A Tale of Woe

by Heather F

Larabee and his team were pushing and pulling one another out the door before any of the others in the Saloon pulled their gazes from the Television.

+ + + + + + +

Chris guided the Ram down near deserted streets. The windshield wipers whipped back and forth in a desperate fight to keep the glass clear of snow but squeaking and streaking the glass as they worked.

Vin dialed Four Corner’s Mercy Hospital with his thumb without gazing at the tiny cell phone. They raced for the Hospital by-passing the scene of the 7-11. Standish would be at the hospital before any of them.

Larabee cut through an empty gas station parking lot cutting off wasted distance and time by going all the way to the intersection and waiting for the light.

The headlights behind him indicated Buck and his trusty old Chevy did the same thing.

"Brother Ezra has not been having a stellar day," Josiah remarked from the dark interior of the Ram’s cab.

"If shit don’t roll down hill," Nathan remarked shaking his head in morbid wonder. Bad things happened in threes. Jackson cringed, hopefully Ezra was done with his stint of bad luck.

+ + + + + + +

"Damn, Buck, can you believe that? Ez gits himself smacked by a freakin’ car?" JD shook his head in bewilderment, "damn if he ain’t havin’ a crappy day. Damn, it sucks to be him. Ya know?"

Buck wrinkled his brow, half listening to his young friend. JD had been rambling on since they had gotten into the truck. Wilmington shook his head and concentrated on driving. He jumped the three quarter ton Chevy up and over a curb, through a small snow burm, across a second curb and wheeled the big truck out in front of Larabee by a good three yards.

JD kept on talking.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee didn’t touch the brakes as Wilmington muscled his way over a good sized island and down a sidewalk to finally bounce back onto the road cutting the Ram off with only a few feet to spare.

Larabee nudged the accelerator, guiding the truck over into the oncoming lane.

The streets of Denver seemed devoid of traffic.

The big Ram’s V10 engine purred to life. The back tires never lost their traction and the truck pulled itself down the wrong side of the road, heedless of any fool that might be out traveling and adhering to the laws of the road.

+ + + + + + +

"I mean, Geezus, First, Chris tears into him, then the Judge…..I mean a freakin’ garbage truck ran over his car," JD turned and stared incredulously at his older roommate, "That has gotta be some kind of record…" JD shook his head in bewilderment and then continued on, "That has just gotta suck…ya know?"

"I know kid, I know," Buck noticed Chris’s Ram on the other side of the yellow line. Wilmington bit his cheek. Larabee lost all common sense when one of his men got hurt. The man was absolutely crazy. To drive on the wrong side of the road….Buck shook his head, someone had to talk to Chris about his driving. The man was a menace.

Buck gassed the Chevy up and over another island, down the soft shoulder of the road with the two passenger side tires on the sidewalk as he passed a Mazda that inched and felt its way down the snow blitzed road.

Damn people shouldn’t be on the road if they couldn’t drive in snow…. Buck shook his head in disgust.

+ + + + + + +

Vin spoke quickly and quietly into his phone. He raised his chin and quietly stated, "Car."

Chris merely nodded his head and slid back onto his side of the double yellow line. He bit his lip and tried to ignore the back seat driver sitting next to him.

Nathan gazed out the window and watched Buck and JD as they passed a Mazda using the sidewalk, "Buck’s thinkin’ outside the box again…" Sometimes Nathan wondered if Wilmington was even in the same Universe as the rest of the team.

Josiah leaned forward in his seat and watched as the big Chevy powered its way down the side walk and then bounced back into the lane. The cargo bed of the truck thought of fish tailing but it suddenly tucked itself back in under the calm control of its handler.

"Yup, he does at that." Josiah leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes sending up a silent prayer.

+ + + + + + +

"Can you believe that? I mean what the Hell does that other SAC know anyhow? And why would Chris listen to what he has to say instead of what Ezra has to say?" JD paused for breath and stared over at Buck’s profile. Dunne saw Vin looking at him from the passenger seat of the Ram a lane or two over. JD gave a quick rapid wave.

Tanner simply tipped his chin up in response.

