Vin glanced at the men in the van with him. Chris had made a few calls and
gotten them two dozen agents as backup for their rescue operation. Most of
them were men and women whom Vin knew, but the tension in the small space
was almost insufferable. The four vans that had come with the backup were
heading to a building compound for management weekends according
to the records Josiah had found, breaking quite a few speed limits at the
They pulled up on one side of a hill. The compound was on the other side.
Getting through the gate was going to be a problem. At least, they thought
so, until Emily Corbeau approached Chris and Vin. She was about JDs
age, athletic and very pretty. She said tentatively, Theres a
guy guarding the gate. Weve got pretty good cover from here for a sniper.
Im not trying to belittle your abilities, Vin, but in the state
youre in, your nerves are hardly at their best. Maybe one of the others
should take the guard down.
Vin nodded, knowing that she had a point; he and Chris were both as tightly-wound
as piano wires, and he wasnt sure if he trusted his sniping abilities
right now. Normally hed be fine, but normally he didnt have the
lives of two of his teammates resting on his trigger-finger.
Emily gestured to one of the agents who was lying on his stomach, tranquilliser
gun aimed at the gatehouse. The sniper nodded, focused for a few moments
and pulled the trigger. The guard dropped like a sack of potatoes. Vin and
Chris motioned for the other agents to follow them, and they headed down
the hill, shoving the guards body into the gatehouse and binding him
hand and foot with duct tape, gagging him just in case he came around before
theyd found Ezra and JD.
Right, Chris said. Josiah pulled the specs for this place;
its a square with a garden in the middle. Holland, you and your team
take the west wing, try to find Samuels and Caine. Brador, you and your team
get east wing. Gregorov, Riley, Daniels and Forbes, youre with Tanner
and me. Were getting my agents out.
They tried the handles of each door they passed most were, predictably,
locked and shot the locks off, checking each room for their missing
colleagues. Most of the rooms seemed to be storage rooms, but one was familiar
to Chris and Vin; the whitewashed concrete room that JD and Ezra had been
in on the first video.
They kept going, finding that room empty. Vin shot off the lock of another
door. He and Chris entered the room first, expecting the worst. Nothing had
prepared them for what they found.
Ezra was sitting on the rooms sole bed, his back against the wall.
His throat was mottled with bruises, and what skin they could see looked
about the same. A bandage was wrapped around his head. He held a badly injured
JD in his lap, gently stroking the younger mans hair, though he was
looking at Chris and Vin with undisguised relief on his face. JD was staring
into space and trembling, tear tracks clear on his face. Rope burns encircled
his wrists and there was barely any part of his body that wasnt injured
somehow. Chris held up a hand to prevent the other agents from entering;
they didnt need to see this.
Ezra? Vin ventured. What happened?
JD shuddered at the sound of Vins voice. Ezra patted his shoulder and
looked back at the sharpshooter, fury clear in his eyes and his voice, which
was hoarse and painful. Im not sure, Mr. Tanner, but I can guess.
He was tortured. And there is a guard in this place who has an appointment
with the business end of a gun.
Is JD . . .? Chris trailed off. Ezra shook his head.
No, he is not all right. Neither am I. But both of us will be exceedingly
glad to bid this place farewell.
Can you both walk?
Perhaps; we havent attempted to stand as yet. I dont think
it would be wise for me to move far from JDs side. He . . . I seem
to be a source of comfort. Is our path to freedom unobstructed?
It will be, Vin growled. If Samuels or anyone else tries
to stop us, theyll be dead before they know it.
Come on. Lets get out of here, Chris said. Ezra slid to
the edge of the bed and stood up, gently pulling JD with him. Despite his
assurances that both could walk, Ezras knees buckled and JD let out
a sharp cry of pain. Vin and Chris moved forward just in time to stop both
men from collapsing.
Thought you said you could walk, Ez, Vin said, tightening his
grip to keep the Southerner from falling. Ezra managed a pain-filled smile.
Perhaps I over-exaggerated a little. Being carried may be very well
for a child, but a grown man finds it a tad humiliating.
Tough luck, pal. You arent in any shape to walk anywhere,
Vin informed him. Chris an me are strong enough to take you an
JD to the cars.
Ezras eyes widened. I dont know if thats a good
He was proven right when Chris grabbed JD to keep him from falling. The young
agent pushed himself away from Larabee with an inarticulate cry of pain,
catching himself on the edge of the bed.
