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Authors: Anita and The Muse

Rating: PG for language and violence.

Disclaimer: No.. we don't own them, but we wouldn't throw them back if we found them washed up on the beach, tired and naked and.......ahem..... oh yeah, where was I? That' right, we don't own them *sob*. Yes... the alphabet brigade do own them. And all I can say about that is there is no justice in the world. Oh, btw, Anita has first option on Vin, ((narrows eyes)) and I have first option on Chris. ((glares at open mouthed Chris fans)) No arguments, ((hands on hips)) no debate, facts is facts. ('Sides, we're two crazy, wild, Aussie women. You've been warned!!)

Special Notes: I (Muse) started this story awhile ago, but didn't get very far with it. I wanted to have a very special story for LaraMee's birthday; she deserves it. So... I begged, pleaded and threatened Anita to help me with it and she ended up doing most of it herself. Anita... THANK YOU!!! I couldn't have done this without you!! You're an Angel and a good writer too!

 


 

1. Adrenaline's Aftermath

Silence... deafening silence followed in the wake of the terrible noise of shattering concrete, metal and glass that had blasted through the air only moments before, shaking foundations and buildings for miles around. Out of reach of the bright sunlight of a beautiful Denver day, heavy, smothering layers of fine dust hung low in the underground car park of the federal building, stubbornly slow in their journey to join the debris and rubble that littered the ravaged ground.

Chris Larabee coughed, trying in vain to dislodge the dust from his throat even as he took in his unfamiliar surroundings. He tried to make his mind remember where he was and what exactly had happened to bring him to this point. His head ached, a merciless pounding that seemed to drown out all sound and then suddenly, his mind exploded into shards of pain and he was bombarded with the visions and memories of the disaster.

Oh God, he remembered now... He squeezed his eyes tight, trying to calm his whirling thoughts and from amidst the whirlpool of sounds and images, his mind plucked a solitary name. Vin. Where was Vin? He began to take stock of his situation; he had to locate Vin. There were no sounds around him, only a dismal amount of light and he was pinned against the ground. Tentatively, he tried to raise his upper body and peer into the darkness, but collapsed back against the ground with a groan as the pain from his injuries assaulted him.

There were no sirens marking help to permeate the cloying dust, for only minutes had elapsed since the government building had been rocked from its very core. Hours later, on the evening news, a reporter with a carefully practiced smile that hinted at knowledge of secrets untold, would calmly inform viewers that for miles around the city area, a rumble had been felt journeying through the earth, shuddering along the ground and alerting workers in the area, but otherwise creating little more than a passing disturbance to the city's routine. From outside the building, there was little evidence that the lower car park level had been blown apart.

The truth of the matter would never be revealed to the public, it was something they simply did not need to know, according to the people in power who ran the city. Needless panic would ensue should the public be told that a strategically planted bomb had been detonated right in the their city's heart - and so they would remain none the wiser. Instead, they would be duly informed that is was an explosion, caused by a gas leak, that had rumbled the city's streets that day.

In point of fact, for many hours following the blast, there would be only three men in existence who knew the exact circumstance behind the blast - and one of those men still had the detonating device in his coat pocket. The remaining two men were unable to tell anyone, for both of them were brought down in the blast, victims of its turbulent heat and devastating impact. They remained sheltered in the concrete dust and debris, unable to communicate their situation to anyone, unable to help themselves as they lay struggling to breathe, let alone comprehend how they had come to be in such a dire circumstance. One thing was certain, there would be hell to pay. A man intending on killing Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner had better make sure he did it right, otherwise his life span would be severely shortened.

As the first sound of a siren reached the building and hurried voices began to filter through the dust, one man smiled through the grime marking his face as he slowly cleaned his spectacles with an embroidered handkerchief, safely distant outside the building. Placing the thin metal arms carefully over his ears and pushing the frames higher on his face, he took in the scene around him one last time before making to leave as if he had not a care in the world. He did not believe for a second that the two agents could have survived that blast. He dialed a number on his cell phone as he turned on the heals of his expensive leather shoes, the white of his hairless scalp bright against the collar of his dark coat as he pulled it around him and walked away.

<><><><><><>

Here Comes The Sun - Earlier That Morning

"Buck!" Larabee yelled from his office.

"Shit!" cursed the lady's man, pausing mid-stride through the office like a burglar caught in the act and eyeing the open door of his Captain's office warily.

"Bucklin, what the hell you get into this time?" Tanner winked, amusement clear in his lazy drawl as he looked back down at the photo's scattered about his desk.

"I ain't done nothin' my mamma wouldn't be proud of, son, 'n that's a fact," Buck matched Vin's wink with a cheeky one of his own, then frowned a little, remembering that his boss shouting at him is what had started the conversation in the first place.

"Get your ass in here, Buck!" Chris yelled again, louder.

"Dammit..." Buck searched his mind desperately for the reason his boss might be yelling at him this time.

"I do believe, Mr Wilmington, that news of your recent transaction with the new accounts payable clerk on level 3 may have circulated back to our esteemed Captain."

Buck looked a little shocked before he could cover it, then his grin was flashing again. Of course Ezra would know about that. "Hell, Ezra, that was weeks ago... and anyway, that was one 'transaction' a man just couldn't help but make... Woulda been a sin to mankind not to..." His face turned thoughtful, a wistful smile curving his lips as he remembered. "... She required a hefty deposit, too."

"Lord give grace to the humble." Josiah commented dryly, studying his last report, not able to avoid listening to the converstation around him.

JD groaned at Buck's latest unprompted disclosure of information. "That you made in full, right?" he asked, not looking away from his computer screen.

Buck slapped Ezra on the back as the southerner moved past him through the office to the fax machine. "That's right kid... and with interest too, something you conservative southern gentlemen never have understood the importance of, Ezra." Buck addressed the room with great flair. "You can think of me as the great Samaritin, if you will... for the less... fortunate in levels magnetism."

"Oh God, not the magnetism thing again..." JD groaned.

"Oh, but that's where you are wrong, my friend," Ezra said, feeding a sheet of paper into the fax and pressing the buttons to dial. "It was us conservative southern gentlemen that perfected the concept of adding interest, albeit for the purpose of maximizing our own gain... We were, in fact, the pioneers who documented the most successful techniques - for others like your good self who followed in our elevated footsteps."

Not helping having to listen, Nathan rolled his eyes at Josiah who merely shook his head as he filled in a form at his desk.

"And furthermore," Ezra added, turning as the fax began to send behind him and crossing his arms over his chest. "My very name translates to 'Samaritan', in certain cultures, thereby negating your claim as the leader of good deeds."

"I somehow don't see either of you as forerunners in the art of voluntary help and sympathy giving." Josiah said, sitting back in his chair with a slight smile.

"You may have a point, Standish..." Buck said, still walking towards Chris's office.

Ezra's brow rose in suspicion towards Buck's back, waiting...

"However..." Buck said, swiftly turning around with a smile, a clear warning that he was by no means done and taking a step back towards the still smiling Ezra.

Vin grinned, his eyes staying with the tall man as he went on the offense again. He shared a grin with JD who was looking up Ezra's name on the internet to see if what he'd said was true.

