by Phyllis

Seven Investigations AU

Ezra, Nathan and Josiah sat around the table enjoying the best Mexican cuisine that Brownsville Texas had to offer. They were celebrating the culmination of a hunt that had led them from Denver to New York and, finally, to Texas. Sevens Investigation had been hired to trace a forger who had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting clients of a chain of banks throughout the southwest region of the US. They had begun their search two months prior and, as they got closer, the three men had concentrated solely on this case. The three remaining partners, along with Wilmington's cousin, JD, had picked up the slack and handled the remainder of the workload. The forgery case was very important to the fledgling business, as it offered to open new doors to the company, thereby, insuring the livelihood of the small investigative firm.

Standish was listening to Josiah tell about the justice system of some tribe he had lived with while in the peace corps, back before either of the other two men at the table had even been born, when his cell phone began to chime. He lay down his fork and reached into his jacket, extracting the instrument. He flipped it open, laughing at the reaction Jackson had to the list of foods Sanchez had eaten while in Africa.



"Mr. Dunne?"

"Ezra, are Nathan and Josiah with you?" the small voice asked.

"Yes, Mr. Dunne. We were just enjoying our evening repast." The ex-CIA operative tilted his head as he pressed the phone against his ear in an attempt to hear better. "JD? Are you still there?"

"I need ya'll to come back. Can you come back?"

The pleading quality to the young man's voice had the older man instantly on alert and he snapped his fingers to gain the attention of the two men seated with him. Their conversation stopped as they turned their attention to him.

"JD, what's wrong?"

"B…Buck…he's gone."

Shivers ran up Standish's spine at the desolation in the young voice. "Gone? What do you mean, gone, JD?"

"I got…got a call…this morning I've been with the… police since…since then."

The southerner sat with his free hand gripping the napkin he had removed from his lap as he listened. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he looked up and into the questioning blue eyes of Sanchez. Ezra shook his head and held up his hand with the napkin still crushed within, requesting his two companions to wait.

"JD, let me talk to Chris or Vin, please."

The man paled at the next words.

"They were with Buck. They're gone. They're all gone, Ezra. Please, can ya'll come back? Please?"

Ezra felt the blood drain from his face as a chill settled in his soul. He took a deep breath and spoke into the small phone. "We'll get home as fast as we possibly can. JD? Are you all right?"

After the moment, the shattered answer came.

"They're gone. I'm alone. I'm all alone, Ezra."

"We're on the way, son. We're coming."

A click told him that the connection had been severed and he slowly closed the instrument. He sat, staring at his hands for a moment before gathering his courage to meet the inquiring eyes of the men sitting with him.

"Buck is dead." Both men sat back, seemingly drained of the strength to sit forward.

"It gets worse," the southerner warned. "Chris and Vin were with him. They're all three gone."

"Oh, dear Lord." Sanchez whispered. Nathan did not move, but sat, staring at the well-dressed investigator.

"I have no idea what happened, but the police are involved."

Catching sight of their waiter, Standish waved him over. He pulled his wallet out and removed a hundred dollar bill and handed it to the young man.

"Was something wrong, sir?"

They had only been served their meal moments before the call came in. None of the men had eaten more than a couple of bites.

"No, the meal was fine. We’ve been called to family crisis and must leave."

"I'm so sorry. Let me get your change." The dark skinned youth turned, but turned back at a call from Standish.

"No, you keep it. We must leave now. The meal was excellent, as well as the service. Perhaps we will have the opportunity to return some day."

Before the young man could reply, the three men were walking away.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan drove with a disregard that neither of the other two had ever seen. The normally cautious medic was running through traffic as if Satan, himself, were pursuing them. Josiah was belted into the passenger seat and clinging to the dash. Ezra sat in the back with his eyes closed. He had confidence in Jackson's driving abilities, having seen them displayed on numerous occasions, but he still found the ride easier to endure if he kept his eyes closed.

After receiving the call, they had gone immediately to their hotel, packed and gone to the airport. Upon their arrival, they had discovered that weather was delaying travel and had been forced to wait on standby for over twelve hours. Pleading a family emergency had not garnered them even one seat to allow just one of them to get home and comfort the devastated soul waiting for their return. Finally, all three had gotten on a flight only to have it diverted to Chicago where they had suffered through another four-hour delay. It had now been almost twenty-four hours since JD's call and the men were desperate to get to the young man's side.

While waiting at the airport, Ezra had called the Denver PD and inquired about the incident that claimed the three lives. He had been put in touch with detectives and found that the detective in charge was someone they knew, Tony Gaffney. The young detective had filled in the blanks that the young man could not voice.

An anonymous phone call had led authorities to the Jeep in a riverbed off a mountain road, some thirty miles outside of the city limits. It had burned and rolled into a chasm after an explosion, ending its journey upside down in the water. Evidence gathered at the scene indicated a bomb had exploded on the undercarriage and ripped through the center of the lightweight vehicle and punched a three-foot wide crater into the asphalt road. The devastation was almost complete as the result of the intense heat generated by the explosion. Physical evidence had been scattered around a hundred yard radius around the blast area-a partially burned wallet belonging to Buck Wilmington, a watch inscribed with CL, a seared ball cap that was splattered with blood. Forensics was not finished, but Gaffney confirmed that JD had identified the cap as one like Vin wore. The detective knew all three men and passed along his sympathies. Ezra had politely thanked the man and hung up before relaying the information to his companions as they waited for their flight.

