ATF Universe


Nathan looked up when Chris finally walked back to the ICU.

"Ezra doin' okay, now?" he asked.

"Yeah. He'll be just fine," their leader replied, raking a tired hand through his hair.

Josiah had made room on the couch for Chris to sit down, but he walked right past. He moved to stand next to Buck, still hovering near the doors, hoping to see JD again. He put a hand on his old friend's shoulder and gave it a squeeze.

"Any news?" he asked.

Buck just shook his head, keeping his gaze toward the door, as Chris took up a similar stance.

"They ain't gonna last, least not without things gettin' ugly," Nathan spoke, taking the empty seat next to Josiah.

The former missionary nodded his head as he looked the two men at the doorway. He knew Nathan was referring to Chris and Buck, not Vin and JD. They were all still on edge, having dealt with many emotions and stresses these past forty-eight hours. Finding out that their friends were missing, and then that they'd crashed in the Rockies. The frustration that had set in when the Search and Rescue Team refused to look for them. And then, the triumph when they finally took matters in their own hands, that had ended all too quickly when they realized the conditions their friends were in. Sure, they'd gotten them all to the hospital alive, but there was no assurance that Vin and JD were going to stay that way. Compared to all of those things, Lack of food and sleep might seem like minor concerns. But they were the only problems he and Nathan thought they could reconcile.

"Which one you want?" he asked.

"I'll take Buck," the dark man replied, getting up.

"Shouldn't have given you the choice," Josiah grumbled, knowing his task was going to be even harder.

"Chris, Buck," Nathan began. "Time to take a break."

The two men, in unison, began to shake their heads, their mouths open ready to protest, when Josiah cut in, "All of us."

"I can't leave him," Buck said. "I can't leave him right now. I . . . I . . ."

"I know, Buck," Nathan responded. "But we gotta think long term now. You two, hell, none of us, are gonna be any good to any of them if we can't stand on our own two feet."

"He's right," a new voice broke in.

The four men turned around, surprised to see AD Travis standing next to the elevator doors, Dr. Grady with him.

"AD Travis," the four greeted, as one.

"Boys," he returned. "Dr. Grady just gave me an update on their conditions. Said it's going to be awhile before there's any more news, or before you're allowed in again," he continued, noting the hollowed looks in Chris and Buck's eyes at the last statement. "I've got a car downstairs ready to take you to a hotel. Rooms are already booked, with food and clothes waiting for you inside. I suggest, because I'd rather not make it an order, that you go and get fed and cleaned up at the very least. Sleep some if you can," he finished, eyeing all of the men, but especially Chris and Buck.

"Listen to the boss," Josiah urged, eyes pleading with the two to comply. "We can be back here in just a couple of hours."

"Please, gentlemen," Dr. Grady spoke up. "I'm going to have to agree, as well. Agents Tanner and Dunne both have a long way to go and will need your help to recover. They won't have that if you don't have the strength because you refuse to eat or sleep."

"You follow the doctor's orders here, to the letter, boys," Travis began, "and I'll make sure that certain charges pertaining to theft and unauthorized use of a helicopter get swept under the carpet . . ."

"I don't give a flying fuck about no charges!" Buck replied hotly. "I'll spend the rest of my life in jail for the damn thing if JD gets out of this alive!"

"Easy, Buck," Chris soothed, putting a hand on Buck's shoulder.

"Come on. Helicopter aside, we're talking sense. And look at us," Nathan added, gesturing to their clothing. "We haven't slept or eaten in almost forty-eight hours, we're all still covered in mud and blood and armed to boot. Probably scaring half the hospital staff, if not half the hospital, to death."

He began to pull Buck toward the elevator, but the big man still wouldn't give in. He was still seeing JD in the ICU, having the seizure.

"Buck, I hate to do this, but you leave me no choice," Nathan whispered, just before delivering a right cross to Buck's jaw.

Buck began to crumple to the floor, but Nathan got a shoulder under him just in time to heave him up.

"And you thought you got the hard one," he grunted to Josiah.

"You're outnumbered, Chris," Josiah spoke, fully prepared to take a similar action to his boss. "Unless you want to take the same route as Buck, here, I'd cooperate."

