As Chris knelt beside Vin, unaware or maybe just not caring that Colin was about to put a bullet in his back, Ezra realized what was about to happen, leaned into the room and shot Colin before the gunman had knew that there was another person onboard.
Bobby still had the remote control for the bombs and was becoming increasingly agitated as events began to spiral out of his control. He was also furious that Colin had shot the man who had killed his brother before he had a chance to really torture the man.
Ezra, while still outside of the car knew that he wouldn't have many options for long. As soon as Rathson or one of his men thought of it he would be forced to surrender or witness the death of Larabee too. He was still in shock after watching Vin sacrifice himself for Chris. Not that he was surprised that the Texan would be willing to do so, Tanner's devotion to their team leader was well known. Just how the death of Tanner would ultimately affect Larabee was something that Ezra was reluctant to envision. He hadn't been around when Larabee's wife and child had been killed, but knew that it had nearly undone the team leader. The friendship with Vin had started to bring Chris back from that dark edge he had been skirting for too long, if Tanner were really dead, Ezra feared that Larabee might lose his balance for good.
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It took several moments for Chris to realize that despite the fact that he was completely limp and seemingly lifeless there was no blood on Vin. Hoping for a miracle he reached out with a shaking hand and gently placed a finger against the pulse point on Vin's neck.... Long moments passed before his mind registered what his finger had detected, a pulse. Vin was alive! How that was possible he didn't really care, all that mattered was that his best friend was still breathing.
Well, almost all that mattered, he realized as his awareness returned to the room and the fact that there were two men with guns pointed at him and a madman with a remote device that could set off a series of bombs that could take out half a city and they were trapped here with the men and the bombs with no real plan for how to stop the man or the train.
It soon became apparent from the rantings of the man with the remote that he too believed that Vin was dead. Chris realized that if Bobby found out that Vin was alive he would make sure to correct that situation in the most painful way that he could devise. Now he just had to find a way to either keep Vin unconscious or let him know that he needed to play possum for as long as possible. He wondered again how it could be that Vin wasn't killed by the shot but decided that would have to wait for a more private moment. Knowing that Vin tended to wake alert and wary of his surroundings Chris decided that the most important thing he had to do was to hide that fact that there was no blood on the "body", he took off his ATF jacket and placed it over Vin, praying that he would stay silent when he woke up.
Looking up at the men in the room he had to control the giddy sense of relief he felt knowing Vin was alive, he had to convince them that he was devastated by the loss of his teammate and friend. Thinking about how battered his friend looked when he had entered the room it wasn't very hard to look upset and angry.
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After listening to Rathson bragging about his numerous bombs and how they were all equipped with detonators that could be triggered by the remote he held, Ezra decided the best course of action for him to undertake would be to locate and disarm as many of the weapons as possible before the men in the front of the train realized that they were alone. That the rest of their men and the hostages were no longer on the train. He knew that there wasn't anything else he could do for Larabee at the moment but if he could neutralize the threat inherent in the remote then he might be able to handle the gunmen who might assume the threat of the bombs would forestall any action on his part. It wasn't much, but it might be the only advantage he had.
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Back at the staging area Buck was working on a plan. It wasn't the best or the smartest plan that he or the Team had ever come up with, in fact it might have been one of the worst. But the train couldn't be allowed to enter a metropolitan area. Regardless of his personal feelings for Chris, Vin and Ezra the train had to be stopped and the only way he and the rest could come up with was to take the helicopter, fly ahead of the train and drop explosives onto the tracks thereby causing the train to derail before it reached Salt Lake. He would rather have tried the "truck on the tracks trick" again but the location was just too remote, they couldn't get a truck or any other vehicle there in time.
The main problem with the plan was that if the crash itself didn't kill the three agents, it would, most likely, set off the explosives.
The only way disaster might be avoided was if they blew the tracks and could contact the train and persuade Rathson to stop the train. If he knew that the explosion would only kill himself and his men along with the three agents he might back off figuring that three deaths weren't enough reason for him to die too. But that assumed that the man was still capable of making a rational decision.
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It took Ezra only a few minutes to find the first bomb. Actually it would have been hard to miss it, it was big. The large crate was marked with tags that claimed it to be cameras and other equipment that the news group would use for the planned news conference at the end of the trip. He opened it and was relieved to see that the set up was really quite simple, a detonator attached to the relay and timer that would set off the rest of the contents, mostly C-4. Removing the radio relay and detonator was easy and within a few minutes he was heading further back to locate the next one. He just had to be sure that he found them all before someone came looking for him or realized that the rest of the hostages were gone.
