Chris stared after the Instructor as she disappeared into the office and wondered at her abrupt departure. He felt Ellen come up beside him. "Nice job, Larabee. Never thought I'd see the Harpy lose."
"Thanks, Ellen." He kept staring.
"Haven't seen you get your ass kicked that hard in a long while. Just regret it wasn't me doing it."
"Ha Ha." Chris kept looking at the office door.
"Don't worry about her; she'll be out in a minute with your certificates. She goes in there after every series of fights for a minute or two, always bringing out the paperwork and probably using the time to collapse."
"She put up a hell of a fight." He acknowledged. His gaze met Nathan's and the medic, also concerned, started for the office.
"Always. Never thought I'd see my own team go down to her in straight matches." The look he gave her made her smile, as if he expected her team to do so. "Standish went down too, so I wouldn't be too proud." Ellen warned.
"Hey, cowboy." Vin greeted him, handing a fresh bottle of water to the still breathing hard Larabee when he joined them. "Drink up."
"Thanks," he said and downed it. Damn, his chest ached and those multiple Charley horses hurt like a mother. She definitely made him work for it, and at the end he was not sure why he won, only that he did. He noticed Vin had that look as if he knew something he wasn't telling.
Ezra smiled as he finished counting his money. "Agent Burton, I appreciate your patronage and regret we will not have the opportunity to spar."
"Yeah, Cecil, too bad I can't kick yer ass today." Vin added, calling over to the sidelines.
Josiah continued watching, as the rest of Team Six started stripping off their padding, and then looked to the office where Nathan had disappeared inside. JD and Kerry were discussing the computer virus that attacked Ezra's terminal.
"Too bad you won. My people were looking forward to pounding you wusses." Ellen leaned closer to Larabee.
Chris smirked. "How bad do you want us?" he asked in a low whisper.
"What are you offering?"
"Wait and see." He headed for the closed office.
= = 7 = =
The knock on the door failed to surprise her. Usually someone came to find out what was going on and she quickly tossed the inhaler back in the drawer. "Come in."
"Harper? Just checking on you," announced Nathan, poking his head in and the rest of him followed suit.
"I'm fine, thank you," she replied. "Just filling out your certificates so that you don't have to stick around."
"You fight pretty well," he complimented. Harper smiled briefly and continued concentrating on even breathing. "But we need to talk."
"Regarding?" A delicate eyebrow arched his way.
"This morning's little surprise."
The smile returned and she leaned back in the chair. "Thought you might enjoy it."
"Actually, I didn't."
"Hmm. Such is life."
"It also brings to mind a few things that might be done as revenge."
"Yes, revenge. An interesting concept." Her hands steeped in front of her while she warmly regarded him. "Most are not strong enough or have the ambition to follow through with it."
"I think you'll find out soon enough." He warned her with a smile. Her breathing worried him; it was taking too long for it to settle down, but she was not acting too concerned. On the other hand, she was hiding it well.
A loud, perfunctory knock sounded on the door. "Come." Harper flicked her eyes to the opening and met the unreadable gaze of Chris Larabee. "Agent Larabee, if you are here to gloat, I will have your certificates momentarily."
He smirked. He also did not tell her to call him Chris; wearing black whatever yanked that privilege right now. "We owe you, Harper."
"What do you owe me and when can I collect?" Her eyes nailed his and she showed no fear.
The smirk grew more infuriating. "Sooner than you think," he promised her.
Nathan felt like he was in the room with two destructive forces waiting to unleash on each other. If they did, he guessed there would be bloodshed. Their fight at the end was vicious. Both easily could have won early in the combat, but chose to continue fighting. He wondered if Harper actually knew she could have won earlier, or was she oblivious with the battle lust raging through her system? He waited to find out if his medical training might be needed. Nathan also reflected that if this was the tone of their meetings behind closed doors, it was amazing both continued breathing.
"I look forward to the challenge." She stood with certificates in hand. "Now, consider yourself done for the day."
