Nathan easily slit the double knit wool sweater up the middle. Tanner as was typical wore only a white T-shirt underneath. It was a wonder he never got pneumonia. Jackson left the T-shirt intact and ran his hands under the shirt. He could hear and feel rather than see the uneven rise and fall of the tracker's chest. The gurgle had lessened somewhat with the slight elevation of the shoulders. The rattle though discernible to even the uneducated eye was easily picked up by the educated hands that carefully palpated the chest.
Damn Damn Damn. Jackson gazed quickly up at JD and smiled encouragingly.
Dunne hated that...that weak, 'everything's gonna be ok,' smile. In reality 'no it was not going to be ok'. He was not a kid. He did not need coddling. He had been around the others enough to recognize bad injuries. The occasional gunshot, slammed fingers in the doors (boy was Buck pissed that day) the infrequent thrown punch and ever present slight concussion....those were inconsequential. Chest wounds, abdominal wounds, rattling breaths, blood in the ears...no those were not ok injuries. Something important was broke. Something gave and needed repairing right now.
Vin was a 'right now' kind of thing. Nathan's half-assed smile was not re-assuring. It only hammered home just how dire things were at the moment.
Dunne turned his attention down to the pale features of the Texan. JD knew Vin would not die. Just as he knew that Buck and the others would not let JD get shot. Then again accidents happen.
'Best laid plans of Mice and Men...' as Ezra would say. JD did not understand the reference but he did understand the context in which it had been uttered..time and again. It was when things hit the fan...when plans fell apart and bullets flew and Chris would become angry. Things did not always go they way they had hoped. Even the best laid plans fell to the fickle nature of Murphy's law. Vin wouldn't die just as Ezra would eventually get hauled out of the truck. Chris did not like Murphy or any of his laws. That being true...JD knew that the best laid plans for tonight would come to fruit. It was very simple. The seven were together again...everything would be ok.
Why didn't Nathan see this? Why did Chris get so fire spitting angry. Why did Josiah's faith seem to hit a snag when things like this happened. Didn't they know what JD knew? Didn't they realize what Dunne had noticed when the group first started working together? If JD could see it why couldn't the others? Together the Seven was stronger than Murphy's law, they were tougher than unseen obstacles. They had strength that kept their sick and wounded hanging tightly to life until help could arrive. It was just the way it worked. It wasn't magic. Dunne knew he was seasoned enough to rise above such boyish thoughts. He could not explain it. He could not see it...faith? Maybe, but not like Josiah...not faith in hoping some higher being would save them..though it would be nice....Destiny? Maybe...JD could not explain what he felt so clearly. He could not nail down what he knew to be a blatant fact...but he could honestly feel it.
Vin wouldn't die. No way. Right now with the seven of them together they would get off this freezing mountain side and be laughing about it in a weeks time.
JD knew this to be true.
Dunne followed Nathan's gaze back to the windshield of the truck. Ezra was probably giving them a hard time. Most likely arguing why he should stay in the truck. It was drier in the truck and protected from the wind. More importantly he did not want anyone messing with his leg. JD had seen the shin. It had to have been busted no two ways about it.
JD gazed back down at Vin. His breathing seemed easier. The young ATF agent stared back at Nathan and with the utmost confidence ordained, "Everythin' gonna be ok Nathan."
Jackson nodded quietly accepting JD's declaration. He wanted to believe what Dunne had to say. Nathan wanted to embrace what the younger man so easily believed, but Jackson had been to long in this world. He had seen to many sure things crumble and fall away. He had witness to many decent people give up the 'good fight' and wither in desolate oblivion.
Staring across the struggling wheezing breath of their good friend, Jackson met Dunne in the eye. The kid truly believed they would make it out of this whole. A genuine smile crossed Jackson's jaded features. If JD could hold that much conviction then the EMT would search out his own form of faith.
+ + + + + + +
Vin tried to open his eyes. The eyelids wouldn't budge. He tried to move a leg. No response. His head hurt and his stomach ached miserably. Did he get drunk last night? He tried to move his arm. Searing pain shot from his fingers to his arm pit. A low groan floated up from somewhere.
Oh Gawd what happened now?
Nathan and JD both shot their attention to Tanner. His eyelids fluttered, struggled to open and then stopped. A foot slid on the ground enough to slightly bend the knee. A groan rolled from his dry lips as he attempted to move his broken arm.
"Vin...Vin..don't move jist lie still. Ya been hurt," Jackson spoke clearly and loudly trying to penetrate the mental haze the tracker was wallowing through.
Vin kept his eyes shut as Nathan's words filtered down to him, 'No kidding...'he mused. His body had begun checking in and it seemed everything hurt.
"Vin can ya open yer eyes?" It was JD's voice.