Bobby knew that the man on the floor had to have boarded the train after the collision and he was concerned that he hadn't heard from any of his men at the back of the train. It finally occurred to him that there might be any number of agents on the train besides the one that had shot Colin... the problem was that he didn't have enough men left to go and check. On the other hand, as long as they stayed where they were they couldn't stop him or the train so he decided that as long as he had Zack and Winston watch the door it didn't matter. They would all die in a couple of hours anyway.
Then the radio on the train came to life.
"We have destroyed the tracks ahead of you," the voice stated, "if you do not stop the train in the next 20 minutes you will derail and crash." the voice paused then before continuing in a deep foreboding manner, "In case you haven't noticed, the hostages you had were all removed from the train when it was stopped, we will not allow you to enter any city, if you change course, we will destroy the tracks on any line you switch onto."
If the man on the other end of the radio had more to say they would never know what it was as Rathson smashed the radio unit with the fireaxe that was mounted on the wall. He was ranting and screaming and still carried the axe as he turned towards the end of the car where Chris sat next to Vin's "body". He would have his revenge on someone before he died in a fiery crash.
As Zack and Winston watched Bobby smash the radio they realized that the man who they were working for had finally gone completely insane, he was going to keep the train moving until it derailed and they were all dead. This was not what they had signed up for, they didn't have a problem blowing up some politicians or even some feds but suicide was another matter altogether. They had been with Rathson long enough to know that you never confronted the man, that was another sure way to die.
Rathson came out of his rage for long enough to notice that his men were staring at him in a disconcerting way, deciding that he needed to keep them busy he ordered them to go check and see if the hostages were all gone and if any of his men were still on the train.
Not wanting to argue with the man in his unbalanced state of mind they both were glad to get away, they left the car as quickly as possible, not looking at the man on the floor knowing what was in store for him and feeling extremely glad to be able to miss seeing it firsthand.
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Buck and the Team had dropped the explosives at the location that the rail company had determined would be the safest place to derail the train and have the least chance of major damage. Knowing that any derailment would be devastating they just hoped that their teammates would have at least a chance of survival.
After Josiah had finished delivering the message to the train using his most authoritative tones they had reboarded the chopper and headed back toward the chosen area where emergency services were already preparing for the crash and resultant injuries. Buck turned to see Josiah's head bent in prayer, hoping that Rathson would stop before they reached the damaged section of tracks. He added his own prayer as they approached their landing area.
"How long til they get here, Buck?" JD asked, knowing as well as Buck did that time was running out. There had been no reply from the train but the radio operator assured them that the channel was open, and assuming that there was someone in the control car they would have heard the warning.
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Ezra had found and disarmed six of the large bombs but he had no idea how many there were in all and if he had any chance of finding and disarming the rest before his time ran out. He had just found the seventh when he heard the sounds of men approaching. He crouched down behind the large crate and waited.
Winston just wanted to get off the train, he didn't care if they were in the middle of nowhere or not, it had to be safer to jump off the thing than it was to stay on board while it crashed and then exploded. Zack agreed, to a point, but he thought that it would be better to just shoot the crazy bastard and make Jimmy Lee stop the train so that they could just walk away, hell, Jimmy Lee would probably agree with them once he found out that the tracks ahead had been destroyed.
"I don't know, Zack..." the younger brother argued, "do you really want to face Bobby, even with a gun?"
"He won't even know what hit him, we'll walk in and shoot before he even realizes that there is anything going on."
"Well, if we're gonna do it we better do it now, cause we're gonna be at that blown up track pretty quick." Winston continued, but then realized that Bobby still had the remote. "What if he pushes the button?"
"There's a ten minute timer on the bombs, so even if he pushes it we can get far enough away before it blows."
"I still say we should just jump..." Winston whined but followed his brother toward the front of the train.
"Oh, marvelous..." Ezra thought, "they're gonna go up there and irritate the lunatic." He quickly disarmed the bomb he had been hiding behind and as he headed further back to look for the next he wished that he'd thought to grab the two dimwits and find out exactly how many crates full of explosives there were. There couldn't be too many more or someone would have wondered at the amount of "camera equipment" that was loaded onto the train.
