Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em...damnit! Thanks to Mog for ATF

Characters: Buck, JD, Chris

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

May's author's notes:

Once upon a time - October 31, 1999 to be exact - I started posting what was intended to be a little Halloween fic for the Darlins. The story was outlined to its conclusion and should have been a simple hurt/comfort fic but, as was often the case with my writing, the muse took over and the story started to grow.

For the purposes of self-flagellation and self-mockery, I thought I'd include part of my author's notes for "Tricks of the Trade, Part 1" here, now. Behold the fateful words I will never use again in an author's note. . .

"This little Halloween piece was my attempt at desperately trying to get myself out of a writer's slump. I had hoped to successfully complete this story by today's end, but alas, RL and lack of imagination are still not cooperating. I'm really hoping to have this completed by next weekend. This is Buck-JD focused, as usual <g>, but with substantial emphasis on Chris, as well. This is a small part, but I wanted to get at least some of this story posted for Halloween. Thanks in advance for your patience. Hopefully you won't need it, and I'll get this thing done very soon!"

Ahem. . . famous last words? The story did keep rolling fairly happily for a while, until coming to a screeching halt after posting Part 14 in June of 2000. Despite its outline and knowing the story's conclusion, any attempts to finish it only brought on anxiety and misery and I soon learned the true meaning of writer's block. Still, I had always intended to come back to the story eventually. I even said so in a June, 2003 post here. Ultimately though, my pen ran dry and I stopped writing completely for over 2 years until grief over my mother's passing and my discovery of another fandom collided and I found myself writing again, but sadly not for Mag7.

Still, "Tricks of the Trade" being out there and incomplete has always felt like an albatross though and, despite knowing (and finally accepting) after this many years that I would never complete it, I still have always felt guilty as hell about that fact.

But that's where the awesome Sue M comes in! When Sue contacted me about my ATF fic, "The Third Sunday in June" and asked if she could write an extension of it, I was not only incredibly flattered, but also extremely delighted. And after she did such a wonderful job with "A Disastrous Turn of Events", an idea began to brew in my mind, one that would ultimately solve that pesky albatross problem that continued to haunt me ;). I never thought in a million years that I'd ever offer up a fic to another writer to finish for me but a little over a year ago I offered "Tricks" up to Sue and I'm thrilled to say she graciously agreed to take it over. My gratitude toward Sue, my delight in knowing this story is finally complete and, that Sue is ready to start posting it today, makes me downright giddy g.

Thank-you ever so much, Sue!!!

I'd be remiss though if I didn't send a shout out to Penny, my good friend, beta and some time co-writer, who betaed this story the first time around. Her insights into Buck and JD always amazed me and there is no doubt her input added to the quality of this story.

And finally - see how my words always seem to go on and on! - I truly hope you enjoy this story and, for the few of you who might remember it, that you'll find its concluding chapters as satisfying as I do.

Marla, aka May Robinson

Sue's author's notes:

My thanks to Marla for trusting me with her baby. I had a blast both writing with her and working on this. Thanks Marla


Special Thanks to Penny for the original beta and numerous insights and suggestions

And huge thanks to Mari for the wonderful wall.

And to Blackraptor for giving our story a home.

For Andy, Dale and the Darlins list

Chris Larabee was not a happy man. He hated office politics. He hated playing games. And popularity contests. And parties…especially Halloween parties.

Yet, here he was, suffering all of the above.

Chris had to be here. His attendance at the Annual ATF (Denver Branch) Halloween Party was mandatory. At least it was mandatory this year. Morale in the department was at an all-time low.

The Agency had Chris Larabee to thank for it. Not that it was really Chris' fault.

It was Gene Peterson's fault. The same highly decorated and respected Gene Peterson, whose unit had once had the best ATF arrest rate in the country.

That is until Chris Larabee's Team 7 came along.

The same Gene Peterson who'd been lead commander on all the high profile weapons raids.

Until Chris Larabee came along.

The same Gene Peterson, 19 year law enforcement veteran, who would've retired in less than six months with a stellar record.

If Chris Larabee hadn't come along.

Instead, Gene Peterson was on suspension pending the results of a disciplinary hearing.

Over the last nine months, Chris had witnessed Peterson's command faculties slip. To be honest, Chris had growing concerns about all of Gene's faculties. He'd seen Gene become more and more rash in his decision making, and he'd seen Gene take way too many chances. Peterson had broken the chain of command during dangerous raids, and the only explanation Chris could come up with for it, was that Gene simply wanted his glory back. In doing so, the team leader was risking too much. He wasn't just risking his own life, Gene was risking the success of operations, and more importantly, risking the lives of good men, whose faith in his leadership equaled Team 7's faith in Chris.

For Larabee, the last straw came three weeks ago while Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner were undercover posing as munitions buyers. Team 7 was lead team as usual, but Team 2, Gene Peterson's team, was set to be first back-up for the planned raid. While Ezra and Vin were still running their con, Team 2 charged in with guns blazing and all hell had broken loose. Peterson had ignored protocol and broken command and two good men - Gene's men - had been mortally wounded.

ATF `top brass' had planned to sweep the disaster under the carpet and simply retire Peterson early, but Chris Larabee wouldn't accept that, he couldn't. No way was Gene Peterson going to be sent home with a retirement package and a slap on the wrist, especially not while Ezra Standish lay in the hospital with a bullet torn leg, and not while Vin Tanner was nursing a concussion and a bullet wound in the shoulder. Stellar record or not, Peterson would have to be shown the error of his ways, so Larabee filed an official report, and Peterson was told to turn in his badge and gun for the duration of the investigation

And since Chris expected the `Brass' to play by the rules, he felt obligated to support them, even if it meant going to a damned Halloween party. With morale as low as it was, ATF Assistant Director Orin Travis wanted all the Team Leaders at the party.


Larabee's team, dubbed `The Magnificent Seven,' were a unique group; enjoying each other's company, keeping much to themselves and generally not partaking in as many ATF social functions as they probably should. They had not been together long but had bonded instantly, preferring to keep a low profile.

