Main Characters: Seven
Alternate Universe: Negotiations
This is the second story in the Negotiations AU, a sequel to Negotiations.
Chris Larabee raced across the quadrant, turning the wheels of his chair so fast they threatened to spin right off their axle. His arms were burning, the muscles overused and tired, but he paid them no heed. His mind, his soul, his entire being was focused on the image in front of him. The wheels of the chair caught on a piece of rubble, and it stuck. The chair spun round, tipping the man onto the ground, but he kept going. He dragged his useless legs, pulling himself forwards, arm over arm. Rocks dug into his wrists, and cut at his hands, but he felt nothing.
Then arms were on his, pulling him back, lifting him from the ground. He fought, he struggled, but there were more than he could deal with, and he felt hands under his arms dragging him back.
“No! Let me go! Let me… go!” He tried to wrestle himself from their grip, but they held on. He was yelling, screaming at them to let him go. They were yelling too, but he couldn’t hear them.
“Chris! Chris, calm down!”
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own?”
“I have to help him! Let me go, god-dammit! VIN!”
“Chris, listen to me. LISTEN!”
“Leave me alone. He’s in there!”
A hand whipped across Chris’ face, it’s sharp slap sounding loud above the yelling. Buck balled his fists into Chris’ shirt, leaning down so his face was only inches away.
“He’s gone, Chris! He’s gone!”
Chris stopped yelling. He looked up at Buck, shocked.
“He’s gone Chris.” Buck whispered.
Chris slumped, tears filling the green eyes. Buck pulled his friends head into his shoulder, and wrapped his arms around the shaking body. Chris wept.
“How is he, Buck?”
Buck raised red-rimmed eyes to see JD standing at the doorway. “Doc’s just stitching his hand up now. Cut it pretty good on that rubble. Nathan’s in with him.”
JD sat down next to Buck, his hands running through his hair.
“You okay Kid?” Buck asked. He saw JD nod.
“I guess. Never thought this would happen though. Not to one of us. Not to…” He took a shaky breath, regaining control before continuing softly, “I don't think I've ever seen Chris cry before.”
Buck sighed. “It’s only the second time I’ve seen it, Kid. The first time, it was just after Sarah and Adam died.”
“You think he’ll be okay?”
“Oh, it’s not the crying you want to worry about kid. It when he stops crying that you should be concerned.”
Just then Nathan emerged; Buck and JD stood to greet him.
“The doctor stitched it up okay. His hand’s the least of our worries right now.”
“He say anything?” Buck asked.
Nathan shook his head. “Wouldn’t talk to me. Just sat staring into space.”
Just then, the door burst open and Chris Larabee came out.
“Chris, the doc told you you can’t be wheeling yourself around with that hand like that!” Nathan admonished, but Chris ignored him. He pushed past all three of them and left.
“Aren’t you going to go after him Buck?” JD asked.
Buck shook his head. “Chris just needs some time on his own for a bit, Kid.”
Three hours later, Buck walked into O’Neill's, a quiet bar on the south side. He waved to the bartender as he entered.
“Hey Jimmy. He been at it long?”
The bartender glanced at Chris. “Couple of hours. Brought two bottles of whiskey, been working through them since. I take it something bad happened.” Jimmy said when he noticed Buck’s worried expression.
Buck nodded grimly. “Yeah. The worst.”
Chris was striving for detachment from reality, but no matter how much he drank, he couldn’t seem to achieve it.
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own?”
“Hey buddy.” Chris heard Buck’s voice, but didn’t acknowledge him. Buck sat down opposite his long-time friend.
“How you doing?”
Chris didn’t answer, just poured himself another shot and knocked it back.
“Stupid question, huh?”
Chris nodded slowly, still not looking at Buck, rather, staring at the tabletop.
“You gonna drink all that yourself?” Buck asked, indicating the nearly empty second bottle.
Again, Chris nodded.
Buck waited a while before speaking again, trying to think of the words. “Look, Chris…”
Chris raised a finger to stop Buck in his tracks. “Don’t say it Buck. Don’t say you ‘understand’, because you don’t. You don’t.” Chris snarled.
“I know I don’t Chris,” Buck whispered. “But I do understand you, and I know you’re gonna sit here all night, beating yourself up about what happened. So why don’t I take you home, huh?”
Chris just poured himself another drink, making his intention to stay clear.
“Chris, this isn’t helping any.” Buck tried to remove the glass from Chris’ hand but Chris jerked his hand away violently.
“Shut up Buck, would you just shut up! I already lost a wife, and a son, and now I lost a brother too, so how the FUCK would you know what’s helping?”
Chris threw the glass down on the table, and wheeled his chair backwards. One of the wheels stuck on a rut in the carpet, and Chris could not get the damn thing to move. Frustrated, he struck out at the table, flinging it sideways where is landed with a crash, the glass and bottles smashing on the floor.
“Feel better?” Buck asked.
“Not really,” Chris replied, looking around the room, anger and frustration in his expression.
“Sorry Chris, no one in here for you to pick a fight with. It’s a bit early in the day for that.”
“So I’ll wait until there is.”
Buck shook his head sadly. “Chris…if you really want to get drunk until you pass out, at least do it at my place. That way I won’t have to haul your ass home.”
Chris did pass out on Buck’s sofa that night. And the next night. The next night he passed out in a bar, but he still ended up in the same place.
“Where’s Chris?” Nathan asked Buck when he walked into the office a week later.
“Where do you think? He’s at my place.”
“Sleeping it off again?” Nathan accused.
“What of it?” Buck replied.
“Dammit Buck, letting him pass out on your sofa every night ain’t gonna help him! Would you just let me talk to him?”
“He doesn’t need any of your psycho-babble bullshit Nate! I know what he needs, I’m his friend! I’ve done this before, remember?”
“Yeah, and what good did that do him? I remember the stories of him being a suicidal alcoholic. Fat lot of good you did him then!”
Buck’s fist hit Nathan in the jaw before either man knew it had happened. Nathan stumbled back, Buck looked shocked. Ezra and JD stood stock still on the other side of the room, unable to believe what they had just witnessed.
Buck slumped into a chair, his head in his hands. “Oh Jesus Nate, I… I’m sorry Nate, I’m so sorry.” he mumbled. “I just…” he looked up. “I just see it happening all over again, that’s all. Just like it did with Sarah and Adam. I mean, Jesus… he’s just trying to destroy himself all over again and I can’t stop it.”
