ATF Universe


Vin walked around the plane crash, unable to believe they'd survived. There was almost nothing left of the plane. The nose was gone and most of the tail was scattered across the mountain. How the hell had they come out of it alive?

"We didn't," JD called cheerfully, the skeletal remains of his face grinning obscenely.

"Indeed, Mr. Tanner, we are all dead," Ezra's smiling face looking up at him from the ground.

"Jesus," Vin whispered in shock. The dapper southerner's decapitated head was talking, while his body decayed yards away.

"Hardly, Mr. Tanner," the head informed him blithely. "Surely, you don't believe that men such as ourselves would end up there do you? Although, I can't fathom why Mr. Dunne should have joined us here, unless it's a case of guilt by association."

"B - but, I - I remember being in the hospital. I s - saw Chris there," the sharpshooter cried out.

"No way, Vin. You're dead as a doornail. And you're blind too. How, could you have seen anything?" JD demanded skeptically.

"I ain't bli -" Vin stopped speaking in the middle of the word, as pitch black darkness suddenly descended on him.

"You're in hell, Vin," JD's voice pierced the blackness, as Vin felt the fires of hell begin to sear his body.

+ + + + + + +

"He's still sleeping, let's try and get him turned before he wakes up," Kathy spoke softly to Rick, the new ICU nurse.

"Good idea, that leg is bound to hurt like hell when we turn him, not to mention his other injuries," Rick concurred sympathetically.

Together they managed to turn Vin and all the various tubes and wires that were holding his broken body in less than fifteen minutes. However, to their dismay, halfway through the process, the patient began moaning and crying out. While his body needed to be periodically repositioned to avoid bedsores, it was a still a painful procedure that they disliked inflicting on him.

+ + + + + + +

Vin was being consumed by fire. His leg was completely engulfed in flames and he moaned piteously and whimpered. "No, please," he begged, as he tried to beat out the flames. Strong hands held his arms and prevented him from putting the fire out. "Chris, where are you?" the sharpshooter called for his best friend. Chris would help him, he knew it. If only, he could find him. "Chris, please!" he cried out in agony.

+ + + + + + +

"Rick, go find Chris Larabee. He's probably in the waiting room. If he's not, have him paged. Someone will answer the page. Get Chris, or whoever answers the page in here right now," Kathy instructed the new nurse urgently, as she tried to calm the struggling Texan.

"Vin, it's Kathy. You're alright. Just relax," the nurse soothed and tried to keep him from moving about anymore than he already was.


Chris sat reading the newspaper next to Ezra's bed. The undercover agent slept fitfully. The past few days had been uncomfortable for him as his exhausted body battled the infection raging through his system. The antibiotics were helping and his fever was down to 101. Chris came in early sit with Ezra, while Nathan went and got some breakfast. Visiting hours in ICU weren't until later and he wanted Ezra to know he was worried about him also. Chris heard a low moan come from the bed and he lowered the paper to see Ezra was awake.

"How ya feeling?" Chris asked.

"I do believe if one more person asks me that question I shall kill myself," Ezra said petulantly.

"Still having bad dreams?" Chris asked

"Yes," Ezra answered. "The latest had mother and I joining forces in a business venture. A truely horrific prospect."

Chris just smiled and shook his head. Ezra's relationship with Maude could only be described as unique. Chris  had tried to contact her about the accident ,but the only number he had was disconnected.

"I tried calling Maude to let her know about the accident," Chris said.

"That was very considerate of you Mr. Larabee, but Mother detests hospitals," Ezra informed him.

"Can I get you anything?" Chris inquired.

"I'd like my blue Armani suit," Ezra said. "And I'd like to be extricated from this dismal environment."

"Sorry Ezra, but you're going to have to stay here for a little longer," Chris replied.

"How fortunate for me," Ezra said sarcastically.  "At least I'll be released in relatively good health, before my traveling companions."

"Damn it Ezra!" Chris cursed. "This wasn't your fault. You saved JD and Vin. Vin even woke up yesterday."

"He did?" Ezra said surprised. "Why wasn't I informed?"

"You slept most of the day," Chris said. "We never had a chance to tell you."

"How is he?" Ezra asked looking at Chris for the first time.

"He's still blind," Chris admitted. "He didn't really know where he was, but at least he woke up."

"And Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked.

"No change," Chris said frowning. "Buck's going crazy. He just doesn't understand."

"I should have realized Mr. Dunne was more seriously injured," Ezra lamented.

