Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Characters: JD, Vin
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Summary: A dubious directive leads to a desperate race against time. Can Team Seven's two youngest agents hold out?
Originally written for the Darlins Fic-fest April 2007
Thanks to Nancy for giving my stories a home.
Sitting at his desk in the ATF Team Seven office, JD glanced across at Vin. He couldn't help noticing that they had both received similar envelopes that morning. Ripping open his own, the youth's jaw dropped open as he read.
Vin pushed back in his seat and making a similar sound, looked across at JD.
"Got me a conference to go to in El Paso."
Dunne looked up, almost afraid to ask. "When?"
JD leapt to his feet. "Me too!"
They compared their letters, and it was the same conference. They couldn't believe their luck and hi-fived.
Chris and Buck poked their heads out from Chris's office.
"What's all the excitement?" Buck asked as he stepped further into the bullpen.
JD was positively bouncing. "Vin and me get to go to El Paso next week for a firearms conference…how cool is that?"
Buck and Chris exchanged glances. "Hold on, let me get this straight…" Buck queried, pointing between the two younger men. "…you both get to go away next week…you two…alone...in El Paso…you two?"
JD grinned, "Yep…us two and three whole days in El Paso."
Wilmington looked to Larabee and shook his head. "Aww no…nuh,uh…not a good idea, tell 'em Chris."
The blond was now at Tanner's desk and reading Vin's letter. "Don't think we have much of a choice, big guy...it's official."
Buck was now in Chris' face, half whispering through clenched teeth, "Well find a way, stud…these two, alone, is a recipe for disaster."
Vin and JD stood shoulder to shoulder as the rest of Team Seven returned to the office from the break room, each carrying pastries and coffees.
"Hey, we're grown men, Larabee," Vin reminded, "well, one of us is...but either way, we're both officers of the law. 'Sides…this is from Travis, and it states that this team is behind on attendin' these events."
Chris recalled the ass-chewing he'd received a few weeks ago about that.
Buck knew that look. "You're gonna let 'em go? Shoot, I need to check JD's insurance policies."
Dunne snorted a laugh. "Aw come on Buck, quit being so dramatic…we'll be fine!"
The conference was mid-week so JD and Vin elected to travel down two days earlier and enjoy some sightseeing. Buck was keen to join them on day three of the conference, just to see them home safely but was gently put off by his teammates. In his room in their apartment, and making one final check of his bags, JD smiled at his roommate.
"Buck…I love that you worry about me, but it's gonna be fine, okay?"
Wilmington pouted. "I can't explain why but, I got me a real bad feeling about this, Kid. You and Vin seem to attract trouble like flies to a carcass…just don't feel too comfortable about it."
JD chuckled. "Cute analogy, Bro." He looked at Buck. "Hey, I know what you mean, and like I said, I truly appreciate the concern. I promise I'll call in every day and every
night, okay?" The youth wanted to look irritated, but found himself grinning at his roommate instead. "I wonder if Vin's getting all this aggravation?"
Larabee leaned against the doorframe to Vin's living room. "You'll check in every day?"
Tanner nodded as he checked his bags.
"And you'll look out for the kid, right?"
Vin sighed, finally looking up. "No…I'm gonna dump his ass in the desert and let him walk home."
Larabee glared. Vin chuckled, then went all serious. "I'll look out for him, you have my word...just like I know he'll have my back, too."
The blond nodded his approval. "That's all I ask…that you both take care of yourselves, and each other."
The pair had an enjoyable trip down, stopping off at various sites, and at roadside stalls to purchase items from fruit, to candy. They also stopped to spend some time in Juarez, visiting its old Mercado and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On arriving in El Paso, the two young men were delighted with their hotel accommodation. A door joining the two rooms ensured they could have some privacy and also meet up as and when they wished. That evening they decided to order a pizza, or two from room service, before settling for an early night.
The next morning, the day before the conference, they visited the El Paso Mission Trail to see the old adobe churches that reflected the cultures of both Spanish and Indian ancestry, and was something both agents had been keen to do. From there, they moved on to a small market area and found themselves looking through various trinkets and clothing, while deciding what to take back for their teammates.
"Hey, Vin…whatcha think of these?"
Tanner joined him at the stall and nodded his approval of the hand-carved wooden Rosary beads the youth was holding, and turning in his hands.
"The carvings are amazing," JD smiled, as he turned the hand-tooled wooden cross attached to them, through his fingers. "Too corny?"
"Nah, just right, I reckon. Shoot, Kid, we're only here three days, it's only meant to be a souvenir. You hungry?"
Dunne nodded. "Starved…shall we go to a restaurant?"
Vin pointed. "Saw a little cantina just over yonder…thought we might try it out."
"Cool…I'll just get some of these…" JD held up the beads, "…and I'm through, here." He decided on buying some colorful bandanas, also, before heading off for food.
In the cantina, they enjoyed beer, and soda for JD, along with steak nachos, and spicy buffalo wings to start, then Tacos de la Calle, which were a trio of one each of carnitas, chicken, and steak tacos, served with fresh, sautéed vegetables and charro beans. Then for dessert, they ordered deep-fried ice cream - French vanilla ice cream rolled in a crispy cinnamon coating, cinnamon-sugar dusted tortillas, chipote-chocolate sauce, honey and whipped cream.
Later, they ended their evening in Vin's room with a rental movie…but with a twist. JD had selected a foreign movie then proceeded to encourage Vin to join him in making up the dialogue as it went along. Within the hour, the game, coupled with a few carefully monitored Margaritas, the pair was laughing helplessly.
"You're real good at this, Tanner." JD hiccupped.
Vin swiped at his eyes, "So, are you, Kid," He put away the liquor bottles, "and no more booze…or you'll be drunk."
JD's eyes widened and he straightened himself on the bed only to slip off the edge onto the floor. Without missing a beat, he was back up onto his knees and leaning both arms on the bed, with his chin resting on them.
"Am not…you are, though."
