The Zoo

by Heather F.

ATF Universe

Part 9

The six men stood out of sight within the Polar Bear building. Seven men had been taken out. How many were left?

"What'd you two do with Ezra?" Sanchez watched the duo closely. Neither one seemed worried or concerned.

"We left him in with the Tiger," JD answered pleased that they had found a safe place to stash Standish.

"You did what?" Chris leaned forward and grabbed Buck's arm, "Tigers? You left him with a bunch of wild cats?"

"No just one," JD could not believe that Larabee would think so ill of them. "The momma cat that lost her cubs last week." Dunne shrugged, "she seemed nice enough...just curious...ain't that right Buck?"

Josiah closed his eye and let his head thunk on the table.

"Was he awake?" Vin kept an eye out for any more intruders. Tanner turned his attention back to Buck and JD. He hoped Ezra was a still out. Vin was not sure what was worse....being left alone because people who were suppose to love you died...or being caste aside because those people chose not to keep you. Tanner figured either way it hurt and scarred.

Nathan waited patiently. How long did whatever run through Standish's system work? Lord help him if woke up and irritated the tiger.

"No, he was out." Buck tried to lean back in the visitor center bench. Muscles burned and bone edges grated. He saw Tanner's look and it made Wilmington wince. Buck never would have left the Southerner alone if Ezra had even so much as blinked.

"We had to leave 'im.." JD was about to explain when Josiah softly interrupted him.

"We know son, we know," How could he possibly lay blame or judge someone for doing the same thing he and Nathan had done? Sanchez and the others knew Buck and JD had no choice.

"S "gonna be light in a few...lets wait it out then go git him," Vin turned back toward the window.

+ + + + + + +

The six men exited the building under the grey light of a false dawn. The sun would inch over the horizon in a few minutes. The crisp bite of the early morning air chapped cheeks and reddened noses. The temps had stayed above freezing. JD sighed with some relief at least the water would not have frozen for the animals. He was not sure if the zoo used tank heaters. Chris did at his ranch and even still the stock tanks had to be checked daily.

Nathan leaned on Josiah. His ankle had stiffened and swollen almost to his knee. He had loosened his sneaker but the soft leather still dug painfully into the foot.

Chris held his torn arm at his midsection. Keeping it level seemed to be the most comfortable position. If he dropped it to his side it throbbed mercilessly. His fingers even ached.

Vin clutched at the wound in his side holding the makeshift bandage in place. The dried blood pulled at the wound searing already frayed nerve endings. He walked with a hitch trying hard not to disturb the torn muscles.

Buck and JD led the way at a slow hobble. Wilmington's chest had become almost unbearable. His head was actually beginning to hurt from clenching his jaw. They would find Ezra, figure out a way to get him out...and then get out of Dodge. Maybe even go to the Emergency Room. Gawd he hurt.

The six men closed in on the Tiger habitat. The paved area led straight to the fence. The moat dropped before them and then a second fence stood on top of the far wall. The tiger was clearly visible.

The boulders had proven to be no obstacle.

"Shit," Vin's Texan voice whispered on the breeze.

"Uhho," JD worried at his lip.

"He still seems out," Nathan observed.

"Think she's keeping him for an hors d'oeurve or as a cub?"

"Least he's not awake," Buck wanted to lean against the fence but was afraid to move anywhere off center line.

"Now what?" Larabee watched as the Tiger nuzzled and licked at her adopted cub.

Standish lay somewhat curled beside the large cat. It was obvious to them that he was still unconscious. The dark brown mop of hair hung out from under the cats foreleg. His face buried in her chest. Occasionally she would paw him, nudging him as if testing his awareness. He remained unresponsive.

She seemed un-alarmed. She had stretched her long frame out beside him keeping him close to her belly wall just as she would do to her own cubs. Thankfully the large Tiger ran her tongue over the suit coat and shirt sparing the skin underneath the sharp texture of her tongue. It could rip the hide off a man.

"Any suggestions?"

Gunfire punctuated the question.

JD tackled Buck dragging the large man into some shrubs. Vin and Chris both dove for cover behind an enormous tree.

Josiah tossed Nathan behind a closed 'Popcorn' stand.

