by Violette

Part 5

"Dammit, Buck," JD griped irritably. "How many of these motherfuckers are left, anyway?"

Buck lifted an eyebrow in surprise. It appeared that the stress of this case was starting to get to his young friend, since JD rarely used such profanity. "Take it easy, kid," Buck said soothingly as he gave his shoulder a squeeze. "We're all frustrated."

"I know," JD said apologetically. "But that was three suspects that we interrogated tonight, and not one of them is the right guy."

"Yeah, but it's also three less that we have to deal with in the morning," Buck said optimistically. "We'll get 'em, don't you worry about that."

JD nodded. "I was just hoping we might have found out about that Jarvis guy by now, or maybe found some other guy who actually did it. I wanted to catch 'em before the funeral, ya know? I want to be able to tell Chris and Vin that we caught the bastards."

Buck wrapped an arm around the smaller man's shoulders and hugged him briefly. "We can always tell them later, okay? I'm sure they know that we're doin' our best, and they'll appreciate it no matter when we catch 'em."

"I guess," JD said, stifling a yawn.

"Come on," Buck urged. "Let's get some shuteye so we can get us some bad guys tomorrow."

JD bobbed his head sleepily and followed his roommate out of the office. Buck looked back at the other two men and mouthed, 'Good night' to them over his shoulder.

Josiah lifted his hand in acknowledgement before turning to Nathan. "We ought to get some sleep ourselves," he suggested gently.

"Yeah," Nathan agreed. "I keep hopin' that the next suspect turns out to be the one, so we can put this case to rest."

"So do I," Josiah admitted.

"I can't help thinkin', though..." Nathan looked up at his friend with sad, dark eyes. "What's gonna happen after we do find the murderers?" He shook his head despondently. "We ain't the Magnificent Seven anymore, and 'Magnificent Five' just don't cut it. Hell, Ezra's probably out, too. Not like anybody else will want to work with him."

"Not just him," Josiah added. "We aren't known for playing by the rules, so there aren't many teams who would want any of us." He met Nathan's gaze. "And I doubt we could ever find any replacements with the right stuff to fill Chris and Vin's shoes."

"I don't think I would even want to try," Nathan said. "What we had here was unique. I don't think we could ever match it."

"What do you think you'll do?" Josiah asked, knowing it was a loaded question.

"I don't know, go to medical school maybe." Nathan shrugged. "I've been trying not to think about it."

"Me neither," Josiah admitted. "I expect I'll probably retire, maybe teach at the academy."

"What do you think the others will do?"

"JD's young, and with his computer skills, he could get a job with a computer company or maybe transfer into research or one of those cyber-crime task forces."

"What about Buck?" Nathan asked with a hint of a smile.

"I honestly don't know," Josiah said. "He might keep going, stick to being some kind of cop. He loves law enforcement, and I doubt he'll want to leave it."

"He'll probably stay with the kid, wherever he decides to go."

"I hope he does," Josiah said sincerely. "JD still needs guidance, and without the rest of us, he'll really need Buck."

Nathan nodded then gave a slight chuckle. "I figure Ezra'll end up in jail."

"How's that?"

"He's a con man," Nathan explained. "It's all he knows. I doubt he'd get another job in any kind of law enforcement, what with his reputation."

"I hope you're wrong, Nate," Josiah said sorrowfully. "I'd hate to see him end up like that."

"It's no one's fault but his own," Nathan said pointedly.

Josiah sighed, but didn't respond.

"I'm gonna miss all this," Nathan said after a long silence. "You guys really got to me."

"Even Ezra?" Josiah asked with a smile.

Nathan glared at him for a moment, then shrugged. "Yeah, even Ezra."

* * * * * * * * * *

The return drive to the hotel took slightly longer than his earlier, frantic trip to rescue his friends, but Ezra still made it in less that an hour-and-a-half. As he pulled into the parking lot, he turned away from the main entrance, heading instead for the back of the building. When he had first arrived, he had checked the layout of the place, making note of all the possible exits. It was a long-ingrained habit due to his years as an undercover agent, since a ready escape route was of paramount importance in the event that his cover was compromised.

