Thanks to Mog for ATF
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Thanks to the mighty Phyllis for all she has done for me.
Thanks also to Mari for the awesome wall.
To Blackraptor for giving my stories a home
And also to Heather and Robijean for their help, support and suggestions.
This was for Karen's birthday.
JD Dunne flicked idly through TV channels, finally giving up and tossing the remote to Vin Tanner. He walked over to the window, peering out cautiously through the slatted blinds. This safe house had been converted into an operations room downstairs and an apartment upstairs and that's where they were now. Several DPD officers were occupying the downstairs, but everyone was jittery; sources had warned them their charge, Tyler was a marked man and a contract on him was definitely out there.
"I can't believe Chris gave us babysitting duty." JD glanced across at the closed bedroom door, wondering what the man was doing in there.
"Don't condemn him too soon, kid I don't think Travis trusted anyone but us to be as diligent with this one, this fella did used to be one of us, remember, even if he is retired, and the guys'll be here as soon as they wrap up the Chui case."
Dunne grimaced at the thought that an ex-cop had turned out dirty.
"I know, Vin, but we've been alone here for hours and it's so damned boring." He glanced back toward the bedroom door. Behind there was a man who had left the force just as JD had joined. He had seemed well respected, yet in less than eighteen months, had turned bad. Now the young tech was wondering if he had been bad all along. "I hope he rots in hell," JD scowled.
Tanner shrugged, a little surprised by the unexpected damnation. "Like as not, he'll get a lighter sentence when he gives up the names of the drug barons behind this little set-up," Vin pointed out as he watched the younger man walk to the bedroom door and open it.
"You okay, Tyler?"
The man in the room, lying on the bed, didn't take his eyes from the TV screen. "Oh, just peachy, runt. Now piss off."
Vin was in the room in seconds, flying past a surprised JD and pinning the man to the bed.
"I hear you talk to him like that again, you piece of shit, and I might just find time to introduce my knife to a particular part of your anatomy."
Tyler blinked, swallowed and nodded.
Dunne chuckled and shook his head as the two agents left the room. "You're crazy, Tanner."
Vin looked at the younger man and winked, not missing the appreciative expression on JD's face, despite knowing JD was more than capable of a slick comeback himself.
Tanner punched Dunne on the arm. "Hey, I just thought about what you said, earlier. Are you sayin' I'm boring, too?"
JD nodded, biting back a grin. "Absolutely. "
Vin's jaw dropped. "A what? You little " They were about to square off when they both stopped and looked at each other, relaxing a little when more important things came to mind as a ting sounded from the oven in the little kitchenette.
"PIZZA!" They chimed together.
Early evening saw the rest of Team Seven on their way to the safe house to take over for the DPD officers and join up with Vin and JD for the remainder of the assignment. There had been some loose ends to tie up on their last case just a few hours work, but for those few hours, the team were separated and at their weakest. Larabee put his foot down, suddenly keen to get there.
"What?" Vin picked up a napkin to wipe his mouth and looked at the younger man who had been staring at him.
JD blushed. "Sorry was just 'wool-gatherin' as you like to call it."
Vin frowned. "No need to apologize, just tell me why you were starin' at me. Do I have pizza sauce on my chin?"
Dunne laughed softly. "No Like I said, I was just thinking about something, that's all."
"And the others, Tyler how life plays out, y'know? Paths you choose." He looked at the Texan. "Vin, what do you think you'd be doing now if you hadn't taken up Chris' offer?"
Tanner shrugged. "Probably still be with the US Marshall's Office, I guess. Why?"
"Aww nothing, I was just wondering you know, about how it would be if Team Seven didn't exist, what we'd all be doing instead."
Still unsure as to what was really on JD's mind, Vin returned the question. "How about you?"
JD smiled shyly. "Probably earning a ridiculous amount of money per year in some computer set-up somewhere, most likely security with my background."
Tanner sat up straighter. "You've mentioned that before. You really don't think you'd have stayed in law enforcement? "
Dunne shook his head. "Doubt it, I was getting nowhere fast in Boston. Before I left, all I ever did was computer work," he smiled, "not unlike what I do now, I guess."
"Are you sayin' you want a change of pace?" Vin was a little unsettled by the conversation.
"Oh, no that's the odd thing," JD reassured, "Chris is so different, unlike anyone I've ever worked with before. He could ask me to watch a fly crawl up a wall and I'd find it exciting."
Vin frowned in confusion. JD grinned.
"It's not the job he asks me to do, it's the fact the he asks me to do it. I know, right from the offset, that Chris'd want to know you know details details that no one else gives a shit about, but Chris does, and that's why we're the best, because we strip everything bare and analyze it to death. I never got to do that in Boston, even when I provided more than was required, it never seemed like they were bothered to utilize it or if they did, I never got to know." His brow furrowed as he watched the Texan pick up the pizza box and read the ingredients.
"Something wrong, Vin?"
Tanner cocked an eyebrow, "Just wonderin' what the hell was in this pizza to have brought all that on."
They both laughed. "Bet you're sorry you asked now, huh?" JD wondered.
Vin did an exaggerated nod, laughing as JD tossed napkins at him. "So, no regrets then?"
"Just one," the young tech sighed, "that Chris didn't ask me to join up like he did you guys and not have had to practically beg to be considered."
Tanner stood and walked over to the window, an odd feeling now present in the pit of his stomach. He looked back at Dunne.
"You were still are real young, kid. Chris and Travis pulled a lot of strings and called in quite a few favors to get you on the team. You should think on that some no one else had that kind of effort put out." He laughed. "And once Buck adopted you there was no lookin' back."
