Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em…damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, all the guys are in this
Warnings: Some violence and a little bad language.
Summary: Two dictionary definitions for 'fractured' are 'destroyed', or 'shattered'. Could anyone truly succeed in destroying Team Seven? Not if they have any say in it.
Boston MA - 2:25am
In the darkness of a hotel room, Queen's song 'We are the Champions' pierced the quiet. JD jolted in his bed and rolled to his right while a hand blindly searched the nightstand for the ringing cell disturbing his slumber. The young agent pressed the phone to his right ear as one sleepy eye tried to focus on his watch.
His eyes widened and he sat up. "Assistant Director Travis? Wha...?"
"Agent Dunne - John - get dressed. There's a detective and police officer outside your door, and a squad car parked outside the hotel. You'll be taken to Logan where a private jet is waiting to transport you back to Denver. Inside the jet are FBI Agents Neal and Phelps - they'll be escorting you to Denver General."
JD's mind was swimming with the effort to process the information. On hearing 'Denver General', his heart started pounding. "The hospital? Oh, God. What's happened?"
"The FBI will fill you in." Travis's voice softened. "Get organized, son, you need to get home."
JD's feet hit the floor. "No! Please sir, I have to know..."
A short pause followed before Orin replied. "There was a shooting tonight. All six of your teammates are at the hospital, and you have armed escorts for your own safety. Now GO!"
In less than fifteen minutes a distraught JD was on his way to Logan International Airport and silently praying for his brothers of the heart as his mind drifted to several days back.
FIVE DAYS PRIOR
Larabee tried not to look amused when the junior agent standing in front of his desk, with arms folded across his chest and a face like thunder, huffed.
"I've read the curriculum, Chris, I know this stuff already. I make a point of keeping up with everything computer and IT related. I don't need to go to this seminar."
Knowing why JD was really upset, Chris answered as kindly as he could. "I didn't give the order, Kid. Someone somewhere needs to tick a box in your training records so my hands are tied. It's just three days…"
"Three days…"JD snapped back, "…and during those three days you'll be making a bust I worked my butt off for."
Chris sat back in his chair. "That was a collective butt-working as I recall."
Dunne's shoulders slumped. "I…I didn't mean it like that, Chris."
The blond stood, walked around his desk, and rested a hand on JD's shoulder. "I know you didn't. I'm sorry about the timing, I truly am. Go home and pack, you leave in the morning. We'll see you in three days, hell, I'll even come with Buck and pick you up at the airport to fill you in on how the bust really went, not Buck's inflated version."
JD chuckled. "You mean I won't get to hear how he took out twenty guys while saving yours and the team's asses and kissing the damsel in distress all at the same time?"
Chris laughed. "Exactly."
That night, JD tossed and turned in his bed as a dream played out in his mind. He was in the surveillance van, studying the monitors and listening to the dialogue between the team. An SUV suddenly screamed past his position and raced on into the warehouse, where he watched all its doors open and around half a dozen gunmen pour out.
The gun battle was fierce, with Team Seven successfully taking men down. While JD called for backup, the original perps onsite had joined in, doubling the number of opponents. Now, one by one, JD watched his friends take a bullet and hit the deck. JD was screaming out 'no', and about to head on in to help when the image of Vin falling from the rafters and swinging by his safety harness with staring eyes, woke the boy from his nightmare.
He snatched his gun from the nightstand drawer when his bedroom door opened to reveal a tall, shadowy figure in the entryway. The light snapped on.
"Whoa! Hold up there 'quick draw', it's just me, Buck."
JD squinted against the brightness from the light, but relaxed his gun hand. "Jeeze, Buck, you scared the crap outta me."
"I scared you?" Buck approached and sat down on the disheveled bed. "You were the one hollering in your sleep."
JD swiped at his clammy face and replaced the gun to the holster in the drawer. "It was dark, how did you know I was armed?"
Buck chuckled. "I know what you keep in that there drawer, and unless you got a girl hiding under the bed, I figured you were reaching for your Colt."
The young agent thumped the cheery brunet in the arm. "Buck!"
Buck's smile faded. "So, what was it that had you yelling loud enough to rouse me out of a real nice dream, huh?" He noted JD's grimace. "Kid?" He was surprised by JD's sudden urgency.
"Tell Chris I need to stay for the bust would you, Buck, please? He'll listen to you."
Buck shuffled closer. "No, he won't, not about this. What was your dream about?" He took a guess. "Did you dream someone got hurt?" The look from JD convinced him he'd guessed right.
JD swallowed, hard. "I dreamt you were all killed," his voice was shaky, and he dropped his gaze. The young agent glanced at the fingers wrapping around his wrist.
"It was just a dream. You're worried about missing the bust; this is how your overactive imagination manifests those fears."
JD finally cracked a grin. "Thanks for that, Freud." He sighed, and sobered. "This dream seemed so real. It was like - an omen. I should stay - yeah, I should stay."
Buck ruffled the boy's hair and grinned at the duck away. "Nice try, but ain't no way Chris is gonna let you off this trip. Now get some sleep, and with any luck I'll get back to those twins I was..."
JD covered his ears. "La, la, la, la, la...that's an image I don't need tonight, thank you!" He offered Buck a crooked grin. "Thanks, Bro."
Buck winked. "See you in the morning."
JD looked out of the window when the squad car halted on the airport tarmac and a man in a dark suit opened his door. He offered his hand and JD shook it.
"Special Agent Miles Neal. Special Agent Craig Phelps is waiting on board the jet. We're ready to roll, Agent Dunne."
The youth grabbed his bag and nodded. "Me too. And it's JD."
The pair walked toward the plane's steps and up into its interior. "Okay, JD. What we know - your teammates were exiting a Denver Pizzeria last night when an unknown number of gunmen opened up on them. No one escaped injury - one critical, one severe, one serious, three moderate." He noted JD's pleading expression.
"Sorry, I don't know any more than that."
A visibly shaken JD shook hands with Agent Phelps, and then buckled up. Minutes later they were airborne. He turned to his companions. "So...no uh, no..."
"No," Phelps assured, "no deaths."
JD wanted to feel reassured by that, but the injury list, bad enough as it stood, was headed by 'one critical'. He needed to be home. He sighed long and hard. "It's assumed we're all targets?"
Neal nodded. "Yes. AD Travis is convinced the shootings are linked to the team's last bust. He insists you wear the body armor stowed in the overhead bin above you."
The young agent glanced up at the storage bin while reflecting on Agent Neal's words. Taking out a big gunrunner like Marlowe was always bordering on dangerous. Would it turn out to be fatal? JD shook himself out of his trepidation and tried to relax. His mind drifted to the events leading up to the bust.
EIGHT DAYS PRIOR - BULLPEN
The team's sharpshooter stopped walking and clutched at his heart. "Kid, ain't much startles me, but I just added you to the list."
