Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Characters: JD, Chris, Buck
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language, some violence.
Thanks to Phyllis for all that she does for me to help get these stories out. She is my rock!
Thanks also to Casey for some truly inspirational suggestions, cheers kiddo.
Thanks to the DD Posse, you guys rock!
Thanks to my li'l bit Abbie for the wall she made for me to go with this story, bless her!
The opening scene was anonymously donated and prompted the story you are about to read.
A further scene answers the DunnesDarlins Challenge Scene for November '06
Ran until he couldn't run anymore, then forced himself to run some more. The icy air turned his lungs into fire.
'Damn nose is frozen shut.'
The shabby figure paused and leaned against a tree. His light clothing offered little protection against the cold. As soon as he stopped running the shivering set in. The forest was silent the crackling of branches under the weight of snow and his labored breathing the only sounds - until he heard the voices.
They were after him. The men who took him away from his friends...his life... his sanity. He fought the urge to burrow under one of the towering pines. To wrap himself in soft boughs and sleep. To escape into oblivion.
To let the men catch him was worse than death.
But some hidden corner of his mind remembered that he was loved.
He was missed and needed...and loved. He might not remember his name but he remembered that.
So he ran.
+ + +
As the voices got closer and his breathing more frantic, he feared death was now his only option, when a clearing ahead provided a much- needed surge of adrenalin and he increased his pace. He twisted back, they were getting closer, so he upped his speed once more, knowing this would be his final burst.
The clearing brought a new problem...a difficult drop to the highway below. Damned if he did and damned if he didn't. Aw well...be damned. The small figure launched himself down the steep incline, quickly losing his footing and rolling the rest of the way. The piercing sound of an air horn as the tumbling body hit the asphalt caused him to curl his aching body into a ball.
"Ya idiot, ya coulda gotten killed."
Hazel eyes peered up, "Help...please? " He grunted as the man hauled him to his feet and directed him to the cab.
"I'll take ya to the hospital, best all round I think. Where ya headed?"
"Denver," the young man stuttered out instinctively, though he had no idea why.
"Well you're in luck son, that's my first stop."
A look back revealed no sign of his pursuers and the youth finally gave in to the pain and relaxed into an uneasy rest as the truck rumbled on its way.
From the top of the incline, three breathless men searched the road below, disappointed at the loss of their quarry.
"Find him." The stark order was menacing and the other two men nodded,
+ + +
Larabee stormed into the bullpen and tossed the folder he was carrying clean across the room, five agents ducking instinctively, despite the file being of no serious threat.
"I'm being blocked every which way, what the fuck is going on around here?"
Vin crossed to meet him, glancing at Buck as he passed.
"Easy cowboy, what is it?"
"Someone's blocking us, Vin. No matter which avenue I take, I get stonewalled, it's bullshit!"
Chris' face dropped and he walked over to face Buck.
"They said we're off the case, Buck, I've tried everything, called in every marker, I...I'm sorry..."
Wilmington jumped to his feet, "So they're giving up...are you?"
Choking back his own pain, Larabee stared into the face of his oldest friend. Worry lines were more pronounced now, accompanied by a haunted look, the look of a man fighting for his sanity, of a man... lost. Chris was about to speak when Travis walked in. Angry eyes turned to the AD.
"Before you speak Chris, know this. I'm with you, but my hands are tied, so I'm doing the only thing I can do. As of now, Team Seven are on compassionate leave." The AD stepped in closer, "Do with the time what you will, but use it wisely."
Chris nodded his understanding and his gratitude as Travis turned and left. He faced his team. "Go home and pack, we're heading out to my place."
+ + +
Waking and becoming aware he was no longer moving, the disheveled figure stretched and glanced around the cab, then outside. They were at a gas station. He had no idea how long they'd been traveling but it was dark now. The truck driver had draped him in a thick jacket which he now gratefully slipped on. Before he could fully organize his thoughts, something familiar caught his eye and he unexpectedly found himself out of the truck and standing next to it. Spying the keys in the ignition, he looked around. Something about this felt so right and in seconds he straddled the machine and kicked down on the starter, vaguely aware of shouts behind him as he roared away. He had no idea where he was going, but something was driving him in a direction, so he went with it.
+ + +
At Larabee's home, Buck sat on the porch and stared into space. He had been that way for an hour or so now. Chris handed him a whiskey and sat down beside him.
"He's not dead, Chris...I can't explain it, I just...know it," he touched his chest, "Here...right here, I just know it."
Chris squeezed his friend's arm as the other agents joined them.
"For what it's worth, Buck...I don't think so either."
The others concurred. Josiah looked into his friend's troubled eyes, "We will pick up his trail, Buck...we will find him."
"I wonder," Standish began, "Should we go back over events that led us to this point? Attempt to uncover a hidden memory or incidents... perhaps find a clue?"
They sat in silence for a moment. Nathan shuffled. "Can't hurt."
BULLPEN - FOUR WEEKS PRIOR
As JD scrolled through the information on his monitor, his mind was racing. His brow furrowed as the realization that someone on staff at the Federal Building was not all they appeared to be, and he knew the information he had inadvertently uncovered was a potential powder keg waiting to go off.
Now his dilemma was who to trust. He knew he could trust his own team, but the last thing he wanted to do was place them in unnecessary danger. First, he had to gather more evidence, hopefully uncover the person responsible. He knew his task was a daunting one, as this had all the hallmarks of someone high up, and if that were the case, the young agent had no doubt this person would be prepared to protect himself in any way possible.
+ + +
"Hey...are you even listening?"
Dunne jerked, "What? Oh, sorry Buck, I was miles away."
The brunet frowned, "Whatcha doin' there that's got you so deep in thought?" As Buck attempted to round the desk, JD quickly clicked off his screen.
"Nothing, just--playing a game, don't tell Chris."
Wilmington chuckled, "Hell kid, you know you're just asking for trouble. You about ready to leave?"
Dunne looked across at Vin who was waving a phone in the air.
"Pick up...it's for you."
JD flipped up his handset and pressed the internal line. "Dunne." He turned his back on the others. "Hey Craig, how's it going? Cool, thanks I owe you one. Hey, dump it, ok? You don't want any of this left to be found. Ok...I'll open my email now, and Craig, thanks again."
Craig Altman from IT had been curious about a file he had uncovered, a file hidden in a place where it didn't belong. He knew JD, knew he was part of one of the most revered Teams in the ATF and could be trusted, and knew he was an IT whiz, so he had asked his opinion. Both men had no doubt this file was potentially dangerous, but JD had offered to take it on and relieve Altman of any responsibility. The thirty year-old tech had to admit, he was grateful. This was way out of his league and he wanted no part of it. The phone call to Dunne had absolved him of any and all responsibility, and for that, he was grateful.
Preparing to leave for the day, he logged off, clicked off his overhead lamp and headed for the elevator to the parking garage.
An hour and forty minutes later, he parked up in his driveway and blipped his car lock. Before he had time to see the lights flash yellow as the car locked, rough hands pulled him into tall shrubbery close by.
"You poked your nose in the wrong place, asshole."
Before he could consider the words, he was dead in less than a minute as a blade sliced his throat from ear to ear, the only sounds, the gurgling of blood and a rush of air as his windpipe sliced open.
As Altman's life ebbed away, his assailants moved to their car and in seconds were gone. A half-hour later, a neighbor was walking her dog, frustrated by its insistence at hovering around one spot.
A terrified scream pierced the chill of the evening air.
+ + +
Seven men entered the establishment marked 'J Watson's', more affectionately known as 'the Saloon' and waved to Inez, the raven- haired beauty that managed the establishment. They took a table at the back and relaxed as seven beer bottles appeared before them. JD snickered as Buck leaned in as Inez passed him, only to be rewarded by a string of Spanish words and a scowl. Buck grinned.
"I think I'm wearing her down."
"Oh yeah, that was perfectly demonstrated there, Buck," JD shook his head, "No doubt whatsoever."
The brunet laughed softly and playfully punched his roommate's arm. JD stretched and yawned.
"Oh God, I'm so thankful we have this weekend off, I can't wait to go riding and pig out at the cook-out and sleep in..."
He looked up at six amused faces.
They continued staring, and grinning. JD smiled back bashfully.
"Oh, have I said that a lot recently?"
Collectively, they all spoke, "No...no, not at all..."
"Not in the last five minutes, anyhow," Buck added. They all laughed
JD chuckled, "Sorry guys. It's just...aaaahh, I don't know, I guess it'll just be nice to spend some fun time together, y'know?"
Chris winked at his youngest teammate, "Yeah...we know."
Inez approached the group and leaned in to speak to JD. "There are two men who'd like a word with you, chiquito, at the bar."
Dunne turned, frowning. He spied the two men, but didn't recognize them. Nodding his thanks to Inez, he excused himself as he got up from the table to speak to them.
"Who wants to know?"
The man stepped in close. "You've been a bad boy," he spoke quietly, "And now you have to pay. Oh, by the way, Craig says 'hi', or he would, if his throat wasn't slit."
The easterner paled, shock and grief hitting him all at once.
The man grinned, sadistically, "And who knows who'll be next before we get to you? Maybe that nice ol' profiler ya got there, or maybe that perty little Texan." He leaned right in, "Or maybe I'll just see how much of a coward Wilmington really is when I have him begging for his life."
Something in JD's brain snapped and he lunged at the man with all his might.
"You bastard, you leave my friends out of this."
People scattered as tables and chairs collapsed with the weight of two men crashing onto them. As they wrestled, the man got out one last taunt, "And if you've told them anything, I'll kill them all."
This spurred JD on and the fighting became frenzied as Inez yelled and bottles and glasses shattered.
+ + +
Buck watched his young friend leave the table, frowning for a moment, then turned his attention back to the others. As they were talking, their attention wandered to the man clearly invading JD's personal space, becoming alarmed as the small agent took the man on. Chris stood.
"What the hell?"