JD turned his attention back to Buck, "Ya know what I mean? Then again maybe Ez, didn’t say anything in his own defense….sometimes I think Ez is just plain dumb like that? I mean he don’t even defend himself when Chris or us get pissed at him…he just lets it go and thinks we all can read his stinkin’ mind….like Chris can read anyones mind. Damn I bet if we could read Chris’s mind all it would be saying, is "shut up….git out….did I ask you to talk?….’ Ya know what a I mean?….we can’t read anybody’s mind…well ‘sept yours and ain’t none of us want to know what ya thinkin’ Buck…."

Wilmington quirked an eyebrow and slowly turned toward JD with a question on his face.

"Hell Buck I blush just thinkin’ about what yer thinkin’ about…."

JD grabbed the dashboard as Buck cut the wheel and guided the truck up and over another curb and into the parking lot of the hospital.

The truck slid to a stop right beside the Ram. JD fumbled with his seat belt. He paused for a split second. His inactivity drew Wilmington’s full attention.

"Ya think he’s ok Buck?"

For the first time fear and uneasiness made it into JD’s voice, vocalizing all their uncertainties.

"I hope so Kid, I hope so."

+ + + + + + +

The six men entered the waiting area of the ED like an incoming wall of water. They spread out and converged on the wrap around reception counter.

The young lady behind the desk held up her hand as if hoping to hold back the tide that rolled toward her.

" Dr. Murray said she’ll be out in a few…she said you should all just take some seats or something." The dark haired lady with unruly curls and bright red lipstick that never smeared her front teeth despite the gum she chewed, smiled sweetly at them trying to hide the racing fear that coursed through her. "Oh and maintenance was just up here, the soda and food machines work jist fine, so…" she nailed Sanchez with a withering gaze, "No picking them up and shaking them Mr. Sanchez or the companies threatened to take them away and put them someplace safer like a frat house."

The receptionist shook her head in disgust and turned back to her paperwork. She kept the televisions on though the volume was muted.

She had watched the news earlier. What a crappy day for that poor agent. And to spill his coffee to boot… Coffee, especially if it was a cappuccino, was not easy to get out of your clothes….there was going to probably be a hefty dry cleaning bill….well, she amended, by the time the ED folks were done with the agent’s clothing there would be no need to clean the suit. Unless he wanted clean dust rags.

+ + + + + + +

The doors to the ER pushed open.

The six men stood as one.

A middle to older aged doctor strode through the doors with a confidence that gave her more stature than her natural height. A green scrub coat billowed behind her, the untied shoe lace ties hung toward the ground. She wore green scrub bottoms and tops that managed to hint at a feminine physique that indicated a strenuous exercise program was an integral part of her day.

She carried a silver flip top chart, a temporary chart that was used until a three ring binder was needed if her patients were to be kept over night.

Larabee noted the person, the lack of blood on the greens and the type of chart she carried. It all bode for good news, but Chris knew better than to judge on appearance.

The supporting smile that brightened the older doctor’s face, creasing well used laugh lines and highlighting crow’s feet worked to alleviate some of his apprehension.

Josiah’s deep rumbling, "Thank God," though a whisper, spoke of all their relief.

JD having sat still for all of an hour and forty-seven minutes and thirty-nine seconds, not that Chris was keeping tabs of the time, bubbled forth as if he had slept a straight ten hours. The ‘kid’ recharged his batteries quicker than a rabbit could work to make new bunnies. Larabee shook his head, inwardly cringing, he had been hanging around Buck waaay too long.

Nathan stepped forward almost bypassing Chris in his own haste to insure that his injured friend was ok. Seeing was believing after all…well except when applied to a deck of cards, then slight of hand was fair play.

Murray held up her hand, "He’s going home tonight." She smiled at their mixed expressions. Damn fools, you couldn’t please them. They wanted their friends to be alright but gawd forbid if you didn’t keep them overnight just to be sure.

"Ya think that’s wise…."

The Doctor held up her hand stalling the Texan’s ‘ma’am’. Not that she didn’t appreciate the politeness or the deference to her, she truly enjoyed it. Tonight, she just was too tired to harangue any questions or second guessing.

"Why don’t you boys have a seat," She smiled patiently at them, wondering what the six of them would be like if they had kids. She shuttered at the thought. "Josiah, Nathan….why don’t you give my people a hand at getting Ezra ready to go home…he’s got enough of his wits about himself to be ornery."