It was nothing personal, really, in truth, Chris and Vin were simply not party animals, Ezra was a loner by nature. Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson were easy-going enough to attend, but if they had their choices, an ATF Halloween party was generally not at the top of their `to do' list. That left Chris' oldest friend, Buck Wilmington, and Buck's very young protégé and roommate, Agent In Training, JD Dunne. With each of them being their own generation's poster children for `outgoing,' at least this party would be right up their alley.

Chris was in a 'lose/lose' situation.

If he and the team didn't show up, they would be snubbing the `Brass' and the other Teams. But Chris' presence would also add to the discord developing amongst the agents. With one of their best on suspension, the agents were choosing sides. The old-timers wanted Larabee's head for blowing the whistle on Peterson, while most of the younger agents wanted to give Chris a medal, after all, they were the ones on the front line, and they had known for some time that Peterson was becoming a hazard. Until Chris, however, no-one had the guts to do anything about it.

The Halloween Party was supposed to be a morale booster, and therefore help bring unity back to the department. So Chris was here, along with his team, simply to play nice. And here he was in a damn Zorro costume, courtesy of JD…or Ezra; he wasn't quite sure who was responsible. He'd sent the two of them shopping together, in the hopes that Ezra's taste would temper JD's enthusiasm. The idea had worked…sort of.

Larabee distinctly remembered telling JD to find him something low key…subtle. It was one thing to have to be here, but another thing altogether to draw attention to yourself.


If this was JD's idea of subtle, the kid had definitely been hanging around with Wilmington too long.

Larabee peered through his black mask at the perpetrators of the costume shopping expedition, who, along with Vin Tanner, were mingling with some other field agents. The kid was dressed almost normal…apparently as Luke Skywalker, although Chris could barely remember what Mark Hamill had worn in the movie. He'd had no desire to go see the re-release. Give him a good western, any day; despite JD's insistence Star Wars was simply a Western…set in space. Yeah…right!

According to Ezra, JD had wanted to pick-up a different Star Wars outfit, hoping to coax Buck into dressing as the Wookie to JD's Han Solo. The kid reluctantly realized his partner wouldn't go for it, so the kid went for the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker pairing instead.

Poor kid, Larabee smirked. Someday Buck'll play the sidekick, and JD won't play the kid.


Standish looked quite dapper wearing a Bat Masterson costume. It had actually been the kid's idea for Ezra to dress as the legendary lawman and gambler, who also happened to be JD's favorite wild-west hero. Ezra was still favoring his leg and using a cane…just like Bat, so the costume was perfect. Chris couldn't help but think that the look suited the southerner.

JD and Vin had arrived together. The kid had gone home with Vin after work to help with the trick-or-treating party Vin had organized for the kids of Purgatorio. JD's excitement had been infectious, as had been the grin on his face. You'd think the twenty-year- old had been going trick-or-treating himself.

Chris laughed as he remembered Buck mumbling something about the kid's penchant for trouble and Vin's neighborhood being a dangerous combination at the best of times, let alone while everyone and their mother were dressed in disguise! Tanner just laughed at Buck, but had promised to look out for the boy. Buck knew that he would, just as they all would…JD was still so damned young.


Vin was dressed as a fairly subtle Robin Hood…with leggings rather than tights, unsurprisingly. How the kid had even talked Vin into the costume was beyond Chris, but Larabee thought the outfit perfect for his best friend.

Chris looked around the large banquet hall to find the other members of his team. Nathan was dressed as a surgeon, complete with mask and scrubs, and Josiah was dressed as a prophet. The team leader couldn't help but appreciate Ezra's and JD's ideal choice of costumes for each man.

With one notable exception…Zorro! ?

The two agents were obviously craving the night shift for the next six month's worth of stakeouts.

Chris' mood suddenly improved.

All of Team 7 was there, with the exception of Buck. Chris was beginning to wonder about his friend…well worry, actually. It wasn't like Buck to be late for a party, well…maybe a little late…so that he could make a grand entrance, of course. Then there was the fact that his old friend was missing out on the opportunity to abuse Chris over his costume, not to mention Buck missing out on playing Darth to JD's Luke…that didn't sit right either, though, the thought of those two 'dueling' with light sabers during the evening did hold some trepidation for the blond.

For now, Chris tried to set his worry aside. After all, Buck Wilmington could look after himself.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington stood dumbfounded in his Darth Vader costume, minus the mask, looking into the distressed aging face of Gene Peterson. He had wondered, momentarily, how Gene had gotten past Security in order to actually knock on his door, but with tonight being Halloween, the younger agent set that thought aside for the moment. Buck was already running late for the party, due to the time it took him to help the distressed damsel with a flat tire on his way home from work. But here stood Gene, looking about as subdued as Buck had ever seen him; asking if they could have a talk. Buck, being Buck, just couldn't say no.

Gene was a very big man, every bit as tall as Wilmington's 6'4" frame, but carrying the extra weight of a man more than 10 years Buck's senior. Gene still looked to be in great shape, though. He was still a strong, imposing figure of a man whose stature alone commanded respect.

"What can I do for ya, Gene?" Buck asked quietly. Wilmington felt uncomfortable speaking with the man. He had always admired Peterson for sticking with law enforcement for over twenty years, and Buck admired the record the agent had accumulated. From all accounts, Gene Peterson had been a good leader, and his men would follow him to hell and back, just like Buck and the rest of Team 7 would follow Chris.

Tragically though, Gene had taken advantage of that loyalty and sent two of his men to their untimely deaths. And was responsible for Ezra and Vin being hurt, too. Buck had been mighty angry with the older agent and had said some fairly nasty things to him after Ezra and Vin were loaded into ambulances following their disastrous raid. It was no secret that Buck had a temper, and seeing his friends being needlessly hurt had certainly set it off. Hell, he'd even lined up to take a swing at Peterson, but JD had held him back, pleading with his 'big brother' to let it go. Buck never could say no to JD.

So Wilmington couldn't hazard a guess as to why Gene would now be standing in his doorway. But the weary look in the older agent's face compelled Buck to wave him in. The man simply looked defeated.


"We need to talk about Larabee."

Buck couldn't help but notice Gene's eyes grow cold and hard upon mentioning Chris' name. The look of defeat was being overtaken, although Buck couldn't yet identify the emotion. Or maybe he just didn't want to recognize it in a fellow agent.

"Ain't got nothin' to say about this, Gene."