Ezra checked the area, finding it deserted at this hour of the morning, before he gently woke the sleeping man in the passenger seat. "Mr. Larabee," he said quietly. "We have arrived."

"Hmm?" Chris mumbled dazedly as he opened his eyes.

"We have reached the hotel," Ezra explained.

"Oh, right," he rasped as he fumbled with the seatbelt.

"Let me get that," Ezra said as he deftly undid the buckle and eased Chris carefully out of the truck.

Chris wrapped the blanket tighter around himself to ward off the chill air and leaned heavily on Ezra as they walked slowly toward the back entrance. "What about Vin?" he asked, stopping abruptly.

"I'll come back for him after I get you upstairs," Ezra said patiently. "I am not strong enough to help you both at the same time. That's Mr. Sanchez's department."

"Right," Chris said with a faint smile as they resumed their progress.

Ezra ushered him into the service elevator and hit the button for his floor. "Not too much further," he said when he noticed Chris slumping in his grip.

Chris nodded, gritting his teeth as he fought to keep himself upright.

They finally reached the correct floor, and Ezra assisted Chris the rest of the way to his room, lowering him onto one of the beds once they arrived. "I'm going to retrieve Mr. Tanner now," he told Chris. "I shall return soon."

Chris mumbled an incoherent reply and snuggled deeper into the soft bed. Ezra smiled as he turned to leave. He had still not gotten over the miraculous 'resurrection' of his two friends.

Getting Vin into the hotel was a bit more of a challenge, since the young agent was semi-conscious at best. Ezra gripped him tightly, again ignoring the flare of pain in his ribs and back, and carried him into the building. He was out of breath by the time he had deposited Vin on the second bed in the room. He sat for a moment to rest while he popped another of his pain pills to mollify his protesting body.

Ezra took a good look the two injured men in the brighter illumination of the room, frowning at the mixture of mud and blood that covered them. He was going to need some first aid supplies and cursed himself for not thinking to bring any along. Then again, he hadn't been thinking very clearly when he had left Denver, so he supposed it was excusable in this case. Since Chris wouldn't allow him to take them to the hospital, Ezra knew he would have to do a very thorough patch-up job.

Rummaging through the drawers of the small entertainment center that enclosed the television, he found the local directory and located a twenty-four hour pharmacy near the hotel. With a grimace, Ezra stood and left the room again, mentally making a list of the medical supplies he would need.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ezra returned twenty minutes later with a shopping bag bulging with bandages, antiseptic, and splints. It had surprised him that the bored sales clerk had not seemed to take undue notice of the quantity of his purchases. The area was known for hiking and camping, so he supposed it was not unusual for people to stock up on medical supplies there. He placed the bag on the table he had been using as a desk and studied his two companions. They were both completely caked in mud that would have to be cleaned off before he could even begin to treat their injuries.

Shrugging out of his coat, Ezra rolled up his sleeves and began the task of urging a sleepy Chris Larabee into the bathroom. Chris finally awakened enough to realize what Ezra was trying to do and, with the other man's assistance, peeled off his filthy clothes and stepped carefully into the tub.

"Can you handle this yourself?" Ezra asked, unsure as to how much assistance Chris would accept with such a personal matter.

"Think so," Chris said, holding onto the safety railing tightly to prevent himself from toppling over.

Ezra started the faucet, then turned on the shower when the water was a suitable temperature. "Call me if you require any assistance." He left the bathroom, but left the door open so he could better hear if Chris was in any distress.

Dropping the tattered clothing in a corner, Ezra moved toward Vin's bed, assessing the other man's condition critically. The sharpshooter was definitely going to require more aid than his boss, since he was still unconscious and had obviously broken his arm. Carefully, he removed Vin's clothing, tossing it into the same pile as the others. He frowned deeply, clenching his teeth in fury when he caught sight of the heavy shackle encumbering the man's wrist. Selecting a lockpick from his ever-present collection, he made short work of the lock and eased the cuff off of Vin's wrist. The skin beneath it was bruised and bloody from the additional stress that had been placed on it, and Ezra vowed silently that the miscreant who had caused this would pay dearly.

