Chris Larabee watched as Ezra handcuffed the suspect he had apprehended and getting a short nod from the dark-haired ATF agent he lowered his gun. He raised his hand to his ear and called out over the comm link. "Report back. Everyone ok? "
Team 7 had broken up a gun-running ring that they had been targeting for several weeks. Today had been the payoff, Ezra and Josiah posing as prospective buyers and things had gone to plan. Once Ezra had given the signal, the rest of the team had leapt into action, meeting with very little resistance. However, the team was scattered around the old warehouse and most were out of the team leader's sight. Chris listened for the replies.
"All clear here Chris. Buck's just cuffing our guy," he heard JD call.
"We've got two targets secure," called Nathan "Josiah's sitting on them now."
Chris grinned as he pictured the large profiler keeping the criminals quiet.
"Vin?" He turned and looked up towards the roof line where Vin had placed himself to cover the proceedings with his sniper's rifle.
"Ok Cowboy. Just on my way down."
"Good. Let's get this wrapped up - I think we deserve one of Inez's specialities," said the blonde.
+ + + + + + +
Vin climbed down, strapping his rifle over his shoulder. He had no reason to suspect that there was any danger now that the team had rounded up the gun-runners. Unfortunately, they had all missed one man and he watched as the long-haired sharpshooter climbed slowly down the ladder. He looked frantically around him for an escape but there was no hiding place. As soon as the ATF agent turned around he would be spotted. The only option he had was to attack the Agent and make his escape through the back exit. Swallowing hard to get some courage, he stepped out from the meagre cover and threw his arms around Tanner's neck pulling him back and away from the ladder. Vin felt his fingernails tear as he was pulled away from the ladder and he yelled as the momentum carried both back onto the floor. With a loud crash the wooden floor crumpled and both men felt themselves fall into oblivion.
+ + + + + + +
"The van's on its way," called Ezra, nodding a greeting as the other members of the team gathered together, holding several disgruntled prisoners between them. Their attention was drawn to a loud cry through their earpieces and the sound of a crash from the other side of the building.
"Vin?" Chris called, knowing for a fact that Vin was the only member of the team he couldn't see. He was met with silence.
"Vin. Are you ok? Vin, answer me dammit!" he called as he ran towards where the loud noise had come from, followed by the rest of the team He turned a corner and was met by a dust cloud. Running quickly, he was suddenly pulled back by Josiah's strong arm and he found himself teetering on the edge of a large hole in the wooden floor. With the help of the strong agent he managed to balance himself and peered through the dust into the space below.
It was an old four-story warehouse with wooden floors and steel beams. Underneath the building lay a maze of cellar rooms used in the past for cold storage. The building was partly derelict and the floor was rotted in parts.
The dust of a hundred years swirled in the air but finally began to settle and revealed the bodies of two men. Both were thin and wearing jeans and Chris struggled to identify them.
He turned urgently to his team.
"Josiah, lower me down. Buck, JD see if you can find some access from downstairs. " He looked up at the dark medic. "Nathan, you come with me."
Ezra peered over the edge and swallowed his bile. It was a fair drop and rubble coated both bodies. He could just make out the red splash of blood through the settling dust cloud.
"I'll get some help," he said and got a swift nod of thanks from Chris.
"Vin, can you hear me Vin?" called Chris as he was lowered gently by the strong arms of Josiah. He found that he had to drop about 4 feet and landed awkwardly on the rubble, twisting his ankle slightly. He hissed in pain but then collected his balance and limped towards the prostrate bodies. He heard a grunt behind him as Nathan dropped into the cellar room.
Josiah called from above "Watch out below, here comes the med-kit." Nathan caught the bag and made his way over to the bodies.
Chris moved some debris and recoiled in horror. Vin was lying half across the body of another man who's head had split open at the back. Grey brain matter was spilling out onto the wooden floorboards. A wide, ever-growing pool of blood was seeping under the bodies.
He turned away sickened and caught Nathan's horrified look. Paralysed for several seconds both Agents didn't move until Nathan shook himself.
"There's nothing we can do for him Chris. Let me get to Vin."
Chris didn't react, his mind refusing to process the awful scene in front of him. For a few moments he pictured Vin's head smashed open.
"I need you to move Chris," shouted Nathan, frustrated at the lack of response from his colleague.
Nathan's firm voice broke the moment and he turned his attention back to his friend.
"Shit, sorry Nate," he mumbled and moved out of the way.
Nathan began to examine Vin and was relieved that his injuries were not as severe as the other man's.
