Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: Josiah, JD
Ratings/Warnings: Some violence and bad language
Summary: The team confronts a sadistic suspect and suffers the consequences.
Hot on the trail of their prime suspect in a series of firebombings, Chris, Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan were traveling from the office, while Vin, Buck, and JD were closing in on the site of the most recent arson attack.
The three agents jumped out of one of two of their assigned black GMC Yukon trucks, and from the sidewalk looked up at the tall, run-down apartment block. An informant’s call led them here, and they were in no doubt their suspect was in this labyrinth of neglected apartments but, where? Un-holstering their weapons, the three walked up the front steps and went inside.
They balked at the rancid odor of filth-strewn corridors, and puke and urine spattered stairwells. With flashlights in hands, Vin led the way by means of a rickety metal banister on one side, and paint peeled, dirt encrusted, graffiti covered walls on the other, up the dimly lit stairs, JD followed close behind, with Buck bringing up the rear. All three agents searched every nook and cranny, and scrutinized every shadow, movement, and sound as they checked each level.
On the eighth floor a man flew at them from the shadows. "Are you cops?"
Buck flipped open his ID wallet.
"’Bout time you guys got here. Some crazy dude just run at me waving a gun and warning me to back the hell off." He pointed. "He came up these stairs, and headed that way. Looked like he was carrying a gas can."
With instructions for the man to go leave the building, and a collective nod to each other, the three agents moved down the corridor. Their earpieces rang with the sound of Chris's voice advising that he and the others were almost with them.
Noting smoke coming from under the door of one apartment, Vin pushed his back to the wall on one side of the door. JD mirrored Tanner on the other side, while Buck faced the door and counted. On three, he called out a warning to those inside, then two seconds later, kicked in the door. JD and Vin moved to take a supportive position but all three froze to the spot when the beams of their flashlights were greeted by the sight of a screaming, twirling, human torch. All three coughed from the acrid smoke swirling around them. JD covered their backs when Buck and Vin rushed into the room and tore down drapes to smother the flames engulfing the man.
Just as they doused the fire, the other team members arrived, informing them that DPD officers were covering all exits and allowing no one to leave the immediate area. Chris stared at the horrific scene.
Nathan was already entering the room. Josiah stayed in the hallway to call in the paramedics, while Ezra and two police officers went back to the stairs. Knowing no one had passed them, they ran up to check the next and final landing.
From just inside the apartment, JD stared at the grisly scene and without warning felt uncomfortably clammy. Chris noted his youngest agent’s pallor. He took JD’s arm and guided him into the corridor.
"Go get some air, Kid."
JD’s gaze flicked to Chris’s face and he was relieved to see his hero wasn’t mad. With a nod, he backed away from the room, and hurried around the corner to the top of the stairwell. Squatting, he held onto the railings for support and took several cleansing breaths. A noise caused him to look up.
Chris watched JD go, and then returned to observe Nathan work. He closed his eyes momentarily in dismay when Vin looked up at him from the side of the charred, semi-covered man and shook his head. When he walked into the room, Josiah offered a quiet prayer on seeing the blistered body. They all turned to look as Ezra joined them.
He gestured toward the body. "Our miscreant left his calling card, I see. One can only ponder as to what this poor soul did to deserve such a fate." Ezra indicated ‘up’.
"I do believe the reprobate successfully departed just before our arrival. The roof door is open, but there is no indication of anyone recently being up there."
"Where's JD?" Buck asked.
The sudden change of direction in the conversation had them all turn to the man. Josiah thumbed toward the corridor. "He passed me and went in the direction of the stairs."
Chris proffered a knowing look. "I told him to get some air."
With an understanding nod, Buck walked out of the room and around the corner, only to find no trace of JD. What he did find were spots of blood dotted around a matchbook. Taking out a latex glove to pick it up, Buck squatted down. He turned the book to examine the item, and then used the tip of a pen to flip open the cover. There was a message written inside.
Lost something, Fed?
Alarm swept through Buck. His gut clenched, and his heart hammered against his ribcage as he anxiously glanced around. He stood and in the vain hope that the matchbook’s implication was bogus he spoke urgently into his mic.
"Agent Dunne. Kid! JD answer me!"