The man in black looked around, saw the determined faces of Nathan, Josiah, AD Travis and Dr. Grady, who looked like he could take a few men out, himself. He nodded, defeated, and walked toward the elevator. He looked back at the ICU doors.

"I'm staying. I'll call you if anything changes," Travis promised.

Chris nodded his thanks to his boss and entered the elevator.


After showering and changing and getting some solid food into them, Chris and Buck had reluctantly agreed to rest for a few hours before heading back to the hospital.

Dr. Demier's assistant had called the hotel to schedule a conference during which the neurologist would update Buck on JD's condition, since for all practical purposes, Buck was JD's next of kin. Even though the call was for Buck, there was no way Chris would be kept away.

The two of them sat nervously in the neurologist's cluttered office. Not knowing if the news they were about to hear was bad or good was the worst part.

After what seemed like hours, but was really only a few minutes, Dr. Demier walked in carrying a folder with JD's name on it. It was alarmingly thick, considering JD had only been there a few hours. From the folder he pulled four images and attached them to the view screen behind his desk.

"These are JD's MRI results," he pointed to the first two. Then he indicated the second pair, "and this is a normal scan. . ."

Buck squinted hard at the images, but he wasn't a trained professional. He saw no difference.

As if reading his mind, Dr. Demier said, "As you can see, JD's brain appears almost normal . . ."

"How can that be?" Buck asked. He wasn't being sarcastic, he just didn't see how it was possible that JD could be in as bad shape as he was in and not have something terribly wrong inside his head.

Dr. Demier understood his confusion. "We think that what we are dealing with here is a diagnosis of exclusion… from discovering what's not  wrong, we are better able to ascertain what is wrong. We believe that JD has suffered what is called a diffuse axonic injury to his brain."

Buck was about to ask what the hell that meant when Demier picked up a plastic model of a skull, open on the top with a model of a brain inside. He began to explain. "When you have a concussion, which often leads to bruising or bleeding inside the brain, it's because somehow, the brain itself has impacted with the skull . . ." he slammed the plastic brain against the inside of the cranium.

"However, sometimes, when the head is subjected to a sudden violent movement, the skull twists around the brain." He demonstrated. "This causes the cells to stretch beyond their proper shape and normal alignment. It's what we call a 'global' injury - it can affect the entire brain."

"Oh God . . ." Buck gasped. This sounded worse than he expected. "How bad is that?" He was sure that the answer would be bad news.

"It can be devastating," Dr. Demier answered honestly. "In more severe cases, the cells rupture and tear, and there is permanent damage, or even death . . ."

Buck shook his head. "Dear God, no . . ."

Dr. Demier held up a hand to indicate that he wasn't finished. "However, in a milder injury, the majority of cells can, eventually, heal and return to normal. The fact that there is no clear evidence to indicate that JD's brain is damaged - no bleeding, no swelling, etc. is definitely a positive sign."

"I don't understand," Buck said. "I've seen him . . . he looks so bad . . ."

"Yes, he does," Dr. Demier agreed. "I don't mean to imply this isn't a serious injury, because it is. All of JD's body functions are in jeopardy. His heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, body temperature… right now, they are all very erratic and at any time any or all of them could fluctuate to a degree that is life-threatening. He's a very, very sick boy. . ."

Buck hung his head and rubbed his hand through his hair.

Chris glared at Demier. "What are his chances?"

Demier smiled slightly. "Well, that's the good news. If JD can hang in there until his body stabilizes itself, he has a chance of making a complete recovery."

Buck looked at him in disbelief, not daring to believe what he had just heard.

"Now don't get your hopes up too high," Demier cautioned. "JD is far from out of the woods. But experience has shown that with this type of injury, if there are is no bleeding or tissue damage, recovery is possible. Even then, though, I have to caution you that JD is not just going to wake up and be like he was. It could take days or weeks or even months before he is able to function at the level he was at before the injury. And, it's possible he may never get everything back. His speech, or coordination, or even his ability to process information may be impaired to some degree."

"But, maybe it won't be?" Buck said hopefully. "You are saying there is a chance he might be one hundred percent okay?"

Dr. Demier nodded. "He's got a chance, barring any more complications."

