"You know, I'm not even sure how we're getting back to Miami," Sam said as he and Michael and Clem left the CIA headquarters and walked up the street to a bar that Clem recommended. The sun began to set in the west, giving some relief from the heat, but the humidity reminded Sam of home. He almost couldn't wait to get back to Miami and have some rest and relaxation time. They all earned it.
"Packard assured me there will be a plane at the airport for us when we're ready to leave. I just have to call her and a flight plan will be filed," Michael replied.
Clem stopped in front of an overhang with a thatch roof. Calypso music played and mixed with the sounds of people chatting as they relaxed in bamboo chairs around bamboo tables scattered on a patio between the bar and the next building. Umbrellas shaded them from the hot sun. Amidst all the suits and formality of Washington, this bar was like an oasis in the middle of the desert.
"This is it, guys!" Clem grinned and rubbed his hands together. "Let's go. They've got some of the best beer in town, certainly the best mojitos, and the food is great, too."
"Uh, guys, I have a little problem."
Michael and Clem turned to Sam who stood between them. "What is it?" Michael asked.
"I don't have my stuff. They took everything from me on the ship, including my wallet, and I haven't seen any of it since."
"No problem, I'm buying," Clem declared as he patted Sam's good arm. "And if they card ya, I'll vouch for ya." He snickered.
"I'll call Packard. I'm sure she can get your stuff back." Michael followed them into the bar, and soon they found themselves seated on the patio with many others, sharing drinks and dinner. Their dirty clothes and scruffy faces garnered them a few strange looks, but the trio ignored them. Michael arranged with Packard for Sam's belongings to be delivered to the airport when they arrived in Miami, and then made another important call.
The sound of her wary voice brought a sense of guilt that raced through his body. It was his fault that she had to sound that way. "Fi, it's me. Michael."
He heard her gasp, and then Fiona exclaimed, "Michael! Is it okay to talk?"
"Yeah. We're fine. I'm with Sam and Clem right now in DC."
"You found Sam! Thank God!" He heard Fiona talking to someone briefly, and then she returned to the phone. "Is everything done?"
"Yes, it's over, Fi. Clem and I both shot Card. He's dead, and he won't be hurting or killing anyone anymore." He spied Sam pointing to his bloody and torn sleeve. "Oh yeah, and Clem winged Sam, but he's okay. He's just being a baby about it."
"Am not! He ruined my tat, Mike!"
"And I said I was sorry about that, Sammy!"
Fiona laughed over the phone. "I can hear them from Orlando."
"Orlando? What are you doing there?"
"I took your mum to Disney World. We actually had quite a nice time, and now we're eating at one of the better restaurants in the park before we leave. If I hadn't heard from you, I would have booked us into a hotel room somewhere." She paused. "You're okay?"
"As okay as I was before we left. Even more so, now that we don't have to worry about anyone coming after us or ruining our lives. And Fi, I did the deed. I'm no longer part of the agency."
Her breath caught. "That's a relief."
He smiled. "You didn't think I'd really do it, did you."
"I'm sorry, Michael. I had my doubts." It bothered her that he knew her so well, and even more so that she did indeed doubt whether he would take the leap. She shook off her guilty thoughts and asked, "What does this mean? What will we do now?"
"Take a couple weeks and do nothing, or go on a trip. I don't know. I just want to try to live a normal life for a little while and then decide what to do." He glanced at Sam, who held up his mojito in agreement. Clem met his gaze with a nod. "Yes, that's exactly what I want to do. Just get away from everything we're used to and do something different for awhile. I have no idea what. We'll just go and figure it out."
"I like it! When are you coming home?"
Home. That word sounded so good to him. His smile widened as he replied. "Tonight we'll be back in Miami."
"Call me when your flight leaves, and Madeline and I will be there to pick you up."