JD beamed. "Hell, Vin, only you could turn a doubt into a certainty." Frowning, JD stood, tilting his head as he watched Vin's movements and change of mood. Tanner nodded and gestured, the two instantly in sync as they switched to professional mode. Their concerns increased as a voice came over their earpieces.
"Heads up, guys we got trouble."
A loud crash from downstairs spurred the two agents and, guns drawn they went into the bedroom, Vin dragging Tyler off the bed.
"We gotta go."
Chris was flooring it, but still Buck called for more speed, as the radio kept them up to date with whatever was happening at the safe house. The team knew there were officers on site, but now was considering they wouldn't be enough. The calls of 'shots fired' echoed in their minds as they sped closer to their target, relieved a little to have almost reached their destination, only to turn the corner into the street and be horrified, as seconds later the safe house exploded into a mass of debris, smoke and flames.
Seven days on and as the huge gathering of cops in dress uniform broke up, Buck and Chris clutched the folded flags to their chests as they made their way from the gravesides and down the small slope to the truck with Nathan, Josiah and Ezra close behind. No one spoke to them and they spoke to no one, their only acknowledgement being nods to the three DPD officers who had been injured but survived the blast that day. Before they could get to their vehicles, the media frenzy waiting for them, surrounded the five men, microphones pushed eagerly toward faces to catch any reactions. Chris disregarded and dodged as he pushed through the crowd, stopping as one voice rang out.
"Mister Larabee Mister Larabee Kristy Fowler NBC Do you have anything to say about your plans to capture the people responsible for killing your two colleagues?"
Larabee stopped and glared at the redhead, microphones and voice recorders moving closer amidst the clicking of cameras as they sensed the leader of Team Seven was about to speak. Chris pursed his lips to compose himself, then spoke, everyone falling silent as he did so.
"I'll just say this. This team will not rest until we find the bastards responsible for the bombing of the safe house. The phrase 'leaving no stone unturned' will take on a whole new meaning."
As the chatter started again in an effort to gain more information, a new voice entered the media throng.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please." Orin Travis stood amongst them, his sober face reflecting deep anguish.
"As from now, Mister Larabee and the remainder of Team Seven are on sabbatical. They have been considered 'too close' to this case and are no longer leading this investigation. Now, move on, please allow these men some peace."
Larabee and Travis glared at each other, ignoring the crescendo of questions assaulting their ears. Orin never wavered, despite the rest of the team joining in the stand-off.
The blond straightened. "This isn't over." With that, the team moved on to their vehicles, got in and sped away.
With the investigation taken out of their hands and a vacation forced on them, the five men had decided to get away, away from Denver, away from the pain of that day. Within an hour, they were well on their way to a retreat in the mountains.
Agents Butler and Carpone greeted the five men as they pulled up at the lodge, leaving the instant Larabee had been updated and told the location of an SUV parked and concealed a distance away in case of trouble. Chris walked into the cabin and dropped his bag, frowning at the injured man on the sofa.
"This is resting?"
Tanner grinned. "Yeah, it is for me."
Josiah went into a room just off the living room, its windows barred and shuttered. Tyler, his head still bandaged, was lying on his bed, sleeping. While Ezra went in search of items to make coffee, Buck and Nathan crept into a darkened bedroom. Sitting on the bed, Buck watched as Nathan loosened and pulled down the back of JD's shirt by the collar and checked his bandage, touching his hand to the restless youth's head, then smiling back at Wilmington.
"He's fine, Buck, probably just dreaming."
JD was trapped in a nightmare, a terrifying dream where he and Vin had managed to get to a side window in the house, clambering through to hurriedly drop to the ground. JD heard Vin yelp as he landed awkwardly, turning his ankle. Tyler landed well, as did JD, but the ensuing explosion catapulted them forward along with masses of heavy, flying debris.
The image that had the young tech calling out was of when they were zipping up the body bag as someone was tugging at his shirt collar as if 'tucking him in' while he was screaming, though nothing would come out. 'I'm not dead, I'm not dead '
"I'M NOT DEAD!"
Alarmed at the outburst and the thrashing that accompanied it, Buck snatched up the shaking youth and held him tightly as he talked him back to reality. JD finally stopped trembling and, as his senses returned, looked up at Buck, pulling away gently as he nodded his thanks. At the site of the explosion, the three men had been alive but unconscious, so they had moved them to ambulances in body bags, in the hopes of duping anyone still there watching events play out that they had succeeded in their assignment. Despite his apparent state of unconsciousness, JD somehow had recall of the body bag, even though the men had been taken out of them the instant the ambulances were away.
Finally seeing Buck's concerned features, JD blinked. "Did they give us a good send-off?" the youth asked as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
Wilmington's brow furrowed and he gently cupped the young man's neck to draw him a little closer. His voice was rough with emotion.
"Let's not go there, kid, okay?"
JD could see the haunted look in his best friend's eyes and nodded. "Sure, bro, but you have to admit, it's not every day you get to ask about your own funeral."
The brunet smiled and bent to whisper into his ear. "It was no less than you both would have ever deserved, and that's the last time I'm talking about it."
Producing a real smile, JD nodded. "Understood. Now if you could move your butt off the bed, I'd like to get up."
Standing, and with a big grin on his handsome face, Buck helped the younger man to his feet, Nathan coming around to stand on JD's other side.
"I'm okay, guys, really, just a little stiff from lying down." There was no irritation in the easterner's voice, just reassurance. Nevertheless, Buck took his friend's elbow and walked the youth slowly into the living room, where four smiling faces greeted him. As he attempted to sit next to Vin on the sofa, JD teasingly rapped his knuckles on the Texan's cast. In reply, Vin lifted a crutch and lay it just where JD was coming down to sit, causing the youth to yelp and hastily remove the metal object. In retaliation, he snatched up Vin's bag of Doritos and munched on one, laughing and turning his back to avoid the swipes to retrieve them.
