Lucy, I hope you can read this and see where all your comments led my muse. I'll miss you!
Warnings: Post TS by BS. AU.
This has been expanded and revised thanks to the betas who jumped in to help: Izzy, Melli, Kim. All errors are mine.
"Rafe, could you come to my office?" Simon's polite request made heads turn. It wasn't often that their captain spoke so nicely to the detectives. Usually that only occurred when something was up, something that he was trying to con them into something they wouldn't normally do.
Rafe looked at his partner, eyes widening as he realized that he was the only one included in the request. Henri Brown just shrugged, raising his hands in the universal sign of confusion. Rafe swallowed and stood, heading for the captain's office.
"Rafe, I have an assignment for you, if you want it." Simon's voice was quiet, almost gentle.
"Sir?" Rafe's confusion was evident on his face. Why would the captain be hesitant about giving him an assignment? Unless it involved the Feds or worse.
"If you don't want the case, I'll understand. It's your choice." Simon sounded as if he were hoping Rafe would decline the assignment before even hearing about it. As Rafe hesitated, the captain passed him a thick file. "I want you to know, I won't push you to take this case, son."
Rafe's head shot up and he stared at Captain Banks. The big man was refusing to meet Rafe's eyes. This was going to be bad. Very very bad. And for some reason Simon thought that he wouldn't refuse this case. He opened the file and stared at his own face. The name on the page made him wince. Andrew Thomas O'Raferty was in Washington. He didn't have to read the file.
"I'll take it, sir." Rafe's quiet words made Simon face him.
"Are you sure, Rafe? This would place you under federal jurisdiction. They want you assigned strictly to their team." Simon gestured to the file. "You might want to read the rest of the file. There are a lot of things in there that you..."
"I know what my cousin is capable of doing, sir." Rafe spoke resignedly. He closed the file with a soft sigh. "Yes, you heard me right. I'm the only one who can get inside."
"I take it, he's the reason you changed your name?" Simon's voice was quiet as he watched his detective. Now he finally knew the reason for Rafe's refusal to use more than one name. It also explained the unusual last name.
"Yes, sir." Rafe met Simon's eyes. "Do I have to work with the Feds, sir? I'd prefer to work with our team."
"If you take the case, you become a federal agent, Rafe. That's the only way they'll let you join. I'll have no control over the way they handle the case."
"I'll miss Major Crimes, sir." Rafe spoke sadly. He really didn't want to leave the Cascade PD. However, working with the Feds to help stop his cousin wasn't something he could pass up. It hurt to say the words. "I'm taking their offer."
Simon nodded. He had worried over passing the offer along to Rafe. But he couldn't refuse to pass the assignment along. Not with the mayor and the governor both encouraging them to work with the FBI and NSA.
He picked up his phone, "Rhonda, I'm going to need those boxes. Please meet me at Rafe's desk." After he hung up the phone, he faced Rafe again. "This begins immediately, you do realize that, son?"
"What do we tell the others sir?"
"Only that you've joined the Seattle bureau. I'll tell them after you've left. Rafe, how will your ..." Simon stopped his words at the stricken look that crossed his detective's face.
"I can't tell her. Not now. She wouldn't take it well." Rafe sighed. "Will you try to keep an eye on her? If Andrew Thomas finds out about her, well, it wouldn't be nice."
"I'll add some extra patrols near her home and I'll personally keep an eye on her." Simon felt for his detective. None of the Major Crimes detectives liked working with the FBI. They had learned the hard way that the Feds usually were playing a double game when they came asking for help. "You can call me anytime, day or night if you need anything."
"Thank you, Captain Banks."
"My name is Simon, Rafe."
"Thank you, Simon."
The bullpen went completely silent as the two men met Rhonda at Rafe's desk. When they began emptying the desk, the silence was broken by shocked murmurs.
"Rafe, what's happening?" Henri's voice was hesitant. The look on his face was part confusion and part hurt.
"H, I'm ..." The dapper young detective looked away. Henri had been his partner ever since joining the Major Crimes department. He was the best partner he had ever had. This was going to be harder than he'd thought. The last of his personal items placed carefully in a box, he sealed it, his face a mask. He picked it up and faced his partner. No, H was his ex-partner now. "I'm going to miss you, Henri."
The softly spoken words rocked the other detectives. Before they could react, Rafe and Simon were out the door and heading for the elevator. There was a rush for the hallway but the somber group was met by closed elevator doors. By the time they made it to the garage, Simon and Rafe were gone.
Two long hours later, Captain Simon Banks walked into the bullpen. As one, his detectives stood and headed in his direction. He raised one hand, his expression grim enough to freeze them in their tracks.
"Sir?" Henri Brown spoke softly. "Where's Rafe?"
The lost expression on Henri's face was almost too much for him. Simon forced himself to relax his shoulders. "Detective Rafe is no longer with the Cascade PD. He is now a member of the Seattle branch of the FBI."
"They shanghaied him?" Blair Sandburg sounded shocked. "I didn't think they could do that."
"Detective Rafe requested the transfer personally." Simon watched as his detectives tried to comprehend his words. The mixed incredulity and stark shock on their faces made his voice gruff as he snapped, "I think you have some cases to finish. Get to them."
Only Jim Ellison heard the waver in his voice. His eyes were speculative as he watched the captain stalk into his office. The sentinel frowned thoughtfully before turning back to his computer.
Rafe strode into the little house, hoping that she was home. When he saw Sherri and Lashon Brown, he quickly changed his plans. He stalked past them, ignoring the startled questions. He grabbed a duffle bag and began stuffing clothes into it. Only a moment later, Kyrie joined him. Silently, she packed a suit bag, offering it to him with a quirked eyebrow.
"I'm not coming back." He spoke louder than intended. Shocked green eyes turned to him. Lowering his voice, he whispered a mixed warning and apology. "I can't, not without bringing hunters. Don't trust anyone. Not even me. Not anymore."
Before she could reply, he grabbed the bags and brushed past her.
Kyrie AJ Fortaleza raced down the hallway, trying to catch up to Rafe. Mentally she cursed his longer legs and the speed with which he was moving. She had to have misunderstood him. He couldn't be leaving.
"AJ?" Sherri's voice called from the living room as she ran by it.
She flung open the front door and caught sight of the limousine heading down the short driveway. The perfectly coifed man in the backseat didn't turn around as they pulled out of the gate.
"AJ?" Sherri's voice was at her shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Her eyes were blurring as she turned around to face her friend. The woman's stunned expression told her she had heard Rafe correctly. The whispered warning still rang in her head and her hackles began to rise.
"I need to be alone, Sherri. Please. I just need to be alone." She pleaded with the woman who pulled her into a warm hug.
"Okay, I'll go for now. But if you need anything, you call me." Sherri's deep brown eyes were worried, a deep frown already formed by what she had witnessed. "Henri and I will be here in a flash if you need us."
Henri stared morosely at the file in front of him. He kept wondering what he'd done wrong. His partner was gone. He and Rafe had been partnered before they came to the Major Crimes department. When he had gotten his detective's gold shield first, they had sworn to stay friends. But now his friend wasn't talking and had disappeared. His phone rang.
"Henri, what happened to Rafe?" His wife's voice came over the line. From the sound of it, she was very upset.
