Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, Chris
Warnings: Some bad language
Summary: Aptitude and skill are measured in many ways.
A nod to Criminal Minds
From his office, ATF Team Seven leader, Chris Larabee, stared out into the bullpen. He sighed softly as he slipped on his suit jacket. This week was to be a happy week, filled with covert preparations between seven teammates…friends…brothers; men who outwardly denied their enthusiasm, but inwardly celebrated the approach of their first year together.
While all but JD openly waved off the event as 'no big deal', all seven of them agreed to spend a long weekend at Chris's ranch, for cookouts, trail rides and lots of liquor…well, maybe steady on the last one - JD wasn't twenty-one yet.
And there was the rub…and the reason five casually dressed special agents, and a youth dressed in a rather fine light brown suit, were looking like someone just canceled their vacation.
JD's appointment to the ATF team broke every rule in the book. However, Larabee's insistence on having the best tech available, and with Travis's full support, and an assurance to regard the boy as 'in training' for no less than five years, the deal was sealed. JD had thereby skipped the twenty-seven week training course at Glynco Georgia; and the statutory three years probationary period; to receive prolonged, 'in the field', tutelage. A groundbreaking result for Assistant Director Orin Travis, who was to personally oversee the conditional period for its duration.
There was, however, one non-negotiable stipulation, a proviso that was about to be put into operation. JD was to be assessed annually until his probationary period ended; and it was time for his first evaluation. Chris wasn't worried; he had never met such a tenacious, intelligent, adaptable, and eager protégé, and knew the boy would pass the appraisal with flying colors. JD was less confident. If he had a failing, it was his fear of not living up to expectation. Five fellow teammates and 'big brothers', along with Chris, a man JD aspired to emulate, instantly put him straight on that one.
Nevertheless, a very nervous twenty-year-old was sitting in the bullpen dressed to the nines, and trying not to sweat while Buck reminded him of all he had achieved over the last eleven-plus months. Six pairs of eyes looked toward Chris when he exited his office.
"Come on Kid, let's get this over with."
Adjusting his suit as he stood, JD flashed a nervous, but bright smile at his teammates, and to calls of support, he, Travis, and Chris left for their meetings at Denver Police Department Administrative building.
Late lunchtime, and outside the Byron Rogers courthouse, annexed to the Federal building Travis supervised, the area was bustling with people taking a lunch break before resuming work. From his covert position on the roof of the Postal building two blocks back, Michael Felkin had a perfect view of the Byron White Appeals Court, the Byron Rogers Courthouse and Federal building, and the surrounding area. Relaxing into a position, he adjusted his telescopic riflescope, and placed his eye to it to check it again. As he scanned the locale, the crosshairs passed over potential targets, doorways, vehicles, and streets in search of a victim…or three, maybe more, you couldn't fully demonstrate a product without shooting off a good few rounds. Quietly amused that the test demo for the weapon would be on the mighty ATF's own doorstep, Felkin cracked his neck, and his finger curled around the trigger, ready for his first mark.
In a large, bright room, JD looked at the three men sitting at a table across from him, and then glanced to the one in a black suit ominously seated alone in one corner. He smiled, nervously.
While wondering how Travis and Larabee's interviews were going, JD watched one of the three men thumb through a thick dossier before eventually looking up.
"Quite an eventful year, Agent Dunne."
JD smiled. "Yessir. One of the best years of my life."
"Despite so many hospitalizations?"
The youth shrugged. "Small price to pay for putting away the bad guys."
Another man spoke. "Is that how you see it, Agent? 'Fighting the bad guys'?"
JD swallowed. "Well, when you put it like that, it sounds kinda juvenile, but…yeah, why not?" He tried not to panic when the man wrote something down after his answer. He turned his head when the third man spoke.
"I see you have a high IQ."
"Yessir." He realized there was a pause for elaboration. "I tested at one fifty six."
"Yet you told your teammates one hundred and forty. Why did you lie?"
"Actually, when asked, I said I hit one forty…which technically, I did."
"By my less than Mensa quantified calculations, it's sixteen points shy of the truth," the first man said.
JD shifted in his seat. "And, for the record…sir, it's exactly because of condescending remarks like that, I choose not to elaborate when asked." He hoped the man's cough, and his companions' stifled chuckles were a good sign. The man in the corner scribbled something down.
The speaker smiled. "Touché." One finger idly tapped the folder under his hand. "It states you deciphered, and helped reshape Deadbolt, the leading password encryption software. Are you certain Law Enforcement is the profession you should be pursuing, Agent Dunne?"
JD took a moment to answer. "Well, seeing as the Pentagon is making use of the modified version, I'd like to think so, yeah." He sat forward.
"I…I have a gift, I've known that for some time, but what I didn't have was experience, street smarts…though I have a whole lot more now than when I joined Boston PD. I wanted more than to be a beat cop, or just day to day working with technology, I wanted to be a part of the technological revolution that law enforcement was beginning to embrace; but I didn't want to do it from behind a desk." He felt relief that he was holding their attention.
"When I read about Chris Larabee's authorization to form Team Seven, there was no doubt in my mind that's what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be, and who I wanted to work alongside. The man's a legend; his achievements are second to none in his field. An opportunity to work with the best doesn't come every day, so, yeah…this is where I want to be…working with my country's finest… standing alongside men who kick butt without breaking sweat, and think of it as just another day at the office. To watch, learn from, and help keep safe six men who face danger head on every day in the name of justice, while I value every moment."
There was a short hiatus. "Sounds like a serious case of hero worship, John Dunne."
JD shrugged. "Maybe so, but I have the good fortune of working with my heroes…" he grinned, "…not many people get an opportunity to say that in their lifetime."
Three somber men walked down the steps of the US Customhouse and crossed the walkway toward the parking lot. Dunne took off his jacket and tossed it into the Ram before jumping into the back seat, while Travis and Larabee climbed into the front. Buckling up for the short drive to drop off Orin, Chris pulled out his cell phone and dialed.
"Hey, Vin, how about we start the celebrations a little early?" Momentarily pulling the phone from his ear to reveal tinny but familiar raised voices, he glanced back at his grinning junior agent. "Tell Buck to settle down. Just as I expected, the kid aced it." Chris and Orin smiled, and JD chuckled at the 'whoops' from the other end. "We'll meet you in the Saloon."
"Chris," Orin began as the blond set off back to the Federal building. "Could you drop me at the Appeals courthouse, instead? An old friend is presiding there today, and I'd like to catch him before he leaves."