The pair's chuckling and teasing, relaxed the others and they all took seats as Ezra brought in a tray of coffees and a glass of milk, and placed it on a small centrally positioned table.
"Tyler okay?" Chris asked Josiah as he joined them. The profiler nodded.
"Sleeping like a baby."
They all took a moment as they savored their drinks, relaxing back in their seats. No one seemed keen to speak, all lost in their own thoughts.
"Tough day, huh?"
Five men looked at Tanner as his words snapped them back to the present.
"Not a day I would care to re-live," Standish said at last. The others nodded their agreement. Josiah shifted in his seat.
"I can say, without a doubt, it has been one of the bleakest days of my life. I can't even begin to imagine what it would have been like if it had been for real."
They all looked as JD inadvertently took a loud gulp of milk. His throat was tightening and he was trying desperately to conceal it, relaxing a little as he felt a squeeze to his arm from Vin, but aware the normally stalwart Texan was trembling slightly, too.
Larabee leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees as he looked at the mug in his hands, then at the two men on the sofa. "It was a shit thing to have to do, especially for a low-life like Tyler, but it served a purpose, and what he knows is clearly important enough for the Bureau to go through all this deception." He looked around at them all. "For the record, for me, it was a little too close for comfort, so you all had better damn well make sure I never have to go through that for real."
Knowing their leader's words were from the heart, they all smiled. JD shuddered.
"Next time they zip me up in a body bag, I wanna be dead."
For a moment the tension hung in the air, until Buck shook his head in amusement and flicked JD's ear.
JD's eyes sparkled as they rested on those of his self-appointed big brother and he laughed softly at how stupid his words must have sounded. The tension gone, they all followed suit, suddenly realizing they were bordering on hysteria as the more they laughed, the more the strain of the last seven days dissipated days of treating the injured agents and Tyler in hospital wards close to the morgue to avert suspicion of colleagues offering condolences because they believed, and still believed, Vin and JD were really dead, the subterfuge maintained for fear that another 'Tyler' lurked in Federal shadows of the haunting images of friends lying unconscious and bloody amongst tons of concrete and glass wondering if they had survived. Team Seven were ready to put the last ten days well and truly behind them, and concentrate on their assignment
A few days on, despite numerous attempts to involve Tyler in a game of poker or a simple discussion, the seven men found it was always only them involved in such activities, Tyler preferring to remain aloof and uncommunicative. JD had offered him his laptop and had fortunately taken a large selection of DVDs with him as well as succeeding in getting a reasonable signal on a portable TV with an indoor aerial, so the man at least had some entertainment while in the self-imposed confines of his room. He finally conceded to a short walk with two agents every day.
Vin was now wearing an orthopedic 'boot' over his cast which meant he could get around almost as normal and without crutches, while JD's shoulder wound was healing reasonably well, although Nathan was unhappy with one small area that was weeping, but he had plenty of medical supplies to keep it clean.
Communication with the outside world had been the hardest of all. Their cells received no signal and each day one of them would take a trip to a gas station a few miles from their location to use a payphone, taking care to insure they were not followed on their return.
Vin had seemed reasonably relaxed about their confinement, likely due to their location and his ability to now take short walks through the surrounding forest. JD, however, was not doing quite so well. His normal exuberance was lacking and Buck was fretting, encouraging the others to talk to him, in the hope they might succeed where he was failing. Subsequently, from his seat at the dining table, JD watched Ezra approach from the living area.
"Your turn now, huh?"
Standish took a seat next to him and cocked an eyebrow. "To what are you alluding, my young friend?"
JD released a small smile, but kept his eyes firmly on his clasped hands. "Buck's little plan to get someone to figure out why I'm so down right now."
"Ah, yes. Well why are you so disconsolate at this time?"
Dunne sighed, finally looking at the southerner. "I have no idea. I hate feeling like this, Ezra. I feel like I'm gonna "
Ezra leaned forward. " burst?"
JD frowned then nodded slowly. "Yeah burst. What's wrong with me? I love being here, I know we have to keep vigilant, but it's almost like a vacation with the six people I care about more than anything. I have all this rage inside me and I don't know why."
Ezra squeezed the young tech's arm. "Son, you've been through a terrible ordeal and then placed in an abnormal situation. You should be at home, ensconced on your sofa, TV remote in hand while Papa Buck happily waits on you. It is what you've become accustomed to. Instead, you have been forced to face your own mortality coupled with babysitting a man of questionable repute and certainly no principles, while recovering from the effects of being catapulted through the air along with most of a building. I'm surprised you haven't been reduced to a shivering lump of jello. Is that an accurate appraisal?"
JD snorted a laugh, missing Buck's hopeful glance toward them. He looked at Ezra and leaned forward. "So, what does that make Vin, then superhuman?"
Standish smiled inwardly. There indeed was the crux of the matter. "I believe Tyler is due for his daily outing soon." He smiled and squeezed JD's arm as he stood. "Give me a moment."
JD watched him stand, shrugging while resuming his interest in his hands and missing, or showing no interest in the southerner's conversation with the others. A few minutes later, a friendly push to his head caused him to look up at Vin and Buck.
"C'mon, squirt, we get the pleasure of escorting Tyler on his walk today."
"Three of us?" JD stood as he spoke.
"Yup," Tanner nodded, "I'm trying not to put this down to me an' you needin' a babysitter, so let's get to it, and don't forget your gun."
Despite being handcuffed to Buck, Tyler ignored the banter around him to concentrate on just being out in the fresh air.
"Ezra told us why he thinks you're feeling low right now."
