Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven do not belong to me (weep, weep); they belong to Trilogy Entertainment Group, MGM, The Mirish Corporation, CBS, and now TNN. I will not make any money off this; my reward comes from feedback. This is a work of fiction; the author does not intend any infringement on copyrights held by those listed or those not listed by the author. Please don't sue.
Author's Notes: My thanks to Mog for giving me permission to write in the ATF AU she created. This is my first posted Fanfic and crave feedback. Hopefully this will be the first in a series of four stories.
Thanks to: Cin for being a wonderful beta and making me laugh while she makes me work hard.
Wednesday, Three Weeks Earlier...
Chris Larabee, leader of ATF Team 7 of Denver, slammed the telephone down with considerable force. Outside the closed office door, six men flinched. They immediately discovered the fascinating aspects of their paperwork and busied themselves, waiting for the coming explosion and hoping for minimal backside loss from the expected chewing. Silent questioning gazes flew around the room, silent shrugs the only answers. No one owned up to or knew of anything that could have riled their leader.
The door flung open and the famous Larabee glare swept the room, discovering all six working for a change. Inwardly he smiled, knowing the abuse suffered by the undeserving receiver provided him the edge in dealing with his unique team.
"Listen up," the voice was calm, cool and deadly. "CPR Recertification three weeks from now, eight o'clock, at the training center." As expected, the excuses started. Chris waited them out.
"Gotta see the dentist."
"Sorry, my hard drive needs maintenance."
Deep sigh and a nod.
"Works for me."
"Glad you're all so accepting. Mark it on the calendars."
"Why then, Chris?" asked JD Dunne.
"Put it off long enough, we're all about to expire. Mandatory attendance, ladies." Groans accompanied his pronouncement. "I'm going too if it makes you feel better."
"I hope we get a different teacher this time," JD sighed.
"Tell me about it," Buck Wilmington mumbled. "Last one damn near put me in a coma."
"Don't snore so loud this time and you might not get caught." JD ducked the swat aimed at his head and retaliated with a wad of crumpled paper.
"Don't know, don't care, be there!" The leader retreated into his office, closing the door on further arguments.
Josiah Sanchez, noticing the frown on Nathan Jackson's face, parked on the corner of his desk. "Brother, something wrong?"
"Yeah. Having to take a medical class with all of you. No offense, Josiah." He waited for his friend's acceptance before continuing. "CPR can save lives. I don't think everyone here, especially Buck, takes it seriously and it's frustrating."
"I'm good at pumping, but I don't blow." Buck's voice echoed throughout the room.
Josiah winced as the medic crossed his arms, his expression clearly stating 'see my point'. "I believe Buck knows what to do if he's needed."
Nathan rolled his eyes in disbelief.
"Give them the benefit of the doubt. They might surprise you." The counselor gave his friend's shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Yeah, well, we'll see."
One Week Earlier...
Leaning against the doorframe of his office, Larabee surveyed his motley crew. "Just a reminder, children, CPR recertification next Wednesday at eight o'clock sharp." Various grumbles flowed around the room. "No excuses; AD Travis called to confirm."
"Why'd he call?"
"Because, JD, we've evaded in-service classes for the last six months. We don't miss this, that's an order!" With that warning, he returned to his desk.
Vin Tanner rose quietly and entered their leader's office. Chris glanced up from his paperwork and indicated for Vin to take a seat. The sharpshooter eyed his tense friend closely. "Why's this mandatory? Thought we could pick our time to go."
Chris sighed, drawing a tired hand down his face. "Our certifications expire in less than a month. The new training Instructor has been riding Travis' ass about it."
"Should've notified ya first, let ya bring it to us." Vin frowned, wondering why their leader wasn't more upset over someone going over his head and jumping the chain of command. He knew they usually had months for picking classes compatible with their schedules.
"She did. Kept putting it off because of our caseload, telling myself I'd arrange it after every assignment."
"She remind ya?"
"Repeatedly through polite e-mails." The stoic blonde flipped through his files, avoiding the sharp blue gaze of his best friend's eyes, hoping the smokescreen worked.
The sharpshooter read the man's discomfort, allowed himself a half grin, and queried, "Whatcha do, cowboy?"
