Heather F.

Star Trek Universe


He never reached Standish.

Ezra's knees simply folded on their own. His head fell back against his shoulder blades, with mouth slack and eyes rolled the commander collapsed to the floor.

Fitzpatrick was already across the table hoping to pummel the crumpled man.

Larabee broadsided the admiral with force that would make a Klingon take notice. Fitzpatrick felt a few ribs crack. His head snapped to the side as his body was thrown to deck. The captain with a few quick punches rendered the admiral unconscious.

Admirals jumped to their feet in alarm. Chaos quickly started boiling.

Travis remained seated chuckling...this was a circus....typical Maverick style.

The conference room doors flew open.

Buck, JD, Vin and Nathan burst through the sliding door like a four headed, multilegged demented beast. With curses, raised voices, threats and unmasked innuendoes the three injured men decreed their allegiance to their Lt. Commander.

....Let the clowns roll in... Orrin Travis wished Evie was with him. She loved The Boys.

Jackson, being of sounder mind and less theatrics, left the three to their own devices. They were determined to get themselves hung. Nathan headed for the commander. He gave the prostrate Admiral a passing glance but Larabee still hovered angrily near the man. Simple intelligence and self preservation dictated that Standish be attended to first.

Travis watched the interplay between the five men. It reminded him of his days of captain. It was so good to see someone else struggle as he had back then.

Larabee let go of Fitzpatrick and climbed to his feet. He hoped to prevent Buck from informing a few of the admirals of what he thought of their lineage's.

JD, of course, would not be undone, but lowered his voice at the presence of so many gold ranks.

Vin quietly surveyed the area, studying it. The Vulcan gripped Larabee's upper arm halting the Captain's progress, "Ya didn't leav'im to twist in the wind alone." His voice was low and apologetic.

"Never," Larabee answered shouldering some of the sagging weight of the Vulcan.

"He know that?" Tanner asked as Chris slowly led him from the building explosion of Buck Wilmington.

"He figured it out." The captain eased the Vulcan down on an empty chair. Vin's complexion had become noticeably paler. His hands shook and sweat dotted his brow. Larabee would never underestimate the devotion his six officers had for one another.

"Ya shoulda told'im Chris." Vin lifted his gaze from Standish to Larabee, "I woulda swore he died inside when he left med lab."

Chris merely nodded. He could imagine.

Travis gained his feet still chuckling. Wilmington had a fertile imagination. The mustached First Officer left no doubt in anyones mind this afternoon, that he was indeed raised in a brothel. The man had away with words and imagery. Orrin dragged two chairs closer for the First Officer and ensign.

Larabee listened with a lack of concern at the stark insubordination sprouting from Wilmington. There existed very little in the universe that could stop Buck once he started on something he deemed important. If it landed him in the Brig..well Buck would just assume he did something right. To threaten Wilmington with official reprimands would be like spitting on forest fire. Not much would come of it.

Larabee appreciated the conspiratorial wink from Admiral Travis. The old battle scarred Admiral would soothe offended prides and personalities. Chris could not help but think his First Officer hit very close to the truth with a few of his more lurid observations.

JD stared opened mouthed at his best friend. "Buck will ya shut up....Ez, ain't in trouble."

Buck paused caught his breathe....and paused again. "Good...would hate to think all them good lines went to waste." The First Officer took the seat offered by Travis. Buck sat heavily beside Tanner and smiled, "See I told ya Vin, nuthin' to worry about."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah stood before the empty cell and cursed. Surprised? No...

Sanchez heaved a sigh and tapped his com. badge.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan rose from his chair and met the Captain half way. Med lab was bustling again. The mornings fluctuated between mundane and hectic. Today was chaotic. It did not help having Buck, JD and Vin in the same room, together. He left them alone,though. The foolery that erupted between the three was beneficial for everyone. Jackson could not remember a time when he had seen so many smiles or heard so much laughter in his doctors and staff as he had last night and this morning. The bridge officers would be released sometime today. The medical staff would not be sorry to see them leave. One of the three was a prankster. This was discovered late last night. JD could not sit still and somehow rigged a game out of the diagnostics over his head. Tanner had decided to practice his target shooting and snapped his green peas over JD onto Wilmington. The Vulcan had an uncanny knack with distance.