Oh, God! Dont touch me!
Theres no other way to get you out of here, Chris said
gently. I have to carry you, JD. Im sorry it hurts, but theres
really no other way.
Pain was clear in JDs dark eyes as he nodded, steeling himself for
the rush of pain. Chris knelt beside JD and carefully lifted the smaller
man into his arms, wincing in sympathy at the moan of pain his touch elicited.
JD grabbed at Ezras hand, and the Southerner rose with Chris, wavering
on his feet until Vin appeared at his side to keep him on his feet. The
sharpshooter asked quietly, You okay, Ez?
How far away are the vehicles? Ezra asked, equally quiet. His
face showed an intense amount of strain, simply from standing.
Too far. Cmon, Ez, you can sacrifice your dignity for one night.
Ezra nodded. Dont move too far from JD, Mr. Tanner. Im
not entirely certain what happened, but I am sure that he is in a fragile
emotional state. And dont try to remove that collar. From what he told
me, if you try to pick the lock a lethal dose of a chemical will be released.
When you find Samuels he should have the key. Until then, dont tamper
Vin nodded his understanding and lifted Ezra, carrying the Southerner easily.
Ezra wasnt as small as JD, but he was certainly not a huge man like
Josiah. Making sure JD could see Ezra, Chris and Vin exited the room.
One of the agents outside let out an explosive curse. Fuck! What happened
to them, Chris?
We dont know, Chris said tightly. Were going
to get them to the cars. Can you handle the cleanup here?
The same agent nodded. Count on it. The bastard is going down.
The bastard, as you so bluntly put it, is far from going
All the agents turned at the sound of the cool, even voice. Samuels sounded
older than he had on the video and the phone. Standing beside and a little
behind Samuels were Ashley Caine and a tall, muscular man whom Chris recognised
as one of Caines bodyguards. All three carried firearms, and Caine
and the guard both held hostages. Ryan Davis and Emily Corbeau, two of the
agents on Hollands team, were held firmly by arms around their throats,
guns pressed under their chins.
Hold it right there, Mr. Larabee, Samuels drawled. I do
believe weve reached an impasse. You have the advantage of numbers
and, if Im not mistaken, the burning desire to see myself and my associates
pay for what you consider a crime. Whereas I have your agents, and no particular
need for them to remain in one piece.
The guard holding Ryan jerked his arm tighter around Ryans throat,
and the young agent gasped as his breathing was impeded.
Mikhail, Samuels said warningly, We need them both alive,
for now. Let the boy breathe.
He turned his attention back to Chris. His gun, unlike those of Caine and
Mikhail, was pointed directly at the leader of Team 7, while he held what
looked like a remote control with only one button in his other hand. He said
coolly, My associates and I will be leaving, Mr. Larabee. If you attempt
to follow us, I will have your agents killed, quite painfully, and I will
activate the collar around Mr. Dunnes neck. If I do so, it will take
him five days to die, in agony. Im sure you dont want that, so
it really would be in everyones best interests for you to cooperate
What do you want? Chris asked, controlling his anger with an
effort. Samuels chuckled.
Ashley, Mikhail and I will be leaving. We will take your agents with
us. At the first sign of pursuit, I will have Ashley shoot the woman. If
I continue to feel that you are following, I will have Mikhail shoot the
young man. If that fails to dissuade you, Ill have no choice but to
activate Mr. Dunnes collar.
Go, Chris snarled, defeat evident in his voice. He couldnt
risk the lives of JD, Ryan or Emily, no matter how much he wanted to shoot
Samuels where it would hurt most. The rules of hostage situations stipulated
ensuring the safety of the hostages first. Samuels nodded, smiling.
I thought you would see it that way. You law enforcers are always so
predictable at this point in the game.
One of the agents growled, This is a game?! in a voice
filled with disgust and rage.
Easy, Vin said softly. Dont piss him off.
Sound advice, though a little crudely put, Mr. Tanner, Samuels
purred. Now, ladies and gentlemen, Im afraid we must be leaving.
Well give you directions to find your agents once were far enough
away. Id advise you to take care of Mr. Standish and Mr. Dunne in the
interim; I must admit Ashley and Mikhail were rather . . . exuberant . .
. in their entertainment this evening.
He, Caine and Mikhail they hadnt heard a last name for the brute
of a guard began backing up towards one of the doors, Caine and Mikhail
still holding their guns under the chins of their hostages. Keeping his eyes
on the furious ATF agents, Samuels reached back and opened the door. Chris
watched helplessly, furious at the thought of any of the three escaping justice.
