Inside Traitor

by Phyllis Loafman

ATF Universe

Chris answered on the first ring. "Larabee."

"That was quick. Were you expecting a call? I could call back," Spenser laughed.

"Cut the crap, Spenser. Where?"

Buck and Josiah waited beside Chris. They knew as soon as the Chris answered who it was by the expression of malicious on their leaders face. Both men had found Larabee to be a fiercely protective leader, one that retaliated when one of the team was threatened. But the man was especially volatile when the one threatened was one of the two younger members of his team. And this man was threatening them both.

"Where? Where what, Larabee?" Spenser laughed. "Oh, where are your kids?"

Buck thought he could hear the plastic cracking on the phone.

Chris seethed. "You know it's me you want. And you're using them to get to me, so let's do it." Again Chris asked, "Where?"

"Okay, Larabee. Let's not play games-your boys don't have the time. The warehouse. Now." And Spenser hung up.

Chris fought the urge to throw the phone across the parking lot. Sighing, he disconnected and placed the instrument in his pocket. Ezra and Nathan joined Buck and Josiah. The four men waited. Chris looked at the team he had assembled over the last two years. They would follow him to hell and back, but should he ask them to he thought. It needed to be their decision.

"Spenser has them at the warehouse...." Chris didn't finished before Buck interrupted.

"Well, alright then. What are we standing here for?" The four turned as one toward the two vehicles waiting only yards only.

"Whoa! Hold up a minute, boys." The men stopped and turned back to Chris. "You know that Spenser has made this personal between me and him."

Once again Chris was interrupted. Nathan stopped forward. "You can say what you want, Chris, but it ain't between him and you. Never was. He is a suspect in a case we are working on. He decided to make it personal for all of us when he kidnapped Vin and JD. So, just get in and let's go get them boys."

Chris looked at these four men-men he trusted with his life. Ezra wore a smile, Nathan looked perturbed, Josiah was as unreadable as ever, and Buck stood with his hands on his hips and an expression that read 'Well, are we going or what?' on his face.

"Saddle up, gentlemen." Chris joined the others and they headed for the vehicles.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Jackson and I will take the extra car. I acquired a piece of equipment we might find of use in our endeavor.

Chris studied Ezra for a moment, then nodded. Buck and Josiah climbed into the front vehicle with Chris driving, followed closely by Nathan and Ezra.

The two vehicles pulled within a half block from the warehouse. Ezra and Nathan joined their fellow agents with first vehicle. Ezra carried a small computer and something that looked like a small satellite dish.

"Planning on watching a little TV, Ezra?" Buck asked the southerner.

"No, I was planning on ascertaining the number of villains we might come up against."

Chris looked appraisingly at the smooth talker of the team. "Ezra, I'm glad you're on this team." Chris' voice was low and genuine.

Ezra Standish's head snapped up from the task of assembling the equipment. He momentarily stared at the man they looked to for leadership, but never praise. It was understood that if you were a member of Chris Larabee's team, you were the best and it did not need to be spoken aloud. Ezra, feeling the color rise in his face, bent back to his task, working hard to control the smile that threatened to split his face.

"There, finished." Ezra announced. "Thermal imaging, gentlemen. If we could move just a closer, we can see how many people are within the structure."

Chris nodded as he started the vehicle and slowly moved forward. He stopped and killed the engine when he heard Ezra's 'there'. The men stepped from the vehicle and waited as Ezra scanned the warehouse for body heat signatures.

"These appear to be two persons in the front. One seems to be seated on the ground, the other standing beside him." Ezra continued to move down the warehouse. Buck shifted his weight from foot to foot. Josiah placed his hand on Buck's shoulder.

"Patience, Buck. We're almost in. The Lord is watching over those boys."

Buck turned his eyes to the warehouse. "I sure hope so, Josiah. I sure hope so." Buck's wistful voice drifted away on the wind.

Ezra had stooped closer to the image on the screen. He stood and opened his mouth to say something, but the words caught at the back of his throat. Then he tried again. "There appears to be a third.... body in the rear of the warehouse." He looked at Chris. Ezra's face was drawn. Chris thought the conman was in pain.

