Disclaimers: Thanks to John Watson and his gang for giving us the boys. We take them out once in a while for a little harmless <g> fun. We always try to put them back the way we found them, or better! And I dont know anybody, myself included, thats making any money in this endeavor.
Thanks to my super-beta and pic maker, Linda (LT) And Katy for the final polish Kudos to Mitzi for the technical expertise about tracking someone at night using a Coleman lantern.
Size: Approx 160K
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The pounding at the door was almost as loud as the pounding in his head almost. He groaned out loud and rolled over, pulling the pillow over his head. The last thing he wanted right now was company. Hed heard the phone ring earlier and ignored it. He thought when it stopped ringing the answering machine had picked it up. He made a mental note to check it later much later as he rolled over and tried to go back to the oblivion he had been dragged out of.
Then he heard the front door slam open.
"Chris!" he heard Vin Tanner call out. "Dammit Larabee, you better be sober by now!"
Chris was instantly awake, surprised to hear the concern and anger in Vins voice. Before he could call out, his bedroom door flew open and the teams sharpshooter stood there glaring at him, but there was also relief evident in his eyes.
"Whereve ya been?" he demanded, watching Chris sit up and swing his legs off the bed. "Weve been callin for more than an hour."
Chris sighed, holding his head in his hands and leaning on his knees. "What day is it?" he asked, his mouth so dry his voice not much more than a croak.
"Saturday," Vin replied, crossing his arms and leaning on the doorframe, watching his boss and best friend gather himself.
Chris looked up with bleary eyes. "Why are you here?"
"We got a problem," Vin answered.
"Of course we do," Chris groaned. "What is it this time?"
"Cruz escaped," Vin replied, then waited for the explosion. He wasnt disappointed.
"WHAT??!! What the hell happened?" Chris bellowed, jumping to his feet and staggering to the bathroom.
Vin stood where he was, but raised his voice to get through to the other side of the room. "One of the guards was on his payroll, had all the right paperwork for the transfer. He waltzed him right out the door, into a prison van and thats all she wrote."
"When was this?" Chris demanded.
"First thing this mornin," Vin replied, waiting while the other man started to get dressed. "Been tryin to get a hold of everybody ever since. Theyre gonna meet us at the Office."
Chris couldnt quite place the tension in Vins voice. Somewhere in his alcohol-muddled brain, he knew there was more. "And?"
Vin just shook his head. "You finish gettin dressed, Ill start the coffee. Itll keep til then," he said as he turned and walked out, leaving Chris staring in confusion at the empty doorway.
What the hell happened last night? Chris wondered as he dressed, other than the fact that hed spent the better part of yesterday in an alcohol-induced stupor.
* * * * * * *
Yesterday would have been his wedding anniversary, except Sarah was gone. His Team knew it and had given him a wide berth all week, leading up to Friday. They had been supportive but not smothering, not even Buck Wilmington, who seemed to take pride in that department. Chris had a feeling either Buck or Vin was planning some kind of diversion for Friday that would leave one of them at the ranch overnight, ready to help him with the demons that were sure to surface.
Well, he showed them, didnt he? The Cruz sentencing was Friday morning, the end of a long and violent bombing case, one of Team Sevens first, and Chris had taken it very personally. Roberto Cruz had paid a hired killer to get rid of a business rival. The killer put a bomb in the mans car, but his wife and daughter were killed instead. An associate of the killer turned him in for the reward offered, and he in turn testified against Cruz in a plea bargain agreement for a lighter sentence. Before Cruz could be arrested, however, he had somehow learned the police were coming for him and he had hightailed it to Mexico. Two years later, he thought the heat was off and snuck back into town. He shouldve known better when Team Seven was involved. One of Ezras snitches dropped a dime on the fugitive and he was finally arrested.
The past year had been spent in court with endless delaying tactics. But now the trial was over and Cruz had been sentenced to life in prison. As he was led away, he made the usual histrionic threats towards Team Seven and Chris Larabee in particular. Cruz blamed the Team for Cruzs own wifes betrayal. She was the one who had turned over crucial evidence to the Prosecutors office in exchange for a new life for herself and her two small children within the safety of the Witness Protection program. Cruz blamed Team Seven for the desertion of his family.
