Title: The List
Disclaimer: See parts 1-5
Josiah sat on the porch of his apartment, cradling his mug of hot tea in his hands. He looked out over his view of the city at dawn without seeing it. Today his eyes were turned inward, down paths of memory leading to realms of dark thing he didn’t think about – ever.
He allowed his mind freedom to roam where it would this morning. All weekend he had been tense, they all had been. As a Profiler, he frequently found himself evaluating those around him, but the past few days he had been unable to do much observation let alone offer comfort and guidance. He had been too caught up in the emotions of the events around him. When he allowed that to happen he was no good to anyone.
Still, watching Vin and Ezra on Thursday night after the bust had nearly torn him apart. The memories, the emotions that had assaulted him had almost undone him. Of course, the first and largest hurt it reminded him of was Hannah, his sister. He had failed his sister, been too weak to help her stand against their father, been too distracted by his own pain and need to do his duty as her brother. A rational part of his mind tried to tell him it wasn’t true, but it was how he felt and feelings were valid things.
He needed to get his head on straight so he wouldn’t fail his brothers.
That word brought back a long-forgotten memory of a time he would rather forget. Vietnam. He had been little more than a boy when he’d gone over. He quickly attached himself to his unit, developing a brotherhood bond quickly, one every bit as strong as the one he shared with the men of Team Seven. Then he’d failed his unit. Oh, that’s not what really happened back then, but that’s how he felt about it. He had failed his unit, most of them were dead, one was in a VA hospital out of touch with reality and the other who had survived now worked for a software company, from a wheelchair that he would never leave.
A heavy sigh escaped the Profiler.
He wouldn’t fail his new brothers. He’d lost too much family over the years, he didn’t have it in him to go to more funerals, to watch more of them lose their minds, to watch them walk away. No, he would put his own needs aside to address the situation.
Later today they would be going as a group up to Travis’ office while the AD met with Vin and Ezra and he knew someone would have to be the voice of reason. While that job seemed to fall upon all of them at some point in time or other, he knew that today, no one else would be up for it. Nathan maybe, but given the ease with which Ezra could push Nathan’s buttons…
A smile crossed his face at the thought of how Ezra and Nathan took such joy in their confrontational relationship. Neither would admit it, in fact, unless put in a life or death situation, they wouldn’t even admit to liking each other, but they did.
Focusing back on the present, Josiah noted the light blue of the morning sky and checked his watch. Time for some breakfast before he headed into the office, he decided. He wanted to get there early to be sure he would be on hand. He wouldn’t let his brothers down this time. Josiah determined this family would stay together if he had to wrest them from the maw of Hell itself.
Standing, Josiah turned to head in. He stopped in his tracks as he looked into a pair of avian eyes. His breath caught in his throat as every muscle in his body froze. He stood staring at the black bird. How long had the crow been sitting silently watching him?
A chill ran down Josiah’s spine as the crow tilted its head to the side as if reading his soul. Offering a raucous ‘caw’ the black bird spread his wings and flew off.
Josiah watched until he could no longer see the bird, dread clenching his heart. His whole life he’d been superstitious about crows, they usually proved harbingers of death. Shaking himself, he tried to remind himself that sometimes they just meant change, but right now neither option offered him much comfort.
Stepping inside, Josiah realized he had lost his appetite. Perhaps he would just head into work early.
Buck stared at the ceiling above his bed. An optimist by nature, he tried to find the bright side of the situation. The only thing he could find was that they would get things out in the open today. That was something, something they desperately needed.
He sighed, rubbing his tired face. Sleep had been a stranger yet again. He hated this feeling of helplessness. He knew perhaps more than anyone else on the team the tie that bound Vin and Ezra. It was the same one that allowed Ezra and Buck to maintain friendship. He, Buck Wilmington, who never lacked for companionship, had lost everything and been alone. Oh, he didn’t dwell on it, but the scars were there.
He had lost his mother, every bit as precious to him as Tanner’s mother was to the sharpshooter. He had been alone, the only difference was that he had found Chris Larabee years ago and been invited into a family. Along with Chris, he had gotten Chris’ mother, father and sisters. True, a part of him always felt like the outsider, but he still had family. Then Sarah had come along and he’d had another sister. Adam had been born and he had a nephew. He could still feel the warmth rush through him at the sound of Adam’s called out “Uncle Buck!”