Damn, he knows me too well. Chris thought ruefully. "Last e- mail came just after you were hurt. Wasn't very polite, insisted I schedule or she would."
Vin remembered that stay, rubbing the spot on his chest where a bullet breached his vest. He spent three long weeks in the hospital before annoying them enough to release him. Chris stayed beside him almost every minute. The rest of the team split shifts between their injured teammate's side and the office covering for the two men. Naturally Larabee was a touch riled at everything those days, and a sharp e-mail would have been enough to trigger the infamous Larabee temper. Vin quirked an eyebrow at his friend prompting, him to continue.
"I lost my temper."
Vin rolled his eyes, his statement saying 'Tell me something I don't know.'
"I wrote back telling her we risk our lives day after day in the field while she sits in her crystal palace out of touch with our real job. Told her she wouldn't know field work if it bit her in the ass and to leave us the hell alone."
"Good one, cowboy. Ya pissed her off?"
Chris nodded with a sour look on his face. "She has friends in high places too. Travis owns a pound of flesh from my backside."
"Ya gonna apologize, real sweet-like?"
"Maybe. Unless she pisses me off first."
Vin's grin broadened as he rose to leave, thinking he needed to find Ezra and get a bet down on how long it would take the new Instructor to piss Larabee off.
Sunday, Week of Training...
Vin shifted again in the cramped quarters of the surveillance van, accidentally elbowing Buck in the stomach in his quest for room. "Sorry," he mumbled.
"Look, Junior, stop moving around. This van isn't getting any bigger." Buck's patience neared the exploding level; Vin's restlessness resulted in too many bumps and hits. "Tell me something."
"How can you sit still or lay on your stomach on a six inch wide beam for hours on end but now twitch like a man laying on a beehive?" Buck waved his arms for emphasis.
"Food," the sharpshooter mumbled, gazing sheepishly at the floor.
"He said food, Buck. You know, what you shove into that big hole in your face?" JD snapped, frustrated with both of them. Everyone's nerves showed wear after four hours in the van on their day off.
"Kid, no need to get snippy," Buck swung at JD's head and slapped Vin as the sharpshooter paced by again. "Sorry. Will you sit down?" He rolled his eyes until Vin flopped in the driver's seat, using the binoculars to check their perimeter through the tinted glass.
"Vin? Mind if I explain?"
Vin responded with half-hearted shrug of his shoulders.
JD turned patiently to his roommate; "Vin watches what he eats and drinks when he knows he'll be in a tight position. Nothing that will boost his energy or make him hyper. The sudden call out didn't let him prepare."
"Meaning he ate all his favorite junk food." Buck rolled his eyes again, seeing time stretch longer with two hyperactive 'kids' corralled in a tight, confined space.
"Yup," Vin confirmed, still staring through the binoculars.
"Seven-Two to Seven-One, radio check." Josiah's rich voice rolled through the small compartment speakers. The teams called each other every thirty minutes for safety reasons.
"Seven-one, you're good."
"Nothing moving over here. Ezra's still on standby for the deal with Team 6. Anything there?"
"Yeah, Junior's got energy to burn," Buck shot back.
Josiah laughed. "Two more hours and we're relieved."
"Couldn't come soon enough. Wanna trade places?" JD piped up.
The normally booming voice dropped to a whisper. "Nope. We've got our own caged bear over here."
Buck winced in sympathy. Chris cooped up in a van on a planned day made things hard enough; Chris called out during his Sunday afternoon horse ride fared poorly for those around him. "Heard that," the ladies man agreed.
Chris reminded himself again why they were there. Team 6 asked for assistance with their bust of a cigarette company for selling and distributing products to outside interests without paying taxes. Ezra planned on posing as the boss of Team 6's undercover operative for credibility reasons. The background intelligence said the boss was from the deep South. Ezra's thick drawl would go far in reassuring the nervous executives once they established a meet. Therefore, this Sunday, Team 7 found themselves relegated to surveillance. Larabee hated waiting. He hated waiting even more in cramped quarters surrounded by friends with smart-ass comments about his temperament.
"So did I," Chris whispered quietly into his headset.
