He felt something slick dripping onto his forehead, slithering down and into his eyes, dragging him from the depths of his unconscious. Eyes pressed resolutely closed, Sam took stock of the situation. There was a cut on his leg, bleeding down into his right sneaker; when he took a deep breath, a sharp pain sizzled through his chest. His ribs were probably bruised.
Sam tried to move his wrists; feeling them drag against the rough material of the nylon ropes deterred him from further movement. He was hog-tied to the bed, his neck cricked backward and his nose pressed crookedly into a pillow.
Somehow, he managed to piece together the events of the past few hours. A friend of Mike's was in troubled water – a ring of drug dealers wanted her house for a crack den. Michael had posed as an art dealer with a serious coke problem who wanted to bankroll the dealers' expansion into the east side of the town. The point was to scare them away with muscle, and to get Mike's friend temporary breathing space.
They had seemed small-time to him during surveillance, so he felt comfortable doing back-up alone with Fi while Michael went forth under his cover ID to the dealer's house. To say they had misunderstood the amount of force the dealers had behind them was the understatement of the century. There had been semi-automatics and explosions, and they had snuck up on Sam in the alley where he had been waiting and clocked him over the head. Simply put, a lot had gone sour in a hurry.
He looked about the interior of the small, barren room, searching for a way out, an exit strategy. Every wall was bare – a single window positioned high over his head pouring pale gold light over his face.
The door cracked open; Sam's eyes parted just a hint and he regarded the older man, a gentleman half Sam's age, wearing a silver chain and a red wifebeater and dirt-spackled jeans.
His name came back to Sam in a flash. "Ramierez," he mumbled, which earned Sam a punch to the upper back.
"Thought I beat your brains out back there, 'Chuck'." Sam could practically hear the air quotes. "Where the hell's your partner?"
Far away, Sam hoped. He'd gotten a running start to the Saab – Fiona was on the roof of the YMCA a few feet away, with his scope rife. He thought suddenly, inanely, of that gun, as he'd thought of his car the last time he'd been held hostage; he had to live, if he didn't live Fiona would keep the rifle, or sell it. "Working with my attaché in London," Sam proclaimed. "You see, he'll get you your money." Sam knew Michael wouldn't, that if he's as smart as Sam knew he was, Michel was a million miles away by now, regrouping with Fi.
"He's got seven days," Ramierez said. His voice came closer, just by Sam's ear. "If I don't get my money by then, Sammy's gonna take a long walk off a short pier."
"Good thing I know how to swim." He let out an involuntary gasp when the man's punch landed on his definitely now-bruised ribs. "Why doncha punch the other side? Tenderize me a little more." The man did as Sam requested, making him gasp in surprise. With that, Ramierez abandoned the room, and Sam lay very still, strategizing his next move.
Michael was efficient, calm and completely reasoned as he showed Fiona the motel's registry. "It's too easy," he declared.
"They wouldn't store him at the safehouse," Fi pointed out. "Too easy of a target. A motel would be…"
"…An even easier target," Michael replied.
Fiona took the print-out from his hand and placed her right upon his shoulder. "You should try to get some sleep."
Michael gently shoved Fi's hand away; their love affair may have been long over, but he still had affection for her. "Sam didn't sleep when you were kidnapped."
She frowned, sitting closer to him. "How chivalrous," she remarked. "We need to keep our minds and wits sharp. This isn't child's play, Michael."
"Neither was defusing a bomb in Tel Aviv with a hairpin."
"You did that?"
"Sam did." Fiona made a face at the notion. "One of his ladyfriends was there – it was complex."
"It's impolite to talk about your new boyfriend in front of your ex, Michael."
Michael sighed. "We finished this weeks ago, Fi." Fi was in love with a nice guy on the FPD, who didn't arouse jealousy in Michael. The pettiness he had borne against Campbell disappeared when Fi was around Tony – Michael knew now that it was because Fi was genuinely happy, and that he wanted her to be as happy as he was when he was around Sam. He noticed the elfin glimmer in her eyes and narrowed his gaze. "Stop trying to distract me."
"If I don't, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to fix this." She put down the papers. "Calm down and think. If you were a petty drug dealer, where would you hide your hostage?"
Michael considered the papers before him. The "Chuck Finley" at the Fountain Green Hotel was definitely a fake; the drug houses were abandoned. They had moved their operation elsewhere, where his scouting ability and Fi's friends couldn't quite stake out.
