Tell Me There's a Reason
by Heather M.
One by one they returned to the boardroom, their faces grim. Josiah could feel a shift in the attitude in the room. They were all business now. Their attention turned once again to the copies of the photographs and working the case as they waited for the last one to arrive.
Only when Vin slipped into his chair did Josiah begin. Laying his hand flat atop the set of pictures in front of him, "This was not unexpected." Josiah purposely kept his words were slow and measured as his gaze moved from man to man around the table. "I think you all realize that it was only a matter of time before Weller made himself known."
"Where'd you get these?" Buck held up his copies as he asked the question.
"They were in my in-basket last night."
"Which means they were delivered some time during the day, while the rest of us were here," said Nathan.
"Which lends to the sobering conclusion that security in this building may have been compromised," suggested Ezra dryly.
Josiah shook his head. "I don't think so. I spoke with Tracy - she was working the reception desk in the lobby yesterday. The envelope was delivered by a reputable courier service. The FBI is checking back with the courier service as to the identity of the sender. There were only these photographs in the envelope so it passed the usual security measures.
"Can we get a look at the originals?"
"They're still at the lab, JD." It was Chris who answered JD's question. "The evidence boys have been working on them since last night and so far other than the subject of the pictures there is nothing significant to report."
"Let's just get on with it and catch the bastard." Vin's normally quiet voice was hard and impatient. "What d'ya need from us, Josiah?"
"I need you all to identify where and when these pictures were taken." Josiah rose from his chair as he spoke and moved to the white board on the wall. "And anything else you can remember - if it stuck in your mind then it might be significant." Picking up a marker he turned to address them directly. "I need as much detail as you can remember. Even psychopaths have patterns and if I can get a handle on his, maybe, just maybe, I can figure out where to look for him."
They turned their attentions to the copies in front of them.
"Ezra, how about you start? That sign, in the background... It looks likes it's written in French, it reads, "Le Patisserie." Were you in France? Or is that someplace in New Orleans?"
"Neither, Le Patisserie is a very fine bakery in Montreal. If you'll recall, the extra long weekend I took two months ago was with Mother. We attended the Montreal film festival."
"What can you tell me about your visit?"
"The films as usual were excellent. There were a number of noted directors and actors in attendance as well and..." Ezra's eyes lit up with sudden realization. "Of course! Because of the festival there were an inordinate number of the paparazzi present as well. It is quite conceivable that if our picture was taken, we would have been completely unaware of the occurrence."
"Good, Ezra, good," Josiah nodded as he scribbled on the whiteboard. "Do you remember what day it was raining?"
"As I recall, it rained nearly the entire duration of my stay."
"Is there anything else that you can remember?"
"Nothing that comes to mind as out of the ordinary," replied Ezra shaking his head thoughtfully. "Except perhaps that Mother and I had a most delightful visit with one another for a change."
Josiah finished writing his point form notes on the board before turning his attention to JD. "JD, what can you tell me about the picture of you and Casey?"
"Some time in the last six weeks we ah..." Using the back of a shaky hand, JD wiped at the beads of perspiration that had appeared on his upper lip.
It hadn't occurred to Josiah until this moment that this was a shock JD may not have been ready for. As well as physical trauma, there was always a psychological trauma that went with a beating: increased anxiety, and a loss of a sense of security and self-assurance. Given time these feelings would pass but it was still less than two weeks since they had found him and Vin in the church.
Buck turned to look at JD when JD paused. Buck's eyes narrowing at the shaking hand as he watched his partner struggle. The concern on Nathan's face was clear. Though Chris's expression was passive, Josiah knew better. That familiar look in Chris's eyes told the tale. Chris was questioning his decision to have recruited someone so young to the team. Chris asked himself that same question every time JD was tested personally by the job. From the far end of the conference table Vin watched his friend in grim silence, Josiah could see the feelings of guilt in Vin's eyes.
Ezra leaned forward toward JD. JD jumped in reaction to the sudden movement. Ezra tried to help their youngest hold it together by nodding once and giving him encouraging smile. Sweat was now evident on JD's brow as he gave Ezra a weak smile in reply. Then he turned his attention back to the picture in his hand.
Another long moment passed as JD continued to struggle to keep his feelings in check and work the case.
JD turned toward the tall man who had spoken his name. Despite the teasing accusations to the contrary, Buck never "babied" his partner. He had always been his mentor on and off the job. Buck would find a way to help him.
"Remember what it was like? You were hurtin' bad. They'd just busted your ribs. They put the cell phone up to your ear and ordered you to talk, but you knew you had to stay on the line so the call could be traced. You knew they were going to hit you again and you knew it was gonna hurt like hell...but you refused to talk."
"I remember." JD's voice was barely audible.
"You didn't let them win then, don't let whoever is doing this win now."
Buck and JD sat staring at one another for another long moment before JD dropped his gaze back to the picture of him and Casey. They waited. The room was silent; the ticking of the clock on the wall seemed loud.
Then, just when it looked as if Buck was on the verge of going "mother hen" on them JD straightened himself in his chair. Taking a deep breath he turned his face from the picture and looked Josiah squarely in the eye. "We bought the communications helmets six weeks ago. We use them all the time, so the picture had to have been taken sometime since then. There's just trees and sky in the background so I guess it could have been taken on one of our rides out to the State Park, but we take that trip nearly every Sunday except for the last two. There's nothing else I can think of."
Josiah nodded and smiled inwardly. Except for a slight catch at the end, JD had replied with a strong voice. He wasn't going to let this beat him. "Good work," replied Josiah, the compliment meant more for JD's courage than for the information he'd just supplied. Josiah silently cheered "Way to go son," to himself as he added JD's notes to the board.
Josiah moved around the table to Buck. Buck's gaze was still fixed on JD. JD shuffled the picture of Buck and Inez to the top of his pile and turned to look at Buck. Noting his partner's worried expression JD gave Buck a quick smile. It must have been enough to satisfy Buck that the kid was okay.
"Okay kid, said Buck. Whether it was a question asking JD how he was feeling or an acknowledgement of a job well done, Josiah wasn't sure. Josiah only knew he was glad Buck seemed to have dropped the issue of JD's fitness for the job as Buck turned his attention to the picture of himself and Inez.
Buck was quiet for a long moment, as he studied the picture his expression became grim. Knowing Buck as he did, Josiah could only wonder at how Buck must be feeling having put Inez in danger. He could argue with Buck that it wasn't his fault but that wouldn't make any difference to Buck. Inez was in danger and as far as Buck was concerned he was responsible.
"I'm wearin' that foolish St. Patrick's day button, last March then."
"No," JD shook his head, "no, wait a minute, Buck, you found it in your desk about a month ago, remember? Then you wore it to the Saloon to tease Inez with."
"Yeah, you're right." The memory was evident in Buck's tone of voice. "I tossed it somewhere that night, that'd be what - three weeks ago maybe?"
"JD thinks a month, you think three weeks? Can you be more specific?" urged the profiler.
