Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Betaed by Sue M. As before this fic is set around a gay pride event and there will be descriptions of gay couples, there may even be public displays of affection. Sean and Ian aren't mine, I only borrowed them and changed their names.
Chris was looking decidedly uncomfortable, which was unusual, if not unique, Chris was not a man who ruffled easily. When he'd headed off to the meeting with Travis he'd looked fine, his normal, focused, confident self. The Chris who came back was somehow different. Not that any of his team were going to ask him what was wrong, well none of them except Buck. Even Vin didn't have the bravado or confidence to just get up and walk into Chris' office without even knocking. Not ten minutes after Chris had stalked into his office, slamming the door behind him; Buck had pushed back his chair, and done just that.
"Man's got a death wish, I swear it," Nathan commented.
"Nah, Buck just knows how to handle him," Josiah informed them, knowingly.
"Really? You do know that it was Chris put that scar on his neck right?" JD reminded them, not disguising the apprehension in his voice.
"That was back when he was drinking, he'd never do anything like that now," Vin added, agreeing with Josiah.
If Ezra had an opinion, he never got to voice it, because just then, Buck's huge laugh wafted back to them though the thin office partition walls, and it just went on and on. Eventually the noise died down and they were unable to hear the rest of the conversation, but it was a long one. Eventually the two old friends appeared, Buck looked amused and Chris, resigned.
"Guys, we need to talk," Chris announced.
They all settled on a chair or desk and waited to hear what was going on.
Chris took a deep breath, glanced at Buck, who grinned and winked at him, then turned to the others.
"Okay, there has been something of a problem in Chicago, sniper killings, not unlike the ones in DC a while back. I know you guys know this, and I know you know it's been suppressed by the media, on the request of the FBI."
Josiah nodded. "The shooter is looking for attention, for fame even, cutting off that attention may slow the escalation and give them more time to find him or even her, I guess."
"The targets have all been gay men, so far there have been three shootings, one missed, two were wounded, but only one seriously. The trouble is..." He paused. "Their pride week is coming up."
"Surely they've cancelled it?" Nathan asked.
"Nope, too big, preparations too far advanced, too important, too high profile. So they want an undercover team and take part in the main parade, street festival and the run."
"Run?" Ezra asked.
"You know, where you move on your feet faster than a walk and see if you can do it faster than other people," Buck explained sarcastically.
Ezra gave him the finger.
JD was confused. "This is not good, but what the fu... hell as it got to do with us?" he asked.
Buck grinned at JD's almost cuss; he was spending way too much time with the habitually foul mouthed Vin.
"What he said," said Texan added.
"They need a team," Buck began. "Experienced, highly qualified, good with guns."
"Oh please, pull the other one!" Ezra exclaimed.
"None of the local teams are prepared to do it," Chris told them.
"Why the hell not?" Josiah asked.
"It's a dangerous assignment, we're setting ourselves up to be shot at," Chris explained.
"And, so?" Vin prompted
"And so it's a voluntary assignment, for us too."
"And no one volunteered?" Nathan asked.
"No team volunteered, they want a team, a cohesive unit."
"I still don't get why no team will do it?" Nathan persisted.
"No one wants to play gay or be seen and recognised as being gay. Am I right?" Josiah asked.
"Yes." Chris admitted. "There are of course FBI and ATF agents who are openly gay, but as I said, they want a proven team."
Buck and Chris looked at their friends. "Well?" Buck asked. "You guys up for it?"
The others looked at each other, and, as one, shrugged and said yes.
"Yes!" Buck exclaimed, clapping his hands together.
"Why are you so excited?" JD asked suspiciously.
"'Cause I know what float we get to ride on in the parade."
"And that is?" Ezra asked with due trepidation.
"We're gonna be the Village People!"
This statement was embraced with stunned silence from the five agents in front of him and a rueful shake of the head from his boss.
"Why?" Ezra finally asked.
"Yeah, why?" Josiah asked. "As I recall there were only six of them."
"We added one," Buck explained. "The thing is, we need to be able to wear Kevlar under the costume and carry guns without anyone noticing. See, it's perfect."
"What guarantee do we have that this fucker is gonna take a shot at us?" Vin asked.
"None, but we will be up front and the only float with no roof, so if he's up high...and so far he always has been, we'll be the easiest target. If he takes a shot there will be cops and agents all along the route to hopefully spot him, we might even get a shot of ourselves," Chris explained.
"I have one question," Nathan began.
"Which is?" Chris asked.
"Who gets to be who?"
Suddenly the others seemed to realise what was going to be involved.
"I had better be the cop," Ezra stated, wanting to claim what he considered the smartest outfit.
"It's taken," Chris told him darkly.
"When was this discussed?"
"Do you have a police uniform?"
"No, but I can procure one."
"I have one, and I'm wearing it." The finality of the statement cut of any further protest. Chris considered wearing his old DPD uniform not to be 'dressing up' and thus he was comfortable doing it.
Chris smiled with satisfaction. "Right so that's settled and JD will be the biker."
"WHAT!" several voices spluttered at once.
"You boys got a problem with that?" Buck asked.
"Well, I mean, he's.... and the biker is...." Vin was floundering and turned to Ezra for help.
"I'm what?" JD asked, innocently.
"What my friend here is trying to say is," Ezra began.
"Yes?" JD prompted.
"Is, that in my recollection of the afore said group, the gentleman in the leather was considerably more..."
"He's a hell of a lot bigger than you," Vin finished bluntly.
JD lifted an eyebrow.
"Tell me guys; do any of you own a set of bike leathers?" Buck asked.
"Well, no," Ezra admitted.
"And would any of you fit into JD's?"
"No," Josiah admitted sadly, because he'd quite liked the idea of being the guy in leather.
"Sorry Josiah, but we have to do this in a hurry," Buck sympathised.
"Well I'd better be the Indian," Vin stated firmly.
Chris had hoped he'd say this, but he wasn't going to suggest it.
"Vin, you're not going to wear your breast plate? I mean you can't it's too..."