He could see Inez looking to him for assistance and in seconds, the six men were wading into the scuffle, Chris and Buck reaching in and manhandling their frenetic youngest back to his feet as the others 'handled' the man JD was brawling with.
Sensing the man's companion might too become a threat, Josiah and Nathan cut him off.
"We think it would be a good idea for you to leave, friend."
Vin and Ezra hauled the man on the floor to his feet. Vin growled, "Best for you if you leave, now."
"Indeed," Ezra confirmed, "It would be prudent if you exited this establishment this instant."
Straightening his clothes, the aggressor smirked as he took one last look at a winded Dunne, then left.
JD made one last lunge, Chris growled as he held firm.
With a muttered apology to Inez, the six men dragged the seventh and exited the bar. JD didn't remember much of the journey back to the office, but he did commit to memory being manhandled into Chris' office, 'placed' in a chair and the door slam shut as Larabee separated them from the rest of the team.
Buck swallowed and looked nervously at his friends. All he wanted to do was take his 'little brother' home and talk to him, but he knew Chris had to speak to him first.
+ + +
Arms folded across his chest and perched on the edge of his desk, Chris glowered at the younger man. JD dropped his gaze.
"I'm waiting, Agent Dunne."
JD shifted nervously but said nothing.
"JD, I will not tolerate my men behaving in that manner, especially in public; I want an explanation, now."
"I have nothing to say."
Chris unfolded his arms and walked toward the seated agent. Placing his hands on the armrests of the chair, he leaned right into the young man's face.
"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear, I want an explanation... now." He practically spat out the last word.
Dunne swallowed nervously, but remained firm. "I said...no."
Larabee drew himself to his full height. "Get out."
Chris walked to his door and as he opened it, bellowed.
"GET OUT! AND DON'T COME BACK HERE WITHOUT AN EXPLANATION! "
The easterner jumped to his feet and hastily left, neither looking at his team leader or the men he loved as brothers as he exited the bullpen and headed for the outer offices.
Chris looked at a twitching Wilmington. "Don't you take one step...not one."
Little did they know that was the last time they would see their young friend.
+ + +
As JD hit the streets, his emotions got the better of him. Not only was it possible a young agent had been murdered this evening, but Chris was so pissed at him, he was likely no longer a member of Team Seven. Dunne straightened and composed himself. If that's what it took to keep his brothers safe, then so be it.
He walked aimlessly along the pavement for a minute or two before a car drew alongside him and a woman peeked out from behind the wheel.
"Excuse me, I'm lost. I wonder if you could give me directions."
The youth ducked down to speak, but just as he was registering a presence to his left he felt a sting to his left upper arm. Before he could fully protest, his world spun and turned black and, dropping boneless into the man's arms, was pushed into the back of the car. In seconds, the street was quiet again.
LARABEE RANCH PRESENT DAY
They all stared at each other...they knew very little. They knew JD had disappeared four weeks ago, they knew a young tech had been murdered on the same evening, they knew the two men had known each other, they knew the last call to the bullpen that evening was from IT, and they knew JD had been fighting with a complete stranger on the evening he disappeared.
And what they also knew for sure was that Travis had been told the team was to drop the investigation on the premise it was being passed to someone 'less emotionally attached.'
Chris sighed deeply and, getting up, strolled over to the corral. Josiah looked to Vin and received a nod. The profiler rose to his feet and followed his team leader to the fence, where he was stroking Pony's nose.
"It's not your fault, Chris."
"Did I say it was?"
"Not in words, no."
Larabee looked at Sanchez. "I was so mad at him, worried and mad."
"I'd just watched the kid deck a guy almost twice his size with a rage unlike I've ever seen in him before. Then he refuses to tell me what the hell happened."
His eyes reflected deep sorrow. "Yeah, I was worried, because he's one of the most open people I've ever known...and he clammed up on me, on us. And for JD to do that, it had to be bad. I thought he'd go to the break room or the bathroom...he's never held out on us before, at least, not for long. I didn't for one minute think that four weeks on, we wouldn't have laid eyes on him from that moment I ordered him out."
Josiah squeezed the man's shoulder and felt the tension there.
"No one's blaming you. All they want is you back, back in there kicking ass and giving orders, Buck especially. We're all hurting, but Buck...he's in torment. He can't reconcile how a fun evening could turn so quickly into such a living...hell."
As the two men returned to the porch, Larabee suddenly quickened his step.
"I just remembered something, does anyone else recall seeing JD talking to Inez just after we arrived at the Saloon? I'm almost certain he handed her something."
Tanner nodded, "Yeah, I do, and yes, he did hand over something, it looked like...a birthday card or something similar."
Buck sat up, "Well it sure as hell wasn't her birthday."
"An anniversary? " Ezra inquired.
Buck shook his head. "Nope."
"Vin?" Chris asked.
The Texan nodded and in minutes was in his jeep and gone. The air was cooling as late afternoon drew in.
"Shall we take this inside, boys?"
With a nod to Chris, the five men made their way into the house.
+ + +
He could hardly feel his body as the cold air bit into every part of him. He wished he could remember where he was headed, but the youth relaxed and allowed his sub-conscious to take control. He took a left and felt his stomach clench as his heart thudded in his chest. He was close...to what, he wasn't sure, but he was close.
+ + +
The Buick was traveling toward Denver, but its occupants could only guess at where they were directly headed. The front passenger closed his cell.
"There's been no sign around the Federal Building. The boss suggests we head for Wilmington's place."
The driver nodded and increased his speed.
+ + +
Tanner arrived back from town. As he walked in, he stripped off his coat and pushing his gloves into the coat pocket hung the coat on the coat rack, wandering over to the fire for some much-needed warmth
Larabee walked over and handed him a whiskey.
"Thought you might need this."
Vin nodded his gratitude and knocked the shot back in one go.
"Any luck?" Buck called from the dining table where the rest of them were sitting.
He nodded, but before Vin could comment further, a distant buzzing noise increased to a full-on roar then a loud crash and splintering of wood, followed by the noise of an engine racing, then dying.
Each agent stood and unholstered their weapons.
"What the hell?"
Chris grabbed a flashlight from a shelf in the dining area, put there in case of a blackout.
All six moved out and as they stepped off the porch, the big security light kicked in illuminating the damage to the corral fence and rising smoke or steam.
+ + +
His fingers were almost numb, but, the young man sensed his journey was nearly at an end and squeezed the throttle for more speed. His heart gave a little lurch as he spotted the buildings ahead.
As he approached a large yard, a high-pitched roar warned him the throttle was stuck and he was condemned to attempt an emergency stop. He barely had time to register the fencing, but he spotted the hay just beyond it, and prayed what was about to occur wouldn't hurt too much.
As the bike took out the wooden railings, the boy's body was flung into the air. He didn't feel anything after the initial impact, the shock and cold numbing his senses as his body hit the haystack full force then rolled off to come to rest on the frozen ground.
+ + +
Weapons drawn, the six agents cautiously approached the shattered fence, initially only seeing the damaged bike. As Chris swept the flashlight over the area, Nathan gasped and pointed to the flattened haystack.
The blond directed the beam and they all gasped. Buck rushed forward and dropped to his knees.
+ + +
Having thoroughly checked for injury, Nathan agreed they could move the young man indoors, but ran back to his car to get a back board and neck-brace, just to be safe. Once the others had slid the unconscious form carefully onto the board Josiah and Buck carried JD into the house with Nathan following them in, Chris, Vin and Ezra scanned the area. Chris touched Vin's arm.
"Get this bike undercover."
Tanner nodded and moved off.
"Ezra, walk with me."
The two men made a quick sweep of the drive and paddocks and once satisfied the young agent had not been followed, they returned to the house, minutes before the Texan reappeared.
Gauging the rest of the group must have gone upstairs to a room, they climbed eagerly to locate them, finding them in Adam's old room.
Chris sucked in his breath at the sight of the filthy, unshaven young man on the bed, dirty sodden clothes heaped on the floor beside it. Nathan had cut and removed all JD's clothing as they were soaked and the boy was severely chilled. The small body was black and blue, fresh bruises clearly forming. Buck was kneeling silently next to his unconscious friend, his hand resting on the boy's head.
The EMT turned briefly to address his team leader.
"He's pretty banged up. Some bruises fairly recent, some brand new..." he paused and glanced quickly at the faces directly in his eye line, "...some old."
Buck snorted his disgust and began stroking the wet, black hair, leaning in.
"Come on, kid, you're safe now...you're with friends. Come back to us boy."
"I'm going to give him a full work-up, then clean the kid up some," Nathan assured.
The EMT covered JD with a blanket then whispered something to Josiah, who left the room, returning with a black case. Nathan placed it on the bed, to one side of JD's legs, and unclipped it, taking out a wrist monitor which he placed on JD's left wrist. He then angled the arm up and across the youth's chest and pressed a button, triggering a buzzing noise. Taking out two thermometers, he shook them and placed one under JD's tongue and one under his right armpit. Forty or so seconds later the buzzing stopped and Jackson checked the reading.
Replacing the BP monitor in the case, he proceeded to put a glove on his right hand and reached into the case for a small pot, a smaller monitor and a pen-like device.
The rest of the team looked on in fascination, except Buck, whose eyes never left JD's face for a moment, in the hope he'd see a flicker of movement from the young face.
Swabbing a finger on the youth's hand, Nathan stuck two fingers from his ungloved hand into the small pot to retrieve a small chipped strip, which he pushed chip-end in to the small machine, waiting for it to beep. Taking the pen he touched it to the recently swabbed finger and pressed the end. It clicked, and as he removed it, a small dot of blood appeared, which, as Nathan massaged lightly around it, grew larger. He touched the end of the strip to the blood and a beep sounded. By the time Nathan applied a band-aid to the bleeding finger, the machine had beeped again and the medic noted the reading. He gathered the bloody strip and swabs and dropped them into a small yellow zip-lock bag, placing the pen over the entrance to the bag and pressing to eject the used lancet and its disposable attachment within. He sealed the bag and held it up.