"And what could you have done if you'd known?" Chris demanded.

"Nothing obviously," Ezra sulked.

"Oh cut the crap!" Chris exclaimed. "Without you they'd be dead. Stop feeling sorry for yourself."

"If you'll excuse me, Mr. Larabee, I'm tired," Ezra said closing his eyes.

"Oh no you don't!" Chris said shaking his shoulder. "Not until you realize you did everything humanly possible."

"Chris!" Nathan yelled as he ran into the room." They need you done in ICU. Vin's awake and he's calling for you."

"This conversation isn't over Ezra!" Chris said angrily. "You hear me?"

"How could I not," Ezra replied.

Chris quickly left the room and headed for ICU. Ezra's attitude was starting to get on Larabee's nerves. He wanted to kick some sense into Standish's stubborn southern hide. It didn't help, that the agents from the NTSB were still on his case about talking to Ezra. He'd managed to put them off, but Chris knew he couldn't keep them from talking to the other man for much longer.  He worried that in the state Ezra was in, the southerner would tell them he was responsible for the accident. The only alternative was for him to be present when the talked with Ezra. But right now he had to worry about Vin.


Chris counted to ten as his patience was tested during the elevator ride. He was in a hurry and it seemed to stop on every floor. When it reached the floor he wanted he exited and made his way quickly towards ICU. On the way down the hall he noticed Kathy heading in his direction.

"Chris, I'm glad they found you," she said as she fell in step with him.

"What happened?" Chris demanded.

"We were repositioning Vin on his side andv he woke up," she explained ignoring his harsh tone, since she knew it wasn't directed at her. "He became upset and we couldn't calm him down."

"Buck here yet?" Chris asked.

"No," Kathy said. "I told Josiah not to let him come back here for at least twelve hours."

"Wishful thinking," Chris said.

When they got closer to Vin's cubicle, Chris could hear him calling out for Ezra and JD. Chris quickly moved to Vin's side and took his good hand.

"Easy Vin you're safe," Chris said.

"," Vin choked out.

"Yeah cowboy it's me," Chris said with a smile

"Hurts," Vin pleaded. Chris glanced at Kathy as she hit Vin's morphine pump.

"I know," Chris said running his fingers through Vin's tangled hair.

"JD's right, I can't see," Vin said tossing his head and becoming more upset. "Ezra! Make it stop burning!"

"Shhhhh Vin," Chris said trying to soothe him.

"They're dead," Vin said as tears formed in his sightless eyes. "I know they are."

"No Vin," Chris said realizing this was going to be the question every time Vin woke up and couldn't see them. "JD's here next to you."

"Want Ezra," Vin said not convinced.

"I know Vin," Chris said squeezing his hand. "Ezra's not feeling too good right now. Why don't you close your eyes and go to sleep."

"Don't leave me!" Vin said as he tried fighting of the drugs he'd been give.

"I won't," Chris said as he stroked Vin's hair and his eyes closed. "I promise."

"Thanks Chris," Kathy said as she rearranged some of the equipment surrounding Vin. "He's not convinced his friends are alive is he?"

"I don't think he will be until he sees them," Chris sighed ruefully. "Hopefully he'll be able to."

"Chris..." Kathy chided.

"I know, I know, give it time," Chris recited.

"I'll leave you with him," Kathy said as she went out.

Chris sighed and took a seat next to Vin. He wanted to do as Josiah said and keep the faith that Vin would get his sight back and that everything would be back to normal. His mind accepted the fact that it would just take time even if his gut couldn't. Chris leaned his head back , took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

He looked across the room at JD. As painful as it had been to hear Vin cry out in pain and fear, it was definitely preferable to the silent stillness of the young dark-haired agent.

It was hard to see three of his men hurting and to know that there was nothing he could do for them. He didn't realize he'd fallen asleep until he felt someone shaking his shoulder.

'Chris," Nathan called.

"Yeah what?" Chris said sitting up.

"We;ve got problems," Nathan said. "Those NTSB agents are downstairs talking to Ezra."

"Shit!" Chris cursed and dug his palms into his eyes to clear the sleep from them.

"I couldn't stop them," Nathan apologized. "Ezra was awake and when he heard them ask for him, he said they could come in."

"Stay with Vin," Chris said glancing down at the sleeping sharpshooter. "I'll take care of it."

Nathan watched as Chris stormed out of ICU. He sat in the chair Chris had occupied thinking he was very glad he wasn't Agent Milton or Agent Eaglefeather.