"I don't know, Baby. What happened?" His soft words caught the attention of Ellison. The moment the pale blue eyes met his, Henri knew that the other man had been quietly keeping an eye on him. He shook his head and listened carefully to his wife's words. He was badly disturbed when he hung up.
Closing his eyes he laid his head on his desk. How could he have misjudged his partner so badly. The things his wife had just recounted didn't sound like the Rafe he knew. It sounded like an impostor.
"H?" The quiet voice made him open his eyes. He faced the two detectives who were watching him worriedly. "Are you all right?"
"No." Henri bit back the words that were gathering in his mind. Instead he forced himself to ask for the support he knew he was going to need. "Are you two busy? I need to run by Rafe's apartment. According to Sherri, he went by A.J.'s place, packed his stuff, and said good-bye."
"Oh, man, he didn't." Blair whispered, eyes going wide.
Jim's eyes narrowed. "I think we need to track down your partner and find out what's going on."
When they arrived at Rafe's apartment they found the door open. With a caution bred by too many attacks upon their kind, all three drew their weapons. Jim shook his head after a moment, signaling that the apartment was empty. They stepped inside and froze in shock.
Empty was a misnomer. The apartment was completely vacant. Everything that Rafe owned was gone. The apartment had been stripped to the bare walls. Not even dust was left behind.
The little house was quiet when they arrived. The normally neat boxes of tended plants were in disarray. Some planters were knocked askew, others were on their sides, the rare plants trampled in the ground. It was obvious someone had stormed the place. And it was just as obvious where they had been stopped. An overturned bench held several heavy arrows.
"I didn't hear this come in over the radio." Blair spoke quietly, looking around trying to take in the destruction.
"It didn't." Henri knelt to take a look at the bench. The arrows gleamed wickedly at him.
"Don't touch the barbs, H." Jim advised. "The curare on them is strong. You'd be out for a very long time."
"Gotcha." Henri replied standing to stare up the path leading to the house. "Do you think it's trapped?"
"Knowing her?" Blair wry comment made them smile.
They all looked up as one of the heavy shutters on the second floor opened. A woman appeared at the window. Even from the distance they could see the dark bruises on her face. She carefully set a shotgun down on the lintel. "Go away, my friends. I am not fit for company today."
"A.J.?" H's voice shook. He hadn't thought that Rafe could do something like... His stomach turned. "Are you all right?"
"Please, just leave." Her eyes barely flickered to his face. Instead she stared at Ellison. "I don't want to talk to you, Enqueri. Go."
"Someone needs to take a look at that, make sure there's no damage to the bone or the eye itself." Jim kept his voice soft, his head tilted slightly as he focused his senses on the woman standing above them. Henri didn't move as he noticed Blair begin whispering to his sentinel. "I can smell blood out here. I'd like to make sure it's not yours."
She snorted and a smile crept across her face. "It's not mine. I have no broken or cracked bones. I am sore. That is all. The blood belongs to the one who did this."
"Hidalga." Jim growled, eyes glittering. "Who hit you?"
"A dead man. At least by now he will be dead." The smile on her face was cold. "Now go away. Unless you have a warrant, I will not have any policía on my property. One group of your kind was bad enough."
"A.J.!" Blair's harsh cry made her pause, the shutters half closed. "If you need anything... please call us."
She closed her eyes and nodded. Then looked right at H. "El capítan already passed on that message. Please, tell Sherri it isn't safe to come here anymore. She and Lashon need to stay away from me."
The three men looked at each other as the shutters slammed shut. Silently, they turned back to their cars. They needed to have a long talk with their superior officer and none of them really wanted to have it. They knew it was not going to be an easy task.
Rafe looked up at the man whose face was his and smiled bitterly. "You shouldn't have gone near her place. Anyone at the station would have warned you that she doesn't like Feds. Not of any kind."
Andrew Thomas grimaced and looked down at the man writhing on the bed. "You never went for the dangerous ladies before, Bri. Every other lady you've wined and dined has been a fragile beauty. A lot like that pretty little wife back in the home country."
"Angela's dead." Rafe's voice was flat, cold. He didn't want to think about how she had died or that his gut instinct told him Andrew Thomas had been behind her death.
"Well, I always said you two were too young to get married. But neither of you wanted to listen." Andrew Thomas smiled. He looked at the man on the cot again. Still smiling, he pulled a gun and screwed the silencer onto it. He leaned down and kissed the man's forehead. "I'll miss you, Michael."
The sound of the trigger being pulled almost made Rafe wince. He knew better. Andrew Thomas would kill him for the slightest weakness. Michael was proof of that. He had been one of Andrew Thomas' dearest friends and most loyal kinsmen. But his unfortunate reaction to the darts AJ had slammed into his side made him a liability. So, he died for the cause.
Rafe's mind raced. She had listened to his warning. She was safe or his cousin would have tried to use her as a surety for his good behavior. But why had she used a poison dart rather than one of her curare darts? Once and only once, Rafe had played with AJ's medicine bag. Her reaction had been swift, knocking the bag to the floor, shoving him into the shower and then forcing him to swallow the most vile teas he had ever had the misfortune to taste.
Later, calm and collected, with Blair and Jim in the room for the lesson, she had explained exactly what she carried with her at all times. The three cops had blanched at the thought, but she had the licenses and the paperwork for each and every item, courtesy of the State Department. Most of the stuff doubled as a tribal medicine. Only one item did not. AJ had promised only to use the little black darts in cases of extreme necessity. When that hadn't helped calm Rafe's reaction, she had locked the things away in the gun cabinet. Until now. He wondered what Michael had done that she resorted to killing force. Then he decided he did not want to know. He could not allow himself to know. If anything had happed to her -- he would not be able to stay in character and that would be a lethal mistake.
He forced himself back to the conversation between Andrew Thomas and his chief men. They were discussing Michael's burial arrangements and the disposition of his widow. She could not be allowed to leave the family, after all, she had sons. And sons never left, as he well knew. Rafe waited calmly for the next blow, the next verbal assault, the next evil hand to be played.
"Did you tell your Captain Banks the truth, Bri? Or did you lie to him like you lied to the government who changed your name?" Cold eyes met his and Rafe smiled.
"My captain didn't ask, Andy. I let him think the file was a real one. I didn't want them involved." Rafe felt the despair growing. There would be no going back. Once again, Andrew Thomas had pulled his life apart.
"Good boy." He holstered his weapon and pulled Rafe into a tight embrace. "Between us, we can do anything. And this time you will stay with the group, eh? Otherwise, that feisty little lady, your black friend's wife and child... well, I could always introduce them to cousin Franklin."
Rafe let his face become the mask it had been for so long. It had taken several years while he was in college to learn to feel again. Now it was time to unlearn it. He would do whatever it took to keep cousin Franklin away from AJ. The man was a monster when it came to women and everyone in the family knew it. "I'll stay, Andy. Just leave her alone."
"Are you sure you won't introduce her to the family?" Andrew Thomas grinned as he led Rafe through the hallway. "I could easily make the arrangements to have her brought here. I can even get an escort you would approve of to fetch her."
Inside him, Rafe felt his soul begin to shrivel. He knew the consequences of what he was about to do. But they were outweighed by the consequences of trying to obey. Some ties could never be broken. Blood ties were among them. He smiled as he was thrust into the crowded room. Family and old friends smiled at him. They knew he was back for good, whether or not he liked it. He smiled for them and opened his arms to welcome them. Rafe was swallowed by the crowd, passed from one man to the next. After all, he was family.