Buck stopped before Ezra. "What you fail to comprehend, my friend, is that achieving optimum success in such transactions, comes not from maximizing your own gain, but from attaining a mutually beneficial state between both parties, or even third parties if the deal is thus structured..." he waggled his eyebrows at JD and Vin. "You know what I'm talking about," he said, looking back at Ezra, "it's what those corporate suit assholes are always calling a 'win win' situation."

Vin rubbed a hand over his rough chin, tilting his head in thought. "Hell by the time you fella's finished jawin' the woman ta death, us Texan's woulda been rollin' over fer the next round."

As JD, Josiah and Nathan all chuckled at Vin's comment, Buck continued on, pointing a finger at his agitated southern friend, "This is one topic you can't out-bullshit me on, son. You want some lessons in successful partnering, you come speak to the Buckster here, ok? While you pioneers were busy documentin' your new techniques, all out for self benefit, I was out there testin' the new grounds, conquering new territories and settin' the benchmarks, deliverin' satisfaction nationwide..."

JD blinked and looked at Vin. "Are we still talking about sex?"

Vin chuckled, "Either that or layin' a new railway."

Ezra watched as his smug friend walked off, turning casually to tug his sheet of paper from the now jammed fax machine and re-feeding it patiently as he played his own winning hand with a calculating smile. "Very well, my friend..."

Buck paused at the sound of Ezra's voice, his back straightening again at the warning in the tone.

Timing his words to perfection, Ezra continued. "I do hope, however, that this particular 'partnership' of yours does not result in a permanent and binding contract being enforced...say a contract of the matrimonial kind... or a contract on your life..."

Buck whirled back to Ezra once more, alerted clearly by the knowing sound in his voice. His friend knew something that he did not. "What the hell are you talking about Standish?" He grew even more suspicious as the rest of the boys in the room all busied themselves with paper shuffling and checking computer screens, slight grins on all their faces as they listened.

"I am merely considering the realistic consequences that may result from any deposit made during a partnership." He finished dialing the number again and turned back to Buck, his face perfectly blank.

"There were no consequences." Dropping the duel of words Buck gave in to his rising agitation and took another step forward. "Alright, what do you know." It was a demand, not a question.

Ezra 's face was a mask of surprise. "Why Mr Wilmington, whatever are you suggesting? That I, a mere shadow of your great self, could possibly be in possession of information that you yourself are not? How could this come to pass, you, a veritable genius, a pioneer, a man to be held in the highest-" Suddenly he turned back to the fax machine as it beeped in protest of his demand for it to perform its only constructed duty. "By all that's holy..." he muttered, forgetting his long-winded speech of only moments before as he cursed under his breath, again pulling his sheet of paper free and trying to straighten out the chewed corner.

Buck stared at Ezra's back, waiting... Then unable to stop himself he demanded, "Tell me what you know dammit!"

Ezra fed the paper in a third time and dialed, "Well, only because of the respect you have shown me and of course, because I do care about your well-being..."

"You being the great Samaritan and all," Josiah added.

"Precisely," Ezra nodded his thanks to Josiah.

"Standish," came the impatient growl.

"BUCK!" came the shout of lost patience from Chris's office.

Turning back, Ezra held out a hand and Buck eyed it, knowing what he needed to do to extract the information he wanted before he went in to meet the fire. With a curse he dug into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and pulled out a ten dollar note, handing it over and frowning as the southerner cleared his throat, waiting...

"Dammit!" he cursed again, handing over another ten. "I can't believe I have to pay for information from my own so-called 'friends'!"

"Let's just say," Ezra said, still toying with the ladies man as he pocketed the notes casually, "That when conducting inter-department relations, it may be best to take a moment to investigate the consenting parties' relationship with the Chief Superintendent of Departmental Operations..."

Buck looked confused. "What?!"

Ezra sighed as the fax again beeped and weary of the game, he told Buck plainly, "You slept with the only daughter of Superintendent Martinez. *The* Superintendent Martinez currently conducting a feasibility study into the operations of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, starting with Team Seven today in fact..."

Buck closed his eyes. "Sweet God no..." he whispered in anguish.

"*The* Superintendent Martinez that..." Ezra looked at his watch, "Should be arriving for his first meeting with our calm and temperate leader any minute now."

"Wilmington get your ass in here before I come out there and kick it in here myself!!"

Buck opened his eyes and eyed his 'friends' around the room, scowling as they all avoided his accusing stare. "You knew?... You all knew?!"

"It is the noble of heart that are often sacrificed for the greater good, or the benefit of mankind, as you put it."

Buck looked sharply at Josiah's ducked head, having heard the laughter in the deep voice and turning to Nathan in a silent plea for support.

"I have to agree with Josiah there, Buck. You did say you did it for us, we couldn't hold you back from your duty to mankind, now," he reasoned.

"You had weeks to tell me!" Buck looked ill as he thought now of Sasha Martinez, the hot looking Spanish sex-bomb that defied any stereo types of accountants that he had ever heard, unable to comprehend that she was Superintendent Martinez's daughter... The Superintendent Martinez, famous for closing down entire departments throughout the country, rumored to have sent a man running to transfer to Australia after he discovered him dating his only daughter on the sly... The man whom Chris had been worrying over since news of his investigation into their operations became known a month ago. His face bore the look of a marked man as the consequences hit home. "Christ..."

The team chuckled, Buck was looking pale now, holding his stomach as if trying not to be sick.

"BUCK! I ain't callin'ya again. Get your ass in here!" Chris bellowed again.

"Can ya get me a coffee on the way back, Bucklin?" Vin added, still flicking through photographs on his desk with his feet propped up on the wooden surface. He put a finger to his chin in thought, "...Don't rightly recall how to get to the kitchen... maybe ya could draw me a map? You bein' the great explorer of territory's'n all..."

Buck threw his snickering teammates all a disgusted look. "Some friend's you all are... There I am, doin' my duty for my fellow man, for the team - and this is the support I get!" he muttered as he walked slowly, like a man going to the gallows to meet his own death, towards Chris's office.

As his 'friends' all chuckled at his retreating back there came one more yell of "BUCK!!" and then Buck disappeared into Chris's office. They heard his instant plea and all burst out laughing at his mumbled, "Honest, Chris. I didn't know it was *that* Matinez's daughter!" before the door closed.

"Hey," JD said in surprise, pointing to his screen as Vin looked up. "He wasn't lying, his name does mean Samaritan! In Hebrew!"

Ezra did not turn from the fax machine. "You doubted me, Mr Dunne?"

"Samaritan refers to race, not good deed, in relation to the name Ezra," Josiah imparted.

"The Priest Ezra had a mission to separate his people from the neighbouring people around them, as he believed his Lord of Israel did not want his men to breed with foreign women," JD read aloud.

"That don't exactly sound Samanitarian to me," Nathan commented.

"More like ethnic cleansing or something," JD said, frowning at Ezra.

"Good grief, I was making a point! In jest! How is it I have suddenly become the instigator of all the wrongs of the world?" Ezra said in frustration.

"Yeah, leave Ez alone," Vin said, getting up to join the frowning man. He held out a hand to him with a grin.

Ezra sighed as he handed over half the money he'd made to Vin. It had been the Texan's plan after all...

*******

Chris Larabee looked up from the mountain of paperwork on his desk as Buck entered his office, the pressure of the day already getting to him and only half hearing Buck's words.

"What the fuck are you talking about, Buck? Who's daughter? And where the hell were you when I called?!"