"It looks like the other guy cushioned his fall. His arm's obviously broken and we'll have to be careful about any back injury."
"Look's like he's got a head injury as well," commented Chris holding his hand up from where it had been cradling his friend's head. His palm was smeared with blood."
Nathan turned his attention to Vin's head and found a deep gash in the side of his skull. Vin was unconscious and he swore softly.
"We've got to get him to a hospital," he commented as he placed a pressure bandage against the wound.
Chris turned and called up to Josiah who was watching from above.
"Can you toss me a flash-light?" he called "There's not too much light coming from above."
Josiah nodded and left the hole, returning a minute later.
"Catch," he called and Chris caught it deftly. Switching it on, he swept it around the room. The cellar was around 10' x 10' with a single door. Debris from above was scattered around the two bodies but the doorway was clear. He limped over to the door and pulled the handle. Nathan looked up as the team leader cursed loudly.
"It's locked?" he asked and received a furious nod from the blonde agent.
"Buck, JD where are you?" called Chris, biting his frustration back.
"Don't rightly know Chris. It's a warren down here," answered Buck. He and JD had found a staircase and made quick progress to the lower floor but were confronted by several corridors with identical doors on each side. They had been working their way along, trying not to lose their sense of direction.
"Might be a good idea if they yelled," suggested JD helpfully.
"Good idea kid," agreed Buck. "Come on you guys, yell out and we'll home in on you."
Chris looked at Nathan who was still wired up and had heard the conversation and he shrugged. By mutual agreement they both began to yell "over here" at the top of their voices.
Buck and JD heard the yells and were surprised to find that they were only four doors away. Running quickly to the right door Buck banged on it and received a corresponding reply from the other side.
"Buck, it's locked . Can you get through from your side?"
Buck tried but the door was locked.
"Hang on, I'm gonna have to shoot the lock."
"Alright. Just give me a minute to get back ok?"
Chris took a few steps back and Nathan frowned as he saw him wince as he put weight on his ankle.
"What did you do to your ankle?" he asked as Chris came to sit back by Vin's side.
Chris grimaced. "I'm fine. Just a bit of a hard landing."
"Ok, but try and stay off your ankle till I can have a look at it."
They jumped at the sound of a gunshot against the door. Pieces of metal flew a few inches into the room and the door was pushed open. Buck re-holstered his pistol as JD pushed past him into the room.
"How's Vin?" he called breathlessly squinting as Chris shone the flashlight in his direction. He skidded to a halt as he saw the pool of blood but didn't manage to stop before he stepped in it. His eyes widened as he saw the smashed head of Vin's attacker. He felt his stomach roll and he turned and quickly pushed a surprised Buck forcibly out of the way. Buck met Chris's eyes as they all heard the unmistakable sound of retching. Taking in the scene in front of him he understood and swiftly forced his gaze towards his oldest friend.
"Shit, don't blame the kid for throwing up," was all he could say and Chris gave him a weak grin. "How's Vin?"
Before he could reply, a low groan was heard and they all looked down to see that Vin was regaining consciousness.
Vin groggily opened his eyes and took a moment to find out where he was. Slowly his focus sharpened and he found himself lying on something soft. He tried to figure out what he could see, it seemed to be some kind of grey jelly lying in a pool of red sauce. Suddenly his brain clicked into gear and he recoiled involuntarily away when he realised he had been lying in someone else's brains.
He arched in agony as his broken arm protested and he felt hands holding him down to limit the movement. Chris moved to where Vin could see him.
"It'd be better if you didn't move Vin," he reassured.
"Aw hell," moaned the Texan trying to regulate the pain that radiated through his body.
Josiah called from above. "The paramedics are here. How do you want to get him out?"
Chris looked up at the hole in the ceiling and then towards the clear doorway.
"Buck, why don't you go and find JD and guide them back down here?"
Buck nodded his understanding and turned to go and find the shaken young agent.
+ + + + + + +
He found JD on his knees, shaking, a pool of vomit at his feet. Buck came up behind him and rubbed his back.
"It's ok kid," he comforted, but JD furiously climbed to his feet shaking off the warm hand.
"JD?" asked Buck uncertainly.
The young man's face was pale and sweaty but was also full of anger and Buck unconsciously took a step back.
"I'm alright Buck," snapped JD "How's Vin?"
Buck realised that JD was embarrassed about throwing up and decided not to push him.
"He's awake but hurting. The paramedics are here - Chris wants us to guide them back. Do you remember the way out?"