Buck paused a moment bringing a hand up to scratch his neck before shaking his head. "I'm not sure."
"We need better than that." Chris made no effort to disguise his annoyance and disgust with Buck as angry gold flecks flared in the green depths. "You're a senior agent on this team. You should be able to be more specific than that."
The dark head turned, so that he could nail the boss with a look of his own. "I don't remember. The words were spoken slowly, quietly and with emphasis. The deep blue eyes were frosty with defiance.
"Okay, we're okay here. Give it some more thought, Buck, maybe something'll come to you later," Josiah said encouragingly.
Josiah levelled a stern "not now" look at Chris before turning back to the whiteboard to jot down Buck's notes. Privately he cursed out of frustration and then prayed for patience with those two. He didn't have time to mediate a civil war just now, he had to move on.
Josiah took a step back from the whiteboard and read over the notes he'd made so far. He rubbed the stubble on his chin thoughtfully with his free right hand. Then in a sudden explosion of motion he drew a line the length of the white board adding three hash marks along it. At the far left he added two labels below the line, "TIME" and "LOCATION". Above the three hash marks, the names left to right Ezra, JD, Buck, below the line at the hash marks, he added the corresponding time frames and locations of the photos for each man: "2 months, 6 wks (or less), 3 wks - 1 month; Montreal, Denver area, Saloon."
A pattern was beginning to form.
He said nothing about the diagram and turned back to the men at the table. He waited to give them all a chance to digest what he had just written.
Distracted for a moment by Josiah's drawing, Nathan seemed startled at the sound of his name. Nathan's expression quickly hardened as he turned his attention to his and Rain's photograph. Nathan angry was a fearsome thing. Though Nathan believed in Rain's rights as a person unto herself, his love for his wife was almost primal in its intensity and as a natural extension of that love came his desire to keep her safe from harm. "It's our honeymoon." The tremor in his voice hinted at the rage Nathan was muzzling. "That's the beach in Hawaii at the resort we stayed at. Rain bought that sundress there. She was finding her clothes were already getting tight so she bought that sundress so she'd be more comfortable."
"That would make it... anywhere from ten to twelve weeks ago," Josiah concluded.
"Closer to ten weeks. Rain bought the dress part way through our second week there. I've probably got a credit card receipt at home that would have the date Rain bought it."
"Good," acknowledged Josiah and with a stab of the marker he added a hash mark to the left of Ezra's and added Nathan's name: "10 1/2 weeks," "Hawaii."
"You're next, Chris."
Going from man to man in turn around the table, Vin should have been next, but the hunch of Vin's shoulders and the downcast eyes were telling Josiah he wasn't ready yet. He would have to be ready in another minute.
"The Friday night of the weekend before the kidnapping, Mary came out to the ranch for supper."
"You have an exact date then."
"No." He shook his head. "She... she ended up staying all weekend... we spent time Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings together on the porch swing..."
Josiah had moved to each of them in turn around the table and so had they, automatically turning to the picture being report on as they worked the case. Now they all looked past the brutal word scrawled across the photo to really look at the picture of the boss. None of them, except maybe for Buck, had ever seen Chris look so contented. None of them had been aware, until now, just how close he and Mary had become; even in profile Chris looked at peace with the world. Finally, on the long road back from the dark place where he had gone after his family died Chris had found the courage to let a woman into his heart again.
Josiah cursed to himself at the unfairness of it all as he added a hash mark for Chris's name. The man fights his way back from the living dead only to have this happen the first time he gets close to someone.
Vin made no indication that he had heard his name. The rest of them had been so buried in their own worries and helping Josiah that only now did they realize Vin's distress. There was more going on with Vin than just this case. His forehead rested in his hand supported by an elbow on the table as he stared down at the copy of Mia and himself. The usually impassive features struggled and failed to keep an expression of raw pain from his face.
Vin didn't lift his head but continued to stare at the picture of Mia and himself as he spoke quietly. "Three... Three weeks back, Mia and me... we ah..." Vin paused and wiped at the corner of one eye with the heel of his hand. "We haven't been doin' so good... since we lost Aiyana. We left Kody with Del and Josiah that weekend and went camping up Peddlar's Canyon way. We... ah..." He shifted his shoulders self-consciously as he cleared his throat. "We've been better since then."
Without a word Josiah added a hash mark entry for Vin between Buck and Chris. The squeak of the marker on the board was the only sound in the silent room.
He had already known things weren't good between Vin and Mia. When they had dropped Kody off for the weekend, Vin had brought Kody to the house; Mia had stayed in the car. Del had gone out to the car to talk to her. All Del would say, after they left, was that "the spirit seems to have gone out of Mia."
The squeak of the marker stopped as Josiah stood back while the rest of them sat in silence and stared at the whiteboard.
They all felt violated. The pictures themselves were an invasion but as close as they were they still had private business from one another. The fact Vin's marriage was in trouble and that Chris had finally opened him self up to a relationship were sensitive issues for two very private men. The intimacy of a honeymoon, the troubled relationship of mother and son, the joy of first love, the pursuit of an unattainable woman, these personal matters were no longer joyful. These relatively intimate moments with women they cared about were now being used to threaten them.
"I have a question."
"What is it, JD?" Josiah welcomed the distraction from the uncomfortable silence that had descended.
"How would Weller know?"
"How would he know what?"
"How would he know where everyone was to take their picture? How would he know Ezra was going to Montreal? How would he know Nathan and Rain were in Hawaii? How would he know about Vin 'n Mia going camping?"
"Mr. Dunne, you raise an interesting point." Ezra cocked an eyebrow at Josiah. "The invitation to join Mother in Montreal was a last minute affair. I booked my flight online less than thirty-six hours before departure and I picked my ticket up at the airport."
"And ya gotta wonder how none of us spotted him." Commented Buck as he leaned an elbow on the arm of his chair.
"Who said he took the pictures?" asked Nathan of no one in particular. "What if he hired a private dick or a professional photographer? The paparazzi specialize in following famous people around hoping to take pictures of them. You hear stories about how they suddenly appear out of nowhere to take a picture, or how they'll wait in a tree for hours, or fly by hanging out of a helicopter just to get one picture."
"Hey...ahhh," JD grimaced. He had forgotten the stitches on the inside of his mouth, but there was no mistaking the excitement in his eyes. "Wait a minute!" He eased himself up from his chair and limped quickly from the room.
"I still have the same question. Wouldn't at least one of us have noticed our picture was bein' taken?" questioned Buck his expression was one of concern, as he watched JD hobble out of the room.
"Maybe not," mused Chris aloud. "Nathan has a point. Look how often the tabloids have pictures of famous people caught naked or in a compromising position because the racier the picture, the more money they get for it, and a lot of those people have the best security money can buy around them."
JD limped back into the room. "I thought it was just a coincidence." Despite the bruised hip he moved quickly around the meeting table dropping copies of two police reports in front of Chris. "Look here, a little more than a month ago a Tavis McGregor, professional photographer, was found dead from single gunshot wound. All that was missing was his wallet and his camera. Then two weeks ago, right before Vin and I were nabbed, Carlos Fragomeni, again professional paparazzi, single shot to the head, his wallet, watch and camera missing. The cases were thought to be unrelated because McGregor was murdered in New York, Fragomeni in Kansas City."
