The next day

“So, what did the captain have to say when you told him?” Mike asked the following day when they collected him from the hospital and returned to their hotel. He paused, eyeing the others in grim amusement. “Or, didn't you tell him?”

At that, Alex snorted loudly.

“Captain Deakins is not a man you can keep secrets from. You, of all people, ought to know that by now, Mike. No, we told him, and I think he damn near hit the roof.”

“He didn't order us home, did he?” Mike asked, suddenly apprehensive.

“No,” Bobby reassured him, “but apparently we're to cooperate fully with Lieutenant Caine. And that includes doing whatever he tells us to do.”

“His exact words,” Alex added, “were 'if you go anywhere near Richie Goren without Lieutenant Caine's knowledge, I'll have no problem with him arresting both of your idiot partners for interfering with an ongoing investigation, and you women are not to bail them out'.”

“Ouch,” Mike muttered. “Cold. But what if we... you know... run into him unintentionally?”

“Handcuffs were brought into the conversation more than once,” Carolyn said calmly. “They worked once before. Captain said we were to go ahead and do it again, if we felt we had to.”

At that, both Mike and Bobby exchanged uneasy glances, unsettled primarily because they knew damn well that Alex and Carolyn would go ahead and do it if they believed there was no other option.

“He also said he'll kick all our asses personally,” Carolyn added, “and he won't wait until we're back in New York to do it. So, you have to behave yourself, Mike. Otherwise we'll have the captain coming down here personally.”

“Him behave,” Bobby retorted. “That's rich.”

A moment later, he yelped indignantly when Alex whapped him across the head.

“Don't go there, Goren,” she growled. “You're just as big a pain in the ass as he is. And need I remind you that Mike's antics in the hospital never hurt anyone? But your brilliant idea nearly took out two nurses and another patient.”

“Not to mention nearly extended his own stay,” Carolyn said.

“I told you we should have used the gym,” Mike chimed in, much to Bobby's irritation.

“Can we forget that, please?” he grumbled. “Anyway, at least we didn't leave the floor. It was Mike's idea to sneak out of the hospital and go to Starbucks, and that did get us handcuffed to our beds.”

“But the coffee was worth it,” Mike said with a sigh.

But the coffee was worth it...”

“Are these guys really detectives?” Eric Delko asked incredulously as he, Calleigh, Tripp and Horatio listened to the ensuing conversation through the surveillance equipment that they had set up in the room immediately next to the four detectives.

“They're not just detectives, Eric,” Horatio murmured as he adjusted the volume. “They're part of the NYPD's Major Case Squad.”

“These guys are the elite of the NYPD,” Tripp added, with sincere respect in his voice. “They might not sound like it right now, but that guy in particular, Goren, has an arrest and conviction rate that's second to none. I talked to a couple of buddies of mine from a homicide unit in New York earlier this morning, and the word is that very few of the cases he catches go to trial. He almost always breaks his suspects in the interrogation room. And the other guy, Logan... He's got a reputation for being a hot-head, but the guys say he's a damned good cop, and he's got experience that most of us could only dream of.”

“And what about their partners?” Calleigh asked, unable to help sounding a little indignant. “Don't they rate in the equation?”

Tripp chuckled.

“They rate, Calleigh. Don't you worry. According to my buddies, Goren is a brilliant detective, but word is that he falls apart without Eames around. And they say that Barek is the first partner Logan has had who's really been able to keep him in check. The word is that without those women, these two guys would probably fall apart at the seams.”

“You know,” Calleigh went on quietly, “something tells me they're not going to be too happy when they find out we're using them as bait to trap both Richie Goren and Rico Peres.”

“We're not using them as bait,” Tripp growled. “And anyway, they're well protected. We've got a police presence here at the hotel, as well as unit to tail them if they leave the building.”

“They're still gonna be pissed,” Eric said in agreement with Calleigh. Horatio nodded.

“Yes, they probably will be. But at the moment Richie Goren is proving as difficult to track as his mentor, and we need to bring the both of them out into the open. These detectives have attracted Richie's attention and, as a consequence, I don’t doubt that they have Rico Peres' attention as well. It wouldn't matter what we do now. You can be certain that these four have been targeted by the Mal Noche so, in reality, this is actually the best way to keep them safe.”

Eric snorted.

“They're still bait, H, no matter how you say it. I just hope we don't get any of them killed.”

Horatio looked grim as he returned his attention to the surveillance equipment.

“So do I, Eric. So do I.”

“We’re being followed,” Alex said quietly as they headed out together for breakfast the next morning. Bobby nodded in agreement, taking care not to react obviously by looking behind them.

“I know. Almost from the moment we left our suite.”

“Richie’s buddies?” she wondered. On her other side, Mike gave a harsh chuckle.

