Part 9

The next day Chris had decided that sneaky wasn't working and it was time to try the "in your face" approach. He sent Josiah to check with Fairground Security to see if they kept a log of who went in and out after hours. They did, so he told Josiah to take JD and start interviewing everyone who had been in and out of the fairgrounds last night. Buck and Nathan were told to start questioning all the stock contractors who currently had animals on the grounds. As Nathan and Buck were getting ready to leave he pulled Buck aside and passed on one final instruction.

"Buck, stay away from Laura Greyhawk for now. I want to talk to that Ranger Walker before we question her."

Vin and Ezra, or the Hardy Boys as Buck was now calling them, were sent to take care of the horses. Chris also told them to see if they could find out why Devil's Leg had been in the trailer instead of a holding pen. Chris dropped them off at the fairgrounds and headed to Cheyenne PD to talk to the Chief of Police about providing back up.

Vin and Ezra groomed and exercised the horses. Then they visited the on-site veterinarian and main office looking for information on Devil's Leg. The next couple of hours were spent walking around the grounds trying to find either Laura or Devil's Leg's owner. About 3:00 they gave up and got a cab back to the motel. No one else was back yet so each man took a bed and stretched out to rest. They hadn't lain there for long before Vin decided to ask the question that had been on his mind since he'd found out Ezra had a sister.

"Ez, how come ya never told us ya had a sister?"

He looked over at the other man waiting for an answer.

"Just as you dislike elaborating on your past so do I. Also, keep in mind I haven't seen her since she was sixteen, there really was nothing to mention."

"But at one time ya were close?"

Vin thought Ezra wasn't going to answer, when he did his voice was so low Vin had to strain to hear the words.

"Yes, at one time we were very close. It was never romantic, she was thirteen, I was sixteen, when we first met. Her father ignored her much the same way my mother did me. We were two of a kind and closer than most blood related brothers and sisters. When our parents divorced and her father decreed that she never see me again, we swore to each other that we would always be a family no matter what the fates said." Ezra rolled over and looked at Vin with troubled eyes. "If it turns out she is dealing drugs or selling guns I am going to feel responsible. We promised to find each other when she turned eighteen. I was in college by then and decided the last thing Laura needed in her life was my presence. So I made no effort to contact her, perhaps if I had she wouldn't be here now. I just don't quite know what to do."

"I think ya need to find her and talk. She might open up and let ya help her."

"Perhaps, I don't know, perhaps." Ezra laid his arm across his eyes ending the conversation.

By 6:30 the rest of the team was back. The decision was made to order pizza and eat before going over what everyone had found. Buck and JD made a beer run while the others waited for the pizza. It was 9:00 before dinner was finished and the mess was cleaned up. Everyone grabbed a fresh beer and settled back to discuss the days findings.

Chris started with a run down of his conversation with the Chief of Police. "Cheyenne PD is ready to provide backup. The Chief also contacted the Wyoming State Police to see if they could help out. When we need it Cheyenne PD will provide officers to work directly with us. The State Police will be available to help with road blocks if necessary and can give us a couple of officers as well. So we have the backup, now tell me we have a target. Josiah why don't you start."

JD and I questioned everyone on the list, that we could find, who was in or out of the fairgrounds after 10:00 last night. Everyone had a legitimate excuse, of course we haven't had a chance to double check them all." Josiah laid a copy of the log on the bed. "The problem is that some of them are already gone. You know how rodeo contestants are, if you don't place in this rodeo, get in the truck and go find another one. Makes it hard to check everyone out.

Chris picked up the log and scanned it briefly, "Was Laura Greyhawk there last night?"

"Yes she was, the log showed her going in at 12:30. She left around 1:45" Josiah looked at Ezra's closed face and remembered another worried face from the day before. "But I don't believe she put Devil's Leg in that trailer." He turned back to Chris who nodded before turning an inquiring look on Nathan and Buck.

"Buck and I didn't have much luck either. The stock contractors we spoke with are either lying or they really don't have any idea what's going on." Nathan paused for a moment then continued. "And if you want my gut feeling, I don't think they're lying."

Chris nodded and turned to Ezra and Vin. "What did you two find out from the vet?"

"Devil's Leg had four bullets in him, he also had traces of steroids." Vin replied

"Steroids, why would someone give a bull steroids? Chris was starting to get that irritated feeling, someone had set his men up and he hated that.

"The vet said sometimes steroids are used on a bull that has been injured. He said that they are also used by crooked contractors to increase aggression and bucking power." Vin paused and looked at Ezra who nodded at him to continue. "We checked with the main office, Devil's Leg was owned by Fowler Contractors. That's the guy that was with Morgan when JD had his accident, remember. We spent the afternoon looking for Fowler and Morgan but couldn't find either."

"If you want to see Morgan, you'll have to go down to the Cheyenne Morgue. Wyoming State Patrol found him this morning about 10 miles north of town. He'd been shot in the head at close range with a 45 caliber gun."

JD, Vin and Ezra all exchanged shocked and in Ezra's case horrified, looks. Chris looked at the upset men and felt his stomach sink a little. "Mind telling me why this upsets you? The man probably tried to kill JD, I'm not mourning him."

Ezra had closed his eyes and seemed to not even hear Chris. JD looked at Vin who shook his head sadly before answering.

"Laura Greyhawk has a 45 Colt revolver." Vin's normally soft drawl was even softer than usual.

"How do you know what kind of gun the lady carries?" Buck wanted to know.

"Um, I'd uh, well" Vin looked at JD then Ezra, cover stories were the southerner's specialty. He was no good at it, especially when it was Chris he was talking to.

Chris looked at the guilty faces and instantly put two and two together. "So did you find anything else when you searched her room? Not that we could use it in court since it was an illegal search."

Ezra was the one who answered. "It seems my sister has become quite the gun collector, she owns an antique derringer, the colt and a 38 like Vin wears on his ankle."

"JD!" Chris's tone made the young man jump and reply nervously.

"Yes, Chris?"

"Do you think you could break into the Texas Ranger's computer system? I'm tired of waiting for this Ranger Walker to call."

"Sure, I just need someone's cell phone to hook up to my laptop." JD moved to set up his laptop on the table.

"Here kid, use mine just in case that Ranger tries to call Chris on his." Buck's comment drew a snort from Chris.

By 11:00 JD was getting very frustrated. "I don't know who does their firewall security Chris, but it is really good. I'm beginning to think I may not be able to break it with what I have here." JD's distress at failing his hero was evident. "I have some programs back at the office..." he let the words trail off and shrugged his shoulders.

"Don't worry JD, we'll figure something else out." Chris was interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone. "Chris Larabee here………Ranger Walker, I'm glad you called…….No, the late hour is no problem…….Yes, I am looking for information on Laura Greyhawk……." The rest of the conversation was cut off as Chris moved into the bedroom and closed the door.

The others visited quietly and waited for Chris to come back. Everyone kept shooting little worried side glances at Ezra who had his head tipped back and his eyes closed. Josiah finally stood, picked up his chair and moved over to sit by the tense man.

"Ezra, whatever Chris finds out, we are here if you need someone to talk to. Any burden is easier when you share it. You have six brothers who want to help. Don't forget that." The big man put his hand on Ezra's shoulder.

Ezra opened his eyes and scanned the concerned faces. It was hard to speak around the lump in his throat but he managed it. "Thank you Josiah, a burden is easier when shared. I am lucky to have six 'brothers' as you say." He paused and stood to walk over to the window. When he turned back to the others he had a troubled smile on his face. "I just can't help wondering if only my sister had had one brother would she be in her current situation."

"We don't know that she is in trouble." Vin walked over to lean against the wall next to Ezra. His smile was slightly mischievous as he indicated the others with his hand. "And if she is, well now she's got seven brothers to help her."

"That's right, if we're all brothers and she's your sister then she's our sister to." JD grinned, delighted with Vin's train of thought."

"She's awful pretty, I'm not sure if I want to be a brother." Buck waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Before anyone could come up with an answer to that the door opened and Chris reentered the room. He was shaking his head, looking confused and amused.

"Well, what'd he say, does he know her." JD asked for everyone.

Chris looked over at Ezra and grinned. "Your sister is an interesting woman. She's a part time P.I., works for that Thunder Investigations they tried to send me to the other day. Walker says he knows her personally, she's a good friend of his lady. She also works part time as a computer security consultant." He swung his gaze to JD and chuckled. "She's the reason you can't break into the Ranger's computer system JD. I guess she's one of the best." Chris looked at the others and shook his head. "He also said she told her friends in Dallas that she was taking a little vacation. They had no idea what she was up to. Seems her father-in-law was shot by whoever is responsible for the smuggling. Walker told her to stay out of it but she ignored him. He also said there's no way she shot Morgan, she's not capable." Chris scanned the faces of his men finally settling on Ezra's. "I still want to talk to her, but Ranger Walker has me pretty much convinced she didn't shoot Morgan, unless it was self defense."