Chris watched helplessly while some of the recently arrived CSI officers denoted points of investigation at the top of the stairs and stairwell with colored markers, dusted the rail for prints, and swabbed at the bloodspots. CSI Nick Palmer sprayed a bud and looked up at Larabee when it turned pink. Another test confirmed it was human. He approached.
"Is Tanner up on the roof?"
"I’ll send someone after him." He stared into Larabee’s steely glare. "There’s a partial blood trail, but it stops midway down the second flight of stairs. DPD confirmed no one’s left this building. The clock’s ticking, but we’ll find him."
"I know," Chris rasped, deciding not to voice the fear of whether JD would still be alive when they did.
Wearing latex gloves, Vin walked every inch of the roof, nodding to CSI Bart Coughlin when he joined him. Vin pointed. "No one’s been up here recently. I reckon the open door was a ruse to send us off the trail."
Bart stared around as he pulled out items from his bag. He didn’t doubt Vin for one moment, but he still had a job to do. He made his way to the bar used to open the roof door in order to dust for prints. "You think this guy planned to snatch an agent?"
"An educated guess says not."
"So why? He won’t get out of here now, and it’s only a matter of time before we find Dunne. What’s he hoping to achieve?"
Vin pursed his lips. "That’s what worries me. Man’s an animal, and when an animal’s cornered…they fight dirty." Tanner walked through the roof door and onto the stairwell.
"Or they make a last stand."
With officers on every floor, a door-to-door search began. If no one answered, a freshly delivered warrant gave them the authorization to enter an apartment. Once Ezra finished the search on the victim’s floor, each of Team Seven spread themselves between the next six levels below hoping to find an arsonist whose signature was to leave a torched victim at each location he firebombed, while painfully aware that they, and JD, were likely running out of time.
Two floors below the crime scene, Josiah’s accompanying DPD officer stood armed and ready while the Profiler knocked on doors. The man nicknamed ‘Preacher’ was a little stunned at the casual attitude residents displayed toward events. Even as the smell of smoke and charred flesh hung heavy in the air, folk appeared to react as though it was an everyday occurrence.
After failing to get a reply at one apartment, Officer Gus Hardy assisted Josiah in gaining entry. The squalid apartment was empty, and so the pair moved on to the next one. After knocking, the pair was just about to jimmy the door lock, when the door opened. The sight of a green cushion coming at them was just enough to distract the pair before the muffled ‘pop’ of a gunshot sounded. Amidst a flurry of pillow stuffing, Gus’s forehead bloomed red and he crumpled to the floor. Josiah’s shocked gaze met that of arsonist Kevin Downs, whose gun was trained on him even as Downs was beckoning Sanchez inside the apartment. Appreciating it would be best if he complied, Josiah stepped inside. When the door closed behind him, his heart sank at what he saw.
Team Seven, CSI, and DPD officers continued going door-to-door but were drawing blanks, both with the apartments, and any residents gathered downstairs at the various exits. The nerve in Chris’s jaw twitched with tension as he plotted his next move. Buck was despondent at being no closer to finding his best friend and partner, while feeling responsible for the boy whose ongoing field training was squarely his responsibility, even though all six men took time to instruct JD whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Tanner had gone over and over the trail of bloodspots, painfully frustrated at their sudden stop, and with no clue as to which direction they might have taken from the point of cessation. However, it was one simple question from Nathan, which caused them to realize this dire situation was escalating.
"Anyone heard from Josiah or Gus? All I’m getting is dead air from Josiah’s headset and mic, and Gus’s radio."
"Damnit to hell!" They all jolted when Chris slammed a fist into the crumbling paintwork of a hallway wall. He slowly composed himself. "What floor is he covering?"
"Six," Ezra replied.
"Let’s go." Chris’s nerves were jangling. To take one agent and leave a message, while knowing there was no means of escape, caused the team to consider this man as suicidal; to take two, suggested the guy was planning on taking out more than his own life.
Inside the neglected apartment, Josiah started to move toward the chair that JD’s slumped and bloodied form was tied to, but Downs halted him.
Josiah glowered at the man wearing what was once JD’s Kevlar vest. "He’s hurt." He pointed toward the door. "And you murdered that man out there."
