Master Post on my LJ
Master Post at sentinelbigbang
J Watson’s, Denver, Colorado
Tuesday late evening, July 31, 2001
It had been a good party and a touching ceremony, Blair thought as he helped clean up the debris of plates and silverware, and take down decorations from the wall. Little blond-headed Billy Travis, who was Mary’s son, was having a great time whacking a balloon around the room.
The invitations to Buck and JD’s commitment ceremony had grown considerably since the staff meeting early this morning. Everybody on Chris Larabee’s team had thought of one or two other people who really would love to attend this wedding.
When Buck and JD had walked out of Chris’ office, Vin had asked if Nettie Wells could come. He’d assured Buck that Casey’s grandmother wasn’t taking sides between JD and Casey, and that she genuinely wanted to see Buck and JD happy together. They’d agreed, and JD has said he was fine with Casey coming, too. She hadn’t, though. When Nettie had entered the Saloon, carrying a lot of party stuff, she had quietly told JD that Casey wished him well but it was too upsetting for her to watch him get married to somebody else.
When Nettie had found out that there was only today to get ready for this party, she had volunteered to organize the decorations and bring a cake. She’d also taken over contacting the rest of the invited guests on the quickly put together list. She’d called Inez and they’d worked out a buffet menu. The rest of the team and Jim and Blair had pitched in to pay for food and drinks.
Everybody had known each other from previous get-togethers out at Chris’ ranch, so the conversation had flowed and people had enjoyed themselves. Buck had put himself in charge of the music and brought a stack of CDs that played quietly during the meal; he kicked them up to dancing levels after the ceremony and cake. Plenty of people had cut the rug, and Jim had even taken Blair out for a spin or two around the makeshift dance floor. Blair had met more ATF agents and their significant others, including Team Seven’s supervisor, Orrin Travis, and his wife, who were Mary’s in-laws.
After folks had eaten, Josiah had spoken a few words, quoted poet’s thoughts on love, friendship, and marriage and then Buck and JD had faced each other, holding hands, and had spoken the traditional vows of marriage.
Blair had asked them later about why they had chosen those time-honored words of ritual, and not written their own vows, but they both had agreed those simple lines had captured what they wanted to promise to each other.
Blair recited the words in his head as he bagged up garbage and carried it out to the dumpster.
Only he substituted his name and Jim’s name.
I, Blair Sandburg, take you, James Joseph Ellison, to be my spouse, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. He gave a little shiver as he said it and he didn’t know if it was from excitement or dread.
He went back into the backroom and looked around for anything else that needed finishing up. Vin was pushing tables and chairs back to their original places and Blair started doing the same on the other side of the room. He didn’t want to talk to anybody right now.
Was commitment what he wanted? Did he want to make himself so totally vulnerable to another person? But wasn’t he already there anyway? If Jim were to hurt him again, it would be just as painful whether or not they’d finished bonding and had become lovers. He’d forgiven Jim for Alex. Jim was asking that Blair trust him to not hurt Blair like that again. Going through with the bonding and, hell, a ceremony like this one, would be a pledge that he did trust Jim, he trusted him with their future. And that Jim trusted him.
So… he’d jumped off a cliff with Jim. He’d jumped out of a plane for Jim. Could he make that emotional leap of faith for Jim also? With Jim? They’d be doing it together. Could he envision living without Jim?
The answer to that last question was -- no. When he thought of himself two, five, ten, twenty years down the line, he always saw himself with Jim. So who was he trying to kid? Himself? He was being a fool.
He’d checked in with his friends at Citizens Against Sentinel Draft this afternoon and they told him that almost certainly he and Jim could serve their time as civilians working for the police.
He did want to bond. He did want to marry Jim. They could call it a civil ceremony but, hell, it meant being married. He needed to tell Jim that and stop him from worrying about Blair changing his mind and taking off.
He craved their own space, though, for that conversation, because after asking Jim to bond with him and marry, he needed privacy. A lot of it. Chris’ guest room wasn’t really what he had in mind and going to a motel seemed way too impersonal. He wanted their loft and the big bed in Jim’s room under the skylight. He yearned to wander around naked in the living room and kitchen, before dragging Jim back to bed.
Although… maybe going camping would work also. Someplace really isolated. That would be cool.
But Jim couldn’t get away now. With the extra pressure being placed on the buyer to make a move, Jim had to be available at a moment's notice. He also needed to keep being visible to prospective buyers, which meant more gun shows – there was another one starting Friday at the Holiday Inn out by the airport – and spending a lot of time nursing drinks at bars where informants had said gun deals were made.
He startled when a warm hand settled on the back of his neck. He’d been so deep in his own thoughts that he hadn’t noticed Jim coming up behind him.
“C’mon, Blair. Time to go back to the ranch.”
They had gotten as far as the main barroom when Jim’s cell phone for his undercover work rang and he answered it by saying, “Anderson.”
After a few moments of “Yes” and “Okay,” Jim replaced the phone on his belt.
“Need to go talk to Larabee for a moment, Chief. Greer’s asked for a meeting.”
JD and Josiah returned from carrying wedding – okay, officially civil union – gifts out to Josiah’s Suburban. They’d gotten an assortment of useful and gag gifts from their friends. He wasn’t sure what category the Lava lamp they’d been given had fallen into. Blair had reminded him to be careful not to zone while looking at it. The new sheets would come in handy, after they’d been washed in baby detergent or Ivory Snow. Blair had reminded them about doing that, too, before they tried them out and, since he had no desire to break out into welts, he had every intention of washing them first.
Josiah had offered to drive them home, since they both were probably legally drunk, even if they weren’t staggering yet. JD grinned to himself because Buck would have to ride with him on the back of his bike tomorrow to pick up his truck. That should be fun. Buck would probably keep his eyes closed for the entire trip. He’d have to snug up tight to JD, so the bike would balance right, and JD was looking forward to feeling Buck’s big body behind him as his Kawasaki roared down the highway.
