Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit made.
A/N: I've probably read hundreds to thousands of M7 fan fic since 2000 when I first discovered it, and I know I've read a couple that involved 'superheroes' of one fashion or another. I tried to make sure I didn't copy anything exactly, but there may still be similarities. If I inadvertently used anything from other stories in JD's 'talent' section, I humbly apologize and hope that it is taken as a form of flattery. DMA
A/N II: This story inspired several follow-ups that I hope to submit later. "The Gunfight" is one of them, and "Perfect Day Off" refers to it, but I tried to write each so that they stand alone and can be read in any order.
"This is like bein' under house arrest." grumbled Vin Tanner, ATF Team Seven's sharpshooter as he paced in front of the window with nervous energy. He reminded those watching of a tawny cougar in confinement.
The seven teammates were gathered at leader Chris Larabee's home outside of Denver. A long and arduous case had been successfully concluded two days before after a foot chase in less than perfect weather conditions, leaving all of the men exhausted, soaked to the bone, and a bit bruised and battered. Subsequently, Assistant Director Travis had ordered them to Larabee's ranch for a least three days of rest and relaxation. Apparently the weather was on the older man's side as well, since the pouring rain of the previous days had turned into a spectacular icy wonderland. Due to the treacherous nature of the footing, even the nature-loving sniper was hesitant to step outside on the sparkling, but dangerous, sheet. Since the horses were safely in their stalls in the well-insulated barn with plenty of food and heated water for the time being, Chris had decreed that everyone stay inside unless there was an emergency.
The power was out, but Chris had a gas generator to keep the fridge and other necessities going. However they were trying not to run things like the TV, which had no signal anyway since the weather was currently blocking the satellite, and the game console. The blond had a generous stock of oil heaters and lamps, a wood fireplace, and a rick of logs stacked on the back porch where it was convenient to reach. Since the whole team frequently found themselves gravitating to the ranch, they kept a walk-in pantry and freezer full of food all the time. So the main problem at the moment was sheer boredom. And a bored team seven with a antsy sniper could lead to all sorts of mayhem. Chris was beginning to wonder if he should go get his gun and have it handy, just in case . . . .
JD, Buck and Vin had used the handheld video games until the batteries went dead, and the group was now wondering what to do next. Which made Chris and Nathan understandably wary.
Buck Wilmington's long legs were splayed out in front of him where he sat slouched in a leather easy chair as he responded to Vin's comment about house arrest.
"Yep, it's as quiet as a whorehouse on Sunday mornin'." He caught Josiah Sanchez's eyes. "No offense, Josiah."
The big ex-priest shook his head from where he rested on the couch.
"None taken, Brother Buck."
Ezra Standish was walking the ace of spades over his knuckles as he sat in an overstuffed chair similar to Buck's.
"For once, I must agree with Mr. Wilmington. Since you have all lost more than your share of hands of poker and blackjack to me, and said games were certainly not lucrative for me, I find myself ready to move on to other entertainments, if such are to be had."
"Chris' got the pool table in the basement," offered Nathan Jackson, the team medic.
Standish rolled his eyes. "Mr. Jackson, you well know that challengin' Mr. Larabee at billiards is like playin' me at poker. We are not goin' to win."
Buck chuckled fondly. "He's right, Nate. Ol' Chris never had to pay for anything except the first drink when we were in the Teams. He won all the rest playin' pool."
Larabee spoke up for the first time in a while.
"When we weren't fightin' off some jar head the size of a mountain that you'd pissed off hittin' on his girl." A wry smirk curved his lips.
Wilmington just grinned.
"Can't help it the ladies are drawn to my animal magnetism and forget to mention that they've got boyfriends."
Their resident electronics tech, JD Dunne crossed his eyes and gave a dramatic shudder.
"Animal maggotism, you mean."
A long arm reached out to swat the kid's head, which JD ducked with practiced ease.
"It's magnetism boy, and you're just jealous 'cause you don't have any."
Dunne stuck out his tongue from where he sat cross-legged on the floor between Larabee and Wilmington, then when Buck reached for him again, he slid closer to Chris.
"If what you do is animal magnetism, I don't want any!" He gave a small shiver. "Besides, Casey would kill me if I attracted any of the women you do!"
Buck lunged for the younger man and the resulting scuffle entertained the rest of the group for a few minutes. But when Chris' hand-made coffee table appeared in danger of becoming kindling for the fireplace, the roughhousing was put to a stop by a green glare.
A few more suggestions were put forth, but no one was in the mood for group board games and chess and checkers would only occupy a couple at a time, so nothing caused much enthusiasm.
Suddenly JD sat upright as an idea came to him.
"I know! The last time Casey and I got together with some of her friends, they played this game called 'Hidden Talents'. You take turns telling about something you do that no one else knows about. So that would leave out Chris' wood-working and Vin's poetry and stuff since we already know about that." He looked around hopefully. "Do you guys wanna try it?"
The others considered for a minute. It didn't seem too bad if they were willing to share, and it would be something to break the boredom. Also, while the seven men were more like brothers than just teammates after the last few years, if they were honest there were a few things that each either knowingly kept from the others or just hadn't thought to mention.
Buck was the first to agree. The gregarious man was the most open of the seven in general and he thought it would be interesting to see what he didn't know about the others. Giving a grin he nodded.
"I'm in. I've got lots 'a things I can share with y'all . . . ."
Chris held up a hand. "I don't think JD meant those kinds of things, Buck."