"There's enough blood here to get a good read-out for substances should you need to, although a larger sample would be better if we can get access to a lab without anyone noticing."
He looked at the anxious faces.
"His BP's good and his blood glucose is a little low but it's an acceptable level." He then pulled out a stethoscope, adjusting it for comfort, and listened for a minute. He looked up, packing the device away.
"Chest sounds a little rattly, but there's good breath sounds in both lungs. I think I can safely say he's in no immediate danger, though we need to get some warm clothes on him." He checked his watch and removing the thermometers first from Dunne's mouth, then his armpit, read them, nodding to himself, "He's a little cold, but nothing we can't handle."
Vin disappeared, returning with an assortment of sweat tops and bottoms.
"I could use a bowl or a bucket of hot water, soap, a wash-cloth and some shaving equipment," Nathan continued.
With a nod, Chris left the room; Ezra followed, but once in the corridor, went to his own room and sorted through his shaving gear.
Nathan turned to Buck, "You're welcome to stay, but this is going to get pretty up close and personal. I need to do this as I can assess any injuries I find along the way."
Buck nodded, "I'm staying, Nate."
Jackson smiled. "Fine by me, would you like to shave him for me?"
Eyes still firmly locked on his young friend, Buck sighed, "Absolutely."
+ + +
Vin and Ezra returned with the required items, Chris brought in a deep plastic bowl filled with hot water, a wash cloth and soap and Josiah had foraged around and came in with armfuls of towels, some of which they placed under the pliant unconscious form, draping one across the hips to preserve a little dignity for the boy.
Nathan rinsed the wash-cloth in the hot water and squeezed out the excess, handing it to Buck. The brunet carefully wiped it over JD's grime and mucus encrusted face, rinsing the cloth several times before he was satisfied enough to pat the skin dry.
"Be nice if we could wash his hair," he mumbled, Jackson nodded.
"Good idea, we'll do it last, may I?" He pointed to the wash- cloth which Buck handed over and while Nathan started working the cloth over JD's body, Buck took the shaving kit that Ezra was now offering and lathered over the patchy stubble on his young friend's face.
Nathan lathered up the cloth and worked from JD's shoulders right to his toes, even under the strategically placed towel, the warm water and gentle rubbing bringing a pink tinge to the youth's skin, along with revealing more and more bruises, scrapes and what looked like burn marks.
The others felt sure they should be out of the room to allow JD some privacy, yet couldn't tear themselves away as the grime disappeared and the abuse to the still body became more prominent. Nathan's hands poked and prodded as he searched for signs of injury, making a mental note of all he found.
A selection of soft utterances sounded from the gathered men as Buck wiped the last of the shaving foam from JD's face and neck, revealing a more familiar if not heavily bruised face.
Larabee couldn't take anymore and stormed out of the room. Vin looked at Josiah and Ezra and gently shook his head. Chris was best left for now
"Buck, little help?" Jackson wanted to roll JD toward him so he could wash the easterner's back. Buck happily obliged, oddly comforted as JD's head rolled forward to rest on Buck's chest and a little saddened when Nathan had finished and rolled JD back onto the towels. A distant pounding noise drew the others' attention. Realizing it had come from outside, Vin left the room.
+ + +
Chris was beyond angry. He felt helpless and his need to pound someone for what they had done to his junior agent...his friend, was so intense he walked out from the house into the frigid air and headed for the damaged corral. His eyes looked over the debris, now missing the bike and the young agent from the images in his mind of earlier and he picked up a piece of fencing from the ground. As if to eradicate the ache in his heart, Larabee pounded the wood into the ground and shattered fence with all his might, not stopping until one word drifted through to his brain.
Panting heavily, the blond dropped the wood and bent over, placing a hand on each of his thighs as he attempted to catch his breath. He finally looked up at the Texan standing quietly next to him. A look was all that was needed between them and a few minutes later, both men were heading back to JD's room.
As they returned, Buck was towel-drying the dark hair while Ezra and Josiah were putting socks on JD's feet. A pair of Vin's sweat pants were already in place and Buck sat the youth up and leaned JD against him once more as he and Nathan dressed him in a t-shirt and sweat top.
Lastly, removing the towels from underneath, JD was placed back down on the bed and six men gazed down at him, noting his skin was now showing the tiniest flush of color.
Satisfied, Nathan began to remove the debris as Buck returned to kneel on the floor next to JD's head. The young agent hadn't so much as flinched through the whole process.
Buck took a cold hand in his and absently rubbed at it, partly to warm it and partly for comfort. Massaging the smaller hand, Buck was finally overcome with emotion and began to weep softly. The others choked up as Chris placed a comforting hand on the nape of his oldest friend's neck.
Buck cleared his throat. "S...sorry...it's just...I was so afraid we'd lost him. I couldn't bear not knowing where or how he was."
"We know," was all the blond said, but it spoke volumes.
+ + +
Despite all the noise that had ensued around him while he was unconscious, it was the tiniest squeak and click of the bedroom door that finally roused him.
JD looked around him and frowned. While this place was immeasurably better than the cold and dark conditions he had been kept in previously, it was unfamiliar and he began to feel the anxiety kick in again. JD sat up in the bed, inhaling sharply to fight the mild vertigo he was experiencing, relieved when it subsided. He noted his change of clothes, wondering what had happened to his jeans and sneakers then noticed a glass of water on the nightstand and gulped it down greedily. The youth checked out the clothes again and shook it off...no matter...he had to move, he had to get out of here, even if it was without shoes.
Walking shakily to the door while peeling off his neck brace, he opened it and peeked out. Observing no one was around, he padded softly in his wool socks to the top of the stairs. JD could hear voices as he reached the bottom step creeping carefully along until he reached the kitchen. There were, he assessed quickly by the different voices, at least five men sat around the table, talking. Peeking quickly into the room, JD could see they appeared relaxed but the tone in their voices suggested they were very unhappy about something.
Taking a deep breath, he waited for what he hoped was the right moment and quickly darted past the kitchen entrance. If he could get outside, he could possibly find the bike he'd come in on, or maybe a car to hot wire. His heart leapt into his throat as he heard the call.
"JD...JD is that you, kid?"
+ + +
Buck sighed while he watched the young man sleeping in the bed, as he went through periods of calm to animated restlessness. The older man could only begin to imagine what his best friend had gone through in the past four weeks. Judging by how emotionally, he himself had suffered, Buck shuddered at the thought, while determined to not only get to the bottom of it but help his friend put it behind him.
Wilmington winced at the pinch in his bladder and, affectionately touching his hand to JD's head, he exited the room as quietly as possible to go to the bathroom. Returning to the room around five minutes later he gasped on seeing the empty bed.
"Damnit, kid." Buck turned sharply as he heard a voice downstairs call JD's name and proceeded hastily to the stairs.
+ + +
Five men sat around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking quietly.
"You have to understand, judging by his physical condition, his body is exhausted. It's gonna be a while before he's ready to quit resting. I'm more concerned for his mental state. It's not like we've been able to assess him yet. Lord knows what that boy's been through."
Chris nodded to Nathan, "I agree, I think we'll have our work cut out once he wakes up. I just hope we can help him...I don't feel too confident about turning to outside help right now."
As they nodded their agreement, Vin glanced at the kitchen door, frowning. Something had caught his attention and he rose from his chair.
"JD...JD, is that you, kid?"
+ + +
Without looking back, JD raced to the door, throwing it open. His face fell as he saw the white yard and looked down at his stocking feet. He'd worry about that later, the shouts behind him spurring him on.
"JD...where are you going, kid? Ya got no shoes and it's freez...hey!"
Dunne looked around to see a lean, brown shoulder-length-haired, casually dressed man almost right behind him, quickly followed by four other men, then another from the stairs. He targeted the buildings across the yard in his mind, and ran.
"What the hell...?" Buck called.
Before anyone could speak again, the youth was out of the door and running and instinctively, they all followed, calling to the fleeing youth in an attempt to slow him down.
+ + +
JD was terrified. He had hoped to at least find a vehicle before he was missed. Now all he could do was find something to use as a weapon and stand his ground. When he reached the barn he stopped for a moment as he ran inside.
For a split-second something flashed into his mind, but just as quickly, it was gone. His eyes darted eagerly around...there...that would have to do. He spun around, newly acquired weapon in hand, and prepared to fend-off his new captors.
+ + +
All six men stopped dead as they reached the interior of the barn. Before them stood a shaking twenty-one year old, in his wet stocking feet, holding a pitchfork. Despite the seriousness of the situation, Chris couldn't help but admire the gutsy easterner, clearly out- numbered but determined to fight. What they needed to figure out, was why he was so afraid of them? Buck pushed his way to the front.
"JD, son, put down the fork and let's talk."
JD stiffened and attempted a menacing look. "Back off, mister, I'm sure as hell not your son. Now unless you want a couple of puncture wounds, I suggest you move away and let me pass."
Six hearts sank. He didn't know them. Seeing Buck was taking control, Vin sat on the ground and crossed his legs, trying to look as non- threatening as possible. The others took note and stepped back, adopting a more casual stance and leaving Buck alone in front of JD.
Dunne noted the movements, following the Texan down to the floor with his eyes. Determinedly he raised the implement higher, to just in front of Wilmington's throat and chest, while desperately trying to control his breathing.
Undeterred, Buck kept eye contact, his eyes misting at the thought that JD neither knew nor trusted anyone at this time. God, what had he been through?
"Kid, listen to me...look at me and listen to my voice. I know you're confused right now, I know you're frightened, but I just need you to focus on my voice and my words, ok?"
JD shook his head, fighting hard to keep strong as his emotions threatened to win the battle.
"No, uh uh...I fell for that bullshit once, I'm not falling for it again. BACK OFF!"
