Buck hardly noticed Vin glancing at them in the rearview mirror. He was sitting in the back seat, holding JD from the back, willing him to live. But the kid looked dead already. His skin was tinged blue, his lips blistered and swollen. His breathing was so slow, so shallow, and his pulse weak and erratic. The boy was so cold. Buck pulled him closer. He reached down to lift the young agent's arm. He looked at the track marks on the inside of his arm and the wire that was embedded in his swollen wrist. Buck didn't dare touch his friend's hand. It was strangely discolored and misshapen. Had they broken his fingers?
"God, what did they do to you, kid?" Buck's voice cracked. He cleared his throat and hollered at Vin. "How close are we?"
"Five minutes," Vin answered, and he stole an anxious glance over his shoulder. "How's he doing?"
"Not . . . it's not good." Buck squeezed his eyes closed. "It's not good."
He leaned down to JD's ear. "Hold on, son. You gotta hold on, ok? We're getting you some help, but you gotta fight. You hear me?" He choked slightly. "You gotta fight, JD."
It was hard to see the kid lying so still--hard to know someone would do this to him. Bastards. Buck put his broad hand on his partner's forehead, holding the back of the boy's head to his own chest. He wrapped his other arm around JD's upper body. He felt fiercely protective of him. He hadn't been able to protect him before. None of them had.
And now it might be too late.
It was bad enough that JD had had to go through this--bad enough that his closest friends couldn't prevent his abduction. But the ATF had written him off as a "necessary loss".
A necessary loss.
Suddenly the car swerved wildly, the centrifugal force causing Buck to lurch forward. "VIN!" he yelled sharply.
"Sorry . . ." Vin hissed, righting the car.
It was a confusing moment, and suddenly, Buck noticed that JD was wheezing, struggling. He pulled JD up, supporting him to help his breathing. "Easy, son . . ."
"What happened?" Vin asked over his shoulder.
"I don't . . ." Buck's answer was interrupted by JD's heaving . . . dry heaving. "Oh, God." Buck helped JD roll to the side. He was starting to shake violently. "JD?" Buck yelled. "Vin, he's having convulsions."
"You gotta keep him from swallowing his tongue," Vin said.
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"Grab hold of his tongue."
Buck maneuvered his tall frame around so JD could lay directly on the seat. Buck had to balance himself with one knee on the floorboard and the other on the seat next to JD. He was reaching up to help the kid when JD's eyes shot open and he started to heave again. A white foam bubbled from his swollen lips and Buck turned the boy's head to the side. Maybe he could keep him from choking.
"We're here!" Vin yelled, and Buck braced himself so he could keep JD from rolling when they stopped.
"He needs help now!" Buck said as the car came to a full stop. He put his hands on either side of the boy's face. It seemed for a split second like JD actually saw him. Buck stayed in control of his emotions long enough to reassure his partner. "It's gonna be ok, kid."
The car door opened suddenly. "Get back!" an ER doctor commanded. "Let us help him." Buck awkwardly backed out of the car and moved out of the way. He watched as the medical personnel lifted the young agent out of the car and laid him on the stretcher. The crowd closed in around the boy and Buck couldn't see exactly what they were doing.
"What the hell is that?" A voice cried. "He swallowed something."
Buck heard Vin relate what he'd seen. "They poured something down his throat and his body . . . jerked almost immediately."
"Oh God . . . " one of the voices said, and they started running the stretcher into the hospital. Buck followed, only able to catch a phrase every now and then.
". . . f***ing Drano . . ." " . . . can't save him . . ." ". . . flush it out." "But if it's in his bloodstream . . . " ". . . transfusion . . . "
"We got track marks!" the ER doctor said. "Find out what kind of drugs he was doing."
"He wasn't doing any drugs!" Buck yelled. "They drugged him."
"What's in his mouth?" Another voice. "Drain cleaner . . ."
"Who would do something like that?"
Who would do this? Buck would find out. He would find them. God, Drano . . .
". . . his heart's stopped . . ."
Buck tried to follow them through the big double doors to the examination rooms, but an orderly stopped him.
"I'm sorry Sir, you'll have to stay here."
"The hell I will. Get outa my way!!"
"Buck!!" Vin's voice halted him. The sharpshooter came up and put his hand on Buck's arm. "Come on. Let them do their job." Vin's voice became suddenly tender. "Come on . . . "
"His heart . . ." Buck could hardly speak.