He looked around for Buck, automatically extending his hearing and found him talking to Inez. His slightly muddled brain kicked in to warn him that they might be talking privately, and he should butt out.
Too late. He caught his own name on Inez’s lips and there was no way he wanted to back away from listening now.
“JD is a sweet guy. But, Buck Wilmington, as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been chasing women. You’ve chased me. I’ve lost track of the times you’ve tried to kiss me. You are an old leopard, amigo, and I am skeptical that you can change your spots.”
He heard Buck’s voice answer her with that slight slur that meant Buck was sloshed. “Well, Miss Inez, you’re wrong about that. Turns out I’m not a leopard at all, with or without spots. I am a lion and that means I’ve got pos… positive personality stuff. I am one of the good guys, m’dear.”
JD started walking closer to the kitchen, and a small feeling of dread was knotting his stomach. They’d exchanged vows just a couple of hours ago, and it sounded like Buck was trying to flirt with Inez, just like he’d always done. Inez always shot him down, but Buck would just grin at her and watch for another opportunity to flirt and maybe steal a kiss from her. They’d been friends since Buck had helped her deal with her asshole ex-boyfriend, but Inez wasn’t interested in being Buck Wilmington’s casual lover.
“The female population of Denver will have to go on without me from now on, because, to quote a great man, “I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger? JD’s my steak; he’s my heart. Where is he, anyway?” Buck hollered out, “JD! Come here and tell Miss Inez that I’ve given up hamburgers.”
JD felt his stomach unclench and he hurried through the kitchen doors and headed for his spouse. “Sorry, Buck. I was listening and I shouldn’t have been.” He slid his arm around Buck’s waist and Buck leaned into him.
Inez put her hands on her hips and gave a mock scowl. “And who is this great man, that you have quoted?”
Buck blinked at her and JD knew they’d better end this conversation and get themselves into the Suburban before Buck forgot how to walk.
“The great man I ref… ref… talked about is Paul Newman. He’s been married for an eon – that’s a really long time, you know – to his wife, and he’s been faithful to her. Now if Paul Newman can do that, then I can, too. Because I really love JD, and not meaning to hurt your feelings or anything, Miss Inez, because you are my friend, but I never loved you 'cept as a friend. You were right to keep turning me down. I liked you plenty, though, and I know that some hombre will love you the way you deserve. The way that JD and me love each other. Don’t we, JD?”
Inez broke out into giggles and leaned over and kissed JD on the cheek, and then kissed Buck on his cheek.
“I will keep your kind words in my heart, Buck Wilmington, until the man of my dreams arrives to take their place.” She winked at JD. “You are going to have your hands full with this one, JD. Life should be very interesting for you both. I am happy for you and I have something for the two of you. You understand that I had to do my shopping right here, yes?” She walked away to the back of the kitchen and entered a storage room, then returned with something in a brown sack.
“JD, I think maybe you should carry this. Perhaps you would like to put it away and get it out for your anniversary next year. Age will only improve its quality, which I hope will also be true for the love I see between you. Go on now and get your man home to bed before he needs to be carried.”
JD whistled when he looked in the bag. “Thanks, Inez. And we’ll drink a toast to your generosity next year on our anniversary. C’mon, Buck. Josiah’s waiting for us.” Buck planted a big kiss on JD’s lips, then halfway bowed to Inez.
“Miss Inez, darlin' we thank you for your hospitality. JD, let’s go on home.”
Inez laughed again and blew them kisses as they left the bar.
Market Street, Denver, Colorado
Tuesday, late evening, July 31, 2001
Josiah made a right turn onto Market Street and glanced back at Buck, shaking his head. JD figured he knew what he was thinking; Buck was bound to feel like crap tomorrow morning. JD intended to get some aspirin and a quart of water down Buck’s throat before they went upstairs to bed. And while he wasn’t as tanked as his spouse, JD thought it would be a good idea if he were to do the same thing, too. At least they could take it easy tomorrow. Blair told them they should just relax and rest tomorrow, since they’d done just fine with all the practicing earlier today.
Buck was blinking as he listed towards JD so he gave Buck a shake. Josiah had told them he’d play chauffeur and they should make themselves comfortable in the back seat of his car.
“Hey, try to stay awake. I don’t think I can carry you over our threshold.”
“I could carry you. You’re just a shrimp, but you’re exactly the right size for being JD.”
“You know what? I’m going to miss Blair when he goes back to Cascade. He’s the only one I know working with our team, or hell, the Denver branch, that’s shorter than me. Did you realize that, Buck? Blair’s smaller than me, so I’m not the shrimp, he is.”
“He’s Ellison's shrimp. You’re mine.” Buck yawned and listed again towards JD.
Josiah was chuckling in the front seat. And that reminded JD…
“Josiah, thank you again for, well, I guess, standing in as a preacher tonight. Everybody liked what you said. Who were you quoting when you were talking about friendship? I – we – thought what you said was really good. Um… would you mind writing down the words you spoke tonight? I’d kind of like to have them.”
“Of course I’ll do that, brother. I imagine some of the photos taken tonight will also find their way to you. And I quoted Rumi and the Song of Songs and Gibran. “
Buck spoke up, proving that he wasn’t as far-gone as he'd seemed because he’d been following the conversation, apparently.
“Josiah, say the one about friends again, would you?”
Josiah’s voice, warm and sincere, filled the Suburban.“Your friend is your needs answered. He is your field, which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving. And he is your board and your fireside. For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.”
Market Street was reborn as Walnut Street as Josiah drove the car towards the Broadway entrance. JD reached over and took Buck’s hand as they drove in silence for a while.
“Yes, John Dunne?”
“If we have to stay in the Army, will you write to us, and tell us what’s going on with everybody on the team?”
