Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Characters: JD, Seven
Summary: Stoicism doesn't come as naturally to some as it does to others.
Thank you for taking care of my stories, Blackraptor, your generosity is always appreciated.
I wanna cry.
Actually I want to puke, then cry.
But I won't, I can't, at least not while I'm in the presence of these six men, and certainly not here, in our favorite watering hole. Later though, and when I'm home and in my own room - well, that's a different story.
I can't get today's bust out of my head. I don't regret leaving the command center, but I doubt anything I ponder on doing differently will take away this queasiness in the pit of my stomach, or the images looping around in my mind, after having to kill a man today.
Shoot, the guys are laughing about something Ezra said, better join in and keep up the charade - for now, anyway.
Chris and Vin killed men today. Are they putting up a front, too? Or are they really that hardened to it all? I mean - they were good shootings, justified in every way; the kind of end I imagined would only happen to the bad guys. But the reality of seeing a man's head explode...oh God, no, don't go there, I'll barf up the two bites of whatever it was I ordered - can't even remember what I asked for.
I'm thirsty, but I dare not pick up my glass right now, for some reason my darned hands are shaking, and I don't want the guys to see. There's that look from Chris - the one that says he knows - I reckon Buck does, too. Not sure about Vin, he gives nothing away, just like Ezra. Real cool those two.
Inside the warehouse, I was so focused on the suspect I saw about to take out Buck I didn't know two more were behind me. How could I have let that happen? I aimed for the guy's shoulder, but just as I fired he must've ducked down or something, and my bullet hit his head. Then another two gunshots sounded - one bullet actually whistled past my ear, and then it was as if time stopped. I feel pretty dumb now, because my feet literally wouldn't move directly after the gunfire. Next thing I know, Buck's talking to me and taking - no - prying my gun out of my hand. I remember looking up and seeing Buck's face, he had some real nasty blood spatter on it; and then I glanced higher and saw Vin, still in position up in the rafters, and staring back at me. Couldn't tell what he was thinking. Buck, however, had that expression for when he's worried about me. Why was he concerned about me? He was the one with brains dripping off his face.
Oh man, my stomach.
When Chris apologized to me for letting his man get away from him, I realized that he must have fired the second shot. Nice of him to do that, apologize, I mean. It's not like he needed to or anything. I reckon I'd have been less rattled now had I just walked straight outta that building like Buck told me to; but no, I just had to look back. It's a real eye-opener to see how much damage a bullet can make to a skull...
...Oh God, gotta go.
I sure hope my mumbled excuse to use the bathroom came out the same way it sounded in my head.
What kind of fool do you think I am, Kid? I know you're hurting 'cause I am, too.
Man, I'll never forget what he did for me today, but I feel bad I'm the cause of his pain. Sure, I know he was doing his job, just like Vin and Chris did directly afterwards, but JD's not as seasoned as we are - not yet anyway - and although he's hiding it, I can see he's struggling. Mind you, the green tinge to his face gives away a lot, too.
He's barely touched his chili fries, and he loves those. What's he had, about two bites? He keeps glancing at Vin and Chris. Vin looks unaffected, but JD'll learn soon enough that at times like this, Tanner's a man of deep, and often hidden emotions. Won't get much info from his expression. Chris on the other hand just shot the kid a look - and JD read it perfectly. Oww! Okay, Stud, no need to kick me under the table, I'm on it.
Our bust went to hell today. Those assholes sure didn't want to go down without a fight. Reckon there's a bigger story there, the others think so, too. No doubt something we'll look into at a later date. I didn't see the guy behind me, but JD did - appeared from nowhere when he was supposed to be in the surveillance van. Chris might rip him a new one for that, but he'll hear him out first, especially as I'd likely be dead now if the kid hadn't broken protocol.
Whoo, now there's a thought.
I reckon JD heard or saw something that prompted his decision to join us, but our comms were suffering interference due to the thickness of the walls and roof of the concrete building. JD warned us it might happen. He was proven right, and if he'd obeyed orders and stayed put - well, enough said about that already.