"The guy out there is no longer any of your concern."
Downs smirked, his free hand holding a matchbook as his thumb stroked it. He rested one hand on JD’s bowed head. "As for him, he’s not hurting half as much as he’s gonna be." The arsonist snatched up a chair and placed it opposite JD’s. "Carefully remove your gun, take off your vest and sit, or I’ll shoot out his kneecaps."
Without taking his eyes off JD, Josiah complied.
"Cuffs?" Downs emphasized the demand by cocking the pistol aimed at JD.
With a heavy heart, Josiah pulled out his handcuffs.
"Put one bracelet around a wrist, snap it shut, then put your arms back and around the chair." Seconds after the order was adhered to, Kevin Downs secured Josiah’s free hand, and then intertwined the cuffs with strips of material, as he had done to JD, to ensure moving without the chair in tow wasn’t an option.
A soft groan and stirrings from JD had Josiah torn. On one hand, he needed to know JD was okay, on the other, the last thing he wanted was for JD to be the man’s center of attention again. His fears, however, were considerably further from the truth than he realized.
JD couldn’t help the moan that escaped him. As he battled to rouse, there was a fuzzy recollection of a scuffle earlier when he stood at the top of a stairwell to catch his breath, and before a sharp pain to his face and head.
Then - nothing.
At the same time lucidity grew, he most definitely knew he wasn’t alone, and raised his aching head to look up.
"Take it easy, son."
Blinking, JD stared at Josiah while trying to figure out what the hell was going on. His eyes widened when, as his focus returned and he saw Downs deliver a hefty blow to Josiah’s jaw. "No!"
Downs simply chuckled at JD’s distress and used the weight of the gun in his hand to land several more punches to Josiah’s face.
"You…sonofabitch!" JD howled. Sheer determination got his shaky legs working and him trying to get to his feet, chair and all. He gasped in agony when Kevin’s meaty fist struck his face and sent him and the chair backwards. The chair rocked on its back legs, but miraculously stayed upright.
Without even looking back at JD, Downs continued his assault on Josiah. The agent’s head jerked from side to side from blows interspersed with Downs’ cruel diatribe.
"Now…you’ll get to see…just how…I like to end…traitorous associations," He boasted.
Josiah's head lolled and Downs stepped back to admire his handiwork. "Right to the bitter end – well, bitter for you; but at least you and the kid’ll go out all nice and toasty."
Cautiously arriving at floor six, the five remaining Team Seven agents collectively cursed on seeing Officer Hardy’s prone, bloody form in the middle of the hallway. Larabee spoke into his com to inform all on the scene of the development, reiterating the order to let no one leave without his directive, no matter what. He looked to his men.
"We need a plan." He pointed toward Gus. "And we need him out of here."
Battered, bruised, bleeding, but defiant, Josiah stared at Downs through puffy eyes. "No surprise that you planned this."
Downs shrugged. "I planned to torch the building, while disposing of a pain-in-my-ass ex-acquaintance at the same time, but you guys showing up put paid to ‘Plan A’, so…on to ‘Plan B’."
"It…it was you, earlier – on the stairs."
Attention turned to JD, who glanced between Josiah and Kevin. He addressed the former. "He was on the stairs. Told Vin, Buck, and me that some guy was waving a gun around on floor eight." JD looked back at Downs. "What happened? Couldn’t get out of the building, huh?"
"Something like that," Downs sulked, and then brightened. "But I had me a back-up plan." He gestured toward two gas cans. "Hid those down here. This floor’s got the most empty apartments. One way or another, this building was going up in flames."
Josiah scowled. "This building is occupied by innocent folk. Even for you, that’s murder on a brutal level."
Downs waved off the comment while walking over to the storage cans. "Just a means to an end. Nothing but a bunch of losers here, anyhow."
"And you’re such a boy scout," JD spat out. He balked when his comment prompted Downs to do a one-eighty and launch another attack on Josiah. The Profiler’s head and body reeled from the punches, and air gushed from his lungs after a vicious strike to his gut.
Panting from the exertion, Downs straightened and glared at JD. "I’d watch your mouth if I were you, Kid."