The two larger men nodded and tried to gracefully hurry toward the Emergency ward without appearing anxious.

"Gentlemen," Murray began, "Mr. Larabee," She focused her attention at the leading ATF agent, "your agent is one very lucky man."

JD’s unbelieving snort made the doctor pause, "Mr. Dunne? Are you coming down with a nasal infection?" She raised her eyebrows at the derisive sound.

"Sorry, no ma’am," Dunne stammered out. Where the Hell had the Doc been? Ezra wasn’t no luckier than a castrated, two legged, deaf dog with one eye that had a cataract.

" He’s fractured a few bones but nothing that won’t heal barring any unforeseen complications." She stared meaningfully at Buck and then Vin.

Both started talking at once, "Weren’t our fault ma’am….last time ya’ll gave Ez painkillers he was seein’ Elvis Presley dancing’ in a Hawiian shirt singin’ about where to go when a Volcano blows…" Vin shook his head remembering that night at Wilmington’s apartment when he and Buck were watching ‘Jackpot’ The next thing they knew Ezra was standing at the doorway saying he followed Elvis there from his condo. Thank goodness he hadn’t driven. It must have been a hell of a cab ride though. Poor Cabbie must have thought his fair was stoned out of his mind….Vin paused, come to think of it…it, It was true. Standish was looped.

It was the last time they ever left Standish alone with that particular brand of pain meds.

"Yes, well lets hope this time you boys can keep him out of the casinos and away from any dance hall girls." Her tight smile hid her amusement.

"Now that ain’t fair Ms. Lauren," Buck spoke up, "you weren’t his doctor then, and it was Vin who found himself out on center stage with the Show girls." The trip to Vegas last year had been fun, even when Vin got a concussion and busted his leg in a leg wrestling contest. Weird sport. Buck sighed, Ezra of course dragged him and JD to an off strip high priced poker game. Ezra won himself a fair bit of cash but got his fool self beat up when he failed to warn Buck that the lady Wilmington had taken a shine to was none other than some big wig’s daughter. Wilmington had half a mind to hold a grudge against the undercover agent but Ezra looked so pathetic with two swollen black eyes and bruised ribs, that Buck couldn’t bring himself to berate the younger man. Of course, the cast that encased Buck’s hand up to his shoulder had Wilmington taking something for the pain every four hours. JD, the squirrely SOB got off scott free. Not a bruise or cut on him. Larabee, Nathan and Josiah flew into town after the ER doctors in Las Vegas called the Four Corners ER doctors and someone at Four Corners then called Larabee. The world was sometimes much too small a place. Chris made sure everyone was miserable. Josiah and Nathan never seemed to stop laughing and had a few fun nights out on the town…except when they were having to hunt down an ill tempered Texan with a touch of claustrophobia.

Vin cursed silently under his breath, of all the things to have no memory of, it had to be the night he sought a hiding spot under the watchful eye of long legged show girls in Las Vegas. Nathan and Josiah couldn’t find him for hours. A blush and grin spread across his face at the memory.

"Besides, Ez, was Chris’s responsibility that night….and ole Ez got his own mangy ass arrested for picking the casino manager’s pocket and trying to use her ID to get in on a game," Wilmington almost smiled at the memory of Standish trying to pass his blurry eyed self off as a Samantha, despite being dressed in a tux…damn if Chris weren’t pissed and embarrassed all at once. Turns out that Samantha Crux was an old friend of Maude’s, or a nemesis, about the same age, both very graceful, and both sharks. Ms. Crux had a soft spot for Maude’s only child and allowed him to sleep off his medication in one of the casino’s suites under the watchful eye of Special Agent Chris Larabee.

Chris had been pissed.

"Yes, well gentlemen," Dr. Murray took a breath and continued, " it would be prudent for all concerned if you kept a close eye on him." She paused and all traces of levity were dismissed, "He has a mild concussion, probably hitting the windshield from what I can gather. He’s disoriented and has no recollection of the accident or the day’s events," She paused, "You are all familiar with the symptoms of a concussion."