In the second van, Buck grinned, knowing his mark found a target and prepared for another salvo. JD shook his head in warning at his friend; Vin rolled his eyes thinking the rogue had a death wish. Buck never got a chance at a comeback.
"Cut the chatter!"
The radio immediately fell silent.
Monday, Week of Training...
"Day two and we're no closer than we were yesterday," JD complained.
"These things take time," Nathan fired back over the radio.
"No go. He's still waiting impatiently for the call."
"Join the club."
"How's things over there?" Nathan inquired because Chris opted to stay with Buck and JD today and moved Vin in with them. Since things could break at any time, the operation required the presence of the entire team for whenever - if - it happened. Team 6's sniper already covered the area, leaving Vin no place to go. Team 7 split between the vans, again relegated for surveillance and backup.
"Quiet for now."
"Let me know if things change."
"You know it."
"Nathan, quit worrying. I'm not gonna shoot anyone...yet." Chris glared at the Dynamic Duo; Buck grinned unrepentantly back at him. Between the kid's bad jokes and Buck's constant chatter, his headache rivaled the consistent throbbing pulse of jackhammers. Some days the ongoing slapstick comedy routine between his oldest friend and their youngest member grated his nerves. Like today. He'd never admit it to either Nathan or Josiah, but their philosophical discussions drove him cross-eyed, especially after the second and third hour on the same topic. He'd hoped for a difference in the other van. From Plato to Peanuts, Chris sighed to himself. Damn, he hated waiting. This elaborate dance between their target and their operatives couldn't be sped up. So they waited.
"Glad to hear that."
"Play nice, cowboy," Vin admonished with a wicked grin. He enjoyed the discussion in his van and added his own perspective, finding it welcome and debated. He also watched what he ate, so he was not as restless as yesterday.
"I don't have to, cowboy. I'm paid to be mean."
"And ya do it so well," Vin returned. "The paint's peeled off the van over here, must of been from those glares of yours."
"Nathan, I take that back."
"You've got another three hours before we can go home," the EMT reminded them. "And I ain't patching you up if you kill each other."
Everyone groaned and suffered.
Tuesday, Day Before Certification...
"Okay, Ezra's in position. His meeting's just started so we hold tight until he signals," JD reported. This time, Buck and JD had the van to themselves. Nathan and Josiah's van sat on a side street on the opposite side of the target. Vin held a sniper position in the office across from the conference room so it kept the restless man away from the others. Team 6's sniper watched from a spot a couple windows down. Entrenched in a vacant office in the target building, the two team leaders waited for the signal.
At two o'clock this afternoon, they received word the deal would go down that evening and both teams kicked into high gear, checking their warrants and equipment for the bust.
Now, at nine, the nervous nellies demanded reassurances. Two hours of negotiating and still no end in sight. Larabee barely resisted the urge to either shoot all of them or beat his head against the wall. He listened for a while, Ezra's manner soothing feathers and still no action.
Chris counted from zero past ten and neared thirty before the hesitant targets finally started discussing business in the meeting room down the hallway. Fortunately, Team 6's operative arranged the meeting at a dummy office rented for this particular purpose. Vin kept the three executives and their bodyguards in sight with his long- range rifle, prepared for the shot if the deal went south. Knowing their luck, it probably would.
Listening to the transmissions from Ezra's wire, Chris heard the southerner and Team 6's operative reassuring the wimps nothing could be traced back to them and money would be plentiful.
Ten rolled around with the start of the final negotiations. Eleven came and went through a myriad of petty details, further stretching the short patience of Team 7's leader.
Finally, the crooks lost the coy attitudes and incriminated themselves on the wire. Once the deal finished, the signal came through for the bust.
A formidable blonde bulldozer beat the entry team by five seconds, his patience long since gone. Two bodyguards immediately went down under his fists when they reached for their guns while the other bodyguard tried bull rushing out the door. He got as far as Buck's chest, who downed him with one punch. The mustached agent breathed heavy from sprinting the stairs once the final part of the deal started, not wanting to miss the action.
No one (besides the suspects) suffered injuries during the bust itself. The execution of search warrants at remote storage yards went smoothly, resulting in several hours' worth of inventory for all agents involved.