"Come on, Buck! You've known him the longest. You can talk some sense into him. Just get Larabee to withdraw his statement." Peterson's demeanor had indeed changed. The man looked wild.


Buck couldn't believe what Peterson was asking of him. He actually seemed convinced that Buck would talk to Chris for him. Hell, even if he wanted to, there was no changing Chris Larabee's mind, besides, it was no secret that Buck had contributed to Chris' report, he'd even offered to co-sign it. The matter was simple, Buck Wilmington didn't want this `loose cannon' anywhere near JD or any of his other friends while they were on duty.

"And just why would I wanna do that?" Buck tried to keep the sarcasm at a minimum. His sympathy for the man had switched to irritation.

"Afraid I'm gonna have to insist, Buck." Gene's voice was sinister.

Buck should've known better. How many times had he told JD never to let down his guard? You'd think in the security of his own home though, he wouldn't've had to wear his gun.

He was wrong.

He sure hadn't expected it, and it happened so damn fast. He watched Gene pull the gun, followed by the trigger. And in the instant that Buck felt the impact to his chest, he realized that the gun wasn't even remotely standard issue, in fact, it wasn't much of a gun at all. In that second, he felt momentary relief that the bullet he'd thought he'd just taken at point blank range wasn't even a bullet, but rather, a small dart.

Damn, though, whatever's in it is mighty poten… Buck Wilmington collapsed.

+ + + + + + +

As ten o'clock came and passed, Chris Larabee was no longer the only ATF agent worried about Wilmington's whereabouts. Vin, Josiah, Ezra and Nathan were all watching the clock. They tried not to let their concerns show, however. JD was having a great time, totally engrossed in listening to `war stories' being told by all the veteran agents, and apparently the boy hadn't noticed how time had flown so quickly.

None of Team 7 wanted to let JD know that they thought his big brother was missing.

Chris had called Buck's home and his cell numerous times and had gotten no answer, which only succeeded in making the team leader's frustration and concern mount. He hated that his attendance at the party was still required, but Larabee did have every intention of sending Josiah and Nathan out searching for Buck. Vin and Ezra were still recovering from their injuries, so Chris would have them stay put…in spite of their vehement objections.

The five agents were beginning to coordinate their search plan when Vin looked across the room and caught sight of a gleaming black costume.

"Relax, fellas," Vin smiled as his friends turned their attention to the banquet hall's main doorway.

Just as Larabee would've expected, his old friend's entrance was grand, all bravado…and pure Buck. The big man, made bigger by his imposing costume, glided into the room, his black cape swirling, and promptly dipped Connie Leeson, one of the ATF receptionists, literally sweeping her off of her feet.

Heads were turning everywhere and laughter echoed all about the room. Good ole Buck. Chris shook his head at Buck's antics, but he couldn't deny the immense feeling of relief that swept over him.

All was fine. The Seven were together again.

+ + + + + + +

Buck's less than subtle entrance actually succeeded in prying JD's attention away from Orin Travis and the other senior officials he had been listening to. The ATF's youngest agent found their stories about the `good old days' totally fascinating, but Ms. Leeson's squeals and the ensuing laughter were also hard for him to resist. The kid fairly beamed when he saw his roommate in full costume. In truth, he still would've rather seen Buck dressed as…how had Buck put it…an overgrown dog…so that he could've dressed as Han Solo, but JD did have to admit that his best friend made an incredibly impressive Darth Vader.

Despite the fact that JD called out to Buck a few times to join him and the older gentlemen, the ladies' man had already lost his attention to a group of pretty maidens dressed in Shakespearean wardrobe…all clerks in the records department. The boy shook his head in wonder, his eyes brimming with affection. Even in disguise, he gets the girls.

JD gave up trying to get his roommate's attention and excused himself from his group. He made his way over to Buck and the ladies where he was greeted with a booming "Hey there, kid."

JD had to laugh. The mask came complete with a contraption that distorted the wearer's voice to sound like the actual character. The outfit was perfect for Buck and JD was tickled pink. He decided that he could live with being Luke for the night. `Course the boy couldn't ever recall Darth Vader saying `Hey there, kid' to Luke Skywalker, but JD couldn't really expect his best friend to play it serious all night.


JD jumped for an instant as he felt Buck's gloved hand firmly planted on his shoulder. He'd have to remember to tell the costume shop that one of the gloves had a sharp edge on it somewhere, or maybe a pin or needle was stuck in it, as he'd felt a needle-like jab in his shoulder that vanished as soon as Buck released his grip.

The boy was truly relieved that Buck had finally shown up. He had been starting to worry about his friend's whereabouts, but since none of his teammates had seemed worried, JD had tried not to let his concern show. He didn't want to look like `the kid' once again. But now big brother Buck was here, so JD could completely relax and enjoy the party.

At least that's what JD had hoped. The young agent immediately noticed however, that Buck was being much quieter than usual and wondered if something bad had happened that would explain it, and clear up why his friend had arrived so late in the first place. Buck's mask hid his eyes though, so JD couldn't get a take on Buck's state of mind. He still looked up into his best friend's face, hoping to send him a smile of reassurance. Instead, the kid felt a chill run through him. With his size, Buck really did look positively menacing as Darth Vader, and the easterner couldn't help but be thankful that Buck was one of the good guys.

As JD continued to look up at his best friend's shielded face, the image began to blur. Without warning, JD began feeling queasy. He felt a rush of heat through his body and his head began to pound. To say that he was suddenly feeling like shit would have been an understatement. The boy wasn't sure if he was going to pass out or throw up, either way he knew he was in trouble.


"Oh, man!" JD moaned and he felt his knees become the consistency of jello. The kid began to sway, but thankfully Buck was right there to catch him and give him much needed support and balance.

"Whoa, there, boy, just how much did you drink tonight?" JD's mind was reeling. He desperately wanted to respond to Buck's wise-crack, but he couldn't figure out how to get his tongue to work, let alone come up with a snappy comeback. He could vaguely hear Buck making excuses for him, joking and laughing about him not being able to hold his liquor.

JD wanted to interrupt his friend, tell Buck no…that something else was wrong, very wrong.

He couldn't be drunk because he hadn't been drinking.

