"You do not have to shout, Mr. Tanner. I, as you are well aware, am not hard of hearing."
"Sorry Ez, you had me worried when you didn't answer me. Are you all right?"
Forcing himself to move, he grimaced, as he looked around the mangled wreck of Vin's jeep that now lay crushed at the bottom of the steep hill. "I do believe I am slightly battered and bruised. Otherwise I seem to be in one piece." He answered as he finished checking himself out.
"If yer sure, yer alright Ez, do you think you can come and help me over here for a minute?" Vin's voice called from somewhere beyond the wreck.
Realizing he had yet to see his friend's condition, Ezra moved as quickly as his bruised body would allow him. "Damn it! Vin?" His usually formalities disappearing as he grew alarmed.
"Don't get all panicky on me Ez. Just need a hand that's all."
Ezra's knees grazed the rocks as he scrambled down toward the wreck. He didn't feel the pain as the stone shredded material and skin, his only focus was finding Vin and seeing out how badly hurt he was.
Stumbling, Ezra slipped and rolled down the hill until his body hit the twisted mass of metal, knocking the air from his lungs.
"Ez? Are ya ok?"
Winded, Ezra lay still, before weakly pushing himself to his knees. "I have felt better, my friend-- but I have definitely felt worse-- I shall be with you shortly." he managed to gasp.
"Take yer time, Ez, I aint goin' nowhere." Vins voice seemed relieved by his friends answer.
Taking a deep breath, Ezra, used the jeep to pull himself to his feet. "The cavalry is on its way, Mr.Tanner."
"Glad to hear it, Ez."
Cautiously making his way around the back end of the jeep, Ezra was not at all prepared for the scene before him. "Oh shit! Vin."
Ezra stood at the edge of the tangled mess that had once been Vin's jeep. His breath caught in his throat and for a moment he was unable to move. All he could manage was to mumble the same curse. "Oh shit!"
"Um Ez, " Vin gritted, as he looked up at his stunned friend. "Do you think ya can help me out here?"
Forcing himself into action, Ezra, moved quickly to his fallen friends side. His eyes anxiously took in the sight of the blood that now stained the sharpshooter's shirt red. A large piece of metal had torn away from the jeep, embedding itself grotesquely into the left side of Vin's abdomen.
Seeing the effect his injury was having on his friend, Vin tried to lighten the moment. "Aren't ya goin' to ask where it hurts, Ez?"
"I suppose you think that is terribly funny, Mr. Tanner," Ezra chided as he waved his hands uselessly above Vin's body, trying to find somewhere to start helping his friend.
"Don't look so scared Ez, the wounded man tried calm his friend's rising panic. "It aint as bad as it looks."
"I wish I could take your word for that but, coming from a great line of liars, I can spot one at two paces and you Sir, are a notorious liar when it comes to being honest about injuries. Anyway a blind man could see, it hurts like Hell." Ezra lightly scolded the sharpshooter, as he took his jacket off and gently used the now neatly folded jacket as a pillow for Vin's head.
Vin nodded, grateful for the cushion, but what he really wanted was someone to pull the painful metal thorn from his side. "Ez, This thing is really beginning to piss me off," Noting Ezra's told you so expression, Vin ignored it as he asked, "Do ya think ya can pull it out for me?"
Ezra recoiled in horror at Vin's suggestion. "I will do no such thing and I do believe that if Nathan was here, he would agree with me. That piece of metal that is, as you so eloquently put it, pissing you off, is the only thing stopping you from bleeding to death. No, Sir, I will not remove it."
"Damn ya, then I'll do it myself!" Vin growled as his bloodied hand reached determinedly for the metal.
Ezra quickly snatched Vin's hand away from the wound, holding tightly to the sticky fingers. "I know it has to hurt Vin. I know it, but if you take it out, I could lose you. I do have so few friends to allow one to give his life away so easily."
"It wouldn't be easy Ez." Vin's body tensed as the pain surged through him. "Ya know, ya could lose me anyway." His blue eyes rationalized. "Night's comin' and if no one finds us... maybe ya should go for help? I mean the road can't be that far from where we went over."
"Far enough that I am not departing your side. So let us forget that brilliant thought for a start." the older man gently reprimanded. "But you are right, it will be getting dark soon, we must make preparations and I also need to look for the first aid kit." Staring into the sharpshooter's pain-filled eyes, Ezra gently laid Vin's bloodied hand down. "Please for the others, for me. Promise me you will do what I asked?" He nodded to the wound.
