The Hunt

by Heather F.

Part 1 - 4 | Part 5 - 9 | Part 10 - 14

Part 10

Josiah leaned out of the helicopter reaching down with his gloved hand. The safety harnesses he and JD had jury rigged pulled tight across his midsection. The nylon bit into the tender flesh of his stomach.

“Ezra!” Sanchez yelled through the roar of the helicopter, the biting whirl of whipping snow and the cascading thunder of a mountain slope that was in the process of losing tons of snow.

“Ezra! Quit screwing around!” JD screamed, his panic and fright clear in his tone as he leaned passed Josiah staring out through the thrashing snow at the Southerner who loaded yet another rock into the sling shot.

“Ezra!” Josiah shouted out again, stretching his arms out. Standish realized the helicopter was coming back for him and hastily shoved the sling shot into his shirt. He reached up, imploringly, with both arms to Josiah. His mittened hands wiggled with anticipation, his arms stretched, sling and wound both forgotten with the thought of only increasing the odds of success and sharp desire that someone grab hold. Green, watery eyes, were squinted closed against the onslaught of snow and against the threat of possible failure.

Thick gloves and mittens scraped against one another in a failed attempted. Fingers flexed and greedily curled but pulled up empty.

The helicopter wavered and shook, trembling with a fight of its own.

Standish went down to his knees as snow washed by him with increasing speed and momentum. It swept him a few inches down slope.

“Come on, come on…come on,” JD whispered urgently from beside Josiah, shoving the older man on the back, hoping to gain him a few more inches. Sanchez threw the young agent an annoyed glance, which JD missed.

“Ezra! Jump! You lazy, stupid, bastard! Jump!” Dunne shouted out.

Josiah turned his head completely and cocked an eyebrow at their youngest team member in slight shock.

Ezra, apparently having heard JD’s urgings, stopped reaching up and flipped the back of his mitten in the general direction of the younger agent. JD had no trouble reading the unseen middle finger directed at him.

“Quit screwing around back there!” Chris’s angry voice hollered from the front of the copter.

“Come on son!” Josiah reached out, the nylon harness digging under his coat and sweater.

“Come on Ezra!” JD screamed again, his fear and panic building in crescendo with the rolling snow that threatened to wash their teammate away.

+ + + + + + +

“Bring it down lower,” Chris ordered in a soft deadly voice.

The pilot merely nodded. He was going to die today, never made out a will, never been to Vegas, never got to try out as Elvis….he was going to die today. He knew it. No memoirs.

A ski tapped against the fragile mantle of snow.

+ + + + + + +

The helicopter settled momentarily.

The wall of snow on the slope finally gave in one loud groan. The giant slab an acre across, cracked and broke free.

A wall of snow, deeper than a two story house, swept down the mountainside with the speed of a freight train washing away and crushing everything in its path.

The cabin disappeared like match sticks.

Standish jumped without his feet ever leaving the ground.

Josiah cried out and threw himself against the harness, nearly diving out the cargo doors. The nylon belts gouged into his abdomen, tore out hair, ripped through skin, and buried itself deep into muscle.

JD screamed, lunging his shoulders and arms outward.

The pilot cursed and hauled back on the yoke raising the helicopter up and to the right, away from the runaway snow that snapped trees, rolled boulders and flattened anything in its path.

Larabee cursed and pulled the trigger.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah’s gloved fingers clamped around a set of wrists.

Suddenly one of Standish’s arms gave and Josiah was holding the two wrists at uneven heights.

JD sunk his hands around a raised arm. His eyes remained riveted on the ground, watching in awe as a mountain side of snow cascaded and rolled gathering speed and momentum.

A set of boots were boiled to the top of the avalanching snow only to be buried and lost forever as they were washed out of sight in mere seconds.

+ + + + + + +

A small hole exploded in the pilot’s side window.

The pilot pulled the helicopter above the trees, away from the avalanche danger that threatened to kill them all.

Larabee cocked his sig for another shot.

“Chris! We got’im!….We got’im Chris!” JD’s jubilant voice rang out from the back of the helicopter. “We got’im!”

Larabee stared at the pilot.

Tate eyed the unwavering gun. He licked his dry lips and smiled weakly, “They, uh, gut’im…” The smile twitched for a bit and then dipped as the gun slowly wavered and then lowered.

“You’re a crazy son of a bitch ya know that?” the pilot whispered out as he angled his helicopter away from the mountainside and the rushing flood of snow that crushed everything in its grip.

He headed toward his home, his landing spot. He wanted away from these crazy city folk.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah leaned back against the wall of the helicopter and stared at Standish who still lay sprawled on the floor where he had been dragged. JD was patting Ezra’s back re-affirming that Standish was within their grasps, their safety.

“Damn Ez, that was close,” JD whispered out staring at Standish’s stocking feet.

Ezra merely nodded, not lifting his head from the floor.

“Son,” Josiah spoke, finally finding his voice, “could you move a bit?” Sanchez added a weak smile when Standish turned his head to stare at the older man with a curious eye. Josiah offered a half hearted shrug, “the knees aren’t as young as they used to be.” With that, Sanchez slowly stretched out his legs.

“Nor the rest of you Mr. Sanchez, nor the rest of you,” Ezra breathed out as he carefully shifted away from Josiah’s legs only to settle heavily once again on the floor of the helicopter.

“When we’re back on solid ground, you’re a dead man Ezra,” Josiah promised.

“Promises, promises,” Ezra whispered out, closing his eyes, not caring either way.

JD leaned back and stared at Josiah, his grin splitting his face and lighting his eyes, making them dance with watery relief. Josiah shared the smile and nodded his head in appreciation of small miracles.

His smile dipped as he surveyed the floor of the helicopter. Buck and Vin lay where they had been placed. The makeshift bandages had darkened where blood seeped through. They were still ensconced in sleeping bags, nestled snuggly against the inside wall of the cargo area. The blood and bruising were still visible even within the poorly lighted confines of the copter.

Nathan lay slumped between the two men, having pulled himself , at one time, into a sitting position. His eyes were closed and his face was lax, dried blood marred his features. He had slipped and slumped over Buck covering the larger man with his body.

Josiah let his eyes rove over the three injured men, stared into the cock pit trying to catch a glimpse of Chris, knowing that he too was hurt, and finally letting his eyes fall to the youngest of their group. A toothy grin lightened Josiah’s features. It was a miracle they were all alive. Hell, it was a miracle that they survived each other’s company.

JD stared back at Josiah and then broke into a quiet, careful laugh.

+ + + + + + +

Ambulances were waiting with lights flashing but sirens muted at the landing pad. As soon as the runners touched the black pavement, teams of paramedics rushed the helicopter.

Chris leaned heavily against his door and stared out the front windshield trying to make sense of the green grass, blue skies and overall lack of snow on the ground. Pavement lay dry and unmarred. Cars reflected the bright afternoon sun, shining in metallic brilliance without the smallest hint of snow or salt.

Larabee closed his one eye and breathed a sigh of relief.

He was roused from his stupor when he heard an indignant exclamation, “He tried to shoot me!” Chris opened his eye to stare at the pilot who was muttering and gesturing toward him while speaking to a deputy. “I’m tellin’ ya Mitchell the son of bitch tried to shoot me!….look, look!….Look at my window! He damn near blew my head off!”

