ATF Universe


Vin's helicopter made the trip to the University Trauma Center in less than ten minutes. The medic tending him had gotten medical orders to add dopamine, a medicine to raise Vin's blood pressure. Now that he was warm, his blood pressure had begun to fall. Additional fluids had not helped. He had remained unresponsive and needed assistance to breathe.

As soon as the helicopter skids kissed the ground, the medical team moved Vin in to the trauma center. Dr. Grady began his evaluation while the respiratory therapist placed Vin on a mechanical ventilator. "Ok, we've got an obviously fractured femur and compound of the right forearm. What else do we know?" The doctor looked at the medic.

"Mr Tanner was a victim in a plane crash about 48 hours ago. Trapped in the plane he was exposed to cold and rain for an extended period, that's unknown at this time. There are two other vics coming in by ambulance. He was intubated in the other helicopter for respiratory arrest; medic told me he can't see . There's a large swelling at the base of his skull; no basal or raccoons evident. His heart rate has been 120's for me with a lot of ectopics . . . initially. I got a blood pressure of 90/50 and gave him that 1000cc's of Lactated ringers you ordered, when it dropped so low in the chopper; got no results so I started the dopamine . . . his blood pressure is back up to 85 systolic, but now we've kicked his heart rate into the 130's." The medic handed over his paper work to the trauma nurse as he gave his running account.

"His spun crit is only 16." The ER technician said as he came back with a catheter set. Grady frowned, knowing that the amount of blood in Vin's body was only a third of what it should be.

"Well, that explains a lot. He's definitely bleeding from somewhere, not to mention what he has lost through his femur break, probably at least a couple units of blood right there. " Dr. Grady said grimly. "Ok, let's get him three units of 0-Neg right now and type and cross him for 8 units, stat." Looking down at Vin the doctor studied his face. "So, young man, what did you get yourself into?"

Letting the x-ray technician start, the doctor gave orders for the orthopedic attending to be called and contacted the OR. "Janie? This is Grady down in trauma one. I've got a young victim of a plane crash down here. I'm gonna need a room in about 30 minutes. I'm gonna do an exploratory lap on him. He's most likely bleeding into his belly. I don't have pictures yet or a CAT, but I'll have them before we get there. Set up for a Kirschner's wire, we'll pin his right femur while we've got him under and get the ortho regular setup . . . there's a compound of his right forearm. I'm setting up 8 units, giving him 2 O-Negs down here. Make sure the ICU gets a Stryker bed frame and Russel's traction set up for him when I'm finished. Anything else I'll up date you. Oh, wait. Get me Chod in plastics. This is a really good looking kid and he's got a nasty lac above his right eye. Want somebody with good hands working on it. Don't take no for an answer. Ok?"

Grady listened to Janie's response and answered a couple of questions before hanging up. Turning to the nurse, he asked about vital signs, as he was still not happy. "Heart rate is still too high. Give him two more O-Neg and lower the dose of the dopamine. If I have to I'll use an alpha presser on him. How soon for the CAT scan?" Grady watched as the nurses, residents and technicians prepared Vin for transportation to the scan room next door. He reexamined Vin's abdomen, and this time pressing on the lower left side made Vin's body jerk and move away from his hand.

"Ok, Barb?" Grady turned and looked at the nurse. "How's his pressure?"

"Still hanging at 85/60 despite the four units. His heart rate is now 140's. We've got almost no urine out, what is there is bloody. His pupils are about 3 cms but I can't get any reaction. They said he was blind at the scene." She looked at him expectantly. "Radiology says his spinal and cervicals were clean. Femur is fractured in the lower third. Right arm ulnar and radial, double break in the ulnar. Skull series he's still reading. You sure you want a CAT?" Barb continued monitoring Vin's blood pressure and pulse, frowning as she did. Hanging more lactated ringers IV solution, she studied the handsome man on the table in front of her.

"Mary?" Barb asked. "Any family with him?"

"The flight medic said that he is an ATF agent and that the two other victims coming in were rescued by the rest of their team. Seems they took a helicopter and went after this one and the others when Search and Rescue wouldn't because of weather. They're all coming by land from the airport with the others. Should be here any time." Mary said as she tried to wipe away some of the blood from Vin's face.

Grady came in from the radiology room. "Ok, I'm not going to wait on CAT scan. This kid needs to be opened up so I can get a look at his spleen. Barb, call OR and let them know we're on our way. Did we get any of his blood down yet?"

"Yes, Dr. Grady. I'm just hanging the first two units now." Mary said as she attached the blood tubing to Vin's IV.

With Barb and the technician's help she got Vin attached to traveling monitors. Grady left Vin in the care of his residents and nurses and went to scrub for surgery. Five minutes later Vin followed him up the elevator to the surgical suite, with no one but medical staff around him to care for his needs.

Chris sat in the back of the ambulance that held Ezra. He had been sleeping since Nathan had given him the morphine. The medics had reinforced the arm and ankle splints and given him more IV fluids. Shaking his head, Chris continued to be amazed at the surprises Ezra gave him. He was the only reason Vin and JD were alive and Chris knew he would never be able to repay Ezra for that gift. Pulling up the blankets tighter around the con man's chest, his thoughts turned to Vin.

