Disclaimer: Not mine, never were, never will be.
Note: Response to the mistaken identity challenge. Thanks to Kerry and LT for the amazingly fast beta!
"Ezra!" Vin pounded on the door of Ezra's apartment. "Ezra come on, open up!"
They had tried to call him, but both his cell and his home line had both been switched message mode, which was strictly against all the rules. Now, at two in the morning, Vin was desperately trying to rouse him, praying he was still safe.
"Young man what do you think youre doing?" Vin spun around to find himself confronted by Ezra's elderly neighbour. She was wearing a pink robe, her hair in curlers under a scarf and was carrying a small dog under her arm. "I'm going to call the police, if you don't desist! Do you know what time it is?"
Vin really didn't have time for distractions but he didn't want the police involved, so he fumbled in his back pocket for his badge.
"Federal agent ma'am, this is an emergency."
She peered at his badge and then glared at him indignantly. "Well why didn't you say something? Here " She thrust the small dog at him. On instinct he took it, but before he could protest she had gone back into her own apartment. In the few moments she was gone Vin looked at the dog, who looked as startled as he was, and reminded him of tailess rat.
"Here dear." The old lady was back and holding out a key to him with one hand and holding out the other for the dog. "Mr Standish gave me a key, to keep an eye on his place when he's away."
Without worrying any more about it, and without a word, Vin grabbed the key and ran back to the apartment. Once inside he flipped on the lights and ran straight to the bedroom. It was with huge relief that he found his friend asleep in his enormous bed. Clamping Ezra's arms down to save himself any injury when the slumbering Standish awoke, Vin shook the sleeping man and shouted.
Ezra, who had been suffering from a migraine all evening, had taken a sleeping pill, or he would have woken, if not when Vin started pounding, certainly when he burst into the room.
"Wha'?" he mumbled.
"Come on man!" Vin shouted again, still shaking him. "Wake up!"
Green eyes finally opened, there was a moment of sheer panic that passed to confusion when he realised who it was holding him down and shouting at him.
"I'm awake," he finally said.
With that assurance, Vin released him and stood back, as Ezra pushed himself up.
"Why are you here? How are you here? What's happened?" he asked.
"I'll tell you on the way, but you need to pack a bag for a few days away and come with me. Your neighbour let me in." A thought suddenly struck Vin. "Look I need to sort something out, get dressed and pack, I'll be back."
Leaving the puzzled Ezra, Vin went back to the neighbour's apartment.
"Ma'am can I speak to you in private for a moment?" he asked when she answered.
"Well I'm awake now, so why not, come in." She stood back to let him pass.
"Mr Standish is going away for a few days, or possibly a bit longer, I'm not sure and he needs you to take care of the place." He handed back the key she had given him.
"Of course, naturally."
"I also need you to do something for me, and this is very important government business, you understand?"
She gave him a withering look. "I was a nurse in the army you know, served in Korea."
"Good to know ma'am, I was a Ranger myself," Vin admitted.
"Well alright, what do you need?"
Vin quickly wrote out the names of the rest of the team and showed them to her. "Can you memorise these names?"
She held up a finger and then disappeared into another room, returning a few moments later wearing her glasses. She then took the list and read it carefully.
"Do I have to reproduce it or just recognise one of the names if I see or hear it?" she asked.
"Recognise one of them if you see or hear it."
"Okay got it." She handed it back. "Why?"
Relived that she seemed to know what was expected. "You haven't seen Ezra, Mr Standish, you don't know were he is, you last saw him this morning - understand?"
"I understand, what about the names?"
"They know the truth, only they can have the key."
"Understood, you can trust me Agent Vincent Michael Tanner."
She grinned at him as he realised she had read his ID in the brief moment she had it, even without her glasses.
"Call me Vin ma'am, what do I call you?"
"Nice to meet you Margaret." With that Vin gave her a textbook salute and returned to the apartment to hurry Ezra along.
+ + + + + + +
Vin all but dragged Ezra out of his apartment, and down to the underground parking garage. Ezra was already confused, but when he realised that Vin was all but running, not to his own jeep or even Chris' Ram, but an anonymous sedan of the type they used for surveillance, his confusion jumped to serious alarm.
"Okay, thats it!" he stopped and, grabbing hold of Vin's forearm, yanked the Texan around to face him.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded.
+ + + + + + +
JD fidgeted, he sat with one leg crossed over the other, the raised foot twitched up and down at a frenetic pace. Chris paced; Nathan stood at the nurse's station, waiting for news. One hour became two, then three. Since two hours had already elapsed, between Buck being admitted to the hospital in Boulder and Chris arriving, Buck had now been in surgery for almost five hours.
"Okay, thanks." Nathan put the phone down and began to walk over to them.
Instantly the others were bearing down on him.
"Well?" Chris demanded.
"No news on Buck, but I have some information on the girl," Nathan explained, he hated the way his news only increased the tension he could see in the men before him.
"Go on then," Chris finally prompted.
"Her name is Lucy Pemberton, she's a librarian. I have no idea how she met Buck. She has a minor bullet wound to her left shoulder. They'll release her tomorrow, when the local PD want her to make a formal statement."
"We can't have that," Chris muttered darkly.
"Any word from Josiah?"
"Call him, we need that warrant, fast."
Nathan nodded and headed out of the waiting area so he could use his cell phone. He'd been gone only ten minutes when a doctor in blue scrubs came into the room.
"Wilmington?" he called.
"Here!" JD shot to his feet, Chris hard on his heels. "Is he alright?" JD asked before he was even across the room.
"Let's sit down shall we?" the doctor suggested.