“Jist calm down Tate,” Mitchell soothed, “we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Larabee merely sat up straighter, wrapping an arm tightly around his chest. He unlatched his door and gingerly dropped his foot down. The muscles of his leg protested picking the knee up at all. With a stifled groan, Chris stepped from the helicopter. He’d let ‘Mitchell’ handle the pilot.

Chris weaved his way to the back where his men lay congealed together, keeping a hand on the still cold metal skin. He shuffled his feet to the back cargo doors and watched as one by one his men were unloaded and placed onto rolling gurneys.

Buck came out first. The sleeping bag had been discarded. His coat and sweatshirt had been cut away. An IV line snaked down from a liter bag and into an exposed forearm. A pink stained pressure bandage was taped snugly to his lower abdomen. His snow pants had been cut free and a second pressure bandage was taped to his upper calf. His right hand and forearm lay within the confines of a cardboard splint. They rolled Wilmington toward an ambulance.

“JD,” Chris called. The young agent snapped his head up from where he sat within the helicopter, staying with his team, doing what he thought was best. “Go with Buck, make sure he’s alright,” Chris ordered.

JD gingerly leaped from the helicopter and hobbled to the ambulance that Buck was being loaded onto.

Nathan was gently straightened out. His head and neck were kept in alignment with the rest of his spine. His pant legs were cut away, the long johns split and bandages were quickly put in place over a deep leg wound and taped down tightly. A second set of bandages were pressed into place against his hip. Two lines fed into the backs of his hands. Even from this distance he looked pale.

“Josiah, stick close to Nate,” Chris ordered quietly as he watched his team medic, the one man who seemed invincible, be carefully loaded onto a stretcher as if he were made of bone china.

Josiah merely nodded and gently pushed himself up away from the copter cargo wall he leant against. Josiah softly patted Standish’s calf as he exited the bird.

“Vin and Eza?” Sanchez tried to straighten his posture, but muscles and tendons refused to give. Today, Josiah Sanchez felt like an old man, and he didn’t like it, not one bit.

“I’ve got’em; you go with Nate,” Chris smiled faintly to reassure his profiler. Josiah nodded as he carefully maneuvered himself away from the helicopter a hand pressing into the small of his back.

Chris sympathized with Josiah’s slow ambling gait.

Vin was strapped to a backboard, his head and neck immobilized by heavy foam blocks and straps of nylon and velcro. A line ran into the back of his hand. A thick heavy gauze had been taped in place over the side of his head and another one over his exposed shoulder.

They slid him gently onto the stretcher, tossing a thick blanket over him and flopping nylon safety belts up over his inert frame. Chris watched as two paramedics wheeled the gurney to a waiting ambulance.

Larabee moved to follow.

Chris’s attention was diverted when he heard one of the paramedics speak, “Whoa, easy there partner, you’re gonna be alright,” The paramedic smiled and neatly deflected a mittened hand that tried to raise up and brush at his face. “Jist keep still and we’ll git you caught up to your buddies in no time.”

In response, Ezra bent a leg and tried to roll over onto his side.

“Come on now sir,” the paramedic spoke quietly as he and his partner worked in tandem, “jist lie still, let us take care of everything.”

Standish tried to sit up.

“Ezra!” Chris’s voice boomed, shocking the paramedics and uniform cops all around him, “lay ya ass back down and quit movin’,” Larabee ordered in a firm no nonsense tone. He leaned into the helicopter, motioned the head paramedic out of his way and put his face directly in Standish’s line of sight, “Everything’s going to be fine….you hear me? I don’t have time for ya shit, jist meet us at the hospital.” Larabee smiled wolfishly, “Think of it as a free ride.”

Standish stared hard at Larabee’s floating face, trying to make sense of why Chris’s head seemed detached from the rest of his body.

Ezra was in Hell. This was what Hell was all about, Sr. Clare was all wrong. Hell wasn’t about Satan and fires of damnation wanting to scorch the souls of young boys who took bets on how many hairs Sr. Mary Patrick’s moles had. No siree, this was Hell, having Chris Larabee’s detached head floating around and yelling orders at him.

“I’m in Hell,” Ezra muttered out, not quite believing his own bad luck.

Chris smiled, “Wait til you have to write the reports.”

Ezra groaned and closed his eyes. “Good Lord.”

“He ain’t here Ezra, jist me.” Chris answered patting Standish’s good shoulder. Then he paused, “Where’d you get the dynamite Ezra?” Larabee knew it came from the box back in the cabin Buck had found but didn’t think Standish would have had the time to grab the explosives when things started exploding around them. “The explosives Ezra. Where’d you get them?”

Ezra gazed at Larabee trying to gauge his mood and found it to be somewhere between foul and black. Standish sighed as if it troubled him to be giving up a great truth, “JD. It was young Mr. Dunne” Standish closed his eyes and let the tension out of his neck and shoulders. Mr. Larabee would never kill JD.

Larabee watched him for a bit, not sure if he believed the lie. Chris patted Standish’s blanketed leg, “Uh huh,” Larabee backed out of the way to let the paramedics in to do their work.

Larabee limped trying to catch up to Vin’s stretcher.

Part 11

JD slouched back in his chair and closed his eyes. A tired sigh flowed forth as the young agent adjusted a leg, hiking up one hip trying to alleviate the numbness in one gluteal. The hard plastic chairs were not helping his sore muscles.

Every move, every ache reminded him of their time up on the mountain. The helicopter and the sense of relief, it had infused in him, had seemingly washed away once they had landed in a parking lot. Reality had slammed home; as he had watched his friends being ferried into ambulances. He had bitten his lip as he was jumbled and held on while the ambulance carrying Buck rushed down rural roads. JD’s heart hammered against his ribs as he rushed beside Wilmington’s gurney heading through the emergency room doors.

The tension, the nausea and the unease quickly seethed forth and tightened exhausted muscles with fear and worry.

Sitting here, in the darkened hospital room, anxiety fluttered his heart and flailing emotions surged forth. Even the chair he sat in worked against him, offering him neither comfort nor allowing him any respite, no matter which way he slouched.

JD kept still for a moment until the pressure from the back rim of the plastic chair against the back of his head became too much. With a groan, the young agent sat up and leaned forward resting his forearms on his knees. He stared tiredly at Wilmington.

Buck slept soundly. The oxygen mask had been replaced by a nasal canula. JD almost felt bad for Buck. His nose would be dry and chafed from the tubing and softly flowing dry oxygen. JD’s sympathy waned slightly when he considered that at least Buck got to sleep lying down.

Dunne slowly climbed to his feet, using the bed rail as a pully. “Gawd Buck, I’m tired,” JD whispered, his voice sounding tired and intrusive in the silent room. He knew he would get no sympathy or response from his older friend.

Dunne stared at Buck. He watched the slow, even rise and fall of Buck’s chest and was happy just to know he still breathed.

Wilmington had had internal bleeding. Lacerated liver capsul or something or other. JD wasn’t real sure and truth be told he really didn’t give a damn. What mattered was that Buck would be fine with some time. He would be back to work and back to his old self in just a few weeks. That was enough for JD.

Buck would still be Buck.

Until the next time….maybe. JD cursed and leaned stiff armed against the bedrail staring at his friend; categorizing the injuries. JD didn’t want a next time. He didn’t want to go through this again. He didn’t want to wait and see if Buck or one of the others was going to die or survive only to be maimed for life.