After the sentencing, Chris had sent Buck on one errand and Vin on another, and simply slipped away from the others. Chris smiled to himself at how easy it had been. He wondered if that was why Vin was so tense. He tried to remember what had happened the rest of the afternoon. He remembered going into Inezs, but the pretty bar manager wasnt there, so he ordered a bottle sat in a dark corner and began drinking himself into numbness.
It had been a long time since hed done that, but old habits come back easily enough. By the time Inez came in, he was as drunk as hed been in years. And his mood was as black as his ever-present outfit. The crowd was small and everyone else in the bar was avoiding going near his table. When Inez finally walked up to his table, he was on his second bottle.
"What do you think you are doing, Senor Chris?" she asked gently, noting the mans mood as well as his condition. She reached out slowly to remove the bottle.
"Leave it," he growled. "Its paid for."
Inezs eyes widened in surprise, but she wisely backed away. "As you wish, senor. But whatever it is you are trying to forget, it does not seem to be working." She walked back to the bar, whispered to the bartender, who glanced up nervously at Chris and nodded. Inez then went to her office behind the bar and picked up the phone.
Inez was right, Chris thought, it wasnt helping. In fact, the alcohol was having just the opposite effect. Instead of blocking the memories or numbing his reaction to them, it was bringing them into crystal clear focus and intensifying the pain they caused. Memories of Sarah and Adam the good times they had only made him miss them more. They played in his mind one by one, over and over, like some kind of home movie. Then the memories of that night, coming home to the sight of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances. And through it all, the good times and the bad, there was Buck. His friend had been a part of his life almost as long as he could remember, at work and at home, more family than friend.
Without realizing what was happening, Chriss depression turned to anger and that anger suddenly found a focus Buck. Why did he always have to be there? Why did Chris have to share everything he had? Why didnt Buck go find a life of his own, instead of always being in every one of Chriss memories? Maybe if he hadnt been with Buck that night
* * * * * * *
As Chris pulled on his socks, his heart fell to his feet. Where had all that anger come from? Even now he could remember the overwhelming hatred he had been feeling. For Gods sake, why Buck? he thought. Buck was his oldest friend, someone he wanted around and enjoyed being close to, the one person that kept him alive all those years ago after Sarah and Adams deaths. His brows knitted in concentration as he tried to recall the memory from the fog his mind was in.
* * * * * * *
Shortly after Inez left his table, the cavalry arrived with Buck in the lead. Chris saw them approaching and tried to stand. When he began to stumble, Buck reached out to steady him.
"Whatre you doin here, Chris?" he asked gently, taking in the mans condition in a quick glance.
Chris jerked his arm away, pushing Buck at the same time. "Get the hell away from me!" he spat out.
Bucks eyes widened and he took an involuntary step backward. Then he reached out again. "Come on, Pard. Lets get you home."
"Dont want your help," Chris said through tightly gritted teeth. "Youve done enough already." Before anyone could stop him, Chris shot out his left fist and knocked the wind out of Buck, doubling the tall man over. A quick right uppercut followed, sending the big ladies man to the ground.
Everyone in the bar froze in shock, including the other members of Team Seven.
As Buck sat dazed on the floor rubbing his jaw, JD Dunne was the first to move as he knelt beside his friend. "What the hell was that for?" JD demanded.
Buck looked back up at Chris with such a bewildered and hurt look that only infuriated Chris more. He took another step toward the fallen man, fists clenched.
JD stood and planted himself between his self-appointed big brother and their boss. At the same time, Buck was struggling to stand with the help of Ezra Standish. Vin stood between the team leader and his oldest friend, both arms outstretched in each mans direction. Nathan Jackson and Josiah Sanchez went straight to their team leader and grabbed an arm each, pinning him between them. They were used to pulling Chris away from a suspect a time or two, but never away from one of their own.
"Chris -" JD started.
"Stay out it, JD," Buck warned, stepping unsteadily to his younger friends side, just as determined to protect JD from the still-struggling Chris. At the sound of the others mans voice, Buck turned toward him.
"Yeah, JD, stay out of it," Chris repeated, his words slow and slurred. "Do yourself a favor, kid. Get as far away from him as you can, before he takes over your life and something bad happens to Casey." He just glared as he watched Buck flinch.
