ATF Universe


Darla was writing a report when she heard the distinctive clicking of high heels on linoleum. She looked up and sighed when she saw Maude Standish striding towards her in an immaculate plum colored business suit. Yesterday, Ms. Standish found fault with everything the nurses did. Darla wasn't looking forward to her time on duty.

"Good morning, my dear," Maude said as she stopped at the desk. "May I presume my son is permitted visitors at this time?"

"Yes ma'am," Darla answered. "He was still asleep when I checked on him but you can still go in."

"Of course I can," Maude said. "I'm his mother."

Darla watched her walk towards Ezra's room and enter. She returned to her report and shook her head. Sometimes she felt sorry for her patients. Ezra was definitely one of them.

Maude quietly entered the room and made her way over to the bed. The nurse was correct, Ezra was still asleep. She stared down at her son and sighed. Maude knew that she had a difficult time showing her affection, but she hated seeing Ezra like this. She reached out and stroked Ezra's cheek. Ezra began to stir and she smiled down at him when he opened his eyes.

"Mother," Ezra said sleepily. "What a pleasant surprise."

"Ezra, darling, I wanted to come by and tell you everything has been arranged," Maude said.

"What's been arranged?" Ezra asked suspiciously.

"Why the means for you to leave, of course," Maude said exasperatedly.

"Leave?" Ezra said confused.

"Why yes," she said. "I've chartered a plane to take you home."

"I'm not leaving mother," Ezra stated.

"Well of course not right now," Maude laughed. "But when the doctors declare you fit, I've taken care of everything."

"That's not what I meant," Ezra sighed. "I will not leave without Mr. Tanner and Mr. Dunne."

"Well of course not ,my darling boy," Maude smiled and patted his cheek. "The plane will take you all back to Denver. I've also arranged for the rehabilitation for Mr. Tanner and Mr. Dunne. Your therapist, Gina, is that her name? She'll be accompanying you, and I have arranged for Denver's finest specialists to oversee your collective recovery."

"But, mother, the cost will exorbitant," Ezra said in shock.

"What's the use of having money if you can't flaunt it?" Maude said patting his hand. "Besides the plane is owned by a gentleman who owes me for some gambling debts. He was more than willing to offer his services."

"A wise decision on his part," Ezra smiled. "What terms did you give him?"

"I told him the use of the plane would cover the interest and that I would reduce the debt by twenty cents on the dollar," Maude said with a gleam in he eye.

"An offer he couldn't refuse," Ezra laughed.

"Nothing too good for my boy," Maude beamed and gently kissed his cheek.

+ + + + + + +

"Good morning Darla," Josiah said as he stopped by the desk.

"Morning Josiah," she smiled.

"Is Ezra up for visitors?"

"His mother's in with him now."

"She is," Josiah smiled. "Well the gods must be smiling on me this morning."

Darla smiled as Josiah headed for Ezra's room. All the nurses noticed Josiah had a crush on Ms. Standish. The ATF agent always seemed to show up whenever Maude was there. Darla certainly didn't mind. With Josiah there, Maude wouldn't make a nuisance of herself.

+ + + + + + +

Buck sat next to Vin reading the paper. He had another hour before he could visit JD and decided to keep Vin company. Buck was reading the sports pages when he heard Vin begin to stir. He folded the paper and put it on the floor. The ladies' man waited patiently for Vin to open his eyes.

Vin hated waking up. He hated opening his eyes to nothing. Vin took a deep breath and opened them prepared to be disappointed. He was surprised when instead of the usually murky fog, he saw ceiling tiles. Granted, they were a bit blurry but he could definitely see them.

Buck watched as Vin opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. Vin blinked a few times but didn't say anything.

"Hey Vin," Buck said before he touched him so he wouldn't be startled. "Just wanted to let you know someone was here."

"Buck," Vin said turning his head towards him.

"Yeah, Junior, it's me," Buck said clasping Vin's good hand.

"You look like shit," Vin said with a smile.

"Yeah well . . ." Buck stopped when Vin's statement sunk in. "Wait a minute how can you tell?"

"I can see you," Vin said in a shaky voice.

"You can?" Buck said in shock. "Hold on I'll get your doctor."

"No!" Vin said holding tight to Buck's hand. "Don't leave me."

"Easy Vin, I won't," Buck said. He could feel Vin was shaking and he ignored the tears gathering in Vin's eyes. "I'll just buzz the nurse."

"God, Buck, please tell me I'm not dreaming," Vin said trying to control his emotions.

"You ain't dreaming pard," Buck smiled as he squeezed Vin's hand again.