"Sounds good, Fi. We'll see you soon." He closed the connection and sat back in his chair. Letting out a long, deep sigh, he dropped his phone on the table, picked up his beer, and took a drink. "I feel like a ton of weight has been taken off my shoulders. It's liberating, and yet, scary. I don't really know what to do with myself now."
"Don't worry about it, Mikey. Just enjoy the feeling." Sam clinked his glass with Michael's bottle and downed the last of his mojito. "Anybody ready for another round?"
"You're awfully generous with my money, Sammy." Clem laughed. When he saw the guilty expression on Sam's face he held up a hand and said, "Just messin' with you, man. Go ahead, second round!"
"After this, we should finish up and go."
Sam gave Michael a knowing smile. "He wants to get back to Fiona and start that new life with her. You gonna ask her to marry you, finally?"
Michael laughed nervously. "Not sure I'm ready to do that yet."
Sam gave him a long, serious look as he wiped the condensation from his glass. "I know one thing this last mission has taught me. I'm not wasting any more time. When we get back, I'm gonna ask Elsa to marry me."
"Wow... did I hear that correctly, Mike?" Clem stared at Sam. "First of all, for Sammy to have a girlfriend, a serious girlfriend, that's like news of the century in itself! But for him to say he wants to marry her? That's unbelievable!"
"It's true," Michael replied with a smile and asked, "What about you? Are you returning to Panama? Anyone there you want to go back to?"
"There was this sweet little lady working at El Santuario, but she wasn't right for me." Clem shook his head and sipped his mojito. "I don't know what I want to do. I was in Panama trying to get away from my past, but you can see how well that worked out."
"You were there a decade. It must have worked out okay," Sam said.
"Yeah, but I always felt like someone was going to tap me on the shoulder one day and jump all over me. I guess I was right." He leaned back and locked his hands behind his head. "I think maybe I'll stay in Florida for awhile. Maybe not Miami, but..." He shrugged. "We'll see. I just know I have to do something to make a little money, because I'm surrendering everything Card gave me, which doesn't leave me with much saved up."
"You could always work with us," Michael said without hesitation.
Clem stared at him. "You're serious. You want me to work on your team?"
"You've proven yourself, Clem. I know you're not going to shoot me in the back."
"Thanks, Mike. That means a lot to me. But no, I think I'm gonna go it alone. I'll talk to Skip, and maybe he and I can do something together. I don't know."
Suddenly, Michael muttered, "I completely forgot about Jesse." He picked up his phone and dialed. Jesse answered quickly. "Jesse, it's Michael. Are you okay?" His conversation with him was short, and when he hung up he reported to Sam and Clem. "He and Skip are fine, nobody tried anything. Skip is improving, and Jesse said that now that the heat was off he was going home."
"Home sounds really good," Sam declared softly with a faraway look in his eyes. His companions could see that he was thinking of Elsa, longing to return to her. "Hey Mike, mind if I borrow your phone?"
"No problem." He gave Sam the burner phone.
Sam dialed the number that he knew by heart. For safety's sake, he never programmed it into his regular phone. "Hey Baby, it's me, Sammy. I'm coming home."
"I'll settle up the bill, and we can be on our way," Clem said to Michael as he got out of his seat and grabbed the attention of their server.
The small jet parked in front of the same hangar from where it left. It was late, but the men found quite the welcoming committee waiting for them. Michael stepped onto the tarmac and immediately found himself engulfed by two pairs of arms. Fiona was happy to see him, but his mother was beyond happy as she sobbed in joy and relief that he was home safe.
"I'm sorry, Michael. So sorry." The words were like a litany of regret that she repeated incessantly until he took her into his arms and kissed her cheek, and in her ear he whispered that it was okay.
Sam found Elsa's arms wrapped around his midsection and he held her close in his arms. She covered him with kisses, and he did the same to her until their lips met and he pressed into hers as if he'd been dying without the contact. He heard a soft clearing of a throat and reluctantly pulled away. A young man in a Navy uniform stood to the side at attention.