JD saw the pain in Bucks eyes and turned toward Chris in open-mouth surprise.
Buck wasnt fighting back. He never did when Chris started blaming him for Sarah and Adam's deaths. They were his family too, but he always put his pain aside when it came to Chris. However, it had been years since Chris had spoken to him like this.
Ezra had a grip on Bucks arm, both in restraint and support. He shot a glare of his own at Chris. The man was hitting the tall agent where he knew it would hurt the most, but if Buck didnt have the words to defend himself, Ezra was ready with a few choice ones of his own.
Vin stood like a sentry between the two old comrades, ready to defend both his friends from each other.
Chris spoke again, drawing everyones attention. "You want to do something for me, Buck? Get the hell out of my life; get off my team and away from my friends before somebody else gets killed because of you." Then he pulled away from Nathan and Josiah and fell into the booth behind them, his back to his stunned team members.
Bucks face lost all its color and he staggered back. "I need some air," he finally mumbled, turning to go past his friends.
"Ill go with you," JD said, stepping up beside the wounded man.
"No, JD. You already promised Casey," he answered. "You go on, take the truck and help her move just like you were plannin to do this weekend. Dont worry, Ill just catch a cab home."
JD hesitated, looking from Buck to Vin to Chriss back. Vin nodded slightly and JD felt Buck give him a gentle shove.
"Go on. Youre gonna be late," Buck said, trying a small smile but not succeeding.
Ezra came up behind the youngest of their group and whispered, "Go on, Mister Dunne. Well keep an eye on Mister Wilmington. Give him a little time to pull himself together and then well help him beat the hell out of Mister Larabee after he sobers up."
JD chucked a little bitterly. "Yeah, well just save a little piece for me." JD moved back to Buck and gave him a quick pat on the arm. "You need me, you call. You hear?" He kept his voice low and his hand on the other mans arm until Buck met his gaze and nodded.
"Thanks, JD," Buck whispered back, taking his little brother into a quick hug.
"See you guys Monday," JD called out to the others as he walked out the front door.
"Come along, Mister Wilmington. How about joining me for dinner? Somewhere a little more cheerful," Ezra said to Buck, eyeing Chriss back. He didnt expect a response, so he wasnt disappointed when he didnt get one. The others nodded in agreement.
Buck shook his head. "Nah. I appreciate the offer, Ez, but Im really not hungry. Think Ill go for a walk then catch a cab home."
He turned to leave when Vin moved toward the booth Chris had been in, reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a set of keys.
"Buck," Vin called out, tossing the keys to the ladies man. "Here. Well get him home. You take his truck. Bring it on out to the ranch tomorrow. Well figure something out then." He looked deep into Bucks dark blue eyes with his own lighter blues, promising hed take care of their drunken friend.
"Sure," Buck said with a heavy sigh. He was chewing on the corner of his mustache as he turned to leave, his head down and steps slow.
"Shouldnt one of us insist on accompanying him?" Ezra asked, watching Buck disappear out the door.
"You heard him, Ezra," Nathan replied, "The man dont want company right now."
Josiah just shook his head, his face showing his frustration. He knew Vin would need help getting Chris home, but his heart went out to Buck. He knew better than most the kind of demons Buck would be facing, but he also understood Bucks desire for privacy to face them his own way. On the other hand, he also knew Buck lived for the company of others, especially his teammates. Damn, he thought to himself, Of all the times for JD to be gone. He knew the company of their youngest would keep Buck from doing anything he might regret later. His attention was pulled back to the task at hand.
"Come on, Cowboy," Vin said, taking Chriss arm and pulling him up. He nodded to Ezra and motioned toward Chriss coat. Ezra gathered it up while Josiah took his position on Chriss other side, helping Vin steer the unsteady man out the door. This time Chris didnt fight them.
Nathan went over to Inez. "Thanks for the heads up, Inez. Well see that he gets home okay."
"What about Senor Buck?" she asked, the fire in her eyes showing shed heard most of what went on. "Senor Chris had no right to speak to him that way, even if he was drunk."
"I know," he agreed sadly. "Well get Chris settled, then one of us will go find Buck."
"Fine," she replied. Then she turned away as she was called by one of her employees.