Reluctantly the two of them followed him across the room to the corner, where the doctor introduced himself as Marcus Panayiotou. "Let me get right to it," he started in a brisk matter of fact way, "Mr Wilmington was shot four times. One bullet passed through his left upper arm, breaking the bone, which was lucky "
"Lucky? How the hell is it lucky?" Chris demanded.
"Chris," JD spoke softly, "let him finish." Larabee, who had turned his formidable glare on the doctor, turned to face his youngest agent. "Let him do his job."
Finally Chris nodded.
"It was lucky because bone is a lot harder then most people realise, and breaking it takes a lot of energy out of the bullet. It then passed into his chest, where it hit a rib. The rib deflected it up and it exited here." With that he pointed to a spot high up on the left side of his chest. "If it hadn't hit his humerus, it would have gone straight into his lung, possibly passing right on into his heart."
"Oh shit," Chris growled.
"Like I said, it was lucky it hit his arm first."
JD was only half listening, as the doctor continued to explain, in more detail, using words he didn't understand, Nathan would explain it later. Buck was still alive; the bullet didn't enter his heart or his lung, so that meant he was going to be okay.
The doctor was saying something about the second bullet, how it had broken a top rib and lodged against the shoulder blade." He pulled a sealed clear bag from his pocket. "Here," he held it out. Inside there was a dark, bloodstained object. "I suspect you need that."
Chris reached out and took the bag, squinting at the contents. "This is a .22," he commented with some surprise.
The doctor continued. "That one severed an artery in his shoulder. If his girl friend hadn't called 911 when she did, and the paramedics hadn't been only a block away, well " He shook his head.
"Well?" Chris prompted.
"He would probably have been DOA. The third bullet passed through his left forearm, but missed the bone, it then hit him in the chest." He tapped his own chest in the centre. "Right here, on the sternum, it broke the bone but it didn't pass on any further." With that he handed over another bag. This one contained a miss-shapen disk. "If whoever did this hadn't been using such a small calibre gun well I don' think we'd be sitting here. Like I said, he was lucky."
JD looked up. "But he's gonna be okay - right? So how long before we can see him?"
"It's going to be a few hours yet," the doctor explained. "The nuerosurgeon is working on removing the last bullet."
+ + + + + + +
"Mr Tanner, I demand that you tell me what is going on!" Ezra shouted as Vin started to jog toward the nondescript car.
Vin looked back to see Ezra unmoving in the dim light of the underground parking lot.
"I will, I swear, but we gotta move pal - now!"
Once they were on the road Vin began to explain, it all went back to that afternoon
+ + + + + + +
"Aw come on Ez, please," Buck pleaded.
"I'd do it fer you."
"In a heart beat."
Ezra looked up, raising an eyebrow. "I can't think of any occasion which would necessitate such a loan."
"You loaned it to the kid," Buck pointed out, making sure the pure injustice of this was clear in his voice.
"Naturally, Mr Dunne is courting the beautiful Miss Welles, he required an elegant mode of transport to take her to the ball. Besides, he knows how to drive."
"I can drive Ezra," Buck ground out, desperately trying to keep a lid on his temper. "Been doing it since I was twelve." Ezra arched an eyebrow at this comment, but Buck didn't elaborate further.
"The law may see fit to give you a licence for the public highway, but they don't have to ride with you while you throw that fine antique vehicle of yours around like a sack of potatoes."
"I promise, on my honour, I will treat her like a fine lady, just as tender and sweet as I can be." Buck sank to his knees. "Look Ez, Ezra, I'm begging here buddy, the truck's in the shop, I got a hot date with a very fine lady, an' no wheels, please, please can I borrow the Jag - please?"
JD leaned back in his seat so he could get a better view. "You look good down there, pal."
"Yeah Bucklin, you should get on your knees more often," Vin added as he came back from the break room with more sludge, passing for coffee.
"Certainly shows of yer best feature," Chris added from his office door.
Buck bit his lip to prevent himself from making any comments that might jeopardise his chances of getting the Jag for the night. Ezra regarded his friend, trying not to laugh. In truth he knew his precious car was safe with Buck, and with the possible exception of Chris' Ram, none of the others had a vehicle that he could contemplate asking a lady to ride in.
"I do hate to see a man on his knees," Ezra said.
Buck held his breath.
Buck shot to his feet. "Ez you're a prince, my hero!" With that he placed a hand either side of Ezra's face and promptly kissed him on the forehead.
"Mr Wilmington, please!" His saviour protested.
Buck was unrepentant and just grinned. Then he turned to look over his shoulder at Chris and gave his own butt a playful slap. "Well my best feature is gonna get properly appreciated tonight."
"I take it we don't know the lady in question. I can't believe there is a woman left in this building who isn't wise to your ways."
Buck turned back to Ezra. "You just dont get it do you?" He looked around at the others. "Why do men think all women are looking for a husband, they ain't. Okay some are, but not all, you dont have to pretend like yer starting a great romance to have a good time with a lady - if you know what I mean by 'good time'. All you need is to be charming, courteous, and know how to make them happy " he winked at JD. " in and out of the bedroom, but mostly you have to be honest, respect 'um enough to know that they don't need to be lied to, 'sides which, do you guys really think they can't see past all the BS you spout at 'um?"
+ + + + + + +
"I fail to see the connection," Ezra commented.
"Oh for Christ sake Ezra! Buck was shot, in your car, it was dark, raining - hard - no one could have seen the face of the driver, so they had to have assumed it was you!"
"Why would anyone want to shoot me - in Boulder, of all places?"
"You got enemies pal, just like the rest of us, probably more," Vin pointed out more softly.