"Mr. Wilmington what's the matter?" Carly asked as she walked in.

"Can you page Vin's doctor?" Buck said excitedly. "He can see."

"That's wonderful news!" she exclaimed. "I'll page him right away."

"Where's Chris?" Vin asked, not taking his eyes off Buck.

"He's back at the hotel," Buck smiled and watched as Vin tracked his every move. "He went back to get some sleep, but I don't think he'll mind if I wake him for this."

Buck made the call and an irritated Chris answered the phone. He practically took Buck's head off when he realized it was him. Buck didn't mind, and excitedly told Chris the news. The last thing Buck heard was the receiver being dropped then static. He folded his cell phone and looked back at Vin. The sharpshooter was seeing the contraption that was holding him immobile for the first time.

"Shit!" Vin exclaimed.

"You said it," Buck laughed.

"Are those pins sticking through my skin?" Vin asked in a queasy voice.

"Yup," Buck shuddered. "And into the bone. Gives me the willies."

"You ain't kidding," Vin said. "Maybe I was better off not seeing."

"Too late now," Buck laughed.

"Well Mr. Tanner I hear you got your eyesight back," Dr. Grady said as he walked in.

"Reckon I did," Vin said with a smile.

"Mr. Wilmington, would you mind waiting outside while I examine my patent?" he asked.

"Nope," Buck said as he stood. "I'll be right outside."

Chris made it the hospital in record time. He quickly parked the car and ran into the hospital. Chris wasn't about to wait for the elevator and bounded up the stairs. He exited the stairway and strode quickly down the hall to Vin's room only to be stopped at the door by Buck.

"Hold on Pard," Buck said grabbing his arm. "Doc's in there checking him over right now."

"The little punk woke up and told me I looked like shit," Buck said smiling broadly.

"God, Buck, this is great," Chris said.

"Poor kid asked me if he was dreaming," Buck said.

"I bet," Chris laughed and Buck was glad to hear it.

"Gentlemen you can come in now," the doctor said.

They entered the room and Chris moved quickly to Vin's side. The younger man stared at Chris then smiled.

"Damn do all a ya look like this?" Vin asked when he saw Chris's appearance. "You must have Ezra appalled."

"That's it, no more spending time with Ezra," Chris smiled.

"Yeah his big words are starting to rub off," Buck laughed.

"Doctor how is he?" Chris asked turning to him.

"I'm going to schedule Vin for a CAT scan, to check the swelling" Dr. Grady said, "but the return of his eyesight is a good indication the area is healing. Vin's vision is still a little blurry, but with more rest and time to heal, it should return to normal."

"Well I certainly ain't going nowhere," Vin said looking at his leg. "But can I ask a favor?"

"And that is?" Dr. Grady asked.

"I want to see Ezra and JD," Vin declared.

"Vin . . ." Chris started.

"Please, Chris, I have too," Vin said looking at him with pleading blue eyes.

"I'm afraid Mr. Dunne can't be moved from ICU yet," the doctor explained. "Mr. Standish is improving. We might be able to have him visit you. I'll check with my colleague in orthopedics."

"Thanks doc," Vin said.

"Well, I'll go spread the good news!" Buck said.

"Thanks Buck," Chris said.

"Now that you can see all those pretty nurses, you better leave some for me," Buck teased and patted Vin's good leg before he left.

"Damn Chris, do we all look this bad?" Vin asked.

"You're the only one bolted together like this," Chris said.

"That's good," Vin sighed as he settled deeper into the pillows. "How are they?"

Chris didn't even have to ask whom. "Ezra has a bone infection, but he's doing OK," Chris answered. "JD's the one we're worried about. He's awake, but he can't talk or move."

"Aw hell," Vin cursed. "I shoulda known he was bad off."

"Don't you start," Chris warned. "I already have Ezra blaming himself for the crash. I don't need it from you."

"If JD could talk he'd probably take the blame too," Vin chuckled and regretted it as the stitches across his abdomen pulled and he cringed.

"Why don't you try and relax and go back to sleep," Chris suggested. "You've had a pretty exciting morning."

"Ain't sleepy," Vin said. "Besides, I'm afraid to . . . I'm afraid I'll wake up and it'll be dark again."

"I know," Chris said.

"Maybe you could read me the paper?" Vin asked turning hopeful blue eyes towards Chris.