"Sure thing," Chris nodded, and pulled out into traffic.
Travis turned to JD. "Congratulations, Agent Dunne. Judging by the preliminary report, you have exceeded all expectations thus far."
JD's grin widened and Travis failed to stop the smile prompted by it. The young agent's features altered to a more serious demeanor.
"Any idea why a Feeb would be on an ATF appraisal panel?"
Chris frowned. "FBI?"
JD met his gaze in the rearview mirror and nodded.
Orin simply shrugged, which Chris thought odd in itself, but he let it go, for now. He glanced back at JD.
"I've no idea. You sure you weren't mistaken?"
"Pretty sure. He didn't hang around at the end, either."
Deciding to leave it there, the three traveled back to the Federal building in companionable silence.
Chris drove along Stout Street to the front of the Byron White courthouse at the far rear of the Federal building. He signaled right, maneuvered along the plaza allotted to the press, and pulled up curbside in front of the steps. As Travis exited the truck, JD jumped out from the back and took shotgun to drive on to The Saloon. Raising a hand in farewell, Orin turned and walked up the courthouse steps. JD buckled his seatbelt, and looked to his long-time hero.
Larabee frowned. "For what?"
"For giving me a shot. For all that you've taught me, and everything you're gonna teach me." He smiled, shyly. "And for giving me Buck."
They both chuckled.
"I'll be giving this speech a few times tonight, I reckon…'specially to Buck."
"Sounds like a plan. And as for Buck taking you on…just because I'm Team Leader doesn't mean I had any say in that outcome," Chris replied.
Still stationary, he was working up to telling JD just how proud of him he was, and that JD wasn't the only one on a learning curve with this team, when something caught his attention. Through the side window, he'd noticed a man collapse to the ground, followed by another, and then a woman, and again, another man.
"What the fuck?"
A chinking sound halted his observations and caused him to turn and stare at the hole in the spider web of glass that was once his windshield. However, the gasp next to him made his world narrow.
His head snapped around to JD. "Shit!"
The young agent's expressive hazel eyes were wide with shock as the youth's sharp intake of breath seemed to hang in the air. JD's eyes screwed up and he cried out.
The easterner's white shirt was quickly turning red. The wet ooze traced wide paths from his shoulder and down his arm and side. Instinctively his free hand clutched at the source of the pain, while he struggled to take in a proper breath. A fine sheen of sweat quickly coated his bloodless face and soaked the ends of the bangs hanging in his eyes.
"Chris…" The name came out on a wheezy breath.
Inside the truck, Larabee was momentarily frozen in time. Outside, frightened, confused, howling pedestrians ducked down or ran for cover, and cars skewed across the street. As more passers-by fell to the ground, one word dropped into Chris's mind.
In a split-second, Chris opened his door, unbuckled the seatbelt, drew his H&K from its hip holster and hollered out at the terrified throng. "Down…get down…NOW!"
As already screaming, panicky citizens dropped to the sidewalk, he raised his weapon and twisted around on the running board to scan around and up in the hope of catching sight of something, anything. He became aware of a sharp punch to his right side just before seeing armed cops running from the courthouse. Knowing help was at hand, Chris made a decision. He jumped into the truck, flicked on the siren and grill lights, gunned the Ram around in a screaming u-turn, and then floored the truck in the direction of Denver General Hospital.
"JD, hang on…y'hear me? Hold on!"
With the sounds of his youngest agent panting and groaning in agony, and while attributing his own rising nausea, stomach cramping, and gut-churning to the unexpected turn of events, Chris made the short run to the hospital in double-quick time.
JD's upper body felt heavy as lead. No, strike that…his heated upper body…felt heavy as lead. He tried desperately to make sense of what was happening, but only blinding pain registered. He'd never experienced anything like it, and wanted nothing more than to shut the agony out, but between Larabee's voice ringing in his ears, and being buffeted by air from the damaged windshield, he simply wasn't able to let go. By the time the young agent registered that the truck had stopped, his door was opened and Chris was right there and lifting him out. A scream of pain left his lips at the agonizing jolt, and then…nothing.
Chris slammed the truck into park, and with the engine idling, he leapt out and ran around to the front passenger seat. Throwing open the door he yelled encouragement to a semi-conscious JD. Maneuvering his hands around and under the boy, Chris heaved him into his arms. The jolt caused JD to howl out moments before he went limp.
"No…NO! Damnit, JD…DAMNIT!"
Glancing around, he was relieved to see their chaotic arrival was noted. Staggering to meet the gurney rolling toward them, Chris eased his precious cargo down as he identified himself as a Federal agent, and then hurried into the ER after a doctor, two nurses and the rolling trolley bed. He only halted when the doors to the examination area burst open as the gurney punched through it, and left him standing alone. Chris walked into the nearby waiting room. He slumped hard against the wall to catch his breath, and try to get his head around what just happened.
In a bar frequented by law enforcement officers, it only took hearing the second of several sirens to alert the clientele of Watson's bar, more affectionately known as 'The Saloon', to the unfolding of a serious event. A feeling of dread overcame Vin, and he led the five-man charge out of the bar to return to the Federal building, which appeared to be the source of interest.
The five agents flashed their ID's while Josiah's suburban, running lights and sirens, carved a way through the traffic and the quickly erected barriers to reach a shocking spectacle of carnage and hysteria. In seconds, Nathan, Josiah, and Ezra were out of the vehicle and assisting the EMTs and cops on the scene with the injured, while Vin and Buck scanned the area to assess the situation.
Buck nodded gravely at Tanner's observable statement - to be more impressed with the second one.
Vin pointed to a building. "Up there." Seconds later, the pair was jogging toward the buildings aligned with the Postal Inspection offices situated to the side, and on the opposite street to the courthouse.
The armed agents cautiously walked out onto the deserted rooftop and quickly found the proof they needed to confirm their sniper theory. Within twenty minutes, a CSI team joined them on top of the former structure to catalogue discarded shells and a variety of other evidence. On returning to their team, the five agents hurriedly left the scene after officers confirmed seeing a black Dodge Ram taking several hits and haring off in the direction the teammates knew would lead to Denver General. Orin's appearance to confirm Chris had recently dropped him off outside the courthouse and site of the carnage, sealed the deal.
