Liz threw up her hands when she saw Irving. "Okay, I give up. Is this 'The Twilight Zone' or 'Candid Camera'? What the hell are _you_ doing here?"
Irving nodded as a greeting. "I need info on Jon. Where he might go if he was in trouble, who he trusts implicitly, who would be willing to take a fall for him."
"Then he is alive?" She continued when Irving hesitated. "It's not news to me; I've been telling everyone that all along. But you've _lost_ him? What about Neal? And how do you fit into this? Are you an agent too?"
"No, I'm not an agent. I just get guys in dark suits hitting me up for information, and I try to get answers for them. All this goes way back, long before I ever even thought about being involved with Journey."
"_What_ goes back?" Liz asked.
Irving shook his head. "It's best if you don't know."
"The hell you say!" Liz's shout startled Madison, who whimpered. Once Liz settled the child, she spoke in a calmer voice, but with no less intensity. "Either someone starts giving me some answers," she looked from Irving to Not-Wheeler and back again. "Or I go find them myself."
The other two turned to each other for a moment. Irving sighed. "Okay, but you have to understand one thing. Everyone involved is on a 'need-to-know' basis. I can tell you what I know, but that's a far cry from the whole story. I wish I had known more before I agreed to manage Journey, instead of getting a visit in the middle of the night from some feds." he sighed again. "Steve Perry grew up in the Witness Protection Program. He decided he wanted to be a rock star, and for some reason, the government wants to keep him alive. So Journey was built around him. Well, Neal and Ross were already there, but they were chosen for Perry, and the staff changes since then have been made with him in mind. Nobody ended up in the band by accident. With Jon, they were looking as much at his protectiveness, his overdeveloped sense of responsibility, his noble attitude, things like that, as much as his musical abilities. No to ruin his ego or anything, but those are the facts. Journey was intended as a lot more than a rock band."
Liz stared for a long moment. "You're not telling me everything, are you?" It was more of a statement than a question.
"No, I'm not." Irving smiled blandly, but did not offer any more information.
"Accident," Liz said suddenly. "The guy from Alien Project..."
"I don't know, and I have enough sense not to try to find out," Irving interrupted.
Liz looked at Not-Wheeler, who shrugged and shook her head. "He probably knows more than I do. My function in all this was just to keep you and the kids out of danger. I had an idea that something was probably going to go down, but I didn't know when or where, or who ordered it."
"What about Dina and Sarah? Where are they?" Liz demanded.
The female agent shrugged again. "They sneaked out of the safehouse in the middle of the night. As far as anyone knows, Dina didn't know anything, so they have no idea why she did it."
Liz sighed wearily and pinched the bridge of her nose to ward off the oncoming headache. "Did Neal really walk in on a mob hit, or was that all a setup, too?"
"As far as I know, it really happened. But then again, I'm not sure even the government guys know which side they're on sometimes." It was Irving's turn to shrug.
Liz asked the final question. "Did Mugs really shoot at Steve?"
"How did you know which brother it was?" Not-Wheeler asked.
Liz rolled her eyes and looked to Irving for an answer.
"Shot at him? Hell, he hit him, but Perry was wearing a bullet proof vest. I don't know why he did it. But apparently he and Perry have now disappeared. The feds thought that Perry had Jon and Neal, but apparently he doesn't. That's the extent of what I know, which is why I'm here. I don't suppose you'll believe my cover story that I'm supposed to be asking these questions because the government is concerned about the safety of your family and friends?"
"For the record," Liz answered. "Jon's too damn noble to get most people involved in this. He would be concerned about their safety. He would possibly go to Neal or Mugs. If he knew Steve was already involved, he would go to Steve. He _might_ call Ross. But I'm sure the agents, whoever they are, have already tracked those possibilities, or you wouldn't be here." Irving nodded. "Well, I'm not going to stand around here twiddling my thumbs while Jon and Neal may be in trouble. I'm going back to try to help them. Are you two coming to help me or not?"
* * *
Steve stared at the rolling black smoke, his mind working a thousand miles an hour. _Did Aug blow his cover? Did someone pick up our cellular signals? Did he do that himself, suicide?_ His thought were interrupted when a U-Haul truck pulled into his line of view.