Samuels apparently hadnt counted on the hostages taking matters into
their own hands.
In a swift, fluid movement, Emily Corbeau reached up with her left hand and
dug her fingernails into Caines wrist, going for the nerves. At the
same time, she pulled a derringer from her wrist holster with her right hand
and squeezed off several shots, ducking away from Caine as the dealers
deadened fingers loosened their grip on her gun and let it fall.
Several things happened at once.
Ryan twisted out of Mikhails grip and grabbed at his gun.
Mikhail slammed his fist into the side of Ryans head, and the young
agent reeled from the blow.
Several of the agents with Chris opened fire, trying not to hit Ryan or Emily
in the process of gunning down the three criminals.
Samuels staggered back, blood appearing in three widening circles on his
shirt. He slid down the wall, leaving a grisly trail of crimson, but was
Caines gun went off, though at this distance Chris couldnt see
who had been shot.
Mikhail, taking advantage of the confusion, bolted. Several agents fired
at him, but he vanished through the door that Samuels had opened. Three agents
went in pursuit.
Samuels, leaning against the wall, barked out a harsh laugh. Blood spotted
his lips. He raised his hand, the one holding the remote device, and pressed
JD screamed and began writhing in Chriss arms. Angry red lines spread
from the collar, going down his neck and vanishing under his shirt, and reaching
his face. His muscles began to tighten, and Chris started to run. Hed
seen what the chemical in the collar did when used in small doses, and he
doubted that this was a small dose. The other agents could clean up what
was left; he had to get JD some help.
JDs screams echoed down the tile-floored corridor. His reaction to
the chemical was much faster than it had been when Samuels had sent the video;
there was no doubt that this was a full dose. Vin followed Chris at a run,
apologising to Ezra when the Southerner cursed at the painful jolting.
Fuck sorry, get JD some help! Ezra snarled, sounding
as far from his normally cultured self as possible.
Natasha Gregorov, one of the agents with medical training, was following
them, speaking into her cell phone as she ran. We have two agents down,
medical assistance needed. Cranial contusions, burns to the arms and legs,
fractured or broken bones in the arms and hands, broken or cracked ribs,
and some sort of chemical has been introduced to Agent Dunnes bloodstream.
Hes having a severe reaction; symptoms are muscular spasms, nausea
and intense pain . . . thank you.
She looked at Chris and Vin. Ambulances will be here in less than five
minutes. Until then, lets get them to the van and Ill see what
I can do.
+ + + + + + +
The ambulances arrived two minutes later. Two minutes that had seemed like
a lifetime to Chris and Vin. Natasha had been able to ease Ezras pain
a little by giving him some of the morphine she carried in her field kit,
and shed managed to stop JDs muscles from spasming quite so badly,
but she couldnt counteract the chemical coursing through his veins,
not with the supplies she had on hand.
The paramedics quickly loaded Ezra and JD into the two ambulances. JD had
calmed down a little by the time the ambulances arrived, seemingly reassured
by the presence of his fellow agents. Vin went in the ambulance with him,
while Chris traveled with the less badly injured Ezra.
The two paramedics with Vin and JD were aghast at the extent of the younger
agents injuries, but quickly swallowed their horror and got to work.
One began covering the burns and cuts with antiseptic ointment while the
other inspected the collar around JDs neck. She checked the fit of
the leather, frowning at the snugness. She turned to Vin.
Agent Tanner, this collar needs to come off. Its very tight,
but I think I can remove it. Theres going to be some blood, not enough
to seriously endanger Agent Dunne, but it will be there. Im not going
to cut anywhere near the jugular or carotid, but I still need you to take
this gauze and stem the bleeding as much as you can. Ill have to press
into his skin to get the knife under the leather.
Vin nodded, taking the gauze she handed him and moving to JDs other
side, keeping out of the male paramedics way. The woman carefully pressed
her knife into JDs neck, maneouvering the blade under the leather and
carefully, slowly cutting. Blood appeared and Vin blotted it away with the
gauze. JD had by this point lost consciousness, a small mercy, and didnt
move as the paramedic removed the collar with agonising slowness.
She frowned at the angry red burns where the dermal patches had rested, reaching
over and taking some soothing cream to spread on the burns. Her partner glanced
up and said tensely, Rachel, some of these look infected. Well
have to watch out for fever at the hospital.