JD looked at Buck, frowning. He hadn't told him that much, had he? "What, he's suddenly a shrink, now?"
Buck grinned. "No, but I think the point he brought up should be addressed."
Vin took over. "I ain't superhuman, kid. I guess I just handle things differently to you."
The easterner sighed. "Oh, crap. Why'd he have to say that? I thought we were having a private conversation. "
"Now, don't get all mad at Ezra," Buck advised. "He just succeeded where the rest of us failed; besides, you surely must've realized what we were aimin' to do. We're all worried about ya, kid, but we can't help if we didn't know what's bugging you."
"Well, it's not something I wanted to broadcast, me feeling sorry for myself while Vin just reverts to normal." JD said.
A snort from Tyler was followed by a wince as Buck yanked on the cuffs causing the fugitive to speak.
"Just like we all figured, you're just a kid, doing a man's job. Larabee must be crazy having you on his team."
"Oh, please," JD huffed, "like I haven't heard that one before."
"Time you listened up then," Tyler continued, "I'd sure hate to have to rely on you to keep me alive."
Buck turned and fisted the man's shirt. "That's exactly what he is doing asshole though personally, I reckon we should wave a big ol' red flag an' show the guys after you just where they can come get you."
"Buck." Vin's voice was low, his grip to Buck's arm soft, but there was strength in his admonishment and Buck relaxed his grip. JD looked fondly at them, remembering Vin doing something similar the day the safe house had been bombed, then saddening at the thought of his friends feeling they needed to stand up for him like that. Maybe he really was fooling himself.
Satisfied that the situation was resolved, Tanner turned to JD, not missing the look of uncertainty he' d seen it before, and had no doubt he would see it again while JD gallantly endeavored to carry out the responsibilities of a more experienced agent.
"You need to know I was scared shitless, too. Been havin' nightmares every night. I'm no different from you, kid. You're not the only one havin' a tough time, here. It's okay ta feel bad."
At Vin's confession, JD released a grateful smile that reached his eyes, but before he could answer, gunshots sounded from behind them at the lodge.
Chris nodded to Ezra. "You did good, Standish. I'm impressed."
"Indeed." Josiah clapped a hand on the smaller man's shoulder. "I, too, am impressed. I think you've missed your calling."
Ezra laughed softly. "I assure you, there was no skill involved. He was just ready to say to me the one thing that he wasn't ready to share with his previous cheerleaders. I was merely in the right place at the right time."
"Yeah, right," Nathan huffed, "an' you never cheat at poker."
Ezra tipped an imaginary hat and smiled back at the EMT as his reply. Before Jackson could offer a retort, a gunshot echoed, a window shattered and Standish dropped to his knees. He clutched his arm and frowned at the blossoming crimson stain on his shirt sleeve, just below his shoulder.
"I I fear that may have ruined this garment."
Chris pushed him flat to the floor as he, Josiah and Nathan crouched and took up defensive positions. A sudden barrage of gunfire smacking against the building, had the men flattening themselves on the floor.
Chris cursed. "FUCK! and Tyler's out on walkabout."
The instant the shots were heard, Buck fished out the key to the handcuffs, unlocked them and snapped the cuff from his wrist around Tanner's wrist. He took JD squarely by the shoulders and looked into his eyes.
"You three get outta here. Make for the SUV and don't look back until you've got Tyler to the nearest precinct."
JD's mouth dropped open. "What about you?"
Vin grabbed JD's arm, understanding perfectly. "C'mon, kid."
Dunne shrugged him off and looked at Buck.
"No we all go back they need our help."
Buck snapped. "Agent Dunne we have a job to do here. Get this man away and safe." He pushed the key into his hand.
Wilmington's words pulled out the professional in the youth, but the brunet's heart ached to see the hurt and frustration in the huge misty hazel eyes glaring back at him. Feeling Vin's hand on his arm again, JD nodded, swallowed, unholstered his gun and turned.
The three took off as fast as Vin was able, JD glancing back at Buck as they were about to disappear from view. He could see the brunet look back just as the man disappeared into the woods. His heart heavy but full of determination, JD turned and followed Vin, watching their backs as Tanner scanned ahead.
Buck ran full tilt back to the lodge. He was almost there when a body stepped in front of him and they both crashed to the ground. Slightly dazed, Buck blinked and looked to the downed man.
The man grunted. "You okay, Wilmington?"
Buck pushed himself up. "Yeah, I reckon so. What the hell are you doing here? Is Butler with you?" He helped the agent to his feet.
"No, just me. The Bureau got word you may be attacked. Looks like they heard right."
Buck pointed back to the woods. "I'm good here, but Vin and JD are heading for the SUV with Tyler. They're both still recovering, go help 'em."
Carpone nodded and headed off. Buck drew closer to the cabin and started working out where the shooters were hiding. Working his way to the first position, he didn't waste time, snapping the man's head back in a knockout blow, disarming him and moving on the next.
From inside the lodge Josiah, Nathan and Chris were firing blindly from the shattered window. Ezra was on the floor propped against the back of the sofa. Despite his initial denials, it was clear the man was in pain. Chris turned sharply as Josiah yelped, but the big man waved it off as he dabbed at a ricochet mark on the scalp at the front of his forehead. After a few minutes, the blond tilted his head. Was it his imagination, or was the gunfire slowing down?
Vin and JD were still a distance from their vehicle. Tanner was feeling mild pain in his ankle. He would regret having to do this, but hopefully it would only be his ankle that would suffer. JD's face never would be good for high stakes poker Tanner decided, as he noticed that, despite trying to hide his pain, it was starting to show. The two men were normally super-fit, but the sheen of sweat on their faces reflected the struggle they were enduring due to their still healing injuries.
