Main Characters: Seven
Alternate Universe: Negotiations
Caretaker's Note: I did not begin the Negotiations AU however, when RL drew Sasha away from us, she asked me to take care of this, her child. If you would like to comment on it, please contact LaraMee. This is the originating story for the Negotiations AU. This AU involves permanent disability in that Chris was left a paraplegic in the event that took the lives of Sarah and Adam.
Vin Tanner walked into the community center, immediately looking for the bunch of kids he knew would be waiting for him.
"Vin!" A young Latino boy called Joey ran up to him, threatening to bowl him over.
"Hey Joey, how you doing? Hey guys." He greeted the rest.
"Hey Vin," they chorused.
"What are we doing today, Vin?"
"Are we playing softball again?"
"No, I want to play soccer."
"Hey, hey, slow down kids!" Vin yelled over the chorus of high- pitched voices. "I've got a surprise this week. It's out in the back."
He led the motley crew outside, and round to the back of the centre. A game of wheelchair basketball was going on in the courtyard, and Vin paused to watch for a moment as he led the kids to a patch of grass behind the court. One guy with a backward black cap on had the ball, and was running (wheeling?) rings around the rest of them. Vin smirked, and went to rejoin the kids.
"What the hell is that?" One of the boys inquired of a huge round board painted with red, blue and yellow rings.
"It's an archery target," Vin replied, “And watch your language, okay?”
"What's archery?" a small boy called Tim asked.
"It's shooting with a bow and arrow."
"A bow and arrow!"
"Like Robin Hood!"
"Hey, hey kids. First of all we have to have a little talk, okay? It's about safety. Number one, bows and arrows are NOT toys, no matter how many times you've played cowboys and injuns, okay? They're extremely dangerous." Vin went on to explain basic safety rules, such as never pointing the arrows anywhere but directly at the target, and making sure no one could be behind the target. He had set it up against a wall to be sure of this. He also had only brought one bow and three arrows along, so he could supervise at all times. Despite the long lecture, the kids were really excited.
The community center had been a godsend for these kids. They had all grown up in the city, most from broken homes, and their mothers couldn't afford to keep them amused with video games or television, so they made their own amusement. That generally involved crime, but now thanks to this community cent re, they had a safe release for their energies, and Vin just loved it.
He had been volunteering here for about 3 months now, and he was certainly one of the favorite helpers among the staff. He came twice a week, a nice break from his usual job of a police officer. He made it a point that every one of these kids knew he was a cop, to see that he was actually a nice guy. So many of them had been raised with the preconception that cops were bad, and that they only had it in for them. Vin hoped this would stick in their minds when they were older, and if they did ever end up on the wrong side of the law with a gun in their hands, they might remember a friend from years ago who was a cop, and rethink pulling that trigger.
The center wasn't perfect. The playing fields were right next to a busy road for one thing; Vin could hear the traffic rushing past behind him as he spoke. Hopefully, the next project was to put fences up all round, for the kids' safety.
The archery lesson was going great, and the kids were loving it. Vin had given each child some instruction, and now they were having a competition to see who could tot up the most points with three arrows.
When the kids had finished, Vin announced it was time to pack up. The kids booed, and all started begging him to show them how to do it. They wanted to see Vin shoot.
A little embarrassed, Vin finally agreed. As he was donning the arm guard, he noticed the basketball game had finished, and a few of them had gathered nearby to watch. Great, an even bigger audience was all he needed.
When Vin was ready, he aimed the first arrow at the target. Letting the bowstring go, he saw the arrow thud into the target, right into the center circle.
"Bulls eye!" The kids yelled joyfully.
Vin looked closer. “A little off center,” he scolded himself.
The second arrow went dead center, and the kids were beside themselves.
"See if you can get this arrow in the middle of the arrow you just shot Vin!" he heard one of the boys yell. He turned his head to smirk, and give a "yeah right” expression, when he saw something make his blood run cold. Joey, not more than eight years old, had wandered into the road, looking at something on the ground. Vin looked to his right, and saw a truck bearing down on the boy. The driver showed no sign of slowing; he can't have seen the small boy crouching.
"Joey!" he yelled, dropping the bow and arrow and taking off towards the road. He wouldn't make it in time, he realized with a shudder.
He noticed something else though. One of the basketball players had also spotted the boy, and was wheeling towards the road. It was the guy wearing the backward cap Vin had spotted earlier. His arms were pumping madly, trying to make the chair to go faster. Vin checked the position of the truck. It would be close. The guy was flat out now, heading straight for Joey. As he reached the boy, he slammed on the brakes, flinging him out of the chair. He grabbed Joey as he flew out, and they both hit the surface of the road, rolling.
The truck raced past, and Vin saw the chair being crushed beneath the wheels as it went past. When the view was clear, he saw the two figures lying on the road.
"Joey!" Vin sprinted up to them. As he reached them, the guy who had been in the chair was struggling to sit upright, the boy lying next to him. Vin knelt down beside Joey, gently shaking him. The boy stirred.
"Joey! Are you alright?"
Joey opened his eyes and looked up at Vin. "Vin?"
Vin lifted him into his lap and hugged him. "Oh thank you, Jesus."
Vin looked at the guy who had rescued him. "Are you alright?" He noticed the scrapes down his arm and on his bare legs.
"Yeah, I'm fine. More than can be said for my chair though." He said dryly. Vin turned around and saw the mangled remains of the wheelchair lying beside the road.
"Thank you," Vin said seriously.
"No problem. Would you mind getting me out of the middle of the road, though? I'm not feeling too safe right now."
Vin grinned, and handed Joey to one of the bigger boys and ordered everyone inside to wait for him. That done, he went back out into the road and pulled the other man to the curb.
"Name's Vin Tanner," Vin said, hunkering down beside the man.
"Chris. Chris Larabee."
They shook hands. Chris turned to one of the other basketball players. "Hey Pete? Tell me someone brought a spare chair with them?"
"That was good shooting," Chris said. Vin had sat down beside him.
"The archery. You're good."
"Oh, that. Just lucky really."
Chris grinned. "Sure."
Just then Pete returned with another man wheeling an empty chair.
"Sorry Chris. Nobody brought a spare chair with them. Guess you should have taken better care of yours. Anyway, Howard's already settled in the bus so you can use his to get to the car in."
The man wheeled the chair close to Chris so he could get in, using the armrests to lift his body in. It was quite a show of strength, to be able to do it unassisted, and Vin was impressed.
"How you getting home Chris?" Pete asked.
"Well, I was going to run myself home, but I guess Howard needs his chair back."
"Do you have a spare at home?" Vin asked, and Chris nodded. "Well, then I'll run ya home."
"You don't have to do that."
"No, really. I owe ya one, for Joey."
Chris looked at Vin, making a silent decision about the man. "Alright."
They went back to the car park, and Vin helped Chris get settled in his truck and then dashed back inside to say goodbye to the boys and make sure Joey was really okay.
"So where do you live?" Vin asked on returning.
"A few minutes west out of town. I'll show you where."
Fifteen minutes later they pulled up outside a large bungalow, surrounded by a wood on one side and rolling hills on the other.
"Wow," Vin said. "This place is great."
"Thanks," Chris replied.
"So where's your spare chair?"
"Uh... in the garage. Here's the key." He handed Vin a bunch of keys, indicating which one it was, and Vin returned a few moments later with a wheelchair. Chris opened the passenger door, and Vin placed it just outside.
"You need a hand?"
"Nope." Chris said gruffly, and, albeit it with a minor amount of difficulty, maneuvered himself into the chair.
Vin was amazed by the bungalow, which had obviously all been adapted to suit the needs of a wheelchair user. Lowered worktops, widened doorways, hard floors. They were met at the door by a boisterous Labrador, who Chris stroked affectionately.
"Hey, Sam, how you doing?" The dog wagged his tail happily in reply.
"You want a beer?" Chris asked Vin.
"Sure," Vin replied, and Chris tossed him one.