"I know, but why now, why?" Suddenly the anger seemed to flood out of Ezra, as if he had just woken up to what had happened.
"I don't know, but we're gonna find out - okay?"
"Indeed, four bullets you say?"
Vin had described Buck's condition based on what he knew, but that wasn't much.
"Thats what they told Chris, he "
"Vin!" Ezra suddenly shouted.
"The turn off for Boulder, you missed it." Ezra was already looking behind them, almost as if he could make the road come back to them.
"We ain't going to Boulder, Chris wants you in a safe house," Vin explained.
"Absolutely not! I will not hide when my friend is fighting for his life," Ezra fumed.
"Ezra, I got my orders."
"Don't throw that at me, we both know you pay scant regard to orders - no matter whose - if it doesnt suit you, so turn around and head for Boulder - now!"
"Can't do it Ez, Chris' got a plan, we just gotta trust him, fer now."
+ + + + + + +
"Neurosurgeon?" JD asked in horror. "Don't they only do - like brain surgery?"
The doctor nodded. "The last shot hit your friend in the head."
"Oh God," Chris breathed.
JD just stared at the man. "How how bad?" he finally managed to ask.
"In truth, I don't know, I'm a general surgeon. The bullet entered behind his left ear and is lodged behind his eye." He could see the fear building in the two men. "Please don't panic yet, head injuries arent always as bad as people imagine. I will bring you more information as soon as I have any."
Chris forced himself to remain calm and not give in to the whole army of butterflies - no make that giant vampire bats - of fear in his gut. "Do you have any idea how much longer it could take?" he asked.
"I'm sorry, scans and x-rays only tell us so much, until the surgeon actually starts to work, she can't be sure what problems or complications there may be." He saw the little start of fear in the younger man at the use of the word 'complications'. "Even if it all goes smoothly, it's delicate work, can't be rush - you understand?"
"Sure, thank you." With that Chris got up and moved to sit beside JD. As the doctor left, he put an arm over the younger man's shoulders. "You gotta have faith in Buck kid, that man is as stubborn as a mule - no " he corrected himself. "...more stubborn than a mule." He looked down so he could catch JD's downcast eyes. "I know we all say that, but it's true, believe me when I say this - that man never, ever, gives up, on anyone or anything. He's gonna be fine."
JD finally turned his head to look at Chris, let a nervous smile cross his face and he nodded.
+ + + + + + +
Vin drove to the northern outskirts of Eastlake, where he turned into the driveway. Ezra eyed the anonymous looking suburban house as the car pulled up.
"What is this place?" he asked.
It was the first thing either of them had said after it became clear Vin wasn't going to drive Ezra to the hospital in Boulder.
"Safe house." Came the response.
"I guess, Josiah gave me the address."
Even as they pulled into the driveway, Sanchez came out onto the front porch. He then led them inside. Ezra glanced around at the neutral, unthreatening, uninspired décor, it looked like every house in every 'sell your house faster' make-over show on TV he'd ever seen. Josiah handed over the key and explained the security system. Hed stopped off at an all night supermarket and purchased enough groceries to last at least a week.
"Your name is Jude Blunt, you can come up with any background story you like." With that both men turned for the door. "Ezra, we gotta go. We'll call you with any information, here " Josiah thrust a new 'pay as you go' cell phone at him. "Dont use yours again, just in case."
The two men were already heading for the door when Ezra asked. "Vin, where are the car keys?"
Vin turned back and tossed him the key to the unmarked car.
"It's for emergencies only," Josiah warned.
He watched them leave, then turned back to unpack and set up his laptop. The rest of the team were trying to protect him, he understood that. There was a time when he would have believed he was being sidelined or even being sacrificed, but not now, not since he left Atlanta and came to Denver. He might not like it, but for now he would go along with the plan. Of course if he could find a way to help in some way
+ + + + + + +
Nathan had been assured by Josiah that the federal warrant giving them jurisdiction over the case was in his hand, and as soon as he'd met with Vin and Ezra it would be in Boulder. That was good enough for Nathan. He returned to the surgical waiting room to hear the news about Buck. Once he had assured the others that the doctor wasn't bull shitting them and not all head injuries were as catastrophic as portrayed in the media, he went in search of the night's other victim.
+ + + + + + +
Lucy Pemberton was coming up on forty very fast now, a single mother, with a ten year old and an ex husband, so ex his alimony payments had stopped five years ago and no one knew were he was. The chance to spend the evening with a good looking and charming man like Buck was a rare treat. They had met at the park, Lucy was there with her son for a softball tournament and Buck was jogging. Having completed his three circuits, he'd sat down to cool off and watch the boys and girls playing in the sunlight - Buck was just a big softy when it came to kids. He hadn't noticed the cooler beside the picnic bench until Lucy returned to it to find some water. After the inevitable apologies on both sides, they began to talk. Lucy happened to mention she wanted to see a play that had just opened in Boulder - Wild Oats - but lamented she had no one to go with.
"I know I could go on my own, but somehow it's not the same, is it?" she lamented.
"Well I'd be honoured to escort you, if you'd let me?" Buck offered.
And that was it, date made.
She was meant to be sleeping, the doctors had given her a mild sedative, but it wasn't working. She was too wound up and too worried about Buck to let sleep claim her. A call to her best friend had made sure that when she arrived to collect her son the next day, he wouldn't be too shocked by the sling and bandages. On the advice of the police she would tell everyone that something had hit the windshield and she was hurt by flying glass.
"Hello?" Nathan whispered entering the private room softy, after knocking.
Lucy was propped up in bed watching the overhead TV, though in truth she couldn't have told anyone what the program was.
"Oh hello." She flicked the TV off, and Nathan came in.