In the dark shadows of early evening, JD wiped tired streaming eyes on his own shoulder trying to wash away his relief and fears all in one desperate, frustrated move.

His nose ran with the same intensity that the tears trickled over his eyelids. He clenched the bedrail with a white knuckled grip, silently berating himself and his friends.

He didn’t want to do this again.

JD suddenly understood why Chris got so riled when Buck and Ezra and Vin pulled stupid stunts and put themselves in harms way. He finally understood that Chris wasn’t being unreasonable or overly protective of his men. All these times he had had the others around, their voices, their movements, even their soft unfounded reassurances…things he professed that he did not need. He was not a child, he did not need coddling when one of their team was struck down. JD understood the weight of responsibility that clenched itself around Larabee’s neck and Dunne felt empathy for the man. He marveled at Chris’s strength and determination to continue to face such hardships and turmoil, day in and day out. JD could only look in awe at Larabee’s fortitude.

Standing, grasping the bedrail with sweaty palms, JD missed the others. He missed their subtle but occasionally brazen barricade to protect him from the silence, the loneliness of waiting. He missed the protection of their constant movement, and presence that shielded him from his own thoughts.

JD tightened his grip around the bed rail as he stared at the swollen and bruised slack face of his best friend and felt his own anger and fear grow exponentially.

The serious waiting was over, the biting his nails while waiting in the homey surgical waiting room was over, the age old magazines that hadn’t held his attention but effectively diverted it, were gone. The tender and sympathetic smiles tossed his way by concerned nurses no longer occupied his time. Nor did he have to put on a brave ATF agent face. There was no one in front of him that he had to be strong for or pretend to be strong for. Not now, not at this moment. Not in this dark room all alone with his best friend, fresh from surgery.

JD was alone, alone with his fear, his anxiety and his anger.

It should be Chris doing this…not him. It should be Chris standing here, while JD ran errands, got sodas and food and the such for the others. JD shouldn’t be standing here with nothing to do but wait. It wasn’t his job. He didn’t want it, not any more. He couldn’t stand to think that Buck and Vin and Nathan nearly died. But that was all he could do. Despite his best efforts he couldn’t help but replay the scenes of smoke, blood and bodies. He couldn’t help but remember his short silent attack on Ezra when things suddenly swung against them. He couldn’t stop seeing Buck laying bleeding and blackened in amongst the rubble of the cabin. JD couldn’t stop reliving the sharp sudden pain of thinking Buck and the others were dead.

His breath hitched, he squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head ‘No’; trying to remain defiant against his own visual replay.

Tears streamed down his face, which he hurriedly brushed off on his shoulder in an angry, impatient manner.

“When you wake up Buck, I’m gonna kill you,” JD whispered out hoarsely, wishing his voice wouldn’t break, wishing he could be as strong as Chris or Josiah or any of the others.

Instead, JD knew he was just, “JD”, just “the kid”…the kid that needed coddling and needed protecting. JD hated being called the kid, hated being treated as ‘the kid’ but what he hated most was that the others might have been right. He just might be ‘the kid’ and his tears of frustration and fear proved it.

Standing in the dark shadows of the hospital room, JD continually wiped his cheek on his shoulder trying to beat back the inept feelings that fought to overwhelm him.

He thought about checking on the others, making sure they were ok, but what comfort could he possibly offer them when he barely found the strength to stand by his best friend?

Where were Josiah and Chris?

+ + + + + + +

Josiah Sanchez sat back in his chair and rested his feet on Nathan’s bed. The big man steepled his fingers while he rested his elbows on the harsh wooden arms of the naugherhyde chair he had commandeered from one of the waiting rooms.

Sanchez tried to still his hammering heart. He tried to rationalize the fear that clenched his gut. Over and over again he reminded himself that Nathan was doing just fine. With every rise and fall of Jackson’s chest, Josiah told himself to relax, to contain his anxiety. There was nothing to worry about.

If only he had faith like JD.

Josiah smiled to himself. JD knew Buck was going to be ok. Dunne had no doubts. Never really did. In the past, they had all worked to divert JD’s attention when one of the others was struck down and fighting for their lives. They had done it out of the belief that Dunne needed the diversion, needed to be sent on errands to prevent the young man from wallowing in anxiety and fear.

Josiah would give anything to be able to mollify JD now. To be able to lend his strength and faux confidence to the young agent. In doing that, in keeping JD moving and offering quiet platitudes that had little basis in fact, Josiah and the others were able to redirect their own fears.

JD was their distraction. He was their strength when the waiting got too much. Under the guise of protecting Dunne, they had shielded themselves.

They all knew it, perhaps even JD. If the young man did know, he kept it well hidden and played along, offering his strength and willingness to be directed for the benefit of his friends.

JD never seem to falter in his deep seated belief that they would all survive whatever tragedy befell them. The other had chalked it up to his age.

Standing over his unconscious friend, Josiah couldn’t help but think JD had fooled them all. He had been protecting them from the waiting, more than they had been protecting Dunne.

The young man had hidden strengths, like the rest of them, but it seemed Dunne’s was limitless and seemingly without doubt.

Josiah wish he could say the same for himself. But he had been too long in this world not to have doubts. That was all he had left in his soul. Doubts about himself, his faith, doubts in the world around him.

How did Chris do this time and time again? How did Chris stand by his teammate’s bedsides time and time again and not go crazy? How did Chris keep it together?

Sanchez raised his eyes to the ceiling and let out a small prayer. Praying that he had the strength of Chris Larabee and the faith of JD Dunne.

Josiah lowered his eyes and watched as Nathan took another steady breath. Only one IV fed fluid to Jackson. One leg was raised slightly, a pillow under the knee and lower leg. A multitude of bandages covered the medics lower leg and thigh. All hidden by the soft white hospital blanket. A small patch of unseen gauze graced Nathan’s midsection where the laproscope had been used. Internal injuries. Not severe. Not life threatening, once treated.

Nathan would survive, he’d be back to work in a few weeks, he’d be in the field in no time.

Josiah sat down heavily and leaned back in his chair. His own leg itched and hurt all at the same time. Sutures in his lower leg were beginning to come alive as skin was slowly getting back sensation.

Sanchez closed his eyes. He should check on the others, make sure that they were ok, the fallen and the walking wounded alike. He should lend them his strength and support, but somehow he couldn’t find the strength to leave Nathan. Jackson offered him balance, a sense of calm; and right now, Josiah felt like an empty row boat tossed about in stormy seas.

Sanchez clenched his eyes closed and balled his fists.

The next time Chris got angry with Buck, Vin or Ezra for pulling a fool hardy stunt, Josiah would be there to back Larabee up. No more excuses to protect the foolish. No more. Josiah couldn’t take this waiting any more.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee paced by the window staring out in the slowly darkening sky. Vin breathed slowly and steadily behind him. Tanner’s head was swathed in bandages much like his midsection and shoulder.

A moderate concussion at best, blood loss, and a contused liver and spleen. Neither one needed intervention but the rent across Vin’s abdomen required 74 stitches to close.

Larabee refused to look to the bed. He refused to stare at the slack features of his best friend. Instead, Chris stared out the window into the dying light of a faded day and wished he had the calm endurance of Josiah and the unblinding faith of JD.

How did they do it? How could Josiah, be able to offer up prayer and hope time and time again. How did JD keep seeing the promise of success and survival every time one of their teammates was wheeled into an emergency room?