Now in the surgical waiting room, Chris shakily stood on hearing familiar voices draw near. Despite high anxiety, Buck could see his oldest friend was done in and so, regardless of his desperate need for information, he and the others warily approached.
"How bad?" he asked, fearful of the reply.
Larabee shrugged. "I...I don't know," he rasped, breathlessly. "The kid took a bullet to the shoulder." He raised a bloody hand to his own, to expand on his information. "Took a hit here…one round, I think. JD's no wimp, but I could see he was in a shitload of pain."
Tanner and Jackson exchanged concerned glances at the blood on Chris's hand, along with his deportment, breathing, and pallor. "You alright there, Cowboy?"
"I'm fine, Vin..." Chris growled. While glaring at Vin, Chris reached out and pushed away Nathan's probing fingers. "Damnit, Nathan, Now listen up, I've told three nursing staff when they asked me how I'm doing to focus on JD, not me, so don't you two start."
Tanner was not about to back down. He knew only too well what he was seeing, and was struggling to control the rising fear. "Why didn't you call?" His keen eye saw Chris glance down at his right jacket pocket and his fingers curl around the material to gently pull the edges together, but Larabee made no attempt to reply.
Approaching, the Texan reached out toward something he could see inside Chris's jacket. He eased back the clothing to reveal a dark red stain "Is this JD's blood?"
Vin's breath caught in his throat just as he and everyone else saw Chris's once white shirt and the extent of its large, soaked, red discoloration. Nathan ran into the hallway to call for a doctor.
"V-i-n..." Chris's eyes and head rolled back as he lurched forward and collapsed heavily into the sharpshooter's arms.
Vin took Chris's heated body gently to the floor and cradled his friend close. He stared in alarm when Buck joined him. "What the fuck is goin' on?"
Four hours later, Rick Leeks, and Zack Strake of ATF Team One joined the five men and sat with them. Their team was leading the sniper investigation, and they updated Josiah, Vin, Buck, Ezra, and Nathan while they waited. The seven men stood when two surgeons entered the anteroom. The physicians acknowledged the permission of the five teammates for the other agents to remain, and directed them all to a room fitted with several light boxes. They lit up x-rays of Chris and JD's injuries and filled the men in.
Staring at the x-rays in disgust, Tanner looked at Strake and Leeks and hissed out an angry observation. "Frangible ammo."
Doctor Torres nodded. "I'm afraid there are no discernible fragments to offer you assistance in your investigation. Mr. Larabee's bullet impacted his right flank, and we've successfully removed all pieces of shrapnel and repaired any damage. He is out of recovery and currently in a room, sedated, and on painkillers and antibiotics."
Doctor Lansing took over, and pointed to a shoulder x-ray peppered with bright dots. "Mr. Dunne's fragments traveled some distance from the point of impact, which has caused him considerable pain. I'm leaving him sedated for now, and will need to keep him on Demerol for several days. I will then reassess his condition. He also is on antibiotics." The man paused.
"Doc?" Buck pushed.
The physician offered a tight smile to the man with the haunted features and unkempt hair. "While I am confident John will regain full use of the shoulder, I'm afraid he's in for a long spell of physical therapy. I understand he can shoot both left and right handed?"
The five teammates nodded.
"He may find firing with his left hand difficult for some while. Full sensitivity to his fingers and strength in the arm could take longer than he would like, or possibly expect."
"That's okay, let us worry about that," Buck insisted. "Bottom line…they're both okay?"
The two surgeons smiled and answered in unison. "Yes."
"Quit it, Tanner."
Several hours later, and as Vin leaned over a hospital bed, he clasped Chris's free hand. He locked gazes with his best friend and team leader. "Only you could drive a friend to the hospital after taking a bullet in your gut." He grinned. "You ornery sonofabitch."
Chris's voice was hoarse. "Less of the ornery, Tanner." He touched his bandaged side and winced. "That explains the stomach ache. I figured it was the gallon of coffee I'd drunk at the Customhouse earlier, while waiting on JD." He offered a weary wave, or the Larabee equivalent of one, to the rest of the hovering team, before his anxious gaze locked again with Tanner's. "Now tell me it wasn't all for nothing."
The sharpshooter moved to one side to reveal Buck looking back at Chris from his standing position next to JD's bed. Buck offered a smile, and a nod, but the dark blue gaze told Chris far more. JD was doing okay, and Buck was eternally grateful. The blond acknowledged the silent confirmation.
He thanked Tanner for the ice chips offered. "So, how am I doing?"
"Good, but you'll be driving a desk for a while," Nathan answered. "Same as JD."
Larabee was tired, but he knew there was more to that declaration. "What?"
This time, Tanner answered. "The bullets used in the attack were frangible. While many of the wounds at the scene were severe, everyone who was shot survived."
"We have a theory the sniper may not have intended to assassinate," Ezra added. "Quite as to why, has yet to be determined."
"And right on our fucking doorstep," Chris seethed.
"Indeed," Josiah agreed.
"Playing Devil's advocate," Standish cut in, "the fragmenting bullets may have been more to ensure lack of identification than lack of lethality."
"True," Vin nodded to Ezra.
"I want this case," Larabee growled, wincing at the ripple of pain his tension caused. He was surprised when Vin shook his head.
"Already been handed over. 'Side's, you ain't gonna be workin' in the field for a while to come, Pal."
Now seated at their youngest agent's bedside, Buck was taking in every word, but his focus was on JD. By the creased brow, he could tell the youth was in pain, regardless of his meds. Buck also knew JD was awake, but holding on so as not to notify anyone of his discomfort. When JD swallowed slowly and painfully, Buck leaned in, which instantly alerted the others.
"Quit holding it in, Squirt. How's the Doc gonna get your meds right if you don't tell anyone it's hurting?" From the corner of one of JD's screwed up eyes, the brunet thumbed away an escaping tear after the previous one rolled into the black hairline.
"Jesus. I can't believe…I'm being…such a wimp," JD rasped, finally relaxing to look Buck in the eye.
"If it helps, mine hurts like a bitch, too."
JD's frown deepened as he wearily rolled his head toward Chris's voice. "Hey Bossman. What…happened to you? You look like shit."
Chris huffed out a soft laugh, instantly regretting it, but barely letting on. "And with you looking so chipper there, too."
Chuckles circled the room, and relief filled it. Despite fighting the effects, both men's meds were very much in control, and like Chris, JD was fading; but before giving in to sleep he gave Buck a look that told him he was doing fine. To prove his point, he raised a clenched fist and managed a smile when Buck grinned and the pair fist-bumped.
