Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, Vin
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language.
Summary: Fighting Crime is a 24/7, 365 days of the year commitment.
Author's Note: Lots of warm fuzzy moments, but a story more inspired by the folks who work on Thanksgiving Day.
"In your own time and words, Agent Dunne."
JD nodded first to Chris sitting at the back of the interview room, then to the investigating officer seated on the opposite side of the table dividing them. He watched the investigator move the voice recorder closer to him, and took a shaky breath. This sure wasn't how he expected to spend Thanksgiving Day.
"While successfully concluding the firearms bust at 2424 Delgany Street, suspect Domingo Alessi broke free of local officers and proceeded to bolt. I was at the rear of the building having left the surveillance van to recover electronic equipment and was closest to the direction he took, so I gave chase.
"Alessi climbed a metal staircase to an upper level walkway, and then higher still to an access level skywalk. With my gun drawn, I followed, and while dodging his bullets, I repeatedly alerted him to my ID, and that I was armed. He reached a dead-end with what appeared to be nothing but a sheer drop below and I again confronted him. When I ordered Alessi to place his gun on the floor and raise his hands, he smirked and stepped up onto a ledge overlooking the drop. I restated my instruction, but Alessi smiled wider, saluted, and jumped backwards off the ledge." JD swallowed hard at the memory and shuddered.
"I was kinda shaken by his actions, and ran to peer over the ridge to see if Alessi was lying below injured or…dead." JD dropped his gaze and wrung his hands in an effort not to show emotion. He glanced at Chris, who smiled supportively.
"I found myself staring down at Alessi alright, but he was lying on his back on a small metal gantry just a few feet below the ledge, a walkway I wasn't aware of, but that he must have seen while stood on the ridge. He was very much alive, and pointing a Glock right at my chest. I knew I was a dead man when I saw Alessi laugh at me and I heard the gun arm."
THANKSGIVING EVE - LARABEE RANCH
Familiarity with their team leader's home ensured five of the six guests staying over had already arrived and settled into their rooms. They were currently setting out chips, dips and various other snacks on the coffee table, and settling down ready for the start of their Thanksgiving holiday, and an imminent college basketball game on TV.
At a time-out in the game, JD got up and walked over to a front window. He smiled when Chris spoke without him needing to ask the question.
"I left a voicemail message. I'm waiting for Ezra to reply."
Turning around, JD could see clear evidence that all of them had questioned why Ezra was running late. "You think he's okay?"
"Don't reckon he's in trouble," Vin assured, "but there might be an unexpected development in the case."
JD ambled back to the couch, nodding as he walked. Working undercover was always risky, but Ezra was good at keeping in touch. Vin and Chris were exceptional at picking up on trouble, so JD took Vin's comment as a good sign. They all jumped when Chris's cell phone rang.
Chris checked the ID before answering. "Hey." He listened, and then jumped up, went into the study, and appeared several minutes later, off the phone, and holding a notepad.
"Vin was right. Tomorrow Alessi is having a shipment delivered, and called Ezra with the details of the meet."
"On Thanksgiving Day?" Nathan asked.
"Crime doesn't take a holiday, brother," Josiah replied.
"Aww, I know that," Nathan stated, "but, still...Thanksgiving."
Buck stood, and turned off the TV. "We need to get to it."
"Is it the warehouse we expected it to be?" Vin asked.
"The blueprint's at the office," Tanner continued. He watched JD jog off and up the stairs. He returned with his tablet, and handed it to Vin.
"I reduced the plan on the copier, scanned it into my computer, and then saved it on a memory stick. Might help until you can get to the original."
Vin's cheek dimpled in a grin, and he nodded as he took the tablet.
JD then looked at Chris. "My equipment's ready, but I think I should go to the office and check it over again."
Looking around his men, Chris could sense that, knowing one of their teammates was already out there working, they were all eager to prepare and show support. "How about we make a concerted effort to organize tomorrow's food and then head into town?"
Five nods greeted his question.
"I'll cook the turkey overnight." He displayed his cell. "First, I need to call Travis."
Two hours later the six men were heading back to the Federal building they left only hours earlier to start the Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanksgiving morning; and at 10:13 am, Buck was driving the surveillance van from the Federal building to their assigned destination. Sitting next to him, JD nudged the big man.
"Cheer up, Bro, with luck, we'll still have time for Thanksgiving dinner."
Buck glanced at him and shook his head. "Sure but, come on, what are the odds of a bust going down today?"
JD grinned. "Pretty good, seeing as we've got one. At least dinner's not down to us, and earlier Chris said the cooking's all done 'cept some of the veggies. Lord knows what time he got up to do that. Once we get back to the ranch, we'll be stuffing our faces in no time."
Buck frowned. "How come you're so perky about working on Thanksgiving Day?"
The youth gestured out through the windscreen. "Aww, come on, Buck. It's a beautiful day, we have a great job, and as soon we get Domingo Alessi in custody, we get to scarf down Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings, as well as having three days off together. What's not to be happy about?"
Buck grinned at the boy. "Kid, if I could bottle and sell what keeps you ticking, we'd be sitting on a fancy yacht in the Caribbean, and entertaining pretty ladies."
JD raised an eyebrow. "Or...we could buy a ranch, like Chris's, and raise horses, maybe cattle...we could be like...cowboys."
The brunet outright chuckled. "You keep dreaming, Kid, who knows what's around the corner for us." He pulled up close to the target building.
JD unclipped his seatbelt and climbed through to the back. "Yep, but as for now, we know what we gotta do, right?"
Buck nodded. "Right."