The clothing was a lost cause, he noted with a frown. It was torn and muddied beyond repair, so they would just have to do without until he could find suitable replacements. His own clothing would fit either of the men -- well, it might be a little too short for Chris -- but none of it was loose enough to accommodate their injuries.

"Ezra?" Chris called from the bathroom.

"Right here," Ezra replied as he hurried into the steamy room.

"I could use a hand getting out of here," Chris admitted, his knuckles white as he held the railing in a death grip.

Ezra took his arm firmly and assisted him in climbing out of the bathtub.

"Damn, that's a big step," Chris muttered as he lifted his injured leg over the side. He leaned against Ezra wearily, while the younger man reached for a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Limping badly, he allowed Ezra to escort him back to the bed.

"Why don't you rest for a bit while I assist Mr. Tanner," Ezra suggested.

Chris nodded, too weary and sore to do much besides sit there. "Can you handle him by yourself?"

"I will manage," Ezra replied confidently.

"Good," Chris said with a crooked smile. "'Cause I don't think I could help you if I tried."

Ezra chuckled as he returned to the bathroom and began filling the tub. By the time he was able to get Vin into the room, the water had reached the appropriate level. Carefully, he eased the sharpshooter into the warm water, supporting his head with one hand to prevent him from slipping below the surface.

In a way, Ezra was glad that Vin was still unconscious, since the quiet man was modest to a fault and would be highly embarrassed by his current situation. Much to Ezra's relief, Vin remained unconscious until he was nearly finished. He awoke suddenly while Ezra was washing his hair and panicked at finding himself in the water.

"Easy, Mr. Tanner," Ezra said softly, hoping to calm the agitated man. "Vin, it's just me, Ezra."

"Ezra?" Vin said finally, ceasing his struggles. "What're you doin'?"

"Washing your hair," Ezra replied succinctly.

Vin turned his head and regarded him suspiciously.

Ezra laughed. "Relax, Mr. Tanner. I once spent two months undercover as a hairdresser. I know what I'm doing."

Vin's eyes narrowed and he gave Ezra a disbelieving look.

"Yes, I cut quite a fine figure in my purple leopard-skin pants and hot pink tank top," Ezra continued with a smirk.

A grin slowly spread across his face and Vin relaxed, allowing Ezra to continue. "Got any pictures of that?"

"Thankfully, no," Ezra answered. "Though I was tempted to take one and send it to my mother." Ezra chuckled. "I'm sure she would have fainted from sheer horror at what had become of 'her darlin' boy'."

Vin laughed out loud, then winced as his ribs protested the movement. Having met Maude Standish, he could indeed picture the look on her face if she had seen such a photograph. "Damn, Ez. You sure got a mean streak."

Ezra smiled in agreement as he unhooked the flexible showerhead and proceeded to rinse Vin's hair. Then, he reached for his bottle of conditioner, smearing some over the tangled locks.

"What's that?"

"Conditioner," Ezra replied. "It will make combing out your hair much less painful."

"Oh," Vin answered. "Ain't that stuff just for women?"

"Not at all," Ezra answered, amused at Vin's reaction. "In fact, I use it myself."

"Oh great," Vin muttered sarcastically. "Like *that's* supposed to make me feel better."

"I take umbrage at that remark," Ezra replied, feigning offense. "I'll have you know that both Mr. Wilmington and Mr. Dunne use conditioner on their hair. Mr. Wilmington claims that the ladies like the way it makes his hair feel and encourages them to run their fingers through it with greater frequency."

"It does smell nice," Vin admitted.

"I promise you will be pleased with the results," Ezra assured him.

"If I ain't, I'm gonna kick your ass," Vin threatened.

"You'll have to catch me first," Ezra said with a devilish grin.

Vin splashed a handful of water in Ezra's face. "Smartass."

Ezra sputtered, then laughed. "Okay, that's finished. Do you think you can stand?"

"Yeah. I want to rinse all this soap off." He reached up with his good arm and slowly pulled himself to his feet, swaying momentarily as his head adjusted to the change in altitude.

"Would you like some help?" Ezra asked, worriedly watching his friend teeter on wobbly legs.