But JD could no longer put words together to speak. His head and heart were pounding and all JD could really focus on was his sudden fear and his pain and an overwhelming impulse to escape. The sights and sounds of the party were now pounding into his mind and then disappearing altogether into a blackness, only to repeat the cycle again, like waves crashing against the shore. Suddenly claustrophobic, JD felt like he was burning up and he couldn't check the panic building within him. He clung desperately to the older man, wanting more than anything for Buck to help him…get him out of here because he was totally helpless to do it on his own.

Thankfully, JD became aware of Buck beginning to half drag, half carry him outside. And as he felt the rush of the cold night air hit him, his panic began to subside. Although Buck was still quiet, not spouting the usual litany of comforting `big brother's gonna look after you' phrases, JD felt immense relief.

The boy gripped the strong arm that wrapped around him, and to the distorted sound of Buck telling him to 'just relax', he finally allowed his mind to let go and let the darkness take hold…safe in the knowledge that no matter what, Buck would take care of him.

Like always.

+ + + + + + +

Buck Wilmington woke up in the dark. Just like the other times, he'd awaken with a jolt. Is this the third time? Hell, he couldn't remember. He couldn't think and his head felt thick and heavy, and even if he weren't immersed in total darkness, he knew he wouldn't be able to focus his eyes at all. He tried not to think on that. Well, actually he tried not to think on anything, because each time he allowed himself to become more aware…he'd become afraid, too…no…terrified. The darkness, the silence, the haze…his pain. So much pain. It would all overwhelm his senses and his heart would thump wildly, like a child waking up after a horrifying nightmare, a nightmare he could scarcely remember, but this time, he was still in that nightmare and he couldn't run away.

Buck knew he was in trouble…serious trouble…and still he couldn't remember what had happened to him or how he wound up here…in the pitch dark except, this time, brief flashes of memory assaulted his brain. His hands tied over his head. A monstrous form. Fists pounding into him. Intense pain. He wanted to run away from those images, but he couldn't get away. Any movement at all sent scalding streams of hot lava down his arm and fiery tremors through his body. His only means of escape was ultimately what frightened him most…the darkness.

And so he curled his body into a ball and pressed against the wall, making himself as small as possible and allowing the darkness to claim him once more.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee glimpsed across the dance-floor, to where Buck and JD had joined up, but couldn't see them any longer. The team leader thought he had caught sight of Buck leading the kid out of the room and into the conference center hallway, and he wondered if something was up. That could explain why Buck had been so late. But then again, if something `had' been up, why would Buck have shown up in his costume? Larabee shook his head, mentally pushing away the groundless uneasiness he felt. With the intention of leaving well enough alone, Chris turned his attention back to the party. Damn. Well, he would leave well enough alone, if only he could get that nagging sensation of unease to leave `him' alone. The leader of Team 7 made his decision, he'd give Buck and JD five more minutes and then go find them. Chris tried once more to relax.

Besides, he `had' to give the kid hell again about the costume. It wouldn't be right not to do it in front of Buck.


Five minutes felt like five hours, and still no sign of Darth and Luke, and now Chris was no longer alone with his concerns. The remaining four of the Seven had all begun to wonder about their partners. Apparently, Buck hadn't spoken to any of them since his arrival, only JD, and despite Buck's predilection towards shadowing JD, that just wasn't like Buck. Kid brother or not, Buck Wilmington was still the life of the party and would've made his way over to at least some of his other friends by now.

Chris looked to his partners and admonished Vin and Ezra to rest. Despite their protests to the contrary, it was clear to both Chris and Nathan, that the party had taken its toll on their still recovering bodies. Nathan, Josiah and Chris would track down the missing pair themselves.

+ + + + + + +

When Buck next awoke, he again felt that paralyzing fear, but this time he was able to fight it. His mind, though cloudy, wasn't nearly as thick as it had been. No, this time he could tell himself that he was a grown man `and' a cop damnit and damn well shouldn't be afraid of the dark. Problem was, once his mind started working its way into some semblance of clarity, his body on the other hand, began to really rebel. He hurt just about everywhere and still couldn't really remember what had happened to him, or for that matter…why it had happened. He was literally and figuratively in the dark. His head and stomach both were reeling now and when his head told his stomach to empty its contents, he tried to shift so that he wouldn't heave all over himself, and almost passed out from the pain. When he tried to move, his right shoulder and arm screamed out to him, so much so that he couldn't control the matching scream released from his throat. With much distaste, Buck forced himself to swallow the bile in his throat and tried to concentrate.

He had to figure out this mess he was in, and to forget about his earlier fears and the pain in his arm. With a renewed conviction, the ATF agent within Buck was struggling to break through the residual fog in his brain. Assess. Assess the situation. The cop was back on duty…or at least getting there.

As Buck tried to regain control of his motor functions, he brought his left hand up to his right, and there he felt them. Handcuffs. He was cuffed to something…metal… maybe a pipe? Geesus. Why couldn't he remember what happened? The more Buck tried to think, to focus, the more his body began to wake itself, and with that awakening came more pain. A good time to assess his injuries, he thought wryly. His jaw and cheekbones ached, and as he grimaced he felt his bottom lip split and the ensuing coppery taste of his warm blood. His ribs ached along with his head and his arm continued to spear him with pain. Both of his wrists were sore and bloody and his left shoulder ached almost as badly as his right. He'd been beaten, obviously, and yet he still couldn't remember anymore about it happening, just those crazy nightmarish flashes of a dark `creature' and being pummeled by it, and not being able to get away.

Buck felt as though somebody had used him as a punching bag, and as he chewed on that particular thought some more, taking into consideration the condition of his wrists and shoulders and once again reflecting on his overactive imagination, it suddenly occurred to him that somebody `had' strung him up and used him as a punching bag. And with that thought, Buck Wilmington was becoming thoroughly pissed off.

Buck pushed himself to remember further…to remember who did this to him…but failed. However, he did come to the conclusion that someone must have drugged him. It explained the crazy flashbacks, and that awful paranoid fear he'd suffered earlier. He hadn't been shot, or hit on the head, so there was no other logical reason to be slipping into and out of consciousness that he could think of, and certainly he would've remembered more of the beating he took, if he hadn't been drugged.

