Chris Larabee ran a callused hand over his face and stared at the cluttered coffee table in front of him. Evidence bags and file folders were haphazardly strewn across it's surface as his team painstakingly waded through the information. The five men surrounding him were reclined in various degrees of study around Buck and J.D.'s living room. The sixth man, youngest of the group slept soundly in his bedroom. It was his first day home in two weeks. No more hospital, no more doctors poking and prodding.
Chris glanced around at his team again. One of the best teams in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he had handpicked each member. 'The Magnificent Seven,' he smiled bitterly at the nickname. None of them felt very magnificent today. His gaze fell on the slender southerner standing against the counter that led into a small kitchen. A file lay open in front of Ezra, but Chris could tell the man wasn't reading it. Instead Ezra stared absently at the closed door beside the steps, J.D.'s door.
A movement to Chris' right caught his attention. Vin was stretching, their eyes met.
Chris shook his head, "Not yet." He looked at the folder on his lap again, blocking out the other men and the low drone of the TV, the details of the case filling his thoughts.
Watson. He pictured the scrawny little man with bulbous eyes and thin curly brown hair. Chris felt his anger flare. He had underestimated Chester Watson. They'd spent two months setting up the sting to catch that weasel. He'd been suspected of manufacturing drugs in his basement then selling them on the street to gangs. Ezra had gone in first sending out regular updates. Watson had a whole production set up making low grade LSD from Hawaiian wood rose seeds. He was also putting out occasional batches of LBJ a strange mixture of acid, belladonna and heroin. The LBJ had killed at least a half dozen kids that they knew of. Belladonna in the wrong proportions, according to the medical examiner. From the reports and facts they'd uncovered the drug didn't yield a very pleasant trip either.
The sting had turned when Watson's heroin provider showed up. He was an ex-con that Ezra had testified against in Atlanta. A wave of guilt passed over Chris. He was the one who'd sent JD in as a gang contact. JD was to set up a buy from Watson so they could bust the entire operation.
"I can pull off young!!" JD had insisted when Chris had originally balked at the idea of sending him in. He was young. JD's radio had died not long after entering the building. They played with the system for half an hour before they moved in, knowing they could be blowing a chance to keep Watson locked up, but Chris couldn't take the chance on something happening to JD or Ezra. Chris shook his head to chase away the images. JD so pale, his skin almost translucent against the cold gray cement floor. Buck kneeling beside him, and Ezra.
Chris looked again at Ezra this time taking in details, the notable sag of his shoulders, the dimness in his green eyes. The way his fingers lightly rubbed at his shirt sleeve, as if trying to erase the bruises left from the needles. The doctor said it would take time, but it had been two weeks now. The facade of security and the ever present confidence was gone. Hypnotism, drug induced suggestion, the doctors could call it what ever they wanted, Chris just couldn't bare to see the southerner's spirit so broken. What they needed was to find the answers. Find Watson and figure out what the man had done to his agents, then if Chris had his way, kill him slowly.
Buck stood up and made his way to JD's door. He knocked once opening it and Chris could hear him talking.
"JD's awake," he said simply, as he closed the file and tossed it back onto the table. The others followed suit, exchanging worried glances and forcing casual expressions. The answers would wait for a few minutes, J.D. needed to be welcomed home.
+ + + + + + +
I open my eyes slowly trying to process where I am and why I felt so fuzzy headed. Blinking I struggle through the blur to make out the room, my room. I move to sit up and gasp at the pain in my side. My befuddled mind remembers now. I got out of the hospital today. Reaching to my side I gently run my hand over the bandage. I can feel the tenderness of the stitches underneath. Taking a deep breath I force myself to sit up. I look at the clock squinting to see the glowing numbers, 4pm. I've been asleep three hours. Closing my eyes, I wince as pictures flash through my mind. I remember being on the case, I remember hearing Buck's voice shouting my name. After that there is only scattered scenes. The hospital, doctors in surgical garb, nurses poking and prodding and the team all there to visit me. I'd been banged up, beaten I guess and then shot. Shot. Part of me still can't believe a bullet tore through my side. I have to go to the bathroom. Slowly and carefully I get up and make my way to the room off mine. If Buck hears me moving around he'll be in here in an instant. Hovering like he always does. Drives me a little crazy, but I know he cares. They all care. I can hear them now, out in the living room trying to be quiet.
