Fandom: CI5: The New Professionals
Title: ...Then Morning Comes
Series: Part 9 of the Conversations Series, sequel to First Darkness 
Falls. Previous parts can be found at CI5 Operational Control and Britslash
Author: Alyse (alyse@CI5Ops.co.uk)
Archive: CI5 Operational Control (http://www.CI5Ops.co.uk), 
Britslash (http://www.britslash.co.uk)
Category: Curtis/Keel.
Rating: NC17.

Spoilers/Warnings: No spoilers. No warnings.

Summary: Sam and Chris struggle to deal with the fallout from events in 
First Darkness Falls...

Feedback: Yes please, to alyse@CI5Ops.co.uk  Constructive criticism 
welcome, flames will be used to melt chocolate, and we all know what I'll 
do with that :)

Disclaimers: They belong to Brain Clements and David Wickes 
Productions. They don't belong to me - if they did we all know what they'd 
be doing. I don't make any money from this. I have nothing but my own 
warped imagination and therefore I'm not worth suing. :)

Kudos: Many thanks to my excellent beta Lou, for the eagle eyed spotting 
of typos. and constant encouragement.


Love and Thorntons chocolates

Al


...Then Morning Comes


by Alyse 



The days turned into a week, and still he'd heard nothing. It became more 
and more difficult not to pick up the phone and dial, but if he did, what 
would he say? 'Hey babe, how have you been? By the way, have you decided 
whether you're going to take me back or not?'

He'd promised Sam he wasn't going to push him, that he was going to give 
Sam all the time that he needed, but he was beginning to believe that Sam 
didn't need time, in fact that Sam didn't need him. Maybe that was 
paranoia, he couldn't say. All he could say was that he missed his partner 
and friend desperately, a deep ache in his chest that nothing seemed to 
assuage.

Backup was trying her best but she was no substitute - not that she'd 
offered to try and replace Sam in the bedroom of course. Nothing 
helped. The only thing that could take his mind off the problems in his 
personal life was the fact that with Sam on sick leave they were even more 
overworked than normal. At least that gave him an excuse for acting like a 
bear with a sore head, as Backup had pointed out acidly on more than one 
occasion.

"Call him," she'd finally instructed when her patience had run out. But he 
couldn't. Although he hadn't specifically said that he wasn't going to 
call Sam, he had promised Sam time and maybe if he did call Sam would 
consider that hassling him and then Sam would decide that he didn't need 
any hassles, but if he didn't call maybe Sam would think he didn't care and 
then...

He was going slowly crazy from the doubts that plagued him, torn in two 
between the need to see or speak to Sam and the belief that no news was 
good news.

Which was probably why he was sitting here in the dark, the only light 
coming from the muted television set in the corner of the room, and staring 
at the phone instead of getting some badly needed sleep. He was, without a 
shadow of a doubt, truly pathetic.

For the seventh or eighth time that night his hand reached out for the 
phone only to draw back as his self-confidence waned. It was becoming a 
ritual, one he'd spent the last several nights perfecting.

Maybe it was too late to call. No, it was only ten thirty p.m., early by 
the clock that he and Sam lived on, so he wouldn't wake Sam if he ever got 
his nerve up. Unless, of course, it took him several hours to gather his 
courage together, which seemed likely.

He sighed again, cursing his own cowardice. It was gnawing at him, 
churning up his insides, not knowing whether or not Sam had come to a 
decision. Surely if he had, he would call, wouldn't he? Or would 
he? Hadn't at least part of the problem been that Sam hadn't felt able to 
tell him how he felt? Maybe that was still a consideration. Maybe he was 
sitting in his flat, staring at the phone and wondering why Chris hadn't 
been in touch. Although that was too uncertain an image of Sam for him to 
feel that it was entirely realistic, it at least finally gave him the 
courage to pick up the phone and hit the speed dial for Sam's home number.

He still almost hung up before Sam answered, his heart pounding and his 
palms sweaty. This was the kind of flashback to high school he didn't need.

"Hello?"

He'd almost forgotten how good Sam sounded, the Englishman's voice setting 
off a little pitter-patter beating in his heart. "Hey," he finally managed 
to squeeze out past his constricted throat.

"Chris?"

"Yeah. I just thought I'd phone... see how you were doing." Not nag, he 
added silently, both admonishing himself and somehow hoping that Sam would 
pick up his good intentions and realise that he Was Not Going To Nag. Or beg.

"Fine." Sam's voice gave nothing away, cordial and a little cautious but 
nothing more.

"How's the arm?"

"Fine."

"Not doing anything stupid with it are you?"

"No."

Well, this was like extracting teeth and he wasn't sure if this was a good 
sign or a bad sign. He was struggling to find something to say to fill the 
silence, to stop himself from humiliating both of them and begging, despite 
his good intentions, when Sam added cautiously, "How's work?"

"Oh, you know. Busy, borderline suicidal, the usual." He hesitated before 
adding, "We miss you."

The words 'I miss you' hung unsaid between them.

"The docs said that I'll be fit for light duties in a week," replied Sam, 
still sounding cautious. It suddenly occurred to Chris that maybe Sam was 
finding this conversation as difficult as he was, and that maybe he'd been 
plagued by the same doubts.

"That's good news."

"Yeah."

"So..."

"So..."

Another long silence and then Chris nervously stuttered out, "Are you bored 
yet?" He cringed as soon as the words were out of his mouth, knowing that 
Sam probably didn't need any reminder of his enforced inactivity. However, 
he was happily surprised when instead of an offended silence he got a weak 
chuckle.

"Deathly bored."

"Enjoy it while it lasts, Curtis. You'll be back before you know it and 
wishing you'd caught up on your sleep when you had the chance."

"Probably."

Another silence, and this time Sam ended it, saying, "Listen, if you're 
tired..."

It could have been his imagination but he thought he heard an undercurrent 
in his partner's voice that suggested that rather than wanting rid of him 
Sam wanted him to stay on the line. It wasn't clear, and he didn't want to 
push it so answered, "A little bit but that's nothing new. Don't worry 
about it." Sam could take that either way, using it either as an excuse to 
end the conversation if that was what he wanted or not.

Sam chose not. "So is there anything I should know about? At work I 
mean?" he added quickly.

"No," replied Chris, wondering why Sam had added that rider. Was he 
worried about what was going on in Chris' personal life? He was beginning 
to wish that he'd gone around to see Sam face to face rather than have to 
rely upon picking up the nuances in his partner's voice. "Not much. No 
big cases really, and probably nothing that will still be going on when you 
get back, just lots of annoying stuff."

"Babysitting jobs?" asked Sam, a trace of amusement in his voice. He knew 
how much Chris hated those types of assignments.

Chris snorted, pleased that his predicament at least seemed to be amusing 
his partner. "Oh yeah," he replied morosely, playing it up for Sam's benefit.

"No rich widows?" It was an old joke between them, but there seemed, once 
again, to be an undercurrent there that he wasn't quite identifying.

"No," he replied gently. "No rich widows. No foxy blondes. Nada. Just 
lots of officious, middle-aged men who think I'm a glorified thug."

"Bastion."

"What?"

"Bastion of truth and justice, remember, Chris?"

He did, and let a warm glow settle over him at the memory of happier 
times. "So..." he said, settling back into his seat, a smile forming on 
his face. "Tell me how you've been spending all of this free time you've 
had..."

*****

It was a considerably happier Keel who bounced into work the next day. He 
and Sam had avoided discussing them, or anything serious, and the 
conversation hadn't lasted long, both of them too wary still that they 
would put a foot wrong, but at least they were talking. And that in itself 
was encouraging. The first steps, as it were, even if they were baby 
ones. And this time he was determined to take it slow, not get ahead of 
himself and to get it right this time.

Assuming, of course, that Sam was thinking along the same lines as he was.

The thought dimmed his mood slightly, but it was only a temporary 
glitch. Sam loved him, he knew that, and sooner or later the Englishman 
would forgive him. As Backup said, Sam pretty much always forgave him.

And speaking of Backup, she watched him come in with a knowing glint in her 
eye, and even that couldn't drag him down from his current ebullient 
mood. The news she had could though.

"He wants me to do what?"

Backup sighed heavily. "He wants you to partner up with Wiersbowski... on 
a *temporary* basis, so wipe that look off your face... and the pair of you 
are to leave on an assignment this afternoon." Keel didn't look any more 
convinced.

"What happened to Michaels?" he asked through gritted teeth.

