The M7 Muse Ladies: Jan, Lisa C., Mary Ann, Sherry, and Sue
Summary: What started as an innocent date; ends with an act of retribution, which risks the lives of two team members.
Written in response to an ABC story challenge on the M7 Muse list ~ the first paragraph opened the story. Thanks to our outstanding writers´ creativity, the rest just fell into place without consultation.
Jo, thanks for keeping this one intact, and posting it as we went along. Sue, thanks for the great story collage.
Although I love my friends like brothers, there are times I really would prefer they ...disappear for a while. They know I have a date tonight with someone I only met yesterday. The teasing today will be hellish, but hopefully worth it. Uh oh, here comes the first round....
"Buck, quit hovering," JD half sighed, half grinned as his roommate scrutinized his every move. "You're gonna make me late."
"How? I'm just standing here...watching. Buck mock- pouted.
"You're making me nervous," JD pointed out, taking a shaky breath, "and I'm nervous enough."
"Hell, kid...good looking boy like you got no cause to be nervous."
"Yeah, right," JD snorted as he splashed on some cologne and hissed at the sting, "Girls are not exactly lining up around the block, are they?"
"It's taken some time to get over Casey, kid...and you're not exactly working 9-5 hours, are you?"
"Doesn't seem to stop you," the youth pointed out, pushing past the bigger man as he exited the bathroom to grab his leather jacket.
"Comes with years of practice," Buck grinned, taking JD's arm. "Kid...this girl...you sure you're ready to do this? You only met her yesterday, maybe give it another day or two hundred..."
JD laughed. "Buck, it'll be fine. Vin's double dating with me, even though he hates blind dates, what could possibly happen? Other than us having some fun..." he paused, "...'course, she might decide she doesn't like me so much once..."
"Now you knock it off," Buck grinned, "she likes you just fine. It's this Gunnerson case, it´s put us all on edge...made us forget how to have fun...and trust people. Get going...have a great time. You got everything?"
"Wallet, cell phone, condoms... JD recited, cackling at Buck's reaction to his last item. "Just kidding, Buck, I would never...not on a first date... He smiled up at the man as Buck squeezed his shoulder. "See you later, big bro. Another pause, "What, no smart-ass comment or words of wisdom, for me?"
"Nope...I guess I'm all out...for now," Buck winked. "Later, kid." he watched him go, the knot in his stomach tightening. Buck felt better knowing Vin was going along, too, but there was something... this had all happened so fast, the girl seemed sweet, but...what? As he walked into the kitchen, Buck nodded to himself. Keen...yep, that was it; she'd seemed a little too keen to get a date with the kid. She'd honed in on him the minute the team had walked into the Saloon...and... Buck felt sure he'd seen a tinge of frustration when Vin asked if she had a friend to 'double date'. Something else that got Buck's attention. Vin wasn't normally pushy in that department...what had he read into the situation?
Pouring a mug of coffee, the brunet shrugged it off. At least the two guys were together, that had to be good...right? He answered the ringing doorbell, grinning at the blond leaning against the doorframe.
"You too, huh? Come on in, stud."
Chris huffed. "Was just passing by."
Buck poured him a coffee. "Sure you were."
Chris accepted the cup of coffee and sat down in an overstuffed armchair in Buck and JD's living room. His green eyes were glittering thoughtfully when he looked across at Buck in the other armchair.
"Do you think this all happened pretty fast? I have this bad feeling that I can't shake and it's eating at me."
Buck stared at Chris for a long minute; going over the thoughts he'd had not ten minutes ago. With a sigh, he nodded.
"Yeah. I'm just not getting good vibes over this date our youngest are on. Something feels off. It's driving me crazy."
"Yeah, me too. I wonder if Vin had a feeling too; we all know how his sixth sense kicks sometimes when something feels off with him. But he didn't seem anxious or nervous about the date, though he didn't act too happy about going." Chris leaned back, running his hands through his messed blond hair, then reached for his cup again just as the doorbell rang again. A sandy eyebrow rose in question as he looked at Buck.
Despite the ever-present nagging feeling in his gut, Buck was beginning to think they'd all gone loco over some silly date when he discovered Ezra on his doorstep. "For the love of Pete, this place is beginning to look like Grand Central Station. Come on in Ez, join the party," Buck chuckled as he turned to rejoin Chris in the living room.
Still laughing as he entered the room, Buck continued on his good- humored tirade, which was as much an attempt to fight off those warning bells, as it was to poke fun at his friends' overprotective nature when it came to the kid. "Looks like Ez was just 'passing through' too, Chris ha ha! You know, you all call me the 'mother of all hens', but this about takes the cake. And I know for a fact that JD would be none too happy to know we're all sitting around discussin' the kid's social life with the fairer sex...."
Buck missed the look that passed between Chris and Ezra during his missive, and was about to continue when Chris quietly but forcefully interrupted, "Buck, shut up. Spill it Ezra. Buck startled at Chris' directive and turned to stare at Standish. All of his previously forced humor was replaced with a look of deep- seated concern - he knew he should have listened to his gut.
"What is it, Ez? Chris asked without emotion, knowing that going off the deep-end now would send Buck over a barrel.
"Gentlemen, we have a problem...my contacts inform me that Glenn Gunnerson knows that it was our esteemed colleagues behind his disappointment in not obtaining that last cache of weaponry and he is vowing retribution - most notably against our young paramour, whom he deems most culpable as it was Mr. Dunne's prowess with his laptop that curtailed the sale. Ezra finished giving what he knew was devastating news, then leaned against the entertainment center to await the inevitable reaction.
Ezra figured Buck would lose control, rant, and rave as he stomped around the room. He was wrong, Buck just stood there. His eyes holding no emotions at all as he stared at Ezra and Chris. Frankly, Ezra found the lack of emotions scarier than anything they had ever experienced since joining Team Seven.
Did JD tell you where they were going? Chris asked. Buck, snap out of it. We need to find JD and Vin.
No, he never said, Buck said the shock wearing off as his emotions came flooding back.
The possibility still remains that this is just a coincidence, that our young compatriots are safe and having a wonderful time on their dates. Ezra knew in his heart he was reaching for straws but he hand to hold on to hope. Chris looked over at Ezra. Well, then we´ll owe them big time for messing up their fun. Call Nathan and Josiah, we need to all be here.”