Chris got into the elevator and literally punched the button for Ezra's floor. When the elevator arrived passengers trying to get on, prudently stepped aside for the ATF leader. Chris stalked down to Ezra's door and opened it to hear Ezra take full blame for the accident.

"Like hell!" Chris shouted. "It wasn't your fault you ran into that damned hot air balloon."

"The key word, Mr. Larabee, is ran into, " Ezra pointed out sarcastically.

"Shut up Ezra!" Chris said angrily.

"Agent Larabee we . . ." Alex Eaglefeather started.

"I thought I told you I'd let you know when my agent was up for questions," Chris growled, turning the Larabee glare on the young agent.

"Easy Agent Larabee," Frank Milton said. "We just came to get Agent Standish's statement regarding the accident. The owner of the balloon reported it missing on the morning of the crash. He was involved in a mid-air collision with another balloon and it got away from him. We're trying to find out who the pilot of the other balloon was. He may be charged with negligence .

Milton handed Chris a business card. "Here's the guy who owned the balloon... He's some hotshot attorney up in Santa Fe. He's filing a lawsuit, and he'll be wanting to talk to your boys."

Chris took the card, only mildly placated. "When they're better."

"What my esteemed colleague is trying to say is thank you," Ezra interjected smoothly.

"Don't put words in my mouth," Chris said. "You sure you're up to this?"

"I'm fine, I assure you."


The NTSB listened as Ezra told them what happened. When he was finished they asked him some questions to verify a few points. The interview took about forty-five minutes and when they were finished they thanked the two agents and left. Chris walked over to the nightstand and poured Ezra some water.

"Thank you," he said as he took the cup and drank. "How's Vin?"

"He recognized my voice," Chris said.

"I take it he still can't see?"

"No, he can't," Chris admitted. "He's also thinks you and JD are dead. He kept asking for you."

They had talked for awhile, when Chris noticed Ezra was getting tired. He was about to suggest he get some sleep when he heard the door open. Chris turned towards the door and was surprised by who was there.

"Mother?" Ezra said just as surprised.


Vin's crying. That isn't right. Someone's hurting him . . .

JD tried to open his eyes, tried to see what was happening to Vin. He wanted to tell whoever was hurting Vin to stop, but the words wouldn't come out. Then his eyes finally opened and he could see Vin... at least, he thought it was Vin... he tried to say his name, but he couldn't make the sound right.

That's not right, either . . .

His head hurt, and so did his back. His back was the worst. It felt like there was a knife stuck in it. He tried to reach behind him to take what ever was poking him away, and that made his arm hurt.

And Vin was still crying. Not like a baby, but JD could tell when he said . . . whatever he was saying. JD couldn't really understand him.

Where were they? What was happening to them? Confusion quickly dissolved into panic when JD realized he was helpless... He tried to move, but it was as if someone had tied heavy weights to his arms and legs. He was awake . . .  he was sure he was. Wasn't he?

Vin's scared. Can hear it in his voice. It's okay, Vin, it's okay. . .

He tired to move again and managed to lift one of his arms. He wasn't even sure which arm it was. How weird was that? He could see it in front of him, though, so it must be his arm. It was purple. . . No, had a purple glove on it... or something. It hurt. Not like his back, but it hurt.

He knew this place, but couldn't remember what it was. Vin was quieter now, but he could hear him breathing, moaning, and there were people around him. Hurting him...

Who were they? Why didn't they leave him alone?

It's okay Vin, it's okay. . . .

But, it wasn't okay. He was scared now, too, and he couldn't even scream...

Oh God, oh God, what's happening? I don't understand...

+ + + + + + +

Kathy spoke softly, trying to calm Vin down as another nurse tended to the pins that stabilized his fractured arm and leg. The procedure was a painful one, but it had to be done twice a day to prevent infection. She had managed to make the young man understand that the more he fought them, the more it would hurt, so he'd acquiesced to lying still while they worked on him. But pain, fatigue, and the drugs in his system had weakened his ability to fight off the tears.

"You're doing fine, Vin," she soothed. "We're almost done..."

Her comforting words were interrupted by the jarring sound of a cardiac monitor going off. She hurried to the other bed in the cubicle as the other young patient began to struggle to sit up.

"JD!" she said in a way that she hoped would get his attention. He had a serious head injury, so it was likely that he wasn't completely coherent.

He seemed to recognize his name, but he was still trying to get up.

"JD... don't try to move," she told him.