Once he explained who he was and passed on what information he had on Buck he asked if she could go through the night's events once more - for him. Once she agreed he pulled out a small Dictaphone and asked if she minded if he recorded their conversation.
"Sure, I guess, I can't sleep yet anyway." She started by explaining about the theatre. "You know I didn't think it would be his kind of thing, I mean I know we only just met, but - well Buck is very easy to talk to, you know?"
Nathan nodded. "I do indeed," he confirmed.
"But as it happened he loved it, he identified with the lead character I think. Well we went for a coffee after, then Buck was driving me home, I was " her voice trailed off, and a blush rose in her cheeks. " well I guess thats not important."
"Ma'am," Nathan interrupted. "you never know what's important, please go on. Believe me what ever you say will be strictly in confidence.
She thought about it, then ducked her head once. "Very well, I was going to ask him in, ask him to stay - you understand? I don't do this all the time, I'm not like that, but it's been so long, when you've got a child and a job and well "
Nathan could see how desperately she wanted to justify what she perceived as a social taboo. He could well understand how hard it was for a woman in her position to have any kind of social life, let alone sex life. He began to get a little of what Buck had been trying to explain to them that afternoon. If their plans had come to fruition, no doubt she would have had a very enjoyable evening, without all the emotional baggage of a 'committed' relationship.
"Thats okay, I understand, so you were on the way to your house?" he prompted.
"Yes, we weren't going that fast, the roads were quiet, but there was so much rain, and Buck told me he'd borrowed the car from a friend and had to take good care of it."
**There's that Wilmington honesty, most men would have passed the Jag off as theirs.** Nathan mused.
"Besides he had one arm over my shoulders "
**So looking after the Jag didn't include keeping both hands on the wheel.**
"Another car, I've tried to remember what kind it as, but it was just a car, nothing special. It passed us, going the other way, suddenly there was this bang and my arm started to sting. Then there was a whole series of bangs as the car went past and Buck suddenly couldn't control the car. It took me a while to realise he was hurt." She looked ashamed. "I mean I've seen that show, 'Trauma - Life in the ER'?"
"I know the one," he confirmed.
"But I've never seen anyone shot before, I've never seen a bullet hole."
"Nothing to be ashamed of, not many folk have, thank goodness. Please go on."
"Well, Buck managed to stop the car then he looked down and that was when I saw all the blood. Its stupid, but I didn't even notice all the holes in the glass, I just didn't understand what had happened. His arm, the far one, was just sort of hanging there, and there was all this blood, I mean there was a LOT of blood. Buck just looked at the blood and me and I could see, you know - I could see he was only just hanging on. So I pulled out my cell and called 911. The lady said to put pressure on the wound, but there were so many." She looked up, as if seeking forgiveness for not having four arms. "I did what I could, but it took so long, we were in town, why did it take so long?"
Nathan knew the ambulance had taken less than three minutes to reach them, but to her, trapped in a car with a man who was rapidly bleeding out, it must have seemed like hours.
"Sounds to me like you did all the right things. Did Buck say anything?"
"He said 'I'm sorry.' That was all, he didn't have much strength. Do you have any idea when they'll know if he's going to be okay?"
"Sadly, no, I promise I'll keep you updated."
She smiled her thanks. "Thanks, Buck's one of the good guys."
"Yeah he is," Nathan confirmed. "This case is now under federal jurisdiction. Nathan's tone became more business like. "Is there somewhere you can stay, out of town, you and your son?"
"Well we were going to stay with my mother in Montana next week, I guess we could go early, she won't mind."
"Good, can you fix that up for tomorrow? How would you normally get there?"
"Good, give me the details and I'll get the tickets all fixed up - our treat. If anyone but an ATF agent asks you about tonight, you make no comment, you understand?"
"If they refer to Buck as Ezra Standish, don't be surprised, act normally."
"If you want. What's going on, is Buck some kind of undercover agent?" she asked anxiously.
"It's a bit complicated, but it is important."
"Don't worry I'll remember."
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Josiah called in at the hospital for an update before they headed for the police headquarters to present their warrant and formally take control of the case. That the chief of police was not pleased, was the understatement of the year. When they took every piece of evidence his detectives had amassed so far, he was even less happy. A second witness, waiting at traffic lights a block behind the Jag, reported that the assailants car was a dark Ford, older, fairly small. As it passed him, he saw the drivers window was still down, that was all he could say about it. He could say nothing about the driver, he couldn't even say if it was male or female.
Several businesses on the street where the shooting took place had CCTV security cameras, all were being located by local police officers and the tapes collected. Josiah and Vin decided to wait until they arrived, so they could take them as well.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was angry, frustrated and worried to death, on top of which he felt guilty as hell, Buck was fighting for his life in hospital because of him. Not bothering to unpack, he booted up his laptop, connected to the internet and started searching the various federal and local law enforcement data bases. He also connected to his own case notes, and now began to search for anyone who was currently at liberty who might want him dead. He wasn't currently an active witness in any case so this hadn't been an attempt to silence him, the most likely motive had to be revenge.
Hours later he was no closer to working out who had tried to kill him. He only stopped to call the others, desperate for news on Buck and case updates. While he got through to Vin and Josiah, he still had no first hand information from the hospital. In his heart of hearts he knew someone would call him as soon as there was any news, but he just couldn't help leaving messages. Only when he stood to go in search of the bathroom and had to grab hold of the desk as a wave of dizziness struck him, did he go in search of food.
He was on the way back to the computer, sandwich in hand, when the phone rang.
"Hi Ezra, it's Nathan. Buck's out of surgery."
