Team Retreat

by Heather

ATF Alternate Universe

Sunday early am

Chris bolted up right in bed. He thought he heard gun shots. He sat still for a moment listening intently as his eyes focused. The roar of his pulse faded and he took a shallow breath. He heard voices. Larabee gazed down the line of bunks passed Nathan, JD and Buck and saw Josiah's empty bed. Chris rubbed his eyes and stifled a yawn,

it was two thirty am. Where was Josiah? Chris heard the voices again and realized Vin and Josiah sat at the far end of the room near the door talking. Standish's bunk had been unceremoniously transported down there by Buck and Josiah because they could not tolerate the incessant cough the first night. The second night the whole state could have blown up and none of the other six would have noticed. Now what? Larabee gingerly gained his feet grimacing at the uncomfortably cold floors.

"Damn Josiah he's burning up," Vin whispered. Tanner squatted down at the head of Standish's bunk. The southerner slept uneasily on his right facing the sharpshooter. Josiah sat on Ezra's bunk, the gambler's back to him. For his part Standish mumbled softly and coughed. When this happened he scrunched down and protected his right ear curling slightly tighter into himself. Sanchez rested a hand on the gambler's forehead, then cheek and then neck, mimicking Vin's earlier movements. Josiah cursed softly.

Tanner seemed to read his mind, "You want me to get the truck?" Sanchez hesitated thinking and nodded silently.

His suburban still needed worked on, he planned on doing it later today. At least now they had the opportunity to get parts. "'Ey Chris," Vin said noticing Larabee coming to the foot of the bed.

"What's going on?" Larabee asked. He already had a pretty good idea but he wanted confirmation. Standish coughed again, groaned and huddled his head deeper into the protective nook created by his arm.

"He's pretty bad off," Vin answered simply getting up, "I'm gonna get the bronco." Chris stepped aside and let Vin past. The quiet unquestionable tone did not leave room for discussion. Larabee knew Tanner well enough to realize that when the sharpshooter thought something needed done it got done. No discussions, no interference, he set about the task and accomplished it. When it came to one of the other six, Chris knew Vin would go to hell and back, walk over or through an obstacle in his way to help one of them. With this knowledge, Chris did not rebuke Tanner's intention. Instead just the opposite emotion flooded Larabee. Standish had to be sick for Vin to act so quickly and authoritatively. Larabee took up Tanner's position and squatted in front of the southerner. He too easily felt the high fever, and noticed the painful grimaces that crossed the sleeping man's face with each soft dry cough.

"Let's get some socks and shoes on him," Chris said as he and Josiah prepared the gambler for his trip back into town.

Within a few minutes, Buck, JD and Nathan were up and helping. The lights had been turned on making Josiah and Chris's job easier. For his part, Standish merely opened his red sore eyes for a moment grumbled holding his right ear and drifted back off to sleep. JD volunteered his hightops, they were easy on and off, and did not need lacing so to speak. Buck tossed over a clean pair of cotton blended socks, since they sat at the top of his bag.

"You want me to take him in?" Nathan asked tossing sweat pants over to Sanchez ,to fit on the curled southerner.

"Naw Vin and I can handle this," Josiah smiled fiendishly, "cuz when he's feeling better and still has to take medicine then he's all yours."

"Oh thanks," Nathan complained, unfortunately Sanchez spoke the truth. They hauled Ezra to his feet when the bronco pulled up right in front of the bunk house front porch. Chris smiled, for Vin no obstacle was to big to stand in his way when it came to helping a friend, not even the manicured lawn of "The Aspen Ranch". Chris and Josiah half carried and half dragged Standish to the waiting truck. Buck and Nathan jogged in front of them and put down the tailgate, and laid out a few blankets and a pillow. Together Josiah and Chris managed to wrestle the younger man into the cargo hold of the truck. Standish for his part talked incoherently his head bobbing to his chest.

Chris slammed the tailgate up and relatched the spare tire. "Thanks Chris," Josiah said. The red glow of the tail lights cast everyone one an eery hue.

"JD you want to see if you can contact the emergency room and let'em know we're coming?" Josiah asked before Vin put the back window up.