“Not likely. No, they’re cops, probably working for that Lieutenant Caine.”

“Do we look like we need baby-sitters?” Alex growled in annoyance, and Mike snorted loudly in agreement. Bobby eyed them both with amusement.

“Do you really have to ask after what happened the other night?”

He felt gentle pressure on his left arm, and looked to find Carolyn had slipped her arm through his.

“Be nice,” she chided him lightly. “What happened the other night wasn’t deliberate on our part. You know that.”

Bobby shot Mike a look, to which he responded indignantly.

“Hey, I didn’t go into that bar expecting to find Richie.”

“No,” Bobby conceded, “but you hoped to. There’s not a hell of a lot of difference there, Mike.”

“Intention, Bobby. I didn’t intend on running into him. Not right then, at least.”

Bobby grunted in reply, not even trying to hide his incredulity.

“Thin ice, Mikey.”

“What, you don’t believe your own brother?” Mike asked, trying to sound disappointed, and failing miserably. Bobby looked across at him with an ill-concealed smirk.

“You’re full of hot air, Mike.”

Mike grinned at that.

“Well, that’s better than being full of something else. Are we going to pick some place soon? I need coffee, and I need to sit down, not necessarily in that order.”

“How about that place over there?” Carolyn suggested, pointing to a small, cosy looking café that was advertising breakfast in its window. Alex nodded in acquiescence.

“Looks good. C’mon, before you two clowns collapse on us.”

A few minutes later, they were comfortably seated, and waiting on coffee.

“Well, whoever’s following us, they stayed outside,” Alex murmured, favouring the waiter with a grateful smile as he set steaming cups of coffee in front of them.

“And they can just stay there,” Mike muttered a touch sourly as he sipped at the hot liquid. “If Caine doesn’t stay off our case…”

“Caine?” the waiter asked nervously, drawing their collective attention. “Do you mean… Lieutenant Horatio Caine…?”

“What if we do?” Mike asked tonelessly, watching the man with a piercing stare. The waiter glanced to the door, looking more unsettled by the second.

“He comes around… and business doesn’t do so well. It’s bad for business, having cops here. You… You’re police?”

“Not in Miami, pal,” Mike answered. “But don’t even think of asking us to leave before we’ve finished our coffee.”

“He’s not going to ask you to leave,” a new voice said, and they all looked to see a man sitting at the next table over, watching them with acute interest. “Go on, Carl. Go and get these good people the food they ordered.”

Carl went without protest. Their mysterious benefactor smiled faintly.

“Please, you must excuse Carl. He and the Miami police do not have the best of relationships.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Mike said dryly. The stranger chuckled softly.

“I like your sense of humour, Detective Logan.”

Mike made no effort to hide the frown that found its way onto his face at that. Carolyn sat forward a little, unsettled that this stranger knew her partner’s name.

“We didn’t get your name.”

“Because I didn’t offer. But you can call me Marco.” His gaze came to rest on Bobby. “Robert, isn’t it? Richie’s little brother?”

Although none of them reacted outwardly, all four detectives immediately went on alert.

“That’s right,” Bobby confirmed, ignoring the sharp look he got from Alex. Marco nodded placidly.

“Mm, I thought so. You look alike.”

“What do you want?” Mike asked with a hint of impatience in his voice. “Because somehow I doubt that you’re here for the pleasant conversation.”

“Very perceptive,” Marco said. “Tell me, why are you looking for Richie?”

“We wanna have a family reunion,” Mike snapped, purposely ignoring a warning glare from Bobby.

Marco raised an eyebrow quizzically.

“Family… reunion?”

“It’s personal business,” Bobby said quietly, still frowning at Mike.

“Ah,” Marco murmured. “So… not police-related?”

Bobby answered with a single shake of his head, while at the same time a small part of him wondered if he wasn’t making a serious mistake. The frigid look he was getting from Alex told him that he was, but again he ignored her. He knew he would have to pay the consequences of that later on, but his anxiety to get this over with so they could all go home was becoming overwhelming.

“No. It’s not a police matter. We’re not here as cops.”

Marco nodded decisively.

“You know something, Detective? I believe you.” He stood up and walked around to Bobby, and handed him a small slip of paper. “Be at that address this evening at seven o’clock, sharp, and don’t be late. Richie will be there to answer your questions.” He paused and, motioning to Mike, added, “Just you and him, though. Not the ladies.”

“They don’t go anywhere without us,” Alex spoke up fiercely. “We’re partners. It’s not negotiable.”

Marco, however, only smiled in response.

“Your loyalty to your men is commendable, ladies. But I was not kidding. They come tonight, alone, or there is no deal. And that means no police following you, either. This is just between us. No one else. Is that understood?”