"That was pretty amazing stuff today."
"Well, apart from you throwing yourself in front of a truck, the basketball was cool. I've never seen it being played before."
"What, basketball?" Chris teased.
Vin flushed. "You know what I mean. Wheelchair basketball."
"Yeah. It's a good game. Doesn't really beat the real thing though."
"You used to play?"
"Didn't every kid? I always wanted to be Wilt Chamberlain."
Vin laughed, but then his face became more serious.
"Look, uh...if you don't mind me asking, how long...?" he gestured to the wheelchair.
Chris looked down at his lap. "Three years."
"Shit. I'm sorry, man. How...?"
"It was a car wreck," Chris said shortly, and then quickly changed the subject. "So what do you do when you're not teaching kids how to be Robin Hood?"
"Oh." Vin was taken aback by the swiftness of the turn in conversation, but understood this man probably felt uncomfortable talking about it. "I'm a cop."
"Really? Good for you."
"What do you do?"
"Right now, not a lot. I used to be in the Navy, though."
"I was with the teams."
Vin was impressed. SEALS were very tough guys, but then he realized how this guy must feel to have lost all of that. Vin suddenly felt uncomfortable in his company.
Just then there was a knock at the door, and Sam started barking.
"Come in, Nathan," Chris yelled. A moment later, a tall black man entered the room wearing a tracksuit, trying to prevent Sam from licking his face as he went.
"This is Nathan Jackson, my physical therapist. Nathan, this is Vin Tanner."
"Pleased to meet you," Nathan said, shaking hands with Vin.
"You too. Look, Chris, I'd better be heading off. Thanks for the beer though. Maybe I'll see you around the center?"
"Sure," Chris said, and Vin left.
Nathan looked down at Chris with a strange look on his face.
"What?" Chris asked, irritated. His whole demeanor had changed from amicable, to what can only be described as pissed off.
"Entertaining company, are we now? And there I was thinking I was your only friend."
"Shut up, Nathan. I just met him today. He gave me a lift home 'cause my chair got smashed up."
"Yeah, I noticed you were in the old one. What happened?"
"It's a long story. Are we going to do this?"
Chris went into the gym, leaving Nathan to follow.
"I think that'll do it for today, Chris."
Chris, sweating heavily leaned back in his chair, exhausted. "I swear you enjoy torturing me."
Nathan chuckled. "Now, you know it's for your own good, Chris. You want me to bring you a new chair tomorrow?"
Chris grunted, which Nathan took to mean “yes.” Having visited here every day for the last two years, Nathan was used to Chris's moods.
"So, will you be spending the evening with your head in a bottle of whiskey, as per usual?"
"None of your damn business, Nathan."
"Fair enough. You want to drink yourself to death, you go right ahead."
And with that he left, leaving Chris sulking in his chair. He headed into the kitchen, opened one of the cupboards, and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.
Chris woke with usual woolly head, and used the monkey pole hanging above his bed to pull himself into his chair. Damn, but he wished he had his other chair back. This one was not as good; heavier, more cumbersome and not nearly as maneuverable.
He headed into the kitchen to make himself a coffee, seeing the empty whiskey bottle on the countertop where he'd left it last night. Just then the phone rang. Sam took off barking, running into the other room, where he picked up the phone handset in his mouth and brought it to Chris. Chris rewarded him with a treat and a pat on the head.
"Good boy. Larabee."
"Mr Larabee? My name is Orin Travis, and I've just been reading this morning's paper."
He stopped as if this should mean something to Chris. "That's nice for you."
"Well, I take it you haven't read it. In it there's a rather interesting article regarding your daring rescue of a young boy yesterday."
Chris sighed. So the papers had got hold of it. "And?"
"Well, I have a job proposition for you."
"Really," Chris said with a heavy dose of sarcasm.
"Look, this is kind of difficult over the phone. Could I come over?"
"It's a free country."
Travis was shaken by this man's attitude. "I'll...take that as a yes then. I'll be over in about an hour."
Chris hung up the phone with a sigh. What the hell had that been about? Chris headed for the shower.
Exactly an hour later, there was a knock at the door.
"Get the door Sam." Chris said, and the Labrador ran to open the latch, using the special adapter. Sam was especially trained to help the handicapped, running to fetch things that were needed, answering the door even. Chris could have gotten by alright without him, but things were easier with Sam around, and Chris enjoyed the company of the animal as well.
Orin Travis was dismayed to be greeted by a black Labrador, but heard Larabee call that he was in the living room.
"Ah, Mr Larabee. It's good to finally meet you."
"Is it?" Chris nodded to a chair, indicating Travis should sit down.
"Now, as I said on the phone, I read the article in today's paper. Perhaps you would like to see?" he held out a copy for Chris to look at, but he ignored it.
"What do you want?"
Again, Travis was taken aback by Chris' brusque manner, but he quickly recovered.
"What do you want, Mr Larabee?"
"How are you spending your days, Chris? Moping around, feeling sorry for yourself? You don't have a job, do you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you ever look in the mirror, Chris, and wonder what it is you've become? A sad, lonely shell of the man you once were?"
"Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Hey! Drop the attitude!" Travis yelled. Chris was so taken aback that he just sat in silence for a moment. Travis took advantage of the situation and carried on.
"You know you showed a lot of potential as a young man, Chris. People talked about you, people high up. You were destined for great things, almost achieved them as well. The accident was tragic, truly tragic. And then you dropped out of sight.
Just...disappeared. Until I wake up this morning and read the newspaper and see your name there in front of me in black and white. And if this article is true, you're still the same man you were then. A little rougher around the edges, maybe, but underneath, the same man."
"What do you want?" Chris asked quietly.
"I have a proposition for you. A job."
"What kind of a job?"
"I've had an idea in my head, it's been brewing for months now. A team. A dedicated team, solely for hostage negotiation. Do you know how many hostage negotiations are successful, Chris? Not all that many, and I want to change that. I want a crack team, the best of the best. And I want you to lead them."
"Never mind “why you." Do you want the shot?"
"I'm not trained in hostage negotiation."
"That's why I want you. I don't want someone who goes by the book, the old rules don't work anymore. I want someone not bogged down by rules, someone with fresh ideas, fresh methods. I want you."
"What if I say no?"
"Then you can crawl back inside that bottle, and carry on feeling sorry for yourself for the rest of your life. But...what if you say yes?"
"Alright, if I was to do this, there would be conditions."
"Such as?" Travis asked amicably.
"I get to pick my own team."
"But of course, Mr Larabee. You are to be leading them, you obviously must choose them.
"And I'll need resources, to buy equipment and stuff."
"Whatever you need, you'll get."
"And I won't answer to anyone?"
"No one except me."
Chris thought for a moment.
"So you'll do it then?" Travis asked after a moment.
"Yeah, I'm in." They shook hands.
"Good. Here's a list of my numbers, I'm reachable at all times. You have two weeks to assemble a team. Contact me when you're ready." Travis stood up as if to leave.
"Oh. There is one thing I forgot to mention. Your negotiator," Travis said.
"Every hostage negotiation team needs a negotiator. You don't need to worry about finding one, I already have someone lined up."
"I thought you said I could pick my own team?" Chris said, eyes narrowing.
"You can. All except the negotiator, he's in whether you like it or not."
Larabee stared at him a moment, wondering whether to change his mind and say "no'.
"Two weeks, Mr Larabee. We'll talk in two weeks."
Vin wiped his forehead with the bottom of his T-shirt, and headed to the sideline for a drink of water. On his way, he spotted a familiar figure watching the game.
"Vin? You still playing?" one of the boys asked.
"You go on guys, I'll just be a second," he replied, heading in the direction of the spectator, leaving the boys to their game of soccer.
"Hey," he called out as he got nearer. "What are you doing here?"
"Watching a game of soccer, what's it look like?" Chris replied, smiling.
"Phew. I don't know where those guys get their energy from, I'm beat," he announced, perching on a bench next to Chris.
"Actually, I came here to ask you a question."