She was rapidly loosing patience with him, her own lack of sleep telling on 
her nerves. "I told you what happened to Michaels and Wiersbowski. Malone 
decided that after their bust up they were probably better off separated 
for a while, maybe even permanently. And in the meantime, there are plenty 
of agents without partners so he's playing mix and match as best he 
can." Not waiting to see if this had sunk in, she continued, "You aren't 
the only team being sent in. Carlson and I are accompanying you. We're 
taking a two pronged approach."

That didn't seem to help either. She stared into Keel's seething face with 
an inward resigned shrug, and forced iron into her voice. "We're 
undermanned and you know it, Chris. You aren't the only one in this 
situation. May I suggest that you deal with it instead of sulking?"

That got through to him, his scowl deepening as the jibe hit home. "I am 
not sulking," he shot back. "I'm just..." He trailed off, looking at her 
helplessly. For once she wasn't in the mood to help him out.

"Sam will be fine," she said briskly. "His injuries weren't severe and he 
should be fit for light duties soon. If I were you, I'd worry more about 
the situation we're about to get ourselves into." She pointedly turned her 
back on him and returned her attention to her workstation.

"I am," she heard him mutter darkly behind her, but he seemed content to 
leave his griping at that and wandered off to his own, much more untidy desk.

When he was no longer watching her, she finally let out the sigh she'd been 
holding in and rubbed her temples wearily. She was getting a bad headache 
both from lack of sleep and staring at her screen for hours and she really 
didn't need any headstrong Americans adding to it.

*****

Sam deposited the last carrier bag onto the table with a sigh. One of the 
things he didn't miss when he worked away as much as he did was the weekly 
fight around Tesco's. It never ceased to amaze him how the large 
supermarkets managed to turn what should be a simple task into a struggle 
against a seething mass of humanity requiring navigational skills even 
beyond those required by CI5 simply to locate half a dozen eggs. Still, it 
was over now, at least until the next time he needed food. Shrugging his 
jacket off over his sore and stiff arm, he hung it up neatly in the 
closet. He was on his way back into the kitchen when he noticed the light 
on his answering machine flashing.

For a long moment he left his finger hovering over the play button, some 
sixth sense telling him it wasn't likely to be good news, before he 
mentally chided himself and set the message playing.

It was Chris and he sounded pissed. And apologetic, although for what Sam 
couldn't figure out. To his mind, it was inevitable that sooner or later 
Chris would be sent out of the country on an assignment, Malone not having 
the resources at the moment to leave one half of a partnership dangling in 
the office and on simple milk-runs and bodyguard assignments, which is what 
would have normally happened. They'd lost too many good people over the 
last few months, and Malone refused to speed up the graduation of the 
newest recruits, due to finish their six month induction in six weeks 
time. He'd figured that they'd all just have to make do until then.

Flexing his arm carefully to try and get some of the stiffness out of it 
put there by the simple tasks of shopping and driving, he fought back the 
pang of guilt at the thought of his overworked colleagues. He'd tried to 
insist that he was fit for duty, but the duty doctor who'd examined him 
after their botched attempt to nail Belmont would have none of it. His 
injury, while not serious enough to require hospitalisation, had required 
several stitches, a course of painkillers and antibiotics and complete rest 
if it was to heal cleanly. She'd also made some rather pointed remarks 
about the fact that Sam seemed to be suffering from borderline 
exhaustion. In vain, Sam had pointed out that if she dragged any of the 
active field agents in at the moment she could probably come up with the 
same concerns. It appeared that after falling into her clutches he wasn't 
going to get out again. Complete rest, she'd ordered, and complete rest 
was what he was expected to do.

Malone had been even less happy about that than Sam had been, and after 
Chris' little scene and rapid departure he'd had to endure some borderline 
ranting about his carelessness in getting himself injured and putting his 
colleagues under even more pressure, before the fact that he was almost 
swaying on his feet from tiredness finally got through to the old bastard 
and Malone had rather sheepishly apologised for his bad mood, rubbing at 
his eyes tiredly and saying that the stress was getting to all of 
them. None of which made Sam feel any better. Mind you, he wasn't sure 
what would have done at the time.

He dragged his thoughts back to the message on the machine. It wasn't even 
as though he'd seen Chris over the last week, and hadn't even spoken to him 
until the previous evening, so why was Chris even bothering to phone and 
apologise for not being around when he hadn't been anyway.

All right, that might be slightly uncharitable, but until last night's 
phone call, any optimism that Chris had left him with that night after Sam 
had been injured had faded when Chris failed to get in touch. At first, 
Sam had been grateful for the respite. It gave him time to clear his head, 
think about whether Chris and he had a future together, about whether he 
wanted to risk trusting the man again after being hurt so badly. But as 
the days passed and Chris still made no effort to get in touch his doubts 
began to grow. If Chris hadn't lied to him the second time, when he'd told 
Sam that he loved him, and had lied when he'd told him that he didn't, why 
hadn't he called? And now Sam wasn't quite sure whether he was willing to 
risk getting closer to Chris again when the man appeared to be able to 
dismiss him so cavalierly from his mind whereas Sam found himself thinking 
about Chris constantly.

It hadn't occurred to him that Chris might be feeling exactly the same way 
until he'd heard Chris' hesitant voice on the phone the previous 
night. His partner had sounded as nervous as Sam felt and that went some 
way to silencing the doubts. But only *some* way.

It had probably turned out best that he'd been sent home on enforced sick 
leave. He was completely distracted, focusing on his personal life to the 
extent of ignoring everything else, and if nothing else it gave him time to 
regain some sort of control over his rampaging emotions. He missed Chris 
desperately, and not just for the physical aspect of their 
relationship. He missed the glint in Chris' eyes, the dimples when Chris 
smiled, the way his hair was always flattened awkwardly first thing in the 
morning before he could shower and apply gel, the very scent of the 
man. He'd even taken to wearing Chris' sweater, the one he'd left in Sam's 
flat, all the while hating himself for being so pathetic. It brought him 
some comfort though, wearing something that had once been close to Chris' 
skin. He was wearing it now.

His hand drifted out and pressed the play button again.

"Sam... listen, I'm sorry about this but Malone's sending me abroad for a 
while. Can't tell you anything else over a unsecured line, but I don't 
know how long I'll be... I'll call you when I get back, okay?" A 
hesitation, and then Chris' voice again. "Sam..." then Chris yelling 
something to someone about being there in a minute. Another hesitation and 
then a hurried and low, "I love you..." Click, as the answering machine 
switched off.

Rewind.

"I love you..." Click.

Rewind.

"I love you..." Click. Pathetic of him, and yet he still hit the rewind 
button again, just to hear Chris say it once more.

He was beginning to believe it, believe that just maybe Chris meant what he 
said both on this tape and previously, and what he'd said that night, about 
being afraid and lashing out. That he did love Sam, always had.

The problem was that Sam was still afraid, so desperately afraid that he'd 
take Chris' words at face value and end up being hurt again.

Rewind...

************************

Chris wiped the sweat out of his eyes with the back of one hand, ignoring 
the way that the salt in his perspiration stung in the myriad of tiny 
scratches adorning his wrists and arms. It was goddamned hot. They'd had 
to fight their way through the thick undergrowth to get this far and it was 
only the beginning. They'd have to fight their way back out again. Behind 
him he could hear Wiersbowski cursing softly as he got caught once again on 
some sharp vines, probably giving his fellow American even more scratches 
to add to his collection. Chris was faring slightly better, used to 
working in these conditions, and not for the first time he wished for Sam's 
quiet and uncomplaining presence. One of the plus points of the 
Englishman's reserve was the fact that he'd sooner die than admit to being 
in any discomfort, Nomine Patri only being a case in point.

Of course there was a downside to being that repressed.

Chris sighed again, making sure that his colleague didn't hear him. Not 
that Wiersbowski would over the sound of his own complaints. The trek 
through the jungle hadn't been the easiest of exercises. Whoever had 
decided that the phrase 'a walk in the woods' would be an indicator of 
easiness should be shot. Mind you, they also said that it wasn't the heat 
that got to you but the humidity, and he could believe that. It was like a 
sauna in here.

