“Ugh!” Crunch! ‘Oh God!’” He felt the crunch rather than heard it. Waves of agonizing pain radiated through his torso. He gasped at the sharp burst that seared through his side as he tried to draw air back into his lungs. His ribs were broken.
He had to hang on. Chris would, Buck would, but he wasn’t sure if he could… much longer. He sank to his knees as another wave of pain washed through his side robbing him of his sense of equilibrium. He began to lurch sideways, threatening to fall over. He was grabbed roughly by his collar and jerked suddenly upright. The action ignited another sharp burst in his side.
He was hauled roughly to his feet. The guy was a solid wall of muscle and he stank of body odour. It gave him a small degree of morbid satisfaction to know that the guy had to at least break a sweat to hold him up like a tackling dummy so his partner could take another shot at him.
“Talk,” ordered the rough voice from in front of him. “Tell ‘em you’re okay.”
He could feel the cell phone being pressed to the side of his face. He had to hang on if they were going to find him. The others needed time to triangulate the call but the beating was taking its toll. Even if he were to speak he wasn’t sure he could form words properly, his lips felt numb from the swelling. He tried to hold his head up but the blood in his mouth ran down the back of his throat causing him to gag. He choked and spat a wad of bloody saliva, pursed his lips and shook his head.
“Agghhh!” This time he couldn’t help but cry out, the broken ribs added a new dynamic to the torture. He panted, taking a series of short breaths through his mouth to keep from breathing deeply and aggravating the fire in his side. He couldn’t take this much longer. He couldn’t put his arms up to defend against the blows because his hands were handcuffed behind his back. He couldn’t even mentally brace himself against the fists coming because of the duct-tape blindfold wrapped around his head. At the time he had thought about how much it was going to hurt when the duct tape was pulled out of his hair. Now that concern seemed laughable.
He was dropped again, landing hard on his knees. Buck’s voice chanted “hang on, kid, just a little bit longer” over and over in his head. He and Josiah had talked once about methods victims used to endure torture. Focusing on something else had been one of those methods. Quite frankly he didn’t think it helped much.
An ugly voice above him slurred, “What’s the time?”
“Long enough,” replied the rough voice.
“So long asshole,” he could almost hear the sneer that came with the hard kick to his hip.
Groaning, he fell over onto his good side welcoming the cold concrete beneath his cheek. He lay there barely aware of the footsteps as they faded away. Had they stopped for good this time or was this just another chance for them to rest before they went at him again? The thought disappeared into the welcome darkness as he drifted into unconsciousness.
Across the room, yanking hard at the handcuffs that held him bound to the steel girder, stood Vin. Impotent tears of rage and frustration filled his eyes as his body strained to reach JD. Mindless of his bloody wrists, he yanked hard at the restraints. They had left Vin untouched to watch helplessly as they had pummelled the kid. He was unable to help, unable even to offer words of encouragement and comfort or at least swear at JD’s tormentors because, like JD’s eyes, many layers of duct tape covered Vin’s mouth.
“Why the hell didn’t you do something!”
None of them, not even Chris, had ever seen Buck like this before. There was none of the jovial lover of both life and women about him now; nothing of the tough government agent. The professional persona honed by years of experience was gone. Only the fears and anguish of the mentor and friend were evident.
Buck had Vin backed up against the wall. Red faced and nose to nose with the smaller man Buck had the front of Vin’s T-shirt tangled in his balled fists. Buck’s eyes had gone from their vivid laughing blue to an ominous black. It was an indication of the dangerous man Buck Wilmington would be if JD Dunne died.
“Leave him alone,” growled Chris clamping both hands on Buck’s wrists.
Chris really didn’t like being told where to go at the best of times, the fact that it was Buck doing it this time really pissed him off and he drew back a threatening fist. “Get the hell away from him!” Chris ordered.
Buck’s eyes jumped to the fist. It was the split second of distraction the others were waiting for.
In the blink of an eye, and with a quickness that belied his size, Nathan snaked his arm around Buck’s neck. Hauling him away from Vin. Nathan immediately began to heave Buck backward over his hip. Feeling himself falling, Buck instinctively let go of Vin’s shirt.
Chris missed what happened next as Vin drove a hard, sharp elbow up into his gut. It was an attacked from a direction Chris hadn’t expected causing Chris to release Buck’s wrist. Josiah then slammed Chris back against the wall. Josiah then laid one brawny forearm snug up under Chris’s chin while his other hand held Chris’s fisted hand up against the wall. Vin turned and leaned into Chris’s other shoulder holding his other arm against the wall.
Chris could hear Nathan grunt with a great effort. Then Buck let out a loud “oof”.
Chris couldn’t see anything with his head cocked toward the ceiling by Josiah’s arm but could hear Nathan. “Quick Ezra, his arm!”
Chris could hear more scuffling on the floor somewhere in front of him.
‘What was this, some kind of mutiny?’
thought Chris angrily.
“Chris! How would you feel if it was Vin in there?” Josiah voice, normally soft and melodious had become harsh. “Do your job and be the boss!” ordered the profiler.
Wondering where the hell Josiah thought he could get off telling him what to do, Chris searched around for Josiah with his eyes. Peering down at a steep angle he replied to Josiah with the best glare he could manage under the circumstances. It had no effect on the forearm leaning into his windpipe.
“He ain’t gonna hurt me, Chris,” said Vin, “no way he is, it’s jus’ not in ‘im. He’s worried about JD is all.” He couldn’t see Vin but he noticed how the Texan’s drawl had became more pronounced. It was Vin’s way of telling him without words that Chris was being an ass.