"Commander Axe, Lieutenant Norton, Sir. We, uh, met on the island."
"Oh yeah, I remember." The kid looked far different in his ship uniform. "Come back to take me in again?"
"Oh no, Sir! I'm returning your things." He held out a clear bag that held all the possessions Sam had on himself and were confiscated when he was captured.
Sam turned out of Elsa's arms and took the bag. "Thank you, Lieutenant."
"You're welcome, Sir!" He stood at attention again and saluted.
Sam returned the salute and said, "Dismissed, Lieutenant."
"Sir! Thank you, Sir!" The lieutenant turned on his heel and walked toward a car that was parked near the hangar.
Hearing a soft laugh, Sam looked down at Elsa. "What's so funny?"
"I've never seen anyone do that, salute you, I mean. I kind of forgot about your Navy history."
"Well, that's what it is, history. And so it all this running around and being pursued by the CIA. We're done." He put his arm around her. "Come on, let's go home."
"That sounds really good."
The couple started to walk away, but Sam stopped and over his shoulder asked, "Hey, Snowbird. You coming, or what?"
"I'm not sure where I'm going, to be honest with you."
"Perfect. You can stay with us for a little while, until Skip's out of the hospital, and maybe by then you'll have figured out what you want to do." He turned Elsa around to face Clem. "I'm sorry, honey. I should introduce you. Clem Snow, this is Elsa. Elsa, Clem is one of my buddies from the SEAL team."
"I thought you looked familiar. I think I saw you in some of Sam's pictures." Elsa smiled and shook his hand. "It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise, ma'am." He asked, "Are you sure I won't be any trouble? I don't want to impose."
"Well, you're always trouble, Clem, but you're welcome to stay."
Elsa didn't know Clem, but of one thing she was certain. If Sam trusted him enough to invite him to stay in her home with them, she had nothing to fear. She smiled at Clem and said, "Please, come and stay with us."
"Thank you very much, ma'am. I appreciate it."
"Alright then. Let's get out of here. See ya later, Mikey!"
"Bye, Sam. We'll talk later."
Two groups walked to different cars. They got in and drove away from the airport, leaving the mission behind and starting a new phase of their lives.
Michael sat in the passenger seat while Fiona drove. The lights of Miami seemed to be brighter tonight, or maybe it was because a veil of distrust and urgency had been removed from his eyes. He couldn't even imagine how it would feel tomorrow to wake up beside Fiona and have nothing to do and no one to worry about chasing him down. As part of his deal with Packard, he was put on a no-touch list again and would be there forever. So now he had his future spread before him like a wide open field. That night, he slept better than he had in years.
Sam sat in the passenger seat while Elsa drove. It felt strange to not be in the driver's seat, but he was dog tired and he was grateful for her taking the wheel. As he stole glances at her, he anticipated the time they would be alone. He wanted to talk to her about their future and wake up with her agreeing to be his wife. As far as anything beyond that, he didn't care. In her he'd found the ultimate sanctuary, and he wasn't going to walk away from it.
Clem fell asleep with the gentle motion of the wheels humming below him. He dreamed of peace and a place where he could live his life without worrying about killing or being killed. He needed to find his balance and reconnect with what he believed. He wasn't sure if Miami would turn out to become home or not, but until he was certain, he would be sticking around for awhile. For now, Skip needed him, and maybe Michael would have a job that required an extra hand. It felt good to be in demand by decent people, rather than evil men like Card.
Skip found that after he was shot, it took awhile to recover. He doubted that he would ever be the same, but that was the price one paid for helping save lives. Sometimes he whittled on toys and other things he could sell at the gift shop in the tourist town nearby, but Skip was having one of his bad days when his shoulder muscles seized up with pain. All he could do was sit on the porch and rock himself as he waited for the meds to kick in. The birdsongs and the hiss of the breeze through the pine trees punctuated the awesomeness of peace that never failed to help him relax.