"Josiah!" Vin interrupted. "I'm dyslexic not dumb; of course I ain't gonna wear it! For one thing how in the hell am I gone hide a bullet proof vest under a 150 year old breast plate made of bone and leather?"
"Sorry I just had this sudden vision, I didn't mean, that is I...."
"Ah stop it; I'm just funnin' with ya. Reckon you're just sufferin' from... What was it you call it when Buck does it?" Vin asked Ezra.
"Yeah that's it."
"I do what?" Buck asked.
"Put you're foot in you're mouth," JD translated.
Buck thought about this for a moment. "Well at least I don't have verbal diarrhea," he commented with a smirk.
"Touché." Ezra tipped an imaginary hat.
"So Vin, what are you gonna wear?" JD asked.
"I got some buckskins, and I can borrow some stuff from Chanu."
"Is that allowed, I mean, are you allowed to wear Cheyenne stuff?"
Vin shrugged. "Probably not, but who's gonna know?" Which was true, looking at him, you'd never know he was part Comanche. His DNA might be one quarter Native American but any genes had been swamped by generations of pale faced, blue eyed Europeans from his Tanner, Newman, Fitzgerald heritage.
"Josiah, you still have your uniform?" Chris asked.
"You know I do and yes, it still fits, so I guess the G.I. gets to be a marine?"
"Yup," Chris confirmed.
"I could do something with the construction worker," Ezra offered.
"Nope, that's Buck."
"Now how is that right? We only have that and the cowboy left, Mr Wilmington has a plethora of attire to choose from that would make a fine cowboy ensemble."
"Again with the verbal diarrhea," Buck commented, earning him a withering glare from Ezra.
"Buck called construction guy in the office," Christ told him firmly.
"Why does he get to choose before us?"
"R.H.I.P," Buck told him.
"Rank has its privileges," Nathan translated.
"Rank? What rank does he have?" Ezra spluttered.
"I've been an agent longer than any of you, 'cept for Chris," Buck pointed out.
"I hate to inform you, but I was a federal agent while you were still pounding the beat in Denver."
"That was in the FBI, feeb time don't count."
"It's a done deal, Ezra, you might as well accept it," Josiah counselled.
Ezra bristled. "What is this seventh character you have come up with?" he asked, more in hope than expectation.
"Fireman and that's you Nate," Chris told their medic. "I take it you can get an outfit?"
Nathan nodded; he regularly did ride-alongs with the local paramedics and had made many friends in the fire department.
"But that means I'm..." Ezra stood there horrified.
"Yes," Buck and Chris said in unison.
"Oh no, please anything but that, I don't have any clothes even remotely appropriate."
"Don't lie Ezra, you have a pair of jeans, I've seen them," Buck pointed out.
"Those are Armani!" Ezra protested.
"Which means you'll fit right in at a gay pride parade doesn't it?" Chris pointed out happily. "As will those fancy boots of yours."
"My blue ostrich skin ones?" Ezra asked in horror.
"Those are the ones."
"Those are custom made Ghost Rider boots!"
"Well I don't think those Timberlands you wear at the ranch will cut it."
"I don't have a shirt," Ezra pointed out.
"I'll lend you one," Buck offered with a grin.
"You can have one of my bandannas," Vin added happily.
Chris decided to offer an olive branch. "I think the ATF can spring for a new hat, since yours isn't that...traditional."
"My hat is..."
"Just fine, but I think a traditional Stetson would be better. Go get one this afternoon, don't spend more than $100."
"A $100?" Buck asked. "For a hat he'll wear once?"
"What did you spend on your new hat last year?" Ezra challenged.
Buck muttered something.
Buck nodded. "But I wear it all the time."
"Leave it brother. If he gets to go shopping with someone else's money, he'll be happy and stop whining," Josiah reasoned.
"For about an hour."
"Anything is better than nothing."
As they headed thought the departure lounge at Denver airport, Buck declared, "You know, with this Pride Month thing they have going on, there are gonna be a whole bunch of women in that city that I ain't met and who are just aching to meet a real man."
"Are you saying gay men aren't real men?" Josiah challenged.
"You know I'm not, why'd you always have to do that?" Buck asked, with clear irritation.
"We should learn to think about what we say, a casual remark like that can cause great offense."
"You know what I think? I think some folk need to grow a thicker skin and not go around reading the worst into everything anyone says or assuming it's about them."
"I'm just trying to point out, that you could offend gay men with that remark."
"Well I was talking to you and you ain't gay, so why are you so all fired uptight about it?" Buck rarely got upset about anything and even more rarely lost his temper, which he seemed to be close to doing now.
"That's enough," Chris cut in, he knew Buck wasn't losing his tempter, he was just annoyed, nonetheless he needed to put a stop to it. Buck's fuse was as long as the Mississippi, but if he ever did reach the sea, it was not a petty sight, violent, destructive and unpredictable. As far as Chris was aware none of the team had ever actually seen Buck lose it, what they had so far taken to be a loss of temper was, in reality, a pale imitation of the real thing. "Josiah lighten up, all of you watch what you say once we get there. And, Buck?"
"You will not be talking to any ladies in 'that' way until this thing is over."
"WHAT?" Buck spluttered. "Why the hell not?"
"'Cause we're undercover as gay men," JD pointed out.
"It's a big city, who's gonna know?" Buck pointed out, his anger with Josiah, gone, or at least put aside for now.
"I'll know, and that's enough, besides, for all we know our shooter is the desk clerk at the hotel right?" Chris looked at Josiah, who had been working with the FBI on a profile.
"He's clearly gun proficient, almost certainly male, probably gay but unable to accept it or reconcile it with his beliefs or... I don't know, without more information it's hard to say what his problem is. But he's taking out his own self loathing on the symbol of what he hates most in himself, i.e. openly gay men."
"But so far he hasn't killed anyone, so he's not at good as Vin," JD pointed out.
"Or he's very, very good." Josiah continued. "The first victim was by his car, the shot shattered the window right beside his hand, the second victim was hit in the thigh, grazed, the last guy was hit in the shoulder, in and out. It could be that he's working his way up to a kill shot."
"That's a comforting thought," Nathan muttered, pleased he'd insisted on bringing his own medical kit and not using a borrowed one.