"Wanted to talk to you about that."
"Really? You won, you're done."
"Didn't realize how nice it was to hear you say that. Hurt much?"
Harper shrugged. "I'll live. There's always a first time for everything." She smiled. "By the way, the coloring looks nice on you."
Nathan hid a smile.
"Harper." Chris growled, eyes narrowed.
"Agent Larabee," she calmly replied.
He chuckled once. "Chris."
"Oh, am I in your good graces again?"
"You're pushing it."
"How are your thighs?"
"Probably better than your back."
"You liked being on top?"
Nathan started laughing. The woman knew how to push his friend's buttons while still keeping the mood light.
"Isn't that where the man supposed to be?"
"What a limited perspective."
The medic nearly swallowed his tongue and coughed until his eyes watered.
Chris shrugged with a wolfish grin. "Depends on the man."
"If you see a man, let me know. I might want to talk to him."
Larabee knew he walked into that insult and accepted it. Arguing with Harper was never dull, and he would do well to remember his wits for the next bout. That is if she did not scramble them completely on the mat. Thinking of mats, he turned the topic back to his original purpose. "I'll let you know," he finally replied. "You might not have to look too far."
"We'll see. So, are you ready to return back to work?"
"I want you to teach the class."
That answer surprised her. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me. I want each member of my team to be certified by you."
Ever direct, she asked the question and waited for his answer. "Why?"
"Because we have to know it."
"That's true. What's the other reason? Team Six's little insult party?"
Chris acknowledged her shrewdness. "Maybe."
"Maybe you boys can't take it?"
He met her eyes. "Maybe I want to show you that my entire team can take care of themselves and get a little payback in doing it. Legally."
"Playing by the rules, Larabee? I never would have expected it. That's not your style."
His temper started to rise; she just crossed the line from antagonistic teasing to just plain insulting. "Playing within the rules serves my team's ends this time. Are you going to continue being difficult, or are you going to teach?"
"I'll teach. I don't think you hit the mat hard enough."
"You tapped out, not me, Lady."
She acknowledged that with a nod. "After you?"
"No, after you." He held the door open and exchanged glances with Nathan.
Nathan easily interpreted the glance Chris gave as a simple 'see what I put up with' look from man to man. The medic's smile widened and he chuckled softly. He did not mind going through the class, after watching the free show. There was no doubt that being under Harper's tutelage for the next month would be interesting.
As they exited the office, Harper immediately walked over to Ellen. "May I ask you a question?"
"Sure." The rest of her team started gathering around, but the look on Harper's face suggested they back off. Ellen nodded her agreement and the team stayed a few paces away.
"Agent Larabee would like me to teach his people even though they beat me. Would your team still be interested in assisting me with their refresher?"
A slow smile spread across Ellen's face. "On one condition."
"We pick our partners, not you."
"What did you have in mind?" The smirk warned Harper, but she went along with the suggestions.
Chris joined them, not caring about their request for privacy, and caught the tail end of the matches.
"Something I need to know?"
Harper faced him and grinned. "Only that you will be taking on both Ellen and myself for your certification."
"I already beat you."
"Yes, but you have to prove you can subdue two suspects simultaneously."
"As does everyone else?" he inquired.
"No," Harper replied. "Only you."
His eyes narrowed. "Why me?"
Harper shrugged with a self--depreciating, sardonic smile. "Apparently I am not enough of a challenge to you and I am required to raise the difficulty to the level of the student."
"Buck up, Larabee, unless you're afraid us women will kick your ass." Ellen gave him a feral grin and rubbed her hands together.
"Show you who's the boss." Harper added.
Chris knew they maneuvered him into a corner and the only way to save face required he go up against them. He nearly snorted; Harper by herself gave him a new appreciation for ground fighting. Add Ellen in and he figured he'd last twenty, maybe thirty seconds tops.
"You asked me to teach, Agent Lara- Chris," she corrected. "If you don't like the scenario, there's the door. Nobody will think any less of you because your team already beat me." Harper goaded him.