The Texan shook his head…"Nu uh. Hey, did you call Bucklin yet?"
Dunne over-exaggerated a slap to his mouth with his hand. "Oops, better do it now." He fished out his cell phone and speed dialed two. He caused Vin to startle as JD yelled out his greeting into the phone.
He looked at Tanner and pointed to the phone. "I's Buck! Buck, i'ssmee, JD. How you doing? Are you at home?" He again looked at Vin and whispered at the top of his voice, "They're in the Saloon," then back to Buck.
"Are you having a little drinkee there big brother?... What?... I'm not drunk, tell him Vin, tell him I'm not drunk." He held out his cell for Vin to call out.
"He's not drunk!"
"See…told you!" JD glanced at the TV screen, "Ooh…I have to go now…they're just about to stuff the body in a bag and I have to do the voice. Luv ya."
As JD closed his cell, Tanner stared at him.
"You just told Buck you loved him."
JD frowned, "Nooo…no…no I didn't."
The Texan was chuckling, "Yeah you did…"
JD started to laugh and picked up a pillow, "I did not…take that back…" He cuffed his friend across the head with the pillow, causing Vin to laugh harder. He also picked up a pillow and returned the 'assault'. Five minutes later two tired and slightly inebriated Federal Agents were sitting on the floor, exhausted and disheveled. JD yawned.
"Y'know…I think I should go to bed now."
Vin checked his watch and agreed, "Yup, got us an early start tomorrow."
Dunne struggled to his feet, swaying slightly. "Whoa…do they have earthquakes here? 'Cause the ground just moved." He stumbled to the adjoining door, "'Night
Tanner dragged himself onto his bed and stretched out on his stomach.
"'Night, kid…see you in the mornin'."
Back in Denver, Five agents were sitting quietly, and enjoying a wind-down drink at their local watering hole, The Saloon. Chris glanced at Buck, amused at his constant check to his phone.
"JD not called yet?"
"Probably too busy having fun to call…" Wilmington huffed, placing his phone on the table.
The haunting, whistling tune to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly sounded and the brunet grabbed his cell. He smiled on answering, only to hold it away from his ear as JD bellowed loud enough for all to hear and have them chuckling.
"No, we decided to have a drink in the Saloon." Buck answered, grinning as he heard JD's exaggerated whisper.
"I just told you we are…are you drunk?" Buck laughed harder as he heard the denials from both men. "JD…what? A body bag…? Oh…okay…what? JD…JD? Damn, he's gone."
The others were staring at him at the mention of a body bag. Buck laughed. "It's a game we sometimes play with a foreign film…we make up the dialogue," the brunet was laughing, "It can get pretty bizarre…" He noticed the others staring in bemusement.
"Guess you had to be there."
The men burst into laughter. Buck grinned; still heart warmed by the last words, spoken by his little brother, albeit he seemed mildly inebriated. 'Stupid little shit…miss you too, kiddo.'
In the middle of the night, a crashing noise from JD's room woke Vin from a deep sleep. Still fully dressed he drowsily pulled himself upright. Smacking his lips and tongue to ease the dryness in his mouth, he reached for a glass of water and gulped at it greedily. Another bang from next door drove him to his feet.
"Damn kid, you tryin' to walk through the wall or somethin'?" With a quick stretch, he walked to the adjoining door, and pushed it open.
"Hellfire, JD, whatcha doin' in…"
Vin froze as he saw his bloodied and unconscious friend lying on the floor, with a stranger leaning over him. Vin took two steps forward and collapsed instantly from an impact to the side of his head. As he passed out, he heard one of the men comment on this being easier than they'd thought possible.
Still asleep, JD felt he was moving.
'He was moving?'
Like Vin, he too had crawled onto his bed fully dressed, intending to get up and change at some point, but instead, he fell into a deep sleep, induced by alcohol, good food, and lots of fresh air. Becoming aware that someone was gripping his arms and attempting to flip him onto his back, JD struggled.
His brain kicked awake and he flew into professional mode, instantly twisting his hands so that he now held his assailant's wrists. Putting both his feet into the man's solar plexus, JD took him up and over his head, releasing him to hear a satisfying crash when the body landed. Using the flexibility in the bed as leverage, he bounced to his feet and prepared to meet anyone else intending to do him harm, but the hard crack to his head threw him off-balance and he toppled to the floor on his knees. Groaning, he tried to push himself up onto his feet. His head throbbed with the effort, only to find himself rewarded with first a kick to his ribs, then to the side of his face. A flash of red turning to black ended JD's pain as he slumped forward, unconscious.
The man that JD threw was now on his feet, and struggling to draw in breath. He moved next to JD's inert body and kicked out at the youth's ribs, and then to JD's head.
"Tricky little bastard."
He was about to lash out again when the other man stopped him. Drawing attention to a noise from the next room, he directed him to stand behind the adjoining door. The remaining man bent to pick up the limp body lying on the floor in front of him when the door opened. He looked up to see Tanner's shocked and furious expression, to then watch the agent's rapid descent as he crumpled to the floor from a blow to his head.
Both men smirked at each other, satisfied with their success.
"Never thought it would be this easy…"
The second man nodded. "Good call to take the kid out, first. Tanner would have given us hell."
The first man rubbed at his ribs and gave a vicious poke to JD's body with his boot. "Dunno, this one didn't exactly come quietly."
"No matter, we got what we came for - let's go."
Relatively early next morning, Larabee turned his office chair to look out of the window while he savored his steaming, freshly brewed coffee. He listened contentedly as, one by one, the members of his team arrived, each man calling out a greeting as they entered the bullpen. The last voice caused him to look at his watch and rise to his feet. Coffee in hand, he walked to the door and leaned against the frame as he sipped at the deliciously aromatic brew.
"Have trouble sleeping, Standish?"
"And a cheery 'good morning' to you too, Mister Larabee."
Buck looked at Chris then back to the southerner. "He's missing the guys, you're missing the guys, aren't you Ezra?"