The bullpen was empty when the three detectives entered. Rafe's empty desk stood forlornly in its place. They could hear the sound of Simon's raised voice as he yelled into the phone. At the words he could hear, Ellison headed straight for the office and pulled open the door.
"...dead for a year? What do you mean he's been dead for a year? Your agent was in my office this morning with I.D. and borrowed one of my detectives. The next thing I know, I get a report that his apartment is empty and there's been an attack on his..." Banks listened and then sank into his chair. His next words were nearly whispered. "Oh, my Lord. I sent him to his death. Send me whatever information you've got. Maybe we can find something in it."
The blank look on Simon's face did not bode well and the three detectives stood waiting quietly. None of them liked the sound of what they had heard. After a long moment, he looked up. "It was a set-up. Rafe knew that when he went in, but he didn't say a word. I thought it was odd he asked me to keep an eye on Fortaleza instead of you."
"What happened, sir?"
Jim's voice was calm, a lot calmer than Henri felt. Dimly he realized that Blair had urged him to sit down. He had the feeling that this was a nightmare. One from which he was not going to wake up, not anytime soon.
"A federal agent came in this morning. Everything checked out so I listened to him. They wanted to borrow Rafe for an undercover assignment based out of Seattle." Simon pulled a thick, heavy file from a locked drawer. "The resemblance was uncanny, so I understood the reason behind the request. Rafe accepted it, unconditionally. He only wanted me to keep an eye out on Fortaleza, just in case something went wrong."
Henri stared at the man in the file. It looked so much like his partner, but it wasn't. The way he smiled at the camera and the dead expression in his eyes, they told their own story. The man in the file was not his partner. As he read the charges, he felt his breath catch and he understood A.J.'s warning. He didn't want Andrew Thomas O'Raferty anywhere near his family, not for any reason. And the man already knew about her, so she was trying to protect Sherri and his son. H held in the burning pain that suddenly swept through him. He had the feeling his partner was not going to survive this one.
"I went with Rafe to introduce him to the team he was going to be working with, and according A.D. Whitman, every single one of them died within the past year, all of them while under investigation." Simon played with his cigar, his face grim. "While we were talking, someone delivered a body to the FBI building. It had a message attached to it, thanking the FBI for the return of a beloved traitor. The I.D. belonged to Rafe."
"No!" Henri felt the world fall out from under him.
"You did what?" Rafe stared at the newpaper in shock. After quickly running through the scenarios that he could feel coming to fruition, he decided he had to head them off at the pass. "Do you have any idea who you are trying push around, cousin?"
Andrew Thomas watched him dispassionately and shrugged. "Your friends from the Cascade PD will be called off in just a little while. Your girlfriend will find a new keeper. None of them are of any importance. You are the one I wanted, Bri."
"You might be able to pull enough strings to get the Cascade PD to drop the case, but you don't know my Kyrie." Rafe swallowed, looking at picture of her being escorted from the morgue where she had claimed the body. "She comes from a people who are not much unlike us. To them family is everything. As long as she thought I left her voluntarily, she would accept it. If she thinks I was murdered, she'll call in every favor anyone owes her or her family. And her family will come to Cascade to help her."
"Is that supposed to scare me?" Andrew Thomas was openly smiling at him.
"It should, Andy." A new voice spoke up. Rafe turned, forcing his features to remain calm. The man standing just inside the doorway smiled grimly. "Bri, long time no see."
"Uncle James." Rafe didn't want to believe that this man had returned to the fold. James Van Holden had kept him from running into the burning building where his parents and Angela had died. The older man had kept him alive during the long journey from South Africa to Europe to America. He had learned a lot from his uncle during those long two years, marksmanship, lockpicking, survival, honor. When the US had eagerly accepted James' application for citizenship, he had accepted on the condition that Rafe be given the same deal that had been promised his father... a new name and identity in exchange for the list of family owned agents. There had been no arguments.
"Well met, uncle." Andrew Thomas went up to the big man and hugged him. "I wondered how long it would take you to come once I picked up Bri."
"You made a mistake, nephew." James' voice was cool as he looked from one nephew to the other. "You should have left Rafe's people the illusion that he's alive. The bureau and the marshalls are already on the case. And their cousin who never works inland is watching from the side."
"What are you saying, James?" Hazel eyes sparked furiously.
"AJ Fortaleza has an interesting history. Her adopted family works for the government. They don't like her to be upset. Rumor has it that she argued with them over whether or not our cousin was good enough for her. She won the argument and her family left the state, but they still keep tabs on her." James grinned at Rafe and winked. "She is friends with foreign governments. She has ties to the old ways that are coming back so strongly in South America. She asked for help. When I last updated my information, she had offers of assistance from several sources down there. More than we can take on easily."
"Take her out or bring her in?" He turned to Rafe, fury marking his face. "Which do you choose, Bri?"
"Neither." Rafe forced his voice to remain calm. "If she goes missing or turns up dead the family will be hunted to extinction. AJ's family would go AWOL if they had to and so would her friends. South America would be closed to us. I have to call her off myself."
"You are not leaving. Not yet, cousin." The harsh words were thrown at him. "I don't know if we can trust you yet."
"Do you trust me with her, Bri?" James spoke softly. "I'll carry the message for you. Then I can keep her safe. I can escort her to wherever she needs to go."
Rafe looked from one man to the next. Something didn't feel right about the offer, but he had to take it. Andrew Thomas was not about to trust him, not yet. Try as he might, he couldn't see past the old James he knew, he couldn't tell if he was being told the truth or a lie. He pulled an amulet from under his shirt. "This will get you close enough to talk to her. I'll write you a message."
The skies wept as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Reporters, held back by a line of grim-faced police, black armbands stark again the blue uniforms, watched quietly. The sound of rifles signaled the end of the service.
Major Crimes stood like a wave of black against the green hill. Every detective was there along with most of the precinct. Rafe's friendly smile, his good humor and his kindness had made him a lot of friends. To the quiet unrest of the police, some of the mourners present were snitches and ex-cons. Others were people he had met and befriended during his years in Cascade.
To one side stood a woman dressed in flowing black. Her hair was loose and whipping in the wind. Her face was pale, the vivid bruises standing out. She hadn't spoken a word since the service began. Nor had she tried to hide or stop the tears that slowly streaked down her cheeks.
Beside her stood, what could only be described as a behemoth. The man towered over her and all of the police officers present. In his black suit and dark glasses, he resembled nothing more than the prototypical Mafioso bodyguard. His ready stance and the slight bulge of his suit coat warned every cop there that he was present for one reason and one reason only.
Simon moved slowly as he approached, a folded flag in his hands. He held out the triangle, wondering if she understood the symbolism. "A.J.?"
"Thank you." Her accent was thicker than normal as she accepted it. She stepped forward and raised on her toes to kiss his cheek. And then she stepped back, placed her hand on the waiting man's arm and let him lead her away.
Simon fought his own tears as he watched her escorted into the limousine.
In all the crowd, no one had noticed the last vehicle in the procession. No one could see inside the dark tinted windows. It sat, engine silent, on a slight rise, giving it a clear view of the funeral. Inside, two silent figures sat and watched the funeral.