The ex-CIA operative was jerked out of his musings as the vehicle lurched to a stop in front of the building that housed the offices of the Seven Investigations Agency. The three men quickly got out and strode purposely inside and headed for the elevator. Yet, once they had reached their destination, they paused at the door. Once inside, they would have to deal with the loss of three of their comrades as well as the devastated cousin of one of those men. Ezra glanced at the others. With their nods, he took a deep breath and entered the office that had been home for almost two years.

JD looked up at the sound of the door opening. Seeing the three men enter, he dropped his head and quickly swiped at his eyes. There was no way to hide the red-rimmed eyes, but he could hide the fresh tears that flowed down his cheeks. Straightening, he moved toward the men, his hands clasped in front of him.

"Hey, you guys finally made it. The TV said it was really bad down there. A hurricane or something off the coast?"

"Yes, it didn't hit, but the rain was torrential."

Josiah moved forward and reached an arm out to the youth, intending to clasp him in a hug as he had so often done, but the dark haired youth shied away.

JD ducked away from the comforting embrace he so desperately wanted. He was hurting, but the offered comfort threatened to turn loose the emotions that burned in his chest. The young man was determined to not break down, to not appear weak in front of these men. He moved away from the men and toward the conference table that sat in the back of the room.

"I came straight here yesterday after…" The young man's head dropped for a moment before he brought it up and looked at the table and its load of paperwork. Never once did he look directly at the three after their initial arrival. "I've been going over the cases that we've had since opening the doors; all the people that we put away are either still in prison or accounted for. The only case that we have open, besides the one ya'll were working on, is a woman that wants to know if her husband is cheating on her, Mrs. Pritchard. She came in last week while you were out of town."

Ezra and Nathan stood at the corner of the table, gazing at the papers. JD's computer had been moved to the conference table, wires hanging off the far side of the table., his laptop sat next the PC and both were up and running.

Josiah stepped over and studied the screens before sifting through the papers that littered the table. "You have done a lot of work, JD. Most impressive."

The young man's hands moved to the dark hair and pushed their way through the thick mane. "Yeah, but I didn't find anything. There's no clue as to who planted the bomb. Nothing," he said in frustration.

Josiah reached a hand out to grip the youth's shoulder. And once again, JD dropped his shoulder and slipped out of reach.

"Chris and Vin were tailing this guy, Pritchard. Buck and me followed him the night before…" JD handed the anthropologist a packet of photos. "We took these."

The three investigators flipped through the photos. Ezra turned, asking, "JD, where did you take these?"

"We followed him to a house over on Allen. He picked up a guy and they headed out of town, but we lost 'em up in the mountains..." Hazel eyes looked up, tears poised at the brims, "…about where the jeep…" His mouth tightened and the young man swallowed hard before looking away and back down at the papers. "I have the cases that they worked on while they were on the force, but I haven't had a chance to check them out yet. There are so many…"

Ezra moved around to stand in front of the computer. "Why don't you show us what you have?"

The young man pulled out the chair and, taking a seat, he began to bring up files he had pilfered from the police computer. Ezra had the thought that Buck wouldn't have been pleased, but then he realized that the man would never know what his cousin had done.

The next fourteen hours were spent going over the piles of information. Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington had been in law enforcement in the form of police officers or private investigators for almost ten years and had compiled quite a few arrests and, as a result, quite a few enemies. They poured over the files and photos. They traced down each felon and, one by one, eliminated them. Josiah sat back and stretched.

Nathan stood and poured another cup of coffee. He held the pot up in question and received shakes from the two men. JD had a coke sitting at his elbow, but Nathan had not seen him raise the can for at least an hour. "JD, you want a cold drink?"

"No, I'm fine," he answered without looking up.

"Basically, we are left with only one suspect and that would be the gentleman that you followed into the mountains. It would seem the most likely that, considering the location is approximately the same in both incidences, Mr. Pritchard would be our prime suspect."

"Vin and Chris were going to follow him… that night. Buck decided to go 'cause he's date cancelled on him and I had a date with Casey."

JD's face flushed and he stood suddenly and left the room, leaving the three men looking at each other. Josiah shook his head as Nathan studied the cup of coffee clasped in his hands. Ezra stood and walked over to the window and gazed out on the street. After a moment he turned and asked the other two, "Any suggestions on how we are to handle this delicate situation with Mr. Dunne?"

Josiah folded his arms across his chest and sighed. "I wish the boy would accept some comfort from us."

Nathan looked up at that. "I got the feeling that if he does, he'll break down. Once that happens, he probably feels that he won't be able to help us. Boy is holding on by a thread at the moment."

Ezra and Josiah nodded in agreement. All three turned at the sound of the young man coming back down the hall. The boy came into view, wiping his hand across his mouth. His hair hung in damp strands on either side of his face. His eyes traveled from one man to the next, briefly meeting their gaze before moving away.

"So, what do ya'll think we should do, now?"

Ezra glanced at the other two and, at their nods, spoke up. "It would seem that our best course of action would be to find out what exactly this Mr. Pritchard does in the mountains."