"Oh yeah, what's that?" Vin asked.
"I was just wondering if you shoot a gun as well as you shoot a bow and arrow."
Vin looked surprised. "Why'd you want to know that?"
"Alright, I... I guess so. I mean, I'd prefer to use a gun."
"Well, say from... 300 yards. What size target could you hit?"
"300 yards?" Chris nodded slowly. "I'd guess, your left eye."
Chris smiled. "Good."
"So it's purely for hostage negotiation, this team?" Vin asked. They were sitting in a bar, nursing two beers.
"That doesn't sound like much. I mean, how many hostage situations are there?"
"More than you'd think. Certainly enough to warrant a specialist team, and we'd travel to wherever we're needed, within reason. This team would cover kidnappings, heists gone wrong. Anything that needs negotiation, we'd be there."
"So why'd you pick me?"
"I...did a little checking. Found out you were a sniper for SWAT; best there is, so I'm led to believe."
"If this team is for negotiation, what do you need a sniper for?"
Chris smiled slowly. "Well, there's always the need for a last resort."
Vin and Chris slowly made their way into the studio, Chris looking around the room.
"How do you know he's here?" Vin asked.
"I've been keeping tabs on him, making sure he's okay. Reckon I owe him that much."
"You've been keeping tabs, but you haven't spoken to the guy in two years?" Vin asked incredulously.
"Yeah well, we didn't part on the best of terms." Then Chris spotted him. "Over there," he pointed.
"No, I told you, we need them today. Today!" A tall, mustached man was shouting into his cell. "Alright, make sure you do." He hung up angrily.
Buck Wilmington whirled around when he heard the familiar voice, seeing his friend of ten years sitting there.
"Chris! Buddy!" He bent down and hugged him awkwardly. "Damn, it's good to see you!"
"Yeah, looks like you're keeping yourself busy. Always figured you'd make a good film star."
"Military adviser, Chris, though you know I'd make a good leading man." He puffed his chest out proudly. "And I'd certainly be able to handle all those lovely leading ladies!"
Chris laughed. "You don't change."
"So what the hell are you doing here Chris? It's been, what, two years?"
"Came here to ask you something. How'd you like a real job, something worthwhile?"
"Worthwhile? You don't think this is worthwhile?" He looked around the film set. "Okay, maybe it's not. What've you got in mind?"
"How about we talk about it over lunch?"
"Nathan, you've got a psychology degree, right?" Chris asked, lying back while the therapist exercised his legs.
"So why are you a therapist and not a psychologist?"
"Well, I worked as a psychologist for a while, but it seemed that the only people I got to treat were either people with petty little problems, or those who wanted to score drugs “legally”. I got disillusioned with it, decided I wanted to meet and help people with problems I had a better chance at helping them with. So I got trained as a PT, and the rest you know."
"But you were a good psychologist." Chris made it a statement, not a question. Nathan frowned.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, you've managed to keep my head screwed on right these past couple of years. Plus, I did a little checking."
Chris sat up on his elbows. "How'd you like to go back to psychology? But helping real people, not just junkies trying to score?"
"Well, I'd like that very much."
Chris smiled and lay back down. "Thought so."
"What've you got in mind?" Nathan asked. Chris explained the situation to him.
"And you'd need me to analyze the bad guy, tell you what I think he's capable of?"
Nathan thought for a moment. "I don't know Chris. There's got to be other people out there with more experience than me."
"Maybe, but I want you."
"Okay, if you're sure. Actually, I might know someone else who could be useful. He's a counselor, used to be a preacher. He's the best there is, might come in useful."
"What's his name?"
"Josiah Sanchez. I can arrange for you to meet him."
"Alright, do that. We could use a counselor."
"Of course, if I take this job, I can't be your therapist no more."
Chris nodded. "I thought about that. Guess I'll have to find a new one then."
"I have a friend you might like. I'll arrange for them to take my place."
The five men settled themselves comfortably in Chris' living room.
"Okay, now you all know why you're here. I figured it'd be good for everyone to get to know each other before we started. This here's Buck Wilmington, he'll be my right hand man. That means if I'm not there to give the orders, you listen to him. Vin Tanner is our sniper, only to be used if absolutely necessary. Nathan Jackson, our psychologist; Josiah Sanchez, counselor; and JD Dunne, communications. I'm told he can bug just about anything, right kid?"
"Yes sir, Mr Larabee. Hack into anything as well."
"Alright, but you don't have to call me sir. Chris will do just fine. There will be one other addition to the team, the negotiator. If we send a man in to talk them down, it'll be him. I haven't met him yet, so I'm just as in the dark as you are. Any questions?"
There were none.
"Alright, beers are in the fridge, and the game starts in ten minutes.'
"So, how long have you known Chris?" JD asked Buck. They were sitting outside on the grass, talking.
Buck thought for a moment. "About 12 years. We met in the Navy."
"You were a SEAL too?"
"Yep. Chris was my team leader, best there was."
"So...what happened to his legs?"
Buck sighed. "It was a car wreck, 'bout three years ago."
"Jesus. So it wasn't even in combat or anything. Must have tore him up."
Buck laughed mirthlessly. "You have no idea."
JD looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
Buck thought for a moment, deciding whether or not to divulge the next bit of information. "Well, he wasn't the only one in the car when it crashed."
"Who else was in it?"
"He had a wife, and a little boy. They were killed."
"Oh my God. That's awful!"
"I know. Chris was driving, always figured it was his fault."
"Hell no! Some drunk driver took them out. Wasn't a thing Chris could have done, but he blames himself for living while they died. Spent a year trying to rectify the situation."
"He tried to kill himself?"
"No! Well, not suicide anyway, but he was on a self-destruct course all the same. Spent two months in the hospital, and as soon as he got out he came to stay with me. Drank himself stupid every night, and kept on trying to get into fights. Guess he always figured if he pissed someone off enough they'd do the deed for him."
"But who'd fight a guy in a wheelchair?"
"Well exactly, but you'd be amazed at Chris' ability to piss people off when he wants to. This one time we were in a bar, and he picks up a pool cue and starts slashing at anyone within hitting distance. Clocked this big fella right over the head, gave him 12 stitches in his scalp. Anyway, his friends didn't take too kindly to that, and started laying into Chris, chair or no chair. Took me about 5 minutes to pull them all off him, and he spent another two weeks in the hospital, that time."
"That time? There were others?"
"This went on for about a year. Can't think of a single night I put him to bed sober."
"Why'd you put up with it?"
"Because I owed him, he's saved my life countless times. And he's my friend, even if he didn't know it then. And I always felt a little bit responsible for the crash."
"Why? You weren't even there?"
"They were driving back from my place though. I'd thrown a barbecue, and invited a load of people. Sarah wanted to get Adam home to bed, but I managed to convince Chris to stay a little while longer. If they hadn't stayed, they wouldn't have run into that drunk on the way home."
"Shit, you can't blame yourself for that Buck. I'm sure Chris doesn't blame you."
"Well, I thought so too kid. One night, I was putting Chris to bed, and...well, I guess he hadn't had a good fight in about a week so he figured he wanted to start one. He started yelling at me, trying to provoke me. I was used to that, but then he started saying it was my fault, it was all my fault. And he... he hit me."
"He was drunk Buck, he didn't mean it, I'm sure."
"He'd never hit me before, never. And I'd pissed him off enough times to warrant it, even before the accident. Anyway, his bungalow was finished by then, so the next day I helped him move in, and then I left. Hadn't spoken to him in two years until he showed up at the film set."
"Didn't you worry about him?"
"Every day, Kid. Every day. I kept tabs on him though, and I made sure the Navy got him a good therapist, Nathan."
"I thought Nathan was a psychologist?"
"Well, he was, but he changed to physical therapy. A friend of mine found him for Chris, and said if anyone would stop Chris killing himself, it was this guy."
"Guess it worked then, huh?"
"Right. He seems okay now, and with this job, I reckon he'll be okay. "Besides, he's got me to watch his back again now.'
