The Quandary

by Phyllis

+ + + + + + +

Buck stood as an orderly and the doctor entered the room. His face pulled into a frown as the doctor started checking JD's vitals and wrists, none too gently, and the orderly began to release and remove the restraints. Wilmington just stood and watched. Finally he could not stand quietly any longer.

"What's going on?"

"Mr. Dunne is being taken to another room. He'll be moving to a room down the hall from Misters Tanner and Standish." The man spoke curtly, a hint of anger in his voice.

"But you told me that you…"

The man turned and glowered at the tall agent. "Apparently, what I said means nothing. The chief of staff has told me to move the young man. That's what I am doing." The physician nodded at the orderly and the two of them grabbed the bed and started it moving toward the door.

Buck's nature was a jovial one, but he was hard pressed to not grab the man by the lapels and shake him. If the man had a problem, he needed to work it out somewhere else, but Wilmington bit his tongue and kept silent as they entered the elevator and headed to the fifth floor.

Within ten minutes, the young Easterner was ensconced in the new room. The tall agent never said a word as he silently waited for them to settle JD in. A duty nurse came in and the doctor talked to her, but the agent could not hear what was said. Moments later, the doctor left and the nurse rechecked the monitors before moving to stand next to Buck.

"Good evening. Mr. Wilmington, correct?” she asked. At his nod, she continued, “Can I get anything for you?"

"No, thank you, ma'am." He smiled, but it was a subdued expression.

"Doctor Simmons will be looking in on Mr. Dunne is a little bit. He's a very nice person. You'll like him." Smiling, she left the man alone with the unconscious youth.

Buck pulled a chair up to the bed and got comfortable, still a little dazed at the change of circumstances in the last few minutes.

+ + + + + + +

The soft cough and sound of vinyl squeaking were the first things he became aware of. Furrowing his brow, the dark haired agent tried to bring his thoughts into focus.


A slight chuckle escaped the young man's lips as he heard the voice. 'Buck. Should have known’ he thought to him self. JD struggled to, and finally succeeded in, prying his eyes open. He blinked several times as they adjusted to the soft glow of sunlight around the shadowy outline of his roommate.

"Hey." His voice was raspy and he coughed at the dryness in the back of his throat. Feeling a straw touch his lips, he quickly latched onto it and sucked, cool water rolling over his parched tongue. "Thanks, Buck."

He opened his eyes again and found his roommate hovering over him, concern written all over his face. "So, kid. How're you doing?"

"I…I don't know. I'm in the hospital?" JD glanced around the room. "What happened?"

"Nothin' you need to worry about right now. You just rest; build your strength back."

JD nodded and relaxed back into the pillow. He felt light-headed and worn out from the simple conversation. As he closed his eyes, he drew his hand up to brush the hair from his eyes and, for the first time, noticed the bandage on his wrist. His eyebrows pulled down in confusion as his eyes moved from the bandage to Buck and he saw his friend's eyes drop away to glance at the floor. He moved his eyes back to his wrist, unconsciously bringing his other hand over to finger the bandage. That was when he noticed a matching bandage on the other wrist.

Suddenly, the young agent's breath started coming in short gasps as the implication set in. Wilmington reached out as the young man began to rip at the bandages on his wrists.

"JD! NO! Stop it, kid." He gripped both of the frantic hands and clung to them, JD's harsh breath the only noise in the room. Tears brimmed in the hazel eyes, eyes that sought denial of the obvious.

"Buck…Buck, I didn't…I don't remember...I mean…I couldn’t…" The words stopped as the tall agent pulled his roommate into a tight hug. He rubbed the youth's back as one arm supported his weight.

"No, JD. No, you didn't. I know you didn’t, kid."

The duo remained in that position until the dark haired agent calmed down. Finally, with a shuddering breath, he pushed away from the mustached man. He glanced into the dark blue eyes and found nothing but support in them and, closing his eyes, he settled back into the bed. Wilmington sat with one lean hip propped on the edge of the bed, his hand rested on the quivering stomach muscles of the younger man as he asked, "You okay?"

JD nodded, not trusting his voice. His breath came in short, shallow gasps and his pulse pounded in his ears. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on his breathing and took slow, deep breaths. Finally, feeling in control, he opened his eyes and studied the man before him.

"So, what happened?"

Buck met the hazel gaze, wondering if he can re-account the scene that he discovered in their home. He took a deep breath and prepared to tell the boy everything.

"JD, I…"

The door opened at that moment and Chris walked in. Wilmington stood, placing himself between the two men.

"Buck." Larabee's voice was low pitched as he approached. "I need to talk to JD."

"I think we should talk outside first." Buck took a step forward, but halted as the blond shook his head.

"My business is with Agent Dunne." And he stepped around the tall man. "JD."

The younger man felt the color rise in his face and he failed to maintain eye contact with Team Seven's leader. He knew he had done nothing wrong, yet his breathing became ragged and his heart rate soared. He might not remember how or why he had ended up hospitalized, but he did remember the conversation in the waiting room. He remembered the gut wrenching feeling as he realized the implications of what Chris had asked, the way he asked it. And though, he knew he was innocent of any wrongdoing, there was still had a nagging doubt in the back of his mind. Could he have done something to prevent the injuries to his teammates? Did he miss something? The feel of a hand on his leg had him jumping as if shocked.

