Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Characters: JD, OC
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Thank you to Nancy for hosting my stories :o)
Summary: An unexpected development tests JD's observational skills, and the team's tracking skills - amongst other things
Standing in the middle of a vacant car lot in the noonday sun would not usually be a personal choice, but posing as Jake Dunstan - teenage liaison between his 'boss', Edward Stanton, and a weapons dealer for the People's Free Choice Organization, had determined the time and location.
ATF Agent JD Dunne glanced back toward the black sapphire metallic BMW sedan. Wearing suits and mirrored sunglasses, Ezra Standish and Vin Tanner were nonchalantly resting against its hood while waiting for the dealers to arrive. Inside a nearby empty, boarded up showroom, Buck and Josiah were sitting in a surveillance van, their assignment being to capture every image and utterance of dialogue; a task usually allotted to JD.
But not today.
Today he was center stage, though all he needed to do was introduce Ezra to the merchandisers and then exit stage left. JD had done the donkeywork and connected with a youth working for Team Seven's target group, but with JD being unarmed on this occasion, Chris wanted him out of there before Ezra and Vin 'closed the deal'.
For his safety, JD wasn't wired either, so when a white Ford Transit rolled into the lot, he missed Vin's veiled acknowledgement of it to the rest of the team. When the vehicle pulled up next to him, JD leaned in through the driver's window and smiled.
The youth sitting next to the driver smiled back. "Hi, Jake. Mister Flack, this is Jake."
Flack gestured. "That your boss over there by the Beamer?"
JD nodded. "Yessir. You want for me to introduce you?"
"Be a waste of my time if you didn't," Flack sniped.
With a nod, JD straightened. "Jackass," he mumbled, before signaling for Ezra to join them.
Ezra smoothed down his already immaculate jacket. "I believe the term is 'ShowTime', is it not, Mister Tanner?"
Mirrored lenses flashed in the sunlight as Tanner glanced around. "Sounds about right," Vin replied, his indifference making him appear unconcerned; however his teammates knew this was Vin at his deadliest, the moments before it could all kick off.
Noise suddenly had both men fully alert and staring beyond the deserted lot and to the surrounding approach roads. "What the…?"
Inside the ATF surveillance van, two men waited for events to unfold. "I hate that the kid's unarmed," Buck sighed.
The van door slid open and Chris and Nathan joined them. While not in the mood to calculate any extra weapons stashed amongst his team, Chris mentally allowed for them all the same. "JD's got at *least* twelve guns covering him,"
Buck's left eyebrow rose, "Sure, and a trouble streak a mile wide following him around."
He saw JD resting on the newly arrived vehicle's windowsill and Buck leaned forward, not wanting to miss a syllable being picked up by the parabolic mic. However, it was another sound that caused him and his three companions to look around in alarm.
"What the hell…?" Chris was dialing his cell even as he was hastily exiting the van.
On hearing approaching sirens, a puzzled JD straightened and looked around the back of the stationary Transit and toward one of the highways. "Looks like there's a police chase on…whup!"
At the same time as the Ford's idling engine roared to life and its wheels spun on the tarmac, the back doors flew open and hands hauled JD inside.
"We're outta here."
"But…Hey!" JD's appeal fell on deaf ears. The doors slammed shut when the Transit made a dizzying 180 degree turn and tore out of the lot, causing him and Leon to whirl helplessly on their backs along the van's floor.
"My Boss…!" JD tried again.
"…Is on his own, Kid. If he ain't arrested you'll see him later, for now, I'm hauling ass."
All JD could do was attempt to find purchase, while visualizing what Chris, or Buck for that matter, was going to say when this guy disappeared from view.
To head Lord knows where.
Swirling, choking dust intermingled with squealing tires, and while whining sirens were left for others to deal with, Vin's eyes, sans glasses, tracked the flight of the Ford. His jacket came off, and moments later Tanner was bolting across the blacktop to pace the van's line along the highway. With a clatter, his booted toes rattled the lot's rusty chain link fencing as he half-climbed, half-threw himself up and over the eight foot obstruction, to land with a surefooted squat on the crumbling, weed-dotted sidewalk below.
But that was as far as the glistening, panting Texan got as his steely blue stare saw the Ford power through the oncoming dust and mayhem and head off. It quickly became clear that the intruding hunters and prey had eyes on only their own issues, and weren't even aware of the disappearing Transit.
Vin's gun was in his hand a split-second before Buck's voice registered in his racing mind and he actually jolted. "Jeezus, Bucklin…"
"We gotta go; we don't have a tracker on JD, but he's got his phone." Even as Buck spoke, they were running back toward Ezra, who was approaching in the BMW.
"Who are these yahoos?" Vin demanded.