Ezra sat up and put away the deck of cards he'd been absently shuffling. "Besides, we know more than we want to already about your amorous activities, Mr. Wilmington. According to our young compatriot, this is supposed to be something no one is aware of."
Josiah gave the gambler a penetrating look. "Are you comfortable with that Ezra?"
While the undercover agent had become mostly secure with them and now considered himself a part of the family, they were all aware that there were still things that he hadn't shared about himself for one reason or another.
The emerald gaze grew introspective for a moment, then the chestnut head gave a resolute nod. If the others were going to share heretofore unknown facets of themselves, then he could do so as well. Besides, he really was bored!
"Yes Mr. Sanchez, I believe I am."
Chris dipped his head in approval, but also gave a sigh.
"Ez, since we're all stuck here together and you know we care about you, can you drop the 'Mister', just for the rest of today?"
A tiny grin curved up Standish's mouth. Since he mainly did it now out of both habit and because he knew it annoyed his friends, he made a moue of mock reluctance, but agreed.
"Yes, Mr. . . . Chris . . . I suppose I can dispense with the formalities for that short a period at least, if it will make you gentlemen happy."
"Halleluiah", "About time!" and other sentiments greeted his announcement, along with a few peanut shells and a couple of paperwads from Buck and Vin respectively to show their . . . not quite so mock . . . opinion of it taking him so long.
One by one the rest of the men agreed to the plan, some with a slightly nervous expression. Dunne bounced in place excitedly. They all then got quiet as they thought.
Deciding to give the others time to come up with something they were willing to share, JD gave a grin.
"I'll go first since it was my idea." Even he got a slightly hesitant expression however as he ran over what he wanted to say. The activity itself wouldn't bother the group, but his 'secret' creation using it might get him teased or looked at askance.
Straightening his shoulders, he resolutely continued. "You all know how I like computers and coming up with new programs and stuff."
"Well, duh Kid," interrupted his roommate. "That's not something no one knows."
The smaller brunet threw his surrogate big brother a mini version of a Larabee glare, causing the rest to grin.
"I know that, Buck! Will you let me finish?" groused the younger man. Looking back around at the others he started again. "Anyway, I have this new program that lets me create digital comic books."
To his relief, they all looked interested instead of like they thought he was the stereotypical geek or something.
Vin was impressed. "That's cool, Kid. What kind have you come up with?"
JD licked his lips. "Well, several different themes, but mostly . . . superheroes."
Vin nodded in approval, Josiah actually looked intrigued, and Buck beamed proudly at his 'little brother'.
"What kind'a powers do they have?" asked Nathan quite seriously.
There had been some discussions over the time the seven had been together about the various movies that had been made from the comics and the different universes represented, etc. Neither Ezra nor Vin had spent much time in one place growing up, but even they had picked up the occasional magazine and glanced through it. The rest of the group had been a bit surprised to find that their normally even-tempered medic had some strong opinions on the subject. Star Trek versus Star Wars had produced the same effect.
"Umm . . . different things depending on the type of mood I was going for. I've done some spoofs for laughs, and a couple of things that sort-of combine anime and comic heroes." JD stopped and nibbled on his lip a second, then continued. "I have done one serious one that's kind of a Justice League scenario . . . several super heroes with various powers that join together to form a team . . . ."
The others simply looked interested in knowing the details, but Chris' lips tilted up in a tiny grin as he and Vin exchanged a quick glance. The leader had a feeling he knew where this might be going . . . .
Vin decided to see if he and Larabee were right. "How many in the team, Kid?"
Dunne suddenly began fidgeting a bit and he wouldn't meet anyone's eyes.
"Ahh . . . well . . . seven, actually."
Chris and Vin locked gazes again and Tanner gave his patented eye-brow bobble and wink that nearly made Chris spit his coffee across his lap at the smug expression the former Ranger wore.
The rest were now getting a clue as well. Buck brushed his mustache. "So what name do they go by as a group?" he asked, trying to be serious.
"Uh, well they're just the Super Seven right now, but I might change that," replied JD with a shrug. That pretty much gave his inspiration for the characters away, he knew.
"And what powers do these seven superheroes have?" Josiah repeated Nathan's question as he tried to stifle a chuckle. JD's original hero worship of Chris was well known, so the profiler wondered what amazing abilities their youngest might have given to Larabee's alter ego, as well as the rest.
Before JD could answer, Ezra added a query of his own. "And what might their individual appellations be?"
JD's eyes crossed at Standish's question. "Huh?"
"He wants to know what each of the characters are called," supplied Chris with an encouraging nod.
While it might sound somewhat silly, it would be interesting to see how JD saw each of them and would actually be a bit of a bonding experience if the others liked the names and abilities that the electronics tech had given them. He gave a secret grin. Plus it might be good for the Bureau's Halloween party next year. Travis had been pushing the team to participate in more events, especially if his wife was involved. 'A happy wife meant a happy life' was the former judge's motto, even if the participants themselves were not so pleased to be bribed, threatened, or tricked into attending.
"Oh, ok. Well, so far I've got their names, costume colors, and abilities figured out, and I thought I'd give them something a little different, so they each have their own 'aura' too. A light around them that the others see when they're together."
Josiah was impressed. The kid had obviously put a lot of thought into his creation. The others seemed eager to find out what 'their' character was going to be like.
JD looked up at the ceiling as he ticked the names and attributes off on his fingers.