Nathan turned and followed the others out the door.
* * * * * * *
Vin came back into Chriss room, just watching as the older man sat on the side of the bed, his head in both hands.
"Guess you remembered," Vin said softly, meeting Chriss tortured green eyes as the blond raised his head.
"God, Vin, whatd I do?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper, and filled with more pain and regret than Vin had ever heard from the team leader before.
"Well, off hand Id say you ripped ol Bucklins heart out and stomped on it," Vin answered softly but honestly.
"Anybody talked to him since last night?" Chris demanded, standing up. Even in his condition, he knew his tender-hearted friend well enough to know theyd have to find him soon and straighten things out before the man dwelt on the hurt and did something hed regret later. The last thing he wanted was for Buck to take off for parts unknown.
"Nope. After I got you settled in last night, I drove by his place and waited, but he never showed," Vin answered. "And I got no answer on his cell phone or his beeper. I called Ez and hes gonna go by his place and check again. JDs comin from Caseys new place. He and Nathan and Josiah are gonna meet us at the office." Vin might still be angry with Chris, but for now they had a job to do.
"Okay, Im ready," Chris said, as he picked up his wallet. He frowned when he couldnt find his keys, then remembered where they were. "Suppose my trucks still in one piece?" he asked.
"Serve you right if he took it out and used it for target practice," Vin replied with a grin and a wink. As they headed down the hall to the kitchen, the phone rang again. "Ill get it," Vin offered, since he was closer to the kitchen.
Chris heard Vin pick up the phone. His heart skipped a beat as he came into the kitchen and heard just Vins side of the conversation.
"JD JD! Slow down Calm down Start over Damn! Alright, sit tight. Well be right there. Are Nathan or Josiah there yet? What about Ezra? Okay, you wait for them right there."
Chris had poured them each a cup of coffee and was watching Vin intently. Vin turned slowly to his best friend, his eyes mirroring his concern. "Whats wrong?" Chris demanded.
Vin took a deep breath, trying to keep his imagination from running away from him. "JD found your truck in the parking garage. Its been shot up pretty bad
Chriss eyes narrowed. "You dont think Buck " he began.
"No," Vin interrupted. "JD also found the Security Guard shot dead. No sign of Buck, but JD says theres blood in the truck and on the ground."
Chris visibly paled. "Lets get out of here," he growled.
* * * * * * *
They drove the forty-five minutes to the office in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Vin was steeling himself for what lay ahead, while Chris was trying to come to terms with his memories of the previous night.
By the time they reached the parking garage to the Federal Building, a small army had gathered. The coroners van was just pulling away, carrying the body of the fallen security guard.
Vin parked his jeep just inside the structure, where it would be easy to get out if need be, and the two men walked in.
Chris spotted Nathan and Josiah first, talking quietly to several uniformed Denver Police Officers a few feet away from Chriss big black Dodge Ram extended cab pickup. JD was a few yards away, leaning over the hood of Bucks old Chevy pickup, his head down and pillowed on one of his arms, one foot resting on the bumper.
From the passenger side facing them, nothing appeared out of place. Then they walked around the back to the drivers side. There they found Ezra in a squatting position with one of the Crime Scene investigators, who was using tweezers to pick up pieces of glass. The shards of glass on the ground were all that was left of the drivers side window.
Chris and Vin could see for themselves the number of bullet holes in the side of the truck, starting from the front fender and leading to the back door. There were even several grooves in the windshield where bullets had glanced off the glass. The front door was standing open and the inside of the truck was still in good shape, except for the large dark stain marked off with a CSI marker on the passenger seat. Chris swore under his breath as his eyes followed the trail back across the seat, down the side and to the ground where there was a pool of blood spread out and mixed in with the broken glass.
Chris lifted his eyes to meet Vins. "Buck?"
Vin shook his head slowly in response. "Wish I could say no, but dont see any other answer."
As Chris looked through the interior of his truck to where he could see JDs still-slumped form, his attention was caught by a small cardboard box sitting on the floorboard on the passenger side. "What the hell is that?" he wondered out loud. He turned to the CSI tech and motioned to the box. "Do you mind?"
"Go ahead and look inside, just dont move it or take anything out. We havent inventoried it yet," the other replied, handing Chris a pair of gloves.