I know Chris will be fair. He's tough, and hard-edged, but a great leader.
Oooh, that's not a good color, JD, and now he's off somewhere; I think to the bathroom, but I couldn't understand a word of what he just mumbled. Jeeze, there's the kick again. I was going anyway, Larabee, quit glaring.
Today we got away with what might have been a blood bath, so I should be satisfied, relieved even - but I'm not. How can I be when myself, and two of my agents had to each kill a man today? Just because death may be an ultimate outcome in our profession, it's not a development we aim for - pardon the pun.
Vin knows each bust could result in him taking a man down. Whether it's to even the odds, or to protect one of our own, he's prepared to make that decision. Doesn't mean pulling the trigger is any less raw for him, though. Like all of us, Vin's about saving lives, not taking, but his particular expertise puts him right at the top of the list when it comes to being odds on to make the shot.
As for JD killing a man today - aahhh, that's a tough break. He's becoming a first-rate agent - and just where I'd want him to be - but in about five years time. Right now, he's already way ahead of anyone I've mentored before, and there's no doubt in my mind it's not just because he's smart, but also because he's with the best on-the-job tutors he could wish for.
And there's the rub. JD's five-year training program with us because he's too young to be a full field agent, means he's a kid doing a man's job. He always comes through for the team but, unlike the rest of us, he takes way longer to come to terms with the more traumatic events, and after a death at his own hands - especially so. I need him to keep in mind that if he hadn't been so sharp today, I'd have lost my longest-standing bud, he'd have lost his big brother, and the team would be an irreplaceable friend down. JD's actions may have left him wide open to attack, but his focus was on saving a man as dear to him as family, even if it meant taking a life to do so.
If the asswipe I was chasing hadn't tried to flatten me with about a dozen or so stacked gun cases, he wouldn't have gotten within twenty feet of the kid. But he did, along with another of the loose cannons we were trying to round up. I was right on the guy's tail. I saw him stop and take aim, and didn't need to think, I instinctively knew which man Vin would take out as if the Texan had yelled it out to me from the rafters. Two seconds later, three dirtbags were dead.
Vin's sitting there and flipping coasters, a sure sign he's preoccupied, but as to what with, I'm not sure. He's been watching JD, so maybe this is one time someone else's dilemma is helping him work through his own demons. Okay, I've caught his eye, I'm in his head now, he knows I'm with him. As for JD, the kid's not eating, and he's pretending to follow the conversation, but judging by his skin tone, he's close to serenading the toilet bowl. Kid, your bluff's not fooling me, or anyone else for that matter.
Are you seeing this, Buck? Don't look at me like that, I hardly touched you. What did you expect, a verbal request? Actually, now I look around, I can see Josiah, Ezra, and Nathan are on board with our two youngest's demeanors. Vin's we understand, been there with him before and know how to deal with it, JD - not so much. He tries to act all tough, but he's not there yet. And I'm okay with that. He has plenty of time to get casehardened - like us. Truth is, we're still working on it. The day we feel nothing, it's over.
Nathan, I swear, if you don't stop eyeballing me…
Shit, JD's gone an impressive shade of green. And he's off. Go on get after him Pard. That kick was for fun, I knew Buck would tag along.
Blood red and goin' down - that's what I see through my sight, and it tells me I succeeded - my target's no longer a threat. While I'd prefer never to take the shot, if I do, I don't dwell on it - too much. I remind myself that whoever I'm aimin' at chose to bring a gun to the party, and then point it at someone I care about.
I know you're watchin' me, Cowboy. Reckon you should keep your focus on JD, Kid looks like he's about to puke.
I'm always prepared for the worst, but today turned to crap way faster than anyone could have anticipated. JD wasn't happy about us goin' into that buildin', warned us we'd likely lose touch due to the structural composition. He was right. Earwigs went down seconds after we went in - our cells, a minute later.