"Ez?" he questioned.

After a quick glance in Wilmington's direction, Ezra continued. "This one is not reading as well as the other two." He stopped speaking as his mouth went dry.

"What's that mean?" Buck growled, anxious at the southerner's attitude.

"It means that the body is cooler than the other two." Ezra looked Buck in the face; the full implication of his statement reflected is his eyes.

Buck's breath caught is his lungs and his vision narrowed to encompass only Ezra. "You saying that whoever is in back is...." He left his sentence hanging as the blood drained from his face. Buck's tan face took on the look of parchment. Finally, he drew a deep, shuddering breath. "I'll take the back." He stated flatly.

Chris opened his mouth to order Buck to stay with him, but the look on the man's face stopped him. "I have to do it, Chris," Buck told him.

"I know, Buck I just.." Chris stopped. He knew what Buck was going through. He didn't have the right or the strength to stop him. He prayed that his oldest friend would survive what they all feared he would find. He prayed that Ezra had misread the image. And he selfishly prayed it was not Vin Tanner's body lying on the cold floor, dead.

"Okay. We know there's only one man, so the place is probably wired. Anyone wants to wait here, I'll understand. No need is all of us parading in there to get killed." Chris looked at each face. They were good men, better friends, and he didn't want to lose any one of them.

Ezra broke the quiet. "Excuse me, but I believe we have already had this discussion. Can we now proceed to our destination before we are late for our appointment? As the motto states, 'All for one and one for all'. Shall we?" And the five brave men strode forward to their fates.

Buck split off as they neared the building. He glanced at the others and , seeing Chris looking, he threw him a tight smile as he rounded the corner of the building.

Chris walked up to the large overhead door of the warehouse. Nathan stood on his left with Josiah flanking Nathan. Ezra stood on Chris' right. "Let's split up." As they spread apart, the big door slid up.

Buck found a walk-through door open in back and entered the cavernous building. Staying low, he worked his way toward the front. At first, he could see nothing and paused to allow his eyes to adjust to the dark interior. He blinked several times; he could hear Chris' voice calling to Spenser. He started forward slowly when he saw something lying in the middle of the floor. This was the object that he prayed he would find, yet now, was afraid to retrieve. JD's hospital gown was easy to spot on the darker concrete floor. He lay on his back with his hands under his body, tied possibly. He wasn't moving and Buck fought the tears that threatened to spill down his face; only one managed to escape and roll down his cheek into his moustache. "Damnit, kid!" he thought to himself. He hesitantly approached the body of his best friend, of his 'little brother', the one he had sworn to protect. "I'm so sorry, kid." He knelt beside the youngster and reached out to check for the pulse he knew he would not find.

Buck touched the soft cool skin of JD's neck. He was not prepared for the tremors that ran through the body. He fell back on his haunches as the hazel eyes he thought never to see again, opened.

"Buck?" JD rasped.

"Oh, God, kid. I thought..." the words died in Buck's throat. "Come on, let's get out of the here. Buck reached down to lift the youth.

"NO!!" JD cried, tensing as Buck touched his arm.

Buck jumped at the boy's cry. He squatted by the younger man "JD, we got to get ya outta here." Buck's gaze took in the fresh bruises. JD shivered and Buck noticed the blue tinge around the boy's lips. Wearing only the hospital gown and scrub pants, the concrete was draining the heat from the boy. It was no wonder the thermal scan presented a cooling body. The kid's temperature must be below normal. Hypothermia was setting in. "You're freezing, kid." Buck placed his hand on JD's forehead. Too cool.



"I'm laying on a grenade. He pulled the pin and put it in my hands. I can't feel it any anymore." he stammered. A single tear ran down his face and into his hair.

"Okay. It's okay, son. Let's get that out of there and then we'll get you out of here."

"NO! It'll blow up. I don't want you getting killed. No." JD squirmed on the ground.

Buck put his face down close to JD's. "JD. Hey, kid. Listen. Listen to me." He took the boy's face in his hands. "I ain't going to get killed. And I ain't going to let you die."