"I kept my promise, Bri. Uncle James will protect her from anything. After all, she is family." Andrew Thomas smiled, his arm around his cousin as he watched the proceedings. "She's safe from even me."
"Thank you, Andy." Rafe broke off from the nearly silent words he had been trying to whisper. It was time to become who he had been so very long ago. Brian Rafael Van Holden smiled at his cousin. Nowhere could be seen any traces of the man known as Detective Rafe.
James Ellison watched bleakly as the gray Mercedes sped away. The whispered words had caught his attention. Their meaning had shocked him to his core. Rafe was alive for now. All they had to do was wait and then they would be able to go and bring him back. The sentinel smiled, a tight vicious smile. He could be patient, for a little while.
"Rafe's what?" The voices were stunned
Jim looked around the loft, catching the disbelieving expressions on everyone's faces. He had known that they would have trouble believing even when he had invited the crew to the loft.
Simon's eyes gleamed with hope. For the past four days the big captain had been second-guessing himself. Blaming himself for Rafe's murder. Now, the thought that Rafe might be alive was enough to make him smile with relief.
Blair stirred, glancing at Brown. "Why didn't he let us know earlier?"
"How, Chief?" Jim sighed. "They took him the moment that he left the station. He had no way to contact us. No way to warn us that he was going to turn up 'dead'. From what I overheard he's there on their terms. They want us convinced he's dead. In exchange for his 'death' they sent Uncle James to protect Fortaleza."
"Okay, so what do we do now?" Henri's voice was tense, his body stiff. For the first time since getting word that Rafe was dead, there was something besides desolation in his expression. "How long do we wait before getting him out?"
"First, we get every resource we have looking into O'Raferty and his associates." Simon smiled wickedly. "And we make sure that our contacts know this is personal, that Major Crimes is not about forgive the murder of one of our own."
"Rafe is smart. He figured out how to get my attention and pass me a message that no one else would notice." Jim looked around, grimly amused. "He'll let us know when he's ready to come out. Until then we plan. And we make life hell for O'Raferty."
Blair waited until they were finished plotting their next action and the rest of the Major Crimes crew had gone. Then he had to ask, "How do we tell her, man? We can't let her think Rafe won't be coming back."
"We'll go see Fortaleza tomorrow, Chief."
The next day, they found the gates to her place padlocked shut. When they questioned the neighbors they found that no one knew when she had left. Nor did they know where she had gone. Jim broke out his lock picks and quickly opened the gate.
Lying at the edge of the front walkway was the first body. Jim knelt beside the man and felt for a pulse. When he shook his head, Blair pulled out his cell phone and called for backup. Replacing it, he grabbed his pistol and followed his grim faced partner through the maze of planters. They found three more bodies on the way to the door.
The front door was not locked. It swung open easily. The two men glanced at each other before going into the house. It was eerily perfect, as if the violence that had occurred outside had not made it inside the door.
"Well?" Simon's gruff question startled Blair. "What have you found?"
"Besides the bodies?" Blair sighed. "Not much. Not much at all, sir."
Jim looked up from the notes he had written. "Looks like she left of her own free will. At least until she got outside."
"Are you saying Fortaleza did this?"
"No, I'm not. She darted two of the men, but I don't think she's the one who shot them in the back of the head. That's probably 'Uncle James'. The one with the slit throat was killed from behind. From the scent, I'd say by a third party."
"How many people are we talking about?"
"Eight. Four dead, their driver, Fortaleza, Uncle James, and the man with the knife." Jim rubbed the bridge of his nose. The headache he could feel building was going to be a doozy.
Blair stepped closer to his sentinel and began speaking quietly. Simon almost grinned as he realized that the younger man was giving his report in a tone close to what they had dubbed the 'guide' voice. Almost immediately, the tension in his partner began easing. "Nothing seemed to be missing. At least not until we started looking closely, sir. I mean beyond clothes. She took her backpack. The one that she called her 'traveling partner'. That's the one she used to keep her darts and medicine bag in. Her blow gun and her cross bow are gone. So is the shot gun. We found a gun cabinet, it was probably Rafe's. But she took every thing from it. Her camera is missing and so is the smaller of her two camera bags." Blair let his eyes meet Simon's. "I think she plans to disappear."
"What about that 'Uncle James' character?"
Brown and Joel strode up in time to hear the question. "He's safe, Simon." Joel kept his voice low. "We finally managed to get an I.D. on him. His name is James Van Holden, ex-US Marshall. Now, he's a professional bodyguard. His record is good, he's never lost a client. If he's still with Fortaleza, she's safer than at any safe house."
"She was our last link to Rafe, sir." Jim spoke softly. "There's no way she would have left if she didn't at least suspect he was alive."
"Where do you think she went?"
"Either she's gone hunting or he told her to go somewhere safe. And the message would have been through Uncle James."
Simon cursed quietly but vehemently as he watched the forensics personnel going over the bodies.
Rafe tread lightly as he slipped through the gated grounds. Behind him followed a small army of men. Each was good at his own specialty; Rafe's just happened to place him on point.
He regretted what he was about to do, but he had found no other way to stay in Andrew Thomas' good graces. Too many lives were dependent on his actions. He knew there would be no going back, not ever, not after this. Murmuring a prayer for forgiveness, he took out the guard. Then he quickly deactivated the alarms, giving the others access to the high security compound.
As they slipped past, Rafe wondered if Ellison and the others would ever figure it out. He knew better than to expect the ex-covert ops officer to forgive, but maybe Jim would be able to stop him. God knows Brown will never understand. Hell, none of them will be able to understand or forgive my actions. After all this was treason.
Rafe swallowed at his own thought. He couldn't forgive himself, so why should he expect them to? He was committed now. There was no choice, not any longer. Not since the call from James.
Jim stared at the phone, almost expecting it to reach out and bite him. He hadn't expected this kind of information when he'd started searching Rafe's background. A sealed federal file indicated some pretty fancy doings. Usually he could talk one of his friends or connections into giving him more details, but this time they had all denied the existence of any further information. The fact that an old military friend had just called and warned him off any more inquiries was bothersome.
"Jim? What happened, man?" Blair asked.
Before he could answer, Jim's phone rang again. He picked it up, hoping he wouldn't be getting the call he got. "Captain Ellison? Please hold for General Sayers." There was a brief pause before a gruff, angry voice came on the line. It was a voice he recognized too well. "Captain Ellison? I understand that you have been shaking the tree for information on one of your men. One who died recently. I want you to know I understand your need for vengeance, but you will stop the inquiry now. If you do not desist, you will be recalled and you will face charges. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir. I understand, sir." He had straightened as he listened to the voice speaking to him. Jim's voice was toneless as he replied to Sayers. "The investigation will cease, sir."
Beside him, Blair stiffened, watching with curious eyes as Jim gently hung up the phone. He stood, turned in perfect parade form and headed down the hallway, ignoring the questions and the rapid footsteps as his guide tried to keep pace. Jim didn't say anything. He knew he was too furious to speak without attacking everyone around him.
His fury evident on his face and in his movements, he stalked impatiently to the precinct gym. There he stripped out of his sweater and T-shirt and proceeded to attack the heaviest bag on the floor.
"How long has this been going on?" Simon's voice nudged the edges of Jim's awareness. He hit the bag again, dialing down his sense of touch even as his fist came into contact with the leather.