"Alright," Chris agreed and picked up the paper

He'd forgotten how expressive Vin's eyes were. When Vin couldn't see, they were dull and lifeless. Now that Vin's eyesight was back his eyes were a window to his soul if you knew how to look. Chris got comfortable and began reading the sports page. He only read a few columns when he noticed Vin was asleep. Chris smiled and stretched out in the chair and joined him in slumber.


"Good mornin' Josiah," Maude said sweetly and smiled brightly at the beaming agent.

"Maude!" Josiah exclaimed, with a wide smile. "You're like a breath of springtime each time I see you." As he finished speaking, he bowed and took Maude's outstretched hand and kissed it.

Maude nodded favorably at him and replied, "I declare, Josiah, you say the nicest things."

"Good Lord! If you two are finished, would one of you please hand me my shaving kit?" Ezra interrupted.

"Really dear, there's no need to be unpleasant," Maude smiled, as she handed him the kit and began rearranging his bedding.

Ezra rolled his eyes and Josiah's deep booming laughter filled the room.

+ + + + + + +

"Good morning, Mr. Wilmington," the nurse on duty said pleasantly when Buck stepped off the elevator and up to the nurse's station.

"Now, darlin', I told you to call me Buck," the ladies' man flirted. "How's JD today?"

"He's getting better - - Buck," she replied with a smile. "The doctor's in with him now. You should be able to go in, in just a few minutes. There he is now," she pointed out.

"Thank you," Buck said and went to intercept the doctor. "How's JD?" he asked, getting straight to the point.

"Good news," Dr. Demier responded. "His vitals have stabilized and his fever is gone. We're going to be moving him to a regular room in neurology, just as soon as we can make the arrangements.

"That's terrific, Doc! Buck crowed. "Does he know yet?"

"We thought you might like to give him the good news," Dr. Demier responded with a smile. "Hold on, just a minute," he said and put a hand on Buck's chest. "I just don't want you to get your hopes up too high. JD's got an awfully big mountain to climb yet," the doctor warned.

"Doc, mountain climbing is JD's specialty," Buck answered and shook his hand and went to see his friend.

+ + + + + + +

"Mr. Larabee," Ezra greeted the blond agent, as he came into the room.

"Ezra, Maude," Chris said with a grin, as he pushed an empty wheelchair ahead of him into the room. "Josiah, do you think you could take Maude out for some coffee? Ezra's got an appointment."

"Certainly," Josiah answered and offered Maude his arm.

She looked at Chris rather dubiously, before kissing Ezra on the cheek. "I'll see you later darlin'," Maude said softly and then giving Josiah, her most dazzling smile, she took his arm and left the room with him.

"Which torturous procedure have you been coerced into escorting me to, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked in a disgruntled voice.

"Ezra, you ask too many questions," Chris replied with a grin and helped him into the chair. When he was settled, the blond pushed the IV pole in front of him. "Here Ezra, steer this," he ordered, as he backed out of the room holding the door, so that he could swing the wheelchair into the hall. They traveled down to the end of the hall and then Chris turned the corner and pushed the chair a short ways, until he stopped in front of a patient's room.

"Vin!" Ezra breathed.

"He's been asking for you," Chris answered, nodding his head. "And since Mohammed couldn't come to the mountain, we're bringing the mountain to Mohammed."

"How can I face him? Ezra demanded in an anguished voice.

Larabee turned the wheelchair around, so that they were facing one another. "Look Ezra, you couldn't do anything to keep the plane from crashing. And, you couldn't do much to help Vin, up on that mountain. None of that was in your control. But, this is," Chris said sternly. "Vin's not thinking about the crash or the time you spent on the mountain. All he knows right now, is that he's hurting and he's scared to death that you and JD didn't make it and we're just not telling him. Damnit Ezra! You've never been a coward. Don't lose your courage now, when Vin needs you the most." Chris stopped talking and he stood up abruptly.

"Mr. Larabee, you really don't play fair," Ezra answered with a heavy sigh.

"I learned from the best," Chris acknowledged cheerfully. "You ready to go in?" he asked gently.

"Onward, and upward, Mr. Larabee."

Vin shifted in the bed, trying to get comfortable, when he heard the door opening and someone coming into his room. His vision was still blurry, and he couldn't make out who it was.

"Who is it?" he called and squinted trying to make out the blob coming towards him.

"Brought you a visitor," Chris announced and pushed Ezra next to the bed.

"Ezra?" Vin asked hopefully, not sure if he was really seeing the Southerner.

"In the flesh," Standish answered.

"Jesus, Ezra, I thought you were dead," Vin breathed. His relief was palpable and the undercover agent felt his own pain easing along with Vin's.