“I will. I promise.”
“Yes, John Dunne?”
“Will you say again what you said to us in Inez’s back room. I…” Buck raised JD’s hand to his lips and kissed it, but seemed content to be quiet. “We’d really like to hear those words again.”
Josiah said, “This is from the Song of Songs, also named the Song of Solomon.
“By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth; I sought him, but I found him not. 'I will rise now, and go about the city, in the streets and in the broad ways, I will seek him whom my soul loveth.' I sought him, but I found him not. The watchmen that go about the city found me: 'Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?' Scarce had I passed from them, when I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go.”
Buck stirred. “I found you, JD. I found you, and I ain’t never letting go. I knew you were suffering and it broke my heart, but I found you and we’re all right now, partner. We’re all right.”
Josiah said a soft “Amen” then spoke more clearly. “This is a poem from Rumi that made me think of the two of you.” He waited till he’d turned onto their road before continuing in a quiet, commanding voice. JD and Buck held hands in the dark of the car while they listened.
“‘A moment of happiness,
you and I sitting on the verandah,
We feel the flowing water of life here,
you and I, with the garden's beauty
apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.
and the birds singing.
The stars will be watching us,
and we will show them
what it is to be a thin crescent moon.
You and I unselfed, will be together,
indifferent to idle speculation, you and I.
The parrots of heaven will be cracking sugar
as we laugh together, you and I.
In one form upon this earth,
and in another form in a timeless sweet land.’”
JD repeated the last lines of the poem to himself as he looked with his enhanced vision and saw their apartment building in the distance. ”In one form upon this earth, and in another form in a timeless sweet land.” He thought of Buck’s spirit animal – that majestic lion, so strong and graceful, and of his own hawk, with its sharp talons and bright eye. Another form for sure.
“Home sweet home,” Josiah said, as they pulled up to the curb.
After they'd hauled everything up the stairs and inside the apartment, after water and aspirin, after cleaning themselves up and wearily trudging up the stairs, JD snuggled up sleepily to his spouse, his mate, his guide and thought of that poem again. ”Apparently two, but one in soul, you and I,” and thought truer words had never been spoken.
Thorton Parkway, Denver, Colorado
Thursday, mid-morning, August 2, 2001
“Chris, if we’re drafted, I don’t know if we get leave or not. So we wrote out a note giving you permission to put our stuff in storage, in case we can’t get back. And here’s our vehicle keys. You’ve still got a key to our place, don’t you?”
Chris nodded and accepted the envelope Buck passed over to him. He drove through a yellow light. They’d be at the Army Recruiting Center soon. He could see that Buck and JD were nervous.
“Didn’t Blair tell you two to think positive thoughts – some wacky theory about positive and negative energy and I think he threw in something about Karma, too.” Chris saw their destination and pulled into the parking lot. He turned off the engine and turned so that he could look at both of his men and gave them a fake scowl.
“Sandburg says your bonding is solid. You’ve got the skills to pass these tests, so I expect to have both of you back where you belong after you’ve shown these Army boys that the ATF can kick ass.”
JD gave a half-hearted chuckle. “Or else you might have to shoot us, right?”
Buck pasted a meager smile on his face. “Chris, you take care and keep an eye on the rest of the guys. And if we don’t come back… you can have my chicken and my Jimmy Buffett CD collection.” He extended his arm and Chris shook it. JD leaned over Buck, and Chris gave him a handshake, too.
JD opened the door and slid out, going to the back of the truck and removing their sports bags. Buck and Chris looked at each other for a long moment, then Buck broke eye contact and got out of the truck. They gave a last half-wave to Chris before Buck opened the door to the building, keeping it open until JD walked inside, right under his arm.
Chris gave a small shake of his head. If by some bad luck they didn’t pass the tests, then the Army was going to have its hands full with those two. He hoped to God it wouldn’t turn out that way.
He backed the truck out of the parking space and headed back out on Thorton Parkway. He considered spending his drive time cursing those idiot asshole cousins, the Parks boys, for helping to start this whole mess, but then he stopped to consider the other consequences to JD's and Buck’s kidnapping.
JD and Buck had become sentinel and guide to each other. Well, they’d been okay without it, so he wasn’t seeing that change as much of a blessing. But they’d figured out they loved each other – romantic love, sexual love, forever and ever love – and maybe that realization would be worth the pain they'd suffered .
Anyway, it was out of his hands. He turned his thoughts to the meeting with Greer tonight that Ellison had set up. He doubted if any action would happen just yet. Greer had to negotiate with his people and he’d probably want to buy some samples of the guns to bring to the table. If they liked what they saw, then the real deal would be on. Greer had said he planned to be at Mickey’s, one of the joints Ellison had made a point of hanging out at, around eight. If Greer wanted to buy guns tonight, Jim would have Greer follow him to a rented storage unit where the “samples” were kept. Josiah and Ezra would be stationed nearby with surveillance equipment to monitor the transaction. But he doubted Greer would work that fast. Jim would wear a wire but not a radio mic because Blair would be at the bar wearing a hidden mike so he could communicate with Chris and Vin, who would be in a van outside. He could whisper instructions to Jim, and if Jim needed to pass along information, he and Blair would visit the bar restroom at the same time. If Jim needed to ditch the wire he was wearing, he would give it to Blair in the restroom.
He hit the accelerator as he shot up the entrance ramp to I-25. He traveled south on the highway, his mind wandering as he drove fast and skillfully to the exit nearest the office. He drove the familiar streets, not thinking about much at all, until he found himself pulling into a parking space at the Federal Building garage.
He scrubbed his hands over his face before opening the truck door. There was no sense in borrowing trouble; if Buck and JD were drafted then they’d deal with that heartache when it came, and it would be some comfort to know his two friends would be together. But for now, he needed his team to concentrate on their jobs, because getting sloppy and absent-minded tended to get agents killed.