As Downs strode off to one side of the room, JD’s liquid gaze sent Josiah a silent apology, but all he received in return was a look of compassion from the big man. Both their attentions turned to Downs, who was walking back to them carrying two gas cans.
"Well, it’s been fun, but it’s time for me to finish this." Uncapping one can, he stood next to Josiah, and held it over the beaten man’s head.
"You’re crazy!" JD hollered and struggled against his bonds before his tone softened to a plea. "Mister, don’t, please…don’t do this." He was being ignored, so JD raised his voice.
"Help! Somebody! We're in here, help!!"
In two steps, Downs was next to JD. He lashed out. "Shut up!" As JD’s head rocked from the blow, Downs took up a strip of cloth, and forced the thin material into JD’s mouth to gag him. He stepped back from tying the ends.
He returned to Josiah and decided to gag him, too. He lifted up the open can. Caught unawares by the scathing eye contact from Josiah, Downs backhanded the Profiler, and while Josiah’s head snapped sideways, Downs poured the greasy, pungent gasoline over his struggling captive.
Head bowed, and while desperately trying to clear his groggy mind and come up with a plan, JD quaked with the terrifying thought of what was about to transpire. He considered launching himself at the man. If he could separate Downs from his matches, maybe kick at the door, it would buy them some time. Decision made, and with a newfound inner calm, JD lifted his head to face the threat, only to discover Downs was standing over him.
Downs kept his body turned to JD and poured the contents of the second gas can over JD’s head, causing the youth to gasp and cough through his gag. The youth shivered when the cold, dense fluid soaked into his hair and clothes. He screwed up his smarting eyes as the gasoline ran in rivulets down his face and neck.
Stepping back and setting down the empty can, the firebug removed a matchbook from his pocket, stood between his captives, and faced the apartment door.
In the corridor outside the room, Officer Gus Hardy’s lifeless form was moved to safety. Tanner pressed an ear to the apartment door while one hand was keeping Buck at bay. He nodded, and straightened. "I heard three voices." His gaze flicked between his teammates and he replied to the question in their expressions.
"Yeah, I heard Josiah, and JD, and one other male voice." His face darkened. "I couldn’t figure all what was bein' said, but there’s a lot of anxiety in that room." He raised his head a little and inhaled. "Smell that?"
"Gasoline," Buck hissed. "What are we waiting for?"
"Damned if we do, and damned if we don’t," Chris said, quietly.
"Then damnation is our destiny," Ezra encouraged.
Chris faced the door and aimed his gun. Buck, Vin, Nathan, and Ezra did likewise.
"On three." Chris counted. "One…two…THREE!"
He took a step back, raised one leg and kicked at the door’s lock. To the sound of splintering wood, the door flew inward and Team Seven and several DPD officers burst into the rundown apartment to face the battered forms of Josiah and JD. They could see they were tied to chairs, and both soaked in gasoline.
Flanked by the bound pair Kevin Downs stood holding a match to a matchbook.
Five agents’ and several DPD officers' guns became trained on the lunatic standing in the room, neither man unable to contain their shocked reactions to the horrific tableau before them.
Despite the fact that he was shaking, Josiah looked at his teammates with the calm and strength they were familiar with. JD was also shivering, but his head was bowed and his gaze hidden by oil-soaked bangs.
Downs smiled. "We’ve been expecting you."
"Give it up, it’s over," Chris growled.
"Not quite," the arsonist replied, almost gleefully.
With no one willing to back down, it was a standoff.
"Don't be stupid," Chris tried again. "You'll be dead before that match head gets anywhere near a strike."
"I beg to differ," Downs smirked. "I'm real fast."
"We're faster," Buck promised, already contemplating a head shot, due to the kevlar vest he'd taken and was wearing.
"We'll see," Downs replied, missing a silent message between Josiah and JD.
In the next moment, a hiss and the smell of sulfur rent the air as the flicked match went sailing upwards before gravity sent it heading toward the pooling gas between Josiah and JD. The stricken pair raised their legs, and each pushed up and under the other’s chair to send them flying backwards.
And in that split second, one shot rang out
Astonishingly, the bullet, or its flight path, took out the lit match, sending it in the opposite direction. On their backs, Josiah’s and JD’s gazes briefly flicked to Vin who was still positioned to fire; while his keen eye followed through on his incredible shot.