Buck looked at Chris's distracted, frowning face and thought fast, instantly realizing that they had set him up. The sons of bitches had set him up - Chris didn't know! Which meant, Martinez probably didn't know either... He grinned then, in sheer relief. It really had been an amazing night. Then he remembered what his friends had tried to do to him.

"BASTARDS!" he yelled and was answered with howling laughter from the outer office.

"What the hell's wrong with you, Buck?" Chris said, frowning at the smile Buck instantly plastered to his face again following his outburst, noting the forcibly relaxed body language that his old friend assumed.

"Hehe... I was just mucking around... whassup, boss?" Buck covered, moving in and sitting down casually like a man trying to give the impression he had not a care in the world.

Chris continued to frown, hearing the chuckling outside from the boys as he considered Buck and brought back the words he hadn't been paying attention to when Buck had walked in, his scowl deepening as he realized what he'd heard. He gave Buck an intense, probing stare and his voice dropped to a deadly low, the reason he had called Buck in forgotten, for the moment.

"You did not sleep with Martinez's daughter." He said this hoping his tone alone could make it fact. At Buck's sheepish look he closed his eyes, one hand instantly coming to the bridge of his nose to hold his stress at bay as his voice become almost a prayer of hope, whispering in strained patience, "Please tell me you didn't sleep with Superintendent Martinez's daughter..."

Buck averted his eyes at the emotional plea, studying the carpet as he waited...

"ARE YOU INSANE?!?!?!"

*******

Outside the office, Vin and Ezra winced at the shout before returning their attention to the troubled fax machine that was trying to load Ezra's sheet one more time.

"You know, we're real good at this," Vin commented, referring to their ruining of Buck's morning.

"Yes we are," Ezra said, watching the silent machine as if it could tell him what its problem was.

"Real scary is what you boys are when you work together," Josiah said.

"That too," Ezra answered, sharing a look of pride with Vin.

Earlier that morning, they had arrived at the office to discover explicit porn photo's pasted all over their screens, with lewd noises coming from their speakers as they started up, which had sent them into instant panic, knowing as they did that the Superintendent was coming that day and Chris would shoot them if they messed up in any way, shape or form. It hadn't taken much to put together that it was Buck.

The week before, Ezra had found out that Buck had slept with Martinez's daughter and had been sitting on the information until such a time that it would prove profitable to use it. That day had now come. He passed the knowledge on to Vin quickly, appreciating that his cunning mind would help find the best way to use it and when they had heard that Chris was looking for Buck urgently to sign off on a report for a case they had just finished writing up, Vin had gotten the idea to convince him he was busted over his dalliance, wanting to send him in there a fretting wreck - and it had worked like a charm.

Ezra scowled now, however, at the beep of utter denial that the fax machine before him threw out, refusing to send the single sheet of paper that he so urgently needed to deliver.

JD answered the phone as Vin silently handed Ezra his gun, handle first, which the southerner took without word, seriously contemplating shooting the defective, stubborn machine.

"Sure, I'll let him know," JD said, hanging up. "Hey, Ez? Brian downstairs says he keeps getting half a fax from you."

As Ezra started to turn the weapon on JD, Vin placed a restraining hand on his arm just as the elevator signaled a new arrival to the floor. They turned to discover the famous Superintendent, surprised to see that ATF Director Orin Travis was standing next to him.

"Gentlemen," Travis said, eying the unholstered weapon in Ezra's hands, pointing as it still was between JD and the fax machine, Vin's hand still restraining him. He raised a brow in curiosity, "Is Captain Larabee in?"

"He... uh..." JD stammered.

"Director."

Team seven were relieved to see Chris exit his office, Buck yet to make an appearance.

"Chris, this is Superintendent Martinez, Superintendent, this is Captain Larabee."

As the men shook hands Travis continued. "I know we're a little early, Chris, but we have something we need to discuss with you urgently... A private matter."

The rest of the team all shot nervous glances at each other, was it possible that Martinez really did know about Buck sleeping with his daughter?

Larabee noted the seriousness of Travis's face and his instincts went on alert. As he eyed Martinez he had the strange occurrence of de ja vu, but shook it off quickly.

"Of course, we were just finished, weren't we Agent Wilmington?" he scowled at Buck as the sheepish man walked past him and left his office.

Buck nodded to Travis, "Director." He darted a glance to Martinez, half waiting for the surprisingly small man to pull out a shotgun and kill him immediately, or pull out a butcher's knife and remove his organs in a stabbing frenzy, or... Calm down, son, he doesn't know, he doesn't know, he told himself as he avoided looking at any of his team and went quickly to his desk, feeling the bead of sweat that popped out on his forehead.

Chris's shot a quick glance at Ezra, still holding a gun, before he led the two men into his office and closed the door.

The five remaining men chuckled at the one word from the mustached playboy.

"Bastards..."

Buck waited until the three men had disappeared before he commented, slightly relieved, "I thought he'd be bigger... the guy's practically a midget." He did not expect a response but Vin's words gave him further food for thought.

"That's what they said about Hitler."

"And Napoleon," Nathan added.

Josiah looked up then, a pencil paused in his hand in thought. "I think Napoleon just had a lot of tall guards around him, he wasn't that short..."

"But a lot of evil guys are..." Nathan said thoughtfully.

Buck rolled his eyes, "It doesn't matter -"

"And the Australian Prime Minister."

They all looked at JD.

"What?!" Buck said, frustrated, yet intrigued at JD's often strange connections.

JD shrugged, "He's short too... and some say he's evil..."

Buck opened his mouth and closed it again, what was the point?

"I think Mr Panasonic must be vertically challenged also," Ezra said, staring at the fax machine that was ruining his day. Only an evil kind of dictator or messenger of the devil could have created such a heinous piece of office equipment... in his opinion.

 

***************

 

2. Office Communications

As Martinez and Travis took seats at the other side of his desk, Chris moved around to take his own chair, thinking silently that Martinez was a lot smaller than the image his reputation conjured, yet he felt sure he had seen the man before. The superintendent was nearly a foot shorter than himself. "What can I help you boys with?"

Travis looked at Martinez, who nodded.

"Chris, the Superintendent here has been a friend of mine for a long, long time. I know that he was due in to start his report today, but something has come up that needs attention... It's coincidence that he was due to come in to your office today."

Chris looked at the two men, noting the unofficial tone of Travis's voice.

"I've brought him to you because you and your team are the best... and I trust you all completely."

Chris raised an eyebrow. Travis knew many men in positions to help him. This sounded serious.

Martinez reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a crumpled piece of notepaper, handing it over silently to the blonde agent before him.

Chris took the note and scanned it in silence a moment before looking up. "Why come to me with this, why not disclose it officially?"

"Captain Larabee, this is not the first note that I have received, there have been several others." He stood suddenly, unable to contain his pent up agitation and paced. "This... this - motherfucker has threatened my family!" Martinez composed himself, visibly upset as he took a calming breath and looked Chris in the eye. "I have reason to believe that the person responsible for these threats plays on our own team."

Chris's eyes widened ever so slightly at that, flicking to Travis as the man nodded in confirmation.

He sat back a little in his chair, again studying the note. "I think you'd better tell me everything."

*******

"Hey Ezra, you got a sec?"