Buck stood up and smiled for the first time in 2 days. He wanted to throw his arms around Demier and kiss him, but he settled for a handshake. "The kid's gonna make it, doc," he said. "I know JD. He'll be just fine."


Ezra walked around the plane just staring at the wreckage. He considered himself very lucky that he had survived the crash. Ezra continued to walk around until he came to where the nose should have been. He was staring at the pilot's seat when he heard voices. He looked around in confusion, since he knew he was the only one there. The voices were coming from the plane. The southerner painstakingly climbed inside the plane and stood up. He couldn't believe what he found. It was impossible. There was a skeleton strapped in the co-pilots seat. Ezra knew what he would find when he looked in the back seat. He peered behind the seat and found a smaller skeleton curled up in the back.

"No, this didn't happen," Ezra said in confusion.

He hastily backed out of the plane. When he was outside he tried to catch his breath. The sight of the skeletons really upset him. Ezra heard a noise behind him and whirled to see what was there. Standing there was a bloody Vin.  Just a few feet away was JD.

"Why Ezra?" Vin asked.

"I don't understand," Ezra said, fearful of the figure before him.

"Why did you leave us?" JD asked.

"I didn't leave you," Ezra said. "It didn't happen this way."

"Yes you did," Vin said. "You didn't even try to help us."

"Yes I did!" Ezra said angrily. "I did my best."

"I guess it wasn't good enough was it?" Vin said sadly.

+ + + + + + +

The nurse had kicked them about 12 hours ago and told them to go to the hotel and get cleaned up. Chris had been reasonable about the whole thing - - after they'd dragged Buck out. The big man had been reluctant to leave JD. After they got to the hotel and they'd all eaten and at least pretended to sleep, they'd talked and decided that someone should be with Ezra whenever possible. The task had fallen to Nathan and Josiah, while Buck and Chris waited by the ICU.

And so, Josiah was back, sitting patiently beside the southerner, reading a newspaper.

Josiah noticed that Ezra was becoming agitated and he put the paper on the floor. He stood up and sat on the bed next to him. Ezra's left arm was propped up on a pillow and an IV ran in the other one. Josiah could see that Ezra was dreaming. He placed his hand on Ezra's shoulder just as the undercover agent woke up screaming.

"NO!" Ezra yelled.

"Easy Ezra," Josiah soothed and gently pinned him to the bed. "You're alright, it was only a dream."

"Vin and JD?"

"They're fine," Josiah said. "They're up in ICU."

"Then it was a dream," Ezra said relaxing.

"Want to talk about it?" Josiah said. "It might help."

"Mr. Tanner and Mr. Dunne appeared as apparitions to plague my sleep," Ezra explained.

"I see," Josiah smiled. He knew Ezra wouldn't tell him any more. "Can I get you anything?"

"Some water," Ezra said gratefully. He couldn't understand why they kept it so hot in here.

Josiah poured him some water and handed the cup to Ezra. His hand shook as he raised it to his lips. Ezra handed the cup back to Josiah and leaned back on the pillows.

"Can I see them?" Ezra asked. He had to be sure.

"No," Josiah answered. "The staff will only let someone in a few minutes at a time, so Nathan and I decided to let Chris and Buck be the lucky ones. That gives us plenty of time to spend with you."

"How reassuring," Ezra said with a smile.

"Want me to turn on the TV?" Josiah asked.

"No," Ezra said with a yawn. "I'm a little tired. I think I will attempt to continue my slumber."

"Dream good things," Josiah suggested.

"It wasn't my idea to dream up Vin and JD as ghosts," Ezra said and closed his eyes.

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked slowly to the side of the bed. He hated seeing Vin with all these tubes and wires sticking out of him. He had been warned not to hit the pins holding Vin's leg together, since it would be painful.

"Go ahead Chris, you can touch him," said the nurse, whose name was Karen. She must have sensed that he was afraid of hurting Vin.

Chris took Vin's good hand, being careful of the IV attached to it. He placed his other hand on Vin's head and brushed back his hair.

"Sorry I wasn't on the plane with you," Chris said leaning over. "But Ezra took real good care of you and JD."