Standish sat at his desk and placed his purchased coffee down. "To quote our youngest member, 'Buck, get a grip'. The only thing I am missing is several hours of blissful slumber, now kindly allow me to finish my coffee in peace."
Buck chuckled, "Aww, see…he can't sleep, he's missing the guys."
With a roll of his eyes, Standish sipped at his coffee, secretly concerned as to whether he had truly become that transparent.
All five men were surprised to see AD Travis enter the office.
"Boys…thought I'd drop by to let you know the Pope case has been transferred to the FBI. They didn't elaborate, and I didn't consider it necessary to either reason with them or to ask as to why. Please apologize to JD for me, and also thank him. His technical groundwork was exceptional, and was duly noted by the agents the case transferred to. I'm being wary; they commented on requesting to transfer him again."
Buck straightened, "They can't do that, can they? You know the kid would hate not working in the field."
Travis raised his hand. "Don't worry Buck; he's ours until he tells me otherwise. Besides, I think they were just winding me up." Orin glanced around. "Where is JD today…and for that matter, do I see Tanner is missing too?"
Chris stepped forward, "They're attending the conference in El Paso, though why you had to send two of my agents at once is beyond my understanding."
Travis frowned, "I don't recall any such conference being organized this week, do you have the dates wrong?"
Chris walked to JD's desk and pulled open the top drawer. Removing a white envelope, he handed it to Orin.
There was a slight pause as he read, and then the AD frowned and looked up. "I didn't issue this directive, I haven't even signed this, though I agree, my name and signature are on it."
Chris and Buck were both on their feet and approaching the AD. "What?" they asked together.
Travis picked up a phone and dialed. "Megan, would you email the list of conferences for this quarter to Team Seven please? Thank you."
Buck walked over to his monitor and a few minutes later the team and Travis were reading the itinerary.
"Nothing in this quarter for you, Chris, and certainly not in El Paso..." He waved JD's letter in the air. "…I need to look into this; would you contact your men and alert them?"
As Travis left, Larabee was already dialing, as was Buck. The concerned looks around the room matched the two men's unsettled demeanors perfectly. In less than a minute, both closed their cells.
"Nothing." Buck began to pace. Chris barely moved, his mind in turmoil as he tried to consider their next step.
"Chris…" Buck growled.
"Just hang in there, Pard, let's take this a step at a time. Ezra, call their hotel, find out if they've left for the conference already, and if so, do the staff know where they were going and if they were alone. Josiah, book us five seats on the next plane out to El
Paso, Nathan, get onto Travis…tell him we're out of time. I want answers, so he can pass this on to the FBI if necessary...we're going after them."
A few minutes later, the profiler approached the two anxious Federal Agents. Chris straightened. "Josiah?"
"We have seats on a plane that leaves in two hours."
Ezra stepped forward to join them, "The hotel reception confirms that Vin and JD have speed-checked out of their hotel; no one saw them leave and their luggage is in a holding area awaiting their return to collect."
Still absorbing the information, they all looked toward Nathan as he too walked from his desk to join them.
"Travis said he believes the instructions sent out to Vin and JD are linked to a pool secretary who handed in her notice last week, the same day the boys got their letters."
Larabee cursed under his breath. With a nod of acknowledgement, he spoke softly but his tone held a deadly edge to it.
El Paso, and in the dark, early hours of the morning, three men stood next to an old Toyota parked in a pull-in on a remote road, three-quarters up a mountainside. Ray Costa appeared an unassuming man, medium weight, medium height, and not particularly good-looking. However, there was something about his smile, which suggested he was more than satisfied with his life at that moment. He turned to his two companions.
"My favorite part in the newer version of the film "The Untouchables" was when that little accountant guy gets whacked in the elevator; and when Ness and his flunkies arrive at his murder scene, across the car wall, in the guy's own blood was written the word 'touchable'. Larabee and his fucking 'Magnificent Team Seven' think they're untouchable…perfect…honorable…unstoppable, and I guess they have been. Except now, we can remove the word 'untouchable'. My only regret is that I will never be able to take credit for their demise, but at least I'll have the satisfaction of knowing it was down to me."
He tilted his head to view the two unconscious agents slumped in the front of the Toyota. "Such an unfortunate accident...they died so young." With a sneer, he looked to his men.
Without casting a look back as he walked away, Costa returned to his car while his two goons released the parking brake on the stationary vehicle, and with a little effort, they rolled it over the edge of the road until gravity took control. They returned to join their boss to the background sounds of twisting metal and shattering glass as the free-rolling car hurtled down the mountainside to disappear into the darkness and shrubbery below.
The plane journey to El Paso had been a restrained affair for the five agents of Team Seven. By the time they arrived at the hotel the two younger men were meant to be staying at, Larabee and Wilmington were beside themselves, each man blaming himself for not being more thorough and thinking to check the conference information out personally before sending their agents into God knows what. Josiah put a comforting hand on both men's shoulders.
"I can understand you're both worried…hell, we all are. Those two boys mean a lot to all of us. JD's the ultimate kid…energetic, fun-loving, accident-prone, endearing. In the last nine months or so I've seen Vin open up, have fun, become less intense, partly since those two found things that interest them both, partly because of the relationship of this team, and definitely because of you, Chris. However, when it comes down to their work, they are the ultimate professionals, standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest of us." His eyes saddened.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is…while sometimes I see two strong boys…I also see two strong men, and I believe it is that strength that will carry them through most anything that gets thrown at them, with, or without our protection."
Chris and Buck looked at each other, then back to the profiler.
"But what if, in this case, it's more than they can handle?" The blond argued.
Josiah nodded. "Then whatever occurs will have always been out of theirs, and our control, and is not a reflection of who they are, or who they may have been unfortunate to run up against."
"May I make a suggestion?" Ezra interrupted. "As we have no idea where to begin, perhaps when we liaise with the local PD we should also consider arranging for a search and rescue team to assist us, we have an inordinate amount of ground to cover."