Tyler complained relentlessly about having to run, but Vin and JD ignored him. The way the man was carrying on, it was if he actually wanted to get caught and killed. A noise behind them caused JD to turn and aim his weapon. Vin stopped and pushed Tyler to the ground.
"ATF! Show yourself."
At JD's call, Carpone walked toward them, arms raised.
"Carpone? Is Butler with you?" Tanner asked.
"No, just me. Bureau heard there might be trouble. I came to help. Buck sent me after you guys."
JD sighed with relief on hearing Buck's name, silently praying he and the others were still okay. He looked at Carpone.
"We're heading for the SUV. Come on, it's just at the edge of the woods. Give Vin a hand with Tyler, he's being a pain in the ass."
On cue, Tyler sat on the ground. "I need to rest."
Vin undid the cuff on his own wrist and cuffed Tyler to a branch. "I'm gonna scout backward, see if we've been followed. Ya got five minutes." With a nod to JD, Tanner disappeared.
Relieved to have a small break, JD stretched and relaxed for a moment. He was grateful for Carpone's help; he was struggling far more than he cared to let on. He checked his watch as uneasiness crept over him, grateful that Vin would be back any second. His momentary lapse in attentiveness due to Carpone's presence, did not prepare him for the sharp blow to the side of his head. Tyler grinned at Carpone as he watched the young agent drop to the ground.
"What the hell took you so long? I thought you'd have been back the next day."
Carpone shrugged. "Butler became a liability. I had to kill him, much like I'm gonna kill this kid here then Tanner," Carpone smiled, "then you."
While Tyler tried desperately to escape from the branch that was holding him, Carpone reached behind his back and, from a sheath on his belt, removed a large knife, raising his arm then plunging downward toward JD's stirring body.
Still in pain and dizzy, JD turned over onto his back just as the knife bore down on him. Closing his eyes he waited for the killer blow, opening them again on feeling a rush of air and a scrape of metal against his ribs, accompanied by a feral growl. Dunne shakily pushed himself up, as Tanner rolled around in the leaves with Carpone, to gain possession of the knife.
Vin was not happy. He was sure someone was behind them and knew they'd have to move out quickly and pick up the pace. His ankle was really starting to hurt now and, he hated to admit it, but he was struggling. As he reached the small clearing where he had left the others, the Texan was horrified to see Carpone standing over JD with a six inch blade in his hand. The sharpshooter moved just as the blade started its descent. With a grunt, he hit Carpone hard, the two rolling and struggling for control of the weapon. Realizing Vin was gaining the upper hand, Carpone kicked out at the ankle cast, causing Tanner to howl as a shot of pain streaked through his body, weakening him momentarily. In that moment of advantage, Carpone somehow got a hold of the knife and rammed it down into Vin's shoulder, pulling it out to strike again. Before he could, JD slammed the butt of his gun into the side of the man's head and snatched up the knife from the forest floor. Tanner could hear the struggle, but couldn't move as unbearable pain and nausea overwhelmed him.
Shaking his head to clear his vision, he touched the stinging, bloody scrape to his side. JD could see the two men wrestling on the ground and pushed himself up just as Vin cried out before screaming out in agony as the knife sliced into his body. Without thinking, Dunne grabbed his gun and swung it at Carpone's head, grabbing at the knife as it dropped to the ground. Carpone shook off the pain, growling, then launched himself at the smaller man. Clinching the youth tightly, Carpone grunted as he released his grip and appeared to hover just in front of JD for a second, before dropping sharply to the ground, dead.
JD looked in horror at the blood on the hand he had been holding the knife in, then at the man lying dead at his feet, the knife buried to the hilt in the prone body. Tyler squeaked out a raspy 'oh thank God' which snapped JD out of the trembling that had started coursing through him, to drop to Vin's side.
"Vin it's me JD talk to me."
Tanner groaned and opened one eye. "I hear ya g get me up we gotta go."
"Vin I I killed a Federal agent." He helped Tanner sit up. Vin touched JD's face.
"Ya killed a murderer and I'm mighty grateful you did. Now help me up."
"No I have to pack that wound somehow." JD gently pushed the Texan back to the ground as he glanced around to once again look at the dead agent. With a shudder, he realized what he needed to do and lifted the man's jacket, tearing at the shirt underneath. Saving some of the material in his jeans pocket, JD then crouched next to Vin and stuffed the torn fabric between the wound and Vin's blood-soaked shirt. Tanner hissed.
The Texan gasped as he fought the agonizing pain the movement had caused "Don't matter kid, jist get me up we gotta go."
Once JD had steadied his partner, he fished out the handcuff key, unlocked a shaking Tyler, then re-attached him to Vin's good wrist.
"He can help you," JD explained, glaring at Tyler as if daring him to disagree. Tanner nodded and slowly the three continued on to the SUV.
At the sound of sirens, Buck chanced crossing the clearing between the woods and the cabin, running and crashing through the front door, rolling neatly to come up, gun ready. He grinned at the stare from intense green eyes.
"Damnit stud, you holding a wild party without me?"
Chris pushed his hair back. "Hardly. Is it all clear out there or did you just decide a suicide mission was on your 'to do' list today?"
Buck chuckled as he rose, helping Larabee to his feet. "You're welcome." He spotted Ezra, then Josiah as Nathan moved to aid the southerner. "How bad?"
Chris acknowledged a nod from Nathan, but his concern was evident. "He'll live. JD, Vin and Tyler get off okay?"
Buck's face saddened as he shook his head. "I don't know. I had to leave 'em ta get back here. They were heading for the SUV when I left them. They'll be okay, though, it's not too far and I sent Carpone after them."
Josiah, still holding a cloth to his bleeding head, joined them. Chris frowned. "Carpone? What the hell's he doing back here?"