"Almost two hours, sir." Blair's voice was worried. Jim backed up and lashed out, his foot hitting the bag high. "He got a phone call and went all still, like a waiting explosion. Called the person 'sir' throughout his end of the conversation. Simon, he promised to end the investigation."
At those words, the last dregs of anger washed away and Jim let his hands drop to his sides. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. He was tired, exhausted. The pain dial slipped and he could feel his hands. He could feel the deep ache of bruises on his arms and legs where he had come into contact with the bag. He could feel the sharp, white pain of the cracked knuckle on his left hand. But most of all, he could feel the dull roaring pain of failure. He had failed Rafe and they had lost all chance at finding him.
"Jim?" Blair's voice was soft, echoing slightly in his tired ears. Around them he could hear heartbeats, way too many hearts. He opened his eyes. Close by stood Blair, Simon, Joel and H, all with worried, concerned expressions. Farther away, faces from all over the station watched. They had come to watch him fight the bag. Their expressions were curious, concerned, astonished, frightened, stunned, disgusted, accepting, understanding, supporting and more. "Jim, let the medic look at your hands. You're bleeding all over the mat, man."
Mechanically, Jim placed his hands in his partner's. He knew Blair would take care of him. And right now, he needed someone else to take over. God, he was tired, was his last thought before closing his eyes and sinking onto the chair Blair had set beside him.
Henri barely glanced at the suited men leaving the bullpen. Ellison's anger had been so palpable that it had been like a fog threading around the crowd in the gym. H had watched the precision and strength of each blow. He had known for a long time that Jim was ex-military, but he had never considered what that meant until now.
Once, back in the academy, his self-defense instructor had gone over what he had called 'the signs of a professionally trained killer'. Sergeant Capriol had shown them how such a man would literally kill with a blow, using the heavy weight bag. He hadn't hit the bag half as hard or as fast as Jim had, the thing hadn't moved like it was trying to get away from the blows. God, the idea that Jim, grumpy, pain-in-the-ass Jim, their secret weapon against crime, had that training scared the shit out of him. For the first time, he understood why Simon rode such tight herd on the man. It had never made sense before, but now ... how the hell was he going to feel comfortable letting Jim play with Lashon again?
"Henri?" Joel's voice made him look up. The older man's eyes widened when he saw H's face. "Come on, let's get some coffee."
"I don't need any coffee, Joel."
"Yes, you do. Move it, Brown. We're going to Goldfeather's." The ex-bomb squad captain wouldn't take no for answer and hustled the younger detective out the door. "We need to talk."
"Sir?" Rhonda caught Simon's attention. "While you were downstairs, the FBI came for their file on Andrew Thomas O'Raferty. I'm sorry, sir. I had to let them take it."
Simon cursed under his breath. "Had you gotten a chance to photocopy it?"
"They took the copies as well. The Chief was with them so I couldn't stall them. They had his permission to search the entire bullpen. They got all of them." Rhonda looked away. "Of course, they didn't search Dr. Sandburg's briefcase. They didn't have a warrant for it. Sergeant Howard handed it to me and I locked it in your safe. Then the sergeant stood guard over it. He's still there."
Simon smiled. "Rhonda, have I told you that I love your devious mind?"
She smiled at him. "Yes, you have."
Still smiling, Simon headed into his office to relieve Howard. Maybe they still had a chance. If the Feds wanted the file back so badly, there had to be something in it.
Jim reread the file, but he didn't find anything. With a disgusted grimace he closed the file. Nothing, every single lead was a dead end. He was getting disgusted. A cup of coffee came into view. He looked up to see Henri holding it to him.
"Thanks, H." His voice sounded as tired as he felt. Two days of trying to figure out the puzzle while finishing up his other cases. Two long days trying not to notice how so many people in the precinct were wary around him. This was the first time he and Brown had spoken since he had lost his temper.
"You look exhausted, Jim. So does Hair-boy. You need to take him home and get some rest." The other detective met his eyes. Jim saw the same exhaustion in him. He was still speaking as he turned back to his desk, "Sherri said to tell you that both of you are to come to dinner tomorrow."
"H, are you sure?" He asked softly. Jim almost didn't want to hear the answer to his own question. "I mean... after..."
Henri turned around, his face genuinely puzzled. "You're my friend, Jim. You may have startled me, but I trust you. Dinner is at seven, sharp, or she'll lay into us both."
Jim nodded. He had gotten on the wrong side of Sherri Brown once. He didn't want to do it again. Quiet and gentle, the woman could skin an eel with her tongue when she was mad at you.
"Bri, you didn't get the second safe open." Andrew Thomas smiled at him. It was not a nice smile.
"We had a timetable, Andy. The first safe took me longer than expected." Rafe held himself still. He'd been here over two weeks and still hadn't figured out what the other man wanted from him. "It's been a long time since I've done this kind of thing."
"Of course it is, Bri. But you were the best in the family. I want you back at peak form." He smiled again. "I think you're working too hard. You need a break. I think you should go visit that pretty lay of yours."
"I can't do that and you know it." He snarled. "She thinks I'm dead, remember?" He watched as his cousin's eyes widened. "The letter I gave Uncle James was backdated. It said if anything happened to me for her to go home, where she'd be safe. There is no way for either of us to get near her. Not anymore."
"You didn't tell her you're still alive?" Andrew Thomas seemed startled. "I don't believe you. You cared too much about her to let her go."
"You never understood me, cousin. You may have used her against me once, but not even you have a network that reaches her tribe." Rafe closed his eyes, fighting the desolation he felt. He didn't regret making her go. The low growl in his voice matched that of the lynx he kept seeing. Every time he closed his eyes, it was there, beside him. He reopened his eyes and faced O'Raferty. "You wanted me back. You've got me, 100%. And you won't be getting rid of me."
The startled look in the other man's eyes changed, becoming wary. Brian Rafael knew how to be ruthless. Their grandfather had made sure of that over twenty years ago. He had had no reason to use that side of his personality since coming to the United States. Resolutely ignoring the frantic cries of the lynx, he let himself sink deeper into his old identity.
Brian walked through the hallway, not noticing how other family members moved out of his way. In the months since his arrival, he had gotten a reputation for being even more ruthless than Andrew Thomas. He no longer had to concentrate to stay in character. The walls that he spent so long trying to tear down had sprung back up so fast. The only softness in his life were the dreams and the lynx that followed his every move, hissing when he got too vicious for its sensibilities.
"Bri." Andrew Thomas came up to him. "We have just about everything we need to go forward with the plan. Come on, I need your input for this."
Brian followed Andrew farther into the complex.
Simon looked around the bullpen. His people were quiet, each doing paperwork. For the first time in weeks the criminal element of Cascade was giving them a break. It had been nearly three days since a case had been forwarded to the Major Crimes department. Everyone was finishing up the paperwork on cases that had been keeping them busy for the past few weeks. He glanced at the stack of files he had just reviewed, each and every one finished except for a missing signature. He caught himself looking at Rafe's empty desk before shaking himself. Without pausing, he forced himself to sign off on the reports, marking them as closed.
There had been no contact from Rafe in over two months. With Fortaleza's disappearance a few days later, it looked like someone had made a clean sweep of the detective's life. Discreet inquires had negated the idea that she had run to South America to return to her people. There had been no clues, no signs, no leads, not even any that a sentinel could find. Ellison himself was beginning to worry that they had been killed by O'Raferty.