Larabee gave a nod, which Ezra returned. "I shall organize it immediately."
Vin inhaled shakily, and tightness and pain gripped his chest. He knew that he'd awoken before and that this time his vision was improving as the light blur around him was slowly becoming a series of recognizable images, namely trees, shrubs, cacti, and grass. More alarmingly, a large expanse of lightening sky was above him. That was when he realized he was laying on his back, although his shoulders and head seemed to be slightly elevated by a small, raised area of ground.
His head throbbed, and he wondered why his legs felt heavy - and then he saw it. Fearfully he pushed with his knees, grunting with the effort, but was quick to realize he could feel no strength, and no movement, and so was in no position to shift a car off his legs anytime soon. Something else tugged at the edges of his mind...something palpable. He glanced around, hoping for some clue as to what it was that was causing his unease, but a fresh wave of pain and dizziness ate into all cohesive thoughts and he drifted back into the welcoming arms of silent obscurity.
Having spent the morning in El Paso, Larabee was about ready to tear off limbs. They had been chasing dead ends and imaginary sightings. The local PD was prepared to call out search and rescue to scan the surrounding countryside, but not today. There was no solid evidence the men were actually missing, plus, if they were, they hadn't been missing twenty-four hours. By that time, light would be failing, so tomorrow would be another early start for the five members of Team Seven...providing nothing else turned up meantime. Frustrated beyond belief, but having nothing more to go on, they spent their time in the boys' hotel rooms, asking questions in the area, and liaising with El Paso's CSU.
Back on the mountain, Vin was awake again and a little more lucid. The pain that sent him into unresponsiveness ensured he awoke again. He wondered how long he had been out. He noted the sky was brighter, and the sun was higher and much warmer than the last time he was awake. Vin swallowed against a rough throat. God he was thirsty.
The face of his teammate slammed into his head from nowhere, and now all the prostrate Texan could think of was where in the hell his friend was. He searched frantically, his head tossing from one side then the other as his gaze raked the landscape. He lifted his shoulders as far as he could and then he saw a hand and a mop of dark hair just below him and to his left, but partially obscured by the front of the upturned vehicle.
Tanner groaned; to call out hurt like hell. He shook it off...it had to be done. "JD! Damnit, Kid…get up!"
JD hissed. Man, his head was pounding. He and Vin must have really tied one on last night. Vin...was that him yelling? Aww shit, they must be late for the conference, Chris was gonna shoot 'em if he found out.
As he lay on his stomach, JD tried to raise his head but nausea struck with a vengeance. Ah well…serve him right…self inflicted shit never earned you sympathy, except with Buck; he'd scold and curse while handing you the aspirin and water...gotta love that guy, shame he wasn't here now, then he could tell Tanner to quit yelling.
"W…what?" JD mumbled tersely.
Tanner closed his eyes in relief. Thank God, the Kid was alive. "JD…can you move?" The sharpshooter grunted his question through clenched teeth, as his pain almost took him over the brink. "I need help bad, are you hurt?"
Hurt? What was Vin talking about? Dunne finally opened his eyes and looked around. Was he outside? What the hell had they been doing last night? He vaguely remembered dropping into bed.
Oh God, someone was in his room. Someone attacked him. Had they attacked
Vin too? "Vin…I'm coming…." He called out feebly, while attempting to rise. Pain shot through his body and he yelped, shaking at the ferocity with which it hit him.
"…in a minute," he added, just in case Vin was taking his promise seriously.
Alarmed at the yelp of pain from his teammate, Vin called back. "Wait! Take some time to check where you hurt. Only move if you think it's safe."
Tanner's anguished words spurred the youth on, and some time later he managed to half crawl, half drag himself to the Texan's side. Unfortunately, he looked into Vin's eyes and then collapsed unconscious on reaching his goal.
"Damnit JD I told you to wait." Vin rasped. He reached out a hand and successfully touched the mop of dark hair lying close to him. The trapped sharpshooter inhaled painfully and knowing that at least they were together, he allowed himself to rest also.
Evening, and the remaining members of Team Seven were unable to eat or rest, and finally all congregated in Larabee's room. The local PD had been in contact with
various informants and learned there was indeed word of a contract out on out-of-state police officers, but that remained the extent of the collective knowledge. Buck was uncharacteristically withdrawn, Chris paced relentlessly, putting everyone
else's nerves on edge. Ezra could take it no longer.
"Mister Larabee…Chris, at the risk of having a weapon pressed into my face, I am begging you, please…sit down."
The enraged blond strode purposefully toward him, desperate to lay into someone...anyone. Seconds from doing just that, Chris regained his senses and visibly wilted in front of his friends. He dropped heavily onto the edge of the bed.
"I feel so FUCKING USELESS!" He pounded his fists into the bed to punctuate his point. It was a poor compromise for striking out at the people who had taken their teammates, but it held a modicum of satisfaction.
Josiah was watching Wilmington. The man had barely spoken and that in itself was cause for concern. He called over to him, aware that despite Buck staring out of the window at the night sky, he was likely seeing nothing.
"Buck…talk to us."
The brunet turned slowly from the window, his eyes filled with pain and anguish. He sighed heavily and moved toward the main group.
"I…I keep thinking…what if they're out there…" he gestured to the great outdoors, "…out there…lying injured somewhere? It gets cold at night. They could
still be alive yet…" He was unable to finish, emotion finally getting the better of him. The profiler was now on his feet and had crossed to stand in front of his grieving friend. He opened his arms slightly in an offer of comfort, and Buck gratefully accepted it. Leaning in, he rested lightly against the older man's shoulder.
Larabee looked on enviously. He wanted desperately to be comforted too, but he was team leader…he had to remain strong. As if reading his thoughts, Ezra and
Nathan joined him, flanking him as all three sat on the bed. No words were spoken, but there was no doubt the support was gratefully received.
The blond looked over at his oldest friend, their gazes locked. Chris nodded as if answering a silent question.
"We're gonna find 'em, Buck…I swear to you, I won't rest until we do."