"I promise, Ez." Vin managed a smile, but he knew deep down, that without help, it was could end up being an empty promise.
The first aid kit wasn't much help. Ezra found himself frustrated as he rattled through the bandages and ointments.
Not sure if he was referring to the kit or to himself, all Ezra did know was Vin was going to need more help than he would be able to give him.
With the bandages in hand, Ezra scuttled back to Vin's side. "You called Sir?" He attempted his best smile.
"God Ez, thats the worst poka' face I've ever seen." Vin joked as a shiver ran through his body.
Ezra tried to ignore his friends pain as he attempted to check the wound. "I keep my poker face for the appropriate venue; the money table. It would be wasted on such a trivial thing as this." He couldn't hide the wince, as he tore the shirt away from the wound.
Ezra's attempted gentle administrations were like sandpaper as the shirt was lifted away from his injury. Forcing injure man to squeezed his eyes shut, as he struggled to stop himself crying out. When was able to pry open his eyes again, Vin looked at Ezra and saw his pain reflected in the older man's face. "Ya--ok--Ez?"
Taking a deep breath, he straightened himself up. "Of course," he replied, as he studied the wound. "When have you known me not to be able handle any situation when it has arisen?" The wound was raw and vicious, but at least the bleeding had seemed to have slowed, which Ezra was hoping was a good sign.
"Never doubted-- ya for a second, Ez."
"Good," Ezra answered as he looked into Vin's eyes. "because I think I am about to make you feel much worse. I know you are in a great deal of pain, Vin and I hate to add to it, but I should pack something around your intruder. I think that is what Nathan would do if he were here."
Vin could hear the uncertainty in his friends voice and he wasn't going to add to it. "Talk to me, Ez. Was that really a cow?" He silently agreed.
Ezra's trembling fingers peeled the bandages from their sterile wrappers and with another deep breath he started. "It indeed was a inane bovine that wandered into our path and may I say that your driving was impeccable."
Vin's hands balled into white knuckled fists as he tried to ignore what Ezra was doing. "B-but we--crashe-" he answered breathlessly.
"Ahh yes, we did, but we did it with a great deal of style," Ezra attempted a smile, before turning his attention back to his work. The bandages were carefully but firmly placed around the metal fragment. He had tried to be as careful as he could, but he knew he had cost Vin a lot of pain. "Remember my friend, it is not what you do, but how you do it."
"Yave always had style Ez." Vin's eyes fluttered and closed.
Startled for a moment, Ezra was relieved to see Vin was still breathing. Exhausted he relaxed as he watched his friend sleep. "So have you my friend, so have you."
Ezra was sitting around a green velvet poker table. His winnings piled high, as angry and frustrated fellow players sat glaring at him. His final hand was laid down, revealing the winning hand of four aces. About to leap up on to the table and roll around in all the delicious smelling paper, his attention was taken by a faint noise. "Vin?" Ezra frowned, as he watched the table and money disappear before his eyes.
Suddenly comprehending that he had dozed off, Ezra looked around finding the moans were emanating from his wounded friend.
Sitting up a little too quickly, the world seemed to rotate for a moment before righting itself. Shaking his head to clear the fog, he joined in Vin's chorus of moans, as his head pounded. "Dictum number one, we don't repeat that action, Standish." he grimaced, as made his way more slowly to his friend's side.
Though still daylight, Ezra knew that night would soon be closing in, but good news was the fall weather. If the others didn't find them until morning, the night shouldn't get too cold for Vin, or so he hoped.
Inspecting his friend's frenzied sleep, Ezra blanched at the now blood soaked bandages that he had padded around the wound. He had never been, nor would he ever be a, religious man, but closing his eyes he couldn't help but chide whoever was listening. "What? Vin hasn't got enough going against him that you have to leave him to me? Damn! What do I know about caring for anyone, medically-- or otherwise," his southern drawl mumbled to the heavens.
"Who ya talkin' to Ez? Is Chris here?" Dull eyes frantically searched for his best friend, as Vin attempted to lever himself from the ground. A primeval scream splintered the air as the sharpshooter was reminded of why he had been laying so still.
"Damn it to hell, Vin!" Ezra cursed.
Grabbing at the thrashing man's shoulders, Ezra desperately tried to hold the younger man to the ground. "Vin? Listen to me." Ezras voice caught in his throat as he pleaded. "You have to lay still, do you understand me? You have to lay still."