"Nah, I got it," Vin replied as he turned on the shower.

"All right, but I will be just outside if you need anything."

Ezra returned to the other room to find Chris reclining on the bed, a wide grin on his face.

"Purple leopard-skin pants?"

Rolling his eyes, Ezra gave a long-suffering sigh and place his hand melodramatically on his chest. "The indignities I suffer in the name of justice."

"Well, it got Vin calmed down," Chris admitted. "Good job."

Ezra shrugged. "All part of the service."

Chris smiled, then took a long look at his undercover agent, noticing for the first time the bruises and burns that adorned his face. "What happened to your face?"

Ezra's face fell, then reverted to his normal placid expression, as he rubbed a finger across his cheek gingerly. "I'm afraid I was a bit closer than recommended to Mr. Tanner's exploding vehicle."

"Shit," Chris said. "Jarvis said you had witnessed the explosion. I didn't think it was so up close and personal, though."

"Jarvis?" Ezra said sharply, picking up on the name immediately.

"Yeah," Chris replied, puzzled at Ezra's reaction. "You've heard of him?"

Ezra nodded. "I called in a few favors and received some information regarding someone by that name."

"Raymond Jarvis, brother of a guy I busted when I was with the cops."

"I'm relieved that my information was correct," Ezra replied with a faint smile.

Leaning on the doorjamb, Vin quietly called, "Ez?"

Ezra hurried to the weary sharpshooter, who looked like he was ready to fall over at any moment. "Take my arm."

Vin latched onto Ezra's arm gratefully. "Thanks. I'm a little dizzy."

Chris watched with concern as Ezra helped Vin over to his bed. He smiled at the sigh of pleasure Vin released when his head sank into the soft pillow. "You comfy over there, cowboy?"

"Oh yeah," Vin replied dreamily.

Ezra smiled, then lifted his bag of first-aid supplies from the table. "Now the fun part," he said teasingly.

Chris glared at him. He knew it needed to be done, but wasn't looking forward to it. With a reluctant frown, he pulled the blankets back and let Ezra tend his injuries.

"The bullet's still in there," Ezra said with a grimace. He had finished wrapping Chris's ribs and knee and bandaging the smaller cuts and scrapes, while Chris had distracted himself by relaying all that had happened while he and Vin were captives. All that remained now was the gunshot wound.

"I know. You're gonna have to take it out."

Ezra blanched. "Mr. Larabee, I have no idea how to remove a bullet," he protested. "You really must let me convey you to the nearest hospital for some proper medical care."

"It's too dangerous," Chris argued. "We can't take a chance that Jarvis will find out about our escape. It would be too easy for him to trace us to a hospital. The only way we'll be able to catch him is if we can keep the game going until he returns." He gave Ezra a pleading look. "I need you to do this, Ezra. I *trust* you to do this."

Ezra's eyes widened in shock and he studied Chris's face for any signs of deceit, but found nothing but an honest, trusting gaze looking back at him. He wondered what had happened to the angry cuss who had spent the past few weeks chewing him out at every opportunity. "Aw hell," he muttered, running a hand shakily through his hair. "I'll get my things."

Ezra took his time gathering what he would need to extract the bullet, knowing full well that he was procrastinating. The look Chris had given him had staggered him completely. Nobody had ever shown that much faith in him. Hell, he didn't think Larabee would have trusted him to shine his shoes, let alone slice into his body with a pocketknife. He must be losing his touch. Every time he thought he had these men figured out, they did something to befuddle him. Ezra pinched the bridge of his nose, praying that he wouldn't screw this up.

"You okay, Ez?" Chris asked, observing the nervous actions of his normally unflappable agent. He was aware, to some extent, of the insecurities that plagued the younger man. Ezra didn't expect anything from anyone, regarding with suspicion anything that was given freely. He had been hurt so badly by the mistrust and hateful behavior shown to him by his former co-workers that he was loath to let anyone behind the protective emotional walls he had built.

"Yes, I'm just preparing myself," Ezra said with an uneasy smile. "I would hate to have to report to the others that I retrieved you safely, only to cause your demise by my own hand. They already believe me to be responsible for your apparent deaths."