After they finished inventory and cleanup, Team 6 excused Team 7. Chris noticed Vin hand five dollars to Ezra, who saluted with two fingers against an imaginary hat.
"What was that for?" The tired blond registered the fact that it was 3:30 a.m. and dreaded the drive home. This by-play served as a distraction against the unpleasant thought of the near-hour commute.
Blue eyes twinkled in merriment. "You, cowboy,"
"Why?" Green eyes nailed Standish in place.
"'Cuz Ezra said you'd be the first through the door; I figured ya'd let Team 6 get first licks this time. Reckon I was wrong."
It truly sucked when subordinates accurately predicted the leader's behavior and made money off it. Chris sighed, too tired for arguing with Ezra and knew if he heard one long sentence he'd shoot the southern pain in the butt. Without a word, he climbed in his truck and drove home.
Six a.m., Wednesday Morning
If the groping fingers located the weapon first, one irritating buzzing machine would quickly arrive in alarm clock heaven. Fortunately for the unsuspecting appliance, the hand found the off button and bleary green eyes read the time with dismay. The weary body mindlessly made his way through a shower and two cups of coffee before feeling human enough for telephone calls. If he had to endure this damn training, he was going to make sure his team arrived on time and suffered with him.
Ring. "Mornin', cowboy." The raspy drawl beat him to the punch.
A flicker of a smile graced the blonde's face. "Morning, this is your wake up call."
"Already there, worry 'bout the others."
Ring. Ring. Ring. "Huh?"
"Morning, Josiah. Class, eight o'clock."
"Uh-huh." The voice faded at the end.
A throat cleared. "I'm awake, brother. I'll be there."
"I'll call back in five minutes," Chris threatened.
"I'm awake." The rumbling voice sounded more lively. "Take care of Ezra; you'll never get him up."
"Already have plans for that. See you."
"Thanks for the call."
"Uh-huh." Dial. Ring.
"Vin, get Ezra's sorry ass up. I'm calling him but I doubt he'll be awake."
Ring. Ring. "Jackson." Nathan's alert voice came through the receiver.
"Making sure you're awake."
"Of course, looking forward to this."
"Figures," the leader mumbled quietly as he hung up.
Ring. Ring. Ring. Click. "Please leave a message at the tone."
"Ezra, get your lazy ass up. Don't make me call again."
Fumble, fumble. "Hello, Mr. Larabee? To what do I owe the pleasure of your charming description of my august personage at this ungodly hour of the morning?"
Chris rubbed the bridge of his nose thinking he needed more coffee. He wondered if Standish used his flowery language even in his sleep. "Making sure you'll be at class."
"I have not slept, therefore, I will be at class on time. Ah, I see Mr. Tanner's arrived. Perhaps I can enlighten him to a finer morning repast than his usual Golden Arches." Click.
Head shake. Damn southerner. Should have figured he never went to bed. Man slept like the dead and wouldn't wake without an explosion or his mother saying his name.
Ring. Ring. Ring. "Hello, darlin'." The sleep husky voice purred in the receiver.
"Hey, baby. You wanna neck?"
"Huh? Chris? What the hell. . ."
"Wake up call, big dog. Class, eight o'clock."
"Thanks. Forgot all about it."
"Don't worry, I've got ice water."
Chris grinned in spite of himself. "Just make sure you both are on time."
Checking his watch, Chris realized he needed to leave now if he wanted to stop for breakfast and more coffee at his favorite shop a couple doors down from the Federal building. The commute went well for a change, leaving the road rage for later travelers. He obtained his refreshments and drove to the parking garage, locking his truck and walking to the adjoining training center beside the Federal building.
Finding the room, he entered, balancing his coffee and danish and located a seat. A stern voice stopped him from settling too far into his chair.
"Sorry, no food or beverages." The female voice boomed from the front of the room. He glanced up at the woman, not sure what he just heard.
An attractive female walked over to him and smiled. "Sorry, but no food or drinks allowed in here. Building rules, not mine. Feel free to use the room over there to finish." She pointed to a small square room filled with tiny chairs, a counter, and trashcans.