Vin watched Chris drift off before removing an evidence bag from his inside jacket pocket and holding it up. Inside was the bloody remains of Chris's cell phone, which had been in his outside, right-hand jacket pocket, and was undoubtedly the reason none of the bullet's fragments had perforated vital organs. A warm hand squeezed Tanner's shoulder and Vin's haunted gaze looked up into Josiah's compassionate eyes.
"God moves in mysterious ways..." He smiled. "It wasn't their time, Vin. Don't dwell on the 'what ifs'."
Vin's gaze was focused on the shattered phone. "I can't figure how it stopped the bullet. His pocket is lower than the injury site."
"Allow me." Ezra removed his Walther P99 from its shoulder holster, held it in both hands, and raised them high as if to fire at an elevated target. His jacket instantly rose and the pocket took a similar line to where Chris's wound was located.
Silently berating himself for not realizing that line of reasoning, while totally forgetting why his mind wasn't functioning up to speed right then, Vin nodded, and tucked the bag back into his jacket before he and Ezra joined the others in taking a seat. The team had been relieved of all association with the case, bar Chris and JD having to give statements of the incident, and due to a rare instance of having no pressing, work-related commitments to pull them away, the teammates relaxed to begin their vigil.
Nonetheless, an unsolved mystery was like metal to a magnet for these men, and while their two friends slept, they began to mull over Team One's difficult assignment. The desire to be involved was evident, but having two injured friends suffering personally would keep them grounded, and maybe help them attempt to let this one go.
FOUR WEEKS LATER
Nathan moved through the bullpen and knocked on Chris's door, entering on hearing the command from inside. "Hey, how's it going?"
Chris relaxed back in his chair, wincing slightly at the pull to his freshly healed wound. "Good…thanks." Chris smiled at the inquisitive look. "Yes, Nathan, I've taken my meds. Buck back yet?"
"No. Actually, it's JD I wanted to talk with you about."
Chris sat up. "Go on."
"I think he'd be better coming back to work, too." Nathan raised a hand to stay any arguments. "I know he's still having physical therapy, but…well…am I the only one who's noticed his behavior?"
Larabee pursed his lips. "No." He nodded at the recall of JD's less than positive demeanor, lately. "You're right, let's call him in to resume light duties from Monday. Buck says his therapy appointments will be down to two a week by then." He watched Nathan take a seat.
"Chris, if you need to talk…I mean, I know you got Vin…Josiah, hell Buck, too, but…well, I'm here if you need to…you know."
Chris smiled. "Thanks Nathan. I'd appreciate it if you could keep an eye on JD. I received a directive for him to retest for his firearms license before he can return to field duty. To say he was unhappy on having to wait, is putting it mildly."
Nathan frowned. "Well, you had to. Anyway, he can shoot right or left…"
"He's registered with the Bureau as ambidextrous. If he chooses to change that, he'll have to reapply for a freshly drafted license anyway."
"Red tape," Nathan sighed.
The team's EMT stood. "I've never seen him write left-handed."
"Apparently he does, but it's rare. He once told me that in his teens he suffered a broken left wrist during a game of street hockey and…"
"…Taught himself to write with his right hand," Nathan finished as he stood, and then walked to the door.
"Yeah. Thanks for dropping by. Can you ask Buck to call in when he comes back?"
While driving back to their apartment after JD's physical therapy session, Buck glanced at the boy, whose eyes were closed as he sat slouched in the seat. Eyeing the strapped arm, and the way JD was favoring it, Buck sighed. "Hurting, huh, Kid?"
Not opening his eyes, JD answered. "Yeah."
"YES, Buck…" JD sat up and looked apologetically at his mentor, and surrogate big brother. "Sorry, yeah, I've taken them." He sighed. "Thanks for all you've done for me. I'm real sorry I've been so irritable. This therapy is meant to be helping, but it's pure torture."
Buck smiled and patted JD's knee. "C'mon, Kid. You know it's working. That shoulder's moving twice as good as last week. You just wanna run before you can walk."
"Chris is back in work," JD sulked.
Buck nodded. "Aahh, so that's what's bothering you."
The youth half turned to face Buck. "Hell yeah. Chris was gut shot; he should still be resting, too."
Buck signaled to turn into the parking lot of their building. Pulling up, he faced JD full on. "Firstly, it was more his side. Secondly," he winked. "Larabee's an old warrior, he heals fast. 'Sides, he's only on light duties."
"I could do that," JD pouted as they got out of the vehicle and headed into the building.
Exiting the elevator at their floor, Buck took out his cell phone and speed-dialed. "Hey, Stud, how are you doing? You taken your meds?" He pulled the phone from his ear and JD chuckled at the familiar raised voice on the other end.
"I'll take that as a yes. Chris…I need to take a personal day." He paused to listen, unsuccessfully hiding the affection for the concern from a man who, not so long ago, was a detached shell. He glanced at JD.
"No, it's all good, but sulky-chops here needs someone to press buttons on his PS3 controller." Buck chuckled as JD smacked at him with his good hand. He smiled at Chris's reply and clear understanding that JD somehow needed company right then as Larabee granted his request. They walked into the apartment, and Buck closed his phone.
"Oh, Chris says to get your ass back to work next Monday…not that you'll forget, 'cause he'll remind you when we're at his place this weekend for our delayed anniversary chili and cook-out, courtesy of Josiah and Nathan." The grin that met his words lit up their hallway. Buck glanced at his phone before placing it on the hall table along with his keys.
"Thanks, Pard," he whispered.
Two weeks later, and all eyes turned to Vin when he entered the bullpen and sat at his desk. Buck looked back to the door, and then to Tanner. "Where's JD?"
Vin looked disgruntled. "Still down at the firing range. He ain't gonna pass his proficiency test tomorrow no matter how hard he practices."
"Still pulling his shots?" Ezra asked.
"Can't straighten his arm long enough to fire cleanly," Vin replied.
"You left him down there, Vin?" Josiah asked.
Tanner raised an eyebrow. "He cussed words at me I ain't heard since I was in the Rangers. He's not ready, and I can't help him if he won't listen." He looked up to see Chris stay Buck's attempt to head on down there, before approaching the sharpshooter himself.
"Will you come down there with me?"
Tanner nodded and stood. He was already preparing to return, anyway. "Sure."