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As the two men had left the car to check on the rest of the train, Chris had waited, aware that Rathson was prepared to use the huge axe on him. He didn't have a weapon and knew that he would have little chance against the huge man in his enraged state. He was still next to Vin, but had moved up into a squat in preparation for the attack that he knew was coming when he felt a hand grab his ankle.
Vin, he was awake, Larabee wondered briefly how long he had been listening and was answered, in a way, when the hand disappeared under the ATF jacket briefly and returned with a large Bowie knife and a small caliber handgun.
He almost laughed then, shooting Bobby with that peashooter would be like a bee stinging an enraged bull.
Unless he could take him right between the eyes.
He checked to see that the gun was loaded and was trying to figure how to line up the shot when the two men who had left only minutes before walked back into the car.
He had to wonder if it was guts or stupidity for the two men to walk back in, knowing how crazy Rathson was, but that didn't really matter because Bobby had obviously expected them and opened fire on them even as they entered the car. Zack went down like a rock, taking a bullet to the heart and Winston was hit at least once before he retreated back into the next car, bleeding and reeling from the loss of his brother. He ran to the other end of the car, pushed the door open and jumped off the train without even looking to see where they were or what he was jumping into or onto. He just wanted off the train.
That left Bobby and Jimmy Lee, and Jimmy had no idea what was ahead because he had been up in the engine when the message had come through. Chris wondered briefly if he could get himself and Vin up and off the train and if there was any way to let Ezra know to do the same because he was beginning to think that Winston had the right idea.
The interruption proved to be a good thing for Chris since it had distracted Bobby from his attack on him. He had dropped the axe when he had pulled his gun out and shot his men. He then followed Winston into the next car and watched as the young man threw himself from the train. The shock of seeing that caused him to pause and wonder. A short reacquaintence with reality ensued while he pondered the chain of events that had led him to this point.
Chris used the opportunity to gain his footing, run to the door that the two men had just exited through and look to see if there was a lock of any kind. There wasn't, but when it was shut the two handles lined up and if Chris could find something to wedge across them he might just gain some breathing space for he and Vin. As he grabbed the axe and used it to barricade the door he realized that Vin had pulled the jacket off and was working on sitting up. It looked like it hurt.
"Vin," Chris called to the slowly rising man, "how the hell did you..." his voice trailed off as he saw the grin on his partners face as he pulled up his tee shirt to display a kevlar vest. Not an ATF issue one. "Where the heck did you get that?" he asked, knowing that Vin was enjoying his confusion way too much.
"First two guys I took out down in the baggage room, they were loaded with weapons and all sorts of useful stuff, thought this might just come in handy." Vin smiled again as they both looked towards the front of the car to the door leading to the engine.
"Think we can convince Jimmy Lee to stop this crate?" Chris asked as they moved forward.
"Don't know..." Vin shot back, but we gotta try, "I don't know how long that axe is gonna hold if Bobby starts hammering on that door and where the heck is Ezra?"
Chris just shook his head, Ezra had disappeared a while ago and he just hoped that the undercover man had found something useful to do. They entered the car as the train rounded a curve and looked up to see Armageddon. Just a few hundred yards down the tracks was a large crater where the tracks and everything else disappeared.
They looked at each other knowing that only fate would decide how their day would end and dove back into the second car.
Jimmy Lee had just seen the damaged track ahead as he heard the door to the engine open. He didn't turn, figuring that it had to be Rathson. All he could do was engage the braking system to the fullest and hope they would slow enough that they might have a slim chance of survival. When the door slammed shut again he didn't even notice. As the churned up section of track drew closed he simply closed his eyes and continued to brake.
Ezra had just finished defusing another bomb when he felt the jolt as Jimmy Lee slammed on the brakes. He knew from the overheard conversation that the train was going to be derailed and, not sure whether or not he had found and defused all the explosives, he made the only decision he could. He ran to the nearest door, slid it opened and jumped, tucking and hoping like hell that he would roll rather than land with a splat.
Bobby Rathson cursed as he pounded on the door that led to the front of the train. After he'd seen Winston bail out he had paused and wondered suddenly how his plan could have gone so disastrously wrong. Then he realized how. The man he had left in the next car and his team. He turned and headed back, hoping that he would have enough time to gut the blond leader of that team. When he reached the door and tried to open it nothing happened; it wouldn't budge. What little had been left of Rathson's sanity disappeared in the bloodcurdling roar he let out. Then the train jolted as Jimmy started hitting the brakes.