Chris recognized three other agents crammed in the room holding their coffees and assorted morning snacks. They raised their cups in salute and he joined them reluctantly, shooting a glare at the woman. She surprised him when she smiled back, a knowing grin on her face, and shooed him with her hand before sitting at the front of the room by the laptop and projector. Hmm, need to work on the early- morning glare.
"Agent Larabee, right?" the older, more distinguished agent confirmed.
"Chris, and it's been awhile, Marty. Two years ago, symposium on Constitutional Rights of the Accused?"
"Good memory. I see Harpy drove you in here also."
"Harpy?" He thought the Instructor's name was Harper. So far she did not recognize him or at least antagonize him about the e-mails. Not that he cared, but he'd rather not have a scene this early in the morning on so little sleep.
"She's earned it." The other two agents chuckled.
"Kristin West." The younger female introduced herself.
"Tammy Beckley," said the young black agent.
"We know who you are; we also heard your entire team will be here," Tammy arched an eyebrow grinning. "Will the building stand?"
Before Chris could defend his team, Harpy's voice carried over. "I'm sorry, you can't bring that in here."
"Now, darlin', are you going to deny a man his coffee? I know I could just get my fill of sweetness by looking at you, but I need something with a little bite to get me jumpstarted," the ladies man turned his charm on full blast.
"Crash and burn," Kristin mumbled.
"Mm-hmm," Tammy agreed with a wince. Chris watched with morbid interest.
"First, I am not your darling, your honey, or anything else other than your Instructor. You may refer to me as Agent Harper. Second, you will enjoy your coffee in the room over there but you will not bring it into the classroom. Third, Agent Wilmington, don't look so surprised - your reputation precedes you - the only sweetness and bite you'll get might be from Annie if she feels up to it." JD's chuckles brought undue attention on him. "You can join your friend in there, Agent Dunne, if you plan on enjoying that pastry you shoved in your coat pocket."
"Busted," Beckley and Kristin chorused. Chris managed a half- smile.
JD and Buck joined them, the older agent still staring after the pretty auburn haired Instructor with a thoughtful look.
"Chris. Marty, long time. Well, hello, Tammy and Kristin. If I'd known you'd be here I'd have brought you breakfast as well."
Buck wagged his eyebrows, "I prefer romantic."
"Nice crash and burn," Tammy told him.
"Still hitting on everything in a skirt, I see." Kristin winked and cocked her head toward the outer room. "She's tougher than you think."
"Opening round," he easily replied, not deterred.
JD snorted. "Please. She won't fall for your animal maggotism, Buck. She's smarter than that."
"Now, JD, what have I told you about animal mag-ne-tism? Women can't resist it forever."
Marty leaned over to Chris in the confines of the small, square room. "He always like this?" He remembered meeting Wilmington once at a bust for ten minutes. They joked then separated as it started.
"Nah, he's tired."
"Usually he works harder and sounds smoother."
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but you can't bring them in here," Harpy's voice interrupted the conversation. The banished turned to watch the soon-to-be banished. Chris hid his grin at Nathan and Josiah's expressions. Josiah needed morning coffee or he became the bear he resembled in real life.
"What?" asked Josiah. He looked down at the smiling woman, guessing her around five eight, hazel eyes, shoulder length bob, and a professional, expensive suit covering a rail thin frame. Too thin, he thought. Then he saw dark circles and sunken pain-filled eyes, realizing demons haunted her.
"Sorry, house rules. No food or drink allowed in the classroom. There's a room over there." The newcomers received the raised cup salute from the banished as they joined their brethren, Josiah still contemplating the pretty Instructor.
"Don't look now but I think she enjoys telling people no," Chris mumbled to Nathan. Catching the medic in mid sip, the man started coughing, barely managing the effort of keeping it from exiting his nose. Two solid back blows by Josiah sent him into another coughing fit.
"Everything okay in there?"
"Yes, Harper, it's fine," Marty answered with infinite patience, staring at the ceiling.
"All right then. Fifteen minutes."
"Right." Marty rolled his eyes.
"What iceberg did she fall off of and when can we send her back?" JD muttered beneath his breath, drawing a chuckle from the others in the room.
"She's better than Croon. He'd bore you to tears," Kristin said.