"It's called remote detonation, Einstein," Aug called, leaning out of the driver's window. "Triggered by the ringing cell phone. We're disappearing. I'll be in touch."
He was driving away by the time Steve was able to react. He blew the horn. "Come back here, you son of a bitch!"
Mugs leaned forward, tracking the path of the U-Haul around Steve. "You gonna tell me, or do I have to rough ya up some more?"
"You been watchin' too much professional wrestling?" Steve asked. "That was the guy who had Jon and Neal."
"Then why didn't you follow him?" Mugs demanded. "They're probably in the back of that truck!"
Steve shook his head, even as he turned the ignition switch. "Nah, not set up for human passengers, and way too obvious."
"How many Mexicans get into the US that way everyday?" Mugs argued.
He didn't have to. Steve was already speeding after the U-Haul.
* * *
Jon came to as the truck bounced to a halt. As he considered the feasibility of hunting Neal and Dina in the pitch darkness, the rolling door swung upward. A silhouette partially blocked the blinding sunlight.
"Wake up, sleepyheads, we're here!" Aug chirped cheerfully.
One hand shielding his eyes, Jon sat up and looked around the inside of the truck. Neal was starting to stir, but Dina was still unconscious from the drug they had been given.
"Don't try to move too quickly," Aug cautioned. "This stuff wears off quickly, and doesn't leave you feeling as ugh as most of them do, but still, you've been out. Take it easy for a few minutes, and see how you feel. I might need one of you to help me carry Dina."
"Where are we?" Jon managed, realizing his throat was so dry he could hardly speak.
As if reading his mind, Aug handed him a bottle of water. "Sip it slowly." He turned and looked in the direction Jon was facing. "There used to be a safehouse here, but it burned down a year or so ago. The barn's still here. It ain't much, but it beats sleeping in the woods."
"Remind me to tell you a story about that," Jon said as Neal sat up.
* * *
Steve watched through the binoculars as Jon and Neal, supporting Dina between them, followed Aug into the barn. He was perched on a ridge, almost out of sight of the burned ruins. As soon as he saw the direction Aug had gone, he knew where the agent was headed. He and Corey had met at that safehouse a few times. _The last time, she lit all those candles..._ He shook his head, snapping himself out of it.
Mugs punched his shoulder. "You gonna hog those things all day?"
"Yes. They're mine." Steve ground out through grated teeth. The blow had been playful, but he was still sore from the shots to the ribs earlier. He had paused only long enough to wrap an elastic bandage around his chest and swallow a handful of Advil.
A twig snapped behind them. Mugs whirled, reaching for his gun, before Steve could even roll over. Raff held up his hands with a smirk.
"Getting really careless in your old age, Matt." He displayed a small object. "Slipped a tracker on your car at the funeral, and you never noticed."
Steve snorted. "Did you want something, or are you just here to be a pain in the ass?"
Raff tilted his head to one side, looking around a tree to the clearing below. Steve turned back just in time to see Aug disappear back into the barn with an armload of supplies.
"I wondered how long before he'd be involved in this," Raff gestured toward the barn below. "Did he ever get around to telling you who he really is?"
Steve narrowed his eyes. "Steve Augeri. US Marshall and wannabe rock star." Suddenly, he didn't sound so convinced anymore.
"Yeah, and that's not all," Raff taunted. "If it makes you feel any better, I don't think Anderson knows who he is, either, why he was so anxious to meet you."
"Are you just gonna stand there bullshitting, or are you gonna spit it out?" Mugs asked.
Raff couldn't resist one final jab. "Do you think it's a coincidence that he sounds so much like you? He's your half brother."
Steve stared at Raff for a long, mock-serious moment, then glanced at Mugs, who had his eyebrows halfway up his forehead. Then he looked back at Raff and burst into laughter.
"You followed me all the way out here, to pull that on me?" Steve said when he could catch his breath. "Wait, wait--lemme guess. The next line is, 'Luke....I'm your father'."
"Search your feelings," Mugs said.
Steve went on laughing, gaining his feet by degrees.