"So we're clear, we are undercover as soon as we step out off that plane, right?"
No one said anything.
"Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes Chris," came the responses from five of his men.
It was clear Buck's earlier irritation had not been forgotten, but he squared his shoulders and nodded. "Whatever you say."
"Good, we've got four rooms booked, so six of us will be posing as couples."
The other six stopped walking as Chris carried on for a few paces.
"Run that by me again?" Buck asked.
Chris turned. "You heard me. Me and Vin, Josiah and Nathan and you and Ezra, will all be room mates, don't worry all the rooms have two beds, well except for JD's."
"I don't get a partner?" JD asked, not sure if this was a good thing or a snub.
"You're too young to be in a serious relationship, so you get to mingle and flirt."
JD paled. "I do what?"
"Mr Larabee, under what delusion do you think any gay man is ever going to believe that Mr Wilmington and I are a couple?"
"What's wrong with me? I'll have you know I get propositioned by men all the time!" Buck declared angrily and way too loud for JD's liking, he was still worried about the flirting.
"What you do in your own time is your own business," Ezra countered, "But if I were to ever 'dress on the other side' I am quite sure I'd find someone with more..."
"More what? 'Cause I can assure you buddy, I am not lacking!"
"And there you go and demonstrate my point. I was going to say more dress sense."
"And class, you were going to say class," Buck accused.
"No, just someone who clearly shares some interests with me. We can be, and I hope still are, friends, but can you really, in all honesty, see us living together for more than a week without resorting to homicide?"
Buck took a moment to think on this. "No, don't reckon we could." With a mischievous grin he looked over at Chris. "See, it won't swing, why don't I take the single and let JD bunk with Ezra?"
"Or indeed I can do the flirting and Buck and JD can share," Ezra proposed, earning him a glare from Buck.
"You can be my sugar daddy," JD suggested.
"I'm not that old, you'd have to bunk with Josiah for that."
"No one is changing," Chris told them firmly, walking off again.
As they moved off, Nathan managed to manoeuvre them so he and Josiah were at the back then slowed so that a gap opened up.
"Can we talk?" Nathan asked quietly.
"About what?" Nathan never needed to ask, so Josiah was slightly troubled by this approach.
"I know you mean well, but sometimes my friend, you get it so wrong, first with Vin and now Buck." Before Josiah could say anything, Nathan continued. "We all know Buck isn't homophobic, far from it, so why did you say that to him?"
"Because he has a tendency to say things that other people could take the wrong way, even if he doesn't mean anything by it."
"Said the pot about the kettle."
"What? Me? I don't..."
"Last Saturday, we were all playing soft ball out at Chris', Buck caught you what three times?"
"And how many times did you call him a 'son of a bitch'?"
Josiah shrugged. "A few, I guess, what of it? We call each other that, and worse, all the time?"
"I know, me included, but let's just think about that one and Buck in particular, shall we?"
With that Nathan lengthened his stride, while Josiah still dawdled, until the penny dropped. "Ah hell!"
With such short notice, securing rooms in or close to the Lakeview community area had proved impossible, so Team Seven were forced to stay in a rather impersonal hotel, near the airport. They arrived, just before noon on the Thursday and barely had time to drop their bags in their rooms before they headed off to Chicago's federal building for a briefing. As soon as they arrived, they were lead, to a large conference room, full of people. There were the FBI, local police from Lakeview, more police from the city's headquarters uniform and detectives, SWAT officers, fire and rescue, someone from the Mayor's office and two planners from the Pride organising committee. Lastly, at the far end of the table, was the leader of the local ATF team.
Team Seven normally worked alone, when they did work with other agencies and local LEOs they were in charge, Chris might not always be the designated 'Agent in Charge' but if Team Seven were there, Chris was in charge, of everything.
"Agent Larabee, gentlemen, welcome to Chicago," the ATF agent stood. "I'm Agent Carol Furness. Please take a seat and I'll make some introductions, and update you."
It was not good news; while they had been travelling there had been another shooting. A man named Adrian Dumitru, was shot and killed as he walked to work. He was hit from the roof of a store, the bullet entered though his shoulder, nicked his heart, cut through both lungs and exited through his liver; he was dead long before any ambulance could reach him. They knew where he was shot from, because of the trajectory, but there was no other evidence. It was early in the morning, the store was empty, no staff were due to be there for at least two hours. A fire escape made access to the roof relatively easy and there were no security cameras anywhere in the vicinity. They suspected that their shooter had observed the victim before the shooting, since there was no other way to know he was gay. The first three victims had been targeted in what could be called 'gay locations', the first was shot at after exiting a male only gym and sauna, the second as he walked hand in hand with his boyfriend and the third, after exiting a known gay bar. Adrian Dumitru was walking to the L stop on a week day morning, just like millions of others. True he was on the edge of a known gay district, but he was alone, dressed in none descript jeans and tee shirt. Did the shooter know he was gay or was it just a guess?
Chicago might be known as the 'windy city' but all Team Seven could think of was that it should be called the 'hot city' hot and humid. After a second briefing on Friday morning they explored Lakeview, and in particular they walked the parade route. The streets were reasonably wide and straight, lined with a mixture of buildings. Some were low rise and some high, with many variations in between, including plenty of tall town houses that would provide a sniper with an excellent vantage point. Much of the route, however, was tree lined, and with the trees heavy with summer foliage, they blocked the view of the road from many possible shooting positions. As they strolled down the streets they were quickly able to identify those sections of the route most vulnerable.
As Chris walked beside Vin, he was both amazed and proud, ahead of him, his team projected a persona that was not their own, looked relaxed and comfortable and at the same time they were all doing their job, taking in everything, every building, every tree, every fire hydrant, every intersection, all of it mapped, filed and analysed in a seemingly casual stroll. It took time, but as vital as it was, the day was oppressively hot and most of them were participating in a run the next day, so around six, Chris called a halt.
"Time to eat guys," he declared.
"Damn, took you long enough!" Vin declared.
"Yeah," JD agreed.