"So now what do we do, the lady has disappeared." Josiah asked, "We didn't see her at all today and we were all over the fairgrounds."

"We need to find her, whoever shot Morgan could be after her." Nathan threw a sympathetic glance at Ezra.

As the discussion continued Ezra moved into the room he shared with Vin and Chris. Opening the door quietly he went outside. He was leaning against Chris's Dodge when a familiar white pickup pulled into the parking lot. He watched as Laura climbed out of the cab, she was holding a paper sack and eyed him cautiously. They both looked at each other for about half a minute before Ezra decided to end the pretense that they didn't know each other.

"Hello, Firefly" Ezra opened his arms and she moved into them for a hug. "Want to tell Big Brother your problems."

Laura stepped back and let out a low husky laugh. "I can't believe you still remember that." She held up the bag, "I don't have any hot chocolate, will scotch do?"

Not waiting for an answer she moved to the rear of her truck and dropped the tailgate. Pulling out the bottle she hopped up on the tailgate and opened it, taking a slug. "You had better take it easy on that leg, I've got a poultice you can wrap it in tonight that'll make it feel better by morning. You realize you scared the hell out of me last night don't you. Hasn't anyone ever told you not to play with bulls?"

Ezra took a seat on the truck and accepted the bottle, taking a drink before handing it back. "By that statement may I assume you witnessed our little encounter last night? If you where there why did you run off?

"I wasn't ready to face you yet, I had to be sure you weren't involved in this smuggling stuff." Laura shot a guilt filled look at the man next to her.

Ezra responded by laughing and reaching out to ruffle her hair. "That is exactly why I haven't tried to speak to you yet either."

They both shared a relieved laugh, then Ezra asked the question he'd wanted, no needed to ask since first seeing her.

"Firefly, what happened, how did you end up here? I just found out tonight that you're a private investigator. Did something happen to your father?"

Laura took a drink then scooted over next to Ezra and leaned her head on his shoulder, he responded by wrapping his arm around her shoulders. That was the way they had always sat when sharing secrets and confidences. "Where do you want me to start?"

"From when Mother and I left."

Laura raised her head for a moment to look at him then laid it back on his shoulder. When she spoke, her voice was low but steady "Daddy sent me to a new boarding school that same day. That's when I realized that no matter what I did he wasn't going to change so I had to. I finally took your advice."

"What advice was that?"

"Play their game against them.. I became the best little Daddy's girl you've ever seen and it paid off. When I graduated he gave me a brand new convertible, then he went to Europe for two weeks. I disappeared that same day, took the car to New York and sold it. Used the money to hop a bus, didn't stop until I hit Oklahoma. Got a job as a waitress, that's how I met Justin Greyhawk." She paused to take another drink.

"Was Justin your husband?" Ezra prompted

"Eventually, it took him a little time to believe I really was interested in him. We had two wonderful years together before he died. Justin showed me what was really important in life. When he died I had to get away from all the reminders so I moved to Dallas. Went back to school and got a degree in Computer Science, that's how I got into the P.I. business."

"How do you go from Computer Science to P.I. pray tell" Ezra gave her an amused glance and took a drink.

"This woman who ran my apartment building needed help finding her daughter. She had taken off with her boyfriend after a fight and Anna was getting desperate. She was sure the boyfriend was no good. I offered to see what I could find out by hacking into the DMV system. I found his address and went to check it out. Found the girl beat up and got her back to her mama. Anna started telling her friends about me and the next thing I knew I was in business.

"Sounds like a dangerous way to make a living. Who taught you all the fancy stuff with the horses?"

"Justin and his mama taught me most of the horse stuff. The rest I picked up along the way. Mamma Greyhawk is why I'm here. All she wanted me to do though, was manage the stock until Pop got back on his feet. I'm the one who decided to take it a step further." Laura raised her head again to look in Ezra's eyes, her smile getting wider. "And you, an ATF agent, Maude must really love that. According to what I found out today your very good at your job. Your file was most impressive. It said you were part of a special team along with six other men. I assume the those other six inside are your fellow agents."

"Fellow agents and trusted friends my dear. Speaking of which, as much as I would like to continue this discussion, my boss wants to speak to you." Ezra stood up and held out his hand. He wanted to ask her more questions, but knew now wasn't the time. "Come on Firefly, time to face the music, just remember Chris's bark is worse than his bite."

Laura laughed and hopped off the end of the tailgate. Opening the truck door, she stashed the bottle inside. "Why don't I believe that statement. By the way, how did you find out I was a P.I.?"

"Chris spoke with a Ranger Walker this evening. He was most interested to learn what you were up to."

"Oh great, Walker will call Trent and Carlos. Man, I'm in for it when I get home now." Laura sighed "Oh well, they would have found out anyway I suppose."

"Who are Trent and Carlos?" Ezra asked as they walked toward Josiah and Nathan's room.

"Partners, sort of, friends mainly, they own Thunder Investigations. I work out of their office and occasionally we help each other with a case. They didn't want me to get involved with this, thought it was too dangerous."

As Ezra reached for the door Laura pulled back and gave him a faintly desperate look.

"What's wrong?" He asked as he tightened his arm around her waist.

"I think I left something in the truck."


"I don't know, just something."

Ezra smiled as he opened the door and pushed her into the room. "I promise they won't bite."

Laura surveyed the six men nervously and then her sense of humor kicked in. She turned back to Ezra, arched one eyebrow and asked. "Are you sure, they don't look too well fed to me."

Chris moved forward to offer his hand. "Mrs. Greyhawk, it's good to see you again," he paused and offered a slight grin before continuing, "without your horse. I believe you know everyone."

"Laura please, I have to apologize for Concho, he didn't know he was picking on the leader of the ATF's most decorated unit." Laura caught Chris's look over her shoulder at Ezra. "No, Ezra didn't tell me, I've spent most of today checking all of you out. I didn't know your correct names, so I had to start with Ezra's and track him to his current employment. From there it was easy, the ATF really need's to tighten its network security." She glanced at Josiah who had been taken with a coughing fit upon seeing the look on Chris's face after that comment. As she scanned the faces in the room she began to get nervous again. Everyone either looked stern or concerned. "I feel like I'm being called on the carpet, what's wrong?"

Josiah stood and walked over to stand directly in front of Laura. Placing his hands on her shoulders he waited until she looked up into his eyes before speaking. "You've caused Ezra quite a bit of worry. I hope you won't make a habit of it. We're here to help you if you'll let us." He smiled and stepped back leaving Laura looking slightly bemused. She turned back to Ezra and smiled as she started edging towards the door.

"You know, I really did forget something in the truck."

"Oh, no you don't." Ezra reached out and grabbed her arm. "Time to contribute to the informational pool. What knowledge do you have concerning this current situation?"

Laura threw him a disgruntled glance. "I can't believe you still talk like that." She turned to the other men. "You know he started that just to annoy our housekeeper."

"I was only trying to enlarge the woman's vocabulary to match her size." Ezra pointed to a vacant chair. "Now sit there and behave."

"Okay," Chris wanted to get the hard question out of the way first thing. "Laura, I need to know where you were last night around three AM.

Laura gave Chris a curious look, a glance at the others showed they were all waiting for her answer. "Three AM last night? By then I was checked into the Super 8 in Fort Collins. Why, and why does everyone look like their favorite Aunt just died?"

"Morgan was killed last night, coroner puts the death at about three AM. The shooter used a 45 caliber gun. I understand you own a Colt 45, do you know anything about it?" Chris had moved to stand directly in front of her.

"If he's dead don't expect me to be upset, the man was scum." Laura paused as a look of understanding crossed her face. "You think I did it, why would I kill Morgan? ….. "Wait a minute, how do you know what guns I have?" She was starting to get angry. "You searched my room."

Vin stepped forward, he didn't want her to blame the wrong person. "I searched your room if you'err gonna be angry, I'm the one ta yell at. Ezra was worried…." Vin stopped suddenly and a blush spread across his cheeks. The others were a bit stunned themselves, it wasn't often that the quiet sharpshooter spoke this much. "I um.."

Laura put her hand up, cutting off whatever he had been intending to say next. She drug it through her hair before continuing in a husky voice. "I'm sorry, I've been under a lot of strain the last few weeks. What with Pop getting shot and then dealing with the stock. Deciding to find Pop's shooter by myself was probably a stupid idea. I usually don't work on cases this dangerous…." Her voice trailed off, she waved her hand in a distracted manner before continuing in a matter of fact tone. "After all I just spent all day checking the seven of you out. Glass houses and all that right." She turned to Chris. "I drove straight to Fort Collins last night after I left the fairgrounds. I didn't want to face you guys after seeing the three of them nearly killed. I also wanted a phone line and a private place to work. The nearest hotel with any openings was Fort Collins, I've been there all day. You can call the Super 8, I checked in about 2:30.