"How are you, JD?"

"I.. I'm fine," he stammered.

Chris noticed Buck had moved back to stand next to the bed, ready to defend his young roommate. Looking from one man to the other, Chris began.

"JD, I owe you an apology. I shouldn't have said the things I said. I followed what I thought was a logical line of reasoning and came to a wrong conclusion. That happens when you don't factor in the people. I was upset about Vin and Ezra. And I turned on the handiest target. That was you."

JD had not looked up once and his head turned away sharply. Larabee watched as the young easterner struggled with his emotions. The blond sat down on the chair next to the bed and folded his hands in his lap, wanting to give the young man time to calm down. But he could feel Wilmington's eyes on him, so he continued.

"JD, I know you would never hurt any of us. And, if you did," his hands went up, as if deflecting a blow, as Wilmington's eyes flashed, "*by accident*, you would never cover it up. I am truly sorry, JD."

Silence descended on the room as Chris watched and waited. After several long moments, the young man turned to his boss. He spoke hesitantly, his voice soft.

"Chris, I can't blame you for your conclusion. The situation didn't look good. I understand that. It wasn't what you said. It was the way you said it that…hurt." The young man lay in the bed, looking down, picking at the bandages on his wrists.

He turned his wrists up and stared at them, frowning, as if they had just appeared at the end of his arms. Then, with a sigh, he turned his wrists back over and shut his eyes. "I just want to know what happened to me. I want to know how Vin and Ezra are." He opened his eyes and looked directly at the older man. "What I do not want to do is think about what you said, what happened between us. Apology accepted. Let's just move on."

JD's voice remained soft but the passion was evident and, just as he had with Buck's rage earlier, Larabee had remained composed and listened.

"Fine with me…" Chris said as he stood again. "…on the condition that we talk later."

JD relaxed back into the pillow, smiling. "Deal."

"Well, I think you were an ass."

"Shut up, Buck," JD and Chris said.

The tension relieved, Wilmington dragged another chair up close and sat down. "So, I take it you found something at the apartment?"

"Yeah. Forensics is there now."


JD's hand was waving lazily as the two talked across him.

"Sam and Greg."

"Good. They'll do a good job."

"Whoa, whoa. Could you two back up and fill me in?" JD interrupted, speaking sluggishly.

"Sorry, kid. I forget you slept through it." Buck tried to keep his voice light as he began to fill the young man in. "Nate and I went looking for you after you ran out."

Chris asked, interrupting, "You remember anything about happened after you left the waiting room?"

JD used the controls to raise the head of the bed up and then closed his eyes in concentration. Rolling his head to one side, his eyes still closed, he recalled the previous day. "Went to the restroom, I remember that. I heard someone come in behind me. Figured it was Buck. Or Nathan." The hazel eyes opened and he smiled fondly at his roommate before continuing.

"Somebody grabbed me, shoved me into a stall. It was too tight to get any leverage to push 'im off. Next thing I know, something's over my nose and… that's about all I can recall."

Once again, he looked at the bandages and then back to his roommate. "So…what happened?"

Buck had leaned forward, his hands clasped together tightly, elbows resting on his thighs as he stared at the floor. "Well, like I said, Nathan and I went to check on you. Looked all over." The man's hands came up to nervously run through his wavy hair. "Ended up back in the waiting room to see if we'd missed ya. Chris suggested that maybe you’d gone home…to change, so the three of us headed over there." Buck continued to stare at the floor as he clenched his hands together once again, the scene replaying in his mind like a horror movie.

JD watched as the emotions played across the tall man's face. He could read his partner like a book and realized that the man would be unable to voice what happened next, so he turned to his boss. While Larabee was a man who cared for his men, he was less demonstrative of his emotions, though no less passionate, than Wilmington. He could remove his emotions from a situation while Buck immersed himself in them. That was the weakness and the strength of both men. Together, they complimented and supported each other; as did all of the seven men. The team was at their strongest when they were together.

Chris saw the look and continued the recounting of that night. "We got to the CDC and checked the living area. When he didn’t find you, Buck moved to the…"

Wilmington jumped to his feet and quickly exited the room. JD sat forward, watching the door glide closed, but turned his attention back to Chris when the man reached out and placed a hand on his knee.

"He'll be okay. It just really hard for him to hear."

The dark haired youth nodded slowly. "Go ahead."

Chris picked up where he left off even as he glanced at the door. "Buck started to your room. He got as far the bathroom." Chris stopped. His hands were now clenched together much as Wilmington’s had been, so he brought them up to tap his lips as he relived the moment. Finally, he cleared his throat.

"He called out…cried out for Nathan. We…Nathan helped Buck pull you out of the tub.” He stopped as the scene played in his head again. “JD?"

The youth saw the haunted look on the man's face. "Chris, it wasn't your fault."