He hated that his sharpshooter had to be without one of them. It had seemed all wrong that Vin should be separated from them, just when he needed the support of his family the most. Chris could only hope that Vin was being cared for by people who knew how special his friend was.

Dr. Grady was making his initial incision to remove Vin's spleen, when JD had his first seizure.

Traveling behind Ezra's ambulance, the young agent had been resting quietly on the stretcher in another unit. Buck noticed it first. Trapped in head and body restraints and splints, only JD's face and legs showed the first effects.

"Nathan!! Look at JD! What's happening?" Buck grabbed Nathan's arm and woke him. Exhausted from the stresses of the last few hours, Nathan had gratefully turned over the care of his last two patients to the local EMS paramedics. Sitting up right, he saw JD's feet bagging on the stretcher and his splints moving rhythmically.

"Watch his airway! Get me the suction." The female medic supported JD's head while she worked to clear his mouth of the secretions the seizure had produced. "Ok, that was a short one. Only 30 seconds or so. Get me University on the line. I want to let them know we've got a problem here. Put the sirens on, John. Let's move."

Looking at Nathan, she nodded to him. "Can you take over suctioning him. I want to talk to the medical center. If he does that again I want to have some sedation standing by." She had just handed Nathan the suction when JD began to seize again. This time the seizure didn't end quickly. Nathan continued watch JD's mouth watching for signs that he was biting his tongue. This time when the seizure ended Nathan slipped a bite block into his mouth. Gently suctioning his mouth, Nathan was troubled to find fresh blood.

"Yeah, that's right. He's had two seizures now in less than three minutes. We're coming with lights and sirens, but there's construction so we may be longer. I'll get some Versed drawn up in case I need it." The medic turned and pulled up the sedation.

"Damn!" Nathan swore as he saw the tremors start again on JD's face. Buck slammed his fist into the padded seat next to the stretcher. This time the seizure continued unabated, the medic finally giving her patient 2 mgs of the versed to stop his body from the shaking that threatened to stop his breathing. Nathan grabbed the ambubag and began forcing extra oxygen into JD's lungs. Looking out the front of the ambulance, he was appalled to see traffic at a stand still directly in front of them.

Chris watched as the traffic came to a stop directly in front of his unit. Looking forward he could see the traffic had narrowed to one lane due to construction. However, he couldn't make out why all the lanes of traffic weren't moving. Suddenly he heard a banging on the side door and opened it. Buck was standing there looking agitated.

"Chris, JD's bad. He's been having seizures for the last 5 or 6 minutes. We've got to get out of here. NOW!" Buck was screaming by the time he had finished.

Chris put his hands on Buck to quiet him. Looking up he saw the driver of his ambulance running back towards them.

"Some stupid jerk ran in to the back of another car. He was talking on his cellphone. As a matter of fact, he's still talking on his cell phone. To his lawyer. He's refusing to move. The police can't get through. I've been talking to our dispatcher and he's says they are about fifteen cars back." The medic slammed his hand against the side of the ambulance. "We need to get out of here!"

Chris turned and grabbed his jacket. "Come on Buck, let's go have a discussion with this gentleman."

They could see the man with the cell phone standing next to the front of his car as they approached the accident site. Several bystanders were pacing back and forth, some shouting and cursing the overweight man for refusing to move his car. Chris and Buck walked up beside him.

"Is there a problem here?" Chris said quietly. Placing a hand on Buck's chest to restrain him, he looked directly at the man.

"No. I had a small accident with this other car. My lawyer said not to move until the police come." The man leaned his body away from Chris. Chris was standing a foot away but the man could feel the authority in the figure before him. "I'm not moving my car until the police come. That's final."

"Is it?" Chris stepped one foot forward and placed his hand around the man's hand, as he held the phone. Increasing the pressure on his hand, Chris saw the pain in the man's face. "Nice phone. Can I have it?" The man let the phone go as the pain in his hand became unbearable. "Move your car. Now." Chris stared hard into the man's eyes.

The man backed up and reached for his door handle, there was something in the tall man's eyes he wanted no part of. Starting his car as quickly as he could, he pulled forward and gunned the motor. Buck quickly helped the other driver move her car. Chris threw the phone on the ground and motioned the ambulances forward. Both men climbed aboard and the two units sped away toward University Medical.

"Your friend is something else! That man backed away like he had seen the devil himself." The female medic continued watching JD for any more signs of seizures, as Buck climb back inside.

"Well, yes, ma'am. I guess you could say that. Maybe it's just the black clothes he wears." Buck said in passing as he focused on JD's still form resting on the stretcher.

"Maybe." The medic was certain that wasn't it, but she didn't have time to ponder the scene she had just witnessed. Turning her attention back to JD, she checked his blood pressure again as Nathan watched he continued to give the young agent more oxygen.