"Fine," Raff said. "But you'll--"
That fast, Steve drew on Raff and shot him in one leg. The agent went down with a shout, clutching his leg, huddled on the ground.
Mugs half-turned to gape at Steve, finally surprised by something.
"You might wanna get his piece," Steve said with a shrug. "I've been shot enough times for one day. Unless you're not through."
Mugs complied and knelt by Raff, who had his eyes shut tightly against the pain. There'd be a diatribe of some sort when he got some breath back, but they were spared for the moment. Steve took his shirt off with a grimace and got himself out of the elastic bandage around his ribs. He tossed it to Mugs and said, "It's just a thigh wound. Best place to get shot. Slap a tourniquet on 'im."
"And then what?" Mugs said.
"And then you take him to the nearest hospital and drop him off, and he's out of our hair for a bit."
"Bullshit," Mugs said heatedly. "Not until I see Jon."
"Settle down, biscuit," Steve said. "I'm not taking Raff in and leavin' you here alone. And you're not gonna waltz down there by yourself anyway. Aug doesn't know who the hell you are, and he's likely to plug you before asking questions, especially after hearing a shot up here. Besides," he said, taking the edge off his tone, "you know Jon's alive. I just watched Aug take them in there."
Mugs was shaking his head and trying to wrap the bandage around the agent's leg. Raff was cursing.
"Go ahead and come back, when you're done," Steve said. "Try not to let anyone follow you."
Mugs looked like he was going to argue more, but when Steve leaned over to take one of Raff's arms, Mugs grabbed the other and helped Steve get the agent moving back toward Steve's car.
"I'm gonna...pay you back for this one, Matt," Raff huffed.
"You call me that again," Steve said, "and I'm gonna be punching more holes in you, a bit higher. This is the last time I'll warn you to leave me alone."
"You're not gonna last long in prison," Raff said through his teeth.
Steve laughed. "Or out of it, either. Get in the car."
* * *
Aug paused at the sound of the shot, one foot out the door. He'd been on his way back to get supplies out of the truck, and stood instead with his gun out, watching the woods above the barn. He didn't hear any followup; no rustling or anything else to give a position away. But that didn't mean it was clear.
He stepped back into the barn, where Neal, Dina and Jon stood in the center of the floor and held each other wordlessly, just glad to be together and alive. Jon raised his head and said, "We heard it."
Aug nodded. "I have a feeling I know who it might be, but I'm not sure enough to bet on it. We gotta hope we left your mob friends behind."
"You think we got followed?" Neal said.
"I know it. Perry's out there, somewhere."
Jon disengaged himself, frowning. "I thought he was..."
"I saw Mugs shoot him, point blank," Neal said.
Aug shrugged. "He was plenty alive when I talked to him just before we left the storage unit. Mug's real name is Tommy, isn't it?"
"Well, he was bitching at someone named Tom to change his watch, so I'd say they're both okay. I saw 'em on our way up here."
Neal looked at Jon. "Why the hell is Mugs involved?"
Jon sat down wearily on the table that had been built into one wall, probably for a tool bench, and sighed. He was still trying to fight off the drug they'd been given, and it clouded his head. "He's Mugs," he said finally. "If he thought something was weird, he'd do whatever he could to stir it up. He's always been that way. I guess it worked this time, though. Problem is, seems like everyone knew we were still alive. I mean, how'd they know we'd be at our own funeral? What the hell do they _want_?" he shrugged. "Right now it'd be good to know there isn't someone else getting in line to kill us, out there in the woods. You think it's Steve?"
Aug shrugged. "If you guys were a little more with it, I might chance stepping up there and having a look. But there's no way I'm leaving you guys alone out here. Could be a decoy." He paused. "Or maybe Mugs shot Perry again. Lot of that going around, lately." He hovered near the door as he said it, keeping an eye out, watching for any movement. There was only one way in or out of the old place--the main livestock entrance had been boarded up long ago.
"You gonna get around to explaining how you were conveniently with the mob at the right time?" Neal said.