+ + + + + + +
The doctor who approached Chris, JD and Nathan this time was a tall, slim woman, with short cropped spiky grey hair.
"You must be waiting for Mr Wilmington, Marcus described you perfectly." She smiled as the three men rose to meet her. "I'm Doctor Pervis. Mr Wil "
"Buck," JD interrupted, "..his name's Buck."
She gave him a small head nod. "I stand corrected, Buck is out of surgery and in recovery. All things considered he did very well. I know Marcus has told you about the chest injuries, none of which should cause any complications. He's has got some impressive metal work in his arm, and of course, he's had several transfusions because of the blood loss."
"What about the head injury?" Chris prompted.
"That's my department, and I have good news. It was tricky to get to but as far as I can see, the damage was minimal, the eye wasn't damaged, the bullet stopped just short of the eye. There wasn't too much intercranial bleeding and no major structures were effected, even the hole in the skull was small. There were skull fragments to be removed, but we were able to retrieve them all safely."
"So he's gonna be okay - right?" JD pressed.
"Head injuries are always dangerous, and there are no guarantees in medicine, but considering his injuries, this is about as good a result as we could have hoped for. He'll be moved from recovery to intensive care in about half an hour. Once he's settled, we'll arrange for you to visit. Please remember that he has been through almost seven hours of surgery, which alone is a major traumatic event, on top of his injuries, it has made him very weak. Because of this and because of his head injury, we're going to keep him in a drug maintained coma for at least forty eight hours, to give his body and brain a chance to recover." She scanned the faces before her, seeing hope, relief, fear and anger. "Buck appears to be a big, strong, fit man, he clearly has people who care about him, that's about as good as it gets."
"He's stubborn too," JD added.
"Better and better. I need to get back, I promise someone will come and get you as soon as he's settled."
Chris ran a tired hand over his face and through his hair. His other hand he placed over JD's shoulders, giving him a reassuring pat.
JD relaxed into Chriss embrace as he smiled at the doctor, offering her thanks on all their behalf. As she turned to go, Nathan also gave JD a shoulder pat then jogged after the doctor.
"My name's Nathan Jackson, I'll be working with the CSI officers on this case, do you have the other bullet, the one you just removed?" he asked.
"Oh, goodness me, yes." She started checking her pockets, finding what she needed on the third attempt and handing it over.
"Thanks, I'm also going to need a copy of the surgical notes and any x-rays you have." He could see an objection on her lips before she even voiced it. "Mr Larabee has Buck's medical power of attorney and will sign any release papers you need."
She glanced over at Chris, thought about it for a moment then nodded. "Very well, I'll see that you get them as soon as is practical."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra listened as Nathan explained about Buck's injuries and prognosis, relived and sickened at the same time.
"Tell Buck, when he is awake - tell him "
"I will Ezra, don't worry," Nathan assured, understanding his friend's sudden loss of eloquence.
"Thank you my friend, I err So, do you have any more evidence or clues?"
"Yes, some, Josiah sent you an e-mail, all the new information is attached. Have you found any possible suspects?"
"None, although the search has brought home to me just how many potential enemies I have."
"Just an indication that you're doing your job well," Nathan remarked.
"If this is going to be the result, it's not worth it," Ezra commented bitterly.
"Not sure Buck would agree with you."
"He well possibly," Ezra finally conceded, Buck was not one for backing away from a fight, no matter what the consequences. "I better go and check that e-mail. Please keep me informed."
"I will, I promise."
+ + + + + + +
JD and Chris stood on the threshold of the intensive care unit. JD took a deep breath.
"Ready?" Chris asked.
"As I'll ever be."
Buck was in the bed closest to the door. The first thing they saw was the ventilator tube down his throat. **It's not that he can't breathe, he's just resting,** JD reminded himself. There was a large white dressing behind his left ear, no doubt much of his thick hair had been shaved off underneath.
"He won't like that," Chris commented.
"What?" JD's eyes didn't leave his friend.
"Losing all that hair."
JD smiled. "I was just thinking that," he admitted.
Most of Buck's left arm and chest seemed to be covered in dressings. As they approached him a nurse came across from the bed opposite.
"Hello, you're here to see Buck?" he asked.
"I am sorry, we only allow one visitor per patient in ICU, next of kin, visiting hours are two 'til eight by the way."
While JD moved even closer to Buck, Chris turned on the nurse. "One of us will be here twenty four seven, you understand? When he wakes up, his family will be with him."
"You're his family?"
"Brothers," JD answered. "He has six brothers," there was a clear warning in his voice.
"I'm sorry I can't " the hapless nurse began to object.
"Look..!" Chris rounded on the poor man.
"It's alright Danny, we can make an exception." Doctor Pervis came up behind Chris. "These gentlemen are all federal agents, someone will need to be with Mr Wilmington - Buck - for security reasons." She smiled at Chris. "Right?"
"Right," he agreed.
"But I will have to ask you to keep it to one visitor, we just don't have the space."
She watched him, saw the man debating if it was a fight he could win or not. When she had contacted Denver, for Buck's medical records, the clerk at his doctors office had suggested - in the politest terms - that if she was treating 'one of them', she had best speak to someone in one of the local ER departments, for the 'low down and SOP', as she put it. It was a most enlightening conversation, though in truth, it wasn't until she walked into the ICU that Doctor Pervis truly believed what she had been told, she still wasn't sure she believed it all.
"Very well," Chris conceded. He stepped forward to stand at the bedside. Slowly he reached out and took Buck's limp hand in his. "Buddy, you better be talking up a storm when they take you off these drugs." He gave his friends hand a squeeze. "Talking up a storm and collecting phone numbers - you hear me?" With that he turned away. "JD stay here," he instructed, before walking past the doctor and out of the unit.