Ellen nearly laughed right in Chris Larabee's face. Harper left him one viable option. Both knew it and the Instructor pushed him to take it. The out Harper gave Chris only embarrassed him, his team, and their pride more if they left. Ellen definitely underestimated Harper and made a mental note not to do it again.
"What are the other matches?"
Harper deferred to Six's leader because of her agreement. "Ellen?"
"Burton--Standish, Nottingham--Tanner, White--Wilmington, Gilbert--Sanchez, Lowe--Dunne, Greene--Jackson, and you versus us."
The pairs made sense to Chris, because during the class no one went against someone their own size and weight. "All right, let's get this done."
"Do you want to go first?" asked Harper.
"Why not? The sooner I 'arrest' you ladies, the sooner I can get back to real work."
"I think I am insulted, Chris, because I do believe you WORKED hard at defeating me. I guess we'll need to add a little more effort into it to make it challenging and unexpected for you." With that comment Harper turned and said, "Clear the mats," to the rest of the assembled Agents.
"I beg your pardon, Instructor Harper," interrupted Ezra, one thumb running down his jaw line, "but I do recall us emerging victorious and the terms stated we received our certifications in that case. Are you reneging?" His tone clearly expressed his opinion of the concept of her going back on her agreement.
"Perish the thought, Agent Standish. Your esteemed leader felt you required the refresher in spite of your victory. If you have any questions, please direct them to Agent Larabee after his."
"Do not refrain me from watching my fearless leader trounce you for a second time," Ezra said, making a show of taking a seat. Everyone else followed his lead except for Ellen.
"Hey, Ellen, park it here. Got you a ringside seat," Buster called out to her.
Ellen winked at Buster. "Oh, I'm going to be up close and personal for this one," she replied. "Two on one. Standish, what are the odds?"
Ezra's eyes lit with anticipation, and he found himself surrounded by Agents. It looked as if most of the money went on Chris. "The majority of the bets are against you ladies, making you both the long shots. In my professional opinion, Instructor Harper has already fought three matches and will be a hindrance to you."
"True, but I also have the advantage of numbers, Chris." Harper gave a tight smile.
Buck openly laughed. "Two on one is nothing for Chris, Harper."
"Then he will not have a problem, will he?" She smiled sweetly as she goaded, "Double or nothing that I'll win, Standish, if you can accept that."
"Are all the bets in?" She waited for Ezra's nod and announced, "Okay, here we go. No help from the peanut gallery this time, please."
Ellen, Chris, and Harper took places in a loose triangle, the two women far enough apart, but spaced so that each one took up his periphery. He could not easily watch both of them at one time. Ellen feinted once and he shifted his weight, but did not fall for it. She winked at Harper.
Chris interpreted this gesture as it was Harper's turn to attack when in fact the two women switched places on him. He decided to let them make the first move, but neither one of them was going to get behind him. Larabee felt the bigger threat was Harper, because he already knew most of what she was capable of; didn't his thighs already ache viciously from those Charley horses? Not to mention his chest?
"It seems Agent Larabee wants us to make the first move," Harper remarked to Ellen. "Shall we oblige him?"
"Both of us at once? Do you think he can handle that?"
"I profess ignorance at his stamina. There is only one way to find out."
"I doubt he'll last five minutes."
"Seconds, you mean."
Chris only gave Harper a small glare for that comment, to which she winked at him.
Secretly, Harper was glad no one from Legal was attending this session, or any of them for that matter. In these days of concern over sexual harassment and lawsuits for impropriety, those worrywarts in Legal would be going ape shit over what usually occurred in these sessions. She saw it all the time, everyone letting their hair down more than usual, the stress worked out through the physical activity and playful banter. Yes, it did tend to go beyond what was normally allowed, but also tended to be ignored for what it was - blowing off steam. And if it went too far, she shut it down immediately. Her attention was drawn back to her combat and away from her thoughts.