"How many things are on the list?" JD asked, catching up to Vin, who was about to leave the office to drive over to the warehouse that the gunrunner Marlowe was using.
Tanner mock-pondered, and then grinned. "One." He eyed the younger man. "Whatcha hollerin' about?"
"You're going to the warehouse," JD more stated, than asked.
"Can I tag along?"
Vin noted Chris looking back at them from inside his office and hiding a grin - badly - and figured something was up.
"Sure. Any particular reason?"
JD's return smile was dazzling. "You'll see." He saw Vin roll his eyes and continue out of the door. "Trust me, it's a doozie! I just gotta get something outta Buck's truck before we leave. Hey, wait up!"
At the target site, but well out of the way of lookouts' prying eyes, Vin draped the building's blueprint over the bonnet of the team's black GMC Yukon. He studied the building through his beloved spyglass, making notes on the blueprint as he reconciled points of interest with the plan. There was a mild buzzing sound seconds before he ducked an object hovering close to his head.
"What the...?" He considered the object in his eye line, and then looked at JD. "This what I think it is?"
JD nodded. "Our very own mini-drone, with high-definition video capture, as well as a GoPro action camera. It's got FPV..." he handed Vin a tablet. "...to give you a first-person view of all it looks at."
Vin stared at the tablet to find himself on-screen, and looking down at the tablet. He looked up at JD and a dimpled smile lit up his handsome features.
JD chuckled as he maneuvered the drone. "Hell, yeah. It's taken me six months to get Travis to approve this baby."
"You mean it's taken Chris six months."
"No! He let me run with it. I went to Travis personally." JD sent the drone toward the building while Vin tracked its images on the tablet.
"What made the AD change his mind?"
JD's cheek dimpled. "On my last try, I reminded Mister Travis that he brought me on board to keep our team ahead of cyber crime, and this was a surefire way to help us. A week later, I got a text to go into the office early - alone. On my desk was a package, with a note from Travis which said 'don't break it, Agent Dunne'." He full on giggled at that memory.
"How come we're only seein' it now?" Vin asked, his gaze fully on the screen. "Jeeze, Kid, these images are amazin'."
"I didn't want to use it in the field until I got used to controlling it." He kept the drone hovering close to a skylight in the roof. "It's open, I'm going in."
Vin held his breath as the little machine maneuvered its way in through the gap. He exhaled. "Holy crap, look at these images." He glanced at JD. "Is it recordin', too?"
"Yup, it's also transmitting to my laptop. You'll have a complete and detailed layout of the warehouse interior, and all its parameters, in less than an hour."
"Providin' no one sees it and shoots it down."
JD tutted. "Vin, Vin, Vin - this is me, Bro. No one's gonna see this baby but us."
Vin snorted an affectionate laugh. "Cocky little shit."
"Gotta be with six smart big brothers to keep pace with."
Vin glanced at JD to see the boy's words were clearly sincere. He smiled to himself, and then proceeded to guide JD to where he wanted to investigate.
When they returned to the office, Chris and the rest of the team were suitably impressed with the advantage their new technology provided.
PRESENT DAY - ON APPROACH TO DENVER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
"They were more prepared than they'd ever been."
Realizing he'd spoken out loud, JD snapped out of his daydream. He turned to his companions and nodded at their sympathetic looks. "Maybe someone either got away at the bust, or word got out as to who took out Marlowe." He saw the two agents glance at each other. Phelps spoke.
"Marlowe wasn't arrested. He either got away, or was never there in the first place."
JD stared for a moment and then replied. "Well, I guess we know who gave the order to take out the guys," he said, softly.
A flight attendant ordered them to fasten their seatbelts ready for landing, and JD's thoughts returned to his need to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.
DENVER GENERAL - SICU
Buck swallowed hard as he failed miserably to control his emotions. He'd been sitting at this bedside for over half a day and the incessant waiting and worry had worn him down. The fact his other teammates were injured also hadn't helped, but at least all but one other of them were together. Buck held on tightly to the wrist nearest to him, words tumbling out as he tried desperately to keep his friend grounded, keep him with them. He turned sharply as the door to SICU opened.
Seeing JD standing in the doorway and clearly in shock, the brunet shakily rose to his feet. Dragging an IV pole, he walked over to JD and gathered the youngster into a one-armed embrace, deeply grateful for some comfort for himself, too as the boy hugged him right back. Buck eventually pulled back to look into troubled, glistening hazel eyes.
JD stared at his best friend, who he could see was attached to an IV, dressed in a hospital gown and robe, and looking like he too should be in a hospital bed. He could barely speak above a whisper. "What happened, Buck?"
Wilmington guided JD to the chairs at Larabee's bedside and sighed heavily as he looked first to his oldest friend, and then his best friend.
"We were set up." Buck's eyes filled. "Ah, Kid…thank God you weren't there." He instantly felt guilty for his statement as the flash of hurt in JD's eyes made it clear he did not agree with that sentiment.
JD's chin trembled. "I should have been there, Buck. I told Chris I didn't need to go to the stupid seminar." He looked at Larabee, his misty eyes fixed on his unconscious hero. He spoke as he scrutinized the blond's bandaged head and starkly white features. "How bad?"
Buck shook his head. "Bad. It's a waiting game…they've done all they can, it's up to Chris, now, and he's hanging in there."
JD stared at Chris, and then turned his attention to Buck's strapped arm. "And how are you doing, Buck?"
Wilmington nodded. "Okay. I was at the rear as we came out of the restaurant…most of the bullets missed me." He didn't fail to see the scrutinizing appraisal from the younger man's eyes.
"At least one found you," JD more stated than argued. "Are the other guys gonna be okay?"
Buck squeezed JD's shoulder. "Sure they are. Listen, a few of them are waiting on you, and on news of how Chris and Vin are doing. Why not go up to see them."
"A few? Where's Vin?"
Buck cursed his choice of words, but at least now, JD would know. "For now, Vin's in a room of his own. He's sedated - took three bullets - they're all out, but he's poorly, worn out from blood loss and the lengthy surgery. I've been trying to visit both him and Chris; can't deny, it's taken its toll on me a little."
"I'll go sit with him once I've seen the others."
Buck nodded his approval. "Me, Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah are sharing a room. Ezra took two bullets, but wasn't in surgery as long as Vin so he's a little out of it but doing good. Like me, Josiah and Nathan each took one in the shoulder, and in their flanks, too. I cracked my head when I went down, so I don't remember anything until I woke up here."
JD chewed on his lower lip. "So, along with your shoulder wound, you likely got a concussion too." He scowled. "You should still be in bed, Buck. What are the staff doing, allowing you to wander around like this?"
Buck's features were resolute. "I didn't give 'em a choice. Chris needed someone to be here, and I wasn't about to let him down." He smiled to ease the tension. '"Sides, the others got catheters as well as IVs."