The boy looked up at her with a fearful expression on his face. He clearly didn't understand why he was in so much pain.

She grasped his shoulders gently and eased him back onto the pillow, readjusting the supportive wedge that kept him from rolling onto the horrible wound on his back. "JD, you're in a hospital. You were hurt in a plane crash. Do you remember?"

The young man blinked at her and then turned his gaze towards Vin and made a weak attempt to reach out to him. "Vin was hurt, too. We're taking good care of both of you."

The look of panic in the young man's eyes told her she wasn't getting through to him, and she had to calm him down somehow. There were standing orders not to sedate him or administer pain meds because of the nature of his injuries, and she hated the thought of using restraints on him.

He tried to speak but succeeded only in making a garbled sobbing sound. She knew he was frightened as well as in pain. "It's okay, JD," she tried to reassure him. "I know it hurts, but you're safe and so is Vin..." Other members of the ICU staff had rushed into the room when the monitor had gone off. "See if you can find Buck Wilmington anywhere in the hospital. If he's not here, call him at..."

"I'm here!" Buck appeared in the doorway. If he wasn't grabbing a quick meal or getting some much needed rest, he was never far from the ICU, and must have seen the other nurses responding to JD's monitor alarm. His face was ashen as he looked at the three nurses around JD's bed. "What happened?" he asked, his voice filled with the dread.

Kathy knew he must be thinking the worst, so she smiled and said, "Well, there's someone over here who might like to see you."

Buck was at the bedside in an instant. JD looked up at him, his large hazel eyes misting over with tears. Buck sat down so he was at eye level with him and put his hand on the kid's hair. "JD?" he said softly.

The pain and fear in JD's gaze told Buck the kid was truly awake, but he seemed disoriented. "Ol' Buck's here now, kid. Take it easy."

JD frowned and made a small sound. It was clear to Buck that he was trying to talk, but actual speech seemed beyond him.

"Try to explain what's happened," Kathy told Buck. "He likely doesn't remember being hurt or how he got here."

"JD... You're in a hospital. You and Vin and Ezra. You were in a plane going to Albuquerque, remember?" Buck explained patiently.

JD's eyes darted back and forth as he tried to understand.

Buck looked at Kathy, his concern clearly evident. "Why won't he answer me?"

Kathy wish she had some comforting words to offer him. "Buck, you have to understand that he's sustained a potentially serious brain injury... Even if there is no permanent damage, it will take him some time..."

Buck couldn't listen to the rest.

Brain damage.

He'd already heard those words, and he didn't want to hear them again. The were like a knife in his heart. This was JD for God's sake. JD, who could never sit still or stay quiet unless he really, really had to... JD, who had a college degree - with a 4.0 average - at an age where a lot of kids were just finishing up high school. Those words just weren't right for him.

"We'll know more after the neurologist has had a chance to evaluate him... It's a good sign that he's awake," Kathy tried to be reassuring.

Buck noticed that JD kept looking at Vin, and each time he did, he'd frown. Buck felt a pang of guilt that he had momentarily blocked out the fact that Vin was even there. The sharpshooter's face was drawn and tired, and Buck could see he was suffering terribly, but he somehow managed to choke out, "That you . . . Buck?"

Buck moved to Vin's side, careful to maintain frequent eye contact with JD as he did. "How ya doin', Vin?" he said casually.

"JD... Dead..." Vin sobbed.

It was a statement, not a question, Buck realized.  The poor guy still thought he was the only survivor. "No Vin, no one's dead," Buck reassured him. He didn't know how much good it would do. He knew that Vin had too many drugs in him to think straight. They went through this drill every time he woke up.

"JD and Ezra..." Vin choked.

"JD's right here," Buck assured him, and this time, that seemed to get Vin's attention.


"Yeah... He can't talk... He's hurt, like you are. But you're both gonna be fine." He moved aside so that he wasn't blocking JD's view.. "Vin, I know you can't see, but JD can see you. He's on your right..."

Vin turned his head to the left.

"Your other right..." Buck laughed, and very gently positioned Vin's head so he was facing JD.

Vin lifted his good arm slightly. He was so groggy that even that small movement took monumental effort. "Hi, JD," he muttered, before the drugs he'd been given finally took hold and he drifted off again.

Buck wasn't sure how much of this JD was absorbing, but he thought he saw a glimmer of recognition and maybe even the hint of a smile on his tired young face. He gently tossled Vin's hair. "You rest easy, Junior."

He went back to JD. The kid was sweating again, and the monitor beside the bed said his temperature was 102.