"No, not my fault, but definitely my responsibility. I made it easy for someone to pick you up by separating you from us." Chris looked at the young man, his eyes pinched as if in pain. "When I saw…"

The blond fell back in the chair and ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes closed, his voice a whisper. "I thought you were dead. All I could think about was that I had driven you to kill yourself."

JD opened his mouth to speak.

Larabee’s hands rose to stop the boy's comeback even though his eyes remained closed. "I know now that you wouldn’t do something like that. Ever. I knew it then, but…" Chris paused, finally looking at the young agent as he searched for the right words, the ones that would convey his feelings at that exact moment. "I felt guilty. Whether it was true that I had done something or not, I knew that I could have prevented it. And I'm so sorry that I didn't do that, that I wasn’t there for you."

JD watched as the emotions played across the man's face. Finally, he said, "Chris?"

The team leader had sat forward, unconsciously emulating Wilmington's posture of a few minutes before as he sat with his hands clenched and resting on his thighs. He looked up at the young agent.

"One of the team's best assets is your ability to follow a logical line of thought, straight through and arrive at a conclusion in a split second. It’s been what’s saved us on more than one occasion. That’s what you did this time, just like you always do, like we expect you to do. You show, you analyzed and you acted on it."

The man grimaced at the assessment, but laughed as the boy continued.

"Of course, you came to the wrong conclusion this time, but that happens to the best of us."

“The best of ‘us’, huh?” Chris huffed as the boy shrugged. The man looked up to see that while JD was still pale and shaky looking, his eyes sparkled with the life that Larabee had feared he would never see again and he had to smile at that.

Both heads turned as the door was pushed open and the doctor entered. “Well, good afternoon, gentlemen. I’m Doctor Wills. How are you feeling, today?”


The tall physician approached and began his exam by checking the bandages covering each wrist as he asked, “Any problems? Dizziness? Headache or nausea?”

“No.” JD stated. “When can I get out of here?”

The man laughed lightly as he finished the exam. “Well, you seem to be in good condition. Any idea how you ended up here?”

The young man shook his head, his eyes downcast, as he picked at the bandages. A hand reached out to lightly grip his. “Leave ‘em be, JD.”

Chris gave the young agent’s hand a light squeeze before releasing it. His look was a reassuring one and he saw JD swallow as he frowned, agitation evident in the young man’s face. He wanted answers. So did Larabee.

“That’s okay,” the doctor said. “I’d like it if you remained one more night, just to build your strength up a bit. It was determined that you're not a threat to yourself, so I see no reason to keep you here any longer than that,” the man concluded.

JD glanced at his boss, a questioning look on his features, but the blond shook his head as the doctor continued.

“Your system has had a shock, but you’re young and in good health, so you ought to recover fairly quickly. You should be able to go home tomorrow, as long as you take it easy.”

JD nodded and relaxed back into the pillow as he thanked the physician.

“I’ll be back again in the morning for one last check and to give you some instructions about taking care of those wrists and some meds that you’ll need to take.” The doctor nodded an acknowledgement to Larabee as he turned and left.

JD picked up with the conversation started before the interruption. “So, what else has happened? Vin and Ezra? They wake up yet?”

Chris leaned back into the chair, nodding. “Vin woke up. He’s pretty upset…at me.”

JD’s face was compassionate as he responded with, “Chris, I’m sorry. I should have stayed with Ezra.”

The older man pushed roughly to his feet and began to pace. “JD, don’t take the blame for this. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Maybe you should learn to take your own advice, Chris.”

Larabee turned and looked at the dark haired youth. Their eyes locked and time seemed to stop for that moment. Chris blinked first and they both turned away, but not before Larabee gave the boy a quick nod.

“Vin okay?”

“Yeah. He told me that he saw a woman in the warehouse. She’s the one that shot Ezra.”

“He couldn’t get a shot off, I guess?”

“No. That’s why he came down. He planned to hook up with you and catch her.”

“Oh. So, who was she?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t even know about her until a few hours ago.”

The door opened to admit Buck Wilmington and he moved across the room contritely. “Sorry, kid. I kind of lost it.”

JD smiled at the older man as he approached and sat on the bed. “I’m sorry I gave ya such a scare, Buck. One of these days you’re just going to toss me out, what with all the trouble I cause.”

“I doubt that. I doubt that very seriously.” Buck placed his hand on top of the young man’s, his thumb just touching the bandage and his eyes staring at the offending material and its implications. Tearing his eyes away, he turned his attention to his old friend. “So, what prompted the kid’s move?”

“Oh, Vin’s awake. First words out of his mouth were to ask about JD.” Chris saw Buck frown and continued. “He spotted someone from his position. He came down when he couldn’t get a shot at her. She was the one that shot Ezra and Vin was afraid she was going after JD.”

“So you went back to the apartment…?” Buck prompted.

“Yeah. I was looking for…”

Once again the conversation was interrupted as the door opened, this time to admit Josiah Sanchez. The profiler was wearing a grin on his face as he moved across the room.

“John Dunne. Nice to see you awake. How are you feeling, son?”

“I’m fine, Josiah.”

The big man patted the young man’s blanketed foot as he stood at the end of the bed. Reassured that the young agent was on the mend, the man turned his attention to the team leader. “I thought you might like to know that Ezra has come to and is now ready to leave.”

