Ducking Responsibility

Chapter Five

SunDog forced herself to remain calm as she looked around the room. To her relief, WEJ had left the light on, but she had no idea how long it would remain on. As she evaluated her situation, she let out a sigh of relief: WEJ had at least covered all the amenities. There was plenty of food and water: enough, she estimated, to last a year more if she stretched it out. There was also a well equipped kitchenette and a bathroom.

"All the comforts of home," she muttered to herself as she flopped back down on the cot. Looking around she realized that she was being held in his safe house, a place he could go. He could probably stay here for quite some time and no one would be able to find him. It was probably the safest place he could think of imprisoning her.

'Imprisoned': the word alone made her nervous. Uncharitable thoughts came to mind, as she began plotting exactly how she was going to make him pay for this. Still, her heart wasn't in it: she knew he was only trying to protect her, trying to keep them all alive.

She began wondering about her teammate. There was very little she actually knew about him, other than the fact that he was one of their best offenses and there was very little he couldn't do. Personality wise, he was the complete opposite of Tatonka. She never understood Tonk's relationship with the man.

Tonka was passionate. When he felt something, he made sure everybody knew exactly how he felt. WEJ, on the other hand, was like a brick. Most of the time, he also had as much personality as a brick. And yet, WEJ and Tonk were oath-brothers: Tonka's enthusiasm and spirit making up for WEJ's brusqueness.

"Damn you!" she swore as she pushed off the cot and began pacing. "How can you do this to him?" Somewhere deep down she knew that it was tearing WEJ up, but she knew he'd never show it, never admit it to anyone else.

As she began pacing the room she noticed a sheet draped over one of the boxes. Pulling it off, she found the rest of the supplies: guns and ammo. In her heart she knew that WEJ had left them here for her, left them so that she would not be defenseless, but still she just couldn't understand or accept what he was putting the others through.

*** *** ***

It was a cold and rainy day as they laid Heartbreaker and SunDog to rest. Nobody seemed to care, it reflected their mood perfectly. Heartbreaker had no real family, only BlackPaw and her friends from Baltimore. The homicide detective was also in attendance. It was mostly out of respect, but Tracker knew he was still looking for answers.

SunDog on the other hand had too many friends. Out of respect for her parents and team, they hung back, allowing her closest friends to mourn in peace. Her mother and father attended, but they seemed oddly relieved more than anything.

Everyone was numb, but Tonka was the worst: she was his lifeline, and now she was gone. WEJ stood behind him, trying to be the support he needed, but everybody knew that Tonka was out of the group. There was no way he could stay with them, not after losing SunDog.

Tonka had already put in for leave and had it approved. What surprised Tracker more than anything was that WEJ had also asked for leave. From what he had gathered, WEJ was going to be taking care of Tonk. Again, it was probably for the best.

Thinking about it he realized it shouldn't have been much of a surprise. Tonk and WEJ were brothers of sorts. Both had ended up in the UCAS military, but both of them had family ties to NAN. It didn't really matter much to him though they were his team, and they were hurting.

There was a silence as Papa Dan moved forward to deliver the eulogy.

"The world has lost two souls that cared: people who were willing to make a difference. Heartbreaker... Heartbreaker could be hard to understand at times. She'd laugh a little too loud; take too many chances, but you always knew where you stood with her. We're going to miss her straight forward approach to things..."

"HeartBreaker once said, 'you do what you can when you can, and you don't sweat what you can't control'." Papa Dan shook his head. "It's what you can't control that hurts the most sometimes. Breaker, we're going to miss you."

This time, as he paused, Papa Dan looked around at the surviving members of the team. Whisper sat, his head bowed. Tracker and SillyWizard's expressions were determined, Jules seemed torn between sorrow and rage. The D's were keeping to themselves, and then there was Tonka and WEJ. WEJ was expressionless as always, but he was standing directly behind Tonka, helping him through this. Tonka was a study in misery.