How many could possibly be left? Chris seethed from behind the Bull Pine and watched as the gun man confidently walk into the open.

Team seven had no more ammo. Apparently the hunter knew it. He converged onto the open area unconcerned about the men that cowered before him. He held the automatic weapon at ready, its clip full.

He would avenge his father, saving him the disgrace of having been beaten by the ATF. Hughes stopped his haughty jaunt a few yards from the tiger pen.

JD caught a glimpse of Vin. The Texan held tightly onto Larabee keeping the blond from doing anything foolish. Dunne could hear Josiah swearing enough to make a Long Shoreman blush. JD held his breath. Buck lay behind JD curled into a ball wrapping an arm around his battered ribs. He held tight to JD's leg, keeping the boy in place and fighting against the agony in his own chest.

Dunne closed his eyes and prayed someone or something would happen for the good. Even the Momma Cat was standing. Standish lay between her four feet.

+ + + + + + +

Sean Hughes stood with his gun drawn. The Tiger stood over her unconscious cub protecting it from a danger that she was well acquainted. The tiger raised her upper lip in a snarl flashing yellowish, white carnassal teeth. The green, yellow irises seemed to darken with her intent. With her head hung low and her hackles raised the mother appeared even more fearsome.

Hughes targeted the tiger. Before the sun cleared the morning horizon he would kill at least one of the ATF team. He was willing to destroy anything that stood in his way. Tiger or not, the man would not leave without one of Larabee's men dead. Sean's only regret that it was not 'The Man' himself. Too bad Chris Larabee was not present to eat the bullet. He was around here somewhere and maybe after destroying his undercover agent the yellow, bellied, bastard Larabee would make his presence known.

Yes and then Sean would kill ATF Agent Larabee and then the rest of his team.

A gleam of hatred fueled revenge lit Sean Hughes' eyes.

JD broke free of Buck's grip.

Hughes squeezed the trigger.

The massive cat stood her ground.

Buck screamed JD's name in deviance and denial.

The young ATF agent threw his body sideways shielding the mother on the other side of the barrier. He protected the animal that offered itself to protect her misbegotten cub.

The bullet seared into Dunne's body. The lead projectile cracked the clavicle. The small bone that held no real importance in most animals, deviated the direction of the Foreign Body. The misshapen bullet skipped across the bone through the trapezius muscle ripping and gouging flesh as it spiraled through the body and exited out the back of the shoulder.

The bullet embedded itself in the tree trunk a few feet above the mother.

Buck had charged from his cover intent on murder.

Vin beat him to his target.

The Texan with an eerie silence attacked the man that threatened his team. In a violence and efficiency the others had suspected but never witnessed before, they watched in morbid fascination as Vin brutality took down the aggressor.

Wilmington deviated his path. He slid on his knees to the kid. "Oh God JD? JD?! What the hell were you thinkin'?....JD?!" Buck scooped the boy's upper body in his arms cradling him. He could feel the rapid beat of a shocky heart. He could feel the hot panicky breath of his best friend.

"Damn you kid what the hell were you thinkin'?" Buck fought back the sobs that threatened to spill from him. Instead his throat tightened as his grip cinched down on his friend. The stinging hot pain in his ribs paled in comparison to the empty loss that nearly drowned him.

"She's a mother Buck.." JD stammered out. It was so plain to see, "She was protectin' Ezra...that's gotta mean somethin.."

Buck pulled the kid tighter to himself and rested his cheek on the boy's dark wavy hair, "You stupid, beautiful, kid.....It means somethin' alright means something," Wilmington rocked him back and forth thankful JD was alive...thankful that Dunne still breathed. "Don't ever change Kid...don't ever change," he murmured quietly.

Buck turned his gaze back toward the mother tiger. She watched the men outside her pen with a wary gaze. She stood over her 'cub' protecting him with the only weapon nature gave her....simply her body.

He hugged JD closer again and closed his eyes. How did they get so lucky?

"Brother someone might want to stop Vin," Josiah's voice softly grabbed Chris's attention.

Larabee watched as Tanner continued to strike the unmoving and semi conscious man on the ground. Tanner's hand must have broke somewhere in the melee. The tightly controlled Texan used his elbow and forearm to batter his target.

