I Pray


by LT

Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be. Not written for profit, only pleasure.

Rating: PG for violence.

This one is for Josiah fans. I heard this song and the big guy instantly came to mind. Thanks to Chris who persuaded me to submit this.

I confess that I don’t bow my head
As often as I should
Mostly just when times are bad
Rarely when they’re good.
And I don’t hold with too much preachin’
But I was raised up to believe,
That a man never stands as tall
As when he get down on his knees

So I pray
He’ll watch over my children
I pray
Just to be a better man
To find the strength to rise above
To be there for the ones I love
To forgive and be forgiven one sweet day
I pray
For a world that’s gone half crazy
I pray
For every woman child and man
To find the strength to rise above
To teach each other how to love
To forgive and be forgiven one fine day
I pray

"I Pray"
- Lonestar

The large mustached man slowly climbed the stairs. He paused in front of the massive double doors, running a bloodstained hand over his weary face. He took a deep breath and, placing a meaty hand on the handle, he opened the door and made his way into the place of sanctuary. He crossed himself as he stopped at the foot of the aisle. Staring up at the huge stained glass window, Josiah felt a peace that was sorely needed. It was still early, barely past seven, but there were several people, mostly older women, already inside. Tired down to his bones, he made his way to an empty pew and sat, relishing the quiet, the dark tones, and the renewal of something he still held deep in his heart. He closed his eyes and breathed in the scent of candle wax, smoke and wood polish.

He had been sitting for about ten minutes when he noticed a woman exit the confessional. Seeing no one else waiting, he worked his way to the wooden structure and opened the door. He made himself comfortable on the padded cushion and waited. A small sliding door opened.

“How can I be of assistance, my son?” The voice was strong but soothing.

“It’s been a long time, Father, but I’d like to confess my sins.”

“Go ahead. God is listening.”

Josiah hoped that he had sounded that sincere, that promising, when he had sat on the other side. “I used to be a priest a long time ago. I wasn’t strong enough.”

“Strong enough?”

The bull of a man chuckled slightly. “Yeah, strong enough. I couldn’t turn the other cheek. I couldn’t stand by and have complete faith that God would make everything right. I had to try to right a few wrongs myself.”

“I too have been sorely tempted that way, Brother.”

Brother! The word rang loud in the silence that followed. Josiah had a sister growing up but never a brother. It wasn’t until he was fifty-one that he found his “true” family, six brothers who he would trust his soul with, who he would die for.

Six men who had almost died with him just twenty-four hours ago.

The bust was a small one by Ezra’s standards, just three crates of handguns, but any gun off the street was a good day’s work. The undercover agent waited at the T-intersection of the alley. At the street end, Nathan, dressed as a homeless man, stood as lookout. Chris was in the open doorway to his left and Josiah waited behind the building to his right. Vin, sniper rifle ready, lay on top of the two-story building, behind the Southerner. Buck and JD were in the surveillance van at the end of the cross alley, ready to tape the entire transaction. It should have been a piece of cake.

The truck came out of nowhere. Barreling around the corner, it made straight for the surveillance van, smashing it into the brick building it was parked against. None of the others had time to warn Buck and JD. Metal crumpled and the van sat crushed like an aluminum can. Two men jumped out of the truck, AK-47s in their hands, ready to take on anyone who might exit the van. No one did. Vin and Josiah both turned their attention to the van and their brothers caught inside. Chris had heard the collision but he was blocked from viewing the damage or the men prepared for battle. Josiah yelled for the two to put down their weapons but neither one did. They both turned toward Josiah as he ran in a fool’s rush towards his trapped comrades. Vin took quick aim and took out the closest one to Josiah before he had a chance to fire. Before the next shots could be fired, the sound of gunfire came from the other end of the alley.

Nathan turned his head when he heard the sound of the collision. He had taken two steps when his attention was drawn back to the street now behind him. The screech of tires and the roar of the engine as the black caprice entered the alley sounded an alarm in the medic’s head. He pivoted in the nick of time to avoid being run over by the accelerating vehicle but the side mirror caught him in the ribs, tossing him into a pile of cardboard stored against the side of the building. Pain flared in his chest and shoulder, knocking him out of the fray.

Ezra saw the black car speeding towards him, two men leaning out of the windows already firing at him. He dove into the open doorway where Chris was engaged in an exchange of gunshots with the oncoming sedan. The undercover specialist quickly collected himself and, crouching below Larabee, he began firing at the now stopped car. The three occupants of the car had automatic weapons and sprayed the doorway with hot lead, causing both ATF agents to retreat into the safety of the building. Glancing quickly out the door, Ezra got a clear shot off and one of the gunmen fell, holding his leg and screaming obscenities.

Tanner fired at the second man that had exited the truck. The miscreant darted behind the badly damaged van and Vin’s shot hit only brick. The sharpshooter ducked as automatic fire poured in his direction now from two fronts. He made a choice and bobbing back up, he got off a quick shot at the men firing at Chris and Ezra. He hit pay dirt and the black clad shootist went down permanently. Vin ducked again as bullets sprayed above his head.