Kathy had noticed a small patch of fresh blood on the dressing that covered most of his back and JD gasped sharply as she removed, even though she tried to be gentle.

The wound beneath it was horrible to look at - a jagged "U" of stitches, staples and bruised flesh. A plastic tube stuck right out of JD's back, draining a clear pinkish fluid into a plastic bag. Buck couldn't bear to think about how much that had to hurt.

"Looks like he opened a stitch moving around like that, but I don't think it'll be a problem."

Buck wanted to ask her exactly what she considered a problem if not having half your back torn off, but he held his tongue. He knew JD was getting the best care possible. Still, it was hard to see the kid hurting like that and no one able to do a thing to help him.

He also knew his ten minutes were almost up. He bent down again and stroked JD's hair. "They're gonna kick me outa here in a second, buddy," he said. "But I'll be right outside that door, okay? Buck ain't gonna leave ya."

JD's eyes closed again, and Buck looked at Kathy with a worried expression.

"He's going to have trouble staying awake at first," she explained. "But I think he's okay."

Buck smiled down at JD one last time and then left to tell the others the good news.


Maude Standish stood in the doorway of her son's hospital room as if waiting for an invitation, her lips pursed and showing all the signs of some inconvenience she may have suffered. But Ezra had to admit that even with her blonde hair pulled tightly into a chic French styled bun, and her faced all scrunched and pinched, his mother was one fine-looking lady.

"Ezra dear," Maude suddenly became animated, walking quickly to her son's side to stoop and plant a kiss on his cheek. "I came as soon as I heard."

Accepting the kiss and the accompanying gentle pat on his shoulder, Ezra nodded. "Please Mother, you must be tired," he gestured with his good arm to the chair beside the bed.

Maude's eyebrows lifted as she scanned the plastic torture object that was laughingly called furniture. "Thank-you," she said and grimaced slightly, straightening the crease of her skirt as she awkwardly sat down. "As I was sayin', the lines between Jamaica and the United States are just horrendous at the moment. You're lucky I am here at all."

"Jamaica?" Ezra asked, not really caring, but needing the distraction.

Maude's eyes lit up as at Ezra's inquiry and she started telling him about her time on the island. "Well you see, Big Jim Bellows invited all the best of us to his beach house," she continued on with her story. "Amazing place." She smiled wistfully.

"And did you win, Mother?" Ezra asked as he shifted uncomfortably in the bed.

"I'm slightly offended that you had to ask son," Maude smiled broadly.

"Don't be. I had all ready perceived the answer to my inquiry to be an affirmative one, but I thought you would enjoy relating the happy news to me yourself."

Maude's smile suddenly disappeared and she turned her attention to her son's injuries. "Enough of me. Tell me what happened?"

"Didn't they tell you Mother? My plane fell out of the sky," Ezra retorted a little too sharply.

Maude frowned as she reacted to Ezra's tone. "Fell?" she asked as she repeated her son's description.

"It crashed, Mother?" Ezra sighed wearily as he closed his eyes.

"And the pilot of this aircraft?"

"You are going to make me say it, aren't you?" Ezra said ,as he opened his eyes and looked at Maude. "Yes, it was me, Mother, I was piloting the plane, just like you assumed I was. It was my fault it crashed."

"Ezra Standish!" Maude's voice reprimanded. "I will not hear of such talk. I'm sure it was a mechanical error," she defended, before adding, "After all, you had the best lessons money could buy."

"And the best Nannies," Ezra mumbled under his breath.

Maude ignored Ezra, making a pale attempt to look interested in the room's décor, before turning back to her son. "Ezra, when are you going to stop this foolishness," she sighed. "This is no life for a Standish. You are far too clever and far too wasted here."

"Wasted? I try and save lives, Mother," Ezra frowned.

"Like you did with the pl..." Realizing what she was about to say, Maude had the decency to be embarrassed as she changed tactics. "Technically, all you are is a civil servant. Ezra, that is not what I wanted for you." Her voice softened as she reached out, taking her son's hand in her own.

Ezra sighed as he closed his eyes to the growing pains, the one in his head and the one that sat primly in the chair. "I know, I was a great disappointment."

"Disappointment?" Maude looked taken aback, "Ezra, you never were and never will be a disappointment to me. You're my son."

Ezra opened his eyes, searching his mother's face for the well-learned signs of Maude's poker face. Instead, he was surprised to see something akin to love looking back at him. Knowing this was as close as he was probably ever going to get to an admission of her feelings, Ezra smiled as he squeezed his mother's hand. "And you my lady, are the best damn card player I have ever seen."