Chris simply nodded in agreement to Sanchez's statement. JD was obviously not dead. It was time to save Vin from himself. Larabee slowly made his way to the sharpshooter.

Nathan knelt down beside Buck and carefully pried the large man's arms from around the Kid. JD's hazy connection with consciousness was slowly slipping. The bleeding and shock needed to be addressed. Wilmington could help, Jackson would not deny the larger man of that necessary step toward healing but Jackson needed to gain control of the situation.

Josiah surveyed the area. Chris had managed to talk Vin 'down' without laying a hand on him. The Texan was a live wire shorting and striking at anything that invaded his space. Larabee knew this and kept his distance. The voice of reason eventually slipped in around the howls of rage.

Buck and Nathan worked on JD in an unfortunate and familiar manner. Sanchez turned his attention to their seventh. He lay oblivious still under the protective belly of his guardian.

The tiger snarled at the man that leaned against her fence. Though she saw no immediate threat, the area had become to busy. With a gentleness that belayed her size, she grabbed the collars of Standish's shirt and suit coat and dragged him from the area.

Sanchez's attention was diverted from the pen at the sounds of sirens and running feet.

Judge Travis and the calvary. Some had missed them....and reacted. Thank God for the Judge.

Josiah smiled and leaned against the fence watching the sunrise. It was a good day to be alive.

Part 10

The Tiger Handler stared at the collection of men around him. The blonde and long haired fellow still seemed to have a bit of fight left in them. The black man and older man appeared congenial enough but something about them kept the handler on watch.

"I need you two to stay back here," he directed Chris and Vin behind the door way out of sight.

"She doesn't know you so she won't come if she sees you." Besides you have enough hostility radiating off you two to start a war.

"I need you two just over there," He directed Nathan and Josiah off to the side out of sight but still close enough to be of some help. They would be less threatening to the cat.

"I'm going to call her in for breakfast." He faced Nathan and Josiah, "When she leaves your agent..DO NOT approach him until after I have her secured," He paused and waited for silent agreements. Though the tiger was raised by humans she was still a wild animal and had all the instincts of her wild relatives. She would kill to protect what she deemed hers.

Nathan and Josiah waited patiently as the tiger was called. They could tell the large cat was torn. She pawed and rolled her cub with a front foot and her nose. She peered over her shoulder as she was called again for feeding time. The Tiger tried to collect her 'cub'. The suit coat and shirt collars tore at the seams.

The urgency of the call increased.

The cat again checked over her shoulder and once again nudged her 'cub'. No response.

The call again for food.

The big cat hesitantly left the body, constantly turning back as if to return to its' side. She edged closer to the door, knowing that food lay within but her 'cub' was unsheltered. Instincts were battling.

Josiah and Nathan squatted down out of sight praying the mother abandoned what she thought was hers.

With an almost audible sigh the Tiger walked through the small entrance way to her feeding area. The heavy metal door slammed down behind her with a dreadful finality.

The cat roared in anger and fear. Another cub lost.

Josiah and Nathan bolted from their hiding space. They grabbed Standish by his ankles and shoulders and shuffled back through the service entrance. The door slid closed behind them.

Chris and Vin closed in on the others as Nathan quickly searched for a pulse, checked pupils and respiratory rate. Jackson watched as the green eyes opened briefly and rolled again.

"Sleepin'," he smiled up at the others almost laughing. Josiah did...a deep belly laugh that rolled down the concrete block hallway.

"Shiiiiitttt," Chris uttered shaking his head unable to hide the smile of relief.

"Damn he can sleep through anything," Vin muttered trying to protect his wrist from jarring.

The cry of the Tiger rebounded hollowly off her enclosure.

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis directed ambulances and officers with the efficiency of a three ring circus master. Travis spoke briefly with Buck distracting the large man as EMTs secured an IV to Dunne and loaded him onto a gurney. It was with some well practiced direction that he ordered the older man to allow the young Ambulance crew to check Buck's ribs. A few suspected fractured ones.

Travis merely shook his head. Suspected? Hell son, those ribs are broken...else Buck would have carried JD to the hospital by now...

Travis's attention was drawn toward the coroner's people. They were crawling over everything. It seemed there were bodies strewn about the zoo, but most had pulses. The park would not be open for another couple of hours. There was a lot of work to be done.