Vin was past listening; past doing anything other than living the pain that electrified every cell of his body. Trying to dislodge the agony, the sharpshooter's arm escaped out from under Ezra grasp and clipped a glancing blow across the older man's face.
Thankful that the sharpshooter was in such a weakened state that the blow was only superficial, Ezra's reaffirmed his grip as he tried to get through his friends fog of pain. "I cannot keep this up, my friend. One of us is going to have to give, and sensing it would be more unfortunate for your well-being if it was me," he sighed. "I would ask your forgiveness for what I am about to do."
Ezra had no idea if this was going to make things worse, but his wrestle with Vin was taking too much out of him. The sharpshooter's face was beginning to blur just as the nausea began to twist at his stomach. "Remember, I meant this kindly." Praying the force would knock him out quickly, Ezra slammed his fist into Vin's face, knocking the sharpshooter out cold.
Exhausted, Ezra crawled far enough away to empty his stomach, before joining his friend in darkness
Opening his eyes, the foul taste in his mouth started the slow trickle of hazy memories from the last few hours. Using the palms of his hands to push himself up from his prone position on the ground, Ezra wiped his mouth against the sleeve of his torn, and ruined shirt. About to offer his soul for a good malt whiskey to wash away the offensive tang, his vision cleared and settled back on his inert friend.
Moving quickly back to Vin's side, the memory of his fist connecting with the sharpshooter came back to haunt the older man and he winced as he took note of the red mark that now marred the young face. Brushing the long hair from the damp forehead, Ezra felt for warmth, but didn't really need skin contact to know his friend was running a high fever.
Vin's eyes fluttered and opened at the touch. "Thir--," his voice managed to whisper.
Crawling back to the main part of the wreck. Ezra searched through the contorted debris for the blankets and water that Vin always carried in case of emergencies. The blankets was an easy find, they were still under the back seat. It was harder to find the water container as it was wedged under what remained of the driver's seat. For the first time Ezra realized how lucky they both had been to have had survived the accident still breathing. A moan brought him back to the task at hand. Stretching his arm under the seat, his fingers gripped the plastic and with final a grunt, he at last managed to pull the bottle free.
Ignoring the sledgehammer that attempted to play out of tune in his head, Ezra made his way again back to Vin, to see the now open and clear blue eyes looking back at him
Uncapping the bottle, Ezra tipped the opening carefully to the sharpshooter's dry lips. "Thought I'd left." He frowned, believing he was finishing vins sentence for him.
Taking only the small sips that Ezra would allow, Vin stopped drinking to swallow as he shook his head. "No--thought--ya look-- sick--thought --happened to ya." His words came short and fast as he continued to fight the pain.
"I apologize Mr. Tanner, I'm not practiced in this-- new set of rules." Ezra apologized,
Vin liked listening to Ezra's smooth southern speech, it was calming in some strange way and he needed to concentrate on anything other than the pain. "Rules?" he asked slightly confused. A smile tinged his face as he realized what his friend was talking about. "It's--hard-- to get used tohavin friends--who care--I know."
Ezra shifted uncomfortably at the direction the conversation was going, but he sensed that Vin needed to talk. "I have never been bestowed with such gratuities before, so I am inclined to be ambiguous as to how one comports oneself."
Vin's smile returned as he listened and translated Ezra's long-winded speech. "Ya mean, ya think ya don't --know how to be a friend?"
Ezra just shrugged, as he fussed with the blanket he laid over Vin's legs.
"Yer doin' just fine by me." Vin's face suddenly contorted with agony, as the pain flared again. "Oh shit!" he moaned as his hand automatically moved toward the pain.
Lurching quickly for Vin's hand, Ezra pried the sharpshooter's fingers opened and shoved his own hand into the sweating palm. "Look at me Vin!" he demanded, as hovered over the sharpshooter.
Vin's eyes were clenched tight as struggled to battle the pain.
"Damn it, Vin! I said look at me!!"
The sharpshooter forced himself away from the pain and opened his eyes to see Ezra's concerned face looking down at him.
"That is better." he sighed in relief. "Now, you squeeze my hand if you need to, break it my fingers if you must. I don't need them, not until my next card game anyway." he joked, though his heart wasn't in on the jest.
"Sorry--Ez--caught me--by surprise." Vin gasped, as he tightened his grip on the comforting hand. "Always wondered--," the sharpshooter grimaced as his eyes grew tired and began to droop closed. "when--it would catch me-- perhaps today."
The air left Ezra's lungs as he realized what Vin was talking about; he was talking about death. "Not while I'm here," Ezra stated. "Do you hear me Tanner? It can't have you. I won't let it."