Unfortunately for Downs, the fumes trapped in the air around him ignited and he became a human fireball. In moments, the team had grabbed the overturned chairs and dragged Buck and JD clear a mere millisecond before the burning, screaming arsonist toppled forward, and right into the gas puddle on the floor.
Already armed with extinguishers, DPD officers risked all to enter the blistering hot apartment and douse the man. Outside in the corridor, Team Seven attended to their friends.
Shocked at Josiah’s battered condition, Ezra and Nathan eased the man’s prone form into a comfortable sitting position well away from the smoking apartment.
"How are you doing?" Ezra asked as he released the profiler from his bonds and gag.
"I’m alive, so I’m doing well," Josiah replied. His gaze stayed focused on his earlier companion.
"Are you hurt anywhere other than your face and ribs?" Nathan queried while running his expert gaze and hands over his friend.
Josiah looked at the two men. "I fear I broke my right arm when I fell backwards."
Nathan dropped a hand on the man’s good shoulder. "Let’s take a look, and then get you cleaned up, and to the hospital."
With a pat to each back as he approached the three men, Chris checked on Josiah, then joined JD and Buck.
Buck quickly and easily pulled JD upright and well away from the danger zone in seconds. He carefully unlocked the cuffs, and produced a small knife to cut the fabric bonds, before squatting in front of the youth. Sick to his stomach at the boy’s cuts, bruises and the stench of gasoline coming from the shivering form, he reached out to slip the gag off. The filthy material hung loosely around JD’s neck. Buck touched the youth’s face.
"You okay, Li’l Buddy?"
Glancing up, JD stammered a reply through the tremors. "This stuff’s…freezing."
Unsure if it was down to pure relief, Buck barked out a laugh.
Chris walked toward them. "Did I miss something?" He smiled at the adoration emanating from Buck’s gaze for the young man he was helping to stand.
"Nah, just the usual sass."
Chris noticed JD wasn’t offering him eye contact. "You okay, JD?"
There was a nod, and a slow swallow. "I’m sorry, Chris."
Buck and Chris exchanged confused glances. "What for?" Buck asked.
JD finally looked at Chris. His eyes glistened. "The man burning in the apartment…the smell…" JD shuddered. "I went for some air, like you said to but, I let my guard down."
Vin approached from his leaning position against the opposite wall. "Kid, I recognized the guy in there. He was the sneaky SOB that caught the three of us out and sent us up the stairs after a fake perp. Don’t sweat it. We were all fooled."
Chris nodded his agreement and, for the first time in hours, JD relaxed. He looked guiltily back at the smoking apartment. Chris grasped JD’s chin and their gazes met.
"Don’t you dare feel bad about that guy. He was a moment away from torching you and Josiah. He got what he deserved."
Paramedics appeared with blankets, which they wrapped around the soaked men before Buck, Nathan, and Ezra escorted the pair and their medical assistance to a waiting ambulance. Chris and Vin remained at the crime scene to liaise with CSI and newly arrived DPD brass. This was a messy ending, but it was an ending, nevertheless.
Another of Team Seven’s cases was closed, but at personal cost to the local police force. As for how the skilled, eclectic, magnificent seven men would be affected, remained to be seen.
Josiah walked slowly from the kitchen to his study. Setting down a cup of chamomile tea, he eased his battered body into the plush, leather, high-backed chair behind the desk, took up the antique letter opener he procured from a local thrift shop and, still moving with a little discomfort, checked his correspondence.
Three days on from his ordeal and he was healing nicely bodily, but not so much mentally, as nightmares of his time in the room with Downs haunted his slumber. The call he received an hour ago was not unexpected, the fact it had taken a whole three days to come, had been. He smiled when the doorbell rang and pushed himself out of his chair to answer the door.
"John Dunne, welcome." He stepped aside for JD to come in. "You don’t have to call ahead you know. You are always welcome in my home."
JD gave a tight smile as he walked toward the room Josiah directed to. In the living room, he took a seat on the couch and as Josiah sat in an armchair, JD pointed to his supported arm.
"How is it?"
"Like all my injuries, sore, but healing nicely." Josiah scrutinized JD’s butterfly stitches and fading cuts and bruises. "You?"