Orin Travis looked at the six men sitting in his office, appraising each one slowly.
"So this is your team?"
"That's right," Chris said. "So who's our negotiator then?"
Travis pressed a button on his intercom, and spoke to his secretary. "Diane, would you tell Mr Standish we're ready for him now, please?"
A few moments later, there was a soft knock at the door, and a slight, well-dressed man entered.
Travis stood. "Ezra Standish gentlemen. Ezra, this is the team you'll be working with." Travis introduced each man.
Chris eyed the younger man thoughtfully, noting every detail he could, from the man's expensive suit, probably designer, to the cool green eyes, which were in turn appraising Larabee. The other six men in the room watched silently as their leader and this new man stared at each other.
Travis cleared his throat. "I've arranged for you to have offices downtown. Fully furnished, air-conditioned, the works. Everything you need. I trust that's okay, Mr Larabee?"
"Fine," Chris replied, still not taking his eyes off Ezra.
"Perhaps we could go down there now and I'll show you around?" Travis sensed the tension in the air, and realized the other five men were growing uncomfortable.
"Actually, I'd like to have a chat with Ezra, if I may. Why don't you take the boys on ahead?" It didn't sound like a request.
Travis nodded, and ushered the men out of the office. Ezra and Chris still stared, and it was Chris who broke the eye contact first.
"I guess you're really something then," Chris said.
"I beg your pardon?" Ezra replied.
"Well, Travis was adamant that no one else would be suitable for this but you."
"Well, then, I'm honored by his faith in me."
"Who do you work for?"
"You, apparently," Ezra replied good-naturedly.
"I mean before this came up."
"FBI, but I'm surprised a man such as you wouldn't have researched a member of his team, right down to the color of the undergarments I wear."
"I would've, but I didn't know your name until about 5 minutes ago."
"Why would you do that? Accept a man onto your team you know nothing about."
"Travis said you were good. And... it was part of the deal."
"The deal? So, either I was on the team, or you weren't?"
"Something like that."
"And you wanted this that bad, that you'd go along with an unknown quantity."
"Well, maybe I don't want it that bad after all."
Ezra laughed. "Having second thoughts, are we? Now that you've met me, you don't think I'm up to it, is that it?"
"You don't come across as a negotiator. Perhaps you're not suitable."
"Maybe I don't come across as a negotiator because I'm not negotiating with you. But believe me, I am the best there is."
"Pretend I'm holding a hostage with a gun to their head. Negotiate."
"I prefer not to use the word negotiate. I don't negotiate, I compromise. In a negotiation, everyone loses. In a compromise, everybody wins."
"Cut the crap. Talk me down."
"I'm afraid that would be impossible. You see, you already have an opinion formed of me, and whatever I do or say now would be tarnished by that opinion. If this really were a hostage situation, I would have played it differently from the start."
"Played it? This is a game to you?"
"Mr Larabee, the whole world is a game. There are winners, there a losers, and...there are cheats."
"And you cheat?"
Ezra thought about it. "Cheat is such a crude word. I bluff. For example, when I first came into this room, you looked at me. Everyone did, it's natural. But you laid down some sort of a challenge. Now, you looked away first, for what reason I don't know, be it boredom or even to prove you have nothing to prove. Now, if you had been standing there with a gun pointed at someone's head, and I had been sent in to talk you down, I would have made a point of looking away first. Not so quickly that I appear intimidated, but soon enough to prevent you thinking I had laid down a challenge. In that case, my job would be to compromise, not challenge."
"You're saying the outcome of a hostage situation can depend on how you look at the guy when you first meet him?"
"Precisely. I need for him to put his faith in me, and you wouldn't put your faith in a coward, nor someone you thought was trying to better you."
"But you were trying to better me."
"No, but I wasn't going to back down. I knew a man such as yourself would not be the type to back down."
There was a pause.
"Alright Ezra, it worked. I'll put my faith in you, for the time being." Chris made as if to leave.
"That's it, Mr Larabee? What about you?"
Chris swiveled the chair back to face Ezra.
"What about me?"
"Should I be putting my faith in you? How do I know you're suitable?"
"I'm in charge, that's all you need to know." Chris growled.
"Actually, that's not all. You see, I'm going to be the one going into a room to talk to a psychopath, and I need to be sure there's a secure team watching my ass."
"It's a good team."
"A team is only as good as their leader. A secure team needs a secure leader, not some self-pitying, suicidal, alcoholic cripple."
Something flashed momentarily in Chris' eyes. "What the fuck did you just say?"
"Chris Larabee, invalided out of the Navy SEALS three years ago after a car crash left him paralyzed, and his wife and young son dead, and has been drinking his pension ever since."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Chris asked quietly, a dangerous edge in his voice.
"What, you think I would come here unprepared Chris? I never walk into any situation without knowing exactly who I'm dealing with, but with you, I don't know. I mean, my research has told me you've been on a self-destruct mission for the last three years. Hell, even your best friend only managed to put up with you for a year before he couldn't take any more. And yet, Travis is putting his faith in you to lead an experimental team, one with the potential to soar, or to crash and burn, and putting his own reputation on the line along with it. Now why would he do that?"
Chris glared at Ezra, but did not speak.
"Maybe he looks at you," Ezra continued, "and sees the man you were, and could be again. Or maybe, he looks inside you and sees the man you were, and could never be again. I can normally read people Chris, but I can't read you."
Ezra opened the door, and was about to leave when he stopped and looked back at Chris.
"So how about we call this a trial, huh? But whatever problems you've had in the past, forget them, because the only thing you have to worry about now is this team. Because if I fuck up, some hostages die. If you fuck up, everybody dies. So don't fuck up.'
Chris wheeled himself into the offices Orin Travis had arranged for them, spotting his team all sitting in the conference room, lounging in the comfortable (and expensive) chairs and chatting amongst themselves. Ezra sat with them, flashing Chris only a cursory glance as he entered the room.
"I see you boys have made yourselves right at home," Chris said.
"This place is great! I mean, it's so big, and I get my own desk, and the computer equipment is top of the range!"
Chris smiled at JD's enthusiasm. "I figured you'd like it."
The office took up the whole of the floor, with a conference room, a kitchen, and a communications center all off the main office area. Each man had his own area, and it was all open plan, except for Chris' office.
"Thought you'd lost your way when Ezra came back without you," Buck joked.
"How did you get here Chris?" JD asked.
"I drove, of course."
"But...” JD was about to put his foot in his mouth when Buck whacked him upside of the head. Chris smiled at JD's expression.
"Relax JD, I've got a customized car. Everything is operated by hand."
"Cool! Can I see it?"
"Later. Right, down to business. You've all had time to meet Ezra," Chris looked at him coldly. "And as of next week this team will be on active alert."
"So soon?" Vin asked.
"Travis doesn't see any reason to delay. He feels a week is enough time for us. So let's get down to it."
The week was packed with training, and briefings. They ran various scenarios for the team to practice on, and soon everyone felt confident that they were ready. Ezra and Chris were civil to each other, but Chris was always quick to point out something he thought Ezra had done wrong, normally in front of the other men.
"You get the feeling there's some animosity between Ezra and Chris?" Josiah asked Nathan over coffee one day.
"Just a little bit. If you ask me, I reckon something went down in that first meeting in Travis' office," Nathan replied.
"Don't know. But I know Ezra's researched each of us before he joined. Could be he told Chris a few home truths and Chris didn't take too kindly to it."
"A man's past is his own."
"Yeah, but Chris is more particular about his than other folk I know.”
Chris wearily got out of the car after returning home. The week had been hard, and he was exhausted, but happy now that the team would work. He just had a feeling.
Sam greeted him enthusiastically as he entered the bungalow, but he waved the dog away and went to grab a beer out of the fridge. He was normally a very active person, but this was a new type of tired. His brain hurt, and the burden of responsibility weighed heavily on his shoulders. He remembered this from his SEAL days, being in charge of a team, bringing them together. He was beginning to feel alive again, and he hadn't touched a drop of anything stronger than beer in well over a week.