After seeing the nods she continued on, "He separated that left shoulder again, better than a dislocation but as painful, deep muscle bruising of his upper left quads and…well to make it easier his whole left thigh and hip is one big bruise, the femur is not broken but the bone has been terribly bruised….as you know gentlemen that will be very uncomfortable for awhile. Bruised ribs, left side, cracked fibula, left side. We are casting that now…No internal injuries that we can discern at this time."

"Crutches are going to be a bear," JD whispered out.

"There will be no crutches for a while Mr. Dunne," her stern tone softened when the young man snapped his head up and stared at her with large frightened hazel eyes. She softened her tone and offered a small smile, "not for a few days at least. He’s badly beaten up JD, and it won’t do him any good to go irritating his injuries if he is hobbling around on a crutch."

JD nodded silently.

Murray let her smile drop as she faced the older men.

She stared at each man before her and then spoke very clearly and plainly, "If Mr. Standish develops any of these symptoms," she handed Chris a stack of duplicates that he passed to his men, "Do not hesitate, bring him back here immediately."

Chris read the list of warning signs, the same list that he had in his desk back at the office, the same list he kept in the kitchen ‘junk’ drawer, the same list in his office at home and the same list that occupied the coffee tables and spaces under couches of his agents’ living quarters. They all had them, practically had them memorized and knew better than to ignore them.

They all nodded in agreement.

"Good, here are his prescriptions," Murray placed her hands at the small of her back and arched cracking it and unknotting the kinks.


"Yes, Mr Tanner?"

"This here medicine yer havin’ us give Ez," He paused and met the doctor’s eyes, "It ain’t gonna make’im believe he’s seein’ Elvis again or make’im go do somethin’ illegal like pickin’ pockets or somethin’?" Tanner appeared slightly apprehensive.

JD and Buck were readily nodding in agreement.

Dr. Murray sighed, "I don’t think so Vin," she stared at Tanner and then the others and finally focusing on Chris, "But," She said with a toothy grin to match Josiah’s, "there are no guarantees in medicine." With that, she turned and disappeared back behind the doors of her E.D relishing in the groans of the men she left out in the waiting area.

+ + + + + + +

Chris guided his Ram through snow covered streets in the darkness of early morning. He took a sideways glance at his passenger. Vin fingered the bag of prescription meds as if contemplating if they were worth the risk of even picking them up.

Larabee couldn’t blame the sharpshooter for his worries. Stretched out in the back seat under a wool blanket with a pillow to cushion his head, lay Standish. Nathan and Josiah had wheeled him out of the ‘demented clutches of the lecherous medical community not a moment too soon." Of course, the description had been a bit slurred and Standish stumbled and tripped over the majority of the words but his meaning was clear.

He had then waved his hand forward, drunkenly beckoning Josiah to push his wheelchair toward the exit door with post haste. Nathan bristled at the arrogant command and carried what remained of Standish’s Armani, coffee stained, suit in a zip lock lunch baggie.

Chris had wanted to ask why bother but Nathan’s warning stare had him using discretion instead.

The argument that had ensued about where Ezra would be staying lasted all of a few minutes, the time it took Josiah to fold the undercover agent into the back of the Ram and drape a blanket over him. Buck had sacrificed his coat for a pillow. Standish still mumbled obscenities and protested somewhat vehemently but Josiah had simply shut the truck door, muffling the thick southern accent.

JD kept whistling at the bright yellow green cast that was portended to glow in the dark…and it did too. Chris cringed peering in through the back window of his truck. The glo-green cast was an eye sore. Nathan must have been seeking some kind of retribution when he chose that color.

Ezra would be pissed.

JD invited himself and Buck up to Chris’s house Saturday morning. Nettie had tried to cancel moving the heifers down when she saw Ezra get flattened by the ‘Punch Buggie’ while watching the late news. Chris, Vin and Nathan had all but begged her to let them bring the one hundred and fifty heifers down from winter pasture.

Buck and JD would take the day to watch over Standish. They had planned to bring their Sharpie markers for the cast.

Chris sighed and closed his eyes briefly as he guided the Ram down the snow covered rural lane. The others would be at his house in only a few hours to load horses, put chains on the trailer and haul to Ms. Nettie’s small ranch.