Ezra crawled out from beneath the table the office equipment rested on, trying as best he could to maintain the thin thread of calm that he clung to. He had just plugged the main power back on, hoping it might fix whatever technical problem was preventing him from getting on with his task of sending one single sheet of paper through the line. The realization that he could have walked the paper down to the second floor several times by then, just served to anger him further and increased his determination to solve the problem.

"Of course, Mr Tanner," he addressed the men seated around the room as he stood, holding up his hands in mock restraint before dusting himself down and straightening his tie. "Please, do not get up! The last thing I need is for my current plight to trouble any of you in any way..." He grumbled over their lack of help in fixing the troublesome device.

"That thing hasn't worked all week, Ez," JD duly informed him.

Ezra whirled on the young agent. "Please say that again, Mr Dunne, I believe I misinterpreted your meaning."

JD looked up, frowning. "That thing hasn't worked all week, Ezra," he said slowly, as if Ezra was slightly deaf. "Not since Vin spilt his coffee down the paper feed."

Ezra closed his eyes a moment, counting to ten as he took deep, calming breaths. "Son, you're three legged dog joke had more humor..."

JD shrugged, nonplussed as he looked at Vin, who only shrugged in return as if he, also had no idea as to why Ezra was so riled up. "Just telling it like it is."

Ezra opened his eyes and slowly turned to Vin, his voice barely controlled. "Mr Tanner, please tell me that you are about to take exception to our young friend's unfounded accusations, that you did not neglect to inform me that you are in fact responsible for my current situation?"

His voice was so controlled and soft, even Vin winced. "Hell Ez, didn't see no point ta tellin' ya what I done, knew it'd jist get ya all riled up. 'Sides, someone had to try an' fix it. Always thought you were good with that sorta thing, thought I'd give ya a chance ta prove yer worth." As Ezra opened his mouth to protest further, Vin cut him off, holding up a picture before him. "You notice anything weird about this picture?"

Ezra's bit back his words, what was the point arguing with the infuriating Texan? His eyes narrowed as he stepped forward, looking closely at the large security picture Vin was holding up to him. "Is that from the car park of the Sheldon building last week?"

Vin nodded as Ezra continued to study it.

"Who is that child at the back, standing by Mr Larabee?"

"Exactly."

Vin turned the picture back around, looking at it again. The bust had been straight forward, a trunk full of guns seized from a parked car, tipped off to them by a regular informant. A few days after the area had been unsealed, a car bomb had fired through the lower level, taking out a large portion of the structure, but thankfully injuring no-one in the early hours of the morning.

Vin had studied the security tape after the cleanup and had noticed the shadowed boy lingering in the background as the backup had closed in. He had requested still shots be taken from the film and enhanced.

"I do not remember him being there," Ezra said.

"Neither do I." He got up and handed the photo to JD, who shook his head.

"I never saw him either."

In turn, Nathan, Buck and Josiah all admitted they had never noticed the boy.

"That's just weird, how could he just stand right next to Chris and we not notice him?" JD said.

Vin again looked at the picture of the small figure who's features were hidden behind Chris's body, such was the angle of the photo. In what would have been the best opportunity to see his face in an extreme close up, Chris's raised arm blocked the view. Even through the computer enhancement the photo had undergone the man's identity was still not clear. "I don't know, kid, maybe Chris has the answer."

Just then, Chris came to his office door. "Vin? You got a minute?"

Vin looked up, then turned to JD on his way to Chris's office. "JD can you take a look at this, see what you can make of it?"

"I'll get the original tape and have a look," Jd said, taking the photo.

*******

"Director," Vin nodded to Travis as he entered.

"Agent Tanner, this is Superintendent Martinez, Pete this is Vin Tanner, the finest sharpshooter the government has on the payroll."

Vin looked slightly uncomfortable with the introduction, although he said nothing as he shook the superintendent's hand. A smile threatened the corner of his lip as he thought of the remarks a moment ago about the man's height, but he controlled his wayward thoughts. On quick perusal, he realized the man was wearing built up shoes, the soles thick and giving him added height - and he was still noticeably short.

"You're reputation precedes you, son. Your talents with a rifle are legendary."

"Thank you, Sir," Vin said, looking at Chris as they all took their seats.

"Vin, the superintendent is here on a personal matter. There has been several death threats made against him over the past months. He and Director Travis have been friends a long time, they have asked that we handle the investigation for them."

Vin raised a brow at that, his question plain.

"They have reason to believe the threats are coming from someone within his department. The method, the notes he has received, the timing of the deliveries, the very choice of wording all seems to suggest that this person has training within the government, may even work closely with the superintendent."

"You have these notes with you?" Vin asked Martinez.

Martinez shook his head. "I have them locked up, but I can show them to you."

Chris handed him the latest note. "He received this one just today, it was under his wiper blade when he returned to his car where it was parked on the street in town. No-one saw a thing, there were no street surveillance camera's in the area either."

Vin read the note on the ragged piece of paper. 'Don't go to pieces, Martinez. The threat to your health has been blown out of proportion. Take heed, this could drive you to your grave.'

"You got this today?" Vin asked him.

Martinez nodded. Vin re-read it and looked up at Chris, then back at the superintendent. "You drove here?" he asked him and the man nodded.

"Yes. The note was left on my car about an hour ago now."

Chris held his hand out and Vin handed him the note without the request having to be voiced. Chris re-read the note again. 'Blown out of proportion... drive you to your grave...' Memories of the recent car bomb the week before came to him then and he stood abruptly, looking to Vin who had stood along with him.

"Call the bomb squad," Chris told them as he and Vin already headed toward the door. "What level are you on?" He asked Martinez.

"The lower level, by the lift." He had to shout his last words to their retreating backs as they fled the office.

Vin and Chris quickly moved through the open office to the outer hall, out of sight as they headed for the stairwell and flung open the door, hammering into the narrow concrete escape to the undercover car park on the bottom levels.

"Where the hell are they going?" Buck said, having gotten to his feet as Chris and Vin had come tearing out of the office and headed out of sight.

Travis and Martinez stopped outside Chris's office.

"I believe they are heading to the car park," Travis said and watched as the rest of Team Seven got to their feet and headed out of the room. He grabbed the phone on Josiah's vacated desk and watched Martinez follow the ATF agents from the room, shaking his head slightly at the action-ready men. It was that love of adrenaline which made them all the best in their field... and would probably get them all killed sooner or later.

Buck and the others waited for the elevator to reach their floor, not having seen Vin and Chris take the stairs. They saw the second lift stop on the upper car park level and wrongly assumed that they were on it.

"To the upper car park," Buck said softly as they waited.

 

*******

Chris and Vin raced down the flights of stairs at top speed, stopping abruptly as they exited to the dimly lit parking area, scanning the shining cars lined up before them in neat, packed rows.

"Shit!" Chris cursed loudly, "what car did he say it was?"

Tanner smiled, "he's a Superintendent Pard."

"So?"

The Texan scanned the area, then slowly raised his arm to a car parked alone by the elevator. "There... the Volvo."

Larabee smiled despite himself. "Hazards of the job."

"Yup. They couldn't pay me enough to drive one 'a them coffin's on wheels."

The ATF Leader shook his head sadly. "I hear y' Pard. Those things need all the safety perks they can get, the way people drive 'em."

"Let's get to it then. Jist cos it's a Volvo don't mean someone don't love it."

Larabee laughed despite himself, then slapped Tanner on the back. Almost immediately both men raced across the driveway, skidding to a stop beside the silver car. Crouching down they peered under the front end beneath the bumper.