As the two units made there way quickly to the hospital, Vin lay sedated on an operating room table on it's second floor. Dr. Grady had removed the bleeding spleen, and was in the process of cauterizing the remaining small areas of bleeding.

A team of orthopedic surgeons and residents were placing steel pins across the top of Vin's right femur and attaching plates to the bone to reinforce and realign it. The right forearm had been plated and Kirschner steel traction wires placed in the wrist and elbow. Vin's arm would be later suspended from the wrist wire with weights applied to the one on the elbow. The traction applied would be necessary for a week to ten days until the bones began to heal. A Russel's traction setup would suspend his femur from a wire pulling up on it as his lower leg rested on a sling. The entire leg bent at the knee.

"Ok, how we doing guys?" Grady looked at the anesthesiologist and the orthopedic doctors.

"I'm on his seventh unit of blood. His pressure is holding at 110 systolic and I'm off the dopamine. Heart rate is 115 and still slightly irregular, but I'm replacing his potassium. That should help. I've got him covered with two types of broad spectrum antibiotics. How much longer do you think we'll be?" The anesthesiologist checked Vin's pressure again and looked up over the drapes.

"I'll be another 30 or 40 minutes with his leg. Sorry this is a bad break. The arm wound is dirty so I'm gonna leave it open and we'll use Danken's solution on it for a few days. Chod's finishing a facelift in the next room. Said to tell you he'd come in and take a look at what needs to be done in a few minutes. We can probably finish here and he can sew that lac in the ICU. We gonna keep him intubated and quiet for a few days, Jack?" The orthopedic surgeon looked up at Grady as he continued to watch his resident screw in another plate to Vin's femur bone.

"Would like to see what his neuro status is like, but he's too badly injured right now to risk letting him get wake up and become agitated. I'll probably keep him on heavy sedation for at least 48 hours. I'm worried about respiratory problems with all this blood and fluid we've had to give him. Not to mention the exposure. Well, good thing he's young and was physically fit before he got hurt. He's not out of the woods yet at all. Ok, gentlemen. Shall we get out of his belly?"

Grady and the trauma team worked another hour before transferring Vin to his bed and setting the traction to his right arm and leg. Moving carefully, they transferred him to the ICU.

JD and Ezra were triaged into separate trauma rooms as soon as their ambulances arrived. The ER attending immediately ordered JD to be on continuous sedation to prevent any more seizures.

"I need to know what's causing this so I want him quiet until I can get him to CAT scan and MRI. There's some type of head injury that's not obvious happening here. Jane, get me the neurosurgery chief on the phone. Ok, let's clear his neck and spine with x-rays. His vitals look fine at this point. I want to get a good look at that shoulder and we need to get these splints off his arms. Get me all views those arms and shoulders. Heck, get me everything from his hips upward. Type and cross me 6 units of blood." He looked at his ER chief resident. "I'm gonna go check on the other one. Make sure you follow through with MIR as fast as you can. I don't think we're gonna see what we want on the CAT scan."

Ezra lay on the stretcher trying to ignore the pain in his arm and head. The pain in his ankle had been reduced to a throbbing after the morphine. Now that the pain medication was wearing off, his head ache was returning even stronger. The light from the room made it painful to even open his eyes so Nathan had placed a wet towel over his forehead.

"Nathan," he whispered. The mere sound of his own voice caused waves of pain to slash at his head. "How are Vin and JD? They're gonna die because I didn't get help soon enough, aren't they? Aren't they Nathan." Ezra felt the tears start to form. He tried to not cry but, his head hurt so much and he felt like such a failure. Turning on his side carefully, he hid his face away from Nathan.

Nathan placed a reassuring hand on Ezra's shoulder and rubbed it gently as the man on the stretcher continued to cry. Nathan sat heavily on the chair beside him and rested his head against the wall. The emotional and physical exhaustion of the last 12 hours began to catch up with him too. Perhaps they had all been too late for Vin and JD. Chris had been unable to get any information from the ER doctor's about Vin. All anyone would tell Larabee, was that Vin was in surgery and had multiple serious injuries.

+ + + + + + +

The MRI scan was displayed on the x-ray readout table for the neurosurgeons and radiologist's to see.

"Looks like a definite Diffuse Axonal injury to me. No sign of bleeding or infract of the brain itself in any hemisphere. You can see some increase in the size of these white matter fibers as they run through his cervical vertebrae. The shearing probably happened as a result of the force of the plane impact and then his head being whipped forward." Turning away from the radiology board, Dr. Demier, the neurologist looked at his resident. "Ok, let's get him upstairs to the ICU. He's probably going to give us all the signs of this type of injury. High blood pressure, excessive sweating and high temperatures. This isn't the worse I've seen but I don't expect he'll wake up for a couple days. I don't like the fact that he had those seizures, but I rather just watch him rather than start him on any medication. We've got to do all we can to make sure he gets all the other injuries fixed quickly. I don't want this kid to get an infection and have that weaken him. Get ortho to set those arms and I want either Chod or Barkens to look at that shoulder wound. That's a terrible source of infection for him. Alright. Any questions?" Diemer stood and taking a last look at the MRI scan clicked off the light. "Damn. I hate cases like this. Damn." Picking up his coffee, he followed the resident out to the ICU.