Buck ignored the prongs that had been raised once more and were now almost touching his throat. He could hear the others shuffling and sniffling behind him, so raised open hands to show them he was in control and the young man in front of him he was no threat.
"Kid, listen...please, " he kept his voice soft, the voice he used for JD when the kid was sick or injured.
"My name's Buck, yours is JD...John Daniel Dunne, but to us, you've always been JD. The guys behind me are your friends, just as I am. We're all Federal Agents...Special Agents working out of Denver for the ATF. You've been missing for four weeks, and clearly you've been through a rough time.
We want to help you. Please trust me...trust us. JD, I've never hurt you once in the eighteen months I've known you, so I'm not about to start now."
The youth gripped the weapon tighter, but his face was betraying his emotional turmoil as his throat worked overtime to swallow the sobs trying to break loose. He looked at the man in front of him. He seemed kind and warm, his eyes bright with emotion. In the past four weeks, JD had seen nothing even close to that.
And the voice...something in the voice. He began to believe the tone was familiar. Images of that voice and a warm hand on his face flashed in his mind...a buried memory, but it was there.
Buck smiled inwardly. He could see the young agent's throat as it moved and the tears glistening in the familiar hazel eyes. He had him.
"JD...kid, think about it...you may not know us, or yourself right now, but something steered you, drove you here...no one forced you...you sought us out. Surely you must see that means something?"
Buck extended his arms.
"Come on, son...you can trust ol' Buck. Hell ya worked your way into my heart eighteen months ago...we're practically brothers. I love you, kid... please...please trust me."
Team Seven held their breath as they watched their youngest quake on hearing the gently spoken words. Buck stayed perfectly still.
JD felt his body shaking. He looked at the man in front of him, cursing himself as his emotions won and huge tears fell from his dark lashes. He so desperately wanted to trust him, he needed to trust someone. Slowly, he lowered the pitchfork, his eyes never leaving the eyes of the man claiming to be like a brother to him.
Buck took his cue and, stepping forward pulled the young man into a warm, tight hug, his own emotions rising to the surface as he felt the trembling body lean in hard, cold hands dropping the weapon in favor of fisting the back of Buck's sweater as the young face buried itself in the brunet's broad chest.
Buck placed one large hand on the youth's head as his other arm wrapped itself tighter around JD. "That's my boy...we're gonna get through this...you'll see, I swear to you, we're gonna make this right."
Choking back their own emotions, Chris, Vin, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan stepped forward and each lay a hand on the pair, desperate to express their support.
A whisper from Buck and the youth nodded, but as he took a step forward, his violent shivering caused him to falter and he allowed Buck to practically carry him. Taking their cues, the team allowed the two men to maneuver and all seven returned to the warmth of the house.
+ + +
Before JD had managed to finish the soup Jackson insisted he have, he was asleep. The men left him wrapped in a comforter on the couch and once more, retreated to the kitchen.
Buck sat in silence, staring into his coffee mug, oblivious to all and everything. His lack of response to the conversation around him did not go unnoticed and Chris sat next to him.
"What's on your mind, pard?"
Buck sighed, but didn't lift his eyes, a little embarrassed by the tears willing themselves to spill over.
Chris leaned in, "I need you on this one, Buck...stay with us."
The brunet finally made eye contact, allowing his emotion to show. "I can't bear it, Chris; he doesn't know us, or himself. What if things stay that way?"
"Well," Chris paused, "We're not about to give up on him Buck, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
Suddenly remembering, Vin went to the coat stand and fished out an envelope from his coat pocket, returning with it to the others, casting a glance at JD as he passed him.
"This is what JD gave Inez the night he disappeared." He handed it to Chris and the blond removed a computer disk from the envelope. He frowned.
"Did Inez offer any explanation?"
Tanner shrugged, "She said JD asked her to keep it safe for him, said there was information on our birthdays an' stuff he'd rather we didn't see."
Ezra looked at Larabee, "Would you like me to take a look at it?"
"Would it be too much if we asked JD to look at it when he's a little stronger?" Josiah wondered, "It might help his memory loss."
"Or push him further away from us," Nathan reminded, "Because in my opinion, I don't think there's any of our personal data on that disk."
Buck slammed down his mug. "I don't want to risk that happening, Chris, maybe Ezra should take a look."
Chris sighed, "What concerns me, is if he'd wanted us to see it, then why go to so much trouble to hide it?"
"'Coz he's tryin' ta protect us."
All eyes turned to Tanner. No one moved or spoke as they waited for him to elaborate. Vin looked at his friends.
"Y'all know JD's an open book, yet the night he fought in the bar, he refused to tell Chris why. Don't make sense, why go looking for trouble, why not just tell us? And was it more than coincidence Altman died the same night JD had the fight?"
"Unless, telling us puts us at some kind of risk," Buck said in agreement.
The others slowly nodded; it was starting to come together.
"One thing concerns me," Ezra added, "If we are to assume Craig Altman is connected in some way, why then, was JD allowed to live?"
The six agents fell silent, each lost in their own thoughts of the possible reasons. A small cry from the living room drew their attention. Buck was on his feet and at the sofa in seconds to witness their youngest in the throes of a bad dream. The brunet dropped into a crouch next to the young man's head and attempted to comfort him, flinching, when for the first time, he noticed the burn marks on JD's wrists from straps or bindings of some kind.
Buck succeeded in seizing the flailing arms at the wrists, but was unprepared for the terror his actions instigated as the youth yelled, thrashed and writhed to break free, causing Buck to fall backward as his body took a blow from a wild kick.
While the men looked on helplessly, each calculating how to effectively help, Josiah stepped in and scooped the young man to an upright position and held him close to his chest.
"NOOOO...no more...please...I'm the only one, I swear...NOOOO!"
Sanchez held firm and spoke softly and calmly. "John...JD...hush now, son...you're among friends. Come on, JD...open your eyes, no one here will hurt you. Look at us...please, just open your eyes."
The profiler could feel Dunne's chest heaving in its efforts to draw in air. Slowly, the smaller man began to settle. Resting his head against Josiah, JD turned his head toward Buck and slowly opened his eyes. The brunet smiled.
"Good...good...breathe easy now...just relax and remember where you are."
Josiah's deep voice rumbled into JD's ear. "Would you like to sit down now, son?" He felt the nod against his chest and gently returned the youth to the sofa, the others breathing a sigh of relief to see JD was calm again.
"S...sorry." He stammered, looking fearfully up at the blond who slowly approached him.
"No need to apologize. Can we get you anything?"
Each man ached to see the fear had returned. Clearly the young agent still didn't trust them. Chris hunched down to make eye contact.
"I think I understand...you've been here before, right? Someone plays nice, offers you food, or a drink...talks to you for a while...gives you some hope, a light at the end of the tunnel...am I close?" Chris didn't need words to see that he was on to something.
JD jumped almost out of his skin, instinctively covering his head with his arms. The boy's reaction generated startled or angry looks to Chris from the other five men.
Larabee gently brought JD's arms down from his head and placing his own hands either side of the panicky young agent's face held firm, forcing JD to look at him.
"I'm so sorry...I just needed to know what we're dealing with here. I'm not sure yet how we can prove to you that you're safe here, kid...but you are. Would you prefer to be left alone for a while?"
Dunne swallowed and moved his eyes around the circle of faces, Chris released him from his grip.
"Y...yes please." For a brief moment he was ready to bolt again and this was too good an opportunity to waste.
With a nod, the six men moved away and headed back to the kitchen, each man gently touching or squeezing their friend's shoulder as they passed.
JD tensed as he felt hands on his shoulder, expecting any minute to be hauled up and tossed through the air toward the nearest wall. When it didn't come, the youth reconsidered escape , preferring instead to succumb to his exhaustion and curl up and go back to sleep.
Buck kept an eye on the young agent from the kitchen doorway, his heart aching, as his roommate wrapped himself back up in the comforter and curled up in a ball.
+ + +
Several of the neighbors hovered as the police took statements. Mrs. Patterson had made the call to the police on hearing movement in the Wilmington - Dunne apartment, knowing JD had not been around for some time and Buck had left a few days prior on a trip, or so she believed.
She looked at their home in shock. It was trashed. Clearly whoever had been in here had been looking for something.
"Such nice boys," She stated, "This is such a shame."
Satisfied with the statements, Officer Kane called in the incident, unaware at this point just whose apartment he was in. By the time Travis got the information, others were aware too, and now knew Buck had left town, all that remained was to work out where he had gone.
+ + +
Buck replaced the receiver and walked back from the study. He looked despairingly at a still sleeping JD, then addressed the rest of the men, clearly upset as he spoke.
"Someone broke in to our apartment, the place is wrecked."
"Looking for something, no doubt." Chris speculated.
Ezra took a breath, turning his back slightly on JD. "Might we surmise these miscreants will endeavor to continue their search elsewhere?"
Chris nodded, "Most likely. Clearly it wasn't just JD they wanted." He looked at Tanner and the Texan nodded.
"I was just thinking the same thing." He walked into the kitchen and picked up the disk. "I guess now would be a good time ta take a look at this." They all moved to the study.
+ + +
Two men entered the bar and grille and chose a booth, for now, declining to order as they waved the waitress away. Five minutes later, a third man joined them, carrying with him an air of authority which gave clear indication of who was in charge.
"I've been informed Team Seven are on an extended sabbatical. Has anyone checked out Larabee's ranch?"
Moss shook his head. "No, but we have been to Wilmington's, Standish's, Sanchez and Tanner's homes. There's no life there whatsoever. Jackson's wife comes and goes, but there's been no sighting of him in person. We're assuming they're staying with Larabee, though we've yet to confirm it."
Hirsch grunted. "Our people are not happy. We must also assume the kid's tried to reach someone, may have even succeeded by now. The fact that he appears to have been telling the truth about not sharing his findings with anyone but Altman has enabled us to make arrangements to pull our man out of the Federal Building and disappear. Our only regret is we do not have enough time to divert suspicion elsewhere. Destroying the evidence may be our only option now."