Chris watched as both men stared at each other, both struggling to vocalize their thoughts. Thinking they might be holding off what they wanted to say, because he was in the room, the ATF leader cleared his throat. "If you don't mind keeping each other company for a minute or two, I'll just go and find out what's happening with JD."

At the mention of the young ATF agent's name, both men turned their attention to the blonde agent, frowns deeply embedded in both the patients' foreheads.

Chris shook his head, wondering how two grown men could carry so much guilt over something that had been nothing but bad timing. "Why are you two bound and determined to see trouble, where there is none? From what I hear JD's is doing fine, but if it'll get those pathetic looks off your faces, I'll make sure and report back. Oh, and Ezra, you keep those wheels of yours in park till I get back. If I lose you, Maude will not be happy."

"Your Mother is here Ez?" Vin asked in a bid for a safe subject.

"Mother does so love an event," the Southerner explained.

"Well, ya can't say this wasn't an event, but it's one I could have missed without too many regrets."

"Speaking of atonement's," Ezra spoke softly, unable to met the Texan's sight. "I apologize for my part in this fiasco. If I had been a superior pilot, you and Mr. Dunne would not have had to suffer as you have, and still do. But on a more pleasant note, may I add my felicitations at the good fortune of your returned sight."

One thing that the Southerner had not been expecting was laughter, but as he followed the small rumbling sound, he found Vin protecting his stitches as he tried to control his amusement.

"Glad I'm good for something, even it is for your amusement, Mr. Tanner." Ezra snorted.

Vin struggled to get himself under control, "Aw Ez, ya don't understand, Chris was right."

"Mr. Larabee right? And just what would our glorious leader be on target about?" Ezra asked.

"It seems," Vin answered a little more somberly as his mirth was countered by an ache from his abdomen. "We've been lying in our rooms, beating ourselves up about things that weren't our fault. Ya didn't fly the balloon into us Ez, but what ya did do was fly that plane like ya were born in it. Ya brought us down in one piece."

"Broken pieces." Ezra contested.

"Broken can heal Ez, the dead can't. We owe ya our lives, JD and I.  We ain't gonna forget that."

The air was getting too thick with emotion for the Southerner's liking, "Please do, Mr.Tanner and I mean, please do forget. Saint Ezra is not a good name for a man with my reputation."

"Okay," Vin agreed as he managed to wink, "Saint Ez, I like that."

"You are not going to forget this, are you Mr. Tanner?" Ezra lamented as he dropped his shaking head into his hands.

"Our little secret Ez," Vin chuckled.

"Friends," Ezra moaned, keeping his face down as he continued. "Who needs them?"  You do Ezra Standish, you do. He smiled to himself.


The Southerner looked up quickly at hearing Vin's voice.

"What is it Vin?" he asked, noticing how serious the younger man suddenly had become. "Are you in pain? Shall I ring for assistance?"

"No, it ain't that Ezra," Vin said, shaking his head slightly. "It's JD. I want ya to tell me how bad he is."

"Vin . . ." Ezra began, but the sharpshooter cut him off.

"Ezra please," Vin said, his blue eyes imploring. "Chris ain't telling me everything. I know he's keeping something from me. I couldn't see anything on the plane, but I know JD was hurt bad."

"Vin, nothing is being kept from you, I'm sure," Ezra tried to reassure. But his words fell on deaf ears.

"Is he dead?" Vin whispered. "Don't lie to me, Ezra. Please. I just wanna know. Chris thinks I can't handle it, but I have to know." His eyes were brimming, moisture threatening to spill over past the thick dark lashes. Vin blinked the tears away angrily, and faced Ezra with a stern expression, waiting to hear the grim news.

Very well Vin," Ezra said. "I'll tell you the truth."

"Thanks Ez," Vin said in a choked voice. "I knew you would."

"JD isn't dead, I swear to you," Ezra blurted out, using an uncharacteristically simple vocabulary. "He was very badly injured in the crash, but his injuries were no worse than yours were," the southerner pointed out. "And you are recovering very quickly, as I'm sure JD will," he finished.

"There you are my dear!" a feminine voice sounded from behind them.

"Mother," Ezra greeted, his eyes not leaving Vin's face.

"Ezra, let's get you back to your room, you've been visiting with Mr. Tanner here long enough." She paused and looked at Vin assessingly. "Good morning Mr. Tanner. I'm glad to see that you are recovering from your ordeal."

"Thank you ma'am," Vin said, stifling a yawn. Surprised to feel his eyes begin to droop, he realized he suddenly felt very tired, even as his heart pounded with relief that JD was alive.