"Thank you, kind sir." Maude smiled as she learned forward and for some strange reason had the urge to brush a stray strand of hair from her son's forehead.


Nathan woke up and rolled over in the hotel room's double bed. He thought he'd heard the door to the balcony open. Glancing at the lighted dial on the alarm clock, he silently reached into his duffel bag for his gun. That's when he saw that the room's other bed was empty.

"Josiah?" he called, heading for the sliding glass door.

Seeing that Josiah was the one on the balcony, Nathan put his weapon away and headed for the door. He looked at his fellow agent, made sure he was awake and not sleepwalking or something. Josiah just sat on one of the two chaise lounges, staring out into the night sky.

"Josiah? You okay?" he asked, taking a seat on one of the lounge chairs.

After a few moments, Josiah took a deep breath and nodded his head. "Woke up from a dream," he said.

"Bad one?" Nathan asked, assuming it was.

"Not quite sure yet," Josiah replied, finally turning to face the other man. "I was flying . . . in a helicopter. But it kept changing. First, I was in that Search and Rescue chopper. Then I was in that bucket of bolts I flew in Laos - the one I told you about." He stopped then, considered his next words. "I kept seeing those kids, the ones I couldn't save." He scrubbed his hands down his face then and sighed. "I've dreamed about those kids for over twenty five years, Nathan. Watched them die over and over again. But this time . . . this time, when they jumped from that other chopper, nothing happened. They just smiled at me and ran off into the woods."

Both men sat silently for a few minutes. Nathan watched a plane pass high overhead.

"I don't know what to say, Josiah," Nathan said. "Never was one for that dream interpretation stuff," he added with a smile.

Josiah grinned and said, "And neither am I.  Guess that's why I'm out here not knowing what to think about it." He returned his gaze to the sky. "Those boys got a long road ahead of them," he began again.

"That they do," Nathan agreed. "But at least now, with both JD and Vin awake, they're makin' progress. Maybe they're startin' to heal, just like you," he added. At Josiah's questioning gaze, he continued. "Your dream. Maybe those kids are smiling and running off to safety because you've figured out that while you couldn't do anything to help them, you were able to use that experience to help Vin, JD and Ezra."

"I thought you weren't one for that dream interpretation stuff," Josiah laughed.

"So I lied," Nathan returned. "Come on, we better get some sleep. I told Travis I'd stop by the Albuquerque office and pick up some paperwork. He's faxing us our time sheets and stuff."

"Ah, yes, gotta keep the paperwork straight," Josiah laughed.

"Well I know Chris probably has plenty of vacation and sick time saved up, but I don't know about Buck," the younger man remarked. "If he's gonna stay with JD and take care of him like he says he wants to, he's gonna need to take a leave of absence without pay or quit."

"Or find a nice nine to five position for a while…" Josiah put in.

"You think those two would let themselves be tied down to desk jobs, or teaching positions?" Nathan asked incredulously.

"If it meant being able to help out our fallen comrades," he replied.

Nathan nodded in agreement.


Chris sat in his hotel room and ran his fingers through his hair, that was still damp from the shower. The team had been in New Mexico for a week now, and his three injured agents were slowly healing.

Ezra was further along than JD or Vin. Vin had improved enough to be moved out of ICU today and Chris wanted to be there for that. Vin was still blind and Chris was afraid he might panic if he woke up in a strange room.

JD's recovery was the slowest so far. He had regained consciousness, but he only laid there. He'd move but, only if he was asked to.  It just didn't seem to occur to him. Buck was pretty sure the kid understood everything that was said to him, but he was unable to speak. Chris knew that JD's condition had to be hard on Buck, but he also knew that his oldest friend would never give up on the kid. They were talking about long term care for him, and Buck was talking about taking him home. He knew Buck would win out, no question about it.

Nathan and Josiah spent most of their time with Ezra. Josiah seemed taken with Maude and Chris wasn't surprised that Josiah visited Ezra when she was there. Chris wasn't sure if Ezra was happy that his mother had shown up unexpectedly or not. Maude was a tough one to read, but Chris suspected she cared about her son more than either of them was willing to admit.