Nathan just stood there and stared, between them, Vin and JD had eaten all day, burritos, pretzels, hot dogs, ice cream, water melon, more ice cream.
"What?" JD asked
Buck shook his head and patted his young friend on the back. "Don't sweat it kid, let's just go eat, my belly thinks my throat's been cut!"
Chris just rolled his eyes and turned to lead them to their chosen restaurant, a Tex Mex place they had passed on their way there, it wasn't on the actual parade route, but it was somewhere they could relax and Vin was prepared to eat the food. He'd made it plain, without actually saying anything, that he wasn't impressed with any of the other, mostly ethnic restaurants they had passed, Indian, French, Moroccan; he even turned his nose up at Tapas, despite all the others telling him he'd like it. Vin was a man who liked his food, so long as it was the food he knew and trusted.
"Hello again," a tall man greeted their table cheerfully.
Buck smiled back. "Hi, it's..." he tried to remember the man's name. "Detective, no Sergeant Annadale? You were at the briefing."
"Right, but please call me Ian."
"Take a seat," Chris offered.
Team Seven were sitting at a large booth and quickly moved around to make space on the end.
"It's a bad business," Ian commented, all the time watching something at the bar.
"Yeah, gotta say I admire them for not calling it off," Buck commented. "Not sure I agree with it, but it's ballsy."
"It's just another kind of terrorism, we're not gonna let bastards like this drive us off the streets."
"Us?" JD asked, "You mean you're...?"
Ian finally turned away from watching the bar. "Yeah kid, I'm gay. I volunteered for the detail, on the float, but the feds wanted a proven team."
JD looked at him again, he was a good looking guy, a lot like Buck, similar age, tall, not as tall as Buck, maybe six feet, thick, dark hair, blue eyes and a dazzling and ready smile.
"The queen of the ATF asked for you guys specifically at least that's what I heard, seemed to think you guys are the best."
Josiah looked at Chris. "Have we ever worked with her, I don't recall the name."
Chris shook his head. "Not that I know of."
"Fame at last," Nathan commented.
"And you guys are all straight?" Ian asked, clearly needing some kind of definitive confirmation.
"Every one of us," Buck assured him, finally looking over to see what their new friend kept looking at. "There a problem?"
"Well, that is one of your team over there, right?" He indicated the bar, where Ezra, in his expensive designer clothes, was talking intently to a similarly dressed young man.
"Yes, that's Ezra, why?" Chris asked.
"And he's straight?" Ian asked again.
"Yes," Buck confirmed.
"Phew, as they say, otherwise I might have to punch his lights out for chatting up my partner!"
Six faces now examined the young man with Ezra, he was young, maybe older than JD, but younger than Vin, he too was close to six foot, with dark, close cropped hair.
"He's cute," Buck commented with a smile.
"Yeah, he's the whole package, better than I deserve, way too young for me really," Ian told them, almost wistfully.
"Nah," JD told him. "Buck dated a college junior in the summer."
"Really?" several voices asked.
"Oh come on, she'd served four years in the military first," Buck defended.
"So that made her, what 24?" Chris asked.
"Maybe, but she was into older men and she was not 'inexperienced', if you know what I mean!" He waggled his eyebrows at them.
"Sean's 25," Ian told them.
"What has that got to do with love?" Josiah asked.
"Nothing, not a damn thing," he admitted.
Ezra and Sean were now making their way over to the booth, both of them smiling.
"Good to see you have found each other," Ezra commented. "Sean's been telling me where the best local designer clothes shops are. When this is all over, we're going to go shopping."
Ian laughed. "Well that explains that, another shopping addict?" he asked the rest of Team Seven.
"Oh you have no idea!" lamented Vin.
"Might see you on Sunday, I volunteered to be your driver. Should know if it's me first thing tomorrow - you kinda put a wrench in their plans," Sean told them.
"He's a fireman," Ian explained proudly.
Chris had rejected their assigned driver, insisting they needed someone who, as well as being qualified to drive the flat bed truck, was used to driving it at speed on crowded streets and most importantly wouldn't panic if the bullets started to fly. A fire truck driver would be ideal.
"Aren't you a bit young to be the driver, I though the older guys did the driving?" JD asked as Sean and Ezra pulled up chairs and more beer was ordered.
"Yeah, well, our regular driver, Jean, got pregnant somewhat unexpectedly and they needed someone in a hurry, I'd done the course and it turns out I'm a natural."
"And it means he's less likely to be putting himself in danger running into flaming buildings," Ian explained, clearly happy with this development.
"But its okay for you to volunteer to be target for this nutter?" Sean challenged.
"And you wouldn't have joined me at the drop of a hat?"
Sean smiled. "You know I would."
Simultaneously both men reached out and took the others hand, they looked at the other men at the table. "Sorry, old argument. You guys all running tomorrow?"
"Five of us," Chris explained. "Josiah's gonna be with the marshals and Nate with the medics. What about you guys."
"No, we're both working, but we'll be there on Sunday, whether we're working or not," Ian assured them.
The run on Saturday morning was being held in a lake side park, an open area, where the trees well spaced, no place for a high position- loving sniper to hide, so a relatively safe venue hopefully. There were actually three runs, a ten and a five kilometre run and a two kilometre walk. It would have been best if they could have run with their 'partners' but only Buck and Vin were really up for the full ten K, since they both ran regularly, usually daily. Ezra's preferred means to keep in shape was swimming, while Chris found the manual work on the ranch was as good as any contrived fitness routine. JD had tried running with Buck, but there was no way, no matter how fit he got that his legs were ever going to keep up with Buck's long strides over any kind of distance, so he'd taken to running on a treadmill in a gym, where he could watch TV and run a relatively short but faster distance, than Buck's preferred street routine, plus, as he pointed out to Buck, he always got to run in the dry, in a nice steady, climate controlled 70 degrees.
Although the team had stayed up late the night before, chatting with Ian and Sean, they were all alert and ready for anything as they lined up, Vin and Buck for the longer race, Chris, JD and Ezra for the shorter. Nathan was one of the volunteer medics on duty, while Josiah, resplendent in florescent yellow bib, was working with the organisers, as a race marshal.