"No. I should have let it go when Spenser handed it to me. I could 'a stopped him from hurting anybody else, but I was too scared. Now, you're in danger, everybody's in danger, cause I was too scared." JD was shivering worse. Buck knew he needed to calm the boy down before he lost the grip he held on the grenade.

"JD! Stop it!" Buck placed his knee across the boy's abdomen to keep his hands pinned until he could calm him. Once again, he took the young face in his hands. "JD! Easy. Easy, JD. Shhh." Buck spoke softly, but urgently. JD began to respond to Buck's soft drawling voice and slowed, and finally, stopped his thrashing about.

"Please don't ever think you have to sacrifice yourself like that. I'll get ya outta here. Trust me. And Chris and the boys will get Spenser." He stared into the eyes that he knew better than his own. Tears welled in both sets. JD bit his lip and nodded. Buck patted his young friends cheek. "Alright. You just relax and I'll be right back." He moved back to the floor by the boy's waist and gently reached under the body.


"Yeah, kid?"

"I've always trusted ya." And he smiled.

Buck glanced up; he returned the smile. Going to back to the task at hand, he gently raised the shivering body to peer underneath. "JD, I can't see anything. So, the plan is.." He raised his head so he could see the boy's face. "I'm going to reach under you and grip your hands and the grenade. Then I'm going to turn ya over. You just hang on to that thing a minute more. Okay?"

"Yeah." JD nodded. "Ah, Buck. FYI. My right arm's busted, so don't let go if I yell."

Buck's face clouded over with anger at the man who had done this. The boy's barely twenty years old and had already been injured. Spenser would regret the day he decided to kidnap Buck Wilmington's roommate. "All right. Here we go."

Placing a hand on JD's stomach, Buck reached under the boy's body and felt for the grenade, while trying to lift him as little as possible. He followed down from arm to wrist. Okay, there's the cuff and a hand and, yep, metal. He felt around and got an idea of the position of the hands and the grenade that those hands gripped. 'Where's the handle? Okay. I think that's it' Buck thought. The handle seemed to be in JD's right hand. Great, that's the one that's broke. Pain could cause his hand to release the deadly instrument. Buck wrapped his big hand around as much of the grenade and JD's hand as he could. Now or never, he thought. With that, he lifted the kid with his right forearm and turned him onto his side, steadying him with his left. JD moaned as he moved. Buck could feel JD trembling as the youth tried to not cry out. Using both hands to clasp the grenade, he pulled it from JD's grasp. He tossed the grenade across the expanse of building and then fell over the inert body of the young agent.

The grenade arced up and away from the men, the handle sailing off at a 90-degree angle from the grenade itself. The grenade hit and rolled for a few seconds, putting more room between them and it. It exploded harmlessly against the outer wall of the building, shredding the metal with bits of shrapnel.

Buck rolled off his young friend. JD did not move. Quickly checking for a pulse, Buck satisfied himself that the boy alive and breathing. He used his key to release the boy's wrists. He then cut the plastic tie that held JD's ankles together. He gently lifted the boy and exited the way he had come in. After depositing the unconscious youth in the vehicle, Buck took off his jacket and laid it across JD's shoulders. It wasn't much, but it would have to do for now, at least until they got him to a hospital. He closed the car door and headed back to the warehouse.

Spenser stood at the back of his car. Vin was cuffed to the tie down cleat under the bumper of the vehicle. Chris took in the appearance of the tracker and fumed. Blood ran down his neck from a wound hidden by his hair. He was conscious, but not aware. He had barely raised his head as the four agents entered the warehouse.

"Mr. Larabee. Welcome. So nice of you to grace us with your presence." Spenser leaned across the deck lid of the Buick.

Chris could see he had something in his hand, but could not make it out. "Okay, I'm here, Spenser. What is it that you want?"