"What else can you tell us about all this?" After speaking to Walker Chris figured she was probably telling the truth.

Laura pulled one leg up and wrapped her arm around it. She rested her chin on her knee and closed her eyes a moment. When she opened them she still didn't look at the waiting men, just started talking in that matter of fact voice again.

"As far as I can tell Fowler is the head honcho. Morgan was his number two man. They would book a rodeo down by the border, while there they'd load up on drugs. Then a rodeo in another state to trade for guns and cash or hand the drugs off to another underling. A return down south to trade the guns for drugs and the whole cycle starts again. They shot Pop because he caught one of Fowler's men trying to retrieve a stash from a Greyhawk trailer." She stopped and took a deep breath.

"So right now they have drugs to trade, do you know where they are." Chris asked.

"I don't actually know where the drugs are right now, but I do know where they will be tomorrow night at midnight." Laura was eyeing Chris and Ezra cautiously now.

"How do you know all this?" Ezra was having trouble adjusting to this grownup version of the girl he had known.

"I overheard Fowler and Morgan talking that day you guys showed up. They plan to meet the buyer at the Chugwater rest station. It's about 50 minutes north of Cheyenne right off the interstate." Laura shrugged. "I was going to hide nearby and tape the whole thing."

Ezra's "I don't think so!" over rode Chris's "No you're not." and Buck's "Lady are you crazy?" Vin just leaned against the wall and gazed at Laura like he was trying to dissect her.

Laura raised her hands in a placating motion. Her voice had a slight edge to it when she spoke. "I'm not stupid gentlemen, there's no reason to glare at me, I know I'm in over my head. After Fowler tried to kill me last night I knew I either had to get help or drop the whole thing.

Chris closed his eyes as he groaned in frustration, the entire thing was starting to give him a headache.

Josiah moved forward, his deep voice had a calming effect on everyone. "What makes you think Fowler tried to kill you?"

Laura gave him a considering look before answering. "I was the one meant to find Devil's Leg. I had a message under my door telling me there was something wrong with Concho. Whoever put it there knew I would wonder what my stock trailer was doing backed up to the chute and investigate. I heard the commotion and got to the corral just in time to see Ezra shoot. I'm-"

Ezra cut her off, his normal drawl strained. "That settles it, you are going back to Dallas in the morning. If Fowler is trying to kill you it's too dangerous for you here."

Laura was on her feet before he had finished speaking. She moved so that her back was to the door and all seven men were in front of her. The look on her face was one of calm determination. "Ezra, you are my favorite big brother, hell you're my only brother, but I'm not 16 anymore. We haven't seen each other in fourteen years and you really don't know me any more. I said I would stay out of this and I will, but I have contracts to provide riding stock and to perform for the next week. I cannot and will not break those." She nodded to all of the men as she put her hand on the doorknob. "Now, I've told you everything I know, so I will leave you to your law stuff. I have a performance tomorrow so I am going to bed. Goodnight all." A quick turn of the knob and she was out the door.

"Laura, come back here, we aren't finished with this yet." Ezra charged out the door right after her. The others could hear the two of them talking but couldn't quite make out what they were saying.

Vin was leaning against the wall a devilish smirk on his face. "Boy, I've never seen Ezra this frazzled. Who do ya think is gonna to win?"

"My bet is on the lady." Buck had moved over to the door where he could see the ongoing argument better. "She looks pretty determined."

"Buck, you'd bet on any woman if she's pretty." JD snorted.

"Chris, what do you think, should we try to convince her to go home?" Nathan was concerned. "What did that Ranger fella have to say?"

Chris rubbed the back of his neck tiredly before answering. He had moved so that his back was to the door. "According to Walker she can take care of herself pretty well. If what he told me is true, I'm surprised she doesn't work for a regular law enforcement agency."

"I don't work for a 'regular law enforcement agency' for a lot of reasons." Laura and Ezra had returned, they stood in the doorway. She continued as they moved into the room. "Most of my clients are people who have no where else to turn. People that the law either won't or can't help."

"Okay." Chris turned to face the door. "But I don't want to see you get shot or hurt."

Laura nodded, "No prob. I said I'm out and I am. But like I just finished discussing with Ezra I have contracts to honor."

Ezra closed his eyes and groaned as Bucklaughed.

"Where is that delicate debutante that I used to know." The southerner pushed her into a chair beside him.

"When this is over we'll finish that bottle of scotch and I'll tell you." Laura's smile had a hint of sadness to it as she replied. She turned her attention to the other men. "Now Ezra and I have come to a compromise regarding whether I go home. I stay out of this and be sure not to wander off by myself and he lets me stay.

"That should work, right Chris? If everything goes well, by tomorrow night Fowler will be in jail anyway." Buck smiled at Laura as he spoke. "I'd hate to see a pretty lady like you get yourself hurt."

Laura gave him a 'I've got your number buddy' look. "Did I mention I know karate?"

Alright, tomorrow morning, Nathan, you and Josiah drive out to Chugwater and look around. Get pictures of the rest station and everything around it. We will need a layout of the area for planning. Once we have a basic plan I will let the Police know what we're gonna need for backup. Ezra, Vin, you two make sure that Laura gets to the fairgrounds okay and check on the horses. Buck, JD, I want our surveillance equipment checked out. We'll all meet back here by 10:00. Everyone plan on a briefing with our backup at 1:00. I want to have everything in place by 5:00." Chris scanned each man's face to be sure they understood his instructions. "Okay, it's late, lets all get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a long day."

As the others started to straighten things up and make the usual goodnight noises Ezra headed into his bedroom. He quickly returned with his bag and moved to the chair where Laura still sat. "Ready, my dear?"

"Yes, but I still think this is stupid, I don't need a babysitter."

"Well, then consider it an act of kindness, I have been sharing a bed with Vin and he kicks in his sleep." Ezra put his hand under Laura's arm and pulled her to her feet.

"Ezra, are you sleeping in Laura's room?" JD's eyes were wide as he looked at the bag in the other man's hand.

"Yes, my dear sibling has an extra bed which she has graciously offered to loan me. Goodnight gentlemen." Laura barely had time to wave as Ezra steered her out the door.

Part 10

The next morning Vin found Laura outside sitting on the tailgate of her truck. She was talking into her cell phone and laughing. When she saw Vin she sobered up and ended the call.

"Good morning, Mr. Tanner, I see that the others have already taken off." She waved a hand at the empty parking space in front of Nathan and Josiah's room. "Did you sleep well?"

"Ya do the same thing Ezra does, I noticed it last night." Vin ignored her entire greeting. "He get that from ya or did ya pick it up from him?"

"I'm afraid I don't know what you mean?" Laura climbed in the back of her truck and started rummaging around in the storage box.

Vin grinned, he had spent too much time around Ezra not to know when someone was trying to avoid a conversation. Last night had been the first time he had seen the cool collected southern agent act the way he had. It reminded Vin of the way Buck worried about JD. Oh sure Ezra lost his cool anytime one of the others was hurt, like when JD had been in that hit and run, but he rarely let his true emotions show to the degree he had the last few days. Vin wanted to know more about this woman. He hadn't yet figured her out and he didn't want to see Ezra get hurt. He had questioned Chris extensively last night about his conversation with the Ranger. From what Chris had told him, her agreement last night with Ezra's demands was totally out of character. Vin's gut told him she was on the up and up but he wanted to be sure for Ezra's sake.

"I mean, ya hide behind words the same way he does. Maybe not a fancy a ones as his but it's the same idea. From what Chris told me last night, ya don't usually give in to saner heads. I hope you're not playing some game with Ezra, he's a good man."

Laura straightened up and stared down at Vin. If looks were daggers he knew he would be bleeding right now. Her eyes were practically spitting fire she was so mad. Vin smiled, he had hoped that would hit a nerve. Maybe if he got her mad enough he could get a feel for the real person behind those eyes.

"My relationship with Ezra is none of your business, Mr. Tanner. My life, is none of your business. I quit justifying myself to men the day I ran away from home." Laura slammed the lid to her storage box before continuing. "I'm glad Ezra has friends like you and the others. I will do nothing that might cause damage to those friendships. Other than that I have nothing to say to you." Laura turned and jumped out of the truck box landing on the other side from where Vin stood. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready to leave." She turned and entered her room shutting the door in his face.

"Whooee, Vin, you sure set her off. If looks could kill, you'd be dead right now."