It would only take one mistake to unravel the whole thing; Michael knew that. He kept a rational mind.
"Do you remember Ramierez's right hand man; the ex-preacher?" Michael asked.
Fiona shook her head. "We've investigated all of his holdings."
"His holdings – what about his son's?"
Fiona's eyes widened. In a moment she was on the phone, making calls, and Michael found himself gathering the pieces of her Walther and putting them into the case. She had her sources and they'd have their lead soon.
Sure enough, Fi soon snapped her phone closed. "He has an adult son who owns a fishing shack in Sarasota. Sam would love that sort of place."
"Not if he's tied up." Michael closed the case. "He saved my life that day." Michael ran a frustrated hand through his hair. "The least I can do is save his."
"We'll make it," Fiona said, with great confidence.
Michael gave her a silent nod, communicating his respect. In minutes, they were speeding down the highway to Sarasota.
Three days had passed by, Sam reckoned from the pattern of sunlight rising and setting over his shoulder. Every day he watched Ramierez for some weakness, some distraction, but the man watched Sam as if he were being paid to do it. He fed Sam fast food and gave him water, occasionally allowing him to remove his shoes to improve the circulation in his feet.
At the end of the fifth day, he heard a miraculous noise; children shouting and laughing outside. The fishing hut wasn't as isolated as Ramierez thought!
It was a risk, but Sam had to take it; he began tapping his foot against the floor in a rhythmic pattern whenever he heard a sound.
Dot dot dot. Dash dash dash. Dot dot dot.
Morse code for SOS.
Fiona held out a bright-pink teeshirt, emblazoned across the front with the slogan 'Federal Ball Inspector' in bold font. "I should get one of these for your mother," she declared.
Michael glowered. The little roadside strand where they had stopped for gas was a few miles up the dirt road from the Ramierez cabin. They had been forced to stop for gas, and they were both being very cautious as they knew Ramierez often stopped at the adjacent restaurant.
She sighed and looped the shirt over her arm, waiting beside him. Blending in with the crowd easier than waiting out in the Charger, which was so conspicuous in the working class neighborhood that it would have drawn instant attention; they had hidden in the underbrush behind the store after filling up.
Fi clutched his shoulder when Ramierez emerged from the restaurant next door, a bagful of takeout carried under his arm.
"Get the car, Fi," Michael said, pulling out ten dollars and shoving it into the tip jar on top of the desk.
She didn't argue, only tossing a blithe "get a small for me!" over her shoulder on her way out the door.
Sam immediately stopped flexing his toes when Rameriez returned, tossing a Styrofoam box of greasy food to the floor in front of him.
"There's your lunch," he said.
He glanced at the side of the bed. "How the hell am I supposed to eat it?"
Rameriez rolled his eyes, bending down to retrieve the food. It was the opening Sam had waited for – he lurched sideways, headbutting Rameriez right between the eyes. The man lurched backward, cursing and gasping in pain.
Even with his arms tied behind him he could kick – even with his legs tied to the bed his foot managed a blow to the guy's groin. It would buy him enough time to wiggle out of the ropes binding his feet to his wrists…
Fi and Mike rushed into the small clearing around the fishing cabin. Normally deserted so far into the season, the Ramierez's had company – a family and their Winnebago were parked in a copse of trees several feet away from it. Rameriez' car had disappeared around the bend of the dirt road – Fi and Michael were inches behind him.
"He might have slipped into the woods," Fi suggested. She grabbed a passing woman from the tourist's caravan. "Have you seen a man? Hispanic, 5'9?"
She shrugged out of Fi's insistent hold. "There's a man who lives in that fishing shack. He comes and goes a whole lot." She shook her head. "We've been thinking about breaking up camp and moving upstream. There's been a noise coming from that shack. Regular. Sort of like something's trying to claw its way out."
Michael reached for the gun tucked securely into his waistband. At that point a crashing sound came from within the cabin, and he rushed the door, his gun at the ready.
"Hey, who are you?" She called back to Fi.
Fi quickly pulled out a laminated press pass, yanking her Uzi from her belt loop. "Dana Scully, journalist."
"Oooh, how official!" she marveled, as Fi followed Mike into the fray.