Despite his desire to stick close to Buck and Chris, JD needed to see the others were okay, too. Brushing away a tear he couldn't hold back, he stood and leaned over to whisper into Chris's ear.
"Please…don't leave us, Chris…we need you."
With a squeeze to Buck's neck as he moved to leave, the young tech went to go check on the rest of Team Seven.
Buck ran a finger along Chris's bare forearm. "You hear that, Larabee? That kid looks up to you, so hurry up and get your ass outta that bed."
JD was weary, and beyond anxious as his overactive mind presented him with images of a shootout he was no part of. By the time he reached the room which Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra were in, his emotions were raw, so seeing two cops standing at the door, just like at SICU, didn't ease his concerns. Two of the three men inside the room looked to the door as a visibly shaky JD entered. They were taken aback when they saw their youngest partner drop, balance on the balls of his feet, cover his face with one hand, and sob.
Josiah called out. "JD, JD…come here son."
JD wanted to, he really did, but between the trip home burdened with the element of the unknown, and now seeing them all injured and hospitalized, what little energy he had left was being sapped fast. Tightness in his chest like a band being squeezed around it was making it hard to breathe. He jolted when Josiah's voice boomed out.
"John Dunne get over here, now!"
Feeling thoroughly embarrassed by his lack of control, JD raised his head to see two pain-filled and anxious faces looking his way. Finally finding his feet, he reached Josiah's bed in seconds and clung to the man, grateful to feel Josiah's strong arm wrap around him. Unable to stop trembling, JD finally gained enough control to look at Nathan and Josiah's bandages, and then glance across at a sleeping Ezra.
"I…I'm sorry. When I was getting here, all I knew was that you'd all been involved in a major shooting incident and that someone's injuries were…" he shuddered, "...life-threatening." Once again he glanced at each man in turn, unable to stop fat tears from falling as his breaths shuddered out. "Y'all are gonna be okay, right?"
Nathan gave a tight smile, but his pain showed in his eyes. "We will be. JD, have you spoken to Buck? How's Chris?"
JD nodded. "I just came from them. Buck said Chris is hanging in there, and we just have to wait on Chris to fix himself." JD swallowed around the lump in his throat. "God, I hate waiting."
Shuffling in the bed to get more comfortable, Josiah spoke. "Well, at least we four are here together. That's if Buck ever comes back to get some rest."
JD got up and moved to Nathan. One of the EMT's arms was also strapped and he embraced the young man with his good arm, holding on a while before letting go for JD to go to Ezra. Taking up the southerner's slack hand, and while talking, JD looked at Ezra's sheet-covered torso, the nasal cannula feeding him oxygen, and an elevated, bandaged leg.
"Where else was Ezra shot?"
"Like myself and Josiah, he took one in the side, as well as the one in his thigh," Nathan replied. "Everything was repaired successfully, just like Vin, though Vin was in surgery longer." He saw JD looking at him, a clear question in his expression.
"One bullet nicked Vin's liver. He bled out a lot, so he's been struggling a little. Last we heard, there was improvement. Both Vin and Ezra have a slight temperature, but the Doc's not too concerned right now."
Unwilling to let go of Ezra right then, JD perched on the still man's bed. His throat felt tight and strained.
"What..." he coughed to clear the emotion, "what about Chris?"
Nathan again chose to answer. "He took a bullet to the chest, and head."
JD's welling eyes widened.
"The one to the head didn't go deep, but he needed surgery to remove it. Chris hasn't been conscious since he was hit."
JD was struggling to take it all in. He looked up when Josiah spoke.
"Son, you being here wouldn't have changed a thing. In fact, it may have resulted in all seven of us shot - or worse." He smiled. "Hey, we're a little tired. Why don't you go check on Vin, he's just down the hall. Then you can let us know how he's doing."
JD nodded. With a last glance at Ezra, he stood and approached the door. The youth looked back. "Sure glad you guys are okay." The pitch of his voice oozed exhaustion and emotion, with an underlying tone of fear.
"We're a tough bunch, Kid," Nathan reminded.
"Yeah," JD rasped, "and whoever did this is gonna find out just how tough."
The hospital room was quiet and in semi-darkness. A hand on his head made JD jolt upright from Vin's bed. He was still holding onto the Texan's bare arm, his hair ruffled from where his head lay on the bed as he slept. He yawned.
"Buck - sorry, I must've dozed off."
"A good four hour nap, to be exact." Buck grinned at JD's shocked expression. "Hey, don't beat yourself up, you needed it."
"He snores, y'know."
The words were whispered, but the drawl was unmistakable.
"Vin!""Hey there, Junior."
"You want some ice chips, Vin?"
Eyes still closed, Tanner gave a slow nod and JD took off to get some.
Buck pressed the nurses' button, and then leaned in. "Still with us."
Vin's eyes opened and he looked pleadingly up at Buck. "Need...to see him."
"You will, I promise. You just got to get yourself a little healthier first, okay?"
Vin was about to argue when JD bounced back in. "Got your ice chips." He helped Vin take in a few, and watched him savor the chilled liquid on his tongue.
JD cursed the escape of another tear. Man he was gonna get some chops from the guys over all this sniveling. "Good to see you awake, Vin."
Vin attempted a smile. He winked. "You too."
For the first time in a long while, JD grinned. All three looked when a nurse came in.
"Mr. Tanner, good to see you with us again." She scowled at Buck. "If you're not in your bed in one minute, you're getting a bed bath!"
Buck smiled. "I can live with that."
"Good. Philippe will be along shortly..."
Buck raised his hands. "Okay, I'm going...for now." He turned to JD. "Chris..."
JD smiled. "On it." He moved back for the nurse to check Vin's IV. "Later, Dude."
Vin was already tiring. "You bet."
Over the next two days, JD divided his time between Chris's bed in SICU and the room Buck, Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, and now Vin, were sharing. The latter was improving, but JD discovered during one of his many visits, that they all had been more seriously injured than they initially admitted to him; not life threatening but, especially in Vin and Ezra's case, bad enough to put them in SICU for a few hours immediately after surgery.
Once Ezra was awake, he wasted no time in assuring JD that he was only drugged to keep him from walking out. JD had instantly pointed to the raised leg and Ezra's heavily bandaged torso to illustrate he was not convinced. The southerner was openly touched by JD's pain from seeing him injured; a fact that convinced the others was the reason why Ezra became a model patient - at least outwardly. His inner frustration was glaringly evident by his body language.
Buck again escaped his room, but looked exhausted and in pain as he once more sat next to Chris's bedside. Entering the room quietly, JD placed two coffees on the nightstand and sat down by the bed and next to Buck. He looked first at Buck and then to Chris…two men he thought of as, along with four others, family.
Buck shook his head. "Nope, not even a twitch. The guys okay?"
Shrugging, JD sighed. "As okay as any of you can be after being shot, operated on, and stuck in a hospital bed. Vin really wants to see Chris, but the Doc's adamant he can't until tomorrow." He squeezed Larabee's arm.