He checked the portable GPS unit he carried, pinpointing their location 
with accuracy, his heart sinking when he realised just how much jungle they 
still had to get through. He raised the machete again, his shoulders 
aching fiercely from the need to slash his way through the thick 
undergrowth, and concentrated on the mindless task of making their way 
through to the compound CI5 Ops had identified on the satellite, a compound 
they'd been tracking down for months. At least in this thick and overgrown 
environment he wouldn't have to worry about anything sneaking up on them, 
at least nothing human. It hadn't taken him long to realise why Malone was 
so insistent that it would take them at least two days to reach Belmont's 
South American hideaway and they were to plan accordingly. Once again, the 
old goat was right, much as he hated to admit it.

Finally though they were getting close to their target and their 
rendezvous, and he wondered whether he should just tell Wiersbowski to just 
shut the fuck up. The man was still muttering to himself, his machete 
being wielded with less efficiency than Chris' but with considerably more 
aggression. He also wondered how Backup and Carlson were faring, and ran 
through the plan, such as it was, in his head again. It saved him thinking 
about Sam.

*****

Sam knew that something was up as soon as he stepped into the Control 
Room. For a start, the room was almost empty and it was the middle of the 
day shift. Secondly, Spencer darted past, looking very frazzled. His 
fellow countryman never lost his cool, so the sight of Spencer frowning and 
snapping at Rebecca was an incredibly unusual sight.

Sam moved closer to him, his eyes darting round and noting the unobserved 
computer screens churning out information while operators attempted to 
monitor several at once, and the small number of operatives clustered in 
the corner of Richards' section while the hacker briefed them, his face 
serious as they pored over several printouts.

"What's going on?" he asked Spencer quietly, when the Ops manager finally 
paused from his relentless prowling.

"Oh hello, Sam," Spencer answered, sounding remarkably unenthusiastic about 
talking to him. His next words confirmed it. "Can't talk now. Aren't you 
supposed to be off still?"

He started to move away, but galvanised into action by the chaos around him 
Sam followed him, frowning slightly. "Had to see the doc," he explained.

Spencer finally looked interested. "She clear you?" he asked hopefully.

"Not for field duty, no. 'Nother week she thinks."

Spencer's face fell. "Oh," he said. "Well, I won't lie to you, Sam. We 
could use you." He sighed. "Malone's pulled half my team to stand 
by. We're going after Belmont."

"Again?"

"Yep," Spencer confirmed. "He's still pissed about losing two of our men 
in Pakistan. Wants Belmont taken down as a matter of priority. We finally 
found the bastard's hideout, and we've teams in there now, trying to crack 
his perimeter and access his files. Belmont's not there at the moment, and 
if we can get the information we want and shut down as many of his 
operations as possible at once..."

"He won't know what hit him and he won't have a chance to react," completed 
Sam.

"That's the plan," confirmed the Ops manager. "Which is why Malone has 
every available agent poised to strike."

"Is that where Chris is?"

Spencer hesitated and then nodded. "He's in one of the teams heading into 
Belmont's place."

And heading into trouble more than likely, thought Sam. He abruptly came 
to a decision. "What do you need me for?"

Spencer frowned. "The doctor said you're not fit..."

"For field duty, Spence," Sam interrupted. "But I can still man a 
monitor. Take some of the pressure off you."

The older man considered this for a moment, his face doubtful. For a 
second Sam seriously thought he was going to be reduced to begging but then 
Spencer came to a decision of his own, nodding determinedly and gesturing 
Sam to one of the workstations. "We're trying to trace Belmont's accounts, 
so we can shut them all down at the same time too. Really put the bastard 
out of business. Richards has his team working on getting into the 
accounts we know of where we doubt the Authorities will take action to see 
if we can... ahem... use less orthodox means, but we still have a hell of a 
lot of transactions to rule out. It's boring as hell, Sam..."

"But someone needs to do it," completed Sam again with a grimace. "Okay, 
count me in."

Chris, he thought disgustedly as he surveyed the pile of printouts awaiting 
his attention, the things I do for you.

*****

Chris wiped the back of his hand across his face again, flinching as he 
aggravated the graze on his cheek. The sound of voices drifted towards 
him, harsh in the still air, and he froze, praying that Wiersbowski had the 
sense to do the same. A half-day out from Belmont's place and they still 
hadn't managed to shake their pursuers, despite his almost cocky assurances 
to Backup that he and Wiersbowski were ideally situated to draw the guards' 
attention so that she and Carlson could clear from the area as rapidly as 
possible. Admittedly, to professionals half a day was nothing, but in this 
heat? And they'd believed that Belmont's guards would cut off pursuit 
relatively rapidly. He cursed his own optimism now and drew silently back 
into the undergrowth as he heard a twig break nearby. They needed to get 
far enough from their hunters to be able to call in and arrange extraction.

*****

"No news from 4-5 or 5-3, Mr Curtis?"

Sam glanced up from his workstation at his boss. The man had taken his 
presence in the Ops Control room remarkably well, all things considered. A 
few pointed remarks about people who didn't know what was good for them, a 
few threats to send him back to the doctors to have his head examined and a 
final admonishment that if he keeled over he could 'bloody well stay on the 
floor until someone had the time to deal with him'. Spencer must have 
warned him in advance that they'd acquired a new pair of hands, and the old 
bastard was so grateful he wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, 
for all his bitching.

"Not yet, sir. Should be any time now." Provided of course, he added 
mentally, that they hadn't run into anything they couldn't handle.

Almost as if he'd read Sam's mind, Malone continued, "I'm sure they'll be 
fine. But let me know as soon as they get in touch. We need to move fast 
if the information they've got is to be any use."

"Think Belmont can act that fast, sir?"

Malone snorted. "We've already seen how fast Belmont can move," he stated 
dryly. "If we don't put the wheels in motion within 12 hours of Belmont 
realising that there's been a breach in his security, we can kiss our 
chance of getting him this time goodbye too." He hesitated, giving Sam a 
keen look. "The information is our first priority, Mr Curtis," he added.

Sam bristled slightly at the implied slur on his professionalism, but 
controlled his reaction well. At least Malone wasn't making him repeat the 
First Rule. "I know that, sir," he replied evenly.

Malone frowned slightly, but didn't comment other than giving a brief nod 
and heading back into his office. Must be slipping, thought Sam, if he 
didn't respond with his normal 'Don't be cheeky,' retort.

He turned his attention back to his screen, trying desperately to 
concentrate on the task he was working on and not think about the kind of 
trouble Chris could be getting himself into, or the fact that the channels 
he was monitoring, the ones assigned to the teams in South America, were 
nothing but static.

He was still vainly trying to trace some of Belmont's financial 
transactions twenty minutes later when he finally heard what he'd been 
waiting for, the voice almost drowned by static.

"Repeat, 5-3?" he asked urgently, his hand pressing the earpiece closer to 
his head as though that in itself would resolve the weakness of the 
signal. Around him he sensed rather than saw the lull in activity as the 
agents close to him realised that this could be what they were all waiting for.

"...objective obtained... heading... rendezvous..."

"Affirmative, 5-3. How long?"

More static.

"You're breaking up, 5-3. I can't hear you. Repeat?"

The static in his ear peaked, making him flinch as it hurt his 
eardrum. And then, blessedly, it died to be replaced by Backup's faint voice.

"Better?"

"Affirmative, 5-3. Repeat?"

"We've obtained our objective, and 7-8 and myself are heading towards the 
agreed rendezvous. We need evac ASAP. ETA, thirty mikes."

"Understood, 5-3." He hesitated, but had to ask. "4-5?"

"We split up from 4-5 and 9-6 when we'd obtained our objective. We have 
it; the other team were running interference. You haven't heard from them 
yet?"

"Negative, 5-3."

A hesitation from Backup's end and then the Canadian asked, "Should we wait?"

There was only one choice he could make. "Negative, 5-3. Evac when your 
transport arrives. We need what you've got." He could only hope that 
Chris and 9-6 - Mike Wiersbowski, he remembered - made it to the rendezvous 
in time for extraction. If not, they'd have to wait until they could 
arrange another evac for them, assuming they lasted that long.

Chris was good, he reminded himself, holding back the fear that threatened 
to envelop him at the thought of Chris in a combat situation without him 
there to back him up. Chris was very, very good and he thrived in this 
sort of situation. He'd be okay, and he would get to the rendezvous point 
by hook or by crook.

He tried to hold onto the thought.

*****

They'd finally managed to shake off their pursuers long enough for Chris to 
risk calling in. He didn't think that Belmont's men had any sophisticated 
monitoring equipment that would enable them to pick up the CI5 men's 
transmission, but even if they had he was going to have to take that 
chance. Things had gone from bad to worse, and they'd heard nothing from 
Backup and Carlson, being pushed by their pursuit away from the rendezvous 
point rather than towards it. The heat was taking its toll, and they were 
both getting close to the end of their tether.