"I don't know, Harper. Man's got some muscles." Ellen feinted again and Chris shifted, but kept himself free of Harper's reach.
"Where? I don't see any." Harper made a show of looking him up and down. "Unless, of course, you mean?"
"Wouldn't know. Happily married."
"You two done yakking, or are you just putting off losing?" Chris finally entered the conversation, circling around again.
"I think we touched a nerve." Harper flicked her glance once at Ellen. "You ever look? You work with the man much more often than I do." She enjoyed listening to the muffled chortles and coughing coming from the peanut gallery doing their best not to interrupt.
"Nope." Team Six's leader shook her head.
Kerry Lowe could not stand it any longer. "Bullshit, Ellen! You told me he's got a great butt."
Chris let the corners of his mouth twitch up, watching Ellen shoot a glare at her only female team member. "Do I, Ellen?" His tone dripped humor topped with male smugness.
Ellen shrugged while Harper shifted further toward Larabee's blind spot and he moved in response to that. She stayed still, seeing Harper's plan. The team leader knew Larabee saw it as well. "Shouldn't wear those tight jeans, Larabee, unless you like women checking out your ass."
"You're not getting behind me, Harper," Chris told her, shaking his head. "And Ellen, I thought you were happily married."
"Honey, just because I'm on a diet doesn't mean I can't look at the menu," Ellen retorted.
"Gee, and I just wanted to check out the topic under discussion." Harper sighed.
"Usually I treat the woman to dinner first, before letting her see my ass," he responded.
Harper gave him a wicked grin. "Then are you asking me out?"
The concept caused him to shift his attention for a split-second to her. That was all the time Ellen needed. Her foot shot out high and hard against the side of his head and sent him off balance. The shift caused him to move right into a matching kick on the opposite side of his skull from Harper, so Chris leapt back to try shaking off the double blows.
Ellen followed through with another kick, pressing the advantage, while Chris tried to stay on his feet. All those months in the gym working her legs paid off, as she kept landing blows along his side and midsection. Just when he twisted to grab her foot, Harper planted a hard foot in his back sending him stumbling forward.
Chris cursed himself for his multiple stupidities. These two caused him to react emotionally to their comments, and it cost him. He hated letting Harper anywhere near his back, because she would not hesitate to kick the crap out of him from behind. Whatever happened to the old west dictum of never shooting anyone in the back? He felt hands on his arm and realized another act of stupidity -- he let Ellen too close.
Vin Tanner shook his head in disgust, seeing how easily they maneuvered his best friend into a bad situation. "Damn, Chris, don't ya know anything about two-on-one?"
Buck clapped him on the back. "Junior, those two women are piranhas. It was inevitable that they drew first blood."
"They're eating him alive." JD was astounded.
"It is always darkest before the dawn." Josiah nodded after imparting his sage wisdom.
"Go get 'em, girls! Knock that arrogant sonofabitch around." Buster pumped a fist in the air.
Ezra could not let that remark go. "Mr. Burton, I will take great pleasure in humiliating you on the field of battle."
"You wish, pansy, you wish."
Ezra half stood.
Vin reached over and grabbed Ezra's shoulder. "Easy, Ez, he's tryin' ta rile ya. See what it did fer Chris?" The sharpshooter indicated the battle playing out on the mats in front of them.
The female team leader enjoyed flipping Chris and watching him land hard on the mat. Ellen followed through immediately by trying to pin him down but his self-preservation and ground fighting skills kicked in. Reversing their position, he rolled her onto her back and held her down.
A flying tackle dislodged Chris, sending him tumbling while Harper took him off Ellen and gave him another damn Charley horse for his trouble. He ended up on the bottom, beneath her, and Harper pinned his arms over his head.
"This feels familiar." He grunted.
Just before Ellen locked his legs and they forced him to tap out, he brought his head up into Harper's sternum and knocked her backward into Ellen, who was currently covering his legs. Using his protesting abdominal muscles, he pushed up hard until they both fell off and Harper released his arms.