Josiah and Nathan nodded in agreement. JD walked over to the table and, after fumbling through the mounds of paper, he withdrew one. "This is everything that we have on him; addresses, home, work, friends, everything."

Josiah stood, rubbing his hands together. "Well, brothers, I would suggest that we take my vehicle. There is ample seating and room, if we need to rest." His eyes flickered to the young man. JD had his back turned as he gathered his laptop, digital camera, and jacket. Ezra and Nathan nodded, knowingly.

"Ya'll ready?" the boy asked.

"Yes. You seem to have thought of everything." Ezra stated as the dark haired youth struggled under his load. Large hazel eyes looked on the man questioningly. "Can I be of assistance, my young friend?"

"Thanks, Ez."

After redistributing the items, the four left the offices and headed down to the parking garage. At Nathan's insistence, they stopped for some drinks and snacks and then headed to Pritchard's home. It was early Friday evening and he should be home. Luck was with them and they arrived just as the man was driving away.

They followed him as he drove to the friend's home on Allen St. and honked. A man exited the home and joined Pritchard in the truck. The two drove off, followed by the four men from Seven Investigations. None of the six men took notice of the brown car that trailed behind both vehicles.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah followed the truck at a distance, keeping several vehicles between them at all times until they were the only two vehicles on the road. The anthropologist dropped his speed, allowing the truck to be a mere speck on the horizon.

Nathan leaned forward. "Brake lights, Josiah. I think he’s turning."

Sanchez continued past the turn off point, a road, or more like, two ruts. Three pairs of eyes sought out the point as the SUV continued down the lonesome highway, confirming the location by the glow of brake lights.

They turned around and Josiah pulled the vehicle up to the ruts and stopped.

"Any ideas?"

"Well, doesn’t seem logical to simply follow them ‘down the garden path’, not without knowing what we’re walking into." Nathan offered.

"I concur, Mr. Jackson. I would suggest that we venture forth on foot, to see what there is at the end of this path."

After moving the vehicle off the road, the four men began their trek down the narrow path. They had not gone far when Josiah held up a hand to call a halt. He stood, glancing around and then directed the others into the woods. They gathered around as the man signal them.

"This road is being watched. I saw signs on both sides of surveillance posts."

JD frowned. "How can you see anything, Josiah? It’s black as pitch out here."

Laying a big hand on the youth’s shoulder, the man confided, "Two tours in Nam will hone your sense of self-preservation, my boy."

"Any ideas on our best course to pursue?" Standish queried.

"I think we should stay off the road." Josiah quietly offered and then he proceeded to lead the way through the trees. They traveled in silence for several hundred yards before encountering the first trip wire. Sanchez almost walked past the trap, but he drew up short, JD walking into his back.

"Don’t anyone move."

Ezra placed a hand on Nathan’s arm and both men instinctively leaned closer to the boy as Sanchez squatted down to examine the ground. Moments later he stood and turned back to the others.

"They have wire traps set up. We need to think about this, boys. This is way beyond a man cheating on his wife. This is military stuff."

The three older men looked around warily at the surrounding woods.

"We can’t just go back." JD protested.

"We were not suggesting abandoning our goal, Mr. Dunne. We merely are suggesting that caution should be exercised from this point forward."

"Oh, sorry," the youth whispered.

"Don’t be sorry, son. You are right. We can’t turn back." Nathan countered. "The others walked in here blind, thinking this was a simple case of a man two-timing his wife; we need to find out what is going on that is worth killing for."

Josiah and Ezra nodded as JD looked on. His face spoke volumes; he was valiantly trying to maintain his emotions and not think about what had brought them to this place, valiantly trying to be a ‘man’ in the eyes of the three men with him, never realizing the esteem in which they all three held him.

"Okay," Josiah began. "Everyone listens to me. What I say is gospel."

This brought a smile to the faces across from him and the man shook his head at them, grinning. "I lead. You follow-exactly where I lead. If I say stop, you freeze. Everyone understand?"

Three heads nodded.

"Let’s go." He turned and stepped out, followed by JD, then Nathan, and Ezra brought up the rear.

A few moments later, two figures detached themselves from the shadows and followed the four investigators.

"We should have stopped them. They're going to blow this entire operation."

"Never thought that they would get this far. Nothing we can do now, but follow and hope that the unit gets here before they get in trouble."

+ + + + + + +

Within a half mile, Josiah had signaled four more stops, one false alarm and three traps or alarms. A suggestion of light in front of them hinted that they were approaching an encampment or house and the men slowed and finally stopped their progress.

Josiah crouched down and the others followed suite. He looked hard at the two men beside him. A slight nod from both and the barrel-chested man took a deep breath.


"I am not waiting here," the young man stated vehemently, his dark hair flying as he shook his head.

Ezra reached out and placed a hand on the slim shoulder. "We are not trying to exclude you from this exploration, but we are at the greatest risk at this moment. We three are trained in stealth. It will be required if we are to ascertain the intention of these men."

"No." the boy hissed. "I won't sit here and maybe lose the rest of my family."

"Mr. Dunne…"


Nathan held up his hands. "He can go with me."