Josiah knelt behind the dumpster that sat between him and the man firing at Vin. He held his gun at the ready and, waiting to hear the sound of an empty chamber, acted when the gun reached its last projectile. As fast as he could, he charged the young man, not firing but with his finger on the trigger of his gun. The man was just finishing his exchange of clips when Josiah stormed around the corner of the van. Knowing his time was up, the gunman stepped back and squeezed the trigger. Josiah dropped to the ground and rolled away from the shooter. As he came to a stop, he fired. All three of his shots hit the assassin in the head area, instantly killing him. Josiah stood on trembling knees and checked the body. Anticipating the worst, he walked around the van to the front door where he could see through the smashed window. He couldn’t see Buck but he witnessed JD moving his legs. He breathed a sigh of relief that at least one of his children was still alive.

Vin heard the report from the oldest member of Team Seven’s gun and knew that battle was over. He peered back over the edge of the roof in time to see Chris plug the last gunman straight through the heart. Silence followed the last shot, an ominous void in the sounds of the city. Vin stood, looking down at the crushed surveillance van. Josiah pulled on the door but it was too badly damaged to open. Chris rounded the corner, getting his first look at the destruction.

“Oh, God, no,” he exclaimed, his voice ringing hollowly in the manmade canyon. Behind him he heard footsteps moving away from him and then stopping.

“Nathan’s down!” The Southerner knelt beside the black man, his fingers instantly searching for a pulse. Upon finding one, he called out, “He’s alive but unconscious.”

Vin fished his cell phone out of one of the pockets of his black jump suit and dialed 9-1-1. The dispatcher told him units were already enroute and asked him how many were injured. “Three,” he reported and then changed it. “Make that five, with three dead. Contact ATF headquarters at the Murray Building, ask for AD Travis and tell him we were ambushed.”

It took an hour to release JD from the crumpled van. It took another hour to free Buck. By the time Chris arrived with Buck in the ambulance, Nathan was already out of surgery and ensconced in his room. He had suffered four broken ribs, one of which punctured his lung. He had also dislocated his shoulder. Ezra had gone with the medic in the ambulance and had now returned to the waiting room where Vin sat by himself.

“How’s JD?” He sat down heavily beside the longhaired marksman. Blood covered his suit coat but for once, he didn’t seem to notice. His fingers threaded themselves back and forth as if in prayer.

“Don’t know. They whisked him into one of the rooms back there and nobody’s been out yet. Chris just arrived with Bucklin, went straight back with him before I could ask …”

A man in a long white coat strolled casually over to where they were seated. “Are you one of the ATF agents with John Dunne?”

Both men stood. “How is he?”

“Thankfully it wasn’t as bad as we had first thought. He’s lucky. He has a concussion, a broken collarbone and a cracked sternum but he’ll be just fine. There was no damage to the heart or lungs. They should be done taping him up shortly and then he’ll be moved to the third floor. If one of you would like to sit with him until he goes up that would be fine.” The doctor shook both men’s hands and then led Vin back to where JD sat on the edge of the gurney, a technician wrapping bandaging around his upper chest.

“Vin, have you seen Buck?” The voice was trembling, scared shitless. JD was pale, his right eye black and swollen. Blood was still encrusted in his hair from a short cut just above the right eye.

“He’s here and Chris is with him but I haven’t heard anything yet. Don’t worry, Kid, he’s got the strength of a stallion and stubbornness of a mule. He’ll be fine, you’ll see.” Vin tried to sound confident but he wasn’t sure he believed. He had seen Buck’s unconscious body just before leaving with JD. The scoundrel’s hips had been pinned by the shelving unit that held the computer terminal and one of the modems had struck him squarely in the face, causing some serious damage. Buck had seemed to be coated with blood, at least the upper portion of his body, which was all that any of them could see at the time.

“Vin, I need to know. Go find him for me, will ya? Tell him I’m all right. He’ll be worried.” JD wiped away a tear from his eye. His mental pain was greater than his physical ache at the moment.

“Sure, JD. I’ll be back as soon as I can, okay?” Seeing the youngster nod, he went out into the hallway, searching for the cubicle they had taken Buck to. Seconds later, he spotted Chris, standing forlornly outside a room, his attention riveted on the man inside.

“Chris?” Receiving no answer, Vin gently put his hand on the team leader’s arm. “Chris, how is he?”

“He ain’t breathin’ right now. Damn, how did this happen, Vin? It was a simple assignment, easy in, easy out. It shouldn’t have blown up like it did.” Chris never took his eyes off the flurry of doctors and nurses trying to save the life of his oldest friend.

Vin didn’t know what to say so he remained silent, his hand still on the arm of the grief stricken leader. Together, they watched the fight for Buck Wilmington’s life. What seemed like an eternity later, the hospital personnel stopped their frenzied activity. A doctor emerged, stripping off blood stained gloves as he did. He smiled weakly at the black clad man he had ejected from the room.