The phone rang and Simon left his depressing line of thought to deal with the Chief of Police.
Brian Rafael Van Holden studied the terrain carefully. Slipping his bodyguard was a difficult task, but he had managed it. Now all he had to do was get over to where he'd seen his uncle. A large shadow appeared, sliding around the corner.
"Bri." The man barely whispered.
"James." He had to look up to meet the other man's eyes. "We don't have long."
James nodded and turned on his heel, heading for a vehicle hidden in the alley. The moment they got in, its engine turned over and they sped off into the night. Behind him the lynx growled menacingly.
Brian stared at the driver, the emotionless mask dropping from his feature in surprise. "When did you learn to drive?"
"Tio has taught me many interesting things, querido. How long do we have before you have to be back?" A.J. glanced at him before turning her attention back to the road.
Brian turned to his uncle, an icy edge to his eyes. "I thought she was going home."
"Have you ever tried telling that one what to do?" The big man's voice rumbled with laughter. "She's as stubborn as you ever were. It's good to see you, Bri."
"How'd you find me?" He forced himself to keep his emotions still. How was he to know if this was a trap? No one knew where he was or where he would be. How had they managed to find him? He didn't want to think of the possibilities. Andrew Thomas was ruthless enough to use anyone and anything to assure himself of his family's loyalty. And the punishment for disloyalty was enough to make Rafe prefer to meet Zeller on a bad day.
"I followed the lynx." The soft words from the front seat startled him. He looked up to meet the green eyes watching him in the rearview mirror. "It called. I followed. He insisted on joining me."
The hotel they took him to was nice without being too ritzy. As soon as they were in the first of the adjoining rooms, A.J. was in his arms. Wordlessly, she clung to him, allowing him the time to drop the masks and walls he had created. The amused look on his uncle's face was more than Brian was comfortable with but Rafe understood it too well.
"Sshh, love. It's all right." Rafe whispered to the head buried in his neck. He ran his hands down her back focusing his thoughts. He hadn't expected to see her here. That she had followed that buttinski spirit animal wasn't too amazing, except that he had not noticed it disappearing.
"I hate to interrupt, but you said we don't have long before you have to go back." James' voice was gentle, but it still brought A.J.'s head up with a snap.
"I have information that needs to get to Cascade. There's a mole giving Andrew Thomas his information." Rafe tucked her head back against him. It was going to be hard enough to tell James about what he'd helped steal. He didn't want to see her face when he said the words. His fingers hesitated as he realized that A.J. was armed and with more than her normal darts.
"The same one that is running interference for him, most likely." James commented sourly. "Do you know the name?"
"No. But I know where he's meeting Andy next. We stole a small nuke last week, uncle." Rafe refused to let his face show the horror he felt as he passed on the information. The quiet gasp from below his chin and the rapid loss of color in his uncle's face hurt. Rafe knew his uncle's handwriting and it had been on the plans Andrew Thomas had handed him. He could only be reacting to Rafe's betrayal of the family. The only question was, how much did the woman in his arms know? One of them, maybe both of them, was trying to play him for a fool. "They have a plan to hold Cascade for ransom. I know where they plan to place it."
"How do they plan on setting if off?" James' voice was gentle, coaxing. "Those things have security codes and other fail-safes just in case one is stolen or lost."
"Andrew Thomas' contact has connections. He says he has the arming codes. Everything else he gave us was correct, so I don't doubt him."
He barely heard the sound of a round being chambered. Rafe darted to the side, thrusting A.J. away from him. The silenced berettas fired almost as one.
Rafe stared at the body on the floor, his mind strangely numb. He couldn't quite make his thoughts accept it. He had never suspected. This betrayal was all too cutting. He had trusted so few people in his life. He could barely believe the evidence before him... it hurt so much to realize that this person was like the others. He turned as the bathroom door opened.
"Are you all right?" He asked.
"Yeah. I'm fine, just a little shaky. I know I killed the man who came for me at the house because no one came for the antidote. But this is so much closer, I never..." Her accented words were a balm to his ears. A.J. turned wide eyes to him. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. This is a mess. If he worked for Andrew Thomas, there's no way I can get back inside and stop them." Rafe closed his eyes wearily. He had been so close to being free. So damn close. Now Andy would know the truth and hunt them until they were dead. He looked up when A.J. touched his arm.
"Do you trust me?" She asked him, watching him quietly. She made no moves, not toward the three weapons on table, not toward him and not toward the door. At his nod, she went to the phone and began dialing. "Rage? This is Kyrie. I have a problem. A big one."
Rafe watched, eyes cold and blank as the men poured into the room. The first one in barely glanced at them before he began ordering the others to work. All of them ignored couple in the corner. Within minutes the only sign of trouble were the three weapons on the table.
The deep voice was a bit surprising as it came from the approaching man. He pointed towards the table, asking, "Which one of those is yours?"
"The black one." Rafe answered.
The man nodded and bagged the other two weapons. He looked down at the woman beside Rafe with a frown. "Five minutes, then we have to move."
"Twenty," came the quiet reply and Rafe was amazed to watch a blush creep up the part in her hair. "He has to have a valid excuse for being here. I need to mark him so they don't kill him."
As soon as the man left, Rafe made her look at him. "Who is that?"
"Someone I know is trustworthy."
"I don't know him." The words were flat. "Give the information to Jim. Promise me."
Her green eyes went wide and she nodded. "I give you my oath, Rafe. You already own my heart and soul. I will tell no one but Jim and Blair."
Rafe nodded, knowing that there was little chance that she would be able to tell Jim alone. He didn't want the younger man to know how far under he had gone, but there was no other way. So be it, he thought. Once this was over he would be on his own, he would be free. Kyrie would follow him, but the others would close ranks against a traitor and a murderer. If he could, he would let her go free, but she had tracked him down once, she would do it again.
"Where the hell have you been?" The furious yell was his only warning.
Brian was slammed into the wall by the heavyset guards. Andrew Thomas was furious, his eyes glittering madly. A thick fist buried itself in his gut. He glared at his cousin as he tried to regain his breath.
"I got lonely, so I went bar hopping." He managed to get out between gritted teeth.
"Search him." There was no expression in the eyes of the men who approached. Brian refused to let anything show as he was stripped and his belongings searched carefully. He kept his eyes on Andrew Thomas as the man watched.
One by one, everything was set on the table beside his cousin's chair. He kept his face impassive as an expressive eyebrow went up. He knew the marks on his chest and sides stood out against his light tan. A hand picked up a small piece of paper bearing only a first name and a phone number. "Who is she?"
"Her name's Kelly. She's waitress at Tully's. She's 24, brown hair, brown eyes, nice body." Brian told them what they wanted to know. "She's nice."
"How nice, Bri?" Andrew Thomas' eyes were narrowed as he checked the magazine of the Beretta. He licked his lips and grinned. "Would I like her?"
"She doesn't do games, so I doubt it."
"Mmm. I could always teach her." The other man shrugged and put the Beretta down. "I saw Uncle James today."
"I saw him. Told him to get out of town and to take her with him." Brian refused to look away. He knew that a single mistake now would be his last. "I did that before going to the bar."
"Using one woman to overcome the taste of another?" The smile on his face was mocking. "You got it bad, boy. Let him get dressed."