Tanner wanted to utter a wise remark about opening his eyes but his voice seemed uncooperative. Besides it felt as if he moved wrong his head would fall off his shoulders. Though right now that would not be a bad alternative. At least the blasted headache would go away.
It was then he realized he was cold. Why was it so cold? Were they at the office? Not likely...why would he be hurt at the office? Did a bust go wrong? Was anyone else down? Was he suppose to be acting as a sniper on this case or a body guard? Oh Gawd Chris....maybe,Ezra.
Vin put more efforts into his struggle to move. Pain flashed through him like water through a breached dam. He cried out. Through the blinding haze of agony he found even his voice sounded funny.
"Jist lie still Vin yer gonna be ok," Jackson could be heard repeating this in soothing tones.
Vin felt frustration rising through the red tide of pain. He did not care about himself right now. What about the others? If he were hurt then it stood to reason that someone else fell too.
"Chris?" He finally managed to whisper in a strangled tortured voice.
Nathan sighed and closed his eyes. It never changed. It did not matter who lay on the ground bleeding and fighting for their lives. It was always the same. The injured and battered always asked about the others. They all did it. Always....except that blasted, independent, self indulgent southerner.
If Vin was down he asked about Chris...and visa versa. If it were Buck then he fought until JD was standing with him or again visa versa. The same even held true for Josiah and even himself. Funny how it worked. And Ezra? Well he just normally apologized for screwing up....even though he rarely, if ever fell blame.
Nathan smiled reassuringly, "Chris is fine." Jackson felt the rapid fluctuating pulse at the base of the neck.
This only eased Vin's sluggish mind slightly. "Who then?" It was unlikely that he was involved in some kind of fracas alone. It was so hard to keep his mind on track. He felt so incredibly exhausted.
Nathan sighed his eyes falling on Chris, Buck and Josiah. Ezra was still in the truck..probably still arguing about the pros and cons of being moved. A damn nuisance of a man....but a friend none the less.
"Ezra," Jackson muttered out softly. He watched helplessly as Tanner slipped begrudgingly back into unconsciousness.
"Not his fault," The Texan whispered out as his head rolled to the left and his mouth fell slack.
Nathan kept his hands on the stubborn pulse and shook his head. Tanner always felt the need to defend the others, even when it was not needed.
JD glanced quickly up at Nathan. Jackson sighed, "He's ok JD jist passed out is all." Dunne nodded in acceptance.
+ + + + + + +
Buck stared from Chris to Josiah and then to Ezra. The gambler rested his head back against the spider cracked passenger window. This was not good. If the rescue crews were able to find them it would still be dangerous to try and reach the injured agents.
"We could try and out flank them," Wilmington offered. It was better than sitting still and being ducks in a shooting gallery.
Chris nodded grimly. Not in acceptance...just letting Buck knew he heard him. Larabee stared at the trapped agent and then around at Vin. Tanner was covered in the blankets and remaining coats. The sharp bite in the wind tore through Chris's light sweat shirt. His knees and feet were wet and his hands cold. This was not how he had planned on spending his evening. This morning he realized it would be a toss up between an enjoyable quiet night at home with the dog or chewing out Standish and Tanner for pulling something dangerous and foolhardy. He never really envisioned this...then again..maybe he should have...this was just another notch on the scale of mishaps that befell his team.
One week it was JD and Buck, then Nathan at taking on some bullies at a convention, Josiah getting caught up and hanging in his dilapidated church.
Vin and Ezra? Hell those two just seemed to attract trouble....if Trouble did not find them....they sought it out. It had been no different a few months ago when they were jailed in Vegas....The Rodeo finals at Caesar's Palace was the excuse for the trip...Vin maybe, Standish no way. How they ended up behind bars Chris was not sure....the details were still sketchy...the police reports did not add up. Stories rang with only a flavoring of truth. The head of the Board of Directors of Caesar's Palace somehow knew Standish more pointedly knew Maude. He had used terms describing Standish such as, "A fine young man...a prodigy with the cards as a child..." Chris bit his tongue as the older business owner spoke on the wondrous talents of the one time very young Ezra Standish. Larabee never knew 'the very young Standish' but what he knew of his undercover agent,'Fine young man did not come to mind...more like smart-ass, never knew when to shut up etc.' Though the chair man of the hotel/casino spoke the southerner's praises he did not invite his favorite card wielding friend onto Casino grounds. This was not lost on Larabee.
The LasVegas Police Captain had known Vin as well, " Knew he would 'mount to something other than bounty hunting....has a dead shot..damn good at what he does....wish he was on my crew...." Larabee fumed under the praise of his wayward agent. 'Good at what he does?' Finding trouble was more like it. The quiet 'shy' tracker was like a quill in the arch of ones foot. Larabee was thinking more along the lines as, 'Pain in the ass prankster.'