Fun? Vin sighed softly; this was definitely not fun. The girl he was with had the most intense green eyes, and they seemed to be boring into him each time they glanced his way. JD was faring no better. He had the look of a trapped animal; his lady friend had certainly lost all that eagerness she'd shown earlier. Vin was jerked from his musings as JD shot back in his chair, his jeans wet from his drink, which Pippa had just sent flying into his lap.
"I'm so sorry. She dabbed at his leg with a napkin, JD gently took her hand.
"It's okay...really. It's not so bad."
"Let me get you another," she insisted, and before JD could protest, she and her friend were on their feet and aiming for the bar. He looked at Vin.
"I'm sorry...this isn't going well, is it?"
Vin smiled. "That's likely an understatement. Look, I reckon we should call it a night. Drink this next drink up an' we'll escort 'em home. I reckon a couple hours of pool should stop the mother hens from being overly concerned and will keep us out a little longer. What d'ya say?"
JD grinned. "Sounds like a plan. He was just about to start wondering where the girls had got to when he saw Vin's expression change and his hand go to his weapon. A man's voice sounded from behind him.
"Not a good idea, Mr. Tanner, not with all these good citizens around," he pushed something into JD's back, "and with a gun pointing directly into Mr. Dunne's back. Stand please, gentlemen."
Both agents stood, JD was staring at Vin, waiting for a signal, but the Texan's eyes told him to just go with it...for now. Outside the establishment, the pair were relieved of their armory and cell phones and guided toward a large van. Vin ducked, raised his leg, and took out the guy behind him, his left arm winding the guy to his side. JD's fist drove back into his captor's groin followed by a flying kick to the man directly behind him. Unnoticed, two men got out of the van and sent heavy fists down onto both men's shoulders, the agents grunting as they went to their knees on the ground. Still reeling, they were hauled to their feet, one thug getting right into JD's face while another jerked Vin's head back by his hair.
"Bad move, boys. He smiled ferally at JD. "Mister Gunnerson is SO looking forward to meeting you, Mr. Dunne. He glanced toward Vin then back to JD. "Get them in the van. The two solid blows to Vin and JD's heads insured neither man would remember this particular journey.
Gunning the motor, the van took off through the night. The two agent's arms were tightly tied behind them, as they lay unconscious on the metal floor. Blindfolds were placed over their eyes before the two men moved back to their seats, leaving JD and Vin to roll with the movements of the van.
Twenty minutes later the van passed through a high metal gate that silently closed behind it. Pulling into a large garage, the driver waited as the garage door slid silently closed before he opened his door. The other three men got out and opening the rear doors roughly pulled the agents out. Swaying Vin tried to hold himself up as he felt hands grab his bound arms. Sensing a body near him, he lashed out with his left leg, connecting solidly with the man´s groin. A yell of pain echoed through the garage as the man went down. Vin tried to pull free only to feel his head yanked back hard and something solid connected with the side of his head, one then again and he dropped to the floor with a low moan as consciousness abandoned him.
"Vin? Vin? JD yelled, as he was restrained in an iron grip.
"Do what you're told kid. Mr. Tanner is expendable, so if you want him to live you better listen up, or you will watch his death. And believe me it will not be pretty or short.”
Hauling the youth to his feet, the two agents were dragged to a room and unceremoniously shoved inside. Vin dropped in a boneless heap to the floor, while JD stumbled and fell hard on the unforgiving concrete, jarring his shoulder. Recovering, he slid across to where his friend lay, unmoving.
"Vin? VIN! Shit. Using his feet, JD rocked the Texan back and forth.
"Vin! Wake up, damnit! I need you!"
'...I need you...´ The familiar voice penetrated his foggy mind as Vin fought the pounding headache to pain-filled consciousness.
"This...better be good..., he grunted.
JD released a genuine smile. "Thank God...we're in deep shit!"
"Ya don't say? Vin said, dryly as he managed to shuffle into an upright position and lean against the single bed that occupied the room. "Go on then...I could use a good laugh."
"Do you remember them taking us? JD asked.
Vin nodded, regretting it instantly.
"It's Gunnerson... and it sounds like he's real pissed at us...well, me, actually."
"Nothin' new there, then."
"Just jokin', tryin' to get my thoughts together."
"Glad to hear you've got more than one."
The pair looked at each other and laughed. They were in serious trouble, and they were verbally sparring. But Vin knew it was exactly what JD needed to keep him sharp, and what he needed to stay awake. They both looked up as the door opened and two men walked in, snatched JD up and frog-marched him out of the room.
"Leave him alone!” Vin yelled, helpless to interfere. "I swear...you touch him, I'll kill you!” One man looked back...and grinned, before slamming the door closed and locking it.
I appreciate it. Yeah, okay. Thanks. Buck hung up the phone. He turned to his four friends saying, That was Rudy, they were at his place earlier, but he saw JD and Vin leave with two men and their dates left not to long later.
That bad feeling is getting worse. Chris rubbed his forehead, cursing under his breath for not listening to his gut from the beginning. Do we know anything about either of their dates?
Rudy said JD´s date was in last week and paid with a credit card, he´s looking through his records and will call me with a name.
Your friend Rudy is going above and beyond. Are you sure he isn´t giving us a false lead? Ezra hated to ask but with his friends in danger, he wasn´t prepared to take any chances.
If it was anyone but JD and Vin I´d have my doubts too. Buck confessed. You remember that lunch they were at when the guys came in and tried to rob the restaurant?
Yeah, Nathan said. Vin and JD disarmed the suspects and then JD was able to calm down the whole restaurant enough that they were almost in a party mood by the time DPD arrived.
That was Rudy´s? Josiah asked.
Yep, his business increased because of it and he´s had a soft spot for the boys every since. Trust me for JD and Vin, Rudy will get us that name. Buck just finished when the phone rang.
JD tried to keep track of where he was being taken. He knew that right now he was their only chance to get away from this place. But after a couple minutes of what seemed like walking in circles through carpeted halls that went one way then another, he gave it up. The house was like a maze, the way the hallways were laid out, and he could see no windows or outside doorways. Many of the doors were spaced about 15 feet apart. He thought it could have once been an office building, now changed into a house, a huge mansion type house with hundreds of rooms. He'd never find his way around in there without help. Finally, after what seemed like an hour of twists and turns they paused in front of a heavy wooden door with a small rusted name plate on it. JD peered through the semi darkness trying to read the faded words but the door swung open before he could make anything out. Yellow lamp light flooded over him and the two men yanked him forward, one with a soft snicker.
