Vine '05: Mall Crawl

"What the hell do you mean, the communications van is missing?" Vin yelled.

He actually yelled it, something Chris wasn't used to hearing from Vin.

"I mean," he said, like he was talking to a four-year-old, "that it's not parked where we left it."

"Where's JD?"

Chris saw the look of panic in Vin's eyes, and finally admitted the obvious to himself. Buck's insinuations, he'd ignored out of habit. Buck loved speculating on who was fucking whom. But this—this was something else. This was panic in Vin Tanner's eyes. Chris hadn't ever seen that before.

"In the van, I reckon," he said evenly. "We don't know that he didn't move it for safety's sake."

"Then why didn't he call in?"

"Vin." Josiah's voice was calm and soothing. "This isn't the time. We have a job to do."

"And JD's a part of that job," Vin grated.

Yeah. Yeah, he was. "Stick to headsets, we don't have extra eyes. Let's get this done."

Vin looked ready to run, but Chris just stared at him until Vin gathered up his resolve and nodded.

"All right, then. Let's go."

Ezra wasn't undercover, this time. It was an easy snatch and grab, working off intel provided by one of Buck's informants. A hooker. He still kept friendly with plenty of them, even though he didn't have sex with them anymore. It made for good intel, really; Ezra and Josiah's snitches were good, but prostitutes went places, got paid to be places that other people just couldn't get to. So all they had to do was finish the op: set themselves, watch the arms deal go down - penny ante, a few handguns really, but not worth turning a blind eye to - and then sweep the bad guys up.

He made a phone call, put out an APB on the van and gave the locals the license plate number. It could be an ordinary theft; some asshole saw all the high tech in there and decided he could fence it. Or it could be that they'd lost their element of surprise and were about to get screwed.

"Take your positions. Buck, keep your cell on, in case JD calls in. Let's do this."

The mall was easy to cover; it was all the civilians they had to worry about. Nobody was wearing insignia except Vin, as it was hard to explain a high-powered rifle to everyday shoppers. But Vin was out of the way, tied-on to a crossbeam in the building's ceiling. Nobody would even notice him, up above everything like he was.

Ezra window-shopped in front of a Brooks Brothers where he looked right at home, and that was by the entrance everyone expected the suspects to use. Buck leaned against an ornamental fountain, right in the middle of the mall. Chris, Josiah, and Nathan walked a perimeter. The meet was supposed to go down near the fountain, where Buck sat, and him having his cell phone on would make him look even more like an everyday shopper. Hell, the guy even bought a lemonade from the Chick-Filet: he looked exactly like a doting husband, bored, patiently waiting for wifey to do her shopping.

Chris smiled in spite of himself before he dragged his mind to the business at hand. Ezra was dressed high-class. Buck looked exactly like a husband, in Dockers and a button-down shirt, light jacket covering his holster. Chris had gone for something earthier, dirty jeans and boots, and a coat he'd found in an army surplus store. Josiah and Nathan looked like everyday shoppers, in jeans and baggy tee shirts.

Now all they needed were the criminals. And to find out what the hell had happened to JD.

Waiting was the hard part, especially with JD's whereabouts unknown, but they were professionals and they wouldn't blow the job.

Less than half an hour passed before their marks strolled in, looking like normal guys except for the duffel bags they carried. There couldn't be much in them, but it would be enough to make the bust, and maybe get a line on their supplier.

Tension mounted as everyone held their positions and tried to look natural. Everyone was waiting for the exchange to go down, so they could find out where the hell JD was. Vin, Chris was sure, was focused on the job even though he had other things on his mind.

The marks wandered toward the fountain until they were less than 10 feet from Buck. Buck gave a little hand signal and the rest of the guys circled closer, playing it casual. The suspects strolled closer to the fountain, where Buck sat sipping his lemonade. They finally met up, acting like strangers until they traded duffel bags, which was all Chris had been waiting for. Buck's lemonade wound up in the fountain. Ezra broke the record for the 100-yard dash. Josiah and Nathan were on the perps like white on rice, and what had taken days to set up - and possibly cost them a man - went down in less than two minutes.

The violence wasn't strictly necessary, but Chris wasn't going to say anything.

They marched the perps and their evidence into a mall access hallway where they could have a little privacy. Safely out of the public eye, Vin grabbed one of them by the throat and growled, "Where's JD?" Buck was the one to start, his forearm an iron bar across one perp's throat.

The perp gargled something unintelligible.

"The kid in the van!" Buck pressed. "And the van itself! Where are they?" The van that conveniently disappeared. Where is he?!"

"I don't—"

"Don't even say it. You were the cause of it, you made him go missing. Now WHERE IS HE?"