“Alright!” Chris hissed grudgingly through gritted teeth as the pressure on his neck increased.
Josiah and Vin exchanged a quick glance and with a brief shrug from Vin they began to ease their hold on their leader. At the first sign that they were letting go Chris shook them off angrily.
Chris ran a hand through his hair as turned his attention to Buck and the other two men on the floor. Nathan had Buck pinned wrestling style, while Ezra had his knee in the small of Buck’s back and his free arm pulled back and forced up behind him.
Buck still struggled helplessly under Nathan and Ezra. Chris made no effort to hide his annoyance as he threw a scowl at Josiah and then Vin. From their expressions he realized they weren’t going to let him off the hook here. He had to deal with this.
Chris moved across the room to squat down beside the trio on the floor. “Buck.” There was no indication Buck had heard him as he continued to struggle against his captors. “Buck, listen to me. Get a hold yourself. This isn’t helping JD.”
“Fuck off, Larabee, you saw what they did to him. Busted ribs, blood from head to toe. You saw the bruises!” Buck’s angry words the rose to a roar. “They used brass knuckles on him!” A surge of adrenaline fed rage seemed to accompany those words as Buck nearly succeeded in throwing both Nathan and Ezra off his back.
“Mr. Larabee, if you are not going to assist us in restraining him the least you could do is refrain from antagonizing him any further.” Ezra’s tone was uncharacteristically angry, as he struggled to maintain his hold, his green eyes flashing with annoyance.
“Jesus, Chris,” hissed Nathan, his jaw clenched with the effort to subdue Buck. Nathan threw a ‘How could you be so stupid?’ glance at his boss.
“Sonuvabitch,” cursed Chris quietly as he finally realized what the others were trying to tell him. “Let him up.”
Nathan and Ezra looked at one another. Then there was an almost imperceptible nod before they both rolled off of Buck and quickly and smoothly scrambled to their feet.
Buck lunged to his feet and backed away from the
others holding his balled fists up in front of himself, his eyes defiantly
daring them to come after him. Chris had figured it out. Buck wanted to
hit someone or something just to vent his rage over what had happened
“Go to hell, Chris! You of all people to be saying’ that to me!”
“To hell with you too, Josiah. Don’t start with any your have faith crap!”
“Buck.” Even though he’d seen it a dozen times before, Chris watched in awe, as Josiah’s quiet baritone seemed to reach through Buck’s angry front providing the stricken man with a life line. “Buck, we’re all scared for him.”
That brief acknowledgement of the fear they were all feeling seemed to take the fight out of Buck. Chris watched, as the anger seemed to drain out of Buck, leaving only the torment of his fears for JD in his eyes. Buck seemed to physically wilt before them. Opening his hands wide, Buck holding them up as if to push something away from himself before taking two shaky steps backwards. He bumped up against the wall behind him. Elbows wide Buck grasped his head in despair and then he shook it helplessly. Finally, with no one to fight and no place to go, Buck let the misery and guilt he felt at his perceived negligence show as his face crumpled.
“I should have been there… he’s always askin’ if I want to come,” the words came out is a raspy whisper. “I should have been there,” he repeated. Dropping his hands in a gesture of defeat Buck slid slowly down the wall until he sat on the floor. He put his elbows on bent knees and rested his forehead in his hands effectively concealing his face. Then after one loud, ragged intake of breath Buck became still and silent.
Chris stood watching Buck, wanting to help but not knowing how.
Hearing tentative steps approach Chris instinctively put his hand out to stop whoever it was. He turned to find Vin levelling a warning look back at him. Reluctantly Chris dropped his hand from the sharpshooter’s chest.
Vin slowly squatted down beside Buck. “Buck, ya gotta believe me, I tried but I couldn’t do nuthin,” ground out Vin painfully. “I tried, I couldn’t get free, I couldn’t even let him know he wasn’t alone or damn them for what they were doin’ to him.” Vin swallowed convulsively, the feelings of just how powerless he had been to help JD spread across his face, “I couldn’t do fuckin’ nuthin.”
Buck lifted his head, cobalt blue catching and holding sky blue eyes. Vin’s face was etched with the pain of his inability to do any thing to defend JD against the vicious attacks. Buck expression softened as he reached out to grasp Vin’s shoulder squeezing briefly, “I know, Junior.” Despite the pain and guilt he was feeling Buck still found somewhere within himself, words of understanding and comfort for Vin.
“He’s got grit, Buck. JD knew he had to take it if you were going to find us. He made that choice to hang on. That same grit’ll carry him through this.” And with those few words of encouragement, Vin’s own composure began to crumble. Buck let go of Vin’s shoulder as Vin spun slowly on the balls of his feet and sat down heavily beside Buck against the wall. Vin bowed his head so that long lanky lengths of hair fell forward providing a curtain of privacy for the man.
Chris sighed with relief. The emotional storm had passed for the moment. They would give the two men on the floor time to come to grips with their feelings. In the meantime all they could do was wait. Chris dropped wearily into a chair. Josiah and Nathan did the same beside him. Ezra picked up one of the hard plastic seats and kicked up the doorstop to allow the door to close behind him as he left the room. It was tacitly understood that Ezra would direct anyone else wanting use this waiting room down the hall to the larger waiting area, leaving the team to their privacy. Chris knew that in part it was a ploy on Ezra’s part to do his waiting alone. It was the way Ezra handled such things best.
Chris dropped his head back against the wall to stare at the ceiling. He wasn’t feeling particularly magnificent at the moment and he doubted any of the others were either.