Chris woke to the usual woolly head, feeling his head pounding before he’d even attempted to move. He forced himself up off the sofa, carefully moving into his chair and heading for the kitchen. He sat at the table, nursing a black coffee. He thought about taking an aspirin, like he did every morning, but every morning he decided against it. He wanted his head to hurt; it detracted attention from the other, much deeper hurt inside.
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own?”
“Gentlemen! A toast!’ Buck yelled over the hubbub in the bar. He raised his glass. ‘To the Magnificent 7 – one year old today!” He used the nickname penned for the group by the media, after a number of successful negotiations, causing the other men to jeer at him loudly.
“Alright, alright!” he cried, calming down the drunken yelling. “Seriously boys, it’s been a good year. We’ve brought casualty figures down to record levels, despite Chris managing to get himself shot on our first job.”
“Get on with it Buck!” Chris yelled.
“Vin’s managed to defy the laws of physics on hundred of occasions with miraculous shooting, JD’s hacked into more computer systems than I care to think of, Nathan and Josiah have come across more mentally unstable people than you’d find at the FBI Christmas party, and Ezra’s cheated us all of enough of our hard-earned money to start up his own high-class whorehouse.”
‘Your drollness overwhelms me, Mr Wilmington.’
‘What about you Buck?’ JD asked.
‘Well JD, I’ve courted more lovely ladies from law enforcement than you could even dream about.’
‘’Cept in his dreams they probably don’t slap his face when they find him foolin’ around with the copy girl from FBI headquarters.’ Vin added.
‘Speaking of lovely ladies, Mr Wilmington, have you made any advances on the proprietor of this lovely establishment?’
“‘Now Ezra, Miss Inez is slowly being won around by my charms.”
“Buck! The toast!” Chris snapped, anxious to down the drink in front of him.
“Oh yeah. Anyway, here’s to many more wonderful years!” They knocked their drinks back in one.
“And maybe next year Buck will be able to say hello to Inez without her having to run for the ladies room to barf.” Vin whispered to Chris, and they both sniggered.
Chris’ train of thought was interrupted by a knock at the door. He ignored it, but he couldn’t ignore the voice that followed it.
“Chris?” a female voice inquired.
“What d’you want Mary?” Chris yelled back.
Mary pushed the door open and stepped into Buck’s apartment. She saw Chris sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands. When he raised his head to look at her, she was shocked to see how rough he looked.
“You haven’t been home in a while. I figured you must be here.” Mary said.
“So you found me. So what?”
Mary took a deep breath. “I bumped into Buck last week, at your place. I was coming round for our session, and he was feeding Sam. He told me what happened. I’m so sorry Chris.”
Chris nodded. “Thank you Mary.”
“But, you know we haven’t had a therapy session in over a week. I understand you’re very upset, but it’s important to keep the exercise going; you’re aware of the possible damage to your circulation among other things.”
“I’m aware Mary. I’ll get Nathan to do some with me at the office.”
Mary nodded. “Very well, but be sure to call me when you want to restart our sessions. Besides, I’ll have to bring Sam back round at some point. Buck thought it would be best for him to stay with me for a while, so Billy’s been looking after him.”
“Tell him I’m grateful.” Chris said quietly, not looking up.
Mary nodded, and turned to leave. Hesitating, she turned back for a moment. “Don’t leave it too long Chris.” And with that, she left.
Chris watched the door shut behind Mary, and dropped his head down onto the table again.
“Ugh. I need coffee, and lots of it.” Buck groaned, walking into the office.
“You want to keep the noise down Buck?” Nathan muttered from behind his desk.
“Coffee’s in the machine Buck.” Josiah said. “I figured it’d be good to keep it topped up this morning.”
“Good thinking Josiah.” Buck poured himself a cup. “Chris in?”
“Right here Buck. Where’s JD?”
Buck sniggered, and then regretted it as his head started pounding. “Couldn’t even raise his head off the pillow. Reckon it’s his first real hangover – there’s something to be proud of.”
Ezra shuffled in, impeccably dressed as always, but his eyes betraying the way he really felt.
“Good morning Ezra.”
“What’s so good about it?” Ezra growled. “Mr Larabee, has anyone ever told you what a complete menace you are when you are under the influence?”
“What do you mean?” Chris asked.
“Well for one thing, you lose the ability to maneuver your chair in a straight line, as the bruises on my shin will bear witness to. I’m presuming Mr Dunne is still sleeping off the influences of that whiskey last night, but where is Mr Tanner?”
Chris shrugged. “Same, I’m guessing. Don’t think he gets drunk often.”
“I dropped him off at his place.” Josiah said. “He’ll be in later, no doubt.”
“Right, well when everyone’s got a coffee, you all have work to do.” Chris had shut the door to his office before various balled up pieces of paper were thrown at it.
The phone was ringing insistently, so he reached across the unopened pile of mail to reach it.
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own, Mr Larabee?”
“What? Who is this?”
“I suggest you check your mail.” The caller hung up.
Chris was filled with a sense of dread, a lead balloon settling in the pit of his stomach.
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own?”
Chris quickly shuffled through the pile of mail, scanning each letter until he reached an unmarked envelope. He ripped it open, and it’s contents fell onto the desk. The first thing Chris noticed was a photo. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was Vin, tied to a chair in the middle of a warehouse, with explosives strapped to his chest. Chris managed to tear his eyes away from the photo to look at the piece of paper that had fallen out with it. Written on it was an address, and a time. 9:45.
Chris looked at his watch. 9:37.
“Chris? Chris, you here?” Buck called as he entered the apartment. He turned to Nate and shrugged. “Guess he went out.”
“Any idea where?”
“Look Nate, Chris likes to deal with stuff on his own, okay? You just have to give him space.”
Nathan looked at Buck pointedly. “Sometimes you give folks too much space and they end up doing something stupid.”
Buck stared. “He wouldn’t do that.”
“Are you sure?” Nathan asked. “Man’s lost a lot.”
“Chris wouldn’t do that.” Buck stated firmly.
The ground was rocky and uneven, but Chris pushed himself up the steep hill with determination. It took him an hour to reach the top, and he was panting and sweating at the end of it, but as he sat looking at the view, he knew it was worth it.
The last time Chris had been here was with Vin. One day, around three months ago, Vin had taken Chris to a horse ranch a few miles down the road and told him they were going riding. Chris had been a very good rider before the accident, even planning to settle down with his family and his own ranch some day. But he wasn’t convinced he could still do it, until Vin had coaxed him into it. Despite having no grip with his legs, Chris found he could still ride comfortably, as long as it was at a gait no faster than walk.