Vin didn't respond to Chris's voice. Right now the machines were the only things keeping Vin alive, along with his stubbornness. Chris glanced at the breathing tube and knew they would have a problem when Vin started to wake up. The sharpshooter had grown to hate it during a previous hospital stay.

"I know you hate this breathing tube," Chris said. "The faster you wake up, the faster you can have it out."

Chris's only answer was the buzz and whir as the machine delivered a precise amount of oxygen to the injured young man. He sighed and continued to stroke Vin's hair.

"His color looks a little better," Chris commented hoping the nurse would agree with him.

"Yes it does," she smiled. "I'll leave you alone with him for a few minutes."

Chris watched as the nurse left. He turned back to Vin and leaned over to whisper in his ear.

"You listen to me, Vin Tanner, I expect you to wake up soon," Chris said in his no argument voice. "And you'd better not even think of dying on me, or I will come after you and hunt you down."

+ + + + + + +

In the next cubicle, Buck had no problems about touching JD. The kid was lying on his side, supported by a foam wedge to keep the pressure off the horrible wound on his back. They'd closed it with what looked like hundeds of tiny stitches, and a clear plastic tube snaked out between them to drain fluid into a plastic bag, keeping the swelling down. And even though it was a ghastly site, the plastic surgeon who had done the final repair work had assured him the scar would not be too noticeable, providing the reconnected tissue survived. That was still a threat. If it began to die, JD would need more surgery to excise the affected skin and muscle, which could leave him without full use of his arm. However, right now, that was the least of their worries. Buck sat close to JD and gently held his right hand. Both of his wrists were encased in casts, silver on the left, purple on the right - Colorado Rockies' team colors. They had figured being from Denver, JD would be a fan. Buck smiled. The kid would love it, when he woke up. If he woke up . . . The doctors were still monitoring his condition, whatever that meant.

Buck pushed JD's unruly hair off his face. It was getting as long as Vin's.

"You need a haircut, kid," Buck said. "Don't need two of ya in this outfit with long hair. I know you've told me that Casey likes it, but it keeps falling into your eyes."

Buck knew he was rambling but he couldn't help it. He felt so helpless. He didn't understand JD's serious head injury since the kid looked perfectly fine, and since he couldn't see it he didn't know what to do. The doctors had explained it all to them, but it went over Buck's head. He knew JD was hurt bad though. He'd had more siezures and his temperature was all over the place. It had gone as high as 106 a couple of times, and they'd needed to pack ice around him to bring it down. The nurse had explained it wasn't really a fever he had. His injured brain was just not able to regulate his vital signs like it was supposed to. His heartbeat was erratic and even though he was breathing on his own, he needed to be reminded to inhale every once in awhile. A couple of times, he'd choked because he couldn't swallow properly. If that happened too often, they were going to have to give him a tube like Vin had.

"Thought you'd like to know Vin and Ezra are doing fine." Buck figured a little white lie about Vin wouldn't hurt. "Ezra did a real fine job watching over the two of you. I actually feel sorry for him. I'm sure the two of you pestered him the whole time."

Buck told JD nonsense stories until the nurse returned and told him it was time to go. He didn't want to leave but knew if he made a fuss they wouldn't let him back. Buck told JD he would be back to see him again real soon. He got up and the nurse smiled at him as he walked by. He watched Chris say one last thing to Vin before they kicked him out also. They both walked out and took up their spots in the waiting room.


Ezra knew he shouldn't feel guilty, but he did. If he'd been a better pilot, he might have brought the plane down without it breaking into a dozen pieces. He might have been able to avoid that cursed balloon altogether. If he had been able to function after the crash, he might have kept JD still and quiet, and maybe he wouldn't be as bad off now as he was.

Josiah and Nathan, he was sure, were lying to him about the others being okay. He could see it on the faces of Chris and Buck when he'd ask them, even though they lied to him, too.

He just wanted to see them. Wanted to tell them how sorry he was.

He wanted to cry was what he wanted to do. He'd never felt so bad in his life.

Right, Ezra, feel sorry for yourself. That will be a big help to everyone.