The rest of his men would take their cues from him, so he'd walk into his office projecting confidence that Buck and JD would be back before two weeks was up.
Mickey’s, Denver, Colorado
Wednesday, early evening, August 8, 2001
“Anderson, besides the previous order, my customer requires additional firepower. Can you supply 500 QBZ-95s, 300 Heckler and 600 Koch G36s, and for handguns, he would be interested in 400 each of Glocks and Sig/Sauers. Possibly there could be some negotiation on the handguns. Walthers and H&Ks would also be acceptable.”
“I'd need to get in touch with my China connection for the QBZs. 800 more handguns then, besides what he asked for last week? I’m starting to get old; I can’t do math in my head that well anymore.” Jim pulled out a small notebook and jotted down some numbers. He wrote a final figure down and circled it, then shoved the notebook across the table to Greer.
“That’s an estimate that includes the previous order, with some wiggle room built-in depending on what kind of handguns. The Glock 17-C is very smooth; not much recoil at all. The Walther PPK remodeling got rid of the old problem of pinching the firing hand. Anything else? Grenades, maybe? Frag, concussion, smoke? Grenade launchers?” Jim picked up his Miller and drank it down, then set the bottle to the side of the table. “I’m hitting the john. You need another beer? I’m getting one.”
Greer looked at his glass of draft beer and said, “I’m fine. And possibly yes to the grenades. It’s still being considered by my customer.”
“Well, be sure and find out what he’s got in mind, okay? I wouldn’t want to deliver something he didn’t want.” Jim slid out of his seat and headed to the restroom. Out of the corner of his eye, as he pushed open the restroom door, he saw Blair hop off the bar-stool where he’d been following the game on the TV – the Colorado Rockies were playing against the Cubs in Chicago and Sammy Sosa was kicking butt, he’d gotten a triple by sliding into third base in the third inning – and follow Jim into the restroom. Jim went into a stall and removed the wire he was wearing. Blair went into the stall next to him and after Jim had listened to make sure they were alone, he passed the wire under the partition to his guide. They were building a case against Greer, even if the deal fell apart, and for that they needed evidence. Blair would also be a witness to this meeting and had taken some photos with a concealed camera. Jim briefly stroked Blair’s fingers – a promise for later that he intended to keep tonight.
Then Jim used the facilities, leaving Blair still there, and walked up to the bar to order another beer. After he’d sat back down at his table in the far corner – chosen for privacy – he’d raised his eyebrows at Greer. The man looked perfectly affable, dressed in business casual wear. Gun running was just another transaction to him, no more impinging on the man’s conscience than buying a load of wheat. Jim didn’t think that tonight would be the night he would be asked to bring the guns to a secret location, but just in case, they had planned his losing his wire before he would be in a private place and subject to a body search.
He and Greer had been dicking around about this order and prices for almost a week now, after Greer had inspected samples of his order while Jim was stuck at the last gun show. He was getting impatient to have the deal be closed and the bust go down, so he and Blair could head back home to Cascade.
“I think this concludes our meeting for the evening, Anderson.” Greer laid a ten-dollar bill on the table. “My treat. The potato skins are very good and enjoy the rest of the ball game.” He left then, but Jim stayed put and actually did watch the rest of the ball game and order potato skins to go with his beer. Quite possibly Greer had somebody planted in the bar, watching him.
Blair had established his cover with the bartender; he was in Denver with his wife to visit her sick mother, and he came to the bar to get away from the stress in the house because he and the wife weren’t exactly getting along that well. Blair would come and play pool and darts and watch ball games on TV. He’d had women, and a few men, try to pick him up, but he would point to the ring on his finger and shrug his shoulders. He and Jim had never talked openly at the bar.
They left in separate vehicles and took roundabout routes out of Denver, as a precaution against being tailed, but Jim was confident nobody was following him. He met up with Blair at a gas station and Jim followed him discreetly back to the ranch, sure that Blair didn’t have a tail on him, either.
It was a relief to finally be able to really touch Blair, to hug him and kiss him when they’d gotten out of their cars. Even at the gas station, they hadn’t talked to each other, or even exchanged direct glances.
“Jim, how much longer is it going to take before this deal is done and the arrests are made?”
“I don’t think too much longer, Chief. Greer can’t settle things on his own, you know. He’s got to check back with his buyer. Shit, I’m getting tired of being undercover. And that gun show last week wore me out. I don’t like just sitting there for days at a time. Anyway, I want a shower. You, too. We need to get the smoke and bar stink off of us.” Jim slung his arm around Blair’s shoulder and Blair reciprocated by wrapping his own arm around Jim’s waist, their usual way of walking together. They went into the ranch house, and Jim prepared to spend some almost bonding time together with his almost fully bonded guide. Jim figured Blair had made his decision about completing the bond, his body language was much more relaxed, but since Blair'd requested that their “discussion” be tabled until they were able to go home, Jim was willing to wait. Anyway, he wasn’t wild about the lack of privacy and the press of time they would have to struggle with here, if they bonded now in Denver.
The house was dark, but Chris had left a porch light on for them. They quietly moved through the house and into their room. Blair had stopped sleeping on the couch the day JD and Buck had left for the recruitment center. They gathered clean T-shirts and boxers and headed for the bathroom at the end of the hall.
Later, lying on their bed, they talked softly about what they’d do when they returned home, and then stripped off what little clothing they'd put on and got comfortable under the sheets. They were both half erect from being so close to each other, but didn’t act further on their desires. Jim could be patient; he would wait. Blair was too important to him and he would let this bonding happen at Blair’s own pace. He ruthlessly stamped down his old fantasy about acting out any primal sentinel instincts in order to overwhelm and seduce his guide. There was fantasy and there was reality, and he wasn’t going to fuck this up.