"There's Dark Avenger . . . his costume is all black, he's telekinetic and can use explosive bursts and pinpoint laser blasts to destroy things. Oh, and his aura is changeable, but often looks like flames to others."
All five of the other teammates looked at Chris to see what his reaction would be. It was obvious who the Avenger was based on, and it was all good except possibly for the 'flames' part. Buck held his breath hoping the description wouldn't remind his old friend of his past tragedy and send his mood spiraling.
Larabee looked solemn for a moment, then he gave a wicked smirk. The jade gaze that many described as icy and piercing flickered with amusement now.
"I can live with that, JD."
The rest of the group released a collective sigh of relief. Then Vin's mischievous smile popped back into place as he paused his pacing and leaned against the wall near Chris' chair.
"This Avenger fella . . . he sorta the leader of the team?"
Dunne nodded, enthusiasm radiating off of him. "Yeah, pretty much, though they all play a fairly equal part. Individually they're all great, but together they're almost unstoppable."
The others didn't need Josiah to explain that was a reflection of themselves, since the sentiment perfectly described the highly acclaimed ATF team.
Buck gave a grin. "Guess this Dark Avenger might be kinda powerful and scare folks a lot?"
Tanner tried to look serious. "And have a glare that can stop a freight train in its tracks?"
Larabee turned his head to give the former Ranger a look. Vin pointed at his best friend. "Yeah . . . just like that one!"
Snickers were now erupting among the men. Several more suggestions for traits for the black-clothed superhero were put forth, some meeting with approbation from the real leader and some getting a low-level gaze that did indeed resemble a laser beam targeting the speakers.
Finally Nathan waved his hand in a shushing motion. "So who are the rest'a the heroes, JD?"
"Well, there's Silver Bullet . . . his costume is black-and-silver and he can control projectiles . . . change the trajectory of a bullet or knife, use any airborne object as a weapon, stuff like that. His aura is silver and kinda sparkles."
That caused several comments about Tanner's 'sparkling personality', the 'sparkle' in his eyes, etc. as well as comparisons to the Lone Ranger, since it was as obvious that the Silver Bullet was Vin as it was that the Dark Avenger was Chris.
JD stood tapping his toe until the other six quieted down and returned their attention to him.
*ahem* "As I was saying . . . besides Silver Bullet, there's Emerald Illusion. His outfit is black-and-green and his abilities go with his name. He can create illusions . . . affect the way things appear, or make them seem to appear or disappear. His aura looks like a green flare."
All eyes now turned to the undercover agent. JD's description fit the gambler to a T. Standish nodded in approval, so JD returned to his list.
"Next there's Cobalt Blast. His costume is black-and-blue and he can generate and project concussive blasts, sort of like dynamite. Bursts in shades of blue are what the others see as his aura."
Buck preened where he was now sitting forward in his chair.
"I bet he's a big hit with the ladies. Able to help any damsel in distress that needs him . . . ." The explosive tech's warm, mellow tones trailed off suggestively as his brows bobbed above the dark blue eyes.
"Buck!" chorused six voices in unison, followed by a shake of Chris' head, an "eww" from JD, and a few rolled eyeballs.
Dunne shivered theatrically and then continued with his recitation.
"There's the Crimson Cleric with his black-and-red costume and red wave aura. He has super strength and can block projectiles with his mind for protection, almost like making a force field that things bounce off of."
Everyone's gazes now swung to Sanchez. The big man gave a dazzling smile and flexed his biceps as if posing for a superhero promo shoot or something.
JD started winding up his list. "Amber Blade is the next one. His outfit is black-and-amber and his abilities are controlling any kind of blade, including the dark-tinted ones he carries, and also healing injuries just by putting his hands on the person. His aura is a steady orange glow, kinda like looking at the sun late in the afternoon."
Nathan flicked a glance to where his medical kit was in a cabinet in Chris' kitchen, then he dropped his eyes to the slender knife that he'd automatically stuck down in his boot without thinking that morning. The Kid's description of the Amber Blade sure did seem to embody his own diametrically opposed talents.
"The last one is White Lightning." He was interrupted by Buck going "ooh, white lightnin'" in a deep voice and Vin making belching noises as if just finishing with a swig of homemade moonshine.
Again the Larabee glare imitation, which just made the rest chuckle. He was going to need a lot more practice before he could muster even a level two or so, and he didn't think he had the dangerous air and powerful image to ever be able to use a five or higher. In the time the team had been together, they'd labeled Chris' looks from 1 to 8. Buck said he could go even higher, but everything above a five scared JD as it was, he had no desire to ever see a nine or ten!
Bringing his thoughts back to the discussion, he finished with the description of the character that was his idealized persona.
"White Lightning's costume is…"
"Black-and-white!" erupted from six throats in unison. JD shrugged.
"Well, yeah. Guess that was pretty predictable huh?" He ignored the smiling nods and continued. "Anyway, he can give off electric-like zaps and is really fast. His aura is made up of white streaks that sort-of zig-zag around him." He thought a minute. "Oh, and they can all communicate telepathically with each other."
The rest laughed out loud.
"Well, Chris and Vin have a head start on that. The rest of us will just have to catch up," joked Buck with a bob of his own dark brows.
"Hell, we've been around each other enough now that we pretty much all know what the others will do in any given circumstances," commented the sniper with a shrug. "Chris and I just instinctively know what the other's thinkin' most'a the time. Reckon we all do it to one degree or another."