Chris ground his teeth and clenched his fists. He didn’t have Josiah’s faith. His faith had been burned from him in a house fire. He didn’t have JD’s unflinching optimism. That died when his son had taken his last agonizing breath.

Larabee had buried it all with two caskets on a rainy Sunday morning.

Chris didn’t have the strength any more. How could he keep doing this and hope to survive?

He leaned his head against the cool glass and closed his eyes as he worked his back molars against one another in a fierce, unforgiving manner.

The next time Buck, Vin or Ezra pulled another stupid stunt, he’d shoot them himself. He wasn’t going to go through this again. He’d let Nathan and the others handle the bedside vigils.

Chris paused.

Nathan had been struck down too. The steadfast one of their group had fallen. The injuries on his team were not restricted to just the reckless ones. Truth be told, recklessness and foolish bravado did not bring about these injuries.

Chris felt his stomach clench and his heart seize. He closed his eyes.

He had visited Ezra only an hour ago. The undercover agent was still unconscious, wrapped snuggly under the lingering effects of anesthesia. His shoulder had been reduced, the bullet graze to his side, that Chris had not known about, had been sutured closed and his left leg had been nestled in bandages and rested snuggly atop a string of pillows. Standish would live, to be shot at again.

Just like Vin, Buck and Nathan….

And the others. None of them were safe.

None of them ever thought themselves invincible, except maybe JD, but even that sense of immortality had dwindled from Dunne over the past few months.

Chris leaned against the window glass, feeling the bite of a crisp night.

He wasn’t going to fight the nausea that tore threw him like a physical blow every time a surgeon stalked from an operating room looking for Agent Larabee. He wasn’t going to do it again.

Not ever again. Not any more.

He couldn’t dig up the faith that Josiah seemed to find so easily. Chris couldn’t see the clear unmarred future that JD so readily grasped and held onto. Chris just didn’t have it in him any more.

It just wasn’t there.

He should check on the others to see how they were doing, but deep down inside, Chris knew he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to see his other men or their injuries. He didn’t want to bear witness to the fact that they were just mortal men and his orders put them in harms way. He didn’t need to be reminded that their safety was his responsibility and thus their injuries, lay squarely on his shoulders.

Chris stared out the window and tried to ignore the friend that lay ensconced in shadows and a white hospital blanket.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish lay in a darkened hospital room with one arm bandaged tightly across his chest. An incessant ache in his head threatened to squeeze his brain through his eyes.

Standish lay perfectly still, trying not to garner any attention. Paralyzed, afraid to move, afraid to spark the pain that sat just crouched outside a thin veil of acknowledgement. Worse, he was deathly afraid that someone might notice him awake. He lay still and listened, trying to focus pass the agonizing vice that squeezed his head. He remained unmoving, trying to fathom where he was, how he got there and why.

Was he undercover? Who was he this time? Was he suppose to be Ezra or was he Eric today? Perhaps Eli or maybe Elijah or Ethan?

He closed his eyes and tried to think. If he was safe one of the others would be with him. They would be here with him, talking to him, making noise, joking around, telling stories and watching television. They would be right here, if everything was alright, if he was Ezra Standish today, he wouldn’t be alone.

His head pounded ruthlessly.

Not a sound echoed in the room.

Hadn’t Chris been threatening him near a helicopter?, a floating head? Perhaps a talking Head? Burning down the house? Where had that come from?…Did a house burn down?

Anxiety and fear coursed through his veins. His head drummed with relentless brutality. His shoulder screamed with each harsh breath and the pain in his side sang in the background like a dentist’s drill.

Instruments beeped with increasing rapidity. The rising crescendo of beeps heightened his anxiety and fear. Shadows fluctuated about the empty room.

He couldn’t focus his eyes as pain from his head sunk roots, like a living thing, down his neck, clawing for purchase to garner a better hold.

The door opened and a band of light fell across the tile floor. Soft soles padded closer as someone stepped into the room.

Standish tried to feign sleep, but the monitors continued to beat out their frantic pace giving him away.

“Sir?” A soft feminine voice spoke from right beside him. “Sir, are you in pain?”

Ezra slowly opened his eyes and tried to focus on the shadowed features of a young nurse.

“If you’re in pain, you just need to press this button right here,” She reached out and laid a hand on a button that was attached to the drooping neck line of his hospital gown. It was within easy reach, convenient.

“Are you in pain? Is it your shoulder or leg?” She smiled sweetly, unthreatening.

Ezra stared at her and delicately inclined his head.

She pressed the button. “Can you tell me your name?” Again she smiled. Ezra watched her gauging her and her motives.

Ezra sensed a warm flush creeping up one arm slowly infusing itself from his forearm to his elbow. It slowly stretched and encircled his shoulder. It soothed the pain away, unpried the tentacles that had seemed to torque and twist the muscles of his shoulders and neck. The hot pain faded.

“Your name sir?” Her sweet smiled turned to one of slight concern, “You didn’t have Identification on you when you came in with the others…” She smiled again, “Are you an ATF agent too?”

Ezra blinked at her. Was he an ATF agent today or was he a gunrunner? Or did he buy illegal cigarettes today? Was he still undercover? Who was he right now? Where were the others? Who had been hurt?

His headache began to fade as did his vision. The warm flush seeped through his system unknotting muscles and loosening tense joints. His focus dwindled with the steady smothering of pain.

“I don’t know,” he whispered out. His eyes fluttered closed allowing him to just catch a glimpse of the concerned, confused look the nurse gave him.

Part 12

The morning sun peaked over the tree tops and slowly stretched rays of light across the tiled floor, beating back the fear and self doubt that thrived and kicked in the solitude of a dark night.

JD leaned forward in his chair. “Buck?”

The tears had dried out long ago.

Dunne’s heart rate increased in time with Wilmington’s.

JD leaned forward and watched with rapt attention when Buck’s blue eyes finally flickered opened. JD stood and leaned over the bedrail, staring at his big friend, making sure Buck knew he wasn’t alone.

The first thing Buck’s drugged disoriented mind could focus on, was the grinning features of his best friend.


“Bigger’n life,” JD smiled, his relief blatantly obvious under his cocky attitude.

“Damn.” Buck muttered rubbing a heavy hand over his face. “What happened?”

“You want the short, short version?” Dunne asked as his smile stretched even further across his face.

Buck nodded tiredly.

“You got blown up, the bad guys got blown up, Ezra started an avalanche, and Chris got pissed and shot at the helicopter pilot,” Dunne rattled off.

“Oh,” Buck’s eyes closed and then struggled to open them, “Anyone else hurt?”

“Not hardly, Buck, y’all gonna be fine,” JD answered with a positive flavoring of the truth. He watched as Wilmington nodded slightly and then drifted off to sleep.

JD stood by the hand rail while relief flooded his system. He slowly settled back in his chair and propped his feet up on the bedrail and grinned.

Things were going to be fine. JD watched Buck for a moment through the rail and thought maybe he should check in with the others, see how they were doing.

He decided to wait for a more reasonable time of morning. The grin on his face broadened, as the long shadows of early morning slowly shrunk away.

They were unbeatable.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan tried to roll over but paused when he moved his leg. He let out a soft groan and dropped a hand reaching for his knee.

“Leave it be brother,” Josiah’s voice rolled across the room like a storm system swirling out to sea.

