able to sit and talk it out.”

“Dan and I had already discussed it, and I think it’s a good idea.” Rising with Uncle Mike to join Sam, “Are you alright, Sam?”

Shaking her to the negative, “Yeah, great. We’ll discuss it all later. I want Frank there when I go over it all.” Slipping an arm around Uncle Mike’s waist, “Right now I just want to check in on Eric and Calleigh and get out of here for a while.” Resting her head against his shoulder, “We want to get some stuff for the safe house for Frank before he gets here. He’s decided that’s where he’s staying.”

Wrapping his arm protectively around Sam’s shoulders, Uncle Mike lightly kissed her hair. “What’s wrong, Sam? You already figured out that there had to be something with Santana’s father that led to him being disbarred. So that wasn’t really anything new that Kevin told you.”

“I know.” Stepping away with her head bowed, “I just don’t like the position we’re putting him in. If these guys get wind that he’s talking to us…”

“Sam, you know we can’t protect him. He hasn’t given us anything that will take these guys down yet. Even if he had, there’s really not a whole lot we can do.”

Stepping into the hallway, “I know, Uncle Mike. I know. It just doesn’t make it any easier to accept.” Walking to the lab in silence, Sam could hear Uncle Mike and Horatio trailing behind.

***

Looking up as the trio entered the lab, Eric glanced over his shoulder before looking back at the laptop in front of him. “Calleigh’s still down in audio.”

Not hoping for much, Sam crossed the room to hover over Eric. “Any luck on Santana or Guzman?”

Pointing at the screen, Eric opened a word document. “I have it saved for you. There wasn’t much, but I pulled whatever I could. I don’t know if it was Guzman that Santana’s father was involved with, but it was someone with a lot of power. Definitely either South or Central American, and a serious issue with Castro and how he ran things.”

Reading the file, Sam clapped him on the shoulder. “Nice work. Print that, will you?” Waiting as Eric nodded and hooked a printer cable to the laptop, “Save it to the laptop, and slip the print out into the case. We’ll go over it later at Horatio’s.” Smiling weakly at the question on Eric’s face, “It’s been decided that we should get together at night to hash it all out as a team. So if you’re game, I think it’s pizza tonight because we’ve got Frank coming in, and I don’t want to deal with making dinner tonight.”

Rolling his chair over to the printer as it spit out a couple of sheets, Eric handed them over to Sam. “Sounds good. Same time?”

Folding the papers and sliding them into the laptop case, “Yeah, that sounds good. We have to pick up Frank around 5, so yeah, 730ish sounds good.” Looking longingly at the laptops, Sam shook her head. Picking up the video disc, “I’m going to leave these here in case you want to mess with them some more. Just please make sure you log off them if you’re not going to use them, and bring them both to the house when you come out later. Ok?”

“I’ll make sure they’re brought back to the house, Sam. Don’t worry.” Raising an eyebrow to Eric, “I’m going to take them down to audio, and then I’ll be back up here.” Watching Eric turn back to the laptop, Horatio shook his head and smiled. Pausing in the outer lab, “Mister Wolfe, how are we coming along with this morning’s case?”

Looking up from his work, Ryan shrugged. “Doing fine, Horatio. Open and shut. You want everything now?”

“No, that’s fine. I’ll be back in a couple minutes.” Walking out of the labs, Horatio led them down the hallway.

With Uncle Mike just behind them, the pace was slow and relaxed. “Horatio, I wanted to say something.” Looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “I just wanted to let you know that I have no intentions of taking your team away from you. If you need Calleigh and Eric to work on whatever you brought in today, then do it. I’m not happy that things are going this slow with finding Vinnie, but this…” Waving her arm towards the windows, “Miami is your show, Horatio. So long as you don’t chase Uncle Mike or me out of your lab, then I have no problems with you using your entire team.”

A light laugh issued from Horatio as he bowed his head and smiled. “Sam, I wasn’t worried. I just wanted you to know that I needed them for a little while earlier. I’m the one that asked the Chief for this, and if I need them that badly, then I’m going to let you know first.” Stopping outside a door marked Audio Lab, “Calleigh should still be in there. I will make sure I bring the laptops home with me. If you need anything, just let me know.”

Nodding silently, Sam walked inside. Stopping at Horatio’s side, Uncle Mike paused. “She’s trying to deal with a lot right now. She wasn’t too bad when we were talking to Kevin about Santana, but I want to know what they were talking about when we left. Whatever he said, it’s got her all wound up and tied in knots.”

Looking through the door into the dark room beyond, Horatio’s voice was soft with concern. “Will she be alright?”

Sighing, and reaching for the door, Uncle Mike shook his head. “Time will tell. Experience tells me that she won’t talk about it until she’s had time to process it all. I plan on dragging her out of here as soon as we can get finished. We have some shopping to do for Frank, and then we have to pick him up around 5. I think I might just let her stop at the beach and clear her head before we pick him up though.” Stepping back as the door opened and Sam walked out, Uncle Mike raised an eyebrow.

“I’m fine. Let’s just go, ok?” Frowning deeply and looking at Horatio, “I need to get out of here for a while. I was going to see if you wanted to join Uncle Mike and me for lunch, if you’re not too busy.”

Checking his watch, and thinking about what Dan had told him, “No, you go ahead. I want to get this mess cleaned up from this morning.” With concern in his voice, he lightly touched Sam’s shoulder as he stepped past her, “Hang in there, Sam. We’re going to get through this.” Sharing a glance with Dan, Horatio nodded and left them.

Seeing the same concern in Uncle Mike’s eyes that had been in Horatio’s voice, Sam scowled. “Let it go for now. We can discuss it later. I can’t do anything about it now anyway.” Her features softened as Uncle Mike held his arm out to her. Stepping into his embrace and wrapping her arms around his waist, Sam rested her forehead against his shoulder, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get snappy. The chat with Kevin just gave me a lot to think about, ok?” Taking comfort in the security and warmth of the embrace, Sam stepped back and looked away. “Let’s just go, ok? We can do some shopping, then stop by Horatio’s to pick up my bike, and go by the safe house. I need some air.”

He knew better than to argue. She’d talk about it when she was ready, and that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Falling in step beside her, “Alright, Sam. Let’s go.”

***

The ride was quiet. Shopping was quick since neither knew what Frank would want stocked in the house, so the basic staples were the easiest to purchase. Stopping at Horatio’s, Uncle Mike waited for Sam to go inside and get her helmet. Pulling out his cell phone, he quickly checked in with Frank. “Hey, Frank. No change in flight plans I hope.”

“No, everything’s on schedule. Why? What’s wrong?”

“Sam and I had a chance to talk to a guy here that may have given her some information. We’ll go over it when you get down here. There are plans for dinner already. Pizza with the team here at Horatio’s.”

Sighing on the other end of the line, “Let’s not make it too late. I want to get down there, get stuff put away, get something to eat, get caught up on what’s going on, fill you two in on what’s going on here, and get some sleep.”

“You sound tired, Frank. Sam and I went shopping and we’re taking some stuff over to the safe house. I’m thinking that since Sam is safe here at Horatio’s, I’ll probably move my stuff over to the safe house later tonight with you.”

“She isn’t going to like that, you know.”

Running a hand through his hair, Uncle Mike waved out the window as Sam walked out the front door with her helmet under her arm. “I know, but she’s safe here, Frank. Besides, there’s not enough room here for all of us. The house isn’t that far from here, so we can get to one another fast if we have to.”

“Uh huh.” Doubt was heavy in Frank’s voice. “You’re telling her, not me.”

“Yeah, I know. We just stopped off to get her bike, and we’re heading over to the house now. We’ll be at the airfield to pick you up around 5. Have a safe flight, Frank.” Hanging up as Sam pulled the bike out of the garage and parked along side the truck, “I was just touching base with Frank. His flight is on schedule, so we have a few hours to ourselves if you want to head out to the beach to try to relax.”

Glancing over her shoulder to make sure the garage door lowered completely, Sam strapped on her helmet and flipped on the CB. “I just need some air. I wasn’t planning on a trip to the beach.” Waiting for Uncle Mike to back out of the driveway, “I’ll follow.”

Keeping his eyes on the rearview mirror, Uncle Mike continued to worry. Things weren’t looking good and he wasn’t happy about it. Winding through the city without accident, he turned down the quiet street toward the safe house. Parking in the driveway as Sam pulled in beside him, he waited until she turned off the bike and dropped her helmet in the truck. “Sam, just help me get the groceries inside, and then get out of here for a while. Just take the bike and go for a ride. Whatever is on your mind, you won’t talk about it, and it’s clearly bothering you. Go clear your head and just be back here in time to go after Frank.” He could tell she was about to argue with him, and he held up a hand. “Enough. You need a break.”

He was right. She needed to clear her head, but she couldn’t chance leaving Uncle Mike alone. If Kevin was right, if the Blancas were working with Guzman, and Mikey was the one that mentioned the name first, she was worried that maybe they were getting close. She wasn’t about to let the rest of her family too far out of her sight. Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, “Listen, why don’t we get these inside and put them away, and then go back to Horatio’s for a while. I can walk the beach over there and…” Pausing and looking at Uncle Mike hopefully, “and maybe you could play for a while. You know, music soothes the savage beast, and calms my stressed out soul?” Carrying the bags to the door, she waited for Uncle Mike to open it and walked inside. Depositing the bags on the kitchen counter, she turned and allowed herself to be pulled into his arms. Sighing against his shoulder, “I’m just stressed out.”

“Sam, go in the other room and sit down. Let me get these put away, and then I want to make sure the rooms are set up for later. After that, we can go. Alright?” Watching her brow furrow, he almost smacked himself. “I was going to tell you later when you calmed down some. I’m thinking about staying here with Frank so he’s not here by himself. There’s not enough room at Horatio’s for all of us, and you’re safe there, Sam. I trust him to protect you, but I don’t want Frank here alone.”

Stepping away and closing her eyes, Sam drew a shaky breath. “Then I’ll come back here too. We should be together.”

Reaching out to brush his hand against her cheek, “Sam. There’s not enough room here for all of us, and you’re not sleeping on the couch. You stay at Horatio’s, and Frank and I will stay here. We’re not far. We can all be at one place or the other in no time, so stop worrying.”

Shaking her head and walking from the room, “I know you’re right, but I don’t have to like it.” She couldn’t sit still, she had to keep moving, had to keep her mind working on something, anything. Walking into the bedrooms, she checked each room over even though they were clean and in order when she left them a few days ago. They were still clean and nothing out of place. Acceptable. Walking back into the living room as Uncle Mike exited the kitchen, “Everything is in order. I made sure the place was straightened up when I moved my stuff to Horatio’s and everything’s clean.”

Hooking his head toward the door, “Good. That saves me time. Now let’s go and get back to the house for a while before we have to deal with Frank, ok?”

Snorting a half laugh, Sam plastered a pitiful smirk on her face. “I suppose I should have warned Eric and Calleigh about him, huh? At least Horatio had to deal with him already. I should have told them that he sort of needs time to grow on you.”

Rolling his eyes and locking the door behind them, “Sam, everything will be fine. Just relax.” Standing beside the truck as Sam retrieved her helmet and mounted the bike, Uncle Mike climbed inside and they drove back to Horatio’s.

Pulling the bike into the garage and setting her helmet on the seat, Sam tossed the keys to Uncle Mike as she closed the garage door and walked down to the beach. Sitting in the sand with her knees pulled up and her arms wrapped around her legs, Sam listened to Uncle Mike enter the house and return to the porch. Resting her chin on her knees and staring out over the water, she lets the soft music surround her. She was afraid they were getting close, and if they were, she was afraid what would happen to the rest of her family.

Watching Sam out on the beach, Uncle Mike played softly. Humming to himself, he was worried about her. She had always been protective of this family, but now she was scared to let them out of her sight. He wanted to know what Kevin had said to her, but it would have to wait until she was ready. As he continued to play, he could see the change come over her. Her back wasn’t as rigid, and when she laid her head in her arms and started to sway, he knew her mind was only on the music. And so he played on.

How much time elapsed, she wasn’t sure, but when Uncle Mike paused in his playing, Sam knew that it must be time. When his voice carried across the sand, she looked over her shoulder.

“Sam, it’s almost time.”

Standing and brushing the sand from her jeans, she slowly walked up to the porch. “Alright, let me call Horatio and let him know we’re leaving.” Sitting on the steps as Uncle Mike stepped inside, Sam pulled out her cell and dialed Horatio’s number.

“Hello, Sam. Is everything alright?”

Smiling faintly at the concern in his voice, “Yeah. I’m ok, Horatio. I just wanted to touch base and let you know that Uncle Mike and I are leaving to pick up Frank.”

“That’s fine, Sam. I’ll be home soon. Eric and Calleigh said they’d be by for dinner, and Alexx said she would stop by a little later on.”

“That’s good. I want Frank to meet the team.”

“Sam, I also talked to Alexx earlier, and I have one stop to make on the way home. Dan will have his wheels tonight for as long as he needs them down here.”

Filled with gratitude, Sam sighed with relief. “That’s great, Horatio. Thank you. Uncle Mike is planning on staying at the safe house with Frank though, but the wheels will be more than welcomed.” Looking up as Uncle Mike joined her on the porch and made sure the door locked, “Let me go, Horatio. We’ll be back soon.” Hanging up, Sam stood beside Uncle Mike and wrapped an arm around his waist as they walked around the house to the truck.

Cocking his head and raising an eyebrow as Sam approached the passenger side of the truck, “You’re not taking the bike?”

“Nah. I figured I’d ride with you and Frank that way he can brow beat me all he wants before we get back to the house.” Throwing her hands up in surrender at the look on Uncle Mike’s face, “I’m kidding. Relax.” Climbing into the truck, “I figured we could use some alone time before we get back to the house with everyone else.”

Reaching over to take her hand as they pulled onto the road and headed for the airfield, Uncle Mike gave her a weak smile. Their family wasn’t complete without Vince, but at least three of them would be together again soon.

Chapter Text

Arriving at the airfield, Sam shuddered. Looking over at her, Uncle Mike mentally slapped himself. Last time she was here, was when the plane brought in the bodies. “Sam, are you going to be ok?”

Swallowing hard, Sam nodded. Checking the clock on the dash, “We’re early.”

Turning away from the airfield itself, Uncle Mike parked next to the terminal entrance. He still wanted to talk to her about taking Horatio with her when the time came, but he was hesitant to breech the subject. “Sam…” Taking her hand in his, “I want to talk to you about something.”

Rolling her eyes, “I’m fine. We can discuss my talk with Kevin later.”

“That’s not what I wanted to say.” As she turned to look at him, “Sam, when the time comes, you’re not going to be able to do this alone.”

Shrugging her shoulders, “I’m not alone. You’re here. Frank’s on his way. Horatio has turned out to be more help than I could ever have imagined, and that’s saying a lot. I can’t even begin to say enough about Alexx, Calleigh, and Eric.”

Shaking his head, “Sam, I mean when it comes time to going after Vince.” Seeing the confused look on her face, “You can’t go after him alone.”

Looking out the window at the terminal, watching all the people walking in and out of the doors smiling and laughing, Sam’s voice drifted away. “They look so happy, so innocent. Not one of them even realizes how real the danger is day to day.”

“Sam…”

“You know it’s a suicide mission. I can’t take Frank. I won’t take you unless it’s for surveillance. I don’t have many options here.”

Squeezing her hand lightly until she turned back toward him, “You do have an option. I want you to think about taking Horatio with you.”

Frowning deeply and pulling her hand away, Sam narrowed her eyes. “That’s not an option.”

He knew this wasn’t going to be easy. “Sam, hear me out. You can’t do this alone, and his service record alone is enough for me to say that he is a very good option. He was a strong homicide detective, he did his time on the bomb squad, he has sniper training, and Sam, he’s a marksman.”

Shaking her head, her frown still strongly in place, “No. I will not put him in danger. He’s doing so much for us now.”

“Sam, look at me.” Waiting for her to slowly turn her head, “Vinnie is out there. I don’t want to lose you too. I’m not telling you to take him. I’m asking you to think about it.” At this point, he wasn’t above pleading. “Sam, please? Just think about it?”

Sighing and looking away, “Yeah, fine.” Looking over at the terminal doors, “So are we going in, or do you want to sit here while I go hunt down Frank?”

Giving her Frank’s flight information, Uncle Mike locked the doors behind her as she stepped out and walked inside. Smiling as he watched her pause just inside the doorway and put her hands up, he knew that she had set off the security alarm. Slowly she reached into her back pocket and pulled out her badge. No one would know what the OCB was, but it didn’t matter. All they would see was the badge and the words Federal Agency on the identification. Chuckling as she slipped the wallet back into her pocket, and had the directions pointed out to her, she moved out of sight.

***

Making her way through the busy little terminal, Sam leaned casually against the wall across from Frank’s gate. Watching out the window as a plane taxied up to the walkway, Sam moved closer to the gate. Waiting for the people to disembark from the plane, she slowly wove her way through the people when she spied Frank. Waving and calling his name, she smiled as he turned her way and peeled away from the small crowd.

 

Noting the briefcase and duffel bag in his hand, “Any more bags?” Stepping closer and wrapping her arms around him as he shook his head, “I’m glad you’re here, Frank.”

Wrapping an arm around her waist, Frank held her close. He was surprised by her reaction, but he understood the sentiment. They wouldn’t be whole until they found Vince, but at least the three of them were together. That almost made it all easier to deal with. Almost. “Come on, Sam. Let’s get out of here.” Draping his arm around her shoulders as she stepped to his side and relieved him of the duffel bag, “Dan in the car?”

“Yeah. I’m going to let the two of you use the truck since I have my bike. The truck will be easier for Uncle Mike to get in and out of.” Wrapping an arm around his waist and leaning against him for a moment, “He already told me that you two are staying at the house. I’m not thrilled with it, but I’ll deal. I’m going to stay at Horatio’s, so it’s not that far.”

“So what’s the plan?”

Walking outside to the truck, they climbed inside. As Frank and Uncle Mike exchanged greetings, Sam sighed. “Alright, let’s get back to the house. We’re having pizza tonight, Frank. Too bad if you don’t like it. Tonight is fast and easy. Basically I want to go over my little chat with Kevin with everyone, and I want to see if Eric and Calleigh found anything else about Guzman, the audio, or your boy Mikey.”

Raising an eyebrow as he turned sideways in his seat to look back at her, Frank frowned. “What is that suppose to mean?”

Sitting back in her seat as Uncle Mike pulled away from the curb, “Exactly what I said. You get pulled from looking for Vinnie, and now you have to work this new little case with Mikey Santana. Oh, and by the way, he hates being called Mikey.” Ignoring the frown deepening on Frank’s face, “And I want to introduce you to Horatio’s team.”

Pointing at the briefcase in Frank’s lap, Uncle Mike sounded a bit dubious as he cautiously asked, “Is that what I think it is in there?”

With his hands flat on the case in his lap, Frank stared out the window. “Don’t ask how I got it. I’m not even sure it was worth it.”

“Frank?”

“I got my hands on a copy of the evidence they collected at the scene. I couldn’t get the original evidence, but I got copies of the results.” Glancing over his shoulder, “Sam, I meant it though. I’m not sure if it was worth the effort. There’s not much in here.”

Forcing herself to sit still and not grab the case from him, “I want to get that to Calleigh and Eric so they can go over it all and see if anything matches up with what we have down here.” Smacking a hand to her forehead, “The pictures. I can’t believe we forgot to take in the pictures this morning.”

Chuckling lightly, Uncle Mike shook his head. “Don’t worry about it, Sam. When we get back to the house, I’ll put the pictures in the case with the rest of the stuff and they can look at it later, or we can take it in to them in the morning.” Looking in the rearview mirror at the disgusted look on her face, “Sam, you’ve been running nonstop. You can’t remember everything. I think we made some progress today, so let’s not dwell on forgetting to take in the pictures, alright?” Catching her curt nod, he turned his attention back to the late rush hour traffic.

Leaving the duffel bag in the back seat as they pulled into the driveway, Sam climbed out and waited for Uncle Mike and Frank. “We’re not expecting everyone else for over an hour or so. I know you met with Horatio when Mikey sent you to him, but you didn’t get a chance to meet everyone else and as you always tell me, please play nice. They’ve done an incredible job at helping me out so far. Ok, Frank?”

Laughing coldly, and shaking his head in disbelief, Frank lowered his head and looked at her over the rims of his glasses. “You’re worried about me playing nice? I’m the picture perfect example of nice.” Glancing at the house and lowering his voice to a growl, “I’m nice. I didn’t kill the damn Director when I found out he ordered Vince into this without us knowing. I’d say that was nice.”

Patting his arm in sympathy, Sam offered him a lopsided smile. “Guess you’re nicer than me. I would have shot him.” Walking up to the front door, she smiled widely as Horatio appeared in the doorway.

Cocking his head with a smile tugging at his lips, Horatio held the door open for them to enter. “How are you feeling, Sam?”

“Better now that most of my family is together.” Moving further into the house with Frank and Uncle Mike trailing behind her, “Plans are still on for dinner?”

“They are. Alexx even called me before I left the office and said she would be getting a ride with Calleigh, so she’ll be here with everyone else.” Turning to Uncle Mike, he waved a hand toward the living room. “Alexx said to give you a message, Dan. If you call her Ma’am, she’s taking it back.”

Walking into the living room, Uncle Mike laughed lightly at the sight of the wheelchair sitting next to the sofa. “You didn’t have to do this, Horatio. But I thank you for it all the same.”

Mouthing a thank you to Horatio as Uncle Mike walked past her, “I’ll make sure it gets put in the back of the truck so you can have it at the safe house.” Stepping to Frank’s side, “I know you two have already met, so I figure I can skip the intro here. I’ll save it for everyone else.”

Holding out his hand, Frank nodded a greeting. “Caine.”

Taking the offered hand and firmly shaking it, Horatio smiled. “McPike.”

Rolling her eyes at them both, “Seriously? Would first names be too much to ask for?” Walking down the hallway and calling over her shoulder, “Uncle Mike? Do you want to get the pictures for me so I can put them in the case with everything else?” Walking into the bedroom, Sam took a quick look around as she heard Uncle Mike walk through the door behind her. “I was going to put your stuff in the truck now so that we don’t have deal with it later when it’s dark.” Sighing and leaning back against him as he stopped behind her, “I still don’t like the idea of us being separated.”

“You’re a big girl, Sam. You’re safe here, and it’s not like Frank and I are going to be alone. We’ve got each other to watch our backs.” Kissing the back of her head, “We’re not going to be far, Sam. Relax.” Walking around the bed and picking up his bag and guitar case, he set them on the bed. Pulling an envelope out of the bag, he held them out to Sam. “The pictures.”

Waving them away, Sam picked up the bag and the case, “Give them to Frank for now to put with the rest of the stuff. I’ll take these out to the truck and have Horatio help me load your wheels.” Smiling and walking out of the room before he could argue, Sam headed for the front door.

Following her with the wheelchair, Horatio easily folded it and hefted it over the tailgate as Sam stashed the bag and guitar in the back seat. “Are you sure everything’s alright?”

Nodding faintly, Sam smiled. “I’m fine. We’ll discuss everything when everyone gets here.” Walking back inside, “Frank, I still want to go back and talk to Santana.”

The frown on his face deepening the creases in his forehead, Frank sighed. “Sam, you don’t want to go right now, do you? I just got in. I’m tired. I’d like to sit down for a few minutes.”

Playing the dutiful host, Horatio stepped up. “Well, why don’t you and Dan stay here, and I’ll take Sam over to talk to him for a few minutes? If she wants answers, then she’s going to be bouncing around until she gets them.”

Sitting on the sofa, Frank narrowed his eyes at Horatio. “Think you know her that well, do you?”

Feeling the testosterone levels starting to rise, Sam stepped between them. “Knock it off, Frank. I’ve been down here almost a week now, and I’ve been staying in this house for most of that time, so yeah, I think he’s got a few things figured out.”

Raising his eyebrow to Uncle Mike, “Touchy isn’t she?” Noting the shake of the head, Frank rolled his eyes. “Fine. You want to go talk to him, go right ahead.”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Sam scowled. “Look, I just want to follow up on a few things to see if I can get some holes filled in. I’d like to be able to have something concrete when everyone gets here later.” Sitting beside him on the sofa, Sam leaned her shoulder against him and whispered, “There’s sour tea in the fridge.”

Chuckling lightly, he couldn’t be mad at her. He was on pins and needles with everything going on. He wanted answers too, but he wasn’t ready to admit that he didn’t have all the right questions yet. Apparently Sam was getting closer than the rest of them at finding Vince. Gently pushing against her back, “Go. We’ll be fine here. Dan can fill me in on what’s been going on since I left, and he can leave out anything from today.” Pasting on a half smile, “Will that make you feel better?”

Leaning down to kiss his cheek, “Yes, Dad. Makes me feel much better.” Glancing at Horatio, “Shall we?”

Watching them walk out together and climb into Horatio’s Hummer, Frank turned to Uncle Mike. “Alright, Dan. What’s going on with those two?”

Standing near the window and watching the Hummer take off down the road, Uncle Mike smiled faintly. “She trusts him, and not because I told her it was ok to.” Letting the subject die, “Anyway, I think the laptops are in the dining room. Why don’t you get a drink and I’ll set up in there and I can fill you in on what’s been going on.”

***

“I want to apologize for Frank’s attitude.”

Glancing at Sam out of the corner of his eye, “Why? He’s concerned about you. That’s nothing to apologize for.”

Shaking her head and looking out the window, “Sometimes he’s a bigger mother hen than I am.”

Deciding to get her mind in order, Horatio changed the subject. “Have you decided what you’re going to ask Santana when we get there?”

Clenching her hand into a fist, “It’s crossed my mind.” Cocking her head to the side to watch Horatio drive, she knew what Frank had meant about knowing her well. He thought there was something going on between them. He was wrong of course, but she couldn’t help feeling something for the man beside her. As the sun turned his red hair into a halo of fire and reflected off his sunglasses, her heart skipped a beat. Inside and out, he was a beautiful person. Sam, get a hold of yourself. What are you thinking? This is neither the time nor the place to be thinking about getting involved with someone, let alone thinking about Horatio like that. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Sam snapped her head around to stare out the windshield.

“So? You look like you’ve got a few ideas running through your head. Care to share?”

Oh, I’d like to share, but not right now. “Just thinking. I really need to get more about his father and Guzman. Maybe that will get things to start falling into place.”

“Are you sure there’s a connection there?”

Nodding briefly, “There’s something there. The question is, how strong of a connection?” Falling silent as they pulled into a space and climbed out of the Hummer, Sam checked the safety on her weapon, and fell in step with Horatio as they approached the boat house. Absently reaching up to finger the chain around her neck, Sam sighed. Hang in there, Vinnie. Just hang in there.

Reaching the boat house, Horatio reaches past her and knocked on the door. “Michael Santana, open the door please.”

Hearing grumbling coming from inside, Sam smiled ruefully. Glancing at Horatio, and keeping her voice low, “I almost feel sorry that I’m being such a pain to him.” Knocking louder, Sam raised her voice. “Come on, Mikey. Open the door. I need to talk to you.”

“How about no? How about you go away because I have nothing else to say to you?”

Frowning and banging on the door, “Mikey, don’t piss me off more than I already am. Open the door.”

“Fine. Fine.” Opening the door and being mildly surprised not to be looking down the barrel of a gun, “So what brings you by… again?” Standing out of the way as Sam and Horatio entered, he shut the door and hesitantly took a seat. Waving to his beat up sofa, “If you’re staying to chat and you don’t plan on shooting me, then why don’t you have a seat?”

Feeling the space between herself and Horatio lessen, Sam glanced over her shoulder. Nodding to him, they took a seat on the sofa. Sitting on the edge of the cushion and leaning her arms on her knees, Sam bowed her head collecting her thoughts and tried to remain calm. Taking a deep breath, she looked across to Santana. “Listen, Mikey, I only have a couple of questions. They’re not hard, and I would appreciate honest answers.”

Crossing his arms and leaning back in his seat, Michael rolled his eyes. “Yeah, and if you don’t like the answers, then what? You’ll shoot me?”

“Dammit, Michael! I’m trying to play nice here.” Standing to pace the small area, Sam ran a hand through her hair. “I’m going on almost two weeks since Vinnie disappeared, and I’m about on my last shred of a nerve. You’re the only lead I have that’s alive, but if you insist on annoying me, you’ll probably end up on my dead end list.”

Watching Sam but keeping an eye on Horatio, “So what’s he doing here?”

Pausing in her pacing, “He’s one of the questions I have for you. You gave Frank his name to contact when you told us about the plane. Why?”

“Yeah, ok. It’s not that hard to figure out. It’s like I said when you guys were here. If there were witnesses on the plane, then you’d want them to question for yourself. Locals give you that chance. They can arrest and hold them for you while giving you a secure place to interrogate them.”

Cocking her head and narrowing her eyes, “That doesn’t explain why Horatio.”

Holding his hands palm up and shrugging, “Who else would I tell you to talk to? He’s the most prominent person in the entire Miami Dade Police Department. Everyone in Miami either knows Horatio Caine or knows of him. His face is always on the news bringing in the bad guys.” Seeing the doubtful look on Sam’s face, “Oh come on. Do you even watch the news? I swear the guy is on there at least every other day. ‘We never close.’ You’ve never heard that anywhere before?”

Rolling her eyes, “Sorry, Mikey. I’m not that big on watching the news, it’s rather depressing.”

“Yeah, well, look into some old news broadcasts. It’s what made me think of him.” Looking at Horatio sitting calmly on his sofa, “It’s like your by line, or something, isn’t it?” Getting no reply, Michael shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. I remember hearing you say it on the news often enough.” Looking back at Sam, he tried to explain. “Usually around the time of a hearing or something, he says it to the victim’s family normally. From the way I take it, it means that he won’t rest until he finds justice for them. That he’ll stay with it until the bad guys are behind bars.

Raising an eyebrow at Horatio and catching his almost imperceptible shake of his head, Sam made a mental note to ask about it later. “So out of the goodness of your heart, you give us the name of someone you think will help us out? Come on, Mikey. If that was the case, why didn’t you just come out and say it?”

“Does it matter? You looked him up, contacted him, and now you’re working with him.”

Leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, “There’s more to it than that. Why Horatio?” She could see Santana starting to sweat. She decided to push harder. “Were you feeling guilty for getting Vinnie involved with something that put him in danger?”

His hands were shaking as he raised one to wipe the sweat from his brow. “I didn’t know that he’d be in danger. Hell, he was in New York! He never came down here. I only talked to him on the phone a couple of times.”

She kept her voice low, but accusing. “Yeah, and those couple of times got him kidnapped.” Moving back to the sofa to close the distance between them, Sam reclaimed her seat. “Let me ask you something else. What happened with your father that got you disbarred?” The shock in his eyes told her that she’d struck a nerve. “I looked you up, Mikey. You were one of the brightest top notch prosecutors in Miami. One minute you’re on top of the game, and then next you’re living in this little hole on the water and no one wants to even mention your name because it’s like it leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Why is that?”

Clearing his throat nervously, and looking from Sam to Horatio and back again, “My father has nothing to do with this.”

Horatio’s soft voice beside her almost made her jump. “I think you’re lying to us, Michael.”

Jumping on the opening, “Look, Mikey. Whatever your father got involved with, I don’t care unless it has something to do with what has happened to Vinnie.” Clasping her hands before her and bowing her head, “I’ll tell you what I know, and you fill in the blanks, alright?” Not waiting for a reply, “I know your father got involved with some nasty people either from Central or South America. I know these people had a serious beef with Castro and the way he ran things. What I’m assuming is, and I admit that I have no proof of this since all records are sealed beyond my reach, is that somewhere along the line, this group or who ever it is may have tried to implement a hit against Castro. Thing is, since the old man is still alive, I’d have to say that what ever they planned to do, failed.” Looking Santana in the eye, “How am I doing so far?”

How he wished that his hands were the only things that were shaking now. She was close. Damn close. Nodding slowly, “I don’t know how you even got that much. I’m not sure I want to know.” Running a hand through his hair, Michael stood and walked to the small kitchen area. Opening the refrigerator and pulling out a beer, “Do either of you want anything?” Watching them shake their heads, Santana returned to his chair. “Listen, why don’t you just ask what you really want to know? We both know this is just sugar coating. What do you want to know?”

She hadn’t been expecting him to play ball so easily. Maybe he was feeling guilty. Softening her tone, “Michael…” She decided to give the Mikey a break. “Alright, I’ll be honest with you. The main thing I want to know is, what’s the connection between your father and Guzman? Beyond that, where do the Los Manos Blancas fit into all this?”

“Where’d you hear that name?”

“The Blancas? They left their calling card at Vinnie’s the night he was taken.” Watching all the color drain from Santana’s face, “Tell me.”

Staring at the beer bottle in his hand, he popped the cap and took a long swallow in an attempt to calm his nerves. When he spoke, his voice stuttered and almost squeaked. Coughing and clearing his throat, “Guzman leads the group that my father was tied up in. He said he never met Guzman though. You’re right about the hit attempt. My father wasn’t a part of the attack itself, but he supplied information to some of the members. When they were caught, he was arrested too. I did everything I could to protect my father, and in the process, I lost my license, my business, my job.” Draining the bottle in his hand, he set it on the floor beside him. “After that, I decided to try to go after Guzman myself. My father was feeding me Intel about some of Guzman’s actions. That’s how I found out about the laundering and the illegal immigration. Thing is, the immigration apparently runs both ways.”

That got her attention as well as Horatio’s as he suddenly sat forward and narrowed his eyes dangerously. “What is that suppose to mean?”

“The laundering ties in with his drugs he’s moving. The fields are somewhere in Central America, that’s where Guzman’s from. He brings in illegals to works for him here, and he ‘relocates’ some from here to put them to work in his fields.”

Shaking her head trying to make sense of it all, “Why bother kidnapping people from here to take down there? There aren’t enough to work the fields down there that he has to ‘outsource’?”

Lowering his head, “It’s mostly druggies and people that have crossed him.” Looking up sadly, “A lot of the runaways that end up on the streets around Miami end up hooked on drugs. Most of those come from Guzman. The ones that are really hooked are the ones that he makes an offer to. You work for him in his fields and he gets you off the streets and you get all the dope you want.” Passing a hand over his eyes and taking a shaky breath, “I can’t confirm all of that though. A lot of it came from my father before I was disbarred. Of course I couldn’t exactly look into it myself, so I started calling around trying to get the Feds involved. They blew me off because there was no evidence.”

Sitting back on the sofa and leaning her head back, Sam stared blankly at the ceiling. “Then you got in contact with my Director and explained it all to him, and he was nice enough to put you in touch with an Agent that would help you.”

Seeing the pain flash on Sam’s face, Santana shook his head helplessly. “I’m sorry, I really am. I didn’t know anything like this was going to happen.”

Reaching over to cover her hand with his own, Horatio glanced her way before looking at Santana. “What about the Blancas? Where do they fit in?”

“Guzman’s hired dogs of war. They do his dirty work for him and there’s no trail back to him from them. I know, I’ve looked.”

Squeezing Sam’s hand, Horatio cocked his head and studied the floor at his feet. “Then how do you know they work for him?”

Her voice small, “His father.” Staring down at her hand in Horatio’s, “Are they in Miami, Michael?”

“I don’t know. My father is lost to me now so I don’t have any more information to give you.” Seeing the question on Sam’s face, “He was killed.”

Her voice was sincere, “I’m sorry, Michael. I really am.” Sharing a moment of silence, she asked quietly, “If they’re not based in Miami, whether they’re here or not, where do they call home?”

“El Salvador.” Sighing, “That’s all I know.”

Rising from the sofa and walking to the refrigerator, Sam pulled out another beer and popped the cap. Returning to the sofa and offering it to Santana, “I’m sorry about your father. Frank is in town. He got in a little while ago. I’m sure he’ll stop by tomorrow to figure out what he needs to do to get this whole Guzman thing started.”

Accepting the bottle, “Will you be coming with him?”

A ghost of a smile playing at her lips, “Probably not. Unless I come across something else that needs clarification, I don’t think you have anything else to give me. I’m going after Vinnie, and Frank is here to see about bringing the Bureau down on Guzman. We’re running different shows even though our objective now seems to be the same.” Walking to the door, “Guess we’ll see who gets to him first. One of us will bust him and bring him in on charges, and the other will end up putting him six feet under. You decide who gets which honor.” Stepping outside with Horatio quick on her heels, Sam walked away from Santana with the hopes of never having to deal with him again.

Chapter Text

Driving back to the house, her mind was reeling. So it did all lead back to this Guzman character. El Salvador. She’d never even been to Canada, and now she had to plan for El Salvador?

“You’re not going to ask, are you?”

Horatio’s soft voice broke through her thoughts and brought her back to the present. “Ask about what?” Looking across at him, his face was blank giving no indication as to what he was talking about. Thinking for a second, Sam shook her head. “You mean what Michael said about why he sent us to you?”

Keeping his eyes on the road, Horatio sighed lightly. “He was right for the most part about the ‘we never close.’ Somewhere along the lines it became a mantra to me. It just came out one day and it’s stuck ever since.”

Ok, so she was curious. “So how did it just come out one day?”

He could remember every aspect of the case that had started it all. “We got a call from a distraught mother that couldn’t find her daughter. They’d had a fight and the girl had run off. Apparently she’d done it before but had always came home in a day or so after they both had a chance to cool down.”

Watching the waves rolling up on the beach as they drove home, “But she never came home.”

Shaking his head, “Two days had gone by and she hadn’t heard from her daughter. So of course we sent out an APB on all lines, and we finally got a hit. Someone found a body in the Glades. A young woman. The woman’s daughter was seventeen. Her birthday was four days after her mother contacted us. She never saw her eighteenth birthday.”

The pain in his voice made Sam turn and look at him. His eyes were haunted and she knew he saw the girl’s body in his mind still. “Horatio, I’m sorry.”

Flipping a hand off the wheel to wave away her apology, he continued his story. “She’d been raped, beaten, and then they killed her. Strangled her and dumped her naked body in the Glades hoping the gators would find her before anyone else could.” Clenching the wheel, his knuckles turned white. “When we got there… Alexx was already there and had her covered. There wasn’t much to go on, and it was slow going. That mother came by my office every day and apologized every day when she left saying she was sorry she was getting in our way so much but that she just wanted to find the men that had done that to her baby. I promised her that there was nothing to apologize for and that I would do everything I could to find them and bring them to justice.”

Reaching over to lay a hand lightly on his arm, “You do that a lot, don’t you?” Catching the question in his eyes, “You get personally involved.” Dropping her hand to her lap and looking out the window, her voice faded, “Vinnie does the same thing.”

Studying Sam’s profile for a moment, before turning his attention back to the traffic around them, “Then we lucked out. We found the men responsible and they were charged. I wasn’t planning on going to the trial since I wasn’t needed to testify, but the day before the trial the mother showed up and asked if I would be there. So I agreed to go. The trial was quick. The jury came back with a guilty ruling before anyone could even react in the courtroom. They were given life.” Slowing down as they approached his street, “Afterwards the press was outside the courtroom when we all left and they wanted to get statements. The mother was pretty emotional still and she asked me if it would be alright if she came around every now and then just to talk, and I told her that she would always be welcome. That the door to me and my team was always open.”

“Ok, but that’s not quite ‘never closed’.”

Smiling faintly, “No, it’s not. She came up with it actually. She had tears in her eyes and she just looked at me and said ‘So you never close?’ Something in the way she said it… it struck something inside, and I remember shaking my head to her and saying ‘no, we never close’.”

“And it stuck?”

Nodding as he pulled up in front of the house, “The press jumped all over it as soon as I said it. So I had to think fast. It came to represent a promise to the victims and their families that we never close, that we won’t walk away, that we won’t stop looking until the criminals were caught and brought to justice. That we would be there for them all through the investigation and even after the case was closed, our doors would still be open to them.”

Looking up at the house, Sam swallowed hard. “But it meant more than just that.”

Removing the keys from the ignition, Horatio nodded. “To anyone that thought about perpetrating a crime in Miami, it was a warning and a promise. It was a warning that if they did something illegal, that we were going to look for them. It was a promise that once we started looking, we wouldn’t give up until they were brought in.” Glancing over and seeing her eyes glisten before she could look away, “Sam…”

Holding up a hand, she needed a minute. “I’m alright.” Looking back at Horatio with the concern in his eyes, she gave him a weak smile as her eyes burned with unshed tears. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

Glancing at the house, “There’s so much you don’t know about me, and a lot of it I wish I could tell you, but I don’t know how to.” Sam knew that Uncle Mike and Frank would be wondering what they were doing just sitting in the Hummer, and she figured at least one of them would be coming out to check on them soon. “For being a friend. For being someone I can trust, and believe me, there’s only a select few that I truly trust in my life. For giving me hope that somehow I’m going to be able to find Vinnie and bring him home.” Looking back at Horatio, a single tear from each eye rolled down her cheeks. “For never closing.”

He knew more about her than she realized thanks to his late night talk with Dan, but he couldn’t let her know that. If and when she was ready, she would tell him her story. He wanted to reach out and pull her to him, to comfort her, to protect her from everything and everyone that was out to hurt her and her family, but there was more about him that she didn’t know and he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to find the courage to tell her. So instead of holding her, he slowly reached up and brushed the tears from her cheeks. “I made you a promise, Sam. I won’t break it.”

Drawing a shaky breath and wiping her eyes, she nodded and gave him a small smile. “I know. Thank you for that too.” Checking her watch, “I think we should get inside before Frank sends the search and rescue dogs out to check on us. Everyone should be getting here soon anyway.” Stepping from the Hummer, “Horatio, you’re the only one that knows any of what happened with Kevin today, so I’m asking that you keep it to yourself until I have a chance to go over everything with everyone later.”

Walking around the front of the Hummer and crossing the yard with Sam, “Alright. Let’s get inside and see what’s going on.”

***

Raising an eyebrow as Sam and Horatio walked through the door, Frank folded his arms over his chest. He’d heard the Hummer pull up, and when they hadn’t come inside, he’d looked out the window to see them sitting there talking.

Rolling her eyes, Sam stepped around him and walked to the dining room. “Relax, Frank. I’m fine. Michael’s still alive. Horatio didn’t have to shoot me for killing him.” Frowning slightly as Uncle Mike mimicked Frank’s look, “Would you two knock it off?” Dropping her voice and leaning over Uncle Mike’s shoulder, “We were talking, ok? Now let it go, please?”

Reaching up to pat her hand resting on his shoulder, “Should I be worried?”

Sighing lightly, “I can’t tell him about my past if that’s what you mean. I don’t know how to.”

Tipping his head to look back at her, “Are you sure you want to?”

Shaking her head, Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. Something inside tells me that I should, but…” Leaning over to rest her chin on his shoulder as Frank and Horatio walked into the room, “So what have you two been up to while we’ve been out?”

So she didn’t want to talk about it around Frank. Ok, he could respect that. “Just letting Frank in on what’s been going on since we were called out of here. I read through what little you and Eric were able to pull up on Guzman, and I showed him the video with the facial links to those we were able to identify. Other than that, it’s your show for the most part tonight unless Calleigh or Eric were able to turn up anything else.”

“So what did you get from Santana?”

Checking the time, Sam straightened and pulled a chair closer to Uncle Mike. “I’ll tell you the same time I tell everyone else, Frank. Relax. They should be here soon.” Ignoring Frank’s annoyed look, and catching Horatio’s attention, “Should we order now, or wait and see what everyone wants?”

Reaching for the phone, Horatio shrugged and hit the speed dial. “We can order now. Unless you guys want something special, I was thinking about getting a plain cheese, a sausage, a veggie, and a garlic. That should cover everyone’s tastes.” Turning away to place the order, Horatio finally hung up and returned to the table. Smiling innocently, “What? Even I have late nights when I don’t want to cook. Besides, they have the best pizza in town, and they deliver fast.”

Shaking her head at his boyish charm, Sam reached for her laptop and signed on. “I want to get everything set up so we’re not wasting time when everyone gets here.” Glancing over the top of the laptop, “Frank, why don’t you leave the briefcase for now? If Calleigh or Eric wants to go through it all later, that’s fine. I’m content with just letting them know we have it for now and that we can drop it off at the lab in the morning.” Smiling at the sound of the doorbell, “I believe our guests are here.” Following Horatio as he walked to the front door, Sam pulled Frank along with her. Hissing in his ear, “Remember, Frank. Be nice.”

Smiling widely as Horatio opened the door, Eric stepped aside to allow Calleigh and Alexx to enter first. Bringing up the rear, Eric closed the door behind him. “How’s it going, Sam? H?”

Throwing a warning look at Frank, Sam stepped in front of the newly arrived group. “Frank McPike, may I introduce you to Horatio’s team, his family? This is Eric, and Calleigh. They’re Horatio’s CSI’s. And this is Alexx, the main M.E. that worked on the bodies that came in on the plane.” Resting a hand on Frank’s arm, “Guys, this is Frank. My boss and, for all intents and purposes, a father to me.” Waiting for the handshakes to finish, Sam dropped her voice and leaned toward the group. Winking to them so that Frank couldn’t see, “Don’t worry about him too much. Frank tends to take some time to grow on you. He’s really a pussycat underneath all that doom and gloom exterior.”

“Baby girl, where’s Dan hiding?”

Laughing and ushering everyone toward the dining room, “He’s in there. We’ve got the laptops up and running. I wanted to get everything set up before you all got here.” Calling ahead of the group, “Uncle Mike, we’ve got guests.”

Looking up from the laptop as Alexx stepped into the room, Uncle Mike’s face beamed. “Alexx, you shouldn’t have.” Starting to rise, he was waved back.

“Don’t get up on my account.” Walking around the table, Alexx bent down and wrapped her arms loosely around his neck in a hug before stepping back. “Baby, I have friends that owe me a thing or two, so it was nothing.” Looking around the room and planting her hands on her hips, “Now do you want to tell me where you’re hiding it?”

Chuckling and taking up a position behind Uncle Mike’s chair, Sam grinned. “It’s in the truck, Alexx. Uncle Mike and Frank have decided to stay at the safe house, so it’s loaded up already. Thanks, Alexx.” Looking around the group, “Alright, this is a fill in session. I have the most information so I’ll take the end. Frank, you’re dealing with Santana yourself, and I’m hoping that whatever you get from him that we can use to find Vinnie, you’ll share when you get it.”

“Wait, he’s not working with you on this?”

Shaking her head at Eric, “Uncle Mike and Frank were pulled off the case, and now Frank is reassigned to Miami but only to work with Santana to go after Guzman. We’re after the same guy, but how we go about it is going to be different. Frank has to come up with evidence to bring him down for laundering, illegal immigration, and whatever they turn up on him. We on the other hand, only have to deal with finding him so that I can find Vinnie.” Looking back at Frank, “So you might as well get comfortable, this is purely catch up for you.” Waving Alexx to a seat, “Unless you have anything else from the bodies, then you’re getting caught up on what the rest of us have come up with as well.”

Holding up a disc, Calleigh tries to offer a smile. “I have a copy of the audio. The original video is securely locked up in evidence.”

“Perfect.” Glancing at Horatio leaning casually against the wall, “I know you were working your own case all day, so this is merely Intel for you as well. Although you already know about the chat with Santana, this will fill you in on the rest.”

Waving a hand toward the table, Horatio’s voice was soft and calm, “The table is yours. Run this the way you need to.”

Nodding her thanks, “Alright, Eric. You first. Anything new on Guzman or Santana?”

Pulling out a chair for Calleigh, and claiming the seat beside to her, Eric smiled and nodded. “Yeah, got a couple address hits for some companies that Guzman has ties to here in Miami. I took a look into them, but they’re pretty clean.” Looking at Uncle Mike, and passing him a sheet of folded paper, “I don’t know if you can get anything else on them, but from what I could pull, they’re straight forward blue collar. They pay their taxes on time, no complaints ever brought against them, nothing. Another dead end.”

Dropping a hand on Uncle Mike’s shoulder as he unfolded the paper and set it aside, Sam glanced at it briefly. “I’m not considering anything at this point to be a dead end. I don’t care how small of a connection there is, we’re going to follow up on it and work it until there’s no doubt whether it’s a dead end or not.” Watching Uncle Mike tackle the keyboard, “Anything?”

Letting out an slightly irritated sigh and glancing over his shoulder, “Sam, sit down. You have as much to listen to as everyone else, and it’s going to take some time to dig into these. Relax.” Reaching up to grab her wrist, his eyes softened, “Relax. If there’s anything to these, I’ll find it.”

Nodding, and taking a seat, “Yeah, alright. Sorry. I’m just wired.” Shaking her head to clear it, “Anything else, Eric?”

“No, not really. I tried to dig up Santana and his father, but I’m hitting a brick wall there. Everything is sealed and I’m having a hard time getting anything.”

Waving her hand to dismiss the subject, “Don’t worry about it. I went over and talked to Santana earlier. I’ve got information on that.” Raising an eyebrow to see if there was more, and getting a shake of his head, Sam turned to Calleigh. “Alright, Calleigh, let’s have it.”

Handing over the disc and waiting for Sam to load it in the laptop, “I had our audio team go over this with a fine tooth comb. Once they digitized it and cleaned up the pops and crackles from the tape, it was easier to work with.” Pausing while the disc loaded, “There’s two different files on there. The one is the full audio and there wasn’t much to it. Mostly it was the reporter interviewing some of the people but the answers were all the same. No one saw anything, no one heard anything.”

Letting some of the original track play, Sam dropped her head to her hands. “That doesn’t surprise me. It was early evening. The neighborhood is generally quiet anyway, and it was dinner time for most of them. Most of his neighbors wouldn’t have known anything was wrong until they heard the sirens anyway. Even though Uncle Mike and Frank said that the TV and stereo were both turned on and the volume was up on both, that wouldn’t have raised any suspicion among the neighborhood. Vinnie’s had some rough cases and there’s been times he’s gone home and blasted the stereo just to chase away the demons.” Leaning back in her chair, “Besides, no one knew he was a Fed. They all thought he was a tough guy, a Wiseguy working for the mob. No one bothered him, and no one ever bothered to call the cops on him even when he was blasting away at one or two in the morning.”

“So they were scared of him?”

“Of Vince?” Laughing at Calleigh, Frank shook his head. “Hardly. They may not have liked his reputation, but he was a model citizen in his neighborhood. Carried groceries for his neighbors, helped little old ladies cross the street. They were wary because of his ties, but they liked him because he went out of his way to help them when he could.”

There was pride in Frank’s voice and Sam smiled. “They never accepted money from him, and they wouldn’t let him buy groceries for them, but if they needed their car fixed, he’d take his toolbox over to their garage and work on it for them for nothing. If they needed work done in the yard, or something needed repairing, he was there for them. They accepted that kind of help because he was a good guy.”

Smiling sadly, Calleigh shook her head in disbelief. “It sounds like he was a good person.”

“Is. Sounds like he is a good person, Calleigh.” Stepping away from the wall to place his hands flat on the table, Horatio froze everyone to the spot as his gaze traveled around to each one of them. “Until we know otherwise, we’re going to assume that Vince is alive. Same as any other case we’ve worked. Until we have the evidence that says otherwise, this is a rescue, not a recovery. Is that understood?”

Resting her hand over Horatio’s, Alexx nodded. “Of course, Baby. And we don’t have anything yet saying otherwise.”

Looking around the table and receiving the same nods of acknowledgement, Horatio stepped back to his place. “Good. Now continue.”

Pausing to collect her thoughts, Calleigh pointed to Sam. “If you go to the other file, you’re going to find some rather interesting material. I had the boys in audio filter out the background noises, filter out the reporter and those that she was talking to. What’s left is background people talking. Now we were only running audio and I didn’t have the video playing at the time, so it took me a while to place some of what was captured, but there’s one part that I had to go back to the lab and watch the video for just to make sure.”

Clicking on the second file, Sam waited for it to load. “What am I looking for, Calleigh?”

“Can you run the video while you have the audio running?”

Glancing at Uncle Mike, “Can you put the search on hold so that we can run the video on yours?”

Saving his work and filing it away, Uncle Mike pulled up the video without argument. “Alright, what am I looking for?”

Rising from her seat and walking around the table to stand behind Uncle Mike and Sam, “Alright, let’s work with the video for a second and get it where it needs to be, and then we’ll do the audio.” Reaching past Uncle Mike’s shoulder and racing through the video, Calleigh paused it and turned to Sam. “Ok, this really threw me off. I’m going to warn you though, there’s not much and there’s really no way to trace this, but I think it’s something you need to hear.”

Turning her laptop over to Calleigh, “Do it.”

Waving everyone closer, Calleigh waited until everyone was crowded behind her. Pointing at the video, “Alright, that’s our dead body in the morgue. We know that he had on Vince’s shirt and his crucifix, right? Well, I have to admit that I missed it when I watched this the first couple of times, but…” Hitting the play button, they watched as he pulled a cell phone from his pocket and raised it to his ear. Hitting the audio track, “Remember, I heard this and had to go back and look through the video. We only have one side of the conversation, but it’s better than nothing.”

His voice was irritated, “Yeah, what?… No, I’m still at the house… Yeah I know what time it is.” His lip curling in the video, “… I wanted to watch them crawl all over this place for a while… They won’t find anything, it’s clean in there…” Turning away from the camera, “How’s he doing?… Don’t worry about. I’ll be there… You won’t leave without me. Just get the plane started, I’m on my way.” Putting his cell phone in his pocket, he walked away.

Closing her eyes, her breathing uneven, Sam clenched her hands into fists and rested them on the table. Growling under her breath, “He was there the entire time. They had Vinnie, and that bastard was there, in the crowd, the entire time.”

“Sam, there’s no way to know where he came from either. The crowd was there before the reporter showed up.”

Forcing herself to remain calm, Sam slowly opens her fists. “Calleigh, did you try to backtrack in the video and see if you could pinpoint when he came in or where he came from?”

Resting her hands on the backs of the chairs, “I’m sorry, Sam. Dan’s right. He was apparently there before the reporter got there, or at least before she started filming the crowd.”

Looking up as the doorbell rang, and remembering the family rules, Sam stopped the audio and closed the laptop. “Sounds like dinner is here. Uncle Mike, close up shop for now and let’s get something to eat.”

Walking down the hallway, Frank yelled over his shoulder, “I’ve got this, don’t worry about it.” Opening the door to a young teen dressed in jeans and a pizzeria polo shirt holding stacked pizza boxes balanced on his hand, “What do I owe you?”

Staring at Frank, the kid looked him up and down before narrowing his eyes. “You’re not H. Where’s H?” Poking his head around Frank, the kid yelled down the hallway, “Yo! H! You in there?” Grinning widely with his teeth flashing as Horatio walked up behind Frank, “There you are, H. Man, what’s going on? You having a party or something?”

Frowning at the kid in front of him, Frank opened his wallet. “Yeah, something. Now what do I owe you?”

Casting a criticizing eye on Frank, “You didn’t order it. My business is with H.”

Dropping a hand on Frank’s shoulder, Horatio gently pulled him back from the door. “I’ve got this, Frank.” Turning to the teen outside, Horatio took up his normal stance. Turned to the side, head cocked low, hands at his side, he gave the boy a lopsided grin. “That was rather rude, Charlie. Frank is a guest of mine. I have some friends from out of town visiting for a few days.”

Dropping his eyes to the pavement at his feet, Charlie muttered an apology to Frank.

His smile fading, Horatio gently berated the young man. “Charlie, if you’re going to apologize and mean it, then speak to him as a man. You’re not apologizing to my sidewalk.”

Slowly raising his eyes to Horatio and seeing the smile gently turn up his lips, Charlie nodded and raised his head to look over Horatio’s shoulder. “Sir, I’m sorry for my behavior. I didn’t know you were friends with H. I hope you can accept my apology.”

Raising an eyebrow at the sudden change in the boy, Frank nodded. “Apology accepted but the behavior is still unacceptable coming from a delivery boy.” Turning away at a look from Horatio, Frank passed Sam on the way back to the dining room. Dropping his head close to hers, “I don’t know who that kid is, but his attitude leaves something to be desired.”

Walking down the hallway to stop beside Horatio, Sam smiled at the boy outside. Turning to Horatio, “You have this?” Catching his nod and smile, “Would you like to take them inside?”

“In a minute.” Pulling out his wallet, Horatio turned his attention to Charlie. “What’s the damage tonight, Charlie?”

Smiling shyly at Sam, Charlie nodded to Horatio to move closer. Leaning toward Horatio’s ear, “Pizza’s on me if you get me date with the hot chick.”

Chuckling and stepping away, Horatio clapped Charlie on the shoulder, “Son, she’s too old for you.” Seeing the doubt in the boy’s eyes, Horatio whispered, “She’s over thirty.” Watching Charlie’s eyes widen, “See? I told you too old for you. Now what’s the damage?”

Back to business. Standing straight and offering the boxes to Sam, Charlie pulled a receipt from his pocket. “H, for you it’s the employee discount. Thirty five even.” Showing Horatio the receipt, he slipped it back in his pocket.

Handing Charlie forty dollars and then another twenty, Horatio held out his hand. “Everything’s going good with you, Charlie? No problems at work or at school?” Watching the boy pocket the bill in his one pocket and then add the extra twenty directly to his wallet, “If you need anything, you have my card still, right?”

Beaming widely, and shaking Horatio’s hand, “No worries, H. All the grades are up, I’m thinking about going out for the basketball team, and the job is going great.” Hooking a thumb over his shoulder at the beat up car sitting at the end of the driveway, “Good thing I’m saving my paychecks too because that old thing is starting to act up.” Checking his watch, Charlie bowed his head briefly to Sam, “Ma’am.” Turning on his heel and racing back to his car, “I have more deliveries to make, H. I’ll catch you later.” Climbing into his car and carefully backing out onto the street, he roared out of sight.

Closing the door and taking the boxes from Sam, Horatio shook his head smiling. “Charlie’s a good kid. Just made some bad decisions.” Walking into the dining room and depositing the boxes on the table, “Time to eat.”

Pizza was obviously a different affair than regular dinner as Sam stood back watching the team rip open the boxes and help themselves. Looking up at Horatio with a slice of cheese in her hand, Alexx smiled. “Was that Charlie I heard out there?”

“It was, Alexx. He said he’s doing good. He wants to go out for basketball.”

Handing Sam a plate, Calleigh grinned. “Aww, he’s such a good kid, Horatio. I’m glad everything’s working out for him.”

Accepting the plate and waving her hand toward the boxes, “Now this is more like it. This is like pizza night at our place.” Snagging a couple slices, Sam walked over to stand beside Horatio. “So what’s his story? I’m sure he has one since he seems so enthralled with you.”

Pointing a finger at Horatio, Alexx frowned. “You eat. I can handle this one.” Looking up at Sam, “Charlie’s a good kid, but he was dealt a rough hand. His father was sent to prison when he was just a little kid for armed robbery, assault, and murder. His mother was a single mom trying to make ends meet but when she lost her job, she lost all hope. Turned to drugs and alcohol. Poor Charlie was eleven when the state took him away from her and put him in a group home. He started acting out, hanging out with the wrong kind of people and was getting into trouble all the time. He ran away from so many homes. Finally he just decided to rough it out on the streets. Poor baby boy, he was only fourteen, Sam. Fourteen and on his own.”

Looking at Horatio, Sam raised an eyebrow. “So you found him on the streets?”

Picking up the story from Alexx, Eric shook his head. “Not really. Charlie got mixed up with a really bad street gang. They went in and tried to knock over a gas station one night. Really messed up the owner and the attendant on duty. Somehow one of them managed to dial 911. H was in the area and was one of the officers that responded. He saw Charlie take off from the scene and chased him down. When he caught him, Charlie swore up and down that he had nothing to do with it, that he hadn’t even known that the others had the robbery planned.”

Resting a hand on Eric’s arm, Calleigh smiled warmly. “Horatio believed him. He was arrested with the others, but Horatio made us go through all the evidence and when the hearing came up, we were able to prove that Charlie played no part in the attacks other than he was there with the others at the time. He was given probation with community service and sent to another group home. He was supposed to check in with his parole officer every morning to find out where he was supposed to go, and he was supposed to call back every night from the group home.”

Turning to Horatio, Sam laughed lightly. “Sounds like you’ve got the entire team wrapped up with Charlie. So what happened?”

Waving his hand at the others to finish eating, Horatio offered a small smile. “Well, Charlie still went to see his mom from time to time. I got a call from his parole officer one night just before I left the office. He said Charlie had never checked in that morning and that he was going to have to put out an APB on him and have him arrested. I asked him to give me time to find Charlie before he did anything, and he agreed to give me twenty four hours. I finally tracked him down. His mother was taken to a hospital out of the area and he hadn’t even thought about it when he was told, he just went out and found a ride to the hospital to be with her.” Pausing and placing his empty plate on the table, “She had overdosed. She was still alive when Charlie got to the hospital, but she was in bad shape. She died in his arms shortly after I arrived.” Passing a hand over his eyes, and taking a deep breath, “I called his officer, explained what had happened, and he was very lenient with Charlie. Said that so long as I stayed with Charlie, he wouldn’t take any action against him, and he wouldn’t put it in his file. On the drive back to Miami, he asked me to stop at the beach. He wanted to take a walk.”

Everyone had stopped eating and they were all listening. Even though his team had gone through it and knew the story, they were still moved.

Bowing his head, “He asked if he could talk to me. So we went for a walk. He said he knew where his father was and why he was in prison. He said he didn’t want to turn out like his father. He said he knew his mom had tried her best, but he didn’t want to turn out like his mother either. He just sat down in the sand and stared out over the water looking lost. He finally looked up at me and there was such hopelessness in his eyes. He said, ‘H, what am I going to do? I’m just a kid. I don’t think I can do this.’ I told him if he was serious about turning his life around, then I’d help him.”

Swallowing past a lump in her throat, Sam blinked away tears forming in her eyes. “So you got him a job delivering pizza?”

Laughing lightly, Horatio looked at her. His eyes were moist. “Charlie’s a good kid. I found him a good family that had been trying to adopt for a while, and he now has a family. I made sure he went back to school and when he turned sixteen, I talked to a friend of mine and got him a job delivering pizza. That wreck he’s driving around in, he bought that with his own money. He was actually delivering pizzas strapped to the back of his bicycle so he could save enough to get a pair of wheels.”

Glancing at Alexx, Sam’s eyes twinkled. “Completely selfless.” Looking back at Horatio, “So you order pizza, what, once or twice a week? Usually have friends over to share a pie?”

Gracing Sam with a shy smile, Horatio nodded. “Something like that.”

Thinking about the bill and the tip, Sam raised an eyebrow. “So what was the actual bill? And do you always tip so well?”

Looking innocent, Horatio’s eyes shined. “The bill was thirty five dollars and seventy four cents. And yes, when Charlie delivers, the tip is always good. He’ll get the four dollars and change as his tip from the shop, but I always give him something more to put toward a better ride.”

Shaking her head in bewilderment, “And he’s ok with that? You just handing out money to him?”

“Actually no. We discussed it once, and I told him if he keeps his grades up, stays out of trouble, keeps me in the loop, and delivers my pizza while it’s still hot, then it’s worth a good tip. His parents give him an allowance, but it’s not much. So once a week he gets a little something extra.” Holding up a hand, “Yes, his parents know. The money I give him goes straight to his bank account and it’s set aside for a better car or he can put it toward college if he decides to go that route.”

She knew that Uncle Mike and Frank were as impressed as she was by the looks on their faces. Looking around the table, Sam smiled as she realized that Horatio wasn’t the only one that got personally involved in certain cases. Charlie had found a place in all their hearts, and she was moved. Reaching out to lightly touch Horatio’s arm, she smiled up at him. “You really are a selfless man, Horatio.”

Covering her hand with his own, “I made a promise to Charlie, and I made a promise to you, Sam. Now let’s clean this all up and get back to work. There’s a lot to cover here still.”

Chapter Text

Nodding to Uncle Mike as Alexx and Calleigh cleared away the pizzas and plates, “Go ahead and set them both up. Let Calleigh use mine to update everything. Frank, grab a seat.” Holding her hand out to the table, “Horatio, why don’t you have a seat too? I have a lot to go over.”

“Take your time, Sam.”

Smiling thinly at Uncle Mike, she nodded vaguely. Waiting for everyone to claim a seat and turn toward her, “First things first. Frank was able to get me a copy of the results that the Bureau dug up on the evidence they collected from Vinnie’s. He says it’s not much, but he has it. Uncle Mike also brought copies of the photos that were taken at the scene as well.” Glancing at Calleigh, “I was going to bring them earlier, but we forgot them. They’re now in Frank’s briefcase with the evidence results. If you want to look through them later, that’s fine. Otherwise, we’ll bring it by in the morning.”

Looking eager to get a glimpse, Calleigh shrugged. “Tomorrow will be fine. I have a feeling this could take a while getting caught up and I don’t want to hurry anything just to check it all out.”

“I’ll make sure Dan has the case in the morning. I have a meeting with Santana early, but I’m sure he and Sam will be by the lab and they can bring it all with them.”

Smiling at Frank, Sam was just happy that he was playing nice with everyone. “Thanks, Frank.” Leaning back against the wall and crossing her arms over her chest, Sam lowered her head and took a deep breath before looking around the table. “Alright, I’ve done some thinking since afternoon, and I’ve come to a decision. I want to bring you all up to speed with the conversation I had with Kevin, and then the chat I had with Santana. After that, I have something else I want to say, and I think it’s going to surprise some people, but it’s something I have to do.”

Narrowing his eyes in concern, Uncle Mike studied her face. No, she wasn’t going to tell them about her past, but he wasn’t sure what she had in mind.

“So anyway, now that I’ve talked to Santana, there really isn’t a lot from Kevin that needs to be retold. Basically he said that Santana’s father had been involved with a questionable group, but he couldn’t say if it was Guzman or not.” Glancing at Horatio and Uncle Mike, “After you two left, I wanted to know about the connection between Guzman and the Blancas.” Smiling faintly at Frank, “He could neither confirm nor deny that they work together.”

“So they do.”

Shrugging and hooking her thumbs in her pockets, “That’s why I went to Santana. I wanted to know for certain, and I was going to get an answer one way or another.” Tossing her head toward Uncle Mike and Calleigh, “This is where you two may want to start taking notes. Frank, you may want to pay close attention too, since you’re going to be working with him.” Pausing to collect her thoughts, “Ok, so his father ended up getting involved with a group led by Guzman. When the group set up a hit attempt on Castro, they failed miserably and were arrested. Santana’s father was taken in too, even though he was never actually a part of the team attempt. They snagged him for providing Intel, and Santana did everything he could to protect his father. In the process it got him disbarred.”