Sam was thrilled out of his mind to see Michael rush into the room; Rameriez was leaning into his cracked ribs from behind, but he had gotten one of his legs free.
He kept working on the knot while keeping an eye on Michael. Michael fighting hand-to-hand to the death was always a breathtaking sight, but Sam's circulation demanded a free flow of blood.
Fi suddenly appeared beside him, a hand on her pistol just in case, the other with a combat knife sawing through his bonds.
"God, am I glad to see you" he admitted.
"Why Sam," she said lightly, yanking at the sheep shank knot and finally freeing him, "I do believe you're blushing!"
Sam jumped off of the bed as Michael cracked Rameriez across the back of his head with the butt of his gun.
"He's out," Michael panted.
"Shoot him to make sure," Fi requested.
"Do you want to deal with his family dropping in on us? Now's not the time!" Michael grabbed Sam his arm and shouldered his weight. "Good to see you, Sam."
"Back atcha, baby."
"Don't call me baby now," Michael groaned, half-dragging Sam out of the house and toward the Charger. He made it into the front seat and heard Fi turn the key in the ignition as she climbed in. When the back door opened he heard a far-too-familiar popping sound.
He craned his neck to look back over the seat, fear clutching his heart. "Sam?"
There was a gasp in response, and Sam threw himself into the backseat, clutching his hip. Fi peeled out of the driveway like a madwoman; Ramierez kept shooting as he ran to his car, at what point Michael put an end to the conflict with three shots to the back.
Once they were out of sight, Michael climbed over the back seat, grabbed Sam and pulled him horizontally across his lap.
"Where did they get you?" Michael asked.
Sam had a hand clutched over his already-battered hip. "Dunno…it ain't good. Past the soft tissue – burning like hell…"
"It's all right – you're safe. FI, do you…"
She spun the wheel, sending the Charger careening through a green light. "I have a friend who's a friend of a surgeon," she said, and then glared into the rear-view mirror. "Axe, if you die…"
Sam let out a mirthless groan. "You'll kill me?"
"That's a horrible joke even for you, Sam." She sped to their destination, one that even Michael didn't know.
Michael felt a steady trickle of blood dripping down the left leg of his jeans, into his shoes. The bullet had gone through Sam's body, but what had it struck on the way remained unobvious.
"Feel dizzy," Sam murmured, his eyes half closed.
"SAM!" Michael shook him, clamping down his emotions, "don't go to sleep on me, Sam. You know what'll happen if you do."
"My head feels like it's gonna spin off my neck," Sam grunted.
"Just past this light!"
"See? It's just past…" But Sam had passed out cold as Fi slammed through the traffic and pulled up before a nondescript strip mall.
Michael glared in confusion. "What the hell are you doing?" None of the shops looked like clinics.
"The chocolate shop," she ordered. Michael gaped at her but did as she asked, needing Fiona's support to drag Sam into the shop.
"Marthe! Marthe!" Fiona called. A tiny dark-haired woman emerged from the back room in a white smock. She peered at Sam's bleeding form and instantly snapped into action.
"What was it?"
"Gunshot – I think to midsection." Fiona glanced down toward Sam's gut, trying to figure out where all of the blood was coming from.
Marthe's expression turned grave. "Come on, we need to get him into the backroom." She led them silently to an unlocked door marked 'employees only'; they should have been confronted by a break room but instead found himself in a scrapped together but surprisingly clean medical clinic. Michael glanced at the blood seeping onto the floor as he and Fi followed the woman to the exam room and helped Sam lie down. Marthe produced a small set of scissors and cut away Sam's shirt. Michael stared at the bright orange material – the Hawaiian with a lantern printed over it, one of Sam's favorites.
"Hey, watch the shirt," Sam muttered, his voice slurring as he came back to life.
Marthe had unveiled the injury and carefully probed the damage with a glove-covered finger. Sam started and emitted a low groan, the only sound he could manage. "lower hip," remarked Marthe. "It could be an arterial perforation – he could bleed out." She threw open a small medicine cabinet, pulling out a needle and an alcohol pad. "He needs to go under."
Fiona said nothing, deliberately glancing at Michael, quietly leaving the decision up to him.
"Mike," Sam's voice came from the table, a rasp half-mumbled as the doctor ran an IV for him. Michael knelt to hear Sam's voice. "Remember Thailand?"