The Judge helped Buck into the back of the ambulance. The mustached man would not leave his young charge unattended. Travis assured him that the others would be following shortly.

Chris supported Standish from under one shoulder while Josiah had him from under the other. The two men more or less dragged their third between them. Nathan and Vin followed behind. Jackson limped painfully wincing with each foot placement resting heavily on Tanner. The sharpshooter bit his lip at the increasing searing pain in his wrist.

Orrin walked toward the maintenance exit when Larabee shuffled out first supporting Standish followed by Sanchez.

"You boys doin' alright?"

"Tigas," Standish mumbled trying to lift his chin off his chest.

The Judge smiled as he slid in taking Chris's spot, "Go get checked out with the EMT Chris...and take those two with you." Vin and Nathan were both about to object when Travis simply said, "its an order boys.....not a request."

Josiah failed to stifle his chuckle. He did not know whether or not formidable Judge Orrin Travis carried such authority but it seemed no one was willing to risk it.

"Let's put him over there."

Josiah followed Travis's lead. Sanchez easily manipulated Standish into the front seat of the Judge's car. He eased the seat back resting the undercover agent's head against the headrest.

"You comfortable Ezra?" Josiah watched the wide green eyes blink with exaggerated motion.

"Tigaas," Standish tried to lift his head from the seat rest but was unable too. Instead it rolled toward his shoulder as he slumped in the seat.

The Judge knelt on the driver's seat and secured Standish's seat belt, "That should keep him still for a moment or two." The older man crawled back out of the car and headed toward the EMTs. They looked like they could use some help.

"Let's go see how the rest of your friends are doing," The Judge and Profiler crossed the observation area to the growing hostilities between EMT and ATF.

+ + + + + + +

The Judge pulled into the emergency entrance of the hospital. He parked as close to the doors as possible and still had a good hundred yards to walk. Josiah had followed from the Zoo in his own vehicle. Travis sighed heavily as he stared at the dozing man beside him. Standish slept slouched in the passenger seat. Orrin was half tempted to crack the windows and lock the door. Let sleeping dogs lie.... "Lets go Agent Standish."

The Emergency department knew of the incoming storm. They were quite familiar with these types of scenarios and in fact practiced for such occasions. Though these dry practice runs were known as Disaster runs...some for Bus accidents, others for Train derailments, still others for Plane Crashes etc. They thought themselves some what if not adequately prepared for most onslaughts that would come through their doors.

And they were....But they never had a drill for the bombardment of Team seven at their doors. Though the infamous team was notorious for their bloody and sometimes high maintenance forays into the halls of Four Corners Mercy Hospital...never had they had so many as patients.

It was a curse and a blessing. There was no concern about the possible hostilities that might erupt between the frantically waiting members of Team Seven in the waiting room. All had been wheeled in or limped in with assistance. The waiting room would survive the visit. The soda machine and candy machines would not fall victim to the normal brutality spawned by frustration and impatience. The magazines would not be flipped through or tossed in the trash. The cafeteria would actually have enough coffee for the rest of the hospital staff. Better yet there was no one demanding to know what was going on behind closed doors.

Unfortunately the interns and residents were getting a taste of what the nursing staff and receptionist had to deal with on a normal team seven visit. The impatience....the "I'm that again doc and I'll shoot ya where ya stand.....Ya ain't stickin' me with that Javelin...."etc. The bedside manners of the M.Ds was being sorely tested. Team seven would not sit still for anyone. Though some members were more immobile or less responsive then others....the alert teammates picked up the slack.

The Emergency Department was in chaos.

Mr. Wilmington actually threatened to strangle Dr. Winston with his stethoscope if the good Doctor did not stop pestering him. Though Dr. Winston was new to the hospital, he found it within his best interest to heed Agent Wilmington's warning. Buck hung onto JD's blood stained hand until a surgical nurse forcibly separated the two.

Mr. Tanner was grinning quietly on his gurney until the anesthesiologist approached him with a tray full of needles and syringes. The films showed slight non-aligned fracture of the distal Radius and Ulna with no involvement of the joint. A simple nerve block and they could set the broken bones and cast the arm. Agent Tanner lost all his good cheer and tried to escape.