"I reckon both of them would do better if they could be together, even if it's just for a few minutes." Dunne felt sure he was right; he knew if he was injured, he would want Buck with him. Without realizing, he was leaning toward the big man, and sighed gratefully when Buck's powerful arm enveloped him and pulled him in tight. JD's emotions were still smarting as he shuddered out an apology. Buck smiled and squeezed harder.
"Nothing wrong with being afraid, Kid. These men are family, and have all been badly injured - it's only natural to feel anxious." He nodded toward Chris.
"Now, ole Chris here, he's takin' himself a little rest. He knows everyone's okay, 'cause I told him so, even if he is missing Vin right now. Once he's rested, he'll bounce right back…you'll see."
JD looked into Buck's eyes and saw the utter conviction in them. For a while they sat in silence, but Buck could tell JD was mulling something over. Suddenly, the boy stood.
"I reckon I know just how to make Chris and someone else we care about feel better a whole lot sooner." He walked up to where Chris's bandaged features rested and leaned in. "I'm gonna put this right, Chris. Don't rip me a new one for doing so, okay?" Seconds later, he was out of the door.
Buck watched him go. Somehow he knew exactly what JD was about to do…and he approved whole-heartedly.
"Young man, take that wheelchair away, now."
Looking at the nurse, JD shook his head and pushed through into the room that the rest of the team occupied. "Sorry, ma'am, my family needs healing, and I know just how to do it. Now, you can either help me do this right, or walk away, but in truth, I'd really appreciate your help."
It was clear JD's words moved the nurse by the fact she followed him in.
"Vin, have you used the bathroom yet?"
Tanner looked up and nodded. "Yeah, Kid, catheter came out this morning, used it for the first time 'bout a half hour ago." He watched as JD pulled the wheelchair alongside the bed and handed him a robe.
"Good, get in."
"Where we goin'?"
"To see Chris."
Vin's eyes widened, followed by a smile to match. Helped heavily by JD and the nurse, Vin bit his lip against the pain and got settled into the chair. The nurse clipped his IV to the pole on the wheelchair and JD pushed the Texan out of the room, he grinned at the other three when they nodded their approval.
While in the elevator, Vin reached up and wrapped a hand around JD's wrist. "Thanks Kid."
Dunne winked. "It's what family does; we take care of each other."
Buck stood and moved back as the two youngest agents came into SICU. He pulled chairs away from the bed so JD could slide Vin's wheelchair in alongside. Snapping on the brake, JD moved to stand with Buck while, through misty eyes, he watched the sharpshooter place a gentle hand on the bandages covering Chris's head. Two 'brothers' watched in fascination as two more 'brothers' connected.
There was a few seconds of silence before one of Chris's legs moved. JD, Buck and Vin exchanged glances and the former pair moved in closer. Chris's eyes didn't open, but in the hush of the room where three men held their breaths in anticipation, one name was softly spoken.
Tanner's Adam's apple bobbed as he struggled with overwhelming emotion. Seconds later he found his voice, albeit gravelly and tight. "Right here, Cowboy."
Both injured men sighed in unison. Within a minute, and with Vin's hand now resting on Larabee's shoulder, the pair slept.
Buck sniffed, pulled JD close, and whispered. "You did good, li'l bro, you did real good."
JD looked up at Buck. "Now it's time for you to go rest up, Buck."
The brunet was about to argue, but the determination flashing in the hazel eyes staring back at him convinced him to accede. He allowed JD to guide him to his and the other guys' room. Sitting the big man down on the edge of his bed, JD eased off Buck's slippers, lifted his legs, and maneuvered the long, slender body into a comfortable position. Taking up a seat, JD rested one hand on Buck's good arm and watched his injured and exhausted friend finally get some proper sleep.
A few days later, all six injured men shared a guarded hospital room. Once Chris was fully awake, and despite his doctor wanting him to rest quietly in a private room for a few more days, he insisted on joining his teammates. The shuttered windows and the door they flanked made up the front wall of the room, which led to a corridor. Josiah and Nathan's beds had each been moved to an inner wall, and faced each other across the room. Between them and against the long outside wall that faced the windowed interior wall were Ezra, Buck, Chris, and Vin's beds.
Although sitting mostly with Buck, JD bounced between beds to ensure he spent time with each of the men. He was with Josiah when the room door opened. In a flash, he stood reached around his back and as he drew his Colt, he moved to the door.
Orin Travis eyed him with a mixture of amusement, and admiration. "At ease, Agent Dunne."
JD holstered his gun. His grin to the AD was genuine, but masked a combination of nerves, and relief. "Sir."
Orin glanced around at his men. "Good to see you all improving."
"Assistant Director Travis, have you called in to effect our emancipation from this dire infirmary."
"No, Ezra, I haven't."
"We're IV and catheter-free," Buck assured. "Some of us could be out there tracking down Marlowe..."
Travis raised a hand. "For now, I want you together, not to mention resting up." He walked over to Chris, his gaze scrutinizing the panda-eyes caused by the head trauma he'd suffered. "Good to see you, Chris."
Larabee stared back at his superior officer and put as much force behind his words as he could muster - which was nowhere near his usual intensity. "Get us out of here and we'll finish the job we started."
"I have no doubt you will, but seeing as your doctors have informed me that, and particularly you, Vin, and Ezra, are in no way ready to be discharged, you boys hunting down Marlowe won't be happening anytime soon." He took up a seat next to Chris's bed.
"You almost died, Chris. Allow your body to heal."
Larabee snorted. "Take more than that to kill me, and I'll heal a lot faster knowing Marlowe's behind bars."
Travis leaned in and whispered. "These guys already know you're a legend, there's no need to compromise your health to prove it." He grinned at the first indication of a true 'Larabee glare'.
Orin sat back and looked toward his youngest agent, who was still standing. "And how are you doing, JD?"
JD looked at Travis, a little surprised by the interest. "Me? Uh, I'm good Sir, thanks."
"You look like hell, are you sleeping?"
Before he could answer, there was a resounding 'no', from all six of his teammates. JD made a face. "And how do you all know? All you guys do is doze off, you don't know if I'm asleep or awake."
Chris's voice was husky, but still carried authority.
JD huffed. He could never resist his hero. He looked at Orin. "Not so much Sir, no." He thumbed toward the guards outside. "I know we have good men out there but," he gestured to his teammates, "with these guys out of commission right now, I prefer to be an extra pair of eyes." He was so focused, he didn't see each of the six men smile warmly at his statement. Attention turned to the door when a man entered.
"This is Arthur, he's a stenographer for the Federal court and he's going to take down the details of what happened the night you were shot. When you're more up to it, we'll take individual statements."
Arthur got settled and nodded that he was ready. One by one, and collectively, the six men offered up all they could remember of that night.
NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING - 10:30pm DENVER TIME
Vin rubbed his hands together in anticipation as the ordered pizzas arrived at their table. "Kinda nice to eat here for a change instead of havin' take out."
Nathan examined his pasta dish. "So much fresher."
Buck took a bite of a slice of meat feast. "Mmmm, so good." He helped the bite down with a few glugs of beer. His cell rang and he fished it out of his pocket. Buck smiled.
"Hey, Kid, how're you doing? Bed?" He looked at his watch. "Oh yeah, I guess you would be. Eating? Uh - " He looked at the others, who were smiling.
"Y-e-a-h - pizza..." He quickly pulled the phone from his ear before returning it. "Quit hollering, I know you're not here, Kid, but we gotta eat - ah, now, if we were having Chinese, you'd be yelling about that too." He grinned.
"Yup, Tanner had the pepperoni."
Vin held up a half-eaten slice in acknowledgment of the conversation.
The chat sobered. "No, we're still waiting on CSI to get back to us. Yeah, it was a good bust - kinda missed you yapping in my ear, though." Buck chuckled. "I'll remember that remark when I pick you up from the airport, tomorrow night. Okay, Kid, sleep well," He noticed the others gesturing. "Hold up, Squirt."
Buck held his phone close to the center of the table, and all six men called out.
"'Night, John Boy!"
Buck placed the phone to his ear and listened. "I'll be sure to tell 'em. 'Night, Kid."
"What did he say?" Ezra asked.
The brunet toyed with his next pizza slice. "That he misses us."
For the next minute or so, food was consumed in companionable silence as each man was lost in his own thoughts.
At around 11:40pm Chris called for the tab. Five minutes later, all six men were exiting the restaurant. Josiah thumped at his chest.
"I think a piece of chicken's gotten stuck."
Nathan huffed. "What do you expect, old man? Eating spicy chicken pizza this late at night."
"Anyone up for dessert?" Vin asked.
"You just ate dessert," Chris reminded as he walked through the stalled group.
"But I only had one," Vin replied.
"I for one require the comfort of my feather bed," Ezra stated.
Bringing up the rear, Buck yawned. "Yup, reckon my bed's a-calling, too." He looked ahead at Chris. "Hey, Stud, you wanna crash at mine? I fumigated the kid's room."
"Buck!" Nathan scolded. "JD's untidy, but not dirty."
"Yeah? Well how come he thinks that under his bed is the dishwasher?"
They all laughed. "Okay, he does tend to hoard crockery," Nathan conceded.
"Hoard?" Buck was on a roll, now. "I had so many plates, cutlery and glassware missing one week I thought we'd been burgled!"
Chris turned to face Buck and the others. "JD's right, Pard, you're full of crap..." He heard a screech of tires and brakes and saw Vin go stiff. By the time he turned toward the road, gunfire sounded and he felt a pain in his chest. Chris only momentarily felt heat in his head before dropping unconscious to the pavement.
Nathan stood in shock as his shoulder took a bullet. Just as the pain kicked in, another entered his side and he started falling.
Josiah saw Nathan arch backwards and felt warm blood spatter his face. He couldn't control the howl he released only moments before his shoulder and side burned and he collapsed.
Ezra felt a bullet bite into his flank, but he remained upright. Before he could draw his gun, the bullet to his thigh took him off his feet.
Vin saw Chris go down. He moved to draw his gun but before he could even get a good grip, his body jerked three times and he hit the deck. His gun fell just inches from his fingers, and he was still trying to reach for it when he passed out in a growing pool of blood.
Buck watched in horror as six gunmen opened fire on him and his companions. He drew his weapon and got off four shots before a bullet ripped through his shoulder and sent him stumbling backwards. He dropped hard and his head bounced off the concrete with a sickening crack. Buck fell unconscious unaware he'd shot two of the gunmen.
As the shooters' vehicle pulled away, shocked bystanders slowly emerged to find six men lying close together in ever-growing puddles of blood.
The room fell silent as the enormity of what happened sank in. For Orin, it brought to life the details of what was reported to him that night. For JD, it was too much to bear. White as a sheet, he stood and started to pace, trembling fingers pushing back raven hair as stray tendrils tickled his eyelashes. "How did they survive?" he whispered to himself, appreciating just how little information he'd truly received.
Buck was next to him before JD even realized. "Well we did, so quit dwelling on it."
JD had no words; he just kept shaking his head. He needed air.
"Uh, hey, anyone want a coffee? I found a great machine one floor down."
Orin smiled. "That would be good, thanks, JD."
JD addressed the others. "Anyone else want anything?"
Most shook their heads. Vin perked up. "I could go for a Snickers bar."
"No surprises there, then," Buck ribbed, breaking the tension in the room.
"Oh, and a hot chocolate," Vin added, to grins from his roommates. No one missed his wince of pain.
JD nodded, he'd seen it too. "Sure thing." He hurriedly left the room.
Buck watched him go, clearly torn as to what to do.
Chris wearily looked at his long-time friend. "Give him some space, Pard. We've just completed a jigsaw he's been putting together in his head since he got the call to come home."
Buck nodded slowly and shuffled back to bed.
"Buck, ballistics tell us that your gun shot a man found dead the day after the shooting, in an alley three blocks from the restaurant," Travis informed. "Witnesses confirmed they saw two gunmen shot at the scene. We have all hospitals and clinics on alert to report any gunshot wounds coming in for treatment." He sat upright. "Word on the street is that Marlowe won't be satisfied until the job is complete, that's why you're being kept here, together, until you're all fit to be moved." He looked down at Chris.
Chris looked up through bruised eyelids. "Can't promise anything, Judge."
Orin smiled. "Why am I not surprised?"
JD found a bench in the hospital grounds and took in the air for a few minutes; however, it didn't take long to want to get back to his friends. Armed with two hot chocolates, a coffee, and a couple of Snicker bars, JD exited the elevator at the floor on which his teammates were hospitalized. Normally he'd use the stairs, but carrying three hot drinks he figured there'd be less chance of him scalding himself if he used transport.
As he passed an orderly pushing a covered trolley and approaching the elevator, JD smiled. His mind started processing something that bothered him, when a familiar 'click' caused him to turn and look back at the elevator. A split second later, the orderly opened fire and shot four bullets into JD's upper torso.
"So, the plan is to draw Marlowe here?" Chris asked Orin.
Travis looked at Chris. "Would you think me bad if I said yes?"
"No, but if that's the case, get me and the guys our guns."
"This floor has been cleared of patients and non-essential staff, and you have armed guards, Chris..."
"Orin," Chris interrupted. "You want us to play bait, you arm us."
The other guys nodded their concurrence.
Travis paused, and then agreed. "Fair point. I'll get to it as soon as..."
He was cut off by the sound of four gunshots and people screaming and running for cover. Having never been a field agent, the 'judge' was as helpless as the six men now alarmed and attempting to leave their beds. One of the door guards came in, slammed the door shut and ordered them all to take cover.