In a booth at the firing range, JD slipped ear protectors down around his neck, and pressed the button to retrieve the target. Once the pulley stopped, he stared at the marked sheet in disgust before pulling it down and setting up a fresh one. Approaching his booth, Tanner and Larabee were shocked at the appearance of the pale, sweat-dampened youth preparing to fire. After waiting for JD to shoot, they joined him.
"Time to call it a day, JD."
Turning to Chris after nodding a shamefaced greeting to Vin, JD's shoulders slumped. "I'm gonna fail tomorrow."
Chris shrugged. "So you fail tomorrow. You can retest in two weeks."
Chris set up a target. He bent over with a soft grunt due to his injury pulling with the movement, and retrieved a small gun from an ankle holster. The three men placed protective headgear on. After firing, he brought the target back to reveal a perfect set of headshots. He watched JD's liquid eyes staring at the peppered object, and the penny dropped. Chris smiled.
"It's okay to fail occasionally, Kid."
JD snorted. "Says the guy who'll get his license back tomorrow." Re-setting the same target, JD placed the gun in his right hand, fired, then retrieved the marker to show he'd shot clean through several of Larabee's bullet holes.
"And no, it's not okay."
Late morning the next day and Chris walked into the bullpen. It didn't need to be said that the news from the firing range was bad for JD, who had refused to be accompanied there that morning, and was now meant to be making his way back. His retest was scheduled for ten days time, and it was agreed they would encourage him to talk to them about today's test when he returned.
Three hours later, and the smell of alcohol when JD came in was unmistakable. Chris spoke from the door of his office as JD passed him. "JD, have you been drinking?"
Easing himself into his chair, and fully expecting the question, the youth looked around at his friends. "How could I? I'm underage."
The others just eyed him suspiciously.
"Only one other thing makes the end of your nose go pink apart from a cold, and a stiff winter breeze, and that's alcohol," Buck accused.
A shadow of his former self lately, JD just shrugged. "Says you."
"Recite this," Vin suggested, pointing to a verse he had quickly printed off the internet.
JD sighed, and hoped he was hiding his panic. After reading through it a few times, he attempted to deliver it. "I'm not a pheasant plucker I'm a pheasant plucker's son and I'm only fucking peasants…" He flipped a pencil across his desk in frustration. "Gaah…come on, that's impossible…" He slumped back in his chair. Shit, he'd blown it.
"My office, Agent Dunne," Chris ordered, stepping back to let JD in through the door when he reached it.
Buck felt terrible, but knew Chris dealing with it was for the best, a fact endorsed by the others. JD was in a downward spiral, and the team turning a blind eye, and JD hiding his pain was no longer going anywhere. Buck knew JD wasn't drinking, at least until now, but the boy had become withdrawn, and a poor eater, which was the opposite of his normal behavior. He stared at Chris's office, and hoped the pair's recent shared experience would help Chris get through to him.
Flopping into a chair, JD huffed. "I'm not drunk."
"It was just…" He frowned and, mouth agape, stared back at Chris. "Huh?"
"I said, I know." Chris moved around in front of JD and rested back against his desk. "You went home and drank a whiskey…then you remembered you hate the stuff, and the fact you haven't eaten all day didn't help...how am I doing so far?"
JD fidgeted in his seat and rubbed at his healing arm. "Get out of my head!"
Chris stood and with a tiny grunt bent forward. He placed a hand on each chair arm, and leaned in nose to nose. "We're both in this, remember?"
JD swallowed, nervously, but tilted his chin in defiance. "Yeah, we both got hit, but no one's holding back your gun license."
The blond nodded. "I know, but it's just a little longer, so be patient." Chris straightened, and returned to his desk chair. "JD, I know you love fieldwork, hell, you're damned good at it, but you're also our tech guy. You do know you're much more to the team than just that though, right?"
JD stared. "Sure I guess."
"Proficiency on this team is the whole ball of wax. Just as the other guys specialize, you do things no one else can, and, like them, that makes you invaluable...whether you can work in the field or not...whether you carry a firearm or not. Do you understand? There's more to catching the bad guys than a shoot-out, Kid, and you're no less valuable to us with or without a gun, so quit worrying." When JD nodded again, he passed his youngest agent a folder.
"You still got one good arm, run these serial numbers through IBAS. Team One are working on a lead that a shipment of stolen guns might be linked to the incident, but have hit a brick wall." He winked. "I borrowed this file from Zack's desk. You uh...might have to get 'creative', but it's not our case, so we won't sweat on it."
Staring at the dossier, JD looked at his hero bemused. "But…if Team One took this case, won't they be pissed…"
JD stood and grinned at Chris's arched eyebrow, and 'so what?' expression. "Yessir." He turned to leave.
"Get some coffee first."
The youth nodded. "Yessir."
Unaware of JD's assignment, the team watched the young tech work through a multitude of emotions and frustrations until, three days in, JD approached Vin.
"I need your help."
Tanner nodded. "What can I do for you, Kid?"
"One of the serial numbers from recorded busts I've been tracing comes up as inconsistent. So I backtracked until I found it to be one from an original cataloguing of a recovered weapon by Team Six. The rifle was found on a rooftop after an, as yet, unsolved sniper incident where frangible bullets were used; but the serial number is bogus. Evidence suggested the shooter made off in a hurry, leaving the gun behind. The weapon was impounded, registered and catalogued a year ago." He leaned over the desk, laid out his findings, and showed Vin the photographs of the markings. "But I consulted with forensics, who've confirmed there was no original number…this was added sometime after manufacture."
"What do you need from me?" Vin asked.
"Take a good look at the gun and the scope." JD placed down an enlarged photo of the impounded weapon. "I'm no expert, but that's not a telescopic sight or rifle I'm familiar with."
Taking out a specialized magnifying utensil, and pressing one eye to it, Vin placed the opposite lens on the photograph and ran it over every inch of the image. Finally, he looked up. "Shoot. I've never seen anythin' like this either, not even in the Rangers." Tanner sat back and stared at the picture.
"A prototype? Could the sniper incidents on civilians have been field tests?" He tapped his chin and answered his own questions. "Would explain the frangible bullets. This guy didn't need to kill, just prove a point…he needed a demonstration."
"That's a hell of a twist," JD offered.
The Texan pointed to the photo. "Something requisitioned for law enforcement?"
Tanner raised an eyebrow. "Maybe; but whose?"
