F.B.I. offices, several hours later

"What do you mean you don't have the ballistics report? " Martin Fitzgerald thundered into the phone. "What the hell are you doing down there?" His face flushed with anger and he snapped a pencil in half, throwing both pieces across the room. "Well then get your head outta your ass and find it! Calm down! No, I won't..." He stared at the dial tone coming from the extension before slamming it on the hook. "DAMMIT!"

Samantha and Vivian both flinched as the phone was slammed down. Vivian blew out an air of frustration and pushed her chair back. The storm has been brewing for over two hours, since the rookie had returned. After seeing Anwar's chest explode just a few feet away, he'd recounted the incident for both the F.B.I. reports, the N.Y.P.D and then had to worm his way through the media. She knew, without seeing the fire in the blue eyes, that he was replaying it over and over. He couldn't settle down. He'd sit for a few minutes, then pace, they go to the copier. Then sit again, then pace again, roaming the small confines of the office like a caged tiger. Making circles with his eyes on fire and his hands fisted. As if sensing her thoughts, Samantha stood up, just as Martin slammed a desk drawer shut, sending a wobbly mug to the floor.

"That's it, I'll talk to him."

"I don't know..." the older woman advised, recalling all too well the torrent of simmering rage they'd enountered each time they tried to approach his desk. He didn't want their sympathy or their support. He didn't know what he wanted, the wound was still too raw.

"Don't." Danny Taylor said softly, tapping Samantha's back.

She watched his dark eyes scrutinizing the blue-eyed powder keg and pulled back. They had this case to wrap up and several pendings to resolve. She eyed the growing stack of files on her desk and sat down. Danny understood Martin and moreover, Martin would listen to him.

"Okay, it's your funeral," she sympathized, returning to her chair.

He knew they were watching him. He felt their eyes burning a hole in his back. He didn't want to turn around and see empathy. He didn't want a soft shoulder of consolation. He rubbed his neck and grimaced, trying to figure out who stuck an axe in his skull. Hell, who was he kidding. He felt like jumping out of his skin. He shut his eyes, trying to make the pictures go away. Yet there they were. He heard his voice pleading, begging, reasoning...

*"...just put the gun down...we'll go out of here together...together...together..."*

Then the body flew backwards, the dark eyes widened in eternal shock. A deep crimson stain appeared over the troubled heart. The crimson tide spilled...and spilled. He looked down at his hands still seeing the blood stains. He felt an inner pain, hearing the voices of the N.Y.P.D. sharpshooter and another cop at the precinct where he gave his statement.

*"...got him clean, as soon as that fed moved..."*

"FUCK!" he hissed , snapping another pencil in half.

Then his blue FBI jacket appeared on his desk. He didn't have to turn around. He knew who was back there. Wet leather and CK drifted past and he could feel the brown eyes bearing down on him. He shoved the jacket onto the floor.

It was shoved back at him and he moved to toss it again and his wrist was snagged. A strong hand forced his wrist to the desk.

"Mind your own fuckin' business, Taylor!" He growled, his jagged emotions spinning out of control. The other hand clamped onto the back of his neck. The voice was low and lethal.

"Easy or hard, your call," Danny warned. "You walk outta here with me, or I'll carry you out."

He licked his dry lips and slowly turned, cathing the venom in the dark eyes. He felt the pressure on his neck and wrist intensify and let out a slow, painful breath. His eyes were throbbing in time to the pain dancing in his temples. He consented slowly, grabbing his jacket and shoving past his partner.

"Impressive," Vivian noted.

"Where you headed?" Samantha asked.

"Max's." Danny called back, his long strides moving quickly to catch the hurricane.

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

Two hours later, Jack Malone finally returned to his office. He was tired. The kind of bone weary that only comes from the shadowy world that was his profession. The kind that ate away at your core after all the hours on the hunt turned into mush. The clock dissolved as soon as Anwar made his fatal mistake.

Twenty two years and it never got any easier. It still ate a hole in his gut. He was luckier than most guys. Some of them drank to erase the hole, others used their fists and some poor devils broke under the enormus pressure.

His dark eyes narrowed as he entered the outer office. He saw heads moving and heard whispering. His keen gaze rivited to the area his team was usually huddled in. He saw Johnson and Spade and the dead pencils where Martin's feet should be.

"Where?" He asked Vivian.

"Max's a couple hours ago. Danny's with him."

"He was in one piece when he left," she said of the dark-haired agent.

"Yeah," Jack sighed, turned around and made his way down the stairs.

The gym was empty, save two figures on the far side of the room. It was dark, only a single naked bulb over the head of the warrior cast a garish light on the wet, naked fear in those tell tale blue eyes. The slim body was soaked in sweat, it clung to every feature and soaked the tense chest. A single silver medal swung with every fist that hit canvas. He winced at the grim tension on the jaw and the pain radiating from the hot eyes, as the fist found the bag.

Danny was staddling a worn, red folding chair. His head was resting on his arms, which were folded over the top. His eyes moved briefly to his boss, acknowledging him, then back to the would-be-boxer.

Jack paused next to Taylor, watching Martin pummeling the weighted bag.

"He's beatin' the hell out that guy," Danny finally commented.

"Guy?"

"Yeah...little Martin, the demon inside. He's got some half-assed idea it's his fault Anwar didn't throw down. "

"He told you that?" Malone was surprised, that wasn't Fitzgerald's way.