Vin worked himself to a sitting position, and began trying to get his wrists and arms loose. It seemed all he managed to do was hurt his wrists and before long felt blood sliding over his hands. With a growl he stopped for a minute, leaning his head against the wall he tried to think of what else he could do to get free. Testing the ropes that held his wrists together behind his back he took a deep breath and set to work again. Just as one began to loosen, the door swung open and the two who had taken JD away walked in. One, he recognized as the one he'd kicked earlier, walked to his side and grabbed his shoulder and pulled him upright. The other one stepped behind him and looked at the rope around his wrists.
"So, you think you can get away from us that easily? I don't think so. The boss said we could play with you a little while he was entertaining Agent Dunne. I've never gotten to play with some sort of Agent, so this will be my first time, and I hope it is fun. I want to hear you scream like a woman, you long haired freak... With that, he swung a ham-sized fist at Vin, burying it in the small of Vin's back.
"Kindly refrain from yelling, Mr. Wilmington. It is getting us nowhere, and we need to keep our wits in order to succeed in finding our compatriots. Ezra was at the end of his tether, and Buck's overwhelming return to the present was not helping matters. "Perchance, you could call Rudy back to see if he has come up with a lead...
Buck checked the caller ID on his desk phone as Ezra continued to try to bring some order to the chaos that had become team seven's office. With no leads, and no where to look, they were all quickly losing control of their emotions, despite doing all of the normal and usual things they could do to start looking for their friends.
"Well, speakin' of the devil...Hey, Rudy, yeah, it's me what cha got for me? REALLY? Well, now that is mighty interestin'. Yeah, I do think it will help....I can't thank you enough - I owe you a big one, old man. Make sure you take me up on it next time you need it. Yeah, we'll let you know as soon as we find 'em. Thanks again.
Buck replaced the receiver and then stood to address the room. "Boys, looks like we got ourselves a lead. Seems that JD's 'date' for the evening just happens to be one Jennifer Parsons. I should've known something was up - that last name happens to also be the married name of Glen Gunnerson's sister - wanna bet she's related to that lowlife?"
While he was speaking, Buck was busy putting on his shoulder rig and jacket. He stopped and looked around at the silence that greeted him, "Well, what the hell are we waiting for? Let's roll!
Looking around the room he was in, JD tried to take in as many details as he could. He had a horrible feeling that it was up to him to find a way to save Vin and himself. He was worried about Vin, the look in the guards eyes didn´t bode well for his friend.
JD was smart enough to know it would take all of his wits to find a way to send an SOS to their friends. Unwittingly, Gunnerson gave JD one of the tools he needed when he had his men put JD in the chair in front of a computer.
Show me how you hacked in and I might spare your friend´s life.
How do I know he´s still alive?
You dare to question me! Who do you think you are?
JD knew he had to play it smart and not lose his cool or all would be lost.
Moving his skillful fingers across the keyboard at a speed impossible to track, JD 'piggy-backed' an encrypted message to Chris's email account...it couldn't tell them where he and Vin were, just that they were still alive and who was holding them. A flashing screen caused Gunnerson to step closer.
"What is this?"
JD sat back in the chair. "This is as far as I go until you let Vin go. He barely managed to stay on the chair from the backhand Gunnerson dealt him.
"You are in no position to be making demands, Mister Dunne."
JD wiped the blood from his lip with the back of his hand and gave a resolute stare. "Yeah, I am. I'm about to throw away everything I've ever wanted, to help you...I'd rather die than see my friend suffer because of me...so, decide...the information you want and my friend free or...zip."
"Or I kill you both."
"I reckon Vin would rather die than see me betray my friends and colleagues... and you still get nothing. JD tried hard to control his nerves. This was an all or nothing offer.
Gunnerson turned to his men. "Do it."
"I won't press another key until I know he's safe."
"How do you propose we achieve that?"
"When he's free, let him call me...Vin won't lie. Let me explain to him before he leaves, he'll listen to me."
With a nod, two goons left with JD between them.
Vin groaned. Everything hurt, even his hair. Pulling himself onto the bed, the Texan sat hunched over in the hope of easing the pain in his aching ribs. Without a mirror, he could only guess at what he looked like and judging by the way his face stung...it wasn't too pretty. He was just wondering about JD when his whole body stiffened at the sound of the door unlocking. JD stepped in.
"Jesus, Vin...you look awful."
"Felt a whole lot better, too."
"As sweet as this is...move it!"
Vin frowned at the thug's words. JD leaned in.
"They need something from me, but I don't want you implicated. They're letting you go for my co operation."
"Vin...just do it...Ezra needs you."
Having no doubt Vin's sharp mind was working overtime on that remark, JD whispered "Gambit slash Sheriff."
Pulling JD out of the room and handing him off to waiting men, Vin was pulled upright, blindfolded, and escorted into the back of what felt like a car. Half an hour or so later, Tanner was handed a phone and instructions and dumped somewhere on the outskirts of town. Removing his blindfold, he dialed the only number in the memory, relieved to hear JD's voice, albeit briefly.
The line went dead causing Tanner to howl out in frustration before dialing again. "Hey, cowboy...I need a lift."
Buck paced while Ezra fired up his laptop. Vin's hospital room was not that big and filled with one injured and five very intense Federal Agents it felt claustrophobic. Chris's eyes ran over his best friend's features. Vin was a mass of cuts and bruises and Chris looked forward to meeting the bastards who had done it.
"What do they mean...the words?"
Ezra smiled at Vin. "It's a program JD devised and left in my care. He's not betraying us, Vin...he's about to feed their computer a virus. This ingenious little program will bypass all virus guards without so much as tipping anyone off."
Chris stared. "If the big guys ever find out he has that...
"They won't...not from us, anyway. There."
They all looked at the southerner. "Now what?"
"When JD accesses this file he created and I've set up, all the information Gunnerson wants will be transferred...along with a virus that will kill his computer dead in seconds."