Wide, hazel eyes stared for the longest time. Finally JD's brain registered that Vin really was trapped underneath a car. He dragged himself wearily to his feet and limped around the vehicle in search of a weak spot that might help him raise, or move the car enough for Vin to slide out.
Avoiding a freshly discovered aching shoulder, JD pushed as hard as he could against the vehicle, but it barely creaked, let alone moved. The young man tried once again, stopping in a wave of panic when Tanner groaned and JD thought he might have made things worse. Fearing he might bring the whole lot down on top of Vin, he hobbled dejectedly back to where he originally lay and looked at his unconscious friend.
"I'm sorry, Vin…I just can't shift it," he sniffed. Feeling dizzy, Dunne sighed and lay down in the grass. He fought hard but soon, he once again surrendered to the call of slumber, while still berating his weakness and wishing Josiah was there. Josiah would be able to lift a car.
Later, and JD was once more sitting upright. He stared around him, trying to piece together how the two of them had ended up at the bottom of a valley in a wrecked car. An unfamiliar car, at that. The only conclusion he could draw was linked to that earlier vague memory in his hotel room the other night…he frowned…whenever, the 'other night' now was.
He looked up at the sky. It was late afternoon early evening, he figured. His shoulder hurt like hell, as did his knee, his head and…his stomach kind of ached a little, too. He wondered if it was simply hunger. He sure as hell was thirsty.
He started when a pair of piercing blue eyes caught his attention. "Vin!"
"How you doin' Kid?"
Dunne shrugged, "Well…I'm still in one piece, it would seem, though quite a few of those pieces hurt right now. How about you? Pretty heavy-duty line in comforters, huh?" He pointed to the car positioned on top of the Texan's body, and winced at his feeble attempt at humor. JD's face crumpled.
"I…I can't move it, Vin…I tried. I'm sorry."
Tanner grabbed the younger man's arm. "Knock it off…we'll figure this out, somehow. It don't hurt too bad now…kinda numb, actually." Vin drew in a painful breath around abused ribs.
"JD, we need to build a fire, it's gonna be dark in a few hours and it'll get cold. You up for a bit of wood gatherin'?"
The youth nodded and, clenching his teeth to prevent himself from calling out in pain and giving his injured friend any more to worry about, he dragged his battered body up off the ground. JD could see Tanner had several nasty cuts and bruises, but they were nothing in comparison to the dirty great hunk of metal sitting on top of the wiry body.
First though, he walked over to the car and retrieved an old blanket that was partially hanging out of the broken back window. Returning to Vin, JD carefully draped it over his friend, and attempted to make him as comfortable as he could. With a crooked smile, JD then went off to collect wood.
Vin was concerned. He watched his injured friend bravely limping around gathering up wood. JD probably hadn't realized, but his head had been bleeding and, although now dry, his hair was matted and his face streaked with blood. He was clearly favoring a knee, and a shoulder, and also appeared to be rubbing his stomach from time to time.
And then there was himself. God only knows what the car on top of him was doing to his legs. Every breath was agony, and being numb from the waist down was probably not a good thing. He was relieved to have some warmth from the blanket, and nodded approvingly to see JD pile all the gathered wood together, not too close to harm them, but close enough to generate warmth.
JD made a face. "Got no matches."
Vin gestured to his jeans' pocket. The younger man could just poke his fingers inside, eventually sliding out a matchbook. He grinned. "Thank God…I thought you were gonna make me bash rocks together or something."
Vin huffed, and then grimaced. "D…don't…m…make me laugh…Kid."
In a few minutes, JD had a good fire burning. He moved closer to Tanner, resting one hand lightly on the Texan's chest.
"So…are you havin' fun yet?" Vin teased.
Now JD was trying to stifle a laugh, and he wrapped his arms around his stomach to try to stop the ache. "I should go for help."
Vin shook his head. "Not now, it'll be dark soon."
He saw JD shiver violently, despite the growing warmth from the fire. Before the blanket, Vin felt cold too, but realized their chill was not just down to the dropping temperature and darkening sky. He hoped his next suggestion would be received with the grace in which it was offered.
Eyes glazed with pain, JD looked down at him. "Hmm?"
"C'mere." Vin held out his arm and waited patiently.
JD stared at his friend for a moment, and then gently scooted down next to him. He pushed the back of his body against the side of the prone man, but was unsure what to do with his head.
"Just set it down on my shoulder, JD. We've got to keep warm, and this is about the best way while we're in this position." Vin clutched the edge of the blanket and repositioned it so both of them had some cover.
They continued to shiver, but eventually the warmth from the fire and each other broke through and the shivering slowed considerably. They knew they should try to stay awake but both were struggling.
"Where would you have been now if Chris hadn't pulled you onto the team?"
Tanner coughed, lightly. "Guess I would've still been a Marshall…kinda liked workin' alone…" he paused, and then added, "…back then." He could feel JD nodding, figuring he was agreeing to the change of heart he had expressed in working alone. "How about you, Kid?"
Dunne yawned. "Not a cop, probably."
Vin shifted slightly at the words. "What do you mean?"
"I was a beat cop, when I wasn't dragged into IT work, but I doubt if I could have survived that for too long, being stuck behind a computer instead of out there and doing the job I really wanted to. I guess...if Mom hadn't died…and I hadn't taken the chance to come out here…who knows?"
Vin instinctively pulled the younger man closer. Fate had indeed been kind to them, bringing together seven solitary men whose devotion to each other and the job was unwavering. He thanked God and all that was Holy on a daily basis for giving him something he thought he may never have again…a family. He tensed as he felt JD's body relaxing.
The youth slurred, "S…sorry…V…Vin…" He could no longer stay awake.
Tanner sighed. While listening to JD's labored breathing he was unable to stop a lone tear from escaping. He looked to the Heavens, and thought about six good friends until he too succumbed to exhaustion.
"Thanks, guys…it's been a great ride."
