"FBI! Freeze!" Don burst through the door, only to be knocked back into the agents behind him as he took a shot square in the chest.
Awareness of the team surging into the house around him to subdue the suspect was only secondary to the pain blossoming in his chest. Just as his vision grew hazy, a familiar freckle-faced redhead swam into his line of vision. "Eppes!"
"Coop..." he managed to whisper before he blacked out completely.
He woke up in a clear pod, uninjured and whole. His brother stood nearby, scribbling rapidly on an electronic clipboard with a stylus. Charlie looked up when Don popped his pod open and climbed out. "You lasted longer this time."
"Yeah." Don absently rubbed his chest where the bullet had struck him, still vaguely surprised that he didn't have a bruise there. "I didn't expect the suspect to be waiting for us."
Charlie led Don over to another pod where a familiar tall, lean figure with black hair was just waking up. "That's because Ian was your suspect."
"No, he wasn't," Don stared at the sniper in surprise. "Our suspect was Jason Hopper, wanted for murdering three state troopers."
Ian saw them through the pod and waved with a smirk. "Yes, he was. Ian was testing a new subroutine for Larry and I where the player can change his or her physical appearance and identity."
"No wonder Jason Hopper was such a pain in the ass to track down and apprehend," Don commented admiringly as Ian jumped out of his pod before it opened fully.
The dark-haired man chuckled as he straightened up. "Thanks, Eppes, but your 'team' technically didn't apprehend me. They took me out."
"Never surrender, huh?" Don asked as they trailed after Charlie to a third pod.
Ian grinned ruefully. "That and your boyfriend was determined to make 'me' pay for 'killing' you."
"Don!" The shout was the only warning Don had before he was bowled over by someone, his lips caught in a searing kiss while he was still disoriented by the tumble.
His body responded before his brain could register that it was Billy Cooper, his lover and partner. By the time they pulled apart to catch their breath, a crowd made up of their friends and family had gathered around them, varying degrees of amusement and mirth on their faces. "You might consider not leading the raid on a suspects' lair next time, Eppes."
"Thanks, Ian," Don retorted dryly as the sniper gave Billy a hand up. Once Billy was on his feet, he turned and offered his hand to Don, who took it gratefully. "I'll keep that in mind."
His arm around Margaret's waist, Alan added, "Or you could try a completely different program, Donnie. One that's not as dangerous, perhaps?"
"Come on, Dad, it's just pretend." Don grinned disarmingly.
Billy's arms slipped around his waist from behind. "The point of these VR games is for us to have fun. Watching you 'die' over and over again because you insist on being a hero is not my idea of a good time."
"He's right, Don," Megan added, her arm around Larry's waist. "Real or not, dying still has an emotional and psychological impact on those who witness it."
He looked around at all his friends and loved ones, smiling sheepishly. "I guess I got carried away with the idea that I couldn't really die."
"You guess?" Billy's voice was indignant, but Don saw the humor in his blue eyes. "Just for that, I'm picking the next game."
Charlie piped up before Don could say yes or no. "Did you want to try the A.I.D. subroutine?"
"Sure, why not?" Billy moved to look at Charlie's clipboard over his shoulder. "What've you got?"
Don watched the two with trepidation, not certain he liked the mischievous gleam in Billy's eyes. He's going to make me pay for 'dying' so often...