Josiah and Ezra looked at the dark skinned man. Ezra opened his mouth, but clamped it closed at the look on Jackson's face. He decided to keep his opinion to himself and, instead of words, offered a nod of agreement.

Josiah's nostrils flared as he took a cleansing breath as he also nodded in agreement. The decision made, they began to work on a plan. JD and Nathan moved to the north, Ezra moved away from them to the south, and Josiah continued forward. The man had shown them the traps and explained the mechanics of the more intricate ones, as he had discovered them. The older man knew that Jackson and Standish were trained, but that knowledge did not lessen his anxiety. The four separated after agreeing to reunite in thirty minutes.

The two shadows detached themselves from the deeper shadows and stood watching the departing men.

"If Garrett don't hurry, we're going to lose them."

"Damn. Where are they?"

+ + + + + + +

Standish moved as quietly as he could, but the dark and the undergrowth were conspiring together against him. He had discovered and neutralized two traps and he feared there would be more.

He had circumvented the compound to a ninety degree angle from his original position with the others and was now moving toward the house from the south side. He was confident that Josiah and Nathan were moving in from their sides also.

The compound consisted of a ranch house, a barn, and a couple of sheds. Ezra approached the nearest building, a rundown shed. The door hung off one hinge and his inspection of the interior revealed nothing inside but dust and cobwebs. Finding nothing, he moved on to the next shed. Just as he reached the shed, he felt a hand snake around his head to clamp around his mouth. He stumbled back, before being spun around to face his attacker.

"What the hell…?" he stammered.

+ + + + + + +

Jackson entered the compound near the barn, JD shadowing every move. They moved silently to the back of the barn and listened at a door for any suggestion of activity inside. Finally, Nathan eased the small door open and peered in. Seeing no one, he stepped in and out of the way as the dark haired youth followed.

Inside the cavernous room, the two men discovered ten vehicles and found the engines still warm on several.

"Nathan, do you think that means there's ten people?" the youth whispered.

Jackson shook his head. "Don't know, JD. Pritchard came with someone; some of the hoods are cold. Could be more, could be less." The tall man looked down at the boy and saw the nervousness in the wide eyes and the quickened breaths. The medic laid a supporting hand on the slender shoulder. Hazel eyes turned up to meet dark brown and Jackson winked. "Ready?"

Dark bangs bounced as the younger man nodded. The nod slowly turned to a shake as he said, "No."

Jackson smiled and confided, "Me neither." He gave the boy's shoulder a quick squeeze and together, they moved to the front of the building. Nathan pushed the large door open a crack and peered out. No one was visible, either on the grounds or in front of the house. He gestured to the boy and they started to creep toward the house.

Josiah Sanchez headed across the wooded area to the open ground in front of the house, keeping a close eye on the vicinity for any activity or movement. He reached the side of the house without seeing anyone. Standing with his back against the wall, he listened to the sounds of voices as they carried through an open window. Judging by the noise, there were several men in the structure. Sensing another presence, he pressed himself closer in to the wall and waited. A moment later two shadows moved around the edge of the house. Jackson and Dunne.

"Nathan" he whispered.

The medic spun on his heels, making a grab for the startled youth’s mouth as he gasped. "Josiah."

The three crouched down. Nathan asked quietly, "Have you seen Ezra?"

The older man shook his head. The voices inside drew their attention as several voices tried to speak at once.

"Jacob said we…."

"Well, Jacob isn't here, so I'm in charge."

A third voice was heard asking, "According to who? You?"

"This is my plan, so I say how we do it."

"Pritchard, you're a arrogant son of a bitch. Jacob planned this attack, not you. The only reason he's not here now, is due to your incompetence."

The sound of chairs scraping the floor was overheard just before the sound of a scuffle reached the ears of the three men crouched outside the window. The fight didn’t last long as a fourth voice could be heard, "Break it up. This isn't doing us any good. We need to stop fighting among ourselves and finalize these plans. Jacob is being detained by the Feds and they could show up here any time by backtracking him."

"How about we just move everything, hold off on the bombing until things cool down?"

"Randy, don't be stupid. We can't be driving around the country with this load. We have to go now. Blowing up those PI's has…"

Josiah grabbed the boy as his eyes widen and his mouth shot open.

"… the heat moving in on us. There's no time left. We go tomorrow."

Nathan nodded at the anthropologist as he indicated they move back to the woods and the cover they offered. Still holding the enraged Dunne, Sanchez moved back toward the shadows of the trees, Nathan following closely. They had only gone ten feet when four men unexpectedly came around the back of the house and tackled them.

JD rolled away from Josiah as the anthropologist went down with two attackers on his back. Nathan was also knocked down, but quickly jumped to his feet and took a fighter's stance as the assailant rose and the two began to circle each other. The two maneuvered around for several moments and then charged. Nathan had four inches on the man and the reach that went with that height. They traded a couple of punches before Nathan decided he had had enough. The medic lowered his head and rushed forward, grabbing the man around the waist and lifting him off his feet, only to toss him over his shoulder. The man hit the ground with a thud and then slowly pushed to his feet as the medic looked on.