He played with the untouched food on his dinner tray. He wasn't not eating it, because it was bad. Truth be told, when they'd finally given him a meal, he'd been so hungry he'd eaten every morsel and all of it - greasy meat, overcooked vegetables, cold potatoes - even the bland tapioca - had tasted heavenly. It would be a long time before he complained about any food set before him again, now that he knew what real hunger felt like.

But, right then, he simply had no appetite. The finest filet mignon would not have tempted him. He pushed the tray away and sighed. He tried rolling over, but his ankle protested. Torn ligaments. It would take longer to heal than a fracture, he'd been told, so he'd better get used to it. The cast on his arm hurt, too. There seemed to be a certain spot right above the elbow that was unusually sore.  But, when he thought of Vin bolted to his bed with steel pins through his arm and leg, he realized that any discomfort he was feeling paled by comparison.

With Josiah's help, he'd managed to shave and shower that morning, and Nathan had brought him some real pajamas, so that had helped a little, but he still felt sticky and uncomfortable, and he'd removed his shirt because the room felt too warm.

He wasn't in the mood to do anything but sleep when they came to get him for therapy. He was truly grateful for his strength and agility.  Crutches were out of the question because of his arm.  And it would be awhile before he got a cast he could walk in graduated to a cane, so unless he wanted to be wheelchair bound, he would have to manipulate a walker using one hand.  

He hated being so helpless, but then he would think of Vin and JD, who were completely dependent on the care they were getting in ICU to stay alive, and he swallowed his pride and accepted whatever help he needed.

Gina, the therapist, put him through his paces and noticed he was unusually quiet. She knew his case history well, and a psychologist who had talked with him had told the staff to expect him to develop signs of "survivor's guilt." While it was true that his friends had survived the plane crash, she also knew the other two men were injured far more seriously. She had found Ezra to be very quiet and withdrawn, even though according to his friend, Nathan, that wasn't typical for him. She tried not to push him too hard, but during the session, she noticed that he really seemed to be more than just depressed. He was sweating and flushed, and her instincts told her he was feeling bad.

She cut the session short, and let him return to his wheelchair. "Mr. Standish, are you okay?" she asked him.

He looked up at her. He had the most amazing green eyes, but they were dull with pain and fatigue. "I'm fine," he said softly.

"Let's get you back to your room," she said, and moved to adjust the position of his injured arm. He jumped and hissed when she touched it. She frowned. His fracture was not serious, and while it was probably uncomfortable, it should not have been causing him severe pain.

He looked embarrassed. "It's nothing, I assure you," he said tiredly. But she made a note to mention it to the nurse in orthopedics, whom she suspected would soon discover that he was running a fever.


Chris woke to the blaring of the alarm clock. He rolled over and grabbed the clock and angrily threw it against the wall. He was immensely satisfied to hear it shatter and go silent. The hotel wasn't going to appreciate the new dent in their wall but Chris didn't care. He sat up and scrubbed his hands through his blonde hair. They had been in Albuquerque four days now. Chris spent last night on the phone with AD Travis, who had called for an update on Vin, JD and Ezra's condition.

The news Chris had to relay was far from encouraging. JD was still unconscious and showed no signs of waking. The siezures had become less frequent, but that was about the only improvement.

Ezra developed a fever, and had finally admitted that he was in constant pain from his broken wrist. The cast had been removed, only to discover a nasty pressure sore had developed. The wound itself wasn't too bad, but his doctors suspected that he had an infection as a result. The doctors started him on a high dosage of antibiotics and had scheduled a bone biopsy. Chris was more worried about Ezra's mental state. Ezra could hide behind many different masks, but Chris knew he was blaming himself for the crash.

The only thing good that had happened was Vin had been taken off the respirator and the breathing tube had been removed while he was still unconscious.  Larabee was glad that he hadn't been forced to endure that discomfort on top of everything else. He was still sedated, but they were slowly weaning him off the drugs and Chris had been warned that Vin would probably be in excruciating pain when he woke up.

Travis told Chris he put the team on furlough status while they were in New Mexico. He told Chris not to worry, that he'd take care of everything in Denver. He'd also spoken to Casey. She was afraid Buck hadn't told her the whole truth and she was probably right about that, but he had managed to dissuade her from getting on a plane to be with JD. JD would not have wanted her to see him as helpless as he was, and there wasn't any way to know if he would even be aware that she was there.