"Good question, and now we're left with the mystery as to how a serial number from a stolen shipment of Stealth Recon Scout .308s a few years back, got to be used for a prototype a year ago." JD exhaled. "I'll start an internet search. See if there's any chatter out there, or if someone is looking for a buyer."
Their animated conversation had drawn their teammates' attention, and as JD headed off, Vin gestured with his head to the others and pointed to Chris's office. "Come on, we may be onto somethin'."
Twenty minutes or so later, and Vin had filled the team in. They all turned when JD burst into Chris's office. Excitedly, he handed Vin several sheets of paper. "What do you think? This guy…Mike Felkin…I can't find a rap sheet on him, but his name popped up several times throughout the searches and when I Googled him his background is listed as ex-Army, but very little else."
Tanner grinned and passed the papers to Chris, who in turn shared them around. "I reckon it just might be the lead we were lookin' for..."
"They'll be sealed, but I'm sure I can call up his records from…"
Chris shook his head at JD. "No."
Sensing an objection bubbling, Buck grabbed JD's good shoulder and squeezed, before turning to Larabee.
"No. We pass whatever we have to Team One. It's their case...I just wanted some hard evidence to hurry them along some. Looks like we've succeeded." He glanced compassionately at his team.
"Guys, I want this...boy, do I ever, after what that bastard did to all those innocent people, JD, and me..." he pointed, "...and right out there, in the ATF's back yard; but the case was assigned elsewhere, and we have to respect that. That said, I'll see if I can talk Rick into letting you guys in on any bust that comes from this."
JD raised hopeful eyes to his leader. "Chris?"
Buck moved his hand to drape a sympathetic arm around JD's shoulders when Larabee offered a tight smile to his youngest agent. "Depending if and when this pans out, there's a chance we might be excluded from this one, Kid. We're both restricted to light duties for a few more weeks yet, and you still have to pass your firearms proficiency test. Sorry."
EIGHT DAYS LATER
Consequent searches of the lead on Felkin showed the man to be listed as one of the alarmingly increasing armed force suicides. This new information left Team One with little hope of an arrest anytime soon. However, despite the disappointment of having the sniper-slash-prototype weapon assignment unresolved, the offices of Teams One and Seven still buzzed with excitement. A successful recoup of stolen guns which matched those JD had been tracing didn't uncover a prototype; however, optimism remained high that some of those arrested might help them out in that department.
Frustratingly, a short power outage at the Federal building, and a failure for the generator to kick in instantly, put cataloguing the retrieved items back several hours. Having missed the bust due to their recovering injuries, Chris and JD offered to remain behind at the office in the hope that JD could help them catch up. Chris could do little to help speed up the process, but stayed anyway, urging their five teammates to head on to the CDC and order take-out for dinner.
Making their way there several hours later, the pair called into a store to pick up a few things. JD glanced toward his boss and hero who was eyeing the whiskey in the drinks aisle, and clearly undecided as to which one to choose.
Having already purchased his goods, JD toed at the worn flooring. 'Make up your mind already'. His frustration was more from weariness and hunger than irritation. As if sensing the thoughts aimed his way, Chris glanced sideways and grinned, his smile widening when JD looked at the floor and blushed. He wandered back toward him.
"All set for your next license assessment?"
The young agent shrugged. "I guess." He absently rolled his shoulder. "My shoulder's feeling pretty good…nice and loose. Still can't see why I had to go through all this. I can still shoot right-handed."
"Do you want to switch your Federal registration to single-handed ability? You'll have to wait a few days or so, maybe even a week, but it will mean you won't need to test again."
JD stared at Chris, and then offered a lop-sided grin. "Nah. I've kinda gotten used to being in the Federal Agency's ninety seventh percentile."
Chris actually laughed and nodded. "Yeah, a pretty exclusive club." He continued browsing the liquor. "For what it's worth…I'll be accompanying you."
JD's grin turned to a look of awe at the gesture while he tried to decide whether to tell Chris it was worth a whole lot to him. The glance and smile from the blond told JD the man already knew. The store's doorbell chimed, and caused JD to glance that way. He nodded to a Brinks security guard when he moved past him and toward the office located at the back of the building.
Several seconds later, another Brinks guard was viciously shoved into the store and tossed to the floor by a similarly dressed, armed man. Both agents spun on their heels and reached for their weapons. The few shoppers inside screamed in fear and dropped to the floor. JD cursed when his hand reached around his back to where a holster would normally be and clutched at thin air.
"ATF! Drop it, fella!"
Arms outstretched and holding bead on the newly arrived gunman, Larabee growled out his warning, while vaguely aware of a grunt to his right.
Chris turned his head to see the first 'guard' that had entered the store was holding a gun so tightly against JD's temple it caused blood to flow. Despite his predicament, JD's eyes screamed 'don't!' Chris's glare gave nothing away, until he raised both hands, palms open, and cautiously placed his H&K on the floor. Receiving a punch to his face for his efforts, he barely caught JD when the youth was tossed towards him.
Unfazed by Chris's return glare, the man smirked. "Take a seat, guys, and consider yourselves our guests."
Pulling him against the side of some shelving, and then to the floor, Larabee glanced at Dunne, not missing the trickle of blood down one side of the boy's face. "You okay?"
Noting the welt across Chris's cheek, JD nodded."Sure, I'm fine." He knew there had to be a good reason Chris would break with protocol and give up his gun; he just had to figure out what that was so he wouldn't blow whatever plan his team leader was cooking up.
The sound of distant sirens alarmed the two gunmen. "What the fuck?"
The second man eyed the terrified cashier suspiciously. "Someone must've tripped the alarm, Chuck."
Chuck raised his Glock, and to the sounds of terrified screams shot the cashier dead.
"Bet he regrets doing that, now." He stared around at the cowering group, his gaze resting on the two motionless, furious agents as he weaved his gun threateningly around. "I ain't going to jail, so your buddies better let us go unharmed…or everyone in here's leaving in a body bag."
Buck rubbed his hands together in glee while perusing the stack of Chinese food containers in his kitchen. He smiled affectionately at one container marked 'plain fried noodles' and put it to one side. JD wasn't fond of bean sprouts and always wanted an order of plain noodles as opposed to Chow Mein. His grin faded when Josiah appeared at the kitchen doorway and gestured for Buck to join them in the living room.
Clutching his cell phone, Vin, like the others, was transfixed to a 'breaking news' report. He glanced between his phone, and the shadowy nighttime aerial shots of an ongoing store heist, before looking back at Buck.