"Tomorrow morning's target practice for Chris," Buck replied. He glanced briefly at what seemed more like a scene from the Dukes of Hazard than reality, as cars followed each other in circles and dust and rubble spattered into the air. Seconds later, the BMW, closely followed by the rest of the team in the surveillance van, were in pursuit of the Ford and calling for their assigned and waiting backup to follow.
JD was determined to get out of this mess. "Dude, Mister Flack, I can get out here and…"
"Sit tight boy, I've been at this too long to get caught now."
"But, my boss," JD reasoned.
Flack's wild gaze flew to his rearview and wing mirrors. "Is following us and bringing a heap of trouble along with him, damnit."
JD pulled out his iPhone. "No sweat, I'll call him…" He was just a millisecond too slow in stopping an irritated Flack from reaching back and snatching the phone away.
"Damnit, kid, are you *trying* to get us arrested? Your boss could trace this and bring the cops right down on us with him." Moments later the cell phone was sailing out of the semi-open side window.
Dunne bit back a groan as his last hope flew through the window and bounced out of view. Even before spotting a large automatic weapon close to Flack's hand, he was already convinced that jumping and taking a risk on surviving the van's breakneck speed might not be the wisest plan.
"We'll get you back soon, Jake, don't worry," Leon promised.
Resigned to his fate, JD sat back, hugged his knees to his chest and focused on staring out of the van's back windows to memorize their route. If the guys didn't catch up soon, he might need the information.
"Get outta the way!"
The Beamer's horn blared persistently as Vin's frustration spilled into the physical. With one hand clinging to an interior grab handle, and while sitting on the sill of the sedan's open back window, Buck was waving his free arm wildly. It wasn't helping to clear the circling squad cars, but he felt he was contributing.
"Vincent! It's becoming near impossible to steer with your arm permanently crossed over my hands."
The escaping Transit was becoming a dot on the horizon and Ezra wasn't dealing with it well. He was finally forced to slow to a halt when a police unit screeched to a gravel-raising stop in front of the BMW. As he took a calming breath, the undercover agent and his companions watched Chris march from the barely-stopped surveillance van and across to the slowing cop cars. It wasn't rocket science to work out what their intrepid leader was bellowing at them. A slight breeze alerted Ezra to the fact that Vin and Buck had exited the car. His open palm slammed against the wheel in annoyance of their bust going wrong.
"What the hell just happened, here?"
Chris Larabee was beyond furious. He glowered at the uniformed officer approaching him before letting loose. "What the hell are you doing here? We're conducting a field operation – or at least, we were." He pointed after the distant dust cloud that was once the Ford.
In a placating gesture, the officer held up his hands at the guy with the Federal ID. "We were chasing down some liquor store robbers. It spilled out to here." He too pointed. "In case you haven't noticed, we lost our guys, too."
Chris stopped in front of the man. "Point taken, but your perps didn't take off with one of your men, did they?" Argument made, Larabee turned away from the dumbstruck cop. "Call it in! Inside the van I just exited, is a guy who'll give you the details."
Buck and Vin joined him. "We can still catch 'em," Vin insisted.
"Why'd they take the kid?" Buck wondered aloud. "Do you think they made him?"
"Not possible," Chris insisted. "Problem now is we could endanger him further by taking off after them." But even as he spoke, Chris was directing the team to follow.
JD noted the fast disappearing urban skyline opening out to cloudless blue skies, rocky landscapes, and pockets of scrawny trees and scrubland, which, apart from a lot of dust being kicked up, was pretty much all he'd seen for some while. If this was Denver, he would have felt more confident, but this was New Mexico, and he was unfamiliar with the area.
Larabee wanted to close this case, the roots of which were firmly embedded in New Jersey and which had been passed to the team via Travis. Oddly, it wasn't a difficult trail to follow, and so hadn't proven too much of a challenge, but the main players in this organization had eluded capture at every turn. The Feds needed a warm body to finally get the edge on a group that were dealing in progressively more cutting-edge armory; and had no conscience as to who bought it from them. JD became their lead after he uncovered Leon's association with the group.
Leon's voice washed over him and JD snapped out of his pondering. He blinked hard and did a double take through one of the windows. 'What was that...?' He unlinked his hands and placed his palms on the floor of the Transit to steady himself as the ride got rougher.
There – again!
Their course was more short spurts and turns now, along small dusty streets lined with what looked like buildings that reminded him of – old westerns. When the light faded and cavernous, interior walls replaced the buildings, JD realized they were driving into a huge building.
Wherever they had been heading for – it would seem they'd arrived.
Using an ever-present evidence bag, Vin held it at eye level and stared at the iPhone within. Still squatting on his haunches from its retrieval at the roadside, he stared around before addressing his five teammates. "No wonder GPS has JD stationary."