"SunDog...Never met someone so full of life. Yet... she was always a realist... I'd like to read you something she gave me a while ago. She said if anything were to happen... that I should share it with you..."

He took a deep breath as he pulled out the paper and unfolded it. He had always prayed he'd never have to read it. His hand trembled as he began reading the letter.

My friends;

I have attended too many funerals, said good bye to too many friends. There are things I always wish I'd had a chance to say, and now I guess it is my time to say them.

We have chosen to walk a dangerous path. It is wrought with danger, but it must be walked. I hold no illusion that our lives will be anything other than brief. But we fight a battle that must be fought. We live, we love, we laugh. Never give up. We stand between chaos and ruin, trying to keep a balance and keep our future alive.

Ever yday we are called upon to fight: to defend. It is a thankless job, and I wish it wasn't that way. My thanks and love to you all.

Mom, Dad... I know you never approved of my choice, but you accepted it and supported my decision. I love you both so much. It is that love that has given me the strength to do what must be done. Thank you for believing in me.

BlackPaw... I don't know how many of you are still there, I hope all of you. Help each other. The truest strength of our team is not one member, but all of us working together as a family. I know you all better than any others I have met. I know where ever I go, I take that love with me. It will see me safely on my way. Let my love protect you, I will miss you all.

Papa Dan paused. The rest of the letter was to each member of the team. He looked at them and swallowed. None of this was easy.

Papa D. Our leader, friend and teacher. You have given me so much. You helped me find myself and believe in me even when I was afraid to. Keep your head high, you've done so much for all of us.

Jules, the poet. You look at things and see the reason even when nobody else can. Keep you eyes and heart true. Remember me in song...

SillyWizard. I never got to hear the group you named yourself after. Sorry hon. You take care of yourself and watch over the others. Keep them laughing, keep them smiling.

Tracker, you've got a big heart, and someday, I hope you find someone worthy of it. You claim to be the cynic, but I know better. Don't let them change you.

Heartbreaker, you know what's in your heart and you know what you want. I envy that in you. I've never known what I wanted, where I was bound. You've taught me determination and inner strength. My wish for you is that you find some one you can let into your heart.

Whisper... man of few words. You are a rock. Reliable and true... take a chance.

D's. What can I say? You're always there when you're needed. I hope you realize how important and loved you are. Peace and Love to both of you my brothers.

WEJ, don't stand alone. We are your family. Loss is part of life, don't dwell on it, celebrate what is before it's too late...

Tatonka... Tonk...You have brought so much into my life...I will miss you wherever I may be... I will never find another like you. If you are still here, stay with BlackPaw. They are your family, your heart, and it is a very big heart. Don't let it fade away. Keep your heart open, and I will never truly be lost; I cannot bear the thought of that heart not being there. I love you.

My family, my friends: take care of each other... It is a short song, but its a beautiful tune... I'm glad I got to dance.

An almost stunned silence filled the mourners as they reflected on SunDog's words. Whisper stiffened slightly as he realized someone was scanning the area astrally. As he joined in, he realized it was WEJ, watching their backs yet again.

A chill washed through him when he realized that even here they were not safe. As he studied WEJ, he nodded curtly to Whisper. He was the protector; Whisper was his second.

*** *** ***

Tatonka closed his eyes. All the way back to base the sound of the tires on the asphalt seemed to sing that Dog was gone. He tried to fight the blackness that seemed to want to claim his heart, he tried to remember her words, but they were hollow without her.

He had to get away. Everything on base reminded him of her, and it hurt. He knew it wasn't what she wanted, but he hadn't wanted her to die either. Everything was to be closing in on him. He had to get out.

"Stop the car," he growled, an edge of panic creeping into his voice.

WEJ shook his head and kept driving. "It isn't safe," he told Tatonka. "Just hang on, we'll be back on base in no time."

"I can't go back there," Tatonka answered woodenly. "Just pull over and let me off."