The silence of the deserted road only seemed to magnify the sound of Vin's laboured breathing. Ezra had made the injured man as comfortable as he could under the circumstances, but his friend's last words and his own lack of medical training, left him with a heavy heart.
Watching the younger man's uneasy sleep, he suddenly realized how young the sharpshooter was; how the mask of pain failed to hide the youth of his years. No one knew much about Tanner, his file went back only so far, then it abruptly stopped, only to continue three years later, as if he had been reborn. "Why is death such a familiar hunter, Mr. Tanner?" Ezra wondered out-loud.
"Cause I'm good--at what I do, Ez. "A soft voice whispered. Vin opened his eyes at looked up at Ezra. "Death follows--," he shifted slightly, a quiet moan escaping his clenched teeth. "tossin' things in my way-- hopin' I'll make a mistake-- just didn't think it would throw a damn cow." He forced a smile.
Smiling Ezra, let go a stress relieving chuckle. "Indeed, but think how astute it was, it was the last thing you'd be expecting."
Vin made the mistake of seeing the funny side of the situation and paid dearly as the pain seared him like a branding iron. "S-shit!" he hissed.
Feeling his friend's pain Ezra, winced as he grabbed Vin's hand, allowing the sharpshooter to take his agony out on the offered hand.
"Ez-- can ya get Chris-- I really need to see him." Vin pleaded as his eyes began to dull.
Ezra didn't understand how the relationship between the sharpshooter and their leader worked, but then again he had enough trouble understanding relationships period. It was uncanny. They were like two halves of the same person, each knowing what the other was thinking. Each reacting to the other's unspoken commands.
He knew Chris would be worried. Their non-appearance at Larabee's cabin would have rung alarm bells hours ago. In fact worry was a major understatement, Chris would now be in the middle of a major panic attack and God forbid anyone get in the way of him finding them.
"Chris?" Becoming agitated again, Vin started to move around, his eyes wide and searching, yet seeing only pain.
"Chris will be here, Vin." Ezra's voice soothed. "I'll wager he is on his way as we speak."
Vin's body began to noticeable tremble as he frowned and pulled at Ezra's hand, his mind breaking through the pain to find a clear thought. "B-but if --he doesn't--if I don't," his blue eyes burned into Ezra, "Y-ya tell him--tell them all, how m-much ya all have m-mea,"
"I will tell nothing of the sort, Mr. Tanner. You will still be here to tell us what you wish." he argued.
Vin weakly jerked at Ezra's hand. "P-p-promise me-- r-remember--perhaps t-today."
"Damn you Tanner!" Ezra swore as he pulled his hand from the sharpshooter's grasp. "Damn you for doing this to me." His face was flushed with indignation. "You have never, in the entire time I have known you, never ceded defeat on any level. Why do you choose this battle to weaken?" he demanded.
Weakly pushing himself to his feet, he glared down at the pained filled eyes that struggled to follow his movements.
"J-just t-t-ired, Ez." Vin sighed, a shudder shaking his body.
Ezra was not ready to release his fear-fuelled anger. "Tired of what, Mr.Tanner? Tired of fighting? Is that what you want me to tell Mr. Larabee when he arrives, that you were just too tired to wait for him?"
"N-not f-fair." Vin scowled.
Relieved to see some fire Vin's eyes again, Ezra continued to press his point. "Life has been greatly unfair to all us in some shape or form, Mr.Tanner, so I refuse to cause myself and our mutual friends any more of it by imparting your final words in your stead. Either you delay your departure until you can voice the words to our friend's faces, or the words will find no breath from me."
"W-what if I c-can't."
Ezra face softened as lowered himself back down to the ground beside the wounded man, his legs grateful for the respite. "Mr. Tanner, I have the up-most faith in your ability to confound our bovine tossing friend. More than that, I know you would not leave me to explain to an extremely enraged Mr. Larabee, why I could not keep you here."
Ezra's eye's followed the small trace of a smile curve at the sharpshooter's mouth; the expression was fleeting, but it was there. "C-couldn't h-have that."
"Indeed," Ezra smiled as he pulled the blanket around his friend's trembling body, mindful of the wound. "a circumstance no man of precarious valour should find himself in."
+ + + + + + +
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN THEYRE NOT THERE!" The veins in Chriss neck were straining through the skin as the ATF leader bellowed down the phone line.