He didn't want to say aloud how he'd hoped they'd find the kid unharmed and sitting at the roadside waiting for a ride, because he knew the others had been hoping for the self-same thing. As he stood, his eyes met Buck's haunted gaze.
The brunet shook his head. "Six of us, and we couldn't protect him."
"He's a good agent, Buck…"
"I *know* that," Buck hissed at Josiah. "But what if it's not enough before we can find him?"
"It will be." Chris's boots crunched over the gravel as he returned to their vehicles. "He's got good instincts, and great teachers." He signaled to one of the cops backing them up. "We need a BOLO on the Ford."
"Already done, sir."
Chris pointed. "What's out there?"
The cop shrugged. "Miles of desert."
"Let's go!" Buck called, impatiently.
Chris raised one hand. "We need to regroup." His gaze fell on Vin and Ezra's suits. "Let's get a change of clothes, and check out a map of the area."
Buck was about to disagree when a friendly squeeze to the arm from Nathan stopped him. Buck knew it made sense to be more tactically prepared and without a word, he nodded and climbed into the BMW.
Tanner glanced at Larabee, then looked out to the horizon. "Faster we get geared up, better the chance of pickin' up the trail."
Chris nodded. "Damn straight. Let's do this."
A yawning building swallowed up the Ford. JD watched Flack jump out of the driver's seat and then open the van's back doors. "Let's go."
Standing, JD followed Leon to the doors and jumped down onto the concrete floor. From there, the three walked toward a mobile office, where JD was instructed to enter. Inside, the place was virtually empty, apart from a few desks and chairs. JD was ushered toward the faded blue material of the room's only couch and told to 'chill'.
Leon disappeared off into another room and returned with two cold Dr. Peppers, one of which he offered to JD. The young agent was extremely grateful for the gesture. A combination of nerves, adrenalin, and heat had made him thirsty. After lubricating his dry throat, he spoke to the man hunched over a computer.
"Mister Flack, sir, I really need to call in."
"Just sit, boy. I need to know how much trouble I'm in."
JD puffed out a frustrated breath. He needed more information. He turned to Leon. "Is this where you hang out?"
"Sometimes. The next warehouse over is full of guns…"
The youth swallowed. "Sorry Mister Flack, but – well, Jake's one of us, right?"
"Hardly," the man snapped, his gaze never moving from the computer monitor. There was an awkward silence.
"So," JD tried. "This some kind of movie set, Leon?"
He nodded. "Yeah, once. These aren't really warehouses, they're called sound stages." Leon jumped up. "Can I show Jake around, Mister Flack?"
Flack finally relaxed. All his contacts confirmed that, apart from a BOLO on the Ford, little else was happening. He was in the clear. "Just a quick tour while I finish up here. We need to get Jakey boy back to his boss. We got a deal to complete."
With a flash of hope, JD stood. "I can call him?"
"Soon. Like I said, I need to make a few calls of my own, first."
Leon grabbed JD's arm. "Come on, just a quick look around. This place is really neat."
For a brief moment, the agent in JD nursed the necessity to let his team know he was okay, and that he'd found the guns, but due to the rare spark in Leon's eyes, and confident neither Flack nor the guns were going anywhere soon, JD's inner child produced a grin. "Sure." He glanced longingly back at the computer. Maybe it wasn't the only one on site…
Now dressed more comfortably in jeans, shirts, and boots, six agents stood outside their rented SUV and studied the area the tracks had led them to earlier. Vin, Chris, and Buck were hunched over an open map draped across the truck's hood. Josiah and Nathan scanned field glasses over the desert landscape, while Ezra used JD's laptop to run a satellite link over the region.
"God bless you for all your marvelous little tweaks and additions, Mister Dunne," Ezra whispered to himself as he interpreted the Intel produced.
Leaving the map, Vin walked along the breeze-swept road that once carried tracks of the Ford and stared along its vast stretch. He sniffed the air, and tilted his head as he got a feel for the range.
"How far out is the nearest town?"
Buck joined him. "Miles. Why?"
Buck sniffed. "What?"
Vin concentrated. "Not sure. Got a notion somethin's out there other than dust and brushwood."
All attention turned to Ezra.
"The satellite images are showing a settlement of some design…" he pointed off the beaten track. "Around thirty miles that direction."
"Says here it's an abandoned sound and stage set." Chris looked up from his phone and noted the interested looks. "What? I can Google. I just choose not to." He approached Vin. "What is it you can sense?"
Vin's cheek dimpled. "Not sure. Kinda smells like – seasoned wood. Just got a trace of it on the breeze."
"There's no recently recorded name for the property," Ezra added.
"Suggests it's pretty old, then," Josiah said.
"We could use a chopper to do a sweep," Nathan suggested.