Jackson nodded and stretched again for his aching leg.

A warm hand grasped his and held it tight.

Nathan wanted to tug his hand away, wanted to fight the proximity of the touch and somehow prove his independence and toughness like Vin or Buck or Ezra would do in a similar circumstance.

But….the hand that trapped his felt warm and offered strength and security.

Screw being tough, he’d blame the drugs.

“Josiah?” Nathan didn’t recognize his own voice. It sounded scratchy and dry.

“Right here brother,” Josiah leaned forward a toothy grin spreading his face. It was strange to see Nathan laying in the hospital bed looking lost and confused.

“The others?”

Josiah chuckled and shook his head. The doubts that had plagued him yesterday and the long cold hours of last night fell away with the predictability of his friends. Nathan asking about the others before himself was as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

“They’re fine Nathan,” Josiah gently reassured the humor and relief in his voice easily filled the room. His faith was bolstered. “Chris is with Vin, JD’s with Buck…”

And before he could finish speaking, Nathan was struggling with the confines of the light sheets and blankets of the hospital bed, “Ezra…he’ll be confused, won’t know who he is suppose to be…” Nathan muttered in a panic to both himself and to Josiah.

With an easy gesture, a simple heavy hand to Nathan’s chest, the ex anthropologist gently held Jackson down on the bed.

“He’s fine Nathan,” Josiah chuckled again and then sobered slightly, “they’re keeping him slightly medicated to keep him down, until they move one of you in with him…we’ve been checking up on him too, he’s still out, don’t worry.”

Josiah’s levity waned slightly, Ezra had woken twice alone. Twice his nurse had used the morphine drip to ease what she had translated the quickened heart and respiratory rates and general unresponsiveness of her patient as indicators of physical pain. Josiah conceded that it was indeed a type of pain, perhaps one that manifested itself physically, but the fear of waking alone and not knowing what role one was playing was not a type of pain morphine was used to normally combat.

“Buck and Vin?” Nathan blinked his eyes a few times trying get the room into focus, trying to ground his thought process. He seemed unable to focus completely. His vision was not blurry but his brain felt sluggish, slow to respond.

He didn’t like it. There was a lack of control and he despised not having control of himself or his situation.

“Buck’s doing better,” Josiah paused trying to get the list of injuries straight in his mind. Not that it mattered. In the end they would all be ok. They would be fit for duty in no time. In a few weeks the seven would be back at their bull pen and JD and Buck would continue to harass one another and those around them. Vin would be scheming something and trying to draw Ezra into his plans. And Standish would go along, for nothing more than the mere joy of being included in something that required a bit of a team effort.

In just a few weeks, all of them would be back to irritating Chris and Chris retaliating in kind.

Who had what injuries mattered little to Josiah, because in the end, they were still Seven.

His furious doubts of last night faded soundlessly into the background, waiting, like a stalking predator, for another moment to rush to the forefront and prey on the weak.

“Buck had a lacerated liver,” Josiah held up his hand stalling Nathan, “Doc’s took care of it quick. He’s going to be sore, but they didn’t have to remove anything or put in any extra drains.”

Nathan relaxed.

“Vin’s spleen was bleeding, but they got that to stop, he still has it.” Josiah smiled at the relief that flashed across Nathan’s face.

“Ezra’s shoulder was out again, got some stitches in his side and arm, got a chunk of wood in his thigh,” Josiah smiled again, “They’re treating him for exhaustion and exposure…he’ll milk it for all its worth.”

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle and nod his head. Ezra getting treated for exhaustion, was like treating a lazy house cat for over exerting itself. Like a cat, he’d probably lap up the opportunities and try and sleep in for the next few weeks because he was ‘exhausted’.

Damn man.

“Chris and JD…and you?” Nathan asked. Weariness tugged at him like an eddy.

“We’re fine brother,” Josiah fixed the blankets around Nathan and leaned against the bed rail crossing his forearms and resting his chin on his arms. “Bruises, stitches and few extra aches and pains…We’re gonna be just fine.” Josiah answered.

“What about the ones chasing down Ezra?” Nathan’s eyes widened with the question, trying to fight the inevitable bout of sleep that dragged on him.

“Haven’t heard a thing about them, think they might have gotten caught in the avalanche. Can’t say for sure. Travis showed up mid morning and took the ledgers…he’s going to have some of his people try and figure them out.” Josiah answered.

Nathan skewered his face in askance.

“Travis doesn’t want to wait on Ezra being coherent or cooperative,” Josiah chuckled slightly and then sobered, “and Chris won’t let anyone near our brother until he has both oars in the water so to speak,” Josiah watched as Nathan lost the battle with sleep slowly drifted off.

“In for a long wait,” Nathan rasped, the weakness making itself audible.

“We’re all going to be just fine.” Josiah reassured with a gentle smile and reaffirming nod.

The doubts faded a little more.

+ + + + + + +

Standish woke feeling the familiar, unwanted lethargy of narcotics pulling on him, trying to keep him just under the rim of consciousness. His mouth felt dry, his tongue swollen and his eyes too heavy to keep open. Dizziness assaulted him every time he moved his eyes.

With slow heavy movements he swiveled his head on the pillow and searched the empty room. The shades were pulled and the room was cast in a dreary grey haze. Everything seemed to be spinning. His head felt as if it were stuffed with cotton and his stomach with mud.

He lay still for a moment trying to remember what had happened, trying to piece together how he had landed in an apparent hospital and just who was he suppose to be. He needed to contact Larabee…Needed to figure out what role he was suppose to be playing.

He thought back to when he first awoke in the same empty room and remembered the nurse who had been plying him with soft smiles and painkillers. She had not let any useful pieces of information slip, none that Ezra could recall.

It was time to find his own answers, time to get things back under control.

With more effort than should be necessary, the undercover agent pushed himself upright, and with a shaky hand he carefully removed the IV and gingerly swung his legs off the bed.

He could do this, he could find the others.

+ + + + + + +

Chris leaned against the window pane and watched the steady rise and fall of Tanner’s chest.

“Quit starin’ at me, cowboy,” Vin’s angry mutter carried across the small sunlit room. “No one died, and ya said we’d all be back to drivin’ ya nuts in no time.”

“Hell Tanner, you’re drivin’ me nuts now,” Chris pushed off the glass using his shoulder and crossed the room.

“Yeah, well why don’t you go and watch over one of the others and leave me be?” Vin bit out with a touch of frustration that started to turn to anger. “Go bug Buck or someone,” Vin muttered out trying to get comfortable on a bed that afforded little comfort, with wounds that didn’t care how he laid, keeping comfort an eluding mistress.

Larabee watched as Tanner fidgeted and started to reply when the door to the room was shoved open.

“Ezra’s missing,” Josiah’s grave tone matched his expression.

“Shit,” Larabee and Tanner swore at the same time. Vin tried to sit up, but Chris pressed a hand to the sharpshooter’s chest, “We’ll handle it.”

“Like Hell,” Vin growled out trying unsuccessfully to remove Larabee’s hand from his chest.

“Where the Hell did he go?” Chris murmured out.

“Well damn, Cowboy, if we knew that, he wouldn’t be missin’,” Vin spat back angry at his own weakness.

“Shut up, Vin,” Chris headed for the door and then stopped and looked over his shoulder, “Stay here, if he’s wandering the halls, he just might come’n here and if he sees one of us he’ll stay.”