JD had been known to toss keys to Chris with his back turned to him, confident that the leader would catch them without him having to aim. And Larabee could issue orders or make hand motions, then walk off, knowing that his instructions would be carried out to the letter even with him not watching. And Ezra knew without actual communication that when he was undercover the others were at a distance, watching his back. It was the same for all of them.
"Indeed. I believe any of us can accurately anticipate what our compatriots will do or say in most any situation now," agreed the gambler solemnly.
The group reminisced about a few examples of their silently reading each other's intentions or actions for a bit, some memories causing laughter and others more serious responses since some of the incidents had resulted in hospital stays or mental turmoil for a time. Then, deciding they were becoming too intense, JD drew them back to the subject at hand.
"So you guys don't think my comics are silly or insulting?"
Six heads shook and various accents reassured him.
"Naw, Kid. I think it's pretty cool," answered Tanner with a grin.
"Indeed, I find myself rather enamored of the idea of making things appear and disappear," agreed Standish with a little smirk.
"Ya just wanna be able to make yourself disappear when Chris threatens t' shoot ya," chortled Vin with another eyebrow bobble.
"In that case, you should ask Mr. Dun . . . ah, JD . . . to give the Emerald Illusion the ability to make others invisible as well, since our illustrious leader threatens you almost as often as he does me," averred the undercover agent.
"Hey, that's not a bad idea! Are you takin' notes, Kid? Buck might want Ez t' have that ability too."
Wilmington sat up straighter for a moment. "Now just a minute . . . ol' Chris don't threaten me nearly as much as he does you two. He just said he should'a shot me when he had the chance, not that he was gonna do it," protested the warm tones.
"I could have always hit you in the shoulder, instead of shooting into the dirt next to you . . . ," purred the leader softly as he remembered the incident the explosives tech was describing. Somehow his soft timbre could hold as much menace as a shout from someone else. The smile the sculpted lips wore was more predatory than reassuring, as well.
Buck shook his head emphatically. "Naw, close but not direct was fine, Stud! Worked great just the way ya did it. Kept me from really gettin' shot by those bank robbers exactly like ya figured."
Josiah brought the attention once more back to JD's activity.
"I don't have a problem with bein' a superhero, John Daniel."
"Yeah, actually it's pretty flatterin'," Nathan added.
The rest agreed that they weren't offended by the characters Dunne had created, and didn't think they were silly at all.
Having disposed of JD's hidden talent though, they all got quiet as they wondered who should go next, and what they would reveal.
After a moment of silence, Sanchez spoke up. He wasn't sure if the others would think his 'hidden talent' was neat or childish.
"I'll go now. Doubt any of you know that I do Chinese paper cuts."
The rest looked at the ex-missionary with varying degrees of surprise or confusion.
"What're 'paper cuts', J'siah?" asked Vin curiously. The sniper had been exposed to several cultures during his childhood and Army stint, but he didn't know that much about Asian arts, other than the martial kind.
Nathan answered first. "I think I know. It's them little patterns cut out of paper that you have on the wall in your bedroom, ain't it?"
Josiah nodded while the rest looked somewhat embarrassed. Though they had all been in the profiler's room at one time or another either to get clothes for him when he was on assignment or to help him to bed when he was hurt or had been a little too 'spiritual', none of them had paid much attention to the décor.
The former priest got up and rummaged in one of Chris' kitchen drawers where he knew there was some paper and a pair of fine-tipped scissors. Rejoining the others, he folded the sheet he held and began snipping away as he explained.
"Since my dad was a missionary, we were always traveling and often ended up in exotic, and sometimes distant, places. We could never take much with us, so Hannah and I had to learn to play with whatever our father would allow of the toys the native kids used. I learned a simpler form of this from some Chinese children. It could be done with items found most anywhere, and was small enough to put in my luggage when we had to move. Plus it gave me a sense of continuity from place to place that was sorely missing in my childhood and early adolescence. Then I found that the more I practiced, the more intricate designs I could make, and many Chinese adults engage in the craft, so I kept it up. It was an activity I could do anywhere, and gave me something to focus on if I was upset or worried, something to do with my hands that seemed at least somewhat productive."
As he finished speaking, the big man held up the almost lace-like pattern he had created. An elaborate dragon seemed to look back at them, flames coming from his nose and his clawed feet attached to the narrow openwork border that surrounded him. The paper was a left-over bit of shiny green Christmas wrapping that had been stuffed in the drawer for almost a year, so the effect was quite elegant.
There was silence for a moment as the rest of the team looked at the piece of handiwork. Then the quiet was broken by their animated youngest.
"Wow, that is so cool Josiah! I never would have thought you could do something that neat with just scissors and paper. Do you think you could teach me how to do it? Casey would love something like this and it wouldn't cost much."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "How romantic."
JD's orbs did a flick upward of their own at the sarcastic tone of the gambler's soft comment.
"Hey, ATF agent on a budget here," replied the brunet as he carefully took the dragon and examined it closely.
Vin's blue eyes got a sparkle to them. "Yeah, we don't all have a ma with a string of rich husbands like you do, Ez."
"Perhaps, but we all know my mother only lavishes expensive gifts on me when she needs me for something . . . like a con. Her favorite recipient of lucre has always been herself. Sharing her wealth with me is only a means to an end most of the time." The southern drawl was now as thick as molasses, as it tended to get when the well-dressed figure was upset or being sarcastic. No one could mistake his birthplace at the moment, though the talented agent could sound like he was from anywhere . . . or nowhere . . . if the occasion called for it.