Chris moved around to the passenger side of the truck. Vin and Ezra moved with him. Josiah and Nathan watched from where they were. As Chris moved past JD, he reached out to pat the boys shoulder. But JD felt him coming and jerked away from the team leader without looking up. Vin stopped there by JD, leaving Ezra to continue with Chris to the passenger door.
Chris slowly opened the door, then leaned inside and carefully lifted the lid to the box with a pen Ezra handed him. He stood frozen and his heart clenched as he recognized the contents inside. They were Bucks prized possessions, the ones that usually adorned his desk upstairs. He looked around at Vin, his eyes showing the confusion he was feeling.
Vin was talking in low tones to JD, while the teams youngest was shaking his head and clenching his jaw. As Chris straightened up, he knew by the boys reaction that JD already knew what was in the box. Looking over at Nathan and Josiah, they nodded sadly.
That left only Ezra. The Southerner looked inside the box as Chris moved away. Ezras eyes narrowed and he spun to face Chris. "Well, Mister Larabee, is that not what you said you wanted?" He was too angry and too worried to consider that confronting Chris right then might not be the best idea, that the team leader had been known to respond physically when provoked. "Just last night you practically fired the man now you have the audacity to act like you care?"
Chris took a step back like Ezra had hit him.
Vin stepped between them. "Ez," he said quietly.
"What?!" Ezra shot back. "Just because he was having a bad day, just because he was inebriated, that was no excuse for his deplorable treatment of Mister Wilmington last evening. And to think he considers you his friend!" His last remark was directed at Chris.
At the mention of Bucks name, JD finally looked up and he pulled away from Vin. Just when it looked like he was going to say something, Josiah moved over and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Brothers," he said softly but firmly, "this is not helping us find Buck." Chris and Ezra both nodded their heads in agreement, but not before they both saw the hurt in JDs eyes.
Nathan looked over at the group of investigators as they looked away and shuffled their feet in discomfort at witnessing so emotional a moment between the renowned ATF agents.
"Has anyone been upstairs?" Chris asked, looking back at his team.
"Yeah," answered Nathan, shaking his head. "Nothing."
Chris thought for a minute. "Okay Nathan and Josiah, you stay down here and get what you can from these guys. Ezra, see if you can get them to release the video from the security cameras. Bring it up to the office." He nodded to Vin and JD to follow him, but when he reached out to JD, he couldnt help but notice the young man put Vin between himself and Chris.
As they rode the elevator in silence, Chris realized they were assuming the worst and acting accordingly. But there didnt seem to be any other explanation. As the memories from the night before began to invade his consciousness, he pushed them angrily aside, focusing on his damaged truck and the pool of blood on the ground beside it. He needed to stay sharp. The elevator stopped at their floor and they went into their suite of offices.
"JD, can you check your answering machine at home from here?" Chris asked.
JD looked up at Chris sharply, then nodded.
"Okay, you do that and check his email," Chris instructed. "Vin, I want you to touch base with DPD on the Cruz investigation. Ill start digging around Bucks recent cases." Seeing the forlorn look on JDs face, Chris went to stand in front of him. "Well find him, JD."
JD just tensed up, but finally looked up at Chris and nodded, then moved off toward his desk.
"Look, just for grins, why dont you try his cell and pager again?" Vin suggested to JD, who looked up at Vin and shrugged. Chris and Vin watched JD pick up the phone and dial the first number.
"No answer on the cell," JD said. He punched in another number.
Chris and Vin swung around and JD dropped the phone and looked up as they heard the distinctive sound of Bucks beeper coming from inside Chriss closed office. They moved as one across the room. Chris quickly keyed in the code on the electronic pad to unlock his office door.
"You dont suppose hes been asleep on the couch the whole time?" JD said hopefully.
"God, I sure hope so kid," Vin replied.
Chris opened the door and took in his office in a single glance. Empty. Stepping inside, he stopped at his desk, where the noise was coming from, the others right behind him.
"NO!" JD cried out.
"Hell, Bucklin," Vin whispered.
There on Chriss desk, in a neat little pile, was Bucks pager, his cell phone, his ATF badge and his gun. Chris reached out and picked up a piece of paper from under the pile. He recognized Bucks scrawl You got it pard was all it said.