On their last outing, just two weeks ago, Vin had brought him here. Vin had told him it was his favorite spot, a place only he ever visited. Chris had felt honored that Vin had shared it with him, and now, sitting in the same spot, Chris felt the loss of Vin more deeply than ever.
“Dammit Vin, how could you leave me?” Chris whispered. “I need you, god-dammit. I need you.”
*Help me Chris*
Chris heard the voice so clearly, it knocked the breath out of him with it’s power. Vin had spoken to him. Vin had cried for help.
“Still no answer?” Ezra asked Buck, who shook his head as he hung up the phone.
“He’s not there, and his cell’s switched off.” Buck sighed.
“Buck!” Buck turned at the familiar voice, and saw Chris wheeling himself into the office. For a moment, he would have sworn none of the events of the past week had occurred, for Chris looked as healthy and alive as ever.
“Buck, I want all the crime scene reports from the bombing on my desk pronto. Nathan, call up forensics and have them send down all the information they picked up off that letter. JD, get in touch with the bomb squad, I want to know everything about the bomb that blew up the building.”
“Chris, what are you doing?” Buck asked incredulously.
“He’s not dead Buck.” Chris stated firmly, still bustling about the office. He ignored the five looks of horror on his agent’s faces.
“Who’s not dead?” Josiah asked, not sure he could believe Chris was talking about who they all thought he was talking about.
“Who do you think? Vin! Vin’s not dead!” Chris said loudly.
“Have you been drinking Chris?” Buck asked.
“Chris, we all saw it. We all saw what happened…”
Buck drove as fast as he could, maneuvering the truck in and out of the traffic quickly. He could barely believe what had just happened. Chris had burst out of the office, yelling something incoherent about Vin being in trouble. He had rushed to the parking garage with the others in hot pursuit and they had all bundled into the truck. Josiah and Nathan had picked up Chris’ chair, man and all, and unceremoniously thrown him into the truck. Now as Buck drove, Chris had explained what had just happened; the phone call, and the letter, and the picture. Buck glanced at the clock on the dashboard. 9:43. It would be tight.
Buck braked to a halt about 100 yards from the warehouse, and the doors were open before the truck had fully stopped. Ezra and Nathan ran for the warehouse, while Josiah and JD helped Chris out the truck.
The blast shook the ground. Ezra and Nathan were knocked off their feet by the force of it. They had all barely recovered before they realized Chris was off, racing towards the destroyed building.
“I know what I saw Buck! I saw a building blow up. That’s all! What’s to say Vin was inside?”
“Chris, the photo, the note. You know what it implies.” Nathan said slowly.
“Jesus Nathan, we all know what’s implied isn’t necessarily true! How do you think Ezra does all those fancy card tricks? Tell me, did they find any evidence that he was in there?”
“With those explosives strapped to his chest, there wasn’t anything to find. You know that Chris.” Buck said.
“Yeah, and so did the bomber! He knew that if we thought Vin had been killed, we wouldn’t look for him!”
“Chris, why are you doing this? I mean, why now? Why the sudden conviction he’s alive?”
“Because I heard him Buck! I heard him! He asked me for help.” Chris replied.
Now the other five just looked at him like his was crazy.
“Chris, you’ve been very upset lately. This is a normal sort of thing to be going through.” Josiah said.
“Fuck off Josiah! Don’t you patronize me with that horseshit. Vin’s alive, and either you all help me find him, or I’ll do it myself.”
“What do you reckon Nathan?” Buck whispered, hunched over his desk so Chris wouldn’t see.
“It’s just something he needs to work out of his system Buck. We’ll just have to go along with whatever he wants us to do. When no evidence turns up, he’ll have to face up to it.”
Buck nodded. He was about to open his mouth to say something else when Chris came out of his office.
“Buck? Anything?” Chris asked. Buck shook his head.
“Nathan, JD?” Both replies were to the negative.
“Letter was clean Chris, no prints.” Nathan said.
“Bomb squad report the device was probably timer detonated, a substantial amount of LNG totaled the building and everything inside it. But we already knew that.” JD said.
“LNG?” Chris queried.
“Yeah, Liquid Nitrogen Gas. It’s a kind of…”
“I know what it is JD!” Chris snapped. “Nathan, where’s that photo?”
Nathan handed Chris the photo of Vin tied to the chair. Chris studied it for a moment, a slow smile spreading over his face.
“What is it Chris?” Buck asked.
“Take a look at this Buck.” Chris handed him the photo.
“What am I looking for?” Buck asked, studying the photo.
“Take a look at the explosives. That look like LNG to you?”
Realization dawned on Buck. “Holy crap Chris, you’re right. They don’t pack LNG like that. That looks like…”
“I’m guessing C4.” Chris finished for him. “Which means that the bomb that blew up is a different one to the one Vin’s wearing in that picture.”
“So he’s alive?” JD breathed incredulously.
“And he’s been missing for over a week so let's set about finding him gentlemen!” Chris said. “Ezra, check out any thefts of explosives recently. The rest of you use your initiatives. I want him found.”
“Chris?” Nathan knocked on the door to Chris’ office.
“Come in Nathan. What’ve you got?”
“Actually, I was just speaking to Mary on the phone. She called to check that you’d asked me to do some exercises with you. I gather you haven’t done any in over a week.”
Chris sighed. “Alright Nathan, we’ll do some later.”
“Actually I was kinda thinking about now” Nathan hinted.
“Jesus, what is with you people?” Chris asked. He looked up at Nathan, and saw the man wasn’t going to budge.
“Fine!” Chris said, exasperated.
Ezra burst into Chris’ office excitedly. “Chris, I…” He stopped when he noticed Chris was lying on the floor, one leg bent to his chest while Nathan leaned over him. To someone who didn’t know what was going on, it would have looked like a very compromising position.
“Perhaps I’ll come back later.” Ezra stammered.
“What is it Ezra?” Chris snapped. Not having had a physical workout in a long time meant this was hurting like hell, and Chris wasn’t in the mood for Ezra messing around.
“Well I think I might have something.”
“Let me see.” Chris reached up for the file in Ezra’s hand. Nathan continued, an ear tuned in to the proceedings.
“Well I checked out any recent thefts involving explosives like you asked, and the only one I could come up with was this one. Two months ago, a large shipment of LNG was hijacked. There were no arrests, but the only real suspect was a guy called Tony Gudgeon. No evidence meant no charges were brought against him.”
“So what can we do?” Chris asked.
“Well, past records show this guy as a dealer, not a bomber, he’s too smart for that. But chances are he’s the one who sold it to our guy, so he’s our best bet for information.”