Sanchez reached over to pat the smaller man on the shoulder. "Now, Maude loves you son, just in her own way."
Standish rolled his eyes again. "Well, even you must admit she has a very unusual way of showing it!"
"Amen" chorused five other voices. Ezra's mother was nothing if not 'unique'.
JD passed the cut-out to Ezra just then, halting the thoughts of Maude Standish's talents . . . or lack thereof . . . as a parent. The others took a turn examining the intricate creation, rather amazed that the big hands that could break a man's back could also make something so fragile.
When the piece of paper had been returned to Josiah, Vin nibbled on his lip a second. The slender form then got up and went to the room that was 'his' at the ranch. He was gone a couple of minutes, then returned with a thin handful of what looked like 8x10 papers.
"Reckon I'll go next, since my 'hidden talent' is kinda like Josiah's."
The sniper started passing around the pages he held in his hands. On them were detailed drawings of various birds and animals, trees and flowers, even a couple of head-and-shoulder likenesses of his companions. Chris took a moment to look in surprise at the paper that held a realistic sketch of himself in a black shirt and flat-crowned western hat with stampede string, the eyes seeming to follow every movement from the page in a way that was almost uncanny.
Buck was peering in amazement at a similar drawing of himself and JD.
"Shit, Vin! These are really good!" exclaimed Dunne, who was looking over the older brunet's shoulder.
"Sure are." Wilmington was now examining a life-like rendering of a bunch of sunflowers and zinnias that he recognized as being in front of one of the buildings across from the federal building. "These are purtier than a speckled pony in a flower patch," he complimented with his usual form of phrasing.
Tanner ducked his head, a bit embarrassed by the praise, especially when the others agreed.
"When did you learn to do this? And why haven't you ever shown any of them to me?" asked Chris in curiosity. The team members were all close, but he and Vin had a special bond, somewhat like the one between Buck and JD. The blond wasn't hurt, just wondering if the sharpshooter had thought he wouldn't understand. He knew that as tight as they were, they all still had some stuff that the others didn't know about.
"Don't know that I rightly ever 'learned', Cowboy. Been able to do it most as long as I can remember. I'd sketch little pictures of flowers or some birds or whatever on any scrap of paper I could get my hands on or that was given to me. I'd take 'em home, and my ma would put 'em on the front of the fridge with magnets. She said they were better than any art in a fancy gallery somewhere. It was how I kept her with me after she passed on, too. I got taken away so fast, that I didn't have time to get any pictures of her. So I drew her face from memory and hid it in a slit I cut in the bottom of my suitcase. That was about the only thing I got to take with me from place t' place. I kept doin' it when I could . . . paper and pencils or pens were things I could usually get most anywhere and could hide away without anyone takin' 'em from me. I'd draw things I remembered from when I was little, or stuff I saw when I moved. Then when I got out of the system, I'd use it to help me remember safe places or things that made me feel good so I could have 'em later when I wanted or needed 'em. Since I had trouble readin', they helped me keep up with things and places. Was always afraid that if people knew about 'em, they'd try to take 'em away or tear 'em up though, and they were like my picture album . . . I didn't want anything to happen to 'em. Like Josiah said . . . they were the one thing that was constant no matter where I ended up."
The sandy head raised to find that he had a captive audience. Vin still didn't talk about his days in foster care much, and they knew that he'd chosen to just leave and live on his own rather than stay in the system when he got old enough to take care of himself. The tidbits he was sharing now made the other men both sad and angry. The fact that a kid would have to worry about someone taking his drawings or destroying them was disturbing, but they knew it was one of the milder things that sometimes happened in situations like that.
At the encouraging nods, the ex-Ranger continued. "Didn't have much chance to draw when I was in the Army, though I was pretty good at makin' maps and sketchin' landmarks, buildings, stuff like that. When I started bounty huntin', I took it up again. Gave me somethin' to do while I was on surveillance when nothin' was happenin', but I could stop anytime without messin' something up if it got busy. And sometimes it was as good as and less conspicuous than a camera for recordin' things I saw."
The bright gaze caught the gambler's as both men smiled at the sniper's use of 'conspicuous'. Ezra liked sharing his extensive vocabulary, and Tanner enjoyed surprising people occasionally with his knowledge of the bigger words, though reading them was still a bit of a challenge sometimes.
Attention back on the rest of the group, Vin gave a shrug as he met Larabee's eyes. "Still draw sometimes on stakeouts or when I'm out on my own. Don't really know why I've never told ya. Not that I don't trust ya . . . just old habits I guess. Never really even thought about it much." The Texas tones held a bit of an apology for his closest friend and leader.
Chris just nodded in acceptance of the unspoken sentiment and in understanding for why Vin hadn't shared the talent with him or any of the others. Habits and feelings formed in the past were sometimes hard to throw off, especially if they were ones that were associated with painful memories when thought about.
The pictures were returned to their owner, then the last four eyeballed each other to see who was going to volunteer to go next. When the other three appeared to still be thinking, Buck gave a little nod that he'd share next.
The others started joking about what the ladies' man's talent might be before the tall form could even open his mouth. Vin teasingly said that maybe Wilmington wrote an 'advice to the lovelorn' column in a ladies magazine or something, causing the rest to chuckle.
The brunet gave a 'bite me' grimace, then motioned for quiet.
"Well, it is writin', but not what y'all think."
The other six went silent, eyes turned to the lanky explosives tech. Ezra finally asked what they were all wondering.