Yeah, somebody'd drugged him all right, but that drug was wearing off. Each time he woke up, he was in better shape mentally, and Buck had to count on that pattern to continue. And so the agent shifted his battered body until he could rest his head against the wall and closed his eyes to become one with the darkness again.

But this time Buck Wilmington wasn't afraid of the dark.

+ + + + + + +

After checking everywhere conceivably possible within the large conference center, Nathan, Josiah and Chris regrouped with Vin and Ezra in front of the rest rooms just outside of the ATF banquet room. They'd checked out all of the men's rooms, the other banquet rooms, and even the grounds. Buck and JD were nowhere to be found and Buck's old Chevy wasn't in the parking lot. Cellular phones were immediately drawn and in seconds, calls were placed to the condo, and both Buck's and JD's cells. No answer…and no word.

Time to talk with the partygoers.

The Shakespearean clerks were all on the dance floor, but Ezra successfully charmed them off of the floor and escorted them to a quieter corner of the room, where four of Team 7 were waiting for them. The ladies laughingly related their encounter with Buck and the kid. If they hadn't be enamored with Buck before, watching how he immediately looked after the kid definitely had them smitten. The ladies agreed that JD had apparently become wobbly from too much partying and that Buck had simply taken the kid out for air. That was the last they saw of the duo.

Chris' jaw clenched, and his partners' did the same. They'd all been present at the office when Chris had informed the kid in no uncertain terms, that he was not allowed to drink any alcohol at the party. The 'Brass' knew JD was underage, and despite the kid's outstanding record, many of the higher-ups were still none-too-happy with his presence in the department. And with this many ATF execs at the party, some would undoubtedly be watching to see if JD would slip up.

If JD had been disappointed, he hadn't shown it. Hell, he was used to playing by those rules, after all, the `A' in ATF did stand for alcohol, a fact Buck constantly teased his roommate about. Of course, like any twenty year-old, the kid did drink, but when he did imbibe, it was usually only beer, and done so in the privacy of his partners' homes, under their supervision. Besides, there was no way the boy would've gone against Chris Larabee's wishes, let alone his orders. No way had the kid gotten himself drunk, or stoned for that matter. Something had to have been wrong with him. But if JD were sick, Buck would've alerted the guys. For that matter, if Buck was truly worried about JD the big man would've grabbed the MC's mike and yelled for Nathan or a doctor in the house.

No, Chris wasn't buying the theory that JD had gotten drunk. There was something else going on, and whatever it was, it wasn't good.

The remaining five of the Seven immediately left the banquet room once again and headed for the quiet of the parking lot. Home and cell phones were again called, along with the office, Mercy General, DPD and ATF dispatches.


Where were they?

With nowhere else to start, the five agents would head to Buck's place, to coordinate their efforts, or if they found them there, to thoroughly pound Buck and JD into the ground for worrying them. Chris had a spare key. He wished to hell he could believe he was still overreacting, but if that was the case, all five of them were overreacting and that was none too likely. Chris could feel it now, a sense of dread that told him in all certainty that Buck and JD were in trouble and he didn't have a clue how to help them.


+ + + + + + +

Buck again woke to the all-too-familiar darkness. But this time he expected it and was no longer frightened by it. His head was much clearer, just as he had hoped, and he could cope with the fact that he was still handcuffed and that every ounce of his upper body was in varying degrees of pain. He could cope, because now he understood.

With the last remnants of fog clearing his brain, Buck began to assimilate information and he began to remember and he remembered with horror, the identity of his abductor and abuser - Gene Peterson.

Dear God! Chris was right; Gene truly had taken leave of his faculties. The man had plumb flipped! Buck recalled his brief conversation with the agent prior to being shot with the dart-gun. The nut-bar had wanted him to get Chris to rescind his statement. And that had to be reason behind all of this. He must be going after Chris for the statement, or getting even for it…had to be. And ole Buck, Chris' long-time friend, got the beating of a lifetime, because of their friendship and undoubtedly because of his involvement with the statement.

Buck continued to work through his ordeal in his mind. As the agent began to assess his injuries, his own rage began to boil. He knew now that his suspicions were right and he had been strung up and beaten. His bloodied wrists and throbbing shoulders were testimony to this. Thankfully, he didn't think anything was broken, though. His ribs were bruised, maybe even cracked, and the ligaments in his right shoulder were sprung. He may have even wrenched it himself while he was still drugged, trying to escape the cuffs. Truthfully, he didn't know.

Whatever drug Gene had shot him with was definitely what had caused his fogginess earlier, and Buck felt confident and relieved that he had no head injury. But he was still very weak, and whether that was due to the pounding he'd taken or some left-over drug in his system, he couldn't be sure. Buck had to accept the fact that his present condition might be as good as he got, at least until he got out of this Godforsaken place. So he'd just have to deal with it, whether he liked it or not.

Having assessed his injuries and determining that he should live, Buck turned his attention to his surroundings once more. He genuinely couldn't believe how dark it was. No light creeping in from anywhere. He'd have to rely on his other senses to figure the place out. The air and wall felt slightly damp and musty, as did the floor. His nose confirmed those thoughts. He knew he was on a concrete floor and the wall behind him felt like a block foundation. He was in a basement. But where? and where was the nutcase? Surely he wasn't leaving Buck here to rot?

Buck was sure that Peterson was up to something else and that something would have to do with Chris. Gene had stripped him out of the Darth Vader costume and had worn it while he was trying to rearrange Buck's face. What was that all about? A sudden sickening thought sprung into his mind. Shit, what if he went to the party? The guys'll never know the difference! Buck's heart began to race. Dear God, Chris was in danger…now.

Buck's thoughts turned to his oldest friend and his rage against Peterson grew. Chris had suffered so much and was only now beginning to rebuild his life. He didn't need a fucking lunatic bent on revenge screwing everything up. Buck would have to somehow get out of this mess and help Chris…he owed Chris that much.

And Buck Wilmington didn't plan on dying for his efforts, either. If that happened, Chris would feel responsible and there was no way in hell that Buck would be responsible for any more Chris Larabee grief.

No way in hell!