"If I may?"
The three turned to the sound of Travis' voice, surprised to see the AD himself walk into the cabin, but relieved to see paramedics right behind him. Nathan also joined them once Ezra was getting checked over.
Travis continued, walking over to check on Ezra, then back to the others. "It became apparent after several days that Butler was missing, despite Carpone's insistence on him being dropped at his home after handing over Tyler to you. Two days later, Carpone disappeared. I re-read some of the documentation JD had put together, and followed a thread he was working on prior to my orders to baby- sit Tyler. I now know the threat to Tyler was an empty one and those coming for him were actually attempting to help the man escape, not kill him. It would seem the 'big fish' he promised to hand us on a plate is actually Tyler himself."
Larabee absorbed the new information, then frowned. "The safe house? He could have been killed."
"Apparently an imprudent attempt to get him free or at least cause disruption to aid them, but the distraction almost proved fatal, the agents engaged in the gun battle that day are convinced it was an attempt to storm the house by Tyler's men and be away quickly, the bomb destroying any evidence, but the agents' success at holding the attack off almost killed them all. We think Carpone passed information to let it be known Tyler was still alive and then the location of the lodge. I decided to call in help and get up here, as I was fairly sure you had been compromised. I'm sorry, it would appear with Carpone's involvement, you've been sitting ducks."
Buck was beside himself. "We gotta go find Vin and JD, I sent Carpone to help them oh God he's gonna "
Larabee squeezed his anxious friend's arm. "Easy, Buck, we're leaving right now. Orin "
"There's a chopper coming we'll find them."
In the woods, all three men were sweating with the strain of the pace, injuries and the burden of half carrying Vin. JD's side burned and his head was pounding; his shirt collar was wet, but he was unsure if it was from the still seeping cut from the blow to his head, or sweat. Tanner didn't know how he was hanging on, gritting his teeth with the sheer effort as every step was pure agony, making the short distance to their prize seem like miles.
Suddenly, Tyler stumbled and all three men fell. Vin howled in pain as he hit the ground and passed out, causing the cuffs to chafe Tyler's wrist.
"Ow, fucking son of a bitch get this ape off me."
Fighting his own pain and nausea caused from the tumble, JD gently moved Vin onto his side, then glared at Tyler.
"Shut the hell up. Jeeze, Carpone tried to kill us, Vin saved our lives, isn't that enough for you to at least want to help us?"
"Y you s saved mine, too, kid."
JD smiled with relief at seeing a pair of blue eyes peering at him. "Yeah, well couldn't take care of Tyler by myself, could I?"
Vin struggled to sit, yelping as JD helped him while waiting quietly for the Texan to catch his breath. "Aah, I reckon you'd do okay." Tanner gestured with his head. "Not too far now just over that ridge."
JD looked to the ridge and started laughing, softly at first then harder. Vin frowned, swiping at the sweat stinging his eyes.
"How hard did Carpone hit you?"
Dunne sobered a little, shivering as their lack of movement caused his sweat-soaked body to chill slightly. "You're the master of understatement, Tanner. 'That ridge' may just as well be a mile away at the speed we're moving. We may be being chased by armed men you've been stabbed and can barely walk Tyler's a goddamned millstone, our team may be " he swallowed hard, his head dropping for a moment, then looking up into Vin's face. Tanner knew that look and managed a small smile as JD spoke with renewed determination. "Come on, we gotta go."
With a grunt, he pulled Vin to his feet, Tyler following suit. After only another ten or so minutes of painful exertion, Vin was down and semi-conscious again. Tyler glared at JD, who was distraught at his friend's pain and being unable to let him rest for long, as well as his own discomfort. Dunne pulled out the saved shirt strips and crouched down next to Vin. Wishing they had water with them, JD removed the now sodden strips and packed in the clean ones as Vin moaned softy.
"Agent Dunne, you've done all you can. This guy's had it, he's a liability. Dump him and we'll get out of here bring back help for him."
Tyler gulped at the look on the easterner's face. Before JD had even realized he was moving, he had the criminal by the throat and pinned to the ground.
"This guy is my friend and I'd leave you before I'd even consider leaving him behind. Your life right now means nothing to me his life means everything. Now shut the fuck up before I forget I'm a Federal agent with a job to do, you whiney-assed, shit for brains, piece of scum."
As he spoke, JD pressed harder on the man's throat. A hand on his arm snapped him back to reality.
"He's not worth it, kid let him go."
JD looked down at the man he was choking then rocked back on his heels, at first unable to face Vin, then, misty-eyed, he looked into the Texan's eyes and spoke, his voice barely a whisper.
"But you are."
Tanner smiled slightly. "An' now I'm tellin' ya he's right, leave me." He startled as JD leapt to his feet with a grunt.
"NO! No more splitting up NO MORE! We're a team, damnit we look out for each other. I'd rather fail in my duty to keep this man alive than leave you here."
Vin swallowed the emotion in his throat, staring at the younger man for a few long moments as he composed himself. "Well look at you all growed up," he said, proudly.
JD shook his head. "No no I still need six big brothers all six. You got that?"
Vin struggled to sit up, the pain almost unbearable but heartened by JD's words. He forced a smile.
"I got it, kid I got it. C'mon all this jawin's wasting time."
As Ezra and Josiah were sent off to hospital, Buck, Chris and Nathan needed action. Chris pointed to a 4x4.
"We need that. Screw the chopper, we're going in after them."
Travis nodded. "Go, I'll send them on after you."
In less than a minute the three men of Team Seven were fully geared up and on their way. It was a bumpy journey but they were soon at the site of Carpone's body. Cutting the engine, they jumped out to investigate.