"Wasn't your fault," Chris insisted. "Vin and me were drunk. We were plannin' to hide and then jump out and scare ya when you came looking for us." Chris gave him a sheepish shrug. "Hell, we were too trashed to even see straight. Those assholes grabbed us the second we set foot outside the door. If you had been with us, they would've caught you too."

"I fear the others will require a lot of convincing," he said dispiritedly.

"Let me take care of that, okay?"

Ezra nodded, then took a deep breath and moved toward Chris. "Let's get this over with."

The bullet had entered Chris's leg from the front, lodging just below the skin in the back of his thigh. Both men agreed that it would be easier to remove it from that side. Chris buried his face in the pillow while Ezra made the incision, stifling his groans as much as possible to avoid upsetting him. The man was tense enough, and Chris certainly did not want him to become any shakier than he was already.

Ezra removed the bullet quickly, sagging with relief when it finally pulled free. "Done, Mr. Larabee," he said as he applied antiseptic and bandaged the wound.

Chris turned over slowly. "Thanks, Ez," he said sincerely.

Ezra inclined his head slightly. "You are quite welcome. Though I believe I will leave the surgery to Mr. Jackson in the future."

"I don't think that will be a problem," Chris said, yawning as the stress and fatigue of the past days caught up with him.

"Get some sleep, Mr. Larabee," Ezra admonished gently.

"What about you?" Chris asked, taking note of the dark circles under his friend's eyes.

"I will rest as soon as I am finished ministering to Mr. Tanner," Ezra assured him. "The chair is quite comfortable."

Chris looked at the overstuffed chair doubtfully. It looked soft enough, but sleeping in that position was hardly restful. "You sure? I can share with Vin."

"It's quite all right," Ezra replied. "It will be easier for me to care for your injuries if you remain where you are."

"Okay," Chris agreed reluctantly, having difficulty keeping his eyes open. His breathing evened out as sleep overtook him.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Buck, it's for you," Nathan called, holding the phone out toward the tall man who had just entered the bullpen.

Quickly shedding his coat, Buck took the proffered instrument. "Wilmington," he answered.

"Buck, it's Bill," Lt. Hawthorne said.

"You got something?"

"Yeah," Buck's old friend answered, not put off by the lack of pleasantries. This wasn't a time for small talk. "Computers just came back up. I'll fax you what I've got."

"Great!" Buck said gratefully. "Thanks, man."

"Hope it helps," Hawthorne said sincerely as he hung up.

"That was Hawthorne," Buck said as he replaced the phone receiver. "He got the info on that Jarvis guy. He's faxin' it over now."

The other three men watched the fax machine expectantly. JD reached for the pages eagerly as they began to spew noisily from the machine.

"Anythin' good?" asked Nathan.

"Says here that Jarvis had a brother," JD replied. "Name's Raymond, and he owns some kind of textiles company." JD's brow wrinkled in consternation.

"What is it, JD?" Josiah asked upon seeing the expression on his face.

"The other guy, Reginald Jarvis, died in prison more than five years ago." JD lifted his gaze to the other men. "That's a long time to wait for revenge, ain't it? I mean, it ain't like there was anything stopping him from doin' something to Chris before now."

"You're right, JD," Josiah commented. "But it takes some people a long time to build up the kind of rage required to commit murder."

"Oh." JD filed away yet another fact for later use, appreciative of the wealth of knowledge that Josiah always seemed to have at his disposal.

"He's a rich businessman; started the business by himself," Buck continued as he read more of the file.

"So he's smart," Nathan said.

"And, he has the resources to set up such a well-planned crime," Josiah pointed out.

"Sounds like he fits the profile," Buck agreed.

"So let's find him!" JD said excitedly. "If he's the guy, maybe we can even get him before the funeral tomorrow."

"Don't get your hopes up," Nathan warned, ever practical.

"But we can give it our best shot," Buck countered optimistically.

* * * * * * * * * *

Ezra stared at the two beds, the outlines of the sleeping men barely visible in the dark room. The adrenaline had worn off, leaving him tired and hurting from his overexertions, but he found he could not sleep. The events of the day continued to whirl through his mind, and the best he had been able to manage was some fitful dozing while he watched over his wounded comrades.