"What sort of writin' do you engage in Mr. . . . Buck?"
Wilmington cleared his throat, then continued. "I write articles for one of the car magazines. How to figure out what's wrong with your ride, how to fix stuff, hints on detailin', things like that. Even research on classic cars . . . ."
Chris' brow wrinkled. "I've glanced at most of the auto magazines you read, Buck. Never saw your name on any of the articles."
The dark head nodded. "I do it under a pen name. Didn't figure it'd be good to plaster my real name all over the place, bein' an agent and all."
The rest commented and asked a few questions, but JD was quiet for a few minutes, then spoke up.
"Nah . . . you're pullin' our leg, Buck. I'd have seen you writin' . . . ," commented the kid with a puzzled expression on his face. Besides the way Wilmington spoke, it was hard to picture him writing for a national magazine.
Long legs pushed the handsome figure upright. "I'll prove it. I'm workin' on an article right now . . . ."
Disappearing into 'his' room, the tall form reappeared a couple of minutes later with his laptop. Turning it on and pulling up a file, he turned it around so JD and the others could see the monitor.
There indeed was a partially finished essay on the 1969 Dodge Charger, written in engaging but perfectly proper English. To prove it was indeed him writing the article, Wilmington typed the next bit of the story, telling about his 'oldest friend's' classic vehicle from when they first met.
All eyes turned to Larabee, who had a reminiscent grin on his lips. "Yep, I had a '69 Charger when I first joined the Navy. Drove it to Florida for BUDs training. Sucker would go from 0 to 'Oh shit!' in seconds. Got quite a few speedin' tickets in that car!"
Buck gave a chuckle at the memory. "Yeah, I had a '76 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am. Between the two of us, we just started addin' in fine money to the budget every week like we did groceries and beer."
Dunne's eyes were now wide in shock. "You had a 'Smokey and the Bandit' car and Chris had a 'General Lee'?"
Both men's smiles got wider. "Yep" "Sure did, Kid"
Ezra didn't find the vehicles hard to believe. Something else had his attention at the moment.
"Mr. Wilmington . . . Buck . . . if you can write like that, you can obviously also speak that eruditely . . . ," started the Southerner.
"Yeah, Ez," agreed Buck with a shrug. "So?"
"So . . . why don't you?"
White teeth gleamed in the trademark Wilmington grin. "Never did like someone tellin' me how I should talk or behave. I can speak and write 'properly', but it ain't me. Would be like expectin' Chris to give up his black, or you to give up cards. I am who I am and if folks don't like me, that's their loss. Long as the ladies are attracted to 'ol Buck this way, I ain't changin'."
The smug smirk caused several sets of eyes to roll and elicited a resigned sigh or two, but they all had to secretly admit that they couldn't imagine Buck any other way, and weren't sure they wanted to.
Beaming at them, Wilmington saved his work and set the laptop aside, looking between Ezra, Nathan, and Chris to see who was going to follow him in revealing their hidden talent.
Chewing on his lip, Nathan indicated that he'd be the next.
"Well, I'm pretty sure none of ya know I can play the ukulele."
"The what?" "Ya mean one of those miniature guitars?" and other comments met his statement, causing the broad shoulders to shrug wryly.
"Yeah." Taking a breath, he started explaining. "My mom and dad couldn't afford instruments when us kids were in school, but we all wanted to play. We were always drummin' on tables or pots and pans, or somethin'. I would watch videos and try to imitate the guitar players' moves. Guess I was doin' air guitar before I knew there was a name for it. Anyway, one day I saw this show about a guy who made his own guitars and ukes. The full size ones looked too complicated, but the ukuleles seemed like somethin' I might could do. So I wrote down how the guy said he made 'em, and my dad found some left over materials at the big mansion he was doin' yard work for, so I followed the instructions." A laugh escaped the medic at the memory.
"That first one was awful. Sounded more like a sick goat than a musical instrument. But I kept tryin'. Finally about the fourth or fifth one, I got something that sounded pretty good. My mom had a LP of Hawaiian music . . . she'd always wanted to go to the islands on vacation, but never got to . . . so I played it until I nearly drove the rest of my family crazy. Took some work, but I eventually got to where I sounded at least a little like the folks on that album. Made my brother a little wooden drum and sticks, and my sister a flute, so we made up a 'band'. It's a wonder my mom didn't pull her hair out, but we had a lot of fun. Pretty much forgot about it after I got older, then after I got together with Rain I discovered that her dad played the piano and such. They were havin' a Hawaiian-theme party one time when we visited, and Rain's dad handed me a ukulele. He was gonna show me how to play when I started strummin'. Once he realized that I kinda knew what I was doin', he asked me to join in. It was a little embarassin' at first, but was real fun once I got the rhythm down. Still have the ukulele he gave me, and I play it a little for Rain sometimes, but just never had occasion to share it with y'all."
Instead of making fun like he'd half suspected at least some of the men would, they all made positive comments, JD mentioning that he thought it was cool. The kid himself was often drumming with his pencil on his desk or cup, etc. so he decided maybe he should actually get some drums and they could form a team band. Chris grimaced, Buck put his fingers in his ears, Josiah raised his eyes heavenward like he was praying, and Ezra wore a look no one quite recognized. Vin thought it was a good idea and said he could play his harmonica.
Chris rolled his eyes. "You don't play a real tune now, how do you think you'll play in a band?"