"There ya go, cowboy." Vin cheered, half to himself. "Now get on top of them and finish this."
"She's not done with him yet." Nathan warned.
"Which one?" asked JD.
"Harper," Nathan replied with finality.
Just as Chris shifted the two women so that he pinned them, Ellen reached up and planted the heel of her hand in his shoulder joint. The force of it knocked him backward and Harper went with him, pinning him down again. This time he immediately rolled and she kept them rolling across the mat. Ellen gained her feet, moving with the pair, landing kicks on Larabee's already aching thighs. She followed the principle of constantly hitting the weak spot to make sure it gave.
Chris gave up on this and let Harper go, shoving her off hard enough to give him time to stand. She rolled into a crouch then sprang up.
Harper hoped she could end this soon because her lungs were beginning to ache again, her breathing becoming more labored. With a grin, she moved next to Ellen, Chris watching them warily while they whispered. Ellen shot her a disbelieving look before nodding, and the two women focused their stares on him.
Larabee felt like the prize stud horse at an auction. The way their eyes took in every detail made him more cautious. His caution paid off when Ellen dove into him. He caught her easily and rolled her on the ground, laying flat atop her instead of presenting a target for another tackle. He waited for Harper, pinning Ellen.
The training instructor, instead of tackling him, or hurting his already bruised thigh, did something unexpected. All of a sudden, Chris felt the waist of his sweatpants hit his knees and cold air chilled his backside. The jock strap did not cover much. Reflexively, his hands reached down to grab the pants. That gave Ellen the opportunity to roll him over, cover him with her body. Harper landed on his feet and he was well and truly pinned. He tapped out because although he didn't care that his assets were displayed to the world, he'd rather not have them up for discussion among Team Six's Agents.
Harper immediately rolled off, but kneeled so she blocked the view. Ellen giggled in his face before sitting up and letting him pull his pants back up. At long last she looked away.
The peanut gallery, as Harper named them, stared in disbelief. A number of mouths hung open and others just opened and closed with confused looks on their faces.
"That wasn't fair!" Buster took up the male cause.
"Life is not fair. Suspects are not fair. Instead of hitting him in the thigh, would you have preferred I hit him in the groin?" Harper studied the gallery.
The men shifted uncomfortably in their seats while Ellen and Kerry laughed.
"I wouldn't have preferred a hit there," Chris said, as he stood. "I don't suggest you try it, either." His green eyes informed her that was not an idle threat.
"Have to find the peanuts first." Tony interjected.
Chris glared and Harper gave him a half-smile before facing the rest of the class. "Agent Larabee has passed. Although he tapped out, he faced higher numbers and underhanded tactics. In a normal fight, he would have fought sans pants for the arrest. Considering the CARING, SYMPATHETIC nature of ATF Agents, I will pass him. Who's next?"
"I'll go." JD wanted to get this out of the way, because it looked like a long afternoon considering all the malevolent glares now passing between the two teams.
"Yes, ma'am." Kerry came out onto the mat and waited on the opposite end from JD.
"Agent Dunne, you are to 'arrest' your opponent. Neither of you will be armed. Are you ready?"
JD pushed his bangs out of his face and nodded, half-listening to the bets on the sidelines.
"Begin." Harper stepped back as the two people circled each other. She noted with approval that JD waited for Kerry to attack first, so that there would not be any claims of brutality if this were real. After thirty seconds of them dancing around each other, and the obligatory statement of intent to arrest, it was obvious Kerry was waiting him out. She kept backing away, JD circling her, but not engaging her in combat.
Two minutes elapsed. The peanut gallery grew restless, but stayed silent. Buck considered yelling encouragement, but the irritated look on Harper's face stopped him.
Five more minutes passed in silence and finally Harper could not take it anymore. "Agent Dunne, you will engage Agent Lowe."
"After she attacks, ma'am." JD answered, his eyes on Kerry.