Josiah was wrestling with his men as they attempted to pin him to the ground. He took hold of one of the attackers and rolled away from the other. The anthropologist had hold of the man around the waist and pushed himself to his feet as he held tight, the man's head at his knees and his legs flaying near his head. In response, Sanchez released the man, allowing him to drop to the ground head first. The man lay there, unmoving. The second man had gained his feet and took a swing at the big man. Josiah easily ducked the swing and punched the man hard in the abdomen. The two fell against each other, and began a wrestling match, falling to the ground trying to get the upper hand on each other.

Meanwhile, JD was going head to head with the lanky man in front of him. The young man's punches were powered by the anger that burned in his heart. He remembered Tanner's instruction to control his anger, not let the anger control him. Though shorter and lighter, the boy was methodically beating down his opponent. After only a few minutes, all four attackers were laying on the ground unconscious.

Gathering themselves together, Josiah and Nathan headed once again toward the woods. JD hesitated for a moment and then hurried after them as he asked, "Where's Ezra? He never showed up."

"We'll find him. But, for now, we need to get out of here." Nathan tossed over his shoulder.

Before they reached the safety of the trees though, floodlights lit the entire area and men moved to line the perimeter of the open area, armed with handguns. Pritchard approached, his arms spread wide.

"Well, what do we have here? More snoops?" he yelled. "What do you people expect to find?"

Josiah and Nathan held their hands away from their bodies as they slowly moved back toward JD, but they were not prepared for the youth to charge the loud mouthed conspirator. But charge him, he did. The kid got in one punch before Pritchard punched him in the stomach, doubling the youth over. Before JD could catch his breath, the man punched him again.

"Gentlemen. Gentlemen." The smooth southerner's voice floated down on them before the man was seen. Moving leisurely into view, the ex-CIA operative glanced briefly at his companions before pinning Pritchard with hooded green eyes. "You have started the celebration before the prearranged time. I am grievously offended that you would have so little respect for your guests."

Pritchard grabbed JD around the neck and pulled him to his chest even as he spun around to face the speaker. He had watched as the man causally strolled across from the sheds.

"Who the hell are you?"

Ezra frowned slightly as he approached. "Oh, please forgive me. We have not been formally introduced. I am Ezra P Standish, and I am accompanying these gentlemen." Ezra smiled but there was no humor in the man's eyes. "Now, I would appreciate it if you would release my young friend."

Pritchard sneered as he pulled a knife from between he and JD and placed it against the pale skin at the boy's neck, pressing it into the skin. "And do you plan to make me?"

"No, but he does." Ezra's eyes flicked to something behind the knife wielder.

"I ain't falling for that."

A voice suddenly spoke at the man's ear. "Oh, but you should, cause if you hurt that boy, I will take that knife and cut your heart out of your worthless chest."

The voice caused the man to jump, the knife pricking the tender skin under JD's chin, but the boy didn't feel the warm trickle of blood run down his neck as the voice washed over him like a welcome wave. 'Buck' he thought and the shock caused his knees to buckle. The knife was pulled from the felon's clenched hand as Wilmington rushed around and took hold of the boy and the two stood and stared at each other.

The conspirators found themselves surrounded by men in black clothing and armed with automatic weapons. Dave Garrett and his team of ATF agents had moved in while the bombers were distracted by Standish's performance. Surrounded and outnumbered, the felons tossed down their guns and surrendered.

As the men were herded away, the boy looked at his cousin with a mixture of awe and bewilderment. Motion behind the tall man drew the boy's attention and he looked past his cousin's shoulder to see Chris and Vin surrounded by Josiah, Ezra and Nathan, talking quietly. Sensing eyes on him, Chris looked up and into the hazel eyes. The blonde spoke to the others before moving toward Buck and JD.

Buck placed his hands on the boy's face, drawing his attention back, as he bent to examine the neck wound.. "JD? You okay?" he asked as Chris walked up.

Glancing at the blonde briefly, JD looked at his cousin and blinked slowly. "Gaffney said you were dead."

"It's a long story, son. Why don't we head back and we'll fill you in?"

"Why didn't you call me?"

Chris stepped up as Buck faltered. "JD, the jeep was sabotaged. We needed them to think that they had succeeded in killing us."

Turning to look at Larabee, JD asked, "But why didn't you call? I wasn't going to tell anybody."

"We know that, kid." Buck assured him, his hands dropping to the slender shoulders. "But we couldn't take a chance that they would find out."

Chris placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "JD, we didn't do it to hurt you. We just had to make it look real."

JD's face clouded as he stared at the man. "Make it 'look' real? It didn't 'look' real, Chris. It was real. To me. To them" indicating the three men gathered around Tanner.

Buck struggled to assure his cousin. "But it wasn't real. We weren't hurt."

JD shrugged the hands off his shoulders. "It was real. For two days you were dead. Dead to me."

Buck reached out, but JD moved back. "JD, please."

"No. When Mama died, I had you and Aunt Rose. And when Aunt Rose died, I still had you. Chris, too. But when you died, I didn’t have anyone. You were gone, Chris was gone, Vin. The others were out of town. No one was here, and you knew that."

Chris stepped forward. "JD, Buck wanted to tell you, but I told him 'no', we couldn’t. If these guys were watching, which they were, and they learned we were still alive, you could become a target. Buck only agreed to protect you."