Chris climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. He squinted when he turned on the light and waited for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he wasn't surprised by the bloodshot eyes staring at him from the mirror. None of them were getting much sleep trying to stay at the hospital with their injured teammates. Chris was sharing a room with Buck, but it hardly looked like anyone was in the room. They had left quickly from Denver only taking what they needed. Yesterday Nathan and Josiah had made a run to the local department store for jeans, T-shirts and underwear for the four of them, so they would at least have a change of clothes.

Chris took a quick shower, got dressed, then left for the hospital after stopping at the reception desk to tell them to put the broken clock on his credit card.

When he arrived, he noticed a few news vans parked out front. Chris drove over to the parking area and left the car. He walked through the automatic doors and headed for Ezra's floor. He'd check to see how Ezra's surgery had gone before going up to see Vin. The biopsy was a minor thing in itself, but if it revealed that the site of his infection was the fracture, he could be in for a long, tedious recovery.

As he approached the nurse's area he noticed the news crews and two men in suits. When Darla, the head nurse, saw him she motioned for Chris to go down the opposite hall. Chris did and she met him there.

"Hello Chris," she said. "We have a problem. Well more like Ezra does."

"What's wrong?" Chris asked anxiously. "Is he worse?"

"Oh no," Darla said quickly. "I'm sorry I meant that there are two men from the NTSB here to ask Ezra questions about the crash."

"Didn't his doctor tell them he was too sick?" Chris asked annoyed.

"Dr. Fazio is in surgery," Darla explained, "and they weren't taking the word of the resident. I've been stalling them until you got here."

"Thanks, I'll handle it," Chris said angrily.

"Wait!" she said grabbing his arm. "There's more. The news crews have gotten word about the crash and how the rest of you went to save your friends."

"Damn," Chris cursed. "Do me a favor?"


"Call security, just in case things get out of hand."

She nodded and headed back to her station. Security arrived a short time later and Chris explained what was going on. They went with him as he walked out to meet the men form the NTSB. Chris ignored the news crews.

"I'm senior agent Chris Larabee," he said as he held out his hand.

"I'm Frank Milton," one of them said as he shook Chris's hand. "This is my partner Alex Eaglefeather."

"Hello," Chris said shaking his hand.

"Agent Larabee," a female anchor called. "I'm from KASA News and I'd like to ask you a few questions..."

Chris turned to her and glared. He saw that the camera light was on but ignored her question. Chris turned back to the investigators and led them down the hall.

"Mr. Larabee!" she called. "We just want to know what happened!"

Chris continued down the hall and they tried to follow. Security stopped them and escorted them down to the main lobby. Chris stopped in the middle of the hall and turned to the men.

"I'm sorry but agent Standish is sick," Chris informed them. "He looked at his watch. He just had surgery a few hours ago."

"We understand that," Frank said. "But we need to get his account of what happened."

"It wasn't Ezra's fault," Chris said bitterly.

"No one is saying it was," Milton said, "but a plane went down and people were hurt. It's our..."

"My people were hurt!" Chris reminded him sharply.

"Agent Larabee we're only trying to do our job," Alex said.

"Bullshit," Chris growled. "You're just trying to pin this on someone. You won't get in to see my agent unless I want you to."

"You have no authority to hamper our investigation," Alex said sternly.

"Alright, everyone just take it easy," Frank interceded. "I understand you're just trying to protect your men and that you're under a lot of strain. But we aren't trying to pin this on anyone. We just need to know why that plane went down."

"You're right," Chris sighed. "But agent Standish has a temperature of 103 and is in a lot of pain. I don't think you'll get anything useful out of him. Not right now."

"Maybe you can help us," Frank said. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"

Chris wanted to see Vin but knew he couldn't just blow these men off. He nodded and for the next half-hour Chris sat in the cafeteria answering their questions about the crash site. Chris made sure they understood about the hot air balloon. Chris suspected that's what Ezra ran into causing the crash. This seemed to be of particular interest to them, and they asked him to describe what he could remember about its general appearance, color, markings, etc.

When they were finished Frank thanked Chris and gave him his business card. Chris said he'd call as soon as Ezra was able to answer questions.