Jackson had stayed through the night and early morning shift. Standish's fever had spiked last night climbing rapidly to dangerous levels. Instead of fighting and tossing and turning as he had the time before...the gambler merely lay unresponsive and quiet through the ordeal. The ice bath had been hauled back out. For a short while the Chief medical officer feared they would lose their patient.

Through the 'evening' Josiah had sat behind Ezra, outside the tub. He had kept Standish's head nestled against his shoulder all the while whispering soft encouragement. The counselor's deep voice had rumbled like a distant thunder throughout med lab. Jackson did not have the heart to tell his older friend that the Security Chief could not hear a word.

Buck, Vin and JD had limped and hobbled down the row claiming stakes on new beds closer to their very still gambler.

It had been along night.

Early morning saw Standish roll his head and tuck his forehead in the crook of Sanchez's neck. The big man had smiled, closing his eyes. Josiah comfortably secured his young friend within his protective embrace. The fever had broke shortly afterward.

+ + + + + + +

Chris slowed his pace when Jackson met him in the middle of med lab.

"How is he?"

"Fever broke early this morning," Nathan sighed. Nettie was a genius. The old woman could offer her advice anytime. "He won't be on his feet for a day or two and even then only half shifts....damn Chris he was sick," Jackson paused and rubbed his tired eyes, "I honestly thought we were going to lose him." The confession seemed to lighten the lingering fear.

The Captain nodded silently. If they had lost their Security Chief it wouldn't have been to the illness.

"You should get some rest Nathan." Chris stepped around the doctor and stopped, "I'm sure Buck and the others can watch things from here." The captain chuckled at Jackson's look of dismay.

Buck, JD and Vin must have been working their magic again.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee watched the sleeping man. An arm hung over the edge of the bed. The face was half buried in the pillow. The blankets had been pulled up over the shoulders but the feet had kicked themselves clear, exposing callused heels. Damp bangs clung to the sweating forehead.

Chris sat back in his chair and closed his eyes briefly running his hand through his hair. He could hear others moving about in the main room of med lab. Nathan's deep voice carried quietly but authoritatively around the area. The shifting sounds of bodies and instruments quietly invaded the soft buzz of the room he now sat. The lights had been dimmed and the temperature dropped, to facilitate slumber.

Buck, JD and Vin had finally succumbed to sleep. Whether or not Nathan 'influenced' the much needed rest...the Captain could not be sure.

Chris opened his eyes to find Ezra staring at him. Well with one eye at least.

The eye was glazed and half hooded....the right one was buried in the pillow.

"How ya feelin'?" Larabee leaned forward speaking softly. No smile twitched, but his features softened giving his face the same effect.

The only response was a slow blink. The dangling arm shifted, the muscles flexed slightly and the one blurry eye closed. Larabee recognized the effort. He simply lifted the arm and placed it on the bed. Standish slowly opened his eye and stared.

Chris offered a partial smile. Nathan had not been kidding, the gambler was exhausted....weak. The relentless high fever had left him with no reserves, no strength. The captain watched as Ezra tried to drag his bent arm under the blanket. The friction, the mass and weight conspired against him. With a gentleness that most never witnessed in Larabee, the Captain again leaned forward and moved Standish's cool forearm and hand under the covers.

"Better?" the Captain's whisper rolled across the small space. He watched once again as the one eye closed and a soft sigh escape. Chris had thought Standish had drifted off again, until he noticed the near imperceptible nod of the head. Yes, things were better.

"You did real good Ezra." Larabee watched the eye flutter open and settle on him. Chris waited silently for some response. Instead Standish slid back into a heavy, nonresponsive, sleep. With a defeated sigh the Captain stood. He gave the Security Chief one last look and left med lab.

Buck stopped him with a soft observation, "You've got to talk to him Chris."

Larabee stopped and scrutinized the man who had known him longer than anyone. The Captain considered the advice and finally nodded in agreement. He let his gaze fall to the other sleeping officers. How could he communicate with Vin so easily, make his meaning clear to JD and the others and fall so utterly short with Standish? Chris stared back at Wilmington and nodded. He would find away to knock some sense in their Security Chief.

Wilmington leaned back against his pillow and shut his eyes. He would try again later.

+ + + + + + +

Admiral Travis stood on the transporter pad. He shook his head and chuckled at the man before him. "Always a pleasure Chris." Orrin held his hand out which the captain gripped firmly.