Spenser stood and walked around the car to stand by Tanner. He smiled and held up his hand. "See this? It's referred to as a dead man's switch. I depressed the switch when you came in. Now, we all now what happens if I release it, correct? I thought so." He didn't wait for an answer, but kept on talking. "This is attached to C4 that I have in the back of this car. So, we'll just stand here and have a little conversation."

"Spenser, you apparently have a problem with me. Not with the ATF and not with my team. " Chris stated. "I knew that as soon as we got to town; you'd been working counter to me. Now, since we haven't ever met, I have to wonder just what it is that makes you hate me so much. Why don't we see if we can work it out. Just between you and me. Release Vin and let him and the others go."

Spenser thought a moment. "I'm tempted. I really am. For them to survive because you gave your life for theirs, well, it seems poetic somehow. And of course, without you, there is no team. Therefore, there is no further threat to my people." Spenser laughed. Then suddenly became very angry and agitated. "Of course, now, there is no 'my people' anymore because of you. Because of that kid and 'this' team, I have no life-no job-no money. So why should they." Spenser's eyes danced with the madness that slowly gripped them.

At that moment the air reverberated with sound of an explosion from the back of the warehouse. Chris and his men flinched, though Chris noticed that Vin seemed to curl in on himself. Spenser laughed maniacally. "Mr. Wilmington has apparently located young Mr. Dunne." Spenser paused and glared at Chris." And then there were five."

Chris heard Josiah saying a quiet prayer. Nathan had taken a step forward, but Ezra crossed behind Chris and laid a hand on the healer's arm. "Wait" was all the southerner said to the tense black medic.

Chris Larabee's face grew even harder. As Chris glared at the traitorous ex-lawman, he saw the first signs of life in the man cuffed to the car. Vin had barely flinched at the sound of the explosion. He now drew his head up to look at the group of friends standing before him. Chris read the guilt in his friend's eyes. They said 'I failed to protect JD. Now he and Buck are both lost.' And he seemed to shrink with the weight of that knowledge. Chris forced his eyes away from his friend and back to the man that caused that admission from Tanner.

"Why Spenser? What makes you so angry at me?" Chris asked.

"Why? WHY? Because all my life, people like you have plagued me. I never measured up. Not to my mother's expectations, the Navy's, the police, the FBI's. My father-all my mother ever said was how he was the best fireman the city had ever had. Even after he died in a fire, she would tell me and my brother and sister the same thing. The BEST. If he was so good, why did he die? And then my brother, he was the best little boy, the best student, the best pilot, the best son a mother could ask for-until he crashed and killed himself." Spenser moved around to the side of the car, leaning over it as he spoke. "I first heard about you in the Navy. You led the best Seal team. Best man for the job. I couldn't even quality. When I got out and joined the police, there you were again." Spenser ranted.

Chris caught the hint of movement in the shadowy background. Buck! Thank God, Chris thought. He wondered if JD was all right, but that would have to wait. Chris needed to let Buck know what they were looking at.

"Spenser." Chris called. He had to call the man's name twice to interrupt his tirade. "Spenser. You'll die too if you let go of that deadman's switch. We can work something out. There's no need for anyone else to die."

Spenser froze and looked at Larabee. "A deal?" Spenser laughed. "I end up in prison-an ex-cop. Oh, yeah, I could really get into that rather than die. Sounds good, except for one problem-you are still alive. No, thanks."

Spenser was standing at the back corner of the car now. He held the switch clutched in his extended hand. "Good bye, Larabee. I'll see ya in Hell." Spenser smiled and began to release pressure on the switch.

When Buck heard 'one problem', he knew he was out of time. Stealth was no longer an option and he began to run. If he didn't make it, they were all dead; even JD. The kid would die of exposure before anyone found him. That fear fueled a sprint worthy of Michael Johnson. Buck slammed into Spenser, wrapping both of his hands around Spenser's right and the switch. Both men hit the ground hard and rolling. Spenser brought his left around and beat on Buck's face. With both hands occupied, he had no way to defend himself from the blows. Spenser got in four hits before Buck felt his weight lifted off of him. He looked up to see Josiah holding Spenser several inches off the ground by his waistband.