Chris and Vin had already arrived and were studying blueprints spread over the hood of the team's Yukon. Chris was nodding at what Vin was pointing to.
"It looks okay, but maybe a little exposed?"
Vin shrugged. "I chose colors to blend in with my surroundin's, and once I'm lyin' flat up there, I reckon I'll be near invisible."
Chris looked at Vin's stone colored cargo pants, blue-gray, short-sleeved shirt, gray, plaid overshirt, and gray cap, and then at the gray of the building's rafters and semi-vaulted roof in photos that Vin acquired on an earlier recon mission. Chris nodded in agreement; while silently checking that Vin was wearing a vest under his top shirt.
Vin straightened and folded the blueprint. "I should get up there." He looked toward the surveillance van pulling in and grinned. "Once I'm wearin' my comm. gear."
The team geared up and moved into their secondary positions just in time as, from the back of the storehouse, Ezra made a brief appearance, saluted toward the Yukon's position, and then disappeared. Minutes later and driving a rented Mercedes, he pulled off the nearby highway, rolled up to the warehouse, and parked in the front forecourt to wait for Alessi to arrive. Having returned from the surveillance van, Vin lowered his field glasses and addressed Josiah over the comm.
"Ezra gave the signal that the rear door is open."
>> "Copy that." <<
JD joined Vin and, with flashlights in hands, the pair jogged off toward the back door; Vin to get into position, and JD to set up several cameras and a few listening devices in strategic locations. Half an hour before Alessi was due, Josiah and Nathan were hiding inside the building, Vin was balanced in the roof joists, Chris and Buck were positioned outside with their DPD backup, in readiness to storm the place on Ezra's command, and JD was in the surveillance van fine tuning his electrical paraphernalia and ensuring it was recording satisfactorily. Chris was pleased with his agents' reports back to him - they were ready.
When he saw a large semi rolling along the approach road and then pull onto the warehouse forecourt, Ezra spoke softly into the tiny, concealed mic that JD designed especially to enable the undercover agent to keep it with him for the duration of an assignment. While the truck idled, a man jumped out of the passenger side of the cab and approached the parked Mercedes.
The man nodded. "Follow us in."
He left the Mercedes and walked to the huge rollup door. After he turned a key to make the door rise, the semi's engine roared and the truck drove into the cavernous interior. As requested, Ezra started his rental car and rolled in behind. Seconds later, darkness fell as the door glided shut. The first man from the semi then entered through a regular-sized door situated in the wall to one side of the main entrance. After he closed it, he flicked on the lights, which illuminated the warehouse interior in stages as each clutch of roof lighting strips lit up in sequence.
Inside the warehouse, Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan held their breath as the once shadowy vaulted roof became brightly lit, but they quickly relaxed on realizing Vin was well secreted. In fact, he was so undetectable, that had they not already known Vin was up there, they would have thought he hadn't made it into position.
Ezra gestured around him. "I suspect this is not an official bonding warehouse."
Alessi laughed and opened up the back of the truck. "As far as the ATF are concerned - should they ever come calling - I have the paperwork to say otherwise."
"If you are confident you could fool the ATF, your forger must be talented indeed. My congratulations." Ezra indicated the truck stuffed full with cigarettes.
"I also admire a man who can deliver to order."
"You only have to ask, Stanford. I have the best set-up in Denver, and it's about to stretch wider. This container-load is just the beginning. Stick with me, and I'll make you rich. Are you in?"
Ezra smiled. "Most definitely. I have no intention of passing up something this 'magnificent'."
On hearing Ezra's 'go' word, Chris gave the order and with a cry of 'ATF! Lay down your weapons, and kiss the floor!' the agents hiding, bar Vin, revealed themselves, and the ones waiting outside stormed in. The arrests went smoothly, concluding with word from JD over the comm that every detail was successfully and cleanly recorded both visually and audibly, and he even had a close up of the cigarettes stashed inside the semi while Alessi was gesturing to them and admitting to providing them.
Ezra was 'arrested' in order to protect his assumed role, but offered a cheeky wink to JD when the grinning young tech came into the warehouse to shut down and retrieve his gear. Up in the rafters, Vin relaxed his posture. While he wouldn't hesitate to take the shot to protect his teammates, it was always good to close a case without one being fired.
>> "Wrap it up, Vin." <<
Tanner smiled on hearing Chris's directive over the comm.
Still safely secured, he got up to balance on his knees and reached for his gun case to stow his Remington 700 Winchester. Just as he zipped the case back up, all hell broke loose below.
Inside the warehouse, JD was toward the back and dismantling a piece of equipment. He'd successfully recorded the encounter between Ezra and Alessi from several angles, including with a camera positioned on the surveillance van's exterior. He also utilized the cameras to ensure Alessi's goons weren't concealed anywhere, or attempted to sneak in while the bust was going down. Pleased with his efforts, he was just packing the disassembled gear when shouts went out. JD looked up and saw Alessi had somehow slipped free of his DPD escorts when the officers were uncuffing his hands from the forward position to behind Alessi's back.
The illegal exporter snatched a gun from one cop's hip holster, shot another in the chest at point blank range, and then fired at anyone attempting to follow him. He ran deep into the warehouse and climbed a metal staircase to get to an access level. When he reached the walkway, Alessi struggled, but succeeded in unclipping several pre-greased brackets, forcing the officers and agents following to leap off the semi-disconnected and dangerously swinging steps.