"Thanks Admiral....for everything." Larabee stepped back toward the console. The Lieutenant manning the transporter shuffled back trying to remain invisible.

"Any time Chris...any time." Travis climbed the few steps to the pad and turned back at the captain, "One request next visit...perhaps we could just settle for a few drinks and a quite game of stud poker?"

Larabee let loose with a laugh of resignation and shook his head, "Can't make any promises Admiral."

"You've got good officers....all of them, an unorthodox bunch..scares some but I think most appreciate your efforts."

Chris chuckled.. He would not trade any of his crew. Ask him again in a few hours and he might change his mind...but right now...he would keep every last one of them.

+ + + + + + +

"Easy now...yer alright." The voice belonged to Josiah.

"'Ey Ez wake up yer burnin' daylight?" Daylight? On board a starship? Mr. Wilmington one of us is confused.

"Ez ya'll best haul yer ass out of that bed or they're gonna make ya a permanent fixture here." Tanner leaned on one elbow and watched the southerner crawl back toward consciousness. Vin had commandeered the bed at the end of the row. Near the exit. Should Buck get them in trouble again, the Vulcan would get first shot at the door. Standish had the next bed down then JD and then Buck.

Vin watched the Southerner adjust a leg again. Least now he could move on his own. For a while there this morning they were having to move his arms and legs for him. He was just to damn weak to do much of anything. Nathan sure did good work.

Josiah had come in by mid morning and visited with them and then took a quiet vigil over the gambler. Vin could not help but think Sanchez had a gleaned a little of the man's past and what the Counselor had found bothered him. Somehow by being here...Sanchez thought he could make some amends.

Tanner shrugged. Who knows.

The Vulcan watched as Standish blinked, shifted positions and closed his eyes again.

"No wonder he can't get anywhere on time." Buck sat up and stared across JD to Standish's bed. The three had decided to move themselves closer to their shipmate.

"Let'im wake up on his own brothers," Josiah schooled patiently. The counselor had taken Nathan's desk chair out of the office and placed it in between JD's and Ezra's beds.

Sanchez lay a guiding hand on Standish's shoulder when the security man rolled slowly onto his back. He blinked a few times rapidly and inhaled a couple deep breathes. Soon his eyes were roving around taking in his immediate environment. Sanchez laid a comforting hand on top of Standish's head.

"Welcome back," Josiah smiled when the eyes landed on him and stayed. They still rolled slightly but Standish would blink them back into position. "Take it slow brother, you've had a tough ride." Standish garnered enough strength to slightly nod. JD did not think it meant an agreement just an acknowledgment that he heard a voice.

"'Ey Ez glad ya doin' better." Dunne sat up slightly so Standish could see him easier. Ezra swiveled his eyes toward the voice and took a few more deep breaths. His eyes rolled again and closed. The breathing leveled out and he slept.

"Damn he's still out of it," Buck observed meeting Vin's furrowed look.

JD slowly eased himself back down on his pillow and groaned. His head hurt.


Nathan watched from the far entrance way of the room. He rubbed his neck and shook his head. He should have recovered those three in the brig. The doctor amended the thought...the four of them. He should have put the four of them in the same cell and let them torture one another.

Here in med lab the four musketeers had deemed it their responsibility to irritate everyone.

Nathan had originally planned on releasing Buck and Vin yesterday and JD today.

Josiah had quietly requested that the three be kept confined to sick bay. The festering of loneliness induced by isolation could be worse than any poison. Nathan and Chris saw no harm in it...Jackson berated himself for his short sightedness.

Ezra's strength was coming back and tomorrow would see him in his own quarters along with his other jolly co-conspirators.

Jackson leaned against the arch way with arms folded and ankles crossed. He rested his head against the wall. This really should come as no surprise. None at all. The doctor peered over his shoulder when Josiah and Larabee stopped beside him. The three officers stood silently observing the others.

Peas...Green peas. Nathan would make it a point never to allow Green peas into med lab again.

"JD yer using to much torque...just lighten yer hold a little....that's it," Vin coached from his bed holding a glass.

Buck sat behind the kid waving his arms, flicking the Kid's ear...overall trying to distract the ensign.

Dunne squinted his eyes in concentration. He brought his elbows in closer to his body. He bit the edge of his tongue and held his breath. He let loose of the spoon ladle holding fast to its handle. The small green projectile sailed over the gambler. Its arc and trajectory were slightly off. The little pea sailed over Tanner and landed with a muted splunk on the floor. It joined ten more of its now cooling brethren.

"That's another credit you each owe me Mr. Dunne....Mr. Tanner," Standish remarked nibbling on his lip not trying to hide his pleasure. "It's actually quite amazing you have not run us into a super nova or something in your times at the helm."

"Buck keeps distracting me." JD brushed at his ear peevishly. "Buck cut it out....that's gross."

The Ladies Man laughed and blew one last time in the ensign's ear before leaning over JD. The big man tried to read how much he and Ezra had earned. The security man kept concise notes.

"How much we rakin' in Ez?" Buck asked trying to get a handle on the figures...he trusted Ezra...just not with his winnings.

"Enough to keep us in good whiskey for a months time."

"That's ok JD...don't worry about...just concentrate." Vin held the cup up again. "Jist pretend Buck don't exist."

"That should be easy," Dunne muttered quietly as he prepared another pea. Buck pushed JD's elbow flopping the pea on the deck between his and Ezra's bed.

"Oh fer shame...another credit for us," Standish nearly glowed with greed.

"That wasn't fair," JD began to complain.

"It's ok JD...just picture the pea landing in the cup," Vin's tone held an edge of desperation.

Dunne shot another green missile into the air.

Nathan watched slightly horrified as the Vulcan thrust the open end of the glass into the air and leaned precariously back on the bed. Suddenly arms and shoulders disappeared as legs flew into the air.

Vin hit the floor with a resounding thud.

The room fell silent....then Tanner appeared with glass in hand aloft in the air, a triumphant smile on his face.

"Ya did it JD...ya did it!" The exuberance in the Vulcan's voice brought a smile of victory to the Ensign's face.

"Yes, Kudos Mr. Dunne....It's now 26 credits to your one." Standish deadpanned.

Buck turned to sit back on his bed. He noticed Nathan and the others standing across the room. The First Officer smiled and offered a conspiratorial wink. Neither Vin, JD or himself fought overtly hard at their extended stays in med lab.

It did them all some good.

Jackson had a way of knowing what was best for his patients. Buck would have to remember to thank the big man for his insight... Josiah and Chris as well.

Larabee inclined his head slightly in Buck's direction. Chris and Vin had no need for open salutations. The Vulcan knew Chris stood across the room. The silent acknowledgment warranted nothing else.

"Wouldn't it have been simpler if not a little less messier to just give them a deck of cards?" Sanchez stood behind the two men trying to appraise the others. They seemed back on track. JD's near fatal tumble had left some scars on the young man but Buck helped him cope with the memories that flared back to life in nightmares. Wilmington rolled with the abuse that befell him and took it in stride...JD remained alive and healthy. The simple recuperation of the young ensign seemed tincture enough for the First Officer. What troublesome thoughts cajoled through Tanner's mind Sanchez could only guess. The Lieutenant did not say much to anyone...except to thank Nathan for saving his life. Larabee would see to the Vulcan.

It was Standish that worried the Counselor. The gambler laughed easy enough but since dredging himself from the fever the Security man had offered no insight to the connection between Chaplain and himself. When the subject of the review board was brought to his attention the gambler simply turned the subject to something else. If discomfort existed, and Josiah believed it did, then Standish hid it under a veneer of indifference. The escape of Gainan Chaplain held no outward concern for the southerner but even Larabee suspected a tinge of fear rippled through the Security Chief.

"Ezra isn't strong enough to sit up for a game of cards....not yet anyway," Jackson answered. The Doctor cringed as another pea flew over the diagnostic beds to ricochet off a far wall. Tanner at least had the good sense to stay put.

"Boy it's a good thing you don't man the photon torpedoes," Buck joked as he nestled back on his pillow. "Or else we'd be missing some planets."

"Shut up Buck." JD slid back against the head of the bed somewhat dejected. His tray of peas empty.

"Don't feel bad JD...I heard we're getting Jello for dinner." Tanner scratched at his midsection as he stretched out on his bed, "It should be easier to direct."

"Would you care to make a wager on that Mr. Tanner?" Standish fought a yawn unsuccessfully.

Nathan shut his eyes...who programmed in Jello? Josiah shook his head, bemused. Vin, Buck and JD managed to do more for Standish than any medicine. Chris did not want to hear anymore. He simply slid from the room. Those four would be the end of him.

Tanner leaned up on one elbow and stared at the gambler who was fading fast, "Yer on Ez." Standish merely nodded.

"Same rules as before?" Buck asked.

"No way...ya can't be hittin' me..ruin's my aim," Dunne shot out.

"Kid opening yer eyes ruins yer aim."

"Shut up Buck," Dunne and Tanner chorused.

"Same rules...but no physical contact with Mr. Dunne....agreed then gentlemen...until dinner."

JD quietly watched as Standish stretched out and then curled slightly on his side. In a few minutes the gambler had slipped into the soft cadence of sleep.

"Yeah think he really thought Chris and us would kick'im out?"

"Ez figured it out kid....'sides it ain't the Captain's style," Buck paused and laughed at JD's confused expression, "Chris is the old fashion shoot'em and leave'em kind of guy....We keep weapons clear of Ole Ez just might make it to next shore leave."

Vin chuckled. Buck had the truth of it. Unfortunately Ezra still expected a dismissal or transfer...expected it so much that he actually searched for it. Larabee would be tougher, he had more endurance...besides Chris hated to lose.

Vin stared at the ceiling. He liked Jello. Especially the Strawberry. Hopefully when JD programmed the computer this morning the kid remembered.

JD stared at Ezra. For a brief moment in time Standish must have felt as if the others betrayed him. He had to have thought that they had turned their backs on him. JD tried to fathom what that must have felt like. A cold, empty, feeling settled in the pit of his stomach, tears threatened to well in his eyes. Loneliness knotted and ached like a physical pain. JD hoped Ezra never learned to live with that type of hurt. Dunne turned his attention toward Buck and closed his eyes as that hollow despair slipped away. He would do his damnedest to make sure Ezra never felt that way again. Gawd it must have hurt....terribly.


"Hey Buck, I'm gonna go check in with Ezra." JD slowed his pace forcing Buck to do the same. The ship's interior lights had dimmed mimicking late evening. Most of the Maverick's crew slept.

"Kid it's the middle of the night...he's probably sleepin'." Wilmington rubbed at his cheek. The newly healed tissue still itched somewhat, though the dull ache in jaw had finally relented.

"Naw it's Ez we're talkin' about...he sleeps all day plays all night," JD grinned and stood hipshot.

"Ya want some company?" Buck could see a little of Larabee in the stance. Gawd help them.

"Nah I just figure I'd stop in say 'hi' see if he needs anything." The Ensign had already started down the corridor heading back the way they had just come.

Buck shrugged and continued toward his quarters. When the kid got something in his head you just had to roll with it.

+ + + + + + +

Dunne stood in the entrance of the room. He watched Ezra for a moment or two and felt a twinge of sadness.

The gambler sat in the darkened room flipping a card between fingers. The very same antique deck of cards he carried with himself everywhere. Its edges had aged and lost their sharp definition , the colors slightly faded. This undoubtedly was Standish's deck. It meant something more to the gambler than just any old deck of cards like the others found sporadically around his living quarters. This particular deck held value though JD did not think it was monetary.

Standish sat slouched somewhat in a chair with his legs stretched out, heels propped up on a table. Just yesterday he had been to weak to even sit up. Today he managed to not only sit but irritate Nathan. Dunne smirked. Something never changed.

"Ey Ez." JD breezed into the room. His presence felt intrusive even to himself.

"Mr. Dunne." The Southerner did not lift his gaze from the cards. The gambler sat comfortably wrapped within the soft confines of shadows.

"What cha doin'?" JD sat down on the arm of the couch next to Standish. The young man would not get discouraged by the lack of welcome. It was no secret that Josiah and the others were a little concerned for the suddenly elusive man. Sanchez had wanted the gambler out amongst the crew more but Nathan thought he needed more rest. The two butted heads throughout the day. The others simply watched from a distance and accompanied their Security Chief when he did decide to weave amongst the crew members at the saloon.

Ezra merely raised an eyebrow and stared at the young ensign in response to the rhetorical question.

Dunne hated that look. Time for a new tactic. "King of Hearts." JD leaned over and peered at the card in Standish's hand.

Ezra's hands had become more steady throughout the day. "I always figured that's Buck's card."

Standish stared at the card and then the young ensign, "How so?"

"Well it's the King of know Buck and his animal magnetism...." Dunne let his voice fade. No matter how hard he tried he could not seem to make easy conversation with Ezra lately. Not like he could with Vin...of course with Vin it was normally one sided. Buck was Buck. Josiah was always willing to talk but normally it accompanied some kind of fixing things and the such. Nathan seemed too busy for idle chatter.

Since this whole fiasco with Chaplain and the review board Standish had not been as open to conversation as normal. Dunne had to amend that, for the most part the Chief had been under the influence of a pretty nasty sickness but even still the carefree, devil, may care attitude had taken a dark introspective turn. JD did not understand it or like it.

"Don't ya think?" Dunne repeated indicating to the card with his chin.

Ezra stared at the card and then to the young Ensign, "Maybe...but do you notice what's in the King's hand?"

Ezra held the card out to JD. The young ensign took a hold of it and stared at it

"Yeah....A sword."

"Yes...a sword...and where exactly is it pointed?" Standish asked again watching Dunne's expression. What Ezra wouldn't give sometimes to be in Wilmington's shoes. To have JD's complete trust and faith...then again there were times when the responsibility that Buck assumed frightened the Security Chief to no end.

Dunne stared at the picture card and then the gambler... "His head."

"The King of Hearts is the Suicide King....I would wager that our Mr. Wilmington is made of stronger stuff...don't you?" Ezra reached over and took the card from Dunne's hand and slipped the Ace of Hearts to the "Kid".

"Our Mr. Wilmington is closer akin to the Ace of Hearts....A leader amongst men....but as an Ace he is either the most powerful card in the deck or as dear Inez has proven time and time again...the lowliest card in the deck."

Ezra grinned pleased when JD laughed out loud.

"What about Vin?" Dunne leaned closer to the edge of the chair closing the distance that had come between himself and Ezra. "Is he an Ace too?"

"Mr. Tanner is more of a Jack of Spades...The One eyed Jack." Standish held the card before the ensign and continued, "Our Mr. Tanner only reveals what he wants us to see. Like the one eyed Jack there is side to him that he keeps to himself." There was a pause and chuckle, "at times, however, the Joker would seem more fitting for such a wild prankster as our Navigator...Don't you think?"

JD laughed taking the Jack from the outstretched hand. He manipulated it between index finger and thumb. His dexterity and skill did not measure to the smooth efficiency of the gambler.

"And me?" His voice came across soft and low almost afraid to hear how Ezra had measured him. Yet curiosity had a way of bringing JD to some cross roads he had no true desire to meet.

Standish shuffled the deck and without looking cut to the Jack of Hearts. "You my young friend are a prince amongst men." Ezra fingered the card carefully running his ring finger along its edges. The Jack of Hearts... A young ambitious card with a soul. A card that could make or break a hand. A one eyed Jack...Would JD grow and mature into the Ace like Mr. Wilmington or would he succumb to the path that Larabee so recently tread with his tragic loss?

Dunne bit back the grin that threatened to consume him. He would have liked to have been a King or an Ace but a Jack...well heck that was not bad, not bad at all. He had seen Ezra win a few hands with just one Jack High.

Nope....Jack of hearts was ok with him.

"Nathan and Josiah?"

Ezra sighed. He did not wish to cast his crew into categories especially before the ensign. "Mr. Sanchez fluctuates between the King and Ace of clubs." The man did have a sense of humor and simpleness about him that was perplexing to say the least. A club simply because their Counselor believed in omens and 'crows' the clover seemed fitting.

"Mr. he should be the King of Hearts...who would ever think to work so tirelessly for the selfish masses day in and day out...but our Mr. Jackson is also made of stronger stuff. He is a gem amongst men." Ezra made eye contact with the young ensign, "if you should ever divulge such information to him I will deny it."

JD laughed and nodded his head...he would keep the Security Chief's secret.

"He is an Ace of Diamonds."

"Chris?" Dunne leaned over and watched as Standish once again cut the deck and handed him the Kind of Spades.

A dark foreboding but powerful card. The King of Kings within the deck of fifty-two.