"And then he'll kill JD! Buck said, the pain in his voice evident.
"Phase two is a non-existent back-up disc in a non-existent locker at Denver Union Station. Ezra smiled.
"And that's where they'll take him...to get it," Josiah asked.
"When did you set this up?" Chris inquired.
"About six months ago," Ezra informed. "JD's skills are such that he feared one of us...or himself may be compromised in this way, leading to a situation such as this. As each new case emerges, he transfers information pertaining to the case to this file...in case of problems. I for one applaud his tenacity...and his deep desire to protect his friends in every way that he can."
Chris swallowed, standing. "Let's go. He turned as he caught Vin throwing back the bedcovers. "Not you!"
"Hell yes, me. Ain't no way you're leavin' me out of this one."
"You're on pain meds," Nathan reminded.
"Didn't take 'em," Vin answered. "Now...you gonna help me or do I follow you with my ass hanging outta this gown?"
JD had been stalling, checking, and re-checking while waiting for Ezra to install his program. He knew Gunnerson was getting impatient, but JD's assurances that bypassing Federal firewalls was going to take time had kept him off his back for the most part. A small noise alerted Gunnerson to JD's success and he rose eagerly to watch the information he wanted, to appear before him. He laughed as the blank screen filled with file names and words.
JD's cry had the crime boss reeling. "What? Even as he spoke, he could see the text disintegrating before his eyes. In minutes, the computer was dead. He glared at the devastated agent.
"I guess they out-thought me on this one," he lied, seconds before Gunnerson hauled him from his chair and tossed him across the room. The onslaught of blows and kicks from the three men in the room had JD panting for breath, just able to gasp out through the pain. "I...have a...back up...disk."
Gunnerson hauled the semi-conscious youth to his feet. "Then let's go get it!"
Nodding with what he hoped came across as fear on his face; JD felt a thrill as his plan was falling into place. As he struggled to get his feet under him, the fear he was portraying became real. Black spots filled his vision as darkness surrounded the young agent.
No, not now, was JD´s last thought as he passed out in a crumbled heap at Gunnerson´s feet.
Gunnerson kicked the unconscious body, growling at his men. Get him cleaned up and get me that back-up disk.
It was almost an hour later when the still groggy JD entered Denver Union Station along with the four huge goons that Gunnerson insisted go with him. They had JD completely surrounded, but they didn´t know about the secret weapon that was waiting for them to arrive.
Chris managed to get a glimpse of his youngest agent when the five men walked past his spot. Only a member of Team Seven would have picked up on the signal JD gave him. Chris was glad he made Buck wait back by the lockers with Vin. It was all Chris could do not to rush in to grab JD back when he saw the condition he was in. No way would Buck have been able to hold back.
When they first arrived at Denver Union Station, the team was impressed by JD´s plan. Seeing the layout of the station, they immediately knew by the lockers was the place to make their move. It was contained and allowed for the smallest danger to innocent bystanders.
All seemed to be going exactly according to the plan when suddenly all hell broke loose.
One of the henchmen seemed inordinately nervous, holding JD almost against him as the group made their way to the lockers. Having acquired keys to empty lockers from the Postmaster, Vin and Buck were acting like clients, their locker doors open to hide their faces, while allowing them the opportunity to keep an eye on the five men now approaching. The area had been cleared, but, from the gallery above the scene, a child with his mother was their undoing.
"Mummy, that man has a gun!"
Realizing his weapon could just be seen under his jacket, Buck cursed, watching helplessly as JD was positioned and thrown their way with considerable force, while the four men with him drew their guns. Chris was already moving, Ezra, Josiah and Nathan instantly closing in.
Vin grunted as JD's full weight took him off his feet when he attempted to catch the hurtling agent, rolling over the smaller body to protect his colleague and friend as the firing started, but not before he felt JD jerk and heard Buck yelp. Unable to focus on little more than the searing hot pain in his own arm at that moment, Vin was relieved to hear familiar voices over the fading gunfire.
And suddenly, it was over. The shooting had ceased and now Vin was aware of hands on him and someone sounding like Chris calling his name. Before he drifted into the welcoming darkness, he heard Josiah's urgent, angst-filled call for assistance...'what was that? Three officers down?´ Vin drifted off with the memory of JD's body jolting as he caught him and Buck's yelp of pain somewhere behind him, then...nothing.
JD Barely had time to register a child's cry when he was propelled forward so fast his feet had no time to gain purchase. Just as Vin caught hold of him, gunfire started and JD felt a sharp pain as something hot and hard bounced off his ribs. His battered body decided enough was enough and the last thing he was aware of was a body rolling over him before he lost consciousness.
Buck barely had time to draw his gun before the first bullet whizzed past his head. The second one found its mark and just before his injured thigh took him to his knees, Buck took two goons down. Larabee's voice was like music to his ears and the big man allowed himself to slip completely to the floor, all the while focusing on his two unconscious friends.
This wasn't quite what they had planned, even if they had succeeded in taking the bad guys down.
Pain filled the darkness that surrounded Vin as he fought his way back to consciousness. A soft moan brought Chris to his side to give reassuring support. Easy there, Vin, you´re safe now.
Chris watched Vin´s eyelids begin to flutter, telling him it wouldn´t be much longer before he was going to have to tell his friend what happened. Chris knew those blue eyes of Tanner´s would see right through him if he wasn´t totally honest. He just hoped Vin would stay calm and let him finish before he tried to get out of bed.
Vin gave one last moan and blinked a couple of times before his vision cleared enough to see Chris standing by his hospital bed. He tried to ask where he was but his mouth felt like it was full of cotton.
Here, Chris said, holding out a spoon with some ice chips on it. You´re in the hospital. The bullet went straight through. You were lucky, no damage but added with the beating from earlier and your body couldn´t handle anymore and shut down.
Vin´s eyes started to drift closed, suddenly snapping open and full of fear. JD and Buck!
Chris placed his hand on Vin´s shoulder and squeezed, Buck is in recovery, he´ll be in the bed next to you soon. Chris paused for a minute, meeting Vin´s eyes head on. JD is still in surgery, we haven´t heard yet how much damage the bullet did. Josiah is trying to get us to believe that, like you, the beating he had taken before being shot is slowing things down. I don´t like the look on Nathan´s face; he´s trying to hide from us just how serious things are.