The Ram bounced and rolled up the dirt driveway. Chris looked in the rearview mirror hoping to, but also worried, to see his undercover agent struggle to sit up.

Standish slept oblivious in the back seat.

Ezra never truly opened his eyes when Chris and Vin wrestled him out of the truck, or helped him into the house and he never stopped muttering even as they laid him back in the spare bed and covered him with a blanket. With his eyes closed, Standish still muttered to himself.

"He don’t ever shut up does he?" Tanner shook his head as if witnessing a strange phenomenon.

"Guess not." Larabee fixed the blankets one last time, just as he would if it was Vin or one of the others or even worse, his own lost son.

Tanner always pretended not to notice the sentimentality, afraid to make light of it and afraid to make too much of it. Instead, he feigned ever noticing it.

The slight tension was broken when Diablo padded into the room, his nails clicking on the wood floor. He leaped up onto the bed.

Funny how Diablo could leap onto the bed with ease but had to be lifted into the cab of the pickup. Larabee shook his head, damn Southerner was teaching his dog how to be manipulative. The bastard.

"Diablo, getdown," Larabee ordered in a stern but off hand manner.

The big black lab simply walked in tight circles three times before collapsing down on the mattress. He let out a heavy sigh and dropped his massive head on his paws.

"Might as well leave’m be," Vin said as he headed for the door, "you’ll jist git pissed off when he gits back up there when ya back ‘s turn."

"Damn dog likes’im more than me." Larabee shook his head in mock disgust but inwardly pleased that the dog could offer and provide comfort without having to be asked, or worrying about over stepping bounds.

"And ya point would be…"

"Shut up Tanner."

The two men exited the room shutting off the light and leaving the door ajar.

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked Peso to the side of the stock trailer when Buck and JD bounced up the drive in the Chevy.

"’Ey Vin," Buck slid out of the truck as JD bounced around the hood not caring that the sun had yet to come up or that nine new inches of snow covered the ground.

"Buck," Tanner nodded back as he tied Peso between JD’s Bay and Chris’s black gelding.

"Ey’ Vin, why ya gut Bailey out?" Dunne asked as he scooped up some snow testing it for any cohesive quality. He let it slip through his fingers, too cold, not enough moisture for good snow balls. Too bad.

Nathan exited the barn leading Josiah’s big chestnut and his own dark bay gelding. Both were saddled and ready to go like the other three horses already tied to the trailer.

"Figured you’d want to come," Tanner drawled out slowly turning to eye the young agent, "see’in as Casey is home for Spring break this week, Spring Soccer practice got cancelled seein’ how the coaches and trainers took bein’ ill ‘n all."

"Casey’s home for break?" JD’s voice betrayed his shock and enthusiasm.

"Yup came home last night, surprised Ms. Nettie some, but she got over it." Vin headed for the front of the truck that rumbled and gurgled as the diesel worked to warm up. "Figured ya’d be a might more interested in visitin’ with her than babysittin’ ole Ez."

JD whirled around the question easily readable on his face, "Go ahead kid, Ez ‘n me will survive a day without ya."

"Thanks Buck, I’ll be right back to help ya Vin, I jist got to git my stuff from Chris and say Hi to Ez."

"Sure thing kid…but watch Diablo, he’s a bit off this morning."

JD waved his hand over his head as he ran through the snow and up the three short steps to the front porch and disappeared into the house.

Buck headed his way over to Tanner and Jackson. Nathan doubled checked the small tack room on the trailer to make sure they had gear, and replacement leather and extra ties and bungy chords as well as baling twine and the such before they got ready to haul out.

"How’d it go last night?"

Vin shrugged and shook his head as he opened the driver’s side door and turned down the heat he had cranked to warm the cab of the Ram. "Ok, meds wore off some an hour or so ago, he’s confused as all Hell, Chris ‘s been tryin’ to talk sense to ‘im but Ez can’t hold a thought in that scrambled brain of his, don’t know his leg ‘s broke and keeps kickin’ the shit out of his other leg with the dang cast." Tanner shook his head in mild bewilderment. "He did figure out the ribs though." The sharpshooter chuckled and shook his head.

Buck nodded.

Snow still fell lazily from the grey sky. The sun would not be above the horizon for another half hour or more, not that they would be able to tell. The cloud cover was thick.