As Maude began to wheel Ezra away, Vin called after his friend frantically, forcing his eyes back open. "Ezra, wait!"

Maude changed direction, and pushed her son closer to Vin's bed. "I'll be right back, I just want to check on something with the nurses," she said to the two men, leaving them some privacy.

"Thanks for telling me 'bout JD, Ezra. Don't know why I thought Chris was keeping anything from me. It's just . . . I just . . . I had these dreams about it . . . about us all in the plane. And then I couldn't see, and I thought Chris just didn't want me to get upset about things," he finished uncertainly as he stared back at his friend.

"I understand Vin. I've had some dreams like that too. Terrifying things, dreams. Sometimes they can be so real, it's hard to know what's real and what is a dream."

Vin smiled at his friend. "Yeah, I know what ya mean. Thought you and JD were . . ."

"Vin, if you please, no more of that. You know the old expression, 'don't borrow trouble.' A favorite of my dear mother's," Ezra cut in.

As if on cue, Maude walked back into the room.

"Good day, Vin," Ezra said, waving at his friend as Maude steered the wheelchair out of the room. He glanced back over his shoulder, pleased to see Vin closing his eyes and drifting off. "Sleep well my friend," he murmured under his breath. "A most glorious day today, isn't it mother?" he smiled up at Maude as she wheeled him back to his room.

"It most assuredly is Ezra," Maude agreed, returning her son's smile with one of her own.


Buck was in a good mood, as he made his way to the hospital. Today was the day they were moving JD out of ICU. The ladies' man knew the kid still had a long way to go before he was better, but this was a step in the right direction. Usually Buck would ride in with Chris, but the leader of Team Seven was on his way to the airport, to drop off Nathan and Josiah. They couldn't all stay in New Mexico, so it had been decided that the two of them would return to Denver, where they would also make the arrangements for their injured partners' return.

Maude had put Josiah in contact with the rehab center where JD and Vin would eventually be transferred. Their doctors in Albuquerque were releasing them at the end of the week, on the condition that they were placed in another hospital in Denver. Both agents still needed the constant attention, that only a hospital could give them. Ezra was recovering slowly, but his injuries could be taken care of at home.

Buck didn't care where they were. He had made a vow to care for JD, and he would do it even if it meant he had to quit the ATF. The small inheritance his mother had left him would come in handy and after that was depleted he would think of something else. Chris assured him he wouldn't have to quit the team, but Buck was just thinking ahead if it came to that. He pulled into the parking lot and pulled into a spot. This wasn't the time to worry about tomorrow and he put it all out of his mind as he made his way into the hospital.

+ + + + + + +

JD watched the nurses go about their business in ICU. He tried listening to them talk, but he couldn't figure out what they were saying. Every once in awhile he thought he recognized a word, but he wasn't sure. It still bothered him that he couldn't move. He wasn't paralyzed - he knew that much - but when he tried to move some part of his body, he was never sure if he was actually doing it or not.

JD knew something was happening today. The nurses had come in earlier and were all happy and smiling as they checked him over. They had told him something, but JD had just laid there staring at them. He was starting to drift off when the nurses came back again.

JD became alarmed when they started to move his bed. If they moved him, how was Buck going to find him again? He tried to make some sound to get them to stop but he couldn't. He wanted to scream for them to stop but nothing came out but a garbled noise. JD's eyes darted left and right and he nearly jumped out of his skin when someone took his hand.

"Easy, Kid, you're okay," Buck's voice said.

"Bu . . . " JD forced through his unresponsive mouth, He'd never been so happy to see someone.

"Yeah it's me," Buck smiled. "They're just moving you to another room. No more pretty nurses to do everything for you."

"Vi . . ."

Buck could see JD was becoming frustrated with his inability to talk or move. Hell ,so was Buck. The past couple of days he'd tried to anticipate what JD was trying to say, but sometimes he just didn't know. It was like playing twenty questions every time JD wanted something. They'd been able to work out a few signals and JD was doing pretty good at communicating his basic needs - but only with Buck. No one else seemed to understand him and he was only able to articulate parts of few words, like Buck's name and Vin's. Buck knew he'd been trying ask about Ezra, too, but it just wouldn't come out. He knew JD wanted to see both of them, as much as they wanted to see him.

"Sorry, JD, you can't see them," Buck said pushing back JD's hair. "Not today anyway."

Buck heard JD sigh as they continued towards the elevator. JD became agitated as the elevator went down. Buck took his hand and held it tight, at first not understanding why the elevator upset him, and then realizing it must have been the sensation of dropping. That's how it must have felt when the plane was going down . . .