Nathan looked up from checking the man over. "Still pretty warm. If the SUV's where you say it is we're not far behind 'em."
Buck called out from a short distance away. "There's more blood here."
Chris and Nathan walked over to the patch of blood, also noting a few spots scattered around. Nathan nodded.
"I guess this might explain why Carpone's shirt's all torn up. Maybe some makeshift bandages?"
Larabee glared. "Well, looks like someone's hurt bad we need to find 'em, now."
They all looked up and ahead at the sound of gunshots. Buck paled.
"Oh God, no."
As they crested the ridge, all three men let out an audible sigh as they spotted the old SUV.
Vin looked wearily at JD. "Try the wheel well."
Lowering Tanner gently to the ground, Dunne searched feverishly, letting out a yelp of joy as his fingers located the magnetic box that contained the ignition key. Suddenly, a burst of gunfire sounded and bullets pinged around them, bouncing off the ground and the vehicle.
"Oh shit." Realizing they were out of time, JD unlocked the sliding door and in seconds was pushing Tyler and Vin into the vehicle. Another burst of gunfire sounded and he turned toward the direction and fired off several blind shots of his own, then, slamming the door closed, ran around, unlocked the door and jumped into the driver's seat, keeping low, even as he sat inside.
"Stay down," he ordered.
Tyler lay low, Tanner was already prostrate, breathing heavily as he tried to stay conscious to offer JD support, even if it was only verbally. Dunne, crouching as low as he could, rammed the key into the ignition, cursing as more gunfire hit the truck while the engine turned over lazily but did not fire up.
"Aarrgghh damnit come on!" He tried again.
Tyler sat up. "For fuck's sake, Dunne get us outta here."
Sitting up, JD spun around angrily to face the ex-fed. "What does it look like I'm doing? Get down!" As he turned to face forward, JD heard more gunshots and a crash of glass from the rear of the vehicle. His breath left him as a sharp heavy thud to his back caused a streak of pain to shake him to the core. As his vision blurred and the pain spread through the whole of his body, JD barely had time to register the sounds of rotor blades and Vin's voice screaming out his name before he slumped forward over the steering wheel and everything went black.
Tanner was barely conscious as he watched Tyler bob up to yell something at JD, then squeak on his descent when a bullet barely missed his head to go through the back of the driver's seat. JD's yelp alerted Vin to the possibility of his friend being hit and he heard his own voice calling out, only to be rewarded by the piercing sound of a blaring horn. The last thing Tanner heard was a chopper and voices yelling, then he, too, slipped into the beckoning darkness.
"THERE SHOOTERS! "
Chris slammed on the brakes at Buck's call and the three agents exited the vehicle, firing the instant their feet hit the ground. Two armed men went down instantly, while the third lay down his weapon and raised his hands. As the chopper hovered overhead, Nathan and Buck checked on the downed men, removing any guns, while Chris forced the third to the ground, ordering him to lie face down while he searched him. Before Larabee could inflict any harm on the man that had been firing on his men, police vehicles had joined them and several officers had stepped in to take over, allowing the three men of Team Seven to approach the now bullet-ridden SUV.
Guns still drawn, Nathan approached cautiously and, on Chris' nod, pulled back the sliding door. Chris inhaled sharply.
Jackson instantly checked out the Texan, releasing Tyler from the cuffs and handing him over to waiting officers, while Larabee half watched him and half watched Buck moving around to the driver's door. It was then he noticed JD's slumped form, realizing through his shock, the blaring horn and the motionless agent were connected. He crouched down next to Nathan and placed a hand on Tanner's unconscious body, devastated to see his friend like this. One look from Jackson told him all he needed to know and, standing, Larabee looked toward Buck and moved to join him.
Buck moved around to the door on the driver's side and shakily pulled it open. Trying to ignore the blood-soaked back of JD's shirt, the brunet touched trembling fingers to the youth's neck. It was only when a hand rested on his shoulder did he realize his eyes had been closed, silently grateful for the pulse he'd found, opening again to meet the concern in Chris' own. Buck nodded at the question in the blond's eyes.
"Yeah," Chris rasped out, but it looks bad." He looked at JD, swallowing the bile in his throat as he leaned in to rest his hand on the dark head. "The bastards shot him in the back."
Buck touched his hand to JD's shoulder, leaning in to whisper.
"Help's coming just hold on "
In moments, paramedics had moved them aside and begun working on the unconscious easterner and downed Texan. As the three men looked on, they hoped for a small movement, something anything. Five minutes later, Tanner and Dunne were in the chopper and on their way to hospital, Buck, Chris and Nathan in hot pursuit as Travis assured them he would secure the lodge and bring their personal property back to the Federal Building.
While Larabee and Wilmington sat quietly together in the surgical waiting room for news on Vin and JD, Josiah and Nathan had gone to sit with Ezra, whose own bullet wound had been successfully operated on and was now in recovery. Standish stifled a yawn.
"Gentlemen, I'm weary and will endeavor to get the rest the doctor so determinedly insisted on. I would appreciate an update on our young friends upon waking."
Josiah grinned. "Understood, my friend, but if it's all the same to you, we'll wait until you are asleep before we leave."
Ezra smiled, sleepily, warmed by the kinship he shared with these men, and as he drifted into slumber, prayed silently for the Team's two youngest.
Josiah and Nathan arrived just as the doctor walked into the waiting room to speak to Chris and Buck, both men now on their feet. He introduced himself as Doctor Henry Chiltern.
"Vin came through surgery well and is currently in SICU. We will be keeping him there for now, but we hope he can be transferred to his own room within a day, maybe two at the most. There was some muscle damage to the Pectoralis Major and a chipped clavicle but the repairs went well. I'm sure after some physical therapy he will regain full mobility." He smiled at the relief on the four men's faces.