He’d been alone again after Sarah and Adam died. He fought with everything he had to keep hold of Chris, to keep hold of the last remnant of his world, of his family, but it hadn’t been until Vin Tanner came along that Buck once more had Chris. It wasn’t until JD came along that he had a best friend again. Now all of that was being put in danger by an order from Travis and a man named Frederick Fellini.
If anything happened to his family, people would find out exactly how protective the easygoing man could be of what was his. If anything happened to Vin, Ezra, Chris, JD, Josiah or Nathan, Fellini would understand what vengeance meant. If anything happened to his brothers, there would be no stopping Buck until he had exacted retribution, because if anything happened to his brothers, Buck wasn’t sure he would be able to live through it.
How often could one man lose their family and survive?
The alarm on his nightstand started ringing. With a heavy sigh he reached over and shut it off. Time to get up and face the day.
Standing and stretching, he headed into his bathroom, determined that nothing would happen to his family. Nothing.
Meanwhile, downstairs, JD continued pacing the apartment. He had been able to catch an hour or two of sleep during the night and knew the dark circles under his eyes showed his exhausted state. Still, he paced.
He had understood the arguments about waiting until they could get together with Vin and Ezra before finding out what was going on, but waiting was something he didn’t do well, not yet. Give him another ten or fifteen years and he’d probably be an expert at it, but for now, he needed to do something. Over the past two days, every hour, every minute, every second had eaten away at his resolve, at his nerves. Now, just a little while before the confrontation that would hopefully set his family back on track, he couldn’t decide how he felt.
The worry that had been his constant companion had changed as exhaustion claimed his rational mind and control. Anger floated dangerously near the surface, anger at Travis, anger at Fellini, anger at the other on the List, anger at himself for not picking up on the file earlier, and anger at Vin and Ezra for shutting them out.
Vin and Ezra were his brothers. Vin had never treated him like a kid, sure he called him ‘Kid’, but it was different coming from Vin than it was from the others. And Ezra at least respected his intelligence, even if he had doubts about the young man’s abilities. How did they think they would get away with destroying their family? How dare they not trust the others with this? How could they so easily give in to Travis and not tell them?
His anger gave way to fear. What if it was too late? No one had heard from either man all weekend, though JD was fairly certain he’d seen Vin at the Rockie’s game with Dave Simms from Team 10, but still, what if something happened? He’d lost his mom not long ago. JD didn’t think he could survive if he lost this family too. What would happen? He would always have Buck, but what of the others?
The voice of reason began piercing his tangle of emotions. Vin and Ezra were professionals, they knew what they were doing and wouldn’t do anything that would cause harm to befall any member of Team Seven. If they were trying to create rifts in the team, there was a good reason for it. They wouldn’t do this if it weren’t necessary. They wouldn’t do it unless they’d been ordered to.
Anger reared its head again. Ordered to. Travis had ordered them to put the team through Hell. What sort of man would do that? What sort of soulless monster would destroy the best team in the state? What sort of vile cretin…
“Ready to go, boy?” Buck called, jogging down the stairs, interrupting the irate thoughts of his friend.
“Yeah. Let’s get it done,” JD said grabbing his jacket and heading out the door. It was definitely time to get this done.
Vin sat, perched on the rock watching the sunrise. Peace flooded over him. He closed his eyes and allowed the warm rays to penetrate the dark shell that had been building over him.
Breathing deeply, he stilled his mind. The past few weeks had been hectic. No, he scoffed, the past few weeks had been Hell on Earth, emotionally anyway. Today he would find out if that was about to end.
He contemplated the events of the past weekend. He felt comfortable with the inroads he’d made with Team 10. He knew they still had a lot of work to do there to build the trust they needed to truly infiltrate the team. None of this was new to him; he and Ezra had infiltrated some of the most close-knit groups around.
Still, there were days he longed to be nothing more than the sharpshooter. Lies. How did Ezra live with so many lies all the time? The man must have a very firm handle on who he is, Vin decided. As he thought about that, he also came to realize how much Ezra depended on the rest of the Seven for that handle, for the strength to do what needed to be done, to be there when he fell.