+ + + + + + +

"Easy, pard, we'll get `em back…we can figure this out." Vin Tanner's quiet, soothing drawl, along with Josiah's steady presence and Ezra's best attempts at reason, did succeed in quelling Chris Larabee's mounting rage. The seasoned cop knew as well as his partners did, that they had to remain calm. Giving in to their anger wouldn't get Buck and JD out of this mess…whatever this mess was. With a reluctant sigh, Chris wrapped both his arms around JD's basketball, the same one he'd planned on drilling into the wall just seconds earlier, and sank dejectedly onto the couch. He swallowed his rage, but the familiar aftertaste of guilt and grief still remained.

"Josiah, let me see the note, again." Chris' voice was now tight and quiet, clearly showing the strain. Sanchez passed him the handwritten piece of paper, now safely preserved for examination, in an evidence bag, discovered by the team upon their arrival at the condo just minutes earlier.

`Discovered' was hardly the appropriate word. The note, written in bold red lettering, had been propped up on Buck and JD's coffee table clearly intended to be seen. Its positioning and the boldness of the words in style and content, mocked Chris, and he had to consciously keep himself from crumpling it in his hands as he read the message once more.

'Trick or Treat!

Want them back? Withdraw your statement.
Stick around. I'll be in touch.

P.S. Nice party.'

While Chris' intense gaze burned into the ransom note, the other agents in the room tried to rein in their own turmoil and mounting guilt.


"I can't believe we let him walk outta there with JD."

Nathan's words were quiet, but the self-accusation echoed through the room. Nathan was scared. He knew too well that Buck had to have been severely incapacitated in order for Peterson to best him, and to get his costume. The team's surrogate doctor was thankful he had found no evidence of blood in the apartment, but that still didn't tell him anything about Buck's condition. Buck was hurt Nathan felt it. And he knew instinctively … that to disable Buck and to have JD appear drunk at the party…drugs had to be involved. Jackson tried to convince himself that these drugs could ultimately be harmless, with no long lasting ill effects. Like chloral hydrate, something all cops and therefore certainly Gene Peterson, would be familiar with. But with no evidence to indicate what types of drug or drugs were used on Buck and JD, Nathan couldn't curb his fear. His friends were hurt, and they needed him and he needed to help them.

"Nathan, my friend…we had no indication prior to this incident to presume that any of us were in jeopardy of retaliation from Agent Peterson." Ezra's words were purely logical, but even he knew his heart wasn't behind them. Standish was condemning himself over JD's abduction too, and, as ridiculous as it may have sounded, for allowing the boy to outfit Buck with a full mask costume, the only one among the Seven. To feel culpable was truly irrational, but where the boy's welfare was concerned, rationale played little part. One lead with one's heart, an example set daily by the boy, and by his mentor.

JD had successfully toppled even Ezra's well-constructed walls, and Standish took his position as elder brother as seriously as did his partners. And there was no forgiving any of them for letting a madman bent on revenge abduct the boy while under their guardianship, a guardianship they had happily and without coercion, sworn to undertake when JD had joined them. Under age and desperately in need of guidance, this young man had awoken in the six agents feelings long buried and daily reminders of the men they had always aspired to be and the southerner was convinced, it was this bond that had made this team so strong.

He sighed and shook his head…no…no forgiveness at all.

Despite Standish's reply, Jackson's words sliced through Chris like a knife, threatening to expose the rage he was now turning inward. Someone had grabbed the kid right out from under them, and Chris Larabee had personally let it happen.

Larabee thought back to when JD had first joined the team, Chris had made a silent vow to keep him safe. He would not lose another boy…so young and still so innocent, despite his obvious intelligence and expertise. To ensure JD's safety, he'd given the ATF's youngest agent the most faithful and fierce protector Chris had ever known. By choosing the kid's teacher, he had given JD his oldest friend…Buck…and yet, somehow Chris had managed to lose both of them. Lost to a frighteningly dangerous man…a man whose training and knowledge of ATF methods, equipment and protocol rivaled his own. One whose sanity Chris had already questioned.

Dear God, what could Peterson do to them? And what had he already done? Recent images of Peterson crossing the police brutality line known as "use of excessive force" flashed like a strobe, and assaulted his memory. The leader couldn't prevent the moan from escaping his lips as he envisioned Peterson's huge frame and huge fists beating on Buck, and even worse, little JD, in the same way he had witnessed Peterson `deal with' perps. Like Nathan, Chris sensed too that Buck was hurt. And his gut told him that JD desperately needed his protector. He prayed that Buck could be there for the boy and with a new resolve, Larabee vowed that he would be there for them both.


Vin intended to place a comforting hand on his best friend's tense shoulder. Instead, he let his palm hover for a moment before limply dropping his arm to his side and curling that same palm into a tight white-knuckled fist. Vin too wanted to explode, but settled for driving his fist into his other palm. Fuck! How could he have just assumed that Buck was wearing that damn costume? Hell, everybody knows the hazards in making assumptions. And why hadn't he seen it coming? In truth, none of them had, but that fact didn't matter to Vin. He'd grown to rely on his sixth sense…something that had kept him and his friends away from impending danger on countless occasions.

And yet, even after he swore to Buck that he'd keep the kid out of trouble, that sixth sense had failed him this time and, in turn, he'd failed Buck and the kid. He'd get his friends back, though, that was a promise Vin wouldn't break. Whatever it took he'd get them home. And that sonofabitch who hurt them - Peterson - well, the ATF's best sharpshooter had plans for him. It had been awhile, but Vin knew he still had what it took to be a sniper. Oh yeah, he'd terminate Peterson alright…and enjoy doing it.


Josiah was doing his meditative best to remain calm. As much as he himself loved the boy and cared for Buck, he had to concentrate now on his partners here in the apartment. Sanchez knew that Vin would need help in keeping Chris focused and in control and therefore, he had to help Vin…to cope with Chris, and to cope with his own guilt. Josiah was a student of human nature and erudite when it came to his partners.

He knew that Vin too, would be beating himself up over JD's kidnapping. Their sharp-shooter had promised Buck he would take care of the boy in Purgatorio, and get him to the party safe and sound. Sanchez knew in his heart that upon realizing that JD was grabbed in Buck's absence and under most of the ATF's and their own team's very noses, Vin would hold himself solely responsible. That responsibility combined with trying to keep Chris from doing something suicidal to retrieve his lost men, was far too much for Vin to bear on his own. And so Josiah would be there for Vin…for all of them.