Buck knew they were going to the neurological ward but he wasn't sure what floor it was on. The elevator finally stopped at the second floor and they got off. They wheeled JD to the third door on the left passed the nurses station. Once JD was settled in his new bed Buck took a seat to keep the kid company. They were only there a few minutes when JD's neurologist, Dr. Demier, walked in.

"Good morning Buck," he said.

"Mornin' Dr . Demier," Buck said.

"So JD how are we doing today?" the Dr. asked as he moved to JD's side.

"Vi . . . se . . ." JD got out with a struggle. Dr. Demier looked at Buck for an explanation. He had learned that the older man seemed to sense what the younger one was trying to say.

"He wants to see Vin," Buck said.

Demier was thoroughly familiar with JD's case, and even though Vin wasn't his patient, he knew who he was. "Not just yet," the doctor told JD. "I have some test to run on you today." Even he could see the anxious look in JD's eyes at that announcement. He placed a gentle hand on JD's shoulder. "Don't worry. Nothing that's going to hurt. But, I"m afraid Mr. Tanner starts physical therapy today and I doubt he'll be up to seeing anyone."

+ + + + + + +

Vin wished someone would put him out of his misery. Better yet, he wished for his gun so he could shoot the person causing his latest agony. He was taken by surprise this morning when he woke up to find a physical therapist - a big, male one - in his room. After Hank had introduced himself he'd started torturing him.

"Come on, Vin, just a little harder," Hank said as he waited for Vin to push against him with his uninjured leg.

"Shit!" Vin cursed as he gritted his teeth from the pain in his side.

"I know this is hard, but if you don't start moving the parts that aren't broken you'll be sorry," Hank reasoned. "Now push!"

Sometimes Hank hated this part of his job. He'd started earlier on Vin's good arm. First massaging it, then making the injured man flex it. Hank had also rotated Vin's shoulder joint, so it wouldn't get stiff. Then came the broken arm. Hank knew that only two days before it had been suspended in traction. Now the lower half of Vin's arm was in a metal cage of external fixators, which while giving him a bit more mobility, had not lessened his pain. Hank had carefully manipulated Vin's right shoulder, so as not to jar the break. Vin had tried to punch him with his good arm, but that had only resulted in him jarring his broken leg. Hank was forced to stop what he was doing, when his patient screamed in pain. Carly had come running in to see what was wrong and when she saw Hank, she'd smiled at the handsome physical therapist and said she'd get Vin a shot of Demerol. They had switched him to oral painkillers and she knew they would take too long to dull the pain. Once the Demerol had taken off the edge Hank proceeded with what he was doing.

"Come on, Tanner, the quicker you do this, the quicker I give you a rub down," Hank said.

"Over . . .my dead . . .body," Vin panted.

Hank felt Vin push against him and smiled. "One more!"

Chris walked in to hear Vin cursing up a storm. He was also surprised to find a man holding Vin's good leg. He had Vin's right foot against his chest with his knee bent and was telling Vin to push against him.

"Fuck you!" Vin said weakly.

"You're not my type," Hank smiled. "Now give me one more."

"The sooner you do it, cowboy, the faster he's gone," Chris said.

"Chris," Vin gasped. "Give me your damn gun!"

"I don't think so," Chris said as he took Vin's left hand. "I don't feel like tying up all the paper work. So give him a push and you're done."

"Can't," Vin panted and closed his eyes. "Hurts."

"Yeah, you can," Chris said. "Open your eyes and look at me."

Vin did as Chris asked and Chris smiled. Only a few days before Vin hadn't been able to see a thing. They locked eyes and Vin knew he could do what Hank had asked. Vin took a deep breath and pushed against Hank's chest

"Excellent!" Hank cried as he put carefully put Vin's leg down. "Now I'm just going to turn you on your side."

"Please no," Vin begged.

"Gotta do it, Vin," Chris said.

"If you ain't gonna take my side, then why the hell did ya come?" Vin growled.

Vin knew they had to change his position every once in awhile, but damn it hurt! Hank told Chris to move to the right side of the bed. Chris had helped them turn Vin yesterday and he knew what was needed of him. It amazed Chris that the whole crazy contraption attached to Vin's leg moved to keep it traction as he changed positions. Once Vin was on his side he gripped Chris's hand with his and tried to catch his breath. Hank was good to his word and began to give Vin a rub down.

"Aw hell," Vin cursed, mortally embarrassed.

"Don't knock it," Hank said. "This will make you feel better."