"Already have one doing so. I'll call in and tell them to focus on this area…" Chris replied, "…find out what we're dealing with."
The conversations drifted over Buck's head as he wandered a little way along the road. Four hours on and no word from, or sign of, JD. They had no solid idea which way to search, and even the local cops failed to unearth anything useful that would help.
Buck was well aware of the kid's capabilities, but this situation was becoming intolerable. He felt sure JD would have found a way to communicate if he could, so he was left fearing that maybe his surrogate kid brother was in real trouble, and they were pretty powerless to help right now.
"I vote we head for the structures until something else turns up."
Buck hadn't planned to speak aloud, but when he noted the positive responses, he was glad he had. However, when six cell phones beeped for attention simultaneously, there was no hesitation as to their next move.
JD twisted and turned in awe as he and Leon walked streets that transported them into a ragged, rugged Wild West. An old saloon, stores, hotels, a building that was once a mission; JD couldn't tell if their faded conditions were intentional or due to neglect. There was even a graveyard. He stared into it and a strange feeling washed over him. He could picture a shootout here almost as if it had just occurred. There was even a tree big enough from which to hang someone.
"Wow," Leon said. "Imagine being buried in a place like this – uh, I mean, you know, a real one."
Shaking off the odd mood, JD nodded. "Yeah." He glanced back at the town. "Must've been real neat back then. Riding, shooting, hunting, tracking." His eyes twinkled as he considered the possibilities. "Real neat."
"What do you think you'd have been? A rancher? Outlaw…"
Leon's eyes widened.
JD grinned awkwardly. "I like the badge." To change the subject, he pointed to a small office well away from the other. "What's that?"
Leon shrugged. "Couldn't say. All I know is I gotta keep out of there."
Approaching, JD peeked in through the window. "It's got a computer."
"Wouldn't surprise me."
JD pleaded with his companion. "Look, I got a curfew, and at this rate, I'm gonna miss it. There's this guy, Josiah, he helps run a shelter for folk like us. If I don't let him know I'm okay, he's gonna have half the force out here searching."
Leon looked uncertain.
"I swear, one email, and I'm done. Deal?" He grinned. "C'mon, buddy. Deal?"
Leon glanced around nervously, and then nodded. "Okay, go. Do it, quick."
JD went to work on the office's door lock.
"This Josiah fella."
JD glanced back. "Yeah."
"He a good man?"
JD smiled. "One of the best. He gets kids off the streets, helps them to find security, friends, a home, even."
"D'you think…d'you think he'd help someone like me?"
Stopping for a moment, JD nodded. "Sure. You want me to set up a meeting?"
There was a pause. "Yeah. Haven't had me any kind of real home for as long as I can remember."
The door lock popped open and JD grinned and glanced Heavenward. 'Thank you Ezra'. He briefly turned back to Leon. "Consider it done."
While Leon kept watch, JD quickly stepped inside. It wasn't long before the familiar hum and glow of a computer and monitor filled the bare, echoey space. Within minutes, JD had typed and copied as many details of his whereabouts as he could to six addresses, along with attaching some files he'd found that seemed particularly interesting. Taking great care and skill to cover his tracks, he shut down the workstation.
It was down to the guys, now.
Manfred Flack was much more relaxed since logging on. Apart from nothing on the news, his outlying security for the location had reported that there was a chopper overhead earlier, but now, all was quiet. As he prepared to switch off his computer and move from his position to the barracks area of the site, a newsreel of a police press conference that was playing on the monitor caught his eye. He leaned over to turn up the volume.
"So Detective, are you now saying that the earlier information suggesting an ATF arms bust earlier today which was rumored to have been disrupted by your own officers, is untrue?"
The detective addressed the reporter and the camera pointing at him. "Quemado County Sheriff's Office can't comment at this time, except to say that our officers have conducted no such operation on this day."
The female reporter pushed her microphone closer. "So you're unable to substantiate reports that a police officer was taken during the confusion?" She didn't miss the slight hesitation.
"I have nothing to add at this time. Thank you." Ignoring the raised, questioning voices, the officer returned inside the stationhouse.
Turning down the volume on the monitor, Flack's features drained of color. He checked his gun, and with a face like thunder, headed out of the office.
Back in Quemado, Detective Warren entered the main office and nodded to a deputy.
"I'm going to call and warn Larabee that the shit may have hit the fan. Then I want a list of names of anyone in this precinct who knew about today's events. Pronto."
> All good. Drove real fast for around twenty minutes. Turned left off the beaten track after twenty-five. No kidding, I'm on an Old West film set. Pretty old, I reckon. Guns Flack was selling are here, or so I'm led to believe. Ready when you are. ~ JD <
Six collective grins met the email and attachments from JD. The sheer relief of knowing he was unharmed, or at least appeared to be, drove them on towards the buildings they had earlier pinpointed, and now felt sure was JD's location. Around half a mile before the position were some hills. In case the place was being guarded, which the team fully expected, they planned to ditch their vehicle close to the hills, and then carry on in by foot.