He risked a quick glance over at Wiersbowski, who was taking advantage of 
their tenuous safety to rather awkwardly bandage the cut on his arm. In 
normal circumstances, Chris would help him out, much as he had helped Sam 
on Nomine Patri, but since Wiersbowski wasn't seriously injured he couldn't 
spare the time when it was urgent that they let Ops know they were alive 
and more importantly wanted to get out of this hellhole.

"4-5 to Ops. 4-5 to CI5 Ops..."

His only reply was static and with a wince he tried fiddling with the 
controls on the satellite phone, aiming for a clearer signal before trying 
again. "4-5 to Ops. Come in..."

This time his reward was greater, a voice coming through although it was 
too garbled by static still to make any sense. He tried fiddling again.

"... 4-5. I said, repeat 4-5, you're not coming through."

The reception would have to be considerably less clear than it was for him 
not to recognise his partner's voice. Or the relief in it. But what the 
hell was Sam doing at Ops? By rights, his partner should still be on sick 
leave. He just hoped the Englishman wasn't doing anything stupid.

"Roger, Ops. Is this better?"

"Yes." Definitely relief he could hear in his partner's voice, combined 
with some urgency. Before he could relay the information about their 
position, his partner's voice came rapidly through the headset. "ETA to 
rendezvous point, 4-5?"

He glanced over at Wiersbowski, but his colleague wasn't giving him any 
help, shrugging his shoulders as he heard Sam's voice over his own 
headset. "I'd say at least an hour, Ops."

He heard Sam's muttered 'shit', but it was more the dullness in his 
partner's tone when he next spoke that warned him that something was 
wrong. "Roger that, 4-5. Be advised that 5-3 and 7-8 are to be extracted 
from the rendezvous point alpha in twelve mikes."

Shit indeed, thought Chris. He didn't let his despair show in his voice 
though, not wanting to add to the stress that Sam would be 
under. "Understood, 3-7. We're not going to make it. Advise?"

A brief, telling hesitation, and then Sam's dull voice came back 
again. "Stand by for instructions."

He waited impatiently, one ear out for any signs of pursuit, while Sam 
obviously conferred with someone. Within a matter of seconds his partner 
was back on the air. "4-5, acknowledge."

"Here, Ops."

"Be advised that next possible rendezvous is exactly 24 hours from now, at 
point beta. Confirm extraction one hour, that's six zero mikes in advance 
or extraction will not proceed. Next window is 24 hours from then, 
rendezvous point theta. Again confirm extraction six zero mikes 
beforehand. Maintain radio silence other than that." Another hesitation, 
and then Sam spoke again, his tone having that hard edge to it which Chris 
knew meant his partner was struggling to hide what he was feeling. "Be 
advised that theta is the last possible extraction at this time."

There was no doubting the message. They'd be on their own resources after 
that, left to attempt to make their way to friendly territory. Of course, 
the reason for that was because if they didn't manage to make it to those 
rendezvous it would probably be because they were dead.

He sat staring blankly at the sat-phone for a few seconds, wondering how 
the hell he was going to get out of this one without Sam to watch his 
back. Wiersbowski was good, but not in Sam's league. Finally, Sam's voice 
percolated through his consciousness, the desperation in it almost 
tangible, at least to Chris' attuned ear.

"Watch your back, 4-5."

In spite of the grimness of the situation, Chris had to grin defiantly, 
trying to put into his tone what he couldn't say in words knowing that 
they'd be overheard. "See you in hell, Sammy. 4-5 out."

He cut off the connection, not wanting to prolong the contact and risk 
being tracked, although the sound of Sam's voice made him ache to see the 
man. Turning back to Wiersbowski to assist him with his injured arm before 
they moved on, he caught the American watching him, his expression furious.

"That's it?" spat Wiersbowski. "We're on our own fucking 
resources? They're just going to leave us here to rot?"

"No," replied Chris, fighting back his own temper. "They're arranging two 
other potential extractions for us."

"Why the fuck can't they wait for us when they pick up Backup and Carlson?"

Chris glared at him. "Keep your goddamned voice down," he snarled. "You 
want to bring those fuckers down on top of us?" Wiersbowski looked abashed 
for all of two seconds before he glared back. Chris continued, his voice 
barely above a hiss. "It's too dangerous to risk waiting. You should know 
that. In a situation like this it's straight in and out for the chopper 
and if you aren't there, tough shit."

"He's leaving us to stew, man. I always thought your fucking partner was 
ice, but this is cold even for him. Leaving his own partner in the shit."

Chris lost it at that point, slamming Wiersbowski into the trunk of the 
tree behind him and sticking his face straight into the American's, his 
voice a growl. "Don't you *ever* talk about my partner with anything less 
than respect. You hear me? He's twice the fucking man you are. As for 
leaving us here, he's doing his goddamned job and he's relying on us to do 
ours. So quit whining and get on with it."

They stared at each other, glaring daggers and neither willing to give 
ground until finally Wiersbowski's eyes dropped from Chris' and he pulled 
away furiously, rubbing at his front where Chris had grabbed his 
shirt. "Touch me again, Keel, and not even your partner will recognise you 
when I've finished with you."

Chris resisted the childish impulse to dare him to make good on his threat, 
straightening his own shirt and moving to collect their sat-phone with an 
icy silence that would have done Sam proud. He probably shouldn't have 
lost his temper like that but the idea that Wiersbowski, a man who had only 
spoken to Sam half a dozen times, would dare to sit judgement on *his* 
partner rankled more than he cared to admit. How could Wiersbowski miss 
the despair and desperation in Sam's voice when his partner had been forced 
to tell them they were on their own for the next day or two? Surely even a 
knucklehead like him should have picked up on that. He shouldered the 
sat-phone pack with an angry shrug, not looking at Wiersbowski in case his 
unruly temper got the better of him again.

Still not speaking and barely tolerating each other the two Americans 
started on their journey to the next rendezvous point.

************************


Sam leant back in his seat, his eyes fixed on the console in front of him 
as though that would provide a way out of this situation. The printout 
Spencer had handed him, the one with the contingency plans for this mission 
marked on it, hung loosely from his grasp. He was numb. In vain he 
reminded himself of Chris' skills in this field. All he could think of was 
that his partner was stranded out there for at least twenty four hours, 
maybe longer, and not only was he not there to cover his lover's back but 
in fact he was responsible for said stranding.

They always said that waiting was the hardest part, and they were 
right. This was worse than Richmond, and once again he was beginning to 
appreciate just how helpless Chris had felt in Tennessee. Twenty-four 
hours until he knew that Chris was all right, at least twenty-four hours, 
and they stretched out in front of him like an eternity.

He was still staring sightlessly at his station when the headset crackled 
into life again and he reached for it automatically.

"CI5 Ops. Report."

"Ops, this is 5-3. Be advised that we have reached rendezvous point and 
are awaiting extraction."

He probably cared more for Backup than for anyone but Chris, but right now, 
and despising himself for it, he couldn't help but wish that their 
situations were reversed and that Chris was the one on his way 
home. Although he'd had the First Rule explained to him more than once and 
could repeat it by heart, until now he hadn't fully appreciated what it was 
about - providing sufficient distance to enable you to do your job. The 
words meant nothing until you were faced with the crashing certainty that 
you may have sent someone you loved to their death and had to confront that 
part of yourself that wished that someone, anyone else was there instead.

It was only practice and the current numbness that he felt that enabled him 
to keep that out of his voice as he answered Backup's call. "Understood, 
5-3. Transport will be with you on schedule."

"Affirmative, Ops." He heard her hesitate, and then the question he'd been 
unconsciously dreading came. "Any news from 4-5 and 9-6?"

He forced himself to answer it. "Affirmative, 5-3. They checked in but 
will not make the pick-up."

"Should we wait?"

"Negative, 5-3. Just get yourself home. 4-5 and 9-6 are on their own 
resources until we can arrange alternative transport."

"Sam..." she began to protest, and he cut her off, his own concern and fear 
giving his words a harshness he didn't intend.

"You have your instructions, 5-3. Ops out."

He went back to staring into space, his insides chilled. A hand squeezed 
his shoulder and he came to himself enough to look up into Spencer's 
sympathetic face. "You did the right thing, Sam," the Ops manager said.

"Did I?" he asked, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice or his 
expression.