"Brother Buck, do you have that switch?" Josiah growled. The man's eyes were mere slits with his brow furrowed.

"Yeah. Just get him off me." Buck gripped the switch as he felt Spenser's thumb being pulled from under his.

Chris immediately filled the space Josiah had just vacated. "Buck, you okay?"

Buck could taste blood in his mouth and his eyes were watering from a blow to his nose, but he nodded to his oldest friend. "Yep. I'm good. But I'd appreciate someone disarming this thing. I'm beginning to cramp up here."

Chris turned to Nathan who was already examining Vin Tanner.

"Mr. Larabee," Ezra called.

Chris turned and Ezra pitched him a set of keys he found while patting down their captive. Chris nodded at Ezra and stepped forward to release Vin.

Nathan looked up and inched over to make room for Chris. "How ya doing, cowboy?"

Vin glanced at Chris, and then looked down again.

"He's definitely got a concussion this time. He's going need stitches on the back of his head. Got himself some bruised ribs too, but I don't think they're broke." Nathan apprised the team leader.

Chris placed a hand on Vin's arm. "Come on, Vin. Move over here and let me check the trunk."

"It's C4, Chris. I watched him rig it." Vin spoke slowly. "There's no trip wires. I watched 'em and he didn't set any."

"Good. This shouldn't take long then." With that, Chris opened the back of the car. Buck scrambled to his feet and joined Chris.

"Lord Almighty. He's got enough C4 to level everything within 500 yards." Buck just shook his head. "If that blew, they'd never found all the pieces."

Chris nodded. "If they found any, close as we are." He efficiently removed the detonators from the pliable explosive. Buck closed his eyes and released the switch. Nothing. He released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

Clasping Chris on the shoulder, he grinned. "Never a doubt, pard." Chris just shook his head, a smile pulling at his lips. He and Buck joined Nathan at Vin's side. Buck squatted down.

"You ready to go, junior? Time for another trip to the hospital." Buck tried to look the sharpshooter in the eyes, but the younger man refused to meet that look. He turned away, mumbling something Buck couldn't make out. "What was that, Vin?"

Vin finally looked at Buck. The sorrow in his eyes was deep and it made Buck ache. "I'm sorry." Vin repeated.

"Sorry? Sorry for what, junior?" Buck furrowed his brow with confusion.

"I couldn't protect JD. Spenser just walked in and took him." Vin whispered.

Buck took the slight sharpshooter by the arms and lifted him to his feet, holding him steady as he gained his balance. "Don't you worry about that. We got ya both back and we got the bad guy. I'd say we had a pretty good day."

"Are we to understand by that statement, that Mr. Dunne did not expire in the explosion that previously assaulted this building?" Ezra asked.

"Hell, no. Kid's outside in the car. Why'd you think he was dead? That piece' a sh*t tell you that?" Buck's eyes pinned Spenser. "You tried, but the kid held on. He's tougher than he looks."

"I should have killed him while I had..."Spenser gasped. Ezra had leapt across the space between them and taken the traitorous ex- cop by the throat.

"I would heartily advise that you not complete that statement, sir. Had that been the decision you made at that opportune time, you would have lived to regret it. Death would have been a welcome proposal to you before we done. As it stands now, with the return of Mr.'s Tanner and Dunne, you can look forward to incarceration with ample time to contemplate the error of your ways."

"Ezra! Let 'em g." Chris' voice was soft, but full of authority.

"Certainly, Mr. Larabee." Spenser gulped in air and coughed as his lungs, once again, drew breath.

Chris instructed Ezra and Josiah to stay and wait for support teams. They would detain Spenser and wait for the demolition team to handle the C4 and detonators, plus anything that might be found in a second sweep of the building. Nathan and Chris escorted Vin back to the vehicles. Buck trailed behind them, attempting to clean the blood from his nose and mustache. Chris muttered a soft "Damn" under his breath. Buck looked up.

"Shit!" he whispered. "I got it, Chris" he tossed out as he trotted past the trio.

Wilmington came to a halt a few yards in front of them. He held out his arms and gathered in the stumbling JD Dunne. "Damn, kid. Where're you going?"