Larabee shook his head as Buck chuckled. They were well aware that neither Tanner nor Standish would be easily kept hospitalized once they were awake, even if they remained hooked to monitors and IVs. In fact, neither was Dunne.

“I was surprised to find JD was on this floor now.”

“Where was I?” the young man asked.

“Don’t you worry about that, kid. You’re here now,” Buck stated quickly.

JD recognized the evasive answer, but seeing the discomfort of the older man, he did not pursue the question and simply nodded in response.

“So, what’s next, Chris?” Josiah asked.

“We check in with Nathan and see what they found at the apartment. We need to find out who this woman is, where she is, what she wants,” Larabee began. “We should see if Vin can identify her. Talk to Ezra, see if he saw anything.”

Chris stood and moved to the door. He glanced at Wilmington, “You coming?”

Buck looked back at JD to see the dark haired youth nod. “I expect you to tell me everything when you get back.”

The man smiled as he stood and ruffled the dark hair. “I’ll be back in a while. You stay put.” Buck stood and joined Josiah and Chris. They moved out the door, but Buck stuck his head back in, “Don’t move from that bed, kid.”

JD rolled his eyes as the man winked and then disappeared behind the door. Laying back, the young agent tried to relax even as his mind went over the events of the last 48 hours. Like the computers he worked on, he began to sort and categorize the bits and pieces of information in an attempt to understand the mystery of those two days.

He glanced over as a nurse entered the room.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Ezra were talking quietly when the three agents entered the room. Wilmington smiled broadly at both men as Chris moved toward Standish’s bed. Josiah stopped just inside the door as if standing guard.

“Nice to see you boys awake” the mustached agent said. His eyes quickly ran over each man to assure himself that they were, indeed, on the mend. He noted that, though pale, both sets of eyes were clear and alert.

The two men nodded slightly at the scrutiny, acknowledging the man’s silent concern.

“Am I to assume that our youngest associate is faring well by the relaxed demeanor, Mr. Wilmington?”

Buck nodded and his smile broadened, though his voice was soft, as he replied. “Yeah. He’s doing great, Ez. Woke up a little while ago.”

Vin glanced at Ezra and then Josiah before speaking, “Josiah told us that…well, he might…”

Buck moved closer and patted the sharpshooter’s leg. “He’s fine, Vin. Just tired is all. That and confused.” Glancing at Larabee, he continued, “Actually, I think we’re all a little confused.”

Chris took that as his cue and began to tell the men what they had found at the apartment. When he was finished, silence blanketed the room as the men took in his statement and its implications.

Ezra shifted in the bed, grunting slightly at the pull of stitches under the bandages. He spoke first. “Let me see if I have all the evidence correct. First, I was shot by a woman hiding in a warehouse that we only got the address to a mere two hours before the operation. Second, she assaults Mr. Tanner at the same warehouse. Escaping unnoticed from a building under surveillance, she follows us to this hospital, assaults another ATF agent, spirits him from this location to his home and makes it appear that he has attempted to end his life at his own hands. Is this correct?”

Chris nodded and then added, “I have a feeling that all the trouble JD has been having the past couple of weeks may be tied into this ‘mystery’ woman also.”

“Knowing the competent agent that John Dunne is, that theory does make more sense of the problems that boy has experienced lately.” This was from Josiah as he leaned against the door.

“Okay, but we still don’t know what she’s after. JD? Ezra? She could have killed either of them outright, so why didn’t she?” Buck pondered. Noticing the cocked eyebrow of the undercover agent, Wilmington shrugged. “I’m glad she didn’t but you have to admit she had the opportunity. That scares me the most.”

Ezra inclined his head slightly, acknowledging the fact of the man’s statement.

“We need to find out…” Chris began, but stopped as Josiah’s position shifted when someone attempted to open the door.

The profiler moved slightly to one side and took a defensive stance as the door was once again pushed open. A head peered around the door edge and everyone relaxed.

“This a private meeting or is anyone allowed in?”

“Enter, brother” Josiah’s voice rumbled.

Nathan stepped into the room and Josiah took up his position of door guard once again.

“Sam and Greg find anything?” Chris questioned.

Nathan shook his head as he answered. “Not much. We can prove that it was attempted murder, but they didn’t leave much in the way of evidence to make a conviction with.”

Chris nodded as his face clouded over. He didn’t like the idea of his team at risk for unknown reasons and from an unknown source.

“You think she’ll come at us again?” Vin asked.

That question had Buck looking around at Chris. “JD” he said and stood up.

Almost as one the group headed for the door. Only Nathan’s hand prevented the undercover agent from rising. “You’re staying here.”

Vin rolled off the far side of the bed and yanked open the closet to retrieve his clothes. He grabbed his jeans and pulled them on as Jackson came around the end of the bed.

“You ain’t stopping me, Nathan. If I had ‘a stopped her at the warehouse, JD wouldn’t ‘a got hurt.” Intense blue eyes looked up briefly before the sharpshooter turned back to the task of getting dressed.