Dr Pervis watched him leave, then looked back at JD, who was settling himself in the hard plastic chair beside Buck.
"They're very close - arent they?" It wasn't really a question, more an observation born of a sudden insight.
JD smiled. "Yes ma'am, they're brothers."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra reviewed the evidence and one thing became crystal clear, this was not a professional hit. Professional killers didn't use .22's, they didn't shoot blindly into a dark car, and no professional killer shot while driving unless he had a fully automatic weapon, which this would-be killer clearly hadn't had. Fords were common but none of that size had been reported stolen that day in Boulder, so there was a chance the assailant was driving his own vehicle, yet another indication this was the work of an amateur.
A phone call confirmed that Vin and Josiah had come to the same conclusions.
"We just got the CCTV footage and it looks like we got lucky," Vin explained. "You can't see much but you can see the hit and the car, but not the licence plate."
"Thanks, how's Buck?"
He could almost hear Vin shrug. "The same, Nate says not to expect any change for the next two days."
"I know, he rang, I just you know?"
"Yeah, I know. Did Chris call?"
"Oh yes, indeed he did."
Chris had called as soon as he left Buck in ICU and stepped outside the hospital, almost surprised to find it was morning. Ezra stated repeatedly that he didn't need to be hidden away, but Chris was having none of it.
"Ezra whoever this is, they're out to kill you and they don't care who else might get hurt. I can't have you out there as a target, once they realise you're not dead. We have to concentrate on helping Buck and finding this bastard, we can't do that and watch your back at the same time."
"I can watch my own back Mr Larabee, I've been doing it for a long time - most of my life in fact."
"Don't if you're out there, youre a target and we'll be watching out for you. Just for once, do as your ordered and stay put." Ezra hadn't answered. "Ezra?"
"For now I will acquiesce to your request."
"It wasn't a request, it was an order."
+ + + + + + +
Vin and Josiah's trawled through the hours of grainy CCTV footage to put together one single tape that showed all the footage covering the shooting. They could see the Jag drive up the street, the dark Ford turned out to be an Aspire, probably dark blue or black, flashes from the gun were clearly visible, although the actual shooting was not caught on camera. From the times on the tapes they were able to put together a timetable for the attack.
Nathan had spent some time with the local CSI officers going over the medical evidence and the Jag. There was a bullet hole through the headrest, he concluded that this was why the bullet that hit Buck in the head had done relatively little damage - at least they hoped it hadn't done too much damage. He and the other officers found the remaining two bullets and confirmed that only one gun was used.
In truth their investigations were coming up against a brick wall. For all they knew, Ezra wasn't the target at all, it could have indeed been Buck or even his passenger, worse it could have been a random act of violence. They weren't ready to release Ezra from his 'prison' yet, but placing a guard on Buck and making sure Lucy Pemberton was safely out of town became a priority.
Josiah started to go through Bucks past cases, Vin started working on a background check on Lucy, both men were looking out for any cross matches for Ford Aspires or gun permits for .22s.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was also checking cars. Ford Aspires weren't that common but they weren't unusual either. He was able to eliminate any car that wasn't dark in colour and since Vin assured him the car was at least six years old, he could eliminate any new cars. Even so, the list the computer generated was huge. Hour upon hour he trawled the lists, and correlated the addresses and names with their past cases and Buck's police cases and recent prison releases. Occasionally he stopped to eat and visit the bathroom. Only when he found himself nodding off at the computer did he take a nap. Repeated calls to the others only told him what he already knew, until the doctors began to reduce the level of medication, there would be no change in Buck's condition. The hours ticked by and he made his way down the list. He was about to take a break when he took a second look at an address and something rang a bell. It was a tenuous connection at best, but worth following up, so far it was the only connection to any of them he had found.
What he discovered in the next few hours began to worry him more and more, but when he tried to contact the others he got no response. Everyone's cell phone was on message. So he decided to take matters into his own hands, since it was now clear he wasn't the intended target.
+ + + + + + +
JD had been counting down the hours, waiting until the prescribed forty eight were up. He had been persuaded to get some sleep in a nearby motel where Josiah had rented two rooms. The big profiler had persuaded Chris to take a rest by pointing out that if he didn't JD wouldn't. Now both men were somewhat rested and the ICU doctor had already reduced Buck's sedation a little. After withdrawing some more, fifty five hours after he came out of surgery, Buck began to show some signs of coming around. His head tossed and he moved his unbroken right arm to try and pull at the breathing tube. Chris was beside him, and about to reach for the call button when the nurse appeared.
"Hey now, don't do that," she chided, pulling Buck's hand away from the tube. She looked up, inviting Chris to help her. He took the hint, standing and taking his friends hand from her.
"You listen to her now, just relax and let them take care of you," he chided softly.
Deprived of his right hand to remove the offending object in his throat Buck moved his left, and was rewarded with a stab of pain as the newly plated fracture made its presence known.
"Careful." The nurse pulled that arm back as well. "Now you just rest easy, the doctor is coming."
If Buck could hear them he didn't show any sign, his brow creased in frustration as his attempts to get ride of the intubation tube were thwarted.
"Come on pal, just relax, it'll be okay, you're gonna be okay." In his heart Chris knew he was speaking to himself as much as Buck, a world without Buck in his life wasn't something he was ready to contemplate.
Thankfully the doctor arrived soon afterwards and announced the tube could be removed. "He didn't have a breathing problem as such, it was just to support his breathing while he was under the medication." It wasn't a fun procedure but once the tube was out, Buck began to rest more easily, but he didn't wake up. The doctor assured Chris that this too was to be expected. "There are still a lot of drugs in his system after all, and he's recovering from a major trauma. We'll monitor him closely, it shouldn't be much longer."