The woman nodded. Have to get the lab to run tests on his blood, find
out what that chemical is. Agent Gregorov didnt know.
They turned their attention to JDs hands. Rachel let out her breath
in a long hiss. Jesus. Im not supposed to say this, but I hope
you killed the guy who did this, Agent Tanner.
Last I saw him, he was bleedin from three bullets to the chest.
I dont think hell last long enough for another ambulance.
The man spoke again. Weve got multiple breaks in the fingers
and bones of the hands, possible breach of the vein in the left thumb if
this discolouration is anything to go by. We cant set these here, Rachel,
hell need surgery. All we can do is strap his hands to boards and keep
him from moving them too much.
Vin bit his lip. Do you think hell get the use of his hands
I cant say, Rachel said without looking up from her work,
carefully taping JDs hands and fingers to small plastic boards. We
wont know until hes had surgery to fix all the bones. There are
very small bones in the hands, and theyre some of the worst to break.
But youve got the best medical team there is waiting at the
Vin nodded, silent, looking at the battered form of his friend as the paramedics
worked. He only hoped the best medical team was enough for JD and Ezra.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah looked up as Vin entered the room, looking as though hed been
through hell. He fell into the seat beside Josiah and dropped his head into
his hands, scrubbing his face with his fingers.
Vin? Josiah asked, the name loaded with a dozen questions. Vin
looked up and nodded.
We found them. Your information was right. Came up against more resistance
than we thought, but we got them out.
Vin covered his eyes with his hands, and when he spoke, his voice was choked.
Jesus, Josiah, I didnt think a man could be hurt that bad. I
dont think there was a single part of him that they didnt hurt
somehow. Its like they knew exactly what would break him, too. They
smashed his hands. The doctors still arent sure whether hes gonna
be able to use them again.
Josiah exhaled sharply. Where is he now?
Surgery. Theyre trying to fix his hands, an he was
bleedin inside. He was really out of it when we got to them, Josiah,
he didnt even know me an Chris at first.
Did you get the ones who did it?
Tried to, Vin replied. We had to leave before we could
be sure they were dead or in custody. Were waitin on Aaron Brador
to tell us the final deal.
Hows Ezra? Josiah asked, tearing his mind away from what
would happen if JD lost the use of his hands.
Not great, Vin admitted. He was strangled pretty bad the
first night, an he was bleeding inside his skull from when Caine attacked
him. Hes bruised badly, an the doctors reckon there was some
internal injury as well. Theyve got him in surgery to try an
fix that, but they reckon he should be okay. Nate an Buck still
havent woken up?
They were awake earlier, but one of the nurses gave them sedatives
about two hours ago, Josiah told the sharpshooter. Said they
needed the rest.
Vin cracked a grin, though it was a far cry from his normal smile. Bet
Buck was spittin nails about that.
Oh, yes. It took Dr. Russell ten minutes to argue him into submission.
Shes a strong-minded woman, which is about whats needed to deal
with Buck. Nathans a much better patient.
That doesnt surprise me. Howre they doin, anyway?
Better. Nathan should be able to go home by the end of the week, and
if Bucks vitals stay the way they are hell be released the day
Vin sighed and rubbed his eyes. I reckon he wont go home until
he knows JDs gonna be okay. Chriss waitin outside surgery,
you know, annoyin the hell out of all the nurses. His knees gotta
be killin him, but he wont ask for any pain relief until he knows
what the situation with JD an Ezra is.
That man cares deeply about his team, Josiah said softly. I
doubt theres anyone who could influence him when it comes to Team 7.
Though Jared might come close.
The nurse who managed to convince Buck that he couldnt run off
to help you and Chris find JD and Ezra, Josiah explained.
Convince is probably the wrong word; bully might come
Vin chuckled. That mustve been interestin. This Dr. Russell
put male nurses on duty till Buck gets better, then?
In this room, yes. Shes obviously heard about him trying to coax
the women into letting him go early.
They both lapsed into silence, the forced small talk breaking off. Their
thoughts were on the two men in surgery upstairs, and on wondering whether
those responsible would be brought to justice.
+ + + + + + +
The sun was just thinking about getting up when Chris appeared in the doorway
of Buck and Nathans room. Unshaven, clothing wrinkled, deep circles
beneath his eyes, he looked as though hed been up for days. Which,
to be honest, was about the truth.