Nathan stepped back and only watched. He knew the Texan felt the guilt of not protecting his teammates and, unfounded as that guilt was, the only way to dispel it was for the man to redeem himself in his own eyes.

Shoving his feet into his boots, Vin reached for the bloodstained shirt. Nathan’s hand stopped him and Tanner jerked away, a frown on his face.

“You can’t go running around with blood all over ya” the medic stated as he pulled off his shirt. Nathan had dressed for the evening raid in the cool air of Denver nights and that included a black button down shirt over a black t-shirt. He held the button down shirt out to the smaller man. “It’s too big, but it’ll do if you tuck it in. Can’t have you terrifying the other patients.”

A shy smile lit Tanner’s face as he took the offered shirt and put it on. The black material seemed to swallow the man and he quickly unzipped the jeans to tuck it in. Finished, he grinned up at the tall black man. “Now I know how little boys feel when they wear their daddy’s shirts. Thanks, Nathan.”

He started toward the door, but paused to ask. “You know where JD’s room is?”

Jackson just shook his head.

+ + + + + + +

Buck burst into JD’s room, followed closely by Chris and Josiah. All three froze at the door. The bed was empty.

“Dammit.” Buck rushed across the room and looked around as if his partner had fallen out of bed and now lay on the far side. “Dammit” he repeated.

Josiah gripped Chris’ arm. “I’ll check with the nurses.” The blond acknowledged with a nod and the profiler left the room with a quiet whoosh of the air cylinder on the door.


Anguished, tear-filled eyes looked up at the team leader and Larabee’s heart lurched. ‘Not again,’ he thought. But when Wilmington spoke, it was not with words of accusation, but condemnation.

“I left him. He was defenseless and I left him, Chris. How could I be so stupid? He trusted me to watch his back and I just walked out and left him.”

Buck’s strength seemed to desert him and he collapsed against the bed, his arms supporting his head as his hands clutched at the bedding.

Chris swallowed and moved across the room to drop an arm across the man’s shoulders. He leaned over his long-time friend and spoke softly into his ear.

“We both failed him, Buck. But we won’t make that mistake again. We’ll find him and we’ll find her.” Giving the taller man’s neck as squeeze, he wrapped his hands around Wilmington’s arms and pulled him up. “Now…let’s go find the kid and get some answers.”

Buck fisted his hands and took a shuddering breath before turning to his old friend. His mouth was set in a hard, straight line, an unusual expression for the easygoing man, and he nodded. The two moved across the room and out into the hallway. Josiah was just coming back as they exited.

The big man shook his head as he spoke. “JD wasn’t scheduled to go anywhere. The nurses didn’t even know he wasn’t in the room.”

“You think she could be taking him back to the apartment?” Buck asked.

Chris pursed his mouth as he thought and then shook his head. “Doesn’t make any sense. If she wants it to look like a suicide, she doesn’t have to take him there. She could do something here.”

“So, where do we look? We weren’t gone more than ten minutes. Hell, Chris, she could have taken him anywhere in that length of time.”

“I had the nurses notify security, so we have extra eyes on the lookout.”

Larabee nodded and then glanced over his shoulder as Vin joined them. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get back to your room.”

Vin drew himself up and glared at Team Seven’s leader. “Don’t be growling at me, Larabee. I got a score to settle with this woman.” He glanced around at the faces of the three men and it became apparent that their fears for the youngest member’s safety were well founded. “Son of a bitch. She got ‘im, didn’t she?”

The three faces told him all he needed to know.

“Okay, now what? Standing here ain’t getting the kid back.”

Chris continued to glare at his second in command, but finally worry for Dunne overrode worry about Tanner’s health.

“Nathan stay with Ezra?”

Vin nodded.

“Alright, we have no idea what this woman wants or how many people she’s working with. I’m pretty certain that she couldn’t carry the kid out of the hospital and up to his apartment by herself. So, no one searches alone. Vin, you come with me. Buck, Josiah, you two head down. Vin and I’ll go up. We’ll call Nathan to check in every ten minutes. If you find something, call security and then let Nathan know.”

The men all nodded and then split up. Josiah and Buck started checking behind every door as Chris and Vin headed for the stairwell.

+ + + + + + +

JD shivered slightly in the cool, evening breeze atop the hospital. The gown he was wearing did nothing to warm him and though the temperature was moderate, he couldn’t shake the chill that had settled over him since he realized just who the ‘nurse’ was.

“So, what did I do to you to make you want to kill me?”

He turned to the woman as she laughed softly. “Oh, honey, this isn’t personal. This is business. I’m only doing a job, same as you.”

JD snorted despite his predicament. “A job? Like me? Lady, I don’t back shoot people or smack ‘em in the head with a two by four. And I don’t try to make it look like they cut their own wrists.”

The tall woman merely shrugged. “Well, we all do what we do best.”

The dark haired agent frowned. “Can I at least know why?”

Tapping the gun against her shoulder, the blond woman seemed to think on that for a moment before responding. “I see no reason why not.” She gestured with the gun toward the edge of the roof and JD swallowed hard as he glanced that direction and began to move slowly.