"Well, I'd rather take another beating than be 'protected' like that. At least broken bones heal." The statement was spoken with a tremor in the young voice. He turned away from the two men and started to walk away, but was stopped as Wilmington reached out and grabbed his arm.

Buck moved around in front of his cousin and wrapped his arms around the trembling body. JD pushed at the man's chest. "No", but Buck continued to gently pull him into his embrace. The boy resisted at first, but finally gave in and leaned against the taller man and relaxed.

"I'm sorry, kid. It wasn't done to hurt you. We just wanted you to be safe."

A mumbled 'I know' was heard and Buck's mouth tightened in a sad smile. They stood that way for a few moments when Wilmington's eyes widen and he uttered, "Whoa." Unprepared to take the boy's full weight, he staggered back and went to the ground with JD's unconscious form lying on top of him. "NATHAN!" he bellowed.

The medic was at their side in a second and the two men turned the dark haired youth over. With him cradled in Buck's lap, Jackson quickly checked JD's vitals.

"What's wrong with 'im?" Buck inquired anxiously.

"I think it's just stress and exhaustion. We got back in town late yesterday. That's almost twenty-four hours ago and he hasn't slept in that time. Far as I know, he hasn't eaten either. He only had part of a soda earlier today, that's all." The man looked up at the four men gathered around him and then back at the man sitting on the ground. "We need to take him and get him checked out, but I'm pretty sure he just needs to rest and get some food in 'im."

The six gathered up the seventh and headed for the nondescript brown sedan that Vin and Chris had been driving earlier. Agent Garrett met them as they loaded the unconscious boy in the back seat.

"He okay?" he asked, a frown on his face.

Buck stood and nodded as he extended his hand. "He'll be fine. Thanks for the help, Dave."

"I think I'm the one that should be thanking you. Jacobs wasn't going to give us anything any time soon. We could have missed this whole bunch if we had been delayed even one more day." The agent turned to Chris and shook his hand also. "Good to see ya again, Chris. You take care of him for me," indicating Wilmington as the man climbed into the back seat with his cousin.

"I plan to. Thanks again, Garrett. We'll be at Memorial for a while if you need us." Larabee glanced around at his men. "Hey, Dave, any chance you can get the others back to the road and Josiah's truck?"

"It's the least I can do. We'll talk later, get your statements."

Chris nodded as he climbed in behind the wheel. He looked up as Vin approached the window and leaned both hands on the roof. "I'm going with Josiah and Ezra. That'll leave room for Nathan in this bucket. We'll see ya there."

Chris nodded as Nathan took the front seat and pulled the door closed.. With a nod and a light bang of his fist against the roof, Vin stepped back and Chris drove away. Tanner turned to see the questions on the faces of Sanchez and Standish. A nod of assurance from the team sharpshooter told the two that they would get the whole story when they got to the truck. The three climbed into the waiting vehicle and headed away from the compound.

+ + + + + + +

Twelve hours later, two men sat waiting for the young man to wake. On the ride back to town, Vin had told Josiah and Ezra about the events of the last three days. Nathan had learned the details from Chris as they waited for the doctor to give them a report of Dunne's condition. The six men were all present when a young woman in a white lab coat came in and introduced herself as Doctor Metcalf. She confirmed what Nathan had all ready said and assured them that after some rest and food, JD would be fine. Wilmington thanked her and the six men relaxed around the room.

After JD was assigned a room for the night, they each took a moment to peek in before everyone but Chris and Buck headed home for some rest of their own, stating that they would return early the next afternoon.

Now there were only the two old friends waiting, taking turns catching some sleep in the form of short naps. While both men were exhausted, they each felt the need to make amends to the young man that one man considered a brother and the other looked on as a son, having helped raise him for the past twelve years. They sat through the remainder of the night and into the morning. The boy stirred once when the IV was removed from his arm, but he never fully woke up, so they continued to wait.

Vin and Ezra showed up a little after noon and brought a change of clothes for both men They each took a shower, shaved and changed into fresh clothes. That one act alone improved their spirits immensely. While they were cleaning up, Ezra had called and ordered food from a specialty deli the men frequented while working, ordering the favorites he was so familiar with. The food arrived within the hour and was devoured in minutes, neither man realizing how hungry they were until the aromas caused loud grumbling from both men's stomachs.

By the time JD started to wake up, the room was, once again, full of concerned men. The six sat around the small room, talking.

"…astonishment when a hand clamped over my mouth and I was rotated around to come face to face with two men that had departed this life only two days prior." Ezra was stating. His voice was full of indignation, but there was a strong current of emotion evident in that voice, also.

"Wasn’t trying to scare ya, Ez. Just needed ya to be quiet." Vin explained.

JD lay with his eyes closed as he listened, trying to focus his mind on what had happened and where he was. His eyes flew open as the memories from the past two days came rushing back to him. The first thing he saw was the ceiling, but that view was quickly obscured by the face of the man that raised him. Buck had a soft smile on his face as he looked down at the young man.

"Hey, kid. How ya doing?"

JD smiled and nodded his head as he replied, "I’m fine." As if to prove his statement, he pushed up in the bed, groaning slightly at the protest of stiff muscles. Buck raised the head of the bed so JD was sitting up. He moved the pillows to support the boy’s back before taking a seat on the edge of the hospital bed with a concerned look on his face. "Ya still mad?"