After a moment Vin whispered in a hushed tone, "I got it."

"Don't move it Vin, wait for the bomb squad to arrive." Chris warned.

"Y' know we don't have time fer that," Vin was crouching further under the car now. A second later he muttered a curse. "There's only 2 minutes on the timer!"

"Dammit it'll take the squad at least ten," Chris said.

Vin shot Chris a meaningful look. "Y' were in the Seals, so y' know somethin' 'bout this, right?"

Larabee glared at the younger man, quickly resigning himself with a sigh as he moved to join him under the bumper. "Damn Robin Hood. You know you're probably gonna get us killed."

Tanner winked before Chris's head ducked and disappeared. "Nah, I figure Heaven aint ready for the likes of us, and Hell wouldn't be able to cope, so the safest place for us is here on earth. Reckon we're safe 'nuff for now till they make special arrangements for us."

Chris rolled his eyes as he looked for the timer. "Well that makes sense."

"See, knew you'd see it my way." Vin tried to smile, but looked at the timer ticking away. "Y' wanna get to work on that?"

"No... but I will."

Both men were now lying on their backs, wedged under the car with their legs sticking out the front. Larabee carefully removed the cover and exposed the nest of wires that were set to the explosives. Placing the cover to the side he viewed the set-up and swore.

"Fuck." He whispered.

"Bad?'

The blond turned his head and stared at the Tracker incredulously. "Nah, I always say 'Fuck' when I'm in a jovial, happy mood."

"Y' mean all those times I thought y' were pissed off at me y' were really happy with me?" Vin's face smiled mischievously.

"Shut the fuck up, Vin."

"Love y' too Chris."

Ignoring the younger man, Larabee began searching through the coloured wires.

"Pass me your army knife. I'm gonna try to diffuse this thing."

Without hesitation Vin lifted the knife, opening the blade before passing it to the blond. He watched intently as Chris went about sorting through the wires and carefully, one by one, separating and then cutting each one in turn.

"You reckon Bucklin had a heart attack coming down the stairs?" Vin wondered aloud, thinking the boys should have been behind them, even though they had not announced their plan to them.

Chris grinned despite the explosives resting inches from his face. "Prob'ly found a woman trapped in the stairwell."

*******

Buck cursed as they stared at the upper level car park, devoid of any other human life.

"Where did they go?" JD said, as perplexed as his teammates. They should have been right behind them, even though the lift had taken a moment to reach them.

Buck turned to Martinez who had come down the lift with them.

"Where were they running to?" he demanded.

Martinez looked concerned. "I think they believe that there may be a bomb planted on my car," he told him in answer to his question.

The five agents stared at him. "And they couldn't wait for backup?" Buck said.

"It appears our Captain is not one for practicing what he preaches," Ezra said.

"Not when he gets together with Vin and the adrenaline starts flying," Nathan said in frustration. "Maybe I should have grabbed my medical kit."

"Let's hope not, Mr Jackson. Let's hope this is nothing but a false alarm." Ezra thought for a moment and eyed Martinez. "Where is your car?" he asked him.

"On the lower level."

Buck frowned and stepped towards the little man. "And you're telling us now?" His voice was threatening. "Why didn't you say something on the way down?!"

Ezra put a hand out to calm Buck as he pulled him towards the stairs. "Let's just get to them, shall we? We can ask questions later."

They headed towards the stairwell as Nathan muttered. "Might as well, no one else is going to stop and think about anything today."

*******

Sweat poured from both men; Chris while he worked steadily and Vin as he kept one eye on his friend, the other on the timer slowly counting down, holding wires back when Chris asked him too.

"Last one." Declared Larabee as he wiped at the sweat soaked blond hair that had managed to cross his face.

They exchanged concerned looks as the last wire was raised and pressed against the sharp blade.

"Fifteen seconds Chris."

The ATF leader carefully cut through the remaining wire and both men let out instinctive long, slow breaths as the timer stopped.

"Hell, that was easy," said Vin softly, although his voice showed he was not completely relieved.

Chris, too, was uneasy. "Too damn easy. Something's not right here."

They lay in silence a moment before Vin suddenly cursed.

"Shit!"

Chris jumped slightly at Vin's unexpected urgency, bumping his head on the metal above him. "Ow, dammit, what?!"

"Aint the timer s'posed to stop once you cut all the wires?"

Chris put a hand to his dented forehead and eyed the timer, which had not only come back on at fourteen seconds, but had begun counting down again. "Fuck! That's not the main device! It was a diversionary set-up. Why didn't I see it?" he berated himself.

"10 seconds. What do we do now?"

"RUN!!" cried Chris, already scrambling out from under the vehicle and half dragging Vin along with him.

<><><><><><><>

  

3. A Lesson in Haste

"What gave them cause to believe there is an explosive devise attached to your car?" Ezra asked, suspicious at the mention of two car bombs in the one day as they all ran into the stairwell and started down the steep stairs.

Martinez had no time to answer as a booming noise exploded from beneath them, shaking the very walls and concrete beneath their feet and sending them all scattering into each other. If not for Josiah's quick reflex, JD would have found himself instantly at the bottom of the stairs.

Buck braced himself instinctively, holding a hand to the metal handrail as the initial explosion died down and the sounds of falling metal and crashing glass could be heard. It felt as if the entire building had rocked around them and he was thankful they had not again taken the elevator. He planted his feet firmly against further sudden movement as he looked at his team around him to make sure they were all all right.

"What the hell was that?" JD said in a too loud voice.

"I do believe our colleagues' may have located the devise on the Superintendent's car," Ezra offered quietly.

Wasting not another second, they pushed their worry aside and headed down the stairs to the lower level just below, not knowing what they would find once they took those last steps, knowing that the noise and motion of only moments ago did not bode well for their friends.

*******

Lying still on the hard, ravaged floor, trying to quell the sickness he felt in his stomach as a result of his pain-racked body, Chris remembered again the booming explosion that had rocked him off his feet only seconds after he and Vin had taken flight from the car. One minute his shoes had been pounding right beside Vin's own boots, madly dashing from the bomb beneath the car with one arm tugging at Vin's shirt, the next he had been lifted through the air like he was nothing more than a weightless feather.

Like nothing heavier than a rag doll, he had found himself propelled his next ten paces forward in the blink of an eye, a burning, powerful wave of shock pelting him over the car before him and into a concrete pillar. He had been dimly aware of a body dropping beside him to the unyielding ground as a roaring ball of flame had engulfed the enclosed area, only the car standing between them and the source of the explosion stopping them from being incinerated.

Both agents had lost consciousness through the power of the initial explosion that had rocked the very foundations of the Federal Building. Neither man had been aware of the sickening noises of breaking concrete crashing into metal and glass as the low lying ceiling had given way, the precisely engineered support beams that had crisscrossed throughout the foundations unable to withstand the unforeseen occurrence of an explosion coming from beneath their structure.

Shards of metal and glass had showered through the tight area with the blast, flying through the air, pelting into concrete and all that stood in its way, finding home in any surface unfortunate enough to lie in its path, flesh included.