Chris and his two men had been escorted to the airport by both LasVegas Finest and Caesar's unmarked security personnel. Chris had seethed as he strode through the airport with an armed entourage. Tanner and Standish ,holding ice packs to black eyes and bruised jaws, compared snapshots they had taken on their weekend seemingly oblivious that they were escorted out of yet another city.
+ + + + + + +
Larabee was pulled back from his musings when Josiah's voice rang out, "Brother we could just try and talk to them....maybe make them realize that our brothers belong with us."
Sanchez nudged Standish on the shoulder. The gambler's eyes had begun to close. Josiah leaned back against the consul of the truck bracing his arm against the passenger seat. The chill in the air cut through him forcing him to clench his hands closed to keep them warm.
"Go'way," Standish muttered out. He really wished they would shut that blasted music off.
Buck gazed up at Josiah and then to Chris. Neither one had thought of that...maybe simple reasoning would do the trick. Wilmington knew Larabee would be back to gather up the shooters but right now his main objective was to get his people out of harms way.
Chris thought about it for a minute. He stared at the cracks in the dashboard. Wonder why the airbag did not deploy? He found himself asking. There were sensors in the front of the truck that should have activated the safety measure. Maybe in the wild roll down the hill the sensors were not hit hard enough. Judging from the state of the truck it would seem unlikely.... not improbable.
Larabee finally nodded his head and pushed himself to his feet. It was time to try some reasoning. Diplomacy...as Ezra would say. If this did not work he and Buck would flank the shooters and take them out...one way or another.
Chris stood, his knees popped and his lower back complained. Buck stood with him arching his back trying to work the kinks out of knotted muscles. Wilmington returned Larabee's grimace with a smile. No they were not to old for this...not by along shot.
Chris sighed faced the direction of the shooters and started, "We're Federal Agents," Chris identified and then continued after shooting Buck a worried glance, "We just want to get our men out of here." His voice held no malice, no promise of revenge. Those misgivings rested with familiarity in his eyes.
The night remained silent, except for the song of crickets and an occasional night bird. Nathan and JD gazed up from tending Vin to watch Chris. Nathan hoped he would not have to tend to Larabee. The fool was standing in open view. Not smart..not smart at all.
Then a voice broke the night. It sprang from the general direction of the muzzle flashes. The voice was low a thick accent and dialect twanged the words. Must have been the father... 'Jed'
Buck let out a slow whistle. Definitely just missing the Banjo's.
"Y'all Feds?" The question was put forth but did not seem to warrant an answer.
Before Chris could continue hushed raised whispers rang from the dark brush a hundred yards to their left, "Feds like those two on the TV...them ones that chase aliens?" It was a woman's voice.. 'Ellie Mae'
"Shut up Bobby Jo, ya'll give us away," a second male voice harshly whispered back. There was a smattering of movement and an indignant yelp. Brush to the right of the original voice shook concealing some kind of struggle."Don't ya goin' tell me'n what ta do ya lug head," was the feminine reply.
Chris closed his eyes and rubbed his face tiredly. What was he doing out here in the middle of the night freezing his butt off? He would throttle Vin and Ezra as soon as they were better.
JD and Nathan shared confused glances, keeping Vin protectively between themselves. Buck merely shrugged. Josiah rested a comforting hand on the undercover agent's chili stained head. Chris was going to kill his two agents.
"Whatcha want with'em?" The older gruff voice rang out again. It held a distinct warning. Buck reached slowly for his gun. Larabee waved him off with a slightly raised hand. He did not think the warning was meant for his team. Most likely for the two quarreling in the bush...Chris sympathized with the head of the small clan.
"They're apart of my team," Chris answered, "I need them back." Need them back like a hole in the head. He should let this little clan take those two. Larabee had no doubt that Tanner and Standish would be returned to him and Denver with in a few weeks. Trouble....nothing but trouble.
Buck and Nathan both noted the lack of the word, 'wanted'. Oh yeah Chris was going to spill blood and it was going to be the Texan and Southern variety.
An indignant, "Pa y'all said I could keep'em."
"ya can't have'im both...how we gonna feed'em?" the same young male voice broke out with a hint of jealousy.
Josiah cringed within the truck. "You sure do know how to pick'em don't ya son?" Sanchez whispered out to the sluggishly blinking conman.
JD peered up at Buck. Wilmington held an amused smile. Nathan fixed the blanket over Vin and adjusted the makeshift pillow. The tracker remained unconscious his head rolling against the healer's hand. Jackson almost felt bad for Tanner. He was out of the fire but judging from Chris's expression the fat had yet to hit the flame. This was almost as bad as the Vegas incident.