“If no one’s proved he did it, how can we squeeze the information out of him? He’s not going to incriminate himself.” Nathan said.
“Unless he feels he can speak freely with us.” Ezra said thoughtfully.
“You mean go in undercover?” Chris queried.
“The thought had crossed my mind.” Ezra said.
“Wait a minute, we don’t have the authority to launch an undercover operation.” Nathan said.
“That’s okay Nate, there’s not going to be an undercover operation. Ezra and I just might want to inquire about buying something for a little fireworks party we were organizing, right, Ezra?”
A slow, sly smile crept over Ezra’s face. “Precisely, Mr Larabee.”
“Dammit Chris, I ain’t gonna let you do this!” Buck yelled.
“Buck, this is our only lead towards finding Vin! We have to follow it up.”
“But why the hell do you have to go in there? I mean, what if something goes wrong and you can’t get out in time? We can’t even have Vin covering you!”
“I notice your concern doesn’t extend to me, Mr Wilmington.” Ezra remarked, smiling, trying to lighten the atmosphere.
Buck turned and snapped at Ezra. “Don’t be stupid Ezra, you’re not crippled are you?”
There was a stunned silence; five men couldn’t believe what they had just heard. One man couldn’t believe what he had just said. Chris looked like he’d been punched.
“Jesus Chris, I… I didn’t mean that.” Buck stammered.
“Forget it Buck.” Chris said quietly, not a hint of forgiveness in his voice.
“But Chris, I--”
“Ezra and I are going to see this guy. No one knows explosives better than me, and no one else can bullshit like Ezra. JD, I want you to think of a way to rig this chair for sound. They might check us, but I doubt they’ll think of looking at my chair. Make it well concealed though.”
Chris turned to Ezra. “Can you set up a meet?”
“I might know of someone who can get us in, and vouch for us if necessary.”
Chris nodded. “Good. The rest of you get back to what you were doing.” Chris went into his office, and Ezra moved to his phone to start making calls.
Buck didn’t move.
“Buck…” JD tried to find the words to comfort Buck, but couldn’t think of them. “I’d better go take a look at Chris’ chair.” he finished lamely, patting Buck’s shoulder as he went past.
Josiah and Nathan sat with Buck, regretting his words almost as much as he was himself.
“I can’t believe I said that. I just…how could I say that?”
“You were upset Buck. You were scared for Chris and your emotions just ran away with you.” Josiah said.
“But to call him that, of all things. After all those years of telling him that he wasn’t, that he wasn’t a worthless cripple, to just throw that in his face?”
“Maybe you should go talk to him Buck.” Nathan said.
Buck nodded. “Yeah. Yeah I guess I should.”
Buck reached Chris’ office door just as JD emerged. JD gave Buck a quick smile of reassurance, and then left Buck standing in the doorway. Buck went in and shut the door behind him, before turning to face Chris.
“You don’t have to apologize Buck.” Chris said, before Buck had a chance to speak. “No need to apologize for the truth.”
“But Chris, dammit, that wasn’t the truth! I was upset, it just slipped out.”
‘What’s not true about it? I am crippled, stuck in this fucking chair. Every time I go down the street, I see people thinking exactly that, and I see the pity in their eyes. I just thought you saw beyond this chair Buck. You especially.”
“Chris, it’s not like that.”
“Isn’t it? We’ve been friends for a long time now Buck, long before this happened. Now I realize I’ve changed a lot since then, but I just want to know when you stopped seeing me as a friend and started seeing me as some kind of project.”
“What? I haven’t ever thought of you like that Chris, I swear it. You’re my friend, and I worry about you. That’s all.”
“All the other guys out there are your friends too Buck. I don’t see you fussing over all of them like a mother hen. You weren’t concerned about Ezra going in to meet this guy.”
“Chris, all I’m saying is, if something goes wrong, you need to be able to get out quick. What if there’s a staircase or something there? Then what’ll you do?”
“Nothing’s gonna go wrong Buck.”
“You don’t know that.”
“So what would you rather I did? Sit around and wait for him to call? Vin needs our help, and I’m gonna see that he gets it. Not that you care all that much. Hell, if it had been up to you, you’d all still be thinking he was dead!”
“Now that ain’t fair Chris. We’re all worried about him too!”
“So why don’t you start acting like it?”
“You think pulling stupid stunts is going to bring him back? Or getting yourself killed? I don’t think you realize just how vulnerable you are in this thing Chris.” Buck indicated the chair.
“I could take you on any day.” Chris growled, a hint of challenge in his eyes.
“You think?” Buck reached down without warning, and took hold of one of the armrests of Chris’ chair, flipping it onto its side. Chris spilled out onto the floor.
“Not so high and mighty down there, are you Chris?” Buck looked down at Chris triumphantly, his point made.
“You think you could take me, huh?” Buck said gently as he stepped close to Chris, ready to help him up. Chris’s hand snaked out and grabbed Buck’s ankle. Before Buck realized what was happening, his leg had been pulled out from under him and he was on his back on the floor. Chris was on him in a second, his forearm pressing on Buck’s throat. Chris put a little pressure on, restricting Buck’s airway ever so slightly, letting him know he had the upper hand.
“Yeah I could take you.” Chris said softly. He lifted his arm away from Buck’s throat and rolled over to his chair, setting it upright and pulling himself in. Buck got to his feet.
“Fine. You made your point Chris. I still don’t like it though.” Buck stormed out of the office.
“Mr Gudgeon!” Ezra greeted warmly. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you in person. I’ve heard so many things about you.”
“It’s funny. I ain’t ever heard of you.” Gudgeon grunted, refusing to shake the hand Ezra had offered.
“Well, sadly I do not possess the genius of being able to remain above ground. Unlike yourself, I’m afraid I would be unable to fend off so many attacks from the authorities and still remain in such a strong business position. I prefer to stay hidden from them, which in turn keeps me hidden from a lot of people I would like to be doing business with, much to my chagrin.”
“Yeah, damn pigs have been trying to stitch me up for years. Never got a single thing on me though.”
“Which is why I felt it prudent to bring my business here, rather than anywhere else.” Ezra said smoothly. “You are, after all, the best.”
Gudgeon accepted the praise warily. “Who’s your friend?” He nodded his head towards Chris.
“Ah, now herein lies the reason for my approaching you. This is Mr Lawson. As you see, a few years ago he was involved in a most unfortunate accident.”
“What happened?” Gudgeon addressed Chris bluntly.
“An explosion. A bomb got planted in my car and I almost didn’t get away in time. As it was a piece of the front fender managed to embed itself in my spine” Chris said.