Tanner grumbled and laid back down, cursing Larabee and the others and their ability to move about.

+ + + + + + +

JD stood in the hallway and looked from Chris to Josiah, “Where would he go?”

“Don’t know JD,” Chris bit out angrily as he flipped open his cell phone and turned it on despite hospital rules. After a few seconds he cursed, punched in a code and listened to the message. “Shit.” He then punched a few more buttons. “He called from here.” Larabee strode toward the nurses’ desk, and showed her the number, “recognize this number?”

The young RN stared at the numbers and then stammered, “That looks like the orthopedic wing, down the corridor and to your left.”

“JD check out the basement, Josiah, you get the roof, I’ll take the orthopedic wing,” The three men split up.

JD headed toward the basement, kicking himself for thinking of only himself, for only staying with Buck. Dunne jabbed the elevator button knowing that Ezra wouldn’t head down, not if he could go up. Dunne did as he was told, though, and took the elevator to the dank but dry basement level and laundry room.

+ + + + + + +

Chris searched the orthopedic ward ignoring signs that read ‘Personnel Only’, knowing that his missing agent always assumed such signs included himself as essential Personnel.

Those that started to make protest to Larabee’s presence quickly let their protests die on their lips when they gazed into the angry hazel eyes of the ATF agent. Larabee’s terse questions were answered with equally quick stammering answers.

No one had seen an injured man making any phone calls.

Larabee cursed again and headed out into the parking lot, fearing that his agent had fled the premises, unsure of where he was, or who he was suppose to be, or where to turn for safety.


Chris shoved the outside glass door open. The pneumatic buffer kept the door from slamming into the side of the building and only served to fuel his anger.

The sun glared off the black pavement and the cars in the parking lot forcing him to shield his eyes. A warm wind buffeted his shirt causing it to billow at his flanks.

As he stepped into the parking lot he noticed a little boy looking up at the roof instead of following his mother. When the mother realized the boy was not behind her, she turned and gently grabbed his arm, guiding him toward the car. The little boy continued to watch the roof and point while his mother continued to ignore him while she wrestled with opening the back passenger door.

Chris followed the boy’s gaze to the empty roof line. Son of a Bitch

Just then his phone rang.

“I’ve got him,” Josiah’s deep voice, though powerful never seemed to raise itself to an uncomfortable level.

“On the roof?” Chris asked shielding his eyes trying to catch a glimpse of his missing man.


“He ok?”

“Looks it,” Josiah answered quietly, “when you come up, leave the crowd behind.”

Chris nodded his agreement and realized Josiah couldn’t see it, “I’ll take care of it…You just make sure….”

“I will brother,” Josiah cut him off and then shut off the cell phone.

Part 13

Josiah left the doorway of the roof entrance and stepped out onto the gravel tar papered roof. It still held pockets of moisture from a rainfall that had happened days before. The sun beat on the blackened roof creating its own micro environment just inches from the surface.

Standish sat leaning against one of the many vents that protruded from the roof. The spot was dry and the sun blazed down at an angle, warming the area without blinding the occupant.

The cuffs of green surgical pants waved gently in the soft breeze, glancing over bare feet. Standish wore a zip up sweat shirt with a hood over the hospital gown. A commandeered cell phone sat in his hand.

“Brother?” Josiah’s voice called out quietly as he slowly approached the undercover agent from the left.

Ezra swung his head around toward the voice.

The sudden unadulterated relief on Standish’s face, had Josiah’s heart clenching with guilt. The older man watched as tight lines of fear and uncertainty melted away to be replaced with a genuine dimpled smile that in its pure sincerity revealed the level of anxiety and fear that had gripped the undercover agent for a short time.

“You alright brother?” Josiah continued to approach, slowly, out of habit. Standish did not flee to the roof tops of buildings frequently, but the rare times that he had under the beguiling influences of medication or rare fevers, had required a delicate touch. Standish wouldn’t flee but he would balk, offer resistance without physically fighting. Like the times before, it was Josiah who had found him, and it was Josiah who had taken on the role of comforting and offering protection to one who feigned he didn’t need it or want it.

Why the southerner traveled upward had been a mystery, until Vin pointed out that people rarely looked up. It seemed logical coming from their sharpshooter who usually lay hidden away in the rafters and rooftops of buildings waiting his chance to use his skill.

Ezra carefully nodded and then slowly turned his attention back to the cell phone he had ‘borrowed’.

“The battery died,” Standish’s voice was barely above a whisper.

“Those things happen, can’t be helped brother,” Josiah continued to approach frowning as the open smile on Standish’s face had matured and transformed into a look of embarrassment and resignation.

Sanchez eased himself down onto the roof. He groaned as muscles and joints complained at the undue movement. Josiah sat beside his younger friend in silence and stared across the roof and its glittering puddles of water to the distant snow peaks that lay to the North.

+ + + + + + +

Chris took the stairs to the roof two at a time, using the hand rail to propel himself upward as leg muscles cried in response to the new abuse. The journey across the mountains had done its damage to muscle and tendons alike. It would take some time before muscles could contract without hurting.

Larabee could hear JD enter the stairwell a few flights below. The younger agent had stopped in two of the rooms to find them empty. At the third room he had quickly informed the others that Ezra had been found.

Vin had made it to Nathan’s room only to find Buck already there trying to help the medic out of bed to aid in the search of their missing friend. With JD’s announcement, the three men settled in the room, too tired to move and unwilling to be separated again until the seven were all together once more.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee pushed open the heavy metallic grey door and searched the roof. He found his two agents a few yards off and headed toward them.

He stopped a short distance away and waited, just as he had the few other times this had occurred.

He watched and listened as Josiah spoke to Standish. Chris watched how Josiah would nod a few times, speak again only to stop and listen. A few times the big profiler would gently shake his head as if denying an observation, or a mistaken belief.

In the gentle breeze, under a soft late afternoon sun, Larabee watched as Sanchez slowly wore down his charge, until Standish was listing slightly forward with his chin drooped toward his chest, folding in on himself.

After a few more moments, with the breeze delicately lifting stray hairs and misplacing them, Josiah carefully stretched an arm out and gently eased Standish back against his shoulder and chest.

The undercover agent offered no resistance. Instead, he leaned against his larger teammate. Larabee watched as the tension he had not observed before, slowly seep from Standish’s neck and shoulders.

Chris looked from his two men to across the roof. He watched as the wind rippled water in the small puddles that haphazardly dotted the tar paper. He raised his eyes and stared off to the North, toward the jaggered snow covered peaks that he and his men had traversed.

“Chris,” Josiah’s soft call pulled Larabee from his musings.

“You gonna need help?” Larabee took a few steps forward, closer to his two agents. Standish leaned heavily against Sanchez, his mouth slightly open and eyes lightly closed.

“Gonna sit here a bit, let’im regain his strength,” Josiah’s voice rumbled through his chest, causing Standish’s breath to hitch in its steady, raspy rhythm. “Be best if we didn’t have an audience when we got down from here.”

Larabee nodded his understanding, “I’ll take care of it.”

“Be best if he gets put in with one of the others too,” Josiah added. Standish turned his head slightly, mumbled and continued to doze.

Chris nodded again, chastising himself for leaving one of his men unattended, left alone to defend himself. He stared at his two men fighting his anger.