Eventually I make it back to the bed. Most of me wants to lay back down and let sleep claim me again, but the other part is aching for company. I want to join in on the banter amongst friends. I need them to pick on me, call me kid. To let me know they care in that gruff, insane way of theirs. I manage to get a pair of sweats on and am buttoning up a shirt when Buck pokes his head in.
"You're up! Need help?" He flicks on the light and comes in unbidden.
"I can do it myself Buck, it's just sweatpants and a shirt."
"I know, just want you to call for help when you need it."
I look at my roommate meeting his worry filled eyes. "I will, I promise."
He seems to accept my word for it and silent stands by waiting to help me up. I know he'll worry and hover anyway. He wouldn't be Buck if he didn't.
"Who's out there?" I ask. For some reason I feel nervous about seeing everyone. Something has been different between them. Even in the hospital I could sense it. Everyone is okay, but there is something going on, something they weren't telling me.
"Everybody's here J.D. Can't celebrate your homecoming without everybody." He sounds almost like his old self again.
I feel like an old man shuffling towards the living room. I keep one hand on my side, the pressure seems to ease the pain somehow. Everyone is sitting around the TV, it's volume turned low. Several evidence bags and file folders litter the coffee table. They've been going over the case.
"You can turn that up you know," I tell them.
"J.D.," smiles break through the worry. God they worry too much. You would think I was a ten year old.
"How are you feeling?" Nathan asks first, of course.
"I'm okay, slow, but okay."
"Sit down." Vin moves from his spot on the couch before I can protest. Wouldn't do any good anyway I suppose.
"I'm really fine guys, thanks though." I flash them a grin trying to reassure them as I sit down. Chris nods. I can see the acceptance in his eyes, but there is something else there too. It's not like I've never been hurt before, or shot before even. I'm not getting this. Yeah I was serious for a day, but they weren't really close to losing me. Why did it feel like they were forcing a jovial atmosphere when they were somber at heart. Maybe it's the pain medication and I'm just confused.
Josiah sits across from Chris. "Good to see you home brother."
I nod, "Thanks, I really hate that hospital." Several grunts of agreement can be heard.
"Hungry?" Buck asks heading automatically for the kitchen. Ezra's standing by the breakfast nook, nervously rubbing his arm. Ezra's never nervous, at least he never shows it.
"Sure Buck." Something is definitely going on here. I look at the coffee table and gently lean forward picking up one of the evidence bags. "What are you guys going over?"
"Nothing you need to worry about right now," Chris says almost harshly. I look at him, our eyes meet for a second. I'm not about to back down now. I see Ezra step forward out of the corner of my eye.
"My case?" I call it mine out of habit. I was the only one hurt in it so I look at it a bit personally, I guess. I wish I could remember the details. I look at the bag in my hand, rolling it's contents over my finger tips. They are spent slugs. I look closer at the misshapen bullets. Three pieces of lead. That was how many bullets the doctors dug out of my side. A connection clicks in my head. Looking at the table I see another bag. This one protects a gun. I can hear voices around me, but the sounds are melded together like I'm alone in a slow motion scene. I know that gun. I can hear and feel my heart begin to race. My hands are suddenly shaking and I wince as memories come flooding back. I raise my eyes and meet Ezra's.
"Ezra," I choke on his name as I struggle to stand up. I can hear his laughter now, see the sinister expression, as his eyes taunt me. I shake my head, "No."
"J.D. you need to let us explain what happened." I hear Chris' voice.
"No." I step back still looking at Ezra. I can see him now, raising the gun, never blinking. He just sneers and fires. Ezra steps closer to me. "J.D. It wasn't like it seems. I wasn't myself, I was..." he fumbles to explain.
"No." I spin and hurry into my bedroom locking the door behind me. Adrenaline is kicking in now. I have to get away. I can hear Buck shouting my name and pounding on the door. I hear the others too. I only have one choice. I have to escape. Driven by fear alone I climb onto my bed oblivious to any pain. I unlock the window and push it open. Punching out the screen I look out. The fire escape isn't far down, six feet tops. The door isn't going to hold much longer. I hear a voice inside my head screaming at me to run. "You can't trust them!" it yells, "run." It's not hard to flip out the window and land on the escape, I climb down with more energy then I imagined possible. I can still hear them shouting behind me. Buck. I shouldn't leave Buck, but Ezra's face flashes in my mind, that sneer. He's going to kill me and the rest of them won't stop him. I hit the ground and started running. Fear drives me and I press on not realizing my feet are cold because I'm not wearing shoes and my side is warm, because my stitches have ripped open.
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