"Yeah sure, reservation for one not a problem," Dunne said confidently. There was no doubt the youngest of the seven would manage to take a 'no service' zone and make it very serviceable.

"Thanks." Josiah turned back and faced front catching Tanner's eye in the rear view mirror. "Lets go."

A half hour later, Vin Tanner rang the bell at the emergency entrance door. He waited only a few short seconds before a middle aged nurse opened the door. She smiled kindly warming her face and taking some of the edge off the situation, "The Standish party?" She asked sweetly as if they were discussing dinner reservations.

"Yup." Vin looked back over at the truck, "Bring him on in Josiah." Tanner held the door open as the nurse stepped back. Sanchez lumbered past with Standish draped like a rag doll in his arms.

"Right over here," she said patting the empty gurney that graced the lime green linoleum emergency room. She wasted no time handing Vin the clipboard full of endless medical forms and then pelted Josiah with questions. Nurse Shea asked many of the same question that she had asked the young man over the phone who called in informing them of his friends impending arrival.

Tanner held the clip board and the Bic pen that was secured to it by umbilical tape and adhesive tape. He paper work but especially hospital variety. These things did not need to be this complicated. Vin reduced himself to sitting on the only other unoccupied gurney in the room.

Josiah stood protectively at that gambler's head. Sanchez watched as the nurse took the conman's pulse, respiration, blood pressure and then temperature. Claire Shea made a face as she read the ear thermometer digital read out. She jotted it down. As she efficiently performed her tasks she constantly questioned the ex-anthropologist. Josiah recognized the some similar if not same questions asked through out the process, the lady was a gifted interrogator. Finally she stopped her poking and prodding as Ezra would have labeled it had he been more coherent, and smiled at Sanchez. "I'll go summon Dr. Sullivan" Sanchez merely nodded. He pulled a stool over and sat at Standish's head. The conman lay oblivious to his environment.

The gambler had moved slightly during the whole process. Instead he lay on his right side, with eyes closed, his right hand protecting his right ear. When the soft coughs hit, and he groaned tensing muscles at the discomfort, Josiah smiled when Nurse Shea rubbed her patience back speaking soothingly to him. Now Josiah adjusted the white woven hospital blanket up around his friends bare shivering shoulders. He ignored the rest of the room and chuckled slightly watching Tanner nibble on the anchored pen top contemplating the next question on the maze of forms in his grasp. Sanchez silently thanked God he was not handed the clip board. He hated forms.

Dr. Mike Sullivan ambled into the ER reading the chart Shea handed him. He had listened to her synopsis of the patient with more vigor than he read the chart. Claire liked the trio. Mike nodded to himself that would make things easier. In all his years of dealing with late night early morning emergencies he disliked the ornery drunks the most. The sick children got his heart racing but cases like tonight's were mild almost routine. Helped his shift go by quicker.


Josiah and Vin both looked up when the Doctor entered the room. He was maybe in his fifties, walked slowly but confidently and carried an easy smile. "Hi I'm Mike Sullivan, Doctor on call this fine evening." He held out his hand and Josiah accepted it, surprised at the strength in the grasp. "So this is our sick boy?"

"Yup, Ezra Standish," Josiah said backing out of the way giving the doctor room to work.

"Ezra?" Sullivan repeated as he went through his physical exam. "Strange name indeed, don't think I've ever had one of those come through my door before." He noticed the large man nod and stand quietly at the foot of the gurney.

Josiah soon found himself answering many of the same questions Shea had asked him. After a few minutes, and the stethoscope wrapped back around the doctor's neck he said, "Ok lets get a look at that ear." Together the two men managed to roll Standish onto his left side. Ezra immediately tried to roll back. Josiah stood gain at the head of the bed opposite of Sullivan and held his friend still. "Just hold on Ez, he's almost done," Standish mumbled and swiped at his right ear trying to deflect any more outside insult to his ear. Josiah easily grabbed the haphazardly moving hand and held it down near it's owner's face.

"He always this resistant?" Sullivan asked before he did an otoscopic exam.

"This?" Josiah asked, as he kept Standish still, "this is nothing," Sanchez chuckled lightly. "If he were feeling any better we never would have gotten him into the truck." The preacher paused for a moment and added, "he really doesn't like doctors."