Brian shrugged away from the hands holding him and walked over to his clothes. Picking up his jeans, he slid them on, ignoring the men watching his every move. He carefully folded his shirt and laid the pistol, his wallet, shoes, socks, and the note on it. Still keeping tight control on his face, he turned toward the door.
"Bri, you forgot this." Andrew Thomas tossed a foil packet on top of the pile in his arms. The look in the man's eyes was not quite pleasant. "Next time you want to get laid, tell me. I'll take care of the problem."
"You're not my type, Andy. Thanks anyway." He walked out the door and down the hallway toward his room. More than one person did a double take upon seeing him barefoot and shirtless in the halls. The grins as they took in the marks on him almost made him relax.
"Ellison, Sandburg, Brown, I want the three of you to investigate a double homicide down near the docks." Simon's voice was harsh as he strode into the bullpen. He lowered his voice as he stopped in front of Jim's desk. "Jim, I'd like confirmation of the I.D.'s."
The sentinel looked up, a frown forming. "Who is it supposed to be?"
Simon looked at the three men and laid a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder. "The man has been tentatively identified as James Van Holden, ex-US Marshall. The woman has yet to be identified."
Blair looked over at his partner. "Can't be. We'd know, Simon."
"Then you'd better find her and fast." Simon spoke softly. "The local bureau has already requested that we forward all information as we get it."
"Captain?" Joel's voice interrupted. "Why don't Brown and I take the murder investigation. Jim and Blair are getting into overtime again."
"Payroll has been complaining about the number of hours they've been putting in, again." Henri commented with a sly smile. "Joel and I can handle this one. We might be slower than Ellison and Sandburg but we're just as good."
Blair gave a big smile. "That's right, sir. Besides, I need to do some research for one of my lectures. "
"Well, get out of here you two." Simon had barely spoken before the two detectives were grabbing their coats and leaving. He smiled as he handed the address of the double homicide to Taggart. Between the four of them he would have answers soon.
"So, where would she go?" Blair asked as they pulled out of the garage.
"Depends, Chief," Jim answered pensively, "on whether she wants us to find her or she's trying to hide. If she's hiding, we'll have to hunt her down."
"Well, if she wants us to find her, she'd go to the loft or the Etterman Room in the museum." Blair was thinking aloud. "Now if she's hiding from us... the state park or somewhere near the natural preserve."
"We'll stop by the loft first. Even if she's not there, we can pick up our camping gear. That way we don't have to come back here if we can't find her at the museum." The big detective turned the corner onto Prospect. The two men could see the loft but couldn't see any lights on in the condo.
"Jim, can you hear anyone in the loft?" Blair asked as soon they pulled into the parking area.
"Someone's up there." Jim stared up at the loft, listening carefully. Then he chuckled at the wry words he could hear coming from the loft. "A.J.'s cooking lunch and says we'd better get upstairs before it's ruined."
"I knew she was alive." Blair was out of the truck and headed for the building before Jim could say another word.
"A.J.?" Blair thrust the door open and froze. Several men were pointing guns at him. Swallowing the words he had been about to say, he raised his hands. Behind him he heard Jim curse quietly.
"It's just Sandburg and Ellison. I told you they were on their way." Fortaleza peered over one of their shoulders. "Let them in, it's their home."
"You heard her." A deep voice came from the living room. "Put up your weapons and let the detectives in."
"What about their..." one of the men began to protest.
"They're my friends, they keep their weapons." A.J. finished setting food on the table. "I hope you don't mind me using your kitchen, but I'm starving."
"Kyr? We'll be outside. Call us when you're finished talking to them." The leader gestured to his men and they quickly slipped past the two detectives. He stepped forward and spoke directly to them. Dressed in jeans and a button down shirt, he was deceptively mild looking. "I'd apologize for their over zealousness, Detective Ellison, Dr. Sandburg but I approve of it."
"Who was that?" Jim stalked over to A.J. and grabbed her arm. "What was he doing here? Where's Rafe and Van Holden?"
"Enqueri, that hurts." She tugged at her arm. The moment Jim released her, Blair pulled her into a hug. Wrinkling her nose at him, she stepped back. Jim was glaring at her which contrasted to Blair's big, delighted grin at the fact that she was there. She winced, maybe she should have told them she was safe, but there really hadn't been enough time. "Okay, I give you your answers first. Rage is one of Zelinski's old contacts. He owed me a favor. I called it in. He brought me here because it was the only safe place I knew that you would check. Rafe is still with Andrew Thomas. I brought you some information from him."
Ignoring the paper she handed Blair, Jim nodded as he listened to her words, focusing his senses on her. She was scared, close to panicking. He nudged his senses higher. She'd seen Rafe recently, probably early this morning he decided. Just below the scent of Rafe's cologne, he could faintly smell cordite and blood on her. He frowned. At the sudden increase in her heart rate he stiffened. "What are you not saying?"
She licked her lips before continuing, "I killed someone. Someone who is... was family and trusted."
"Oh, man, A.J." Blair laid his hand on her shoulder and she danced away from his touch.
"What happened, kid?" The sentinel measured the nervous movement of the woman before him. There was something else, something he was missing.
"I trusted him. He pulled a gun on us. Rafe and I ... we shot him. Rafe shot only once, I shot twice. Rafe shot his arm and made him drop the weapon. I shot him... center mass." A.J. turned away from them, arms wrapped around herself. "He was working for Andrew Thomas, not Rafe."
"It sounds like self defense to me." Jim spoke carefully, trying not to spook the already jittery woman. He knew Fortaleza had always preferred using a non-lethal mixture of curare to any other means of defense. At the moment she seemed to be holding herself on the edge of her control. "If he was going to shoot you or Rafe, you didn't have a choice."
"I'm a healer, not a..." She took a deep breath and turned back to face them, her emotions back under control. "I know there wasn't anything else to do."
"If you need to talk," Jim hesitated and fell silent at her decisive negative gesture.
"Not right now. There are more important things to do." She sighed. "Like for you to read Rafe's notes."
Blair looked up from the pages in his hand. Then he looked back down at the word he had noticed. "I can't be reading this right. 10kt means a 10 kiloton and nuke is... oh, shit..." he muttered, half to himself. He looked up, eyes pleading for a denial. "Um, A.J. did Rafe mean nuke as in nuclear device? Please tell me he didn't."
Jim turned his full attention to his guide. He focused his sight on the paper, reading the sentence that Blair had just read. "We need to talk to Simon, now."
"There's more, Jim," AJ whispered. "Someone in the government is helping him. It's more than the ransom... Rafe said Andrew Thomas never had one single purpose, he always layered his crimes. Simple terrorism wouldn't be the half of it. He said they would explode the bomb even if they get the money, but he doesn't know why."
"I do." Jim closed his eyes. "There's a big international conference on terrorism in three days. Some of the best anti-terrorist groups are going to be here. If they die in a terrorist action, well, it would make things easier for a lot of people."
"I'll call Simon." Blair had already grabbed the phone and begun dialing.
Rafe crept through the tunnel, acutely aware of the men behind him and their cargo. Part of him prayed that she had gotten the information to Ellison safely; the other part of him planned how he could handle things if she hadn't. He refused to contemplate what it would mean if she hadn't made it.