"Sorry, gentlemen, no food or beverages in the classroom."
"Doesn't she have anything else to say?" asked Tammy.
"I beg your pardon?" A southern drawl asked 'are-you-crazy' in polite tones.
"Is there something wrong with your hearing, Agent Standish?"
"Absolutely not," he replied slowly.
"Then remove yourself and Agent Tanner that way and join the others."
"I do not believe the room can hold two more," came the soft reply as he noticed the tension on his partner's face as they studied the mass of bodies pressed close together and faces staring out at them.
"Then stand in the hallway, Agent. You have ten minutes. That goes for all of you; I expect you in your seats in ten minutes."
The southerner wandered to the room of exile as the hesitant sharpshooter paused in the hallway. Ezra waited until he felt her out of earshot. "Anyone care to enlighten me on the origin of that she-devil?"
"Transplant from Baltimore," Marty replied. "Marty Nichols. This is Tammy Beckley and Kristen West." Final introductions were made around the room as they finished their coffee and snack of choice.
"Five minutes, people," a firm voice announced from the other room.
Vin looked hopefully toward their playboy, "Buck, your magic work on she-devils?"
"Already failed," Chris offered with a half-smile. "It wasn't pretty."
The group sauntered to their seats two minutes before their deadline. The Instructor looked up once the chairs stopped shifting and all coats found a resting place.
"Good morning. My name is Agent Harper and I will be recertifying you in Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation. I hope that we'll get through the material quickly and you'll be out of here before the end of the four-hour time allotment. Since I can see everyone's here, I'll pass the attendance sheet around. Remember to print and then sign your name; don't sign twice, please. Also, here are your handouts; I've attached a schedule for today. If we follow it, we will part company no later than eleven or eleven thirty."
She started handing papers out at the end of each row. Tammy, Kristin, and Marty sat on the right side of the room in the front. Vin and Chris snagged the back left corner of the room with easy visibility of the doors; Nathan and Josiah sat in the center. Ezra sat between Buck and JD, a risky proposition, in a vain attempt in keeping them in line.
"Okay. You can see we're going to start with a video and please stay awake. You won't like me much if I have to wake you. If I do, that means I rewind the video to the beginning and keep doing that until everyone remains conscious throughout. CPR's too important not to pay attention, no matter how many times you've been through it."
She went in the back of the room and flicked off the lights then started the tape. Nathan watched with interest, realizing that this video changed since his last class. "Feet off the furniture," her voice ordered.
Boots thudded as they cleared the surfaces with the muttered comment, "What are we in grade school now?" Harper smiled as she sat down at the front desk.
Five minutes into it the head nods started. Vin hid his face behind his hair, his legs stretched out in front of him crossed at the ankles. Chris leaned back in his chair and felt his eyes growing heavy, shutting on their own.
Josiah tried; he honestly did, but the hours in the van took their toll. He closed his eyes for a second, promising to open them and catch the rest of the video. The promise was easily forgotten as he drifted into a sea of dreams. He never realized he started snoring until an elbow connected with his midsection. Startled, he straightened and flushed from the disapproving look Nathan gave him.
Buck listened to the droning voice and zoned. He tried deciding who he might call for a date later, or if he should forgo a night of pleasure and sleep instead. Would it be fair to the lady if his sleepiness cost her his attention? Hmm...he drifted off.
JD squirmed in his seat. He hated videos like this; they bored him. After ten minutes, he gave up on watching and checked the others. Nathan met his gaze briefly with Josiah obviously struggling beside him. The rest: down for the count, including Ezra, his chin on his chest, his eyes closed. JD noticed Harper grab an item from the top of her desk. With a wicked grin, she motioned all those awake to cover their ears, lifting the handheld air horn.
Even with the ears covered, the awake flinched.
The resting came up armed. Buck's chair fell over backwards with him in it from the sudden shifting of weight. Josiah shook his head, now fully alert, one hand on his gun. Vin blinked, realizing his gun pointed right at Harper's heart and flushed, ashamed for being caught unaware. He lowered the weapon immediately. Chris kept his weapon trained on her. Ezra's small derringer pointed at Harper as well, his green eyes blinking owlishly as he assessed the situation. Buck dragged himself off the floor. "What the hell was that?"