Josiah moved quickly to snatch the phone away from his friend, who glared in retaliation. "Please brother, you are not helping the situation," he said, trying to calm their frustrated leader, before turning his attention to the phone in his hand. "Buck?" Waiting with a bit more patience for Wilmington to explain, Josiah nodded at what was said. "I agree. Take care Brother." he said as hung up the phone.
"Well?" Chris demanded impatiently.
"It would seem Vin spoke to a couple of the Purgatorio kids before he left, told them to watch his place and where find him if they needed him for anything. He said he was on his way here; that was about eleven o'clock this morning."
"Eleven! Damn it! I knew it. I shouldn't have listened to you," He scowled at Josiah and Nathan," I knew there was something wrong. I just knew it!"
Nathan looked to Josiah, shaking his head. Both men knew there was nothing they could say or do that would calm Larabee down until his two missing men were standing in front of him. "What else did Buck say Josiah?" Nathan asked.
"He is going to follow the road to the cabin, see if he could see anything, suggested we do the same from our end, meet in the middle and go from there if we need to." Josiah explained.
Josiah hadn't finished before Chris was grabbing his keys off the table and stalking for the cabin door. "You coming?" he called back sharply.
Grabbing his coat off the back of the chair, Nathan stole a quick, but expressive glance at Josiah.
Josiah nodded to the unspoken words as he joined his friend. "I started praying two hours ago brother, I just hope the good lord was paying attention to this woeful sinner."
JD silently scanned the roadside as he and Buck slowly drove the route to Chris's cabin. Each wreckage free stretch of road was met with a relieved sigh. Every bend cornered, was a seesaw of emotions; from the encouraged at the lack of a crash site, to the dread of what was around the next corner.
"They probably got a flat that's all. I can see Vin now, he will be cursing as he changes the tire." JD hopefully imagined as he broke the car's silence. "Especially with Ez, standing over him and telling him how to do it." he nervously continued to babble. "What do ya reckon Buck? What's the bet when we find them, Ezra's hands are clean?"
"No bet there kid, I know Ezra too well. Now, keep those eyes peeled, I mean, we can't let Standish have all the fun now, can we?" Buck answered, his anxious smile the only giveaway to his inner distress.
"Yeah, sure Buck-- sure." JD whispered as he continued to search.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra's red stained hands reapplied pressure to the blood drenched padding, as he played a hand where the stakes were too high to lose.
+ + + + + + +
After a short battle of wills, with Nathan gaining the advantage by pointing out Larabee's shaking hands, Josiah had managed to manoeuvre their leader out of the driver's seat. Chris's irate glares had soon fallen away to a more irritable frown, as his urgent need to find their friends grew.
Chris silently debated with himself; trying to rationalize his companions absence with many varied explanations, none which calmed the tempest in his gut. Having been touched by tragedy once before, he didn't want to add to the raw wounds with another.
He couldn't explain how he knew Vin was in trouble; he just knew. From the moment he first set eyes on the sharpshooter, he and Vin had invisible link. Their relationship was a look answered by matching actions; actions answered with a nod of understanding; no words had ever been needed.
"Damn it to hell!" Chris gave voice his frustrations.
"Chris, it may be nothing."
"It ain't nothin' Nathan -- *it ain't nothin'*." Chris's plaintive cry left no room for doubt.
Nathan glanced to the rear view mirror, his eyes locking in deep concern with Josiah's, but they both kept quiet as they continued to search.
Having travelled this lonely stretch of road a thousand times, Chris Larabee knew every fence post, every blade of grass, but he had never examined it with as much detail, as he did now.
Suddenly two voices called instantaneously.
Nathan had seen the tread marks that skidded and appeared to leave the road, just as Chris saw the palings that lay broken and scattered. The car came to a screeching stop.
Chris had left the car before Nathan and Josiah had time to blink. His legs propelled him off the asphalt, as his heart pounded and threatened to break through his chest. He didn't hear Nathan's call for him to wait, nor did he mark Josiah's desperate pleas for him to slow down. The only thing he could hear was his own fear as it pulsed tumultuously in his ears.
Nathan and Josiah cleared the vehicle at the same time, but neither man was quick enough to stop Chris, as his door flew open and he disappeared over the side. They both cursed Larabee's rapid mobility as the leader's limber legs projected him downward. Launching themselves after him, they prayed that Chris wasn't running into a new hell.
Exhausted, Ezra ignored the voice, putting it down to his optimistic and overworking imagination. His head throbbed painfully, as every muscle in his body ached, but his focus was on holding his hand to Vin's wound as he maintained his vigil over his friend.