He knew the way out but wanted to give the young agent something to focus on.
JD swallowed and nodded his head and began to lead the way.
+ + + + + + +
"The paramedics are here Vin. It won't be long now."
"Back hurts real bad," groaned the Texan and Nathan and Chris shared a concerned look.
"Anywhere else Vin?" asked Nathan
"Arm, head, hell everywhere. What happened?"
"You fell through the floor," said Chris.
"Awful clumsy," Vin drawled.
"Yeah, well you had a bit of help there. Do you remember anything?"
"Dunno. Think someone grabbed me from behind." He looked around vacantly.
"Guess it's his brains, not mine that I'm lying in?"
Chris smiled. "He got the worse part of the party. He cushioned your fall."
Nathan frowned as Vin closed his eyes in pain. He was worried about the possibility of damage to the sharpshooter's back.
"Just stay still Vin. We'll get you to hospital as soon as we can. JD & Buck have gone to fetch them."
Vin opened his eyes again and tried to ride the pain.
"Guess I'd better get bedded in. You know how bad Bucklin is at directions," he commented, bringing a smile to Nathan and Chris's faces.
+ + + + + + +
Buck and JD made it to the ground floor and saw Ezra striding towards them leading a team of paramedics. Briefly giving them details of the situation Buck turned to JD. The young agent's face was still white and he looked shaky.
"JD why don't you stay up here and get some fresh air. I can guide them down."
JD began to protest but the vision of the smashed head flashed through his mind again and he felt the nausea grow stronger. Turning swiftly he ran to the outside of the warehouse and vomited again.
Ezra threw Buck a questioning look to which the moustached agent answered
"Kinda messy in there."
"Vin?" asked Ezra worriedly.
"No, the other guy," answered Buck. He was in a quandary. He wanted to go after JD and make sure he was ok but he was the only one available to guide the paramedics to Chris.
Seeing his dilemma Ezra placed his hand on his arm. "I'll look after our young acolyte, you go and help Mr Tanner."
Nodding his thanks Buck turned and led the paramedics towards the staircase.
"He's down here. Hope you've not just had lunch."
+ + + + + + +
JD sat on the low wall of the loading bay wiping his face with a tissue. He sensed someone come up behind him and turned to see that it was Ezra.
"Feeling any better Mr Dunne?" asked the Southerner, frowning as JD dropped his head.
"I'm fine Ez."
"It can't have been a nice sight."
"I'm fine Ez. Just forget it ok?" snapped JD coming to his feet.
Ezra took hold of his arm as he saw JD stagger slightly and felt the boy tense up.
"It's alright to be human, JD. "
JD looked down at the hand on his arm and then met Ezra's concerned gaze. He sighed and let the tension leave his body.
"I should be able to cope with things like that though. I'm an ATF agent."
Ezra nodded solemnly. "That's true Mr Dunne but you're also a caring human being. You only need to worry when you don't react to something like that."
JD threw him a sheepish smile.
"Thanks Ez" he murmured.
"Here, drink this," said the Southerner, taking a silver flask from his top pocket.
JD raised his eyebrows. Ezra never normally shared his tot of finest whiskey with anyone.
"I don't know Ez. I'm on duty."
"I won't tell if you won't," whispered Ezra slyly as he watched JD take a long swig. He smiled as the young man coughed.
"Good stuff Ez," he commented when he got his breath back.
Ezra rolled his eyes in despair. "The finest malt whisky all the way from Loch Argh in Scotland, and the boy says it's good stuff. I despair of the American youth of today."
The tension broken, they perched on the wall and waited for them to bring out their injured team-mate.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah came and sat beside them, casting a sympathetic glance at JD.
"Feeling better JD?"
"How'd he know?" demanded JD, staring at Ezra.
"I certainly didn't tell him," defended Ezra holding his hands up in innocence.
Josiah smiled down at the annoyed JD
"We were stilled wired up. "
JD coloured and held his face in this hands.
"Oh shit I forgot mine was still on. Everyone heard?"
"Yeah," was chorused through his earpiece from Buck, Chris and Nathan, the only other members of the team still wearing their 'comms.'
"Sorry guys," mumbled JD, before tearing his equipment from his head in embarrassment.
He glared at Ezra and Josiah but was surprised to see they were casting him sympathetic looks. Josiah held his hand out and collected the equipment.
"Right. The prisoners are on the way to the jail. Why don't we finish off here and make our way to the hospital? They'll be bringing Vin out soon."