"Who's shooting?" Chris demanded to know.
"Not sure," the officer replied, his finger tweaking back a blind to see outside the room. "It was coming from the elevator."
Buck stood and moved urgently toward the door. "JD! JD's out there!"
Before anyone else could react, the officer inside the room grabbed for the door. "Got incoming."
The seven Feds could hear JD groaning in agony. In moments, the door was opened to let in the two officers half-carrying, half-dragging JD, and then was instantly closed behind them. The officers eased JD down on a spare bed and addressed Travis.
"Got four officers chasing after the guy, and others doing a sweep of the area."
Orin nodded, and noted the shock from the other men at the realization of just how heavily guarded they were.
On the bed, JD was ripping at his shirt.
"Aaaarrggghhh, get it off me, GET IT OFF ME!"
His torn shirt exposed a kevlar vest, which Buck pulled at to get it off the boy. After his outburst, JD was near breathless and clearly in pain.
Unable to get out of bed fast enough, Chris was demanding information.
Seeing the unstained white T-shirt under the vest, a trembling Buck's large hand curled around the back of JD's head and he drew the boy into his chest.
"Oh my God, Kid, I thought we'd lost you." He glanced back at Chris. "He's okay."
Panting, JD slowly eased back from Buck and lifted his Tee to reveal four large red welts on his chest and ribs. "Oww!"
Vin had shuffled over to JD's side to join Buck, Josiah, and Nathan. Tanner whistled, and raised the vest to show the others the four bullets lodged in its protective layers. He heard JD moan and bent over to talk to the young agent.
"Better bruised ribs, than dead."
Still gasping, JD released a breathy laugh, despite feeling the opposite emotion. "Thanks...for pointing that out...Vin."
Vin smirked. "I'm good like that."
Recognizing the pair's attempts to hide their alarm, Orin approached. "Good to see you wore the protection I provided, John Dunne."
JD nodded. "I dropped...your coffee. Sorry."
Orin couldn't help but smile, his grin widening when he heard Vin offer an exaggerated groan. The judge walked away and used his cell to make a call.
"Aww man, not my Snickers and hot chocolate, too?"
JD half laughed, half cried out. Tears were rolling down his cheeks from the pain and difficulty in taking a breath. "The Snickers were in my shirt pocket - I think they got shot." Worn out, he rested his head against Buck.
Vin retrieved the candy bars and held up the one with a hole through its middle. "I think I'll pass."
Orin stared at the three officers in the room. "Your orders were to stick close to any of the seven men who leave this room. What went wrong?"
The three officers seemed reluctant to reply.
"Well?" Orin snapped.
"It...was my fault," JD said, softly.
Travis and the other six men saw the officers glance at each other. "How so?" the AD asked.
"I ducked outside for some air."
"You went outside?" Buck cut in, clearly exasperated. "Alone?"
JD's expression was apologetic. "I just needed..."
"Air, yeah, so you said." Buck leaned in. "That air could've been your last, boy, did you even think of that?"
JD's eyes flashed. "No! No, Buck, I didn't think of that. I had a head full of images of you and the guys gunned down and lying in pools of blood that I wanted to clear and that was all I could think of right then."
"And yet what you heard us say just before you took off didn't, for one minute, make you consider how flouncing off alone might end for you?"
"Alright! You got me! No, I didn't think about it that way. Besides, I got hit practically right outside this room! Aaaahhhhh." JD curled in on himself when his bruised ribs protested how they weren't ready for deep breaths right then.
Buck stared at his housemate, partner, and best friend. He was actually lost for words, torn between fear, frustration, and heartfelt compassion for the boy. He rested a hand on JD's hunched back.
Orin laid a sympathetic hand on JD's shoulder as he addressed the officers. "How many of you were looking for him?"
"Three of us joined the officer who initially went with him, Sir."
JD glanced up, and Travis could see by his gaze that the penny had dropped. The young agent bowed his head lower.
"I'm sorry. I guess that left a hole in their defenses."
"Not necessarily," Orin answered, "but it shows us just how quickly they take advantage of a situation," he looked to the others, "whoever 'they' may be."
The boy looked up and at Chris.
"You're okay, the plan failed." He smiled, thinly. "Let's move on." Chris looked at Orin. "What's next?"
Before the AD could reply, the door opened. Still shaky, JD made a feeble attempt to go for his gun, but relaxed when a doctor walked in, escorted by two armed officers, who waited for Buck and Orin to move before resting his hand on JD's arm.
"Lie back and let me take a look at those bruises."
JD did as instructed, but needed help from willing hands to scoot back on the bed. Those in the room watched as the doctor gently poked and prodded, eliciting groans of varying degrees of intensity as he did so. The doctor smiled at JD's glistening features.
"No broken ribs, but you've bruised a few so I'll get you something for the pain."
JD closed his eyes for a moment, finally allowing himself the luxury of relaxing. "Thanks," he whispered.
The physician turned to the others, addressing Orin. "The hospital is swarming with police officers. I'm not confident my staff and patients on other floors are safe if that many are needed."
Orin nodded. "Trust me, you and your people are safe. The gunman only focused on one target, no other. I have first-rate intel that assures me our man is in the building. He's not about to give up now, no matter how many cops we have here and, despite this little interruption, we're ready for him." He leaned in. "It would be helpful if it was leaked that the gunman was successful today."
"You want me to lie?"
Orin made a face. "More stretch the truth."
Doctor Finn looked back at the youth whose breathing was finally settling down. "Okay." He pointed to the medical boxes dotted around the room and above each patient's nightstand. "I'll use meds from one of those. If I trot out of here and return with medication, it may throw doubt on the claim."
Travis patted the man's arm. "Good thinking, and - thank you."
As the doctor attended to JD, there was a knock at the door and while two more police officers walked in, the others walked out. They opened a bag to reveal Team Seven's personal, and professional armory. Those who could walk took up their weapons, and Orin handed out Chris's and Ezra's guns.
Chris grimaced as he strained to sit up, and then slowly swing shaky legs over the side of the bed. He touched a trembling hand to his bandaged head and chest and then checked his gun. Chris composed himself and stared back at his glaring superior. "I don't plan on defending myself, or others, from a hospital bed."
Travis shook his head. He'd learned long ago it was a wasted effort to argue with a determined Chris Larabee. "You're an ornery sonofabitch, Larabee."
Chris smirked. "That's why you hired me, Judge."
"Uh..." All eyes turned to Ezra, who was pointing at his raised leg, "...forgive me for not getting up and emulating that admirable determination."
Reactions to his words were warm smiles and an unspoken understanding that, even from his sickbed, the southerner would play his part no less fervently than the other men would.
Attention turned to the doctor standing next to JD. "The meds I've just given this young man will impair his ability to fire a weapon in the next few hours." He turned when a hand grabbed his arm.
