The Alternate Ending of The Great Escape - part 1
(c)2000-2001 KSH & BS

Jon stared down into the worst cup of coffee he had ever had in his life, trying to ignore Neal, who was shooting rubber bands across the room.

"How much longer do we have to wait?" Stacy asked for the umpteenth time. "We've turned the evidence over to them, and told them everything we know." She looked into the two way mirror on the wall of the interrogation room. "There's no one in there," she announced.

Neal shot her with a rubber band. "I say we just leave. What are they going to do about it, arrest us? Then we just won't testify."

Jon sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Look, you two..." he began.

"You'd better quit that," Stacy interrupted. "Before you don't have any hair left to mess with."

Neal swallowed a chuckle. Jon glared at him, but before he could say anything, the door opened.

A short, wide man who looked uncannily like Cheech Marin walked in, flashing a badge. "Good afternoon, folks, I'm Deputy US Marshall Rafael Rafferty. You can call me Raff."

"Is that short for your first name or your last name?" Stacy inquired sweetly.

He looked at her like he had never heard a joke before in his life.

"So, what are you doing here? We already gave our statements to the local cops. Now we're ready to go home." Neal leaned his chair back on two legs.

Jon said a silent prayer of thanks that Neal had sense enough not to shoot rubber bands at federal agents. Suddenly he had a sinking feeling that the marshall was not here to hear their version of the story again.

Raff gestured for Stacy to sit down. He himself sat down at the end of the table, slapping a manila folder down in front of him. "Before we get started, would any of you like anything else to drink, or maybe something from the snack machine? Anybody need a potty break?" When each of them declined, he continued. "I think you all realize that you've helped to link some very dangerous people to some very serious crimes. From your statements, I understand that there have already been attempts on your lives. I'm afraid that the Justice Department doesn't believe they'll stop with Tim and the man he was working for in custody."

Neal and Jon looked at each other. "Oh, shit." Neal mouthed silently. Jon nodded slightly.

"Your testimony is valuable to this case," Raff continued. "But the men you've implicated are not going to be happy about the situation. Even if they are not convicted, they're still going to want revenge. I'm here to begin the process of moving you and your families into the Witness Protection Program."

The three witnesses looked at one another.

"Define 'families'," Stacy said.

"Well, in your case, Miss Aaron, you alone would be moved. We don't believe that your parents or siblings would be at risk, but they will be watched for a while to make certain. With Mr. Schon and Mr. Cain, their wives and children will have to be moved as well. All of you will be given new identities, new histories, the works. You will not be able to have any personal contact with each other, or anyone else from your current lives again. We do have a process by which you can periodically send and receive messages from your friends and family, but you will not be able to see them or talk with them on the phone. It is the only way we can guarantee your safety."

Neal paled suddenly at the thought that occurred to him. "Raff, I was married before, and I have a son and ..."

"Yes, Mr. Schon, we're aware of that, and they're going to be placed into the program as well. For obvious reasons, your ex-wife is not going to be placed near you, but you will be able to have visitation periodically."

No one spoke for several minutes.

Finally, Jon looked at Stacy. "I'm sorry that I dragged you into this by coming to the cabin."

"I was already in it, remember? Tim tried to kill me first. That was why I was at the cabin." She looked down at her hands. "Besides, this might not be a really bad thing. I'm getting another chance, to start over. Yeah, I've got my parents and my brothers and sisters, but they all have their own lives." She looked at Raff. "So, who am I going to be?"

Raff actually smiled. "US Marshall Dylan Mason is waiting outside. He's going to be your contact with the agency. He has your new name and location. There is a little flexibility with you as far as your new career and so forth, since you are going alone. He can discuss everything with you privately. For security reasons, we can't give any details in front of Mr. Cain and Mr. Schon."

Stacy and Neal looked at each other and shouted in unison "Marshall Dylan! Marshall Dylan!"

Raff looked at them like they had lost their minds. Jon just shook his head.

Stacy shrugged. "Guess you've never watched 'Gunsmoke'."

Raff stood, nodding like he still wasn't sure what they were talking about. "I'll go ahead and turn you over to Marshall Mason, if you're ready." He strode to the door and motioned for someone to come in.

Stacy stood and turned to Jon and Neal. "Well, I guess this is good bye, guys." She walked over and hugged Jon. "Be good." She then hugged Neal.