Vin joined them a couple of minutes later, what with more distance to travel, and his face was red with anger. Chris held him back by main force. "Buck's handling it," he said, low. Buck liked a little rough and tumble, injuries that could make it look like the guy fell down of flight of stairs. And Buck knew when to stop. Vin had a tendency to be a little more violent when his blood was high.

Buck applied more pressure to the guy's throat. "Where. Is. The. Van. And the guy in it."

"What do I get?" the perp gurgled.

"I don't kill you," Buck said placidly. "Sounds like a good deal, don't it? "

It seemed like the the man knew when he was licked. "Out behind the mall," the desperate bastard ground out. Saving one's life trumped just about anything else.

"Connor," Chris said, "you just saved your life. Josiah, you stay with these rat bastards. Buck, Vin, you come with me." There was no other choice, really; Chris was the leader, Buck had a fond affection forthe kid, and Vin was JD's lover. Trying to keep eitherof them back would've been a waste of time.

It was a long trip, precious minutes as they made their way around the back of the huge mall, jogging all the way. But there it was, in the back corner of the employee parking lot. Chris increased their pace.

The van was locked, but he had a key. Almost afraid to use it, he inserted it in the lock and swung the rear door open. JD lay there trussed up like a Christmas turkey, his mouth covered with duct tape and his skin beginning to turn blue. Asthma or fear had him trying to breathe too hard, but the kid was alive.

Buck rested a heavy hand on his shoulder while they let Vin climb into the van and ease the duct tape off JD's mouth.

"They do anything to you?" Vin demanded, fear making his voice harsh.

"Heck yes! They caught me, tied me up and left me here!" As if in afterthought, JD added, "I'm okay."

"God damn them!" Vin was gentle as he removed the ropes that bound JD's arms and legs. Chris felt Buck step closer, close enough to press their bodies firmly together. Vin and JD had been kind of a surprise to him, but Buck had suspected from the start; the kid was young, and experimental, and Vin was a fine looking man. It made sense, in a way, what with both of them the youngest on the team and both of them carrying ambiguous leanings at best.

He turned his head to share a look with Buck; they were sort-of the same, fallen together out of convenience, staying together out of love. Buck held him a little tighter, and Chris allowed it.

"Anything missing?" he thought to ask.

JD shook his head. "Huh uh. They just got me at gunpoint and tied me up. Then they drove it back here, out of the way. I didn't even see 'em coming. Sorry, I'm really--"

"Don't worry about it," Vin said for them all, then pulled JD into a tight embrace. Chris knew that feeling, the need to know your partner was alive, and whole. The desperate feelings that coursed through the one who was maybe left behind. When Vin started kissing JD though, Chris turned away. Plenty of things, he didn't need to know.

After a couple of minutes, when it was clear the kissing had stopped, JD asked, "Did we get 'em?"

"And how," Buck said. "Got 'em good, kid. And now we can add kidnapping of a federal agent to their list of charges."

"What - " JD cleared his throat. "What'd we get?"

"Penny ante guns transaction," Chris said. "A dozen handguns and two rifles. Barely worth our time, unless they lead us somewhere."

"Not worth our time," Vin growled, low, "not with you getting caught."

"Aww, cut it out," JD groused, but even Chris could see the kid was shaken up. He had a right to be.

"You two go back to Buck's place, get cleaned up. Catch us up at the office in an hour or two." Everyone still called it Buck's place even though he rented it out to Vin and JD and hadn't set foot in the condo for more than a year, not counting beer bashes and ball games. Vin had moved in not long after Buck moved out, sharing the place with JD, because Buck was living out at the ranch. Full time, finally. Full time. Where he belonged.

Vin nodded and eased JD to his feet, then down the step to the ground. JD didn't want to show it, but nerves had seriously gotten to him.

As Vin and JD walked the long walk to where Vin's Jeep was parked, Buck grinned. "You getting' soft on me, pard?"

Chris scowled. "You'd have wanted some alone time too, if something like this had happened to me."

"Don't even say it!" Buck's tone was fervent, almost angry. "That's not gonna happen to us."

"Has before."

And it had. There was no denying it; over a dozen years of professional partnership, plenty of shit had happened, from knifings to car crashes to simple old bullet wounds. One or the other of them had run into serious trouble, and the result was always the same: they needed some time to themselves, to touch and hold tightly, to reassure themselves that both of them had come out of it alive. But it was different, now that Buck lived with him full time. They couldn't kid each other that it was a casual thing, or pretend that they didn't care as much as they did.

"Doesn't mean it's gonna happen again," Buck groused. "We're older, smarter. We know how to stay out of harm's way."