Spencer didn't flinch back from the anger and despair radiating from 
him. "Yes," he replied evenly. "Remember..."

"Don't you dare make me repeat the First Rule," hissed Sam, suddenly angry 
with him and the world in general. "At the moment, I couldn't give a fuck 
about it."

Spencer still didn't drop his gaze, his expression calm. "I know," he 
replied simply. "But I was going to say that remember Chris is probably 
the best we've got at jungle survival. If anyone can get out of there, it 
will be Chris."

Somehow that was cold comfort.

*****

Chris shouldered the sat-phone and resolutely ignored the rumblings of 
discontent emanating from the man trailing in his wake. After enduring 
about three hours of icy silence, Wiersbowski had finally relinquished it 
in favour of a never-ending stream of complaints. Personally Chris 
preferred the silence, but he hadn't yet been driven to informing 
Wiersbowski of that fact. He was tuning the man out, all of his senses 
concentrating on the jungle around them, listening for anything out of 
place, looking for anything that would indicate that their pursuers had 
caught up.

They still hadn't given up, and Chris was too tired to wonder at their 
resilience anymore. He did, however, wonder whether this was why Sam was 
so insistent on them maintaining radio silence - so that there was no 
chance of them being detected through electronic surveillance.

He had hoped that Backup's rescue would convince Belmont's men that the 
entire team had been evacced out of there, but they weren't so 
lucky. Which in itself gave credence to Sam's apparent paranoia that they 
were being monitored. Why else continue the search unless you knew there 
were individuals out there just waiting to be found? They'd heard the 
chopper whump by to the east of them about ten minutes after their 
conversation with Ops had ended, obviously heading in Backup's direction, 
but other than glaring at him even more Wiersbowski hadn't 
commented. Which was just as well, since at that point Chris would still 
have been quite happy to do him a permanent injury if he had so much as 
breathed Sam's name.

He heard a sound up ahead and stopped so abruptly that Wiersbowski almost 
walked into him, holding his hand up to indicate to his companion to shut 
up. For once Wiersbowski didn't argue but came to a halt silently beside 
him, straining to hear what had Chris so spooked.

There, again. Another sound drifting through the trees. Voices. Chris 
faded back into the heavy undergrowth, crouching down to hide from view, 
watching Wiersbowski do the same although with less stealth than he had 
shown. He kept perfectly still, ignoring his cramping muscles pushed too 
hard and too far by the journey so far, barely breathing.

The voices came closer and he could smell the aromatic tang of cigarette 
smoke on the air. He tensed, as ready for action as his sore muscles would 
allow but cautious about giving their location away any earlier than they 
had to. He could only hope that his companion was as disciplined. He 
risked a quick glance towards Wiersbowski but could barely see him, 
concealed as the man was in the greenery. At least that was something.

He glanced back into the small clearing they'd just vacated and 
froze. Clear in view, about five feet in front of him, was a pair of 
boots, although at that moment Chris was more concerned about the person 
occupying them. Another pair of boots joined them, and he overheard a 
muttered conversation in what sounded like Spanish. Sam would have known, 
would have understood what they were saying and not for the first time he 
wished his partner was here with him. On second thoughts, he realised 
hearing the click of a safety being pulled back, he took that back and 
wished his partner... his lover... as far away from danger like this as 
possible. While he was wishing, he might as well wish for the moon. The 
feet turned towards him and one of the men moved closer towards him, so 
close that he almost stood on Chris, hidden in the dappled shadows.

He stayed frozen in position, his hand moving slowly towards his own 
weapon, focused solely on the men in front of them, and praying that if he 
did have to shoot that either the sound wouldn't carry far or that he and 
Wiersbowski would be able to clear the area before reinforcements 
arrived. He unclipped his holster and was on the point of drawing the gun 
when a dark shape darted out of the undergrowth to his right, about four or 
five feet away.

The man in front of him swore and jumped backwards, startled by the white 
tailed deer now leaping back into the forest on the other side of the small 
clearing. His companion laughed and slapped him on the shoulder, saying 
something else, obviously some kind of jest judging by the scowl now 
appearing on the other man's face. The first man jerked his head back in 
the direction they'd appeared from, and stalked off, followed by his still 
laughing friend.

Chris stayed frozen in position for another minute or so, waiting until 
they were out of hearing, before risking a glance at Wiersbowski. Wide 
eyes met his, Wiersbowski obviously as rattled by the close call as he 
was. Their enmity forgotten, the two men began to slowly move out.

*****

Sam stared at the satellite images being relayed to his station, frowning 
at the picture building up in his mind.

"Problems, Mr Curtis?"

Damn, but Malone could move silently when he wanted to.

"Not sure, sir," he explained, gesturing to the images in front of 
him. "There's a lot of activity around Belmont's HQ."

Malone frowned, also studying the grainy images intently. "Is there any 
sign that Belmont is closing down his operations?" Sam could understand 
Malone's concern, even if right now he couldn't share it. They'd spent 
months trying to pin this lowlife down and with the information that Backup 
had obtained they were moving to dismantle his operations clandestinely, at 
the moment building up momentum and trying to make it appear as though one 
of Belmont's rivals was moving against him. If they managed to keep the 
man off balance for long enough he might not realise that he was actually 
being shut down permanently by CI5 until it was too late for him to do 
anything about it and they had all the evidence they needed to convict him.

If Belmont was moving out now, that meant he'd realised what they were up 
to and while they'd already done enough damage to put the man's business 
empire back for years they hadn't yet done enough to put him out of 
business permanently, or put him behind bars.

However, Sam wasn't convinced that Belmont had realised what was going on.

"No, sir. There's a lot of activity, sir, but it's not just concentrated 
around the villa."

"Meaning?"

Sam reduced the magnification and moved to another portion of the satellite 
image, much further away from Belmont's home and where the forest canopy 
was thinner and the heat signatures of men moving through the jungle could 
be seen. "They appear to be searching for something, sir."

Malone stated the obvious conclusion. "Keel and Wiersbowski."

"Yes, sir. I think so."

Which at least meant that they hadn't been captured. Yet.

Malone nodded thoughtfully. "Any news from them?"

"No, sir. I thought it advisable under the circumstances if they 
maintained radio silence." Malone nodded at that too.

"Keep me informed," was all he said before heading back to his office, 
leaving Sam staring at the screen and wondering if any of the moving 
figures he could see was Chris.

************************


Chris stared at the GPS again, trying desperately to make the sums add up 
but failing miserably. They'd stopped for a brief break, pushed to the 
edge of exhaustion, and even now Wiersbowski was taking advantage of the 
rest to doze lightly, leaning against the trunk of a convenient 
tree. Chris was beginning to regret agreeing to a stop, even though he 
knew that the pair of them desperately needed it. They'd been zigzagging 
through the jungle, avoiding detection and their luck hadn't run out - 
until now. They weren't moving fast enough and it was time to make some 
hard decisions.

"Hey, Wiersbowski." He reached out and shook his companion awake.

"Wha...?"

Chris decided that it was best just to get it out. "We're not going to 
make it to beta in time." He shuffled over to show Wiersbowski the plastic 
coated map of the area. "That's where we are," he explained, pointing to 
their location. "That's beta, and that's theta."

They were a little closer to beta point than theta, but the way they'd been 
moving meant that instead of beta being between them and the second 
collection point, they were actually off to the east of both of them, 
forming an elongated 'v'. There was no doubt that they weren't going to be 
able to reach beta in the seven hours they had left until the scheduled 
pickup point. They had no choice, at least to Chris' mind. They were 
going to have to head straight to theta, and even then there were no 
guarantees. If they had to spend as much time skulking as they had to date 
they'd be cutting theta close too.

Wiersbowski obviously came to the same conclusion, swearing under his 
breath as he studied the map. Thankfully for Chris' temper, however, he 
wisely chose not to either complain or to bitch about Sam's decision. "You 
want to check in and let Ops know?" he asked.

"No, Sam said maintain radio silence and that's what we're going to 
do." Which of course meant that Sam was not going to know he was alive 
until an hour before the scheduled pickup at theta, thirty hours from now.

Wiersbowski scowled slightly, but once again wisely kept his opinion to 
himself. "Let's move out then," was all he said.

*****

"Sir?"

Malone glanced up from the latest reports on his desk at the agent hovering 
in the doorway. "Mr Curtis?"

Curtis' face was grim. "There's no sign of either 4-5 or 9-6, sir, and 
they were due to check in five minutes ago for extraction."