"Chris ain't serious about one of us tryin' to win, is he?" Vin hissed to Buck as they lined up.
"You ever know Chris to give an order he didn't mean?"
"So, who's gonna win?"
"Me," Vin stated confidently.
"Eat my Nevada dust, Tex!" Buck shouted as the flag rainbow of course was dropped and the race began, and he sprinted away.
Chris had ordered one of them to win, or at least get noticed trying. "We need to raise our profile," he had told them seriously.
"You gonna win your race Cowboy?" Vin had snarked, knowing full well there was no chance. If there had been a log splitting contest or fence hole digging race, he'd have put money on Chris to win, but running five K? No.
In all honestly Buck knew he didn't have a hope in hell of winning the race, he was fit, he reckoned he ran more than ten K most days, and he had a sprint finish, but there were men and women in this race who were clearly serious athletes, not to mention being a lot younger than him, or even Vin. So he had decided to be an unofficial pace maker, which at least should get him noticed.
Whether Vin could win was a different matter. Tanner ran most days, same as Buck, but while Buck just ran on the streets close to his home, Vin ran on rough mountain trails. Buck didn't know how hard Vin pushed himself on these runs, or how far he really ran, but Buck figured he'd find this flat run on smooth paths a lot easier.
Within a year of joining the ATF, Vin had moved out of the rundown, 'war zone' neighbourhood where he'd been renting an apartment, and bought a home as close to the mountains as his budget would allow. His little house in Edgewater was rather run down when he got it, but it had a working fire place the one thing Vin wasn't going to compromise on and a garage for his old jeep and the Harley, and that was all he cared about. With seven motivated guys working on it, the transformation in just three weekends had been truly amazing.
Back at the shorter run, JD and Ezra quickly worked out that sprinters, which they both effectively were, shouldn't run distance events. They started well, but after less than two K they both felt their legs tie up, especially the calf muscles. Mindful that they need to stay fit and mobile, they eased up and jogged the rest of the run. Chris discovered he was fitter and faster than he would have given himself credit for. In the end JD and Ezra finished in the top part of the last third of the field, Chris was in the top twenty percent, about which he was quietly very pleased.
With their race over the three of them hurried over to see the end of the longer race. There was a quite a crowed gathered around the finish and the excitement was rising. With Chris projecting formidable 'alpha male' presence, they passed relatively easily to the front of the throng, close to the tape. Coming toward them were a group of at least ten runners, almost abreast and right there in the middle was Vin, hair flying behind him! The run might have been for fun, but these men were taking it seriously. Chris, Ezra, JD and Josiah all thoughts of being an impartial official forgotten began to bellow their support. It was a close finish, with Vin just being edged out into forth place. As he staggered to a stop the others ran over to him and Chris enveloped him in a very tight hug.
"Cowboy? What ya doin'?" Vin gasped into his ear.
"Congratulating my partner remember?"
"Oh yeah, well put me down or I'm gonna puke!"
Chris quickly let go and stood back as Vin doubled over, bracing his hands on his knees and tried to slow his breathing. JD pulled out a bottle of water and thrust it under his nose.
"Thanks," he managed to gasp before taking a drink, slowly straightening up as he did.
"And where, I wonder, is my partner?" Ezra asked.
Still drinking, Vin gave a 'search me' hand gesture.
"Slow up, or you'll make yourself sick," Nathan warned Vin, as he came over.
Vin obediently pulled the bottle back and took a breath. Behind them the winner was being congratulated, as more and more finishers came across the line.
"Sorry guys, I need you to move," Josiah told them as the first woman came in sight and the tape was prepared again.
Even as the women's winner was being applauded, they spotted Buck, jogging slowly toward them. As he crossed the line and received his medal of participation, Nathan handed him some water.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Oh sure, gave up running about a mile back."
"Not as fit as you thought?" Chris asked with a grin.
"Damn fool crazy is what he is!" Vin told them.
"Meaning?" Ezra asked.
Before he got an answer, the race winner, a very tall man, with steel grey, slightly wavy hair and a truly impressive physique, came over.
"That was amazing man!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand to Buck. "I had no idea there was a pace maker, but thanks."
"Kind of a spur of the moment thing," Buck told him between gulps of water.
"Really? Damn, well thanks, best race we've had in years." He pulled a slightly startled Buck into a hug.
"Excuse me!" Ezra cleared his throat. "Hands of my boyfriend."
The winner stepped back, lifting his hands. "No problem. You treat him good tonight, he earned it! Thanks again!" he called as we walked away.
"You gonna treat me right tonight?" Buck asked seductively in Ezra's ear.
"You can have both the mints," Ezra whispered back.
"You're too good to me."
"And the first shower, but..."
"Only if you promise not to, you know..."
"Do what you always do in the shower."
"I'm on a no woman diet here Bro, a man has needs."
"In that case I still take the first shower."
"It's not like I don't clean up!"
"That is not the point, I know, and that's enough."
"You're right, we really never could live together." With that Buck gave him a chaste kiss on the cheek and they parted.
"JD, how do you manage to live with this man?" Ezra asked.
"Separate bedroom and bathrooms, on different floors," came the reply.
Once all the events were over, they enjoyed an al-fresco lunch in the park before heading back to their hotel to freshen up and change their clothes. After a rest they headed back to Lakeview to meet Ian and Sean for supper at the restaurant where they first met. Ian had called earlier to say that Sean would be their driver and suggesting they meet up. Later that evening, their new friends persuaded them to move on to a livelier bar, the better to absorb the culture and be seen. It was here JD was put to the test.
"Go on kid, go mingle," Buck encouraged, expecting his young friend to baulk at the suggestion, but he didn't. With no more than a deep breath he stood and headed for the crowded bar area.
After two hours, in which they had seen him only twice, briefly, they were beginning to worry. Just as Buck was preparing to go looking for him he bounded up, and flopped down at their booth.
"Where the hell have you been?" Buck demanded.
"Flirting and mingling, wasn't that my assignment?"
"For two hours?"
"Yeah, did okay too, look." He pulled out his phone and flipped it open. "I've got, wait let me check, yeah, seven phone numbers!"