Quietly excusing himself from the table, Horatio moved toward the kitchen. Offering a ghost of a smile to Sam, “I’ve heard this already. I’m bringing drinks in here for everyone, so just keep going.” Disappearing into the kitchen, Horatio could still hear the details.

“After that, Santana decided to go after Guzman. His father was feeding him information, but it wasn’t enough to get the Feds involved. Eventually he got in contact with my Director and he put Santana in contact with Vinnie.” Pausing as Horatio walked back in with a stack of glasses in one hand and a pitcher of tea in the other, “Sour please, if you’re pouring.” Accepting a glass as Horatio nodded and poured one for her, Sam took a long drink before setting the glass back on the table. Watching Horatio duck back into the kitchen, Sam continued. “I finally got the connection I needed. The Blancas work for Guzman.” Flashing her eyes at Frank, “Watch your back, Frank. Santana’s father is dead and I’m going to guess that it’s because they caught him feeding information to his son who was feeding it to the Feds. I’m thinking they were ordered to take out Vinnie because he was getting too close to Guzman. Can’t be sure of that, but that’s what I’m thinking.”

“Are they here in Miami?”

Shaking her head, “I don’t know, Frank. That’s why I want everyone to be careful.” Waiting for Horatio to return to his seat, “And that’s what brings me to this last bit.” Looking at Uncle Mike and Calleigh, “You can put the laptops away for now. You won’t need them for this.” Looking around the table, Sam studied each face surrounding her. “Frank, Uncle Mike, this doesn’t have a lot to do with either of you, this is more for everyone else here. I’m just thinking that you two are the ones that are going to be the most surprised by what I’m going to say. All I ask is that you hear me out before you say anything, alright?” Watching the hesitant nods around her, “I know we had that nice little speech session at dinner yesterday, but this is something else. Horatio, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have made it this far on my own. Alexx, you’re the best. I don’t know who else I could have turned to to have them go over those bodies. Eric, Calleigh, without your help I’d still be digging on a computer looking for ties and I wouldn’t have known about the guy in the video, or the cell phone call he received.” Turning away from the table and running a nervous hand through her hair, Sam slipped Vinnie’s crucifix from under her shirt and wrapped her hand around it. Letting it fall against her chest, Sam turned slowly back to the table. “What I’m trying to say is, I want to thank you all for all you’ve done, but things are now getting even more dangerous than they were before. Now we know the ties, and if they’re in Miami, then you’re all in very real danger. I’m giving you all an out here.”

“Sam…”

“Sam, what the hell are you doing?”

Holding her hands up, she quieted Uncle Mike and Frank with a stare. “This is my show and if anyone is going to lay their life on the line for this, it’s going to be me.” Swallowing hard and looking at the shocked faces in front of her, “I don’t want to see any of you get hurt. I know Santana led us to you for help, and I know Horatio went out of his way to get part of his team assigned to this case, but if anything were to happen to any of you, I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself.”

Leaving her seat and walking around the table to stand in front of Sam, Alexx frowned at her. “Baby girl, I’m not about to speak for everyone else, and I know there isn’t a whole lot that I can do unless there are more bodies brought in to me, but I’m a part of this now.”

Looking at Eric and catching his eye and his nod, Calleigh stood and joined Alexx. “Alexx, I think it’s safe to say that you can speak for all of us on this. Sam, Eric and I didn’t ask to be assigned to this for the duration, but we’ve put enough time in already that it’s the only thing that I can think about at the moment.” Patting the gun on her hip, “Eric and I can take care of ourselves, and one of us can keep an eye on Alexx.” Looking over her shoulder, “Tell her, Horatio. Tell her that we’re all in this until the end.”

He understood why she’d offered them an out because then if they stayed, she wouldn’t blame herself if anything happened to them… or at least she’d try not to. He would have done the same thing. “You have their answers, Sam. Looks to me as if you’re stuck with this team whether you want them in danger or not. They know the risk, and they’re willing to stand by you.” Seeing the torn look in her eyes, he knew she was battling herself to accept their help. His voice soft enough to draw her eyes to his own, “You already have my promise, Sam. Don’t think you’re going to get rid of me, or my team, that easily.”

It was more than she could have asked for, and it terrified her thinking of them in danger because of her. Nodding swiftly and turning on her heel, Sam quickly left the room and walks out onto the back porch. The sky was clear and the moon was almost full. The salt in the air was so thick that she could almost taste it with every breath she took. Hearing Frank call her name as he walked down the hallway toward her, Sam stumbled down the steps and walked down the beach toward the water.

Stepping outside and watching Sam walk away from the house with her hands in her pockets and her shoulders slumped, Frank could only stare after her for a moment before slowly trailing after her. If things were indeed getting as dangerous as she thought, he wasn’t surprised in the least that she had given them the option to walk away. He was more surprised that knowing the danger, they had chosen to see it through. They had chosen to face the danger at her side. He had to admit that his level of respect for Horatio and his team was growing faster than he anticipated. Slowing his steps as Sam paused in front of him, “Sam?”

Bowing her head, “Frank, just give me a minute, will you please? I just needed some air to clear my head.”

“Clear your head, or compose yourself?” Watching her shoulders tremble, he stepped closer and rested his hands on her shoulders. “I know you weren’t expecting them to stay with you, and when you gave them the out, I was just as surprised. But they made their choice, Sam. You can’t think about what might happen. You have to think about what’s happening right now.”

Brushing Frank’s hand from her shoulder and stepping away, “You don’t get it, do you?” Turning to look at him, the pain in her eyes was evident. “Vinnie was the best the Bureau had and they still managed to get to him. What do you think their chances are, Frank? What are their chances of making it through this unscathed?” Walking away, “I’ll answer that for you. Pretty slim, Frank. Their chances are pretty slim. They have no idea what they’re up against, and I don’t want to see them get hurt. I wouldn’t be able to deal with that.”

He knew she didn’t want to think about it, but he had to get her in focus. “Sam, what about when it comes time to go after Vince and bring him home? You can’t do it alone.”

“I know.” Her voice sounded small against the sound of the waves breaking on the beach. “Uncle Mike already talked to me about it. He wants me think about taking Horatio with me. He says his service record is that good.”

“How good, Sam?”

Bowing her head, “Homicide, bomb squad, sniper training, and marksman. Uncle Mike was impressed and he wants me to talk to Horatio about going with me.”

“Are you going to?” She wanted her space so he stood his ground despite wanting to wrap her in his arms and protect her from everything she was facing.

The sigh that escaped her lips sounded wounded and desperate. “I don’t know. If he goes, then it puts him in even more danger than he’s in now. I don’t want him to get hurt, Frank.”

There was something in her voice that made him pause. “Oh, Sam. You care about him?”

Snapping her head around at the disapproving tone, “Don’t even start with me, Frank! Do you think this is easy for me? Do you think I want to go after Vinnie on my own? It’s a damn suicide mission, Frank! The Bureau wants nothing to do with this. They pulled you and Uncle Mike, and I’m doing this on my own. The only people who have done anything to help are a handful of locals that have no idea the level of danger they’re in at the moment and yet they refuse to walk away even though I held the door open for them.”

Trying to reason with her, Frank shook his head. “Sam, you told them of the danger. You offered them a chance to get out, and they made their choice. That’s their choice. You may care about them, but you can’t shoulder the blame if anything happens to them. You can’t do this on your own.” Slowly closing the distance between them, his voice skipped. “Sam, you’re like a daughter to me. I don’t want to see you try to go it alone. You don’t think you’d be able to handle it if they got hurt, but what do you think Dan and I would feel if anything happened to you?”

Turning and walking toward Frank, to stop mere inches in front of him, her hands were clenched at her sides. Through gritted teeth, “Do you honestly think I’m not scared? I know going after Vinnie is suicide. I know the chances of getting us both out of where ever he is, is between none and less than none. That scares the hell out of me, Frank. It terrifies me to think that I may not even be able to find him! But knowing my odds, I can’t bring in someone like Horatio to go with me. He has such an impact on those around him here in Miami, I can’t take him away from that.” Closing her eyes as they started to burn, “I can’t risk him, Frank. I just can’t.”

Reaching out to brush away a stray tear that had slipped down her cheek, “Sam, you can’t go alone. You know I can’t go with you, and there’s no way Dan can go in the field with you.”

He was going to be mad. She knew it, but she’d been thinking about it from day one. “Even if I don’t take Horatio, I won’t be going alone, Frank. I’ve been thinking about it since Uncle Mike called me saying Vinnie was missing.” Seeing the question in his eyes, “I have one person I can call. He’s the only one I know that’s crazy enough to go with me, and he owes me.”

He had no idea who she was talking about, until it dawned on him. His eyes widening and his nostrils flaring, “Sam, absolutely not! You are not getting that psycho involved in this. I am not about to work with that man.”

“You don’t have to work with him, Frank! Remember? This is my case, not yours. And he’s the only one that will do it.” He was also the only person she wouldn’t hesitate to put in harm’s way. She and Vinnie had laid their necks on the line for him, and he owed them. No, he owed her. Vinnie had already called in his marker. She could only hope that when it came time to call him, he’d answer. Looking up to the house as she faintly heard her name, she spied Horatio on the porch. Glancing over her shoulder, “Frank, let’s get back to the house. We can discuss this later.” Jogging across the sand, and bounding up the porch steps, “What’s wrong?”

Waiting impatiently for Frank to climb the steps, Horatio opened the door and ushered them inside. “I just got a call, Sam. A couple found a body on the beach. Uniforms are being sent now.”

Shaking her head, she didn’t understand. “You’re day shift though. Why call you?”

“H, Alexx is riding with Calleigh. I’m taking my Hummer over so we have both kits. We’ll meet you there.”

Momentarily ignoring Sam, Horatio nodded and dished out quick orders. “Make sure the uniforms secure the scene and no one goes near the body except for Alexx.” As Eric approached the front door, “Eric, keep your eyes open.”

Hearing Uncle Mike bustling around in the dining room, Sam hurried in to see what was going on. Watching as he secured both laptops and slid his own into its case, he glanced up. “Frank and I are going to the safe house. You go with Horatio and call me with details so that I can work things from our end too.” Nodding his head toward Frank, “Grab your briefcase, Frank. We’re going to the house.”

Watching Frank disappear into the living room, Sam held up her hand. “Hold it. What is going on?”

Handing Sam her jacket and picking up Uncle Mike’s laptop case for him, Horatio waved them all to the front door. “Sam, the body… they think it’s Kevin.”

If Horatio hadn’t been standing beside her, she would have hit the floor. Her knees gave out beneath her and she wavered. Stumbling against Horatio’s side, she could barely believe her ears.

Catching her by the elbow, Horatio slipped an arm around her waist, “Easy, Sam. I’ve got you. They don’t know for sure yet. That’s why they called me. They know he’s been in a couple of times to talk to you so they called in your team. Some of the night shift will be there, but the show is yours.” Handing the case to Frank as he slipped past them, “We’ll follow you over to the house to make sure the place is secure. After that, lock the place down and I’ll make sure Sam calls you.” Locking the door behind them, “Sam, get in the Hummer, we’re going to follow them over.”

Kevin. Her stomach lurched but she refused to be sick. Instead, she allowed her anger to take hold. Pulling away from Horatio and stepping to Uncle Mike’s side, she walked him to the truck and hugged him tight. “We’ll be right behind you.” Closing the door as he climbed inside, Sam rushed across the lawn to jump into the passenger seat of the Hummer as Frank roared out of the driveway and down the road.

Turning the Hummer around in a neighbor’s driveway, Horatio quickly closed the distance between them as they raced through the city. Arriving at the safe house, he left the Hummer running and leapt from the vehicle with his weapon at the ready. Holding up a hand to Frank, he easily caught the house key as it was thrown his way. “Sam, help them get the stuff out of the truck.”

“Too late for that.” Holding her own SIG in front of her and pointed slightly toward the ground, “Frank is already unloading the wheelchair and he can stack everything in the seat. Besides, I know the layout in there. Stay behind me and cover my back, H.” She almost paused as she realized what she had just called him. Not Lieutenant, not Horatio, just H. Catching his nod in the darkness, they covered the ground to the front door.

Slipping the key in the lock, Horatio slowly turned it and pushed open the door. Weapon held high, Horatio had to admit that Sam was good. As soon as he had started to turn the knob, she had dropped low and had raised her weapon. As the door had opened, she was already sweeping the room before he even stepped into the open doorway. Easing her way into the entry way, he followed her lead as she turned left and quickly and silently poked her head around the doorway to the kitchen. Holding her hand up, Horatio paused as she slipped inside. Hearing her open a drawer, he stepped closer.

Walking out of the kitchen, and handing Horatio a small flashlight, she flipped her own on with her left hand and pointed the beam low in front of her. Resting her right hand that held her weapon on her left wrist, Sam led the way through the house. Passing through the living room, and then moving to the two bedrooms and the bathroom, they quickly cleared the house. Flipping on the lights and tossing the flashlights on the sofa as Uncle Mike and Frank walked into the house, “It’s clear. I want you two to lock up as soon as we step outside. Get set up and be ready when I call.” Hugging them both tightly, “I love you both. I’ll call soon.” Nodding to Horatio as he stood off to the side, “Let’s go.”

Leaving the house and crossing the yard, he shook his head as Sam climbed into her seat and slammed the door. She was methodical. Doors opened all the way to the wall to make sure no one was behind them, one high and the other low crisscrossing to enter the rooms. He wasn’t sure he liked the flashlight idea, but he figured it was the best she could do since he was unfamiliar with the furnishings. Not the best, but not bad. Waiting until they were out of the neighborhood, Horatio flipped on the siren and they were off racing toward the beach.

Noticing the other Hummers on the beach itself and not in the parking lot, Horatio slowly drove across the sand. Parking along side them, Sam jumped out before Horatio could even turn off the ignition. Calling her to a stop, Horatio pointed at the Hummer. “Sam, stay here until I find out what we have.” Not waiting to see if she would obey his order, Horatio moved away walking toward the area surrounded by flood lights. Alexx was kneeling beside a body covered with a sheet and when he knelt beside her, she looked up and nodded sadly. “How bad, Alexx?”

Pulling back the edge of the sheet, “It’s bad, baby. I need to get him to the morgue.”

“Alright, Alexx. Let’s see if we can’t get him out of here.” Glancing at the body before him, he couldn’t let himself think of him as Kevin anymore. What they had done to him was unimaginable. Looking back at the Hummer, he waved Sam down to him. As she knelt in the sand at his side, “Sam, it’s Kevin, but I don’t want you to have to see him like this. Alexx is going to take him back to the morgue to work on him. This is your scene. You run it as you need to.”

Reaching past Horatio before he could stop her, Sam flipped the edge of the sheet away and gasped. Kevin’s face looked like someone had used a battering ram on it. What made her turn away and gag was the gaping wound at his throat and what looked like… No, it couldn’t be. “Alexx, tell me that’s not what I think it is?”

Covering Kevin’s face, Alexx nodded sadly. “It is, baby girl. They pulled his tongue through his throat.” Resting a hand on Horatio’s arm, “I need to get him out of here.”

Her stomach churning, Sam took a look around. “It looks like night shift brought the M.E. van, so they can help you load him up.” Watching Eric and Calleigh walking the staked out perimeter, and the uniforms talking to some of the people standing nearby, Sam shook her head. “Horatio, I need you to run this. I’m out of my element here and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Dealing with scenes like this, dealing with locals, that’s Frank’s department.”

Climbing to his feet and offering a hand to Alexx and then to Sam, “This could be considered a Federal matter since Kevin gave you information pertaining to a Federal case.” Seeing the unease and uncertainty in Sam’s eyes, “Tell me what you want to do, Sam. I’ll see to it that it gets done.”

“Run it like you would any other scene. Just make sure the uniforms get statements from everyone that’s standing around. I don’t care if they simply heard the sirens and saw the flashy lights and got curious. I want names and a statement from them all. Let them know that if they refuse to give a statement, warn them that they would be impeding a Federal investigation and that could lead them being arrested. If they still refuse, then arrest them.” Watching Alexx work with the night crew to zip Kevin into a body bag, “I’m giving you full Federal rein here, Horatio. You’re running this on my authority.” Watching him nod, “Tell Eric and Calleigh that if they find anything, and I don’t care how small it is or if they even think it’s relevant to this case, to bag it, tag it, and bring it in.”

Stepping aside as Sam took a position along side the gurney to help push it across the sand, Horatio paused to take a look around the scene. “Sam…”

Glancing over her shoulder, Sam stopped with a sigh. “I’m going with Alexx, Horatio. I’ll feel better knowing that she’s safe back at the morgue.” Snapping her head around to Alexx as she muttered something softly, Sam swore under her breath. Waving Horatio closer, her voice low to avoid being overheard, “Send a uniform, someone you trust, over to Alexx’s. She has a sitter watching her kids and wasn’t planning on being gone so late. I want someone to have their eyes on that house nonstop.”

“Done.” Cocking his head toward Alexx, “Don’t worry. I’ll call Tripp. The kids know him, so if he goes inside they’ll be safe and they won’t be scared with him.” Resting a hand on her shoulder, “Will that be alright?”

“That’s fine, baby. You tell him to let the sitter know that I got caught working late tonight and I’ll call her tomorrow. If he doesn’t mind paying her, I’ll pay him back when I get home later.” She couldn’t help but feel concerned for her children, but she knew Frank would take care of them. He was good with kids, and hers just happened to love him dearly. “You be careful out here, baby. We’ll see you back at the lab.” Looking at the night shift and then at Sam, “Alright, baby girl. Let’s get him loaded and get to the morgue. Horatio can handle things here.”

Helping to push the gurney through the sand, Sam was impressed at how strong Alexx was. She knew she had to be scared, but Alexx was standing by her decision to continue to help her find Vinnie. Loading the gurney into the back of the M.E. van, Sam climbed into the passenger seat as Alexx took the wheel. Looking around her seat at the older M.E. braced in the back, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but that body is not leaving my sight.” Turning to Alexx, “Alright, let’s get out of here.”

Turning back to the scene around him, Horatio called over Eric and Calleigh. Quickly relaying the message from Sam, he directed them back out to collect whatever evidence they could find in the dark. Walking over to the officer in charge of the scene, “I want statements from everyone that’s hanging around here and make sure you get names. If they give you trouble, tell them it’s a Federal matter and if they don’t cooperate, they will be arrested.”

“And if they still refuse?”

“Cuff them and let them know they’re under arrest for impeding a Federal Investigation. Tell you men the same. Make sure they get everyone that’s around here. I don’t care if they were just curious, I want their name and that statement before you tell them to leave the area. Is that understood?”

“Loud and clear, Lieutenant.” Rushing away to talk to his men, the officer pulls a small notebook from his pocket and approaches the nearest group of people.

***

Staring out the window, her eyes searching the streets, Sam turned to look at Alexx when she heard her soft voice calling her name. “Baby girl, you alright?”

“No, I’m not.” Turning her attention to the cars around them as they stopped at a red light, “Would you like to reconsider the offer to take the out now?”

Reaching over to grab hold of Sam’s hand, “You listen to me. This is not your fault, baby. Kevin ran a rough life living on the streets.”

Smiling thinly at Alexx, “He may have had a rough life, but he was still alive until he started talking to me.” Looking back to the traffic, “Light’s green. Let’s get back to the morgue. I’ll call Uncle Mike when we get there.” Falling silent for the remaining few minutes that it took them to get back, Sam climbed out and helped unload the gurney and wheel it inside.

Gently moving Sam to the corner, “Baby girl, I want you to stay out of the way. If there’s anything I need you to see, I’ll call you over, but otherwise, stay put.” Spinning around at the sound of the zipper being lowered on the body bag, Alexx planted her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes, “And what do you think you’re doing?”

Glancing up from the body, “My job, Miss Woods. I am the night shift M.E. here in case you’ve forgotten.”

Growling low, Sam started to move but froze when Alexx’s hand landed against her chest stopping her. Stalking across the morgue, Alexx slapped her hand down over the zipper. “Oh believe me baby, I haven’t forgotten that you’re night shift, but apparently you’ve forgotten that this is a Federal matter, and as such only those specifically assigned to the case are the ones to handle the evidence and bodies. If you would care to assist me, then that’s fine. But understand one thing, this is my body since I happen to be the only M.E. that was assigned to the case.” Seeing the hesitation in his eyes, “Tom, understand one thing, that Agent over there, she will remove you if you interfere. We’re looking for her partner that was kidnapped and there are only a handful from this Department that are assigned to work this case, and that’s for everyone else’s safety. We’re dealing with some very dangerous people, and the fewer that are involved, the better.”

She had to give Alexx credit, she did wonders at defusing the situation and taking control. Stepping to Alexx’s side, Sam held out her hand. “I’m Agent Giovanni, but you can call me Sam.”

Accepting her hand, the M.E. dipped his head in greeting. “Tom Loman.”

Dropping her hand on Alexx’s shoulder, and addressing them both, “Look, what Alexx just told you is the truth. Should you have been told even that much, probably not. Should I tell you more than that, definitely not, but I’m going to anyway. Almost two weeks ago my partner was kidnapped while looking into someone that has ties here in Miami. We think that the one he was after sent a hit team after him, but we haven’t been able to trace them yet. We’re getting close though.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because Kevin is dead. I’ve talked to him twice about those involved with this, and he was able to give me some good information. The last time I talked to him was early this afternoon. If it wasn’t for what he told me, I wouldn’t be as close as I am now, and he wouldn’t be dead.”

Narrowing his eyes and crossing his arms, “How can you be sure this has anything to do with you?”

Flipping back the sheet to expose Kevin’s face, Sam points out details without touching. “His face is destroyed. It looks like his jaw is shattered, and if you were to open his mouth, I’d lay odds that so are his teeth.” Pointing at his neck, “I’m going to bet that he died of exsanguination. They wouldn’t have slit his throat after he was dead. They ripped his tongue through his throat as a warning. They wanted us to know that he shouldn’t have opened his mouth.”

“But you still don’t know if it’s the people you’re after.”

Stepping away from the body as Alexx reached around to finish unzipping the bag, “You’re right, I don’t. And until I know for certain one way or another, this is a Federal Investigation, and Alexx is in charge. She’s probably going to need help, and that’s fine, but she runs this.” Walking back to her corner and pulling over a chair, “Alexx, bag everything. As soon as Eric and Calleigh get back, I’ll run everything up to them.”

“Of course, baby. Now you just let me work.” Looking at Tom, “Get the camera ready and start taking pictures. I want every inch captured before I remove any of his clothing.” Stepping to the desk, Alexx donned her jacket and a pair of gloves before returning to the body. Waiting for Tom to finish, Alexx slowly cut away his jeans and unbuttoned his jacket. Sucking in a hissing breath, “Sam, he’s yours.”

Scrambling across the room, Sam’s lip curled. Staring down at Kevin, his t-shirt had been torn open down the center. Beneath the ripped fabric, a mark is barely visible. Visibly shaking, Sam motions Alexx to move the shirt aside. There, stamped on his chest, was a white hand print. They were in town. “Dammit!” Turning away and pulling out her cell phone, “Alexx, I’d seriously think about walking away if I were you.”

“Not happening, baby girl. You make your calls. We can handle this.” Turning to Kevin’s body, she gently touched his cheek. “You didn’t ask for any of this did you, baby?” Glancing at Tom, Alexx nodded as he pulled his own pair of gloves and started to work on the other side of the body.

Stepping into the hallway, Sam leaned against the wall. Speed dialing Uncle Mike, “It’s me. They got Kevin…. Yeah, I’m sure it was them… They left their mark on his chest… I’m guessing to scare us off, but there’s no way I can back down now. If we’re getting this close that they’re willing to take shots like this, then I can’t walk away… Yeah, I’m at the morgue with Alexx and Tom Loman, the night shift M.E. … I need to call Horatio and warn him. I’ll talk to you later when I have more for you… Yes, I’ll be careful… Uncle Mike? I love you. Tell Frank the same and make sure you two keep that place locked up tight. If you need anything, call me.” Saying their goodbyes, Sam hung up and dialed Horatio. “How’s it going out there?”

“Uniforms got statements from everyone and they’re breaking up the crowd now. Eric and Calleigh have about all they’re going to be able to get, so once things are settled here, we’re heading in. What about you?”

“They’re in Miami, Horatio. They left their mark on Kevin’s chest.” Sighing at his silence, “Be careful, Horatio. Tell Eric and Calleigh to watch their backs. Just get back here soon, ok?”

“Sam, hang in there. We’ll be there soon.” Hanging up, Horatio surveyed the beach and the people being sent away from the scene. Walking up to the officer in charge, “I want your officers to make sure they give the statements to my CSI’s. There were no problems?”

“No sir, Lieutenant. Everyone cooperated.”

Frowning slightly, that meant that the ones they were after either hadn’t stuck around, or they thought they were good enough to leave a statement and not get caught. If that was the case, they were wrong. Walking across the sand, Horatio called Eric and Calleigh over. “If you two have everything you can gather, get back to the lab with it. Sam is in the morgue with Alexx. She says that they left their mark on Kevin’s chest, so that means they’re in town. Watch out for one another. I’ll be back soon, I just want to make sure everything is cleaned up here first.”

“There wasn’t much, H. You can’t deal with tracks, any blood is soaked up by the sand, but there were a few fibers and possibly some drag marks. We got pictures.”

“Alright, Eric. Make sure you two talk to the officer in charge. He should have all the statements from the crowd for you. Take those back with you as well.”

“What about you, Horatio?”

“I’m fine, Calleigh. You two pack it up and get to the lab. I’ll leave with the rest.” Watching his team walk away, Horatio shook his head sadly. It wasn’t long before all the lights were pulled down, and everything was packed up. Walking to his Hummer, Horatio waited until the rest of the officers cleared the beach before driving up to the parking lot and onto the road. He knew that Sam had offered the out because she had been scared that they were getting close, and that his team had decided to stay with her, but now he was concerned for his team. Perhaps they would change their minds about staying on, but he doubted it. He had called Frank as soon as Sam and Alexx had left, and Frank had been more than happy to help out. As he drove back to the Department, he once again dialed Frank’s number to touch base and make sure Alexx’s kids were alright. Filling him in on what little he knew so far, Horatio promised to call him back as soon as he knew more.

Pulling into the parking lot outside of the Department, Horatio bowed his head as a heavy weight settled on his shoulders. Exiting the Hummer and making his way inside, he detoured to the morgue first. He wanted to let Sam know that her team was alright.

Chapter Text

As the elevator doors opened and Horatio stepped out, he found himself starring down the barrel of a very familiar SIG being held by a very pissed off, very familiar female spitfire. Flashing a quick smile and putting his hands up innocently, “I just wanted to let you know that we all made it back here in one piece, Sam.”

Narrowing her eyes disapprovingly, Sam lowered her weapon and slid it back in her holster. “Sorry, Horatio. I’m not taking any chances. You should have called down.” Walking back to the door of the morgue, she stood outside looking though the window. “I heard the elevator coming down, and since I hadn’t heard from any of you yet, better safe than sorry.”

“I understand. How’s Alexx doing?”

Shrugging, “Alexx wanted me to stay out of the way, and I came out here to make a couple of calls. I couldn’t bring myself to go back in there.”

Standing by her side, and watching through the door, “Then what do say we go in together?”

“Alexx said she’d bag everything for me, and once you guys got back I could take everything up to Calleigh and Eric.” Glancing at Horatio out of the corner of her eye, “I don’t want to leave them down here alone though. I think when Alexx is done, I’m going to have her lock up Kevin’s body, have Tom clean up in there, and have Alexx head home. She needs to be with her kids, Horatio.”

“I’ll make sure there’s an unmarked parked on the road to keep an eye on the house.” Resting a hand on Sam’s shoulder, “Stay with Alexx, and I’ll take everything up to Calleigh and Eric. I’ll call Frank and let him know Alexx should be home as soon as she’s done here, and see if he has anyone specific in mind to watch over her house.”

Sighing as she remembered the carpooling, “She’s going to need a ride home, Horatio.”

“Then we’ll both give her a ride home, Sam.” Cocking his head to catch her eye, “Will that be alright?” Catching her nod, he smiled briefly. “Good. Now let’s see what Alexx has for us.” Opening the door and walking in, “Alexx. Tom.”

Shaking her head and calling over her shoulder, “Horatio, baby, everything is on the desk. His clothes, scrapings from his nails, hair, blood, and a scraping of this paint. There wasn’t much.” Sadness was heavy in her voice as she looked over her shoulder as Sam and Horatio approached. “He was alive when they slit his throat.” Brushing her hand against Kevin’s hair, “I’m so sorry, baby.” Turning to Horatio, “You find them, Horatio.”

His eyes hardening, “I will, Alexx. I will.” Stepping to the desk, he picked up a large bag and headed for the door. “I’m taking this Calleigh and Eric. Once they get started on it, I’ll be back down.” Walking out of the room, the sound of the elevator doors opening and closing was just audible.

Standing near the doors, Sam couldn’t make herself move any closer. “Alexx, when you’re done with the…” Pausing to clear her throat, “When you’re done Kevin’s body, I want you to lock it up. Tom, I’m going to ask you to clean up in here when you’re both finished.” Holding a hand up to ward off any questions, “Alexx, it’s late. You should be home with your children. I already talked to Horatio and he’s going to give Frank a call and let him know you’re on the way. We’ll give you a ride home when you’re done.”

“Baby girl…”

“Alexx, don’t argue. Right now I’m more concerned with taking care of my family, and that includes my new family. There isn’t much more you can do right now. Eric and Calleigh will have to dig through everything and when Horatio and I get back, I’ll try to help them out as best as I can.” Bowing her head, “I’m out of my league here, Alexx. I want results, but I can’t get them if you are all running on empty. It’s been a long enough day without having this happen.”

Stripping off her gloves and peeling off her blood splattered apron, Alexx rolled them up and deposited them in the hazardous waste receptacle. “Tom, you can take care of the rest here?”

He wasn’t thrilled with having to clean up everything, but as he looked in Alexx’s eyes, his heart softened. She was tired, she was scared, and as Sam had said, her place was with her family. “I’m fine here, Alexx. You go home and hug those kids of yours, and get some rest.” Glancing across the room, “Agent, I’ll lock him up secure. Don’t worry.”

“Thank you, Tom. And please, it’s Sam. I appreciate your help tonight, Tom.” As he pulled a sheet up to cover Kevin’s body, Sam walked over and held out a hand before thinking better of it and lowering it slowly. “Are you sure you’re alright with everything here? Maybe I can get an officer down here to sit outside the room?”

Frowning and shaking his head, “No need. It’s quiet down here. I’ve got everything covered. Why don’t you two get out of here, and let me clean up?”

Saying their goodnights, Sam and Alexx walked to the elevator. As they stepped inside and the doors closed behind them, Alexx took Sam’s hand in her own, “Don’t you be blaming yourself, baby girl. We’re gonna find these guys.”

Whispering her thanks as the doors open and they step out, Sam shook her head as Horatio stepped forward to enter the elevator.

“Ladies, I was just on my way down to see if you were ready.” Joining them in the elevator and heading downstairs, “You didn’t try to shoot me this time.”

Spying the question in Alexx’s eyes, “I didn’t shoot him. He just surprised me when he came down to the morgue.” Frowning at Horatio, “Besides, the labs are your territory. I would like to think that you could protect them and that it would be safe to exit the elevator without having my weapon ready.”

He could see she was still rather unnerved, and he dropped his eyes to the floor. “Sam, we’re going to find them. They’re going to pay for what they did to Kevin.”

“Yeah.” Her reply was simple but it spoke volumes. The pain, the determination, the anger… She blamed herself and there was nothing anyone could do to change her mind on that matter, but when she saw Kevin’s body on the beach, she swore to herself that she wouldn’t rest until they were found. They wouldn’t have to worry about being brought in to face justice, this would be blood for blood.

Leading the ladies to the Hummer, Horatio opened the passenger side doors for them and waited for them to climb inside. The fact that Sam had brought up the rear with Alexx safely between them hadn’t been lost on him. Stepping around to the drivers side, Horatio took a quick look around the parking lot before settling himself behind the wheel. Flipping open his cell phone, he called the lab. “Sam and Alexx are with me. We’re taking Alexx home now and we should be back soon.” Disconnecting the call, he pulled out of the parking lot and on to the road.

Keeping a watchful eye on the road and the few cars out and about, Sam frowned. “You called Frank?”

“Everything is in order. After I talked to Frank, he called a good friend of his and asked him if he minded keeping an eye on things for tonight at least.” Adjusting the rear view mirror to look back at Sam, “Relax. Frank called me back right before you two came up from the morgue. Frank said he’d introduce us all when we get there.” Catching her curt nod and looking over at Alexx, “Are you alright, Alexx?”

Her hands were folded in her lap, and her eyes were staring out the windshield. “I’m fine, Horatio. I just want to get home and hug my babies.”

Reaching over to cover Alexx’s hands with his own, Horatio gently squeezed them in reassurance. Smiling faintly at her when she turned his way, “It’s going to be alright, Alexx.” Holding her hand as he drove through the city, they quietly pulled up in front of a quaint little house. Glancing across the street, Horatio cautiously climbed out of the Hummer. Sliding his SIG from the holster, he leveled it at a car parked just up the street. Narrowing his eyes as the man behind the wheel slowly raised his hands, he paused as Frank stepped out of Alexx’s house.

“Horatio, hold up. He’s with me.” Jogging across the front lawn as Sam shook her head and walked Alexx inside, Frank stopped beside Horatio. Waving for his friend to get out of his car and join them, “Why don’t we head up to the house so I can introduce everyone?”

As the men crossed the yard, Alexx and Sam stepped out on the front porch. Wrapping her arms around Frank, Alexx sighed gratefully. “They’re sound asleep. Thank you, baby. What do I owe you?”

Giving her a brief hug, Frank frowned down at her. “You don’t owe me anything, Alexx. Why would you?”

Stepping back, Alexx cast him a critical glance. “You came over here to watch my children. Did you pay the sitter?”

Chuckling lightly, Frank grinneds ear to ear. “Alexx, she had them fed long before I got here. She gave them both baths and they were in bed. Not quite asleep, but they were in bed. I paid her and sent her home. You are not going to pay me for watching my kids.”

Seeing Sam do a double take, Alexx smiled fondly at Frank. “He has a way with kids. He spoils them all, whether they’re his or not.”

Nodding happily, Frank agreed. “That’s right. I’m Uncle Frank to the two inside, and I can spoil them as much as I want to.” Turning as Horatio frowned and cleardc his throat, “Ummm, right. Anyway, I want to introduce you guys to a friend of mine. Alexx, Horatio, Sam, this is Joseph Silvara. Joe, this is Alexx, mother to the ones inside. Horatio, head of the MDPD Crime Lab, and Sam is a Federal Agent down here looking into the disappearance of her partner.”

Pulling out her cell, Sam punched Uncle Mike’s number. Raising an eyebrow as Joe interrupted her, “I would assume you’re planning on checking me out, right?”

“That’s the plan.” Hearing Uncle Mike answer, “I have a name for you. Joseph Silvara.” Cocking her head as Joe hands her his wallet opened to his driver’s license, she reads off his address. “Call me back.” Hanging up and handing back the wallet, “Don’t take it personally, but I’ve come to consider these people as more than just casual friends. There’s a real danger out there and I want to make sure they’re in good hands.”

“No harm, no foul.” Slipping his wallet back in his pocket, “Why don’t I make it easy on you and just tell you what you want to know?”

With Alexx in the doorway, Frank stood to her side with his back to the house. Joe stood in the middle of the group with Sam standing to the other side of Alexx with her eyes on the road, and Horatio standing in the yard keeping a vigilant look out. They were all ready, with hands resting well within range of their weapons, just in case. Nodding slightly, Sam shrugged. She’d get a call from Uncle Mike soon enough. “Sure, why not? Humor me.”

“Alright, I’ll make this quick and easy. Name’s Joseph Silvara. U.S. Navy Seal retired with twenty years in. Long range sniper, ballistics and explosives expert, specialized in black ops. After I retired, I picked up a career in law enforcement. I was a beat cop. Didn’t want to be anything else. I liked the action, and I hated sitting behind a desk. When I got shot in the line of duty, I was given the option of a full time desk job or early retirement.” Stopping and surveying the street as a car passed by without slowing, he glanced at Alexx.

“She’s one of the girls that lives down the street. She has a second shift job, but there’s nights when she doesn’t get home until after midnight or later.”

Nodding briefly, Joe continued. “As I was saying, I don’t like sitting behind a desk, so I retired. About six months later I was hired by a high end security company. We run security for anyone from millionaires and their princesses, to actors, musicians, and entertainers thinking they need the added protection while they’re out clubbing, to real top of the line gigs. Political debates, Presidential speeches, you get the idea.”

Sam was impressed if even half was true. Answering her cell as it vibrated in her hand, “Yeah, go.” Listening to Uncle Mike ramble out the same details that Joe had already given her as well as some of the security jobs he’d done, she was more than impressed. Nodding and covering the speaker, “If you’ll all excuse me for a moment?” Slipping past Alexx to step into the house, “Alright, what else?”

“… That’s it, Sam. He’s works for one of the most respectable security companies in Miami and he’s the most requested.”

“Tap my account and cut me a blank check. I’m going to talk to him about possibly staying on for a couple of days at least until we see what’s going on.”

“Sounds like a plan, Sam. I’ll siphon some funds and put in the offshore. You can cut the check from there.”

Smiling faintly as Alexx walked in, Sam held up a hand to her to wait. “Sounds good. I don’t want the Bureau on this guy. I just want the Bureau’s money to pay him.” Smiling broadly as Uncle Mike laughed on the other end, “I’ll call you back with more when Horatio and I get back to the lab.” Disconnecting the call, “Alexx, I know you don’t want him here. I can see it in your eyes.”

Wrapping her arms around herself and looking down the hallway, “I know he’s a friend of Frank’s, and I know Dan gave his ‘ok’, but…”

Placing her hands on Alexx’s shoulders, Sam tipped her head to get Alexx to look at her. “It’s only for a couple of days. I want to make sure that everyone is safe. Besides, Horatio would never forgive me if anything happened to you.” Seeing the doubtful look in her eyes, “He’s just going to stay outside and keep an eye on things.”

She still wasn’t happy with the arrangement. “Baby girl, I was thinking about calling my sister in the morning and seeing if she could watch them for a couple of days. She’s not in Miami, so I think they would be safe with her, right?”

“I think they would be very safe, Alexx. But I still don’t want you here alone. He can follow you to your sister’s tomorrow, and then you can go to work. I’ll have him go home, and then see if he’ll come back at night for a few days until we figure this all out.” Sam knew that Alexx still wasn’t sold on the idea. “Alright, listen. I’m not thrilled with this idea because I don’t want to separate them, but what if I talk to Uncle Mike? Would you feel better if Uncle Mike was the one outside keeping watch?”

Stepping away and pacing the living room, Alexx sighed. “Dan wouldn’t be able to stay out in a car all night long. You should know that, Sam.”

“I do know that, Alexx. I also know that if it made you feel more comfortable, he’d do it in a heartbeat to protect you.”

Shaking her head, she’d made up her mind. “No, let it go. If Frank’s friend is willing to stay for a couple days, then I suppose I can handle that. I’ll call my sister before I go to bed and see if she’ll watch the kids.” Hugging Sam tight, “Be careful, baby girl. You and Horatio, you look out for one another, you hear me?”

Returning the embrace, “That’s a promise, Alexx. Now go call your sister and get some sleep. I’ll drag the guys away from the house and I’ll talk to them before we all split up.” Walking to the door, “Lock it behind me.” Stepping outside, Sam waved at the guys to move them away from the house. Standing in the doorway, Alexx said her good nights and softly closed the door.

“Is she alright, Sam?”

Walking across the yard to lean against the front grille of the Hummer, Sam watched up the road and the front of the house. “Yeah, Frank, she’s alright. Tired, concerned, scared, but she’s stronger than I gave her credit for.” Looking at Joe and holding out her hand, “You have an impressive history, Mr. Silvara.”

Taking her hand in a brief shake, “It’s Joe. And thank you.”

Crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against the Hummer, Sam glanced over as Horatio took up a position at her side closest to the road. Looking back at Joe, “Alright, here’s the deal. My boy says you’re good to go. What I need to know from you is, what are your plans for the next few days? Any up coming security jobs that I should know about?” Watching him shake his head to the negative, “Good. Then I have a job offer for you. Whatever your rate is, daily or hourly, however you’re paid, I’ll match it. I’m asking you if you’re interested in keeping an eye on Alexx for the next few days at least until we figure out who and what exactly we’re up against. It would only be a night gig, so you’d have the day to yourself.”

Mulling it over in his head, Joe scratched his chin. “I don’t have anything better to do at the moment. What’s the details?”

“Simple. Alexx is probably going to take the kids to her sister’s in the morning. I want you to follow them if you think you can. Otherwise, I’ll call Alexx in the morning and I’ll come over to follow her so that you can get home and rest.”

Shaking his head and crossing his arms, “That shouldn’t be an issue. What else?”

She was almost liking his no nonsense behavior. “Make sure she makes it to work, or at least to the parking lot. Give Frank a call ahead to let him know you’re inbound with an ETA.” Glancing at Frank, “He calls you, you make sure you’re outside when Alexx gets to work. If you can’t make it, call me. Be casual about it. I don’t expect any moves to be made during the daylight hours, but it’s a possibility.” Catching his nod, Sam turned back to Joe. “After that, go home. Rest. When Alexx is ready to leave work, one of us will call you and then follow her home. You pick up the security when we leave here.”

“Sounds like a good plan. We can discuss payments later.” Reaching over to shake Frank’s hand, “Glad you called, Frank. Don’t worry, she’ll be safe on my watch.” Turning to Sam, “Ma’am, you have my word on that well.”

Accepting his hand, “Keep your eyes open. Anything suspicious, I want descriptions and tags.”

“Done.” Turning to Horatio, “I’ve seen you enough on the television to know how you feel about your team, Lieutenant. She’ll be safe.”

Horatio wasn’t sure, but he kept his thoughts to himself. Shaking the man’s hand, the team said their goodbyes and parted company. Frank went home to his wife, Joe climbed back in his car, and Horatio and Sam headed back to the lab.

The ride back was quiet. Sam was concerned for everyone, and looking at Horatio, she could see the uncertainty in his eyes. She knew he wouldn’t break his promise to help her, but she could tell he was worried that he was putting his own family in greater danger. Now it was her turn to try and offer comfort. Reaching across the space between them, Sam captures his hand sitting on his leg. “Alexx will be safe, Horatio. You wanted Frank to come up with someone he would trust, and Joe is a good bet.” Noting the doubt flash in his eyes, “He’s good. The most requested, and a military backing that would leave most of our own Agents in the dust.” His silence spoke volumes. Holding his hand, Sam looks out the window and sighs. “I don’t like the idea any more than you do. But I like this one even less…”

“What?”

Well, at least she got a reply. His voice was heavy and sad. “I’ll talk to Uncle Mike. He’s running the show through the laptop anyway, maybe I can talk him into taking up security on Alexx. I already tossed the idea to her, and she said if it came down to it, he could stay inside rather than sit in the truck all night.”

Sighing wearily, “But you don’t like that idea.”

Nodding against the darkness, “I don’t like the idea of splitting up Uncle Mike and Frank. I know they can both take care of themselves, but with Vinnie still missing, and now Kevin…” Bowing her head and running her free hand through her hair, “I don’t like the idea of anyone on this team being by themselves right now. That includes you, Alexx, Calleigh, Eric…”

A thought took root in his mind. “Sam, hold off on talking to Dan about this. I may have a better solution.”

Cocking her toward him and raising an eyebrow, “Care to share?”

“You said Alexx was thinking about taking the kids to her sister’s, right?” Glancing over to see Sam nod, “Well, if she was willing to have Dan stay with her, why don’t I talk to Calleigh? I know that still leaves Eric on his own, but we can figure something out.”

Not a bad idea. “I’m sure Calleigh wouldn’t mind, and I’m pretty sure Alexx would feel more comfortable with someone she knew being there. I’ll keep Joe for outside detail, and we’ll come up with a way to cover Eric too.” Pulling into the parking lot, “Shall we see what’s turned up?” Climbing out and locking her door, they walked inside and nodded a greeting to the nightshift. Entering the elevator and waiting for the doors to shut, “Why don’t we wait until morning to discuss Calleigh staying with Alexx. It’s getting late, Horatio. I don’t want to keep her and Eric here all night.” As it was, it was already pushing midnight.

Stifling a yawn, Horatio agreed. Exiting the elevator and walking to the lab, they stepped inside to see Calleigh and Eric still pouring over the evidence from Kevin. “What do we have?”

Looking up from the photos laid out before her, Calleigh smiled. “I think we have a print.”

Nearly knocking Horatio over in her rush across the room, Sam skidded to a halt beside Calleigh. “What print!?”

Chuckling at Sam’s enthusiasm, Calleigh holds out a picture. “I can’t say for certain, but it definitely looks like there may be a print in the paint.”

“We also did a chemical analysis on the paint itself. It’s common house paint, but if we can get the results on the print from your brother’s place, then we could possibly match it to the same batch.”

The grin spreading across her face, Sam wrapped her arms around Eric’s neck in a tight hug. “You guys are incredible!” Stepping back and staring at the picture in her hand, “Frank has all the results with him, and we can match it in the morning when he drops it off here. As for the print…” Laying the picture on the evidence table, “I say we go down to the morgue and see if we can’t get a better look.”

Shaking his head, Eric turned back to the clothing and pictures. “You two go ahead and I’ll go over the rest of this stuff. There’s not a lot left.” Perching on the edge of the desk, Horatio barely shook his head as Sam looked toward him.

“Great! Calleigh, let’s go.” Waiting for Calleigh to grab a small bag, the girls headed down to the morgue. Poking her head through the door, Sam looked around the room. “Tom, where are you hiding?”

Popping his head through the door to an adjoining room, “Agent Sam. So glad to see you again. What can I help you with?”

Walking in, “Tom, please tell me that you and Alexx somehow managed to preserve the hand print on Kevin’s chest.”

Smiling ear to ear, Tom walked to one of the wall crypts and opened it up. “She most certainly did. I never would have been able to do the work that she did here. Dr. Woods actually cut around the print before opening him up.” Pulling Kevin’s body out of the crypt, “What are you hoping to find?”

Stepping around Sam to approach the body, Calleigh knelt on the floor beside the open crypt. Looking up at Tom, “I’m hoping that one of the pictures you took is right, and that there’s a print in the paint.”

Pulling the sheet back from Kevin’s body, “Well I sure hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Studying the print on Kevin’s chest, “Sam, we definitely have a print here! I’ll have to dust it and transfer it so we can take it back upstairs, but that shouldn’t be too hard.” Opening her case, Calleigh set to work and in no time pulled a full print from the dry paint. Holding it up to the light, she glanced over her shoulder as she climbed to her feet, “I’ve got it. Thank you, Tom.” Closing her bag and joining Sam, “Let’s get it upstairs and see what we can get.”

Nodding her thanks to Tom as he sealed Kevin back into the crypt, Sam followed Calleigh back upstairs. Pausing in the doorway, she watched Eric carefully rebagging the individual pieces of evidence before placing them gently, almost reverently, into a larger evidence bag. Biting her lip to keep it from quivering, Sam waved off Horatio as he started to move toward her. Taking a deep breath to calm herself and put herself back in control, she entered the lab. “Calleigh, run the print and see if there’s any hits. I have a call to make.”

Following Sam out into the hallway, Horatio watched as she walked away and leaned against the wall with her head bowed. “Sam?”

Snapping her head up and hastily wiping her eyes, “I’m fine. I need to touch base with Uncle Mike. After Calleigh finishes up, I want her and Eric to head home and get some sleep. Tell them to watch their backs, check their places, and lock up tight. Call if they need anything.” Pulling out her cell phone, “Dayshift doesn’t get put on hold just because we’re up half the night.” Waiting until Horatio ducked quietly back into the lab, Sam dialed up Uncle Mike.

Two rings and it was answered. “Sam, before you say anything, I want you to listen. Starting in the morning, we’re going back to normal secure check ins. Don’t be surprised when there’s a paper on Horatio’s front step in the morning. I got him a gift subscription. That should hold you over and see us through this.”

Sam should have been surprised, but she wasn’t. Things were heating up and he was doing everything he could to protect them all. She was the only one that would be calling him direct, so it wouldn’t matter telling the others. She’d have to tell Horatio what the paper was for, but beyond that, no one else needed to know. “Understood.”

“Good. Now go.”

“Alexx has Joe watching over her from the street. He’ll let me know if he has tags to run or anything else. She’s probably taking her kids to her sister’s place in the morning. Joe’s going to tail her and make sure she makes it here. I want you and Frank to meet me here in the morning and make sure he brings the case with him.” Walking to the windows and looking out over the darkened city, “I don’t want Frank going by himself tomorrow, so I’m thinking that you can stay here with Calleigh and Eric and run with what they came up with tonight, and I’ll go with Frank to talk to Santana again. He won’t like seeing my face again, but he’ll have to get over it.”

“Turn up anything of interest?”

“Calleigh found a print in the paint, and Eric has the results of the paint itself. With the results that Frank brought with him, they should be able to compare the paint samples and possibly tie them to the same batch.” Running a hand through her hair, “I know there were no prints in the paint at Vinnie’s. I don’t know what to make of this other than maybe they got sloppy or…”

“Or the print is from someone else and it’s not our guys after all.”

“Yeah, I thought about that too.” Hearing footsteps behind her, Sam glanced over her shoulder to see Horatio standing in the lab’s doorway. “Anyway, I’m sending Eric and Calleigh home as soon as they finish up here, then Horatio and I are heading back to his place as well. We all need some sleep. Morning is coming too fast.”

“Alright, get some sleep, Sam. If you need anything, call me. Don’t forget the paper in the morning. You shouldn’t have to call me before we meet at the station, but if you do, use it.”

“I will. Night, Uncle Mike. Get some rest. Tell Frank I said good night too. Love to you both.” Hanging up, Sam stared out the window and slipped her cell back in her pocket. “Are Eric and Calleigh almost finished?”

“They are. They’re making sure everything gets locked up for the night and I’ve already given them the order to go home and get some sleep.” Stepping aside as Eric and Calleigh walked past him and stopped in the hallway, “Remember, make sure everything is locked up tight when you get home. Get some sleep and we’ll attack this fresh in the morning.”

“Right. Night H. Night Sam.” Walking down the hallway, Eric stopped beside her. “We’re going to find them, Sam. Just try to get some sleep.”

Hugging Horatio lightly, Calleigh walked down the hallway to join Eric. “Good night to you both. Make sure you get some rest. It’s going to be a long day.”

Smiling faintly at them both, Sam nodded. “Frank’s bringing the briefcase with the results in the morning. Uncle Mike is staying here with you guys while I go with Frank to talk to Santana again.” Pushing away from the window and waiting for Horatio to join their group, they walked out together, as a team.

Chapter Text

Driving back to the house, Sam was caught up in her own thoughts. Could they have really lucked out and gotten the biggest break imaginable? She doubted it, but she still found herself hoping. Turning her thoughts to the team, she was confident in Frank’s decision to ask his friend Joe to help them. She felt that Alexx would be safe with him watching over her, and she really didn’t think anyone would go after Alexx anyway. She was the M.E. plain and simple. If anyone would be in danger then it would be Eric, Calleigh and Horatio.

“What’s on your mind, Sam?”

Staring out the window, she shook her head and sighed. “Just thinking. Alexx will be safe with Joe watching over her, and if we talk to Calleigh in the morning and she agrees to stay with Alexx for a while, then I think she’ll be fine too. I don’t like Eric being alone with no one to watch his back, but I haven’t figured out a solution to that one yet. I don’t think anyone would be stupid enough to try to hit the house with us both there, so I’m not too worried about that. And Uncle Mike and Frank are well accustomed to watching each other’s backs.”

He had a feeling he knew what the problem was, “You’re worried about the print.”

“These guys are professionals, Horatio. They don’t make mistakes. That print that Calleigh found in the paint either means they got sloppy, which I don’t think happened, or it means it was put there intentionally.”

He’d already thought the same thing when Calleigh had mentioned seeing it in the photo. He hadn’t gotten his hopes up, but he couldn’t fault Sam for getting excited. If it was real, then they were closer than ever. Pulling into the driveway, and walking inside, Horatio makes a once through of the entire house, and when he was sure everything was clear, he joined Sam in the living room. She looked dead on her feet as she stood in front of the stereo with Dan’s cd playing softly. Her eyes were closed as he quietly crossed the room. “Sam? Why don’t you take the shower first and I’ll make us some tea?”

Slowly reaching up to turn off the stereo, “I think I’m just going to take a hot shower and go to bed. It’s late. There’s a lot to do in the morning.” Slowly leaving the room, she paused. “Oh, and don’t be surprised if there’s a paper on the front step in the morning. Uncle Mike got you a subscription. I’ll explain over breakfast.” Walking to her room and retrieving her shorts and t-shirt, Sam stopped in the bathroom and tried to relax in a long hot shower before retiring to bed.

Sleep didn’t come easy for her, and even less so for Horatio. The hot shower had relieved some of his tension, but he couldn’t sleep. He’d laid in bed for over an hour before he got up and started pacing the house. He was sure that Sam had been right, that no one would bother to try to attack his house, but it wasn’t them he was worried about. His team, his family was the one thing on his mind. Sam had given them an out, and they had all chosen to pass on it, they’d chosen to stay by her side on this and help her find Vince. The night was quiet, but it did nothing to sooth him.

***

Waking hours later, Sam rolled over to check the time. Growling under her breath she’d only been asleep for a little over two hours. Closing her eyes, she tried to go back to sleep but failed miserably. Maybe that cup of tea Horatio had mentioned earlier hadn’t been such a bad idea. With so much on her mind, she still remembered telling him that there was more about her that she wanted to tell him. She could only hope that he’d forgotten. The more she thought about it, the less she felt comfortable. And yet… and yet she still felt a need deep inside to tell him. She couldn’t understand why she had to tell him, but she knew the reason why she hesitated was because she was afraid of what’d he think of her if he knew.

Sighing as sleep effectively eluded her grasp, Sam climbed out of bed. Reaching for her gun on the nightstand, she slipped it into the waistband of her shorts and flipped her t-shirt over it. She knew she didn’t need it, but it made her feel safe. Quietly walking out of her room, she noticed Horatio’s bedroom door was closed and silently moved through the house so she wouldn’t wake him. Stopping in the entrance to the kitchen, she was surprised to see Horatio with his elbows propped on the counter and his face in his hands. Maybe he had the same idea? Keeping her voice soft to avoid spooking him, “If you’re making tea, I would love a cup.”

His voice muffled by his hands, “I wasn’t, but if you want one, I’ll make it.”

When he made no move to step away from the counter, Sam closed the distance between them. As he lifted his head to look at her, her heart leapt. “Oh Horatio, have you slept at all?” Sighing as he only looked her, “Come on. Come sit down and I’ll make us some tea. I couldn’t sleep either and I thought a cup of tea and some fresh air might do the trick.”

Fresh air. His eyes widened, “Sam, you’re not going outside right now. It’s the middle of the night.”

Following him to the dining room as he shuffled out of the kitchen, “I’m a big girl. Stop worrying.” Flipping the edge of her t-shirt to expose her SIG, “Besides, no one said I was going out there unarmed. I may be crazy, but I’m not stupid.” Watching him sink into a chair and lower his head into his crossed arms, Sam disappeared into the kitchen and put the kettle on the stove. Pulling out two mugs and the tea bags, she set them on the counter and moved to stand in the entryway to watch over Horatio. As the minutes ticked by and the kettle finally whistled, she ducked back into the kitchen to turn off the stove and pour them each a cup. Returning to the dining room, she was mildly surprised to see Horatio already waiting for her.

Taking his mug from her hand, he led the way down the hallway and out onto the back porch. Holding the door open for her, he raised an eyebrow over his mug as she hopped up to sit on the railing with her back against the house. “Be careful so you don’t fall.”

Rolling her eyes, she sipped at her tea. Leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes, the sound of the waves breaking on the beach was like a salve to her wounded soul. It didn’t take all the pain and worry away, but it helped. Her heart was pounding in her chest. Her mind was reeling. She knew she wouldn’t be able to rest until it was off her chest. She only wished she knew why it was so damn important to tell him. “Horatio?”

His eyes were closed and his hands were wrapped around the warmth of this mug. Cracking an eye open and turning his head against the back of the chair to look at her, “Hmmm?”

Taking a deep breath, Ok Sam, calm down, “I wanted to tell you something.”

Her past. She didn’t know that Dan had already told him part of it. He wasn’t sure what else there was to know, a part of him wasn’t sure he wanted to know, but he held to his silence.

Sipping at her quickly cooling tea, and staring out over the beach, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I don’t know why I feel the need to tell you, but it’s been bothering me.”

“Whatever it is, Sam, don’t worry about it. You said it was your past, right?” Watching her nod slowly, “Alright then, it’s the past. Over and done with.”

“I wish it was that easy to dismiss. I guess a large part of why I want to tell you is because Uncle Mike talked to me and he wanted me to think about asking you to go with me when I find Vinnie. He said your record was quite impressive, and I have to agree.” Why was she so nervous? Why did it matter so much what he thought of her if he knew the truth? “I told him that I’d think about it. Thing is, the more I thought about it, I realized that it wasn’t fair to ask you to get involved without knowing everything first.”

He wanted to help her out, but he wasn’t sure how to. “So, how does me going with you to get Vinnie have anything to do with your past?”

That was the million dollar question. Now how was she suppose to answer it? “It’s a matter of trust, Horatio. Whoever I take with me, I have to be able to trust completely, and to be honest, there aren’t many in this world that I trust at all, let alone completely.”

“That’s where your past comes in?”

Nodding slowly and staring at the cup in her hands, “Yeah.” As she tried to find the words, her stomach tied itself in knots, her heart pounded harder, and for once, she was afraid of what someone would think of her if they knew. It wasn’t like she cared if the world knew, she just didn’t think it was anyone’s business, so she never talked about it. Until now. Chewing her lip in thought, Sam could hear Uncle Mike’s voice in the back of her head and she smiled faintly. “You know, Uncle Mike always got on my case for opening my mouth at all the wrong times. He said that somewhere along the lines I’d lost my subtlety gene. If there was something on my mind, I’d just say it and not worry about what anyone thought.”

As she fell silent, Horatio smiled against the side of his mug. He could see that in her. “So what’s different now? Why not just say whatever it is? It can’t be that bad, Sam. You’re a good person.”

“What’s different now? Now, for some reason that I don’t understand, I find myself worrying about what you’re going to think once I get the nerve to tell you what I need to.” Leaning over to set her empty mug on the chair beside her, “Why not just say it? Because I’m scared of what you’ll think of me.” Turning away and blinking rapidly to clear her eyes, she raised a hand to hastily wipe away a stray tear trickling down her cheek.

His heart broke for her. He knew her past from what Dan had told him, and it pained him to see her tormented by this. For better or worse, he made a decision. “Sam. It’s alright.”

Shaking her head, “No, it’s not. It’s not good, and it’s not something to be proud of. I want to tell you, but I don’t know how.” So she started from the beginning, “When I said I was away when my family was murdered, that was the truth. Thing is, I ran away when I was sixteen. I couldn’t take it anymore. My parents were great with one another. They were great with my brother. My dad… not so great with me.”

And he took the plunge. “Sam, I already know.”

His voice had been so low, she almost missed the words. Snapping her head around, her eyes wide, she knew how a deer must feel being caught in the headlights of an oncoming car and not being able to move. Narrowing her eyes sharply, her words slow and clipped, “What do you mean, you… already… know?” And then it dawned on her. There would have been no way for Horatio to have come across that part of her past no matter how far he dug. It wasn’t even in her personal file from the Bureau! “Uncle Mike!? He told you!?” Growling and vaulting over the side of the railing to drop to the ground below, Sam stalked across the beach before Horatio could even move.

Well that went well. Silently berating himself, Horatio hung his head and set his mug aside. He knew her pain. He knew how much it cost her to even try to tell him. He had to explain. He only hoped that he could show the same courage that he had seen in her, even if he had spared her the pain of trying to find the words. Watching her slump down in the sand, Horatio crossed the beach to sit beside her. With her knees pulled up and her arms wrapped tightly around them, she had her head buried in her arms. Her shoulders were shaking but if he didn’t know if it was because she was mad, or crying. He didn’t dare reach out to her, but he waited to see if she would acknowledge his presence. Just as he opened his mouth, she beat him to the punch.

Her voice was low and muffled, laced with pain, but he heard clear over the incoming waves. “I can’t believe he told you. He swore he would never tell anyone. He never even told Frank.” When she was met with silence, she knew he was listening, and although he may have known some of it, there was no way he could understand it all. “I told Vinnie before I started my training. He’d call me almost every other day just to check in on me and see how I was holding up. I made it through training and then I was assigned to Frank.” Drawing a shaky breath and raising her head to settle her chin on her arms and stare out over the water, “Vinnie dragged me to church one day. Said there was someone he wanted me to meet. I don’t do church, but he wanted me to meet his brother. Told me that I needed to be able to talk to someone, and that Pete was safe. Hell, I was even scared to talk to him.”

“Why?”

“When I ran away, I said goodbye to my brother and he took it hard. He thought it was all his fault but I promised him that I’d be back to check on him, but couldn’t promise when. Then I left. I made the mistake of going to a church one night. You know, they’re suppose to take care of you if you need help, right?” Horatio nodded. “Yeah, well, I told the priest what had happened and he said that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted. Ended up he meant I could stay as long as it took to get child services involved.”

His eyes widened, “They sent you back home?”

Laughing cruelly, “No, they sent me to a foster home. Wasn’t the best place in the world and it was my first taste of the system. I didn’t like it. So I ran from there too. And I kept running. I did odd jobs here and there to keep a few bucks in my pocket and to keep the cops off my back, and eventually I went back. Not to my family, but a neighboring town. I saw my brother a couple of times a week. He was doing good.”

“What about your parents? What’d they do when you left?”

“Nothing. They did nothing. James never told them that I had talked to him the night I left. He said they got up the next morning, and when they found me gone, they threw out everything in my room. Everything. My clothes, my pictures, everything was gone.”

Anger started to bubble up inside him, “Sam, I’m so sorry. You have nothing at all?”

“I have a picture of me and James. It was the only one I took with me. The only one that mattered to me. I was seven years older than him, and it was taken when I was exactly twice his age.” Smiling at the memory, “It was just one of those days when everything seemed to be going right, and we got our picture taken. I had it blown up and it’s framed now. I have it back home on my nightstand right next to my alarm clock. Seeing James’s face every morning reminded me of what I was fighting for. It gave me a reason to keep going.”

He was trying to understand it all. The highlights that Dan had told him had not touched him as deeply as having Sam sit beside him and painfully tell her story.

“Anyway, fast forward to about the time I was twenty one. I got a decent job and I had to go away on a training conference. While I was gone, I had the local sheriff’s department contact me and tell me that I was needed back home. They told me what few details they had, and I called my boss. He told me that I was to stay at the conference. My family was dead, and there was nothing I could do to change that. If I returned from the conference early, then I was fired. So I quit. I jumped the next flight home, and when the cops didn’t appear to be doing anything, I decided to take matters into my own hands.” Looking up at the stars, “You know the funny thing? I didn’t care what had happened to my parents, but James had never had a bad thing to say about anyone in his life, and he was murdered in cold blood for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I couldn’t live with that.”

His heart was aching for her. “Sam…”

Turning her head on her arms, she shook her head sadly, “Horatio, don’t. Ok? There’s no way you could possibly understand what it felt like.”

She was wrong. He did understand her pain, more than she knew. “Sam, I do understand.”

Her eyes flashed, “How? How could you possibly know what it was like for me? Do you have any idea what it was like knowing that my brother was the only one that mattered? That nothing I could do was ever good enough? I was never smart enough, or fast enough, or quiet enough, or loud enough, or pretty enough.” Her voice was rising but she didn’t care. “And when I was smart, I was too smart. When I was quiet, I wasn’t quiet enough. When I was finally pretty enough…” Looking away swiftly and grinding her jaw to keep the tears from spilling, “and when I was finally pretty enough, that’s when things just got worse instead of better.”

Dear God, it all sounded too eerily similar. Feeling a stinging behind his eyes, Horatio shook his head to try to clear it. “Sam…”
But she was angry, and she was on a roll. “Do you have any idea, any at all, what’s it like to come home with a test in hand with a ninety eight grade and end up on the receiving end of a belt because it wasn’t a hundred? Or better yet, going to bed at night in fear? Knowing that once your mother was asleep, you’re father would be joining you because as he put it, he wasn’t turned on by her anymore, but his daughter more than made up for it?” Turning to glare at Horatio, “You have no idea, Horatio. None!”

Bowing his head, he prayed silently for the strength to do something that he had never done before. He prayed for the courage to bare his soul to her as she had just done for him. “Sam, I have a better idea than you may think.”

Shaking her head, she started to tell him he was wrong, but when he slowly pulled his t-shirt over his head and the moonlight shone across his chest, she could see the faint thin scars and her breath caught in her throat. There were a few bullet scars, but some of the others she knew first hand. He kept his face averted, and by the rise of color in his cheeks, she knew he was embarrassed. Closing her eyes and gritting her teeth, she was afraid to ask, but couldn’t stop herself. “How bad?”

Slowly twisting away so that she could see his back, he dropped his shirt in the sand at his feet and bowed his head. “They could have been worse, but he knew how to do it without leaving much of a mark.”

She wanted to scream. She wanted to yell. She wanted to curse the beast that would do that to the man beside her. Most of all, she wanted to hurt him for hurting Horatio. Snarling deep, “Where is he now?”

Turning back to look out at the water, his face was blank. “He’s dead.”

She hadn’t seen that coming. “How?”

“It was an accident. I went home one day, found my mother dead, and my father had killed her. He tried to attack me, I fought back and pushed him. He fell against a table and hit his head on the corner. He died right there in front of me.” His voice had started out hollow, but grew stronger. “My brother was the pride of the family. Could never do any wrong. Even when he did, it was still my fault.” Turning his head to look briefly at Sam before lowering his gaze back to the sand, “And I understand the fear too.”