Chris continued to pace back and forth in the waiting room. Waiting for word on Vin and JD. Hell, even more info about Ezra, who he already knew was alright, would be better than the silence that crowded the waiting room at that moment. He looked around.

Nathan, who had been kicked out of the ER and away from Ezra just half an hour ago, had fallen asleep on one of the couches. He couldn't blame him. Just the emotional stress alone, knowing that he and the others had put so much faith and dependence on his medical skills, would have been enough to exhaust the man. Never mind that he'd been awake for over twenty-four hours.

Buck sat on one of the hard plastic chairs, refusing to get comfortable, refusing to allow his body to relax until he had news about JD, good news about JD. His elbows were propped up on his knees and his head rested upon his clenched fists. Chris could see the big man's toes tapping impatiently within his boots.

He looked for Josiah. The former preacher was not there. Chris looked at his watch. Josiah should have been there by now. "Where's Josiah? Either of you heard from him?" he asked abruptly, waking Nathan and gaining Buck's attention.

"He ain't here yet?" Nathan asked, rubbing at tired eyes as he sat up.

"Figured that Kimbell fella would get him here," Buck replied.

"They're old buddies, maybe they're just talkin' old times or somethin'," Nathan suggested.

"No. Josiah'd come here first," the mustached agent corrected. "He'd want to make sure the boys were okay," he added, starting to get worried.

Chris headed for the waiting room's pay phone and started looking for the airport's phone number. Buck and Nathan watched their friend on the phone. They saw him sigh, knew he'd been put on hold. Then they saw a look of confusion and then worry crossed Chris's face, before he dragged a hand first through his hair, then down the side of his face,  and nodded and said something to the person on the phone and hanging up.

"What's up?" Nathan asked.

"Josiah's still at the airport," Chris began. "Apparently after he got out of the helicopter he found his way into one of the hangars and locked himself in an office. Airport security was gonna go in after him - he pulled a gun on the guy who owns the office. I talked them out of it. Said I'd go down there and handle it," he finished, pausing to lean heavily on the wall beside the phone.

"What do you think is wrong with him? Why would he pull a gun on somebody like that?" Buck asked, confused.

"This was the first time he'd flown since the Vietnam War," the blond man began to explain. "Started telling me a story about a rescue mission he flew in Laos when we were still in Denver. I think this may have hit too close for comfort," he continued, heading toward the hospital's doors. He stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. He turned to see Nathan.

"I'll see to Josiah," the dark man said quietly. "You stay here. For Vin."

Chris nodded, his eyes telling Nathan how grateful he was for the offer. "Call me," was all he said before watching Nathan head out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Forty minutes later Nathan found himself being led through several airport terminals and outside toward ssome of the small plane hangars. Several airport security guards and police officers were strategically placed around the area outside one of them, ready to take out the unstable ATF agent if necessary. Once inside, he was led to an office. Nathan approached the door cautiously, and knocked tentatively. "Josiah? It's me, Nate," he called. "You in there? Let me in."

When he got no response, he looked expectantly at the security guards. One of them carefully and quietly placed a key into the lock. Nathan opened the door slowly. "Just me, Nathan," he called into the room as he opened the door, crept in. "Don't shoot me, now. You know Chris, he'll have a fit."

He looked around the small office and found Josiah sitting on the floor, back up against the wall, knees to his chest. He saw the wetness that stained the big man's cheeks and shirt below. His gun was on the floor next to his feet. Nathan nodded to one of the police officers outside the door before closing and locking it again. "Hey," he said quietly, moving slowly to slide down the wall and sit a few feet away from Josiah. "Heard you been causing some trouble around here."

No response.

"You done real good, Josiah. All three of 'em got to the hospital okay. They're all still alive because of you."

"I almost killed all of us," Josiah whispered. "I was back there. With the kids. I was fighting the headwinds, trying to keep the bird in the air. Trying to keep from getting shot. I watched the other bird go down. Saw the crows."

Nathan stayed silent as he listened to the older man speak. He wasn't sure what Josiah was talking about, but he knew he couldn't interrupt. Couldn't ask questions. Josiah seemed to need to keep talking. So he stayed silent.

"Saw three kids try to jump clear of her when she crashed," the big man went on. "Got shot for their efforts. Then those winds started picking up again." He paused and looked at Nathan then. "Today . . . shit, I was right there again with that damn wind. I was shaking so bad, waiting for the bullets to hit again. Take out the rotor. If Chris hadn't come back to the cockpit when he did and helped me with the rudders, I would have crashed us for sure. Just like I did in Laos. When I killed those kids."

"Josiah, no matter what you're thinkin', you didn't kill those kids," Nathan cut in, putting up a hand to keep Josiah from arguing. "What were you? Seventeen? Eighteen? I bet you never even got any real combat training to fly, did you?"