"He has a mild infection which we are treating with antibiotics and has received two units of blood, but so far, no sign of shock." He paused as he prepared to tell them about JD, acknowledging their nods.
"John is still in surgery, but they were closing. If luck is the right word to use in these circumstances, then fortune has smiled upon us. The bullet passed through a window and a seat, I understand"
The men nodded.
"It slowed down the bullet's momentum; if it hadn't, I don't believe we could have done anything to save him. The bullet passed through the muscle, was deflected by the collar bone, to pass through the chest cavity, stopping at the sternum and somehow missing all major organs."
He paused again as he watched the myriad of emotions cross four strained faces, continuing, to round up his prognosis.
"The bullet has been successfully removed and the muscle repaired, physical therapy will soon strengthen the muscle. John's internal injuries will heal fully, in time, but physical therapy will have to be deferred until that happens."
Chris went to ask a question when the doctor spoke again.
"We've stitched a small knife-wound to JD's flank and a gash to his head and put him on a course of antibiotics for a mild infection to both wounds to the torso." He smiled. "I know that's a lot to take in, but the bottom line here is he should recover."
Before he could say any more, Buck stepped forward and pumped his hand.
"Thank you, thank you. When can we see them?"
"You can see Vin now. John should be with Vin in SICU in the next fifteen minutes." He pointed down the corridor. "Down there, third door on the left."
As the four walked into the room, they were shocked to see Vin's condition, but at the same time relieved to see him. He looked drawn and pale as he lay there, connected to beeping machinery and various tubes. Chris drew close and curled his hand around his best friend's wrist.
"Vin hey, Tanner can you hear me?"
Moving his head slightly, Vin fought to open his eyes, finally able to peer through slits. He attempted a smile as he saw Larabee inches from his face.
"Cow boy "
Chris smiled. "Yeah good to have you back."
"Don't get rid o' me that easy " He looked around the circle of smiling faces, frowning as he realized someone was missing. Before he could work out it was Ezra and JD, he drifted back to sleep.
As the four men watched Tanner sleeping, the doors opened and a bed was pushed in. The orderlies settled it next to Vin's and snapped on the brakes, leaving a nurse and doctor to ensure the IV and monitors were in order. With a nod, the medical staff left and Buck eagerly moved next to the youth's side, sad eyes taking in everything from the ashen features to the bandages. A squeeze to his shoulder told Buck his friends were with him, but he remained focused on the young man he had become so close to, stroking the back of JD's hand with his thumb. The brunet was so absorbed in checking out JD's bandages which stretched from his waist to his shoulder, he missed the drug- hazed hazel eyes looking at him.
" 'hope it doesn't look as bad as I feel "
Wilmington grinned at the raspy words, Chris, Josiah and Nathan doing the same. Buck nodded.
"Don't you worry none, you're still as ugly as you always were." He leaned in. "Y'know, I'm pretty sure there's a rule against getting stabbed and shot on the same day."
JD frowned. "I got shot?"
Buck pushed back some hair from, JD's face. "Yeah you did but it's all gonna be fine."
Chris took over, catching the concern. "Not your kind of fine, JD really fine. Just need you to get well and the rest'll fall into place."
With a nod, Dunne closed his eyes, then opened them, panic showing. "Vin?"
Chris nodded. "Right next to you and he's fine too."
Desperately wanting to ask where Ezra was, JD fought sleep, but once he realized he couldn't form a sentence, he relaxed and dozed off.
While Josiah and Nathan went to check on Ezra, Buck and Chris settled next to JD and Vin. A little while later, Vin woke up and turned to one side instinctively, lstaring at JD sleeping, Buck next to him and looking back at the Texan.
Buck nodded. "Yeah, he's good." He watched as Vin and Chris exchanged looks.
"You both just need time to heal," Chris said, relaxing back in the chair.
"Yeah," Vin answered, relaxing himself as he showed faith in the words of a man he would trust with his life one of six he would give his own life for and almost had.
"This is more like it!"
JD gave a tight smile as he sat ensconced on Chris' sofa while Vin and Ezra were wrapped up and relaxing on Chris' matching recliners. Buck gestured for JD to lift his feet and sat on the sofa with him, allowing the younger man to drop his feet onto his legs. He handed JD a drink and a sandwich as Josiah and Nathan did the same for Vin and Ezra. They all looked up as Chris came from the study.
"Travis has given us the week, but then those of us still in one piece have to go back to work."
JD was about to comment but had to use all his energy to re- position himself, the pain in his shoulder taking his breath for a second. Buck frowned.
"You taking your meds?"
"You know I am," JD snapped, "It's just aching."
"JD?" Chris moved to face the younger man. "What's on your mind?"
Dunne looked at Vin then back to Larabee. "It's nothing."
After several seconds of Larabee glaring back at him, he sighed and answered.
"It's just I did everything I could everything, yet Vin got stabbed and I got shot in the back " JD looked around at the six men, resting on Vin. " what if Tyler was right? What if ?"
Vin cut him off as the others looked a little confused. "Carpone was the unknown quantity here, JD. We thought he was on our side, but he not only told Tyler's men where to find us, he tried to kill us all three of us. You got some guts and then some, kid you got us to where we needed to be. The one thing that stands out in my mind was you choking Tyler after he suggested you leave me behind and tellin' him I was your friend." Vin smiled. "You made me proud to be yours."
JD swallowed, then gave a lop-sided grin, again looking around the faces of the six men that had become his life.
"Guts? Yeah, well I guess it runs in the family."
They all chuckled softly. Chris proudly squeezed JD's arm as he went toward the kitchen to make some coffee. "You'd better believe it, kid."