As they ran back out of the engine Chris turned to Vin, looking at his partner who suddenly grabbed him and started pulling him to the far end of the car. There were a number of 'caged' off areas there that contained various supplies. The one that Vin pulled open contained the rolled up packing mats that were used to store some of the more delicate items that were shipped. The locker was fairly full of the rolled mats and Vin frantically pulled out a number that were in the middle of the unit making a small space that he entered. He pulled Chris in after and reached around him to slam the door shut. They were tightly packed amidst the piles of rolled mats and while they were packed in awfully tight Chris realized that this just might save their lives. "Ever resourceful..." he mumbled and then the world turned upside down.
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As he sailed through the air Ezra began to have doubts about his plan for survival. Then he hit the ground, which turned out to be a huge bank of blackberry bushes. As he crashed through the twisted vines that were armed with a multitude of spikes and whipping ends he felt his suit literally shread to pieces. The fine fabric made a whirring noise as it pulled away from the silky lining. While he cursed the loss of the suit, it wasn't one of his favorites and the bushes were, in fact doing and admirable job of breaking his fall. He finally came to a stop, still entwined with the edges of the 'jungle' and lay there for a bit taking inventory and was pleased to note that while much of his suit was missing, all of his 'parts' seemed to be present and more or less intact. Aside from some rather splendidly annoying scratches.
He turned, as the screeching of the brakes intensified and then stopped as the wheels left the tracks.
Jimmy Lee never opened his eyes again. As the train ran off the end of the tracks the engine barreled onward, ploughing into the embankment and then somersaulting up and over.
The second car was pulled partway up as the engine cartwheeled, forcing the coupling to snap, the car was thrown to the side as the following cars accordioned themselves into each other. The shrieking of tearing metal vied with the crashes and thumps of colliding cars. As it rolled twice then slammed into the embankment on the other side of the tracks.
The noise seemed to go on forever, but was actually over in a matter of moments.
Ezra watched, horrified, yet fascinated. He waited, thinking that the explosives might not need a detonator given the amount of banging around they were getting, and then there was the possibility that he hadn't found all of them.
The silence after the train finally stopped was eerie. The only movement was the cloud of dust that rose above the wreckage.
Ezra sat, stunned for a moment more before attempting to stand. He knew that Chris was somewhere in that wreckage, along with Vin's body. He hoped, as he fought the clinging vines attemping to keep him where he was that he wouldn't be looking for the bodies of two men.
By the time he had persuaded the bushes that he was in charge and free to leave he could hear the sounds of the rescue crews approaching.
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As he limped towards the train Ezra heard his name called. He turned to see Josiah, Buck and the rest heading towards him. He stopped and waited for the other four men to catch up.
"Ezra," Buck called as the drew near, "do you know where Chris and Vin are? Did they get off the train with you?"
"No and no, I'm afraid, gentlemen." Ezra answered, as he realized that they didn't know what had happened on the train. They didn't know that Vin was dead long before the train had derailed.
"They were up at the front." He paused, trying to get control of his emotions. On the train he hadn't had the time to really let the fact sink in. "They shot Vin," he stated, fighting to maintain his composure. "I don't know if they killed Chris too..."
Buck turned to the undercover man then, "Why weren't you there to back them up?"
Ezra knew Buck well enough to know that it wasn't personal, that he was concerned for his friends. "I was disarming the bombs. We couldn't move on Rathson while he had the remote if they had their detonators."
"Enough!" Josiah declared, "Our friends are there somewhere and we will find them, this can wait."
"You're right, Josiah," Buck exhaled, "And I'm sorry Ez, I'm just worried, lets go get them." He used "them" even though he now believed that Vin was most likely dead. He just had to hope that, no matter how slim the chances, that somewhere in that mass of twisted metal his two friends still breathed.
Vin came to with a jolt, finding himself nose to nose with a large gray pillow. What the heck was it, a sleeping bag? No... He frowned and was trying to figure out what it was and, more importantly where he was when the surface he was lying on moved.
He started, pulling back to find himself nose to nose with Chris. It was the bloody scrape on Larabee's forehead that triggered his memory. "Aw, hell!" he muttered, shifting slightly so he could better see his partner, who was, he guessed, by the soft moan and twitching body parts, in the process of waking up.
"Hey there, big fella," he teased as the confused green eyes opened, "come here often?"