Ezra was a problem though. He seemed to be fitting into the group quite well, but there was something about him Chris still wasn't sure of. The truth was, the things he said to Chris during that first conversation had hit too near home. Damn it! How had that man taken all Chris' insecurities, bundled them together in one speech and then thrown them in his face?
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. "Who the hell is that?" he growled at Sam, and went to open the door. There on the doorstep was a tall, striking woman, with silvery blond hair. Chris' breath caught in his throat.
"Mr Larabee?" she asked.
"Yeah. Who are you?"
"My name is Mary Travis. We have an appointment, had you forgotten?"
Chris inwardly groaned. This must be the new therapist Nathan had arranged for him. He recalled Nathan telling him something about it at the beginning of the week, but Chris had completely forgotten.
"Right. I had forgotten, I'm sorry. Come in."
Chris led her into the kitchen. "Can I get you a drink?"
"No, it's a bit early for me." Chris saw her looking disapprovingly at the can of beer on the table. "Shall we begin?" she asked.
Uh...' Chris was taken aback by the swiftness of this woman. "Sure, just let me go change."
"So," Mary said after Chris had re-emerged wearing a T-shirt and sweats. "Let's start with some leg exercises. Get on the table."
"Actually I normally start with my upper body."
"Well, I'm your therapist now, and I know what's best for you. On the table," Mary said coldly.
"You...you know what's best for me, huh?" Chris asked in amused disbelief.
"That's right. This is my job."
"And this is my body."
"Mr. Larabee, if you're just going to sit there and make smart-ass comments, I can't help you."
"Well, how about you lose the attitude?"
Mary looked outraged, and opened her mouth to reply, but shut it again after some thought. "Alright. Will you please get on the table?"
"So what did you used to do?" Chris asked, lying back and staring at the ceiling as Mary worked his legs.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, somehow I get the impression that this wasn't always what you did. You give off the vibe of, I don't know...a lawyer, or a reporter or something."
"Not a bad guess. I used to be the editor for a newspaper."
"Why'd you change your choice of career?"
Mary took a deep breath before answering. "My son. He fell down some stairs and broke his back a few years ago."
Chris was shocked. "That's awful. How old is he?"
"Eight. I realized I could help him more by doing this than by earning loads of money."
Just then the phone rang, and a moment later Sam ran in with the receiver in his mouth and gave it to Chris.
There was a pause as Chris listened to the person on the other end of the line.
"I'll be right there." Chris hung up, and looked at Mary. "I've got to go. There's a situation at work."
"Fine. I'll call you to set up a regular slot."
Chris arrived at the tall office building now surrounded by flashing lights and police, taking stock of what he could see as he ventured onto the scene.
"Chris!" Chris turned to see Buck jogging towards him. "Glad you're here, pard. We've got something real big going down."
"What is it, Buck?" Chris asked as Buck led him towards a caravan in the heart of the throng.
"Got a loon up there on the twelfth floor. Got a gun and enough explosives to demolish the entire building."
"So far as we can tell, there's about ten office workers up there. No details yet."
"Nothing so far." They had now reached the caravan and walked up the small ramp to the interior, where Chris saw JD and Vin already inside.
"So what happened?"
It was Vin who answered Chris' question. "The guy walked into the building not long after five o'clock, went straight up to the twelfth floor pulled a gun and ordered everyone to get out, except for a small group he kept behind."
"It appears they all work in one department, insurance," Buck answered.
"How did he get through security? Place like that must be wrapped up tight."
"It was just after five, folks going home. Guess he managed to slip through while it was busy." Vin said.
Just then Josiah and Nathan walked in. "What've we got?" Josiah asked.
"Buck, brief them. Vin, I suggest you take a look around outside, start checking out possible sniper points. JD, I need to know what's happening inside."
"I already checked it out. The office has a few surveillance cameras inside I can tap into, but I'd like to get a few more cameras in and a mic as well. This is a blueprint of the layout; if I can drill in from the floor above, here, and here...we should have a pretty clear picture."
"Alright. Grab a couple of the guys outside to help you and be as quick and quiet as you can."
JD nodded and gathered up his stuff. Just as he was about to leave, and hand on his arm stopped him. He looked at Chris.
"JD, I don't need to tell you to be discreet, but... be careful."
JD smiled and left.
"Buck! What do we know about this guy?"
"Uh... not a lot yet Chris, but we got some shots of him from the lobby camera which we're running through the computer."
"Let me see." Chris studied the picture Buck handed him, his eyes taking a moment to focus on the image in front of him. His blood ran cold as he recognized the man in the picture.
"Chris?" Buck was concerned at the look on his friend's face. "You know him?"
"Josiah, Nathan, his name is Alistair Lloyd. He's ex-Navy. I want you to pull up everything there is on him, and quickly."
Josiah and Nathan left. Buck stared at Chris for a moment.
"Ex-Navy? Who is he?"
Chris sighed. "He was my Leutenant when I first joined the SEALS, before I met you."
"Why'd he leave?"
"He was invalided out after a training accident which was, well, partially my fault."
"You think this is personal?"
"Hell, Buck, how could he know this is what I do now? I've only been doing it a week!"
"And the first job you get is a nutcase who knows you?"
"Right." Chris thought for a moment. "Where the hell is Ezra?'
Fifteen minutes later the whole team sat in the caravan, Ezra having finally arrived.
"JD, everything go okay setting the cameras and the mic?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, it's all set. Should have sound and visual in a few minutes," JD answered, his fingers flying over the keys of his laptop.
"Vin, you find a suitable spot?"
"There's another building about 250 yards away. Rooftop looks like a good spot," Vin replied.
"Alright," Chris said. "Buck set him up with a radio and Vin can go set up as soon as we get a look at what's going on inside. Josiah, Nathan; What did you get?"
"Not a lot," Josiah answered. "He made an insurance claim with this company a few years ago and it was refused. That could be it."
"What was the claim for?" Buck asked.
"We're not sure yet." Nathan answered.
"So it could be a nothing beef, and this could be personal," Buck said, looking at Chris pointedly.
"What about family?" Ezra asked.
"Uh...he had a wife and a kid, but they left him a year ago," Josiah said.
"I got a picture!" JD said, and they all gathered around the TV screens.
On the various screens each showing a different angle of the office, they saw one man brandishing a gun sitting quietly on a chair, his gun pointing at a group of people huddled together on the floor. Counting the hostages, there were four women and seven men, all dressed for the office and obviously employees.
"Looks quiet enough," Chris commented. "Vin, get in position. Keep me updated as to whether you've got a shot or not. Ezra, do your thing." Chris handed Ezra a phone, and Ezra nodded.
JD keyed a number into the phone line, and they all heard ringing through the loudspeaker on the phone, but only Ezra would be able to talk through the handset.
On the video feed, they all saw the man jump as the phone started ringing. After a moment, he picked it up.
"What?" they heard.
"Mr Lloyd?" Ezra said. There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Ezra Standish. I was wondering if we might talk."
"There's nothing to talk about."
"I think there is, Mr Lloyd," Ezra said amicably. "Like what you plan on doing with those hostages of yours for one thing."
"I'm going to kill them, what do you think!"
"No, I don't think you want to kill them. If you did, you would have done so already. I think you're going to use them as a means of getting what you want. Now, if you were to tell me what it is you want, then I can do my very best to resolve this situation on your behalf."
"Bullshit. All you care about is shooting my sorry ass."
"No, Mr Lloyd. All I care about is bringing this situation to a peaceful end. Look, Mr... do you mind if I call you Alistair?"
There was a pause. "Yeah, but call me Al if you must."
"Okay, Al. Look, I was thinking perhaps this might be easier if we could talk face to face, rather than down a phone line. Would you mind if I came up there to talk to you?"
"Hell, yeah, I mind! Have you bring you SWAT team up to drill me as soon as I open the door? No way!"