When they were gone Chris finished his coffee then headed for Ezra's room. He found Nathan sitting in a chair next to the bed. Ezra was sleeping but Chris could see he was in pain by the set of his lips.

"Where's Josiah?" Chris asked as he stood on the opposite side of the bed.

"Went to get some sleep at the hotel," Nathan answered. They were sharing a room next to Chris's and Buck's.

There was no longer a cast on Ezra's arm, just a removable splint over a thick layer of bandages. "How did the biopsy go?"

"Not good. He's got an infection in the bone. Osteomyelitis it's called. It can be really stubborn to treat. He's probably going to be sent home with one of those..." he indicated Ezra's IV.

Chris placed his hand on Ezra's forehead and he stirred but didn't wake. Chris saw the basin of water and picked up the submerged wash cloth. He rung it out then bathed Ezra's face and neck.

"Been up to see Vin and JD yet?" Nathan asked.

"Not yet," Chris replied as he continued bathing Ezra. "Two NTSB investigators were here to talk to Ezra. I told them he was too sick. Then I spent the past half-hour describing the crash site. They might want to talk with the rest of you."

"Did ya see the news crews?" Nathan asked.

"Yeah I saw them," Chris said. "Had security take them down to the lobby."

"Gonna have ta give them a statement sooner or later," Nathan said.

"I'll call the local authorities and let them handle it," Chris said. "We're just here as concerned friends."

"Why don't you go see Vin," Nathan suggested taking the cloth from Chris. "I'll let Ezra know you were here."

Chris nodded and headed for ICU. He got on the elevator and leaned against the wall with his eyes closed. The elevator chimed and Chris pushed himself away from the wall and walked out as the doors opened. He stopped by the nurse's station before he went in.

"Good morning Chris," Catherine said.

"Any changes?" he asked.

"I'm afraid not," she said sypathetically. "Buck is in with JD. You really have to convince him to get some sleep."

"I'll try," Chris promised her.

Chris went in to see JD first. He walked to his cubicle and heard Buck talking to the young agent. Chris could hear that Buck's voice was hoarse and shook his head. He found his old friend running his fingers through JD's hair as he talked.

"Buck," Chris said as he moved closer. "You need to get some sleep."

"Can't Chris," Buck said wearily. "Not while he's like this."

"Buck, JD is going to need your strength more later," Chris reasoned. "You can't help him if you get yourself sick."

"I know," Buck said as his shoulders slumped and he looked miserably at Chris. "The neurology people talked with me this morning. Said we should maybe think about a long-term care facility in case..." his voice broke. He couldn't say the unthinkable.

Chris nodded, and Buck hated him for it, mostly because he knew Chris could see the reality he wanted so badly to ignore. He'd told the neurologist that he could take care of JD, but all he had to do was look at the kid to know how hard that was going to be. Even if... no when... JD woke up, he was not going to instantly be his normal self again. He'd been told there was still a very good chance JD would make a complete recovery, but there was also a chance that he would be left with some very real obstacles to overcome.

"He just doesn't look that bad. The doctor tried to explain to me what's happening in there," he touched JD's head, "but I just don't understand."

"I know Buck," Chris said. "Neither do I. All we can do is wait."

Buck nodded and looked up at Chris. Chris could have sworn he was looking in a mirror. Buck's eyes were bloodshot and circles smudged the skin beneath them.

"We make quite a pair," Buck chuckled. "Why don't you go see Vin. Then we'll grab Nathan and Josiah then get something to eat."

"Sounds good," Chris agreed. "First let me say hi to JD."

Chris leaned over and placed his hand on JD's head. He understood Buck's confusion. JD just looked like he was sleeping. Both his wrists were splinted and he had a thick bandage covering the wound on his back but that was all.

"Hey JD," Chris spoke to him softly. "Just wanted to let you know I was here. Vin's asleep next to you and Ezra's not too far away. He's really worried about you guys. Don't you think it's about time the two of you woke up?"

Chris didn't actually expect an answer, but it was disheartening that his only reply was the beeping of JD's cardiac monitor. He gave JD's hair a soft tousle. He stood up and nodded to Buck then walked around the corner to Vin's cubicle. When he saw Vin, all Chris could think was that he looked like a marionette that had been broken and put back together again.