Larabee just groaned, then realizing that they had actually lived through the crash, opened his eyes, and, despite the close quarters, was extremely glad to see his best friend. "Vin..." He turned his head slightly, looking into his friend's eyes. "God, I thought you were dead."
"Hell, Larabee, I thought we were both goners when I saw those tracks, or should I say didn't see those tracks..."
The small caged area they were in was tilted to the point that they were very nearly upside down. After pushing several of the rolled up mats aside, they surveyed as much of their surroundings as they could. What they could see of the rest of the car was total devastation. The walls were crumpled, furniture and supplies splintered and crushed almost beyond recognition.
"I don't know how you knew about this..." Larabee paused to indicate their 'nest' "but I have the feeling that if we had been out there we'd be dead."
"Yeah, I noticed one when I was hiding a couple of the guys I knocked out back in the luggage car. It was full of suitcases, I stuffed those guys in it and piled a bunch of stuff on top so that no one would find them..." He paused, tilting his head in thought, "wonder if they're still there?"
"Good chance, and you probably saved their lives too." Larabee grinned at Vin's frown. "What?"
"Do ya think that Ez got off..." He wiggled a bit, testing to see if they would be able to get out of the "cage" without assistance. Realizing that the door was somewhere underneath them he shook his head. "Looks like we're stuck here til help comes."
While he was concerned about the missing undercover man, Chris wasn't really too worried. "Ezra seems to be pretty good at taking care of himself. He'll probably be more worried about whether he damaged his suit than anything else."
"Yeah," Vin agreed, "not much we can do about it for now anyway, but I'm guessing that he got those bombs disarmed or we wouldn't be here to worry about him."
He reached up then to check the scrape on Chris's head, brushing back the hair that had fallen forward over it. It was a shallow scrape and had already stopped bleeding. He looked to see if he could spot any other injuries, but they were sandwiched in so tightly that he couldn't see much beyond Larabee's head and shoulders.
"The rest of you okay?" he asked.
"Think so, just a few bruises, you?"
"Same here," Vin agreed, leaving out that the bruise on his chest where the bullet had hit the vest was hurting almost more than he could stand. Each breath aggravating the injury.
Chris knew from firsthand experience how much a close range gunshot to a kevlar vest could hurt and was pretty sure that Vin would have some broken ribs and some spectacular bruising at the least.
"Yeah," he agreed in his most cynical tone, "and your chest doesn't feel like Peso kicked you?"
"Mmm, could be it's a mite sore," Vin managed, more or less straightfaced.
They decided, in lieu of any other options to simply rest and wait until someone came to let them out. Within a few minutes both men fell asleep. It had been a very long 24 hours.
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The rescue crews were reluctant to let "civilians" help with the search of the train, but after a heated discussion with Buck and a slightly calmer one with Josiah they decided that ATF agents might not be considered "civilians" under the circumstances. They were allowed to help with the rescue efforts.
After being informed about the explosives on board, a bomb squad was contacted and was on its way. The crews had already marked three sites for the squad to clean up.
The crew was checking one of the cars toward the middle of the train, or at least at what appeared to have been the middle, when they found two men tied up and gagged in with some of the luggage. They were both awake and upon removal of the gags were complaining bitterly about their plight. That is until one of the rescuers pointed out that if they had been loose on the train they would most likely have been dead.
They were handcuffed and escorted away by local authorities for safekeeping, soon to join up with the other men arrested when the train had been stopped earlier.
It had been early morning when the train had crashed and noon had passed before the crews were able to get into the cars closer to the front of the train.
They entered what remained of one car that appeared to be the first car behind the engine to find the severely mangled body of Bobby Rathson. As Ezra approached he asked to enter. If this was the car Bobby was in, this was where Chris and Vin should be.
The crew tried to persuade him not to enter, telling him that the rest of the car was too thoroughly mangled to even consider finding anyone alive. But Ezra and Buck both insisted upon entering.
The first thing they saw were Rathson's remains. Although partially covered by the crew, the blood and other gore was spread to far to simply cover up with a blanket. Buck paled as he saw how thoroughly the man had been crushed and, looking back at the twisted remains of the rest of the car, turned and lost the little bit of food he'd eaten that morning.
"Oh, God, Chris." He blinked back tears, but before he could turn to leave he heard Ezra's remark.
"This is not the front car." he stated with absolute authority, "I was in here. This is the second car. Chris and Vin were in the next car forward."