"I promise you, Al, it would be just me. I'd be unarmed and alone."
Al thought about it. "Okay, but just you. I see anyone else with you and I'll kill a hostage, that clear?"
Ezra's eyes adjusted to the change in light as the lift doors swung open. He took a step forward, emerging from the lift, and there he saw Lloyd.
He stood in front of the lift, one arm snaked around the neck of a young woman, the other arm holding a gun to her head. Ezra lifted his arms away from his sides.
“I'm alone and unarmed."
Lloyd smiled. “Good. In there." He gestured with his gun, allowing Ezra to walk in front of him.
Once inside the office, Ezra immediately saw the rest of the hostages huddled against one wall. They all saw him, and recognized him as a cop from the bullet-proof vest he wore over his shirt.
“Sit." Lloyd gestured to a chair sitting in the middle of the room. Once Ezra had done as he was told, Lloyd pushed the girl back against the wall and sat down opposite Ezra, the gun still pointing at him.
“I assure you I am unarmed Al. There is no need to keep that gun pointing at me." Ezra said dryly.
“There's every need. Now why are you here?"
“To find out what you want."
“I want all you cops to back off and let me do what I came here to do!" Lloyd yelled.
“The cops won't be going anywhere Al, not while you have hostages up here."
Lloyd stared at Ezra.
'What are the explosives for?" Ezra asked.
“You know, you ask a lot of questions," Lloyd sneered.
“You're going to blow up the offices? Is that was this is about? Revenge on the insurance company who turned down your claim?"
Lloyd laughed. “You think that's what this is about?"
“You don't know what the hell is happening here."
“So why don't you tell me." Ezra paused. “Look, all I know is that you have 11 very scared people up here who have done nothing to hurt you."
“And you'd like me to let them go?"
“Yes, I would."
“And what do I get in return?"
Ezra shrugged. “Peace of mind?"
Lloyd smirked. “You're a funny guy. I like that. I'll tell you what Standish, I'll trade ya for them."
“Yeah. You give me what I want, and I'll let them go."
“And what is it you want?"
Lloyd looked Ezra in the eye, and said, “I want Larabee."
Everyone in the van froze with shock when they heard the words spoken by Lloyd, then turned to look at Chris.
“I told you it was personal!" Buck said, somewhere between triumphant and horrified.
JD looked appalled. “Why does he want you, Chris?"
Chris didn't reply, but carried on staring at the TV screen.
“Larabee? Who's Larabee?" Ezra asked, pretending to look confused.
“Don't fuck around!" Lloyd yelled, stepping forward and backhanding Ezra across the face. “I know you work for him, and I know he's here!"
Ezra carefully reached up to his cheek and wiped away a small trickle of blood caused by the barrel of the gun the other man was holding.
“You think I haven't been keeping tabs on the guy who ruined my life? It's because of him I got thrown out of the SEALS, only for him to swoop in and steal my position! He started it!"
“Started what?" Ezra asked dryly.
Lloyd took a few deep breaths before answering. “Everything," he said quietly, before standing up abruptly, picking up the nearest phone and thrusting it at Ezra. “Call him."
Ezra looked at the handset in Lloyd's hand, and reached up to take it from him. He quickly dialed the number of the phone in the caravan.
Chris picked up. “Ezra," he stated.
“Yeah, it's me." Ezra replied.
“I'm fine--” Ezra had been about to say more, but Lloyd ripped the phone from his hand and spoke into it.
“Hey Chris, remember me?"
Chris' eyes narrowed. “Lloyd," he stated flatly. “Why are you doing this?"
“You know why! You ruined my fucking life, you bastard!"
“It was an accident."
“An accident? Yeah, right! An accident that cost me my job, and my wife and kid! Now you listen, and you listen good. I want you up here within the next half an hour, you got that?"
“What if I say no?"
“I got twelve people up here, and in half an hour, that goes down to eleven. And ten minutes after that, there'll be ten. Every ten minutes I have to wait for you to show, someone dies! I'll see you in 30 minutes." Lloyd slammed the phone down.
Chris took a deep breath. Five other men looked at him.
“Chris you can't go up there," Vin said.
“Got no choice," Chris replied.
“Dammit, he'll kill you!" Vin yelled.
“Vin, I want you in position," Chris said quietly.
“I ain't goin' until you swear you won't do this."
“Vin, that wasn't a request!"
Vin stared at Chris for a moment, before turning and heading for the door.
“Vin." Vin stopped and looked at Chris. “He's made a threat on those people's lives. If you think he'll make good on his word, you take him out."
Vin nodded, and left.
“Chris, he's right," Buck said quietly. “You go up there and he'll kill you."
“And if I don't, he'll kill those people, Buck." Chris looked at his friend pointedly. “I have to go.”
Twenty minutes later, Chris was ready.
"Chris, please wear the damn vest," Nathan was saying.
"I already told you Nate, if he wants to kill me he'll go for a head shot so what's the point? I'd rather die comfortable," Chris argued.
Nathan sighed, realizing he wouldn't get through that thick skull that Larabee possessed, though he feared a bullet might.
"Chris, please don't go," Buck tried one final attempt at changing his friend's mind.
Chris looked at his friend, who had knelt, down to his level. "Look, I never said this before Buck, but...thank you."
"Look, I know what I was like after the accident, and I amazed you stuck with me as long as you did. So...thanks, for always being there."
Buck smiled and embraced his friend.
"Chris, Vin wants to talk to you," JD said, handing Chris a headset.
"Vin?" Chris said after putting it on.
"Chris. I've got a good view of the office. I can see Ezra and the hostages, but Lloyd must know we'd have someone out here. There's a large beam, he's keeping himself behind it. If you can get him to come out from there, I can take him out."
"Be careful. I like this job better than my old one, and I don't want to have to go back to it."
Chris took the headset off and handed it back to JD. He turned to face his team.
"Time to go," he said.
JD nodded, Josiah and Nathan shook his hand, and then he turned and made his way to the building.
Chris wheeled himself out of the elevator and into the deadly silence of the office. The lights were out, and the growing darkness outside contributed to the gloom inside.
"Lloyd?" he called.
"Chris! So glad you could make it, and just in time too." Chris saw Lloyd emerge from the shadows, holding a hostage as he had done when he met Ezra. Except this time the hostage was Ezra. "Why don't you come on in and join your friend?"
Heading back into the darkness, Lloyd pushed Ezra down onto a chair, and gestured for Chris to sit beside him.
"You alright?" Chris asked Ezra, seeing the swelling and the gash on his cheek.
"I'm fine, it's your health I'm more worried about." Ezra looked at Chris, not breaking eye contact until Lloyd interrupted them.
"That's real sweet, boys, but shut the fuck up."
"You said you'd release the hostages upon Mr Larabee's arrival," Ezra said.
"Yeah, I did say that, didn't I?" Lloyd replied, smiling.
"Let 'em go Lloyd. You've got what you want," Chris snarled.
"Funny Chris, from where I'm standing, you aren't in any position to give orders."
"You know, I always knew you were a coward, Lloyd, never figured you for a liar as well."
"Well, there's a lot of things you didn't figure about me. Bet you never figured I'd come after you for what you did."
"Jesus, Lloyd, it was an accident! It's not my fault you screwed up the charges."
"You screwed them up! Explosives wasn't my field, it was yours, and you wanted me out of the picture so you could get your precious promotion."
"I never touched those charges before you got your hands on them." Chris' voice had almost reached the volume of Lloyd's, the both of them almost shouting.
"Bullshit! You ruined my fucking life! I couldn't stay in the SEALS with only one good eye, and so then what else was I supposed to do? A half-blind ex-SEAL isn't that much in demand, and it wasn't long before Karen left as well."
Ezra was listening with interest. Half-blind? One good eye? Ezra's mind was working overtime, wondering how he could take advantage of this weakness. But he couldn't do a thing until he figured out which eye was disadvantaged.
"Let the hostages go."