Malone absorbed the information before nodding thoughtfully. "There's 
another extraction point, correct?"

"Yes, sir. Twenty four hours from now."

"Well, then, we'll have to wait and see if they check in for that one." He 
turned his attention back to the latest developments on the Belmont case, 
before realising that Curtis wasn't going away. Before the man could say 
anything else, Malone scowled at him and added sharply, "Mr Keel and Mr 
Wiersbowski are on their own resources until then."

Curtis still didn't go away. "I know, sir," he explained softly, "but 
there is a way we can help them."

Personally Malone doubted that, but staring up at his agent's set face he 
thought that the least he could do was hear the man out. "And what would 
that be, Mr Curtis?"

"According to the latest satellite pictures, Belmont's men are still 
scouring the jungle..."

"Looking for Mr Keel and Mr Wiersbowski, yes I know that much. And?"

"I think that may be the problem. I think Chris and Wiersbowski can't get 
to the rendezvous point because they're too busy trying not to get caught."

He wished that Curtis would get to the point. "I would have said," he 
replied a little acidly, "that that particular fact was obvious."

"Yes, sir," continued Curtis doggedly. "But I'm wondering how they know 
that Keel and Wiersbowski are out there still. We know that they are aware 
of 5-3 and 7-8's extraction, because the reports I have say that the 
chopper was fired upon. So why assume that the whole team wasn't pulled 
out at the same time?"

Malone sat back in his chair, staring at his agent thoughtfully. "I 
presume there's a point to this, Mr Curtis?"

Curtis took a deep breath. "I think they've been monitoring our 
communications. I told the team still in there to maintain radio silence 
so they haven't given their position away yet, but I think that's how 
Belmont's men know that they're still there."

"And where they're being extracted from?"

Curtis shook his head decisively. "No, sir," he maintained. "I made sure 
that we only referred to the two extraction points by code name, not location."

Malone nodded again. He wouldn't have expected anything less from 
Curtis. "So how does this help us?"

"They'll be expecting an extraction attempt in less than an hour, sir."

He narrowed his eyes at his agent. "But you've already said you don't 
believe that Mr Keel and Mr Wiersbowski will make the rendezvous."

"No, sir. But Belmont's men won't know that. If they see a chopper coming 
in and then leaving, they'll assume that Chris and Wiersbowski have been 
extracted and they'll call off the search, which will at least give them a 
fighting chance to reach theta point."

He had to say it. "Assuming that they are still alive."

"They are, sir." There was no doubting the conviction in Curtis' voice, 
but how much that had to do with the facts and how much was down to Curtis 
simply not wanting to believe that his partner was dead he didn't 
know. Obviously anticipating his objections, Curtis continued, "If they 
were either dead or captured, then there would be no need for Belmont's men 
to continue to search."

He was willing to concede that the man had a point, but that didn't mean 
that he was going to go along with his suggestion. "You want me to 
authorise the chopper to go in as a decoy, don't you?"

Curtis didn't flinch from his gaze. "Yes, sir."

He sighed heavily, knowing that a difficult choice was going to have to be 
made. "Mr Curtis, I cannot ask the DEA to fly into an area where they are 
likely to come under fire, and they *are*," he headed off Curtis' 
objections, "likely to come under fire, not when we know for a fact that 
there won't be anyone there to extract."

"With all due respect, sir," argued Curtis heatedly, "we don't know that 
there's not going to be anyone there to extract."

He injected iron into his voice. "Are you suggesting that I mislead 
another agency?"

Curtis' gaze didn't waver. "No, sir. But if I can persuade the DEA 
chopper pilot to take the risk, would you authorise it? Or anyone else?"

"Mr Curtis..."

"I'll make sure that the pilot in question is aware of all the facts, sir, 
including the fact that they may come under fire and that there may be 
no-one there to extract."

For a brief second, staring into Curtis' pleading face, he considered 
making his agent repeat the First Rule but under the circumstances he 
couldn't justify it. The man's suggestion, after all, was logical and 
rather innovative. Besides, if his suspicions about the nature of Curtis 
and Keel's 'friendship' were correct, it would be simply cruel to point 
that out now, and rather pointless. There would be time for that later, if 
need be.

He sighed again. "Very well, Mr Curtis, *providing* that any other agency 
involved is fully briefed on the dangers inherent in such a mission then 
you have my permission to proceed."

For the first time since he'd met the man, Curtis' face showed clearly what 
he was feeling - relief. "Thank you, sir."

*****

They'd spent an uncomfortable night, dozing rather than sleeping because of 
the risk of being caught. It was taking its toll, both of them moving much 
slower than they had been only twenty-four hours previously.

Twenty-four hours. If things had gone to plan they'd be being extracted 
about now, and he'd be on his way home - home to Sam.

He tried not to think about it, tired not to think about anything but the 
need to keep moving, but it was difficult. In spite of his resolve his 
mind kept turning towards Sam, wondering how his partner was coping in Ops 
not even knowing whether Chris was alive. If he were in Sam's position, 
he'd be going crazy. Maybe Sam was too.

Wiersbowski was trailing along behind him, lacking the energy even to 
complain it appeared. He was thankful for that at least. He was beginning 
to understand why Michaels had been driven to striking the man. Maybe it 
was the stress they were under at the moment, but he longed for someone 
with Sam's dry, irreverent humour, calm logic and tenacity without 
complaints. Hell, he just longed for Sam.

He hesitated on the path they were following, listening intently, 
Wiersbowski falling in beside him.

"What is it?" Wiersbowski hissed, his hand moving automatically to his weapon.

"Shh. Listen."

The noise came closer, resolving itself into the sound of a helicopter.

"Shit," Wiersbowski swore. "That's our evac. Gotta be."

Chris thought furiously. It was too much of a coincidence that around the 
time they were due to be picked up a chopper was in the area. But Sam had 
made it perfectly clear that unless they called in they could expect no 
extraction, and they hadn't called in. His tuned out Wiersbowski's 
borderline ranting and put himself in Sam's shoes, tried to think like his 
partner. He'd worked closely enough with the man over the last two years; 
he should be able to get into Sam's head. He had a gut feeling that Sam 
had something to do with this; he wasn't sure why.

"It's a decoy," he said firmly. "Don't know how, but Sam knows we're being 
pursued and he's decoying them."

Wiersbowski stared at him, his expression a mixture of fury and 
disbelief. "What the hell are you talking about, Keel? How the fuck do 
you come to that conclusion?"

Chris' answering look was even and unflustered. "I know my partner," he 
explained simply. "He can't get us out so he's giving us the best possible 
chance he can."

"The son of a bitch was the one who left us here in the first fucking 
place!" Wiersbowski shot back incensed. Chris' look turned to ice and 
Wiersbowski backed off slightly, although he was obviously still 
furious. Fear, Chris reminded himself. Fear and exhaustion were making 
him irrational and consequently Chris had to cut him some slack. It was 
hard though, having to listen to Sam being insulted without flattening the man.

"Sam did what he had to," he replied flatly. "If you can't understand 
that, you're in the wrong goddamned job." Wiersbowski's scowl deepened and 
he returned Chris' glare but said nothing else. Still in that same flat 
tone Chris continued, "We're moving out, to theta, and Sam will have a 
chopper there to meet us. So shut up and put your feet to work rather than 
your mouth."

*****

Sam was trying desperately to tune out the enthusiasm around him. The 
various raids on Belmont's business were going well, and after months of 
frustration their efforts were finally bearing fruit. By all accounts 
Belmont's empire was tottering and there wasn't a single agent in the 
building who wouldn't be glad to see it fall.

"Any news?" Sam glanced up at Richards, the hacker's beaming grin turning 
to concern when he took in Sam's haggard face. "That would be a no then?"

"No," Sam replied. "But they aren't due to check in for another three 
minutes." It sounded pathetic even to his own ears.

"Yeah," mused Richards. "And you know Keel. Never one to show up on time 
anyway." He nodded towards the satellite feed. "Plan worked then?"

Exhausted, Sam followed his gaze. "Yeah." Although he'd put out feelers 
beforehand, he'd spent most of the hour between obtaining Malone's grudging 
permission and the extraction time on the phone begging, pleading and 
cajoling everyone he could get his hands on. He'd used all of his 
contacts, all of the contacts he knew Chris had, setting off a cascade as 
he persuaded them to call their contacts in turn, and then he quizzed every 
available CI5 agent about their contacts within the DEA, CIA, anyone 
operating in that area who may have had access to a chopper.