Vin turned to see a grinning Buck standing in the doorway to his room. Chris was right behind Buck a slight grin on his face as well.

"Meant to Buck, wanted ta see what she'd do." Vin shrugged and leaned against the Dodge, his usual grin on his face.

"From what Walker told me last night that could be dangerous. He said the lady is highly trained in karate." Chris moved forward to rest his arm on the hood of the Dodge, his smile widened. "What would you have done if she took a swing at you?"

Vin's smile got bigger. "Ducked."

All three men were chuckling over that when the door to Laura's room opened and Ezra walked out.

"Good morning gentlemen, I see everyone is in good spirits. Would someone be able to explain why my dear sister just told me my associates were, and I quote, 'overprotective Neanderthals', whom I was dammed lucky to know. She then told me to vacate the premises while she changed. At this moment she is throwing things around the room and muttering to herself." Ezra shot the three grinning men an amused glance as he straightened the cuff of his shirt. "I confess I'm relieved to see her acting a little more like the girl I remember. She was much too agreeable last night."

Vin looked at the others for help while he tried to figure out how to explain what he had said to Laura without offending Ezra. Chris saved him from trying by redirecting the conversation.

"Ezra, did Laura remember anything else last night that might help us? Any more names or details?"

"No, we didn't discuss anything of much importance, she bandaged my ankle and went to sleep. Whatever concoction she used removed most of the stiffness, I feel quite rejuvenated this morning."

Ezra turned as the door behind him opened and Laura walked out. She was carrying his hat in one hand and a bullwhip in the other which she was nervously slapping against her leg. Her eyes were still shooting sparks in Vin's direction. Walking over to Ezra she handed him his hat. Without looking at the others she started to speak, her voice low and controlled.

"I'm headed for the fairgrounds, there's no need for you and Vin to come along. I can take care of myself and will be glad to feed all the horses this morning. I'll turn them out with Concho and Chance for a little exercise while I clean the stalls." Pausing she unbuttoned the top button of Ezra's shirt and stepped back running her hand over his shoulder in a brushing motion. "There now you look more authentic, no cowboy buttons the top button of his shirt. You're supposed to look relaxed. We'll have to buy you a bolo tie before you wear this for Maude. Be sure not to get shot okay. I'll see you when this is all over." The word were spoken all in one breath with the words of worry hidden amongst the small talk. Leaning over she gave Ezra a swift kiss on the cheek before turning to the others. "And that goes for the rest of you as well. No bullet holes, in any of you, you hear." She opened the door of her truck quickly and climbed in. Refusing to look at the watching men, she put the truck in gear and pulled out of the parking lot.

Vin moved to stand next to Ezra. "I may owe your sister an apology when this is over."

The southerner replied in an amused drawl. "You would probably be taking your life in your hands."

By 9:00 Nathan and Josiah were back from Chugwater. JD ran the film to a one hour photo place. While he was gone the others busied themselves cleaning guns and checking personal equipment. JD returned with the pictures spreading them out on tables Buck and Vin had brought in from the other rooms. The rest of the morning was spent discussing and analyzing the layout of the area from every angle. By 12:30 Chris and Josiah had worked out a plan they felt would cover any contingency. Everyone got ready to go meet with the Wyoming State Police. Finding out that the exchange was going to be in Chugwater had changed the situation some. Primary backup would now be provided by State Troopers. Chugwater was so small it didn't have any sort of law enforcement. Cheyenne PD had agreed to cover the Interstate patrol that the State Troopers usually handled locally in order to free more Troopers for backup in Chugwater. The problem was going to be that there just weren't many places to hide backup. Chris had decided that the best approach was to use his men in close and keep the State Troopers as nearby as possible. He didn't like it much, but it seemed to be the only way to make the bust work.

Chris was impressed with Captain Mike Donovan of the State Police. The man's calm matter of fact attitude towards the whole thing reassured all the ATF agents that he and his men would be there when needed. What Chris didn't like though was the fact that the closest most of the Troopers could be without arousing suspicion was about a three hunred yards from the rest area. Captain Donovan had showed him, on detailed maps of the area, just what they were facing. The fact that it would be nighttime was no help, unfortunately there was a full moon that night. With the Captain's input they worked out a new plan that would provide the ATF agents with the best possible cover and still enable them to see the entire rest station. Six PM found agents and troopers squeezed around the conference table having a final briefing'

"Okay, Buck, JD you're here behind this picnic canopy, keep low and stay in the shadows." Chris pointed to the map as he talked showing where each man would be. "Nathan and Josiah will be in Captain Donovan's motor home with the surveillance equipment. Vin, I want you on top of the information building with your rifle. Ezra and I will be here, along this retaining wall." Chris paused and scanned the faces of the men around the table. "Mike, do you or your men have any questions?"

"No Chris, I think we're all pretty clear on where we need to be and what the signal is." The big Irishman, looked at each of his men to be sure they were comfortable with their assignments. "Kapplen, Taylor, don't break your neck's jumping those horses in the dark you hear. I don't want to have to explain to your wives what you were doing. That goes for the rest of you as well, remember I hate dealing with upset women." The men just grinned at their Captain. They knew he was always the first one there if one of them was injured.

Buck laughed and slapped Taylor on the back. "I can't believe we're gonna have actual cavalry. Now I know why they call this the Cowboy State."

Taylor laughed and replied, "You'll be glad to see us, believe me. With our horses we can be in that nearby field and get on scene before these other jokers get their cars in gear."

"Alright, everyone knows the plan and what they need to do. Mike, I'm gonna take my men and get something to eat. Would you and your men like to join us? Chris gave the Irishman the kind of smile that men have used through the ages when preparing to go into battle.

"No thanks, we have some other stuff we need to go over and regular patrols until it's time to leave. Maybe we can have a beer when this is all over instead." Donovan held out his hand for Chris to shake.

"We'll see you at the meeting site then. Come on guys, I had better feed you so you don't faint on me." Chris led his men out the door.

By ten thirty troopers and agents were moving into place. Chris didn't want to take any chances on the drug dealers surprising them with an early arrival. Josiah and Nathan had pulled the motor home up to the waste disposal hook ups at the edge of the rest area. Vin checked the inside of the information building then climbed onto the roof. The roof was flat with an edging all around it making it perfect for his needs. Vin found a spot where he could see most of the parking lot and settled in to sight his rifle. Buck and JD were getting as comfortable as possible in their assigned spot when JD nudged Buck and pointed to the far end of the parking lot. There in the shadows was parked a beat up old truck with a stock rack on the back. The thing looked like it was ready to fall apart right there. Hidden in the shadows it was almost invisible, but JD's quick eyes had seen it. Buck triggered his mike to tell the others and let know Chris what he wanted to do.

"Boys, we have an old truck over here. Looks empty, me and the kid are gonna check it out."

Buck's earpiece crackled with static before he heard Chris's voice come over it.

"Buck, you be careful, if someone's in it, I want them out of here before the fireworks start."

"No problem, ole buddy, me an the kid will take care of it."

Buck clicked off and motioned JD to follow him. Like the trained agents they were, JD covered Buck while he yanked open the truck door. A glance inside showed it was empty. Buck then motioned JD to check the back while he covered him. JD climbed up carefully to look in the back then waved to indicate it was all clear.

<Crackle, hiss, snap> "Chris, truck's empty, from the looks of the thing it probably broke down here." Buck relayed their findings. "You want me and the kid to try to move it?"

"Nah, don't bother, your probably right, somebody left it here like you said." Chris's voice came back over the receiver. "Get on back to your spot."

"Buck, wait." Vin's drawl now broke silence. "What state's the license plate on that truck?"

"Wyoming, why?" Buck leaned over to get a closer look at the plate.

"No reason, just wanted ta be sure it wasn't Texas." The sharpshooter lapsed back into silence.

Buck snorted and JD laughed when they heard Ezra's muttered comment over the headsets. "Mr. Tanner, that is not funny."

By midnight everyone was getting a little edgy. JD was ready to shoot Buck himself. The older man had spent the last hour telling JD all the things to look out for in the coming bust. Vin had taken a nap confident in his ability to wake when he heard vehicles. Nathan and Josiah were faring the best, they had a motor home and coffee. Ezra had spent the time thinking about some of the stuff Laura had told him last night and trying not to let Chris see how uncomfortable he was. The southerner was not used to being this close to his boss, without the others there as a buffer, for this length of time. Chris, being Chris, had spent the time going over everything in his head and worrying that he might have missed something that would put his team in danger. He looked over at the quiet man next to him. Chris was relieved to see that most of the tension that had been on Ezra's face during this case was gone. Replaced by the poker face that the agent was so well known for.