Nurse Holbrook quickly and succinctly prevented the attempt.

Mr. Jackson scrutinized the intern who casted his broken ankle. Though the ankle was not actually broken the distal Tibia had a fracture. The ex-Army Medic felt compelled to point out the technical differences between an actual broken ankle and just a simple fracture of a long bone. Nathan further divulged to the young, over tired, doctor that the medical profession should take more time to explain itself to the public....namely their patients. The young intern wondered if he would have enough fiberglass to wrap his patient's mouth.

Chris watched with some trepidation as the nurse dug through his seemingly impossibly thick file for record of his most recent Tetanus shot. She could not find one. Though Agent Larabee insisted that he had one there was no evidence. With raised eyebrows the doctor could only nod for his nurse to administer the injection. Dr. Peters returned to cleaning and debriding the lacerated arm. The stitches would follow.

Orrin Travis stood over the proceedings on the floor. The privacy curtains were left open between the four men. Dr. Winston ,with the Judge's non discreet help, actually managed to film Buck's thorax to find three fractured ribs, all on the right side.

On the closest gurney Standish had sat quietly in a stupor while an Intern ran a quick physical Exam. Once left to himself the undercover agent simply toppled to the side and rested half sitting half laying on the rolling cot, his face half buried in a pillow. Sanchez had made an attempt to swing the undercover agent's legs up onto the bed but Standish actually showed some life and pushed himself into a sitting position....only to fall back down to the side.

Travis removed his cell phone and called his wife. The Boys had survived their night at the Zoo and more importantly the Zoo had survived its night with Boys.

A few hours later the team wobbled and staggered out to Sanchez's suburban. Buck and JD originally were to stay with Standish this weekend because their notorious apartment was being fumigated. Josiah was suppose to stay with Nathan this weekend because Sanchez's little apartment had no running water...something about bad pipes. Apparently Josiah had apprenticed with a plumber for a year and diagnosed his pluming problems.....and fixed it. The apartments surrounding him suddenly flooded for unknown reasons. Fortunately the landlord called a professional to handle the situation. Vin's apartment had no glass in the windows. It seemed some of the neighborhood kids wanted to get his attention by pelting the glass with small stones. Small apparently was a subjective word.

With some help from one another and a lot from the Judge six of the seven were loaded into Sanchez's truck. JD rode shot gun. The light anesthetic they had given him to suture his wounds left the young man in similar shape as the undercover agent.

Vin was forced to sit in the middle between Josiah and JD because he was the smallest and most conscious. Chris and Nathan had window seats in the back bench leaving Buck in the middle. That was fine with Wilmington he could keep a better eye on the kid from that seat. Standish had been stuffed and rolled into the very back compartment and a blanket dropped over him. Occasionally he muttered about Tigers.

The Judge watched Sanchez drive away. Evie was waiting at home with dinner. It had been a long Friday.

Part 11

Chris and Josiah got JD settled in Adam's old room. The room had somehow metamorphosed into a hybrid. Adam's things still decorated and held their spots as if waiting for Adam to walk back through the door...but somewhere amongst a young boy's dreams and clutter another presence was slowly sharing its space. A few extra articles of clothing belonging to the others hung in the closet. A razor rested on the sneakers poked out from under the bed. Small things but a change was slowly occurring. Larabee could not really say he minded the co-existence.

Buck watched from the door way. His ribs would not tolerate much more than just walking. The Painkillers were kicking in and it was difficult to keep his eyes open. He wanted to fight Josiah's guiding hand from his elbow when Sanchez led him down the hall to the guest room. "Git some rest Brother. JD will be fine...I'll watch him." Wilmington did not remember nodding in agreement or even laying his head on the pillow. One moment Josiah was talking to him and the next nothing.

Sanchez pulled Wilmington's sneakers off leaving the knots in place and tossed a comforter over the sleeping man. Two down.

Nathan hobbled in with Vin's help and sat on the couch. The Sharpshooter dragged the coffee table closer so Jackson could prop his leg up. Tanner fell into the lazy boy chair and extended the legs. He had no intention of getting back on his feet.

Chris and Josiah joined them. The foursome sat quietly in the living room with the T.V down low. The late afternoon slipped into early twilight. The long grey shadows of evening finally cast the room into darkness. Larabee was forced to switch on a few lamps.