"What!" Vin grabbed the cell phone from him and peered at it. "Well I'll be, Tim, Jorge, Hans, Bill, Mick, Lee and Ali. Damn boy, what you been offering them?"
JD sat back, smiling, smugly. "Nothing, I was a bit worried about the whole thing, I mean I'm not ashamed to admit it, but, well I got talking to Sean..." their new friends were at that time on the dance floor. "...and he told me not to worry, he said looking the way I do, all I had to do was stand there and check guys out and they'd talk to me and it worked!"
"So what did you talk about?" Josiah asked.
"It's just like talking to girls in a bar, only you get to talk about cars and bikes and sports instead of, you know films and books and feelings, it's a lot easier."
"JD, son, is there something you need to share with us?" Buck asked, not entirely in jest.
"No, don't worry, but I reckon that's why I get on with Casey so well, 'cause, you know, I can talk to her like I can another guy."
Casey was the niece of Chris' neighbour, Nettie Wells. She had only been seventeen when she and JD first met, but the five year age difference had never seemed to be a problem. Casey was also a tomboy, more interested in dirt-bikes and football than clothes and gossip but as Casey got older, friendship had been changing into something deeper.
Buck relaxed back into his seat. "I wasn't worried, I just didn't want to say anything that might upset you," he gave Josiah a pointed look.
Sanchez cringed inwardly. "Yeah, about that," he began. "I should have said something sooner, I was way out of line at the airport."
"Yeah, you were."
"You guys arguing?" Ian asked as he and Sean came up, both hot and sweaty.
"Nope, you guys having fun?" Chris asked.
"Always," Sean assured them as they both flopped down at the booth and poured themselves some beer from the pitcher.
"Ready for tomorrow?" Ian asked.
"Not really, but we'll be there," Chris told him.
"So will we, as you know, there'll be plain clothes officers shadowing every float on each side. I did a switch, so I'll be alongside you guys."
Sean leaned in and kissed him. "My hero."
Sunday dawned bright and clear, with only a breath of wind. The heat and humidity had necessitated a few last minute costume changes. Nathan had been forced to abandon the heavy flame proof jacket and wear just the trousers and a loose fitting white tee-shirt, with big yellow braces to keep the trousers up. Originally he was going to carry a 9mm pistol in a shoulder holster under the jacket, now he had to put it in the trousers' deep pocket, after checking twice that the safety was on. JD too, had been forced to abandon his heavy black leather jacket and transfer his weapon to an ankle holster. Buck had been offered a 9mm, but insisted to on carrying his old Glock, with the double magazine, some people complained the hand grip was too thick, but Buck liked the heavy solid feel of it, luckily he was able to hide it in his tool belt. Chris was able to carry his Sig openly. Ezra had requisitioned a Magnum revolver and placed it in his holster, where it looked for all the world like a Colt Peace Maker. Josiah had also requisitioned a gun, an M16, fully loaded and working, no marine would be seen without one. Vin carried a working replica of a Winchester 73, also fully loaded.
So, in costume, armed and ready, hot, heavy Kevlar vests on, they climbed aboard the truck. It was decked out in rainbow bunting and equipped with a sound system, playing, what else, but a constant loop of The Village People's greatest hits. Sean grinned up at them.
"Damn guys, don't you make a picture, you'll be the belles of the ball!"
"Shut up and drive, before I have second thought about all this," Chris growled.
While no one wanted to cancel the parade, some changes had been made, all the walking elements of the parade were placed at the back. Only the Village People would be on an open flatbed truck, all the other floats would have some form of roof. Those that didn't have roofs already, had their 'wet weather contingency' cover fitted, if it was transparent, it was painted over. Team Seven would be near the back, the idea, worked out with the profilers, was that their shooter, hindered by the lack of clear targets would get frustrated and shoot at the first high visibility target he could get a bead on. That was the plan.
Sean climbed into the driver's cab, also wearing Kevlar, on Ian's insistence but much against his will.
"Ready boys?" he called out of the window.
"As we'll ever be," Chris told him.
"Okay then, let's roll."
They took their place in the parade order and waited for the off, it was only a few minutes, but it felt like hours. Then they were moving, slowly. As they neared the corner where they would turn and leave the marshalling area to join the parade, Buck flipped the switch on the sound system.
"Come on boys, time to do your thing!" he encouraged.
There had been no time to practice any routines, other than watching a few old videos and practising the arm movements to YMCA they just had to do their own thing. It was not a good start as five men stood there and wiggled like some middle aged business men dragged unwillingly onto the dance floor at the Christmas party.
"Guys, guys, get with the program here!" Buck called as he gyrated, swivelled his hips, clapped and generally let himself go.
"Yeah guys, it's fun!" JD shouted as he danced away, any inhibitions he'd had, had been left back in the bar the night before.
Vin took a deep breath, he put music on for his once a month house keeping afternoon, and often ended up dancing as he swept, polished, washed and ironed. He could do this, it was just like cleaning the house.
Ezra took seconds to invent a totally fictitious persona, a male stripper, entertaining a group of women, with that in his head he was moving.
Josiah reasoned away his inhibitions and began to dance, encouraging Nathan to do the same.
"Come on brother, no one here knows you, so let yourself go!"
Nathan shrugged and began to move with the music.
Buck sidled up to Chris, still clapping and gyrating. "I remember you dancing at your wedding Stud, so I know you can do this."
"I was drunk."
"Not that drunk, it's your duty Lieutenant, so snap to it!"
"If cussing helps go ahead, but I gotta tell you singing along helps more. Come on with me...In the Navy!"
Finally Chris loosened up, and let himself move to the music.
"Hey Officer!" someone from the crowed shouted up. "Wanna take down my particulars?"
Chris looked down to see a man, admittedly in very good shape, wearing nothing but a very brief pair of Speedos leering at him and giving him a wink.
"I am way too old for this," Chris muttered to himself as he waved to the guy and then looked ahead.