Chris had two suspects comin' at him, so from my position I tracked one guy until Josiah moved in and took over. The other broke away after topplin' boxes over Chris. My heart skipped a beat thinkin' Chris was underneath all that armory, but then, through my scope, I saw him goin' after the guy. I followed the action across the warehouse floor and that's when I saw the jerkass comin' up behind Buck.
The kid appeared from nowhere. I saw him fire and my attention went on the guy Chris was chasin', who was now closin' in on JD and about to shoot. Thing is, another random dirtbag appeared, gun aimed on the kid, too. I knew which guy Chris would take out, so I fired on the other.
Chris glanced up at me before he kicked away the downed perps' guns. I kept my eye on JD, but he seemed frozen to the spot - shock, I figured. His target took a headshot. Grisly. Once JD looked my way, I relaxed my position and scoped around the interior. The guys and our backup had the scene contained. Time for the inquisition. Sure wish I could've spared JD that experience. It sucks.
Quit tryin' to read me, Ezra, you got your own battle to fight.
Hup, Kid's off to the head. Figured he was runnin' out of time. Is Buck gonna go...? Good, JD shouldn't try to handle this alone.
He ain't me.
How did I not anticipate the outcome today? I was fully aware of my nefarious associates' determination to make the deal, but somehow missed their utter doggedness to succeed at any cost.
And look how that turned out.
Buck was almost lost to us, and I believe that, had not Chris and Vin acted swiftly, maybe JD, too.
Aahhh, Mister Dunne.
How must he be feeling right now? Judging by his pallor, I would deduce the boy is suffering, and it leaves me to ponder whether I was remiss in my duties. Could I have been more astute while dealing with the felonious cretins I was tasked to trade with? Of course, my question is not only rhetorical, but also redundant, the post-bust briefing established it to be so, but it leaves me no less aware of how the actions of any persona I assume may impinge on my teammates, three of whom were today forced to take a life.
Now they must come to terms with that reality, and yes, Vin, I am very aware of how you work through your demons. You and I are somewhat alike in that area.
So for now, let us focus on the positives, we are all alive and physically unharmed.
Many would say I'm old enough to know better, but when it comes to the aftermath of a bad bust I'm always saddened, even angry, to see how affected one, some, or all of the team can be by the outcome. All they do is their job, but the pain and anguish it can sometimes cause makes my heart ache for them. Huh, I guess that makes me no less afflicted than they are. How did I miss that?
Take Ezra for example. After every bust he sits amongst us cool, calm, and collected, but has often been in the thick of the action, albeit mostly detached from the gunplay. He knows he's no less vulnerable than the rest of us to a stray - or not-so-stray - bullet, yet always remains remarkably composed before, during, and after our assignments. I can only guess as to how much stress he undergoes on each occasion - to develop into a new persona, time, after time, after time.
Many have cracked under such pressure, and who's to say Ezra won't also? But should he begin to travel that desolate path, it won't go unnoticed. Nathan has direct orders from Chris to watch for signs - not that our exceptionally astute leader needed to make that directive, Nathan will always do so, regardless - for all of us. Then there's the rest of us. So tuned in are we as a group, the chance of someone sliding under the radar is remote.
As I sit here pondering, and profiling my brothers of the heart, I can see our resident medic is fretting. His concern goes into overdrive if any of us is hurt, be it physically, or mentally, but like us all, if it's regarding our two youngest, and especially JD, Nathan gets positively apoplectic. It takes a lot for any of us to admit to being in pain, especially of the mind. Vin tends to lock his feelings away deep inside, whereas JD - well, while he acts tough, that poor boy struggles to hide his emotions at any time, which is why we all become so affected when he's burdened. It's just so torturous to witness. I'm not strictly a religious man, but today I find myself praying for tomorrow to come so we may start anew.