"Anyone want a beer?" Josiah headed for the kitchen.

Collective No's were whispered around the room.

An hour later Josiah changed the station on the TV. The Discovery channel was running a special on Tsunamis. When in Hawaii one summer with his father Josiah had the privilege of working with some researchers on Tsunami watches.

Vin had finally fallen asleep. He was worse than a little kid fighting a nap. Though he didn't kick and scream he certainly did wage a battle. In the end the pain medication won and the Texan slept slightly curled in the over sized chair.

Chris unfurled Vin's Styrofoam bed roll and sleeping bag. The Texan kept his camping gear in Adam's room. They would not leave Tanner in the chair.

Nathan had already dozed off. The medic stretched the length of the couch. His leg had been propped up by numerous pillows as it draped over the arm. Sanchez had tossed a wool blanket and afghan over his friend. The only two who could stretch out comfortably on the couch were JD and Ezra.

Chris paused....Ezra?

"There a problem brother?" Sanchez tested the volume on the TV. He wonder if he would recognize any faces or names.

"You seen Ezra?"

Sanchez shut his eyes for a brief moment. "I'll go get him." He left the TV and grabbed his coat.

Josiah dropped down the tailgate to his old but trusty suburban. The evening was dark and brisk. The gravel seemed to crunch loudly under his boots. Heavy clouds hid the moon and stars. A slight breeze kicked up, a biting reminder that winter still held a grip on the land.

The cargo light flickered casting a dim hue over the gravel drive. The light browned and finally fizzled out. Sanchez could see well enough in the truck. The undercover agent had curled himself under a blanket, his back flush to the spare tire.

"Ezra?" Josiah shook the exposed foot. He waited and was rewarded with some movement. "Come on brother lets git you inside." Sanchez reached in grabbing an ankle.

"Tigers," was the muttered thick response. The exposed leg curled back under the blanket.

The MDs had no idea how long Standish would suffer under the effects of the unknown drug or drugs but it seemed like a general consensus that all should be back to normal by morning. Josiah hoped so.

"No tigers out here son. Come on let's git you out of there." Josiah pulled a little on the ankle. The leg stretched out and then recoiled slightly. "Brother you can't sleep in the truck all night...lets go." Sanchez was tired. He reached in and hauled the younger man into a sitting position. Standish swayed, listing heavily to his left.

"You in there?" Josiah watched the fogged eyes try and focus on him.

"Mr. Sanchez...." the slow, inebriated, southern voice paused, "where are we?" He tipped dangerously to the side while trying to sit up.

"We're at Chris's come on lets git in the house with the others." Josiah steadied him on the tail gate.

"The others?" Standish craned his head left and right. Confusion reigned.

"Yeah come on...let git inside and we'll explain it all to you," Sanchez dallied with a little misdirection. They would explain it tomorrow not tonight.

With rubbery legs and an uncooperative sense of direction, Josiah pushed and pulled the Southerner into the house.

Chris gazed up from the second sleeping roll he unfurled on the floor and raised his eyebrows. The front door opened and closed. With Josiah's help Ezra teetered back and forth on his feet as he was lead across the wood floor.

"He alright?" Larabee noticed the too wide eyes and exaggerated blinking. Reality was still just an arms reach from his undercover agent.

"Should be." Sanchez lead Ezra toward the second bed roll. Together Josiah and Chris eased the southerner down into the sleeping bag.

"Not tired," Standish muttered. He was not a little kid. He did not need putting to bed. No one had never done it for him in the past and he certainly did not need it now.

"Shut up Ezra," Chris admonished. Larabee pushed Standish's head back onto the pillow, "Go to sleep."

"I'm hungry," the southern drawl was coarse and drawn out. His eyes had already closed but fluttered in an attempt to open.

"Go ta'll be hungry tomorrow morning," Josiah answered.

Chris furrowed his brow at Sanchez's remark but left it alone. Sometimes Josiah could be down right confusing with his honesty.

Sanchez tossed Standish's shoes across the room and folded the top of the sleeping bag over Ezra. The preacher was careful not to zip it. Standish still had bouts of claustrophobia...thanks to Kara Billings.