The profiler sent a silent prayer for his partners…those missing and in definite peril…and those standing here with him in this once warm and friendly home, now reduced to coldness and hostility. His prayer completed, the big man pledged a silent oath. Come hell or high water, they'd find their lost sheep. And for the wolf that had taken them…and undoubtedly had harmed them…Josiah would show no mercy.

+ + + + + + +

Still darkness…still nothing. Buck had tried to concentrate on any sounds above him, but there was simply nothing. Peterson must have abandoned him here in this godforsaken black hole.

Not quite willing to resign himself to that thought, Buck had finally decided he should give his mind a rest and give in to the darkness for just a little while. He was still much too weak. With one shoulder mangled and still handcuffed by one wrist as he was, his chances of overpowering Gene the next time he saw him would be slim to non-existent. But he'd be damned before he would let himself rot in this hellhole.

He didn't want to think about losing. Not when he knew what it would do to Chris. He didn't envy Vin. . .dealing with Chris' guilt. Buck had been there done that. And even though he knew that Vin could sense what Chris had put him through after the bombing, Tanner still understood only a fraction of the living hell Chris had put Buck through. No, he didn't envy Vin at all, but maybe if Buck lost, Chris would keep it together this time, for the remaining five, and especially for JD.

Dear God JD.

"Oh, kid," he sighed. The boy had lost enough. This just wouldn't be fair.

His eyes filled as thoughts of his surrogate 'little brother' ran through his mind. Buck had always enjoyed his life, but JD had brought a quality to it he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams. They'd ridden out all the references…'The Odd Couple'…Bert and Ernie'. He laughed softly at the latter reference, despite his pain. Someone had pointed out that Bert and Ernie were likely gay. JD had been mortified at the suggestion, having been brought up on a diet of Sesame Street as a kid. For weeks, he sported a t-shirt emblazoned with the two Muppets' faces and the slogan 'Only Rubberducky shares a bath with me!' until one day, much to JD's dismay, the Team wrestled him to the ground to remove it, burying it somewhere in Chris' back yard.

God, he loved that kid!

Buck whispered a silent prayer, If I don't get outta this, Chris, I'm still gonna need you. Be there for him, ole pard. You owe me, friend, you owe me this.

With his thoughts turning to despair, giving in to sleep once more was sounding more and more like a good idea. But as Buck's eyelids began to flutter closed, he heard the distinct sound of the opening and closing of a door above him.


Someone was walking on the floor above him and it sounded like he was getting closer. The sound was now coming from Buck's right. Another door opened and for an instant Buck was blinded by light and then just as quickly it grew black again, as the door was shut. A penlight shone a tiny beam as the steps were descended with heavy footfalls. With so little light, Buck could only glimpse a hint of his captor, but to his horror, he had already seen more than enough.

Rather than the image of Gene Peterson, Buck instead saw a reflection of himself earlier, wearing his shiny black Darth Vader suit.

Dear God, he `is' wearing the costume

The agent's muddled mind hadn't even considered that he was wearing only the t-shirt and light sweats he'd had on under the outfit. Buck's heart began to beat wildly. The reason why Peterson was wearing the costume struck Buck like another blow. His worst fears were founded. Gene `had' gone to the party, he had to have. But what had he done? Lord, what had he done?

Taking calming breaths to slow his thumping heart, Buck stayed quiet and waited. In this blackness, it was likely that Peterson didn't know he was awake. Although he'd been startled by the light momentarily flooding the basement, Buck had the wherewithal to play possum. Despite the odds against him, Buck would strike on Gene's approach. At least he'd have the element of surprise.


But Peterson didn't approach. Buck watched the thin beam of light descend the wooden steps, and then walk past him and he heard the click of boots against the concrete floor. Peterson's penlight provided frustratingly little information for Buck, so he forced himself to concentrate on his hearing to try to figure out what Gene was up to. He listened as Peterson grunted a few times and seemed to shift his weight. Or perhaps shift something against his weight. The footfalls stopped and Buck noticed that the light beam fell against what appeared to be wood rather than concrete. A wall or maybe a door? Buck stilled his breathing, and again wondered what in the hell Gene was doing. He then heard the opening and closing of what he now knew to be the door in front of him…and then the flip of another light switch. A trace of light seeped through the bottom of the door and Buck guessed that this other room was about fifteen feet away from him. He quickly tried to take in his surroundings with the little bit of light provided. It was useless. The light only showed him what he already knew…a concrete floor and the very bottom of a doorframe.

Wilmington could hear more movement coming from the room, shifting footsteps and minor grunts. And then he heard an oddly familiar sound, metal scraping against metal, almost like a wire hanger across a metal bar. Buck's wrists throbbed as the unwanted memory of being handcuffed over a pipe above his head began to emerge and he began to feel an overwhelming sense of dread. His heart resumed its race.

And then it dropped.

Good ole boy Buck had been on the giving and receiving end of more brawls and beatings than he cared to remember. Hell, he was pretty much an authority on the subject. That being the case, he could damn well recognize the distinct sound of fist striking flesh in a heart beat. And as the sickening sound repeated itself over and over, Buck's realization unveiled itself as a nightmare. The guys all knew what Buck would be wearing and Gene was the same size as he was. In that costume, caught off guard, Chris wouldn't have been any the wiser.

Geesus, Gene must've grabbed Chris at the party.

All thoughts of escape or defeat were now abandoned, replaced with the horrific sounds and images of his oldest friend, trussed helplessly, being brutally beaten as Buck had been earlier. Buck roared with fury.


The response was laughter. The sick laughter of a powerful man, highly trained in hand-to-hand combat…who had gone over the edge, to his own hell.

Well, Buck would meet him there; he'd pull his damn arm off if he had to, to get to Chris.

As the barbaric assault on Chris continued, Buck struggled desperately against his bonds. The effort was futile and he pounded his fist on the floor, screaming "NO!!" in defeat.

And then he froze. Oh, dear God, no!

He'd heard a desperate, anguished cry.

He'd been wrong. It wasn't Chris…it wasn't Chris at all.