“We got it,” Mike said coolly, and Marco’s grin widened.

“Very good. You New York cops are smarter than you look. Let’s hope you continue to be smart. Play by our rules, gentlemen, and you’ll leave this city in one piece. Try to be clever, and… well, do I really need to finish that sentence?”

“No,” Bobby said softly. “You don’t. We understand.”

“Good,” Marco murmured, smiling like a piranha about to go in for the kill. With a last look at each of them, he hurried out of the café, leaving them behind to sit in heavy, foreboding silence.

They arrived back at the hotel nearly an hour later to find Horatio Caine waiting for them at the door of their suite. No words were exchanged, and Alex opened the door and ushered the lieutenant inside.

“So, was it you watching us, or one of your lackeys?” Mike asked as he dropped heavily into one of the armchairs. To his credit, Horatio didn’t take offence, and allowed a small smile to cross his features.

“That was me,” he confirmed. “Very observant, Detective.”

“Yeah, well, I'm not just a pretty face.”

Mike didn't so much as crack a smile as he replied. He was tired, and both his leg and his head were starting to hurt him, a lot. Carolyn aptly read the signs and vanished briefly into her and Alex's room, only to reappear with a small bottle in hand. She withdrew two small pills, and dropped them into Mike's hand. He opened his mouth to argue, but she stopped him short.

“Don't say a word, Mike. Just take them.”

He did so with a defeated sigh.

“Vicodin?” Horatio inquired as he caught a glimpse of the label. “That's highly addictive.”

“We know,” Alex said. “That's why their doctors have left us in charge of it. They only get the Vicodin when the pain is really bad.”

Horatio held back from mentioning that their partnerships had to be very close, if the doctors trusted them to know when the strong painkillers were really needed.

“You made contact with Marco Vega, correct?” he asked, turning his attention back to Bobby.

“He never gave a last name,” Bobby answered as he lowered himself awkwardly into another armchair. “Just Marco.”

“Well, his name is Marco Vega, and he's a foot soldier for the Mal Noche.”

“We figured as much,” Alex said.

“Can I ask what he spoke to you about?” Horatio inquired, and his query drew a derisive snort from Mike.

“You mean you weren't listening in?”

Again, a wry smile touched Horatio's lips.

“We were following you. We don't have you bugged.”

The four detectives exchanged glances that suggested to Horatio that they didn't really believe that, but none of them disputed it. Instead, Bobby pulled the slip of paper from his pocket, and handed it to Horatio.

“Mike and I are supposed to be at that address tonight, at seven, to meet with Richie.”

“Just the two of you?” Horatio asked, and Bobby nodded.

“Yes. That means no police, as well. No threats were actually made, but it was... suggested that it'd be beneficial to our wellbeing to comply.”

“If you think you're going to stop us...” Mike started to say, but Horatio shook his head, silencing his protest before it could find a voice.

“On the contrary, Detective Logan. I want you and Detective Goren to keep this appointment.”

“You what?” Carolyn burst out. “Are you crazy? It's a trap of some sort! It must be!”

“I'm aware of that, Detective Barek,” Horatio reassured her. “But we need to get Richie back in our custody, along with another very dangerous individual by the name of Rico Peres.”

“And what?” Alex snapped. “You plan on using Mike and Bobby as bait? That isn't going to happen, Lieutenant.”

“Alex...” Bobby started to protest, but she wasn't having any of it.

“No! Don't you argue with me, Bobby. You're still not a hundred percent fit. Neither is Mike, and it was proven the other night that neither of you can stand up to Richie.”

“Thanks a lot,” Mike grumbled.

“Shut up, Mike,” Alex snapped, all the while not taking her eyes off Horatio. “This is not about your ego.”

“I can assure you that they'll be well protected...” Horatio tried to assure her, but she cut him off angrily.

“That is bullshit, and you know it as well as we do. You can't protect them, not adequately. Tell us something, Lieutenant. When you followed us this morning, was it to make sure we didn't make contact with the Mal Noche? Or to make sure that we did?”

Silence descended on the room, thick as smoke, as all four detectives stared at Horatio. Finally, the lieutenant answered with obvious reluctance.

“We were anticipating that the Mal Noche would contact you,” he admitted finally.

“And you thought you could use us to reel Richie back in,” Carolyn concluded. Horatio's silence spoke in volumes, and Alex hissed softly in anger.

“You son of a bitch.”

“We'll go,” Bobby said abruptly, drawing incredulous stares from both Alex and Carolyn, and an astonished one from Mike.

“Bobby...” Alex started to protest, but Bobby ignored her.