The boy looked at the man and shook his head. He dropped his head back onto the pillow and ran his hands up into his hair, rubbing his temples.

"You sure you're okay?" Wilmington asked again.

Raising his head, the youth smiled, saying, "I’m fine, Buck. Really." The two cousins reached out and clasped hands. They sat that way in silence for several moments, both staring at the other as if to confirm their presence. Finally, Buck patted the back of JD’s hand and they broke the grasp. JD looked at each of the men and settled his eyes on Larabee. "I figure everyone’s heard the story by now, except me. Want to fill in the last two days for me?"

Chris stood at the window, leaning against the frame, his hands tucked into his waistband. His expression was ambiguous as he studied the young man, neither smiling nor frowning, his emotions shielded behind his green eyes. He finally smiled, the gesture pulling the right side of his mouth up.

"It’s a long story. Sure you can stay awake for it?" he teased.

"I figure if I can stay awake for a rundown of one of Buck’s date, I can stay awake for this." JD ignored the sound of displeasure from his cousin as Chris stood and sat in the chair next to the bed.

"Okay. I reckon that you figured most of it out, or you wouldn’t have shown up at the compound." Larabee leaned forward, his hands folded together and his elbows on his thighs. "We followed Pritchard to the house and, much like you four, we followed him in on foot. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a jungle warfare expert with us like you did…" Chris glanced in Josiah's direction and the man tipped his head in acknowledgement. "… and we tripped a couple of alarms on the way in. By the time we realized there were traps, it was too late. We went back to the Jeep and headed back to town. It was pretty obvious at this point that the man wasn’t having an affair. About ten miles away is where we got lucky."

"Damn straight there, pard" Buck intoned.

"Vin hit a small deer."

"And that was lucky?" JD asked.

Vin had grabbed a chair and flipped it around to straddle the back. "Actually, it was. I stopped and we got out to check for any damage."

"Certainly, you were not concerned about denting that…that…conveyance?" Ezra inquired, astonishment in his voice.

Vin got a hurt look on his face. "I’ll have you know that Jeep has saved my bacon more than once, Ezra."

"And yet, you never saw fit to reward its devotion with a bath." It was a statement rather than a question. Vin shook his head, a tolerant smile on his face.

"She got a bath. Every year, need it or not." Vin retorted. Ezra rolled his eyes as he threw up his hands in defeat. Chuckles were heard from several areas.

During the discussion, Buck had shifted so that he was reclined on the bed next to JD now. The young man pulled a pillow out from under his back and slapped it down on the man’s chest, where Buck grabbed it and placed it under his head.

"Thanks, kid."

Chris sat waiting for the antics to die down, his lips pushed out and his interlaced fingers slowly tracing their outline.

"You girls finished?"

The room got quiet again and Chris picked up where he had left off. "When we got out, Buck and me were going to look at the front end while Vin checked the undercarriage. That’s when he found the bomb. It was made using an old alarm clock and dynamite and duct taped to the frame."

"I need to get that book, ‘One Thousand and One Ways to Use Duct Tape’" Buck mumbled.

"I could think of one use right now." Chris stated, the threat implied. Wilmington’s eyebrows shot up in an expression of surprise. Chris glared at his friend until Buck made a gesture as if he were locking his lips and tossing the key.

Ezra’s voice was low as he leaned toward Nathan and Josiah. "Ten to one odds Mr. Wilmington does not make five minutes."

The two glanced at each other and back to the southerner. "You’re on" they said together.

"It was set to go off in five minutes. That’s when we decided to let it do just that." Chris stopped at the expression on the young man’s face. "JD, we knew that something big was going on in that cabin. You don’t kill three men because you want some privacy. The only way to stop them from trying again, and find out what they were up to, was to let them think we were dead."

Buck’s arm had snaked up and wrapped itself around the young man and held him gently around the neck, his hand splayed out across his cousin's chest. JD took a deep breath and nodded before settling back to use the offered arm as a pillow. He yawned as he asked, "So, what happened then?"

"We tossed some personal stuff into the jeep and let it roll down the embankment. It blew just before it got to the edge. We called Garrett and he came to pick us up"

JD nodded at the name. "Dave Garrett?"

Buck flexed his arm, tightened it across JD's chest as he said, "Yeah, kid. I called Garrett. I knew he had been working on the bombings. He came out and picked us up."

Seeing the confusion on the other's face, Chris explained. "Buck went through the academy with Dave, but he ended up going to the ATF, instead of the police force. They kept in touch over the years."

Ezra shuffled his feet as he asked, "So the ATF had the leader of this faction in custody?"

"Yeah, they knew who they were looking for, but hadn't been able to find him. Last week they caught a break, when his sister got sick and he showed up at the hospital."

"Why did that guy say Pritchard was the reason this guy got caught?" JD asked.

"Turns out Pritchard was suppose to check out the hospital and didn't. ATF took Jacobs as he came off the elevator. The group was pretty mad at Pritchard. They had planned to plant a bomb at the civic center this weekend. There's a gathering of ecologists this weekend. They're trying to get a portion of the local mountains marked as a preserve. We got all this from Garrett this morning."