Chris smiled when he looked at Vin's face, though. Without the tube in, he looked more alive. Chris sat down next to the bed and took Vin's hand. He didn't say anything he just sat there. He wasn't sure how long he had been there when he felt Vin's fingers move. At first, Chris thought he was imagining the whole thing, but when he looked at Vin's face he saw that his eyelids were fluttering. Chris's heart started beating faster as he stood up and placed his hand on Vin's head.

"Vin can you hear me?" Chris asked. Vin moved his head slightly at his voice. "Come on cowboy open your eyes."

The nurses came into the room as soon as Vin started to stir. The machines monitoring his vitals were showing increased activity and they came in to see if everything was OK. Kathy walked over to Vin's opposite side and saw he was trying to wake up.

"Keep talking to him, Chris," Kathy said.

"Come on Vin," Chris said.

Vin was starting to rouse more and Kathy instructed the other nurse to take a hold of Vin's broken leg while she took his arm. Vin was going to be disoriented when he woke and she didn't want him moving them. Chris kept calling Vin until he slowly opened his eyes. When they were open all the way Vin just stared straight ahead then suddenly panicked.

"EZRA!" he yelled and tossed his head from side to side. "Where are you?"

"Easy Vin," Chris said grabbing his shoulders and pinning him to the bed. "You're safe here."

"JD!" Vin called struggling weakly. "Don't leave me here."

"Vin, listen to me," Chris said cupping his face in his hands. "JD and Ezra are here. You're all safe."

"Chris," Vin said and tried to move his broken arm. He screamed in pain and Chris grabbed his good hand.

"Don't try to move Vin," Chris instructed. "You're gonna be alright."

"Chris?" Vin asked in confusion. "Where are you?"

Buck joined Chris when he heard Vin calling for JD. Chris looked up at Buck not understanding.

"We're right here Vin," Buck said placing his hand on Vin's arm.

"Where!" Vin wailed and began to breathe faster. "I can't open my eyes."

"Oh Lord," Buck said when he realized Vin still blind.

"It's OK, Vin," Chris said soothingly.

"NO! Ezra! Please Ezra where are you!" Vin said and began to cry.

Kathy watched as Vin's heart rate increased and his breathing became faster. Vin was becoming agitated and something would have to be done about it, and soon.

"Chris, see if you can't get him to calm down, otherwise, I'm going to have to sedate him," Kathy said.

"Vin, listen to me," Chris said taking his face in his hands again. "You're going to have to calm down."

"They're dead," Vin cried. "And there was nothing I could do."

"No, Vin, they're not dead," Buck said.

Neither Buck or Chris were able to get Vin to calm down and Kathy ordered 4 milligrams of morphine and one of versed. The sedative worked quickly and Vin's breathing began to slow. Vin continued to mumble the whole time he was awake and it broke Chris's heart. The sharpshooter kept repeating over and over that he was sorry.

"Please, Ezra, don't leave me alone," Vin said as he succumbed to the sedative. "I don't want to die alone in the dark."

"You're not alone Vin," Chris whispered in his ear as Vin's eyes slowly closed.

Kathy took Vin's vitals and wrote them down on his chart. She made a note of the time he woke up and the amount of sedative she gave him. She also made a note that he was still blind. Kathy could see both men were shaken. When she was finished what she was doing she looked up at them.

"This is a good thing," she said with a smile.

"How can you say that," Chris said not taking his eyes off Vin. "He's still blind."

"Chris, Buck... the doctor told you it might take some time for Vin's eyesight to come back," she reminded them.

"We know," Buck said angrily. "It's just so frustrating!"

"Why don't the two of you go take a break," Kathy suggested. "I'll stay with Vin. I need to clean the pins so he won't be alone, I promise."

Chris nodded as he wiped the tears from Vin's cheeks with his thumbs. He followed Buck out of the cubicle as he heard Kathy start up a one way conversation. Chris took a deep breath and smiled. Kathy was right this was a good thing. Vin was slowly recovering, Ezra was going to be all right, once he fought off this infection. Now all they had to do was wait for JD to wake up.


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