Tammy, Kristin, and Marty snickered at Team 7, finding them not as Magnificent as their reputation claimed. Nathan shook his head, alternately embarrassed and chagrined at his teammates' behavior.
One by one, the team returned their guns to their holsters with the exception of Chris. He unloaded his gun and placed it on the table in front of him without a word. Harper never flinched from the plethora of guns pointed at her, her voice calm and icy as the team put themselves back together. "Now that I have your attention, we will restart the video and watch it again. Perhaps this time you have incentive on staying awake."
"Lady, you blow that air horn again and you will get shot. We're too tired to play nice," a steely green glare backed the quiet warning.
"I'm sorry for your discomfort, Agent Larabee, but for some reason I feel safe in MY crystal palace." Harper shrugged arms out palms turned to the ceiling returning the glare with one of her own. "Perhaps because I'm so out of touch with field work, but I had faith in your superior field reflexes, I was confident you would not shoot me. Consider me properly chastised and," the slim woman paused, tapping her finger against her lips "What's the phrase?. . .oh yes, bitten in the ass."
Nine pairs of wide eyes stared at the brave woman while she bored her gaze into Larabee.
"Easy, cowboy," whispered a nervous sharpshooter. He was convinced the woman was loco or did not care for her life, a dangerous combination. No one pulled the tail of the tiger without injury, and Chris exacted a heavy price for riling him.
The widely known, commanding leader of the ATF's most successful team felt the figurative gauntlet slap him in the face. In his mind, he grabbed it. Larabee stood slowly, green eyes blazing, ready for battle.
"You have something to add, Agent Larabee?"
"Agent Harper," Josiah tried diffusing the two dynamic forces, "you'll have to forgive us. We were up late finishing a case we're exhausted and on edge." His voice was low and soothing.
"I am well aware of your nocturnal activities, Agent Sanchez, as I am aware that this class is your last opportunity for recertification. I require no more than four hours of your time and attention. As you've had four months to schedule your attendance, four hours today is not unreasonable." The determined gaze never wavered from Larabee's, enjoying the angry flush entering his cheeks. "You'll find me a woman not to be ignored."
"Agent Harper, can we watch the video now? Like you said earlier, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish." JD swallowed at his bravado but he wanted out, the sooner the better for all concerned.
"Chris," hissed Vin. He placed a restraining arm on his friend, willing calmness.
Chris looked at his team's faces, all waiting for his next move. If he walked, they walked. Except Nathan. The disapproval radiated from the EMT, cutting right through the anger. Nathan deserved better; they constantly demanded his medical skills and of the lot of them, he needed CPR the most, especially to maintain his EMT certification. She won this round. Making a show of sitting down, he relented with a final warning, "No air horn."
"I'll make a deal with you; I won't use my toy if you all stay awake." Sarcasm dripped from her tone. "Unless, of course, saving lives ranks as something worth sleeping through. Let's try this again, shall we?" The video started over and everyone forced themselves not to nod off through pinches, punches, and elbows. Nathan, however, was pleased Josiah never needed another nudge. He knew the man felt guilty about the first lapse and opted against a repeat performance.
A mass sigh of relief could be heard from the collection of cranky agents, rubbing bleary eyes and nursing new bruises when the film finally wound to an end. "Okay, do you want to take a break or do you want me to continue?" Harper inquired with a satisfied smile.
"Break!" The volume of the voices indicated the desire for more caffeine and distance from the Harpy.
"Ten minutes." She remained in the room as the bum rush started for the coffeemaker in the break room. Vin again stood just outside of the room, accepting a cup from Chris, who stood fuming silently beside him.
"This is going to be a long morning," muttered JD.
"Quite so," added Ezra, grimacing at the strength of the coffee.
"Coffee's good," Vin sighed, enjoying the strong brew.
"Damn. This stuff's almost as potent as yours, Junior." Buck grabbed the sugar and upended it into the cup.
"Brother, I apologize," Josiah said softly to Nathan.
Nathan met his friend's guilty gaze. "It's okay. I know the videos are boring and I enjoy this training."
Josiah managed a wry grin. "Perhaps the lecture part will be more interesting, if not as loud."