"Not from his lips," Danny kept his gaze on his troubled partner. "His eyes have been screamin' at me for two hours. You can't be that blind.He's been at it for almost two hours." Danny stood up and stretched, rubbing the small of his back. "He's gonna be sore as hell tomorrow."

Martin paused, his arms felt like spaghetti and his legs like rubber bands. He coughed and bent over, gloved hands on wobbly knees. He gasped audibly, his hot lungs starved for air. Sweat ran down his face, stinging his eyes and clinging to him like an unwanted second skin. He raised his face and saw Jack Malone.

Or rather, he saw past the black eyes and got a glimpse into the team leader's soul. He held the gaze, he didn't turn away.

"Yeah..." Danny eyed the silent 'We gotta talk' transmission. He picked up a clean towel and a bottle of water and walked over to the bruised fighter.

Martin stood up slowly, took the water and rinsed his face and head, then he spit several times, before draining half the bottle. Still he sought his breath and bent over again, as the clean towel was deposited on his head and rubbed several times. Then a strong hand gripped the back of his neck. He gasped at that, not of the weight of that hand, but rather of the saving grace it provided. He felt stronger because of it and welcomed the power it held. He whipped his right arm up, gripping Danny's forearm and he locked onto that gaze.

Blue eyes met brown.

Danny nodded once, sending a crooked half-grin back to the emotive blues. Man's eyes were like damn mirrors. He winked and cuffed the chin playfully and broke the brotherhood grip and made his way to the street.

Martin watched the door swing shut and kept his eyes on it, long after Taylor left. He heard the voice again, his own, begging the gunman to surrender. He threw the towel down and the bottle followed. He paced, he cursed, he kicked the chair over. He saw those dark eyes widened in terror and shock after that horrid sound of the bullet. Then he saw the red blossom of death appear on the would-be physican's chest.

More words came, hitting him as hard as that bullet.

*"...got him clean, as soon as that fed moved...fed moved...fed...moved..."*

Jack winced at the unholy cry that split the air and watched the water bottle sail by. He moved in then, as the tense hands grabbed the chair.

"Spit it out."

"WHY?" Martin vented, eyes wild.

"I had no choice, you know that!" Jack answered just as loud. "Christ, you think I liked making that call?"

"What?" Martin blinked, eyeing the intense gaze just inches from his own. "No, hell , Jack I wasn't talking about you. You made the right call." He saw puzzlement flicker and took a steadying breath. He swiped the sweat running in his eyes. "Why didn't he drop his gun? " He moved away, kicking the spit bucket in frustration. "This close!" he motioned with his hand. "I was this fuckin' close. He just wouldn't...he knew...he had to...What the hell was he thinking?"

"That's between him and his maker, Martin." Jack replied and then saw what Danny had. There it was, riding on a wave right out of those emotive blue eyes. "Don't go there, Martin, it wasn't your fault."

Martin gave a chuffed half-smirk, half-snort for a reply and averted his gaze.

"I've been here before Martin. While you were still in a sandlot playing baseball, I was seeing ghosts too." The dark, wet curly head popped up at that and he caught the back of the tense neck. He was glad when the younger man didn't pull away. "Sometimes, there's no answer to the 'why'.."

"You don't...under...stand..." he choked, trying to swallow the words down. "...I moved...that's why they nailed him. I heard that rifle jockey say so...If I hadn't..."

"Get your head up, you're not a damned dog!" Jack thundered, grabbing both desolate shoulders and jerking the slim man upright. "Look at me! It's not your fault, not mine either. It was his call. You got that!" He saw lingering doubt in the cerulean mirrors and zeroed in. "HE put himself in there. HE knew the odds. HE made the choice to keep that gun. HE could have surrendered. It's nobody's fault, certainly not yours. You damn near got killed trying to save him." Mentally he was pummeling the idiot who spoke those words. "That fuckin' rifle jockey doesn't know you. I do..."

Martin didn't just absorb the words, he drank in the intense feeling in those mezmerizing eyes. His own eyes darted, trying to chase the other words away. The ones that caused the fire in his gut. Then two words found him. They weren't shouted or hollered or issued in a raised voice. They came out in a hushed whisper. He grabbed them and held on.

"Trust me."

He brought his head up and felt himself nodding slowly. The fire inside suddenly wasn't so painful anymore. He turned over his bruised and raw hands and the blood stains weren't as dark anymore. He felt a hand toussle the back of his wet head.

"You stink, Fitzgerald, get that scrawny ass in the shower. Mario's is just up the street. There's a bottle of red wine and a plate of pasta with my name on it."

"Okay," Martin managed, turning painfully towards the showerroom.

"...and scare up some bills, Junior, you're buying."

"Cheap bastard."

"I heard that!"

Martin yelped when a bucket of ice water was tossed against his back as he walked away. He turned at the doorway and caught those dark eyes. The pain was still there, but it was subsiding. The fire that ate a hole in his chest was gone. He saw Danny's cocky grin in his mind's eye and felt Jack Malone's power.

It wasn't over, not by a long shot. But it was better and he'd take that. He wanted to talk about it, and realized now Jack Malone was the only one who he'd could talk to. Could be, Jack need to talk about it himself.

Later, after he scrubbed the guilt away and got dressed. He combed his hair and made his way to the outer room, when his eyes caught an old poster hanging above the door in the locker room. He considered the words and nodded, taking the meaning to heart. He'd ridden solo for a lot of years, and today, he was damn lucky he'd hung up those boots. He left then, to find his boss, his teammate. The wind blew in rustling the paper, but it held firm, it's message clear.

T - together E - everyone A - achieves M- more.

THE END