The crew chief turned to him, explaining that the engine was just up ahead and there were no other cars between the two, that this had to be the first car behind it.
Buck looked at his teammate, "Are you sure Ezra?" he asked, afraid to believe that perhaps the body of his oldest friend was not, in fact inside this twisted remains of a railcar.
"I am absolutely certain." Ezra declared. "They are in another car, if this isn't the one..." He turned to survey the remaining cars, noticing that while most were jack-knifed together, there was one that was flipped over resting against the other embankment, "There," he pointed, "that has to be the one!"
The crew chief looked at the car shook his head. "That has to be one of the back cars," but then paused as he remembered another crash several years prior, "unless..."
"Unless what!" Buck turned to the man with the hope that he had held at bay for several hours glowing in his eyes.
"It's possible that when the engine flipped it lifted the second car up and if the coupler failed at just the right moment it 'could' have fallen sideways and landed over there."
By the time he finished his sentence he was talking to himself, the ATF men were gone, climbing towards the car that lay upside down against the far embankment.
The harsh rasping noise was the first thing Chris heard as he woke up. Vin! Larabee opened his eyes to find his partner gasping for breath.
"Vin..." Chris reached up, brushing the damp hair back so he could better see his partner, "what's wrong?"
The blue eyes that opened were full of pain and there was a hint of panic that, hard as he tried, the younger man could no longer surpress.
"Think I might got a problem pard..." he managed to rasp out.
"Think you got a hole in your lung?"
A rueful half smile this time.
"We've got to get you out of here."
This time he got no reply.
Moving as gently as possible in an effort to avoid jarring Vin, Chris started shoving more of the rolled up mats out of the way, not wanting to believe that the cage that had save their lives during the crash might now cause Vin to suffocate while they waited to get out. Vin simply laid his head down and did his best to stay calm and breathe. Neither man was having a lot of luck.
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As Buck and Ezra ran towards the flipped car they were joined by JD, Josiah and Nathan, who just finished searching a nearby car when they spotted their friends' mad dash towards the as yet unchecked car.
Buck arrived first and reached up to the top edge of the door. It was now on the bottom, but it was still nearly six feet off the ground. He gripped the edge and pulled himself up and over.
"Chris!" he called out, hoping desperately to hear a reply.
JD and Nathan arrived just as Ezra was attempting to follow. Josiah had detoured to the side to retrieve a crate that lay a few feet away.
"Nathan," Josiah called to the medic, "come help me get this over there."
Turning to see what the profiler was attempting to do, Nathan ran over and grabbed the other end of the crate and they dragged the heavy wooden box close enough that they could use it to better reach the door.
Buck had called out as he entered because that was all he could do at the moment. The contents of the car were strewn across the car and piled up in front of the door. He grabbed the nearest thing he could get a hold of and pushed it out the door into JD's hands.
"We can't get in until we move some of this stuff." He reached back for the next item and then he heard it. The answer to his call, and to all his hopes and prayers.
"Buck..." Chris's voice called from somewhere inside the car, "is that you?" he paused, waiting until Buck replied.
"Yeah, it's me and the rest of the guys, hang on, we'll get you out."
"Hurry!" Chris called back, sounding almost frantic. "Vin's hurt!"
"He's alive!" Buck called out to the others. "They're both alive! Get a medic and some help to get this stuff moved!"
Within minutes there was a crowd of emergency workers struggling with the twisted remains that blocked the doors. Ezra and several others had moved around to the other end of the car and were attempting to pry that door open. Though unblocked as far as they could see, the frame was twisted and they had been unable to get either of the sliding doors open as yet.
Inside the storage cage, Chris was trying to keep Vin awake and alert, fearing that if he lapsed into unconsciousness he would lose the battle for breath. As the crews got nearer to his position Nathan called out and asked him what the situation was.
"I think his rib is broken and has punctured his lung. How he can barely get any air at all." Chris reported, slightly calmer now that help was almost there but still fearful that they might get there too late.
"Sounds like there is air in his chest cavity that is pushing against his lungs. That's why he can't breath," Nathan called back.
"What can I do?" Chris yelled back. "It's getting harder for him. I don't know how long he can hang on..."
"As soon as we get there I can put in a line that will let out the trapped air. It will get better almost as soon as I do."
"Hurry, Nathan, please..."
The sounds of crates and boxes being dragged and scrap metal scraping as the men desperately worked to clear the path continued. Soon they had broken through to the end of the car where the caged area was and Nathan ran up to the bars.