"Nathan, anything I need to know before you guys leave?"

Jackson slammed the tack room door shut and stepped around the rumbling front end of the black Ram. "Jist keep’im quiet." Nathan paused for a bit and added, "probably be best if you let Diablo stick close to him." The medic merely shrugged not offering an explanation.

One really wasn’t needed. The dog had some kind of protective streak in him when it came to Ezra. There was no doubt that big black lab would take on hordes of invaders to protect Chris but when it came to the others, Diablo would probably go lay under the pool table and become an observer. Standish was a different kettle of fish. The dog took to protecting the undercover agent as fiercely as it did Chris.

No one understood why, they all teased Chris about it and did their best to irritate their friend mercilessly but the point remained, when down with an injury or medication; Diablo the over sized, water avoiding, gun shy, black, lab took to guarding and protecting the undercover agent from any and all things.

Standish never gave the dog any more attention than the others, never fed it scraps that the others could tell but something about those two had clicked.

Josiah called it fate. Well, actually, he called it a lot of things but none of them made any sense.

"Well boys, I’ll leave you to your work, have fun in the snow." Buck chuckled and headed for the house.

"Yeah. You too Buck," Vin called back. Tanner and Jackson shared a knowing look. A day spent in a cold leather saddle on a winter’s day trying to avoid snow falling down their back from laden pine branches, was preferable than being cooped up in a house with an injured member of their team.

There were, after all, different levels of Hell.

+ + + + + + +

The thin light of day waned as the sun coasted toward the western horizon obscured by a thick cover of clouds.

Long shadows cast themselves across the wood floors and scatter rugs of Larabee’s living room.

Buck straightened allowing the cue to slide through his hand until the rubber butt end of the cue hit the floor with a soft thud. He watched as the yellow One ball careened across the green felt table and nudged the maroon seven into a side pocket.

Damn I’m good. His silent self congratulations had him smiling.

He looked to the front door when he heard Diablo growl from the guest bedroom. Within a few seconds he heard the rumble of the diesel as it hauled its way up the driveway. It sounded slow and deep, working and chugging to pull the stock trailer and horses back home.

Buck checked the wall clock, 5pm. Not a bad day of work.

Wilmington slid into the kitchen and put the Chili that Josiah had brought that morning on the stove to heat. The corn muffins went back into the oven to warm and water boiled in the coffee pot. The boys would be hungry and cold when they walked through the door within the next half hour.

Buck went back to his game.

+ + + + + + +

Diablo jumped off the bed, his hackles raised. He strode into the living room giving Wilmington an accusatory glare before facing the door stiff legged and snarling.

"Diablo, ya damn fool, you growl like that at Chris ‘n he’ll skin you alive."

Wilmington turned on some lights realizing the room had been cast in the dark shadows of a winter twilight.

The front door threw open and five very windblown and snow covered agents entered the house.

"Howdy boys."



"’ey Buck, ya miss us?"

"Everything go ok?"

"You best not be growling at me dog."

Buck sighed, "I told ya Diablo."

The dog whimpered, tucked his tail and trotted back into the guest room.

"Shouldn’t speak mean to your dog Brother, he’s one of God’s creatures." Josiah schooled as he peeled off his insulated leather gloves.

Larabee bit his lip and shook his head doing his best to ignore the unsolicited advice of his team mates.

The others shucked out of their winter gear, pushing and pulling on one another making the task of shedding their outer layers much more difficult than it needed to be.

Chris stepped away from the mayhem once he had his boots and coat off and headed for the guest room, Buck followed him.

"It go alright today?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, no problems, JD’s got a good head for reading cattle"

Buck raised his eyebrows. The boy had hidden talents.

"Casey found the invite for Standish in her roommate’s Chemistry book, roommate had used it as a book marker studying for finals back in January….and forgot about it."

"Damn, shit happens though, ain’t Casey’s fault."

"JD and Nettie and the boys told her that."

Buck nodded.

Chris pushed open the guest bedroom door. The room was dark cast in the grey shadows of early evening. Diablo was back on the bed again.