Doesn´t sound like Nate, Vin said before he took a sip of water quenching his thirst now that the ice chips relieved his dryness.
I know, Chris admitted. He´s scared and I think he´s worried if he says it out loud it might happen. He just keeps telling us to wait to see what the Doctor has to say.
The kid and her Mom?
Ezra got to them and used his body as shield to protect them.
Any one else hurt?
“None of the good guys.”
“All dead, no one to tell us where to find Gunnerson.”
Quiet murmurs and the smell of antiseptic brought Buck back to the land of the living. His first thoughts were that being hit by a bus might not hurt as much as the fire spreading down his leg did right now. Then...
Chris launched himself to Buck's side before the big man could do more damage to himself.
"Buck, calm down! Everything is going to be fine...
"Going to be fine? Where is he, Chris, where's JD? Buck tried to raise himself off the bed, but the combination of loss of blood, dehydration and the pain pill cocktail he was administered left him completely and utterly devoid of strength.
"He's still in surgery Buck. We're waiting on word now."
Reluctantly Ezra walked into Vin and Buck's room. Pausing he shook his head and then smiled to see the two men awake. Chris was hovering between their beds, and Josiah was rising from the chair in the corner of the room that he'd been sitting in, his eyes on him.
"What's going on Ezra? Josiah asked instantly.
Chris, Buck, and Vin looked at him and waited. "They can't seem to find Gunnerson. He seems to have vanished into thin air."
"Damn! Chris exploded.
"Easy Cowboy," Vin said. "What else Ez? He asked.
"I have contacted many of my contacts; they will let me know if they hear anything on the streets. My hope is that he is just in hiding for a bit. But who knows. Any word on JD yet?"
The door opened just then and Nathan walked in, followed a moment later by the doctor who had been with JD. The doctor was still in scrubs, but he shot a smile to the six men in the room. "JD will be fine. It was touch and go there for a while, the bullet did some damage but not to anything vital, and his condition wasn't too good. He had to have blood during the operation. But, the operation was a success and barring infection, he will be fine. He's in ICU right now, but should be able to be moved in here within 24 hours. He will be off for a couple of weeks, the bullet went through his back, and bounced off a rib, exited and hit you, Mr. Tanner. He has a couple of broken ribs from the beating he received, and will be sore. One of you can visit him in ICU for 15 minutes. Let's try not to overwhelm him, though, with you all visiting. Decide who will see him now and go to the floor nurse on floor 6, she'll take you to him. Any questions? If not, I'll get back to work.
"Sir," Ezra called just as the Doctor was getting ready to step out of the door. "To whom should I speak regarding moving Mr. Tanner and Mr. Wilmington to ICU with young Master Dunne until he can be moved to a regular room?"
The Doctor was the only one in the room to laugh, sobering when he realized Ezra was serious. "That's not going to happen."
"Then we need to speak to someone who can make it happen," Ezra said firmly.
"Now you look here, I'm not about to be bullied just because you are federal agents."
"No one is trying to bully anyone," Nathan said trying to calm the Doctor down.
"The man who is responsible for three of my men being hurt is still out there and he wants revenge against JD. We don't know how far his reach is so we trust no one but each other. We'd be spread too thin if the three of them aren't together. You're job is to get them healthy, ours is to keep them that way." Chris's voice was soft but deadly.
The Doctor looked at Chris and saw the determination to protect his men. He saw it was an honor that this man had chosen to explain his thinking, rather than just demand. A slight nod of respect was given as the Doctor said, "I can't move them to ICU. I will arrange for Mr. Dunne to be move to this room within the hour and for him to have a private nurse for the next 24 hours. You may all remain with your team."
"That won't compromise JD's recovery will it? Buck asked.
"While I would prefer him to remain in ICU, I do believe having a duty nurse here in the room with him will be almost as good."
"Thank you Doctor, we appreciate your help." Nathan reached out to shake the man's hand before he left the room.
Knowing all of his team was safe for the moment Chris started to issue orders to keep them that way. "Nathan, go to ICU and stay with JD until they move him here. Ezra and Josiah get back to the office and get me everything there is to know about Gunnerson. He fell for JD's con once, he won't do it again. We need to be prepared for anything."
"Do you want me to stay with Vin and Buck while you update Travis?" Josiah asked.
"No, finding Gunnerson is our priority. I'll call Travis from here and if he wants a face to face he can come to me."
Travis sat back, replacing the phone on its cradle. He pressed his desk intercom. "Janice, amend the rosters and show Team Seven as on ops for the next week."
>>Yes sir. <<
He wiped a hand over his face. Larabee´s news had been shocking, but Orin knew, if anyone could resolve this, it was Team Seven.
Chris rose from his chair, alarmed to see Vin attempting to get out of bed. What the hell are you trying to do? he asked, one hand pushing Vin back onto the bed. Undeterred, Vin kept moving, Buck now sitting up as the look on the sharpshooter´s face alerted him.
Gerroff me, cowboy and give me a gun.
Are you loco? You´re on pain meds and nursing a
Quit yammerin´ Chris an´ give me a fuckin´ gun!
Larabee felt an icy chill wash over him. What is it? he hissed.
JD should be here by now.
Buck sat up straighter, alarm showing on his face. Vin?
Before he could speak, Ezra and Nathan entered the room. Chris frowned.
Why aren´t you with JD?
He hasn´t arrived?
All but Buck was on their feet, now.
No, Chris answered. I instructed you to stay with him
Orderly couldn´t get us in the elevator, he told us Nathan looked at Ezra. SHIT!
GUN! Vin demanded. He stared Larabee out, his hand outstretched. Do either of you know what Gunnerson looks like?
His question drew blank expressions.
Well, I do!
Unholstering his service weapon, Chris nodded and handed Tanner a gun, reaching down into a leg holster for another, non-issue weapon.
Chris Buck was clearly distressed.
Ezra, stay with Buck no one but us comes in here, even if he´s pushing JD in his bed. He looked at the others. Let´s go.
Still woozy, JD was vaguely aware of motion. It felt like he was traveling downward, yet, he was still in bed. A face leaned in and, for a moment, JD relaxed at its familiarity, his eyes widening a split second later as recognition kicked in.