"Ezra, when this is over, if you want a little time off to visit with your sister just let me know." Chris smiled, "You two probably have a lot of catching up to do."

"I appreciate the offer Chris, I might just accept. I find this new version of the girl I knew to be quite fascinating. Did you know that Vin and JD want to adopt her? JD informed me this evening, he always wanted a sister." Ezra shook his head, "They got the idea from something Josiah said I believe."

"I'd wouldn't put it past those two. Between Vin's sneaky ideas and JD's enthusiasm they're probably already working on a plan."

Ezra's response was cut off by the arrival of a truck in the rest area. Chris triggered his mike.

"Heads up boys, this might just be what we're here for."

All seven men watched as two men dressed in jeans and t-shirts got out of the cab of a GMC Sonoma. Both men lit cigarettes and leaned against the truck as if were waiting for something. They didn't have to wait long, ten minutes later a Chevy truck with a stock trailer pulled in next to the GMC. The door opened and Fowler climbed out followed by another man. The men all shook hands and started talking. Again they seemed to be waiting for something. Six minutes passed before a beat up four door Buick arrived, four men climbed out. Everyone walked around to the back of the trailer where Fowler opened the back and started handing out what looked like coke samples to the new arrivals. One of the men opened the trunk on the Buick and pulled out an assault rifle.

As soon as Chris saw the drugs and guns, he triggered his mike again.

"Josiah, you guys got that on tape?"

"We sure do Chris, let's show these men some divine intervention." The big man replied.

"Okay, Mike bring your men in, we're moving now!" Chris stood and leveled his gun at the cluster of men.


The reaction was immediate, the guy with the assault rifle pointed it at Chris and Ezra and opened fire, forcing them to duck down. The first two men to arrive ran for their truck while Fowler and the other five men started firing their guns at anything that moved. Josiah and Nathan had come out of the motor home and were returning fire as were Buck and JD. Vin sighted in on the man with the assault rifle, who was shooting at Chris and Ezra, and pulled the trigger. The man crumpled to the ground and didn't move. He tried to line up another shot but the remaining men were using the vehicles and trailer as cover. Vin moved to the back of the roof and let himself down off the building moving around the corner as he pulled his pistol looking for a target. What he say almost made his heart stop. Nathan was down and not moving, Josiah was trying to return fire and pull him to safety at the same time. Vin desperately looked for an target but everyone was pretty much hidden and he couldn't get a clear shot. Keeping low he started running toward a nearby picnic canopy hoping to find a better field of fire.

Chris and Ezra were having problems of their own. Chris had caught a bullet in his upper left thigh when the guy with the assault rifle opened fire. It didn't seem too serious, but it hampered his movement somewhat and was bleeding heavily. Ezra was leaning over him, using a bandanna, that Buck had insisted was part of any decent cowboy outfit, to try and stop the bleeding. Neither man was prepared for the sudden appearance of Fowler. The man jumped the barrier wall they were hiding behind and trained his gun on the two men.

"Well, how fortunate, you two are my ticket out of here. Drop your guns, NOW!" The gun runner leered at the two agents.

Ezra locked eyes with Chris then slowly moved his gaze down to where he had his spare gun tucked in his waist. Chris nodded in understanding and reached up to grip the undercover agent's gun. Ezra's body hid the movement from Fowler who was getting impatient.

"I only need one of you two, now drop those guns."

Ezra slowly held his gun out to the side and let it drop. Fowler cocked his gun and laughed.


As Chris yelled, Ezra threw himself to the side giving Chris a clear shot at the laughing man. He fired, but not quickly enough, Fowler managed to trigger a shot as Chris's bullet found his heart. Ezra felt a burning sensation across his left shoulder.

Buck and JD were having the best time of it. Both were in a good position to return fire and still remain under cover. That was until Buck saw what was about to hit Josiah and Nathan, literally. The two men in the GMC where trying to leave, the fact that Josiah and Nathan were directly in the way didn't bother them at all. The driver was laughing crazily as he aimed his truck straight at Josiah who had thrown Nathan over his shoulder and was carrying him to safety. Buck tried to yell a warning but his voice was lost in the sound of gun fire. Desperate he broke cover and started running towards the two men. He knew he wasn't going to make it in time but he had to try. Just then fate took a hand.

The driver of the GMC didn't see the big mud puddle until it was too late. When he hit it the truck started to spin out. Josiah turned just in time to see the truck sliding toward him. Pulling his gun he started firing at the windshield of the oncoming truck. Josiah threw Nathan to safety just as the edge of the truck bed hit knocking him off his feet. The driver continued to slide in the mud a bit before becoming stuck.

Buck continued running towards where Josiah and Nathan were. About halfway there he felt a burning sensation in his side. The impact of the bullet threw him to his knees, the last thing Buck heard was JD's panicked voice calling his name.

Vin saw Buck fall and started running towards the downed agent. JD had the same idea, they both reached Buck at about the same time.

"Vin, duck!"

As Vin responded to JD's warning the youngest agent shot a guy behind him, who had been drawing a bead on the Texan. Suddenly the gun fire stopped. Vin turned to see that the two mounted troopers had arrived and had their guns on the three remaining men over by the Buick. The sound of sirens told him that more help was almost there. Vin turned and scanned the area just in time to see the driver of the GMC climbing out. He started running towards where the man was running away from the truck.

"Freeze mister, you're not going anywhere."

Vin pointed his gun at the other man. Instead of doing as he was told the GMC driver threw a karate kick at the agent knocking his gun out of his hand. Vin smiled grimly, so the guy wanted to fight, fine with him. This creep had just tried to run down two of his friends, he was in for the pounding of his life.

As Vin and the driver traded kicks and punches, JD knelt beside Buck trying to slow the flow of blood from his wound. To the young agents eyes, it looked terrible, he didn't know what to do. Usually the team relied on Nathan, but JD could see a trooper trying to tend the other man right now. He looked up in relief as Mike Donovan knelt down beside him.

"Let me see son." The trooper captain pulled Buck's vest back and tore his shirt so he could see the wound. Turning around he started yelling orders to his men. "Tony, I need a first aid kit over here. Sam, see if you can help Tom with the other two wounded. Jack, call the Air Force base, get a medivac chopper in here and find Larabee and Standish." He swiveled around to JD again. "Hang in there son, we're gonna take care of your friends. Most of my men have had EMT training. Out here you can't always wait for a paramedic.'

Vin was pretty much having his way with the fight, until the drug dealer pulled a switchblade. He managed to slice Vin's chest before Vin landed a kick to his wrist, breaking it. Two more well placed kicks and the man went down, unconscious. Vin moved his attention back to the GMC just in time to see a blond man trying to sneak away. He started running toward the fleeing man, using the hood of the stalled truck as a springboard Vin jumped in the air hitting the other man in the back with both feet. The crook went down and didn't move. He was standing over the second man when one of the troopers ran up. "You'd better get over there, most of your team seems to be injured." His "I'll watch these two" was said to Vin's back as he ran toward his friends.

Vin arrived to find an angry, worried Chris leaning on Ezra. Chris was bleeding from a leg wound and Ezra was favoring his shoulder. JD had Buck's head in his lap and was talking to his big brother, pleading with him to hang on while a trooper worked on his wound. Mike Donovan and one of his men were working feverishly on Nathan while another did what he could for Josiah. JD seemed to be the only one uninjured. Vin moved to Chris's side to provide him with more support.

Time seemed to stand still as they waited for the rescue helicopter to arrive. Those that were conscious seemed to be willing the three other injured members of the team to be alright. Chris refused to let anyone look at his leg, demanding instead that they help Nathan, Josiah, and Buck. It took both Vin and Ezra talking to get him to agree to let one of the troopers look at it. Even sitting on the ground he continued to argue until the exasperated trooper pointed out that he needed to tend Chris first before helping Vin and Ezra.

Chris hadn't realized that either man was hurt, his head turned quickly in search of them. Vin seeing his distress moved to sit next to Chris and laid his hand on the older man's shoulder.

"Are you alright Vin? Where are you hurt?" Chris's hazel eyes looked the younger agent over anxiously.

"I'm fine Chris, it's just a little knife wound."

"Lord, has anyone come out of this uninjured?" The blond man groaned.

The thirty minutes it took the chopper where the longest minutes Chris could remember. By the time it arrived the trooper had finished bandaging Ezra and Vin. Chris watched anxiously as the three seriously wounded men were loaded. When the pilot indicated they could take one more he turned and dug his truck keys out. Handing them to Vin he limped toward the waiting chopper. Vin, Ezra and JD watched as their friends disappeared into the night.

Vin turned to the others and held up the keys. "JD maybe you'd better drive."

Nodding JD replied, "Wait here, I'll get the truck." Turning he started running down the road toward where Chris had hid his truck.