"He’s doin’ fine, Chris," Buck spoke softly out of deference for the atmosphere more than his fear of waking Standish. "He’s been awake and talkin’, ate some soup and a little toast, took his meds and been sleepin’ since." There was a pause and then Buck added, "And I kicked his ass in Scrabble." Pride swelled his tone.

"Before or after the meds?" Larabee quirked an eyebrow as he examined the darkened room. He studied the two forms on the bed. Standish slept on his left side. Why his team insisted on sleeping on their injured sides was beyond Larabee. They all did it, even the damn dog.

"Oh, ‘bout twenty minutes after," Buck chuckled.

Larabee smiled and nodded in appreciation of Wilmington’s timing.

Diablo laid curled on the bed nestled tightly against the small of Standish’s back. The big dog raised its upper lip.

Larabee pointed his index finger at the dog and whispered out, "Don’t you dare." The dog immediately dropped his lip and his head and whined.

Chris gritted his teeth and backed out of the room and right into Nathan and Josiah.

"Boys, he’s fine," Buck reiterated. Josiah and Nathan stepped aside letting Chris leave as the other two took his place. They cracked the door open letting the weak light from the hallway push back the shadows of the bedroom.

Diablo showed his teeth.

Satisfied with what they saw, the two men closed the door without clicking it and headed for the kitchen. They passed Vin and JD.

"Have fun JD?" Buck asked trying to pry some information about Casey from his room mate.

JD’s face, like the others, was wind burned and red, bringing crispness to his features.

"You should’ve been there Buck it was a kick."

"Been doin’ it for years kid, didn’t mind sittin’ this one out. How’d Casey do?"

JD paused, Vin pretended not to hear the question forcing JD to speak, "Alright I guess. Its hard work and awful cold for a girl, but she did ok."

Buck nearly bit through his lip trying not to laugh. Casey and Nettie Wells had been bringing the heifers down from Winter pasture for years without any help.

"How’s he doin’?" Vin asked redirecting the conversation, to spare JD the embarrassment. The conversation would prove to be much more livelier over a bowl of chili with the others added to the mix. They say no one can embarrass you quite like family.

"A lot better than last night."

"That’s good to hear," Vin answered as he gently pushed the door open. Wilmington leaned against the hall wall with his thumbs hooked in his belt loops.

JD gave Wilmington a sly smile and held up the two Sharpie markers.

"I don’t know kid," Buck cocked his head to the side indicating the room, "Look."

Vin pushed the door open further.

Diablo raised his massive head off his paws and snarled in warning.


"Yeah, I know," Wilmington sounded slightly disappointed. "We’ll have to think of something." Buck pushed himself off the wall using his shoulders.

"I’m guessin’ he’s gonna have ta go out sometime." Vin pointed out.

The three of them smiled and turned to stare at the big, black, dog with the nasty attitude.

Diablo didn’t like their looks and climbed to his feet with hackles standing on end.

The bedroom door was hastily slammed closed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra Standish woke up for the first time feeling less tired than when he had gone to sleep. The headache had finally softened, without the help of pain medications. His leg and shoulder had lost some of their sharp bite.

The undercover agent lay back in the bed, too tired to move any limbs and not in a rush to disturb himself.

Something wiggled under his hand. He recognized the soft broad muzzle of Larabee’s faithful, ill tempered beast.

A contrary animal, if Ezra ever met one, almost as bad as Vin’s devilish excuse for a horse.

Ezra scratched the base of the dog’s head and smiled when the dog leaned into his hand.

Standish shifted his casted leg. The excess weight pulled and strained on abused leg muscles, and he grimaced. The dog let loose with a soft growl as if warning back the discomfort that threatened his new charge.

The blanket fell away from the cast and it was then that Ezra noticed the Sharpie attack that was done to his cast sometime yesterday while he still lingered in the haze of narcotics.

He stared at the blinding color that had not bothered him as much yesterday, but focused on the hideous ‘artwork’ that graced his foot. He eased the blanket back pulling it up his leg revealing more of his cast until it reached his swollen and blackened knee. The white cotton stockingette was not even spared the hideous defacement.

They had scrawled their graffiti the length of the fiberglass. He tried to make out the pictures and the wording. The poetry made him blush and the artwork would get him arrested.

He would kill them.

As he lay back on his pillow, fighting the weariness born from inertia, he felt the large black dog wiggle under his hand again.