"I'm fine..." JD glanced over at Chris, desperately fighting the sleep trying to claim him. "I'm fine, Chris. I can fight."
"Sure thing, Kid." Chris replied. He watched as JD relaxed and the medication slowly dragged his youngest agent under.
"Still have six of us."
"Seven." Orin walked over to JD and picked up one of his Colts. "I don't carry a gun, but I can shoot pretty good."
Larabee nodded his approval. He watched Buck tenderly pulling a sheet up over JD's bare chest. A smile grew and he looked at the doctor. "We need scrubs, sheets, anything you can lay your hands on, and lots of it. Dirty laundry will work fine, but you need to get it here without too much fuss."
Doctor Finn raised an eyebrow. "A strange request, but consider it done."
Vin padded his way next to Chris. "I smell a plot."
Chris offered a crooked grin. "You got a good nose, pal."
The sounds of squeaky wheels trundling along the hallway prompted a tiny movement from the corridor's ceiling tiles. Marlowe had succeeded in squeezing along a maintenance shaft from the elevators, but the crawl space was nothing like in the movies. It was tight, dirty, and did not link up rooms and passageways, but purely existed to provide access to power cables and light fittings in the immediate area.
He peeked down at the corridor below him. He was only feet away from the room where his targets were, and had been frustrated to find he couldn't access their room from the shaft he was in. But no matter, the two SIG Sauer P250s he carried had a magazine capacity of fifteen rounds each - more than enough to do the job, and then some - and fast.
When this team seized his guns, Marlow had to make a decision between heading for an airport, or to take the law down with him. Anyone close to the gunrunner knew he was a dogged sonofabitch who hated to lose, so his choice of the latter option, despite its consequences, was no surprise. The man would never choose to be imprisoned.
Marlowe's personal involvement kicked in when his men failed to kill six of the Feds, losing two men in the process. Nasty business, watching Hodges die, but he couldn't allow the guy to be taken to the hospital, too much was at stake. If he heard correctly, his right-hand man had succeeded in killing the youngest agent right here, and within earshot of Larabee and his flunkies. Marlowe nodded to himself.
Time to finish the job.
All Marlowe hoped was that, before the cops gunned him down, he could finish off Larabee last, right after ripping apart his longhaired sidekick, Tanner. Marlowe would take out Wilmington first, for killing two of his men.
The squeaking noise was intensifying and Marlowe raised the tile higher to see around half a dozen laundry hampers being rolled into the hospital room. He smiled to himself at the thought of how all those nice fresh sheets would soon be soaked in blood. He watched the door guards let the orderlies in, leave the trolleys, and then go. A minute later, two nurses went into the room, no doubt to change the bedding, but they were also pushing an unmade bed.
Marlowe eyed the cops at the door. He could easily shoot them dead from here, but then a whole squad of cops would be on his position before he could fire one round at Team Seven. Good thing he was a patient man, he needed to come up with a diversion. It surprised him when a bed rolled out of the room. On it was a body-shaped bump, covered in a bloody sheet, which a nurse parked up in the corridor, opposite and just opposite the room door. The cops saluted, and from inside the room, raised, distraught voices could be heard.
'Must be the kid.'
And that explained the new bed. Eventually, the nurses left wrangling three of the laundry hampers between them, and Marlowe caught himself smirking as he gently reset the ceiling tile, leaving just enough of a gap to keep watch. 'Don't fret, boys, you'll be joining him, soon.'
Doctor Finn entered the hospital room. When he left sometime later, he stopped just outside the closed door, and the physician addressed both officers in a calm and clear voice.
"Those men are in desperate need for rest after what happened today, so I've given them all a sedative, wrapped them up comfortably, closed the door and window shades, and set the room temperature to just below ambient. It's unlikely they'll wake up for several hours."
The officers nodded.
"Mr. Travis went home for a change of clothes before returning later, and an orderly from the mortuary will be here to collect the uh..." he gestured toward the body.
With that, Finn left the area.
Just within the hour, the guards received a message over their radios.
"Suspicious movement in hospital grounds, all available to attend."
The officers looked at each other. One spoke. "Should we leave our post?"
The other shook his head. "Not both of us, but these poor guys aren't going anywhere, so you go and I'll double my efforts until you return. With luck, this'll soon be over."
His partner nodded and jogged away.
Ten minutes later a nurse, her arms laden with files, passed by the team's room. She squeaked when the files slipped and clattered to the floor, sliding off in all directions. The grinning officer squatted to help her collect them up. It was clear she was struggling to contain them. The officer took half.
"Let me help you."
The nurse shook her head. "No, you should stay. I can manage."
"You heading for the nurses' station?"
"That's just around the corner." With that, he glanced back toward the darkened room, and then the pair hurried off.
The gunrunner didn't waste time. The cop would be back any minute - tough luck for him when he did - so his window of opportunity was likely short, and arbitrary. He slid back the tile, eased through the gap, and dropped feet first to the floor. Straightening, he glanced at the bloodied sheet on the bed before turning his attention to the door, which he opened.
Marlowe took a quick look around. Three laundry hampers were still in the room and lined up underneath the shaded, interior windows. He turned to the beds and silently cursed at the six covered men. He had no idea which one was Larabee. Ah well, so long as the sonofabitch died.
Marlowe pulled out both Sigs, tucked one into his front waistband for ease of retrieval, and in an eruption of ear-splitting blasts and vibrant, darkness-piercing flashes, he emptied the other Sig's magazine into every one of the motionless, defenseless men. Inside the confines of the room, unrelenting gun flare highlighted swirling smoke and sporadic movement in the beds as bullets ripped into their targets. He was halfway through the second magazine when the main light went on and the room buzzed into life.
Amidst the haze, Buck, Nathan, and Orin rose up from inside the laundry hampers, stood, and aimed their guns at the gunrunner. Ezra threw back the bloodied sheet from the bed in the corridor, sat up, and added his armed weight to the conflict. Chris, Josiah, and Vin burst out of the adjoining bathroom, their guns also trained on Marlowe, and JD slid out on his back and butt from under the spare bed and pointed his Colt toward the gunman
"HOLD IT MARLOWE, OR I'LL SHOOT YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF YOUR SHOULDERS!"
"STOP, DROP TO YOUR KNEES AND PLACE YOUR GUN ON THE FLOOR, NOW!"
Marlow twisted left and right as voices from all around him shouted orders to put down his weapons. In a split second, the gunrunner went from stunned, to furious. He turned his gun toward Chris, Vin, and Josiah and a shot went out, followed by a scream of pain. As a gun flew from lifeless fingers, Marlow cradled his empty, shattered hand to his chest, and stared back at Vin's smoking firearm. He glared at Chris.
"Shoot me, Larabee SHOOT ME DOWN! I killed the kid; I intended to kill you all. I deserve to die! SHOOT ME!"
"You're going to prison, Marlowe. No easy way out for you," Chris replied, much more calmly than he felt.