"Chris called earlier to say they're on their way, and to warn you he'll need your couch tonight." Vin pointed at the large TV screen. "Not sure any of us will be gettin' any sleep tonight, though. Travis called Josiah because he's failed to get hold of him."
Vin glanced at the team's profiler and trained hostage negotiator when he spoke.
"Our assistance at the hostage scene has been requested via Travis."
"Neither Chris or JD are answering their cells?" Buck asked, surprise mounting when Tanner shook his head.
Ezra closed his own phone. "DPD confirm the stand-off is at O'Farrell's 7-11 on 1499 South Federal Boulevard, and there are at least six hostages inside. Shots have been fired, and SWAT is en route as we speak."
Vin stood. "We ain't got time to wait on Chris. 'Sides, he's on desk duties anyway." He looked at Josiah. "You up for it?"
Sanchez gestured toward the door. "After you, brother."
SWAT commander and Officer in Command Andrew Burke was swift in his preparations to end this quickly. With his men in place, he was waiting on the arrival of - as was described to him - 'one shit-hot negotiator'. He protested his own man was more than qualified, but he was overruled.
When Team Seven arrived, he shook hands with Josiah and quickly filled him in that the incident appeared to be a failed attempt to pick up the store's deposit boxes. Several 7-11s confirmed theirs were collected, and a Brinks manager had recently arrived to open the van that was parked a little way down from the store. His actions uncovered one dead guard inside the rear of the vehicle.
Setting out photographs of infrared images over the hood of a squad car, Burke pointed out the location of the hostages. It was decided that the two standing were the gunmen, and one prone form's decreasing thermal image had them speculating that hostage was dead, or dying. They had so far failed to tap into any cameras that might give them an overview of the store due to their poor location, and also the fact that the store's cameras were closed circuit. The ATF team silently wished JD and Chris would call so they could get their butts down there and JD could work his magic.
"The gunmen haven't attempted to communicate?" Josiah asked.
"Nope, and no one's moved much in the whole time they've been in there." Burke pointed to a phone. "That links us to the phone on the desk near the till."
Nodding, and with most of his preparatory checklist 'ticked', Josiah picked up the handset and dialed.
When the store phone rang, Chuck nodded to his partner, Brett, who repositioned himself to cover everyone, while Chuck took the call.
"About time. Maybe if I throw out a dead hostage you might take this seriously." He paused to listen. "Well Josiah, I know no one out there has any intention of letting us walk away from here as free men, so listen up. If I haven't heard something positive in twenty minutes, you get your first dead citizen." He replaced the receiver, and then resumed watching over his captives.
While most of the hostages kept their heads down in the hope of avoiding eye contact with the gunmen, Chris and JD watched their every move. Unnerved by this, Chuck approached and roughly frisked first Chris, then JD's jackets. He examined their ID wallets and waving his Glock, addressed JD.
"If you're ATF, why aren't you packing heat?"
JD offered his best glare. "None of your business. Uuuhh!" His head snapped sideways when Chuck used the Glock to punch him hard across the face. Bleeding, bruised and heavily dazed, JD fought to stay in control.
"I asked you a question."
"Because the stupid little prick thinks he's John Wayne. He goes in gung ho, gets himself shot, then we have to carry his whiney little ass until he's all better."
Chris's words came out in a venomous hiss and on hearing them JD blinked hard and stared at the glaring blond.
Chuck leaned in. "Maybe I should just kill him then…show those cops lining up out there I mean business."
Chris laughed, cruelly. "Go for it. Sniveling little shit's been a pain in my ass for one long year. It was only a matter of time before he got in the way of friendly fire…if you know what I mean." He stared up at the man and spoke quietly. "Look, Chuck, we both know there's a good chance none of us are getting out of here alive. Just do it."
Cursing the tear that escaped the eye blackening from the punch, JD stared in disbelief at the man he wanted to, more than any other, grow to be like professionally. The hostages whimpered and curled up in fear, no doubt considering how they might fare if a law enforcement officer was prepared to kill, or see killed, one of his own.
Chuck grinned and walked over to whisper to Brett. Taking Chris's H&K, he emptied the clip, bar one bullet, and gestured for him to stand. "Well, if you mean that, maybe I should just let you go ahead and do it. I need to send a message out there, and what better way than killing one of their own?" He leaned in.
"But if you fuck about and try to shoot me, Brett there will first kill you, then the kid here, and then everyone else in this store before those outside can blink twice. Do we have an understanding?" He extended the gun in his hand toward Larabee.
The blond smiled and took the firearm. "I get a chance to personally get him off my back, and have it blamed on a store heist? Yeah, we have an understanding. Trust me; with a choice like this, you'd be the second person I'd shoot." Turning to JD, he kicked the young agent in the stomach and watched him fall sideways and curl up.
JD gasped. "Chris…please, don't…"
"Quit sniveling! Be a man for once."
While Josiah planned his next conversation, Vin slipped his Remington 700 out of its case, positioned himself over the roof of a squad car, and looked through the sight at the shop. He followed the action until his horrified expression snapped his head back from the scope catching his teammates' attention.
"Vin?" Buck pushed.
Tanner's quick breathing was a sure sign they had a problem. "Chris and JD are in there."
Buck grabbed his arm. "What?"
"We've got cops in there?" Burke asked.
"We've got ATF in there," Ezra hoarsely corrected.
Vin resumed his vigil, while wondering what the other officers would make of Larabee kicking the tar out of a twenty-year-old trainee Federal Agent.
Hostages sobbed as Chris kicked JD's gut for the third time, furiously shaking the boy off as JD clung to his leg. "Take it like a man, you wuss. You wanna play cop, then fucking act like one!"
"Me?" JD spat out as he glared up at the man. "I wasn't the moron who gave up my gun! Asshole!" He cried out at another kick.
Chris stepped back. "Yeah? Well, this 'asshole' is about to see you kiss your butt goodbye, dipshit." He aimed the weapon, looking at Chuck in amusement. "Thanks again for the gun."
Chuck looked at Chris, but never had chance to answer. A shot sounded and a hole appeared in the center of his forehead before he keeled over backwards, dead. Chris's aim moved instantly from JD to Brett and his shot scattered the man's brain matter across the large front window.
Hostages screamed while Chris turned back to JD, who was still on his back on the floor, and aiming the smoking gun in his left hand at where Chuck once stood. Neither moved as SWAT burst in and took control.