There it was again.
No, Vin. I must concentrate. He needs me. He said he would leave. I cannot allow that.
+ + + + + + +
Chris felt sick. His stomach churned as Vin's mangled jeep came into view. Dodging the scattered debris that was once Vin's priced possession, he found himself slowing; suddenly afraid of what he was going to find. His legs lost their power and threatened to buckle from under him as the blood drained from his face.
How could anyone sur--, NO!
Pushing his doubts back into his dark place, Chris ordered his shaking legs to move again. "Vin? Ezra?"
+ + + + + + +
The adrenaline that had been a fever, coursing though his veins, abruptly turned to ice as Chris caught sight of the blood that drenched the front of Vin's shirt. Its stark red color contrasted with the pale alabaster of the sharpshooter's skin and sent dread straight to Larabee's heart.
Shaking off the fear, Chris moved quickly and dropped down beside Vin's body. Relieved to see the sharpshooter was breathing, he looked across to Ezra, noticing for the first time that his eyes still intently watched their fallen friend. "Ezra, you can let go now. We're here."
Ezra didn't seem to hear his friend, as he kept his hand firmly pressed on the Vin's body.
"Ezra! You can let go now." Chris anxiously urged.
Ezra looked up, his intent stare slipping away, to be replaced by his exhausted, but well used poker face. "Well, Mr. Larabee," he wearily drawled, "it is indeed about time you made your appearance. Our Mr. Tanner was most concerned that he would be unable to speak to you. I assured him, that indeed he would. I am never wrong you know." his eyes blinked a few times. "Today--," his voice faded. "today was not--"
Chris watched Ezra's body slowly give in to its exhaustion and slump the rest of the way to ground. Stunned for a moment, as his rambling friend lost consciousness, he went into action by calling for the only member of the team with any real practical medical knowledge.
Nathan was already in arms reach and moved quickly to Ezra's side. Checking out the unconscious man's vital signs, he glanced worriedly over to the ugly wound that discolored Vin's stomach. "Josiah, I'm going to need you to go back up and call for the rescue team. We are going to need to chopper them outta here."
"Done. Anything else?" Josiah said as prepared to head back up the embankment.
Nathan glanced worriedly at Vin, before locking eyes with Chris, "Just tell 'em to get here as quick as they can, okay?"
"Josiah," Chris called to the retreating man. "Call Buck and JD and tell them what's happened."
"Consider it done brother." Josiah called back.
Having checked Ezra, Nathan put himself between the two injured men as he examined Vin's wound.
"Well?" Chris voice strained. "Nathan?"
"In a minute Chris." Nathan snapped. Taking a deep breath, he apologized to his friend. "Sorry Chris. Just let me check him out first okay?"
He hated not being in control. He hadn't been in control when he lost his wife and child, now as he looked at Vin's pale features, all that helplessness came back to haunt him. "Sorry." Chris whispered.
Vin felt the fire in his side dragging him back to awareness. He didn't want to go back; it hurt to go back. He continued to struggle to stay in the void of nothingness.
He knew that voice, he was dreaming.
That's right dreaming
The pain hit him again.
"Vin, its Chris."
Giving into the pain, he let its full force take him, repelling him into consciousness.
"C-c-chr--" he managed to voice, as he forced his eyes open.
An audible sigh of relief passed Chris's lips as the clouded but blue eyes came into view from under the droopy eyelids. Wanting the first sight his young friend saw, not be his anguished face, Chris forced a smile. "Hi there pard."
Vin attempted a smile, but it appeared as more of a grimace, "W-waited--for--y-ya." his whole body shook.
Chris glanced worriedly at Nathan and saw the young agent busy, as he attempted to slow the flow of blood with more padding. The fact that Nathan's hands were stained with red did not relax the knot in Larabee's stomach.
"S-s-s-shit!" Vin cursed as he squeezed his eyes shut and tried to curl away from the pain. Instead, he found himself gripped by to strong hands and opening his eyes found a set of green eyes staring back at him.
"Nathan is just trying to help you. I know its gotta hurt like a bitch, Vin, but all that means is you're still with us, right?"
"Nat?" Vin's eyes searched for his friend.
"Yep, I believe that was the name my ma gave me." Nathan smiled as he moved closer so Vin could see him. The smiled faded as he began to explain to the young sharpshooter what was happening. "Vin, I know you're feeling like crap, but until the paramedics get here, I'm all there is, so I need you to lay real still for me, okay? And Remember, don't hold any of this against me later." he smiled.