“Nasty.” Gudgeon sympathized unsympathetically. “So what do you want from me?”
Chris let a cold smile cross his features. “Payback.”
“LNG? That’s asking a lot you know. That stuff just ain’t commercially available.” Gudgeon said.
“We know. That’s why we came to you. If anyone knows where we could lay our hands on some, it would be you.” Ezra said.
They had moved into Gudgeon’s office, a much more comfortable place to do business than the drafty warehouse they had originally met in. There had been a small step up inside, which Chris had had trouble with, needing Ezra to help him. He didn’t think it would be a problem if they had to get out in a hurry though. He hoped the jostling of the chair had not dislodged JD’s wire though.
Two goons stood to the left and right of Gudgeon’s desk, while Gudgeon himself sat behind it. Ezra was seated comfortably in a leather armchair, and they had both been offered a glass of brandy which they sipped slowly.
“We…well, we heard about the recent shipment of LNG that went missing, and thought perhaps you might know something about that.” Ezra said.
Gudgeon thought for a moment. “Perhaps I do. But why LNG? There are a lot of other explosives available much more commercially, and easier to handle.”
“I know how to handle it. I was an explosives expert in the Navy.” Chris said.
Gudgeon looked impressed. “Okay, so that still doesn’t explain why you particularly want LNG.”
“It’s gotta be impressive. I want them to know exactly the kind of person they messed with. I want them to know this wasn’t just some amateur botch-job.” Chris replied.
“Fair enough. LNG certainly carries the mark of a professional. I’m curious though, who exactly are you taking revenge against? You say you were in the Navy, but then why would someone plant a bomb in your car? And you say you want them to recognize the fact that you used LNG, but who has the expertise to analyze the blast site and discover that fact?”
“It’s none of you business.” Chris growled.
“On the contrary, Mr Lawson, it is very much my business. Why do you think I have managed to remain in business so long? Because the authorities have nothing on me. And why is that? Because I make absolutely certain that whatever happens, nothing can be traced back to me. So if you’re planning on bombing the US Navy, or any other organization of the like, it worries me because they won’t rest until they discover who was responsible, and if they find you, then they find me.”
“Who said I was going to bomb the US Navy?”
“Aren’t you? Come on, Mr Lawson. If we are to do business, you have to tell me the truth. Who put that bomb in your car, and why?”
Chris sighed. “Alright. I was in the Navy, but about ten years ago, they pulled me out into a special program. Covert ops. According to records, I died in a training accident. I no longer existed, and they sent me out in the field, to do work the US government was not allowed to do.”
“You were a spy?” Gudgeon asked interestedly.
“Of sorts. However, when the time came, they decided they wanted rid of me. I was already dead, so nothing could be traced back to them. A nice anonymous bomb. Except I survived.”
“Are they aware that you survived?”
“Not so far as I know. Which is why I need that LNG – to let them know they didn’t get away with it.”
Gudgeon smiled. “I like it.”
“So you’ll help us then?” Ezra drawled.
Gudgeon thought for a moment. “I’m afraid I don’t have any LNG myself right now, I completed a rather large sale a few weeks ago. But I would be willing to contact the man I sold it to on your behalf, to see if he is not averse to the idea of selling some back. I trust that would be acceptable?”
Chris and Ezra nodded.
“Very well then gentlemen, if you wouldn’t mind stepping outside for a moment while I make the phone call?”
Chris and Ezra were ushered outside, the two goons going with them. The goons stood by the door, leaving Chris and Ezra a moment to talk out of earshot.
“What do you think?” Ezra said under his breath.
“He’s gotta be talking to our guy. JD can trace the call he’s making and find out where it’s going to. Then we’ll have him.”
“What about us?”
“We play it cool, and try and get out of here in one piece.”
Ezra nodded. “My sentiments exactly.”
A few minutes later, Gudgeon emerged from the office. He had a few whispered words with his goons, and then approached Chris and Ezra.
“Sorry to keep you waiting Mr Larabee.”
Chris’ head shot up, and he looked at Gudgeon in the eye. “Larabee? What are you talking about?”
Gudgeon shook his head, disappointed. “My client was very interested to hear that someone was looking to buy LNG. It’s normally a very rare occurrence. So when I mentioned that they buyers were a cripple and a southerner, he figured it was more than just a coincidence. It was a pleasure almost doing business with you gentlemen.”
Gudgeon gave a quick nod to the two goons, and turned to leave. The two large men moved in quickly, one of them throwing a heavy punch to Ezra’s stomach, the other cuffing Chris across the cheek, knocking him out of his chair.
Chris tried to grab the ankle of the man attacking him, but a swift kick to his lower back left him writhing on the floor, teeth clenched in pain, trying not to scream. The kicks moved to the other side now, the man happy that Chris was incapacitated. Chris tried to fend off the kicks to his ribs with his arms, but the pain from his back was all-consuming. The pain from his ribs didn’t even register, but each kick caused another fire to erupt in his back and travel down his legs.
Ezra struggled to get his breath back after that first punch had been thrown. A few punches to his face stunned him, but he regained enough breath in that time to be able to fight back. After a moment, it became clear that this was a fight he was not going to win, the other man was simply too strong. Ezra stole a glance over at Chris; he looked in a bad way. Surely the guys should have realized something was up by now! Ezra had to stop this, now.
A gunshot echoed through the warehouse, and the goon who had been beating on Ezra yelled, clutching his arm. Ezra raised his weapon to both of them.
“Don’t move.” Ezra snarled. His weapon was a double-barreled derringer, which had been concealed around his ankle.
“You’ve only got one shot left in that pop gun.” Goon 1 said, still clutching his bleeding arm.
“Well then, you had best discuss amongst yourselves, which one of you is going to die.” Ezra moved the gun from one to the other. Neither of them moved.
“Good. Now, if you would be so kind as to cuff yourselves to that pipe over there, I would be most grateful.” Ezra tossed a pair of cuffs to them, and they complied. Ezra hurried to Chris’s side.
“Chris?” Chris lay half on his side, half on his front. One hand moved towards his back, spasming in pain. His eyes were squeezed shut.
Ezra pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and quickly dialed a number.
“What the hell happened to you Buck?” Ezra snarled.
“Ezra, what’s going on?”
“Call an ambulance, now!” Ezra disconnected, and turned his attention back to Chris.
“Chris? Can you look at me?” Ezra asked, touching Chris’ shoulder gently.
“Ez… ra?” Chris grunted, managing to crack an eye open.
Ezra bent down so his face was level with Chris’. “It’s alright Chris, help is coming.”