JD was allowed in to see Buck, now resting quietly, and while he still had an oxygen mask, he looked a lot better without the tube down his throat. A few hours later Buck's eyelids fluttered. JD stood and leaned over him.
"Hey there you, you gonna come back to us and say hi?" he asked.
JD thought he heard Buck mutter something, he couldnt make out what, but going on instinct, he responded. "Yeah it's me, come on open them eyes so this pretty nurse can see your eyes, she didn't believe me when I told her they were blue."
Chris stood silently at the end of the bed, letting JD coax Buck back.
"Thats right," the nurse admitted, "I don't see how a man with such lovely dark hair can have blue eyes." Her name was Regina and she was a portly African-American grandmother, but her voice was soft and feminine and Chris knew Buck would respond to that.
And he did, because there they were, not as alive and twinkly as normal, but there were Buck's dark blue eyes, blinking blearily at JD.
"Hello," JD welcomed, "good to have you back."
In truth Buck was relying on voice recognition because he couldn't see much more than a fuzzy blur, but that blur to his right was JD, there was no mistaking that voice. He wasn't registering much pain yet, but he was aware of the raspy dryness in his throat. The sound he made didn't sound like a word to him, but someone must have understood, because the oxygen mask was removed and wonderfully cool ice chips slipped into his mouth. He was beginning to register pain, his head hurt, breathing hurt, his arm ached, but mostly he was tired, and the tiredness was winning. He didn't remember what had happened and was too tired to try and work it out.
"No you don't," Regina chided, "Don't go to sleep yet."
Buck pulled his eyes from the JD blur to the dark blur on the other side. His focus was improving, the blur was now a fuzzy human outline.
"I need you to stay awake until the doctor comes, can you do that?"
He wasn't sure, his throat was hurting again, more ice chips arrived, which he sucked gratefully. A tall, dark figure with blonde hair, appeared behind the woman with the soft voice.
"Sure he can, right pal?"
Chris, the tall figure was Chris, he could hang on for Chris, if it was important, and Chris wouldn't ask if it wasn't.
The doctor arrived soon after. She made a quick assessment, happily Buck could respond to simple commands and seemed to have vision in his left eye. The fact that he fell asleep half way through the exam was no cause for concern.
"All in all, I'm very happy with his progress and I see no reason for him have to stay in this unit any longer, he can move to a general room. If we do it now, while he's still asleep, it'll be less traumatic."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was playing a hunch, which was about as long a shot as you could get. It was so feeble a hunch, he didn't dare tell any of the others, he had just set out to make his own enquiry. The welcome call to say that Buck was awake and seemed so far to be making good progress, he received on the road as he drove back toward Denver.
Several hours later, he was fairly sure he knew who had shot at Buck and his companion and that discovery was terrifying. Frantic phone calls were met with switched off phones or answer messages. He managed to contact the local police but they were less than helpful, mainly because they didn't believe him. At the hospital he found Buck sleeping peaceful, watched over by Chris and Vin.
"Ezra what the hell are you doing here?" Chris hissed in an angry whisper as he propelled his undercover agent back out of the room.
"I know who shot Buck, at least I think I know. Where's JD?"
"JD?" Chris asked.
"Yes, were is he?"
"Getting something to eat. What has Buck getting shot in your car got to do with JD?"
"I don't have time to explain. Where?"
"Where is JD eating?"
"Diner, down the street from the hospital, Josiah and Nathan are with him."
"Come on!" Ezra was already moving.
Chris reached out and snatched hold of his arm. "Not until you tell me what's going on. What has all this got to do with JD?"
Ezra pulled his arm free. "He borrowed the Jag," was all he said.
"That was months ago," Chris pointed out.
"I know, come on." By now Ezra was running down the corridor.
"Cowboy?" Vin appeared in the doorway of Buck's room.
"Stay with Buck, I've gotta go with Ezra." With that he was running after the southerner.
+ + + + + + +
Kyle Durrent had wanted to be a vet, it was all he ever wanted to be, but he hadn't been able to keep up with the course. In the end, as his grades dropped, he was asked to leave. Unwilling to leave his dreams behind completely, he applied for and got the vacant job of lab technician at the veterinarian large animal practice, attached to the university's own farm. With the job came a small apartment at the farm, poviding emergency and out of hours cover as well as extra security. Casey Wells was a pretty, petite, straight A student, her only weakness was that she was a little small for the really physical aspects of the job, things like giving a large cow a rectal exam. Kyle loved Casey, he tried to help her whenever he could, hoping she would notice him. She was kind, she was appreciative of his help, she said hi whenever she saw him - most of the students didn't even know his name, let alone speak to him. To Kyle it was clear she liked him, so he asked her to go to the spring break ball with him, and she said no.
Kyle just knew she liked him, so why did she say no? He was determined to find out, thus he followed her that night. He followed her little Suzuki 4x4 to a small farm in the hills, a few hours later a Jaguar car rolled up the drive, it was an older model but immaculate, its engine purred, oozing money and power. The car drew to a stop, Casey - dressed in a ravishing, and very tight, black dress, came out of the house and slid into the passenger seat, the Jag drove off. Now Kyle understood, this man, no doubt an older man, had power over poor Casey, blinding her with money. As the spring turned to summer, he continued to be nice to Casey and as he did, he gleaned information about her boyfriend. He learned that he was called JD, that he was only somewhat unreliable, often having to cancel dates - Kyle couldnt understand or forgive this - and he was a federal agent.