Mike Donovan walked up as they were waiting, his face reflecting their worry. "You three heading back? I can have one of my guys drive you if you want?

Ezra shook his head no, "Thanks, we'll take Chris's kingcab. We would appreciate it if you could let your men know who we are so we don't get pulled over for speeding."

Mike nodded, "No problem, I'll clear the way for you. We'll finish cleaning up here and I'll have a couple of my guys drive the other trucks back. I'll stop by the hospital when I can. Please call my office if there is anything you need."

Just then JD pulled up and leaned over to open the passenger door. "Come on guys, I bet I can make it in under twenty minutes."

Vin squeezed in the back seat and Ezra got in front. Opening the glove box he dug Chris's emergency strobe out. JD put the truck in gear and they sped off.

Part 11

Chris sat in the corner of the helicopter watching as paramedics worked on his three friends. <Damn, damn, damn, how did this happen? This was supposed to be a simple bust. Now I have three men seriously wounded and three worried out of their minds. Be honest with yourself man, your just as worried as Vin and the others. …. Was there something else I could have done. … Buck you'd better hang on I can't face JD if you don't. … Josiah how am I gonna get the others through this without your calm counsel? … Nathan, you have to survive this, we need you. … Damn it, I need all of you, don't any of you even think about giving up.> The tired agent lowered his head to his knees, his leg throbbing in time to the chorus in his head. <Damn, damn, damn.>

Vin could hear Ezra in the front seat trying to reassure JD that everything would be all right. He thought the other man was doing a pretty good job considering the condition of their friends the last time they had seen them. If he closed his eyes he could still see Josiah flying through the air as the truck slide into him. <Josiah ya have to be okay, you're our rock. … If Buck doesn't make it, JD and Chris will be destroyed. … Nathan, please stay with us. … Was there somethin else I coulda done? Did I wait too long to shoot? … Dear God, please don't let them die.> Vin leaned his head back and absently rubbed his chest. The pain kept time with his thoughts. <Damn, damn, damn.>

JD had withdrawn into himself and seemed to be concentrating on his driving. Ezra sighed and glanced at the back seat where Vin had also withdrawn into his own world. Weary both mentally and physically he decided to imitate Vin, leaning his head back he closed his eyes. Unfortunately, that allowed the voices in his head to catch up with him. <You're lying to the boy … For all you know one of them, hell all of them could be dead by now. … You even allowed your own leader to be shot, good Ezra, real good. … Dear Lord, don't take them from us. It will demolish JD if we loose Buck and Chris will never get over the guilt. Vin would follow Chris and where would that leave them, … me. Lord, I know it's usually Josiah pleading with you when one of us is hurt. Since he can't right now, perhaps you will listen to a conman's pleas instead. We can't, won't survive if you take even one of those men.> Ezra opened his eyes to stare at the passing reflector poles. His mind repeated one phrase over and over in time to passing poles. <Please be okay, please be okay.>

<Buck you've got to be okay, I can't make it with out you. Josiah what will I do if you aren't there to ask the questions I can't ask anybody else. … Nathan, I think sometimes we take you for granted, you worry about all of us.> JD squeezed his hands into around the steering wheel as he tried to keep his emotion in control. The sight of his friends lying on the ground bleeding played across his eyes. <God, I know I haven't been as good about going to church as I was when Ma was alive, but I still believe you can work miracles. Please God, we need a miracle now. Don't take them, please.> JD leaned forward and watched the broken yellow line on the highway. As the dashes flashed by he repeated the same phrase over and over. <They'll be okay, they'll be okay.>

By the time the chopper landed Chris had collected himself and was once again the agent in charge. He watched as Buck was whisked right into surgery. Nathan and Josiah disappeared behind trauma room doors leaving Chris alone. A nurse brought a wheelchair, sat him in it and wheeled him to a trauma room of his own. After assuring him a doctor would be with him as soon as possible she left him alone.

The sight of Ezra, Vin and JD bearing down on her gave the young nurse at the desk quite a jolt. She'd been warned to expect them by the sheriff's office but the call hadn't mentioned they were so scary. All three men were armed to the teeth, Ezra and Vin had torn bloody shirts and bandages on and JD was covered in Buck's blood,. The grim expression on each man's face was a combination of worry and something that she couldn't define but it gave her a chill. They scared her enough that she didn't even wait for them to ask, just pointed down the hall and stuttered. "The one with the leg wound is, is, in trauma room one." The three men all nodded and headed down the hall. Chris looked up as the door slammed open and his three youngest agents entered.

"You look terrible cowboy."

Chris ran his eyes over the three men and offered a grim smile. "You three look like extras for a low budget horror movie yourselves. How'd you get here so fast? My truck better be in one piece."

Vin leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "Was last time I saw it, JD drove, I think he's takin lessons from Buck." He rubbed his eyes tiredly before asking the question they all really wanted to. "Any word on the others?"

"They were all still alive when we got here. Buck is in surgery, Josiah and Nathan are down the hall somewhere. I haven't seen anyone since they shoved me in here." Chris's frustration was evident.

"Perhaps I can find an individual to update us on the condition of our compatriots." Ezra turned and headed back toward the emergency desk.

Chris turned his attention to JD who had slid down on the floor with his back to the wall. He had wrapped his arms around his knees and was currently staring at his boots.

"JD are you okay?"

"Yeah Chris, I'm fine, no bullet holes, cuts or bruises." The young agent voice was strained, he raised his eyes to Chris's. It was obvious that JD was working very hard to control his emotions.

Everyone looked up as the door opened and a young man came in. He looked about JD's age, tall, skinny with dark brown hair. He took in the site of the three blood covered men and his eyes widened a little. Clearing his throat he moved toward Chris and held out his hand.

"Doctor Ken Blackstone, I was told there was only one patient?" He ended the statement on a questioning note as he scanned the three blood covered men. Chris took the offered hand and started to stand up.

"Chris Larabee, Vin Tanner, JD Dunne." Chris pointed to the other two men as he introduced them. "How are my men?"

The doctor motioned him back down before replying.

"Mr. Wilmington is still in surgery, they took Mr. Jackson up for a CAT scan just a moment ago. The other fellow, Mr. Sanchez, is in x-ray, that's all I know right now. I'm here to bandage your leg. Looks like I have a couple other customers as well." He motioned toward where Vin and JD were holding up the wall.

"Chris has the worst injury" … "Doctor I think you should check Vin's knife wound first." … "I'm not injured, Chris needs fixed first."

The three men offered their opinions all at the same time confusing the poor doctor even further. Before he could decide on a course of action the door opened again and Ezra entered. He started talking as soon as the door opened, his normal drawl irritated and sharp.

"I was unable to find anyone with an iota of intelligence who could provide any status on our ….." His voice trailed off as he spotted the doctor standing in front of Chris. He paused for a moment before continuing in a slightly embarrassed tone. "Well, there's no graceful recovery from that statement I suppose."

The doctor stared at Ezra for a second before replying. When he did his tone of voice was one of rueful sympathy. "Nope, guess not, but considering the night you guys have had, I'll let it slide." Turning back to Chris he continued, "Let's get you up on the exam table so I can fix this leg."

They had been at the hospital about an hour. Dr. Blackstone had finished bandaging Chris and Ezra and was working on Vin. Noise outside the door attracted everyone's attention. They could footsteps coming closer, fast. Through the glass in the door they could see a nurse trying to keep ahead of Laura. The nurse wasn't having much luck until as a final desperate effort she pushed forward, planted herself in front of the door and spread her arms. Ezra, Chris and Vin could see the nurse's head in front of the door.

"You can NOT go in there until I check the status. The Doctor is still working on these men. If you will just go wait a moment." The nurse's voice was almost frantic. The guys all grinned at Laura's response.

"Of course ma'am I know you're just doing your job. I'll just stand here while you do. Save us both time." Laura's determination was clear. The nurse stuck her head in the door, "I have a visitor?" The doctor nodded his approval..

As soon as she got through the door Laura's controlled expression melted into one of concern. Ezra barely had time to brace himself before she reached him. He winced as she hugged putting pressure on his injured shoulder. Immediately she stepped back a distressed look on her face.

"Oh Ezra, I'm sorry I should have asked you if you were hurt before I grabbed you."

"I'm okay, it's just a graze." Ezra smiled reassuringly as he caught the hand Laura was waving before she accidentally hit him.

Laura smiled shakily before turning her attention to the others in the room. Her worried gaze ran over all of them. Starting with JD leaning against the wall, moving to Chris in the wheelchair then to Vin sitting on the exam table where the Doctor was finishing bandaging his chest. "The officer who came to the motel couldn't tell me what had actually happened. He just said there had been some shooting and everyone was at the hospital. Where are Josiah, Buck and Nathan? Laura could tell from the everyone's expression that the news wasn't good.