"JD, contact their bosses and see if you - "
"Mr. Larabee, more often than not the paparazzi work independently and as such they do not have bosses."
"In that case, JD, you're going to have to trace back through airline manifests, car rental agencies, their credit cards, et cetera, and contact the investigating officers in both cases and see what they have on their murders. Let's find out where these photographers were and when and let's see if we can tie their murders to the Nichols brothers."
"I know the drill, Chris."
"Yeah, I guess you do by now," replied Chris with a gentle snort. One corner of his mouth twisted into a half smile. "Good catch, JD." Despite the battered face, the kid still managed to beam under the well-deserved praise.
"Okay, so now maybe we know how.... Why?" The boss panned around the table, challenging the men around it.
"To screw with us," Buck rose to the challenge. "Upset us so we're not thinkin' straight."
"Agreed Mr Wilmington," said Ezra, "he's hoping to skew our reasoning and judgement and thereby cause us to err in our assessments."
"I have to agree," Nathan jumped in. "We're trained to deal with threats against ourselves but it's a helluva a lot harder to deal with when your family is threatened."
"The threats against the women is consistent with Weller's psychosis. He sees himself as God's instrument to rid man of the bane called woman." Up until now the profiler had been quietly studying the whiteboard while the rest of them had reasoned out the case thus far. "He using the fact that the ones we love are both our strength, and our weakness."
"He's stalkin' us."
All eyes turned on sharpshooter. "He's usin' our wives and girlfriends to throw us off our game, but he's stalkin' us just the same." The words were spoken in the usual quiet manner but there was an uncharacteristically cold glint in the sky blues.
"I think you're on the right track, Vin." Josiah was beginning to formulate a theory and Vin had provided him with a place to begin.
"Look at the picture of Nathan and Rain in Hawaii. The time frame is the furthest away and so is physical distance. Then Ezra and Maude, in Montreal, closer in time and distance as well. JD and Casey, somewhere near Denver, no more than six weeks ago. Ten and a half weeks, two months, six weeks," Josiah counted down, "across the ocean, to North America, into Colorado or maybe even Denver." Josiah threw JD a quick questioning look. "Assuming, JD, that you and Casey don't travel any further than the Denver area."
"Since we got the communication helmets, Cherry Creek Lake State Park's been the furthest we've gone."
Nodding at JD's reply. Josiah continued, "Then Buck and Inez here at the Saloon. Closer in time and distance and for the first time the exact location is known to all of us. The Saloon is just about beside this office and it's a place we all go. A place we know well and where we're comfortable. It's a place of relative safety."
There was ripple of nervous movement in the room as they each realized what that meant. It brought home to each of them just how very vulnerable they were.
"But lookin' at the timeline, Vin and Mia would be next time-wise but location-wise Peddlar's Canyon takes us away from the office, away from us and out of City. That isn't consistent," said Buck shaking his head.
"You have to think he's leading us somewhere with all this, Buck," said Josiah. "I'm positive time is the dominating factor. He's getting closer with each one. From the Saloon a month ago, to Peddlar's Canyon three weeks ago, then two weeks ago, Chris's place. He's doing what Vin said, he's stalking us, and I'm convinced time dictates the order of these pictures and that would make Vin and Mia's photo next."
"But Peddlar's Canyon is further from Denver than Chris's..."
"Maybe he's using the Saloon to introduce a subtle change in the function of location. We spend time at the Saloon. We consider it our turf. It's no longer physical location that's important but personal closeness."
"How does Vin and Mia's picture fit then?" asked JD. "Or Chris and Mary's for that matter?"
"Possibly he is using the picture of Vin and Mia to indicate that we here in this office are not the prime target," suggested Ezra. "The picture of Buck and Inez in the Saloon has proven he can get close to us but we, the team per se, are not his intended victims."
"Are you sayin' Mia's his intended victim?" There was an edge of panic to Vin's voice as he nailed Ezra with a hard look from across the table.
"No more than any of the others, Vin," replied Ezra quickly hoping to soothe Vin's fears.
"If what Ezra said is true, maybe Vin and Mia's picture is only meant to lead us away from here," suggested JD.
"If he's trying to establish our vulnerability with the picture in the Saloon, boasting he can do anything he wants to, then he's using Vin and Mia's picture to taunt us, telling us that's not what he really wants... at least not yet," reasoned Chris.
Josiah was only half listening now. "This time it's a different kind of closeness..." His words were only a whisper he spoke. He wasn't really addressing anyone so much as thinking out loud.
"Chris's is the only picture at one of our homes... that's getting pretty damn close," commented Nathan.
"Undoubtedly, it's to make sure he has Chris's attention, by threatening him in his home," concluded Ezra.
"Josiah." The big profiler turned to meet the Chris's gaze. Chris stared warily back at him. "Mine is the most recent picture... I get the feeling he's made mine last on purpose, like maybe he's talking to me."
Josiah paused to consider Chris's words and then nodded as he replied slowly, "I think you're right. You're the boss. If your picture was anywhere else in the timeframe it wouldn't be significant, but this way he's asking if you're listening."
Josiah turned back to the whiteboard. The room was quiet as he rubbed up and down one scraggily bearded cheek with the back of his hand thinking for a minute. "Sweet damn!"
"That's exactly what he's doing."
"Add Vin and JD's kidnapping to this picture."
"There's no evidence he had anything to do with..."
"My gut says there is, Nathan, and it fits." He motioned with the marker as he spoke. "We're similar, he and I, in our strict religious upbringings... The kidnapping had so many religious connotations to it: JD on Sunday after mass, Gabriel's Bike Heaven, the medallion of the Archangel Raphael in JD's pocket."
He turned and pounded on the whiteboard with the marker as he added another entry to the right of Chris's information. "10 days, New Life Millennium Church."
Then turning back he addressed the group. "Chris is the boss - he's talking to him. But by sending the pictures to me he's telling Chris this is about me. Remember, Vin and JD were left in a location only I would know about."
"Think about the threats he made when he was arrested... he can do anything he wants to us because he knows us so well! He knew JD usually only goes to mass the third Sunday of the month, he knew Vin would go to Gabriel's for spare parts! Then he had Vin and JD vulnerable in that church but he left them alive, that's the message he was sending... that he could have killed them anytime he wanted to but he didn't because they aren't the target!"
Josiah snatched the picture of Estelle Kolochek from the table held it up for them all to see. "The picture of Estelle was to remind me that I screwed up the first time. But he wants me, I caught him. In his psychosis, he is a divine instrument of God, powerful and supreme, but I caught him. I have interfered with God's work, God's plan, and I have to be punished for it!"
"Mr. Sanchez!" Despite the refined southern tones the words were spat across the room.
At the urgent words Josiah looked at Ezra whose eyes were wide with a sudden realization.