The lone security agent at the entrance gate to the bottom level of the car park was the only one to attest to the brilliant ball of orange destruction that had hurled through the cars, lighting the dim floor in an awesome display of sheer terror. He caught the initial explosion on his monitor before the camera was destroyed and then suddenly the roof had caved down, bringing the upper level of cars sinking downwards in a solid fall. He had taken flight then, running fast from his booth with more energy than he'd found in years, fleeing for safety away from what he was convinced was a sure death coming for him, dust billowing out the entrance behind him.

He had seen the two agents checking out the car on his monitor a moment before. He knew the ATF men well, had seen them most mornings for well over a year now... and was saddened that he had just witnessed their obvious deaths, for he did not believe anything living could have survived that blast, as intense and confined as it had been. He did not know much about bombs, but that one there had looked like it had been designed with purpose. It had been very compact, taking out only the car it had been attached to and exploding upwards to take out the roof above in a neat hole.

Of course, in those first initial moments of escaping to save his own life, security guard Wyatt Smith did not know all of this. These observations had come a little later, once he was sure he was not going to be blown to hell or buried alive like the two men he had seen fly through the air and out of his sight, hidden from his view by the collapsing ceiling that had no doubt buried them both alive.

 

*******

The remaining members of Team Seven took the final steps down to the lower level doorway only to find their path blocked completely. The door had been blown inwards and was blocked by the remnants of what could only be an explosion from the other side.

"Jesus Christ..." Buck said as they eyed the obstacle, determining the best course of action.

"Oh My God, look at that," JD pointed.

They all followed his direction and saw a badge resting amongst the debris.

Nathan shook his head. "Those cars are like cockroaches, they'd survive a holocaust."

"Yours, I assume?" Ezra asked Martinez, correctly guessing he would drive a Volvo.

Martinez nodded slowly, "I think maybe it is..."

"Come on," Buck said, looking away from the sight of the Volvo badge in tact amongst the rubble. "Lets go back up and find another way to get to them." He urged them back up before him to the upper level they had just come from.

A moment later they came out on the upper car park and immediately saw the gaping hole that had opened up in the thick floor, having exploded up through the blast from below and dropped back down into a mess of debris to the level below.

"Sweet Jesus," Nathan said softly, thinking, as were they all, that if Chris and Vin had been next to the car when the bomb had exploded, there was little chance that they would find their friends alive.

A soft ring sounded in their silence and after a moment Martinez pulled his phone from his pocket to answer the call.

 

*******

Chris tried to move his arm and groaned anew with the pain the movement brought him. Taking as deep a breath as he could afford without screaming, he snaked out an arm with effort, being careful not to pull on the broken metal rod that had lodged itself deep into his upper body, a large beam pinning him to the ground.

"Vin." He rasped, "wh..." he tried again, taking a second to breath through his pain, "where are you?"

It was all he could manage to ground out and the only answer he received was a soft groan, a long while in coming.

"Vin?"

Another soft groan of awakening, to pain and confusion. "Chris..?"

Barely more than a whisper of sound, yet it calmed Larabee's racing heart all the same.

"We... alive?"

"Think... so," the blonde replied, feeling both relief and concern course through him at the sound of the weak, soft question beside him.

Larabee was glad that his friend couldn't see him at that moment. He could feel the blood oozing from his side and wondered fearfully what shape Vin was in. Before he could ask the question he heard the Texan gasp beside him.

"Oh God," Vin groaned in pain and grasped at the man in black's arm with bloodied fingers, finding it instinctively in the darkness and clutching the dusty, torn shirtsleeve. Visions of what had happened caught up to him also, breaking into his initial dazed state and causing panic to descend swiftly.

"You ok?" Chris asked, panic again assailing him.

No answer.

"Vin..?" Chris asked, hearing the ragged breathing beside him and feeling his stomach clench in dread.

"Little hard...to breathe," Vin finally got out on a thin exhalation of air, trying desperately to put his jumbled thoughts in order. Flashes of images sliced through his mind with stabbing intensity, like pieces of shiny, foiled paper, catching the light one moment and then flipping into shadow the next as they flitted to the ground, his mind unable to hold on to them and stop their fall from his view.

"It's OK, Vin, we're alive. Where are you hurt?" Larabee asked, trying to give Vin a focus, sensing his pain and confusion.

"Chest....reckon.... ribs are broke..." Vin coughed unexpectedly and cried out sharply against the pain. He managed a few shallow, yet controlling breaths, not wanting to panic his best friend by not responding. "Think... m' arm too."

He closed his eyes a moment, finding the shimmering thoughts seemed to stop moving as he did so and tried to take stock of what hurt and what didn't. He quickly realized that there was little on him that didn't hurt. He needed to regain control over his pain, he desperately needed to clear his mind, for Chris's sake. His friend was hurt, he could hear it in his voice, but more than that, he could sense his pain beside him.

"If I could just see..." he heard Chris say.

Chris had suddenly remembered the cigarette lighter he carried in his pocket and managed to dig it out. "Got it," he mumbled and carefully ignited the small flame. He moved it's soft glow towards Vin, trying to make out his friend's body through the shadowed and flickering shapes that came into view.

For a moment his eyes readjusted to the light and then he swore. "Hell..." he groaned, finally catching Vin's battered form in the light.

"That good." Vin's rough voice answered the curse, trying to make light of the situation and the extent of his injuries.

Larabee gave up on the lighter and used his arm to reach out, stretching forward as far as his injuries would allow, yet beyond the limit that held pain at a bearable level. He felt every beat of his heart in his chest as it sent pulses of fire lashing into his wound. Running his long fingers blindly along the taut body beside him, he managed to feel the lump of the broken bone in Tanner's arm.

"Hey pard.... you... tryin' to hit... on me?" Tanner coughed and squeezed his eyes against the pain. He could sense Chris's worry and wanted to reassure him, but it cost him to speak. He was hurting, bad. He knew from experience he was in trouble but was determined he would not let Chris know how bad it was. His best friend was in this mess because of him and he had his own injuries to worry about.

"'Course, Vin. Always did... admire that scrawny... ass of yours." Chris tried to shift his body into a more comfortable position and unable to accomplish this feat, he laid back against the cold, uncomfortable ground with a quiet hiss of his breath.

"Chris." The Texan's eyes opened and he stared toward the direction that his friend laid. "Chris... Jesus... I'm sorry..."

Chris did not say anything for a moment and Vin's guilt amplified. He almost groaned aloud with the thought that it was his fault that Chris was laying beside him like that, hurt so badly as he obviously was. What he did not know was that Chris was fighting back a wave of pain at that moment, breathing through a searing fire that had chased through his wounded chest and left him breathless, unable to respond.

Vin stared into the darkness in frustration. "Dammit we can't die here, not like this!"

The blond reacted to the need in the pained voice beside him and used what little strength he had left to squeeze the dusty arm resting motionless beneath his hand. "Ain't gonna let... that happen. This isn't your fault, you didn't... plant that bomb..." With a small grunt of pain he closed his eyes once more, unable to say any more.

Vin sensed that his friend had again passed out and felt his chest tighten beneath his broken ribs. "Yer wrong, Cowboy... this sure as hell *is* my fault."

Vin felt himself slipping, unable to stay awake and needed to know that Chris would help himself if given the chance, at his expense if need be. "Promise me Larabee...." Vin said, his voice serious and for a rare moment that Chris had heard it, laced with raw emotion. "Promise me... if it comes to it... you'll get out."

"Vin..." Chris whispered through his pain.