Josiah met his gaze, “He just got confused Chris, didn’t know where he was or who he was suppose to be, isn’t anyone’s fault.” Sanchez paused, shifted his weight slightly and added, “He tried contacting us, couldn’t get through.” Josiah held up the cell phone, “batteries died on him…No one’s fault, things happen.”

Even as he said it, both Josiah and Chris found the words to be lacking. There was no blame, no shirking of duty or responsibility. In the end, however, self blame was levied by those that did not deserve it. It was searched out, found and doled out despite the blameless situation.

Standish shouldn’t have been left alone, and though he wasn’t, they hadn’t been there when he had opened his eyes; a stranger had been there to greet him, not once but twice.

That riled Larabee.

+ + + + + + +

Fifteen minutes later, Ezra grumbled and complained to Josiah that it was not necessary for him to sit in the wheel chair that waited for them on the first floor by the exit that lead to the stairs. With a firm hand, and a smile that promised further grief, the profiler forced the undercover agent into the chair and wheeled him down the empty corridor.

The sounds of indignity and southern laced curses trickled under partially opened doors bringing quiet laughter to those that heard it.

+ + + + + + +

“I don’t see why I’m havin’ to stay in bed if there’s not a thing wrong with me.” Vin stated with all the confidence and bravado of a man who was comfortably numb on painkillers.

Chris took a deep breath and folded his arms across his chest. “Shut up, Vin,”

“Yes Mr. Tanner, shut up.” Ezra groused from his bed which had been moved against the far wall. His solitary room had suddenly become a double. Granted waking up alone in a strange place, with strange people nearby had unnerved him. That was past, he was over it, and ready to move on. He now knew where he was, who he was, and what to expect from his surroundings. He didn’t need or even desire constant company. And he certainly didn’t need Mr. Tanner or Mr. Larabee in his room at all times. It was bad enough, let alone embarrassing, having Josiah hovering over him like a mother gorilla pawing over her young.

Ezra cringed at the thought. He wasn’t even sure when his room had become a double.

The last time he had woken up, he had been alone with the sun streaming through the windows. The room had been empty, except for Mr. Wilmington who had somehow slipped from his room and the watchful eye of the others to keep him company. Ezra had been very appreciative of the gesture. At least there was no nurse to ask him difficult and trying questions like who he was, no Mr. Larabee floating face making demanding requests like ‘stay still’. Having woken a few times and finding himself alone and somewhat in the dark, in a strange place bothered the undercover agent. Not that he would admit it. Being unnerved at being alone in a dark room, was something of a childish problem. He was not a child. By no means. But it was nice to wake up and find Mr. Wilmington sitting beside him in a wheel chair running over styrofoam cups with golden sunlight stretching across the floor. Confusing, but nice.

JD had come in a few minutes later bubbling with energy and rattling off more words a minute than the ‘Chipmunks’ on speed. In the end, Buck was wheeled away, his driving course of Styrofoam cups crushed along the floor as the only witness to his being there.

It saddened Standish to see Wilmington get pushed from his room.

It must have shown on his face because JD told him to sit tight, one of the others were coming. He wouldn’t have to worry about being alone anymore. JD’s bright smile and incessant reassurances had Standish blushing and Wilmington laughing.

Ezra didn’t need the forced company of his team mates. It was embarrassing and humiliating.

Being an adult, Ezra made an adult decision and attempted to leave his room and find Buck or Nathan or Vin. He would force his company on them. He would check up on them and their injuries in their rooms. It would be the proper, polite thing to do, they, were, after all a team. That some how made it ok. He’d force his company on them and save himself the indignity of needing and wanting someone sitting beside him.

It was the perfect solution to an embarrassing situation. The perfect ploy.

With that thought in mind, Standish struggled to his feet and headed for the door. He nearly made it too, until he opened the door to his room and found himself face to face with Mr. Larabee’s floating head and a bubble headed doctor.

It was the near fright that caused Ezra’s knee to give, it was the sudden appearance of Mr. Larabee’s floating face attached to a very red neck that made Ezra dizzy and caused him to lose his sense of balance. It certainly was not exhaustion, pain or the trauma of the last few days on the mountainside.

Never…he was made of sterner stuff.

No one listened to him. He had, after all, made it to the roof once.

Ezra was an adult, an ATF agent. He did not need looking after. Ezra vehemently pointed this out to Mr. Larabee to no avail. The man was singularly uncommunicative.

Larabee had shoved Standish back into bed and left him stewing. The undercover agent would have remained angry if he stayed awake.

Ezra came to hearing the sounds of cussing and general disharmony.

Ezra woke enough to articulate his displeasure and his desire to book himself a private hotel room. It was such a good idea he started to sit up.

Chris responded from the doorway as he helped wheel Tanner into the room, that Ezra was a pain in the ass and if he ever tried walking out of the hospital again, then Ezra would find himself in traction.’

Tanner started chuckling. The sharpshooter raised one heavy hand and waved at Standish as Larabee and an orderly worked to transfer Vin from the gurney to the second empty bed. A nurse followed them and headed toward the undercover agent.

Ezra scowled and started once again in haranguing Mr. Larabee trying to peer around the nurse that fussed with his IV. Just as Standish was gaining momentum and making distinct effective points about his ability to know what was and was not good for himself, he found his will and desire to continue to argue slip away from him. A familiar flush sensation once again crept up his arm and seeped into his circulation insinuating itself throughout his system. In no time, his voice tapered, his thoughts faded and his eyes fluttered closed.

Somewhere far away he heard Mr. Larabee thanking him about something. A small smile spread across Standish’s face. It was nice to be recognized and appreciated once in a while.

The nurse patted her patient’s shoulder as he succumbed quickly to the injection.

She turned and smiled her appreciation for Mr. Larabee’s kind ‘thank-you’. Being a nurse was sometimes a thankless job.

Part 14

Judge Travis strode down the quiet hospital corridor heading for the block of rooms in which his agents had been sequestered. The small county hospital found it easier to keep the seven men in two adjoining rooms rather than in opposite wings. It seemed team seven tended to wander in search of their missing partners. They homed in on one another like flocking geese heading north. After a few walkabouts, near escapes into the parking lot and indecent exposures due to the insufficient covering of hospital gowns, the doctors and staff decided that it be best to keep the seven together.

It made it easier on everyone.

The Judge sighed as he stopped outside of room 117. He took a deep breath, bowed his head and then straightened, squaring his shoulders and readying himself. With a deep breath, he quietly pushed open the door to find Buck, Nathan and JD arguing.

The three never noticed him.

The Judge stood in the doorway and listened as Buck Wilmington argued heatedly with JD Dunne and Nathan Jackson over whether or not Buck could out race Vin using a ‘walker’.

Buck believed he would be victorious, due mostly to his superior height thus ensuring him a greater stride, and his upper body strength. Not to mention with his superior height he could fall across the finish line to ensure a dramatic victory. As he spoke he waved his purple casted hand and forearm about wildly forcing JD to duck occasionally.

JD dismissed the argument with haphazard, jerky waving of his hands and vigorous shaking of his head, and stated that Vin, though shorter and slighter, had not lost near as much blood as Buck and that Vin though bruised and slightly cooked did not have any cracked ribs.

The Judge silently wondered if he was the only one who noticed the cast on Wilmington’s arm.

Nathan felt the need to point out that JD was correct. Cracked and broken ribs did not respect the need for deep breaths or upper muscle contractions.