"Don't matter. I crashed then. I almost let it happen again today," he replied.

"But you didn't, Josiah," Nathan finally put in, putting a firm, yet gentle hand on the older man's arm. "Like I said. You done real good. You did what you had to do and flew that helicopter. And I can tell you right now, that if Vin and JD had to wait for Search and Rescue to find them, they'd have been died for sure. And Ezra wouldn't have been too far behind."

"They're okay?" Josiah asked, looking up again.

"Ezra's gonna be just fine. Vin was still in surgery and JD was on his way up to ICU when I left," he replied. "But how about you come with me back to the hospital and we'll find out for sure?" he asked, standing up and putting out his hand. Josiah took a deep breath and let it out before taking the offered hand, saying, "Haven't seen any modern day crows."


"OK people, he looks good," Dr Grady made some notations on Vin's chart and handed it to one of the ICU nurses. "Nice job on those stitches, Mike," he congratulated Dr. Chod. "Anybody here, waiting on this kid?" he asked.

"His boss is in the waiting room, with some of his coworkers. Apparently, there's no family," Jan, the critical care nurse assigned to Vin answered him. "I heard some buzz about them stealing a helicopter and bringing this guy and two others in from the wreck."

"I'm going to go talk to them," Grady informed the staff, already halfway out the door.

+ + + + + + +

Buck was sure Chris was going to wear a hole in the floor he'd been pacing since Nathan had left. Not that he blamed Chris. Hell, he'd pace from here to China, if it would just get them some info on Vin and JD. Shit, they couldn't even get in to see Ezra for a couple of minutes and he wasn't even in ICU.

At that moment, a distinguished looking man in blue hospital scrubs, entered the waiting room. "Mr. Larabee," he called, reading Chris's name off of the chart in his hand.

"That's me," Chris answered quickly, as he and Buck intercepted the man before he took three steps into the small room.

"I'm Dr. Grady," the older man introduced himself. "I operated on Mr. Tanner."

"How is he Doc?" Buck interjected, ignoring Chris's glare. "I'm Buck Wilmington, I work with Vin."

"Your friend is lucky to be alive. He's got a broken leg and arm, internal injuries. We had to remove his spleen. The gash on his forehead goes clear to the bone. Dr. Chod, is one of our best plastic surgeon's and he's finishing up with that now. He's also got one hell of a bump on the back of his head. If that swelling's what's causing his blindness, then his eyesight will probably return as the swelling decreases." He paused for a moment and then delivered the rest of his news. "Unfortunately, we won't know until later, if the blindness is caused by that, or something more serious. He could have a detached retina or the optic nerve could be severely damaged. If it's either one of those things, his blindness will likely be permanent. We won't know, until we can scope the eye or do an MRI. I'm sorry, but that's going to have to wait until he's had some time to heal."

"Dr. Grady, is Vin gonna be alright?" Chris absorbed what he'd heard and asked the only question that truly mattered, with his heart in his throat.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Larabee, I just can't tell you that yet," Dr. Grady answered honestly. He didn't believe in sparing people. He'd seen too many people devastated when their false hopes were dashed. "He's young and healthy and that's a plus. But he's been through a lot. We'll do everything we can, but I'm afraid it's not just in our hands now."

Chris digested what the doctor had told him. "Can we see him?" he inquired.

"Only one of you, for no more than ten minutes. He still has a long way to go and he needs rest more than anything," Grady informed them. "You should know, that we're keeping him heavily sedated for the next few days. He's going to be in a lot of pain and we can't have him moving around, aggravating his injuries right now. He'll probably sleep through your visit."

"Go ahead Chris," Buck urged. "I want to see if there's any word on JD.

+ + + + + + +

Three floors down, Nathan and Josiah rushed through the emergency room doors and hurried to the information desk. "Excuse me, ma'am," Nathan asked the woman busily typing forms, "Can you please tell me how Agent Standish is?"

"First name?" she questioned in a bored tone without looking up.

"Ezra, Ezra Standish ma'am. He was in a plane crash and they brought him in about four hours ago," Nathan supplied her with details.

Typing into a computer, she quickly found Ezra's name. "Are you family?" she questioned.

"We're the only family he's got right now, ma'am," Josiah's rich voice was soft.

"Studying their worried faces, she softened. "I'm not really supposed to give any information out to non family, but I suppose I can tell you. They've moved Agent Standish to Room 247b in orthopedics."

"Thank you," Josiah spoke and hurried to follow Nathan down the hall to the elevator.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee faced down armed and desperate men on a daily basis. He routinely faced gunfire, criminals determined to kill him and irate bureaucrats with huge egos. He braved all of them, without flinching. This was different though, he thought as he heard the beeps and whirs of the machines keeping his best friend alive, before he entered the ICU. Here, he had no power to effect the outcome. He couldn't will Vin's body to keep going and he couldn't use his glare to frighten death away. This was different.

"Let me warn you, Mr. Larabee. Mr. Tanner is connected to a number of machines. Some of them look rather barbaric, but they're all quite necessary," Dr. Grady said as he pulled aside the curtain separating Vin's bed from the rest of the unit.