Glazed eyes sought Buck's face. Finally locating his friend's eyes, the boy sighed. "I woke up and you were gone. Just wanted to make sure you were alright," the boy explained as he stood trembling in Buck's arms.

Buck wanted to scream at the boy that he was in no shape to go traipsing around looking after Buck. But he took in the boy's condition-barefoot and freezing, one arm cradled against his chest- and reconsidered.

"We're fine, JD. We got Spenser. Ezra and Josiah are holding 'im." He gently turned the boy back to the vehicle and started him moving in that direction. "Me and Chris and Nathan are going to take you and Vin to the hospital and, maybe tomorrow, we can head home and sleep for a week. How's that sound?"

The two groups joined together and moved toward the vehicle.

"I'm fine, Buck. I don't...."

"I don't need no hospital, Chris..."

Over the heads of the other three, Chris and Buck looked at each other and rolled their eyes. No member of Team 7 liked going to the hospital, but these two were the worst. Maybe it was because they seemed to end up there more than the others.

They were almost to their destination when JD's knees gave out. Gathering up the unconscious young man, Buck mumbled "Surprised he made it this far."

Nathan left Vin's side to check on their youngest. "Pulse is weak, but steady. Boy's freezing."

"I know." Buck looked haggard. He knew JD was in bad shape. He shouldn't have wasted time talking to the kid; should have just scooped him up and headed to the hospital. He placed the boy between himself and Vin in the back seat. Nathan sat up front while Chris drove. Buck wrapped his coat around JD and put his arm around the shivering boy's shoulders. Vin leaned over to put his wiry frame against JD also, in hopes that his body heat would help to warm his fellow agent. He laid his head on the back of the seat, but did not close his eyes. He knew Nathan would insist he stay awake..

Chris glanced in the rear view mirror and gave a crooked smile at the scene behind him. Buck Wilmington, self-proclaimed womanizer and bachelor, his oldest friend, sat in the rear of the speeding vehicle with a tear running down his cheek as he ached for the two young men occupying the seat with him. Buck had JD's head nestled into his neck, his cheek laid on the boy's black hair. One arm reached across to hold the extra large jacket tight across the chest of his young roommate. His other arm was tossed behind that same young man's head with the fingertips lightly grasping the shoulder of the other slightly older but still young agent.

Chris remembered this same man swearing that he could never be emotionally attached to anyone. Buck had watched as Chris dragged himself out of the depression he had slipped into at the loss of his wife and son. Buck had shared that loss with Chris and he decided he would not put himself into the position of being that venerable. And then, in walked one John Dunne, an entity of perpetual motion that created a vortex into which Buck Wilmington had been sweep. It was a vortex that he now enjoyed and had no desire to be removed from.

As Buck had JD, Chris had Vin Tanner. Vin had quietly inserted himself into Buck's place as best friend. Chris could not even figure out exactly when it had happened, only that it had. It was a relationship that filled a void in both their lives. Chris shuddered at what both, he and Buck, had almost lost. Once again, he thanked the powers that be that the team was intact.

JD was still cold by the time they reached the hospital, but he was better. The doctors began to treat his hypothermia with warming blankets and warm fluids. The cold was compounded by severe muscle cramps caused by the extended shivering that the boy endured. He had been given muscle relaxers to help the cramps. Though he had a large lump on the back of his head, it was determined that JD did not have a concussion, but he needed to be watched overnight. After setting the arm, he was brought to the room; a silly grin on his face and heavy eyelids thanks to the drugs. Chris and Buck were waiting and Chris had tired to ask him a couple of questions. He finally gave up on making any sense of what the boy was saying.

Ezra and Josiah arrived a while later. Both walked over to the bed the younger agent occupied. Ezra laid a hand on JD's leg, while Josiah pushed back some hair that continually hung in the boy's eyes. Their eyes took in the freshly bandaged arm, the cast that now encased the previously injured ankle, and the fresh bruises as they silently affirmed that their youngest teammate was indeed alive. They stepped away from the bed and joined Chris and Buck in their vigil. They related the events after the five had left. Federal agents had arrived shortly after they had driven off to take custody of Spenser and explosives. Another sweep of the warehouse revealed no other contraband.