The last had been a breathless whisper, but it shook her to the very bottom of her soul. Without thinking whether he would accept it or pull away, Sam wrapped her arms around Horatio’s shoulders and pulled him close. He didn’t move, he didn’t put his arms around her, but when he laid his head on her shoulder and she felt him shudder, her heart broke. His shoulders trembled beneath her touch, and she could feel a wetness through her t-shirt. That’s all it took. With an arm around his shoulders, and a hand against the back of his head holding him to her, she buried her face in the side of his neck and wept.

***

How long they sat there in the sand was lost to them both. Once the tears had dried, she’d felt his arms circle her waist to just hang on. Horatio’s shivering brought Sam back to her senses. Easing herself away from him, she released him as he sat back and lowered his head. Scooping his shirt up out of the sand and climbing to her feet, she offered her hand to him and waited for him to look up. Slowly raising his head, he saw Sam’s hand extended, but didn’t reach for it. “You know, this may be Miami, but it still gets a little chilly sitting by the water in the middle of the night.” Holding out his t-shirt to him, a warm smile plays across her lips. “Come on, Lieutenant. Let’s get you inside and warm you up.”

Looking up into Sam’s eyes, there was no judgment, only acceptance. Only Alexx knew the whole truth about his past, and his team only knew that he had accidentally killed his father. When Alexx had found out, she had cried and felt angry that he had to have gone through it, but there was no way for her to truly understand. Standing before him, with her hand out to him, Sam knew, and understood. She accepted him for his past and his scars. For once, there was a peace inside him. Reaching up hesitantly to take her hand, he couldn’t help but smile as she latched onto his wrist and stepped back suddenly pulling him to his feet. There were no words that could express what he felt. His mouth opened and closed, and he felt like a fish out of water, but no words came forth. Giving up, he slipped his shirt over his head and just stood there.

He was still shivering when she slid her hand into his and led him up to the house. Releasing him long enough to collect their forgotten mugs, Sam stepped inside as Horatio opened the door for her. Listening to Horatio lock up behind her, Sam deposited the mugs in the sink before walking back to the living room. “Why don’t you go to bed, Horatio? You need to get some sleep.”

Leaning against the wall in the hallway, his head bowed, “I don’t think I can sleep right now.”

Frowning and walking past him to her room, Sam pulled the blanket from the bed and walked back to the living room. “Come in here, Horatio.” Turning on the stereo, and lowering the volume until it was almost silent, she turned back to Horatio. “Horatio, I won’t bite. If you can’t sleep, then let me try something that Uncle Mike usually does for me when I can’t sleep.” Watching the doubt cross his face, she rolled her eyes and walked over to him. Gently cupping his chin and lifting his head to look him in the eyes, “I won’t hurt you, Horatio. I swear that to you.”

And yet he hesitated. How could he explain it to her that there was no way he could possibly relax with her so close? She’d bared her soul to him, and he felt closer to her than he had ever felt to any another woman. She didn’t want to hurt him, but he was already thinking about when the time would come that she would leave Miami, and him, behind.

She couldn’t read his mind, but she knew what Uncle Mike had always told her. That at some point in her life, she would have to trust another person with the knowledge of her past, and in the hands of the right person, she would find peace. Uncle Mike was always telling her that she deserved to be happy, deserved to find a man that would accept her for all that she was… past and present. Red heads had never turned her head, but the angel before her had not only turned her head, but had captured her heart. Closing her eyes and bowing her head, her hand strayed to the chain around her neck. Swallowing harshly around the lump in her throat, she felt like she was betraying Vinnie.

He saw the look in her eyes before she closed them, and he felt a spring of hope. But as her eyes closed, he knew she was feeling torn. Leaning forward to wrap his arms around her and pull her toward him, he whispered quietly in her ear. “When this is all over, I’d like a chance to talk about all this, and maybe see what can come out of it.”

He’d given her an out. Tilting her head back to look up at him, she smiled faintly. “Another time, another place, and who knows what could have happened between us, but right now…”

Finishing her thought for her, “Right now we need to find your brother. Everything else can wait.” Yawning and shaking his head, he released her. “Go to bed, Sam. I still don’t think I’ll be able to sleep.”

Taking his hand and leading him to the sofa, Sam tucked her SIG between the arm and the cushion, before curling up in the corner. “Come on, sit down.” When he hesitated, she growled at him and climbed back to her feet. Taking his face in her hands and making him meet her eyes, “Stop it, Horatio. I’m not going to hurt you, and I’m not about to let anyone else hurt you either. You’re safe.” And still he hesitated. God, tell me I’m not this bad with Uncle Mike. “Who heals the healer when the healer gets sick?”

Cocking his head in confusion, Horatio arched an eyebrow. “What?”

“Something Uncle Mike told me once, but he changed it. What he asked me was, who protects the protector when it’s the protector that needs the protecting?” Shaking her head at the still confused look in his eyes, “It means, if you’re so busy watching out for everyone else, who watches out for you when you need it most?”

It was something that he’d never thought about. Putting his life on the line for those around him went above and beyond being just his job. But when it came to anyone else standing up for him, he’d always pushed it away. That put people too close, and he hated seeing anyone get hurt. “So what’s the answer?”

His face still in her hands, he’d made no move to step away. “For me, the answer is Uncle Mike. I’m the protector, but when I need it most, he’s mine.” Reaching up to brush a stray lock from his forehead, “For you, the answer is me. You know more about me than anyone other than my family, and I’m going to assume that I now know more about you than anyone else. You’re the protector, Horatio, but if you’ll allow it, I can protect you when you need it most.”

He liked the sound of that. Closing his eyes and nodding his head, he waited until Sam curled up in the corner of the sofa once more before sitting beside her.

“Lay down, Horatio.” Flipping the blanket over him as he stretched out beside her and laid his head on her lap, he sighed when she draped an arm over his shoulder. Smoothing his hair, she smiled as he took her hand and held it beneath the blanket, holding it over his heart. Uncle Mike’s cd was softly playing, and she could feel his heart beat slowing to a more regular pattern. As his breathing slowed and his body relaxed, she leaned her head toward his ear, “Rest easy, Horatio. You’re safe. I’ve got you.” Leaning her head back and closing her eyes, Sam smiled faintly as she fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Waking to the sun shining brightly through the windows, Sam rolled her neck and winced as it cracked. Stretching her legs out before her, she frowned at the blanket covering her. Glancing to the sofa beside her, she sighed as she found it empty. Tossing the blanket aside, her mind replayed the night before and she wondered if things would be different between her and Horatio now. Walking to the kitchen and running a hand through her hair, she smiled and shook her head at the sight before her. Crossing her arms and leaning against the wall just inside the kitchen, she realized that things had definitely changed. Busy making breakfast, Horatio never heard her enter and she just stood there watching him. His hair was still wet from a shower, and he was dressed in only a pair of shorts. He had chosen not to wear a shirt, and although she had seen the faint scars in the moonlight, she saw them better now, and she still wanted to hurt the one responsible. Unfortunately, he was already dead.

“Why don’t you pour a couple glasses of juice? The pancakes are almost ready.”

So he had heard her! As the sunlight filtered through the kitchen window, she could almost swear that there were horns being hidden by that fiery halo circling his hair. “Morning to you too.” Getting their drinks as Horatio loaded their plates, she followed him to the dining room and chuckled at the site of the newspaper sitting on the table. Taking a seat and picking up the paper, “Good morning to you too, Uncle Mike.”

He was still a little uneasy without his shirt on, but it had been too warm in the kitchen and after last night, he had decided to take a chance. Staring at his plate before him, “Sam…”

Laying the paper aside, she used his own calm look against him. Cocking her head and not quite making eye contact, “Horatio, everything’s fine. When this all over, then we can talk about it. Right now, we both need time to process last night. I think we both have some adjusting to do.”

Raising his eyes, he caught hers and held them. When she raised her head and smiled at him, he knew that the acceptance he had seen the night before had not been only in his head. Sliding his hand across the table to cover hers, he whispered out a simple, “Thank you.”

Sam stared into those blue eyes and felt drawn to them. The feelings he awoke inside her scared her. Looking away quickly, she took a steadying breath. Feeling his hand leave hers, she snapped her head back toward him and saw the hurt look in his eyes just before he lowered his head. “Horatio, wait.” Grabbing his hand, and holding it tight, she closed her eyes and bit her lip. “I didn’t tell you everything last night.” Opening her eyes to see him looking at her questioningly, “I’m not sorry for last night. Not in the least bit. I’m glad that Uncle Mike told you, and I’m glad that I had a chance to explain it, but that wasn’t all there was to tell you.”

He was nervous. He’d thought when she had turned away that it had been the wrong thing to do. That he shouldn’t have told her, but beyond the scared look in her eyes, he still saw her acceptance of him and all that he had shared. She had his hand in a vice grip, like she was afraid that whatever else she had to tell him would have him turning away from her and walking away. If that’s what she truly thought, then she was wrong. “Sam, whatever it is…”

“It needs to be said, Horatio. Whether I want to or not, it needs to be said.” Looking down at her plate, Sam laughed nervously. “I think I’m more afraid of saying this, than I was saying everything last night.” Taking a deep breath, “I told you that I ran away when I was sixteen. With the exception of my father…” Snarling out the word father, she slowly continued with her voice barely a whisper, “I’ve never…” Glancing up to meet his eyes, she wanted to see, she needed to see, his reaction. Shaking her head slowly, the need to be understood, the pleading in her eyes for him to accept her, “I’ve never been with anyone else.”

That shocked him. She was thirty seven, and had never been with a man who had ever shown her anything other than pain. Seeing the tear trickle down her cheek as she turned her head and tried in vain to blink them away, he latched onto her wrist as she tried to release his hand. Standing and stepping around the corner of the table, he pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. Here he was worried about whether she would accept his faults, and in that second, he realized that it was he who had the most accepting to do. Feeling her arms circle his waist, he smiled faintly against her hair. Giving her a moment to compose herself, he leaned away and lifted her face to meet his eyes. Wiping away her tears with his thumb, “We’ll take this slow, Sam. What did you tell me last night? I won’t hurt you. When this is over, after we find your brother and bring him home, I’d still like a chance to sit and talk about this. No rushing into anything because I don’t think either of us is ready for that big of a step. Alright?” With her small nod, he smiled. Without thinking, he lowered his head and brushed his lips against her forehead.

Stiffening slightly at the surprise move, and the tenderness of that brief touch, Sam tightened her arms around his waist and rested her head against his chest for a moment. She had been so scared that he would walk away and that she had blown any chance of finding that shred of happiness that Uncle Mike had always told her that she deserved. Looking up into those baby blues, she couldn’t find the words to express what she felt.

With her eyes she thanked him, and he nodded. Slowly releasing her and returning to his seat, “Alexx is going to have a field day.” Chuckling as Sam’s eyes opened wide, “Oh, she’s known for quite some time about my past. She somehow figured some of it out and came to me one day and when I tried to lie about it, she called me on it. So I told her.”

Laughing lightly, Sam grinned. “So that’s why she mother hen’s you more than everyone else.” That explained so much. Glancing at her watch, Sam cursed. “Oh my god! Horatio, we’re late!” Dropping her fork on her plate and running to find her phone, she punched in Uncle Mike’s number and sat back down with the paper open beside her. Growling and pushing the paper aside as he answered, “Forget the damn paper. I overslept.”

Chuckling on the other end of the line, “Relax, Sam. Horatio called in about an hour ago. He said you both would be in late.”

Raising an eyebrow at Horatio as he calmly ate his breakfast, “He called you?”

“No, Sam. He called the front desk. When Frank and I got here, we were given the message.” Pausing and lowering his voice, “Is everything alright, Sam?”

Growling under her breath, “Yeah, great. You and I need to talk later. I’m not happy with you right now, Uncle Mike.”

He could guess why. “Take your time. Calleigh and Eric are in the lab going over the results that Frank brought with him.”

Speaking around bites, “Anything turn up?”

“The paint is a match. They figure it’s the same batch based on compound and color yadda yadda.”

Laughing hard at the last bit, “Wow, they can check for that?” Not waiting for an answer, “We’ll be there soon. Tell Frank I’m still going with him to talk to Santana. I don’t want him going alone.”

“Will do, Sam. We’ll be here.”

Hanging up and pointing her fork at Horatio, “Why didn’t you tell me you called in already?”

Looking up innocently, Horatio shrugged casually. “You didn’t ask, and you ran out of here so fast, I didn’t have time to tell you.”

“Uh huh. What did you tell the desk?”

“The truth. We all made it a late night last night. With everything going on, I said you were pretty drained and that I figured you needed the rest. Considering that you only have the bike here, I wasn’t about to let you ride that in, so I let you sleep for a while longer.” Smiling brightly and dismissing the entire conversation, “It’s good to be head of the crime lab.”

When she said it, she meant it on many levels, “Thank you.”

Nodding and finishing his breakfast, “Now finish and get ready so we can get moving.” Taking her plate as she pushed it aside, “Get dressed. I’ll be ready in a couple minutes.”

She doubted that, but when she came out of her room ten minutes later, collected her SIG from the living room, and slipped her cell phone in her pocket, she smiled as Horatio stepped out of his bedroom looking as sharp as ever. Putting on her best game face, she led them to the door and stepped outside, “Shall we?”

***

Taking the elevator up to the lab, Sam frowned as they stepped out and she caught sight of Uncle Mike and Alexx with their heads together not far from the reception desk. Catching the twin smiles, she growled under her breath and elbowed Horatio in the ribs as he chuckled softly beside her. “Don’t encourage them.” As they joined the grinning pair, “Enough. Both of you in Horatio’s office, now.” Narrowing her eyes at them both and leading the way, Sam stopped by the desk as Horatio closed the door behind them.

“Sam…”

Holding up a hand and turning slowly, Sam leaned back against the desk and frowned sternly. “I don’t want to hear it. Both of you sit down.” Apparently her tone was enough of a warning because Uncle Mike took a seat on the sofa while Alexx settled into the chair near the desk. Raising her eyes to regard Horatio standing next to the door for a moment, Sam leveled a glare at Uncle Mike. “Understand one thing, I am only going to say this once, so listen closely. I should be angry with you for what you told Horatio. But…”

“Sam, I…”

Cutting him off abruptly, “Stop. I said I should be, not that I am. I should be beyond angry but I’m not. I was hurt when I found out, but in the long run, it made it a lot easier.” Looking from Uncle Mike to Alexx, “It’s like this. I’ll make this as simple as I can. Uncle Mike knows my entire past. You know Horatio’s entire past. Uncle Mike found out about Horatio’s past when he did a background on him before Frank came here to get his help with the plane that came in.” Pausing and noting that both were still silent, “Uncle Mike told Horatio part of my past without me knowing, and for that I should be angry. We got out of here late last night, and couldn’t sleep so we talked for a while. I tried to tell him about my past, and he said he already knew.” Watching the sheepish look flash across Uncle Mike’s face, “Uh huh. Now figure how I felt. So anyway, now Horatio knows my past. In the course of events, he told me about his past. So we know about each other, and once Uncle Mike tells you what he told Horatio, then you two will know about our pasts too.”

Was it possible? Turning in her seat to look at Horatio for confirmation and catching his brief nod and shy smile, Alexx turned back beaming. “Baby girl…” Horatio was her baby. Ever since she had stumbled across a part of his past and figured out more than she ever dreamed possible, ever since she had confronted him about it and he had finally told her the truth, she knew that he had never told another person. She tried to be happy, but she was concerned for her boy.

Seeing the change in Alexx’s eyes, Sam sighed. “Alexx, just hang on a second. If you two had your heads together, then you have to know part of my past, am I right?” Catching her hesitant nod, Sam glanced at Uncle Mike, “You might as well tell her the rest at some point.” Closing her eyes for a moment to collect her thoughts, she wanted to get to work, but she needed to deal with these two hens before she could do anything. “Alexx, I don’t know what you’ve told Horatio, but I know what Uncle Mike has told me over the years. If you’ve ever said anything familiar, then I’m guessing it would sound like this. Your past is your past even though it’s made you who you are today. You’re a strong person with a caring heart, and you deserve to be happy. Someday you’ll have to trust someone enough to let them in, otherwise you’ll end up the rest of your life alone.”

Laughing deeply, Uncle Mike grinned. “That sounds about right. I may have said something along those lines at some point.”

Sharing the laugh, Alexx shook her head. “Baby girl, you couldn’t have gotten any closer.”

Growling at them both, Sam scowled and rolled her eyes. “Is there some manual you two checked out? Memorized the speech or something?” Shaking her head at Horatio as he moved to step to her side, “No one outside this room knows of your past or mine. I’d rather not have anyone outside this room thinking there was anything different between us either.” Studying Uncle Mike and Alexx, her voice serious, “Horatio and I have already discussed it. This case comes first. Once this is out of the way, once Vinnie is found and brought home, then we’re going to sit down and talk this out and figure out where we stand. We want to give things a chance between us, but we know we can’t rush into anything. Neither of us is ready to take a plunge like that yet. So no warnings, no speeches about not hurting one another otherwise you’re going to hurt us, understood? Drop it until we’re done here.”

Rising from the sofa and drawing Sam into his arms, Uncle Mike whispered in her ear, “He knows everything?”

Leaning back to look up at her Uncle, “Yes, and that’s why we need to wait.”

“Alright, then I’ll talk to Alexx later and fill her in.” Stepping away as Alexx rose beside him, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure we’re alone somewhere.”

Taking Sam’s hands in her own, Alexx glanced at Horatio and looked back at Sam. “I knew he cared about you, baby girl, but I have to admit I’m still quite surprised that he said anything.” Pulling Sam into a tight hug, “I think you’re family now, baby girl.”

Her voice barely above a faint whisper, Sam wrapped her arms around Alexx and whispered, “He didn’t tell me right away. He showed me.” She knew that Alexx would know what she meant, and when Alexx drew away and looked at her with a sadness in her eyes, she knew the look and nodded. She’d felt the same thing. “I won’t hurt him, Alexx.”

Reaching up to brush the hair from Sam’s face, “I know you won’t, baby girl.” Releasing Sam and looking over at Horatio standing off to the side by himself, “And you, baby…” Walking over to take his hand, she tried to tell him how proud she was of him, but the words wouldn’t come.

Lowering his head and blushing, “I know, Alexx.” Squeezing her hand in his before taking a deep breath and raising his head, his eyes passed fondly over to Sam before they hardened and he got everyone back on track. “Alright, enough of this. You both understand, right? As far as anyone out there knows, we’re discussing the case. No one needs to know any different. That means no one. Dan, if you want to talk to Alexx as Sam requested, that’s fine, but no one else is to know.”

Taking the cue and focusing her mind, Sam nodded matter-of-factly. “Right. Let’s get to work. Alexx, first of all, your kids and Joe?”

Stepping away and placing her hands on the back of the chair, “My children are with my sister and she’s happy to have them for a few days. I explained what was going on, and she said not to worry, that they would be safe with her. Joe followed me to my sister’s house, and then followed me here. I’m still not sure I like having someone I don’t know hanging around the house, but I do feel safer knowing that he’s there and that he’s a friend of Frank’s.”

“Good. Horatio came up with another idea and I’ll let him discuss it with you later after I take off with my Frank.” Shaking her head, “I swear, having two Frank’s here is going to drive me insane and confuse everyone else in the process. Do you think your Frank would mind if I simply called him Tripp from now on since my Frank is here now?”

Glancing out the window, Horatio waved as Frank walked by. “I don’t think he’ll mind, Sam. I’ll talk to him about it later as well. That way he doesn’t think that you suddenly don’t like him anymore.”

Rolling her eyes, “Fine.” Turning back to Alexx, “I’m assuming there’s nothing new from Kevin’s body other than the fingerprint that Calleigh found last night?”

Her eyes sparkled as she smiled ear to ear. “Baby girl, when I came in and Calleigh told me about that print, I was just happy that I managed to preserve the whole piece for you guys.”

“You did a phenomenal job, Alexx, thank you.” Turning to Uncle Mike, “I want you here in the lab with Calleigh and Eric helping them out how ever you can. Work in a chat with Alexx at some point, and give Horatio a heads up on how the secure call in works. If for whatever reason I can’t get a hold of you, he should know how to.” Noting the hesitation, “Either you explain it to him, or I will. I don’t have time to deal with this right now. I need to get Frank, and run over to Santana’s.” Glancing at her watch, “I know he said early, and since we’re running late, and we had this little powwow in here, we’re later than anticipated. Frank and I need to get out of here and get things done.”

Sighing lightly, Uncle Mike nodded faintly. “Alright, Sam. I’ve got the paper in the lab. I’ll take care of things here, and if either of you need anything, call me. Frank’s in the break room.”

Knowing how much Frank loved inactivity, Sam walked to the door. “Fine. Let me get him and get moving.” Walking out and making her way to the break room, “Frank, you ready to go?”

Scowling deep as he rose from the table, “It’s about time you got here.”

“Don’t start with me, Frank. We didn’t get out of here until late, and then I couldn’t sleep. Horatio was worried and he let me sleep in for a while. It’s not like you have a scheduled meeting or anything.” Leaving the room and hearing Frank behind her, “Uncle Mike is heading to the lab, and said if we need anything to call him.” Stopping outside the elevator, Sam turned as Horatio called her name. Catching a key ring as he tossed it her way, she raised an eyebrow as she recognized the cut.

“Eric is down in transport. There’s an extra with your name on it. I figured if Dan needed wheels, he’d probably be more comfortable with your truck than one of our beasts.”

Holding her hand out to Frank as he rattled the keys behind her, Sam tossed her set back at Horatio. Her eyes glittering with eagerness, “Thanks, Horatio. We’ll be back in a while. If you need me, you’ve got the number.” Watching him walk away in the direction of the labs, she shook her head as Tripp stepped out of the elevator as the doors opened. “Frank, just the man I wanted to see.” Hooking her arm through his and dragging him back into the elevator as the doors closed, “We need to get to transport, and you’re the man to get us there.”

“And you need an escort?”

Laughing at the look on his face, “Not really, but I figure you can get me there faster than anyone else, and it will give me a chance to ask you something else as well.” Pausing as the doors opened and they stepped out following Tripp, “Now that my Frank is in town, I really don’t want to be confusing everyone…”

Flashing a half grin of amusement, “Just call me Tripp, Sam. I’m not sure why you didn’t from the beginning.” Stopping at the garage and eyeing Eric standing next to one of the extra Hummers, “I’m guessing that Eric is taking over the tour from here, so I will leave you both and see about getting back upstairs.” Tilting his head to Sam, “See you later, Sam. Watch your back out there.”

Shaking her head as Tripp walked away and she approached Eric, “I take it Horatio sent you down here?”

Holding open the drivers side door, Eric smiled warmly. “When H called in saying you guys were going to be late, he had me see about getting you a set of keys. This baby is yours for the duration. Just don’t total it.”

Climbing in and grinning at Eric as Frank settled in the passenger seat, “Thanks, Eric.” Moving her arm as Eric closed her door, she waited until he moved away before firing up the engine and pulling out of the garage. For something as big as the Hummer was, it was a smooth ride.

“Santana is not going to be happy seeing you again.”

Shrugging lightly, Sam glanced over at Frank, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not there to talk to him, you are. I’m there as strictly security. You get what you need from him, and then we’re gone.” Noting his pursed lips and the frown deepening the lines of his forehead, “Frank, relax. One of us is going to get this Guzman guy. It’s just a matter of which one of us finds him first.”

His voice was flat, and his eyes were empty, “It’s going on two weeks, Sam.”

Swallowing hard, her heart skipped a beat. So she wasn’t the only one counting the days. “I know, Frank. I know.” Falling silent, they drove on and parked at the pier overlooking Santana’s boathouse. “It’s your show, Frank. I’m just here to watch.” Falling instep beside him, she couldn’t help but grin as Santana opened the door when Frank knocked.

“You again!?”

“Relax, Mikey. I’m not here to shoot you. I’m not even here to talk to you. Frank’s in charge of things now.” Stepping inside as he held the door open, Sam closed it behind her and took up a position close by where she could keep an eye on the docks. Closing her ears to Frank’s conversation, she knew if there was anything of interest, he’d tell her later.

***

He was scared, but he passed by all the officers and entered the police station. Yelping as a hand dropped on his shoulder, he looked up with fear in his eyes.

“Hey now, kid. Relax, no one’s going to hurt you here.” Looking the boy over, he didn’t look much older than fifteen or sixteen, and he was definitely scared. Trying to soften his voice and not sound so gruff, “I’m Detective Tripp. What’s wrong? Where are your parents?”

He wanted to run, but he was trapped. He’d walked in here because he wanted to talk to someone, but now he was having second thoughts. “I need to talk to someone about the man that was found on the beach. I saw it on the news this morning.”

The man on the beach? Kevin! “Alright kid, I can take you upstairs to talk to someone. You got a name?”

“Carlos.” He couldn’t run now even if he tried. The officer’s hand was still firmly on his shoulder.

Stepping into the elevator, Tripp pulled out his cell, “H, meet me in Interrogation Room Four. I think I’ve got a witness here for you.” Hanging up, he looked down at the kid beside him. Exiting the elevator and steering them toward one of the interrogation rooms, “Have a seat, Carlos. H will be here in a minute.”

Walking around the room, Carlos stood with the table between him and the door as Horatio walked in. “Who are you?”

Dropping his head and allowing his gaze to lower to the floor, Horatio studied the boy. He didn’t have the look of a typical gang kid, but he wondered at what had brought him in. “My name is Horatio Caine. And you?”

“I already told him my name is Carlos.”

Smiling gently, Horatio raises his eyes and cocked his head. “What can I do for you, Carlos? Detective Tripp thinks you have information about a body we found?”

Moving slowly toward a chair, Carlos still tried to keep distance between him and the two officers. Breathing a little easier as Horatio waved Tripp to one side of the room, and then took the chair across the table, “I saw it on the news this morning. I didn’t know they were going to kill him. I swear it, you have to believe me.”

Fighting to keep his face impassive, Horatio felt his heart leap in his chest. His voice ever calm, “Carlos, what do you know about what happened?”

Slowly placing his hands on the table, he turned them palm up. He hadn’t been able to get all the paint off, and when he had seen the news, he’d gotten scared. He knew the man had been alive when he left, but there was no way anyone else would have known that. He didn’t want to get in trouble. He hadn’t known.

Leaning forward, Horatio’s eyes opened wide. “Carlos. Son. Where are your parents?”

Pulling his hands back into his lap, his voice shook. “Am I in trouble? He was alive, I swear I didn’t know.”

Nodding and pulling out his cell phone, “It’s alright, Son. You just sit tight. I’m going to make a phone call to someone that’s more in charge on this case than even I am, and that’s saying a lot since I run this place.” Smiling gently in an attempt to calm the boy, Horatio sighed faintly as he saw some of the fear fade from Carlos’s eyes. Bowing his head as the call is answered, “Sam, I know you haven’t been gone long, but I need an ETA.”

“Horatio, we haven’t been here that long. Frank’s still talking to Santana. What’s wrong?”

Looking across the table, “Sam, I have a young man here that wants to talk to the person in charge of finding the body on the beach.”

Shocked silence, followed by a soft curse. “Twenty minutes. You better hope the lights on the wheels work.” Disconnecting the call, Sam turned to Frank. “Wrap it up, Frank. I’m needed back at the Department.”

Looking up with a sigh, Frank frowned. “Why? What’s so damn important?”

“Sounds like we’ve got a witness to Kevin’s murder.”

Without hesitation, Frank stood and offered his hand to Santana. “Sorry to cut this short, but this is important. I’ll be in touch.” Practically pushing Sam out the door, “Move. Let’s go.”

Jogging back to the Hummer, and pulling out onto the street, Sam reached over and flipped the switch for the lights. As she raced through the city, she thought better and turned on the siren as well.

“Are you sure that’s necessary, Sam? Are they going to like you racing through here in their vehicle with their lights and siren on? What if you get pulled over?”

Growling at Frank as she raced through an intersection against the red light, “Knock it off, Frank. Head to the lab when we get there. I need to talk to the witness.” Roaring into the parking lot and sliding into the first available slot, Sam jumped out and locked the door on the fly. Leaving Frank behind, Sam took the stairs two at a time, and burst through the door upstairs. Coming to a halt as Horatio and Frank walked toward her, Sam eyed the witness.

“His name is Carlos. That’s all he would tell us, Sam. He’s scared, and he’s got paint on his hands. He swears that Kevin was alive when he marked him.”

Catching her breath and calming her heart, “What about his parents? How’d he get here?”

Frank shook his head. “No idea how he got here, and he hasn’t said anything about his parents. I found him inside and he said he wanted to talk to whoever was in charge of Kevin’s body.” Seeing the surprise in Sam’s eyes, “He didn’t say the name. He said the body on the beach. You weren’t here, so I had H talk to him. Once he showed the paint, H called you. We told him the officer in charge was coming in, and we’ve kept an eye on him.”

Taking a deep breath, Sam nodded. “Alright. Let’s go back in. If I need anything, I’m going to send one of you to get whatever I need. Understood?” Catching their nods, “Good.” Walking into the room, Sam was floored as she realized how young the boy was. Taking a seat, she smiled warmly. “Afternoon…” Checking her watch and grinning sheepishly, “Wow, it really is afternoon now. You know how it is when you get so caught up in what you’re doing that you lose track of time?” Shaking her head sadly but flashing a wink at the boy, “I may forget, but that’s why I keep them around.” Watching a smile play on his lips, “They tell me that your name is Carlos. Do you have a last name, Carlos?”

Staring at the woman sitting across from him, he liked her. He wasn’t scared with her. “You don’t look like a cop.”

Feigning surprise, “I don’t?” Watching his smile widen a little more, Sam leaned forward and whispered, “Well you know what? You’ve got a really good eye because I’m not a cop.” Removing her wallet from her back pocket, she slid it across the table. Waiting for him to open it, “My name is Samantha Giovanni, but you can call me Sam. I’m not a cop, I’m actually a Federal Agent. I’m in Miami looking for an Agent that went missing almost two weeks ago. He was my partner, and he’s my brother.”

Studying her badge, Carlos closed it and set it on the table in front of him. “I didn’t kill him, I swear it.”

He was terrified and he had a right to be, but Sam needed answers. Looking up at Tripp standing near the door, “Detective Tripp, would you mind terribly finding me a couple bottles of water for me and Carlos, please?” Flashing a look at Horatio to move behind her, further away from Carlos, she waited for him to step away and for Tripp to exit the room. “Carlos, I believe you, but I need you to answer a few questions for me, ok?”

Biting his lip, he nodded slowly.

Folding her hands on the table, “Carlos, I need to know where your parents are and if they know that you’re here.”

Shaking his head, “They don’t know. They don’t care. I’m staying with different friends. I don’t live with my parents.”

She didn’t like the sound of that, but she didn’t have time to check into it at the moment. “Alright, that’s fine. How about your name?”

“Carlos Eduardo Ruiz. I’m fourteen.”

“Sam…” Waiting for her turn around, “Why don’t I get a recorder in here? Get everything down so that you can work with it later?” Nodding at her grateful look, he quietly excused himself as Tripp walked back in with two bottles.

Setting a bottle in front of Carlos, Sam opened hers and took a long drink. “Horatio is going to get a recorder so that we can tape the conversation, alright? It’s nothing to worry about, but it will help us later when we’re trying to remember everything that we talked about.” Watching him gulp down half the bottle, she flashed a look at Tripp. “Why don’t find our fish here another bottle, and then make sure no one bothers us in here, please?”

As Tripp walked back out, Carlos followed his movements down the hallway. “Do you really run everything?”

Laughing lightly as he walked back in and caught the question, Horatio set the recorder on the table and winked at Carlos, “Not really, but we let her think so from time to time.”

Flashing a set of pearly whites, Carlos was starting to like these two. He actually felt safe. “Are you two like a team or something?”

Looking up as Horatio dropped a hand on her shoulder, Sam smiled and shook her head. “Something like that. I met Horatio when I first came down here, and he’s been helping me since.” Reaching over to touch the recorder, “Are you ready?” Noting his hesitant nod, Sam hit the record button. “Alright, let’s get started. Agent Sam Giovanni and Lieutenant Horatio Caine, talking to witness Carlos Eduardo Ruiz. Date October seventeenth. Time twelve forty six pm.” Smiling at Carlos, “That’s so that we know when we started and who was here. So, now it’s your turn. In your own words, and take as much time as you need, I need you to tell me everything you saw and heard, and everything that you can remember that happened. Can you do that for me, Carlos?”

Nodding his head, he paused as he realized that it wouldn’t be heard on the tape and he bowed his head as he blushed. “Yes, ma’am. I can do that.” Slowly he began his story, and with his head down he missed the look that passed between Horatio and Sam, and the look that Sam shot Frank as he came back with another bottle of water.

Shaking her head and mouthing the words ‘Stay out there’, Sam shuddered as she listened to Carlos recount the night’s events as they had played out for him.

Chapter Text

Walking to the window, and clasping his hands behind his back, Horatio could hardly believe his ears as he listened to Carlos tell his story. Glancing over his shoulder as the boy fell silent, Horatio’s concern rose as he noticed the paleness of Sam’s face and the trembling of her hand as she reached to turn off the recorder. Taking a step toward her, he stopped as she waved him away and lowered her head with her hands flat on the table.

Pulling the recorder to her, and slowly raising her head, she took a deep breath. “Carlos, thank you. You have no idea how helpful you’ve been.” But she still needed more from him. “Carlos, I need to ask you a couple things now, ok?” Catching his nod, “I’d like to bring an officer in to get a sample of the paint on your hand, and your fingerprints so that we can match them to what we found. Would that be alright?”

Staring down at his hands and looking up at Sam cautiously, “Will it hurt?”

Shaking her head with a smile, “No, it won’t hurt. I’d also like to bring in a sketch artist if you think you could describe what the guys looked like that asked you to help them. Do you think you could remember them well enough to help me get a picture of them?”

Nodding almost frantically, “I remember their faces. I can even remember their voices.”

With a gentle smile, Sam reached across the table and lightly patted the back of Carlos’s unpainted hand. “Wonderful. Now I’m going to ask you to stay in here for a minute while I go outside here and talk to Horatio about getting what I need.” Rising from her seat and picking up the recorder, “I’ll be right outside the door. Don’t worry.”

Stepping out of the room behind Sam and closing the door behind him, Horatio held out his hand. “I’ll take the recorder down to the lab and have Eric and Dan go over it, and I’ll send Calleigh over with a kit.”

Nodding to Horatio, Sam looked up at Tripp and sighed. “I need a sketch artist. The best you have, and hopefully someone that’s good with kids. He’s scared and I don’t want to spook him anymore than he is.”

Nodding and handing the water bottle to Sam, “You got it.” Walking off, Tripp grabbed the elevator and disappeared.

Running a hand through her hair nervously, “Horatio, he’s our only live witness. We need to protect him. Tell me there’s something we can do for him.”

“Technically Sam, we should try to contact his parents.”

“I don’t think that’s an option. He’s staying with friends, so I think there’s more to the parents issue than he’s ready to talk about.”

Studying the boy inside, Horatio felt for him. Lowering his voice, “I’ll make a few phone calls. I might be able to get a hold of an old friend that might be able to help out.”

She wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but for an instant, she was concerned. “Horatio, we can’t put him in the system. They’ll find him too easily.”

“Relax, Sam. I was thinking more along the lines of the guy I talked to that helped Charlie. He’s not part of the system. He doesn’t operate a foster home run by the state. He more or less takes in strays that need a safe place, does what he can to protect them and get them on their feet, and then helps them either get back with their families, or he helps them find new families looking to adopt.”

Leaning her back against the glass with her arms folded, “He can protect him though?”

Dropping a hand on Sam’s shoulder, “He runs a tighter place than Fort Knox.” She was worried, but so was he. He knew they had to protect Carlos, and he was going to the only one he could think of to help. “Let me call him and see if he has room for one more, ok? If he doesn’t, then we’ll have to figure something else out.”

“Yeah. Ok. Make the call, and send up Calleigh. We still have a lot to deal with today.” Stepping away to enter the room, Sam offered the bottle to Carlos and walked to the window.

“Am I in trouble?”

Turning slowly and walking back to the table to take a seat, Sam smiled weakly. “No. You’re not in trouble. I was just thinking about my brother.” Both of them to be exact. “Believe it or not, you’re the first person that has been able to really help me.” She knew the question was going to be hard to answer, but she had to ask. “Carlos, what happened to your parents? Why are you living with friends?”

Tears immediately sprang to his eyes and his bowed his head. “My mom died two months ago in a car accident. A drunk driver hit her when she was coming home from work and they said she was dead before the police even got there.”

“Oh hun, I’m so sorry.”

If he’d heard her, he didn’t show it. “My dad took it really hard. He lost his job before summer, and Mom was the one working and paying the bills. When she died, he tried to get a job, but he couldn’t find one. He got depressed and started drinking. He gets mad a lot when he drinks. He doesn’t mean to, but he does.”

Glancing up as Horatio quietly opened the door, she shook her head and brushed a tear from her eye.

“I didn’t want to leave him alone, but I couldn’t stay there. Mom died because of a drunk driver, and I couldn’t sit there and watch him turn into what I hated most. So I talked to a couple friends and they talked to their parents. There wasn’t much they could do, but they let me stay with them. I stay a few days here, a few days there…” Looking up with tears streaming down his face, “Mom always wanted me to stay in school. This is the only way I can do it.”

Drawing a shaky breath, and moving from her seat as Calleigh walked in, “Carlos, you’re going to be fine. I’m going to do everything I can to protect you, alright? Once things get straightened out, maybe we can see about helping your dad too, ok?”

With hope flashing in his eyes, “Do you mean it?”

Her chin quivering as she tried to hold back her own tears, Sam nodded. “I do, Carlos. I mean it.” Taken by surprise as the boy leapt from his chair and threw his arms around her waist, she held him tight for a moment before releasing him. “Carlos, I need to introduce you to Calleigh. She’s going to get the samples for me.” Glancing at Calleigh as Carlos reclaimed his seat, “Explain things to Carlos before you do anything, Calleigh. I want everyone working with him to be completely honest with him.” Ushering Horatio out the door, and into the hallway, “Anything?”

Nodding, he watched Calleigh walk through the procedures with Carlos. “He can stay with us tonight. Nick said he could pick Carlos up in the morning.” Stopping her before she could utter a sound, “I gave Dan his name already, and he’s running him for you now. I figured I might as well cut out the middle man and have the information in your hands as early as possible.” Noting the grateful look in her eyes, “So what’s the story? I only caught part of it.”

Quickly Sam retold Carlos’s story, and fell silent as Tripp approached with an older female carrying a rather large bag over her shoulder. Guessing she was the sketch artist, Sam checked the room quickly and saw Calleigh closing her bag. Walking in with everyone behind her, “Thanks, Calleigh.”

Ruffling the boy’s hair, Calleigh grinned. “No problem, Sam. I’ll get this down to the lab, and I should have results in no time.”

One step down, but how many more to follow? Motioning for the artist to take a seat, Sam turned to Tripp. “I want a guard outside this door, and I would prefer if it was you. If you can’t, or if you have somewhere else you need to be, then I’ll get someone else, but I would feel better if you stayed with me on this.”

Tripp didn’t care if a call came in or not. Someone else could handle it. Right now he was staying put. He’d come to like Sam. She was good people in his book. “I’ll be right outside the door if you need anything.”

Waiting for Tripp to leave, Sam perched on the edge of the table and regarded Carlos for a moment. “Ok, Carlos, here’s the deal. I need you to close your eyes and remember the guys that talked to you on the beach. When you can see them, I need you to pick out just one of them at a time, and describe everything you can remember about him. Eye color, hair color, height, skin color, everything, ok?”

His voice was soft as he nodded with his eyes tightly closed. “Ok.”

“To help you get a better picture, the artist here may ask you questions, and if she does, then I need you to try to answer them. I’m going to be outside so that you two can work.” Stepping toward the door, she paused as the artist started talking to Carlos.

“Carlos, my name is Susan. I’m going to help you remember what the men looked like. Can you tell me how many there were?”

“There were three.”

“Very good. Let’s start with the first one, and when you think you’ve remembered all you can, we’ll both look at what I’ve drawn and we’ll see if it looks like your guy. If it does, then we’ll move on to the next. If it doesn’t, then we’ll try to figure out why it looks wrong, and try to make it right. Understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Smiling at Susan and quietly walking out, Sam closed the door gently behind her. Watching Carlos through the glass, “Tell me we’re going to find these guys.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t you tell me where that boy’s parents are and why he’s sitting in my interrogation room without them or a lawyer?”

Spinning on her heel at the newcomer’s voice, Sam instantly doesn’t like him. Tall and thin, he had a greasy look about him, the kind that made you want to wipe your hands on your jeans and you hadn’t even touched him. “I think you have that wrong. This is my interrogation room, and that’s my witness.”

“And you are?”

Crossing her arms over her chest, Sam scowled. “The one that doesn’t care who you are. The one that you happen to be annoying. And I’m pretty sure the one that is willing to do anything to protect her witness from everyone and anyone, and that currently includes you.”

Narrowing his eyes and curling his lip, “Do you have any idea who I am?”

Hearing Horatio growl a warning under this breath, Sam chose to ignore it. “As a matter of fact, no. I don’t. However, what I find amusing is that I’ve been in this building for about a week and everyone here knows who I am, except apparently you.”

“I don’t care who you are. I want to know who that kid is and why he’s here.” Moving toward the door, he was stopped by Tripp who stepped in front of him blocking him from entering.

Slipping past Tripp to enter the room and collect her badge from the table, Sam walked back out and casually flipped it open to flash it in the man’s face. Her voice was low and full of venomous warning, “Now understand one thing. I don’t care who you are, and I care even less about who you think you are. This badge says that the boy inside is my witness, and therefore no concern of yours. If you try to enter my interrogation room while my witness is in there, then I have no qualms about bringing federal charges against you for interfering in an ongoing federal investigation.” Snapping her wallet shut and stepping even closer to ensure this man understood that she would not be intimidated by him, “If I were you, I’d walk away. If you interfere with me or my team again while I’m here working on my case, then I promise you will be seeing the inside of a federal prison cell faster than you can call a lawyer. Now get out of here.” Snarling as he glared at her and Tripp, Sam threw her own glare at him as he stalked away.

“Not bad, Sam. Probably not the smartest move, but not bad.”

Turning her glare on Tripp, “Meaning?”

Horatio kept his voice soft hoping to diffuse her anger. “Sam, that was Rick Stetler from Internal Affairs.”

I.A. Wonderful. Rolling her eyes, “And his problem is what?”

Laughing Tripp started flipping fingers counting them off. “Well, first there’s the fact that he hates Horatio and therefore has to do everything he can to try to get in his face as often as possible. Then there’s the fact that he has nothing better to do with his time other than stick his nose where it doesn’t belong.” Holding up another finger, “Not to mention he hates Horatio so much that he goes after his team too. So since you were standing here with Horatio, he had to try to screw with you too.” Flipping another, “He thinks he’s better than everyone around him and as such, ends up strutting around here like he owns the place.” Holding up his full hand, Tripp grinned at Horatio and then back at Sam, “And did I mention that he hates Horatio?”

Biting back a laugh, Sam shook her head and pulled out her cell. “Yeah, I think you may have mentioned that.” Turning away, “Let me talk to Frank.”

“What is it, Sam?”

“Frank, I need you to talk to the Chief here for me. Make it an official visit complete with papers. He already knows the case I’m working, and he was kind enough to allow Eric and Calleigh to work with me on this primarily above all else until this is over. I need you to put a bug in his ear.”

“Alright, shoot.”

“Name, Rick Stetler. He’s Internal Affairs. I just had him stop by and try to gain access to my witness. I want the Chief to understand that if Stetler in anyway interferes with me, my witnesses, my team…”

Taking notes, Frank tapped Uncle Mike on the shoulder so that he could follow along, “I’m assuming that to include Eric, Calleigh, Horatio, Alexx…”

“That’s right. It also includes Tripp, the lab and the morgue when my case evidence is being worked on.”

“Got it. What’s the message?”

“Simple. Stetler will be given one warning, either from me or any of the above mentioned, to leave them alone or to leave the room, and if he refuses and continues to harass my team, or he enters the morgue or lab when my evidence is being worked on, then I will be bringing him up on Federal charges. Feel free to lay them out if the Chief gets curious.”

“Considering they’re a part of your team, they carry a semblance of Federal protection. If he bothers them, it could be simply harassing a Federal Agent or harassing a police officer who is working a Federal case. If he enters the morgue or the lab or anywhere where there’s any witness or evidence pertaining to this case, then that’s a different story.”

Sam could hear the twisted humor in Frank’s voice. “Yeah, interfering with a Federal investigation, compromising Federal evidence, compromising Federal test results, and let’s not even get into what he could face if he was actually stupid enough to actually get his hands on any of the evidence. That’s tampering with Federal evidence…”

Snorting with laughter, Frank really did love his kid. “There’s a special place in hell for Internal Affairs Agents. I’ll head over to the Chief as soon as Dan finishes typing this up. Anything else, Sam?”

Looking in the Interrogation Room, Sam sighed. “Yeah, Frank. There’s one more thing. My witness. I may need you and Uncle Mike to book out of here with him and take him back to the safe house until Horatio and I get out of here later. I don’t want him sitting around here defenseless with I.A. lurking around.”

Frowning at the thought of babysitting, Frank reluctantly passed the message to Dan because he knew that the kid would be at the top of the list if anyone got word that he had come in to talk to them about Kevin. “Alright, Sam. Sit on him until I get done with the Chief. It shouldn’t take long. I’m on the move now.”

“Thanks, Frank. Talk to you later.” Hanging up, “Stetler better hope he’s not as stupid as he appears because if he is, I wasn’t joking about the cell.” Her mood changing as Susan looked up and smiled and waved them in, “I think our boy is done.” Walking in with Horatio, “How’d it go?”

Sliding three pictures across the table for Sam and Horatio to admire, Susan beamed. “Carlos is such an outstanding young man. I’ve never in my life worked with someone as young as him that made it such an easy task to give you those. I have to say that I am beyond proud of him.” Stashing her tablet and pencils back in her bag, “I hope those will be able to help you, Agent.”

Holding out her hand as Susan walked to the door, “I want to thank you, Susan. You did an incredible job. I just need to remind you of one thing. This is a Federal Investigation, and you are not authorized to discuss any of what happened in here with anyone. That means you can not talk about Carlos, you can’t even say his name. You can’t talk about the pictures, or even vaguely describe what you drew. And when I say you can’t talk to anyone about it, I mean anyone, and that includes Internal Affairs. If anyone approaches you and questions you about any of this, the only answer you are authorized to give is this…” Pausing to make sure Susan understood the seriousness of the situation, “If anyone asks you about it, you tell them politely that you are not at liberty to discuss a Federal Investigation and that if they need information that they are to contact me directly. Tell them to ask around because Federal Agent Sam isn’t all that hard to find.”

Shaking her hand warmly, Susan understood and walked out.

Turning back to the pictures, Sam was floored. Looking at Carlos, she watched him lower his head and blush. “Carlos, these are beyond the best sketches I’ve ever seen. The scars, the eyes… these are the men that approached you?” He nodded slowly without raising his head. “Carlos, look at me.” Waiting for him to raise his head, Sam grinned widely. “Thank you. You may have just opened the door I needed to find my brother.” Handing the pictures to Horatio, “Take those to the lab, please? I think I’m going to wait here for Frank.”

Gently rolling the pictures so that no curious eyes would be able to see, Horatio quietly left the room.

Walking to the window, Sam waved Carlos over. Draping a protective arm around his shoulders, “I told Horatio that I wanted to make sure you’d be protected. I don’t want anything to happen to you. He made a phone call to a friend that’s helped out a bunch of kids that were in trouble, or who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“I can’t stay with my friends?”

Cocking her head to look at him. At fourteen, he was a tall kid, coming in just over five and half feet tall. His wavy blond hair glowed in the sunlight pouring through the windows, and his blue eyes sparkled when he smiled. Turning him to look at her, she remained honest with him. “Carlos, I won’t lie to you. These men are dangerous. If they find out that you came in here, they could possibly come after you. What you did was a very brave thing coming in here and talking to me. If you go back to your friends, then you could be placing them in danger and I don’t think you want that, do you?” He bowed his head and shook it sadly. “Horatio has a friend that will protect you. He’ll keep you safe until this is over. After things are taken care of, then we can all sit down with your dad and see what we can do about helping him get his life back on track. He needs you as much as you need him, and I’m going to make sure he gets some help too.”

Opening his mouth to reply, he stopped short as the door opened. Staring at the man who entered, “Who are you?”

Chuckling at Frank’s raised eyebrow, “Carlos, this is my boss, Frank.”

Carlos stood studying Frank for a moment. He wasn’t very tall, not much taller than himself. Thinning hair, and glasses. His eyes were what captured his attention though. They had that forever sad look to them that made him look like he was always tired and sad. He looked harder and saw no meanness, and the raised eyebrow was almost funny. The suit definitely gave him that ‘Fed’ look. Glancing at Sam and seeing her nod, Carlos slowly crossed the room and held out his hand. “Hello, Sir.”

Staring at the boy’s hand as if it would bite him, Frank hesitantly took it. “So you’re her witness, huh?”

Frowning slightly and taking a place by Carlos, Sam flashed Frank a look. “Play nice, Frank. You have no idea what Carlos has given us. Horatio took the pictures to the lab, so I’m sure Calleigh or Eric will make sure copies are loaded on Uncle Mike’s laptop. You know these guys, Frank. If they find out…”

Releasing Carlos’s hand and smiling fondly at Sam, “I know. He’ll be safe with us until you and Horatio pick him up later.” Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned and watched Horatio and Uncle Mike walking down the hallway. “Speak of the devil.”

Introducing Uncle Mike and Carlos, Sam pointed at the laptop. “Pictures are loaded?”

With a broad grin, Uncle Mike shook his head. “The pictures and a copy of the audio. I can’t believe the amount of detail in the sketches. You have an incredible memory, young man.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

“It’s Uncle Mike, and don’t listen to Frank here because he’ll tell you to call me Dan. You call me Uncle Mike.” Leading the way to the door, “Sam, he’ll be safe, so stop worrying.” Walking out with Carlos behind him and Frank bringing up the rear, “Let me know if you decide what’s going on with dinner. I may be cooking tonight.”

Shaking her head as they walked toward the elevator, “Tripp, go with them please. Make sure they get out to the truck without incident.” Grinning in spite of herself as he tipped an invisible cap to her, and hurried after them, “So?”

Waiting for everyone to climb into the elevator and for Sam to turn his way, Horatio held an arm out toward the hallway, “So now we go to the lab.”

Falling instep beside him, they made their way to the lab and found Eric and Calleigh completely engrossed in facial recognitions. With half her attention on the screen, Calleigh handed Sam two discs. “That’s your copy of Carlos’s audio and one with the pictures. Dan has a copy of both already loaded on his system.”

“Good. Anything else?”

“The paint and the print are a match. Carlos was definitely the one who put the hand print on Kevin’s chest.” Turning in her seat to look at Sam, “We know things are going to be pretty hectic with Carlos crashing with you guys, so we decided against a team dinner tonight.” Stopping Sam with a frown, “Let me finish. Horatio talked to Alexx and me about me staying with her for a few days. We both like the idea. I agree that Joe should stay on too, and Alexx has his cell number so she’ll call him when we leave work tonight. Alexx is going to leave her car here in the garage and we’re going to take the Hummer over to my place to pick up a few things, and then we’re going back to her house. Girl’s night in.”

Glancing at Eric, Sam sighed. “I don’t like you on your own though, Eric.”

Dismissing her concerns with a wave, “Don’t worry about it, Sam. Calleigh and I were fine on our own last night. I’m a big boy, I can handle myself. Besides, I can be a really light sleeper when I have to be.”

She wasn’t thrilled but there weren’t many options available. “Alright, but call if there’s any problems.”

“Sure thing, mom.” Flashing a toothy grin at Sam as she rolled her eyes at him, “Now can we please get this stuff moving? I’d rather not be here all night again.”

“Yeah. Let’s do it.” Pulling up a chair, “Where do you two want me?”

Pointing at a terminal near Calleigh in the corner, Eric gave her a brief rundown. “There’s a set of headphones, and Carlos’s audio is set up. We need a written transcript to go with the audio. Side note any names he may have mentioned or if the guys mentioned any names or places. We can search them later.”

“Done.” Taking up a position behind the monitor, she looked up long enough to see Horatio trying to sneak out the door. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To get lunch for everyone. When I get back, everyone is taking a break and then we’ll get back to work.”

“Is that an order, Lieutenant?”

Grinning as he walked from the room, “As a matter of fact, it is.”

***

Popping his head into the lab some time later, “Food is here. Lock everything up, and get to the break room.”

Securing the files and locking up the evidence, the group headed to the break room where they found Chinese to be the order of the day. Sitting around the table and digging in, they almost rushed through lunch as they tried to get back to work. They finally had something concrete to work with, and they wanted to deal with it while it was still fresh.

As they were cleaning up, Horatio pulled Sam aside and told her that he had heard from Nick and that he would be able to come out later that night to pick up Carlos. “I figured if Alexx and Calleigh were staying in, and Nick was coming over, you could give Frank and Dan a call and see if they want to do dinner with us again tonight.”

She definitely wanted to meet this friend of Horatio’s. She needed to know that Carlos would be safe. “Alright, I’ll give Uncle Mike a call. We might want to see if Eric would like to join us as well.”

Overhearing his name, Eric shook his head with a sly smile. “Not interested. Alexx already invited me over for dinner tonight.” Ducking out of the room, he took off toward the lab.

Shaking her head, Sam turned back to Horatio and saw an uneasiness in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”

Instantly his eyes cleared. “I have a meeting with the Chief.”

Stetler. Grumbling under her breath, “This is my fault, Horatio. It’s probably about Stetler and what Frank had to say to the Chief.”

She was worried about him, and he was amused. Lightly telling her not to worry about it, and ushering her to the lab, Horatio smiled. “Go see what else you can turn up. Let me worry about the Chief.” Walking away before she could stop him, he had been impressed with the way she had handled Stetler, but now he was wondering how badly she had stirred up the hornet’s nest.

Pulling out her cell and watching Horatio slip around the corner, Sam called Uncle Mike and relayed the dinner plans. She told him that she was still planning on picking up Carlos, and that dinner would be at Horatio’s still but with less people. Uncle Mike decided on making dinner for them, so he had plans on going shopping after they picked up Carlos, then he would cook at Horatio’s.

It was a good plan. Sam mentioned that they were still working the audio and the facials from the pictures, and Uncle Mike let her know that he hadn’t made much headway on either from his end. Asking about the addresses that Eric had given Uncle Mike, Sam smiled briefly as Uncle Mike told her that he had run a deeper check. He would give her the details later. Hanging up, Sam walked into the lab and took her position behind the computer and picked up where she had stopped working on the audio transcription.

Finishing the transcription, Sam sent it to the printer for a hard copy. Stopping by Calleigh’s station, “Ok, so you said Carlos matches the paint on Kevin. Frank brought the results from the Feds, right?”

Pulling up the two paint samples, Calleigh pointed out the results. “They match, Sam. The chemical analysis says they’re a match. Same properties, same color density. Looks like the same batch.”

Glancing over at the main screen where Eric still had the sketches running through the facial database, “So you’re my boys after all, and you’re in Miami.” Slowly crossing the room to stand in front of the screen, her voice was low, almost unintelligible, “Where is he? What’d you do with Vinnie?”

“Sam, hate to say this, but we’re coming up blank so far.”

Leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling, Sam rubbed the back of her neck trying to relieve some of the tension. “They’re in there somewhere. You just may not be able to get to them with the databases you can connect with.” She wasn’t thrilled that he hadn’t been able to match the faces with names, but at least they had the faces. They had real Intel that they could work with. She hated shutting down for the day, but after the previous night, Sam felt bad about keeping the entire team up so late. She could work facials with Uncle Mike later on the laptops. Wouldn’t be the first time she’d pulled an all nighter online, and it wouldn’t be the last. “Alright, I want you both to wrap it up for the day. Shift is almost over, and I want this all locked up before nights get in here.”

Turning to look at her curiously, Eric raised an eyebrow in concern. “Sam, are you alright?”

Taking a deep breath and staring at the faces on the screen, “If you mean besides being stressed out, worried, concerned, and worn out, then yeah, I’m fine. I want you both to get a good nights sleep. We all need that. Uncle Mike and I can run facials and everything later. If we get any hits, great. If we don’t, well, we’ll just run them all again tomorrow.”

“How are things going in here?”

Facing the door as Horatio entered, Sam sighed and shook her head. “The paint was a match to what we found at Vinnie’s, but the pictures are coming up blank so far. I’m sending them home, Horatio. We can hit this tomorrow.” Watching the relief soften his features, “I’m not about to run them into the ground, so relax. I do however realize that tomorrow starts the weekend, and that everyone wants to relax on the weekends, but…”

“But what?” With a playful note in his voice, Eric closed down the facial software and gingerly rolled the sketches up before securing them with the rest of the evidence. “It’s the weekend, big deal. No one is ever here, and we can run as long as we have to tomorrow.”

Waiting for Calleigh to save her work, and return the Federal test results back to the briefcase, “I’ll take the case back to the house with us. The rest can be locked up.” Accepting the case as Calleigh passed her on her way to the evidence locker, “I don’t want any of you here before I call you. Sleep in. Get some rest.”

Calling Uncle Mike, Sam let him know that they were on their way. Smiling as Calleigh hung up from talking to Alexx, Sam walked around the lab to ensure that everything was picked up. Noting everything in order, the team walked to the elevator and grinned as the doors opened and they found Alexx already waiting for them. Splitting away from the group as they exited the building, Sam and Horatio climbed into their separate rides, and waited for the rest to depart safely.

Driving to the safe house, Sam went inside long enough to pick up Carlos and to confirm that Uncle Mike and Frank would be hitting a grocery store before stopping at Horatio’s. Nodding briefly to Horatio as he sat idling at the curb, Sam waited for Carlos to buckle up before pulling out and driving around Horatio. Glancing in the rearview mirror as he smoothly closed the distance between them, “So Carlos, any idea what’s for dinner tonight?”

Smiling widely, “Yeah. Grilled chicken and seasoned rice.”

At least it wasn’t Italian. Chuckling to herself, she made a beeline for Horatio’s.

Chapter Text

Parking on the curb as Horatio pulled into the driveway, Sam did a quick look around the neighborhood before telling Carlos to head up to the house. Crossing the yard, Sam paused to watch Horatio duck into the garage and drag out his grill. Raising an eyebrow as he checked the tank, “What are you doing?”

Popping his head up, “Dan called me on the way over here and said he wanted to do chicken. I haven’t had this out in so long, I wanted to make sure the tank was full.” Tossing her the front door key, “Why don’t you take Carlos inside and show him around? Dan and Frank should be here soon, and Nick should be here by dinner.”

Catching the key and ushering Carlos inside, “Come on, I’ll give you the quick tour.” Showing him around the house, Sam took him out to the back porch and showed him the beach. “So long as one of us is out here, I don’t care if you want to head down to the sand, but I don’t want you out here alone and the water is out of the question.”

Staring longingly at the water, Carlos sighed but understood the dangers. “Do you mind if I go down there now?”

Ruffling his hair playfully, “Wait right here on the porch until I come back out. I’m only grabbing my laptop, and then I’ll come back out.” Waiting for him to sink into the chair nearest the door, Sam headed back inside. Fielding the unspoken question from Horatio, “He’s outside. I’m going to load the discs on the laptop and get some work done on the porch. He’ll be fine.” Picking up the laptop and returning to the porch, “Don’t go far. I want you insight the entire time, and if I call you, I want you up here fast. Got it?” Watching him break into a grin and nod enthusiastically, she waved him away. Shaking her head as she watched him take off his shirt and lay out in the sand, she couldn’t help thinking about her own brother, and how he would have loved to have seen the ocean like this.

“Thinking about Vince?” Even with her head bowed, Horatio knew she was keeping a keen eye on Carlos. When she slowly shook her head, “James?” His voice was gentle, as if he was afraid of opening old wounds.

“He was Carlos’s age when he was killed. James would have been thirty this year.” Loading the disc with the photos, “He always hated the cold weather in the north. He said when he was older he was going to move somewhere warmer. Somewhere with sun and sand so that he could lay out in it all day and soak up all the heat that he’d missed as a kid.” Staring out over the sand toward Carlos, “James would have loved it here.”

Horatio knew she still blamed herself for not being there when her brother had been killed, but now, now she had a chance to make a difference. When she looked at Carlos she saw James. She couldn’t save him, but at least this time she had a chance to save Carlos. Crouching beside her chair, “We’re going to keep him safe, Sam. He’s going to make it through this.” Moving to sit on the top step, Horatio kept watch as Sam turned her attention to work.

***

The facials were a bust. The limited systems she had access to turned up nothing. Hopefully Uncle Mike would have better luck. Removing the disc and replacing it with the audio, Sam turned up the volume enough to hear it without having the sound carry across the sand. She’d already heard it straight from Carlos, and she’d listened a second time when she was doing the transcript, but now her mind was completely focused.

The men hadn’t used names for each other, so there was nothing there. One had offered Carlos ten thousand dollars to help teach a guy a lesson. The guy was Kevin and at the time, although beaten severely, he had still been alive. They had told Carlos that he had opened his mouth to the wrong people, and they were going to teach him a lesson that he would never forget. They had all worn gloves, so when they asked Carlos to put the paint mark on Kevin’s chest, Carlos hadn’t thought twice. He had figured they didn’t want to get their gloves messed up, and he had said that he could really use the money. Considering the story he had told her, Sam could understand. Glancing across the sand, she wondered what he had done with the money. She would have to ask him later.

Hearing Uncle Mike call through the house, Horatio called back that they were outside. Looking up from the laptop as the porch door opened, Sam smiled vaguely at Frank and Uncle Mike as they stepped outside. “I’ve got nothing on the faces. Eric couldn’t find anything at the lab, and what systems I can run them through, I’m coming up blank.”

Dropping a hand on Sam’s shoulder, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll run them when we get back to the house later and I’ll call if I get anything.” Handing her a slip of paper, Uncle Mike nodded toward the beach. “How is he?”

Unfolding the note in her hand, she read it quickly and sighed with relief. In short, it was the details of Horatio’s friend, Nick. Nick Beaudreaux. “He seems to be doing alright. I think we should have had cajun tonight though.”

Laughing as he heard Sam’s comment, Horatio glanced over his shoulder. “Nick will be perfectly happy with whatever you put in front of him. He’s a good man, Sam. Give him a chance.”

Frowning as the audio continued to play, something caught her ear and she played it back. “Horatio, how up to date are you on the clubs around here?”

He had to admit that he had knowledge of some of the better known ones, but the smaller dives and newer openings were out of the question. “If I don’t know of it, then we can throw it past Eric in the morning. Why? What’d you find?”

Shaking her head, “I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a club, or a bar, or just some code they use for a location, but does the name ‘The Dungeon’ mean anything to you?” Sam played it once more, and turned up the volume so that they could hear Carlos say that he overheard them when he was getting ready to leave and they mentioned something about having to hurry up and get back to ‘the dungeon’.

Horatio rolled it around in his mind but couldn’t come up with any hits. “We can run it by Eric in the morning. Come up with anything else?”

Closing down the laptop, Sam stretched and walked down to the beach. “Nothing I need to get into right now.” Stopping beside Carlos, she sat beside him and asked him about the money. Assuring him that he wasn’t in trouble, and that she had no intentions of taking it away from him, Carlos finally relented and told her where he had hidden it. He was worried that someone would find it, but when Sam told him that she would pick it up and keep it safe for him, he relaxed. He wanted to give it to his dad, to help out when everything was over, and Sam promised that she’d make sure it was safe and that he got it back when things were finished.

“Sam? Why don’t you two come inside? Dan is starting dinner, and from the sound of it, I think Nick just showed up.”

Climbing to his feet first, Carlos held out a hand to Sam and helped her to her feet with a weak smile. He was still unsure about things, but he was willing to trust her. Draping an arm around his shoulders, Sam walked him up the steps and past Horatio as he held open the door. Directing Carlos to the living room, Sam walked with Horatio to the front door to meet his friend.

Opening the door, Horatio smiled warmly. “Nick, I owe you one. Give Linda my love when you get home, will you?”

“Will do, Horatio. Now how bout you introducing me to that hot darlin you got stashed back there?”

Visibly blushing, Sam cleared her throat nervously. Nick was instantly likable. Tall, muscular build, deeply tanned with long raven black hair pulled into a tight ponytail, dark brown eyes that held a permanent sparkle, and despite the name, a deep texan drawl. The black jeans and tight black t-shirt, roughed up denim jacket, and a pair of scuffed up old cowboy boots didn’t surprise Sam in the least, and she had to grin as she admired the man and his tastes.

Shaking his head with a chuckle, Horatio stepped aside. “Nick, get in here and what would Linda say if I told her that you were eyeballing someone else?”

Frowning at Horatio as he walked past him, “You wouldn’t dare.” Glancing back at Sam and flashing a winning smile, he offered his hand. “Nick Beaudreaux. Since Horatio apparently isn’t in the mood to play the gracious host, I’ll take it upon myself…”

“Nick, this is Agent Samantha Giovanni. Sam for short.” Standing by Sam’s side, “Behave, Nick.”

Grinning wider as Sam shook his hand, Nick raised an eyebrow at Horatio. “Hell Horatio, you could have just come right out and said that she was your girl.”

Blushing a deep crimson, Sam bowed her head and allowed her hair to fall over her eyes. Muttering an apology, she quickly left the men and joined Uncle Mike, Frank and Carlos in the living room. Leaning her head close to Uncle Mike, “I’ll be outside. Good guy, but I need some air.” Walking out to the porch, Sam claimed her perch on the railing and sat staring out over the water. She could hear the voices inside, and knew that Horatio was introducing everyone to Nick. Leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes, she felt the color start to drain from her cheeks. His girl. Where the hell did he get that idea from? They’d decided to wait until everything was over to even talk about things, and here this guy was assuming there was something between her and Horatio. Frowning as the door opened, she kept her eyes closed as she listened to the footsteps approaching. Had to be Nick. No cane so it wasn’t Uncle Mike. Frank was never good at the one on one, and the steps were too heavy to be Horatio or Carlos.

“Darlin, I think I need to apologize for what I said.”

His voice was low and contrite, so Sam cracked an eye open to regard him. “Nothing to apologize for. You called it as you appeared to see it.” She hadn’t meant to sound so cold or cutting, but that’s how it came out.