Watching as Nathan touched Vin's shoulder reassuringly, Chris noted the red fingerprints his bloodied hand left behind.
So much- -
Taking a deep breath, Larabee pushed the thoughts away and concentrated on his young friend. "So, what were you and Ez thinking you were playing at anyway? Last I heard Jeeps couldn't fly." he joked.
Hearing Ezra name, Vin cursed his selfishness, "Ez?" Panicking as he tried to get up.
Damn it! "Vin, Ezra is just beside you, see." Chris gestured for Vin to turn his head to the right. "He is just sleeping. He is going to be fine, isn't that right Nathan?"
"Chris is right Vin," Nathan agreed as he helped guide the sharpshooter back to the ground. "He's just going to have a nasty headache when he wakes up. As far as I can see, other than a few bumps and bruises he will be back to the Standish we know and love before you know it. You on the other hand will have me to deal with if you move around like that again, do you hear me?" he admonished the wounded man.
Vin cringed, as he allowed himself be lowered back down to the ground, his sight never once swaying from the unconscious man beside him. "I-I wouldn't b-be here--without --Ez."
Chris didn't understand what his injured friend was referring too. "What do you mean Vin?"
Turning to look into Chris's eyes, Vin managed to smile. "J-j- just got a whole lot to thank that man for. Chris?"
"T-tell him when --he wakes--perhaps --tomorrow."
Chris didn't like that tone of this message conversation and looked at Nathan uneasily. "You can tell him."
"Oh d-don't worry Cowboy, I promise, I ain't goin' anywhere." He smiled as fought the urge to close his eyes, but lost.
Nathan touched Chris arm, as he saw the rising panic in their leaders face. "He's all right Chris, he's just weak and tired. He's falling asleep that's all."
"Are you sure? I mean he's so pale and all that blood. God Nathan, he looks awful."
"I know how it looks, and I won't kid you, its a serious injury, but the metal hasn't hit anything vital that I can see. I think he is going to be just fine." he tried to encourage Larabee.
"You think?" he asked.
"You heard it from his own lips, he ain't goin' anywhere. Has he ever broken his word to you?" Nathan replied.
"No--" he voice choked slightly, "and he better not start now."
The five men stood, sat and paced, but all with the same intense look of concern entrenched on their faces. Still stunned by the turn of events of the day, all refused to think of what might have happened had they not found their injured friends in time. Just the thought sent shivers down Chris's spine.
Finding comfort by watching Ezra sleep as they waited for news on Vin's surgery, they each nervously moved around the room. The Sharpshooter had been in surgery for two hours; two hours that seemed an eternity to Chris.
"Chris, why don't we get you and Nathan something to change into?" Buck suggested as he nodded to the marks on his friend's shirt.
Chris followed Buck's gaze. He had washed Vin's blood off his hands, but had overlooked the dark blemishes that now stained his white shirt.
"I'm not leaving." Chris glared as he forced his eyes from the reminder of Vin's injuries.
"Not asking you to, pard." Buck defended himself, as he stepped closer, "But do you really want the first thing Vin sees to be his own blood?"
Chris had to agree with Buck. "Damn, I hate it when you're right? But I still ain't leaving."
Josiah stepped forward with a proposal. "I am sure if Buck was to ask one of the nurses, in the way only he can, they would be able find something that you and brother Nathan could borrow."
Buck pulled and straightened his collar. "What would you prefer, casual or evening wear?" he grinned as he sauntered from the room.
"Does he really think he's that good?" Nathan chuckled.
Chris couldn't help but smiled back, "Yep and he's right, he is that good."
"Ezra?" JD's excited tone drew the groups attention to their friend's slowly rousing form.
Ezra gradually pushed through the fog that mired his brain. Forcing his eyes open, he was some what taken back by the four sets of eyes that peered at him so intently. "Gentlemen, as much as I am very gratified to see I am still in the land of the living, I would be pleased if you would not stare at me like I have two heads. Though I assure you, the headache I am experiencing could encompass a multiple of craniums."
"I was thinking," JD wondered out-loud, "do you think he talked like this when he was a kid?"
"I assure Mr. Dunne, I was born this way." Ezra stated.
"Other than your head, how ya feeling Ez, do you need us to get the doctor?" Nathan asked.
"I can vouch for my longevity," he seemed to search the room before coming to rest on Chris's bloodied shirt. "I am hoping the same can be said for our Mr. Tanner?"