"Hell, I'll take his place," Chris commented. "I could sure use a good back rub."

"The name's Hank by the way."

"Hank the horrible," Vin mumbled.

"Chris Larabee, his boss."

"Hope they give you combat pay," Hank smiled. "This one's a handful."

"Don't I know it?" Chris agreed.

"Bite me," Vin slurred as he began to relax from the back rub.

Chris wasn't surprised when Vin fell asleep after this latest ordeal. He leaned back in the chair and got comfortable.

"He give you a hard time?" Chris asked.

"Not too much," Hank said as he massaged Vin's lower back. "He just cursed me in several different languages, I think."

"I'm sure he did," Chris smiled as he looked at Vin.

"He did pretty good for his first session," Hank commented. "Once I realized he was a fighter and wouldn't take to being coddled, I pretty much had him pegged."

"In other words you made him mad," Chris smiled.

"Worked," Hank said as he put his equipment away. "Well I'm finished here. It was nice meeting you."

"Same here," Chris said.

Chris watched as Hank left the room. He turned back to Vin when he saw him shiver. Chris pulled up the blankets to cover Vin's back. Since Vin was sleeping, Chris decided to take the opportunity to check on JD. He wasn't sure where they had moved him, so he stopped at the nurse's station on the way out. Carly was more then happy to find out where JD had been moved. She made a phone calling and found out he was on the second floor, room 218. Chris made his way to the elevator and got on the next one. He exited on the second floor and walked to JD's room. Chris entered and found Buck talking with JD and showing him pictures. They were simple ones of every day objects. Buck would say the name, and JD would try to point to them. It wasn't easy for him, since he didn't have very good motor control, and his arms were weighted down by the wrist casts, but, Buck seemed to be able to tell when JD recognized the object and when he didn't.

JD was the first to notice Chris was there and turned his attention to the Team leader. Buck turned around to see what JD was looking at. "Hey Chris, just showing JD some pictures."

"So I see," Chris said as he walked over. "Hey kid." He patted JD's leg. "How's he doing?" he asked Buck.

Buck seemed optimistic, even though to Chris, JD's injury still appeared devastating. "Still not talking so good, but he understands a lot of stuff now," Buck explained. "I think he's starting to remember things, too."

Chris pulled up at chair and sat down. JD wanted to ask if Chris had seen, Vin but he couldn't get the words to form in his mind, let alone get them to come out of his mouth. He struggled to say something and became furious when he couldn't. JD wanted to hit something and was surprised when his right arm swung out, barely missing Buck. The sudden move pulled at the wound in his back and he whimpered.

"Easy there Tiger," Buck said and grabbed his hand.

They watched, as JD again tried to form words. He moved his lips, but nothing came out. Chris watched, as Buck tried to interpret what the kid was trying to say. He watched, as Buck became as frustrated as JD. Chris decided to just talk to JD.

"Just came from Vin's room," Chris said and noticed JD's a distinct spark in JD's eyes at the mention of the sharpshooter's name. "He wasn't a happy camper."

"Why not?" Buck asked.

"They started him on physical therapy," Chris commented.

"Oh yeah," Buck smiled. "Is his therapist as cute as Ezra's Gina?"

"Only if you think a guy as big as Josiah, with the name Hank is cute," Chris smiled.

Chris saw JD's eyes twinkle at that and he proceeded to tell them that Vin had cursed up a storm. Buck said he didn't blame him since it probably hurt like hell. They continued to talk as if JD was a part of the conversation until the younger man drifted off to sleep.

"What did the doctor have to say?" Chris asked.

"There's really no way to tell yet how much better he's gonna get," Buck sighed.

"But he's still gettin' better, which is good," Chris pointed out. "He recognized me today. I'm sure he did."

"I know he did," Buck agreed, although he couldn't help but feel a sense of irony. JD had a genius IQ, and here they were gratified by the fact, that he had recognized a face he had seen almost daily for the past two years. "Doc said the drain in his back could come out and that it's healing good."

"They'll probably start JD on physical therapy next," Chris commented.

"Yeah," Buck sighed, thinking what an arduous undertaking that was going to be. JD was going to have to learn to walk and talk all over again. "Did Vin really ask for your gun?"

"Yup," Chris said. "Hank doesn't realize how lucky he was."

"Been to see Ezra yet?" Buck asked.

"Not yet," Chris said. "I'm making my rounds. Besides Maude gets on my nerves."

"Yeah she's a hard one to read," Buck said. "But she sure came through this time. Don't know how we'd be getting the boys home without her help."