Chris stirred in his bed, woken up by Jim and Blair walking down the hall. He listened for a while, half asleep as they entered their bedroom and then the bathroom, then squinted at his alarm clock. Almost eleven. He’d gone to bed early tonight.
He wondered how JD and Buck were doing. They’d been allowed to make a phone call in the afternoon after Chris had dropped them off at the recruiting center and had informed Chris that they’d passed the medical tests and were on their way to Fort Carson, south of Colorado Springs, for the stress testing.
The rest of the team was worried, too, but not talking much about it. Chris knew, realistically, that these six men and himself wouldn’t always be a part of Team Seven. Someday, someone would get promoted, or family circumstances would change, requiring a move, or a bullet would… No. He wasn’t going there. Not at night, with too much time to think. Not with almost losing Buck and JD so recently, not after hearing Nathan describe how Buck had carried JD cradled in his arms to Nathan’s Explorer and how he’d again carried the boy into the ER, not letting him be placed on a gurney. Chris suspected that Buck was acting instinctively – that at some level he knew JD’s best chance to live was if he was in physical contact with him.
At night was no time to think about being lonely either. Not while he was lying in the bed that he’d shared with Sarah. This bed, where Adam had laughed gleefully when he’d climbed in with them early in the mornings. This bed, where he’d slept alone since Sarah had died.
He’d had women since that black day. But he’d picked women who wouldn’t fall in love with him and who he damn sure wouldn’t mind never seeing again. The booze had blurred their features, and all he wanted from them was softness that he could sink into and lose himself for a time.
Buck had kicked his ass till he stopped being so self-destructive. Buck, who’d bedded more women than Chris ever had, but who’d gone to them with a smile on his face and appreciation for the gift of their bodies, even the good for nothing tramps. Despite Buck’s past record with the ladies, Chris had no trouble believing he would now be faithful to JD. The man was as loyal as they came. Blair had said that Buck’s aura showed a lot of royal blue – the color of loyalty and friendship and laughter.
He felt a smile curving on his lips as once again he realized Blair had snuck more of his hippie ways into how Chris thought about things. If the kid stayed here much longer, he’d have them all doing mantras, channeling positive thoughts, and eating organically. Although Ellison said that organic beer was pretty good.
He could stand to think more positively, and he contemplated asking Mary out on a real date. He liked her; she liked him, and she was spunky as all get out. He liked Billy, too, and sometimes he wasn’t sure if he liked Mary for herself or because she was Billy’s mother.
He didn't want to get serious with her, didn't want Mary to think they might have a future together. He was through putting any family of his in harm’s way
Maybe, for now, he’d table that date idea.
Maybe he’d talk Vin into going camping with him, while it was still summer in the Rockies. Vin had been through a lot these last few weeks, since killing those two men at the warehouse; he could use some time away from the city. He was a quiet man, although he didn’t hesitate to speak his mind when it was important. He just didn’t… chatter. It could be restful, being with Vin.
Yeah. A camping trip with Vin was sounding more and more like what he would prefer to do. Once Buck and JD were back with them again.
He rolled over and closed his eyes and started thinking about camping sites and equipment, and hiking with Vin till he felt himself drifting back to sleep, a smile on his lips.
Fort Carson Army Base, Colorado
Tuesday, late evening, August 14, 2001
Buck was dreaming. Or at least this felt like a dream. He’d been here before, walking in this park, during that terrible time when JD had been missing. Missing. He was missing JD tonight.
He walked down the path on his big padded feet, and felt his tail lashing back and forth as he searched for JD. He needed to see him, make sure he was all right. A movement in the trees caught his attention and he recognized his sentinel’s spirit guide, as the hawk flew down from the tall pine tree and landed on his shoulder.
Well, all right then, the hawk would show him where JD was waiting for him. The bird flew off and Buck loped after him, his strong feline muscles moving him forward at an enormous pace.
Down the path where trees lined the edges of the winding trail he loped, following both an internal sense of where JD was and the way the hawk was leading him to his partner.
He saw him then. Like before, he was sitting on top of that concrete structure. What in blue blazes was something like that doing in the woods anyway? He watched as the hawk flew right into JD’s chest, disappearing from sight. Buck made a mighty leap onto the top of the bunker and faced JD, stretching out his paw to swipe at him. In the very act of reaching, he saw in a blur his limb re-arrange itself into a human arm, and he gripped JD’s shoulder.
“Hey, buddy. What’s up? Why are we here? I miss you, ya know. Damn those Army S.O.B.s anyway for making us sleep apart tonight.” He plopped himself down next to his seated friend and put his arm around JD. JD felt cold. He wore a dirty pair of jeans – no shoes, no shirt. Buck recognized the outfit as the clothes JD had worn when he and Nathan had broken into the old root cellar.
“B… Buck. You came. You came for me. I put all m… my energy into calling for you. And now I’m c… cold.” JD shivered and Buck tugged him into his lap and wrapped his arms around the kid, sharing body heat.
They stayed that way for a while, till he felt JD’s skin becoming warm again.
“So, you feeling a little better now?” JD nodded against his chest.
“What is this place anyway, partner? Oh, I remember what Blair explained about spirit planes an' all that, but I don’t recognize anything I see here, so it must be something out of your head.”
“When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike down these trails. This is how I remember Wompatuck State Park. Mom and me or my friends and I would come here to get out of Boston to spend the day.”
“What’s the story about this here thing our asses are sitting on?” Buck shifted a little but hung tight to JD when he tried to scoot off Buck’s lap.
“Un-uh. You stay put. You need to stay warm.”
“I think since we’re on the spirit plane my being cold is more about what I’m feeling emotionally. I was kind of flashing back to being in that damned root cellar. But, okay. I suppose you can baby me a little longer.”
“You’re no baby, even if you are the kid of our team. But I’m kinda glad you’re no bigger than you are, because I like the way you fit on my lap.” Buck dropped a kiss onto the top of JD’s black mop of hair.