Chris paused as a nurse entered and asked how JD was doing. She commented that Doctor Metcalf planned on stopping by in a few minutes. JD smiled and thanked her. After she left, Chris continued.

"Dave picked us up and we told him all that we had found, which really wasn't much. He's the one that got us a car. Since it was a bomb, he told us a little about the case he was working on and the possibility that they might be connected. After we realized that, after we knew how serious these men were, we decided that they might keep an eye on the office, which they did."

JD frowned as he realized he had been watched and never knew. "They come into the office?" he questioned.

"No" Chris stated firmly. He leaned back in the chair as Vin spoke up.

"All they were looking for was us, watching to see if we showed up since no bodies were found."

JD nodded even as he shivered slightly at the last words. Once again, he received a reassuring pat from his cousin. Larabee continued when the hazel eyes turned to him again.

"We spilt up. Buck kept an eye on the office, in case they did decide to break in. Vin and I stayed on Pritchard. He called in sick Friday and we followed him and Jenkins, the guy he picked up on Allen. We followed them to the civic center. They were casing the place, double-checking their plans and the layout. Pritchard told all this to Garrett last night. Seems he couldn't wait to rollover once they started reading off the charges to him."

"Man is a loud-mouthed coward, if last night was any indication. Betrayed their leader and then tried to take over. Let everyone else do the fighting and then tried to hide behind JD when he was surprised by Ezra."

JD's head turned to the southerner at the mention of his name. "Speaking of Ezra, what took you so long last night? And how'd you know Buck and the others were there?"

Standish's eyes rolled at the memory. "Allow me to answer your second inquiry first. I knew that our companions had survived and were in the vicinity because Misters Larabee and Tanner decided to see what condition my cardiovascular system is in. Thankfully, it is sturdy and functioning well, for the moment. After the rude circumstances upon which we were reintroduced, I would know if it were not."

Vin shrugged slightly, nonchalant about the man's remark. Chris gave no indication that he had heard a word the man said.

"I had proceeded to the first shed as per our arrangement and finding it unused, continued to the second to ascertain it's contents, but before I reached that goal, I was accosted by my employer."

"I don't consider placing my hand over your mouth 'accosting'." Chris muttered.

"It's all a matter of interpretation , Mr. Larabee. You accosted me and that is the story to which I intend to adhere to. Mr. Tanner at least smiled. But, I digress. They informed me that Mr. Wilmington was returning with federal agents and we needed to stall the offenders until their arrival. Before we could work out a viable plan, the support team found us. Needless to say, Mr. Wilmington was not thrilled at my presence as it suggested that you were also in attendance Mr. Dunne. It was about that time that the yard was illuminated and we realized that we no longer had the luxury of time. I volunteered to distract the gentlemen while the federal agents worked their work around to surround the yard. That's about the extent of the events while I was not in the company of you gentlemen."

The conversation stopped as a petite woman entered, pausing as she surveyed the room and its occupants. She approached the bed, prompting the big man to slide off the bed from the other side.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. How are you feeling, Mr. Dunne?"

JD blushed as he pushed up straighter, pulling the sheet up as he did. A chuckle from Wilmington had the boy glaring and saying, "Shut up, Buck."

Turning back, he told the woman, "I feel fine, ma'am."

"Any dizziness? Or nausea?" She took his pulse and checked his eyes as she spoke.

"No, ma'am."

After listening to his heart and lungs, she placed her hand on his, explaining, "I want to check your abdomen for tenderness, okay?"

The boy's eyes flicked down and swept the room before coming back to the woman. He turned loose of the sheet and dropped his head back, closing his eyes. Color stained his cheeks as the doctor pulled the sheet down to his hips and pulled the hospital gown up to reveal the bruised stomach. The applied pressure caused the youth to grunt softly. She made short work of the examine and covered the embarrassed youth.

Sliding her hand into the large pockets on her lab coat, she stated, "Well, you seem fine to me. I think you should let that bed go to someone that needs it." Her reward was the grin that appeared on the young face. "You take care of yourself, young man."

"Don't you worry none, ma'am. We'll keep an eye on him," Buck assured her with a smile and a nod, to which she responded with a nod of her own. She then turned and left.

Buck grinned at his cousin. "Well, let's get out of here, boy." JD tossed the sheet back and got up as Nathan handed him the clothes that they had placed in the small closet the night before.

Ezra stood and moved to the door, stating, "I shall take care of the formalities necessary to obtain Mr. Dunne's release. Shall we meet back at the Wilmington apartment for our usual Saturday night festivities?"

Buck looked to JD as he pulled his jeans up and zipped them. "What do ya think, kid? You up for it?"

JD 's face took on a wistful look as he looked at each man's face in turn, stopping on his cousin's.

"This time yesterday, I didn't think we'd ever be able to do anything together again. Am I up for it?" He pulled the t-shirt over his head and grinned. "Oh, yeah, I'm up for it. I'm way up for it."

"Well, then I think it's time we went home, cuz." He wrapped his arm around the slighter man's neck, pulling him to his chest.

JD gripped the arm that was draped over his shoulder and reveled in the security that it represented. He smiled as they all stood and waited. As a single unit, the seven men moved to the door and out, to reclaim and repair the lives that been torn apart three days before, thankful for the second chance that they had been given.


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