Chris finished getting dressed and checked his watch. He was running late because AD Travis had called to find out how the the injured men were doing and he'd brought the AD up to date on the conditions of all three agents. He knew Travis was worried about his top team, but he couldn't show favoritism. He needed to know what plans Chris and the others had, to return to Denver and their jobs. It was agreed ,that Josiah and Nathan would head back by the end of the week and get back to work. Chris and Buck had decided they would put in for an extended leave of absence.

Travis had been expecting as much and already had the paperwork ready to go. He told Chris it would have to be an unpaid leave.  He couldn't authorize anything else. But Chris had inherited the ranch from Sarah, and he owned it outright. Plus, he still had most of the money left from Sarah and Adam's double indemnity life insurance policies.  Buck's mother had left him a small inheritance that he dipped into occasionally. JD and Vin were officially on short term disability, until it was determined if they'd be able to return to duty. Ezra's disability checks weren't even enough to pay for his imported Italian shirts, so it was a good thing he didn't have to depend on them.  He hung up to a promise from Travis to call when their leave approval came through.

Larabee was about to leave when the phone rang again. This time, it was Casey. She had been calling every day, ringing the different rooms until she got someone. Chris hated having to tell her the truth, but there was no point in lying to her since JD obviously couldn't talk to her himself. But, he did shield her from the worst of it. He told her JD would be okay. He didn't mention the possibility that his impairments could be permanent. He didn't know, so what was the point?

No sooner had he said good by to Casey than the damn phone rang again. He was tempted not to answer it, but, did anyway. Hell, he was never gonna get to the hospital at this rate.

+ + + + + + +

Hey Kathy," Rick said as he walked into ICU. "I hear they're moving Vin today."

"Yes, he's doing much better," Kathy said. "We're just waiting for Chris."

"Well I'm afraid we can't wait any longer," Dr. Michaels said. "I have the room ready now and we need to move him while we have the staff available to get him settled."

"Alright doctor," Kathy said. She didn't particularly care for Dr. Michaels' attitude. He made it seem like Vin was just baggage to be carted from one location to another.

Kathy was glad they decided to sedate Vin for the move. She knew his blindness made him edgy whenever things were done around him because he didn't know what to expect. He always seemed more secure if Chris was with him, and for that reason, she wished they had waited on his friend.

Vin's whole bed would be rolled down to the next room and Rick helped transfer the IV to the pole on the bed while Kathy unhooked Vin from the monitors. When everything was ready the two orderlies began to wheel Vin out of ICU. Vin moaned when his leg moved but didn't wake. Kathy watched as they wheeled Vin into the elevator. She hoped everything would be all right and turned back to the room to straighten up. As she did she noticed JD staring at her. They had positioned his head so that he could see Vin and she saw the confusion in his eyes.

"It's alright, JD, They're just moving Vin to another room," she said as she brushed the hair from his eyes. "He's better now, and doesn't need us to watch him so closely. Do you understand?"

She wasn't sure if he did or not, but he looked at her with those big eyes of his and blinked back the tears. She thought it might be a good idea to let Buck in for awhile, so she checked his IV and his vitals to make sure they hadn't changed and then went to fetch JD's friend. She knew he'd be right outside in the waiting area and she wasn't wrong.

He frowned that she had come to get him before his scheduled 10 minutes, and was relieved when she explained, "Vin's been moved out of ICU . . . I don't think JD understands why he's gone. Maybe you can talk to him."

Buck didn't know whether to be worried or relieved by the tears running down JD's face. Obviously the kid was upset, but on the other hand, it was the first real reaction he'd shown to anything in a week. He sat down beside the bed so he could look JD in the eye. He reached for his face and wiped the tears away with his thumb.

"Hey, what's this all about kid?" he asked him.

JD looked at where Vin's bed had been, and tried to point with one of his casted hands. Then as plain as day he said, "Vi . . ."

If the kid hadn't been hurt like he was, Buck would have picked him up and hugged him. Instead, a broad grin spread across his face, and he repeated the same thing Kathy had told him a few minutes before, except, Kathy noted with amusement, he believed it when it came from Buck.

"When you get a little better, they'll let you see him again," Buck explained.

JD seemed to understand that too. It wasn't much, and he didn't say anything else, but to Buck that one little syllable had been pure poetry.

Kathy was smiling too. "He seems to be stabilizing," she said. "His vitals haven't changed much in the last 12 hours. We should be able to release him to a regular room in a couple of days."

"Can he be with the others?" Buck knew JD would want that.

Kathy shook her head apologetically. "Vin and Ezra are on the Orthopedics floor. JD will have to go to Neurology."

Buck winced at the word. It reminded him of how serious JD's injury was. But at least things were getting better now. There was hope.