Without warning, a classic Charger with an all black exterior came up the drive and parked under a tree. Behind it, a white Cadillac. He stopped rocking and stared at the vehicles. If he wasn't mistaken, those were Michael and Sam's cars. The doors opened, and a grin spread across his face as he recognized the two men who stood in the circular drive.
"Axeman! Westen!" He slowly stood, trying not to stretch his muscles and aggravate the injured area. Then Skip moved forward, down the steps, and met them in the yard. "It's great to see you guys again. How're ya doing?" Since he decided to stay in Florida, his accent came back with a vengeance.
"We're doing great, Skip," Sam answered and shook his hand. He studied his friend and knew immediately that things were not going as well for him. "Are you in pain today?"
Skip flapped a hand in the air. "Never mind about that. It's just part of life. Come on up on the porch. I'll get ya some ice tea or somethin' and we can shoot the breeze until Clem comes home."
"Do you know when that'll be," Michael asked. He shoved his hands into his pockets and looked around at the cover of the woods. "We need to talk to him about something. A case we need some help on."
"Well, he should be back in about an hour or so. He gets off at seven. You guys eat yet? If not, I've got supper in the oven."
"Thanks, Skip. We didn't catch anything on the way," Sam replied as he sat in one of the rockers.
The three spent time chatting about what the Team Westen Agency had been up to for the past few weeks since Clem and Skip left Miami, and Skip entertained them with stories about small town life. "He's here." Skip pointed toward the driveway. A white deputy squad car pulled up, and Clem got out.
"Well, I'll be. Look what blew up here from Miami!" Clem came forward and gave his friend a welcome hug and reserved a friendly handshake for Michael. "What are you guys doing here?"
"We need some help with a case," Michael said as he sat on the porch rail.
"I'll see what I can do. Whatcha got cookin'?"
Sam held up a picture of a pretty young woman. "Her name is Rochelle Roberts. She's a runaway, but her parents think there's more to it than that. She had a boyfriend on the internet from this area, so we think she's around here somewhere."
Clem nodded as he studied the picture. "I haven't seen her around, but that doesn't mean she 's not here." He handed the picture back to Sam. "So are you going to be hanging out for awhile?"
"Yes. Sam is staying here in town, and I'll be joining Jesse in Gainesville tonight. Fiona's in Ocala. We're hoping that one of our searches will come up with something," Michael said.
"Well, you're both welcome to camp out in our living room tonight," Clem said. "Come on in and have supper with us."
"Skip already invited us." Sam replied. "Mike is going to Gainesville tonight, but I'll stay for awhile if you don't mind."
"Not at all! It'll be great having you around, Sammy." He led the way inside. "I take it the parents don't want to get the police involved, or I would have heard about this."
"Exactly. But it wouldn't hurt to have some police assistance," Michael said. With a smile he added, "I knew we could count on you to help and keep it quiet."
"I appreciate that." Clem nodded at Michael. "I still find it strange sometimes that our friendship began with me trying to kill you. Life is funny, ain't it?"
"It sure is." The men sat down to a home cooked meal. Michael remembered and hesitated while Clem prayed aloud. Then they dug in and discussed the case among themselves. It was strange how things worked, but Michael was glad that Clem had his sights on them. Card had caused so much death and misery over the years, but in the end he helped create a new alliance and strengthened Michael and his friends as a team, and for that he had to begrudgingly thank him.
"See you later, Mike," Sam said as Michael stepped off the porch and headed for his car.
"Let me know if you have any leads, Sam."
The three men waited until the Charger left the drive and pulled out onto the highway before moving back inside. Skip pulled out some beers from the fridge and set them on the cleared table. "Okay, now that he's gone, let's have a good old tall tale session. I know you've gotta have some good stories, Sammy!"
"I could probably be up all night with Michael Westen stories."
"Bring 'em on, Axeman!"
Sam popped the top off his beer, sat back in his chair, and said, "Well, there was this time in Afghanistan..."