“You know… I haven’t been alone at night – in the dark -- since you and Nathan got me out of that… place. But they separated us today and they’re not going to let us be with each other tomorrow, for the final tests. I guess I got to feeling lonely and… maybe a little scared. Guess I was feeling that way when I went to sleep. When I was in that root cellar, I kept trying to figure out what in the hell it was, and it reminded me of the old bunkers that were in the park. Me and a friend snuck into one once, one that homeless people sometimes took over, before the park rangers would toss them out. It was dark and scary in there. ‘Course, I was only a kid, and I hadn’t thought about the old bunkers for years, but when I was in another dark and scary place… well. I guess when we met here before it was because I could picture this park and I was trying to give you some idea of the kind of place I was being held in.”
Buck asked, because he was still mystified, “What were bunkers doing in a park?”
“Think the army had built them, a long time ago, for some kind of a base and then gave up using the area and donated the land to the state to make a park. The woods grew up around those old concrete bunkers.” JD became silent then and Buck looked around at the park. It was pretty, but didn’t have the same feel of wilderness that going up into the Rockies impressed upon a person.
“Blair says that you go to the spirit plane to accomplish a task, to learn something about yourself,” Buck mused.
“Yeah. I think… I think I should go down into the bunker and get over being scared of it. It’s kind of a proxy for the root cellar.” JD gave a tiny shudder, but Buck could feel it.
“I’ll go with you.”
“No... I don’t think you should. You can’t be with me in the morning, when I’ve got to face those final tests and maybe this is like practice for doing that tomorrow.” JD sounded tentative at first, but his voice had firmed up by the time he'd finished talking.
“Well, then. Maybe you’re right about that, but I’m going to be up here waiting for you and … can we do that golden cord thing again? I might not be right there with you but I can be your anchor. No matter where you are, you can always find your way back to me.” Buck liked that idea a lot.
“We can try the cord trick, but… it uses up some energy to do it. I could feel it drain me the last time we met in the spirit plane. But it was a good gamble, wasn’t it? It let you find me.” JD tried to get up again, but Buck tightened his arms around him, keeping him plastered up against Buck’s chest.
Buck thought a moment before he spoke.
“I should be the one to toss the cord to you, then. You’re going to be jumping through hoops tomorrow; I’m going to just be sitting on my ass. I’ll do a lot of meditation tomorrow and concentrate on keeping that cord strong between us. Let’s try it out, JD.” He opened his arms so JD could get up.
They moved apart from each other, but still standing on top of the old bunker. Buck faced JD and willed his love and concern for JD to swell, to rise up and then he touched his heart; pulling his hand away he saw the golden cord trailing from his body. He threw it to JD, who tied it around his waist.
JD smiled at him, well, more like a gritted grimace, and then he walked over to the edge of the bunker and clambered down. He looked up again at Buck, gave a small wave and then walked around the side of the building and disappeared.
It was hard to wait, to not be with his partner as he faced down his bad memories. But Buck trusted JD’s intuition, and if he thought he needed to do this by himself, then Buck wouldn’t fight him on it. Instead, he sat down and concentrated on sending good vibes – Blair had talked a lot about good vibes -- down that cord.
Time became meaningless, as he stilled his body’s desire to fidget and move. He concentrated on the cord and the feel to it – much like he’d done to locate JD when he’d been so lost to them all. His partner was a weight on the end, and Buck could feel every move JD made as he explored the interior of the underground building. Of course, JD could see in the dark now. But when he’d first been put into the root cellar he’d been unconscious and he’d woken up to pitch-black darkness. The sentinel sight hadn’t evolved until he’d been down there for a while. The kid must have felt so desolate in that black hole.
A tug on the cord signified that JD was through, and a few moments later he climbed back up to the top of the bunker. He pulled Buck up to stand next to him and pointed to the East.
“Sun’s coming up. Here and there.”
“There? You mean Fort Carson?”
“Yep. It’s time to leave. But I feel good about this last day of testing. I felt you with me every time I touched the cord, when I was below. It’ll be like that when I prove that I’m stable, that I don’t have to have you close to me to do my job.” He reached up and kissed Buck, a sweet simple farewell.
“I love you, Buck. I’ll see you when this is all over and we can go back home.” JD turned away from him and then leapt over the side of the bunker… and the hawk rose into the air, and flew away, but still tethered to Buck by the cord of gold.
Buck waved his hand in farewell, and then climbed down and started walking slowly down the path he’d traveled earlier. He could see the first faint lightening of the sky and as he walked the darkness shifted to gray and then to a pale, clear light. He felt tired now, and stopped to sit down on a bench by the trail. He closed his eyes… When he opened them again, he was in his bed. Alone. He looked down at his chest and no longer could see the thin rope that he’d spun from his heart. But he could feel it. Sweet suffering sassafras, he could feel JD through it, and he concentrated on sending love and confidence to his sentinel.
Federal Building, ATF headquarters
Thursday, middle of the afternoon, August 16, 2001
“I don’t like it.” Blair crossed his arms as he slouched in JD’s desk chair.
“C’mon, Chief. I’ll be fine. I can do this.” Jim tried not to sound annoyed with his guide, but honestly, the guy could be such a worrywart sometimes. Driving a twenty-six foot truck couldn’t be much harder than maneuvering his pick-up, anyway.
“Need I remind you of the last time you thought you could handle a big truck?”
Jesus. Blair could be such a grump sometimes.
“Look, Sandburg. That was different, and you know it. That semi had what, fifteen gears? This baby has an automatic transmission. No gears, get it? It’ll be --”
Jackson broke in, sounding amused. “A piece of cake, Jim?”
Standish rolled his eyes. “My dear man, you’ve jinxed them now. You never tell someone that something is a ‘piece of cake.’”