“I provide a…service to certain people. They need to slow down the progress of law enforcement without actually assaulting the officers.

Bloodshed draws so much bad publicity.”

She moved toward the ledge, herding the young agent backwards as she talked.

“They’ve found, the men who seek my services, that I can…realign…the direction that certain law enforcement agencies are headed.”

“What the heck does that mean?” JD asked in an attempt to buy himself more time. Time that would perhaps give the guys time to find them. Soft laughter drew his attention back to his captor.

“Baby boy, they aren’t going to show up to save you. Even if they were to find out that you’re gone, there’s no way they’ll know where to look. And even if they do, William…you remember William? He’s the big, brawny man that carried you out of here the first time. Carried you to your apartment and placed you, oh so gently, into the tub? No, of course, you wouldn’t remember that. You slept through it. But he did. And now, he’s right behind that to the stairs, preventing anyone from coming up to interrupt us.”

Seeing the flame of hope dying the hazel eyes, she continued. “Now, where was I? Oh, yes, my services. I’ve found that the best way to break up an efficient and effective team, is to break up the team. I find one person on the team, someone vulnerable, and I undermine them. As the team loses faith in the one, they turn on each other and like a pack of wild animals over a wounded and weak member, they turn on each other, ripping and tearing at themselves… until there’s nothing left. No trust. No respect. No team.” Her voice was light and breathy as if she had just given him a recipe instead of the formula for destroying his team.

When she smiled, JD shivered again and it had nothing to do with the cool air. The woman’s mouth might be smiling but her eyes were hard and cold. She obviously enjoyed tearing people’s lives apart.

“I’ll bet as a child, you enjoyed pulling the wings off flies.”

She threw down her head and howled with laughter. “Oh, baby boy, if you only knew the things I entertained myself with in my youth.”

JD stepped forward but froze as the gun centered on him again.

“Won’t look like a suicide if I have a bullet in me.”

“Either way, you’ll be dead and your team will tear its self apart in guilt and anger. Now, why don’t we get this over with? I have a nail appointment in less than an hour.”

She stepped forward, forcing JD to step back. His eyes widened as the edge loomed closer and he forced himself to not look down to the ground five stories below.

“Who?” he asked.

“Who?” she countered.

“Who hired you? We don’t have any big cases pending? Who wants us broke up?”

For the first time, the woman’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, honey, it’s not a who, but several whos. The attention your team has garnered…well, I just have to say that you all are very, very good. And that has a lot of bad people wanting you stopped.”

“But why me?”

The woman backed up a step. “I love a challenge” she said lightly. “The obvious would have been the southerner. He is always on tentative ground with the infamous Chris Larabee. Too easy in my book. And, of course, that’s always the group’s Romeo, your friend, Buck. Again, too easy. But you, my child,” she laughed as JD bristled at the term. “You are the prefect target, the baby brother to all six men, well respected, but young. Perhaps, brash and reckless at times. All I had to do was shake things up a bit and watch as the ‘oh, so prefect Chris Larabee begin to doubt his choice of communications expert. ‘Were you too young? Not ready to handle the responsibilities and duties of the stressful ATF position?’ Once I planted the doubt in his mind, it was simple to set you and him up for the outcome. Unable to face the loss of respect and confidence of your team, you chose to end your young life rather than lose your job, home and friends.”

JD shook his head. “Lady, you’re crazy. There’s no way anyone is going to believe that I killed myself. They already know that you tried to kill me once. They’ll come after you.”

“And you see? I have fulfilled my contract. They have been redirected.”

JD’s eyes flared and he lunged at the woman. She sidestepped the young agent and drew her arm back to slap the gun across the side of JD’s head. He staggered and, grabbing a handful of hair, she dragged him, stumbling to the edge.

“Time to go, child. I have things to do.” And she shoved the stunned youth forward.

+ + + + + + +

Vin and Chris had quickly searched the fourth floor and now headed to the fifth. As Larabee opened the door, Vin’s hand gripped his arm and he turned to see Tanner’s finger motioning for ‘silence’ as his eyes gazed upward. Pulling the older man to the side, under the landing, the Texan whispered into the man’s ear.

“There’s someone up there. Looks like he’s standing guard at the door.”

The blond nodded as he glanced up at the concrete landing. “Plan?”

Vin’s blue eyes looked at the man, a crooked smile pulling at his mouth. “Ain’t no way up there, but straight up the middle.”

Chris nodded, but placed a restraining hand on the younger man’s chest. “Let me call security.”

Vin was shaking his head. “I don’t think we’ve got time, Chris. She’s probably got JD up there and I don’t want to think about what she’s doing.”


“I ain’t waiting.” And he moved out.

Cursing under his breath, the blond followed.

“I’m telling ya, the view is fantastic, Chris. I come up here all the time.” Vin spoke loudly over his shoulder as he started up the rooftop stairs, his head turned to the side. As he came up the stairs, he pretended to be startled at the appearance of the burly man at the top of the stairs.

“Hey, man. Nice day, ain’t it?” Vin moved to step around the man only to find his way blocked. “Excuse me.” Smiling at the man, he stated, “Just going to show off the view to my friend.”