At their target position, Chris answered his vibrating phone. Seconds later, he had the others worried. "Damnit, I hate small towns."
Buck was first to react, his heart was already racing, more stress he did not need. "What?"
"Media's somehow gotten hold of details of the bust. A reporter's just asked for confirmation that a cop was taken in error during the confusion."
A flash of panic was quickly switched out for steely determination. "Better get movin' then," Vin said for them all.
With Kevlar vests on, and suitably armed for battle, the six men headed into the whimsical location with a sense almost of stepping back in time.
Making their way back toward the offices, Leon looked at JD. "You're different."
JD's heart fluttered. "How so?"
"You roll like the other street guys but…I dunno…you're kinda more, upbeat. Is your boss good to you?"
Knowing Leon meant Ezra, but factoring all his teammates into the reply, JD grinned. "Yeah, real good. He trusts me. I worked hard to earn it, but the guys I run with have taught me to trust my instincts." He shrugged. "I got lucky, and you could, too, if you let me get you and Josiah together."
The reply from JD offered the opportunity to probe for more information on the shelter. "This hostel place, you say there's no bullying there?"
JD nodded. "Some have tried, and failed. Josiah, the other volunteers, and the Nuns of the Sisters of Mercy Hostel run a real tight and very fair ship. There are pool and basketball tournaments, movie nights, workshops." He smiled. "It's a great place to make a new start – learn new skills. Meet new friends." JD noted the boy's hesitant look and the rub up and down the inside of his arm. "Leon?"
"You take drugs?"
JD's grin broadened. "They'll help get you through it." His features went serious. "I'll help you get through it." There was a long silence where only the scuffing of sneakers on dirt could be heard as they continued their stroll through the streets of the tall, wooden buildings of the Old West town.
"You'd do that for me?" Leon said, finally.
"Why? You hardly know me."
JD tapped his nose. "I told you, the guys I run with have taught me to go with my instincts. I believe you're ready when you say you want help."
Leon released a small smile. "And you really think I got a chance of getting into this place?"
"No doubt in my mind." For the first time in the three weeks he'd known Leon, JD saw the first genuine smile from the boy. The thought of being able to save this one soul made JD's heart soar.
Their excitement was short-lived when they spotted Flack and three other armed men walk down the dusty street toward them.
Crouched down on top of one of the hills, Vin slipped his spyglass back into his shirt pocket before looking back at his teammates. "They're well hidden, but I see lookouts on the roofs of the two large warehouses, one of which is heavily surrounded by extra armed guards. The Old West town's nestled between the two buildin's."
"Extra guards suggest the guns could be here," Chris pondered aloud.
"Seems plausible," Buck agreed, his own gaze scanning the area through binoculars. "Sure looks like they're defending something over there."
Larabee pressed a button and spoke into the throat mic attached to his collar. "Send in the chopper again. Let's get a distraction going."
With confirmation from the backup secured by Team Seven, the six men watched the chopper's first of several buzzes of the area, and then split into two groups to put their plan into action.
Leon and JD stared at the armed men heading their way. Leon was genuinely puzzled, JD hoped he was putting on a decent enough act to convince Flack that he was surprised, too.
"Which of you is it?" Flack hollered as he drew nearer.
"Mister Flack?" Leon stammered. The gun was aimed at him.
"Is it you? Hmm? You been stringing us along, boy?"
"Huh? No sir, I wouldn't…" he gasped when Flack's gun aimed at JD.
"Then again, we hardly know you, *boy*."
Flack again aimed his gun toward an anxious Leon. "Maybe I should just shoot you both and have done with it." He cocked the gun.
"M…Mister Flack, sir…!"
JD raised his hands. "Leave Leon out of this. He didn't know."
Scared blue eyes focused on JD. "Jake?"
JD's eyes filled as he returned the gaze. "Whatever happens, just get hold of ATF Federal Agent Josiah Sanchez," he whispered. "Everything I told you about him is true, Leon, I swear."
A low helicopter sweep had the armed men, and the youths, instinctively ducking amid the swirl of dust it was creating.
"What the hell?" Flack cried. He glared at JD and directed his gun back toward him. "They've found us. You little…!"
The six separated agents heard the chopper pilot confirm there was activity in the town.
>> "About fifty yards to the left of Larabee's position." <<
All six agents began running, and this time, they knew where they were heading.
Never ones to waste time, Team Seven collectively appeared in the Old West town's street. County deputies were shooting at the lookouts, who were returning fire despite being buzzed by a low flying chopper with armed cops on board. A gunshot sounded and the advancing agents saw the bodies of JD and the youth with him come together violently and then drop to the ground.