"Initially I made the assumption that there was no picture of Del and Miss Rosie because the picture of Estelle Kolochek was meant for you to identify him as the perpetrator. But that was for the rest of us. You already suspected he was responsible, didn't you!" When he received no answer Ezra repeated him self, abandoning his usually reserve and yelling at the profiler. "Didn't you!"
Josiah nodded guiltily. "Yeah, I had figured as much, but I had no definitive proof, only a gut feeling to go on."
"Del and Miss Rosie are conspicuous by their absence. The fact there is no photograph for them indicates that they are the...."
"Damn, Ezra was quick," cursed Josiah to himself. "Maybe Ezra should be the profiler here because he sure as hell was fucking up!"
"He's wants revenge," whispered Ezra ominously.
Josiah couldn't help it. His eyes sought out the green-gold eyes that flickered now with memories of the loss of a wife and child, eyes full of pain, the eyes of their leader.
"What sweeter revenge is there than to...?" Ezra couldn't finish.
"Than to take a man's family from him." The expression of pain on Chris's face was frightening as he finished the sentence. "It's Del and Rosie he's after."
"I think so... The picture of Estelle Kolochek is to remind me of my failure, he's reminding me I wasn't able to save Estelle Kolochek. There is no picture of Del and Ros..." He paused and licked his lips as he fought for composure. "Because there's no picture of them could indicate that as far as he's concerned... they're already d...." He couldn't say it. The big, tough ex-marine, cool under fire ATF agent, couldn't say it.
Josiah took a deep breath as he tried to calm the trembling within himself. "Leaving Vin and JD alive could indicate he doesn't want me dead. The real threat here is to people around me. Del and Rosie." His voice sounded foreign to himself and he managed to squeeze the words out around the lump in his throat. "It's me he wants revenge against, and he'll do anything to them to hurt me."
He was reminded of something Vin had said to him one miserable, rainy night as they lay side-by-side on the roof of a dingy, stinking warehouse waiting for a buyer to show. "There's a fine line between hunter and hunted." The horror of Jonathan Becks Weller was upon him and he felt powerless to stop it.
Chris slid both hands through his hair and down the back of his head. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his desk and bent his head so he could knead the tense muscles in the back of his neck. He needed sleep. He should have gone home hours ago but indecision had kept him from leaving. The decision as to where to go when he left still harried him. He should go home, but he wanted to go to Mary. He wanted to watch over her this night. He wanted to keep her safe. As hard as he had fought it he'd fallen in love with her. He hadn't wanted to but it had happened and now he'd put her in harm's way... just like Sarah, and he couldn't live through that again.
It had been a hellish long day.
They'd gone over and over the pictures again and again looking for little things, each of them trying to remember details from weeks and even months ago, anything that would help Josiah.
JD had run the credit cards and flight manifests of the murdered paparazzi in record time. Tavis McGregor had been in Hawaii and Montreal at the time of the Jacksons's honeymoon and the Montreal Film festival. Carlos Fragomeni was primarily an L.A. based photographer of the stars but had flown to Kansas City and then to Denver. He spent nearly a month in Denver before flying back to Kansas City where he was found dead. Again the dates coincided with the timeframes of the last four pictures.
The investigating officer on the Fragomeni murder could find no reason why the photographer would have left the L.A. area. He assumed it was work related but the officer could find no one that knew if Fragomeni had a contract or not. In both murder investigations, there were few clues and the cases were quickly growing cold.
Nathan had noticed that while the pictures of the other four men had centred on the women, JD and Vin's showed them full face equally with Casey and Mia; was that significant? Especially since they were the two who'd been kidnapped? Did it mean anything or nothing at all?
Considered in terms of location, was the picture of Vin and Mia still an inconsistency? One of those red herrings Weller had used before or did it have a meaning they did not yet understand?
Kody had stayed with Josiah and Del that weekend; was this Weller's backhanded way of pointing to Josiah again? The thought that this monster was using an 18-month-old child frightened them all and was terrifying to his young father who had retreated into silence.
It was then Ezra suggested an explanation for the medallion depicting the Archangel Raphael found in JD's pocket. Amoung Raphael's many patronages were those of the young and the blind. JD was their youngest and had been keep blindfolded by the duct tape during the beating. In Weller's twisted view of things, possibly he thought the medallion would protect JD during the beating.
While Buck questioned Ezra as to how he knew so much about the Patron Saint and Ezra replying it was merely some of the advantages of private school education. Chris watched Josiah's reaction to Ezra's theory. There was mixture of emotions there that Chris couldn't quite read.
Chris wondered how it was that Josiah managed to sort through all this conflicting information. How did he keep from seeing things that weren't there and still see the things that were?
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Hours later, brains fried, tempers short, they had begun to argue amongst themselves. Chris and Buck had been especially combative. In separate instances both Nathan and Ezra had tried to intervene and head off another impending argument only to end up the recipient of one or both the senior agents' ire.
Josiah figured he had enough to worry about without having to act as mediator as well. Quite frankly he'd had enough of Buck and Chris and decided the elder children could settle their own differences for a change.
Josiah quizzed both JD and Vin again about the kidnapping. JD was visibly tiring and with fatigue he was obviously hurting again. He lacked his usual stamina due to his injuries. He was wilting under the stress of the questioning when he fired the nasty accusation at Vin; if Josiah wanted to know anything why not ask the guy who somehow managed to avoid a beating.
Vin said nothing. Between the guilt of JD's beating, his troubled marriage and, the threat to his family, it was one more thing Vin had to cope with and he didn't have the heart left to deal with any more. He flinched at the angry words and then ducked his head, retreating even further into himself but not before Josiah saw the pain that flare in the sky-blue depths.
From the expression on JD's face it was clear he regretted the words the moment they were spoken. The look on Vin's face hurt JD worse than any of the blows the Nicholls brothers had delivered. JD stammered out an apology before burying his head in his hands.
The little scene left the rest of the men in the room silent and Josiah with the firm realization they were falling apart as a team.
Then came the phone call from John Osipenko, a missing person. Another missing young woman, whose description matched victims favoured by Jonathan Becks Weller. They were on the trail of another victim. How soon could Josiah come to Kansas City?
There was no way Josiah was leaving Del and Rosie. Not with everything they had here in Denver indicating Weller was targeting Josiah's family.
This was not in line with the FBI's expectations and Chris sided with Josiah. The entire situation was threatening to blow up into a political fiasco until Ezra volunteered to go to Kansas City in Josiah's place. Ezra made the observation that all indications were that Weller was most likely in Denver or Kansas City, so his mother was likely to be in the least amount of danger.
It was Ezra who was on the next flight to Kansas City. He would be Josiah's eyes and ears and relay information and his observations back to Josiah in Denver.
The case was in Kansas City's backyard now and all they could do was wait.
Since this could take hours and there were people each of them wanted to be with, Chris wisely decided to send them home on the proviso that each of them agreed to personal FBI surveillance. None of them were happy with the FBI tails they had acquired but they recognized the necessity of it so there was little arguing the point, especially if it meant going home to those they cared about.