We´re going on a little ride, Agent Dunne. I want that locker key I want that disc! He pushed a scalpel under JD´s chin to drive his point home, a small trickle of blood emerging as the sharp blade pierced the young agent´s pale, moist skin. Before long, they were in the bowels of the hospital, amidst the furnaces, pipe work, and detritus.
Gunnerson was a shrewd man. He had so far eluded capture and was not planning on this day being any different. All he required was time alone and a place secluded enough to procure the information he needed.
Then he would disappear just like all the other times when things got a little too hot.
Parking up in an old storage area, he slapped JD hard across the face to bring him round.
Locker key or locker number now! Or I go up top and start killing off your teammates starting with Tanner
Despite his weakened state, JD hoped to stall the man. He swallowed.
Don´t have them He yelped as Gunnerson pulled at his hair, the scalpel now back at JD´s throat.
Wrong answer now once more key or locker number!
Key´s in my jacket
And where´s your jacket? Gunnerson tightened his hold on JD´s hair, stretching the youth´s throat to expose the small red line the scalpel had created. The man frowned as a strained, throaty chuckle emerged from the agent at his mercy.
I haven´t got a fucking clue!
JD wasn´t feeling particularly brave, but something about his predicament or maybe the meds he was on caused him to start laughing, while expecting to feel the fateful tearing of sliced flesh any moment. Instead, both men heard a feral growl of a man no less prepared to kill to get his own way.
ATF step away from the agent NOW! Chris spat.
Racing from Buck and Vin´s room, the four agents only took precious seconds to register that one of the elevator cars was traveling toward the basement. Despite every fiber of his being screaming to be allowed to rest, Vin kept up with his teammate´s descent down the stairwell until they hit the lowest floor.
Moving cautiously, weapons drawn, the four eased their way along the stained corridors, halting as a male voice drifted toward them. With a nod, and keeping their backs to the paint-peeled walls, they maneuvered toward the direction it had come from, their blood almost freezing in their veins as the vision of a man apparently about to slit the throat of one of their closest friends assaulted their senses.
Larabee instantly called out a warning, relieved it got the man´s attention, albeit it momentarily, while aware Vin was holding bead on the assailant, the sharpshooter's uninjured arm outstretched and steady as a rock. The man before them smirked.
I can slice him open faster than you can pull that trigger, Tanner, so, back off! Gunnerson´s smirk widened as Vin appeared to begin to drop his arm.
Vin stared the man out; realizing if Gunnerson carried out his threat, no first aid in the world would save JD´s life. He allowed Gunnerson to believe he was complying…then…fired.
Unreal, it all seemed so unreal to Vin. He felt his finger tighten on the trigger, watched the bullet fly in slow motion across the space between them, finally entering Gunnerson´s head dead center. The scalpel fell from Gunnerson´s lifeless hand to rest harmlessly on JD´s chest. Vin knew it was only a matter of seconds but it seemed like it all took an hour before JD moved and he could see, other than a thin bloody line, no additional damage to his friend.
Once JD moved time seemed to speed back up to normal, Nathan was at his side checking the bleeding and moving the scalpel to prevent any accidental injuries. Josiah was checking on Gunnerson, but the dead stare in his eyes told Team Seven this villain would never hurt anyone again.
Chris was at Vin´s side, catching him from falling to the floor when his abused body gave out. Easy, Pard, I got ya.
Nathan carefully slid JD to one side of the bed he was in. Put Vin in the bed with JD, we need to get them both back upstairs and this is easiest way.
I can walk, Vin said his voice showing the weakness that filled him.
Yeah, we know you can, Josiah replied with a smile as he and Chris lifted their sniper to lay him next to JD.
JD reached out a hand to grab Vin´s arm. I think it´s time we relaxed and let our big brothers handle the situation.
You okay? Vin asked, his eyes locking on JD´s.
Yeah, thanks to you.
Reading the truth of the statement in JD´s eyes, Vin relaxed and gave into his exhaustion.
JD also closed his eyes, trusting his friends to keep both of them safe from harm.
Josiah, you be okay down here with the body until security comes? Chris asked.
I´ll be fine, you and Nathan get the boys back upstairs before Buck talks Ezra into letting him come check on us.
The hospital security and DPD came out of the elevator just as Chris and Nathan arrived with the bed they were pushing. A feeling that he needed to have all of the Seven together caused Chris to point them in the right direction. He told them to send Josiah right away; they would hold the elevator for him.
Alarms were ringing and the staff rushed into the room where Buck and Ezra waited when the battered group arrived back at their room. Ezra stood there in shock as the team of medics worked on Buck.
Virtually every monitor in the room was making a racket that seemed to stop time yet send it into warp speed all at once. Ezra simply couldn't understand was happening.
After Chris, Vin, Nathan, and Josiah had taken off in search of JD and presumably, Gunnerson, it had taken all of Ezra's skills of verbosity, not to mention strength, to keep Buck on his hospital gurney.
He thought he had finally gotten through to the man when he felt Buck slacken in his hold. It wasn't until the gawd-awful beeps and blips of the alarms, and all manner of medical personnel rushing to his side, did Ezra realize that it wasn't his skills of persuasion that had talked Buck down, but rather Buck's own strength left him as he collapsed in a dead....NO, not dead.....Ezra would NOT finish that thought.
Dazed and watching the ministrations being performed on his friend, Ezra was startled by the hand on his shoulder, and barely recognized Chris standing at his side, screaming something at him....
"Ezra, snap out of it, what in the HELL is going on? Chris yelled.
Wh-what? Ezra´s short stuttered answer told Chris just how rattled his friend really was.
Get these men out of here! the Doctor ordered.
Chris turned to the Doctor, with a voice that was quiet and deadly calm he said, We aren´t going anywhere, we need to be together. You worry about Buck and I´ll make sure we stay out of your way.
The Doctor could tell nothing short of physical violence would make them leave so he nodded his agreement to Chris´s offer and turned back to Buck.
Chris looked at Nathan and Josiah, Get Vin and JD settled and I´ll look after Ezra.
JD looked over at Vin, both conscious again and ready to protest that they could take care of themselves. Plainly written in each man´s eyes was the fear for Buck, as much as they wanted to stand up for their dignity it paled in comparison to their need not to distract the Doctor from their friend and teammate.
