Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, Buck, all seven feature
Warnings: Sappy ;o) and a little bad language.
Summary: Serious incidents seal two fates and help create a family
My eternal thanks to Blackraptor for hosting my stories.
Enjoying the start of a long weekend off, and sitting cross-legged on Buck's bed, JD stared at a box of items. He thanked Buck for the beer when the man returned from the kitchen and joined JD on the bed.
"I don't get it." JD picked up a used hospital bracelet. "And you call me a hoarder." He jiggled the band in front of Buck's nose and made a face as he spoke. "'Don't sit in your room playing on your PlayStation, JD…let's clear up like we agreed we should, JD…'" the boy mimicked, as he ducked the swipe to his head from his roommate.
"We're meant to be clearing out trash. Do you really need this anymore?"
Buck paused for thought, and then smiled, wistfully. "Kid, that box represents times in my…" he corrected himself, "…our lives…that range from good, to downright horrible, and I wouldn't part with any of it." He took the plastic ID wristlet and caressed it with his thumb. "'Sides, this isn't mine," he showed the boy the name tag; "it's yours."
Genuinely shocked, JD took it back and re-read it. Looking up at Buck, his expressive hazel eyes spoke volumes. Buck answered the unspoken question.
"We'd barely met yet I felt I'd known you forever. You were suddenly sharing my career, my home, my life…" He stared misty-eyed at the youth next to him. "You became the brother I always wanted. The brother Chris had once tried to be. Things were becoming so good between us, so much fun." His voice tailed off into a shuddering breath.
"Then came that day, remember? The team's first really big case that Ezra went undercover. The bust was over after weeks of work…no injuries, no issues, a great haul. You were still in the van, and so darned buzzed with what you'd caught on video and audio."
JD nodded slowly. He remembered…well, some of it.
"One minute you were giving us all earache over the com…the next…" Buck swallowed against his suddenly dry throat, and the memory evoked, and looked down at his hands. "Chris reckons what happened prompted the Bureau to armor plate all surveillance vans." He took the ID band and dropped it back into the box.
"You kept it." JD's voice came out as a whisper, a little surprised such a small token would mean so much to the man.
Buck nodded and swigged his beer. "I cut it off your wrist the day you came home. No more fear, no more 'what ifs', just you, here, recovering. Hell yeah, I kept it."
The pair clinked bottles, and as they rifled through more items, became lost in their thoughts.
NINE MONTHS PRIOR
Buck grinned at Chris as he stepped out from his office into the bullpen and let out a shrill whistle to get everyone's attention. It was good to see the blond so animated and enthusiastic again. Chris was an excellent cop, and a natural born leader, and was just where he should be…back at the top of his game.
"Okay, listen up. Ezra called…and everything's going to plan. We go in two hours. JD!"
Chris shook his head. "Jesus, Kid, the name's Chris…use it!" The team leader regretted his slight the instant he saw the kid flush pink and mumble an apology. JD was a feisty little rookie, but had a streak of low self-esteem that surfaced occasionally…usually after something Chris said. The blond decided to move on, and talk to JD about it later.
"The van's all set. I just need some time at the location to fine tune," JD answered.
Larabee nodded and glanced at his oldest friend. "Buck, drive the van and JD to the location now, but I'll need you to join us when we arrive."
"Me too?" JD asked, eagerly.
"Not this time," Chris replied.
Buck noted JD's obvious disappointment. He felt relief that JD would be safely ensconced in the big, metal surveillance van during the bust, putting it down to his agreement to take on JD's mentoring, and - yeah - that the pair had grown close, personally.
This was the team's biggest case to date since becoming seven. Not having yet experienced his undercover work up close and personal, they were initially worried about Ezra's safety. However, the operation had gone so smoothly up to now, that the team actually teased the southerner about him possibly leading a double life...as JD put it...Federal Agent by day, mob boss by night. That in turn led to a prolonged session of speculation to Ezra wearing underwear outside knitted tights accompanied by a mask and cloak, and what superpowers he might find useful in his 'double life'. It was a silly day, which ended at the CDC with seven slightly inebriated and happy teammates. Chris had to admit, there was something special about this team that he felt sure would see them through the worst of times. Unfortunately, his faith in that conclusion was soon to be tested.
Ducking down to pick up a box from under his desk, JD moved from agent to agent to fit their mics and earpieces. Before he and Buck left, he tested each set and his smile grew at each success. Ezra would not be wearing a wire, but JD had that covered with parabolic equipment.
They were set.
On the way to the meeting place, Buck glanced across at his protégé. "You okay?"
Trying to control the annoying knee jiggle he was prone to during times of tension, JD nodded. "Sure."
Buck smiled. "Chris wasn't excluding you, Kid. He needs you in that van. If he figured we were light on the ground, he'd position you outside, with us. This is why you came to us, JD. You're our tech guy. You're gonna be a great agent, hell, y'already are, but this is a one step at a time, career, okay?"