JD had been the first one out the door heading for Casey's and Nathan wasn't far behind. Buck had left shortly afterwards. He would go to the Saloon to wait for closing and then make sure Inez got home safely.
Checking in just before midnight, Ezra reported that he had landed and was en route to the FBI offices to meet with Osipenko and Bronwen Lind. He would keep them advised.
Josiah had closeted himself in the conference room going over the photos again, the information the men had given him, the facts of the kidnapping, and what little evidence there was from the murder of Nicholls brothers. He spoke briefly with Ezra, John Osipenko and Bronwen Lind at one a.m. They were following up on the disappearance as per standard procedure. There was little else they could do at this point. It was after that that Chris ordered him to go home.
Now that his troubled marriage was common knowledge Vin had opted to sleep on the couch in Chris' office rather than go home to an empty apartment full of memories. He lay across the room from Chris now. On his side with his back to his boss his steady regular breathing audible in the stillness of two a.m.
Chris had decided to go home to the ranch if for no other reason, than Tanner needed a decent bed to sleep in.
His hand shot out suddenly, an instinctive reaction to the shrill ring of the telephone as it jolted him out of his thoughts.
"Chris?" He blew out a long sigh of relief as he recognized the voice. It was Mary.
"Hi, Mary." It felt good to hear her voice, but at the same time guilt nagged at him knowing he was the reason she was under FBI surveillance right now.
"You're still there." He could hear the concern in her voice.
"Yeah I'm still here."
"I was worried..." Her voice trailed off.
"I was about to go home."
"Chris, come here. Come stay with me tonight."
He passed a hand through his hair, while he searched for an excuse not to go to her.
She sensed his reluctance, "I promise I won't ask about the case."
"It's not that, it's just... Mary, I don't think that's such a good idea..." He didn't want to have anything to do with putting her in more danger; he'd been down that road once before.
"Chris... please come."
He shut his eyes as he was inundated with the memories of that weekend. The smell of her perfume, the softness of her hair, the gentle rhythm of her breathing as she slept, how it felt to make love to her, how her gentle assault on his body awakened feelings and desires long forgotten... how alive it made him feel to be in love again. He could feel his resolve crumbling. Josiah was right, she was his strength and his weakness.
He opened his eyes and jerked back suddenly in his chair, startled to discover Tanner standing on the other side of his desk staring intently down at him.
"Just a sec, Mary." He hit the hold button.
"Whatta you want?"
Chris just blinked back at him wondering if Tanner knew what he was talking about; he thought he was asleep a moment ago.
"Go to her... that's where ya belong... that's where all of us belongs right now."
"I can't, Ezra might call."
"I'm here and I'm more'n capable of answerin' the damn phone."
Chris stared at him not knowing how to phrase the question. Vin answered it for him.
"I'd be holding Mia in my arms right now if I could... but I can't... so there's no reason for you...." Vin stopped and licked his lips self-consciously; he always did when he was treading on what he figured was hallowed ground around Chris. "I know what your thinkin'... about Sarah... but go anyway, Chris. Love her while ya can. Who knows what tomorrow will bring."
Vin stared down at Chris, imploring him not to let this chance go by.
Chris reached across and released the hold button
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"Senor Buck! What are you doing sitting in the hall outside my apartment door? Go home, you foolish man."
"That's just not gonna happen, Inez." Even whispered his words seemed to boom down the silent hallway. "You're in this cause of me and I'm not leavin' you to face this alone."
He had helped her clean up and close after the day's business. Then he had badgered her into letting him drive her home. She had been too tired to fight him and had agreed. On the way home she had fallen asleep on his shoulder. After turning off the ignition he sat watching her sleep for a few minutes and berated himself again for putting her in danger.
He wondered what it was about her that had kept him coming back. The others had teased him that he couldn't accept the fact that there was one woman on this earth that he couldn't have his way with. But that wasn't it. It had been her fierce independence that had attracted him. He had known so many women just like her, without the advantages of either money or education who had worked and fought hard to make their way in life, his own mother included. Watching out for her just seemed the right thing for him to do.
Once she roused from her doze, he had escorted her up to her apartment and insisted on checking it out before letting her in. Once inside, he tried to talk her into letting him stay, platonically, just to keep watch, to make sure she was safe. His arguments were met with a resounding "NO" and he was shown the door. But there was no way he was leaving. He moved a few feet down the hall and sat down to nestle in the doorway to the stairwell -that way he would hear anyone coming up the stairs or see anyone coming off the elevator. A short time later after valiantly trying to stifle a tickle in his nose he had sneezed. A moment after that Inez opened the door to her apartment...
"Be quiet!" she hissed. "Do you want the neighbours to hear you? They will be thinking other things if you use words like that."
Only then did he realize the innuendo of what he had said. It gave him an idea. Louder, and with as much angst as he could muster, he said, "Inez, darlin', this is all my fault. What kind of man would I be if..."
They both heard the rattle of the security chain on the apartment next door as the occupant within slid it aside.
"Mi Dios," spat Inez. Grabbing Buck by the arm, she hauled him back into her apartment swiftly shutting the door.
"You think you are so smart!" Her dark eyes flashed with anger. He couldn't help but grin down at her, she was absolutely beautiful! "There, smart guy," she pointed to the couch, furniture no where near long enough for Buck to stretch out on. "You sleep there and tomorrow I make an official complaint to Senor Larabee!"
She whirled out of the room. He stood for a moment enjoying the last bit of scent from her perfume when he was struck suddenly in the head. The enveloping softness turned out to be a blanket. He lifted the blanket off his head and smiled to himself before tossing it carelessly on the couch. Then he moved over to the window. Peeking out between the curtains he identified first Inez's FBI tail and then his. He moved back into the room; slipping his jacket off, he tossed it on the couch. He removed his gun from the shoulder holster and sat down in the easy chair. Setting the gun in his lap he settled in for a long night.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
JD rolled over and groaned. That bruise on his hip again. God wasn't it ever going to heal? He was tired and everything seemed to hurt more because he was tired. What was really hurting was the fact he'd barely had a chance to talk to Casey. After about an hour with her Nettie told him it was time he went home. Nettie had cornered him in the hallway when Casey had gone to get his coat. Not one to mince words Nettie had laid it on the line for him. "I don't want you to see her again until this is over and then only after we've had a little talk about what your job might mean for my niece."
Nettie was pretty upset him for putting Casey in danger, he couldn't blame her. She loved Casey and his job had potentially put her in serious danger. He wasn't happy about it either.
He was pissed at himself for the same thing and he was pretty sure the others felt the same. The way Buck was talking when he left he was pretty sure Buck wasn't coming home tonight. He was going to find a way to keep an eye on Inez himself. Nathan had muttered something about even with a baby on the way a change of career wasn't impossible. Chris and Vin had looked like it was tearing them up inside when they were talking about the photographs with Mary and Mia in them. Ezra had let on that Maude could take care of herself but JD knew he was pretty worried about her. Especially since Ezra didn't even seem to notice that he was drinking Vin's coffee again. And Josiah... how the heck did he handle it all? Weller wanted revenge and it made sense Weller would want to hurt Josiah rather than kill him and if no picture of Del and Rosie meant they were Weller's intended victims, how the hell did Josiah manage to keep his mind on the case?