Marlowe turned his head at a throaty noise from behind him to see JD, in a semi-sitting-up position, and two-handedly pointing a gun at him.
"Got that wrong," the youth said with a wry grin.
Marlowe's gaze tracked to the bloodied bed in the hallway. Ezra, also armed, gave the man a mock-salute with a touch of fingers to his temple. It was then the gunrunner noticed numerous red dots dancing around on his shirt and his gaze shifted to the now shade-free windows, courtesy of Buck and Nathan. Faced with a half-dozen or so SWAT officers aiming Colt M4 Carbines at him, Marlow raised his free hand, removed the Sig from his waistband, bent over, and gestured he would set his remaining weapon down on the floor.
Instead, he aimed it directly at JD. The red dots traced their pathway and ended Marlowe's life in a hail of expertly aimed bullets.
The eight Feds watched Marlow's jerking, blood-pocked body drop to the floor. Organized chaos ensued as SWAT officers secured the room. One checked out Marlowe, and another, the gun in his hand.
"Gun was empty."
Chris let his eyes close. No retribution - the gunrunner was gone. Suddenly he felt his every ache and pain come to life. When he opened his eyes, he could see that the rest of his team was equally drained. He noted all eyes were directed at the beds, and for the first time he viewed the mayhem Marlowe had unleashed in the room.
Glimpses of tattered sheets, scrubs, and pillows, were revealed beneath bullet-ravaged bedcovers. Marlowe's aim was true. If the teammates had been in those beds, none of them would be alive now. Noise from the corridor alerted the men in the room to a gathering of around a dozen cops joining the SWAT team. A cuffed man struggled in the grip of two more SWAT officers as he was frog-marched into the room. JD, now on his feet, went another shade paler and pointed.
"He's the guy who shot at me."
With a sharp nod of consent from Travis, Marlowe's right-hand man was taken away, but not before he got a good look at his boss's bullet-ridden body lying in a puddle of gore. He was no longer struggling when he left. An officer stepped forward.
"Found him hiding up in the elevator's machine room."
Travis nodded his approval. He looked to the door when Doctor Finn arrived.
"The new room is ready." Seven nurses arrived pushing empty wheelchairs and lined up in the corridor.
"We can walk," Chris growled.
"I haven't even been admitted," JD protested.
"Just get in," Orin insisted, a small smile tugging at his lips as he watched each man begrudgingly do as ordered. Ezra was helped off the bed in the corridor and into the chair assigned to him. Unlike the others, he was openly grateful to be assisted away from a dirty, bloodied sheet and toward a nice, fresh bed.
Once all seven were settled in their new room one floor down, Orin filled them in.
"Trace evidence found on the body of one of Marlowe's deceased men led DPD to an abandoned building in downtown Denver. They staked it out, and eventually what was left of Marlowe's crew assembled for instructions, as previously arranged. Needless to say, with a charge of the attempted murder of Federal officers hanging over them, they became highly co-operative, and told us of Marlowe's intentions for you while you were still hospitalized."
He looked at JD, who was perched on Buck's bed. "Bellows, Marlowe's right-hand man, was ordered to take you out. That's why we put it out there that he'd succeeded, to convince Marlowe his plans were on track, and entice him out to make his move."
Buck subconsciously rested his hand against JD's back.
Sitting next to Chris's bedside, Travis smiled at his number one team leader. "Your idea to pad out the beds was inspired. Until you came up with it, apart from our planned diversion, we were unsure as to how to get Marlowe out of hiding and to show his hand without putting your lives in further jeopardy."
Larabee raised an eyebrow. "No wonder you agreed to us being armed."
"And heavily guarded," Vin added.
Travis stood. "Time for me to return to the office. Doctor Finn has agreed to discharge you all the day after tomorrow, and I've approved daily medical care to change bandages, etcetera. Chris, I can arrange for it to be at your ranch for all of you, one of our safe houses or a private clinic for all of you, or at your individual homes."
Larabee didn't need to consult with the others. "My place will be fine. Thanks, Judge."
"I'm not even admitted!" JD restated, his one arm nursing his bruised stomach, chest, and ribs.
Orin approached. "I know, John, but you need to heal too." He leaned in. "I also need you to look out for them, make sure they get their rest. Will you do that for me?"
Despite his discomfort, JD straightened. "Yessir, I can do that." He knew he was being patronized, sort of, but the eye contact from Travis assured him there was no disrespect intended. He watched Travis walk to the door, and felt Buck's hand move to grip his shoulder.
As several nurses came in to attend to them, Assistant Director Travis stood at the door and looked back at his men.
"Good work, all. Now rest up and heal properly, I need you."
A little later and grateful for the fresh bed and bandages, a weary Chris eyed the six men he'd allowed into his healing heart.
Vin was asleep - probably - never could tell with the wily Texan. Ezra was fiddling around with his cell phone, likely playing solitaire, or online poker. Josiah was reading a book, while Nathan padded from bed to bed checking each man's medical chart. Buck had said something to cause JD to laugh and hug his protesting ribs in the process.
Amazing to think that he could have picked any six cops to make up his team, yet no others had even been considered. He'd always been a firm believer in that you make your own luck, but in the case of Team Seven, he'd decided fate had a hand in bringing them together.
Seeing JD look his way, Chris crooked a finger and the young agent joined him.
"Just wanted to say 'thanks'."
JD frowned. "Uh, okay. Why?" Chris beckoned him closer and JD leaned in.
"I heard what you said - when I was still out of it. I had no intentions of leaving, Kid, but I was grateful for the push your words gave me." He winked. "And I won't be ripping you a new one for taking Vin from his sickbed and bringing him to visit me, either."
Seeing JD lost for words, Chris gestured toward Buck, who was watching as if he knew exactly what was being said.
"Buck and me have kept each other grounded for a long time. We have a kind of - unspoken understanding. Thanks for not giving up on me."
JD swallowed around the lump in his throat. His voice was husky as he spoke. "That'll never happen, Bossman. Never." With a tight smile, he placed a hand on Chris's arm, and then returned to Buck's bedside.
Chris allowed himself a smile as he watched JD return to his surrogate big brother and receive a one-armed embrace.
These were good, brave men, every one of them. Several attempts by crooks to take the team down had failed, and though all teammates, at various times, paid the price with injuries, they always bounced back more determined than ever.
Chris sighed softly and touched a hand to his bandaged head. This time was too close for comfort. Not one of them had escaped injury, and yet here they all were, getting on with it as if being on the top of a hit list, and shot, was an everyday occurrence.
"Work tomorrow?" Chris asked with a wry smile.
Five of them looked his way, and then grinned.
Tanner spoke, his eyes still closed. "Maybe next week," he drawled.
The blond chuckled softly and settled down to get some rest. He knew their return to work would likely be sooner, rather than later, and Chris Larabee, Team Seven's notorious leader, was looking forward to it.
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