"I'll find you." Neal whispered.

Stacy smiled and nodded. "Probably."

She walked out the door with a man who was much younger, taller, blonder, and more handsome than his counterpart. "Can I call you 'Marshall Dylan'?" she was asking as the door closed.

"Now, gentlemen," Raff sat back down. "You are going to be relocated with your families. You will never see each other or your band mates again."

"No deal," Neal said calmly.

"Excuse me?" Raff's eyebrows shot to the top of his head.

"You heard me. Jon and I are a team. You find some way to move us together, or we're going to come down with a terrible case of amnesia between now and the trial."

The marshall took a deep breath, and tried to reason with Neal in a voice most adults reserved for small recalcitrant children. "Mr. Schon, you don't understand the seriousness of this situation. The men who will be after you two and your families are professionals. A lot of care will have to be taken to keep them from finding you when we move you individually. Especially in this situation, where we have a divided family to relocate. Relocating the both of you anywhere in the same geographic area is completely out of the question."

Jon and Neal looked at each other. For a long moment, Neal was afraid Jon was going to agree with the marshall.

"Think about everything you're asking us to give up," Jon pointed out. "We're leaving our extended families, our band, our friends, our fans, everything we've spent our whole lives building. We're both in our forties. If you're going to ask us to start over at this stage of the game, I think the least you can do is to let us do it together."

Raff pounded his fist on the table. "What the hell is wrong with you two? You can write million-selling songs, but you can't grasp the danger you're in? We're trying to keep you alive, dammit!"

"It seems to me that we've done a pretty fair job of keeping ourselves alive without your help so far." Jon replied smugly, crossing his arms. "And besides, wouldn't moving the two of us together be the last thing whoever might be looking for us would expect?"

"Those are our terms. Take it or leave it." Neal crossed his arms as well.

Raff muttered a string of curses under his breath, staring at the two musicians the whole time. Finally, he stood and walked to the door. "I'll have to talk to my superiors." He slammed the door behind him.

Neal grinned at Jon.

"Don't relax yet," Jon warned. "They can still say no."

"But we got them to consider it. I really didn't think we'd get that far."

"They really don't need to worry about an identity for you anyway," Jon said lightly. "Because Liz is going to kill you, if your family or the band doesn't beat her to it."

"Why? I was just the innocent bystander." Neal rocked back and forth on the back chair legs.

"Yeah, but what did everyone tell you about an accountant named Leroy?"

Nearly half an hour later, Raff returned. It was obvious before he even spoke that he wasn't happy. "All right, my boss has approved of moving the two of you to the same town. You're going to be brothers." He shook his head at the two of them. "I suggest that you make up a story about one of you being adopted."

Neal grinned at Jon and held his hand up for a high five.

"Not so fast," Raff interrupted their celebration. "There are a few conditions. First of all, you are both completely out of the music business. As far as anyone knows, neither one of you even play an instrument."

Jon and Neal stared at each other in horror. The Whale couldn't go?

"Secondly, at least one of you will have to undergo a change in family structure. Namely, adding or deleting kids."

Neal let the legs of his chair make contact with the floor again loudly and stood. "Delete," he said, and the tone of voice startled Jon more than the pronouncement had.

Raff stared at them evenly. "Don't get all riled up. No one's telling you to give your kids up for adoption. But how do you want your kids growing up? You think your ex wife really wants to pull up all her roots and go running off with _you_, just so you can see your son?"

"You sonofa--"

"How about the 'adding' part?" Jon broke in, shooting Neal a look.

"How about turning Japanese?" Neal said. "I think I am, I really think so. Any asshole who can use a PC can find out what all our kids look like, so it's not like you can leave any of 'em where they are. I'm not riskin' any kids."

Raff shook his head. "That's the last thing we're after. But these are your options. You want me to shine it up nice, or drop the people's elbow on you?"

Jon sighed into his coffee. "You're both jabronis, okay? Do we get to think this over before we get thrown out of Dodge, or is this all a done deal?"

Raff shook his head again. "There's already a watch on your houses. The basic idea is to have you and your families out by nightfall."

"Do we even get to pack?" Neal said.