“Actually, Jim, that semi had eighteen gears, and you managed to grind each and every one when you shifted. But it’s not just gears – and okay, it will be easier since this truck is an automatic – but that’s going to be a lot of weight, between all the guns in their shipping containers and the machine parts you guys are throwing in for camouflage. Man, if you even try to whip this bad boy around corners like you do your truck, you’re going to go over.” Blair got out of his chair and walked over to where Jim perched on the edge of Buck’s desk.
“Let me drive it. You know I’ve got the experience and you need to concentrate on the bust.” Crap. Here came the pleading eyes.
“Sandburg.” Jim could feel Blair’s arguments wearing against his resolve to keep Blair out of the set-up to take Greer and his backer down.
“Jim.” Blair laid a hand on Jim's thigh. “I have a CDL, and I’m not afraid to use it. You’ve got the highest vehicle insurance rates in the state of Washington. C’mon. This is a no-brainer. It’s safer if I drive. And you need to focus on the bust.” Great. Now he’d thrown in the power of the cajoling voice.
Larabee – no, Chris, since he told Jim to call him by his first name -- Chris’ voice came through the open doorway from his office. “You know he’s making a lot of sense, Jim. But it’s your call.”
Jim tried one last argument.
“What if he recognizes you from hanging out at Mickey’s, Chief? We don’t want him getting suspicious that you were there with me.”
“Got if covered. We just explain that we got to talking and you found out I was a truck driver in need of some serious cash – my mother-in-law’s gall bladder operation was expensive – and I need some way to earn my way back into my wife’s good graces, since I keep escaping out of the house to waste my time down at the bar. I don’t know what the cargo is, beside machine parts, and if I suspect there may be some drug money involved, well, I’m not asking what else is in the cargo, am I?”
Blair grinned at Jim, and Jim felt his resolve flowing away like a mudslide on a Malibu hillside.
“All right, all right. You can drive. But you’d better be careful and not make me regret letting you come along.” Jim tried to give in graciously, but he knew he sounded a little peeved still. Then he caught a sound down the hallway and smiled, his crankiness forgotten.
A few moments later the door opened and JD’s voice preceded his and Buck’s entry.
“Jim, I thought Blair said that the guide voice couldn’t make a sentinel do something he didn’t want to do.”
Jim answered him ruefully, “It’s not a guide thing; it’s a Sandburg thing. And welcome the hell back, you two.”
Buck and JD were through the doorway and heading for their teammates and a raucous round of back slaps and loud babbling commenced.
Blair dispensed with the manly gestures of affection when he joined the group. He hugged JD and Buck, then let out a squawk when Buck picked him up under the arms, raised him till he was eye-level with the taller man, and kissed him on the forehead. Jim reached him in time for Buck to thrust his guide into his arms, and he held him off the ground for a moment, scenting the back of Blair’s neck, before an indignant shimmy of Blair’s body conveyed that he wanted down. Jim lowered him, Blair's back snug against his front as he let Blair slide down until his feet were on the ground, but he let his arms stay wrapped around his guide.
“Hey! There will be no Sandburg tossing going on. And I want details. I want to know everything they tested you on and… and it’s so great that you didn’t get drafted.” Blair’s hands tried to convey his emotions but Jim's arms hampered them. He wriggled again and Jim reluctantly practiced his catch and release technique.
Before he could tow Buck and JD over to a private corner and get out his notebook, Chris intercepted them and they completed another round of backslapping and handshakes.
“You can have them in a bit, Blair. I need to see them first.” Chris ushered his prodigal teammates into his office and shut the door.
The pouting look on Blair’s face made Standish laugh and remark, “Be careful there, Blair. Aunt Molly would tell you a bird might sit on that lower lip.”
“I’m not pouting.”
“Well, I’m not.” Blair grinned suddenly, “Well, not much. And not any more. Hey, where are Vin and Josiah? Should we call them or let Buck and JD surprise them?”
Nathan held up his phone. “I’ve left messages for them both on their cell phones. I just told them Chris wanted them to stop by the office.”
“Oh, okay, that’s good. Man, we should all go back to that bar, the one where we celebrated JD and Buck getting married. What was the name? Watson’s, right?”
Nathan answered, “Watsons is the name of Inez's place, but mostly we just call it the Saloon. Sort of a joke.”
“Gentlemen, I agree with Blair. A fine meal, some decent whiskey, and perhaps a game of five-card stud to welcome back home our friends.” Jim thought to himself that a poker game sounded great to him – if Ezra didn’t make it too high stakes – he’d missed playing poker with the Major Crime guys.
Nathan said, “Ez, I’m still broke from the last time I played poker with you, so I’ll pass on the game but, yeah, sounds good. I’ll see if Rain can meet us there.”
“Sandburg, before I lose you to grilling the rookies, let’s finish working out the details about the truck and a time-table. Greer gave me a date of August 19th, for the transfer and pay off.” Jim motioned towards the desks they’d been borrowing from JD and Buck and Blair followed him to finish planning the take-down on Greer and his backer.
I-225, East side of Denver
Sunday, late evening, August 19, 2001
“Sandburg, this isn’t music; it’s auditory torture.” Beside him, Blair rolled his eyes as he shifted the large, stuffed-with-machinery-parts-and-guns truck into the next lane to allow a car to enter the Interstate.
“The DJ said that they used broken crap found in garbage cans as instruments, for Christ’s sake!”
“Uh-huh. Pretty creative, don’t you think? Jim, it’s called free jazz, although Voice Crack is on the extreme end of the genre. But…” Sandburg gave out a suffering sigh. “Try 96.01. They play some decent rock, maybe you’ll hear some Santana.”
Jim changed the station from NPR in relief.
The plaintive notes of “Angie” by the Stones filled the cab of the rental truck. Jim glanced at the fuel gauge; if Greer didn’t contact them soon they were going to have to stop at a gas station. They’d been going in circles around the city, hopping from one major Interstate to another, waiting for the cell phone to ring and Greer to give them instructions about where to meet him.