"How's he doing, Chris?" the medic asked as he peered into the tightly packed cell the men were still trapped within.
"I don't know, Nathan, I think he's barely breathing, or maybe not at all!" he suddenly realized as he watched his partner grow paler, his lips beginning to turn blue.
"Oh, God, Nathan," Chris cried out, "I don't think he's breathing!"
Nathan reached in and realized that Chris was right.
"Chris, I can't do this from out here, not without your help..."
"Just tell me what to do." Chris looked at his friend's face. "Whatever it is Nathan, I'll do it."
By that time the rest of the men had gathered outside of the storage cage and watched in horror and a kind of grim fascination as Chris pierced Vin's chest with the large needle that Nathan provided and inserted a tube that would allow the trapped air to escape. Within a few moments of the tube's insertion the still pale man gasped and took a deep breath, coughing as the air entered his oxygen starved lungs.
Chris took a deep relieved breath as the blue eyes fluttered and then cracked open.
"Hey, pard..." Vin rasped in a drawl so soft he could barely hear it, "how can a fella get a nap around here with all the thumping going on?"
A collective sigh ran through the gathered men as their sharpshooter looked around to see his team.
"Some guys'll do just about anything to get an extra week off," he stated, looking at Buck before closing his eyes and drifting back to sleep.
It took another two hours to get the cage opened and the men moved out to the clearing where the medivac chopper waited. Nathan flew in with the two men after trying unsuccessfully to get Ezra to come along. The scrapes and scratched he had received as he fell into the blackberries needed to be cleaned and dressed, but the agent had one more urgent job to do before he would leave the area.
He had been limping around the crash site partially because he had lost one of his shoes in the brambles, and despite the loss of the suit, he refused to leave without first finding his shoe.
"These are custom made Brionis, I will not leave one of them out here in the elements," Ezra complained loudly as his teammates teased him. "It's bad enough that the suit is ruined, I've barely had these shoes for six months..."
With that he limped back towards the mass of viscously armed bushes.
Buck, JD and Josiah watched him go, then, taking pity, they headed after him.
"Wait, Ez," JD called as they trotted up behind him, "we'll help ya. We are a team, after all."
They kept Vin overnight for observation in the Salt Lake Hospital then released him with a promise to "take it easy" for a couple weeks.
Chris just stood by the bed and tried not to laugh as he witnessed Vin quietly pulling the wool over the nice Morman doctor's eyes and silently vowed to ensure that the recuperating man would actually follow the instructions the hospital was sending home with him. Well, not home exactly. Since the team was already half way to the cabin they had rented a couple of SUV's and were even now waiting outside for Chris and Vin to join them as they headed north.
It was unlikely that he would have a hard time keeping Vin in line for the next few days since he was still pretty sore with almost any movement being painful. It was a week from now that he would have to be on alert, once the initial pain subsided to a level the Texan could ignore, he would, if the past was any indication, go out and promptly overdo it.
At least he would if Nurse Ratchet Larabee wasn't around to keep him in line. He sighed, realizing that he was now thinking of himself in terms of one of Vin's own nicknames for him. He shook his head as he once again realized just how much his friend had changed his outlook on life. Before he had met Vin, he had been fighting the darkness caused by the loss of his wife and son on a daily basis. But somehow now, even though he still missed them terribly, he had found a way to go on, to live, and to see the lighter side of life again...and that lighter side definately included Vin Tanner.
They managed to get out of the hospital and out of Salt Lake without any problems, aside from Ezra's complaints about the fact that one simply could not find a decent cup of coffee, let alone a latte, in the entire city. And amazingly, for once, the rest of the team had to agree. Salt Lake just wasn't a city known for it's coffee. The desk clerk at their hotel had assured them that yes, they did have latte, and proceeded to send them down the street to the McDonald's Restaurant. Which sent the undercover agent into a total huff and, after tasting the cup he bought, even JD had to agree.
"Let's get out of this town and find some decent coffee." JD's declaration was met by unanimous agreement and they were on their way.
They arrived at the cabin late the next afternoon after having stopped in the last town to pick up a small mountain of supplies. Including a large bag of gourmet coffee.
The cabin was comfortable, the location about as perfect as anyone could ask for and not a complaint was heard, for at least fifteen minutes. Then their normal banter took over and Chris once again found himself thinking about his team as a bunch of unruly schoolboys. But at least they were HIS unruly schoolboys. He grinned as he sat on the porch watching the fabulous sunset with a particularly unruly Texan 'schoolboy' beside him.