"No. You're dropping everything, and dropping off the face of the earth. Your families will be responsible for handling your...estates. If there's anything especially precious to you--keepsakes you really feel you can't live without--they'll be channeled along later. You have today to prepare your families and say goodbye to your friends. If you're not going to have the life anymore, you can't be hauling around the stuff that made you....you."

Neal cursed under his breath. "None of the rest of this makes any goddamn sense. Why should this?" He paused. "Don't you guys have a special force for shit like this? Somebody who can bust a cap in these guys, make 'em leave us alone?"

"'Bust a cap'?" Raff said. "What the hell have you been reading? No, we don't operate that way."

Neal sat back down and tilted his chair again. "Where the hell is the A Team when you need 'em?"

Jon ignored it, gripping the styrofoam cup in front of him with both hands, feeling colder all the time. "How do we know we're safe, even after all this?" he said.

Raff stared at him for a moment, glancing at Neal. "It's a relatively fine tuned system," he said softly, "but it's still a system. There's no....guarantee. But you'll be as safe as we can make you, if you color within the lines we give you."

"No guarantee," Neal said. "Go through all this shit, and still look over our shoulders every day. Fuckin' great."

"Count your blessings, Mr. Schon," Raff said. "I never said you had to get a sex change."

Jon looked at Neal with slightly widened eyes, entertaining the mental image that produced. Neal glanced over at him and finally grinned. "Shaddup."

Jon cracked a smile. "When we get into something, we don't do small, do we," he said. He looked at Raff again and fell serious. "We gotta break this to some people, get some things in order. Do we already have new ID's?"

"You and your wives do. The children are tentative, until you've made up your minds about which ones go where," Raff said.

"Jesus Christ," Neal said.

"No," Raff said, pushing the manila folder toward him. "You're not. You're Darren Palmieri."

Neal looked at the contents of the folder. "Do I look like a Darren to you? Shit. I do _what_? Work for a Saturn dealership? I sell _cars_? In Buffalo, New York."

Jon leaned over his shoulder. "Could be worse," he said. "Could be waitin' tables, or something."

Neal shot him an incredulous look. "Keep laughing, 'Ryan'." He slid the folder closer to Jon, who examined it's contents critically.

"'Ryan Emerson....regional distribution manager for Victoria's Secret.' Do you guys make this stuff up yourselves?" Jon said.

"You'll be moved to a transitionary safehouse tonight," Raff said. "Get used to the changes. Fast. It's usually the accidental 'slipups' that cause us to lose our people."

"Great," Neal said with a sigh. "Now let us go home, for the last time."

"For the record," Jon said, "...you're the adopted one."

* * *

Ross arrived at Jon's house early that afternoon, and after a brief synopsis had vanished out to the studio with Neal. Jon crossed his fingers mentally and hoped Neal would choose prudence this once, although he knew prudence tended to go by the wayside when Ross was around.

Liz kept staring at Jonathan.

And staring.

"I have so much I'd like to say," she said. "But we don't have time." Her voice was tight with the attempt to hold back a mixture of tears and rage. She wasn't angry with Jonathan; couldn't be. But the absurdity of the situation was too much to take all at once. "Our parents, our siblings. Our _lives_. Gone, because these people sucked you guys in and then decided they need to cover their tracks."

"I know," Jon whispered. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You can't even leave me, and be safe."

"_Goddammit!_" she shouted, then paused, visibly trying to calm herself. Jon took a step away, looking startled and hurt. She leveled a finger at him. "I would _never_ leave you. Even if you were responsible for this, which you aren't. Don't you ever say that to me again."

He shook his head. "I'm sorry...."

"And don't you apologize to me! This is me, remember? We're in it together. You have to be as pissed as I am. As much as I love Neal and Dina, there's still no way we're trading kids. Seeing them every day isn't the same as raising them. I know we treat each other's kids like our own. But God!"

Jon was silent for a long moment. "Do you wanna take the kids to see your parents?" he said. "We have....the rest of the day, I guess. I'm gonna....make some calls." He shrugged. "Sort of close up shop, I guess."

Liz cleared the space between them then, hugging Jon fiercely.

There just wasn't anything else to say.

* * *

Neal sat in front of the main mixer board and stared at it, thinking what it would be like to really give music up.

Like he planned to do that.

"So," he said to Ross, "what do you think?"

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