Taking a step back and leaning against the railing near the steps, Nick hooked his thumbs in his pockets and shrugged. “Listen, Horatio isn’t one to just call out of the blue and ask for a favor, Darlin. He’s only done it one other time, and when he said he was working with a Fed who was trying to find a place to keep her witness safe, I assumed there was something more. I guess I read too much into it.”

“We haven’t come to that point yet, Nick.” Walking through the door, Horatio joined them and looked over at Sam. “Are you alright?”

Not wanting to discuss the situation any more than they already had, Sam nodded. “Yeah, fine. Why don’t we go back inside and we can all swap stories?”

Waiting for Nick to walk back inside, Horatio crossed the porch. “Sam, I’m sorry about Nick.”

Gazing out over the water, “Don’t apologize for him, Horatio. If you can honestly tell me that he can protect Carlos, then I don’t have a problem with him.” Turning and cocking her head to look Horatio in the eye, “When this is over…”

Lowering his head and smiling faintly, “When this is over.” Stepping aside as Sam slipped from the railing and proceeded to lead him back inside, Maybe then we’ll will have a chance.

As Uncle Mike busied himself with dinner, the rest of the group settled in the living room where Nick told his story. Nick had been in the service, Force Recon. When he got out, he did the odd jobs here and there, and then while he was watching the news one night, he decided on a new career. Nick told them about a young woman that had turned up dead, and how her boyfriend was arrested for the murder. Somehow he had ended up out on bail until the hearing, apparently something about not enough evidence and a clean record. He skipped. Then went and killed a couple and their kid and was on the run. “I don’t know how many times I’d seen stuff like that on television, but I was sick of it.” Nick went on to tell them that one of the couple’s kids managed to get out and could identify the guy and was ready to testify. “The kid should have been under lock and key, but the bastard got to him. Killed him. Guy was still on the run too.” Then and there, Nick decided to take his Recon training and do something good with it. Nick became a bounty hunter.

Sam could understand what drove him. It wasn’t much different than why she had decided to join the OCB. But she was confused. “So where do the kids come into all of this? Charlie? Carlos?”

Leaning casually against the window frame looking out at the neighborhood, Nick glanced over his shoulder and smiled wistfully. “My wife. She has a soft spot for strays.” Shrugging apologetically to Carlos, “Don’t take that the wrong way. Ever since she was young, she was always taking in those that needed help or protecting. Difference is, when she was young, it was animals. Once she got a little older, it was kids.” He told them how he had known her since they were young, but their lives took them down different paths. They got back together when he got out of the service, and when he found out that her strays had gone from animals to kids, it had seemed right to him. They figured it was better having kids crashing at their place rather than trying to make it out on the streets. So their door was always open. His training made it easy to protect the kids from anyone that wanted to hurt them, and they felt safe.

Watching Horatio move to the opposite side of the window, Sam shook her head. Not exactly matching bookends, but they mirrored each other incredibly. “And what about Horatio?”

Laughing as a look passed between them, Horatio turned and simply stated, “I had to arrest him for assaulting a police officer.”

Scratching his head and looking sheepish, Nick slowly explained how he had met Horatio. It had been a heck of a trek. Nick had been on the trail of the felon for weeks, and finally had him in his sights in Miami. Only problem was, when he went in to tag him, Horatio had already made the bust. The guy was on national television, and when some do-gooder called the station saying that they saw him, and the word went out over the radio, Horatio had been the first to respond. Nick had tried to talk Horatio into letting him take the felon in, but it wasn’t going to happen. Nick got mad and took a swing at Horatio. “Before I knew it, he had me on the ground right next to the felon I was trying to catch.”

Laughing lightly, Sam beamed. “I would have paid to have seen that.”

“Yeah, well, believe me, it’s not easy taking me down, but he did a pretty good job.” Continuing his story, Nick had made his one phone call to his wife and when she showed up hours later with some of their ‘kids’ in tow, Horatio had been intrigued. After talking to his wife and learning what they were doing for kids, he had been impressed and even accepted her card in case he came across anyone that needed a safe place. “Hell, I never thought I’d hear from him again once I left this city. Then out of the blue I got a call from Linda one night while I was out trying to pick up a scent telling me that Horatio had called her and asked if she had room for one more. Next thing I knew, I was back in Miami and Charlie was sitting beside me.” Leaning his back against the wall and crossing his arms over his chest, he studied Sam. “We take in good kids that are just going through a rough patch. We try to get them back with their families if we can, and if we can’t, then we try to place them with a loving family that can take care of them. We don’t work through the state, but the kids are taken care of. My wife has a teaching degree and she home schools all the kids. We’ve got a small farm that the kids help out on, but they don’t complain. It’s good work and they get paid for it.”

Smiling gently at Carlos as he slipped his hand into hers, Sam tried to reassure him. “Everything is going to be alright.” Looking up at Nick hopefully, “You can assure me that he’ll be safe?”

He saw the fear in her eyes that she was trying to mask with the hope, and it reaffirmed in his heart that he was doing the right thing. Crossing the room to crouch before her, Nick reached out and took her hand. “Darlin, you have my solemn word that I won’t let anyone hurt him. Horatio told me a little about his situation, and if you can get me a copy of the pictures then I’ll make sure my boys know to keep their eyes open all the more. I’ll even see what I can do to help out with the family situation so that you don’t have to worry about that on top of everything else you have to deal with.” Looking up at Carlos, “The house isn’t the biggest, and between my own boys and the rest of the kids we have staying with us right now, it may be a little packed, but you’ll be safe. You play straight with us, and I’ll be honest with you no matter what. Deal?”

Nodding hesitantly, Carlos agreed. “Can you really help my dad too?”

“We’ll do everything we can, son. We’ve got a long ride home, and you can tell me what’s been going on while we drive. Then we’ll all put our heads together and see if we can’t come up with a way to get you back with your dad. How’s that sound?”

Looking to Sam for guidance and seeing her smile, Carlos offered his hand to Nick. “Sounds good, Sir.”

Laughing deeply, Nick shook his new charges hand. “It’s Nick, son. You call me Sir around my boys and they’ll be calling me an old man. It’s just Nick. My wife is Linda. The rest you’ll get to know.”

Breaking up the little show, Uncle Mike leaned a head into the living room declaring dinner was ready.

Watching Frank head to the kitchen to help Uncle Mike, and Carlos and Nick leave for the dining room talking quietly between them, Sam sighed as Horatio stepped beside her and wrapped an arm around her waist. Leaning her head briefly on his shoulder, “He’s going to be alright, Horatio. I have a good feeling about Nick. Thank you for calling him.”

Savoring the moment, Horatio reluctantly released her as she stepped away. “With everything going on, you don’t need to be worrying about Carlos’s safety. Knowing he’s safe, you can concentrate on Vince more.” She’d still worry about him until everything was said and done, but at least her mind was a bit clearer now. Following Sam as she silently turned away and made her way to the dining room, Horatio found himself swearing an oath to himself once more that nothing was going to stop them from finding Vince and bringing him home.

Dinner was quiet, relaxed. When it came time for Nick and Carlos to leave, Sam hastily wrote her cell phone number, as well as Uncle Mike’s and Horatio’s, on a sheet of paper and handed it to Carlos. Walking out to Nick’s truck, tears sprang to her eyes as Carlos turned suddenly and wrapped his arms around her waist. Returning his embrace, Sam choked past the lump in her throat and instructed him to call any of them at anytime, day or night. Hearing his quiet promise as he climbed into the truck, she shut the door securely and motioned for him to lock it before walking around the front of the truck to wish Nick a safe trip. “Keep him safe for me, Nick.”

“That I will, Darlin. That I will.” Climbing into the drivers seat, “Horatio, send me those pictures later. We’ll give you a call if anything turns up.” Nodding his goodbyes, Nick pulled out of the driveway and headed off down the road out of sight.

Checking the grill and finding it cool enough to place back in the garage, Horatio locked up for the night before walking inside with Sam trailing slowly behind him. Standing in the open doorway, “Sam, he’ll be fine. He’s in good hands.” He knew she was still having a hard time dealing with putting Carlos’s safety in someone else’s hands, but he was certain that Nick would be able to protect him. He wouldn’t have called him otherwise. “Sam, why don’t you get your laptop so that I can send the pictures to Nick? That way he’ll have them when he gets home?”

Carlos would be safe with Nick. She had to believe that, and she had to trust Nick to do everything to protect him. That meant he needed to know what he was up against. “Yeah, ok.” Starting for the porch, she paused as Horatio mentioned putting it in her room while she had been sitting with Carlos. He had not wanted it to sit outside, so he had brought it in while she had her talk with Carlos. Smiling gratefully, she retrieved the laptop and signed on. Getting Nick’s email from Horatio, Sam quickly attached the pictures and shot a quick email out before closing it down and setting it aside.

“Get some sleep tonight, Sam. You haven’t had a good night’s sleep since this started, and even less since you’ve been down here.”

She hated when Frank lectured her, but he was right. Her body screamed for rest, and yet her mind refused to give in. How she had managed to fight off the cold that had been barreling down on her when she was back home, she had no idea, but she wouldn’t be surprised if it came back to knock her out if she didn’t start taking better care of herself. She was going to be next to worthless when the time came to find Vinnie if she kept up the ragged pace she was putting herself through. Patting Frank’s hand as he laid it softly on her shoulder, “Frank, I can’t make promises, but I promise that I’ll try. My mind is just…” Sighing deeply and lowering her head, “It’s just running a million miles a minute trying to work every angle, trying to find the loopholes, the connections that will bring this all together. Every second that ticks by puts us further behind the eight ball, and pulls Vinnie further from our grasp.”

He’d never been good at the whole one on one thing. He wasn’t good at it with Vince, and he was worse at it with Sam. He always left Dan to deal with the emotional issues with them both, it was in Dan’s blood, and he was good at it. On the other hand, emotional was not one of his own personal strong suits. From day one, as soon as Vince talked him into recruiting Sam, he’d known things would be difficult at times. Females were emotional creatures, and Sam was no different. She had her moments, and when she did, he turned her to Dan. He wasn’t comfortable admitting his own fears, but hearing the desperation in Sam’s voice, he knew what she felt. He’d been battling the same thoughts since he and Dan had shown up at Vince’s and found him missing. Every second put them further from finding him, and it wasn’t getting any easier. None of them had been sleeping well, and no matter how much he preached at her, he knew she couldn’t promise anything any more than he could. Gently pulling Sam to her feet, Frank awkwardly pulled her into his arms. Feeling her stiffen, “Listen, I know I’m no good at this, but I’m trying. I can’t ask you to promise anything that I can’t promise myself. We’re all working our asses off here, and it’s wearing us down because we’re not getting anywhere. Sam…”

Hearing the frustration and the creeping edge of fear and concern in his voice, Sam slowly slipped her arms around Frank’s waist and, resting her head against his chest, closed her eyes. “You’re not doing so good at the reassuring bit, Frank. You’re suppose to sound hopeful and say something like ‘Don’t worry, Sam. It’s going to be alright. We’re going to find Vince and bring him home.’ There’s too much doom and gloom in your voice still.”

Although she had tried to put that hopefulness in her voice, it didn’t do much to allay his fears. One thing was certain though, Sam was running the show and she wouldn’t back down until Vince was found.

“Gee, Frank, this is a first. Should I get a camera and save this for posterity?”

Biting back a snicker at Uncle Mike’s voice, Sam stepped out of Frank’s embrace. He wasn’t the best at calming her fears, but he was at least going in the right direction. “Thanks, Frank. No promises, but I’ll try.” Turning to Uncle Mike with a scolding eye, “And you… You need to stop goading him.” Stepping into Uncle Mike’s open arms, “He was trying.”

Holding her tight, he had heard them both. Vince and Sam, they were their kids. Boss and Uncle aside, this was a family, and they were the kids. Parents were suppose to protect their kids and take away their pain when they were hurt. He and Frank were definitely lacking in that department as of late. Neither had been able to protect Vince, and neither had the power to take away Sam’s pain. Looking across the room at Frank, and past him to Horatio standing in the entryway to the dining room, Uncle Mike quickly blinked away the tears that threatened to blind him. Drawing a slow breath to try to keep the shakiness from being detected, he knew he was caught. Closing his eyes and resting his forehead against the top of Sam’s head, “He never could hide from you, kid. No matter how long it took, you always tracked him down. You hold on to that. You found him before when we all thought we’d lost him. You can do it now too.”

Crying silently against Uncle Mike’s chest, she could feel his shoulders shaking and could hear him softly sniffle. Taking a deep breath to calm herself and trying to put on a happy face, she looked over her shoulder at Frank with a halfway playful smirk. “That’s the way you do it.” Seeing the tears in Frank’s eyes, she held her hand out to him and pulled him to her when he took it. Standing sandwiched between Uncle Mike and Frank, their arms wrapped around her to lock around each others necks, she drew strength from them and quietly vowed she wasn’t about to give up. She would try to sleep, try to rest, but she wouldn’t force it. If sleep came, then she would welcome it, but until then, she had work to do.

Breaking the embrace and stepping away slightly embarrassed at having an audience, Frank turned and noticed Horatio no where in sight. Removing his glasses and passing a hand over his face, “Right. It’s getting late. I think it’s time for me and Dan to get back to the house for the night. We’re heading over to talk to Santana again in the morning. What are your plans for the day?”

Back to work. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Sam wiped her eyes on her sleeve, hooked a thumb toward the laptop and looked at Uncle Mike. “I can only hit a few databases with that thing. So whatever you have running on yours, you need you to load it on mine too. I can leave it up and running so that you can remote access it later.” Turning to Frank while logging back onto the laptop, “Plan is to get back to the lab tomorrow with everyone working on the facials and the audio. Maybe Eric will come up with something about ‘The Dungeon’. If anything turns up on that, then it might pay off to check it out.” Looking back at Uncle Mike, “If you have anything from the addresses Eric gave you, then I want what you have. I think we’re going to check those out as well. Even if they’re a bust, it will still give me a chance to get things in order.”

Leaning over her shoulder, Uncle Mike tapped a few keys and nodded. “Alright, you’re setup here. I’ll load the program when we get back to the house, but I want you to try and get some rest, Sam. Find the plug for this thing too. Last thing we need is for the battery to drain.”

Leaving them both for a moment to track down the power cord and Horatio, she found one in her room, and the other on the back porch standing at the top of the steps. “Horatio? Uncle Mike and Frank are taking off in a few minutes. Just wanted to let you know.” Stepping back as he opened the door to walk inside, she knew he had been standing just inside the dining room, and when they needed a moment alone, he had silently slipped away to give them their privacy. “Thank you.”

He didn’t have to ask what for. They were family and they needed the time alone to deal with emotions. “Are you alright, Sam?”

Walking down the hallway with Horatio at her side, she shook her head sadly. “No, not really, but I will be. My family is torn apart right now. We’re all hurt, we’re all scared, and none of us are going to be alright until I find Vinnie and bring him home.” Handing the cord to Uncle Mike as she plugged her end into the wall socket, she hugged him and Frank tightly before walking them to the door. Before either could try to lecture her once more, “I said I would try to rest. I expect the same from both of you. If I come up with anything, then I’ll call. I expect the same from you two. I don’t care if you come up with a match, or you get something from Santana that I can use, I want to know about it. Understood?” Watching them both nod, she smiled and accompanied them to the truck. “Now go home and get some rest. I’ll see you both tomorrow.” Waiting until the truck was out of sight, Sam walked back inside and locked up for the night.

Setting a cup of tea beside her laptop, Horatio took a seat at the table as Sam walked back into the dining room.

Smiling faintly, Sam sat down and started punching keys. Until Uncle Mike installed the new software, she was stuck with the databases she could worm her way into. Pulling up the sketches, she set to work for a few minutes knowing that she’d have to kill the program once Uncle Mike logged on. Wrapping her hands around her mug, “Once Uncle Mike sets everything up on here, I’m going to shut down for the night. I just want to run these once more and see if anything pings.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything, Sam.”

Yawning lightly as she raised her mug, she smiled ruefully. “The body says sleep, and the mind says work. Guess which one wins?” Staring at the screen as Horatio remained silent, “There has to be something. I can’t believe we have them in our grasp, and yet they’re still so far out of reach.” Sighing as she quickly drained her mug and set it aside, Sam propped her elbows on the edge of the table and lowered her face into her hands. “I have to find them, Horatio. One way or another, I have to find them. They’re my only link to Vinnie at the moment.”

He hated to say it, but he knew she had to hear it. “Sam, we don’t know if they’re even directly responsible.”

“Doesn’t matter, now does it? They’re part of the same group. I go after them, even if they weren’t involved with Vinnie, it will still make someone take notice.” Yawning deeply, “It’s my only link.” Sitting back as a soft chime played, Sam tapped on the keys as Uncle Mike signed on.

‘Alright, Sam. Close down the programs so I can get this installed. It’s going to take a few minutes, so go relax. I’ll buzz you when I’m finished.’

Closing down the search, Sam tapped out a reply. She knew he hated chatspeak, it drove him nuts, so she kept it simple. ‘k done. buzz me. taking a shower.’ Turning to Horatio, “If that infernal chime goes off again, that should be Uncle Mike saying he’s done. I’m taking a hot shower, and I’ll close down when I’m done. If you want to chat with him when he’s finished, knock yourself out, but I have dibs on the new program so don’t bother running anything.”

Casting an amused glance at her over the edge of his mug, “I have no intentions of running anything on there. I think it’s a good idea to try to get some rest tonight. If the plan is to check out some of those addresses, then that means we’re running around a lot tomorrow. I, for one, would like to get some sleep in tonight.” He felt like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. He wasn’t old yet, but he wasn’t as young as he once was, and the lack of sleep was taking it’s toll. Of course he wasn’t about to admit to that though.

Nodding absently as she walked into the kitchen with her mug, Sam slowly trekked through the house to her room to gather her clothes before disappearing into the bathroom.

Making himself a second cup of tea, Horatio sat in front of the laptop and waited for Uncle Mike to finish loading the programs. As the minutes ticked by, he smiled faintly as a small window opened.

‘Alright, Sam. It’s loaded. You’re good to go. Get some sleep tonight, will you? Frank sends his love and says goodnight.
Shut this down when you get out of the shower, and go to bed. I love you, kid. I worry about you. Get some sleep, ok? Tell Horatio I said goodnight.
I’ll call you in the morning before we head out to Santana’s and we’ll figure out what the plan is for later on. Be careful tomorrow, Sam. I know you have Horatio watching your back, but be careful. Both of you.
Night, Sam. hugs.’

Tempted to send a message back, Horatio left it alone, and finished his tea as Sam walked out of the bathroom with her hair hanging down her back in a wet braid. Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, “Dan finished up a couple of minutes ago and left you a message. I think he’s signed off now though.”

Reading the message over Horatio’s shoulder, Sam smiled and muttered softly, “Yeah, yeah. I told you two that I’d try to rest. Love you too, Frank.” Dropping a hand on Horatio’s shoulder and chuckling lightly, “Uncle Mike says goodnight.” Going back to her muttering, “Frank better not be leaving too early or you’re going to get voicemail. No clue what the plan is yet. Probably play it by ear depending on what everyone turns up. I’m always careful.” Poking Horatio in the back of his shoulder playfully, “You be careful tomorrow too.” Reaching out to touch the screen lightly with her fingertips, “Night, Uncle Mike. Love you too.” Closing the window and logging off, Sam closed the laptop and bowed her head.

Standing to pull her into his arms, “Go get some sleep, Sam. You’re not going to be any good to anyone if you’re dead on your feet.” Lifting her chin to look up at him, he traced the dark circles under her eyes lightly with his thumb. “Don’t argue. Just try to get some sleep.” Releasing her as she tried to step away, he watched her nod and shuffle off to her room. Listening to the door quietly close, Horatio dropped his mug off in the kitchen, and turned out the light. Moving from room to room, he double checked to make sure everything was locked up tight for the night and shut off the lights. Ducking into the bathroom for a quick shower, Horatio managed to crawl into bed at a sensible time. Securing his SIG in the nightstand, and glancing at the clock, it was just after 10pm. Laying back and staring up at the ceiling, it was quite a while before his eyes closed for the night.

Chapter Text

Waking just after midnight, Sam rolled over and threw the blanket over her head trying to force herself back to sleep. When that didn’t happen, and the room started to feel like it was closing in around her, she finally decided to go out into the living room and stretch out on the sofa in hopes that the openness would help. Climbing out of bed and collecting her SIG and her blanket, she quietly left her room. Glancing down the hallway, she couldn’t tell if Horatio’s door was shut or not. Silently moving down the hallway, and entering the living room, she paused and cocked her head at the sight before her and smiled fondly. Stretched out on the sofa with one arm resting on his bare chest, and his head resting on the other, apparently she hadn’t been the only one having trouble sleeping. Eyeing the recliner, she sighed softly thinking that it was better than nothing. Crossing the room, she skidded to a halt as Horatio shot upright with his own SIG in hand and leveled it in her direction. Suddenly knowing what Horatio must have felt the times he had stared down the barrel of her weapon, Sam simply stood her ground and waited for the barrel to dip before stepping closer. “I didn’t mean to wake you. I couldn’t sleep so I came out here to stretch out. Guess you had the same idea, huh?”

Running a hand through his hair as he set his weapon beside him, “Something like that.”

Draping her blanket over the arm of the recliner, Sam curled up in the chair and pulled the blanket over herself with her SIG safely in her lap. “Lay down, Horatio. Go back to sleep.” Watching as he laid back down, her eyes slowly closed as she listened to his breathing slow down as he drifted off to sleep. Yawning lightly, Sam pulled the blanket around her tighter, and soon found the sleep that had been eluding her.

***

Waking from a nightmare with Vinnie’s voice pleading in her ears to help him, to find him, Sam jerked her head toward the sofa and found Horatio softly snoring, seemingly unaffected by any noise she may have made. The house was warm, but the realness of the dream left her in a cold sweat with chills. Wrapping her blanket around her shoulders and tucking her gun into the waist band of her shorts, Sam quietly made her way through the dining room and opened her laptop. Signing on, she figured she might as well get some work done since there was no way she’d be able to go back to sleep. Letting the system load, she slipped into the kitchen and, figuring the tea pot would be too loud, she filled a small pot with water and placed it on the stove to heat. The tea would help her relax, but there was no way it would put her to sleep. Pacing the kitchen waiting for the water to warm enough to make a cup of tea, Sam finally plopped herself down at the table and frowned as she looked at the time. 3:37am. Could things be any worse? Cringing as the soft chime sounded, she frowned as she realized she wasn’t the only one awake.

‘Sam? What are you doing up?’

Sipping at her tea, she slowly tapped out a reply. ‘same thing u r, UM.’ He would hate that she was typing like that, but it was too early to think straight and she wasn’t wasting time typing out complete sentences if she didn’t have to.

‘Couldn’t sleep? More dreams?’

So he wasn’t going to fight her about the little chatcrap as he called it. ‘no and yes. I didn’t want to wake H so I thought I’d get some work done. Any luck on the pics?’

‘Honestly? Added the program for you last night, grabbed a shower and went to bed. I just woke up so I haven’t started anything yet. I’m going to run them all as soon as the coffee is ready.’

She couldn’t argue with him for being up so early. This was a normal start time for him whenever there was a case going on. ‘good plan. I’ll run 1 and see what I get. let me work.’ Minimizing the window, she knew he wouldn’t bother her until she touched base with him again. Pulling her gun out and setting it beside the laptop, Sam wrapped the blanket tighter around her shoulders and opened up the upgraded facial recognition software. Grinning slightly as she randomly picked out one of the sketches and loaded it to the program, You can run, but you can’t hide. I’m gonna find you. Sitting back and letting the program do the work, Sam thought about the audio and The Dungeon. Opening a new window, she started a new search. Within minutes she found a few hits, but none of them held much potential. A music recording studio, some martial arts place, and of all things, a pizza joint that was set up like a castle and dungeon! Raising an eyebrow and frowning, she found herself hoping that Eric could narrow The Dungeon down for them.

Closing the window, and checking the time, almost twenty minutes had gone by and still no hits on the facial. Frowning, Sam stopped the search and replaced the picture with one of the remaining two. Hitting the search button, she sat back and waited. She didn’t want to think about it, but her mind wandered back to the dreams she’d been having. She knew they had to be hurting him, even torturing him, and her dreams were bringing those possibilities to light. She had seen him beaten and bloodied, broken and lifeless. Every time she seemed to get closer to him, he was pulled away from her, pulled back into the darkness out of reach. What made the dreams so hard, so real, was his voice. She could hear him echoing in her mind, begging her not to give up, pleading with her to find him. She knew it was all in her mind. That the dreams were just her own fears being projected, and his pleading voice was her own heart making sure she didn’t give up.

Bowing her head and closing her eyes, she willed the voices to quiet so that she could work. Raising her head suddenly as a sharp ring sounded, she couldn’t believe what was on the screen. Staring at the images, it took a moment to sink in what she was seeing. On the left side of the screen was the picture that Carlos gave them that she had loaded into the program. On the right side of the screen was the same picture except it wasn’t a sketch. It was a real photograph! In bright red flashing letters across the center of the screen, Sam quietly read the words ‘MATCH FOUND’. Match found… match found… “YES!” Slapping a hand over her mouth as soon as the word passed her lips, she groaned as she heard a thump from the living room. Hearing Horatio grumbling, she couldn’t pull herself from the pictures in front of her. Growling at the man on her screen, “I’ve got you, you bastard. I know who you are now. It’s just a matter of time before I hunt you down.” Pulling up the IM with Uncle Mike, ‘I found one! Call the house cause I just woke up H.’

Shaking his head as he walked into the dining room, “What is going on?”

Without thinking, Sam leapt from the chair and threw herself at Horatio, dropping her blanket to the floor. Wrapping her arms around his neck in a fierce hug, “I found one of them, Horatio. The sketches Carlos gave us, I found one of them!”

Shocked by Sam’s actions, he could only stand there numbly as her words slowly filtered through his mind. Glancing over her shoulder at the words still flashing on the screen, it dawned on him what she had just said. Reaching up to take her by the shoulders, Horatio gently separated them and stepped around her to look at the screen. Turning slowly to see Sam beaming at him, “You found one of them.” She nodded enthusiastically. “Sam! You found one!”

Laughing as the phone rang, “I know. I just told you that, Horatio.” Answering the phone and pushing the speaker button, Sam propped it on the table as she reclaimed her seat. “You’re on speaker, Uncle Mike.”

His voice was assertive, “Sam, I’m going to make this as clear as I can. Save the work, send me a copy and get your ass back to bed. It’s not even 5am yet.” Pausing as the information arrived on his laptop, “Horatio, knock her out, or sit on her, or something. If she doesn’t go back to bed for a couple more hours, she’ll end up sitting there trying to dig up the other two.” Sighing deeply as he didn’t get a reply, his voice softened. “Sam, you have a lot going on later. Go lay down. I’ll run what you found, and I’ll shoot you a copy before we leave here later.”

Throwing her hands up, Sam took a look at Horatio and noting his look, she frowned. Grumbling under her breath, “Fine.” Punching the logoff button, she closed the laptop and stalked out of the room leaving Horatio with Uncle Mike on the phone.

Picking up the phone and taking it off speaker, “Dan, why don’t you let us go? Let me see if I can’t get her lay down for a while.”

“She can be like a dog with a bone, Horatio. She found one of them and that’s her bone. She won’t be too happy to give this up even for a moment, and if she’s narrowed down even just the one, she’s going to want to go after them. If I didn’t pull her like I did, she would have taken off as soon as she had an address. At least this way with me doing the work, she can rest up and she’ll have backup when she goes after him.”

Picking up her blanket from the floor and tossing it over his shoulder, “Alright, Dan. Do what you can, and we’ll talk to you later.” Hanging up, Horatio collected her gun and walked into the living room to find it empty. Walking to her room, he stood in the open doorway and with the beginning of dawn making the room relatively lighter, he saw her laying on the bed, curled up in a ball. Setting her gun on the nightstand and draping the blanket over her, he paused waiting to see if she say anything. When she remained silent and turned away from him, he leaned over to lightly touch her shoulder. “Rest for a while more, Sam. We’ll get him.” Quietly leaving the room, he shut the door behind him and returned to the living room to sit in the darkness facing the coming dawn.

Silently seething at having her find taken away from her, Sam grumbled against the darkness. She knew he was right though, and that’s what made her so mad. She wanted this guy. He was in her grasp and she wanted him. Pushing her blanket off, her hand froze. Rolling over she could see her gun on the nightstand. She hadn’t heard Horatio put it down. Sighing heavily, she slowly crawled out of bed and walked to the living room. Horatio was sitting in the recliner, leaning forward with his arms crossed on his knees and his head bowed. Holding up a hand as he raised his head upon her entrance, “If I couldn’t sleep in there earlier, there’s no way I can sleep in there now.” Laying down on the sofa and facing the back of it, “I’m sorry. I don’t like giving up on leads when I finally have them in my hand.” Curling up in a ball, she closed her eyes. Hearing Horatio leave the chair, she sighed as she thought he was upset with her until she heard his footsteps returning and felt the weight of the blanket being draped over her.

He knew it wasn’t easy to let someone else take up the slack when you needed downtime, but sometimes it was necessary. “Dan said that he’d have everything sent to you by the time they leave later. He isn’t stopping you from going after these guys, Sam. He just wants to make sure you are in top form when the time comes to do so.” Resting a hand on her shoulder briefly, his voice dropped as he moved back to the recliner, “And so do I.”

Sighing and forcing herself to relax, Sam somehow managed to fall back to sleep.

***

Sam awoke quite a while later when Horatio gently shook her. Rolling over to look up at him, she smiled weakly as she saw him already dressed for the day. Raising her eyebrow as she sat up and he handed her a cup of tea, she slowly took in his attire. No suit and tie, and it took a second to remember that it was the weekend and he was technically off duty, she grinned as she took him all in. No suit, but no jeans and t-shirt either. It was business casual all the way. Tan khakis and a light blue polo shirt with the top button undone, it was a different look than what she was accustomed to, but it fit him.

“I talked to Dan already. He said he sent what little he could get on your guy.”

Wrapping her hands around the warm cup, “What time is it?”

“Going on 9:30. You needed the sleep, Sam.” Seeing her frown, “Come on, I made you breakfast.”

Walking into the dining room, Sam found a plate sitting next to the laptop. Sitting down, she picked at the food while the computer loaded. Logging into her email, she smiled faintly as she read Uncle Mike’s message.

‘Sam,
Don’t be mad at me for earlier. We both know that you wouldn’t have stopped until he was in your hands. You need to keep a level head from here on out. Things are going to start heating up fast, and I want you to be careful.
Frank and I are heading out soon, so I’m sending what I have. I’m sorry, Sam, it’s not much, but it should give you something to work with. I’ve attached the file for you.
I’ll call if we get anything of interest from Santana, but I’m betting it will be nothing new to you. Watch your back out there today. I know you’re putting time in at the lab, but if you get a bite on your boy, make sure you have backup.
Tell Horatio to watch his back too. He’s a good man, Sam…. Nevermind, I’ll leave it at that. Just be careful. I love you and I’ll talk to you later,
Uncle Mike’

Opening the attached file, Sam slowly skimmed over the contents while munching absently on a slice of bacon. ‘Juan Julio Menendez. He was only a couple years younger than Sam, 32 years old. Ht: 5’7” Wt: 164 pounds. Eyes: Brown Hair: Brown’

“Anything good?”

Looking up briefly, Sam shrugged. “Not much. Name, physical description. There’s a last known address but it’s listed as a couple of years old.” Pushing her half empty plate aside, “I’m going to get changed. Why don’t you give Eric and Calleigh a call and have them meet us at the lab? I’ll be ready in a few minutes.” Leaving the room as Horatio collected her plate, Sam trudged down the hallway to get dressed. Slipping on her shoulder holster and securing her weapon, she slipped her badge into her back pocket and shrugged on her jacket before pulling back her hair into a tight ponytail and leaving the room. Finding Horatio already waiting for her in the hallway, she caught her cell phone and keys as he tossed them her way.

“Laptop and cord are already in your Hummer. Eric crashed at Alexx’s last night on the couch believe it or not. He was home when I called and said he’d be at the lab in about half an hour. Alexx is riding in with Calleigh, and I think they’ve decided that they don’t need Joe anymore.” Walking outside and closing the door, “However, I said we would discuss that later. Right now I feel safer with someone keeping an eye on them.”

Twirling her keys absently, “Agreed, but if Eric is planning on crashing at Alexx’s, I don’t see much of a problem pulling Joe if we have to. We can talk about that later. I want to get in and see what we can get on Juan and these other two dogs.” Leaving Horatio at his ride, Sam made a complete walk around her Hummer before climbing inside. Following Horatio to the Department, Sam smiled as Eric squealed into the parking spot beside her. Raising an eyebrow at him as she stepped out of her vehicle, she rolled her eyes and shook her head as he grinned back at her innocently.

“Calleigh and Alexx are already here, Eric. Let’s get inside and get set up.”

Sobering instantly and nodding to his boss, “You got it, H. What’s the plan for the day?”

Walking between the two Hummers and accepting Frank’s briefcase from Sam as she pulled it from between the seats, Horatio positioned himself so that Sam was between him and Eric, “Plan is we find the one that Sam pegged earlier, and we I.D. the other two. Now let’s move.”

Entering the building and heading up the labs, Sam offered the laptop to Calleigh to set up and unlocked the briefcase. As soon as Calleigh was ready, Sam signed on and nodded to the big screen. “That’s one of them.” Telling them how she found one of them when she couldn’t sleep earlier that morning, “Uncle Mike dug up what he could, and it wasn’t a whole lot. I need more on him. I want Juan in my hands today.” Turning the briefcase over to Calleigh, “It’s yours. Do what you have to.” Turning to Eric, “I hear you’re the resident go to when it comes to clubs around here. See what you can pull up on a place called The Dungeon. All I could find was a recording studio, a martial arts place, and a pizza joint. I’m not thinking these guys frequented any of those. I’m thinking a bar or a club. See what you can find.” Sliding her computer in front of Alexx, “This thing runs itself. I don’t have any bodies for you, but if you’re here and I can’t talk you into walking away from this, then I’m going to ask you to just keep an eye on the facials on here. You’ll know if it hits anything.”

“What are you planning on doing, Sam?”

Walking over to lean an arm on Eric’s shoulder, “I think I’m going to kidnap Horatio and have him go with me to give those addresses you gave Uncle Mike a looking into. I’m not expecting much from them, but who knows. I’ll take a copy of the pictures with me, and show them around. Maybe we’ll get lucky.” Grinning as Calleigh took the cue to send the sketches to the printer, “Then maybe we’ll hit The Dungeon spots that I actually found. We’ll save the pizza joint for last and we’ll bring back lunch.” Crossing to the printer to collect the pictures, “Then we’ll regroup, do lunch, and go from there.” Glancing at Horatio and catching his nod, Sam headed for the door amid the chorus of ‘be carefuls’. Waving over her shoulder as Horatio fell instep beside her, “I figure they’re safer here than going out with us at the moment. Besides, if you’re going with me when I go after Vinnie, then we need to get used to how the other works.”

Stepping into the elevator and waiting for the doors to close behind them, “So now you’re officially asking me to go with you?”

He’d made a promise from day one, and he’d kept it up to that point. They’d already played off one another with Santana and it had worked well. They’d even gone through the safe house when she was concerned, and it had been smooth, not flawless, but it had been smooth. He knew her past and she trusted him. She still wasn’t thrilled with the thought of anything happening to him, but she knew she’d need someone to watch her back if she was going to be able to get Vinnie away from those people. “Yeah. I guess I’m asking. I don’t want anything to happen to you, but I know I can’t do it alone.”

His eyes took on a harder look. “We’re going to find him, Sam. Make no mistake about it. We’re going to bring him home.” Standing aside as the doors opened, he followed Sam outside. “I’ll drive, you navigate.” Climbing behind the wheel of his Hummer, he waited patiently for Sam to join him.

Setting the pictures on the dashboard, Sam pulled a slip of paper and a pen from her pocket. Studying the addresses for a moment, “Alright, first stop….” Reading off the address and checking it off, Sam didn’t hold much hope for getting a lot of information but she wasn’t going to just sit by and not check them out.

***

As the morning slipped by without turning up anything useful, Sam was slowly fuming inside. The addresses hadn’t given them anything they could use, and as she had figured, the recording studio and martial arts studio had also been dead ends for The Dungeon. No one had ever seen the pictures they had shown around, and Sam and Horatio both agreed that they believed those they had asked. Driving across the city, they stopped at the pizza Dungeon and ordered a couple pies to go. They even tried the pictures there, but with no luck. As they were waiting for their food, Sam studied the crowd. “Horatio, there has to be some other place that goes by the Dungeon name.”

He was feeling the same disappointment that he heard in Sam’s voice and he had a hard time hiding it. “I don’t know, Sam. Hopefully Eric’s turned up something by the time we get back. We’ll see what he has for us.” Finally paying for their pizzas, they left and after a quick call to Eric to have them lock everything up, shut down the laptop, and meet them in the break room, Horatio drove them back to the Department.

Pulling into the parking lot, Sam and Horatio had quite the surprise waiting for them. Standing outside the front door, with a scowl in place and his arms crossed, was the Chief. Narrowing his eyes as they approached with boxes in hand, “Lt. Caine. I thought I heard something about you being here today so I decided to stop by and see if I couldn’t finally meet this mysterious Federal Agent that everyone seems to be talking about.” Softening his features as he turned to Sam, “You must be Agent Giovanni. So happy to finally meet you, Ma’am.”

Balancing the pizza boxes on his left hand, Horatio shook the Chief’s hand with a smile. “Chief, this is Sam.” Stepping back, “Sam, our esteemed Chief.”

Taking a step forward to accept his offered hand, Sam thanked him sincerely. “Chief, I am in your debt for all the help that you and your Department has given me thus far, and for everything they’re still doing to help me crack this case. It was truly unexpected to get this level of support, but I want you to know that I am eternally grateful to you.” Gesturing to the pizzas, “We were just about to have lunch. Why don’t you join us and perhaps I can fill you in on some of what’s been going on?”

“That’s not necessary, but who am I to pass up a slice?” Opening the door and following Sam and Horatio inside, they loaded into the elevator and headed up to the break room where everyone was already waiting. “Ah, so you have the whole team here today?”

Motioning for everyone to dig in, Sam fell back to stand beside the Chief. “I can’t give you all of the details, but I will tell you this much. You have some of the most hard working and dedicated people working in this Department than I have seen in a very long time. I’m not cleared to give you all of the details, but why don’t you grab a slice and take a seat? I’ll bring you up to speed on what I can.” Waiting for everyone to get situated, Sam began to tell her story to the Chief beginning with Vinnie’s disappearance, to the trail to Miami, to hooking up with Horatio and his team, to her run in with Stetler over her young witness, to matching one of the sketches to a name. “I think I should apologize for sending my boss to talk to you about Stetler, but all things considered, I was more concerned with my witness at the time.”

Chuckling lightly and shaking his head, “As soon as you warned him off, he came tearing into my office about you. Then not even five minutes after he left, your McPike paid me a visit. I have to say, that’s the first time anyone’s stood up to Stetler like that and actually made him back down.” Glancing at Horatio briefly, “With the exception of some present at the moment.”

Scavenging a slice before it was all gone, Sam pulled out a chair and took a seat. “Well, considering the business addresses you gave to Uncle Mike turned up dead ends, and the only good thing about the Dungeon spots we hit was that we found out that this place makes good pizza, tell me you’ve got something for me, Eric. Anything?”

Throwing a half grin across the table at Sam, “Oh, I think we found you a few things.” Noting her raised eyebrow, and how she dropped the rest of her slice on the napkin in front of her, “Victor Ashton. He’s sketch number three. His stats are saved on the laptop and in the file we have. No current address though.” Watching the frown deepen on her face, “Calm down. I also found The Dungeon.” Her eyes snapped open and jaw dropped as a slow smile spread across her lips. “It’s a club that opened about a week ago. Really nasty bunch though. Tough crowd from what I can get on it. It’s a night owl joint. Opens around nine at night and kicks everyone out around six in the morning. A real hole in the wall. Small place with a small kitchen and bar.”

Sam was dumbfounded. Glancing around the table at Calleigh and Alexx and seeing their wide grins, “Eric, how? How’d you find it?”

Shrugging innocently, “I made a few calls, asked a few questions. Sometimes you luck out.”

The Chief, beaming proudly at his CSI’s, turned to Sam, “I see I made the right decision to allow them to work with you. When Horatio came to me with his request, I must admit that I was quite hesitant to turn over the best members of this Department to the Feds. However, as I’m sure you’ve already noticed, he can be quite… convincing when he has his mind set.”

Lowering her head to hide her smile, Sam glanced across the table at Horatio, “I’ve noticed he makes quite the impression on people. His attitude and mannerisms are beyond remarkable when it comes to handling witnesses.” Looking frankly at the Chief, “I’ve worked with a lot of local police departments across the country, and to be bluntly honest, I have to say that this has to be probably the most helpful and personable. I didn’t come down here expecting anything more than I’ve dealt with in the past when it came to dealing with the locals. I was expecting the least amount of help available while trying unsuccessfully to hide their disdain for having to work with the Feds. From experience, locals look at us the way you all look at Internal Affairs. We’re a plague and we try to run the show. I wasn’t expecting any of this from any of you.” Looking around the table at her team, her new friends, “I can’t thank any of you enough for everything you’ve done, or for what you’re still doing. All I can say is, when this is all over, I am forever indebted to you.”

“Nonsense.” Frowning as Sam turned to look at him, the Chief shook his head. “I don’t know what other departments you’ve worked with, but things are definitely run differently here. Local, out of state, Fed… It doesn’t matter. A badge is a badge and if you need our help, then we’re going to work with you to our fullest capabilities.”

Smiling gratefully, Sam paused as her cell phone rang. Glancing at the id, she answered with a smile. “Hey, Frank. We have another facial confirmed. How’s things on your end?”

Waiting for her to take a breath, Frank’s voice sounded strained on the other end. “Sam, they hit the house.”

Chapter Text

Sam nearly dropped the phone. “What!? When? Are you and Uncle Mike alright?” Waving Horatio back as he jumped to his feet, “What happened?” Listening as Frank briefed her, “Frank, stay in the truck. Don’t go in the house. I’ll be there in…” Glancing at the clock on the wall, and figuring what needed to be taken care of before she could run out the door, “Give me twenty. Hang tight.” Punching the disconnect button, she bowed her head a moment before shooting to her feet.

“Sam, what happened?”

Leaning her hands on the table, Sam’s voice trembled as she looked at Horatio. “They hit the house. Frank and Uncle Mike just got back. They stopped off for lunch after dealing with Santana. The door is busted open. He doesn’t think anyone is there, but I told them to hang tight and stay away from it.” Slamming her fist into the table hard enough to make everyone sit back in their seats, “Alright, this is going to quick then I’m out the door. Eric, Calleigh, grab my laptop from the lab, hook it up in Horatio’s office. Alexx, I want you in his office with that damn door locked tight until we get back. No one gets in there, understood?” Watching her nod, “Good. I’ll load the program again and you can run that last slime ball.” Turning to Eric and Calleigh, “Get the laptop, make sure everything else is locked up, get it hooked up in the office, and then I want you both taking your own wheels. Calleigh, follow Eric, he knows where the safe house is. Neither one of you is to go anywhere near that house until Horatio and I get there and clear it. Is that understood?” Catching their brief nods as they ran from the room, Sam stared at her hands and noted that they had stopped shaking.

“What do you need from me, Agent?”

Glancing at Horatio, and then staring at the Chief, Sam pointed across the table. “Him. Chief, I hate to do this to you since you’ve already given me a team, but I made a promise to Horatio that I wouldn’t take his team away from him. From this point on, they are completely my team. They don’t touch anything else except this case. In essence, that would be like me taking them from Horatio. I can’t allow that. So I’m taking Horatio from you until this is over. I’m sorry, but I need the best, and they need their leader.”

Crossing his arms on the table, and leaning forward to regard her with a faint smile on his face, the Chief shook his head. “So this is it, then? You played your badge card.” Sharing a look with Horatio, “All she had to do was ask. I was just waiting to see how long it would take her to grab you too.” Standing slowly and offering his hand to Sam, “Agent Giovanni, it’s been a pleasure. Take care of my team and they’ll take care of you. If there’s anything else you need, don’t hesitate to ask.” Walking out of the room, the Chief left them to their own.

Turning as Eric popped his head in the doorway, Sam waved him away and walked out with Horatio and Alexx close on her heels. Walking into Horatio’s office as Calleigh stepped away from the desk, Sam slipped around it and took a seat. Logging in and setting up the facial program, “Alright, Alexx. It’s all yours. I don’t know how long we’re going to be, but we’ll call when we’re on our way back.” Turning and finding only Horatio behind her, an eyebrow arched in question.

Standing in the doorway, Horatio checked the clip in his weapon casually. “You gave them their orders, and they’re following them. They’ll be there before we get there, but they’ll wait.”

Nodding and glancing back at Alexx, “Lock the door when we leave. If you want, close the blinds so no one bothers you.” Passing Horatio and waiting in the hallway as Alexx closed the door behind them and quietly locked it, “I’ll keep him safe, Alexx.” Walking away, Sam took out her keys and tossed them over her shoulder at Horatio. “You may want to keep those away from me for a while.” Slipping into the elevator as the doors open revealing it was empty, “If I don’t have keys or wheels, then I can’t take off after these guys.” As the doors close, “They’re in Miami, and they hit my family again, Horatio.”

Pocketing her keys, and pulling out his shades as the doors open, “We’re going to find them, Sam. You have my word on that.” Stalking through the front doors on the way to his Hummer, he caught Sam pulling out her cell phone. “Calling Frank?”

Shaking her head, she had known that when it came to going after Vinnie, she had planned to make a call, she just hadn’t thought it would be this soon. Climbing into the Hummer, Sam grabbed Horatio’s wrist before he could start the engine. “Horatio, I’m swearing you to silence. You can not, and I mean not, tell anyone, especially Frank about the call I’m about to make. Frank already doesn’t like the idea that I was going to make this call when I finally went after Vinnie, but he’ll have kittens if he knows I made the call now.”

She had his curiosity piqued. “Who are you calling?”

Dropping her hand, and her voice, Sam stared at the phone in her hand. “Someone crazy enough to answer my call. Someone crazy enough to walk into a suicide mission with me without even knowing the details before hand.”

Starting the engine but not moving from the spot, Horatio stared out the window before him. “Someone you trust?”

Without having to think about the answer, Sam nodded. “With my life. Frank doesn’t, but I do.” When Horatio smoothly backed out of the parking spot, she knew that he wouldn’t say anything. Slowly punching in the numbers, Sam raised the phone to her ear and waited. As the ringing stopped and the line was answered, she knew it was only voicemail. There was no message, not even a generic one, so she waited calmly for the beep. When it came, she left the only message necessary. “I’m cashing in my marker.” And Sam hung up.

Never taking his eyes from the road, “And whoever you called is suppose to know who called and what you’re talking about?”

Clutching the phone tightly in her hand, “Only a very few people in the world have that number, and of those, only a very rare select number of those have the ability to call it and call in their markers. This one doesn’t owe a whole lot of people, but there are a couple. I happen to be one of them.” Reaching over to flip on the lights and siren, “I’ll explain it all later. Right now, I need to be at that house.” Racing through the streets, Horatio squealed the tires as he took the turn into the safe house neighborhood. Seeing the twin Hummers blocking access to the road closest to the house, and her truck parked on the curb with Frank and Uncle Mike inside it still, “Call it, Horatio.”

Pulling easily around Eric’s Hummer to pull into the driveway, Horatio killed the engine and pulled out his SIG. He didn’t need to ask. “High and left.”

Nodding as she slipped out of her seat and stepped around the Hummer, Sam freed her weapon, chambered a round and thumbed off the safety. Dropping low beside the shattered front door, she glanced up at Horatio and nodded faintly. Ducking through the doorway and staying low, Sam swung her weapon from right to left covering the room as Horatio stood just behind her sweeping from left to right. Moving from the entryway into the living room, Sam stepped lightly to the kitchen entrance. Keeping her back to the wall, she could just see down the hallway toward the bedrooms. Flipping a thumbs up and pointing at the hallway, Sam went low and peeked around the corner into the kitchen. She wasn’t expecting anyone to still be there, but she didn’t want her head shot off either. Clear. It was only mid-afternoon so the bright sun pouring through the windows killed any chance of hiding in the now nonexistent shadows. The living room was empty, and moving down the hallway, the bathroom and bedrooms were likewise cleared.

Flipping the safety back on his weapon before holstering it, Horatio walked to the doorway careful not to touch anything. “It’s clear. Calleigh, Eric, get those kits in here and cover every inch. We’ll knock out familiars at the lab. Right now, I want everything.” Pausing as he turned to see Sam standing behind him, “Sorry, Sam. I know it’s your show, but this is what we do.”

Nodding and offering a slight smile, she frowned as her cell phone rang. Before she could say a word, the voice on the other end asked simply, “When and where?”

Sighing at the long familiar voice, she knew he wouldn’t hold on the line long so she kept it short, “Miami Dade. Yesterday.” When she hung up and looked at Horatio, she stepped out of the way as Calleigh and Eric walked in. Moving outside to get out of their way, Sam secured her weapon in her holster, and walked over to Frank and Uncle Mike. Hugging them both, “What happened?”

Frank told her how they went to talk to Santana and hadn’t learned much more than she had, and how afterwards they had gone to lunch. They were going to stop by the house before heading over to the lab, but when they showed up, the front door had been bashed in, so he had called. Neither one had gotten out of the truck, so neither knew what damage, if any, had been done inside.

Excusing herself as Horatio called her from the doorway, Sam returned inside. “What’s wrong?” Crossing to the table as Calleigh held up a clear bag to her, “Do I want to know?”

Handing the evidence bag to Sam and pointing at the table, “They left a note for you and their mark.”

Glancing at the table and noting the white hand print, Sam’s lip curled in a snarl. “It’s still tacky. They haven’t been gone long.” Checking the note in her hand, “Regular college lined paper, hand written. I’m guessing no prints will be on it though.” Reading the note, Sam sucked in a hissing breath.

‘Watch the video.
Get your nose out of our business and leave Miami or he dies.’

It took every ounce of restraint not to crumple the note in her hand. Growling as she slammed the note back on the table, “Where’s this damn video they mentioned?” Accepting a second plastic bag with an unlabeled cd case, “I want this run first for trace. As soon as you clear it, I want it in Uncle Mike’s hands and I want it run.” Gingerly setting it back on the table as her cell phone rang, Sam stepped into the kitchen.

Before she could say anything, the voice on the other end asked simply, “Details?”

He was hesitating. If he wasn’t going to help her, then why didn’t he just say it? “Negative.”

His voice grew colder, “Tick. Tock.”

Growling into the phone, she was in no mood for games. “In or out?” When he didn’t reply right away, she hung up. Bowing her head, she waited.

Almost immediately, the phone rang. “In. Details.”

Gritting her teeth, Sam was fuming. “My brother was kidnapped going on two weeks ago.” That’s all he needed to know. If he was going to help her, then he’d have to wait for the rest of the details. Yanking the phone away from her ear at the sudden explosive curse from the other end of the line, Sam cringed as the line went silent. She knew he hadn’t hung up, the line was still open. He was taking a great chance by leaving the line active for so long.

He was pissed. She should have called long before now. What the hell had she been thinking? Vince was missing and she was just now calling him!? He knew he had to kill the call otherwise he was leaving himself open to being traced by any and everyone. “An hour. I’ll call on final approach.”

“Wait.” Giving him quick instructions on which airport to use and where to park, Sam hung up. Turning at the sound of a cane behind her, Sam looked at Uncle Mike and knew in an instant that he knew who she had been talking to. “Don’t tell Frank. I don’t need him on my case right now, and I’m doing everything I can to protect everyone involved.”

He’d figured she’d called him eventually. He was no more thrilled with the idea than Frank was, but at least he understood why she had turned to him. Shaking his head, and holding out an arm, “Come here, Sam.” Waiting until she was safely in the crook of his arm with her head resting against his shoulder, “Just be careful, Sam. I know he won’t do anything to hurt you, but…”

Whispering against his shoulder, she finished his thought, “But he always has his own agenda.” Stepping back and looking at Uncle Mike earnestly, “Not this time. This time he works for me. I called in my marker.”

“You did not just call that… that… lunatic!”

Growling under her breath as Frank walked by the doorway and overheard their conversation, “Frank, give it a rest!” Pushing past Uncle Mike, and dragging Frank outside, Sam dropped her voice menacingly. “Let it go, Frank. He’s not coming here to work with you. He’s coming here to help me bring home Vinnie. We all know this is suicide, Frank. I need him here. I may not be able to even the odds, but I’m going to do everything I can to at least try to get everyone out of this alive.”

Noting the wild look in Sam’s eyes and the grim determination in her voice, Frank tried to remain calm. “I don’t trust him, Sam. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Watching the street and shaking her head, her voice was a mixture of sadness and anger. “Frank, they kidnapped Vinnie. They’ve led us on a goose chase through Miami, took out my best lead, and they hit my family again.” Looking at Frank with her eyes begging him to try to understand, “I swore to him that I would never call in my marker because I wouldn’t risk pulling him out into the open, but I don’t have a choice here, Frank. You don’t have to work with him, you don’t have to trust him. I called him because I need him here. I need to work with him, and because I trust him.”

He knew it was a lost cause to argue, so he decided to drop it. “When does he get here?”

“Within the hour. When Calleigh and Eric are done here, I want you and Uncle Mike to head back to the lab with them. Calleigh found a note and a video. I’ll take Horatio with me to pick up my boy.” Walking back inside, and finding Horatio on the phone, she waited patiently until he hung up. “Well?”

Looking around the room as Calleigh and Eric were still busy going over every inch, “I called Tripp. I want him to come down with a few uniforms and walk the neighborhood, knock on doors, see if anyone saw anything.”

Glancing at her watch and sighing, “They’re not going to find anything from our guests. They made a scene by breaking down the door, and they left us the note, their mark and the video. They didn’t bother with anything else. They had no reason to.” Nodding toward the door and walking outside with Horatio at her side, “I want everything taken back to the lab, but that video is priority one. Once it’s cleared of trace, I want everyone on that video. Everything else can wait.”

Resting a hand on her shoulder, he could feel the tension. “Sam, if we go by the note, then Vinnie is still alive. You have to hold on to that.”

Waiting on the lawn until Tripp showed up with a couple of cars on his tail, Sam walked with Horatio over to talk to them. Giving them directions to talk to everyone in the neighborhood and bring back anything to the lab, Sam watched them spread out and start knocking on doors. “Let’s go back inside. I want everyone cleared out before we head over to the airfield.” Dipping her chin and stalking across the yard, Sam called everyone into the living room. “Alright, here’s the plan. Tripp is going door to door, and they’ll bring anything to the lab when they’re done. The only thing I want run for trace when all of you get back is that video. Run it for prints or dna, but once it’s cleared it becomes priority. I want all eyes on that video, no exceptions. When Horatio and I get back with my new player, I want to know what’s on that video. Is that understood?” They were all silent, but they nodded slowly. “Good. Now pack it up and get back to the lab. I’ll call Alexx and let her know you’re on the way.” Pulling Uncle Mike aside, “She’s in Horatio’s office with the laptop. See if she found anything else, save whatever she has, and shut it down. Take it with you to the lab. I want Alexx watching it too. The more eyes, the better.”

Packing everything up and walking out the door, the team quickly loaded up and pulled away from the house. Walking over to pull the door shut as much as possible, Horatio turned and made his way back to the Hummer. Climbing inside as Sam settled in the seat beside him, “Are you going to be alright?”

“Eventually. Just drive over to the airfield. He said an hour, so he should be calling soon.” Pulling out her cell, Sam dialed Horatio’s office and smiled faintly as Alexx answered. “Alexx, I’m sending the team back to the lab now. Frank and Uncle Mike are with them. Horatio and I have to pick someone up, but we’ll be there soon.”

“How are they, baby girl? Did you find anything?”

Sighing, “Frank’s tough. He doesn’t do emotional well. Uncle Mike though… Alexx, stay with him please. ” Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, “They left us a note and a video. Calleigh is going to run the disc for trace and then I want everyone watching whatever it is. I need all the eyes I can get on that video. Frank and Uncle Mike are going to see one thing, and that’s Vinnie. I need everyone else to look at it more closely. See if there’s anything we can get from it to find out where he is.”

“Are you sure the video is of Vince?”

“From the note I have to say yes.” There was a sick knot in her stomach, but Sam fought it down. “Stay with Uncle Mike, Alexx. He’s going to need someone close by.” Promising to be safe, Sam said goodbye and hung up. Pointing out the same location where the original plane had landed, Sam directed Horatio to park. And so they waited. Keeping their eyes on the sky, Sam snapped her head around as Horatio pointed upward. Raising an eyebrow, she shook her head. “That’s got to be him. Just stay in here unless I signal you to get out.”

Keeping his eyes on the plane as it got closer, “Anything I should know about this guy?”

“In a nutshell… Frank takes time to grow on you, but this one, if he doesn’t like you from the moment you meet him, it’s best to stay out of his way. I’ll give you the full story later, but basically, we’re talking military background with a stint for the government in another bureau, and now… well, let’s just say that the less people know he’s alive, the better.”

“Better for whom?”

“Better for everyone, including him. He’s made powerful enemies that would like nothing more than have his head on a platter, but for all intents and purposes, he’s a walking deadman. Everyone thinks he’s dead, and it’s best that it remains that way.” Opening her door to step out, “Stay inside here.” Closing the door and stepping to the front of the Hummer, Sam leaned her back against the grille and waited for the call. She didn’t have to wait long. Not waiting for him to say a word, she answered, “If you’re the Lear on approach, then I have you in sight. We’re at the hangar. See you on touch down.” Disconnecting the call, she waited.

As the plane landed and slowly taxied to the hangar area where the Hummer sat parked, he looked out the window and saw Sam. Leaning against the Hummer with her arms crossed over her chest, he knew her hand was resting on the SIG strapped to her side. Her head was lowered but he knew her eyes were watching everything around her. She’d been a tough kid when he’d first met her, and he was sure that time and recent events had only made her stronger. Vince had been taken. She should have called him from the moment she had known, but true to her word, she’d tried to keep him out of it, she had tried to protect him. He wasn’t getting any younger, and the list of people out to get him was still as long as it ever was, but things must have taken a seriously wrong turn if she was calling in her marker and risking calling him out into the open. And if things had gone that bad, then he was the only one she could call. Standing as the plane rolled to a smooth stop, he walked to the door and opened it before stepping back into the cabin as an unknown employee rolled a set of steps up to the plane before jogging away into the hangar.

Watching the plane stop broadside to the Hummer, she waited. It had been years since she had last seen him, and then it had only been a glimpse out of the corner of her eye to let her know that he was still alive. He had so many out to get him, that it tore at her that she had to call him, but she had no other choice. Nodding faintly as an airport employee set the steps against the side of the plane and ran back into the hangar, she waited. Raising her eyes to study the man stepping from the plane, her heart skipped a beat. As he walked closer and stopped about twenty feet away, she hid a smile as he held his hands open to his sides with the ‘I’m here. Now what?’ attitude. He hadn’t changed… much. Slowly pushing away from the Hummer, Sam closed the distance between them. Stopping within ten feet of the newcomer, she noted a few more wrinkles around his eyes, and some grey streaking through his hair, but his eyes still held the same spark, the same fire that had drawn her to him from the first time they had met. As he raised an eyebrow, cocked his head, and gave her a crooked smile, her heart melted. Quickly covering the remaining ground between them, she allowed him to pull her into his arms and crush her against his chest.

He was furious that she hadn’t called to tell him that Vince had been taken, but he knew deep inside that she wouldn’t have done anything to jeopardize his own safety. She was his fiercest protector, and that was the only reason why he didn’t yell at her. Turning his face into the side of her neck as she threw her arms around him, “Sammy girl. You should have called sooner.” His voice was soft. He couldn’t be mad at her no matter how hard he tried.

Her words muffled against his old black duster length jacket, “I’m sorry I had to get you involved. I tried to keep you out of this and keep you safe, but I was out of options. I need your help.”

Lifting her chin to look him in the eyes, “You always worried too much about me. I’m not that easy to kill, believe me, many have tried.” Sighing as he saw the pain in her eyes, “I’m here now, Sammy. We’ll find him. Ok?” Watching her nod, his eyes drifted to the Hummer. “So who’s your driver?”

Stepping to his side, Sam waved to Horatio and motioned for him to step out but to remain with the Hummer. “Lieutenant Horatio Caine. Head of the MDPD CSI Crime lab.”

Watching as Horatio climbed from the Hummer, he frowned. “A cop? Seriously? Come on, Sammy.”

Spinning around to stand in front of him and jabbing her finger in his ribs, she narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Don’t you dare start. Your love of the authorities aside, Horatio has given me more help with finding Vinnie than my own damn Bureau has. If it wasn’t for him and his team, then I wouldn’t be anywhere near finding Vinnie yet. So don’t start.”

Leaning down quickly and kissing Sam’s forehead, “You haven’t changed a bit, Sammy. Although your tastes in men apparently have. I though Vince was the one for the redheads.” Chuckling lightly at her growl, “Calm down. If he’s been that much help, then I suppose I can at least attempt to be nice.”

Grabbing his arm as he moved to step around her, “Do more than just attempt. He’s part of my team that’s going after Vinnie when I find him.”

Raising an eyebrow, he cocked his head curiously. “Yeah? Who else is on the team?”

“Me, him… and you.”

Lightly brushing Sam’s hand from his arm, “Horatio, huh?” At her nod, the smile on his face faded as he grew serious. “Alright, Sammy. Alright.” Walking across the tarmac to stop in front of Horatio, he was surprised that they were almost eye to eye, of course he gave himself the benefit of the inch at most. Extending his hand, he glanced over his shoulder at Sam and winked.

Seeing the wink, Sam’s shoulders slumped and she groaned.

Turning back to Horatio as they shook hands, “How’s it going…” He paused, and then smiled, “Buckwheat?”

Chapter Text

Staring strangely at the man before him, Horatio looked around the man’s shoulder at Sam. Seeing her hang her head and shake it slowly before walking toward them, Horatio studied the man. Eye to eye, brown hair with a faint redness laced with grey, steely blue eyes. There was a hardness in this man, a coldness that ran deep. The man was a killer and that bothered him even if Sam did trust this guy. “Name’s Horatio Caine.”

Grinning as Sam joined them, “Yeah, I know.” Holding his hands up in an ‘I surrender’ gesture as Sam glared at him, “I’m sorry. Old habits die hard. I’ll save the rest for Frank. Ok?”

Rolling her eyes at him, Sam turned to Horatio. “Horatio, I’d like to introduce this insanity to you. His name is Roger.”

When he realized she wasn’t going to say any more, Roger frowned. “Thanks, Sammy. I’m glad you took care of that for me.” Nodding to the Hummer, “Listen, if you don’t mind, I’d rather continue this somewhere other than out in the open. I’m not exactly off the hit list yet.” Following Sam to the passenger side and climbing into the backseat, he waited until Horatio and Sam climbed in. “Name’s Roger Lococco. Do me a favor and don’t bother looking me up. As far as anyone is concerned, I’m dead.”

Catching Horatio’s raised eyebrow, Sam shook her head. “Just drive back to the lab. I’ll explain on the way.” As they drove away from the airfield, Sam gave Horatio the short story. “Military to mercenary to CIA to assassin for the CIA and the government in general. Vinnie and I met up with Rog on a case and he pegged us for what we were, and we managed to figure out that there was more to him too. Our paths crossed on a few other occasions, and as it turned out, Rog wanted out. CIA wouldn’t give up their best gun so Vinnie and I… we gave him an out. As far as the CIA was concerned, Rog died in an explosion. We had everything set up so he’d have funds available and he disappeared.” Reaching up to take Roger’s hand as he set it on her shoulder, “He managed to get his number to me and Vinnie, and we did everything in our power to keep him below the radar. Vinnie called in his marker a long time ago.” Looking over the back of her seat, “I swore that I wouldn’t use mine because I didn’t want to risk your life by having you pop up. I’m sorry, Rog.”

Her heart was heavy and it sounded in her voice. Her eyes were sad and he could tell she’d cried more in the past two weeks than he had ever seen her do when they were working together all those years ago. He was still irritated that she hadn’t called him when this all happened, but he couldn’t fault her loyalty and dedication to her family and friends. She was the fiercest protector of them all. He was the most dangerous all around, but when her family was in jeopardy, she had the potential to make even him look like a pussy cat. He sighed lightly and squeezed her hand reassuringly. “I told you, Sammy, you worry about me too much. I’m not worth it. I’ve done enough in my life that I need to pay for. At some point someone is going to come collecting and you’re not going to be able to stop them… and neither will I.” Seeing the hurt deepen in her eyes, “Stop worrying, Sammy.”

“Sammy?”

Rolling her eyes, Sam glanced at Horatio. “I had a choice. Either he was going to call me Samantha or Sammy. Rog refused to call me Sam.” Dropping her voice to a gravely growling imitation of Rog, “Sam is a guy’s name, and you’re a far cry from being a guy. You may be tough but you’re still a girl, so choose.” Shaking her head and glaring at Rog, “So I’m stuck with Sammy with him.”

“And the buckwheat?”

Throwing his head back and laughing heartily, Roger wiped at his eyes. “It annoys the crap out of Frank. Don’t ask where the nickname came from. I’ve called Vince that, half the guys I’ve worked with and for, and of course Frank. Now I just call him that to annoy him and watch him bristle. It’s amusing to me.”

Dropping Roger’s hand and turning to stare out the window, Sam’s voice faded. “Yeah, well, do me a favor. Not this time, Rog. Not now.”

Ever since she had called him he’d been trying to figure out what happened. She still hadn’t told him. “Sammy…”

“Rog, just relax, ok?” Taking a deep breath, “I need to know if you’re completely in or not.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Doesn’t tell me anything.” When he remained silent, she turned in her seat to look back at him. “Two weeks tomorrow Vinnie was taken from his house. There wasn’t a lot to go on since the Feds took all the trace and evidence to the main headquarters in D.C. and left us out of the loop. There was a mark on the wall though. A white hand print. We found out that it belonged to a group called the Manos Blancas…”

“de Muerte.” Roger had heard of them. In his line of work he’d heard a lot about a lot of groups. These guys were hard core death. They didn’t play around and they took what they wanted, usually with little to no evidence left behind except for their calling card hand print. When Sam nodded slowly, “I’ve heard of them. El Salvador if I’m correct?”