Chris looked at Ezra. “Ruined your… pretty… face.” Chris gasped out.
Ezra smiled. “I guess they did. I haven’t had a chance to look in a mirror just yet though.”
Chris gasped as another spasm of pain overtook him, his hand trying to move to his back once more. Ezra grasped the flailing hand, and squeezed it tight.
Buck burst through the door, closely followed by the other three. He rushed over to where Chris lay.
“Chris?” Buck asked, kneeling down beside his oldest friend.
“What the hell happened to you?” Ezra accused.
“We lost contact. We reckoned the wire must have been dislodged when Chris went down that step. Everything sounded like it was going okay, so we decided to wait.”
“Yeah, well everything wasn’t going okay, was it Buck?” Ezra growled.
“Let me take a look.” Nathan said. Ezra tried to move out of the way, but Chris had a death grip on his hand. Buck moved instead, going to check the two goons were secure.
“I’ll wait outside for the ambulance.” Josiah said.
“Chris? Chris, can you hear me?” Nathan asked. “What happened, Ezra?”
“He had an altercation with one of those large men over there. I think he got kicked in the back.”
“Shit.” Nathan said. “He say anything to you?”
“He cracked a joke about the state of my face. Wait, I think it’s passing.” Ezra said as he felt the grip on his hand relax slightly.
“Chris? Chris?” Nathan saw the man's eyes open slightly. “Hey Chris. How you feeling?”
“Hurts.” Chris rasped out.
“I know it does buddy. Is it bad right now?” Nathan asked.
“Comes and… goes.”
“It’s a case of bad or worse then, huh?”
“Yeah. Really… bad.”
“I know. Ambulance is on it’s way.”
“Nathan, legs… hurt.”
“Okay Chris, they’ll take care of them too.”
“He’s not here Chris.”
“No, I…” Chris hissed as another spasm of pain hit him. He closed his eyes, trying to ride it out.
The paramedics burst through the door, and Nathan waved them over quick. He explained the situation to them and they wasted no time in giving Chris a pain killer and a muscle relaxant. Carefully, they slid him onto a backboard and transferred him to the gurney.
“You look like you’d better come too.” One of the paramedics said to Ezra, spotting the blood dripping from his face.
“I don’t think I have a choice.” Despite the muscle relaxants, Chris still held Ezra’s hand in a vice like grip. They loaded the two men into the ambulance and drove away.
“I should have moved in as soon as we lost contact.” Buck said to himself, watching the flashing lights of the ambulance as it drove away.
“You weren’t to know Buck. It sounded like the deal was going down okay.” Nathan said gently.
“Nathan, why don’t you and Buck head to the hospital? JD and I will take care of things here.” Josiah suggested.
Nathan nodded. “Come on, Buck.”
“How’s he doing?” Josiah asked, seeing Nathan and Buck sitting in the waiting area of the emergency room.
“No word on Chris yet. Ezra’s getting himself patched up.” Nathan replied. “Where JD?”
“He wanted to get straight to work on tracing where that phone call went. He’s got page loads of data to work through.”
Just then, Ezra emerged from one of the rooms, a nurse at his elbow. The three men jumped up to greet him.
“How you feeling Ezra?” Nathan asked.
“A bit bruised, I must confess. And I dread to think what my countenance looks like right now.”
“Don’t worry Ezra, you’ll be pretty again in no time.” Buck said.
“Any news on Mr Larabee?”
Nathan shook his head. “Nothing yet.”
“If you’re concerned about your friend who was brought in, I could go and see what I can find out, if you’d like?” the nurse offered.
“My dear, we would all be eternally grateful if you could.” Ezra smiled as much as his bruised face would allow.
The pretty nurse smiled and left.
“Damn Ezra, even as ugly as a one-eared mule you can still charm the ladies. I have got to get me a southern accent.”
“Some manners might help too, Mr Wilmington.” Ezra replied quietly. Buck didn’t hear but Nathan did and laughed.
Ten minutes later, a doctor approached them. “I gather you gentlemen are waiting for news on Mr Larabee?”
“Yes!” Buck said, standing up immediately. “How is he?”
“Mr Larabee is going to be fine. He is however, in a great amount of pain right now. The kick to his lower back, in the exact same place as where the original injury occurred, has aggravated the injury and is causing muscle spasms. We are trying to control them with muscle relaxants and painkillers, but it will be some time before the swelling goes down. He will need complete bed rest for a least a week, maybe two.”
Buck whistled. “He ain’t gonna like that.”
The doctor continued. “In addition, he has a couple of cracked ribs, some facial bruising and a cracked bone in his forearm, probably from trying to fend off some of the blows.”
“Can we see him?” Buck asked.
“Of course. He was moved upstairs a short while ago. We feel he would be more comfortable staying in the hospital for a couple of days. He’s in room 211, on the second floor.”
“Thanks doc,” Buck said, moving towards the elevator.
“Chris?” Buck said, approaching the bed. Chris looked over at him.
“Hey Buck. How’s Ezra?” His voice was rough and slightly slurred from the pain medication.
“I’m fine, Mr Larabee, which is more than can be said for you.” Ezra said, entering the room.
Chris cracked a grin. “Well at least I still have my looks.” He turned serious. “Did JD trace that phone call?”
“He’s working on it right now.” Buck answered. “Whoever it was, was smart. They didn’t stay on long enough for JD to get a fix. He’s trying to narrow it down as much as possible.”
Chris nodded, and hissed as a wave of pain washed over him. His body tensed, and he clicked the button in his right hand, letting the drugs work their magic before relaxing again.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by the three men in his room.
“You okay Chris?” Nathan asked, concerned.
“Yeah. Comes and go, but I got drugs on tap here.” He showed them the button that would release a small amount of painkiller into the IV when he pressed it.
“The doc explain to you what happened?” Nathan asked.
“Yeah, aggravated the old injury, right?” Chris replied.
“He mention you’re gonna be flat on your back for the next week or two?” Nathan said.
“Yeah,” Chris sighed. “Damn irritating, but it’s not like I haven’t done it before.”
“And when you are able to sit in your chair again, don’t think you’ll be wheeling yourself anywhere until that arm is all healed up.” He indicated Chris’ plastered forearm.
“Jesus Nathan! Is there anything else?” Chris replied, exasperated.
Nathan thought. “I reckon that’ll do it for now.”
“Well good! Now why don’t you fellas head on back to the office and help JD with his phone trace. Whatever area he’s got it narrowed down to, I want a full search done. And I want to know as soon as you’ve found something!”
“Yes sir.” Buck mumbled as they all headed for the door.