“We'll... help you flush Richie out, on the condition that we have a chance to talk to him as soon as you have him back in custody. Then, tomorrow morning, we're leaving.” He shot Mike a sharp look, and his tone left no room for argument. “Whether we have our answers, or not, we're out of here tomorrow morning.”

Horatio nodded, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on Bobby, to avoid the hostile looks he was getting from Alex and Carolyn.

“Fair enough. I'll get going, and organise everything from our end. I'll ask all of you to stay here, and don't leave this suite until I come back for you this afternoon. There's a police presence downstairs in the lobby, and also in the room right next to you...”

“You've been listening to us?” Carolyn asked. “To everything we've been saying?”

“For how long?” Alex demanded to know. For the first time, Horatio began to look uncomfortable.

“It was for your own protection,” he offered, but Alex shook her head in frustration, turning away from him.

“I think you'd better go,” Mike suggested wryly. “She might not have her gun, but she still packs one hell of a punch.”

Grimacing, Horatio conceded with a nod.

“I'll be back this afternoon to go over the plan of action with you both,” he told Bobby and Mike and, with a last glance at Alex and Carolyn, he hurried from the room.

“Alex...” Bobby started to say, but she cut him off short.

“Don't, Bobby. Don't even try to justify yourself. How could you? How could you even think to put yourself and Mike at risk like this? Of all the stupid, insensitive...”

“Shut up, Alex.”

For the second time in just a few minutes, silence descended on the room, and Alex stared at him with a dark look. Grunting softly, Bobby pushed himself back up to his feet, using his height to his advantage.

“You've had your say. Now it's your turn to listen to me. I don't want to do this, but this has gone beyond our personal issues now. Richie has to be caught, and if the only way to do it is through me and Mike, then that's the way it has to be. We have to trust Lieutenant Caine now to do his job.”

“Think about what you're doing, Bobby!” Alex begged him. “Please...”

“We have to do it,” Mike said softly.

“You have to do what?” Carolyn argued. “Let the MDPD use you as bait? When Deakins told us to do whatever Lieutenant Caine said, I don't think this is what he had in mind!”

“It won't be any different to any sting operation we've ever done in the past,” Bobby said. “We'll have back-up. We'll be okay, Alex. I trust Caine. I... I have to.”

Alex's shoulders slumped as she realised he wasn't going to be dissuaded.

“I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?”

“We have to do it, Alex,” Bobby told her softly. “This goes beyond us, now. We can help... and... it's something that I have to do. Do you understand that, Alex? It's something I have to do. If I'm ever going to rid myself of this particular demon...”

She reached out and took hold of his shoulders to silence him, and then cupped his cheek gently.

“I understand, Bobby. I'm just scared. I don't want to lose you...” Her gaze flickered to Mike. “Either of you.”

“Hey, it'll be fine,” Mike said with a wry smile. “We'll be fine.”

“Sure, Mike,” Carolyn retorted. “Problem is, trouble seems to follow you two around like a bad smell. And despite best intentions, there's an awful lot that could go wrong with this.”

“It'll be fine,” Bobby said, echoing Mike's words. “We do this tonight, we talk to Richie, and tomorrow we get the hell out of Dodge. Okay?”

Alex stared at him piercingly for a long moment before turning and heading for the door.

“Where are you going?” Bobby asked, baffled. “We were told not to leave...”

“I'll be back in a minute,” she answered, and darted out the door.

“Lieutenant Caine!”

Horatio turned around in the lobby to see Alex Eames striding across the floor towards him, and was bemused to find himself fighting an urge to turn tail and bolt. He stood his ground, though, and waited for her to catch up.

“Thankyou for waiting,” she said wryly, as though she hadn't expected him to. Horatio nodded calmly.

“What can I do for you, Detective?”

Alex bit back the urge to answer that with a custom-made snark, and instead said what she wanted... what she needed to say.

“I'm not going to apologise for my attitude back there, Lieutenant. I came too close to losing Bobby not so long ago to be in any way comfortable with this, and I guarantee that our captain isn't going to be thrilled about it either, when I tell him.”

“I understand,” Horatio conceded, “but I promise you that I'll do everything in my power to keep both of them safe.”

“And I appreciate that,” Alex assured him. “I also know Mike and Bobby well enough to know that that sentiment might not be enough, but... I understand that it's going to have to be. I don't like it, though, and I promise you that if anything goes wrong and either of them is hurt, I'll be holding you personally responsible.”

Again, Horatio nodded. That was fair enough.

“You and me both, Detective Eames.”

“Just so long as we understand each other,” Alex murmured, momentarily placated, and Horatio smiled faintly. Not for the first time, and not for the last, it occurred to him that Bobby Goren and Mike Logan were damned lucky to have the likes of Alex Eames and Carolyn Barek as their partners.

“I think we do.”

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