Tomes edged forward in his seat. "Are we still working on the premise the kid may have physical evidence?"
Hirsch nodded. "Everything I've uncovered on him would suggest he would have at least one copy. Word from the top is this, eliminate all who stand in our way, and Team Seven is considered a barrier." Hirsch stood to leave.
"Do whatever it takes, Once our man is home free, withdraw and we'll regroup as arranged. I'm handling the evacuation; you take care of the trail."
Five minutes after Hirsch left, Tomes and Moss were in their car and issuing instructions over the phone. It would take considerable manpower to take out Team Seven, there was a lot to do.
+ + +
The six men in the study stared at the computer screen, trying to comprehend what they were viewing. Ezra broke the stunned silence.
"Gentlemen, this is so much worse than we could have anticipated. "
"Way to go on the ol' understatement, there, Ezra," Buck teased, his hand on the southerner's shoulder.
Larabee seethed, "I recognize some of those serial numbers, they're from our last bust. How long did he think he could get away with this?"
"What interests me more, as Chief of Firearms Programs Division, he reports directly to the Chief of Staff," Sanchez added, "Just how much higher does this go?"
The six men shook their heads.
"Surely he realized it was only a matter of time before a discrepancy revealed this dirty little operation," Nathan pointed out, "Before someone as sharp as JD, and now it seems, Altman, started to put two and two together and make five."
"Y'know..." Buck offered, "...the kid received several odd calls just before all this kicked off...got real touchy about me seeing his emails too. I'm sure I heard him refer to one of the callers as 'Craig'."
Chris pursed his lips. "Altman had none of the expertise needed to make sense of this...I'm opting for he was working on some files... something didn't feel right, he didn't feel ready to bring this to someone's attention without the evidence to back it up, so he came to JD."
"Why JD...why not his own IT supervisor?" Nathan wondered.
Josiah answered, "JD's well known in IT. They know his capabilities and that he has an honest and loyal reputation. It makes a degree of sense JD would be approached, Craig would certainly feel more comfortable sharing such sensitive information with someone more on his level and hopefully able to work out what the tech was looking at. JD has an amazing aptitude for digging into things we could only dream of aspiring to, plus, he's a fully-fledged agent, something Altman was not."
A whispered "No" drew the men's attention to the door. "What are you doing?" JD started forward, pointing to the screen, the anguish evident on his face. "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?"
Wilmington had almost reached him, "Kid..."
Dunne slapped at Buck's outstretched arms and then lashed out with his fists as the fear overtook him.
"ARE YOU CRAZY? EVERYTHING I'VE BEEN THROUGH --- ALL THAT TIME AWAY FROM YOU...IT WAS FOR...NOTHING!"
Buck was helpless as he tried to fend off the blows without hurting his best friend. JD had totally lost control and all the fear, anger, hurt and frustration he had accumulated during his ordeal was pouring out of him with abandon.
"JUST SO YOU COULD GO FIND THE DISK AND PUT YOURSELVES IN DANGER ANYHOW? --- DAMNIT! HOW COULD YOU? WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST LEAVE IT ALONE?"
JD's diatribe had shocked the six men to the core, momentarily freezing five of them to the spot, helplessly observing while the sixth fended off blows with intermittent success.
Finally, Chris snapped out of it and stepped forward to take hold of the young agent's flailing fists, at last giving Buck an opportunity to wrap his arms around the now shaking youth and pull him in tightly, placing his mouth next to JD's ear.
"Kid...stop it, easy now, son, you're gonna hurt yourself...please, calm down."
For a few seconds JD relaxed, lulling Buck into relaxing his grip, then he produced an almighty effort, intending to break free, but instead JD found his strength had deserted him and he collapsed, his dead weight pulling an unprepared Buck to the floor with him. Momentarily catching their breath, they could do nothing more than lay there for a few moments, eventually untangling themselves. Buck sat upright, watching with concern as JD wearily scooted over to the desk, leaning his back heavily against it while pulling his legs up, hugging them tight to his chest as he buried his face in his knees
Buck slid a little closer and spoke softly.
"JD...what's 'everything'? What happened to you, kid?"
The others hovered close to hear what the young man would tell them. Vin squatted down on the floor on the opposite side to Buck. Chris decided to crouch and rest on one knee next to Tanner while Josiah and Ezra leaned one hip against the desk. Nathan bent forward over Chris, anxious to assess both JD and a bleeding Buck.
All were affected as Dunne's shaking body revealed his despair while he silently sobbed. Eventually he raised his head, clearly not seeing them or the room they were in, but somewhere else, and spoke in shuddering breaths through his anguish.
"A...at first...I...I don't remember much...or how many days had gone by...they kept sticking something in my arm...I felt so sick. One day they'd feed me...then...the next...not...said...if I gave up the names of who I'd told about the disk...I could leave."
His emotions caught up with him, but he recovered.
"Then it turned nasty. There was this one day when they would hold me underwater for ages...I...I really thought I would drown. Couple of days later they tied me to a wall and stuck me with a...a cattle- prod... thing," JD put one hand to his stomach and shuddered, his other hand absently rubbing his wrist, "God...that hurt..." He closed his eyes for a moment or two.
"When that didn't work, they wouldn't let me sleep...kept blaring a horn...right above me, then again, no food...sometimes no water...then it got physical again."
Buck was freely weeping, as was Josiah. Ezra and Nathan were choking back their emotions, while Vin and Chris seethed and not one of them moved as they held their peace and waited for JD. The youth was oblivious to it all as he quietly continued, his voice weakening further.
"For no reason, they would just rush into my room, haul me to my feet and literally run me into a wall until I went down, then they just kept...kicking. I still had nothing to tell them. I was sure I would die right about then, I was ready to die."
For the first time he cast a guilty look toward Buck, but instead of seeing disappointment, all he saw was compassion, and glancing around, realized no one was judging him. He drew his ordeal to a close.
"But the worse time was just before I escaped...some guy came in...all nice...brought me a burger and a coke, sat and watched me eat it...then told me he'd heard some ATF Team 7 had all been killed in a warehouse bust that had gone bad. I threw up for hours while they kept asking me over and over who I'd told about the disk. Later, they said they may have got the team wrong. By then, I'd totally lost it...I couldn't think straight...I just...couldn't take...any more...I couldn't remember who I was...why I was there. Two men took me outside one morning...I think it was morning...I could see rifles leaning against a truck...I don't know where I got the strength, but I pushed the one guy into the other...and ran."
JD's last words were barely a whisper. Buck was now next to the youth, sliding his arm around the young agent's shoulders offering comfort. Without hesitation, JD gratefully leaned in.
The tension and emotion in the room was absolute. The men of team Seven patiently watched and waited as Buck consoled and JD slowly pulled himself together.
Each man reflected on what he'd heard. Vin and Chris glanced angrily at each other, both knowing instinctively what the other was thinking and feeling. It would not be pleasant for whoever was responsible for all this,
The young man pushed back, swiping angrily at his eyes with his shirt sleeves.
"God Buck, I must look like shit."
Buck looked affectionately at his roommate, a sense of relief overwhelming him.
On hearing a soft laugh JD looked at his friend, frowning as he noted for the first time, the bruising. He reached out to touch Buck's split lip.
"Aww hell...did I do that? God, I'm so sorry." Dunne frowned at the brunet...why was he still laughing?
"What...what's so damned funny?"
JD looked around at the others, each man now sporting a soft expression or slight grin. He was confused, and exasperated.
JD again looked hard at Buck who broke into a wider smile.
"Now that's more like the JD I know." He wiped at his bloody lip.
Larabee leaned in.
"Welcome back, kid."
For a second or two, JD remained frowning, unable to grasp the significance of the words, then, as if jolted by electrical energy he looked around at his friends...his friends, he knew them, they were safe and alive---and he knew them.
Half laughing, half sobbing, he lay back against the desk and covered his face with his hands. Josiah moved from the desk and helped Buck to his feet as Chris and Vin stood and each took hold of one of JD's elbows, carefully pulling him up. Ignoring Nathan's need to check him over, the brunet joined the three men, closely followed by Nathan, Josiah and Ezra, Buck placing a gentle hand on the youth's shoulder.
JD uncovered his face, staring at Buck through weary, watery eyes.
"Oh God, Buck...I'm so sorry."
A still smiling Wilmington was momentarily too choked to speak, Chris took his cue, touching JD lightly on his arm to get his attention.
"What's done is done. We can't change what's happened, but we can control anything that may be about to happen. It's okay if you're not ready, but I need to ask...are you up for it?"
Nathan stepped in, "Now just hold on, Chris, JD needs to rest...get some more food in him..."
Startled, Jackson stared at the youth, "JD..."
"No...please...you have to understand...I have to do this...I need to do this. We have to know what we're up against because they may be coming for me." He glanced around his friends, his features sad and a little fearful, "For us, now."
JD looked back at Buck and held his best friend's gaze for a few more moments then, taking a deep breath, turned to the man he considered his hero.
"You asked me if I was up for it, Chris..." Dunne straightened and looked his Team Leader in the eye. "...you'd better believe it."
Larabee nodded his approval. He was more than ready to break some heads.
"Good, come and talk us through what's on this disk."
+ + +
Orin Travis closed his cell phone. He would trust Chris and any of Larabee's men with his life, and now Chris was entrusting the AD with the lives of Team Seven.
He couldn't imagine his division without them. They were highly skilled individuals, unique in every way, that functioned as an unstoppable machine when together. If one hurt, they all hurt, if one was missing or in danger, it made them feral. It was just unwise to mess with Team Seven.