Sullivan laughed softly as he peered down in to the inflamed ear canal. He straightened up shutting off the small instrument that clung to the wall, "well he sure has a funny way about avoiding us," Sanchez agreed.

"Claire we're going to swab the ear and the throat," Sullivan directed his nurse. Shea handed him the swabs and agar dishes. Josiah watched the two work as a team and knew they had worked together for some time.

Sullivan turned his attention back to his lethargic patient, "Mr. Standish we're going to swab your ear and throat now this might hurt a little but just hold still and it'll be over real quick."

Ezra gave no indication he heard what was said or even understood where he was at the moment. Tanner heard and understood. He thankfully put down the clipboard and helped Josiah. Standish would not hold still for anyone.

Sullivan true to his word, quickly got the sample, and it hurt, because Ezra fought. The green blood shot eyes unrolled, legs bicycled, and both hands were trapped by another unseen set of hands. He gagged and tossed his head but again found it too was mercilessly restrained. As quick as the insult had begun it ended. Standish's glazed green eyes found Josiah's for only a brief second before they closed yet again.

"He gonna be ok?" Vin asked as the nurse set up and established an IV in the back of Ezra's left hand. Doctor Sullivan indicated the two men should step away from the gurney to give Claire space to work.

"He's going to be fine. A high fever, 104.2, not pretty by any means. Probably a strep infection of the throat, definitely an acute middle ear infection," He paused and gauged the two men in front of him. He wondered if they were apart of the Donny Brook that had occurred at the Korner Klub the night before. Instead he continued with his plan, "We're going to run some antibiotics in IV over the next couple of hours and then send you boys home with the oral stuff. When we get the culture sensitivity back we should know if we have to change them or not." Sullivan glanced on more time at his patient. For being such a fighter his patient had laid pretty still then again a high fever tended to do that to a person. "He's just going to need some rest and finish out the meds." Sullivan shook both men's hands and headed to the door which led to the rest of the hospital, "I'll see you boys before ya leave and review everything again."

Tanner watched the orange labeled IV drip slowly down the extension set. Standish had rolled back onto his right side hiding his ear from any more abuse. Vin sighed picked up the clip board and settled back down on the empty gurney. Sanchez sat back down on the stool and leaned back against the cool tile wall watching Vin struggle with the forms. Josiah checked his watch 415am. Two nights in row he found himself still awake after midnight. He really was getting to old for this kind of thing. He untangled the IV tubing from the blankets Ezra huddled under and checked his forehead for a fever, not very precise, or scientific but it made him feel better and hoped somewhere in the hazy fever, Ezra got some comfort from the simple gesture as well.

530 am the early morning quiet of the exam room was shattered. The loud ringer out side the door buzzed incessantly. Josiah shot straight up in his chair blinking his eyes tiredly. Vin nimbly gained his feet searching left and right before his tired mind recognized the sound. Standish continued to cough, sleeping uneasily on his side buried under blankets.

Nurse Shea briskly entered the room nodded hello's to the groggy men and opened the outside door. "Meaghan, Tommy what happened?" She asked, helping the tall brunette with her burden.

"Butch threw me," Tommy answered through gritted teeth. He stood a few inches taller than the young woman who supported him. The matching freckled features, the same dark brown hair, and matching blue eyes clearly indicated the were brother and sister. Tanner made his way over to the other side of the restless undercover agent and watched the newcomers.

"Let's ease ya up here Tommy," Claire said as she and Meaghan hefted the taller man onto the gurney. They struggled a little until Vin went over and lent a hand. "Thanks Mr," Meaghan said as she helped her brother inch back onto the temporary bed. The Nurse supported the injured leg while Vin helped. The leg was obvious broken it hung at an awkward angle just below the knee. The toe of the boot nearly pointed almost a ninety degree angle from the point of the knee.

Vin backed off watching as the nurse went about asking her questions of the brother and sister before leaving to get the doctor. A few minutes later Doc Sullivan entered the room nodded a greeting to the two ATF agents. He furrowed his brow when he heard the endless coughs emanating from the curled form obscured by the blankets. He would have to give him something for that as well.

"Tommy my boy. You get thrown from that horse of yours again?" Sullivan inquired with tired amusement. Tanner figured it was not the first time the young man had been to the ER. under similar conditions. The kid must have been about the same age as JD, except a whole lot taller and formidable. He had worked on a farm all his life from the looks of it.

"Ahh heck Doc they shot poor Butch right out from underneath me. Didn't have much choice but to hit the ground," Tommy answered slightly peeved. His leg was killing him.

Vin and Josiah shared curious looks, were they the same rifle shots they had heard earlier in the morning back at the Ranch?

"Butch fell on his leg. It took a bit for me to get him out form under him," Meaghan answered never leaving her brother's side.

Doc nodded gazing at the older girl and then her brother, "Well ya did a good job on it this time. We're gonna have to put ya out to fix this one," Sullivan sighed as he heard the young man curse. "Claire's already contacted Dave, he'll be in x-ray by now. We'll set ya up there."

Sullivan turned and looked at the two ATF agents, "Could you boys help us get Tom onto a stretcher."

Josiah and Vin both nodded, of course.


Twenty minutes later, Meaghan returned to the emergency room.

"How's your brother?" Josiah asked softly his baritone voice vibrating off the walls. The IV had only a third of the way to go. Standish had not changed position but instead mumbled incoherently in his sleep.

"Doc had to call in Dr. Magnus to set the leg, They're taking him to surgery." She sat dejectedly on the gurney next to Vin who still mindlessly wrestled with the forms. "Those bite don't they?" she asked as Vin shifted over giving her room next to him.

"Yeah," he drawled out. Sanchez watched her cock her head. She picked up the Texas accent. "What's the matter with him?" She jutted her chin out indicating Ezra.

"Bad ear infection, and Strep throat," Tanner answered.

She nodded and then her eyes brightened with recognition. This puzzled Sanchez until she said, "Hey aren't you the guys that tore up the Korner Klub the other night?" She smiled and then giggled at their embarrassed faces.

"Ahh heck don't worry about it happens all the time."

In desperation to change the subject Josiah asked, "What's this about your brother's horse getting shot out from underneath it?"

Her face clouded. Josiah was afraid she was going to clam up but suddenly she spoke, her voice low and cold with anger, "There's rustlers up these parts, don't want the cattle really just my daddy's land. Figured if they could kill off enough of his stock and ruin our crops then we go under and they get the land, or the bank does and it goes up for auction. Either way we lose." She kneaded her knuckles in a nervous frustrating habit and continued, "My older brothers are all out of town." She stared up at the two men meeting their gazes and with obvious pride said, "they're in the military. Just me and Tommy helping Dad run the place."

"You contact the sheriff?" Josiah asked. He had taken a liken to the young lady but was not as smitten with her as Vin apparently had become. The long haired tracker stared at her watching her movements with wide blue eyes. Josiah hoped Vin would blink soon or his corneas were going to dry out.

Just then Sheriff Salisbury entered the ER from the hospital corridor. He stopped short when he saw the two ATF Agents and the form in the bed, "Ahh don't tell me you guys got into another fight?" he smiled at the diverted glances.

"Naa" Vin recovered quickly, "Ezra here got himself a cold."

"The southerner?" Salisbury nodded, he was afraid maybe Larabee wrung his wise neck. He switched his attention to the young lady, "Meg you want to tell me what happened this morning?" His voice and mannerisms had changed. He no longer spoke like the six foot four two hundred and seventy pound force of intimidation that he normally portrayed. Instead he presented a caring older brother only wanting to help. Tanner moved off the gurney letting them have space.

Meg for her part, merely nodded and wiped her eyes. The toughness and tomboy facade slipped in the face of her apparent friend. The sheriff in turn hugged her comfortingly, holding her for a second and finally asked, "You ok?" Again she only response was a nod.

Tanner and Sanchez sat with Standish out of the way listening to the chain of events that brought Meaghan and her brother to the emergency room. Fifteen minutes later and after a few soft questions from the sheriff he stood to go. He lifted her bowed head delicately by the chin. "You hang in there Meg we'll get to the bottom of this."

Meaghan for her part nodded and wiped her eyes. The carefree smirk was back.