From his position at the rear of the warehouse, JD's eyes followed the man's movements. Looking up, he noted that a higher access walkway leading off the one Alessi was on, disappeared behind giant air ducts which, if he remembered correctly from the blueprints, at some point led to an entry hatch to the roof. JD jogged to another stairway that was behind him and out of general sight. Well out of the line of Alessi's fire, he climbed.
Organized in advance for any trouble and the possible need to escape, Alessi retrieved two hidden, loaded Glocks complete with extra clips at points along the access walkway, and wasted no time in firing at the agents and cops on the ground directly below him and following his movements. Once Alessi went behind the oversized ventilation ducts, he figured he was home free. On hearing a call out to identify an armed agent not far behind him, Alessi's frustration at missing being followed was evident; and he demonstrated his irritation with a sharp turn back to fire off a volley of shots at JD.
The moment JD's pounding feet hit the walkway Alessi was using, he reached around his back, drew his Colt Defender and hollered out a warning at the fleeing criminal. He didn't really expect the guy to stop, so kept running, and yelled out his ID as he did so. When the first salvo of bullets was fired at him, JD dodged sideways toward the direction of the giant air ducts. Something jagged above his head scraped his scalp, and he hissed out at the sharp scratch, but kept going. He tuned out anxious calls from below for him to be careful. Being careful and doing this job, went hand in hand, as well his teammates knew, even if it didn't always work out. JD wasn't planning on taking undue risks, however, he wasn't about to let Alessi get away, either.
When turning to fire at JD, Alessi overshot the set of steps leading to the roof hatch. He was fast running out of walkway, and fired once more before coming to the concrete ledge of a dead end. He peered over the edge at the drop below, and then glanced back at his pursuer.
JD ducked away from another volley of shots and felt a searing pain across his upper arm; but on seeing his quarry had reached a dead end, and being completely focused on ending the chase safely, the young agent ignored it. He stopped, and raised his weapon.
"STOP! ATF! Lay down your arms, drop to your knees and place your hands at the back of your head!"
JD watched Alessi look over the ridge, smirk at him, and then step up onto the ledge. His aim followed the movement.
"Come on, Alessi, you've nowhere to go. Step down, put down the gun and raise your hands. NOW!" JD felt his stomach drop when the man faced him, saluted, jumped backwards off the ledge, and disappeared from view.
"Oh man! Shit...SHIT!"
A stunned JD lowered his gun and ran to the ledge. Despite fearing the worst and really not wanting to see the result, he looked over. His shock rocketed to outright alarm when, instead of seeing a man's broken and bloody body way below him, he saw a very much alive Alessi lying on his back on a small metal maintenance ramp just a few feet below the ledge, and gleefully pointing a Glock at his heart. JD heard and saw him arm the gun, and before he could even take a shaky breath, three shots rang out.
Vin was renowned for his sharpshooting skills, and a part of that expertise was the ability to assemble, disassemble, and reassemble a rifle at speed. Never had he needed that proficiency more than the moment he saw Alessi racing away from JD, and firing on him, twice. Snatching up his rifle out of the case, Vin skillfully, and swiftly reconstructed it and barely snapped the sight in place, put it to his eye and adjusted the focus before Alessi was on his back and aiming a fatal shot at his friend and teammate.
Tanner squeezed the trigger - twice.
The sounds of three consecutive shots caused all on the ground to stop and look up to Vin's position. Josiah and Nathan followed the line of trajectory, but couldn't see who, or what Vin shot at, or why he fired, but they could guess. Buck had located the back steps that JD used and was fast closing in on his position. Hearing the earlier gunshots and not being closer almost drove him nuts. The unmistakable sound of Vin's rifle barking out found Buck moving faster than he ever thought he was capable of.
JD remained unmoving on the access gangway; his stare frozen on the man below him. He'd felt the heat of the bullet from the Glock, but could do nothing to get out of its path in time. Thankfully, its flight only parted his hair, and that truth jerked JD from his paralysis to slowly look across at Vin.
On a narrow joist, Tanner was in a crouched position and balancing on one knee, his rifle still aimed at Alessi's supine form. His gaze met JD's and he nodded once. Vin saw the youth articulate a silent communication, and was grateful JD was too far away to see his welling eyes.
JD stared Tanner's way, but Vin's form became blurry. An escaping tear brought clarity. Vin's nod somehow magically unstuck JD's feet, and he stepped back from the ledge. Now able to see the Texan's features, JD mouthed the words 'thank you', but a moment later a noise behind him had the shaken, armed youth whirling around.
"Whoa, JD, it's me!"
During Alessi's bid for freedom, Chris ran outside to look for access stairs to the building's roof. He found some and urgently climbed to the top. Locating a hatch near the ventilation ducts, Chris was inside and down the inner stairs in moments, only to come face to face with a clearly dazed and armed JD. He instantly called out and raised both hands in the air, and was grateful to see JD still had his wits about him and had lowered his gun. Chris heard the shooting, and knew it was Vin's rifle that fired. Relieved to find both his agents still alive, Larabee stepped forward and cupped a hand around the back of JD's neck. He drew him close, and could feel him trembling. The team leader neatly sidestepped him to glance over the ledge. He could see Alessi lying on his back with two holes in his head, and looked over at Vin. Their locked gazes spoke more than words between them ever could.
Noise from behind them broke the spell and in a slick, but natural move, Larabee maneuvered in front of JD while bringing his Colt 1911 up. He relaxed and offered a tight smile. "Buck."
With a squeeze to JD's neck, Chris passed him over to the anxious brunet whose eyes immediately scrutinized JD for bullet holes. He spotted the bloody tear of the shirtsleeve on JD's upper left arm, and a trickle of blood dripping down the center of the youth's forehead.