JD shrugged a shoulder. "Yeah, I know. I just wanted to…aw, never mind, it's cool."
Buck smiled, recalling how he once used to be that eager.
Actually, since JD joined them and completed the line-up, Buck was more energized than he had been for some time. There was a noticeable surge of vigor from the other guys, too. They were all top men, second to none in their field, but JD's enthusiasm, and constant strive for knowledge reminded them of why they became lawmen. They were no longer a jaded, disillusioned bunch of misplaced individuals…they were a team…a lean, mean, fighting machine. Chris had chosen well.
+ + + + + + +
The team arrived an hour before they expected Ezra, and half an hour after Buck and JD. Buck joined the others, parting from his charge, roommate, and fast becoming surrogate kid brother, with a fist bump; a ritual the pair started just after an incident that sealed their new-found devotion to each other.
JD swiftly completed the equipment checks with his teammates. The young tech had mounted small, undetectable cameras on several parts of the van's exterior to cover every angle. After the bust, his checks before sealing and cataloging the evidence showed the audio and video feed was clear, and flawlessly documented the team's and dealers' arrival, as well as Ezra's Oscar-worthy performance. The parabolic mic picked up the conversation between Standish and the traders with crystal clarity, and by the time Chris checked in, JD was excited about the success.
"Good work, JD. We should be pulling out in around half an hour. DPD are doing a sweep now."
JD spoke into his headset as he labeled the CDs and digital tapes. "Man, you guys were awesome. I swear I could hear Mancoser's ass clench when you ID'd yourselves."
"What a delightful image Mr. Dunne," Ezra cut in, smiling at the return chuckle.
"Hey, I was getting to you, Mister 'Smooth Operator'." JD continued, oblivious to the fact no one could see his air quotes. "Geeze, Ezra, you had me believing you were a mob front man, and I was recording you. I..." he chuckled, "I doff my cap to you, sir."
"JD, you been sniffin' the marker pens again?" Vin teased, clearly amused by the youth's exhilaration.
JD giggled. He was on a roll, now. "Hey, Tanner. I just called for an ambulance so's that gnat you shot at can go have his balls sewn back on."
Josiah laughed hard at Vin's unexpected, and all too rare cackle at that reply.
"JD...have you had caffeine?" Nathan wondered.
There was a pause. "Uh...maybe."
"How much is left of the flask we brought with us?" Buck asked.
"Alright, let's wrap this up." Amused, Chris shook his head and the interaction and signaled for everyone to remove their mics and headsets. He glanced at Buck. "Good luck with settling him down tonight Pard."
Buck winked. "No sweat. When we get home he'll crash. At least, that's usually how it goes after he's been going full tilt all day."
Chris spoke into his mic before removing it. "JD, log us off at..." he checked his watch, "...18:45."
"You got it, Bossman. Surveillance out."
Thirty seconds later, a squeal of tires closing in had all six men and several cops look up. On seeing an SUV heading straight for them, Vin hollered out a warning.
"Hit the deck!"
They had barely done so when rapid gunfire echoed around the forecourt of the building they just exited. As quickly as the vehicle arrived, it was gone, with police units hot on its heels.
Slowly rising, the six men looked around at each other. "Everyone okay?" Chris called out, wincing from a burn across his back.
"Just a few cuts from cement chips," Josiah replied, the others agreeing as they clambered to their feet.
All eyes moved to follow Buck's before he raced off across the quad. Curious gazes turned to horror when they came to rest on the surveillance van, or what was left of it. Seeing it peppered with bullet holes and listing heavily from deflated tires, they barely had time to speculate whether the shells had fully penetrated the metal before Buck and Vin had the sliding door open.
Following the order to 'log off', JD stood and placed the tapes and CDs in a Federal pouch. He was just marking its label with the date and assignment title when, from outside, he heard the sound of squealing tires and an over-revving engine. Being in an enclosed space and with communication shut down, JD was about to draw his weapon and check outside when thuds to the van's walls were followed by equipment and monitors dancing and tinkling as something small and hard struck them. A hot projectile hit his back, near his left flank, which caused the boy to inhale sharply. Moments after clenching his teeth in agony, he coughed out blood. JD's eyes stared at a blood-spattered point on the monitors just in front of him. His pain-fogged brain was just trying to come to terms with the fact that the blood was his, when his knees folded from under him and he dropped to the floor, failing miserably to cling to something to halt his descent. He only lay there for seconds, but it seemed like hours. Familiar objects undulated in his eye line, and the edges of his vision began fading to black. Vaguely aware of the side door sliding back, the young tech cried out in pain when strong arms held him. His unfocused eyes stared up at Buck, and he tried to smile.
Arriving next on scene, Chris pulled the van's sliding door fully open and covered his men from the retreating threat while a horrified Buck and Vin leapt inside. Buck went to his knees and gently cradled JD, despite a pale Texan appearing at his side and begging him not to move the kid. JD's bloody grin, or his attempt at one, chilled both agents to the bone. Another cough from the injured boy spewed forth more blood.