Nathan chuckled. "Kinda like her style. Makes sure everyone pays attention."
"That she does, brother, that she does."
"Curious about the four months comment." Nathan's brow frowned in thought.
"Chris knows but isn't saying."
They glanced at their leader, noting the stiff posture and simmering stare. "Think he put it off?" Nathan mused aloud.
"We've had a heavy caseload. Still do."
Nathan nodded in agreement. "But..."
"Something else happened," Josiah finished. "I'm wondering about the crystal palace comment."
"She aimed that speech at Chris."
"Yup. He looked ready to walk until he saw your face."
"Saw your expression, got a little thoughtful, and sat down."
"I don't have that kind of power over Chris," scoffed Nathan.
Josiah smiled reassuringly, "Yes, you do, my friend. You patch us up when we're hurt and to do that, you must keep current certifications. Chris knows that. You take healing seriously, and Chris knows that too."
"So he backed down for me."
"Wouldn't put it that way. He let the insult pass and now he's biding his time until he can do something without jeopardizing the team."
"Even exhausted you catch things others miss."
"I'm a student of human nature. How long Chris lasts, well, I don't rightly know. He'll only take so much from her, deserved or not." With a sly grin Josiah finished, "Wonder if Ezra is taking bets?"
They noticed Ezra sliding over to Chris and Vin, the rest of the team also moving that way. All of them stood in front of the open classroom double doors.
"I wonder what further malicious behavior that harridan possesses?" drawled Ezra over his coffee.
"None if she knows what's good for her," muttered Chris.
"Perhaps, Mr. Larabee, you could explain why her current unpleasant demeanor is directed toward you?"
"Not now, Ezra," a green glare warned the undercover agent to back off.
"I tell you," Buck threw an arm around his oldest friend's shoulders, "it's his charming personality. You picked another one. . . Stud."
"Shut up, Buck." They exchanged glances, the dark haired man seeing more than what was said in his friend's eyes.
The mustached agent attempted redirection by picking on his housemate. "Now JD, do I have to tell you to keep your mouth shut? We don't want that feisty woman mad at us, do we?"
"I'm not the one that fell out of my chair, Buck," retorted JD. "All those arms and legs flying." He performed a reenactment, landing on his butt like Buck. The action elicited chuckles from the gathered students.
As JD attempted standing, Buck placed his boot in the middle of the downed man and kept him down. "Cute, kid."
A voice came from the open doors. "Self defense refresher next week. We even use mats. Any volunteers?"
"Darlin', you can flip me on my back anytime." Buck grinned at Harper, keeping his foot on JD's chest despite the smaller agent's attempts in dislodging it.
"Ever heard of sexual harassment, Agent Wilmington?"
Buck held both hands away from him in supplication. "Now, Agent Harper, I'm only offering my services as..."
"A punching dummy for next Thursday's class. Unless, of course, Agent Larabee objects?"
Green eyes turned evilly on the rogue, "He's all yours, unless I need him."
"Thank you. If you'll excuse me, I'll make the arrangements." She disappeared from view.
JD finally shoved Buck off him and stood laughing. "Gee, Buck, you get to be beaten up next week."
"By a fine specimen of woman. Could do without the self defense class." He looked at Chris who shook his head unrepentantly.
"You walked into that one, Buck," Nathan told him.
Josiah rumbled, "And you face the consequences."
"With friends like you, I'm better off with her." The broad smile joked with them as he entered the classroom. "Agent Harper, can we talk?"
Vin snorted, "There goes Romeo."
"Five dollars says he fails," Ezra's gold tooth gleamed in anticipation of a windfall.
"You're on, Ez."
"Won't work," Chris agreed. "Too mean."
"Come on, Chris, she's just making sure we're doing what we're supposed to. I don't think sleeping through the video's part of the training." JD defended her temporarily, attempting logic in an attempt to soothe ruffled feathers.
"Yeah kid, I know." Knowing and enjoying, however, ranked as two separate things. Chris sighed in resignation. He deserved some of this treatment. Not all, not as much as she dished out, but some. So much for her apology. He'd be lucky if he didn't shoot her before lunch if she kept pushing his temper.
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