Nathan smiled and held his finger to his lips. Buck was still sleeping, and
Josiah had gone to find some coffee. Vin was slumped over in an uncomfortable
hospital chair at the rooms single small table, his head resting on
his folded arms.
Hey, Chris. You have news? Nathan asked softly. The black-clad
leader of Team 7 nodded and came to sit by Nathans bed.
Ezra got out of surgery a few hours ago. The doctors stopped the internal
bleeding and fixed his head. He had a fracture in his skull from hitting
the floor when Caine was kicking him. His throats gonna be sore for
a while, and they want to keep him for a few days to make sure there arent
any complications. Theyre worried about the amount of blood there was
in his braincase when he got to surgery, and that he passed out in the ambulance.
Hes still touch and go.
JD just got out of surgery. Theyve done what they can for his
hands, but its extremely uncertain right now; we wont know for
sure whether he has full use of them until the bandages come off. Hes
pretty bad, got a high fever and infection has set in because of his injuries,
but theyve got him on antibiotics and a whole bunch of other medicines
to combat that.
What about the chemical Vin told me about? Nathan asked.
Chriss face broke into a relived smile.
The doctors werent sure what it was, much less how to treat it,
but Aaron Brador showed up at midnight with the antidote. Took it right from
Samuelss office. JDs muscles are gonna be sore for a while, and
he wont be able to handle food for a few days, but hes not gonna
die. Not from the chemical, anyway, he added, his voice gaining a deep
note of concern and fear. The chemical might not kill JD, but he was close
to being taken from them anyway, due to the extent and severity of his injuries.
Did we lose any agents last night?
Nope. Emily Corbeau was nicked by a bullet, but shes been treated
and gone home. Some of Bradors people were grazed, but no fatalities.
The only agent in hospital from the other teams is Ryan Davis; he got hit
in the arm. Should be fine though.
And the ones behind this rigmarole?
Chriss face darkened. Samuels is dead, Caine in a coma. Were
not sure what happened to the kid Vin met. The guard escaped, though, and
from what Ezra said hes the one who did the most damage to JD.
Nathan sucked in a breath, horrified at the idea that the man who had hurt
JD so badly was free. We cant tell him, Chris.
I know. Not now, anyway. Maybe later, when hes healed some, but
he cant deal with it right now.
When can we see him and Ezra? Nathan asked.
Thats what I came down here for. I figured they shouldnt
have to wake up alone. I talked to Dr. Russell, and she okayed you and Buck
leaving your room as long as you stayed connected to your IVs and stayed
either in wheelchairs or in chairs. Jared and another nurse are going to
be here in half an hour to take you up.
Im surprised Dr. Russell agreed.
She knows our team, and she knows that you and Buck will both be restless
until you see JD and Ezra. Shes trying to arrange a four-bed room,
but that might take a few hours, Chris explained. They put Ezra
and JD together; Ez seems to be able to deal with JD in this state.
Nathans blood ran cold. What do you mean, in this state?
Chris sighed. When we found them, JD was . . . almost catatonic, I
guess. Hed been tortured so badly that he withdrew, and most people
scare the hell out of him. Ezra seems to be able to get through that fear,
probably because they went through that hell together. Its gonna be
a slow recovery for both of them, Nate; despite what Ezra said to us last
night, hes far from himself. Were gonna have to watch out for
Did you think wed do otherwise? Josiah asked from the door.
Were more than a team, Chris; were a family. The only family
some of us have. Were gonna fight this together.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra lay with his eyes closed, listening to the various muted sounds around
him. It sounded different to before; he was sure that there had been no beeping
or rapid footsteps audible from the room he and JD had been imprisoned in.
Samuels could have had them moved again, he supposed, but surely he would
have woken had he been relocated.
His head was pounding, as though he had some sort of imp in there, hacking
away at the backs of his eyes with a pickaxe. His throat and lungs felt as
though they were on fire, as well, and he could feel numerous bruises peppering
his body. There was a strange feeling halfway down his torso as well
the skin there felt tighter, and slightly sore. Perhaps it would be better
if he went back to sleep for a few hours or a few days. Maybe until
hed healed properly . . .
A hand reached out and took one of his. Come on, Ezra, the doctors
said youre going to be okay. Wake up, okay?
Ezra frowned slightly. Was he hallucinating? He could have sworn that was
He heard movement as whoever it was leaned forward. Ezra? Can you hear
Ezra risked opening his eyes. Unless his hallucinations were visual as well
as aural, and very detailed, he was lying in a hospital room, Chris sitting
beside his bed and holding one of his hands. The black-clad leader smiled
About time. Youve slept in a long time, even for you.