"You two shut yer yappers." The bush concealing the head of the clan rustled with frustration.
The argument in the other talking bush quickly quieted down.
Buck and Chris sighed. Through the voices and excess movement they had a pretty good fix on their would be assailants if push came to shove they could easily take them out. Right now it did not seem like a fair alternative.
"Ya can take the long 'aired one," The older voice continued, "he's a bit banged up and the missus don't want nothin' bleedin in her house...ya jist leave the other one and we'll call it good."
Chris shook his head in dismay. No it would not work. He either left both or they both came with him. One of them alone was tolerable, almost controllable. Put Vin and Ezra together and the Pope would take to swearing in public.
Chris turned to Buck. Wilmington merely shrugged. It would have to be a package deal. This was not K-Mart. You could not just go in and break up a case or a duel pack.
Josiah frowned at the hesitancy he heard outside. Chris was being tempted. The snake had offered its apple, well part of the apple. Larabee was contemplating taking a bite. Sanchez patted Standish's head. The preacher cringed as his hand came away smeared with tacky remains of once digested chili. Sanchez wiped the stringy mess on the dashboard of the truck as he extricated himself from the warped frame.
Chris looked over his shoulder as Josiah unfolded his form from the front windshield. Larabee cursed he paused to long. His contemplation's had run over some invisible time limit. Josiah was going to take gilded pot of gold from their midst.
Josiah nodded to Chris and Buck. Larabee sighed and swept his hands in a downward arc granting the ex-preacher permission to take over the 'talks'.
"Hello out there..." Josiah started. His deep jovial voice rang across the small clearing. His palm still felt frictionless due to the lunch remnants. He wiped his palm on his pants leg.
The patriarch of the tiny clan witnessed the slight hand gesture.... 'Sweaty palms, good they're nervous,' he thought to himself. He would wait them out.
Silence met Josiah's first attempt. Sanchez ignored Chris's amused chuckle. Patience brothers' patience.
"Well your offer is tempting," Sanchez started out. It was always best to speak the truth. "Our younger brothers' belong with us...."
Before Josiah could continue the female voice rang out, "Y'all their daddy?"
This earned snorts from JD and Buck. Chris had walked over to Nathan to checked on Vin. Hostage negotiations were best left to someone else.
Sanchez bit back his sudden frustration. He was not that old. When he had the time he would wipe those smirks off JD and Buck's faces.
"No I am not their father," Josiah answered trying to rein in his growing hostility.
Another argument erupted from the 'talking bush' "See I told ya he weren't their kin..He's to grizzled....like crows feet....or something...." There was more harsh whispering and then some more slapping and finally another yelp....the brother from the sounds of it.
JD huddled closer to Vin turning his attention to the injured agent trying to hide from the growing anger of Josiah. Chris, satisfied Tanner was in good hands, made his way back to the truck and his other injured agent.
Buck had half a mind to join Larabee. Judging from the darkening of the shadows etching themselves across Sanchez's face the wraith of the old Testament was about to befall the small gun wielding group in the bushes.
"Y'all sure...ya look ol'enough to be their Pa... well 'cept that skinny blonde guy and the darkie," was the male retort.
Chris paused in entering the truck....skinny blond guy? Skinny?....In shape. Yes...Sinewy...Tensile kind of strength, yes....Skinny? Not hardly.
Josiah bit his cheek. He was not that big either...he kept himself in good shape. Chris could very easily be his progeny if Larabee was a few years younger.....more than a few years...Josiah corrected himself angrily.
Buck figured he had better step in and try his hand before Josiah walked up the hill side and started ripping people limb from limb.
"Listen we're ATF...We just want to get our friends back home." Wilmington pointed out hoping his animal magnetism did not attract the wrong kind of attention. Why did pacifying hostile people always fall to him?
"ATF?" The young male voice rung out.
"Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire arms..." JD piped up helpfully. Chris had frantically tried to pull himself from the windshield, Josiah reached for Dunne desperately and Nathan was shaking his head 'NO!"
Wilmington closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest, ' Kid what are we gonna do with you?'
JD noticed all the commotion and stared at the others and mouthed, "What?!" What did he do now?
Suddenly the foliage erupted with panic, "Pa the still!..they're after ahhh still!..."
"No...No...wait..." Buck tried to be heard over the panic voices. His hands raised in a surrendering, pacifying gesture.
The screech of sirens wailed in the distance.
"Y'all can take yer men...but ya leave our still be...ya hear?" The oldest gruff voice rang out with gravely clarity.
Chris swore hanging his hands on his hips shaking his head with dismay, "Yeah we hear."
Larabee stared back into the truck at his now semi-coherent undercover agent and then over at the unconscious sharpshooter. A slow smile eased across his face. He would get some revenge for tonight's festivities.
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