Vin drew close to his friend. "I know . . . "
Buck turned suddenly and hugged his friend. All they could do now was hold on to each other, and pray.
The big man hiding behind a dumpster could make out Ezra's voice amid the noise of the battle. //God, my friend, don't try to save the day here.// He wished he could hazard a glance to see where the gambler was, but there was no way. Besides, his head hurt and he couldn't seem to focus his eyes very well.
This situation just kept getting worse and worse, and there was less and less Josiah could do about it. The kidnapping, the video, the gun battle . . . as if all of that weren't enough, the building behind him had just exploded, rattling his body, his brain, his nerves. His heart hammered mercilessly.
"GET DOWN, EZRA--DAMN IT!"
A short moment later, Josiah felt a familiar presence as Ezra knelt beside him.
"Where'd you come from?" Josiah asked.
Ezra was trying to load his weapon and apparently trying to be witty at the same time, and he wound up stuttering.
Josiah saw the glint of metal from an abandoned car. He pushed Ezra's head down out of the way. The shot pinged off of the metal lid of the dumpster.
"Thanks," Ezra said breathlessly.
"Chris got out, Nathan has a shot in the leg . . ."
Ezra waited. "I don't know, my friend."
Josiah felt the beginnings of a raging anger, but it would have to wait. "Got any idea how to get out of this?" the preacher asked.
The gambler didn't answer, but Josiah felt Ezra's hand grip his arm. Suddenly, amid the sound of squealing tires, Ezra stood straight up and began firing. Josiah stood up, more tentatively than his friend, and saw retreating tail lights.
Who the hell were those guys in black? Just as Josiah started to level his weapon at one of them, Ezra pushed his arm down. "Hold on there. They're the good guys!" Ezra grinned. "At least for today." Ezra waved at them and pulled on Josiah's arm.
"Come on," Ezra said. "The others need our help."
But Josiah was rooted to the spot, staring at the road where he'd seen the cars disappear. He suddenly felt immobile, and for a moment, nothing could penetrate the strange wall around him. He could hear Ezra . . . but what was he saying? Why couldn't he understand him? Why couldn't he respond? He was utterly immobile.
He felt a remote sting on his face.
Now he felt *that*, and just as suddenly as he zoned out, he zoned back in, and reared back with all his might to hit the gambler who had hit him.
"Josiah, wait!!!" Ezra yelled at him, and the big preacher felt restraint all around him.
The guys in black.
At first, Josiah fought them, but then Ezra's hands were on either side of Josiah's face--infinitely gentle hands coaxing Josiah to look at Ezra.
"Josiah," the southerner demanded his attention. "Are you hurt?"
"Huh?" Why had he asked that? He's heard Ezra. Maybe he just needed another moment to think about it.
"Are you hurt?" Ezra repeated.
Josiah tried to assess his own condition. "I don't think so."
Ezra nodded at the men holding Josiah and they released him. Evidently, the gambler didn't trust his friend's answer. He checked Josiah for injuries.
"Well, you're not hit," Ezra said. "But I think the blast may have shaken you up a bit. Let me get you some help."
Josiah nodded and let his friend lead him back to the other side of the gutted warehouse.
Chris crawled closer to Nathan. His friend was unconscious, and losing blood. Damn it. He needed a tourniquet of some kind.
"Come on Nathan . . . stay with me." Chris kept talking to him as he searched frantically. He checked in the van. Ah, a heavy canvas strap. Chris paused for a moment and shook his head at the arsenal he found in the vehicle. Well, Ezra had connections. He had to give him that.
Chris made his way back around to the medic who needed a medic himself. "I got you now, Nathan." Chris ripped the slacks away from the wound. God, it was bad. He eased the canvas strap around Nathan's thigh and pulled it as tightly as he could.
Nathan groaned, and his hand went almost instinctively to block Chris'.
"Stop it, Nathan. I gotta do this."
Chris admired how the healer, even in pain, tried to keep from fighting him. He hated to hurt Nathan more, but he had to stop the bleeding. He took a narrow length of pipe, wrapped the ends of the strap around it, and twisted the tourniquet tighter and tighter until he could stop the flow.
The weary leader sighed heavily. Now to dress the wound. . .
"They're gone!" It was Ezra's voice.
Chris could hear the gambler yell into the radio. "Clear for EMT--move!!"
As he watched for Josiah and Ezra, Chris felt a shaky hand brush his. He looked down at Nathan and grasped the offered hand in his strong one.
"It's ok, Nathan. It's over."
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