"Tell me why you are waiting. It is obvious by her actions she is not going to surrender."
"Well, uh, I don't want to hurt her." JD circled Kerry, ignoring the Instructor slowly moving along his right side on the outside of the mat.
"You do not want to hurt her?" The softness of the tone should have clued JD in.
Buck rolled his eyes on the sidelines and Chris shook his head. Vin patted Buck on the shoulder and waited. Josiah sighed in resignation and Nathan winced. Ezra muttered, "Dear Lord, to be that naïve again." Team Six patiently watched.
"But she is willing to hurt you." Harper picked up an item from the floor and continued moving along the edge of the mat until she was behind JD, a scant two feet from his position.
"She's a girl. She can't hurt me."
Kerry started laughing. "Bullshit, Dunne. I can kick your ass. I'm waiting for you to move."
"Yeah, right. You're just a girl."
"I can't watch." Buck smacked his forehead and covered his eyes. "Tell me when it's over."
Chris mentally noted he needed to sit down with JD and have a good man-to-man talk about women and how they could hurt a man. Idly, he rubbed his miserable thigh.
From behind JD, who still focused on Kerry, Harper moved up quietly and dropped onto her hands, kicking out her leg and sweeping JD off his feet. His legs flew up in the air in front of him and he landed hard on his back. Harper grabbed both ankles and pinned them beside his head eliciting a yelp of pain from the stunned Agent. She followed up by jumping on top of him, straddling his now pinned legs, and holding them down with her own feet, legs, and right arm. Her left hand came around to push the end of the water pistol's round barrel into his forehead. She squirted it once. Water streamed along the side of his temple into his hair, down onto the mat.
His eyes widened because he never expected it and he swallowed once.
"I'm a girl and I just killed you in two seconds, Agent Dunne. Never, ever let size or gender distract you. Never let anyone get behind you unless you absolutely trust him or her and still be aware of that person's actions. Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," JD replied. He felt humiliated by this, but accepted it as part of the training. She was right; he let her get behind him and he let her 'kill' him.
"Good." Harper rolled off him and held out a hand to help him up. He took it and found himself surprised by the strength of the grasp that pulled him up. Even after four fights, she made it look effortless.
The Instructor heard some snickering occurring on the sidelines.
"You can look now." Chris shoved Buck.
Fingers parted in front of the face. "Was it ugly?"
"Damn." Buck dropped his hand to the side and visually checked over his roommate. He saw the dripping water on JD's face and shook his head. "He have any dignity left?"
"Always knew you were a wus, Dunne!" Buster could not leave this team alone and this latest humiliation fueled his already warped sense of humor. A cold stream of water hit him in the face. "What the hell?"
"Again, Agent Burton, I have killed you while you laugh at the misfortune of another." Harper lowered the water pistol. "What must I do to show all of you that even in a training class you need to keep your wits about you? Suspects are not going to be as gentle as I am here. They will try, as you already should know, to break your bones, disarm you, punch you, kick you, stab you, maim you, and most importantly, kill you! Do you understand that? I am being gentle because I am not allowed to send any of you to the hospital."
She waited for them to acknowledge her words and saw some glimmer of understanding in most faces. "I am confident if you ask Agent Larabee he will tell you his thigh and chest hurt right now. Agent Tanner put a hurting on me - I will not deny it - but I gave him as many bruises as I received. This is a serious business here. If just one of you learns a single, solitary thing, then I am doing my job. I detest humiliating people like this, but these lessons must be learned, and they must be learned the hard way - through experience and example. If this were real, I have killed Agent Standish, Agent Dunne, and Agent Burton. They are now dead. Agents Tanner and Larabee received injuries from a fight and I am a single person. I held back on trying to injure them because this is a simulation. Can I make this any clearer? I have hurt and killed five Agents in an hour's time."
Silence reigned in the gallery.
"Now, Agent Dunne, please retake your position and we will try this again."