I note glances from Ezra and Nathan, so I'll nod to show I'm on their wavelength. I see JD's dilemma, brothers, as do Chris, Vin, and Buck. It's just a matter of seconds now before Buck follows after the lad...yup, there he goes. The silence of those of us left around the table is profound, and I get the distinct impression everyone here is of the same mind.
I didn't expect Vin to be the first of us to move, though.
I hate this. Everyone nattering away like it's a normal day, yet it's been anything but. What is it with these guys that they have to blow off any attempt I make to get them to talk things through? I reckon if they did, and especially today, maybe JD would look less green around the gills, and Vin and Ezra wouldn't look like they were - well - I'm not sure what they look like, but I know they're not right. Being an EMT can sometimes be as much about helping to heal the mind, as the body.
And then there's Chris. A great leader, strong, experienced, and inspirational, but I know he's struggling, too. Partly for himself, but mostly for Vin and JD. Reckon he'd rather have taken out all three perps than have either of those two involved. Not to mention the near-loss of Buck weighing heavy on his mind.
Don't be glaring at me, Larabee, I can read you more than you know.
What's this now? Right, JD excusing himself is just the opportunity I need to…and there goes Buck, shouldn't really be surprised about that. I'll suggest we leave and head for the CDC for a little R&R. Huh, Vin's leaving too? Okay, now I'm worried, and by the way we've all stood up together, I'm not the only one.
Buck pushed open the door of the men's restroom to find JD in a stall. He was kneeling on the floor and shivering, while hugging the toilet bowl. Grabbing some paper towels from a dispenser and wetting them, Buck helped JD to his feet, wiped his face, and brought him out from the confinement of the cubicle.
JD moved to a washbasin and turned on the faucet to wash his hands. Catching water in his cupped palm, he took a few gulps, swooshed the cool liquid around the inside of his mouth, and spat away the bad taste. He rested both hands on the bowl to steady himself, and from the mirror in front of him, looked back at Buck.
Buck squeezed the youth's shoulder. "Nothing to apologize for, Squirt. We've all been there one time or another."
JD turned to face the man, perching his butt against the sink as he did so to disguise his temporary infirmity. "It's not just that I shot a man, though that's bad enough, but, when I saw the mess the bullet made of his head..." JD swallowed hard several times before looking into Buck's eyes.
"He had you dead to rights."
Buck cupped his hand around the back of JD's neck. "No he didn't, because you stopped him," he said, softly.
JD lowered his head and sighed. "Why can't I be more like Chris and Vin? They killed men, too, yet..."
Buck bent his knees to look into JD's eyes. "You are who you are, Kid, don't look to change. Trust me, once alone, Chris and Vin will deal with today in their own way - while knowing they have six brothers to be there for them if needed." The hand around JD's neck pulled the young agent in close and the pair stood straight. "Do you?"
JD fisted the back of Buck's shirt and hid his face.
"I'm not gonna cry."
There was a pause.
"I'm not, not here, anyway."
Buck smiled. "Y-e-a-h."
JD looked up. Buck could see he was washed out. "Please, Buck, don't let anyone see me like this," JD whispered.
Buck glanced to the semi-open door, where five men peeked in at them. He winked and Vin quietly closed the door.
"I won't let anyone in here, Kid, I promise." Buck shook his head and squeezed JD tighter. "We men and our darned, foolish pride, huh?"
After a minute or so, JD pulled away from Buck, and turned back to the washbasin to splash water over his face. Using fresh paper towels, he patted his face dry.
"Do you think the guys would mind if I go home?"
Buck straightened up from his resting place against another hand basin. "Nah. Come on, I'll drive you - just need go tell the guys we're heading out."
"Do you think they'll come too...the guys? Chris said we didn't have to be in early tomorrow."
Buck's unreserved grin lit up his face as he moved to leave. "You bet they will. I'll be right back."
Re-entering the bar, Buck wasn't at all surprised to see his five friends and teammates with their jackets on and standing to one side of their favorite booth.