“We have him on a respirator. His heartbeat is strong though so he’s got that going for him. When they released the pressure on his legs, a blood clot got up to his lungs. We have him on blood thinners but that means he’s not clotting. He’s on his third pint of whole blood already. Does he have family, someone who can sign a surgical release? He needs immediate surgery on the damaged vessel in his leg to stop the hemorrhaging.”

“I’m his family. I’ll sign whatever, just do what you have to, to save his life.” Chris stood tall, his voice solid as ever. Vin could feel the slight tremors in the muscles under his hand though. He knew the indefatigable leader of Team Seven was falling apart on the inside.

Chris followed the doctor out to the desk to sign the release form and Vin made his way back to where he had left JD. Josiah was with the dark haired youth. Both looked up as Vin entered the room. Their eyes held the question both were unable to verbalize.

“He’s going up to surgery soon as Chris signs the papers. He’s got a vein that’s damaged in his leg, needs to be fixed. Doc says his heart’s beatin’ just fine, JD. Told you he was half mule.” Vin decided that Buck’s roommate could be spared the gory details for now. He would see for himself soon enough the damage to his ‘big brother’s’ body.

“He’s gonna be okay, then, Vin?” JD sounded more hopeful than before. He looked better, not as pale. Vin figured the doctor had given him a painkiller.

“He’s in good hands, kid. Now, let’s get you to a room before ya fall asleep.”

> That was yesterday. Josiah had stayed with JD most of the night while Ezra had kept a watch in Nathan’s room. Both injured men slept most of the time but when they did awaken, they both asked about Buck. The standard answer became, “His heart is still strong.”

Surgery lasted six hours and forty-two minutes. When the surgeons were done, Buck’s left leg, which had been broken cleanly in two, had four screws and a titanium plate holding it together. The orbital bone under his right eye and his nose had been repaired by a plastic surgeon. An ophthalmologist had reattached the retina of his eye. Four ribs in his back were realigned and his pelvic girdle was pinned back together. In all, seven surgeons had had their hands inside the tall agent, performing the magic that would keep Buck alive and in good enough shape to remain with the federal government.

By morning, all three patients were safely installed in their rooms, a brother agent ensconced right beside them. Vin had relieved Josiah about six thirty and told the large ex-priest to get some rest. It was then that he decided to seek out his Lord.

“Father, I killed a man yesterday.”

The man on the other side of the partition remained silent.

“I’m not sorry for what I did. I am sorry that the fact that I shot and killed him and it didn’t bother me, not one little bit. He was a young man, only twenty-two, and I took his life willingly. I was relieved when he went down. You see, he was trying to kill my family, my brothers. I couldn’t allow that.”

“Are you with the police, my son?” The priest asked, somehow knowing the answer.

“I’m a federal agent. We were trying to prevent death and instead, we found ourselves knee deep in it. They came at us with guns blazing and we reacted to their violence. Father, please, give me my penance. I have someone I need to talk to.”

“I believe that you have already done your penance. Go in God’s great grace. And son, be careful out there.”

Josiah smiled. “Thank you, Father.” He exited the confessional and made his way to the front of the church. He lit three candles and then knelt down on the front row kneepad. His arms rested on the wood in front of him, his hands clasped as he bowed his head.

“Lord, it’s me. Yeah, I know, it’s been awhile. And I know that it seems I only come to you when I need a big favor. This time, I have come to thank you for your benevolence. My friends, no, my brothers are all going to live, thanks to you and the doctors.”

“I sometimes wish it had worked out better between us. I tried, I really did. But as hard as I tried to do it your way, I kept coming back to the fact that I needed to interact with the heathens that preyed on those weaker than them. I guess I wanted to be their Don Quixote, to right all the impossible wrongs. I didn’t trust in you enough.”

“Most of the time though, I feel right, justified in the life choices I made throughout the years. I have done some good during my life and I think you agree with me on that point. Why else would you send me six wonderful, exemplary men who have become family to me, brothers and sons, one and all. I cherish each day I get to spend with them, Father. I ask that you continue to watch over them.”

“As always, I ask that you help me become a better man with each passing day. Give me the strength to rise above the pettiness, the bitterness, the callousness of the people I have to deal with. I need to be there for my children, Vin, JD, and especially, Ezra. They need me and the others to watch their backsides. They are free spirits, those boys, and it takes all Chris, Buck, Nathan and I have to keep them standing straight and tall. And speaking of Chris and Buck, thank you for the kindred spirit you gave them. It kept them going through some rough times. Both are strong enough now to ride herd on younger versions of themselves and if they haven’t thanked you enough, well, let me add my two cents worth.”

“Finally, Lord, let me find in my heart the ability to forgive. It tests me daily, this absolution of sins. I try, I really do, but when they come after my boys, well, its damn near impossible. I will keep trying though, I promise. And maybe, some day, you will find it in your heart to forgive me.”

“I guess that just about does it for now, Lord. Once again, I’m in your debt. Bless you and your Son as you have blessed me and my boys. Until the next time, Amen.”

The big man pushed himself up to his feet and with a lighter step, walked back outside. The sun was up and the birds were welcoming the warmth of spring. Josiah smiled and headed back to spend another day watching over his special parishioners.

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