"Buck is in surgery, Nathan and Josiah are upstairs somewhere being x-rayed. We don't know much else." Chris replied shooting a glare at the doctor's back.

Dr. Blackstone finished taping Vin's chest and stepped back before turning his attention to Chris. "All three of you need to take it easy but you should be okay. Now that I'm done here, I'll go see what I can find out. Why don't you folks go up to the surgery waiting room on the second floor. It's more comfortable and you'll have some privacy." He held up his hand as Chris started to open his mouth to argue. "The second floor is where all your men's rooms will be. You will actually be closer to the action there. Just take to elevator to the second floor then turn left when you get off, the waiting room is right there. I will send a nurse up with instructions on the care of your wounds and some antibiotics."

Chris gave him a considering look before nodding sharply. "Okay, we'll wait there, but if someone doesn't come to give me an update soon I will sic _her_ onto your staff." Chris pointed to Laura. Dr. Blackstone nodded and hurried out of the room.

Vin snorted and eased himself off of the exam table. "Your gettin mean in your old age cowboy."

Chris just growled as he headed for the door.

Almost two hours later Laura was curled up in a chair watching the four men. They hadn't heard anything since a nurse brought up instructions and antibiotics, right after they had gotten to the waiting room. By now she pretty much had each man's pattern down. Vin was a pacer, he walked in a constant, slow, steady, straight line from the waiting room door to the window at the other end of the room. There was always a pause at the window to look at the sky but never one at the door. He never tried to look down the corridor either, going on the watched pot never boils principle, she supposed. Chris struck Laura as a pacer as well, but due to his leg wound, he was forced to content himself with clenching and unclenching his fists as he sat near the door. Every once in a while he would close his eyes for a few minutes, then snap them open and check out his three remaining men. Assuring himself they were still there, she guessed. Ezra had gone totally quiet and seemed to have withdrawn into himself. Somewhere he had found a deck of cards and was sitting on the couch playing, well pretending to play, solitaire. He had been staring at the dealt cards for twenty minutes while he unconsciously shuffled the others. JD was an explosive waiter, for a while he would be slumped against the wall or curled up in a chair, the suddenly he would jump up and say something like,

"What's taking so long?"
"Don't they know we're waiting?"
"They'll be okay, won't they?"

Or other variations of that theme. He would then stride to the door, stand for a little bit looking down the hall, then sigh and throw himself into a new chair or slump down against the wall. At first Laura had tried to offer the assurance JD wanted but quickly realized that unless the words came from Chris, Vin, or Ezra he wouldn't believe them. So she had picked a chair, out of the line of fire, to watch, wait, and pray. Finally exhaustion took over and closing her eyes Laura slept.

Chris looked over at Laura and noticed she was asleep. <Glad someone can sleep through this mess. What went wrong? I should have called it off the moment I realized we couldn't have backup any closer than it was. How did this happen, dammit, all of them were wearing vests. What good are the damm things if they can't prevent getting shot. Course what good it a vest against a truck. It's crazy, you'd think it would be Vin and Ezra hurt since they weren't wearing vests, but it's the three who were. And WHY weren't Vin and Ezra wearing vests?> Chris lifted his head to glare at the two agents in question. Both were too lost in their own misery to notice his sudden interest. "Why weren't you two wearing vests?" The question was hissed in a low deadly tone so as not to wake Laura. Both men turned their heads to look at Chris. JD raised his and looked at all three men anxiously. He knew what a fanatic Chris was about wearing bulletproof vests, Vin and Ezra were in big trouble.

"Took mine off to climb up on the roof." Vin offered carefully.

"Uh huh." The words were growled in a non-committal tone of voice. Chris turned his gaze to Ezra who had the look of a deer caught in the headlights.

"I, um, I" Ezra was saved from answering by the arrival of a very tired looking doctor. About Ezra's height, lean with grey hair, his whole demeanor was one of quiet competence

"I'm looking for Agent Larabee."

All four agents were on their feet and standing in front of the doctor by the time he had finished speaking.

"I'm Larabee, how are my men?"

"Dr. Larson, I've been treating Mr. Jackson's head wound." The doctor held out his hand for Chris to shake.

"How is he doing?" Everyone held their breath waiting for the answer to Chris's question.

Mr. Jackson, as you know, was shot in the head. Luckily it was only a glancing blow. There was quite a lot of bleeding and he is unconscious but I don't believe there will be any serious complications. He's breathing on his own and his pupils look normal, both are very good signs.

"Ya believe, ya mean ya don't know." Vin challenged.

"Well, I can't be absolutely sure until Mr. Jackson wakes up, but the indications are good." Dr. Larson replied calmly. "We're getting him settled in a room right now. Should take about twenty minutes, you can go and see him then.

"What about my other two men, Josiah Sanchez and Buck Wilmington? No one has told us anything since they were brought up to this floor."

Dr. Larson had started to turn to leave but turned back at Chris's words. "How long ago was that?"

"The passage of time has seem interminable but actually it's only been about two hours." Ezra's drawl sounded hoarse and tired.

Dr. Larson's expression seemed to tighten and his eyes snapped as he surveyed the worried faces in front of him. "That is inexcusable, you have my apologies. If you gentlemen will wait here I'll go find out the status of the Mr. Sanchez and Mr. Wilmington." Turning he walked briskly down the hall toward surgery.

Chris looked at Vin, Ezra, and JD for a moment before sighing and sinking down into a nearby chair. Copying their leader the other men sank into the chairs around him to wait.

This time the wait wasn't long, Dr. Larson was back before the twenty minutes were up. Behind him was a nurse who was having to almost run to keep up with his long strides. Skipping all the niceties he got right to the point. "Mr. Larabee, again my apologies, I have spoken to the resident who was attending Mr. Sanchez and he is very sorry for the mix up." The way he said it made Vin wince in sympathy for the unknown doctor. "Mr. Sanchez has been in his room for the last half hour. According to the doctor he has two broken ribs and a mild concussion. We will want to keep him for a couple of days but he will be fine. I have made arrangements for Mr. Jackson to be put in the same room. Mrs. Watson here will show you where that is."

Chris nodded, the tired expression on his face lifting a little at the good news. "And Buck, is there any word on him yet?"

"I'm sorry, Mr. Wilmington is still in surgery, we really won't know much until he comes out. But, I have asked Mrs. Watson here to make sure you are informed as soon as there it anything. In the meantime, if I can do anything please have the nurse's station page me. I will be here all night."

"Thank you Doctor, we appreciate all your help." Chris turned back to the others as Dr. Larson walked away. "Ezra, you'd better wake Laura, looks like we're moving again."

"I'm awake." Laura uncurled herself and stood up. She looked at the four tired, blood covered men with a bittersweet smile on her face. "You guys look like hell and I bet none of you are willing to move one foot from this hospital until you know all the others are going to be okay."

Chris rubbed his neck, JD looked at the floor, Vin shrugged, Ezra looked at the other three then back at Laura. "That would be a good assumption my dear."

"Then why don't I go get you guys some clean clothes and maybe something to eat? Another couple hours in those bloody outfits and your all going to be pretty ripe." Laura didn't wait for an answer just started toward the elevator.

Four anxious men crowded into Josiah and Nathan's room. Even though the Doctor had assured them the injured men would be okay everyone had to see it for themselves. Nurse Watson watched the four men for a minute before turning and heading to the nurse's station. Leaning over the counter she gestured to a young blond nurse. "Anne I just brought up the four AFT agents who go with those in 248. Dr. Larson wants them to be given every consideration. There'll be a woman looking for them in a while, she went to get them some clean clothes. I'll be back up as soon as the other agent gets out of surgery."

Anne nodded. "No problem, we have a real light patient load. I'll take care of everything." Standing the blonde started toward the room only to meet up with JD. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Uh, yes ma'am, I was looking for another chair."

"I think we can do better than just a chair if you'll help me." Smiling the young nurse waved for JD to follow her. It took a few minutes and a lot of maneuvering but soon the hospital room contained two hospital beds and four reclining chairs. The nurse even provided blankets and pillows for the tired men. When they tried to thank her, she just winked and told them it was "doctor's orders."

Everyone settled in, like so many times before, to wait for their injured to wake. JD had almost dozed off when he thought of something. "Ezra, Laura didn't take our room key's how's she gonna get our stuff.

Ezra's reply made Vin and JD grin, Chris's lips even twitched a little. "She'll probably pick the lock, I taught her how for her fourteenth birthday."