Travis had no doubt Larabee and his people were on to something, what concerned him was who else had come to the same conclusions. He set out to organize what Larabee had asked him to do, whatever else transpired this day, Travis made a promise to himself and God, he would do everything in his power to bring his people in safely. His first duty was to put Rain Jackson into protective custody
+ + +
Six agents watched in awe as their young tech pulled and teased information from the disk with ease. He had disguised links with what appeared to be typos, calling up all manner of cross-references. Within the hour, Team Seven knew exactly who they were looking for. Happy with his friends' reactions, JD ensured the disk was no longer the only one in existence, and that all relevant Federal Departments would soon be in possession of the information, all but the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, no sense in tipping their hand just yet.
JD pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. The next time he looked up a glass of water and two aspirin were next to him.
"Best take them...no telling where we'll end up in the next few hours."
JD thanked Nathan and dutifully took them, then attempted to eat the sandwiches and drink the milk Josiah had brought in, finding he was full before he was half done. Nathan made a mental note, clearly JD's appetite was poor, possibly his stomach had shrunk. He would address it when all this was over.
In the kitchen the others were preparing for the coming confrontation. Travis had been in contact and the bad news was their target was on his way to the airport. The good news was it wasn't too far away. With a final check of their weapons and body armor, they moved out to the living room. Josiah nodded to them and walked over to the desk in the study.
"JD...time to go."
The young agent stood, hoping Josiah missed the slight sway as he rose. He was grateful he kept a spare pair of jeans and sneakers at the ranch for emergencies; he hadn't been keen on the idea of possibly having to run in oversized sweat pants, although judging by the looseness of this pair, he'd evidently lost weight. Chris had arranged a warm jacket for him.
"I don't have a weapon," JD said quietly.
The profiler acknowledged him. Larabee stepped toward his youngest agent with a vest, a gun and holster and ammunition.
"Last chance to change your mind...no one will think any the less of you," the blond offered.
JD took a quick look at his teammates, seeing nothing but understanding and affection in their eyes. He fixed his eyes on Chris.
"No, but I will."
Chris rewarded JD with an approving smile then turned to the others. "Ok...we take two vehicles, Josiah's and mine, that way we have two chances of success in meeting our objective. I'll take JD, Vin and Buck. Whatever happens, we keep going. We have one shot at this, they're holding the plane up just so Team Seven can have this shot, I want this bastard, and I know you all do to. We're the only ones that know Charles Moylan is involved, and probably several other agents too, I want them all..." He looked across to JD, the anger returning, "...every last fucking one of them. Travis has a contingency plan in place should we fail...but we won't fail."
With silent agreement Team Seven made their way to the vehicles. Chris took one last look around and set the alarm. In five minutes they were rolling.
+ + +
Moylan looked again at his watch then out through the airport windows toward his stationary plane. He was beginning to feel a little uneasy, the occasional sideways glances from the gate attendants wasn't helping to ease his concerns. He turned to the two other Federal Agents traveling with him.
"Hirsch, start asking some questions, I want to know why we're not in the air yet."
With a nod, Hirsch rose from his seat and approached the check-in desk.
Apart from being a little disgruntled at the wait - it was a crisp clear afternoon, so no obvious weather problems - there didn't appear to be anything else bothering the other passengers, so Moylan relaxed a little. He knew he was tense, hell, he'd just walked away from a top job in Federal Law Enforcement having successfully, though illegally added millions to his private pension fund.
He'd regretted having to terminate his lucrative sideline so abruptly, and without a warning to the others in the enterprise, but he was not about to let a minion, and a junior at that, bring him down.
As his second companion handed him a coffee, he watched Hirsch return.
"They say it's a minor engineering problem...should be fixed soon." We'll be on our way in the next half hour."
Both Moylan and Calder nodded, and proceeded to settle down for the duration.
+ + +
Ten minutes from the airport and Chris was agitated.
"Fucking pass, you moron...what are you waiting for?"
Vin looked over Larabee's shoulder.
The four agents ducked just as the windows of the Ram imploded showering them and the interior with glass. Recovering in seconds, Vin and Buck were returning fire as Chris struggled to stay on the road. JD looked through the rear window.
"Oh God they're going after the SUV, too," JD cried.
Vin turned. "How many of 'em JD?"
"Only see two."
"Can't assume there aren't more o' the bastards." Vin peered behind them.
Dunne dropped his window down and pulled himself through. Sitting half in and half out of the opening directly behind the front passenger seat and as his other hand clung to the roof interior, he fired his weapon at the Buick attacking Josiah's vehicle. Vin was now emulating his younger teammate, leaning precariously around the windshield from the front passenger window, and fired on their own adversaries. Buck had scrambled across the rear seat and was attempting to protect Chris as the blond struggled to keep them from being slammed into by the other car. Wilmington fired repeatedly at the attacking vehicle's tires through the damaged rear window behind Chris, silently cheering as one of Vin's bullets took out the man firing from the front passenger side.
A scream of 'NO!" from JD caused the two other agents to momentarily cease firing to look behind them, their hearts sinking as the SUV skewed and flipped over onto its side. Larabee didn't have to look to know something bad had happened. He floored the Ram and watched with satisfaction as the car firing on them dropped back, its damaged tires causing it to leave the road, taking out the Buick with it. Tanner slipped back inside and immediately called it in, all four agents dejected as they drove on, their thoughts in turmoil as to the safety of their friends.
JD slid back into the car. "Chris..." his voice sounded small and fearful.
Chris swiped at the blood trickling into his eyes from the cuts caused by the shattered windows. "We have to get this guy, JD...because of him there are guns out there...we need to get them back."
Vin's cell rang.
+ + +
Josiah called to Ezra and Nathan. "We got trouble brothers."
The three agents looked on in horror as they watched the assault on the Ram, but didn't ponder it long as a Buick drew alongside their SUV and started firing on them.
Josiah grunted as a bullet tore into his upper arm, causing him to momentarily lose control. Ezra returned fire as Nathan attempted to assist Sanchez, severely hampered by the vehicle's erratic movements.
"How are our comrades faring?" Ezra grunted out between intermittently firing and dipping.
"Better than us," Nathan admitted, "Josiah...let me take the...oh God... LOOK OUT!"
Josiah swerved to avoid part of what appeared to be the Ram's bumper just as one of their tires took a bullet and with a roar the SUV tilted and landed on its side, gradually sliding to a halt.
For a long while no one moved as approaching cars slewed to a stop behind the overturned SUV. Ezra groaned.
"Anyone able to answer me?"
Jackson grunted, "Aaaahh... yeah, Josiah...are you with us?"
"The pain my body is experiencing would suggest that I am, brothers. Do we still have a phone working?"
A small pause.
"I believe I still have that resource available to me, I will contact Mister Tanner, forthwith."
Disregarding his pain, Standish dialed. "Vin...we are all fine...keep going."
Vin closed his cell, relief evident. Larabee allowed himself a feral grin.
"Let's do this."
+ + +
Arriving at the airport, the four members of Team Seven were met by a dozen police officers, dispatched to the airport, as Travis had arranged. Larabee pointed and made a downward 'slicing' action, directing half of the officers to the control tower and security, halting them just before they left, and approached the officer in charge.
"Is our target still waiting to board?"
A nod, "Yes sir."
Larabee turned back to the first group. "Nothing and no one leaves this airport. Anything landing stays where they are until we give the all clear. Go!" He addressed the remaining six, "You're with us...keep civilians out of the way, these guys have permits to carry firearms when they travel and I have no doubt they'll use them."
Chris looked at his bloodied men, hoping it would only be the shattered glass from earlier that injured them today. His eyes rested on JD, his stomach clenching at the youth's sunken cheeks and bruised features.
"You still okay to do this?" he asked softly and only loud enough for his own men to hear.
JD half-smiled, "Yes sir."
The blond nodded and looked around the waiting men, his anger returning,
+ + +
Satisfied both his friends were in reasonable health, Ezra approached one of the attending squad cars.
"Take us to the airport...now, if you would, please."
With a nod and the use of the police radio to confirm their new destination, the police car sped on its way. The three men glanced at each other, using handkerchiefs and tissues and the squad car's first-aid kit to tend to their wounds.
"I surely hope JD is up to this," Nathan sighed, anxiously.
"Actually it's Chris I'm more concerned about," Josiah stated as Nathan temporarily bandaged his arm. Ezra nodded in agreement.
"Chris?" Nathan frowned, "Surely you mean Buck?"
Josiah continued, "If JD hadn't been with them...yes, actually, the way the anger's been contained recently, I would be concerned for all three of our teammates, but JD is with them, so Buck will be partially focused on him."
Ezra took over the narrative. "Indeed, leaving our esteemed leader to cause as much grief as he can get away with, and possibly more."
Nathan understood, "With Vin the only voice of reason."
Ezra glanced at both men, "One can only hope."
+ + +
With the police officers focusing on the waiting passengers, the four men of Team Seven strode purposefully through the middle of the concourse toward the gates, causing heads to turn from the passengers now being directed out of harm's way. Without needing to speak, Chris picked up the pace, the others jogging along behind him.
Hirsch looked up from his magazine and gasped, leaping to his feet.
He pulled Calder to his feet and pointed, "Head them off!" Moylan looked up at him, startled. Hirsch was all business.
"We have to go, sir." Hirsch turned to the clerk at the check-in desk, holding up his badge.
"Open that door...NOW!"
The clerk straightened, "I'm sorry, sir, I can't do that until the Captain authorizes it." She gasped as a gun was pointed at her.
"I gave you an order. As a Federal Agent I override the Captain's authority...open that door...NOW!"
Shaking slightly, she tapped in the security code and pulled the door toward her. Hirsch bundled Moylan toward it. "Go...Calder and I will hold them off...If you can't commandeer the plane, get to another gate... good luck, sir."
Moylan nodded his thanks and moved toward the door.
The four men could clearly see what was happening but their attention was drawn away as Calder stepped behind a pillar and opened fire, a bullet skimmed Vin's left shoulder and caused a slight yelp from the Texan but did not deter him. The few remaining passengers screamed in fear and dropped to the floor as the shot was fired. Team Seven's weapons were now also drawn.