The love lorn lab tec began to stake out the federal building. It didn't take long to spot the Jag, it was a somewhat conspicuous car. Hatred built in him, hatred and jealousy. That night he followed the Jag, it went to an apartment building, were - according to the mail boxes J Dunne shared an apartment with B Wilmington. After less than an hour the Jag exited the underground parking garage and headed for the western suburbs. He followed. Kyle watched the 'JD' exit the car, he was tall, dark, lean and looked to be in his mid thirties. As he watched, 'JD' called at a rather ordinary house and met a plain looking lady. Together they got into the Jag and drove to Boulder, with Kyle in pursuit. He was incensed, the man had stolen Casey from him and now he was two-timing her! He watched the couple enter the theatre, three hours later they came out and his mind was made up. No one hurt his Casey and got away with it. He had taken to carrying a small .22 pistol in the car after a colleague was car jacked. It never occurred to him that his little old Ford wasn't exactly the kind of car that thieves were interested in.
After the shooting he was elated, he waited for news of the attack, he waited for Casey to be upset, so he could comfort her. But while the shooting made the Channel Seven news, no death of JD Dunne was mentioned. He was surprised when Casey arrived for classes on time, and while she didn't look to be grief stricken, she was subdued. It didn't take him too long to find out that she her weekend had been marred by her boyfriend's best friend being badly hurt in an 'accident'. He had failed, he had shot the wrong man. With no more thought for Buck, he set out to find the real JD.
+ + + + + + +
It was still early, barely past noon and the diner wasn't busy yet.
Kyle was surprised at how good a detective he was, perhaps all that time watching Columbo re-runs wasn't wasted after all. He pretended to have flowers for B Wilmington, the name on the mailbox with J Dunne. He was told he couldn't deliver them in person, so quickly penned a note, making it sound like they were from the woman Buck had been with that night but not using her name - since he didn't know it. Then he just sat back and waited until a candy striper came to reception and collected them, then he simply followed her. Having located room 341, he staked it out. There were in his opinion two possible 'JDs'. The rangy one, with scruffy hair, and the smaller dark one. Just before noon, a tall black man entered the room. After a while he exited, with an older man and the young one.
"Come on JD, the sooner you eat, the sooner you can get back to Buck." He overheard the older one say, as the three of them headed for the elevators.
It never occurred to the increasingly unstable and delusional Kyle that he was about to gun down a no doubt well armed federal agent, in the company of other well armed federal agents in broad daylight. He spotted the three men in a corner booth, walked purposefully toward them, pulled the little pistol, was about to raise it - when he was broad sided by someone, crashing to the ground, the air knocked out of him, his gun skidding away from him across the shiny floor.
+ + + + + + +
Pain crept into Buck consciousness like a thief, stealing his sleep and comfort. Little by little it made itself known. Every breath brought a stab to his chest, every slight movement set his shoulder on fire, his left arm throbbed, a slow, deep vibration of pain that seemed find its way to his brain, were it mingled with the worse headache he had ever had. He'd had concussions, but this was worse then any concussion. He'd seen Ezra with a migraine, and now felt he finely understood his friends debilitating headaches, because if they were only half as bad as the headache he had now, his sympathy for Ezra had just doubled.
A groan was the first sign his friends had that Buck was finally beginning to wake up. As instructed as he did wake, Nathan pressed the button that would deliver a measured does of morphine into his drip.
"Hello again," JD welcomed.
"Errrr," Buck groaned.
"Here." Nathan held out a cup with a straw.
Acting on automatic pilot Buck took it and drew up some of the cool water. Finding he was thirsty, he began to drink eagerly, until Nathan pulled it back. "Easy, not too much all in one go," he warned.
Refreshed Buck looked around him. He was in hospital. He hurt, God how he hurt, but why?
Chris read his confusion. "You got shot," he stated simply.
"Four times, three in the chest and arm, one in the head."
Buck tried to raise his left arm, but JD had his hand on it.
"Not that one, thats the broke one, " he explained softly.
Buck looked down at his arm and its dressings. "Oh, okay. Am I ..?"
"Youre gonna be fine," Nathan assured.
"Good." He didn't remember the shooting, nothing, his logical brain told him not to worry, he had a head injury, memory loss was to be expected, Chris would tell him what happened. He tried to work out what he did remember prior to this painful awakening. There were some hazy memories, like dreams, where he was in bed and there was something in his throat. This he dismissed as recent, hospital stuff.
"Lucy!" he suddenly exclaimed as loud as his depleted strength and still raw throat would let him.
"Is going to be fine, minor bullet wound to the shoulder, convalescing at her mothers house, don't worry," Nathan assured.
Buck looked around, Chris, JD and Nathan were standing around him; where were Vin, Josiah and Ezra? People sometimes accused Chris and Vin of an unspoken communication, but Buck and Chris weren't that bad at it either.
"Over there," Chris explained, standing back to reveal Josiah and Vin sitting either side of the other bed in the room. In that bed, Ezra slept.
"What..?" Buck asked.
"He tackled a man in a diner, broke his wrist, they had to set it under anaesthetic, he's gonna be okay."
Buck looked from Chris to Ezra and back, puzzlement all over his face.
"See," JD began. "We all thought he thought you were Ezra but actually he thought you was me - were me - whatever, any way thats why Ezra tackled him, he was gonna shoot me."
Fear flashed across Buck's face. Nathan shook his head in despair. "The man is in the secure psyche ward, JD is fine and we'll explain everything when you're stronger and we understand it ourselves - okay?"
"This guy, who was trying to shoot, he's a nut?"
"You'll explain it all later?"
"Good." With that Buck leaned back on the pillows and closed his eyes.
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