As the parade progressed they danced and chatted back to the crowd, they looked relaxed, they appeared to be doing nothing more than having a good time, but all the time they were scanning the buildings around them. Without having to plan it or give any signals they took it in turns, one on each side interacting with the crowd, the others watching. Agent Furness had been right all along. This was a job for a team, who could work seamlessly without having to think about it and without anyone watching realising what they were doing, this was what Team Seven were famous for and rightly so.
Ezra was doing something vaguely resembling line dancing, but with arm actions to 'Go West'.
"Wanna join me homo on the range?" someone called up.
"Reckon you can ride my bronco?" Ezra countered.
"For you sugar, any time!"
"Over my dead body!" Buck told him pulling Ezra in close and grinding his groin against the southerner's hip.
The man in the crowd laughed as they moved on past him.
"So, you're the possessive type are you?" Ezra asked.
"I think so, you're younger than me and richer, I wouldn't let you far from my sight."
"I never realised I was such a catch!" Ezra laughed.
Now that he'd got over his inhibitions, Vin was enjoying himself, he wasn't much for the banter, so just tended to wave, smile or wink in response, but was pleasantly surprised by the number of compliments he got. As he moved he scanned the rooftops, left to right and back, looking to spot that one 'thing' that was out of place, some movement, something glinting in the sun, something there that shouldn't be, or not there that should be. Any shot, if it came, would almost certainly come from this side, since anyone on the other side would have the sun in their eyes. Just as his eyes reached the extreme right of his scan something in the furthest corner of his left peripheral vision caught his attention, a movement, something that registered on a subliminal level. Before he could shout a warning, even as the word 'gun' was forming on his lips a shot rang out.
Time seemed to stand still and yet things moved. Buck, who was standing on the other side of the float had his back to the crowd, wiggling his ass suggestively, while watching the lower level windows of the buildings on Vin's side. Suddenly he staggered back and began to overbalance, windmilling his arms desperately, but to no avail, he fell back onto the road, some five feet below, landing on his shoulder, his head making contact with a sickening thud. Sean saw something in his wing mirror, no more than a dark shadow almost at the same time as he heard the shot. Without thinking he brought the big truck to a quick but smooth stop, fearing that what had fallen was a man who might now be in danger of going under the wheels. The rest of Team Seven turned toward the sound of the shot, guns being drawn as they did. Vin's Winchester was already at his shoulder and there was a second shot. Time restarted as a dark figure fell from the roof of the building.
Suddenly there was noise, people began shouting, even screaming. JD, Ezra and Nathan jumped down and ran to Buck's prone and unmoving form. Josiah, Chris and Vin headed toward the fallen shooter. On the sidewalk Ian was almost there already, gun drawn.
"Oh my God, It's a cop!" someone shouted from the huddle around the body.
"I think he's dead!" came another shout as Ian arrived.
"It's him, he's the gay killer!" another voice accused looking not at the uniformed body but at Ian, who hadn't had time to pull his badge out from under his shirt.
"No wait, I'm a..." he didn't get any further as several men grabbed him and wrestled him to the ground, pulling the gun out of his hand.
"I'll teach you, think we're an easy target do you? See how easy this is!" The man who'd grabbed Ian's gun delivered a kick to his midriff.
Nathan dropped to his knees and almost slid to a halt beside Buck, blood was already pooling around his head.
"Nathan?" JD asked desperately as he joined him.
"Give me a second."
Another plain clothes officer was now running across to them. "I called it in!" he shouted as he came. "What else do you need?"
"Can you handle crowd control?" Ezra asked, seeing the confusion all around them.
"Well?" JD pressed Nathan again.
"He's breathing. Looks like a nasty gash on the back of his head."
"Take a look at his shirt." Ezra pointed to Buck's red plaid shirt, there was a neat hole right in the centre.
Nathan pulled the shirt open, there right in the centre of Buck's chest, embedded in the Kevlar vest were the flattened and mangled remains of a bullet. "Jesus!" Nathan cursed.
JD, a lapsed catholic, actually crossed himself and whispered. "Thank you God."
"Left shoulder," Ezra said calmly. Even in the deepest crisis, Ezra's powers of observation never left him.
Nathan began to examine the joint. "Dislocated, maybe broken."
In the distance, sirens were approaching.
Before the man could deliver a second kick, Josiah had grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back so hard he was lifted off his feet.
"That isn't very lady like!" The assailant was in full drag as a 'Sister of Perpetual Indulgence'.
"He shot a cop!" the Sister insisted in a very deep and manly voice.
"No he didn't I did," Vin informed him tersely as he pushed past, rifle resting on his shoulder, badge in his hand.
Chris was already at the body, there was neat hole in the man's forehead.
"Oh God, what I have done?" Vin breathed as he squatted down.
"Don't jump to any conclusions," Chris warned. "You don't make mistakes like this."
"I'm as human as the next man."
Sean came running over, shoving people out of the way, in a frantic attempt to get to his lover, his own medical bag over his shoulder.
"Are you okay?" he asked desperately.
Ian was hunched over somewhat, one arm wrapped protectively around his ribs. "Yeah, I'm okay."
"You're bleeding." Sean reached out to touch the nasty graze on Ian's cheek.
"I'm okay, go check the body, just in case."
Forcing professional duty to overcome love, Sean nodded and moved to the figure on the floor. He took in the lifeless eyes, the hole and the lack of blood, then, not that there was any doubt, he checked for a pulse.
"He's dead alright."
Ian came over and looked down at the body, then he squatted down, grimacing as the movement pulled on his injured ribs. "Oh my God, it's Jan!"
"Who?" Sean asked
"Jan Corazon, he was a cop, a long time ago."
"You mean he's not a cop now?" Vin asked.
"No, not for fifteen years, I knew him when I was a rookie, he's a few years older than me. He went on to join SWAT."
"That makes sense," Chris commented.
"So why'd he leave the force?" Sean asked.
"He was dismissed, failed a random drug test, twice."
By now other police officers and parade marshals had moved the onlookers back, and got the rest of the parade moving past the scene. Ian told the men who had attacked him, that just this once he was giving them a 'get out of jail card' and to get lost before he thought about charges, which they did very quickly and gratefully. The crime scene secured, the members of Team Seven present, hurried over to see how Buck was doing. As they rounded the truck the ambulance pulled up.