“Yeah, you are.” Turning around to sit back in her seat, Sam quickly filled Roger in on the details. She told him of the line to Miami, the talks with Santana, the plane with the bodies, Kevin, Carlos, and ended with the mess at the safe house. Feeling a hand on the back of her neck, Sam reached up and snatched Roger’s hand away. “Don’t.”

When she told him of the bodies, she had failed to mention the chain. His eye for detail hadn’t changed over the years. When she had turned back around, the setting sun had caught the chain on her neck and it had been one that he easily recognized. Vinnie had never taken off that chain for as long as he’d known him. “That’s Vince’s, Sammy.”

Her hand drifted to the crucifix hidden under her shirt and she bowed her head. “It was on one of the bodies. There were prints on it, but none good enough to run for a match.” Sighing as they pulled into the parking lot, “Rog, please behave. Things are beyond crazy right now, and I finally got Frank to at least accept the fact that I was calling you down here to help me. Don’t push him.” Climbing out and locking the door, she slammed the door shut and walked to the front of the Hummer waiting for Horatio to join them. Smiling faintly as the men took up positions on either side of her, she glanced up at them both. This was the team that was going to bring Vinnie home. Her team. Now she had to go inside and deal with the rest of the team.

Taking the stairs, Sam grinned as she heard the twin footsteps racing up behind her. She was a good ten years younger than Horatio, and almost twenty years younger than Roger, but she had to give them both credit, they kept up with her with no problems. Cresting the top of the stairs and waiting for them to join her, she noted that neither was even slightly winded and for the first time, she was thinking that maybe they all had a decent shot of getting Vinnie and themselves out alive. Walking into the lab, Sam skidded to a stop. It was the silence that had stopped her on a dime. Looking around the room, her concern rose immensely. Calleigh had her head lowered at the workstation with Eric standing to her side with his hand on the back of her chair. Uncle Mike was at the desk with his face in his hands with Alexx by his side with her arms around his shoulders. Frank… Standing in front of the big screen his head was lowered and his hands were clenched in fists at his side. Visibly trembling, his knuckles were clearly white. Moving aside as Horatio pushed past her, Sam took a step into the room. “What? What happened? What was on that damn video? Was it Vinnie? Was he…” She couldn’t say it.

“No, baby girl. He’s on it, but he’s alive.” Alexx couldn’t pull herself away from Uncle Mike. “It wasn’t good though, Sam.”

She couldn’t figure any way that could be good considering who had him, but with everyone’s current expressions, she was almost afraid to ask. “Tell me. I need to know.”

His voice sounding hollow behind his hands, Uncle Mike’s shoulders slumped. “They beat him, Sam.”

Biting back the sharp Duh retort, it wasn’t like that was a surprise. They kidnapped him. They hadn’t invited him over for tea and biscuits. Of course they video taped them beating him. Growling, her voice growing unsteady as her anger rose, “What else?”

Looking at Sam, her gaze apologetic, Alexx shook her head. “They cut him, baby.” As Sam’s eyes widened, Alexx tried to reassure her. “It looks worse than it is though from what I can tell. Although there was a lot of blood, and he’ll be in pain for a while, none of the cuts looked deep enough to do any lasting damage.”

She hadn’t expected that. Her stomach lurched but she clenched her jaw and kept it under control. Looking around the room, she realized that there had to be more. There was no way that a beating and some cuts and blood would put Uncle Mike and Frank down. No way. There had to be more. “What aren’t you telling me, Alexx? You’re the only one that has said anything, and I’m not trying to yell at you, but you’re hiding something from me. What is it?” When Alexx lowered her head and refused to meet her eyes, Sam knew that it was something big. She could feel the blood starting to pound behind her eyes, her heart slammed against her ribs, curling her lip in a snarl, “Someone better tell me what the hell is going on!”

When they had watched the video, the beatings and the cuttings had disturbed them all, but when the end of the video played out, Dan had told them all to not tell Sam. He had said that she would see it for herself and it would be better if they didn’t tell her. Eric didn’t think that it could possibly hurt matters, and he had no idea how she would react, but when he opened his mouth, he quickly learned why they had been told not to say anything. “Sam…” Pausing to take a deep breath, “They low dose electrocuted him.”

“NOOOOO!” The scream from Sam was nothing compared to the savage snarl from Roger. The beatings… the cuttings… Vinnie could deal with that. He was strong, he could handle that. But not the electrocution. How had they known? “No no no. NO!” Trying to push past Roger, she fought him tooth and nail as he grabbed her by the arms and attempted to keep her in the room. Growling at him, “Let me go, Roger! I’m going to kill them! I want their blood, Roger! I want them dead!”

Wrapping his arms around Sam, pinning her arms at her sides, Roger was glad that he had the height advantage over her because when she slammed her head into his chest he was sure she could have broken his nose had she been only a few inches taller. He knew what she was feeling. He knew first hand. Reaching up to press her head against his chest, he lowered his mouth to her ear. “This isn’t a marker call, Sam. Not any more.” He thought that would take the fight out of her, but it only made her fight harder. Looking around the room, he saw Horatio call his team together on the other side of the room. Putting himself between Sam and his team, Roger saw the fear flash in his eyes, followed by his uncertainty. Lowering his voice to just above a whisper, “Sammy, Horatio.”

Freezing instantly, the fight left her in a rush. Sagging against Roger as he slowly released her, Sam quietly choked on a sob and fought to find control. Balling her fists into the lapels of his jacket, she lost her fight with the tears and stood with her face buried against his chest, and her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Shuddering as Roger’s arms held her tight, her voice was haunted, burning, “I want them Roger. I want them.”

Leaning back to lift Sam’s face to look him in the eye, “Understand what I said, Sammy.” Stepping away as she raised a hand to her face to wipe away her tears, “We’re going to find Vince, but first things first.” Glancing across the room with only his eyes, he saw Sam nod faintly and leaned against the wall to wait.

Bowing her head briefly to take a steadying breath, Sam slowly raised her head. Her voice was weak, but as she spoke, it grew stronger, harder, more determined. “Roger, lock the door. I don’t want anyone in here.” Glancing across the room at Horatio, she silently mouthed an apology and begged him with her eyes to trust her. When he nodded slowly, she went to Uncle Mike and fell to her knees beside him. “Uncle Mike?” When he slowly raised his head, she saw his tears and her heart dropped. Rising to throw her arms around his neck, her breath caught as he latched his arms around her waist and held her tight. Holding his gaze with her own, “I’m going to find them, Uncle Mike. I swear it. Somehow, I’m going to find them. I’m going to bring Vinnie home. I don’t know how, but I’m going to find him and bring him home.” Blinking swiftly to clear her eyes, she lowered her head to touch his. “Be strong, Uncle Mike. I can’t do it alone.”

His eyes tightly shut and the tears still pouring from beneath the closed lids, his voice shook with raw emotion. “You’re not alone, Sam. You have us, you have your team.” Raising his head to look at Roger with a mix of distrust and hope, “And you have Roger.” Looking back at Sam and seeing the same pain and fear in her eyes that he knew was evident in his own, “I trust you, Sam. You’re the only one that’s ever been able to weed him out.” Glancing across the room, “Go talk to Horatio. Frank’s going to need some time.”

Leaning down to kiss Uncle Mike’s cheek, “I’ll send Alexx back over.” Stepping away, Sam slowly walked across the room to stand before Horatio. Staring at the floor at her feet, she couldn’t bring herself to look him in the eye. She knew her outburst had scared them, and she felt ashamed.

He’d seen the change in her at the airfield. He’d seen the anger at the beach. He recognized the look of a killer in Roger’s eyes, but the look that had come over Sam when Eric had told her what had happened to her brother, that was something he couldn’t explain. It was more than rage, more than pain, it was borderline bloodlust. Dan had told him that she would never hurt them, but in that one moment, he hadn’t been so sure. Now standing before him, he knew she still wanted nothing more than to hunt down the ones responsible, but now she was worried that she hurt him or his family. He’d heard Dan tell her that she wasn’t alone, and now it was his turn. Stepping away from his family, Horatio took Sam by the shoulders and lowered his head until she raised her eyes to meet his. “I’m not going anywhere, Sam. We’re right here. A little worried, but we’re still here with you.”

Looking gratefully at Horatio and his family, her team, she held out her hand to Alexx and nodded back toward Uncle Mike. Smiling awkwardly as Alexx crossed the room, Sam looked up at Horatio and thanked him. Pulling out her wallet, she removed a picture and handed it to Calleigh. “I need you to scan that and put it up on the big screen.” Walking over to Frank, she stood in front of him and reached up to take his face in her hands. “Frank. Look at me, Frank.” It was like no one was home. He’d shut down and refused to respond. Catching Calleigh’s nod, Sam glanced over her shoulder and choked back a lump rising in her throat. “Come on, Frank. Open your eyes and look at me.”

Even with his eyes closed he could still see the video playing in his mind. He couldn’t stop it from replaying over and over again. They’d found a way to hurt him, and in doing so, they had found the ultimate way to hurt them. But Sam… her voice reached out to him, and he opened his eyes. Staring into Sam’s eyes, Frank glanced at the screen behind her and couldn’t stop the flood of emotion and tears that engulfed him.

Grabbing Frank’s hands, Sam held on. “Frank, don’t you crack on me. If I can’t have a breakdown right now, then neither can you. I can deal with Uncle Mike getting emotional on me cause that’s just who he is, but if you go and break down, then I’m going to lose it, Frank. You’re the strong one, the hard headed one that always keeps us on track. I need you here with me, Frank. I have a team that’s still willing to stand with me and help me. I still have Horatio willing to back me, and I have Roger here. I know you don’t trust him, Frank, but he’s here to find Vinnie. Even if you don’t like him, you know he’s the best at what he does. I need that, Frank.” She was rambling, but she had to keep Frank listening to her. “I need the best right now. And I need you, Frank. I need my boss to keep me on track. I need my family to keep me together, Frank.”

Family. She needed her family. Grinding his teeth in an attempt to regain his composure, Frank shuddered. Pulling his hands free, he removed his glasses and quickly wiped his eyes. Looking over Sam’s head at the picture on the screen, he nodded and blinked back fresh tears. “I’m with you, Sam.”

“Good. Now it’s time to deal with this.” Looking around the room, “Everyone take a seat. We need to come up with a new plan of attack.” Waiting for everyone to sit, with the exception of Roger still holding up the wall, “I want you all to take a look at the screen. I don’t know what was on that video other than what you’ve told me, but I want you to see what I’m fighting for.” Turning around to stare at the screen, Sam smiled sadly. It was a picture of her family. Uncle Mike, Frank, Vinnie, and herself. “That’s Vinnie. That’s why we’re all in here. That’s why I flipped out, and that’s why I want these guys.” Bowing her head, she knew she had to see it. “I want everyone out of here except for Roger and Horatio. The rest of you hit the break room and give us time to watch the video. You’ve seen it once. There’s no need to see it again right now.”

There were no arguments as everyone filed out of the room past Roger. As the last exited, Roger relocked the door behind them and rolled a chair over to Sam. Pulling two more chairs over to flank her, he waited for Horatio to start the video and join them before sitting down. As the video played, he reached for Sam’s hand and had to smile when he noticed she had already claimed one of Horatio’s with her other.

The video was black and white and silent. There wasn’t much for décor and no way of telling where they were. The beatings were expected, but still made Sam cringe when the harder hits were landed. The cuttings were harder to deal with. Even in black and white, the amount of blood almost made her gag. However, knowing that they were coming, Sam turned a critical eye to the video and noted that Alexx was probably right. Besides being painful, there didn’t seem to be anything that would cause permanent damage. When they dragged out the battery and the wires, Sam growled. Breathing hard, her vision went red when she saw them touch the wires to Vinnie’s bare chest and saw his mouth open in a silent scream. Somehow she managed to drop Horatio and Roger’s hands before balling her own into tight fists that resulted in her nails drawing blood from her palms. “Turn it off.” Her voice sounded a million miles away, and when Roger touched her arm, she jerked away and shot to her feet. “Don’t touch me right now.” Pacing the room, her mind working a mile a minute, “Get everyone back in here.”

Waiting for Horatio to disappear from the room, “Sammy, we need to get our hands on them. Even if it’s just one of them.”

Narrowing her eyes at Roger, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “You really think so? Gee, I wonder why I didn’t think of that.” Resuming her pacing, Sam froze as everyone entered the lab. “Alright, this is the way things are going to go for the rest of the day and for much of tonight.” With that, Sam started barking out orders. Eric and Calleigh needed to go through everything from the house and eliminate the knowns. Once that was done, they were to cross whatever was left with the two known sketch matches, as well as go over anything Tripp had brought in for them. Knowing it wouldn’t be easy, but not knowing what else to do, Sam asked Alexx, Uncle Mike and Frank to go back over the video and see if they could get anything from it. Sam still had the sketches, so she added the two names that they had to the back of them.

“Where are you going, Sam?”

Leaning her head down next to Eric, she whispered in his ear and waited as he scratched an address on a sheet of paper and handed it to her. Walking to the door, she looked back at Frank. “I’m going hunting, Frank.” Not waiting for a reply or to see if anyone would follow her, Sam stalked down the hallway. Pausing as her name was called, she turned and nodded as Horatio and Roger joined her. If they were going to act as a team, then now was as good of a time as any.

Walking outside and climbing into the Hummer, Roger made a request. “Stop at the plane first. If we’re partying, then I want to be armed when we do.”

Nodding faintly to Horatio as he backed out of the parking lot, “Second stop is the house, a change of clothes, and wheels. Roger, if you scratch my bike, I’ll hurt you.” There was nothing left to be said. Stopping at the plane, Roger quickly climbed inside and returned with a large army duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Gently loading it into the backseat, he climbed in after it and they drove to Horatio’s. Dragging the bag into the house as Sam and Horatio went to change, Roger unpacked the contents on the kitchen table. Looking up as Horatio reappeared wearing jeans and a simple black t-shirt, “Take your pick. Whatever you’re comfortable with. You’re not going to want to use your service piece.” Sorting things out, Roger handed him a newer model SIG and a couple of clips. “Leave your piece here, or leave it locked in the vehicle.” Glancing past Horatio as Sam walked through the living room toward them, “Sammy, heads up.” Tossing a small leather pouch in her direction, he watched the smile slowly spread across her face as she fingered the contents through the worn leather.

Walking into the dining room, and pulling the bag open, she tipped the contents into her hand. The stainless steel ball bearings were a familiar weight as she rolled them around in her palm. Adding them to her pocket, she looked over the remaining pieces. “Not a lot of choice for large intimidation.”

“The shotgun and the rifles are still on the plane.”

“Good. Let’s go.” Waiting as Roger repacked the bag, they headed out the door. Tossing Roger the keys to her bike, they waited until he pulled out of the garage. Raising her voice over the roar of the bike’s engine, “Eric said they don’t open until around nine. It’s still early so there shouldn’t be anyone there besides employees. That should give us time to chat.” Loading Roger’s bag into the Hummer, Sam leveled a glare at Roger, “We need them alive and conscious. Broken and bleeding, I don’t care about so long as they’re alive and can talk.” Catching his nod, she climbed into the Hummer with Horatio and led the way to The Dungeon. Lapsing into silence as they drove across the city, Sam realized that Eric hadn’t been joking. The place was in a bad part of town and from the look of the stand alone building, there wasn’t much room inside. A few vehicles took up space in the parking lot, but nothing that stood out.

Parking in front of the door, the three stood on the sidewalk silently taking in the area. Not the best part of town, but considering who they were after, it was no surprise. It was still early, the place wouldn’t be open to the public for a couple hours at least, but the front door was propped open. Nothing like an engraved invitation. Glancing at the guys, Sam led the way inside. Pausing to take a quick look around, a dozen or so tables were scattered around the room with a pool table in the center. A small bar lined one wall with a door to the kitchen at the far end. The only person in there, besides the noise coming from the kitchen, was the young man behind the bar. Crossing the room as Roger closed the door behind them, Sam perched on a bar stool and pulled the sketches from her back pocket. Laying them out on the bar, “I’m looking for someone. I hear they come here quite a bit.”

Not even bothering to look up from where he was wiping out glasses, the kid shrugged. “No clue who they are. Sorry. Come back when we’re open.”

With Horatio standing to her right side and Roger to the left behind her closest to the door, Sam lowered her head and chuckled darkly. “Listen buddy, I’m in no mood for games tonight.” Raising her head and glaring at the kid, he couldn’t have been more than twenty five with long greasy blond hair and an acne marked face, Sam snarled. “Get over here, look at these pictures, and I want to know when they usually show up.”

Frowning at being told what to do, the kid glanced over at the pictures and shook his head. “Sorry, no idea.”

“Sam! Down!”

Snapping her head toward the end of the bar, she caught a quick glimpse of a rifle barrel being slid through the doorway to the kitchen. Shoving Horatio back as the gun went off, Sam felt the hot lead rip across her upper arm and she cried out in pain. “Roger! I want him alive!” Seeing the kid behind the bar start to move, “H, stop him!” Slapping a hand over her bleeding arm, Sam snarled in pain and rose to her feet. Horatio had the kid at gun point, and reaching across the bar with her good arm, Sam grabbed the kid by the collar and dragged him forward. Breathing heavy, her voice low and savage, “If I was in a foul mood before, I guarantee I’m in a worse one now. I suggest you take a damn good look at these pictures because if you don’t I’m going to shoot you myself.”

The kid choked and went white. His hands clawed at Sam’s fist wrapped in the collar of his shirt and his eyes rolled with fear. “Listen lady, I swear, I have no idea who these guys are. I just started two days ago. I haven’t been here long enough to know faces yet. I swear it!”

Dragging a bloodied male through the kitchen door, Roger dumped him unceremoniously on the floor. Looking at Sam apologetically, “He’ll live. Won’t talk for a while, but he’ll live.” Walking behind the bar, Roger grabbed two clean bar rags and filled one with ice. Pushing the kid aside, he gingerly extended Sam’s arm to survey the damage. Rolling up her sleeve, he prodded gently. “It just grazed you. It needs stitches but it’s not bad.” Tying the rag around her arm to slow the bleeding, he pressed the ice compress over it. “Keep it on there. It will slow the bleeding faster.” Spinning around and grabbing the kid by the throat, Roger slammed him back against the register. “You’re lucky that bastard missed.”

“Roger, let him go. We need to find someone that’s been here longer than him. He doesn’t know anything.”

Snarling at Horatio’s calm voice, Roger reluctantly released the boy and stalked off into the kitchen. Returning minutes later with a young scantily clad female firmly in hand, “There’s a small employee room back there. No owner at the moment, but we have kitchen staff, a bartender, and a waitress. Care to guess who has the best chance of knowing our boys?”

Freezing the bartender with a glance, Sam pulled out a bar stool for Roger to deposit his charge. Glancing at Horatio and offering him a barely noticeable nod, Sam stepped back and hooked her head toward Roger to have him do the same. Standing back as Horatio slowly took a seat beside the young waitress and set the pictures in front of her, Sam smirked as his voice was so low she could barely hear him. Groaning against the pain in her arm, Sam pulled out a chair and sat down as Roger walked behind the bar and brought back a bottle of Jack Daniels and a shot glass. Pouring her a shot, he placed it in front of her. She didn’t want to drink. She didn’t want to hurt Horatio, but her arm was killing her. Seeing Horatio glance over his shoulder at her, she saw no judgment in his eyes as she picked up the glass and downed it in one swallow. Grimacing against the burn in her throat, she tossed back a second shot as Roger poured it.

Handing the waitress his card, Horatio collected the pictures and walked over to the table, stepping over the prone body on the floor. Laying the pictures on the table, Horatio nudged the body over onto his back. “Minus the broken nose and the blood, let me introduce you to Victor.” Taking the ice pack away from Sam’s arm, “Let’s get you to the hospital.”

Climbing to her feet, and shaking her head, “Sorry, Horatio. No can do. I want him loaded into the Hummer, and you need to fill us in. We’re taking him back to the morgue for questioning. It’s the one place I have no problem spilling his blood, and Roger can stitch me up there.”

He didn’t like that idea one bit. Frowning as Roger easily hefted the unconscious man over his shoulder and carried him to the door, Horatio slipped an arm around Sam’s waist to steady her. “Sam, at least let Alexx take a look at it.”

That would go over well. “No. Call ahead and clear it with her that we can use the morgue for questioning. Let her know that I don’t want anyone down there and the only reason why we’re using the morgue is because it’s easier to clean the blood up down there.” Stopping beside the Hummer, “It’s going to be ugly, Horatio. I don’t want anyone down there.”

“We’re in this together, Sam. I may not like the tactics, but sometimes you have to do whatever you have to.” Closing the door as she settled into her seat, Horatio waited for Roger to secure Victor in the back seat. “Do you want to cuff him?”

Snorting at the thought, Roger shook his head. “He’ll stay out until we get there. Besides, if he so much as moans, Sam will have a bead on him. I’ll meet you in the parking lot.” Mounting the bike, Roger roared off out of sight.

Driving back to the Department, he was concerned, but at least Sam wasn’t as pale as she had been at the club. Horatio called Alexx and, after a few choice words, made it clear that no one was to go to the morgue. Pulling into the parking lot, Horatio pointed out the back entrance to the morgue and helped Roger pull Victor from the backseat. Sam was steadier on her feet, but he was still concerned about her. He knew she didn’t want him down there, but considering how much time he spent in the morgue, he was the only one that knew it inside and out. Going ahead to clear out the weekend M.E. staff, Horatio made it known that the morgue was being used by the Feds for a time, and he would inform them when they could return. Waiting for the staff to load into the elevator, Horatio ushered Roger and Sam inside, and locking the door, he pulled the blinds to cover the windows on the doors. “What about him?”

Dropping Victor to the floor, Roger pointed to the table and motioned for Sam to take a seat. “He’s fine. Right now I need to clean her arm and stitch it. If you know where everything is, great.” Holding up his hands and stepping back as Horatio quickly stepped around him and started opening drawers and cabinets, Roger smiled thinly as Horatio set the needed supplies before him. Waving him away, Roger gently untied the rag and peeled it away from Sam’s arm. The dried blood pulled at the wound and caused it to start seeping again, but he quickly dabbed at it with the clean gauze. Looking up into Sam’s eyes, “Sorry, Sam, but no local for you. It’s going to sting.”

Growling under her breath, “I want him awake first. I want him to see everything.”

Understanding, Roger left her side and dragged over a chair. Propping Victor on the chair, Roger zip tied his arms behind the chair. Looking at Horatio, “Once he’s awake, make sure he watches.” Slapping the man hard across the face, Sam almost cringed as Victor rocked back hard enough to tip the chair backwards. Grabbing the chair and slamming it back down on all four legs, Roger struck him again. As Victor’s eyes opened, Roger wrapped the man’s jet black ponytail around his fist and yanked his head back to look up at him. Snarling into the man’s bloodshot brown eyes, “Pay attention. You’re next.” Roughly releasing him, Roger returned to Sam’s side and started cleaning her arm. Glancing up from time to time, he noticed that she never took her eyes off of Victor. Good, that will keep her mind occupied. Keeping the stitches small and tight, Roger clipped the ends and covered it with a clean bandage.

Slipping off the table, Sam approached Victor slowly and saw the smile spread on his lips. “You’re never going to find your cop. You should have taken the hint and gotten out of Miami while he still had a chance. They’re going to kill him now…”

He never had a chance to say anymore because Sam shot her arm out and wrapped her hand around his throat choking him. Cutting off his air supply, Sam leaned close to his ear, “Understand this. I got your message. Now get mine. I’ve got you. I’m not leaving Miami without my brother, and make no mistake about it, I will find him because you’re going to tell me where he is. When you do, I’m going to kill you.” Releasing his throat and bringing her fist down across his already broken nose, she waited until his howls died down. “The only question is, how fast do you want to die? The only reason you’re alive is because you know where my brother is. The longer it takes you to tell me, the more pain you will endure. How fast do you want to die!”

His eyes were glazed and he spit out the blood that kept running from his shattered nose into his mouth. “Go to hell.”

Turning her back to Victor, she saw the look on Horatio’s face and told him to leave the room. She didn’t want him to see what was going to happen. “Wait outside. We’ll discuss this later.” She gave him an out, and he took it. Waiting for the door to close behind him, Sam glanced at Roger and saw him meticulously preparing an area for their interrogation. Turning back to Victor, “You’re going to talk. Either to me, or to him, but you will talk.” Slowly walking around him, “You made a mistake giving me a video of what you did to my brother. You see, I know how much pain he can tolerate. Now we get to see if you do as well as him.”

Chapter Text

Walking out of the morgue, Sam found Horatio leaning against the far wall with his arms crossed and his head bowed. She’d only done the beating portion, but it had taken a lot out of her. Roger had moved Victor’s arms from behind the chair and had zip tied them tightly to the arms of the chair. Every time her blows had landed, she’d had to remember to pull them enough not to kill Victor. She needed him alive, and she needed him to be able to talk. She’d left the cutting to Roger. Before she left him, she’d helped him lay out a couple of unzipped body bags on the floor. Waiting until he had Victor moved onto the plastic, she’d simply reminded him to keep him breathing, and walked out. Victor was stubborn, tough. He’d only cried out in pain a few times when Sam had beaten him. Once was when she smashed into his nose again, and the other was when she had brought the butt of her SIG down hard on his wrist and had heard bone snap. Never once had he cracked to give her any information. She had to give him credit. If he made it through Roger and the cuttings, then she’d have to go the distance, and that thought sickened her. Leaning back against the wall outside the door, Sam rested her hands on her knees and lowered her head.

He knew what was on the video. He could see it even with his eyes closed. When Sam had sent him from the room, he knew she’d follow what had happened to Vince, but he wasn’t prepared to watch her do it, so he had left. Standing in the hallway, he had heard her question him and had heard many of the strikes hit hard. He’d heard the few cries, but nothing beyond that. He assumed that she was leaving the rest to Roger, and from the way she looked, perhaps that was for the best. He couldn’t judge her harshly for the way she was handling this because if it was his brother they had, he wouldn’t have hesitated to do the same. Pushing away from the wall, Horatio walked over to Sam and pulled her against him. Wrapping his arms around her, he could feel her shaking. He knew she had to be in pain with her arm, but she was hiding it well if she was.

Turning her head to rest her ear over Horatio’s heart, its strong beat soothed her. Drawing a shuddering breath, she wrapped her good arm around his waist and closed her eyes. Her arm was stiffening up and its pain was intense. The liquor had taken some of the edge off but that had worn off a long time ago. The adrenaline she had flowing through her while she questioning Victor was fading and it left her cold, shaking, unsteady, and in pain. She knew he had gotten information from the waitress, and this was the first chance she had to ask him about it. “Thank you for talking to the waitress. I figured she needed a softer hand than I could have offered at the time.”

Resting his cheek against the top of her head, Horatio sighed. “The place has only been open a couple of weeks. From what she said, they’ve been in there almost every night. Victor showed up early tonight. Apparently he has an interest in the young lady. She said he mentioned that his friends were going out of town for a while and he wanted to spend some time with her before he had to leave too.”

The warmth of having Horatio’s arms around her slowly spread through her and her shaking gradually calmed. Still she didn’t raise her head from his chest. “Did he mention where they were going?”

“All he said was that they were going back home for a while because of business. The other two left today and he was suppose to leave with them, but he wanted to see her first.” Lifting Sam’s chin to look at him, “We lucked out on grabbing him, Sam.” She couldn’t look him in the eyes. She was afraid to. Dipping his head to the side to catch her eye, “What is it, Sam? What’s wrong?” Bowing her head and sighing sadly, she stepped out of his arms and leaned against the wall rubbing her arm absently. There was no way he could possibly approve of what she was doing and it killed her thinking that she was disappointing him. Cocking his head, “Sam, I may not like what’s going on in there, but I do understand. If it was my brother, then I can’t say that I wouldn’t do the same thing.”

Every time she blinked, she could see them laying the wires across Vinnie’s bare chest, and she could see him silently scream in agony. Blinking back tears as the morgue doors opened, she turned to look at Roger. Blood was splattered on the white M.E. jacket that he was wearing and there were spots on his jeans. Walking toward him, Sam paused as he raised his hand to stop her. “Did you get anything?”

“No, and you’re not going in there, Sammy.”

Glaring at Roger, she stalked forward and narrowed her eyes at him. “If he hasn’t talked yet, then you know the next move.”

Closing the door so that Sam couldn’t see inside, Roger kept his hand firmly on the door handle preventing her from entering. “I know. Now you listen to me, Sammy. You called me, remember? Not the other way around. You wanted my help. Now let me do my job.”

Trying to wretch his hand from the door, Sam snarled at him. “Vinnie’s my brother, Roger.”

Easily resisting her handling, Roger put himself between her and the door. “He’s a brother to me too.” His voice had been soft, but it caused her to pause. “You and Vince are the only people I ever allowed to get close, the only ones that I ever bothered caring about. You two are the only family I have, Sammy. You always worried about me because of what I was, but for once, let me do what I was trained to do. Let me take care of you.” Hooking a thumb over his shoulder to the morgue, “You don’t need to have his blood on your hands. He’s not worth it, Sammy. If he says anything, you’ll know.”

She knew he spoke the truth. For as much as he brought out the more dangerous side in her, Roger had always tried to keep her from giving in to it. He didn’t want to see her become what he had. Stepping close, her voice barely a whisper, “I don’t like leaving this to you, Rog. You’re better than this too.” Seeing the doubt in his eyes, and the unwavering determination to keep her out of the morgue, she reluctantly backed down. “Take care of it. I want to know what he says. I want the mess cleaned up, and I want him gone.” Taking out her I.D. wallet, she handed it to him. “Take the M.E. van when you’re done. Take my Id and badge with you. That way if anyone stops you, flash it and tell them you’re working for me. No one is going to mess with you.” Not wanting to get blood on her shirt that she would have to explain to everyone else, Sam reached up to touch his cheek. “Be safe, Rog. Watch your back, and come back to me. We’ll be here for a while.” Watching him nod, she stepped away as he slipped back into the morgue. When she heard the door lock, she walked slowly to the elevator.

“What about your arm?”

Hearing the muffled screams from the morgue, Sam shuddered. “Won’t matter. Nothing gets past Uncle Mike when we’re hurt.” Stepping into the elevator, Sam hung her head as the doors closed. Sensing Horatio moving closer, her eyes closed, “Don’t. Not right now.” Drawing a deep breath as the doors opened, Sam held her head high as she walked down the hall to the lab. Walking in the door, she saw Uncle Mike’s eyes widen as he saw the sleeve of her shirt. Glaring at him to keep him quiet, “You first. Tell me what you guys found.”

Perching on the corner of the desk in the corner, Sam smiled inwardly as Horatio took up a position close by to partially shield her arm from view. Listening to Calleigh and Eric, Sam frowned. Of course she wasn’t surprised when Calleigh said there had been no usable prints, but it was still irritating. Tripp had stopped by long enough to drop off the neighbors statements, and Eric had gone through each one. It was amazing how it could be the middle of the afternoon on a clear day and not one person saw or heard anything. Simply amazing. The third face had yet to be identified, but that didn’t matter seeing as how Roger had one in the morgue. The video had proven about as helpful as the rest of the evidence. Black and white, no sound, nothing in the room to distinguish where they could be, nothing from the attackers except dark long sleeved shirts and gloves that appeared long enough to do their damage and then disappear out of frame again. Not convinced, Sam asked Calleigh to play it again. When Frank groaned, Sam growled. “There has to be something there, Frank. They didn’t just make a damn video to scare us off. There has to be something.” In her agitation, she had moved from the desk, and the bandage on her arm showed beneath the edge of her sleeve.

When Frank saw the stark white bandage beneath the black sleeve, his lip curled. “I’ll kill him. Where the hell is he!?”

Grabbing Frank by the arm as he started for the door, Sam stopped him. “It wasn’t Roger’s fault, Frank. If it wasn’t for him, I never would have seen the barrel in time.” Taking a breath slowly, “It wasn’t going to hit me where I was standing anyway. It would have hit Horatio. Roger saw the threat, called it, and I reacted.” When Frank still hadn’t calmed down, she smiled weakly, “I’m ok, Frank. It just grazed me.”

She’d been hit. Vince was still missing, and she could have been killed. Frank shook his head, “What were you thinking? What if it had seriously hit you, Sam? Then what?”

She couldn’t believe he was arguing with her when she was obviously in one piece. “I was thinking about protecting my team, Frank! Don’t you dare stand there and try to tell me that it would have been better to have the shot taken at Horatio and have him get hit, then have me take a chance at protecting him and end up getting winged.” Jerking her arm away as Alexx moved closer to examine it, “I’m fine, Alexx. Leave it alone.”

Grabbing Sam’s wrist in a vice grip, Alexx scowled. “Don’t you be telling me you’re fine, baby girl. You may have saved Horatio from taking a bullet, but it still hit you.” Removing the bandage, Alexx moved her toward a brighter light and examined the stitches. They were professional looking, but she knew it was no hospital work. “Is he still down in my morgue?”

Smiling gratefully as Alexx reapplied the bandage, “Does his work pass your inspection, Alexx?” When she nodded, Sam admitted that Roger was still questioning her suspect. Waving a hand at Calleigh to hold the video a moment longer, Sam quickly shared their experience at The Dungeon. When she finished, she held her hand out to Horatio who filled them in on his talk with the waitress.

“So Roger has Victor downstairs?”

Running a hand through her hair, “Let it go, Frank. You always said he was a bad influence on me, so be glad that he refused to let me finish the questioning. I took care of the first part, Rog took care of the next wave, and when neither got Victor to talk, Roger is taking care of the rest. When he’s done, he’ll be here.” Nodding to Calleigh, “Until then, I suggest we try to find something in this damn thing we can use.” Walking over to sit beside Uncle Mike, she sighed as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and gently leaned her against him. Resting her head on his shoulder, “I’m ok, really. It’s a little stiff and it hurts, but I’m ok. Stop worrying.” Turning her attention to the video, Sam blocked out all else.

Just before the video finished, Sam’s cell phone buzzed. Checking the message, it was Roger saying he would be back soon. ‘Morgue clean. Taking out the trash. BBS.’ Tipping the screen toward Uncle Mike, she cleared it when he nodded and slipped it back in her pocket. Twenty minutes later they were watching the video once again when Roger popped his head in the doorway and nodded to Sam for her to follow him. Glancing at Horatio, she hooked her head toward the door and squeezed Uncle Mike’s hand briefly before walking from the room with Horatio on her heels. Pointing down the hallway, Sam dragged them in one of the interrogation rooms and pulled out a chair and slumped into it cradling her arm. “Tell me you got something from him, and that everything is taken care of, Rog.”

“Shock therapy is tricky, Sammy.” His voice almost sounded apologetic. “He wasn’t very cooperative, but I got what I could before his heart decided it couldn’t take anymore abuse. They made the video a couple of days ago. There’s a compound somewhere on the outskirts of San Salvador, and that’s where they have him. His two buddies went back down there earlier today and he was leaving tonight. A plane was suppose to pick him up.”

When Roger paused, Sam rose and walked to the window. “The plane is still going to pick him up, isn’t it?” If the plane was still going to make it’s scheduled pick up, then there were flight plans that could be searched.

“I’d say more like scrape him up, but yes, he’ll make his flight.”

Staring out at the darkening sky, “Good. I’ll have Uncle Mike see if he can’t get into the FAA database and see if there were any private flights arriving from, or any that note departures to, El Salvador. Maybe we’ll luck out.” Gently massaging her arm, Sam shuddered as the pain shot through her arm.

Dan would luck out alright. He’d also end up finding his own flight from earlier. Roger could only hope that he wouldn’t dig too deeply into that one. “Any other luck from the rest?”

Shaking her head, Sam turned slowly and leaned back against the wall. “No, and I’m wondering if I read too much into the video. I noticed Vinnie didn’t have his crucifix on, so I figured it had to have been made since we were down here. I think they told him that it wouldn’t matter if he tried to say anything or scream because no one would hear him anyway since there wouldn’t be any sound. I think that’s why he doesn’t bother crying out until they shocked him.” Staring at Roger with sad eyes full of pain, “He’s strong, Rog, but he couldn’t hold that back. He could have handled anything they threw at him, but…” Swallowing hard, she turned away and bit her lip. Taking a deep breath, “Let’s get back to the lab and figure out where everyone is staying tonight. I want a copy of the video before I leave here.”

Horatio looked at Roger and raised an eyebrow. Was she really thinking about leaving here so soon? When Roger tapped his arm silently and nodded, Horatio bowed his head. She wouldn’t admit to the pain, but if it got too bad, she’d probably send everyone home to ‘rest and regroup’. Opening the door, Horatio waited for Sam to join them before leaving the room with Roger bringing up the rear.

The video was still playing when they walked back in, and Sam snarled. “Calleigh, turn it off for now.” Sinking into the closest chair, “With everything that’s happened today, I want to make sure everyone is taken care of tonight. Eric, Calleigh, I’m assuming you’re staying with Alexx?” At their nods, Sam nodded. “Good. Alexx make sure you give Joe a call before you guys leave here. This morning I would have said that if you didn’t want him there anymore then it would be ok to let him go, but right now, you’re keeping him. Consider it added security.” Considering the situation with Uncle Mike and Frank, “Have you two decided what you’re going to do?”

Frank removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, Dan is heading back with you and Horatio and I’m finding a hotel. Dan is taking the truck, dropping me off at the safe house to get the Bureau car from the garage and I’m just going to hole up in a hotel.”

Glancing at Roger and flashing her eyes to Frank and back again, she watched Roger frown slightly but then nod slowly. “Frank, on a couple of conditions. You find a good hotel close by with security, you let the Bureau pay for it, and you find a two bedroom suite because if you’re getting a hotel room, then you’re taking Roger with you.” Holding up her hand before Frank could argue, “No arguments, Frank. I want you to think about what could have happened if you and Uncle Mike had been home when they hit the house. I’m not about to let anyone on this team go alone. If you don’t take Roger with you, then you take Uncle Mike, but I know you want him with me right now because you think since Roger’s in town, I’m going to take off with him and do things behind your back. Wise up, Frank. Take the protection and don’t fight me on it.”

Openly glaring his hatred at Roger, Frank grumbled loudly. “Fine. You want stipulations, Sam, here’s a few for you. I take him with me, he better have his own transportation because I’m not having him in any vehicle with me. Dan has the truck, so he’ll drop me off and then he goes to Horatio’s with you.” Flipping up a third finger, “Lastly, you get out of here right now. You have Horatio take you back to the house and you get some food in you and you rest. You were shot and I don’t want to know what hand you played in the interrogation, but you’re worn out. If you can deal with that, then I’ll deal with him.”

She was hurting too much to argue with him. He saw her pain and he called her on it. Putting a forced growl in her voice to hide the relief, “Fine. Calleigh, I want a copy of that disc before I go. I’m putting Uncle Mike in charge for the duration of the evening. When he tells you to pack it in, do it. You three head over to Alexx’s, and make sure you call Joe ahead of time.” Walking over to Roger, Sam threw an arm around his neck and pulled his head down to hers, “Behave, please. We’re all hurt, Rog. Don’t push him, ok?”

Holding her tight against his chest, but being careful of her arm, he felt her pain and her fear. “Go rest, Sammy. I’ll take care of Frank. I’ll make sure he’s safe.” Releasing her as she nodded and pulled away, Roger shot a look at Horatio. “Take care of her, Alger.” Snickering at the bewildered look on Horatio’s face, “You didn’t like Buckwheat.” Winking at Sam, “He’s a good one, Sammy. Let him take care of you. Don’t fight him.”

Rolling her eyes as she crossed to Uncle Mike, “Run the FAA and see what hits you get. Search the ones that look promising, and dump the rest.” Searching his eyes, she saw him look over at Roger and back at her before frowning with a sigh. Dropping her voice, “He didn’t need to raise his head just because I called him. If you can, cover his trail. Please?” When Uncle Mike gave her a hug, she knew he would do as she asked. “Take Frank over to the safe house, and then hightail it over to Horatio’s. I don’t like you running by yourself, but since Frank is kicking me out, I don’t see any other way unless you guys figure something else out. Don’t work them all night, but use your better judgment.” Hugging him tight, “I love you, be careful.”

Cutting Sam off as she made her way to Calleigh, Frank held out a cd sleeve. When Sam tried to take it from him, he pulled it away. Leveling a finger in her direction, “I mean it, Sam. Go home and rest. Take something for the arm, and rest.”

Frowning until Frank handed her the disc, Sam’s face softened. “It’s too early to sleep, but I’ll try to relax. Maybe I’ll take the laptop and email Carlos. Let him know that we found a couple of the guys.” Wrapping her good arm around Frank’s shoulders, she pulled him close and rested her head on his shoulder. “I’m ok, Frank. Don’t fight with Roger. I told him to protect you. I don’t want anything to happen to you anymore than you want anything to happen to me, Frank. I can’t protect you all. When the house was hit, it was like someone punched me in the stomach. I kept thinking what could have happened if you two had been there. I can’t protect you and Uncle Mike, and Horatio and his family all at the same time. I don’t like us being apart, but there’s no options here, Frank. I made the call. I needed help to get Vinnie, and I needed help to protect my family.” Leaning back to look up into Frank’s eyes with tears in her own, Sam glanced around the room. “I can’t do it alone. You said it yourself. I called the one person I could trust with protecting my family. You have to trust that I made the right decision, Frank.”

Looking across the room, Frank had to begrudgingly agree that Roger was one of the best in the field. Whether he liked him or not didn’t matter. Noting the solemn look in Roger’s eyes, Frank decided that although he didn’t personally trust the man, he did trust Sam. Looking down at Sam, he flicked his thumb across her cheek and wiped away a tear. “If I wake up in the middle of the Atlantic, it will be the last time I ever trust that man.”

Hugging him tightly, Sam smiled. “I love you too, Frank. Don’t push him and he’ll be fine.” Walking to the door and spying her laptop already in Horatio’s hand, “I think we’re leaving my wheels here for the night. I don’t think it would be wise for me to battle the beast back to the house.” Turning on her heel, “Uncle Mike, you’re in charge and if you get anything, send it to me. I may have to relax, but that doesn’t mean my fingers can’t dance on the keys. Don’t stay too late, and no one bothers to show up here in the morning until you hear from me.” Waving her goodnights, Sam followed Horatio out to the Hummer and climbed inside as he held the door open for her.

Quietly driving home, Horatio found himself wondering what Roger had done at the end, but a part of him was afraid to ask. Pulling into the driveway, he stepped around to the passenger side and helped Sam out. He was glad that they had that chance to talk on the beach because when we reached around her waist, she didn’t flinch. He remembered when just a few days ago she had done just that. Now she was accepting the support and was even leaning against him as he unlocked the door and ushered her inside. Settling her on the sofa, he carried the laptop to the dining and plugged it in. She wouldn’t be able to stay away from it, so at least it was ready for her. Stepping into the kitchen to take stock of dinner options, Horatio returned to the living room to offer Sam her choices. Smiling faintly as he found her curled up on her right side with her left arm curled against her chest, he gently removed her boots and set them aside before flipping her blanket over her. Checking his watch, it was still early, so he slipped the video in the player and turned it on. Maybe she was right. Maybe there was something they were missing.

***

Sitting in the darkness, Horatio hadn’t moved from the recliner since they had returned home. He’d watched the video half a dozen times, but if there was anything to be found, he was missing it. Sam hadn’t so much as rolled over since she had crashed on the sofa, so he wasn’t willing to leave her. He was concerned, but her breathing was regular, her pulse was strong, and she wasn’t feeling feverish… he’d checked more times than he could count. The sound of a motorcycle approaching brought Horatio to his feet as he moved to the window to look outside. Apparently Dan had an escort to the house. Turning from the window, Horatio paused beside Sam to check on her once again before walking to the front door.

Pulling the truck into the driveway beside Horatio’s Hummer, Uncle Mike killed the engine and sat behind the wheel looking at the dark house. Frank and Roger had followed him over from the safe house, and he knew they’d wait until he was inside, so slowly he climbed from the truck, pulled out his laptop, and locked it up for the night. Walking to the front door, he glanced over his shoulder and raised a hand to Roger and Frank signaling them that they could go. Reaching for the doorknob, Uncle Mike stepped back as Horatio opened the door and held a finger to his lips before standing aside to let him in. Following Horatio into the living room, he saw Sam sleeping on the sofa. Motioning for Horatio to join him in the kitchen, Uncle Mike set his computer beside Sam’s on the way through the dining room, and smiled gratefully when Horatio filled the coffee pot and turned it on. “How long has she been sleeping?”

Running a hand through his hair, his voice held more concern that he had hoped it would show. “Since we got back here. I came in here to see about dinner, and when I went back in to see what she wanted to eat, she was out cold.”

Frowning deeply, Uncle Mike didn’t like the sound of that. “Alright. From the looks of you, you haven’t eaten yet either. Try to wake Sam up and I’ll see about whipping something up. It’s late, but you both need to eat.” Offering a warning as Horatio walked from the kitchen, “Be careful. She’s sleeping and she’s injured, bad combination.” He wasn’t sure about Sam’s stomach, so leftover pizza for her, and the rest of the chicken for Horatio. Balancing the plates on his arm, Uncle Mike carried them into the living room and raised an eyebrow at Horatio as he handed him his plate. Glancing at Sam still sleeping, he noted the frown on her face. Handing Sam’s plate to Horatio, Uncle Mike sat on the edge of the sofa. “Come on, Sam. I need you to wake up for a while.” Ignoring her growls, he laid his hand on her SIG.

Bolting upright with a snarl in place, Sam almost dislodged Uncle Mike from his seat. Her hand snapping down over his wrist and easily flipping it aside, “Don’t ever do that. You know better.” Closing her eyes tightly and shaking her head, she groaned softly.

Taking her plate from Horatio, Uncle Mike ignored her outburst and handed it to her calmly. “You need to eat, Sam. After that, I’ll find you something for the arm and then I want you to get changed and go to bed.”

She didn’t think she was all that hungry, but when she took the first bite, she wolfed it down. “The bed is yours. It would be better for me to sleep out here anyway. This way I can’t roll over and hit the arm.” Rubbing it gingerly, it was stiff and sore, but not as bad as it had been earlier. Noting the darkness outside the window, “What time is it? Did you guys find anything else?”

Glancing at his watch, Uncle Mike shook his head. “Almost eleven and we got nothing from the video, nothing on our third guy, nothing that would help us from the statements of the neighbors, and although I got a few hits from the FAA, I’m trying to go back to the night that Vince was kidnapped and see if I can’t match flight plans with what I found for down here.”

Hearing the disappointment and distress in his voice, Sam’s heart hurt more than her arm. Resting her head on his shoulder, “We’re gonna find him, Uncle Mike. Roger said that Victor mentioned the video was made only a few days ago, so he’s still alive.” Glancing at Horatio sitting in the recliner with his untouched plate in his lap, “You should eat, Horatio. I’m fine, so stop worrying.” Grimacing slightly as she stood to take her plate to the kitchen, she frowned as both men started to rise with her. “Enough. Both of you. It’s not the first time I’ve taken a bullet, and it won’t be the last. Let it go.” Stalking off to the kitchen, Sam leaned against the counter with her head bowed.

Waving Uncle Mike to stay put, Horatio quietly followed Sam. When she didn’t yell at him as he entered, he placed his plate on the counter and took her in his arms. As she shuddered and leaned against him, he slipped an arm around her waist and started to lead her back to the living room.

“Roger likes you. He doesn’t know you well enough to trust you yet, but he likes you.”

Raising an eyebrow, Horatio shook his head. “And you would know this how?”

Looking up at him with a tired smile, “He called you Alger instead of Buckwheat. He respects you enough to leave that name for Frank, but he isn’t comfortable enough calling you Horatio. You should be impressed that he knew of Alger. He prides himself on the obscure.”

Chuckling softly, “Go get changed and I’ll find you something for the arm. I’m agreeing with Dan on this. I want you to get some sleep. I’ll check on you throughout the night.”

Stepping away from Horatio as they entered the living room, “I’ll be fine. You need to eat and you need to get some sleep too.” Stalking off to her room, Sam changed for the night and met Horatio outside her door. Accepting the pain pills and water, she downed them quickly and slowly made her way back to the living room. Calling out a goodnight to Uncle Mike, she knew he was on the computer because she could hear him tapping away at the keys, Sam stretched out on the sofa and sighed softly as Horatio flipped the blanket over her. Catching Horatio’s hand as he started to walk away, Sam pulled him down beside the sofa to look him in the eyes. “If I had a chance to redo earlier at The Dungeon, I wouldn’t do it any differently. It’s not your fault that I got hit, so stop blaming yourself, Horatio.” When he looked away, she touched his cheek and turned him back toward her. “I’m glad that Roger saw the danger, and I’m glad that I had a chance to protect you. That’s what a team does, Horatio. We watch out for each other. I would have done the same for Roger, and either of you would have done the same for me.”

Nodding, he climbed to his feet and turned out the light. “Go to sleep, Sam. We’ll deal with things in the morning.” Walking out of the room, he claimed his cold chicken from the kitchen and sat in the dining room. Nibbling on his late dinner, “She’ll sleep for a while. I’ll check on her throughout the night. You should get some rest, Dan.”

Raising his eyes above the laptop, “As soon as you’re finished and I make sure that you’re going to bed too. My kid is on a case, Horatio. I don’t sleep well until it’s over.” Holding up a hand, “I’m checking the flights from the night Vince was taken, and then I’m shutting down. Relax. Eat.” Finding a couple promising leads, Uncle Mike forced himself to save the work and shut down for the night as Horatio disappeared into the kitchen and turned off the coffee pot and lights. Rising wearily to his feet, “Go to bed, Horatio. Get some sleep.” As Horatio passed him with his head lowered, Uncle Mike dropped a hand on his shoulder. “You might as well stop blaming yourself because it wasn’t your fault that Sam got hit. She’s stubborn and she takes protecting her family very seriously.”

The light touch on his shoulder and the gentle voice made him pause and search the eyes of the older man beside him. In that moment, Horatio understood why Sam felt so at ease, so comfortable, with this man. He wasn’t overbearing, he didn’t crowd you, his voice was strong but soft, and the simplest gesture, the lightest touch, was made to reassure. “I’m a part of her team, Dan. Maybe a friend, but I’m not family. You, Frank, Vince, and that Roger character… you guys are her family. I’m just along for the ride.”

Seeing the honesty in Horatio's eyes and realizing that he actually believed what he was saying, Uncle Mike frowned and shook his head. “Son, if you honestly believe that, then you haven’t learned anything about Sam yet.” Leaving Horatio standing in the dining room alone to think about those words, Uncle Mike checked on Sam briefly before retiring to the bedroom and quietly shutting the door for the night.

Making his rounds through the house, Horatio made sure all the doors were locked, and he turned off all the lights. Standing over Sam in the darkness, a tightness filled his chest as he heard Uncle Mike’s words again in his ears. Whispering softly, “Maybe Dan's right. Maybe I haven't completely figured you out yet, but I think I’d like a chance to.” Tucking the blanket around her shoulders, “Rest easy, Sam. We’ll find them.” Although reluctant to leave her alone, Horatio slowly made his way to his bedroom and closed his door in hope that sleep would soon welcome him.

Chapter Text

Waking in the pitch blackness with a scream stuck in her throat, Sam felt like she was being strangled. Throwing a hand to her neck, all she found was Vinnie’s crucifix laying against her chest over her pounding heart. The dreams were getting more intense as the days went by. She had gotten close enough to touch Vinnie, but at the last moment, she’d hesitated in fear that as soon as she touched him, he would be pulled away from her yet again, or worse, he would simply disappear. When she hesitated and turned away, she could hear Vinnie’s voice ringing in her ears. Sam, turn around! Look me in the eye! I’m right here, Sam! Throwing the blanket aside and swinging her legs over the side of the sofa, with her elbows on her knees, and her face in her hands, Sam wept silently. She’d failed him, and if not, then at the very least she felt like she was betraying him. Putting her hand to the chain around her neck, her hands shook as she slid the chain over her head. Wrapping the chain around her hand and closing her fist around the crucifix, she could feel the cross digging into her palm. She didn’t deserve to wear it. If she couldn’t find Vinnie, then what hope was there? With tears stinging her eyes, Sam made her way through the dark house to the kitchen. Turning on the hot water, she waited until it was hot enough for tea, filled a mug and dropped a tea bag in the water. Glancing at the clock, Sam groaned. There was no way she’d be able to go back to sleep with the dream still so fresh in her mind, so she quietly let herself out onto the back porch and sat on the stairs with her bare feet burrowing in the sand.

The moon was hiding behind the clouds, and there was a chill breeze coming in off the water, but it calmed her mind. Her arm still hurt, but it was only a dull throb now. Sipping at her tea, Sam stared out over the water. He was out there somewhere. Somewhere Vinnie was out there and he was hurt and alone. Squeezing her fist tighter, the forgotten crucifix dug painfully into her flesh. Setting her tea aside, Sam opened her hand to stare at the cross. Lightly running a finger across the back of it, she couldn’t read the inscription but she knew it. His mother and brother had gotten it for him many years ago and they had it inscribed with his name with love from them both. Closing her hand, Sam stared up at the sky and sighed as the clouds parted revealing a near perfect full moon, a million glittering stars. Closing her eyes and swallowing past a lump in her throat, her voice was a hoarse whisper, “I wish you were here, Pete. I was never good at doing this alone.” Snapping her eyes open, maybe she hadn’t played her ace in the hole after all. Studying the stars above, she clung to one last hope as she kept her voice low to avoid waking Horatio or Uncle Mike. “Come on, Pete. You helped me before, help me now. I know he’s out there, and I know he’s alive. I may not have believed everything you preached, but I listened. I listened, Pete. If there really are guardian angels, then I know you’re watching over Vinnie right now.” When she closed her eyes and bowed her head, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard Vinnie’s voice clear as day as if he was sitting right beside her, Turn around, Sam. Look me in the eye. I’m right here, Sam. When Vinnie’s voice faded she could have sworn that she heard Pete chuckle.

Vinnie’s voice hadn’t been accusing. He hadn’t yelled at her. They were the same words from her dreams, but they were different. Her mind was reeling. Look me in the eye. Look him in the eye… No… It couldn’t be. Pulling the chain over her head and letting the crucifix settle against her shirt, Sam stood slowly and looked out over the water. Look him in the eye. There had to be something to it… Her breath caught sharply. The video! Turning and running back inside, the back door slammed shut behind her before she could even think about catching it. Racing down the hallway, Sam skidded to a halt just as Horatio threw open his bedroom door and came out with his gun raised. “Easy, Horatio, it’s just me.” She could barely hide her excitement.

Lowering his weapon and frowning deeply as Uncle Mike popped out of the guest room, “What are you doing, Sam? I thought someone was trying to break in.”

“I’m sorry, I really am, but I figured it out! I know how to find Vinnie!” Racing past him to the living room, Sam flipped on the lights and went for the remote, only to have Horatio snatch it up first. “It’s on the video. I know how to find him!”

Passing a tired hand over his eyes, Horatio shook his head. “Sam, we’ve all watched the video. There’s nothing there.”

Looking from Horatio to Uncle Mike, Sam begged him to understand. “We all watched the video, but none of us listened to it.”

Now it Uncle Mike’s turn to sigh heavily. “Sam, there is no sound. There’s nothing to listen to.”

Growling as she tried to take the remote from Horatio, “You’re wrong. There may be no sound, but there’s something we all missed because we were too busy seeing what was happening, we were too busy trying to see what wasn’t there. We all missed what is on the video.” She could see the doubt in Uncle Mike’s eyes, “Do you remember how I found Vinnie when he bugged out of Lynchboro? You lost his trail, but you called me. I picked it up, lost it, picked it up again, and when I lost his trail the last time, I thought it was over. The trail had gone cold. But I found him. Remember?”

He remembered what Sam had told him about that day. He even remembered what Vince had told him about his own experience, but that was different. “Sam, what happened then was something that couldn’t be explained. It has nothing to do with this.”

“But it does. Don’t you get it? The dreams I’ve been having, the message in the dreams, the pieces finally clicked!”

Moving to the sofa, Uncle Mike lowered himself slowly. Sighing and bowing his head, “You might as well turn it on, Horatio. She’s running with this whether we want to be in the race or not.”

Moving to kneel in front of her beloved Uncle, Sam took his hands in hers and looked up at him. “Just listen to what I’m saying. Watch the video and don’t look at what we’ve all been watching, look for what we’ve been missing. It’s there.” When he didn’t answer, “If you don’t see it, if it’s not there like I think it is, then I’ll turn it off myself, admit that I was wrong, and I’ll go back to bed. But it’s there, Uncle Mike. I know it.”

Her tone made him think twice about dismissing her claim, but he really couldn’t bring himself to believe that there was more that they were missing. Raising his head and nodding to Horatio, “Turn it on.” Trying to feel the same hope that he saw in Sam’s eyes, “Alright, Sam. What am I looking for?”

Shaking her head slowly, “I can’t tell you. You have to be able to see it yourself. Just watch it and I’ll try to explain things a little.” Moving to his side, Sam sat on the sofa and bowed her head. She didn’t have to watch the video, in her heart she knew it was there. “The dreams started when Vinnie was kidnapped. You know that. Every time I got close to him, he was pulled away from me. I could never grab hold of him. But the dreams changed when we came down here. I started getting closer and closer every time, but he was still yanked away at the last possible second.” Closing her hand around the crucifix, Sam’s eyes closed. “Then Frank gave Vinnie’s crucifix to Horatio. I’ve worn it ever since. The dream changed when I started wearing it. I got so close to him that I knew if I were to reach out, I could touch him. But I was scared.” Her voiced shook with emotion, “I was afraid that if I touched him, he’d be pulled away again. I was afraid that the moment I touched him, that he’d simply disappear and I’d lose him. So instead of reaching out, I turned away.”

Watching the video, there was nothing new that was reaching out to either man. Feeling Sam’s pain, Uncle Mike wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against him. When she rested her head against his shoulder, he felt her shudder, but he kept his eyes on the screen. If she was sure of this, then he was still missing something.

“Every time I turned away, I could hear him yelling at me. It was like he was mad, or disappointed. I felt like I was abandoning him, like I was betraying him by walking away. He kept yelling after me to turn around, to look him in the eyes. It was like he was saying ‘If you’re going to walk away and leave me, then at least have the nerve to look me in the eyes when you do it.’ But I couldn’t.” Pushing away from Uncle Mike, Sam wiped at her eyes but kept a fierce hold of the cross around her neck. “I had that dream again tonight. I woke up with Vinnie’s voice ringing in my ears. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I made a cup of tea and went outside.” Looking hopefully at Uncle Mike, “Do you remember how I found Vinnie? Do you remember where I found him?”

Taking his eyes from the screen, Uncle Mike nodded slowly. “I remember, Sam. You found him at the church.”

Biting her lip, “Yeah.” Glancing at Horatio as he claimed the recliner, “I’m sorry, Horatio. I really am. I don’t expect you to believe what I’m saying, but try to understand.” Taking a shuddering breath, “You remember the other night when I woke up and you two were talking about me being able to find Vinnie, and I told you in a nutshell what happened after Lynchboro?”

Horatio wasn’t even bothering with watching the video. Whatever was suppose to be there, he was sure that he wouldn’t be able to find it. “I remember. You said it had to do with him remembering his first case where the guy killed himself, then the sheriff killed himself which threw him into a tailspin so to speak and he bolted. You tracked him down.”

Bowing her head, Sam smiled. “Yeah. I tracked him down. With help, but I found him.” Sighing lightly, “I’d followed his trail for days. Finally the days turned into over a week. I thought I had him until the trail went cold. I was walking the streets showing his picture to everyone, but no one had seen him. Came across this little church, and it reminded me of his brother, Pete. So I sat there on the steps outside and I thought about Pete for a while. He’d always told me that if I ever needed him, if I ever wanted to talk, that he’d always be there for me no matter what time of day or night. I just got to thinking about him, and somewhere along the line, I just threw out a thought to him. I said ‘Pete, I don’t know what else to do. You said I could always talk to you, but when I need your help the most now, you’re not here. I really need your help finding Vinnie. He’s your brother, Pete. Somehow you have to help me find him.’ And the next thing I knew, the church bells were ringing.”

Looking doubtful, Horatio shook his head. “What? So what you’re saying is, divine intervention? That’s how you’re going to find him?”

Laughing lightly, Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. All I know is, there’s more to that story, and if this works out, then I’ll have to tell the rest to make everyone else understand, but for now, just understand that I went inside and ended up finding Vinnie.” Flashing her eyes to the screen, she paused and her eyes widened just a fraction as she saw what was there the entire time. Glancing at Uncle Mike, his eyes were still glued to the screen, but he still wasn’t seeing it. “Anyway, I found Vinnie that day. While I was sitting out on the porch, I thought about Pete again, and I heard Vinnie’s voice like he was right beside me. He said the same thing from the dreams, but he wasn’t yelling. It was like he was sighing with the ‘ok, I’ve said this how many times now and you haven’t listened yet? I’m going to say this one more time.’ I don’t know. Something clicked. When he said ‘look me in the eye’, his voice faded and I could almost hear Pete laughing.” Taking Uncle Mike’s hand, “It’s there. You have to see it.”

Narrowing his eyes, he shook his head slowly. “I don’t know, Sam. I’m not catching whatever you’re seeing.”

Staring at the screen, a slight smile tugged at her lips. “Ok. I can’t tell you what you’re suppose to see, but this should cinch things up for you.” When he nodded, she continued. “When I went after those responsible for killing my family, Vinnie stopped me. He asked me to give him time. That he’d bring them all in. How long did he ask for?”

Uncle Mike’s brow furrowed in thought. “Two weeks. He said he’d have them all in two weeks.”

He was close, she could see it in his eyes. “Right. He said to give him two weeks and if he didn’t have them by then, that I could do whatever I felt I had to. But it didn’t take him two weeks.”

His voice was quiet, his eyes were searching. “It took him ten days. I called you ten days later.”

Raising an eyebrow, Horatio was having a hard time trying to figure this all out. “Nine, ten, does it really matter?”

And then the light flashed in Uncle Mike’s eyes and he rose from the sofa to approach the screen. “It matters. It was ten days.” When Uncle Mike turned back to Sam, his face was blank. “Sam…”

Her shoulders slumped. Somehow he hadn’t seen it. Somehow she had been wrong. Choking back tears, “I know. I’ll turn it off.”

Moving back to the sofa, Uncle Mike leaned down and took her hands. “Sam, you need to call Roger. Wake him up. I’m going to call Frank.”

Looking up slowly, she saw the smile slowly spread across his face. He’d seen it! Jumping up, Sam threw her arms around Uncle Mike’s neck. “You saw it? It’s there, right? I’m not imagining this?”

Shaking his head, “You’re not imagining it, Sam. You were right and we all missed it.” Looking at Horatio, “You better call Eric and the girls.”

Releasing Uncle Mike, Sam yelled over her shoulder as she headed for the bedroom, “Tell them all to meet us at the lab in half an hour. If anyone asks, all you tell them is that I think I finally cracked this wide open, and I know how to find Vinnie!” Slamming the door behind her, she grabbed her cell phone and punched in Roger’s number. Hitting the speaker button, Sam tossed it on the bed as she pulled on her jeans. Smiling as the call was answered on the first ring, she bit back a snicker as Roger growled on the other end.

“Do you have any idea what time it is, Sammy?”

Shrugging on a t-shirt and grabbing her holster, “Yes, as a matter of fact I do. Question is however, do you know where you’re going to be in half an hour?”

“Same place I am now.”

Chuckling quietly as she strapped on her holster, “What? Sitting in front of the window watching the night go by? Not even close. You’re going to be at the lab.”

A low growl filtered over the line. “And I’m going to be there why?”

Picking up her phone, “How about because Frank is already complaining in the background because Uncle Mike just called him and told him the same thing? Or better yet, how about because I know how to find Vinnie?”

Had he heard her correctly? “We’ll be there in twenty.” Roger ended the call before she could say any more.

Walking out of the bedroom, Sam nearly ran into Horatio when she walked past his bedroom and he stepped out. “I know you don’t see it yet, but I promise you Horatio, it’s there.” When he didn’t reply, Sam simply sighed and walked into the dining room to find Uncle Mike packing up the laptops. “Either Alexx or Calleigh can run mine. They both know it well enough by now. Go get changed and I’ll finish here.” As Uncle Mike left the room, Sam finished packing the computers, and shook her head with a sigh.

“You’re positive about this, Sam?” When she nodded without turning, “Alright, let’s get those out to the Hummer so we can get out of here.”

Handing Horatio her computer, “Take that one for me. I’m going to ride with Uncle Mike in the truck. It’s not such a climb like it is getting into the Hummer for him.” When Horatio smiled lightly, she knew he understood. Walking into the living room to retrieve her weapon and her boots, Sam was pulling on her jacket when Uncle Mike rejoined them. “All ready? Then let’s go. If we get there before everyone else, we can get coffee started and get things set up.”

Walking out of the house and locking up behind them, the small team climbed into their vehicles and headed over to the lab. Handing Sam her laptop, Horatio made a detour to the break room to make sure there was coffee brewing for when everyone arrived. It was almost comical watching Sam pacing back and forth in the lab waiting for everyone to arrive. Roger and Frank showed up first, and from the look on Frank’s face, he wasn’t thrilled about being up so early. “Sam, this better be good.”

Smiling brightly, “There’s coffee in the break room, Frank. I’m sorry, but this couldn’t wait until daylight.”

Grumbling under his breath as he turned from the room, “I’m no early bird, Sam. You’re killing me here.” Walking off, Frank went in search of the afore mentioned coffee.

Taking up a spot in the corner, Roger leaned against the wall with his arms crossed and a deep scowl darkening his features. “It’s not even four am, Sammy. This could have waited until a more decent hour.”

Rolling her eyes, Sam ignored him and kept shifting her gaze to Uncle Mike where he was setting up the laptops and waiting for everyone else to show up. He didn’t have to wait long. Eric, Calleigh, and Alexx all walked through the door following Frank, all complete with coffee and yawns in place. Standing in front of her team, Sam gestured for them all to take a seat where they could find one. “First of all, I know how terribly early it is, and I apologize for calling you all in, but once I figured out how to link all the pieces together, and I figured out how to find Vinnie, I couldn’t go back to sleep, and I needed to work this. I can’t do that without all of your help.” Sighing at the few well placed groans and muttered complaints about the hour, “Listen, if I’m right, and considering Uncle Mike has already figured this out as well, then the only ones that are going to have to deal with the late hours soon are going to be the ones going with me to get Vinnie. The rest of you are going to be staying here, and crashing until we get back. Consider yourselves on vacation from the lab until we get back with Vinnie.”