He nodded. It had been a surprise attack from a group of mercenaries who wanted what Sam's group been protecting; a knife fight ensued and Sam had been sliced through a tendon at the back of his knee. The surgery had been performed in the trenches, with a bottle of whiskey and a sterilized pocket knife. It was the only time Michael had ever seen Sam drunk. "You've still got a limp."
"But I'm alive."
Michael clamped down his emotions – they must have shown up in his eyes, because Sam reached out to squeeze his hand, clumsily missing and cupping them around his wrist. "Let me go, Mike."
"I'm already bleeding. Either I go out on my ass or she gives me a fighting chance." He deployed the most powerful weapon in his arsenal. "You know what I'd do if it were you."
Michael nodded; they both knew, but it didn't make it easier for Michael to do. Sam was blessed with his typical calm forthrightness; he cupped Michael's cheek and they exchanged a weak kiss. It didn't matter that Fiona stood nearby, her eyes averted, or that the chocolatier-cum-doctor was trying to arrange an IV for Sam. Michael leaned against Sam for just a moment, trying to bottle up his scent, the feeling and taste of his lips, just in case he lost the fight and died on the table.
When they separated, Marthe pressed an oxygen mask to Sam's face. "You can't help him now," she said firmly. "Please, take a seat in the shop, have a cappuccino on me."
Michael tried not to look back as he and Fi left the operating room. They found seats next to the pastry counter, Michael sitting nearest the window. Fi sat down opposite him, crossing her legs, and started perusing the shelves.
"I think I'll have a cayenne indulgence," she declared, pointing to a truffle on the bottom row.
"She really sells chocolate?" Fiona ignored him, ducking behind the counter and plucking two plump truffles off of the top of the pyramid. She held out the piece of chocolate to Michael, who turned ups his nose.
"Have one. He wouldn't want you to starve now." Her tone showed a quantity of sympathy.
Michael rolled it between his fingers, lacing his fingers with red powder. "How did you find out about her, Fi?"
She shrugged. "One of my bounties accidentally injured himself…" She sighed at his expression. "It was an accident, Michael…"
"She does excellent work – in both respects. " Fi popped the piece of chocolate into her mouth, swirled it around and swallowed. "She's waiting for her credentials to come through in the states. Back in Copenhagen, she was a top-flight neurosurgeon."
Michael's distracted gaze drifted to the closed door. The sound of surgical instruments clinking and steady work filled the room, along with the scent of blood and chocolate. Sam had been seen to in worse places before. Michael was the one battling the agony of waiting now.
"Well," Fi sighed, "hot chocolate?"
"I love him."
Fiona glared over the top of her double latte, her fourth in four hours. "I knew that," she remarked archly. Michael grimaced at the awkwardness of the moment. Fiona attempted grace. "Sam knows you love him."
Michael forced himself to close his eyes and relax, knowing a clear mind would be required no matter the outcome of the surgery. "We're going to get Ramierez."
"And his sons," Fiona said. "I don't suggest shooting them." Her eyes lit up. "How do you feel about dynamite?
"I didn't know you cared that much about Sam."
She shifted her shoulders. "He may be a hopeless lush, but he's our hopeless lush."
That was as close as Fi had ever come to admitting Sam meant something to her. Michael didn't press her, but took another mouthful of his black coffee.
At that point, Marthe appeared, wiping her hands with a white towel. Michael rose as she urged him to sit.
"An arterial perforation," she informed them. Michael noted how impeccably clean her white uniform was. "It wasn't major, but it was severe enough to make him bleed badly. I sutured it. He's bruised a few ribs, on top some superficial wounds. I've got him on an IV drip that will keep him unconscious for the next half hour. He's a lucky man, Fiona."
Fiona hummed, folding her magazine and giving Michael one of her best I-told-you-so looks. "I think he knows it."
Michael gave a small smile, a ghost of one. Sam was out cold; he wouldn't know if he and Fi disappeared for awhile to take care of a little business…
They were hard to infiltrate. Michael practiced his best East Milwaukee accent to convince Rameirez he was a simple coffee importer looking to get into the drug exportation business. Michael could be terribly sincere when he needed to be.
And terribly vicious.
The plan was a simple one – convince Rameirez to export his drugs into Wisconsin, where Fiona knew via several well-hidden sources that a major raid was about to go down in an airport. They would hide the crack in bags of coffee beans; the bags of coffee beans were covered in an attractant that was guaranteed to set off drug dogs. Most of the Ramierezes would be on the plane, accompanying the shipment, waiting for their contact – a 'Charles F' – who would never arrive.