JD turned over again. He'd only ever wondered if it was fair to get involved with Casey since he might lose his life in the line of duty. He'd never thought about her being in danger because of his job. But he supposed it had never occurred to Chris either and he had lost his wife and son to payback...
JD rolled over again this time punching his pillow as he lamented to himself, "How come none of the answers are ever easy!"
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Nathan gathered Rain in close as she snuggled in against him. She slept soundly as they spooned together in the big bed. One of his big gentle hands was spread wide over her abdomen. At their last pre-natal visit the doctor had said that soon he would be able to feel butterfly like movements of the child within her.
He was so looking forward to this child. This child would change them from a couple to a family. This child would fulfill the last of his really important dreams. Forget all the social status that achievements in education and career had brought him. What was really important in this life was one's completeness as a person. Where Rain made him complete as a husband and a lover, this child would complete him as a father.
There it was! He held his breath and waited ... there it was again! A rhythmic fluttering against his index finger, so light he could easily have missed it. He smiled in spite of his dark mood. He knew his ever practical wife would dismiss what he had felt as the abdominal rumblings of her intestines as they shifted to make room for the growing life within her but he knew better. In his heart he knew better.
Then he was reminded of the threat that had been laid before him. How could he be so irresponsible as to put them in danger like this?
Tomorrow he would talk to Rain about a change of career.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Ezra knocked back the pep pills and then had to swallow "up hill" as he bent over the drinking fountain to sip water to wash them up and then down with. Barbiturates, the unspoken of tools of his trade, he loathed to resort to them but resort to them he did when caffeine no longer did the trick for him. Caffeine... that vile concoction Vin Tanner called coffee had given him the runs to add an extra degree of misery to his already miserable state.
He had left in such a rush he had forgotten his overnight bag in the trunk of the Jag. There had been no time to purchase a shaving kit at the airport. Now in the early hours of the morning he was unshaven, and wished dearly he had a clean shirt and change of underwear. These were the little things that helped Ezra Standish cope in times of stress.
Down went the Imodium... almost. It caught in his throat and began to dissolve. He drank thirstily at the fountain in an attempt to sweep the vile tasting remnants from his mouth before they hit his taste buds. He wasn't completely successful. For once he wished he carried coin instead of plastic, a soda from the vending machine would be eminently more palatable right now than more hours-old coffee from the break room.
He had been impressed by John Osipenko and Bronwen Lind.
Osipenko was methodical, logical and quick and mentally one of the most agile people Ezra had ever met, and growing up with Maude he had met more than a few. Even so, Weller, with all those superfluous clues, had had this man running in circles.
Outwardly, John Osipenko was lacking when it came to bona fide human emotion. He was nicknamed the "ice-man" by those outside the profession of profiling, not just for his style as a profiler but his physical appearance as well. Unusually grey tinged skin covered a gaunt frame, and a large hooked nose supported heavy auto-shading glasses that seemed to be perpetually dark, like the cynicism that coloured every aspect of his personality. There was an aura of coldness about him. Ezra swore he could feel a chill just standing beside him.
Bronwen was the polar opposite to John Osipenko. She seemed to function solely on instinct and intuition, yet her conclusions were not that dissimilar to Osipenko's. Ezra could understand why she had retired though. Her style brought the case too close to her, she internalized too much of it. After looking over some of the case file photos from some of the previous victims in this case, Ezra had to wonder why she hadn't gone completely mad.
Osipenko and Lind, both such tortured souls, how was it Josiah had avoided the same fate? Possibly it was the lack of someone else to provide stability in one's life, the lack of someone to love that made the difference.
His thoughts turned once again to his mother. He had finally spoken to her on his cell on the way to the airport in Denver. She had been somewhat upset with him. Given Interpol's sudden interest in her, Sergei had summarily dispatched her out into the street. Ezra preferred not to dwell on what that meant about Sergei. Maude had seemed fine otherwise. She actually listened when he explained the situation. At the end she complained bitterly but decided she would go visit Gergely in Hungary, commenting that she hadn't seen him in quite some time. Ezra had to smile at Maude's decision; Maude had sounded very off-handed about it, but Ezra knew the "Colonel" had one of the best security systems in Europe. Mother would be fine.
Ezra took another drink from the fountain and then walked down the hallway back to the Operations Centre.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Vin sat in his chair staring at the three folding frame pictures of Mia, Kody and Aiyana cradled in his hands.
Miakoda, her name meant power of the moon. Mia had a power alright. She had bewitched him the first moment he'd laid eyes on her.
Vin had hoped his time with the Rangers gave him all the credits he would need to complete his degree. For two years he argued that his military service was sufficient to satisfy the degree requirements. The University disagreed. He needed one course, one measly course to satisfy the University and in turn the ATF. He opted for Native American Cultural studies because the brief history that the foster agency had provided him indicated his maternal grandfather had been Native American, Kiowa to be exact.
He sat in the back of the first class unhappily waiting for the instructor to arrive and wondering how he was going to make it through this course. Even with Ezra's help the final written project, worth 50% of the grade, was going to be a challenge. Then Miakoda walked through the door and that was the last thought he ever gave to passing the course.
Her long black hair shimmered with the slightest movement. Her dark brown eyes were full of life and laughter. She wore no make up but seemed to glow all on her own.
They settled quickly into the course of study. All her students were important to her but it was soon obvious the instructor was attracted to the quiet man with eyes the colour of the sky.
It was in both their natures to take relationships slowly. The course curriculum had the class going to Mia's home and living on the reservation in the traditional style for a four-day weekend. Long after the end of the course one student still spent weekends with the teacher in the traditional style.
They had been careful but even so, Mia had become pregnant. Mia did not put any claims on Vin but he would not have his child grow up without a father as he had, so he insisted they move in together. Vin, with unspoken fears, had dutifully gone to pre-natal classes and read up on babies.
Then Kody was born. Takoda, Sioux for "friend to everyone". Kody Tanner was the centre of his father's universe. Vin Tanner's confidence as a father grew as fast as his son. Mia and Kody had brought more love and light to Vin's life than he could ever have believed possible.
A year later, one Sunday morning in early June, in the meadow out behind Chris's place, Vin and a pregnant Mia stood side by side. While 14 month old Kody slumbered on Vin's shoulder, they held hands and before close friends and family, they pledged to love each other and raise their children together for all their days remaining on this earth. It was a commitment ceremony, though not legally recognized by the laws of men; it bound them to each other with their hearts.
Eight weeks later Aiyana was born.
Aiyana... his sight became obscured by his tears. Aiyana, whose name meant eternal blossom.