"You really think I'm going to do that?"
"Let them go, Lloyd."
"Sorry, Chris, can't do that, and you know why? You fucked up my life, and you're going to pay for it with yours. But before I let you die, I want you to know that this floor is rigged, and after I blow you away, I'll blow this building, and everyone still in it. Twelve lives, Chris, on your conscience."
"You bastard. These people have done NOTHING to hurt you. Let... them... go!"
"Reckon you should have thought of the consequences before you messed with me."
"For fuck's sake! I had nothing to do with it!" Chris was yelling now. If Lloyd was going to kill him, then kill him but why did he have to kill innocent people too? He had to make him see sense. "You screwed up those charges for the same reason Karen left you. Because you are a cowardly, dim-witted, sorry excuse for a man and I pity your son for being cursed with a father like you!"
"YOU LEAVE MY BOY OUT OF THIS!"
"Chris...” Ezra started to say in warning, but Chris was only focused on the man in front of him.
"Can't handle the truth, Lloyd? You think this is going to make him proud of you, murdering thirteen people?"
"Chris!" Ezra tried again to interrupt the two men. Chris was pushing Lloyd too far...
"He IS proud of me. I'm his father, goddamn it!"
Lloyd raised his gun and pulled the trigger, hitting Chris point-blank in the chest.
The four men sat watching the TV screens with horror.
"You bastard. These people have done NOTHING to hurt you. Let...them... go!" they heard Chris say.
"Damnit, Chris, don't make him mad," Buck murmured. "What do you think Nathan?"
Nathan shook his head. "He's pushing him too far. Back off, Chris."
"What's he going to do?" JD asked with wide, fearful eyes.
"YOU LEAVE MY BOY OUT OF THIS!"
They all jumped as they heard the shout from Lloyd.
"He's gonna go," Nathan murmured.
They all heard Ezra trying to warn Chris off, but Chris didn't back off.
Then they all heard the gunshot, and saw Chris fall backwards, tumbling off his chair.
"SHIT!" cried Buck.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," JD murmured over and over.
"Vin, Vin! Chris is down. Chris is down! Take that motherfucker out!" Buck cried into the radio.
"No shot, repeat I have no shot!" Vin's voice came over the radio. "Bastard's still hiding. How's Chris?"
Nathan was studying the TV screen intently. "He's not moving."
"He's not dead. He can't be dead," JD said.
"We have to send a team in," Buck said, but Josiah shook his head.
"There are still hostages in there Buck. It's up to Ezra."
Buck needed to get out, to do something. He couldn't bear to stay there and look at his best friends lifeless body on a 9 inch screen.
"Well, we need to get paramedics up there!"
Nathan looked at Buck. "He took a round through his chest, Buck. Point blank range."
Buck looked at JD, who had tears welling up in his eyes.
"Your call, Buck," Josiah said.
Buck took a shaky breath, and picked up the radio.
"What's going on?"
"Chris is out of the equation. You get a shot, you take it. Meantime, Ezra makes the calls."
Lloyd stood looking at Chris' fallen figure for a moment, initial shock that he had actually pulled the trigger turning into joy.
Ezra stared hopelessly at Chris, before turning his attention to Lloyd.
"Woo hoo!" Lloyd whooped, before turning his attention to Ezra. "Uh-uh, don't you think about starting nothing now. You just chill right there."
"Alright," Ezra said calmly. "But do you mind if I check my friend?"
"Forget him, he'd dead. Now, this is where the fun really starts!"
Ezra saw the crazed look on Lloyd's face. He's lost it, he thought as he watched Lloyd pulling explosive out of a bag and setting them down on the floor. He kept his weapon within reach at all times, and was too great a distance away for Ezra to be able to get to him before he armed himself again. If only he knew which eye was damaged! He had been studying Lloyd ever since he had mentioned he was half-blind, but Ezra could not see any difference between the two eyes. They were both identical, no sign of injury to either. And Lloyd did not favor one or the other, so Ezra was stumped.
In frustration, Ezra turned away from Lloyd and looked at Chris. He lay twisted at an awkward angle on the floor, a result of the way the chair had fallen over when the bullet had hit. Ezra could not see Chris's chest, only his head and legs, the rest of his body being obstructed from view by the fallen chair.
Then Ezra saw it. Taped to the underside of the chair, which was now facing Ezra and out of Lloyd's line of vision, was a gun. Black duct tape had fixed it on, and as a result it blended in with the chair, and Ezra had only just spotted it. Smiling inwardly, he thanked Chris. He should have known the man would not have walked into a situation like this without some kind of backup. And thanks to Chris, Ezra now held an ace up his sleeve. He only hoped for an opportunity to use it.
Ezra's gaze traveled to Chris face once more, silently thanking him. He almost cried out in shock when he noticed.
Chris's eyes were open. They had been closed before, and now they looked at Ezra. Ezra tried to keep his face rigid in case Lloyd should look up, but it took a concerted effort to keep his mouth from falling open. Larabee noticed, and his lips twitched, almost a smile.
Ezra's attention moved up from his mouth to Chris's eyes, when the right one slowly closed and then opened again.
Ezra bit his lip to keep from smiling. A wink. Typical of the man, inches from death to try and reassure Ezra.
Chris winked again, slowly.
Alright Chris, I got it the first time, thought Ezra. But Chris' eyelid slowly, deliberately closed and opened once more. Chris wasn't winking, Ezra realized, he was trying to tell him something.
Ezra stared as Larabee's right eye shut and opened once more. The right eye! Ezra realized. Chris was telling him that Lloyd's right eye was the damaged one. Ezra looked at Chris, and gave an almost imperceptible nod, telling him he understood. Chris nodded back, and both eyes slid shut again.
Ezra turned to look at Lloyd, who had begun setting up the explosives. He was laying wires from a parcel of explosives in one corner of the room to some kind of device that lay in the center of the room. His left side was turned towards Ezra, his good eye. Ezra moved his hand slowly down the side of the chair he was sat in, until it was just inches from the concealed weapon.
Lloyd was hunched down on his haunches, scooting backwards as he laid out the wire, still with his left side to Ezra. He reached the device, Ezra assumed it was a timer, and began to work on it. Turn around, come on turn around, Ezra willed. A moment later, Ezra's chance came. Lloyd spun around to pick up something behind him, turning his right side and damaged eye towards Ezra. Ezra reached down and ripped the weapon from the bottom of the wheelchair, and in one fluid motion stood up and aimed at Lloyd.
But Lloyd had spotted Ezra's motion in the reflection of the glass, and he rolled away, picking up his gun as he went and he came up with his arm around one of the hostages, his gun to their head. Ezra had the gun up and pointing at Lloyd at the same time, but Lloyd had the hostage as a shield.
Lloyd smiled. "Smart man, but not smart enough, huh?"
"Let them go," Ezra said.
"And let you shoot me? I don't think so."
"It's over, Lloyd. Put the gun down."
"Why don't you?"
Ezra advanced a step, and Lloyd responded by backing off.
"You're not blowing up this building."
Lloyd laughed. "That's what you think. Even if you shoot me, the timer's already going. Right now, you got about four and a half minutes to live."
Ezra's eyes did not wander off Lloyd. "You're bluffing."
"Check it for yourself, if you want!" Lloyd smiled.
Ezra took another step, and Lloyd stepped back again.
"You're going to die Lloyd. It's all over. Put it down, and I might let you live."
"Bullshit! You put it down, or I kill her." The girl in Lloyd's arm whimpered.
"It's over," Ezra snarled, taking one more step forward.
Buck had watched in despair as Ezra had looked down at Chris, his eyes not wandering from the body for a long time. Paying his last respects, Buck thought, sniffing. JD had been crying, not ashamed of it in front of the other three.
All of them had almost passed out when Ezra had jumped up, gun in hand. Buck's heart was in his mouth. It was a standoff.
"Buck, look at this," JD said, indicating another TV screen. JD had managed to zoom in on the device, and they all saw the image on the screen. A timer was counting down steadily.