The Judge wrinkled his brow…Did anyone see the cast?

Buck appeared slightly spurned and retaliated with gusto, pointing out that bruised ribs hurt just as much as cracked ribs.

Nathan had to concede the point. Buck gave a strong argument.

The Judge stood in the doorway and listened quietly with brows furrowed.

After a moment he realized the three men would probably never notice him. Just as he stepped forward to announce his presence, Buck spoke up, “You don’t believe me, JD?,” Buck turned his eyes to the Judge, “ask Judge Travis…he’ll tell ya.”

JD and Nathan turned and faced the Judge waiting for an answer. If they were surprised to see him, they didn’t show it.

Judge Travis found himself under intense scrutiny and did not wish to be dragged into any arguments.

“Well Judge? Ya think Buck could beat Vin in a race using a walker?” JD asked almost challenging the Judge to give the wrong opinion.

Nathan Jackson lay in his bed with his arms folded defiantly across his chest, as if daring the Judge to make a wrong choice.

Travis stared at the three men wondering who was actually being medicated. Where was Evie when he needed her? She enjoyed these clowns, and actually seemed to know what they were talking about.

Silence held the room until the Judge finally decided that he had to answer or never hear the end of the argument. Not that it mattered to him. But he was a Justice of the Federal court system and though Justice held its place, at the moment he only wanted peace.

“Mr. Standish, I believe would be victorious,” The Judge answered with a smile of his own.

Buck and JD immediately gawuffed and lectured the Judge for his foolishness and how could he be so far off the mark. Standish wasn’t even a part of the equation.

Nathan remained quiet and thoughtfully nodded his head in agreement.

Travis simply pointed out, “Mr. Tanner would be too intent on winning. You Mr. Wilmington, would get sidetracked if a pretty nurse happened by,” The Judge explained, “and if Agent Larabee didn’t kill Mr. Standish first, it would stand to reason that Agent Standish would cheat to win. Thus he would ensure that a pretty nurse or someone of the fairer sex would indeed be within your line of vision, leaving Mr. Tanner to win, if Agent Standish were to have bet on him, thus allowing him to win whether he was racing or not.” With that the Judge bid the three men goodbye and backed from the room.

Buck, Nathan and JD dismissed the presence of the Judge as their discussion started up again. Would Standish bother to even enter such a contest and if he did what would he do to ensure his victory?

+ + + + + + +

Judge Travis pushed open the door to the next room down and found a quieter crowd.

Chris sat next to Vin’s bed and was talking quietly to the sharpshooter. By the far wall, Josiah Sanchez slouched in his chair, with his head angled back and toward the side in an uncomfortable pose. His mouth was slightly ajar and soft snores rumbled forth. One hand draped through the bedrail and rested on the top of Standish’s head. Agent Standish lay with his back to the door buried under a mound of blankets very much asleep.

“Boys,” Travis greeted as he let the door swoosh closed behind him.

Vin and Chris both stopped speaking and stared at the Judge.

“Judge,” Chris said in way of greeting as Vin slowly raised his bed.

“Didn’t expect to see you,” Larabee stated letting the hidden question go unverbalized, but not unasked.

“Heard one of you boys went missing,” Judge surveyed the room and then turned back to Larabee and Tanner. “figured you might need a hand keeping everyone where they belong,” Travis made his way to the foot of Tanner’s bed. He let his eyes wander over to the other pair. “They alright?”

Chris looked over his shoulder at Sanchez and the blanketed form of Standish.

It had been a heck of a late afternoon, and Chris was tired.

“By the way Judge, I’d beat Buck hands down in a walker race….and even if Ezra were to bet on me which he would, cuz he knows a sure thing,” Vin paused and smiled, “He wouldn’t need to cheat.”

Judge Travis smiled and inclined his head, accepting the correction.

Josiah stirred awake and sat up owl eyed, unconsciously carding his hand through Standish’s hair, like a protective uncle watching over his charge.

“The guys that were chasing Ezra?” Vin asked as he pulled Larabee and Travis’s attention away from the other two. Tanner sucked in a breath as he tried to lift himself to a more comfortable position. He garnered the Judge and Larabee’s attention more readily than with his question. He grimaced when stitches pulled and bruised muscles contracted.

“Haven’t heard anything about them. Search and Rescue seemed to think they’ll find them around mid summer…on the valley floor once the avalanche snow melts.” Travis answered.

“The ledgers?” Josiah asked as he stood and stretched trying to straightened the kinks that knotted his back and neck.

“Can’t make heads or tails of them,” Judge admitted, his frustration clear for all to hear.

“Leave’m be Judge,” Larabee said in a matter of fact tone.

The Judge merely nodded and turned his attention to the man sleeping across the room and then back to Larabee.

“It’s going out on the wire today that Emit Strong was found dead, due to asphyxiation after being caught up in an avalanche.”

Chris merely nodded in agreement. “Might keep people from looking for him and the books.”

“That’s what we are hoping for.” The judge answered. Silence settled over the room until Travis spoke again, “I’ve also taken the liberty of securing two cars to get you men home when you’re released from here.”

“Heck, Judge, we could go right now,” Vin said as he started to pull his blanket back.

“Like Hell,” Chris answered hotly and started lowering Vin’s bed.

“Knock that shit off Larabee,” Tanner answered hotly.

Judge Travis nodded quietly to himself as if satisfying some unspoken dilemma that had plagued him. He smiled tightly to the men and left the room.

As he headed down the corridor with the door to room 119 swinging closed, he could hear Tanner cursing out Larabee followed by Sanchez’s deep laugh.

As he neared a juncture in the hallway, Travis paused as movement to his right grabbed his attention. He turned and spied Buck Wilmington and Nathan Jackson racing awkwardly with walkers down the far corridor toward the fire exit where JD stood waiting at the apparent finish line.

The Judge watched with morbid curiosity, wondering who would win. Jackson held the lead by a mere walker leg with Wilmington close behind.

The purple cast apparently not a true hindrance.

It looked like it would be a photo finish. The Judge started shaking his head imagining the arguments a tie would spawn. Then in an act of fierce competition, Buck Wilmington tossed his walker away entangling it into the legs of Nathan Jackson. With Olympian effort, and a defiant cry, Wilmington dove through the air and across the imaginary finish line…..

knocking Agent Dunne through the Emergency fire door, tripping the klaxon alarm and emergency lights…and apparently winning the race in a tangle of legs and metal.

Nathan Jackson immediately started untangling his walker and began turning around and heading out of the area.

The Judge followed Jackson’s lead and hurried toward the entrance of the hospital and his car.

He nonchalant crossed the parking lot as sirens wailed in the distance.

Travis sat in the comfort of his car and watched as the first Fire trucks and rescue vehicles whipped into the hospital parking lot. He sat in contemplative silence as he witnessed nurses and doctors wheel their patients from their rooms and into the afternoon sun that glared across the black top. The judge watched as members of Team seven were wheeled out by their other teammates. He watched as they slapped at one another, tried to hit one another with their wheel chairs and over all create more chaos and havoc. They appeared not to have a care in the world.

Travis didn’t know how they did it, time and time again. The seven faced such insane odds and escaped relatively intact time and again.

Judge Orrin Travis didn’t think he would have the faith or the strength to face that kind of turmoil more than once in a life time. He marveled at their strength, dedication and faith. They were one of a kind; a rare breed of men.

The End

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