"Any news?" Sean asked as he and Ian walked into the ER waiting area, where six members of Team Seven paced like caged tigers.
"He's in x-ray."
Sean nodded. "Well I'm taking him there now." He nodded to his partner, who was still guarding his ribs, I'll see what I can find out."
"'Preciate it," Chris told him. "They won't even let Nathan back there."
Some two hours later Buck was beginning to struggle back to consciousness. He wasn't sure he liked the sensation he was feeling, it wasn't painful as such, just a little disconcerting, it was as if his body was encased in some kind of sticky molasses, and he had to push against it to move anything, even to breath.
The voice was familiar, but so very far way.
"Come on back to us," the voice encouraged but where?
"I need you."
He needs me, it was a male voice, why does he need me?
"Buck, come on, open your eyes."
Eyes were small, maybe there was no molasses on them, maybe they would open easily? He'd give it a go.
JD watched his best friend's eyes flutter a few times then open. "Hello," he greeted.
Buck frowned at him.
"Give it a moment, let your eyes adjust."
After a few moments the frown faded. "JD?"
"The one and only."
Buck tried to lift his head, only to discover that the molasses had apparently tethered it to the pillow, so he gave up and let it fall back, which sent a stab of pain though his head.
"Careful, you've got nine stitches back there," JD told him softly. "Here." A straw was pressed to his lips. "Drink."
Buck drew in the ice water and sighed, nothing had ever tasted so good.
JD looked up at the nurse standing at the end of the bed, as Buck seemed to fall back into unconsciousness, the straw still between his lips.
"Don't worry, the doctor said he's going to be fine, no swelling, just a really nasty concussion, with the drugs he's on he's going to sleep for hours."
When Buck woke up again, some nineteen hours later, he was more alert and found Chris at his bedside and Nathan at the end of the bed.
"Am I dying?" he asked.
"Nah," Nathan assured him.
"You sure? Sure as Hell feels like it."
"Your head hurt?"
Buck considered lying, as he had so many times before, but the pain in his head was so bad he actually felt like crying, finally he nodded.
"I'll find the doctor, see about adjusting your pain meds again, they reduced it so you'd wake up."
When Nathan was gone, Buck looked over at Chris. "We get the bad guy?"
Chris nodded "Vin shot him, single shot between the eyes."
"With the Winchester?"
"Ain't you glad the damn scrawny bastard's on our side?"
"Every day. Killer was ex SWAT."
"Figures. Why'd he do it?"
"They're still working on that."
"I'm really not dying?"
"Concussion, laceration to the back of your head, dislocated shoulder and a cracked sternum."
"He got you dead centre in the chest, Kevlar saved you, but that shot packed a hell of a punch."
"So next time I say wear the vest, I don't want any complaints from you."
"Never again pal, I swear it."
"You said that last time."
Buck had to stay in the hospital for two nights, they wanted to be sure there were no complications from the concussion and get the right balance of pain meds that would give him the maximum relief but leave him able to function safely, although he still tended to sleep a lot. They all had to give statements and Vin had to stay in Chicago for the initial internal affairs investigation into the shooting of Jan Corazon. Two days after Buck was released, they all gathered, not at the restaurant, but at Ian and Sean's home, a lovely ground floor apartment with a pleasant courtyard garden at the back, for a farewell barbeque. Ian, with one broken and two cracked ribs was still on sick leave.
The nine of them sat around as the charcoal heated up.
Sean handed Ian the one and only beer he was allowed. Buck, whose pain meds were much stronger, looked on longingly, he wasn't permitted anything stronger than coke.
"I, well we," Chris began. "Want to offer you guys an open invitation to Denver, anytime, I've got a ranch with horses you can borrow..."
"Just don't borrow Vin's horse," JD warned.
"There is nothing wrong with my horse!" Vin told them, yet again.
"Other than the whole biting and kicking thing, obviously," Nathan reminded.
"Let's not forget the tendency to lie down and roll in the middle of rivers!" Ezra added.
"That only happened once," Vin defended.
"So you claim, I for one have seen you return to the barn suspiciously damp." Josiah pointed out.
"Right, well apart from Peso you can borrow the horses, there's great hiking, Buck and Josiah are masters of the cook out and in the winter you're only a short drive from some great skiing," Ezra finished.
"You had us sold at Denver," Ian told them. "We may just take you up on that."
"So, you gonna tell them or shall I?" Sean asked his partner.
"Tell them what?"
"You know what."
"Well?" Chris asked.
"We know why he did it, Corazon that is," Ian began. "And," He looked over at Josiah. "We all got it wrong."
"You mean he wasn't gay?" Sanchez asked.
"Oh no he was gay, though I didn't know that when I knew him, but he didn't hate gays, quite the opposite, he was out and happy. Seems after he got booted off the force he drifted for a bit, then got himself a job as a bonded courier, flying all over the world. A few years ago he began a relationship with a much younger man." He stopped and glanced at Sean, before carrying on. "Earlier this year his young man left him for another young man. This lover's name was..."
"Adrian Dumitru, the guy who was shot on his way to work?" Nathan speculated.
"Yeah," Ian agreed.
"You mean, he shot those men, nearly killed Buck, just to hide a murder?" JD asked.
"Best place to hide a tree is in a forest," Vin commented.
"Amen brother," Josiah agreed.
"And all because this man left him for someone younger." Ezra shook his head.
Ian gave Sean a slightly rueful smile, which caused the younger man to roll his eyes. "I am not going to leave you for anyone, Brad Pitt himself could walk in here and offer me his body and I wouldn't leave you."
"I'm younger than him."
"Don't spilt hairs while I'm making a declaration of undying love!" With that Sean leant down and captured his lover's mouth for a very passionate kiss.
"I swear it's a Kodak moment!" Buck exclaimed and then wished he hadn't because laughing hurt his chest.
"You okay?" Ian asked Buck as the lovers separated.
"Not really." He rubbed his chest. "Can't I have just one beer?"
"No!" they all chorused.