"How're you doing?"
Though his mouth was bone dry, JD managed to reply. "Alessi had me...if Vin..."
Buck nodded his head and spoke softly. "I know, Kid. C'mon, let's go get some air." The man looked back and he and Chris exchanged glances.
Chris nodded his approval. "Send CSU up here. I'll stick with this. Tell Josiah to wrap up the rest."
"Sure." Buck guided JD away, but the boy looked back, first toward Vin's position, and then at Chris. "Sorry, Bossman."
Chris shook his head. "Alessi made a choice the moment he fired the first shot, Kid. With or without you being there, in order to protect the cops below, Vin would have taken the shot."
The blond hated speaking so bluntly, but JD had to understand that Vin did his job, the fact he also saved a friend and teammate's life, sanctioned his decision as righteous. Larabee needed to remember that phrase for his report. The use of the expression 'fucking amazing' would probably be frowned upon.
By the time Buck's and JD's feet hit terra firma, Vin was rappelling down from his position in the rafters. Once he was free of his gear, the sharpshooter handed over his rifle to a waiting DPD sergeant, who then gestured toward a squad car and a man in a suit standing next to it. Vin would now have to go to DPD headquarters to be interviewed about his actions - which was standard procedure, but never a pleasant experience. JD would also need to be interviewed, as well as he and the rest of the team having reports to file.
Eating Thanksgiving dinner on Turkey Day was looking less and less likely.
Rooted to the spot, JD stared at Vin. He wanted to go over, but he knew the procedure. No one could talk to Vin until his interview was concluded, not even Chris. The Texan looked JD's way and winked. JD nodded, and knew they would talk later. It was when JD saw Vin approach the guy in the suit, and then get into the squad car, that he sprinted from Buck's side and up to the man accompanying Vin, and who instantly raised his hand.
"Now, son, you know you can't talk to Agent Tanner until he's been..."
JD nodded. "I know, sir, I just needed to tell you..." He glanced at Vin, who was seated inside the closed car. "The team is still miked up, and I have cameras and audio equipment recording even now." He reached for his earpiece, unclipped it and pointed to a thin camera mounted on the earpiece and mic set.
"I haven't checked what this has recorded yet, but it was running the whole time I was in this warehouse."
The police sergeant was close by and he joined them. He stared at the pencil-thin camera. "We're wearing headcams now?"
JD blushed. "No sir, not officially, I've been trying it out on our last few busts."
Sergeant Mizzen knew of this young man. He also once believed the boy too young for fieldwork, but the results spoke for themselves and he envied Larabee of the team he was working with. Mizzen nodded. "Good. Have the footage processed. It won't alter what's about to transpire, but I'd like to see the results of your efforts."
JD offered a tight smile, his usual enthusiasm dampened by the day's events. "Yessir."
He looked into the car at Vin, and saw the sharpshooter raise a hand and push a closed fist to the squad car window. JD stepped nearer and completed the partitioned fist-bump. Moments later, the car pulled off. JD jolted when a hand rested on his shoulder.
"Sorry, Kid," Buck said after realizing he'd startled JD. "Chris wants you to visit the hospital, and then for us to get back to DPD and start on the reports while you're waiting for your interview."
For a moment, JD wondered why he hadn't heard the directive, then he looked down, and realized he was holding his earpiece, mic, and cam in his hand. JD nodded, and subconsciously touched the cut on his head and the groove in his arm. He suddenly felt exhausted.
Inside Denver Police Department, Vin and his legal representative entered an interview room and the pair sat down.
Tanner nodded gratefully, and the lawyer left the room. Alone in the stark, hushed space, Vin leaned his elbows on the table in front of him, pushed his fingers into his hair, and propped up his head in his hands. He found himself replaying those final seconds of Alessi's life; though not due to remorse, but the unshakable dread of knowing that, had the sharpshooter been a moment slower, there would be a bullet hole in JD, as well as Alessi.
By the time the lawyer was back with the coffee and the two men were enjoying its reviving properties, Special Investigator Stevens was entering the room. He took a seat, and opened a briefcase. "Gentlemen."
Removing a voice recorder from his case, Stevens set it down on the desk dividing the three of them. He switched the machine on and stated the date, time, and debriefing reference. "Agent Tanner, I'm going to need your overshirt, vest, boots, and pants." He handed over a large evidence bag.
Without a word, Vin stood, stripped, and placed the items one by one in the bag. Stevens began the interview the instant Vin sat down. "I understand no order was given to take the shot."
Vin looked at him. "No."
"So why take it?"
The lawyer interrupted. "Stevens, this was by the book. Agent Tanner saw a fellow officer in mortal danger and made a decision that saved the agent's life. I might add, the suspect had already seriously injured one officer and repeatedly fired on others while making his escape."
Stevens's gaze moved back to Vin. "For the record, Agent Tanner, are you stating that you had no choice but to fire?"
"Agent Dunne pursued Alessi until the man reached a dead end, and who then faked a suicide jump off a ledge. When Dunne looked over, he found Alessi alive, lying on his back on a ramp directly below, and seconds from blowing his head off. Am I saying I had no choice in firing?" Vin's eyes narrowed. "Too fucking right I am."
The lawyer spoke. "This is textbook strategy. The suspect was threatening the life of a member of the force, escalating the state of affairs from bodily harm and lower culpability, to grievous bodily harm and higher culpability. Agent Tanner clearly did not use undue force. Now, just give the guy the forms to sign, his day's been bad enough." The lawyer stared at Stevens. "Okay? Are we done here? Don't know about you, but I got me a turkey leg with my name on it."