He checked the mirror and saw that JD and Buck were three cars behind them, and several cars behind those two were the rest of Team Seven. It was unlikely Greer had any clue that the other guys were taking turns tailing Jim and Blair to throw off any of Greer's men who might be watching the truck. It was a good feeling, knowing the other guys had their backs.
“Wonder if Simon will let us take some time off, once we’re done here. I’d love to go fishing before the end of summer. And I need to finish analyzing my data, so I can write my diss. I’ve just got a few more sentinels and guides to interview, and then it’s just me and my laptop.”
“Nope, not just you and your laptop. We’ve got some unfinished business, remember?”
Blair tightened his hands on the steering wheel and shot a look at Jim. The musk of arousal started to waft away from his body, and Jim ran his palm over Blair’s thigh.
“I remember, all right. I’m counting down the days, hell, the hours and minutes until you and I finish what we started all those years ago.” He grinned suddenly. “And a fishing trip would make a fine honeymoon, after we crawl out of bed. Mmmmm. Bonding under the stars, letting loose our primal feelings in the midst of nature, being sky clad--”
“Sky clad? Sandburg, do you mean running around stark--”
“Naked? Why, yes, oh sentinel of mine, I do. You’ll know if anybody intrudes on us so why not enjoy the feel of the sun on our bodies, and the breeze tantalizing our--”
“Feel the mosquitoes biting us on our butts, feel the sparks from the campfire landing on our balls.” But he only said it to tease Blair, and judging from the grin that became even wider, the grumpy act wasn’t fooling his guide. Hell, if Blair wanted to be naked, that just meant Jim didn’t need to waste any time stripping his guide’s clothes off him before making love.
But all thoughts of how he would enjoy going “primal” with his naked guide in the privacy of the wilderness were hastily shelved when the cell phone finally rang.
Rest stop, Exit 173 to Larkspur, I-25, South of Denver
Sunday, late evening, August 19, 2001
“Buck, they’re coming,” JD announced in a low tone. They were in Nathan’s Ford Explorer, to avoid Buck’s distinctive Lady in Red being recognized by Greer, who'd seen it before when Buck was undercover. Once Jim had reported they were to meet their contact at this rest stop, which was halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs, he and JD had passed them to go ahead and set up the stake out.
Buck slouched down further in his seat and dialed Chris, who was waiting one exit back towards Denver with Vin. Josiah was waiting at the next exit past this one towards Colorado Springs. Ezra and Nathan were following Jim and Blair into the rest stop and would tail them out. If Greer or his men gave Blair the directions to the transfer site, JD would be able to hear it and they’d relay that information to Chris, so that surveillance could be set up before the transfer, but Chris was taking no chances on losing Jim and Blair, if they weren’t given any directions and instead told to follow their contact back to the transfer site.
Chris answered the call and Buck began updating him. “Okay, Jim and Blair have pulled into the rest stop and are driving around to the far end where a black SUV is parked. Uh… JD says it’s a Lincoln Navigator, looks fairly new, license plate… Partner, what’s the number?”
JD told him and he repeated it to Chris. “There’s four of them waiting in that car. JD and I are playing possum, so anybody who looks in will think we’re just taking a nap, and I’ve got my piece ready under the blanket if we’re checked out. So far, the only thing the guys in the Navigator have talked about is how the Rockies beat the Marlins this evening by one run. One of ‘em’s been bitching about missing the game since he had to work tonight, and he won’t let the others get a word in edgewise.” He listened to Chris reminding him to stay well back from Greer’s men, in case anybody there had met him as Buck Wilson.
“We’ll be careful, and Chris, I’ll call you back. All four of them just got out of that car and they’ve walked around to talk to Jim and Blair. JD needs to concentrate on what they’re saying, and I need to guide him.” He ended the call and laid the phone down on seat, and under the cover of the blanket grasped his sentinel’s hand. JD took several deep breaths and centered himself, like Blair had taught him to do.
The far end of the parking lot was pretty dim. Buck couldn’t make out details of the men’s features, but one of them gestured for Jim and Blair to get out. They did, and moved to the far side of the truck, and that cut him off from any further observations.
All was silent for some time in the Explorer, with only the sound of their breathing. Finally, he saw Blair climb up into the cab of the truck, but Jim got into the SUV. Vehicle lights came on and the black SUV slowly drove towards the rest stop exit, the truck trailing behind it. JD squeezed Buck’s hand and then let go.
“Give Nathan and an Ezra a heads up; they need to be ready to leave right now. Blair wasn’t given an exact address, just told to drive back to Denver. One of their guys is riding with him and will tell him how to get to where Greer’s holed up.”
Buck grabbed the phone and alerted their friends, who promptly pulled out of the parking lot to get ahead of the vehicles heading for the transfer. They would then let the truck and SUV pass them, and drop behind them to tail them.
JD scrubbed his face with both hands. “Ezra won the bet. These guys did search Jim and Blair for wires and swept them and the truck for any tracking or listening devices. And Jim’s cell phone is history. They smashed it. Good thing Chris decided against bugging the truck. That’s what meeting them here was all about, just a way to make sure they weren’t going to lead the cops straight to their doorstep.”
Buck said, “Greer’s always been cautious, but being questioned about JD’s kidnapping probably made him ten times more careful about who he’s dealing with. He doesn’t keep things in stock; he passes them onto buyers right away and takes his cut. He’s been one tough son of a bitch to pin down. They out of sight, JD?” His partner nodded, and Buck balled up the blanket they’d been sharing and tossed it in the back. He started the engine and headed over to the exit.
“JD, call Chris and Josiah, catch them up with the plan. I’m going to try to get close enough so you can track the truck.”
Continued in In Our Time of Need Part Eight