JD merely nodded his head in agreement. It somehow made perfect sense. And Mary would be his Queen of Hearts if those two ever figured themselves out...or so Buck had once stated.

"What about you Ez? Where are you in the deck?" The ensign held the six cards the gambler had handed him. Once again Standish reached into the deck and without checking his pick...handed the Ace of Spades to the young Ensign.

"The Ace of Spades?" JD questioned out loud. He lifted his gaze and stared at the gambler. The Death Card? Why that card? It did not seem to fit. Though like the other Aces it could also be low card in the deck. Its position was constantly in flux depending on the game and the rules.

"Because Mr. Dunne it's simply my deck." A full dimpled smile creased his face. The damp gold tooth reflected the soft light of the room.

"Hell Ezra..ain't you ever serious about anything?" Dunne leaned back on the couch and stared at the collection of cards. Alone none of them were worth much. Heck a pair of twos could beat a lone Ace or King. But together and paired the seven cards could be a powerful hand.

Maybe that's what frightened Ezra so much....though JD could not be sure. He knew Standish had spent a life time depending on himself...had learned to make his solitary ace the most powerful card in his arsenal but now amongst the others he found the whole was stronger than the individuals.

"Heard Nathan is checking on ya tomorrow." Dunne sat up. Truth be told, Jackson constantly worried over all four of them. Buck, Vin and himself had the sense to keep their mouths shut. With Ezra's strength returning apparently his mouth was kicking back into gear. In fact the morning JD , Buck and Vin had been discharged a spectacular argument had erupted between Nathan and Ezra. It was short lived. A simple hypo to the base of the neck and Ezra had collapsed sleeping like a baby.

Nathan had held up the hypospray and announced, "Drugs are the great equalizer."

Buck had pushed JD out of med lab. The three officers would not test the fickle nature of their over tired Medical Officer. Standish had been released later that day after a few more scans and diagnostics.

"It would seem I am to be confined to my quarters for the duration of my recovery." The resigned sigh spoke volumes about the forced inactivity.

"Well that won't be so bad...least one will be afraid to visit ya...I mean Nathan he's pretty quick with that hypo of his." JD spoke with the utmost seriousness. It certainly was not like Standish stayed within the four walls of his quarters. In fact most of today had been spent in the Saloon weaving his magic with the cards. He skillfully waged games against anyone who felt lucky...or foolish enough to try and take advantage of his weakness.

Ezra nodded solemnly. Dr. Jackson did not pull any punches when it came to the tyrannical manner in which he ruled over his patients.

"Well ya better get some rest Ez...if Nathan thinks yer too tired he just might make ya go back to Sick bay."

Standish nodded and climbed wearily to his feet, "Gawd forbid that should happen." Mr. Dunne had a powerful point.

JD stood and waited with in the stretching shadows created by the dimmed lights. For a brief moment the gambler's face entered the light. An amused grin had creased his face forcing back the dark lines of weariness.

"You ok Ez?" JD met the Southerner's eyes and held them. The young ensign only wanted the truth, just wanted to be there, like Buck was always there for him.

"Yes Mr. Dunne...I'm fine...truly I am." The words spoken had a soft lilt to them. The truth flickered slightly in his green eyes. A sly smile flashed for a moment bringing the boyish hell raiser to the surface.

JD knew things were on the mend. "Thanks Ez," JD whispered softly as he crossed the floor to the door. Thanks for the truth.

Ezra shuffled toward his bed when the Ensign left.

Dunne strode from the darkened quarters feeling better. Ezra did not seem as sad as he had the day before when left to himself. JD never looked to his left as he headed down the corridor.

Josiah and Nathan had decided to pay their resident gambler a visit. The twosome stopped when they saw JD exit the quarters laughing quietly to himself. Of all the six, it was their youngest and most naive that dogged Standish enough to foster a true conversation. JD had more hidden gifts up his sleeve than Ezra had cards.

The Counselor had wanted very much to explain to Ezra that there was nothing that Gainan Chaplain could offer him that could not be found within his six friends. Watching the light jaunt in JD's step, indicated that the simple, innocent, overtures of friendship could be stronger than forced words.

"You coming to the poker game tomorrow night in the saloon?" Sanchez asked changing directions pulling Nathan along with him.

Jackson furrowed his brow. There was not suppose to be any card games for a few nights. Can't anyone follow directions?


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