+ + + + + + +
Buck watched as his friend limped up to the window and looked out over the windswept streets of downtown Denver. The blonde agent looked tired, his face and clothes still matted with the dust from the cellar. An ice pack was wrapped around his ankle, but despite Nathan's pleas he refused to stay still. Behind him Josiah and Nathan sat, legs stretched out in front of them. Ezra sat beside them tapping away at his laptop computer, already processing his report. It seemed callous but Buck understood that Standish was merely filling in the waiting time and was as concerned for the Texan as all of them.
Buck turned and studied JD who was beside him. The young man looked like he was asleep, his body relaxed and eyes closed but Buck knew that he was pretending. JD hadn't wanted to talk to anyone, still embarrassed by his reaction to the accident. Buck had decided to give him some space - JD would get over it just like everything else and what he didn't need at the moment was fussing over.
Vin had been in the emergency room for over an hour and tensions were rising in the waiting room. Buck watched as Chris impatiently tapped on the glass and turned round again. He was about to offer to get some more coffee when at last the doctor came through the door.
Chris quickly strode up and shook his hand. "How is he Jack?"
Dr Jack Braydon was well used to Team 7 and he did not prevaricate.
"Remarkably well, considering."
He smiled at the sighs of relief rebounding round the room, each agent rising to their feet to hear the news.
"He's broken his left arm and got a pretty nasty concussion. We've stitched up the gash and it all looks pretty straight forward. Barring infection he should be ok."
"What about his back?" asked Nathan worriedly.
The doctor assured him. "We've done x-rays and a CT scan. There's no sign of breaks. He'll be badly bruised and sore for a few weeks but he'll recover. I don't think it was the fall that damaged him so much. It appears his rifle was on his shoulder and that's what bruised his back as he landed on it. He's lucky - it could have been a lot worse."
"Yeah, could have been his brains coating the floor," said Buck, not thinking.
JD paled and sat down heavily as his stomach rolled.
"Aw heck JD - sorry Kid. You're obviously still feeling rough."
JD nodded numbly but then looked up to see that he was the centre of attention.
"I'm guess I'm just being a stupid kid!" he shouted and stormed out.
"JD?" called Buck and went to follow him but Chris stopped him.
"Leave him for a bit Buck. He's just feeling a bit sorry for himself. He'll come back when he's ready."
"No Chris. He's really taken it to heart. I need to talk to him."
Josiah joined in the conversation. "Not yet Brother Buck. Let him have some time to himself."
Buck nodded, unconvinced, and he resolved to seek out JD later as soon as he had assured himself that Vin was going to be alright.
Chris looked back at the Doctor. "He up to visitors?"
Jack nodded, smiling inwardly. If he said no then they would still go and see the patient, but Larabee was trying to be polite.
"Only for a short while. He's pretty doped up on painkillers. Room 101," he pointed.
+ + + + + + +
Vin lay in the bed quietly dozing, the painkillers having taken the sharp edge of pain away from his injuries. He woke up as the heard his team-mates come into the room.
"How are you doing Vin?" asked Chris coming to stand by his bed.
"Kinda floaty," drawled the Texan "Darn good drugs they have in here."
He heard various chuckles.
"Look, we just came in to see you're ok. We won't stop long because I know you need your rest."
"Thanks guys. Everyone else ok?" He looked around "Where's JD?"
"JD's feeling a little washed out," commented Buck "It's not been a good day for him either."
Vin looked up in concern. "He ok?"
Chris patted his hand. "Yeah, he will be. It's just been kinda rough on the kid today."
"Been kinda rough on all of us today," added Nathan "most of all Vin, so come on team, let the patient get some rest. We'll come back in the morning ok?"
Vin nodded slowly, his eyes closing.
"Do me a favour."
"What?" asked Chris.
"Make sure JD's ok."
"Don't you worry about JD. We're planning a trip to Inez's tonight. A few beers will loosen him up," said Buck.
"Ok Bucklin," mumbled Vin and they watched him fall into a drug-induced, healing sleep.
+ + + + + + +
They met JD outside the entrance to the hospital where he sat on a bench. Buck came and put his arm around him.
"Sorry kid," he whispered before giving him a big hug. He was pleased that JD returned the hug.
"Let me buy you a gallon of beer at Inez's."
JD shook his head. "If it's ok with you guys I think I'll go straight home."
Buck began to protest but Chris interrupted.
"Still feeling rough JD?"
JD nodded numbly. "A little. I'm tired and I think I need an early night."