Stevens shuffled some papers. "Once more for the record, Agent Tanner, you're stating that you had no other option than to use lethal force?"
Vin licked his dry lips. "My only other option was to watch the jerkass shoot, and likely end the life of Agent Dunne."
Stevens's eyebrows rose. Couldn't this guy give a straight answer? He looked down at the paperwork and checked a box. "I'll mark that as 'yes'. You are, of course, suspended from duty until the investigative inquest, which will take place after the holidays, and at which point the outcome of your return to duty will be decided." Switching off the tape, Stevens stood, packed up, and with a nod, left.
Vin exhaled and wiped a hand over his face. "Can I go now?"
"I'm required to ask if you'd like to speak to a therapist."
Vin's eyes flashed at the man, who rose and packed up his briefcase.
"Well, if you change your mind, here's his card." He slid it across the desk. "I'll arrange for one of your teammates to organize some pants for you."
"Thanks." Vin picked up the card and absently twisted it while he waited for the man to leave.
"Happy Thanksgiving Agent Tanner."
The lawyer smiled.
"You saved a young man's life today, Vin. Good job."
THANKSGIVING DAY - PRESENT TIME
In his seat in the interview room, JD shivered at the memory of knowing Alessi's Glock was armed and being unable to prevent the inevitable. The investigator leaned forward. "Would you like some water?"
Dunne shook his head. "No thank you, sir." He puffed out his cheeks and continued.
"There were three shots. Somehow, Alessi's went wide...barely. I've since figured that, given he had me dead to rights, Vin's first shot must have hit at the instant Alessi fired, misdirecting the bullet. Alessi lay there staring up at me and I could see two holes in his forehead. I guess I was in shock, 'cause I stared right back at him…and then I looked across and saw Agent Tanner still secured to his position in the rafters and with his rifle raised. Vin, uh…Agent Tanner looked at me and nodded, once…" JD met the investigator's gaze. "…and that's when I realized he'd saved my life."
Two men momentarily closed their eyes at the recollection of the team following the action from below; Chris inside the interview room, and Buck, standing and watching through the one-way viewing window in the darkened room next door. When Special Investigator Brown thanked JD and dismissed him, Larabee stood and escorted his youngest agent out. After leaving him in Buck's care with instructions to go on home, Chris returned to speak to Brown. On seeing the man reading through some paperwork, the blond closed the door.
Brown looked up. "Well, Chris, as expected Agent Dunne's account was consistent with Agent Tanner's, plus, just before coming in here, I was told that CSU have processed the footage from Agent Dunne's headcam, and it confirms their versions. It's likely the investigative inquest will be over pretty quickly." He smiled and stood.
"I understand AD Travis has given you boys a couple of extra rest days, so by the time you return to the job next week, Agent Tanner should be coming off desk duty and about to have his gun returned."
The men clasped hands, and Chris left to find Vin, and share the good news. He checked his watch - 22:38. Maybe once they were all home - Chris had sent Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan on ahead to the ranch - they'd be up to breaking out a few beers before bed. He doubted anyone would want to eat Thanksgiving dinner this late; and also considering the day's events - but he'd ask anyway.
JD's trip to the hospital, and then his and Vin's interviews, had made them considerably later than expected going home. That morning, Buck drove himself and JD to the Federal building and Vin hitched a ride in with Chris. Now driving along the darkened approach road to the ranch, the blond looked up and saw the lights of Buck's Chevy in his rearview mirror. He wondered if the trip home in that vehicle was as quiet as in his. He glanced across at Vin, who was staring through the side window and into the dark.
"You want to talk?"
Vin didn't turn. "What do you wanna know?"
"I know what happened, Vin, I just wondered if you wanted to talk about it."
"I'm all talked out." Vin looked at Chris. "But thanks, 'preciate the offer."
There was a pause. "You know it was a good job."
Tanner sighed, softly. "Sure, don't change the fact I killed a guy today."
Chris's head turned sharply to look at his companion. "Vin, if you hadn't..." He blinked when Vin's clenched fist punched the dashboard.
"...Chris," Vin pleaded. "I know, and I can't do this right now."
"No problem, Pard."
Chris was sure Vin was rattled more about if he'd missed Alessi, or been too late firing, than killing a man who had already shot an officer at point blank range, and didn't give a second thought about taking another's life. As he signaled to pull into the Ranch's sweeping driveway, Chris hoped that he could at least persuade Vin, and also JD, to stay on past the weekend, and maybe get them to open up.
In the Chevy's passenger seat, JD's bullet-gouged arm was strapped. He was sitting quietly with his head resting back against the headrest, and his eyes closed; but Buck knew he wasn't sleeping, especially not after the large cup of coffee Buck bought him before heading home.
"Penny for 'em, Kid."
There was a pause before JD opened one eye and looked toward Buck. "I need to talk to Vin." Realizing how that sounded, JD sat forward. "Not that...I didn't mean..."
Buck smiled. "It's okay, I know what you mean. You wanna test out on me, first?"
JD sighed. "Can't."
"Can't, or won't?" Buck urged.
"Can't. Right now, I haven't a clue what to say." His chin wobbled a little. "Because of me, Vin took a man's life."
Knowing JD was sporting a small gash on the top of his scalp, Buck refrained from slapping JD's head, so he punched his knee, instead. "You quit that kinda talk now. You did your job, and Vin did his...and thank God Vin's shit hot, 'cause that sonofabitch didn't give a shit that you're a cop, or..." Buck stopped short.
JD stared at him. "Go on, say it; 'or a kid', right?"