He already owed Andrew Thomas for the deaths of Angela and his parents. He knew that somehow the other man had found out about their defection and arranged the explosion.
Only the fact that he had run out to get a ring for his bride had saved his life. It had been a long time before he had forgiven himself for surviving.
He couldn't let the entire city die at Andy's whim; he had already destroyed enough of Rafe's life. There was no way he was going to let it continue. He was no longer the frightened young man who had fled to America so long ago.
A sound made him glance behind him. The men carrying the weapon had taken a narrow corner too tightly, running the metal case against the hardened concrete walls. He glared back at them, wondering if they knew what they were carrying. He doubted it. Andrew Thomas had a tendency to not to warn his people of the dangers they faced. He knew that firsthand.
Finally, after too much time creeping through the tunnels, they arrived under the convention center. He watched, heart torn as the men began setting up the weapon. Once its cradle was ready, they nodded to him and backed away.
He opened the silver case, ignoring the startled gasps around him. He looked up, a cold smile crossing his face. Very few members of the family knew exactly how ruthless their favorite son was. He had made the group rich and infamous. They wouldn't have looked any farther than that.
"Problem, cousins?" His voice was icy. "Surely, you knew the whole plan."
The four men shook their heads, eyes on the weapon in front of him. Finally one of them spoke tentatively, "You turned hard, Bri."
The fifth man, Andrew Thomas' personal guard, snorted in derision. "Didn't you think he would grow up?"
"You didn't have a problem with the plan earlier." Rafe kept his voice cool and his hands steady as he began the assembly. As long as Craig was watching, he had to stay in character. He had to be Brian Rafael Van Holden. He had always been able do one thing while thinking another. Right now his fingers continued their work mechanically while he wondered where his backup was.
"That's a nuke. I have no problem with bombing a convention center filled with our enemies, but nuking an entire city? That's too much, even for us." The man barely finished speaking before Craig calmly shot him in the head. As two others reached for their weapons, he shot them too.
"Anyone else want to complain?" Craig stood between Rafe and the last man, protecting the weapon. Rafe used the movement to quickly disconnect the wires he had been working with before reaching for his holster.
"I do." Ellison's voice echoed eerily through the storm drains. "Cascade PD, drop the weapon."
Craig turned, swinging his pistol toward the voice. The detective fired, knocking the gunman backwards into Rafe. He turned, half-catching the wounded man and disarming him. "Bri? You... betrayed us?"
"Betrayed you?" Rafe's voice was still cold. "No. You betrayed me a long time ago, Craig."
"Rafe?" Ellison watched the scene with only half his attention. The man against the wall, his hands raised high, had the rest of the sentinel's attention. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, Jim. Nice timing." Rafe looked up to see his partner grinning madly. "H! Good to see you."
"Rafe! Next time you go undercover without telling me..." The man didn't finish his threat as he pulled Rafe into a hug. Around them, black clad anti-terrorist units swarmed over the prisoners and the nuclear weapon.
"Detective Rafe?" The group of detectives was halted as they left climbed out of the storm drain. A tall older man, impeccably dressed in a three piece suit stood before them.
"Mr. Whitman." Rafe acknowledged him with a nod. "Did you get them?"
"Andrew Thomas and his connection in the NSA died trying to escape." The man's lined face seemed pinched. "We missed a member of the family."
Around him, the other detectives went still. Rafe felt his heart pause. "Who?"
The name had barely crossed the A.D.'s lips before Rafe broke out into a run, heading for the cars. Behind him he could hear his partner's startled shout and the footsteps of his friends.
The door to the safe house was hanging open, held in place by the one remaining hinge. Almost as a single move, the four men pulled their weapons and eased into the house. Overturned furniture, broken lamps, and blood stained walls met them. From the back room, they could hear cursing and the sound of a fight.
Rafe headed down the hallway, Brown at his side. Behind them, the sentinel and his guide followed. The sight in the large room made them pause.
A.J. stood near the window, held tightly by a man wearing worn, muddy clothes. The two were staring at the fighters.
Franklin O'Raferty was barely able to hold himself upright against the punishing attack of a smaller man. The man moved with a fluid grace, each blow hitting hard enough to rock the giant in front of him. Each blow was punctuated by the words being spoken.
"You never, ever hit a lady!" The voice growled. "You never, ever go after someone I'm protecting." Another blow. "Didn't anyone ever teach you manners?"
"Rage." A.J. spoke softly and was ignored. "You're going to kill him."
"What you tried was unacceptable." A kick connected this time and Franklin flew back into the wall and crumpled to the ground. The man stalked forward.
"That's enough." Jim's voice was authoritative.
The man froze and slowly turned. He eyed the four police officers and the weapons trained on him mildly. Then he grinned. "I guess you want him alive so he can be questioned?"
At Jim's nod, the agent relaxed, putting his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "Damn. I guess I shouldn't have tried beating sense into him."
Jim holstered his weapon and the other detectives followed suit. As soon as the weapons were out of sight, Fortaleza crossed the room to Rafe's side. The sight of bruises on her jaw and the bloody lip made him stiffen. She shook her head and let him pull her close.
"Rafe?" The second man spoke up, eyes hooded. "I thought you promised me you'd keep her out of trouble?"
"GUN!" Blair's yell had them all moving.
Guns fired, echoing loudly in the small house. Franklin stared at the people facing him, eyes unblinking. The pistol in his hand fell to the ground, as he slowly slid down the wall. The six men watched him for a long moment before Blair kicked the gun farther away from the body. Then they all put away their weapons.
"Um, guys?" A.J.'s voice was hesitant. "Do you think you could let me go now?"
Jim looked over his shoulder and had to fight a laugh. The woman was pinned to the wall by Brown's bulk on one side, Rafe's back directly in front of her and his own frame boxing her in on the right. When they didn't move she pushed at them and finally she pinched, making Rafe jump slightly.
"You know what?" The amused chuckle came from the green-eyed man standing next to Rafe. "I'm glad my sister is your problem not mine. I remember those pinches. She's all yours. I'm going home."
"Thanks a lot." Rafe replied, fighting a smile himself.
"I heard that," she growled but everyone noticed that her arms were firmly around his waist.
Simon Banks looked up at the entrance of his men. The sound of their laughter was a welcome change. Rafe and his partner were teasing Sandburg about his newest flame while Jim watched tolerantly. He stood and went to join them.
"Rafe?" At the sound of Simon's voice they all froze. He raised his hands in surrender at the tense look on their faces. "Good news from above. The FBI and the NSA turned the last of the O'Raferties over to Interpol. They're being extradited to places where they'll get longer, tougher sentences than here in Cascade."
"A.D. Whitman convinced Justice that since you went to the O'Raferty clan thinking you were working with the FBI, you deserve the benefits of being undercover. Everything that happened has been cleared, pardoned, and sealed." The men began to grin. Simon cleared his throat. "I am also supposed to tell you that anytime you want to change careers, there are several agencies that are very interested in your abilities."
"Oh, no." Rafe backed away, shaking his head. "No, way. I have had enough undercover work to last me a long time, sir. I like being right here."
Simon grinned, catching Ellison's smile. They all had wondered if Rafe would take up any of the offers they knew would be coming. The young man had done well, but he was needed here. It was good to know that everything was back to normal, or as normal as it gets in Cascade.
Done. I hope all of the Rafebabes liked it.