Outside the El Paso precinct, Buck shivered and looked toward his four weary friends. The sun was barely up but things were moving along as if it was the middle of the day. The local PD had called in search and rescue to scan the surrounding area; they needed to eliminate this avenue of investigation before they could move on to the possibility of an out-of-state abduction or…God forbid…murder. Cameras located in the area captured the two prone agents being placed into a Toyota, but the visual was lost once the car reached the mountain road.
It was arranged that Chris and Buck would go with the chopper crew, while Nathan and Josiah traveled with the ground crew. Ezra had already nominated himself to wait on the ground and liaise between the split team.
Chris checked his watch as he got the nod from the pilot of the chopper at 5.42 am. He glanced at Buck; the man looked drained. Larabee prayed they would find their friends, while at the same time, he feared what they might find if this search did indeed turn up something.
Ezra sat sipping a coffee in the precinct. He had calculated he was no more than a ten to twenty minute drive from the hospitals in the area should he get the call that his injured teammates were being transported there.
His injured teammates.
He smiled fondly at the images of Vin and JD that played in his mind, then sighed, hoping that he would see them again soon…and alive.
Josiah and Nathan shook hands with Chris and Buck as they wished them good luck, and then made their way to the sturdy, four-wheel drive trucks that were ready to set out. Buck and Chris nodded to each other, and then ascended into the chopper. They strapped themselves in and as they placed on headsets, the chopper took off.
Vin blinked as he struggled to open his eyes. He knew this could well be the very last time he woke up. He was parched and he ached, and hurt, and felt as if he was burning up, a fact that wasn't helped by the heated, unconscious body next to him.
JD actually was burning up, and Vin was unable to wake him. The Texan felt so helpless. All his life, since he was small, he had taken care of himself. At first, he was reluctant to get close to the members of Team Seven. He didn't need any emotional baggage, it just slowed you down. But he and Chris had connected on an almost surreal level and it lifted him out of his desire for solitude, seeking instead to get to know his team members better. He had watched the overly guarded Ezra also relax into his new position, and Vin began to believe it could get no better than this.
The addition of JD to the team had been an unforeseen Godsend. Despite the men's fears that Dunne's age would compromise both himself and the team, only the opposite had transpired. He brought an energy and innocence that had rejuvenated them all, which reminded Tanner that he was still young enough to have fun, much to Chris's frustration.
Vin grinned to himself as he slowly drifted into the waiting darkness. If he and JD got out of this…they were damn-well gonna go snow-boarding this year…even if they had to take their surrogate 'big brothers' along.
Despite hearing the distinctive sound of rotor-blade wash, Vin could no longer hold on. His last thoughts were of the young man next to him…and the special friendship of a man dressed in black.
Chris's and Buck's eyes burned from staring for so long as the searching chopper swept low across the surrounding mountains, and was now on its final circle of the less-traveled routes. Nathan and Josiah's ground team were pacing the chopper's movements, waiting for any sighting noted.
A small grunt drew Larabee's and Wilmington's attention.
"What is it?" the team leader asked, daring to hope that the co-pilot had actually seen something.
"Dunno." The man pointed down. "Saw a trail going down the hillside and into the undergrowth…could be car tracks." He motioned to the pilot with his hand to do another fly-by.
Seconds later he called out again, clearer this time. "There…something's there…we need to go down."
Buck and Chris were also staring. Their hearts soared when they too saw the trail down to the valley floor, but they saw more…the barest glimpse of the underside of an upturned car. The two men looked at each other. Despite their initial euphoria they were now terrified. It might not even be them…and even if it was…it might be too late.
Josiah and Nathan clung to each other in anticipation as word came through and the ground crew sped toward the pinpointed area. Their thoughts reflected those of their friends in the chopper, but both men refused to become negative until they saw for themselves whether it was another dead-end.
Finally locating a clearing, the chopper set down and three men instantly jumped out, ducking the rotor blades instinctively as they exited and ran toward the place that they had seen the car. The co- pilot, who was also a paramedic, lagged behind a little as he dragged his kit with him; the pilot following close behind once the chopper was safely grounded.
Both agents sucked in a breath when they spied their teammates huddled together. Neither man felt able to move as they suddenly feared the worst. On hearing the paramedic coming up behind them, they were spurred on to where their friends lay, and both men were visibly shocked to see that the car was actually lying across Vin's unconscious body.
The medic barged through them. He dropped his kit on the floor and instantly checked the unconscious men for life signs.
"They're both alive but their vitals are weak. We need to move this little one in order to get the car off the other guy."
Buck growled. Even if this man was helping them, he wasn't entitled to be disrespectful. "They're both Federal Agents, even the little one, if you don't mind."
The brunet waved Chris off.
The medic looked up in surprise. "Sorry, man…he looks so young…sorry…"
Chris and Buck kneeled down next to their friends. Chris shook his head, "Forget it, what do you want us to do?"
The man looked around, nodding to his fast-approaching colleague. "I need to move the younger one to a safer area, then if you guys can roll the car, I'll maneuver the other guy onto a backboard and slide him out of there."
He proceeded to examine JD, his partner assisting and in no time, JD was on a backboard with an IV, neck-brace, and oxygen mask in place. Sliding a second board under the top half of Vin's torso, three of the four men prepared to take the strain on the car. Vin had a neck-brace fitted, and on the count of three, the waiting men pushed, rocking the car up just enough for the paramedic to grip the waistband of Vin's jeans and ease him fully onto the backboard. With a colossal heave, he pulled the board clear of the car and the three men gratefully allowed the weighty vehicle to drop down the several inches they had lifted it. With a creak, the car wobbled, and then rolled completely over, landing with a crunch and kicking up a dust cloud right where Vin had been lying.
Buck went back to JD and stroked the boy's soaked hair while he and Chris waited to hear how bad Tanner was.
The medic frowned and turned to them. "His left femur's broken, but there's a sign of circulation in both legs. Apart from some severe bruising and a some initial bleeding, that's all I can see for now. He'll need an x-ray, but I can detect no crush injuries or find evidence of massive blood loss…he's one lucky sonofabitch."