“Roof’s closed.”

“Closed? How do ya close a roof?” Vin laughed even as Chris joined them on the landing. Neither of the agents failed to notice the wheelchair that sat to one side of the door.

“Hey, man, I just want to see what my friend’s been going on about. We’ll only be a minute.” Winking, Chris added, “I’m not into heights.”

Unfolding the beefy arms from across his chest, the thug repeated, “Roof’s closed.”

Chris dropped his friendly demeanor and growled at the bigger man. “We’re going out there. One way or another.”

The three stood frozen for a moment and then the man moved.

Larabee shoved the team sharpshooter to the side as the man grabbed at the slighter man. Slamming his fist into the brute’s exposed side, Chris stepped up to the man and plummeted him quickly, trying to put him down before the brute could recover. But while the man was slow, he was strong and he stepped back, away from the smaller Larabee. As the two squared off, Larabee tossed a look at Tanner. The younger man hesitated momentarily and then pushed the door open and stepped out into the sunlight.

Chris looked back at his opponent and prepared to prevent the man interfering with Tanner’s mission. As they began to trade blows, the two men danced around the small landing. Luckily, it was made slightly larger as Larabee squatting to avoid a right cross and bumped the wheelchair, sending it careening noisily down the stairwell. The fight intensified.

+ + + + + + +

JD’s mind fought to right his world after the stunning blow, but he was dazed. Combining that with the loss of blood and he never had a chance to fight off the impeding fall. His eyes widened as the edge loomed at his feet. He felt his body lean forward, over the edge, before suddenly he felt himself dragged back and tossed down onto the graveled roof surface. Shaking his head, he looked up to see a heaving Vin staring down the barrel of the woman’s gun.

Her features were marred by a sneer as she scowled at the Texan. “I don’t know where the hell you came from, but you have only condemned yourself to the same fate.”

Vin had stepped through door and immediately searched the roof for any sign of JD and the woman. When he had finally sighted them, his heart skipped a beat as the woman pistol whipped the young agent and shoved him toward the edge of the building. Gathering his strength, he had charged across the roof and grabbed Dunne’s arm just as the younger man reached the edge and had tossed him back and down.

Tanner hadn’t given any thought to what to do about the woman and gun. He was thinking now that maybe he should have gotten a gun of his own. Instead he would have to buy time until Larabee finished off the behemoth on the stairs and came to back him up, never once considering an alternate end to the fight behind the door.

“You can’t get away with it. The rest of the team is on their way up.”

“What a shame. They’ll just have to turn around and go right back down, since both of you will be on the ground floor.” She pointed the gun at Tanner’s chest.

JD felt the gravel under his hand and managed to gather some loose ones in his left hand. When he saw the gun raise to his savior’s chest, he pulled his arm back and launched the pebbles at the woman’s face.

Vin saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and ducked as the small missiles pelted the woman, causing her arm to jerk upwards as she fired, the bullet passing harmlessly over the man’s head. Charging in low, he caught the woman around the waist and they both went down in a heap, inches from the roof edge.

Tanner reached up and grabbed the gun arm, preventing the woman from bringing the weapon to bear on him again. Claw-like nails raked his neck as she brought her other hand up. Vin howled at the pain, but didn’t release his hold. Instead he slammed the arm repeatedly against the roof, relieved to see the gun slide away. With nothing in her hand, the woman concentrated on removing the weight that penned her to the rough surface.

Bringing her knee up, she was rewarded as the man grunted and moved away. She took the opportunity to roll onto her hands and knees and push up. Swinging around, she saw Tanner lurch to his feet and she charged. She brought her hands up and chopped at the shoulder of her victim.

Vin saw the woman coming and ducked to avoid the blow. Spinning, he slammed his fisted hand into her back, propelling the woman forward and to the edge of the building. Seeing her teetering on the edge, he reached out and grabbed her outstretched arm. They grabbed at each other, locking their hands on the other’s arm, but she was too far over. With a maniacal smile, the woman brought her other hand up and wrapped the long fingers around his wrist. Tanner watched as the woman leaned even further back, pulling them both over the edge. He tried to lean back and counter the pull of her weight, but he already knew it was useless as he felt the momentum drag him forward.

As he began to fall, he reached back grabbed the edge of the roof. Their descent stopped and fire shot up his arm, threatening to strip his hold from the ledge. He knew he couldn’t hold on for long. Their combined weight was more than he could hold for very long.

“Come on, Chris. Come on” he mumbled.

Just as he thought he couldn’t hold on any longer, someone gripped his wrist and clung to him. Looking up, Vin looked into wide, hazel eyes.

“I can’t…pull you up. Vin, I can’t pull. Can…you climb?” JD gasped.

Vin looked up and his eyes told the story. He only had one hand and there was no way he could draw himself back up. Glancing down, he stared into the woman’s eyes. He shivered at the lack of emotion. Feeling himself slip further down, he looked up to see JD being pulled over the side of the building and his blood froze.

“JD, let go. You can’t hold us.”

“NO. I. Won’t.”

“JD, don’t do this. Please,” Vin begged.