Buck swallowed. "You think it's bad that I want to see you live past twenty? 'Cause if that's so...tough." He watched JD's distressed reaction.
"During the execution of your obligatory responsibilities to protect and serve the good citizens of Denver, and with no concern for your own welfare while you chased down a cop-shooting, tobacco-pimping butt-wipe, you almost died. Does that put things into perspective for you?"
JD just stared until he found the words to reply. "That's what you put in your report, huh?"
Buck offered a crooked smile. "More or less."
JD sighed and leaned his head against the side window. "Thanks."
"Anytime, little brother."
There was another sigh. "Some Thanksgiving Day, huh?"
"Yeah," Buck whispered, while thinking he couldn't recall a time he'd ever been so thankful, but as he mirrored Chris and signaled to pull into the driveway, he figured he'd keep that to himself for now.
The ranch's porch lights looked inviting to the men in the two vehicles pulling up. A warm glow from inside flooded the yard when Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra opened the large, wooden door and stepped out to greet their teammates. They assessed Vin's mood and went with warm handshakes and soft backslaps as the Texan walked through them into the house. Vin accepted, and returned the greetings, but wasted no time in getting out of the chilly air.
Buck jogged around the truck to open JD's door, and despite wanting to help, but knowing how proud the boy was in front of his teammates, he let JD slide out himself. JD winced slightly. His arm was sore, and stiff, and his glued scalp gash throbbed a little, but considering what could have gone down, it was pain he could live with.
Approaching his friends, JD's welcome was pretty much as he expected - a firm, but warm handshake from Ezra, a cupped hand around his neck from Nathan, and a gentle, but heartfelt embrace from Josiah - all greetings they wanted to offer Vin, but knew the Texan preferred less physical contact. So what happened next surprised them all.
Once all seven were inside, it was clear the three who arrived earlier had made every effort to hark back to the fact it was still Thanksgiving Day - just about. The table was dressed, sans the food. They figured that would wait until the next day. On the coffee table in the open plan lounge was a pot of coffee, mugs, plates, napkins, and a mix of ham, cheese, and pastrami sandwiches.
"We figured you'd be hungry," Nathan explained.
Buck and Chris nodded, but were more focused on Vin and JD. Tanner exited the kitchen swigging on a can of ginger ale. He saw JD walk into the lounge area and caught the youth's gaze. Neither man moved for a moment, until slowly Vin walked toward JD. He reached out and touched the boy's sling.
JD shrugged. "Just a scratch." He swallowed, nervously, his voice no more than a squeak. "Vin..."
Tanner stepped forward and without a second thought, drew JD close. JD's free arm snaked around Vin's back and he fisted the Texan's tee. The pair stayed that way for a few seconds.
Several of the men's eyes filled. Chris figured Vin opted to show emotion this way, rather than risk weeping, which for a moment there looked possible. Either way, it was testament to how close these men had become that their relief and emotion could be openly expressed...at least among friends.
The pair parted.
"How did the interview go?" JD asked.
"'Bout how I expected. Yours?"
JD nodded. He rotated his shoulders and made a face. "Man, I'm bushed." He glanced at the laid out supper, and then apologetically to the three who prepared it. "Sorry guys, but I'm really not hungry just now."
Noting Nathan about to argue the point, Ezra cut in. "Perfectly understandable. We will be sure to leave some food covered and available to you should you change your mind at some point."
With a nod, and a quick wave before the emotion of day got the better of him again, JD moved to the stairs and headed up to bed. Vin watched him go, but quickly realized all eyes were now on him. It didn't take a mind-reader to know what they were all thinking.
"I could eat."
With a grin, the men got comfortable in the sitting area, and Chris wondered if, like him, the others were aware Vin was hiding something.
Around 4:00 a.m., Vin crept stealthily down the creaky, wooden stairs, and considerably quieter than whoever walked down them ten minutes ago. He approached the sitting room and saw the familiar flicker of the TV, but as yet, failed to work out who was up. Rounding the sofa, he smiled to see JD sitting with his comforter curled around him, and hunched over so his head was hidden below the top of the couch.
"Couldn't sleep, Kid?" Vin asked softly. He was unable to stop the grin as JD jolted.
"Dude, don't do that." JD moved the excess comforter so Vin could sit down. "No, I just found myself staring into space and going over..." He looked guiltily at Vin. "Nah."
Tanner sat next to JD and put the spare material over himself, which prompted JD to distribute the cover more evenly.
There was a pause before JD spoke. "Vin..."
Tanner stared ahead. "Let it go, Kid."
JD looked at him, confused. "I just wanted to..."
Vin stood abruptly, dragging the comforter off them both to drop to the floor. His tone was harsh. "What part of 'let it go' did you not get?"
Confusion turned to hurt, and JD's chest ached. To hide it, he also stood, and bit back. "What is it with you? I'm just trying to thank..."
"Thank? Thank who? Me?" Vin was almost shouting now. "Why? For doin' my job? That's all it was, okay? Nothin' more. Now let it go!"
JD's eyes filled in a mixture of hurt, and anger. "Well ex-cu-u-u-se me for being grateful you stopped a bullet in my chest today." He fake-laughed. "Man, what was I thinking? Sure...just doing your job. You jerkass!" Despite only having one good arm, he pushed Vin hard, almost toppling the Texan, but Vin's sharp reflexes saved him from falling.
"Just doing your fucking job!"
Vin glared at JD. "I'll give you that one, Kid; now get out of my face."