Chris nearly gasped out loud when he saw his best friend amidst the traction set ups and the machines. Vin looked so fragile, compared to the steel wires and shiny chrome.

"This is Jan, Vin's nurse and this is Vin's friend, Chris Larabee," Dr. Grady introduced a small brunette woman, clad in a yellow paper gown and hat and plastic gloves, who checked tubes and wires and monitors constantly and still managed to smile reassuringly at Chris. "She's one of our very best and Vin is her only patient right now, so you don't have to worry about him," the doctor did his best to anticipate Chris's questions.

Chris approached the bed Vin was sleeping in, with some trepidation. The metal sides were up and his face was turned towards Chris, so that he could clearly see the bruising that covered the right side. Some kind of clear glue closed the large cut on his forehead. He looked so young, Chris thought helplessly as he reached a tentative hand out to touch Vin. He looked at the nurse, for reassurance and was relieved when he saw her touch Vin's uninjured hand gently.

"It's alright, Mr. Larabee, you can touch him. It's good for our patients to know, that their loved ones are here. Just be careful of the traction rigs. If you accidentally bump them, it's very painful." With that, she bent close to Vin, and spoke in a quiet voice, "Vin, your friend Chris is here."

Vin didn't stir and Chris touched Vin's face and in an emotion filled voice spoke to him, "Hey cowboy," he said softly, "we're all here. JD and Ezra are gonna be just fine." He only hoped he wasn't lying to his friend. "So, you have to get better too, OK?"

+ + + + + + +

Chris's ten minutes was almost up, when he heard a commotion and looked up to see a number of nurses and doctors wheeling in a stretcher, along with numerous machines and IV rigs. And sleeping on the stretcher looking pale and so damn young, that it made Chris's breath catch in his throat, was the bruised and broken form of JD Dunne.


Josiah went on ahead to Ezra's room while Nathan stopped at the nurse's station to see what he could find out about the southerner's condition. Nathan knew Ezra was upset about Vin and JD. In the ER Standish had blamed himself for not doing enough to help them.  However, judging from how bad off he was, it was amazing that the southerner had been able to do as much as he had.   From applying the traction to Vin's leg, to rigging the shelter and keeping JD from hurting himself further. Nathan was just sorry he hadn't had a chance to talk with Ezra before he'd been kicked out of the ER.

Josiah crept quietly into the room and stood at the foot of the bed, studying the occupant's pale, battered face. Any doubts he had about the unauthorized commandeering of the helicopter and all of the past demons the flight had dredged up, quickly dissolved as he watched the slow, steady rise and fall of Ezra's chest. Nathan joined him a few moments later, quietly opening the door in case Ezra was asleep.

Ezra's left ankle was propped on pillows. His newly casted left arm also rested on pillows at his side. They could see Ezra had his eyes closed as they moved to the side of his bed.

"If you are trying to remain silent you are both failing miserably," Ezra said in his familiar accent. The undercover agent opened his eyes and Nathan could see he had been given something for the pain. Ezra's usually vibrant emerald eyes were dull.

"How ya doin' Ez?" Nathan asked.

"Tired," Ezra answered quietly then shivered. "And I fear I shall never be warm again."

"Brother Ezra what you did out there was a miracle," Josiah said.

"If I had been a better pilot none of it would have been necessary," Ezra said bitterly.

"What are you talking about?" Nathan asked astonished.

"The crash was my fault," Ezra replied. "I should have informed Mr. Larabee that I took up flying because Mother wanted to impress her friends. I came to enjoy it but I haven't kept up with it."

"That's crazy Ezra," Josiah said in his deep baritone. "There was no way you could have prevented the crash."

"You did everything you could to land safely, Ezra," Nathan tried to convince him. "The crash wasn't your fault."

"I beg to differ Mr. Jackson," Ezra disagreed.

"Well what you did for JD and Vin saved their lives," Nathan said trying to get Ezra to take credit for something.

"I didn't do enough," Ezra said angrily, "I should have done more."

"You're wrong," Nathan disagreed. "I saw what you did for Vin. Your idea for the traction probably saved his leg."

"I don't wish to discuss this any more," Ezra said closing his eyes. "I'm tired."

Nathan gestured Josiah away from Ezra's bed.

"So Brother Nate how bad is he?" Josiah asked.

Nathan recounted what he had learned. "Badly sprained ankle. Dehydration, concussion, and a broken wrist."

"He seems to have a fever," Josiah commented looking over at Ezra.

"Yeah he does," Nathan agreed. "Could just be from exposure or exhaustion, or he could have an infection starting up. These are all things to worry about, but I'm more worried about his mental state."

Ezra listened to Nathan and Josiah talking about him. He desperately wanted to ask about JD and Vin but he was afraid. He knew their injuries were serious and he didn't want to find out that Vin's blindness was permanent or that JD was in a coma. He just wanted to sleep but he couldn't get comfortable and he was so cold. Ezra shivered and moaned when he moved his ankle. He jumped when he felt another blanket being thrown over him. He opened his eyes to see Josiah sitting next to him.