It was JD.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee hated the feeling of helplessness enveloping him, twisting in his gut and tying it in knots. His oldest friend and his most innocent friend were in danger, undoubtedly hurt and paying dearly because of his actions - his decisions…always because of him.

Chris' jaw clenched tight, as did his fists. He would find his friends and take out Gene Peterson in the process. That was a certainty.

Chris also hated waiting, but here he was…waiting to hear from Peterson once again. The note had said 'stick around…I'll be in touch.' And so Larabee waited, furiously aware of just how much Gene Peterson would love to see the torture he was putting Chris through. Waiting in Buck and JD's home, suffocating from all the reminders of what they meant to each other, and what they meant to him. Gene held all the cards right now, and Chris hated that more than anything. Being out of control, especially when it involved the safety of his men, no, his friends, infuriated him.

The leader looked up and saw Tanner watching him and immediately felt grateful that he was there. His calming influence would keep Chris levelheaded. Ever calm, ever rational ever present…Vin.


Tanner had kept Chris from reaching through Buck's speaker phone and strangling Orin Travis over the news that that the ATF brass had suspected that Gene was losing control. And still they had tried to sweep their suspicions under the carpet.

Damn them!

And Vin kept Chris from shouting out his resignation when Travis told him he couldn't help coordinate the kidnapping case because his involvement was 'too personal'.

Too personal…Christ!

'Course when the retired judge said that Team 7 would have to stay out of the investigation entirely and let another team handle it, Tanner's tone changed considerably. When the sharpshooter eloquently told Travis just where he could shove that idea, it was Chris' turn to intervene. The ever calm, ever rational Vin Tanner did have his limits.


Orin W. Travis was no fool. He instantly realized that there was no way in hell Chris and the rest of Team 7 were going to back out of this case. Two of their own were in serious danger and more than likely already hurt and Team 7 hadn't gained the best reputation in the country for lack of brotherhood. Travis couldn't imagine a more disparate group of men, and yet together they worked better than a well-oiled machine, maybe not in harmony always, but still somehow they worked as one. With Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne separated from them and in peril, it was almost an instinctual need for the rest of the team to work together to reunite the whole. They all needed each other and therefore Travis realized he had to allow Chris some control. Otherwise Larabee would simply run his own rescue operation.

And so Orin Travis gave in.


Ignoring Nathan Jackson's protests concerning Ezra's still-recovering injury, Standish decided that he and Josiah would head to the ATF offices to deal with the judge and the other officials in order to help coordinate the investigation from that end.

And despite Vin's concerns for Chris, the sharpshooter couldn't sit around and wait any longer. Chris had to stay, Tanner didn't. He would head to Peterson's home to hopefully find some clues as to his friends' whereabouts. Nathan would accompany Vin…to make sure he didn't overdo it and to see if he could find anything that would help him identify what kind of drugs Buck and JD had been exposed to.

They needed to talk to Peterson's wife also -- to try to make some sense out of how a respected decorated officer of the law could have slipped so far as to now be holding two good men, fellow agents, hostage.

+ + + + + + +

"Stop -- Unnnnh -- P…please!"


Buck was frantic. He could barely make out the boy's words, but their force shot through his veins and exploded in his heart. He had seen a lot of terrible things during his life as a cop; been in situations he would never thought he could possibly have gotten out of, but never had he felt the kind of terror he was experiencing now.

It was bad enough thinking that your oldest friend was in the next room, suffering the beating of a lifetime at the hands of a nut-case, and that you were powerless to stop it, but then to suddenly realize that it was JD and not Chris. . .well that shook Wilmington to his very core. Chris was a man, damnit, a strong, stubborn man, and like Buck, he could take anything Gene Peterson could dish out.

But JD. . .

Buck knew JD was physically a pretty tough kid, tougher than big brother would usually admit to and gutsy as hell…too damned gutsy for his own good, sometimes. But, he 'was' just a kid, and a little one at that. Peterson was literally twice JD's size, and that fact infuriated Wilmington as much as it terrified him.

It wasn't as if the boy'd never been roughed up before. Hell, they all had, so this kind of ordeal wasn't entirely new to the young agent. And with JD being courageous to a fault, he had a mouth that, much to his roommate's dismay, usually managed to goad any assailant into taking a few extra swings at him.


This time was different, though. The fact that JD was crying out like he was, just tore at Buck's soul, but it also told him that something else was terribly wrong. And when he remembered the horrendous fear he'd felt when he first woke up in this place, Buck realized exactly what was wrong. The kid had been drugged too. As much as the punishment JD was receiving was hurting him, a drug was undoubtedly making his ordeal all that much worse. JD was terrified, and so was Buck.

"JD, kid. It's all right! You're gonna be all right!!" Buck hoped his voice didn't sound as desperate as he felt. He couldn't be there for him, but he would at least let the boy know he wasn't alone.

Buck quaked when he heard Peterson's sick laughter once again. And still the punishment continued.

"Nooo -- Unnnnh -- stop! Plea--why? Aaahunnnnh!! "

Oh God, no! Had he heard a bone break? Oh, please God, no!

"NOOOO!! YOU COWARD. LEAVE HIM ALONE!! Come out here and beat up on someone your own size, you fucking lunatic!!! Goddamn you! Get out here!! GET OUT HERE, FACE ME YOU FUCKING COWARD!!"

Nothing could hold back Wilmington's wrath now. Dear God, Gene was killing JD. This had to stop.



With the dreaded thought of JD possibly being broken reverberating in his mind, Buck Wilmington broke as well. He closed his eyes and began to fight back, with every ounce of his strength. He pulled and strained and he continued to roar and curse, but Peterson wouldn't stop. As his panic soared, Buck tried anything, including shouting out scathing attacks on Peterson's manhood and his career, to drive Gene away from JD.

But nothing Buck could say would halt Gene's relentless assault on the kid…'his' kid, damnit! Wild with grief, he felt his own sanity slipping away and, in one final act of desperation, Buck screamed and crossed over the line.

Buck Wilmington felt his shoulder pop and separate, but still he was bound.

The ruthless punches continued.

And no more of JD's cries followed them. The boy couldn't survive it and Buck couldn't help him. Feeling utter anguish, he let go. And this time, he only had the strength to weep.

+ + + + + + +