Not as bloody a revenge as Michael yearned for, but still effective.
The waiting game began again.
The afternoon before the drop-off was to take place, Michael visited Sam. After a month lying in the back room of the candy shop ("why couldn't Fi know someone with a brewery?" Sam complained once he was conscious), he'd been transferred to Maddie's couch. His mother didn't ask questions, much less about the tender way her son had helped Sam move about the small living room; Sam was recouping but between his broken ribs and the gunshot wound he couldn't do anything but help with the practicalities.
Michael kissed his temple before he walked out of the house with a briefcase filled with c4 and long-distance remote control.
It would finally end today, one way or another.
Two hours in a hot car, waiting to hear from Fi's contact; four more for the plane ride. Michael paced and slugged down yogurt, the passage of time grating on him. Fiona filed her nails, watched TV, had some chips, and called her cop boyfriend from the bathroom.
His phone chirped – the number he'd assigned to his mother weeks ago glowed from the display. But it was Sam who was texting him.
A/S/L? he asked.
Funny, Michael typed back. Are you good?
As a box of fluffy duckies. Your mom slipped some pain meds in the chili. I'm feeling no pain, brother. A moment, So, what are you wearing?
You saw me when I left three hours ago.
You don't have any imagination. Type something nasty. What's on under the suit?
Fuck You. Michael typed, but decided Sam wouldn't get the joke and deleted it. The gray boxers, he glanced at Fi, who had begun to brush her toes with bright red polish, one foot up on the couch.
Those things? Thought I told you to burn them. It's a potato sack with leg holes.
Not sexy. I'll just pretend you're wearing nothing.
Michael nearly smiled. Horny, Sam?
What do you think? Until they give me a clean bill of health, little Sammy isn't gonna see any action. Gotta get my kicks in where I can.
By thinking of me naked?
If I can't touch, I've gotta imagine.
Alright, Sam – I'm naked. What are you going to do with me?
Get you on your knees.
Michael felt a warm glow spread over his body. Am I sucking you off?
He glanced at Fiona, making sure she was preoccupied. He faced away from the couch, using the workbench to shield himself; with his left hand, Michael typed, while he slipped his right into the pocket of his pants. The cut was just relaxed enough to allow him to take his aching cock in hand. He started playing pocket pool, his typing becoming a little more erratic Thn wt do I di? he smashed out.
Mike, are you jerking off in front of Fi?
He calmed himself. She can't see. What do I do next, Sam?
Michael stroked himself, speeding gradually, as Sam's statement appeared slowly, line by aching line. You suck me 'til I'm hard as hell. Then I'd bend you over the workbench and fuck you til you came all over the damn thing.
Sam was reminiscing about the first time they'd been together, a sweaty afternoon where they'd both been a little lonely and a lot horny.
Sound good Mikey?
The memory had Michael primed to throbbing hardness; he presented a cool front, and excused himself; He freed himself, grabbed a hunk of toilet paper and stroked his cock to a quick, toe-curling orgasm that left him masking groans of delight behind firmly bitten bottom lips. No one did it to him the way Sam could, even across town without the simplest touch of his hand.
In the time it took Michael to compose himself and dispose of the toilet paper, Fiona had received a call – from her excited tone of voice he could tell the deal was going down.
He was all business as he went to retrieve his phone from the top level of the loft.
D'you get off?
You know I did.
Good. As soon as I'm better we'll do more than type.
Roger on that.
Damn straight baby. Have fun for me.
I will Sam. Count on it.
The following morning, Michael drove to his mother's house, handset pressed to his ear, indulging Sam's complaints about his mother's cooking.
"So how'd it go?"
"Rameriez and his son are going up the river for drug trafficking and my hands still smell like coffee."
"Talk about a fair trade," Sam joked. The conversation lapsed as Michael turned right onto his mother's street. Sam's voice came in a whisper. "So what are you wearing?"
Michael sighed, and Sam chuckled. "Come take me home, baby," he demanded.
Michael's smile was quick and small; you would have to have been staring at him to see it. But he did smile, alone in the car, listening to his lover breathe. "Whatever you want, Sam," he said, and turned into his mother's driveway.