"Where's Vin?" Josiah asked.

"They took him to run a CAT scan. Nathan's with him," Chris volunteered. He had no more finished speaking, when the team's medic opened the door. He was followed by a wheelchair containing the subject of Josiah's inquiry. Chris looked grimly from Vin to Nathan. Nathan's smile and slight nod told him that Tanner was all right.

Team 7 was now reunited in the hospital room in which the day's drama had begun. Chris breathed a sigh of relief. He moved to Vin's bedside as he settled in. "Feeling better?"

Vin looked from Chris to JD and, then, at each of the others. "Yep. Feeling almost human again."

"Doc said you can both leave tomorrow if you get a clean CT," Chris told the sharpshooter.

"Which he did," Nathan tossed in. "Saw him in the lab. Everything looked good."

Vin relaxed into the pillow. "Good. I'll be glad to get home. Need to check on my horse. A ride sounds good." Vin closed his eyes, but he opened them again to watch JD.

Buck, sitting in a chair near the window, saw the look. "You better not be thinking what I think you're thinking, junior," he growled.

Vin glanced at Buck, then back to JD. "What do you want me to think?" He pinned Buck with a hard glare.

Buck stood and walked over to the bed. Propping one hip on the edge, he leaned toward Vin. "I think you should feel you did the best you could with the situation. You couldn't stop the man from coming. You couldn't start shooting when he did. You protected JD. You stopped Spenser from pistol-whipping him. You already told us that in so many words." Buck sat up straight. "We.." indicating Chris and himself "..should have been more careful. We should've been able to anticipate him going after one of us. But we ain't got no crystal ball. We did our best, you did yours. Sometimes, things happen and you just have to deal with it. So, what say, you stop apologizing for something you can't control. If we hadn't'a let him get away the first night, none of this would'a happened. Ain't I right, Chris?"

Chris nodded his agreement. "I shouldn't have let it happen. But, you can be sure, next time we'll handle to different. Sound alright to you?"

Vin thought it over, then smiled and relaxed. "Yeah, sounds good, cowboy." Vin relaxed and settled back into his pillow, closing his eyes.

"Good. That's settled. Can we go home?"

Everyone looked at JD, who lay with his eyes closed. "I can sleep a lot better in my own bed."

Buck moved to the other bed and sat down, mirroring his previous position. He smiled. "Tomorrow, kid. Go to sleep."

"Okay. Tomorrow. Ya promise?"

"Yeah, JD. I promise." Buck looked from JD to Vin and shook his head. He stood and stretched and looked at Chris. "I ain't going anywhere."

Chris turned to the other three agents. "Why don't ya'll go on back to the hotel and get some sleep. Buck and I'll stay here. Josiah, if you wouldn't mind, just throw our stuff in the bags and we can get an early start in the morning."

Nathan and Josiah did not move. Ezra stood, smoothing the wrinkles from his pants as he rose. "Well, gentleman, it would seem that none of us will be needing rooms for this evenings respite. So might I suggest that we" indicating Josiah and Nathan "retrieve our apparel and other belongings. We can settle our account with the proprietor and return here until we procure the release of our companions in the morning."

Buck just looked at him, while Chris shook his head and smiled. "Sounds good, Ez. Get our things and check us out. We can get some sleep in the waiting room down the hall Soon as the boys are released, we can head home."

Josiah and Nathan stood and joined Standish at the door.

"Hey, Ez, bring back some food. I'm getting hungry." Buck called out.

With his patented two-finger salute, Ezra and the other two agents left. Chris and Buck settled in the chairs near their friends and got comfortable as possible. It would be a long night in an uncomfortable position, but neither man would leave.

Tomorrow, the youngest members of their team would be released to their care once again.

Tomorrow, they would go home secure in the knowledge of a job completed and the team intact.

Tomorrow promised to be a better day.


Comments to: