Almost two hundred and fifty pounds of unconscious mass pinned JD to the beach. With his body already weakened from the last three days, he could barely lift his arms to push on Sorenson's chest in a futile effort to get out from underneath the large man. Pausing to catch his breath, he felt a warm sticky fluid pore down his side and onto the sand.
Groaning, he let his head fall back to the earth when he couldn't get the man to budge. Vin, or the man holding Sorenson's rifle, would have to help get the hulking man off of him, because he had no strength left to do so.
"Vin...Vin?" JD tried to call out, the weight sprawled over him making it hard to get air into his lungs.
Not getting a response, JD struggled to get his head turned so he could see the lake. "Vin, where are you? I can't breathe under here...Vin?" JD managed to rasp out.
JD grabbed Sorenson's jacket and pulled as hard as he could on the material, managing to roll the big man far enough off that he could now see the lake. Dread sent shock waves through to his soul.
"VIN!" JD hollered, then frantically started to wriggle and thrash to get out from under Sorenson.
Vin lay face down in the lake, motionless, his body bobbing up and down on the lake chop.
"Mister...mister!" A horrified JD yelled out to the man who had shot Sorenson, but he didn't respond. He just stood frozen to the spot, with his eyes fused open in shock, as he stared at the puddle of blood spreading in the sand.
"Please...pull Vin from the lake...please...he's drowning...you have to help him!" JD yelled again, his young voice full of panic. JD doubted the man could even hear him yelling, as he stood motionless in a state of shock. "Please help us...get him out of the water...please!" JD kept begging.
Again, JD shoved on Sorenson's chest as hard as he could. Pushing, and shoving, and kicking, he inched his way out. He ignored the searing sand grating into the scrapes that covered his back from the tree bark, and his injured thumb. He stuck his swollen foot into the ground for traction and repeatedly pushed against it as hard as he could, crying out in pain until he finally was able to pull himself free.
JD regained his unsteady feet, stumbled a few yards, then fell onto his hands and knees. Muttering an oath, he stood up again and hobbled into the lake. Tripping over the mounds of cattails and lily pads that saturated the shore, he splashed through the water as fast as he could to get to his submerged friend. Grasping Vin around his shoulders, JD flipped him onto his back.
Drawing the tentacles of sandy hair off of his face, JD could see deep blue bruises already forming around the unconscious man's neck, and his complexion had taken on a waxy gray hue.
JD tried to grab Vin under his shoulders and drag him out of the water, but his wet hands kept slipping as Vin sank beneath the surface. Dropping to his backside in the waist high water, he slid his feet under Vin, wrapped his arms around his chest and tried to haul Vin up onto the shore. Yelling in frustration at his waning strength, he struggled with Vin's weight and made little progress getting out of the water.
"Mister...I need help...please!" JD cried out again to deaf ears.
JD reached around and blew four puffs of air into Vin's mouth then, resumed his relentless quest to reach the shore. "Come on Vin...why do you keep doing this to me?" he cried out. "Come on...you son of a...you can't give up now. The guys are here...they've come for us, you saw them yourself. Breathe, damn it...breathe!"
JD's scream rang out across the lake, as a hand suddenly clamped itself around his collarbone.
"Whoa there son...let us give ya a hand here!" Buck's soothing voice whispered into his ear, and a hand gently grasped his swinging fist.
JD whipped his head around to stare into Buck's big blue eyes. A panting Chris was standing in the water right behind Buck and Nathan, and Josiah were hurrying across the beach towards them with their arms full of medical survival gear.
"Oh, Buck...?" JD whispered.
"Move out of the way, Buck!"
Chris unceremoniously pushed Buck out of the way, reached down to lift Vin out of a startled JDs arms, and hurried up the shore carrying their friend towards Nathan.
"Hurry Nathan, he isn't breathing!" Chris yelled as he laid Vin down onto the sand and started CPR. Nathan threw open his med bag and started administering to the unconscious agent with Josiah hovering close by to offer assistance.
Ezra and Judge Travis, bringing up the rear, cautiously approached Watts, whom the rest of the team had deemed a non-threat as they had run to their fallen teammates. Talking in a soft voice, Ezra reached over and removed the rifle from the man's grip. Watt's seemed to snap out of his daze as Ezra slipped the handcuffs over his wrists.
"My god...is he dead? He was going to stab Dunne...I couldn't let him...my son died...oh my god! What have I done...what have I done?" he repeated over and over as Ezra steered him to a nearby log to sit down on.
JD continued to stare at Buck as if he couldn't figure out where his big roommate had materialized from.
"Vin's hurt," he finally managed to gasp out.
"I know, kid. Nathan's helping him right now...he's going to be just fine." Buck prayed he was telling the kid the truth as he glanced over to where Nathan and Chris were frantically working on reviving Vin.
"Oh god, Buck! He was laying face down in the water, Buck...I couldn't get to him fast enough. I tried, I really tried, but I was too slow and I couldn't get him out of the water and now he isn't breathing and..." the rush of words flew out of JD, as he bowed his head down so Buck wouldn't see him drag his knuckles across his tearing eyes.
"You hush now, son! You did all you could do. Nathan's here, and he and Chris will set Vin right again in no time. You'll see I'm right. Now lets get you out of this water," Buck reached down to help pull JD to his feet, but his roommate shook his head and stayed where he was, never taking his eyes of three men on the beach.
"JD, this isn't doing you any good. You need to get out of this water!"
"What? No...oh, Buck, tell me Vin isn't going to die? Or what if he does die? What if he dies just cause I wasn't fast enough or strong enough to save him? What if...?"
"What if you stop asking, what if? Vin isn't dead, JD. He's going to be just fine, and it will be because you were here for him."
JD's finger's bit into Buck's palm as he instinctively grasped his closest friend's hand in a tight hold, and drew strength from the older man. Buck dropped a reassuring hand on the young man's shoulder as they both watched Nathan thump up and down on Vin's chest.
Nathan put the fact that it was Vin who was hurt in the back recesses of his mind, as he worked with a calm, clinical coolness. Pumping up and down hard on Vin's chest, he could feel ribs expand under his hands as he forced air in and water out of the unconscious man's lungs. Then with steady precision, he gave Chris the necessary breathing rhythm to use for mouth-to-mouth, as he injected an intramuscular drug into Vin.
At first only a small trickle of water appeared, then a gush came sputtering out of Vin's mouth and ran down his cheeks. Nathan flipped the young agent onto his side as he started to choke up water.
"Whoa, Vin...we got ya!" Chris gently held his friend down to the ground and spoke softly to him. Vin thrashed on the sand, as he fought to get air into his burning lungs.
"There now...didn't I tell you everything would be okay?" Buck broke out into a huge smile and ruffled the top of JD's head, as they watched Nathan and Chris exchange relieved looks.
JD just nodded, but from under his hand, Buck could feel JD's slight frame was racked with shivers. "Come on kid...no more arguing with me. Let's get you out of this cold water, now!" Buck stood and offered his hand to JD. "Can you stand?" he asked with concern filling his voice. Now that Vin appeared to be out of immediate danger, Buck examined his young friend closer. He didn't know how one small body could be so banged up. Anger boiled up inside of Buck again, as he realized the damage done to his two friends these last three days.
JD nodded his head and let Buck pull him to his feet, just like Buck knew he would. JD took two uncertain steps and then fell, almost dragging his roommate down into the water with him.
Buck struggled to get their legs untangled, then he got under JD and easily lifted him out of the water.
"Put me down Buck...geez. I've been walking by myself for years, I think I can manage a few more steps."
"Obstinate little cuss," Buck muttered, and carried the kid out of the lake anyway. "This time I do it my way."
Breathing wasn't supposed to hurt, was it? Vin lay with his eyes closed, his breath coming in hard, wet gasps, his stomach heaving, and his body pulsating with pain.
He felt totally disoriented as consciousness slowly returned to him. His body roared out in protest, and something rough rubbed against his wet, naked skin. Moaning, Vin felt what he was laying on, and recognized it as sand. Blinking the grit out of his eyes, he could vaguely make out two shadows hovering over him. Moving his vision past the shadows he could see the pale-blue sky above, dotted with large gray thunderclouds and the bright colors of autumn foliage. Slowly the shadows cleared from his eyes to form Nathan's calm demeanor and Chris's intense expression.
Nathan's gentle hands touching him here and there hurt some, but they were cool hands, strong and sure.
"Vin...you just relax now. You're going to be fine, you just breathed in a little too much water is all." Nathan laid a comforting hand on Vin's chest and made sure his weary friend didn't try to move.
"What the heck happened to me this time? Oh god, I hurt!" Vin rasped out through painful breaths, and rubbed an unsteady hand against his raw throat. Suddenly he tried to bolt up. "Where's JD? Did Sorenson hurt em?"
Nathan pushed Vin back to the ground. "Kid's okay, he'll come see you in a minute. For now, I want you to just take it easy. I gave you a shot for pain, it should start to kick in real soon. We'll fill you in later with the details. Right now, I want you to stay still and let us take care of you, and that means no more talking for a bit," Nathan said as he examined the dark bruises that circled Vin's neck.
"Nathan...your services are required over here at once. Sorenson is still alive!" Ezra called over from where he and the judge were kneeling in front of Sorenson, both with their hands covered in blood as they tried to get his bleeding stopped.
"You go, Nathan. Do whatever you have to do to save him! I want the S.O.B. alive, so I can throw the book at him. I want him in jail so long, his grandkids will be serving time for him!" Chris snarled as he looked over to where Sorenson lay spread out on the sand.
Nathan gave Chris an understanding pat on the shoulder as he walked past, "I'll do all that I can."
"Hey, Chris..." Vin rasped out as Nathan left them to check on the badly injured former cop.
Chris turned back to Vin, dropping onto the ground beside his friend, "Tanner, didn't you hear what Nathan said. You need to get some rest and don't say anything, least not for awhile."
"Is JD really okay?"
"Yeah, Buck's looking after him right now. He's pretty banged up, but he's still moving under his own steam, so I think it is safe to say he'll be fine."
"Good. Then I need to tell you something important," Vin tried to pull Chris's head down towards him. His swollen throat screamed in pain with every word he tried to utter.
"Whatever it is, it can wait until you're feeling better, Vin," Chris drew his head away to indicate the conversation was over.
"Vin...!" Chris said in his most threatening voice.
"No...have to tell you...important!" Vin gripped his throat with a hand as he rasped the words out.
"Damn you, Tanner! Okay, okay tell me, but keep it short and don't overdo it."
"Have to tell ya...don't you ever give me no more of your free holidays. My body's too old and I can't take it anymore!"
"You have yourself a deal," Chris laughed. "Now shut up and relax before I call Nathan back here."
A shadow crossed over Chris and a drip of water splashed against the warm skin of his forearm while he was talking to Vin in his quiet, soothing voice.
"Vin...are you okay?"
Chris looked up to see JD wavering above them, worry etched deep in the lines of his youthful face.
"I ain't sure yet," Vin rasped out, " but, you sure look like hell warmed-over kid."
"Oh...I'm okay..." JD said as he wavered more and his knees started to fold under him.
"Buck..." Chris yelled as he tried to get back on his feet and catch a slumping JD.
"I got him," Buck was right behind the kid, and caught him as he toppled over backwards and lowered him to the ground.
"You alright, JD?" Vin asked.
"Ya...just feeling a little dizzy."
"Remember down at the river I told you I didn't want us to be found in our boxers."
"You noticed what we're wearing."
JD burst out laughing as he looked at their soaked underwear, "Ah Vin...stop, it hurts when you make me laugh," JD closed his eyes and after a feeble protest let himself be pulled back against Buck for support. Buck pulled his coat off and draped it over his shivering roommate.
"I really feel lousy..." he said in a small, fading voice.
"I know, kid. You just let old Buck take care of ya, and in a few days you'll be right as rain," Buck said, then gently pushed back the hair from JD's forehead.
"Oh, Buck, Chris!"
"There are horses locked in the stables behind the lodge. You have to get them out!"
"Relax JD, the Forestry branch was notified about us coming. They will send someone up here to take care of all those details."
"Okay. Thanks guys." JD said, closing his eyes.
To tired to fight it any longer, Vin also closed his eyes and let his head fall back against Chris.
Buck and Chris raised their heads up and exchanged worried, but thankful looks. They had come a hair's breath away from losing two of the most important people in their lives.
Buck shook his head. "Damn fool kids...always getting up one more time than they were knocked down!"
Josiah came over with a couple of blankets and squatted down between the four men, casting a fond glance upon the two sleeping young men. Reaching a large hand out, he pushed the hair back off both their foreheads and examined the damage. All he could do was shake his head at the cuts, bruises and dark circles that marred their normally handsome faces.
A wistful smile just touched the edge of the preacher's mouth as he spread the coverings over them, "I told you these were two very resourceful young men. I knew they would find a way to hang on till we could get to them."
"Damn it, Josiah...this time we were almost too late. We came within a hair of losing them! I don't want to go through the last four days again for nothing," Buck laid his hand on JD's chest and was gratified to feel a strong steady heartbeat under his palm. He figured he had aged ten years after what he had seen from the other side of the lake and had been helpless to prevent.
Running for all he was worth, Buck had just cleared the trees on the opposite side of the lake, when he had seen Sorenson toss his small roommate on the beach and raise the knife over him. And no matter how badly he wanted to, or how hard he tried, he could not run fast enough to reach his friend in time. That image was going to be firmly planted in his mind for a very long time. The beach had been blocked from his line of sight when he heard the shotgun blast. He had no idea what he was going to find when he finally reached JD. He could not describe the relief he felt when he had immerged from the woods and ran across the beach, only to find his friends in the water. Until he realized how bad off Vin was.
Josiah draped an arm each over Buck and Chris, "Then your choice is to never allow yourself to get close to anyone else ever again. But I think it's to late for both of you where these two are concerned. They got to you both, hook, line, and sinker. And personally, I think you are all the better men for it."
Buck and Chris reluctantly exchange glances, as they acknowledge the truth in Josiah's statement.
With a happy grin, Josiah gave them each a hearty slap across their backs, "That's it, the sermon is over for today, let's get our two friends out of here and back home where they belong."
Judge Travis paced up and down the beach, keeping one eye on his injured agents and his other on Watts. The whole situation was a jumbled mess in his mind. He needed to give himself some distance to sort out the events of the past few days. He had come prepared to ring Watts neck if anything had happened to his men, but what had unfolded on the beach put his emotions out of perspective. Now he had to file the evidence away so he could get a clearer picture of what had actually transpired here; but he was having a hard time pushing his anger down from the surface every time he looked at the two battered bodies lying on the beach.
Ezra was surprised when he recognized grief in Watts eyes as the man watched JD lay against Buck. Ezra had printed out a picture of Watt's son back at the office and had instantly picked up on some similarities between their youngest member and Watt's dead son. To Ezra the similarity had ended with physical appearances. Still, not quite sure where it came from, Ezra felt a strange slap of sympathy for the older man after seeing his depth of pain.
Watts tore his view from JD and noticed Ezra watching him. "Hate and revenge are powerful emotions. I really don't know what I expected to feel from hurting your friends, I just want the pain from Tom's death to end, but I realized too late that this was not the way to do it."
From up the beach, the judge looked at him with unyielding eyes. "What if Agent Dunne had not reminded you of your son? What would you have done then?"
"I can't honestly give you an answer to that," Watts said as he met Travis's stare and refused to waver under it, "The lawyers had a plea bargain worked out. It just needed to be signed, then the judge handling the case got sick and you came in. All you had to do was sign the paper and for Larabee not to recommend the charges stick and my son would still be alive today."
"Maybe, maybe not. He had a list of juvenile charges a mile long and no convictions, because you kept paying his way out of the court system. Each time the crime he committed got worse. He was heading down the road to being a hardcore criminal, and he needed to be stopped and held accountable for his own actions. You couldn't keep buying his way out. But I will tell you I was sorry to hear about his death and your loss. I never wanted anything like that to happen to him, and Chris didn't either. He was just doing his job." The Judge said, coming to stand in front of Watts.
"Why did you shoot Sorenson?" Ezra asked.
"I came to the realization that this was not going to change the situation or what my wife and I were feeling. In fact I had just made it worse. Much, much worse and then when I saw Sorenson take his knife out of the sheath and he was standing over Dunne, well I suddenly got an overwhelming feeling for what my son's last seconds must have felt like. Sorenson had radioed the lodge that he was on their trail and heading in this direction, so I snuck out, picked up Sorenson's trail and followed him to here. I was not going to let him hurt your men any further. I hoped I could talk him out of it by offering more money for them to be returned alive, but I didn't get here soon enough. When I saw him take his knife out, I just picked up his rifle that was leaning against that tree, and squeezed the trigger."
"Well, I am glad you came to your senses when you did, before two innocent men died. Somehow you are going to have to dig deep and find the strength to deal with your son's death. I would have more compassion for you if you had come after me personally, instead of those two young men. They were innocent bystanders in this whole mess. Your son didn't deserve to die the way he did, but he was the only one responsible for ending up before me in a court of law. I have to think on this more, but you stopped Sorenson, so I will take that into consideration when I recommend charges." Judge Travis surprised him by the offer.
"I guess that is more than I deserve after everything I have done. I have had a life few people ever get to even imagine, a loving family and immensely successful career, but my son...my son was everything to me." Watts voice cracked. He lowered his head and his shoulders shook as he sobbed out his grief.
The ambulance doors slammed behind him and jolted JD out of his sleep. It had felt good to be asleep on something soft and warm; and away from the pain that gnawed irritably at him.
Disorientated, JD knuckled the sleep from his eyes as the gurney he lay on was being rushed down a long, narrow corridor. The florescent lights, attached to white panels overhead, blinded him with their intensity, and the acidic smell of antiseptic assaulted his senses.
Two men he did not recognize were pushing him quickly along. One of the attendants held an IV bag above JD's head, from which clear fluid was slowly dripping through a needle into one of JD's veins.
He hurt like he had never hurt in his life. From the depth of his confusion and agony, he connected with a familiar voice. Rolling his head on the pillow, Buck's concerned face came into view.
Seeing JD's open eyes on him, the tall agent pressed his hand past the ambulance attendant, and let it rest on the kid's bare shoulder, "I'm here, kid," he said with a crooked grin appearing on his face.
And finally, JD felt safe.
"Hey yourself, kid..."
JD rolled his head to the other side of the pillow and looked past Buck, "Where's Vin?"
"On the gurney right behind ya, partner,"
JD strained his head further around. He saw Chris, Josiah, and Nathan walking beside another gurney. Vin had fallen asleep before they had been loaded on the Huey and it didn't appear that he had woken yet.
"He okay, Buck?"
"Well, neither one of you are going to be running any marathons any time soon, but yeah, he's going to be okay." Buck just managed to tell JD, before the gurneys were pushed into two cubicles and he was forced to back away.
"Buck! Wait!" JD called out. He felt sick, weak and so very tired. "I just want to go home, go to bed and sleep for a week. I don't want to be here!"
"I know, JD, but you and Vin need to get checked over. As soon as they say you can leave, I'll break you out of here personally."
An older, gray haired nurse with a no nonsense look, made her way over to the cubicles and pointed towards the waiting room. "Okay boys...I'm in charge now, so all you overgrown oxen, move out of my way. I got work to do."
Buck, Chris, Nathan, and Josiah all involuntarily stepped back. Buck indicated for Chris to go ahead and talk with the nurse about them staying with Vin and JD. Chris took one look at the nurse, and adamantly shook his head. Josiah nudged Buck forward. Buck snuck a glance over at JD. Only because the kid would need him was Buck prepared to take on the old battleaxe.
Putting on his most charming smile, he slid up beside the nurse, "Ma'am, if I may say so, you are a breath of sunlight on this old face. I can tell our boys are going to receive the finest care with your delicate handling. And that's important because they are special..."
"Save it, Romeo. I've heard it all before. They are all special to us, but you still can't be here. No one is allowed in here except me and the doctor. You don't like our policy, the office is the sixth door down the hall, feel free to file a complaint. Why don't you go do that now, so I can look after your 'special boys'!"
Startled, Buck stepped back to the rest of the team and flashed them a look, just daring them to comment.
"Thank you, nurse. We'll just wait here, in case you need us." Chris politely steered his men to the waiting room situated right next to emergency.
"Coward," Buck snipped at Chris. "There's not a bad guy alive that can make the great Larabee back down, but one gray haired old nurse says go away, and ya run into the waiting room with your tail between your legs. You know Vin is going to need you. And JD's going need me!"
"Do you want to try talking to her again? I'll back you up if you do!" Chris vacated the chair he had just sat down on and moved towards the emergency ward.
"Hell no...you're the boss. You go talk to her, I did your dirty work once already." Buck muttered, and with a pout on his face sat in a chair at the end of the waiting room.
"Fine, then we'll just wait here and if the boys need us, we're ten feet away."
Vin moaned as he shifted restlessly on the gurney. For a while he seemed to be wrapped in a blanket of pain. He could hear no other sound than his raspy breathing. Time stopped and there was nothing but pain.
He had tried to stay asleep since they entered the hospital, but the bright lights and steady hum of voices finally forced him to face the inevitable, and he opened his eyes.
An older lady came and leaned over him, "You finally deciding to wake up, son. How do you feel? Are you hurting anywhere?"
"My chest and throat have seen better days, ma'am," Vin rasped out.
"Well, I am just going to clean up some of your cuts and then after the doctor looks at you, we will send you down for some x-rays. Does your arm hurt?" she asked as she examined his forearm, where the bullet had nicked him.
The nurse gave him a light pat after he shook his head no, and headed out of the room to gather some more supplies. She paused at the curtain to check on JD.
"You alright for a few more minutes, honey? The doctor on call should be here any second now, and then we can give you something to make you more comfortable."
"Thank you ma'am. I'm fine."
"Another 'ma'am'. You boys are making me feel old, but I must say both you boys were brought up with good manners. Maybe you can teach some of them to your friends out in the hall," She said with a smile, as she left the room.
"Hey, Vin. You still awake?"
Vin looked over and saw JD lying on a gurney beside him. "Hell, I ain't even sure I am still alive! How ya doing, kid? The others around here somewhere?" Vin was surprised not to see at least Buck hovering around them.
"She kicked them out when we first got here. I think even Chris is afraid of her."
"That sweet little lady?" Vin held his throat as he struggled to speak again.
JD grinned, "If you had heard her a few minutes ago with Buck, you wouldn't think she was so sweet."
"Now don't you be going and telling Vin a lot of tall stories about me, kid," Buck said, a big grin on his face as he and Chris pushed back the closed curtain and entered the cubicle. They had seen the nurse leave and Buck decided he wasn't about to sit out in the hall any longer, especially if the nurse was going to leave his two young friends lying in the cubicle all alone.
Chris scooted around JD's gurney and went to stand beside Vin. "Sure glad to you're finally doing something other than sleeping. You had us a mite worried, partner. How you feeling?"
Unable to muster his sore voice, Vin gave Chris a thumbs up and a tired, partial grin.
Buck and Chris were sitting on stainless steel stools in the back of the room when the nurse and doctor appeared. The nurse gave the men steely looks, but said nothing after seeing Chris's uncompromising expression.
The doctor ignored them as he walked over and looked at the two agents in a brisk, abrasive manner, "What am I looking at here, nurse?"
"Two ATF agents, Doctor. Dark haired one is twenty-one, the other twenty-six. They are both suffering from exposure and beatings. The younger man has a laceration on his head and shoulder, and the older man has complained about his chest hurting."
The doctor approached Vin and started to examine him first, "Gunshot wound, right arm, three inches above the elbow. Bullet removed a fairly substantial chunk of skin, minor damage and I don't see any bones involved. Tenderness in chest area, and some difficulty in breathing. I suspect he has a few broken ribs, judging by that and all the bruising in the area. Have him taken down to x-ray so we can get a better idea what we are dealing with. Also keep an eye on the swelling around his neck area, make sure his air passageway remains clear. His voice is raspy, but that should pass in a few days."
"I'll take him, ma'am. Just point me in the right direction." Chris stood up from the corner and started to maneuver the gurney out of the room.
The nurse gave him a nod of her head and held back the curtain for them, "Just go down to the end of the hallway and you'll see the lab. I will send one of the other nurses down with the appropriate paperwork right behind you."
Chris turned and looked at Buck, who was sitting with his long legs stretched out in front of him and his arms crossed over his chest. Buck gave him a little smile, he had the situation under control here.
The doctor finished writing in Vin's chart and moved over to JD, "Ankle abrasion, bruised and swollen, but does not appear to be infected."
JD yelped as the doctor twisted his injured foot around, and almost leaped off the gurney.
Buck's feet slammed to the floor and he almost came up off the stool.
"When I am done here, nurse, send him down to x-ray as well. I want a picture of that foot, and have them do a film on his thumb as well. Did you put your thumb back in its joint?"
"No, Vin did it for me."
"Well, you're lucky. He did a good job, he could have ruined your thumb for the rest of your life," The doctor said in a condescending voice, as he lowered JD's hand back onto the gurney.
The doctor then pulled the blanket covering JD down and started to poke and prod with his fingers. "General abrasions across face, back, shoulders, buttocks and legs. Minor lacerations in same area's. These scrapes on his back and buttocks are going to need a good scrubbing, they look like they are filled with sand and what appears to be tree sap. I don't know what you two have been doing with yourselves, but I would suggest you find a different hobby." The doctor said as he replaced the blanket covering a chilled JD.
JD moaned as he settled back against the gurney. Thanks to the doctor, the parts of his body that had not been hurting before, hurt now, and the parts that had been hurting, now hurt worse.
"Get me the suture kit, nurse. I want to stitch up the cuts on his forehead and this long gash on his shoulder. How did you get the cut on your shoulder?"
"Knife..." JD hissed out as the doctor pricked a syringe full of Novocain under the skin on his shoulder and around his forehead.
"Yeah," the doctor said, stopping for a second to look at JD. "What's the other guy look like?"
"I was looking better than him the last time I saw him."
Buck nodded his head in agreement.
JD squirmed as the doctor started to stitch him up, and he wondered if he had to be so rough about it. He was yanking the curved needle through JD's flesh as if he was darning an old pair of socks.
By the time he got half of JD's face stitched, the young agent was hissing through his teeth and clutching the gurney with both hands.
Buck's big hand suddenly covered the doctor's, "This interfering with your golf game, doc?" Buck asked as he grasped the doctor's hand in his iron fist.
"No..."Squeaked the doctor, as his fingers were crushed together. "I want you to release me immediately, or I'll call for security to remove you from the building."
"And I want you to slow down a tad, and think about what you're doing here. This boy has already been through hell and back, so I'm not about to let some stuffy, starch-collared, pop-tart of a doctor hurt him some more. Now I know it is hard to tell right this minute, him being black, blue, and all, but the kid has kinda got a pretty face. He has enough trouble scoring with the fairer sex, let's not be taking his one positive attribute away from him!"
"Thanks for that, Buck," JD muttered under his breath.
"Anytime, kid. You know I'm always covering your back," Buck said, grinning at his roommate.
A big smile split Buck's face as the old nurse burst out laughing and gave Buck a wink of approval.
The four men moved restlessly around the hospital room as they waited for their two friends to be brought up from the x-ray department. No matter how much they had protested, the cranky old nurse had finally booted them out of emergency, and told them to wait up on the ward. She was glad Buck had told the doctor off, had been secretly cheering him on in fact. But soon their zealous, oversized, over-protective presence had gotten in her way.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, the door to the hospital room opened and two gurneys were wheeled into the room. Both young men were now bandaged, cleaned, and shampooed, but looked totally worn out.
Chris sat on the edge of Vin's bed and helped to get his friend settled. Vin's arm now lay bandaged against his chest in a bright, white sling. Buck's attitude adjustment had not been far from the doctor's mind, as he had gently applied stitches to Vin's wound. Uncomfortable, Vin shifted his weight to take some of the pressure off his broken ribs, but instead just got tangled up with the IV cord that was sticking out of the back of his hand.
"Stupid thing," Vin cursed, as Chris and Nathan straightened him back out. "I hate these damn things."
"We know, Vin, but you're dehydrated. This'll get you up and moving a whole lot faster than if you yank it out, so settle down and let the medical staff do their job." Nathan chastised Vin gently. In his mind, these six men he worked with had to be the worst patients in the world, so it was no wonder the nursing staff of every hospital in the Denver area were gruff with them all. Except Martha. The cranky old, gray-haired nurse might be a little short with the rest of the team, but Nathan could tell she had already fallen under JD and Vin's spell. Without even trying, the two young agents had completely charmed her. Nathan just hoped the boys got out of the hospital before the old girl got a taste of the damage that only a bored JD and Vin could inflict.
Josiah leaned against the bed frame, and Buck sat on a hard chair beside JD's bed. The orderlies had transferred the youngest agent from the gurney onto his bed, gently laying him on his side. Even through his drug induced state, JD groaned as he made contact with the bed. He had almost bitten through his bottom lip to keep from crying, when the nurse had scrubbed the dirt out of the ugly scrapes on his back. The Demerol they had given him had barely taken the edge off. And now as well, he was packing a new white walking cast on his leg, already signed by most of the nursing staff. The x-ray had come back showing a hairline fracture to JD's ankle, that had been made worse by all the running he had been forced to do on it.
All the men stared wearily at their youngest teammates. Finally, unable to help himself, Buck pushed the hair off JD's battered face, "God kid...you're a mess. I can't believe they did this to you. I can't remember the last time I was so scared about losing someone," Buck's voice cracked and he had to pull his eyes away from JD.
JD rolled his face up from the pillow at the sound of his friend's voice and weakly bumped his fist against Buck's forearm, "Thanks, Buck...that means a lot to me."