"Like JD did? He was just sitting in the damned van."

"Fuck it." Buck grabbed the keys to Chris's Ram and made it there in record time. Chris jogged a little, to keep up.

"You wanna tell me where we're going?" he asked, dry.


"We are <> going to a motel in the middle of the day, fifteen minutes after an op—"

"Yes, we are!" Buck's tone brooked no argument, and after seeing Vin and JD as freaked as they were, Chris wasn't inclined to fight about it.

"Gotta call in."

"You do it."

So he did, getting Ezra on his cell phone to tell him that Vin and JD were headed home for a quick clean-up, and that Buck had something he needed to take care of. Ezra, thank God, didn't ask any questions.

"We can watch the crime scene until the locals arrive," Ezra said. "Meet back at the office, or at the jail?"

Chris did a quick calculation in his head. "Office. Couple of hours, tops. Vin and JD, maybe a little longer."

"Fine." Ezra rang off and Chris breathed a sigh of relief. Everyone on the team knew about how people had paired off, but none of them tended to talk about it.

Buck found his motel, a little seedy and cheap but not the kind that charged by the hour. He forked over $59 and assured the clerk that they had no luggage, and when Buck closed the hotel room door behind them he grabbed Chris up in a bear hug.

"Could've been you," Buck whispered. "Could have."

"Could've been you too, or any of us." It needed saying, Chris supposed, just like this motel visit needed doing. Buck stripped him fast, urgent, and then himself, but when they slid under the covers on the bed, everything slowed down. They just touched, and held, fingers tracing cheekbones and jaw, as if memorizing every detail. Like maybe it wouldn't be around one day, and memory was all they'd have.

They were short on lube - hard to explain if you got picked up carrying Sensoglide in your pocket - but Buck had a tougher constitution, and wanted it anyway. He rolled to his back and spread his legs wide, let Chris use spit and fervor to get his cock inside. Chris didn't miss the wince on penetration, but he didn't stop either. Buck wanted this, needed it. Just like Chris did, himself.

He pressed home, feeling the near-painful friction that doing it bare always afforded. There were benefits to doing it raw. Made you feel more alive.

He gave as good as he could, watching Buck's arousal climb and then peak, with a red flush across Buck's chest and finally, the clamp of muscles of ass, hips, belly, arms—Buck just seized up everywhere, when orgasm hit. Chris followed not long after, and they spent a few more minutes just holding each other.

"It's not gonna happen to us," Chris finally whispered. "I won’t let it."

"You can't stop it."

"It's my job to stop it, these days," he asserted. "And I will."

Buck's arms tightened around him for a second, almost like he believed him, then let go. "We should get a move on. I need a shower."

Chris sniffed himself and the room. "Me, too."

"Want to take one together?" Buck suggested, and Chris just snorted.

"Not if we actually want to get out of here."

So they showered separately, checked out of the hotel casting a blind eye t the front desk clerk's prurient look. Chris didn't give a shit what some stranger thought. In fact, he didn't care what anybody thought, anymore. There had been a time when reputation and ego mattered, but that time was long past.

Not so, for Vin and JD. They were younger, with a more casual attitude about same-sex partnerships, but they were law enforcement too, and being younger came with its own set of bullshit.

Vin arrived fifteen minutes before JD, and Chris just knew they'd planned it that way. His hair was damp, which meant something more than cuddling and reassurance had gone on between him and JD, too.

Chris didn't want to know. Buck would, but then Buck was a prurient fuck. Buck liked to know all the details of everything, just like a woman. It wasn't Chris's problem, though. Chris's problem involved paperwork, reports, making sure JD didn't come off looking like an idiot and covering for the dead time between the bust and the return to the office.

Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan had started preliminary reports. The team smelled like a rose - as it should, given the ease of the bust. Three perps in custody, twelve handguns and two rifles, all with their serial numbers filed off. There wasn't much chance that the suspects would flip on their bosses, but Chris held out hope.

Still. That was for another day.

"Anybody besides me ready to blow this joint?" he asked the bullpen at large.

"Hell yes!" Vin-of-the-still-damp-hair chimed in.

"Of course," said Ezra.

"I wouldn't mind," Josiah answered, and Nathan just nodded.

Chris didn't have to ask Buck; the man was too easy-going for his own good.

"I feel like I ought to stay and write up an incident report," JD mumbled. "While it's still fresh in my head."

JD had already identified the car jacker, one Victor Sanchez, the same guy who'd walked into the mall carrying the satchel.

"Don't sweat it, JD," Chris said. "Happens to the best of us." He grinned. "Just ask Buck."