"I can't do that Tonk," WEJ answered evenly. "You know that."

"You can, and you will," Tatonka ordered.

"No," WEJ answered, fighting to maintain an even voice. "We're going back to base, you're going to pack up your things, and I'm going to take you someplace where you can be alone and deal with this."

"Alone?" Tatonka snorted. "You mean where you can keep an eye on me."

WEJ looked at him for a moment. "That too," he answered softly.

"Who died and made you my keeper?" Tatonka snarled. He was hurting, and he was taking it out on those around him, but he didn't care.

"SunDog," WEJ answered evenly. He was glad Whisper wasn't in the car with him. Whisper would have picked up on his emotions, and then he'd know something was up. As it was he had to sit there, watching as the knife kept twisting deeper and deeper into his friend's heart.

Worse, he knew that three words, if he uttered them, would make it all stop: 'Dog is alive,' but he didn't dare say them. He couldn't say them: not here, not out in the open. He was forced to withhold information, all the while watching as it tore his best friend up inside.

Tonka glared at him, his breath coming in ragged gasps. "God damn you!"

"I'm sorry," WEJ whispered softly. "I shouldn't have..." He stopped as Tatonka reached for the door knob.

"Tonk! No!" he yelled as the door opened. He grabbed Tatonka by the belt and held on for dear life. He pulled over, trying to maintain control: control of the car, control of the situation, control of himself. Once the car stopped, he tried to cast a sleep spell. But Tatonka wanted nothing to do with it. As he struggled with Tatonka, he noticed the black car that had slowed behind him.

"Bogies," he snapped as he pulled his pistol.

That snapped Tatonka out of his melancholy. As WEJ floored the accelerator, Tatonka chambered a round and held his gun to his chest.

"Hold on!" WEJ warned as he stomped on the brakes and spun into a J turn.

Tatonka braced himself against the dash as the Jeep spun around to face the oncoming car. As they bore down on the vehicle, the passenger fired three shots at the Jeep. Tonka fired four answering shots, spraying the windshield in the hopes of hitting something.

WEJ aimed the Jeep directly at the car and continued to accelerate. Tatonka braced himself, knowing full well that WEJ wasn't going to back down. He let out a sigh as the car veered away from the Jeep and straight into stone guard rail. As the Jeep spun around yet again, WEJ eased off on the gas and slowed the vehicle down.

The Jeep slowed to a halt, as Tatonka jumped out and was bearing down on the attacking vehicle. Cautiously he began making his way towards the vehicle, making sure to keep its fenders between him and their attackers.

It sat there: wisps of smoke escaping from under the hood. Nobody inside moved. Tatonka got within 30 feet of the car before it was engulfed in flames. He stumbled away from it as the flames reached the gas tank and the car blew. The shockwave from the explosion knocked him to the ground. He could feel the heat as the flames licked at the remains of the car. Rolling over, he scanned the area for other possible targets.

He froze as he looked back at the Jeep and realized that WEJ wasn't moving. He ran back to the Jeep as WEJ's foot slipped off the brake and the Jeep started moving towards the wall.

"WEJ?!" he all but screamed.

*** *** ***

Papa D. and Whisper exchanged a worried look as they waited in the base parking lot. Even with how cautiously WEJ tended to drive, it shouldn't have taken them this long to get back to base. Whisper shook his head.

"They should have been here by now," he whispered.

Papa Dan nodded and activated his comm-unit. "Tonk! WEJ! Report!

He listened to the static intently until there was finally a reply. "Boss... can't hold out much longer..."

He could hear the strain in Tatonka's voice. The D's were already moving towards their Jeep when Papa D. signaled them to halt. "Whisper, check it out." he ordered.

Whisper gave a slow blink in acknowledgment and sat down on the gravel. His body slumped forward as he began searching.