Vin reached out and gave JD´s shoulder a reassuring squeeze just before Josiah helped him back to his own hospital bed.
Ezra, Chris said, his voice soft and full of understanding. Can you tell me what happened?
Ezra shook his head, trying to clear out the fog. The presence of the rest of his family was having a calming effect on him. I was forced to physically restrain Mr. Wilmington in order to prevent him from leaving his sick bed. He stopped struggling, I was about to congratulate him on reaching the logical conclusion to wait calmly when he collapsed. The alarms began to sound, the medical staff arrived, followed closed by you gentlemen.
You were holding on to Mr. Wilmington? the Doctor asked.
Yes, why? Ezra felt his fear rising again. He relaxed slightly when Chris laid his hand on the Southerner´s shoulder, leaning his support and strength.
The Doctor quickly checked Buck´s chest and then started to laugh. When he saw the deadly looks he was receiving from the six men in the room with him, he explained. He wore himself out and passed out. In your struggles Mr. Wilmington´s monitors came loose.
The Doctor reapplied the monitors, the display immediately changed from the flat line that had frightened them all to a strong heartbeat.
He´s really fine? JD asked, his voice shaking from emotions and the trauma he had been through.
The huge smile on each member of the medical staff in the room gave the answer even before the Doctor spoke. Yes, I forgot a primary rule. Always check the monitor connections first.
Relief flooded the six conscious members of Team Seven who joined the Doctor in his laughter.
X-ray films were slipped back into case notes as the doctor smiled at his three patients sitting up in their beds.
Boys, everything looks to be healing nicely. Your recoveries are well on track, so Vin, Buck, providing you have someone to watch over you for a week or so while you continue to recover, I see no reason for you to remain here.
No problem, Chris chimed in as he stood at the back of the room during the examinations. Our team is on stand-down for another eight days they can stay with me.
Doc? JD´s tone was clear desperation as he waited to hear the outcome of his examination.
Sorry, John, two more days at least, but then the same for you, you´ll need some aftercare.
Consider it sorted, Chris assured.
And all three will need several sessions of physical therapy, the doctor reminded.
Fear not sir, Ezra smiled. There are four of us more than willing to assist in transporting them to their appointments.
With a nod and hearty handshakes, the doctor left the seven friends in the room. JD huffed out a breath and Buck grinned.
Now then, Squirt, you heard the man, just two more days
Of hospital food yeah, I heard him, JD said, grumpily.
How about we pick you up a Big Mac
Nathan interrupted Vin and scowled at JD´s enthusiastic nodding. His stomach´s not up to that kind of food yet, Vin for that matter, yours, and Buck´s isn´t either. He smiled, wickedly. But no worries, I have this great recipe for bean casserole a nice, bland dish just right for recovering patients.
Josiah, Ezra, and Chris chuckled at three resounding ‘Aww hell´s.
JD bobbed his eyebrows. Y´know roast chicken, with green jello for dessert, doesn´t sound half as bad, now.
The men chuckled harder, and Chris finally allowed himself to relax. They were over the hump, another case under their belts. He sighed, inwardly. But, at what cost? He snapped out of it. Let´s hustle, guys. I´ll go sign the release forms while Buck and Vin get dressed. Ezra, Josiah, Nathan you´re going back to the office to file reports.
The three men nodded.
JD, we´ll stay until they get back, then I´ll take Buck and Vin to the ranch to get them settled. We´ll be back to check on you in the morning.
JD nodded. At least I´ll get some rest without Buck´s snoring keeping us awake.
Hey, I don´t snore! Buck protested.
Vin raised one eyebrow as he glanced at the brunet. There were times last night I thought we were experiencin´ an earthquake, he teased, winking at JD, who was holding his abused ribs as he laughed.
Are you hearing this? Buck asked of no one in particular. I´ve never been so insulted.
Really? You astonish me, Ezra shot back, causing more hilarity.
Chris raised a hand. Okay let´s get to it. He spoke softly to Josiah. Which one of you is staying here tonight?
That would be me, the profiler smiled.
Buck caught his gaze and mouthed the word thanks´.
By the time Ezra, Josiah and Nathan returned later that day, Buck and Vin had been treated to one final hospital meal and were still debating whether they´d had a lucky escape or not. Nathan assured them he would serve his casserole the next day, much to JD´s amusement. By early evening, Chris insisted Vin, JD, and Buck needed to rest, and after some unexpectedly heartfelt goodbyes´, all but Josiah left JD's hospital room.
JD yawned. You really don´t need to stay, Josiah.
The big man grinned and patted his charge on the knee. I know, and I want to.
With a grateful smile, JD hunkered down in the bed and slept while Josiah read.
Hating having to be helped into Chris´s Ram, but nodding his gratitude to Nathan and Chris, Vin glanced back toward the hospital. I hate leavin´ the kid. Buck nodded, his own heart heavy as Chris helped him belt up.
Yeah, well, at least we get to bring all three of you home, Chris reminded. Things could have been a helluva lot worse.
No one could argue with that.
"Y'all act like we're kids. Vin scowled at Nathan. "It's been a week and I for one am ready to get out of here for a while."
JD glanced at Buck and Vin. "We've done everything you asked Nathan. Don't we at least get time off for good behavior?"
Buck nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah...what they said."
"Chris said you three are to stay put until he says so, and that is exactly what y'all are going to do. Nathan sighed, deciding that dealing with kids would be easier than keeping these three sequestered at Larabee's ranch for a week. "Now, watch TV, read a book, or twiddle your thumbs. No one is leaving here today."
"Spoilsport," Buck mumbled.
"I heard that! Nathan shook his head. "One more word and it's bean casserole for a week for all three of you!" he turned to walk out, unaware of the face JD made behind his back or the wink Vin gave Buck.
Once Nathan was out of the room, Buck and JD leaned in to hear the Texan's plan.
Turning up the volume on the TV, Vin whispered, "Chris's extra keys are in the top right drawer of his desk. You two create a distraction, and I'll get them. Then we'll make our great escape in his old ranch truck."
JD and Buck started talking about the show on the TV, loud enough for Nathan to hear them. In a few minutes, Vin returned from his covert mission, and motioned for the door. Three semi-healed and very bored agents stealthily moved towards their freedom.