"I doubt he'd agree with you, but I know what you mean," Chris said, more than a little relieved at the report.
The man started an IV and gave Vin oxygen. As he checked the neck-brace around the Texan, he jerked his head toward JD.
"I'm now more concerned about him; his belly's distended which suggests there may be some internal bleeding. We need get these guys to hospital ASAP."
From out of the shrubbery and cacti, two trucks rumbled toward them. Nathan and Josiah jumped out of the moving vehicle before it came to a halt.
"How bad?" Josiah got in first.
"Bad enough," was all Buck could say as he spoke soft words of encouragement to his unconscious best friend. The pilot approached the group and addressed Chris and Buck.
"If you guys could go back in the trucks please, we'll head back to the city with our two casualties. We'll let you know where they are as soon as we get a clearance to land."
All in agreement, the men helped load their injured friends into the chopper and then with heavy hearts watched as it took off. Josiah put his arms around Chris's and Buck's shoulders.
"Courage, brothers…as I said before, have faith, they are two strong men."
The group made their way back to the city, while the local PD secured the area for forensics to examine.
Ezra received the news and was well on his way to Thomason County Hospital. The chopper had already landed when he arrived and so he made his way directly to the trauma center.
At reception, he gave all the necessary details and answered the mandatory questions, but then the southerner was left to wait alone. An hour in and the unmistakable sound of the rest of the team arriving made him smile with relief and he rose to greet them. Chris and Buck went straight to him for an update.
"They are both in surgery. Vin is dehydrated and a little hypothermic but stable. Once he was suitably hydrated, they took him to surgery to repair the damage to his leg which the doctor assures me is a clean break, and also to clean and stitch his wounds. They do not believe, at this juncture, he has suffered any internal bleeding, although there was some pressure build-up around the leg injury, and they will be monitoring the limb's circulation for a day or so."
Relief between the five men was evident. The news wasn't perfect, but it was better than they'd dared hope.
Buck was almost afraid to ask, his fear increasing when Standish frowned.
"His left knee and right shoulder are injured but not seriously. He has numerous cuts and bruises and was also dehydrated. The main concerns are a head wound,
though his x-rays are clear, and…" Ezra sighed,"…some internal bleeding which they are addressing in surgery as we speak."
Buck groaned, the southerner continued.
"The doctor is hopeful. Had it been a major bleed, he would not have survived this long, so it's their professional opinion he has a slow, minor bleed, which of course was exacerbated by the delay in hospitalization. "
Information accepted, and with exhaustion finally catching up with them, they all sat down…and waited.
In a quiet hospital room, Vin had no doubt who was standing over him. He blinked to clear his vision and focus on the intense green eyes staring down at him.
"Chris…" he rasped.
"Shh…don't talk, Vin, just rest. Doc says you're pretty beat up, but doing good. Don't think you'll be doing any sports for several weeks though, you broke your left leg."
Tanner nodded his understanding. "Good to know I still have both. How's JD?"
"Just out of surgery, Pard…Buck's waiting on him…you know what he's like."
The Texan sighed. "Sorry…"
"I c…couldn't protect him…bastards caught us off guard."
Larabee scowled, and then softened his gaze. "First of all, no one expected you to be his keeper any more than we expected JD to be yours." He saw Vin about to protest.
"Yeah…I know…I know…we all watch out for him…but you know that's more from habit than necessity…right?"
Tanner nodded, Chris continued.
"Second of all, if it's anyone's fault, it's mine. The conference wasn't real Vin…and I never even thought to question it."
There was a pause. "Mistakes all round, huh?"
Larabee grinned, "I guess, but let's not be so hard on ourselves, huh? We've learned a tough lesson. Now, you get some rest…I'll still be here when you wake up…we all will."
With a small smile, blue eyes disappeared behind heavy lids and Vin relaxed into a healing sleep.
Chris heaved a thankful sigh …'one down, one to go.'
By the time the blond returned to where his friends last were, they had moved on. He looked to the nurses' station for answers and was informed JD was in recovery and the others were visiting him.
Buck met his gaze as Chris entered the room. "He's gonna be okay…he's a little tubed up here, but the Doc's real happy with how it all went."
For the first time in days, Larabee fully relaxed. Now all he wanted to do was go home…for all of them to go home. He touched JD on the arm, just to reassure himself the boy was still with them.
"Is Vin on antibiotics too?" Nathan wondered. As Chris nodded the affirmative, he smiled when a pair of sleepy, hazel eyes scanned the group. Buck leaned in to JD until their faces almost touched and quietly welcomed him back to the world. Chris stepped over to lend support.
"V…Vin?" JD asked shakily. "How's Vin?"
"He's good, JD," Larabee assured, "You'll see him when they take you to your room, so stop worrying and get some rest."
Buck was suitably impressed as JD nodded and then drifted back to sleep.
"Damn, Larabee…you're good."
All the men in the room grinned; Chris offered a tight smile. "I'm guessing the FBI has been in touch with him, but I'll just let Travis know how they're doing."
Just outside the recovery room door, Chris looked at his shaking hands. Despite the relief of finding Vin and JD alive, it remained outstanding as to who abducted them…and why...and though he seriously wanted that information before leaving this place, he had already reconciled himself with the fact that it would be unlikely.
A week on, and Buck watched his partner move stiffly around the apartment. He knew if he fussed him again the boy would likely explode…he had been laying it on a little thick...but Buck couldn't help it. He was just so darned glad to have JD and Vin back alive, and reasonably well. As the brunet emptied the dishwasher, he felt a warm weight against his shoulder and he turned. JD was leaning wearily against him. Buck smiled at first, but then was concerned.
"Everything okay, Kid?"
JD nodded, "Yeah…sorry I've been such a grump…I don't mean to be ungrateful, and I actually do like you taking care of me…sorry Buck."