Liking the sound of that, Eric grinned and cracked his knuckles. “Alright, Sam. Where do we start?”

Pointing at Calleigh, “We start with Calleigh playing the video again. I want you all to watch it while you’re listening to me. Look past the beatings, look past the blades, past the blood, past the wires. Put all of those things out of your minds. None of that matters.”

Glancing at Sam as the video started, Frank frowned. “It’s a little hard to look past all that, Sam. It happens to be Vince we’re watching.”

Growling softly, Sam frowned. “Just shut up, drink your coffee, and watch the video, Frank.” Moving to stand at the back of the room, “Alright, I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Uncle Mike and Horatio when I figured it out. From there, everything else will be new to almost all of you.” And so she started. Sam told them about Vinnie’s first case briefly and explained how it had ended with Sonny’s death. She went on to tell them about his case in Lynchboro, and how the sheriff had killed himself in front of Vinnie, and how Vinnie had bolted. Looking across the room, her eyes met Roger’s. “That’s when Vinnie called in his marker with Roger. He asked Rog to go out there and help Frank finish up. He didn’t want to leave Frank to clean it all up by himself.” Smiling briefly at Roger, Sam lowered her head and told them how she had gotten the call from Uncle Mike, and how she had tracked Vinnie. She’d lost the trail, found it, and then lost it again. She told them about stopping on the steps of the church and how she had thought about Pete and then had heard the bells ring. Snapping her head up, she glared around the room. “And before anyone says anything, no, I don’t think it was divine intervention and that’s not how I’m going to find Vinnie either. So no smart comments.”

“Sam…” Uncle Mike’s voice was soft, his eyes studying the video, “Tell them what happened in the church before you get into the dreams.”

Sighing heavily, she nodded. “Alright. So I heard the bells and I went inside. It wasn’t like I was expecting to find Vinnie in there or anything, but I went in and I sat down just thinking about Pete and Vinnie and everything that was going on. Next thing I knew, I heard someone take a seat behind me, and it was the priest, Father Pat. Good guy. Said all the normal priestly things… Are you alright, is there anything I can do, what seems to be the trouble?” Smiling faintly, Sam remembered every moment. “When I turned around to look at him, I could have sworn that Pete was sitting beside him with a smile and a nod that said it was ok to talk to Father Pat. When I blinked, of course Pete was gone, but I turned back around facing the front of the church and I told him about looking for my brother. How he was a cop, and something bad had happened that he couldn’t deal with, and how he had taken off. Father Pat asked his name and what happened, and I told him. Father Pat asked me why I had come to his church and I told him that it reminded me of Pete, Vinnie’s brother. He asked about Pete, and I told him that he was dead, that he was murdered, but he had been the only priest I had ever trusted enough to talk to.” Biting her lip, Sam drew in a shaky breath. “Father Pat was a smart man. I didn’t know it at the time, but Vinnie was there. He’d made Father Pat promise that no matter who came around looking for him, that he wouldn’t let on that Vinnie was there. But Father Pat asked me to describe Vinnie in case he got the same idea to come by the church. He asked me if he saw someone that looked like my brother, if there was a message I wanted him to give the man.”

The emotion was thick in her voice, and Roger turned his attention from the screen. “Easy, Sammy. Take it slow. We’re with you.”

Nodding sharply, “Yeah. So I told him that if he saw my brother, to tell him that his sister was looking for him. That she missed him very much and that she was worried about him. To tell him that his boss and his Uncle were both scared for him, and wanted to know that he was alright.” Shaking her head, “Father Pat asked me what I thought my brother would say if he got that message, and before I could say anything, I heard a voice from the back of the church. It was Vinnie. He said, ‘Father Pat, he’d probably tell you that he only has a brother, but there’s a girl named Sam that is close enough to be a sister and he loves her dearly. Tell her not to worry, and that I’m sorry to have scared them all.’ I couldn’t believe it. I got up and walked about half way to him before I stopped.” Sam closed her eyes, she could still see Vinnie standing there that day. “Father Pat never moved. He just asked what I’d say if he gave me that message from my brother. So I told him that I’d ask him to let my brother know that we just wanted to know that he was safe, and that we really wanted him to come home. Vinnie just stood there for a minute and finally he opened his arms and said ‘come here’. He wrapped his arms around me, told me he was sorry that he’d bolted without a word, that he’d scared us all, but that he was safe. He asked me how I had found him, and I told him about the bells that had drawn me inside. I told him I wanted him to come home. He said he couldn’t. When I asked why, he told me that he had heard the bells too. Problem was, those bells didn’t work at the time. That’s why Vinnie was staying there. He was trying to work on them.”

Glancing over his shoulder, Horatio arched an eyebrow. “So it was divine intervention.”

“Call it what you will, but I found Vinnie that day. I’m not the religious type, Horatio. I don’t pray a whole lot. Pete always pointed me in the right direction. I asked him for help that day, and I found Vinnie. When the dream hit me tonight, and I couldn’t go back to sleep, I asked him for help again.” Shrugging dismissively, “I figured if it worked before, why not this time too?” Slowly Sam explained her dreams as Horatio turned back to the video. “So when I asked Pete for help, I heard Vinnie’s voice again saying to look him in the eyes. He didn’t sound mad. He sounded frustrated.” Looking at the back of Frank’s head, Sam grinned, “Sort of the way you do when I don’t listen to you, Frank. You know, the sigh and the ‘when are you ever going to listen’ tone? Something clicked. I can’t explain that part any better than that.”

Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, Frank drained his coffee cup. “So what exactly are we suppose to be seeing, Sam?”

Shooting a look at Uncle Mike and seeing his nod, “Alright, Frank. This got it for Uncle Mike.” Sam asked him about the first time she had met Vinnie and how he asked her for two weeks to get the men responsible for her family’s murder. “But it didn’t take him two weeks, Frank. How long did it take him?”

Letting out an exasperated sigh, “I don’t know, Sam. Why?”

Crushed that Frank wouldn’t remember that most important part of it all, “Frank, you have to remember. When he was arrested with everyone else, he left me a message. Right there on national television, Vinnie left me a message, Frank. Think!” Taking a deep breath to calm herself, “Frank, this is important. How long did it take him?”

Instead of Frank answering, Roger pushed himself away from the wall and slowly moved to the center of the room staring at the screen. “Ten days. I remember Vince saying something about it after I met you for the first time. I already knew he was an agent, and he knew what I was. He told me about when you two met, and when he brought them down.” Cocking his head to the side, “It took him ten days…” Snapping his head up, Roger spun on his heel and charged to the back of the room. Grabbing Sam around the waist, he effortlessly lifted her off her feet and spun her around. “Sammy! You’re a genius!” Setting on her feet, Roger took her face in his hands, and shook his head. “I thought Vince was an idiot for taking a chance that big on television, but he pulled it off.” With pride and awe in his voice, Roger looked back at the screen, “You did it twice, Buckwheat.”

Frank was still shaking his head. Sam knew he wasn’t seeing it. Pulling away from Roger, she walked across the room to stand between Frank and Horatio. Sam could hear Horatio muttering under his breath about looking him in the eyes, and figured he would catch it soon. Turning to Frank, “Vinnie left the message, Frank. Think. What was the message, Frank?”

His eyes were darting across the screen, “It took him ten days…”

Shooting a glance over her shoulder, “Calleigh, I need you to zoom in on Vinnie’s face. Not just his eyes, but his whole face.” As Calleigh started punching keys, Sam turned back to the screen. “Come on, Frank. You’re almost there. What was the message?”

“Dammit, Sam. The message was ten days.” His brow was furrowed deep in thought.

Resting a hand on Frank’s arm, Sam smiled up at the screen. “No, Frank. It wasn’t ten days. It was t… e… n… d… a… y…”

Frank’s voice was a whisper, “…s … o… k…”

Horatio’s mutterings grew louder, “z… m… a… n…” His eyes flew wide, “Are you serious!? Sam, tell me I’m wrong?”

Horatio caught it! Her eyes were still on Frank however, “You’re not wrong, Horatio.” Squeezing Frank’s arm, “Come on, Frank.”

“Horatio? What are we looking at?”

Frank’s voice caught in his throat as tears blinded him. He finally saw what Sam had been trying to tell them, “Calleigh, you’re looking at Vince giving us as close to a road map to him as he can.”

“H?”

Shaking his head in disbelief, “I can’t believe it.” But as his eyes took more of the video in, his mind raced to process the information. Pulling Sam into his arms without a thought to the others in the room, “You did it, Sam. We never would have been able to put it together.” Looking over Sam’s shoulder to Eric, Horatio nodded with a bewildered smile, “Don’t ask how, Eric, but that’s Morse code.”

Chapter Text

“H? What are you talking about? What do you mean, Morse code?”

Chuckling lightly, Horatio released Sam as he turned to Eric, “Look at his eyes. It’s all there.” Looking back at Sam with a confused expression, “How? How is this possible?”

Slipping her arm around Frank’s waist, Sam settled into the crook of his arm. Resting her head against his shoulder, she stared up at Vinnie’s face on the screen. “When Vinnie was arrested, Uncle Mike called me and told me to turn on the news. When I did, there was Vinnie with the rest of the ones responsible for killing my family. He smiled at the camera and I thought I saw him wink. It was like he was telling me that he had kept his promise or something. I didn’t know until later on when he got out of jail, that there was more to the message.” Holding on to Frank a little tighter, “When he got out, he called and asked to get together. So we did dinner. He asked if I got his message, and when I told him that I liked the wink, he shook his head and said that wasn’t it. He talked me into joining the Bureau, and said that when I figured out the message, I was to let him know. Well, I went through training, but never figured it out.”

His fingers dancing across the keys in front of him, Uncle Mike grinned. “There was a reason though.”

She couldn’t take her eyes off of Vinnie, “Yeah, there was a reason. Vinnie realized the camera never caught the whole message, so he called Uncle Mike and told him that he needed to send me the full composite video from that day with all camera angles, and then told me to let him know when I figured it out. Next day I have a package waiting with a video and a note telling me to call Vinnie when I had it figured out. So I watched it, and it took me a while to piece it together, but when I did, I almost fell out of my seat laughing. I couldn’t believe that he’d risk something so stupid, but no one ever caught on to it. So I called him, and he was at Uncle Mike’s at the time, and I told him that I had figured out his message. He laughed and asked what I thought of it.” Pausing as her eyes slowly misted over and her chin quivered, “You know, I had been laughing so hard when I figured it out, but when he asked that simple question, I almost lost it. I choked up. All I could say was, yeah, ten days is more than ok.” Blinking swiftly, Sam tried to stop the tears from forming and falling down her cheeks, but she failed miserably. With tears falling steadily, Sam stepped away from Frank and stood before the screen. “I couldn’t do it in ten, and it’s going to be more than two weeks, but you hang in there, Vin. I’m coming after you, I promise. Just hang in there a little longer.”

“Sam…”

Hastily wiping her eyes, Sam turned to face her team. “Uncle Mike…”

Holding up his hand to stop her, “Sam, stop. You did your part, now let me do mine. Horatio, Roger, take her out of here and find some place for her to lay down and get some sleep. It’s still early, and I need time to decipher all of this. Alexx, I’d appreciate it if you go with them and take a look at Sam’s arm and perhaps find something for her to take the edge off so she can rest. Frank, I’d get on the phone and call D.C. and let them know we have a live lead on Vince and that Sam is going to need some help. I know they won’t send a team, but I’m hoping weapons aren’t too much for them to part with.”

Leaning against the back wall, Roger shook his head. “Don’t worry about D.C., they don’t need to know anything. If they haven’t bothered to help up to this point, then they don’t need to be a part of anything from this point. Weapons are on the plane already.” When he saw the surprised looks and the raised eyebrow from Sam, he shrugged. “You said Vince was in trouble. Did you think I was going to come empty handed? You already saw a part of the armament I brought, a very small part at that.” Turning to Frank, “Leave the suits out of it, Frank. Whether you like it or not, I consider Vince to be a brother. This is a family matter, and it has been nothing more than a family matter since your Bureau removed themselves from the case. Sammy has her team, and she has all the weapons she’s going to need. Forget your call. Leave them out of it.”

How he hated to agree with Roger. He couldn’t stand the man. He had never trusted him, but Frank knew that whether he liked it or not, Roger always told it like it was. He knew that Roger was close to Sam and Vince, and he knew what skills Roger brought to the table. Any other time he wouldn’t have cared one bit what the man thought, but Vince’s life was on the line, and beside Sam and Horatio, Roger was their last hope. “Fine. D.C. is left out of this. You better hope you have enough arms to cover all three of you for this mission.”

Frowning slightly as she soon found herself flanked by Roger and Horatio, Sam sighed. “My bodyguard and watchdog, and I’ll let the two of you fight over which of you is which.” Stepping around Horatio, Sam stopped briefly at Calleigh’s side. “Let Uncle Mike take point with this. Use my system to piggyback him. As he pulls Intel, he can feed it to my system and you can run it from there as well as feed it to Eric on the main system here. I want the whole video deciphered and that’s Uncle Mike’s responsibility. I want you two running whatever he pulls. Names, areas, whatever it is, run it. I want all possible connections and leads when I come back in here.” Nodding as Calleigh flashed her a smile, “Thanks, Calleigh.”

Catching Sam as she turned from Calleigh’s terminal, Eric gave her a quick hug. “That was incredible. H is right. We never would have noticed that. Go get some rest, Sam. Give us a chance to tap into some of that magic.”

Stepping away and hugging Uncle Mike, “Soon. I want to be wheels up ASAP.”

Patting her arm, “Sam, go rest. If you think I’m going to let you out into the field in the condition you’re in, then you’re crazy. Rest up.” Raising his eyes to Horatio and Roger, “I’d say the same to you two as well. I don’t know how fast I’m going to be able to put this all together, but once it is, we’ll have a little time to go over it and make a rough plan before leaving. I want the three of you rested up and ready to roll. Now get out of here. Find some place to crash and relax for a while.” Gently pushing Sam toward Horatio and Roger, Uncle Mike pinned her with a fatherly glare. “I mean it, Sam. Get some rest.”

Snapping a mock salute, Sam stalked out of the lab and headed for the only restful place she could think of… Horatio’s office. With Horatio and Roger hot on her heels, Sam sank into the cushions of the sofa and lowered her head as Alexx walked in behind the men. “Alexx, I’m fine. Really.” She knew better than to argue, so when Alexx sat beside her, Sam patiently waited as Alexx rolled up her sleeve and removed the bandage. Sighing lightly as the bandage was reapplied, “Well, Doc?”

“It looks just fine. The stitches are small and tight, so there should be minimal scarring.” Tilting her head toward Roger in recognition of his work, “But how about pain, baby girl?”

Raising her arm and flexing the muscles, Sam barely grimaced. “A little tight still, but that’s to be expected. Other than that, nothing I can’t handle.” Grabbing Alexx’s hand as she moved to stand, Sam leaned closer to her. Keeping her voice low, “Alexx, do me a favor. Stay close to Uncle Mike. If you think he needs a break, then push him to take one. We’re in the home stretch now and he won’t stop now unless someone makes him.”

“You don’t worry, baby girl. I’ll take care of Dan and Frank. You just try to get some rest.” Standing, Alexx nodded her goodbye to Roger and lightly hugged Horatio. “She’s worrying about everyone else and not worrying about herself. Keep an eye on her, baby.” When Horatio nodded, and returned her embrace, Alexx let herself out and walked back to the lab.

Leveling a look at Roger, Horatio nodded toward Sam. “Stay with Sam.” As Sam raised her head, “I’m going to get you a cup of tea. I want you to lay down and try to get some sleep.” Not waiting for a reply, Horatio left the office.

Crossing her arms on her knees, Sam hung her head and sighed. “Tell me this isn’t a dream, Rog. Tell me we’re going to find him.”

Sitting beside her, Roger gently pulled her toward him until she was sitting back and leaning against him. “We’re going to find him, Sammy. Dan’s the best, you know that. Give him a couple hours to go through the video, and he’ll have the message. We might not be able to leave today, but as soon as we have everything in order, we’re out the door running, kid.”

Sam knew she didn’t have a lot of time to talk to Roger alone, and what she had to tell him was for his ears only. He would be the only one that would understand, and she couldn’t take the chance that of the others would hear. She knew they would all try to talk her out of going if they knew what she was planning. Craning her neck around to see out the office window behind her, the coast was still clear. “Rog, I need to talk to you about something before Horatio gets back.”

That didn’t sound good. “Let it rest for now, Sammy. We can talk about whatever it is later.”

Shaking her head, Sam stood up and started pacing the office. “Rog, no matter how I tell Uncle Mike and Frank, neither want to believe that this is suicide. Going in alone was out of the question. I don’t like the idea of taking Horatio because he’s such a major player here in Miami and I don’t want anything to happen to him. For that reason, since I have no option here, I plan on making him our sniper. I want him high and out of sight.” She knew that Roger was taking mental notes, so she kept running while she had the opportunity. “I called you to help even the score. I still don’t like the odds though. To be honest, I don’t see this entire team making it back in one piece. You said that this wasn’t a marker call. I beg to differ. Me calling you and having you show up was not the marker I was calling in.”

This was definitely not sounding good now. Sitting forward, Roger narrowed his eyes dangerously. “What are you talking about, Sammy?”

Leaning against the edge of the desk, Sam lowered her head but kept an eye out for Horatio. There was still time. “I knew that when I told you that it was Vinnie, that you would come. I wasn’t figuring that as my marker.” Lifting her eyes to Roger’s, “You said it yourself, Rog. You’re the best at what you do. I needed you to help even the odds a little. I needed someone that I could trust to protect Vinnie, and someone that I could trust to follow my request. This is my marker call in. We go in, you get Vinnie out. Period. End of discussion. You pull Vinnie out and you get him back here. You bring him home, Rog. No matter what happens, you don’t look back. That’s my marker that you owe me.”

For once in a long, long time, Roger felt like someone had reached into his chest and was trying to rip out what little of his heart was left. They would be seriously outmanned, and outgunned, and as much as he hated to think about it, Sammy was right. This was suicide. The only question was, which one wasn’t going to make it out of this? Searching Sam’s eyes, Roger saw the painful truth. She’d already accepted that fate. She was ready to sacrifice herself in order to ensure Vince’s safe return home. Sam would cover their escape with Horatio providing distance cover, but if she went down, then she was asking him to let her fall. He owed her. Sam had called in her marker, and in a moment of clouded emotions, he had made an incorrect assumption. He had assumed that the marker was him coming to help. He never could have guessed that the marker she was calling in was for a request to let her fall. Shaking his head slowly, “Sammy…”

“Don’t, Rog. Please, don’t.” Clenching the edge of the desk, Sam bowed her head and drew a shaky breath. “Promise me, Rog. That’s my marker. You owe me.”

His voice was as heavy as his heart. There weren’t many in this world that he had ever gotten close to, and even less that he had allowed to get close to him. Sammy was family, just like Vince. He’d paid back Vince, but what Sammy was asking him to do… Running a hand through his hair, “What about Horatio, Sammy? Do you really think he’s just going to sit by and leave you behind?”

Another time, another place. She’d finally found someone that she wasn’t afraid to be around other than her family. She’d found someone that made her feel safe. Someone that knew her past and all the dark secrets that she kept bottled up inside. They’d agreed to wait until everything was over, to wait until Vinnie was home before they even bothered to talk about anything else between them. She wanted a chance, but she had to think about Vinnie first. “Get Vinnie to safety and then pull Horatio out physically if you have to.”

Shaking his head, “No. You have one marker, Sammy. Either you want me to grab Vinnie and leave you on your own to get out, or you want me to pull Horatio. I won’t do both. If I can get Vince to safety, then I can try to backtrack and provide cover for Horatio to get out. I can’t guarantee his safety though, and I sure as hell am not about to guarantee that I can stop him from trying to protect you.”

Raising her head to glare fiercely at Roger, “Fine, but you make damn sure that Vinnie makes it back here alive. You get him to safety and then you try to help Horatio get out.” Sam knew that Roger wasn’t happy with the change of plans, and that inside he was furious that she had put him in the position that she had, but it couldn’t be avoided. Vinnie was her priority and she would do whatever she had to do to protect him. Growling a warning at Roger, as Horatio popped into view, “If you say one word about this to Horatio, Uncle Mike, Frank, or anyone…”

Throwing his own glare back at Sam, “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t dare mention it to anyone. They’d kill me on the spot for even entertaining the notion of letting you cash in your marker like this.” Rising from the sofa as he felt a presence approaching, he stepped lightly over toward Sam, and pulled her tightly into his embrace. Dropping his mouth to her ear, Roger hissed a warning of his own. “You may have cashed in, but remember who you’re collecting from.” Releasing her as Horatio walked into the office, his voice was light, “Stop worrying, Sammy. Let Dan do his job. We’ll find Vince.”

Forcing herself to calm down, Sam sighed. “Yeah, I know. We’re just so close now. I don’t want anything to go wrong.” Sitting back on the sofa, Sam accepted the cup of tea from Horatio and nodded her thanks. “I still don’t think I’ll be able to sleep though. I don’t need to have the dreams replaying again.”

Turning one of the chairs toward the sofa, Horatio took a seat and leaned forward toward Sam. “Maybe now that you know what the dreams mean, maybe they won’t be as bad. Maybe you might even be able to sleep without them now.” Taking the full cup back from Sam, he sighed as she stretched out and rolled over to face the back of the sofa. Setting the tea aside, “Get some sleep, Sam. We’re all going to need it.”

***

Waking hours later to a hand on her arm, Sam shook off her dreamless sleep, and slowly rolled over to look up at Horatio. Yawning and stretching as Horatio stepped away, Sam sat up and rubbed her eyes. “Any news?”

“Some.” Handing Sam a cup of coffee, “Dan is still working on deciphering the entire message, but he’s got most of it. Roger keeps going down to get updates, but Dan won’t let anyone else touch the message itself. He’s letting Calleigh and Eric run what he translates, but beyond that, he isn’t talking to anyone.”

Slamming back half the cup of coffee, Sam sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Where’s Rog now?”

“Left with Frank to pick up breakfast for everyone.” Smiling at Sam’s surprised look, “I think it was their shared concern for you that made them decide to put aside their distrust of one another… at least for now.”

Finishing the rest of her coffee, “Alexx hasn’t tried to drag Uncle Mike away from the computer yet?”

Chuckling lightly, Horatio shrugged. “She tried. She kept getting the same old five more minutes speech.”

Frowning deeply, Sam stretched and heard her back snap, and cringed. Standing and tossing her empty cup into the garbage can, “Well, looks like it’s time to take my turn at the video. I think I’ll have Alexx sit watch with him for a while. I doubt he’ll sleep, but if I can talk him into it, at least he can try to relax for a while in here.” Walking to the lab and stepping inside, Sam shook her head at Uncle Mike’s confused expression and glances at the video. Biting her lip to keep from chuckling, Sam made her way to Calleigh and Eric. “How’s it going?”

Without moving her eyes from the screen in front of her, Calleigh shrugged. “Dan sends what he translates to me and I sync up with Eric and we run with it. We have some good leads, Sam. There are a couple of possible locations, but it’s hard to figure out which one Vince might be talking about. We’re working on it though.”

Patting her on the shoulder, “Good. Stay with it. I need to get Uncle Mike out of here for a while.” Stepping lightly to Uncle Mike’s side, Sam crouched down beside his chair. “Hey, how’s it going?”

Growling deep in his chest, his frown deepened. “I swear I’m going to teach the two of you proper English if it’s the last thing I do.” Turning his screen to show her a list of letters running together, “I have no idea what this string is suppose to mean. This chatcrap that your generation is using is completely a waste. I feel like I’m that damn show Wheel Of Fortune. I’m waiting to buy a vowel.”

Try as she might, Sam couldn’t stop the burst of laughter that escaped her. Averting her gaze to avoid the annoyed look from Uncle Mike, Sam slowly composed herself before looking back up her dearest mentor. “Go get some rest, Uncle Mike. Let me take over for a while.”

Turning the laptop back toward himself, “I’m fine.”

Standing and closing the laptop, Sam narrowed her eyes. “No, you’re not. If we were back at the loft we’d be doing this in shifts just like any other case. I rest, you work. You rest, I work. Now vacate the seat and go to Horatio’s office and lay down for a while.” With her hand firmly placed on top of the computer, Sam glanced over her shoulder at Alexx. “Go with him, please. Make sure he at least attempts to rest for a while.” As Alexx nodded, Sam gazed down at Uncle Mike. “Quickly, fill me in on what you have.”

Sighing and leaning back in his seat, “Your best bet is to start the video over and decipher it yourself first. Once you do that, you can compare your file to mine. I have time stamps on areas that I can’t make heads or tails out of, but deal with your translation first.” Standing slowly, Uncle Mike pulled her into a hug. Whispering softly, “There’s a message for you near the end. After they shock him.” Stepping away and walking to the door, “A couple hours, Sam. No more.” Walking out with Alexx trailing, Uncle Mike headed for Horatio’s office.

Waiting until Uncle Mike was out of sight, Sam turned slowly back toward the room. “Alright, here’s the plan.” It was time to work, and she was going to make sure they pushed hard. “Calleigh, I need you to swap seats with me. Pull the plug on the laptop and bring it over here and hook it up. I need to be at the controls for the video unless you have a remote for this beast.”

Promptly pulling the power cord, Calleigh spun her chair and approached Sam with a smile. “No remote. The controls are yours. Just run the text as you can, and Eric and I can still work with what we have. Once you’ve cross referenced your translation with Dan’s, then we can take it from there.”

Scooping Uncle Mike’s computer from the desk, “Thanks, Calleigh. I wanted Alexx to pry him away earlier, but he’s stubborn. He doesn’t want to let this go any more than I do, but I’m going to try not to push everyone to their breaking point.” The last was said with a smile which tugged at the corners of Calleigh’s mouth as well. Setting up in Calleigh’s vacated spot, Sam waved Eric down as he went to leave his station. “Go ahead and stay there. I’m going to have Roger and Horatio running through this as well.”

Cocking his head and raising an eyebrow at the sudden change of events, Horatio rolled a chair closer and took a seat beside Sam. “What exactly would you have me do?”

Grinning innocently as she placed a pad of paper and a pen before him, “I heard you earlier. You were muttering out letters, so you know code. Even if you don’t pick up everything, I still need more than just two sets of eyes on this. You and Roger both nailed it. I know Frank would get some of this, but probably not most of it. I need someone that can look past everything else and just read what they see.” Saving and closing Uncle Mike’s files, Sam opened a fresh document and restarted the video. “Write the code as you see it, or translate as you go. Either way works.”

“Save it, Sam.”

Pausing the video, Sam bowed her head and sighed. “Come on, Frank. I just got started.”

Standing in the doorway, Frank shook his head with a frown. “I don’t care. Breakfast is here. Everyone out of the lab and get down to the break room.”

Frowning as Eric turned to look at her, Sam nodded. “Save everything and shut it down for now.” Shutting down her system, “Calleigh, same with you. Save whatever you have and shut it down.” Leaning her head toward Horatio, “Go ahead. Make sure you guys save me something. I’ll be there in a minute.” Waiting for the room to clear, Sam hit the play button once more.

“Sam, I mean it. Shut it down and get something to eat.”

Snapping her head toward Frank and throwing him a glare of defiance, “Before I sent Uncle Mike out of here to rest, he said that Vinnie left me a message. I’m getting that message before I leave this room.”

His brow furrowing in thought, Frank slowly crossed the room to Sam’s side as she turned back to the video. “What message, Sam?”

Shaking her head as she sped through the video, “I have no idea, but he said it was after they shocked him. Uncle Mike wouldn’t say what it was though.”

“Alright, Sam, but make it quick.” Handing over Horatio’s notepad and pen, “Just jot it down, and let’s get you something to eat.”

It took a few minutes to get to the right spot, and Sam had to play it a couple of times to make sure it was the right place, but she quickly started writing.

... .- -- / -. --- / .-- .-. -.-- -- -.- / ... -. -.-- ... -.-- --.. / .... ..

Glancing at the paper, Frank frowned. “What the hell is that?”

Pointing at the paper, and turning off the video, Sam slid the disc into a sleeve as she quickly explained. “You can’t tell me that you’re that rusty in all of this, can you? Each letter has a brief pause after it, and each word has a longer pause. The slashes mark the end of words as Vinnie marked them.” Pointing out the first three marks of dots and dashes, “S… A… M…” Folding the paper and slipping it into her pocket, “That marks the beginning of his message. I’ll figure the rest while we’re eating.” Grabbing the disc and heading out of the lab, “Come on, Frank.”

Shaking his head, Frank hated admitting that he really was that rusty, but taking a look at the sheet as Sam had made her marks, he had barely caught her name. Apparently he was overdue for a refresher course. Grumbling under his breath as he followed Sam, he couldn’t help thinking how much fun that would be sitting in a class full of new, young recruits. Joy of joys… not likely. When things were over, he’d have a talk with Dan.

Stepping into the break room, Sam paused. The atmosphere was relaxed. Her team was smiling and at ease. They knew they were close so why not enjoy the moment? Leaping up from the table, Eric spun around and presented Sam a plate with a flourish. Breakfast pizza, a lightly toasted bagel with cream cheese, and two boston cream donuts with chocolate drizzle on top. Eric grinned, “Dan said you liked them, so I saved you two.”

Gingerly removing a donut from the plate, Sam looked around the room. “Ok, so what’s with the mood in here?”

Looking up from the plate balanced in his hand, with a slice of breakfast pizza half way to his mouth, Roger grinned. “Come on, Sammy. We’re in the home stretch here. Loosen up, and relax for a few minutes. Enjoy the food. Enjoy the company.”

How she wished it was that easy. Glancing at Uncle Mike and noting the tired look in his eyes, “Are we certain of El Salvador?” When he simply nodded, Sam turned back to Roger. “We’re not in the home stretch yet. We may have rounded second base, and third may be in sight, but we’re not in the home stretch yet.” Immediately the mood turned somber. Bowing her head and silently cursing herself, Sam wouldn’t consider them anywhere near the end of it all until they were wheels up and on their way back to Miami. Problem was, they still had the translation to deal with, they still had to get the team to El Salvador, and they still had to find Vinnie. But Roger was semi right. Raising her head, and taking a bite of her donut, Sam sighed. “I didn’t mean to kill the mood, believe me. And although I don’t consider us to be in the home stretch quite yet, I do think we have made more than just a little bit of progress. If it wasn’t for Kevin’s help, and Carlos, we wouldn’t be where we are now. So even though I may not be in a celebratory mood at the moment, I’m not one to overlook the small victories that we’ve had.”

Handing Sam the offered plate, and holding his chair out for her, Eric smiled warmly. “Then let’s share the small victories and look forward to the home stretch. The food is good, and we all need a break.”

Accepting the chair, Sam slid to the table and set the video disc aside. Pulling out the folded sheet of paper, “Anyone have a pen? I don’t expect any help with the message,” flashing a look at Uncle Mike’s lowered head, “but I’d like to figure out what it says.” Nodding her thanks to Alexx as she handed over a pen, “Vinnie left me a message.” Putting pen to paper, and absently nibbling at her pizza, Sam’s brow furrowed as a frown crossed her face. Maybe she had missed a break? Going back over the message she realized she had mislabeled a couple marks. Growling as she scratched out the wrong letters and added the correct ones, it still didn’t make sense. Staring at the paper before her…

... .- -- / -. --- / .-- .-. -.-- -- -.- / ... -. -.-- ... -.-- --.. / .... ..
s a m / n o / w r y m k / s n y s y z / h i

Glaring around the table as everyone was trying to lean closer to have a look, Sam snatched the paper from the table and, with her pizza in one hand, stood off to the side studying the translation. She knew she had the letters right, but maybe she had missed breaks. Slowly, silently she read it again. Suddenly her eyes flew wide open, and her pizza hit the floor as Sam choked on a piece of sausage and read the letters again. Snapping her eyes to Uncle Mike, she saw him nod once.

“Chatcrap. I may not like it or understand it all of the time, but I think the message is clear, Sam.”

Clearing her throat, Sam shook her head as a sad smile touched her lips. Holding the paper to her chest, her eyes closed tightly.

“What’s it say, Sammy?”

Biting her lip, Sam neatly refolded the sheet and placed it in her pocket. “Vinnie taking a stab at humor. It says literally, ‘Sam no worry am k.” The she spelled the rest, “Followed by the letters ‘snysyz’ and the word ‘hi’.” Sharing a look with Uncle Mike and Frank, “What he said was ‘Sam, don’t worry. I’m ok. Sonny says hi’.” At the confused looks around her, “Sonny was Vinnie’s first case. He was the one that electrocuted himself rather then being arrested. Sonny is also the reason why Vinnie bugged out of Lynchboro when the sheriff killed himself by electrocution rather than being arrested.”

Shaking his head in the corner, Roger chuckled. “Good old, Buckwheat. Always a sense of humor.”

“I don’t find it funny.”

Smiling faintly at Frank, Sam shrugged. “Neither do I, but I take it as a good sign, Frank. He’s still alive, and he’s still fighting.”

Knowing how deeply this man Sonny had affected them both, Horatio looked around the room. “I agree. It’s a good sign, so let’s finish up here, and get back to work.”

Leveling a glare at Uncle Mike, Sam growled, “And you get back to Horatio’s office and lay down for a while. I can have Horatio and Roger both deciphering the video with me. I’ll wake you in a couple of hours.” Noting his hesitant nod, “Alexx, keep an eye on him please. If he gives you any trouble, take away his cane and beat him with it.” Waiting for a smart comeback and not receiving one, Sam smirked. Apparently she wasn’t the only one that had made a friend in Miami.

Chapter Text

Finishing breakfast, Sam gathered her team and headed back to the lab as Alexx practically dragged Uncle Mike to Horatio’s office. A stern look from her made Sam certain that Alexx would not hesitate to do exactly as she had been instructed, and would indeed take his cane away if he chose to fight her. Watching as Alexx and Uncle Mike made their way down the hallway, Sam sighed with a smile. He wouldn’t fight Alexx. With Alexx’s arm around his shoulders, Uncle Mike had his head bowed but tilted to face her. As Alexx nodded, Sam shook her head and wondered what they were talking about. Waiting until they disappeared from sight, Sam turned and walked into the lab. Tossing the disc to Horatio, “Start it up and I want you and Roger working separately on deciphering it. I’ll be right over.” Stopping by the desk to log onto the laptop, Sam smiled at Calleigh. “I think I’m going to have to change the password for you if you plan on using my system more often.” Turning the computer toward Calleigh, Sam went into her secure setup and changed the password making sure that Calleigh saw it.

Laughing lightly as she watched Sam slowly type out the new password, Calleigh shook her head. “Are you sure you want to use that?”

Standing up straight and looking around the room, Sam sighed. Eric had his head bowed at his station feverishly punching keys. Horatio and Roger had their eyes locked on the screen and their hands moved slowly across the paper in front of them. Dropping a hand lightly on Calleigh’s shoulder, Sam nodded with a tear in her eye. “Yeah. I’m sure. I can’t come up with anything that fits better, can you?”

Reaching up to pat Sam’s hand, “No, I can’t.” Opening her files as Sam walked away, Calleigh smiled. It had to be the strangest password, but there was none more fitting.

Sliding into the seat between Horatio and Roger, Sam propped open Uncle Mike’s laptop and logged on. Instead of starting the video over, Sam noted the time and picked up her own deciphering. Choosing to translate on the fly, Sam’s eyes never strayed from the video as her fingers tapped slowly at the keys. It was slow going but when the video ended, Sam motioned for Horatio to start it again. “I missed the beginning. I want to go back through it once more before I compare everything.”

Restarting the video, Horatio raised an eyebrow. “So you changed your password for Calleigh?”

Smiling at the thought, Sam nodded briefly. “Yeah. I’ll tell you later. You’ll like it.” The room lapsed into silence where the only sounds being made were the tapping of keys. The video wasn’t long. It was only a little more than half an hour in length, but when trying to read someone’s eyes, it seemed like an eternity. When the video ended once again, Horatio turned it off. Glancing at the guys, “So were you two writing code, or straight translating?” When both said they had simply translated what they could, Sam sighed gratefully. “Good. Then let’s see what we all came up with. I’ll overlay mine with Uncle Mike’s and see how they match up, then I’ll go with yours one at a time.” It never ceased to amaze her the programs that Uncle Mike had written and installed. Opening one such customized built program, Sam loaded Uncle Mike’s translation and her own, and then sat back while the program compared them. Smiling faintly as a small window flashed open, the files were eighty percent identical. Closing the program and moving from one file to the next, Sam scanned both translations to try and find the discrepancies. What it came down to was chatcrap and a handful of characters that one or the other hadn’t been able to break correctly. Stretching, Sam checked the time. Holding out her hand, “Alright, Rog. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Crossing checking his work against the two files, Sam made a few changes, but was happy to see that so far, no one was too far off from the rest.

Handing over his sheet, Horatio quietly excused himself to go check on the rest of the team. Reading Calleigh’s file over her shoulder, Horatio smiled proudly and rested a hand on her shoulder. “Good work, Calleigh.” Stepping away to check on Eric, Horatio shared a smile and a nod as Eric flipped him a thumbs up signal. Slipping back into his seat, he held his breath waiting for Sam’s final word.

Shaking her head, Sam was impressed that between the four of them, none of them were far off from one another. Making final updates to Uncle Mike’s file, Sam saved it and sent a copy to her own laptop for Calleigh to work on. Closing the laptop, Sam bowed her head. “Now it’s just a matter of time.”

“What about Dan?”

“He needs the rest, Rog. As soon as I pull him back in here, he’s going to kick everyone out.” Chuckling lightly as she saw the question in Horatio’s eyes, “If you think I’m bad when it comes to stepping away from things, then you’re about to find out where I get it from. Now he has a full copy of the translation to work with, and that means he doesn’t have to waste time with that aspect so he can concentrate primarily on locating Vinnie.” Leaving the guys to themselves, Sam headed over to Calleigh’s station. “Pull whatever you can from the full translation that you think you can use and run with it. Send it over to Eric and I want to give you both an hour at least to work this before Uncle Mike heads back in and takes over everything.”

Highlighting text and saving it to a new file, Calleigh sent it over to Eric. “Cross that with what you’ve found already. Sam’s going to give us some time, but we don’t know how much we get.” Looking up at Sam, “Do you really think he’ll pull us if we can still be of some help running all this with him?”

Running a hand through her hair, Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. I know how protective Uncle Mike gets when Vinnie and I are in the field, and right now he’s going into this with a man down.” Walking to the front of the room, Sam cocked her head as Frank walked slowly into the room. “Where have you been? I figured you would have been in here with the rest of us when we all left the break room?”

Looking a little sheepish, Frank sighed. “I was in one the Interrogation Rooms making phone calls.”

Frowning slightly, Sam pointed to her vacated seat. “Tell me later if it’s not of dire importance.” At his shake of the head, Sam crossed her arms and bowed her head collecting her thoughts. “Alright, this is where we stand. Calleigh, Eric, put the work on hold for a second please.” Waiting for their attention, “We have the translation. We have directions, we have a partial body count, and we have sporadic area descriptions. I know Uncle Mike was working on cross referencing flight plans from Miami to El Salvador and vice versa. I know he was also working on flights from back home. No, I don’t have the results of those searches yet. What I need before he comes back in here, is to find as much as we can to help him along. Uncle Mike is going to kick us all out of here and take over, and as much as I don’t like that idea, I know enough to back off and let him do his job. So work for now, and then we’ll probably just pack it all in and get out of here. Uncle Mike will probably want to work at the house anyway, so the rest of us can figure out a plan for when we do leave.” Looking around the room, “Any questions?”

Shaking their heads, Calleigh and Eric turned their attentions back to the computers before them. Pointing at Frank and hooking her head toward the door, Sam stepped out into the hallway and waited for Frank to join her. “Well? What’s with the phone calls, Frank?”

“I know you trust Roger, but I want to make sure you have everything you’re going to need to get Vince and yourself out of there alive.” Walking down the hallway, Frank stepped into one of the Interrogation Rooms and waited for Sam to join him. Closing the door, Frank sighed. “I called D.C., Sam. I told the Director that we’ve got a line on Vince and that you’re planning on bringing him home.”

Scowling deeply, “I’m sure he was thrilled.”

“Profoundly.” Walking to the window, Frank stood looking outside with his hands clasped behind his back. “I told him that I either wanted a team sent down here to go with you, one of your choice, or I wanted full unrestricted access to the weapon storage facility.”

Sam’s jaw dropped. Was he serious? Sam sat down hard in the chair. “Frank, there’s no way I’m taking a team. I already have one!”

Shaking his head and growling, “Don’t worry. You’re not getting a team. You’re getting weapons. I already put in an order.”

He really was serious! “What do you mean, you put in an order? I haven’t even had a chance to talk to Roger and Horatio about the trip yet. I have no idea what Roger brought and at the moment, I have no idea what we’re going to need.”

Turning slowly, the concern on his face was evident. “Sam. I don’t know what you’re going to need either, but I want to make sure you have everything you need and then some. There’s a shipment coming in late this afternoon. Take Horatio and Roger to pick it up, then go through it. If there’s more that you need, then make a list. I’ll make sure you get it.” Frank hated the fact that he couldn’t go with her, but the Director had made it abundantly clear, his orders were to stay in Miami. Dan would be going with them for Intel support, but there was only three of them physically going in after Vince. He didn’t like the odds, and if he couldn’t give her an army, then he’d do everything he could to arm them like one.

Sam was speechless. Bowing her head, she knew that Frank cared deeply for them, they were family, and he loved them, but he was never good at showing it. He pushed them hard, and rode them harder, but he was always the first one to stand by them, to protect them when they were down. Looking up at Frank, he hadn’t moved. Rising to stand before him, Sam took his hands in hers, and looked at him. “I wish you were going with me, Frank. I know that sounds crazy, but I do.” Leaning her head against his shoulder as Frank pulled her into his arms, “I’m worried about Horatio. He plays such an important part here in Miami that I’m afraid of him getting hurt. I know Roger’s the best, and he’ll do everything to get Vinnie out, and he’ll do anything I tell him to because it’s my call, but we’re still outnumbered, we’re still outgunned.” Lapsing into silence, Sam closed her eyes.

He could feel the tension in her shoulders and he knew the weight that was piling on her. It choked him up hearing that she wanted him by her side, but he tried to make light of it. “Come on, Sam. You know I wouldn’t be any good to you in the field. Lococco and I would be at each other’s throats the entire time, and it would make things a bigger mess than they already are.”

“You really suck at the pep talks, Frank.” Her voice was muffled against his shirt, but he could hear the smile in her tone. Taking a moment to just relax, Sam stepped away and it was back to business. “Alright, Frank. When’s the shipment coming in, and where’s it being delivered?”

“From what the boys in the armory told me, it should be here by five, and it’s arriving here. You can take it to Horatio’s, Roger’s plane, wherever you want to take it, but go through it, and figure out if there’s anything else you want.” Cupping her chin to lift her eyes to his, “Understood? Good.” He wasn’t giving her a chance to argue. “Go wake up Dan because if you leave him out of this for too long, he’s going to get cranky.”

She couldn’t find the words to adequately thank Frank, so instead Sam simply stretched up and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thank you, Frank.” Turning on her heel, Sam made her way to Horatio’s office to check on Uncle Mike.

***

“Alright, I want to know what everyone has so far, then I want everyone out of here so I can work.”

Biting her lip to keep from laughing, Sam slipped past Uncle Mike to enter the lab. Shrugging casually to Calleigh, “I told you.” Claiming her seat between Roger and Horatio, Sam bowed her head and lowered her voice. “Frank got us a shipment coming in later. When it gets here, we need to take it somewhere else and go through it.” Dropping a hand on Roger’s knee, “Don’t ask right now. Just know that whatever we need, he’ll do everything he can to get his hands on it for us.” Turning her attention back to Uncle Mike, Sam half listened to Eric and Calleigh filling him in.

“Without knowing where the plane landed exactly, it’s a little hard to come up with a pin point location. However, from what we’ve managed to gather from the translation itself, he’s not far from a rather large city, there’s a river or some other water near by, and that narrows it down a bit.” Nodding to Eric to continue, Calleigh started saving her work to send it to the other laptop.

“Alright. We know that there are a lot of buildings, and we’re going to assume that it’s their base of operations. From the ones that he’s seen, Vince noted at least two dozen different faces. Those are most likely just the guards that they have on him. His cell is on the west side of whatever building he’s in. He can see the setting sun.” Shrugging helplessly, Eric frowns. “I know it’s not a lot, but it’s something to work with. If we can figure out where he’s being held, then we may be able to get satellite surveillance of the area. From that we could narrow down possible buildings that he may be held in.”

Walking across the room, Uncle Mike dropped a hand on Eric’s shoulder. “Good work, Son.” Nodding to Calleigh with a fatherly smile, “Wonderful work from you too, young lady.” Waiting for Eric to save his work, “Send that to Calleigh so she can consolidate it all and send it to my work station. After that, I want everyone out.”

“Uncle Mike…”

“Drop it, Sam. I appreciate the break, and I more than appreciate everyone’s hard work up to this point, but unless I ask for it, I need everyone to back off and let me do what I do best.”

Rolling her eyes to the guys beside her, “See what I mean?” Moving to Uncle Mike’s side, “I was going to say that I know you’re not going to use their system here, so why don’t we pack it all up and everyone can head home?” Looking over her team, Sam noted the dark circles under their eyes and felt a pang of regret. “You’re not on vacation yet, but since you’re still assigned to me, consider yourselves on downtime. I want you all to stay in contact at all times. I’d feel better if no one took off on their own, but it’s understandable if you need some space and time alone. Just watch your backs and call in.” Sharing a look with Uncle Mike before turning back to her team, “Uncle Mike has Vinnie and I call in once a day while we’re in the field. It’s going on noon now. I want to hear from everyone before they leave here what their plans are for the rest of the day. So figure it out, and let me know.” Nodding her thanks to Calleigh as Calleigh handed her the laptop, “If you and Eric are going to Alexx’s, just let me know.”

Propping open his laptop as everyone got together to make their plans, Uncle Mike ran through the translation quickly and shook his head. He hadn’t been too far off on a couple of pieces, but the garbled chatspeak threw him for a loop more times than not. Logging off and shutting down as the team assembled near the door, “As I said, I want to thank you for all your help, but please understand that I have to take this over from here. If I need anymore help, I’ll know who to turn to.”

Eric and Calleigh were taking Alexx home, and then Eric was heading back to his place to clean up before going shopping for dinner. “We’ve been having dinner as a team for so long now, we can’t see a reason why tonight should be any different. Alexx has decided to play the gracious hostess tonight, and I will be your chef. I hope no one has any objections to something with a little kick.” At the slow shakes of everyone’s head, “Good. Dinner’s on me tonight. Normal time. Sixish sounds good to me.” Calleigh had plans to stop by her place when Eric returned to Alexx’s. Neither was comfortable with leaving Alexx alone. After that, she was going back to Alexx’s.

Frank wanted to take a side trip back out to see Santana. He couldn’t be sure, but considering how fast things had been happening, he was almost certain that someone had to be either watching Santana’s boat house, there had to be a wire tap in there somewhere, or Santana was feeding information back to Guzman and his boys. Frank was truly hoping that it wasn’t the last. “Frank, take Roger with you.” Shooting down the death look from Frank with one of her own, Sam continued softly. “If someone is watching Santana, then I want someone watching your back, Frank. Don’t argue about it. Safety first.” Turning to Roger, “I need you both at Horatio’s when you’re done. Frank’s present should be coming in around five this afternoon. We need to be here when it gets here so that we can deposit it somewhere safe before we head over to Alexx’s for dinner. Is that understood?” As everyone nodded and started for the door, “I want hourly check ins. Nothing fancy, just call either me or Horatio and let us know you’re safe and what’s going on. Now you can get out of here.” Accepting her laptop from Horatio, Sam picked up Uncle Mike’s as well and they walked out together.

Standing beside his Hummer, Horatio waited until his team was safely on their way before climbing behind the wheel and waiting for Sam and Dan to take the lead back to the house. As soon as they were home, Dan disappeared into the guest bedroom and shut the door without a word. Depositing her laptop on the kitchen table, Sam walked out to the porch to relax for a while. Closing her eyes and soaking up the early afternoon heat, Sam smiled as she heard the back door open. “He’ll be in there for a while. When we get ready to leave, then I’ll interrupt him. Until then, just let him be.”

Leaning against the doorframe, Horatio cocked his head to regard Sam with an amused grin. “You’re not going to fight with him to let you help get through this faster?”

Cracking an eye open, Sam turned her head to glance up at Horatio. “I know when to push, and I know when to get out of the way. Just so happens, that now it’s time to get out of his way and let him do his job.” Closing her eye and settling back in the chair, “He’s the best, Horatio. I don’t ask how he does it. I just know that as much as I trust Calleigh and Eric’s work, I’m Uncle Mike’s kid. He won’t let me go out there until he’s certain of where I’m going, who I’m going up against, and how I’m suppose to get out. He has his contacts, and he’ll drain them dry getting as much Intel as he can to make this operation as smooth as he can.”

Sitting on the top step of the porch and stretching his legs out to the sand, Horatio sighed. “So you’re content to just sit back and wait now?”

Snorting out a hard laugh, Sam sat up and shook her head. “Hardly. I hate sitting around and I’m never content to wait. Do I have any choice? No. Do I have to like it? Not a bit. Am I going to go insane if I have to sit around and wait too long?” Sam paused and looked out at the water. “Yeah, probably.”

Looking over his shoulder and smiling lightly, “So what are the plans until Frank and Roger get here, or until we go to pick up this present you have coming in?”

Taking a deep breath of the salty air, and slowly exhaling, Sam curled her legs up onto the chair and closed her eyes. Slipping a hand into her jacket, she wrapped a hand loosely around the handle of her SIG. “I plan on closing my eyes and trying to take a nap. I expect the boys to call in either when they get there, or when they leave Santana’s. I expect Eric and the girls to call in soon as well. I don’t know if they’ll call you or me, but they have their orders. If I dose off, I’ll still hear the phone.”

Moving from the step to the porch railing, Horatio sat with his back against the side of the house, with his arms casually wrapped around his bent knee. As Sam opened her eyes to raise an eyebrow at him, he smirked. “Don’t worry. I won’t fall.” Chuckling lightly as Sam shook her head and closed her eyes, “Get some rest, Sam. We all had an early morning.” Leaning his head back against the house, Horatio reached down to remove the strap from the holster holding his weapon in place. He wouldn’t take off the safety, but he wanted to make sure he could draw it in a second’s notice. Closing his eyes and welcoming the calming sound of the surf, Horatio allowed himself to be pulled along into a light slumber.

***

Without opening her eyes, Sam pulled out her cell phone as it rang for the second time. “Yeah.” It was Frank checking in saying that he and Roger were heading back to the house. Hanging up and checking the time, Sam rolled her head to the side to look at Horatio still perched on the railing with his eyes closed peacefully. She hated to wake him, but she was concerned that the girls and Eric hadn’t called in yet.

Sensing her eyes on him, Horatio fought to hide a smile and kept his eyes closed. “They already called. I had mine set to vibrate so that it wouldn’t disturb you.”

Blushing and biting her lip, “Sorry. I thought I had mine turned down low enough that it wouldn’t bother you.”

The downtime was a welcome change of pace and the quietness of the afternoon and the short doze had done wonders to reinvigorate him. Sliding off the railing and arching his back to loosen his muscles, “I wasn’t sleeping so don’t worry. Resting, but not sleeping.”

He sounded like Roger. “I was thinking that as soon as Roger gets here, we can take the truck over to MDPD and hang around until our shipment arrives.”

“What about Dan? I thought the climb into the Hummer would be too much?”

Frowning in thought, “Well, if you don’t think that Alexx would mind company a little early, we can take the Hummer over there and drop it off, Uncle Mike can take the truck over with Frank and we can take it from there for the delivery, and Roger can either ride with us, or he can take the bike.”

Leaning with his back against the railing post in front of Sam, and his arms crossed over his chest, “That sounds alright. Do we have any idea what’s being delivered?”

Shaking her head, Sam had already thought about it, but had no clue what Frank had ordered. “I don’t know. Frank just said he put in an order with the weapons storage facility that the Bureau uses. I can’t even begin to speculate what he asked for, but I do know that we need to go through that, as well as whatever Roger brought along, and come up with a list of anything else we may think we may need to pull this off.”

“Time frame?”

“If Frank called them this morning and they’re delivering in a couple of hours, then I’d say we could put in an order up until the night before we leave… whenever that may be.” Sighing, Sam rose slowly and stretched to ease the kinks out of her back. Absently massaging her arm, she scowled as Horatio raised an eyebrow in concern. “I’m fine. It’s still a little stiff and sore, but nothing like it was before.” Slipping inside, “I’m going to check in on Uncle Mike and let him know the plans.”

Watching Sam disappear into the house, Horatio turned back to the ocean. His whole world, his very sanctuary, had been turned upside down in less than a week. In that time his life had become a whirlwind of activity and his emotions had been become a rollercoaster ride from hell. Thinking about the young spitfire that had just walked into his house, Horatio smiled. As crazy as things were, as insane as things were to come, he found himself thinking that he’d have it no other way. For once there was a sense of peace in his life, something that he hadn’t even allowed himself to consider in the past, and he wasn’t about to let an opportunity for happiness be taken away. He didn’t know what to expect of this package that was arriving, but if Frank had been serious about trying to acquire anything that they wanted, then he planned on discussing matters with Roger. Between the two of them he was sure they could piece together an impressive arsenal.

It wasn’t long before the roar of a motorcycle brought Horatio’s mind back to the task at hand. Roger and Frank were back from Santana’s and a quick check of his watch put their delivery still a couple of hours away. Of course by the time they all managed to get over to Alexx’s and then switch vehicles and get back to the Department, that should cut the wait time in half. They would have to hustle though if they planned on loading the package and then delivering it somewhere safe to go through it before they had to be back at Alexx’s again in time for dinner. Schedule would be tight, but it could be done. Walking back into the house, Horatio found Sam in the dining room with Frank and Roger and she didn’t look happy. “What’s wrong, Sam?”

The frown on her face deepened into a dark scowl. “Mikey’s place was wired. Roger found where someone tapped his line outside the boathouse. They spliced in a secondary line and fed it to a telephone pole not far from the docks. There’s nothing attached to the line now, but he thinks there may have been a cell attached to it somehow.” Waving a hand toward Roger, “Finish here. I’m getting Uncle Mike.” Walking from the room, Sam growled under her breath.

Standing aside as Sam brushed past him, Horatio looked at Roger and Frank. “Well? I assume there’s more than just a tapped line. They had to know when we were there somehow.”

His eyes were hard, glaring. Roger’s voice was a low snarl when he finally spoke. “There’s no way to trace whoever tapped the line. They either had a phone company line phone attached or a cell that automatically forwarded the call to a separate line.” Starting to pace the room, “I couldn’t find any wires on the boat itself, so they had to have the place under surveillance in order to know when you were all there.”

Running a hand through his thinning hair, Frank sighed. “Only problem with that is, there’s no way to know where they were watching us from. Could have been from a car in the parking lot, another boat on the pier, a boat out on the water…”

“Don’t worry about it, Frank.” Uncle Mike’s voice was surprisingly calm as he walked into the dining room. With a sly smile on his face, “They may have been watching us, but they don’t know that we have a way to find them now.” Draping an arm around Sam’s shoulders as she ducked back into the room, “We have them in our sights now, Frank. Just give me time to set the crosshairs.”

As a new calm settled around the room, Sam sighed. She had the utmost faith in her Uncle Mike. She knew it was only a matter of time before they were moving. In the mean time however, there were appearances that needed to be kept up. She had to appear to remain calm and relaxed even though inside she was screaming to be let loose on the trail. “Well, shall we head over to Alexx’s so that Horatio, Roger and I can head out to pick up the package? Frank, if you want to ride over with Uncle Mike in the truck, then Horatio and I can swing over with the Hummer. Roger, you’re welcome to catch a ride with either of us, or you can take the bike.”

Considering the option, and noting the time, he really wasn’t one for crowds and company so Roger made his own plans. “I’ll take the bike. That way when the package is loaded, I’ll tail behind to keep an eye on it while we deliver it to the plane.”

“What makes you think you’re taking it to that plane of yours?”

Rolling her eyes, Sam stepped away from Uncle Mike and pulled on her jacket. “Knock it off, Frank. If the rest of his armament is on the plane, then there’s no reason to bring it all back here. At least this way it’s already loaded for when we have to leave.” Feeling his distrust of Roger, Sam narrowed her eyes. “Frank, enough. Now let’s get going.” Walking to the door, she could actually pick out each person’s footsteps as they made their way down the hall. She almost found that amusing.

Heading over to Alexx’s, Sam stopped inside with Frank and Uncle Mike long enough to say “Hi” and to let them all know what her plan was for the next hour or so. Promising to call when the shipment came in, Sam slipped out the door, tossed the truck keys to Horatio, and with Roger trailing behind, they went back to the Department to wait.

Chapter Text

Pulling into the parking lot at MDPD, Sam climbed out and leaned against the side of the truck as Roger pulled in beside them. Killing the engine and swinging his leg over the tank, Roger sat sideways on the seat with his arms folded casually. Exiting the truck and walking around the front, Horatio slipped on his sunglasses and glanced at his watch. “If this delivery isn’t expected to get here for an hour or so, then why don’t we head inside where it’s a little cooler to wait?”

Stepping around to the rear of the truck, Sam grabbed the tailgate and climbed in the bed. Hopping up to sit on the roof of the cab, “Suit yourself, but since I don’t know when exactly it’s getting here, or how big the package is, I don’t want anyone else near it when it gets here. I’ll wait out here.”

Shaking his head and frowning, Roger moved from the bike to rest his hands on the side of the bed. Looking up at Sam’s determined features, “Sammy, do you have any idea how hot it’s going to get sitting on top of a black pickup?”

Scowling down at him, the sarcasm dripped from Sam’s voice. “Gee, hadn’t thought about that, Rog. Thanks for the heads up.” Slipping off her jacket, she folded it neatly and laid it beside her. Noting Roger checking out her holster, “What? Did you honestly think I’m going anywhere unarmed at this point?”

Perhaps he was getting to know her better than Dan had thought because Horatio knew Sam wasn’t going to budge from her spot until the delivery was made. Slapping the side of the truck and flashing a smile, “Ok, so we’ll wait outside. First things first though. Roger’s right. If you’re sitting up there until the package gets here, then I’m going inside to get us something to drink. It could be a long wait.” Walking inside, Horatio headed to the break room and pulled three bottles of water from the refrigerator. Returning outside, he tossed one to Roger, who caught it easily and twisted off the top taking a long swig. Handing one up to Sam, “I wish you’d come down here though.”

Rolling her eyes, she felt like she was being lectured by Uncle Mike. Flashing a glare at Roger, she silently dared him to say anything as she slid from the roof and easily vaulted over the side to land between the two men. “Feel better now?” Walking to the rear of the truck, Sam dropped the tailgate and took a seat.

“What now, Sammy?”

Twisting off the cap of her bottle, Sam raised it in a silent salute to Roger. “Now we wait.”

***

Standing next to the living room window, Frank kept a vigilant watch on the street outside. He wasn’t concerned with anyone trying to make a move against them, but he needed something to do. He needed time to think.

The tension radiating from Frank soon had Calleigh on her feet pacing the room like a caged animal. Finally stopping on the opposite side of the window, she faced the street and silently contemplated their situation.

Frowning at Frank’s back, Uncle Mike headed for the kitchen to see if Eric needed any assistance with dinner. Smiling weakly as Alexx met him in the hallway, “Frank’s dealing with things his way. I was going to see if Eric needed any help.”

Slipping her arm through his, Alexx led him to the dinning room. “You just let Eric handle dinner tonight, baby. He’s got it under control.” Alexx didn’t know much about this man, but her heart went out to him. She saw how much Sam meant to him, and when they had watched the video, his pain and sorrow had hit her hard. She knew first hand how family often went deeper than just a simple blood bond. “Why don’t we just sit down and I’ll get us something to drink?”

Nodding vaguely and sinking into a chair, Uncle Mike leaned his face in his hand and sighed. Squeezing his shoulder reassuringly, Alexx quickly disappeared into the kitchen and returned with two bottles. Twisting the cap off them both, and setting one on the table, Alexx pulled a chair closer and took a seat. Lifting his head and eyeing the bottle, Uncle Mike raised an eyebrow. “Sam won’t drink it.”

Alexx already knew the answer why. “Baby, don’t you worry about it. Horatio may not drink often but he’s shared a beer or two before. I know Sam understands his past, and that she doesn’t want to hurt him, but just because he won’t drink, that doesn’t mean she can’t.” Raising her bottle to her lips, “Besides, she said she wouldn’t drink in his house. This is my house, baby.” Smiling as Uncle Mike picked up the bottle and took a long draw, Alexx raised her bottle and lightly tapped it against his. Taking a drink, she studied him long and hard. “Now what’s bothering you, baby? I know Frank is all tensed up in there worrying about what’s going to happen, and it’s putting Calleigh on edge because she knows that she’s not going to be a part of it, but there’s something more going on in your mind, Dan.”

Bowing his head, his jaw clenched as he closed his eyes hard. Drawing in a long breath and letting out it in a shaky sigh, “I have every confidence that Sam will find Vince, but…” Raising the bottle and staring at it blankly in his hand, “I don’t know what condition he’s going to be in. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to get out of there on his own or not. I don’t know what’s going to happen if any of them get hurt.” He felt lost. Normally he could plan for every conceivable possibility, but as much as he hated to admit it, he knew that Sam was right. The odds were stacked against them. He was sending in a team of three to get Vince. He was sending a team against who knew how many. No matter what Frank had procured for them, they were still outnumbered and outgunned. Every time Sam had said just that, he had shaken his head and resolutely denied the possibility of failure. Now though… now he was feeling that perhaps he had been mistaken.

Setting her bottle down and reaching out to take Uncle Mike’s hand, Alexx fought with herself for a moment. She knew once she said what was on her mind, there would be no turning back. She knew that everyone would fight her about it, but there was no other option. Dan needed her. Her babies needed her. “Let me go with you, baby.”

His eyes widened as he snapped his head around to stare at Alexx. “Absolutely not!” Lowering his voice before anyone came running, “Alexx, that’s not possible. Sam would never allow it, and I’m sure Horatio would say the same thing.”

Uncle Mike was about to find out just who the most stubborn person in Miami was, and it wasn’t him. Sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed, and her eyes narrowed, “Now don’t you be telling me that it’s going to be too dangerous. You’re worried about them getting hurt. Well so am I. Sam is your baby, and Horatio is mine.” Softening her voice and leaning forward to take Uncle Mike’s hands. “I know you’re not going in with them. It’s not like I’d be going with them either. If I stayed with you, then I’d be safe. No worries. Then when they got back, if anyone was hurt, I could attend to them.” She saw the doubt in his eyes and pushed harder. “I know Roger did a tremendous job stitching up Sam’s arm, but he’s not a doctor. I am.”

His voice was soft, uncertain, “Alexx…”

“Baby, do you think I’m going to be able to sit around here while you all are out there in danger? I think Sam will be able to find your boy, I really do, but I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.” Staring down at the hands held in hers, “You would do anything to keep your babies safe, Dan.” Raising her eyes glistening with unshed tears, “Do you think I would do any less?” Pulling Alexx to him, he wrapped his arms around her waist as she wrapped hers around his neck. Resting her forehead against his shoulder, “I can’t lose Horatio anymore than you can lose Sam or Vince. I have to be there, Dan.”

Taking a deep breath, Uncle Mike sighed. “Alexx, Sam will never agree to this.”

“She’s the best medic I know, Dan.”

Hastily pulling away and wiping her eyes at Eric’s soft voice in the doorway, Alexx turned away and sat down. Looking toward the doorway, Uncle Mike frowned. “How much did you hear?”

Walking in with a beer in his hand, “Enough to know that Alexx is right. Sam and H are going in outnumbered. From the look on Sam’s face when she saw that video, I know she isn’t going to stop until she gets Vince out of there, and that means no matter what happens to her or anyone else going with her. That’s a lot of firepower that they’re going up against, and odds are that someone is going to get hurt. May not be bad, but the odds are there.” Moving to stand behind Alexx’s chair, Eric rested a hand lightly on her shoulder. “I know that if I was going, and if I knew the odds against me, I’d want to know that there was a good medic standing by just in case.”

Reaching up to take Eric’s hand, Alexx smiled up at him gratefully. “Thank you, baby.” Looking at Uncle Mike hopefully, “I swear this wasn’t planned as a tag team, baby, but you need me there as much as I need to be there.”

Draining his bottle, Uncle Mike handed it to Eric silently. Regarding the two beside him, Uncle Mike bowed his head with a ghost of a smile on his lips. “I can’t promise anything, Alexx, but I’ll talk to Sam.” Meeting their eyes, “I wouldn’t mention any of this until I have a chance to talk to her first though.”

Nodding, Eric smiled down at Alexx before turning a serious gaze to Uncle Mike. “You keep her safe.” Waving the empty bottle in the air, “I’ll get you another one.” Disappearing from the room, Eric headed back to the kitchen.

Watching him leave, Alexx sighed. “He means well.”

“I’ll talk to Sam tonight, Alexx. Until then, this conversation is over.”

Knowing he was right, Alexx nodded and finished off her beer.

***

Checking her watch and narrowing her eyes dangerously at the sight of an unmarked, untagged van pulling into the parking lot, Sam growled under her breath. “Heads up.” Slipping off the tail gate, Sam was immediately flanked by Roger to her left and Horatio to her right. Glancing at the men out of the corner of her eye, Horatio stood casually with his arms to his sides, his head dipped and cocked to the side watching the van slowly approach. Roger had his arms crossed with one hand slipped inside his jacket. His eyes were hard as he carefully studied the vehicle. As the van stopped before them, almost twenty feet away, Sam folded her arms with her hand visibly resting on the handle of her SIG.

Parking the van, the driver slowly raised his hands off the wheel and reached out through the open window to open the door. Moving slowly, he was visibly shaken by the presence of the trio awaiting him. With his hands at shoulder level, he stepped to the front of the van. “Agent Giovanni? Samantha Giovanni?” At her brief but silent nod, he swallowed hard. “I have a delivery for you.” When she didn’t move, or appear to relax any, “I have identification in my back pocket. I was sent to deliver a special package that was ordered by Agent Frank McPike.”