"I've been working undercover on the organized crime unit for the last year," Aug said. "Spent a lot of time getting contacts, building up their trust. Gianetti's had it coming for years. I was just waiting to have enough solid evidence to turn the place over. I was playing double agent--you know, good boy gets screwed by the system and goes bad. The musician angle didn't hurt, 'cause you know we're all fuck-ups underneath..." he glanced at Dina. "Pardon me."
"I've heard the word 'fuck' before," she said evenly. "But thanks anyway."
Aug laughed, stepping away from the door. "Yeah, well, that's the short version. That's why all the theatrics, and pyrotechnics. They were gonna blow us all up rather than risk you guys getting away again. I knew my phone was rigged. I'm not sure if my cover was already blown or not. But I guess I'm out, now." he paused. "I was, uh...planning a career change, anyway."
"Then...how'd you know we were..." Dina began.
"Hmm." Aug said. "Well...that's not so easy to explain. I didn't even know you guys were in trouble, at first. Not until Steve told me. I was tryin' to get ahold of him again, through the program."
"What for?" Jon said.
"Yeah, what for, Aug?"
They all whipped around in response to the voice from the doorway, and Aug startled into a shooting stance too late. Steve had his hands out away from his body in the universal 'don't shoot me' gesture, amusement plain on his face.
"Aw, does a wittle agent havea twouble payin' atten-tion?" Steve said, then laughed.
"Sonofabitch," Aug said, tucking his gun away. "I guess you're not gettin' as old as I thought, huh?"
"Yeah," Steve said, waving past him to Jon, Neal and Dina. "You kids out slumming?"
"Where's Mugs?" Jon said.
"Taking a nosy federal agent to the hospital," Steve said.
"Jesus, the kid's on a roll," Neal said.
Steve laughed. "Nah, that was me, this time. He does have some serious balls, though. Hey, what's with the exploding phones, wiseass?"
"Didn't pay my bill," Aug said. "US West is a motherfucker when you don't pay on time."
"Uh huh," Steve said, leaning on the doorframe and folding his arms as if it didn't hurt like hell. "Were they on to you, or was it just time to make sure they cleaned house on these guys?" He gestured loosely at Jon, Neal and Dina.
"I think they just wanted to be sure these guys bought it," Aug said. "I volunteered to help drag them out there, after you told me what was going on."
Steve nodded, still smiling, and Neal and Jon purposely stayed where they were. The singer was pissed, and Aug hadn't picked up on it yet. "You didn't answer my question," he said. "Funny how you looked me up awhile back, isn't it? Funnier yet that you'd been trying to keep tabs on me for months before."
Aug nodded, glancing back at the others in the room, silently asking Steve if he wanted to have that conversation in front of them.
"Oh, but they're _family_ anyway," Steve said.
"Well, you heard somethin', or you wouldn't be pulling this," Aug said. "Was that Raff, up there?"
Steve nodded. "Came all the way out here to break the news to me. Who the hell are you?"
Jon turned back around on the tool bench to stare at Aug's back and trade glances with Neal.
"Everything I said I was," Aug said.
"I said who, not _what_," Steve said, straightening from the door frame and stepping inside. "I already know what, after all the checking I did on you. Go on, say it. Try and explain yourself."
Aug stared at him for a moment, then sighed and sat down on the floor, forearms braced on his knees. "What'd the old guy tell you?"
"Come on, Aug," Steve said. "It had to be Dad, because Mom was pretty much with me for the rest of the trip. He never told me he remarried."
"He didn't," Aug said. "I just kind of...happened."
Steve nodded, oblivious to the confusion of the others. "So what's your real name?"
Aug grinned. "Steve _is_ my real name."
"Pretty goddamn unimaginative, two kids and one name," Steve said. "Who'd he think he was, George Foreman?"
"Well," Aug said, "technically, you're not..."
"Technically, the guy went off and had a family he didn't have to worry about protecting," Steve said, cutting him off. "When did you find out?"
"Not until he died," Aug said, sobering visibly. "Mom knew, she always knew, I guess. If you remember right, I showed up for the first time a couple of months after he died. Took me awhile to convince Corey to even admit you were possible to contact. You're not in the system, and like most celebrities, you're impossible to find. She wouldn't tell me much, and I wouldn't tell her anything, so I ended up staking you out."
"Okay," Dina broke in. "You guys met how?"