JD stepped closer. "Or what? You gonna hit me, Vin? Huh?" JD blinked hard and fast. "Go ahead, Mister 'just doin' my job' Tanner, why not finish off a crap day with a flourish...go on!"
Vin grabbed at JD's tee and there was an icy pause while he decided what to say. He choked back the welling emotion.
"I'm not sorry I killed him...comprende? I'm not sorry. I did the job expected of me...to have the backs of my teammates and colleagues, but more importantly, I stopped the smug, callous bastard from puttin' a bullet through your heart, and I'm glad he's dead...I'M GLAD!"
Trembling, JD stared for a few moments before his strained reply. "Well, I am sorry he's dead, even after what he did to Officer May, and attempted to do to me...I'm sorry, because..." One, hard blink released a tear, "...because you ended your day by taking a life...and I was the cause of it."
On the stairs, five men watched and listened in stunned silence, but no one interfered. These boys needed closure, and maybe this was a giant step toward it.
For the second time in twenty-four hours, Vin pulled JD in close, but this time he was the one holding tight.
"Shoot, JD, weren't your fault, any more than it was Officer May's for gettin' shot with his partner's gun after Alessi jumped 'em." He pulled back and misty blue eyes looked at JD.
"The fella duped you, Kid, and his only purpose was to put a bullet through you. I sure as hell can live with how the day ended for me. Can you?"
An equally misty, hazel gaze searched to find nothing but sincerity in the blue eyes looking into his. "Reckon I can now," JD said, hoarsely.
Vin nodded. "Good."
"Can I say 'thank you', now?"
Vin offered a crooked grin. "You just did." He guided them both back to the sofa, sat down, and picked up the comforter to cover them. He pointed at the Netflix logo frozen on the TV screen.
"What're we watchin'?"
JD grinned, wriggled to get comfortable, and picked up the remote. "Josiah told me about a sports movie called 'Trouble Along the Way', with John Wayne. I found it on Netflix."
Vin frowned. "A sports movie?"
JD's eyebrows rose. "It's John Wayne."
Vin nodded. "Good point." Leaning forward he unwrapped the aluminum foil covering the remaining sandwiches, balanced the plate on the comforter between him and JD, and the pair settled down to watch the movie.
Still standing together on the stairs after ushering the other men out of sight, Chris and Buck grinned at each other, and made a slow fist bump before quietly returning to their beds. While they accepted there would still be issues, they knew the healing process had begun.
The next morning found Vin and JD sound asleep on the sofa. Once he'd nodded off, Vin had slipped sideways, and JD's body naturally followed to leave him resting on Vin's semi-horizontally positioned body. After taking several photos, the five remaining men quietly went about dealing with the horses, and preparing breakfast.
With the dining table set up for Thanksgiving dinner, a breakfast of juice, waffles, whipped cream and blueberries, bacon, eggs and hash browns, toast, and plenty of coffee, was served in the kitchen. Vin's nose twitched at the delicious aromas wafting their way from the kitchen, and he opened his eyes. His arm felt numb, and he quickly found out why when he turned his head and saw JD sleeping on him. Somehow, he managed to lift the youth up, slide out of the comforter to the floor, and set JD back down without waking him, or hurting JD's injured arm. Jumping up, Vin yawned, stretched, and then went in search of the food that matched the smells.
Five men looked up and smiled when he entered the kitchen.
"Coffee?" Chris asked, already pouring a cup.
Vin nodded. "Thanks." He thumbed over his shoulder. "Just need to freshen up, first." Exiting, Vin jogged upstairs to use the bathroom, after which he planned to take the fastest shower of his life. However, the previous day's events, and the fight with JD unexpectedly caught up with him. Vin's soapy body slid down the tiled wall to the shower floor, where he squatted into a curled ball, and cried.
More than ten minutes later Vin shut off the water. Once out, dry, and dressed in fresh clothes, he went back downstairs, and hoped his eyes didn't betray the emotion he'd let go of while showering.
Curious as to where JD was, Buck stood, and with a glass of milk in hand, he left the kitchen. Finding his partner sound asleep on the sofa, Buck crouched down next to him while debating whether he should wake the boy, or let him sleep. Deciding JD should eat, Buck tapped a comforter-covered hip. JD cried out and jerked awake so violently that Buck flew backwards onto his butt and was now wearing the milk.
JD's eyes were wide and scanned around as if he didn't know his surroundings. He had been dreaming someone was watching him and grinning; but the smile was cold, and sinister. The moment Buck touched him, in his dream, JD believed that his stalker found him, and he tried to run. The youth blinked, and Buck could see JD was with him.
"Why are you wet, Buck?" JD asked around a yawn.
Grabbing some Kleenex from a box on the coffee table, Buck began dabbing at himself. He got to his knees. "I heard bathing in milk is good for the complexion."
JD frowned and Buck waved off the comment. He stood. "I'd best go change." He smiled at the stretching youth. "Breakfast is ready."
The easterner gestured to Buck's damp clothes. "Did...did I do that?"
Buck walked off. "Nah, I just need to take more water with my morning whiskey."
JD grinned at the comment and stood to go to the kitchen. A pinch from his bladder altered his direction, and with a quick 'good morning' to the guys in the kitchen, JD made his way upstairs. As he reached the top, Vin was just on his way down. JD didn't know why, but he momentarily hesitated as a thought that Vin might be resentful this morning, crossed his mind. When Vin offered a hi-five, JD grinned and returned the gesture.
Continuing on to his room, JD chastised himself for doubting the sharpshooter's frame of mind, but even though Vin made it clear they were good, JD still held some guilt for what Vin had to do yesterday. He jolted when he reached the door to his and Buck's room and found the tall man standing in the doorway.