As Whisper began his search Papa Dan was already taking control of the situation. "D's load the heavy gear. Tracker: get a drone up, now! Jules, get us armored transpo 2 minutes ago."

His team was already scrambling when Whisper forced himself upright gasping. "Ambush," he growled as he struggled to his feet. "The 539... On their way back."

Papa Dan offered him a steadying hand as Jules arrived with their transport. "667 to 359 back the way we came," he ordered Jules as everybody climbed inside the vehicle. The D's sat with Tracker in between them, supporting him as he maneuvered the drone ahead of them, scouting out the area. Papa Dan led Whisper to the front seat and then climbed in after him. "Move out."

Jules activated the control systems and they were on their way. "How far?"

"Five miles off base," Whisper added. His voice was still a little breathy.

"ETA 5," Jules stated as he brought the throttle up. As the transport picked up speed, Papa Dan was already relaying information to the MP's. By the time they reached the gate, they had a three car escort.

"Five minutes Tonk," Papa D. urged over the comm-link. "Hang in there."

*** *** ***

Tatonka grunted as the comm-link sounded and the familiar voice of Papa Dan sounded in his ear. He was straining to keep the Jeep from rolling any further, his legs braced against the ground as he leaned back into the Jeep. Why hadn't he thought of the comm-link?

He swore to himself as tears of frustration filled his eyes. WEJ needed help, but he couldn't move from where he was, not without the Jeep rolling into the railing.

"Boss... can't hold out much longer..." he gasped desperately.

There was a long pause before Papa D's voice came back online. "Five minutes," he promised. All Tatonka had to do was hold on for five more minutes.

"Hurry boss," he urged. "WEJ's hit."

*** *** ***

It was the longest five minutes of his life. Tatonka's back muscles were starting to spasm as he fought to keep the Jeep from drifting down hill.

"Come on WEJ," he pleaded as he continued to strain. "Don't do this to me."

Somewhere in the back of his mind, WEJ heard. He tried to cast a healing spell but, even at his best, he was no healer : his spells were offensive. He held onto to one thought as he tried to fight through the haze of pain and blood loss: SunDog. If anything happened to him, the Agency would clear out his house, and they would be the ones to find her. He knew that if that happened, she was as good as dead.

'Too many funerals,' he thought disjointedly. He tried to move, but the only thing that seemed to be working even marginally was his mind.

*** *** ***

Tracker snapped back to consciousness as he finished getting a picture of what was happening. "One burned out hulk," he reported. "Tonk's braced against the Jeep, WEJ slumped over the wheel."

"Any opposition?" Papa D. snapped. He knew Tracker was still half-in/half-out of contact with the remote, but he needed to know what they were up against.

"Not now," Tracker told him. "Tonk's starting to lose it though."

"One minute," Papa Dan told everybody, then keyed the 'mic.'

*** *** ***

"One more minute," Papa Dan's voice urged over the comm-link. It was the best sound Tatonka had ever heard.

'One minute,' he thought to himself. 'One more minute.' It became a chant.

He could feel his muscles shudder from the strain and everything turned to a haze. Suddenly he felt the resistance stop. He looked up to see the D's standing over him, holding the Jeep in place. He had made it. As the effort caught up with him, Big D caught him and looked at his partner.

"Don't see what the problem was," he muttered.

Little D smiled back, then gave Papa Dan a worried look.

*** *** ***

The haze was thicker now, he knew he'd lost too much blood. "SunDog!" He tried to yell, but it came out as a groan. He had to make sure BlackPaw got to her first. He tried to raise a hand and fight off whatever had grabbed his arm.

"Hold still WEJ will ya?" Whisper's soft voice reached his ears.

WEJ gasped as he suddenly felt like he was on fire. That's when he knew it was bad. Whisper, ever the healer, was not taking his time or worrying about being gentle.

He clenched his jaw as the pain swept through him. He could feel his heart straining to keep a steady beat. The pounding in his head provided a counter beat to the one in his chest. Everything seemed to be happening at once.