Aug and Steve both glanced at her, then back at each other.
"That's a whole 'nother thing," Steve said. "No time for it, here. Suffice to say, we've been tight ever since. Kind of like....brothers."
Neal groaned aloud. "Aw, Christ."
"I was gonna pull you aside," Aug said, "and tell you anyway. And see how you took it."
"Yeah, well, assuming I really believe it," Steve said, "isn't it great that half the goddamn government knows?"
"Yeah, well, considering the background check they did when they hired me, they put the pieces together and found out before I did," Aug said.
"And The Family?" Steve said.
Aug shrugged. "I'm still here. Minus one cell phone."
Steve sighed. "What were you trying to find me for? Before these yahoos got sucked into all this," he said, gesturing at Jon and Neal.
Aug tilted his head and rolled his eyes, refusing to answer.
"Okay," Steve said, walking completely into the barn and closer to Neal and Jon. "Fine. Jon, Neal, you guys still wanna do Journey if you survive all this, right?"
Neal and Jon stared at him as if he'd gone insane. Jon said, "The band is kind of secondary right now, Steve."
Neal shrugged. "Be nice to go back to _something_ normal," he said. "What the hell are you getting at?"
"You know damn well I'm not coming back," Steve said. "And especially not after all this." He glanced pointedly at Jon, who looked away. "So maybe you'd better start thinking about a replacement. You probably were already." He gestured at Aug with a flourish. "Here he is. The singing bodyguard."
* * *
Liz had asked Wheeler what her real name was several times, and finally gave up. It wasn't that important anyway. By the time their flight landed at LAX, she didn't care. She just wanted the damn thing over with. A few hours after that, nearly to Liz's parents' house, Wheeler had found out about Raff and his admission to the hospital. He had a backup coming into the field. Several, actually. Which usually meant they were bringing everyone involved in, whatever it took. Beyond that, no one was talking, and Wheeler started to look nervous for once.
"It might not mean anything," she said. "But it usually means a case is irretrievable, and they're gonna shut it down."
"'Shut it down'," Liz echoed. "I hope that isn't what I think it is."
"Well," Wheeler said, "it's clear enough to me that I decided not to tell them we were headed back this way."
* * *
They dropped the kids off with their grandparents and took a bare minimum of time to do some catching up. Liz made a couple of phone calls and discovered that Sarah was with Dina's parents, which told her a bit. Dina was probably trying to search out the guys. But alone. Hopefully, they'd be able to find her. There was no telling if Jon and Neal were still in the area, or even still alive. No one was talking on Wheeler's end--or so Liz was told--and no one was allowed to see Raff. There wasn't much to do but start checking the safehouses one at a time, themselves, and see if they'd shown up there. If Steve had taken them 'underground', as Wheeler put it, there was no telling where they'd gone.
Then they were back on the road.
* * *
At first, and for a long several minutes, all Mugs could do was curse. Quietly.
He hadn't taken that long dragging Raff to the nearest hospital. Christ, he hadn't even gone inside, so that he wouldn't have to answer questions. He'd had to backtrack a couple of times to make sure he wasn't being followed, and he lost the rural road the safehouse was on twice. Two hours, tops. But still, by the time he'd gotten back to where the barn had been, it had been enough time to turn the world upside down, again.
He'd parked down the road and walked in through the woods, making it to the ridge before he realized what was going on. How the hell he walked in that far without hearing anything, or being seen, confused the hell out of him. The place was a mess. Part of the barn had collapsed, there were guys in a mix of suits and riot gear all over the surrounding woods, and no one he recognized was in sight. He nearly panicked himself back out of there, but had to lay low in the bushes when two guys came too close to him through the trees.
One was talking into a military-issue radio as they walked.
"....had Perry dead to rights," he was saying. "It would've taken care of him, and we'd have Schon and Cain in custody. But that agent we've had in with The Family--" he paused, leaning away from the radio to address the man who walked with him.
"Augeri," the other man supplied.
"Augeri. Jumped in front of Perry and took a round from the sniper we had in the trees. And we still lost all of them in the woods. But I don't think they'll get far, even if they dump Augeri."
* * *