"Just do it..." Tanner's voice faded as his injuries drained every last ounce of strength from his body. He tried desperately to fight against the darkness that was claiming him, wanting to extract the promise from Chris first, that he would get out and save himself if he had the chance. He tried to plead one more time but was unable to find the breath to voice his words. Chris's promise was lost to the darkness a moment later as Vin succumbed to the unconsciousness, which implored him to rest.

"I promise..." Chris said, knowing that was what Vin needed to hear if he was going to give in. His next words were muttered beneath his breath. "That I'll get out if it comes to it... and I'll carry you out with me if I have to," he vowed. There was no way in hell he would leave Vin behind. No way.

"Vin...?" He said softly when there was no response. "Vin!" His voice rose slightly as panic overcame him. A moment later he heard the harsh, shallow breathing beside him and felt his own heart decrease its rapid beat in relief once more. Another reprieve, how many more would he get?

He was alone, except for the ragged breathing of the desperately ill Texan beside him, close enough only so that he could touch his arm and feel the low pulse in his cold, slack wrist. He knew that outside his friends would be there, digging, frantically clawing at nature's barricade and felt sure in his heart that they would find them. He just didn't know if they would find them soon enough...

As he felt the warm blood seeping from his chest where the jagged beam had pierced into him, he could sense the life slowly ebbing from Vin as he listened to his lungs struggling to rise against the weight of the rocks and cement that held them both prisoner. Time was their enemy now... and with every second that passed by, their chances grew slimmer. They needed help, desperately.

As he swallowed back a groan of pain and frustration, Chris Larabee's mind began to wander back to only minutes before, when Travis and Martinez had entered his office, that felt more like a hard lifetime ago. How had things gone so wrong in so short a time? One minute he was worrying about signing off on an overdue report and the next he was under a car defusing a bomb, getting blown to hell before he'd even stopped for a coffee break.

Martinez... he'd brought this down on them. How had the man reached Superintendent with the skills of deduction of Inspector Clueso? It had taken he and Vin seconds to determine that the message was pertaining to his car and yet the man had driven there none the wiser... Chris Larabee moved so suddenly then that the movement brough him sharp pain. His last thought before he passed out was that he and Vin had indeed acted rashly - and the Superintendant had been counting on it!

 

*******

"Step back, guys, we need to seal off the area."

Team Seven did not so much as glance at the emergency worker. They continued to tear through the ground, making their way to the gaping hole in the floor where they knew their friends had fallen.

"We have to get down there," Buck said as they reached the torn hole in the concrete.

For a moment they simply scanned the ground below, looking for a sign of their friends amongst the overturned cars and rubble. A snatch of clothing, anything...

"What's that?" JD asked, pointing down through the massive gap.

They all followed his aim and after a moment Buck swallowed. They all spotted the glimmer of the red handle through the darkness and dust.

"That's Vin's knife."

<><><><><><><>

 

 4.

Vin shifted his legs and bit off another groan as the pain flooded through him yet again. Still here... nothing had changed since he had last opened his eyes to the cold and the hurt, which had descended on him like a tidal wave of destruction. He was in bad shape and knew it. His lungs were struggling to get air and what air they did get was riddled with dust and smoke. His arm was broken and he was beginning to suspect that a rib had pierced into his lung. If that was the case, he had little time.

"Chris..." he said softly, trying to muster strength into his voice.

His broken arm was closest to him and he tried to move it and this time, was unable to stop his cry of pain. "Dammit!" He had to get them help.

He heard voices then, from above and a light began to snake through the darkness. Torches... help was there. They would not be able to see them from the floor above, they had been thrown into the darkness by the blast and left in shadow, half buried beneath the roof. He needed to move, he needed to help Chris. Fresh feelings of guilt returned and suddenly he was moving, rolling to his side in agony and pushing up with his good arm to his knees. He'd caused this, forced Larabee to look at that bomb.

Sweat soaked into his shirt as he pushed himself to his limit, crawling forward, his boken arm useless as he reached Chris and held his fingers to his neck. He could not feel his pulse...

Guilt wracked his battered frame and again he managed to move his body, heedless of his broken ribs and the chance of internal injuries as he reached out blindly toward Chris, finding his mouth in the darkness and feeling the shallow, but relieving breath on his hand. With a hiss of pain he knelt beside him, unable for the moment to do anything more than take one breath at a time. Chris was still alive, that at least he could be thankful for. Now he needed to get him help. He'd brought this down on them, he owed it to Chris to get him out alive.

"Down here!" he yelled, in reality barely more than a grunt of pain as his chest roared with fire, his lung grating into his ribs as he tried desperately to bring them help.

*******

"Dammit, I'm going down there!" Buck said, angry at the delay in the rescue operation taking place. The bomb squad had arrived and were being cautious. They wanted everyone out, to see what other devices might be still live down there, ready to detonate.

"I'll say it again, we need your men to back the hell away!"

Buck squared up to the squad captain, his shoulders back, prepared to floor the man. He eyed the clipboard in the man's hands with derision.

"I'm going down there, you guys can fuck around up here all you want, my men are down there and they don't have time to wait for you to get all the 'i's' dotted!" He knew the bomb squad had procedures to follow and he was not willing to wait. His life was worth risking and he knew the rest of his friends felt the same.

"You guys are getting the hell out of here, now," the captain said again.

A dark shadow loomed over them both and the captain looked up to see a stern face leering down at him, a slight curve to the lips.

"Nice clipboard, can I hold it?"

At the mans confusion, Josiah added. "Maybe it would look better shoved up your ass."

If it was not so serious Buck would have laughed.

"Those boys need medical attention down there!" Nathan said, his worry causing him to consider defying the orders and leaping down to the wreckage below to search for his friends.

"Gentlemen, perhaps we can -"

A blur of movement caused Ezra to pause and the captain to shout out, "Hey!"

None of them had been prepared for JD to jump down into the rubble. The younger man had used the diversion Buck was causing to move past the barricade being constructed and jumped down to the pile of concrete below, already making his way down further into the mess.

"JD you fool, get your ass back up here!" Buck shouted, leaning dangerously over the hole, Josiah holding on to one of his arms. In the next second, his anxiety won out, "Can you see them, kid?"

"Take it slow, JD!" Nathan shouted, running to grab a medical kit off one of the waiting medical crew.

"Be careful you don't stumble over them, son," Josiah added.

JD cautiously climbed down until he'd reached the ground, bending to pick up Vin's army knife on the way. He coughed, for the dust was thick and there was little light the further he moved.

*******

Vin heard shouting and thought he recognized Buck's voice. Chris needed help, he could not find a pulse and he was desperate now to save his friend. He pushed up, moving concrete from his path as he tried to push towards the light he could see from the hole in the roof up above. They were too deep in shadow to be seen and there was the body of a car blocking him from view.

"Anyone here? Vin? Chris? You guys here?"

JD... Thank God, it was JD!

"Kid..."

JD paused, he thought he'd heard a voice. "Guys? Vin? Chris?"

Vin tried to speak again and coughed this time, nearly falling to his knees as he doubled over, clutching his side.

JD heard the cough and gasp for air. "I hear them!" he shouted and began to climb towards the voice. There was an overturned car in his path and he leapt on top of it.

Buck nearly leapt into the hole.

"Slowly JD!!" Nathan yelled again, not wanting three of his friends hauled up on stretchers.