When Laura did show up the sight of the crowded room made her want to cry. Rather than disturb the sleeping men she was about to turn and leave when she noticed that Josiah was awake and watching the others. Moving carefully she wove through the maze of chairs to reach his bed. "Hi," even though Laura spoke softly it was enough to wake up Chris who immediately moved to stand on the other side of the bed. Laura watched as he offered Josiah a drink before trying to talk to him.

"Josiah, how you feeling?

The big man searched Chris's face for a moment, looking for a sign that the worst had happened. Finally he cleared his throat and in a raspy whisper asked the question that would make waking up worthwhile or send him directly to hell. "Nathan? Buck?"

Chris laid his hand on Josiah's shoulder his face as solemn as his voice. "Alive."

"But?" Josiah studied Chris's face intently.

"Doctor says Nathan should be fine, we're just waiting for him to wake up to be sure."

Again the searching look, again the raspy question. "Buck?"

"He's still in surgery, we won't know anymore until they finish." Chris's voice trailed off and a helpless sort of look crossed his face.

"They'll be okay brother, I won't believe anything else."

Chris nodded and patted Josiah's shoulder. "You rest now, I'll wake you if there is any news."

Josiah looked like he wanted to argue but his battered body couldn't find the strength, slipping into sleep. Chris looked up from the sleeping man to Laura.

"Was beginning to think the police caught you breaking into our rooms?"

Laura grinned slightly and waved her hand to the stuff she'd set by the door. "Nah, I just thought you guys might like some sandwiches and coffee that didn't come out of a machine."

"Sounds good." Chris raised his hand to rub his eyes and seemed to notice for the first time that it was still stained with blood. "Maybe I'll clean up a little first."

"I checked with the nurse on my way in, she said you guys could use the room next door to shower. Clothes are in the black bag. I'll stay here and let anyone, who wakes up, know where you are." Laura had laid her hand on Josiah's arm and was stroking it softly.

A clean, more alert, Chris came out of the shower room to find Vin leaning against the wall waiting for him. The sharpshooter didn't say a word, just held out his hand for the bag of clothes. Passing the bag over Chris continued into the other room. Nothing had changed much, the men were all still asleep and Laura was curled up in Vin's vacated chair. When he picked up the sack of sandwiches she started to get up but Chris waived her back, indicating he could help himself. In deference to the sleeping men neither said anything, instead both sat lost in their own thoughts. Chris didn't know how long he sat watching Nathan and Josiah breath. He had almost fallen into a trance which was broken by the arrival of Dr. Larson and another man dressed in scrubs.

Chris came to his feet. "Ezra, JD." Only two words but both men woke up instantly and scrambled to their feet. Chris turned his attention to the Doctor, his face tight as he braced for the worst. He could see Vin standing behind them in the hall an expression of hope in his eyes. Dr. Larson went straight to the point.

"Mr. Wilmington is out of surgery, this is Dr. Barnes his surgeon." Dr. Barnes stepped forward, he didn't ask any questions just jumped into an extremely complicated explanation of what had happened to Buck. By the time he was finished the four agents had moved into a tight group, Chris, hand resting on JD's shoulder in support, Ezra and Vin standing protectively close.

"Any questions?" Dr. Barnes looked at the four men expectantly. Scanning the others faces Ezra cleared his throat and threw a wishful glance at Nathan, they had never needed their medical interpreter more.

"Doctor, so what your saying…. " Ezra started to try to find a polite way to ask Dr. Barnes exactly what the hell he had just said when all he really wanted to do was shake the man. Dr. Larson understood immediately what was going on, sighing he excused Dr. Barnes and turned back to the AFT agents. The compassion in his eyes was evident as he started to explain.

"Dr. Barnes is an excellent surgeon, but his bedside manner needs work. Let me summarize, Mr. Wilmington was shot in his left side, the bullet bounced around a bit and he lost a lot of blood. It took about three hours to repair all the damage, the man is very lucky to still be alive. He's in recovery now, we should be moving him to ICU shortly." Dr. Larson paused for a moment trying to find a way to soften the blow, deciding there was no way he continued gently. "The next 24 hours are critical, if he has any family they should be contacted now.

"We're his family Doctor, JD here is his legal listed next a kin." Vin offered when it became clear that the young man was too upset to speak. "Can some of us be with Buck, he'll need ta see JD when he wakes up."

"Yes, I can arrange for one or two of you to be with him, but not all of you, I'm sorry"

"That's all right, some of us need to stay here as well." Chris shared a silent communication with Vin before turning his attention back to Dr. Larson. "Can you tell me how the bullet got through his vest?"

"The bullet hit right on the seam, it was a fluke, a one in a million shot."

"Thanks," Chris nodded to the doctor. "if you'll tell us how to find the ICU we'll get organized here before heading there." <Damm, why is it always my men that are on the receiving end of those kind of shots.>

"It's on the third floor, take a right when you get off the elevator, I'll tell the nurse to expect you." Dr. Larson held out his hand to each of the men before he turned and left.

"So what are we waiting for, lets go see Buck." JD had recovered a bit and suited action to words by starting to walk out the door. He gave Chris a confused look when the blond man put out a hand to stop him. "What? Vin's right Buck will wanta see me when he wakes up."

"I know JD, but he sees you looking like you do now, you'll give him a heartattack." Chris indicated the bag in Vin's hand, his tone indicating he wouldn't take no for an answer. "So go next door, take a shower and then we'll go to ICU."

What was left of the night passed slowly. Chris, Vin, and Ezra took turns rotating between the two rooms, but JD stayed with Buck. At first he had felt guilty about not trading, but Chris had ordered him to stay with Buck. Everyone knew that the injured man would be frantic with worry if he woke up and JD wasn't there. Laura felt like an intruder and considered leaving but couldn't do it. Instead she curled up in a chair watching everything with intent eyes. She was overwhelmed by how much Ezra and the others cared about each other. Being typical males she knew most of them would deny any of the softer feelings, but it was evident that this wasn't just a team it was a family.

It was mid-morning before Nathan finally came to for a minute. The conversation was short and like Josiah his first question was about the others. Laura had to bite her lip as she listened to Vin and Ezra reassure him that everyone was alive. Nathan's weary body fell into, what the doctor called a 'healing' sleep, shortly afterwards. While he was there the doctor checked Josiah and confirmed that both men would be fine after some rest. Ezra and Vin had a short intense discussion that Laura couldn't really hear then Vin turned and headed out the door. Ezra walked over, sprawled in a nearby chair and regarded her the way a boy looks at a bug he's just caught.

"Are you all right?"

"I should be asking you that question, I'm not the one who's spent the last twelve hours praying for his friends to be okay."

"And what makes you think I've been indulging in such an archaic activity?"

Laura smiled knowingly, "Don't even try it Mavrick, the others might buy your act but I was there during it's fine tuning. You can't fool me, you've been sick with worry all night."

"Yes, well don't forget who taught you the finer points of deception. And please, whatever you do, don't call me Mavrick in front of the others. I can just imagine what they would do with that alias." Ezra shuddered to emphasis the horror of that thought.

"Oh come on big brother, they would never know guess why I _really_ call you Mavrick. Or…" Laura paused, tilted her head and regarded Ezra steadily. "Or, do they know you well enough to make a good guess."

Ezra didn't answer, instead he dug a deck of cards out of his pocket and handed them to her. "Wipe that smirk off your face and deal."

JD woke up suddenly, his first reaction to check on Buck but the mustached man was still asleep. Looking around he saw Vin and Chris talking quietly in the doorway. Vin looked relieved and the angry tense look Chris had sported most of the night was relaxing. JD turned back to Buck, the doctor had been in earlier and removed the breathing tube. JD was taking this as a good sign, even though the doctor was still hedging. He had been talking to Buck on and off all night, telling him that the others were okay and how he needed to wake up. So far nothing had worked, not even the mention of pretty nurses, Buck hadn't moved. JD placed his hand over Buck's and tried once more.

"Buck, Buck, you've got to wake up now. Your worrying me Buck, and your missin all the pretty nurses. Come on Buck, wake up…." JD's voice trailed off, his eyes holding a deep sadness. He jumped at the touch of a hand on his shoulder, turning to find Vin standing there.

"Chris said he'll be back in a little bit, he's gonna call Travis and let him know what's goin on. Good news, Nathan woke up, doc says he's gonna be fine. Oh, an Josiah says hi." Vin briefly tightened his grip before releasing it and moving to the other side of the bed taking Chris's chair. Studying JD he tried to think of something helpful to say. "JD I know Buck, he's too stubborn to die and leave ya without someone to nag at ya."

"Thanks Vin, I know he'll be okay, it's just, …" JD paused and looked at the pale man in the bed before turning a troubled gaze across the bed. "It's just that he looks so bad."

"Now kid you know that's damm near impossible." The words were faint but served to draw attention to the man in the bed.