JD returned to his position more subdued as the rest of the Agents absorbed her words. He thought five Agents, including him, was not an acceptable price to pay for any arrest; heck, losing one life was not acceptable.
Kerry stood opposite and waited. When asked, she responded she was ready.
The only word said from Instructor Harper was "Begin."
Dunne circled and Kerry charged. He ducked, but her sidekick caught him in the back and sent him stumbling forward. He wheeled, planted his foot, and caught her just as she tackled him. They went down and he quickly rolled her onto her back, pinning her down with his weight. She shoved him off, but as Kerry moved to stand, he tackled her, taking her back to the mat's surface, this time lying on top of her back.
He quickly pinned her arms and shifted them behind her back in the classic handcuff position, using the rest of his weight to hold her down. "You are under arrest," he repeated, making the motions as if he used the silver bracelets to restrain her.
"Excellent, Agent Dunne. Release."
JD immediately let her go at Harper's order and helped Kerry to her feet. The Team Six female smiled at him before returning to the sidelines.
"Agent Dunne, you have passed. Be seated. Who's next?"
"Hey Tanner, you ready to lose?"
"Cecil, ya couldn't beat me if ya tried."
"Then bring it to the mats." Harper waited for them to make their way to the center of the mats before speaking again. "One-on-one unarmed combat, same rules as before." She said, "Begin."
Both bowed to her and each other before assuming ready stances. Harper stepped off the mat to observe.
They circled each other twice before simultaneously striking. Cecil threw a punch that Vin blocked and Tanner countered with a hard kick that Nottingham dodged. After the initial blows, the two men settled into a rhythm of blow, block, kick, dodge, kick, and block. Back and forth they went, constantly shifting position. The momentum stayed constant, neither holding the advantage for long.
Even encumbered with the heavy padding, Cecil held his own. Having Cecil dressed in protective padding allowed Vin to increase the strength of his blows, while insuring Team Six's sharpshooter stayed relatively uninjured.
Vin actively searched for a weakness while he blocked his opponent's latest series of blows. Already paying for his first fight with Harper, those present saw his game was not at its peak. This allowed Cecil to continue fighting without Vin immediately putting him out of service, like he normally did during their infrequent sparring matches.
Finally, Vin reached the point where he stopped enjoying himself. He quit holding back and literally pummeled Cecil to the ground. Nottingham yielded when a particularly hard kick went right through the padding and into his kidney. He tapped out.
They stood, Vin helping his counterpart up, bowed to each other, and then to Harper.
"Agent Tanner, you passed unarmed combat. Take a seat. Standish! Burton! You're up!"
With a put upon expression, Ezra stood and waited for Buster to finish suiting up. "Mr. Burton, if you don't mind, could you please expedite the process? I have no desire to be here any longer than necessary."
"Ellen, I'm gonna plant me a pansy," Buster yelled to his team leader.
"Get him, Buster!" Tony spoke up from the stands. "Show that cocky s.o.b. how it's done."
"Kick his ass," said Brian.
Harper interrupted before this degenerated further. "Are we ready?"
Buster grinned, and Standish nodded in response to her question.
Before the second syllable left Harper's mouth, Buster charged Ezra and tackled him flat. His larger mass kept the Southerner pinned beneath him and his hands wrapped around Ezra's head, bouncing if off the mat like a basketball.
Ezra's hands came up and the heels of his hands slammed into Buster's helmet-protected ears. Enough force went through to stun the larger man and Ezra followed through with a hard shove on Buster's shoulders. He knocked the man far enough off him to pull his knees near his chin. Ezra then pushed Buster off him, rolled away, and scuttled on his hands and knees until he put enough distance between them to catch his breath.
Having drawn in considerable oxygen, Ezra heard rather than saw Buster leave the ground for a flying tackle. Hoping Lady Luck smiled on him, he rolled left to avoid the hit. He smiled as Buster landed with an exhaled oomph on his stomach.