Finally he'd managed to speak to one of Chris' old Navy SEAL buddies who 
knew a man who knew a man who was also an ex-Navy SEAL and by all accounts 
crazy and willing to fly into the area for the sheer hell of it. He'd 
achieved it with minutes to spare, but it was worth it, worth all of the 
aggravation and desperation because it had worked. Not ten minutes after 
the chopper had taken off, and just before the satellite had disappeared 
over the horizon, he'd seen indications that Belmont's men were heading 
back to the villa. The next sweep of the satellite twelve hours later, 
when Sam had still been at his post, had confirmed it. Chris was safe. It 
was only then that Spencer had managed to persuade him to get some sleep on 
one of the small bunks HQ had for just such an occasion, and he'd grabbed 
about four hours before heading back into Ops. He couldn't sleep for any 
longer, tormented by dreams of Chris in trouble.

And now Chris hadn't checked in yet, and Sam was slowly going insane from 
the worry. And mixed in with that was a healthy dose of guilt.

"You did the right thing, you know?"

Once more he looked up into Richards' face, and managed to dredge a 
half-smile up from somewhere. "Why do people keep telling me that?"

Richards shrugged. "'Cos we know you, so we know how much you're going to 
be beatin' yourself up over this."

Sam's smile became genuine, although a little ragged around the 
edges. "And I thought I was a man of mystery," he joked a little weakly.

"Nah, we know how much you care 'bout that crazy partner of yours."

Chris. He turned his attention back to the sat-phone, hoping that 
willpower alone would get Chris on the line. Please, he prayed. Please.

*****

Chris checked the GPS again, confirming what he'd already suspected. Their 
journey this far had been considerably easier - the only wildlife they'd 
come across being the real, animal kind rather than human, which seemed to 
support his theory that Sam had pulled their asses out of the fire.

Sam.

It was time to call in.

*****

"...Ops. 4-5 to Ops. Come in."

Thank you, god.

He snatched up his headset, aware once again of the lull in the 
conversation around him as his colleagues realised that this was what 
they'd been waiting for.

"Ops. Report 4-5."

"Awaiting extraction at point theta, Ops."

A muted cheer went through the control room, and Sam closed his eyes, 
almost weak with relief. "Confirmed, 4-5," he said hoarsely. "Extraction 
in six zero mikes. Keep your head down and maintain radio silence."

"Confirmed, Ops," came back the crackling reply. "Thanks, Sammy."

With that the line went dead and Sam sank back in his seat with relief.

"So," grinned Richards. "How come Keel gets away with calling you Sammy then?"

Sam mustered up enough energy to grin at him, a wide, genuine smile now 
that the crushing pressure of fear had lifted from his chest. "Because 
he's four thousand miles away and he knows that not even I can hit 
something at that distance."

"Mr Curtis..."

Damn it, snuck up on again. "Sir?"

Malone didn't continue whatever tirade he was about to launch into 
immediately, taking time to give Sam a cool once over and then 
frowned. Hoping to cut him off, Sam began, "Keel has just checked in, 
sir. He and Wiersbowski are awaiting extraction and I was just about to 
put the call through..."

"Mr Richards can do that, Mr Curtis."

Sam's heart sank, wondering what he was about to be dragged over the coals 
for. "Sir?"

"You heard me, Mr Curtis. I want you to hand your station over to Mr 
Richards, and then I want you out of Ops."

"But, sir..."

"Don't be cheeky, Mr Curtis. I do not appreciate being interrupted."

"No, sir, but..."

"You have your orders, Mr Curtis. I want you to go home, get some sleep 
and give that arm a rest. I do not want to see you in Ops, within the 
building even for the next seven days. If I do, I'll have you up on a 
disciplinary charge. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Sam sighed, trying not to do anything that would increase 
Malone's ire.

His boss snorted. "Good. I have no desire to have to explain to the duty 
doctor again why you are still here when you were sent home on medical leave."

"Yes, sir, but..."

Malone's gaze turned icy. "Well," he barked. "Spit it out, man. You 
sound like a motorboat in need of some tuning!"

Sam swallowed and bit the bullet. "I'd like to stay until we're sure that 
Chris... that Keel and Wiersbowski have been extracted." He kept his 
expression as bland as possible, hoping that his desperation didn't shine 
through. He had no desire whatsoever for another lecture.

Malone gave him a searching look, his face giving nothing away. "One 
hour," he conceded. "And then you leave."

"Yes, sir."

Malone snorted again, disgust at his agent's foibles clear in the noise, 
but thankfully he left it at that, stalking back off to his lair and 
leaving Sam and Richards looking ruefully at each other in his wake until 
Sam broke that gaze by glancing down at his crotch, his expression rueful.

"Whatcha doin'?" asked the hacker.

"Checking my balls are still there."

While Richards laughed heartily, Sam turned his attention back to the phone 
to arrange Chris' retrieval. And then it was once again a matter of waiting.

**********************


There was no sign of Sam when Chris bounced into Ops, but Backup was there, 
crouched as usual over her monitor.

"Hey," he greeted her cheerily, glancing around the control room to see who 
else was in. "Haven't you got a home to go to?"

"Hah, hah," she replied glumly, although she looked delighted to see 
him. "No rest for the wicked, I'm afraid. I'm dealing with some of the 
loose ends from the Belmont affair."

"We nailed the bastard, then?"

"Yep," she confirmed with a smile, watching him glance around the room 
again. "If you're looking for Sam," she continued, "he's not 
here. According to Richards, Malone sent him home and told him that if he 
showed his face in here again, he'd be in deep trouble."

"Oh." He couldn't quite keep the disappointment out of his voice, although 
he should have realised that once the crisis was over Sam would have been 
sent home.

Backup was watching him with warm eyes. "Hey," she added gently. "Malone 
will want to debrief you and Wiersbowski and then, no doubt, he'll send the 
two of you home for some rest. You can see Sam then."

He cheered up a little at that, and she obviously couldn't resist 
commenting dryly, "I take it the pair of you are speaking now."

Were they? He stared at her nonplussed for a second before shrugging 
slightly. "I think we're speaking..." he began cautiously. "Just not sure 
whether that's all..."

It was her turn to look around the control room, making sure that no one 
was close enough to overhear, and then lowered her voice to explain, "I 
talked to Spence and he said that Sam refused to leave while you and 
Wiersbowski were out there. He said that Sam even refused when Malone gave 
him a direct order after you'd called in, wanting a pickup. Said Sam 
insisted on staying until he actually knew that you'd been rescued."

He pondered on that, feeling the first stirrings of hope. Seeing her words 
sinking in, Backup eased up on him, changing the subject by looking over at 
Wiersbowski, who seemed to be stocking up on coffee. "Talking of Mike, how 
was working with him?"

Chris snorted. "Let's just say," he replied darkly, "that I fully 
understand and support Michaels' decision to deck the son of a bitch."

"Make you appreciate Sam?" she asked slyly.

"Oh definitely."

"Pleased to hear it, Mr Keel."

Shit. He rolled his eyes at Backup, watching her suppress a smile before 
turning to face their boss. "Debriefing now, sir?" he asked hopefully.

Malone smirked slightly. "I'm afraid you're going to have to be patient, 
Mr Keel. I have an important phone call to make to the minister. I'll be 
about half an hour. Can you wait that long?"

Chris wasn't quite impatient enough to put his head on the chopping 
block. "That's fine, sir," he replied brightly, pasting his best 'I'm 
yours to command' expression on his face.

Malone harrumphed disbelievingly, but didn't comment and stalked off with a 
twinkle in his eye.

"Is he in a good mood?" Chris asked Backup, sounding almost shocked. She 
gave him an amused look.

"Could say that. After all, we've finally managed to take Belmont down 
after all this time and that is guaranteed to put even him in a good mood."

Chris gave her a half-smile and, seeing that Wiersbowski had finally 
vacated the coffee machine, decided that he might as well help himself to 
some. When he turned back towards Backup again she had her mobile to her 
ear and gestured him over to her.

"It's Sam," she said softly when he was in earshot. "He's outside. On the 
bridge."

For a second he wondered why she was telling him this before it sank in, 
and then he couldn't help but glance towards Malone's office. "I'll come 
and tell you when he's finished," she said. "Now get."

He flashed her a quick grin, and then hastened out of Ops as fast as he 
could without attracting attention. Even so, he had to get past 
Wiersbowski on the way.