Wilmington guided the younger man out of the kitchen and toward the sofa, and then sat down next to him. "Kid…you don't need to apologize to me. I know I can be a bit over the top but, I'm just so darned glad to…" He failed to complete the sentence.
JD smiled, "Yeah…I know…me too. Guess Vin and me were real lucky, huh?"
Buck squeezed the young man's shoulder. "I guess we all were."
Chris snapped to attention when he realized he was actually standing at the door of his guest bedroom watching Vin sleep. Tanner was struggling with his cast leg, but the fact that it was still attached had kept the Texan grateful, and upbeat about it. Chris knew Vin was hurting because he was allowing the older man to take care of him, something Vin loathed to permit unless pretty poorly.
What Chris didn't know was that, up on that mountain, Vin had made peace with the idea of having someone akin to older brothers to watch out for him, and contented himself with wanting to embrace the idea of family, and still have a kid brother to boss around...just for the hell of it. What Vin didn't know, was that Chris vowed that if he got his friends back safely, he would make sure they knew how much they meant to him, especially one long-haired, lanky Texan.
All he had to do now was figure out exactly how to make that possible.
Four weeks later saw both agents back in work on light duties. They had requested to return as both men were feeling overwhelmed by the inordinate amount of care and attention they were receiving while being bored to boot.
Vin was in a wheelchair, the only way Larabee would allow him back in case their building had to be evacuated. JD was simply walking wounded, though clearly weakened by the experience.
Travis called Team Seven to his office. "Investigations have revealed a rather uncomfortable trail in this incident."
"Incident?" Tanner scoffed, "that's what they're callin' the attempted murder of two Federal Agents these days?"
Travis raised his hand, "My apologies gentlemen, talking to outside sources tends to de-personalize things, and that's not how I feel about it at all. Does the name Ray Costa ring any bells with you?"
Seven men looked shocked, Larabee spoke. "It's one of our caseloads…he's involved in tobacco smuggling and we're putting together a pretty good case on him." He looked to JD and the youth nodded.
"Yes sir." Dunne took over. "We have so much info on him…we may not even need to send in Ezra on this one."
Travis stood, "Well…all I can say is, I would heartily recommend this team watch their backs and arrest this man as soon as possible. The secretary who sent out the conference agendas to Vin and JD has been linked to him, and it would seem he has no desire to be put out of business by you, or any other Federal agency, and sources say he is prepared to kill to guarantee it."
Chris nodded his understanding. "Consider it done."
Back in the bullpen, the blond issued his instructions, and they planned their take-down. He reminded his two youngest agents they were not able to participate in the upcoming bust, but assured them they would be able to confront the man personally if they wanted to.
One week later, and while the team was out on the arrest of Costa, the two younger agents reflected on their recent ordeal while they waited for their teammates' return. JD glanced at Tanner.
"I'm sorry, Vin."
The sharpshooter turned to him. "What are you sorry about?"
"For getting a little drunk that night…if I had been sober, I reckon they would never have got the drop on us."
Vin shook his head. "I disagree…there were two of them; they had clearly planned the abduction, right down to allocatin' the adjoinin' rooms. Us being a little under the influence just made it easier for them and, don't forget…we were both a little drunk, Kid."
JD nodded, "Still feel bad though."
Tanner smiled at his friend, "Yeah…me too, but it's water under the bridge now, right? Can't undo what's done. Hey…what say we put it behind us and plan that snowboardin' trip we always wanted to?"
JD's face lit up."Yeah? Cool."
The Costa bust was successful. In an interview room back at the Federal Building, Buck paced for a moment, and then leaned in real close to Costa's face.
"Someone out there gave you up, sleaze-ball…the shit you pull every day is bad enough, but attempted murder of Federal Officers…" Buck sneered, "…that's really gonna hurt you." He moved in as close as he dared to the man's face. "Personally,
I'd prefer the hurt to be of the physical type, and as prolonged as possible, but I'll settle for the death penalty...and I'll make sure I'm there watching when it's carried out."
Costa smirked. "Fuck off, Fed…you got nothin' on me or we'd be havin' this conversation with my lawyer here, too. Charge me…or let me go."
From behind the two way mirror the two youngest watched, alongside Ezra, Nathan and Josiah. Both were shaking their head to Ezra's question…neither of them knew him. They saw Chris cross the room and also get right into the man's face as Buck backed off to allow him access. He smiled that 'smile' that caused grown men to piss their pants.
"You wanna leave here, hotshot? Be my guest, I'm glad you feel so confident of your chances of survival outside of this building."
Costa glared, trying hard to disguise how nervous he was. "Are you threatening me?"
Larabee smiled, speaking as he moved away. "I don't make threats." He turned back one last time before exiting the interview room, "I only make promises. Be sure to say 'hi' to Eliades for me." He grinned. "You know, the man you recently double-crossed and lay the blame on the doorstep of one of his ex-associates. Apparently, he somehow found out what you did. Can't think how."
Buck laughed softly at the look of horror on Costa's face, and the two agents left the room to join their teammates in the next room.
"Shit, Larabee, I almost pissed my pants," Tanner grinned.
"We don't know him…sorry." JD offered.
"Figured he'd probably covered himself. Shame, but no matter, just as well for us he's not as methodical when he's dealing as he is when he plans a murder, as we have plenty of other shit to charge him with. Plus, I reckon he'll be pretty keen to offer up some information now he thinks Eliades is onto him." Chris assured.
"Wait," Vin checked. "Eliades doesn't know Costa double-crossed him?"
Chris raised an eyebrow. "Oh, did I fail to tell him that Eliades might have heard about that?" he winked. "Paperwork can wait, I need a drink, anyone eager to stay here?" He pushed Vin's chair out into the corridor as all seven exited the adjoining room to where Costa sat considering his options
The seven were almost at the parking garage when JD brightened. "Hey Vin…now we can tell them about our planned snowboarding trip."
Five pairs of eyes stared at the two younger men and they all stopped dead in their tracks. There was a moment of silence before a chorus went up from all five.
"Your what, now?"
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