Buck's heartfelt howl came moments before Chris hollered out a warning to Flack and his goons. While Chris, Vin, Josiah, and Ezra chased down the fleeing, shooting men, Nathan and Buck dropped down next to JD and Leon.
Flack raced off toward the first soundstage. The guns he was storing were lost to him now, but if he could reach the office, he could wipe the computer while grabbing the keys to the Ford. Going out in a blaze of glory had always appealed to him, but now that it was becoming a reality, not so much. He wanted freedom – and to be alive to enjoy it.
Chris signaled for Josiah and Ezra to go after the goons, while he and Vin disappeared into the shadows of the soundstage's interior. Flashlights on, and guns raised, they cautiously walked down the center of the vast building. Short of an office to one side, and the Ford they'd been chasing parked a small distance ahead of them, there was nothing to use for cover. They could see Flack's shadow moving around inside the office.
"Let's hope he ain't settin' charges," Vin hissed.
"Wiping evidence, more like. Here we go."
Flack emerged from the office and immediately opened fire on Chris and Vin's position. The pair dropped and rolled before composing themselves and returning fire. The Ford roared into life, and a squeal of tires indicated it was heading their way, and not about to slow down when it reached them.
Both agents jumped to their feet, faced it head on, and shot at the advancing vehicle. Despite it not changing course, they continued firing. They barely jumped clear as the Ford plowed through where they had been standing, and before it crashed full speed into the frame of the huge, roll-up entryway.
Shaken, and breathless, both men pushed up on one elbow and looked back toward the smoking, crumpled SUV. They scrambled to their feet in order to head that way when the smell of gas permeated the air seconds before the Transit exploded, propelling the pair backwards.
In the street, JD heard a gunshot; felt the impact against his chest and side; and fell backwards from the force of a body thumping into him. While raised voices and more gunfire echoed around him, he looked up at the bloody youth covering his body. "Leon?"
Leon's eyes were staring. "J…Jake…"
JD's eyes widened as realization of what just happened struck him. He adjusted his grip on the boy and sat up, turning Leon and bringing the boy up with him. He cradled the bleeding youth. "Oh, crap Leon, why?"
A glassy gaze met JD's. "I...wanted to…meet Josiah."
Aware of Buck's hand supporting him, and Nathan trying to check Leon over while yelling for a paramedic, JD forced a smile and nodded. "You will, Dude. He's here. I'll introduce you…"
"Yeah?" JD's emotions spiked off the scale as he watched Nathan desperately trying to stop the blood flow, before the team's EMT looked at Buck and shook his head.
"Tell me again, Jake...'bout Josiah's shelter."
Unable to hold back a sob, JD nodded. "Sure. Well, uh, you get your own bed, a nightstand, and a small closet. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and hold workshops, tournaments, and sometimes, they even organize trips." JD's tears dropped freely now as he felt the life in his arms fading.
"Yeah," JD breathed.
"Wish…I'd met you…sooner…"
"Me too." JD shivered as the ghostly pale youth went limp, and sightless eyes turned up to the sky. "No, no, no, no…"
Buck's grip on JD tightened. Nathan put his arms around Leon. "I'll take him, JD."
While a recently arrived paramedic did a thorough check of the slight body with the bullet through his heart, Buck helped JD to his feet. He scanned the blood spread over JD's clothes.
"You okay? Are you hurt?"
JD sighed softly. "Fine." He stared solemnly at the boy who had taken a bullet meant for him. "Why, Buck? Why would he do that?"
Buck's large hand wrapped round the back of JD's neck. "I guess you got through to him, Kid. Seems like you're one of the few people he felt he could trust."
JD's liquid gaze met Buck's. "What does that say about me? I was lying to him."
"Yeah, but that's just the nature of the job, Kid. You never intentionally set out to hurt him."
JD snorted. "Yeah, and just look where that got him." He closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. Buck's hands held the young agent's face.
"Hey! Don't go there, Kid…"
Frustrated at the intrusion during such a crucial moment, the brunet half-turned to Nathan. "Yeah?"
"The paramedic said the bullet went clean through."
Still focused on JD, the words took a few moments to filter through before Buck turned his head to look fully at Nathan "What?"
"The bullet passed clean through." Nathan's gaze switched from Buck to JD.
Realizing the boy he was holding on to was swaying a little; Buck looked again at the blood on JD's shirt.
The patch of blood was wet, and still growing. JD's body slumped forward, and the momentum took Buck to his knees as he clutched the youth close.