"OK. I'll give you a lift home." He turned to the rest of the team. "I'll meet you guys at Inez's later ok."
Buck frowned but was stopped from commenting by Chris's quick shake of his head. Buck realised that Chris wanted to speak to JD alone. Maybe he could get through to the kid that he had done nothing wrong today.
"OK chief. Josiah can I ride with you?"
"Of course Buck"
+ + + + + + +
The journey to JD and Buck's apartment was made mostly in silence. JD enquired about Vin's health but the conversation was stilted. Finally, Chris pulled into the parking area and slipped the Ram out of gear. He turned as JD immediately threw the door open. He reached out and stopped the young man from getting out of the car.
They linked gazes and Chris murmured. "JD. Want to talk about it? I know you're upset."
JD looked at the blonde man and saw the concern in his green eyes.
"I'm ok Chris," he muttered, but was unable to stop his eyes watering.
Seeing this, Chris indicated for him to get out and he locked up the Ram.
"Come on JD. Let's go upstairs and get a drink."
JD followed, battling the raw emotions threatening to erupt. As soon as they had entered the apartment and slammed the door behind him, the emotions welled up and he burst into bitter tears. Chris was moved by his distraught friend and pulled him into a comforting embrace. The tears soon dried and he led the upset boy into the lounge and settled him on the settee beside him.
"Now come on JD. Talk to me. Tell me what you've been feeling."
"I'm sorry Chris. I don't normally get upset. I don't know why I just did that."
"Do you want me to tell you why?"
JD looked up with liquid brown eyes.
Chris smiled indulgently. "Because you're ashamed that you threw up, because everyone heard you throw up, because everyone thinks you are a kid because you threw up, because you don't think that a tough ATF agent should act like that?"
JD swallowed loudly and sniffed. "Yeah."
"You know that's bullshit don't you?"
"No it isn't. What kind of ATF agent throws up when confronted by something he doesn't like?"
"Hell JD - you're a human being. Don't ever let me believe you'd get used to something like that."
"You and Nathan coped."
Yeah, well, when you've seen your wife and son burned to death in front of your eyes I guess you can cope with anything, thought Chris bitterly, but instead he said,"We're older than you and seen a lot of bad things over the years."
"Shit ,Chris I'm sorry. This seems so trivial."
"No it isn't JD. And just because I've seen a lot of bad things in my life doesn't mean to say that you have to. I've had to learn to cope and you will eventually, I suppose, but don't ever let that humanity leave you JD - that's what makes you JD Dunne."
"I just feel like a stupid kid."
"No, you're not. You are a valued member of my team and you're turning out to be a damn fine agent."
JD's heart swelled, ducking his head at the compliment.
Chris continued. "You know how I reacted when I reached Vin?"
JD shook his head.
"I froze. Nathan had to shout at me to get me moving again. I just pictured Vin's brains being spread all over the floor and not the other guy."
He shot a glance at JD but was pleased to see that the mention of brains had not caused a reaction.
"You did?" asked the young man in wonder, and after thinking about it for a short while, a smile crept onto his face.
"What's so funny?" asked Chris frowning.
"I guess you've still got a bit of humanity left in you Chris," he said, and was pleased to see a smile twitch his boss's lips.
"My big secret is out, but if you ever tell anyone that, I will be forced to shoot you."
This made JD giggle.
"So Kid, fancy a drink at Inez's?"
JD shook his head. "I really am tired and I don't think I can cope with any more sympathy tonight."
" I understand. I'll see you in the morning."
"Thanks Chris," said JD
"You're welcome kid. Remember JD if you ever want to talk I'm here for you. And don't be too rough on Buck - just let him fuss over you a little bit . You know what he's like."
"Yeah. How many sick bags do you reckon will be attached to my desk in the morning?"
"At least 6," answered Chris with a grin. He rose and walked to the door.
"Get some sleep, JD. I'll see you in the morning. Everyone's going to be alright."
+ + + + + + +
JD closed and locked the door behind him and walked into the kitchen. Grabbing a can of soda from the fridge he walked into his bedroom and flopped down on the bed. Glancing down he frowned as he saw his sneakers were edged with blood stains and he kicked them off in disgust. His stomach rumbled and he suddenly smiled to himself. Life goes on, and blood washes off he realised. He wouldn't forget this day, but in a way he was glad that he had reacted like he did. He was human and he was proud of it, and with the support of six close friends to help guide him, he was the luckiest 19-year-old in Denver.