A laugh drew the Texan’s attention and he looked down at the woman. She tightened her grip and began to jerk on his arm. There was a resignation in her eyes. She knew she was going to die and she didn’t plan to go alone. ‘Chivalry be damned’ the man thought and he kicked out, catching the woman in the ribs.

Her eyes narrowed as she gasped and she renewed her efforts.

Again they slipped and Vin looked up at the young agent. His eyes were clenched tight in his pale face, sweat dripping from his dark hair as he concentrated on one thing-hanging onto the arm in his grasp. Tanner steeled himself and kicked again. He felt the woman’s grasp on his arm loosen and looked down to see her grip slip down. Seeing her defeat at hand, the woman screamed at him even as her hands slid off his arm and she plunged to the ground. Vin looked away from the sight.

Hearing a moan from above, he shook off his guilty feeling and raised his free arm to grab JD’s arm. He hung there are several seconds before trying to climb back up to the edge. He soon discovered that he had no strength left to lift himself up as he repeatedly slid back to JD’s wrists, only the width of the young man’s hand keeping him from following the woman to the ground. Vin became aware of a slickness in the grasp and looked up to see the blood the stained the bandages on both of Dunne’s wrists.

“JD, let me go. I don’t…”

“Shut up…and climb, Tanner.”

Vin shook his head and once again reached up. A firm grip on his wrist startled the sharpshooter and his head jerked up. Larabee’s face looked back and Vin relaxed as their wrists locked together. Even more beautiful to the dangling agent was the appearance of Josiah next to Chris and Buck beside JD, though he wasn’t sure the kid was aware of their arrival. Vin released his hold on JD and Josiah gripped his outstretched hand. Between the two of them, Vin was quickly and safely returned to the roof.

Buck had taken hold of JD’s shoulders and pulled him back, only to have the youth struggle against the grip and cry out for Tanner. Buck wrapped his arms around the disoriented young man, softly whispering into his ear.

“Vin’s okay, JD. Chris and Josiah pulled him up. It’s okay. Vin’s safe, you’re safe. Just calm down.”

Finally opening his eyes, JD glanced around. His eyes took in the men around him and seeing Vin safe and on the roof, he nodded and relaxed back into the broad chest of his roommate.

“Good. Good,” he mumbled. He patted Buck’s hand as it rested on his chest and then his eyes slid closed.

Buck shifted as JD’s eyes closed, frowning. When the limp hand dropped from his, he glanced at the others. “He’s out.” Examining the stained bandages, he fought the fear that gripped his heart. There wasn’t nearly as much blood as at the house, but still more than he wanted to see.

Josiah stood and moved next to him. “Allow me to assist you with him, Buck. I would imagine that he is becoming a tad chilled in only this gown.”

Wilmington chuckled at the memory of JD’s backside hangin out as he lay draped over the edge of the hospital roof. What had terrified him at first sight, was now a humorous memory with which he could embarrass his roommate at a later date. Nodding at Josiah, Buck stood and, together, they lifted JD and carried him back inside.

Chris sat next to Vin, trying to read the expression on the younger man’s face. “Vin?”

A shaky head came up to run through the long hair. He kept his face turned away until Larabee stood and stuck out a hand. Taking hold, he felt himself pulled up and found himself staring into the blond’s eyes.

Taking a deep breath, the sharpshooter looked directly at the man and confessed. “She wouldn’t let go. JD wouldn’t go. I made a decision.” Glancing at the edge of the roof, his eyes closed as he remembered her face as she fell away. “I let her fall, Chris. I kicked until she let go.”

The blond studied the shy young man’s face, seeing the guilt in his eyes. Clapping a hand on the slender shoulder, Larabee said, “Better her than you and JD. You did what you had to, Vin.”

Blue eyes looked into green ones. Seeing no disapproval in the man’s eyes, Tanner relaxed and nodded. Whatever happened, Chris was on his side. That counted for more in Tanner’s book than anything else. Together, they turned and headed downstairs.

+ + + + + + +

They found Wilmington in the emergency room, waiting while JD was checked and his wrists restitched. The team’s computer expert had suffered only minimum damage and would be able to join Ezra and Vin in their room, so Chris and Vin headed upstairs.

The police came and statements were taken about the body on the side lawn of the hospital. The man that Chris had taken on in the stairwell was escorted away with promises from the police that he would be available for questioning by Federal authorities later.

Things were just settling down when JD arrived and was settled into the bed brought in for the night. It was a bit crowded, but no one seemed to care. Though the young agent was tired, he related the story the woman had told him, explaining her motives behind the attacks before dropping off to sleep.

The others sat around brain storming on what action they should take. With no way to know who hired the assassin, they agreed that they would have to be doubly careful until her prints could be run and the accomplice questioned. Chris doubted they would get much from him, but that was always a chance that he held some clue to the woman’s identity or that of her employers.

The only good thing to come out of the entire operation was that they were now aware of the team's impact on the criminal element and the fear that ‘Team Seven’ sparked within their ranks. While they would have to be on their guard more now, the men were prepared to prove that Team Seven was strong and ready for whatever was thrown at them-as a team and seven strong.