The next few days were filled with fishing, swimming, hiking, birdwatching and even some time spend just laying around doing absolutely nothing. And while Ezra still refused to bait his own hooks, he even joined them on several of the fishing trips, surprising himself and the rest of the team when he managed to land a fair sized sockeye.
The two weeks passed seemingly overnight and they reluctantly packed up and headed home.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
They arrived in Denver on Saturday afternoon, and after picking up their assorted vehicles at the ATF parking garage they headed to their respective homes. One more day, then back to work. Even Vin, though he would be on light duty for another week or two.
By the time they were half way to the ranch Vin was asleep in the passenger seat. Vin was staying at the ranch for a few more days til his arm was healed enough to drive himself on to work. Chris smiled contentedly as he thought about how good it felt just to be coming home with his best friend alive and, if not entirely well, at least on his way to a full recovery.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Monday morning came way too soon and as usual, Ezra was the last one to arrive at Team 7's offices.
He got off the elevator carrying his latte with a new appreciation for just how easily that could be acquired here in Denver and shuddered as he remembered just how awful something that was sold under the same name could actually be.
It was as he strolled through the outer area where the secretaries worked that he became aware of people looking at him...no, not just looking, staring, and pointing and that one over there was actually giggling. Something was definitely amiss. He knew that it could not be at his current state of dress, he had been extremely thankful to don his newest Louis Vuitton suit after spending two weeks wearing the clothes they had purchased while away. He was quite sure that contrary to the claims of the rest of the team, there WERE other stores in Montana besides K-Mart.
He actually increased his pace as he neared the domain of Team 7, breathing a heavy sigh as he entered and found the rest of the team busily preparing for their week. Vin was just coming back from the break room with a cup of the nearly toxic brew that he claimed was coffee and the others were mostly already working at their desks, plowing through two weeks worth of e-mail and other backlogs.
He sat down, booted up and sat back to take a sip of his latte... which he promptly sprayed all over his monitor as the machine opened up and displayed his home page.
Or what should have been his home page.
Not the full screen, full color picture of himself, standing knee deep in a stream. wearing bluejeans, a plaid flannel shirt and grinning madly as he held up a huge fish.
Turning a lovely shade of crimson, that very nearly matched the primary color of the flannel shirt displayed on his screen, he looked up to see every monitor in the office turned so that he could see the same wallpaper adorning each and every one.
Tell me..." he groaned, "please tell me that 'that' picture is not on the screens out in the secretarial pool." But he already knew the answer as he realized what all the staring had been about.
Vin sauntered over with a paper towel and waved at the coffee splattered screen and asked with a 'butter wouldn't melt in his mouth' look on his face. "You okay, Ez..." He paused for effect. "Got something stuck in your throat?"
JD chimed in then, "Yeah, Ez, I think Nathan knows that Heimlich squeezie thing."
Ezra was, for one of the few times in his life, wordless. Which was probably a good thing because anything that might have come out of his mouth at that particular moment would have offended his own sensibilies to say the least. Instead he sputtered.
Buck had wandered close and leaned over, pretending to see the picture for the first time as he used Vin's towel to wipe away the dripping latte spatters.
"Wow, Ezra!" he exclaimed loudly, "that's a huge fish ya got there."
It wasn't a Larabee glare, but it came close.
Buck ignored it. He'd been the recipient of many of the real thing, this one didn't even slow him down. He clapped the horrified Southerner on the back and declared that it had to be one of the biggest fish he'd ever seen, then strolled back to his own desk and got back to work.
While Buck had sidetracked him, Vin and JD had slipped back to their desks. When Chris came out of his office moments later, everyone except Ezra, was seemingly hard at work.
"Ezra," the blond scolded, "quit fooling around with your vacation pictures and get to work."
By the time Chris had finished his sentence Ezra was doing a fair imitation of the fish itself as he sat gaping in disbelief.
It wasn't more than 30 seconds later when the entire office, including Chris Larabee, erupted in snickers.
That was when Chris casually floated an already signed voucher for a new suit onto the stunned agent's desk.
"Good work on those bombs, Ezra," Chris stated clearly, "you saved a lot of lives. Thank you."
Then he walked back to his office, turned and nodded to the entire room, then entered and shut the door.
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