Ezra let his eyes travel to the large, grey spotted muzzle of the over sized black lab.

"You, my dear friend, are not worth the food you are fed." Ezra dropped his hand on the broad head.

Diablo wagged his tail thumping it against the mattress.

Hidden in the shadows of the hallway, Larabee watched from the thresh hold of the room and was thankful for his dog.

Standish shut his eyes and tried not to breathe too deep in fear of disturbing his ribs and hatched a plan that would repay the ‘diagramming duo and Homer the poet’ for their tasteless artistry.

Diablo stretched out, passed gas and sighed.

Ezra cringed, Josiah must have made Chili sometime this weekend. Lord help them all.

"You want some lunch?" Chris pushed the door open and stepped into the room.

Ezra shifted his head on the pillow and stared at his friend and boss.

"Do I get to escape the confines of this room?"

Chris took a breath, "If you can git yourself sittin’ up, then yeah, I’ll help ya to the kitchen."

Ezra nodded carefully, "Lunch would be agreeable."

Larabee leaned against the door jam and waited while Standish finagled and sweated to get battered ribs and badly bruised hip to bend and move without killing him.

It was nearly touch and go. Diablo simply lay flat on his side and wagged his tail every time Standish’s hand brushed by him.

Chris shook his head, dog was incorrigible. Larabee noticed the cast and the colorful drawings and saying. Apparently Buck, JD and Vin had more than just black Sharpies in their arsenal.

"Figure once your on your feet," Chris pushed off the door jam and stepped into the room as Ezra gingerly eased his legs over the side of the bed. The sweat pants he wore hung loosely over his hips revealing a startling array of bruises. Larabee had checked them over yesterday morning before going to Nettie’s place. They would be along time in disappearing.

Ezra gripped the side of the bed trying to breath through the pain. He gazed up at Larabee waiting for the man to finish his sentence.

Chris simply reached down and hauled Standish to his feet using Ezra’s right arm. Larabee snaked his arm around the undercover agent’s back and grabbed a fist full of sweat pant material.

"Figured once yer on your feet, you’re gonna want to git back at those three for their handiwork."

Ezra gasped when they took their first tentative step. The cast grated across the floor. He fisted his right hand into Larabee’s T-shirt sleeve holding on for dear life. Maybe he wasn’t that hungry.

"Yes, the….thought…," Ezra took short sharp breaths, "has….crossed my mind." He found it easier to slide the cast across the floor instead of trying to lift it. Thigh muscles burned to badly in protest to any form of lifting.

Larabee bore most of his weight.

Diablo led the way to the kitchen wagging his tail the whole way.

"What do you have planned?"

"I’m not sure…." They reached the kitchen door. Chris kicked it open and hustled them through before it swung closed.

"You have any ideas?" Ezra gasped out as he whipped his arm from around Chris’s neck and latched onto the table for support.

Larabee eased him into a chair.

"I have a few."

A lecherous grin brought dimples out on Standish’s cheeks.

"Then we must talk Mr. Larabee."

Chris pulled some beef and bread out of the refrigerator and nodded silently to himself as he searched the shelves for mustard. ‘Yeah, we have to talk Ezra…about a lot of stuff.’

Diablo flopped down on the ground between Standish and the refrigerator, and fell over into his side with a contented grunt and another bout of gas.

"Mr. Larabee, about your dog and his manners…"

"Don’t go there Ezra." Chris warned.

Larabee straightened up as he stepped back from the refrigerator shutting the door with his elbow and headed back to the table.

He stepped over his dog, causing Diablo to wag his tail, thumping it against the floor. Chris simply shook his head as he laid the fixings for lunch on the scarred wood kitchen table.

He spared his dog a glance. The big oaf lay oblivious to the world around him, except for the food on the kitchen table. Chris wondered briefly if he could leave all the team dynamics and healing to Diablo. His nasty dog had a way of soothing some hurts that no one else knew how to approach.

Even Josiah would approve of that plan….Chris was pulled from his reverie when Standish asked, "So what did you have in mind for Messrs. Wilmington, Dunne and Tanner?"

Chris looked up at his undercover agent and smiled.

The End

Comments to: flah7@tds.net