Glancing at Roger and Horatio, she motioned for them to follow at a distance. Advancing on the young driver, Sam held out her hand. “Keep your hands up and turn around.” As the man did so, “Which pocket?”

“Left.”

Pulling a wallet from his pocket, Sam flipped it open and read the OCB identification card. “Alright. Turn around and put your arms down.” Handing him back his badge, “McPike just placed the order this morning. Can you tell me how the order was filled and delivered so fast?”

Still eyeing her apparent guards with caution, the young man gestured back to the van. “Agent McPike place the order early and a rush was put on it when one of the armory agents recognized your name. He gave me a message to deliver with the package.”

“And that message is…?”

Smiling briefly and shrugging, “I have no idea, but it’s sitting on the dashboard.” Turning back to the van, he reached in though the window to pull out an envelope. Handing it over, “I didn’t open it. He just never sealed it.”

Opening the envelope and running her finger around the edge of the flap, Sam removed a sheet of paper and unfolded it.

Sam,

Wish there was more I could do to help. You have a lot of agents pulling for you. We know that you won’t give up until you bring Vince home.

Wish I could be there with you, but since I can’t, I put a rush on Frank’s order and filled it myself. I’m sending Agent Delmonico with the shipment. He’s one of my best.

I threw in a few extras for you. Hope you enjoy them. If you need anything else, have Frank call it in. Delmonico is on orders to return as soon as the package is in your hands. I’ll send him back your way if you need more.

Take care, Sam. Be careful.
~Terrance

Sighing deeply, Sam smiled faintly. “Terry is a good man, Agent Delmonico. A good man.” Folding the letter and slipping it into her pocket, “Now let’s see this package.”

Leading the way to the back of the van, Delmonico unlocked the doors and swung them open. Standing to the side as Sam leaned in, “There’s an invoice in one of them. Terry said if you need anything else, just let him know.”

Resting a hand on top of each of the two large weapon storage cases, Sam glanced over her shoulder. “Roger, take the wheel, turn this van around and back it up to the truck. Horatio, guide him in. Delmonico, park it off to the side for a moment please.” Waiting for Delmonico to move aside, Sam hopped into the back of the van and braced herself as Roger turned it around and moved it into position. Stepping from the van to the bed of the truck, Sam gently pulled the cases to the back of the bed as Horatio and Roger carefully transferred them from the van to the truck. Climbing from the truck, Sam held a hand out to Agent Delmonico. “I want to thank you for everything, Agent. Tell Terry I owe him one, and once I take a good look through everything, I may end up giving him another call.”

Accepting her hand and shaking it soundly, Delmonico smiled widely. “I’ll tell him, and I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to hearing from you.” Regarding Horatio and Roger just a bit more calmly before nodding to Sam, “Good luck to you, Agent Giovanni. You may not be an active Agent anymore, but you and Vince are still the best the Bureau has, and I wish you all the best in bringing him home.”

Sam was at a loss for words. Here was an Agent she had only just met and apparently he knew more about her than she would ever know about him. “Thank you again. Have a safe trip back to D.C.” Saying a quick goodbye to the men that he hadn’t even met, Delmonico settled behind the wheel of the van and drove off. Watching the van leave the parking lot, Sam turned to Roger. “Follow us. We’ll take this to the plane and unload there.” Flipping up the tailgate, Sam climbed back into the bed and dropped her jacket between the cases. Looking down at Horatio, “Slide open the back window in case I need to talk to you. I’m riding back here with this stuff. There’s no way I’m taking any chances with it. Drive straight to the airfield so we can unload. After that, we’ll head to Alexx’s.”

Frowning at the thought of Sam riding in the open, Horatio paused with his hand on the door as Roger fired up the motorcycle. Watching her settle between the cases and remove her weapon from the holster, Horatio only slightly relaxed when she took off the safety and chambered a round. She wasn’t taking chances, and with a quick look across the bed at Roger, Horatio watched him remove his firearm from the holster under his jacket and check the chamber. Raising an eyebrow as Roger looked his way and nodded, Horatio reluctantly reached into the truck and pushed open the back window. Crossing his arms on the side of the bed, “Keep your eyes open. Lights wouldn’t be a problem if we had the Hummer, but we don’t. You don’t have a siren in this truck, and running lights is going to be dangerous.”

Wedged between the cases, Sam knew he was worried. “Stopping for red lights with this cargo is going to be even more dangerous. Use your judgment, Horatio. If we can safely clear traffic, then do it. If you think it’s too risky, then don’t. Either way, I need to know your plan so that I can signal Roger to follow or stop.” Glancing over at Roger, “Old field signals for stop and go.”

Nodding absently as he slipped his weapon back under his jacket, Roger raised his voice to be heard over the roar of the bike’s engine. “Leave all turn signals off. Don’t worry about letting me know beforehand about turns. You turn, I’ll follow.”

Locking eyes with Roger, Sam set her jaw and nodded once. “Ride safe, Rog. Don’t get too close, but stay in range.” Turning to look up at Horatio, “Alright, let’s go.” Settling back against the cab, Sam kept an ear turned toward the open window, and an eye on the road as Horatio left the parking lot with Roger hot on their tail.

Zipping through the city, the fates were apparently with them as they only hit two red lights and those were easily cleared with no cross traffic to stop them. Driving through the gate to the airfield, Horatio pulled the truck up to the side of Roger’s plane as Roger parked the bike and pulled out his cell phone. Seconds later, the plane’s door opened and the men hauled the cases onboard. Following on their heels as they took the second case up the steps, Sam stepped onto the plane and closed the door.

Roger was already opening one of the cases when Sam joined him. Looking up and handing her the invoice, “You two go to dinner. I’m staying here to go through this stuff.”

Scowling as Roger turned away, Sam read the paper in her hands and shook her head. “Rog, this dinner is for the team. That means you too. This can all wait until we get back.”

When he looked up, Roger’s eyes held that same sad and haunted look that she’d seen numerous times in the past. His voice was soft as he shook his head, “Sammy, you know I don’t like crowds and I hate being cooped up. Those people are your team, not mine. You go and be with your team and your family. Let me do what I do best, and I’ll go through all of this.” Reaching up to take her hand, “Bring me back something later. I need to do this, Sammy.”

Squeezing his hand and laying the invoice on top of the case in front of him, Sam knew she couldn’t pull him away. “Keep your head down, Rog. We’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Turning his attention to the case before him, “Get going, Sammy. I’ll be here when you get back.” Rising to follow her and Horatio to the door, Roger watched them until they were in the truck and pulling away from the plane before shutting and securing the door. Poking his head into the cockpit, he left instructions with the copilot to stay alert before disappearing toward the back of the plane to go through the weapons.

***

Arriving at Alexx’s just past six, Sam and Horatio walked in to find everyone gathered in the dining room while Eric brought in the food. Taking a seat next to Uncle Mike, Sam looked across the table at Frank, “Terry sent me a message with the shipment. If there’s anything else I need, then he said just to call it in and he’d make sure it’s delivered.”

With his eyes on the doorway to the hall, Frank frowned. “So where is he?”

Biting her tongue to keep from arguing, “I left him to go through the shipment.” Turning toward Alexx and glancing at Eric apologetically when he entered the dining room, “Roger isn’t one for the whole group thing. He isn’t comfortable with a lot of people and he didn’t want to ruin the evening for everyone else.”

Setting a bottle in front of Horatio and a glass in front of Sam, Eric smiled. “Then I’ll just have to make sure to save him some. You can take it to him later then.”

Eyeing the beer bottle in front him, Horatio raised an eyebrow at Alexx. “Baby, drink it. We’re considering this a small victory. You may be driving later, but you can still have one.”

Shaking her head with a smile, Sam almost laughed at the comical look on Horatio’s face as he looked her way. “It’s your beer. If you want it, drink it. I can’t stand that crap.” Lifting her glass, “So I guess I’ll stick with the soda.” Missing the look passing between Uncle Mike and Eric, Sam almost choked as the liquid burned as she swallowed it. Sniffing the glass, she did a double take as the strong whiskey scent finally hit her. Clearing her throat roughly, “Or maybe I’ll stick with the spiked soda.” Turning a reproachful eye toward Uncle Mike, “The Jack your idea?”

“Actually, Sam…” Eric started dishing out the stuffed peppers and passed the plates to Alexx to load them with the spiced rice, “I asked Dan earlier what you preferred, and I picked up a small bottle when I picked up the beer for the rest of us.” Raising his eyes with a glimmer of humor, “Is it too strong?”

She’d promised not to drink in Horatio’s house, but this was Alexx’s house. It still didn’t feel right. The couple shots at the club were only to dull the pain, but that was different. Lowering her head and shifting her eyes to Horatio beside her, he nodded reassuringly. He wasn’t going to judge her, and he wasn’t going to hold it against her. Taking a deep breath, Sam raised the glass once more and took a long swallow. Now that she knew what to expect, the burn wasn’t a surprise and it went down smoother. Closing her eyes briefly, a sigh escaped her lips. “No, definitely not too strong. It was just a surprise.”

Passing the plates around the table, Eric made sure there was enough left over so that Roger would have some later. Dinner was quiet, relaxed. They all knew they were close to bringing this mess to an end, but none wanted to admit that they were having a hard time accepting that their time together would soon be over as well. The drinks were good, but the food was better. Of course Sam had already had this delicious dish when she first went over to Horatio’s, but it just as good now as it was then.

Halfway through the meal, Sam’s cell phone went off, and with a quick check of the caller id, she quietly excused herself from the table to take the call. Walking down the hallway to the living room, “What’s up, Rog?”

“You’re not going to believe what was in these cases, Sammy. That invoice I handed you only listed what Frank ordered. There was a second invoice on the bottom of the second case. That one lists what your friend Terry added.”

Sam’s eyes lit up. “Tell me.”

With a light chuckle in his voice, “You’ll see it when you get here. I just wanted to let you know that if Frank and Dan want the hotel room, tell them it’s theirs. I think with this much firepower sitting on the plane, I’m going to crash here for the duration. That way this is all protected and no one is going to mess with anything.”

Her mind was already on track with Roger’s. She knew how he thought. “And if anyone makes a move, it’s mobile. You can take to the sky if you have to in order to protect yourself and the cargo.”

“Sammy…” Roger sighed. “If anyone was stupid enough to try to attack the plane, then yes, this bird could be in the air in a moment. But know that if it came to that, you would know before the wheels ever left the ground, and you should know by now, that I would never try to take off and bring Vince back without you.”

Shaking her head with a sigh, “I know you wouldn’t leave without us, Rog. Just keep your head down. We’ll be there soon with food, and I’ll let Frank and Uncle Mike know.” Hanging up, Sam returned to the dining room and relayed the message.

“Roger’s a smart man, Sam. The weapons will be safe with him.” Glancing across the table at Frank, Uncle Mike arched an eyebrow. “How’s the connection at the room?”

Rolling his eyes, Frank shrugged. “I have no idea, Dan. It’s not like I was checking it out.” Running a hand through his hair, “I know it has wireless, but I don’t know how secure or how strong of a signal.”

Looking sideways at Sam sitting beside him with her head bowed, Uncle Mike touched her arm lightly. “Sam, don’t worry. You know it’s going to take me some time to get everything in order. If I stay at the hotel with Frank, then at least you have your room and you don’t have to sleep on the sofa.”

“I know.” Draining her glass, Sam left the room to mix herself a second glass. Walking back into the room, Sam’s eyes traveled around the table. “Alright, there’s more we need to discuss and figure out. Some happens to be a little more touchy than the rest.” Reclaiming her seat and pushing her empty plate aside, “First, Eric, Calleigh, you two are still bunking here with Alexx until this is finished?”

Sharing a smile with Alexx, Calleigh nodded. “Yeah, Eric and I decided that we can leave in shifts if we have to, but neither of us wants Alexx staying alone.”

“Fine.” Looking from Uncle Mike to Alexx, “Then I want you to give Joseph a call before we leave. Ask him to swing by so that Uncle Mike can cut him a check.”

Shaking his head, Uncle Mike broke in. “Sam, it may not be necessary for him to have to stop by. If Alexx can call him and I can get his banking information, then I can wire the funds directly as soon as Frank and I get to the hotel. That will save him a trip.”

Taking a sip from her glass, Sam thought it over and nodded. “Alright, why don’t you two go call him and get the information from him? Tell him that I appreciate all he’s done to help us, and that I’m sorry for any inconvenience it may have caused him. When you two are done, come back in here please. There’s something else I need to discuss.” Waiting for them to leave the room, “Frank, keep an eye on Uncle Mike. He’ll probably close himself off in one of the bedrooms, and that’s fine because he’ll need the space to work. Make sure he eats though. You know how he can get when he’s busting through Intel.”

Nodding slowly, Frank was all business. “Room service is available twenty four seven. The entire stay is on the Bureau whether they like it or not. Roger already went through the room, and I’ll give it a once over when we get back there. It’s secure, Sam.”

“Good. That takes care of that.” Glancing at Eric and Calleigh, “I don’t expect trouble here, but since everyone is technically on downtime now, I would suggest one of you on watch while the other crashes. Keep shifts short so that neither of you gets drained.” Pausing as Uncle Mike and Alexx walk back into the room, Sam slowly rose to pace the room. “This is the most important part, and the touchiest.” Looking around the table at her assembled team, Sam had played it over in her head many times but it was never any easier to accept. Dropping a hand on Uncle Mike’s shoulder, “I’m sure you’ve already thought about this, but I want to let you know that I’ve been thinking about it from the beginning. I haven’t figured out any way around it though.” Sighing as she bowed her head for a moment, “It took me a while to accept Horatio’s offer to accompany me when I go after Vinnie.” Resting her other hand on Horatio’s shoulder, and looking down at him, “I couldn’t get my mind around taking you away from Miami. This is your town, these are your people. Miami wouldn’t be the same without you. That’s why I had such a hard time accepting you coming along. I didn’t, and I still don’t, want anything to happen to you. But I know I can’t do it alone, and Roger isn’t going to be enough. We still have a lot of planning to do between the three of us.”

Reaching up to cover her hand with his, Horatio simply smiled up at her and nodded.

Taking a deep breath, Sam sighed. “As hard as it was for me to accept Horatio going along with me, this was even harder. I know Uncle Mike. I know how he thinks, and I know how he worries. Vinnie is hurt. We now have an idea how badly he’s hurt thanks to the video. Up to this point, I wasn’t sure if Vinnie would be able to get out on his own or not, or if he’d be able to get out at all. So I started thinking about injuries.” Looking around the table, Sam’s eyes slowly fell on Alexx. “Uncle Mike would fight tooth and nail to protect his family and keep us safe. So I know he’s thought about what could happen. I know that he knows the dangers and the possibilities of us getting hurt. Roger has extensive field training. You know that from how he took care of my arm. Problem is, if the injuries are severe, or if Roger is injured, that leaves us in a bind.”

Clenching Sam’s hand on his shoulder, Horatio snapped his head around to look up at her. She couldn’t be thinking what he thought she was.

Ignoring the look on Horatio’s face, Sam’s eyes locked with Alexx’s. “I need a medic that I can trust. I need the best that I know.”

Pushing his chair back forcibly, Horatio shot to his feet. “You can’t be serious!”

“Horatio, baby, sit down. Dan and I already discussed this.”

As Horatio turned toward Alexx, Sam looked down at Uncle Mike. “When?”

Ever calm, Uncle Mike met her surprised eyes, “Earlier while you were all waiting for the delivery.”

Alexx could see Horatio visibly fighting himself to accept the situation and left her seat to approach him. Nodding to Sam, Alexx took his hands in hers, “Horatio, baby, think about it. Dan isn’t going to be in the field with you. He’ll be safe on the plane and I can stay there with him. Then when you all get back, I can take care of all of you.”

Pulling his hand away, his voice caught in his throat. Drawing a shaky breath, Horatio knew she would be safe, but the mere thought of her going with them put his mind in turmoil. “Alexx,” his voice was pleading, “think about your children.”

Reaching up to touch his cheek, Alexx’s eyes glistened with tears. “Baby, I am. You are one of my children.” Releasing his hand and reaching past him to pull Sam to his side, Alexx looked from one to the other. “Horatio, you’ve been my baby for a long time now and if you think I’m going to be able to sit around here calmly waiting for you to come back while not knowing if you’re alright or not, then you’re crazy. I’d be worrying about you the entire time, and I’d probably end up driving poor Eric and Calleigh insane in the process.” Squeezing Sam’s hand, “And you baby girl…” A tear fell from Alexx’s eye and slowly trickled down her cheek. “You came to us looking for help and we all promised that we would do everything we could to give you just that. I’m the chief M.E., baby. I don’t work in the lab, I don’t work with computers, and I don’t listen to audio. I deal with bodies. Most of the time they’re dead, but I’m still a medic.”

“Best one that I know of.”

Dropping her head quickly to hide a smile at Eric’s words, Alexx looked back up at Sam and Horatio. “You need me. That poor baby of yours is hurt, and he’s going to need attention when you get him out. I don’t want to think about any of the rest of you getting hurt, but like you said, it’s possible, and if it happens, then you’re going to need me all the more.” Alexx wasn’t speaking just to get Sam to accept her help. Sam had brought it up, and although it had surprised her when Sam had mentioned it, Alexx was more concerned about how Horatio had reacted and was trying her best to alleviate his fears.

Closing his eyes tightly, Horatio bowed his head. A three person team going in after Sam’s brother. That had been the plan. Dan was going for Intel, but that was it. There wasn’t suppose to be anyone else. Eric and Calleigh were damn good shots, but even they were being held back in Miami. He hadn’t said it, but he had been relieved when Sam had told them that they wouldn’t be going as part of the team. At least they would be safe, but now Alexx? He knew that Sam saw this as suicide. He knew that they were outnumbered, and outgunned, and that there was high probability of one of them getting hurt, and that Alexx was the best, but he was having a hard time agreeing with taking her along. She’d be safe on the plane with Dan. Of that he was certain, but it didn’t matter. Even on the plane, she was still in hostile territory.

Watching the uncertainty play across Horatio’s face, Alexx’s heart went out to him. Dropping Sam’s hand, Alexx led him from the room to quietly talk to him alone.

Dropping back in her seat, Sam looked at Uncle Mike. “I wish you had told me that you had already talked to her about this.”

Lowering his eyes, “I’m sorry, Sam. We were talking about it before you came, and I was planning on talking to you about it later. I didn’t think you’d bring it up. Hell, I didn’t even think you were entertaining the idea.”

Sighing and leaning her head back to stare at the ceiling, “I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to get around it, but I haven’t been able to.”

“Baby girl? Could you come to the kitchen for a moment please?”

Sighing heavily, Sam rose and walked into the kitchen. Horatio had his back to her with his elbows propped on the counter and his face in his upturned hands. Alexx stood beside him with her hand on his shoulder. Biting her lip, Sam stared at Horatio’s back and felt a pain rip through her chest. She’d promised she wouldn’t hurt him, and by asking Alexx to accompany them, she’d done just that.

Watching Sam’s reaction, Alexx noted the quivering chin and the dampness at the corners of her eyes. Holding out her free hand, “Come here, baby girl.” Gently turning Horatio toward her as Sam took her offered hand, Alexx pulled them both to her and felt their arms encircle her waist and each other. “Baby girl, you couldn’t do it alone and so you brought in my baby boy here to help. You knew that wouldn’t be enough, and you called your friend to help thinking that would help keep Horatio safe. I love you for that, for wanting to keep him safe.” She hadn’t known that it was going to be this hard to get them to accept her help. Lightly brushing her lips against Horatio’s forehead, “You wanted me to think about my babies, and I am. My babies are safe with my sister and what kind of mother would I be if I let two more of my babies go off somewhere dangerous without doing what I could to protect them? What kind of message does that send to my little ones?”

He knew she was right. He knew she would be safe. He knew she would fight him up to the moment that they either took off, or until he accepted the situation and allowed her to go with them. Looking at Sam, he saw her pain. He knew she hadn’t meant to hurt him, and her eyes told him that she knew that she had. He also saw that she wouldn’t accept Alexx’s help unless he accepted it first. Stepping away from the women, Horatio opened the refrigerator and took out a second beer. Removing the cap, he drained half the bottle before turning back to them. A suicide mission. He knew the risks that Sam was taking going into this with only her and Roger on the ground. Grinding his teeth, Horatio emptied the bottle and set it on the counter. “Alright, but under two conditions.” Ticking off a finger, “One, you stay on the plane at all times and under no circumstances do you get off that plane while we’re in hostile territory.” Flipping up a second finger, “Two…” Slowly walking back to the women, he wrapped his arms around them both and sighed as they rested their heads on his shoulders and slipped an arm around his waist. “And two, talk to me first next time. Don’t just drop a bomb like this on me and expect me to be alright with it. I need time to process and accept situations like this.”

Stepping away and looking up at her newest friend, Sam nodded solemnly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you, Horatio. It’s just… after seeing that video and what they did to Vinnie, and knowing our chances of getting out unscathed… I need someone other than just Roger to be on hand when we get back to the plane. I need experience and I need the best.” Looking at Alexx, “Believe me, it wasn’t easy for me to deal with this either, but the same way I didn’t have many options with who take in the field with me, I saw even less when it came to trusted medics.”

Stepping back and taking Horatio’s hand, Alexx smiled. “Alright, baby. I promise. Now let’s get back to the table and get dinner finished up so that you two can get back to business and Dan can get back to analyzing everything to get us on the road.”

Falling instep behind Alexx, Sam smiled as Horatio took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Looking up at him, “You’re cut off. I’ll drive back to the plane.” At his raised eyebrow, “I’ve only had one. The one on the table is strictly soda.” Smiling wider at his sheepish grin, Sam dropped his hand as they entered the dining room. “Let’s wrap things up here. Alexx is going with us when we leave. That’s settled now. Horatio and I are going to slip out of here so we can get back to the plane and go through everything.” Dropping a hand on Uncle Mike’s arm, “When we leave the plane, I’ll get your stuff from the house and bring it over to the hotel for you. We’ll call on the way.” Leaning down to kiss his cheek, Sam quickly walked over to Frank and wrapped her arms around his neck. Whispering in his ear, “Keep an eye on him.” Planting a wet kiss on his forehead, Sam smirked as he hastily wiped it away. Saying goodnight to Calleigh, Sam spun around as Eric handed a covered plate and two beers to Horatio. Giving Eric a tight hug, Sam thanked him for dinner and for the plate for Roger. “Stay in touch. Call us later and let us know what’s going on. I don’t expect call ins during the night, but if anything turns up, or there’s any action, call immediately.”

Waving goodnight, Sam and Horatio left. Climbing behind the wheel of the Hummer, Sam waited patiently for Horatio to hand over the keys. Driving to the airfield, Sam called ahead and when they pulled up to the plane, Roger opened the door to let them inside.

Chapter Text

Handing Roger his meal and the two beers, Sam accepted the two invoices from him as he sat down in the nearest seat to eat. Reading through the two lists, her eyes lit up. Shaking her head in disbelief, “I can’t believe it. Terry, I owe you one.” Looking at Roger, she smiled when he nodded his head to the rear of the plane. Making her way further into the plane, Sam handed the sheets to Horatio as she knelt to inspect the contents.

Reading the lists slowly, and then going through them once more, a low whistle escaped Horatio as Sam opened the cases. Each case held an impressive arsenal. There were two Remington 700 sniper rifles each with its own scope, one M24 which was a military modified version of the Remington 700 sniper rifle but used longer range ammunition, two SIG 229’s, four M9’s, magazines for the side arms, and packed boxes of ammunition for the rifles. Rechecking the lists in his hand, “What about the rest of this stuff on here?”

Gingerly removing the handguns and magazines, Sam removed the foam insert and sat back on her heels as she beamed proudly up at Horatio. “Thus why I owe Terry big time.” Nestled in a layer of foam, Sam gazed down at her added presents. Three fragment grenades and three stun grenades. Raising her voice so that Roger could hear her, “You went through these completely, right?”

Finishing his meal and washing it down with the first beer, “If you mean did I find the grenades at the bottom of the case, then yes. I went through them completely.” Walking back to join them, “I’m impressed. Frank asked for the Remingtons and the SIGs since he knew your preference and had the intelligence to request enough rounds for them all.” Opening his own bag of goodies, Roger added an M40A3 to the rifle case. “If I had known that Frank was shopping for us, I wouldn’t have bothered with bringing my own.”

Studying the contents of the cases before her, Sam sighed. “Well, looks like the sniper position is well taken care of. Horatio, you get this case and take one of the SIGs too. I’ll end up with the other SIG to match mine, as well as two of the 9s in case Vinnie can move on his own and can handle the pieces. Rog, that leaves you the other two 9s.”

Shaking his head, Roger crossed his arms and frowned. “Horatio can have the entire rifle case, but the one is mine. I’ll take the two side arms in addition to my rifle. We’ll split the grenades between us. Just remember to get under cover when you throw those frags.”

Rolling her eyes, Sam carefully repositioned the top layer of foam and transferred the handguns back to the case. “Just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my training or what it’s like in the field. Same thing applies to the flash bangs. Toss it in a room or around the corner and take cover so the flash doesn’t blind you too. Got it.” Grinning as Roger shook his head, “Seriously though, besides the rifle, I don’t know what else you brought. This is a nice start, but personally, I think we need more. I know we can’t possibly carry a whole lot, but I’d like a little more.”

Thinking about the rounds and the rifles, Horatio’s brow furrowed in thought. “You can take the 24 if you want it. The two 700’s should be fine.”

Chuckling lightly, Sam closed the lids and sat on the floor. Setting the lists on the case lid, she held a hand out to Roger. “Pen, please?” Grinning as he tossed one in her lap, “The rifles are yours. Keep them loaded and you can switch between them as you need to. I plan on putting in another order with Terry.” Scratching notes on the back of the invoice, “Besides my M9 that I got marksman with, I also like my simple M16.” Glancing up, “Marksman with single shot at just over 400 meters.”

Patting her shoulder, Horatio smiled. “Not bad, but definitely not sniper material.”

Rolling her eyes, “You know what, don’t start. I’m more assault trained than sniper trained. You want cover, I can give you that. I already know your background which is why you’re the sniper and I’m not. The only one here that could give you a run for the money is Roger, and I need him on the ground with me.” Glancing up at Roger and groaning, “Forget it. We’re not having a show. Besides, you two aren’t that different. You both have ranges over 1600 meters.”

Sharing a look with Horatio, Roger’s eyes widened with respect. Holding out his hand, “I may have underestimated you, Alger.”

Horatio wasn’t sure if he liked being called Alger, but he had to admit that it was better than Buckwheat. Accepting Roger’s hand, “Not wise to underestimate anyone. It’s a bad habit that you can fall into.”

Shaking her head and climbing to her feet, “Enough. I want to get a list together to get it to Terry. What else do we want?”

Back to business. Making sure the cases were securely locked, Roger led the way back up front where they all sat down. “Get your 16 if you really want it. I wouldn’t mind if we had a few more frags and stuns to go with the ones he already sent. We’re going to need more ammo all around. Belts and ammo pouches would be great. I don’t feel like trying to fit a dozen or so magazines in my pockets along with the grenades.”

Making notes, Sam glanced up at Horatio. “Anything else you want to add?”

Leaning back in the leather seat, Horatio narrowed his eyes and thought about it for a moment. “Stick with boxed ammunition for the most part. Have him send extra magazines as well that you can load yourself if you have to.”

“Explosives.”

Snapping her head around to Roger, her eyebrow arched. “With what we have already, is that really necessary?”

Crossing his arms and leaning back on the white leather sofa, Roger nodded matter-of-factly. “C4 comes in blocks that weigh a little more than a pound each. They’re about a foot long and about two inches thick and wide. It doesn’t take a lot of it to do a lot of damage, Sammy. Two or three blocks with detonators and electric timers, or detonators with remote triggering devices would go a long way. If we can get in where ever Vince is being held, then we could set up a few devices on timers to act as diversions, and the rest we could set up with remote triggers that we could set off as we needed them, or give the triggers to Alger to set off to slow them down on our way out.”

Rolling it over in her mind, Sam nodded briefly and added it to the list. Looking around the small plane, Sam sighed. “Rog, are you sure you want to stay cooped up on the plane?”

Eyeing the case in the back, Roger shrugged. “I’m not about to leave that back there unattended. I may trust my copilot, but that’s an awfully big reason to try to make a hit here.” Casting a lopsided grin at Sam, “Don’t worry, Sammy. I’ll keep my head down, and I’ll keep everything safe here. I’m not going to take off without you.”

Folding the sheets and slipping them into her pocket, Sam got up to leave. As Roger rose, she smiled fondly at her friend and wrapped her arms around his neck. Kissing him lightly on the cheek, “Stay safe, Rog. We’ll get together tomorrow to figure out where we all stand and what the plan is. Hopefully we don’t have to wait too long for Uncle Mike to get all the Intel in place.”

Returning the hug with a great tenderness, his earlier talk with her still fresh in his mind, “Go rest, Sammy. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” Releasing her, Roger nodded a good night to Horatio and watched them leave. Locking up the plane securely, Roger sat with his second beer and tried to find a way to get around his promise that he never quite made.

***

Driving back to the House, Sam looked over at Horatio sitting quietly staring out the window. “What’s wrong?” When he didn’t answer or even turn to look at her, she frowned. “I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you first about asking Alexx to come along as our medic. I should have said something to you first. Alexx is part of your team, your family, and I had no right to just drop that on you like I did.”

Watching the night slowly pass them by, his voice was quiet. “I could have used a little warning, but don’t think that you have to apologize, Sam. It’s not that.”

Stopping at a light, Sam turned to look at him. His face was still averted, so she had no idea what was going through his head. Her mind raced. She had been sure that it had to do with Alexx, but if not that, then… Reaching over slowly to touch his arm, Sam slid her hand down to his wrist gently pulling his hand closer. Taking his hand as the light turned green, “You’re not him, Horatio. Not even close.”

Turning to regard the woman behind the wheel, his eyes were sad, full of regret. “You don’t know that.”

Flashing Horatio a reassuring smile as she pulled the Hummer into the driveway, “I do know that. Now wait here and I’ll be right out. I have to gather Uncle Mike’s things so we can take them to the hotel.” Noting the brief nod as he turned to look out his window, Sam squeezed his hand. “I’ll be right back.” Walking to the back door, Sam shook her head. Would have been easier to take the keys from the ignition and use the front door. Letting herself inside, Sam locked the back door and made her way through the darkened house. Stopping in the bedroom, she retrieved the laptop, Uncle Mike’s duffle bag, and his guitar. Walking out the front door and locking it behind her, Sam dumped everything in the backseat and climbed behind the wheel. Pulling out her cell phone, she called for directions to the hotel. Backing out of the driveway, Sam headed back across town. Parking in front of the hotel, Sam grinned as Frank walked outside to meet them. “He wasn’t in a hurry for his things, was he?”

Shouldering the duffle bag, Frank tucked the laptop under his arm and took the guitar. “You know how he gets, Sam. He’s in his element and he wants to get you guys moving faster than you want him to get you moving.” Glancing in the passenger seat, Frank raised an eyebrow. “Is he alright?”

Nodding slowly, “Yeah, just tired. I think we all are.”

“Uh huh.” Shaking his head because he knew there was more going on, but he didn’t want to get into it right then and there, “Go home and get some rest. Everyone needs to be ready when Dan gives the signal to move.” Walking back to the front doors, Frank said his goodnights and promised to touch base in the morning before heading back inside.

Driving back to Horatio’s, Sam kept glancing over at him. She was worried. He still hadn’t said much, and she knew that the drinking had bothered him. “You’re nothing like your father, Horatio.” Her voice was low, but it got his attention. When he looked at her with doubt in his eyes, she realized just how much it bothered him and she tried to make him smile. “You’re a grown man, Horatio. You’re the best cop in Miami, you have your own place, you know how to make your own dinner, you have running water, and you even have long distance calling on your phone.” When he bowed his head, she thought she caught a ghost of a smile playing at his lips. “You’re old enough to have a beer, Horatio. You can even have a couple if you want to.”

He knew she was trying to make him feel better, but it wasn’t working. “You have no idea if I’m anything like him or not.”

Holding out her hand, Sam smiled as he hesitantly reached out to take it. Lacing her fingers with his, Sam pulled into the driveway and turned off the engine. Turning in her seat to face this troubled man beside her, “I do know, Horatio. I know that while you stopped after two beers, your father wouldn’t have. I know that while you’re sitting here fighting with yourself for having a drink tonight, you’re regretting not just having that second bottle, you’re beating yourself up all the more for having the first one. I know that while you’re sitting here second guessing yourself, your father would not have been feeling one ounce of the remorse that you’re feeling now.” Reaching over to cup his chin and raise his head to meet his eyes, “Stop comparing yourself to him. You’re a better man than your father ever was. Don’t you ever doubt that.”

He always hated drinking. Every time he did, he always remembered his father vividly. No other time in his life did he ever compare himself to his father, except when he drank. He knew he wasn’t the monster that his father had been, but it had always started with that first drink. Searching Sam’s eyes, “You could have had a second. Why didn’t you?”

Bowing her head with a chuckle, “I wasn’t going to have the first one until I took that first swallow and realized what it was. The only reason I drank it was because Eric had already mixed it, and although it was Alexx’s house, it was Eric’s dinner.” Cocking her head to look sideways at Horatio, “And I didn’t need a second drink. The bottle is still sitting on Alexx’s counter and that’s where it will stay.” Handing him his keys, “Why don’t we go inside, grab some tea and go sit on the porch for a while? I think we could both use some air, and I want to think about my shopping list some more before I call it in.”

Releasing her hand, Horatio walked to the front door to let them in. “Go work on your list. I’ll make us some tea.”

Following him in the house, Sam sighed as she watched his shoulders slump. Stopping in the living room, she turned on the stereo and walked outside. Sitting on the porch steps, she removed the list from her pocket and read through it. She was going to have to talk to Horatio about getting a cover fire weapon. The rifles were nice, but she wanted something that could cover more ground quickly just in case. She was certain that Roger hadn’t pulled out his entire arsenal, but she felt he would have himself covered no matter what. Looking out over the water, Sam sighed.

Walking out onto the porch, Horatio sat on the steps beside Sam. Offering her a cup, he removed a pen from his pocket and handed it to her as well.

Smiling faintly as she took the pen, Sam added a few things to the list… Comm units. She wanted something good. Throat mics and wireless mini ear bud receivers that Uncle Mike could program to what ever frequency he needed. She needed four. Uncle Mike would have his own setup but she wanted to make sure that Vinnie was covered too.

“Add another 16 to your list. It’s small enough that it won’t slow me down if I put it in the case with the rifles.”

Making the note, Sam set the list aside and wrapped her hands around her cup. “I was thinking about that. The rifles are going to work well, but they’re single shot bolt action. It would take a while to reload if we’re under heavy fire. I wanted to get you something that could cover some ground quickly.”

His thoughts kept turning to what she had said earlier about him comparing himself to his father. He knew she was right, but it didn’t stop the memories. Slowly drinking his tea, he closed his eyes and let the sound of waves wash over him. “Thirty round clips. None of those ten shot ones. Half a dozen at the least. I can pick off targets with the rifles, but if anyone gets too close to you guys, then I can switch over and give the area a good sweep.”

Listening to the mixture of Uncle Mike’s cd drifting through the house, and the sound of the surf rolling up onto the beach, Sam nodded silently and sipped at her tea. Knowing Uncle Mike, it would only be a matter of days before they were heading out. Thinking about the man beside her, Sam bowed her head and thought about how much she wished things would turn out alright. She found herself wondering what it would be like to finally be happy, but knowing the odds against them, she was certain that it would never happen.

Horatio could sense her unease. “What’s wrong, Sam?”

She didn’t want to hurt him, and that was what was wrong. “Thinking. Worrying about Vinnie. Worrying about all of us. I want to get out there, Horatio. Vinnie is so close now…” Her voice trailed off.

She needed to find him. He’d promised to help her to the end. “Sam, Dan is going to work as fast as he can. You know that. You said it yourself, he’s the best. It shouldn’t take him long to piece everything together.” His insides were twisting. Once Dan had their destination, then they were on the move. Once they got Vince back, then it was over. He knew that they had agreed to wait until everything was over to talk about things between them, but in his heart he felt that as soon as they were back, Sam would be leaving. Frank, Dan, Vince… they were her family. She would go where ever they went or where ever they needed her. In his heart, Horatio knew that she would be leaving Miami. Finishing his tea, Horatio stood and stretched. “I’m going to take a shower, and after that, I think we should both try to get some sleep. We all need to be as rested as we can since we don’t know when we’re leaving.”

“Alright. I’ll be in soon.” Biting her lip as Horatio walked inside, Sam sighed. Her heart was heavy. Draining her cup and adding Horatio’s requests to the list, Sam folded the paper and put it back in her pocket with the intentions of calling Terry first thing in the morning. Turning her eyes to the heavens, Sam drew a shuddering breath before bowing her head. Hang in there, Vin. I’m coming. Collecting her cup and walking inside, Sam locked the door behind her and stopped briefly in the kitchen before heading for the living room. Curling up in the corner of the sofa, Sam pulled out her cell phone and dialed Uncle Mike’s number. When he finally answered, “I just wanted to say goodnight.”

He was in the middle of cross checking everything that Calleigh and Eric had accumulated, and he hated being disturbed. But when he heard the sadness in Sam’s voice, he quietly shut the laptop. “Sam? What’s wrong?”

The shower was still running, and the cd was still playing. Blinking back tears, she closed her eyes. “Just worried.” When he didn’t say anything, “I know you and Frank don’t want to think about it, but I want you to promise me something. If anything happens to me, then I want you to make Horatio understand that I never meant to hurt him. That I really did mean it when I said I wanted to try to see if there could be anything between us.”

“Oh, Sam….” Uncle Mike closed his eyes and tried hard to swallow past the lump in his throat. “Don’t be talking like that. Everything is going to work out. You’ll see.”

Absently wiping at the tears that had fallen from beneath her eyelids, “I hope so. I really do, but I want you to promise just the same. Just in case.”

As the tears fell from his eyes, he forced himself to keep his voice strong and steady. He couldn’t let her know that she was voicing his own fears. “Fine. I’m only promising as a just in case thing. You give me time, Sam. I’m working as fast as I can, but I have to cover all the bases.”

Her voice was a mere whisper as she heard the shower turn off. Hastily wiping her eyes, “I know. I just wanted to say goodnight and I’ll talk to you tomorrow. I’m going to try to get some sleep.” As Uncle Mike said goodnight, Sam hung up and headed for the guest room. She didn’t want Horatio to know she had been crying. Quietly closing her door, she heard Horatio walk through the house and stop outside her door.

Knocking softly, he couldn’t see any lights shining under the door, but he didn’t think she’d be asleep already. “Sam? Is everything alright?”

Sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark, Sam bowed her head. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I was just touching base with Uncle Mike. I told him we were turning in early and that I’d talk to him tomorrow.”

She hadn’t invited him in, so he leaned against the doorframe. When he realized she wasn’t coming out, he rested his hand lightly against the door. “Try to get some sleep, Sam. If you need anything…” Turning away as his voice faded, he wanted to tell her that if she needed anything, then he would be there for her. Walking to his room, he paused when he heard her door open.

With her pajamas draped over her shoulder, Sam shared a tired smile with him. “Then I know where you are, Lieutenant.” Stopping by his side, she allowed him to pull her toward him. Resting her head against his shoulder, Sam slipped an arm around his waist and closed her eyes. God she felt so damn safe in his arms. Stepping away before her emotions got the best of her once more, “I think there’s a hot shower calling my name, and after that, I’m going to try to get some sleep.” Brushing a hand against his cheek, “Go to bed, Horatio. I’ll be fine.” When he didn’t move, Sam disappeared into the bathroom and listened to his door close. Turning on the water, Sam stepped into the shower.

Sitting on the edge of his bed looking out the window over the ocean beyond, Horatio secured his weapon in the nightstand and waited until he heard Sam return to her room before stretching out and trying to find a much needed peaceful sleep.

***

Waking from a dreamless sleep, Sam stretched and rolled over to check the time. The bright red numbers on the clock stared back at her and she groaned quietly. 2:34am. A little over four hours of sleep and she was now staring at the ceiling trying to figure out what had woken her. Leaning up on an elbow, Sam cocked her head toward the door and frowned as she thought she heard Uncle Mike’s cd playing. Glancing at the nightstand, she shook her head. Wondering what could have had Horatio up so early, Sam quietly left her room and silently moved down the hallway to the living room.

The moonlight was shining through the front window and cast a pale glow around the room. Sitting on the sofa with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, Horatio never moved when Sam entered the room. “I didn’t mean to wake you, Sam.”

As Horatio slowly climbed to his feet, Sam knew he was going to turn off the stereo and that what ever was bothering him, he wasn’t ready to talk about it. Beating him to the stereo, she turned up the volume ever so slightly and bowed her head with her eyes closed. “This is probably my favorite piece.”

Lowering himself back to the sofa, his arms crossed on his knees and his head bowed, Horatio glanced up to cock his head. Apparently she wasn’t going to ask what was wrong and for that he was thankful. “Why?”

Turning slowly and crossing the room, Sam curled her legs underneath her as she sat in the recliner. “Uncle Mike wrote this one when I was still having nightmares. I still hadn’t met him face to face yet, but I’d call him sometimes early in the morning when I couldn’t sleep and he always made me feel better.” Leaning back in the recliner and closing her eyes, Sam smiled faintly. “I don’t know why the nightmares had started up again, but he sent me a disc, and it only had this song on it. There was a note with it that said whenever things got too hard to handle, when the dreams became too real, to play it and remember that I wasn’t alone and that he would always be there for me.”

Closing his eyes as he bowed his head, his voice was no more than a whisper. “Did it help?”

Sighing heavily, Sam nodded. “Every time.” Leaving the recliner, Sam knew he wasn’t ready to talk, but she sat beside him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. “I won’t ask but I’m here, Horatio.”

He knew more about nightmares than she’d ever know. There was no way to tell her that all those nights she had been up in the middle of night, even if she hadn’t been there, he would have still been pacing his house in the dark trying to chase away his own demons of the past.

“He can’t hurt you anymore, Horatio.”

That had only been a part of it. Yes, more often than not, his nightmares were of his father, but the truth of the matter was, the closer they got to finding her brother, the more the nightmares were centered around Sam. He’d seen her fall. He’d seen her fail, and there had been nothing he could do to protect her. Nothing he could do to prevent it. He was scared of losing her.

Leaning her head against the side of his shoulder, “So long as I’m around, I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

“And you’ll be leaving soon.” Groaning as her arm slipped from his shoulders to fall at her side, he hadn’t meant to say the words out loud, and as soon as he had, he immediately wished he could take them back. “Sam, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Staring at her hands in her lap, “I know.” Leaving the sofa, Sam moved toward the window and wrapped her arms around herself. He was right of course. She could only protect him while she was there, and whether she made it back alive or not, she’d still end up leaving Miami soon.

With her head bowed, Horatio could see her shoulders slump. Silently he kicked himself. “Sam…”

So many things could go wrong on this mission and none were more aware of the danger than Sam. She’d already crossed that bridge, and had thought she had come to terms with the possible outcome. However, at Horatio’s quiet words, her resolve had crumbled. In her heart, she wanted to believe that everything would work itself out, but her mind kept her grounded in reality. “I talked to Uncle Mike earlier while you were in the shower.” Knowing there was more to that simple statement than the mere words, Horatio remained silent. “I made him make me a promise.”

He wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that. “What promise?”

How could she tell him? Sighing, Sam turned away from the window. “I made him promise that no matter what, if something happens to me…”

That brought Horatio to his feet. Closing the distance between them, he took Sam by the shoulders and held her at arms length shaking his head. “Sam, don’t talk like that. We’re going to get through this.”

Reaching up to lay her palm against his cheek, “Horatio, you’re a brilliant man. You have to know that the odds are stacked against us.”

Tilting his head to press his cheek against her hand, his eyes held a deep sadness. Of course he knew the chances of success were slim, but he couldn’t bring himself to accept defeat. He couldn’t bring himself to think of Sam falling. “Sam…”

Shaking her head, she moved her hand to place a finger over his lips. “Shhh. I made him promise that if anything happens to me, he was to make sure you understood that I never meant to hurt you, and that I really did want a chance to see where things could go between us.” It broke her heart to see the pain in his eyes, and she stepped forward to slip her arms around his waist. Resting her head against his chest, her throat constricted as his arms wrapped around her shoulders tightly.

“We’re going to get through this, Sam. We’re going to find Vince and we’re going to bring him home. All of us are going to bring him home.”

How she wanted to believe that. “Horatio…”

Shaking his head harshly, “No, Sam. Failure is not an option. We’re going to bring him home. We’re all going to come home when this is over.”

Leaning her head back to look up at him, Sam saw the fight in his eyes and knew he wouldn’t back down. By now Frank and Uncle Mike would have changed the subject just to steer her away from their own fears, but Horatio was ready to fight. As he opened his mouth to say more, Sam did the only thing she could think of to silence him… She kissed him.

Chapter Text

Feeling Horatio’s arms tighten around her, Sam hastily pulled away. Ducking under his arm, she quickly left the room to seek the shelter of the bedroom. Closing the door behind her, she leaned heavily against it and covered her face with her hands. What did I just do!? Shaking her head, Sam moved to sit on the edge of the bed trembling. Stop it! You’re acting a damn kid. It was only a kiss. Only a kiss. Hardly. She could still taste him on her lips, and she shuddered as the thought of his arms tightening around had made her feel… well… something. Bowing her head, What did I do?

***

Staring out the window, his breathing heavy, Horatio raised a finger to touch his lips that still tingled from Sam’s surprise kiss. Closing his eyes, he could still smell her shampoo. What just happened? I can’t do this to her. Not like this. Not now. Fighting to regain control of his body, Horatio leaned his feverish forehead against the cool glass of the window and sighed. That’s when it hit him. If anything happened to her… Pushing away from the window, Horatio walked to the dining room to pick up the phone. Dialing from memory now, he waited impatiently until it was answered.

“Mike’s Hardware.”

“It’s Horatio.” He waited for Uncle Mike to kill the recording before continuing. “I’m sorry if I woke you, Dan, but I need Roger’s number.”

That would mean digging into Sam’s phone records. He knew that she wanted to protect Roger, and he’d done his best all these years to help her do just that. “What’s going on, Horatio? Is Sam alright?”

He was wondering the same thing, but he couldn’t discuss that with her Uncle. “As far as I know, yes. She’s in her room. I was thinking about something she said earlier about the odds, and I wanted to run something by Roger. If we’re going to work as a team, then we need to plan as one too.”

There was more to what Horatio was saying than he could grasp, but whatever drove this man to be up this early must have been important. “Alright. Hang on.” Pulling up Sam’s phone records, he quickly read off a number. “I don’t think I have to say this, but…”

“But don’t give it out to anyone otherwise Sam is going to have my head over it?” Chuckling lightly, Uncle Mike said goodnight, and bid him good luck before hanging up. Hitting the disconnect button, Horatio sighed. This was going to be touchy. Dialing the new number, he frowned as it went straight to voicemail. “It’s Alger. Call me back at this number when you get this.” He hung up and waited. There had been no sound coming from Sam’s room since she had returned to it, so he wondered if she had gone back to bed. Carrying the phone with him, Horatio put the kettle on the stove. Two minutes later, the phone rang and he answered it quickly.

Roger’s voice growled on the other end. “This better be good.”

Returning the growl with one of his own, Horatio’s eyes narrowed. “What does Sam have planned? The way she’s talking, it sounds like she doesn’t expect to make it home.”

“Shit.” Sighing, “What did she tell you?”

Facing the stove, Horatio never saw Sam walk through the dining room. “She made Dan promise something in case something happened to her.”

Sam had heard the phone ring, but wasn’t sure who could have been calling. Her first thought had been Uncle Mike, but when Horatio mentioned his name, she knew she was wrong. “Hang up, Horatio.”

His back stiffened. He hadn’t heard her walking through the dining room. Turning slowly, “Sam….”

Crossing her arms and bowing her head, “Either hang up, or put it on speaker.” When she saw him hold up the phone and hit the speaker button, she shook her head. “Say goodnight, Roger.”

“Sammy, wait…”

She was tired of fighting with them all. “Roger, please. I’ll call you in the morning. I think Horatio and I need to talk.” When he didn’t answer, “Please?” The line went dead. Raising her eyes to gaze sadly at Horatio, “If you’re making tea, could you make it two please?” When he nodded, she turned and walked slowly back to the living room to stand by the window watching the clouds race across the moon. When Horatio joined her soon after, she silently accepted her cup and found it hard to face him directly.

Tossing the phone on the recliner, Horatio stepped away to give Sam her space. Lowering his head, “I’m sorry for what happened. I never should have allowed it to happen.”

He was apologizing to her? Turning and cocking her head, Sam shook her head in confusion. “What are you apologizing for?” When he couldn’t meet her eyes, her voice softened. “I’m the one that should apologize to you. I didn’t give you much of a chance to say no.”

Why would I have said no? For once he was glad that the thought had stayed in his head. “Sam, it’s just…”

Watching the war of emotions play across his face, Sam turned back to the window. “You know, if things were reversed, if I was the one out there and Vinnie was the one coming after me, if the odds were the same as they are now, then none of you would be fighting him as much as you’re fighting me. Frank and Uncle Mike would have already faced the possibility of him getting hurt, or worse, but they wouldn’t be trying to stop him, they wouldn’t be refusing to accept that reality.” Sipping at her tea, “But things aren’t reversed. Vinnie is out there, and I’m going after him. The odds are still the same, and the reality is, I could get hurt, or worse, and I’ve accepted that. He’s my brother, Horatio. You would do the same for any of your family as well.”

He knew she was right. She had the same drive, the same passion for her family, the same need to protect them that he felt for his own family. That didn’t make facing reality any easier. If anything, it made it harder.

Sam wasn’t paying attention to Horatio at this point. “I can’t help who I am, Horatio. It’s in my blood to protect my family.” Finally glancing his way, “Why do you think I’m trying to keep you off the ground and out of direct fire?”

His conversation with Dan came back to him. “Because you want to protect me too.”

Moving from the window to the sofa, Sam sank slowly into the cushions. “I find it hard to not protect my family.” Studying her cup, “I didn’t come down here looking for help, and I surely didn’t come down here looking to make friends.” Looking up at Horatio as he turned toward her, “But somehow I ended with both, no matter how unexpected it all was.” She needed him to understand. “You, your team… I couldn’t have done this without you. In this short time, we became friends, but I also came to care for you all, and that makes you family.” Lowering her head and blinking rapidly to clear her eyes, “You are the most selfless man I have ever met in my life. You put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own. You put yourself on the line for everyone with no thought to your own safety or sanity.” As a tear fell slowly down her cheek, “Even when I tried to push you away, you stood back in the shadows waiting. You became a friend, and now I find myself hoping beyond all hopes that everything turns out the way you all want it to because I think I finally found someone that I trust completely, and I really do want a chance.”

Setting his cup on the end table, Horatio crouched down before Sam and, taking her cup from her, placed it beside his own. Taking her hands in his, “Maybe you’re right. Maybe we would all be acting differently if it was Vince here, and you were the one missing. Maybe we wouldn’t have such a hard time accepting the odds, but things aren’t different. This is the reality.”

Sighing and looking at the hands holding hers, “But I’m not Vinnie. I’m a girl, and every one of you has it hardwired inside of you to protect us. I’m not the helpless kid I once was, Horatio. I know how to fight. I know how to shoot.” Glancing at her arm, she smiled faintly, “I even know how to take a bullet like a big girl.”

He couldn’t help but smile. “You can’t blame us for wanting to protect you too, Sam.”

“I know. I don’t blame you, but it’s so damn irritating when I’m the only one that’s actually accepting the possible outcomes when the rest of you are trying to tell me that everything is going to be alright.” Searching his bright blue eyes that seemed to almost glow in the soft moonlight, “And yes, I don’t want you on the ground because I have to protect you too.” Covering his lips with her finger, “Stop. You’re Horatio Caine. Miami is your town, and without you…” Shrugging, “Without you, Miami would be lost. Your team would be lost. Not to mention that Alexx would kill me if I let anything happen to you.” As a smile tugged at his lips, “Believe what you want, but know that you are family to me, Horatio. You’re not a brother, or an Uncle, or a Father, but you’re family because I care about you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. That’s why I called Roger.”

“Your marker?”

Bowing her head, she looked away. “My marker wasn’t asking him to come here to help find Vinnie. I knew when he found out that Vinnie was missing that he’d come guns a blazing. Roger didn’t know what the marker was until recently. He’s not happy with me either.”

His heart twisted in his chest with fear. Forcing his emotions to calm, “Tell me, Sam. If we’re a team, then we’re in this together.”

Nodding faintly, Sam gently pulled back her hands and clasped them in her lap. Closing her eyes, her voice was monotone, flat, “Roger’s orders are simple. Get in, secure Vinnie, get him out and get him home. No matter what happens, he’s not to look back.”

Not to look back. The odds were stacked against them, and with him off the ground and Roger ordered not to look back, that was as good as a death warrant. Staggering to his feet, his heart thumped hollowly in his chest. His mind tried desperately to make sense of the situation. “So if you get hit, if you fall…”

“Then his orders are clear. He’s to get Vinnie out of there.” Slowly her voice grew stronger, “I made him promise it, Horatio. Roger will hold to his orders. I couldn’t get him to promise that he’d ensure your safety, but he promised that once Vinnie was safe, he’d try to backtrack to give you cover so you could get out.”

“But if you fall…” Climbing to her feet, she reached out to Horatio only to have him pull away. His eyes were wild with disbelief and pain and fear. “Sam…”

Stepping forward quickly and wrapping one arm around his waist while snaking the other around his neck, Sam pulled his head down to her shoulder. “I don’t like this any more than the rest of you, but I can’t allow you to get hurt. I’m taking a chance, Horatio. I have Roger on the ground because I know I can’t carry Vinnie out on my own. Roger’s the best I know, and I had to call him in because I knew he’d follow my orders to the letter.” As Horatio wrapped his arms around her, her voice softened to a whisper, “I need you somewhere safe, Horatio. I need you to be my eyes in the sky. Getting in is one thing, but getting out…” Pausing to draw a shaky breath, “Roger will have his hands full keeping an eye on Vinnie. I’m going to be watching Roger’s back to make sure he gets Vinnie out.” Leaning back to take Horatio’s face in her hands, “I need you up high, off the ground, to watch my back when we leave. Once Roger gets Vinnie to safety, he’ll come back. When he does, you get out of there, Horatio. If things are meant to be, then I’ll make it out, but it won’t be easy once you’re on the run too.”

He had to keep her alive. “Then I’ll wait until you’re out of there before I leave.”

Smiling sadly, Sam shook her head. “You can’t do that, Horatio. When Roger comes back, you have to go. You have to promise me that.”

He only made promises he intended to keep. He couldn’t keep that one. He couldn’t promise to walk away if she was danger. Shaking his head savagely, “I can’t promise that, Sam. I can’t.”

She knew it was an impossible promise to ask of him. As much as she lived for her family, he put just as much on the line for his. Forcing him to meet her eyes, “Then promise me this. Promise me that you won’t take any unnecessary risks, that you won’t play the knight trying to save the damsel in distress.”

No risk to keep her safe would be unnecessary. He would do everything he could to make sure they all came home together. He only hoped she wouldn’t think about that loophole. Nodding slowly, “Alright, Sam. No unnecessary risks. I promise.” He couldn’t bare thinking about loosing her. Everyone that ever mattered to him, everyone that he gotten involved with, they always got hurt, or they were always taken from him. He had just met her, and yet, in his heart, he felt a connection deeper than he had ever felt before. He couldn’t risk loosing her before they even had a chance. Sighing as Sam rested her head against his chest, Horatio drew a deep breath and let it out slowly.

It was still late. Too late to think about staying up the rest of the night. Mumbling quietly and wiping her eyes, “I think we should both try to get some more sleep.” Stepping from Horatio’s embrace, “I have to call Terry in the morning and place that order. I have to touch base with Frank and Uncle Mike, and I think we need to sit down with Roger and hash things out as a team.”

Stepping around her to pick up their cups, “I was thinking about calling Nick in the morning too.”

Following him to the kitchen, “Why?”

Rinsing out the cups, and walking back to Sam, he led her back to the living room. “If it takes Dan a couple of days to get things in order, then I think we could use some time to get ready.” As Sam’s eyebrow arched, “You have your connections, and I have mine. We’ll discuss this more in the morning. Now go to bed.” Gently pushing her toward the hallway, Horatio sat on the sofa and closed his eyes.

Sitting beside him, Sam bit her lip. “About earlier…” When Horatio raised his head to look at her, “I lied. I’m not sorry.” When Horatio smiled, it lit up the room. “You should get some sleep though.”

The thought of sleep brought back the nightmares. Shaking his head, “In a while maybe.”

Sitting back and pulling at his shoulder, “Come on, lay down. I told you that no one was going to hurt you while I was around, so lay down here and get some sleep.”

“What about you?”

Draping an arm around him as he stretched out beside her, Sam closed her eyes. “I’m not the one that woke up with nightmares, remember?” Leaning down to kiss his forehead, “Rest easy, Horatio. I’m not that easy to get rid of.” Closing her eyes, Sam drifted off to sleep while Horatio lay beside her staring out at the darkness for hours before sleep finally took him again.

***

The ringing of the telephone brought Sam out of a restful sleep. Struggling to get up, she almost panicked when an unfamiliar weight held her down. Snapping her eyes open, she let out a gasping sigh at the sight of Horatio sitting up beside her reaching for the phone. Mouthing the words I’m sorry, he answered the phone. “This is Horatio.” Glancing at his watch, Horatio winced. “Sorry, Calleigh. Sam and I were up half the night going over strategies and shopping lists.” Listening intently and nodding sporadically, “Alright. Sounds like a plan. Let me go and see what I can do. I’ll give you a call back as soon as I have an answer for you.” Hanging up, “That was Calleigh. Her and Eric were talking last night, and seeing as how neither of them is going with us, they don’t want Stetler to take over my position until I get back, so she wanted to know if I would talk to the Chief and see about appointing her as the temporary head of the lab.”

Standing and stretching, Sam checked the time on the stereo and groaned. “Alright, you talk to the Chief. I need to hunt down my cell phone and check messages.” Shaking her head, “I can’t believe we both slept this late.”

Chuckling as Sam shuffled to her room, Horatio stopped in the kitchen to turn on the coffee. Calling the Chief, he quickly explained the situation, and sighed with a smile as the Chief agreed to the request. Thanking him and promising to stay in touch throughout the rest of the mission, Horatio hung up and called Calleigh back.

***

Sitting on the bed, Sam reached for her cell phone and noticed not only the voicemail light blinking, but the text light as well. Sighing, she checked the texts first and then listened to the half dozen voicemails. Shaking her head and running a hand through her hair, Sam made her way to the dining room. Propping open her laptop and signing in, she sighed as a flurry of offline messages started flashing. Sitting down at the table, Sam dialed Roger’s number as Horatio offered her a coffee mug. Reading through the messages as Roger answered, “I’m up. Now will you kindly stop leaving messages?”

“Hey, don’t blame me for worrying about you, kid. After Alger’s call last night…”

Rolling her eyes, “Drop it for now, Rog. Cool your heels for a little while. I have to call Uncle Mike to check in, and then I’m calling in our order. Is there anything else you can think of that we need?”

“Nothing that I can think of.”

Letting him know she’d call him back in a while, she hung up and cleared the offline messages. Uncle Mike either didn’t have his messenger running, or he wasn’t online. Frowning as the last thought crossed her mind, she dialed his cell phone. Pressing the speaker button, she set the phone on the table, and sitting back and sipping her coffee as the call was answered on the first ring, she closed her eyes and waited for the tirade to finish.

“Sam, where the hell have you been!? I’ve been trying to call you half the morning already! Frank’s been pacing this place and wearing a hole in the floor. The only reason he hasn’t left is because I can’t leave right now. Do you know what time it is? What the hell are you doing?”

As he took a breath, Sam sighed. “Sleeping. Not quite 11am yet, having a cup of coffee at the moment and listening to you yell at me.”

Sputtering incoherently, Uncle Mike finally calmed down. “Do you have any idea how worried we’ve all been?”

Closing the laptop and setting it aside as Horatio brought in breakfast, “Look, Horatio and I were up half the night going over stuff. I still have to call in an order with Terry. I’m sorry I worried you, but for once I slept without the nightmares and I slept a long damn time.”

He had told her to rest up, and that’s what she had done. For once she had listened, and how did he react, by yelling at her. “Sam, I’m sorry. It’s just, with everything going on, when we didn’t hear from you, we got worried.”

Wolfing down her eggs, “I’m fine. Calleigh called and woke us up.” Filling him on Calleigh’s request and catching Horatio’s nod, “Looks like Horatio already took care of that.” Crossing her fingers, “Any luck on your end yet?”

Surprisingly, he had lucked out on a few details. “I have a couple of areas that I’ve narrowed down. I’ve called in some favors to see if I can’t get some satellite coverage of the areas to see if I can’t pinpoint one or the other specifically.”

Finishing his breakfast, Horatio set his plate aside. “Any idea how long that could take, Dan?”

“Good morning, Horatio. I’d say a couple of days at least. I’ll need time to go over the satellite images and cross reference them against the translation we got from Vince. Why? You have plans to be somewhere else?” The last was said with a lightness in his voice, and soft chuckle.

Leaning his arms on the table, Horatio nodded. “Indeed I do. I called the Chief to take care of Calleigh’s request, and then I called Nick. I was thinking about taking Sam and Roger out there for a day or so. With his background, he may have some supplies we could use, and he has plenty of space for us to prepare as a team.”

Rolling the idea around his head, Uncle Mike agreed that it held merit. “Alright. If you decide to head out there, then I want regular check ins. Is that understood, Sam?”

“Crystal. Now let me go so I can call Terry and get back to Roger. Tell Frank I’m fine and to stop worrying. I’ll call as soon as we have plans.” Hanging up, Sam shook her head. “And you think I’m the mother hen?” When Horatio simply smiled, Sam sighed. “Alright, I have calls to make. After that, I’m claiming the shower.” As Horatio cleared the table and started washing their dishes, Sam headed for the bedroom to find her shopping list.

Finishing the dishes, Horatio made a beeline for the bathroom to grab a shower while Sam was busy on the phone.

***

Stepping out the bathroom with only his shorts on, and a towel draped over his shoulder, Horatio bowed his head and blushed at the sight of Sam leaning against the wall opposite the door. “Sorry, but I didn’t know how long you were going to be on the phone.”

Stepping past him and ruffling his wet hair, “Don’t worry about it. Dress semi casual. We have a plane to catch and an order to pick up.” Closing the door behind her, she grinned as Horatio lightly tapped on the door. “I’ll explain everything when I get out.” Turning on the water, Sam quickly undressed and stepped under the hot torrent. She couldn’t believe her luck. Terry had been in the office when she had called and had been thrilled to hear from her again. He had been a little surprised at some of her list, but promised he would get his hands on everything. When she asked how long it would take to deliver it, he couldn’t guarantee same day, but it would definitely be in by the morning. That would be too late. If Horatio had plans to see Nick, then she wanted the stuff ASAP. Of course Terry said if she transportation of her own, and if she could pick it up, then he could probably have it ready by late afternoon. Her immediate thought was Roger. The only problem with that was, he was a wanted man, and D.C. was the one place where the crosshairs would be on him the moment the plane touched down. She’d told Terry that she had access to a plane, but the pilot wasn’t exactly on the friendly list in D.C. and she wasn’t sure if he’d agree or not. Terry had asked who it was, and although Sam couldn’t give him Roger’s name, she told him that he was the best and he was part of her team going after Vinnie. Terry had been in the business long enough to know about Roger and his reputation.

"You tell that poor excuse of a brother that he’s safe in this town… for now. He may have a mark on his head, but you’ve got enough here behind you that no one would be stupid enough to touch him. They’d have to deal with me first." She’d laughed at that. Rog was technically a dead man, and it was best that he stayed that way. It wasn’t her Bureau that was after him, so protecting him wouldn’t be easy. "Who do you think those boys come to when they need arms? I’m the go to guy in this town, girl. If he can keep his head down and not provoke anyone while you’re here, then he’s safe. No one is going to rat him out."

She still hadn’t been sure, but she promised to call back once she had a chance to talk to the pilot. Then she had called Roger. After giving him Terry’s message, he had laughed. Sam had never known that he had ties to Terry. Roger readily agreed to fly them to D.C. but was adamant about staying with the plane while Horatio and Sam went after the order. He’d even told her to talk to Horatio and find out if Nick had an airfield near by. He could fly them out there as well, rather than fly back to Miami and then deal with the drive. Roger never ceased to surprise her.

Turning off the water and drying quickly, Sam left the bathroom and headed for her room to change. Grabbing her SIG from the nightstand with the holster, and her jacket, Sam walked to the dining room to find her laptop already packed up and ready to go. Grinning as Horatio walked through the house making sure everything was turned off and locked up, Sam grabbed her stuff and walked out by his side. Climbing into the Hummer, she told him of her talk with Terry, and the subsequent talk with Roger.

Nodding briefly as he backed out of the driveway, “There’s a small strip not far from his place. Farmers use it for their crop dusters. It should be long enough for the plane.” Driving to the airfield, Horatio smiled at the sight of Calleigh’s Hummer parked next to the plane. At Sam’s raised eyebrow, “I called Eric to bring Calleigh and Alexx with him. I didn’t want to leave the Hummer here, and I figured you wouldn’t want the bike sitting here unattended either. Eric is going to take the bike back to Alexx’s, and Alexx is going to drive this back to the Station.”

Well that takes care of that. Sam hadn’t even thought about leaving the vehicles. “What about Alexx? Has she decided what she’s going to do yet?”

Pulling along side Calleigh’s Hummer, Horatio parked. “She’s planning on taking Eric with her to see her kids for a day or so. Calleigh is taking over at the lab as soon as she leaves here. Eric is on leave until we’re ready to go. He’s going to stay with Alexx, and when we leave, then he’ll go back to the lab.”

Not a bad plan. Nodding as she climbed from the Hummer, Sam smiled warmly at her team. Glancing up at the plane as the door opened, she easily caught the keys to the bike as Roger tossed them down and disappeared back inside. Handing them to Eric, “Take it back to Alexx’s, and I want the girls following you. Get a ride with Alexx to make sure Calleigh gets to the station and lock this baby up tight.” Giving Eric a quick hug, “Be careful. Keep your eyes open, and call us to let us know that you made it to her sister’s alright. Call when you’re getting ready to leave there, and call if anything comes up.” At his sincere nod, Sam turned to the girls. “Calleigh, be careful. I don’t want you going anywhere alone. You take a call, you make sure you leave with the team.”