Right now Ezra only had Vin. Vin had been leaning on Ezra during the past few days, his back pain and the strain of being around Fellini sapping most of his emotional strength. He would change that today; give Ezra a chance to lean on him for a change. The pain in his back was still there, but it was manageable now.
Thoughts of his back brought to mind Barb and Anna. Releasing a sigh, he wondered what they could do to get the two women out of their current situation and to safety. Of course, it wasn’t just them; there was also Anna’s father. They needed someone inside the Fellini home. The man had practically adopted Vin and Ezra over the weekend, but it wasn’t enough. They needed someone to pick up on the ins and outs of the daily households rhythm. Still they only had the two of them. Hopefully Travis would have good news for them this morning.
Shifting to relieve the stress on his back muscles, Vin tilted his head to the side. It would be nice to have backup, but he and Ez had worked without before. Backup just made it easier.
Another sigh escaped the worried Texan as his mind wandered back to Fellini. He could see what Anna meant when she said her uncle was losing his grip on reality. He only hoped that he hadn’t lied when he told her they would be able to control the fall of the organization. This was larger than anything he’d done before. The in they had now with Fellini brought them right up to the top of the organization, but then, it also left Vin and Ezra with questions. One of those questions was whether or not the people under Fellini were aware of his decline. If they were, there could very easily be a fight for dominance and power. Such a fight would cause even larger problems than what existed now. He and Ezra would have to accelerate their timetable if that were the case.
Vin laughed. As if the job wasn’t dangerous enough as it was, now they may have to accelerate their infiltrations. They would have to find a way to curry favor with Fellini and the others.
That thought brought a frown to the sharpshooter’s face as he thought of Fellini’s interest in Chris when Vin had mentioned that the man had thrown him through a table. He had a look in his eyes, very similar to the one Chris got when someone messed with his team; While that boded well for Vin’s acceptance into the organization, it didn’t bode well for Larabee’s continued health. Aw, hell. He’d have to do something about that.
Glancing at his watch, he walked back to his Jeep, ready to make his way into the city.
“Shit!” Larabee shouted, glaring at the alarm clock. Of all the days he could have overslept, why did it have to be today? “Because you didn’t sleep all weekend and worked yourself to the bone,” he answered his own question.
Springing from his bed, he rushed through his morning routine. Not waiting to make coffee or grab something for breakfast, he grabbed his keys and sprinted for his truck. Getting behind the wheel, he started the vehicle, slipped it into gear and started down the driveway. Hitting the main road, he accelerated toward the city.
Twenty minutes later found him inventing new curses as he sat in a traffic jam. Why did this have to happen today of all days? Today when he needed to get into the office early, when he needed to be there to take the rest of his team up to take on Travis? Why did there always have to be traffic when it would do the most harm?
All weekend he had fought his desire to go out and hunt down his two wayward agents. Today he would not be denied. The knots he had felt in his stomach, the images of what could be happening to them, the idea that Travis was trying to take his men away all worked to bring a resolve to set things right.
The message he’d heard the previous day at Vin’s apartment hadn’t helped. He’d sent Vin through a table on Thursday night. He had on Vin just as he had on Buck. What was wrong with him? Of course, he knew he hadn’t actually beaten his best friend, but the guilt stayed anyway. Until he could look into those blue eyes and see for himself that he was forgiven, he would continue to bear that guilt.
And what of Ezra? He might not have punched or thrown Ezra, but he had failed him. In replaying the scene from the Saloon over in his head, he could see the pain the words Ezra spoke had caused the undercover man. Ezra was good, but Larabee had spent too much time with him to be fooled by the shuttered look he projected. He knew Ezra was hurting, that he hadn’t wanted to say those things.
What of the rest of the team? He had failed them as well hadn’t he? So wrapped up in his own pain and guilt, he had failed to be there for them, to be the leader they needed. Once more he had relied on Buck to handle things while he allowed himself the luxury of falling apart. God, he owed Buck. How would he ever be able to thank the man for all he’d done?
All of that stopped today, it stopped now. As of right now, Chris Larabee was once more in control of his emotions and his team. As of right now, Chris Larabee had become the leader of the biggest bunch of mavericks in any law enforcement agency anywhere and no one, not Vin, not Ezra, not Orin Travis, not even God himself, was going to stand in his way.
He would resolve this – just as soon as the blasted traffic started moving again.