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke to the sound of arguing. He listened trying to make out who it was...his mouth felt as if it were full of cotton balls. It took a moment for his memory to fill in the glaring gaps from yesterday and last night. Now as he rested comfortably under the comforter he listened with some irritation to the raised voices in the other room. The living room from the sounds of it.

It was JD and Vin.....Who else would be arguing whether or not Hong Kong Phooey could 'Whup Ass' on UnderDog.

Larabee shut his eyes and shook his head. Let someone else deal with those two. Then a Southern voice tiredly pointed out, "The Astute Scooby-Doo and sensible Shaggy would surpass both your less than stellar Canines in apprehending foul evil doers."

Buck's scathing laughter interrupted further comments with a loud guffaw and announced, "Cat Woman would kick all their asses and then some."

"I don't know Buck, Green Lantern had some nifty gadgets in his arsenal." Josiah's seasoned voice rumbled through the house.

"You're all out of your minds, Superman was the Man," Jackson answered from somewhere down the hall.

The argument then rose in volume and became heated. Six voices competed for supremacy.

This was ludicrous. Larabee's anger boiled.

With a pounding headache, a nauseous stomach and muscle aches that ran throughout his body Larabee pushed himself from his warm bed. He cringed when his bare feet hit the chilled, hard wood floors. He would wring their ever lovin' necks.

He stormed into the living room. His forearm was swathed in bandages protecting his forty odd stitches. Blond hair pointed in the direction of 64 compass points. Dark circles hung under his eyes. The stubble on his jaw was beginning to itch. Chris wanted nothing more than some peace and quiet.

"Will you all shut yer gawd damn traps....and keep it down!" His bellow rattled windows.

Heads popped over and around couches and chairs. The others stared at him in mute shock.

Larabee glared at each and everyone of them until they squirmed uncomfortably under his infuriated gaze. A bunch of ill behaved kids....every last one of them.

Without a word Chris left for his room, slamming the door for emphasis.

The silence lasted for all of maybe...possibly......8 seconds....most likely less.

Then it began.

"Wonder what's got into him?" Buck tossed a questioning, small, shrug at the others as he swung his gaze back around to the TV.

"I don't know but somethin' sure did crawl up his butt n' die." Vin laid back against his pillow to watch Thundar the Barbarian. He really liked Oogla.

"Ya think he's mad?" JD shoveled more waffles into his mouth. Chris was running low on Maple Syrup...maybe he would wait to tell him later. Dunne balanced his plate on Nathan's cast.

"It would appear our Mr. Larabee is a little on edge." a pause, "must not be a morning person." Standish sipped casually on his coffee while resting on one elbow. The sleeping bag was really not uncomfortable at all. How he got there was still somewhat a mystery.

"His arm might be bothering him....though it was only fifty stitches...really not that bad," Jackson reclined on the couch with his legs stretched over their youngest. Nathan would take a look at the suture line later today.

"Wonder where he got the boxers?" Josiah muttered stretching his feet out. He sat on the floor leaning against the arm of the couch. He raised his eyebrows in innocent query when the others all turned and stared at him. "What?....I use to work in retail...those are quality stuff."

"Is there anything you haven't done," Nathan asked tiredly.

Sanchez thought about it for a moment, "I've never been a woman."

"Thank God," Vin mumbled cringing..what an image.

"Amen," Standish replied with a grimace and slight tremor...apparently sharing Vin's visual.

"Ya think Buck's Animal Magnetism would work on Josiah if he was a woman?" JD sat up staring at the others. His orange juice leaned precariously over Nathan's unprotected toes.

"No," Buck's defensive answer raised eyebrows.

"I don't know Buck yer pretty indiscriminate," Vin added with a smug smile.

"Josiah would make an awful ugly lady, though," Jackson pointed out. Josiah was not sure how that remark was meant. He almost felt insulted.

"Yeah, but I've seen some of Buck's dates," JD added quickly. If the Animal Magnetism was real then it should work on all the ladies.

"So true, Mr. Dunne..So true," Standish laid back against the pillow. Mornings weren't too bad if you had no place to be.

The argument ensued in earnest. Six voices rose and struggled to be heard over one another.

Chris lay in his bed and hid his head under his pillow.

Why? Why Me?


Comments to: