Part 17

Two Weeks Later

"Chris." Vin grinned at his boss and stepped forward confidently, extending his right arm.

"Well," Chris replied with his own lopsided grin as they gripped forearms in their traditional greeting. "I see that you c'n see."

"Enough to pick the darkest shadow in the crowd," Vin jibed.

"Oh, he can see much better than that," Katherine stated at Chris' acknowledging nod. "Don't let him fool you. How are you, Mr. Larabee?"

"Please, call me Chris. I've been relishing the quiet," he answered as he pointedly scanned Vin from head to toe. "With the resident troublemaker out of town, things have been slow." He reached out and flicked the sling embracing Vin's left arm. "See? Trouble follows him everywhere."

"But with big results," Vin protested. "When was the last time you helped bag the F.B.I.'s number one most wanted?"

"Oh, I'd say about two weeks. You didn't do it alone, you know." Vin snorted. The three of them turned to the baggage carousel and Chris made it clear that he would handle the luggage. With Katherine as the lookout, the trio picked a spot and settled in to wait. "So, how many stitches this time?"

Vin hugged the slinged arm to his body in a protective manner. "Fifty-two. Twenty-seven on the inside and the rest out the outside. The sling's only to keep the arm quiet."

"Pretty much ploughed a furrow across your shoulder blade, huh?"

"Yup."

"Nathan's been frettin'. Just a warning."

"Thanks for the heads up, cowboy."

"Don't call me cowboy," Larabee growled disgustedly. Vin chuckled. Katherine pointed out a bag and Chris pulled it from the track as he spoke. "Still no I.D. on the guy, huh?"

"Nope. They got him tucked away tighter than JD's belt at a buffet an' he ain't said a word. He's a complete unknown."

Chris shook his head in wonder. "Amazing. Guess he's not seeing the light of day anytime soon."

"If ever," Katherine added with a lady-like sniff of disdain. "And I'm happy for that."

With the bags gathered Chris tilted his head to let Vin and Katherine lead the way. Following them, he watched the interplay between the two with deep satisfaction. Katherine's hand was tucked in the crook of Vin's arm and Vin guided her with protective care, chatting quietly. They had obviously bonded in the past weeks because they both looked rested, content and familiar. He knew Vin was overdue for some peace in his life and figured the same was true for Katherine. Chris also wondered what the future would bring for his best friend now that his family had extended so dramatically.

When they stepped outside Vin paused and tilted his head back as he took a deep breath and shut his eyes with obvious pleasure. "Good ta be home," he sighed. Then he focused on Larabee. "Y'all kept your cr. . . er, stuff off my desk? I'm comin' in Monday and don't wanna spend half the day clearin' the junk off."

"Whoa back there, partner. Who said you're coming back so soon? What about your company, here?"

"Kate? I figger she c'n entertain herself for a few hours a day."

"'Kate'?" Chris thought as he glanced at the impeccably dressed woman on Vin's arm. He shook his head and chuckled as they crossed the street and entered the parking structure. He doubted Mrs. Victor Fitzgerald had been called "Kate" since the third grade. Chris also realized that Vin had lead the entire way from Baggage Claim to the truck, only asking for the lot number where the vehicle was parked. "Hey, your vision is better," he commented.

"Yup. Which is why I'm goin' back to work on Monday."

Chris tried to reason with the stubborn sharpshooter as they loaded the truck and exited the lot. As soon as the tires hit the highway a cell phone rang, interrupted their banter.

"Hey, Marty," Vin greeted from the back seat. "Yup, headin' home right now."

"'Marty'?" Chris shook his head again. Katherine laughed softly as Chris glanced aside and caught her bright gaze. He had to grin at her smile.

"Not many people call him 'Marty'," she said, amused.

"What, are you two connected mentally or somthin'?" Vin demanded behind them. "Chris just gave me the third degree about that, too." From what Chris could hear of the one-sided conversation, "Marty" wasn't too keen on Vin's returning to work, either. "You got enough to do cleanin' up the fish I caught so there's no need to stick your nose . . ." Pause. "He's my collar, brother. Unwritten rule: The bait gets the bag." Pause – with chuckling. "Hey, A.T.F. rules and F.B.I. rules are the same. Both are Federal . . . hey, quit interruptin' me when I'm makin' a point!"

The two front-seaters shared another amused glance before returning their attention to the road before them.

"It's been a joy being with those two." Katherine said. "I never thought I'd be so lucky. If only . . ." Her smile faded as she paused mid-sentence.

"Victor's cutting his own throat," Chris said lowly. "And he's the only one that can make himself realize that. His loss."

Chris wasn't sure if it was due to the brotherly, backseat bickering or the words he just spoken, but Katherine's smile returned. "True. And I won't let anyone keep me away from my boys again, not this time around. You can bet on that."

And that was a wager that Chris knew Ezra Standish wouldn't even go against.

The End

Author's Note: Thanks to all for the encouraging feedback. I apologize for the length of time between the last chapters – someone needs to smack me if I start posting a story without an ending ever again!! AJ