In spite of himself he gasped as telekinetic force pulled the bullets from his body. The blood was flowing again, as Whisper strained to close the wounds and bring him back into balance. WEJ knew it was all in Whisper's hands now. He prayed his friend was up to the challenge.

As the pain subsided he looked up and saw what the effort had done to his friend. But there was one more thing WEJ knew he had to do. 'SunDog,' he sent the thought to Whisper, praying he would handle it in the best way possible. 'Alive, my place.'

Whisper's eyes widened in surprise.

'Keep her safe. Get Tonk to her... Hide them till this is over.' They were his coherent thoughts as he drifted into unconsciousness.

Whisper nodded, then passed out himself.

*** *** ***

SillyWizard looked over at Tracker as he went over the duty roster. WEJ, who was supposed to be on leave, was in the base hospital. Whisper was still completely drained from saving WEJ and Tonka hadn't left WEJ's side. That left them, Papa Dan, Jules and the D's to deal with what ever it was that had bowled them over.

If that weren't enough, Wiz's fiance was overdue from her return trip. He tried not to worry too much about it. He knew that she could take care of herself, and that she had gotten out safely. Reports he'd gotten from Red confirmed that.

It wasn't enough that the 'curse of the black box,' as they had dubbed it, had done its number on them, it had tried to take out 'Yala and her partner in crime Gypsy. From what he'd gotten from Red, it had already cost Voodoo two other team members.

The worst part was the fact that they still had no idea what they were up against, and from the look of things... he let the thoughts trail off. 'Go with what you have,' he urged himself. 'Put the pieces together.'

"Tracker," he said finally. "We aren't getting anywhere like this. I need to get out of here, see what I can find out in the field."

Tracker gave him a startled look as he realized that 'Wiz was talking about leaving the security of base and searching for the answers on his own. He shook his head. "Too risky."

"Staying here is too risky," Wiz answered with a sigh. "We need to stop this now, and the only way to do it is go out on my own."

Tracker narrowed his eyes questioningly as he stared at Wiz.

Wiz bowed his head, he knew he owed Tracker an explanation. "When I was a kid, I ended up on the wrong side of things. I was headed for some serious trouble, when one of my neighbors took me in and got me turned around. He was retired army..." the sentence trailed off as he remembered the stories the man had told him and how the man had saved his life.

"Three weeks after I started staying at his place, my friends were taken into Juvie for robbing a teller machine. That could have been me."

Tracker watched him intently. It was the first time Wiz had really talked about his past.

"I hate being penned up," Wiz continued. "He saved me from that, got me to join the military, try and make a difference, but I still have contacts that can get me info, but it can't be as a member of the team. I have to go out there and find out what's going on."

"Let me go with you," Tracker urged.

Wiz studied him for a long time. "The team's already depleted," Wiz sighed. "I admit, what I am planning is risky in light of what's been happening, but we can't just wait around. They've crippled our effectiveness as a team, that maybe all that they're after, but there are other teams out there and we have to stop this from repeating." He stopped; he wasn't ready to point out that his fiance was on one of those other teams and that they'd been hit as well.

Finally Tracker nodded. "Be careful."

Wiz gave him a sideways grin. "You know me."

"That's why I said to be careful," Tracker grinned back. It was an old routine, their way of saying good-bye.

"I'll send you updates to the drop account," Wiz assured him.

Again Tracker nodded. "I'll keep tabs on it, and your account. If I hear anything, there'll be something in there for you too."

Wiz nodded. "Knew I could count on you," he smiled. With that he got up and headed out. When he reached the door, Wiz turned. "If... if anything happens, find The Duck," he said, and then he was gone.

Tracker watched the motion detectors once again as his friend and partner moved along the corridor and faded from the building. Little did he know, it was the last he'd see of his friend.

*** *** ***

Copyright 1998 - M.T. Decker

Chapter six
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