Josiah and Ezra handed off their struggling captives to the backup team the instant they saw the Ford hit the soundstage doorframe and then explode. Hearts in mouths, they and several deputies ran toward the gaping maw of the building that was engulfed in acrid, black smoke, and flames. They were both fully prepared to pass through the inferno to reach their teammates, but instead, found themselves smiling with relief when they saw Chris and Vin walk unsteadily through the choking murkiness and into the fresh air; both somewhat disheveled, but apart from scrapes and emerging bruises, mostly unharmed.
"Gentlemen, I take it your miscreant wasn't keen to join us at the precinct."
Chris swiped at blood dribbling into his eye. He glanced back at the flames, and to the cops attempting to douse them. "Lunatic."
Vin's scraped and bruised cheek dimpled. "Quit complainin', Cowboy, we all know how you hate the arrest paperwork."
No one was fooled by Vin's flippant comment. Like the others, he had desperately wanted answers from this guy, but at least the guns were now in their possession. Vin's brow furrowed and he looked in earnest at Josiah and Ezra.
"We got the guns, right?"
Josiah nodded to Vin. "Being photographed, and boxed up now. It may be more constructive to escort them back to Denver for storage as soon as we've catalogued them."
Chris nodded. "I agree. I'll call Travis. How's JD?" Glances were exchanged. Chris waved off Ezra's attempt to speak into his mic. "If no one knows, why are we standing here jawing?"
Directing the deputies to stay on the scene until the Crime Scene Unit arrived, the four men jogged back to where they'd separated from Buck and Nathan.
Joining their teammates, the four were greeted by the surrealism of stepping into the streets of the Old West. While one paramedic zipped up a body bag, another was attending to someone on the ground.
Vin sprinted off. He was visibly shaken when he arrived at Buck's side to find JD wearing an oxygen mask and with an IV line in his arm. The Texan's misty gaze conveyed his unspoken question to Buck.
"The kid in the bag took a bullet for JD. It went straight through and they think it's lodged in JD's side."
A mix of gratitude, sorrow, and compassion in his eyes, Tanner glanced toward the dead boy, and then gestured to JD. "How bad?"
Buck shook his head as he lowered his gaze. "I don't know, they can't be sure." He moved forward the instant JD's gurney was raised ready to roll into the ambulance. Chris, Josiah, and Ezra joined them, the former resting a hand on JD's head.
JD's long, dark eyelashes flickered and pained eyes looked up at his team leader and hero. He noted the injuries. "Chris, you and Vin okay? Did, did you get Flack?"
Larabee nodded. "We're both good, and yeah, we got Flack, and the guns. Good work, Kid. Rest up, and we'll talk more later."
Chris moved his face closer. "You stayed focused, and didn't blow the bust."
JD's eyes filled. "I got…Leon…killed."
The blond shook his head. "No, Kid. His choice of lifestyle got him killed." He intercepted another comment. "Like I said, we'll talk later, after the Docs have patched you up." He smiled approvingly as JD offered a small nod before his eyes closed.
Larabee turned to the others. "Buck…"
"I don't like where his head is at, Chris."
"We'll get him through it, Pard. We'll get each other through it, like always. First, I'll wind things up here and then meet you at the hospital."
With a nod, Buck followed JD into the ambulance. Seconds later, the team watched the vehicle pull away.
"You and Vin need medical attention too, Chris."
Chris turned to Nathan. "We will, meanwhile, you and Ezra take the SUV and head for the hospital. Josiah, hitch a ride in with PD and go to the Coroner's office. I need an HIV test on the dead kid, and for you to get the results back to us urgently."
The realization of JD stopping a through and through bullet from a probable drug addict hit the men hard. Sanchez nodded and left, soon followed by Nathan and Ezra. Vin looked longingly after them. Chris nudged him.
"Come on. Let's wrap this up…" he glanced around at the Old West town. "…And then get the hell out of Dodge."
Arranging for an officer to drive their vehicle back, the pair proceeded to secure an ATF seal on each weapons case before riding in with the confiscated merchandise. Soon they would travel back to Denver with some of the team in order to catalog, re-seal, and lock away the weapons; but before that, there was family business to attend to.
The ambulance ride to Gallup had been eerily quiet, save for occasional medical jargon and Buck's soft litany to his injured brother. JD had been mostly awake, but not offering any conversation, which worried Buck. JD wasn't mortally wounded, so he was either in shock, or bothered about something.
It didn't need a shrink to work out what that might be, and Buck was eternally grateful for the talk to JD from Chris before they'd headed out. It was no coincidence that Chris had not only taken the time to praise JD, but promise they'd talk again later. Buck believed that if anything could get JD through surgery, it was knowing Chris was pleased with him. The fact that JD, while quiet, was hanging on every word Buck was saying right then, was missed by the man who would later need reminding of just how much JD idolized him, too.