JD shrugged. "I’m fine. It’s not like I broke anything, like you did; and Downs didn’t work me over as badly as you."
"But work you over he did, and it’s good to see the evidence fading. So…how long have you been having bad dreams?" He stifled a chuckle at JD’s surprise.
"Uh…I…how’d you know?"
"My summation is four-fold; your demeanor on the phone, the length of time it’s taken you to call me, my own experiences, and Buck’s call to me yesterday about you yelling in your sleep and as to how he could help you." He stayed a flash of anger. "I explained to Buck that I would tell you, and be aware, his call wasn’t made due to irritation of a broken night’s sleep."
JD relaxed and pushed back hair from his eyes, which promptly returned to their original position. "Yeah, I guess. You know he followed me over here, right?"
"A red Chevy truck is hard to miss, even if it is parked two blocks down; as was a Harley, and a black Jaguar XJS I noted parked up close by these past few days."
"I saw those, too, when I was out on the apartment balcony a couple of times. JD sat further back into the comfy sofa. "I just figured I was mistaken. Why wouldn’t they just come over?"
"Good question. I think we might be wise to take up Chris’s offer of some time at the ranch with good food, and five rather special friends, don’t you?"
JD’s gaze drifted toward the window. "That’s what Buck keeps saying." He looked back at Josiah. "You’re not yanking my chain? You really are having bad dreams?"
Josiah carefully eased himself forward. "John, a man beat us, poured gasoline over us, and was moments away from letting us burn, while compelling our friends to view the horror also. I guarantee, not just us are having nightmares."
He could see the doubt in the youth’s eyes. So worried was JD that his emotions were often too close to the surface, that he overlooked the fact that since this group were formed, deep bonds had been forged, and that meant no one suffered their pain alone any longer, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious.
"Even though we were not subjected to days of torture and fear, we lived a considerable duration of torment in those few hours, especially the final minutes. And everyone else in that room endured it right along with us."
JD’s gaze met Josiah’s. He cleared his throat, but his voice was still husky. "If Vin hadn’t made that shot…"
"But he did, and I have no doubt that even if he hadn’t, our brothers were not about to let us die that day." Josiah got up, moved to the sofa, and sat down next to his youngest brother of the heart.
"You faced death like a man, John, be proud of that, and use it to continue on this amazing journey through life that God has gifted us. I know I will."
JD finally cracked a real smile. His gaze moved back to the window, and he actually chuckled. Excusing himself, he stood and walked over to the glass and tapped on it. "Quit trying to hide, Buck, I can see you."
First an eye peered around the window frame, then Buck’s full features. The man smiled. "Was just passing," he called through the glass.
"Right," JD grinned. He looked at Josiah as he joined him.
"Get in here, will you?" Sanchez’s huge grin lit up his face and he pointed down the street. "And tell Vin, even with it washed, I’d know that jeep anywhere. He’s welcome to join us, if he’s not too busy."
Within the hour, all seven friends were gathered in Josiah’s home and discussing plans for a long and relaxing weekend. JD leaned toward Vin.
"Can I ask you a question about that day, Vin?"
Tanner met JD's gaze. He'd been expecting it. "Sure, go for it."
"How'd you make that shot? I mean, I know how good you are and all, but that one-in-a-million shot. . ." His brow furrowed. "I wonder why it didn't extinguish the match."
Vin's expression remained blank for a few moments. "Is it wrong that I'm glad that it didn't?"
No words were spoken, but he felt the empathy. His features softened as he continued. "As crazy as this may sound, Kid, I uh, I felt the shot more than saw it." He offered a dimpled smile. "Knew the moment I fired I'd made it."
JD wasn't sure what to do with that answer, but his wide smile and the flash of hero worship for the Texan in his eyes, put the matter to rest and their plans were back up for discussion.
On the work front, a new case was already on the table and, in the hope of bringing in some degree of normality after their ordeal, Chris wanted JD to start the preliminary searches before the team’s mini-vacation, after which it would be business as usual.
As they talked, cracked wise, and laughed, the seven friends glanced around at each other. While each one was deeply affected by recent events, they instinctively knew they were strong enough to face the next battle.