"Go to sleep Ezra," Josiah said. "I won't leave you alone."

+ + + + + + +

Chris watched as the medical staff wheeled JD into the room, his hands clenched in helpless rage as he looked at the two youngest members of his team. Monitors, tubes and wires surrounded his two friends, dwarfing their seemingly small bodies. It was a miracle that Vin and JD had been able to hang on until help had arrived for them. Trying hard not to think about the hours of agony Vin, JD and Ezra had endured, waiting for their rescue, he saw Buck step into the room. The mustached man looked at JD, then over at Chris. The two men's eyes met briefly as each stood guard over their best friend, each wishing he had been there in the wreckage to protect and comfort the young men now lying so still and lifeless in the beds before them.

The nurse named Jan walked up to Chris. "I'm sorry Mr. Larabee, but your time is up."

"Please, Miss, can't I stay a little longer?" Chris pleaded.

"No, I'm sorry, you can't. It's already been longer than the 10 minutes, and Mr. Tanner needs his rest."

"I . . ." Chris began.

"We'll take good care of him for you, please don't worry," Jan said sympathetically.

"I know," Chris said, hanging his head, his hand gripping Vin's bed rail tightly. "I just don't want him to be alone," he finished in an anguished whisper.

"He won't be, Mr. Larabee," Jan assured kindly. "I'll be checking on him all the time. And once he's stabilized, I'm sure Dr. Grady will let you visit more often, and for longer periods of time."

Looking unconvinced, but knowing that Vin's recovery rested on following the doctor's orders to the letter, he left his best friend's bedside, giving Vin's hand a reassuring squeeze before he walked away.

"May I see him for just a minute?" he asked the nurse who was working on JD as he neared the younger man's bed. The nurse looked to Jan, who nodded her head.

"Thank you," Chris said softly and approached the bed.

"It ain't right Chris," Buck whispered hoarsely, as he stared down at JD's pale face. "It should be me layin' there, not the kid. He's too young to be goin' through this." Anything else he was going to say was cut off by a small sob. Shaking his head angrily, Buck composed himself quickly, wiping away the moisture from his eyes. It wouldn't help JD if he fell apart.

Chris gave Buck's shoulder a light squeeze. Words failed him as he looked down at the youngest of the team. Laying mostly on his side, a mass of bandages showed through the back of his hospital gown, and both arms were swathed in plaster. His ashen face was bruised and cut, his lips, cracked and torn. As he stared at his two friends in the harsh light of the ICU, Chris suppressed a shiver. JD looked like a child's broken doll, Vin, like a mangled, beat up toy.

"I'm so sorry JD," Chris said quietly, choking up as he looked at the all too still body.

"I'm sorry, but you'll need to go now," the nurse prodded Chris gently.

Chris nodded and left the room quietly. Eyes glued to JD's unconscious form, Buck never even noticed when his oldest friend left the room.

"Come on JD, don't do this," he pleaded, stroking the younger man's hair back from his face tenderly. That and his feet and legs were the only places on his body where he dared to touch him. Everything else was bandaged, bruised or attached to a monitor. "Wake up for ol' Buck. I know you can do it," he urged.

But the young face stayed silent on the pillow. The expressive hazel eyes remained closed.

"I ain't givin' up on you kid," Buck leaned forward to whisper in JD's ear. "I'm gonna stay here until they kick me out. Then I'll just find another way back in," he promised.

"Mr. Wilmington, I'm sorry but . . . ," JD's nurse started to say.

"No! No! It's not time to go yet, please!" Buck begged insistently. "I'll be real quiet, you won't even know I'm here," he pleaded.

"Please, Mr. Wilmington, I understand how you must feel, but you're disturbing the other patients, and Mr. Dunne needs to rest while he can," the nurse said softly, trying to reason with the distraught man. She continued in a regretful tone, "In his condition, we won't be able to give him any kind of medication that might mask other symptoms."

The meaning of that struck Buck like a blow to the chest. JD was going to be in pain, and he'd have to endure it. "Oh God, you mean. . . " Buck began, then broke off quickly as he felt as flutter of movement from JD's hand as he held it gently between both of his. "He moved!" Buck exclaimed to the nurse in an excited whisper. "He moved his fingers! JD, JD, son, can you hear me?" Buck said softly.

Taking one of his hands from JD's, he reached forward and stroked JD's hair. "You need a haircut again, kid," he said in a choked whisper. "Your damned hair is gettin' almost as long as Vin's," he tried to joke, hoping it would help rouse the younger man.

"So . . . full . . . 'a . . . cr . . . ap . . . B-B . . . uck . . ." JD struggled out, gasping from the effort, face contorting from the pain that racked his small frame. His eyes flicked open to stare at his best friend.

"That's what you say kid, but the ladies think different," Buck teased, blinking back tears of gratitude that JD was awake and lucid.