Aiyana had been born pink and healthy and with a set of lungs that would do her Uncle Buck proud. A pound heavier than her brother had been, with her Mother's deep brown eyes and her father's fair hair. They brought her home and settled into family life with the confidence of second time parents. He figured all they had to worry about were a few sleepless nights and diaper rash.
Then came that awful Tuesday morning. He'd stepped out the shower just after six a.m. Mia was just crawling out of bed wondering why Aiyana hadn't awoken them for her two a.m. nursing. Vin had told her to stay where she was he would bring the baby to her. He had leaned over the crib and he knew immediately something was wrong. He moved to stroke her cheek to awaken her and found it cold to his touch...
SIDS they had told them. It tended to be more common in bigger babies and more commonly affected boys than girls. The reasons why didn't matter, his daughter, his eternal blossom would flower no more, and Mia, the love of his life, the woman who had brought so much light to his existence, withdrew from life. She withdrew from him, from Kody, from everyone.
Depression they called it, it would take time but she would eventually be herself again. Vin wasn't so convinced. Mia wandered through her days oblivious to what was going on around her. She couldn't teach. She barely spoke to him and when she did there was no life in her voice. The psychologist didn't seem to be helping and the weekend away together hadn't changed anything. He had lied when he had told the others they were better. The first sign of interest in anything was to announce that she wanted to go home. She wanted some space, some time to think and she needed her people and her culture around her. Those words had sent a chill into his heart. He had tried to be supportive agreeing that it might be a good idea. Then she had said she was taking Kody with her and that she didn't want to hear from him. She would call him when she was ready.
He was in shock. It took him two days to pull it together enough to go back to work, his excuse for being off work, the flu. Given his pallor when he did return to work no one questioned the excuse. He didn't try to hide the fact Mia and Kody were gone, but simply explained it as a short visit with family. Then came the inevitable teasing that it wasn't the flu but the eating his own cooking that had made him sick. He was relieved, the team themselves had provided him with a cover story. Only Chris had suspected something else was up and had invited him out to the ranch for steaks the following Sunday.
The Saturday before was the day he had been abducted.
Now with the threat of those photographs he had gone back to that dark place where he'd grown up. That place in his soul where he knew only hate and anger. That time in his life when he felt victimized and raged against a world where he lacked the love of family and friends. And he hated Weller for threatening the person he held most precious in this life, his wife, his Miakoda.
He imagined tearing that man's throat out with his bare hands and how good it would make him feel to do so.
Forget the law, he'd been pushed around a lot lately, his daughter, his wife, being kidnapped, JD's beatings... he'd had enough! Someone was going to pay and Weller was as good as anyone.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
She watched from behind the drapes as Chris made his way up the front walk. Though she couldn't see them from where she stood, she had no doubt both his and her surveillance officers were nearby. She hurried to the front door to open it before he could ring the bell and awaken Billy. Chris squinted against the sudden bright light that greeted him when she opened the door.
She reached across the threshold and took his hand in hers and without words drew him into her home. Looking up at him she noted how terribly tired he looked. She could also see he still had doubts about coming here. She stepped close to him tentatively asking, and he replied by putting his hands on her shoulders and then slowly drawing her into his body. His arms slide down around her and she slid her hands up his back to rest on his shoulder blades. He settled his cheek against the softness of her hair. She bowed and turned her head so she could lay her ear against his chest and listen to the comforting sounds of his heartbeat through his shirt. They stood for a moment, taking comfort in each other's arms.
She listened as his breathing slowed and noticed how he seemed to become heavier in her arms. He was falling asleep. She eased away from him and looked up at him again. He looked exhausted. He gazed none to happily back at her. "I'm not very good company, I should go home."
"No," she replied urgently. "You're here now. I just wanted to see you. I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"I'm fine, just a little tired." He smiled wanly.
"Are you hungry?"
"No, but I've got one helluva headache, have you got anything for it?"
She led him into the kitchen. He settled slowly into a chair while she disappeared down the hallway to the bathroom returning with a container of Tylenol. She ran the tap water while she shook two tablets into her palm. Filling a glass she brought both the water and the pills over him and sat down as she watched him toss the pills to the back of his throat and then drink them down.
She smiled, a little sadly at him, he looked so tired. The weight of the world seemed to be on his shoulders. "Come to bed."
It was his turn to smile sadly. "I won't be much good to you tonight..."
"That's not what I want," she said quietly. "I just want to be with you."
The sad little smiled disappeared. "Okay if I shower first? I'm not too pleasant."
She lay in bed listening to the steady rhythm of the water as she waited for him. She wondered if what she had done had been wise after all. He had looked so tired when he arrived. The worry of not just the team this time but their wives and girlfriends as well was taking its toll. She really only wanted to make sure that he did get some sleep tonight and didn't work through the night again.
The shower ceased and after a minute she heard the click of the light switch. The door from the bathroom to her bedroom opened. His lean form was outlined by the muted glow of the nightlight in the bathroom. Barefoot and clad only in a towel he made his way soundlessly across the carpeting to her bedside. She lifted the covers by way of invitation. He tossed the towel aside and rolled into bed beside her.
In the dark she smiled to herself; he smelled of her Dove soap and Billy's strawberry dinosaur shampoo.
She snuggled up behind him wrapping her arm around his ribs resting her hand on his chest near his heart. His skin was still a little damp from the shower. She had expected as tired as he was that he would fall asleep almost right away. She could feel him breathing and knew he wasn't settling into a relaxed rhythm for sleeping. Moments later he turned over to face her. He caressed her cheek with the tips of his fingers and then kissed her gently on the mouth. His breath was strongly scented with her mint toothpaste. He drew away and even in the darkly shadowed room she could see the desire that burned in his eyes. He kissed her again, long and lovingly and then again and again with quick little dancing kisses, that asked without words if she wanted to make love. She reached up and took the caressing hand from her cheek and guided it down to her breast in reply.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Josiah had just stacked his keys and badge and ID on top of the wall unit when he heard his name. Rosie stood in her New York Yankees slippers, her Denver Broncos blanket wrapped around her shoulders. After Josiah brought the slippers back from New York, Del had felt equal time was necessary and had purchased the Broncos blanket for Rosie's bed. Josiah wondered if it wasn't the profile of the horse patterned on the blanket that attracted Rosie more than the team. All he knew for sure was he thought the colours of it were god-awful.
"Hey there, Rosie gal, it's the middle of the night what are you still doin' up?" he asked softly. He squatted down and held out his arms. She was in them in a second.
It felt good to be lifted high up in warmth and the strength of her daddy's arms and know he was home and safe. "I was waiting up for you Daddy. I wanted to make sure you were okay."
He looked into the familiar blue eyes and smiled, warmed by his daughter's concern. "I'm just fine, even better now that I'm holding one of my two best girls."
His own eyes stared back at him with her mother's expression. She was waiting for the rest of his answer.
"So are your uncles."
"Every last one?" she turned her head a touch to the side still looking at him steadily.
"Every last one," he replied firmly.