“Yes Chris?” Ezra turned back to look at him.
“You mind telling me where you got that gun you’ve been hiding in your boot?”
Ezra looked sheepish. “All totally legal, I assure you Mr Larabee. I thought it would be prudent to bring it along, under the circumstances.”
Chris glared at Ezra for a minute, then grinned. “Prudent, huh?”
Ezra cracked a relieved smile. “Indeed, Mr Larabee. Prudent.”
“Well, I guess it was fairly prudent. Just don’t let anyone but me catch you carrying it.”
Ezra nodded. “Understood.”
Chris was bored. Mind-numbingly, stupefyingly bored. He knew every intimate crack in the ceiling of Buck’s spare bedroom. Every faded area of paint, every stain (although he dreaded to think what some of them were). He grew familiar with the daily routine of the tiny spider that lived in the crack just to the left of the shadow cast by the lamp. And he was worried.
Vin had been missing for fifteen days. His men had searched the area JD’s phone trace turned up twice over, but to no avail. Checks had been made on every possible enemy Chris, Vin or any other member of the team might have. There was nowhere else to look, no more clues to find. Vin, along with the bomber, had disappeared.
“And me?” Chris thought. “I’m stuck flat on my back in this fucking bed for two more days. I’ve missed something. I must have missed something, he thought. People don’t just disappear without a trace. If only I wasn’t confined to this bed!”
“How does it feel when it’s one of your own?”
And, suddenly, it all came into focus.
“Buck!” Chris yelled. “Buck!”
Buck came hurrying into the room.
“What? What’s wrong, Chris?”
“I’ve got it Buck! I know what we missed!” Chris struggled to sit up. Buck pushed him back onto the bed.
“Easy pard, you have to stay lying down.”
“But I’ve worked it out! We’ve been looking in the wrong place this whole time.” Chris insisted.
“So where should we have been looking?”
“You remember what the voice on the phone said to me? How does it feel when it’s one of your own. This isn’t someone we’ve taken down, someone out for revenge. This is somebody who lost some someone close to them in a situation we were handling. He wants us to go through what he went through!”
“You mean he’s looking for some kind of justice?” Buck asked, still pinning Chris’ shoulders down, afraid he still might try and rise from the bed.
“Yeah, so we have to get to the office and start working through all the files again. Will you get the hell off me Buck?”
“Not until you give me your word that you won’t try and get out of this bed.”
“Dammit Buck, my back hasn’t hurt in days. Now GET OFF!” Chris tried to squirm out of Buck’s grasp. Then something happened that left both men staring at each other in shock. Buck stepped back from the bed.
“Buck, did you just see that?”
“Hell, yeah. Can you do it again?”
“I… I don’t think so.”
“Come on Chris. You just moved your leg, so do it again.”
“But I don’t know what I did to make it move. It just… did.”
“Try it. You can do it, Chris.”
Chris shook his head. “No, I can’t even feel it now.”
Buck sighed. “I guess it was just some muscle spasm then.”
Chris nodded. “Must have been. Unless you believe in miracles.” He laughed uncertainly.
Buck nodded. “Listen, if you promise you won’t try and move from this bed, I’ll go to the office and pick up all the files and bring them back here. And I’ll get Nathan to check you over to see if you can get back in your chair. Deal?”
“Okay,” Chris said. “I promise.”
Buck smiled, and left the room. Chris heard the front door slam shut behind Buck as he left the flat. He carefully sat up on his elbows, and stared at his legs.
“Move. Move, damn you!”
“Alright, you can use your chair, but you aren’t to go pushing yourself around, you hear? Your ribs and arm still ain’t healed up yet. You let us wheel you around for a while.” Nathan looked at Chris, but he’d already motioned to Buck to push him into the living room where he could join the others in looking at the files. Nathan sighed, realizing it just went in one ear and out the other, and followed the two of them into the living room.
Two hours later, JD jumped up excitedly. “I’ve got it!”
The other five looked up from what they were reading. So far they had a big pile of possible, a big pile of unlikely, but not much else.
“This has got to be the guy, it’s just gotta be!” JD said.
“Who is it, JD?” Buck asked.
“You remember about… two months ago? We handled a psycho in a schoolhouse. We managed to get all the kids out fine, but a schoolteacher got killed? She was quite old, I think.”
“We all remember that JD. We remember everyone we lose.” Buck said soberly.
“I know. But she had a boyfriend, fiancée actually. One…” he checked the file in his hand. “Jasper Tucker. And he used to work demolition in the US Army.”
“Well I’ll be…” Buck said. “Sounds like the kid got it!”
“You got an address there JD?” Chris asked.
“No, but I can have one for you in about ten minutes.”
“Then get on it.” Chris said.
An hour later, they pulled up outside the address JD had turned up. Chris had called in a favor, and they had four SWAT members helping them out.
“Thanks for coming down, Tony.” Chris said to the SWAT leader.
“No problem, Chris. Vin’s an old buddy, and if there’s the slightest chance he’s still alive, we’re happy to help out. Okay,” he said, addressing everyone. “Jack and Don, you go around the back. Me and Callum will take the front here. Chris, how do you want to split your men?”
“Ezra, Buck and JD around back. Josiah and Nate follow Tony in. And make sure you let Tony and his guys check it’s all clear before you start searching the place, you got it?”
Everyone nodded. “We’ll come back and get you as soon as it’s clear, alright Chris?” Nathan said.
Chris nodded. He hated having to wait outside, but knew it was for the best until the place was secured.
On Tony’s signal, the four SWAT team members burst into the house, quickly checking all the rooms and pronouncing them clear. Chris’ team followed them in at a more sedate pace, and began searching the rooms for evidence.
Josiah emerged from the house to talk to Chris. “It’s clear. No sign of Tucker, or Vin so far. We’ll finish our sweep though.” Chris nodded silently.
Something caught Ezra’s eye in the kitchen, and he signaled to Buck.
“What’ve you got, Ezra?”
“Look at this. Scratch marks in the linoleum. Like something’s been dragged across it.”
Buck and Ezra followed the scratch marks to their source. The fridge. They gave each other a quick nod, and began pushing the fridge out of the way.
Pulling the linoleum up underneath, they found it. A trapdoor.
“Just like in those murder mystery movies.” Buck said with a smile.
Ezra grimaced at the dirt surrounding it, but pulled on the handle, opening it. There was a ladder heading down, but beyond that they couldn’t see much. Ezra had a small pen light on his key ring, which he shone down the hole. It didn’t cast much light, but they could see the ladder led to a small area, with another door leading somewhere else.