Smiling from ear to ear, the three could almost see and feel a few hours of unsupervised, and in their opinion, well earned time away from the ranch. Vin quietly opened the door, and gestured for JD and Buck to exit first, with him following.
The sun was bright and they were moving when JD halted abruptly. Buck ran into him, and Vin ran into Buck.
"What the hell? Vin growled, and then saw the obstacle in front of JD. It was Chris and he did not look very pleased.
"Going somewhere boys?"
Zoo, yep that was the word for it, life with Team Seven was definitely a zoo.´ Chris didn´t bother to try to hold back the smile at the thought running through his head as he watched his team from the doorway of his office.
It had been three weeks since he caught JD, Buck, and Vin trying to escape from Nathan´s care at his ranch. Today was the first day all three were back at work with their release from the Doctor. There was almost a party atmosphere in the bullpen; each of the agents knew they had dodged death one more time.
Each and every member of ATF Team Seven knew how fragile life could be and how entwined their lives were. Their bond was unique and something that could never be replaced if one of the team was gone. Gunnerson came way to close to destroying them, it was worth celebrating that in the end the Magnificent Seven were the victors one more time.
The release from the Doctors and being together again brought out the teams playful side. Chris knew how to pick his battles with the boys; this wasn´t one he would win. Besides, he was enjoying their antics. Team Seven was well aware of the reputation Chris had of being able to control them. They also knew control was the wrong word. They were a team, one full of respect for each other and their abilities.
All were strong independent men, they followed Chris because they wanted to, and no other reason. The success of Team Seven was directly related to how they felt about other. Chris knew if he tried to control them, the boys would revolt, and he would lose out on their valuable insights.
Chris knew he would occasionally forget that rule and let his iron will try to push them into his way of thinking. Usually after one or more of the team was injured. They also knew this pattern, and the injured party would go along with it for a while, until they felt it was time to remind everyone it was enough coddling.
That´s what happened when Chris found the boys escaping from Nathan. His instinct was to roar at them and force them back into the house to face whatever punishment Nathan felt appropriate. Then he saw it, the look in the three sets of eyes staring at him. First, it was surprise, then the look changed to pleading for his help, and finally the look turned to pure steel, telling Chris loud and clear they weren´t going to take it anymore.
Chris had to admit they had been very good all week, following all of Nathan´s orders to the letter and not giving anyone any trouble. Having seen some of those meals Nathan insisted were good for the boys, Chris had to admire that they made it as long as they did.
Chris saw them prepare for a fight when he smiled. I was thinking we might head over to the Saloon for some burgers and beers.
The shocked looks on their faces almost caused Chris to laugh out loud. He broke them out of their shock by adding, We best get in the truck and head out before Nathan figures out you´re gone. Once we´re on the road, I´ll call and let him know you´re with me so he won´t worry.
JD turned to look at Buck and Vin; he wasn´t sure if Chris was trying to trick them, but he was ready to trust, and hoped they would be too. Buck nodded his agreement but Vin held back, his blue eyes locked on Chris, as if searching for the truth. JD watched Vin´s tongue slide out to lick him lips before the sharpshooter said, Reckon we best hit the road then.
The temptation to giggle almost overwhelmed the four men as they walked to the big black Dodge Ram sitting in the driveway. Chris knew Nathan would be mad at him too but the looks of pure joy on his friends faces as they drove toward town made it all worthwhile. Maybe waiting a little longer to call home wasn´t a bad idea.
Inez had just taken their order when Josiah and Ezra joined them. She returned to add two more to her order tag. Chris asked her to add one for Nathan too.
I already had it on the tag, Inez said giving the man in black a wink.
Vin nodded at Josiah and Ezra, Are you excited to see us out or do you have some news you want to share?
What gave us away? Josiah asked.
Sorry, Josiah, you didn´t do a very good job of keeping that smile off your face, and Ezra keeps looking at you trying to get you to play it cool. Buck took a sip of his beer, savoring the taste he had been denied since the shooting.
Our resident womanizer is correct, Mr. Sanchez, you did everything but wave a flag to tell them we have some news to impart, Ezra spoke up before Josiah could deny it.
What did you find, Ezra? Chris asked.
We managed to locate Mr. Dunne and Mr. Tanner´s dates for evening they were abducted. Jennifer broke fairly quickly and admitted her job was to lure Mr. Dunne out so her uncle´s men could grab him.”
Josiah picked up the story, Vin threw off their plans when he invited himself along on the date. She recruited a friend telling her that they were helping her uncle play a prank on their dates.
Did you arrest them? JD asked, his voice a little shaken.
They were a part of a plan to abduct a federal agent, JD, Chris answered.
I should have known something was wrong when she hit on me, JD said.
Buck started only to be interrupted by JD, Vin knew, isn´t that why you wanted to come along?
I didn´t know for sure, JD. If I did we would have had some back up and saved us both a lot of pain. Vin reached out and grabbed his young friend´s arm. There wasn´t anything specific, she just seemed way too pushy, and that bothered me.
It´s always easier to see when you´re not one of the people involved, Chris said giving JD´s shoulder pat. We all fell for the act; don´t beat yourself up for something you couldn´t have known.
We both got grabbed, JD, you got me out, not the other way around and it was your plan that led to the team getting the gang. A beautiful woman hits on a man and his ego gets in the way of his good sense, Vin added.
Hell, JD, let me tell you about the times I´ve fallen for a pretty face, Buck said, a huge smile on his face.
JD looked around the table and knew they were right; it could have been any one of them she fooled. No, Buck, here comes Inez with the food. I don´t want our first good meal in over a week ruined by one of your stories.
JD´s laughter broke the tension just like Buck planned. Nathan had heard enough approaching the table to know now was not the time to lay into the boys for leaving. They looked fine and needed this night out more than he realized.
Sitting down next to Josiah Nathan looked over at his former patients, We´ll save the bean casserole for tomorrow. His smile told them no hard feelings for running out on him, this time.
They ended up making a shorter night than the three recovering members of the team would have liked. Nathan was honest enough to admit the evening had done them some good, they were taking back their lives, and JD had managed to let go some of his guilt about falling for Jennifer´s line.
Chris´s thoughts drifted back from to the present. Under his breath he muttered, “Yep, a zoo, but I wouldn´t trade ‘em for anything.”
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