Vin watched the standoff carefully through his sight. He could see Ezra standing, his gun pointing at Lloyd, but Lloyd was still concealed behind that damn beam! Ezra took a step forward, and then another, and Vin assumed Lloyd must have stepped back, because he could almost see Lloyd's shoulder protruding from behind the beam.
Vin waited, finger poised on the trigger, sight fixed on a spot just behind the beam. Ezra stepped forward again, and Lloyd stepped right into Vin's sights.
He saw Lloyd begin to raise his weapon, starting to point it towards Ezra, but that was all he needed. As soon as Lloyd's gun was no longer pointing at the hostage, Vin fired.
Ezra saw the window seemingly implode and Lloyd's head snap to the side before he heard the crack of the gun.
Lloyd fell boneless to the floor, the girl he had been threatening falling with him. Within seconds Ezra was at her side, his gun pointing at Lloyd. But there was no point, Lloyd was dead. He thrust the hysterical girl into one of her calmer co-workers arms, and hurried over to look at the bomb. Lloyd had not been bluffing, the timer read 3:17.
Shit! Ezra thought, there was no time. He ran over to Chris, putting his hand on Chris's shoulder.
"Chris? You still here Chris?"
Chris's eyes flew open and he tried to take a breath but all he could manage was a strangled choke.
The phone was ringing Ezra noticed, and he yelled in the direction of the hostages.
"Someone pick that up! Put it on speaker! And then get out of here!"
Someone must have done as they were told before fleeing the office, because Ezra heard Buck's voice.
"Ezra? You alright?"
"I'm fine, Buck!" he called. "But I think Chris is choking."
"He's alive?" Buck said in amazement, but soon Nathan's voice was on the line.
"Ezra? You need to sit him up. His lungs are filling up with blood but if you sit him up, the top of the lungs should clear."
Ezra took hold of the top of Chris' shirt and hauled him upright. Chris moaned with pain, but after a moment or two his breathing seemed to ease.
"The... the bomb," Chris gasped out.
"There's a bomb squad being assembled as we speak Ezra." Buck said.
"There's no time!" Ezra called. "By the time they get up here it will have blown. No one else comes up here, you got that Buck?"
"Then get the hell out of there Ezra, what are you waiting for?" Buck yelled.
"Leave me," Chris gasped. "You'll make it on your own."
"Shit, Chris, you think I'm going to leave you up here to die? Think again."
Chris looked up into Ezra's eyes, saw the resolve there and knew Ezra wasn't going to leave him.
"Then... we have to defuse it."
Ezra looked at Chris, appalled.
"I... I don't know how," he admitted.
Ezra hooked his arms under Chris' armpits and dragged him across the floor towards the timer.
"Ezra, the door is the other direction!" Buck yelled, but Ezra ignored him. Ezra propped Chris against the window, and Chris glanced down at the timer.
"You recognize it?" Ezra asked, and Chris nodded in reply.
"Yeah. There should be... a bundle of wires, all different colors."
Ezra looked down inside the device, and saw the bundle Chris meant. He carefully pulled it out where he could see it clearer.
"Yeah, I got it. There are ten."
"Knife?" Chris asked.
Ezra delved into his pocket and pulled out a pocketknife and showed it to Chris. Chris nodded.
"Okay. What... colors?"
Ezra looked at the wires. "Red, Blue, Green, Black, Yellow, White, Pink, Purple and Orange."
Chris nodded. "Okay. Need to... cut them all. But in the right... order."
Ezra looked up at Chris. "Chris, are you sure you can do this?"
Chris nodded again. "Cut... the purple.'
Ezra took a deep breath, took his knife and sliced through the purple. Nothing changed, the timer kept counting down.
Ezra cut the black.
Ezra cut the pink.
"White, then red."
Ezra cut the white, but then looked up at Chris. "Chris, there are two red wires."
"Cut... the red... next to the green."
Ezra took a deep breath. "There is no red next to a green."
"What... is there?"
"There's a red next to a blue, and a red next to a yellow."
Chris thought for a moment. "The red... next to... the blue."
"Are you sure?" Ezra asked. Chris nodded. Ezra cut it, and let out a deep sigh of relief as nothing happened. "Next?" he asked.
"Orange... then blue."
Ezra checked the timer. 0:36.
Ezra looked up at Chris, whose eyes had drifted shut. "Stay with me Chris, just a few more."
"Green." Chris gasped out.
Ezra cut the green. 0:28.
"Okay Chris, Red then yellow, or yellow then red?"
There was no response.
"Chris?" Ezra said, looking up at Chris. "Chris? Come on Chris, red or yellow?"
"Buck?" Ezra called.
"Ezra? I... I don't know. Chris is the explosives expert, not me."
"Shit!" Ezra cursed, staring down at the two wires left in his hand. Red or yellow.
"You can do it Ez." he heard Vin say. "We know you can do it."
"Dammit Chris, red or yellow?" Ezra whispered. "Red or yellow. Red or yellow."
Ezra took a deep breath, and he cut the red wire. He stared at the timer, shocked.
"Cut the last one!" Buck yelled, and Ezra came out of his daze and quickly sliced through the last wire.
He looked at the timer.
It had stopped.
He slumped, exhausted, and heard whoops and cheers coming from the other end of the phone.
"Paramedics on their way up!" he heard Buck call through the celebration.
Ezra looked up at Chris, still unconscious.
"Thank you, Chris," he whispered.
Three Months Later
"Alright Billy, are you ready for this?"
The small blond boy in front of him nodded. “I'm ready Chris."
"Okay, now this is what we've been training for. The big game. Your Mom's watching, so let's make her real proud, okay?"
Billy nodded, smiling.
Chris had met Billy Travis not long after he had got out of hospital, and for the past month he had been teaching him how to play basketball.
The two of them wheeled to the center of the court to meet their opponents.
"Dammit, Chris, how the hell do you steer this thing?" Buck complained, trying to maneuver the chair he had borrowed for the game, but not seeming to be able to get it to go in the right direction.
"These things are cool!" JD cried, giving an almighty push and careering off towards the crowd. "Ah! No brakes!" he called, and everyone in his way scattered, leaving JD in an unceremonious heap after colliding with the wall.
The rest of the seven men stood with Mary Travis on the sidelines, laughing at Buck and JD's antics.
Mary had been delighted when Chris had offered to teach her son how to play. Since the accident, Billy had been a very quiet, shy little boy, convinced he would never be able to do normal things again. But meeting Chris had changed Billy, and now he no longer saw his disability as a disability, just something that had to be worked with. And Mary was eternally grateful to Chris for that.
She smiled proudly as she watched the two warm up, Billy deftly passing the ball to Chris and catching it when it was returned. But she laughed aloud when she saw Buck and JD make their way onto the court in borrowed wheelchairs, totally clueless as to how to control them.
It had all started a few weeks ago, when Buck had remarked that wheelchair basketball looked easy, you didn't even have to dribble the ball or anything. Chris had immediately challenged Buck to a game, claiming an eight year old boy would be better at it than Buck. And so here they were.
When JD had managed to pick himself up and make his way onto the court once more, the game soon began.
Ezra nudged Vin. "Care to make a little wager on the outcome, Mr Tanner?"
"Ah, hell, Ezra, I doubt you'll be takin' bets against Chris and Billy. There ain't no way Buck and JD can beat them," Vin replied.
No sooner had he said it, than Billy shot the ball though the hoop, prompting a round of applause from the audience and a high five from Chis.
"Actually I didn't intend for us to wager on the scoreline, that is surely a foregone conclusion. Rather, I thought we might speculate on who ends up in need of their wheelchair for real, Buck or JD."
Vin smiled. “Reckon I'll put ten bucks on Buck then."
"I'll have twenty on JD," Josiah said, joining in the conversation.
"And I'll put fifty bucks on the both of them," chipped in Nathan.
Ezra smiled as Chris and Billy sunk yet another basket, and JD careered off into another wall.
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