"Jee-zus, Buck, you startled me."
Buck bobbed his eyebrows. "Good thing you didn't have milk in your hand, huh?" he stepped backwards into the room.
"Ha-ha, real funny." JD used the bathroom, and was surprised when he found Buck was still in the room. He wanted to change his shirt, and winced when he tried to pull the tee over his bandages. Buck approached.
"Here, let me help."
"Thanks." JD moved to his dufflebag to get out a fresh tee and shirt. He finally broke a long silence with a question. "Buck."
"Have you ever stared death in the face...literally?"
Without being asked, Buck helped JD get dressed. "Yeah, and so's Chris." He noted JD's stare. "And to answer your next questions, we both did what was needed to save each other's asses - and no, I don't regret it for a moment, and Chris told me he didn't either."
JD's look softened. "Did you feel guilty about what Chris had to do for you?"
Buck smiled sympathetically and cupped the back of JD's neck. "Yeah, but we talked, after both incidents, and we knew we were good. You just need to talk to Vin..."
"Oh, we talked...last night...and we're good..."
Buck tilted his head. "But?"
JD sighed. "I can't shake the guilt."
Buck squeezed JD's neck. "Look at it this way, whether Vin discharged his weapon before, or after the guy fired at you, he still would have taken the shot. The difference is that, if it was after, you'd never have known." He made a face and tried again. "I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'd rather have you alive and feeling guilty without reason, than - well, you know."
JD lowered his head. "Yeah, I know."
"Go eat," Buck ordered, "and ask Nathan to take a look at your injury, the bandages need changing." He smiled when JD nodded and left the room. Only when JD was long gone did the smile fade and the trembling return.
Around 4:00 p.m., and after catching up with the college basketball game they'd recorded on Thanksgiving Eve, preparations began to eat the Thanksgiving dinner they'd missed. Vin walked into the kitchen to take some food into the dining area.
"You want a beer?" He asked Chris.
The blond was dishing up vegetables into serving dishes, and turned his head. "Sure, thanks."
Vin took out two beers, twisted off the caps and handed one to Chris, who took a moment to lean back against the worktop and savor the brew. He looked at Vin.
"How're you doing?"
Vin stopped mid-sip, glanced sideways at Chris, and then finished the swig before answering. "I'm okay." He noted Chris's arched eyebrow. "Really."
"You need me to do anything?"
Vin shook his head. "Nope. Sure would appreciate stayin' over another day or so to take a ride, though."
Chris smiled. "Sounds like a plan. Did, uh, did you and JD get a chance to talk last night?"
Pushing away from his perch against the sink, Vin replied. "Yeah, we did, and we're good..." he leaned in as he passed Chris, "...but then y'already know that from when you and Buck were on the stairs last night." Picking up a bowl of sweet potatoes and marshmallow, he grinned, and left.
"Fuckin' smartass Texan." Chris's own grin died away as he set down his bottle. While he continued dishing up food into bowls, he tried to ignore the ache in his heart to know that his best friend was hiding his feelings well...but not enough to fool him.
Once all seven were seated around the dining table, Josiah reached out and they all clasped hands. JD slipped his arm out of its sling to do so, but when Nathan scowled, he placed it back inside, and crossed his good arm under it to awkwardly complete the circle.
"Dear Father in Heaven,
I thank You for the people in my life
My family and friends, who are easy to love.
And I thank You for the care you bestow upon them
Especially in their times of need.
Help me, to help them understand
That they are good men, kind men
And can be as strong as an ox, or as fragile as glass.
But are still only men, made of flesh, bone and blood.
Show them how to be thankful that they make sound decisions
Even when against the most fearful odds.
And that love and duty are as one in a family.
For all those things, and for this bounteous feast, we give thanks.
Looking up, JD and Vin caught each others' eye, and smiled. Chris nodded at Josiah.
"Nice, thanks Josiah."
The men passed around the food. Ezra spoke. "Gentlemen, seeing as we plan to watch a recorded basketball game from yesterday, would anyone care to place a wager on the result?"
Chuckles went up and the comment kicked off their regular banter. JD again slipped his arm out of his sling and was instantly admonished by Nathan. JD made a face. "Aww c'mon, Nathan, we're playing football later. How can I play with one arm?"
Without warning, Vin took off his overshirt and made it into a sling. Slipping one arm inside, he winked at JD. "Even with one hand each we can kick butt, Kid." Vin reached over to complete the action when JD grinned and stood to hi-five the sharpshooter over the table.
Chris watched his two youngest agents, and was relieved to see them both eating, and talking, and even joking a little. He and the guys were grateful that Vin fired the shot which saved JD's life, while JD was thankful to be alive, but felt guilty about putting Vin through having to make the decision. Vin was thankful he took the shot before Alessi succeeded in killing JD, but was clearly faking being as unconcerned about the act as he would like others to believe. Chris and Josiah had already held a discussion, and the team leader was satisfied that the profiler and team counselor would find a way to reach both young men and help them through this professionally, and as a friend.
The amount of angst caused and the time it took to heal after such an incident came with the job. These guys were cops - great cops, but first, they were men, and when work wasn't keeping them occupied, feelings and emotions came into play. Once Vin and JD could be persuaded to accept that it was okay to react to traumatic events, they could move on and things would eventually get back to a degree of normality.
Chris resumed eating. It had been a rough end to a tough assignment, and while it most certainly was a time to be thankful, he sincerely hoped there would never be a fourth Thursday in November, or any other day, like it again.
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