Chris closed his eyes against the pain that washed over him like a physical thing. All he could see was the look in Bucks eyes when he had yelled at his oldest friend to get of his life. Then suddenly Chris was being shoved across the room to fall backwards onto the couch. When he opened his eyes, a raging JD was being held back by Vin.
"Are you happy now? You wanted him gone well hes gone! Dammit Vin, let me go," the younger agent shouted, trying to squirm out of the others grasp. "Hes out there somewhere; no gun, no phone! Hes probably hurt and we dont have a clue where to start looking for him."
Just then Ezra came in. "I might be able to provide some assistance in that direction." He was holding up the surveillance videos, which he offered to Vin. He looked at the things on Chriss desk, then looked up sharply at their leader.
Chris just shook his head and showed Ezra the note. Vin was putting one tape in Chriss VCR, with JD hovering impatiently.
"I was not aware they have a camera aimed directly at our elevator," Ezra commented as Vin hit rewind.
"They have all the entrances and exits covered now," JD answered, "ever since 9/11."
"Of course," Ezra said, then turned to Chris. "These are the originals, they havent had time to copy them yet. They have to be returned just as soon as possible."
Chris nodded his understanding. By this time, Vin popped one tape out and put the other one in and rewound it also. They werent going to take a chance on missing anything that might be important.
"The first one shows the garage entry, everything coming and going from when the guard came on duty at six oclock this morning to just after JDs arrival. The second tape is the angle toward the elevator," Ezra explained.
Vin began fast forwarding from the beginning of the tape and they watched traffic pass in front of the building. Being Saturday, no one had come into the Federal Buildings garage yet. Vin slowed the taped down to frame-by-frame when Chriss truck came into the picture, stopping at the guards post. JD could almost imagine Buck making small talk with the retired police officer as the guard walked over to greet the Federal Agent, then the truck pulled out of view. Just a number of frames later, an ordinary-looking white van came into the garage. It was left parked at the entry, blocking anyone else from driving in. They watched as the driver got out and went around to open the sliding side door. Two more men climbed out and all three approached the small glass enclosed post. There was no sound on the video, so they watched in absolute quiet as a silencer-equipped gun was brought out from behind the drivers back, raised and fired at the startled guard. They could see in the reflection on the glass as the guards body fell. Then they walked out of the camera angle.
"Anybody recognize them?" Chris asked, knowing the angle of the camera didnt reveal enough of their faces to allow a positive identification.
Vin began to fast-forward the tape again. Everyone turned to the door at the sound of Nathan and Josiah entering the office area. Ezra waved them in and they joined the others crowding around the TV screen.
One of the gunmen came back into the picture, opening the side door to the van. He left the door open while he got in behind the wheel. This time the door was left opened wide and they could all see the interior. It was equipped with bars and wire on the windows, benches along the side for seats and posts every few feet.
"Thats a prison van!" JD voiced everyones thought.
"Youre right about that, JD," Nathan agreed. The others just exchanged uneasy glances as they began to put the pieces together.
The next few frames were the hardest yet. The other two gunmen came back into the frame, dragging a bleeding and unmoving Buck between them. Chriss heart sank as they unceremoniously tossed the unconscious, he prayed, agent onto the floor of the van. Then they climbed in after him, slammed the door shut and drove away.
The only sound in the room as Vin changed tapes was Josiah saying a quiet prayer.
If Chris thought imagining what had happened was bad, actually seeing it unfold in black and white was worse. The truck was parked close enough to the elevator and the drivers side was in full-view. The elevator doors opened and Buck stepped out, the now-familiar box in his arms. They watched Buck unlock the truck and slide the box across to the floorboard, then start to step in. They saw him react in surprise to something outside the camera angle and reach for his gun out of instinct only to come up empty-handed. JD looked across the others to glare at Chris.
They watched as bullets sprayed the truck from the front to the back, taking out the window of the open door. They watched Bucks body jerk back like hed been slammed by an invisible hand, then fall over lifelessly across the seat. They watched intently as the gunmen approached the truck and pulled Buck out, dragging him across the seat, down the side and dropped him onto the glass covered ground. They could see something dark running down the left side of his face, and they knew their friend was bleeding. As two of the gunmen began a heated discussion, the third turned to the camera and gestured. He walked up to the camera and pointed the barrel of his gun.