Vin and Chris arrived at the hospital to find Buck, Ezra, and Nathan in a waiting room. After the former pair received treatment, and shortly after Nathan rustled up more coffee, Josiah arrived. He took Chris to one side.
"The Coroner performed a rapid HIV test and it proved negative."
Chris blew out a breath in relief.
"But JD will still need to undergo the usual follow up tests."
"Yeah, I figured." Chris smiled. "Thanks."
A nurse entered the room. "Hello. Agent Dunne is out of recovery and in his room. If you'll follow me…"
Outside JD's room, a doctor greeted the six men. "The surgery went very well. No complications; the bullet wasn't lodged too deep. John will be stiff and sore for a while, but I don't see why he can't go home in the next forty-eight hours."
Ezra smiled. "I'll arrange the flight…"
"Oh no, he can't fly for at least ten days."
Impatient to see JD, Buck went on inside. Chris raised a hand. "No problem, Doc. Some of the team need to escort a shipment back to Denver, so I'll arrange transport for the rest of us."
Buck grinned at the sleepy hazel gaze fixed on him. "Doc reckons you can go home, soon."
JD nodded, lazily. "Neat." He moved his head along the pillow when more voices drifted his way. "Hey, you're all here. Did Flack get away?"
Chris shook his head. "No. I told you earlier, remember?"
JD's brow furrowed as he tried to recall.
"And we got all the weapons, too." Chris drew closer. "It was a good bust, JD." He waited until he had the boy's full attention.
"We're sorry about Leon, but you can't blame yourself for what happened."
JD sighed, softly. "All he wanted was a fresh start. I was gonna introduce him to Josiah." He gratefully accepted some water from Buck. "Waste of a life."
Buck took JD's hand. "Sorry if I sound insensitive but, while I truly regret that Leon died, I'm real grateful to him for his bravery." He leaned in. "I remember what you talked about while he was slipping away, and he seemed real content to me. I reckon you helped him more than you'll ever know."
There was a long pause while the two roommates stared at each other. JD offered a small nod. "Thanks, Bro," he whispered.
"Anytime," Buck said, softly. There was no way he was going to allow JD to take responsibility for another person's choice.
JD looked around at his teammates, grateful to see they were all safe and well. As for himself, he knew he would need some time. A life was lost, and his heart ached to have been unable to prevent it; but he understood that events were taken out of his hands. All he could do now was allow himself time to grieve for a troubled young man who, in an altruistic moment, redeemed himself from years of bad choices to become a true hero. JD hadn't even learned the boy's full name, but knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that he would never forget him.
Four weeks later, the six friends took their seventh on a road trip. On arrival, JD pressed a hand against his mostly-healed wound and stepped out of the truck. He was soon once again standing next to the graveyard of the Old West Town. Considering he was still grieving for the youth who saved his life, he couldn't help but wonder what prompted the guys to come here. Josiah draped an arm around JD's shoulders and explained.
"As you know, Flack had contacts within the security team protecting this sound lot, which is why he was able to use it so freely. It's been unused due to its original owner dying, and the property being tied up in litigation for many years. However, due to all the recent publicity, a judge made a ruling and the property was finally released. The corporation that purchased it is an organization that plans to return the town to its former glory and lease it out to movie and TV companies. They also intend to have guided tours, and Wild West shows throughout the year."
He pointed out a gravestone in the town's 'Boot Hill' to JD.
"Go take a look."
Experiencing a mix of emotions, JD walked up to a new 'grave's' cleverly aged, and tilting tombstone, which read;
'Here lies Lightnin' Leon. Died a hero, while savin' the life of Sheriff John Dunne. RIP'
The letters became fuzzy as JD's gaze turned liquid. He looked back at his friends, one tear escaping as a smile emerged. "That's awesome, guys."
The others joined him and Vin showed him a photograph of a trophy. "The Sisters of Mercy Shelter decided that from now on, the pool tournament will be renamed the Leon Finch Cup."
"Finch?" JD asked.
Tanner nodded. "Yeah, Leon Finch."
"He didn't make it to the shelter, JD," Josiah rounded, "but he wanted to, and now, he will always be with us in spirit."
JD nodded his approval, unable to articulate his thoughts right then due to his emotion getting the better of him.
"And now," Chris said, breaking the silence. "You're back with the team from Monday, which is just as well 'cause, due to tying up loose ends, we haven't yet opened those encrypted files from Flack's computer that you sent us."
Glistening eyes focused on Chris. "Sounds like a plan," JD said, quietly.
While taking in the smells and sights, the seven friends slowly walked shoulder to shoulder along the streets of the Old West town.
"Would've been neat, living back in the Old West, don't you think?" JD asked of no one in particular.
Collectively, they stood still and looked the street up and down. Each man was momentarily lost in his own thoughts until they answered as one voice.