JD held an ice pack to his face as he perched on a step at the back of an ambulance. He smiled when Chris approached.
JD grinned. "Sure. And taking my firearms assessment tomorrow with one closed eye should be a breeze."
Chris chuckled, softly. "Well, after that shot, I reckon there's no need for an assessment. I'll try and square it away in the morning." He sobered and gestured toward the store. "I, uh…did I hurt you in there?"
"Nah, you kick like a girl, Bossman." He laughed at the fake punch aimed his way. "Just saying..."
Larabee sat down next to him. "I was winging it in there, and as relieved as I am that it worked, how did you figure out where I was going with it?"
JD shrugged. "You lied to Chuck about how I got hurt and why I couldn't carry a gun. When you kicked me, I felt your ankle holster and realized no one had found that gun on you." He grinned. "Then you directed me who to fire at when you told Chuck that given a choice, he'd be the second person you'd shoot."
Larabee nodded approvingly. "So, you don't just keep that Mensa card for scraping ice off the windshield."
JD chuckled. "Nope. And I also listen to a whole lot more than you give me credit for."
Chris stood. "Now, that's the first thing you've got wrong tonight. I know exactly what you've learned since being with us. I also know that you never got the credit for what you already knew before joining us." He raised a hand to squeeze JD's good shoulder. He was so proud of this kid, but praise never came easy for him, and he knew JD needed that reassurance on occasion.
"Like I said, proficiency within this team takes many forms. You're doing better than okay, and you should be proud of that..." With a final squeeze, Larabee slowly walked away, "...because I am."
JD's jaw dropped open and his eyes shimmered as he watched his hero leave.
"You want to watch out, all sorts of bugs fly around at night, y'know."
Turning away from Chris to look at Buck as he approached, JD frowned. "Huh?"
"Having your mouth wide open like that."
He draped an arm around JD's shoulders and stared wistfully into space. "Reminds me of a girl I once dated…" He chuckled at the soft punch to his ribs. "I see your left arm's working alright, then."
Buck went serious. "You okay, Kid?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, I'm fi…uh, sure, I'm good; and starved. Did you get my plain fried noodles?"
As they stood to join the rest of the team, Buck mock pondered and tapped his chin. "Those are the ones with the bean sprouts, right?" Cackling at the returned expression, Buck tugged the boy closer and waved to their waiting friends. Looking back at the taped off store, JD suddenly halted, and Buck noted the haunted look in the wide, hazel eyes. He'd wondered how long it would take to hit the lad.
There was a long pause before welling eyes turned to look up at Buck.
"I…I shot a man dead tonight, Buck."
JD shuddered and turned his gaze to the floor. He shuddered out a sigh. "Y'know, come to think of it, I'm not so hungry after all."
Compassion oozed from the man as Buck nodded. "I know how you feel, son. We all do, 'cause we've all been there and, believe me, it doesn't get any easier." He smiled when JD finally looked up at him.
"We're gonna talk about it, Kid…whenever you're ready, and for as long as you need to." The brunet sighed and, with a warning glance to the others, which was instantly understood, Buck guided JD toward their waiting teammates before they headed on to DPD for Chris and JD's debriefing. Sometimes, even a good result had its downside.
WAREHOUSE DISTRICT, TWO DAYS LATER
From inside a building, Michael Felkin accepted a bulky envelope and nodded his approval. "I take it your boss liked the demonstration, and that the shipment arrived on time."
The suited, muscular man smiled. "He regrets not being able to meet with you in person, but is currently in need of keeping under the 'Federal radar', so to speak." Chas Moore closed his briefcase. "He insisted I make a point of telling you that he was particularly satisfied with your target choice. He also appreciated learning that the mighty ATF are still unable to make an arrest for an incident on their own doorstep."
"Impossible to arrest a 'dead man'." Felkin grinned at his own ingenuity of taking a dead man's identity. "Good doing business with you."
Seconds from exiting the warehouse, a bullet ripped through his head and he dropped dead to the floor.
Chas leaned in and retrieved the envelope. "Impossible for dead men to talk, too." He dialed. "Boss? It's done. I'll be with you by nightfall."
Closing the warehouse door on Felkin's prone figure and the growing puddle of gore around him, Chas walked toward a waiting Jaguar convertible. His boss was back in business, and once he had money behind him, had several scores to settle.
The next few months would be tough, but hopefully, highly rewarding - for him, at least.
SAME DAY - CDC
From inside the kitchen, Buck and Chris watched JD breeze in, grin, yoink away a bowl of chips, and leave. Both men smiled as they resumed their carton opening for a night of chips, dips, and baseball.
"How's he sleeping, now?"
Buck glanced at Chris's nod toward JD, and smiled at the concern. "Good. He's come to terms with the shooting as best he can, and he's off his meds. But you already knew that."
Chris nodded. "Sure, never hurts to hear it again, though."
Buck turned to stare at his long-time friend. "What is it?"
Larabee returned the interest with a look of reservation. "Can't explain - gut feeling?"
"About the case?"
Chris nodded. "Someone out there requisitioned that demo..."
"...And you reckon there's more to come."
Buck continued preparing snacks. "We'll be ready."
Chris took in the first snack bowls. "I know."
JD did a one-handed hurdle over the sofa arm to plop down next to Vin, who instantly grabbed the bowl of popcorn.
"JD, your butt just switched channels."
JD fished out the remote from under him and returned them to the baseball pre-game show. "What can I tell you? My talent knows no bounds."
"And your posterior, no sensitivity," Ezra deadpanned, before dodging several popcorn aimed his way.
"Play nice, boys," Josiah urged as one of the puffed kernels bounced of his temple.
Nathan caught it, promptly ate it, and urged JD to throw again and to aim for his mouth this time. Chris set the snack bowls down on the coffee table and smiled to himself on hearing JD's and Vin's giggles, cheers, and groans at Nathan's catches and misses. He stopped as he passed JD when a hand caught his arm.
JD looked up at Chris. He hadn't missed the wince when Chris deposited the snacks. "Still pulling?"
Chris smiled, and winked. "Only when I laugh." He nodded to Buck when he passed him with beers and soda, exited the patio doors, and then stepped onto the deck to look out over the city vista. Team Seven's leader stared for some time before he took a deep breath.
"You hear that?" He gestured to no one in particular at the laughter from inside the apartment.
"You messed with the wrong guys. Whoever you are, and whatever you got planned - we're ready and waiting."
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