“After you, Mr Wilmington.” Ezra said, gesturing for Buck to go first.
Buck grinned. “Au contraire, Mr Standish. You found it, you go down it.”
Ezra sighed, held the torch in his mouth and started down the ladder. Buck could hear mumbled curses emerging from around the torch, and he laughed. Ezra was soon at the bottom, facing the door. It looked to be heavy, some sort of metal, and it was bolted in a number of places. Carefully, he removed his derringer from his boot and cocked it, before shooting back the bolts. He swung the door open, and headed inside, gun first. He was not prepared for the light that shone brightly from inside the room, nor for the sight that greeted him.
Vin sat on a bed, staring in disbelief at Ezra. “Well, what the hell took you so long?”
“Buck!” Ezra yelled. “I think you ought to come see this!”
Ezra needed a second opinion, to make certain he wasn’t actually imagining this. The room he found himself in was fully furnished. There was a bed, a television, a stack of magazines by the bed. A toilet stood in the corner, a counter and cupboards in another corner. And then there was Vin. Looking healthy, undamaged, and most of all, alive.
“Holy shit!” Buck exclaimed as he entered the room. “Vin?”
“In the flesh Bucklin. Now when you’re both finished staring at me like I was some naked woman, how about you go get some bolt cutters?” Vin moved his leg, and their attention was drawn to the metallic jangle that sounded from his ankle. They saw a long chain attached to the floor, shackled around his ankle.
“But…but…” Ezra stammered. “How…”
“Close your mouth Ezra, you’re catchin’ flies. Just get me the hell outta here, and I’ll tell y'all the whole story.”
Chris shifted in his chair irritatedly after Josiah had returned inside the house. Damn, but he hated having to wait outside! Just then, he saw someone emerge from an alley between two houses a few hundred yards down the street. Something about the figure set off alarm bells in Chris’ head, and he headed towards them. The dull ache in his arm and ribs reminded him of Nathan’s warning, but he carried on regardless. The figure noticed him coming towards him. He turned to face Chris, but other than that, didn’t move.
Chris moved slowly, his eyes never leaving those of the man who stood in the street. And the man’s eyes never left him. When he was about ten feet away, Chris stopped.
“Chris Larabee, I presume?” The figure said.
“You must be Tucker.”
“Where’s Vin?” Chris growled.
“Oh don’t worry. He’s alive and well. In fact, your men have probably already found him. If they haven’t, tell them to check under the fridge.”
“Why’d you do it? Why not just kill him?”
“I never wanted to hurt anyone, Mr Larabee. I would never harm anyone. But I wanted you to experience a little of what I went through. I loved Virginia. She filled this hole in me that I never even knew was there. We were to be married 15 days ago, the day I set the bomb.” Tucked sniffed, trying to control his emotions.
“I’m sorry you lost her.” Chris said.
“I saw you and Vin after the man in the school had been shot. I saw… a partnership. Two halves of one whole. I remember smiling, thinking of Virginia, how we were two halves on one whole…Then they told me that… she… had been killed.” His voice broke.
“I lost my wife… and my son. Four years ago.” Chris said slowly. “Thought I’d never fill that void their loss had left me with. You didn’t have to kidnap Vin to show me what loss is. I’ve been there.” He growled.
“I didn’t know that.” Tucker admitted. “And I apologize, but you’ll understand why I have to do this.” He opened his jacket, and revealed the pounds of C4 Chris had seen strapped to Vin’s chest in the photograph.
“Holy shit.” Chris breathed.
“I can’t go on without her. I guess I just…wanted you to understand. To stop it happening again.” Tucker reached down and clicked a button on the vest. “Ten seconds starting now Chris. No more losses. Make everyone one of your own.” Tucker turned and ran away down the street.
Chris spun his chair around, and started sprinting in the opposite direction. He saw the others emerge from the house, and start heading towards him.
“Get back! Get the hell back!” He screamed.
Chris felt someone lightly slapping his cheek. He winced as it started up a chorus of pile-drivers in his head.
“Quit it.” He growled, pushing the hand away from his face. He heard a soft chuckle. He pried his eyes open a crack, and found himself looking directly into a pair of baby blue eyes.
“Hey, Cowboy.” Vin smiled.
Vin's head was moved aside, and a dark hand waved in front of his eyes.
“How many fingers, Chris?” he heard Nathan ask.
“Twenty-seven. Leave me alone Nate, I’m fine.” Chris struggled to sit up, but thought twice about it as the world suddenly tilted sideways. “Whoa. No I’m not.” he said, lying back down.
“It should be noted that you are just about as able-bodied as one could expect for someone who just defied the laws of gravity.” Ezra said.
“Huh?” Chris said, in true JD fashion.
“Hell Chris, you just flew!” Buck laughed.
“Need to work on your landing though pard.” Vin said, hovering into Chris’ vision again.
Chris smiled. All was well.
“So you were locked in that room for two weeks?” JD exclaimed. They were all settled comfortably in Buck’s living room. Chris was stretched out on the sofa, and the other six occupied various pieces of furniture and carpet.
“That’s right kid. Just about drove me stir crazy, I can tell you. He’d sent food down on a tray in this dumb waiter thing they have in restaurants. Thought about climbing up the hatch, but that damn chain wasn’t long enough. Still, got to watch all the Bronc’s games I wanted.”
“Well, it’s nice to know you were living it up while we were mourning your loss.” Buck said.
“Speaking of which, how many people came to my funeral?” Vin asked.
“Well, it wasn’t much of a funeral, seeing as there wasn’t any of you to bury.” Josiah said.
“Yeah, more of a memorial service.” Nathan said.
“And really not that many showed up…” said JD.
“Well, I mean there was us…”
“Although I had to go see a man about a dog so I couldn’t make it…”
“And I had a date with that fine little filly from reception…”
Vin smiled at the banter, and looked over to where Chris was sitting silently. He saw the pain in his leader’s features, and knew exactly what Chris had gone through while he had thought Vin was dead. Vin only had to imagine life without Chris to experience it himself.
Their eyes locked.
*I really thought I’d lost you*
*I know, but I won’t be going anywhere for a long time yet. Don’t you worry, Cowboy*
Vin returned his attention to the other five men, all of whom were covering up their relief at finding him alive by joking and laughing. Vin decided Chris needed a smile too, and turned the joke onto him.
“So who’s going to teach Chris that it ain’t a good idea to stand next to the guy wearing the plastic explosive coat?” Vin asked.
Everyone laughed, and Chris cracked a smile.
“Hey,” piped up JD. “It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘bomber jacket’, huh?”
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