I think . . . that under the circumstances . . . Ive earned the
right to sleep, Ezra protested, his throat feeling as though it was
stuffed with sandpaper. Chris snagged a glass of water and held it out.
Here. Dr. Russell says you can have water, but solids are gonna hurt
your throat for a while. And dont make any sudden movements or youll
rip your stitches.
Ezra sipped the cool water gratefully, though swallowing proved almost too
painful to bear, and moving his head was definitely out of the question.
He suddenly recalled the events of the night before and asked urgently,
Hes here, too, Chris answered, gesturing to the other bed
where Ezra could see JD, still unconscious and swathed in so many bandages
that he looked like a mummy. IVs and machines were hooked up everywhere,
though at least JD was breathing on his own. Ezra knew how uncomfortable
and frightening ventilators were. Ezras eyes went to JDs throat.
The collar? Dear Lord, Samuels gave him a full dose of that
Hey, calm down, Ezra, Chris said soothingly rather an
odd tone of voice to hear from Chris, Ezra thought. Aaron Brador brought
in the antidote, the chemical isnt going to kill him. His muscles are
going to hurt for a few days, but hell be okay.
At least were out of that hell, Ezra said softly. The effort
of speaking brought a coughing fit, one so severe that it left Ezra gasping
for breath with a burning sensation in his throat and lungs and black patches
in his vision. Chris, looking alarmed, leaned forward.
Hey, you okay? Maybe you shouldnt talk; Dr. Russell said it might
aggravate your throat for a few days.
Ezra waved off Chriss concern, concentrating on breathing properly.
When he felt that he was in control of his body again, he asked, How
Chris looked down. Not good. The doctors arent sure when hes
going to wake up, and the longer that takes him . . .
The less likely it is, Ezra finished for him. He looked over
at the still form of his young friend, remembering the horrible injuries
JD had had the last time Ezra saw him. JDs hands were wrapped in bulky
bandages, hiding the damage done to them, but the memory was all too clear
in Ezras mind. He almost didnt want to know the answer to his
His hands . . .?
Chris shook his head. We wont know until the bandages come off,
and that could take anything from a week to two months, depending on how
quickly he heals. Most of the bones in his hands and fingers were broken,
and that will take a long time to heal. He wont have much use of his
hands for a while, and even after that its possible that hell
lost up to ninety percent use.
Ezra swallowed. Good Lord, that will kill him.
We wont let it, Chris said firmly. JDs got
a lot to live for, Ez, even if he does lose the use of his hands.
And even that isnt set in stone; he could fully recover. But he
wont recover if he falls into depression. We have to make him
want to live.
Itll be a long road. He went through so much. Hes going
to need us all.
Well be here. Vin and Josiah are bringing Nathan and Buck down
here as soon as Dr. Russell scares up some wheelchairs, and shes working
out a four-bed room for you all. We figured thatd be best for
There was silence for a few moments. As Ezras head cleared, he began
to remember what had happened at Samuelss compound in clear, brutal
detail. Every injury hed seen on JDs body, every bruise hed
felt on his own. The cool words Samuels had used to excuse his actions; the
madness in Caines eyes; the cold cruelty in Mikhails. The Southerner
shuddered, closing his eyes as though that could block out the images that
danced before his eyes.
Ezra? Chriss voice was worried. Are you hurting?
Do you want me to get the doctor?
Ezra managed to shake his head, his eyes still closed. No. Just . .
. go and help Vin and Josiah. JD may wake up any time, and I expect hed
want Buck here. Im all right.
Chris was silent for a moment before he spoke again, his voice soft and
What I said before, about us all being here, it stands for you as well,
Ezra. You ever need us, just say the word.
Ezra barked out a harsh laugh. I have never needed anybody in my life,
Youve also never gone through anything like this before,
Chris said gently. Theres no shame in admitting that youre
hurting, both physically and emotionally.
I will keep that in mind, Mr. Larabee, Ezra lied. Now,
as I said, JD will undoubtedly want Mr. Wilmington here when he awakes. I
intend to make the most of the silence until then and return to sleep. You
should help Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Tanner bring our friends down here.