"FEDERAL OFFICERS...EVERYONE STAY DOWN!"
Chris' call had the desired effect but now Hirsch was behind a line of seats and firing on them too as Calder slipped away, figuring the game was up. JD spotted Calder moving and went cold as recognition and vivid images of the sneering man holding him underwater and other atrocities filled his mind. JD groaned and doubled over. Buck stopped and turned.
"Are you hit?"
Dunne shook his head. "No...stitch...GO!"
Satisfied for now, Buck continued on after Chris and Vin. JD straightened, watching him go.
"Sorry, Buck." He turned to where Calder had run and followed.
+ + +
Chris was in full flight now, his eyes firmly fixed on a fleeing Moylan. As Larabee hurdled a line of chairs, Vin and Buck were still engaged in a gun battle with Hirsch, gaining ground every second. As the man dodged another of Vin's bullets, Buck took a flying leap and dropped them both to the floor, rolling around as each man sought to disarm the other. Hirsch got in some vicious punches but Buck hung on gamely. In seconds, which seemed more like minutes, Vin was right beside them and pointing his gun in Hirsch's face.
"Freeze, you traitorous bastard, or I'll blow you're fucking brains all over this airport."
Hirsch blinked and instantly complied. Buck scrambled to his feet, removed Hirsch's weapon, turned the ex-Fed onto his stomach and cuffed him, finishing with his boot resting on the man's back. As he swiped at his bloodied nose, he looked at Tanner.
"Hell, Vin...whatever happened to 'stop or I'll shoot'?"
Tanner didn't answer as he observed Chris throw himself through the door to the boarding tube. He scanned around to see police officers closing in on them with Josiah, Ezra and Nathan bringing up the rear. He smiled briefly.
"The gang's all here."
The officers relieved them of their prisoner and Buck and Vin set off after Chris.
+ + +
Hardly out of breath, Chris glared at the fugitive, raising his gun.
"Stop where you are, Moylan, 'coz I'm warning you now...I'm ready to rip your head off and hang it on a stick next to the balls you mislaid back when you started this shit."
Moylan turned, as calm as if he was conducting an office interview.
"Are you really so sure you can prove anything, Larabee?"
"Oh I have plenty of proof, not to mention some names that I'm sure we can persuade to part with some information on your little business venture."
Moylan sneered, "Mister 'whiter-than- white, God's gift to Law Enforcement' Chris-fucking-Larabee and his Magnificent Seven...take me down? I don't think so. You're just a bunch of yahoos...I have authority...respect and friends in high places."
Chris swallowed the bile that had risen in his throat, his loathing for the man obvious. "Make that had Moylan...you had those things, but a twenty-one year-old junior agent revealed you as being the asshole you truly are."
Charles Moylan made a grave error with his next remark.
"Aaah yes...John Daniel Dunne. Resilient little shit, isn't he? Must get it from his father..." Moylan scoffed, "...oh wait...he's a bastard, isn't he?"
Chris seethed. Moylan continued.
"I understand he never gave you up, despite everything we did to him. We broke his spirit, broke his body, broke his mind...and still, he stayed loyal to you. Why would he do that? Why suffer for a bunch of misfits and an ex-lush like you?"
The blond cocked his gun, his anger boiling over as images of JD's suffering seized his mind. His glare intensified.
"Because, unlike you, he's a man of honor and deep principles. He believes in truth, justice and loyalty...things you've clearly long abandoned. Me, and any one of my men would give our lives for him, just as he would for us...something scum like you will never understand."
Moylan swallowed nervously on hearing the gun arm. "You fire that gun and it's murder, Larabee."
Chris laughed humorlessly, raising the gun to line up with Moylan's face. "After what you did to JD and my team...it'll be worth it."
Without acknowledgement, Chris answered.
"Not now...this is between him and me. Walk away."
"Can't do that pard...not gonna let you throw away everything because of pond scum like him." Vin spoke softly but with authority as he edged closer.
Buck was also moving nearer. "Listen to Vin, Chris...this guy's already dead. We need you...JD needs you. He looks up to you, Chris...he believes in you...hell, we all do. I can't bring a kid up all by myself, Larabee... let it go, pard."
Even before Tanner spoke, Chris knew he was right behind him.
Larabee tensed, his voice strained, "Vin...you saw him...you saw what this bastard and his people did to our kid...I can't let this go. Not this time."
Vin was right at Chris' left shoulder now, his voice barely a whisper. "Yeah, you can, because you're the bigger man. JD may not get through this if we're not all there for him...I don't believe you'd do that to him, cowboy, not after everything he's been through."
Larabee closed his eyes for a moment and relaxed his stance, un- cocking the gun and lowering his arms to his sides. He sighed then flicked a glance at his two teammates, two of six men he regarded as brothers. He spoke softly. "You two sure as hell know how to lay it on thick, don'tcha?"
Buck grinned, "Whatever works, stud."
The blond stepped toward Moylan, enjoying seeing the loss of arrogance in the ex-Chief of Firearms, expression. Drawing back his arm, Chris punched the man hard in the face, smiling with satisfaction as Moylan crumpled to the ground severely dazed.
Clenching and unclenching his throbbing fist, Chris turned back to his men, clearly drained. He glanced at the officers behind Vin and Buck, looking beyond them to see Josiah, Ezra and Nathan, then back to the officers, pointing toward the still downed Moylan.
"Get this excuse for a man out of my sight."
Stepping back into the departure lounge, Chris surveyed his battered team, smiling with relief at each one of them. The team noted his expression change to a frown.
"Where's the kid?"
Buck was about to answer when a shot came from the direction of the VIP lounge. He paled.
Wilmington ran toward where the sound had come from, the others following close behind.
+ + +
Calder headed for the VIP lounge, expecting to exit through a different door. He cursed when he realized it was no longer in use since airport security felt more comfortable having less exits to control.
Observing the gun in his hand, what few passengers were in the lounge soon fled, causing a momentary barrier for the young agent as he fought to gain entry. He at last stepped inside, instantly spying Calder and raised his gun.
"Stop! Federal Officer! Lay your weapon on the ground and place your hands on your head."
Calder was a little surprised at first then smirked as he turned to the young agent.
"Hello, runt...come to play some more?"
JD wasn't sure if Calder could see he was shaking, but he was powerless to stop the tremors coursing from his head to his feet, as Calder's voice brought back violent memories.
"J...just do as I tell you and you won't get hurt."
"Hurt...you mean...like burned, or, near drowned...or ribs cracking when they get a good kick to 'em?"
JD turned his head slightly to the left, in part due to partial loss of vision in his left eye as it filled, the emotion threatening to overtake him, and because he didn't want this man to see how his words affected him. He cursed inwardly as a tear escaped and Calder grinned wider.
"Aww...poor baby. Did I say something to upset you?"
Dunne swallowed, the action suddenly causing him to still. His mind now focused on intense hate...hate driven by the now endless images of the pain and hopelessness he had endured while this man either inflicted it or watched as someone else did. He took a deep breath and cocked his gun.
"Thanks for reminding me..." he rasped, "I owe you one."
Calder's face paled at the now calm agent before him, not just calm... Calder realized there was a new quality to Dunne and it chilled him to the bone.
"You wouldn't...you wouldn't go through all that just to throw it all away here, now. You wouldn't throw away your so-called friends...ha... friends...some friends they turned out to be...they couldn't even find you, and you were in the same state."
JD hardly registered himself taking the shot, keeping both hands on the gun as he prepared to take another.
Calder ducked and looked behind and above him, noting the bullet hole in the wall. "You idiot! You fucking idiot...you almost blew my head off!" He immediately placed his gun on the floor and raised his hands to just in front of him.
JD felt detached from it all...everything seemed clear to him now...this guy hurt him...enjoyed it even, This guy should die.
"Do you hear me, you little shit? If you commit murder, you'll go to prison... you'll be with all those nice people you put away this last year..." Calder laughed, though he wasn't sure if it was an attempt at humor or plain hysteria.
"They'll just love you in prison, boy...literally. You won't have your precious Team Seven to save you there. Nah...I figure you got more sense than that."
Team Seven arrived just as Calder spouted his last speech, shocked to the core at what happened next.
JD smiled coldly, "You figured wrong."
He fired again, lower this time, barely missing the ex-agent's left ear and shattering several bottles and glasses in the bar area behind the man.
Larabee turned to the police officers that had followed them.
The team came fully in and closed the door. If their youngest member was breaking down, no one else was going to witness his collapse. Buck and Vin closed in on his right.
"JD...hey...kid, d'ya want for me to take over for a bit?" Buck spoke softly, concerned no recognition of his voice was forthcoming.
"JD...we're all here, kid...it's been a long day...let us help you." Vin looked at Buck, shaking his head. One by one each man spoke but received no response, now fearing JD had suffered a relapse under the strain of the day's events. Chris stepped forward, halting Buck's next attempt with a raised hand.
"JD...I know we haven't had a proper chance to talk this through yet. We need to go home...get some food...maybe a beer, and talk. But before we can do that, I need you to hand your gun over to Buck or Vin. They're right there, JD...right next to you. Whaddya say?"
All six men experienced hope as JD wavered slightly, but ached at the youth's next words. JD remained in position but his eyes moved to look directly into Larabee's.
"He...he hurt me, Chris." JD looked back at Calder and raised his arms slightly, aiming his weapon at the man's head.
Larabee gritted his teeth and sighed. "I know, and he's going to pay, son...he's going to prison for a long time, for a lot of things." Chris came back into JD's eye line.
Dunne shook his head. "Wh...what if he doesn't? People get off, they walk away...I can just shoot him right here...and it'll all be over." Despite his shaking hands, the young agent stayed focused on his target, who was now perspiring.
Buck had joined Chris while Vin silently maneuvered behind the easterner, waiting for a signal. Nathan watched with clear concern for the youth's state of mind. Ezra and Josiah remained as still as possible, feelings of hopelessness threatening to overwhelm them.