Standish took advantage, leaping on Buster's back, this time bouncing his rival's head against the mat. Before allowing too much time to pass, Ezra grabbed both arms and effectively pinned his larger opponent. Buster, realizing he could go nowhere, tapped out. Standish rolled off, and ever the gentleman, helped Buster to his feet.
"Good match." Buster stretched out a meaty hand.
"For you as well, sir." They shook before retaking their seats.
"Well done, gentleman." Harper nodded to both of them then picked her next victims. "Sanchez, Gilbert, you're up."
Josiah and Brian exchanged glances before going to the center of the mats. Brian finished attaching the last of his protective gear before taking a ready position.
"Well, gentlemen, take your places. You know the rules, so let's see what you have." Harper waited for them to position themselves before saying, "Begin."
They circled each other, two men well versed in unarmed combat. Brian and Josiah locked arms in the center, and it was obvious to all that both were wrestlers at one point in their lives.
A dizzying array of holds went through, with several suplexes and near falls. Josiah easily reversed his last hold until he cradled Brian in a pin. Brian tapped out. They shook hands, helping each other from the ground.
"Well done, gentlemen. Have a seat. Jackson, Greene, front and center."
The two men left the stands. As they did, Tony making sure that his protective gear covered all the important parts. The two men met in the center, shook hands, and prepared themselves.
Harper gave the all-important phrase, "Begin."
Tony chose not to wait for Nathan's first move, diving right into him and taking him to the ground in a tackle. Nathan landed on his back, Tony holding him down, and trying to keep his shoulders down for the pin.
Nathan pushed hard with straight arms and locked elbows into the center of the padding, shoving Tony off him onto the mat. The EMT followed through by trying for his own pin. The two men rolled repeatedly, neither gaining the advantage, until they both rolled off the mat, disqualifying them both.
"Halt." Harper walked over to them, and the men stared up at her. "I'll give you another chance not to disqualify yourselves. If you do this again, it will be considered failing the class."
The men nodded, expecting this answer. Lining up in the center, they waited for the command word, and this time worked hard at staying in the boundaries of the mat. Before long, Nathan gained the advantage, finally using his long legs to wrap around Tony's waist and flip him to the ground, pinning him in an instant. Tony tapped out.
"Excellent. We have one last pair before we do this all over again."
"What do you mean, all over again?" Chris narrowed his eyes at Harper.
"Unarmed, general, and ground fighting. Have to pass each - this is unarmed combat."
"You never said anything about that."
"You didn't ask. I would have explained it if I had won and you were forced to stay, but you said you wanted the class." Harper shrugged. "Three areas are required for passing. I figured you knew that."
"You figured wrong."
Ellen challenged, "What's the matter, Larabee? Afraid of another go-round with Harper and myself?"
"Bring it on, ladies." Chris smirked, male bravado in the forefront.
"Good, after Wilmington and White demonstrate their prowess for us. Agents?" Harper stepped back, letting the two men come out on the mat. "Begin."
Buck did not want to waste time, so he went right for the slug to the side of the helmet, stunning Joey, which gave the taller rogue the opportunity to take him to the mat and pin him. Joey tapped out.
"Quick and efficient, Agent."
"It's Buck, darlin'."
"I am not your darlin', Agent, so please refrain from calling me that."
"At least in public." Buck winked at her.
"Sit yourself down, Agent, before I make an example of you. Again."
Ezra whispered, "I see the flames of defeat, Mr. Wilmington."
"I see a challenge, Ez."
"Care to wager?"
Josiah interjected, "Brothers, refrain from betting on the affections of Harper, for she will rip you to shreds."
Buck and Ezra looked at each other, and then felt the piercing gaze of Instructor Harper on them. Both shook their heads.
The class continued, going through the cycle two more times, and by the end of the class, everyone was exhausted, tired, and cranky. The only one seemingly unaffected was Harper, but her cool demeanor kept everyone on his or her toes.
Team Seven decided to go out to dinner, while Harper cleaned up, preparing to go home and collapse.
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