It was mid-afternoon when he saw the first signs of life from either of the two men. A long moan came from Vin's bed as he attempted to sit up. Ezra tossed off his blanket and hurried to his side.

"Mr. Tanner? Are you all right?" Ezra sat carefully on the edge of the bed while Vin's eyes flicked toward him, following the sound of his voice.

"Ez? It's dark," he said groggily.

"The curtains are closed," Ezra explained. "How do you feel?"

"Like shit," Vin replied.

Ezra placed a hand on his forehead, frowning at the heat he detected there.

"Cut it out," Vin grumbled, swatting his hand away. "You're worse 'n Nathan."

"I'll tell him you said that," Ezra retorted, relieved to see that Vin was at least somewhat coherent.

"Chris?" Vin asked, his eyes widened in panic.

"He's right over there," Ezra said comfortingly, pointing toward the other bed.

"He okay?"

"He's in the same shape as you, my friend," Ezra answered. It was typical of Vin to be more concerned about others than about himself.

The sharpshooter relaxed fractionally once he saw his friend's blond head peeking out from beneath the blankets. "Ya sure?"

"I'll check on him without delay." Ezra stood and moved to the next bed, placing a hand on Chris's brow as he had done on Vin's. If anything, his fever was worse than Vin's. Ezra's forehead wrinkled in concern. Both of the men needed antibiotics to fight the infection that had developed in their bullet wounds, and the slightly labored quality of their breathing worried him as well. Their time in the cold, wet weather had served to exacerbate their conditions, and he knew that they were too weak to fight off their many ills without help.

"Well?" Vin asked anxiously.

"He has a fever, as do you," Ezra replied.

"Yeah, I know," Vin replied despondently. "He's still got a bullet in his leg."

"Not anymore. I removed it last night."

"What?" Vin said incredulously.

"Mr. Larabee insisted," Ezra said uncomfortably.

"Stubborn cuss."

"I agree."

"You got any food in here?" Vin looked at him hopefully. "I'm starved. Them sonsabitches didn't give us hardly anythin' to eat."

"I have nothing at present, however I must leave to purchase you gentlemen some clothing, so I shall procure some sustenance then."

"Clothing?" Vin looked down at himself, then lifted the blanket. "Aw hell." His face flushed when he remembered his bath.

Ezra grinned at his predictable reaction. "Fear not, Mr. Tanner. Your virtue is quite intact."

"Fuck you, Ez," Vin grumbled.

Still smiling, Ezra entered the bathroom and quickly showered and shaved, replacing his own bandages afterward. He grimaced when he noticed some fresh blood on the gauze that covered the wound on his back. Apparently, he had pulled a couple of his stitches while aiding his friends. He put a fresh bandage in place then exited the room.

"What happened to your back?" Vin questioned while Ezra rummaged in his back for some fresh clothes.

Ezra straightened, cursing himself for allowing Vin to see his own injuries. "Just a scratch I got from the explosion," he said casually.

"Them bruises look pretty nasty, too," Vin said, arching his eyebrows inquisitively.

"Yes, well, one does tend to get bruised a bit after being nearly blown up."

"Shit, my jeep!" Vin exclaimed, suddenly remembering exactly what had exploded. "How bad is it?"

"Vaporized," Ezra replied with a sympathetic smile.

"Damn," Vin mumbled. "I liked that jeep."

"Your insurance company should provide enough compensation to purchase a new one," Ezra suggested as he buttoned his shirt.

"Don't know if it covers 'vaporized'," he said hopelessly.

"Perhaps I can convince them to provide appropriate financial reimbursement," Ezra offered. "I was, after all, a witness to the event." He shuddered as the horrifying scene flashed through his mind once again.

"That'll be great, Ez," Vin said with a bit more enthusiasm.

"Will you keep an eye on Mr. Larabee until my return?" Ezra asked as he finished lacing his sneakers.

"Of course," he answered, slightly miffed at the insinuation that he wouldn't.

"And don't overexert yourself, either," Ezra warned as he donned his coat and left to do his errands.


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