He kept his eyes closed until he heard Chriss footsteps recede, still
marveling at the fact that hed pretty much given Chris an order and
the sharp-tempered man hadnt taken umbrage. He released the tight control
hed been keeping over himself, and began to tremble. It was one thing
to know that he and JD were safe, and quite another to believe it. His mind
knew that Chris wouldnt have been so calm if Samuels and Caine were
still loose, but it wasnt his mind that was in control right now. It
was his instincts, his heart, and both were badly bruised from what he and
JD had been through.
He felt tears sting his eyes and silently cursed his weakness. Now
what would Mother say? Well, for one thing she would still be unimpressed
that I choose to remain a civil servant. But shed be most annoyed if
I showed any weakness.
Funny, though, he couldnt remember why he cared what his mother thought
anymore. He was a grown man, wasnt he? Surely he could do what he chose
to, no matter what Maude might think. He was strong enough to make his own
decisions; he wasnt a child anymore.
Though he didnt feel particularly strong right now. He hadnt
even been able to stop Caine and Mikhail from torturing JD.
Tears leaked from beneath tightly closed eyelids, despite Ezras efforts
to stop them. He clenched his hands and wished that Samuels and Caine were
right in front of him, so he could take revenge and make them feel everything
theyd inflicted on himself and his friend. Thinking about them turned
out to be a mistake; their faces contorted into laughter as he saw, over
and over again, Mikhail carrying JDs limp form and dumping him roughly
on the bed; as he heard JDs weak cry of pain, Caines maniacal
ranting as she attacked Ezra; as the scent of blood once more invaded his
senses. A choked sob escaped his throat.
. . . Ez . . .
A weak, soft voice invaded his thoughts and he opened his eyes, his vision
blurred from tears. He turned his head slowly, wary of the pain still throbbing
in his head, and saw a dark blur moving where JDs bed was. He blinked
his eyes clear and saw the younger man looking at him with concerned eyes.
. . . Ez . . . you . . . k?
He managed a brief smile. Im fine, JD.
A short laugh erupted from the other bed, though it sounded weak and thin.
Bull . . . shit.
That brought a more genuine smile. Very well. Im not fine, and
I suspect I wont be for some time. I expect youre feeling much
Bout . . . right. Heads . . . killin me.
Perhaps you shouldnt be talking, Ezra suggested regretfully.
He knew that it was a good sign that JD was awake, but with the extent of
his injuries the younger agent was by no means out of danger. Come to think
of it, he probably wasnt either, otherwise Chris wouldnt have
been pussyfooting around him.
M . . . lright, JD managed, sounding exhausted from
the simple effort of speaking. Wherere . . . thothers?
On their way, Ezra assured him. Mr. Larabee was here a
few moments ago, but he went to assist Mr. Tanner and Mr. Sanchez in bringing
down Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Jackson. Theyll be here soon.
Why dyou . . . do that, Ez?
Do what? Ezra asked, genuinely puzzled. He wasnt aware
that hed been doing anything out of the ordinary.
Call . . . allf us by . . . last names.
Ezra blinked. I . . . I suppose I wasnt aware that I did. Its
how I address people.
JD shook his head. No. You . . . talk bout . . . old ssociates
. . . with firs names. Whyre . . . we diffrent?
He sighed. I hadnt wanted to have this discussion, JD.
Spill . . . Ez.
He looked up at the ceiling for a few moments, gathering his thoughts.
Youre aware of what happened in Atlanta. After that, I told myself
that I wouldnt allow myself to become close to my colleagues, in case
it ever happened again. Addressing you all by your surnames is a way of
distancing myself, I suppose. I feel safer when I dont have connections
to people and places.
Evrythings . . . got risks, Ez. Even . . . friendship.
I suppose. Its hard, thats all, Ezra admitted.
Atlanta hammered home the fact that I dont belong anywhere.
Stop . . . self-pityin . . . crap. You blong . . . with
us, JD said labouriously. You . . . got me through . . .
That. Yes, he knew all too well what that was. Would have
given anything, in fact, for himself and JD to be spared the knowledge of
JD was watching him closely. Why . . . you cryin . . .
You dont feel like crying? Ezra asked, surprised. JD shook
Not . . . what I meant. You . . . cryin cause . . . hurt,
or . . . other reasons?
Ezra was silent for a few minutes, going over JDs words. Yes, he hurt,
but there were myriad other reasons why he felt like crying, not the least
of which was the fact that hed been helpless to help himself, much
less JD, while in Samuelss clutches. Finally, he sighed and admitted,
Not just because I hurt.