"He's still in surgery." Chris sighed. "Nathan seemed to be right on target with his diagnosis though. They seem to think he will be fine, just needs some stitching up." Chris suddenly remembered what Vin had asked him to do. "Ezra, Vin wanted me to tell you something. I told him to tell you himself, but it was important to him. He said to tell you, perhaps tomorrow."
"What's the mean Ez?" JD asked.
"I think it means, it's none of our business, brother." Josiah silenced the younger man.
Chris watched a rare display of emotions play across Ezra's face before being replaced by his usual casual demeanor. "So, when will we hear about our unfortunate friend?"
"Now," Buck answered as he walked in and threw a scrub shirt at Nathan and Chris, "I just spoke to the doctor, he is on his way."
Chris looked past Buck, looking for the doctor, "Well, where is he?" he asked impatiently, "And what did he say?"
"He didn't say jack, to me. He wanted to know where Vin's brother was." Buck explained. It was the rule when the sharpshooter was hurt; which seemed to happen a lot, that Chris would be announced as Vin's half brother. The relationship always explained the difference of the names and gave the group as a whole access to Vin, when otherwise they would be shut out.
"I'm Chris Larabee." Chris moved to meet the doctor half way. "How is my brother?"
The doctor studied the men that stood anxiously waiting for news of the their friend. "Well, your brother is a very lucky man, Mr. Larabee," he smiled trying to reassure the group. "It was as we thought, nothing vital was damaged in the accident and the operation went very well. He will have to stay in for about three days recovery." Looking at his chart, he checked his notes once again. "It says here that he is an ATF agent, is that right?"
"Yes, he is." Chris answered.
"Well I suggest desk duties for two weeks, but after that, he should be as good as new." The doctor heard a collective sigh, as he finished his news.
A grin spread across Chris's face as he shook the doctor's hand. "Thank you for everything you did, Doctor. When can we see him?" he asked.
The doctor shook his head. "Only family at the moment. I'm sure you're friends would understand. Mr.Tanner still needs his rest."
"Go ahead Chris. We'll stay here and regale Ezra on our heroic efforts in saving his life." Buck chuckled.
"Oh please somebody, anybody alleviate my suffering and send me back to oblivion." Ezra playfully whined as he pulled the sheet over his head.
+ + + + + + +
"Hey, fancy seeing you here." Chris smiled as he watched the blue eyes open.
Licking at his dry lips, Vin managed a smile. "Hey Cowboy." he croaked, before a frown appeared. "Ez, ok?"
Chris wasn't surprised that the sharpshooter's first thoughts were for Standish. He always worried about the rest of the team before he worried about himself. "As Nathan predicted, Ezra has a major headache going, but otherwise he is usual self. He will be back to fleecing us dry at the weekly poker game in no time."
Seemingly relieved at the information, Vin seemingly relaxed at the news and then suddenly became agitated. "The Jeep!"
Chris placed a restraining hand on the sharpshooter. "Don't go there." he patted Vin's arm.
"Damn cow!" Vin yawned.
"A cow? That's how this happened?" Chris asked his drowsy friend.
"Y-yeah," Vin yawned again. "Ez called it a asinine bovine." he yawned.
Chris chuckled, "Well you can tell me all about it tomorrow. Sleep, I'll be here when you wake up."
Vin's eyes fluttered, "O-o-kay, thanks Chris." He yawned.
Chris watched Vin drift to a peaceful sleep. Taking a deep breath he closed his eyes. "Thank you," he whispered to the air.
+ + + + + + +
A set of eyes watched as Chris went to stretch his legs. Taking the opportunity as it was given, Ezra sneaked down the hallway into Vin's room. He had wanted to see for himself that his young friend was indeed still in one piece and had deliberately waited until the loneliness of the night to do it.
Planning to check on Vin and leave he was surprised to hear the sharpshooters voice. "Goin' somewhere, Ez?"
"I do wish you would not surprise me in such a fashion, Mr Tanner. Your nocturnal abilities could play havoc with me in my fragile condition."
Vin's laughter was followed by a painful moan. "One thing ya ain't, is fragile. I'm glad yer ok, Ez."
"Indeed Mr--Vin, I reciprocate the feeling in kind." Feeling uncomfortable with the display of emotion, Ezra started to leave, but stopped to look back at his friend, "By the way, Vin, I do believe your tomorrow is a long way off." Not waiting around Ezra headed back to his room.
"Thanks to you, Ez, thanks to you." Vin barely whispered to Ezra's withdrawing form.