"Yeah I know what you mean," Chris said.

"Can't believe she's also gonna pay for Vin and JD to stay at that fancy rehab center," Buck commented. It had surprised him that Maude had arranged for Ezra's physical therapist to accompany him to Denver, for no reason other than Ezra liked her and was comfortable working with her. Gina had arranged for a leave of absence, in part because Maude had offered her a substantial salary increase, but mostly because she had for some reason grown fond of Team Seven. Buck didn't get it. They weren't the easiest guys in the world to actually like - except for him, of course. But Maude had taken it upon herself to look out for JD and Vin, too. The woman was full of surprises.

"I think that even shocked Ezra," Chris agreed with his assessment. "Well I better go see how he's doing and maybe rescue him from his mother now that Josiah isn't here."

"Josiah sure is smitten with her," Buck laughed.

"I'll say," Chris agreed. "I'll see you later."

Chris left and made his way back to the orthopedic ward. Ezra's room was only a few doors down from Vin's, but he discovered it was empty. He went out to the nurse's desk to find out what was going on.

"Hello, Darla, do you know where Ezra is?" he asked.

"Ms. Standish took him down to the cafeteria," she answered. "Said she hated eating alone."

"I'd better go rescue him," Chris sighed.

"Yeah I think you better," Darla said and was instantly sorry. "I didn't mean that!"

"Oh, yes you did," Chris laughed. "Trust me Maude takes a little getting used too."

Hell he was surprised Maude hadn't bundle Ezra up to take him to a restaurant. He couldn't see Ezra's mother eating downstairs. It was still early for lunch and the cafeteria wasn't too crowded. Chris had no trouble finding them sitting by a window.

"Ah good day Mr. Larabee," Maude said as he walked over. "Please join us."

"Yes, please do," Ezra said.

"Would you like anything?" Maude asked. "My treat."

'No thank you," Chris said. "I had something at the airport."

"Did Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Jackson get off well?" Ezra asked.

"Yeah," Chris answered. "They should be in Denver around one."

"Splendid," Maude declared. "I've told Mr. Lansing at the rehabilitation center that he can expect a call from Josiah."

"We all appreciate what you're doing," Chris said.

"It's my pleasure, I assure you." Maude said. "It's not that often I get to do something nice for my baby boy," she patted Ezra's cheek while the agent rolled his eyes. "Well I must be off. I have an appointed to get my nails done in a chic little shop I found downtown. Mr. Larabee, you will see to it that Ezra gets back to his room?"

"Sure, Maude," he agreed.

"Now darlin' don't over do it," Maude scolded as she kissed Ezra on the cheek. "I'll see you later. Perhaps I shall bring some real food. I declare, the food in this place would have to be upgraded to qualify as pig swill. Ta ta."

Chris shook his head as Maude made sure everyone noticed her departure. He was surprised to hear Ezra chuckling.

"What's so funny?"

"Mother certainly knows how to make an exit," Ezra answered.

"I'll say," Chris agreed. "You ready to go back up?"

"Certainly," Ezra said pushing his tray away. "My mother is absolutely correct. This institution's food is deplorable."

Chris carefully maneuvered Ezra through the eating area and over to the elevators. Ezra inquired about the well-being of the others on the ride up. Chris told him JD had been moved out of ICU and was in room 218. Chris immediately recognized that look in Ezra's eyes and told him wasn't to go down there by himself, that he or Buck would take him down. Ezra agreed and Chris knew he could trust his word. When they got back to his room Chris helped him back into bed. He could feel Ezra still had a fever from the bone infection. Ezra settled back against the pillows with a sigh.

"This is most annoying," Ezra said.

"I bet."

"Can I interest you in a game of cards?" Ezra asked hopefully.

Chris wasn't really interested in a game, but, Ezra still seemed at loose ends. Still blames himself for the crash, Chris mused. "Sure, why not," he agreed, knowing Vin wouldn't wake for awhile.

Chris ended up dealing since Ezra couldn't manipulate the cards. They'd been playing for a half-hour when Ezra started to fall asleep. The infection and the antibiotics had left him with far less energy than he normally had, and Chris wasn't surprised when he fall asleep in the middle of a hand. Chris took the cards from his slack fingers and placed the deck on the table. Chris tucked the blankets around his sleeping friend and quietly left the room. He made his way down to Vin's room and went inside. Vin was still blissfully asleep and Chris got comfortable in the chair next to the bed. He decided he could use a nap since he'd been up early to take Josiah and Nathan to the airport. Chris leaned back and joined Vin in slumber.


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