Fighting to recoup his composure, Buck turned back to look at his roommate, "Never said nothing about you, peach fuzz...I was referring to junior over there. It would have been a mighty lonely and quiet place around here without him," Buck grinned as he pointed to Vin.
"Yeah right, Buck..." JD started to reply when the door slowly creeped open to reveal Ezra's head.
"Everyone decent in here? Come on in, Judge, I think its safe," Ezra held the door open and let Judge Travis enter before him.
"I hear that except for some broken bones and lots of cuts and bruises, you two are going to be back to work in a few weeks," Judge Travis said as he stood between the two beds and took inventory of his two youngest agents injuries.
Trying to hide how disturbed he was by their appearance, he turned to Chris while trying to regain his composure, "They just took Sorenson into surgery now. It's still touch and go for him, but they think he will pull through. The rest of his men are in custody with the Montana authorities. They were all intelligent enough to lay down their weapons and surrender without a single shot being fired from either side. As for Watts, he is already meeting with his high-priced legal team at the Denver precinct. I'm not sure how I feel about him. His son's death made him react in a way I don't think anyone would have thought him capable of."
"Well, I sure as hell know how I feel about him," Buck spat out in anger. "Just get down here real close to these beds, Orrin, and check what he's had done to these two boys. That should clue you in real quick about how you should feel about Watts!"
"I'm not trying to justify what he did, Buck, I'm just trying to understand it. He is a man in a terrible amount of pain, and has not found a way to deal with it yet. I've had a son murdered, and on occasion I have felt the same deep need for revenge. The only difference between Watts and myself is I haven't acted on my emotions and he did. And he did save JD and Vin's lives twice, that has to be brought under consideration."
"Well, you can bring it under consideration, but I still say they wouldn't have needed saving if it wasn't for him. I still hold him responsible for every damn mark these two boys have on them."
"Would ya all mind considering your feelings some place else," Vin spoke up from his bed, "Some of us actually would like to get some rest."
"Yeah...and now that Vin and I are clean, I can't help noticing how bad you all smell. You really all need to go home and shower and put on clean clothes," JD added from his side of the room.
"Well, if that ain't gratitude for ya. We go all the way out to the wild boonies in the middle of nowhere and save their skinny, little hinnies and now that we just want to make sure you are okay, we get lip! The nurses here are so overworked, you push that little button by the side of your bed and there's no telling how long you will have to wait for them to come," Buck said indignantly.
"Don't worry your pretty little head, Buck...you go home and I will look after your little buddy over there. I looked after him for the last four days, I think can manage it another day by myself," Vin waved Buck towards the door and then indicated for the others to follow him out.
Chris grudgingly rose from the side of Vin's bed, and started to say something, then thought better of it and joined the rest of his men at the door.
"Don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out!" Vin said as the men all paused reluctantly in the doorway.
"Hey, what do you mean you looked after me? I saved your bacon a pile of times. If not for me, you would have drowned not once, but twice, and who pulled Sorenson off you before he made mincemeat out of ya?" JD asked indignantly.
"Oh yeah...well who got you off the rock wall? Without me you would still be hanging there!"
"I wouldn't have been there at all if it hadn't been for you. 'Come on JD, trust me, you can climb this' says you."
"They're right boys...I think its time for us to beat a path out of here before they kill each other." Josiah held the door open for his teammates to follow through.
"I would say it is nothing short of a miracle they didn't annihilate each other on their little excursion in the wilderness, let alone somehow managed to survive with the criminal element that was after them," Ezra said as they gathered in the hallway and heard the last of the injured men's squabble before the door closed behind them.
"I think I better stay and keep an eye on them..." Buck said and reached for the doorknob.
Four sets of hands grabbed him from behind and started to drag him down the corridor.
"I think those boys were trying to tell us in a not too subtle a manner, that they wanted to get some rest without us hovering over them, Buck. After looking out for each other the last four days, I think we can trust them to keep looking out for each other. At least for tonight." Judge Travis pointed Buck towards the hospital elevators.
Vin and JD stopped snapping at each other as soon as the door closed and listened for the sound of receding footsteps going down the corridor.
"I think they're gone."
"Thank God!" said an exhausted Vin. "I didn't think we would ever get them to leave. Kinda funny how I wanted to see them all so bad, and now I just want them to all go home. Those boys just wear me out."
Vin looked over to the other bed.
JD's eyes were closed, his dark lashes laying flat against bruised skin.
Vin let the corner of his mouth come up in a half smile when he heard the soft snoring coming from his partner's side of the room. With a sigh, Vin snuggled down under his own blankets and briefly listened to the comforting sounds of the busy city just outside the window. Soon he also let sleep claim him, and both men escaped to a place where their pain and bad memories were easier to bear.
"Are they here?" Buck's voice boomed out over the room before the elevator doors opened the whole way.
"Is who here?" Chris asked, shrugging his shoulders as he and Ezra were going over some work together.
"The kid and junior...did one of you pick them up from the hospital?"
"No...they aren't supposed to get released until tomorrow morning. Weren't they at the hospital?"
"What do you think I am trying to tell you. The hospital said the two ding-a-lings signed themselves out tonight, but I can't find them anywhere."