The blue eyes sparkled at the green ones, chiseled lips curving up in a mischievous smile.
"It's kinda like Buck said . . . I can play, I just like the random sounds it makes when I blow on it. Reminds me of the wind in the trees or somethin'. Besides . . . I know it bugs ya, so I do it partly just to see the expression ya make," admitted the sniper with a wicked chuckle.
An exasperated sigh escaped the blond. "One of these days Tanner . . . ."
Vin grinned. "Maybe Cowboy, but not today." The sandy brows bobbed in their patented move that almost always brought a smile to Larabee's lips whether he wanted it to or not.
All eyes now moved between the leader and the undercover agent, since they were the only ones left who hadn't divulged a talent.
Ezra gave a sigh. "I suppose I should go now and get it over with." The emerald gaze darted around to the others.
"So what's your hidden talent, Ez? And don't say anything to do with cards, 'cause we all know how talented ya are with those," came in Vin's slightly raspy drawl.
"Hell yeah. We lose to ya enough to vouch for how handy ya are with those pasteboards!" agreed Buck with a wry twitch to his mustache.
"And you can't really use music, 'cause at least a couple of us know you're talented there, too," reminded Josiah with a fond smile for the man he considered almost a son.
"Yes, I'm aware of both of those facts. I wasn't plannin' on usin' either of those." Another sigh raised and lowered the broad shoulders covered with an expensive wool sweater.
"So what are ya gonna tell us about?" asked JD. He was trying to be patient, since Ezra was the most reticent of all of the team, with the possible exception of Chris. Both were often reluctant to discuss their pasts especially, the difference being that Standish would talk about everything but what you wanted to know, and Chris just kept to his 'three words in a day' routine if asked about something he didn't want to talk about.
"My 'hidden talent' will probably come as a bit of a surprise to you all." Looking around, the gambler realized he had everyone's undivided attention. He glanced at JD.
"Remember those riverboat models you saw in that box when you gentlemen were helping me finally unpack?"
The younger man nodded.
"Yeah, Ezra. Those were really cool. I never did figure out why you didn't put them out so everyone could see 'em. Looked really detailed."
"I am now considering displaying them, Mr. Dunne . . . JD. However I wasn't comfortable doing so at the time because I didn't buy them as you thought, I made them."
Several eyes widened at the news.
"You put 'em together?" asked Vin for confirmation.
He'd glimpsed the models in question himself, and knew they were indeed very intricate. He'd figured that Standish had purchased them and was embarrassed to have the whole group know that he had a sentimental attachment to something that had no particular material worth.
Now everyone was staring at the normally verbose agent. One word answers meant that the subject was important to him.
"You all have a general idea of what my childhood and adolescence was like with Maude for a mother."
The others nodded silently.
"I didn't get to engage in many childish pursuits when I was young. Mother taught me early that if it wasn't profitable, it wasn't worth my time. However, I also had to have something to occupy myself with when she left me alone to spend time with her latest paramour or mark. One of said men, knowing of my fondness even then for the nineteenth-century time period, gave me a small wooden model of a sternwheeler as a gift. Mother of course had to allow me to put it together since her beau had presented it to me. My dexterity with the cards and dice helped immensely with putting the small pieces together. I found somewhat to my surprise that I enjoyed the task, and I was fascinated by the lore of the riverboats and the gamblers who plied their trade on them. When he saw that I enjoyed the model, mother's friend bought me some paints to decorate it with, and even fashioned a small nautical flag for me to hang on the pole near the stacks. I carefully painted the vessel and gave her the name of the Dixie Queen. She was given pride of place on the dresser in my room. Afterward, the same gentlemen bought me several more models, of various styles of riverboat. Side-wheeler, stern-wheeler, large, small . . . I found myself fascinated by them all. I procured books about them, looked up articles on their history, perused detailed plans of the originals. I often whiled away hours at a time while my mother was absent dreaming of living in that era and being a riverboat gambler."
The soft voice paused for a moment, then resumed. "The man eventually left of course, finding out about mother's baser nature, but the love he had helped instill in me of the riverboats and other facets of that period remained. I would go on to finish more than a dozen models in the next few years, having to leave most of them when we moved on. I stopped for some time, but a few years ago happened to see a model of one in a book and hobby shop I was visiting while undercover. On a whim, I decided to go back and buy it when the assignment was finished. I found that concentrating on the detail work of the model helped me to decompress and shed my undercover persona easier, so I occasionally would purchase one just to relax me and remind me of my interest in the past. When I left Atlanta however, the boats reminded me of that stressful and demoralizing time, so I kept them packed up when I moved here. I had almost forgotten them until that day you gentlemen came over to drag me into the acceptance that I was here and a member of the team to stay. Then I was a bit embarrassed to admit that I did something so mundane and domesticated as put together ship models. However, now that I have shared the story of how I started doing them with you, I think that I will put out at least a few."
Chris gave a little satisfied nod. "You can bring some over here, if you want. I can build some extra shelves in your room for them." Jade green eyes glanced around the spacious space they currently occupied. There was a pair of silver spurs that Vin had given him, an old picture of him and Buck in their Navy days that Wilmington had framed and hung on the wall, a wooden cross that Josiah had carved and put up, and a few other items that belonged to or were gifts from the boys. "In fact, wouldn't mind havin' one or two in here. They'd kinda suit the old west décor . . . ."
The rest grinned and after a moment, Standish did as well. Showing his gold tooth, the gambler dipped his head in assent.