JD peered into the shadows, seeing Vin's silhouette from atop the car. He leapt to the ground and reached Vin, stumbling once on the rough ground.

"Vin? Is that you?"

Vin straightened as best he could. "Yeah, kid, its me."

"Jesus, are you all right?"

"Fine, JD," Vin grated, wanting to sit down and stay there forever, but knowing Chris needed his help. "Get help.. for Chris, hurry, he's bad!"

JD turned and leapt back up onto the car. "We need help down here! Chris is bad! We need to get him out!"

Nathan did not waste another second and scrambled down to join them, Buck close on his heals.

Josiah moved to get the equipment to lift Chris out, Ezra right beside him.

JD moved back down to Vin, reaching out an arm to him blindly through the dim light. He did not expect Vin to pull away so sharply he almost stumbled.

"You hurt, Vin?"

Vin clutched his arm to his side, pinning his hand to his side with his good arm as he avoided JD's touch. His dizziness had passed, now there was just roaring pain radiating through his body, but he was awake and Chris wasn't.

"Just get Chris out of here," he said, moving back to Chris's side.

JD frowned as Nathan and Buck reached them.

"Where are they?" Nathan said, peering into the shadows.

"There," JD directed him, guiding him to where Vin was bent over Chris's body, or what he assumed was Chris's body. He could not tell in the low light.

Nathan moved forward and touched a hand to Vin's shoulder and the Texan did not flinch this time. "Vin? You all right?"

"It's Chris... he's.. I can't find a pulse..."

Nathan immediately took control, gently moving Vin to the side so that he could get to Chris. Buck stepped closer to Vin, trying to see Chris in the darkness.

"What happened?" he asked.

"I... a bomb... on Martinez's car..."

"Why didn't you wait for backup? You just raced out without saying anything," Buck said, his worry making his words harsh.

"I know..." Vin almost whispered. Buck thought he didn't know that? My God, if he lost Chris now, if he died... it was his fault. His responsibility...

"You know?" Buck said in disbelief.

"Buck..." JD said, placing a hand on his arm.

"I need a hand, we need to get this beam off him, he needs to get out of here - now!" Nathan said, breaking into Buck's growing anger.

Buck and Vin moved forward together, wanting to help Chris any way they could.

"Here, we need to lift this off of him," Nathan said, securing a collar around Chris's neck and indicating the massive metal beam that was lying across his chest.

As Buck got a hold on the metal Chris groaned and he let go.

"Wait!" Nathan said, feeling around the cold metal, following it to Chris's chest. He felt the slick blood that surrounded the jagged end. "Jesus, its pinning him, it's pierced his chest, lets hurry!"

There was a groaning noise from above and all eyes turned to the roof.

"What the hell was that?" Buck said.

"The roof, I think, we gotta get out of here!" JD said.

Josiah and Ezra scrambled down with the stretcher and Nathan quickly ordered them to help shift Chris out from under the beam. It was too large to leave it in the wound, they would have to get him free and stop the bleeding as best they could.

"OK, ready? Pull!" Nathan ordered and together, with Josiah's added strength, they lifted the beam and pulled Chris free and onto the stretcher.

Larabee felt the pressure ease from his chest and felt a cough surface into his throat, struggling to let it free.

"Easy, Chris, easy, we're getting' you outta here now," Nathan said, trying to put pressure on the chest wound.

Chris tried to blink through his pain. Out of here? Why...

Another loud noise groaned from above and this time a few rocks cascaded down to join them.

"That's it, we're out of here!" Buck said, grabbing one end of the stretcher while Josiah took the other, Nathan trying to work as they moved.

"Vin? You hurt?" Nathan asked the Texan who had yet to stand from the spot Chris had lain.

"...Fine," was the barely audible response.

Nathan frowned but moved as Buck started walking. JD grabbed Vin's arm and this time he barked out a protest.

"Jesus, Vin, you are hurt!" JD said.

"Come, Mr Tanner, this roof is about to collapse and I do not wish to be under it when it does," Ezra urged, knowing that Vin would not openly ask for help.

Vin pushed up again, unsteady as he rose and let Ezra and JD guide him towards the light from the roof above. They scrambled on top of the car and hands reached down from above to help pull them up as a great noise sounded from below.

"The roofs coming down in there!" A voice shouted and anxious hands reached out to help the three men to safety just as a large section of concrete fell to crash heavily over the very spot they had rescued Chris.

Vin's cry of pain was lost in the noise of the falling concrete and the shouts of warning that accompanied it. He knelt on the ground once he was free and the helping hands left him, simply drawing air as best he could, feeling sweat trickling down his cold spine, despite the heat of his skin and the fire in his ribs and arm.

Buck and Josiah did not stop until Chris was loaded into the waiting ambulance.

"Pulse has stopped!" One of the paramedics called, a moment after taking over from Nathan.

"Lets go!" Another shouted and the doors closed, the siren immediately sounding that it had an urgent mission to save a life.

Vin had heard the last words before the door had closed and his head had lifted up to the sight of the ambulance pulling away, taking his best friend with it. The pain in his eyes came from his very soul as he realized he was beyond moving, beyond caring what now happened to him. He could not move if he wanted to.

Buck watched the ambulance leave and whirled back to face Vin, reading the guilt on the younger man's face clearly.

"What the hell happened?!" he yelled, moving toward him, Josiah beside him, Nathan having left with Chris.

"Buck..." JD stood close to Vin, Ezra flanking his other side.

"Leave it, kid! It ain't enough Vin gets himself blown up, he's gotta take Chris down with him!" The tall man continued forward until he was in front of Vin. He bent and hauled the wounded man to his feet without warning, giving him a slight shake.

"Why the hell didn't you wait for backup?!"

Vin stared into Buck's angry face, simply not caring. No pulse... Chris had no pulse... Chris was dead...

"Let him go, Buck!" JD yelled.

"I think you'd better let him go, brother," Josiah said, putting a hand on Buck's arm. He could see the paleness of Vin's skin, the pain in his face and the awkward angle of his arm, which none had noticed before.

"Sorry..." Vin whispered, no longer able to hear the siren.

"Sorry?! You're sorry?! Chris might be dead already because of you, you're gonna be sorry for the rest of your Godamned life!" Buck shoved Vin back and Ezra caught him before he fell, causing the fading Texan to stagger forward again into Buck. Buck shoved him back again and JD and Ezra grabbed him, holding him steady.

"Look at your shirt, Buck!" JD said, nodding to the front of Buck's shirt.

Buck looked down... and saw the blood. He looked up slowly and looked at Vin, studying his chest. The dark material of his shirt had hidden the blood.

"You're hurt?" he asked.

Vin stared back at him, incapable of replying. He tried to take a step back, away from them all, but Ezra and JD had him held tight. Josiah pushed Buck aside.

"Let me take a look, son."

He moved forward and saw that Vin's arm was, indeed, broken. Gently he unbuttoned his dark shirt and pulled the material aside, all the while hearing Vin's ragged, shallow breathing, now that he was close enough to hear it. With a quick, alarmed glance back at Vin's face he turned and shouted. "We need a paramedic over here!"

Vin blinked, watching Josiah look back at him, not hearing his shouted words through the shadows creeping into his vision and shrouding him in silence. No pulse... His last thought as he pitched forward into Josiah's strong arms, ready to catch him, was that Chris had no pulse...

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