"Damn!" Chris exclaimed. "Thats Franco Cruz Robertos brother!" The threats Cruz made in court suddenly rang out in Chriss mind.
Just before the screen went black as the camera exploded, they could see the two behind Franco Cruz pull Buck up and they disappeared from view.
The silence in the room was finally broken when JD fell heavily onto the couch next to Chris. "Oh God, Buck," he whispered, his eyes still glued to the black screen.
That was all it took to break the spell in the room. The four other men looked at each other, then over to Chris and JD.
Vin moved and knelt in front of JD, placing a hand on his knee. "Hes still alive, JD," Vin said quietly. "And well find him."
JD just stared at Vin, tears spilling out of the corners of his eyes, then he lowered his head, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.
"They took him with them, son," Josiah added. "If he was dead, they wouldve just left him there."
JD looked up as Vin nodded in agreement.
"Okay, now we know who and why. Lets get to work," Chris said as he stood. Then to JD he added, "We found Cruz once, well find him again."
"Where?" JD demanded as he pushed himself off the couch and away from Chris. "In Mexico?" He went back out to Bucks desk and flopped down into his chair. He gazed across the clean desktop and realized how bare it looked without all of Bucks toys and mementos. Suddenly JD paled and bolted out the door.
"JD!" Vin called after him, but the younger agent never slowed down, slamming out the door. "Ill go get him," Vin said, heading for the door.
"Leave him be," Chris said, shaking his head. "Hell be back, just give him some time."
"I beg your pardon, Mister Larabee, but those were exactly our sentiments last night regarding Mister Wilmington," Ezra said, looking back pointedly at Bucks things untouched on Chriss desk. "And you can see where that got us."
Chris sighed and nodded to Vin, who went out the door after JD.
The elevator was already gone by the time Vin got there, so he ran and slid down the stairs. By the time he reached the parking garage, he could hear the sounds of a commotion around Chriss truck. After taking a few deep breaths to recover, he walked over and wasnt surprised to see JD right in the middle of it, toe-to-toe with one of the CSI technicians. The passenger door to the truck stood open and the box they had seen earlier was now being held by the CSI tech away from JD. JD made another lunge for the box and this time he got his hands on it, pulling it away from the tech.
"Sir, that is evidence," the tech protested loudly, obviously losing patience with the interference. As several CSI workers and DPD officers in uniform made a move toward JD, so did Vin.
"Hold up, you guys," Vin said, keeping his voice calm and putting himself between JD and the others. "The stuff in theres got nothin to do with what happened."
"We dont know that, Tanner," one of the techs argued.
"We do," Vin replied, moving JD farther behind him. He took a step toward the CSI in charge. "Look," he said just loud enough for the man to hear, "that box may be all that kid has left of his big brother, not to mention Chris Larabees oldest friend in this world."
At the mention of the team leaders name, the techs eyes went quickly to JDs fiery hazel eyes then back to Vins sincere blue ones. Then he nodded and finally said, "Okay, just let us get some pictures inside."
Vin nodded at JD, who set the box down. Team Sevens youngest tried to swallow past the lump in his throat as he opened the box and looked inside again. He waited for one of the techs to take several shots inside and out before he reached in and gingerly ran his fingers across the things on top.
JD closed his eyes and chewed on his lower lip as his fingers came across the photo frame with their most recent team picture, taken at Chriss ranch after a day-long horseback ride into the mountains. He opened his eyes and took in the gorgeous Colorado sunset that had been the backdrop, the Seven of them having fun for the camera. He couldnt help but let his attention gravitate to the two of them, Buck standing behind him, leaning heavily on JDs shoulders, Bucks chin resting on the top of his head. He smiled to himself as he remembered the way Buck had protested when JD shoved him off and he stepped in a puddle of mud. Back in the present, he heard the tech ask Vin for an inventory ASAP, and Vin agreed. Then JD felt Vins hand on his shoulder.
"Come on, JD. Lets take Bucklins things back where they belong" Vin said in JDs ear.
JD gave a slow nod as he closed the box again, stood up with it in his arms and let Vin guide him back to the elevator.
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