Buck could see JD was fading. "No…hang on, son…JD, you hear me? Hold on."
Pain-filled, hazel eyes peered through soaked, spiked bangs and damp, black lashes, before the latter fluttered closed and JD went limp.
"Buck, he's choking."
Vin dragged Buck away for Nathan to take over. The medic instantly turned JD to his side and sighed deeply in relief when blood ran from JD's mouth and the young agent inhaled and then coughed. Despite having only just been dismissed, the ambulance on standby for the bust was urged to return by an outwardly calm Standish, but whose anxious gaze never left the bizarre, heart-wrenching scene.
The next ten minutes or so became a blur. Josiah glanced across and noticed Chris still standing as protector, but whose appearance was pale. He moved closer and suddenly their team leader, on seeing someone able to take his place, crumpled back against the van. Josiah cried out. "Little help!"
Minutes later, five shocked agents watched the ambulance scream away with two of their teammates inside. Leaving the crime scene in DPD's and CSI's capable hands, they rushed off to the hospital after them.
+ + + + + + +
In the surgical waiting room, Buck looked at Chris, the dismay in his features painful to see. "This makes no sense. We were clear, all weapons recovered, no injuries, no issues, no escapees. Hell, we were wrapping up. What went wrong?"
Chris sighed. "I don't know, Pard. The shooters somehow knew we, or at least a Federal presence was there. Could be a setup, could be a turf war. Either way, it happened. We can't change that, but DPD are on it."
All six men shifted at the memory of Vin's yell for cover, the automatic gunfire, then the image of the bullet-riddled surveillance van. Just as Chris gingerly touched his scrub top to feel the bandage around his side and back where a bullet grazed him and cracked a rib, a surgeon entered the room.
Buck had a new object in his fingers now and wistfully placed the small bag containing a misshapen bullet next to the discarded hospital band. Glistening eyes gazed at a boy who had come to mean so much to him.
"When you gurgled out all that blood…well, I guess I expected the Doc to say you had a punctured lung, or, God forbid, the bullet hit an artery."
JD looked back at him and grinned, shyly. He remembered waking up in a hospital bed to soulful, deep blue eyes, filled with anguish and a hint of amusement, to a man whose kindness, love, and constant soothing timbre eased him through the pain, shock, and nightmares while in the hospital, and for weeks afterwards, at home. And five more men, also present when he woke from his drug-fueled slumber; friends who seemed unwilling to go home until, God forbid, despite walking like an old man, he used the bathroom for the first time since the incident.
"Trust dumb ole me to bite my tongue, huh?" JD swallowed hard when Buck's hand rose to clinch the back of his neck. "There's nothing dumb about you, and hell, if a bullet tore through my side like that, I reckon I would've done the same thing."
He watched as JD unexpectedly got up and left the room, and feared he'd upset the boy, until JD returned, re-took his seat and handed Buck an almost identical bracelet.
JD smiled. "Yours."
Buck held up the hospital band and read the date. "Jesus, Kid…"
TEAM SEVEN'S FIRST OPERATIONAL WEEK
Chris Larabee eyed six of his now seven-strong team who was seated around the briefing room table. For this operation JD had done 'extensive technological research' as Josiah deemed his efforts, and not without a little awe at his dexterity. Assignments had been allocated; everyone knew what was expected of them. JD, despite knowing he was strictly surveillance on this occasion was ever-hopeful he could do more. Chris rounded off the meeting.
"Anderson is loco. His reputation for dodging arrests, and bullets, is as renowned as his callousness. If we get him, don't give the guy an inch. I don't want to have to tell Travis we lost him." Chris decided not to voice the fear of losing one of them to him, either.
"You know," JD chirruped. "I could easily set up to auto record. Maybe an extra body…"
Before Chris could reply, Buck cut in. "Now look, son, you're a smart kid an' all, and we've seen you're handy with a firearm, but this is the big league, Kid. You'll need more than fancy book learning and hi-tech smarts to get by here. You signed on as a trainee, and as I'm partially responsible for your supervision, I agree with Chris; stay sharp and stay put." Buck absorbed the stare from his new protégé and threw it right back at him.
Embarrassment winning out over frustration, JD's cheeks flushed and he lowered his gaze, missing the sympathetic looks aimed his way, and Buck's 'it's for his own good' stare to the others. As soon as Chris called an end to the briefing, JD snatched up his laptop and was gone.
Buck and Chris exchanged glances. Josiah cleared his throat. "He's young, and eager."
"And I'm not ready to have that carved on his tombstone just yet," Chris pointed out.
"If you ride him too hard he might not stay around us long enough for you to consider formulating said transcript," Ezra added.
"Tough," Buck snapped back. "He wants to play with the big boys, he's gotta learn there's more to it than fancy degrees and computer work."
Vin looked knowingly between Chris and Buck. "He's already a good cop. He can become a great agent, if you two quit dodgin' the issue and let him show you what he can do." Vin moved to leave. "I made the mistake of judgin' him when he first walked in, and I'm puttin' that right. You guys already made a sound decision when you took him on, so stop doubtin' it."
The pair watched the room empty. Nathan glanced back before exiting. "He ain't made of glass, guys. Don't assume that 'cause he's young he's gonna need doctoring every time we step out the door as a team."
Chris pursed his lips and gathered up his papers. "Well, that told us."
Buck shrugged. "I don't give two hoots, Stud. I aim to make sure that kid lives to a ripe ole age, and the best way to do that is to make him understand what's involved before he goes charging in all gung ho and guns blazing."
Chris couldn't help smiling. "Gotten to you already, huh, Pard?"
"Quit talking crap, Larabee."
The pair left the room. "Don't need to, Buck; you talk enough for both of us."
Later, when the raid was on, inside the surveillance van JD failed to hold a grin at the memory of directly after the briefing. On his return to the bullpen, Tanner had clapped him on the back when passing. JD wasn't sure why, but did know Vin wasn't one to dole out gestures freely, and appreciated it for whatever reason it was offered. The action had prompted JD to ask Vin what he thought the chances were of Anderson being at the target warehouse when they raided. Vin's reply was that he was an eternal optimist and to bet him five dollars that he would be.
The team was to gain access to a building by means of a warrant, in a bid to uncover an illicit hooch set up. The illegal operation was masterminded by Emmett Riley 'Colonel' Anderson, and his long-time right-hand man, Francis 'Captain' Corcoran. No one in law enforcement knew why the pair insisted on the military monikers, but they did know they were ruthless, and let nothing and no one stand in their way…not even cops. The op should have been straightforward, but now JD was staring at the surveillance equipment as if it was glowing hot. Camera pictures had suddenly turned to snow, and audio was hissing white noise.
JD huffed in frustration and tossed down his mic and earpiece. Before setting out earlier he checked everything over personally, but the gear was direct from storage and not something used previously by him, so the young tech had no idea if equipment failure was a frequent occurrence. However, if he had to make a practiced assessment of the situation, it would be that someone was jamming him.
He used his cell to call in the situation to dispatch, but decided, in light of having no idea how his teammates were doing, not to wait on their imminent backup. The young agent snatched up the beloved baseball cap that Buck despised so much, but which successfully kept his ever-invasive bangs out of his eyes. He shoved it on bill-backwards; failing to snag some wayward raven strands, then cautiously stepped outside the safety of the van. JD drew his Colt and cautiously made his way to the side of the large building. Rappel ropes hung there, which instantly put the young tech on alert as no one on the team had planned to go in any way but through the front door. JD holstered his gun, checked the area one more time and, giving the ropes a tug to test their stability, he climbed up to the first story window of the building.
Once inside, he pulled his Colt from its holster at the small of his back, and walked across the empty room. Carefully making his way down a paint-peeled corridor, he came upon a walkway that overlooked a vast area. Filling most of the floor below was a Still set-up, the like of which he'd never seen before, and it was all he could do not to whistle aloud at the sight.
A noise from somewhere ahead drew JD's attention and he crept along the walkway and peeked into a large, dimly lit room. The vision before him stole his breath as, looking back at him were five shackled teammates, each man sitting on the floor and up against a far wall. In the split-second he was warring between deciding what the expression on their faces was, and his obvious shock at seeing them like this, cold steel kissed his temple.
"Surrender, or die where you stand."
+ + + + + + +
Entering the building with a warrant in hand had been easier than expected. Communication from JD confirmed backup was ten out, so Chris, confident now their lead had panned out, sent the five accompanying DPD officers up to the next landing, while the team proceeded with the arrests. Buck watched Chris and Vin march through the makeshift distillery, while he, Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan isolated the ten stunned workers and read them their rights.
Buck's thoughts while waiting for the others to complete the Mirandas turned to JD. A small grin escaped as he considered the kid's eagerness, but he couldn't decide if JD was too impulsive or too bold, either of which could kill him if left unchecked. Chris taking JD on meant only one thing to Buck, and it filled a longing within him he had driven deep inside.
Buck liked to impart knowledge, liked to be needed…wanted, and JD was checking all boxes for him right now. So why was he giving the kid such a tough time? Despite a few feisty exchanges, the two had actually hit it off pretty quick. All Buck had to instill in the boy was that, while education in their business was vital…so was experience. JD was book smart…hell, more than anyone Buck had ever met, save for the Judge - AD Travis, but JD was far from street smart, and that was Buck's focus.
He glanced at his teammates and his grin widened. His focus? Hell, the focus for all six of them. JD had stirred up something within them that they'd long since buried, and the team were becoming all the sharper for it. Shoot, only two days after JD signed on, for the first time since their conception, all seven went to a local bar together to unwind after work.
And enjoyed themselves.
And now, in their first assignment, and using their combined investigative skills, along with JD's expertise in obtaining information, here they were busting their first Still as ATF Team Seven.
Gunfire from the floor above at around the same time as team communication went to static had all six agents on major alert. Heavily armed men glowered down at them from a walkway. Emmett Riley Anderson appeared in their midst and grasped a rail with both hands. His southern drawl echoed around the cavernous room.
"Gentlemen…stand down…or die."
Buck glanced at Chris. He knew that look. Fury, tapered with a desire not to see innocent workers, not to mention colleagues, shot or killed. Larabee reluctantly gave the order to stand down, and while being herded like cattle into an upper room, no one noticed Ezra somehow melt into the midst of the terrified workers, lose his vest, and exit the building alongside them through a concealed back exit.
While Anderson's goons tied up the five agents, and he bragged at how his men had rope-climbed into his own building to regain his business, all Buck could think about was how JD was doing, and praying the kid would have the good sense to stay away and wait for the rest of their backup. Corcoran received a whispered messaged from a man entering the room, and left. The next time the door opened, Buck had his answer.
On hearing the unseen threat with the heavy Irish accent save to look directly at Buck, at his mentor's nod, JD relinquished his weapon and obeyed the instruction to remove his Kevlar vest. Disguising the growing frustration at their dilemma, Vin's voice cut through the profound silence.
"I'll take my five dollars, now, Kid."
JD failed to stop the nervous giggle prompted by the remark, instantly regretting the reaction when he received a gun-weighted smack to the side of his head for it. His teammates' reaction to the assault was instantaneous and vehement and, much to Chris's dismay, Anderson's eyes sparkled with this new information. Cruel hands propelled JD toward his partners and as one man held onto him; another stood in front and tied his hands. JD blinked to focus when Buck's soft voice echoed around the room.
"How'd you like being a big, bad Fed now, Kid?"
Swallowing the hurt from an all-too familiar remark, but unable to conceal his disappointment that this time it came from a man he was growing to like…a lot…JD replied.
"You think you got me pegged, don't you, Buck? Hot shot, rich kid who silver-spooned his way through two college degrees to land a soft job in Boston PD's cyber division?" He grunted when the goon manhandling him tossed him down at the end of the line, next to Josiah. Tugging at his bonds in a vain attempt to ease the tautness, JD looked around Sanchez to glare at Buck.
"Yeah, you think you got me all figured out…and you'd be wrong." He took a moment to control the quiver in his voice that the memories triggered.
"I never knew my dad. My Ma got sick when I was twelve, and I've worked ever since. I put myself through college, had more jobs than you could shake a stick at to keep a roof over our heads and Mom in meds and nurses; and as for big houses?" He huffed out a laugh, but there was no humor in it.
"Sure, I saw dozens when I had to go with Mom while she labored as a cleaning lady for the rich folks at Chestnut Hill. She worked her fingers to the bone twelve hours a day, not including traveling time to get there. And for what? The little money she saved was gone long before I got accepted to MIT, and any plans I had to give her the best life I could while she was still able to enjoy it fell apart when she died before I'd even been in the Force three months." JD looked down at his near-bloodless hands. He could say no more, for fear his emotions would overtake him.
Five men exchanged glances. The only one not surprised, though he never showed it, was Chris, having had the privilege of seeing JD's file before hiring him.
Buck swallowed the chunk of emotion in his throat, and glanced between JD and the armed men before them. He nodded. "Life is tough, huh…and then you die."
"Not if I can help it," JD grumbled, more to himself than aloud, bringing a grin to five weary faces. Watching the several men in the room, two of whom were Anderson and Corcoran, JD leaned into Josiah. "Where's Ezra?"
Sanchez shrugged. "Not sure," he whispered back. "He disappeared during the confusion."
JD licked his lips. Ezra likely needed time to do whatever he planned to do. JD already figured Chris, at least, had plans. He called out. Hey, fella…" He raised his hands. "Little tight, man. Any chance of loosening them?"
Buck's head snapped toward the youth. "Hush up," he hissed.
JD shrugged at Buck and raised his bound hands. "They hurt."
He looked up when Anderson himself approached, leaning heavily on a cane, and dressed in a long, heavy, tan colored coat, and shades; facts JD had already mused on, considering the building was quite warm, and not that brightly lit.
Emmett Anderson stopped in front of the line of men and leaned in on his stick. He looked at JD. "Problem, little man?"
JD swallowed, creepily mesmerized by his own reflection in the man's dark glasses. "Uh…just wondered if you could loosen these ties some? Kinda losing feeling in my hands, here." His eyes widened on seeing the man produce some sort of knife. Its blade flashed in the sparse light from the dirty windows.
"Know what this is?"
"Looks like a knife…ooofff…" JD jerked inwardly at the jab to his ribs from Josiah's elbow. Anderson did not miss the movement.
"Indeed. It's called a moonshine blade. They're still custom made, but…" he ran one finger along the knife's edge as he gazed lovingly at it. "…Sadly, no longer used." He smiled, sardonically, enjoying the attention from the six agents. "Blades…fascinate me. Such clean, pristine lines, such…razor-sharp precision." He looked at JD. "Did you know…there are many, many ways a knife can penetrate a body without a fatal blow?"
JD shook his head, no; while having the bizarre thought after recalling a recent conversation about hobbies with his new friends that Nathan probably did. As his head arced back to avoid the blade now close to his dangerously exposed throat, JD was vaguely aware of Buck shifting and growling out something…actually, he heard several familiar voices. He stared Anderson in the eye.
"I…I'm hoping this isn't a demonstration."
The man actually laughed. "I like that. Au-dacity!" He nodded at JD. "And five minutes ago you'd have been correct." His demeanor turning somber, he moved his hand down and placed the pointed tip at a site in JD's side, just under his ribs. "However, this…is!"
The sharp penetration to his side caused JD to gasp. He groaned slightly when the blade was removed, producing a dark bloom of red on his shirt.
It was all Josiah and Nathan could do to keep Buck, who was seated between them, in place. Overpowered, Buck hollered, angrily. "I swear, if I get free any time soon I'm gonna send that blade right up your ass you douche bag."
Biting down on his lip to fight the burning pain, and leaning slightly into Josiah, JD spoke. "Buck, chill…I'm fine." Beads of sweat were already breaking out on his brow and upper lip; but he hoped for now he could ignore the ache. Backup was coming; he just had to stay cool.
"You mother fucker!" Chris called out above the angry cries of his teammates. "You have any issues, you bring them to me!"
Anderson glanced at the furious men, and while cleaning off the blade in a handkerchief from his pocket, he grinned at Corcoran. "I think I've upset our guests. Francis." He snapped his fingers and held out one hand.
The man nodded and passed Anderson a ragged hand towel. "I do believe you have, Colonel."
Anderson folded the towel, placed it over JD's wound and pushed the boy's elbow in against his side to hold it in place. "Now don't relax too much. Wouldn't want you passing out from blood loss and missing all the fun, would we?" He glanced along the line of furious men. "And if either of you misbehave…there will be more."
Silence ensued for only minutes, but it felt like hours. Josiah was very aware of how JD was stoically holding up by the trembling body leaning against him, and his short, labored breaths. He attempted to distract and keep up morale.
"You know, I'm thinking maybe passing over retirement was a mistake."
All six agents laughed, softly.
"Aah, you'd be bored," Vin responded.
A brief silence, and then JD chipped in. "I reckon when we retire, we should all invest in a horse ranch together…maybe somewhere like…Nevada. I heard it's real nice there."
"Hmm…interesting. Would we all live together?" Josiah asked, nodding approvingly.
JD took a breath to ease his pain."Yeah, sure, why not."
"We'd kill each other before the first month was out, that's why not," Vin stated.
"Try the week," Chris corrected.
"I reckon a certain southerner may have a problem with the idea of hard graft and horseshit," Nathan decided. More grins.
JD glanced at Nathan."Really? Before he'd even thought about it," he argued.
"Ezra and menial labor?" Jackson laughed. "Come on."
"Oh, I don't know. Reckon we could change his mind. Could be kinda fun." Buck's words earned a grin from his roommate and the brunet smiled back in relief. His and the team's mood instantly changed when Corcoran approached and leaned into JD.
"You finding this funny, boy?" Knowing the reaction it would achieve, Francis backhanded the youth hard. Unable to stop himself due to the shackles, JD bounced into Josiah. The five other agents fumed.
"I warned you to leave him the hell alone…" Chris growled. "I already got you marked for when we get out of here."
"What's going on, Captain?"
Corcoran turned to his leader in response to his appointed moniker. "A little insubordination, Colonel Anderson, sir."
Wincing at the pull to his gammy knee, Anderson 'tsked' and, ensuring the bloody towel was still in place, sat JD upright. He looked at Chris.
"Really, Mister Larabee, you are in no position to be difficult. I expect to walk away from here without resistance, and AD Travis will get his new pet, if somewhat foolish-looking, principal team back in one piece…unless one of you decides to make that difficult for me. Do I make myself clear?" He smirked at the partially hidden reaction to his words.
"I see you're not convinced." He spoke with the conviction of a man who had not failed to factor in the team's tech guy and the call made before JD entered the fray. "You are expecting assistance gentlemen; however, a call was made, on your behalf, confirming this location as erroneous." He paced a little.
"Your recent formation has caused somewhat of a restless stirring among 'the natives' of the criminal underworld, so to speak, and has prompted considerable support in our determination to discredit you as early as possible. Personally, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. One can hardly be fearful of you after such a poor showing today."
Too angry to respond, Chris just glared at him until the man turned away. Seeing that Buck and Josiah were focusing on JD, and trying to dismiss the concern over where his missing agent had gotten to, Chris stifled an agonized scream as he dislocated his thumb and carried on working off his bonds. He would get his team out of this…or die trying.
+ + + + + + +
Poised at the building's threshold, Ezra looked to the DPD officers, and the accompanying SWAT team's officer in charge. He replied to the question of his confidence of positioning.
"Before I exited the building, I saw my colleagues marched up a stairway to the next level." His gaze remained on the OIC and nodded his approval at the confirmation over the comm, of officers successfully gaining entry. On three, the ground backup went in.
Most of the team heard it, and so did Anderson…a faint, distant sound, but enough to initiate a change of plans. Emmett sighed and stared at a way too pleased Larabee. "Francis, I fear we may have to sound the retreat." He touched two fingers to an imaginary hat brim. "A good soldier always knows when to withdraw, and live to fight another day." His next action shocked them all when he leaned in to lift JD to his feet.
"However…a parting gift is also customary in my domain."
Just as Chris's bloody hand slipped free of his bonds, and at the same time as Buck, they both caught sight of the glint of steel in Anderson's hand. JD had, too, and his jaw dropped open in horror on seeing the oncoming blade. "Nooooo!"
Both men leapt up, but being an edge faster, and a little closer, Buck reached JD just as Anderson's arm swung in from a deep arc. The fatal punch meant for JD missed its target, when Buck took JD off his feet by slamming into the boy to take the piercing blow instead.
A noise from outside the room had alerted the captive agents that their situation was about to change. One glance between them confirmed they were more than ready, until Anderson surprised them all by snatching JD to his feet. Buck didn't understand how, but he instinctively knew JD was in mortal danger. That very feeling had his body on the move even before his mind registered it.
JD's cry tore into the man's big heart, threatening to fragment it with its penetrating impact, and in the seconds following, Buck made peace with himself for choosing to die for a boy he was prepared to…with or without the kid's permission…take a lifetime protecting.
The advantage of size, weight and momentum sent him hurtling into JD, and the boy crashed sideways an instant before the punch of steel through flesh took Buck's breath. Unable even to grunt when the blade was viciously extracted, Buck's spongy legs betrayed him and he slumped to the floor; his only thoughts before he prepared to die, and as darkness crept into the edges of his vision, was to know JD was okay.
Accepting defeat, Anderson hastily pocketed the knife, turned to his men, and pointed to the impending threat outside the room. "Show 'em, what you're made of, boys!" His lackeys instantly left the room and went on the attack.
Watching Dunne scramble to Buck's side, and seeing the rest of the team focused on the unfolding drama, Anderson and Corcoran attempted to slip neatly away to the back of the room, and out through a hidden doorway; but Chris was already onto it, and with a cry of 'Get Anderson!', he, Josiah, and Vin took after them.
While area searches were ongoing, and approaching the room his teammates were in alone, Ezra smirked and raised his Walther P99 at the oncoming 'foot soldiers'. "ATF, nobody move."
They stopped, and a man called Darcy grinned. "You'll only get one shot off before we take you out."
Knowing backup was imminent, Standish smiled, exposing his gold tooth. "Then you best discuss amongst yourselves which one of you is going to die." Before Darcy could answer, they were surrounded by SWAT officers. Ezra, closely followed by more cops, pushed into the room beyond, speaking as he entered.
"I leave you boys alone for five minutes and look what happens…" He stopped dead at the bloody tableau before him. "Good Lord, what has happened?"
Josiah looked back at him. "Call for an ambulance, now!"
"Buck, oh God, Buck…" Kneeling next to Buck, his own pain blocked out by the terror of seeing Buck bleeding out, JD snatched off his cap and stuffed it against Buck's bloody wound. With his bonds still in place, he pushed his knee against the cap, and awkwardly clasped the hand that seemed to be searching. Leaning in close, he looked into Buck's eyes and then moved to whisper into his mentor's ear. "Please Buck…please hold on."
Buck let go of JD's hand and wearily patted the boy's arm. "Ain't…planning on…going nowhere…son."
Noise from the direction of the hidden doorway showed Chris and Vin dragging in a disgruntled Anderson and Corcoran. Relieved of his captives by DPD officers, and ignoring their scrutinizing stares at the blood and bruising to Anderson and Corcoran's features, Chris dropped down to Buck's side and leaned over his long time friend. He put a comforting hand on his chest. "Easy there, Pard."
From his supine position on the floor, Buck screwed up his eyes in pain, before looking up at Chris. "Take care…of JD, Chris."
The words terrified JD. "I'm right here, Buck. You promised you wouldn't leave me…remember?"
The voice he needed to hear warmed Buck's soul and he nodded. "I remember, Kid." His gaze moved back to Chris. "Anderson…we…we get him?"
Vin squatted close to Larabee to quietly pass on the bitter news that the several police officers who accompanied them on the initial raid, and had gone up to the first floor, were found dead. Glancing at JD, and acknowledging the information with a sharp nod, Chris forced a smile before answering Buck. He would grieve later. "Yeah, Pard, we got him."
Tears dripped unashamedly off JD's chin. Buck reached out shakily and the pair fist-bumped before clasping hands again. "Finally…had a reason…to get rid of that…stupid hat, huh, little brother?"
JD sniffed harder at the unexpected, but welcome endearment, and tried to swallow the cement block wedged in his throat so he could speak. "Buck…please…"
He was so afraid of losing Buck that JD hadn't even realized that the rest of the team was close by. Nathan was now with them, and someone was putting pressure on his own wound, but JD hadn't registered who. The rich voice of the team's EMT broke through the misery. "Time to get you to the hospital and stitched up, Buck." He glanced at JD.
"You too, son."
Nathan's words took a moment or two to penetrate JD's buzzing mind, but as they took hold, and Nathan gently pushed away JD's bloody hand from Buck's wound to place a pressure bandage there, the pain in the young tech's side ignited. Oblivious to a few voices speaking his name, JD became aware he was panting, and swiped at the sweat on his brow. He stared at Nathan, then at Chris, before he keeled over into his leader's arms.
Chris clutched the sweaty body close, and rested his chin on JD's damp hair as he nodded to an approaching paramedic.
"Come on Kid…your ride's waiting."
Staring down at the bedcover under his crossed legs, JD touched his side as he recalled the agony of being separated from Buck to receive treatment. Of not knowing whether his new friend would live or die until several hours later, when Chris came to where he and Josiah were to bring them up to speed, and to then wheel JD to visit Buck in post-recovery.
Of the hours he sat next to Buck's bed, and waited…and, for the first time since before his mother's funeral…prayed. For JD, next to seeing his Mom looking back at him, Buck's eyes opening that day was the most beautiful sight in the world.
Aware of eyes on him, JD snapped out of his musings and held Buck's gaze. Despite some hesitancy, he shared something with the man that, regardless of all their male posturing, Buck already knew, and returned equally.
"You know that I've never had a brother, a father, or any real strong male influence in my life, Buck." As Buck nodded, JD swiped at his eye.
"I gotta tell you…and not just because of what you did for me that day …and even though we had only recently met…while you were laying injured in Anderson's distillery, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I couldn't care for any man more, and that I couldn't bear to lose you." He took a shuddering breath and looked down. Instantly worried he had said too much his voice dropped to a whisper. "Jesus, that sounded so lame."
Strong fingers curled around his wrist and JD looked up into shimmering, cobalt blue eyes. Buck grinned, rubbing at the end of his nose with the back of his other hand. "Well, then that would make me lame, too."
The pair sat in silence for a minute, taking time to appreciate a series of conversations long overdue. Finally, JD gestured to the mound of unsorted boxes. "The guys said we'd never make it through the first box. I guess we should've taken Chris up on the offer of a trail ride, huh?"
"But then…look at all the fun we'd've missed."
They both laughed. Still holding JD's wrist, Buck gave it a squeeze. "Why don't you check if any of the guys are still looking for company. Got some ribs and steaks in the freezer; and you brushed off the deck today so we're good to go."
Jumping up, JD's grin lit up the room. "Who should I call first? I'll call Vin, he said he…no, wait, he might be at Chris's…I'll call Chris…uh…did Josiah say he and Nathan might go see that play with Ezra…was that this weekend…?"
Jolting, JD turned toward the voice in his ear to find Buck was now right behind him. "Take a breath, Kid. I'll call Chris and Josiah; you call Vin, Ezra, and Nathan."
JD was already dialing as he hurried down the stairs at breakneck speed. His stocking-covered feet slid to a halt on approaching the hallway and he looked back at Buck, who also had his cell to his ear. He pointed on hearing familiar cell phone tunes. "Uh, our front door's ringing…"
Opening the door, he gawped at the sight of Vin and Chris standing there and about to place ringing phones to their ears. "How the…?"
Passing him to enter the apartment, Chris smacked the side of JD's head. "You didn't even check the spyhole, JD. I could have been an axe murderer."
"Well, if he brings beers, he's welcome, here." Buck moved to greet them. Vin thumbed behind him.
"Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan are parkin'."
Following the pair and their packs of beers into the kitchen, JD spoke in rapid breaths. "What are you doing here? How did you know…?"
Vin turned and leaned back against the worktop. "Ezra took bets you two wouldn't get past clearin' the first box. Well…we had to come see which of us won."
Buck and JD looked at each other, and hung their heads. "That would be Ezra," Buck confessed.
"But of course," a southern drawl confirmed from the living room. "Ante up, gentlemen."
Still a little shell-shocked, JD turned. "I'd better get the food out of the freezer."
"No need, John Daniel," Josiah called before entering the kitchen. "I brought chili."
"And I brought burgers, buns, and chicken," Nathan's voice echoed from behind. "Seeing as we invited ourselves, and all."
Before long, the sounds of sizzling food, teasing, laughter, and the hiss of beers and a soda opening, filled the deck area while seven friends enjoyed each other's company. From his spot leaning against the deck rail, Vin tossed JD his bottle cap, which the boy deftly snatched from the air. Looking around at his friends who, in truth, had become more like brothers, he pushed the metal cap into his top shirt pocket.
Another keepsake to go with, he was sure, a night full of awesome memories.