He was about to say more, but they heard voices outside, and Ezra was aware
that tears were still running down his cheeks. He quickly swiped at them
and said urgently, Can this wait, JD? I dont want to have this
discussion with our colleagues.
Gotta . . . sometime.
I know. But not now.
Secrets . . . safe with me, JD assured him, smiling, then
wincing as the movement pulled the cuts on his face. At that moment, the
other five members of Team Seven entered the room, Buck and Nathan being
pushed in wheelchairs with IV poles attached to the armrests. Behind the
five ATF agents walked an orderly.
Hey, kid! Youre awake, Buck burst out as they entered and
saw JDs eyes open.
The orderly grinned. Ill let Dr. Russell know. You two, stay
in those wheelchairs or Ill tear strips off your hides, he admonished
Nathan and Buck, turning and walking quickly from the room. Josiah and Vin
placed the wheelchairs between the two beds, then Vin turned to Chris.
You. Sit. Now.
Ezra only then noticed that Chriss right knee looked as though it was
bandaged, and he was limping slightly. The black-clad leader of Team Seven
took one look at the determined expression on Vins face, sighed, and
sat down in the chair nearest the beds. Vin gave a half-nod of approval and
snagged the other chairs for himself and Josiah.
Howre you feeling, kid? Buck asked eagerly. He reached
out to take JDs hand and pulled back suddenly, his face shocked when
he saw the bandages swathing JDs hands. He swallowed and glanced at
Chris, mutely asking if Chris knew the extent of the damage to JDs
hands. Chris shook his head.
Buck . . . stop. Im . . . not dyin. . . or
nothin, JD protested.
How are you both feeling? Chris asked quietly. Dr. Russell
warned me that youll both feel poorly for a while.
The doctor was right, Ezra muttered. I feel terrible.
You look like someone used you as a punching bag, Buck said.
Ezra froze, flashing back to Caines assault. The rope burn around his
throat seemed to sear anew and he couldnt breathe. He started gasping
for air, clawing at his throat.
Josiahs eyes widened as Ezra started to choke, and he leapt from his
chair and was instantly at the agents side. Ezra! Ez, calm down.
His words didnt seem to be getting through the panic that enveloped
the Southerner. The monitor by his bed started beeping frantically, and Josiah
was pushed aside by a small, dark-haired woman in a white coat, and several
orderlies. The woman the doctor swiftly injected a drug into
Ezras IV, and after a few moments he calmed and fell into an uneasy
sleep. The doctor sighed and turned to the rest of them.
He should be all right. Panic attacks are common after abductions.
Do you have any idea what set this one off? she asked.
I said something about Ez looking like hed been used as a punching
bag, Buck said guiltily. I didnt know itd make that
No, there was no way you could have known. If anything, its better
that it happened now rather than later. We know one of the triggers, and
we can be alert in case he has another attack. He doesnt seem to have
done himself any additional harm, so its doubtful this episode will
have any lasting impact on his recovery, she assured Buck. She turned
to JD, checking his vitals and making sure the IVs were properly connected.
Its good to see you awake, Agent Dunne. How are you feeling?
M . . . fine.
Buck chuckled, despite his worry, at JDs habitual response. Even Dr.
Russell seemed amused as she continued to check JDs injuries. She finally
straightened up and announced, Everything seems to be in order. Weve
got you on a steady drip of morphine for the moment, Agent Dunne, but well
reduce that slowly as your recovery permits. Let someone know if the pain
gets bad and well increase the dose. The nurses will be checking you
every ten minutes, but the call button is there if you need anything. Now,
gentlemen, she continued, turning to the other agents, I realise
that you pay visiting hours little mind, but I really cant condone
so many people in a high-dependency room after hours. Until Agents Dunne
and Standish can be safely transferred to a low-dependency room, I can only
allow one, possibly two, of you here after visiting hours. And until
I can arrange a four-bed room, Agents Jackson and Wilmington will have to
return to their room at night. Im willing to bend some of the rules
for you, but I cant bend them all.
We understand, Chris said, hating the restrictions but understanding
the need for them. Thank you for what youve done.
As one of my nurses said to Agent Sanchez, you seven men are like brothers.
We just have to imagine what it would be like for us to have loved ones in
such a position to empathise with you.
She turned to leave. Ive left instructions for the nurses attending
Agents Jackson and Wilmington to come here for their rounds. When Agent Standish
wakes up again, please have one of them page me.