"Must . . . be that . . . an-animal . . . m-mag . . . ," JD started to say, but seemed to tire from the effort. Then, Buck watched in horror as JD's eyes rolled up into his head and his body suddenly spasmed, clenching tightly, then just as quickly relaxing again as the seizure ended. Monitors began to shrill as the nurse pushed Buck out of the way and began to examine JD.

"Please, Mr. Wilmington, stay out of the way!" the nurse said as she worked on JD's unconscious form.

"Is he gonna be all right?" Buck whispered fearfully.

"Mr. Wilmington, I don't know," the nurse stated with exasperation. "And you really need to leave now, " she ordered as she began to pull the curtain around JD's cubicle closed.

Another nurse appeared behind him and escorted Buck to the door, then went back into the room to assist with JD's care. Buck looked back quickly, seeing the shadows of the nurses on the curtain as they worked on his best friend. Heartsick, knowing there was nothing he could do for JD in here, except get in the way, he walked out of the room.

+ + + + + + +

"How's JD doing?" Chris asked as Buck entered the small waiting room.

"He woke up, Chris, just for a minute. Seemed to know who I was and everything. Then he . . . then he . . . just started . . . thrashin' around, and I . . . I . . ." Buck sank to the chair next to Chris and looked up at his friend in utter despair. The next words he spoke tore out of his throat as an anguished sob. "They made me leave Chris. I don't know how he is. JD could be in there dyin' and I'm not even with him."

Chris looked at his oldest friend sadly. There was nothing he could say to Buck that would make him feel better. He sure as hell wasn't going to lie to Buck and tell him that everything would be fine and that Vin and JD were going to be all right. Especially not when he didn't know that for sure himself, and definitely not at a time when they both knew how seriously injured the two youngest of the Seven were. There wasn't anything to do know except wait and pray. And Chris Larabee was bad at both of those things.

The two men sat in silence for about ten minutes, before Chris finally exploded.

"I should have been in that damned plane!" Chris hissed angrily. "I should have been with them!"

"And done what Chris? Gotten hurt yourself, so you could be layin' in there with them? How selfish do you think the three of them are? Do you really think that's what Vin, or JD or Ezra would want for you?" Buck bit back at Chris sharply.

"No, I don't think they'd want that, Buck," Chris said, wearily, the long hours of worrying and waiting finally taking their toil on the leader of the seven. "But at least I would have been there to help Ezra take care of them. God, Buck, when I think about Vin, strapped to that seat and me pulling on the rope to get in the plane.". He leaned his head against the wall, eyes raised to the ceiling, seeing the crash site in his mind. He replayed the rescue over and over in his head, looking down at the wreckage, hearing Vin and JD's agonized screams. Why wasn't I there with them? he berated himself.

Buck was about to reply when he noticed Nathan heading toward them.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan had come to the ICU knowing he'd find Chris there. He knew if Chris talked to Ezra the undercover agent would believe him. He found Chris and Buck standing outside to door to ICU peeking through the glass. He knew they were feeling helpless but he couldn't think of anything to put their minds at ease. Vin and JD were critical, and it would be foolish to reassure everyone that they would be okay.

"Chris can I talk to you?" Nathan said.

"What is it Nathan?" Chris asked with a sigh.

"Can you come talk to Ezra?" Nathan began. "He blames himself for what happened."

"That's crazy," Chris exclaimed. "It wasn't anyone's fault."

"We know that," Nathan agreed. "And I think Ezra knows that also but he still feels responsible for Vin and JD."

"Alright," Chris said running his hand through his short blonde hair. "I'll talk to him. I can't get back in to see Vin again for a few hours, so I might as well get Ezra to accept the fact that he's the reason Vin and JD are still alive."

Chris left Nathan with Buck and made his way to Ezra's room. He hated leaving Vin but there was nothing he could do for him right now. Another member of his team needed him and truth be told he wanted to be needed. Chris got in the elevator and headed for Ezra's floor and walked to his room. He opened the door to find Josiah sitting next to Ezra's bed. The undercover agent had his eyes closed but Chris could sense he wasn't asleep.

Josiah looked up when he walked in and smiled. He stood up and let Chris have his chair. He walked out of the room and left Chris alone with Ezra. Chris sat down in the chair and looked at Ezra.

"Ezra," Chris called. "We need to talk."

"I don't wish to discuss anything at this time," Ezra replied opening his eyes and turning towards Chris.

"Let's get one thing straight, the crash wasn't your fault," Chris stated. "And if it wasn't for your quick thinking and resourcefulness Vin and JD would be dead."

Ezra didn't know what to say. The fear and helplessness he had felt over the past couple of days were taking their toll. He knew the burden of responsibility was no longer his and he was willing to give it up.

Chris watched as Ezra finally let his guard down. He knew Ezra didn't like being responsible for anyone but himself. After the crash ,Ezra had had no choice but to help Vin and JD. Chris knew that Ezra had doubted his ability to care for the two youngest. Chris took Ezra's good hand and squeezed it.

"Ya done good Pard," Chris said. He wasn't surprised when he saw the tears spill from Ezra's eyes.


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