+ + + + + + +

Vin slowly opened his eyes and blinked. The pain in his arm and leg woke him and he tried not to move. He turned his head to the right and frowned. He could have sworn he saw something. Vin looked towards his legs and thought he saw shadows. He was surprised Kathy or Rick didn't come to check on him. They knew he couldn't find the button for the morphine pump. Vin became agitated when he realized no one was coming.

"Hello," he called. "Anybody there?"

When he didn't receive an answer he started to panic. They never left him alone before. Vin tried to sit up the slight movement send a wave of agony coursing up his arm and leg. Vin cried out and slumped back against the pillows. His began breathing faster and his heart rate increased, setting off the cardiac monitor.

"Ezra! JD!" Vin cried out. "Where are you!"

"Damn you!" Chris cursed the nurse following him as he rushed into the room. "Why didn't you check on him sooner!"

"He isn't the only patient we have on this ward," she said sarcastically. "We can't come running every time he wakes up."

"Get out!" Chris growled and she made a hasty retreat towards the door.

"Chris!" Vin called.

"Easy Vin," Chris said moving quickly to his side as he hit the morphine pump. "You're alright."

"Where's JD?" Vin asked confused as the morphine took effect.

"They moved you to a different room," Chris said trying to explain.

"Want to stay with JD," Vin pleaded as the pain started to subside.

"I know," Chris said taking his good hand. "But he couldn't be moved yet."

"Want to share with Ezra," Vin argued.

"You can't," Chris said patiently. "Not yet."

Vin turned his head to the sound of Chris's voice and blinked. He stared hard towards Chris and could see a shadowy figure. Vin pulled his hand from Chris grasp and tentatively reached towards Chris.

Chris froze when Vin started reaching for him. He saw the younger man concentrate as he moved his hand towards him. After a short time Vin's hand came to rest on Chris's cheek and he smiled.

"Vin what is it?" he asked taking his hand.

"Shapes," Vin said cryptically. "Shadows."

"You can see my silhouette?" Chris asked.

"I think so." Vin replied.

Chris felt a small weight lift from his shoulders. He knew this didn't mean much but it was a start. He was about to say that when a nurse entered the room.

"So, Mr. Larabee, I hear you're scaring my nurses," she said.

"She deserved it," Chris said.

"You're probably right," she smiled. "Jo has a terrible bedside manner. I'm Carly. I read in the paper about the seven of you. I'm very impressed."

"Yeah well, don't believe everything you read in the paper," Chris said as she came closer.

"I must apologize, Mr. Tanner," she said. "One of he nurses called in sick today and we're short staffed. Someone should have come  in sooner to check on you."

"Name's Vin," he said. "It's alright."

"No it's not alright," she said. "While you were in ICU they watched all the time. Here it's different."

She reached behind him and pulled over the call device. She placed it in his hand and showed him where the button was.

"You can call us anytime," Carly said. "Doesn't matter for what. I know not having your sight can be disorienting and a little frightening so don't hesitate to push that button if you need us."

"Alright," he said and she left them.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here when they moved you," Chris said.

"I don't even remember it," Vin admitted.

"Kathy said they had you sedated," Chris smiled. "You were out like a light."

"What about JD?" Vin asked.

"What about him?" Chris asked confused.

"He'll be lonely there by himself," Vin said.

"Buck will be with him," Chris said.

"Do you think they'll let me see Ezra?" Vin asked.

"Vin . . ."

"Please, Chris, I have to. I need to know if he's OK."  Vin was becoming upset . "Hell I don't even know if that was actually JD next to me in ICU. I only have your word on it."

"You always trusted my word," Chris said.

"I know," Vin said with a sigh. "But this is different."

"I know Vin," Chris said. "But Ezra's got an infection, and he isn't feeling too good. Plus, his mother's here."

"Poor guy," Vin smiled. "He ain't feeling good and now his Ma's here. I feel sorry for him."

"Actually I think she cares a lot," Chris said. "She just has a funny way of showing it."

"So why were you late?" Vin  asked with a yawn.

"Got a call from Travis to see how you were doing," Chris said as he took a seat. "Then I was just getting ready to leave and personnel called. They didn't have time cards for this week and needed to know all the information."

"Oh," Vin said as his eyes began to close.

Chris leaned back in his chair and got comfortable. There was one advantage of Vin being out of ICU. He could now stay with him as long as he wanted, or until the nurses kicked him out, whichever came first.


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