"Meet you at the CDC?" Chris more stated, than asked.
Buck nodded. "Thanks, fellas."
Ezra tapped a sealed deck of cards before popping them back into his jacket pocket. "Perhaps a little poker therapy is in order?"
Vin nodded. "I'm in. Wasn't in the mood for sleepin' anyway."
Chris offered a crooked grin. "Sounds good. I'll grab some snacks on the way." He stared at Buck and waited for a response.
Buck smiled in understanding of the silent inquiry. "It's gonna be a long night, but he's over the worst, I reckon."
"Doubtful," Nathan interjected, "but at least this way will make the process less daunting."
A peaked JD's quiet appearance caused all eyes to turn his way. The boy's pale features instantly flushed at the attention and he bowed his head. JD sensed someone approach and put an arm around his shoulders. He looked up to find bright blue eyes looking down at him.
"I've got a hankerin' for cookie dough ice cream, and I know you got some in your freezer." Vin watched JD's blush of color drain away at the mention of food, and could sense the others around him tense up. The Texan surprised them all by smiling. "Looks like it'll be all mine then, huh?"
JD stared at Vin for several seconds before he grinned, chuckled, and then full on laughed. "Thanks, Vin. I needed that."
Vin started walking, taking JD along with him. "Need whatever you like, Kid, just not the cookie dough ice cream."
As the pair walked toward the bar's exit, five men quietly congratulated each other.
"And how are you doing, Chris?" Nathan asked.
Despite not surprised by the question, Larabee's eyebrows rose. He bobbed his head toward the two youngest agents. "Better than Vin, and considerably more so than JD." His jaw nerve twitched and as he glanced between Vin and JD, his expression hardened.
"Taking a life sucks, but I wish I'd been the one to kill all three suspects."
Nathan smiled knowingly to himself on hearing Chris's admission, and amidst understanding nods and slaps to Chris's back; the five men followed Vin and JD out of the bar.
Feels good to step outside. Wow, lightning, that big storm they forecast's gonna hit any minute. Funny how, even as the thunder rolls, and this heavy, electric atmosphere builds, I feel like a weight's being lifted off my shoulders.
I hate to be seen as the emotionally weakest of the group, but maybe it's time to accept that's just how I roll. All my life with Mom, she encouraged me to never be afraid to show emotion, so I didn't. It's a hard habit to break. Figured that, as I got older, I'd grow out of it, like a man should. But I haven't. At least I've seen that Buck's not a whole lot different to me in that department, and although the other guys are more experienced than I am, I know they struggle too sometimes.
And it helps - a little.
Hey, looks like it's all back to our place. I'm not really surprised my bluff failed, it's not easy to get one over on these guys. Not that I take pleasure in trying, I just wanted them to believe I was keeping it together, like they seem to do. If I just hadn't looked back at the guy I shot I'd have been...oh crap, don't go there, JD, not again.
I sure could use a horse ride soon, get out into wide-open spaces, and breathe in clean, fresh air. Perhaps I'll mention it to Chris, later. I won't get in his way if he's got plans, besides, he's said plenty of times that if any of us ever wanted to get out of the city, to just drop by his place. I guess Vin's okay with that, his bond with Chris an' all. Me, I'll ask first. Be kinda neat if we all ended up going out there, though.
W-h-o-a, Vin's staring at me like he knows what I'm thinking. Nah, don't be stupid, JD, 'course he doesn't. Can't help wondering what the look was for though. I guess if it's important, he'll tell me at some point. Seems like Vin's leaving his Jeep here and traveling with Chris. He must've had more to drink than I realized.
I can't believe it's still early. Will this day never end? I'm so tired I can barely get up into Buck's truck. Huh? All right Bro, I'm buckling up, see?
Did I just hear Buck right? Chris has asked all of us over to his place for the weekend? Wow, I can't believe it, I got what I wanted, and judging by Vin's wink, he really can read minds.
Man, it's been some kinda day.