The sheriff pulled a well known diversion technique, "You know Meg these boy's over here are ATF agents. Members of an elite team, best record this side of the Mississippi." He smiled when the young lady turned her thoughts outward, away from her brother and back to the three men. She matched his smile and shook her head, she did not know.

"The big guy is Josiah Sanchez," Josiah for his part nodded a friendly open smile graces his stubbled face.

"The long haired one is Vin Tanner." Vin and she quietly nodded at each other. Josiah and Craig locked eyes and raised eyebrows, apparently the two were interested in each other. "You gonna be ok? Want a ride home?"

"Naw that's ok Craig," she corrected herself , "Sheriff I'll wait for Tommy," he assented and said his good byes to the ATF agents and headed out the doors.

Nurse Claire came back into the room and checked Standish's vitals. The gambler coughed and moaned again.

She left silently smiling tightly to the young lady.

Doc Sullivan came in next. "He still pretty uncomfortable?" Josiah nodded, laying a massive hand on the chestnut brown head that buried itself in the pillow. Another round of coughs hit and Ezra moaned tilting his head trying anything to alleviate the discomfort in his throat and ear.

Sullivan produced a syringe and needle, "Mr. Standish, I'm going to give you an injection in your hip. It's going to help with the cough and make your throat and ear feel better. Ok?" As he spoke Sullivan lifted the blankets revealing his patients back and hip. He pulled down the waist band to the borrowed sweat pants the undercover agent wore an injected the needle into the pale skin. Standish tossed his head slightly and moved away from the stinging pain.

"Easy there pard' he's almost done," Vin said holding onto the sliding blanketed lower legs.

"There ya go," the doc said replacing the sweat pants and the blankets. The doctor turned his attention to Josiah and Vin, "That'll ease the coughing, and should knock him out for about six to eight hours." Sullivan checked the IV bag again and said, "When this finishes out you'll be free to go." The doctor turned his attention to the young woman who sat quietly across the room.

"Meg, Bill is almost done with Tom. Why don't you get some breakfast and come on back. We'll have Tom settled in by then and you can sit with him."

Vin could see the rejection in the young lady, and quickly piped up, "I'll go with ya if ya don't mind." He looked over at Josiah to make sure the older man agreed to his idea. "We've got awhile to go yet, I'm starving and besides we need parts for Josiah's bucket of rust."

"'ey watch it." Sanchez warned. He was very fond of his truck.

Meg allowed a small laugh, stared at Dr. Sullivan as if waiting for his approval, were these trusted men or not? Craig liked them but Doc's opinion was important as well. "Go ahead Meg," Sullivan smiled, reading he questioning gaze correctly.


Josiah slid the prescription meds in his pockets and waited for Vin to arrive. Shea had pulled the IV before her shift ended. It was eight am. and he was tired. Ezra slept comfortably beside him, he had not coughed for the last hour and a half. Sullivan had come back in with the meds, saving the tired ATF agent from having to visit the pharmacy. The fever had dropped two degrees, that was a good sign. Sullivan had reiterated all the instructions again, making sure the giant man in front of him understood what had to be done. Josiah nodded and asked for written instructions, Nathan would want them. Josiah looked up when Vin entered the ER from the hospital corridor. "You ready?"

"Yup, how's he doing?" Tanner asked stepping over to the bed. His breakfast with Meaghan had turned out to be quite enjoyable.

"Out," Sanchez answered gazing back down at the sleeping form. Ezra was feeling better, his breathing had leveled out, his legs uncurled and his features more relaxed.

"I'll honk when I'm outside the door," Tanner said as he left through the outside emergency entrance as Josiah wiggled sneakers back on the sleeping man's feet.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan, JD, Buck and Chris all looked up when they heard the Bronco climb the driveway. They had finished their morning run and were heading over for breakfast. Josiah had called Chris's cell phone a few hours ago, letting them know how Ezra was doing and told them a little about the gunshots. Larabee still marveled at the youngest member of the ATF team. JD was a wizard with electronics and computers. The darn cell phone worked better in this 'no service' zone than it did in 'service' zones. Chris just hoped JD could put the phone back together when this was all through.

Tanner drove the Bronco across the lawn to the dining hall. Buck chuckled, "Must be hungry." The others made their way over. Nathan unlatched the back spare tire swinging it open and dropping the tail gate.

"Howdy boy's. Miss us?" Josiah boomed crawling over the back seat into the cargo area where Standish slept and then crab crawled onto the tail gate.

"Oh yeah, been real peaceful," Buck said grinning. JD had finally passed Andy on the run finishing before the counselor. It infuriated the man much to the amusement of the others. Buck of course finished last but he did not mind. He had laughed and waved as he passed the others on the road, from the comfort of the front seat of a Ford pickup. A nice, caring lady picked him up on the road and dropped him off at the bottom of the driveway. The only one not enjoying his antics, was of course Andy.

"How's he doing?" Chris asked. Standish's green eyes were open but he did not appear to coherent. He still lay curled on his side blinking slowly, breathing lazily through slightly parted lips.

"Doc said he'll call tomorrow and let us know about the cultures, but right now he's treating him for an a pretty bad middle ear infection and Strep throat." Sanchez reached in and with Nathan's help, slid the groggy man from the back of the truck. "Come on Ezra," Josiah said, easing his younger friend into a sitting position on the tail gate with his legs dangling over the edge. Standish for his part swayed and leaned heavily into the anthropologist.

"What'd they give'im?" JD asked. He had never seen Ezra so out of it. Even when Standish drank he did so in moderation. Ezra had explained to JD he preferred to have his wits about him when engaging in games of chance.

"Something for the cough, and ease the pain of the ear ache." Sanchez grabbed Ezra's upper arm, Nathan mimicked the action on the other side, "Ok you ready," Josiah asked Nathan nodded, "Ok Ezra lets get some breakfast in ya." The two men hauled the compliant southerner to his sneakered feet.

Standish's legs buckled somewhat before muddled reflexes kicked in and knees caught, and muscles tightened. He blinked owlishly trying to make sense of his surroundings. Chris shook his head a crooked smile creased his face. He should enjoy the peace and quiet. Larabee waited until he was sure Jackson and Sanchez had a firm grip on their drugged friend and then led them into the dining hall.

Chris listened as Josiah gave them the complete run down on Standish's condition. For his part the undercover agent swayed slightly in his chair, his arms resting heavily by his sides. Vin placed a smoking muffin on the southerner's plate and cut it for him. Ezra just stared at it blinking slowly with his head bowed. "Gotta eat it Ez," Vin spoke softly so not to interrupt Josiah. Tanner waited while Ezra lifted a seemingly impossibly heavy hand to the table and pick up part of the blue berry muffin. He took a small bite and dropped the muffin back on the plate and then his arm fell back to his side. The sharpshooter watched amused as the normally quick witted gambler let his eyes flutter close. Vin nudged his arm rousting him, "Ya gotta chew the muffin Ez, and then swallow."

He waited patiently for the undercover agent to do as recommended.

Chris then asked about the gunshots. Vin picked up the story from there telling them everything Meaghan had told him. It had not been much different from what she had told the sheriff but the history she provided over breakfast was important. When he had finished, the table fell silent.

Larabee rested his chin on closed fists as he leaned back in his armed dinning chair thinking. After a moment he sat forward the others knew there was a plan. "Ok JD I want you to dig up as much info about the Working C ranch as you can find. Buck find out who's interested in the land in this area, big developers etc. Vin see if ya can't find out what kind of slug hit the horse and if it is happening to any other ranches in the area. Nathan check the bank records and archives dig up any other ranches that might have fallen by the wayside." He fixed the anthropologist down the table from him with a hard stare, " Josiah fix your truck," he said tiredly. Larabee was getting tired of the camp director coming to him about misappropriated vehicles. "And someone grab Ezra," he added calmly. The gambler was listing seriously to his right. Josiah and Vin immediately grabbed for the leaning man and hauled him back into his chair.

"Ahh Chris," JD's soft hesitant voice sounded. Larabee gazed down at the youngest member of the team with a questioning look. JD sat between Nathan and Buck both men nearly a head taller than the younger man, making the computer whiz appear a lot younger than his years. Dunne continued, " How are we suppose to do this?" the kid asked then said, "I mean, here, we don't have a computer, and can't leave...."

"That's your problem JD, just get it done," Larabee answered. He understood what the agent was asking but could not suggest how to get it done. He softened his words slightly with a smile, "I'm sure you'll be resourceful and beside I bet this place is computerized." JD matched his knowing smile.

"Whoa whoa Ezra wait," Vin's panicked voice rang out as Standish reached clumsily for something and knocked over a glass of water. Tanner quickly intercepted the falling glass before it hit the table slopping contents over the rim. Standish dropped his arm back on the table and reached for the glass again with fingers that would not respond. "You want some water?" Vin slid the glass closer to the lax hand.

"Here Vin put this in it." Sanchez dug out a small plastic pouch. "It's his antibiotic. The Doc. gave the first few dosages in powder form figured pill would be to hard to swallow." Tanner did as told and soon Standish drank the water oblivious to the medication or even the staring eyes.

"Damn he must be sick. He ain't even complained, Hell even said a word." Buck said watching as Ezra took his medicine with out ire.

+ + + + + + +

At ten o'clock they met in the lodge. DC surveyed the group. The Bronco had turned up missing again early this morning, along with three members of the team, Mr. Wilmington hitched a ride from a stranger instead of partaking in the run, and now only six members of the team were present not seven.

"Richard will you please get Mr. Standish and bring him here," Cummings said his voice stern and angry. He had had it with these men. It was Sunday. They had been here only a few days and still they flaunted their disrespect.

"Don't." The one simple contraction held enough threat and warning that it froze the large man in his tracks. Larabee's hazel eyes matched his tone. The other five men sat tense. There were few things Larabee simply did without question or explanation, one of them was protect his men. Standish was sick and down, and needed protection. Larabee granted it with vicious ferocity, and would not tolerate any one or anything threatening that protective corona that now surrounded Standish.

Nathan saw the boiling confrontation and quickly stepped in, "he spent the night in the emergency room, Doc says he needs to sleep." Cummings looked at the chemist searching for the lie. He found none. Just two days ago Jackson had tackled the southerner to the ground in anger and now he protected him. Larabee had thrown up his hands at leadership but now dared anyone who questioned his orders.

Cummings sighed maybe this was working and he was just not seeing it. This had to be the most trying group he had ever had the displeasure of helping.

"Well, that would explain the missing vehicle," Cummings intoned staring pointedly at Tanner and Sanchez. Neither man seemed ruffled. DC had begun to understand why. Larabee was held in high respect with his men, and he directed them as a result of that respect. When he spoke they listened, when he was angry they listened. Larabee kept his men alive when most would or should have perished. There were few things that bothered these men but one of them was disapproval from their leader. Cummings realized his approval or disapproval mattered very little to these men because DC had never saved their lives, had never protected or supported them when death knocked on the door or tried to cross the threshold. Larabee had, Larabee had put these men together, and through their work, trials and tribulations had forged a bond of family. Tanner and Sanchez had taken the bronco to help an ailing brother, they would do it again and again with or without the threat of Cummings, they did not care. Larabee would always grant his approval because the fallen member was apart of their family. Unconventional yes, dangerous yes,. Cummings realized to separate them would be even more dangerous. He needed to speak with Judge Travis.

Cummings was suppose to help patch the raw wound that had exposed itself in this group of misfits. Some how during these past few days when DC thought all was falling apart around him, the healing had begun. Now they just had to foster it, nurse it along and hope nothing else presented itself to tear it back open.

"Being Sunday, you may have the afternoon to do as you see fit, but this morning, Brenda, Richard, and Andy will take you on a cross country jog." He stared pointedly at Wilmington, "And there will be no cars along the route to pick you up," Chris and the others laughed.

After the meeting was adjourned the others headed back to the bunkhouse. Chris stopped to talk to Cummings.

"I'd like Josiah to stay behind and keep an eye on Ezra."

It was a simple request. Cummings was surprised Josiah was picked over Nathan. Jackson was the EMT he would have been the logical choice. DC held his tongue and granted the request. He figured it was easier to agree than be ignored. Chris would leave a man behind to watch over the southerner, no matter what Cummings had to say about it. Chris and DC both knew it, Larabee was being polite and DC offered an uneasy truce.


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