"He's still pretty sore but he's feeling better every day."
He could see her dissatisfaction with his answer play across her face. He knew that any report other than all six of her uncles were perfectly well would not suit her.
"I was going to get a drink and then head to bed. How about you, would you like something to drink too?"
"Let me get it for you, Daddy." Rosie wiggled to get down and they walked together into the kitchen. Josiah picked up the forgotten blanket and dropped it over the back of his daughter's chair before obediently sitting down in his chair at the table.
Using both hands she tugged the refrigerator door open and then peered inside. "What would you like, Daddy?"
"Apple juice, please."
Rosie squatted down ducking her head this way and that until she spied the blue juice boxes she was seeking. She reached well back into bottom shelf, coming up with one and then a second juice box.
A box in each hand she held them tightly to herself as she laid her bottom against the outside of the refrigerator door and backed up with a half a dozen quick steps until the door was firmly shut. Then she made her way over to the kitchen table and set the juice boxes on the table before climbing onto her chair.
Josiah watched with chin in hand, elbow on the table marveling at his daughter's self sufficiency.
She worked away at stripping the cellophane off the straws with her teeth and then, her mouth set with concentration; she pierced the foil hole with the pointed end of the plastic straw.
"Thank you," he said, taking the offered juice box.
They both took their first sips in silence.
"How was your day?"
"Boring," she replied squeezing the sides of the juice box between her thumb and fingers several times watching the pale yellow juice bounce up and down in the clear plastic straw.
"Yeah, can I go back to school tomorrow?"
"I'm afraid not, Rosie."
"Is it because of the purple-trader?"
Josiah felt his heart stop. What did she know? "Who told you about the purple trader?" he asked casually, he had to work hard to hide his alarm.
"Nobody," she replied lightly.
"I heard Mommy talking to you on the phone this afternoon. We were doing a puzzle and Mommy was taking a long time to come back so I went to find her. She was still talking to you on the phone. Uncle Ezra says its impo... impo..."
"Yeah. Impo...lite to interrupt people when they're talking on the phone, so I waited and after mommy hung up she had her worried look on." Using her index finger, Rosie dabbed at the spot above the bridge of her nose where Del's "worry wrinkle" always appeared.
"I see," he said thoughtfully, the exercising of good manners had led to his little girl hearing things she was far better off not knowing.
"The worried look went away pretty quick though."
"Did you catch him?"
"No not yet."
"You will," she said with the confidence of a child's faith that her daddy could do anything.
"Daddy... is he the same man who hurt JD and Uncle Vin?"
"We're not sure, honey."
"Is that why I can't go to school?"
Oh Lord, what was he going to tell her? He sipped slowly at the juice to give himself time to consider his answer. He'd never lied to her before he wasn't about to start now, "Yes it is."
"Oh." She replied simply before going back to sip thoughtfully at her own juice. Josiah prayed she wouldn't ask any more questions. He didn't want to lie to her but at four years and eight months of age, she already knew far more than she should.
Suddenly she stopped sipping at her juice and looked up at her father. "Daddy, I have an idea," she said seriously.
"Yes, I think because I can't go to school and both Mommy and I are getting sick..."
"You and Mommy are getting sick?"
"Mommy says we both have a cabin fever."
"Oh, I see." Josiah nodded, relieved that along with everything else right now, there was no true illness to be concerned with.
"And since Uncle JD is still not all better yet, even though Uncle Buck has been taking care of him, I think he might need someone who's better at looking after hurt people and Mommy and I are very good at looking after hurt people. We do it a lot."
It was all he could do to return the serious gaze with one of his own. "That is true," he agreed.
"I think Uncle JD should come here tomorrow so we can look after him. What do you think?"
Josiah rubbed his chin thoughtfully as if giving his daughter's suggestion serious consideration, which in fact he realized he was. Though the FBI had increased their surveillance of Del and Rosie based on his conclusions from early today and even though the homestead was crawling with dogs. He'd feel a helluva lot better if someone else were here in the house with them. He wished he could be here with them but if Weller was going to be caught, he had to be in the office. No doubt JD would be unhappy at missing out on what he perceived as the action at the office, but his absence would remove the constant reminders for Buck and Vin that had been the cause of so much disharmony. No doubt Nathan would be happier that JD was taking it easier for a change.
"Rosie gal, I think that is a very good idea," She recognized the honest enthusiasm for her proposal in his voice and smiled as she straightened suddenly in her chair. "Chris is the boss though and I'll have to ask him first if it's okay."
"Tell him it was my idea then he'll say yes," she said with absolute certainty.
"I'll do that."
Now that she was assured her daddy was home safe and that her uncles were fine and being taken care of appropriately, her business for the day was done. She suddenly began to feel tired, yawning she reached back for the throw blanket. Josiah stretch forward and helped her gather it around her shoulders and then lifted her up and set her back down on one knee.
She snuggled into the heat of his body and was asleep by the time he slurped at the last of his juice.
He cradled her in his arms and took a moment to sit and watch her sleep.
"Hey there, big guy."
He looked up to find Del leaning on the side of the refrigerator a hint of a smile graced her lips. He wasn't too surprised despite the limp she could move more quietly than any one he knew.
He smiled. "Hey there, Del."
She walked over and leaned down to kiss him.
"How long have you been there?"
"Since the purple-trader."
"I didn't think she'd heard me."
"She's learned to move as quietly as her mother but I think it's okay though."
"You want me to take her?"
"No, I want to do it."
He shifted the precious weight onto his shoulder and rose from his chair. Del caught the throw blanket as it began to fall. He made the short trip through the living room around the corner and down the hallway past their bedroom into Rosie's room. He laid her gently in bed, removing the Yankees slippers before tugging the covers up under her chin. He then leaned over and kissed her on her forehead. Del laid the blanket at the base of her bed and watched from the doorway as Josiah gently brushed the soft brown curls on her head.
He moved to stand beside his wife.
"She's a marvel," whispered Del. She leaned back into her husband as his arm encircled her waist.
When Del didn't receive a reply she turned to look up at him. Forty-four hours without sleep, the resurrected threat of that madman and now that the trappings of office were absent, professionalism fled, Josiah could no longer hide his torment. She could see the fear and the worry in his eyes.
"Hey, big guy." The words were soft, the tone full of concern. She reached up and took his face in both her hands, like she had once before. Her eyes searched the storms that raged in the blue depths. "This isn't your fault."
"The hell it isn't, I should have quit when we got married."
"I knew what I was signing on for. If you'll remember, I was one of those people up in those mountains hunting Zachariah Tombs with you. It was one helluva courtship!"
"Rosie didn't have a choice though. I'm such a fool to be risking the two of you because of my job."
Del looked up at him and for a moment he thought she was going to argue with him. Then she seemed to decide otherwise and she did what she always did. She let him know he was loved and slid her arms around him and held him close. His arms wound around her, and he rested his cheek against her loose curls as he watched his daughter sleep. "The lord protects fools, let hope he protects the fools' family as well. God help me, how am I going to find this bastard?"