Smiling brightly, Calleigh’s green eyes sparkled. “Don’t worry, Sam. I already called Tripp and I’m crashing at his place until Alexx and Eric come back from her sister’s. If anything pops up here, I’ll call.”

Turning and finding Alexx right behind her, Sam smiled as Alexx wrapped her arms around her. “You be safe too, baby girl.” Holding her hand out to Horatio, Alexx pulled him closer. “You two take care of each of other, and be careful. I have Dan’s number, so if anything happens, I’ll know about it.”

Returning Alexx’s hug, Sam grinned. “Agreed. If we hear anything from Uncle Mike, then we’ll touch base with you all. If anything happens or turns up, we’ll let you know. Right now we have a custom order to pick up, and then we’re heading out to Nick’s.” As the plane’s engines started, Sam glanced up at the doorway and nodded to Roger as he poked his head outside. “Alright, we’re out of here. We’ll call you all when we get to Nick’s.” Stepping to the stairs as the team drove away, Sam waited for Horatio to climb on board before taking one last look around and boarding the plane.

Closing the door behind them, Roger shook his head. “Terry’s a good man, and I trust him, but it’s the rest of D.C. that I have a problem with. I’m staying with the plane. Once you two get back, then we’re out of there.” Returning to the cockpit, Roger’s voice came over the intercom. “Alright ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Insanity Airlines. I hope you enjoy your flight. Our destination today is lovely Washington D.C. and our flight time is less than an hour. Our stewardess is on vacation this week, so if you want a drink, you’ll have to get it yourself.” Running through his preflight checklist, “So sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the flight.” Pulling smoothly onto the runway, they were soon airborne and zipping toward the country’s capital.

Shaking her head and laughing lightly, Sam stretched out in her seat and closed her eyes. “Before you ask, no, I’m not tired, but plane rides always put me to sleep.” Pulling out her cell phone, Sam quickly called Uncle Mike to let him know they were flying to D.C. and that she’d call when they left there. Hanging up, Sam sighed. Listening to the drone of the engines, Sam soon drifted off to sleep.

***

“Sam? We’re here.”

Cracking her eyes open, Sam yawned. Looking out the window as the plane taxied to a less crowded section of the tarmac, Sam grinned as she spotted a familiar face. “Looks like our ride is here.” Pointing out the window at Agent Delmonico, Sam stood and walked forward to the cockpit. Poking her head in, and raising an eyebrow at the copilot and quickly dismissing him, Sam shook her head and looked at Roger. “If you’re sure there’s nothing more we need, then keep your head down until we get back and I’ll make sure I bring back lunch.”

Stopping the plane, Roger nodded. “Sounds good, kid. As soon as you get back, we’ll be wheels up and at Nick’s before dinner.” Hooking a thumb back toward the cabin, “I already got directions from Alger.”

Rolling her eyes, Sam sighed. “Do you ever plan on using his name, Rog?”

Grinning widely, “Probably not, but who am I to make promises? Now get out of here so we can leave. There was a time when I liked this town, but that time has long passed.”

Dropping a hand to his shoulder, “We’ll be back soon.” Leaving the plane, Sam and Horatio walked over to Agent Delmonico and shook his hand. Joining him in the Government SUV he was driving, Sam could barely sit still as she thought about seeing Terry again after all these years.

Glancing over at Sam, Delmonico smiled. “He’s waiting for you too. He was thrilled that you called and not Agent McPike. He said it was good to hear your voice again.”

Nodding silently, Sam watched the city slip past them. Grinding her teeth as they passed the Pentagon, she turned away and looked over her shoulder at Horatio sitting quietly in the backseat. “The depot isn’t far. So long as Terry has everything ready for us, then we’ll back out the door in no time.” Stopping in front of a wretched looking warehouse, Sam climbed out and looked up at it lovingly. Following Delmonico inside with Horatio on her heels, she heard his sharp intake of breath as the door closed behind them. Outside was nothing to look twice at, but inside… Inside was a bustle of activity and everything was clean and tight. Grinning at Horatio, her voice was low, “Looks can be deceiving.”

“Sam!” Raising her head as a bellow rang out above her, Sam saw the source and smiled widely. Charging down the metal stairs from his office overlooking the floor’s operations, Terry was like a bull in a china shop. Terry was a large man. African American with a shaved head, six foot five, and built like a brick wall… hard and unmoving. With the exception of his heart. Plucking Sam up in his arms, he practically crushed her against his chest in a massive bear hug. When he heard her grunt in pain though, he froze and gingerly placed her back on her feet. Circling around her, his eyes never even glanced at Horatio. “Show me.” As Sam removed her jacket, Terry hooked a finger under her sleeve and raised it to see the bandage. “What happened?”

Looking around the warehouse, Sam shook her head. “Too many eyes, and way too many ears.” As Terry stepped back and motioned to the stairs, Sam glanced back and nodded to Horatio to head up them. Following him with Terry and Delmonico behind her, Sam stepped into his office and took it all in. “Not bad, Terry. Not bad at all.” The only metal furniture in the entire office belonged to the row of file cabinets lining one wall. Other than that, the desk was a dark stained oak, and the chairs and sofa were leather.

As Sam sank into the sofa, Terry stood with his back to his desk and crossed his massive arms over his chest. “Del, go get them some coffee.”

Nodding with a slight smile, Sam glanced at Horatio and up at Delmonico. “Strong and straight. Both please.” As he left the room, Sam sighed. “How much do you know, Terry?”

Shaking his head, he pointed a finger at Horatio with a frown. “First, who’s your new boy?”

Lifting her chin proudly, Sam flashed a smile at Horatio before leveling a look straight at Terry. “I’d like to introduce you to Horatio Caine. Lieutenant for Miami Dade, and the best that Miami has.”

Raising an eyebrow, “One of the best, and a yokel?”

Growling defensively, Sam narrowed her eyes dangerously. “No, Terry. I mean Horatio is the best that Miami has to offer, and he’s part of my team going after Vin.”

Noting the fight in her eyes, Terry held his hands up and bowed his head. “Alright, calm down. I just know how your luck is with locals.” Walking across the room to stand before them, Terry couldn’t hide the grin as Horatio stood and offered his hand. “The best, huh?” Chewing his lip in thought as he clasped Horatio’s hand, “Yeah, alright. If you weren’t, then Sam wouldn’t have brought you. Only family is allowed in here.” Stepping away as Delmonico returned with their coffee, Terry sat on the edge of his desk. “I know only what the buzz is. Vince was nabbed a couple of weeks ago and the old man called you. Didn’t know the path took you to Miami until McPike called with the order request. I had heard however, that him and the old man had been pulled. To say that there’s a few Agents that are up in arms over that, is an understatement.” Studying the couple before him, Terry sighed. “You have a lot of people that are willing to help you, Sam.”

Shaking her head, “Can’t do it, Terry. The Director screwed my family over on this one, and the only one that can go after Vin is me. Dan’s running Intel for me, and I’m not exactly going alone.” Sipping at her coffee, Sam quickly told them of what had happened from the time she had gotten the call from Uncle Mike, to the time they landed in D.C. for their order.

Closing his eyes, Terry saw red. He’d heard some of it, but the details were more than he could handle. Slamming his fist into the top of his desk, he was mildly surprised when Sam didn’t even flinch. If she hadn’t told him about the video, then perhaps he wouldn’t have reacted the way he did, but she did tell him, and he was furious.

Handing her cup to Horatio, Sam rose slowly and crossed the room. When she had first met Terry, he had been an intimidating force to be reckoned with, but over time, she’d learned that he was nothing more than an oversized teddy bear. Resting a hand on his arm, he calmed instantly. “Terry, believe me, you can’t take this any worse than we did.” As his eyes met hers, “I need the order, Terry. I can’t stay in D.C. too long. The insane one is still a hunted man, and if I stay too long, I’ll be tempted to pay our esteemed Director a visit.”

Grinding his teeth, Terry nodded. “Alright, let’s go. I have everything ready for you.” Directing Delmonico to get the SUV, Terry led Sam and Horatio through the warehouse to the loading docks. With her jacket tossed over her shoulder and her weapon in plain view, Sam noted the looks around her and heard the whispers of her name. Growling at anyone that got too close, Terry kept the Agents in line and out of their way. Pointing at a large wooden crate near the loading door, “That’s yours.”

Stamped on the crate were the letters ‘SGVT’ and Sam smiled sadly. Looking at Horatio, she traced the letters lightly with her finger. “Samantha Giovanni, and Vincent Terranova.” Tossing her jacket to the ground, Sam held up a hand and whistled. Catching a crowbar from an unknown Agent, she easily pried off the lid. Nodding to Horatio to take the other side, they lifted it clear and peered inside. Snapping her head around to stare at Terry in awe, “What did you do?”

Flashing his pearly whites, he took the crowbar from her and made short work of the side of the crate. Sitting inside, were four weapon cases, stacked two on two. Handing her the keys, Terry pointed at the one on the bottom closest to them. “That’s for your brother, the black sheep of the family. You tell him that it’s on the house and he’s to use it when the time is right.” Nodding faintly, Sam unlocked the top case. Two M16’s were nestled inside with over a dozen empty thirty round clips. “I couldn’t get you any more clips than that, but you should be alright with those.” Closing the lid, Sam and Horatio moved it aside. Raising her eyebrow at the letters “BS” written on the bottom case, Terry laughed. “Black sheep. He’ll get a kick out of that. Everything he needs for it is in there.”

Shaking her head, Sam muttered, “Wasn’t what I was thinking.” Opening the second top case, Sam sighed. The case had a divider in the center. One side, stacked four layers deep, four to a layer, on egg carton foam were her frag and stun grenades. Lifting the top layer of foam on the other side, Sam hissed. “Jesu… Terry, how much?”

Cocking his head with his arms folded, “More than you asked for, and as much as I could give you without seriously raising alarms. There’s six blocks in there. Two to a layer. Don’t worry too much about it. It takes a charge to set it off. Your brother will know what to do with it.”

Gently closing the lid, Sam opened the remaining case. Sitting on a bed of foam were twenty timers, and three remote detonator switches. Lifting the foam, Sam peered underneath. The amount of ammunition was astounding. There were more boxes for the Remington’s, ammo cases for the 24, the 16’s, the 9’s, and the SIG’s. Closing the lid, Sam sighed. “Terry, you outdid yourself.” Turning, she spied a box in his hands and shook her head. “Now what?”

Setting it down, he opened it. “You can’t use the one without these.” Inside, packed neatly with their cords tightly wrapped, Sam saw the thin silver tubes and grinned. “I don’t know what he has planned, but I figure you’re either going to hook the detonators to timers, or a remote device. You’re not going to need a long cord, so each one has a twelve foot cord attached. It can be cut if it needs to be.” Waving a hand to Delmonico to stack two more boxes beside the first, “There’s thirty in a box. That’s a lot of boom for your buck. Be extremely careful with these. One spark, a strong enough static charge, and you’re done for.”

Solemnly nodding her understanding, Sam turned to Horatio. “We need to get this stuff loaded and get moving.” Moving methodically, Delmonico and Terry helped load the SUV in no time flat. Glancing at her watch and picking up her jacket, “Any idea where we can grab some food for the flight?”

Grinning ear to ear, Terry walked away from the loading dock as Delmonico pulled the SUV away. “Come back up to the office with me for a minute. I have one more thing for you.” Pulling out his cell, Terry glanced back at Sam. “How many for lunch?”

She thought about the copilot, “Four.”

Flipping open his phone, “Four lunches to go. My office in ten minutes.” Slipping the phone in his pocket, he led them back upstairs. Handing Sam a briefcase, he opened it for her. “These are the best I have, kid. I figure the old man can set up the frequency to whatever he wants to run on, and he’ll have his own set up. These are for you, your team, and Vince.” Removing a thin black collar, he looked at Sam and Horatio. “There’s one for each of you. Throat mics, completely hands free. You don’t have to talk loud to be heard, so if you keep your heads and your voices down, you should have a decent shot at this.” Laying it back in the case, he removed a small plastic case and opened it. “Wireless mini ear bud receiver. Once Dan has the frequencies set, you’ll be good to go. You won’t have to worry about range since I figure the team will be pretty close anyway. Dan will be on his system so he’ll have to set that up.” Closing the case and returning it to the briefcase, Terry closed it and set it aside as a young female knocked on his door. Waving her in, he motioned for her to place her bags down and leave. Watching her walk down the stairs, Terry smiled. “Lunch. Roast beef, garlic potatoes. There’s probably rolls in there too.”

Shaking his head, Horatio could hardly believe the generosity. “I have to say that I’m impressed, Terry.”

When Terry turned a critical eye toward Horatio, he almost choked on a laugh as he saw the color rise in Horatio’s cheeks. “You’re not so bad yourself, Lieutenant… for a local.” Winking in Sam's direction, he frowned at Horatio. "Not all of us Federal Badges are bad apples."

Horatio shook his head with a smile. He was finally feeling at ease with this man. Holding out his hand, "Well, how would you feel about a sincere thank you for everything from a lowly local?"

Laughing heartily, Terry accepted Horatio’s hand and clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re good people, Horatio. I can tell.” Helping them carry the bags and the briefcase downstairs, Terry waved goodbye and walked back inside to his office. Closing the blinds, Terry slumped in his chair and lowered his face to his hands. He’d known Sam and Vince for a long time, and he knew they were the best, and he knew he had given her all the help he could, but he was still afraid for her. Leaning back in his chair, his hand went to a thin silver chain around his neck, and he said a silent prayer for their safety. Reaching for the phone, he called McPike to let him know that the order had been delivered and that the precious cargo would soon be wheels up and south bound.

***

Calling Roger as the SUV cleared the airfield gate, “We’re on the grounds. Get the engines fired. Once we’re loaded, we need to fly. I’ll fill you in on the details later.”

Backing up to the plane, Horatio jumped out first and ran up the stairs with the food before returning with Roger to help unload. Pointing out the cardboard boxes and issuing a quick warning to be careful, the cargo was swiftly loaded on the plane. Saying goodbye to Delmonico, Sam boarded and closed the door. Five minutes later, the plane was in the air.

Chapter Text

Once the plane was in the air, Roger set the course and turned the controls over to his copilot. Turning to move into the cabin, he smiled as Sam held out a covered plate and nodded to man beside him. She wasn’t sure if Roger was ever going to introduce them or not, but she wasn’t going to push the issue. Whoever he was, Roger trusted him, and that said all she needed to know. Nodding his thanks, Roger handed the dish over and followed her back into the cabin. “How was Terry?”

Grinning as she handed him his plate, “Terry is doing good. He packed you a present and said everything you need for it is in the case.” As Horatio handed him the key, Sam smirked as he noted the letters marked on it.

“Always a sense of humor. I’ll give him black sheep. He’s one to talk.” Glancing at Sam, Roger shrugged. “Of course it could all be just a load of bull too.”

Sharing a brief laugh, Sam told him what the cases contained while they ate. When Roger only stared at her, she smiled widely. “That’s not all. There’s enough rounds in there to pack a punch. He doubled the C4 that you asked for. You got 6 bricks. The three boxes are the detonators, thirty to a box. Said he couldn’t risk any more without raising the alarms.”

Roger’s mind was already planning. He was going to have to call in a few favors of his own to pull it all off though. They’d need wheels once they got to where they were going, and they’d need night gear. If they could recon the area at night, then they might have a chance of setting some of the charges before they ever went in. Good thing he still had live contacts. “Were the dets capped?”

Shaking her head, “No. They’re just connected to a twelve foot length of det cord.”

Frowning slightly, Roger didn’t like that. “Alright, when we land, I’m going to have to figure out some way to protect those dets. I don’t want them knocking into each other in those boxes. Can’t use anything that’s going to create any kind of static charge.” Setting his plate on the floor, he went to the back to pull out a box. Opening it up, he pulled out a det and its cord. “Alright, what we’re going to do is, once we land, we get these off the plane and I want the cord coiled. We can get away with rubber banding the cord, and then I want the dets tucked inside the coils. It won’t offer as much protection as I would like, but it should be sufficient.” Gingerly replacing the cord, he closed the box and returned it to the stash. Finishing his lunch, he glanced at the time. “Well, Alger, you might want to give that friend of yours a call. Tell him ETA is a little over half an hour.”

As Roger made his way back to the cockpit, Horatio made his call and hung up with a grin in place. “Nick said he’ll have the boys ready when we arrive. We’ll have a vehicle to ourselves, and we can either bunk at the house, or he has a small camp not far from the house. It’s pretty much a one room cabin with a bed, sofa, table and chairs, and a bathroom. The only running water in the cabin is the bathroom. Otherwise there’s a water pump outside, and a cooking pit.”

Leaning her seat back, she crossed her arms behind her head. “Sounds like you’ve spent some time out there.”

Looking out the window, Horatio sighed. “After Nick took Charlie in, I went out there for a couple of days to make sure he was settling in and everything was alright. It’s not much in the way of comfort, but I figure maybe it might be best for us to stay at the cabin. I don’t think Roger would be comfortable at the house.”

Nodding in agreement, Sam reached for her phone. Calling Uncle Mike, she let him know that all had gone well in D.C. and that they were heading to Nick’s for a while. Before hanging up, she asked him to call Alexx and let her know that they would call them all once things calmed later in the night. Hanging up, Sam closed her eyes and relaxed for the rest of the short flight.

***

As the nose dipped, Sam sat up and looked out the window. The closer they got to the ground, Sam shook her head. When Nick said he’d have the boys ready, he meant it. As the plane taxied to a stop near a hangar at the end of the short strip, it was immediately surrounded by twenty or so young men, all armed.

Growling as he stepped from the cockpit with his weapon drawn, Roger reached for the door only to have Horatio grab his wrist and push it aside. “No one here is going to hurt you. They’re here to protect the plane.” Looking uncertainly at Sam and seeing her slow nod, he dropped his arm to his side but made no move to put his weapon away.

Moving past the men, Sam opened the door as a couple of the men rolled stairs closer. Heading down them, a smile brightened her face as she heard her name called by a familiar voice. Racing down the stairs, Carlos threw his arms around her as soon as her feet were on the ground. Returning the embrace, Sam took him by the shoulders and held him away looking at him. His eyes were bright and his smile made her heart melt. Draping an arm around his shoulders, Sam walked over to Nick. Looking him over, Sam shook her head. The only thing different from when he visited Horatio’s was the long tan duster in place of his beat up denim jacket.

Winking at Carlos, Nick stepped forward and hugged Sam tightly. “How was your flight, Darlin? No hard feelings?”

Laughing lightly Sam stepped away, “Flight was fine, Nick. Thanks for asking. No, there’s no hard feelings, and…” Taking a look around, “Thanks for having us.”

Waving her aside, Nick called out to Horatio. “It’s about time y’all got here. Linda’s been waitin to see your face for hours.”

Walking up and shaking hands, Horatio clapped Nick on the shoulder, beaming widely. “Yes, but she won’t be mad at me for keeping her waiting the same way she gets mad at you.”

Listening to the snickers around him, Nick frowned. “That was low, old man.” Glancing up the stairs at the newcomer, Nick’s eyes hardened. “Who’s your friend?”

Groaning under her breath, Sam walked to the bottom of the stairs and waited for Roger to join her. Stopping in front of Nick, “His name is Roger, and he’s a brother to me, Nick.”

Studying the man in front of him, Nick’s lip curled in a snarl. The man was a killer, he could sense it. There was an icy coldness about him that didn’t sit well at all.

Roger tried to remain cool for Sam’s sake, but when Nick snarled, his hand automatically went to his weapon. Looking down at Sam as she placed a hand in the center of his chest, he paused and dropped his hand.

Growling at them both, Sam snapped her head from one to the other. “Enough. Both of you. Roger, Nick was Force Recon and now he’s a bounty hunter. Nick, Roger could give you a run for the money, and I’d lay everything I own on him.” When Nick tried to close the distance between them, Sam put both hands on his chest and shoved him backward with a snarl. “He’s gone through enough hell in his life, Nick. I’ve done more than you’ll ever know to try to keep him safe. He’s got a tag on his head put there by some mighty damn powerful people in our government, and I’ll be damned if I let you or anyone else hurt him.” Narrowing her eyes dangerously as Nick took a step toward her, “I called him out of hiding. He’s a walking dead man, and the more that think he’s dead, the better for everyone. He’s the best there is, and he’s going with me to find my brother. Roger is family to me, Nick.” Dipping her chin and shaking her head as a warning, “You really don’t want to push me on this one.”

Looking from Sam to Roger, Nick noted that the man hadn’t moved. His hand had never touched his weapon from the moment Sam had touched him. He held his head high, but there was no mockery in his eyes, no judgment, his eyes were blank betraying nothing. Glancing at Horatio, “You trust him?”

Smiling faintly and cocking his head to look back at Roger, Horatio faced Nick straightly. Taking a position beside Sam, with Roger safely behind them, Horatio nodded. “I do, Nick. I trust him completely.”

Raising an eyebrow, Nick nodded slowly and sighed in resignation. “Alright.” Closing the distance, Nick gently pushed Horatio and Sam aside to stand before Roger. “Alright. They trust you. I won’t say that I do, but their word is good enough for me… for now. You’re safe here. These are my boys, and they’re going to keep an eye on this bird for you. If you can get it in the hangar over there, then it will make their jobs a heck of a lot easier.”

Crossing his arms, Roger didn’t move. “That depends. Who are all of these guys?”

Laughing deeply, Nick stepped back and pointed at the two standing at the nose of the plane. “Those are my boys, Alec and Marc. Most of these boys are mine, but some are the strays that we take in.” Turning and holding a hand out to Sam, “Why don’t I introduce you all?” Bowing her head, Sam fell instep beside Nick with Horatio at her side and Roger on her heels.

“Horatio!” Sam stared at the two men in front of her as they stepped forward one at a time to embrace Horatio warmly. “It’s been a long time, H. When Dad said you were heading out and needed a little added security, Alec and I pulled the guys together for you.”

Looking the two young men over, Horatio nodded proudly. “Sam, these two are Nick’s oldest twins. Alec and Marc. They’re both in the Guard, both going to college for law enforcement and criminal justice, and if I remember correctly, their birthday is tomorrow.” Watching the full grins break out on their faces, “This is Sam. She’s a Federal Agent that’s been working on trying to find her partner, her brother.”

Sam could barely tell them apart. The same build, same height at just over six foot, same hair color and cut, but the only difference she could find was their eyes. Marc had brown, and Alec had bright blue. She was surprised when they studied her for a moment and then bowed their heads in respect. “Ma’am, if there’s anything we can do, please let us know. Dad told us a little of what was going on when he brought Carlos out. We hope you can find him and bring him home.” Sam was touched. Putting a hand over her heart, she nodded and thanked them both.

“Well, boys…” Nick broke up their little chat, “Why don’t you take it over from here and let them know what the plan is?”

Flashing a toothy grin at his father, Marc nodded. “Yes, Sir.” Nodding briefly to Alec, Marc slung his rifle over his shoulder and motioned for Sam and Horatio to follow him. Falling in behind him, Sam found herself flanked by Horatio and Roger. Glancing over her shoulder, she found Nick standing in Marc’s vacated spot at the nose of the plane. Walking around the plane, Marc nodded toward the other men. “Alec and I are the oldest out here at twenty six. The youngest is sixteen. Most of us are Dad’s kids. You could say that Mom and Dad are quite the loving couple.” As Horatio snickered, Marc grinned. “Like I said, when Dad said you were coming in and you’d need security, we put together two teams. Alec and I each have eight men to our team. The plan is to get this bird in the hangar where we can protect it all the more. One team will be outside with a set perimeter, while the other team is inside. The team inside will technically be resting, but only half at a time. Alec and I will be on guard the entire time.”

“How’s your endurance?”

Glancing over his shoulder at Roger, “Sir, Alec can give you just over forty eight hours on his feet without sleep. I’ve pushed myself to sixty five if I have to.” Seeing the respect flash momentarily in Roger’s eyes, “The rest of the teams can go anywhere from eighteen hours on their feet to almost thirty.” Walking around the plane slowly, Marc called out to a team member only once or twice to move them, but other than that, a perimeter had been set, and they were holding with their rifles at the ready.

Sharing a look with Roger, Sam nodded silently. “Alright. Let Roger get the plane in the hangar and we’ll finish up in there. We have some rather precious cargo that I really don’t want sitting out in the open.” Ducking under the nose, Roger bolted up the stairs.

“Yes, Ma’am!” Turning to shout out orders to the others, Marc had them pull back so that the plane could move safely. Maneuvering the plane into the hangar was a simple operation and only took the briefest of moments. Exiting the plane, Roger rejoined his team. “Sir, if your copilot would like to join us later for a meal, please let him know that he would be most welcome. We also want you to know that none of us have any intention of stepping foot on that bird, so I hope that allows you to rest a little easier.”

Draping an arm around Sam and Horatio’s shoulders, Nick beamed proudly at his boys. “Well, what do you think?”

***

About an hour later, after the teams had taken up their positions outside and inside the hangar, and after Horatio had talked to Nick about staying at the cabin, Alec laughed. “If you guys stay out there, don’t get too freaked out if you go out in the middle of the night and you think you see something in the trees.”

Shooting a disapproving glance at his son, Nick shook his head. “Keep your mind at the task at hand.” As Alec’s face fell, and he walked away, “All the boys out here know how to shoot. They learned since they were young.”

Quietly excusing herself, Sam left the men to talk and went to find Alec. “So what’s in the trees?”

Turning on his heel, Alec was speechless. He hadn’t expected any of them to confront him after his father had told him to return to his position. Turning away, “You should talk to my father, Ma’am.”

Raising an eyebrow, Sam stood her ground. “I’m asking you since you brought it up. I’d like to know.”

Bowing his head, he turned back slowly. “Alright. From the time we were little, Dad was always training us. When other kids were playing hide and seek or tag, we were learning tracking and concealment. Instead of running around randomly trying to find one another, we learned to search for tracks, everything from prints to broken branches. Instead of simply hiding, we were learning how to blend in, how to cover our tracks. Once we were old enough to hold a gun, we got our first pellet gun to start target practicing and shooting small game. When we were older, in our teens, the pellet guns changed to paintball guns. That took our tracking and concealment training to a whole new level.”

Sam was impressed. They knew what they were doing, and they were doing it well. That gave her an idea. She’d have to talk it over with her team and Nick first though.

Looking around the hangar, Alec eyes shined with pride. “When we turned sixteen, we got our first rifle. From that point on, training was more intense, target practice turned to big game hunting to put enough food on the table, and as for the trees at the cabin…” Alec bowed his head sheepishly, “None of us can quite pass up a good paintball session, especially in the dark.”

Laughing and shaking her head, “Glow in the dark pellets?” When Alec nodded, she laughed harder. “So there’s glowing trees still, and probably more than a few outlines?” When he grinned and nodded again, Sam laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Thank you, Alec. For some reason, I think I’ll actually feel a bit better knowing it’s only glow in the dark paint.”

“You’re welcome, Ma’am. We’ll take care of everything here, don’t worry.” Flashing a grin as Sam walked away, Alec turned to his team and broke them up instructing one set to cool down and the other to stay on guard.

Walking back around the plane, Sam found the men sitting around the three boxes of detonators. Joining them, they made short work of coiling up the cords and securing the dets. Carefully repacking the boxes, Sam nodded toward the plane. “I want to talk to you guys for a few minutes. You too, Nick.” Climbing into the plane, Sam closed the door as the guys stowed the boxes in the back. Quickly telling Horatio and Roger what she had learned from Alec, Sam’s eyes twinkled devilishly. “Here’s what I was thinking…”

Listening intently, the men looked at each and grinned. Nick nodded enthusiastically. “The boys could use some good real time training. Although I would make it a point to let Alec and Marc know what you plan on doing so that there’s no… accidents to anyone.”

Laughing lightly, Sam nodded to Horatio. “Grab my laptop. If I can get Uncle Mike to walk me through setting the frequencies for the mics and receivers, we can use those. We have four which wouldn’t be enough for all of us, but if Marc and Alec have a way to communicate with each other without alerting their teams, then we could do this.” Logging onto the laptop, Sam grinned as she found Uncle Mike online. Chuckling as Nick looked surprised, “Don’t put anything past my Uncle.” Opening a window, she sent a quick message asking for his help. Frowning when he sent back a quick negative, she signed off and closed down. “Either he can’t talk me through it, or he’s in the middle of something. Either way, we can’t use the mics.”

Shaking his head, Nick shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I think I can help you guys out in that department if you really want to try this tonight. Let me go talk to the boys and see what they say, and then we can get out of here. Sit tight and I’ll be right back.” Climbing out of the plane, Sam watched him put his head together with Alec for a moment and grinned when Alec snapped his head around toward the plane and flashed her a quick smile and a nod.

“I think we have some plans to make, boys.” Sitting back in her seat, Sam faced Horatio and Roger and noted their eyes sparkling. “Alec mentioned paint guns, and I don’t want to hurt them, so I think we can stick with those.”

Putting their heads together, they quickly laid out a loose plan. When Nick rejoined them and flashed a thumbs up, they left the plane and said goodnight to the boys. Climbing into the back of Nick’s truck, they kept an eye on the terrain as Nick drove them away from the strip and back to the main house.

“Horatio! Baby! It’s about time you all got here. Let me look at you.”

Laughing as he climbed out of the bed of the truck and held a hand up to Sam as she leaped down, Horatio turned and smiled warmly at the woman standing on the porch with her hands on her hips. Climbing the steps, he stood still beneath her critical eye until she broke into a grin and held her arms open to him. Leaning down to wrap his arms around the small woman before him, “Linda, you look as lovely as ever. Thank you for having us.”

Waving her hand at him, “Oh, what are a few more mouths to feed around here? Besides, you don’t come around here enough anymore.” Looking past him, “Carlos, why don’t you head inside and help set the table?” Smiling fondly at him as he bolted up the steps with a simple “Yes, Ma’am”, Linda watched him disappear into the house. “He’s a good boy, Horatio.” Turning to the newcomers, “Well, come on up here so I can get a good look at you two.”

Sam bit back a chuckle as she climbed the steps to stand beside Horatio. Linda was a small woman, but one that demanded attention and respect. Standing at just under five and a half feet tall, Linda sported waist length fiery red hair and piercing ice blue eyes. Her voice was soft, but caught your attention.

“So you’re Horatio’s girl, huh?” When Sam stared at her in shock, Linda spun and frowned at Nick. “You said…” Narrowing her eyes when he simply smiled and shrugged, “We’ll talk later.” Turning back to Sam, “I’m sorry, dear. Nick doesn’t always know when to keep his mouth shut, and sometimes that gets him into trouble.” Taking Sam’s hands, “That doesn’t matter. Between Nick and mostly Carlos, I do know that you’re looking for your brother and that you’re taking Horatio with you. I wish you all the best and I know that you’re in good hands. Horatio is a good man.”

Looking at Horatio at her side, Sam smiled at Linda. “Yes, he is. He’s been an incredible help to me since I arrived in Miami.” Stepping aside, Sam held her hand out to Roger. “I’d like to introduce you to Roger. He’s like a brother to me. He’s family.”

Looking him over, Linda cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “You don’t plan on causing any trouble here, are you?”

Bowing his head, Roger offered a small smile. “No, Ma’am. Sammy called me to help her find her brother, and considering she’s about all the family I’ve ever known, I couldn’t say no.” Glancing at Nick, Roger’s words were honest and sincere. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, and because I tried to walk away from all of that, some rather powerful people decided that if they couldn’t have me working for them, then they’d prefer me to be dead. Sammy and her brother helped me get out of the situation I was in, and they’ve helped keep my head below the radar all these years. When Sammy called me saying her brother was kidnapped, I couldn’t sit by and do nothing. Family is family whether it’s by blood or not.” Offering his hands to Linda, “I’m a wanted man with a rather large price tag on my head. If you want to claim that tag, well, all I ask is that you let me help Sammy out first.”

Snapping her head around to stare at Roger in shock, Sam sputtered but no words came forth.

Stepping forward and taking Roger’s offered hands, Linda held them gently. “It seems like your sister here is a bit surprised by your words. So I’m inclined to ask why you would make such an offer.”

Shaking his head, Roger sighed. “I’m not as young as I once was. Sammy has covered my tracks for long enough. We met your boys out at the hangar, and they’re a good bunch. From the looks of all the mouths you have to feed around here, you could probably live quite comfortably off of the reward for my hide.”

Glaring at Nick, Linda quietly scolded him. “Don’t even be thinking it, Mister.” Gazing up at Roger, she saw the truth in his eyes, and her heart softened. “Your past is your own. You made a choice to walk away from it even when it meant your own life would be forfeit. That says a lot about a man in my book. You’re safe here, baby. Don’t you be worrying about that.” Looking at the trio before her, “Well, I say we all get inside and think about dinner before it gets cold.” Leading the way into the house, Horatio followed her as Nick held the door open for them.

Grasping Roger’s hand, Sam spun him around. Looking him in the eyes, she saw the truth. It hadn’t been a show. He was tired of being hunted, tired of hiding. Reaching up to touch his cheek, “Don’t you give up yet. It’s going to take us all to get Vinnie back.”

Leaning down to wrap his arms around Sam, “I’m not going anywhere, Sammy.” His voice sank to just above a whisper, “You didn’t actually think I’d just turn myself in, did you?” Stepping back, he winked. Draping an arm around her shoulders, he steered her into the house.

***

Dinner was a hectic affair. Carlos was the oldest of the children with the youngest being no more than six years old. Besides the five adults, there were five more mouths to feed. That didn’t include the boys staying with the plane. The house wasn’t overly large, but she could tell that it must have been quite crowded with them all under the roof at the same time. Making a mental note, Sam intended on calling Uncle Mike later. With as much help as she was receiving, the least she could do was give something back.

Linda had refused any help from her guests despite the constant offers from Horatio and Sam. Shaking her head as Nick and Linda brought trays of food to the dining room, Sam was floored. Venison, ham, chicken, fresh steamed vegetables from their own garden. Linda held her head high as she told Sam and Roger about their land. They had their own garden as she called it which was, in all reality, a major field that took up quite a large portion of their estate. When Roger asked how much land they owned, Sam almost choked on her venison when Nick casually announced almost a hundred and fifty acres.

Shaking her head in wonderment, “If you have all this land, why don’t you build a bigger house? It has to be hard with so many of you under one roof.”

Pointing at the dinner on the table, Nick beamed. “Everything on this table, with the exception of the venison, is raised or grown here on our land. We have a couple of barns set back aways that house our cows and pigs and sheep. We have chickens and turkeys and ducks too. We grow everything from asparagus to yams. All the kids help out and they get a good allowance for it. The older kids get to go hunting so there’s usually venison in the freezers in the basement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I were you, if you showed up for dinner some time and we were having squirrel or even raccoon.” Looking around the house, Nick sighed. “We’ve done some upgrading over the years, but it takes a lot to run this show. Without help from the state, we make ends meet with the tags I bring in. If we have a good harvest, then the kids usually take some of it and sell it to the neighbors and such. It’s not much, but we manage.”

Sam was speechless. Glancing at Roger and Horatio, she saw the same respect that she held for these people. Finishing their meal in relative peace, Linda waved them out of the house while she disappeared into the kitchen to clean up. Hooking his head toward the truck, Nick walked down the steps. “Come on, I’ll take ya’ll over to the cabin. I figure you’ll be more comfortable over there. I’ll leave the truck over there with you and I’ll walk on back. I’ll have to take dinner down to the boys, and I’ll let Alec and Marc know you’ll contact them.” Riding to the cabin, Nick opened the back window. “The boys keep a few of their paint guns over there, so you shouldn’t have any problems with that. I’ve got a few things stashed over there as well that you might find useful as well.” Parking in front of the cabin, Nick led them inside and lit the lanterns. “The kids like to rough it out here, so it’s bare essentials. There’s running water in the bathroom, but that’s it. Wood stove, fire pit for cooking, and a water pump outside.” Opening a closet and dragging out a duffel bag, Nick opened it and laid out the contents on the table. Two radios, night vision binoculars, one night vision rifle scope, black grease paint and two high powered flashlights with infrared lens kits. “The guns are in the closet along with vests. I’ll have the boys call you when I leave.” Walking to the door, Nick turned and grinned. “Let me know how they do.”

Turning one of the radios on, the team put their heads together and came up with a plan.

***

Not quite an hour later, the radio crackled to life. “H, it’s Marc. Dad just left. I don’t want to know what your plan is, but I want to warn you all to be careful. These boys have live rounds. You don’t.”

Grinning ear to ear, Sam keyed the radio. “Roger that, Marc. Keep your radio turned down and keep your ear tuned in. We just want to see how close we can get without being spotted.” Glancing at Roger, “I know how you work. These are kids. You keep the blade covered. No bearings either. I don’t want them hurt.”

Cocking his head in agreement, his eyes lit up in expectation. Walking to the door, he watched the sun dip further past the horizon. “We’ll give them a couple of hours. I want to run this as we plan on doing when we go for Vince.” Leaning against the doorframe, “Alger, you take one of the radios, and Sam and I will take the other. Keep the scope for yourself, I’ll take the binoculars, and Sam and I will take the flashlights. Once we get into position and let Marc and Alec know we’re in the area, I want to switch frequencies so it’s only us on the lines.” Looking up at the sky, “Once we split, Sam, you take the radio. That way Alger can stay in direct communication with us. Since we only have the scope and binoculars, only two of us are going to be able to see the flashlight beams. I can get directions from you or Alger. You can get directions from him directly, or from me through him.”

Prepping the guns, Horatio handed one to Sam and as Roger turned from the doorway, tossed one to Roger. Moving out to the porch, the trio waited for the darkness to fall before setting out on foot to cover the mostly open land between the cabin and the hangar.

***

Setting up his position, Horatio quietly called Marc to let him know they were moving in and that they were turning their radios off. When Marc acknowledged, the team changed frequencies and split. It wasn’t hard to get close to the hangar. The outside lights didn’t extend far, and the night vision scope and binoculars were a tremendous advantage. The kids weren’t exactly easy targets though. Teams of eight and they split two to a side of the building walking each side in measured steps. Once they hit the corners, they searched the area intensely, and moved to a new side in a rotation. New eyes for each side in case one missed something of importance.

Staying low with the radio tucked into the inside pocket of her jacket and the gun strapped tightly across her back, Sam moved at an angle toward the building. She knew that Roger was out there, and she wasn’t surprised when she quickly lost sight of him. Making a quick call back to Horatio, her voice was no more than a whisper on the wind. “Rog?”

They had already set the volumes, so she pressed the radio to her ear. “Directly to your nine. He’s closing in on the strip toward the rear of the hangar. Hold position and mark.” Laying low, Sam pulled out the flashlight, and given Horatio’s directions, flashed twice in Roger’s direction to let him know where she was. “He has you. Follow the plan and move in.”

Freeing the gun from her back, Sam stowed the radio and tucked the flashlight deep into her pocket. Plan was to stay out of sight, hit them when they were at the center of the wall crossing paths, hit with a double tap quick fire, duck, cover, and move as quick as possible to the next side. Roger would take the strip side and the front, Sam had the far field side and the back. Once Sam was in position, she made one last call. “I’m in position. Relay to Rog.”

“He’s ready. Follow the plan and continue. Once you clear the rear, mark position. Remember the rear door. Keep the radio clear in case there’s trouble once inside.”

“Roger that.” Tucking the radio away, Sam stretched out in the thigh high grass of the field. Digging her elbow into the soft turf, Sam sighted in on her two targets. As they hit center wall, she slowly pulled off two shots and hit them both in the center of the chest. Holding position long enough to see that they weren’t going to pursue her, but instead ‘play dead’, Sam rolled away and kept far enough in the shadows to slip through the field unnoticed to the back of the hangar. No matter how they had planned it, the second set wouldn’t be perfect. The second set of guards would already have passed center point, so it was harder to get the right spot to hit them both fast enough to not raise an alarm. Catching the first in the chest as she rounded the corner with him walking toward her, Sam caught the other in the back before the first even hit the ground. Skidding to a halt and dropping to the ground, her breathing was uneven, and her heart was racing, but so was her adrenaline. The two rear guards stood with their weapons ready but stayed their positions with smiles on their faces. Flashing Horatio, her radio crackled.

“Roger is clear. Marc is standing at the front corner of the hangar. All guards are on their feet but unmoving. No alarm was raised to warn those inside. Be on your guard, Sam. Roger has been warned as well.”

“Roger that. I’m moving in. I’ll let you know when I’m at the door.” Staying low even though the guards were no longer an issue, Sam grinned at them as they waved her way. Flattening herself against the wall, “In position.” Dropping the radio in her pocket, she kept her ear tuned in.

“Enter in five… four… three… two… one… go go go…”

Pulling open the door, Sam dove inside and luckily remembered the interior. Rolling to the side and coming up in a crouch, Sam dropped three of the guards at the rear of the plane before dropping her gun, drawing her knife and coming up behind Alec. Watching more bodies hit the floor, Sam grinned ear to ear as Roger walked casually around the front of the plane with his gun slung over his shoulder, “Well?”

Laughing lightly, Roger nodded. “Honestly? I thought one of them made me when I moved to the front.”

Releasing Alec, Sam shook her head and called Horatio on the radio. “Come on in. Hostiles have been eliminated.” Walking outside with Alec and his team, Sam waited for Horatio to join them. “Marc, gather your team as well.” As the young men gathered, Sam smiled as she noted that they all had been tagged. “Alec, Marc, I know you two didn’t know our plans, but I’m assuming that you must have given the order to hold their fire when they were hit.”

The twins looked at each and shrugged. “It was a little more than what Dad has put us through, but it was good training. Now we’ll hash it out, and figure out what we need to do make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We’ll improvise, we’ll change our planning, and next time we won’t be so easy to beat.” They said it with heart and pure determination.

Sharing a look with Roger and Horatio, Sam grinned. Perhaps there would be enough time to take them up on that offer if they didn’t hear from Uncle Mike the next day. Saying goodnight to the boys, the trio left the hangar and headed for the cabin to clean up and make some last minute calls to Uncle Mike and Alexx before turning in for the night.

Chapter Text

Waking to the soft glow of the lantern sitting on the table, Sam stretched and froze when her arm hit someone laying beside her. Turning her head slowly, she let out a soft sigh at the sight of Horatio stretched out on the bed beside her. Laying on his back with one arm thrown up and tucked under his head, he was softly snoring and she shook her head. Glancing across the room, she saw Roger standing near the window looking out at the night. Climbing out of bed, Sam crossed the room and dipped under his arm as he silently raised it and held it out to her. Leaning against his side as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “You should rest, Rog. We’re all going to need it.”

“I don’t sleep. You should remember that.”

Staring out at the night sky, “So how’d you manage to talk Horatio into taking half the bed?”

Chuckling softly, “We argued over the sofa and the floor. Told him I was taking the sofa and since I sleep less than he does, I didn’t want to be tripping over him while he sprawled out on the floor.” When Sam dug her elbow into his ribs, he grinned. “Besides, I figured you wouldn’t mind, and I didn’t think he’d like the idea of me crashing beside you even if you are only my sister.”

Roger was good at playing the coldhearted killer who cared for no one but himself, but she knew the real him, the one that she had tried to save all those years ago, the one that she fought so hard to protect for all these years. Leaning her head against his shoulder with her arms wrapped around herself, Sam sighed sadly. “We need a way to make this work, Rog. Somehow… somehow we have to find a miracle to pull this off.”

He heard the pain her voice, and he knew that she was scared. She’d never admit it, and she’d fight to the end, but she was scared. What worried him though was that she wasn’t afraid for herself, she was scared for the rest of them. Roger knew she wouldn’t rest until Vince was safe, and she’d lay it all on the line to protect her beloved brother, but what pulled at him, what was really starting to bother him, was how connected she was becoming to the man across the room. “Sammy…”

Shaking her head, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but somehow…”

She wasn’t going to give him a break, so he made one of his own. “Sammy, how much does he know?”

Her heart skipped a beat. Roger wasn’t asking if Horatio knew about the promise she had made him make, Roger was asking about her past. Bowing her head, her words were almost incoherent. “Everything.”

He’d been afraid of that. “You care about him.”

It wasn’t a question, but Sam nodded anyway. “I never expected anything like this to happen, Rog. Hell, I never expected to get the help that I’ve gotten from him and his team, let alone expect to come to care for them.”

He’d seen the way that Sam brightened when she looked at Horatio, and he saw the look in Horatio’s eyes when Sam was around. He couldn’t say that he was happy with the situation, but he felt the sincerity between them, and he did his best to stay out of their way. If this is what she wanted, then he was going to try to set aside the big brother complex and help her find the happiness that he had so long ago given up trying to seek. “I always thought it would be Vince who would end up with the red heads.” As she dug her elbow into his ribs harder, he gently pushed her away and took her by the shoulders. Looking across the room and back into her eyes, Roger’s voice was honest. “You could do worse, Sammy.”

Looking back at Horatio now rolled over on his side with his back to them, there was a longing in her voice that Roger had never heard before. “Question is, could I do better?”

Cupping her chin, Roger turned her face toward him and smiled down at her. “No, Sammy. The question is, do you really want to waste the rest of your life trying to search the world over for someone that may not exist? I said you could do worse, but I have no doubt that there’s no way you could find someone better.” Brushing the hair from her eyes, “I don’t know enough about his past to know what’s drawn you to him, but I see it in your eyes. Your heart is across the room, kid. Whether you know it or not, that’s where your heart is.”

Stepping closer, Sam closer her eyes and rested her head against Roger’s chest. If Roger seemed so sure, then why was she second guessing herself? “You have to promise me that you’ll go back for him once you get Vinnie to safety. I don’t want him to get hurt, Rog.”

He didn’t have the heart to tell her that if anything happened to her, there would be nothing he could do to stop the hurt that Horatio would end up facing. There would be nothing anyone could do to stop that pain if she didn’t make it through this. He hadn’t told Linda the exact truth, and he hadn’t had the heart to let Sammy see the truth either. Tightening his arms around her, Roger bowed his head and rested his cheek against the top of Sam’s head. What he would never tell her was, he really had been impressed with Nick and Linda, and everything they were doing for all of these kids. He hadn’t lied when he had said the tag on his head would keep them going comfortably for a long time. What he hadn’t said, what he would never say or let Sam or anyone else know was, he had made a decision. If Sammy didn’t make it out of this, he knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself knowing he hadn’t been able to save her, and he would turn himself in to Nick. The tag was dead or alive. He would rather be dead than go through the rest of his life knowing that he couldn’t protect the last of his family when they needed it most, when they had spent all of these years protecting him. He’d told her once that he wouldn’t promise it, but if it took her mind off of trying to find a way to protect Horatio, then maybe, just maybe, she’d be able to concentrating on her own survival. “Alright, Sammy. Once Vince is out of harms way, I’ll go back for Horatio.”

Leaning back, Sam looked up at Roger with tears in her eyes. “You didn’t call him Alger.”

Turning his head toward the window, he didn’t want her to see the moisture in his eyes, or the pain. “I’ll be honest, Sammy, the only reason I’m promising is so that you won’t worry about him. You wanted a way to get through this, a way to make this work, and if me going back for him eases your mind enough for you to get out of there, then you know I’d do it.”

He’d turned away and she had missed the tears, but when his voice choked, she bit her lip hard to keep her emotions in check. Slipping an arm around his waist, Sam looked out at the night. She needed to find a way to make things work. She needed time to think. “Rog, go lay down for a while. I can’t go back to sleep right now. I’ll stay up for a while.” When he looked down at her with a frown, Sam sighed. “Look, you were right, ok? I know I can’t protect you forever, but at least let me while I still can?”

He knew better than to argue. Nodding slightly, he stepped away from the window and waited as Sam crossed the room to quietly retrieve her SIG from under her pillow. The weight of the mission was weighing heavily upon her shoulders, and he hated that she was trying to shoulder the responsibility for the team by herself, but as she returned to his side with her head held high, there was no mistaking the grim determination flashing in her eyes. Moving to the sofa without a word, Roger stretched out on his back with his arms crossed under his head. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax.

Turning out the lantern, Sam tucked her SIG into the waistband of her jeans, and leaned against the wall beside the window looking out at the darkness.

***

Just before daybreak, something moved in the trees and Sam narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Grabbing the binoculars from the table, Sam peered outside at the still mostly dark predawn. Scanning the tree line, Sam chuckled lightly. Softly calling out to the guys, “Wake up, both of you. We’ve got company.” Rolling her eyes dramatically as Roger instantly came to his feet with his weapon in hand, “Put it away, Rog. Looks like the boys want a chance at a little payback.” Handing the binoculars to Horatio as he stepped to her side, “Check the big oak at twelve, and then shift over to two and there’s another one.” Time away from the Bureau hadn’t dulled her senses any. She was glad that she had Roger and Horatio on her team. She felt a little out of sorts giving them orders since they both had the advantage of age and experience behind them, but they both accepted her leadership without question. Surveillance was going to play a large part in this mission, and she was glad they were all on the same page. She had noted that last night when Horatio had given her Roger’s location. You mark targets by the face of a clock. Twelve was dead ahead of you, three directly to your right, nine directly to your left, and six meant watch your back. Dropping her SIG on the table, Sam picked up the night scope and headed for the back window.

“I’ve got at least four out front, Sam.”

Peering out the back window, Sam sighed. “That’s alright. I’ve got three more confirmed back here.” There was no back door to the cabin, so the only way out was through the front or through one of the windows. That narrowed down who was going outside. “Rog, prep the guns. Horatio, keep an eye on those trees and see if they don’t get close enough to ID.” Snapping her head around as Roger opened the closet, “And keep the lantern off. As far as they know, we’re still asleep.”

Glancing over his shoulder as Sam turned back toward her window, Horatio shook his head. He had decided to come out here to get Sam away from Miami to let Dan work. He knew she would have gone crazy sitting around doing nothing, and he had only hoped that some time away would give her a chance to relax. He never expected her to actually have a good time. He really had thought she would still be worrying about how slow things were moving, and that she would be on the phone constantly trying to get results faster. He had been wrong. Raising the binoculars once more, he faced the window. Last night had only been a game, but now they were testing their merit as a team. He had to give the boys credit moving in before dawn. There was no way the boys could have known that none had slept soundly in the cabin. “The four seem to be holding their positions.”

Softly calling Sam’s name, Roger tossed her one of the paint guns and walked to the front window with Horatio. “What’s the plan, Sammy?”

Following one of the figures as it disappeared deeper into the shadows, “There’s only one way out of this cabin and it’s through the front door. Although…” Pausing, she studied the window. “If you two can create a diversion and see about getting these boys back here to move, then I might be able to climb through the window and make it to the trees.”

Watching the trees, Roger dropped a hand on Horatio’s shoulder. “Alright, line me up on a shot. Maybe I can pick off a couple and get the rest moving to fill in the hole.” Dropping to one knee at the side of the door, “Make sure they’re staying put, then crack the door with a location. As soon as I squeeze off a round, close it and check their position.” There was no need to look across the room, he knew that Sam would be ready as soon as they made her a hole in their defenses. “Be careful out there, Sammy. Take the radio with you. We’ll stay dark unless you have to transmit.”

Dropping the scope on the bed, it would soon be useless to her anyway, Sam pulled on her jacket and crossed the room while slinging the paint gun over her shoulder. “Rog, let me have your bowie.” Taking the offered knife and securing the straps holding it in the sheath, Sam leaned down and kissed his forehead. “I’m always careful.” Handing the second radio to Horatio, “Keep it on and keep your eyes open. We don’t have much time left for the scope and binoculars to be of any use to us, so use them while you can. After that, we’re on eyes and ears alone. They have the advantage on that one. They know the area, we don’t.” Laying a hand on his arm, Sam smiled as he turned to look at her. “Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.” Dashing back across the room, she slipped her radio into her jacket pocket. “Alright, let’s get this started and give these boys a run for their money.” As much as she hated admitting it, she was having fun. She knew her mind should be more on the mission, but without being able to do anything, it would drive her crazy. At least this was a nice distraction.

Considering the angles and the clearance the door would provide, Horatio chose his targets. “Mark the oak. Clear target at ten, and one crouched low just left of the oak.” When Roger nodded, Horatio moved to the door. Cracking the door far enough for the barrel to go through, he waited for the two shots before shutting it again and taking up his position at the window. “Fatal on the ten. Winged the twelve.”

Looking out her window, Sam saw the shadows move toward the sides of the cabin. “I have movement your way.”

The sun was rising creating deeper shadows in the trees. The binoculars were almost useless now. Cursing quietly, Horatio tossed them back on the table. “It’s going to be hard seeing them now, so watch yourself, Sam.”

She wasn’t listening. As soon as she saw a break, she took it. Pushing open the window, she crawled through and dropped to the ground in a crouch. Dashing for the trees, she slid into the shadows and worked her way deeper in the woods. Pausing beside a tree, Sam slipped to the ground. Tucking the knife in the small of her back, she pulled her weapon from her shoulder, and cautiously started off circling the cabin while going deeper in the trees. With any luck, she’d be able to get behind the ones in front of the cabin and come up from behind. The birds had fallen silent and she didn’t want to give the boys any advantage so she pressed herself against a nearby tree and lowered herself behind the brush. Scanning the area around her, she heard a stick snap. Silently tsking anyone that was heading her way, she listened intently. Finally she heard the footsteps slowly creeping toward her. Whoever it was, they were on a direct path taking them right past her hiding spot. Silently setting her weapon against the base of the tree, she pulled out the bowie knife and waited.

When Nick had stopped by the hangar early, Marc had come up with an idea to take the team over to the cabin for some payback. It had sounded like a good idea, but now he wasn’t so sure. The three inside were professionals. One was a cop, one was a fed, and he had no idea what the other was except deadly. But he held tight to the plan, and he wouldn’t back down. After all, this was good training. Slowly making his way through the trees and brush, he struggled momentarily as a hand came from behind him to cover his mouth and pull his head back, and a knife was put to his exposed throat. Freezing when whoever it was lowered their mouth to his ear, he shuddered as their breath his ear sent a chill through him.

Sam had waited until the young blond had walked past her before moving. She’d kept the knife in it’s sheath, but she knew the edge of the sheath against his throat would suffice. Keeping her voice low, “You’re not dead. You’re captured. Make a sound, that changes. Nod if you understand.” He nodded once. Slowly removing her hand, “How many, where, and plan?”

Gulping audibly, his voice shook as he whispered back at her. “Ten and Marc, circling the cabin, and we were going to pick you off when you came outside.”

Not much of a plan, but seeing as how there was only one way in, that severely limited their options. “Sit against the tree. You’re knocked out.” Reaching in front of him, Sam plucked his gun from his hands. Slipping the knife back in her jeans, she shook her head as the youth turned and grinned at her before sitting beside the tree with his knees drawn up and his arms wrapped around them. “Name.”

“Brandon, Ma’am.”

Nodding, Sam handed back his gun and picked up her own before moving off through the trees. Finding a nice dark set of shadows, Sam hunkered down and listened to the woods around her.

***

“If you think you can handle the door open wider, there’s one at the two, and another coming around the three side.”

Still kneeling next to the door, Roger nodded. The radio had been silent, so he was hoping that all was well. “Stay behind the door in case I get hit. At least you’ll still be able to play it out.” As Horatio cracked open the door, Roger quickly pushed it open wider and spun to pick off the first target before ducking back inside as a paintball exploded on the wall next to the door.

Shutting the door and returning to the window, Horatio shook his head. “Another one down.”

***

The birds started chirping again, and Sam knew she was alone. That was a good thing. Rising slowly but staying hunched over, Sam moved through the brush and sighed as the birds continued singing. Nice. Then she felt it long before she heard it. Pain ripped through her as a paintball struck her left arm hard enough to snap stitches. Dropping her gun and slapping her hand to her arm, Sam cried out before she could stop herself. Leaning against the closest tree, Sam doubled over in pain clutching her arm to her chest. The birds had never stopped singing, until now. She couldn’t even raise her head as she heard someone running toward her.

He’d had her lined up perfectly, but when he pulled the trigger she had turned and the paintball had nailed her in the arm. He knew that it hurt if you weren’t expecting it and that the pellets could hit hard enough to bruise, but when Sam had cried out grasping her arm, he knew she had been hurt. That was no game cry. Racing through the trees, Marc skidded to a stop when he saw her leaning against the tree trembling. “Oh god, what did I do? Ma’am, are you alright? I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry.” Half of him expected her to look up smiling at him while pointing a gun at his chest to take him out, but when she raised her head, he saw the genuine pain in her eyes, and his heart sank.

Looking up, Sam bit back a groan as she looked at Marc’s face. He was white as a ghost. Hearing a second figure racing toward them, she saw Brandon break through the trees and slow as he saw her. Fishing the radio out of her pocket, she handed it to Brandon. “Just hold it.” Waving Marc closer, she saw his hesitation. “I’m alright. You had no way of knowing that I was already injured before this all started.” Holding her left arm out to him, “Pull the sleeve. I need to get the jacket off to check the damage.” Carefully pulling her arm out, Sam rolled up her sleeve to see the blood already spotting through the bandage. Cursing softly, she took the radio back and called the cabin. “Roger, fire up the truck. I need to get to the house.”

Horatio had him lined up for another target and was just opening the door when the radio went off. Slamming the door, Roger was on his feet as soon as he heard Sam’s voice. Keying the radio, “Sammy, what’s wrong?”

Smiling at the concern in his voice, Sam waited for Brandon to pick up her gun before leaning against Marc’s side. Cradling her arm against her chest, “Marc just took out his first Fed. The pellet snapped a couple stitches, Rog. I’m fine. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Pulling out his own radio, Marc only hoped that his team would get the message fast enough not to shoot. “Stand down! Stand down! That’s an order!” Tossing the radio to Brandon, “Call Dad. Tell him there’s been an accident and we’re going to the house.” Wrapping an arm around Sam’s waist, his heart sank. This had only been meant as a training exercise. He’d wanted his team to get a chance at evening the score from the night before, but not like this. Now he’d hurt Sam, a Federal Agent at that, and his father was going to be furious.

Listening to Brandon on the radio with Nick, Sam held out her hand. Biting back a grimace, “Nick, don’t you be hard on these boys. They did a good job. It was a clean hit, dead on. I’m sending the team back to the hangar and having Marc head to the house with me.”

“How bad, Sam?”

Trudging through the trees, Sam sighed. “I got winged the other night going after one of the guys that Carlos met on the beach. It wasn’t too bad, but it was deep enough for stitches. The pellet hit just hard enough to pop a couple of them. I’m fine.”

Chuckling lightly, “One question. Did you see him before he hit you?”

Glancing at Marc beside her, his head was lowered. Trying to lighten the situation, Sam laughed. “Not a glimpse. Not even the birds stopped singing.” Handing the radio back to Brandon, “Get the rest of the team and hoof it over to the hangar.” Watching him disappear through the trees, “It was a good shot, Marc. Stop worrying about it.”

Easy for her to say. “I was aiming for a chest shot, but you turned just as a fired. I didn’t mean to hurt you, Ma’am.”

Stepping from the trees, Horatio was waiting for them. Shaking her head minutely, her eyes flashed to Marc beside her and she saw Horatio nod. Roger was waiting beside the truck when they approached. Pointing at Horatio, Roger growled, “You drive.” Glaring at Marc, “You in the back.”

As Marc lowered the tailgate, Sam climbed inside without their help and planted herself behind the driver’s seat. Growling at Roger, “I’m fine, and you know damn well this isn’t Marc’s fault, so knock it off.” Rolling her eyes as Roger gently took her arm and raised her sleeve, “I’m fine. Calm down.” Cursing under her breath as her cell phone went off, Talk about bad timing. It was Uncle Mike. “If anyone says anything while I’m on the phone, then I’m going to throttle you all.” Answering the phone with a smile in place, she still couldn’t help but sound slightly breathless. “Hey, Uncle Mike. What’s up?”

“I wanted to touch base. I’ve got probable locations down to two, and I’m getting the satellite feeds this afternoon. I should be able to narrow it down from there.”

That was incredible news. “You want us back?”

“No need right now.” He’d heard the gasp in her voice and it raised his concern. “Is everything alright, Sam?”

Rolling her eyes, “I’m fine. Horatio, Roger and I decided to play with Nick’s boys last night that were guarding the plane. A little field exercise. The boys decided to return the favor by showing up before dawn to exact a little revenge.”

Laughing, “How’d that turn out?”

Shrugging, Sam let the humor and pride fill her voice, “One of Nick’s oldest took out his first Agent.” As the truck parked in front of the house, “Why don’t I get back with you later on? We were just heading to the house for breakfast.” Saying goodbye and promising to call later on, Sam hung up and climbed out of the truck.

“Get up here, and let me look at you.”

Raising her head, Sam sighed as Linda stood in the doorway with her arms crossed. “Linda, I’m fine, really. I just need Roger to patch a couple of stitches.”

Shaking her head, Linda waved at the men. “You boys go find something to do. I’ll take care of this. Lord knows with as many boys are in this house, I’ve patched up more than a couple of them up.” Holding the door open for Sam, “Well? Come on, let’s take a look.” Leading her through the house, Linda asked what happened, and Sam told her. “Marc couldn’t have known, but he’ll still blame himself for hurting you.” Stopping in the bathroom, Linda started cleaning Sam’s arm.

“So Marc and Alec’s birthdays are today?” Sam had a plan, but she wasn’t ready to come out with it yet. When Linda nodded without a word, “I was thinking about getting them something.”

Lifting her head, and raising an eyebrow, “Now you don’t have to do that.”

Chuckling, Sam shook her head. “Yeah, I know. I just thought with them being in the Guard and college, and with as much as they do to help the family and all, I wanted to get them a little something.”

Linda saw the mischievous glint in Sam’s eyes, “What are you planning?”

Leaning forward, Sam whispered, “I’ll tell you, but you’re sworn to secrecy. You can’t even tell Nick.” Then she told Linda what she had in store for the boys.

Linda’s eyes sparkled with tears. “You really don’t have to do that.”

Nodding as Linda finished with her arm, Sam sighed. “You and Nick do incredible work here without any outside help. Your boys are remarkable. I know that they’ll use what I get them to help the family too, so in a way, this is my way of saying thank you.”

Waving her hand dismissively, Linda started cleaning up. “Oh, don’t you worry about Carlos. He wanted to ask you to stay for dinner tonight if you didn’t have plans. He invited his father out for dinner and Nick is suppose to go pick him up.”

Hearing that, Sam got another idea. “Perfect. Let me get out of here for a while to make some plans.” Standing and looking out the window, Sam watched Roger get into the truck with Nick with a bag tossed over his shoulder. Pulling out her cell, she called him. “Where are you going?”

Chuckling darkly, “To the hangar. I just got something from Nick to even our odds even more.”

Her mind was racing. “Take Marc with you. I need my laptop. See if he won’t mind running it over to the cabin for me. I’m done here and I’m heading back over there for a while.” Hearing his confirmation and watching Marc climb into the back of the truck, Sam went downstairs to collect Horatio. “Back to the cabin. I need to make some plans.”

“Oh no you’re not. You two get right back in here and get something to eat.”

Glancing over his shoulder, Horatio dropped his head to hide a wide grin. “You know we can’t argue with her.” Holding out his hand, he led Sam back inside for breakfast before leaving for the cabin.

***

Walking into the cabin, Sam found her laptop on the table right beside her SIG where she had left it. Propping open the laptop, she signed on and sent a message to Uncle Mike inquiring about her account funds. When he asked why, she told him her plan for the boys and for Carlos’s father. Smiling as he didn’t argue, but only sent back a quick figure with instructions to call if she needed more, she promised to call later. Doing a quick search, Sam found what she was looking for. Looking up at Horatio as he stood behind her looking over her shoulder, “Well? What do you think? Will the boys like it?”

Shaking his head, he wondered how she could afford such extravagant gifts. “Sam, it’s a little expensive for a gift, don’t you think?”

Laughing as she read through the page of information, “Not really.” Sobering instantly, she reached up to take his hand. Tilting her head to rest her cheek against his hand as he lowered it to her shoulder, “I only use the funds for special reasons. To help people out that need it and deserve it. To protect my family. It’s money that I’ve collected from the field over the years. Some of the guys we’ve worked for that we were bringing down… they were very giving when it came to those they deemed most loyal.”

“You didn’t have to turn it in when the cases were over?”

Sighing, “I did. Most of it anyway. Almost everything in the account now is just what I’ve accumulated in interest. I’ve siphoned some out over the years to feed into Roger’s accounts to keep him going. I’ve paid off a couple of bounty hunters that wanted his tag.” When Horatio’s hand tightened, Sam smiled faintly. “If he actually knows about the hunters, then I’d be surprised. He knows about the accounts though.” Leaning her head back to look up at Horatio, “Money is money. I’ve used it to do some good when I could. That’s why I want to do this for the boys and Carlos’s dad.”

Studying the page on the screen, Horatio narrowed his eyes in thought. “Black for Marc and that blue for Alec.” Reaching past her, he typed out a new search. “If you’re looking for a vehicle for his father, then how about something like this?” As a new page opened, “It’s efficient, easy on the wallet, easy on maintenance.”

Running through the specs, Sam nodded slowly. “I like it. I think that should make things a little easier on Carlos and his father.” Making a couple notes, Sam shut down and sighed. “Why don’t you call Nick and ask him if we can hop a ride with him when he leaves? Have him tell Roger that I want him to go with us too, and that yes, it’s an order, and yes, it’s very necessary.” As Horatio nodded, Sam called Uncle Mike to let him know what she was planning in detail.

“Sam, they’re going to love it, and I’m sure his father will be more than grateful.”

“I’m sure he will too. I’ll talk to you later. Good luck with the satellites.” Disconnecting, she looked up to see Horatio smiling. “What?”

“I told Nick what you have planned. I figured he’d want to know, and he promised to keep everything a secret. Roger wasn’t thrilled with being pulling away, but he said he’d be ready.”

Stretching, Sam yawned. “When’s he leaving?”

“A couple of hours. Go lay down, Sam. I think we could use a little extra sleep considering all the excitement of the morning.”

Shaking her head, “Nah. Too much to plan. I think we could all use a little detour shopping trip while we’re out too. I’d like to find a good change of clothes before dinner.” Heading for the bathroom, “So long as there’s running water, I’m taking advantage of it. You can have the shower after me.”