"Indeed they would. Thank you. I believe I shall take you up on the offer."
Vin smiled. "I wouldn't mind helpin' ya put one together if ya find another one."
Buck nodded too. "Yeah, me too. I used to do car models. Would be pretty neat to do a ship."
Larabee looked thoughtful. "I think there's still that WWII battleship model that you and I were gonna do in the attic, too. Reckon we could all work on it."
At the enthusiastic replies, Ezra gave a pleased nod. Not only did the rest of the team not think the models were childish or beneath him, they were willing to help work on them with him. This could turn out to be an enjoyable activity once again that would now have good memories associated with it.
Attention now turned to Chris, as he was the only one left.
"What're you gonna share, Pard?" asked Buck in curiosity. "There might be some stiff the others haven't ever heard about, but you and I have been friends for years. We know ya like to carve with wood, I was with you when you were raisin' horses and ridin' in the rodeo, we all know you're an amazin' shot…"
Chris gave an enigmatic grin. "There's still a thing or two even you don't know, Buck . . . ," offered the lean form quietly. He then got up and pulled down the attic steps, disappearing in a cloud of dust and cobwebs for a bit. He came back down with a box and set it on a table, taking off the top and rummaging through it for a few minutes. Finally he found what he wanted and pulled something out with a soft "ah ha".
Six pairs of eyes looked at the object in curiosity. It was about 12"x16" and even from a distance had a glossy sheen.
Buck, being familiar with the size, gave a big grin. "Whooee, Stud! Does your secret involve girlie pictures?"
Larabee gave a wry negative shake of the head. "Not exactly, Buck. Though it did seem to attract some ladies."
Now thoroughly curious, the others got up and gathered around the lean figure. When he turned the item over it was obvious that it was a promotional poster of some kind. A tall form dressed like a nineteenth-century gunfighter, holding a bone-handled Colt peacemaker was the main focus of the design. Dusty ebony boots with ornate silver-trimmed spur harnesses graced the feet, and tight dark pants drew attention to the long legs and other 'assets' of the figure where he was turned partially away from the camera. A black bib-front shirt with silver snaps hugged the impressive torso and just a few wisps of blond hair were visible below the flat-crowned western hat. An ebony gunbelt and holster trimmed with silver were clearly visible since the right side of of the impressive figure was toward the lens. The holster was worn high on the hip in authentic style, instead of in the low-slung position often shown in old TV shows. The photo was at least fifteen years old, but the stance and chiseled features even in profile were familiar.
Buck got it first, since he'd met Chris just a couple of years later.
"Shit, Chris! That's you! Was that made at that old west tourist town not too far from here?"
JD was staring at the poster with his mouth agape.
"You were a gunfighter?" he almost stuttered in shock. The old west fascinated the youngest of the seven, and he'd often wished he'd been born in that time period. To see his hero dressed as a gunman from that era just made Larabee even more impressive in his eyes.
Chris relinquished the item to Vin, who turned it toward the light to see it better.
"Yeah, JD. For a couple of summers anyway. It was a little before I joined the Navy. I'd already left home and moved here. I was trying to decide between the PD and the military, and was taking police procedure classes at night just in case I choose law enforcement. I was working at a local ranch breaking stock off and on and the owner showed me this ad for 'gunfighters' and suggested I should apply. He'd seen me shoot and thought I'd be perfect. I figured a little extra money wouldn't hurt, and I'd always had this affinity for the old west, so I went out and did a demo for them. The owner of the town hired me on the spot. Said I was a natural, and swore I was channeling an old west 'shootist'. He had several 'good guys', so he laughingly told me I was going to be his 'bad element' character and that the women would love me. He picked the all black outfit and then I had it tailored to fit a little better. He had these posters made up to advertise my presence as the new 'resident' and 'notorious gunslinger' of the town."
A grin that resembled Buck's, and showed what he'd been like before tragedy struck his life, curved up the sculpted lips.
"Once they handed them out, let's just say I got a lot of dates! Women would come every week specifically to see me .. . . or so Clay said. Once I joined the Navy, I put my copy up and forgot about it until I met Sarah. She saw an advertisement for an old west town kinda like this one not long after we stated dating and wanted to go visit. I told her I had worked in one and she didn't believe that I was one of those 'sexy gunfighters' as she called it, so I drug the poster out and showed it to her. She was amazed, excited, and then jumped all over me! She did tell me I better not show it to any of her friends though, or she'd be beating them off me with a stick." White teeth gleamed in a smile as the green eyes sparkled with remembered amusement.
"Neat!" opined JD.
"I can see why she didn't want you showing her female friends, Chris," offered Josiah with a laugh as he took in the tall, attractive form with the dangerous aura even in the still shot. The piercing green gaze looked out steadily from under the low hat, head dipped a bit so that the brim shaded the upper part of the handsome face. There was a definite air of power, and even in the picture the lean figure had the grace of a big cat.
"Who knew we worked with a star?" asked Vin with a teasing grin.
JD looked around at the men that were like brothers to him. "Wow! I knew you guys were cool, but I never realized how talented you really were! This turned out to be really great."
Chris gave a wry smile. "I'm glad you're happy Kid, and I agree . . . this was a good idea." He felt sharing some of their remaining secrets had brought the team even closer, and was pleased.
He caught Dunne's gaze. "Just don't tell the Judge about it, ok? If Evie gets wind of the gunfighting or music playing we'll be posing for pictures and entertaining at her charity functions for the rest of our careers!"
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