"Where are you off to?" his fellow American asked.

"Out to get some fresh air."

"What about Malone?"

"He can wait."

Wiersbowski made a disbelieving noise. "Shall I tell him that?" he called 
after Chris' retreating back. Chris didn't deign to answer.

*****

Sam was indeed waiting for him on the footbridge outside of HQ, leaning on 
the parapet and watching the traffic move past. For a long moment he just 
stood there, watching the Englishman, familiarising himself with the look 
of the man, the way he stood, the way his hair blew in the breeze. He felt 
that familiar pitter patter starting in his chest, and had to force himself 
to walk the last few steps.

It had to be good news. Had to be. Sam wouldn't have come all the way 
over here if it was bad news. Would he?

Giving himself a stern talking to for letting his imagination get away with 
him, he came to a halt next to his partner.

"Hey," he said softly, leaning against the parapet.

Sam turned and smiled at him, and Chris could only register with some shock 
how tired he looked, the dark bags underneath his eyes made even more 
prominent by an unnaturally pale face. His smile, however, shone and Chris 
found himself returning it, his heart lightening.

"Hey yourself," replied Sam.

There was a slightly awkward silence while they stared at each other, Sam 
surreptitiously giving him the once over too, obviously wanting to make 
sure that he was uninjured. He decided to put the man out of his misery.

"I'm okay," he soothed. "Not even walking wounded."

Sam gave a little half-smile at that, flushing slightly, a little 
embarrassed at being so obvious. His eyes settled on the graze on Chris' 
face and he reached up to brush it lightly with his fingertips. Chris 
couldn't resist the urge to lean into the touch slightly. "That's the sum 
total of my cuts and grazes," he insisted. "And I've done worse shaving."

Sam smiled again, although it didn't reach his grey-green eyes. They 
remained cautious, and Chris' heart sank a little.

"Thanks," he said, to cover the moment, refusing to admit even to himself 
that he was just trying to delay the inevitable. Sam looked 
confused. "For the decoy," Chris explained.

"Oh. Who told you?"

"No one," Chris replied, his tone matter of fact. "I just know you. Knew 
that you had to be behind it and what you were up to."

Sam gave him a sidelong smile. "Well..." he began. "Let's just say that I 
called in a lot of favours - for both of us."

Chris chuckled. "How far in debt are we?"

"I think that if we spend the rest of our lives repaying favours, and live 
to one hundred and fifty, we might just break even."

Chris' grin broadened. "Sounds like a plan to me."

He leant out to watch the traffic again, waiting for Sam to say what he'd 
come here for. There was no point in putting it off any further and 
besides, if Sam was going to say no, he knew his partner well enough to 
know that he wouldn't keep him hanging like this and would have said 
something by now.

Sam kept giving him looks out of the corner of his eye, his body language 
tense. He was obviously struggling, so Chris pasted on his best 
encouraging look. It seemed to work, because Sam suddenly said, "We tell 
Malone."

That threw him for a loop, and his confusion must have shown on his face, 
because Sam tensed up further and continued, "That's the deal, Chris. We 
tell Malone. We don't wait for some mythical far off point. We tell him now."

The words slowly sank into Chris' befuddled brain, and it dawned on him 
what Sam was talking about. He couldn't help the spike of hope that shot 
through him. "Okay," he agreed cautiously, not wanting to jinx 
anything. "Right now?"

The tension in Sam's body seemed to ease a little. "No. It can wait until 
tomorrow. But I don't want to put it off any longer."

"Okay," Chris agreed again, the hope rising in his chest. He wasn't, 
however, confident enough of what Sam meant to ask outright, just in case 
he was wrong.

The tension seemed to leave Sam's body entirely and his partner gave him a 
shaky smile, opening his mouth as if to say something. He was rudely 
interrupted, however, by someone yelling Chris' name.

"Hey, Keel. Malone wants to see us now!"

Wiersbowski stayed at a safe distance, gracing Sam with a scowl that once 
again had Chris just aching to knock his teeth down his throat. Glancing 
at his partner, he could see that Sam was a little confused by the open 
hostility on the American's face but his expression, as always, stayed 
impassive. Chris had to fight back a grin at that. For once Sam's cool 
was working with him rather than confusing the hell out of him. He gave 
Wiersbowski a look that matched Sam's for coolness and said, rather 
dismissively, "I'll be there in a minute."

"Keel..." Wiersbowski growled.

"In a minute." His tone left no room for argument, and grumbling darkly to 
himself Wiersbowski slouched back towards the building.

Chris turned back towards Sam, who was watching the belligerent agent 
quizzically. "And his problem would be?"

Chris shrugged. Sam deserved an honest answer. "He's got a bug up his ass 
because he thinks that being with me out there meant that somehow you 
should have given us a priority and got us the hell out of there regardless 
of the mission requirements." He didn't miss the sudden flash of guilt 
that crossed his partner's face.

"Hey," he chided. "You made the right decision." That got him a weak 
laugh from Sam, and he could only give his friend a puzzled look, waiting 
for him to explain.

"Sorry," Sam answered sheepishly. "Just thinking about something Richards 
said." Chris let it slide, just basking in the presence of the man by his 
side for a moment until Sam said quietly, "You'd better go. We really *do 
not* want Malone pissed at either of us at the moment."

"Okay," he agreed again, but he couldn't leave it, not like this. He 
searched for something to say but once again Sam beat him to it.

"Listen... I'll see you tonight, okay?" Sam looked as ill at ease as he 
felt, but there was also a hopeful note in his voice.

"Okay," agreed Chris again, it seeming to be the only word he could manage 
at the moment. He cleared his throat and managed to squeeze out, "Yours?"

Sam nodded, a wary eye on Wiersbowski waiting impatiently in the 
doorway. "Yes."

"I may be late... Depends on how long Malone keeps us."

Another nod. "You still have a key?"

Chris nodded, also glancing towards his impatient colleague. If 
Wiersbowski hadn't currently been glaring at the pair of them he may even 
have risked a kiss, still needing some tangible evidence that Sam had 
indeed forgiven him. "I'd better..."

"Yeah. I'll see you later."

With one last smile and a quick glance at Wiersbowski, Sam headed off, 
leaving Chris to stomp over to his fellow countryman.

"'Bout goddamned time."

Once again, Chris didn't deign to answer.

*****

It was getting dark when he finally made it to Sam's flat, although it 
wasn't technically late, not by CI5 standards. There were no lights on in 
the living room though, and so he used his key to get in, calling Sam's 
name softly so as not to startle his partner into shooting him.

Sam, however, didn't appear, the soft light spilling from the half open 
bedroom door giving an indication of where he might be. When Chris moved 
to the door, he found his lover fast asleep on the bed, the dim bedside 
lamp illuminating his features.

He looked ridiculously young, lying there on top of the covers in a t-shirt 
and sweatpants, the exhaustion clear in his face even now when he was 
asleep. His dark hair fell over his forehead, and his long eyelashes 
rested on pale cheeks. For a long moment Chris just stood there and 
watched him, a weight lifting from his chest while at the same time his 
throat constricted. He could have lost this, lost Sam for good because of 
a few careless and hurtful words said when he'd let his fear rule him. He 
could have lost the best thing that had happened to him since Annie died, 
and it would have been his own stupid fault.

Sam stirred slightly, and opened his eyes. "It's okay," Chris 
whispered. "It's just me."

Sam stretched and murmured sleepily, "Sorry. Dozed off."

"That's okay. Go back to sleep." For a second it looked as though Sam was 
going to protest, and Chris smiled, he hoped reassuringly. "We could both 
do with some shuteye. I'll be there in a minute."

Sam blinked a little blearily at him. "'kay." He snuggled back down into 
the covers, his eyes drifting shut again. "If you're hungry," he muttered 
as he started to slide towards unconsciousness again, "...food in the 
fridge..."

Chris smiled softly to himself as he listened to Sam's breathing even 
out. He didn't need food - what he needed was Sam, and not in a carnal 
sense. He began to strip off his clothing, leaving it haphazardly strewn 
around the room in his wake as he moved towards the bed. Clad only in his 
boxers and a t-shirt, he crawled in beside Sam, spooning himself around his 
lover and tugging the covers from underneath Sam to pull over both of 
them. Sam murmured in his sleep and pressed back against him as he wrapped 
his free arm around his lover and buried his face in Sam's neck, breathing 
in his scent and luxuriating in the feelings of warmth and contentment that 
it filled him with.

He was home.

The End


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