"Can't find who anywhere?" Josiah asked as he walked into the office from the hallway.
"Vin and JD checked themselves out of the hospital, and now Buck can't locate them," Nathan answered.
"I don't know if it was them, but when I was in the copier room I heard someone shuffle past and head up the stairs to..." before Josiah could finish the sentence the others had rushed past and were running up the stairs.
"The roof," Josiah finished saying to an empty room, then he too hurried to the stairwell.
The night air finally had a chill to it, indicating fall was really getting ready to make a full blown appearance. Below, car engines revved and horns blared as people fought the busy streets to get home for the evening. Car exhaust and food from several restaurants mingled to fill the air with an odd odor, and glare from the city lights rose to obscure the twinkling stars from view.
And to the two agents, nothing had ever looked more beautiful.
JD Dunne sat on a cement planter with his broken foot resting on a bucket in front of him, and took a big mouthful of his Big Mac. Between mouthfuls he rubbed a fountain pen up and down inside his cast; the mosquito bites that covered his legs were driving him insane. In his other hand he awkwardly gripped his milkshake with his splinted thumb. The bruises and cuts that covered his body were still days away from fading, but the pain that accompanied them was slowly receding.
Vin Tanner sat cross legged on the roof near the edge of the building and stared out over the city below. He wriggled around on his backside to find a spot to sit on that was not sore. The tape around his cracked ribs slipped down to take some of the pressure off his breathing. The wind blowing his long hair across his face, effectively hid the bruises that stood out vibrant on his one cheek and the cut that split his lip open.
Both men jumped when the roof door was thrown open with a bang.
"What the hell do you think you are doing!" Buck started his usual tirade.
"Buck...Buck. Shhh, let me handle this," Chris pushed a restraining hand against Buck's chest, " You're upset, you best let me deal with this."
Chris calmly turned to his youngest agents and then let it rip, "What the hell do you think you're doing? You're supposed to be in the hospital till tomorrow...not gallivanting around the city..."
"Whoa there, Chris...maybe we should let them explain why they left the hospital early, and why they are on the roof of a twelve story office building instead of in bed resting," Nathan said, then turned a seething eye on the two agents who he still considered to be under his medical care, regardless of what the doctor at the hospital thought.
Vin looked away from the view with a disgusted expression etched across his face, "You are all pathetic...you got nothing better to do with your lives than worry about JD and me. The doctor said they couldn't do anything more for us at the hospital that you couldn't do for us at home, so he released us. We left a message downstairs that we would meet you all here."
"I didn't get a message," a chastised Buck said. "Any of you boys get a message?"
Lots of negative murmurings take place.
"None of us got your message...so after all we went through last week, excuse us for showing our concern for your well being," Buck waved his hands in the air and gave his shoulders an exaggerated shrug.
"Okay...sorry for snapping at ya. JD and me...we came up here to see our beautiful city better. It doesn't seem like such a bad place to live all of a sudden," Vin turned and gazed across the bright lights again. "I needed to come up here to recapture my...um? Um, help me out here JD."
"Your freedom, and spirituality?" JD asked uncertainly between mouthfuls.
Yah...that's it. I came up here to recapture my sense of freedom and spirituality that I had been trying to recoup when we first went to the lodge."
"And I'm just trying to regain some of the weight I lost since we went to the lodge. Fries anyone?" JD asked holding out his super-sized French fry container.
"Well, we're just glad we found you both safe and sound," Ezra said as he prepared to go back downstairs." Oh Chris...have you told our lucky companions about our exciting news yet?"
"News?" Chris looked searchingly at Ezra for more information.
Ezra winked at Chris, "What do you mean, what news? Surely you haven't forgotten about the trip all ready."
Nathan looked at Ezra with a confused expression, "What trip...ow! What ya kick me for?"
"Shhh," Ezra whispered to Nathan.
"Oh, right, the trip...in all the excitement I darn near forgot to tell them." Chris said taking over from Ezra.
"Tell us what?" asked Vin.
"What trip?" asked JD.
"The trip to the ski resort that Josiah won on the radio," Chris said excitedly to the younger men. "We all get to go to Montana for a five night, six day trip to a ski lodge...all expense paid!"
"We get to go way up the mountains in one of them big gondolas that you can see out of for miles in every direction ," Buck said, jumping in enthusiastically .
"Just think, us, the trees and all of Mother Nature in her finest glory," Josiah said in a wistful voice.
"Or, for those of us who prefer more sedate activities, the lodge comes complete with hot tubs and a bar," Ezra put in his two cents worth. "And a ski-boat."
"And I believe horses and hiking, and swimming, and fish..." Chris started to throw in.
"What's the matter Vin...JD where are you going?" Nathan asked as JD gathered up his uneaten supper and hobbled on his crutches after a departing Vin.
"Them two boys sure can cover ground when they want," Buck grinned as an unimpressed Vin pushed past him on his way back to the stairs.
"Vin...JD, come back," Chris hollered as the two youngest disappeared down the stairwell. "We thought for sure you would both be ecstatic at the idea of spending more time in the woods! Vin?...JD?"