Larabee continued. "But for you, it will be just the beginning, kid." Larabee paused for effect. "I know you know this...don't let this guy take away all you have accomplished and all you can still accomplish. JD...look at me."
JD didn't move.
"Agent Dunne, I said, LOOK AT ME!"
The easterner shuddered at the tone and slowly moved his eyes to look at Chris directly.
The blond's features softened. "Come on, kid...let's go home."
The youth slowly began to relax, his chest heaving with the strain of trying to maintain control. Chris signaled and Vin stepped against JD's back grasping the young agent's hands and removing the gun. JD did not contest the action, instead, he leaned back against the Texan, the unexpected movement almost toppling them over. Buck took his cue and swept the youth off to one side as Ezra and Josiah, despite their injuries, took charge of Calder.
Calder struggled, twisting back toward Dunne. "I'll have his badge for that...he'll be out of the bureau so fast his feet won't touch the ground."
Chris stepped in front of the man's face.
"There are six of us and at least a dozen cops that saw you resisting arrest. I don't think so." He raised his hand and Calder flinched. Chris smiled and placed the palm of his hand on the ex-agent's face and tapped his cheek sharply twice.
"Enjoy prison, asshole."
Ezra and Josiah smiled at the exchange and marched Calder to the waiting officers, returning instantly and once again closing the doors.
+ + +
As Chris was handling Calder, Buck moved JD out of the way, but had only taken a few steps when the exhausted youth's knees gave and both men descended to the floor, Buck controlling the fall to land on his knees while clutching his best friend to his chest. To Buck's surprise, JD frantically threw his arms around Buck's waist, fisting the man's shirt , shaking hard. He buried his face against his roommate's shoulder while repeating over and over how sorry he was. Instinctively, almost imperceptibly Buck rocked slightly, his arms secured around the trembling body as he rubbed JD's back to soothe him, all the while talking words of comfort softly in the youth's ear.
Wilmington noticed Calder leaving and looked to Chris questioningly. The blond just nodded, a silent message to let each man know that the emotional release was good. It was certainly overdue. Buck relaxed and continued, smiling as Nathan hovered and Vin squatted next to them, his elbows resting on his knees, the Texan then raising one hand to place it on JD's head.
This ordeal had affected them all, hurt each one of them. Now it was time to heal.
+ + +
Buck sighed as he watched the closest thing to a brother he'd ever had, sleep. For three days, JD had barely been awake, just long enough for Nathan to get some soup into him before he was back sleeping again.
They had talked as soon as they had returned to the ranch. Just JD, Buck and Chris, all ignoring their own cuts and bruises but insisting Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and Vin go to the hospital.
Then they talked some more, all seven, while eating and drinking and just generally happy to be together after which JD had finally bottomed out, no energy, unable to stay awake and finally agreeing to seek medical help at the hospital, who confirmed several cracked, and one broken rib, mild head trauma, numerous cuts and bruises and trace elements of benzodiazepines, probably diazepam in his system.
Travis had visited, unable to speak with JD at that time due to the youth resting. He informed Team Seven that I.A. had discovered that links to the selling and shipping of impounded weaponry ranged from beat officers through to impound, from IT-Craig's supervisor, the National Tracing Center and finally to Moylan, Hirsch and Calder from the Firearms Programs Division. The Chief of Staff was exonerated, though Team Seven were skeptical and not in the least surprised when she resigned several months later to take a job in the private sector.
The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had been rocked to its core, but it would recover. The ATF had embarked on tracing the missing weapons, though some would inevitably slip through.
Travis would always be indebted to Chris Larabee for saying yes to his offer almost two years ago and putting together the finest team to serve in Federal Law Enforcement.
+ + +
Each man of Team Seven looked up as they were each handed a white, gilt-edged envelope, all seven opening them simultaneously, Chris coming from his office to join them.
Buck whistled as he read, others shook their heads, smiling, Josiah leaned back in his chair as he watched JD read his several times over, frowning slightly as the youth seemed a little distressed. JD stood and looked at his teammates.
He left the bullpen and headed to Travis' office, leaving his teammates more than a little confused.
Chris was about to address the team when Joe Coldrick from Team One walked into the bullpen.
"We've been following leads to properties owned or rented by Moylan and his associates." Coldrick looked around the room "Where's JD?"
"Out of the office," Chris said, "Why?"
"We found were JD was held captive, it was fairly obvious he'd been there." Joe sighed. "Chris...we found a digital camera still holding its memory card." He handed Larabee a large envelope.
"These are the only copies. We have to have them returned for evidence, but we felt it only right to offer you the opportunity to view them."
Larabee felt shaky as he took the offered envelope, nodding his understanding and conveying his gratitude with a firm handshake. Joe left and the team filed into Larabee's office, closing the door behind them.
They all stood around the desk, watching nervously as Chris opened the envelope, instantly groaning as he viewed the contents.
By the time all the photographs had been examined, the team was visibly distressed. Image after image of their youngest after each torturous act had been performed, bound, bloodied, beaten, burned, and unconscious. Buck made a sound in his throat and turned to stare out the window.
Vin's whisper carried clearly.
"We must assume their plan at one point was to extend the torture to us by sending these pictures." Ezra offered, his hand resting on the Texan's shoulder.
Chris slipped them back in the envelope and re-sealed it. His voice was raw.
"Who knows...either way, this stays between us and Team One." They agreed unanimously, startling as the outer office door slammed closed and looked to see JD once again take his seat at his desk.
Buck was first through the door to Chris' office. JD looked up, a little shocked to see a misty-eyed ladies' man standing before him.
"You ok, Buck?"
The brunet grinned widely, concealing his anguish and placed his hand on the youth's neck, giving a light squeeze.
"Never better, squirt...where d'ya go?"
The others had joined them now as JD looked shyly down then eventually at Chris.
"Returning a favor," he said quietly.
Vin perched on his desk. "Things are quiet here, you wanna go shoot some hoops?"
Dunne beamed at the suggestion. "Sure...now?"
Chris joined Buck and Vin as Nathan, Josiah and Ezra closed in around them.
"How about we meet at the saloon later and discuss our recent correspondence?"
JD frowned, the others looked alarmed. Chris held up his white gilt-edged envelope, followed by a collective 'aaaahh.'
Plans were made. It would be an interesting evening, though somewhat marred for the older agents by the knowledge of the existence of the photographs and a now clear and graphic account of JD's time away from them.
The life lost, and a team haunted by graphic images of torture and separation would forever be a painful reminder of treachery, dishonesty and greed and the depths some men will sink to in order to achieve their desires.
+ + +
Team Seven sat in a row of seats on the stage at the Denver Hilton's largest function room, each in dress uniform. The ceremony had been ongoing for over an hour and JD was fidgeting, setting Tanner off too. Chris glared; Buck smiled and put a steadying hand on JD's bouncing knee as the young agent blew out a nervous breath and adjusted his tie for the umpteenth time.
"Nearly done, kid."
"And now, for our final awards of the evening," the Mayor announced to the room of honorees, police officers and families of the recipients of the evening's honors.
Each man marched to the Mayor, the Chief of Police and AD Travis at the sound of their names.
"Receiving the Denver Police Medal of Valor...
"Larabee, Christopher...Wilmington, Bucklin...Sanchez, Josiah...Tanner, Vincent Michael...Jackson, Nathan Jebediah...Standish, Ezra Patrick... Dunne, John Daniel...These men stand before their peers and the officials here gathered, in recognition and appreciation of their heroism, loyalty and devotion to duty above and beyond the call, and for their unstinting service to the good citizens of Denver, Colorado. Gentlemen, we offer you our gratitude and we applaud you."
As seven slightly shy but proud Federal Agents stood in dress uniform on the stage the people gathered in the grand room rose to a standing ovation. Eventually Travis quieted them. The Mayor continued.
"And a posthumous award of The Denver Police Medal of Honor goes to Agent Craig Samuel Altman for his pivotal role in assisting these men in excising a cancer within this agency. This award will be accepted by his wife Paula and five year-old son Samuel."
All officers stood to attention and saluted as Craig's heavily pregnant wife and bouncing five year-old son climbed the steps to the stage. Chris and JD broke ranks and walked toward the pair, Chris taking Paula's arm and JD, grinning, scooping up a giggling Samuel as they escorted them to the podium. After a few short words, Paula thanked the Mayor, Commissioner and AD Travis and turned to face the well-deserved applause, leaving the stage as it still echoed around them.
Buck beamed like a proud father, as did the rest of the team. They couldn't bring the young IT agent back, but they could honor the memory of a man who bravely did the right thing and JD's gesture of insisting the man be included in the ceremony couldn't have been more fitting.
As Travis watched the seven men leave the stage and walk formidably through the crowded tables toward the exits, he secretly counted the cost of the past months. Despite it all, he felt they had been fortunate.
Team Seven kept on walking, opting for a more private celebration, first at the Saloon, then at the CDC, eager to put it all behind them. Lessons had been learned and bonds had been strengthened, from youngest to oldest member of the team. JD turned to his friends as they headed for their vehicles.
"Thanks, guys. I know it's been hard...I haven't exactly been at my best...but you've been there for me every step of the way...stopping me from...you know...feeling so ...alone. Thanks."
Each man patted or squeezed the young man's arms and shoulders as they climbed into their trucks. Buck wrapped an arm around JD and pulling his surrogate little brother toward him, spoke softly.
"There may be times you are in your own company, or times you feel a mite lonely," Buck was practically in the boy's face, his eyes earnest, his hand gently clasping the back of the youth's neck.
"But know this, kiddo, as long as I live and breathe...I promise you, you will never be alone."
JD smiled affectionately at him, bringing his hand up to clasp Buck's arm.
"Ditto, big brother, and, Buck...thanks."
Buck nodded, smiling as he watched JD climb into the truck. Tomorrow it would be business as usual, but tonight....tonight they would close ranks as only Team Seven could...and give thanks.